Tag Archives: Bloomington Bobcats

Brownlee makes diamond impact at Evansville, Illinois State, more

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Brownlee built a long, successful baseball coaching career on the principles of fundamentals and discipline.
Now 76, retired and living with wife of 51 years — Candy — in Gulf Breeze in the Florida Panhandle (the couple moved there in April 2021), Brownlee can look back on a run that includes 23 seasons as head coach at the University of Evansville (1980-2002), seven seasons at Illinois State University (2003-09) and one season as University of Iowa pitching coach (2013). He was also a longtime basketball official.
“I learned the game of baseball from my college baseball coach Duffy Bass,” says Brownlee of the former Illinois State University head coach and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He was about as good at fundamentals of anybody I’ve been around — whether it was catching, hitting, bunting or pitching. I kind of patterned myself after him.”
A 1963 graduate of Antioch (Ill.) Community High School, Brownlee played for Bass at Illinois State from 1967-70 and was a teammate of future major league pitcher Buzz Capra. The 1969 Collegiate Division National champions went 33-5 and ran the table in the postseason.
“I learned the running game at a very young age,” says Brownlee. “We were very aggressive at Evansville. One year we had 202 stolen bases.
“I had lesser talent at Evansville. We didn’t have the full amount of scholarships. We had guys we thought would get better and they did. We had guys never drafted out of high school that were drafted out of college.
“I think college baseball has always been that way. (Development’s) at an all-time high. But we’re still behind the 8-ball with scholarships and dates. It used to be we had 120 games between fall and spring (at the NCAA D-I level and now it’s 56 games in the spring with 11.7 scholarships for a roster of 35).
“College baseball keeps growing. It’s become a money-maker.”
That money is bound to go even higher if the season was moved into the warmer months.
Says Brownlee, “40 years ago I proposed we play in the summer.”
Brownlee was “hard-nosed” as a coach.
“Discipline is important to me as a retired Marine,” says Brownlee.
After his playing days ended and having served a stint with the U.S. Marines, Brownlee became an assistant baseball coach at Illinois State (1975-76) and was as head coach for the Galesburg Pioneers in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (which later merged with the Prospect League), where he encountered Bloomington Bobcats pitcher Tim Stoddard. The 6-foot-7 right-hander from East Chicago, Ind., was on his way to an MLB career and is now an assistant coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.
Before UE, Brownlee coached at Princeton (Ill.) High School (1976-79).
As Evansville coach, Brownlee won 701 games with four 40-win seasons and seven conference coach of the year honors.
Among his players were future big leaguers Sal Fasano, Andy Benes and Jamey Carroll and Purple Aces head coach Wes Carroll. Benes and the Carroll brothers are Pocket City natives.
The Purple Aces have retired Brownlee’s No. 6 and Benes’ No. 30.
Brownlee has been inducted into the Illinois State University Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the Redbirds’ ’69 national champions, the University of Evansville Athletics Hall of Fame, the Lake County (Ill.) High Schools Sports Hall of Fame, the Bloomington-Normal Officials Association Wayne Meece Hall of Fame and is slated to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame in Evansville in May.
A founding member of the Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League, that group will honor Brownlee with its Legends Award Jan. 15.
Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League supports amateur athletics around the Evansville area. It started as an effort to save Bosse Field, which was established in 1915 and for years was the home to high school baseball and football, American Legion baseball and the Triple-A Evansville Triplets before affiliated pro ball left town.
The stadium, which now houses the independent pro Evansville Otters and was host to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2021, looked to be condemned and torn down back in the ‘80s.
That’s when Brownlee — who had his UE teams playing home games there at the time — got together with former minor league relief pitcher and manager “Singin’ Ed” Nottle and Evansville Central High School coach Paul Gries and brought in folks like Indiana, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer and Rex Mundi High School graduate Bob Griese, former MLB all-star and Evansville Memorial alum Don Mattingly and former big league pitcher and Evansville Central High grad Benes to help raise funds.
Since then, not only has Bosse Field been saved but local high school and college fields have been upgraded.
“It’s about facilities and making it better and showing it’s an important sport,” says Brownlee.
UE now plays on turf at German American Bank at Charles H. Braun Stadium.
“It was a labor of love for all of us,” says Brownlee. “I’m really proud of what we’ve built with the baseball community there.”
Brownlee had both his sons — Tim and Ryan — as UE players and then coached with both of them.
Tim Brownlee was also on the Illinois State staff and employed his father for a decade with his Normal, Ill.-based baseball tournament company — Diamond Sports Promotions. Between Evansville and ISU, Tim assisted his father for 17 seasons.
Ryan Brownlee was an assistant at Evansville (1998-99), James Madison University (2000-03) and Iowa (2004-12) and head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) and is now Assistant Executive Director and weekly podcast host for the Greensboro, N.C.- based ABCA. The ABCA Convention is Jan. 6-9 in Chicago. He plans to appear at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 14-16 in Indianapolis. Jamey Carroll is to go into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame Jan. 15.

Jim Brownlee (University of Evansville Photo)

Northwest Indiana Oilmen strike it rich in baseball fun, development

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After another season of diamond progress, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen are again in the Midwest Collegiate League title hunt.

The summer collegiate wood bat baseball club that calls Whiting’s Oil City Stadium home has qualified for the playoffs in each of its six seasons.

The Oilmen went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed (Bloomington, Ill., beat Northwest Indiana 3-1 Tuesday, Aug. 1 in Game 1 of a best-of-3 semifinals series). Game 2 was slated for Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Bloomington with Game 3 (if necessary) Thursday, Aug. 3 at Oil City. Home games have been broadcast live on the team’s Facebook page.

Don Popravak and Adam Enright have been with the Oilmen for each campaign. Popravak is president and owner while Enright is in his third season as head coach after three summers as an assistant.

A veteran of more than three decades in marketing, Popravak conceived the idea of the team, negotiated with the City of Whiting for the use of the stadium and has built the Oilmen brand.

Enright is a Munster High School graduate who played at South Suburban College and then helped the University of Southern Indiana to an NCAA Division II national championship (2010). After one year each at Chicago State University and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he is entering his fifth season as an assistant at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill.

TCC Trolls head coach Justin Huisman is a former Oilmen head coach. Huisman played at the University of Mississippi and pitched briefly with the 2004 Kansas City Royals.

Popravak, a Chicago native who grew up minutes from Whiting and played baseball and football at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., has watched the Midwest Collegiate League (founded in 2010) grow and greatly improve its ability to attract top-notch talent. Dozens of former MCL players have been drafted by Major League Baseball clubs, including six in 2017. Others have gone on to independent professional baseball.

Left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, recently traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Los Angeles Dodgers, played for the Illinois Jayhawks in the MCL’s first season.

Third baseman Paul DeJong played in the MCL with the Will County CrackerJacks (2012) and DuPage County Hounds (2013).

Former Oilmen player and Munster High graduate Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University and is now an outfielder the minors with the Chicago White Sox.

Hammond Bishop Noll Institute graduate Matt Pobereyko was a player and pitching coach with the Oilmen before going to independent baseball. He was with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and, after another indy stint, is now a New York Mets farmhand.

John Ely, who pitched for the Dodgers in 2010, 2011 and 2012, managed the Southland Vikings and is now a coach in the White Sox system.

“He credits his experience of coaching at this level,” says Popravak. “We have quality guys working with players and developing their careers.”

Former big league pitcher Marvin Freeman has been a pitching coach for Southland, where former Oilmen player Kevin Franchetti is now manager. Franchetti played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High School and then at Ball State University.

Popravak said the teams in the MCL — Oilmen in Indiana and Bloomington Bobcats, Crestwood Panthers, DuPage County Hounds, Joliet Admirals and Southland Vikings in Illinois  — are “all on the same page with finding and developing the best talent.”

“We want them go back to their colleges and be an impact player,” says Popravak.

Unique to summer collegiate baseball, the MCL has some players that play in the league before they ever step on a university campus.

“That’s a real advantage for a college coach,” says Popravak. “That young players who’s hungry can get 250 at-bats against college pitching and work their mistakes out early so they can go to a college campus and compete for a job.”

Corey Ray played for Southland before going to the University of Louisville and is now in the Brewers system.

Donivan Williams impressed the Cardinals enough after playing with the Oilmen that they signed him and he by-passed college. The 18-year-old third baseman from Oak Lawn, Ill., is now playing in the Gulf Coast League.

The MCL roster limit is 35 and many are in the mound mix. There are several college underclassmen who have had a low number of innings in the spring.

“The summer gives them an opportunity to shine,” says Popravak. “We don’t want to overuse pitchers.

“Our goal is to always send the player back to college healthy.”

Enright and assistant coach Patrick Antone (who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell at Chesterton High School, coached with Pishkur at Andrean and was recently named head coach at Boone Grove High School) have watched the Oilmen consistently perform on the bump in 2017.

“The reason we’ve done so well this year is our pitching,” says Enright. “I don’t think we’ve been deeper. It’s a good mix of guys with a lot of talent.

“We have overall depth with our position players. We mix and match lineups a lot. I make sure each of our guys have at least 100 at-bats if they are with us all season. It’s more about development than winning.”

The six MCL teams play each other 10 times during a 50-game regular season leading into a four-team, two-tier playoff format (both best-of-3).

Using his connections, Enright built the Oilmen roster with most of the players commuting from a radius of about 90 minutes from Whiting.

“I’m starting to build up some pretty good relationships with schools throughout the Midwest at all levels,” says Enright. “We like the local flavor that people in the community and the region are familiar with.”

The longest road trip for the Oilmen is about two hours to Bloomington.

Enright played for two respected baseball men in Munster’s Bob Shinkan and USI’s Tracy Archuleta and took from both in developing his own leadership style.

“Those two guys shaped who I am as a coach,” says Enright. “I bring my own flavor to the game and coaching. But I make sure guys have positive experiences. Happy players are productive players. I want guys getting the most out of each other and play together to win baseball teams.”

Enright says neither Shinkan or Archuleta do much yelling, but are “the type of coach you don’t want to let down.”

Shinkan is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.

“He makes you enjoy the process and being out there everyday,” says Enright of his high school coach. “It’s about having fun while doing what you need to do to be the best player you can be.”

Enright appreciates the cerebral side of Archuleta’s coaching.

“He will put the game straight into your brain and make you think of it all levels you’ve never done before,” says Enright.

The fans, who turned out for MCL games and a series this summer against the Serbian National Team, get a chance to enjoy baseball played in a park plotted on 119th Street near homes, oil rigs and not far from the water.

“It’s a special place,” says Enright. “The community really loves it. It’s a premier facility. You can’t ask much more for a summer collegiate team. Good product on the field and really nice atmosphere to watch a game in. When the wind blows you can hear the waves off Lake Michigan.”

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