By STEVE KRAH
Travel baseball continues to grow in Indiana.
Player are increasingly aligning with organizations for the chance to play more games.
One of the reasons many high school-aged players go with travel teams is to get seen by college coaches who attend showcase tournaments during the college off-season.
As a long-time travel ball coach and head coach at Columbus North High School, Ben McDaniel knows both worlds.
Heading into his fifth season of leading the Columbus North Bull Dogs, McDaniel has been with the Indiana Outlaws and now it’s the Evoshield Canes Midwest. The Indianapolis-based Canes draw players from around Indiana plus Ohio and Kentucky.
One Canes player from the Class of 2021 — catcher Austin Bode — has already verbally committed to the University of Louisville.
“And he hasn’t even played an inning of high school baseball,” says McDaniel of North freshman Bode. “Kids are worried about (playing in college) at earlier ages. More and more, there are coaches at every game. It used to be that I didn’t used to have a roster with me (with contact information and grade-point). Now if you’re going to coach these players, you have got to play the game.”
If McDaniel has his way, the IHSAA rule of allowing coaches to work with just two players at a time three days a week out-of-season would be lifted.
“If the kids going to put the time in, it would be nice to provide the instruction,” says McDaniel, a member of the Indiana High School Coaches Association executive committee. “I think more high school coaches would coach summer baseball if it wasn’t so strict during the summer. The game could go completely to travel and that’s not good for high school baseball.”
McDaniel says the trend now is for recruiting to be handled more by travel coaches — who have more exposure college coaches — than leaders of high school programs.
“I’m very involved (with recruiting) as a high school coach,” says McDaniel. “I know all the (travel) coaches my (Columbus North) kids are player for. You have to work in-tandem. I believe it’s a high school coach’s job to build that relationship with the college coach.”
It’s also important to not over-sell a player. That’s a good way to burn a bridge.
“You come into this world with a few things — your last name and your word,” says McDaniel. “My kids know that if a coach calls me, they’re going to get an honest assessment.”
McDaniel says his No. 1 priority as a coach is getting players who want to play college baseball, the opportunity to do so.
Since becoming North head coach for the 2014 season and winning an IHSAA East Central Sectional title (he was Brian Muckerheide’s assistant in 2013), McDaniel has watched several players sign on with colleges, including ’14 graduate Christian Glass at Xavier University, ’15 graduates Cody Burton at Indiana State University, Evan Finke at Snead State Community College and Devin Mann at Louisville, ’16 graduates Collin Lollar at Ohio State University (he’s now at Wabash Valley College) and son Brice McDaniel at Purdue University (he’s now at Walters State Community College) and ’17 graduates Cooper Trinkle at the University of Evansville, Wade Rankin at Kankakee Community College, Kevin Thompson at Olney Central College and Nolan Wetherald at Marietta College.
Mann represented North as an all-state shortstop and IHSBCA North/South All-Star in 2015. Trinkle was an all-state shortstop as a junior and all-state second baseman as a senior. He and teammate Thompson were both IHSBCA South All-Stars.
Current senior Tyler Finke is to follow brother Evan’s foot steps to Snead State.
Parker Maddox (Class of 2019) and Casper Clark (Class of 2020) have both committed to Indiana University.
Jake Petrusky (Class of 2018) and Jakob Meyer (Class of 2019) have not yet made their college commitments.
McDaniel graduated from Westerville (Ohio) South High School in 1992. His job with Honda brought him to Indiana and it became home. He still works in the automotive industry with Faurecia.
As a baseball coach, he has come to put a lot of stock in mental toughness training.
“I’m firm believer in the mental aspect of the game,” says McDaniel. “It’s an area that is under-taught and underdeveloped.”
Especially on bad weather days when the Bull Dogs can’t get outside, they will spend time doing visualization exercises.
Brian Cain, Justin Dehmer and Indiana’s Dan Thurston (confidenceinbaseball.com) are some of McDaniel’s favorite mental conditioning professionals.
“We used (Thurston) last year and we’ll probably use him again,” says McDaniel. “He worked one-on-one with a pitcher of mine. I saw some of the results first-hand.”
Columbus North advanced to the Class 4A Plainfield Semistate. Before bowing 6-0 to eventual state champion Indianapolis Cathedral, the Dogs won the Bloomington North Sectional (topping East Central 4-3, Columbus East 7-6 and Bloomington South 11-1) and Evansville Reitz Regional (besting Martinsville 3-0 and Evansville Central 7-1).
The Dogs are members of the Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).
In a format change for 2018, all conference teams will play each other once to determine the champion. Before, there were divisions with an end-of-season tournament.
McDaniel works closely with the school administration on North’s non-conference slate.
“I’m constantly trying to improve our strength of schedule,” says McDaniel, who typically sends his teams against the powerhouses around central and southern Indiana and will again take the Dogs to the early-April Super Prep Tournament hosted by Louisville Ballard. The annual event brings some of the best from multiple states.
“It’s a very good measuring stick for us at the start of the season,” says McDaniel, whose team is to play twice Friday and twice Saturday. “We get the toughest schedule I can get to prepare the guys for the postseason.”
Also helping to prepare the team is a staff featuring three pitching coaches — Jason Maddox (third season), Hunter McIntosh (second season) and Daniel Ayers (second season). Ayers pitched in the Baltimore Orioles organization and McIntosh pitched at Alabama State.
McDaniel leaves strength training, professions etc. up to his pitching experts. With their input, he sets the starting rotation and relief assignments.
North has mound depth and the new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) adopted in 2017 really meant they now had something to track and report (to the athletic director) and they developed a third starter in order to deal with the sectional.
“We always kept our guys around the 120 number anyway,” says McDaniel. “Before (the new rule), we did it more based on performance. We didn’t keep our guys on a pitch count. It was what they were conditioned to do.
“We pride ourselves that we’ve never had any arm injury.”
The varsity coaching staff also features Chris Gerth (sixth season), Will Nelson (second season) and speed and agility instructor Nathan Frasier.
Junior varsity coaches are Mike Bodart (fifth season) and Alex Engelbert (second season). North typically plays 24 to 28 JV games per spring.
The Bull Dogs play their games at Southside Elementary School near the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds — about five miles from the high school campus. The five-year facility features a locker room that’s equipped with a sound system and a TV to watch instructional videos plus ping pong and air hockey tables.
“The community gave us a pretty nice complex,” says McDaniel. “We take pride in the facility. Having a place to call their own is something special.”
Players and coaching tend to field maintenance.
“It instills a little discipline and appreciation into the kids,” says McDaniel.
Ben McDaniel is head baseball coach at Columbus North High School and also coaches for the Evoshield Canes Midwest travel organization. He also serves on the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive committee.