Tag Archives: Atlanta Braves

At all his coaching stops, Ratcliffe emphasizes hard work, character

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Ratcliffe helped change the mindset in his return to the Trine University baseball coaching staff.

Ratcliffe had helped Thunder head coach Greg Perschke during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and assisted in school-record 25-win seasons then went back to the high school ranks before coming back on board in Angola, Ind., for 2020.

Trine, an NCAA Division III school with a 40-game regular-season limit, averaged 17 wins per year from 2014-19 with high-water marks of 19 in 2017 and 2018.

That was not considered good enough.

So the Thunder went to work in the fall.

“We have our limits when we can and can’t be with them,” says Ratcliffe referring to NCAA D-III contact rules. “But there are expectations from Coach Perschke. His passion for the kids is electric. It just gets everybody.

“There’s an off-season weight program. Kids work around their academics to get a workout in.”

The message is clear: If you want the team to get better, this is what has to happen. Here’s how you do it. Do you want to be a part of that?

At a school full of engineering students and others with rigorous majors, the find a way to get the job done.

“We give them a lot of instruction during our weeks,” says Ratcliffe. “They take this and work hard in the off-season.”

Brought in to help with catchers, infielders and hitters and be a bench coach during games, Ratcliffe says there’s a difference between high school and college that has do with more than age.

“Kids at the college level want to be there instead of doing something in high school,” says Ratcliffe. “Development is extremely different. In high school, you’re developing their skills. In college, you’re fine-tuning their skills.”

Through conversations and short videos, Perschke (Trine head coach since 2002 and the Thunder’s pitching coach) and assistants Ratcliffe and Nick Pfafman provided instruction for a month and then the team’s veterans led a few more weeks of workouts heading into the winter.

“We developed a mindset of how to react and respond to things,” says Ratcliffe. “It’s one of the things I was brought in for.”

When the team came back from Christmas break it had less than a month before its first games. 

Trine went 1-2 Feb. 22-23 in Kentucky then 8-0 March 1-6 in Florida.

Then — suddenly — the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Thunder gathered for an impromptu team photo after a practice and said their goodbyes.

“It was a huge gut punch,” says Ratcliffe. “We had eight seniors (Tony Bottone, Caleb Deiter, Jacob Douglass, Chase Hall, Shawn Ligocki, Nick Ricci, Thomas Rivet and Jake Roddy) that took to this year’s culture. No longer was 18 wins a good year.”

Trine was chosen to finish seventh in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason poll, but seemed to be a on a path that would put them in the MIAA’s top four and a playoff berth.

This summer, Ratcliffe is head coach for the 17U DeKalb County Thunder travel team. His assistant is Cody Krumlauf, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Earlham College who has been a player and coach for the Quakers.

The program was started a few years ago when the players were at the 15U level. The Thunder now also fields 15U and 13U teams.

To be eligible to play for the Thunder, players must play in community baseball organizations in Auburn, Butler, Garrett or St. Joe.

The 17U Thunder is a showcase team for college exposure and plays in events put on by Pastime Tournaments, Crossroads Baseball Series and at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

Ratcliffe was head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School for two stints totaling 13 seasons (2000-06 and 2014-19).

He served as an assistant to DeKalb High head coach Chris Rhodes 2007-11 and was on the staff of Keith Potter at Fort Wayne’s Homestead High School 1997-99.

While with the Spartans, Ratcliffe got to work with future big league catcher Rob Bowen.

“I remember he was a starter working on being a switch hitter,” says Ratcliffe. “If he hit 50 balls off the tee right-handed, he had to hit 50 left-handed. Balance had to be there if h was serious about being a switch hitter.”

Ratcliffe recalls that Bowen hit homers from both sides of the plate early in his minor league days and went on to play in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Caleb Kimmel, who went on to play at Valparaiso University and is now CEO of the World Baseball Academy, was also at Homestead when Ratcliffe was on staff.

Summers from 2002-14 for Ratcliffe meant coaching and evaluating young players for USA Baseball through Tournament of Stars and National Team Identification Series programs. Working in Joplin, Mo., and later Cary, N.C., he got to be around rising diamond stars as teenagers, including Mike Moustakas, Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout, Trevor Bauer, the Upton boys (Justin and B.J.) and Jarrod Parker.

“(Moustakas) had the same kind of energy as a 17-year-old that he did (with the Kansas City Royals) in the World Series. 

“That guy has not changed one bit. He’s such a team player.”

Freeman became of Ratcliffe’s favorites.

“His character in the dugout was unbelievable,” says Ratcliffe of the future Atlanta Braves first baseman. “He was very coachable. Freddie wanted to get better. 

“I’ve told my players this is what you need to be like. It’s not all about baseball. Character is very crucial.”

Trout and Bauer are superstars now. But they didn’t make the national team back then. They didn’t sulk. They put in the work to get better.

The Uptons also failed, but learned from those around them and rebounded. Justin’s path to The Show included 113 games with the 2006 Mark Haley-managed South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks during his 18-year-old season.

While they were nearly two decades apart, Ratcliffe (Class of 1990) and Parker (2007) were both graduates of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind.

Ratcliffe had coached against right-handed pitcher Parker in high school and saw him help Norwell to an IHSAA 3A state championship in 2007.

When it came time for Parker to take the mound that summer Joplin, Ratcliffe offered a little advice: “Go be yourself.”

Parker went on to work out with the Top 40 players in Atlanta and was selected in the first round (No.9 overall) of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in the bigs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. David Price and Moustakas went 1-2 in the ’07 draft.

Ratcliffe’s head coach at Norwell was Stan Reed.

“He had compassion for the players,” says Ratcliffe. “He really cared about us. It showed whether we won or lost.”

A catcher, Ratcliffe went to Purdue University and was redshirted his first season and played sparingly for Boilermakers coach Dave Alexander in his second, though he did get to catch Sherard Clinkscales, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft, later scouted for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Kansas City and coached at Notre Dame before going into athletic administration. 

Clinkscales was associate then senior associate athletic director at North Carolina State and is now AD at Indiana State University.

When Alexander left Purdue to become a scout and pitching coach Steve Green was promoted to head coach, he had a chat with Ratcliffe. It was apparent he was not going to get to play much for the Boilers.

“I was a kid who needed to play,” says Ratcliffe, who was released and allowed to sign at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where Matt Kinzer was the Mastodons head coach.

What did Ratcliffe learn from Norwell grad Kinzer during the 1993 and 1994 seasons?

“It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level,” says Ratcliffe. “If you want to get there you’ve got to put some time in. 

“Talent doesn’t get you to the next level. It takes things like working hard and having good character.”

By the time Tom Muth took over at IPFW in 1995, Ratcliffe knew he wanted to be a coach so he took the opportunity to play multiple positions and learn their nuances. Since the Dons were in need of a second baseman, Ratcliffe moved there and still took time to catch bullpens.

Ratcliffe played independent professional ball as a middle infielder for the Frontier League’s Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in their inaugural season of 1995. Larry Nowlin was the manger and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate part owner.

One of his teammates was future major league switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter Morgan Burkhart. When he came to Fort Wayne as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, Ratcliffe made sure he found a good fishing hole.

After finishing his degree at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ratcliffe became a teacher. 

Besides coaching baseball, he instructs special education classes at Garrett Middle School. His wife of 19 years — Stacy — is a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Ober Elementary in Garrett. The couple have two sons — GHS senior-to-be Blake (17) and GMS eighth grader-to-be Easton (13).

Brett Ratcliffe returned to Trine University in Angola, Ind., for his second stint as assistant baseball coach. He has also been a head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School and an assistant at DeKalb High School in Watlerloo, Ind., and Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. He has helped coach and evaluate players for USA Baseball. This summer, he is the 17U head coach for the DeKalb County Thunder travel program.

Relationships key for Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaching continuity is one of the ingredients that helps fuel the Canes Midwest Baseball travel program.

In order to build relationships and develop players, coaching staffs tend to stay with the same group of players from their 14U through 17U seasons.

“If I’ve only been around these kids for eight weeks in summer, I don’t really get to know the kid and the family,” says Jay Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball president and 17U head coach. “The cycle — I believe in that.”

Hundley recalls an emotional goodbye by himself and his assistant coaches to the Canes 17U team when they played their last game of 2019.

“We cried like babies for 25 minutes straight,” says Hundley. “(The players and their parents) became our second family.”

That bond happens through years of training (off-season workouts are done at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.), traveling and playing together. 

In 2020, Canes Midwest Baseball is fielding six teams — 11U (head coach Eric McGaha with help from Joe Haley), 12U (Jamie Nanny with Jeremy Sensenbaugh), 13U (Jeff Millington with Ryan Wolfe), 15U (Jeremy Honaker with Drew Koning and Drew Bertram), 16U (Phil McIntyre with David Bear) and 17U (Hundley with Phillip Webb, Ben McDaniel and Hunter McIntosh). 

McGaha (Mooresville), Honaker (Martinsville), McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central), Bear (Ben Davis), Webb (Western Boone) and McDaniel (Columbus North) are all high school head coaches. Sensenbaugh (Indianapolis Cathedral), Koning (Zionsville) and McIntosh (Columbus North) are also high school assistants. Bertram played at Purdue University and just graduated.

Hundley says there will be teams at each age from 10U to 17U when new squads are formed for 2020-21.

“We’ll only only ever have only one team per age group,” says Hundley. “We want to have the best kids and coaches. We’re trying to grow it the right way — slowly and surely.

“We’ve had the same coaches for almost 10 years.”

Hundley founded the Indiana Outlaws around 2012. A few years ago, that organization merged with Canes Baseball.

With President and CEO and 18U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.

“The Outlaws were known in Indiana and surrounding areas,” says Hundley. 

While Canes Midwest Baseball is locally owned and operated, Hundley says the national Canes brand helps with outreach in getting better players and with exposure to college programs.

Canes Midwest Baseball does not have a huge board of directors.

“It’s like a mom-and-pop operation,” says Hundley. “It’s myself and our coaches. It’s about baseball at the end of the day. 

“We’re getting guys into college and developing our younger players. We build great relationships with families. We do it for the right reasons.”

Hundley says 21 of the 23 players on the 17U team in 2019 (members of the Class of 2020) made college baseball commitments.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 college season was cut short and players were given an extra year of eligibility. High school seniors missed the entire spring campaign.

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was sliced from 40 to five rounds. 

On top of that, the recruiting calendar for NCAA Divisions I and II was changed so coaches can’t see players in-person until after July 31. The travel season is essentially over by then.

To deal with that, Hundley says Canes Midwest Baseball will continue to provide those college coaches with video and use the equity built built over the years between the travel group and the college recruiters.

“We have to vouch for our player’s character, but we can’t oversell a player who’s not a fit for the school or we lose credibility,” says Hundley. “(Recruiters) can see a guy’s talent, but can’t see what’s in his heart or between his ears.”

It’s typical that close to 90 percent of players are committed by the end of the 17U summer.

Hundley says that it used to be that the 17U summer was the most important for players bound for Division I Power 5 programs. 

That has changed to 16U and some players have even made verbal commitments as 15U players. At 17U, there are still D-I commitments made as well as at other collegiate levels.

“The landscape has changed so much,” says Hundley. “There may be a chain reaction for three or four years. There are a lot of guys that didn’t leave college because of not being drafted.

“The waters have gotten very muddy. I don’t think it’s going to get clear for awhile.”

The 17U Canes Midwest team has already participated in three events for 2020. This week, the squad goes to the Prep Baseball Report Midwest Premier Super 17 at Creekside Baseball Park — an invitational-only tournament near Kansas City. That will be followed by the PBR Indiana Upperclass State Games and Bullpen 17 Amateur Baseball Championships (both at Grand Park in Westfield), the PBR 17U National Championship at LakePoint near Atlanta. 

Depending on participation by college recruiters, Hundley says the 17U Canes Midwest team might also play in the next Bullpen Midwest Prospect League event at Grand Park.

With their bright gold attire, it’s usually not difficult to spot the Canes at a tournament.

Hundley is a 1997 graduate of Ben Davis High School and played for head coach Dave Brown. Later on, Hundley was a Ben Davis assistant for six years and followed Aaron Kroll to staff Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and was on his staff 2015-19. 

The Roncalli Rebels — junior Michael McAvene was the winning pitcher (who later played at the University of Louisville and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2019) and sophomore Nick Schnell (who was selected as Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2018 and drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays that same year) —  won the 2016 IHSAA Class 4A state title. McAvene and Schnell are also Outlaws/Canes Midwest alums.

Other Outlaws/Canes Midwest players drafted in recent years include Jacson McGowan (Rays, 2018), Drew Campbell (Atlanta Braves, 2019), Andrew Saalfrank (Arizona Diamondbacks, 2019).

For the past 22 years, Hundley has been part of the concrete construction industry. He is the owner of Extreme Concrete Cutting, Inc.

The Canes Midwest travel baseball organization has six teams in 2020.
Jay Hundley (center) is the head coach and president of the Canes Midwest travel organization. The graduate of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis started the Indiana Outlaws and later merged with the Canes.
Jay Hundley (right) with son Bronx Robert Hundley. Jay is the president and coach of Canes Midwest travel baseball.

Allowed to return to practice, gratitude is the attitude for Morris Baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, players at Morris Baseball in northwest Indiana can finally practice again and founder/president Bobby Morris couldn’t be happier.

“It’s as much fun as I’ve had on a baseball field in ages,” says Morris of a workout earlier this week. “The big reason is quarantine and the chaos going on around us.

“I feel a sense of gratitude. Our players feel a sense of gratitude — more so than in January or February.”

Morris says he hopes his organization with around 200 clients, including Chiefs travel teams, will help bring a sense of community and unity as the 2020 season moves forward.

“if we can spread a little positivity and a little gratitude, I’m all for it,” says Morris, who started his training business in 2011 and merged five years ago with the Hammond Chiefs, which mark their 30th season this year.

The first clients Morris had were 9-year-olds.

“Those kids are just now graduating and going on to play college baseball,” says Morris.

A relationship began when Brian Jennings brought Morris together with Chiefs founder Dave Sutkowski.

“It’s mutually a good fit together,” says Morris. “Dave has been pleasure to work with. We got some Chiefs coaches when we merged. They’ve been great mentors with our kids.”

The Morris Baseball mission statement: To recruit excellent talent and provide them with disciplined, well-organized, focused practices with superior instruction and place them in highly competitive opportunities to achieve principle-based success.

“If we produce great players, everything will take care of itself,” says Morris. “We make sure we have great practice facilities and plenty of practice time. 

“We try to produce well-rounded baseball players. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

Until recently, Morris Baseball and the Chiefs were housed at Franciscan Physician Network Schererville Family Health Center (formerly Omni Health & Fitness).

The organization just moved to a training facility at 1075 Breuckman Drive in Crown Point. Morris says the name for the new place will be revealed soon.

The new centrally-located home includes plenty of workout space plus classrooms, player’s lounge, kitchen and coach’s offices.

“For our kids it will be great,” says Morris. “We have internet at player desks. They can hang out there all day if they want.

“We prefer that they study and take batting practice.”

The Morris Chiefs tend to play many local games at the Crown Point Sportsplex, Central Park in Dyer, Ind., and Ho Chunk Baseball Tournaments in Lynwood, Ill.

“Our kids play a lot ,” says Morris. “We do a lot of practicing during the off-season. We play a lot during the season.

“One of our strengths is we keep our kids active throughout the year.”

This summer, the Chiefs’ 15 current teams (with manager): 2021 (Chip Pettit), 17U (Alex Triantafillo), 2022 (Bobby Morris), 16U (Trevor Howard), 15U (Andrew Lowe), 15U (Lee Turnbough), 14U (Shawn Donovan), 13U (Trevor Howard), 13U (Corderro Torres), 12U (Michael Scharnke), 12U (Alex Triantafillo), 11U (James Stovall), 10U (Derek Woerpel), 9U (Bobby Morris) and 8U (Bryan Lopez). 

Sutkowski and Mike Curiel assist Pettit with the 2021 squad. Pettit, who is superintendent of Duneland School Corp., was the first Indiana Mr. Baseball in 1992.

“It’s an extremely gifted group,” says Morris of the 2021 team. “(Pettit and Sutkowski) are two phenomenal sports minds.”

Assistants for Morris with the 2022 Chiefs are Morris Baseball general manager Mike Small plus Tim Horneman.

Bobby’s youngest son, Gavin (10), plays for the 9U Chiefs. Bobby also helps coach the 8U team.

Nick Amatulli has more than 40 years of coaching experience and helps with both of Trevor Howard’s squads. 

Some other Chiefs coaches are John Adams, Tom Blair, Brad Fedak, Brian Fernandez, Trent Howard, Dale Meyer, Kevin Peller, Brad Rohde, Kenny Siegal and Eric Spain.

“We don’t differentiate ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team,” says Morris. “It’s more geared toward the name of the coach. We don’t want the potential for the stigma there. It also incentivizes our coaches to play the game hard and represent themselves well.

“We want Chiefs teams to play hard and be smart players. Any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”

Three Chiefs alums are currently playing pro baseball — third baseman Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays) and left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) in the majors and second baseman Nick Podkul (Toronto Blue Jays) in the minors.

Other players who were selected or played in pro baseball (affiliated and/or independent) include right-hander Matt Pobereyko (Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets), infielder/outfielder Ryan Dineen (Houston Astros), left-hander Trent Howard (Baltimore Orioles), right-hander Dan Faulkner (drafted by Philadelphia Philies), left-hander Blake Mascarello (Phillies), left-hander Andy Loomis (Florida Marlins, Phillies, Orioles), outfielder Ryan Basham (drafted by the Blue Jays), right-hander Cesar Carrillo (San Diego Padres), right-hander Mike Ryan (Atlanta Braves), outfielder Mike Coles (Orioles), left-hander Jon Nourie (Padres), first baseman Matt Mamula (New York Yankees) and right-hander Neal Frendling (Rays).

Morris is a 1990 graduate of Munster (Ind.) High School where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan.

“Bob is an extremely decent man,” says Morris of Shinkan. “He has such a genuine, caring nature.”

Shinkan can also be strict and he expects his players to be disciplined.

“I had a great experience there with Bob,” says Morris. 

After high school, lefty-swinging infielder Morris spent three seasons at the University of Iowa playing for long-time Hawkeyes head coach Duane Banks.

“Duane was just a smart baseball guy,” says Morris. “At Iowa, they really believed in self starters. They threw you out there and expected you to compete for a position.

“That culture helped me a lot in professional baseball.”

Morris was selected as a third baseman in the ninth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs and played nine minor league seasons (1993-2001), logging 636 games and hitting .290 with 36 home runs and 326 RBIs. He reached Double-A in the Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds systems. By hitting .354 with seven homers and 64 RBIs, he was chosen as MVP of the 1994 Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs of the Low Class-A Midwest League. That team was managed by Steve Roadcap

Morris also played for teams managed by Steve Kolinsky, Dave Trembley and Bruce Kimm while with the Cubs, Joel Skinner, Jeff Datz and Max Oliveras with the Indians, Bobby Jones with the Rangers and Mike Rojas and Phillip Wellman with the Reds.

Men that stick out for Morris in his development include Trembley, Jimmy Piersall, Sandy Alomar Sr. and Joe Tanner.

While Trembley never played pro baseball, he managed (Orioles) and coached (Houston Astros) in the big leagues.

“Dave had a great habit for excellence,” says Morris, who won a High Class-A Florida State League championship with Trembley on the 1995 Daytona Cubs. “He expected a lot out of himself and a lot out of us and how we carried ourselves.”

Morris, who turns 48 in November, grew watching Piersall and Harry Caray call Chicago White Sox games on TV. When he learned Morris was from Chicagoland, Piersall became close to Morris as a minor league hitting/outfield coach.

“Jimmy took on a second grandfather role for me,” says Morris.

It was in the Cubs organization that Morris encountered Alomar.

“He’s as smart a baseball person as I’ve ever met,” says Morris. “He’s an absolute genius.”

Tanner was Morris’ first full-season hitting instructor and the inventor of Tanner Tees — a product used by Bobby and brother Hal Morris (a left-handed first baseman/outfielder who played 14 seasons in the big leagues).

“Joe was a was a renaissance man for baseball,” says Bobby Morris. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great influences.”

His earliest diamond influences came from brother Hal.

Hal is seven years older than Bobby. 

“We were constantly competing with one another,” says Bobby. “I was challenged a lot. We were always very close. As I matured and got into high school, Hal brought back stuff from his (college and pro) coaches and we worked on it. 

“That helped in fine-tuning my ability to hit at an early age.”

As youngsters, the brothers spent hours taking batting practice with father Bill pitching and mother Margaret chasing baseballs.

Bill Morris was a four-year baseball letterman Davidson (N.C.) College, went to medical school, did his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, entered the U.S. Army and was at Fort Rucker in Alabama when daughter Beth (who went on to be a state swim champion at Munster High) and son Hal (who shined in baseball for the Mustangs) were born.

The family later came to northwest Indiana, where Bill was a pediatrician working at the Hammond Clinic, St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond and Community Hospital in Munster. He died at 82 in 2017.

“He taught us how to compete and how to be gentlemen,” says Bobby Morris of his father. “He was a class southern gentleman.

“My mom is still with us. She has probably shagged as many baseballs in her life as any big league pitcher.”

Bobby and Gloria Morris have three children. Besides Gavin, there’s recent Arizona State University graduate Gina (22) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis student John (19). Gloria Morris is a Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate.

“We’re Region rats,” says Bobby Morris. “I love northwest Indiana.”

The Morris family (from left): Gina, John, Gloria, Gavin and Bobby. Morris Baseball was established by Bobby Morris, a former college and professional player, in 2011. Five years ago came a merger with the Hammond Chiefs travel organization.

From baseball-fueled friendship of Furman, Brunke, Marovich comes The Yipps Podcast

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball brought them together as boys.

It’s keeping a trio from northwest Indiana connected as young men even though they are scattered across the country.

Creators of the brand new The Yipps Podcast Aaron Furman, Matt Brunke and Brett Marovich were in grade school when they began playing Saint John Youth Baseball together.

Brunke and Marovich grew up as next-door neighbors and have known each other since before they went to elementary school.

Furman and Brunke played baseball through high school. Marovich played until about 16.

Furman played third base for coach Doug Nelson at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake and Brunke second base for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High in Merrillville and graduated in 2014. Brunke helped the 59ers to a IHSAA Class 3A state championship dogpile as a senior.

A year younger than the other two, Marovich did not play baseball at Lake Central High School in St. John, but enjoyed lively conversations with Furman and Brunke about sports.

Like it had for years, this would often go on for hours.

Furman and Brunke were roommates during their freshmen year at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

All earned their bachelor’s degrees.

Furman stayed at USI, got even more immersed in baseball, including positions with the Screaming Eagles team, and earned a Sport Management degree. In February, he started with Sports Info Solutions as a Major League Baseball video scout based in Coplay, Pa., near Allentown.

Brunke transferred to Purdue University Northwest (which has campuses in Hammond and Westville, Ind.) and earned a Business degree before moving to Phoenix where he is a Hertz branch manager.

Marovich picked up a diploma for Mechanical Engineering Technology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and is now employed as a quality/mechanical engineer by Regal Beloit Corp., in Valparaiso, Ind.

During all those spirited boyhood conversations at one another’s houses, a parent would sometimes say they should their own show.

Now they do.

This week marked the debut of The Yipps Podcast (@theyippspod on Twitter), a weekly baseball conversation featuring Furman in Pennsylvania, Brunke in Arizona, Marovich in Indiana and a guest from their location.

An introductory episode dropped May 24, followed by an interview with Nick Podkul May 27. Brunke was a teammate of both Podkul brothers — Frank Jr. and Nick — at Andrean. Nick played at Notre Dame and is now in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

The plan is to feature players and coaches in professional and college baseball and show their “normal side” and put out one episode a week — usually on Wednesday nights.

“Our goal is to get their story and take the professional athlete out of them to show that they’re just normal guys who love baseball,” says Furman.

The Nick Podkul episode tells about how he lost his father while in high school and used that to motivate him.

“It’s the stories you never hear,” says Furman.

Brunke says the idea is to give the listener a deeper connection with the guest.

“They still have a life off the field,” says Brunke. “We want to be the avenue to personalize these guys for fans.

“We want to make (the podcast) a platform for all levels of baseball to share stories about normal people rather than have them seen just as athletes.”

Marovich explains his role in the project, which came to fruition over the past few weeks.

“Baseball is the first sport that we played,” says Marovich. “We’ve always had a passion for it. Why not try to explore this avenue of the Podcast space?

“I have friends who wanted to start this journey and I compelled to help them start it.”

Marovich has no previous audio editing/mixing skills.

“But I’m a quick learner,” says Marovich. “I’m a quick learner.

“If it’s something I’m passionate about, I can grind on it heavily.”

Marovich dove into YouTube videos and is teaching himself about it through trial and error.

Right now, podcasts are recorded by taking the audio from a Zoom conference call. He expects to find a method for a higher sound quality in the future.

In baseball, the “yips” usually manifest themselves in the sudden inability to throw the ball accurately. Three famous examples — Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch, Rick Ankiel.

So podcast rookies Furman, Brunke and Marovich chose The Yipps as their handle.

“We’re probably going to have mistakes, especially in the beginning,” says Marovich, the executive producer. “You have to learn. It’s all part of the experience.

“The best is yet to come.”

Furman got started with USI baseball when he learned that he needed 20 internship hours for one of his Sports Management classes. He approached assistant coach Jeremy Kuester and wound up being team manager for his first two years of college.

“At that time I really wanted to get into coaching,” says Furman.

Then came a conversation between Furman and Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Archuleta just before Christmas break in the fall of 2016.

There were thoughts of purchasing some video scouting equipment for the program.

“I had two weeks to learn the system and then we’re off to Tampa to play our first series,” says Furman. “That’s where my career changed for baseball.”

Furman’s last two seasons at USI were dedicated to working with video, analytics and scouting as it related to player development.

“It was not so much about spin rates and launch angles,” says Furman.

Instead, he was gathering information about the hot and cold zones for opponents and Southern Indiana hitters as well as spray charts and defensive shift reports.

Since then, the baseball world has become more analytics-driven.

“We were the first Division II team in the country to implement one of these systems,” says Furman of USI. “It’s become a big recruiting tool for players.”

Before and after graduation, Furman worked at the Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School, soaking up knowledge from the former big league catcher and current USI volunteer assistant.

“Kevin taught me a lot about the mechanical side of baseball,” says Furman, who learned how to recognize things like hand grip and weight shift. “In 2018, I was helping college hitters at a higher level.”

Furman then worked with the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network, which had many MLB organizations as clients. He worked from a list of players near Evansville and evaluated many NCAA Division I and II as well as some high school players.

“It was a really cool experience,” says Furman.

There were several interviews in the baseball industry before the chance came to join Sports Information Solutions.

“I knew this was a great opportunity to take and I didn’t want to pass it up,” says Furman.

During COVID-19 quarantine time, he has been working on small projects.

When spring training was happening, he was at home or in the office watching feeds of games and charting every pitch, running times, ball off bat speed, velocity, defensive shifts, catcher positions and more.

“It takes awhile to get used to,” says Furman. “It’s basically the same thing I did at USI, but probably with 10 times more data.”

As an SIS video scout, Furman can rewind and zoom to get different camera angles. He usually employs three screens per game.

“Once you get into the groove of things, it’s really fun,” says Furman. “Once the season starts I’ll be doing the same thing.”

Scouts work either the morning or night shift. In the mornings, they go over games that have already been charted and make sure the data is inputted and correct. At night, it’s usually about live games.

With this experience, Furman is not the same kind of baseball fan he was growing up, though he still roots for his Chicago White Sox.

“My viewpoint on baseball is completely different,” says Furman. “I can sit and watch a game and I know what pitch they’re going to throw before they throw it based on things like swing patterns.

“I look at baseball differently than I ever thought I would.”

Brunke counts himself fortunate to have been part of Andrean baseball, led by the Hall of Famer.

“(Pishkur) knows how to get the most out of you as a player,” says Brunke. “There was a sense of pride in wearing (Andrean) across your chest. There was competition within the program. Practice was not easy.

“If you’re going to play in the program, you’re going to have to play your tail off and really buy in or it’s not going to work. It was a super-advanced program.”

Brunke recalls tracking things like launch angle and pitch locations and using them to the 59ers’ advantage.

Next up on The Yipps Podcast (available on Spotify): Atlanta Braves prospect Logan Brown.

The Yipps Podcast is presented by (from left): Aaron Furman, Matt Brunke and Brett Marovich. The trio played baseball together as boys in northwest Indiana and now they talk about it. The podcast was launched May 24, 2020.

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

AJZAPPCARD

A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.

 

Clark does not let physical limitations stop him from baseball dreams

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not Dave Clark’s first pandemic.

COVID-19 Coronavirus is impacting the world in 2020.

Clark was born in 1952 and 10 months later he contracted polio, which stunted his growth.

“At that time there was no vaccine,” says Clark. “People were running scared. Parks were closed. Kids were not able to play with each other.

“Someday, hopefully, they’ll have a vaccine for Coronavirus.”

While Clark has had a lifetime of leg braces and crutches, he has not let his situation stop him.

In fact, he figured out how to thrive in spite of it.

Clark grew up in Corning, N.Y., and went on to be a player, coach, scout, and owner in professional baseball.

He played for the Indianapolis Clowns (1975-76) managed by Bill Heward, author of the book, “Some Are Called Clowns: A Season with the Last of the Great Barnstorming Baseball Teams.”

After seeing Clark play at Comiskey Park, Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck showed interest in signing the pitcher.

Clark was the final owner of the franchise (1983-88) that traces its origins back to the Negro Leagues. He followed in the footsteps of Clowns owners Syd Pollock, Ed Hamman and George Long. Hamman sold the team to Long of Muscatine, Iowa, in 1972. Long sold the team to Clark and Sal Tombasco of Corning in 1983.

Clark still owns the rights to the Clowns and receives royalty checks for merchandise from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Knuckle-baller Clark was an all-star pitcher in the Swedish Elite Baseball League, where he later managed, taking a team from worst to first, and winning three major league titles.

While Clark never threw faster than 79 mph, he was a thinker on the mound and rarely walked batters.

Clark has been affiliated with Team USA and the Atlanta Olympics, the Atlanta Braves, and has partnered with the Fort Myers (Fla.) Mighty Mussels (Minnesota Twins Class-A team), Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings (Twins Triple-A), Binghamton Rumble Ponies (New York Mets Double-A), Nashville (Tenn.) Sounds (Milwaukee Brewers Triple-A) and Elmira (N.Y.) Jackals (ECHL hockey). Clark has been a hockey goalie and also a play-by-play man.

He has been a professional scout for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Florida/Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox.

Clark’s awards are numerous. He received the National Giant Steps Award for his coaching, and was honored at the White House by President Bill Clinton. He won the National Heroes of Sports Award in 1999 and the Bo Jackson Courage Award in 2011.

Clark was featured as the keynote speaker at The Family Cafe Conference, and a TedX Conference and has spoken before the U.S. Sports Conference, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Corning Inc., Siemens Energy, and many more.

Besides being a motivational speaker, Clark runs camps for kids with perceived physical and mental limitations. He has been business partners with Doug Cornfield Sr., for a decade.

Clark and Cornfield met two decades ago at Dunn Field in Elmira, N.Y., where Clark was a coach for the Elmira Pioneers.

After a game carrying son Gideon who was born without arms, Cornfield called out to Clark. It wasn’t long before the two met for breakfast.

“I was amazed that I’d never heard of Dave’s story at the time,” says Cornfield, who played basketball and ran track at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., as a freshman before transferring to the University of Georgia. “I peppered Dave with questions.”

But these inquiries weren’t like the ones he’d heard so many times before.

“He talked about his son,” says Clark. “He was speaking as a parent who was concerned about raising a son with no arms.

“He asked what my parents did to let me accomplish what I did. The simple answer: They didn’t hold me back. They didn’t stop me from trying anything I wanted to try.”

Clark says Cornfield helped him to understand how important it is to share his story.

“We need some kind of good news in a world that glamorizes bad news,” says Clark, who now lives in Cape Coral, Fla.

Best Burn Enterprises is the for-profit side of the business and the Dave Clark Foundation the non-profit “which serves to inspire people from all walks of life to overcome personal challenges and perceived limitations in order to lead satisfying and productive lives.”

Clark and Cornfield appeared during the week of Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Scheduled Disability, Dream & Do (D3Day) Baseball Camp stops in 2020 includes partnerships with the Fort Myers (Fla.) Mighty Mussels, Lake Erie Crushers (Avon, Ohio), Hartford (Conn.) Yard Goats, Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, Binghamton (N.Y.) Rumble Ponies and Hudson Valley Renegades (Fishkill, N.Y.) plus an appearance in Clark’s hometown of Corning, N.Y. Ambassador athlete Dave Stevens, who has no legs, is also a part of the camps.

The events draw around 100 campers per site. It doesn’t cost them or their caregivers a dime. Through fundraising, the cost of the camp, caps, T-shirts, game tickets, and meals for 250-300 are covered.

Clark is always looking for fundraising opportunities and places to speak.

D3Day Baseball Camp was named Minor League Baseball’s 2012 Promotion of the Year runner-up.

A message that Clark shares during the camps is letting kids try anything they want to do.

“If they get a bruised elbow or bruised knew, it’s OK,” says Clark. “You can’t find your potential if you’re not trying something.

“Failure is not trying to do it at all.”

The Indianapolis Clowns traveled all over the country, including stops in Indiana, including Gary, Lebanon, Noblesville, and Jasper.

Clark and Bob Alles of the Jasper Reds have maintained a friendship for more than two decades.

“We had quite a rivalry with the Jasper Reds,” says Clark. “Bob treated us right.”

It was in Jasper that the seed was planted for helping those with physical and mental limitations. Near Ruxer Field there was a residential facility for these folks called Providence Home.

Clark took the Clowns to visit and invited some over to the field for some informal instruction.

When Clark conducts camps with minor league teams, he insists that all the players and coaches participate.

Former Elmira Star-Gazette writer Roger Neumann authored a book about Clark published in 2011 — “Diamond In The Rough: The Dave Clark Story.”

In the forward of the book, Mike Veeck writes “Dave Clark’s story is an astonishing blend of fact and fact. It only reads like fiction.”

Cornfield has penned a children’s book based on a tale from Clark’s childhood entitled “A Pound of Kindness.”

“It’s a true story that happened to me in first grade,” says Clark. “It’s the first time I ever experienced bullying. It’s always been in human society.

“Parents, brothers, neighborhood kids treated me like anybody else. When I got to grade school, I felt that pressure.”

One day, Clark’s teacher announced that the class would be going on a fire station field trip that required a walk of five or six blocks.

With two full-length leg braces and crutches, Clark knew he was sure to slow the class down and he would be a prime target for bullies.

On the day of the field trip, Clark told his mother he was ill and didn’t want to go to school.

“Mom was a fair but tough lady,” says Clark “She knew I wasn’t sick.”

So he went to school but made sure to be in the back of the line.

“Maybe they wouldn’t see I was dragging along,” says Clark.

That’s when classmate Ernie Pound came forward and offered Clark a ride in his red Radio Flyer wagon.

“‘I brought this for you to ride in. Jump in!,’” says Clark of Pound’s words that day. “What was going to be a lousy day turned out to be a great day.

“It’s a story of inclusion. It’s a story of kindness.”

Clark goes into schools and shares that story. Sales of the book — Cornfield is also working on other titles about those with physical or mental limitations based on true stories — help fund the camps.

Cornfield surprised Clark by bringing in Pound to a book signing in 2008 — many decades after that kind day. Cornfield says Clark is too emotional to watch the video of that moment.

There are hopes of making a movie about Clark’s life.

“It’s the greatest mostly unknown sports story,” says Cornfield.

That’s the story of Dave Clark. He’s the one who didn’t let polio stop him from achieving his goals.

“A Pound of Kindness” can be purchased at d3day.com with free shipping using the code: d3day.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the eBook can be downloaded for free using the code: stay home.

For more information, contact Cornfield at doug@daveclarkbaseball.com or 607-329-0010.

DOUGCORNFIELDDAVECLARK

Doug Cornfield (left) and Dave Clark have been business partners for a decade.

DAVECLARKDOUGCORNFIELDDAVESTEVENSDave Clark (left), Doug Cornfield and Dave Stevens make appearances all over the country on behalf of those with perceived physical and mental limitations.

DAVECLARK5Dave Clark, who contracted polio at 10 months, got early attention for his abilities as a baseball player.

DAVECLARKHOHOCKEYDave Clark has even taken to the ice as a hockey goalie.

DAVECLARK4Dave Clark was affiliated with Team USA Baseball during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

DAVECLARK3Dave Clark, using crutches and braces, was a player and owner for the Indianapolis Clowns.

DAVECLARK2

Dave Clark waits his turn at the plate as member of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns.

BILLCLINTONDAVECLARKPresident Bill Clinton (left) presents Dave Clark with the National Giant Steps Award.

DAVECLARK1

Dave Clark, who contracted polio at 10 months, was a professional baseball player, coach, scout, and owner. He now tours the country as a motivational speaker.

 

West Lafayette’s Murtaugh making deeper dive as Yankees pro scout

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An unprecedented time in modern baseball has Pat Murtaugh doing his job in a way he did not anticipate.

In his 32nd year as a professional scout, the West Lafayette, Ind., resident has been evaluating players while the game on the field has been at a standstill because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

The last spring training games were played March 12 and the regular season is on hold.

Murtaugh, who is in his fifth year as a pro scout for the New York Yankees, has been watching video of players that the organization might have an interest in for possible trades.

“We’re digging in a little deeper and going through different organizations and arranging players,” says Murtaugh. “Because of the time we have, we are really able to go deep into the (player’s) history and make notes of it.

“During the season, we don’t go this deep. We don’t have the time.”

He and his fellow scouts have been sifting through reports and analytical data.

Murtaugh’s duties include major league players in the American League Central and National League Central plus the whole Cincinnati Reds system.

“A few of us have been asked to look a video of amateur players,” says Murtaugh. “They give us a list. We give our opinion.

“(Amateur scouts) have they’ve been looking at this so long. They want another perspective.”

Murtaugh, 61, worked in the systems of the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the Yankees. He started off as an amateur scout then was an area scout followed by a cross checker on the amateur side. For the past 15 or more years, he’s been a pro scout.

A passion for the game has kept Murtaugh in it for all these years.

“It’s the competition to get players in your organization,” says Murtaugh. “You get tied to those players and want to see their progress.

“We like to get to know them as well as we can. When they’re on the other team, it’s hard. You can’t tamper with them. But once you get them into your system you get to know them. Make-up of the player is so important to acquire. They may have all the skill sets. But hitting or pitching in Yankee Stadium is so different. It may be overwhelming for their personality.”

From talking to other people who’ve been around the player, Murtaugh finds out things about players like they might be a tough guy on the outside but soft-hearted on the inside.

Players might look good in the batter’s box or on the mound. They might put up head-turning numbers in the gym.

“But it still comes down to tools,” says Murtaugh. “That’s the starting point of everybody.”

Scouts like Murtaugh, project where those baseball tools — speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength — might take a player.

Once they get a handle on that and have the player in their organization, they can delve into the athlete’s intelligence level and if he is coachable (able to retain information).

When Murtaugh was with the Diamondbacks, he also scouted the Reds system. He became intrigued with a shortstop in the low minors named Didi Gregorius.

“We ended up getting him,” says Murtaugh of the Netherlands native who went on to play for the Diamondbacks and Yankees and is now with the Philadelphia Phillies. “He came in after (Derek Jeter) and sustained that position. He has natural tools. His intelligence level is real good. He speaks five different languages. He’s a good person and has good work habits.”

In 1976, Murtaugh was in the first graduating class at McCutcheon High School in West Lafayette.

The consolidation of Southwestern and Wainwright made up McCutcheon.

“There were some growing pains,” says Murtaugh, who had started his prep days at Wainwright.

The first head baseball coach for the McCutcheon Mavericks was Dennis Cleaver.

“He was an awesome person and a laid-back coach,” says Murtaugh, who was a second baseman. “I’m proud to have played for him.”

Murtaugh did not play baseball at Purdue University, but earned a degree in kinesiology — knowledge that has helped him as a coach and scout.

“It helps tremendously with the body movement,” says Murtaugh. “You can see limitations to the body. They might be having success now, but there is an injury risk in the future.”

Murtaugh’s nephew, Dru Scott, an athletic trainer in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

One of Murtaugh’s players at West Lafayette was Jason Taulman, who went on to coach in college and is now involved with the Indy Sharks travel organization.

After Purdue, Murtaugh was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“He was a tremendous organizer,” says Murtaugh, who went on to be head coach at West Lafayette High School before becoming a full-time scout.

Organization is a trait that has served Murtaugh well.

“As a scout, you have to be self-disciplined,” says Murtaugh. “There’s nobody to tell you to go to work everyday. If you’re not organized and a self-motivator, you’re going to be lost.

“You have to stay on reports and it can become tedious.”

If the reports pile up, the scout ends up rushing through them and doing a poor job.

“You have your notes,” says Murtaugh. “While it’s fresh in your mind, you write as much as you can.”

If Murtaugh is viewing a series between two teams in his territory — say the Reds and the Chicago Cubs — he is responsible for evaluating 50 players.

Ideally, he will stay with one team for five or six days. He will get a good look at everyday players and can file a limited view report on others.

“Here’s what I saw but I don’t have a lot of conviction,” says Murtaugh. “I didn’t see enough.”

Murtaugh didn’t see the black widow spider that bit him in Scottsdale, Ariz., while he was covering a minor league game in 2019.

“I didn’t realize I had got bitten,” says Murtaugh. “I had this knot on the inside of my thigh.”

Murtaugh flew out the next day. In talking with wife Kathleen, he was convinced to go to urgent care.

The said, ‘we’ve got to do surgery,’” says Murtaugh. “They cleaned all the poison and venom out. I was fine after that.”

And — with the media accounts — somewhat famous.

“I was at spring training this year and there was a family sitting behind me,” says Murtaugh. “I had my bag with name tag. The father must have Googled me and said to me, ‘I just read about that black widow.’”

Kathleen Murtaugh is an assistant professor at St. Elizabeth School of Nursing — a division of Franciscan Health — in Lafayette. Pat has three step-children and 10 grandchildren.

PATMURTAUGH

Pat Murtaugh, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., is a pro baseball scout for the New York Yankees. 2020 is his 32nd year as a scout.

Notre Dame Law School students explore baseball arbitration

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What’s a player in Major League Baseball worth?

The player’s side has one figure in mind.

The club side presents another number.

To decide who wins, it sometimes comes down to a third party — an arbitrator.

Thanks to Professor of Law Emeritus Ed Edmonds, University of Notre Dame Law School students get a taste for this process with an internal tournament in the fall and by sending a team to the Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition at Tulane University in New Orleans in January.

The 2020 contest was the 13th for the TIBAC, run by the Tulane Sports Law Society as a simulated salary arbitration competition modeled closely on the procedures used by MLB.

According to the Tulane Law School website, “Like most law school moot court competitions, TIBAC’s main goal is to provide participants with the opportunity to sharpen their oral and written advocacy skills.

“However, the competition is unique in that it allows law students to sharpen these skills within the specialized context of MLB’s salary arbitration proceedings.

“The competition is held annually in the early part of the spring academic semester at Tulane University Law School.

“Additionally, at the conclusion of the arbitration competition, Tulane’s Sports Law Society hosts a panel of experts to discuss legal issues related to baseball.”

The popular event usually has a waitlist.

About a decade ago, Edmonds got Notre Dame involved in the TIBAC. For the past five years, there has been an internal contest at Notre Dame.

“We tend have about 12 to 15 students per class that have a very, very strong interest in sports law,” says Edmonds, advisor to Notre Dame Law School’s Sports Communication & Entertainment Law Forum — the student organization that sponsors the internal competition and those that attend the TIBAC. “About three quarters of them were a college athlete or work experience in the sports area. (The internal competition and application) is a much more objective way of picking our team members.”

Edmonds has been doing research on baseball arbitration since the 1980s and co-authored with Frank G. Houdek the book “Baseball Meets the Law: A Chronology of Decisions, Statutes and Other Legal Events” (published by McFarland & Co., 2017).

During the internal arbitration competition, Edmonds advises two-person teams to develop a theme and follow it throughout the whole argument.

Edmonds says he hopes that the Notre Dame Law School, Mendoza College of Business and athletic department will be able to work closer in the future.

Representing Notre Dame at Tulane this time around were team members Kevin Francese, Sebastian Bellm and Ryne Quinlan and coach Elizabeth Lombard.

Francese and Lombard are in their third year of law school (3L). Bellm and Quinlan are in their first year (1L).

Bellm and Quinlan teamed up to win Notre Dame’s internal competition, which centered around former Fighting Irish player and current Baltimore Orioles right fielder Trey Mancini and required the player side argue a penny above the mid-point and the club side a penny below the mid-point to win the argument, besting Francese and Paige Carey in the finals. Francese, Bellm and Quinlan applied and were chosen by Lombard to go to Tulane.

With three rounds, the field was trimmed from 31 to eight on the first day and those eight advanced to the second day. Fordham University won its second straight title. Notre Dame was runner-up in 2019 (team members John Casey, Dominique Fry and Reid Fulkerson were coached by Stephen Scheffel).

The three players featured at the 2020 IBAC were New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, Colorado Rockies right-handed starting pitcher Jon Gray and Milwaukee Brewers lefty closer Josh Hader.

Notre Dame was assigned to argue on the player side for Judge, the club side for Hader and had to be prepared on both sides of the argument for Gray.

TIBAC teams were required to produce exhibit slides and share them with competing teams.

Going before a judge and head-to-head with another team, they argued using a mid-point salary figure for each player.

First came the player argument then the team argument followed by the player rebuttal and team rebuttal. Two people had to talk during each argument. Points were assigned in each round.

Areas considered in the arguments included career contributions, injuries, past compensation, club attendance, team appeal and comparable players aka “comps.”

For Gray, who had a mid-point of $5.4 million, it was New York Mets righty starter Michael Wacha, Atlanta Braves righty starter Mike Foltynewicz and Texas Rangers lefty starter Mike Minor.

Lombard, a Chicago Cubs fan from the Chicago suburb of Western Springs, Ill., has been involved in baseball arbitration competition in all three years of law school. As a 1L, she was a team member. As a 2L, she ran the on-campus tournament and was an assistant coach. As a 3L, she ran the tournament, selected the team and went to Tulane as coach.

“This is unique for law school,” says Lombard. “It’s a non-confrontational way of arguing.”

There were several practice sessions with interruptions just like during the competition. Even law school students not involved were asked for their input.

While she could not get too involved, Lombard was able to help team members craft their arguments and edit their 10-page briefs. There were mock trial sessions at Notre Dame.

After the mental exhaustion of law school finals, much of the preparation happened during Christmas break.

TIBAC prizes were on the line for written presentations due in late December and oral presentations given in January.

“It was a really great experience,” says Lombard, who has a position in the general practice group at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in New York waiting on her after law school. “You don’t have to work in baseball for it to be an asset to you.

“You get to learn about another area of the law. You’re exploring salary arbitration and get to hone general negotiation skills.”

Guests at Tulane have included people like past TIBAC finalist Greg Dreyfuss (Director of Analytics and Baseball Operations for the MLBPA) and former Notre Dame baseball player Matt Nussbaum (Deputy General Counsel for the MLBPA and son of Midwest League president Dick Nussbaum).

“It’s super cool to be able to talk to people in the industry who are interested in our success,” says Lombard.

She nows looks at the game in a different way.

“My love for baseball has totally transformed,” says Lombard. “Now I feel I can talk with the best of them. It’s not only back of the baseball card, but advanced statistics.”

Lombard notes that the baseball player market has blown up and its sometimes difficult to value them.

“You get once or twice in a lifetime players,” says Lombard. “(Players rank) somewhere between (new Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder) Mookie Betts and someone else.”

Francese came to ND from Chappaqua, N.Y., which is 30 miles north of New York City. This was his first time in baseball arbitration competition. He pulls for the New York Yankees.

“We were assigned the player side of Aaron Judge, which is great because I’m a Yankee fan,” says Francese. “I had to talk up Aaron Judge, not talk him down. I don’t know how we didn’t win our Aaron Judge argument.

“I do play fantasy baseball. I don’t take (Boston) Red Sox as a policy.”

Bellm, another Cubs fan who moved with his family to Mishawaka, Ind., in 2008 and graduated from Marian High School in 2011. He graduated from St. Bonaventure (N.Y.) University with an accounting and finance degree in 2016. He lived in Chicago for three years before law school.

“This is different than anything I’ve done before,” says Bellm. “I’ve always been a baseball fan. But I had to dig into a deeper level.

“It was also nice change of pace from regular law school.”

Competitors get no extra credit and do the work on their own time.

Bellm notes that baseball salary arbitration is a niche area of the law and there might be 50 lawyers in the country who specialize in it and 20 or so of them attend the TIABC as guest judges.

“Jobs (for lawyers in baseball arbitration) are few and far between,” says Francese. “It’s not a wide spread thing. Certain people in big law firms do it.

“I hope to get back into sports law at some point in my career.”

He says he hopes to stay involved with the competitions throughout his time in law school.

Bellm notes that studying for Mancini’s case was helped by his position.

“With more outfielders, there’s more comps,” says Bellm.

It’s easier to compare corner outfielders than a second baseman to a shortstop.

While competitors had to be versed in the player and club sides, Bellm says the argument was stronger on the player side for Mancini, who was coming off a strong platform year (the season before arbitration). It’s their most-recent performance.

Mancini had a solid rookie year, a sophomore slump then had a uptick in his platform year. Those arguing for the player would emphasize his improvement. On the club side, they would point out a lack of consistency.

“It’s one of the most important factors considered in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (between the 30 MLB clubs and the MLBPA),” says Bellm of the platform year.

To make the competition more realistic, only real arbitration-eligible players are used. If a player’s real case is settled prior to the competition, that information can’t be used.

Edmonds says in most years 150 to 170 MLB players are arbitration-eligible, but few of those go to hearings.

For the record, Judge and the Yankees avoided arbitration and the club agreed to pay him $8.5 million. His 2019 salary was $684,300.

Gray and the Rockies reached an agreement and avoided arbitration. His salary went from $2.925 million in 2019 to $5.6 million in 2020.

Hader lost his arbitration case. He requested $6.4 million. He was given $4.1 million.

Mancini and the Orioles avoided arbitration. He earned 575,500 in 2019 and signed for $4.75 million in 2020.

Quinlan is from the Chicago suburb of Algonquin, Ill. He received a undergraduate and master’s accounting degrees from Notre Dame in 2016 and 2017. He serves in the U.S. Army National Guard.

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Repesenting Notre Dame Law School at the 2020 Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition (from left): team members Kevin Fracense, Sebastian Bellm and Ryne Quinlan and coach Elizabeth Lombard.

Evansville Razorbacks promote accountability, communication, commitment

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 18U Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have been a force in the travel baseball world with four Pastime Tournaments national championships and a National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series runner-up finish.

The 2017 team went 40-0.

Established in 2002 by Jeremy Johnson, the Razorbacks have had 336 players sign on with college baseball programs and numerous players have been in pro ball.

“This program sets guys up not only in baseball, but their whole life,” says Johnson. “It’s a fraternity. You’re going to be a Razorback the rest of your life.

“It’s bigger than anybody, including me.”

Johnson is a 1993 Mater Dei graduate. He grew up spending Saturday mornings helping his father groom youth diamonds around Evansville. C.J. Johnson is a 2017 inductee into the Greater Evansville Sports Hall of Fame as a baseball administrator.

At 14, Jeremy severely hurt his right arm and learned how throw serviceably with his left. In high school, he was a successful cross country and track runner.

Johnson networks with college coaches and does his best to educate players and parents on the recruiting process and deciding on the best fit for them.

“My job is to help you find out your ‘why,’’ says Johnson. “What is driving you? If you don’t know that, you can get lost. You need to have a really good grasp on that. If you don’t and everything starts to go south, you’ll start panicking.”

And it doesn’t have to be NCAA Division I or bust. Some are best-suited by going the D-II, D-III, NAIA or junior college route.

“I’m completely over the fact that Division I is the best case scenario (for every player),” says Johnson. “You should pick a school where, if you didn’t play baseball any more, you wouldn’t want to transfer.

“It’s very, very personal thing for each kid. Look at schools that fit you personally. Start putting together legitimate ideas on what you know you want instead of what you think you want.

“High school is very status-orientedYou’re not doing it for your teammates. There’s a 50-50 shot you’ll meet your wife there.

“It’s way more than baseball.”

Johnson says he has watched the transfer portal blow up in recent years in part because of so many early commits (freshmen and sophomore are making verbal commitments these days) and players and parents not doing their due diligence on what they want and what a program has to offer.

“They may be good enough to be a tweener with D-I,” says Johnson. “But they could play more at D-II or go to D-III and be an All-American.

“We don’t want them to have regrets or at least minimize them.”

While he has been involved in most of the 336 college signings, Johnson doesn’t take credit. It’s the players with the talent.

“I’m not the reason any of my kid plays in college,” says Johnson. “I’m just a guy who goes to bat for them. My job is to market them. I’m an avenue.

“The kids are the ones that deserve everything. I didn’t throw a ball, catch a ball or hit it. I’m not the reason for the season.”

A junior college advocate, Johnson says those players tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. Six starters on the Razorbacks’ 2018  team went on to JC ball. The 2017 club was made up mostly of D-I commits.

“It saves money and keeps their options open,” says Johnson. “It makes you grind a little bit. You find out if you really love baseball if you go junior college.”

Johnson says the Razorbacks are well-represented in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley).

Johnson says parents don’t always receive personal feedback when they take their sons to showcases. They get the numbers, but not an idea of what that coaching staff thinks of the player and how they would fit in their program.

Players can go to showcase after showcase and the money spent can add up to the cost of a scholarship.

“Tell me what you’re interested in doing and let me market you,” says Johnson. He will do his best to have college coaches look at the player and let them know what they think.

“College recruiting always in flux,” says Johnson. “(Recruiters) don’t want to tell you yes or no. There’s a lot of maybes. That’s a frustrating thing. I tell parents to build an idea of where their kid really fits.”

In showcases or with private lessons, many times players are told over and over again how good they are.

“Some are honest about good things and bad things,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. You need it.”

Johnson sees his role with the Razorbacks as driven by relationships.

“I get to know the kids,” says Johnson. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with them.”

While many players come from southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky, there is no real limit and have come from several states away.

“I’m not afraid to ask anybody,” says Johnson. “We have the ability to house a few kids.”

Many players spend two seasons with the Razorbacks, which Johnson says averages 17 to 20 college commits per year. In any given year, a third to half of the squad goes into the summer uncommitted.

Among the 2019 high school graduates from Indiana schools on the ’19 summer team were Evansville North shortststop/second baseman Alex Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Austin shortstop/right-handed pitcher/third baseman Drew Buhr (Saint Louis University), Castle left-handed pitcher Blake Ciuffetelli (USI), Castle first baseman Brodey Heaton (Belmont University), Evansville Memorial right-handed pitcher Isaac Housman (USI) and Tecumseh outfielder Steven Molinet (USI).

There’s also shortstop/second baseman Alex Adams (Purdue University), catcher Garret Gray (Butler University), right-handed pitcher Trey Nordmann (Howard College in Texas) and left-handed pitcher/outfielder/first baseman Mark Shallenberger (University of Evansville).

Former Ben Davis High School catcher Zyon Avery (Ohio University), Decatur Central right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and right-hander Garret Simpson (Eastern Kentucky University) are among the recent Razorbacks now playing college baseball.

Razorback alums left-hander Dean Kiekhefer (Oakland Athletics), right-hander Derek Self (Washington Nationals) and outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Boston Red Sox) played at Triple-A in 2019. All three played at the University of Louisville. Kiekhefer appeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 and with Oakland in 2018.

There’s also former Backs Easton McGee and Stewart Ijames.

Right-hander McGee played for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2019.

Outfielder Ijames, a former U of L player and in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, was with the independent Kansas City T-Bones in 2019.

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes Lincoln High School graduate who recently went into the Indiana State University and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after a major league career, played for the Evansville Black Sox (1993-2001), which were picked up by the Razorbacks in 2002.

Johnson was an outfielder for the Jim Wittman-coached Black Sox in 1993-94. In a Black Sox alumni game, Johnson’s last pitch resulted in a Barmes home run.

“I hadn’t pitched in two years,” says Johnson. “Didn’t matter. Would happened on my best day.”

Former U of L catcher Jeff Arnold was signed by scout Kevin Christman and played in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-hander Morgan Coombs went to West Vigo High School and Ball State University then played independent ball.

Outfielder Sean Godfrey played at New Albany High School and Ball State before time in the Atlanta Braves system and indy ball.

First baseman Jon Hedges played at Indiana State.

Third baseman Kevin Hoef went to the University of Iowa and played indy ball.

Catcher Jeremy Lucas played at West Vigo and Indiana State before time in the Cleveland Indians system.

Black Sox right-hander Stephen Obenchain played at Evansville Memorial and the University of Evansville before stints in the Athletics system and independent ball.

First baseman Derek Peterson, who hails from New Jersey, went on to Temple University and played in Baltimore Orioles organization.

Black Sox right-hander Andy Rohleder played at Forest Park High School and the University of Evansville before tenures with the Florida Marlins organization and indy ball.

Right-hander P.J. Thomas, a Jeffersonville High School graduate who played at USI, was twice-drafted by the Red Sox and played indy ball.

Catcher Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) played in the Red Sox organization.

Former Black Sox, Heritage Hills High School and University of Dayton catcher Mark Wahl was in the Orioles system.

While the Razorbacks run a full program with off-season training, Johnson says he is a realist and he knows that players have commitments to their hometown teams and work with their own hitting and pitching instructors. He doesn’t ask them to drive several hours to Evansville to hit them grounders.

“I’m not that full of myself,” says Johnson. “I have the utmost respect for high school programs.

“I love travel ball. But a large amount of travel ball is B.S. It’s such a money-driven situation. Travel ball — as a whole — is expensive for families with travel, hotels and all of that. We try to keep that cost down as low as we possibly can.”

When the 18U Razorbacks do travel, the team stays together in the same hotel.

Many of the players are getting close to going away to college. They get to experience curfews, team meetings and learn personal accountability. It’s an early look at their freshmen year and that first taste of freedom. They are responsible for their own laundry.

“The team runs the team,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot to be learned off the field until they go to college.”

Parents are encouraged treat the weekend like a getaway. All they have to do is attend the games and watch their sons play.

The organization expanded this off-season to 10 teams — 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, two 12U squads, 13U, 14U, 16U and 18U. 8U to 14U is high school prep. 15U to 18U is college prep.

According to Johnson, whose 18U assistant coaches are Bob Davis, Ryan Dills and Buddy Hales, the emphasis is on teaching player accountability at an early age, communication with parents, speed and strength conditioning and commitment to helping the person, then the player.”

Top 18U events in 2020 include June 12-14 in Midland, Ohio, June 18-21 in Louisville, Ky., June 26-28 in Midland, Ohio, June 30-July 1 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, July 5-9 at Perfect Game World Series (invitation only) in Hoover, Ala., and July 15-19 at the 18U Nationals in Indianapolis.

Jeremy and Christi Johnson married in 2013. There are three children — Seth (18), Ava (14) and Conner (13). Conner Johnson, now an eighth grader, was born in 2007, the same year the Razorbacks were NABF World Series runners-up.

“Spending summers with him with me is what ties it all together,” says Jeremy Johnson of time spent with Conner and Backs baseball.

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The Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have placed 336 players in college baseball since 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks)

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Jeremy Johnson (center) is the founder of the Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks travel baseball organization. The Razorbacks’ first season was in 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks Photo)

 

Christman sees baseball through a scout’s eyes

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Christman has been in professional baseball for well over half of his 54 years. He signed his first pro contract as a teenager.

At the end of last summer, Noblesville, Ind., resident Christman concluded a 13-year stint as a scout for the San Francisco Giants and has three World Series rings to show for it. As an area scout, his territory included Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. He also coached at Giants Fall Scout Team that included several players eventually selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Ryan Campbell, Garrett Christman, Harrison Freed, Cory Malcom, Connor Mitchell, Mitch Roman, Tanner Tully, Nolan Watson.

While he is assessing his next move, Christman is helping out Sue and Chris Estep at Round Tripper Sports Academy.

“I’m giving back to the game,” says Christman, who has served as a general manager, coach and advisor on curriculum, facilities and the baseball industry over the years at the place where sons Garrett and Connor Christman trained and played for the Indiana Mustangs as well as Noblesville High School’s 2014 IHSAA Class 4A state champions, which were recently inducted with the NHS Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. “I’m giving back to the program. I’ve always been available for them.”

Christman went to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif., and was a 6-foot-3 catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies and Giants systems before beginning his scouting career on the West Coast with the Milwaukee Brewers and joined the Giants player evaluation staff in 2006.

Along the way, the Midwest became his territory and he and wife Linda moved their family to central Indiana.

Christman has watched technology grow and become a big part of player development.

“It’s changed strength level opportunities,” says Christman. “We understand nutrition and what’s out there to use.

“There’s still a lot of unproven aspects of the technology. The game’s the game. But you don’t leave any stone unturned. You use all resources.”

Chistman uses technology, but he has long employed his evaluation and personal skills to find prospects and to see what makes them tick.

“My job was to always bet on a heartbeat,” says Christman. “With what we were spending on players, that’s just as important. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Christman studies players. Once they pass the eye test, he goes in-depth.

“What has he learned? What has he not learned?,” says Christman. “I could almost be like an FBI agent.”

Like other scouts, Christman would project a player’s potential to get to the majors.

“It’s all conjecture,” says Christman. “I think he can do this.

“It’s like a lump a clay you can mold.”

Only a small percentage of players who enter the system will ever have a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

“It’s a very difficult process,” says Christman. “Eventually, physical talents become similar.”

Things like make-up often make the difference between those who break into the majors and those that don’t.

That’s why scouts like Christman will work hard to find and sign the best players.

“I’m a winner,” says Christman. “It’s a competitive business.”

The proving grounds in baseball is at the high school and college levels.

Christman says many big leaguers were signed out of high school. But the latest trend is to sign college players.

“(Colleges can) develop them three years longer,” says Christman. “(Professional teams tend to) go with a proven track record. History will prevail. That’s what’s driving the sport now. There will be another adjustment later.”

Of course, not all big leaguers are known on the national level by the time they’re 16 and performing in showcases.

“One of the joys of scouting is finding that one guy who’s not in the mainstream,” says Christman.

That’s the story of Adam Duvall, a graduate of Butler Traditional High School in Louisville who played at Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville, made his Major League Baseball debut with the Giants and played with the Cincinnati Reds 2015-18 and the Atlanta Braves in 2018-19. He was a corner infielder in college and has been mostly a left fielder in the bigs.

“His signing was not analytically-driven,” says Christman of Duvall. “He made the game look easy. He had better than average makeup.

“He’s a worker. It’s the grass roots story of a champion.”

MLB has been talking about shrinking the minor leagues, possibly a contraction of 25 percent of teams. If that happens, what would it look like?

With rookie leagues decreased or eliminated, Christman says its likely that players with the least amount of experience would remain in an extended spring training setting before going to Class A ball.

“They will keep players in the complex longer and there will be a higher revolving door at the top,” says Christman. “Either they’re big league players or they’re not.

“It’ll be a little more hands-on at a younger level.”

Noting “it’s all about spots,” Christman says it will harder to enter into baseball at the lower level.

As it stands now, minor leaguers train and play with their organizations from March to September and then are essentially on their own until the next spring.

Christman says a streamlined affiliated baseball could see teams conducting mini-camps throughout the year kind of like OTA’s in football.

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Kevin Christman poses with the World Series trophy. The Noblesville, Ind., resident won three World Series rings as a scout with the San Francisco Giants.

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Kevin Christman earned three World Series rings as a scout for the San Francisco Giants. The Noblesville, Ind., resident has been in pro baseball for more than half his life.