Tag Archives: Brent McNeil

Bickel making memories in first season at Purdue Fort Wayne

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

Jarrett Bickel had a decision to make after playing junior college baseball for two seasons.
The infielder from South Bend, Ind., with two years of eligibility remaining could take another year at the JUCO level allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Head coach Kyle Forbes invited him to stay at Palm Beach State College.
“I was ready to move on to a four-year school and play at the (NCAA) Division I level,” says Bickel, who chose Purdue Fort Wayne over East Tennessee State, New Orleans, Alcorn State and Savannah State.
Why the PFW Mastodons?
“I was sold on Coach (Doug) Schreiber and his history at Purdue University,” says Bickel. “I knew he was coming here to turn the program around.
“He’s awesome. His knowledge for the game is through the roof.”
Bickel appreciates Schreiber not only for what he can do for him on the diamond, but away from it.
“He shows you how to carry yourself off the field and be a man,” says Bickel, 22.
As a player, Bickel has gone from third base to shortstop and settling in as Purdue Fort Wayne’s starting shortstop and lead-off hitter.
His double play partner is redshirt sophomore second baseman Brian Erbe.
“He has a confidence and swagger he brings everyday,” says Bickel of Erbe. “We kind of feed off that energy.”
Going into an April 27 non-conference game at Michigan State, righty swinger Bickel was hitting .259 (38-of-147) with five home runs, 12 doubles, 19 runs batted in, 18 runs scored and a .306 on-base percentage. He collected a season-best four hits April 3 against Wright State and drove in a season-high three runs April 16 at Northern Kentucky.
Bickel even pitched 2/3 of an inning Feb. 27 at Cal Baptist.
Though he was not in the middle of either, two memorable moments for Bickel came with walk-off wins March 20 against Youngstown State and April 22 vs. Northern Kentucky.
Away from the field, Bickel likes to hang out with teammates. He also likes to play golf and go fishing.
“I’m an outdoorsy person,” says Bickel. “I don’t like to be inside that much. I love to fish.”
A St. Joseph River dam near campus gives him a chance to pull in catfish and bass. In the warm climes of Florida, he liked going on the ocean and catching snook.
Bickel grew up a few minutes from Notre Dame and Bickel got to play against the Irish April 20, going 1-for-4 with an RBI.
“I’ve always been a Notre Dame fan since I was little,” says Bickel. “Going back there and playing them was pretty special.”
ND is No. 3 behind Tennessee and Dallas Bapist in the D1Baseball.com RPI.
Bickel assessed the Link Jarrett-coached Irish.
“They’re very well put-together and do all the little things,” says Bickel. “They’re well-coached. They are good at situational hitting and have very good (pitching) arms.”
Currently fifth in the Horizon League, the Mastodons are looking to finish in the top six to earn a berth in the conference tournament May 25-28 with games hosted by the top seed. The last HL series wraps May 14. The regular season is to end May 21.
Enrolled at Purdue Fort Wayne as a General Studies major, he has been taking mostly Business classes.
Bickel plans to spent the summer with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. Mastodons pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Brent McNeil managed that team a few years ago. Chris Willsey, Bickel’s head coach two years ago in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., is slated to guide the Aviators in 2022.
A 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishwawaka, Ind., Bickel played for Joe Turnock. The Knights won an IHSAA Class 3A Jimtown Sectional title in 2016.
In 2019, Bickel played 41 games for Miami Dade College. He did not play in the spring of 2020 — the COVID-19 season.
That summer, Bickel was with the Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League’s Mishawaka Brewers as well as the CSL’s Snakes and Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose, hitting .271 with a .403 OBP in 16 games. He played for the Bismarck Larks in 2021 with a OBP of .321 over 112 at-bats.
Jarrett is the middle son of Joe and Megan Bickel. Tyler Bickel (24) is working toward becoming a fireman. Xavier Bickel (18) is a Marian senior. Cousin Trey Bickel is head baseball coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College — a junior college in Donaldson, Ind.

Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Huff helping Purdue Fort Wayne in different ways in second year with baseball program

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

Justin Huff has a new role in his second year on the Purdue Fort Wayne baseball coaching staff.
His family came to Fort Wayne when wife Jenna Huff — who hails from Tecumseh, Mich. — was hired as news director at WANE-TV (Ch. 15) and he reached out to Mastodons coach Doug Schreiber.
A director of player development position was created for Huff for 2020-21 with the idea that something else might open up in the future. In that job, he was restricted from actual coaching so he kept charts, gave analytics insights and helped in the dugout during games.
In 2021-22, Huff is in the volunteer coach post with all its responsibilities.
“Coach Schreiber has empowered me to do a lot of the practice scheduling,” says Huff. “I would make sure transitions were efficient.”
On a staff that also features Brent McNeil and Ken Jones, Huff also helps with hitters and infielders, leads outfielders and is expected to coach first base when PFW — a member of the NCAA Division I Horizon League — opens its 2022 season Feb. 18 at Georgia State.
“The challenge is we’re not on the field,” says Huff, noting that the Mastodons last practiced outdoors in November.
At the beginning of the fall, the team took advantage of warmer temperatures and put in 20 hours per week of team practice.
“(Hitters) got 50 to 60 (at-bats) and (pitchers) 20 to 22 innings,” says Huff. “You got to figure out exactly what you have. This year we’ve got 19 new guys so we saw how they fit with the returnees.
“There were intrasquad games in the weekends and got the players accustomed to our system and our routines.”
Then came a four hours-a-week phase where coaches could break down player’s mechanics and make adjustments if necessary.
“It’s not like going 0-of-4 in scrimmage,” says Huff. “There’s no failure.
“They’re getting their bodies ready to go and getting their timing down.”
Hitters were going to face live pitching for the first time Thursday (Jan. 20) with 20 hours-a-week workouts starting back up Jan. 28.
Huff came to Indiana from Gordon State College in Barnesville, Ga., where he was interim head coach during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season. With just one assistant, he was charged with all positions except infielders.
A shortstop as a player, Huff is a 2003 graduate of Westover High School in Albany, Ga.
Huff also played five years of American Legion ball for Albany Post 30 and manager Larry Cook. Albany went to the Legion World Series in 2001 — the year Brooklawn (N.J.) Post 72 beat Lewiston (Idaho) Post 13 for the title in Yakima, Wash.
“He was a very strategic guy and super-competitive,” says Huff of Cook. “He never stopped coaching me. He challenged me and made me better.”
Huff made collegiate stops of two years at Darton College in Albany (now merged with Albany State University) and one each at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., and Valdosta (Ga.) State University. His head coaches were Glenn Eames (with assistant Jamie Corr) at Darton, American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary Gilmore (with assistant Kevin Schnall) at Coastal Carolina and National College Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Thomas at Valdosta State.
Huff credits Eames for showing him how to care for fields and Corr for his organization, practice plan and how to run a program.
At Darton, Huff played against Young Harris (Ga.) College featuring his cousin Charlie Blackmon. After playing for the Mountain Lions in 2005 and 2006, lefty-swinging outfielder Blackmon was selected in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech and made his MLB debut for the Colorado Rockies in 2011.
Gilmore led the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to the 2016 College World Series title.
“(Gilmore and Schnall) are two of the best coaches in the country,” says Huff. “I sat and watched how they were planning out the game and their style of offense that really helped me down the road.”
An offensive-minded coach, Huff prefers aggressiveness and small ball tactics.
When Huff was on the team at Coastal Carolina, he was a teammate of Andy DeLaGarza, a product of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind. His father — Mark DeLaGarza — runs the Summit City Sluggers travel organization in Fort Wayne.
From Thomas, Huff says he learned how to care about players and build relationships.
Former big leaguer Phil Plantier was Huff’s manager with the independent South Coast League’s Macon (Ga.) Music in 2007 and witnessed the differences between the pro and college style.
“I worked with him on hitting stuff,” says Huff. “I wanted to pick his brain as much as I could.”
When he was done as a player, Huff went into the banking industry while completing his undergraduate and Masters of Business Administration degrees.
He helped coach at Deerfield-Windsor Academy in Albany and with Leesburg American Legion Post 182 before spending five years at Darton with head coach Scot Hemmings. The Cavaliers won their first Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association title in 2015.
“He had ways to motivate players and was very organized,” says Huff of Hemmings. “The development of players was incredible there.”
When Jenna took a job at station in Macon, Justin helped coach the varsity and was middle school head coach at Tattnall Square Academy. The Trojans won the 2016 Georgia High School Athletic Association Class A state championship.
Travis McClanahan was head coach when Huff joined the staff at Gordon State. The Highlanders went 50-9 and lost to Walters State in the National Junior College Athletic Association East-Central District in 2019.
Justin and Jenna Huff have been married for 10 years and have four daughters — Devon (8), Canon (6), Fallon (4) and Lennon (2).

Justin Huff (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Former Fort Wayne Carroll catcher Jones decides time is right to turn pro

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

Three years after graduating from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Hayden Jones is bigger and stronger and more mature.
Jones, who signed last week as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds out of Illinois State University, says his biggest growth since his prep days has come on the mental side. That’s why he wanted to go to college first instead of pursuing his pro career right away.
“I put the dollar amount so high no one was going to sign me (out of high school),” says Jones, who turned 21 on April 27. “I’ve learned to accept failure when it comes, knowing its not going to be the end of the world.”
Hayden, whose father Ken Jones was drafted as a catcher by the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now a Purdue Fort Wayne assistant coach and grandfather Bill Jones (who died in November 2015) was a founding member and longtime executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and selected as an IHSBCA Hall of Famer in 1982, played for Dave Ginder at Carroll. The lefty swinger and earned four letters while garnering IHSBCA all-state honors three times and being selected as MVP of the 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
Hayden’s uncle, Brad Jones, lettered in baseball at Ball State University. His son, Tyler Jones, played at the University of Dayton in 2021. Cousin Chris Menzie was a baseball letterwinner at Huntington (Ind.) University. Jennifer Jones is Hayden’s mother.
Hayden Jones spent his freshmen season at Mississippi State University in 2019, appearing in 27 games (14 starts) and hitting .224 (11-of-49) with one home run, four doubles, five runs batted in, five runs scored and a .636 OPS (.269 on-base percentage plus .367 slugging average). His fielding percentage with the Chris Lemonis-coached Bulldogs was .971 with 64 putouts, three assists and two errors.
Because of NCAA Division I transfer rules, he had to sit out the 2020 season.
In 2021 at Illinois State, he played in 38 games (31 starts) and hit .230 (28-of-122) with five homers, two triples, six doubles, 28 RBIs and 15 runs. His OPS was .730 (.296/.434). He also fielded at a .990 clip with 182 putouts, 21 assists and two errors.
“I loved Mississippi State,” says Jones. “My girlfriend (Savannah Shinn) still lives down there. It just wasn’t a fit (baseball-wise).”
At ISU, Jones worked with Redbirds head coach and former big league catcher Steve Holm.
Jones’ mechanics were changed back to where he had been while working with his father in high school.
“It all clicked from there,” says Jones. “I was growing and maturing and understanding the game at a faster pace.”
To Jones, blocking, receiving and controlling the opponents’ running game are important. But overall baseball knowledge is a major key to catching.
“My dad and grandpa gave me that big piece,” says Jones. “You need that support staff. Now they can let go and let the Reds do the magic. I text my dad every single night. He’s learning from me now.”
Playing 18 games this summer in the new MLB Draft League with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), Jones hit .237 (9-of-38) with one homer, one double, seven RBIs, six runs and .725 OPS (.383/.342). He learned from manager Coco Crisp and coach Ron Mahay — both former big leaguers.
While he still has years of eligibility left, Jones decided now was the time to move forward as a baseball player.
“I was ready,” says Jones, who was draft eligible three years out of high school. “I wanted to get my career going and get my foot in the door.”
Jones’ name was not called during the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft. The phone did ring five minutes after its conclusion with his agent telling him that Reds senior director of player personnel Jeff Graupe wanted the catcher.
In short order, he was traveling to Goodyear, Ariz., to take a physical and sign his contract with scouting supervisor Andy Stack.
“It was not the money I was expecting, but you don’t make your money until you get to the big leagues,” says Jones, who has began training. He and other free agents and draftees will see if the Reds assign them to the Arizona League, send them out to an affiliate (Low Class-A Daytona, Fla., Tortugas, High Class-A Dayton, Ohio, Dragons, Double-A Chattanooga, Tenn., Lookouts, Triple-A Louisville, Ky., Bats) or just keep working at camp.
“Nobody knows what to expect,” says Jones. “It’s where they need help in the organization.”
Jones spent the summer of 2020 with the Brent McNeil-coached Turf Monsters in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Among those running the CSL were Phil Wade and Blake Hibler, who coached Jones on Team Indiana in the Fall of 2016 and 2017.
Outside the all-star series, Jones was at Mississippi State in the summer of 2018. He was the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Newport (R.I.) Gulls in 2019.
Jones was pursuing a Recreation and Park Administration at Illinois State. He says he could complete it in another year.

Hayden Jones on Fox 55.
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)
Hayden Jones (24) (Illinois State University Photo)
Savannah Shinn and Hayden Jones.
Hayden Jones (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

Young Hammel now in charge at Benton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Hammel has quickly transitioned from student-athlete to educator-coach.

Ten months after pitching his last game for Valparaiso (Ind.) University he was announced as the head baseball coach at Benton Central Junior/Senior High School in Oxford, Ind. 

“I’m super-excited to get after it,” says Hammel, who was originally hired as pitching coach but became a head coach candidate when Jon Vernon opted to spend more time with family and focus on his duties as Benton Central’s head volleyball coach. “We want to do everything with a purpose. 

“Baseball is not like other sports.”

The son of Donovan (Ill.) Elementary fourth grade teacher Todd Hammel and Morocco Elementary first grade teacher Pam Hammel, Jarrett received an Elementary Education degree from VU and began the 2020-21 school year as a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Crossing Elementary in Oxford.

At South Newton — a K-12 school in Kentland, Ind. — Jarrett got a chance to help with younger kids as a high school junior and senior.

“I knew I wanted to be a positive role model — someone to look up to,” says Hammel. “I look up to my parents a lot. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today.

“They’ve always had my back.”

Coming from a close-knit family where both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes, Jarrett counts younger brother Jay as his best friend. They grew up pushing each other in academics and athletics. 

With 1,195 points, 6-foot-4 Jarrett Hammel was the No. 1 all-time scorer in South Newton boys hoops history until he was surpassed by younger brother Jay Hammel with 1,363. The 6-6 Jay is now a 21-year-old junior right-hander on the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball team and a Multimedia Journalism major.

A 2016 South Newton graduate, Jarrett Hammel played baseball for Glenn Donahue and basketball for Mike Hall. 

Hammel was born in Lafayette, Ind., and grew up in Brook, Ind., where he still resides. He knew Donahue as a youth baseball coach who moved up to the high school ranks. 

Jarrett played four high school summers of travel ball with the Indiana Nitro.

His first college baseball season was spent with head coach Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When the school closed, he transferred to Valpo U., and played for head coach Brian Schmack.

Hammel was a high school sophomore when he appeared on O’Dette’s radar. He became a mentor to the pitcher.

“I learned a lot in the year I was (at St. Joe),” says Hammel. “My outlook on life has changed because of him.”

O’Dette stressed being a good example and always staying in contact with people who are close to you.

“Don’t let conversations get stale,” says Hammel. “You never know when they made need you or you may need them.”

Once it was announced that St. Joseph’s was closing, Hammel recalls that O’Dette was worried more about getting us placed than his own career. O’Dette landed at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Hammel played summer college ball for the Lafayette Aviators in 2017 and 2018. Brent McNeil (now pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) managed the team to a Prospect League title in 2017. Will Arnold (now with Prep Baseball Report Arizona) was in charge in 2018.

While Hammel was at South Newton, Valpo also had interest in him and Schmack welcomed the southpaw when he became available.

What did Hammel learn from Schmack?

“Just being a man and owning up to your mistakes,” says Hammel. “Never put the blame on someone else.”

It’s about responding to adversity — something that is plentiful in baseball.

From his personal life, Hammel has learned to greater than his ups and downs.

“When things are not going your way in life you can’t put your head down and go through the motions,” says Hammel. “You have to ride the wave. Life is full of highs and lows.”

He also learned important concepts about teamwork and time management while playing NCAA Division I baseball.

As left-handed pitcher, left-hander Hammel hurled for Valpo at Alabama State March 11, 2020 and was announced as the head of the Bison program Jan. 12, 2021. 

The 23-year-old Hammel conducted his first winter practice session where he engaged with 15 athletes (many BC baseball players are involved in winter sports) and dished out baseball and life lessons. 

Hammel expects his players to be role models.

“I told them that someone is always watching your every move,” says Hammel. “You’re high schoolers now. Be good people and go hard with everything you do.”

Benton Central (enrollment around 550) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division). 

The Bison are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

While the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Benton Central fielded two teams in 2019 and Hammel says he expects to have about 30 players for two squads in 2021.

Hammel is in the process of finding assistant coaches. He would like to have a Benton Central alum on his staff. Bringing in coaches from Newton County is not practical since Brook is in Central Time and Oxford is in Eastern Time.

In looking to his feeder system, Hammel likes the youth program already established and plans to place players in competitive summer leagues and with top travel organizations.

“We want to get them out of their comfort zone and change their outlook on life,” says Hammel, who also plans to start a fall baseball program at BC.

“We went to keep kids at it and try to perfect their craft year-round,” says Hammel. “We’re trying to maximize everyone’s potential.”

Recent Benton Central graduates in college baseball include Matt Taylor and Taylor Varnado with Marian University in Indianapolis. Knights head coach Todd Bacon went to BC.

There’s also Alex Thurston at Valparaiso U., and Payton Hall at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

Benton Central senior Dalton Rennaker is a Marian commit.

Jarrett Hammel, a 2016 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., and 2020 graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) University, has been hired as head baseball coach at Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind.

Purdue Fort Wayne right-hander Madura experiences growth

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was not the way he would have scripted it, but Mike Madura saw positive gains when the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 baseball season at Purdue Fort Wayne and sent him home to Munster, Ind.

Unable to get to a gym, right-handed pitcher Madura worked at home and added strength and weight to his 6-foot-6 frame. He now tips the scales at about 205.

While coronavirus did not make an internship with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen practical for the “Passport to Success” points required by Purdue Fort Wayne for his Business Economics and Public Policy major, Madura was able to pitch for the Midwest Collegiate League team for the second straight summer. 

On Sunday, Aug. 16, he threw eight shutout innings of two-hit baseball with eight strikeouts and two walks as the Oilmen beat the DuPage County Hounds in Game 2 of the MCL championship series. It was a must-win situation since DuPage had taken Game 1.

“It was awesome that atmosphere at Oil City Stadium (in Whiting),” says Madura of his 99-pitch outing. “I trusted my preparation.

“I had playoff experience. I pitched in Game of the semifinals (in 2019) and that definitely helped.”

Madura pushed his two-year mark with the Oilmen to 10-0. He was a starter and part-time reliever in 2019 and was strictly used as a starter in 2020 with Chris Cunningham as manager and Matt Pobereyko as pitching coach. 

Playing summer ball so close to home allowed Madura to continue working on his physical gains while also taking two summer courses. He is on pace to graduate from PFW in the spring. He plans to go to Fort Wayne this weekend and classes — some in-person and some online — are to begin Monday, Aug. 24.

The spring of 2020 marked Madura’s first with the NCAA Division I Mastodons. He made four mound appearances (all in relief) and went 0-0 with a 4.60 earned run average, 10 strikeouts and five walks and 15 2/3 innings.

It was the first season at Purdue Fort Wayne for head coach Doug Schreiber and pitching coach Brent McNeil.

“It’s awesome,” says Madura of playing for Schreiber, whose resume includes 18 years as head coach at Purdue in West Lafayette. “He’s got a lot of experience in Division I baseball.”

McNeil leads a pitcher development program that allows hurlers to work based on what their body is telling them.

“Listening to your arm, he really preaches that,” says Madura of McNeil. “Something I like about our program is recovery and sprint work.”

The Dons use Jaeger Sports J-bands, Driveline PlyoCare Balls and also sprint up to 60 yards to help with recovery and conditioning.

“It helps keep your legs in shape,” says Madura. “It helps with recovery by getting the whole body going.

“We don’t run long distance at all. We’re trying to be more explosive.”

This summer, Madura regularly threw his fastball (he has a four-seamer and two-seamer) at 87 to 89 mph and touched 90 a few times. Using a high three-quarter arm slot, he also employs a “circle” change-up and tosses a slider. 

“It has more of a slurve action on it,” says Madura. “It’s a two-plane break. 

“It depends on what I’m trying to do in that at-bat — get it over for a strike or, if I’m trying to put a guy away, I’ll throw it harder.”

Born with two webbed fingers on his left hand, Madura had surgery at about 2. His parents — Mike and Sherrie — bought him baseball gloves for a righty or a lefty and he ended up using the former though he does many everyday tasks with his left hand.

Madura was born and raised in Munster. He played his earliest organized baseball at the Hammond YMCA. From 7 to 9, he played both at Munster Little League and for the traveling Schererville-based Pro Style Rockers. Then came a few summers with the Sports Works Stars. That team was coached by his father — also known as Mike. 

The student-athlete who turns 22 in October is the sixth in a line possessing that name. When he was younger, it was easier to keep him and his father straight by referring to Big Mike and Little Mike. But the younger Madura — sometimes known as Michael — was 6-3 entering high school, 6-5 leaving it and grew an inch since going into college.

Is being tall an advantage?

Madura sees it as one.

“I have a lot more leverage on my pitches,” says Madura. “There’s a downward angle.

“It makes it that much harder on a hitter.”

Michael Madura was with the Northwest Indiana Hurricanes (father Mike as an assistant coach) at 12U and 13U.

Madura closed out his high school summers with the Hammond/Indiana Chiefs, playing for head coach Todd Iwema at 14U and 15U and organization founder Dave Sutkowski at 16U and 17U.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer/geometry teacher Bob Shinkan coached Madura with the Munster High School Mustangs and also had him as class aide.

“Coach Shinkan’s an awesome guy,” says Madura, who admired his ability to have fun while also getting his point across when it was time to get serious.

Madura played for the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Hammond Lakers (with Anthony Spangler as general manager) in the summers at Hammond’s Riverside Park before and after his freshman year at Central Michigan University. 

He redshirted there at CMU in 2018, transferred to South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., and pitched in 2019 while completing his associate degree in Business Administration at the junior college. On the mound, he logged 42 innings in nine appearances (eight starts) and went 0-5 with a 4.29 ERA, 18 strikeouts and eight walks for the Steve Ruzich-coached Bulldogs.

Michael Madura is one of IT project manager Mike and nurse Sherrie Madura’s four athletic children. Tiffany (27) played volleyball at Olivet Nazarene University. Trisha (25) was a at Davenport University. Michael also played basketball until his sophomore year in high school. Kylie (14) is a volleyball and softball player at Munster High.

Mike Madura, a 2017 Munster (Ind.) High School graduate, is a 6-foot-6, 205-pound right-handed pitcher at Purdue Fort Wayne. He is 10-0 over the past two summers with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Jones returns to college coaching at Purdue Fort Wayne

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ken Jones was very involved with baseball the past dozen years as an instructor.

He returned to the college coaching ranks in October 2019 and it “got juices flowing again.”

Jones, an assistant at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne, is senior lead instructor at the World Baseball Academy — also in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“It was a pretty good timing situation,” says Jones, who was asked to join the staff of new Mastodons head coach Doug Schreiber in the same town where he teaches lessons. “He was looking for some guys and I wanted to get back into it.”

Jones, 48, was an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Fred Decker at Western Michigan University (1999-2004) and assistant to Rich Maloney (1997 and 1998) at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., before going to work at WBA.

“Coach Decker treated you with a lot of respect and communicated very well,” says Jones. “He told you what he expected and you needed to do it. I still have a lot of his attitudes that I use today.”

“(Maloney) helped me get my start. He was really good on the infield. On the recruiting side, he was good as projecting what kids were going to be. He looked at their body type and athleticism. Mid-majors have to project some kids and then they develop over two or three years and become that top-level kid.”

Twice an academic All-American at WMU, where he earned a degree in aviation operations, he gained a master’s in sports administration at BSU in 1998.

The relationship at Purdue Fort Wayne brings together sons of baseball pioneers. Bill Jones and Ken Schreiber helped form the Indiana High School Baseball Association in 1971. The elder Jones was the organization’s executive director for many years. Schreiber won 1,010 games, seven state titles and was elected to 13 halls of fame. Jones passed away in 2015 and Schreiber in 2017.

“I think I’ve got my old dad in there,” says Jones of his coaching approach. “Every once in awhile you have to light a fire under a guy. You can’t be one-dimensional. You have to know your kid and know what works for them. You coach accordingly.

“When my dad coached you could be a little more tough, demanding and vocal. It was a different generation. You have to roll with the times a little bit and see how kids respond. It’s a different society. You have to understand how the kids tick.”

At PFW, Ken Jones has been working with hitters, catchers and outfielders.

“My strongest abilities lie with hitters,” says Jones, who came to find out that he shares a similar philosophy on that subject with Doug Schreiber. “We want low line drives. We want hitters to keep the barrel on the ball through the zone as long as possible.

“We want guys to focus gap to gap.”

Jones says his hitters sometimes ask questions about things like exit velocity and launch angle, but he has the Mastodons focusing on what happens once they strike the ball.

“We can still see what needs to be done without having all the bells and whistles,” says Jones, noting that PFW pitchers do some work with Rapsodo motion detection data. “In our first 15 games (before the 2020 season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic), it was refreshing to see we had some decent results without all the technology focus.”

As a player for his father at DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind., and for Decker at Western Michigan, Jones was a two-time all-Mid-American Conference catcher and was selected in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and played briefly in the San Diego Padres system.

His emphasis with Purdue Fort Wayne catchers has been on receiving, blocking and throwing.

“I’m learning through my son and other catching guys,” says Jones, whose son Hayden Jones, a lefty-swinging backstop who played at Carroll High School of Fort Wayne and sat out 2020 after transferring from Mississippi State University to Illinois State University. “I’m trying to gain some new knowledge.

“You never want to be satisfied with where you’re at and educate yourself on better ways to get things done. You soak in some information and put those things in your tool box. We do that as coaches and players. You figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

The Mastodons coaching staff also features Brent McNeil and volunteer Gordon Cardenas.

McNeil is the pitching coach and organizes much of the recruiting. The coronavirus shutdown has made that process a little different.

“It’s phone calls,” says Jones. “We wan’t have kids on-campus. We are able to walk through campus with FaceTime.”

In some cases, a player might commit before ever coming to Fort Wayne.

Some summer collegiate baseball leagues have canceled their seasons and others are playing the waiting game.

“Guys will be scrambling (for places to play),” says Jones. “It will be a very fluid situation the whole summer for the college guys.”

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Ken Jones is an assistant baseball coach at Purdue Fort Wayne. He is also senior lead instructor at the World Baseball Academy in the same Indiana city. He was an assistant at Western Michigan (1999-2004) and Ball State University (1997 and 1998). (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

 

Schreiber looks for Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons to be in ‘overachieve mode’

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Purdue Fort Wayne head baseball Doug Schreiber has been defining the culture for his Mastodons.

With the help of PFW assistants Brent McNeil, Ken Jones and Gordon Cardenas, attitude will be at the forefront.

“We’re going to have to be in overachieve mode somewhat,” says Schreiber, who was hired at PFW in July 2019. “We’re going to be looking at players to play a little bit above their skill level.

“To be able to overachieve, you have to have the intangibles. You have to have the proper attitude and outlook. We’re recruiting attitude and that’s going to be a big focus.

“We want to make sure guys understand that having a positive attitude, a maturity level and a passion to play is the foundation of the program with respect, work ethic and trust being some of the cornerstones of what we’re trying to build.”

Schreiber says he makes few guarantees to his players. He doesn’t promise them he’ll add 10 mph to their fastball, get them drafted or even give them a starting position.

“One of the things I think I can guarantee is that if you don’t have the right attitude and the right mindset, you definitely aren’t going to overachieve and play above your skill set,” says Schreiber. “You are probably going to play below your skill set.”

A head coach for 20 seasons in West Lafayette, Ind., — 18 at Purdue University (1999-2016) and two at McCutcheon High School (20018-19), Schreiber knows that Purdue Fort Wayne may not be the biggest school with the very best facilities.

But the Mastodons are NCAA Division I and expect to be competitive at that level while playing home games at Mastodon Field and training in the strength & fitness area inside the Hilliard Gates Sports Center.

How does Schreiber and company recognize the intangibles during the recruiting process?

Stuff on the mound, bat speed and range in the field are fairly evident. It’s not as obvious with other attributes.

“It’s tough.” says Schreiber. “You do have to spend a little more time. In some of the recruiting opportunities, you just get a quick look.”

Because of NCAAA rules, coaches don’t get spend as an inordinate amount of time with the prospective student-athlete. That’s where they rely on the players’ coaches (high school, travel, junior college).

Schreiber said the vetting process also includes the answers that come from casual conversation.

The Mastodons staff has learned how to read body language. It’s something they pick up on when watching a recruit when they or their teammates are struggling and it’s something they can see in players on the roster.

“We can’t see what’s inside their head, their heart or their gut,” says Schreiber. “The best way you have at least a clue on what’s going on in there is their body language.

“It definitely is a red flag when you see some disrespect and those types of things.”

It’s important because there are only so many roster spots available (up to 35 with 11.7 scholarships at the D-I level) and coaches have to get it right.

“Within their baseball life, we’re going to have compassion for them as individuals with anything that’s going on in their life,” says Schreiber. “But we just don’t have time for them to feel sorry for themselves.

“It’s a tough enough game that if they start to feel sorry for themselves, that’s the beginning of a negative attitude. They’re going to start making excuses, blaming other people or not taking responsibility. We have to have student-athletes that are mature enough and coachable enough to be able to handle adversity and persevere through those types of things.”

Schreiber says human beings have negative thoughts. What are done with those are the key.

“Do you act out on them?,” says Schreiber. “Do you voice your negative opinion? There’s all kinds of things that can get you in trouble.

“We have to teach them how to channel those negative thoughts into some positive action and positive thoughts.”

Schreiber also puts stock in mental development. With that in mind, he will have his players in classroom settings taking part in open discussions on life skills.

Topics will include “a winning mentality vs. a whining mentality” plus leadership, team unity and much more.

Prior to taking over at Purdue, Schreiber served as an assistant at Ball State University (1991-92), Butler University (1993), the University of Notre Dame (1994) and Arizona State University (1995-98).

That’s why he values his experience at McCutcheon. When he went into coaching, he thought he would be at the high school level — something his father — 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber excelled at for 39 years at LaPorte (Ind.) High School.

“I had the opportunity to keep staying at Division I,” says Schreiber. “It  just kept working out.

“To (coach) at McCutcheon, where (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) Jake Burton had built the program up to such a high caliber was a great experience.”

Working with high school student-athletes, Schreiber learned about patience.

“I feel like I became a better coach by coaching younger players,” says Schreiber. “Those are the players we’re going to be recruiting now.

“Getting in-tune with how they communicate amongst each other and with coaches, parents and everything was an important piece of it, too.”

After his coaching tenure at Purdue, Schreiber went into an academic job at the school then got his real estate license, but never got into that field too heavily with his coaching position at McCutcheon.

I knew I wanted to continue to coach,” says McCutcheon. “I looked into few opportunities, but when this one (at Purdue Fort Wayne) came forward it was something I was very, very interested in and was very fortunate I got the opportunity to do it.”

“Staying in Indiana was important to my wife (McCutcheon guidance counselor Sarah) and I. We had visited and done some things in Fort Wayne. I’ve recruited over here.

“Fort Wayne is a great city. It’s got a lot of everything, but it still has the small Midwest town feel.”

The Schreiber have purchased a home in Fort Wayne, meaning the coach does not have the long commute he had when he first was hired.

“Other than that, it’s been smooth and thoroughly enjoyable,” says Schreiber of the transition. “Everything has been quality. I’ve got great support from our athletic director.”

Mastodons AD Kelley Hartley Hutton was head women’s volleyball coach for 15 seasons and 13 years as Senior Woman Administrator PFW. She was a four-year player at the University of Toledo.

“She understands the coach’s perspective,” says Schreiber. “We’re into having the best student-athlete experience possible. She gets it from both ends (coach and athlete).”

Staying in the state also allows Schreiber to keep his well-established network of high school and travel ball coaches. There’s also the junior colleges in the region.

This fall, recruiting has included plenty of looks at junior college players, who tend to be more mature physically and mentally.

“That’s not to say we’re not interested in high talent high school players as well,” says Schreiber. “We’re going to try to stay very strong in Indiana — players that have gone on to junior college and those from high schools.”

Ideally, most players will be on-campus for four or five years, giving time to mature and grow into leadership roles.

“There’s a always a little bit of a learning curve,” says Schreiber. “Ultimately, our base is going to be four-year players with a good mix of junior college players.”

Purdue Fort Wayne also participates in the Midwest Student Exchange Program, where students from several surrounding states get a break on out-of-state tuition. That allows Schreiber and company to take a little wider look while keeping Indiana as the recruiting base.

PFW is currently a member of the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). The Mastodons are joining the Horizon League in 2020-21. The league currently features Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, University of Illinois-Chicago, Wright State and Youngstown State.

Schreiber says geography is one factor for the switch.

“Student-athletes are missing a lot of class because of the distance,” says Schreiber. “We do create things with scheduling in the spring that allows them to minimize missed classes.”

That includes moving classes away from late in the day Thursday or altogether Friday and taking more online classes. On the road, there is quiet time for study on the bus and in the hotel. With some long road trips ending on Monday morning, a premium is placed on time and priority management.

“It’s going to benefit them from an academic standpoint,” says Schreiber of the move to the Horizon.

With Schreiber’s hiring, the Slicer quotient doubled for the Mastodons. Doug is a 1982 LaPorte High School graduate. Mastodons senior first baseman Travis Upp, son of current LaPorte head coach Scott Upp, got his diploma at LPHS in 2016.

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Doug Schreiber is the head baseball coach at Purdue University Fort Wayne (Ind.) (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Lafayette’s McNeil has Aviators in thick of pennant chase

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With players coming and going and roles constantly changing during the 2017 summer collegiate wood bat baseball season, Brent McNeil has kept the Lafayette Aviators in the Prospect League playoff hunt.

McNeil, a 2007 Lafayette Jefferson High School graduate and the only head coach the Aviators have had in their two seasons of existence, took his squad into play July 29 and with eight regular-season contests remaining, West-leading Lafayette was 30-22 and two games ahead of Terre Haute.

The Prospect League, which debuted in 2009, includes two divisions in 2017 — Lafayette, Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Quincy (Ill.) and Springfield (Ill.) in the West with Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.), West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

The 60-game season, wood bats and strong competition gives players a taste for professional baseball. Some thrive and others see that the grind is too much for them.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 (the current Aviators roster features players with hometowns in 13 states and Puerto Rico). Mostly because of injuries, there has been plenty of movement for the Aviators throughout the summer.

“You really have to watch out for warning signs of injuries, take care of them and make sure (pitchers) are not throwing too many pitches in one inning,” says McNeil, who played Eastern Illinois University and recently recently hired as the pitching coach at Quincy (Ill.) University after past two spring seasons on the coaching staff at the University of North Florida and director of baseball operations at Indiana State University prior to that.

There is no disabled list in the PL. Players are either on the roster or they are released. It’s up to the teams to find replacements.

“I can’t count how many times the roster has changed since I started putting it together in the fall,” says McNeil, who enlisted the help of second-year assistant Ryan Dineen in building the Aviators. “Having college contacts is huge. Some players have reached out, but I’ve mostly relied on his own contacts. There are coaches I’ve known over the years and trust.”

The old saying in baseball is you can never have too much pitching and that really rings true in summer collegiate baseball, where injuries and innings limits keep mound staffs continually morphing.

“(Working with) pitchers is tough,” says McNeil. “The top 1, 2 and 3 (starters on college teams) are either shut down for the summer or go to Cape Cod or the Northwoods (leagues). I believe we began the summer with about nine starters (and now have seven).

“We’re still trying to establish roles at this point in the season. At any moment, you could lose that guy. You have to find more guys and figure out where they fit in.”

Caleb Sleeman fit the bill July 23 when the Michigan State University right-hander threw the franchise’s first no-hitter in a 12-0 win against Kokomo.

With so many talented players and so much playing time, McNeil makes it a point to do something constructive with his bench players on a daily basis — maybe extra time in the batting cage.

College baseball players try to put on muscle in the weight room during the summer.

“It’s real hard when you’re playing six days a week,” says McNeil.

Loeb Stadium next to the Columbian Park Zoo is the Aviators’ home field. McNeil played his high school baseball there and was with the Lafayette Lightning in the Colt World Series after coming up through the Pony Baseball Leagues at Lafayette’s Armstrong Park. He was a Prospect League player for the former Slippery Rock (Pa.) franchise.

Dineen, who serves as hitting, infield and third base coach for Lafayette, played at Andrean High School for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur then at Eastern Illinois University for Jim Schmitz. He played two seasons as an infielder in the Houston Astros system and has served on the coaching staff at McKendree University.

Parker Osborne replaced Dan Peterson as an Aviators assistant during the season.

Osborne, a former Southern Illinois University outfielder, has been an assistant at Western Illinois University.

Peterson pitched at Indiana State and went to Iowa to pursue a junior college coaching opportunity.

The Aviators are operated through MKE Sports & Entertainment, the same group that runs the rival Kokomo Jackrabbits.

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