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Abrell values life lessons while leading Plainfield Quakers baseball program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a coach and educator, Shane Abrell looks for teachable moments.

Abrell and his coaching staff got the opportunity to teach their players about dealing with failure and about momentum during Abrell’s first season in charge of the Plainfield (Ind.) High School baseball program.

“Life lessons are really important in coaching,” says Abrell. “If we’re not teaching them about life, we’re failing them.”

Facing a formidable schedule, the 2018 Quakers got off to a 2-9 start then went on an 8-3 run on the way to 12-16-1. Right-hander Sam Tackett (an Indiana University Kokomo commit for 2019-20) hooked up in a pitchers’ duel with Braydon Tucker (now at Indiana University) as Plainfield bowed to Northview 1-0 in nine innings in the first round of the IHSAA Class 4A Avon Sectional.

“Now they know they can play with those teams,” says Abrell. “It gives us a lot of mental toughness as time goes on.”

Abrell and his assistants spent much time talking about the team.

“We have some really great conversations,” says Abrell, who welcomes back varsity assistants Josh Morris, Noah Lane and Jaylen Cushenberry, junior varsity coach Brian Holsclaw and freshmen coach Mike Harper for 2019. “We demand a lot of time and effort. But hese guys don’t skip a beat. They make my job easy.”

The coaches were honest with their athletes and admitted when they made mistakes in 2018.

The lines of communication are kept open through that sincerity.

“Baseball is so mentally tough on people,” says Abrell. It’s not for everybody.

“Kids are more willing to come to us when they’re struggling. We’re seeing more players are consoling each other.”

Abrell, who teaches computer science at PHS, was a Plainfield assistant to Jeff McKeon (now head coach at South Putnam High School) for one season before taking over the program.

Prior coming to Hendricks County, Abrell was an assistant to Kyle Kraemer at Terre Haute South Vigo High School from 2001-14 and helped coach youth teams around Terre Haute including the Junior Sycamores and with the John Hayes-managed Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 program.

Abrell played for Kraemer at South Vigo, graduating in 1998.

“Kyle is probably one of the most organized people I’ve come across in coaching,” says Abrell of Kraemer. “He is very meticulous. There was very little down time in practice. You were always moving.”

South Vigo has enjoyed continuity on the coaching staff with assistants like Brian Pickens, T.C. Clary, Todd Miles and Chad Chrisman serving for decades.

“(Kraemer’s) been a great mentor and friend to me,” says Abrell, who will take his Plainfield team to the 2019 Braves Bash at South Vigo. The event also features Munster and New Haven.

Plainfield (enrollment around 1,700) is part of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Perry Meridian and Whiteland).

The MSC plays home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to crown its champion.

The Quakers are part of the IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Avon, Brownsburg, Mooresville, Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo. Plainfield has won eight sectional titles — the last in 1997.

While in Terre Haute, Abrell had the opportunity to coach A.J. Reed and become close T.J. Collett and his family while coaching his brother Doug with the Post 346 junior squad and then as North Vigo athletic director.

Both A.J. and T.J. were Indiana Mr. Baseball honorees — Reed at South Vigo in 2011 and Collett at North Vigo in 2016.   

A walk-on at Indiana State University, Abrell’s coach with the Sycamores was Mitch Hannahs.

Abrell graduated from ISU in 2003 with a B.S. degree in Management Information Systems/Computer Science and worked various jobs, including web designer for Clabber Girl and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Reserve Deputy for the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

“That was an eye opener,” says Abrell of the issues he saw some students dealing with that have nothing to do with a baseball drill or home work assignment.

He makes a point of getting his players to give back by volunteering in the community at a food pantry or with Riley’s Children’s Hospital.

Gratitude is another life lesson Abrell teaches.

“We talk to the kids about thanking their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents for all the time and money they spend,” Abrell.

He was a football, basketball and baseball coach at South Vigo. North Vigo, coached by Shawn Turner and Fay Spetter and featuring Collett, were 4A state runners-up in 2014 and 2015 with Abrell as AD.

Along the way, he attended Western Kentucky University (Master of Education & Kinesiology) and Indiana Wesleyan University (Education Administration).

Baseball has long been a big deal in the Abrell family.

Shane’s grandfather, the late John Abrell, was a long-time Connie Mack baseball coach and sponsor in Terre Haute.

Rick Abrell, Shane’s father, coached youth baseball at Prairie Creek, Prairieton and Riley and was president of Terre Haute Babe Ruth. He now tends to the baseball fields at both South Vigo and West Vigo.

The Abrells are close with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Bob Warn and Steve DeGroote. Warn was head coach at Indiana State from 1975-2006. DeGroote assisted Warn at ISU and then led the West Vigo program.

Abrell says he took something from all the baseball men in his life.

“To be a good coach, you have to accept you’re not going to create something new in baseball,” says Abrell. “You take what you learn and you mold them all together.”

A love of tending the field was ingrained in Abrell. Kraemer had his team spend 30 minutes after each practice and game wielding shovels and rakes and Abrell does the same with his Quakers.

And there’s lots of time spent mowing and edging in the summer and fall.

“For every two hours practicing, probably another two hours working on the field,” says Abrell. “It’s therapy for me.

“We’re blessed at Plainfield. We have a beautiful complex and support from the administration.”

Principal Melvin Siefert and Assistant Principal of Athletics Torrey Rodkey are both former coaches.

The Quakers feeder system includes Plainfield Pee Wee Association, Plainfield Optimist Baseball League and Plainfield Teenage Baseball League (a Babe Ruth League) as well as a locally-based travel organization — the Plainfield Havoc.

“We’re trying to keep travel ball in the community,” says Abrell. “When they play together their whole life is when you have some of the better teams.”

When Abrell took over the program, he contacted Plainfield graduate Jeremy Kehrt. The right-handed pitcher was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 47th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in independent ball in 2017.

“He stops by a lot,” says Abrell of Kehrt. “He works with our pitchers. When he shows up, their eyes get huge.”

Connor Mitchell, a left-hander who pitched in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 2018, also visits to work on arm maintenance. His younger brother, Jackson Mitchell, was the Plainfield’s shortstop in 2018 and is now at Earlham College.

“It means a lot to have alumni reaching out,” says Abrell.

Current Plainfield outfielder/first baseman Jacob Sims is drawing interest from college programs.

A wedding is planned for Shane Abrell and Shannon Bormann in the fall of 2019. Shannon is a nurse anesthetist at IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette.

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T.C. Clary (left), Shannon Bormann, A.J. Reed and Shane Abrell meet at the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. Clary was a baseball teammate and coached with Abrell at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. Bormann is engaged to Abrell. Reed played at South Vigo and was a Pacific Coast League all-star. Abrell is now head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School.

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Shane Abrell is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School. He is also a computer science teacher at PHS.

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Danapilis brings passion for hitting back to South Bend

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

His bat helped Eric Danapilis get at baseball scholarship at the University of Notre Dame, earn All-American honors and some time in professional ball with the Detroit Tigers organization.

His ability to teach hitting helped a future World Series MVP (Steve Pearce) and an NCAA Division II championship team (Florida Southern College). He also coached at his high school alma mater (St. Joseph, Mich.).

Danapilis is now sharing his offensive knowledge a few miles from where he played college ball. He is a hitting instructor at the 1st Source Performance Center at Four Winds Field — home of the Class-A South Bend (Ind.) Cubs.

After shutting down his own facility (Twin City Baseball and Softball Club) in St. Joseph, he was brought in by former South Bend manager and current Performance Center director Mark Haley in August 2018.

“In the batting cage, that’s where my love and passion is,” says Danapilis. “I don’t teach just one method. We talk about being linear and getting through the ball.

“When you’re teaching a 15- or 16-year-old kid, the biggest thing is teaching him to get the barrel (of the bat) to the ball consistently. Stay balanced. Stay through the ball. Get the barrel to the ball.”

This can be achieved by developing hand-eye coordination.

Danapilis says the launch angle can be applied for advanced college players and for pros.

As a righty-swinging outfielder, Danapilis was recruited to Notre Dame by Pat Murphy. The Irish head coach was in St. Joseph, Mich., and saw Danapilis play in an American Legion tournament game at Riverview Park.

“I hit a home run and I was pitching at the time, (Murphy) goes ‘who’s this guy?,’” says Danapilis.

Recruited by top-notch schools all over the country, including Arizona State and UCLA, the four-time all-stater at St. Joseph (Class of 1989) was convinced by Murphy to stay in Michiana.

“Pat Murphy did a great job of recruiting me. He said you’re going to have the potential of starting all four years. You’re going to be one of these guys who builds the program. You’re going to be an All-American.

“He sold me. He didn’t lie to me. Everything he told me came true.”

Playing in the shadow of the Golden Dome for four seasons (1990-93), Danapilis hit .402 with 26 homers, 61 doubles and 89 runs batted in for 204 games.

“(Murphy) was very tough to play for, but I learned a lot,” says Danapilis, who still keeps communicates with Murphy (now the Milwaukee Brewers bench coach) and former ND teammate Craig Counsell (the Brewers manager). “I was very fortunate and go to play pro baseball after that.”

Danapilis selected in the 27th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Detroit Tigers and played in the minors through 1996, amassing a .269 average with 46 homers, 81 doubles and 238 RBIs in 414 games.

For a few years after retiring as a player, Danapilis helped Larry Parrish put young Tigers players through winter workouts by throwing batting practice and swinging a fungo bat.

Danapilis was a teacher and assistant baseball coach at Lakeland (Fla.) Senior High School on the staff of Ron Nipper when Pearce was on the Dreadnaughts squad. Pearce was the MVP for the 2018 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox.

“It’s great to see him persevere with all the stuff he’s gone through,” says Danapilis of Pearce, who began his pro career in 2005 and has been traded, released or designated for assignment several times.

Danapilis and Pearce exchanged texts after the Series. Pearce provided this quote for Haley: “If you’re a young hitter and you want to learn, Coach D’s the best.”

“It made me feel good,” says Danapilis of the praise. “Here’s the World Series MVP and he still remembers all the time we put in together.

“It was awesome as a coach. You never had to tell him to go play hard. He was just one of those grinders.”

With the help of Danapilis, Pearce went to Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Fla., and wound up at the University of South Carolina.

Danapilis, who also had future big league fireballer Chris Sale as a student at Lakeland Senior, was hired by Florida Southern College in Lakeland and served as hitting coach for long-time Moccasins head coach Chuck Anderson.

FSC has won nine D-II national titles — three for Anderson (1985, 1988 and 1995). Anderson died of cancer in 2003.

To be closer to his parents — Ed and Angeline Danapilis — Eric moved back to southwestern lower Michigan first as head baseball coach and part-time instructor at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor and then head coach at St. Joseph. He also taught at the high school. He was inducted into St. Joseph Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.

Ed Danapilis was born in Lithuania and moved the U.S. at 10. He was a fixture around North Lincoln youth baseball and St. Joseph Rocket football and coached all five of his sons — Eric, Andrew, Christopher, Adam and Marc. He was scorekeeper for Eric when he was coach of the St. Joe Bears. “Big Ed” died in 2014.

Eric led the St. Joseph program for six years and was a teacher there for 10. He opened the Twin City Baseball and Softball Club in 2012. Brother Marc tended to work with younger kids while Eric spent much of his time with the older ones.

Eric and Caroline Danapilis have a daughter — Hannah. Caroline teaches in the St. Joseph, Mich., system. Hannah went to Washington St. Louis University and Indiana University and is now in pursuing her doctorate near Seattle.

While exploring his next career path, Eric works part-time selling insurance for Alfac while instructing hitters at the Performance Center and Slam Athletic Center in Benton Harbor.

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Eric Danapilis, who was an All-American at Notre Dame and played in the Detroit Tigers system, is a hitting instructor at 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field — home of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs. (1st Source Bank Performance Center Photo)

 

 

Bethel Hall of Famer Masterson keeping busy since baseball retirement

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Masterson put the wraps on his professional baseball playing career in 2017.

A 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-hander possessing what was often a devastating sinker pitched for the Boston Red Sox (2008-09, 2015), Cleveland Indians (2009-14) and St. Louis Cardinals (2014).

“Mr. Clean” appeared in 25 games with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in 2016. He also pitched in the minors for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations.

Before any of that, the Kingston, Jamaica-born, Beavercreek (Ohio) High School graduate spent two seasons at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (he was an honorable-mention NAIA All-American in 2004 and National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association All-American in 2004 and 2005), and one at San Diego State University (2006).

At Bethel, he was a combined 20-8 on the mound with 185 strikeouts posted earned averages of 2.09 in 2004 and 1.59 in 2005. With a bat, he clubbed a team-best 10 homers in 2005.

He was inducted into the Bethel Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

Masterson was selected in the second round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Red Sox.

Justin and wife Meryl Masterson (her maiden name is Ham) celebrated 11 years of marriage Nov. 3, 2018. The couple resides in Fishers, Ind., and have three children — 7-year-old Eden and 4-year-old twins Cruz and Nadia.

Philanthropists, the Mastersons founded a non-profit, Fortress Foundation, in 2013 with business partner and former Bethel teammate Matt Zappasodi. Justin Masterson is chairman, Matt Zappasodi director, Meryl Masterson co-chair and Emily Zappasodi treasurer.

Masterson also partnered with the One Child Matters baseball project in the Dominican Republic in 2008, spoke at the Pentagon’s weekly prayer breakfast in 2009 and worked with Bright Hope in 2013.

He has also indicated that he will support The BASE Indianapolis. The group brings baseball and educational opportunities to urban youth.

Masterson, 33, was an award presenter in October at the Bethel College Founders Society Dinner, where plans were revealed for the school’s transition to Bethel University in May 2019.

Recently, Masterson agreed to an IndianaRBI Q&A session.

Q: What are some of your fondest on-field memories at Bethel College?

A: Let’s see. Justin Gingerich, fellow pitcher, hitting a bomb off of me in fall ball. And — no! — he didn’t have much practice leading up to that moment. I think that was the fall of our sophomore year.

I felt all the emotions during a doubleheader. We were facing Marian, I think for the conference, and I start the first game and we did well and won. Game 2, we are winning and I am brought in to close out this game. Control was a little off, I think I walked the bases loaded, then their best hitter at the time — don’t know his name, but he had a solid beard and long hair — he came up and crushed one into the trees for a grand slam. The day started on a high note and ended on a low note. There are so many incredible memories!

We set a record in wins my freshman year (44 in 2004) and it was a pleasure to play with some great players.

One game, I am still trying to figure out if it was true or folklore, but Marcel Guevara, a well-sized left-handed Venezuelan, crushed six or seven homers in a doubleheader. And the joke remains that Marcel hit a guy with a ball over the fence during batting practice, we looked at Marcel and said, ‘You hit that guy!’ He responded with, ‘He shouldn’t have been standing there.’ Fun times!

Q: What are some of your fondest off-field memories at Bethel College?

A: My time started with incredible roommates. First year I had my cousins Dan and Aaron Hamrick, along with Kyle Feller and Matt Savill.

The next year it continued with my cousin Aaron and we added Logan Halley and Aaron Engbrecht.

Along with the fact that my older sister (Mandy) was at Bethel, this made for the baseline of a blessed college journey.

One of my favorite things to do was to join my cousin Dan for open gym basketball just about every evening. Even the days I had two-a-day baseball practices, Dan would still drag me to open gym, but I didn’t fight too hard either.

Meeting my wife, Meryl, has to be near the top of fondest memories at Bethel. I was a sophomore and she was a freshman. We were together in perspective of fine arts, that is we were both taking the class and she noticed me well before I noticed her, but once I noticed she was noticing me, well, lets just say we celebrated 11 years of marriage.

I could go on for days and know there are plenty that I am forgetting. Enjoying myself I did!

Q: What was your favorite class or classes?

A: Anything with Dr. Bob Laurent! There were other great professors and enjoyable classes but he — just like he has for thousands of students and people in his lifetime — impacted my life in lasting ways that were helpful in molding me into who I am today.

Q: What else can you tell us about your studies at Bethel or San Diego State? What was major?

A: At Bethel, I was taking a smorgasbord of bible classes and when I went to San Diego State those that transferred turned my major into a criminal justice/psychology/sociology major.

I worked hard in all my classes, but school was honestly a means for me to grow and develop socially, physically and mentally as I continued my journey to the Major Leagues.

Q: Who were the toughest hitters you faced in the big leagues?

A: One most people will agree with — Miguel Cabrera. I believe he is one of the best hitters because he can do anything with a bat and is willing to do what the situation dictates. He can hit a home run, but is satisfied with a base hit that scores a run. Not afraid to take a walk if the pitcher is giving it to him.

Melky Cabrera raked me, but the other I talk about most is Don Kelly.

If you haven’t heard of him that is understandable, also means you are not a Tigers fan. Don was the king at just dropping balls in over the infielders’ heads. (Kelly) would bat in the 9-hole against every other pitcher, but would hit in the 4-hole against me. It culminated to 2013, I gave up three runs in each of my games against Detroit. Those runs came from Downtown Don’s two three-run home runs. If he wasn’t an incredible guy, I might be more upset about it!

Q: Who were some of the best that you got out regularly?

A: I do not remember the best. I would say the majority of right-handed hitters I fared quite well against with my low three-quarters arm slot and heavy sinking action.

I do remember my first playoff series against the angels and facing Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero each game. I did not get them out every time, but fared decently well against them, at least we won that series so I didn’t do too terrible!

Q: What do you think it’s been like for her to be a baseball wife?

A: A journey! It is such an interesting world to navigate as a professional athlete’s wife.

That world ranges from ladies who, by the way they talk, are out on the field making plays, to ladies who are some of the kindest, most humble people you will ever meet.

Of course, my wife is a part of the kind, humble spectrum and she was and still is well-respected by all who crossed her path. Not only do they have to deal with each other, but they have to deal with their husband who may or may not have fared very well that night.

I think my wife’s husband made that part of the gig a little bit easier. Not because he always performed well, but because the game was just that — a game! And he answers in third person!

Q: What are you doing these days?

A: I am available. What do I mean by that? I have dug a ditch, I have milled some logs, I have done some speaking, I have done some leading, I have done some lessons, I am coaching second grade basketball and the list can continue.

I did not want to jump into anything too permanent right away after deciding not to play anymore.

What do most of my days consist of? Lots of family time, reading, writing and some bootleg guitar playing!

Q: What about Fortress Foundation?

A: A refuge to those in a time of need. We are trying to go where God is leading us to impact spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Meryl and I started the foundation in 2013 and do not plan on it lasting forever but wanted a way to be good stewards of God’s financial blessings through baseball and also have a way to hold the organizations we work with accountable.

Matt Zappasodi and I are going to India soon to impact lives in a positive way

Q: Do you keep in-touch with other former Bethel teammates or classmates?

A: We have been blessed to have the Zappsodi’s around and have also had chances to keep in touch with many Bethel people over the years.

One of the great things about baseball is that you travel to a lot of neat cities and with Bethel alumni being scattered throughout the country, lets just say the joke in the clubhouse was that I knew someone in every city that we went to.

And if I had time I loved meeting before the game or after the game for a late night bit to eat. Many opportunities have arisen though the friendships that I made at Bethel.

Q: You say you live in or near Fishers, Ind.? Is that near where Meryl is from?

A: Meryl is from the mean streets of Mishawka and I hail from two minutes east of Dayton. We could live anywhere after we were married and (the Indianapolis area) kind of splits the difference between our families. Ten years later, we are still here and it is a pretty good place to live.

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Justin Masterson (foreground) captures the scene at a fall retreat in Brown City, Mich. Masterson is a member of the Bethel College Athletics Hall of Fame and former Major League Baseball pitcher. He is kept busy doing many things, including making impact spiritually, emotionally, and physically through the Fortress Foundation.

 

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)

Former Columbus North, Louisville player Mann making his way in the Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

At 6-foot-3, first-year professional Devin Mann is not a typical second baseman.

Of the 30 second sackers in the No. 1 slot on the latest Major League Baseball depth charts, just two are listed as taller than 6-3. Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu and Milwaukee’s Travis Shaw are both 6-4. Eleven current 2B starters are shorter that 6-foot. And that doesn’t count two stars on the disabled list — 5-6 Jose Altuve of Houston and 5-9 Dustin Pedroia of Boston.

Pedroia is Mann’s favorite player.

Why?

“I just like how he plays the game,” says Mann. “He plays the game really hard.

“He goes about his business everyday. That’s what they taught at (the University of) Louisville. I love that about him.”

Mann, 21, was a shortstop during his four seasons at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, which concluded in 2015.

When Mann arrived at the Louisville, he was moved to second base by Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell.

That was the position played by McDonnell at The Citadel and he put Mann through enough reps on that side of the infield that it became his natural defensive spot.

“(McDonnell) helped mold me (at second base) everyday,” says Mann. “Every kid deserves to play for a coach like that — the things he does for you as a baseball player and a person off the field don’t compare to anyone else.”

Mann also learned to flourish with the bat.

The right-handed swinger hit .303 in 39 games with no homers, nine doubles, 17 RBIs and one stolen base in 2016, .268 in 64 games with eight homers, 11 doubles, 44 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 2017 and .303 in 69 games with seven homers, 17 doubles, 52 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 2018. He hit in the No. 3 slot for the Cards this past spring.

Mann earned Atlantic Coast Conference honors in each of his three college seasons — all-freshman in 2016, third team in 2017 and all-tournament in 2018.

During that span, the Cardinals combined to go 148-45 with NCAA tournament appearances each season. U of L went to the College World Series in 2017. Louisville had eight players drafted each year, including first-rounder Brendan McKay and Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis in 2017 and Batesville’s Bryan Hoeing (who’s announced he’s returning to Louisville for 2018-19) and Mann in 2018.

Mann was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After two games with Arizona League Dodgers, Mann has logged 38 with the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich., and is hitting .252 with one homer, eight doubles, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases. He consistently hitting from the third or fourth hole in the Great Lakes lineup.

Mann’s first professional long ball — a two-run shot — came July 8 in Midland against Dayton.

John Shoemaker is the Loons manager. The hitting coach is Jair Fernandez.

Mann says he has gained an awareness as a hitter. He recognizes the pitches he can do damage on and aggressively pursues those pitches.

“I’ve trained myself to see pitches early and have an awareness of the strike zone,” says Mann. “It’s paid dividends for me.

“I’ve definitely worked hard at it.”

Watching his power numbers go up at the end of his college career, Mann credits the increase too good mechanics and hitting his preferred pitch more times than not.

“It’s about not missing the pitch you’re getting each at-bat,” says Mann. “The rest might be pitcher’s pitches which are tougher to hit.”

Told the importance of finding a daily routine in pro baseball, where games are played nearly everyday, Mann says he was able to find one early.

Mann more of less re-wrote the offensive record book at Columbus North, finishing his prep career as the Bull Dogs’ career leader in average (.449), runs (118), hits (150), doubles (36), triples (10), home runs (20), RBI (111) and stolen bases (92). The right-handed swinger batted .410 with nine homers and 35 RBIs as a senior, earning all-state honors. He hit .433 average with 14 doubles and 24 RBIs as a junior. He set single-season records for average (.532) and stolen bases (30) as a sophomore.

His head coach was Ben McDaniel.

“He’s similar to Coach McDonnell,” says Mann of McDaniel. “He cares about you as a person off the field and knows the game.

“He demands the most out of you everyday. That’s what a team needs. He treats everybody the same — varsity, JV and freshmen.”

Devin, an only child, calls McDaniel “a second father” and says he and his parents — Bill and Diana Mann — are close friends. Bill owns Moore’s Roofing and Diana works for an asset management company.

Growing up in Columbus, Devin played early travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. His 12-year-old summer, he was at Bartholomew County Little League as it attempted a run at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Mann also played travel ball for the Indiana Nitro and then the Indiana Bulls leading into his junior and senior years at Columbus North.

Dan Held was his head coach with the Bulls.

“He taught us about work ethic and getting the most out of each day,” says Mann of Held, who is now on the baseball staff at Indiana University.

Mann was a sport management major in college and is a semester shy of graduation. He says he plans to finish his degree this year or next.

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Devin Mann, a Columbus, Ind., native is playing with the Great Lakes Loons in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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A shortstop at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, Devin Mann was moved to second base at the University of Louisville and that’s where he plays much of the time in his first professional baseball season. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Devin Mann, who played at Columbus (Ind.) North High School and the University of Louisville, smacks a pitch as a member of the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League. (Great Lakes Loons)

Indiana native Wagner enjoying the big league life in first season behind mic for Blue Jays

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wagner is basking in the glow of his first full-time Major League Baseball escapades.

After a decade as play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Buffalo (N.Y.) Bisons, Wagner got the call to the big leagues in March when the Toronto Blue Jays named the Indiana native as their radio voice. Jerry Howarth retired after holding the job for 36 years.

“I still roll out of bed everyday and double-check that this is my life,” says Wagner, who has already witnessed plenty of memorable on-field highlights and taken in MLB cities across the continent. He has had the pleasure of exploring Independence Hall in Philadelphia, eating crabs in Baltimore and signing the inside of the Green Monster in Boston. “I felt like a tourist when we were in Philly. You’ve got to take advantage of those things.”

The culture is different in the big leagues.

“These are higher-caliber athletes,” says Wagner. “But you conduct yourself professionally, so not much has changed there.

“But everything else has.”

In the International League, teams take buses from city to city — often in the wee hours — and try to get as many home games on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as possible.

“It boils down to dollars and cents,” says Wagner. “At the minor league level, it’s a math problem.”

In the bigs, clubs take charter flights. The bus pulls right up to the jet and away they go!

“It was an oh-wow moment when I first stepped on that charger plane,” says Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School, near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University. “There’s nothing like sport’s teams charter travel. Every little thing is taken care of by people behind the scenes. It’s really an incredible experience.”

MLB cities are bigger. The hotels are of the 5-star variety.

“We’re going to places that people make destinations,” says Wagner. “And this is my everyday life.”

During his 10 years in the bus leagues, Wagner welcomed the all-star break as a chance to heal and re-boot.

“By this time in the season, my body torn up, twisted and sore and I’m not playing everyday,” says Wagner, who is 95 games into the 162-game 2018 schedule. “My body feels so much better now because the travel has improved. We are experiencing the best travel out there.

‘The biggest change to my life is the ease of travel. They make it as convenient they can for players, coaches and support staff, including the broadcasters.

When the hotel is within walking distance of the ballpark, it gives Wagner a chance to soak in the flavor of the city.

“I don’t like to breathe too much hotel air so I get out and find a good coffee house,” says Wagner.

There, he can get a cup of joe and then do some exploring.”

He is living in the center of Toronto and can walk to Rogers Centre in 10 to 15 minutes so he has found his favorites spots along the route. Ben and wife Megan live in Lancaster, N.Y. — about a 25-minute drive to Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo.

Depending on whether the opponent that night has already appeared on the Jays schedule, early afternoon on the first day of a series is devoted to prep and research.

Home or away, Wagner get to the park between 2 or 3 p.m. (for a 7 p.m. game).

“I anxiously await lineups being posted,” says Wagner. “Then I plug in storylines on the scorecard.”

There are many media agencies cranking out individual and team trends and Wagner sorts through the mound of information to find precious nuggets.

“Sometimes it’s totally irrelevant,” says Wagner. “But it’s nice to have those resources.”

Wagner spends up to 45 minutes chatting with players and coaches in the clubhouse and then there’s the daily briefing with Toronto manager John Gibbons three hours before first pitch.

After that, Wagner often networks to get the latest news about the other team and baseball in general.

“As much as I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the Blue Jays, having a balanced broadcast is important,” says Wagner. “Consumers have changed. With all the online broadcasting and satellite services, I might not only being talking to Blue Jays fans or Canadians.

“I’m not doing my job if I’m leaving out the other half of the story.”

With an hour before game time, Wagner must be in the “air chair” to record introductions. Then, he grabs a cup of coffee or a bite to eat and is ready to share what he sees with the listeners on SportsNet 590 and the Blue Jays radio affiliates.

On the road, it’s a two-man booth with Wagner and Mike Wilner conversing and trading off the play-by-play innings.

Veteran broadcaster and Toronto resident Dan Shulman works 80 home games — 50 on TV and 30 selected radio dates. When that happens, Wagner and Schulman divide the play-by-play and Wilner also contributes to the broadcast. Jay Siddall is a radio analyst.

Wagner says the difference between the two- and three-man booth is the cadence. With the Bisons, his sidekick was Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Duke McGuire.

“Duke was an incredible resource and he was fun to be with,” says Wagner. “Our broadcast was major league quality — home or on the road.”

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As a first-year full-time radio play-by-play announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays, Ben Wagner has gotten to enjoy crabs in Baltimore. (Photo Courtesy of Ben Wagner)

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On a recent trip to historic Fenway Park in Boston,  Toronto Blue Jays radio voice Ben Wagner got to sign the inside of the Green Monster. (Photo Courtesy of Ben Wagner)

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Ben Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University is in first full season as a radio play-by-play announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays. Here he is on the field at Rogers Centre doing some television work. (Photo Courtesy of Ben Wagner)

South Bend Cubs anxious for start of 2018 baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Weather permitting, the South Bend Cubs are set to roll out their 2018 edition tonight (April 5) with the first of two days at West Michigan and then comes the home opener at Four Winds Field Saturday. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.

Jimmy Gonzalez is back for his fourth season as manager.

At the Low Class-A level, Gonzalez is helping young players adjust to professional baseball life while also developing so they can move up the chain.

It’s something the Hartford, Conn., native did in South Bend with Ian Happ (now in the starting lineup for the Chicago Cubs), Gleyber Torres (now on the New York Yankees 40-man roster) and Eloy Jimenez (now on the Chicago White Sox 40-man roster). Happ and Torres played for Gonzalez in South Bend in 2015 and Jimenez in 2016.

Every player is encouraged to be an individual. It’s not a cookie-cutter system.

“We have a set of rules that we abide by, but they have to be themselves,” says Gonzalez. “We can’t say act this way or that way. We’re teaching them and letting them make adjustments.

“It’s a big learning curve for these guys with weather, the full season and all that stuff.”

Many players were on college campuses last spring. After the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, they played for the short-season Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds.

“They had all these things they were worried about before,” says Gonzalez. “Now it’s just baseball. This is their job now. You have to create a routine that works for them.”

Erich Uelmen gets to focus on his training, rest and recovery

“You get to put all of your time into baseball, which is a kids’ game,” says Uhelmen, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher from Las Vegas. He was selected by the Cubs in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

“I loved college baseball,” says Uelmen. “The transition to pro baseball has been fun, too.”

Uelmen was a starter with the Mustangs then was asked to pitch out of the bullpen for the Emeralds.

“Out of the bullpen, it’s hard to get all of your pitches established,” says Uelmen, who used mostly his sinker and slider in Eugene but does have a change-up and four-seam fastball in his pitching bag of tricks. “As a starter, we’ll see the same hitters more and more throughout the season and they’ll have more at-bats against you during the game. You need to keep them off-balance (and change eye levels).”

Uelmen goes to back to starting in South Bend.

“I like to start because throughout the week you can do your workouts,” says Uelmen. “I have a nice routine I can fall back on.”

Brendon Little, a left-hander and 2017 first-round selection out of State College of Florida after a season at the University of North Carolina, got his first taste of pro ball at Eugene.

“Everybody says it’s a grind and it definitely is,” says Little, 21. “It was a great education. It was a lot to take in for one year, but it was definitely a great experience.”

Little, who hails from Malvern, Pa., outside of Philadelphia (he was at the Super Bowl celebration parade for the Eagles and has friends at Villanova, home of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball champions), has goals this season as a South Bend starter.

“Commanding the baseball and having the change-up as more of a weapon,” says Little, who is considered the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Cubs system by MLB.com and MinorLeagueBall.com. “In the past, my curveball has always been my go-to.”

Besides a “spike” curve and change-up, Little throws a four-seam fastball that he has gotten up in the upper 90’s.

At 25, catcher Tyler Payne is the oldest players on the South Bend opening day roster. Drafted in 2015, he enters his fourth pro season.

The Hurricane, W.Va., native is looking to be a good teammate not only to Cubs pitchers — like 19-year-old Mexican right-hander Jose Albertos — but everyone including 20-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Rafael Narea.

“If they ever need anything, I’m here for them,” says Payne. “I want to win a championship. That’s what it’s all about.”

“For me, I’ve just got to come and bring my game everyday.

Payne will do his part in the development and competitiveness of the pitching staff.

“You’ve got to have a set plan everyday. Go over the scouting reports and trust what our guys have. That’s a big thing for us.”

Brian Glowicki, a 23-year-old right-hander who was used as a reliever in four seasons at the University of Minnesota and last summer in Eugene, is ready to contribute in any way he can for South Bend.

“I bring a lot of energy and I’m very competitive,” says Glowicki, who is from Downers Grove, Ill., but grew up a Boston Red Sox fan because of father Tom and counts former Bosox and current left-hander Jon Lester as his favorite pitcher. “We’ve got a lot of personalities on the team. We like to have fun. But we know how to take care of business once we get on the field.”

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Jimmy Gonzalez is in his fourth season as South Bend Cubs manager in 2018. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

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Erich Uhelmen

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Brendon Little

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Tyler Payne

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Brian Glowicki

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Ian Happ was with South Bend Cubs in 2015.

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Gleyber Torres was with South Bend Cubs in 2015.

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Eloy Jimenez was with South Bend Cubs in 2016.