Tag Archives: Bob Morgan

With Barber as president/CEO, The BASE Indianapolis offers diamond, educational opportunities to urban youth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.

The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.

These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.

A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”

Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.

“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. (The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.

“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”

With support from many, programming is free to these young people.

“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”

Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.

“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”

Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.

Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”

Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.

“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”

Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.

He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.

A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.

Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.

Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.

Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.

(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.

“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”

Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.

Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.

Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.

Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.

To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.

In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.

Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.

Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.

“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.

“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”

“But it’s about family.”

For more information, contact Barber at rbarber@thebaseindy.org or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.

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Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)

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Segal’s baseball path lands him with Otters, Brittton’s Bullpen in southern Indiana

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The baseball journey of Bobby Segal has taken the Indianapolis native all over the Midwest and beyond and he has gained something at each stop.

The hitting coach for the Evansville Otters of the independent professional Frontier League and an instructor at Britton’s Bullpen in Boonville, Ind., credits father Elliott Segal and grandfather Al Segal for his “love of the game.”

“My dad and grandpa instilled it in me at a young age,” says Bobby, who started out at Westlane Trails Little League and played on an Indiana state Babe Ruth championship team at age 13 before playing travel baseball for the Chris Estep-coached Indiana Mustangs. “They were never overbearing about it. I got constructive criticism at a young age.”

Bobby’s grandfather had played at Indiana University and his father played at Broad Ripple High School, where he later coached, taught and served as assistant athletic director.

Elliott Segal, husband to Carol, is a long-time scoreboard operator for the Indiana Pacers and Bobby spent his childhood at Market Square Arena (since replaced by Bankers Life Fieldhouse).

Bobby played baseball at North Central High School in Indianapolis for coach Rick Shadiow and served his last three prep years (2000, 2001 and 2002) as batboy and then two years on the grounds crew for the Indianapolis Indians.

“I enjoyed the relationship of running the balls to the umpires and going to their locker room before the game,” says Segal of his batboy duties. “I did whatever I could to make their jobs easier. I enjoyed being around the game and getting to know some of the players. I got see those guys move up (to the big leagues).

“I can’t think of a better job for a high school kid.”

He also took pride in taking care of Victory Field.

“That’s a big league playing surface — no doubt about it,” says Segal. “That’s why a lot of people enjoy playing there.”

Segal was a walk-on catcher at Indiana University, playing three seasons for Bob Morgan and one for Tracy Smith.

Many lessons were learned at IU.

“I learned about punctuality, how to present yourself and being unified as a team,” says Segal. “The game speeds up at each level.”

He recalls vividly a defensive drill run by Morgan that employed two fungo bats and had three baseballs in motion at one time

“If you weren’t paying attention, you were bound to get a ball whizzing past your head,” says Segal. “His practices very regimented. (Morgan) is one of the most passionate guys I’ve been around. He loves the game so much. He wanted his players to be disciplined.

“I have a lot of respect for him. He gave me a chance to play college baseball.”

Right out of IU, where he received a bachelor’s degree in sports marketing/management, he joined the Cincinnati Reds organization in baseball operations, spending time at spring training as well as the minors and in Cincinnati.

Segal then became a graduate assistant coach at Union (Ky.) College, where he worked for Bulldogs head coach Bart Osborne.

In Osborne, he found a kindred spirit and mentor.

“Bart and I very similar,” says Segal. “He is a planner. Whether there was a practice or a game, I’ve never been around anybody who was more competitive than he was.

“I learned a lot of great things from him on the baseball side and the planning side.

“Bart has a great baseball mind.”

After two springs at Union, Segal served one season each as a volunteer assistant to Steve Farley at Butler University in Indianapolis, assistant to Marc Rardin at Iowa Western Community College and assistant to Bryan Conger at Tarleton State University in Texas.

The Reivers of Iowa Western won National Junior College Athletic Association Division I World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and qualifying during Segal’s season in Council Bluffs (2011).

Segal was also recruiting director at Tarleton State and left the Texans for a four-season stint as hitting and catching coach/recruiting director to Rob Fournier at Wabash Valley College in Illinois.

During the summers, Segal got more diamond know-how as hitting coach and interim manager for the North Adams (Mass.) SteepleCats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League in 2010, hitting coach for the Brian Dorsett-managed Terre Haute Rex of the summer collegiate Prospect League in 2012, third base/hitting coach for the Greg Tagert-managed Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent professional American Association in 2013 then returned for two seasons as manager of the Terre Haute Rex.

Gary won the AA championship when Segal was on the staff.

“It was a veteran clubhouse,” says Segal. “I was around guys with Double-A and Triple-A time. We had chemistry and experience for the entire summer. It is one of the best experiences I ever had.”

The 2015 Rex won a frachise-record 43 games and the Prospect League title.

“A lot of guys that bought into what we were trying to do,” says Segal. “I was trying to give them a pro experience at the collegiate level.

“They got a taste of it and a lot of team chemistry. We completed the mission at the end of 2015.”

Hired by manager Andy McCauley, Segal spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons with Evansville and will be back with the Otters in 2018.

Meanwhile, Segal is teaching the game to younger players. He enjoys working with both amateurs and pros.

“I love to see the light bulbs turn on for the young kids,” says Segal. “I encourage them to do a more athletic movement and then we see the ball jump off their bat or go in their mitt and get a good exchange.”

Looking to give a well-rounded experience, he spends the first half of a lesson on things like base running and defense and the second half on hitting.

“We’re doing all facets of the game in one trip to Britton’s Bullpen,” says Segal.

At the pro level, it’s about batting cage work and developing daily routines.

“I love the uniqueness of the routines and the camaraderie I can build with the professional guys,” says Segal. “It’s all about competing when the lights come on (at game time).”

In his one-hour sessions with younger players, he helps them make small adjustments and keeps the mood light.

He avoids the major overhaul with his pro hitters.

“I see them a little over four months of the year,” says Segal. “Most of them have hitting coaches back home or wherever they’re at. I’m preaching routines and game-time approach

“I’m trying to give them as much information from a mental approach side of things.”

Matt Segal, Bobby’s older brother, is a former media relations worker for the Indianapolis Indians and sports information director at Morehead State University. He was with the National Football League’s Rams before they moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles and is now digital content manager for the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Matt’s wife, Jenifer Langosch, covers the St. Louis Cardinals for MLB.com.

Bobby and Rachel (Harvey) Segal reside in Fort Branch with their two children — son Asher (2 1/2) and daughter Lillian (almost 6 months).

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Bobby Segal, an Indianapolis native, is entering his third season as hitting coach of the Evansville Otters in 2018. He is also an instructor at Britton’s Bullpen in Boonville, Ind. (Evansville Otters Photo)

 

‘No-nonsense’ Bacon has Marian U. in NAIA Opening Round

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Marian University began its 2017 baseball in the Mid-South and the Knights are returning to that part of the country with a berth in the NAIA Opening Round.

It’s the first time the school has made it since the NAIA changed the postseason format over a decade ago.

Coach Todd Bacon’s club opened the campaign Feb. 17 in Blue Mountain, Miss., and will now go to Kingsport, Tenn., for a five-team double-elimination event Monday through Thursday, May 15-18.

The winner out of No. 1 seed Keiser (Fla.) (39-18), No. 2 Tennessee Wesleyan (39-18), No. 3 Indiana University Southeast (45-13), No. 4 Talladega (Ala.) (36-22) and No. 5 Marian (29-21) advances to the 10-team NAIA World Series May 26-June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho. Marian meets Talladega in Game 1 Monday morning.

Other Indiana schools in the NAIA tournament are Huntington and Indiana Tech.

“We’ve really tried to upgrade our schedule each year,” says Bacon. “We’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to get this program to where it is now.”

Bacon is in his fourth year as head coach. But he has coached in the Crossroads League (formerly known as the Mid-Central Conference) for 27 years. He’s led baseball programs at Goshen and Marian, men’s basketball squads at Goshen, women’s basketball, men’s tennis and women’s tennis at Marian).

Through it all, Bacon has demanded his players do things a certain way.

“Every team and athlete would probably tell you it’s a no-nonsense,” says Bacon, who was an MU baseball assistant to Kurt Guldner for five years before becoming head coach. “There’s not a lot of sugar coat. There’s not a lot of beating around the bush.”

Bacon lays his cards on the table when he’s recruiting.

“I can tell every kid at the end of our visit that they’ll say ‘I would love to play there’ or ‘no way am I going there,’” says Bacon. “Either way is great. Usually there’s not shades of gray. It’s pretty black and white.”

All but one player on the 2017 roster are from Indiana hometowns. It’s not only because Marian, a Catholic school that’s been in Indianapolis since 1937, does not have a bottomless recruiting budget. There’s another big reason.

“We have to watch those kids play multiple times to see how they interact with teammates, how they handle adversity, how the handle success,” says Bacon. “Most coaches recruit to their ballpark. That’s something we’ve tried to do here. If we can be very, very good at home that gives us a chance to be in the top half of the conference and compete at tournament time.”

The 2017 Knights went 16-3 at spacious Marian University Ballpark (it’s 400 feet to dead center field).

“We have thick natural grass and it does not play quick,” says Bacon. “You’ve got have some guys with sure hands in the infield because they are going have to make some plays on the move on our grass.”

Marian has been consistently solid on defense since Bacon took over the program.

“We’ve made the routine plays,” says Bacon. “That’s kept us in games when our offense has been hot and cold.”

Bacon helped Benton Central High School make it to the Elite Eight in his junior and senior baseball seasons of 1985 and 1986. The four-year varsity player was coached by Doug Jennett for the first three years and Tony Primavera his senior year.

At Earlham College, where he graduated in 1990, Bacon was a star on the basketball court and also played baseball for coach Doug Welsh.

His coaching approach is a mixture of many others he’s come across during during long career.

“You learn something from every coach you have,” says Bacon. “You pick and choose all the things that fit your personality and what you’re trying to get done.”

Bacon’s coaching staff features Mark Elder (third season), Matt Voorhees (third season), Brett Jackson (first season), Austin Gibson (fifth season) and Scott Satterthwaite (seventh season).

Elder pitched at Indiana University for coach Bob Morgan and is MU pitching coach.

Voorhees, who played four years at Wabash College, shares hitting coach duties with Bacon.

Jackson, who played up the middle for the Knights, now works with infielders.

Gibson, who was an all-conference player for Marian, helps with recruiting on the east side of the state.

Satterthwaite handles many administrative duties and some Indianapolis area recruiting.

Todd and Carmen Bacon have four children — Dakota (24), Maverick (a sophomore first baseman at Ball State University after a prep career at North Montgomery), Isaac (high school sophomore) and Teegan (sixth grader).

“In 27 years of coaching, you have to have people stand beside you through the good and the tough times,” says Bacon.

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The Bacon family (from left): Isaac, Carmen, Dakota, Maverick, Teegan and Todd. The 2017 Marian University baseball season marks Todd’s fourth as head coach and ninth in the program. The Knights are bound for the NAIA Opening Round in Kingsport, Tenn.

Lawrence North’s Winzenread wants Wildcats to play with ‘no regrets’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“No regrets.”

Lawrence North High School baseball coach Richard Winzenread expects nothing less than the best from his Wildcats.

There should be no sleepless nights because of lukewarm effort.

It’s been that way since Winzenread took over as leader of the LN program in 1992.

“If we work hard, good things will come,” says Winzenread. “We want to be the best team our talent level will allow. If we do that, we’ve had a successful season.

“At tournament time, we’re a pretty tough out. You have to bring your best game to beat us.”

Winzenread has gathered a wealth of baseball knowledge from coaches at the high school, college and professional level and he shares that with his LN players.

Then he lets them take over.

“We don’t clone them,” says Winzenread. “I don’t want to take away their natural ability. I tell them it’s their responsibility to get better.”

Players need to take the initiative to get extra swings in the batting cage or more ground balls on their own time.

“We’ve had quite a few kids over the years that have made themselves better,” says Winzenread. “Kids have to take ownership.

“Kids today don’t practice enough. You should practice more than you play. You need to be the best player you can be, so you have no regrets.”

The coach can be tough, but he has the student-athlete’s best interests at heart.

“What makes me the most proud is seeing how the kid grows through his four years of our program,” says Winzenread. “I think the kids know I care about them. I want them to be the best version of a person they can be — as a student and a player. We want them to be ready for college.”

Winzenread does his coaching and teaching on the northeast side of Indianapolis. He first learned baseball on the south side from his father Richard and then played at Southport High School, graduating in 1982 and moving on to play for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover College.

Naylor is also in the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

A right-handed pitcher, Winzenread was drafted in the 21st round by the Baltimore Orioles in 1986. In the O’s system he learned much from then-roving pitching instructor Mark Wiley — things he still uses today at Lawrence North.

In his third pro season, Winzenread was injured and decided to come back to Indy. He worked for UPS and helped coach at Southport with Cardinals head coach John Carpenter (John Dwenger was head coach when Winzenread was a Southport player).

Winzenread stayed close to the game by giving lessons and found many of his clients were in the Lawrence area. He completed his education degree and took a middle school teaching job in the Lawrence Township district.

After teaching at various middle schools, Winzenread landed at the high school four years ago as a physical education and health teacher.

Seeing another chance to give back to the game that had been so good to him, Winzenread applied to replace Tim Fitzgerald as LN head coach when he stepped down right before the 1992 season. Fitzgerald is now the varsity assistant on a Wildcats coaching staff that also includes Chris Todd (junior varsity) and Kyle Green (freshmen).

Not knowing how to run a high school program back in ’92, Winzenread made a trip to Indiana University to pick the brain of head coach Bob Morgan.

“He did a lot for me early in my career,” says Winzenread. “He’s one of the best baseball minds around.”

In Winzenread’s first decade at Lawrence North, assistant coach Bob Kraft brought things to the program he had gained while being associated with Stanford University baseball.

Tony Vittorio, who was head coach at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now in his 18th season as head coach at the University of Dayton, followed a similar path to Winzenread in that he played at Southport and Hanover before going into coaching.

“He’s such got tremendous passion,” says Winzenread says of Vittorio. “He works those kids. He can be tough at times. But, in this business you have to be.”

Winzenread has a passion for developing pitchers. Ideally, the Wildcats will have seven or eight capable arms in a season. Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Winzenread uses his top two starters in those games with a third pitcher expected to handle to relief duties. Those pitchers have a bullpen session on Saturday and are ready to go again the following week.

“They build up arm strength to be a starter or build up arm strength to be a reliever and they work different,” says Winzenread.

LN hurlers are expected to throw strikes, but not necessarily rack up K’s.

“Strikeouts are fine, but they’re not something we strive for,” says Winzenread. “Our philosophy is to have (the batter) hit our pitch. Our pitch counts are usually not that high.”

Batters are kept off-balance by the mixing of speeds and location — up and down, in and out, back and forth.

One location in the strike zone is off limits.

“We don’t want to throw it over the middle of the plate,” says Winzenread. “When we warm up, the middle part is black and we have two white edges.

“We want to have a little bit of movement.”

Winzenread calls anything over 15 pitches a stressful inning.

If a pitcher strung together a couple of 26-pitch innings, he would be at 52 and might be done for the day, depending on the athlete.

If those same 52 pitches were spread over five innings, that would be a different story.

“I enjoy winning,” says Winzenread. “But I would never put a kid’s health in front of that — ever.”

With that in mind, he will always protect a pitcher’s arm. If they throw 85 pitches Tuesday, it’s a good bet they might be used as a designated hitter but will not take a field position Wednesday.

The 2016 Mt. Vernon (Fortville) Sectional — won by Lawrence North — was set up with pitching in mind. Games in the six-team format were played on Wednesday with semifinals and finals Monday.

“That’s the only thing that’s fair,” says Winzenread, who has seen LN take seven of its eight all-time sectional titles, both regionals, one semistate crown and one state runner-up finish (7-6 loss to McCutcheon in the 1999 Class 4A final) on his watch. “I wish we’d seed the draw and we don’t. Everyone says ‘pitching and defense (wins championships).’ You can hit all you want, but eventually good pitching is going to shut that down.”

With those factors in mind, LN changed its regular-season schedule and has as many three-game weeks as possible.

No matter where they play on the diamond, Winzenread expects his player to know their role. That might mean starting or coming off the bench.

“Everyone’s got a role to way and you’ve got to accept it,” says Winzenread. “(Reserves are) always constantly paying attention to the game so when you’re number is called, you’re ready.”

And with no regrets.

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Richard Winzenread is in his 26th season as head baseball coach at Lawrence North High School.

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Richard Winzenread took Lawrence North to the IHSAA State Finals in 1999. He has been head baseball coach for the Wildcats since 1992.

Gernon building successful baseball culture at Western Michigan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Billy Gernon is reaping the rewards of his labor as a college baseball coach while also giving back to a game he embraced as boy.

Gernon saw his sixth Western Michigan University squad go 22-34 and win the school’s first-ever Mid-American Conference tournament championship in 2016 while the Broncos earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 1989.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” says Gernon. “I’m trying to capture that momentum and bottle it.”

Left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin was chosen as WMU’s first MAC tournament MVP and was then selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, getting an invitation to big league spring training in 2017.

Akin was the Broncos’ highest draft pick since Harry Shaughnessy in 1970. Shortstop Connor Smith was named 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year.

As if to prove that old adage about the importance of pitching and defense, Western was among the nation’s leaders in fielding percentage at .978 — the all-time best mark at a school that started playing baseball in 1911.

“The strengths for me as a coach speaks to where I come from,” says Gernon. “Competition for big bats is heavy. Competition for defense is not as high.”

Gernon’s first season in Kalamazoo was 2011 after two at Michigan State University and nine as head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Gernon grew up near the baseball fields near Mt. Tabor Road in New Albany, Ind.

“The game became surrogate father,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time.

“I came from a broken home at a very early age. I had an unexplainable love for the game. I was gifted at pitching. Being good at it probably made me like it more.”

Now 50, Gernon still fondly looks back to his 13-year-old summer at playing Babe Ruth League baseball in New Albany, Ind., for a trio of enthusiastic coaches — Louis Jensen Jr., Buzz Benson and John Shine.

“They were young guys and they were a lot of fun,” says Gernon. “I remember looking forward to going to practice.”

Jensen is now director of high school eduction for New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.

After graduating from New Albany High School in 1985, Gernon took his pitching talents to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He was the MVP for the IUS and that gave him a chance to play for IU Bloomington as a senior in 1990. Head coach Bob Morgan asked him to join the Hoosiers and he was excited about his opportunity.

Then tragedy struck.

“My brother died it the day I got there,” says Gernon. A car wreck took David Gernon’s life in 1989. “I was a very vulnerable person.”

Morgan’s passion pushed Gernon to succeed on the diamond.

“At Big Ten level, you need to win,” says Gernon. “You need to perform.”

With Morgan’s insistence on hard work, no excuses and accountability, Gernon flourished and became IU’s closer.

“He catapulted me to another level,” says Gernon.

Somewhere along the line, his focus went away from becoming a radio announcer and a chance to coach came along.

“I just decided to go for it,” says Gernon.

There were bumps along the way. At IPFW, Gernon took over a program that made a transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I during his tenure. For seven of his nine seasons in Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were not in a conference and had just five in-state scholarships with no paid assistant coaches. The teams averaged 11 home games and 40 road games per season.

Yet, Gernon still scheduled the best competition he could find even if his record (157-275-3 in those nine campaigns) suffered for it.

“The biggest teacher for me, personally, has been failure,” says Gernon.

Time, maturity and sincerity plus having a son of his own (Jacob David is 16 and a sophomore at Portage Central High School) have also taught him to be a better coach.

“I always try to keep my brother’s spirit alive in me,” says Gernon. “It’s important to me that my players know I love them. I need to do a better job of not only making sure I was saying it, but doing it.”

His Broncos have responded to that passion.

“Players want to perform for me,” says Gernon, who is 136-193 at WMU. “When they don’t, they’re so bothered. They don’t need anything from me but to address the wound.

“Failure is an event, not a person. The game is riddled with failure and great players learn how to deal with it.”

More than ever, Gernon is concerned with building the culture.

“Cultures are more important than anything,” says Gernon. “Great cultures win over talent. It’s my job as a leader to have guys know what the culture is and become great messengers of the team’s philosophy and culture.”

Gernon expects players to spread the word in the locker room: This is how we do things and this is what’s expected.

“Great culture is why Western won the first MAC tournament in school history and went to the NCAA tournament,” says Gernon. “We have great leaders.”

And through it all, he’s giving back.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time. I’m trying to do everything I can to serve it in the form of gratitude. I talk to current players more about their legacy, how they want to be remembered and the mark they want to leave on other players.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach.”

It’s just that important.

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Western Michigan University head baseball coach Billy Gernon played at New Albany High School, Indiana University Southeast and IU Bloomington and coached at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before heading north. (Western Michigan University Photo)