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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)

 

Lowery fondly recalls Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Maloney has been a head coach in college baseball coach for 24 seasons with 22 campaigns of 30 wins or more and 832 total victories.

Maloney has developed dozens players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

John Lowery Jr. was there at the beginning, serving as assistant coach to Maloney throughout his first stint at Ball State University and two seasons into his tenure at the University of Michigan.

Lowery, who was the West Virginia high school player of the year in 1988 and four-year right-handed pitcher at the University of Minnesota, was in his third season of coaching collegians when Maloney was hired at BSU in the summer of 1995.

After finishing his playing career, Lowery was on Joe Carbone’s staff at Ohio University heading into the 1995 season when Mike Gibbons left the Ball State staff to pursue a scouting job and Pat Quinn, a good friend of Carbone, was looking for a pitching coach for what turned out to be Quinn’s final coaching season. Lowery was hired in January.

When Maloney, who had been an assistant at Western Michigan University, was named Cardinals head coach he inherited Lowery.

“He gets his first head coaching job at 30 years old and he has to keep an assistant for a year,” says Lowery, who was in attendance at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “He was open-minded about it but he told me you need to be able to recruit and evaluate players and you’ve got to be loyal.

“We did have some good players over the years.”

While Lowery was on the BSU staff, the Cardinals produced four players that went on to be drafted in the first round — right-handed pitcher Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall by  Pittsburgh in 2002), outfielder Larry Bigbie (No. 21 overall by Baltimore in 1999) and left-handers Luke Hagerty (No. 32 overall by the Chicago Cubs in 2002) and Jeff Urban (No. 41 overall by the San Francisco Giants in 1998).

Hagerty hails from Defiance, Ohio. The rest are Indiana high school products — Bullington from Madison Consolidated, Bigbie from Hobart and Urban from Alexandria-Monroe.

There was also catcher Jonathan Kessick (third round to Baltimore in 1999), right-handers Justin Wechsler (fourth round to Arizona in 2001) and Paul Henry (seventh round to Baltimore in 2002) and left-hander Jason Hickman (eighth round to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000). Wechsler prepped at Pendelton Heights.

In addition, MLB came calling in the first 20 rounds for left-hander Sam McConnell (11th round Pittsburgh in 1997), catcher Doug Boone (15th round to the Florida Marlins in 2001 and 36th round to the New York Yankees in 2002), left-hander Adam Sheefel (17th round to Cincinnati in 2000), right-hander Bruce Stanley (18th round to Kansas City in 1997) and shortstop Shayne Ridley (19th round to Baltimore in 2000).

Tapping into Indiana high school resources, Boone went to Providence and Stanley Shenandoah.

“He was definitely energetic,” says Lowery of a young Maloney. He was about getting after it. That’s for sure.

“He was aggressive. He could recruit. He understood projectability of players. That’s why he had so many first-rounders. He could look at guys who were sort of under-valued. We can do this, this and this with this kid and he has a chance to be pretty good.”

Lowery says Bullington was undervalued because he was such a good basketball player. He just hadn’t played a lot of baseball.

“For whatever reason he chose to play baseball instead of basketball in college even though his father (Larry Bullington) is one of the best basketball players ever to play at Ball State,” says Lowery. “(Bryan Bullington) really got good at the end of his senior year (of high school in 1999) to the point that he was offered to sign (by Kansas City) and did not.

In three seasons at BSU, Bullington went 29-11 with 357 strikeouts in 296 2/3 innings was selected No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates with a $4,000,000 signing bonus.

Lowery recalls that Hagerty’s parents moved into a smaller house so he could come to Ball State. He ended up being a first-round “sandwich” pick.

Urban was a 6-8 southpaw who got better.

“He could always throw strikes but he couldn’t throw very hard,” says Lowery of Urban. “All of a sudden, he got a lot stronger, did a lot of long toss and started throwing in the lower 90s.”

Urban was also first-round “sandwich” pick.

In their seven campaigns together in Muncie, Lowery and Maloney were part of 256 wins along with three Mid-American Conference titles and four MAC West crowns.

Lowery followed Maloney to Ann Arbor and those first two Wolverines teams won 64 contests and placed in the top three in the Big Ten Conference.

Top MLB draftees during those two years were Indianapolis Cathedral product Jake Fox (third round to the Chicago Cubs in 2003, Carmel graduate Jim Brauer (ninth round to Florida in 2005), Derek Feldkamp (ninth round to Tampa Bay Rays in 2005) and Brock Koman (ninth round to Houston in 2003).

“He’s a great communicator,” says Lowery of Maloney. “He has a vision. He’s intense.

“Kids like to play for him.”

At the end of his second season at Michigan, John and Tricia Lowery had three children under 6 — Abbee, Beau and Brooks — and he decided to leave college coaching and went back to West Virginia.

Lowery has a unique distinction. He turned 50 in 2019 and his high school and college head coaches — father John Lowery Sr. (a founder of the West Virginia High School Baseball Coaches Association and WVHSBCA Hall of Famer) at Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va. and John Anderson at Minnesota — are still serving in the same positions as when he played for them.

For seven seasons, Lowery was head coach at Martinsburg High School. The Bulldogs’ arch rivals are the Jefferson Cougars, coached by his father.

Martinsburg won a state title in 2009 and Jefferson bested Martinsburg on the way to a state crown in 2011. The Lowerys won a state championship together when John Jr., was a player.

The younger Lowery, who now teaches at Jefferson, coached travel ball and softball on and off the next few years then became head baseball coach for four years at Mercersburg Academy, a boarding school in south central Pennsylvania that is about 40 miles from Martinsburg.

Last spring, he traveled often to see Beau Lowery play as a walk-on left-handed pitcher at West Virginia University.

How did Lowery end up going from the Mountaineer State to Minnesota?

Rob Fornasiere, who ended up as a Golden Gophers assistant for 33 years, was a good friend of Bernie Walter, who coached Denny Neagle at Arundel High School in Gambrills, Md., and had gotten the pitcher to come to play at Minnesota.

Fornasiere was at the 1987 Olympic Festival watching Dan Wilson and John Lowery Sr., approaches him to say that his son is talented and would consider playing for the Gophers.

“To Rob’s credit, he didn’t blow my father off,” says Lowery. “Rob was always very organized. At another recruiting even later that year, John Anderson saw me play. I was good enough.”

His first recruiting visit was also his first time on an airplane. He attended Game 7 of the 1987 World Series (St. Louis Cardinals at Minnesota Twins).

In the lunch room, Lowery sat the lunch room at the table next to Reggie Jackson (who was on the ABC broadcast crew).

In his four seasons at Minnesota, Lowery played with six future big leaguers — Neagle, Wilson, Jim Brower, Brent Gates, Kerry Lightenberg and Brian Raabe.

Lowery spent a short time in the Giants organization at Everett, Wash., and Clinton, Iowa, after signing for $1,000 as a free agent with scout Mike Toomey on a car trunk in Huntington, W.Va. His pro debut was memorable.

“I was nervous as all get out,” says Lowery. “I come in with the bases loaded. I balk all three runs in because the balk rule is different in college. You can basically change direction. In pro ball, you had to set.”

Lowery pitched for the Minneapolis Loons of the independent North Central League. The team was managed by Greg Olson. Teammates included Lightenberg and Juan Berenguer.

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John Lowery Jr., was an assistant baseball coach at Ball State University 1995-2002 and the University Michigan 2003-2004 — all but the first year as an assistant to Rich Maloney. Lowey is a former West Virginia high school player of the year who pitched at the University of Minnesota. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Former long-time assistant Hutchins now in charge of Providence Pioneers

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Hutchins has spent 27 years in a Our Lady of Providence High School baseball uniform — four as a player for then-head coach Ben Hornung and the past 23 as an assistant coach to Scott Hornung (Ben’s cousin). In 25 seasons, Scott Hornung went 473-233 with 13 sectional title, six regional crowns, one semistate championship and one state title.

Now 1991 Providence graduate Hutchins is in charge of the Clarksville, Ind.-based Pioneers program and carries things he learned from the Hornungs and ideas he’s formed on his own.

Hutchins recalls how prepared Ben Hornung was for each day’s practice.

“He was very organized,” says Hutchins. “He made every single person feel like they were an important part of the team and that they were a big contributor.

“(Scott Hornung) had the ability to cultivate relationships with all the players. He had a lot of respect for all those guys. He listened to his assistants and would take your advice.

“I hope to take a little bit of all those things when I get started.”

Hutchins has already put Providence players through fall Limited Contact Period baseball workouts (two hours, twice-a-week for seven weeks).

“We had good weather and got all 14 practices in,” says Hutchins. “We really focused on individual player development. We did a little bit of team stuff.

“I like the Limited Contact rule because we are allowed to instruct.”

There was individual defensive work and time spent in the batting cage.

“We had a super productive fall,” says Hutchins. “In December, we’ll do conditioning and lifting. I doubt we’ll even pick up a baseball in December.

“In January, we’ll focus on getting our pitchers ready for the season.”

Ideally, Hutchins would like his players to be able to throw a little during conditioning times, but the rules do not currently allow that though the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association is working with the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association on proposals, including one that would extend the period of arm care.

Hutchins says he would like to stretch out his starters and have his bullpen pitchers throw a lesser number of pitches two or three days a week to get used to doing that during the season.

“Right now, it’s hard to get their arms ready,” says Hutchins.

His assistants include Providence alums Jacob Julius (2004), Tre Watson (2016) and Colin Rauck (2015) plus former Indiana University Southeast pitcher Elliott Fuller and Jennings County graduate and former IUS player Brian Jackson.

Associate head coach Julius played and coached at the University of Arkansas and played in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Watson was on the Pioneers’ state title team in 2016 and is now the hitting coach. Fuller works with pitcher and is the head junior varsity coach. Jackson works with catchers. Rauck is a JV assistant.

Providence (enrollment around 360) is an athletic independent with no conference affiliation.

Among 2019 opponents were Austin, Brownstown Central, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, Gibson Southern, Jeffersonville, Lanesville, New Albany, North Harrison, Salem, Silver Creek, South Central of Elizabeth and Washington in Indiana plus Glenbrook South and Metamora in Illinois and Trinity in Kentucky.

The Pioneers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Austin, Clarksville, Crawford County, Eastern of Pekin and Henryville. Providence has won 18 sectional titles — the last in 2017. The Pioneers were 2A state champions in 2016.

Several recent Providence graduates have gone on to college baseball, including Joe Wilkinson (Indiana University), Christian Graf (Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.) and Adam Uhl (Franklin College), Timmy Borden (University of Louisville), Reece Davis (Bellarmine University in Louisville), Jake Lewis (Eastern Kentucky University) and Jay Lorenz (Hanover College).

No current Pioneers have made college baseball commitments.

Hutchins has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Indiana University Southeast. He teaches Chemistry and is Dean of Students at Providence.

Scott and Traci Hutchins have two baseball-playing sons — senior Bryce Hutchins and freshman Logan Hutchins. Both are second basemen.

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The Hutchins family (from left): Bryce, Logan, Traci and Scott. After 23 seasons as an assistant, alum Scott Hutchins is now the head baseball coach at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind.

 

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Batesville native Miller sees pitching change in half century of pro baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dyar Miller’s 51 years in professional baseball wrapped in 2018 as a pitching coach for the Triple-A Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Indiana native witnessed many changes to the game as a player, manager, coordinator and coach.

When Miller began his career as a unsigned free agent catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies organization out of Utah State University in 1968, there were no pitching coaches in the minors. He did not work with a coach dedicated to the art until he was in the big leagues.

Miller, who was born in Batesville and graduated from tiny New Point High School (there were 14 in his graduating class), was turned into a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. He first toed the rubber in a major league game with the Orioles on June 9, 1975. Earl Weaver was Baltimore’s manager. George Bamberger was the O’s pitching coach.

“The Orioles are the first organization to use a radar gun,” says Miller, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who pitched seven MLB seasons with Baltimore, the California Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. “We used to phone or fax the game report in. Now it’s on a computer.

“When I first signed, (minor league teams) had a manager and a trainers. Trainers took care of injuries.

“(Pitchers) talked among ourselves. Back then you repeated each league two or three times and you watched. We did not have video. We tried to learn from an opponent.”

At the end of his career, Miller was often in video sessions with his hurlers, breaking down TrackMan information.

“Sometimes the pitcher would beat me to my office, looking for the data,” says Miller. “The Astros mandated that we have cell phones or iPads — company-owned — for bullpen sessions. That was the (minor league pitching) coordinator’s call.”

As a coach, Miller encouraged his more-seasoned pitchers to pass information along to other hurlers.

“They’ll listen to their peers,” says Miller. “Just tell me what you’re telling them.

“In the big leagues, they still do it that way.”

From 1995-2012, Miller served in many roles with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, including pitching coach, roving minor league pitching instructor, minor league pitching coordinator and major league bullpen coach.

It was a standard rule for Cardinals starters to watch fellow starters do their side work and chime in with their observations.

Miller insisted that his pitchers always play catch with a purpose.

“I have to remind guys of that every time you throw a ball, throw to a target — maybe the left shoulder, right shoulder or chest,” says Miller. “Long toss was real big there for awhile.”

Each organization is a little bit different. But many have pitchers start at 60 feet and work their way out to 120 or more.

“Some do it up to 20 minutes on a certain day,” says Miller. “It’s more of a recovery thing. They get the lactic acid out of there.

“Moderation is the best thing. Some guys do too much long toss.”

Miller likens the minor leagues to a laboratory and development — rather than winning the pennant — is the focus.

“We experiment with things here and there,” says Miller. “(Players) develop something that suits them. We’re not cloning everybody.”

At the same time, organizations have specific throwing programs.

“It’s pretty strict,” says Miller. “The Astros don’t like you throwing sinkers unless you’re like Charlie Morton and have a real good one. They stress the change-up.

“There are drills and we give them options — things to work on — each day like inside throws and crow hops. It’s pretty hands-on now, but there’s still leeway to be individualistic.”

Miller says that the higher player climbs the minor league ladder, the more they know themselves and what works best.

the higher you go in the minor leagues,

“At the lower levels, they are watched like a hawk,” says Miller.

The diamond veteran has his pitchers look for external cues — visualizing throwing the ball outside the body and going for the outer or inner halves of the strike zone.

“It’s more effective than internal (cues),” says Miller. “Nowadays, the favorite saying is ‘recent studies show.’ We’ve got what been studied and been shown to work.”

Then there’s the matter of rhythm.

“That’s an external thing, too,” says Miller. “You want to find your tempo and rhythm and pound the strike zone.”

The idea is to get the synchronize with the other body parts.

“There should be no stress on the arm,” says Miller. “It’s coming through because your torso is rotating.

“Your arm just comes along for the ride.”

Like winding a spring or a top, the pitcher loads up then it all comes loose at once.

“That’s how you get the extra pop on the ball,” says Miller. “A lot of people have trouble getting the load or it will leak out.

“It takes time to figure all that out.”

It took time for Miller to gather all his pitching knowledge.

“I knew about 1/10th or less when I was pitching than I do now,” says Miller, 73.

He does know that he is busier now away from pro baseball than when he was in it. Miller turned down an offer from the Mets to finish the 2019 season as pitching coach at Triple-A Syracuse.

“It was tempting,” says Miller, who moved from Batesville to Indianapolis in 1997 to be closer to a major airport and now spends his days working around the house, catching up with family and friends or fishing at his place on Lake Monroe.

Dyar and wife Bertha are on their second marriages. Between them, they have six children and 14 grandchildren with one on the way.

His sons look forward to the annual Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic Oct. 4 in Jasper.

Miller still follows the game on television and was able to attend a Wright State-Indiana game in Bloomington, where he was able to catch up with IU director of player development Scott Rolen (who played for the Cardinals) and WSU head coach Alex Sogard (who pitched in the Houston system).

Another pupil in the Astros organization — right-hander Cy Sneed — made his major league debut June 27.

Former Houston farmhand Trent Thornton is now in the starting rotation for Toronto.

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Batesville, Ind., native Dyar Miller served in several capacities in the St. Louis Cardinals organization from 1995-2012. (St. Louis Cardinals Photo)

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Dyar Miller, an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer, was in pro ball for 51 years — the last few as a pitching coach in the Houston Astros system. (Houston Astros Photo)

 

Daniel brings 1980 baseball season back with lively “Phinally!”

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J. Daniel was just shy of 13 when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series for the first time in 1980.

Even though he was in southwestern Ohio, he followed the Phils from “Mike Schmidt to Ramon Aviles.”

Growing up when he did, Daniel appreciates baseball and pop culture in the 1980’s.

He is a big fan of Dan Epstein — author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s — and his style.

So much so that the Brownsburg, Ind., resident decided to write a book about baseball and more in the decade he knows so well.

“I’m a total stat geek,” says Daniel, who recalls devouring the box scores in the Cincinnati Enquirer during his youth. “Everything’s interesting to me.”

With so much material, it became books — plural.

Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t (McFarland & Company) was published in 2019.

It was 1980 that gave us ….

The primetime TV drama “Dallas” and the cliffhanger summer question of “Who Shot J.R.?”

Movie-goers saw comedy in the “The Blue Brothers” and “Airplane!” and horror in “The Shining” and “Friday The 13th.”

In one scene from “The Shining,” Shelley Duvall wields a Carl Yastrzemski model Louisville Slugger.

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was cast as the co-pilot in “Airplane!” If not for filming during the baseball season, it might have been Pete Rose.

A former weatherman — David Letterman — also read for a part but did not land one.

Roberto Duran topped “Sugar Ray” Leonard in a 15-round bout in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

Free agent Nolan Ryan became the first baseball player to sign for $1 million a season, signing with the Houston Astros.

Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was about to make his clients a lot of money.

The average minimum salary at the time was $20,000.

In the spring of ’80, they went on a mini-strike that wiped out 92 spring training games.

Elias Sports Bureau introduces Game-Winning RBI as a statistic in the spring. The first one credited in a game went to the Cincinnati Reds’ George Foster in the first inning of a 9-0 Opening Day romp against Phil Niekro and the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta would get off to a 1-9 start and owner Ted Turner (who launched CNN in 1980) benched Gary Matthews and sent Bob Horner to the minors.

It was also on Opening Day, that “Kiteman” hang-glided his way onto the field at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium.

Ken Landreaux of the Minnesota Twins enjoyed a 31-game hit streak — the longest in the American League since Dom DiMaggio’s 34 in 1949. A few seasons’s prior to Landreaux’s feat, Aqua Velva gave $1,000 per game to the hitter with the streak. But that changed in 1980. Things were worked out for Landreaux to give the money to charity.

San Diego Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith wasn’t looking for charity, but extra income. He took out a newspaper ad. He had many offers, including one from Joan Kroc, wife of Padres owner Ray Kroc, to assist her gardner. He eventually got supplemental pay from a company on Los Angeles.

There were many bench-clearing brawls and knockdown pitches in 1980.

Fergie Jenkins of the Texas Rangers joined Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Gaylord Perry as pitchers with 100 wins in both leagues.

Freddie Patek of the California Angels hit five home runs on the season and 41 for his career, but he popped three in one game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Left-hander Jerry Reuss did not begin the season in the starting rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but tossed a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants.

On his way to a 25-7 record and the AL Cy Young Award, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Steve Stone started the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium and worked three inning in just 24 pitches.

The game also featured the debut of the massive Diamond Vision video boards.

Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench passed Yogi Berra for the all-time lead in home runs by a catcher.

Houston fireballer J.R. Richard suffered a stroke.

The Chicago Cubs fired manager Preston Gomez and replaced him with Joey Amalfitano.

“Super Joe” Charbonneau became an icon for the Cleveland Indians.

A white-hot George Brett was hitting .401 on Aug. 17 and finished with a .390 average. The Kansas City Royals third baseman’s back side was likely warm during the end of the season and the postseason. He finally had to have surgery for hemorrhoids prior to Game 3 of the World Series.

Maverick owners Charlie Finley (Oakland Athletics) and Bill Veeck (Chicago White Sox) announced the sale of their teams.

The White Sox did the unusual when they used the left-handed Mike Squires as a catcher.

Montreal Expos right-hander Bill Gullickson set a rookie-record with 18 strikeouts against the Cubs.

Oakland’s Rick Langford tossed 28 complete games, including a modern-record 23 straight. The Athletics staff completed 94 starts.

Three of the four division races were not settled until the season’s final week. Kansas City rapped the AL West up early. The Philadelphia Phillies edged out Montreal in the NL East. Houston topped the Dodgers in the NL West. The Yankees bested Baltimore in the AL East.

Games 2-5 in the National League Championship Series went extra innings before the Phillies prevailed over the Astros.

New Jersey’s Army staff sergeant Craig Burns took a three-day pass and flew from Germany to see his Phils play the Royals in the first game of the World Series. With Schmidt and Tug McGraw among the heroes, Philly won its first title.

Daniel is shopping his next volume about the 1982 season. The working title is Suds Series: The Brewers, the Cardinals and the year the ’80s became the ‘80s. He is grateful to author and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis journalism professor Chris Lamb for his help and encouragement.

That era is also kept alive on social media by Daniel with his website (80sbaseball.com), Facebook (Facebook.com/80sbaseball) and Twitter (@80sbaseball) pages.

Daniel, a graduate of Talawanda High School in Oxford, Ohio, and Ohio University, is now employed in communication for IUPUI parking services. More than 20 years of his working life was spent in sports television, including four years as the producer/director of “Rays Magazine” on Fox Sports Florida.

J. and wife Sue were engaged at Clearwater’s Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, a place where he spent two seasons at official scorer for the Clearwater Phillies. The couple has two seasons — Brady (19) and Michael (16). Brady played travel baseball with the Indiana Outlaws and Indiana Hurricanes. Michael played at Brownsburg Little League.

Daniel is an assistant coach this summer for the 17U Indiana Expos with Kevin Barnhart (father of Cincinnati catcher Tucker Barnhart) as head coach and Tim Hampton as another assistant.

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J. Daniel, a Brownsburg, Ind., resident, has written Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t and has other books planned about the 1980s.

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Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t by J. Daniel chronicles not only what happened on the diamond pop culture. The author resides in Brownsburg, Ind. (McFarland & Sons Image)