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Howard highlighting importance of fundamentals with Hobart Brickies

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

Trent Howard has been a high school assistant or travel baseball coach for about a decade.
He assisted at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., in 2021 and was with Portage (Ind.) High School during the 2020 season that did not happen because of COVID-19.
Howard, 32, has also coached in the Morris Baseball organization with teams from 13U to 18U.
He will take those experiences and that of playing for the Hammond (Ind.) Seminoles, Hammond Chiefs (now 5 Star Great Lakes), Hammond Clark High School, Central Michigan University and in the Baltimore Orioles organization to use them as the new head coach at Hobart (Ind.) High School. He was hired in August to lead the Brickies.
“I was very fortunate to have coaches that had several different philosophies that handled players in different ways,” says Howard, a 2021 Hammond Sports Hall of Fame inductee who played for Dave Sutkowski with the Chiefs, Gary Ridgely and Pat Montalbano at Clark and head coach Steve Jaksa and pitching coach Jeff Opalewski at Central Michigan and later served with Jeff Enright at Wheeler and Bob Dixon at Portage. “I saw how they developed a culture and I’ll take take bits and pieces from each of them.”
The first IHSAA Limited Contact Period in the fall saw Howard stressing fundamentals with his Brickies.
“We went back to the basics,” says Howard. “We want to make sure we’re laying a solid foundation for these kids.”
With winter workouts that recently began, it’s more of the same along knocking off the rust for players who have not swung the bat in awhile.
“We want to develop a hitting philosophy and go to the plate with a game plan,” says Howard. “We want to understand what the pitcher is trying to do.”
A former left-handed pitcher himself, Howard allowed his pitchers to rest their arms during the fall and the dead period that followed.
“We wanted to take the time for our arms to fully recover (from spring and summer baseball),” says Howard. “Now it’s about building up arm strength.”
Howard says bullpens will not begin until January.
“Then the keys will be consistency and throwing strikes,” says Howard. “We want them hitting spots and moving the ball around.”
Hobart (enrollment around 1,290) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster).
NCC teams play home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays with a new opponent for five straight weeks.
“We’re fortunate to be in a tough conference,” says Howard. “We play a pretty tough non-conference, too.”
Among those foes are Boone Grove, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, New Prairie, Portage, Valparaiso, Washington Township, Westville, Wheeler and Whiting.
In 2021, the Brickies were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Lowell, Portage and Valparaiso. Hobart has won six sectional titles — the last in 2014.
Howard’s coaching staff includes brother Trevor Howard (Clark Class of 2002), Scott Trcka (who was a pro scout for 27 years) and longtime Brickies assistant Bob Wineland with the varsity and Kyle Jenkins and Zak Pizer with the junior varsity.
Hobart plays its home game on-campus. The diamond’s mound was re-built and the infield was re-leveled in the fall.
Feeding and aiding the high school program are Hobart Little League, Hobart Baseball Club Storm, Hobart American Legion Post 502 Blaze and 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs.
“Kids are everywhere,” says Howard. “We make sure they are with good coaches and in a situation where they’re comfortable.”
Jaden Deel (Hobart Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Huntington (Ind.) University. Ivan Balboa (Class of 2022) has signed to play at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Howard says he sees college potential is other Brickies.
Howard is a School Resource Officer at Portage. Trent and wife of seven years Alexandria live in Portage with sons Eli (5) and Ezekiel (2).

Trent Howard
Trent Howard
Trent Howard

Indiana native Sweeney has college, pro diamond experiences in Florida

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Sweeney has gained much knowledge on a baseball field in 2019.

The tall teenager experienced his lone collegiate season and his first taste of pro ball.

A 6-foot-7, 240-pound left-handed pitcher, the 2018 Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate competed for Pensacola (Fla.) State College in the spring and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in the summer.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself and the game,” says Sweeney, who made his last appearance of the GCL season Aug. 28. “I learned how to pitch, control myself out on the mound and stick to the things I know how to do and not try to out-stretch myself.”

Sweeney pitched in 10 mound games (all starts) and went 2-5 with an 8.13 earned run average, 42 strikeouts and 46 walks in 31 innings at Pensacola State before being selected in the 36th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pirates June 5. His 19th birthday was June 14.

His professional debut came on June 28. While he walked two batters in three of his first five outings, he did strike out three in a 13-pitch performance on July 29. After throwing five of his first 24 pitches for strikes, he wound up at 80-of-146 for the season under the guidance of pitching coach and former big leaguer Fernando Nieve.

Sweeney hurled in 13 games (all in relief), going 0-2 with a 3.45 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 15 walks in 15 2/3 innings. After a brief visit with family a friends in northwest Indiana, Sweeney returns to Bradenton, Fla., on Sept. 8 for three weeks of instructional league.

“We’ll have one thing we need to get better at,” says Sweeney of his mission at instructs. “We’ll stick with it and build off of that.”

Sometime after instructional league, Sweeney says he expects to be back in Pensacola to work out in preparation for 2020.

Does he consider himself a starter or reliever?

“It’s up to (the Pirates) organization,” says Sweeney. “I like starting.

“I’ll do my job and keep moving up in levels.”

In college and the minors, Sweeney got accustomed to spending many hours at the field, between practice, running, weight training and games.

“It was a grind,” says Sweeney. “I had to get used to it.”

At Pensacola, Sweeney played for head coach Brian Lewallyn. His pitching coach was Karsten Whitson (now a volunteer assistant at the University of South Florida).

“(Lewallyn) makes you accountable for everything and gives you real-life advice,” says Sweeney. “He’s always there for us.”

Sweeney says he also formed a quick bond with Whitson, who helped him develop his pitch selection.

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Sweeney uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up that drops off the table with 12-to-6 action.

“(Left-handers) get a lot of sink and run with fastballs,” says Sweeney.

But it’s his slider that has been his strikeout pitch.

“I have a good spin rate on my slider,” says Sweeney. “There’s a downward tilt to it. It’s not a true slider. It’s more of a slurve.”

The son of Tim and Shelly Sweeney and older brother of Hailey Sweeney (now a senior at Wheeler High School), Jake was born in Merrillville, Ind., and grew up in Hobart. His first organized baseball came at Hobart Little League. He later played travel baseball for the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Prospects and Team DeMarini Illinois.

As a multi-sport athlete, Sweeney raced for the Union Township Swim Club from ages 5 to 14 and played basketball through high school. He took the court with A2P in the off-season and spent two prep seasons at Andrean High School and one at Hobart.

“I got a lot of rebounds and was very aggressive on the court,” says Sweeney of basketball, a sport he put to the side to concentrate on baseball.

Sweeney played his first two high school diamond campaigns for the Andrean 59ers and one for the Hobart Brickies, playing for Bob Glover.

“We had a very short time together,” says Sweeney of Glover. “He’s a great guy.”

As a senior, Sweeney pitched in the 2018 Perfect Game Spring League in Iowa on weekends and attended classes at Hobart during the week. After graduation, he headed to Florida to begin the college experience.

And the experiences have just kept coming for the big left-hander.

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Jake Sweeney, who grew up in Hobart, Ind., pitched one season at Pensacola (Fla.) State College in 2019 and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound left-hander. (Pensacola State College Photo)