Lenny “Lefty” Johnston was part of the professional baseball for six decades. Born in Pontiac, Mich. on March 15, 1928, and graduated as a football, basketball and baseball standout from Arthur Hill High School (Saginaw, Mich.) and football and baseball star at Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo), Johnston was signed by the Chicago White Sox by Johnny Mostil and Doug Minor in 1952. Johnston stole 325 bases and led his league in stolen bags for six consecutive seasons (1953-58). He was The Sporting News Minor League Rookie of the Year for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox of the Western League in 1953. In 1956 — his second of 12 Triple-A seasons — Johnston led the International League with 182 hits for the Richmond Virginians. The last seven of his 15 minor league campaigns as a player was spent with the Indianapolis Indians (1960-66). The Indians won championships in 1961 (American Association), 1962 (American Association) and 1963 (International League South). Johnston was a player-coach in his last two seasons. At 35, hit .316 and finished second in batting in 1964. He smacked four home run and drove in 67 runs in 127 games. A lefty swinging and throwing outfielder, Johnston hit .304 in 76 games with the 1960 Indianapolis team managed by Johnny Hutchings and Ted Beard. The Indians were then a Philadelphia Phillies farm team. He hit .297 in 113 games for the Cot Deal-managed 1961 Indians (then a Cincinnati Reds affiliate). In 1962, Indianapolis was part of the Chicago White Sox system and the ties remained through Johnston’s career in Indy. He hit .270 with 45 runs batted in over 113 games for a ’62 team managed by Luke Appling (who went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964). Rollie Hemsley skippered the 1963 Indians and Johnston hit .262 with four home runs and 30 RBIs in 115 games. Les Moss managed the 1964 Indians to a second place finish in the Pacific Coast League East. Johnston hit .206 in 81 games for the 1965 Indians (fourth in the PCL East). George Noga was the manager. Moss was back as manager in 1966. Johnston hit .251 in 94 games and the Tribe placed third in the PCL East. Among his other managers are Hobart, Ind., native Everett Robinson plus Don Gutteridge, Danny Murtaugh, Eddie Lopat and Rube Walker. Johnston will be enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame during the IHSBCA State Clinic Jan. 12-14 at Sheraton at Keystone Crossing in Indianapolis. The Hall of Fame and awards banquet is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 13 at the Sheraton. Other inductees will be Kelby Weybright, Drew Storen, Jeff Samardzija and the late Wayne Johnson. For questions about banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899. Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from Jeff on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance. “Lefty” Johnston married for the second time in Indianapolis and had two sons — David and Danny (who is now caregiver for his 93-year-old father in Nashville, Tenn.). Johnston had three children from a previous marriage in Michigan and had three older children — Tommy, Janie and Kim. In total, he has five children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. According to Danny Johnston, his father “loves Florida and loved coaching there. “He also loved Bluefield, Va., where he spent part of three decades with the Bluefield Orioles coaching, mentoring and coordinating.” As a national cross-checker scout “Lefty” was responsible for Tito Landrum coming to the Orioles. Landrum hit the homer that gave Baltimore the lead in Game 4 of the 1983 ALCS and the O’s eventually made it to the World Series. “He was proud to have been a part of that,” says Danny Johnston. He resided in Indianapolis for 50 years during the winters and helped sell season tickets for the Indians and was a substitute teacher and sold insurance for Lincoln National Life. Johnston has been inducted into both Western Michigan’s Football Hall of Fame and Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2010, “Lefty” received the Herb Armstrong Award for his contributions to baseball and the organization, and he was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame. Johnston went into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame in 2020.
Paul Gries has been a very active member of the Evansville, Ind., athletic community. The Pocket City native taught for 34 years in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation — 10 at Plaza Park (K-8) and the rest at Central High School. His main subjects were Physical Education and Health. Whatever the season, Gries was organizing and coaching youngsters in flag football, softball, baseball, soccer, basketball and more. In 1978, he accepted an invitation to join John Wessel’s Central boys basketball coaching staff. In 1980, he was asked to be a Bears baseball assistant. “We hardly had a program at all,” says Gries, who took over as head coach in 1981 and began working in earnest on Central’s field. “If you want to call it a field,” says Gries. “It was nothing. But I had dreams of what I wanted the baseball field to look like.” With the help of players, coaches and parents, a diamond which was named in honor of Gries in 2016 (Paul Gries Field was dedicated in 2017 a few days after Gries underwent heart surgery) was steadily-crafted. Gries, 79, was head baseball coach at Central for 21 seasons (1981-2001) before retiring at 58 and going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002. His teams went 408-196 and earned the first seven sectional titles in program history (1981, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1996, 1997 and 1998) plus the first two regional championships (1981 and 1987) and only semistate crown (1987). Central lost 4-1 to the LaPorte’s mythical national champions in the ’87 state championship game at Bush Stadium in Indianapolis. Gries coached in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1987 and was named National Coach of the Year in 2000. “I had some good players (including 1985 graduate and future big league pitcher Andy Benes) and tied to get the most out of every player,” says Gries. “I was spending 14-hour days at Central High School. I was putting every ounce into it. “It just wore me out.” It was in 1987 that Gries was approached by longtime professional baseball man and Evansville resident “Singing” Ed Nottle, who had a daughter who was taught by Gries. Nottle wanted to help Gries and other coaches raise money for their programs. “We had car washes, candy sales and whatever you can image, but we were making making peanuts until Ed came along,” says Gries, who gathered all the high school and college coaches in town at the EVSC office and what came from planning sessions was the Friends of Bosse Field “Night of Memories.” What began as a group of former baseball professionals who wanted to ensure that the history of Bosse Field would not be forgotten while fundraising turned into the Tri-State Hot Stove League. Gries served with that organization for 31 years, including stints as vice president and president, and is still involved. One of the first “Night of Memories” guests was National Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. Gries flew to New Jersey to bring Yogi to town. Over the years, Evansville native and Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Mattingly aka “Donnie Baseball” was at the first special night and has only missed it on a few occasions. Gries coached Taylor Mattingly (Don’s oldest son) at Central. When Don was playing for the New York Yankees, he would get in the batting cage take swings after winter workouts by the Bears. “He’d say, ‘Paul, give me some situations.’ I’d, ‘man on third, tie game, one out in the eighth or ninth inning’ and Mattingly just hit those fly balls,” says Griese. “It was unbelievable how Mattingly prepared himself.” The next Tri-State Hot Stove League “Night of Memories” is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023 at Meeks Family Fieldhouse in the Carson Center at the University of Evansville. A paid autograph session is slated from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Central Time followed by a chat and live/silent auction at 6. Featured guests include Don Mattingly, Jamey Carroll, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Barrett, Colson Montgomery, Elijah Dunham, Cameron Decker, Wayne Hagin, Denny McLain, Darrell Evans and Graig Nettles. “He’s unbelievable,” says Gries of emcee Hagin, who has been a play-by-play man for the Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. “People love listening to the stories.” Among past guests: Mattingly, Carroll, Eickhoff, Barrett, Hagin, Gabby Allison, Rick Ankiel, Clint Barmes, Andy Benes, Yogi Berra, Raymond Berry, Lou Brock, Don Buse, Steve Carlton, Jack Clark, Roger Clemens, Danny Cox, Andre Dawson, Jim Edmonds, George Foster, Kyle Freeland, Steve Garvey, Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, Mark Grace, Bob Griese, Kevin Hardy, Keith Hernandez, Whitey Herzog, Paul Hornung, Al Hrabosky, Andruw Jones, Tommy John, Jim Kiick, Harmon Killebrew, Lily King, Ray Lankford, Tony LaRussa, Johnny Latner, Larry Little, Gaylord Perry, Bobby Plump, Ozzie Smith, Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Scott Rolen, Enos Slaughter, Frank Robinson, Andy Van Slyke, Lee Smith and Brad Wilkerson. “They come from all over when they know Don Mattingly is here,” says Gries. “They can get close to him. People in New York can’t do that.” College/Pro Football Hall of Famer Griese (Rex Mundi High School Class of 1963 and Purdue University Class of 1967) has been to many “Night of Memories.” “We do this for the kids,” says Gries, who notes that the a non-profit group has raised close to $2 million for youth athletics and youth-focused organizations in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky in three decades. Gries says the event at its peak netted up to $90,000 in one day. Some of the money has been given to Habitat for Humanity. Gries says Mattingly, Bob Griese, Brian Griese (Bob’s son who now coaches with the San Francisco 49ers), Calbert Cheaney (a 1989 Evansville Harrison High School graduate who played at Indiana University, the National Basketball Association and now coaches with the Indiana Pacers) and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan (who played at Evansville College and the NBA and was a longtime NBA coach) all gave large sums to sponsor homes. A 1961 graduate of Evansville Mater Dei High School, Gries’ prep baseball coach was Len Will (an Indiana Football Hall of Famer). “He was the gentlest man that I know,” says Gries. “That was the example he shared with us (athletes).” On the basketball court, Gries eclipsed the 40-point mark three times including a single-game record of 44. That was long before the 3-point arc was put in place. Mater Dei was led on the hardwood by Ed Schultheis in Gries’ freshman and sophomore years and Tom Gore in his junior and senior seasons. Gries went to Indiana State College (now Indiana State University) for basketball and baseball during an era when freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity. The injury bug kept biting him on the hardwood. He suffered torn cartilage working out early in his freshman year then experienced ankle and groin ailments as a sophomore and decided not to stick with the Duane Klueh-coached Sycamores. On the diamond, Gries earned three letters (1963-65, helping the Sycamores go a combined 37-24-2) playing for Paul Wolf (who wound up as a member of both the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and ISU Athletics Hall of Fame). One of his fond memories is playing catch with future IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tommy John and having John feed the pitching machine for him during preseason workouts before the 1961 Terre Haute Gerstmeyer High School valedictorian reported to spring training. Gries paced Indiana State in batting average, hits and runs as a junior in 1964 (.357, 25 and 20 ) and senior in 1965 (.413, 26 and 13). He hit .439 in conference games and was Indiana Collegiate Conference co-MVP with Ball State’s Merv Rettenmund (who went on to play 13 in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and California Angels and coached for the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres twice, Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers). “The great thing about Paul Wolf is that he was old school,” says Gries. Wolf was a minor league middle infielder 1926-33, including time with the Indianapolis Indians in 1930-31. He was able to pass on wisdom to Gries, who was a switch-hitting shortstop at Indiana State and moved to second base in his second of two pro seasons in the Washington Senators organization (1965-66). “Pee Wee” (he was 5-foot-9 and 157pounds) spent much of the 1965 Appalachian League season on the disabled list with a sprained ankle after a collision at home plate. It was during the Vietnam War era and Gries left baseball to joined the U.S. Army Reserves and got married for the first time. “I got to see the difference between high school and college and college and pro,” says Gries. “What a big step it is.” Divorced in 1989, Gries was single for 14 years and has been married to Mary, a fellow Catholic who moved to Evansville from Auburn, Ind., for 19 years. Gries has five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. “They are the joy of my life,” says Gries. “I’m going to spend as much time with my kids as I can.”
Cody York, who is going into his second year as head baseball coach at Whitko Junior/Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., in 2023, has been around the sport in northeast Indiana most of his life. Born in Fort Wayne, he played in Holy Cross and Hamilton Park youth leagues and four years at North Side High School, where he graduated in 2008. His head coaches were Bruce Miller as a freshman and then Randy Moss for the next three years. “(Moss) had a huge impact on my life,” says York, 33. “He showed me how to compete on the baseball field and what it takes to be good at it.” North Side head football coach Casey Kolkman (now at Heritage) showed York what consistency looks like. “No matter what happened — good or bad — he stayed even-keeled,” says York of Kolkman. “His demeanor never wavered one way or another. “I take my style from (Moss and Kolkman).” York also played basketball for the North Side Redskins (now Legends). After high school, York played one season each at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., for head coach Keith Schreiber and Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne for Kip McWilliams and now is a heavy equipment operator for the City of Fort Wayne. York’s first season of baseball coaching was 2021 as Whitko assistant. Whitko (enrollment around 415) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tipppecanoe Valley and Wabash). The Wildcats are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Prairie Heights and Westview. Whitko won its lone sectional title in 2017. York’s 2023 coaching staff features varsity assistant Andrew Shepherd, junior varsity assistant Michael Ianucilli and volunteers Jacob Gable and Austin Roberson. The head coach got acquainted with his assistants through two Fort Wayne-based summer adult circuits (Carrington League and Men’s Senior Baseball League). Pitching coach Shepherd played at Wabash High School (Class of 2012), Ianucilli at Fort Wayne Concordia (Class of 2017), Gable at North Side (Class of 2015) and Roberson at Fort Wayne Snider (Class of 2012). York is also looking to hire a JV head coach. York helped coach middle school football at Whitko in the fall while his assistants ran IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions. This winter, Limited Contact Period practices have been from 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays and dedicated to throwing, hitting and weight training. With nine starters being freshmen or sophomores, the Wildcats went 9-18 in 2022. Shortstop David Ousley (Class of 2023) is scheduled to sign with the University of Saint Francis (Ind.) Thursday. Ousley was a team captain in ’22 along with Isaiah Cripe (Class of 2024). Ousley and Cripe are expected back along with Class of 2023’s Brent Bowers, Jaxon Harper and Cody Adkins, 2024’s Logan Hoffman and Max Platt and 2025’s Easton Grable, Riley Harman and Breyden Kirkdorffer. The Wildcats play home games on-campus. A year ago, Whitko got a new scoreboard. New dugouts and batting cages are being installed. York is also the program’s hitting coach and wants his players to get more repetitions while staying mechanically sound. “I’m very meticulous when I’m in the cage with them,” says York. Plans also call for replacing infield dirt and outfield warning tracks with red brick dust. As a feeder system for the high school, York has established a middle school team that will play games Monday through Wednesday in the spring of 2023 so it does not interfere with travel ball schedules. Cody York is engaged to Alisha Withered. The couple each have 10-year-olds from previous relationships.
Chris Geeser is entering his eighth season as a baseball coach at North Putnam High School in Roachdale, Ind. The 2023 season will mark his fourth in charge of the Cougars program. It’s is Geeser’s desire to put a “well-organized, hard-nose competitive team” on the field. “We’re going to play the game hard,” says Geeser. “We’ll run out ground balls and give it our best effort.” Geeser, 31, promotes sportsmanship and sees no room for showboating and bat flipping in baseball. “I’d rather see the passion than the flashiness,” says Geeser. A true-blue Chicago Cubs fan, Geeser counts former North Side pitcher Carlos Zambrano among his favorites. “He was so passionate,” says Geeser of a player who won 125 games and socked 24 home runs in 11 seasons with the Cubs. Geeser was born in Rockford, Ill., and moved to Martinsville, Ind., as a fourth grader. He played four years of baseball for the Martinsville High School. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Tutterow led the Artesians in Geeser’s freshman year. Luke Moscrip was head coach the next season and Mike Swartzentruber (now a Lake Central) in 2009 and 2010. “I was a big fan,” says Geeser of Swartzentruber. “We had a lot of talent my junior and senior year. He was very detailed and very intense.” Geeser graduated from Indiana State University in 2015 and was hired to teach Business at North Putnam about a week before school began in 2015-16. North Putnam (enrollment around 445) is a member of the Western Indiana Conference (with Class 2A Brown County, 2A Cloverdale, 3A Edgewood, 2A Greencastle, 3A Indian Creek, 3A Northview, 3A Owen Valley, 2A South Putnam, 2A Sullivan and 3A West Vigo). Each WIC team meets one time during the season. The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Cloverdale, Greencastle, Parke Heritage, South Putnam and Southmont. North Putnam has won four sectional titles — the last in 2007. With many North Putnam athletes involved in football, soccer or cross country, Geeser held IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices once a week in the fall. Those attending got a chance to throw and work on defensive basics and take plenty of batting practice. “The skill that falls off faster than anything is hitting,” says Geeser. Since the winter Limited Contact Period began the Cougars are spending one day on bullpens and defensive drills and the other on hitting (in the cage or at stations around the gym). “There’s not a whole lot of standing around at my practices,” says Geeser. “We’d like to get 100-150 swings.” Sharing facilities with winter sports means coming in before school or going later in the evening. North Putnam offers basketball, wrestling and swimming in the winter. Winter workouts have had as many as 20 attendees, but the average is around 12. Since Geeser became head coach the Cougars have fielded varsity and junior varsity teams and he expects the same in 2023. He guesses there might be 24 or 25 players in the program in the spring. While there are no recent graduates in college baseball, Geeser sees that potential for junior right-handed pitcher Jaylen Windmiller, who struck out 27 and walked five in 22 2/3 innings for a 2022 team that went 13-13. Geeser’s assistant coaches include returnees Cameron Brothers and Jackson Kendall and newcomer Anthony Rossock. Brothers and Kendall are North Putnam graduates and Rossock, who played at Anderson University, is a Greencastle alum. All three are North Putnam teachers. North Putnam Middle School fields a team in the spring made up of seventh and eighth graders (and sometimes sixth graders). North Putnam Youth Baseball League sponsors teams from T-ball to 12U. Geeser is actively involved with the organization. A number of renovations to the school’s on-field diamond last summer, including rolling and re-building the infield, mound and home plate areas. “I think our field’s pretty nice,” says Geeser. “We have really good lights.” A Musco Lighting system can be controlled by a phone app. Chris andy Lacey Geeser celebrated four years of marriage in the summer of 2022.
Jeff Myszak is teaching his Hebron (Ind.) High School baseball players about batting, fielding and pitching. But the second-year Hawks head coach is also concentrating on building relationships and mental skills. When Hebron met for IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions in the fall there was a lot of development including long toss. During field maintenance time, a new warning track was installed all around the diamond. There was also a focus on intellectual achievement. Myszak, who has been coaching baseball almost two decades, has Mental Performance Mastery Certification through Brian Cain, who counts the late sports psychology consultant Ken Ravizza as a mentor. A veteran of 19 seasons with the Schererville (Ind.) Police Department, Myszak sees his next career. “I would like to coach mental performance full-time,” says Myszak. Hebron (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Kouts, Tri-Township, Morgan Township, South Central of Union Mills, Westville and Washington Township). The Hawks are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with North Judson, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, North Newton and Whiting. Hebron has won four sectional titles — the last in 2017. Teaching baseball skills while also helping make responsible young adults is also an aim for Myszak. “I’m all about relationships,” says Myszak, who learned that trait from father and former Hammond (Ind.) policeman and Calumet College of Saint Joseph (Whiting, Ind.) head baseball coach Tony Myszak. In 2022, 24 players came out for baseball and Myszak often led his varsity team solo and had help from junior varsity coach Wayne Straka when his team was not playing. Myszak says there may be closer to 33 players in 2023. His coaching staff features Straka as head JV coach and varsity assistant and Adam Fulk as head varsity assistant. Fulk was an assistant at East Chicago Central High School the past few years. He was the starting left fielder on Lake Central High School’s 2012 IHSAA Class 4A champions coached by Jeff Sandor. Myszak was an assistant for that team. A 1997 Lake Central graduate, Myszak played two years of varsity baseball for Indians coach Tom Hansen. He also played basketball at LC for Jim Black. Myszak is now a seventh grade boys basketball coach at Grimmer Middle School in Schererville, Ind. (part of the Lake Central system). Myszak graduated from Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2002. He credits Sandor and former Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette for much of what he knows about baseball. Jeff served as hitting coach for his father at Calumet College. There was a stint as team training coach at Parisi Speed School in Schererville. He also program director for Indiana Elite Baseball Softball Training Facility in Cedar Lake, Ind., (closing the doors in 2017) and spent a dozen years in various roles on the Lake Central baseball coaching staff. Chad Patrick (Hebron Class of 2017) pitched at Purdue Northwest and was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fourth round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He got up to High-A and was in the Arizona Fall League in 2022. Myszak counts three current Hebron players with college baseball aspirations — Class of 2023’s Tucker Patrick (Chad’s cousin) and Jackson Peeler and 2024’s Trever Roy. Hebron has middle school baseball. The team plays games in the fall (August to October). The coach wants to scale back the schedule and focus on training. “We need to practice more than we play at that age,” says Myszak, who also wants to work with elementary school players. A father of four, Jeff has Ethan (21), Amayah (19), Alexandra (14) and Emma (12). Ethan Myszak (Lake Central Class of 2020) played baseball before high school and is now in the U.S. Army Reserves. Amayah Myszak is a Lake Central senior. She is on the wrestling team. She was a cheerleader prior to being badly burned in 2017. “It’s been a long road,” says Jeff Myszak. “We’ve still got work to do.” Alexandra Myszak (Lake Central Class of 2026) plays basketball and softball. Emma Myszak (Lake Central Class of 2028) is involved in volleyball, basketball and softball.
Joe Traina has three main points of emphasis as the new head baseball coach at alma mater Merrillville (Ind.) High School — commitment, playing together and team chemistry. “We’re making sure we’re there everyday,” says Traina, who was born in Merrillville, graduated from MHS in 2013 and has been teaching and coaching in the school system since 2017-18. “We were not weightlifting and conditioning very much. We have a strength and conditioning coach at Merrillville now (Brady Willard) so they can lift even when I’m not around.” There is a text group chat that keeps the team communicating and Traina emphasizes staying in constant touch with parents. Team chemistry is built through activities that require athletes coordinating to accomplish a goal. Paul Wirtz was Pirates head coach when Traina joined the staff. Wirtz instituted “Animal Kingdom” workouts where there were stations for throwing, baserunning, conditioning etc., and teamwork was necessary. Traina has had his athletes doing the same. “They have to work step by step together to accomplish the goal,” says Traina. “That’s going make us a much stronger team.” Merrillville (enrollment around 2,100) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso). The Pirates are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side, Hammond Central, Hammond Morton, Hobart, Lake Central and Munster. Merrillville has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2001. The Pirates were state runner-up in 1996. Traina, who has taught at Merrillville Intermediate, Clifford Pierce Middle School and now Biology for freshmen at Merrillville High, was a junior varsity assistant to Connor Buxton then a varsity assistant when Buxton became head coach at Merrillville. When Buxton stepped away Traina became head coach over the summer. “It’s been a career goal to be the head of a program,” says Traina, 28. “I want to turn things around.” The Pirates went 8-15 overall and 3-9 in the DAC in 2022. Traina’s coaching staff counts Jose Carbajol as varsity assistant, Terrance Grayson as JV head coach and Juan Maldonado as JV assistant. Merrillville started middle school baseball workouts at Bill Metcalf Field in July and games were played in the fall with Traina as head coach. High school players helped out. “They were like bench coaches,” says Traina. The first game was at Hanover Central, where Wirtz was serving as middle school coach. Traina says the plan is for middle school baseball to continue as a fall sport. Noting that Merrillville Little League no longer exists, Traina wants to work his way down the youth baseball ladder while building a feeder system for his program. “We want to make sure kids have the opportunity to be exposed to the sport and get better,” says Traina. “We want to put a stop to getting pushed further behind (in development).” Traina expects to have a young squad in 2023 with freshmen on the varsity. Among the older players with college baseball aspirations are seniors Colin Early and Robert Richardson, who played both play varsity as freshmen, and junior Josh Magallon. Pirates moving on to the college diamond since Traina has been coaching include Class of 2018’s Max Govert (Indiana University South Bend), Class of 2019’s Maldonado (Indiana Tech), Brandon Lucero (Earlham College) and Sven Strom (Saint Xavier University) and Class of 2021’s Dylan Coty (junior college). Traina’s summer maintenance job includes taking care of the baseball field, where recent projects have included fixing the bullpens, adding dirt to mounds, turf to plate areas and dugout racks. Traina played at Merrillville for Mark Schellinger. “He’s one of the my favorite teachers and coaches,” says Traina of Schellinger. “When I got this job he reached out to offer any help I need. That meant a lot coming from a guy who had my back for four years here.” He played at Merrillville Little League then travel ball for the Dave Griffin-led Indiana Playmakers then an Indianapolis-based team called the Indiana Irish. His parents — Frank Sr., and Michele — saw that he was shuttled two hours to Indy every week so he could have a new baseball experience and meet new people. “I can’t thank them enough,” says Joe, the youngest of three children. Frank Traina Sr., is retired from Siemens as an electronic engineer. Michele Traina is a school nurse secretary. Ashley (Traina) Kendera (Merrillville Class of 2006) played softball for the Pirates, graduated from Ball State and now works as a page designer for The Times of Northwest Indiana. Her husband, Jason Kendera, is a former Merrillville girls soccer coach. Frank Traina Jr., (Merrillville Class of 2010) played soccer and was a baseball manager for the Pirates during the Schellinger era. He now works as a bank teller. After high school, Joe Traina went to Ball State University where he was a Sport Administration major and Coaching minor. “I always wanted to go down the athletic director route,” says Traina, who got transition to teaching credentials through Calumet College of Saint Joseph. “Once I was in the classroom I decided to stick with teaching.” He is also the head eighth grade boys basketball coach at Clifford Pierce.
Waylon Richardson, who was named this week as head baseball at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., has had most of his baseball experiences as a player. Born in Goshen, Richardson grew up around Ligonier, moved near Cromwell in high school (parents Franklin Jr., and Kimberly Richardson own about 220 acres of farmland) and got acquainted with the game early at Wawaka. At West Noble, he competed four years each in baseball and basketball and two of football. As a 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher he appeared in 11 games as a senior in 2015 and went 6-1 with one save, a 1.61 earned run average, 85 strikeouts and 30 walks in 56 2/3 innings. As a junior, he pitched in eight games and went 1-3 with a 2.18 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 1/3 innings. Richardson scored 445 career points on the basketball court. In his senior football season of 2014, he passed for 1,236 yards and eight touchdowns. His head coaches were Doug Brown (baseball), Jim Best (basketball) and Monte Mawhorter (football). The trio always seemed to get their older players to take leadership roles. “They were hard-nosed coaches and role models,” says Richardson. “They got the most out of their group of players each and every year. I still reach out to each of them. I couldn’t have asked for three better high school coaches.” Richardson went to Kankakee (Ill.) Community College. In 2016, he made one start and experienced a shoulder separation and sat out the rest of the season. As a redshirt freshman in 2017, he was the Cavaliers closer. In 27 games, he went 2-0 with nine saves and an 0.30 ERA, 39 strikeouts and eight walks in 30 innings. KCC went to Enid, Okla., and won the 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series. Richardson was named to all-region and all-World Series teams. That summer, he hurled for the Coastal Plain League’s High Point-Thomasville (N.C.) Hi-Toms. He made 11 appearances (10 in relief) and went 2-4 with 4.91 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 11 walks in 14 2/3 innings. He also tore the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his right elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2017. In 2018, a trainer for the Chicago Cubs visited Kankakee and advised head coach Todd Post and pitching coach Bryce Shafer to shut Richardson down after three appearances because he had come back from surgery too soon. The right-hander continued his rehabilitation and threw bullpens for professional scouts. Richardson committed to play at Saint Leo (Fla.) University for head coach Rick O’Dette (who played at coached at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.), whose pitching philosophy went hand-in-hand with Shafer. Post congratulated Richardson when he was named as West Noble head coach. “He’s like a second father to me,” says Richardson of the veteran field boss. “He got me into that mental mindset that led me to bigger and better things. It got me drafted.” Post helped Richardson understand the importance of the little things in baseball. Those add up to big things. “It was a whole new perspective on baseball (for me),” says Richardson. When the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was held Richardson was selected in the 40th round by the Philadelphia Phillies and pitched in the minors in 2019. Various injuries limited him to three games and three innings. He was released in May 2020. The minor league season was canceled that year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Richardson, who was getting old for a Class-A ballplayer, opted to retire. Waylon married the former Abby Richards of Churubusco in October 2020 and started working in construction as a remodeler and house flipper and flooring sub-contractor. Abby Richardson is a speech therapist and cheerleading coach at West Noble. Waylon Richardson, 25, was a varsity assistant to brother Aaron Coy (other siblings include Brittany Richardson and former all-state, Ball State University and Grace College basketball player Haley Richardson) during the 2022 West Noble baseball season. Coy is a 2006 West Noble alum who played baseball at Goshen College. As the man in charge of the Chargers, Richardson had from nine to 17 players participate in fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activities. “We share to many athletes at our school,” says Richardson, who held optional open fields after football practice. “Without everyone there it’s hard to put in your philosophy.” He was able to critique the swings of newer players, getting them to use more of their lower half. He got the older players to take the younger ones under their wins and emphasized knowing where to throw the ball on defense. The winter Limited Contact Period is Dec. 5-Feb. 4. Richardson plans to have his twice-weekly sessions following basketball practice. “We want to get as many kids as possible,” says Richardson. Hitters will be asked to have an approach at the plate and not just be free swingers. A brand new outdoor batting cage was recently installed at the Chargers’ on-campus field. Richardson’s wish list includes a new scoreboard and a new or remodeled press box. “I’m excited,” says Richardson. “We lost eight seniors but return at least six everyday starters. We have a really good young freshman class. The ones showing up (at practices) are athletic and versatile.” Richardson says he sees college baseball potential in Class of 2023’s Elijah Bacon and Winston Deel. The coaching staff includes returnees Dave Shields, Mel Coyle and Jose Marmolejo. Shields was on the staff when Richardson was a player. “I respect his Baseball I.Q.,” says Richardson. “He’s like a father figure to the kids.” Coyle doubles as a junior varsity coach and groundskeeper. “He makes sure Charger baseball plays on a beautiful diamond,” says Richardson, who is also hoping to bring on two former college teammates. Richardson seeks pitchers who get ahead in the count. “We want to work low in the zone — inside and out,” says Richardson. “If you command two pitches, you can play around with a third and get hitters to chase.” Looking at his 2023 season opener, Richardson is considering letting pitchers go one inning each to see what they’ve got and doing the same thing in Game 2. “We want to figure out our rotation and relievers going into conference play and the end of the year,” says Richardson. West Noble (enrollment around 720) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights and Westview). The Chargers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Noble, Fairfield, Lakeland, NorthWood and Wawasee. West Noble has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2006. West Noble Little League (formerly Kimmel Baseball & Softball) prepares players for the high school. Greg Eash is WNLL board president for an organization which has traditionally fielded teams from T-Ball to 1/2 Pints (seventh and eighth graders). “Greg Eash great coach for our feeder system,” says Richardson. “I’ve told my coaches we need to get down there and show our face to the youth.”
Eastside Junior/Senior High School athletics has been a big part of Cade Willard’s world all of his 23 years. His parents — Aaron and Kerri Willard — have both been employed by DeKalb Eastern Community School District. Cade played baseball and basketball for the Butler, Ind.-based Eastside Blazers — Jason Pierce for the first two years (2014 and 2015) and his father for the last two (2016 and 2017) on the diamond and Ryan Abbott on the hardwood. A right-handed pitcher, Willard played three seasons at Purdue Fort Wayne (2019-21). He redshirted in 2018. He appeared in 92 games (all in relief) for the Mastodons. His head coach the last two seasons was Doug Schreiber. “Throughout my career I’ve been blessed with good coaches,” says Willard. Graduating in 2021 as a Business Management major and Marketing minor, Willard went to work at Eastside teaching Business and Computer Science and joined his father’s baseball coaching staff. After an IHSAA Class 2A state runner-up finish in 2021, Eastside won another sectional title in 2022. The Kelly Green & White went 26-7 in ’21 and 21-8 in ’22. Eastside (enrollment around 380) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview). The Blazers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Central Noble, Churubusco, Prairie Heights, Westview and Whitko. Eastside has won seven sectional titles. Aaron Willard was a North coach and Owen Willard — little brother of former volleyball/softball athlete Madison (Willard) Shelter (Class of 2014) and Cade — was the MVP at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. At the end of the season, Aaron Willard kept his athletic director tag but passed the head coaching baton to Cade. His decision to pursue business or education and coaching was made during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I grew up around Eastside my whole life,” says Cade. “It seemed right. “It makes it more special being in your hometown.” Aaron and elementary P.E. teacher Kerri now have more time to see right-hander Owen pitch at PFW. Cade is also an assistant to Ed Bentley on the Blazers varsity boys basketball staff. Willard found time to lead IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activities (two days a week for two hours) in the fall and will do so again in the winter, beginning Dec. 5. He will roll right from basketball to baseball on some days. “In the fall, we got better, got in a routine and got our hitting philosophies down,” says Willard, who had eight to 10 high schoolers at each session along with a handful of junior high players. “On paper, we had our starting infield out there. “It’s important to get kids in before the holidays. We can see what numbers we have.” Cade wants the ones who are able to attend to get used to his practice structure. “The past few years we’ve been successful,” says Willard. “It’s about keeping the tradition alive. ““We’re always a scrappy team. I want to get our guys ready to compete. We have a few spots to fill. We were super senior-heavy last year. “For some it will be the first time playing varsity baseball. Toward the end of the season we’ll be alright.” Besides Owen Willard, Class of 2022’s Nick Snyder moved on to college baseball at Indiana University Southeast. Willard has a mixture of seasoned and younger assistant coaches. “I think it’s important to bring on experienced guys who know what to do in different situations,” says Willard. Eastern graduate Tony Emenhiser — who coached with Pierce and Aaron Willard — is back. Alum Gary Kaiser was also on Pierce’s staff. Conner Dove is junior varsity head coach and is assisted by Mike Gustin. Dove was an Eastside classmate of Willard. He was a teammate of Prairie Heights graduate Gustin at Trine University (Angola, Ind.). Willard expects to have around two dozen players for varsity and JV squads. Among returnees is Class of 2024’s Loden Johnson and Ryder Reed and Class of 2025’s Jace Mayberry. Pitchers will be asked to throw strikes and keep the ball low and away from he middle of the plate. “Free bases hurt,” says Willard. “You can throw two pitches for strikes and get away with it and be effective with three. “In our non-conference games we’ll see who can throw and who cannot throw. It’ll get us ready for rather get ready for conference in the later weeks. There will be a lot of juggling (of positions) this year for sure. We want to put the best lineup out there for conference.” Eastside plays home contests on-campus at Michael D. Fieldler Field. The diamond played host to a fall league and has had its dugouts upgraded with other projects in the works. Bobcat Youth League locations at Butler and Riverdale-St. Joe develop players that end up at Eastside. Fifth and sixth graders travel to play area teams, including in Hicksville, Ohio. Butler is about four miles from the Indiana-Ohio line. The non-conference high school season tends to include Ohio opponents like Archbold, Edgerton and Fairview. A youth camp is planned at Eastside for the spring. “It is important to get youth kids enjoying and playing baseball doing it the right way,” says Willard. “Dad — being AD — says that’s an area you could blossom in with time over the long run.”
Nearly 40 years after graduating and more than 25 after first serving as an assistant coach, North Judson (Ind.)-San Pierre Junior/Senior High School alum Rabion Frasure has been selected to lead the baseball program at his alma mater. “I’m looking at creating a baseball culture at North Judson the best we can,” says Frasure, a 1983 graduate. “We want to get the young kids interested in playing baseball like they do basketball and football.” The school’s football team is 21-6 over the past two seasons which both ended at the IHSAA Class 1A semistate level. The boys basketball team went 21-6 and won a sectional crown in 2021-22. In baseball, the Ron Benakovich-coached Bluejays were 15-8 overall and 11-4 in the Hoosier North Athletic Conference in 2022. North Judson (enrollment around 350) is in the HNAC with Caston, Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, Pioneer, Triton and Winamac. Conference foes meet each other twice — either in a weekday home-and-home series or Saturday doubleheader. The Bluejays are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Hebron, South Central (Union Mills), Wheeler and Winamac. North Judson has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2006. Frasure played baseball and basketball for four years each at North Judson. Fred Perry (1980), Bud Childers (1981 and 1982) and Dave McCollough (1983) were his head coaches on the diamond and Perry (first two years) and Dave Carrington (last two years with McCollough as an assistant) led the way on the hardwood. As a coach, Frasure first helped Ted White for about eight years beginning in 1996 (Rabion’s brother Paul was a senior player in ’96) and assisted off and on, including the past few years with Benakovich. Last April, Frasure retired from 24 years at Urschel Laboratories in Chesterton, Ind., at 57. His last job with the company world-renown for food cutting technology was a a heat treat supervisor. “I always wanted to be a head coach, but it wasn’t possible,” says Frasure. “Now I have the time.” Paul Frasure is one of Rabion’s Bluejays assistant coaches along with Patrick Allen, Perry Thompson and Alvin Harper. North Judson plays home games on-campus on a field that was upgraded five or so years ago with a new playing surface, dugouts and backstop. Frasure was hired in time to oversee two weeks of IHSAA Limited Contact Period activity (two hours for two days a week) in the fall and looks forward to the next period (Dec. 5-Feb. 4). There were as many as six athletes in the fall with many others in football or other fall sports. Some won’t be able to attend in the winter because of basketball. “You need to play more than one sport,” says Frasure. Rabion and Ruby Frasure were married in March 1990. Andrew Frasure — their oldest of four children — competed in football, basketball and baseball at North Judson. As a senior in 2011, Andrew played on a team with his father as an assistant and was selected for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. He was also on the Ryan Bales-coached basketball team that went 20-2 and won a sectional title in 2010-11. Andrew is now dentist in Knox, Ind. Jordann Frasure (North Judson Class of 2013), Liliann Frasure (Class of 2021) and Sophia Frasure (Class of 2023) all played volleyball, basketball and tennis for the Bluejays. After scoring 989 points on the court a nursing degree from Valparaiso University came Jordann’s way. Lillian — aka Lilli — was part of North Judson girls basketball teams that went 43-18 — making her the winningest player in program history. She scored 2,234 points and led the Bluejays to a Class 2A regional title in 2020-21 and was part of a Class 2A state volleyball championship in 2018-19. She is now a sophomore on the NAIA No. 4-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women’s basketball team. Sophia was averaging 18.8 points through North Judson’s first five girls basketball games of 2022-23.
New head baseball coach Aaron Wood has long been a part of athletics at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School. As a 2000 West Lafayette graduate, Wood earned eight varsity letters for the Red Devils — three in baseball, three in football and two in basketball. His head coaches were Dan Walbaum in baseball, Ernie Beck and Lane Custer in football and father David Wood in basketball. Wood has been an assistant coach for all three sports at West Lafayette. “It’s my way of giving back,” says Wood, who has gotten to work with Walbaum and Joel Strode in baseball, his father in basketball and Shane Fry in football. “I’ve been a member of this baseball program for a long time. The opportunity (to be head coach) presented itself and I took it.” In Wood’s 13 years on the baseball staff, West Lafayette won three sectionals, two regionals and seven Hoosier Conference titles. Next year will mark two decades for Wood with Red Devils football. He was the running backs coach under Fry this fall and the 2022 team was ranked No. 1 in IHSAA Class 3A and finished 13-1. “I have really enjoyed my time with that program,” says Wood. “I hope in some ways we can mimic the success (football) has had in the baseball program in terms of the postseason. “We want to have some fun and win a whole bunch of games in the process.” David Wood retired after the 2020-21 season — his 27th as Red Devils head boys basketball coach. He earned nine sectional titles, including in 1999 and 2000. Aaron Wood, who is in his fifth year as a Physical Education/Health teacher and strength and conditioning coach for West Lafayette, was hired last week to lead West Lafayette on the diamond. Strode is the Red Devils athletic director. West Lafayette (enrollment around 730) is a member of the Hoosier Conference (with Benton Central, Hamilton Heights, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes and Western). Each conference baseball team plays each other twice in a home-and-home series during the same week. The Red Devils are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with Frankfort, North Montgomery, Northwestern, Twin Lakes and Western. West Lafayette has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2011. The Red Devils play home games on Bob Friend Field, a facility which recently got new paint and work on the dugouts. West Lafayette went 13-8 overall and 8-1 in the conference last spring. Senior Evan Cooke (.353 with six home runs and 27 runs batted in and 4-2 on the mound with a 1.51 earned run average for 2022) and junior Jack Shaeffer (.400 with 18 RBIs and 2-3) are expected back for 2023. Cooke scored 34 goals this fall for West Lafayette’s 20-1-1 boys soccer team. While it is not affiliated with the school, West Lafayette Youth Baseball teaches the game at the younger levels. While he was busy with football, Wood noticed that some baseball players were getting in work at various places in the fall. He looks forward to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Dec. 5-Feb. 4) where baseball activities will be permitted two times a week for two hours. Wood is in the process of assembling his coaching staff. “We need to get administrative things out of the way and start focusing on player development,” said Wood. A former multi-sport athlete himself, Wood is a believer in it. “We have to have it for our school to have success,” says Wood. “It does wonders for your support and it develops the sort of toughness that we need to win. “You’re remaining in competitive environments.” Wood went into the working world out of high school and earned an degree in Organizational Leadership and Supervision degree from Purdue University more than a decade later. The husband of West Lafayette Elementary School third grade teacher Jennifer Wood later decided to go into education. “I have a passion for students and coaching,” says Wood. “I got a graduate certificate from Indiana Wesleyan and here I am. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made professionally.” With Aaron and Jennifer both being teachers they are on the same schedule and able to spend time together and with daughter Carson (6) and son Carter (3). “They enjoy being at the various fields and making it a family affair,” says Wood.