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Relationships are key for Lowrey, Harrison Raiders

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Lowrey wants to know how his players can hit, pitch or field the baseball.

But he also wants to relate to them as people.

The head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., puts a priority on building relationships as he develops his Raiders on the diamond.

“Without the relationships, players aren’t going to listen to you,” says Lowrey, who enters his seventh season in charge at Harrison in 2019. “It doesn’t matter how much you know.

“Then the baseball comes.”

Lowrey’s baseball knowledge was built as a player at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette and at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Senior right-hander Lowrey was the winning pitcher for the 1999 IHSAA Class 4A state champions (McCutcheon beat Lawrence North 7-6). He recorded a called third strike with the bases loaded to end the game.

“I threw a lot of pitches that day,” says Lowrey. “It was one of those drizzling nights. Between me and my catcher (Nick McIntyre, who went on to play at Purdue University then pro ball and is now an assistant coach at the University of Toledo), we had passed balls and wild pitches. But were able to get out of the sticky situation.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jake Burton was then the Mavericks head coach.

“He had high expectations which made us better,” says Lowrey of Burton. “He helped me as a coach know the importance of organization and discipline both as a player and a coach.”

At Ball State, Lowrey spent three seasons for Rich Maloney and one with Greg Beals. Lowrey appeared in 32 games and the Cardinals won the Mid-American Conference title in 2001 and MAC West crowns in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

“(Maloney) does such a good job of building relationships with the community and players,” says Lowrey. “He connects to so many top-end recruits. He’s one of the best recruiters nationally. He has had a lot of success in the Big Ten and the MAC.”

Teammates who went high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft during Lowrey’s time at BSU include right-hander Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall in 2002 to the Pittsburgh Pirates), left-hander Luke Hagerty (first round in 2002 to the Chicago Cubs), outfielder Brad Snyder (first round in 2003 to the Cleveland Indians), right-hander Paul Henry (seventh round in 2002 to the Baltimore Orioles) and right-hander Justin Weschler (fourth round in 2001 to the Arizona Diamondbacks).

Outfielder Larry Bigbie went in the first round of the 1999 draft to Baltimore. Burlington played high school ball at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated, Weschler at Pendleton Heights and Bigbie at Hobart. Hagerty and Snyder are Ohio products while Henry played in high school baseball in Tennessee.

Lowery remembers Beals (now head coach at Ohio State University) as having a high Baseball I.Q. and the ability to enjoy it.

“He really understood the game and he had a lot of fun doing it,” says Lowrey. “Baseball is a kid’s game and it’s meant to be fun.”

Lowery began his coaching career with junior varsity stints at Delta (2004) and McCutcheon (2005). He was pitching coach at Harrison in 2006 and 2007 before serving as head coach at Delphi (2008-12). He was going to be head coach at Brownsburg, but some health issues arose and he stayed in Lafayette, eventually becoming head baseball coach and a special education teacher at Harrison.

The Raiders have sent a number of players on to college baseball during Lowrey’s tenure.

“I take pride in that,” says Lowrey. “I try to help our kids reach those goals if that’s what they want.”

Outfielder/shortstop Carter Bridge has transferred from Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., to Indiana University, where Franklin Community High School graduate Jeff Mercer is now head coach. Left-hander Matt McConnell and outfielder/left-hander Bobby Dearing are both at Western Michigan University, where New Albany graduate Billy Gernon is head coach.

Current Harrison senior Jack Ross, now recuperating from Tommy John surgery, has committed to play at Taylor University.

Lowrey says shortstop Trey Cochran and catcher/first baseman Jacob Kyle are starting the recruiting process.

The Harrison coaching staff for 2019 includes Christian Vukas, Dave Gilbert and Kerry Yoder with Lowrey and the varsity plus Jon Laird and Deryk Quakenbush as well as Shawn Louks, Leighton Mennen and Hayden Kuxhausen with the Blue and Orange units.

Lowery expects about 65 to 70 for tryouts with 45 to 50 making the three squads. There will be 14 to 20 players per team, including some used as courtesy runners and some pitcher-onlys.

“We want to develop these kids,” says Lowrey. “Especially at the two JV levels, we want to make sure we don’t miss out on the develop.”

Harrison has one on-field diamond.

“That goes back to Coach Burton and that organization,” says Lowrey. “We have to be organized and creative in how we approach practices and games.”

Harrison uses a batting practice circuit with every player on the field. The Raiders sometimes utilize the adjacent football field.

“We want to make sure kids are in small groups and constantly working,” says Lowrey.

Harrison is part of the North Central Conference (with Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon in the West Division and Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond in the East Division). Teams play home-and-home series within their divisions then compete in a seeded cross-divisional tournament the two Saturdays in May.

The Raiders are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, McCutcheon and Zionsville. Harrison has won 11 sectional crowns — the last in 2015.

Pat and Lauren Lowrey were married in 2005. She is the former Lauren Jillson, who played three sports at Munster (Ind.) High School and volleyball at Ball State, where she met Pat. The couple have two sons — Jeremy (11) and Brady (8).

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Pat Lowrey, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Ball State University, is entering his seventh season as head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., in 2019.

 

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IHSBCA Hall of Fame to welcome Williams, McClain, O’Neil, Schellinger, Rolen

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A very small town in the northwest quadrant of Indiana has produced to big league baseball players.

Within months of one another in 1887, Fred “Cy” Williams and Otis “Doc” Crandall were born in Wadena, Ind.

According to Cappy Gagnon’s Society for American Baseball Research BioProject profile of Williams, Wadena had but 75 people in 1890. Wikipedia says the 2009 population was 20.

Wadena in Benton County can now claim Williams as a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. He is part of the induction class of 2019. The veterans committee selected Williams and Ronald J. McClain with Pat O’Neil going in as a coach, Bob Schellinger as contributor and Scott Rolen as a player.

Williams played the first half of his career during the Deadball Era and still put up power numbers.

Donning the uniforms of the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies from 1912-30, the lefty slugger hit .292 with 251 home runs, 1,005 runs batted in, 1,024 runs scored, 115 stolen bases. He led the National League in home runs four times, on-base percentage twice (not that they talked about that back then) and slugging percentage one time.

Williams died in 1974.

O’Neil, a graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School in 1975 and Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1980, is now head coach at Danville (Ind.) Community High School.

His career coaching mark of 364-124 includes a state championship (2005) and two state runners-up finishes (2003 and 2004) at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School. His Bulldogs also won five Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles, three sectionals, three regionals and three semistates.

O’Neil has coached 12 first-team all-staters, nine all-stars, two Mr. Baseballs (Lance Lynn and Tucker Barnhart) and sent more than 50 players to college baseball.

Pat’s brother, Chip O’Neil, is already in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. Both played for legendary coach Ken Schreiber.

Schellinger, a graduate of South Bend St. Joseph’s High School and Illinois Benedictine College, coached with Schreiber at LaPorte. He served stints as head coach and assistant at South Central (Union Mills) High School.

He has been a licensed IHSAA umpire for 46 years with 17 sectional assignments, 11 regionals, five semistates, four State Finals and three IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

A four-time IHSBCA Umpire of the Year, Schlleinger was honored at IHSAA Official of the Year in baseball at the 2017 State Finals.

Rolen, who is now the director of player development at Indiana University, is a 1993 Jasper (Ind.) High School graduate. There, he was Mr. Baseball and a runner-up for Mr. Basketball.

A two-time first-team all-stater and IHSBCA All-Star, Rolen went on to play in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1997 and wound up hitting .281 with 316 homers, 1,287 RBIs and 1,211 runs scored in 17 seasons. He also won eight Gold Gloves as a third baseman.

Hall of Famers will be honored during the IHSBCA awards banquet during the annual state clinic Jan. 17-19 at Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

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Scott Rolen, a Jasper (Ind.) High School graduate, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

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Bob Schellinger, a South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph’s High School graduate, coach for 26 years and umpire for 46, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

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Pat O’Neil, a LaPorte (Ind.) High School graduate who guided Brownsburg to a state title and two runner-up finishes, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

 

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Cy Williams, born in tiny Wadena, Ind., is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But it’s about family.”

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

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

South Bend’s Milovich has made a life in minor league baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Milovich was introduced to baseball in South Bend, Ind.

Andy played the game at Southeast Little League, South Bend Riley High School (graduating in 1987) and for South Bend American Legion Post 357 and then at Valparaiso University (graduating in 1992).

“I was raised on ball fields,” says Milovich. “It’s an important part of what I do and it’s what gets me up everyday.

“My baseball roots start in South Bend. It has everything to do with where I’m at now.”

He recalls fondly coming home after school and catching the end of the Chicago Cubs game on WGN-TV. The next morning, he devoured the box score and saw highlights on Ray Rayner’s show.

With Myrtle Beach being a High Class-A affiliate of the Cubs (one step up from Low Class-A South Bend), Milovich was beyond thrilled when he received a World Series ring when the big club won it all in 2016.

Back in 1987, Andy played for Post 357 against South Bend Post 50 in the first game at South Bend’s Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (now known at Four Winds Field).

Beginning with an internship with the South Bend White Sox in 1990, Milovich has made a life in the game with 2018 being his 28th year in professional baseball. He is both president and general manager for the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and president of the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans.

A son of Ron and Judy Milovich and brother to Matt, Brad, Brian and Melanie, Andy learned baseball from his father who began coaching at the Little League level at 18 and continued in adult amateur baseball around South Bend until a few years ago.

Ron Milovich, an optometrist, started a team in the early 1990s featuring local players and some of Andy’s Valpo teammates.

“Dad was always making time for kids and the community,” says Andy. “That’s the way he was raised.”

Andy played at VU for head coach Paul Twenge and at Riley for Ralph “Peanuts” Pienazkiewicz.

Both men instilled in Andy the notion of balancing athletics, academics and personal life and overcoming life’s obstacles through hard work.

“Nothing is given to anybody,” says Milovich. “You have to learn it.

“You take that approach into the business world and you’ll have success.”

As a baseball executive, Milovich has faced the grind of a long season while helping to entertain customers.

“We want to put on a great show and give them a three-hour vacation,” says Milovich. “To use baseball as an opportunity to change communities the way we do is a really rewarding.”

Greenberg Sports Group, founded by Chuck Greenberg, manages minor league baseball franchises in Frisco, Myrtle Beach and State College, Pa. Greenberg is general partner and chief executive officer in Frisco, chairman and managing partner in both Myrtle Beach and State College.

Before joining GSG, Milovich spent 18 years with Palisades Baseball. He has served as assistant general manager and general manager of the Erie (Pa.) SeaWolves, GM of the Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Scrappers, vice president and GM of the West Virginia Power and became president and GM in Myrtle Beach in January 2013.

Milovich says the key to success in Myrtle Beach was “investing in people” and “built on affordability and fun.

“It’s the way we’ll grow it here (in Frisco),” says Milovich, who has turned over the Myrtle Beach GM reins to Ryan Moore.

Milovich went going back and forth between South Carolina and Texas before settling with his wife Cher (the couple met when Andy was working in Mahoning Valley) and daughters Addison (9) and Dylan (7) in Frisco in mid-July.

Frisco, Texas, which has an approximate population of 175,000, has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. It is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (population over 7 million).

The RoughRiders consider north Dallas their primary market and the DFW Metroplex as a whole as their secondary market.

Milovich has been working to get an understanding of the operation and diverse market in Frisco. About half of his staff of 60 or so employees work in ticket sales. Using data, they target the various smaller manageable segments of the market.

“We’re measuring many kinds of groups,” says Milovich.

Frisco and surrounding area is home to many large corporations and there are several other near-by entertainment options, including the Texas Rangers (baseball), Dallas Cowboys (football), Dallas Mavericks (basketball), Dallas Stars (hockey) and FC Dallas (soccer). The RoughRiders are a Double-A affiliate of the Rangers.

Myrtle Beach (with a metropolitan population of around 450,000) is different than Frisco, with its smaller market and staff catering to the needs of both residents and tourists.

The main draw of the area is the beach and the Pelicans are trying to get their share of the entertainment dollar.

Running a minor league team has changed quite a bit since the 1990s.

“It used to be you could have your giveaways and a fireworks show and you could count on the community responding,” says Milovich. “Media consumption is now so fragmented. There are so many entertainment options we didn’t have back then.

“The ability to build promotions that resonate and connect with the masses is a lot tougher.”

To help him grow his network of friends and contacts and to advance the industry, Milovich serves on the steering committees for both the National Sports Forum (scheduled for Feb. 10-12, 2019 in Las Vegas) and Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar (slated for Sept. 24-27, 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa).

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Andy Milovich, a graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Riley High School and Valparaiso (Ind.) University, is in his 28th year of professional baseball. He is president and general manager of the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and president of the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans. (Myrtle Beach Pelicans Photo)

 

South Bend Cubs to host 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game at Four Winds Field

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In another move to energize the community, the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs announced Monday, Sept. 10 that the minor league baseball club will host the 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game festivities June 17-18 at Four Winds Field.

Owner Andrew T. Berlin, who became owner of the franchise on Nov. 11, 2011, expressed his enthusiasm at a press conference.

“We’re excited here for a number of reasons,” said Berlin. “We just completely our seventh year. We’ve drawn almost 1.4 million fans since becoming a (Chicago) Cubs affiliate alone (beginning with the 2015 season).”

Berlin talked about South Bend being the “hub for activity and success” in the region and that the South Bend Cubs are in the business of making memories.

“We celebrate more than just baseball,” said Berlin. “We will apply the financial resources to make sure this is the biggest and best all-star game in the history of the Midwest League.

“It will go viral.”

The last time the midseason showcase was played in South Bend was 1989 when what was then known as Coveleski Stadium was less than two years old.

Because of rotation rules for the 16-team league, it may be quite awhile before South Bend gets another chance to host all-star festivities.

Dick Nussbaum, the Midwest League commissioner who is based in South Bend, lent some perspective to the last visit of league stars to the next.

“It was a single game,” said Nussbaum of the 1989 Midwest League All-Star Game, which was postponed by a rain because of torrential rain and featured future big league pitcher and coach Scott Radinsky, who played for the South Bend White Sox in 1989 and was with the Chicago White Sox in 1990. “There was not a festival part of it.”

The 2019 event will have a fan fest and a home run derby plus an autograph session with several former Chicago Cubs players along with the 2019 Midwest League All-Star players in to other family-friendly activities like the Splash Pad, Toyota Fun Zone, catch on the field and running of the bases on June 17.

The game is slated for June 18 with East taking on the West. South Bend is in the Midwest League’s East Division.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that the all-star game will be coming back here,” said Nussbaum, who will count the 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game as his 27th. “We have the opportunity to show the vision of South Bend.”

South Bend Cubs president Joe Hart is part of the team that will look to wow the community and the league.

“We want to turn this into something that is phenomenal for our city,” said Hart. “We want to blow this out.”

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg talked about how the city has a chance to rally and give the best possible impression of South Bend.

The 2019 calendar will also feature the NHL Classic and Michigan-Notre Dame hockey games at Notre Dame Stadium, Jan. 1 and 5 respectively, and U.S. Senior Open at ND’s Warren Golf Course June 27-30.

“This is a community effort and community enterprise,” said Buttigieg. “It’s up to the people of South Bend to show how excited we are for this event. “(Four Winds Field) is a very special place for all of us.”

Naming rights for the ballpark were awarded to Four Winds five years ago and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and Four Winds Casinos wanted to be part the a major sponsor for the 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game.

“It’s wonderful to be a part of it,” said Senior VP of Government Affairs and Community Relations for Four Winds Casinos Scott Brewer.

The Ivy at Berlin Place apartments at the ballpark are nearing completion. Berlin announced that a model will be ready for showing this week and that were is a waiting list for the 120 units.

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South Bend, Ind., is to host the Midwest League All-Star Game for the first time in 30 years in 2019. (South Bend Cubs/Midwest League Image)

 

Hootons bring ’special vibe’ to Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A husband-and-wife team with decades in baseball has been making an impact on a team and a city since making it their home in the spring and summer for the past six seasons.

Burt Hooton has been the pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps, a Low Class-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres since 2013.

In 2018, he is one a Fort Wayne coaching staff led by manager Anthony Contreras and also featuring hitting coach Jonathan Mathews and fielding coach Jhonny Carvajal.

Like she’s done throughout most of their marriage, wife Ginger Hooton has been there in-person to lend support to her husband and — through her personality — uplift those around her.

And not just because of her mouth-watering desserts like chocolate chip cookies, caramel brownies and Tres Leches cake.

“She’s a people person,” says Burt, who met Ginger in late 1970 when they both attended the University of Texas at Austin, got engaged in September 1972 and married Dec. 30, 1972. “She loves people. She likes pleasing people. She’s extremely friendly.”

TinCaps president Mike Nutter seconds that sentiment.

“She is such a motivator,” says Nutter of Ginger Hooton. “I’ve never heard a negative thing come out of her mouth.

“She has a unique perspective and outlook.”

The Hootons live right next to Parkview Field in the CityScape Flats. When Nutter and his crew were keeping their eye on the radar and dealing with rain delays Thursday, Aug. 16, Ginger sent him an encouraging text from her balcony.

She wanted him to know she had seen a rainbow over the field and wanted to see how he was doing.

“This is my 27th season in Minor League Baseball,” says Nutter. “Along the way, there are a handful of special people that come into your life.

“Ginger and Burt are certainly in that group. It’s a really special connection they have made. They want to work and make an impact in those young kids’ lives. They just have this special vibe.”

Both native Texans, Burt was a broadcast journalism major from the coastal city of Corpus Christi and art major Ginger hailed from the small farming community of Wharton.

The two met through a campus service organization — the Texas Cowboys. Their first date was at the group’s formal dance.

“I never knew he played baseball,” says Ginger. “I wasn’t a big baseball fan.”

She found it odd that so many people were shaking his hand. She learned years later that he had just thrown a no-hitter for the Longhorns.

Burt Hooton began his professional baseball career in 1971.

A standout at UT, the right-handed pitcher was selected in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft (second overall pick) by the Chicago Cubs and went on to pitch until 1985, winning 151 games and racking up over 2,600 innings.

On April 16, 1972, Burt tossed a no-hitter for the Cubs in his fourth MLB game and went on to be an all-star and the National League Championship Series MVP for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (who went on to win the World Series). He was known to possess a wicked knuckle curveball.

Even with all his accomplishments, Nutter marvels that Burt Hooton has no ego.

“He has a great gift of working with these young men,” says Nutter. “Anthony Contreras calls it a ‘feel’ for what will work for them.”

After taking the time to complete his college degree (he promised his mother he would finish it after leaving Texas at the end of his junior year), Burt launched into a coaching career in 1988 and has been a pitching coach at every level of organized professional baseball plus three collegiate seasons with the Texas Longhorns. He was the pitching coach for the big-league Houston Astros 2000-04.

Along the way, Ginger has been making friends in the stands and around the towns where Burt played or coached. When he was coaching in Round Rock, Houston and Oklahoma City, there were enough wives around for Ginger to lead a Bible study.

With younger players (the oldest players on the current Fort Wayne roster is 24 and there are nine teenagers), there is no opportunity with player wives.

“I just really prayed about it and God told me to feed my sheep so I just feed them,” says Ginger. “It’s mostly sweets.”

Pre- and post-game meals are provided by clubhouse manager Sam “Swirley” Lewis.

And it’s not just the players and and coaching staff that have sampled Ginger’s baked goods. Most everyone who works at Parkview Field — front office personnel, ushers, parking lot attendants — has gotten a taste.

The downtown stadium doubles as a public space when a game is not in progress. Many people walk around the perimeter of the field for exercise. Ginger walks there and greets those she encounters along the way.

When Burt and Ginger’s children — Gene and Layne — were very young, they would come to spring training with their parents and be tutored by their mother. As they grew older, they would visit spring training during spring break and then come to whatever baseball city their father called home.

“She always saw to it that she and the kids were wherever I was,” says Burt. “Now, it’s easy. We don’t have any kids (at home). I certainly don’t want to leave her home by herself (in San Antonio).

“I want her here. She wants to be here. We both enjoy it. It’s almost like a five-month vacation.”

This season has seen a steady stream of visits from family and friends. Sometimes when Burt is away, Ginger will go to help daughter Layne with her San Antonio-based store.

“I’ve been entertaining a lot,” says Ginger. “This season has flown by.

“I don’t know what I do, but I stay busy.”

Before moving into CityScape Flats, the Hootons lived next to Parkview Field at The Harrison. For the first few years in Fort Wayne, they resided in places across the city — far enough away that Ginger would sit in the one car they brought from Texas to pick up Burt after games.

Now, he can just walk home.

“I can get stuff done at home,” says Ginger.

The Hootons have gotten to know Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, checking out sites, museums and restaurants.

“Fort Wayne is a great town,” says Burt, the keynote speaker at the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association banquet in May. “The people we have met here have been great.”

Ginger and Burt also drive together on some of the TinCaps’ closer road trips.

“We enjoy traveling around together and being together,” says Burt. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The (Midwest) League is small enough that we can hop in the car and go places like Lansing, Grand Rapids, Dayton, South Bend and Midland, Mich.

“We’re having fun together.”

At 68, Burt takes his coaching career one season at a time.

“As long as I’m still healthy and enjoy it, somebody wants me and she’s OK with it,” says Burt. “When they ask me, I say I’ll ask Ginger and see what she says, She usually says whatever you want to do is fine with me.

“When she says ‘no’ that’ll probably be the end of it.”

Ginger sees the satisfaction her husband gets by helping to launch the pro careers of young pitchers.

“I think his greatest joy is getting to move these young kids up,” says Ginger. “It’s like our own children getting to make it.”

The past few weeks, the Hootons have been watching the Padres on TV and seeing players who once played in Fort Wayne.

“It’s so fun to get to see them experience that,” says Ginger.

And this husband and wife are experiencing so much together.


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Burt (left) and Ginger Hooton share a moment outside Parkview Field, where Burt is in his sixth season as pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. The couple was married Dec. 30, 1972. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

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With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

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Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)