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From Bedford to Lexington, Elkins enjoys long broadcast career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Elkins grew up in Bedford, Ind., with a love for baseball and broadcasting.

He played Little League, Babe Ruth and high school ball in the Lawrence County town, usually roaming center field.

“The center fielder is trusted to go get the ball and catch it,” says Elkins, who graduated from Bedford High School (now part of Bedford North Lawrence) in 1970 but not before playing his last two seasons as a Stonecutter for future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Orval Huffman. “It was a fun position to play.”

Appearing often in the World Series or the on the TV Game of the Week, New York Yankees slugging center fielder Mickey Mantle became Elkins’ favorite player.

“I don’t think I had Mickey’s power,” says Elkins.

While his family took the Louisville Courier Journal and tuned into Louisville TV and radio stations, it was the radio that was Elkins’ connection to baseball.

Prior to that season, WBIW in Bedford became part of the St. Louis Cardinals radio network, meaning Elkins could listen to the on-air stylings of Harry Caray.

Growing up a Cardinals fan, 9-year-old Elkins attended his first big league game in 1961 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

He had heard Caray describe on the radio and now he got to see the gigantic scoreboard in left and the pavilion that extended from the right-field foul line to the center field bleachers with his own eyes. He also saw Curt Flood in center field, which was his place throughout the 1960’s.

Elkins was also a fan of Redbirds mainstays Bill White and Lou Brock.

“I liked the way (White) played first base,” says Elkins of the 2020 Cardinals Hall of Famer. “He was left-handed and hit a lot of home runs onto the (Sportsman’s Park) pavilion roof.

“You got used to hearing Lou Brock’s name in the lead-off spot.”

Elkins counts himself fortunate that he had the chance to watch diamond dynamos like Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. He was in the park the day Clemente’s line drive broke Bob Gibson’s leg (July 15, 1967).

Over the years, Elkins watched the Cardinals play in three different home ballparks — Sportsman’s Park, Busch Stadium I and Busch Stadium II and got to see the colorful word pictures by Caray and the more understated stylings of Jack Buck come alive.

Long before he became the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League — a job he did for nine seasons (2009-17), Elkins developed an interest in broadcasting.

When it came time to attend college, he went to the University of Kentucky and earned a telecommunications degree in 1974. With the exception of one year away, he has lived and worked around Lexington ever since.

His first job out of college was at WMIK in Middlesboro, Ky., where he did a little bit of everything. He was a disc jockey and a play-by-play man for high school football, basketball and baseball.

Elkins then became a TV sports reporter for WLEX, an NBC affiliate in Lexington. He had played his share of pick-up hoops back in Bedford and now got cover UK’s 1978 national championship men’s basketball team.

“They were expected to win from preseason on,” says Elkins of a group coached by Joe B. Hall and featuring Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, James Lee and Mike Phillips. “There was some pressure.”

The Fran Curci-coached Kentucky football squad went 10-1 in 1977. Defensive end Art Still was a first-round National Football League draft selection and played in the NFL from 1978-89. Still is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

The father of two adult sons (Adam in Lexington and Tim in Cincinnati) and a grandfather of one with another on the way, Elkins still enjoys UK football — from tailgating to game time.

Elkins spent a year as a TV news reporter at WJTV, a CBS station in Jackson, Miss., before returning to work in public relations at UK and then Transylvania University — also in Lexington.

After that, he was employed as a writer/editor/coordinator of a variety of marketing communications and public relations projects for WYNCOM, Inc., a marketing and seminar company associated with leading business speakers and authors.

Elkins then returned to UK as Director of Communications for the College of Engineering.

In November 2008, he was hired by the Legends as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations.

“It was as big jump at that age,” says Elkins. “But I never regretted it. I never wished that I was somewhere else.

“It was always a pleasure to do the game.”

Like those broadcasters he’s admired, Elkins was sure to let fans know about distinctive traits at the ballpark or if the wind was blowing in or out. He let you the colors of the uniforms and were fans might be congregating.

“Anything you can do to help the fan experience what you’re seeing,” says Elkins. “It’s an important part of the broadcast.”

Elkins called 140 games a year — home at Whitaker Bank Ballpark  (originally known as Applebee’s Park) and away — for the first six years with the Legends and then just home games the last three. He was solo in the booth on the road and occasionally had a color commentator at home. For some TV games, that role was filled by former big league pitcher Jeff Parrett, an Indianapolis native who played at UK.

At the time, the Sally League featured teams in Lakewood, N.J. and Savannah, Ga. — both bus rides of nine or more hours from Lexington.

Elkins recalls one steamy night in Savannah when the bus broke down.

“The air condition was off and it got really hot,” says Elkins.

Players stepped outside and brought mosquitos and fire ants back into the bus with them. The team arrived back in Lexington around noon.

“There were long overnight rides, but you get used to it,” says Elkins. “That’s part of the minor league lifestyle.

“One of the challenges in baseball is to play at top level every day. If you don’t take care of yourself in April and May, it’s going to be pretty tough in July and August. Seeing every game you get to see guys come along and battle through slumps.”

In his second season behind the mike for Lexington, Elkins got to call the exploits of Legends  22-year-old J.D. Martinez and 20-year-old Jose Altuve, both on a path toward the majors.

Before being called up to Double-A, Martinez hit .362 with 15 home runs and 64 runs batted in 88 games. Prior to a promotion to High-A, Altuve hit .308 with 11 homers, 45 RBIs with 39 stolen bases in 94 games.

Elkins was there to call Bryce Harper’s first professional home run, socked for the visiting Hagerstown Suns in 2011.

“It was a line drive over the wall in left-center field,” says Elkins. “Even as an 18-year-old, he was getting a lot of attention.”

Elkins also saw Anthony Rizzo and Mookie Betts on their way up. Rizzo played for Boston Red Sox affiliate Greenville in 2008-09 when he was 18 and 19. Betts was 20 and with the same franchise in 2013.

Stephen Strasburg had already debuted in the majors with the Washington Nationals when he made a rehabilitation appearance for Hagerstown.

Elkins never had what he would call a signature phrase or home run call.

“If you’re doing games every night you settle into your pattern,” says Elkins. “I hope I’m remembered for accurate or entertaining descriptions.”

For years, he has put his descriptive powers to use as a free lance sports broadcaster and recently finished his 14th season as a TV studio host for men’s basketball on UK Sports Network and he sometimes substitutes as play-by-play man for Wildcats baseball.

That’s where he gets to make word pictures at Kentucky Proud Park.

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Keith Elkins, a native of Bedford, Ind., was the baseball play-by-play voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends 2009-2017. His broadcast career stretches from the early 1970’s to the present. (Lexington Legends Photo)

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A long-time baseball fan, Bedord, Ind., native Keith Elkins got the chance to be the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League 2009-17. (Lexington Legends Photo)

 

Bedford North Lawrence coach Callahan wants his Stars to know their roles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An athlete knowing and accepting their place can go a long way toward the success of a team.

Bedford North Lawrence High School head baseball coach Jeff Callahan firmly embraces this philosophy and passes it along to his Stars.

“We are working with athletes to understand their role,” says Callahan, who is in his 15th years as BNL athletic director and entering his fifth season in the baseball coaching role. “Everyone wants to start, play shortstop and bat third. We can’t have that to have the best team possible.”

Callahan talks with players about team expectations.

“We’re putting the team first and individual accolades second,” says Callahan, who coached the Stars to an IHSAA Class 4A sectional championship in 2017 — the first for the program since 1994.

As baseball coach, Callahan meets with his parents to talk about team rules and player roles.

As AD, he encourages the other coaches in the BNL athletic department to do the same.

“It’s never going to eliminate all issues or possible conflicts,” says Callahan. “As parents, we all want what’s best for our kids.”

He also wants those youngsters to know that things won’t always go the way they want and that it is helpful to know how to accept and adjust during times of adversity.

“There are a lot of life lessons can be taught to kids in high school athletics,” says Callahan.

As a shortstop and pitcher playing for BNL 1984-87, Callahan learned the importance of fundamentals from Stars head coach Mike Short.

“He was very detail-oriented,” says Callahan. “We worked a lot on the defensive side and on situations. It helps knowing the game of baseball inside and out as a player.

“Pitching and defense is where you’re going to win games and win championships.”

Coach Callahan spends time at every practice on bunt coverages and all kinds of other possibilities. It’s hoped that this repetition will trigger muscle memory during games.

The 2017 Stars said goodbye to 11 seniors, including eight starters.

Two varsity pitching innings return this spring.

“We have a lot of kids battling for positions,” says Callahan. “Early in the season, we may have several different lineups looking for the right combination of players.”

Callahan tends to keep 35 to 40 players in the program. With all the seniors leaving, he says there may be days he has 18 players with the varsity. There are likely to be around a dozen with the junior varsity 10 to 12 freshmen.

While he is still looking to hire a freshmen coach, Duane Higgs and Reggie Joslin are varsity assistants and Dennis Kissinger will coach the JV for BNL in 2018.

Moving on to college baseball from the Class of 2017 were the coach’s oldest child Brandt Callahan (Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.) plus Drew Hensley (Indiana University Southeast), Austin Long (Indiana University), Tanner McBride (Indiana University Kokomo), Brody Tanksley (Indiana University Southeast) and Michael Underwood (Marian University).

“If a kid wants to go play (college baseball), we give them an idea of what it takes and what it’s like to be recruited,” says Callahan. “We help them make sure they’ve got all their ducks in a row. We make them understand that school is more important that the baseball program.”

There’s also things to consider like cost, distance from home and overall fit with the school’s culture.

“A lot of factors go into it,” says Callahan.

Other recent BNL graduates to head for collegiate diamonds include Caleb Bowman (Taylor University), Dillon Hensley (Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill.), Kyler Sherrill (Blackburn College) and Tanner Tow (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky).

BNL plays in the Hoosier Hills Conference (along with Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour). Because the HHC is spread out, all teams do not meet during the regular season. There is a conference tournament, slated for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, May 7, 9 and 11. All teams plays three games to determined places 1 through 8.

BNL’s fourth annual Orval Huffman Invitational is scheduled for May 19. Besides the host Stars, the four-team event named in honor of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and former BNL coach Orval Huffman will feature Northview, Silver Creek and Speedway.

A year ago, Huffman and members of the Stars’ 1977 State Finals team addressed the current BNL squad.

The rotating sectional is scheduled to move from Bedford in 2017 to Jeffersonville in 2018. Besides BNL and Jeffersonville, the field is to include Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour.

Callahan played baseball for two seasons at Vanderbilt University. Roy Mewbourne was the Commodores head coach. The VU coach who recruited Jeff Callahan — Gary Burns — is now leading Brandt Callahan as Rockhurst head coach.

Rockhurst is an NCAA Division II school and member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

During Jeff Callahan’s time at Vandy, the Southeastern Conference featured stars like Frank Thomas at Auburn University and Ben McDonald at Louisiana State University. Vanderbilt was not yet the powerhouse it has become in recent years with Tim Corbin as head coach.

Callahan graduated from the Nashville-based school in 1991 with a double major in human resources and secondary education.

After college, Callahan taught and was assistant baseball and football coach at Norcross High School in Gwinett County, Ga. His wife, Paige, grew up in Atlanta. The couple met at Vanderbilt.

Moving back to Bedford, Callahan became a U.S. History teacher and assistant in football, basketball and baseball. For a few seasons, he was the Stars head football coach.

Besides Brandt, Jeff and Paige have a freshman son Whitt and eight-grade daughter Merritt.

Bedford North Lawrence became a school in 1974, a consolidation of Bedford, Fayetteville, Heltonville, Needmore, Oolitic, Shawswick and Tunnelton.

Many Indiana basketball fans know BNL’s Damon Bailey is from Heltonville. He played baseball for the Stars as a freshman. That was Jeff Callahan’s senior season.

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Celebrating a 2017 IHSAA Class 4A Bedford North Lawrence Sectional baseball championship for the host school are the Callahan family (from left): Merritt, Jeff, Brandt, Paige and Whittt. Jeff, who is married to Paige, enters his fifth season as the BNL Stars head coach in 2018. Brandt is now in college. Whitt is freshman. Merritt is an eighth grader.