Tag Archives: Ben Norton

New Palestine grad Watson goes from Cornhusker to Sycamore

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keegan Watson is back in his home state for college baseball.

After playing at the University of Nebraska in 2018 and 2019, transferring and sitting out the 2020 season, Watson is eager to shine as a two-way player at Indiana State University.

The 2017 graduate of New Palestine (Ind.) High School made five appearances (three starts) as a corner outfielder and pitched in relief in six games in 2018 and took the field as a position player 24 times (17 as a starter) in 2019 while earning two letters for the Cornhuskers

Batting and hurling right-handed, Watson collected 15 runs batted in and logged 5 1/3 innings on the mound and entered the NCAA transfer portal after the 2019 fall semester. 

The 6-foot-3, 198-pounder considered going to an NCAA Division II school so he would not have to sit out, but ended up staying in D-I and was required to miss only a half year while coming back to his state of residence. 

Recruited by Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs while at New Palestine, Watson reached out to the Sycamores for a chance and was given one.

After moving to Indiana State, he was not eligible to play in the spring, but will be able to participate with the Sycamores this fall. Watson has two years of eligibility remaining.

“I work hard and show up in the weight room and at practice,” says Watson of his baseball strengths. “I’m a pretty intense guy when it comes down to it.”

He says his he used to let his emotions get the best of him, but he’s learned to get that under control.

Since entering college Watson has changed his major to Psychology and says he has at least three semesters left toward his degree.

While he did not play last summer, Watson was with the Tim Brown-coached Lake Erie Monarchs of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in 2018.

This summer, he is close to home as a member of the Local Legends in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Entering play on July 6, the team coached by Ben Norton and Jake Ratz is 5-4-1. 

Watson was tipped off about the 12-team loop by former New Palestine teammate Jason Hall-Manley, who goes to Anderson University and plays for the CSL’s Juice.

“See ball – hit ball,” says Watson of his hitting approach this summer. “I’m just trying to see pitches and get live AB’s.

“For me, cage work is locking in mechanics. In the game, you can only focus on so many things and your swing isn’t one of those. You have to trust muscle memory.”

Watson, 21, was born in Jasper, Ind., and moved to Fountaintown near New Palestine as he was entering seventh grade. Keegan is the son of Dan and Amy and the younger brother of Callee. The family moved when his mother took a job in the Indianapolis area.

He split his freshmen season between the junior varsity and varsity and was up with head coach Shawn Lyons for his final three springs with the Dragons.

“He knows what he’s taking about,” says Watson of Lyons. “He’s intense. He’s good a reading people. He’s not afraid to let you know when he thinks you’re not giving your best effort.”

Prior to high school, Watson played four years of travel baseball for the Indiana D-I Hoosiers, which had players from the Bedford, Ind., area.

His 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Bulls, where he was coached by Sean Laird. Watson was with the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U) before heading to Nebraska.

Watson is hoping Indiana State can use him out of the bullpen like he did with the Cornhuskers.

“I’m pretty confident in all my stuff,” says Watson. “I could pitch backwards or normal. 

“Whatever got the job done.”

Keegan Watson, a New Palestine (Ind.) High School graduate, played two baseball seasons at the University of Nebraska and has transferred to Indiana State University for 2020-21. He is with the Local Legends in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Ind. (University of Nebraska Photo)

Kennedy joins Butler Bulldogs coaching staff

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Kennedy is back home again in Indiana after spending a few years coaching baseball in Florida.

The Lafayette native joined the staff at Butler University in Indianapolis in January. He is instructing catchers, infielders and hitters, helping pitching coach Ben Norton with recruiting, assisting with camps and clinics and office duties.

“It’s a group effort here,” says Kennedy. “We make sure we are all on the same page.”

Head coach Dave Schrage’s Bulldogs open the 2020 season Feb. 14-16 in Lexington, S.C., with two games each against North Carolina A&T and George Mason. Butler is a member of the Big East Conference.

Kennedy appreciates that Schrage values player development and promotes a family atmosphere.

“It’s about getting guys better and fundamentals,” says Kennedy of Schrage. “He’s a pitching and defense guy and believes in attention to details. He emphasizes base running, which a little bit of a lost art.

“We have a family feel within our clubhouse. He wants to make sure you get home and spend time with your kids. He knows how important that is, especially with the season right around the corner.”

Kennedy has has three children in West Lafayette. Son Karson Kennedy (16) is a junior catcher at Harrison High School, where Pat Lowrey is head coach. Daughter Emilyne (13) is a gymnast and a seventh grader at Battle Ground Middle School. Daughter Jolee (9) is a third grader at Battle Ground Elementary.

The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw Kennedy on the staff of Rick O’Dette at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He had served three different stints with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. ((2005, 2007-08, 2016-17). The school closed its doors after the 2017 season.

“Rick is phenomenal,” says Kennedy. “He believes in the importance of work ethic and that blue collar feel.

“It’s made (going to Butler) an easy transition for me. (O’Dette) was so family-oriented with the team. Players were caring for each other playing for each other. He knew the importance of team and not the ‘I’ factor. He demanded a lot, but you see the rewards of that.”

That’s the way it was at Saint Joseph’s, where alum O’Dette was head coach for 17 years.

When Kentucky Wesleyan College graduate Kennedy came to the Pumas, there was immediate acceptance.

“I’m one of them,” says Kennedy. “(O’Dette) is instilling that culture down at Saint Leo.”

Kennedy began his high school baseball career at Lafayette Central Catholic High School. He was bumped up from the junior varsity to the varsity, took a baseball to the face which required reconstructive surgery and ended his freshmen season early.

He landed a McCutcheon High School. As a senior second baseman, Kennedy was part of coach Jake Burton’s 1999 IHSAA Class 4A state championship team.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Assocation Hall of Famer’s expectations were high for Kennedy and the rest of the Mavericks.

“He saw a lot more in me in what I thought I could do — both as a person and a player,” says Kennedy of Burton. “Jake was great for me. I owe that man a lot. Without his influence, I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.”

Kennedy learned to never be truly satisfied as a player and has carried that into his coaching career, holding himself and his athletes to a high standard.

“You can always learn, always get better,” says Kennedy. “You see there’s little more in there (with players). You have to figure out a way to get them out of them.”

Burton expected his players to work hard, be good people, follow the rules and be accountable for themselves and their actions. They had to make good decisions or they couldn’t be a part of the McCutcheon program.

“That put me in the right direction,” says Kennedy. “It put me with a good group of friends that I still talk to today.”

Kennedy played one season for coach Todd Post at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and three at Kentucky Wesleyan — one for Greg McVey and two for Todd Lillpop.

McVey demanded much from his players and kept them on-task.

“He was a planner,” says Kennedy, who is among the Kentucky Wesleyan career leaders in fielding percentage and assists. “We knew everyday what we were doing. These are the goals of the day and this is what we want to accomplish.”

Like O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s, Lillpop became a college head coach at a young age and learned on the fly.

“He stressed the importance of working everyday and improving,” says Kennedy of Lillpop. “As a team, we had some success.”

The Owensboro-based KWC Panthers made their conference tournament for the first time in well over a decade and turned the program around.

Kennedy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Kentucky Wesleyan in 2003. He began his coaching career as a KWC assistant in 2004.

After his first stop at Saint Joseph’s, he was an assistant to Bob Warn in the Hall of Famer’s last season leading the Indiana State University program.

“He cared so much for that place,” says Kennedy of Warn. “Everything he did was for the good of Indiana State baseball. His legacy there is going to be forever. Guys played hard for him and he was great to work for.

“As a young coach, you think you know more than you do. It’s good to keep your mouth shut and your ears open and you’re going to learn a lot more. (Warn) opened my eyes. There are a lot of different ways to do things.”

After his second tenure at Saint Joseph’s, Kennedy took over the reins at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. (2009-13). His first four teams went 49-9, 50-13, 43-11 and 40-20. The 2009 Cobras, featuring future Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Divison II World Series.

Kiermaier was primarily a shortstop when he came to Parkland. Kennedy, wishing to get some more repetitions for his infielders, asked Kiemaier to move to center field during a fall game. He later told him his path to the next level would be at that position.

Before being selected in the 31st round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Kiemaier was a two-time NJCAA All-American.

“His athleticism was unmatched,” says Kennedy of Kiermaier. “It was fun to watch him out there.”

From spring to fall of 2013, Kennedy was briefly an assistant at High Point (N.C.) University for head coach Chris Cozart.

With his parents in declining health, he decided to move back to the Midwest.

Kennedy knew Jeff Isom through Lafayette baseball circles and was introduced by Bobby Bell.

When Isom became manager of the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers, he invited Kennedy to be his hitting coach. He served in that role during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

“Pro ball is something that always intrigued me a little bit,” says Kennedy. “I checked it out for a couple years.

“I missed the college end of things.”

So he went back with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s.

And now he’s back in Indiana, doing his best to develop players at Butler.

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Matt Kennedy, a Lafayette, Ind., native, has joined the baseball coaching staff at Butler University in Indianapolis. His previous job was as an assistant at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. (Butler University Photo)

 

Fort Wayne Dwenger’s Garrett relishes fatherly roles 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Garrett relishes being a father and a father figure.

He and wife Sharon have 11 offspring “running around on the earth. Two lived briefly in the womb.

Emily (24), Dominic (23), Louis (21) and Grace (19) all attended Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School where Jason is pastoral minister and head coach for football and baseball.

Senior Michael (18), sophomore Cecilia (16) and freshman Simon (14) are current Dwenger students. Xavier (13), Lydia (10), Blaise (8) and Jude (4) are future Dwenger Saints.

A 1988 Dwenger graduate, Garrett saw a chance to impact many young lives and came back to his alma mater in 2012 after serving in several jobs and coaching his kids in youth sports.

“I’m constantly in a fatherly role,” says Garrett, who saw the Saints go 14-1 and win the 2018 IHSAA Class 4A state football championship in his first season in charge after six seasons as offensive coordinator and heads into his sixth season as head baseball coach this spring. “When I say these guys become like my sons it’s genuine.

“It’s something I love to do. I’ve been given some blessings and graces to be able to manage.”

How does he manage all his roles?

It’s a matter of balance.

“It comes back to my faith and believing what I do is something the Lord created me to do,” says Garrett. “I believe it’s my vocation. My work is an opportunity allows me to grow as a husband and father.

“My wife is a tremendous support for that.”

Garrett maintains a close relationship with his baseball coaches.

“We made an agreement to see this through,” says Garrett, who counts Steve Devine as assistant head coach and Todd Ellinger, Brad Brown, Mick Steele and Chad Kahlenbeck as assistants. Kahlenbeck is heading into his fourth season. The others are going into their sixth.

Devine is a former Indiana Tech head coach. He works with the varsity and JV squads with a concentration on pitching and base running. Fort Wayne Snider graduate Ellinger and Dwenger grad Brown both played baseball at Purdue University and are Dwenger football assistants.

In baseball, Ellinger works with both varsity and JV and serves as hitting coach. Brown spends most of his time with the varsity and works with catchers and the defense. Dwenger alum Steele is head JV coach and helps with fielding. Fort Wayne Concordia grad Kahlenbeck assists with the JV.

“In this role — as the head coach — I need to be the visionary and let guys coach,” says Garrett. “The time investment is not much different than I was used to. You’re managing and insuring the relationships and element of team are in place.”

The Saints play an aggressive brand of baseball. Dwenger stole 133 bases in his first season and have pilfered at least 100 bags each year since, using many of the principles of graduate Matt Talarico (who is assistant coach and player development director at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and the founder of StealBases.com).

“We’re aggressive,” says Garrett. “Some would say more of a small ball team — Get ‘em on. Get ‘em over.

Get ‘em in.”

Garrett and his players are well aware that the team that scores the most runs wins, so they will use the bunt, squeeze bunt, push bunt and slash to fuel their offense.

“It goes back to my years as a (Dwenger) player under coach Lance Hershberger,” says Garrett of the man who now heads up the baseball program at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. “Everybody on the team was expected to know how to bunt.

“We are certainly willing and able.”

By stealing home, Dwenger clinched the 2017 Summit Athletic Conference title. The SAC also includes Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead. Conference foes meet twice, either in a home-and-home series with day in-between or in a doubleheader.

The Saints are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Luers, Concordia, Garrett, Leo, New Haven and Columbia City. Dwenger has won 11 sectionals — the last in 2016.

Dwenger hitters take pride in taking pitches or getting plunked by them to get on base for scoring opportunities.

Garrett notes that the high school season goes by pretty quickly (batters are lucky if they get 100 at-bats) and there’s no time for a prolonged slump. Dwenger’s style usually helps it get around that offensive lull.

Garrett likes to have 30 to 32 players in the program, which allows players to get enough repetitions to continuing development.

The recent advent of pitcher-only players has opened up the roster a little bit.

“It creates opportunities for some guys,” says Garrett. “That’s been a really good thing for us. We’ve had guys have the chance to pitch in college.

“If you want to play baseball at the next level, you certainly will have that opportunity through our program.”

Since 2014, Dwenger has sent Dan Connolly (2015) to Hanover College, Noah Freimuth (2016) to the University of Saint Francis, Jack Harris (2016) to Saint Francis, Louis Garrett (2016) to Ave Maria University, Parker Noll (2016) to Wabash College, Dalton O’Boyle (2016) to St. Petersburg Junior College, Andrew Rolfsen (2016) to Anderson University, Eric Doyle (2018) to Ivy Tech Northeast, Eddie Morris (2018) to Ivy Tech, Michael Sundahl (2018) to Mount St. Joseph University and Jake Vanek (2018) to Heidelberg University. Grant Richardson played at Dwenger from 2015-16 and played his senior year at Fishers High School before going on to Indiana University. There are no current college commits for the Saints.

Dwenger graduates to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as pitchers include left-handers Andy Helmer (New York Yankees in 1996 and Cleveland Indians out of Purdue in 2000) and Terry Kieffer (Montreal Expos out of Indian Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa, in 1973 and St. Louis Cardinals out of Louisiana State University in 1974) and righty Ben Norton (Arizona Diamondbacks out of the University of Evansville in 2007). Norton is now the pitching coach at Butler University.

While it varies from year to year, Garrett estimates that 25 to 30 percent play both football and baseball at Dwenger on average. Of 92 football players last fall, 35 are in a winter sport and many will be three-sport athletes.

The multi-sport athlete is common at this institution.

“The culture, coaching and school, we encourage that very strongly,” says Garrett. “Why do we play sports? What’s the purpose of it? We see sports as a vehicle to grow in virtue. It’s a way they learn tremendous lessons in life. We want them to find as many competitive opportunities as possible.

Not only do they get the chance to stay healthy through engaging in physical activity, they get the chance to embrace and battle through adversity.

Dwenger football has a tradition of excellence and that translates to the baseball diamond.

Is there pressure?

“I believe there’s accountability to herald the great traditions in this school,” says Garrett. “It’s how we play, who we are and how we respect the opponent. The wins and losses take care of themselves.

“We have a deep spiritual component, a style of football that’s tough and gritty and are strong academically.

“Our motto is: Trust. Unity. Toughness. We genuinely care for each other.”

Dwenger shares Shoaff Park with Ivy Tech Northeast. Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation owns the facilities and the teams manage it. The relationship was initiated by former Dwenger head baseball coach Larry Windmiller.

Garrett played football for head coach Andy Johns at Dwenger then played four seasons of football for head coach Bill Reagan and two of baseball at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Heading the Pumas in baseball were Dennis Stitz in 1990 and Mike Moyzis in 1991.

After graduating SJC in 1992, Garrett went to Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., to get a masters in guidance and counseling and served a graduate assistantship in the school’s counseling department.

Garrett helped form Conquest Clubs and Programs, a leadership program for fathers and sons. He was executive director of Redeemer Radio in Fort Wayne and worked as a pastoral associate at Saint Mary’s in Decatur, Ind., before returning to Dwenger. He ran the St. Charles middle school program before joining the high school staff.

The main feeder schools for Dwenger (which has an enrollment of about 1,020 in Grades 9-12) includes St. Charles Borromeo, St. Jude, St. Vincent de Paul, Our Lady of Good Hope and Queen of Angels in Fort Wayne as well as St. Mary of the Assumption of Avila, Ind., and St. Joseph of Garrett, Ind.

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The Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger Saints baseball team celebrate another run crossing the plate.

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Father Jason and son Louis Garrett share a moment on the baseball field with the Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School Saints. Jason Garrett is also pastoral minister and head football coach at the school.

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The Garrett family includes father Jason, mother Sharon and children Emily, Dominic, Louis, Grace, Michael, Cecilia, Simon, Xavier, Lydia, Blaise and Jude.

Norton looks for Butler Bulldogs pitchers to be aggressive

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Norton wants his Butler University arms to go after hitters.

The third-year baseball pitching coach is not interested in nibbling at the corners of the plate.

“The whole staff has to buy into throwing strikes,” says Norton. “We want to to get (hitters) out in four pitches or less, always be aggressive and have the utmost confidence in yourself.

“If you don’t think you’re better than the hitter, you might as well get off the mound.”

As the NCAA Division I Bulldogs get ready to open the 2019 season Feb. 15 against Rider in Lexington, S.C., there are 17 pitchers on the roster. That number includes right-handers Ryan Pepiot (who went 6-0 with 12 starts in 2018 and is a preseason all-Big East Conference honoree in 2019), Jack Pilcher (10 saves and 20 relief appearances), Sam Hubbe (15 games, including eight starts) and Connor Schultz (16 games with three wins and one start) and left-hander Joe Graziano (13 games with three wins and four starts).

With Norton in charge, Butler had 405 strikeouts and 209 walks in 451 2/3 innings 2017. There were 454 K’s and 211 free passes in 481 innings in 2018.

Ideally, Norton would like to see his starters go deep into games and have one or two relievers finish it off.

“I want the best pitcher on the mound,” says Norton. “We have to be creative with match-ups. Sometimes we might us a right-hander who has a great change-up vs. a lefty.”

Pitchers at the bottom of the depth chart may not rack up a lot of innings, but they are given a chance of developing so they can help the team in the future.

When Norton greeted his pitchers during fall workouts, the emphasis the first three or four weeks was getting arms in shape with consideration about how much they might have been used in the summer.

“It’s always good to have the blood flowing to the muscles and ligaments so they don’t tighten up,” says Norton. “It’s getting everything to fire.”

After early weeks of the fall came intrasquad games plus two contests against outside competition now allowed by the NCAA at the D-I level (Butler played the Great Lakes Canadians and Indiana University Kokomo).

“We were competing for jobs,” says Norton. “After the fall, we went into individual work.”

Some pitchers looked to add a third or fourth pitch to their repertoire.

Players were away for five weeks during the holiday break and were scheduled to pitch their first pre-season bullpen sessions Tuesday, Jan. 15.

“Right now I want them to be healthy — first and foremost,” says Norton. “We don’t want to pitch them too much too early.

“It is a long season.”

The goal is to build up arm strength so that starters can pitch 60 to 70 pitches live the weekend before the opener and be able to go five or six innings in a game. Relievers are trying to progress so they can recover and pitch every other day.

Norton expects his pitchers to throw five times a week this week and next and then five or six times a week depending on who they are.

“Older guys have more freedom to not do as much throwing,” says Norton. “They understand their body a little bit better.”

Norton wants all pitchers to have an understanding of how they move as the deliver the baseball.

“You don’t have to know biomechanics, you need to know how your body works,” says Norton. “I ask a lot of questions about how they feel.

“I want them to make adjustments as they go instead of overhauling.”

Besides guiding the pitchers, Norton participates in recruiting. Those duties are shared by head coach Dave Schrage, assistant Andy Pascoe and Norton (Brian Meyer is a volunteer assistant).

“I recruit all positions,” says Norton. “I try to see every pitcher we recruit — on film or live games. I evaluate how they fit into the program and also what their potential could be.”

Norton says Butler’s recruiting philosophy is to start local and work their way out, meaning go for Indiana players if possible but go where there are players who fit the program.

Besides the Bulldogs, the Big East’s baseball-playing members are Creighton, Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Villanova and Xavier.

A former right-handed pitcher, Norton played for coach Larry Windmiller at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, graduating in 2003. His older brother David Norton (Dwenger Class of 1999) also played for Windmiller.

“He was a great coach,” says Norton. “He built that field (at Shoaff Park). He was well-rounded in the game of baseball.”

He played at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., for coach Rob Fournier then at the University of Evansville for Schrage. He won nine games each in 2006 and 2007 and was selected in the 24th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He pitched one season in the Royals system before suffering a career-ending shoulder injury.

“I enjoyed playing for (Fournier),” says Norton. “He’s high intensity. He wants the best for everybody and pushes them hard. He has connections throughout the baseball community.”

His career has intersected several times with current Butler head coach Schrage. Norton played for and later coached for Schrage at Evansville and was on his staff at South Dakota State University.

Playing for him was great,” says Norton of Schrage. “He always cared about you on and off the field. Coaching for him, I have a lot of freedom with the pitching staff

“He’s been a mentor. He’s taught me to keep positive throughout the year as the season goes up and down.”

It was Schrage and Jackrabbits bus driver Rod Josephsen that introduced Norton to the woman that is now his wife. Nicole Norton is Josephsen’s daughter.

Norton began his coaching career at Evansville, spending the fall of 2008 as an assistant with the Purple Aces. He was an assistant at Indiana Tech in the spring of 2009. He moved on to the University of Illinois-Springfield for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, serving as an assistant the first spring and interim head coach for the second. He moved on to Lincoln (Ill.) College as an assistant for 2012 then went to South Dakota State as an assistant for four seasons (2013-16).

Norton was on the staffs of Kip McWilliams at Indiana Tech, former South Dakota State assistant Brian Grunzke at Illinois-Springfield and Tony Thomas at Lincoln.

“(McWilliams) is knowledgable about every position,” says Norton. “He allowed me to take over the pitching staff. He’s always on the phone trying to get players and get better.

“(Grunzke) is a high-energy guy. He’s always willing to work with guys and very personable. With recruiting, he does his dilligence on the phone and scouting on the road. It was good for me to learn from him as a young coach.

“(Thomas) does a good job of coaching guys up. It was a unique situation (when I went to Lincoln). I was was looking for a place to coach. I came in the middle of the season and took over the pitching staff.”

Fort Wayne’s Jim and Joan Norton have three children — David, Kyle and Ben.

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Butler University baseball versus Valparaiso University March 23, 2017.

Ben Norton is the pitching coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Butler University Photo)

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Ben Norton, the pitching coach at Butler University in Indianapolis, played at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School, Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., the University of Evansville and in the Kansas City Royals organization. (Butler University Photo)

 

Confidence carries Plainfield, Butler grad Mitchell into pro baseball with Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Applying advice provided by two of his college coaches, Connor Mitchell earned the right to play professional baseball in 2018.

Mitchell, a left-handed pitcher, finished up a four-year diamond career at Butler University in Indianapolis in 2018.

Dave Schrage has been the Bulldogs head coach and Ben Norton the pitching coach since the 2017 season.

Mitchell credits both men for helping him as a collegian and in getting selected in the 27th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The biggest thing I took away from Coach Schrage is that everything matters — on the field and off the field,” says Mitchell. “All the little things play a role in whether you have success. If you’re doing every thing right way in the classroom and the weight room, all of it makes a difference.”

Norton helped implant a confident mindset.

“He told me to go after hitters and never be hesitant,” says Mitchell of Norton. “Pick a pitch you have conviction with and just throw it.”

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Mitchell delivered four-team and two-seam fastballs that typically traveled at 88 to 92 mph. He also used an adapted “circle” change-up, slider and cut fastball.

In his final Butler campaign, Mitchell made 14 mound appearances (all stars) and went 3-4 with a 4.85 ERA. In 68 2/3 innings, he racked up 80 strikeouts with 19 walks.

For his college career, the southpaw pitched in 41 games (32 starts) with a 8-10 record and 4.74 earned run average. In 160 innings, Mitchell struck out 149 and walked 66. He was a medical redshirt his sophomore year when he had to have an ulnar nerve transposition procedure.

“I had some discomfort when I threw and tingling in my fingers,” says Mitchell. “There have been no issues since then.”

After being drafted in June, the 6-foot-4, 180-pounder worked in 17 games (all in relief) for the rookie-level Ogden (Utah) Raptors. In 29 2/3 innings, the lefty went 4-0 with a 6.67 earned run average, 20 strikeouts and six walks.

Dodgers minor league stops after Ogden are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Mitchell enjoyed his first pro season.

“I liked how efficient and focused everything was,” says Mitchell. “It streamlined. Everybody knew what they needed to do.”

After a week back home in Plainfield, Ind., Mitchell went to Arizona in mid-September and is to spend a month at Camelback Ranch in Glendale for the Dodgers instructional league.

“We’ve been doing a variety of things from pitch design to defense work,” says Mitchell. “It’s been good so far.

“(The Dodgers) give us a lot of freedom, but the expectation for all of us is very high. It feels like a family.”

Support from his actual family comes from father, mother and younger brother — Brooks, Laura and Jackson. His parents own a small drywall sales business in Plainfield. His brother is a freshman baseball player at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind.

Connor Mitchell is a 2014 Plainfield High School graduate. fanned a combined 90 batters in 55 innings during his sophomore and junior seasons for the Quakers, who were then coached by Jeff McKeon.

In the spring of his senior year, Mitchell competed in the Perfect Game Iowa Spring League, where he was named to the Top Prospect Team. He traveled from Indiana to meet his team on days he was scheduled to pitch.

“That league was awesome,” says Mitchell. “There’s a ton of good players in Iowa and the surrounding states.”

Born in Indianapolis, Mitchell spent his early years in Reelsville, Ind., in Putnam County. After moving to central Indiana, he played travel baseball for the Avon Attack, USAthletic and two stints with the Indiana Mustangs, where he formed a friendship with future Butler teammate Garrett Christman.

Mitchell and Christman were roommates throughout college and both graduated in May with degrees in Human Movement and Health Science.

He’s a great player,” says Mitchell of Christman, who was both a shortstop and pitcher at Butler and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants this year. “He does it all.

“He really came on as a pitcher. He eats innings and gets a lot of ground balls. I’m excited to see what he does professionally.”

Mitchell and Christman played for former pro outfielder Chris Estep with the Mustangs.

“He was a big influence on me growing up, developing as me as a player and a person,” says Mitchell of Estep. “He taught me how to handle failure. He’s also fun to be around.”

Brother Jackson also played for the Mustangs.

The Mitchell boys were born four years apart — Connor (23) on Sept. 11 and Jackson (19) on Sept. 10.

Connor was 6 and Jackson 2 on the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“When it happened, I could tell something bad had happened,” says Connor. “It’s definitely a somber day, knowing what that day means to our country.”

Over the years, the brothers and their family have celebrated their birthdays together.

“We enjoy the day and enjoy being together,” says Connor, who plans to enjoy his time back in Indiana this winter by working out and maybe giving back to younger players through private lessons.

Then it’s back to Arizona for spring training to resume his pro baseball career.

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Connor Mitchell made his professional baseball debut in 2018 with the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. He is a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High and Butler University in Indianapolis.

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Garrett Christman (left) and Connor Mitchell both graduated from Butler University in Indianapolis in the spring of 2018. They were travel ball teammates for the Indiana Mustangs then baseball teammates and roommates at Butler. Noblesville High School graduate Christman is now in the San Francisco Giants organization and Mitchell the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

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Butler University baseball teammates Josh Walker (left) and Connor Mitchell were both pitchers for the Bulldogs.

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, stares in for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, lets go for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, winds up for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, delivers a pitch in 2018 for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

Enthusiasm follows Schrage to Butler

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Schrage does not smile 24 hours day.

It only seems that way.

An upbeat demeanor has followed him through life and a lengthy baseball coaching career.

“I don’t think you can accomplish anything if you are not excited and enthusiastic about it,” says Schrage, who turns 56 this month. “I love going to my job everyday.”

Schrage is in his 29th overall season and first at Butler University in Indianapolis. He has been a head coach in more than 1,500 games and recently won his 750th.

“I feel really fortunate to still be coaching,” says Schrage. “It’s been a fun journey.”

A head coach since 1988, Schrage served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing in Indy.

“Butler is a great fit for me,” says Schrage. Daughters Katy (a Butler graduate) and Bri (a Ball State graduate) both live and work in Indianapolis. “For five years, I was 14 hours away (in Brookings, S.D.).”

Schrage played for Jim Hendry at Creighton University and got his start in coaching when Hendry sent him to St. Thomas University in Florida to be a graduate assistant on the staff of Paul Mainieri.

After that, Schrage was an assistant at Creighton and also was a player/coach for the Queensland Rams Club Team in Australia.

Hendry, the former Chicago Cubs general manager and current special assistant to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, has a son (John) playing baseball at the University of Indianapolis and has been able to catch up with Schrage when he’s in town.

Schrage followed Mainieri as Notre Dame head coach. The friends see each other every year at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention (the event is coming to Indy Jan. 4-7, 2018). Mainieri is now head coach at Louisiana State University.

With the Bulldogs, Schrage embraces The Butler Way — a set of principles established many years ago by famed coach Tony Hinkle.

Barry Collier has been credited for resurrecting the concepts of humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness when he was the school’s head basketball coach and has continued to promote The Butler Way for all sports as athletic director.

“These are the same ideals I have,” says Schrage. “We are developing our players as human beings. They are learning to deal with adversity and overcoming it and becoming a positive influence — on and off the court (or field).”

While Schrage, who is assisted by Ben Norton, Andy Pascoe and Brian Meyer, inherited the current Butler roster (which features 11 players from Indiana hometowns), he was well aware of the diamond talent produced in the Hoosier State.

When he steered Evansville to 43 wins, Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles and advancement to the NCAA Charlottesville Regional finals in 2006, the Purple Aces had several state-trained players.

“That spoke well of the quality of high school baseball (in Indiana),” says Schrage. “The coaches do a tremendous job in running their programs.”

Schrage says the exposure that Indiana players receive at places like Grand Park in Westfield and through the evaluation efforts of Prep Baseball Report are growing the game here.

When he was still coaching in Iowa, Schrage worked at one of the first Perfect Game showcases and now that company is touting itself as the world’s largest baseball scouting service.

“In this media world with Facebooking and all this information out there, it’s very helpful (to college coaches),” says Schrage. “When I first got into coaching, I had to beat the bushes and find players in the small towns. Now, there’s no more secrets. It’s opened up tremendous opportunities for the student-athletes. It’s nothing but advantageous to coaches, kids and their families.”

Butler plays in the Big East Conference with Creighton, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. The conference tournament is scheduled for May 25-28 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., the same stadium as the College World Series. The Big East tournament winner will receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Division I tournament.

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Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.
Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.

Dave Schrage (left in blue sweatshirt) follows a play in his first season as head baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. This is his 29th overall season as a head coach. (Brent Smith Photo)

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A head coach since 1988, Dave Schrage (middle) served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing at Butler. (Brent Sm)