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Walther lends his experience to Pro X Athlete Development, College Summer League

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

Mark Walther helps run a business dedicated to the improvement of those who move and compete, particularly those in baseball, softball, football and golf.
He is the Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development, which is at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind.
“I wear a lot of hats here,” says Walther, a former collegiate and professional pitcher. “There isn’t much that I don’t do here.”
Walther, 33, started as a lead instructor and taught velocity programs for pitchers and position players and gave pitching lessons.
As Director of Operations, he is charged with everything from scheduling cages and turf time to making sure machines are in order to the cleanliness of the facility.
He makes sure financials and daily reporting lines up with what’s coming into Pro X.
After coaching at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis, Walther worked briefly for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park and still helps with that company while also serving as the commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which had its third season in 2022.
The CSL came about out of players needing a place to compete and train (at Pro X) with many leagues being shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of athletes had spring seasons that were cut short or didn’t start at all.
“We had a lot of time on our hands,” says Walther. “Both of our businesses were shut down about the time (Indiana) opened up (from the lockdown) is when we were able to open up the league.”
Walther says he was one of six people who created the CSL and other people were brought in to make it a reality.
“To start up a league like that you want high-profile players,” says Walther. “It’s tough to get high-profile players if they’ve never heard of your league before.
“Right way we wanted to be able to compete with the Northwoods, the Prospect and the Coastal Plain. I don’t know if anybody’s ever going to compete with the Cape, but we wanted to be up there.”
Walther says getting the amount of players and talent that the CSL did (in 2020) is the whole reason it still exists.
“We just want to make sure that the product we’re putting out there is good for college players as a whole,” says Walther. “It’s good for their development in games and while they’re training (at Pro X) and getting better.
“We want to meet every ask of a college coach. If they have a redshirt and they need them ready for sophomore year when they return to school then we can get them 30, 40, 50 innings. If they want them to throw 20 innings and two innings a week in relief, we’ll follow that, too.
“That’s really what’s set the College Summer League apart.”
Over the past two years, Walther’s commissioner responsibilities have included finding and getting commitments from coaches, recruiting and placing players and taking care of everything from payments to jersey sizes to host families. He coordinates gameday operations and hires sports information interns for the eight-team league.
Those positions are posted in November and December with interviews coming in January and February.
Walther grew up on a farm on the west side of Kankakee, Ill., and is a 2007 graduate of Herscher (Ill.) High School, where his head coach was Eric Regez.
His junior year, Walther was the last one to make cuts for the Tigers varsity and helped his team as a right-handed reliever. As a senior, he was a starter.
“I played the underdog throughout my entire college career,” says Walther, who worked hard to grow his knowledge base while improving his athletic skill set.
“I was a P.O. (Pitcher Only) before P.O. was even a thing. I think I had seven career varsity at-bats.
“I just kept working at it.”
Mark is the son of Eugene and Beth Walther and is about six years younger than brother Todd Walther.
Eugene Walther died of brain cancer when Mark was 18.
“Going into college that pushed me forward,” says Walther. “It always gave me something to work for: Trying to make him proud.”
Walther showed up at walk-on tryouts at Parkland.
“I wasn’t a preferred walk-on or anything,” says Walther. “I found a way to earn a spot.”
The Cobras coaching staff changed Walther’s arm slot from overhand to sidearm/submarine.
“That gave me a whole new life in college baseball,” says Walther, who was frequently used as a freshman and was on scholarship as a sophomore. The latter team won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national championship.
After two years at Parkland playing for Mitch Rosenthal and Matt Kennedy, Walther transferred to NCAA Division II University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. He came out of the bullpen for Tracy Archuleta’s Screaming Eagles (which won an NCAA Division II national crown in 2010).
“I tried to just extend the game and get us to the next guy,” says Walther. “My job was to get us out of jams. There’s not better feeling in the world than coming into the game with the bases loaded and one out and you’re trying to get a ground ball. I lived for those moments.
“Being out there when the adrenaline’s pumping, I’ve yet to find anything to match it.”
After pitching at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., Todd Walther wound up on the baseball operations side with the Texas Rangers.
Mark used the connection to his advantage.
“I was able to bounce ideas off of him when thing weren’t going my way in bullpens or games,” says Walther.
He got to see video of major league pitchers like Cody Bradford, Darren O’Day and Pat Neshek and could study their mechanics, grips and release points.
Walther was on a path to become a Physical Education teacher and high school coach when a curriculum change at USI that would have taken him longer to get his degree caused him to change his major to Sport Management.
“I started learning more about facility management and running a sports business,” says Walther, who took classes on sports marketing and sports law — things that help him in his position at Pro X.
But Walther did pursue coaching out of college.
He was an assistant at Parkland for a year and helped Kennedy with outfielders, operations and recruiting.
He started what turned out to be a four-year stint at the UIndy as a volunteer learning from Greyhounds pitching coach Jordan Tiegs and serving for head coaches Gary Vaught and Al Ready.
When Tiegs left for Indiana State University, Walther took became pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.
Tiegs is now Drector of Pitching Research and Development for the Rangers — Todd Walther’s former job
“I loved college baseball,” says Mark Walther. “I loved coaching it.
“I really loved the recruiting aspect of college. (Players) need to come to us because we’re going to do a better job of developing them as a player.
“I’m very appreciate of Coach Vaught and Coach Ready for everything they did for me.”
Walther then went into tech recruiting for three months and decided he wanted to get back into baseball.
Pro X has just launched into the travel world with its Phoenix softball teams.
While travel baseball organizations, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and Indiana Prospects, partner with Pro X, there is currently no plans to field travel baseball teams under the Pro X banner.
“Travel baseball really wasn’t a thing when I grew up,” says Walther. “I played community baseball until I was 16 years old. Shortly after that it began to grow a little more.”
His first experience came when the Indiana Bulls and others brought teams to play fall exhibition games his first year at Parkland.
Walther notes that he was lucky enough to be on a winning team from age 10 on. But that was not the case in his early community baseball days.
“I got put on a terrible team,” says Walther. “I had to find a way to try to help the team win and to help players develop themselves and rely on our coaches to do the same.
“Depending on where your talent is you can be put on an elite team and rarely ever have to deal with failure, losing or any kind of adversity and learn to overcome that.
“Being on winning teams is also a positive because you learn what it takes to win. Whether you’re on the field or not you can find ways to help the team win.”
Walther says travel ball is all about finding the right fit for you as a player.
“You want to go where you have a chance to play or have a chance to compete for playing time,” says Walther. “You should never shy away from competing and trying to beat someone out to earn playing time.
“In the game of baseball you’re going to have guys on the bench no matter what. It’s what type of bench guys you have. Do you have guys who are going to work and push themselves and the people that are technically in front of them? Or are they going to just roll over and complain until they move on or join another team?”
Players should make sure the team will be doing what they want to do. Will it be mostly local tournaments are really hitting the road? Is the coaching staff going to help develop them as a player?
Among the things coming up at Pro X are “Hard 90” classes with about 30 minutes each of hitting, defense and speed and agility.
In September, the pitching academy and elite training academy for offense and defense cranks up.
Pro X — with its staff of instructors including Jay Lehr, trainers and medical professionals and former big leaguer Joe Thatcher as president — is also an off-season place to train for professionals, including major leaguers Tucker Barnhart, Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon and minor leaguers Parker Dunshee and Collin Ledbetter.
Rodon came to Pro X while doing rehab from Tommy John surgery.
“He learned a lot about the body and how it moves and how to become efficient on the mound and use his lower half to try to stay as healthy as possible,” says Walther. “We just do whatever we can to service them whether that’s completely help them with their program or stay out of their way and let them use the weight room.”

Mark Walther, Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development and commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, both in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

New head coach Burcham looks for Batesville Bulldogs to push potential

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

Tyler Burcham has gotten to know a few things about Batesville, Ind., in his four years of teaching there and five seasons as a baseball coach.
“We have a town that really rallies around its baseball,” says Burcham, who was a Batesville High School assistant from 2018-22 and recently took over the program from alum Justin Tucker, who guided the BHS program 2016-22. “I learned a lot from (Coach Tucker) and — hopefully — I can continue to push this program in the right direction.”
The Bulldogs won 20 games and lost to Franklin County in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Rushville Consolidated Sectional in 2022.
Batesville (enrollment around 715) is a member of the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Connersville, East Central, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville Consolidated and South Dearborn).
Besides Franklin County and Rushville Consolidated, the Bulldogs were part of a 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Connersville, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg and South Dearborn. Batesville has won 13 sectional titles — the last two in 2018 and 2021.
Burcham, who teaches Health and Physical Education to eighth graders at Batesville Middle School, has already met with some returning players from the Class of 2023 (middle infielder Charlie Schebler is an Ohio State University commit) and morning weightlifting sessions have happened the past two weeks. The goal is to build team chemistry and commitment.
“We’re having a lot of guys coming through this program who want to play collegiately,” says Burcham. “Our next step is to push our potential and see how much harder can we hit the baseball and how much harder we can throw it.
“There’s culture build-up. We want to see how much further can we take this thing.”
Two alums — Zach Britton (Class of 2017) and Bryan Hoeing (Class of 2015) — are in professional baseball and come to work with the next wave during their off-seasons.
“They’ve elevated those expectations,” says Burcham.
Zach Wade (Class of 2022) has gone on to baseball at Adrian (Mich.) College. Other recent graduates who signed at the next level include Class of 2021’s Sam Voegele (Indiana University Southeast) and Riley Zink (Oakland City University) and Class of 2019’s Trey Heidlage (Marian University) and Lane Oesterling (Indiana University Southeast).
Doug Burcham, Tyler’s father, has joined the coaching staff. Other assistants are being sought.
The elder Burcham coached at Waldron in 2022 and recently accepted as job as math teacher at Greensburg.
Doug Burcham was teaching and coach in Versailles, Ind., when Tyler went to school at South Ripley until second grade and then moved to Greensburg.
Tyler did not play varsity as a freshman, when his father was Pirates head coach. Scott Holdsworth was at the head of the program during his three varsity years.
“I remember his ability to create relationships,” says Burcham of Holdsworth. “He motivated players as if they were adults and treated them as such. I always appreciated that about Scott.”
Burcham is a 2013 graduate of Greensburg High School, where he was part of successful programs in soccer, football, basketball and baseball. He was the first man off the bench for the 2013 3A state boys basketball champions.
Recruited by outgoing coach Matt Kennedy, left-handed pitcher Burcham played two baseball seasons at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., for Cobras head coach David Garcia, then two more for Mark Brew at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn.
Brew has been Flames head coach since the 2007 season and has enjoyed success at the NAIA and NCAA Division II levels.
Burcham recalls Brew’s attention to detail.
“We’d practice standing from the National Anthem and he’d grade us on it,” says Burcham. “Everything we did we tried to make sure we were really good at it.
“He always wanted us to be good men. He’s a big family guy and wants the best for everybody.”
After Lee, Tyler was a full-time substitute at Batesville and spent a few months helping his father at Waldron when the opportunity arose to join the Tucker’s Batesville baseball staff.
The Bulldogs plays home games off-campus at Liberty Park, which celebrated its 100th year of baseball in 2021. Batesville shares a skinned-infield diamond with the Oldenburg Academy baseball program and Batesville adult slow pitch softball.
Varsity games and practices are coordinated with Oldenburg. Junior varsity and C-team practices take place at an on-campus field which is adjacent to the football stadium and is considered too small for varsity play.

Batesville Bats — founded by Brandon Blessing and Paul Drake — are a travel organization that worked closely with Tucker and will continue to help Burcham. The 2023 season will be the eighth season for the Bats. There will be teams for 9U to 15U.
Tyler’s mother — Cindy Burcham — is a former nurse and current case manager for Indiana University Health. Both brothers are older. Kyle Burcham works for Amazon and lives in Santa Claus, Ind. Shawn Burcham works with a sports program app and resides in Indianapolis.
Tyler and Carissa Burcham were married in July 2021.
“She’s been a rock star during this whole thing,” says Tyler of his wife. “She wants to help in any way she can.
“I think she knows how much it means to me.”

Tyler Burcham (Batesville Middle School Photo)

Tyler Burcham (Lee University Photo)

Tyler Burcham

Tyler Burcham

VanderWoude has second-year IHSAA member Illiana Christian in semistate

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

Illiana Christian was plenty successful on the baseball diamond when the high school was in Lansing, Ill.
As recently as 2004 — with Dave Beezhold as head coach — the Vikings qualified for the Illinois state tournament and went 27-8.
In 2018, Illiana Christian relocated from Lansing, where it was founded in 1945, to an incorporated area of Dyer, Ind. In 2020-21, it became a full Indiana High School Athletic Association member.
The 2022 Vikings won the program’s first IHSAA sectional and regional titles and are one win away from the State Finals.
In earning a date opposite No. 3-ranked Wapahani (24-4) in the 2A Kokomo Semistate at noon Central Time Saturday, June 11, Illiana Christian won the Whiting Sectional (Bowman Academy 19-0, Hammond Bishop Noll 3-1 and Wheeler 16-4) and Whiting Regional (Winamac 11-1 and Eastside 7-0).
Alum and former Beezhold assistant Jeff VanderWoude’s first year leading the Vikings was 2019-20 — the season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Illiana Christian went 19-6 and lost 2-1 to Wheeler in the 2A Whiting Sectional championship game.
VanderWoude sees the closeness of the players and a willingness to put others before themselves has been a formula for success.
“We’ve been getting them to buy in and loving each other,” says VanderWoude. “We don’t have a ‘me’ person.
“We are controlling the controllable.
“They play as one really well. In the game against Eastside, we were competing one pitch at a time.”
Emphasizing the mental side, VanderWoude has seen his players adjust when there is a temporary lack of focus.
Illiana Christian (enrollment around 480) joined the Greater South Shore Conference (with baseball members Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting) in 2021.
With the addition of the Vikings, the conference is broken into divisions with teams playing two games with their division and one against squads in the other division. Illiana Christian is paired with Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll and Hanover Central. The 2022 Vikings went 8-3 in the GSSC, finishing behind Hanover Central (10-1) and tying Griffith (8-3).
Through 24 games, Illiana Christian was led offensively by junior pitcher Kevin Corcoran (.468 average, four home runs, 34 runs batted in, 11 stolen bases), senior center fielder Ivan VanBeek (.421, 18 RBI, 22 SB), senior second baseman Levi Hescott (.368), senior left fielder Tyler Barker (.339, 27 RBI), the coach’s son — sophomore shortstop Isaac VanderWoude (.333, 15 RBI, 19 SB) and junior first baseman Cody DeJong (.329, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 11 SB).
The bulk of the pitching has been handled by left-hander Corcoran (3-1, 2.29 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 13 walks 39 2/3 innings), right-hander VanBeek (2-2, 1.58, 44 K’s, four walks, 31 IP) and senior lefty Austin Maslanka (3-0, 2.10, 34 K’s, 10 walks, 20 IP).
Assistant coaches are Shane Zegarac, Dale Meyer, Kevin Corcoran, Caleb Jonkman, Greg Gierling and Bo Hofstra.
“We are where we are because of those guys,” says VanderWoude. “They are salt of the earth people.”
Zegarac pitched for Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., Eastern Kentucky University and in the Texas Rangers system plus independent ball.
Corcoran is a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. Illiana Christian alum Meyer played at Southern Illinois University. Hofstra pitched for Illiana Christian and Purdue University. Jonkman, who has been National Wiffle@Ball Player of the Year more than once, and Gierling are also IC grads.

Others with Illiana Christian connections are grad Fletcher Bandstra at Calvin College (Grand Rapids), Carter Doorn (from IC to Lake Central to Purdue University) and former Vikings player D.J. Gladney (Chicago White Sox organization).
The Vikings have on-campus diamond which is tended to by coaches and Dave Vermuelen (the father of former player Chris Vermuelen).
“It’s a nice field,” says VanderWoude. “In Illinois, we used limestone. We have a fairway mower and put designs in the field. It gets constant water and treatment.
“We’re taking pride in what we have.”
After graduating from Illiana Christian in 1997, outfielder Jeff VanderWoude played for Cobras head coach Rod Lovett at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and then for Tigers head coach Beauford Sanders at Campellsville (Ky.) University.
VanderWoude was on the Parkland coaching staff of Dave Seifert, who went on to be an assistant then head coach at the University of Evansville. As a Philadelphia Phillies regional cross-checker, he had VanderWoude working for him for about a decade.
VanderWoude, runs Perm-A-Seal — an asphalt maintenance business in Lynwood, Ill. — with father Keith. Jeff and wife Jori have four children. Besides Isaac (16), there’s Lydia (15), Mya (13) and Hayvn (9). Lydia VanderWoude played varsity softball as an Illiana Christian freshman in 2022. Mya VanderWoude is heading into the eighth grade and Havyn VanderWoude fourth grade.

The 2022 Illiana Christian Vikings earned sectional and regional titles at Whiting and are bound for the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate.
Cody DeJong.

The wife and children of Illiana Christian High School head baseball coach Jeff VandWoude are (from left): First row — Havyn VanderWoude. Second row — Mya VanderWoude, Jori VanderWoude and Lydia VanderWoude. Third row — Isaac VanderWoude.

Bickel now in charge of baseball at Marian University’s Ancilla College

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

Attacking games and practices with passion.
That’s what Trey Bickel expects as the new baseball head coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
“It’s business out there,” says Bickel, 27. “In baseball you have to be 100 percent focused.
“There has to be 100 percent intensity and focus or they’re wasting time.”
Bickel, who came to the Chargers as an assistant in the fall of 2018, took over the three weeks ago when Chris Woodruff left to become Assistant Athletic Director/Compliance Director at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College.
At the moment, Bickel is a one-man show. He is seeking at least one assistant.
“I have feelers out with buddies I played with,” says Bickel. “I want to make sure I get someone who fits in with our guys and gets us where we want to be.”
Bickel relinquished his athletic groundskeeper duties when Marian University came into the picture and hired a company to handle that, leaving the coach free to focus on baseball.
That includes recruiting.
“If you’re not getting that offer from your dream school don’t shut down any other options,” says Bickel. “Junior college is the route to go for a majority of guys if you don’t have those dream schools calling.”
There are currently 21 on the Marian University’s Ancilla College roster, including four pitcher-only players and a number of two-way players. Ideally, Bickel would like 25 to 30 athletes.
“Next spring I hope to have 15 to 20 pitchers rostered,” says Bickel.
Outside practices are now short and intense. When the team goes indoors its at the LifePlex in Plymouth.
This fall, the school formally known as Ancilla College took to the diamond to play five games against outside competition with others cancelled for COVID-19 reasons.
The Chargers were in 9-inning contests against Bethel University and Purdue Northwest and a doubleheader (two 7’s) against Indiana University South Bend.
The spring portion of the schedule is to begin Feb. 12-13 for a four-game series at Southeastern Illinois College. The first on-campus game is slated for March 19 vs. Morton College.
Marian University’s Ancilla College is a member of the Michigan Community College Athletic Association and National Junior College Athletic Association District 12.
Bickel finished his playing career at IUSB in 2018. The 2012 Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., of the fall of 2012.
While he was not around the following spring then Cobras head coach Matt Kennedy (now a Butler University assistant) made an impression on him.
‘He’s a go-getter,” says Bickel of Kennedy, who he encountered again in the 2021 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “He knows how to bring out intensity in his coaching. It shows in a (NJCAA) national championship (at Parkland in 2009 with a fifth-place finish in 2010). I definitely enjoyed the intensity he had as a coach.
“He attacks it. That’s what I’m looking to do.”
With a gap year mixed it, Bickel played two years at Holy Cross College for Brian Blondell before that program ceased and two at IUSB for Blondell, Mike Huling and Jon Koepf.
“They all brought something to the table to help me,” says Bickel, who was a right-handed pitcher. He threw a no-hitter in the Titans’ first-ever home game in 2016.
At Mishawaka, Bickel had John Huemmer as a head coach and Chadd Blasko as a pitching coach.
“(Huemmer) is one of the most genuine people I know,” says Bickel. “He’s a very nice guy and he’s there for his players and building relationships.
“He’s very good at that.”
Bickel spent a couple of seasons picking the brain of Blasko, who was selected 36th overall in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Purdue University.
Born in South Bend, Bickel spent parts of his elementary school years in Goshen, Elkhart and Mishawaka and was in the latter city from Grades 6-12. Trey is from a big family. He has two older brothers and one older sister plus one younger sister and one younger brother.

Marian University’s Ancilla College baseball coach Trey Bickel (left) in third base box.
Marian University’s Ancilla College baseball coach Trey Bickel.

East Noble’s Risedorph drawing eyes on national showcase circuit

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

Pardon the pun, but Brayden Risedorph is on the rise on the national baseball showcase scene.
A fireballing right-handed pitcher from Kendallville, Ind., Risedorph took part Saturday, Sept. 25 at the Baseball Factory All-America Game at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.
The event featured 40 invitees from around the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
Taking the mound for the National team in the eighth inning, Risedorph produced a 1-2-3 frame with two groundouts sandwiched around a strikeout.
On Aug. 2-5, Risedorph was a part of the East Coast Pro in Hoover, Ala. He was assigned to the Reds for that showcase.
Risedorph, who is in the East Noble High School Class of 2022, was at the invitation-only Prep Baseball Report Pro-Case Midwest July 6 at Triton College in River Grove, Ill., where his fastball was clocked at 95 mph and sat at 93 to 95 during his simulated inning.
This fall, the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is playing for the Cincinnati Reds Scout Team with tournaments in central Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin and the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association World Championship slated for Oct. 7-11 in Jupiter, Fla.
Risedorph drew some notice before, but really began turning heads in recent months.
“I was always pretty decent, but this summer is where I took my biggest step,” says Risedorph, 18. “I just kept making a lot of little jumps and kept getting invited to bigger and bigger things.”
After one of the games of the East Coast Pro, Risedorph was approached by Ben Simon, an advisor/agent based in the Cleveland suburb of Moreland Hills, Ohio.
Knowing the reputation of developing pitchers by head coach Jon Goebel, Risedorph committed last fall to play at National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., beginning in 2022-23, but has been getting interest from larger schools.
Risedorph is a two-way player at East Noble, manning one of the infield corners when not pitching.
In 2021, he hit .329 (24-of-73) five home runs, one triple, six doubles, 25 runs batted in and 19 runs scored in 26 games for Knights head coach Aaron Desmonds.
In eight mound appearances, Risedorph was 3-3 with 2.00 earned run average, 60 strikeouts and 18 walks in 35 innings.
As a pitcher-only with 5 Star Midwest National. Risedorph went to PBR tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and LakePoint Baseball Complex in Emerson, Ga., and racked up five shutouts.
Throwing from a low three-quarter overhand arm slot, which gives him much natural run, Risedorph throws a four-seam fastball which has maxed out at 96 mph. He also uses a slider, change-up and, sometimes, a curve or splitter.
“It goes straight left with a lot of horizontal break,” says Risedorph of his slider. “It ooks like a fastball then at the last second it dives to the left.”
It’s a “circle” change that Risedorph throws when taking something off his hard stuff.
His curve is of the “11-to-5” variety. He uses his middle and index fingers and throws his splitter like his fastball and it dives at the plate.
Born and raised in Kendallville, Brayden is the youngest of Randy and Iolet Risedorph’s four sons, behind A.J., Ryan and Eric.
Former Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne pitcher A.J. Risedorph is the head baseball coach, assistant boys basketball coach and dean of athletics at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind.

Brayden Risedorph with Cincinnati Reds Fall Scout Team at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
Brayden Risedorph in 2021 East Coast Pro in Hoover, Ala.
Brayden Risedorph in 2021 East Coast Pro in Hoover, Ala.

Learnard’s transition from player to coach brings him back to Purdue

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

Purdue University’s special 2018 baseball season was heading toward a conclusion when senior closer Ross Learnard began thinking about his future.
The Boilermakers were on their way to a 38-21 record that included 17-6 mark in the Big Ten Conference — second to Minnesota — and an NCAA Regional berth.
Learnard was finishing up his Agricultural Economics degree.
“After each game late down the stretch I’d be in the shower and thinking my last out is going to come here soon,” says Learnard, a 6-foot-2 left-hander went 2-2 with 15 saves, a 3.37 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 34 2/3 innings in 2018. “I just can’t see myself getting a 9-to-5 inside job.
“I decided at that point that I wanted to coach and began to pursue my options.”
Purdue pitching coach Steve Holm went to Illinois State University to become head coach and brought Learnard on as a graduate assistant (he earned a Master of Business Administration degree at ISU) and director of operations in the fall of 2018.
From there Learnard went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where he had pitched in 2015 and 2016, and served as a recruiting coordinator and taught many parts of the game in helping Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Greg Goff, who was a Purdue volunteer assistant in 2018 and has been head coach since Mark Wasikowski left for the University of Oregon after the 2019 campaign, recently hired Learnard to handle Pitching Analytics & Team Operations.
High on Learnard’s list of duties is collaborating and communicating with pitching coach Chris Marx as it relates to player development.
“He sets the expectation and culture with the pitching staff and its my job to supplement that and to make it better.”
To do that means making sense of available numbers.
“The game is going towards being data-driven, especially with this generation we’re coaching now,” says Learnard. “(Players are) always on their phones.
“This era of baseball and player that we have is the most read up on the scientific aspect of how you pitcher, where it be biomechanics or ball-flight metrics (like horizontal and vertical break and Revolutions Per Minute aka RPMs).
“It’s insane what analytics can really tell you. ERA, hits allowed and WHIP (walks and hit per innings pitched) can only give you a small portion of the context. You have to pull back the layers and see where you’re getting your swings and misses, where you’re getting your weak contact,
“It’s just untapped potential.”
There are also students on campus who understand data analysis that give feedback to the baseball program.
Just three years removed from being a player, Learnard sees a difference.
“At least in my circle, it was not as data-driven,” says Learnard. “I try to be a lifelong learner as a coach. You can never be satisfied. It’s adapt or die.
I’m trying to read as much as I can about the new-school metrics, analytics and data.
“It’s very important to be well-versed in all things numbers and all the different modalities to train pitchers.”
Purdue uses a Rapsodo machine to read ball-flight metrics and determine things like spin axis, spin direction and spin efficiency.
“You can see the way the ball is moving in space,” says Learnard. “We also use a high-speed camera to see how guys are releasing the ball.
“We can give them mental cues to shape the pitch that we’re going for.”
Learnard, who turns 26 on Oct. 5, went to Catlin (Ill.) High School near Danville and graduated in 2014. A co-op with Jamaica High School (Sidell, Ill.) was called Salt Fork for sports.
The lefty made 21 mound appearances (12 in relief) and went 10-3 with 2.72 ERA, 105 strikeouts and 25 walks in 76 1/3 innings for Parkland in 2015 and 2016.
At Purdue in 2017 and 2018, Learnard got into 56 games (all in relief) and was 8-2 with 19 saves, a 1.78 ERA, 70 stakeouts and 18 walks in 81 innings.
As a senior, he was named a Collegiate Baseball Third Team All-American, Third Team all-Big Ten and was on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Watch List. He was Big Ten Pitcher of the Week in April and Perfect Game National Pitcher of the Week in May. He was also Academic all-Big Ten.
Purdue’s 45-day window for 2021 fall workouts began Sept. 9 and plans call for it to wrap Oct. 23. Fall ball scrimmages are open to the public Sept. 29, Oct. 1, Oct. 3, Oct. 5, Oct. 8, Oct. 15 and Oct. 28. The Boilers host two 1 p.m. exhibition games with junior colleges — Oct. 9 against Wabash Valley College (Mount Carmel, Ill.) and Oct. 16 against John A. Logan College (Carterville, Ill.). The Black and Gold World Series is slated for Oct. 21-23.
“Right now we’re in full team mode,” says Learnard. “We’re setting the expectations of what we want in the spring. We’re helping these (newcomers) perform at a high level and bring them up to the returner speed.
“We’re always trying to individualize (development). It’s not cookie cutter.”

Ross Learnard (Purdue University Photo)

Ben Davis graduate Avery takes versatility to LSU Shreveport

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

Zyon Avery is known for taking several tools with him to the baseball field.
A self-described “utility” player, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder from Indianapolis grew up with catcher as his primary position, but he has also been used as a corner infielder/outfielder and more.
“I move very well for my size,” says Avery, 21. “I move my feet and have very fluid hands. It allows me to play a lot of different positions. In travel ball and high school I played all over the place.
“Coaches take advantage of my athletic ability.”
Avery was a varsity starter at third base his first two years at Ben Davis High School and the top catcher his last two. He also saw time at shortstop and on the mound.
The versatile athlete will call a new place his baseball home when he reports this weekend to NAIA member Louisiana State University Shreveport. He landed with the Brad Neffendorf-coached Pilots after spending the 2021 season at National Junior College Athletic Association affiliate Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.).
Making most of his starts at first base, the righty swinger hit .355 (44-of-124) with 13 home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 45 runs batted in, 43 runs scored, four stolen bases and a 1.245 OPS (.487 on-base percentage plus .758 slugging average) for a team that went 36-17 under Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Not able to get the credits to transfer to an NCAA Division I school, Avery decided to follow former Parkland teammate Trevor Burkhart to LSU Shreveport.
“It’s the best fit for my family,” says Avery, the son of Dana and Kimberly and older brother of Jahmir (15). The Averys moved to Indy’s west side when Zyon was 6.
Dana Avery is a maintenance, repair and operations buyer for Keihin. Kimberly Avery is a cargo shipment organizer for BDP International. Jahmir Avery is a freshman basketball player at Ben Davis, where Zyon graduated in 2018.
Avery earned four baseball letters and was a three-year captain at Ben Davis. He was an Under Armour Preseason All-American and rated as the No. 2 catcher in the state of Indiana by Prep Baseball Report as a senior. As a junior, he led the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference with 22 doubles and 30 walks, earned All-Marion County and All-State honors and was named a Perfect Game Underclass All-American. As a sophomore, he was chosen as a Perfect Game Underclass All-American.
After playing at Ben Davis — the last three seasons for Giants head coach David Bear — Zyon went to Ohio University where Edgewood High School (Ellettsville, Ind.) graduate Rob Smith was Bobcats head coach.
Appearing in 25 games, Avery hit .192 with a .591 OPS (.283 on-base percentage plus .308 slugging average) as a freshman in 2019 and redshirted in 2020 following shoulder surgery. For a few months he was bound for Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., but wound up at Parkland.
Avery played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Southern Ohio Copperheads (Athens, Ohio) in 2019, spent the summer of 2020 rehabilitating and split 2021 between a temporary contract with the Propsect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans and the Kernels Collegiate League (Normal, Ill.).
Born in Los Angeles, Zyon began playing at Ben Davis Little League after moving to the Indianapolis area. He played travel ball for Tony Page and the Indiana Mustangs at 10U and 11U, John Keller, Mike Wade and the Indiana Bulls at 12U to 15U, Eric McGaha and the Indiana Outlaws at 16U, Trent Hanna and the Cincinnati Spikes at 17U and Jeremy Johnson and the Evansville Razorbacks at 18U.
Avery, who between redshirting and COVID-19 has three remaining years of college eligibility, was a Physical Activity and Sport Coaching major at Ohio. That degree was not offered at Parkland. He says he will begin at LSUS in General Studies. He turns 22 in October.

Zyon Avery (Parkland College Photo)
Zyon Avery.
Zyon Avery.

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Former McCutcheon, Purdue hurler Wittgren finds his groove in Cleveland bullpen

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of baseball addresses meant a change in change-up approach for Nick Wittgren.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed reliever was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Cleveland Indians in February 2019.

The Tribe made a request of the former Purdue University closer and three-sport standout at McCutcheon High School — also in West Lafayette, Ind.

“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.

“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”

Close.

According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.

“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”

With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).

With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.

Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.

“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.

“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”

Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.

“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.

Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, assistant pitching coach Ruben Niebla and bullpen coach Brian Sweeney will often remind Wittgren to use that pitch.

With Cleveland, he occasionally got a chance to deliver that pitch and others to a familiar target.

Kevin Plawecki, a college teammate, was a back-up catcher with the Indians in 2019 (the Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox in January).

“It was kind of cool taking it back to the good old Purdue says,” says Wittgren. “We still clicked.

“I didn’t have the change-up in college. I didn’t need it.”

Wittgren played shortstop and pitched at McCutcheon for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

As a Mavericks senior, Wittgren was an MVP in tennis in the fall and earned the same recognition for basketball in the winter.

Following brother Kyle’s lead, Nick took up tennis as a freshman.

“It was a good way to stay active for basketball and baseball,” says Wittgren. “It helped with footwork and conditioning and hand-eye (coordination).”

Rick Peckinpaugh was Wittgren’s head basketball coach.

“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.

“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”

With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.

“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”

Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.

“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”

Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.

He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.

Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).

“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”

A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.

At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.

“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”

His arm was tired from the workload.

With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.

Wittgren pitched in the Colt World Series in Lafayette and was scouted by McCutcheon graduate Matt Kennedy, then head coach at Parkland College. He got Wittgren to come to the junior college power in Champaign, Ill.

Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.

He wanted to only pitch.

Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”

“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”

The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.

In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.

Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.

“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”

“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.

He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If he  pitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.

Wittgren was named second-team all-conference and then went to play for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks that summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.

He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.

Wittgren selected in the ninth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Marlins and made his major league debut for Miami in 2016.

On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.

A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.

“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.

Eric (Cressy) writes my program. My wife implements them.”

Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.

“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”

During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.

During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.

“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”

NICKWITTGRENINDIANS

Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)

NICKWITTGRENMLB

Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)

 

Barney’s spent decade leading Vincennes U. baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Student-athletes are constantly coming and going. That’s the nature of junior college sports.

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at one such two-year institution — Vincennes (Ind.) University.

“I enjoy the challenge,” says Barney. “I enjoy the aspect of recruiting. You’re always looking for the next best thing.”

A poor team can get better quickly with a solid recruiting class.

‘I’m often asked, what are you looking for in college baseball? Bats play. If you can swing the pole, you’re going to play at the junior college level.”

VU’s stated mission is “to provide associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of academic and occupational majors leading to entry to a four-year university or to the workforce.”

Vincennes serves more than 17,000 at its various locations with about a third of that number at the main campus.

“It’s not the typical junior college,” says Barney. “It has a mid-major collegiate feel.”

The goal of the baseball program is to place student-athletes with a place to play at a four-year college. As of last week, 96 Vincennes players had moved on during the decade that Barney’s been in charge, including 32 to NCAA Division I, many to NCAA D-II and NAIA and a few to NCAA D-III.

Barney sees players choose the junior college route for many reasons. Among them are cost, grade issues, level of play, the chance to play right away or be drafted by Major League Baseball and not have to wait to turn 21 or play three seasons like is required at four-year schools.

The Trailblazers’ core beliefs revolve around faith, family, school and baseball.

“It’s like a three-ring circus of academics, athletics and the social scene,” says Barney of Vincennes campus life. “You have to have self-discipline and time management skills. You prioritize where you want to spend your time and what you want to get accomplished out of college.

“You can obtain your full potential as a player. That’s what junior college offers guys.”

Junior college players are allowed to practice more often that those at other levels.

All the time with the team allows individuals to built work ethic, character and emotional stability and, hopefully, have a positive experience.

“It’s an opportunity to get better,” says Barney. “There’s always obstacles and challenges for guys, where it’s an injury, a class, a teammate or playing time. But they learn the fundamental game of baseball.”

School rules say Vincennes freshmen must stay in campus housing. Sophomores have the choice to live on-campus or off-campus. Barney says there’s about a 50-50 split for his current sophomore class.

Barney, who is assisted by Hank Lopez and Matt Goebel, started out with 37 players in the fall and took 31 into the spring.

Almost all of those have hometowns in Indiana.

Until a couple of years ago, Indiana was Barney’s recruiting base. Such scholarship money is based on in-state tuition.

With the favorable rates and so many Illinois junior college baseball programs as opposed to Indiana (which now has three — Vincennes, Ancilla College and Ivy Tech Northeast), plenty of Indiana players choose to play junior college baseball in Illinois.

But Illinois has been opened up so that VU can offer students there a cost similar to what they would get in-state.

“I hope to drive up the price of poker in Illinois for some of those guys,” says Barney of landing Illinois players for the VU program.

Rules allow junior colleges to play 20 games against outside competition in the fall. Vincennes also plays about 10 intrasquad games. There are 56 regular-season games in the spring.

That’s a lot of innings to cover so Barney typically carries 16 to 18 pitches, some of whom also play other positions.

“I love those guys,” says Barney. “If they can be successful at both, it’s well worth or time and energy to put the effort into that.”

The Trailblazers are in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 24. The region is made up of nine Mid-West Athletic Conference members — Vincennes plus Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, Heartland Community College (Normal, Ill.), Illinois Central College (East Peoria, Ill.), John Wood Community College (Quincy, Ill.), Lewis & Clark Community College (Godfrey, Ill.), Lincoln Land Community College (Springfield, Ill.), Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.) and Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.).

Vincennes went into play April 3 at 15-12 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

There is a 32-game conference schedule. The top eight teams go to the MWAC tournament. The winner advances to the NJCAA D-II World Series (May 25-June 1 in Enid, Okla.).

“There’s a lot of positives in moving over to that region,” says Barney. “Before, we were independent in Region 12, which is Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Trying to find games in late March, April and part of May was a bear.”

Vincennes went to the World Series in 2010 and 2014 under the old qualifying format. Teams were required to make it through a sub-regional to get to an eight-team double-elimination tournament that sent the champion to championship series.

The Trailblazers play home games at Jeremy Blemker Field.

Huntingburg, Ind., native Blemker coached for 38 years, including 26 at Vincennes (1980-2006) and amassed a NJCAA-record 1,037 victories. He sent more than 180 players on to play at universities around the country and 27 signed professional contracts.

Blemker, who died in 2012, was an inductee of the NJCAA and Greater Evansville Baseball halls of fame.

The original Blemker Field was on the VU campus. It was razed to make room for Updike Hall Scienc Earth and Mathematics Learning Center and the Trailblazers moved to a new baseball complex on Old Terre Haute Road five years ago.

Barney says the university has continued to provide the team with the means to maintain the facility.

Before landing at VU, Orlando, Fla., native Barney has made several baseball coaching stops. He was assistant coach and recruiting director for 13 years at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

Barney, a graduate of Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tenn., has also served as head coach of the Quincy Gems and Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (summer) and was an assistant at Tennessee Wesleyan, Tusculum University (Greeneville, Tenn.) and St. John’s River State College (Palatka, Fla.) as well as serving on the summer staffs for the Frontier League’s Midwest Sliders (Ypsilanti, Mich.) and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Vermont Mountaineers (Montpelier, Vt.).

Barney counts Mike Policastro, Tom Griffin, Mike Goedde and Mike Robins among his baseball mentors.

Barney played for Policastro (now head coach at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee) at Tenessee Weselyan and was a teammate and coached alongside Griffin (now head coach at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) at that same school. Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was USI head coach when Barney was on the staff. Robins led the squad at St. John’s River.

“You take a little bit from everybody,” says Barney. “You put your own personality on the program, too.

“It’s fun. The kids keep you young and always bring something new to the table.”

VINCENNESUBLAZERS

CHRISBARNEY

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Vincennes (Ind.) University in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)