Tag Archives: Bob Feller

Gries cherishes memories of coaching at Evansville Central, Tri-State Hot Stove League

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

Paul Gries has been a very active member of the Evansville, Ind., athletic community.
The Pocket City native taught for 34 years in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation — 10 at Plaza Park (K-8) and the rest at Central High School. His main subjects were Physical Education and Health.
Whatever the season, Gries was organizing and coaching youngsters in flag football, softball, baseball, soccer, basketball and more.
In 1978, he accepted an invitation to join John Wessel’s Central boys basketball coaching staff.
In 1980, he was asked to be a Bears baseball assistant.
“We hardly had a program at all,” says Gries, who took over as head coach in 1981 and began working in earnest on Central’s field.
“If you want to call it a field,” says Gries. “It was nothing. But I had dreams of what I wanted the baseball field to look like.”
With the help of players, coaches and parents, a diamond which was named in honor of Gries in 2016 (Paul Gries Field was dedicated in 2017 a few days after Gries underwent heart surgery) was steadily-crafted.
Gries, 79, was head baseball coach at Central for 21 seasons (1981-2001) before retiring at 58 and going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002.
His teams went 408-196 and earned the first seven sectional titles in program history (1981, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1996, 1997 and 1998) plus the first two regional championships (1981 and 1987) and only semistate crown (1987). Central lost 4-1 to the LaPorte’s mythical national champions in the ’87 state championship game at Bush Stadium in Indianapolis.
Gries coached in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1987 and was named National Coach of the Year in 2000.
“I had some good players (including 1985 graduate and future big league pitcher Andy Benes) and tied to get the most out of every player,” says Gries. “I was spending 14-hour days at Central High School. I was putting every ounce into it.
“It just wore me out.”
It was in 1987 that Gries was approached by longtime professional baseball man and Evansville resident “Singing” Ed Nottle, who had a daughter who was taught by Gries.
Nottle wanted to help Gries and other coaches raise money for their programs.
“We had car washes, candy sales and whatever you can image, but we were making making peanuts until Ed came along,” says Gries, who gathered all the high school and college coaches in town at the EVSC office and what came from planning sessions was the Friends of Bosse Field “Night of Memories.”
What began as a group of former baseball professionals who wanted to ensure that the history of Bosse Field would not be forgotten while fundraising turned into the Tri-State Hot Stove League. Gries served with that organization for 31 years, including stints as vice president and president, and is still involved.
One of the first “Night of Memories” guests was National Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. Gries flew to New Jersey to bring Yogi to town.
Over the years, Evansville native and Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Mattingly aka “Donnie Baseball” was at the first special night and has only missed it on a few occasions.
Gries coached Taylor Mattingly (Don’s oldest son) at Central. When Don was playing for the New York Yankees, he would get in the batting cage take swings after winter workouts by the Bears.
“He’d say, ‘Paul, give me some situations.’ I’d, ‘man on third, tie game, one out in the eighth or ninth inning’ and Mattingly just hit those fly balls,” says Griese. “It was unbelievable how Mattingly prepared himself.”
The next Tri-State Hot Stove League “Night of Memories” is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023 at Meeks Family Fieldhouse in the Carson Center at the University of Evansville. A paid autograph session is slated from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Central Time followed by a chat and live/silent auction at 6.
Featured guests include Don Mattingly, Jamey Carroll, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Barrett, Colson Montgomery, Elijah Dunham, Cameron Decker, Wayne Hagin, Denny McLain, Darrell Evans and Graig Nettles.
“He’s unbelievable,” says Gries of emcee Hagin, who has been a play-by-play man for the Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. “People love listening to the stories.”
Among past guests: Mattingly, Carroll, Eickhoff, Barrett, Hagin, Gabby Allison, Rick Ankiel, Clint Barmes, Andy Benes, Yogi Berra, Raymond Berry, Lou Brock, Don Buse, Steve Carlton, Jack Clark, Roger Clemens, Danny Cox, Andre Dawson, Jim Edmonds, George Foster, Kyle Freeland, Steve Garvey, Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, Mark Grace, Bob Griese, Kevin Hardy, Keith Hernandez, Whitey Herzog, Paul Hornung, Al Hrabosky, Andruw Jones, Tommy John, Jim Kiick, Harmon Killebrew, Lily King, Ray Lankford, Tony LaRussa, Johnny Latner, Larry Little, Gaylord Perry, Bobby Plump, Ozzie Smith, Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Scott Rolen, Enos Slaughter, Frank Robinson, Andy Van Slyke, Lee Smith and Brad Wilkerson.
“They come from all over when they know Don Mattingly is here,” says Gries. “They can get close to him. People in New York can’t do that.”
College/Pro Football Hall of Famer Griese (Rex Mundi High School Class of 1963 and Purdue University Class of 1967) has been to many “Night of Memories.”
“We do this for the kids,” says Gries, who notes that the a non-profit group has raised close to $2 million for youth athletics and youth-focused organizations in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky in three decades.
Gries says the event at its peak netted up to $90,000 in one day.
Some of the money has been given to Habitat for Humanity. Gries says Mattingly, Bob Griese, Brian Griese (Bob’s son who now coaches with the San Francisco 49ers), Calbert Cheaney (a 1989 Evansville Harrison High School graduate who played at Indiana University, the National Basketball Association and now coaches with the Indiana Pacers) and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan (who played at Evansville College and the NBA and was a longtime NBA coach) all
gave large sums to sponsor homes.
A 1961 graduate of Evansville Mater Dei High School, Gries’ prep baseball coach was Len Will (an Indiana Football Hall of Famer).
“He was the gentlest man that I know,” says Gries. “That was the example he shared with us (athletes).”
On the basketball court, Gries eclipsed the 40-point mark three times including a single-game record of 44. That was long before the 3-point arc was put in place. Mater Dei was led on the hardwood by Ed Schultheis in Gries’ freshman and sophomore years and Tom Gore in his junior and senior seasons.
Gries went to Indiana State College (now Indiana State University) for basketball and baseball during an era when freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity.
The injury bug kept biting him on the hardwood. He suffered torn cartilage working out early in his freshman year then experienced ankle and groin ailments as a sophomore and decided not to stick with the Duane Klueh-coached Sycamores.
On the diamond, Gries earned three letters (1963-65, helping the Sycamores go a combined 37-24-2) playing for Paul Wolf (who wound up as a member of both the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and ISU Athletics Hall of Fame).
One of his fond memories is playing catch with future IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tommy John and having John feed the pitching machine for him during preseason workouts before the 1961 Terre Haute Gerstmeyer High School valedictorian reported to spring training.
Gries paced Indiana State in batting average, hits and runs as a junior in 1964 (.357, 25 and 20 ) and senior in 1965 (.413, 26 and 13). He hit .439 in conference games and was Indiana Collegiate Conference co-MVP with Ball State’s Merv Rettenmund (who went on to play 13 in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and California Angels and coached for the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres twice, Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers).
“The great thing about Paul Wolf is that he was old school,” says Gries.
Wolf was a minor league middle infielder 1926-33, including time with the Indianapolis Indians in 1930-31. He was able to pass on wisdom to Gries, who was a switch-hitting shortstop at Indiana State and moved to second base in his second of two pro seasons in the Washington Senators organization (1965-66).
“Pee Wee” (he was 5-foot-9 and 157pounds) spent much of the 1965 Appalachian League season on the disabled list with a sprained ankle after a collision at home plate.
It was during the Vietnam War era and Gries left baseball to joined the U.S. Army Reserves and got married for the first time.
“I got to see the difference between high school and college and college and pro,” says Gries. “What a big step it is.”
Divorced in 1989, Gries was single for 14 years and has been married to Mary, a fellow Catholic who moved to Evansville from Auburn, Ind., for 19 years.
Gries has five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“They are the joy of my life,” says Gries. “I’m going to spend as much time with my kids as I can.”

Paul Gries.
Paul Gries at the Tri-State Hot Stove League “Night of Memories.”

New Richmond head coach Brankle combining Old School, New School

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

Matt Brankle is a familiar face in a different place on the Wayne County, Ind., baseball scene.
Brankle pitched at Earlham College and for the Richmond RiverRats and was head coach for the Richmond Jazz and Cambridge City Lincoln Middle/High School.
In July, the 28-year-old became head coach at Richmond High School.
With the Red Devils, Brankle is establishing a culture where Old School meets New School.
“I’m going to use a lot of the Old School strategies, but try to do it with a modern approach,” says Brankle. “That’s what our players have grown up with.
“We’re going to be disciplined in how we handle every moment of our day. I’m high on grades. We expect to miss zero assignments and have zero F’s. We’ll be 10 minutes early everywhere we go, including school. We’ll be dressed properly with shirts tucked in and hats forward.
“I know there’s a lot more to this life than baseball I’m going to try to teach them skills in baseball that will help them in those situations.”
Brankle has learned coaches he played for and applied it to his coaching style.
“I’ve taken the best of all of those and found a middle ground,” says Swinson.
Steve Swinson was his coach with the Kokomo (Ind.) Longhorns travel ball team.
“He never yelled,” says Brankle of Swinson. “He built a relationship with you that you respected.
“My high school coaches were more demanding, but also understood the New School mentality.”
Brankle played three years for Jeremy Luna and Brent Owens as a senior at Taylor High School in Kokomo.
(Luna) was hard-nosed — kind of a football style — and was upbeat all the time,” says Brankle, who played shortstop and third base when he was not pitching for the Titans. “(Owens) was even-keeled most of the time.”
At Earlham, Brankle’s head coach was Steve Sakosits.
“Coach was full of energy all the time — most of the time it was positive,” says Brankle of Sakosits. “He has one heckuva of a drive in him and it definitely leaks out to his players.”
Old School in his approach, Coach Sak’s Quakers were expected to be clean-shaven with short hair cuts.
At EC, Brankle was named Newcomer of the Year (2012), Pitcher of the Year (2013) and earned the All-Heartland Collegiate Conference Sportsmanship Award (2013), Captains Award (2015) and George Van Dyke Outstanding Athlete Award (2015). At the time of graduation, he was No. 1 in all-time strikeouts, No. 2 in career saves and innings and No. 3 in career mound appearances.
Brankle played for the RiverRats in the summers of 2013 and 2014. After graduating in 2015 with a Fine Arts degree, he played independent professional baseball with the Lake Erie Crushers.
He was the head coach for the Jazz in the summer of 2016 and assisted Patrick Flanagan at Eaton (Ohio) High School in the springs of 2016 and 2017.
Brankle was head coach at Cambridge City 2018-21. He taught at Richmond Community School’s Test Intermediate School for 2 1/2 years before Cambridge City and is now a Special Education teacher at Richmond’s Dennis Middle School.
In May 2021, Brankle completed a Masters in Education from Indiana University East and is now working on a Masters in Educational Leadership from American College of Education.
Richmond (enrollment around 1,375) is a member of the North Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison of West Lafayette, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon and Muncie Central).
The NCC is split into two divisions with Richmond in the East.
In 2021, the Red Devils were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Muncie Central and Pendleton Heights (2021 host). Richmond has won 29 sectional titles — the last in 2011.
Richmond plays home games on John Cate Field at Don McBride Stadium.
“The history is the best part,” says Brankle of a park built in the 1930s that has seen Bob Feller, Satchel Paige and many more diamond legends play there. “We don’t talk about it enough.
“Some of the kids don’t understand the significance.”

Matt and wife of seven years, Kelsey Brankle, have three children — daughters Amillia (5) and Abigail (3) and son Broden (1 1/2).

Matt Brankle (Richmond High School Photo)
The Brankle family (from left): Amillia, Abigail, Broden, Kelsey and Matt.
The Brankle family (from left): First row — Amillia and Abigail; Back row — Broden, Matt and Kelsey.

Painter’s book details rich history of Negro Leagues baseball in Richmond, Indiana

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The National Road connecting the east to the west passed through the heart of Indiana. Near the eastern end of the state is Richmond.

Dayton, Ohio, is 46 miles to the east Indianapolis 73 to the west. Fort Wayne is 92 miles to the north and Cincinnati 74 to the south.

A place that has been called the “Rose City” has long been sweet on baseball. In his research, Richmond resident Alex Painter discovered that the town was booming with baseball in the late 1800’s.

Local interest in the diamond and Richmond’s place on the map means that many ballplayers — famous and otherwise — have displayed their skills in this Wayne County community.

Sometimes traveling clubs played a local semipro or minor league team. Sometimes two teams met in Richmond.

“It’s an advantageous location,” says Painter, whose particular curiosity in black baseball had him digging through digital files and he learned that 19 baseball Hall of Famers that played in the Negro Leagues came through town — men like Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Biz Mackey, Turkey Stearnes and Willie Wells.

Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil also graced the diamond at Richmond as did Choo Choo Coleman, Sam Hairston and Sam Jethroe.

His “eye-crossing, detail-oriented work” — looking at old issues of the Indianapolis Freeman and other publications — revealed more than 100 Negro Leagues games that took place in Richmond. Another pass turned up more than 350 players.

Baseball Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston played for a professional-caliber Richmond team in 1918 and managed a game here 100 days before he died in 1954. The Indianapolis chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research bears the name of former Negro Leaguer Charleston.

The 1933 Chicago American Giants came to Richmond with four future Baseball Hall of Famers. On the local amateur team — the Lincos — was a Richmond High School graduate and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Weeb Ewbank.

For quite awhile, Painter — a big Cleveland Indians fan — knew that Satchel Paige and Bob Feller came to Richmond on a barnstorming tour in 1946.

Hall of Famer Phil Rizzutto took to the field in Richmond.

Painter, who is Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at alma mater Earlham College in Richmond, also heard stories about how Negro Leaguer Josh Gibson was supposed to have clouted a home run down the left field line over the 415-foot barrier at what is now known as Don McBride Stadium.

The park is now home to Richmond High School baseball and the summer collegiate Richmond Jazz.

Enthralled with the story of former Negro Leaguer and big leaguer Luke Easter, who also came through Richmond in 1946, Painter self-published “Folk Hero Forever: The Eclectic, Enthralling Baseball Life of Luke Easter” in 2018 (Lulu.com).

“It was feat not duplicated for nine years,” says Painter. Easter, who is said to have clouted 650 homers in various circuits, played for the Homestead Grays in 1947 and 1948 and made his Major League Baseball debut with Cleveland in 1949 at 34 (though at the time it was widely reported that he was six years younger).

A few weeks ago, Painter followed that up with “Blackball in the Hoosier Heartland: Unearthing the Negro Leagues Baseball History of Richmond, Indiana.”

“It’s kind of the story of Richmond told through the Negro Leagues and the story of Negro Leagues told through Richmond,” says Painter, who starts at the earliest parts of local baseball history and brings many tales to light.

“It should absolutely be a point of pride for Richmond,” says Painter. “I don’t think people realize how many guys came through here.”

Painter’s latest book is available through Lulu.com and at Amazon.com.

He put out his latest work to coincide with the 100th year anniversary of the Negro National League.

Painter continues to enjoy research there may be more books in the future. A possible subject is John “Snowball” Merida, who integrated baseball in east central Indiana in the early part of the 20th Century. A catcher, he was the only black player on the Spiceland Academy team. In 1905, he was with a Dublin, Ind., team playing a game in Richmond at a field that Painter found out to be just blocks from where he now lives with his wife Alicia and three children — Greyson, Eleanor and Harper. Merida played for the famed Indianapolis ABCs 1907-10 and died and spinal meningitis at 31.

Painter credits Paul Debono’s “History of a Premier Team in the Negro Leagues: The Indianapolis ABCs” as being a big help in his research.

The second oldest of a family of 10, Painter comes from a football family. He and five of his six brothers played at Fort Wayne Snider High School, where he graduated in 2006. Alex played defensive end at Earlham.

Painter is the founder and producer on “Onward to Victory: A Notre Dame Football Podcast” and has been researching the life and career of Fort Wayne native Emil “Red” Sitko, the only man to lead Notre Dame in rushing for four seasons.

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The Painter family (from left): Greyson, Alicia, Eleanor, Harper and Alex. Alex Painter is the author of two baseball books — “Folk Hero Forever: The Eclectic, Enthralling Baseball Life of Luke Easter” (2018) and “Blackball in the Hoosier Heartland: Unearthing the Negro Leagues Baseball History of Richmond, Indiana” (2020).

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Alex Painter’s first book, “Folk Hero Forever: The Eclectic, Enthralling Baseball Life of Luke Easter” (2018).

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Alex Painter’s latest book, “Blackball in the Hoosier Heartland: Unearthing the Negro Leagues Baseball History of Richmond, Indiana.”