Jordan Turner was heading into his freshman year at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School when he saw an opportunity. The Eagles’ starting catcher the year before was a senior. Turner played other positions, but he began focusing on playing behind the plate on varsity and that’s what he did for four years, graduating in 2011. Mark Grove, who was in the midst of a very successful career as Churubusco head coach (he won 513 games with nine sectional titles, four regional crowns, a semistate runner-up finish and nine Northeast Corner Conference championships from 1985-2015), trusted Turner to call pitches and allowed him to manage a game. “I definitely learned a lot from Grove,” says Turner, who has been head coach at his alma mater since the 2018 season and is also a high school English teacher. “As a player you don’t think about everything that goes into games and practices. As a coach, I definitely lean on him all the time and whatever coaching information he can give to me. “Beyond that, it’s the role model Grove’s been as a teacher and another supportive figure in my life. I can’t say enough about the impact he’s had on me and how much help he’s provided to the program.” Turner began coaching while he still at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) earning an English Education degree with a History minor. After serving as an assistant on Grove’s staff for two seasons and helping Jason Pierce for one, Turner took over the Eagles and Grove (a 2021 Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame inductee) has served as a volunteer on his staff. Though he is not listed as a 2023 assistant, Grove will help when he’s available. The staff features Dalton Blessing (Class of 2018) and Derek Bowyer (Class of 2016) as varsity assistants with Turtle Town community member Brian Jones leading the junior varsity with help from Seth Abel (Class of 2021). Bowyer played a few seasons at Trine University. Churubusco (enrollment around 400) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview). Hamilton is expected to play a JV schedule in 2023. The NECC tournament is April 24-29. The Whitley County-based Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Central Noble, Eastside, Prairie Heights, Westview and Whitko. Churubusco has 10 sectional titles — the last in 2015. Recent graduates moving on to college diamonds include Class of 2021’s Brayten Gordon (Indiana Tech) and Evan Snyder (Adrian, Mich., College) and 2022’s Cal Ostrowski (Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne). Churubusco Youth League “Where Eagles Grow” sponsors teams from T-ball to age 14 at Churubusco Community Park. The high school home field is located between the school and the park (there is a large turtle statue at the entrance off U.S. 33). For decades, games were played with no outfield fence. That was added early in the Grove era. Since Turner has been in charge, upgrades include a windscreen and concession stand.
Phil Britton was attending the Culture & Leadership Hot Stove at the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Nashville when Jerry Weinstein began talking about body language. As the ABCA Hall of Famer spoke, a slide went up which read: Body Language Is The #1 Form Of Communication. “What You Do Speaks So Loudly I Can’t Hear What You Say.” Immediate Attention Away From The Group.” “When you’re trying to be competitive and put together a good ball club it starts with your values and what you’re trying to achieve,” says Britton, who played college and professional baseball, runs a training business in southern Illinois and southern Indiana and coaches travel ball. “It’s a lot easier to achieve those things when you don’t have to coach body language. “Don’t get me wrong. The game’s hard and everybody gets down. But if you’re recruiting Player A and Player B and they’re both really talented and have the same skill set but one has body language that communicates that they can handle defeat and the other one has the shrugged shoulders, eye rolls and the stuff that really projects bad energy you’re going to select the player that doesn’t have that. “If you’ve got those guys on your team it’s going to be a long year. It comes down to what kind of player am I — the one who pouts or the one who says ‘I’m going to get the next one.’” Britton graduated from 2003 graduate of East Richland High School in Olney, Ill. (now consolidated into Richland County High School), where he played for Andy Julian of Newburgh, Ind., spent two seasons under National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Famer Dennis Conley at Olney Central College and turned down an offer from the University of Kentucky to go pro. The catcher was in the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles organizations and with the independent league Fargo (N.D.)-Moorhead (Minn.) Red Hawks and Evansville (Ind.) Otters. He has been on the Otters coaching staff of manager Andy McCauley since 2012. As his playing career was winding down, he started Britton’s Bullpen in Olney and has expanded to Indiana locations in Boonville and Fort Branch. “I’m always watching body language,” says Britton. “I try to see what my body language is. If somebody strikes out in a big spot, how am I handling myself? Am I moping in the dugout or the third base coach’s box?” As a manager, Britton wants to project a confident, stoic approach. “I’m not sure how many kids understand (body language),” says Britton. “Everybody’s got body language. Your body speaks way bigger than your words. You can tell when somebody’s up. You can tell when somebody’s down. “It’s difficult for a team to continually progress if you’ve got guys with bad body language. It’s a sign that they don’t want to be there. Why would you want somebody that doesn’t want to be there?” Britton says players can’t project poor body language and be ready for the next play. “If you’re putting yourself in position to make a play and you don’t make the play that’s not a bad inning that’s just not making a play. There’s a humungous difference. “I can handle guys not making plays. That will never bother me. Not being in position will.” Southern Smoke Baseball will field 8U, 11U and 13U teams out of Fort Branch and 12U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U out of Olney in 2023. Britton facilitates off-season workouts for Illinois teams, pops in with the younger teams and is a manager for the older squads. He has an understanding with his players. “Don’t mistake my intensity for getting after you,” says Britton. “The only time I’ll (do that) is if you’ve got it coming. By that I mean you’re a poor sport and showing up your teammates. “I’m not going chew somebody’s tail just because they didn’t make a play.” Britton expects his players to learn the game. “We play half the season without base coaches and we do that to force kids to run with their heads up and make their own decisions,” says Britton. “There are some parents that are rubbed the wrong way. They want their kids to be coached every single play and they’re not learning anything. They’d be learning less with us controlling them. “When you’ve got a kid crossing the road you want them to just put their head down and tell them it’s OK. Eventually they have to cross the road on their own with no one telling them.” Britton, 38, was raised “old school” and spent a lot of time helping his grandfather. When he set his grandson for a tool, he didn’t ask where it was he just found it. “You figured it out,” says Britton. “That’s how I grew up.” It was this approach that Britton took into high school baseball. “Coach Julian challenged me,” says Britton. “I was that player who needed someone to get up into my personal space and challenge me and Andy did a real good job of that. “I wanted to be the best player everywhere I went.” Jim Baker, who was from nearby Sumner, Ill., and pitched at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., and in Triple-A in the Toronto Blue Jays system, was an encouragement to Britton. “I respected him because he was where I wanted to be,” says Britton. “He said to me, ‘you’ve got some tools. Keep working your tail off.’” Growing up poor and rural, Britton did not have brand new equipment. He got the old gear left over when the youth league was cleaning out the closet. When he was a high school freshman, he and a friend entered a radio contest. The 95th caller won Bruce Springsteen tickets. Britton won the contest, sold the seats to a teacher who was a fan of “The Boss” and took the money to buy his first set of new catcher’s gear. In his two seasons at Olney Central, Britton hit .426 with 15 home runs and a nation-leading 89 runs batted in and .430 with 10 homers and earned NJCAA All-American honors while playing for veteran coach Conley. “People who know baseball understand just how valuable the guy is,” says Britton of Conley, who has led the Blue Knights for more than 40 years. “I can’t thank Coach Conley enough for holding me accountable.” Britton came to campus not recruited by other places and 160 pounds, won the starting catching job and caught all games in the spring, including doubleheaders on Saturdays and bullpens between games. “You’ll find out what you’re made of in a heart beat. That’s why Coach Conley’s the best. He is going to challenge you.” He was going to be a Conley assistant when he turned his attention to building his own business, which now has Josh Wetzel and (former Castle High School player) Conner Porter leading things at Boonville and (former Indianapolis North Central High School and Indiana University catcher and current Otters hitting coach) Bobby Segal and Matt Racinowski at Fort Branch. Britton’s Bullpen also trains softball players. “The end goal has been to help as many players as we can,” says Britton. McCauley was in his first season as Otters manager when Britton came in at the all-star break in 2011. Bill Bussing has been the team’s owner since 2001. “There’s nobody better than Mr. Bussing when it comes to independent baseball,” says Britton. “He cares about his people. “That guy is there to help anybody he can help. He’s there to set a good example. We have got an extremely short leash in Evansville. We’ve got to bring in high-character dudes. If we swing and miss, you move on down the road. “The guy at the top sets the standard. That’s true anywhere you go. Mr. Bussing is our standard.” Britton credits the ABCA — the largest organization dedicated to baseball coaches in the world — to saving his coaching career. “Getting a change to hear Patrick Murphy, Augie Garrido, Ken Ravizza and Matt Deggs — you talk about some very humbling individuals,” says Britton. “There is so much to learn than what I know.” Britton’s Bullpen is on Facebook and Instagram and has a YouTube channel.
Tyler Rubasky, who hails from Pennsylvania, has returned to Indiana to coach college baseball. Rubasky, a 2012 graduate of Hazleton (Pa.) Area High School, played at catcher for Cougars head coach Gino Cara. “He made a huge impact on me,” says Rubasky. “I went home for Christmas break. My first stop was to see my dad (Brian Rubasky) at his office. My second stop was to see Coach Cara in his office.” “He was there with constant encouragement and trying to do right by me and the team,” says Rubasky of Cara, who was a standout baseball player at Lafayette University. “He encouraged me to keep pursuing the dream and keep chasing the game.” At NCAA Division IIIWaynesburg (Pa.) University, Rubasky played for Yellow Jackets head coach Mike Humiston, worked with pitching coach Perry Cunningham (who is now head coach) and also was an assistant coach. “Coach Hum gave me a shot,” says Rubasky. “I’m not a huge guy for a catcher. I was always overlooked for my size. He saw something in me. “Perry and I have an awesome relationship. He went to Davis & Elkins (as a student/athlete). That was kind of a cool full circle moment.” Rubasky started college on a different path. “I was going to be a teacher and then I found the Athletic Training (major),” says Rubasky. “That wasn’t what I found passion in. “I can still teach through coaching and can still be around baseball which I love. “I guess I’m pretty fortunate.” Rubasky, who earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Exercise Science, Wellness and Physiology at Waynesburg (2016) and a Masters of Science degree in Coaching and Sport Education at West Virginia University (2018), was charge of catchers and outfielders and assisted with hitters at D-III Franklin (Ind.) College for Grizzlies head coach Lance Marshall. During the 2019 season and through August 2020, Rubasky led catchers, outfielders and hitters at D-II Davis & Elkins (W.Va.) College in 2021 and 2022. The Senators head coach was Tim Miller. In late August 2022, Rubasky was hired as an assistant at D-III Trine University in Angola, Ind. Greg Perschke is entering his 22nd season as Thunder head coach in 2023. “I really like Indiana,” says Rubasky. “It’s a great opportunity for me to be a full-time assistant which is rare at our level. Across baseball sometimes it’s rare. “Coach Marshall is very close to my heart. Coach Perschke has been there long enough that he must have something going on and Trine is a great place to be — from an overall university standpoint with their academics and the athletics being a priority.” Rubasky oversees hitters and catchers at Trine while sharing in recruiting duties with Perschke. “Recruiting is a huge piece at any college level, especially at our level,” says Rubasky. “We’re going to do our part for that.” Rubasky has also coached at the youth baseball level. He was head coach for 14U Pony League World Series host team, Indiana Elite 16U and Pittsburgh Outlaws 14U. The Transfer Portal continues to play a major part in college sports, but it’s not quite as prevalent at the D-III level where there are no athletic scholarships. Players do transfer to places like Trine for reasons such as a major or masters degree or getting closer to home. Occasionally, there might be a bounce-back from NCAA D-I or D-II. Rubasky says the basic different between D-III and D-II is contact/development time between players and coaches. He says D-II players and coaches can work together eight hours a week from the first day of school in the fall until just before finals in the spring. D-III teams are allowed four weeks of practice in the fall. Players are then given a set of recommendations to work until the period leading up to the season opener. For Trine in 2023 that is Feb. 25 at Anderson (Ind.) University.
Andy McManama has learned there is power in precision when it comes to life and baseball and has demonstrated this as an an instructor/mentor at World Baseball Academy and assistant coach at Carroll High School — both in Fort Wayne, Ind. His father — Terry McManama — was a longtime assistant coach to Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of FamerMark Grove and a Business teacher at Churubusco (Ind.) High School that passed along the importance of structure to he and wife Marla’s only child. “It’s being on-time and being detailed,” says Andy McManama. “There’s work to be done. If we practice hard we can have fun and play games, but we have to make sure our work is getting done first.” His grandfather owned a horse farm and was involved in harness racing. Andy was a 9-year Whitley County 4-H Horse & Pony Club member and worked his way through the offices of secretary, treasurer, vice president and president. The fairgrounds are in Columbia City. “Growing up whether it was the baseball side or having a horse side it’s we’ve got some work to do to take care of things,” says McManama. “That’s always been a family thing — working hard for what you have.” McManama grew up attending many World Baseball Academy programs, played catcher at Carroll for head coach and NEIBA Hall of Famer Dave Ginder and graduated in 2009 — the same year he became a World Baseball Academy intern with the RBI program (now On Deck Initiative for underserved and at-risk boys and girls). Andy has applied his guiding principles as an instructor as well as Ginder’s bullpen coach. He has been on the staff since 2016. “I’ve enjoyed being in that program and just how much attention to detail there is,” says McManama. “It’s how my brain functions and is wired. “We dot our i’s and cross our t’s. Our kids play hard. That hasn’t changed since before (Ginder started leading the Carroll program).” The IHSAA adopted a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) that went into effect during the 2017 season and rule now includes all levels. “I think it works well,” says McManama. “It all comes down to player safety. With 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids, their bodies are still developing. It’s really good from not overusing (their arms). “The IHSAA has done a good job. It’s regulated now. It’s not just a free-for-all or everybody can do whatever they want.” McManama notes that all pitch counts are not the same. “A 100-pitch seven-inning outing is completely different to a 100-pitch three-inning outing,” says McManama. “You could have three high-stress innings and that makes a big difference. “If a kid has 60 to 80 pitches through three he probably isn’t going to make it to his 100 or 120 unless you have to. Those are high-stress innings that don’t help the kids arm or body for sure.” Coach Mac has served in several capacities at the ASH Centre, including tournament director and director of operations. This year, he took a full-time job with Allen Business Machines but still provides group and one-on-one lessons at World Baseball Academy two times a week as well as helping at Carroll. “I enjoy working with catchers and pitchers quite a bit,” says McManama. “Lesson-wise we’ll do it all.” With World Baseball Academy, McManama traveled to Bulgaria and worked with the Bulgarian Baseball Federation in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 made a visit to Kenya in 2013. A group from Bulgaria came to Fort Wayne in 2014. “Those trips are eye-opening,” says McManama. “You see how other kids live and interact on the other side of the world. “It’s a humbling experience on how many things we have here that we take for granted sometimes. It makes you appreciate a lot more. “Being able to work with kids and see them grow — not just from an athletic perspective but as a young adult — is pretty gratifying to me.” Locally, the WBA partners with schools and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne through its On Deck Initiative. There are more than 1,000 kids involved in the program. McManama was raised as a Chicago Cubs fan and attended his first game at Wrigley Field while in elementary school. At the horse farm, the radio was often tuned to the Cubs broadcast with Pat Hughes and Ron Santo in the spring or summer and Purdue football or basketball in the fall or winter. “I actually prefer the radio broadcast for the Cubs rather than TV sometimes,” says McManama. “(Hughes and Santo) kept it interesting.” Santo went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 2012. Hughes is the Hall of Fame’s 2023 Ford C. Frick Award winner. McManama was in Cincinnati when Sammy Sosa slugged his 500th career home run April 4, 2003. The clout came on a 1-2 pitch from reliever Scott Sullivan and the opposite-field blast sailed over the wall in right. More proof of his Cubs leanings: Andy has two female dogs named Ivy (8-year-old Australian Shepherd) and Wrigley (14-year-old Beagle/Lab mix). Andy resides in Fort Wayne and is engaged to Tabitha Marrs.
Ben Komonosky was a catcher at the NCAA Division I level and now he coaches them. Plenty of times, he has been asked to “be a wall” behind the plate. Komonosky, who played at the University of Evansville and is in his first year as a volunteer assistant at Indiana State University (also a member of the Missouri Valley Conference), says that’s the wrong mental picture. The idea is to stop the flying object and keep it in front of you. “Be a pillow,” says Komonosky. “Walls are bouncy and we don’t like that. “It’s like being a goalie in hockey. You don’t want pucks bouncing off you.” Ben is the son of Ward and Cindy Komonosky. Ward Komonosky played goaltender for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Regina Blue Pats, Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders and Atlantic Coast Hockey League’s New York Slapshots. Ward Komonosky won 30 games and Prince Albert took the Memorial Cup in 1985. New York was coached by Dave Schultz, who helped the “Broad Street Bullies” Philadelphia Flyers win the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975. Besides leading drills for ISU catchers (receiving, blocking and throwing form various angles) for Sycamores head coach Mitch Hannahs, Ben Komonosky also coordinates camps. There was an instructional/showcase event in October and another is scheduled for January. Komonosky, who turned 25 in September, says he has settled in to living in Terre Haute, Ind. “There are a lot of friendly people,” says Komonosky, who is from Regina, Sask., where he played baseball, football, basketball and volleyball at Vauxhall High School in Alberta. He was with the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball as a senior in 2015. He spent the fall semester at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. “It was not the right fit and I went back home (to Canada) for a bit,” says Komonosky. “That spring I took time off. I was falling out of love with baseball. “But then I felt I was missing something in my life and started training again.” The backstop landed at North Iowa Area Community College, where he played for Trojans head coach Travis Hergert in 2017 and 2018. “It was a great two years there,” says Komonosky. “I needed time to grow into the player I needed to be. I was able to get stronger and better in every part of the game.” Though North Iowa — based in Mason City — was not as hard-nosed a some junior college programs, Komonosky understands what it means to be a “JUCO Bandit.” “The majority of (junior colleges) are blue collar with a bunch of grinders,” says Komonosky, who notes the emphasis on development. “Half of their job is sending guys on to the next level.” Komonosky played in 111 games for NIACC in 2017 and 2018 and hit .282 with 11 home runs and 76 runs batted in. Jake Mahon, then an Evansville assistant coach, saw Komonosky at a North Iowa scrimmage and invited him to visit to UE campus. He went on to play in 88 games (81 starts) for the Wes Carroll-coached Purple Aces from 2019 to 2021 and graduated with a degree in Advertising and Public Relations and a minor in Sports Management. “I knew I wanted to stay around the game when my playing days were done,” says Komonosky, who spent the summer after graduating scouting for Perfect Game in Florida. In 2021-22, Komonosky was on the Jimmy Brenneman-led coaching staff at Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill. The Bobcats are a National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Division I program. “I loved it there,” says Komonosky. “It was really good baseball. Junior college is a really good route for a lot of guys. There’s extra development.” Komonosky specialized working with Frontier catchers while also assisting the hitters, recruiting, and strength and conditioning. In the summer of 2022, Komonosky served as manager of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Michigan Monarchs. The team, based in Adrian, Mich., won the North Division and advanced to the playoffs and Komonosky was selected as GLSCL Manager of the Year. Komonosky played for the Western Canadian Baseball League’s Swift Current 57s in 2018 and the WCBL’s Regina Red Sox in 2019. He did not play in the COVID-19 summer of 2020. He was recently named as Regina Red Sox manager for the summer of 2023. Komonosky has been an assistant coach at 2SK Performance and with the Inside Pitch Baseball Academy — both in Regina. Ben’s family athletic roots in Indiana precede him. Grandfather Glenn Young, who went to Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Ill., played football at Purdue University and was a defensive back for the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers (1956).
Patrick Kolks has given more than a third of his 31 years to Oldenburg (Ind.) Academy baseball and now he’s in charge of the Twisters. Kolks, who was athletic director at his alma mater the past three years, was recently named as head baseball coach and facilities specialist. A 2010 OA graduate, Kolks played four years for the man who founded the program and led it for 21 years — Doug Behlmer, who won 226 games and five sectional titles as Twisters head coach (2003, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2021) after he aided Jeff Greiwe in coaching Milan to the IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up finish in 1999. “He has had multiple players at the next level and a lot of them come back (to visit Oldenburg),” says Kolks. “We want to keep OA baseball on the map like it’s been for the last 20 years thanks to him. “It was pretty impressive (the building the Oldenburg team that started out with no seniors). We competed every year when I played. We finally got over the hump and beat Jac-Cen-Del in the sectional.” For two summers, Kolks played for the Behlmer-managed Batesville American Legion Post 271 team. So far Kolks’ first baseball staff includes 2015 OA graduate Tyler Hogg as pitching coach as well as Behlmer. “He’s not ready to give up baseball all together,” says Kolks, who joined Behlmer’s staff in 2015 after graduating from Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Ky., in 2014. He was a lefty-swinging catcher for the NAIA-member Saints. OA alum Matt Bohman stepped away from the Twisters coaching staff to tend to his growing family. Kolks says he hopes to have seven or eight not playing a fall sport at Oldenburg to come to activities during the IHSAA Limited Contact Period Aug. 29-Oct. 15. “It’s great,” says Kolks. “I can start building that culture.” Some players are involved in a fall baseball league. Two members of the Class of 2023 — Cy Muckerheide and Jacob Stenger — have shown interest in pursuing college baseball. Kolks notes that the 2021 senior class — which includes Hanover (Ind.) College baseball players Chris Hautman and Andrew Oesterling — never missed a beat going from sophomores in 2019, deprived of a 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then winning the school’s first sectional title in 11 years. As facilities specialist, Kolks is responsible for all athletic facilities and some cleaning. There are upgrades planned or underway for the private Catholic high school’s gym as well as the softball and soccer fields. Land is being sought for expansion. The Twisters share a baseball diamond at Liberty Park in Batesville, Ind., with Batesville High School and also practices at The Plex in Batesville. The park and training facility are about seven miles from campus. With Behlmer working a day job in Batesville, the Twisters often did not practice until 5:30 p.m. This gave players a chance to experience a gameday routine, catch up on studies and form relationships with younger teammates by giving them rides to the field. Oldenburg Academy (enrollment around 170) is independent for athletics. The Twisters were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2022 with Hauser, Jac-Cen-Del, Rising Sun and Trinity Lutheran. Born in Cincinnati, Kolks grew up in Brookville, Ind., playing in the Cal Ripken League there and representing Franklin County in all-star tournaments. He attended St. Michael Catholic School in Brookville through eighth grade and then went to Oldenburg Academy. Patrick and wife Emily Kolks married in July 2016 and reside in Lawrencburg, Ind., which is about 30 miles from Oldenburg Academy. The couple met at college. She is the sister of Thomas More teammate Sam Schmeltzer (who was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-state third baseman for South Dearborn and an IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series player in 2007). “She loves baseball,” says Patrick of Emily. “She knows what it’s going to entail.” The Kolks are weekend season ticket holders for the Cincinnati Reds. Patrick is also an avid University of Texas fan. He and Emily visited the campus for his 30th birthday. He appreciates the impact made on and off the field by former Longhorns head baseball coach Augie Garrido.
Cade Fitzpatrick got a chance to play regularly in his first baseball season at Purdue Fort Wayne and he took full advantage. The 2019 graduate of Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis began his college career at Ball State University. He appeared 18 games over two seasons (2020 and 2021) and hit .192 (5-of-26). He then transferred to PFW. In his first 50 games (47 starts, including 41 at catcher, five at designated hitter and one at first base) with the Mastodons, the righty swinger hit .321 (52-of-162) with eight home runs, three triples, six doubles, 33 runs batted in, 30 runs scored and a .915 OPS (.372 on-base percentage plus .543 slugging average). Fitzpatrick, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, produced 16 multi-hit games on the way to leading the team in average and slugging and was named second team all-Horizon League catcher for 2022. Through 32 games this summer with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators, Fitzpatrick was hitting .288 (32-of-111) with four homers, one triple, five doubles, 17 RBIs and 17 runs and an .814 OPS (.355/.459). Most of his appearances have come behind the plate — a position he first took to as a Little Leaguer. “I love it,” says Fitzpatrick of catching. “A lot of people called it being the quarterback of the team because you’re the one that sees everything that goes on and you’re in control of the game.” This summer Fitzpatrick has been allowed to call pitches and he appreciates the freedom. “If me and the pitcher are working really well together we can get into a groove and then things start rolling,” says Fitzpatrick, who gets pointers from the coaching staff about the tendencies of opponents. The same is true at Purdue Fort Wayne. “The coaches get a pretty detailed scouting report,” says Fitzpatrick of the Mastodons staff that includes head coach Doug Schreiber, pitching coach Brent McNeil, catching coach Ken Jones and volunteer Justin Huff. “They spent a lot of time a lot of hours behind the scenes getting the different stats on different runners or what hitters can do. McNeil tells the catchers and pitchers about the strengths and weaknesses of the other team’s hitters. Jones passes along who the fast runners are and the ones who will try to pick up signs. “(Coaches) print out a sheet or send a Google slide to the catchers or anyone who would be interested in receiving that information,” says Fitzpatrick. Schreiber runs all the meetings and tells everyone what the pitchers and hitters bring to the table. Huff does many behind-the-scenes jobs. “I respect him very much for what he does,” says Fitzpatrick of Huff. “He puts in a lot of hours.” Fitzpatrick spent the past two summers in collegiate wood bat leagues — 2020 with the Matt Kennedy-managed Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and 2021 with the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League’s Alexandria (Va.) Aces, managed by Chris Berset. With the Aces, Fitzpatrick got to use some of his free time to see the sites of nearby Washington D.C. Born in Indianapolis, Fitzpatrick moved with his family from Pike Township to Franklin Township around the second grade. Cade played at Franklin Township Little League (next to what is now Wanamaker Early Learning Center) then for a number of travel ball teams, including the Indiana Spartans, Indiana Pony Express, Indiana Prospects and Midwest Astros. Chris Ulrey is the Midwest Astros founder and gave hitting lessons to Fitzpatrick. Sometimes the lessons would involve minor tweaks to Cade’s swing and other times it would be a big fix. “The interesting thing about a baseball swing is things can happen from week-to-week, day-to-day and you just have to make a small adjustment here and there,” says Fitzpatrick. “Sometimes you have to make a big adjustment. (Ulrey) would have been pretty good about being able to do that.” Fitzpatrick’s freshman year at Franklin Central was the last season for longtime Flashes head coach John Rockey. Greg Schoettle, who had been an assistant since 2010, took over the program in Fitzpatrick’s sophomore year — his first on varsity. “I absolutely love playing for him,” says Fitzpatrick of Schoettle. “He’s a great man. I would do anything for him. He was probably one of my favorite coaches to play with.” Fitzpatrick describe’s Schoettle’s coaching style. “He was very intent on winning, but also wanted to make sure that you enjoy yourself while you’re out there,” says Fitzpatrick of Schoettle. “He would be very focused on calling the right pitches, executing the right plays and just doing the little things right in order to win a game — but at the same time — he was relaxed enough to where you could enjoy yourself and joke around a little bit. “It wasn’t like you were playing like super uptight all the time.” Fitzpatrick, 21, has two years of remaining eligibility and is a Criminal Justice major. “Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been really fascinated with like police officers and military stuff,” says Fitzpatrick. “I’m not the kind of person that would like to just sit at a desk all day. I always have to be doing something and I figured that doing something with law enforcement would be a good fit.” Tuesday, Aug. 2 was Lafayette Police Department National Night Out at Loeb Stadium. Fitzpatrick took time before the game to chat with some of the officers. “I was just trying to get some feedback on like what they do from a day-to-day basis and their training and stuff like that,” says Fitzpatrick. “I like the way that everything sounds from the training aspect or having your own schedule. I think that would be pretty fun.” While he could pursue a job as a patrolman or detective, Fitzpatrick has another preference. “I would love to be a conservation officer (for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources) or with the (Department of Drug Enforcement), (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), (Federal Bureau of Investigation) or something like that,” says Fitzpatrick. “I think that would be something that I would enjoy a lot because I get to be outside every day. “I get to help animals and stop those individuals who are trying to either poach them or harvest them illegally.” Fitzpatrick notes that taking fish or game in-season is one thing but poaching or taking them out-of-season harms the ecosystem. Cade is the son of Mike and Shelley Fitzpatrick. His father is a sales manager. His mother is an optician. Sister Chaney Fitzpatrick (19) – sister is heading into her sophomore year at Ball State.
After two baseball seasons at Saint Louis University, Nolan Bowser has opted to enter the Transfer Portal with two years of college eligibility. Is he nervous about where he’ll land? “A little bit, but at the same time I just have to keep playing and feel like teams will come scouting me,” says Bowser. “So nervousness? Yes. But also it’s a little bit of a calling to just play the game.” With the SLU Billikens, Bowser got into 40 games (10 as a starter) in 2021 and 2022 and hit .234 (11-of-47) with four runs batted in and 13 runs scored. His batting mark this past spring was .269 (7-of-26) and he produced a walk-off RBI single against Western Illinois on March 8. Bowser is listed as a lefty-swinging catcher, but has the versatility to play all over the infield or outfield as well. “I can play anywhere really,” says Bowser, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder who played third base, shortstop and second base and a few games at catcher in high school and was a catcher and outfielder in travel ball. He was allowed to call pitches. What does catching do for him? “I know it may not seem like it sometimes, but I like being in-control,” says Bowser. “Keeping in-charge of the pitcher it just came easy to me.” Bowser is in his third go-round in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., about 25 miles from McCordsville. He was with the Screwballs in 2020, Tropics in 2021 and is now on the Bomb Squad in 2022. He had just graduated when he played during the CSL’s first season (2020). That year — with limited summer wood bat opportunities — the league was chock-full of D-I talent. “It was definitely a change going from high school to college ball,” says Bowser. “That’s for sure.” As a Criminal Justice major, Bowser sees himself pursuing a career in law enforcement. What made him decide on that path? “On my mom’s side of the family, her dad, grandpa and brother were all in the Marines,” says Bowser. “I played baseball so I really didn’t want to join the Marines. But I felt like I could give back to the community and the world (as a police officer or detective). It’s kind of not in a great place right now. “I feel like I can help change it just a little bit.” Bowser grew up in Lawrence, Ind., and moved into the Mt. Vernon district as high school approached. He played travel ball from 8U to 17U — first with the Oaklandon Bombers and then the Indiana Bulls. His father — Steve Bowser — was one of his Bombers coaches. With the Bulls, Nolan played for Tony Cookerly, Jeremy Honaker, Dan Held and Sean Laird. “Sean was very intense,” says Bowser. “I loved it though.” A 2020 graduate of Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind., Bowser played on the freshman and junior varsity teams as a ninth grader. He played varsity as a sophomore and junior. His senior season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “(Then-Marauders head coach Ryan Carr) was great to me,” says Bowser. “I gave it my all every single time.” Bowser was selected all-Hancock County in 2018 and 2019 and all-Hoosier Heritage Conference in 2019. Steve and Dana Bowser have two children — Nolan (20) and Delaney (18). Steve Bowser is a vice president of a construction company. Dana Bowser is a dietician. A 2022 Mt. Vernon graduate, Delaney Bowser is to play volleyball for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Dalton Back was a coach pitch player when he chose his favorite position on the baseball field — catcher. “The thing that I love about it most now that older is that it’s like a game within a game — calling pitches and locations, keeping track of baserunners and whatnot,” says Back, 20 and the veteran of two college seasons. “What kept me in it when I was little was just being involved in every pitch. It’s the most active position on the field. That’s what I like most about it.” Born and raised in Columbus, Ind., to Dwayne and Jennifer Back, Dalton played in was in now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County and was later part of two district championship and state tournament teams. When it came time to play travel ball, Back went with the Blazers then the Evoshield Canes. “They changed the way I saw baseball and how I played it,” says Back of Canes coaches Jay Hundley and Phillip Webb. “They turned me into the man and player I was back then and who I am now. “They really grew the game for me. I appreciate that a lot.” Back is a 2020 graduate of Columbus East High School. He earned three letters for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz. “He’s very open-minded,” says Back of Gratz. “He did a lot of experimental stuff. He was very open and willing to learn. He didn’t see himself as a know-it-all in baseball.” Columbus East went 25-5 and lost 3-2 to Hamilton Southeastern in the 2019 IHSAA Class 4A state championship. Back, who batted No. 2 in the order and contributed a triple and two walks in that game, is convinced that Gratz’s inclination of listening to his players was a major contributing factor to the Olympians’ run. “We would just brainstorm different ideas about what we could do better in certain areas like productivity in practice or how to hold each other accountable,” says Back, who was an all-stater in 2019 and all-Hoosier Hills Conference in 2018 and 2019 and missed his senior season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “(Gratz) allowed the players to lead which is very nice.” At Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Back played 76 games (65 as a starter) and hit .224 with seven home runs, 16 doubles, 37 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. He homered four times and enjoyed a pair of three-RBI games in 2022. Back, a 5-foot-10, 200-pounder, is now in the Transfer Portal with two years of eligibility. His next diamond destination is still to be determined. “I’m trying to stay relaxed and calm about it,” says Back of making a decision of where to play and study next. He has participated in each of the College Summer League at Grand Park’s three seasons — Local Legends in 2020, Turf Monsters in 2021 and Tropics in 2022. The league based in Westfield, Ind., is attractive to Back because the schedule is not too rigorous and there are helpful amenities. “There are not so many games a week where you’re killing your body,” says Back. “I have access to Pro X (Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus) to hit and lift all the time. “Everything is close around here. It’s easy to manage your time.” A righty swinger, Back describes his offensive approach. “The main thing that helps me is to just keep reminding myself to swing 80 percent all the time,” says Back. “A lot of times I swing way too hard and I’m trying to do too much with the baseball. “If I have a slow heart beat, go 80 percent and I’m nice and smooth with my swing, a lot of times I can let the bat do the work. Most of the time that’s how I have success at the plate.” As a college student, Back has studied Kinesiology (the science of human movement) and can see himself as a physical therapist after his playing career. “I’ve always been attracted to human physiology,” says Back. “I got real big into the weight room in high school. I loved it. I was fascinated with how everything works and how the body recovers. With physical therapy I’d be able to stay around athletics and help other athletes.” Dalton has an older brother — Joey Back (24).
Alec Brunson is coming to the end of his college baseball career and he’s doing it with a flourish. Starting in left field and hitting in the No. 2 hole in the batting order, Brunson has been productive for the University of Saint Francis (25-23 overall and 14-18 in the Crossroads League). Going into a conference series Friday and Saturday, April 29-30 at Bethel, righty swinger Brunson is hitting .341 (57-of-167) with six home runs, two triples, 17 doubles, 36 runs batted in and 38 runs scored. The CL tournament is scheduled for May 6-10. He enjoys the 2-hole behind Xavier Nolan and in front of David Miller and Sam Pesa. “I get more AB’s (hitting second),” says Brunson, 22. “If I get on, more times than not Miller and Pesa will hit me in.” Lefty stick Miller has plated 55 and righty Pesa 38. In 2021 — Brunson’s first season with the Cougars after transferring from Purdue Fort Wayne — he hit .272 (56-of-206) with 10 homers, four triples, nine doubles, 38 RBIs and 51 runs for 56 games (53 as a starter) and was selected all-conference honorable mention. When deciding to change schools, Brunson went where cousin Kristian Gayday is an assistant coach. “I’ve hit with him since I was 12,” says Brunson. “There was no better option than playing for him and I’ve had two of the better seasons I’ve had in quite some time.” Brunson is also enjoying his time with Saint Francis head coach Dustin Butcher. “His personality is amazing,” says Brunson. “He’s a great guy overall. He’ll do anything for any of his players. “That’s the type of coach I always wanted to play for.” A 2018 graduate of DeKalb High School in Auburn, Ind., Brunson was then a catcher. He would up catching and playing in the outfield and at first base at PFW. He was used at first base at Saint Francis in 2021 and third base in summer ball. An outfielder last summer with the Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex, he was named a Prospect League all-star. “I’ll play wherever they need me,” says Brunson. “My strengths are my hitting and arm. Sometimes I don’t make the best reads in the outfield, but my arm makes up for it. Even when my swing is not perfect it’s still good enough to get a base hit.” Commencement at USF is scheduled for May 7 and Brunson is scheduled to get a degree in Criminal Justice. He is pondering his future. “I’m hoping to play independent (pro) ball before I get a big boy job,” says Brunson, who is also considering considering going into law enforcement but is also feeling the tug of coaching. “I’ve thought about coaching a lot,” says Brunson, who has helped teams at Auburn Little League and in other capacities. “I’ve helped teammates with their swings. I feel like I really understand swing types and what drills can help. “I can’t get away from the game yet. There’s something about baseball that keeps bringing me back.” Brunson plans to be a graduate assistant at Saint Francis in 2022-23 to his foot in the coaching door. He says he will pursue either at Masters of Business Administration (MBA) or an Athletic Administration degree. Born and raised in Auburn, Brunson played in two stints at Auburn Little League and travel ball with the Fort Wayne Cubs (later known as the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks). As a teenager, his D-backs head coach was Javier DeJesus (now pitching coach at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne). At DeKalb, Brunson played for Tim Murdock. The 2017 Barons won 19 games and finished as runner-up in the DeKalb Sectional. “I loved him as a coach,” says Brunson of Murdock. “He allowed us to do us. He knew we had played with each other since we were 12.” Brunson played in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend. Alec is the son of Jason and Jennifer Brunson and older brother of Bella Brunson. Before selling in 2021, Jason was co-owner of Captain’s Cabin on Crooked Lake. The business was once owned by former major league outfielder “Jungle Jim” Rivera. Jennifer is in pharmaceutical sales with Bristol Myers Squibb. DeKalb senior Bella plans to attend Indiana University.