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Setting the bar high, The BASE launches in Indianapolis

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the objective of serving under-appreciated youth, The BASE was officially launched Wednesday, April 24 in Indianapolis.

At a gathering of leaders and supporters at the downtown Strada Education Network, the game plan was presented for The BASE Indy.

Founded in 2013 by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE was started in Boston as a outgrowth of that city’s Astros youth baseball program.

Lewis began coaching the Astros in Boston’s Villa Victoria public housing develop in the 1970s and the president was in Indiana’s capitol to talk about the organization that has now expanded to Chicago, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

Rob Barber, president of The BASE Indy, spoke about the need and the vision of the group.

Tysha Sellers, executive director of the Edna Martin Christian Center, explained a community partnership.

Milt Thompson, attorney and a familiar voice on Indianapolis TV and radio, told the folks how they can lend financial support.

Indiana native Chuck Harmon, the first black man to play for the Cincinnati Reds and a long-time leader in the sports world who died March 19 at 94, was remembered and honored.

Videos were shown that showed how The BASE operates in Boston and how Pete Rose is on board as a supporter.

Another featuring players from Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis pointed out the need.

Lewis rallied the troops Wednesday.

“We’re going to be where our young folks need us most,” said Lewis. “We have to be here.

“Is it about the money? Yes. But engagement is what it’s all about. We are who we’ve been waiting for. Superman and Superwoman are not walking through that door.

“We’re not going to take a day off. We’re not going to take an hour off. We’re going to be right in the grind.”

Lewis talked about empowering the community and that parks and playgrounds that build communities.

“Folks, we have an opportunity to do something special,” said Lewis. “We can change and uplift communities. We have to stand for something bigger than ourselves. Indy, let’s do this.”

From those parks and playgrounds, those young people can be educated and enter the workforce, be productive citizens and provide for their families.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s about the jobs,” said Lewis.

Chuck Harmon’s daughter and caregiver, Cheryl, traveled from Cincinnati to receive a mementos, including a proclamation from Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett declaring Chuck Harmon Day in the city. Harmon was a native of Washington, Ind.

“It’s Cheryl’s cousins that I grew up with and had a tremendous impact on our family,” said Barber, who grew up in southern Indiana and played baseball at Indiana University. “It’s probably a big reason why I’m here today.”

Barber talked about walking about from his former long-time occupation and that The BASE is where he’s supposed to be.

Last summer and fall, Barber visited kids around the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood.

“There is a movement happening on the near northeast side of Indianapolis,” said Sellers. “There’s 12,000 people within Martindale-Brightwood. There are a number of people within this community that believe there is a vision to be a thriving community.

“We can come together and make things happen with partnerships. (Young people) are only looking for opportunities to succeed. And they sometimes need people to help connect the dots. We don’t do it alone.”

Sellers, who was born and raised in Martindale-Brightwood, said the Edna Martin Christian Center focuses on education, financial stability for families and community health.

“We want them to move on to college and career and be successful so that they can come back and invest in a community at a higher level in order for us to break the poverty cycle,” said Sellers. “This is about us empowering this community. This is about us working with the community.

“They’re not only going to rebuild this community, but others as well. They’ll come back to wherever they came from to give back to that area.”

There are many other partners, including Play Ball Indiana (part of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) and universities around Indianapolis.

Barber, who coached Jeff Mercer (the current Indiana University head coach) when he was younger, took some players from The BASE Indy to their first collegiate baseball game in Bloomington in March.

“I cannot believe how well those young men handled themselves and how polite they were,” said Barber.

One of those youngsters — a player at Arsenal Tech coached by Bob Haney named Josh Morrow — has dreams of being an astrophysicist. Some of the debate at the ball game was about gravity on MIrars.

Barber believes that such high aspirations can be obtained through The BASE Indy and its partners.

He spoke about most people being born on second base with their children coming into the world on third base.

Many of those who The BASE Indy will serve have not even gotten up to the plate.

“One of the things that The BASE is extraordinary at doing is equipping and strengthening the legs of the kids so as they get to first base, they have the resources they need in life to begin to be successful and knock down some of those barriers,” said Barber.

Relating a conversation that he had with Irvington Preparatory Academy coach Davon Hardy, Barber heard about the struggles some of the players have to go through just to get to school and the baseball diamond.

One has no electricity at home.

Another is without food.

A third has a father who is incarcerated.

“What priority would baseball be in there life?,” said Barber, echoing Hardy. “At The BASE — before we can get to the part of teaching the baseball skills (former big leaguer Justin Masterson and scout Mike Farrell are among those who will lend their expertise while Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski is also involved) — it’s about giving them an incentive to do something.

“There are some walls we’re going to have to run through to create some opportunities and I’m OK with that. I’m a baseball person. But I’m also passionate about doing the right thing.”

Barber said the The BASE has a proven methodology. But it’s a four-letter word that drives it.

“The thing that drives it is love,” said Barber. “It’s that simple.”

That love in Indy is going to headquartered in Martindale-Brightwood.

“We want to raise their expectations,” said Barber. “I was the first person in my family to go to college.”

A passionate advocate of the baseball community, Thompson also talked about raising the bar.

“Expectations are set so low sometimes we don’t know how low we set them,” said Thompson. “How can we achieve anything unless we’re lifted up?”

Thompson, who has represented several professional athletes, recalled a conversation he had with Indiana basketball legend Oscar Robertson.

He asked the Big O, what he would do against Magic Johnson.

“Milt, what would Magic Johnson do against me?,” said Thompson of Robertson’s reply. “It’s mentality. It’s how you think. You set your expectations higher.”

Thompson talked about how one of his school counselors told him that he was best-suited to work with his hands.

“I didn’t get bitter. I got better,” said Thompson. “That was the best advice I ever heard. My first 10 jury trials, during closing arguments, I was using my hands.

“You set the bar higher, you can go get it.”

Thompson said it is necessary to be honest with yourself in all adversity.

“It’s not always easy,” said Thompson. “You’ve got to take a chance.

“We’re going to fill in the gap. We’re going to do unnecessary things because they are necessary.”

Thompson said the dialogue is being changed in inner cities.

“We don’t have underprivileged kids anymore we have under-appreciated kids,” said Thompson. “That’s the people we’re talking about. They have every have every possibility of greatness. They’re going to use their hands when they talk.

“Want to play the game? Want to pitch in? There are several things we can do.”

Among those things are hosting a fundraiser for the Urban Classic (which will be staged in Indianapolis for the first time in July), sponsor a college tour or career day, serve on an advisory board (education, baseball/softball or life skills/career), connect your personal contacts to The BASE Indy and make a donation to the cause.

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Berlin sees giving back to the community part of South Bend Cubs’ duty

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“We’re not superheroes here, but we like to use our power for good.” — Andrew T. Berlin, owner and chairman of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs

Berlin has used the strategies that have made him successful as a businessman, attorney and philanthropist in Chicago and brought about growth in downtown South Bend, where he enters his eighth season of owning a professional baseball franchise in 2019.

In November 2011, Berlin reached an agreement to purchase the South Bend Silver Hawks. He signed a 20-year agreement with the city of South Bend for the use of Coveleski Regional Stadium.

South Bend ended a 17-year affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks and began its first Player Development Contract with the Chicago Cubs beginning with the 2015 season. The current PDC ties South Bend and Chicago together through 2022.

Berlin says the South Bend Cubs have the advantage of being able to leverage the Chicago Cubs brand.

“There’s a lot of interest there,” says Berlin, 58. There has been talk about bringing the South Shore Line and its access to the Windy City to Downtown South Bend with the station a short walk from the ballpark.

Along the way, the park has had a name change to Four Winds Field. Millions of dollars have gone into renovations and other amenities, including the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and apartment buildings — The Ivy at Berlin Place — that are slated for completion this spring (Berlin signed the lease for the first of 121 units and expects to be in town for each homestand during a regular season which goes from April 4 to Sept. 2).

The Midwest League All-Star Game returns to South Bend for the first time since 1989 and three days of events are planned June 16-18.

Berlin and his off-field team, which now includes about 375 full-time and seasonal employees, including president Joe Hart, relish their role in South Bend and the surrounding area.

“The health of the city is something we take seriously,” says Berlin. “We’re not a government entity. We’re a private corporation. But we see the South Bend Cubs is part of the public trust, if you will.

“It belongs to the community in spirt and in soul. For us a happy and successful community is a happy and successful club. The team does better when the city’s doing better.”

Berlin sees it as a duty for his organization to impact areas like education and charity. He’s witnessed good being done by many entities not as high profile as a professional sports team.

“All of us here at the South Bend Cubs see it important to be giving back to the community,” says Berlin. “We want to see the tax revenues growing in the city so the city can invest money in infrastructure and reducing the amount of crime in the area — not just by more policing but providing more opportunities for the folks that are committing the crimes.

“They might see crime as the only path to financial success or relevance.”

Berlin went to California to learn more about the concept of what has been called “conscious capitalism.”

“It is good business to engage the community and help the community around you,” says Berlin. “Some people call it karma. Some people call it you get what you give.

“But as long as we’re a giving organization, the community ends up — whether consciously or subconsciously — rewarding us.

“We’re here to make a profit and support our employees with good wages,” says Berlin. “I delight in the fact that we’ve hired more people. We three times more employees now than there were eight years ago.”

Through games, concerts and other events, the club hopes to bring 400,000 or more people to Four Winds Field which allows more chances to give back.

“We’re helping folks out by doing a lot of philanthropic things,” says Berlin. “Giving money to worthy organizations that do a lot of good work. We do a lot of vetting of those organizations to assure it’s not going toward administrative costs.

“It’s very much a part of the heart and soul of the organization.”

SOUTH BEND CUBS

2019

Thursday, April 4

• Home and Season Opener vs. West Michigan, 7:05 p.m.

Midwest League All-Star Game Festivities

Sunday, June 16

• All-Star Concert at Four Winds Field (artist to be announced in the coming weeks).

Monday, June 17

• Fan Fest with autograph sessions with six former Chicago Cubs players, including Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins and Andre Dawson plus East and West All-Stars. Proceeds from Fan Fest ticket sales will go to one of five charities selected by the fans (Beacon Children’s Hospital. Logan Center, Pet Refuge, South Bend Education Foundation or United Way of St. Joseph County)

• Home Run Derby featuring MWL All-Stars.

• 2016 World Series trophy will be at the park.

Tuesday, June 18

MWL All-Star Game Luncheon at Century Center, 11:30 a.m. with keynote speaker and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

MWL All-Star Game, 7:35 p.m. The game will be broadcast live locally by WMYS (My Michiana) and regionally by WCIU (The U Too in Chicago) for the first time in league history. South Bend Cubs broadcaster Darin Pritchett will have the TV call.

Approximately 3,000 tickets have been sold for the All-Star Game and 500 tickets have sold for the All-Star Luncheon.

Promotions

• Dog Day Mondays. Fans can bring their dogs to the ballpark and fans can enjoy $2 hot dogs, $2 popcorn and $2 peanuts. There will be free Fun Zone wristbands for ages 12-and-under. This excludes May 27 and Aug. 12.

• $2 Tuesdays. Fans may purchase $2 tickets in advance for Tuesday games — online only. The offer is valid for April 14, May 7, May 28, Jine 4 and Aug. 6.

• Bobblehead Nights are scheduled for 2015 South Bend Cub David Bote (Wednesday, June 5) and Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish (Wednesday, Aug. 21).

• New theme nights include Polish Heritage Night (Thursday, April 25), PBS Kids Day (Sunday, June 23 and Sunday, June 30) and Dino Day (July 11). Full descriptions and theme days are available on SouthBendCubs.com.

• Fans are invited to share their photos and videos taken at the ballpark all season long by submitting them on MySouthBendCubs.com.

• Two April Saturday dates will have 4:05 p.m. start times with gates opening at 2.

Food

• The “Sweet Spot” dessert stand, located beside Gates A, is a new concession option. It will feature hand-dipped novelty ice creams and elephant ears and takes the place of the former Burgertopia location. Burgertopia is getting its own separate stand on the first base side concourse. An Italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions has been added to the menu.

• Loaded tots will be served for $5 at the Waveland and Sheffield stands.

• Fresh Squeezed Lemonade will be available beginning in May.

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Andrew T. Berlin, owner and chairman of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs, has his minor league baseball franchise practicing “conscious capitalism.”

 

ABCA smashes convention, membership records, keeps growing baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Imagine if you will 6,650 folks all in the same place for the purpose of learning, improving and networking.

If you were in Dallas Jan. 3-6 for the 75th annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, you don’t have to imagine. You experienced it.

The largest number of registrants ever gathered for the annual event Jan. 3-6, 2019 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center to listen to speakers, attend the ABCA Trade Show (with about 300 vendors) and participate in award celebrations, committee meetings, hotel stove panel discussions while also catching up with old friends and making new ones.

The worlds of professional, college, high school and youth baseball all collided for the advancement of the game.

It was the third time in four years convention attendance has gone up.

The ABCA, which was founded in 1945, continues to grow. The organization estimates it will have more than 12,000 members by the end of 2019.

By comparison, the highest convention attendance four years ago was about 4,500 with membership around 6,000.

Can the organization keep growing?

“I’d say the sky’s the limit,” says Jeremy Sheetinger, ABCA’s College Division Liaison. “But it is about the experience of the coaches in attendance.

“We want to make sure we’re doing right by them.”

It’s a matter of logistics when putting on the world’s biggest baseball convention. There are countless consideration. Some of those are size of the venue and available seating and who will speak and when.

Sheetinger, a former assistant at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and the host of the ABCA Calls from the Clubhouse Podcast, says the addition to the full-time staff of Youth Liaison Andrew Bartman has helped at the grass roots level of the game.

“From our board on down, we’ve taken a more focused approach to serve our youth coaches,” says Sheetinger. “We’re very excited to see the influx of youth coaches. A second day of youth clinics (in Dallas) was well-received.”

Bartman is scheduled to be a speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic, which is scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 17-19 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

Indiana was well-presented from outgoing ABCA President and Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to several coaches at various levels, Indianapolis Scecina High School coach Dave Gandolph has been an association member for four decades and attended many conventions.

Matt Talarico, a former Fort Wayne Dwenger High School and Manchester University player and now assistant coach/director or player development at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, presented on the big stage about base stealing.

An announcement is slated in the spring about the dates and locations of the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics, which run from September through December.

The 2020 ABCA Convention will be held Jan. 2-5, 2020 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. The event returns to the Music City for the seventh time. Registration opens Sept. 1. Room blocks will also open on that date for official ABCA Convention hotels.

The convention is slated for Washington, D.C., in 2021, Chicago in 2022, Nashville in 2023, Dallas in 2024, Washington, D.C. in 2025, Las Vegas in 2026 and Chicago in 2027.

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Indiana native Lance Lynn was represented at the trade show of the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas. (Steve Krah Photo)

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This is one of the many panel discussions held during the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas. (Steve Krah Photo)

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)

Baseball trailblazer Ken Schreiber of LaPorte dies at 83

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The folks of LaPorte, Indiana and beyond got a chance to say “thank you” in the summer of 2016 when a sign was placed at the corner of 10th and I streets.

Ken Schreiber Way salutes the trailblazing baseball coach lived on that four-block stretch of street while building the baseball showplace — which became known as Schreiber Field — in front of it.

From 1960 until stepping down early during the 1998 season, Schreiber won 1,010 games and lost just 217 and gained the respect of thousands — not only in Indiana — but around the baseball world.

The man was elected to 13 sporting halls of fame, including one established by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. He was a founding member of that group back in 1971.

That was four years after his Slicers reigned as state championships in the very first Indiana High School Athletic Association tournament.

Besides 1967, the boys and orange and black would finish atop the Indiana baseball heap six more times on Schreib’s watch and he had to go to his other hand to place all the size 10 1/2 rings.

Schreib was tough. Just ask his wife Judy, who he married in 1960, any of his six children — Eric, Kim, Doug, Dan, Mark and Keith — or anyone who played for and coached with or against him.

But he was also generous. If he thought it would be good for high school baseball, he would be more than generous with his time and resources. He was meticulous in his record-keeping.

All the details and photos came in handy when Slicer Baseball, A Cut Above: A history of LaPorte Baseball was being produced.

This writer made about 100 trips to LaPorte and talked to 150 people tied to Slicer baseball in 2016 for the volume published by Regional Radio Sports Network/Indiana Football Digest/Prime Time Publications.

But the most memorable visits were with the coach, often with his trusty dog Scooter at his feet. He remembered decades-old details like they had just happened.

He recalled growing up on the south side of Chicago, right about where center field at Guaranteed Rate Field now stands and was always a dyed-in-the-wool White Sox rooter.

He fondly talked about his adopted home of Michigan City (he graduated from Elston High School in 1953 and Valparaiso University in 1958) and why he stayed in LaPorte even when he got offers to coach in college.

Loyalty and a sense of community meant something to Kenneth William Schreiber.

That’s why LaPorte and the baseball community and at large is going to miss Schreib, who died Friday, Sept. 8 at 83.

The word legend gets thrown around pretty liberally these days. But  this guy was just that. He was truly one of a kind.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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Ken Schreiber addresses the crowd during a LaPorte Legends Game on July 2, 2016, the day the city dedicated Ken Schreiber Way. Behind the Hall of Famer are long-time assistant Bob Schellinger, former player, coach and current head coach Scott Upp, wife Judy Schreiber and former player and long-time assistant Dave Reed. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Northwest Indiana Oilmen strike it rich in baseball fun, development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After another season of diamond progress, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen are again in the Midwest Collegiate League title hunt.

The summer collegiate wood bat baseball club that calls Whiting’s Oil City Stadium home has qualified for the playoffs in each of its six seasons.

The Oilmen went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed (Bloomington, Ill., beat Northwest Indiana 3-1 Tuesday, Aug. 1 in Game 1 of a best-of-3 semifinals series). Game 2 was slated for Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Bloomington with Game 3 (if necessary) Thursday, Aug. 3 at Oil City. Home games have been broadcast live on the team’s Facebook page.

Don Popravak and Adam Enright have been with the Oilmen for each campaign. Popravak is president and owner while Enright is in his third season as head coach after three summers as an assistant.

A veteran of more than three decades in marketing, Popravak conceived the idea of the team, negotiated with the City of Whiting for the use of the stadium and has built the Oilmen brand.

Enright is a Munster High School graduate who played at South Suburban College and then helped the University of Southern Indiana to an NCAA Division II national championship (2010). After one year each at Chicago State University and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he is entering his fifth season as an assistant at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill.

TCC Trolls head coach Justin Huisman is a former Oilmen head coach. Huisman played at the University of Mississippi and pitched briefly with the 2004 Kansas City Royals.

Popravak, a Chicago native who grew up minutes from Whiting and played baseball and football at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., has watched the Midwest Collegiate League (founded in 2010) grow and greatly improve its ability to attract top-notch talent. Dozens of former MCL players have been drafted by Major League Baseball clubs, including six in 2017. Others have gone on to independent professional baseball.

Left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, recently traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Los Angeles Dodgers, played for the Illinois Jayhawks in the MCL’s first season.

Third baseman Paul DeJong played in the MCL with the Will County CrackerJacks (2012) and DuPage County Hounds (2013).

Former Oilmen player and Munster High graduate Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University and is now an outfielder the minors with the Chicago White Sox.

Hammond Bishop Noll Institute graduate Matt Pobereyko was a player and pitching coach with the Oilmen before going to independent baseball. He was with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and, after another indy stint, is now a New York Mets farmhand.

John Ely, who pitched for the Dodgers in 2010, 2011 and 2012, managed the Southland Vikings and is now a coach in the White Sox system.

“He credits his experience of coaching at this level,” says Popravak. “We have quality guys working with players and developing their careers.”

Former big league pitcher Marvin Freeman has been a pitching coach for Southland, where former Oilmen player Kevin Franchetti is now manager. Franchetti played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High School and then at Ball State University.

Popravak said the teams in the MCL — Oilmen in Indiana and Bloomington Bobcats, Crestwood Panthers, DuPage County Hounds, Joliet Admirals and Southland Vikings in Illinois  — are “all on the same page with finding and developing the best talent.”

“We want them go back to their colleges and be an impact player,” says Popravak.

Unique to summer collegiate baseball, the MCL has some players that play in the league before they ever step on a university campus.

“That’s a real advantage for a college coach,” says Popravak. “That young players who’s hungry can get 250 at-bats against college pitching and work their mistakes out early so they can go to a college campus and compete for a job.”

Corey Ray played for Southland before going to the University of Louisville and is now in the Brewers system.

Donivan Williams impressed the Cardinals enough after playing with the Oilmen that they signed him and he by-passed college. The 18-year-old third baseman from Oak Lawn, Ill., is now playing in the Gulf Coast League.

The MCL roster limit is 35 and many are in the mound mix. There are several college underclassmen who have had a low number of innings in the spring.

“The summer gives them an opportunity to shine,” says Popravak. “We don’t want to overuse pitchers.

“Our goal is to always send the player back to college healthy.”

Enright and assistant coach Patrick Antone (who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell at Chesterton High School, coached with Pishkur at Andrean and was recently named head coach at Boone Grove High School) have watched the Oilmen consistently perform on the bump in 2017.

“The reason we’ve done so well this year is our pitching,” says Enright. “I don’t think we’ve been deeper. It’s a good mix of guys with a lot of talent.

“We have overall depth with our position players. We mix and match lineups a lot. I make sure each of our guys have at least 100 at-bats if they are with us all season. It’s more about development than winning.”

The six MCL teams play each other 10 times during a 50-game regular season leading into a four-team, two-tier playoff format (both best-of-3).

Using his connections, Enright built the Oilmen roster with most of the players commuting from a radius of about 90 minutes from Whiting.

“I’m starting to build up some pretty good relationships with schools throughout the Midwest at all levels,” says Enright. “We like the local flavor that people in the community and the region are familiar with.”

The longest road trip for the Oilmen is about two hours to Bloomington.

Enright played for two respected baseball men in Munster’s Bob Shinkan and USI’s Tracy Archuleta and took from both in developing his own leadership style.

“Those two guys shaped who I am as a coach,” says Enright. “I bring my own flavor to the game and coaching. But I make sure guys have positive experiences. Happy players are productive players. I want guys getting the most out of each other and play together to win baseball teams.”

Enright says neither Shinkan or Archuleta do much yelling, but are “the type of coach you don’t want to let down.”

Shinkan is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.

“He makes you enjoy the process and being out there everyday,” says Enright of his high school coach. “It’s about having fun while doing what you need to do to be the best player you can be.”

Enright appreciates the cerebral side of Archuleta’s coaching.

“He will put the game straight into your brain and make you think of it all levels you’ve never done before,” says Enright.

The fans, who turned out for MCL games and a series this summer against the Serbian National Team, get a chance to enjoy baseball played in a park plotted on 119th Street near homes, oil rigs and not far from the water.

“It’s a special place,” says Enright. “The community really loves it. It’s a premier facility. You can’t ask much more for a summer collegiate team. Good product on the field and really nice atmosphere to watch a game in. When the wind blows you can hear the waves off Lake Michigan.”

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