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Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.

Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.

As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.

“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”

Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.

Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.

At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.

Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.

In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.

Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.

Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.

MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.

Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.

The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Larry Owens was playing baseball for Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School in the mid-1980’s, he had no sense of his future in the game.

Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.

“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”

Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.

“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”

Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.

“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).

Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992. 

The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).

Entering the college coaching ranks, Owens was as assistant to Warriors head coach Scott Rendel at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1994 and 1995. 

In the fall of 1995, Owens was a volunteer at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) with Keith Guttin as Bears head coach and Paul Evans as pitching coach.

When Mike Snyder left the University of Louisville as pitching coach, Owens got the job and served with Cardinals head coach Lelo Prado in 1996 and 1997.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons saw Owens as pitching coach for Governors head coach Gary McClure at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

That was follow by a four-year stint (2001-04) as Tigers head coach Dave Anderson’s pitching coach at the University of Memphis.

In the summer of 2005, Owens got his first taste of pro coaching. He was pitching coach for the independent Golden League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs with manager Terry Kennedy, who had played in the majors with Anderson. It was also the last season as a player for a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson.

“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”

Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.

“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.

“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”

Owens was an area scout with the Boston Red Sox in 2006.

The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.

Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.

“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”

One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics. 

When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.

“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”

Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).

Owens, who was featured on the Dec. 7, 2020 Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV and hosted by Jeremy Sheetinger, is leading Bellarmine’s move to D-I baseball. He cut his term as American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA D-II chair short when his program made the switch.

The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.

“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.

“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.

Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.

“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.

After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).

“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.

“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”

Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.

“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”

At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.

That ended up being Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., where Lebanon, Ind., native Joe Roberts was the Pirates head coach.

“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”

Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out. 

“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”

Owens was selected in the 27th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by he Atlanta Braves and played that summer for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves, but he knew his future was in coaching.

So after taking 1991 off, he launched into what has been a baseball coaching odyssey.

Larry Owens talks to Ryan Wheat (Louisville Legends Video).
Larry Owens, a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The 2021 season is to be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I. (Bellarmine University Photo)

Veteran baseball coach Tyner gains new perspective

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Tyner still carries a fervor around the diamond.

It just shows itself in a different way.

Tyner, who began his college baseball coaching career at Butler University in Indianapolis in the early 1990’s and also guided early Indiana Bulls travel teams during the summer, is heading into his fourth season at Towson (Md.) University.

At 62 and in a year where he lost his wife, Tyner has a different perspective.

“I’m pretty intense as a competitor,” says Tyner. “As you age you don’t lose your intensity, it becomes a different kind of focus. I’m a little more cerebral. Yelling and screaming might have worked in the ‘90s. That doesn’t work now. You have to think about who you’re talking to.

“Hopefully I’ve calmed down. As you mature, you go from thinking it’s your team to how can I serve the kid? Or how can I share the information I’ve learned in my 40 years in the game?”

Tyner’s Towson coaching staff features associate head coach Miles Miller and assistants Tanner Biagini and Danny Pulfer

It’s a horizontal relationship. Tyner lets his assistants take their strengths and run with them. 

“I’m not ego-driven anymore,” says Tyner. “We can all learn something from each other and coaches and kids benefit.”

Coaching friends — like Tony Vittorio — are quick to point out when Tyner might lose sight of what his job is.

“I’m a father first and a coach second,” says Tyner. “I don’t have just one son, I have 38 his year. I’m older than all my coaches, so I have more even more sons.”

Tyner was a standout in Decatur, Ill., playing for Ray DeMoulin (a bird dog scout for the Cincinnati Reds who allowed Tyner to try out at 15) at MacAthur High School and Lee Handley (who played in the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers systems) as American Legion manager.

After Tyner went undrafted by Major League Baseball, a coin flip was used to decide where he would venture to play college ball. Heads meant he’d try to walk on at the University of Miami (Fla.). Tails would send him to Arizona State University.

The coin came up heads. Tyner went to Florida, made the Hurricanes roster and played on College World Series teams in 1978, 1979 and 1980, earning Baskin Robbins Player of the Year honors in that final season.

At Miami, Tyner was around coaching legends Ron Fraser and Skip Bertman. The young outfielder marveled at how the two baseball minds could anticipate what was going to happen in a game.

“How did they do that?” says Tyner. who refers to Bertman as a walking baseball encyclopedia. “I hovered closed to him. His sixth sense was incredible.”

Fraser called them the “Miami Greyhounds.”

“I felt I was on a track team,” says Tyner. “That’s how much we ran. We were in shape.”

Before the current 56-game spring limit in NCAA Division I, Miami typically played more than 100 games counting fall and spring.

Selected in the ninth round of the 1980 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Tyner played for the Miami Orioles in 1980. 

In 1981, he enjoyed his best offensive and worst defensive season. The parent Orioles had decided to move Cal Ripken Jr. from third base to shortstop and decided to make Tyner into a third sacker. But the hot corner proved pretty hot for him and he made 20 errors in 51 games at third for the Hagerstown Suns.

Fans down both baselines let him know about it with a group of ladies on the third base side pointing out the places where the ball struck the “human dartboard.” Hagerstown spectators donned hard hats on the first base side in case of errant Tyner throws.

His roommate on the road was pitcher Julian Gonzalez. During a game in Salem, Va., after Tyner committed his third error, Hagerstown manager Grady Little came to the mound. Gonzalez told the skipper that his roomie had to go.

There was a bus accident the first weekend of season. The vehicle landed on its side. 

“I felt something pop in my back way down low,” says Tyner. “24 hours later I couldn’t move. I missed over 30 games that summer.

At the plate, Tyner was locked in, hitting .301 with 31 home runs and 113 runs batted for the Suns in 1981.

After that, Tyner went back to the outfield where he vied with Drungo Hazewood for the unofficial title of best arm in the Orioles organization.

He would go on to belt 79 home runs in 365 games, playing for Hagerstown in 1981 and 1983 and the Charlotte O’s in 1982 and 1983. Multiple surgeries for bone chips in his right elbow put and end to Tyner’s pro career.

“I put my arm through a little bit of abuse,” says Tyner. “I was a quarterback and pitched in high school. Who knows what I did? It didn’t fail me for five more years. At Miami, I had a really good arm.”

Besides Little, his minor league managers were John Hart, Lance Nichols and Mark Wiley.

Little later managed the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. Hart became a successful front office man for the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves and as a TV analyst.

Tyner calls Hart the quintessential manager-type manager.

“He was a true professional guy,” says Tyner of Hart. “He’s let you do what you needed to do. Grady Little was more hands-on. They were both pretty successful in their own way.

“I got lucky. I played so some great managers and coaches.”

In spring training games with the Orioles, Tyner shared the dugout with current manager Earl Weaver and future managers Joe Altobelli and Ray Miller

“I’m not sure it gets much better than that,” says Tyner.

It was while coming to Indianapolis to finish his degree at Concordia University that Tyner connected with Butler head coach Steve Farley and began coaching for the Bulldogs. The first go-round, he was on Farley’s staff from 1993-97.

A relationship with the Bulls led to the press box and stands that are there to this day.

At the time, Dave Taylor was president of the organization and Craig Moore was head coach of the 17U team. Tyner started out with the 15U squad.

After coaching four years at Butler making $325 per semester, Tyner decided it was time to make money for his family — wife Laura, daughter Lindsay and son Matthew and got into communication sales and real estate. 

Lindsay Dempsey, who is worked as a Registered Nurse, is now 36, married with two children and living Switzerland. Matthew Tyner, 33, is married and a finance and operations manager in Indianapolis. 

When Matthew became a teenager, the Bulls approached his father about coaching a new 13U team with Jeremy Guler. The next year, Matt Tyner and Jeff Jamerson coached their sons Matthew and Jason on the 14U Bulls.

“We had top-shelf athletes way ahead of their time,” says Tyner of a team that featured future pros Lance Lynn (Brownsburg), Tommy Hunter (Cathedral) and J.B. Paxson (Center Grove). “It was fun to watch them play.”

Since Matthew was not at that elite level, he switched after that at played for the Indiana Mustangs based out of RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, a facility run by Chris Estep. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Alexander was there to help. He covered the costs for many Mustangs activities. 

“He imparted so much baseball knowledge on these kids,” says Tyner of Alexander, who was integral current baseball fields at Purdue University as well as Indianapolis Bishop Chatard High School, where Matthew Tyner played for Trojans head coach Mike Harmon and graduated in 2005. “What a treat that was.”

A few years later, Matt Tyner got the itch to coach baseball again. This time Farley could pay him a living wage and he went back to work at Butler in August 2007. Pendleton Heights graduate Jason Jamerson was a Bulldog senior in 2009.

Farley took Tyner to his first American Baseball Coaches Association convention in 1994. There he got to meet up again with Fraser and Bertman and soaked up the baseball know-how.

“They made me feel like a king and there was one great speaker after the next for 2 1/2 days,” says Tyner. “As a coach you can’t be everything to everybody. But I’m going to use this nugget and I’m going to use that nugget.

“That’s money well-spent.”

In the summer of 2010, Tyner was offered the head coaching position at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. Knights athletic director Scott Wiegandt had been a Triple-A Louisville teammate of Tracy Woodson, a former big league third baseman, Fort Wayne Wizards manager who was then Valparaiso University head coach.

Farley, Woodson and University of Indianapolis head coach Gary Vaught gave Tyner their endorsement. 

“We made some serious strides in that program,” says Tyner, who coached then-NCAA Division II Bellarmine to 26-26 and 27-23 marks in 2011 and 2012 with a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and an appearance in the regional tournament championship game against the Grand Valley State University the second year. 

Brandon Tormoehlen, now head coach at Brownstown (Ind.) Central High School, was on Tyner’s coaching staff.

Woodson became head coach at the University of Richmond (Va.) and called Tyner to be his recruiting coordinator and hitting coach. It was a post he held for four seasons.

“We had some pretty strong offensive teams,” says Tyner of his time with the Spiders.

Then Towson reached out and hit Tyner was an offer to be the Tigers head coach. 

“The first two years at Towson was a challenge for all of us,” says Tyner, who saw his teams go 13-42 in 2018 and 14-39 in 2019. “We are process-driven and not results-driven. Took awhile for those entrenched in a different system to get it.

“Last year was their chance to shine.”

Indianapolis native Laura Anne Tyner passed away Feb. 10 in her hometown and Matt took a leave of absence at Towson. Matt and Laura were wed in 1983. She taught children with special needs and spent 20 years in real estate management.

With former Butler and Purdue University assistant Miller running the team, the 2020 Towson Tigers went 7-8 before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Tyner went down to see the team play in the opener of a weekend series in Miami. It turned out to be a pitchers’ dual. The Hurricanes held on for a 2-1 Feb. 28 victory. Freshman catcher Burke Camper just barely missed a home run in the top of the ninth inning.

“It was a game for the ages,” says Tyner. “It was unbelievable for me to watch and be a part of.”

A few days later, it was decided between Tyner and Towson athletic director Tim Leonard that the coach would come back to the program in mid-March.

“I needed baseball more than baseball needed me,” says Tyner, who got back in time to see the season prematurely halted with the campus being closed and all classes going online. He came back to Indianapolis.

When things opened back up, players were placed in summer leagues. This fall, the Tigers worked out with social distancing and other COVID precautions.

“It was the most competitive for all of us since I’ve been here,” says Tyner. “We have a chance to be pretty good (2021).”

Towson is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Tigers are not fully-funded. There are 6.2 scholarships available and the NCAA Division I limit is 11.7.

“God love the AD and president of this university (Tim Leonard and Dr. Kim Schaztel),” says Tyner. “They’ve done a phenomenal job of keeping us afloat.

“They don’t come any better.”

Matt Tyner was introduced as head baseball coach at Towson (Md.) University prior to the 2018 season. (Towson University Video)
Matt Tyner, a former Butler University assistant and coach with the Indiana Bulls, is heading into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Towson (Md.) University in 2021. (Towson University Photo)

Loggins believes in ’natural movements’ for young ballplayers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Josh Loggins grew up in Tippecanoe County, Ind., his baseball position was well-established.

Young Josh was a shortstop.

When Loggins reached the eighth grade at Battle Ground Middle School he met John O’Maley, the head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette.

O’Maley told Loggins that he would be a catcher in his program.

Loggins resisted at first, but came to excel behind the plate with the Harrison Raiders. 

On March 11, 1995 — the eve of the baseball season — O’Maley passed away at 46 and six Harrison seniors — Loggins, Nate Linder, Brad Pitts, Brad Sherry, Dusty Sims and Jimmy Taylor — served as pall bearers. The players wore No. 42 patches on their uniforms all season as a tribute to O’Maley.

Jerry Galema became Harrison’s head coach and the team went on to go 34-2 and win the 1995 state championship, besting Fort Wayne Concordia 3-1 in the title game.

“He was passionate about doing the right thing,” says Loggins of Galema, who is now the school’s athletic director. “He was a very detailed, very organized coach and could not have been a better person.”

Future big leaguers Todd Dunwoody (Class of 1993), Erik Sabel (Class of 1993) and Eric Bruntlett (Class of 1996) were Loggins teammates at Harrison.

Loggins was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and IHSBCA North All-Star as a senior catcher. It was as a backstop that he was selected in the seventh round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Instead of going pro out of high school, Loggins went to Purdue University then transferred to the University of Kentucky and played for Wildcats head coach Keith Madison.

The UK coach had quite an impact on Loggins.

“I couldn’t say this more — and I get a little choked up — he’s the best individual I was ever introduced to,” says Loggins of Madison. “He is a genuine individual. It’s how he carries himself.

“He taught us how to be men. Coach Madison took me in where I was struggling to find myself. He helped me immensely. He got me back to confidence and kept me on a path to professional baseball. He’s a very good man.”

At Kentucky, Loggins would start at catcher in midweek games and in Friday and Saturday contests during Southeastern Conference series and be in right field in Sunday.

The righty swinger hit .384 with 15 home runs, five triples, 20 doubles, 63 runs batted in and six stolen bases in 57 games in 1998.

Loggins comes from a baseball family. He father — Vernon Porter “Mick” Loggins — played in local leagues in Danville, Ill. He became an English professor and poet with the pen name V.P. Loggins.

Kenny Loggins, Josh’s uncle, also pitched in Danville. 

Grandfather Elmer “Buck” Loggins was a pro in Alabama as was his brother who was known as “Black Diamond” Loggins. He was a coal miner who doubled as a ballplayer.

It was as an outfielder that Josh Loggins was picked in the 11th round of the 1998 MLB Draft and was sent to Idaho Falls, where he hit .341 with eight homers, five triples, 20 doubles, 64 RBIs and and eight stolen bases in 71 games.

Loggins played for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards in 1999, hitting .297 with 14 homers, seven triples, 29 doubles, 85 RBIs and and 12 stolen bases in 136 games as the regular right fielder. 

Fort Wayne was managed by Dan Simonds, who served stints at Miami (Ohio) University and Xavier University and associate head coach at Indiana University (2014) before becoming Director of Baseball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Before being with the Wizards he had also been an extra in the movie “Rookie of the Year.”

“Dan was a great guy,” says Loggins. “That was my first experience of what it means to be a professional baseball.

“You no longer call them ‘Coach’; it’s their first name or nickname. You are an equal. You are a professional. (Simonds) was relatable. He was a players’ manager.”

Loggins played professional baseball until 2005. He reached Double-A with the Padres, New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies organizations. 

Parts of 2002 and 2003 were spent with the independent Washington (Pa.) Wind Things. He played for the independent Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers in 2004 and 2005. In both places his manager was Lafayette’s Jeff Isom

As business partners, Loggins, Isom and Dunwoody had a stake in the On Deck Training in Lafayette. Isom runs the facility now with Bobby Bell and Pat Murtaugh as instructors and has a travel ball organization.

Loggins’ average in affiliated Minor League Baseball was .288. He hit .315 in indy ball. 

“Those were the best times I had in professional baseball,” says Loggins of independent ball. “There was no pressure moving up or playing for next year’s contract. You were playing ball and having fun.”

Perhaps Loggins’ best pro season was 2003 in Washington when he hit .331 with 24 homers, five triples, 13 doubles, 72 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 74 games.

“I was a hitter — that’s what kept me around a long time,” says Loggins. “I was pretty consistent though I did not perform as well as a platoon guy. 

“I needed to be in there and keep the routine going and seeing pitches often.”

Loggins struck out over 100 times only once from 1998-2005. In fact, he whiffed 635 times while poking 90 homers, 26 triples and 144 doubles and driving in 468 runs in 2,987 plate appearances. He also swiped 81 bases.

He wound up playing every position except shortstop and pitcher. He also played briefly for Team USA in an international qualifier in Bradenton in 2005.

After his playing days, he spent some time as a Boston Red Sox scout. Registered Investment Advisor is the 43-year-old’s full-time job.

Since the early 1990’s, Loggins has been involved with the Indiana Bulls in one way or another. He played on one of the travel organization’s first teams. This year was his first vice president on the board of directors, lending advice to president Quinn Moore, treasurer Brent Mewhinney, secretary Todd Mewhinney and director of baseball operations Scott French

Loggins will be the Bulls 10U Black head coach for 2021 with sons Hayes (10) and Tagg (who turns 9 in November) on the team.

Without any prompting from their father or mother (McCutcheon High School graduate and former WLFI News 18 anchor Gina Quattrocchi Loggins), both boys became right-handed throwers who hit from the left side. It’s what felt right to them.

“You’ve got to be comfortable to hit,” says Loggins. “The motion has to be natural.

A few years ago, Loggins was in Puerto Rico and talked with former Joliet teammate Gabby Delgado (brother-in-law of Carlos Beltran).

Loggins wanted to know why Latino players were so smooth. Delgado told him that most don’t receive instruction until their teens and do what comes natural to them.

“That kind of stuck with me at the time,” says Loggins. “If you think too much or are coached too much it can take the athleticism away from you. It makes you a mechanical player.

“Sometimes the worse thing you can do is teach too much and not just let the kid play naturally and build on natural movements.”

Hayes (left), Tagg and Gina are the sons and wife of Josh Loggins, a graduate of Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., who went on to play college and professional baseball and now coaches his boys and others with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.
Tagg (left) and Hayes surround father Josh Loggins following a tournament win for the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization. Josh Loggins played for the Bulls in the early 1990’s and went on to Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind, followed by college and pro baseball.

Former big leaguer Meyer giving back to game with Indiana Bulls

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A dozen years after Alex Meyer donned the jersey of the Indiana Bulls travel baseball uniform as a player, the former big league pitcher is helping the organization as an assistant coach.

“I hope that I bring an extra set of eyes and somebody (Bulls players) can talk to,” says Meyer, 30. “I’m not too removed from playing. I want to help them through the recruiting process. I want to give them somebody they can trust. I don’t want them to think I’m giving them the run-around on anything.”

The Washington Nationals picked right-hander Meyer in the first round (No. 23 overall) of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He made his MLB debut in 2015 with the Minnesota Twins and pitched for the Twins in 2016 before being traded to the Los Angeles Angels late in that season. He also pitched for the Angels in 2017.

Pitching coaches that worked with Meyer included Neil Allen and Rick Anderson with the Twins and Charles Nagy and Rick Honeycutt with the Angels.

“They were all great,” says Meyer. “The majority of the time when I was (in the majors) my coach was Charlie Nagy. He was awesome. He related to me really well.

“I was a nervous kid when I was up there. He put things into perspective and helped me quite a bit.”

While he had little interactions with Twins manager Paul Molitor, Meyer spent more time around Angels skipper Mike Scioscia.

“He’s another guy I loved,” says Meyer of Scioscia. “He’s old school. What he brought to the team was awesome. He was not afraid to jump somebody. He demanded things be done the right way. The way he went about it, I definitely respected.”

Meyer pitched in 22 big league games (19 starts) and went 5-8 with a 4.63 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings.

After retiring from pro baseball in July 2019, Meyer became a sales representative for BSN Sports and does much of his work out of his Greensburg, Ind., home.

Alex and Kyra Meyer have been married close to five years and have two sons — Roman (2) and Max (8 months).

Meyer’s BSN manager is Quinn Moore, who coached him during his 17U and 18U travel ball seasons with the Indiana Bulls — before and after committing to the University of Kentucky.

Moore asked Meyer to help with the Bulls this fall and plans call for him to coach within the organization next summer.

Meyer is a 2008 graduate of Greensburg Community High School, where he played baseball for Pirates head coach Scott Moore. He played basketball for two seasons each for Keith Hipskind and Stacy Meyer and earned all-Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference honors three times as a forward-wing type of player.

“(Moore) made it fun,” says Meyer. “He kept everything loose. It was a very, very enjoyable place to play.

“(Hipskind and Meyer) had a huge impact on me. They had different styles, but very good things, Coach Hipskind was kind of an old school and tough. I like the way he went about his business. He wanted to get every ounce out of his guys that he could. Stacy had a little bit more of a modern approach but was still hard on us. He demanded excellence. He could really break down a team and help you prepare.”

As a Greensburg senior on the diamond, Meyer went 8-0 with a 0.95 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 51 innings. He was named Indiana Mr. Baseball and the Indiana Player of the Year by Gatorade and Louisville Slugger.

He was selected in the 20th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox, but chose to wait on his professional and played three seasons at Kentucky (2009-11).

“I was young,” says Meyer. “I needed to go to school. I needed to learn how to be on my own a little bit and to grow as a baseball player.”

He grew in the game while also adding three inches to his stature in three seasons. He was about 6-foot-6 when he left high school and 6-9 at the end of his college days.

“It was about an inch every year,” says Meyer. “It kept me busy trying to stay accustomed to my body to try to learn how it moved.

“Being tall, you want to use that to your advantage. You want to have that good plane on your fastball.”

He pitched from a three-quarter arm slot at Kentucky and was a lower three-quarter at the end of his pro career.

With Gary Henderson as his head coach and Brad Bohannon his pitching coach, Meyer appeared in 39 games for UK (36 as a starter) and went 13-12 with a 4.73 ERA and 253 strikeouts in 211 2/3 innings.

Meyer says standing on the mound for the Wildcats and facing batters in the Southeastern Conference helped him develop mental toughness.

“I had to learn how to deal with a little big of failure and stay positive,” says Meyer. “That was a huge part of it for me.”

Ride Along With Alex Meyer (Angels Weekly Video)
Alex Meyer, a Greensburg (Ind.) High School graduated pitched in Major League Baseball with the Minnesota Twins followed by the Los Angeles Angels. (Los Angeles Angels Photo)

Former Notre Dame captain Chase returns to area, will help South Bend Cubs Foundation, 1st Source Bank Performance Center

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tommy Chase knew he wanted to play baseball at the University of Notre Dame since age 5.

He grew up going to Notre Dame camps when Paul Mainieri led the Fighting Irish. Father Mark Chase (Class of 1978) and sister Jacqueline (2009) Notre Dame graduates.

After graduating from Boston College High School in 2008, Cohasset, Mass., native Tommy Chase did take to the diamond and the classroom at ND

Chase started his Irish career with Dave Schrage as head coach, finished with Mik Aoki and served as a team co-captain with Will Hudgins as senior and was on the academic all-district team in 2012. 

Notre Dame degrees were earned by Chase in both Accounting and Psychology.

After graduation, Chase served as video coordinator at the University of California at San Barbara then was an assistant coach at the U.S. Naval Academy (Navy), Southern New Hampshire University, the U.S. Military Academy (Army) and the University of Dayton.

He is now back in northern Indiana to start a new job at Lippert Components in Goshen, Ind., where he will work with former Elkhart Memorial High School and Purdue University catcher and baseball coach at Knightstown, Mount Vernon (Fortville) and Concord high schools Eric Nielsen, and will put his baseball knowledge to use with the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field.

In that role, Chase will be working closely with foundation executive director and Performance Center general manager Mark Haley.

“Hales and I connected and, honestly, I just want to help in whatever way that I can,” says Chase. “I’ve had some experiences — both in my playing career and coaching career. 

“(On the) player development side, I think I can add some value. On the recruiting side, I can help some of the older guys — 15- 16-, 17-year-old guys looking to play in college and get them to understand what the recruiting process is like. It can seem very confusing a lot of times, especially to families who haven’t gone through it. I would just love to provide some clarity with that.”

Chase also has many connections in college baseball and knows where the opportunities lie.

“I really like working with young kids,” says Chase. “Baseball is such a great game from the relationships that you have to the friends that you meet and learning lessons from the game itself.”

Throughout all his coaching stops, Chase has worked with hitters, infielders and outfielders. He was an infielder at Notre Dame. He will help with instruction at the Performance Center, as an advisor in the recruiting process and be a second set of eyes for Haley when it comes to talent evaluation and other matters.

At Dayton, Chase was recruiting coordinator for Flyers head coach Jayson King, who is also a Massachusetts native.

“We went into a program that we both thought had a lot of promise,” says Chase. “There were a lot of positive things. It was a high academic school. The campus was beautiful. A lot of things you can sell to high school kids.

“We really worked hard at it and were able to get Dayton to where we felt it should be — a competitive school in the Athletic 10 (Conference) and getting good players from that area.”

Chase and King had been together as assistants on the Army staff. It was King who brought Chase to West Point, N.Y., having known about him while at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. Chase and coordinator King shared recruiting duties. The Black Knights head coach was — and still is — Jim Foster.

“Coach Foster is a baseball savant. He played many years in the minor leagues as a catcher and he has that kind of brain. He really understands the game. He’s very good at teaching the game to the players.”

Chase says he knew intricacies of the game, but Foster “took it to a whole different level.”

Jacob Hurtubise, a Zionsville High School graduate now in the Cincinnati Reds organization, played at Army when Chase was there.

Scott Loiseau is head coach of the Southern New Hampshire Pennmen. 

“Scott’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around in terms of working with his players and getting them to play at their highest level,” says Chase. “His ability to develop relationships with guys is to the point where the team wants to run through a wall with that guy.

“He really, really cares about his players and his coaches. He allows coaches to develop. He gave me a lot of responsibility when I stepped on-campus as a young kid. He was a great mentor for me.

“Most guys are coaching college baseball out of the passion that they have either for the game or the people that they’re around and — a lot of time — it’s both. There are a lot of things you have to sacrifice to be a college baseball coach.”

Chase was a graduate assistant at SNHU and began work on a Masters of Business Administration with a  concentration in Sport Management.

As a volunteer assistant at Navy, Chase first learned about what it means to coach baseball at a military school by Midshipmen head coach a baseball lifer Paul Kostacopoulos, who was assistant and head coach at Providence (R.I.) College and head coach at the University of Maine before landing at Navy in Annapolis, Md.

“He’s been very successful for a very long time,” says Chase for Kostacopoulos. “He took over at Navy and really turned a program around that had been relatively mediocre in the past, but had a great history. He brought it to being consistently competitive and at the top of the Patriot League every single year and winning 30-plus games.

“That’s a hard job. There’s a lot of things at a military academy you need to uphold. It’s not just winning on the field. It goes beyond that. It goes to understanding what the cadet life is being able to foster both commitments to baseball, academics and their military requirements. He does a great job to do all those things.”

Chase says that players at military academies may not have the time to devote to baseball that other schools do. But they bring a resilient, hard-nosed mentality to the field because they compete in everything they do.

UC-Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts gave Chase his first college baseball job as the Gauchos video coordinator.

“I learned what a College World Series program looks like in the inside from the time commitment to the culture to the player development,” says Chase. “As a kid just coming out of college you don’t see what the coaches do off the field.”

Chase still maintains relationships with former Notre Dame bosses Schrage and Aoki.

Chase played three seasons for the Irish. He appeared in six games (all at second base) as a freshman in 2009 and missed the 2010 season following knee surgery with Schrage as head coach. 

“Coach Schrage gave me a chance to live my dream of going to Notre Dame and playing baseball there,” says Chase. “He was a very personable guy and really cared about the well-being of his players.

“He was always a positive person. He was not a cutthroat-type coach. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Aoki took over for 2011 and Chase got into 11 games (one as a starter). 

“He’s a New England guy through and through,” says Chase of Aoki. “He allowed me to work my way to a chance to compete on the field and contribute to the team.”

At the end of 2011 season, his teammates thought enough of him to choose him as one of the captains for 2012 as he played in 17 games (four starts).

“It was a great honor,” says Chase of being chosen as a captain. “I enjoyed having a voice to lead the other guys and help them. When you’re a coach, you’re implementing your culture and you’re talking about the things that are important. A lot of times, the thing that’s most important is the leaders on the team saying the same message. 

“A lot of times it’s not what the coaches say, it’s what the leaders among the players say to each other. The players have so much influence over the where the team’s headed and the culture of the team.”

Leaders can handle issues like players coming late to the weight room before it ever becomes big and has to be addressed by the coaching staff.

Chase grew up in Cohasset a few years ahead of Mike Monaco, who went on to Notre Dame and served as a broadcaster for the South Bend Cubs and now counts and has called games for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox and the big-league Boston Red Sox.

Tommy and Teresa Chase have three sons — David (2 1/2), Peter (1) and Patrick (5 weeks). They are in the process of buying a home in Granger, Ind. Many friends from Tommy’s Notre Dame days still live in the South Bend area.

Tommy Chase was a Notre Dame baseball co-captain in his senior season of 2012. (Notre Dame Video)
Tommy Chase has joined the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and will be an instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. He is a former baseball co-captain at the University of Notre Dame and has extensive experience as a college coach.

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

New Castle’s Besecker take non-traditional course to D-I’s VMI

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not your typical story of college baseball recruitment and commitment.

Nic Besecker, a senior at New Castle (Ind.) High School, played travel baseball just a few times — his 12U summer with a team called the Revolution and as a fill-in at 16 with 17U Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).

A self-described “rec league” player most of his diamond life, Besecker has in the New Castle Babe Ruth League and toed the rubber of the all-star team in last summer’s Indiana state tournament in Crown Point. That team was coached by Bret Mann, who had also coached New Castle’s entry in the 2012 Little League World Series.

Besecker, a right-handed pitcher, had his velocity clocked just three times during his prep days. He maxed out at 78 mph at an Earlham College camp as a freshman.

He got into the weight room and took a few lessons from pitching coach Jay Lehr and his velo went up.

“He’s been a big part of it,” says Besecker of Lehr, who is based in central Indiana. “We haven’t gotten to him enough. I’ve had only five true lessons with him, but he taught me something every time. He me how to use my lower half and get into my legs.”

Following his junior year at New Castle, he attended a Prep Baseball Report showcase and went as high as 85. In the early part of 2020, he was at another PBR event and got up to 89.

Besecker isn’t the biggest kid on the field either. Rosters list him at 5-11 and 155 pounds. He says he might be closer to 5-9 and 150.

He gets the most out of what he got. That’s why Besecker has been enamored with major league pitcher Tim Lincecum and what he did with his small frame.

“He’s been my idol since I’ve been little,” says Besecker. “What made me fall in love with him is that when he was good, he was the best pitcher in the world. He was so different from everyone else.”

Besecker has prided himself in exceeding expectations.

“Who’s this little squirt?” says Besecker imitating batters facing him for the first time. Then comes the first delivery.

Usually pretty swift.

But it’s not just about the heat.

“I’ve always prided myself in being a pitcher,” says Besecker. “I always knew how to locate.

“I wasn’t just a hurler.”

Besecker’s passion impresses first-year New Castle head coach Brad Pearson, who didn’t get to see the pitcher perform in a senior season that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nic is one of those kids who seems to be all about baseball,” says Pearson. “He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He just loves the sport.”

Pearson also appreciates Besecker’s mound approach.

“He’s not worried about lightning up the radar gun,” says Pearson. “He just wants to get outs.

“That’s pretty refreshing for a high school kid.”

Besecker signed his National Letter of Intent with NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute on May 11.

Funny thing is when Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra and pitching coach Sam Roberts welcome their new recruit to the Lexington, Va., campus it will represent a few firsts.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it will be the first time for Besecker and his coaches will seeing each other in-person when the player makes his first appearance in Virginia.

“I had options,” says ays Besecker, who will step into a program that has sent right-handers Zak Kent, Josh Winder and Matt Eagle into pro baseball in recent seasons. “Coach Hadra and Coach Roberts has something special going on over there.”

Besecker says he does not owe four years of military service after he graduates from VMI.

“I’m going there to play baseball and etch out some kind of career in baseball,” says Besecker. “That’s been my dream.”

Like all first-year VMI students, Besecker will start on the “Rat Line.” He is hopefully that this basic training program that usually lasts from August through January will help him pack on 20 to 30 pounds.

“I would not get that anywhere else,” says Besecker. “I’ve always been a guy to accept that kind of challenge.”

The majority of new cadets begin around Aug. 15, but they have had summer conditioning programs in the past. If those are available and his coaches want him to attend, Besecker might leave for VMI early.

It’s not yet certain when or if New Castle will have a graduation ceremony.

VMI is a member of the Southern Conference. The Keydets went to Virginia and North Carolina before the 2020 season was halted and was to play home-and-home series with Virginia Tech.

The SoCon tournament was to be staged at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. The park has its own “Green Monster.” The Greenville Drive are Low Class-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox.

Besecker played junior varsity baseball as a New Castle freshman and enjoyed his best varsity campaign as a Trojans sophomore.

“I played against guys who were able to hit the ball regardless of velocity,” says Besecker. “You have to be creative (with breaking pitches).”

In two varsity seasons, Besecker went 8-6 with a 2.96 earned run average. He struck out 80 in 71 innings.

The oldest of Kevin and Lauren Besecker’s two sons, Nic was born in Centerville, Ohio and was raised in Greenville, Ohio.

“I’ve been in a small town my whole life,” says Besecker.

When he was 9, his father brought the family to New Castle. That’s where he was a mechanic/crew chief for the racing Armstrong family, including Dakoda and Caleb, and Nic could get into the Focus program for gifted kids.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” says Nic of the move. “It was a perfect storm.”

He went to be inducted into the National Honor Society and participate in speech and debate while posting a 3.6 grade-point average (on a 4.0) scale at New Castle High.

Nic has logged around 200 service hours at New Castle Babe Ruth’s Denny Bolden Field and has been an assistant coach for teams featuring his little brother Drake (the 13-year-old left-hander is already as tall as big brother and finishing seventh grade).

Lauren Besecker holds a sports marketing degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and has what Nic calls a “love/hate relationship” with the Cincinnati Reds. She is waiting management to make the moves to again make the team make a consistent contender.

Before focusing on baseball his senior year, Besecker played football from fourth grade through junior year. The former quarterback was encouraged by Jaymen Nicholson, who coached in fifth and sixth grade and was part of the highs school staff.

“He’s always believed in me,” says Besecker. “Guys like him and Bret Mann have told me, ‘If you want to do it, you can do it.’ They bought in

“That’s catapulted me as far as I’ve gotten so far.”

BRETMANNNICBESECKERBRADPEARSON

New Castle (Ind.) High School senior Nic Besecker (center) celebrates his signing to play NCAA Division I baseball at Virginia Military Institute. He is flanked by Babe Ruth coach Bret Mann (left) and high school head coach Brad Pearson. (New Castle High School Photo)

 

From Bedford to Lexington, Elkins enjoys long broadcast career

RBILOGOSMALL copy

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)

 

Former McCutcheon, Purdue hurler Wittgren finds his groove in Cleveland bullpen

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of baseball addresses meant a change in change-up approach for Nick Wittgren.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed reliever was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Cleveland Indians in February 2019.

The Tribe made a request of the former Purdue University closer and three-sport standout at McCutcheon High School — also in West Lafayette, Ind.

“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.

“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”

Close.

According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.

“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”

With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).

With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.

Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.

“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.

“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”

Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.

“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.

Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, assistant pitching coach Ruben Niebla and bullpen coach Brian Sweeney will often remind Wittgren to use that pitch.

With Cleveland, he occasionally got a chance to deliver that pitch and others to a familiar target.

Kevin Plawecki, a college teammate, was a back-up catcher with the Indians in 2019 (the Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox in January).

“It was kind of cool taking it back to the good old Purdue says,” says Wittgren. “We still clicked.

“I didn’t have the change-up in college. I didn’t need it.”

Wittgren played shortstop and pitched at McCutcheon for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

As a Mavericks senior, Wittgren was an MVP in tennis in the fall and earned the same recognition for basketball in the winter.

Following brother Kyle’s lead, Nick took up tennis as a freshman.

“It was a good way to stay active for basketball and baseball,” says Wittgren. “It helped with footwork and conditioning and hand-eye (coordination).”

Rick Peckinpaugh was Wittgren’s head basketball coach.

“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.

“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”

With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.

“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”

Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.

“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”

Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.

He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.

Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).

“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”

A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.

At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.

“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”

His arm was tired from the workload.

With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.

Wittgren pitched in the Colt World Series in Lafayette and was scouted by McCutcheon graduate Matt Kennedy, then head coach at Parkland College. He got Wittgren to come to the junior college power in Champaign, Ill.

Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.

He wanted to only pitch.

Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”

“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”

The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.

In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.

Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.

“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”

“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.

He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If he  pitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.

Wittgren was named second-team all-conference and then went to play for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks that summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.

He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.

Wittgren selected in the ninth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Marlins and made his major league debut for Miami in 2016.

On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.

A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.

“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.

Eric (Cressy) writes my program. My wife implements them.”

Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.

“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”

During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.

During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.

“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”

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Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)

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Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)