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Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

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TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)

 

Hoosiers at Lexington Regional; Indiana’s 34 other college teams wrap up 2017 season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University found out Monday, May 29 that they will be a part of the NCAA Division I baseball tournament in 2017.

The Hoosiers (33-22-2) have been assigned to the Lexington Regional as the No. 2 seed (along with host and top-seeded Kentucky, No. 3 North Carolina State and No. 4 Ohio University).

The 64-team D-I tournament includes 16 four-team regionals.

For 34 other collegiate baseball programs in Indiana (eight in NCAA Division I, four in NCAA Division II, nine in NCAA Division III, 13 in NAIA and two in NJCAA) have already concluded their seasons.

Due to the closing of the school in Rensselaer, Saint Joseph’s College (NCAA Division II) played its 122nd and final season this spring.

Indiana University Kokomo (NAIA) is gearing up for its first season in 2018.

Here is a wrap-up for 2017 squads:

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

2017

NCAA Division I

Ball State Cardinals (30-28, 14-10 Mid-American Conference): Rich Maloney, in his 12th overall season in two stints in Muncie, saw Sean Kennedy (first team), Matt Eppers (second team) and Caleb Stayton (second team) make all-MAC. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Butler Bulldogs (31-20, 7-10 Big East Conference): In his first season in Indianapolis, coach Dave Schrage had three all-conference performers in Tyler Houston (first team), Jordan Lucio (second team) and Jeff Schank (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Evansville Purple Aces (18-39, 8-12 Missouri Valley Conference): Ninth-year coach Wes Carroll had Connor Strain (first team), Trey Hair (second team) and Travis Tokarek (second team) make the all- MVC tournament team.

Fort Wayne Mastodons (9-43, 4-26 Summit League): Jackson Boyd was a second-team all-league player for ninth-year coach Bobby Pierce.

Indiana Hoosiers (33-22-2, 14-9-1 Big Ten): Matt Lloyd (second team), Logan Sowers (second team), Craig Dedelow (third team) and Paul Milto (third team) were all-conference honorees during third season at the helm in Bloomington for head coach Chris Lemonis.

Indiana State Sycamores (29-26, 12-9 Missouri Valley Conference): Tony Rosselli (first team), Austin Conway (second team), Dane Giesler (second team) and Will Kincanon (second team) were all-MVC selections in head coach Mitch Hannahs’ fourth season in charge in Terre Haute.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (26-32, 10-20 Atlantic Coast Conference): Seventh-year head coach Mik Aoki had an all-ACC player in Matt Vierling (third team).

Purdue Boilermakers (29-27, 12-12 Big Ten): Gareth Stroh made all-Big Ten in head coach Mark Wasikowski’s first season in West Lafayette. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Valparaiso Crusaders (24-29, 13-15 Horizon League): Before leaving for the Missouri Valley in 2018, James Stea (second team) and Jake Hanson (second team) made the all-Horizon squad for fourth-year head coach Brian Schmack. SEE Indiana RBI story.

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis Greyhounds (27-23, 11-17 Great Lakes Valley Conference): Kyle Orloff (first team), Dylan Stutsman (first team) and Storm Joop (second team) all earned all-conference recognition for 23rd-year head coach Gary Vaught. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Oakland City Oaks (18-29): Head coach T-Ray Fletcher’s team saw its season end with four losses at the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series in Mason, Ohio.

Saint Joseph’s Pumas (35-22, 14-14 Great Lakes Valley Conference): The end of the line came in the Midwest Regional in Midland, Mich. In Rick O’Dette’s 17th season as head coach, he was named GLVC Coach of the Year. All-conference players were Josh Handzik (first team), Riley Benner (second team) and Tasker Strobel (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles (32-21, 22-6 Great Lakes Valley Conference): Tracy Archuleta, in his 11th season as head coach in Evansville, also saw his squad qualify for the Midwest Regional in Midland. All-conference performers were Lucas Barnett (first team and GLVC Pitcher of the Year), Jacob Fleming (first team), Drake McNamara (first team), Kyle Griffin (first team), Justin Watts (second team), Sam Griggs (second team) and Logan Brown (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

NCAA Division III

Anderson Ravens (14-23, 8-16 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): With Drew Brantley and Mark Calder as co-interim head coaches, Brandon Sanders (second team), Augdan Wilson (honorable mention) and Austin Cain (honorable mention) all received all-conference honors.

DePauw Tigers (33-13, 12-5 North Coast Athletic Conference): First-year head coach Blake Allen saw his squad go 2-2 at the Mideast Regional in Washington, Pa., and put Jack Thompson (first team), Mike Hammel (first team), Ryan Grippo (second team), Tate Stewart (second team), Reid Pittard (second team), Collin Einerston (second team) and Andrew Quinn (honorable mention) on the all-conference squad. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Earlham Quakers (30-14, 21-6 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): It was an historic season in Richmond for seventh-year head coach Steve Sakosits. While the program achieved its first-ever 30-win season, it also won regular-season and conference tournament titles and concluded the year at the Mideast Regional in Washington, Pa. All-Conference players were Nate Lynch (first team and HCAC MVP), Howie Smith (first team and HCAC Most Outstanding Pitcher), Eric Elkus (first team), Matt Barger (first team), Cody Krumlauf (first team), Brennan Laird (first team) and Kyle Gorman (honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Franklin Grizzlies (21-17, 13-12 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): All HCAC players for 20th-year head coach Lance Marshall were Jordan Clark (first team), Sam Claycamp (first team), Frank Podkul (second team), Jackson Freed (second team), Nick Wright (second team) and Jacob McMain (honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Hanover Panthers (18-20, 9-17 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Jack Shine (honorable mention) and Tyler Fitch (honorable mention) were recognized as all-conference players in Shayne Stock’s fifth season as head coach.

Manchester Spartans (22-21, 18-9 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Joe Gallatin (HCAC Freshman of the Year and first team), Chad Schultz (first team), Tyler LaFollette (second team), Eric Knepper (second team), Brandon Eck (second team), Christian Smith (second team) and Cory Ferguson (honorable mention) were HCAC for head coach Rick Espeset during his 19th season lead the way in North Manchester. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Rose-Hulman Fightin’ Engineers (18-24, 16-11 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): In his 28th season as head coach at the Terre Haute school, Jeff Jenkins saw Zach Trusk (first team), David Burnside (first team), Conner Shipley (first team) and Drew Schnitz (honorable mention) make all-HCAC. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Trine Thunder (19-18, 13-15 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association): All-MIAA recognition came to Jacob Heller (first team) and Drew Palmer (second team) during head coach Greg Perschke’s 16th season running the show in Angola. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Wabash Little Giants (22-16, 7-10 North Shore Athletic Conference): Former player Jake Martin came back to Crawfordsville for his first season as head coach and put Michael Hermann (first team) and Andrew Roginski (second team) on the all-conference team. SEE Indiana RBI story.

NAIA

Bethel Pilots (22-22, 10-17 Crossroads League): In Seth Zartman’s 14th season leading the program in Mishawaka, his team had all-conference selections in Brandon Diss (gold glove), Austin Branock (honorable mention), Heath Brooksher (honorable mention) and Jared Laurent (honorable mention).

Calumet College of Saint Joseph Crimson Tide (7-44-1, 2-25 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference):  Fifth-year head coach Brian Nowakowski fielded a 2017 team with players from 10 different states as well as the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

Goshen Maple Leafs (26-30-1, 11-16 Crossroads League): Fifth-year head coach Alex Childers watched Clinton Stroble II (first team), Quinlan Armstrong (gold glove), Blake Collins (gold glove), Brad Stoltzfus (gold glove), Preston Carr (honorable mention) and Michael Walter (honorable mention) all receive a Crossroads salute. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Grace Lancers (15-31-1, 7-20 Crossroads League): At the end of the season, the Winona Lake school took the interim tag off interim head coach Cam Screeton for 2018. This spring, he led all-conference picks Austin Baker (honorable mention), Gavin Bussard (honorable mention) and Xavier Harris (honorable mention).

Huntington Foresters (35-13, 22-5 Crossroads League): Crossroads Coach of the Year Mike Frame’s 33rd season as HU head coach brought a regular-season and conference tournament title and a NAIA Opening Round appearance plus the 800th win of his career. All-league players were Shea Beauchamp (first team), Dalton Combs (first team), D.J. Moore (first team), Adam Roser (first team), Mason Shinabery (first team), Tanner Wyse (first team), Michael Crowley (gold glove and honorable mention), Dylan Henricks (gold glove and honorable mention) and Andy Roser (gold glove and honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana Tech Warriors (44-14, 25-6 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference): After finishing third in the tough WHAC, there was seventh NAIA Opening Round trip for 10th-year head coach Kip McWilliams and his Fort Wayne-based squad. All-WHAC players were Matt Bandor (first team), Cody Kellar (first team), Glen McClain (first team and gold glove), Charlie Sipe (first team), Keith Tatum (first team), Tighe Koehring (second team), Peyton Newsom (second team), David Barksdale (Champions of Character) and Dante Biagini (gold glove). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (27-30, 12-15 Crossroads League): Head coach Rich Benjamin, in his second season of calling the shots in Marion, had all-conference selections in Brady West (CL Newcomer of the Year and first team), Brandon Shaffer (first team), Andrew Breytenbach (honorable mention), Kyle Hall (honorable mention) and Jon Young (honorable mention).

Indiana University Kokomo Cougars (Coming in 2018): Matt Howard is the head coach in the City of Firsts. Former big leaguer and Kokomo native Joe Thatcher is IUK’s associate head coach. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana University South Bend Titans (24-26, 13-14 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Chris Mangus was CCAC Player of the Year. All-conference mention also went to Spencer McCool (second team) and Tanner Wesp (second team). Mike Huling was head coach. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana University Southeast Grenadiers (48-15, 25-7 River States Conference): Ranked No. 21 in the country, ninth-year head coach Ben Reel’s squad fell in the championship of the NAIA Opening Round in Kingsport, Tenn. All-RSC selections were Tanner Leenknecht (first team), Logan Barnes (first team), Richard Rodriguez (first team), Ryne Underwood (second team), Gage Rogers (second team), Hector Marmol (Champions of Character and second team), Julian Flannery (second team) and Cody Maloon (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Marian Knights (30-23, 19-8 Crossroads League): Featuring Crossroads Pitcher of the Year Matt Burleton, fourth-year head coach Todd Bacon’s club went to the NAIA Opening Round in Taladega, Ala. Besides Burleton, all-conference choices at the Indianapolis school were Cody Earl (first team), Jordan Jackson (first team), Leo Lopez (honorable mention), John O’Malley (honorable mention) and Brenden Smith (honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Purdue Northwest Pride (30-18, 20-7 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central merged to form PNW, which played its home games at Dowling Park in Hammond. Dave Griffin served as head coach. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Saint Francis Cougars (13-41-1, 6-21 Crossroads League): In his 13th season as head coach at the Fort Wayne school, Greg Roberts directed all-conference players Noah Freimuth (honorable mention), Tanner Gaff (honorable mention) and Kansas Varner (honorable mention).

Taylor Trojans (35-21, 20-7 Crossroads League): Crossroads Player of the Year Jared Adkins helped 13th-year head coach Kyle Gould get his 400th career victory and more. Besides Adkins, all-conference players were TU were Austin Mettica (first team), Matt Patton (first team), Nathan Taggart (first team), Tanner Watson (first team), Sam Wiese (first team), Andrew Kennedy (honorable mention) and Wyatt Whitman (honorable mention).

Junior College

Ancilla Chargers (5-28, 1-21 Michigan Community College Athletic Association): Head coach Joe Yonto’s two-year program in Donaldson featured a 2017 roster with all but one player from Indiana hometowns.

Vincennes Trailblazers (14-32): Ninth-year coach Chris Barney’s team was made up mostly of Indiana players. VU is also a two-year school.

IUHOOSIERSBASEBALL

International baseball expert, Indiana resident Bjarkman to receive SABR’S Chadwick Award

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One of the most prestigious baseball awards will be presented to a longtime Indiana resident this summer.

Lafayette’s Peter Bjarkman — aka “Dr. Baseball” — will get the Society for American Baseball Research’s Henry Chadwick Award at the group’s national convention June 28-July 2 in New York.

According to the SABR website, the “Henry Chadwick Award was established in November 2009 to honor baseball’s great researchers—historians, statisticians, annalists, and archivists—for their invaluable contributions to making baseball the game that links America’s present with its past.”

Bjarkman, a Hartford, Conn., native, has authored more than 40 books on sports history. His latest work in “Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story.”

A former professor, he has taught at multiple places including Butler University, Ball State University and Purdue University. Wife Ronnie B. Wilbur, a leading researcher and authority on deaf sign languages, is a Purdue linguistics professor. The couple spends portions of each each in Europe.

At a recent gathering of the Oscar Charleston SABR chapter prior to an Indianapolis Indians game, Bjarkman shared his vast knowledge on the World Baseball Classic (he writes extensively about the subject in “Defectors”) and other diamond topics.

Bjarkman has been to all four WBC’s (2006, 2009, 2013, 2017) as part of the media contingent wherever Cuba was playing. He witnessed the finals in 2006 in San Diego, where Cuba was runner-up to Japan, and 2009 in Los Angeles, where Japan took gold by topping South Korea.

A fan of the old International Baseball Federation World Cup (which breathed its last because of financial reasons), Bjarkman was skeptical when Major League Baseball came along with plans for the WBC. MLB was attempting to take ownership of baseball on a global scale with an Olympic-style event.

“What the original IBAF World Cup did was foster interest in baseball in a lot of countries throughout the world

Sweden would go and lose three games but it would inspire young people in Sweden to try to be on the national team,” Bjarkman said. “You knew from the beginning MLB’s version was designed to showcase international players in the major leagues.

“It did not emphasize and foster international baseball. These guys may be playing for the Dominican now, but they’ll be playing at a ballpark near you soon in April.”

Bjarkman said MLB was hoping to gain financially in the same way FIFA has done with soccer’s World Cup. Of course, the scope could never be the same because not nearly as many countries play baseball and soccer.

IBAF trademarked the term Baseball World Cup in international courts so MLB went with World Baseball Classic.

“There’s a lot of things I love about MLB,” Bjarkman said. “It’s really not about globalizing and internationalizing the game as much as it is about creating international markets for major league products and Major League Baseball — the same way the NFL is doing by having its games in London and the NBA having games at locations outside the United States like China.”

When the WBC came along, Bjarkman enjoyed the event in-person.

“It was really a lot of fun,” Bjarkman said. “There was that element of seeing these players play for their own country.”

That sense of national pride differs from country to country. Bjarkman said players and fans outside the U.S. identify with their national flag. Here, fans tend to be a part of Red Sox Nation, Yankees Nation or wherever their team loyalties lie.

As Bjarkman sees it, the WBC was not marketed probably when the tournament began.

“The first couple tournaments they should have given tickets away,” Bjarkman said. First-round games in Miami in the first few years of the WBC and maybe 1,500 would be there for USA vs. Puerto Rico. “People see these games on TV and there’s nobody there, they say ‘this can’t be worth watching.’”

WBC eventually became a recognized brand and began getting a foothold, but it still has issues.

There’s the timing. Coming during spring training, many players (especially pitchers) are not a full-go yet and team owners don’t like having their expensive talent leaving camp for extended periods.

With the size of the field, Bjarkman there are now eight countries with legitimate national teams with others using mostly players with ethnic ties rather than natives.

Take Team Israel in 2017.

“It was a team full of American players with ethnic Jewish family backgrounds,” Bjarkman said. “This is not an Israeli team.

“This is what MLB has been stuck with by expanding this thing out. You’d probably want to have a six- or eight-team tournament. But that’s going to be a problem because how many games can you market on television?”

Bjarkman also pointed out that countries like the Dominican and Venezuela have much of their baseball talent drained by Major League Baseball.

Two countries who run baseball independent of MLB are Japan with its posting system and Cuba for political reasons.

What happens if Puerto Rico becomes a state, a realistic possibility in the near future?

Bjarkman ask that if there is a Puerto Rican team in the WBC after P.R. becomes a U.S. state, why can’t there be a Miami Cuban team?

A faction in the U.S. would like to put united Cuban team together with players such as Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu.

Cuba is opposed to the idea.

“They are still trying to maintain their own national baseball league,” Bjarkman said. “There has been a tremendous loss of players (to defection).”

Team Cuba at the 2013 WBC had seven of eight everyday players go on to the play in the MLB. Bjarkman’s research shows that 200 Cuba-born players since 1871 have played in the majors as of Opening Day 2017. He classifies 66 of those as “defectors.” The first in the post-revolution period (1961 to the present) Barbaro Garbey, who debuted with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. The next one is Rene Arocha, who first pitched in the bigs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1993.

Discussion in Indianapolis also turned to the international tiebreaker rule used in the 2017 WBC and first adopted at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The “Schiller Rule” allows that the team at bat began the 11th inning with runners on first and second base.

“It’s not baseball as we knew baseball, but tournament baseball isn’t either,” Bjarkman said. “In the context in which it’s used, it’s really exciting.”

The rule, which has been used during regular-season games in Cuba in the past, was adopted for expediency. Tournament directors are trying to avoid extra-long contests.

“How long is it going to be before we see this in Major League Baseball?,” Bjarkman said. “Why are we going to see it in Major League Baseball? Because of the commercial aspect. You don’t want games going past a certain time.

“They do all these things to try to shorten games. If you want to shorten games, don’t have so many commercials between innings.”

Other factors that lengthen games are the way pitchers are now. There are lefty and righty specialists and so many visits to the mound. It was once rare to have a pitching change before the seventh inning unless a pitcher was getting shelled in the early going.

“They’e trying to shorten games on one hand, but there are all these breaks for video reviews,” Bjarkman said.

PETERBJARKMAN1

Lafayette’s Peter Bjarkman — aka “Dr. Baseball” — will get the Society for American Baseball Research’s Henry Chadwick Award at the group’s national convention June 28-July 2 in New York.

Despite challenges, baseball is making its way in Gary

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s not easy being a teenage baseball player in Gary, Indiana.

Area schools have closed, making for less opportunities in the spring.

Little League nationwide has dropped its Big League (ages 17-18) divisions for baseball and softball, leaving several players looking for a place to play this summer, including more than 250 in Indiana District 1 (Gary area).

American Legion (19-and-under) to the rescue.

Kevin Bradley and Ray Dix III know the situation well. The two men coached a Big League team together last year. This spring, Bradley is back for his second season as head coach at Bowman Academy and Dix has joined a coaching staff that also includes Lorenzo Scott.

Bradley, 44, is a veteran of the Gary Fire Department who first played T-ball at East Glenn. When that field was damaged, he and others moved to Midtown Little League (now Gary Metro Area Little League, where he is now president), also at 21st and Harrison. He went on to now-closed Gary Lew Wallace High School, graduating in 1991. He earned a scholarship to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., as a third baseman, shortstop and pitcher (he still plays in an area adult league).

After one season, he returned home as a volunteer coach in various leagues. coached at Gary Roosevelt for seven years before coming to Bowman.

Bradley wants to be involved for the good of the youngsters and the game.

“To me it’s important to have a high school coach — in this city especially — that knows the game and loves the game instead of just having somebody because they couldn’t find anybody else to coach,” says Bradley, who uses baseball to teach his players life lessons like accountability. “Once you leave high school everything is about life. If they want to play on the next level, they have to know what’s expected of them from their college coach as far as work ethic and everything like that.

“At the next level, you’re in the world now. There’s no more mommy and daddy picking you up to go to school.”

Thirteen players — seniors Zavion Brown, Martrell Dixon, Darreall Payne, Antonio Price, Devin Russell and Charles Thompson III, juniors Joseph Moore, Langston Stalling and Aaron Whittaker, sophomore Jordan Adams and Keondre Pippins and freshmen Deysean Jenkins and Ezekiel Sankey — come from all over the city come to Roosevelt Park at 21st Avenue and Harrison St. for home games and practices. It requires some boys to take two buses to get there.

Bowman Academy is a charter school.

“Charter schools offer an alternative education to public schools,” says Dix. “Parents who are a little more concerned about what’s in a child’s text book will send them to Bowman. It’s just a matter of choice.”

One of three Gary high schools fielding baseball teams this spring (West Side and 21st Century are the other two) Bowman has already played doubleheaders at South Bend Clay and Delphi.

“We try to expose the kids to different areas,” says Bradley. “We go out and play someone different as opposed to playing all the schools around here.”

The original idea was to beef up the schedule to get ready for sectional play. Because of IHSAA sanctions against all Bowman athletic teams, there will be no postseason this year and next.

These games will get some players ready for the summer, where American Legion baseball is going to fill some of the void left by the departure of Big League baseball.

At least three American Legion teams are being formed under the name Region Legion Expos with ties to East Gary Memorial Post 100 in Lake Station. Donations are being sought to foot the bills for uniforms, travel, umpires and more. Dix is also looking for more coaches.

While Bradley began playing baseball at age 4, many Gary kids are staying away from Little League at Gary Area Metro (west of I-65) or Miller (east of 1-65) because leadership has changed so much over the years.

“We’ve also found the older the kids get, the less interested they become,” says Bradley. “They old enough to drive, get a job or a girlfriend, whatever. In the this area basketball is the king. So we battle everyday trying to get these kids interested in baseball

“We try to make it feasible for parents to afford to have their kids play. Even if they never played before, we just want to introduce them to the game.”

Bradley, Dix and Scott look at baseball as “serious business” and that’s why they’ve embraced the Legion baseball for those who want to continue playing the game in high school and beyond.

Dix, 33, grew up playing baseball in East Chicago Civic Little League. His family moved to right before his freshman year and he played at Merrillville High School.

“I learned so much baseball from (Pirates coach Fenton Macke),” says Dix. “He allowed me as a freshman to ask too many questions. He was amazing.”

Dix went on to attend Indiana University and began helping as a coach with his little brother’s team at Merrillville Little League.

“By the end of the summer I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I was 19 years old,” says Dix.

Rahdric Dix went on to letter in basketball and baseball at Merrillville played baseball at Butler University and the University of Southern Indiana.

“My brother was an amazing athlete and a really good ballplayer,” says Dix, who went from coaching Little League in Merrillville to Lake Station. He was also an assistant for five years at Lake Station Edison High School. After a year off, he spent two years on the staff at Gary West Side — the same school that gave the baseball world 21-year big league pitcher LaTroy Hawkins.

Dix, who is working on his college degree, is concerned about all the potential idle youth caused by taking away baseball for older teens, but he is excited about the exposure that the ones who do get to play will receive. He plans to take his team to Illinois and Michigan and play 20 to 25 regular-season games this summer.

“The biggest hurdle we’re having is getting people to understand the giant change that’s come about,” says Dix. “I want to give as many opportunities to as many young men as I can (through American Legion baseball).

“The goal is to get kids seen (by colleges). Kids are going to get seen for $100. Everybody else is going to charge up to $1,000.”

Legion ball became an option when Dix came in contact with Indiana second district baseball chairman Joe Kusiak, who is looking to add teams around northwest Indiana.

There would have been multiple options if they cut off the program at 17U or 16U, but that would exclude players going into or coming out of their senior year or, for some, their freshmen year of college.

“It was the first league I saw that would allow our older kids to still play,” says Dix. “You don’t want to tell our kids they don’t have anything to do in the summer. That’s not the world’s greatest idea. They’ll find something to do that none of us would enjoy.”

Having organized baseball gives these young men a positive outlet.

“One of the things that scares me the most is when they go away to college and they have to come back here,” says Dix. “They’ve spent eight or nine months away from the situation, bettering their lives, and they have to come back here and they don’t have the structure they had when they were at school.”

Scott, a St. Louis native married to a local gal, played at Ball State University and then eight seasons in the minors, making it to Triple-A in the Marlins organization. He began coaching with Bradley last season at Bowman.

“We found a gem when they put us together,” says Bradley of Scott. “We have coaches here with the knowledge to teach. We’ve got a great group of kids. They are receptive to all of us.”

The coaches try to keep the communication at a high level. Bradley, Dix and Scott might all be saying the same thing but in different ways. If players are not grasping what they are being taught, they are encouraged to ask for an explanation from a coach they can best understand.

“You learn that every kid is different,” says Bradley. “I may have to find a new way to show this kid how to field this ground ball.”

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Bowman Academy’s baseball team pauses during practice Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at Roosevelt Park in Gary. The Eagles are (from left): head coach Kevin Bradley, Aaron Whittaker, Kiondre Pippins, Joseph Moore, Langston Stalling, Devin Russell, Jordan Adams, Antonio Price, Martrell Dixon and assistant coach Ray Dix III. Not pictured: assistant coach Lorenzo Scott, Zavion Brown, Ezekiel Sankey, Deysean Jenkins, Darreall Payne and Charles Thompson III. (Steve Krah Photo)

Enthusiasm follows Schrage to Butler

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Schrage does not smile 24 hours day.

It only seems that way.

An upbeat demeanor has followed him through life and a lengthy baseball coaching career.

“I don’t think you can accomplish anything if you are not excited and enthusiastic about it,” says Schrage, who turns 56 this month. “I love going to my job everyday.”

Schrage is in his 29th overall season and first at Butler University in Indianapolis. He has been a head coach in more than 1,500 games and recently won his 750th.

“I feel really fortunate to still be coaching,” says Schrage. “It’s been a fun journey.”

A head coach since 1988, Schrage served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing in Indy.

“Butler is a great fit for me,” says Schrage. Daughters Katy (a Butler graduate) and Bri (a Ball State graduate) both live and work in Indianapolis. “For five years, I was 14 hours away (in Brookings, S.D.).”

Schrage played for Jim Hendry at Creighton University and got his start in coaching when Hendry sent him to St. Thomas University in Florida to be a graduate assistant on the staff of Paul Mainieri.

After that, Schrage was an assistant at Creighton and also was a player/coach for the Queensland Rams Club Team in Australia.

Hendry, the former Chicago Cubs general manager and current special assistant to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, has a son (John) playing baseball at the University of Indianapolis and has been able to catch up with Schrage when he’s in town.

Schrage followed Mainieri as Notre Dame head coach. The friends see each other every year at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention (the event is coming to Indy Jan. 4-7, 2018). Mainieri is now head coach at Louisiana State University.

With the Bulldogs, Schrage embraces The Butler Way — a set of principles established many years ago by famed coach Tony Hinkle.

Barry Collier has been credited for resurrecting the concepts of humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness when he was the school’s head basketball coach and has continued to promote The Butler Way for all sports as athletic director.

“These are the same ideals I have,” says Schrage. “We are developing our players as human beings. They are learning to deal with adversity and overcoming it and becoming a positive influence — on and off the court (or field).”

While Schrage, who is assisted by Ben Norton, Andy Pascoe and Brian Meyer, inherited the current Butler roster (which features 11 players from Indiana hometowns), he was well aware of the diamond talent produced in the Hoosier State.

When he steered Evansville to 43 wins, Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles and advancement to the NCAA Charlottesville Regional finals in 2006, the Purple Aces had several state-trained players.

“That spoke well of the quality of high school baseball (in Indiana),” says Schrage. “The coaches do a tremendous job in running their programs.”

Schrage says the exposure that Indiana players receive at places like Grand Park in Westfield and through the evaluation efforts of Prep Baseball Report are growing the game here.

When he was still coaching in Iowa, Schrage worked at one of the first Perfect Game showcases and now that company is touting itself as the world’s largest baseball scouting service.

“In this media world with Facebooking and all this information out there, it’s very helpful (to college coaches),” says Schrage. “When I first got into coaching, I had to beat the bushes and find players in the small towns. Now, there’s no more secrets. It’s opened up tremendous opportunities for the student-athletes. It’s nothing but advantageous to coaches, kids and their families.”

Butler plays in the Big East Conference with Creighton, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. The conference tournament is scheduled for May 25-28 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., the same stadium as the College World Series. The Big East tournament winner will receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Division I tournament.

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Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.
Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.

Dave Schrage (left in blue sweatshirt) follows a play in his first season as head baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. This is his 29th overall season as a head coach. (Brent Smith Photo)

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A head coach since 1988, Dave Schrage (middle) served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing at Butler. (Brent Sm)

Getting the most out of players is ultimate goal of Carmel’s Buczkowski

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Buczkowski was in elementary school when he learned how to make out a baseball lineup.

Though he might not have known it at the time, the seeds were being planted for young Matt to follow his father into teaching and coaching.

Len Buczkowski coached 29 seasons at South Bend Adams High School and was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1991 (Matt’s junior year at Adams) and passed away in 2013.

As a teenager, Matt had all kinds of ideas about what he would do with his life. Coaching was not necessarily on that list.

But after playing at Butler University and a brief professional career (he played one season in the Philadelphia Phillies organization where he was briefly a roommate of two-sport standout Ricky Williams and one season with the independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters), Matt heard the coaching profession calling his name.

His first job was at Butler. He was a Bulldogs assistant for one season on the staff of Steve Farley.

Then there was a three-year stint as an assistant to Jim Schmitz at Eastern Illinois University.

Matt and wife Jennifer then moved to Colorado and he started coaching high school players. There was a two-year hitch as an assistant at Mesa Ridge and nine seasons as head coach at Fountain Fort Carson.

Buczkowski returned to central Indiana and served four seasons as head coach at Lawrence Central. Last summer, he was hired to be head coach at Carmel.

“All the places I’ve been I just continued to get better at the coaching craft,” says Buczkowski, 43. “It’s just who I am. It’s ingrained in my blood and my make-up. It’s how I go about my day as a teacher, husband and a father.”

As his experience has grown, his coaching style has evolved.

“When I first started out, I was a pretty strict disciplinarian,” says Buczkowski. “I took over a program that was 2-17 the year before. I had to change to culture of losing. I had to find out who wanted to play baseball and who just wanted to wear the uniform.”

When Matt took his new position, the Buczkowskis already lived in Carmel (Jennifer is a second grade teacher at Towne Meadow Elementary; brother Steve Buczkowski also resides in the district).

Matt knew about the community’s recreation and travel teams in the Carmel Dads Club as well as the work ethic and zest for success already in place. With the Greyhounds, he inherits a team from Dan Roman that has 15 seniors and is used to winning.

“These guys work hard,” says Buczkowski. “They give me a good effort on a daily basis. For the most part, they are mentally and physically tough. When you get that mix together it usually breeds success.

“Ultimately, my goal is to get the most out of my players.”

Buczkowski has learned that motivating young athletes is not “one size fits all” with all the different personalities on the squad.

“It’s about getting to know these guys and knowing which buttons to push,” says Buczkowski. “The longer I coach, I find it’s not just what you say but how they perceive how you’re saying it.”

The 2017 season will open with Carmel ranked No. 1 in Class 4A. Buczkowski, his staff of varsity assistants John Zangrilli (former head coach at Brebeuf and Zionsville) and Brent Berglund, junior varsity coaches Eric Lentz (former head coach at Westfield and Carmel) and Greg Stiller and freshmen coaches Aaron Hahn and Sean Duty are anxious to compete in the strong Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (other members are Ben DavIs, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central (Indianapolis), Pike and Warren Central) and a loaded Westfield Sectional (which also includes Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis North Central and Westfield).

“We’re going hunting and we have some pretty good artillery,” says Buczowski of his talented Hounds. “We’re not hunting with slingshots.

“There’s definitely high expectations at Carmel.”

The program has won 13 sectionals (the last in 2016), five regionals and made two State Finals appearances, finishing as runner-up in 1997.

Something that’s different for Matt or brother Mike (who coached baseball briefly at Caston High School) from when their father or other South Bend coaching legends Jim Reinebold and Ric Tomaszewski were leading programs is all the organized year-round training. Most players have travel coaches and take private hitting or pitching lessons from instructors in addition to being taught by their high school coaches.

“We’re more a part of the process,” says Buczkowski. “Our job is important, but it’s not just one voice they’re hearing anymore.”

Buczkowski sees elite travel organizations like the Indiana Bulls providing exposure and training opportunities that high school coaches just can’t mimic.

“We want our guys playing (in the summer),” says Buczkowski. “That’s the most important thing for their development.

“Indiana baseball is in a really good place. There are really good players. It has a lot to do with the travel piece. Grand Park (in Westfield) has had a tremendous part in that.”

CARMELGREYHOUNDS

MATTBUCZKOWSKI

Matt Buczkowski enters his first season as Carmel High School head baseball coach in 2017.

Noblesville baseball culture foundation is program-first

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Keever didn’t start the baseball culture at Noblesville High School.

Millers baseball has a storied tradition. Men like Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Don Dunker and Dennis Kas had the ball rolling before Keever arrived on campus.

The former Twin Lakes High School and Butler University player left coaching and teaching jobs at Avon High School to become Noblesville head coach in the summer of 2004 and logged his first season in 2005.

In 2014, the Millers hoisted an IHSAA Class 4A state championship trophy. In Keever’s first 12 seasons, Noblesville has won four sectionals, three regionals and three titles in the “meat grinder” Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

With baseball assistants Kevin Fitzgerald, Caleb Small, Quinton Miller, Ben Yoder, Eric Slager and Gene Marinacci plus strength and conditioning coach Brian Clarke enforcing the same message, Keever has kept Noblesville among the best big-school programs in Indiana with a set of core values.

“We have really good staff,” says Keever. “They love kids and hold them accountable.

“It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Members of the program — coaches and players — talk about investing in each other and the good of the whole.

“When you can create that ownership in the program, you have something special,” says Keever. “When you have authentically invested in your teammate, they will be more receptive … they know you care.”

It can be expressed in a straight-forward equation — fitting in that Keever’s classroom job is math teacher — Program > Team > Individual.

Adopted from the Butler Way (Keever hit for a school-record average of .426 as a junior for the Steve Farley-coached Bulldogs in 1999), The Miller Way “demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self.”

Noblesville follows the S.T.U.P.H. method.

Servanthood — makes teammates better, lead by giving.

Thankfulness — learn from every circumstance.

Unity — do not divide our house, team first.

Passion — do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence.

Humility — know who we are, strengths and weaknesses.

Keever said its the team-first philosophy that drives all three squads for the Millers — varsity, junior varsity black and junior varsity gold.

Is it a perfect system?

No.

“You’re dealing with teenagers,” says Keever. “There will always be push-back. We’re dealing with human beings here — coaches included.”

But with older players modeling behavior for their younger teammates, it becomes self-policing program and rules violators generally step back in line in short order.

“You learn the most from your peers and teammates,” says Keever. “They speak your same language.”

Keever expects a total buy-in and players striving for the high side of the “C” scale.

“If you’re resistant or reluctant, you are not going to be part of our program,” says Keever. “You can be compliant (do the minimum), committed (go above and beyond) or compelled (go above and beyond and bring people with you).”

To make the Millers better and allow for team bonding, Noblesville has been going on a southern trip (Kentucky in 2008 and Tennessee since 2009). This year means an appearance March 30-April 1 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Conference games will again for played as three-game series.

“It’s a blast,” says Keever of the format. “It’s the college model, how baseball should be played. Our league is able to do something like that. We finding out who has the best team, not just who has the best pitcher. (Indiana high school) baseball needs to get off the basketball model and onto the baseball model, especially in the state tournament.”

Keever notes that in basketball you are pretty much the same team each time out. In baseball, it makes a big difference who is on the mound.

justinkeever

Noblesville High School head baseball coach Justin Keever is a 1996 Twin Lakes High School and 2001 Butler University graduate. The 2017 season marks his 13th of leading the Millers.