Tag Archives: Brent Alwine

Bickel leads IUPUC Crimson Pride into first baseball season

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

Athletic history is being made in Columbus, Ind.
Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus has been approved for NAIA status in 2022-23.
The Crimson Pride are up and running with three programs — baseball, softball and cross country — and more sports are planned.
The first official baseball practice was held Tuesday, Sept. 6 on the youth diamonds at CERA Sports Park & Campground in Columbus.
“The City of Columbus as a whole never had collegiate sports,” says Scott Bickel, IUPUC’s first head baseball coach. “We need Columbus and their business partners to support us for us to continue to grow.”
IUPUC is a sister school to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and offers Indiana and Purdue degrees at in-state tuition rates.
An independent pilot program that will not be eligible for NAIA postseason play in the first year, the IUPUC Crimson Pride hopes to get into an athletic conference — preferably the River States Conference (which includes national power Indiana University Southeast plus Indiana University-Kokomo and Oakland City University).
The baseball roster currently numbers 44 and the goal is 55 in order to have full varsity and junior varsity schedules.
“We want to give them an opportunity to compete for a position,” says Bickel. “We’re going to need to play at a highly-respected level to compete for conference championships.
“The main thing we have to do now is install everything. Everything is new to everybody.”
Former pitcher/outfielder Bickel was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series participant for Huntington North in 2006 and earned IHSBCA all-state honorable mention in both 2005 and 2006.
Among Bickel’s classmates and teammates were Chris Kramer, Andrew Drummond and Jarod Hammel. Kramer went on to play basketball at Purdue University and in the pro ranks. Drummond set offensive records at Huntington (Ind.) University. Hammel also played at HU and is in his second stint as Huntington North head baseball coach.
Bickel played two years each at Huntington North for Chad Daugherty and Russ Degitz (Chad’s younger brother Kyle Daugherty was an assistant) and Greg Roberts at the University of Saint Francis, an NAIA school in Fort Wayne.
Bickel is a first-time head coach with coaching experience as Roberts’ hitting coach for one season at Saint Francis (2016-17) and four campaigns at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne (2019-22) doing a number of things for head coaches Lance Hershberger and Connor Wilkins.
Others Ivy Tech coaches include Javier DeJesus (who gave pitching lessons to high schooler Bickel), Mark Flueckiger, Drew Buffenbarger, Benny Clark, Tony Gorgai, Jeff Griffith, Densil Brumfield and Seth Sorenson.
“I have Lance Hershberger to thank for taking a chance with me and offering me an opportunity to network with a great baseball town,” says Bickel. “I really grew my knowledge base from our relationships, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
In some way or other, Bickel says he has also been impacted by Brent Alwine (Indiana Tech and Indiana Summer Collegiate League)
Matt Brumbaugh (Fort Wayne Northrop), Patrick Collins-Bride (Indiana Tech), Mark Delagarza (Summit City Sluggers), Steve Devine (Indiana Tech), Rich Dunno (Ground Force Sports), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Zach Huttie (Indiana Tech/World Baseball Academy), Rick Davis (Strike Zone Training Center), Manny Lopez (The Diamond/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks), Kip McWilliams (Indiana Tech) and Mike Nutter (Fort Wayne TinCaps).
The 2017-18 Ivy Tech team — aka “The Dirty Dozen” for the 12 players left at season’s end — went 25-18 in that inaugural season. Bickel came along in 2018-19 and saw those players move on to four-year schools.
In 2017-18, Bickel was an assistant at Fort Wayne Snider High School. Marc Skelton and Bruce Meyer led the Panthers varsity and assistants included Tim McCrady and Josh Clinkenbeard (who is now Snider head coach).
The last two years, Bickel was a player-coach for the Richard Brown-owned Jackers, which qualified for the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series in both seasons.
While living in Colorado. Bickel met future wife Allie (the couple celebrates six years of marriage Oct. 15), started a business and played baseball.
Bickel holds degrees in Secondary Education for Mathematics and Mild Intervention from Saint Francis (2011) and a Masters of Athletic Administration and Coaching from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (2021).
The IUPUC staff also includes pitching coach Zach McClellan (who is also the school’s Director of Athletics and a former big league pitcher), Mac Kido and Tyler Dunbar and is likely to expand.
Kido, a 2016 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., briefly attended Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., and has coached at Edgewood and travel ball at the Tier Ten Sports Campus in Spencer, Ind. He will coach Crimson Pride hitters.
Dunbar, a 2019 graduate of North Daviess High School in Elnora, Ind., played briefly at Hanover (Ind.) College and transferred to IUPUC to finish his degree in Elementary Education. He has coached travel ball for Demand Command. He will serve infield coach/assistant baserunning coach for the Crimson Pride.
“I’ll be mentoring and shepherding Coach Kido and Coach Dunbar the best I can,” says Bickel. “That’s a big goal for me.
“I want to give them the autonomy they need to be successful.”
Bickel will work with catchers and outfielders.
An exhibition game with Ivy Tech Northeast is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8 at Fort Wayne’s Shoaff Park.
IUPUC is to open its 2023 season and play its first-ever games Feb. 10-11 against Huntington University in Tuscaloosa, Ala. New Foresters head coach Thad Frame is a 2004 Huntington North graduate, which means he was a Vikings senior when Bickel was a sophomore.

Scott Bickel. (Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)
(Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)
(Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)

Rutgers-bound Besser keeps on buzzing the ball past batters

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

Grant Besser’s habit of dodging bats with his pitches got him noticed during his prep days and it continues at the collegiate level.
At South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., the left-hander and four-time first-team all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection whiffed 451 in 241 innings with a 1.27 earned run average. He also hit .397 with eight home runs and 58 runs batted in.
As a senior, Besser fanned 130 in 54 frame and posted a 0.77 ERA and hit .426 with two homers and 17 RBIs for the Brad Buckingham-coached Starfires. He began working out that winter in Fort Wayne with Pittsburgh Pirates strength trainer Dru Scott.
When not pitching, lefty Besser was the unorthodox choice for South Adams at shortstop his last three seasons.
“I knew it looked silly, but I had been playing shortstop all my life,” says Besser. “I can throw from any arm angle. I had a great time doing it.
“Besides I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it for long. I knew pitching is what I wanted to do.”
Besser played in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Madison. He was honored as the 2019 Northeast Indiana Baseball Association/Dick Crumback Player of the Year.
The 2021 recipient of the award — Carter Mathison (Homestead/Indiana University) is Besser’s teammate this summer with New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats. Mathison was also the 2021 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Player of the Year.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Besser shined on the mound at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers.
In 36 appearances (10 starts), he went 6-4 with eight saves and a 2.66 earned run average as the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Buccaneers posted marks of 16-11 in 2020 (COVID-19 shortened), 44-16 in 2021 and 42-15 in 2022. He amassed 125 strikeouts and 42 walks in 94 2/3 innings.
Besser played no summer ball in 2020 and dealt with an injury at the beginning of the 2021. He came back and hurled five innings in the state tournament and did not allow a baserunner.
“I really saw a spike in all of my numbers for the good (in 2022),” says Besser. “I blew every category away from the previous years.”
He was in 20 games in 2022 and went 3-2 with six saves, a 1.28 ERA, 61 K’s and 16 walks in 42 1/3 innings.
Ben Bizier is head coach at Florida SouthWestern State. Derrick Conatser is Bucs pitching coach.
“I like that toughness to he brings to the table,” says Besser of Bizier.
In his exit interview with Bizier Besser was told that 18 Major League Baseball organizations have been following him as they prepare for the 2022 First-Year Player Draft (July 17-19 in Los Angeles).
“He said there’s a really good chance it happens this year,” says Besser, who turns 22 in September. “Out of high school I had zero (college) offers. Coach Buckingham offered me to Florida JUCO’s. I earned a scholarship at FSW in the spring.
“Money has never been the big thing for me. It’s opportunity and getting my foot in the door.”
This is Besser’s second straight summer at Keene and he has had several meaningful chats with Swamp Bats president and general manager Kevin Watterson.
So far, Besser has made four appearances (one start) and is 1-0 with an 0.87 ERA. In 10 1/3 innings, the southpaw has 10 strikeouts and one walk. The NECBL regular season ends July 30.
Throughout his college experience, Besser has been used in multiple pitching roles, including starter, long reliever and a closer.
“It doesn’t matter to me as long as we get a win,” says Besser. “I’m very versatile.”
Besser has excelled with an ability to keep his head when things get tense.
“It’s mental toughness. I preach it,” says Besser. “I can spot when somebody doesn’t have that mental toughness.
“I’m ready for the situation. I’m consistent with all that I do. I work quick and throw strikes. Preparation and a steady mindset is key.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Besser uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.
“My four-seamer has natural run and a high spin rate,” says Besser. “Up in the zone is where I get the most out of it.
“This summer it’s been sitting 89 to 91 mph (it hit 92 at Florida SouthWestern State).”
Besser’s two-seamer moves in to left-handed hitters and away from righties.
His “circle” change-up break to his arm side and is usually clocked around 83 mph.
“My curveball is more of a slurve,” says Besser of the pitch that’s often delivered at around 78 mph. “I mix and match. Sometimes it’s 12-to-6 and sometimes I sweep it. It depends on the situation.”
Grant is the oldest of Mike and Katina Besser’s two sons. Adam Besser, a right-handed pitcher for Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, turns 20 in August.
Mike Besser is a salesman for Moser Motor Sales. Katina Besser is chief financial officer at Swiss Village Retirement Community.
The family moved from Geneva and Berne when Grant was in the fifth grade. Beginning at 9U, he played travel ball for the Muncie Longhorns and Indiana Bandits and then Summit City Sluggers founder Mark DeLaGarza reached out to him and he spent two summers with the 17U Sluggers, playing for head coaches Todd Armstrong and Brent Alwine.
“My parents’ sacrifices let me do that,” says Grant. “The Sluggers gave me a lot of knowledge on baseball.”

With two years of eligibility remaining, has committed to NCAA Division I Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He signed with the Scarlet Knights over the winter.
Why Rutgers?
“What really attracting me was coming home to the Big Ten,” says Besser, who was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Geneva and Berne. “It’s up-and-coming program and pretty hard-nosed.”
With Steve Owens as head coach and Brendan Monaghan guiding pitchers, the Scarlet Knights posted an overall mark of 44-17 and Big Ten record of 17-7 in 2022. Rutgers played Michigan in the conference tournament championship game.
After earning an Associate of Arts degree in Business Management at Florida SouthWestern State, Besser is considering a Labor and Relations major at Rutgers.

Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)

Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)
Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)
Head coach Ben Bizier (left) and Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)

City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
Grant Besser (Keene Swamp Bats Photo)

Indiana Tech’s Alwine gains new perspective on coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Tech’s 2019 season ended in Lewiston, Idaho, at the NAIA World Series. The Warriors went 42-16-1.

Tech concluded play in 2020 much sooner than planned because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

With a win against Viterbo March 11 in Georgia, the Warriors finished at 11-5.

Since then, the Tech team and coaching staff have been moving forward while social distancing.

“Everybody’s numb to how it happened,” says second-year assistant coach Brent Alwine of how the season was rolling and then came to a screeching halt. “We’ve got (players) doing workouts. We’re hoping a lot of guys get to play this summer.

“So much is unknown.”

What is known for Alwine is that he is not the same coach at 36 and married with three sons and with many different diamond experiences behind him than he was at 23 and just out of college.

“I used to think there was only one way to teach,” says Alwine, who works with infielders and hitters. “You learn to adapt to the personnel you have rather than philosophy that’s cut and dried.”

It has also become relational vs. transactional. It’s a point that has become clearer since Brent and Brandi Alwine, a physician’s assistant for Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, have had Beckett (7), Bode (5) and Brooks (8 months). All three have baseball ties to their names.

There are four reasons for Beckett — the sports card magazine, the ballplayer (Josh Beckett), the brand of boilers his father, Jim, sells, and the town in Massachusetts where he worked at a camp with former Indiana University head baseball coach Bob Morgan. The boy’s full name is Beckett Steven James Alwine. Brandi’s father Steve passed away in 2001. The other middle name to to honor Brent’s father, who has coached high school baseball at North Miami and Peru.

Bode’s middle name is Maddux as an homage for Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

Brooks is a nod to former Western Michigan University catcher Brooks Beilke.

“I’m coaching someone’s kids,” says Alwine. “I want to win. But I would rather win and 10 years down the line have a relationship with the players I coached.”

Alwine joined head coach Kip McWilliams in Fort Wayne, Ind., having been an assistant to Billy Gernon at Western Michigan (2011 and 2012), Ed Servais at Creighton University (2009 and 2010) and Gernon at alma mater Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (2007 and 2008). He holds a bachelor’s degree from IPFW (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and a master’s degree from Indiana University.

He was head coach at Perry (Mich.) High School (2013) and a director for Prep Baseball Michigan and has coached with the Summit City Sluggers, leading 12U, 13U and then 17U travel teams and served as an associate scout for the Texas Rangers.

“You learn a lot when you coach younger kids,” says Alwine. “You have to really explain things and get them to buy into it.”

An attribute that Alwine appreciates about McWilliams is that he values the opinions of his assistants.

“He lets his assistant coach,” says Alwine. “He doesn’t micro-manage and he looks for our input.

“I trust him. In today’s world, it’s hard to trust everybody.”

Alwine has a few points of emphasis with his infielders.

“I want them to be athletic and take good angles to the baseball,” says Alwine. “It starts with our throwing program. Throwing and catching is the main thing in baseball.”

He makes it a point to observe when his fielders are playing catch to see that they are getting their footwork right and taking it seriously.

“When the pressure’s on, a good throw is going to win you a game,” says Alwine, who has his infielders practicing double players during between-innings warm-ups.

Alwine observes how organized McWilliams is, something that is vital when you carry a roster of more than 60 players — varsity and developmental.

“You have to be organized to get everybody involved,” says Alwine. “Year 2 helped me see that a little better than Year 1.”

The Warriors make a point of hustling all the time — even the coaching staff runs on the field.

“That’s the way it should be,” says Alwine. “(On game day), it sets a tone for your own team and the team you’re getting ready to play.

“These guys are here for business.”

Alwine says having the season stopped is likely to make the players more appreciative of the opportunity to play when fall camp rolls around.

“Fall can be a tough time to motivate because there’s nothing on the line,” says Alwine. “(Players) should be excited. They had baseball taken away from them.”

Alwine says 10 of 14 seniors this spring have opted to come back for an extra year of eligibility granted by the NAIA.

With the Indiana Tech campus closed to all but essential workers, students have been finishing their spring term online.

“It’s new to a lot of these professors, too,” says Alwine. “Everybody’s going through the same thing. It’s brought a sense of community back.”

To stay connected the to the baseball community,  Alwine says Tech coaches have regular Zoom meetings. These have been done by class and within the staff, which also includes Gordon Turner, Miguel Tucker and Marshall Oetting, and will also include positions, incoming freshmen and transfers.

Alwine was born in Peru, Ind., and grew up in Mexico, Ind. He played soccer, a little basketball and baseball North Miami Middle/High School. John Burrus was the head coach for basketball and baseball. Alwine was a shortstop on the diamond.

At IPFW, he played second base for Gernon.

“He does things the right way,” says Alwine of Gernon. “He demands a lot of his players. He care for his players, too.”

Alwine went to Creighton to be a volunteer coach. Within a month of arriving in Omaha, Neb., a paid assistant position opened up and he took it. There, he was in charge of outfielders and catchers.

“It made me a better coach,” says Alwine. “I had to learn those positions in detail to make players better.”

Servais displayed an attention to detail and stressed the fundamentals.

“That’s why Creighton — year in and year out — leads the country defensively.”

Servais, the uncle of former big league catcher Scott Servais, did not get too high or too low.

“He’s very level-headed,” says Alwine. “He thinks forward — next player, next pitch, next at-bat.”

The Bluejays skipper has been rewarded with 745 career victories.

More than 20 players that have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including two at Creighton that made it to the majors — San Franciso Giants first baseman Darin Ruf and Baltimore Orioles left-handed pitcher Ty Blach.

Alwine coached infielders and hitters at Western Michigan. He was in the fall of his second year with the Broncos when he got into a very bad car accident on I-94 near Kalamazoo, Mich.

He was put into an induced coma with a traumatic brain injury. After a couple weeks at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, he was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. After about three weeks, he regained consciousness.

Among the first requests he had was for a second opinion on the plastic surgeon.

“I am very, very fortunate to be alive,” says Alwine. “God was looking out for me that day. The biggest thing is the amount of people who prayed for me.

“I had very positive people around me who supported me and got me through it. I get to coach baseball and see my kids grow up.”

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Brent Alwine (left) observes players during Indiana Tech’s 2019 NAIA World Series appearance. It was Alwine’s first season on the Warriors baseball coaching staff. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Brent Alwine (center) is in his second season as an assistant baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2020. He is a graduate of North Miami High School and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. (Indiana Tech Photo)

 

Getting players ready for next level what it’s all about for DeLaGarza, Summit City Sluggers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Mark DeLaGarza sees it, there are two paths for travel baseball organizations.

Some like the game but are not that intense about it. To DeLaGarza, that describes 80 percent of Indiana teams.

The rest are serious about competition and learning.

“I’m in that 20 percent,” says DeLaGarza, who founded the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. “We try to do things right and develop players.”

Among the many alumni to play in college or beyond are major leaguers Kevin Kiermaier and Jarrod Parker.

DeLaGarza, who runs the Sluggers with Greg VanMeter and Steve Devine, says there are three reasons that players are in summer baseball — they want to get to the next level; they wish to get better; or they play because their parents say they must get a job if they don’t.

“I can deal with two out of the three,” says DeLaGarza.

At 57, DeLaGarza has been involved with baseball as a player or coach since age 10. He moved from Janesville, Wis., to Fort Wayne to follow his career at General Motors. He was with GM for 33 years.

Besides the Sluggers, he has been a high school head coach at Southern Wells and an assistant at Norwell (where sons Nick and Andy played) and Columbia City as well as an assistant at Manchester University. He has also led the Twins Scout teams in fall baseball and has served as an associate scout for the Minnesota Twins (he still counts supervisor Bill Milos as a good friend in the game) and New York Mets.

The Sluggers started with one team and moved from 12U to 18U as Andy DeLaGarza and his teammates got older. When Andy went on to college baseball (at Coastal Carolina), Mark was approached about keeping it going and Summit City hit the re-set button at 15U.

Eventually, younger squads were added to a growing group and the emphasis continued to be getting players ready for college ball.

“Five or six years ago, I realized that kids stay committed to the same (travel ball) program,” says DeLaGarza. “If you don’t get them when they’re young, you might not get them at all.”

Today, the Sluggers field seven squads (12U, 13U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and College). Younger teams are just beginning their season of 45 to 60 games with older squads joining in for about 40 contests as the high school and college seasons are concluding.

Why so many games?

“It’s a necessary thing,” says DeLaGarza. “Kids don’t know how to play unless they play. They need to play to learn the game. You don’t hear people say you’re doing too many math or spelling problems.

“In Indiana, we can’t play too much.”

With games at Huntington University, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan, Manchester and Saint Francis, college squads play in the Indiana Summer Collegiate League (other squads for 2017 are to be the Kekiongas, Panthers and Flippin’ Frogs). The league offers no housing and is made up mostly of area athletes. Cost is $500 per player.

Fees can be defrayed for other players with optional monthly fundraisers.

Summit City winds up the season in late July and holds tryouts for the next season in August at Homier Park in Huntington (site of the Sluggers’ Standing Up To Cancer Tournament for ages U9 to U14 June 9-11).

“If we wait until September or October, other organizations take the players,” says DeLaGarza. “We’ll play games every weekend in September.”

For older teams, many of those games are against collegiate squads.

“It challenges them and gives them the chance to see how good college players are,” says DeLaGarza. “We’re trying to educate them. But we spend most of time educating parents. I tell those going on spring break to get off the beach and go see a college baseball game (to see what it’s all about).”

During the fall and winter, the Sluggers train at a facility in Huntington.

DeLaGarza coaches the 15U team. Other current Summit City head coaches are Mark Fisher (12U), Brent Alwine (13U), Matt Stidam (14U), Lance Hershberger (16U), Todd Armstrong (17U) and Lea Selvey (College).

Finding the ones DeLaGarza wants is not always easy. He has found that many high school coaches are tired at the end of their seasons and don’t wish to coach in the summer and fall.

“It’s trying,” says DeLaGarza. “I don’t like dads coaching. I like skilled coaches with knowledge.”

If DeLaGarza had his way, summer baseball needs more direction. One place to start is to have divisions so that top level teams would not be grouped with lower ones at tournaments.

“We’re under the same umbrella and it’s all watered down,” says DeLaGarza. “These dad teams should be in house ball. I don’t mean to sound arrogant.

“We beat someone 22-1 and it does no one any good. That doesn’t help develop a player. The only way to fix it is to have major tournament directors filter the teams they bring in.”

DeLaGarza would like to see more league play where there is time for pregame and postgame routines.

He wishes Indiana would return to more games where younger teams don’t play on high school/college-sized fields before the players are ready, which to him means 15U. That usually means the mound is at 54 feet from the plate and the bases 80 feet apart (as opposed to 60 feet, 6 inches and 90 feet).

Since pitchers have a tough time throwing strikes at the longer distance, games tend to be very slow.

DeLaGarza notes that son Andy did not throw a breaking ball until his junior year at Norwell and advises young pitchers to do the same, getting hitters out with location and by changing speeds.

“Fill the strike zone with fastballs on both sides of the plate and see what happens,” says DeLaGarza.

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Mark DeLaGarza (shown when coaching for Manchester University) started the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. The Fort Wayne-based organization plans to field seven teams in 2017.