Bob Rutherford has been a supporter of youth sports for the majority of his 84 years. One can find him at all sorts of events involving athletes from Western High School in Russiaville, Ind. One of eight in the 1957 WHS graduating class and a 10-letterwinner (track, basketball and baseball), Rutherford carries a shiny lifetime pass that allows him to cheer on the Panthers at home contests. At baseball games he can be found behind home plate between the scoreboard and the backstop. He also has his favorite locations to view basketball, football and more. What is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League purchased land from Rutherford and expanded while he and wife Anna Mae moved to New London — which is two miles due north of Russiaville and 10 miles southwest of Kokomo. There is a baseball diamond in the back yard and batting cages in his garage at New London. “The minor league team needed a place to practice and we had 2.75 acres so we just built us a ball diamond out back,” says Rutherford, who was a volunteer Little League umpire for 14 years. Bob and Anna Mae have been married 56 years. They had three daughters (one died at 42). Rutherford goes all over the region — Championship Park (Kokomo), Kokomo Municipal Stadium, Grand Park (Westfield) and more — and is a fixture at Kokomo Post 6 games. When Post 6 is at home as it is this weekend for the regional tournament against Lafayette Post 11, he can be found in his favorite spot high in the third base side bleachers at CFD Investment Stadium at Highland Park. “I attend as many as I can,” says Rutherford. “I don’t miss any home games.” To say he is a loyal customer is an understatement. “I love the game,” says Rutherford. “I played it and I love it.” Though he never played at Highland Park, he did attend a tryout there for the Kokomo Dodgers following high school. He recalls seeing future Baseball Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda when he was the the minor league team. “That’s where he used to hit his home runs,” says Rutherford while pointing to a house beyond the Highland Park fence. After the Dodgers, the Kokomo Highlanders attracted baseball fans — including Rutherford — to Highland Park. Purdue standout Dennis Brady and Del Harris (who went on to coach in the NBA and go into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame) was were Highlanders in the late 1960’s. Rutherford played in front of large crowds during his fast pitch softball days at Foster Park. He worked at Delco in Kokomo. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1958-62 and belong to Kokomo Post 6, which is celebrating its centennial in 2022. Harold Rutherford — one of Bob’s four siblings — was the president of the first class at Western (a consolation of the New London Quakers, Russiaville Cossacks and West Middleton Broncos). In 1985, Rutherford helped start the Russiaville American Legion Post 412 Cubs. The team traveled far and wide and made some noise in a tournament in Pueblo, Colo. “They wanted to know where Russiaville, Ind., was,” says Rutherford of a team that drew players from Western, Northwestern and Clinton Central high schools. “Eventually they started coming up here and play ball. We’d roast a hog. They really enjoyed it.” Russiaville hosted wooden bat classic every year in July with teams coming from places like Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota and Ontario. “The kids really enjoyed what we tried to build out there,” says Rutherford. “You get to see them expand. That’s why I like Legion ball. “These kids are developing to the next step.”
Arsenal Indiana is expanding for the 2021-22 travel baseball season. The affiliate of Arsenal USA Baseball is to go with 12U, 13U, 14U and 15U squads in its third season. “Within two or three years I want to have teams from 12U through 17U,” says Arsenal Indiana director Jeff Cleckner. “I want to have one team at each age group and be very competitive. “I don’t want to water down the brand with seven 15U teams.” Cleckner, a graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School (1989) and Purdue University living in Fishers, Ind., says the focus is on skill development at the younger levels and that the older ones grow their mental approach to the game as they prepare for college baseball. But first the current campaign where Arsenal is fielding a 17U team with Cleckner as head coach and Arsenal Indiana director and a 14U squad guided by Steve Smitherman. In 2020, 16U and 13U teams took the field for the organization. Playing six weekends of seven — starting with the first one in June — the 17U team has competed or will take part in events sponsored by Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and Bullpen Tournaments. The team placed second during the holiday weekend at the PBR Indiana State Games at Championship Park in Kokomo. The 17U’s were 22-9-1 through 30 games. The season wraps with the Perfect Game 17U BCS National Championship July 21-26 at Major League Baseball spring training fields in Fort Myers, Fla. All the other tournaments have been staged at Grand Park in Westfield. “It’s nice with Grand Park,” says Cleckner of the large complex in central Indiana. “Everyone comes to us.” High schools represented on the 17U roster include Avon, Fishers, Harrison (West Lafayette), Heritage Christian, Huntington North, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis North Central, Noblesville, Penn, Plainfield, South Adams, Wapahani, Wawasee, Westfield and Zionsville in Indiana and Edwardsburg in Michigan. Since the older teams can play as many as seven games in five days, there are often a number of pitcher-only players (aka P.O.’s). “It’s nice to have P.O.’s,” says Cleckner. “We can supplement as needed with position players. “We’re mindful of arm care and arm health.” The 14U Arsenal Indiana team began in early April and will play until mid-July and could easily get in 60 games in 3 1/2 months. The 14U team plays in same types of tournaments that the 17U teams plays at Grand Park in Westfield. Arsenal Indiana tryouts are planned for late July or early August, likely at Grand Park. A fall season of four or five weekends features a trip to the Perfect Game WWBA 2022/2023 National Championship Oct. 7-11 in Jupiter, Fla., for the upperclassmen. “The goal of the fall season is getting a little more work going into the winter,” says Cleckner. “You have new kids who’ve joined your team and you’re creating some chemistry and camaraderie.” The fall also provides more college looks for older players. Arsenal Indiana trains in the off-season at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville. What is now Arsenal USA Baseball was began in 1995 by Joe Barth Jr. and son Bob Barth as the Tri-State Arsenal with players from southern New Jersey, Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania. Besides USA National in New Jersey, there are affiliate locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. Many professionals and college players have come through the Arsenal program.
Wyatt Geesaman is seeking other baseball opportunities and he’s honing his pitching skills in the College Summer League at Grand Park. A 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher, Geesman graduated from Jay County High School in Portland, Ind., in 2019 and began his college experience at the University of Cincinnati, where he made two mound appearances in two years. The former Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant is now in the NCAA Transfer Portal. “I’m looking around and seeing what is a good fit,” says Geesaman, who is with the CSL’s Caleb Fenimore-coached Bag Bandits in 2021 after twirling for the Park Rangers in the circuit’s inaugural season of 2020. “I go out there and try to compete. “I focus on that pitch and try not to let what happened before effect me or what happens next.” Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., is about a 90-minute trip from Portland. Geesaman does his training at home and travels on gameday. Geesaman identifies the area where he’s improved most since his Jay County days. “I’m more consistent,” says Geesaman. “In high school I was kind of wild. I’ve settled down a little bit.” Delivering from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot, Geesaman throws a four-seam fastball which sits at 85 to 89 mph and has been up to 92. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball and a “circle” change-up. Beginning in high school, Geesaman began pitching from the stretch even with the bases empty “It simplified things a little bit,” says Geesaman. At Jay County, Geesaman played for veteran coach Lea Selvey. “I love him,” says Geesaman of Selvey. “He’s a great guy to play for. He still helps me out today if I need help.” Geesaman, 20, was born in Muncie, Ind., grew up in Portland and played his first organized baseball in the Redkey (Ind.) Junior League. At 10, he switched to travel ball and was with the Indiana Longhorns, Summit City Sluggers and Indiana Prospects before spending his high school summers with the Indiana Bulls. Geesaman earned four baseball letters for the Patriots — tossing a perfect game with 18 strikeouts helping his team to a sectional title as a senior. Jay County won conference, sectional and regional titles his junior season. He also played forward in basketball and receiver in football for JC. At Cincinnati, Geesaman was working toward at Marketing degree. Jeff and Lisa Geesaman have two sons — Jacob (a 2021 Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology graduate) and Wyatt. The Bag Bandits are scheduled to play a single game with the Turf Monsters at 7:05 p.m. Sunday, June 20 at Championship Park in Kokomo and a 3 p.m. doubleaheader against the Park Rangers on Monday, June 21 at Grand Park.
Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.
A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.
“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.
Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.
“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”
Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.
“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.
“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”
Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.
“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”
Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.
The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments.
Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.
“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.
“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”
While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.
Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.
“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.
Bullpen is a very large operation.
“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.
Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.
“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”
With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ.
Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.
“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.
“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”
But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.
“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?
“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”
An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.
The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.
“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”
As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.
While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.
The fall included more contests than ever.
“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.
“We had a great fall.”
Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February.
“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker.
Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.
Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.
“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”
A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches.