By STEVE KRAH
Jim Tucker wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.
His vehicles are the classroom and the baseball diamond.
Tucker teaches Language Arts and Reading to middle schoolers at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and also serves as head baseball coach. The 2019 season will be his third leading the Kouts Mustangs.
As an educator, Tucker helps students along their path.
“I try to get the kids to be able to handle the real world,” says Tucker. “I tell them, ‘you can be who you want to be.’
“This is the toughest time in history to be a teenager. You can never shut it off.”
Tucker relates to his students and players through his ability to connect.
“I’m a storyteller,” says Tucker. “I get buy-in from the kids through stories, emotion and feelings.
“In coaching and teaching, I am a relationship builder and a communicator. The game is just an opportunity to becoming who we want to become.”
Some refer to that as transformational coaching.
“We’re here to shape the kids through baseball,” says Tucker. “We’re building a culture we are proud of from top the bottom. That’s what it’s all about.”
Tucker does not base his worth in his won-loss record — though he wants his players to experience winning.
“It’s about making an impact with these kids,” says Tucker, who was the fifth person named as baseball coach at Kouts when he took the job (John Hall took over the Mustangs softball program before the 2016 season).
His coaching staff includes two men — Randy Yager and Doug Murray — with little or no baseball background, but that’s not the priority.
“I’m more concerned with bringing in good men,” says Tucker. “True growth comes from the conversations after (players) fail.”
First-year volunteer coach Stefan Roney is a Kouts graduate. He was on the last Mustangs teams to win an IHSAA sectional championship in 2011 (Kouts reigned in the tourney held at Washington Township).
Kouts, a school of about 275 students, is in a Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.
The Mustangs belong to the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central (Union Mills), Washington Township and Westville). Boone Grove won the 2018 Class 2A state title.
Tucker played at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., graduating in 2008. He then went on Chicago State University and pitched four seasons in five years, sitting out the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and earning his English degree in December 2013.
His head coaches at Calumet were Larry Drake and Roger Azbill with Michael Caston leading the CSU Cougars Tucker’s first four years and Steve Joslyn his last.
Azbill approach baseball with a blue-collar mentality.
“I learned toughness,” says Tucker of Azbill. “He wanted you to show up everyday and do your job. You wanted to always try to get better.”
Caston was a Hammond, Ind., native who played at Valparaiso University. His pitching coach at Chicago State was former Lake Central High School, Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hurler and Gary SouthShore RailCats player Neal Frendling.
What Tucker remembers most from his college baseball experience is playing teams from every corner of the country and seeing the different styles of playing and coaching.
The year he sat out as a player, Tucker traveled with the team and did laundry. But he also decided his baseball future was in coaching. He came away from each trip with page after page of notes.
Before college, Tucker had played travel baseball for Dave Sutkowski with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Baseball Chiefs) and soaked up much about the game. He later coached with Sutkowski.
“He was very detailed,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “Everything was broken down and position-specific. He was also very competitive.
“We run our stuff (at Kouts) very much like we did with the Chiefs.”
Tucker was the pitching coach for Dave Griffin at Purdue-Calumet for one season before joining Steve Strayer’s coaching staff at Crown Point High School leading up to taking the Kouts job in the winter prior to the 2016 season.
“It was awesome learning from (Griffin),” says Tucker. “He does it a little bit differently. He allows guys to do their own thing. He wants to serve as a guy to help you get where you’re going.”
During games, Tucker would see the wheels turning for Griffin.
“He would call things before they happened,” says Tucker. “He was always thinking ahead.”
Tucker was with Strayer at the time the Bulldogs boss suffered a stroke and marvels at how quickly he bounced back.
“I was so impressed how he could manage so many people,” says Tucker of Strayer. “He was very diligent in his planning.
“He always had that growth mindset. He was always learning and adding to coaching tool kit.”
Strayer was quick to share his faith and to ask the opinions of his assistants, making sure to give them ownership in the program and Tucker takes the same tactic with his staff.
Tucker is also part of the new Wheelhouse Baseball podcast. It is part of the Chicago-based Overtime Sports Network, which promotes its various podcasts and blogs.
With Tucker, best friend and former Chicago State teammate Jeremy Ratjaczyk and avid podcaster and Calumet College of St. Joseph graduate Mikey Kubacki Jr., adding to the chatter, Wheelhouse podcast focuses on historic Major League Baseball games, quirky stats and obscure players.
It’s buddies talking baseball with a sense of humor.
“We’re three goofy guys and we’re quirky,” says Tucker. “We try to be genuine.”
The first episode debuted Oct. 10 and was centered on Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.
Episode 2 is to be about the 10 worst contracts in MLB history.
Episode 3 will feature former Hammond Bishop Noll Institute and current minor league pitcher Matt Pobereyko. Episodes generally premier each Wednesday morning.
While his baseball playing days are done, Tucker still competes on the fast pitch wiffleball field. He plays for both the Griffleball League’s GasHouse Gorillas and in the Leroy Wiffle Ball Association.
Griffleball has been around for eight years and has seven teams playing on Sundays at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith. There is no base running. Wherever the ball lands determines the outcome of the at-bat.
Next year, the LWA is to have 14 teams and seven fields. Player do run the bases. If a team issues five balls to the opposing batter, they must lob the next ball in so there’s more offense.
Jim and wife Mysta Tucker have been married for a year and have two dogs.
Jim Tucker, a 2008 Calumet High School graduate, delivers a pitch for Chicago State University. He played baseball for the Cougars in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is now head baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. (Chicago State Photo)
Jim Tucker is a teacher and baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. The graduate of Calumet High School and Chicago State University is also a husband, blogger, podcaster and wiffleballer. The 2019 season will be his third as head coach of the Kouts Mustangs.