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Hamilton Southeastern, Eastern Kentucky grad Poiry considering future on, off diamond

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

Armed with experience and his undergraduate degree, Rutger Poiry is looking for his next collegiate baseball experience.
“I’m looking at all options, all opportunities and just seeing what’s out there and what’s coming my way,” says Poiry, a catcher who is looking to be a graduate transfer after earning a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from Eastern Kentucky University and appearing in one game with the NCAA Division I EKU Colonels in 2022 (he redshirted in 2021 after appearing in 36 games over two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.).
Poiry, a 5-foot-10, 194-pounder, is weighing his options while playing for the third straight year in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He was with the Moon Shots in 2020 and 2021 and is with the Local Legends in 2022.
Grand Park is about 18 miles from Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, where he graduated in 2018.
Two of his classmates were right-hander Sam Bachman (now pitching in the Los Angeles Angels system) and lefty Carter Lohman (who pitched the past four seasons at the University of Lousville).
Scott Henson — then the HSE Royals head coach — also used Poiry on the mound.
“He pushed us work hard in whatever we’re doing,” says Poiry of Henson.
Carter Poiry — Rutger’s brother — graduated from Hamilton Southeastern in 2016 and was also at Lincoln Trail. He pitched for Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Ct., as a graduate student in the spring of 2022.
Priory considers work ethic and a team-first mentality to be his top attributes as an athlete.
“It’s just being a great teammate,” says Poiry. “You know, helping any team I’m involved with in any way I can.”
To make himself better in the batter’s box, Poiry has been working for the past two-plus years with Benny Craig of Feel Good Hitting in Carmel, Ind.
“He’s helped me change my mental game,” says Poiry of Craig, a San Diego native who played D-I and pro baseball and coached in the Cape Cod Baseball League. “He puts a big emphasis on the classroom. It’s thing you can do to be proactive towards hitting without hitting.
“He gives you a couple of little things to just focus on. He does what works best for certain guys because every guy’s different.”
Poiry was born in Naperville, Ill., and moved to the HSE area as he was starting school.
He played for the Cats during his first days of organized baseball then was one of the of the first Indiana Nitro travel teams.
Rutger is the youngest of Randy and Rhonda Poiry’s four children (two girls and two boys), following Taylor, Harper and Carter.
“I was always in the back seat on my way to a sporting event,” says Rutger of his childhood in an athletic family. “My parents have always just been very supportive of all their kids. They wanted us to try every sport that we could.
“I enjoy being the youngest. I’m thankful that I had some older siblings kind of shape me and develop me as a person.”
Randy Poiry is regional sales director for Boulart, based in Quebec. Rhonda Poiry, a Saint Joseph’s College graduate, is a nurse.
Taylor played soccer at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and graduated from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Harper was on the soccer team at Ball State University and graduated from Indiana University.
Rutger, who is considering a masters degree in criminal justice, victimology, business or business administration, became interested in law enforcement by being around a Fishers police officer while at junior high.
“He just made this impression,” says Poiry, who could see himself as a police officer, state trooper or FBI agent.

Rutger Poiry (Eastern Kentucky University Photo)
Rutger Poiry (Steve Krah Photo)

Baseball part of mix for new McClellan-led Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus athletic department

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

The state has added another college baseball program.
Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus is launching an athletic department and baseball is a part of it.
Zach McClellan is the Crimson Pride’s first athletic director and baseball head coach.
The school has applied for membership in the NAIA and hopes to be participating in the River States Conference. IUPUC is awaiting decisions on both.
The 43-year-old McClellan says the NAIA is to visit the campus to look at academics and athletics Feb. 28-March 1.
McClellan, a Toledo, Ohio, native who pitched three seasons at Indiana University (1998-2000) and 10 years in professional baseball including a stint with the Colorado Rockies (2007), says that regardless of NAIA status in the coming year, Crimson Pride teams will participate in cross country, softball and baseball during the 2022-23 academic year.
The AD/coach says there are no immediate plans to build a baseball field on the small satellite campus, but IUPUC is in conversations with local high schools — Columbus East, Columbus North and Hauser among them — as well as CERALand Park (a host to many travel ball events) about a place to play home games.
Athletes have already been announcing their commitment to the NAIA-applicant school.
“I’m giving (recruits) very transparent answers about what could and couldn’t happen,” says McClellan. “For me, it’s more important for the players to commit to IUPUC and the process.”
As a first-time college administrator and head coach, McClellan has welcomed help from those with experience.
“One of the guys that I have a lot of respect for is Kyle Gould at Taylor University (in Upland, Ind.),” says McClellan. “He’s the AD at Taylor and he’s the baseball coach and great at both.”
To help build the team and culture, McClellan will be hiring assistant coaches.
“I want to win,” says McClellan, who had more than 150 players from around the world show interest when word got out about the formation of the start-up program. “To win I’ve got to build a great developmental plan for those kids.
“The plan specifically for baseball is to bring in 50 players by the fall to have a varsity and (junior varsity) team and IUPUC. I took the job to help people. I took it to give them an opportunity to go to a great institution and get a degree from Indiana or Purdue with very affordable tuition.”
Giving advice to players and their families looking at college baseball, McClellan implores them to do their research to find the right fit.
“I don’t think anybody truly wants to transfer four times in four years,” says McClellan. “The transfer portal stuff is a necessary evil. I’m glad it empowers players to become happy. But you really should be looking for that spot you can call home for four to five years. Get your degree, play at a high level and enjoy it.
“Pick the right opportunity for yourself and don’t short change any opportunity.”
McClellan moved to Columbus, Ind., in 2010 after taking a job with LHP Engineering Solutions. He has established two businesses including Demand Command (a travel sports organization with teams in Indiana, Ohio and Arizona) and CG Velocity (an entity created to develop baseball pitching expertise for players ages 7 to 25). He holds a B.S. degree from Indiana University and an Masters of Business Administration from University of Phoenix and is currently an adjunct faculty member in the Division of Business at IUPUC.
“I’m a big advocate for education and teaching,” says McClellan, who enjoyed guiding a Personal Brand class for MBA students.
Besides Business, Nursing and Mechanical Engineerina (Purdue) are among the major offered at the school.
“There’s a lot of knowledge at IUPUC,” says McClellan. “There’s a lot of knowledgable people with smaller classes. That’s value-added.
“Hopefully academics can shine the light on how good academics really is.”
“So far everyone has expressed interest in working with us,” says McClellan. “There are a lot of options here in Columbus.”
There are just over 900 undergraduate students at IUPUC. Many are commuters. Student-athletes looking for housing are being referred to The Annex of Columbus — apartments within walking distance of the campus.
McClellan sees being close rather than having a long commute as ideal.
“You have to understand that you are a student-athlete and not an athlete-student,” says McClellan. “You have to be committed to your books. That’s tough because — let’s face it — baseball at the collegiate level is like a second job. It’s hard to commute from more than 30 or 40 minutes away and do what we’re trying to do. You’re going to be working out early in the morning and late at night. You’re going to be studying and finding something to eat. And you have to get your sleep.
“We’re looking for elite-level players — on and off the field — that’s what college baseball is.”
McClellan notes that there is a reason sports is a pyramid and not a square.
“Sometimes it weeds you out when you’re not fully-committed to what you’re doing,” says McClellan. “That’s why The Annex of Columbus is a pivotal piece.”
Zach and wife Sarah live in Columbus with three daughters — Mia, Miley and Emery.

Zach McClellan (Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Photo)

Alum Salazar takes over Wawasee baseball program

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

Knowing that he wanted to apply for a head coach position at his alma mater, Joe Salazar changed his day job.
A few months ago, Salazar became project manager at Grand Design RV in Middlebury, Ind., — a position which requires less hours than his previous place of employment — and was hired to run the baseball program at Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind., where he graduated in 1994.
Salazar, who is in the process of bringing in assistants and plans to get in a few workouts during the current IHSAA Limited Contact Period which ends Oct. 16 while also serving as third-year eighth grade head football coach at Wawasee, has outlined some areas of emphasis.
“We’re looking to improve in a lot of areas — our record, (Northern Lakes Conference) finish and make a good run at sectional,” says Salazar, who takes over the Warriors from Wawasee alum Brent Doty, who resigned to concentrate on his athletic director duties. “We want to get back to the basics and put the ball in play.
“I looked at the stats and a lot of guys left runners on base or did not get down sacrifices.”
Wawasee (enrollment around 950) is a member of the Northern Lakes Conference (with Concord, Goshen, Mishawaka, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw).
In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley and West Noble. Wawasee has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2021 on their own field. The Warriors’ previous sectional championship came in 1997.
The 2021 team went 18-13 overall and 8-6 in the NLC and featured seven seniors. Among those was Kameron Salazar, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series selection now on the baseball team at Marian University in Indianapolis and a roommate of A.J. Bordenet (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tim Bordenet of Lafayette Central Catholic).
Joe’s younger son — Kaleb — is a sophomore. When Kaleb’s classmates were 8 and 9, Joe established the Wawasee Elite travel team that played in 10U events. Joe Salazar was also an assistant coach for Northern Indiana Elite during Kameron’s 12U summer.
Other Wawasee returnees include the Brooks brothers — senior Grant and sophomore Ty. Their new coach be Wawasee’s top two pitchers in 2022.
Grant Brooks, a Butler University commit, hit .415 (39-of-94) with five home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 37 runs batted in and 31 runs in 27 games in 2021. As a pitcher, he appeared in eight games and went 6-1 with a 1.38 earned run average, 48 strikeouts and 14 walks in 40 2/3 innings.
Ty Brooks pitched in nine games and posted a 4-2 mound mark with a 1.70 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 33 innings.
Senior Lucas Ringler, who hit .289 (26-of-90) five triples, three doubles, 16 RBIs and 29 runs in 27 games in ’21, and junior Colt Dolsen, who batted .338 (22-of-65) with 12 RBIs in 24 games, are also expected back.
The junior varsity team wrapped last spring by winning a tournament and several of those players move up to varsity.
“They’re hard workers,” says Salazar of his young squad. “We can have a pretty decent team.”
Four 2020 Wawasee graduates — Logan Adkins (University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.), Levi Brown (Anderson, Ind., University), Antonio Garcia-Sanchez (Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) and Carter Woody (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) — were on college baseball posters in 2021.
Salazar, who has been involved in community sports for many years, hopes to establish a feeder system of travel teams.
“That’s what successful programs are doing,” says Salazar. “They’re playing together (and learning how its done at the high school).”
Joe Salazar participated four years each of baseball and football and two each of basketball and wrestling at Wawasee. His head coaches were Neal Frantz, Randy Aalbregtse and John Blunk on the diamond, Troy Akers and Gene Mitz on the gridiron, Gary Goshert on the court and Scott DeHart on the mat.
At Goshen (Ind.) College, Salazar played three seasons for Maple Leafs head coach DeVon Hoffman and one for Todd Bacon (who is Kameron’s head coach at Marian), switching from shortstop to third base as a freshman.
DeVon was a stickler for details. He wanted to make sure we did things correctly all the time. The little things matter.
Bacon was very young then. He kept the same things going.
Salazar earned a Business degree from Goshen in 1998.
Joe, who is married to Yvonne Salazar, also has two older stepchildren — Riley Weber and Ashley Weber.

Joe Salazar

Kokomo graduate Perkins chooses Indiana University for next phase of mound career

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

Jack Perkins has decided to continue his college baseball career a little closer to home.
The 2018 Kokomo (Ind.) High School graduate pitched for the University of Louisville in 2019, missed 2020 while rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery and competed again for the Dan McDonnell-coached Cardinals in 2021.
Right-hander Perkins was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 39th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but chose instead to go to college.
As a U of L freshman, right-hander Perkins made 16 mound appearances (four as a starter) and went 3-0 with one save and a 4.18 earned run average for a pitching staff coached by Roger Williams. In 32 1/3 innings, he struck out 37 and walked 18. One of his starts was May 14, 2019 at Indiana University. He tossed three shutout innings then faced five batters with recording an out in the fourth.
Nine days later in a relief stint against Clemson, Perkins felt a tear in his elbow. Within a week, he had his operation and began his journey back.
Suiting up for the Snapping Turtles, Perkins started a few times during the 2020 season of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
The righty went back to Louisville, where he completed a double major in Finance and Marketing in three years (he came out of high school with several college credits) and got into 11 games (10 as a reliever) in 2021. Perkins was 1-1 with one save and a 7.31 ERA. He fanned 15 and walked 22 in 16 innings.
Perkins, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, competed for the CSL’s Turf Monsters at the beginning of this summer then waited to see if he was chosen in the 2021 MLB Draft (he was not).
He also opted to change schools. His final three choices coming out of high school were Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana.
This week, Perkins announced that he is transferring to IU where he will work with Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer, pitching coach Justin Parker and will be reunited with assistant and former Indiana Bulls coach Dan Held.
Jack visited Indiana and the pitcher came away impressed with Mercer and Parker.
“I made a great connection right away,” says Perkins, 21. “They’re great people as well as great coaches. My dad (Scott) came with me on the visit and thought the same thing.”
Perkins was with the Bulls n his 13U to 17U summer, including 16U with Held as head coach and Alex Graman as pitching coach.
“Dan Held is great guy,” says Perkins. “I loved playing for Dan. I’ve been close with him since high school.
“I’m very grateful for the Bulls organization and all they’ve done for me.”
Perkins, whose family moved to Westfield after he left high school, has been working with former big league pitcher Graman and Dr. Jamey Gordon at Pro-X Athlete Development at Grand Park the past couple of years.
It also helped Perkins in his decision to transfer to Indiana that already knew many Hoosiers players from competing with or against them in travel ball or in the College Summer League.
Perkins and Parker have already had conversations about “tunneling” each delivery from his high three-quarter overhand arm slot so the batter can’t tell the difference between his four-seamer, two-seamer, change-up, curveball or cutter coming out of his hand.
“We want to get all my pitches coming out of the same spot to create a little more deception and swing and miss,” says Perkins. “We’re feeding everything off the fastball.”
Perkins’ four-seam fastball sits at 94 to 97 mph and hit 99 in the spring.
At its best, Perkins’ change-up has been recorded on Trackman with 20 inches of vertical break and 14 inches of horizontal.
He describes his curve as having slurve action.
“It’s pretty hard and steep with a lot of late break,” says Perkins of a pitch he tends to throw in the 82 to 86 mph range.
The cutter is a pitch that Perkins has used to get out of jams with ground balls and quick outs. It has been clocked at up to 95 mph and can break in on left-handed hitters for weak contact or even broken bats.
Since his undergraduate work is complete, Perkins has the option of pursuing a masters or a graduate certificate.
While he secures an apartment in Bloomington, registers for classes and waits for his transfer to process so he can go on campus, Perkins is honing in Westfield.
“My goal to stay in shape, have a clean slate in the fall and get to work,” says Perkins, who has two years of remaining college eligibility.
Perkins was born and raised in Kokomo. He played T-ball through age 12 at what is now UCT Baseball.
At Kokomo High, Perkins played football for Wildcats head coach Brett Colby and baseball for Kats bench boss Sean Swan.
“They are the favorite coaches I’ve ever played for,” says Perkins of Colby and Swan. “They invested in you as a person and a player. They took the
invest in you as a person and a player. They took the extra effort to show why they care about you.
“There were tons of life lessons.”
Scott Perkins was a football player at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. His wife, Carrie, studied nursing at DePauw University.
Scott and Carrie have three children — Caitie, Jack and Brooklyn. Caitie started at IU-Bloomington, transferred to IU-Kokomo is on a path to being a nurse practitioner. Guatemala-born Brooklyn was adopted at a young age. She is entering her freshman year at Guerin Catholic High School in Carmel, Ind.

Jack Perkins
Jack Perkins (University of Louisville Photo)
Jack Perkins (University of Louisville Photo)
Jack Perkins (University of Louisville Photo)

Hardy counts honesty, positivity among core values for Pioneer Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Hardy is in his first season as head baseball coach at Pioneer Junior-Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind.

The core values that Hardy teaches to his Panthers were borrowed from his college football coach, Colin Bruton of Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wis.

They are honesty, selflessness, relentlessness, competitiveness and positivity.

“On the baseball side, we stress offense and being aggressive,” says Hardy. “We’ve got to score runs to win games.”

A 2012 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School where he won two letters each in football, wrestling and baseball, Hardy credits two former Berries head baseball coaches — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr. plus Jim Turner Jr. — as well as current Logansport bench boss Dan Frye, Craig Crozier and Jon Vernon for adding to his diamond knowledge.

“I’ve learned that the main thing is to be patient with players and even other coaches,” says Hardy. “And to study the game.”

Hardy has received plenty of pointers from Turner Sr., on how to run a practice.

Prior to taking over the Pioneer program, Hardy coached in the Logansport Lookouts travel organization.

In Hardy’s first season, Pioneer has 32 players for varsity and junior varsity squads. 

Assistant coaches include Jacob Hardy (Josh’s younger brother), Cory Harmon, Darrell Couch and Miles VonTobel.

Jacob Hardy, who played baseball at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind., works with pitchers and catcher. He is a Logansport alum as are Harmon and Couch. VonTobel is a 2020 Pioneer graduate.

Pioneer (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Hoosier North Athletic Conference (with Caston, Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, North Judson-San Pierre, Triton and Winamac).

HNAC teams play each other twice — usually on back-to-back weekdays or in Saturday doubleheaders.

Following this format places an emphasis on pitching depth rather than riding one arm to a conference championship.

“We’re fortunate to have a pretty decent amount of arms,” says Hardy. 

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston (the 2021 host), Northfield, North Miami, North White, Southwood and West Central. Pioneer won its lone sectional crown in 2016.

Pioneer’s home field is on-campus. There are plans to add a new batting cage and to improve the playing surface.

The Panthers’ program is fed by the middle school (one seventh/eighth grade team) plus the Pioneer Youth League in Royal Center and a Pioneer team in the Logansport Babe Ruth League.

Hardy earned a business management degree from Lakeland in 2016 followed by a masters in business in 2018. He also helped coach the Muskies when his four years as a pass catcher were done.

He now teaches business and computer science at Pioneer while also assisting head football coach Adam Berry. 

The Panthers are 64-5 over the past five gridiron seasons with a state runner-up finish in 2016, state championships in 2017 and 2018 and a regional crown in 2020.

Josh Hardy (right) is head baseball coach at Pioneer Junior-Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind. One of his assistant is brother Jacob Hardy (left).

Ohio State righty Burhenn focuses on pounding strike zone

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Garrett Burhenn likes to get the plate umpire throwing up his right hand on a regular basis.

If arbiter is that means the Ohio State University junior is accomplishing his goal of pitching for strikes.

“I want to fill up the zone,” says Burhenn, a right-hander at the top of the Buckeyes starting rotation. “Walks kind of bug me a little bit.”

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder with the low three-quarter arm slot wants to establish command with his fastball.

“All my other pitches play off of it,” says Burhenn, who sports a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve. “I pitch to contact and trust my stuff to get those outs.”

Burhenn, an Indianapolis native, is 2-1 with a 4.15 earned run average as Ohio State (13-9) heads into a Big Ten Conference series April 16-18 at Maryland. 

In six appearances (all starts), he has 36 strikeouts and 13 walks in 34 2/3 innings. The opposition is hitting .258 against him.

Ohio State head coach Greg Beals has given Burhenn the baseball 25 times — all as a starter— since the hurler began his college career in 2019.

“Coach Beals tells me to go out there and compete and to trust the process and the work I’ve put in since freshman year,” says Burhenn, who is 10-7 with a 4.59 ERA with 134 K’s and 48 base-on-balls in 147 career innings with close to two-thirds of his more than 2,300 pitches going for strikes. “He puts trust in me. 

“I take my work very seriously and I think he sees that.”

Burhenn credits OSU pitching coach Dan DeLucia and director of pitching development Brad Goldberg for their roles in making him a better moundsman.

“They’ve helped me to understand and have a purpose in each pitch I throw,” says Burhenn. “I don’t go out there (to the mound) with no game plan.

“I mix pitches and pound the zone.”

While many summer college leagues shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burhenn spent eight weeks learning about pitch design and developing his craft at FullReps Training Center in Camp Hill, Pa., near Harrisburg. His Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft advisor Sam Samardzija Jr. (brother of big league pitcher Jeff Samardzija) is good friends with FullReps owner Scott Swanson.

Burhenn, 21, hopes to be selected in the 2021 MLB Draft, but if that doesn’t happen he expects to pitch somewhere this summer though he does not yet know where. 

He says he was thinking about going to the Cape Cod League, but did not play in the summer after his OSU freshman season because he logged 91 innings — nearly twice what he pitched as a senior at Lawrence North High School in the spring of 2018.

Burhenn played three varsity seasons for the Richard Winzenread-coached Wildcats.

“I started seriously pitching with him,” says Burhenn of the veteran coach. “I started getting pitching tips as a freshman. He’s developed me and helped me understand things.

“I’m very grateful for everything he’s taught me.”

Seeing some varsity mound action as a sophomore, Burhenn also played center field his last two high school seasons. The two-time all-Marion County honoree posted a 1.76 ERA and 88 strikeouts as a junior and went 6-1 with an 0.76 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings as a senior while earning Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-state distinction. He’s been a pitcher-only at Ohio State.

“I kind of miss swinging the bat,” says Burhenn. “I know it’s extremely hard at this level.”

Growing up in Lawrence Township, Burhenn’s first organized baseball came at Skiles Test Little League. He played travel ball for the Indiana Bandits and Indiana Mustangs.

Mike Farrell coached him with the Mustangs.

“My presence on the mound, I learned that from him,” says Burhenn. “He taught me to be a better player and better teammate. He’s very blunt and straight to the point, which I liked about him. 

“He’s very honest. I really appreciate Mike.”

In a 2021 regular season with only Big Ten games and no conference tournament, Burhenn has started against Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan. He racked up a season-high nine strikeouts and seven innings pitched March 26 against Iowa.

Attendance at Big Ten games has been restricted to family members and those on the guest list.

“It’s enjoyable when your family and loved ones are there at least,” says Burhenn.

He’s also relished the opportunity to compete against players he knows from high school or travel ball.

“It’s fun playing against familiar faces in an elite conference,” says Burhenn, who saw many of those in the Indiana lineup and counts Kokomo (Ind.) High School graduate and junior right-hander Bayden Root as an OSU teammate.

On the academic side of things, Burhenn is majoring in Operations Management as part of Ohio State’s Max M. Fisher College of Business.

Dave and Heather Burhenn have two sons — Garrett and Nick. The latter is a soccer player and Lawrence North junior.

Garrett Burhenn (Ohio State University Photo)

Bixler providing power at or near top of Franklin College order

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Bixler smacked two home runs in Franklin (Ind.) College’s win on Saturday, April 10 and was named Monday, April 12 as the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time in his college baseball career.

It wasn’t the first case of multiple-mashing for the Logansport, Ind., native.

The righty-swinging fifth-year senior right fielder lofted two dingers May 10, 2018 against Manchester, two April 17, 2018 against Rose-Hulman, three April 16, 2019 at Rose-Hulman and two March 1, 2020 against Heidelberg.

On April 3, 2021 in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Franklin’s John P. McDowell Field against Hanover, Bixler’s eight-inning clout made the school’s all-time homer king.

The Grizzlies are 13-5 overall and in the HCAC heading into twin bills Saturday, April 17 vs. Rose-Hulman and Sunday, April 18 at Anderson.

The HCAC tournament (site to be determined) in May will include all 10 teams this year with the top five seeds serving as the home team in best-of-three series. A five-team finals will feature a double bye for the top seed. 

Bixler’s head-turning batting numbers so far for 2021 include a .449 (31-of-69) average with five homers, one triple, nine doubles, 25 runs batting, 31 runs scored and 5-of-6 in stolen bases. He owns a .576 on-base percentage and .826 slugging average.

“I look to do damage,” says Bixler of his offensive approach. “I just try to get the ball in the air or in the gap.”

While he has homered to center and right, he estimates that more than half of his long balls have gone out to left field.

During his Franklin days (Bixler played at Indiana Wesleyan in 2017 then transferred), he is hitting .354 (159-of-449) with 33 homers, nine triples, 34 doubles, 145 RBIs, 156 runs and is 32-of-38 in stolen bases. He sports a ..475 on-base percentage and .690 slugging average.

Bixler hit .321 with three homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs in eight games in 2020..

In 2019, he was first-team all-HCAC and third-team all-region by D3Baseball.

In 2018, he was the HCAC Offensive Player of the Year and conference tournament MVP. He was also honored as a third-team All-America pick by D3Baseball.com and was on the D3Baseball.com and American Baseball Coaches Association all-region.

Normally a 2-hole hitter, Bixler has been moved to the top of the Grizzlies order because of an injury to shortstop Quenton Welllington.

Bixler has had little trouble making the switch since he led off for four seasons at Lewis Cass Junior-Senior High School in Walton, Ind. (2013-16).

Is there a difference between 1 and 2?

“Maybe to start the game,” says Bixler. “As lead-off see as many pitches as you can for your teammates.”

Franklin coach Lance Marshall recruited Bixler while the player was in high school and welcomed him when he decided to transfer.

“Everyone respects him,” says Bixler of Marshall, FC head coach since the fall of 1997. “He knows how to win games.

“It’s a fun culture to be around for sure. This was the best fit for me.”

Bixler grew up playing baseball in Logansport and transferred to Lewis Cass after his eighth grade year. With the Kings, he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Marschand.

“He’s huge role model,” says Bixler of Marchand. “He took me under his wing and taught me almost everything I know today about baseball.

“He truly cares for each player. He is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met.”

Bixler was supposed to graduate in 2020. When granted another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to play another season and took a class while also working as a salesman for Warweg & Co., Irrigation in Franklin. He is slated to graduate this spring with a Public Relations degree and a minor in Business.

At 23, Ryan is the youngest of Brad and Kathy Bixler’s four sons. Josh is the oldest, followed by Justin and Brandon.

Ryan Bixler (Franklin College Photo)

Andrean, Saint Joseph’s College grad Jaworski GM for Daytona Tortugas

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Jaworski took a piece of his northwest Indiana upbringing and his love for baseball with him to sunny Florida. 

Born in Merrillville, Ind., Jaworski few up in Crown  Point, Ind., attended St. John The Evangelist School in Saint John, Ind., for grades 1-8 then graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville in 2003 and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2007.

Primarily a catcher in high school, Jaworski was a catcher, outfield, first baseman and designated hitter over his four college seasons while majoring in Mass Communications and minoring in Business.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the coaches I’ve had,” says Jaworski, who played for Dave Pishkur at Andrean and Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph. Jaworski was a Pumas assistant on O’Dette’s staff in 2008. 

Pishkur, who picked up his 1,000th career victory and surpassed LaPorte legend Ken Schreiber to become Indiana’s all-time coaching wins leader in 2019, has led the 59ers to eight state championships (2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019).

O’Dette has amassed more than 500 NCAA Divison II victories in 20 seasons — 17 at Saint Joseph’s and three at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

When Saint Joe closed its doors after the 2017 season, O’Dette landed at Saint Leo, which means he is a couple hours’ drive from Jaworski. 

“Our relationship goes pretty deep,” says Jaworski of Coach O. “His kids were in my wedding — all that stuff.”

Jim and wife Stephanie Jaworski are expecting their first child in March 2021.

Other SJC alums (#ForeverPumas) cling to their alma mater while they’ve also adopted Saint Leo and have been known to show up at Saint Leo game pre-COVID-19.

“There are a lot of great memories at Gil Hodges Field for sure,” says Jaworski. “It’s a loyal group,” says Jaworski.”

The 2021 season will be Jaworski’s 12th with the Daytona Torturgas, a minor league affiliate since 2015 of the Cincinnati Reds (the team was tied to the Chicago Cubs 1993-2014). Since November 2009, he has been general manager since December 2018.

He has also held the positions of ticket and group sales manager, director of group sales, vice president of business development and assistant general manager while with Daytona.

Jaworski was a media relations intern with the Lakeland (Fla.) Flying Tigers from January to November 2009.

As general manager, Jaworski has a hand in many aspects of operating the Tortugas. There are full-time and seasonal employees.

The cancellation of the 2020 Baseball Winter Meetings have slowed down the hiring process a little, but Jaworski expects internships to begin in January.

Last week, Major League Baseball extended invitations to 120 minor league teams and Reds also reached out to Daytona. The deadline for accepting those invites is Friday, Dec. 18.

“We need to make sure we gather all the information,” says Jaworski. “If make sure that move, it has to be what is best for the fans, city, community and team.

“It’s all about the game of baseball and doing things here in the community,” says Jaworski. “We’re growing the game we all know and love.

“That’s a pretty cool thing.”

It remains to be seen what league and level Daytona will land in for 2021. In recent years, the Tortugas were in the Advanced Class-A Florida State League. Going forward, Minor League Baseball will have Triple-A, Double-A, Advanced-A and Low-A with rookie-level leagues being eliminated or re-cast.

The pandemic wiped out the entire 2020 minor league season at historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark and there have been furloughs, but the team has hosted 50 to 60 events since the end of May. 

There has been everything from movie nights using the video board, small baseball tournaments and showcases on the artificial turf (installed for the 2019 season), a Bob Ross waiting classic, chicken sales, a dance recital, corporate outings and various awards programs for Volusia County schools. A second blood drive is slated to the park Thursday, Dec. 17.

“We utilize the ballpark as much as we can with health and safety being our No. 1 priority,” says Jaworski.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark opened in 1914 and has undergone many renovations over the years. Hall of Famer Robinson played there with Montreal Royals May 17, 1946.

Bethune-Cookman University, a member of the NCAA Division I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, practices and plays games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.

Jim Jaworski, a graduate of Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., is the general manager of the Daytona (Fla.) Tortugas, an affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds. (Daytona Tortugas Photo)

Confidence grows for Butler left-hander Graziano

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Graziano has learned lessons in confidence during his baseball career.

The left-handed pitcher built up a sense of determination that took him to weekend starter in his third season at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Years before, a surge of assurance had helped Graziano make the transition from the freshmen team to varsity as sophomore at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind.

Graziano credits Butler head coach Dave Schrage for giving him the courage to advance as a Bulldog.

“He wants to get the best out of you,” says Graziano of Schrage. “He definitely helped me settle in by instilling that confidence in me. 

“I feel like I was ready to throw pretty well.”

As a Butler freshman in 2018, Graziano made 13 mound appearances (four starts) and went 3-0 with a 4.70 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings.

Primarily a mid-week starter in 2019, the lefty appeared in 15 games (seven starts) and went 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 innings.

The Bulldogs were 8-7 and coming off a March 11 victory against Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in Port Charlotte, Fla., when the team found out the 2020 season had been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were sitting at the pool,” says Graziano. “We thought we were coming back in two weeks.

“We were optimistic.”

It soon turned out that the rest of the campaign was canceled and student-athletes were sent home.

Graziano went back to northwest Indiana having gotten into four games (all as a starter) and went 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings. His first start was on a Saturday and the rest came on Sunday.

“I worked all fall to get there,” says Graziano of his role. “I finally got it. I really liked pitching on the weekend.

“Everyone’s locked in and there’s a little bit of pressure.”

When the 2020 shutdown happened, Graziano had already secured an internship and was looking to find a baseball team for the summer.

A double major in Finance and Risk Management, Graziano is doing his internship with Chicago-based Aon and pitching on weekends with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

Butler business school requires two internships,” says Graziano. “That’s 240 hours. You also take a class, write a paper and do interviews.

“It’s kind of a lot.”

For his first internship, Joe is on the clock online at his house in Schererville, Ind., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. He is upstairs while his mother, Roxanna, does her sales job with U.S. Steel, is in the basement. 

When Joe is done with his internship duties, he does his band and weighted ball work and heads across the street to Autumn Creek Park to play catch with younger brother Joshua. 

At 21, Joe is two years older than his brother. Joshua is enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Their father, Joseph, is a manager at the BP Whiting Refinery, which is very near where Joe is in his second stint with the Oilmen.

The summer right after he graduated from Lake Central in 2017, Joe appeared in seven Northwest Indiana games (five starts) and went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA, 39 strikeouts and six walks in 31 innings.

“It was the first time I faced college hitters,” says Graziano. “I was playing with kids out of The Region. We were  finally on a friendly surface and can be teammates.

Manager Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate, also worked closely with Oilmen pitchers.

In 2020, he is being used strictly as a reliever.

“I didn’t want to rush back into it,” says Graziano. “I’m pitching 2-3 innings at a time. I want to build my stamina and pitch count back up.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound southpaw took off about a week off when the 2020 spring season shut down then began training, lifting weights and throwing while reaching out to the Oilmen.

“I want to keep my spot when I get back to Butler,” says Graziano.

The Oilmen are managed by Chris Cunningham. Graziano spends most of his time with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko.

“I’ve been trying to take in as much information as possible,” says Graziano. “He’s been teaching me this forkball/splitter. I have pretty big hands.

“I like how (Pobereyko) thinks on the mound. You’re better than the hitter. Never lose confidence. I definitely like Po’s mentality.”

In the summer of 2019, Graziano pitched for the Coastal Plain League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs

It was a struggle at first.

“I started doing well toward the end,” says Graziano. “I got a lot better out there. I had a little adversity and I battled through it.”

Fayetteville was managed by David Anderson

Lefty Graziano was with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2018. There, he enjoyed living with a host family and got to play with Butler teammate Connor Schultz.

“You make a lot of new friends in summer ball,” says Graziano, who played for a Lafayette team managed by Will Arnold. Future Butler assistant Jake Ratz was also on the Aviators coaching staff.

Ben Norton is Butler’s pitching coach. He has taught Graziano a slider and helped instill confidence.

“He’s helped me develop into a great pitcher,” says Graziano of Norton. “He helps everyone

“If you struggle, he’s not going to give up on you.”

At Lake Central, three-year letterman Graziano went 20-7 (with a pair of perfect games), including 8-4 against Duneland Athletic Conference opponents. As a senior, he went 6-3 with a 2.11 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 13 walks in 60 innings and helped the Indians to an IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional title

He was all-DAC, all-area (Northwest Indiana Times) and Academic All-State.

Jeff Sandor was LC’s head coach for Graziano’s sophomore and junior seasons. Mike Swartzentruber took over the program in his senior year.

“(Sandor) is the craziest coach I’ve played for and one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” says Graziano. “He was tough on guys. But he had to be be. He demanded that level of play.

“You knew what you had to bring to the table.”

Graziano says Swartzentruber’s strength came in team building.

“Swartz was more calm than Sandor,” says Graziano. “We all knew what we wanted to do. We had a lot of good players. Swartz did a good job of bringing the team together.”

At Lake Central — a school with about 3,300 students — it is not uncommon for close to 100 players to try out for baseball. The high school is fed by three middle schools — Clark, Grimmer and Kahler].

“There’s a lot of competition,” says Graziano, who came through Grimmer. “You feel bad when your friends don’t make the team. The school is so big.”

While the rivalries among the middle schools is fierce, they become one team at LC.

While at Lake Central, southpaw Graziano used a curve ball that was “a little loopy and slow” that fooled many high school hitters.

When he got to Butler, he left the curve for a slider that has a tighter spin and has more horizontal than vertical break.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Graziano also throws a tailing four-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up.

“It’s really good against righties,” says Graziano. “It has depth and tails away.”

Born in Munster, Ind., Graziano spent the early part of his life in nearby Hammond before settling in Schererville.

While playing for the Schererville Shock — coached by Dan Bosold and Dave Lopez — he made close friends. Among those are current Purdue players Ben Nisle and Bo Hofstra as well as Jarrett Lopez (who went to Purdue Northwest).

Grazing played for Apex Baseball in the summers leading into his last two years in high school. Marc Escobedo was the head coach. Brett Summers was his pitching coach/instructor.

“(Summers) always helped me,” says Graziano. “He was always patient.”

Graziano also enjoyed his time on the basketball court. At Lake Central, he played for head coach Dave Milausnic whom he salutes for getting the Indians ready for their demanding schedule.

“Our senior year, we didn’t have a big superstar,” says Graziano. “(Milausnic) had us prepared for every game. 

“I was the point guard as a senior. I was calling the plays and handling the ball a lot.”

Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons for Butler University in Indianapolis (2018-20). The left-hander was a weekend starter during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. (Butler University Photo)
The summer of 2020 is the second for Joe Graziano on the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Olimen. He played for the Whiting, Ind.-based team in 2017, right after his senior year at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. He has pitched three seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Northwest Indiana Oilmen Photo)
Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. The left-hander was a weekend starter in 2020. (Butler University Photo)

Competitive drive fuels Indiana right-hander Manous

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Manous has experienced gains during his three baseball seasons at Indiana University.

Manous, a right-handed pitcher, graduated from Munster (Ind.) High School in 2016 at 165 pounds.

“I was pretty skinny,” says Manous, who Manous earned four baseball letters and three monograms in basketball with the Mustangs. 

Through weightlifting, proper eating and maturity, the 6-footer now weighs 195.

Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan, he struck out 106 batters in 64 1/3 innings and threw five complete games with a 0.76 earned run average as a Munster senior in 2016. He was Post-Tribune Player of the Year as a senior and a three-time all-Northwest Crossroads Conference selection. 

As a junior, Manous went 6-1 with an 1.56 ERA and 57 strikeouts. His sophomore season for the Mustangs produced a 7-1 mark, 0.48 ERA and 54 strikeouts.

“He was a real good mentor,” says Manous of Shinkan. “He was a good person I was able to talk to if I ever needed anything.

“You’re always able to have fun when you’re playing with him.”

Mike Hackett was head basketball coach during Manous’ Munster career.

Manous spent June to December of 2016 at the University of Miami (Fla.), transferred to IU and sat out the 2017 season.

At the start of his collegiate career, Manous threw a fastball that sat around 88 to 91 mph and occasionally hit 92 or 93.

Since Justin Parker joined the Hoosiers staff as pitching coach, he has helped make adjustments that has the righty sitting at 90 to 93. In 2019, he lit up the radar at 96.

“I’ve learned so much about pitching from him,” says Manous of Parker, who was brought in when Jeff Mercer was hired as head coach in the summer of 2018, making 2019 their first campaign in Bloomington. “He’s changed a lot of my career. He’s made me advance a lot more than I ever before.

“My velo jumped when he got to school. My curve ball got better. Growing up and maturing as a person — he helped with that, too.”

In three seasons on the mound for Indiana, Manous has made 40 appearances (three starts) with a 2-3 record, two saves, a 2.81 earned run average, 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 67 2/3 innings. 

In the COVID 19-shortened 2020 season, the righty relieved in six of IU’s 15 games and was 0-0 with an 0.00 ERA. In eight innings, he fanned 12 and walked three.

What’s it like playing for a Mercer-coached team?

“It’s a lot of hard work and trust in the process,” says Manous. “Each day you’ve got to get better.

“You see results six months, a year later — as a lot of us have seen.”

During quarantine, Business major Manous tended to his online studies and worked out at the house then started training at Thrive Sport and Fitness Solutions — a facility co-owned by Mark Banter, Gloria Banter and Jesse Wilkening in Cedar Lake, Ind.

It was through Parker’s connections to Macon (Ga.) Bacon head coach Jimmy Turk that Manous landed with the Coastal Plain League team this summer. After logging a few innings with the Tropics in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., the hurler reported to Macon June 25.

In six relief appearances, Manous is 0-0 with one save, an 0.00 ERA, 13 strikeouts and four walks in 8 2/3 innings. A recent four-seam was clocked at 94 mph and he’s had a spin rate as high as 2,450. Throwing from a high arm slot, he also uses a 12-to-6 curveball and a “circle” change-up.

Like he’s done the past two seasons at Indiana, Manous has been working at the back of the bullpen.

His mindset — no matter where he gets into the game — is the same.

“Just be yourself and compete,” says Manous. “You don’t want to give up a run. That’s how I am in the first or the ninth inning. I don’t really change.

“You’ve got to be composed. The ball is going to be taken deep if you don’t execute your pitches.”

Manous, 22, cites his drive as his top athletic strength.

“I hate to lose in anything,” says Manous. “I’m always super competitive, It’s how I grew up.

“I hated losing to my dad or brother.”

Perry Manous is a computer software developer. Outfielder Garrett Manous (20) just completed his freshmen season at Indiana and plays for the Tropics in the Grand Park league this summer. Kelly Manous, wife of Perry and mother of the two boys, is a personal trainer.

Connor became the fourth Indiana pitcher on the Macon team, joining Ty Bothwell, Matt Litwicki and Braden Scott

Left-hander Bothwell (a Boone Grove High School graduate) is among the CPL’s strikeout leaders with 21 in 14 1/3 innings. Right-hander Litwicki (Lake Central) has whiffed 10 in seven innings. Southpaw Scott (Shakamak) has fanned 15 in 9 1/3 innings. The Bacon pitching coach is Josh Teichroew.

Manous did not play baseball last summer, but stayed at IU and worked to get stronger. In 2018, he played for the Cape Cod League’s Brewster Whitecaps with Jamie Shevchik as head coach and Scott Landers as pitching coach. The summer of 2017 was spent with the Northwoods League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers with Cody Piechocki as head coach.

Born in Dyer, Ind., Manous played his first organized baseball at Munster Little League. He went on to play for many travel ball teams, including the Indiana Playmakers and, during three high school summers, Prairie Gravel. His manager was Sam Sorce. Al Oremus is the organization’s founder.

Connor Manous, a 2016 graduate of Munster (Ind.) High School, has pitched three baseball seasons (2018-20) at Indiana University, is this summer is with the Macon (Ga.) Bacon of the Coastal Plain League. (Indiana University Photos)
Connor Manous, a Munster (Ind.) High School graduate, has pitched three baseball seasons at Indiana University and this summer is with the Coastal Plains League’s Macon (Ga.) Bacon. (Indiana University Photo)