By STEVE KRAH
There used to be a sign near Terry Gobert’s office leading out to Alvin C. Ruxer Field: “Are you having fun?”
Gobert has coached Jasper High School to five state baseball championships (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006), three runner-up finishes (2010, 2013, 2015) with 11 State Finals appearances since taking over the program in 1988.
The Wildcats also made it in 1986 with Gobert in his first season as an assistant to Ray Howard.
To put it lightly, Jasper has been winners — more than 700 times — with Gobert running the show.
All the while, he reminds himself to enjoy the journey.
“If you followed our program in the spring to the end of the year, you’re going to see kids pushed like they’ve never been pushed,” says Gobert. “But you’re also going to see humor like you’re never seen humor. You want to make it fun for the kids and also for yourself.
“You catch yourself demanding so much, you forget sometimes they’re kids.”
Winning has been such a constant that there is pressure for players to keep the tradition alive. But it’s not something that Gobert or his assistants — Jason Ahlbrand, Phil Kendall, Jeremy Wolf, Jeff Zink and Eric Dall — harp on.
“We push for excellence, we don’t push for W’s,” says Gobert. “But it’s there and the kids feel it. It’s not something I stress.
“With a single-elimination tournament in a sport like baseball, there are so many things that can happen. We play seven innings. You can have 21 hard-hit balls and nothing to show for it. You can have five bloops and win a state title … A good coach understands you can play well and lose.”
In Jasper’s last two state championship game appearances, the Cats came away a 2-1 loss to Norwell in 2013 and 2-1 loss to Andrean in 2015.
How high are the expectations in this baseball-crazed southern Indiana community?
The day after the ’13 setback, Gobert was back in Jasper pumping gas when he was approached by a citizen saying “this group just didn’t have it.”
“We lost two games that year,” says Gobert. “We lost 2-1 in 11 innings to a kid that got drafted (Mount Vernon-Posey right-hander Cody Mobley) and beat that team in the regional and then we lost to a good Andrean team. To say a team didn’t have it, any other community would be embracing that and they’d be legends. You have to fight that. But I’d rather be somewhere that expects to win than to just accept losing.”
Gobert is proud of the sustained excellence at Jasper, where they have taken 37 sectionals, 25 regionals and 13 semistates. The last season under .500 came back in 1972. Since ’88, the Cats have won 20 or more games 25 times with seven campaigns of at least 30 triumphs. The 2016 squad went 28-4.
Jasper won 265 games with Howard at the helm 1977-87 (the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame director still throws daily batting practice and is a radio analyst on WITZ).
Ken Brelage (1977), Keith Leinenbach (1977), Dan Fuhs (1978), Mark Kunkel (1978), Jerry Alles (1979), Brian Persohn (1979), Joe Birge (1980), Mike Ballenger (1981), Mike Burger (1982), Tim Fehribach (1983), Greg Begle (1983), P.J. Wessel (1984), Rick Rasche (1985) and Todd Krapf (1987) were IHSBCA All-Stars for Howard.
Gobert era All-Stars include Ryan Seidl (1991), Andy Noblitt (1992), Scott Rolen (1993), Aaron Rees (1995), Shawn O’Connor (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Scott Kluesner (1998), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Jimmy Corbin (1999), Neil Giesler (2002), Ben Schmidt (2003), Adam Klatka (2006), Broc Litherland (2006), J.T. Stenftenagel (2007), Andy Binkley (2008), Austin Ahrens (2010), Tory Hall (2011), Dan Giesler (2012), Nick Gobert (2013), Scott Stallwood (2014), Austin Alles (2015), Cal Krueger (2016).
Rolen was Indiana Mr. Baseball and went on the play 17 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds.
Mauck played in the Chicago Cubs system for four seasons.
Wildcats to receive the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award at the State Finals include Phil Rohlehder (1967), Phil Kendall (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Sam Linette (2006), Austin Ahrens (2010), Nick Gobert (2013) and Ben Moore (2015).
“I’m more proud that we can maintain that kind of consistency at a public school for four decades,” says Gobert. “Another thing I love about this, the guys who played for Ray and now having their grandkids play for me. Kids I coached at the beginning, I’m coaching their kids now.”
With the advent of travel ball and sports specialization, Gobert has witnessed change over the decades.
A 1979 Greencastle High School graduate, Gobert lettered in football, basketball and baseball for the Tiger Cubs. He still believes in the multi-sport athlete and had many of those on many of his State Finals squads at Jasper.
An active board member with Jasper Youth Baseball, Gobert pleads with parents every year to let their offspring play multiple sports.
“People say it’s a different world now, but I just don’t buy that,” says Gobert. “Kids and parents today think they’ve got to decide at 10, 11 or 12 years of age, Johnny’s going to concentrate on baseball or whatever sport year-round. I don’t think there’s anything good that comes out of it.
“I tell them not to travel to the length they do. I’d rather have a young boy going to bed wishing he could play more baseball than too much baseball. By the time they get to high school it seems they’ve already traveled and they’re tired of it and want something else. Baseball is one of the worst.”
For those who are chasing the few baseball scholarship dollars that are out there, Gobert has this to say:
“I wish they would total up every penny spent, including gas, vehicles, mileage, tires, hotel, food, equipment, entry fees and the damaging effect on their younger sister who is being drug all across the Midwest summer after summer watching a sport they grew to hate because they had to watch their brother play it from the time he was 7 until 14 or whatever.”
The impact that travel baseball has on the high school season is twofold in the IHSBCA Hall of Famer’s mind — players are tired and there’s also the “pool play” mentality coming into the IHSAA’s one-and-done world.
“A good day is they had three hits,” says Gobert. “The Cats may not have won, but they had three hits.
“Every year we have to work harder and harder.”
Growing up in Greencastle, Gobert could name the 10 boys who dressed on every sectional basketball team from 1970-79.
“It used to mean more just to be on your high school team,” says Gobert. “Now so much in society, if you’re not playing by your freshman or sophomore year on varsity, you’re going to move on to something else.”
As a social studies teacher, Gobert presents lessons about civil rights. But it’s the test scores and the grades that parents want to know about more than what their son or daughter is being taught.
“I don’t want to paint a negative picture,” says Gobert.
Jasper has been successful over the decades because of simplicity.
“Get a good pitch to hit and drive it hard,” says Gobert. “(Son Nick who graduated from Jasper in 2013 and played at the University of Dayton) laughs at how simple we keep things.”
While batting averages are distributed to the media, Gobert is more concerned with the Quality At-Bat chart, which accounts for a batter going deep in the count, hitting the ball hard, moving the runner by hitting to the right side or extending an at-bat to eight or nine pitches before striking out.
“I know in my head who’s hitting and who’s not,” says Gobert. “I know in my head who’s making the plays in practice and that’s where the lineup comes from.
“I couldn’t tell you what the kid’s hitting (for average). I can tell you if I want him up there or not in a tough situation.”
Jasper coaches ask players not to give extra outs while on defense or the waste them on offense.
“We don’t want to extend any inning with errors or whatever,” says Gobert. “We don’t want to get doubled up, picked off or run at the wrong time. We want to put the ball in play and put pressure on the (opposing defense).”
Gobert counts it a bonus that all of members of his staff are full-time teachers and all but Forest Park graduate Zink played for the Cats. All are also basketball coaches for boys or girls, leaving much of the preseason work to Gobert, Howard and Kurt Gutgsell. Pitching coach Kendall played six seasons in the minor leagues with Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers affiliates.
“I value their input,” says Gobert of his assistants. “It’s great on the one hand, they understand the program and the expectations.
“But it’s also good to have new blood or outside perspective. That’s why you go to clinics. That’s why you talk to people and you’re willing to change. We don’t just do things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I also don’t go to the national clinic and throw everything out that we’re doing because some clown says this is the way to hit or this is the way to pitch.”
As for pitching, the new pitch count rule has not caused Jasper to alter its ways.
“We try to develop a good staff and we try to get kids where they can go deep in games,” says Gobert. “There’s no magic number (of pitches). Some kids can pick up a ball and throw all day and other kids need four or five days off.”
Gobert believes that daily throwing — not pitching or throwing breaking balls — is the best way to build arm strength.
Four decades ago, Howard was using a chiropractor to keep his team ready and Jasper now uses former player Dr. Jared Brosmer.
“I put a lot of value in that,” says Gobert. “He can do a test and and tell of the kid’s starting to fatigue.”
Jasper plays in the bi-state Big Eight Conference (with Boonville, Mount Vernon, Princeton, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington in Indiana and Mount Carmel in Illinois) and schedules top-flight competition from all over, many of those team’s coming to Ruxer Field with its 2,900 permanent seats, lights and well-groomed playing surface.
“Our field is one of the most beautiful in the country,” says Gobert. “We take a lot of pride and put a lot of work into our facility.”
Terry Gobert is in his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jasper High School. He has won five state titles and more than 700 games at the southern Indiana powerhouse.