Tag Archives: Carl Erskine

Taylor U. assistant Atkinson has seen so much baseball around Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Having Rick Atkinson around has given the baseball program at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., “second eyes” for the better part of the last two decades.

“I’m the Don Zimmer of the outfit,” says Atkinson, who has seen plenty on a diamond in his 73 years and has lent his insights to the Trojans for 18 years — the past 16 on a coaching staff headed by Kyle Gould

Bone cancer has not allowed the former Taylor player and longtime Gas City, Ind., resident to travel with the team on its 2021 trips to Arizona and Tennessee.

“I was looking forward to going,” says Atkinson, who tracks the 7-3 Trojans on the internet.

While COVID-19 precautions have also kept him away recently, Atkinson has shared plenty of diamond wisdom over the years.

“On the road, Kyle and I would be together and talk about baseball, the team and what-not,” says Atkinson. “We would not always agree. But when we left our room we were on the same page.”

Atkinson’s health no longer allows him, but he used to coach first base for the Trojans.

“I can’t move too quick,” says Atkinson. The cancer has eaten away his second vertebrae. “It’s good medicine to go over there when I don’t feel good.”

It had once been Atkinson’s responsibility to mow and water the grass and paint the lines at Winterholter Field. 

“All of the sudden we can’t do that,” says Atkinson.

With the advent of artificial turf, those staples of baseball coaching are no longer necessary.

Rick and Sondra Atkinson have three children who all live nearby — Molly and Abby in Gas City and Adam in Muncie. There are eight grandchildren.

“They love to come over to Taylor and hit in the barn or get in the new press box,” says Atkinson. 

A three-time Hall of Famer — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Grant County (Ind.) as an individual and Taylor University as part of a team — Atkinson was a standout third baseman for Jack King-coached Taylor teams from 1966-68 and played one season at Greenville (Ill.) College before playing in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Playing for NAIA Coach of the Year Bob Smith at Greenville in 1969, righty-swinging corner infielder Atkinson hit 12 home runs in 22 games and lead NAIA in homers per game (.55). He was also third in runs batted in per contest (1.55) while hitting .428. Greenville lost in the regional that year and Taylor went on to the NAIA World Series. Smith was also president of the International Baseball Federation that helped get the sport in the Olympics.

As a fast-pitch player, Atkinson helped the Plymouth Club Bombers to three Amateur Softball Association state titles and two runner-up finishes.

Atkinson was in secondary education for 38 years (physical education and health) — eight at Eastbrook High In Marion, Ind., and 30 at Mississinewa High in Gas City. 

At Eastbrook, he was on the football staff with Terry Hoeppner (who went on to be head coach at Miami University in Ohio and Indiana University) at Eastbrook. 

Before returning in 2005, Atkinson served Mississinewa for 24 years as the athletic director and 20 years as the Indians’ baseball coach. He was the North head coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1990.

It was while dining at Cracker Barrel that Atkinson ran into Larry Winterholter who asked him to join his coaching staff at Taylor.

“Will you come back and help me?” Atkinson says of Winterholter’s question. “I’ve been there ever since.”

Gould was a freshman during Atkinson’s first season as as Trojans coach.

“We developed a good relationship,” says Atkinson. “A lot of people think I’m Kyle’s dad.”

Many relationships were formed through baseball over the decades. Atkinson got to know Dick Siler when they were both high school coaches.

“They had the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen,” says Atkinson of the bright red and yellow donned by Siler’s Elkhart Memorial High School teams, which included all-star pitcher Matt Ruess in 1990.

The friendship continued when they both began college coaching at Crossroads League schools — Atkinson at Taylor and Siler at Bethel.

Atkinson invited Siler to stay with him whenever he was in the area. IHSBCA Hall of Famer Siler died in 2020.

A 1965 graduate of Mississinewa, Atkinson earned 11 varsity letters playing baseball and basketball for coach Junior Mannis and football for coach Charlie Fisher. Nine of those teams won conference championships.

One of his fondest memories is playing five games in three different places in the same day.

“When I was 15 we had a high school doubleheader,” says Atkinson. “My mom took me to Kokomo for an American Legion doubleheader (featuring Jonesboro Post 95) then to Indianapolis for semipro tournament (with the Twin City Bankers). 

“We won all five games that day.”

A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers and Portland Rockets is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

Atkinson played against one of former major league pitcher and Anderson, Ind., native Carl Erskine’s sons.

Erskine doesn’t address Atkinson by name. It’s “Hey, Gas City!”

He was 14 when Atkinson started playing for the Bankers. His father, John, was the team’s manager. 

John Atkinson helped build a diamond that is still used today.

There were days when young Rick sold Cokes while sitting on the back part of a station wagon.

At 15, the Bankers placed third in the state tournament and all-stater Atkinson hit .454.

Atkinson recalls when amateur baseball went from wood to metal bats.

“I didn’t like it,” says Atkinson. “I collect fungos. None of them are aluminum.

“I do not remember breaking a bat. I’m sure I did.”

He does remember mending some clubs.

To keep wood bats in circulation, Atkinson used to use small black brad nails to hold them together.

For a few years, Atkinson was in charge of Taylor hitters.

He’d study the players’ swing to see what suited him best. It was easy to identify the best ones.

“A blind man can come into this barn and tell who the good hitters are just by the sound,” says Atkinson. “It’s a different sound.”

Leading a Taylor-based team in a collegiate wood bat league, Atkinson counted future big league center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as one of his players.

Atkinson encouraged the Fort Wayne Bishop Luers graduate to cash in on his speed.

“I know Coach, bunt the ball,” says Atkinson of Kiermaier’s echoing what the coach often told him. “They don’t teach the bunt anymore.”

The coach also lent his know-how with the independent professional Dubois County Dragons in Huntingburg, Ind., and the Anderson (Ind.) Lawmen. The latter team was managed by Texas Rangers bird dog scout Jay Welker and featured Brian Cruz who also played for Atkinson at Mississinewa.

For a few years, Atkinson was a camp director for Little League Central Region Headquarters in Indianapolis.

“I really loved it,” says Atkinson. “Kids from all over the country would come in.”

Campers and counselors affectionately referred to Atkinson as “Papa Bear.”

Rick Atkinson, a longtime assistant baseball coach at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., is the member of the Indiana High School Baseball Association, Grant County (Ind.) and Taylor University halls of fame. (Taylor University Photo)

Teachers Scott, Curtis make history come alive for students through baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Educators who value history and baseball have combined the two and stirred excitement about both subjects in their students.

Matt Scott is teaching a baseball history course this spring at Clinton Prairie Junior/Senior High School in Frankfort, Ind. He got the inspiration for the class a few years ago while attending a social studies technology conference in Lafayette. There he learned Shawn Curtis was teaching baseball history at North White Midde/High School in Monon, Ind.

Curtis has led a similar course at Connersville (Ind.) High School and now incorporates the diamond game into his social studies classes at Carmel (Ind.) High School.

“We go over time period and see how baseball is interwoven,” says Scott. “Some students may have a general knowledge, but don’t know history.

“We see what baseball has brought to the history of the United States.”

Using the Ken Burns’ “Baseball” series — now streaming free online by PBS during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has schools doing eLearning rather than in-person classes — Scott leads a semester-long project-based elective course.

Right now, his students are on “Inning 4 — A National Heirloom (1920-1930).”

Using MySimpleShow, pupils will create short videos about one of the World Series during the period when the “U.S. was coming out of World War I and getting back on its feet.”

Many have asked for 1927 with “Murderer’s Row” lineup that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and hot dogs started to be a staple at the ballpark.

“It will be interesting to see how different kids perceive (the Series),” says Scott. “Kids know Babe Ruth, but don’t know Christy Mathewson or Honus Wagner.

“It brings me joy to put a name with a face and how that person is important.”

Some of Scott’s students have used Book Creator to craft a flip book that comes from their research. Other tools include Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Publisher. Students have produced newscasts, podcasts and more.

Skype video conferencing allows for guest speakers. The Athletic senior writer C. Trent Rosecrans told about his baseball experiences, including those in Japan.

“It’s a big party over there,” says Scott of the atmosphere at a baseball game in the Land of the Rising Sun. “The way it is during the playoffs here is an average game in Japan.”

Attendees of Scott’s baseball history class have studied the contributions of people of color from Native Americans to Cubans to Latinos to the Negro Leagues.

Indianapolis native Oscar Charleston was one of the stars of the Negro Leagues, which celebrates its 100th year in 2020. Rube Foster helped establish the Negro National League in 1920 in Kansas City and that city is now the sight of the Negro League Baseball Museum.

The study goes from the Civil War to the civil rights movement.

“Some people don’t understand how far back it goes,” says Scott.

Zoom has been the way Scott — and so many other teachers including Curtis — have simultaneously communicated with students.

In Scott’s class, students have learned about common misconception that Civil War hero Abner Doubleday was the inventor of baseball.

Alexander Cartwright, who came up with the scorecard and help formalize a set of rules, is considered something of a modern-day inventor.

“But there’s no one person who should get the ‘Father of Baseball’ label,” says Scott.

A few years ago, Scott and his class took a field trip to see the Indianapolis Indians where they gained more knowledge about the heritage of that franchise plus baseball in Indiana’s capitol.

Scott is also head baseball coach at Clinton Prairie. With in-person classes ending because of COVID-19, the Indiana High School Athletic Association also put an end to spring sports.

“I’m bummed,” says Scott. “Not being able to play this year kind of breaks my heart.”

With three seniors and nine juniors back from a 2019 team that went 2019, the Gophers were looking to “do some damage” in 2020.

Curtis grew up in Wyoming, but rooted for the New York Yankees since his grandfather — Edwin Curtis — had been offered a chance to play in their system as well as that of the St. Louis Cardinals back in the 1930’s. When the expansion Colorado Rockies came along, Robert Curtis — Shawn’s father — purchased season tickets.

“I’m a huge baseball fan,” says Curtis. “(Baseball) is really the history of America.

“Baseball is the constant theme of things. I will find ways to tie baseball in.”

Curtis, who also used the Ken Burns documentary to frame some of his teaching, says that as cities grew, people needed recreation and baseball parks offered an escape.

“We see how baseball plays into World War II,” says Curtis. “We see how baseball plays into the Spanish Flu (1918 Pandemic).”

Over the years, Curtis has taken students to Anderson, Ind., to meet Carl Erskine, a Brooklyn Dodgers teammate of Jackie Robinson and a baseball ambassador.

Skype or in-person class guests have included civil rights leader John Lewis, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy and Harrison High School graduate and former minor leaguer Josh Loggins and many more.

“(Speakers) really bring history alive,” says Curtis. “Hearing from the people who made news in more impactful than a book.”

As a way of making history come alive for his students, Curtis launched The 1988 Project.

While teaching about that year, he contacted former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who was more than willing to talk electronically with his class.

“We planned for 40 minutes and he went on for probably two hours,” says Curtis. “The kids had a blast.”

The teacher’s aim was for his students to become historians and use 1988 as the focal point.

“We would take a year in the life of America and just pull it apart,” says Curtis. “It was transitional year between the old world and the new world.

“There were so many human interest. Tom Hanks made ‘Big.’ ‘Batman’ was filmed that year. There were magazine covers talking about the Internet coming.”

Students would critique movies and got to chat with online guests like pop star Debbie Gibson, actor Lou Diamond Phillips, The Cosby Show kid Malcom-Jamal Warner, Saturday Night Live cast member Joe Piscopo and “Miracle on Ice” hockey hero Mike Eruzione.

Of course, 1988 is also known for Kirk Gibson hobbling to the plate at Dodger Stadium and homering off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the World Series.

Independent of his teaching, Curtis has been working with the Negro League Baseball Museum — where Bob Kendrick is the president — and highlighting the history of black baseball in Indianapolis.

The best ballplayer of all-time?

“It’s definitely (Negro Leaguer) Josh Gibson,” says Curtis, who notes that old Bush Stadium in Indianapolis was site of a Negro League World Series game featuring Baseball Hall of Famer Gibson and the Homestead Grays in 1943.

Joe Posnanski, who wrote “The Soul of Baseball: A Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America,” is another former guest in a Curtis-taught class. Former Negro Leaguer player and Kansas City Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil was a central figure on the Ken Burns “Baseball” series.

This summer, the Curtis family is planning a visit to Fenway Park in Boston.

The Curtis family has also spent vacations going to historic baseball sites, including League Park in Cleveland, the former site of the Polo Grounds in New York and the boyhood home of Mickey Mantle in Oklahoma (Mantle is the favorite player of Robert Curtis) and many graves.

Curtis has produced short videos through 1945 for the World Series, Negro League World Series and All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1903 World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1945 World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1943 Negro League World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

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Carl Erskine came to visit the baseball history class taught by Shawn Curtis when Curtis was at North White High School in Monon, Ind.

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Author Joe Posnanski talks via Skype to a class taught by history teacher Shawn Curtis. Posnanski has written on many topics, including baseball.

CURTISGIBSONHistory teacher Shawn Curtis poses with the statue of his favorite player, Josh Gibson, at the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

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The Curtis family enjoys spending time at the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

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Among historical baseball sites visited by the Curtis family is League Park in Cleveland, Ohio.

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History teacher Shawn Curtis was able to get on the field at historic League Park in Cleveland, Ohio, during a family trip.

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Buck O’Neil is buried in Kansas City, Mo. The former Negro League player and manager’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Billy Martin is buried in Hawthorne, N.Y. The big league player and manager’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Babe Ruth is buried in Hawthorne, N.Y. The baseball legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Lou Gehrig is buried in Valhalla, N.Y. The baseball legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Mel Ott is buried in New Orleans. The Hall of Famer’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Mickey Mantle is buried in Dallas, Texas. The Hall of Famer’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Josh Gibson is buried in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Negro League legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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The Clinton Prairie High School baseball history class of Matt Scott visits via Skype with baseball writer C. Trent Rosecrans. Scott is also head baseball coach at the school.

 

With Barber as president/CEO, The BASE Indianapolis offers diamond, educational opportunities to urban youth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.

The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.

These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.

A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”

Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.

“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. (The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.

“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”

With support from many, programming is free to these young people.

“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”

Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.

“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”

Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.

Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”

Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.

“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”

Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.

He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.

A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.

Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.

Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.

Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.

(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.

“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”

Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.

Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.

Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.

Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.

To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.

In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.

Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.

Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.

“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.

“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”

“But it’s about family.”

For more information, contact Barber at rbarber@thebaseindy.org or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.

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Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)