Tag Archives: Bob Gibson

Umpire of the Year Craig has been making calls nearly four decades

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

James Craig was honored in June by the Indiana High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of Interscholastic Officials Association as the top baseball umpire for 2022.
Craig, a Fort Wayne resident, was selected for the award by a committee representing the 24 officials associations in Indiana. He is a member of the Northeastern Officials Association.
The 57-year-old has been a licensed official for baseball since he was 19. He has worked 26 sectionals, 18 regionals, 11 semistate contests and eight State Finals.
More than 10 times, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association has named Craig a district umpire of the year and he has worked a number of IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series, including 2022 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion.
Craig has also officiated high school football for 22 years and serves as referee on a crew with Fort Wayne’s James Payne (line judge), Mark Herberger (back judge) and Mark Stultz (linesman) and Bluffton’s Mark Mettler (umpire). The group has worked three State Finals, including the 2021 IHSAA Class 6A game between Center Grove and Westfield.
“You want to have friends and people you can communicate with and get along,” says Craig of the football crew dynamic. “You should see as much football as you possibly can. Friday should be perfect. See the goofy stuff on Monday and Thursday nights (in freshman and junior varsity games).”
Craig prefers to see as many teams and classes as possible in the regular season to be ready for the postseason.
A number of football officials are also baseball umpires.
Taking regular-season baseball assignments from Fort Wayne Umpires Association, Craig does games around northeast Indiana with multiple partners in a two-man crew.
“We switch things up,” says Craig of the decision of who works the plate or the bases. “It’s best for everybody involved.
“If it’s a doubleheader and I’ve done the plate in the first game, I guarantee (my partner) will do the plate in the second game.
“In the two-man you’ve got one friend on the baseball field and it’s that guy.”
During the game, Craig has a rule that he follows.
“At the end of the inning always go to the side of the diamond of the defensive team,” says Craig. “They are happy they got the third out. Don’t got to the offensive side ever.”
In a typical high school baseball season, Craig umpires about 38 games — each week night and a doubleheader on Saturdays. He has cut back his summer ball schedule though he still does some travel ball tournaments.
After all these years, Craig maintains the same philosophy.
“See as many pitches, plays and scenarios as you possibly can,” says Craig. “You’re always learning.
“I’d like to say I’ve seen everything on a baseball diamond. I haven’t.”
When making calls, Craig uses a rule of thumb that includes common sense, fair play and the rules.
“It’s my job as an official to interpret rules,” says Craig. “I will never show up a coach. I will never embarrass them. I expect the same thing coming back. Address me by my first name and we’re going to get along just fine.
“I’m just out there to do a job and that’s it. I’m calling fairs and fouls, safes and outs.
However, Craig knows how teams and players operate.
“If you’re not cheating you’re not trying and it’s only cheating when you get caught,” says Craig. “That’s when rules and the reinterpretation comes in. Is it within the spirt of what we’re looking for?”
Take the example of all the padding worn by players these days.
“There’s more body army than we’ve had ever,” says Craig. “On an inside pitch, they stick that wing out there and — bam! — they’re going to trot down to first base.
“Don’t award them a base on that.”
Without the armor, players would not be so swift to get in the way of an inside pitch to “wear one.”
On the subject of inside pitches. When Craig was 10 he was chosen out of thousands to speak at Bob Gibson’s retirement. Gibson was known for working to the hitter’s side of the plate and intimidating long before elbow pads were a thing.
“You didn’t dig in against Bob Gibson,” says Craig.
A point of emphasis during the 2022 Indiana high school season included the amount of eye black.
“To me it’s a bad look,” says Craig. “It’s nothing but a fashion statement.”
In Game 1 of the North/South All-Star Series, Craig was behind the plate when Westfield lefty swinger Keaton Mahan came up in the seventh inning and quickly handed his cell phone to the catcher to take a quick photo with the umpire.
“During the regular season, I say ‘get that camera out of here,’” says Craig. “But this was for fun.”
In the ninth inning, Ohio State commit Mahan smacked a game-winning grand slam that was estimated to have landed and rolled under a tree about 570 feet from home plate.
“He clobbered that thing,” says Craig. “It hit off the house (behind the right field fence) fair.”
As for the topic of epic bat flip that’s become so prevalent in baseball, it’s a judgement call on the part of the official when it’s gone too far.
“When the bat goes up in the air it becomes a safety issues,” says Craig. “I don’t have a problem with a high school kid showing some enthusiasm. But level of enjoyment must be within the confinements of the rules.”
There’s also the issue of sportsmanship, especially with spectators — often parents — who become self-appointed evaluators and are quick to criticize umpires.
“Officiating is a thankless profession,” says Craig. “I guarantee somebody is leaving there upset and it’s my fault.
“You’re asking for perfection. I’m expected to show up perfect and get better.”
He has witnessed a difference between high school baseball and summer travel ball.
“Not every kid is going to be the next Derek Jeter, but parents seem to think that and they take it out on officials,” says Craig. “It’s disheartening.
“High school baseball and high school sports are taught by teachers who are coaches and there’s built-in respect. It’s not necessarily built-in for travel baseball.
“It’s all about me, me, me in the summer as opposed to we, we, we in the spring. We have a set of standards we have to abide by on all sides set by the (National Federation of State High School Associations) and IHSAA. In the summer, it’s a free-for-all.”
Not that he wants to paint with a broad brush.
“Guys like (Javier DeJesus) and Mark DeLaGarza get it,” says Craig. “I appreciate the job they do for travel baseball.”
Craig notes that there were nearly 500 IHSAA baseball games canceled at all levels in 2022 due to the lack of umpires and points to parent/spectator’s inclination to sharply voice their dissenting opinion as a big reason.
“If you don’t temper your attitude there will be no officials,” says Craig. “The officials shortage is a nationwide disgrace and it’s not going to get better.
“What scares me the most is that when I started the average age (of officials) was 25 or 30,” says Craig. “Now — in most sports — it’s like 50. We’re leaving and there’s nobody behind us.”
While he intends to stay longer for football, Craig plans to do one more state tournament rotation for baseball then retire his mask and clicker. He can work as high as the semistate in 2023 and the State Finals in 2024.
“That’s enough baseball,” says Craig.
That doesn’t mean he regrets his decision to make the calls.
“It’s something I treasure and I’m glad I got into it,” says Craig. “I’m not in it for the money. I’m not in it for the fame.
“Officiating is wonderful.”
Craig did not start his officiating journey in Indiana. He began high school in St. Louis and finished up in Bowling Green, Ky., when his father was transferred to the Corvette plant there. When he was 14 he started umpiring T-ball games. His American Legion coach said he had to do something to give back to the game and umpiring was the only option that paid.
After pursuing an academic scholarship at the University of Kentucky, Craig finished college at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. He was IPFW student body president in 1988 and earned a Secondary Education degree but did not go into the classroom.
Craig is now a supervisor at Fort Wayne’s at WaterFurnace International (makers of geothermal heating units), where he has worked the past 15 years.
He has a 32-year-old daughter — Jocelyn. She graduated from Homestead High School and Indiana University and was chosen as 2009 National Big Brother Big Sister of the Year. She now works in dispatch for the Indiana State Police.

DePauw graduate Quinn takes over at Clinton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Quinn is bringing his baseball knowledge and enthusiasm in Michigantown, Ind., as the new head baseball coach at Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School.

Quinn, who turns 26 in December, was a right-handed pitcher at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for four years (2014-17) and an assistant coach at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., for two seasons (2019 and 2020). 

He is also a lead instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., where he gives pitching and hitting lessons and will coach at 14U Indiana Mustangs travel team next summer.

The IHSAA Limited Contact Period for baseball ended Oct. 17. Quinn worked with a few players each Friday, showing them the fundamentals of playing catch and giving them a chance to field ground balls.

Many players were not available since they were involved in football or others were getting ready for basketball season. The dead period lasts until Dec. 7.

Jeff Pittard, the father of Quinn’s former DePauw teammate, Reid Pittard, has committed as a part-time assistant. Other coaching candidates are being considered.

Quinn says he gets a sense that the Bulldogs will be a senior-heavy team in 2021. Among that group of left-handed pitcher J.T. Holton, an Indiana University Kokomo commit.

The new coach recently reached out to youth leagues in Michigantown and Kirkland to build a relationship with future Clinton Central players.

A full-time substitute teacher at the school, Quinn is looking into getting his transition to teaching license. He earned his DePauw bachelor’s degree in Communications. He also holds a personal trainer certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

A native of Chesterfield, Mo., Quinn played at St. Louis (Mo.) University High, where he was an all-state pitcher as a senior in 2013.

Quinn was brought to DePauw by then-DePauw head coach Jake Martin (head coach at his alma mater, Wabash, since the 2017 season).

“Coach Martin drove all the way from Greencastle to St. Louis to take me and my parents to dinner and drove back in the same day,” says Quinn. “He obviously cared a lot about me and his program.

“He made it very clear about how he wanted to do things.”

As a DePauw Tiger, Quinn took the mound 48 times (24 as a starter). He was honorable mental all-North Coast Athletic Conference as a junior and second team all-NCAC as a senior while also serving as team captain. 

During his four years (the last three playing for head coach Blake Allen), DePauw made the NCAA Division III tournament twice and posted the most victories in a four-year record (98) in the history of the program which dates back more than a century.

Allen is a St. Louis native, which helped Quinn relate to the coach.

“He’s super, super passionate,” says Quinn of Allen. “He knows his stuff.”

Allen spent two stints covering five years at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he learned from highly-respected Commodores head coach Tim Corbin.

“(Allen) got the best out of everybody on the team,” says Quinn. “He was really good at understanding the mental side and getting us to lock into that.”

Allen had DePauw hitters in an attacking mindset and Mike Hammel and Jack Thompson both set the school record for home runs in a single-season at 13 in 2017. The ’17 Tigers hit 46 bombs as a team.

As a college freshman, Quinn took a Baseball History class. He is familiar with the old Polo Grounds in New York, where the dimensions were short down the foul lines and deep to center. He looks at the Clinton Central field and is reminded of that image.

“Our center fielder has to be very quick,” says Quinn. “He’ll have a cover a lot of ground.”

He’ll be asking his pitchers to throw a lot of strikes, keep the pitch count down and work to all parts of the strike zone.

Quinn also plans to take a page out of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson’s book.

“Gibson said that with every pitch, act like you meant it to go there,” says Quinn. “Don’t get frustrated. Get the ball back and get ready for that next pitch.”

Clinton Central is part of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Carroll of Flora, Clinton Prairie, Delphi, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Sheridan, Taylor and Tri-Central).

HHC teams play each other twice with many home-and-home weekdays series.

The Bulldogs are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Frontier, Rossville, Sheridan, South Newton and Tri-County. Clinton Central won its lone sectional title in 2005.

Quinn is engaged to DePauw graduate Emily Matthews, who went through the excellerated nursing program at Marian University in Indianapolis. The couple’s wedding is slated for September 2021.

Andrew Quinn, a DePauw University graduate, has been hired as head baseball coach at Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School in Michigantown, Ind. After playing four seasons at DePauw, he was an assistant coach for two years at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and is a lead instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., and is a 14U travel coach for the Indiana Mustangs. (Wabash College Photo)

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)