Robbie Frank was a sophomore starter on Evansville (Ind.) Central High School’s IHSAA state runner-up baseball team in 1987. The 29-win Bears lost 4-1 to LaPorte in the championship game. The Slicers went to be named mythical national champions in that season. Frank started at shortstop for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Griese as a junior and senior at Central and played one season as a utility player at Saint Louis University for Billikens head coach Bob Hughes. The Central Bears were ranked No. 1 during the 1988 season. Central lost to Memorial in the sectional championship in both 1988 and 1989 — 3-0 and 8-2. The Tigers lost in the first round of the semistate in 1988 and won the state crown in 1989. Energy and passion are two things Frank saw Griese bring to the diamond. “It was a great experience to play under him,” says Frank. “We were a very talent team 1987-89. It was a good time to be at Central.” In the summer of 1989, Frank played American Legion baseball for Evansville Funkhouser Post 8. Henry “Mac” LaRue was the manager and son Mark LaRue the head coach. Later on, Frank coached Highland Little League teams in Evansville, including a state runner-up squad when his players were 12 and state champion unit when they were 13. Bryce Frank, Robbie’s son, was on those teams. Robbie Frank has served as manager for Evansville Pate American Legion Post 265, guiding a junior squad to the state championship in 2021 and leading a senior team in 2022. He plans to do the same again in 2023, scheduling 30 to 35 games against the best competition he can find. Frank also spent the past 10 years as an Evansville Central assistant. After head coach Mike Goedde retired at the end of a 12-year run in 2022, Frank was elevated to head coach. “He’s an old school coach,” says Frank of Goedde. “He’s big on playing the game the right way. He gives a lot of responsibility to the kids — not only in baseball but in life.” Goedde expected his players to represent themselves, their families and their schools in an appropriate way. “You never know who’s watching or looking out,” says Frank. When Frank was hired as Central head coach he had one-on-one meetings with returning sophomores, juniors and seniors to discuss expectations. He plans to have IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices — twice a week for two hours — working around basketball which is also having LCP workouts. Among the recent Central graduates to move on to college baseball are the Class of 2022’s Aiden Esarey (Goshen College), Gavin Kelley (Grace College), Ben Kennedy (Taylor University), Ethan Lyke (Murray State University), Ethan Rothschild (University of Southern Indiana) and Kaiden Turner (Grace College), 2021’s Henry Brown (Indiana State University), Garrett Causey (University of Southern Indiana) and Mason Simon (Oakland City University), 2019’s Cory Bosecker (Butler University) and Kody Putnam (Southeastern Illinois College and transferred to Jacksonville State University), 2018’s Sean Becker (Indiana University-Kokomo and transferred to Kentucky Wesleyan College) and Mason White (Indiana University Southeast) and 2017’s Evan Kahre (University of Southern Indiana). Evansville Central (enrollment around 1,075) is a member of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz, Jasper and Vincennes Lincoln). The Bears were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz and Jasper. “It’s a dogfight every year,” says Frank. Central has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2017. The process of hiring Frank’s assistant coaches is in progress. The Bears play home games at Paul Griese Field. Goedde had Bermuda grass added to the infield a few years ago. Each spring, Cub Baseball in Evansville has eighth graders (and some seventh graders) competing on behalf of the high schools they are feeding. Robbie Frank, who is president of Frank Insurance Services Inc. (owned by father Gene Frank), has three children — Faith, Ellie and Bryce. Faith Frank (20) is a former Evansville Central basketball and track athlete now studying at Ivy Tech in Evansville. Ellie Frank (19) was a two-time first-team all-state lacrosse player for the Bears and is now a Murray (Ky.) State University freshman. Bryce Frank (17) is a junior baseball player at Evansville Central.
Adam Rosen has just arrived as the new head baseball coach at at Rose-Hulman Instittute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., and he knows how he will spend his fall. The Fightin’ Engineers will start workouts Sept. 14, meeting Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays for four weeks at Art Nehf Field. There will be 16 practice days in the fall for Rosen to evaluate his roster, introduce his way of doing things and setting expectations. There will be a focus on player development. Rosen, who spent the past six seasons as an assistant at Washington University in St. Louis, takes over for Jeff Jenkins who retired at the end of the 2021 campaign (23-14 overall and 23-12 in the Heartland Collegiate Conference) after 32 seasons in charge and served his last day as RHIT athletic director Aug. 31 after 19 years on the job. Like Washington University, Rose-Hulman is an NCAA Division III school. Rosen has spent his entire college baseball career as a player and coach at D-III institutions. “That’s all I’ve ever known,” says Rosen. “Every Division III school is different. But players are always their because of their love of the game because there is no (athletic) no scholarship attached to them.” Rosen sees it as a best-of-both-worlds situation on the academic and athletic sides. “They get a wold class education that sets these guys up for life,” says Rosen. “But there’s no compromising on the baseball experience. They can play for championships.” Sean Bendel, who completed his 23rd season on the Fightin’ Engineers coaching staff in 2021, will be with Rosen until the end of December. “He’s been a great resource for me,” says Rosen of Bendel. “He’s a great man and I have a lot of respect for him.” Rosen says he will hire another full-time coach for the spring. That person will be his pitching coach. He also looks to hire part-time assistants. “We’re looking for guys who want to get into the business and work really hard,” says Rosen. Pat Bloom began his tenure as WashU head coach at the same time Rosen arrived in the Bears program. “He’s very professional and a very intelligent and organized person,” says Rosen of Bloom, who took the team to the 2021 D-III World Series. “He ran the team like a business. He was very demanding. “I learned a lot from him — things I’m taking with me as a head coach.” In Rosen and Bloom’s first season at WUSL, their team met Rose-Hulman in regional play. Rosen’s first time at RHIT came during his previous coaching stop. He was an assistant for three season at Marietta (Ohio) College on the staff of Brian Brewer, who led the Pioneers to D-III national championships in 2006, 2011 and 2012 “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with two of the best guys in Division III the last nine years,” says Rosen, referring to Brewer and Bloom. Before that, Rosen assisted Mike Pritchard for one season at Centre College (Danville, Ky.) following two seasons under Ryan Grice at Capital University (Columbus, Ohio) and two years as a graduate assistant for Jim Peeples at Piedmont University (Demorest, Ga.). Rosen saw in Pritchard a hard worker and a very-organized coach. He and Pritchard were the only baseball coaches at Centre at the time. “It was a good opportunity for me,” says Rosen. “He turned me loose on some things. He gave me responsibility that helped my growth as a coach.” At Capital, Rosen and Grice came in together. “He was a young coach really hungry to have his own program,” says Rosen of Grice. “We were both trying to prove ourselves.” Rosen gained a mentor in Peeples (now athletic director) at Piedmont. “I couldn’t have walked into a better situation,” says Rosen, who also served with Lions assistants Justin Scali (now PU head coach) and Richard Dombrowsky (who went on to coach high school baseball in Georgia). “Those were three great men to learn from. It established my foundation as a coach.” Rosen was born in West Palm Beach, Fla., and grew up in the Nashville, Tenn., area. He graduated from Hendersonville’s Beech High School in 2003. Mike Hayes was the Buccaneers head coach. “He taught us discipline,” says Rosen of Hayes. “He had high standards for the program. He taught us how to to work hard, set high goals for ourselves and compete in practice.” Rosen played four seasons (2004-07) at Maryville (Tenn.) College — the first three for Eric Etchison and senior year for Daniel Washburn. “Coach Etchison was a great man,” says Rosen, who was a second-team American Baseball Coaches Association All-America selection in 2007. “He had great values and he cared about the student-athletic experience. He ran a program that stood for the right things. “Coach Washburn was very disciplined and organized. I enjoyed playing for both guys though they were very different.” Rosen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Maryville in 2007 and received a Masters in Business Administration from Piedmont in 2009. He has been a member of the ABCA for more than a decade and enjoys going to the national conventions as well as state association clinics. “There’s the networking and seeing old friends, but I always go there to learn,” says Rosen. “It challenges you to understand why you coach the way you do.” Rosen has been an instructor at camps hosted by Clemson, Notre Dame, Navy, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Virginia. Adam and Stacia Rosen have been married just over two years. They met at Marietta, where the former Stacia Shrider was then the head women’s basketball coach.
“We want to play hard and fast,” says Cushenberrry. “It’s cool to see kids come out and want to be part of something special.”
The Knights are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethesda Christian (the 2021 host site), Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Prep, Providence Cristo Rey and Tindley. Traders Point’s first year in the state tournament series was 2019.
Home baseball games this spring will be at Roundtripper Sports Academy or Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Cushenberry says a new turf field on the TPCS campus is expected by the end of this year.
“It’s going to be a very special time,” says Cushenberry. “The good Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to be part of something special.”
Traders Point added a high school program in 2008 and had its first graduating class in 2012. A junior high building was opened in 2020.
As a feeder for high school baseball, Grades 5-8 play on “A” and “B” junior high teams.
Jayden Cushenberry played recreational baseball at Warren Township Little League then travel ball from 10 to 13 with the Oaklandon Bombers and 14 to 17 with the Tom Caster-coached Irvington Rattlers.
“I coach exactly how I played,” says Cushenberry. “We’re going to be tough. We’re going to be gritty.
“We’re going to go after you every single inning.”
It’s all about hard work and dedication and reaping what you sew.
Cushenberry knows he’s one of the younger coaches on the scene. But he sees that as an advantage.
“I’ve always been called wise beyond my years,” says Cushenberry. “We’re in a time now where the young coaches do a better job of relating to their players.
“Everybody wants to know why. I can let them know why and still coach them hard. I believe they respond better to hard-nosed coaching. We’re preparing them for life and creating a family atmosphere.”
Jaylen comes from a large extended family. His mother, Donnice Cushenberry, is a former cheer and dance coach who instilled competitiveness and the willingness to understand people in her oldest son.
“I truly want to thank my family for engraving some core values that I live by,” says Cushenberrry, who is a brother to Jordan Cushenberry and stepson to Michael Howe.
When he’s not working at Zionsville or coaching at Traders Point, Cushenberry gives lessons at Roundtripper. He is heading into his fourth summer as a coach for the Indiana Mustangs. He leads a 17U squad.
“I want to thank (Roundtripper and Mustangs founder) Chris Estep,” says Cushenberry. “He believed in me when other people wouldn’t.
“He’s treated me like a son.”
Reid Andrews is Director of Baseball Operations at Roundtripper and coaches with the Mustangs and University.
“I’ve learned so much from him,” says Cushenberry of Andrews. “He’s a good source of information.
“I’m thankful to be colleagues with Reid.”
Cushenberrry was an assistant to Estep for two seasons at University, helping the Trailblazers win an IHSAA Class 1A state crown in 2019.
That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.
“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”
One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.
“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”
Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.
“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”
Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.
Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.
Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.
Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.
“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.
The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.
Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.
Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.
Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.
“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”
Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes.
Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.
“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.
“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”
The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights.
“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”
That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.
“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.
“They’re not selfish.”
Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.
Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.
“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.
“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”
Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.
Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.
Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.
“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players.
“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.
“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”
Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.
Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.
“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”
Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.
“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”
Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.
“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”
Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.
Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.
With lasting influences from two coaches, John Zangrilli decided that education and coaching were for him when he was still a teenager.
It was while learning and playing for Jeff Massey (baseball) and Ken Randle (basketball) that Zangrilli saw his career path. Massey was the head baseball coach for Zangrilli’s last three years at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, following Steve Goeglein. Randle was a freshmen/assistant coach, teacher and mentor.
Since graduating from Lawrence Central in 1994, Zangrilli has enjoyed many baseball experiences and encounters with successful diamond minds.
Zangrilli — aka Z or Coach Z since his father (Papa Z) and son (Little Z) are also named John — has coached in three central Indiana high school programs (two assistant stints at Carmel and head coaching tenures at Brebeuf Jesuit and Zionsville).
As a head coach, Coach Z-led teams went 247-81 with six sectional championships (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 at Brebeuf and 2012 at Zionsville), three regional crowns (2005 and 2009 at Brebeuf and 2012 at Zionsville), one Final Four appearance (2012 at Zionsville), two Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles (2011 and 2012 at Zionsville) and one Marion County crown (2010 at Brebeuf in a an extra-inning game against Lawrence Central at Victory Field that Zangrilli calls the best game he’s ever seen).
“Coach Farley and Coach Morgan couldn’t be any more different in terms of their personalities
Intense,” says Zangrilli, describing Morgan as intense and Farley possessing an even-keel temperament. “Coach Morgan was extremely detail-oriented. Every moment of every day was organized. It’s the first time I was introduced to something like that. It was about understanding your role on the team. As a coach, I drew on that a little bit.
“I really enjoyed the way Coach Farley created a calm atmosphere for his athletes to relax and take what they had been taught and then go out and play the game.”
Zangrilli earned an Elementary Education degree with an endorsement in Physical Education and Health from Butler in 1998. He has worked in Carmel schools for 22 years and is now a Wellness Education teacher at Woodbrook Elementary School.
His first high school coaching gig was a three-year stint on the coaching staff of Carmel Greyhounds head coach Tom Linkmeyer in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Carmel lost 1-0 in 11 innings to eventual state runner-up Evansville Harrison in the 2000 State semifinals.
Born in central Pennsylvania, Zangrilli roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Penn State University. He came to Indiana early in his elementary school years.
At 14, Zangrilli worked for Jeff Mercer Sr., at Mercer’s Sports Center on the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
One of the first players to log more than one summer with the Indiana Bulls, Z was with the elite organization 1992-94. Mike Stein was head coach that first year. The next two years, Dennis Kas was head coach and was helped by Kevin Stephenson, Brent Mewhinney and Linkmeyer, who was also the Wellness Education teacher at Woodbrook prior to Zangrilli.
“They were imparting all this baseball knowledge on us,” says Zangrilli. “It was eye-opening. It was the intersection of talent and instruction and we took off. We had a great deal of success.
“Dennie Kas was the first guy I played for who instilled an appreciation for preparation,” says Zangrilli. “He had a real knack for reading the pulse of his team.
“He could walk in the dugout and know if they needed to be calm or pick up the energy.”
Zangrilli was head coach at Brebeuf for seven campaigns (2004-10) and Zionsville for three (2011-13).
“Between my years at Brebeuf and Zionsville it was an embarrassment of riches,” says Coach Z.
Among his assistants at Brebeuf were Andy McClain (former player and assistant under IHSBCA of Famer Bill Tutterow at Martinsville and head coach at LaVille and Arlington who went on to be head coach at Brebeuf, Norwell and Lawrence Central) and Tim Phares (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer George Phares).
Standout Braves players included catcher Radley Haddad (Western Carolina University, Butler University, player and coach in New York Yankees system), outfielder Jack Dillon (Butler University), Tres Eberhardt (Xavier University), outfielder Nathan Koontz (Ball State University), catcher Mitch Overley (Ball State University, Wabash College), infielder/outfielder Ty Adams (University of Notre Dame), outfielder Kevin Simms (University of Dayton, Wright State University), outfielder Stevie Eberhardt-Gipson (Northern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher/catcher John Krasich (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology).
Right-hander Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest University, Oakland Athletics organization), infielder/outfielder Max Kuhn (University of Kentucky, Oakland Athletics organization), infielder Troy Kuhn (Ohio State University), third baseman Ben Kocher (Belmont University), outfielder Drew Small (Butler University), left-hander Alex Westrick (Xavier University) and outfielder Nick Barrientos (Wabash Valley College, Northwood University) are part of a long line of Eagles players who went on to college and/or professional baseball.
John and wife Jackie have two children. After the 2013 season, Z turned his focus to teaching as well as coaching Little Z and daughter Olivia (a travel volleyball player).
When former Butler teammate Matt Buczkowski (son of IHBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski) became head coach at he — and all the returning Carmel talent — lured Zangrilli back into high school coaching.
Coach Z remembers Buczkowski’s request going something like this: “I’ve got a Ferrari of pitching staff. I need to have somebody help me drive it.”
Buczkowski inherited a stable of arms developed by former Carmel pitching coach Jay Lehr.
The spring of 2021 will be Coach Z’s fifth since returning to the Carmel dugout.
Zangrilli, Buczkowski and former Westfield and Carmel field boss and current hitting coach Eric Lentz represent more than 500 head coaching victories on a Hounds staff. Pitching coach Fred Moses came to Carmel from Lawrence Central with Buczkowski.
“My role is whatever they need as any given day,” says Zangrilli, who has been a pitching coach, first base coach and a camp coordinator. The past five years, he helped oversee the Carmel Pups.
Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.
“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”
Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.
“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”
Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.
“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).
Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992.
The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).
“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”
Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.
“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.
“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”
The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.
Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.
“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”
One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics.
When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.
“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”
Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).
The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.
“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.
“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.
Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.
“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.
After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).
“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.
“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”
Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.
“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”
At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.
“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.
On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.
“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”
Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.
Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.
“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out.
“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”
After shutting down his own facility (Twin City Baseball and Softball Club) in St. Joseph, he was brought in by former South Bend manager and current Performance Center director Mark Haley in August 2018.
“In the batting cage, that’s where my love and passion is,” says Danapilis. “I don’t teach just one method. We talk about being linear and getting through the ball.
“When you’re teaching a 15- or 16-year-old kid, the biggest thing is teaching him to get the barrel (of the bat) to the ball consistently. Stay balanced. Stay through the ball. Get the barrel to the ball.”
This can be achieved by developing hand-eye coordination.
Danapilis says the launch angle can be applied for advanced college players and for pros.
As a righty-swinging outfielder, Danapilis was recruited to Notre Dame by Pat Murphy. The Irish head coach was in St. Joseph, Mich., and saw Danapilis play in an American Legion tournament game at Riverview Park.
“I hit a home run and I was pitching at the time, (Murphy) goes ‘who’s this guy?,’” says Danapilis.
Recruited by top-notch schools all over the country, including Arizona State and UCLA, the four-time all-stater at St. Joseph (Class of 1989) was convinced by Murphy to stay in Michiana.
“Pat Murphy did a great job of recruiting me. He said you’re going to have the potential of starting all four years. You’re going to be one of these guys who builds the program. You’re going to be an All-American.
“He sold me. He didn’t lie to me. Everything he told me came true.”
Playing in the shadow of the Golden Dome for four seasons (1990-93), Danapilis hit .402 with 26 homers, 61 doubles and 89 runs batted in for 204 games.
“(Murphy) was very tough to play for, but I learned a lot,” says Danapilis, who still keeps communicates with Murphy (now the Milwaukee Brewers bench coach) and former ND teammate Craig Counsell (the Brewers manager). “I was very fortunate and go to play pro baseball after that.”
For a few years after retiring as a player, Danapilis helped Larry Parrish put young Tigers players through winter workouts by throwing batting practice and swinging a fungo bat.
Danapilis was a teacher and assistant baseball coach at Lakeland (Fla.) Senior High School on the staff of Ron Nipper when Pearce was on the Dreadnaughts squad. Pearce was the MVP for the 2018 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox.
“It’s great to see him persevere with all the stuff he’s gone through,” says Danapilis of Pearce, who began his pro career in 2005 and has been traded, released or designated for assignment several times.
Danapilis and Pearce exchanged texts after the Series. Pearce provided this quote for Haley: “If you’re a young hitter and you want to learn, Coach D’s the best.”
“It made me feel good,” says Danapilis of the praise. “Here’s the World Series MVP and he still remembers all the time we put in together.
“It was awesome as a coach. You never had to tell him to go play hard. He was just one of those grinders.”
Danapilis, who also had future big league fireballer Chris Sale as a student at Lakeland Senior, was hired by Florida Southern College in Lakeland and served as hitting coach for long-time Moccasins head coach Chuck Anderson.
FSC has won nine D-II national titles — three for Anderson (1985, 1988 and 1995). Anderson died of cancer in 2003.
To be closer to his parents — Ed and Angeline Danapilis — Eric moved back to southwestern lower Michigan first as head baseball coach and part-time instructor at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor and then head coach at St. Joseph. He also taught at the high school. He was inducted into St. Joseph Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.
Ed Danapilis was born in Lithuania and moved the U.S. at 10. He was a fixture around North Lincoln youth baseball and St. Joseph Rocket football and coached all five of his sons — Eric, Andrew, Christopher, Adam and Marc. He was scorekeeper for Eric when he was coach of the St. Joe Bears. “Big Ed” died in 2014.
Eric led the St. Joseph program for six years and was a teacher there for 10. He opened the Twin City Baseball and Softball Club in 2012. Brother Marc tended to work with younger kids while Eric spent much of his time with the older ones.
Eric and Caroline Danapilis have a daughter — Hannah. Caroline teaches in the St. Joseph, Mich., system. Hannah went to Washington St. Louis University and Indiana University and is now in pursuing her doctorate near Seattle.
While exploring his next career path, Eric works part-time selling insurance for Alfac while instructing hitters at the Performance Center and Slam Athletic Center in Benton Harbor.
Eric Danapilis, who was an All-American at Notre Dame and played in the Detroit Tigers system, is a hitting instructor at 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field — home of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs. (1st Source Bank Performance Center Photo)