Jake Banwart, the head baseball coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis since 2018, looks to the 2023 campaign with a mix of returnees and newcomers possession physical tools. But that’s not been the focus for the Falcons in the months leading up to the season. “It’s mindset,” says Banwart. “We definitely have some talent to work with in this group. The off-season can get pretty long and monotonous. We have established the mentality of not worrying about playing time and challenging themselves to get better on a day-to-day basis not only on the physical side but on their daily habits and mindset. “We’ve dove in quite a bit on the mental side.” Banwart is president and co-founder of Baseball Academics/Fastpitch Academics Midwest (BAM/FAM) — an organization he started in 2015 with Adam Gouker (the former Indianapolis Lutheran High School head coach who serves as vice president) that emphasizes the six-tool player (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power plus the mental skill). BAM and FAM has around 450 athletes on 36 travel teams — 18 baseball and 18 softball — that train at Extra Innings Indy South. With the growth of all three and the addition of Dugout Coalition (which offers online mental training for coaches and players) and his one-one mindset and small group routine mindset training, Banwart wrapped an eight-year stretch as a classroom teacher about two years ago. Perry Meridian (enrollment around 2,300) is a member of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland Community). MSC teams play home-and-home weekday series. The Falcons are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with Franklin Central, Arsenal Tech, Roncalli, Southport and Warren Central. Perry Meridian has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2007. Roncalli, Southport and Warren Central are also on the Falcons’ regular-season schedule. Michael Carter (Class of 2023) is committed to Franklin (Ind.) College and two or three others are expected to announce where they will play college baseball by the start of the season. Recent graduates moving on the college diamond include Class of 2018’s Jesse Wainscott (who has transferred from Eastern Illinois University to Arizona State University), Class of 2019’s Charlie Joyce (Hanover, Ind., College) and Sean Thomas (Franklin College), Class of 2021’s Luke Genier (Olney, Ill., Central College) and John Joyce (Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) and Class of 2022’s Kellen Reed (Franklin College) and Mason Rohlman (Franklin College). There are typically 40 players to fill varsity and junior varsity roles for the Falcons. Perry Meridian is part of Perry Township Schools along with Southport High School and shares lighted Holder Field with Cardinals. The Falcons play JV games and run many practices on-campus. Banwart’s varsity assistants are Robbie Strader, Cortez Hague, P.J. Miles and Ryan Parrot. Sam Ahrens is the JV head coach. He is assisted by Joe Garmon. Southport Little League and Edgewood Athletic Association feed into Perry Meridian. Many players come from travel programs BAM, Top Tier Indiana (formerly Indiana Elite), Midwest Astros and Indy Clutch. Banwart, who met Gouker while both were attending Anderson (Ind.) University, began assisting in baseball and teaching at Daleville (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School and helped the Broncos to the 2016 IHSAA Class 1A state championship. He taught online while guiding Liberty Christian School in Anderson to a conference championship then moved to Perry Meridian, where he taught for three years. Perry Meridian has a large population that traces its roots to Burma. There is a Burmese American Community Institute in Indianapolis. Over the years, some have served as baseball student managers or athletic trainers. Baseball does not enjoy the same level popularity in Burma as soccer and volleyball.
Alex Christie describes himself as “kind of a late bloomer.” Now a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder coming off a super baseball season at NCAA Division III Hanover (Ind.) College where he tied the single-season home run record with 11 in 38 games, Christie says it took him some time to coordinate his skill with his frame. Christie was a capable player as he grew up in Greenwood, Ind., but he matured later than some of his peers. As a Center Grove High School freshman, Christie was no more than 5-10. By junior year, he was up to 6-3 and then took another growth spurt. “I really was just like a baby my freshmen and sophomore years, but I had a lot of talent,” says Christie. “It took the weight room a lot more serious my junior year.” “(Center Grove strength and conditioning) Coach (Marty) Mills set me up for success with structure doing things with the right form,” says Christie. “(Trojans junior varsity coach Jordan Reeser) helped me a lot with my infield stuff. Coach Carp (John T. Carpenter) always kept me in-check with my swing.” Christie has had many reps with the bat. “When I was younger I was an average hitter,” says Christie. “My junior year of high school I didn’t play because I wasn’t very good at hitting. I started really grinding and swinging everyday.” The winter of his senior year (2019-20), Christie and a group of classmates — Drew Dillon, Bryce Eblin (now at the University of Alabama), Anthony Smith, Adam Taylor and Jimmy Wolff among them — were regulars at Extra Innings Indy South. Working with Center Grove head coach Keith Hatfield, Christie had gotten up to 88 mph as a pitcher. Then the 2020 high school season was taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I would’ve loved to see what I could have done my senior year of high school if I had the chance to play,” says Christie. He did get to play that summer with the Nighthawks of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “I made all-star game and I hit really well,” says Christie. “I like to swing it. “That’s normally what gets me into the lineup.” As a Hanover freshman in 2021, righty-swinger Christie started in all 40 games and paced the Panthers in batting average at .340 (50-of-147) and runs batted in with 45. He also rapped six home runs and nine doubles and scored 33 times with .988 OPS (.464 on-base percentage plus .524 slugging average) while earning second team all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference honors at shortstop. He tied a school record with seven RBIs in a game against Defiance. Unable to land a spot with a summer team in 2021, Christie worked for FedEx but also found time to work on his craft. He came back in 2022 and hit .316 (49-of-155) with 11 homers, 11 doubles, 39 RBIs and 44 runs. Using gap-to-gap power, he posted a 1.035 OPS (.422/.613) and was selected as second team all-HCAC at first base. Hanover head coach Grant Bellak had Christie batting No. 2 in the order. “He wanted me to get as many at-bats as possible,” says Christie of Bellak. “I bring a lot of runs in. I hit better with guys on-base. I lock in a little bit more. “I’m in the driver’s seat.” Christie was named HCAC Hitter of the Week in March. During a six-game stretch on Hanover’s trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., he cracked five home runs among his 11 hits and drove in 12 runs. What makes tying the homer record at Hanover special to Christie is that both his parents — Turk and Staycee — are alums and that the standard was established by Jeff Knecht in 1985 when the team played more games as an NAIA member. The last game of the 2022 season Christie hit a ball that had the distance for his 12th homer, but went foul. “Something to look forward to next year,” says Christie. Hanover’s career homer mark is held by Greg Willman, who slugged 25 from 1982-85. Christie verbally committed to Hanover in December of his junior year. “Coach Bellak made me feel wanted there,” says Christie. “I wasn’t expecting to play my freshmen year. “I started every single game, which is a huge blessing.” Christie got good grades in high school and received an academic scholarship at Hanover, where he is a Chemistry major. This summer, Christie is the starting shortstop for the Prospect League’s West Virginia Miners (Beckley, W.Va.). In his first 20 games, he was hitting .353 (24-of-68) with one homer, eight doubles, 16 RBIs, 15 runs and a 1.013 OPS (.439/.574). “I’ve really been enjoying this,” says Christie, who counts Hanover teammate and right-handed pitcher Charlie Joyce (Perry Meridian High School graduate) among his four Miners roommates. “(Miners manager) Tim Epling) loves helping. He’s got a lot to offer. “He’s given me some advice for my swing.” On the Miners’ off day July 6, they were to attend the New York Yankees at Pittsburgh Pirates game (Aaron Judge had one of six home runs for New York). Christie has been swinging bats crafted by Center Grove graduate Tom Gandolph in his Bargersville, Ind., shop. Tom is the son of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph, who coached Turk Christie at CG. The first couple turned for Christie were 34 inches and 31 ounces. More recently, he’s been wielding a patriotic 34 1/4/32 club. “I’ve been hitting really well with it,” says Christie. Born in Indianapolis, Christie lived near Valle Vista Golf Club then moved into the Center Grove district for his whole pre-college run. Alex played rec ball at Honey Creek until about 8 then played travel ball for the Indiana Arrows (Turk Christie was one of the coaches) and Extra Innings Indy South-based Indiana Vipers. As he grew older and more serious about the game, Christie got more help in his development. “I learned so much from the Indiana Twins organization,” says Christie, who played his 17U season for Jeff Stout, received instruction from Jason Clymore and assistance in gaining weight, strength and mobility from Scott Haase. The Indiana Twins recently joined the Canes family. Alex, 20, has an 18-year-old brother — Asa Christie — who graduated from Center Grove in 2022 and is bound for Indiana University-Kokomo as a right-handed pitcher/third baseman. Jarrod “Turk” Christie is an auto leasing officer for Indiana Members Credit Union. Staycee Christie works for Door Services of Indiana.
Notre Dame — the last college baseball team from Indiana left standing in 2022 — found out today (May 30) that the Irish will be in the Statesboro Regional for the 64-team NCAA Division I tournament. The No. 2-seeded Irish (35-14) play No. 3 Texas Tech (37-20) at 2 p.m. Friday, June 3. Site host and top-seeded Georgia Southern (40-18) plays No. UNC Greensboro (34-28) at 7 p.m. Friday. Notre Dame made it to the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Regionals continue through June 6 with super regionals June 10-13 and the College World Series June 17-27. Ball State made it to the “if necessary” Mid-American Conference tournament championship game against Central Michigan and lost 11-7 to wind up the season at 40-19 overall and 32-7 as MAC regular-season champions. Central Michigan earned an automatic NCAA tournament bid. Evansville (32-24, 14-6), Indiana State (26-22-1, 10-10-1) and Valparaiso (16-32, 5-15) bowed out in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Seasons came to a close for Purdue (29-21, 9-12) and Indiana (27-32, 10-14) at the Big Ten tournament. Purdue Fort Wayne (18-36, 13-15) finished up in the Horizon League tournament. In the past few weeks, conferences have handed out postseason awards at the NCAA D-I, D-II and D-III, NAIA and junior college levels and there is a list of those below.