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Enright emphasizes mental approach with Wheeler Bearcats

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

Jeff Enright sees baseball as more than just physical. There’s what goes on between the ears, too.
“Baseball is kind of a unique sport,” says Enright, the head coach at Wheeler (Ind.) High School since the summer of 2019. “There’s so much thought that goes into every position and every pitch.
“There’s the mental approach and how to overcome short-term adversity.”
Players will face a bad call by the umpire or have a sure hit robbed by a great catch, but they must move forward or it becomes a negative.
“That’s what I enjoy most about coaching baseball,” says Enright. “You try to put them in healthy stressful situations as much as you can during the off-season.
“You make them uncomfortable and failing and then you build them back up.”
Enright equates mental training with mental health.
“These kids are 14 to 18,” says Enright. “They are still growing emotionally. Their highs are too high and lows too low.”
The coach goes for even-keel.
“We say you’re never as bad or as good as you think you are,” says Enright. “We talk about it all the time.”
For every four practices on the baseball field, the Bearcats are in the class room going over the last few practices or games. Enright likes to do this debriefing on a rainy day.
Wheeling won the program’s sixth sectional title in 2021.
While right-handed pitcher Rex Stills (9-1, 1.37 earned run average, 100 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings) and infielder Sean Conroy have moved on — Stills to Purdue Fort Wayne and Conroy to Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Calif.
Returnees for 2022 include senior outfielder Nehemiah Parrish, senior catcher/outfielder Dylan Passauer, senior corner infielder/right-hander Kole Hutcheson, junior shortstop Kris Kingery, junior right-hander/outifleder Mason Leckrone, sophomore utility man Mark Johnson, sophomore right-hander Lucas McNamara and sophomore third baseman/designated hitter Jackson Smith.
Parrish, who plans to enter the U.S. Marines after graduation, hit .414 with 30 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases in 2021.
Passauer has committed to the University of Northwestern Ohio.
Kingery is expected to be the Bearcats’ lead-off hitter.
Leckrone and Hutcheson are likely the team’s top two starting pitchers.
Johnson (.317, 13 RBI) and Smith (.355, 19 RBI) are coming off solid offensive seasons.
Of the 21 players in the program, most are juniors and sophomores.
“For a (Class) 2A school we’re pretty deep this year,” says Enright.
Wheeler (enrollment around 450) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with baseball members Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, River Forest and Whiting).
With the addition of Illiana Christian, the conference is broken into divisions with teams playing two games with their division and one against squads in the other division. Wheeler is paired with Calumet New Tech, Lake Station Edision, River Forest and Whiting.
The Bearcats do not have a conference JV schedule but has scheduled JV games on days when the varsity does not play.
“I want to get the young guys some reps,” says Enright.
Wheeler is part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bowman Academy, Hammond Bishop Noll, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Whiting (host).
Enright’s varsity assistant is Joe Kennedy, who was a player for Enright at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. Enright was an assistant for the 2013 Class 4A Illinois state champions.
JV coaches are Union Township Middle School teacher Sean Cunningham and Alex Hutman (Wheeler Class of 2021).
Wheeler is due to get new baseball and softball fields with turf. First up is the turfing of the football field. The diamonds will be located on the other end of the property from their current locations.
“It may not be pure baseball in the traditional sense, but as soon as it stops raining you can play,” says Enright of playing on turf. “In our area of the country it’s tough to get a baseball season in in the spring.”
Wheeler is small incorporated Valparaiso community. The feeder system for the baseball program include Union Township Little League (T-ball through Senior League for middle schoolers).
Enright estimates that around 75 percent of players are with travel organizations, including Triple Crown Valparaiso, 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs and Cangelosi Sparks (Lockport, Ill.). Some also play American Legion ball for Post 502 Blaze coached by Bob Wineland.
An alum of Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Ill. (1995), Enright with a double major in History and Political Science from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1999. He went to Chicago-Kent College of Law and practiced product liability law at Schiff Hardin LLC in Chicago.
It was while clerking for a judge during law school that he got the idea that he might one day want to go into education. He teaches History and U.S. Government at Wheeler.
Before landing with the Bearcats, Enright was head coach at Calumet Tech. The 11 years prior to that was spent at Mount Carmel. He moved up from freshmen coach to sophomore coach and varsity assistant while working with Caravan head coach Brian Hurry.
“I learned most about coaching from him,” says Enright of Hurry. “The biggest thing was how to have a personal relationship with each kid to try to maximize their potential.”
A member of the Chicago Catholic League, Mount Carmel players are recruited while in middle school.
“We get to know them in sixth and seventh grade as you’re trying to entice them to come to your school,” says Enright. “You hope you know how they tick.”
During his time at Mount Carmel, the baseball community rallied over a series of tragedies. Complications of a heart defect took Steven “Stevie” M. Bajenski in 2009 (the first Steven M. Bajenski Memorial Baseball Tournament was played in 2012). The Caravan also lost a coach to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and another player passed on July 4.
“It brought everybody closer together,” says Enright. “Everybody was reeling.”
Jeff and wife Kerry have three children in the Union Township School Corporation — junior Emily (16), eighth grader Sarah (14) and sixth grader Jack (11).

Jeff Enright

Veteran baseball coach Smith assisting travel ball space with Diamond Allegiance

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

Tracy Smith became a head coach in NCAA Division I baseball at 30.
For the next quarter century, the Indiana native taught the game and developed relationships with players, families and others.
Smith grew up in Kentland — a small town of less than 2,000 folks in Newton County — learning fundamentals from Donald “Tater” Blankenship and then playing baseball and basketball for Denny Stitz at South Newton High School.
Other mentors include (college baseball coach) Jon Pavlisko, (minor league manager and coach) Brad Mills and Bill Harford, (Miami University Middleton basketball coach) Jim Sliger and (father-in-law and former MUM athletic director) Lynn Darbyshire.
Tracy and wife Jaime have three sons — Casey (as in Casey At The Bat), Ty (as in Ty Cobb) and Jack (as in Jackie Robinson) — and are grandparents.
Smith, who played at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and in the Chicago Cubs system, led programs at Miami Middletown, Miami and Indiana University — taking to the Hoosiers to the College World Series and receiving National Coach of the Year honors in 2013 — before becoming head coach at Arizona State University. Not including the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign, he took the Sun Devils to four NCAA regional appearances in six seasons. His ASU teams won 201 games.
In June 2021, Smith was let go at Arizona State. He saw it as an opportunity to focus his energy on a venture called Diamond Allegiance — an organization dedicated to reimagining travel baseball. He had been serving on its board for a couple of years.
“I looked at it as my way of giving back to help the game of baseball bigger and more impactful than maybe the 35 guys in the locker room that I’ve coached over my entire career,” says Smith of his reason for diving in full-time with Diamond Allegiance. “I’ve been working hard and pulling in some of my friends.
“You’ve got this army of former professional players and big league players that want to give back to the game as well.”
Smith, 56, is CEO for Diamond Allegiance and works with an Executive and Advisory Board committee that features current collegiate coaches Erik Bakich (University of Michigan) and Kevin O’Sullivan (University of Florida) and former Oregon State University coach Pat Casey. Matt Gerber is head of player business and development. Two-time softball gold medalist and ESPN analyst Michele Smith is also board member.
The OSU Beavers won three CWS titles on Casey’s watch (2006, 2007 and 2018) while O’Sullivan’s Gators reigned in 2017.
According to its website, Diamond Allegiance “helps members run better businesses, augments their player development capabilities, provides more career opportunities for coaches, reduces the cost for families/players, and increases participation of underrepresented communities. We generate this impact through a powerful mix of partnerships, services, technology, and philanthropy.”
Partners include Canes Baseball, the Indiana Bulls and many more.
Says Smith, who grew up playing Babe Ruth ball and for Remington (Ind.) American Legion Post 280: “As a coach you’re always on the receiving end of kids coming up through the travel ball system. I don’t want to say the system was broken because it’s not. People in the travel ball business do an unbelievable job. The industry itself has become more of a showcase/exposure industry and not as much development.
“We want to focus on the development piece.”
Diamond Allegiance, which was officially launched at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, offers a 12-month development system with text designed by Bakich that is currently not on the market.
At Chicago came the first chance for feedback from the baseball industry. High school coaches without access to travel baseball in their areas approached asking if they can tap into Diamond Allegiance resources.
“They will have access to a version of what we’re doing,” says Smith.
A predictive mechanism powered by CURVE, which creates a score taking into account brain, ball and body data that tells how high a player might go is another Diamond Allegiance perk.
Partners receive the ability to reach college conferences and coaches, push content to their coaches and team while building brand and culture. There is also access to top baseball industry leaders and the best tech providers.
Sandy Ogg, a CEO developer for Fortune 500 companies who Smith met through former Indiana University senior associate athletic director and current Diamond Sports Foundation CEO Tim Fitzpatrick, is part of Diamond Allegiance.
Members get marketing and branding services and assistance with their businesses.
“Owners can run better businesses and be more efficient in those practices,” says Smith. “They can make money that they’ll reinvest into creating and providing opportunities for kids who can’t afford to play.
“I’m very passionate and have always been very passionate about creating opportunities for kids who can’t be a part of it. When you look at our rosters over time we’ve tried to have a diverse roster. We really made a conscious effort to beat the bushes to find kids to play.”
The idea is to provide value and assistance in making important decisions.
“I see the amount of money families spend on getting their kid a college scholarship,” says Smith. “On a $5,000 college scholarship they’re spending $20,000 a year.
“We want to provide direction. It’s OK to spend that money, but let’s spend it wisely.”
Diamond Sports Foundation allows families an opportunity to apply for help to offset or — in some cases — totally fund the travel ball experience.
Diamond Allegiance will share knowledge to help guide parents and players through this recruiting process
“There’s this myth out there that if you don’t play Power Five baseball (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) that in some way, share or form you have failed. I’ve always hated that,” says Smith. “Anytime I would talk to groups, families and kids I would say every one of you can play beyond high school. There’s a place for you to do that. You just have to find the right fit.
“One of the things we’re going to be doing with Diamond Allegiance is giving families and kids true direction so that they can reach their aspiration.”
Knowing that others have attempted to do the same thing, Smith addresses question about the Diamond Allegiance difference.
“We’ve got a really, really good group of people that are passionate about making this game better,” says Smith, who has been talking with up to 10 travel programs a week. “You have people that are motivated to do right and do well by the game.
“It will not fail.”
To learn more, visit diamondallegiance.com. To apply for a partnership, email hello@diamondallegiance.com.

A video on the Diamond Allegiance organization.
Tracy Smith, former head baseball coach at Miami University Hamilton, Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), Indiana University and Arizona State University, is now CEO for Diamond Alliance, a group which assists in the travel ball world. (Arizona State University Photo)

Former UIndy assistant Hutchison now running the baseball show at Lake Erie

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

Landon Hutchison spent five seasons (2017-21) as an assistant baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis.
The former right-handed pitcher graduated from Liberty Union High School in Baltimore, Ohio, then played four seasons at the University of Rio Grande (Ohio). He followed that up with two seasons a Red Storm graduate assistant before UIndy, where he worked primarily with pitchers.
Last July, Hutchison followed former Greyhounds head coach Gary Vaught as the leader of the program at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, 30 miles northeast of Cleveland.
“I’m extremely excited for this opportunity,” says Hutchison, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “I can’t thank all the guys who coached with me (including Vaught, Al Ready and Trevor Forde at Indianapolis and Brad Warnimont at Rio Grande).”
While he was still in Indianapolis at the beginning, Hutchison started at Lake Erie in the middle of the summer recruiting season.
“I immediately started hitting the needs,” says Hutchison. “We have a very strong 2022 (recruiting class) and we got the pieces that we needed to be competitive.
“It’s looking bright for the future.”
Besides Ohio, Hutchison counts players from Indiana (Calumet New Tech’s Caleb Deel), California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Argentina, Canada and Mexico on the published roster.
Hutchison says he wants to carry a large number of players.
“Division II schools typically get more arms and having that depth helps a lot,” says Hutchison.
There is also competition with the team.
“(Players) know that there’s guys that are going to try to take their job and then next year it’s going to be the exact same way,” says Hutchison. “But I’m trying not to over-recruit and be as honest as I can during the recruiting process. The recruiting board is sitting right there for any guy that comes to visit.
“Once that position’s done, that position’s done. I don’t want a situation where I have six shortstops, 18 outfielders or anything like that. Once that (desired) number is hit that class is done.”
Through his involvement with Pastime Tournaments while in Indiana, Hutchison was able to cultivate relationships and identify some talent.
“(Pastime Tournaments president) Tom Davidson was unbelievable in helping me get to where I am now with my career,” says Hutchison. “He knew that was the end goal.”
Like UIndy, Lake Erie is an NCAA Division II school (the Storm are in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference).
The difference for Hutchison is that he now has a hand in all aspects of the team — from scheduling and travel accommodations and all facets of the game. With that in mind, he attended many ABCA Convention sessions on the position player side of things.
“The relationships are a little bit broader now,” says Hutchison, who has hired two graduate assistant and a volunteer coach to help him. “Rather than just the pitching staff and a handful of position players, it’s every guy.
“It’s been my goal to create a great culture and the guys understand that we really care about them. We’re trying to have their best interests with everything we do with the development side of things and education.
“We had one of the highest team GPA’s (last semester) that we’ve had in a long time.”
Hutchison will also be able to use technology and training aids in his new position, including products from Rapsodo, Blast Motion and Driveline.
Lake Erie is to open the 2022 season Feb. 25 in Evansville against the University of Southern Indiana.

Lake Erie College head baseball coach Landon Hutchison at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Butcher, Saint Francis gets attention of NAIA baseball world

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

When Dustin Butcher took over as head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., following the 2018 season, the former Cougar player and assistant coach (2008-17) had high hopes.
“Committed to make history” was the motto.
USF went 13-40 in his first season in charge (2019). The was followed by 10-11 in a campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic (2020).
Then came the 2021 season and a mark of 34-22 overall (a school record for single-season victories) and a 23-13 ledger in the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League.
“We’ve opened some eyes about Saint Francis baseball,” says Butcher, who an attendee at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “We’ve increased our talent pool a lot (from the best player on down). We’ve taken off and narrowed the gap.
“There’s competition across the board. I believe competition is vital.”
Butcher likes it when his No. 1 and No. 2 player at any given position are challenging each other at practice.
“Every rep matters,” says Butcher. “A guy doesn’t go get to a ball and the guy competing against you got that ball. You’re not in the weight room as much as you should be. The guy that’s beating you is in the weight room consistently.
“It’s fun to watch these guys compete their rear end off. We are going to put the guy out there that performs and we back up what we say.”
Butcher has also watched his players achieve as students.
“We had a GPA of 3.4 (as a team) this past semester and it’s consistently gone up,” says Butcher, who earned a psychology degree from USF and Masters in Psychology from Ball State University. “What’s crazy is that when you get smart kids you throw things at them a little bit different and can challenge them a little more about the game.”
Butcher has not only seen the talent pool gap shrink, but another facet has improved.
“We’ve increased our athleticism tenfold,” says Butcher. “Athletes just find ways. They move their body in different ways.”
Many Cougars were multi-sport athletes in high school.
“When they come to us and they’re just focusing on baseball and lifting like a baseball player their talent ceiling gets pushed higher and higher because it’s like they’re only focusing on one thing,” says Butcher. “I think that’s helped. I really do.”
In 2021, Butcher had Connor Lawhead and Kristian Gayday as assistant coaches and Dylan Farwell (a scout school graduate) as a student assistant who helps with strength and conditioning.
Lawhead has since gone Whitman College in Walla, Walla, Wash., and Tanner Gaff has taken his place on the staff.
“Coach Lawhead helped out tremendously with the culture as had KG,” says Butcher. “I trust them coaching my son (Nolan) and that’s the highest compliment you can pay any coach.”
Gaff has made the transition from a Saint Francis pitcher in 2021 to leading USF pitchers.
“I love the energy he has,” says Butcher. “He has done as well as I’ve ever seen to going from a player relationship with his buddies to now being their coach and there is no gray area.
“He is Coach Gaff. He does a great job of relating with the guys, but also having a plan like Coach Lawhead had.”
Other former Cougar players helping out including Kyle Baker with catcher, Brady Harris with infielders and Noah Freimuth with outfielders.
Butcher also credits the impact of assistant athletic trainer Lindsey Foust.
“She does a really good job in terms of flexibility, movement patterns and being effiicent,” says Foust. “It’s about keeping them healthy and getting them back on the field (after an injury) as soon as possible.”
Saint Francis — with 17 freshmen — is scheduled to open the 2022 season Feb. 4 at Bethel (Tenn.). The first game at Cougar Field is slated for March 4 against Crossroads League rival Huntington.

University of Saint Francis (Ind.) baseball coach Dustin Butcher at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Anderson grad Earley now guiding hitters at Texas A&M

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

Michael Earley has a knack for developing elite hitters.
Spencer Torkelson was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State University. His hitting coach was 2006 Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate Earley.
“Texas A&M hired a rising star in the coaching ranks with the addition of Mike Earley,” said former ASU coach Tracy Smith (who led the Indiana University program before his time with the Sun Devils) on the Aggies baseball website. “He is the best I’ve seen in my career at developing hitters. However, Coach Earley’s ability to build rapport by balancing toughness and genuine care for the players is what really makes him special. The Aggies are getting a good one.”
Earley, 33, played one season for Brian Cleary at the University of Cincinnati, three for Smith at Indiana and spent five in the Chicago White Sox system and one in independent ball. He coached in the Pac-12 Conference at Arizona State for five seasons — the last four as hitting coach — and was hired in mid-June of 2021 to mold hitters for Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference.
“I could’ve stayed at Arizona State, but I wanted to explore and see what else was out there,” says Earley, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “I talked to a few schools and ended up at Texas A&M. I could not be happier. It’s been a really, really fun time and a great experience.
“Head coach Jim Schlossnagle was a big draw for me. I think he’s the sharpest guy in the game and he’s someone I want to learn from and work for.”
Earley hit the recruiting trail right after joining the Aggies staff. Recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain directed hitters his way.
“He’s really, really good at finding talent and how to communicate,” says Earley of Cain. “I try to help him as much as I can.”
Coming to College Station and the Brazos Valley with his own ideas on hitting, Earley has also incorporated offensive ideas from Schlossnagle.
“It’s evolving every year,” says Earley. “I don’t think I’ve ever been quite the same every year though its the same base and foundation.
“I mean it’s (NCAA) Division I baseball. The SEC is a step up from the Pac-12, but there’s a lot of good teams and players in the Pac-12 as well. It’s not going to be anything too much different. It’s really a lot of hard work.”
Earley enjoyed his time with Torkelson, a right-hitting third baseman in the Detroit Tigers organization.
“He’s by far the best hitter I’ve work with to date,” says Earley. “If I ever work with one that again it will be like hitting the baseball lottery.
“He’s a generational talent for me. What separates him is not only is he just really, really good, he’s more competitive than anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant type. I’m gonna beat you and you’re not gonna beat me.”
The year before Torkelson went was the top pick in the draft, lefty-hitting outfielder Hunter Bishop was taken out of ASU with the 10th overall pick by the San Francisco Giants.
Arizona State has elite baseball facilities and so does Texas A&M, which plays in Blue Bell Park. Renovations are on the way for a stadium built in 2012.
“The SEC has become an arms race,” says Earley, who says new seating is coming along with a fresh hitting facility and weight room. “This place is already really, really nice.
“I don’t know how we’re going to upgrade it but we are and it’s going to be bigger and better. And then — I’m sure — in another 15 years we’ll probably do it all over again.”
Besides Schlossnagle, associate head coach Nate Yeskie, Cain and Earley as coaches, there’s a support that with a director of baseball operations (Jason Hutchins), director of player and program development (Chuck Box), sports performance coach (Jerry McMillan) and director of video and analytics (Will Fox).
Earley says analytics are very helpful when used the right way.
“You don’t want paralysis by analysis,” says Earley. “You find what works for you. There’s definitely a benefit in the game for analytics, but there’s an old word called competing and that can’t get lost.”
Nolan Earley, Michael’s brother, is a 2009 Anderson High graduate who played three years at the University of Southern Alabama and in the White Sox organization and independent ball (He played 96 games for the Frontier League Southern Illinois Miners in 2021). He is in Arizona running the Phoenix Hit Dogs.
“It’s a development-first travel program,” says Michael Early of the organization started in 2020. “Everyone says they are, but they’re actually not. They’re just trying to win and get the trophies. We’re actually trying the develop and I think it’s a success.”

Texas A&M assistant baseball coach Michael Earley at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

For Anderson U. coach Bair, it’s about more than what happens on the field

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

Matt Bair has been head baseball coach at his alma mater — Anderson (Ind.) University — for four seasons.
Save 2020 in which the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the campaign to nine games, the Ravens have averaged 23 victories and qualified for the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) postseason each time with Bair in control.
Anderson produced the HCAC Pitcher of the Year (John Becker) in 2018 and HCAC Player of the Year (Joe Moran) in 2019.
The ’21 Ravens went 23-19 overall, 20-17 in the conference and 14-7 on Don Brandon Field.
Those are accomplishments, but it’s not what Bair (who earned his bachelor’s degree in Education at AU in 2001 and his Master’s degree in Athletic Administration from at Ball State University in 2005) hangs his hat on.
“More than anything you just want to instill a great culture and great chemistry into these guys and give them a unified vision that we can get behind as a program,” says Bair, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “We try to give them some missions that they can focus on every single day. As much as anything, I just try to show them how much I love them beyond the field of play. I feel like we’ve been able to do that successfully within the program.
“At the same time we’ve been able to bring in some really talented recruits.”
Anderson opens the 2022 season Feb. 12 at Sewanee (Tenn.). Games are slated against Otterbein, Wittenberg and Concordia Chicago Feb. 25-26 at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. The first home game is to be March 5 against St. Norbert.
All the while the words of former Ravens coach — Dr. Don Brandon — echoes.
“The best is yet to come,” says Bair of the Hall of Famer’s motto. “We’ve got guys who believe the best is on the horizon. But they love where they are. They know they’re surrounded by people that love them and who think about them more than just baseball players.
“They’re in a great place where they can grow personally, professionally and as a player.”
There are 41 players on the current published roster and all but one has a hometown in Indiana. The backgrounds are varied and so is the knowledge.
“We want to bring guys into our program that don’t necessarily think just like we think,” says Bair. “We like to be challenged. We’re looking for recruits who fit the core skill sets of what we think can be a championship-caliber player.
“More importantly, they have the character that we’re looking for in an Anderson University baseball player. We want guys with really high competitive motors but, ultimately, they care as much about their teammates, the game and the love of the process that they’re going through as they do themselves.”
The Ravens are part of NCAA Division III.
“D-III is kind of a unique model,” says Bair. “We get them for a certain period of time in the fall. Then you don’t totally set them free, but you’re not having daily interactions with them. They’ll send you a text or a phone call, but you’re not coaching them for awhile.
That’s where self-motivators and some leaders come in, guiding the team until they get back together with coaches in January.
To help AU players prepare for this phase, they are in classroom sessions and learning about this mentality.
“When they do have some time that’s on their own they’re not lost and still feel that the time can be well-spent,” says Bair. “I think it’s important that the onus falls on them because that is life.
“When they leave Anderson University there’s not going to be a person standing there telling them why, where and how. They’re going to have to be able to go out and self-create and self-motivate, punch through the red tape at times to get what it is that they want.”
The goal is for the student-athlete to receive a degree in four years. It is a balancing act with time for classes and studying as well as games and practices.
“We work and collaborate academically and athletically,” says Bair. “I know they relationships I have with those professors and how hard they work to allow our guys flexibility in their day and in their schedule so that they don’t feel torn between the two.”
For the most part, classes are complete by 3 p.m., making way for team practice. But sometimes small groups for pitchers or hitters will meet in blocks during the day to get in work.
“We set it up that way to be done with practice in plenty of time for them to get on with their evening and — you know — enjoy campus life and be able to study, take care of their diet and nutrition, and get the rest they need.”

Anderson (Ind.) University head baseball coach Matt Reida at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Western, Kentucky alum Reida embraces new role in return to Alabama

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

Matt Reida’s second go-round on the University of Alabama baseball coaching staff began in June 2021.
After almost a year coaching at the University of Pittsburgh, the graduate of Western High School (Russiaville, Ind.) and the University of Kentucky came back to the Crimson Tide program as an assistant coach. He was a UA volunteer assistant from 2019-20.
Reida has gone from a volunteer at Indiana University to a paid position at Xavier University and back to a volunteer position at Alabama so he knows both sides.
“I’m lucky to be around some really good coaches,” says Reida. “(Volunteer or paid), you just get in there and coach.”
As an NCAA Division I volunteer, coaches don’t get involved in recruiting other than show recruit around campus and they derive most of their income from running camps and conducting lessons.
Welcomed back to the Brad Bohannon-led Alabama staff last summer, Reida went straight into recruiting mode.
“The good thing about Alabama is that it’s such a national brand,” says Reida, who was at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “We tell kids that when (football coach Nick) Saban first got to Alabama two thirds of the students were from in-state and now two-thirds are from out-of-state. So it’s really changed.
“It’s a lot of Alabama and some Atlanta and some Mississippi and Florida. But it’s a pretty diverse locker room. We’ve had a good run of Indiana kids and Midwest kids.”
Indiana is currently represented by Center Grove’s Bryce Eblin. There are also a couple of Canadians and player from California.
“It’s a neat place to recruit to because you get to go all over,” says Reida, who says recruiting nationally is almost easier than go toe-to-toe with other Southeastern Conference teams for talent in the South.
Being an Indiana native coaching in a power conference like the SEC, Reida figures he’s raising the state’s baseball profile — something that young coaches Jared Broughton (Clemson) and Michael Earley (Texas A&M) are also doing.
“Look at the past of Indiana baseball from an amateur standpoint to where it is now,” says Reida. “There’s really, really good players coming out of Indiana right now. Those guys are as good as anywhere in the country.
“Look at the indoor facilities that are in Indiana right now — or even Chicago. In these cold weather climates, it’s easier for those kids to get the work year-round. They didn’t have that opportunity 20 years ago.”
Reida, who was born in Kokomo, Ind., says Major League Baseball is full of players from warm climates because of the very nature of the sport.
“It’s such a repetition game,” says Reida. “The guys with the most reps usually end up being the best players.”
Reida, who graduated from Western in 2010, remembers taking ground balls on a gym floor after basketball practice.
“Now these kids have this beautiful turf indoors that is the exact same as if you were outside. So that’s a huge advantage now for kids from Indiana.”
While reps are key, Reida is also a proponent of baseball players engaging in other sports like basketball.
“It helps you athletically over time,” says Reida. “Some kids are a little more (single-faceted) where they play baseball all the time and don’t develop athletically.”
To play basketball effectively, speed and agility are a part of the package.
Alabama is to open its 2022 season Feb. 18 at home in Tuscaloosa against Xavier. It’s one of 34 regular-season games slated at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

University of Alabama assistant baseball coach Matt Reida at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Brownlee makes diamond impact at Evansville, Illinois State, more

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

Jim Brownlee built a long, successful baseball coaching career on the principles of fundamentals and discipline.
Now 76, retired and living with wife of 51 years — Candy — in Gulf Breeze in the Florida Panhandle (the couple moved there in April 2021), Brownlee can look back on a run that includes 23 seasons as head coach at the University of Evansville (1980-2002), seven seasons at Illinois State University (2003-09) and one season as University of Iowa pitching coach (2013). He was also a longtime basketball official.
“I learned the game of baseball from my college baseball coach Duffy Bass,” says Brownlee of the former Illinois State University head coach and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He was about as good at fundamentals of anybody I’ve been around — whether it was catching, hitting, bunting or pitching. I kind of patterned myself after him.”
A 1963 graduate of Antioch (Ill.) Community High School, Brownlee played for Bass at Illinois State from 1967-70 and was a teammate of future major league pitcher Buzz Capra. The 1969 Collegiate Division National champions went 33-5 and ran the table in the postseason.
“I learned the running game at a very young age,” says Brownlee. “We were very aggressive at Evansville. One year we had 202 stolen bases.
“I had lesser talent at Evansville. We didn’t have the full amount of scholarships. We had guys we thought would get better and they did. We had guys never drafted out of high school that were drafted out of college.
“I think college baseball has always been that way. (Development’s) at an all-time high. But we’re still behind the 8-ball with scholarships and dates. It used to be we had 120 games between fall and spring (at the NCAA D-I level and now it’s 56 games in the spring with 11.7 scholarships for a roster of 35).
“College baseball keeps growing. It’s become a money-maker.”
That money is bound to go even higher if the season was moved into the warmer months.
Says Brownlee, “40 years ago I proposed we play in the summer.”
Brownlee was “hard-nosed” as a coach.
“Discipline is important to me as a retired Marine,” says Brownlee.
After his playing days ended and having served a stint with the U.S. Marines, Brownlee became an assistant baseball coach at Illinois State (1975-76) and was as head coach for the Galesburg Pioneers in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (which later merged with the Prospect League), where he encountered Bloomington Bobcats pitcher Tim Stoddard. The 6-foot-7 right-hander from East Chicago, Ind., was on his way to an MLB career and is now an assistant coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.
Before UE, Brownlee coached at Princeton (Ill.) High School (1976-79).
As Evansville coach, Brownlee won 701 games with four 40-win seasons and seven conference coach of the year honors.
Among his players were future big leaguers Sal Fasano, Andy Benes and Jamey Carroll and Purple Aces head coach Wes Carroll. Benes and the Carroll brothers are Pocket City natives.
The Purple Aces have retired Brownlee’s No. 6 and Benes’ No. 30.
Brownlee has been inducted into the Illinois State University Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the Redbirds’ ’69 national champions, the University of Evansville Athletics Hall of Fame, the Lake County (Ill.) High Schools Sports Hall of Fame, the Bloomington-Normal Officials Association Wayne Meece Hall of Fame and is slated to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame in Evansville in May.
A founding member of the Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League, that group will honor Brownlee with its Legends Award Jan. 15.
Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League supports amateur athletics around the Evansville area. It started as an effort to save Bosse Field, which was established in 1915 and for years was the home to high school baseball and football, American Legion baseball and the Triple-A Evansville Triplets before affiliated pro ball left town.
The stadium, which now houses the independent pro Evansville Otters and was host to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2021, looked to be condemned and torn down back in the ‘80s.
That’s when Brownlee — who had his UE teams playing home games there at the time — got together with former minor league relief pitcher and manager “Singin’ Ed” Nottle and Evansville Central High School coach Paul Gries and brought in folks like Indiana, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer and Rex Mundi High School graduate Bob Griese, former MLB all-star and Evansville Memorial alum Don Mattingly and former big league pitcher and Evansville Central High grad Benes to help raise funds.
Since then, not only has Bosse Field been saved but local high school and college fields have been upgraded.
“It’s about facilities and making it better and showing it’s an important sport,” says Brownlee.
UE now plays on turf at German American Bank at Charles H. Braun Stadium.
“It was a labor of love for all of us,” says Brownlee. “I’m really proud of what we’ve built with the baseball community there.”
Brownlee had both his sons — Tim and Ryan — as UE players and then coached with both of them.
Tim Brownlee was also on the Illinois State staff and employed his father for a decade with his Normal, Ill.-based baseball tournament company — Diamond Sports Promotions. Between Evansville and ISU, Tim assisted his father for 17 seasons.
Ryan Brownlee was an assistant at Evansville (1998-99), James Madison University (2000-03) and Iowa (2004-12) and head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) and is now Assistant Executive Director and weekly podcast host for the Greensboro, N.C.- based ABCA. The ABCA Convention is Jan. 6-9 in Chicago. He plans to appear at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 14-16 in Indianapolis. Jamey Carroll is to go into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame Jan. 15.

Jim Brownlee (University of Evansville Photo)

After pitching in majors, Japan, Bullington scouting for Brewers

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

When Bryan Bullington left Ball State University after his junior year as the No. 1 overall selection in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates he had visions of anchoring a big league starting pitching rotation for a decade or more.
It didn’t go quite like that, but the 6-foot-5 right-hander who had been Indiana Mr. Baseball at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School in 1999 did pitch as a professional until age 34 and returned to the game two years later as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers – a position he has held for the past five years.
“I’m super proud, happy and thankful that I got to play as long as a I did,” says Bullington, who made his MLB debut with Pittsburgh in 2005, pitched in 26 big league games (16 in relief) with the Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, made several minor league stops and hurled four full seasons and part of a fifth in Japan. Starting with an 11-0 ledger, he tossed the first four with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp (38-31 from 2011-14) and the beginning of 2015 with the Orix Buffaloes.
“During my playing career I did a little bit of everything and had different experiences.”
Bullington had labrum surgery in 2005 and missed the 2006 season.
When did not make the big club out of Royals spring training in 2010, (Kansas City drafted him in the 37th round out of high school but he opted for college) Bullington was presented with his first invitation to play in the Far East.
He chose to stay in the U.S. and went to Triple-A Omaha and got into 13 contests that season with Kansas City.
“We had just had twins in the offseason (with a toddler already in the house),” says Bullington, who is married to Lauren. “It felt a little overwhelming.”
Now married 17 years, Bryan and Lauren Bullington reside in the Chicago suburbs with daughter Bella (15 and a high school freshman) and sons Jack and Matthew (both 12 and sixth graders).
In 2011, the interest and opportunity to go to Japan was still there. Bryan did his research then headed to the Land of the Rising Sun – where he enjoyed the baseball and was able to share cultural experiences with his family.
“I loved Hiroshima,” says Bullington. “I had two great interpreters.
“I spoke ‘survival Japanese.’”
He could order a meal or catch a cab.
Bullington was away from pro baseball in 2016 then got a chance to join the Brewers scouting staff in 2017.
“It’s been very educational,” says Bullington, 41. “The game has changed a ton in five years I’ve been doing it.
“(Research and development) and analytics are a big part of the game. I learn something new every year.”
By examining the data, a pitcher can add a pitch to his repertoire, tweak an existing one or adjust its frequency or efficiency.
“We used to be hesitant to mess or tweak with what a guy did later in their career,” says Bullington. “You can put data in front of them and they can see there might be an avenue for growth or improvement.”
While he has helped out in spring training and at fall instructional camp and has helped former Ball State assistant Matt Husted at Wheaton (Ill.) College, Bullington’s role with the Brewers is not as a coach – he does that with his sons – he’s an evaluator.
The past thee years scouting duties have been combined with a mix of amateur and pro assignments.
“My experience in Japan lets me get some international looks as well,” says Bullington, who was traveling over there a time or two each year pre-COVID-19 pandemic.
After the 2021 MLB, Minor League Baseball and amateur seasons, he did go the instructional league and the Arizona Fall League — both in the Phoenix area.
Right now, Bullington is assessing minor league and MLB free agents and preparing for the Rule 5 Draft, which is slated Dec. 9 – the last day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
By rule, players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on their new team’s big league roster all season in 2022, otherwise they must go through waivers and be offered back to their original team.
Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary O’Neal, Bullington went 15-0 as a Madison Consolidated senior, pitching a one-hitter in the 1999 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game.
In three seasons at Ball State, he earned numerous All-American honors and was Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in 2000 and MAC Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and 2002. He set school records of career wins (29), strikeouts (357), single-season strikeouts (139 in 2002), fewest walks per nine innings (1.55 in 2002) and career hit batters (44).
Bullington was with the Cardinals during Rich Maloney’s first stint as head coach.
“I talk to him every couple of months,” says Bullington of Maloney. “He’s been great mentor for me and a coach.”
Taking online classes in the offseason, Bullington completed his degree in Business Administration and Management in 2010.
He was inducted into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014 and MAC Hall of Fame in 2020.

Bryan Bullington (Topps Image)
Bryan Bullington (Getty Images)
Bryan Bullington (Hiroshima Toyo Carp Photo)
Bryan Bullington (Hiroshima Toyo Carp Photo)

Berlin marks 10 years as South Bend Cubs owner; growth on the horizon

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

It was on this date 10 years ago that Andrew T. Berlin purchased the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs from former Governor of Indiana and U.S. Navy veteran Joe Kernan.
Wanting to make the occasion memorable, the transaction came on Veterans Day 2011 – 11-11-11 — at 11:11 a.m.
In the last decade, Berlin and the Minor League Baseball franchise affiliated with the Chicago Cubs have helped make many memories for visitors to Four Winds Field.
“When I think about the last 10 years so much has happened – not just when it comes to baseball or even South Bend but the world at large,” said Berlin to a media gathering at the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Life-changing events have affected all of us as we go through the years.
“It all puts everything into perspective. What’s marvelous about baseball is that it provides a foundation for the gathering of friends and family and loved ones. And I take that job very seriously. It’s not just baseball. It’s about the community. It’s about the people. It’s about having fun and celebrating life. And if there was ever a time to do that, it’s probably now as the world struggles to re-open (from the COVID-19 pandemic).”
Berlin looks at the area near the ballpark and sees a rebirth in the past decade — not only commercial but from a population standpoint.
Downtown South Bend continues to grow the development and continues to enjoy investments,” said Berlin. “It feels safer. It feels more vibrant. And the stadium – I’m happy to say — continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the community as well.”
According to AECOM, the South Bend Cubs provide $24 million annual economic impact to the region (based on information provided by the team).
Through various charitable efforts, the club has donated nearly $1.6 million and invested over $32 million into facilities that would improve not only the ballpark, but the community as a whole.
Plans are in the works to expand Four Winds Field (capacity 5,000 permanent seats), adding an upper deck and more suites.
“There’s tremendous investment that’s going to be done in our ballpark over the next several years,” said Berlin, who put millions of his own dollars into keeping the team in South Bend and upgrading the park. “We’re going to be enlarging the stadium and offering more amenities. And making it a place that is comfortable.”
The park – then known as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium aka “The Cove” — was built in 1987 it cost a little under $4 million. He has been told that to built the same stadium that now exists it would run in the neighborhood of $85 million.
At the time Berlin bought the team from Kernan, Berlin was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago-based Berlin Packaging (he is now part of defense firm Shield AI) and the South Bend Silver Hawks were an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate.
Near the end of 2014 came the opportunity to be tied to the Chicago Cubs.
“That was an extraordinary event for the team,” said Berlin. “But I also have to say it was a fantastic vote of confidence in South Bend and the Michiana region.
“The Chicago Cubs — one of the most-celebrated and oldest brands in all of baseball made the decision to come here rather than going anywhere else.”
Renowned third-generation Chicago White Sox groundskeeper Roger Bossard was brought in to install the field surface and a performance center modeled on the one used by the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., was built at Four Winds Field.
The 1st Source Bank Performance Center is used not only by the pros but by the community.
The stadium is also ringed by four apartment buildings – The Ivy at Berlin Place. It is currently 98 percent occupied with two commercial spaces — one 6,000-square feet and one 4,000-square feet available for lease.
In 2021 — with the restructuring of Minor League Baseball under the oversight of Major League Baseball Player Development Contracts were moved from two- or four-year arrangements to 10. South Bend is in the High-A Central League.
The South Bend Cubs’ lease with the city has 20 more years on it.
After having no games in 2020, South Bend drew 217,066 in 2021. In 2019, that number was 319,616.
The Indiana General Assembly passed the Professional Sports Development Act, which benefits the baseball team and other downtown places and businesses.
“Taxes collected in this area – rather than going down to Indianapolis — can stay here in South Bend and can help pay for some of the renovations for Four Winds Field without increasing taxes across the board. In fact, the PSDA wouldn’t even exist if the South Bend Cubs weren’t here.
Berlin notes that the expansion will help the team better cater its fans food and drink needs.
“Currently we are able to feed everyone in the ballpark with just one small kitchen,” said Berlin. “We’ve been able to make do with this, but in increasing crowds and increasing capacity we’ll have to add more back-of-the-house improvements like kitchens and storage.”
Berlin said light construction will begin before 2023 and then building in-earnest will happen after the 2023 season. In the past, smaller projects have been accomplished during the fall and winter months.
Berlin said he is hopeful that current supply chain and transportation issues that can affect construction will smooth out.
“Since we’re not going to be breaking ground for a little while, I have to think that there will be stabilization of the cost of those materials over time,” said Berlin.
What will the new capacity be?
“I hesitate to give you a percentage of increase, but it will be substantial,” said Berlin. “Of the 70 (home) games were have in the season right now, we’re selling out around 55 to 60 games a season.”
Those numbers are dependent largely upon whether and students being in or out of school for the summer.
Going back to 2011, Berlin was not sure he wanted to buy the South Bend team. He was convinced by Kernan and set about putting together his off-the-field team.
“Joe convinced me that this was a diamond in the rough and so we went forward,” said Berlin. “Once I was in, I was all-in. I learned in hard because I wasn’t going to get into a business and not try to be successful.
“And so I brought all the resources I could possibly muster. I was able to recruit some really amazing talent.”
Ever the optimist, Berlin sees his place in the community as a facilitator of memories.
Married with five children and living in the Chicago area, Berlin tries to spend at least one game per homestand in South Bend. Sometimes when his family is with him and the crowds have gone home, the family has a pick-up game under the Four Winds Field lights.

Andrew T. Berlin. (Steve Krah Video)
Andrew T. Berlin.