Tag Archives: Baseball I.Q.

Gouker putting Indianapolis Lutheran players, coaches to the ‘test’

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Promoting retention of concepts taught, Indianapolis Lutheran High School head baseball coach Adam Gouker is testing his players as they prepare for the 2022 season.
“People talk about the five tools of baseball (speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength),” says Gouker, who was hired prior to the 2020 season canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic and led the Saints on the field for the first time in 2021. “Baseball I.Q. or Baseball Awareness is the most under-taught part of baseball.
“We put players through mental training.”
Ramping it up in January, players will witness presentations on various parts of the game and then take an exam which produces a metric — a Baseball Academics Rating (BAR).
“We are by no stretch of the imagination the most athletic team, but we understand what to do with the ball (on defense),” says Gouker. “It makes us extremely competitive.
“It’s my favorite thing to teach. The guys eat it up and it builds passion.”
As co-founder and vice president of BAMFAM (Baseball Academics Midwest/Fastpitch Academics Midwest) and owner/operator of Extra Innings Indy South, Gouker has been testing players’ knowledge for years.
“I’m involved in a lot of instruction,” says Gouker. “Baseball is life.”
Gower also insists that his assistant Lutheran coaches get certified through Dugout Coalition.
“It’s a a really useful tool to make sure we’re all teaching accurately the same things,” says Gouker. “There are lot of coaches out there in the world that have been involved in baseball in the past and not enough recognition if those coaches are staying up with the latest and greatest in the sport.”
In getting Dugout Coalition-certified, coaches take in about 44 hours of online training and then must pass an exam.
Lutheran assistants for 2022 are Zach Akers, Tyler Danner, Josh Meaney, Russell Parker and Jonas Akers. Danner, Meaney and Parker are also BAMFAM coaches. Jonas Akers, son of Zach, is a former Lutheran player now attending Wabash College.
Another emphasis for Gouker’s Saints is base running. Players able to attend fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices (many others were involved in fall sports, including the state championship-winning Lutheran football team) worked on base running (reading pitchers, getting leads) and there will be more of the same when the next LCP window opens Dec. 6 along with arm strengthening, velocity care, defensive fundamentals, batting practice, weight training and — of course — mental training.
Lutheran’s high-octane running program produced 143 stolen bases in 2021 with four players in double digits for a squad that played 27 games.
Senior Sean Moore, a commit to Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio (where former University of Indianapolis assistant Landon Hutchinson is head coach) is coming off a 22-steal season as is senior Cade Tabit. Senior Cole Perkins swiped 19 in ’21.
“We had a pretty solid offensive year,” says Gouker. “We want to make sure their defensive side is as high as we can have it.”
The Saints play home games on-campus. The facility has recently had its mound and home plate areas re-built and lean bars added in the dugout.
“We want players up and engaged in the game,” says Gouker.
There’s also been talk of upgrading the backstop with padding and new netting.
Recent Lutheran graduates that moved on to college baseball include Matt Alter (Piedmont University in Demorest, Ga., and now at Hanover College) and Noah Wood (Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and now at Franklin College).
Lutheran graduate Jared Broughton was once a Piedmont assistant and is now a volunteer assistant at Clemson University.
A feeder system for the high school are the Junior Saints junior high team (formerly coached by Greg Hughes), which had about a dozen seventh and eighth graders taking on area teams in 2021.
Lutheran (enrollment around 220) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Beech Grove, Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Monrovia, Scecina Memorial, Speedway and Triton Central).
Conference games are played in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“I like that format,” says Gouker. “This way you’re not facing the same pitcher each time and you can make adjustments from the first game to the second.”
In 2021, the Saints were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Edinburgh, Greenwood Christian Academy, Morristown, Southwestern (Shelbyville) and Waldron. Lutheran has won 13 sectional titles — the last in 2019.
Lutheran’s social media includes Facebook and Instagram.
Gouker is a 2007 graduate of Alexandra-Monroe Junior/Senior High School who played at Anderson (Ind.) University. He has been married to high school sweethart Hannah since 2014. The couple has a son — Odin (10 months).

Adam Gouker (Indianapolis Lutheran High School Photo)

Columbus North alum Maddox soaking up diamond knowledge at Iowa Western Community College

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Parker Maddox is soaking up baseball knowledge and life lessons as he heads into his third collegiate season.
A right-handed pitcher and 2019 Columbus (Ind.) North High School graduate, Maddox spent 2020 at NCAA Division I Ohio University and 2021 at Iowa Western Community College (Council Bluffs, Iowa) and is back with the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I program in 2021-22.
Practice began Aug. 16 and the Marc Rardin-coached Reviers have worked out each day since that.
“I’ve been able to take it all in and gain knowledge,” says Maddox, 20. “Junior college has prepared me for whatever happens next. Coach Rardin is preparing us for life. He wants us to be respectable young men and be ready for the real world.
“He’s definitely helped me mature since I’ve gotten here.”
Maddox admits he was “not doing well at the academic side” while at Ohio while playing for then-Bobcats head coach Rob Smith.
“Things were moving too fast,” says Maddox, who went to Athens, Ohio, soon after the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series to take a summer class and to hit the weight room. “I wasn’t focused. I was immature, honestly.
“COVID gave me a re-start.”
He made the decision to transfer to Iowa Western, where he joined a JUCO powerhouse. The Reivers went 50-10 in the 2021 and saw the season end in the NJCAA Region XI Championship Series.
Maddox, a 6-foot, 195-pounder, made four mound appearances (one start) with a 3.38 earned run average. In 5 1/3 innings, he produced two strikeouts and four walks.
An IHSBCA honorable mention Class 4A all-stater in 2019 for Bull Dogs coach Ben McDaniel, Maddox identifies three qualities that define him as a ballplayer — Baseball I.Q., strength and athleticism.
The first part often manifests itself in pitch sequencing.
“I’ve learned how to throw to batters in certain counts and about hitters’ tendencies,” says Maddox. “I’m abel to watch the game and see the little things that hitters do and where to go (on defense) when the ball is in play.”
When coming in from the bullpen, Maddox will use what he’s learned by observing how other pitchers on his team attacked the opposing lineup.
“You can use what your teammate did as a blue print,” says Maddox. “If (the hitters) was late on an inside fastball, why throw a breaking ball and put them on-time?”
In the weight room, Maddox has gained muscle and the mastery of certain moves like the barbell split squat, sumo deadlift (replicating the landing position for pitchers), kettle bell press (for shoulder stability) and Swiss bar bench press (with hands closer and tighter to the body to relieve shoulder stress) that he has been able to teach to other players. He did that while serving as an intern this past summer at PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. He also trained there in the summer of 2020 and played for PRP founder Greg Vogt during his travel ball days.
“They know what they’re talking about (at PRP),” says Maddox, who commuted each weekday between Columbus and Noblesville. “I gained a lot of knowledge. I got to help coach in the weight room. The internship helped me. It was worth the drive.”
The previous summer, pro players were the interns.
“I learned from Tristen Polley on pitch sequencing side,” says Maddox of the former Brownsburg High School and Indiana State University left-hander now in the Texas Rangers organization.
Maddox, who played right field, first base and designated hitter when not pitching in high school, says his athleticism helps him field his position on the mound.
Maddox throws three pitches from a mid-three-quarter arm slot — four-seam fastball, slider and change-up.
His four-seamer has sat at 88 to 90 mph. His change-up is thrown with a two-seam grip taught to him by Iowa Western pitching coach Dillon Napoleon.
“My fingers are shaped like a box around the ball,” says Maddox. “It has a sinker action if you throw it right. You let the grip do the work. It will change speeds for you.”
Maddox was born in Columbus and moved to Louisville when he was very young. He then lived in Madison, Ind., moving to Columbus right before his freshmen year of high school. He played his first organized baseball at Walter R. Rucker Sports Complex in Madison. He played for the Indiana Bulls from 11U to 17U. His father — Jason Maddox — was his head coach for two seasons. Besides Vogt, he was also on Bulls teams led by Mike Helton, Dan Held and Sean Laird. In the fall of his senior year, he was with Team Indiana, coached by Phil Wade and Blake Hibler.
Jason and Lisa Maddox have two children. Besides Parker (who turns 21 in February), there’s Paige Maddox (17). She is a senior swimmer at Columbus North.

Parker Maddox (Iowa Western Community College Photo)
Parker Maddox.
Parker Maddox.

Parker Maddox.

Whitehead promotes lifelong lessons with Park Tudor Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s about baseball and beyond for Courtney Whitehead as head coach at Park Tudor School on the north side of Indianapolis.

Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.

“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.

“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”

As far as the baseball part of the equation?

“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”

Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.

“Guys have to be ready for their turn in the rotation,” says Whitehead, whose Panthers compete in the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). 

The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).

Among the other teams on the PT schedule are Brebeuf Jesuit, Bishop Chatard, Crawfordsville, Knightstown, Lapel, Scecina, South Putnam, Waldron and Wapahani.

Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.

Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.

Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.

A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.

In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.

“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”

Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.

“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.

“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”

A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.

Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon

Purdue University presented Whitehead with a Secondary Education degree in 2000. He earned a masters in Athletic Administration from Western Kentucky University in 2013. Whitehead is also in charge of awards for the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.

“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”

Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.

He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.

Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.

Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago). 

“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.

Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.

A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.

Courtney Whitehead is head baseball coach and athletic director at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.

Coulter, South Central Satellites eager for ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Coulter has been head baseball coach at South Central Junior/Senior High School in Union Mills, Ind., for more than 500 days and has yet to earn a win or loss.

Hired prior to 2020, there was much anticipation with a talented group coming back. 

The Satellites won the Porter County Conference for just the third time (2009 and 2017 were the other title seasons) and the IHSAA Class 1A South Bend Career Academy Sectional before losing in the South Bend Regional championship to eventual state runner-up and fellow PCC member Washington Township in 2019. 

Several key starters from that squad returned in 2020.

But the Satellites never took the field in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“That’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” says Coulter. “Like everyone else.”

Coulter and company now getting ready for 2021 with more high hopes.

“I think we’ll be a dark horse this year,” says Coulter. “We’ve revamped the entire program and internally changed our mindset.”

South Central (enrollment around 325) is part of a 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy and Triton. The Satellites have won 16 sectional crowns, including 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. South Central won regional crowns in 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2011.

“We’re the sectional favorite or co-favorite almost every year,” says Coulter. “We don’t want winning sectional defining our season.”

When the Satellites break a huddle in practice, the chant is “138.”

That’s the number of miles from Satellite Field to Victory Field in Indianapolis — site of the IHSAA State Finals.

“We have a very talented group,” says Coulter. “It’s an exciting time to be a South Central baseball player.

“We’re more poised now to make a pretty deep (tournament) run.”

Last summer, South Central took part in five travel tournaments. No players were turned away. There were 32 taking part in games and workouts.

With the majority of the varsity lineup committed to other travel teams, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds played in 17U events. 

With all the players together, a title was won at the On Turf Sports Classic in Columbia City, Ind., beating a team made up of Avon and Plainfield high school players for the championship. There was also a squad from Cincinnati and the Harris Storm (Penn High School players).

There are currently 38 identified with the program, including 18 freshmen. One member of the Class of 2024 — pitcher Bradley Ferrell — shined at a recent Perfect Game event in Florida.

Coulter is a 2009 LaPorte High School graduate. Other LPHS alums on his Satellite coaching staff include pitching coach Tony Ferrell (a member of the 1992 state champions and father of Bradley), Dave Santana and Garrett Kautz with the varsity. Alex Rochowiak is the JV head coach. Zach Lee is the JV pitching coach. Chesterton High School graduate Rochowiak played is the son of Michigan City High School head coach Jeff Rochowiak.

South Central has also gotten new uniforms for its varsity and junior teams and put a new windscreen completely around its home park.

The coaching staff donated their 2020 salaries to pay for infield playing mix, which helps with turnaround time on rain days.

The grass baseline have been replaced with dirt.

“It looks more like a baseball field now,” says Coulter.

Besides South Central, the Porter County Conference includes Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

Boone Grove won the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2018 with Washington Township making it to the Class 1A finale in 2019.

“It’s a pretty solid conference in baseball,” says Coulter. Currently the largest of Indiana’s 1A schools, South Central has yet to win a PCC tournament.

Recent South Central graduates now in NCAA Division I college baseball are Carson Husmann (Bradley University) and Kyle Schmack (Valparaiso University).

The Satellite Series — a competition among groups — was launched in November and will continue until tryouts in March. Upperclassmen drafted teams of underclassmen. Teams compete for weekly points based on attendance, Baseball I.Q. sessions, in-person hitting sessions and school grades.

“The kids have absolutely eaten it up,” says Coulter, who adds that they are vying for a letter jacket patch and a steak dinner grilled by the coaching staff.

South Central players build their Baseball I.Q. with Zoom sessions that have included guests like Evan Miller (a pitcher in the San Diego Padres system who starred at LaPorte High and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) and Rob Younce (a Philadelphia Phillies scout and national travel coach with the Canes).

Coulter encourages his players to talk and think like a coach and presents lessons from American Baseball Coaches Association convention speakers and the Baseball Coaching Bible edited by Jerry Kindall and John Winkin and featuring 27 coaches including LaPorte legend Ken Schreiber.

“It’s been real beneficial,” says Coulter. “The No. 1 priority in our program is to play catch. If you can’t play catch, you can’t play baseball.

“(Our players) hear some words from people at the top of the game.”

There are plans for Coulter and his assistant to tap into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic, which will stream its speakers to members Saturday, Jan. 16. 

“It allows us to grow and stay current with the times,” says Coulter.

After playing football and lacrosse and a few seasons of basketball in high school, Coulter went to Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., where he pursued a Business Management degree and served as a student assistant football coach on the staff of Shannon Griffith.

After a season a junior varsity baseball coach at LaPorte, Coulter led the South Shore Smoke 13U travel team.

Coulter and partner Kevin Tran are Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agents based in LaPorte. 

Zach Coulter is the head baseball coach at South Central High School in Union Mills, Ind. The graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., is also a Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent in LaPorte.

‘Diamonds and Dingers’ show allows Napoleon to share his passion for baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dimitri Napoleon has found a way to combine two passions — broadcasting and baseball — in college.

A 2018 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., Napoleon is a sophomore following a Digital Audio Production concentration at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

“I enjoy working with audio equipment and editing so I found the perfect major for my passion,” says Napoleon. “It allows me to get hands on experience with the technical and practical aspects of radio as well as gaining experience in public speaking.”

Until recently, Napoleon broadcast “Diamonds and Dingers” on Ball State’s student-run radio station, WCRD 91.3 FM on Sunday afternoons. Napoleon is also the station’s news director.

“I really enjoy talking about MLB transactions like trades etc.,” says Napoleon. “Most of the time my co-hosts change around, so the constant on the show is me.

“I designed my panel of co-hosts based off of my knowledge of their Baseball I.Q. (That means) understanding the fundamentals of the game of baseball and then some. It includes understanding the complexity of strategically playing each game and it also includes the business side of baseball.

“In college, it means understanding how scholarships work and eligibility and in the pros it involves being competent on salaries, contracts, forming a major league roster, transactions and more.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing the BSU campus to be shut down, Napoleon and his partners went about moving “Diamonds and Dingers” to a podcast.
“We’re working on getting approval from platforms,” says Napoleon. “We will record and upload the episodes on Anchor a (podcasting) app, and it will be automatically be uploaded to our Spotify.”

Napoleon says having a game plan is a key to a well-run podcast or radio show.

“When I’m on air I make sure I have a detailed script with not only details about the topics discussed, but also a time structure for ending a segment so the show ends in exactly one hour,” says Napoleon. “It also helps to be confident and have fun. The more fun you have on air or recording the more entertaining of a finished product you get.

“The listeners can certainly tell whether or not you’re having a good time along with whether or not you actually know what you’re talking about.”

With the college baseball season being called off and the NCAA and NAIA granting another year of eligibility to players, Napoleon can visualize an interesting diamond future at multiple levels.

“I could potentially see players either returning back to their original teams if they still have a passion for the game,” says Napoleon. “They could also use the extra time to explore their options via transferring.

“It certainly wouldn’t hurt getting an early start on private workouts. Seniors would stand a lot to gain from it if they are highly-regarded prospects. (It’s) basically a do-over from last season.

“High school seniors do have it rough since they rely on senior year to develop interest from coaches around the country. The MLB will have some scheduling concerns. Do they make up the games they miss? How do they plan on having a playoff format? It would certainly hurt the organization since it could occur during the NFL, NBA, and college basketball regular seasons.”

Then there’s the question of minor league roster manipulation.

“Service time would certainly play a big part in the future for top pipeline prospects,” says Napoleon. “Payment will also present issues during the extended offseason as well.

“Of course the draft is important for those who want to join MLB organizations, however I see no problem holding a potential live stream of the picks. The process could work the same, there would just be no physical location to host the event.”

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was going to be moved to June 10-12 during the College World Series in 2020, but that event was canceled and now the timing of the draft — if it happens at all — is up in the air.

Napoleon likes to play the game as well as talk about it. He is also a left-handed pitcher used in long relief and a a spot starter for the Ball State Baseball Club.

“It’s extremely competitive baseball without the NCAA affiliation,” says Napoleon. “That means we raise money on our own and work with (recreation) department.

“Some of the top club teams in the country act as feeders to the main team.”

Ball State is in the Great Lakes South Conference in the National College Baseball Association with defending club national champion Illinois, Illinois State, Indiana, Notre Dame and Purdue. Games are played in the fall and spring.

“It’s a lot of fun and those guys are legitimately talented,” says Napoleon. He did not play baseball in high school, but pitched multiple bullpens a week.

DIMITRINAPOLEON

Dimitri Napoleon, a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and a sophomore at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., is a host for a baseball show/podcast called “Diamonds and Dingers.” He also pitches for the Ball State Baseball Club.

 

Rupley, Manchester Squires value baseball smarts

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jack Rupley began learning about the details of baseball decades ago from a man named Karl Merritt.

Merritt was the head baseball coach at Manchester High School in the Wabash County town of North Manchester. Rupley (Class of 1975) was one of his players.

“He taught us a lot of the intricacies of the game, which I try to pass along now,” says Rupley, who became Manchester Junior-Senior High School’s head coach in 1998 after a few seasons as an assistant. “It’s just knowledge of the game and see how the game unfolds. It’s baseball savvy. It’s baseball intelligence.”

Like Merritt, Rupley wants his Squires to carry a high Baseball I.Q.

“Every time that ball’s hit, everybody has a place to go,” says Rupley, repeating something that Merritt emphasized to his defenders. When it comes to fielding, if your feet aren’t right, your throw probably isn’t going to be very good.

“We work really hard and getting the feet set and going in the right direction.”

Next week, the Squires will be divided by positions. Shortstops and second baseman will get in plenty of double play flips and work on correctly back-handing the ball.

Infielders will rehearse their timing.

“A timing mechanism has to go off in your head,” says Rupley. “If I bobble the ball, do I still have a chance to get the guy at first? Our philosophy is if you can’t get rid of the ball in three seconds from the crack, you may not get the guy out because a decent speed from home to first is four seconds.”

Manchester plays on its campus on Faudee Field (named for former coach at Chester Township High School and the first athletic director at Manchester, Gerald “Doe” Faudee).

The diamond has a generous amount of foul territory. For that reason, making accurate throws and backing up throws is extra-important.

“We don’t want to compound a mistake by hurrying and making a bad throw and giving that guy second base,” says Rupley. “If a right fielder’s being lazy and not getting over there to help out, you might give them third.

“Baseball doesn’t change. Yeah, kids are bigger and stronger. But if you can throw the ball, hit the ball and catch the ball better than the other team, you’re going to be a pretty good shape.”

Manchester works hard on fundamentals in practice, going through fly ball, ground ball, bunting and hitting stations.

Merritt was a strong believer in the bunt game. Everyone on the roster had to be able to execute when called upon to put one down.

“We bunt almost everyday,” says Rupley. “We put the pressure on the defense. We make that pitcher think about getting off the mound in a hurry.”

Rupley teaches these lessons with the help of assistants Matt Carver, Stacey Clark and Luke Helton.

Carver played for Rupley at Manchester. Clark represented the Squires on the diamond before Rupley’s time as head coach. Helton, a Manchester University student, played at Tippecanoe Valley High School and briefly for Manchester U.

Rupley really incorporates the bunt. In fact, his team bunted well enough and got enough timely hits, strong defense and solid pitching during the 2002 postseason to claim an IHSAA Class 2A state championship.

“We ran the bases like a Banshee,” says Rupley. “We might as well be aggressive. What do we have to lose?”

Manchester got off to a 4-13 start in 2002 and was 6-17 going into sectional play. But nine of those losses were by one or two runs.

“We had been in most every game we played,” says Rupley. “I told (my team), all we have to do is just relax and go play. What happened before doesn’t matter.

“Everything just clicked.”

The team, which included Ryan Roth (now co-head coach at Grace College), topped No. 3-ranked Batesville 9-8 in the championship game. Josh Staton got the mound victory and Todd Dale earned the save.

Baseball participation numbers at Manchester have gone up and down. Rupley has had as few as 20 players for varsity and junior varsity squads. In 2018, he had 26 and expects to have 27 or 28 in 2019.

“That’s about the right number for us,” says Rupley. “We don’t have enough kids to have a C-team or freshmen team. We’re not big enough.”

Everyone has a role.

“I sit them all down individually and tell them where I think they’re at,” says Rupley. “I ask them what position they want to play. I tell the kids up front, ‘listen, you may have two kids in front of you that are better at that position. But we may ask you to step somewhere else and help us out.’”

Lending a few more opportunities for players to participate is the rule that allows courtesy runners for the pitcher and catcher.

Rupley also wants his players to know the importance of being a student-athlete.

“I tell the kids, first and foremost, you’re in school to get an education,” says Rupley. “Grades are important because you use your brain the rest of your life.”

The coach notes that the percentage of going on to the next level is pretty minimal.

“I want them to be a good citizen — in and out of school,” says Rupley. “When you’re on that team you represent your parents, you represent the team and your represent the community.”

He also lets his young athletes know that life is full of adversity and the teen years are a time to learn about responsibility.

“Not everything is going to go your way,” says Rupley. “You have to understand that mom and dad aren’t always going to be there to make decisions for you. You’ve got to learn to make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet.

“I tell the kids, I know there are days when you’re not going to be at your best. But all I’m going to do is give me your best effort everyday.”

Manchester (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

The Squires’ 2019 non-conference foes include Blackford, Caston, Central Noble, Churubusco, Columbia City, DeKalb, Eastern, Fort Wayne Wayne, Heritage, Oak Hill, Taylor and Wawasee.

The Wabash County Tournament (Manchester, Northfield, Southwood, Wabash) was suspended a few years ago since the teams already met in conference and sectional play.

When Rupley went to Manchester, conference games were played in the summer after the IHSAA state tournament series. At that time, the Squires played a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference through mid-July. There were a dozen or so non-conference games in the spring prior to the sectional.

If Rupley could change anything about Indiana baseball it would be to make the start of the season later.

“The weather is so unpredictable,” says Rupley. “To me, baseball is a warm weather sport.”

Recent Manchester graduate Hayes Sturtsman is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech. Seniors Mason Meyer (Grace College) and Grant Strobel (Ivy Tech Northeast) have made college baseball commitments.

Rupley says he will do what he can to help players who want to play college ball. He also explains what it entails.

“It’s going to be a lot different than what it is here,” says Rupley. “It’s 10-month commitment.

“It might be a lot harder physically and a little harder mentally, too. There are a whole bunch of guys who were good at their high school.

“It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work.”

Rupley saw that firsthand. Jack and Cathy Rupley have three sons — Keith (Manchester Class of 1996), Kory (2000) and Klint (2001). Keith played football at Earlham College while the other two played on the gridiron at Anderson University.

Jack Rupley was an assistant football coach at Manchester for 30 years. He has been IHSAA-licensed basketball official since 2000. He is the maintenance director at Manchester while Cathy is a cook.

Columbus East High School head coach Jon Gratz played for Rupley and graduated in 2001. Rupley-coached Dan Jones is a former head coach at LaVille High School.

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Jack Rupley has been head baseball coach at Manchester Junior-Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., since 1998. He is a 1975 graduate of the school.

 

Baseball Academics Midwest emphasizes the six-tool player

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing the six-tool player is the focus for Baseball Academics Midwest, an Indianapolis-based travel organization which will field 19 baseball and softball teams in 2019.

“We have the five physical skills of baseball (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average, hitting for power), but the most overlooked part is the mental skill,” says BAM president and co-founder Jake Banwart. “We maximize physical performance through mental training.

“We do classwork as well as visualization. We take what they learn mentally and implement that into physical performance (through drills, done at the Extra Innings Indy South indoor training facility).”

Off-season training is broken into two semesters — positional training (middles, corners, outfielders, pitchers, catchers and base running) and team training.

“We do it in a way that keeps their attention, keeps it interesting and keeps them engaged,” says BAM vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker. “Practice plans are designed to take what we learn in the classroom and immediately take it out in the indoor facility.

“We’re still teaching the physical and making sure they’re getting all the training they need there,” says Banwart. “We’re just adding that sixth element to it to make sure they understand.

“We’re teaching physically how to do it, but also mentally how to approach it.”

BAM players are taught the concepts of baseball philosophy, how to be a good teammate, positive body language and self talk, offensive approach to hitting defensive relays and cut-offs, pitching and pitch calling and base running.

All those areas span six or seven weeks and build on each other throughout that winter.

BAM coaches have been trained so it’s consistent language from the time they’re 8 through 17.

“When we talk hitting approach, I can talk to anyone in our organization with that same language,” says Banwart.

There’s no need to re-start each season.

“We teach each age group one year ahead of where we should be teaching them,” says Banwart. “If our expectations are higher, their expectations for themselves will match that. We teach our 9’s like 10’s and so on.

“We’ve seen good results from that.”

Gouker sees players grasping more about baseball earlier in life.

“They’re learning at a lot younger age there’s a lot going on in the game,” says Gouker. “They’re focused on where they’re supposed to be without the baseball, where they’re supposed to back up, where they go with the ball in certain situations.”

Banwart is a graduate of McHenry High School in the Chicago suburbs. He played baseball through his junior year.

“I had decent (college) offers,” says Banwart. “But I was so fed up with travel ball and coaching, I hated baseball for about five years of my life and I stopped playing.”

Banwart attended Anderson (Ind.) University and played tennis for a few seasons. That’s where he met Gouker, who went to Alexandra-Monroe High School and then played one season of baseball at AU.

The two later found themselves coaching together in travel ball. They eventually decided to start their own organization and do things their way.

After a stint as assistant to Terry Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School (the Broncos won an IHSAA Class 1A title in 2016) and head coach at Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Ind., Banwart is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis in 2019 with a staff of Gouker, Nathan Latimer and Cortez Hague (all of whom are also BAM coaches and utilize BAM concepts with the Falcons).

“It’s a culmination of what we’ve learned from other coaches, research and data collection,” says Gouker, who have talked about mental skills training with Diamyn Hall and hitting with Ryan Fuller among others. “We’re teaching kids a language.

“We’re pushing the academic portion a lot. We feel like we know the physical side as well as anybody.”

The idea is for players to understand the game. This is especially valuable for players who are being recruited by colleges. BAM had its first season in 2015 and has had 23 college commitments in two groups of graduating classes, including 2019.

“Coaches will get your 60 time, exit veto, throwing velocity and all those pieces but the one thing they don’t get to see very often is your baseball smarts or I.Q,” says Banwart. “If they’re there for one game, they might not see you make a play.

“If we’re able to win the 50/50 recruiting by providing opportunities for players to actually show off their mental skills and training, we’re giving those players an opportunity to be more successful or get to the highest level they’re capable of (attaining).”

There’s another piece to the puzzle.

“If you’re in a game and you’re over-prepared mentally then you’re able to transition what you’re doing to subconscious thought versus conscious action,” says Banwart. “We want players to know something well enough to feel like they’re just reacting.

“They’re not having to process and consciously think through those actions. It’s subconscious action that takes over.”

BAM, which operates with the help of several key partners, uses many of the same drills as high-level coaches.

“When we go into those we make sure players are aware of what the intent of that drill is,” says Banwart. “We’re not focused solely on result training. We break it down with intent so the mind can connect to the body.”

Banwart notes that professional athletes seem to rise to the occasion late in a game while some players sink to the level of their training.

“The better trained they are, the better they’re going to perform late in games or in tough situations which will give that visual appearance that they’re rising when, in reality, they’re playing with the same level they were earlier in the game,” says Banwart.

High school level players take into consideration things like the score, inning, number of outs, speed and direction of the ball and speed and position of the runners.

Banwart notes that the average time between pitches in Major League Baseball is 21.5 seconds.

“In those 21 1/2 seconds players are going to be thinking no matter what,” says Banwart. “They’re going to be thinking something. We just want to change their thinking and point it to what they should be thinking about.

“When they step in the (batter’s) box, they’re proactive with a plan instead reactive to a pitcher. We want to give our guys the feeling they’re in control of that at-bat versus they’re at the mercy of what the pitcher does.”

BAM players are encouraged to win the games within the game and things like swing count, average distance in the zone, max hand speed, max barrel speed and more are tracked on single-season and career leaderboards. Hits, stolen bases, saves etc. are also tracked.

BAM coaches are in the process of gathering baseline data and developing a Baseball Academics Rating (BAR) that can be used to show a player’s knowledge.

“It’s not catered to our program,” says Gouker. “It’s things anyone playing baseball or softball anywhere should know if  they want to be as successful as possible.

“We’re finding some pro guys are missing some things they should know.”

They have also developed a metric — WIN (Worth In Numbers) — to valuate players.

WIN takes out everything out of a players control and counts how many runs they create total or average per game. Each base is treated like a quarter of a run.

“Players with a third of a run per game or more are typically high level players,” says Banwart.

By running the numbers for the last three seasons, the MVP winners and Cy Young Award winners in the American League and National League were the ones that should have won based on WIN.

BAM coaches talk about metrics and more on their YouTube Channel.

Latimer, who played at Perry Meridian and one season at the University of Indianapolis and coached with Andy Gossel at Covenant Christian before joining the staff at his alma mater, has totally bought into the BAM way.

“We can’t have academic in our name if we don’t teach it,” says Latimer. “We want you to be baseball smart.

“If you have the sixth tool that makes you a more complete player.”

Banwart and Gouker says BAM teachings have spread across the Indianapolis area and the organization is exploring expansion possibilities.

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Representing Baseball Academic Midwest are (from left): vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker, president and co-founder Jake Banwart and Nathan Latimer. Banwart is also head coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis and Gouker and Latimer are among his assistants. (Steve Krah Photo)

Fort Wayne’s McKinstry builds Baseball I.Q. at early age, now in Dodgers chain

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach McKinstry started thinking about baseball — really thinking about it — as a youngster in Fort Wayne.

Alex McKinstry started talking with his middle child about the intricacies of the game as he practiced his craft year-round. It was a thrill to be able to swing the bat during the winter thanks to Rich Dunno and his indoor facility.

“Growing up around the game, I felt I was ahead of the kids in Fort Wayne with baseball,” says Zach, now 23 and a middle infielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. “I got to play it almost all year-round. That was was really nice.”

Alex McKinstry was Zach’s coach in his final travel ball season and is still a coach with the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks. The instructor at Bill C. Anthis Career Center in Fort Wayne was head baseball coach when Zach played at Fort Wayne North Side High School and is now the junior varsity coach at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School.

Zach’s older brother, Alex McKinstry, played four years of college baseball — two at the University of Northwestern Ohio and two at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.

Zach was born in Toledo, Ohio, but moved with the family to Fort Wayne before elementary school. He started at Holy Cross Little League then played travel baseball from 10 on. First, there was the Summit City Thunder then Summit City Sluggers, Strike Zone Spiders and Manny Lopez-led Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

Zach McKinstry played football and baseball at North Side, graduating in 2014. He then played two stellar seasons at Central Michigan University, earning co-team MVP honors in his final season of 2016 after hitting .325 with 10 doubles, two triples, 31 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases. Over two years, he hit .321 with 14 doubles, five triples, 45 RBIs and 20 pilfered bags.

As a draft eligible sophomore, McKinstry was selected in the 33rd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers.

The 2016 season was split between the Short Season Class-A Arizona League Dodgers and Low-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons. He played for Great Lakes, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes and Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers in 2017.

McKinstry started the 2018 campaign at Great Lakes and is now back with Rancho Cucamonga. In a combined 39 games, the left-handed swinger is hitting .388 with three home runs, eight doubles, two triples and nine RBIs.

Mostly a shortstop at Great Lakes, he has seen more action at second base with the Quakes. Rancho Cucamonga has a highly-touted shortstop in Gavin Lux and a top-notch second baseman in Omar Estevez.

Drew Saylor is the Quakes manager and Justin Viele the hitting coach.

LA’s Triple-A affiliate is the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Going back to his younger days, McKinstry counts his Baseball I.Q. as one of his strengths.

“It’s being able to think the game on my own and having a feel for the game of baseball,” says McKinstry. “I understand what’s going on.

“My best tool is on tool and defense. I have the arm for throwing the ball across the diamond.”

As a batter, he’s been used in the Nos. 1, 2, 8 and 9 slots in the order.

“I’m a get-on-base kind of guy,” says McKinstry, who carries a .526 on-base percentage for 2018 and .365 for his pro career. “I get on for guys who can hit the ball hard in the air.”

Steve Jaksa was Central Michigan’s head coach during McKinstry’s time with the Chippewas.

“He had a passion for the game,” says McKinstry. “He carried himself very professionally. He knew what he needed to do to win baseball games and he taught me how to be a winner.

“He also taught how to take your losses and use them to you advantage — learn from what you did wrong and what you could have done differently.”

Though Jaksa did not name captains for 2016, McKinstry was considered one that spring.

“He taught me how to be a leader,” says McKinstry of Jaksa, who led leadership training in the off-season. “I really value him for that.

“He let me carry that team a little bit.”

Coming out of his shell, McKinstry developed the ability to speak to a roomful of ballplayers as well as go one-on-one.

“He could always rely on me to go to a freshman.” says McKinstry.

Besides Zach and the two Alexes, the McKinstry family features wife/mother Tracy (who is employed at James Medical) and daughter/sister Haley. The latter was a soccer player at North Side.

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Zach McKinstry, a Fort Wayne North Side High School graduate who played at Central Michigan University, is now in the Los Angeles Dodgers system with the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes. (Steve Saenz Photo)

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Zach McKinstry, who went to high school and played youth and travel baseball in Fort Wayne, Ind., was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016 and now plays with the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes. (Steve Saenz Photo)

Character is foundation of program for South Bend Riley’s Harris

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Harris learned about discipline, structure and staying on-task from an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and he’s incorporating those concepts and more in his coaching career.

Harris, who played for Ric Tomaszewski and graduated from South Bend Washington High School in 1992, is heading into his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018.

“Coach 6 was very disciplined about how he went about his business,” says Harris of Tomazewski. “All of us understood the expectations he had for us — even from our field maintenance and making sure we did the right things in cleaning up and preparing the field.

“We go about our business and preparing the kids (at Riley) in the same way.”

A cornerstone of the Riley Wildcats program is character.

“We really look for high-character kids and great student-athletes,” says Harris. “Academics is a really big part of what we try to instill in our kids about life after high school.

“Our boys are all high achievers in the classroom and we tell them there’s always a place in college for them somewhere.”

Riley routinely carries a team grade-point average about 3.0 and has been at 3.8.

“From freshmen all the way through, the expectations are really high and the kids take that seriously and focus really hard,” says Harris. “It’s a testament to the kids and the parents.

“Grades come first. Academics are going to carry you a lot farther (than athletics).”

Riley currently has graduate Gabe Douglass on the baseball team at Grace College. Brett Carlson finished up at Purdue University a few years ago. Current Wildcats senior Zach Meert has committed to Indiana University South Bend, now led by former Riley assistant and Washington head coach Doug Buysse.

Harris and his assistant coaches — Mike Armey, Gavin Adams, Cameron Evans, Andrew Teall and Steve Fletcher — stress the importance of being good people all the time and not just on the baseball field.

“You represent South Bend; you represent Riley; you represent your family; you represent me as a coach; and we want to represent each other well,” says Harris, who is married to Sybil and has two boys — Riley sophomore baseball player Jackson Williams (16) and Gregory Harris (10). “I try to be a high-character person myself to make sure I’m representing my family, my baseball family, South Bend and my school well and those expectations stay high.”

Harris is passionate about baseball and the life lessons that can be taught through the sport.

“It helps them prepare for the world,” says Harris. “I love the relationships I’ve built with these kids.”

Adams, Evans and Teall all played for Harris at Riley and are now coaching with him.

Between the lines, Harris wants his hitters to have the ability to manufacture runs if power is not present, to make the routine defensive plays and for pitchers to throw strikes on their first delivery.

“First-pitch strike success will lead to success,” says Harris. “If we don’t throw a strike on that first pitch, the odds are a little bit different.”

Even before the IHSAA adopted pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days), Riley coaches were keeping them low.

“We use a program when scoring the game that alerts me early where they’re at and we’ll begin to shut them down,” says Harris. “Mike Armey, my pitching coach, is really on top of that.

“Sixty-five pitches is a long day for us. We never try to over-use a kids arm no matter what.”

Competition among teammates means that players can’t get too comfortable with their position. Coupled with pitching moves, that means that there are many players who can play multiple places on the diamond.

Overall, it’s about the Wildcats giving it their all.

“We want to play the game the right way constantly,” says Harris. “If we put our best effort out there, we’ll take what we get with it. We’ve had some kids with quite a bit of talent and we’ve had some kids come a long way.”

All Riley players receive a defensive playbook that they must know and understand and are expecting to work toward increasing their Baseball I.Q.

“One day they may be parents and pass those lessons on just like I learned from Tomaszewski,” says Harris. “There are still things I believe in that I learned in high school.”

South Bend Community School Corporation has four IHSAA member high schools — Riley, Adams, Clay and Washington — plus Rise Up Academy. There are 10 intermediate centers (grades 5-8) and 18 primary centers (grades K-4).

With smaller freshmen classes than in recent years, overall athletic program numbers are down at Riley. The Wildcats will field a softball team for girls this spring, but did not in 2017.

Harris has 27 baseball players in 2018. Some will split time between varsity and junior varsity.

“We want to fill both and make sure the development is where it needs to be,” says Harris. “With the emergence of travel sports, the Little Leagues aren’t feeding into you the way they used to. With school of choice and magnet programs, kids go where they want.

“We’re trying to reach out in different areas to get kids interested in playing sports.”

New SBCSC athletic director Seabe Gavin and Riley AD Dan Kyle is encouraging high school varsity coaches to meet with intermediate school coaches and it’s likely the primary schools will also be contacted.

“We’re still trying to tap into the Little Leagues and see what they have,” says Harris, who counts South Side and South Bend South East as feeder parks for Riley. “We’re always trying have a place for kids to play baseball.”

While Little League participation is down, travel ball is up.

In the summer, Harris has coached travel baseball with the Michiana Scrappers. This year, he will coach the 16U squad for the Michiana Repetition. The program is directed by new South Bend Washington High School head baseball coach and Riley graduate Marcus LaSane.

Players are encouraged to find some kind of team.

“They need to keep playing ball,” says Harris.

Lessons are offered by Harris at Teddy Ballgames training facility in South Bend.

Harris, who is a product engineer at Dec-O-Art in Elkhart, began coaching baseball at South Bend South Side Little League and then migrated to assistant positions at Riley before following Dave Luczkowski as head coach.

The Wildcats play on-campus at Bob Rush Field. Through fundraising, baseball has found ways to upgrade dugouts and purchase new wind screens while maintaining mounds and playing surfaces.

Harris says getting a new warning track is a goal. A  big-ticket item on the wish list is a press box and lights are dream.

Riley belongs to the Northern Indiana Conference along with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington. The NIC produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion (St. Joseph) and a 4A state runner-up (Penn) in 2017.

“You can’t take a day off (in the NIC),” says Harris.

Non-conference opponents on the Wildcats schedule include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Kokomo, LaVille, Michigan City, Plymouth, Triton and Warsaw.

Riley is in a 4A sectional group with Adams, Clay, LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“We may take our lumps early,” says Harris. “We want to be better than ‘South Bend good’ and make a run in the tournament.”

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Greg Harris is entering his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

ABCA’s Sheetinger covers the bases of college baseball recruiting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Navigating the maze that can be college baseball recruiting, players and their parents can use some straight-forward answers.

Jeremy Sheetinger, a former college player and coach who is now College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association and ABCA “Calls from the Clubhouse” Podcast host, travels the country to offer advice.

That’s just what he did recently in a visit to the South Bend Cubs/1st Source Bank Performance Center as guest of director Mark Haley and Indiana University South Bend head coach Doug Buysse.

Sheetinger, who played at Franklin County (Ky.) High School and Kentucky Wesleyan College (NCAA Division II) and was an assistant and recruiting coordinator at both Brescia University (NAIA) and assistant at Georgetown College (NAIA), Director of Operations at the University of Kentucky (D-I), lead assistant and recruiting coordinator at Saint Joseph’s College (D-II) in Indiana and head coach at Spalding University (D-III) in Louisville, packed in plenty of information.

The high-energy Sheetinger, who now lives in Greensboro, N.C., where the ABCA is headquartered, and also serves as a associate scout with the Atlanta Braves, covered coach evaluations, parents’ impact and role, contact with coaches, campus visits, resources, differences in collegiate levels, finding the right fit, making a recruiting video, camps and showcases and a timeline for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

EVALUATION

Sheetinger, who has given talks on recruiting about 2,000 times and worked baseball camps in 35 different states, says coaches are always evaluating and projecting players.

They use their past experiences and players to judge current players.

“We’ve got to use what we know to be true,” says Sheetinger. “If I see a kid who’s 6-2, 180 with a clean right-handed swing, I will remember a player who went on to be a conference player of the year. If I see 5-7, 135 with a bad swing (and short parents), I know that kid is never going to be 6-2.

“I’m looking at you through the eyes of all the players I ever coached. Mom and dad, it has nothing to do with your opinion of him as a player.”

If catchers take too long to get rid of the baseball with a very slow POP time, but can mash at the plate, they might help a college team as a first baseman.

A player with strong, accurate arm who can run might be a fit in a college outfield. But that throw must be on the money.

“When it’s time to throw something out, you’ve got to throw somebody out,” says “Coach Sheets.”

It’s also possible that movement that hurts a player in the outfielder helps him as a pitcher.

What about that big-bodied kid at shortstop for his high school?

“He can’t play short in college, but he’s got a great arm,” says Sheetinger. “Where can he play for me? Third base.”

The five baseball tools are hit for power, hit for average, defense, arm strength and running speed.

The average high school player has an exit ball velocity of 75 to 84 mph, average arm velo of 70 to 80 mph in the field, 70 to 75 mph at catcher and a 60-yard dash time of 7.0 to 7.2 seconds.

“I’m not telling your how to spend your money,” says Sheetinger. “Hitting lessons are great. Pitching lessons are great. But think about speed lessons and conditioning lessons.

“Think about going to the track at 6 o’clock in the morning and running sprints. You go, Sheets, what are you talking about? I’m not going to the track at 6 a.m. That’s why you run a 7.9. I’ll be your best friend if you just let me.”

Velocity is not the ultimate indicator for pitchers. Pitch control, secondary pitches, composure and maturity, athleticism and handling the running game are more important.

For all players, there are intangibles like attitude, leadership, energy, Baseball I.Q., confidence, clutch and the will to win.

“College coaches are watching everything,” says Sheetinger. “They don’t miss a beat. When you’re in a showcase event or you’re in a game and coaches are present and you hit a ground ball back to the pitcher, I want to see your best 90 time.

“That stuff matters. Run your best time every time.”

Sheetinger says players are evaluated on how they handle adversity and points to the example of a recruiting trip he made while at Saint Joseph’s, looking to offer a 75 percent scholarship to a pitcher.

This kid had stuff. But he also had an attitude, though the man calling balls and strikes was squeezing him and did not hesitate to let everyone in the ballpark know it.

“Bad umpires are multiplying daily,” says Sheetinger. “That ain’t going away. I’m more interested in your body language and presence.”

The pitcher enjoyed two lights-out innings then ran into adversity in the third.

He plunked the first batter, uncorked a wild pitch to send the runner to second and then gave up a duck snort and a double in the gap. A mound visit from his coach was greeted by plenty of walking around, cap removal and lack of eye contact.

“We’ve got maturity issues,” says Sheetinger.

The coach returns to the dugout and it’s duck snort, double and another hit-by-pitch.

When the coach comes back out to take the pitcher out, the youngster heaves the ball toward the sky and the coach catches when it comes down. Before the pitcher crosses the foul line, he fires his glove into the dugout.

Recruiting visit over.

On another recruiting trip, Sheetinger remembers seeing the opposite kind of behavior. A strong No. 3 hitter popped up on the infield in a key situation.

With Sheetinger’s eyes following him the whole way, the player carries his helmet and bat to the dugout, does a 30-second re-set, puts down his equipment and his back on the rail cheering before the No. 4 hitters sees his first pitch.

“That’s a great teammate,” says Sheetinger. “That’s a really good kid. Two weeks later, he gets a Division I offer. He was never going to come to play for me. But I like watching kids like that.

“It doesn’t show up on paper. But things matter.”

Sheetinger says it is easy to measure things like fastball velocity and 60-yard time. But not everything fits on a spreadsheet.

“Some things you can’t coach,” says Sheetinger. “Can you really coach someone to hustle? I can probably put fear into you to hustle. But either you hustle or you don’t.  It’s like either your pants are on-fire or they’re not. It’s not up to me to light your pants on-fire. It’s who you are internally.”

These kinds of players won’t get out-worked. They need to be taken seriously.

PARENTS’ IMPACT AND ROLE

Parents can either be a huge positive or negative influence on their son’s recruitment.

What parents do could be the first impression a coach gets about the player.

“Parents, as a college coach and as a scout, I don’t think you’re sweet when you yell at umpires,” says Sheetinger. “That’s the biggest turn-off for me of anything you do.

“Nobody barks at you when you flip burgers, let him do his job. If you want to be a coach so you can bark at umpires, apply for the job. If you need to do that, go to some other team’s game so we can track it back to your kid on the field.

“I assure you I’ve asked over a hundred people in the stands at a showcase ‘who’s dad is that?’

“Please change your ways. It reflects bad on your son.”

The Blame Game is not welcome.

“If you something against your high school coach, ask yourself this question: Does he really have something against my kid or is my kid just not good enough?,” says Sheetinger. “Most coaches will play the best players because most coaches like winning.”

Coaches pick up on how parents and players talk and act toward one another.

Players are expected to be in the forefront of the recruiting process.

Sheetinger encourages players to spend two hours twice a week doing online research on their college choices. If they are decided on their major, they start with that and see how many possible schools offer it. Then the look at the performance of the baseball program through archives, rosters and statistics.

“If a school has gone 10-40 10 years in a row, guess what Year 11 is going to look like?,” says Sheetinger. “If that coach has been there 10 years and they won five his first year, 10 his second, 20 his third year, 25 the next years and the last three years they’ve won the conference championship, that dude’s building something. The coach can’t hide that.

“Do your homework.”

The young athletes should be the ones communicating with coaches through minimal calls and emails.

“Players, take ownership of this process,” says Sheetinger. “I don’t want emails from mom and dad.”

CONTACT WITH COACHES

Email is the best way to reach out/introduce yourself to a college coach.

These emails should come from an appropriate address and be “meat and potatoes” — Subject … Name … Graduation Year … Position(s) … Hometown/High School … Grades … Research … Video link (include this with every correspondence).

Players should expects emails, texts and calls from coaches and be quick to respond to them.

Sheetinger advises players to treat every program as the most important one and to be respectful of the coach’s time and efforts.

Evaluation is still happening and communication is the key. Body language, eye contact, handshakes and paying attention all matter.

How do players talk?

What is important to them?

Sheetinger compares recruiting to dating.

“I like you,” says Sheetinger. “I’m going to try to convince you to like me.”

“I’m going to give you my spiel. We’re going to get to know your son because in a way because coaches step in as pseudo-stepfathers. We need to have a relationship. We need to have a bond. We’ve got to get along. (Parents) won’t be there.”

CAMPUS VISITS

This gives a player and his family a glance at the coaches, program, campus life and academics.

They will meet with the admissions and financial aid departments and get a campus tour etc.

Coaches will run the first visit.

Sheetinger says players should do 90 percent of the talking and parents 10 percent.

Players may make 10 official visits (spend the night) and unlimited unofficial visits (day visits).

On these visits, players are allowed to work out at D-II, NAIA and junior college schools but not at D-I and D-III.

There is a difference between a Baseball Visit (set up through the baseball staff) and Admissions Visit (no guarantee to see the baseball staff).

RESOURCES

College/University websites offer information on admissions and financial aid as well as biographies, archives, statistics and rosters for the baseball program.

Other helpful sites and resources: NCAA.org (rules, info), NCAA.com (stats, champions), NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly Clearinghouse; helps with collection of transcripts, core classes; D-I and D-II must register; cost is $65), NAIA.org, NAIA Eligibility Center (handles transcripts; all players must register; $75), FAFSA.gov (Due Oct. 1 of Senior Year), high school guidance counselor.

DIFFERENCE IN COLLEGIATE LEVELS

NCAA Division I (295 programs) may offer 11.7 max scholarships if fully funded (60 percent). Roster limits are 35 at the end of the fall with 27 on 25-percent scholarship.

Recruiting has ramped up for the majority of D-I teams.

NCAA Division II (254 programs) can give 9.0 max scholarships if fully funded (40 percent). There is no roster limit. That number will be set by the school, athletic department or coaches.

The top program work ahead in recruiting. Most are year-to-year.

NCAA Division III (383 programs) does not offer athletic scholarships. It is all academic- and financial-aid based. Like D-II, rosters are only limited by program choice.

Early decisions and admission dates are important. Most schools are year-to-year with their recruiting.

NAIA (187 program) may offer 12.0 max scholarships with exemptions. Again, there is no association-dictated roster limit. The majority of programs recruit year-to-year.

Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, is one of the best college teams in the country regardless of level. The Warriors have won the NAIA World Series 19 times, including 2015, 2016 and 2017.

NJCAA (410 programs across 3 divisions) gives 24.0 max scholarships in D-I, 24.0 max Tuition scholarships (no room and board) in D-II and zero athletic scholarships in D-III. The association imposes no roster limits. Recruiting is year-to-year at most of these two-year institutions.

Tyler (Texas) Junior College has taken the last four straight NJCAA Division III national titles.

Sheetinger says there is great baseball at all levels. The top teams in D-II, D-III, NAIA and NJCAA can win games on the D-I level.

He sums it up by saying that at the upper levels of D-I, most programs are already 90 to 95 percent done getting commitments from current seniors (Class of 2018) with juniors (Class of 2019) 80 percent done, sophomores (Class of 2020) 60 percent complete and freshmen (Class of 2021) 30 to 40 percent already committed.

“That’s how accelerated recruiting has gotten,” says Sheetinger. “It wasn’t that way 10 years ago.

The ABCA recently conducted a recruiting summit. A panel of 16 coaches came up with a proposed recruiting calendar to calm down the early signings.

“Coaches don’t like evaluating 13-year-olds,” says Sheetinger. “It’s hard enough to project a 16-year-old. D-II, D-III, NAIA and junior college are hot on this senior class. You’ve got to keep things in perspective.

“There are a lot more opportunities out there.”

Sheetinger says the reason many people recall their college years so fondly is because they are 18 to 22 and away from their parents and figuring out what kind of man, worker, husband and father they’re going to be. They are sorting out their religious and political views.

Take 35 guys spending nine months together on busses and in dorm rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms and cafeterias while figuring this out and you see the beginnings of lifelong bonds.

“It’s the best experience of your life,” says Sheetinger. “If you can go play, you should go play.”

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Players must be a fit for a program, taking into consideration that coach’s style and the recruiting class.

Sheetinger likes to use the analogy of the fork with each prong being a priority in the college decision-making process. The fork could have as many as five prongs.

Prongs are sure to include academics and fit. Does a school offer the degree a player wants and how does he fit into the needs of the baseball program?

“You never go to play at a school that doesn’t offer a degree that you in your heart of hearts really want,” says Sheetinger.

Other things to consider are social atmosphere on-campus, location/geography and the cost.

A player might social butterfly and being in clubs or fraternities and going to concerts is important.

How big is the college compared to the player’s high school or hometown?

Is the school close enough for parents to regularly attend games?

How’s the weather?

If you don’t like the cold, maybe a school in upper Michigan is probably not for you.

If players have not asked their parents how much they are willing to pay out-of-pocket, they need to have that conversation.

Sheetinger says it is best to funnel down toward a players’ top choices of schools from 10 to 5 to 3.

Players should be aggressive, working toward and “yes” or “no” answer.

Can I play here or not?

Responses from coaches should be treated as hot leads. Response should be quick and player should try to get more info on the program and work toward campus visits.

MAKING A RECRUITING VIDEO

A professional video is not necessary. A good smartphone video will do the trick.

But a video is key. It gives coaches instant evaluation.

The video should be short. Position players will have five swing views from the side and five from the front or behind. Show a variety of defensive movement and throws (maximum of 8).

If a player has speed, show it with a 60-yard home-to-first video clip.

Pitching videos will show five fastballs, five curves and five change-ups from the wind-up and three each from the stretch.

Game footage must be edited.

Contact info, stats and coach’s info may be included.

CAMPS AND SHOWCASES

Players interested in a particular school are encouraged to go to their camp and be seen by their staff.

They must be mindful of database emails (every email doesn’t mean they are being recruited) and the “Cattle Calls” approach to camp population and marketing.

Campers should ask if other colleges will be attending. The price should be justified with how many possible evaluations they will receive by their attendance.

Sheetinger says it’s important to think of the coach’s perspective.

They notice players who stand out (bright cap and stirrups and name on the back of a jersey is helpful) and ones who exhibit hustle, energy, positivity and confidence.

A handshake and a thank you to every coach at the end of camp will go a long way.

TIMELINE

Freshmen are pointed toward strength and speed training, attending camps to get familiar with that environment and focusing on grades etc.

Sophomores continue with strength and speed training and camps and after the high school season begin emailing college coaches with info, videos, summer schedule etc.

Juniors have a very important year and season. They are looking to get their name out there. They do the training and camps and showcases in front of a large number of college coaches. They send emails to college coaches before the summer begins. They begin to funnel their list of schools.

Seniors  have a very active year. They do all the training and attend unsigned senior events. They are aggressive with emails to coaches and ask for campus visits. In the fall, they have campus visits, submit applications and many will commit. In the spring and summer, they will make final visits and commit.

ABCA CONVENTION

The ABCA national convention is coming Jan. 4-7, 2018 to the Indiana Convention Center and JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. More than 6,000 coaches and 330 exhibiting companies are expected.

JEREMYSHEETINGERCORNBELTSPORTSCREDIT

Jeremy Sheetinger is College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association. He was in South Bend recently to advise players, parents and coaches about college recruiting. (Cornbelt Sports Photo)