By finishing 1-2 in the National Amateur Baseball Federation Regional in Fort Wayne, Ind., the Fort Wayne Blues and South Bend Royals earned the right to compete in the 108th NABF Charlie Blackburn Major Division World Series in Battle Creek, Mich. Fort Wayne edged South Bend 13-12 in the regional title game. World Series games will be played at Morrison Field, Nichols Field and C.O. Brown Stadium — all at Bailey Park. The Blues (part of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation) have been assigned to Pool A and the Royals (members of men’s leagues in South Bend and Fort Wayne) to Pool B. There are four pools of four teams each. Pool play begins Wednesday, Aug. 3. Elimination games begin Saturday, Aug. 6 with quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and semifinal play at 3:30 p.m. The championship is slated for noon Sunday, Aug. 7. The Berea (Ohio) Blue Sox won the World Series crown in 2019 and 2021. There was no tournament in 2020.
NABF WORLD SERIES At Battle Creek, Mich. Aug. 3-7 Pool A: Battle Creek Merchants, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Fever, Hattiesburg (Miss.) Black Sox, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Blues. Pool B: Hackensack (N.J.) Troast, Lombard (Ill.) Orioles, South Bend (Ind.) Royals, Manistee (Mich.) Saints. Pool C: Buffalo (N.Y.) Diesel, Beecher (Ill.) Muskies, Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Buckeyes, Sox Baseball (N.J.). Pool D: Berea (Ohio) Blue Sox, Chicago (Ill.) Clout, Addison (Ill.) Braves, Team Deb (N.Y.). Pool Play Aug. 3-5; Quarterfinals and Semifinals Aug. 6; Championship Aug. 7.
Spencer Nelson enjoyed a comeback baseball season for NCAA Division II Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Mich.) in 2022. After missing the 2021 campaign while recovering from surgery for a torn left hip labrum, South Bend, Ind., native Nelson started in all 50 of GVSU’s games and .325 (67-of-206) with eight home runs, six triples, 17 doubles, 35 runs batted in and 49 runs scored. The righty-swinging lead-off hitter posted a .969 OPS (.386 on-base percentage plus .583 slugging average) and was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Midwest all-region second team and all-Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference second team. He enjoyed four-hit games against Wayne State and Davenport and produced 20 multi-hit contests. A center fielder, Nelson also collected an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award while completing a bachelors degree in Information Systems. “I’m a student first and an athlete second,” says Nelson. “School and athletics is sometimes hard to balance out.” He was on a Pre-Med track while also playing baseball then made a switch. “I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep on Sundays with a lot of stress and sacrifices,” says Nelson. “I decided to devote myself to developing myself as a player and a teammate. “I love baseball and I was not not ready to give it up.” Nelson, 23, plans to pursue a masters in Computer Science while playing for the GVSU Lakers in the spring of 2023. His role in 2022 was often as center fielder and lead-off hitter. “You’re in-charge out there (in center field),” says Nelson. “You can roam wherever you want. It’s a fun little area to hang out.” Playing the outfield, communication becomes key when tracking the ball and making relay throws. “Everybody in the outfield should be aggressive to catch it,” says Nelson. “This year I had a lot of trust in my guys as I tend to do every year. “In college, covering the gaps is extremely important. I’m always telling the left fielder and right fielder no to play straight up and eliminate extra bases when possible.” As for leading off, Nelson also gets to use his speed. “It’s more about contact than power,” says Nelson. “But I’m I’m very adjustable to wherever I play. I’ve batted in the 3-hole. “Wherever you put me I will adjust to that role.” Nelson helped Grand Valley State go 30-22 in 2022. “We definitely played our hearts out,” says Nelson. “But with talent we have we can definitely do better.” Jamie Detillion is the Lakers head coach. “He definitely vouches for his guys,” says Nelson of Detillion. “He’s a very very caring guy and wants to be a winner. “He’s aways listening to input and adjusts to our liking (as players) while maintaining his role.” Born and raised in South Bend, Nelson first fell for the game as a T-ball player at South East Side Little League. He played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers, South Bend Silver Hawks and Hitters Edge. He played varsity baseball for four years at John Adams High School in South Bend, where he earned the all-academic award four times and was a three-time team MVP, two-time team captain and first-team all-Northern Indiana Conference as a senior. Mike Cass was the Eagles head coach when Nelson graduated in 2017. “(Cass) wanted to win and develop the program,” says Nelson. “He made calls for me to (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) and that helped quite a bit. “It’s about being respectful to those above you so they can show respect back to you.” Nelson played for the Kellogg Bruins in 2018 and 2019. “I had two amazing coaches (head coach Eric Laskovy and assistant head coach Jim Miller),” says Nelson. “It was tough love. They taught me a lot on and off the field.” Now 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Nelson left high school weighing about 170. “I was pretty scrawny,” says Nelson. “Kellogg is a blue collar athletic program and school. You’re taught to work hard. “Eating right was the No. 1 thing. I think I worked out for three or four years without missing a day (minus Sundays) “It helped me become a little bigger and made my body as healthy as it’s been.” Nelson played in the South Bend men’s league each summer from 2017-21. He was with the Mishawaka Brewers until joining the South Bend Royals in 2021. In 2022, he played 21 games with the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Muskegon (Mich.) Clippers and hit .293 with four homers and 16 RBIs before coming home to earn some money for college. Spencer is the youngest of Bill and Sheila Nelson’s five children. Indianapolis-based educational administrator Naomi is the oldest, followed by consultant to medical companies Tiara and IBM employee Madison in California and software engineer Connor in Arizona. Bill Nelson is a retired salesman. Sheila Nelson is a hairdresser.
Fort Wayne’s Bob Rachlow was named 2021 Umpire of the Year by the National Amateur Baseball Federation at the 107th NABF Major/Unlimited Division World Series in Battle Creek, Mich. Rachlow has made many calls from Little League to college to men’s wood bat league to professional over the years. It was as a Little League coach that spark ignited his start as an umpire. Guiding his son’s team in a district game, he did not see eye-to-eye with the men making the calls that day. He said as much to the tournament director. “I’ll expect to see you at our classes next winter” was the reply. “I went in not knowing anything,” says Rachlow. “How much I did not know was scary.” Rachlow closely studied the rules, started at the youth level and soon got recruited for high school ball. “You have to know the rules cold,” says Rachlow. “I thought I knew the rules as a coach. “As umpires, we have to know all the rules — and not just fair/foul, ball/strike.” There’s also game management. “A lot of people can do 90 percent of it, but to move up you must have a feel for the game,” says Rachlow. “You can’t umpire by the book. You have to umpire with the book. “Sometimes it’s the spirit of the rule.” By 2009, he was working a college baseball schedule. An owner for nearly 19 years with Luminary Wealth (formerly Capstone Advisors) — a financial investment firm in Fort Wayne — Rachlow has a partner that allows him the flexibility to work games in the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League, NCAA Division III’s Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, occasional NCAA Division I or as a minor league fill-in for the the High-A Central League’s Fort Wayne TinCaps. “It’s unbelievably a neat thing to do,” says Rachlow of the pro experience. “If I’m in front of 1,000 people that’s a big crowd for my usual games. There’s the sounds and the cheering (at Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field). You take that all in and it’s all directed at the field of play. As a fan you’re on the other side. “I’m very grateful to be able to do that.” Many of his assignments come through the College Baseball Umpires Association. Each February, Rachlow escape the Indiana cold and goes to Port Charlotte, Fla., to umpire in the Snowbird Baseball Classic — a series of games involving NCAA D-I and D-III teams. The event is to include Indiana State University in 2022. “I get some games under my belt before the Indiana season,” says Rachlow. “I also use it as a family vacation. My wife (Darlene) and dog come down. I get to umpire. She gets to go on the beach. It’s kind of a win-win.” Bob and Darlene have two sons — Aaron (who turns 29 Sunday) and Nathan (26). Both played high school baseball. Fort Wayne Black Christian School and Cedarville (Ohio) University graduate Aaron Rachlow began umpiring 10-year-old girls softball when he was 12 and is now a Cincinnati-based college umpire with a wife and a toddler. Nathan Rachlow played in Fort Wayne’s Wildcat Baseball League and graduated from Lakewood Park Christian School and Indiana Tech. Bob Rachlow hails from Itasca, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago. He played baseball at Lake Park High School, where he graduated in 1979. He earned an Actuarial Science degree from the University of Iowa and went from Louisville to southern California and wound up to Fort Wayne in 1990. Rachlow keeps a spreadsheet tracking his umpire assignments. He worked 124 games in 2021 and 114 in 2019. There was a dip in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of his spring games are of the college variety. In the summer, Rachlow umpires in the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation as well as the Indiana Summer Collegiate Summer Baseball League and Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. Rachlow recalls an unusual play in one of his collegiate games. With a runner at first base, a batter hit a liner to shortstop, who guided the ball with his glove to the ground then picked it out of the dirt and threw to second second for a force and the second base relayed to first base for an apparent double play. “I had read about this in the rule book but had never seen it happen in real life,” says Rachlow. “I was the base umpire, and when I turned to see the shortstop ‘drop the ball,’ I called time – called the batter-runner out and put the runner back on first base. Then I turned to the shortstop and said, ‘nice try!’ He just grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “What I thought was interesting was when he got back to the dugout, the coach called him over and said, ‘that may work in Little League, but not here at the collegiate level. What you should have done instead was catch the ball and fire it over to first base to double off the runner as he was initially running when the ball was hit.’ “Good teaching moment!”
The Mishawaka (Ind.) Brewers — a baseball team co-founded in the 1990’s by Shawn Harper and Alex Parker — took 2021 off and has rebranded as the Michiana Brewers. It is an organization works to provide an opportunity for high school seniors, collegiate baseball players and recent college graduates to play competitive ball with home fields in north central Indiana. With a focus on players in or about to enter college baseball with some former minor leaguers in the mix, the Michiana Brewers — renamed to reflect the wide area where the team gets players — will compete in the National Amateur Baseball Federation’s Major Unlimited Division and play an independent schedule. The South Bend semi-pro league consists of only two teams — the Brewers and South Bend Royals. Under the guidance of manager Harper and pitching coach/assistant Chuck Bowen, the Brewers plan to play around 30 games from Memorial Day weekend to second week of August in 2022. There’s typically one weeknight game (often on Friday) and a doubleheader or tournament on Saturday or Sunday. The season opener is to be a home game with the Fort Wayne Jackers. A home-and-home series is planned with the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Beecher Muskies. The 2022 Charlie Blackburn Major Division NABF World Series is to be played in Battle Creek, Mich. Harper and Bowen place the level of play on the Brewers’ schedule at just below summer wood bat circuits like the Northwood League. The Brewers recently secured Rex Weade Stadium at Harris Township Park in Granger, Ind. — home of Indiana University South Bend baseball — as one home field and hopes to also host games at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and other locales. Now that a home field has been secured, the recruiting process has begun. Two John Glenn graduates — Calumet College of Saint Joseph baseball player Michael Machnic and Holy Cross College basketball player Billy Harness — have committed to the Brewers for the upcoming season. Harper (a 1991 graduate of South Bend John Adams High School who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski then played for and managed the Indiana University South Bend club team) and Bowen (a 2007 graduate of John Glenn where played for John Nadolny and went on to play two years for Joe Yonto at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) recently met with and received support from IUSB head coach Doug Buysse and South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director, 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and former South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley. Harper says he plans to carry a roster of up to 25 with some pitcher-only players. In the past, position players paid $200 to participate with pitcher-onlys paying $100. Sponsorships are being sought to cover team expenses. Commitment is something Harper expects from his players. “On the day of game, I want them to ask themselves if they are excited and can’t wait to get to the field,” says Harper. “If they are torn. If there’s a conflict at all, don’t play. “In 16 years I’ve never forfeited one game. I’m very proud of that.” Harper accepts players to miss 25 percent of the time as long they communicate that with him. In October, Harper was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in Evansville, Ind., after being nominated by former South Bend Senators manager and the man he replaced as South Bend semi-pro league president — Ron Milovich. The best ways to contact are the Michiana Brewers Facebook page or by calling Harper at (574) 514-2028 or Bowen at (574) 780-0696.
Knowing that he wanted to apply for a head coach position at his alma mater, Joe Salazar changed his day job. A few months ago, Salazar became project manager at Grand Design RV in Middlebury, Ind., — a position which requires less hours than his previous place of employment — and was hired to run the baseball program at Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind., where he graduated in 1994. Salazar, who is in the process of bringing in assistants and plans to get in a few workouts during the current IHSAA Limited Contact Period which ends Oct. 16 while also serving as third-year eighth grade head football coach at Wawasee, has outlined some areas of emphasis. “We’re looking to improve in a lot of areas — our record, (Northern Lakes Conference) finish and make a good run at sectional,” says Salazar, who takes over the Warriors from Wawasee alum Brent Doty, who resigned to concentrate on his athletic director duties. “We want to get back to the basics and put the ball in play. “I looked at the stats and a lot of guys left runners on base or did not get down sacrifices.” Wawasee (enrollment around 950) is a member of the Northern Lakes Conference (with Concord, Goshen, Mishawaka, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw). In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley and West Noble. Wawasee has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2021 on their own field. The Warriors’ previous sectional championship came in 1997. The 2021 team went 18-13 overall and 8-6 in the NLC and featured seven seniors. Among those was Kameron Salazar, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series selection now on the baseball team at Marian University in Indianapolis and a roommate of A.J. Bordenet (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tim Bordenet of Lafayette Central Catholic). Joe’s younger son — Kaleb — is a sophomore. When Kaleb’s classmates were 8 and 9, Joe established the Wawasee Elite travel team that played in 10U events. Joe Salazar was also an assistant coach for Northern Indiana Elite during Kameron’s 12U summer. Other Wawasee returnees include the Brooks brothers — senior Grant and sophomore Ty. Their new coach be Wawasee’s top two pitchers in 2022. Grant Brooks, a Butler University commit, hit .415 (39-of-94) with five home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 37 runs batted in and 31 runs in 27 games in 2021. As a pitcher, he appeared in eight games and went 6-1 with a 1.38 earned run average, 48 strikeouts and 14 walks in 40 2/3 innings. Ty Brooks pitched in nine games and posted a 4-2 mound mark with a 1.70 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 33 innings. Senior Lucas Ringler, who hit .289 (26-of-90) five triples, three doubles, 16 RBIs and 29 runs in 27 games in ’21, and junior Colt Dolsen, who batted .338 (22-of-65) with 12 RBIs in 24 games, are also expected back. The junior varsity team wrapped last spring by winning a tournament and several of those players move up to varsity. “They’re hard workers,” says Salazar of his young squad. “We can have a pretty decent team.” Four 2020 Wawasee graduates — Logan Adkins (University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.), Levi Brown (Anderson, Ind., University), Antonio Garcia-Sanchez (Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) and Carter Woody (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) — were on college baseball posters in 2021. Salazar, who has been involved in community sports for many years, hopes to establish a feeder system of travel teams. “That’s what successful programs are doing,” says Salazar. “They’re playing together (and learning how its done at the high school).” Joe Salazar participated four years each of baseball and football and two each of basketball and wrestling at Wawasee. His head coaches were Neal Frantz, Randy Aalbregtse and John Blunk on the diamond, Troy Akers and Gene Mitz on the gridiron, Gary Goshert on the court and Scott DeHart on the mat. At Goshen (Ind.) College, Salazar played three seasons for Maple Leafs head coach DeVon Hoffman and one for Todd Bacon (who is Kameron’s head coach at Marian), switching from shortstop to third base as a freshman. DeVon was a stickler for details. He wanted to make sure we did things correctly all the time. The little things matter. Bacon was very young then. He kept the same things going. Salazar earned a Business degree from Goshen in 1998. Joe, who is married to Yvonne Salazar, also has two older stepchildren — Riley Weber and Ashley Weber.
No. 2 seed Indiana Wesleyan (43-12) and No. 5 Indiana Tech (31-25) are part of the five-team Marion (Ind.) Bracket at Indiana Wesleyan.
IWU, coached by Rich Benjamin, won the regular-season and tournament titles in the Crossroads League.
Indiana Tech, coached by Kip McWilliams, was the regular-season champion in the Wolverine-Hoosier Conference.
No. 2 seed Indiana University Southeast (45-14) will be one of five teams competing in the Kingsport (Tenn.) Bracket.
IU Southeast, coached by Ben Reel, was the regular season and tournament champion in the River States Conference.
The NAIA season has ended for Taylor (37-20), Saint Francis (34-22), Huntington (33-16), Indiana University-Kokomo (28-20), Marian (25-29), Indiana University South Bend (24-24), Oakland City (17-27), Bethel (15-39), Grace (12-31), Calumet of Saint Joseph (7-29) and Goshen (3-34).
The 34 wins is a single-season school record for Saint Francis and Panthers coach Dustin Butcher.
Franklin (25-12), Earlham (23-18) and Anderson ( 20-17) were among teams winning opening round series and making it to the five-team finals in the NCAA Division III Heartland Collegiate Conference tournament.
Transylvania and Bluffton will be the other two teams. The tourney is to conclude Sunday, May 23.
The 2021 season is over for Indiana’s other D-III programs — Rose-Hulman (23-14), Hanover (20-20), Manchester (19-22), Wabash (18-15), DePauw (15-21) and Trine (6-28).
NCAA D-III teams Indianapolis (27-21), Southern Indiana (24-20) and Purdue Northwest (11-22) have also seen their slates come to a close.
Ivy Tech Northwest (31-25) lost 2-1 to Kellogg in a three-game National Junior College Athletic Association Regional in Battle Creek, Mich., and wrapped its season.
Max Flock homered three times and collected five hits and six runs batted in as Vincennes swept a doubleheader from Spoon River and made the Mid-West Athletic Conference tournament May 20-23 in Normal, Ill.
NJCAA member Ancilla (6-29) has concluded its season.
NCAA Division I Notre Dame (26-10) was idle in Atlantic Coast Conference play and yet the Irish earned the program’s first regular season title since 2006 by winning the ACC Atlantic Division.
ND has one more ACC series May 20-22 at Virginia Tech before the conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C.
Indiana (24-12, 24-12) is second in the Big Ten Conference to Nebraska (25-11, 25-11). The Hoosiers have eight more conference games remaining. There will be no Big Ten tournament.
Ball State (32-16, 23-9) holds a slight lead on Central Michigan (32-17, 23-10) at the top of the Mid-American Conference standings.
BSU has a May 21-23 road series against Ohio and May 28-30 home series with Miami (Ohio) before the postseason.
The eight-team Missouri Valley Conference tournament is scheduled for May 25-29 in Carbondale, Ill. Right now Dallas Baptist (31-13, 16-4) and Indiana State (25-15, 12-8) are the top two seeds with Evansville (26-24, 9-14) No. 6 and Valparaiso (14-29, 9-15) No. 7.
He is named for his great grandfather on his mother Amy’s side — Leonus “Tye” Goheen, a standout pitcher in Kentucky in the 1920’s and 1930’s who once was matched up against a young Hall of Famer-to-be Dizzy Dean.
Goheen led the Dawson Springs Daylight Ball Club to the state championship in 1932 and an appearance in the Little World Series in Battle Creek, Mich., in 1937.
When Tye Thixton was but a tyke his father — Jeff Thixton — introduced his oldest son to the game with wiffleball and followed him all the way through youth and travel ball and college until his passing at 50 on Jan. 10, 2020 with wife Amy and sons Tye and Trey surviving.
“We bonded a lot of the time through baseball,” says Tye, who was granted an extra year of eligibility at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind,, because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 season and is shining in 2021 (Trey Thixton, 20, is a sophomore on the IWU men’s tennis team). “I want to leave it all on the field for dad.”
Tye has his father’s initials — JLT — on his wrist tape and writes them in the dirt each time he comes up to bat.
Thixton’s Indiana Wesleyan team, which also features “COVID seniors” Tanner Killian, Austin Swift and Jon Young, goes into a Crossroads League series today (April 16) and Saturday (April 17) against visiting Huntington at 32-11 overall and 21-3 in conference play. The team has its sights on being the program’s first 40-game winner.
Center fielder and lead-off man Thixton is hitting .349 (60-of-172) with 11 home runs, one triple, 11 doubles, 45 runs batted in, 48 runs scored and is 15-of-15 in stolen bases. He sports an 1.039 OPS (.423 on-base percentage plus .616 slugging average) with 20 multi-hit games.
For his IWU career, Thixton is hitting .360 (151-of-419) with 21 homers, three triples, 28 doubles, 96 RBIs, 106 runs and is 29-of-32 in stolen bases. His OPS is 1.020 (.428 on-base percentage plus .592 slugging average).
Thixton’s most-recent circuit clout came Monday, April 13 in Game 1 of a CL doubleheader against Taylor. The two-run shot in the fourth inning to left field cut through a steady cross wind and landed on the football stadium next to Wildcat Field.
“Off the bat I was thinking, ‘get on 2,’” says Thixton. “The fact that it got out gave us a lot of momentum and helped us get into their pen.
“My whole game has changed. I’m a little bit of a power threat this year. I think the COIVD year helped guys develop. We got to spend more time in the weight room and more time to work on the swing.
“Across the board players progressing and numbers on the pitching and hitting side a lot better.”
A center fielder and No. 1 hitter in the batting order since his days at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Thixton relishes both roles.
“I like being able to run the outfield,” says Thixton. “It’s fun playing gap-to-gap.
“I’ve always loved being a lead-off hitter — just being able to set the tone of the game.”
Thixton, 23, is finishing up his Business Management degree. Commencement at IWU is slated for May 1.
“I’ll be done,” says Thixton of his college days which began with two years at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, including a team MVP season in 2018. “Then I get on to the real world.”
Competing against NAIA No. 1-ranked Southeastern in Florida and No. 6 Faulkner in Alabama to begin the season in February, the Wildcats got off to an 0-7 start.
“We got walked off three times in seven games,” says Thixton. “But we knew we could compete with the highest level. We could’ve easily won three of four of those games.
“Nobody’s head was down. It was time to go on a win streak.”
And that’s just what IWU did.
The Wildcats won their next 16 under the guidance of head coach Rich Benjamin.
“He loves all of his players,” says Thixton. “He’s done such a good job of bringing a team together and making guys want to play for each other and for him.
“We’ve got a good mix of all ages. Guys able to learn from each other. That’s really contributed to this year.”
Going through the uncertainty of the pandemic has also impacted the team’s outlook.
“We’ve played every game with the thought it could be our last,” says Thixton.
Born in Greenwood, Thixton started school at Clark Elementary in Whiteland and played at Whiteland Little League then moved to the Center Grove area as a third grader and he attended the former West Grove Elementary.
“(Brown and Bellak) were a blast to be around,” says Thixton. “They helped me develop my game so much.
Thixton graduated from Center Grove High School in 2016. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was in his final season with the Trojans while Thixton played on the junior varsity as a freshman.