Tag Archives: Brice Davis

Fishers, Indiana Wesleyan alum Davis comes back to baseball as a coach

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

When Brice Davis got the call that led him into professional baseball he was busy on the field.
Davis was coaching third base for Indiana Wesleyan University in a doubleheader when the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers manager Jamie Bennett, who pitched of the DuBois County (Ind.) Dragons and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats coached with the RailCats, and outgoing hitting coach Derek Shomon reached out about filling Shomon’s spot since he had taken a coaching job in the Minnesota Twins organization.
“They wanted to see if I’d get rattled,” says Davis of the timing. “It was a twisted joke.”
But Davis impressed and after the twin bill received text messages and got a good review. The next thing he knew he is joining the Boomers for spring training and after that came a 96-game regular season and the fourth league championship in franchise history.
“It was whirlwind,” says Davis of the 2021 baseball season began in early February with Indiana Wesleyan in Lakeland, Fla., and ending in late September with Schaumburg in Washington, Pa. “It was an incredible year and an incredible ride.
“It was a really special group (at IWU). To be leaving them at that time was incredibly tough. I’m in awe that we got to share all those runs together.”
Indiana Wesleyan wound up 2021 at 44-14, Crossroads League regular-season and tournament champions and an NAIA Opening Round host.
Davis, a four-year starter at IWU and a 2013 graduate with a Sports Management degree, spent three seasons on the staff of Wildcats head coach Rich Benjamin (2019-21).
“He’s a huge offensive mind and about hitting for power,” says Davis of Benjamin, who was an assistant at Fishers (Ind.) High School before moving on. “I saw it as an opportunity.
“I wanted to see if I could hack it at the college level.”
Davis first became a hitting instructor in 2009 (his training business is Davis Baseball LLC). But it was a big transition to working with professional hitters in 2021.
“You’re helping prepare guys to be successful (in pro ball),” says Davis. “At the college level, you’re doing a lot of development. They’re making strides every single month to be the best versions of themselves and trying to stay locked in.
“Guys at the professional level are already pretty talented. They want to take their skill level and apply it against a pitching staff (or individual). In both arenas the goal is to simplify life. You pick out an approach that is going to breed results and success.”
The difference between high school and college and pro baseball is that the pros play everyday with much more travel and they don’t have as much time to work on their craft.
“Learning how to hit when you’re only 80 percent or getting your two knocks comes in a lot of ways,” says Davis. “I was amazed how many guys played hurt.”
How a player felt on any given day is how they prepared for that day’s game. That might mean more batting practice or less.
“You can’t treat everyday like Opening Day,” says Davis. “It just doesn’t work like that.”
Since Schaumburg is an independent league team, scouting is done differently. Major League-affiliated clubs have access to plenty of stored data on opponents.
The only resource available to the Boomers staff was Frontier League TV (2021 was the first year that all league clubs broadcast games). Coaches and players spent a lot of time looking at video to find tendencies.
The Evansville Otters were the only team who put pitching velocity on the screen during their broadcasts, leaving Schaumburg to study those videos when teams took on Evansville.
In the league championship series against the Washington Wild Things, the staff was at a disadvantage. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boomers had not played anyone on Washington’s side of the league during the regular season. Also, there was no radar gun reading available at Wild Things Park.
“It was all hearsay. You had no more information than in a non-conference high school baseball game. It was ‘see it and hit it, boys!’
It was absolute gauntlet level from our staff and our players. It’s not copy-paste-print like it is at some of the other levels. It’s not like high school baseball where you can trade tapes.
“It was a big learning curve.”
Davis notes that the Frontier League is now partnered with Major League Baseball so maybe things will change for the better.
Not all pro players take to information the same way.
“This guy wants to know velo and out pitch and this guy wants to know as much as possible,” says Davis. “Other guys don’t want to know anything and just play the game.”
And if a pro hitter doesn’t want info, it’s not up to the coach to shove it down his throat.
“You have respect for what they’re trying to do,” says Davis.
While Schaumburg players hail from all over the country, there are also a number with ties to the area, including former Indiana Wesleyan pitcher Isaiah Rivera from Des Plaines, Ill.
“There are a lot of college players in the region,” says Davis. “You don’t want to miss on anything in your back yard. Chicago is a cool city with a lot of great athletes in it.”
Davis says many have the misconception that independent ball is full of 27-year-old has-beens. But a good deal have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and spent time in the affiliated minors.
The Frontier League is unique because it puts players into Rookie, Experienced and Veteran eligibility classifications and there is a cap on veterans (those turning 29 by Oct. 1). Teams can also make just 30 transaction moves per season.
“The world of independent baseball is fascinating,” says Davis.
Another thing about 2021 in much of independent ball is that there was no season in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“They’re learning how to play baseball again and getting their timing back,” says Davis. “It’s like they’ve been waiting for the prom for two years.
“It was about managing emotions, telling them to enjoy the moment and don’t overthink it.”
There was a time when Davis didn’t want to think about baseball. It stung too much when his playing career was over and he did not watch a game for two years.
Brice’s father was a high school boys basketball coach for many years. Hagerstown, Ind., native Jerry Davis was a head coach at Triton Central and Wawasee and an assistant at Marion and Hamilton Southeastern. He came back to Indiana from Dallas, where Brice was born, to teach math and coach hoops.
“I grew up in the gym,” says Brice. “My safe place to process life was listening to bouncing balls. That’s a sanctuary few people understand.”
Davis, who did not play high school basketball to focus on baseball opportunities, joined the Hamilton Southeastern hardwood staff of Brian Satterfield and coached freshmen for two seasons.
“Climbing up the hard way in basketball appealed to me,” says Davis. “Going to clinics and studying tape was a journey in itself.”
Then came the call back to baseball and he answered it.
“I’m in a better head space when I’m going to the field,” says Davis, who received words of encouragement that still resonate with him.
Brian Abbott, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director and a former IWU assistant, approached Davis at the IHSBCA State Clinic when the latter was on Matt Cherry’s Fishers Tigers staff.
“He was one of the first people who told me I needed to be in coaching,” says Davis of Abbott, the IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s because of kids like myself. He said, ‘you belong in this industry. You might be the only person who gets to tell a kid that day that they matter.
“You have a purpose to connect with kids.”
Davis has taken that connection to heart.
“I love teaching the game,” says Davis. “I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of good can be done by powerful teaching and coaching.
“It’s a great profession.”
Davis, who was part of Fishers’ first graduating class in 2008, was reunited with Cherry for three seasons (2016-18) as an assistant coach. The 2018 team made an IHSAA Class 4A state title run.
“He’s single-most influential person in my life besides my dad since I was 15,” says Davis of Cherry. “He knows there’s more to people than baseball. He’s transformational.”
Cherry, who had coached Davis prior to the 2016 season he needed a freshman coach. Davis accepted the invitation.
“I’ll be darned if I wasn’t completely consumed,” says Davis. “I told (Cherry) the next year I want to be a varsity coach. I want to be with the older kids. I want to dive in and see where it could go.”
In 2017 and 2018, Davis was Fishers’ hitting coach. The latter team set 21 school records.
“We had all the fun in the world,” says Davis.
Now 32 and living in Wheeling, Ill., Davis is teaching at area facilities, including Parkway Bank Sports Complex aka The Dome in Rosemont, Ill., and East Sports Academy in Itaska, Ill., and helping at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Owls head coach Bill Fratto is also an assistant/first base coach for the Boomers.
Through it all, Davis has developed a fraternity of brothers at each baseball stage and keeps in-touch with people on his high school, college and pro path. Kris Holtzleiter, the new Eastbrook High School head coach, played and coached with close friend Davis at IWU.
“Every season has a story whether it’s good or bad,” says Davis. “You must make the most of the moment you’re in.
“It’s not about the championships or the trophies.”
It’s the people.

Brice Davis.
Jerry Davis and Brice Davis.
Brice Davis with mother Jerry and mother Paige.
Brice Davis and M.J. Stavola.
Bill Fratto and Brice Davis.
Young Schaumburg (Ind.) Boomers fan and Brice Davis.
Former Indiana Wesleyan University players Isaiah Rivera and Brice Davis a player and coach with the Schaumburg Boomers.

Indiana Wesleyan’s Holtzleiter sees building rapport with players as coaching key

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaches are in the people business.

To develop the athletes in their charge to the fullest, they must know what makes them tick.

Kris Holtzleiter, the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Indiana Wesleyan University baseball program, discovered this before he was still a player at the NAIA school in Marion and he has applied it at his coaching stops.

He grew up in Upland, Ind., and attended Eastbrook High School outside Marion, graduating in 2002. Brian Abbott was the Panthers head coach and lefty-throwing Holtzleiter was a center fielder and pitcher.

“He was a great mentor,” says Holtzleiter of Abbott, who has long been pitching coach at Huntington University and the executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. “He understand how to communicate with people and build relationships.

“Relationships are the fundamental piece to coaching baseball. It’s the whole purpose behind it.”

Holtzleiter played four seasons and graduated from Indiana Wesleyan. The first few years, Mike Burchette served as pitching coach after that Wildcats head coach Mark DeMichael used student assistants.

“He did not have a ton of resources at the time,” says Holtzleiter of DeMichael, who is now the school’s athletic director. “He was basically running the entire program by himself.

“Looking back, I am incredibly impressed. You have to be really organized to run a two-hour practice and do everything by yourself.”

Holtzleiter’s first two years in coaching were 2010 and 2011 at Eastbrook. The first year he was a varsity assistant and the second head junior varsity coach.

He was an IWU assistant to head coach Chad Newhard from August 2011 to December 2012 and was then hired as head coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School near Wabash, Ind. He led the Knights for four seasons (2013-16).

The year before he arrived, Southwood went 1-26 and it had been many years since the Knights had won as many as 10 games in a season.

“There was not many expectations,” says Holtzleiter. “I began finding out what their goals were — individually and as a team.

“The biggest thing I learned (at Southwood) was about communicating and building relationships with the kids. If you do that, they’ll respond well to you.”

Holtzleiter guided the 2014 squad to the program’s first sectional championship in 11 years. The 2015 and 2016 clubs won back-to-back Three Rivers Conference titles. Several players went on to college baseball.

From there, Holtzleiter went back to Indiana Wesleyan to join a coaching staff led by Rich Benjamin.

He found another coach with the same foundation.

“He desires relationships,” says Holtzleiter of Benjamin. “He’s a good communicator. He wants to communicate openly and be honest with his guys.

“He’s also open about his faith.”

Through a common friend, Benjamin invited former National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to lead a team devotional via video conference. Because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that shortened the 2020 season to 19 games (the Wildcats went 10-9), coaches and players were communicating while practicing social distancing leading up to spring term finals last week.

The coaching staff, which also includes Brice Davis and Eric George, is now focused on recruiting at a time when players who lost most of this past season have been granted an extra year of eligibility.

“We try to find guys from multiple avenues that fit our program,” says Holtzleiter. “We look for guys who want to take a stride in their faith, are strong academically and can really play.

“This is an uncertain time for players, especially for (the classes of) 2020 and 2021).”

IWU’s staff will look at area high school players as well as transfers and those from the junior college ranks. This season, the Wildcats roster sported two players from Puerto Rico.

As pitching coach, Holtzleiter uses a mix of old school and new school.

Rapsodo is used to capture video to help pitchers with their delivery, sequencing, command and pitch design.

“We also work with feel to see why their pitches have certain movement and make adjustments,” says Holtzleiter, who has seen the Wildcats win 96 games since 2017. “It’s important for guys to pitch to their skill set and develop their strengths.

“Too many guys want to attack the opponents’ weaknesses instead of developing their strengths.”

Kris and Jessica Holtzleiter have two children — son Jackson (9) and daughter Madison (6).

KRISHOLTZLEITER1

 

Kris Holtzleiter, an Indiana Wesleyan University graduate, is pitching coach/recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats baseball program. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

 

Cherry has built a strong program from scratch at Fishers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the midst of an Indiana high school baseball hotbed, Fishers has grown its own crop of winning teams and productive student-athletes.

Matt Cherry is the only head coach the Tigers have ever known, starting the program from scratch and fielding the first varsity team in 2007.

There were a few growing pains at the beginning, but it took off from there and Fishers now holds its own in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville) and beyond.

Fishers heads into the Class 4A Westfield Sectional ranked No. 3 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association poll (Carmel and Indianapolis Cathedral are 1-2).

Off to a 24-4 start in 2017, those four defeats came by one run each (to Oakland, Tenn., Hamilton Southeastern, Avon and Carmel).

“I’m not sure that there were many cons to this experience,” says Cherry of starting up the program. “We have been able to build our own traditions and history.

“We created everything (uniforms, baseball logo, expectations of Tiger baseball on the field and in the classroom, annual traditions like how we do Senior Night … everything).”

Cherry, who grew up learning and loving the game from father Mark, is a 1998 graduate of New Castle Chrysler High School, where he played for Gary Brown. He played for and later coached with American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.

“Coach Brown was a great coach who held us to a high expectation on the field, but challenged me to be even better off the field,” says Cherry. “Coach Brown was intense on the field and a kind-hearted man off of it.”

New Castle went to semistate for the first time in 26 years in 1996 and was 21-2 and ranked No. 2 before losing in the 1998 sectional.

Cherry knows Alabama native Brandon as “Bama” and credits him for a major part in his development.

“Coach ‘Bama’ influenced me on the nurturing side of relating to players,” says Cherry. After an arm injury ended his playing career, Cherry was an AU assistant for two seasons, including the 2003 season when the Ravens placed third at the NCAA Division IIII World Series.

From Anderson assistant Brian York Cherry learned the importance of the little things in building a successful and winning program.

Todd Salkowski was football offensive coordinator at New Castle when Cherry played there and also left a lasting mark on Cherry.

“He is a winner in everything he does and taught me so much about the bigger picture beyond winning and losing,” says Cherry of Salkowski, now athletic director and girls basketball at Shenandoah High School. “I still use his favorite quote that said every week: ‘If what you did yesterday looks big to you today, then you haven’t done much today.’”

Cherry also counts high school baseball coaches Justin Keever (Noblesville), Ryan Bunnell (Westfield), Curry Harden (former Hamilton Southeastern head coach and current HSE assistant), Jake Burton (formerly of McCutcheon and now at Twin Lakes), Dave Ginder (Fort Wayne Carroll) and many more as mentors.

“I truly believe I have been called to be a teacher and a coach,” says Cherry, who was also a volunteer varsity assistant at Pendleton Heights (2005) and head JV coach at Hamilton Southeastern (2006). “Obviously, my competitive nature wants to win baseball games, but I believe there is far more to coaching than winning and losing.

“I believe I have been entrusted with these young lives to help develop them into young men who will be strong fathers, husbands, and citizens using the avenue of baseball to aid in this development.

“(Motivational speaker) Joe Ehrmann talks about the success of your program will be determined by who those young men become in 10-15 years, and I truly believe that is why I am a coach to help in that development process.”

On the field, Cherry’s emphasis is geared to the current crop of talent.

“I tend to be an extremely aggressive offensive coach trying to constantly put pressure on the opponent’s defense, while being more conservative on defense … taking outs as they come, making the routine play routinely as we race to be the first team to 21 outs.”

Fishers did play its first season without a senior class and had to learn how to win after a few losing seasons.

“Thankfully, we have been blessed with successful years recently, so we have been able to see the rewards of the hard work from all of our coaches and former players in our program,” says Cherry, whose 2017 staff include Darren Simms, Jeff Harkin, Brice Davis and Craig Huls with the varsity, Matt Poisel and Chris Hebert with the junior varsity and Rich Wender and Adam Glaze with the freshmen.

Simms has been with the program since the beginning. His responsibilities include outfielders, third base coach, defensive play caller, baserunning and bunting. He played at Anderson U. when Cherry was an assistant in 2003.

Harkin coaches first base and is assistant defensive play caller.

Davis, a 2008 Fishers graduate, is hitting coach.

Huls is pitching coach.

The HCC has adopted a three-game series. Cherry is a fan of the format.

“I am a huge proponent of the three-game series,” says Cherry. “It has forced us to develop depth with our pitching staffs. We now have three starts that pitch in huge conference games each week plus we must develop a bullpen to make it through the three games. In addition, we are able to develop a fourth starter to pitch in our non-conference games.

“We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great coaches, but great men as well. We have battles on the field, but were all friends off the field. All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.

“The coaches in our conference make the three-game series a lot of fun, because they are work at creating scouting reports, pitching hitters certain ways, and positioning their defenses against the scouting report. This forces hitters to learn how to hit against good pitching. Our three-game series is a great opportunity to prepare our players who are going on to play college baseball. Our guys are playing in intense, meaningful games every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”

HCC are tight-knit lot.

We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference and competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great baseball coaches, but great men as well. 

“We have battles on the field, but we are all friends off the field.  All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.”

The ’17 Tigers went unbeaten at home. The school recently re-configured the fence foul line to enclose the bullpens. From the outfield end of the dugouts the fence line angles towards the outfield and then runs parallel down the foul line to the outfield fence (similar to Wrigley Field).

“Our fence line is not as close to fair territory as Wrigley, but it is a lot closer than many high school fields, which gives is a unique setting,” says Cherry, an IHSBCA district representative and a member of the ABCA and National High School Baseball Coaches Association (BCA).

MATTCHERRY

Matt Cherry is the only head baseball coach Fishers High School has ever known, starting the program from scratch and fielding the first varsity team in 2007.