Tag Archives: Clemson University

Wherever he goes, Smith takes a big piece of Elkhart with him

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

Ron Smith’s career has taken him away from his hometown.
A 1974 graduate of Elkhart (Ind.) Memorial High School, he played baseball and basketball at Furman (S.C.) University, coached basketball at Miami University-Middletown (Ohio) and Middletown High School and was head baseball coach for 23 years at Furman, resigning after the 2016 season and still resides in the Palmetto State.
“I love South Carolina,” says Smith, who is in both the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame. “But Elkhart will always be my home.”
It was as a first grader that Smith began playing baseball at the City With A Heart’s Hawthorne Little League. He lived about two blocks away from Pierre Moran Park, wandered up one day and was on a team the next.
After that came Studebaker Park and Babe Ruth League at Elkhart FOP Park.
“We had good coaches throughout,” says Smith. “It was a great experience.
“I was so fortunate to grow up in Elkhart.”
It was also in elementary school that Smith learned from a coach that at his size he had better develop both hands as a basketball player.
“I really took that to heart,” says Smith, who shined on the court for head coaches Keith Dougherty (Elkhart), Jim Powers (Elkhart Memorial) and Joe Williams (Furman).”
The year before starting at Furman, Williams guided Jacksonville and Artis Gilmore to the NCAA championship game against UCLA.
On the prep diamond, Smith played three years for Dick Siler — one at Elkhart and two at Memorial.
“I took a little bit from all of those people,” says Smith. “Their influence was certainly impactful for me.”
Smith was the starting shortstop in his sophomore season of 1972. Steered Siler, Elkhart won the Elkhart Sectional and South Bend Regional and bowed 3-0 to eventual semistate champion Hammond Morton in the semifinals of the South Bend Semistate.
The following year Elkhart split into two schools.
“I think we would have been a state championship team the next year,” says Smith. “But instead we split. Central and Memorial had two pretty good teams. But they did not have the pitching depth to be really good.”
Smith says he would have loved playing as a teammate of Tom Calhoun instead of trying to fight through a Tom Eastman pick while guarding Calhoun in crosstown Memorial-Central rivalry basketball games.
Beginning with the fall of 2020, athletic teams in Elkhart began playing as one and were called the Lions. The town again has one high school.
“I was very happy to see a united Elkhart,” says Smith, who attended a few Lions football game with great nephew Quinn Rost (Class of 2025) as sophomore quarterback. “It’s really neat.”
Smith is uncle to Jacquie Rost, who is head volleyball coach and an athletic director at Elkhart and married to head baseball coach Scott Rost.
“I’m so proud of her and Scott,” says Smith. “(Class of 2021’s Dylan and Quinn) are the kind of boys I would love to have on my team.
“They are ‘team’ guys.”
Teachers — like Coe Strain — were also helpful to Smith along his journey.
An ardent follower of sports, Mrs. Strain got choir singer Smith involved in drama.
“I was probably the only athlete involved in the first musical,” says Smith. “But my senior year there were five or six.
“I developed an appreciation. The teamwork that is required for a drama production or a musical is very similar to that in the athletic endeavor.
“Everybody has to execute. Everybody has a part to play.”
Smith, a three-year letterwinner in tennis, basketball and baseball, earned the Tim Bringle Memorial Award as Elkhart’s top senior male athlete in 1974.
He was at Furman when he was selected in the ninth round of the 1977 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent parts of five seasons in the Phillies system, including five a Triple-A. The first few years he was still playing basketball at Furman during the winter.
After leaving college in his senior year, Smith went to spring training in Clearwater, Fla., with hopes of making the Double-A team in Reading, Pa.
“I had a good spring and felt good about things,” says Smith, who was one of 175 minor leaguers competing for 125 roster slots on five teams. “They called me in and said you really did but we like this Ryne Sandberg. I said, ‘Sandberg can’t make the play in the hole’ — which is true — but they moved him to second base and he had a Hall of Fame career.”
Smith also spent time playing behind future long-time major leaguer Julio Franco while also sitting near the manager when he was not in the game.
“I listened and learned,” says Smith.
When he was released as a player, Smith accepted an offer to manage the Phillies team in Helena, Mont., in 1982.
“I think I was the youngest manager in all of professional baseball,” says Smith.
When a new ownership/front office regime came to Philadelphia, Smith was among those to be let go.
“That was fine,” says Smith. “I was really into coaching basketball.
“I was ready to get out (of baseball).”
Then came the opportunity to possibly coach baseball at Furman.
Smith was enjoying his time at Middletown High when he was having a conversation with a mentor about his situation.
“He said — first of all what does your wife want to do?,” says Smith. “Then think about this: How many (NCAA) Division I baseball programs are there in the country? How many high school basketball jobs are there?”
In 23 seasons, he won 580 games with a Southern Conference championship in 2005.
This at a school with high tuition and far less than the limit of 11.7 scholarships.
“Furman is an expensive school,” says Smith. “It was hard to compete.
“But I feel like we got as much out of our players as anyone. As a coach, you want to see them improve individually. As a team, you want them to have that synergy — that something that allows them to achieve beyond the individual components that they have because of their working together.
“That is the most rewarding thing as a coach.”
Upon taking over the program, Smith had four goals: graduate on time, grow up (develop as a person), get better (improve on the field) and win championships.
“We faithfully stayed with that approach and as a result we had a tremendous graduation rate
anybody who stayed for four years graduated,” says Smith. “I’m so proud of the players that came out of the program — really fine young men, successful family men and good people.”
Ron’s wife — Elizabeth “Beth” Jordan Smith — died Oct. 25, 2021 at 58.
Forty five former players came from all over the country to Greenville to attend Beth Smith’s memorial service.
“It really meant a lot to me,” says Smith, 66. That validated my career in many ways.”
Since his wife’s passing, Smith has been taking some time for himself and has been able to travel and play golf with friends.
For the past three years, Smith has been a color commentator for Clemson (S.C.) University baseball home games shown on video
Smith’s approach is to comment on the game like he’s watching it on TV with a buddy
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Smith.
Not a rookie to broadcasting before the Clemson gig, Smith was a radio color commentator for Furman basketball for six years.
He’s also followed MLB.
“I’m glad they’re going to have a time clock for pitching,” says Smith. “The games have gotten too long.”
While he sees why some teams are based around power, there is more to the game than the three-run bomb.
“I really enjoy some of that small-ball stuff that maybe people don’t appreciate nowadays,” says Smith. “I don’t think there’s a better game than baseball when the ball is in-play. There’s a lot of down time.
“But when the ball is hit, it’s just a perfect game.
If you field it cleanly, the guy is out by a step at first base.
“What’s more exciting than seeing a guy hit a ball in the right-center gap and trying to stretch it into a triple? It’s great.”
In May 2020, Furman announced the elimination of its baseball program.
“It’s in a state of limbo now,” says Smith of Paladins baseball. “The field still intact and still pretty well maintained.
“I’m hoping that in the near future it will be reinstated.”

Ron Smith. (Furman University Photo)

Hanover right-hander Alter already getting coaching experience

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

Matthew Alter can see a future in baseball coaching at the collegiate level.
He’s already gotten a head start by assisting in travel ball while also a college player himself.
The 2019 graduate of Indianapolis Lutheran School with two years of eligibility remaining at Hanover (Ind.) College is in his third summer with the Indiana Bulls.
He assisted with Scott French’s 15U Bulls Black squad in 2020. That team featured Class of 2023 standouts Max Clark (Franklin Community) and Andrew Wiggins (Heritage Christian).
Alter aided (former Anderson University assistant) John Becker with the 15U Bulls Grey squad in 2021 and is now helping Becker’s 16U Bulls Grey team. By summer’s end the group will have played about 40 games with tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., LakePoint Sports in Emerson, Ga., and Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo.
“After college the plan is to be a college baseball coach,” says Alter, who turned 22 in May. “The quickest way to be an assistant is to be a pitching coach. But I’m also interested in being a graduate assistant.”
Matthew’s cousin, Jared Broughton, is a college baseball coach. He most recently served for three years at Clemson (S.C.) University.
Dick Alter, Matthew’s father, retired from Indianapolis Lutheran following the 2019 season after 40 years of coaching (about the last 25 years of that as a teacher).
“There’s so many thing he taught me,” says Matthew of the shared wisdom shared. “The biggest thing my dad taught me is that baseball is the game of life.
“It doesn’t matter what you did today, it’s what you do tomorrow and the next day.”
Born in Carmel, Ind., Matthew the son of Dick and Karen Alter (who is president of Borshoff, a public relations and advertising agency in Indianapolis).
The Alter family moved to the south side of Indianapolis when their son was 3.
He played at what is now Franklin Township Little League (located behind the former Wanamaker Elementary School) and then was in travel ball with the Indiana Prospects and Indiana Pony Express.
Alter played football, basketball and baseball (for his father) at Lutheran then went to Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga., where Broughton was associate head coach.
Matthew says going to college to play baseball meant “going from being an only child to having 40 brothers.”
He counts slugger Alex Christie (Center Grove) among his good friends on the team.
As a right-handed pitcher, Alter made six relief appearances during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and went 1-0 with a 2.65 earned run average, nine strikeouts and six walks in 17 innings for the Piedmont Lions.
Alter decided to transfer to another NCAA Division III school in Hanover. Grant Bellak is the Panthers head coach. Until leaving for another job, Thomas Murphy was HC’s pitching coach.
“(Coach Bellak) and I have a great relationship,” says Alter. “He focuses more on hitters and infielders.”
Murphy helped Alter in 2020-21 by helping him build up his lower half to utilize his power and increase velocity. Using a Core Velocity Belt and throwing weighted PlyoCare Balls with Driveline Baseball exercises were part of the routine.
“(Murphy) helped us pitchers with the mental aspect of the game,” says Alter. “He is big on visualizing success and always trying to stay positive. It’s about keeping composure and maintaining positivity and self talk.”
Alter pitched in 11 games (eight starts) in 2021 and went 5-0 with 45 strikeouts and 33 walks in 52 1/3 innings. In 13 contests (11 starts) in 2022, he was 5-5 with 45 strikeouts and 29 walks in 72 innings.
The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference plays Saturday and Tuesday doubleheaders and Alter was the Saturday morning starter.
“A lot of the teams (in the HCAC) are very similar,” says Alter. “They have a few good pitchers. But it relies solely on hitting.
“That was evident in our conference tournament. There were a lot of high-scoring games.”
Alter spent just over two weeks with the 2022 summer wood-bat Coastal Plain League’s Lexington County (S.C.) Blowfish before shutting it down for the summer with a tender shoulder.
“It was from overuse,” says Alter, who did not play on any summer teams in 2019, 2020 and 2021. “But I did not tear my labrum.”
Using a three-quarter arm slot, Alter throws two kinds of fastballs (four-seam and two-seam) plus a slider, change-up and curveball.
He topped out at 87 mph with the four-seamer this summer.
“The two-seamer is one of my best pitches,” says Alter. “It definitely moves. It starts at the middle of the plate and ends up outside to a lefty. It moves so much I’m able to fool hitters.”
Alter employs a “circle” change and a 12-to-6 curve that he is able to throw for a strike in any count.
A Communication major, Alter is on pace to graduate at the end of his fourth year in 2023.
If he takes a fifth year, he says he will likely pursue a masters in Communication. Hanover does not have a graduate program in that subject.

Matthew Alter (Hanover College Photo)
Matthew Alter (Hanover College Photo)
Matthew Alter (Piedmont College Photo)

Broughton enjoys coaching life as Clemson volunteer

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

Jared Broughton is heading into his ninth season as a college baseball coach in 2022.
It will be his third as a volunteer assistant at Clemson (S.C.) University on the staff of Tigers head coach Monte Lee.
Broughton, 32, is a 2008 graduate of Indianapolis Lutheran High School (where he played for uncle Dick Alter) and played at Vincennes (Ind.) University and University of Dayton.
He began his coaching career at two NCAA Division III schools — first Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., then Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga. (2017-19).
What’s the D-I volunteer life like?
“I would say it’s great because I can really focus on just coaching the players,” says Broughton, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “It’s kind of great to be at a place like Clemson being a volunteer because I just really show up and I’ve got some of the best players in the country to work with.”
The Atlantic Coast Conference member went 25-27 overall and 17-11 in the ACC in 2021. The 2022 season is to open Feb. 18 at home against Indiana University. Clemson is to visit Notre Dame April 8-10.
While Broughton does not directly involved in recruiting, he does help facilitate campus visits and shows them around the baseball facility which features Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Broughton coordinates baseball camps at Clemson (the next one begins Jan. 16) and that is the primary source of his income.
As now structured, NCAA D-I baseball has three paid coaches — head coach and two assistants. Volunteers put in as many — if not more hours — than anyone on the staff.
“The last few years there’s been some really big-time coaches that have spoken up about it and how we’re underfunded and that the (full-time) coach-to-player ratio is the lowest in any sport.
“I think that with more conversation and more awareness for what volunteers out there do it’s going to help when legislation comes up again.”
Having coached in the D-I and D-III worlds, what does Broughton see as the big differences?
“It’s just what motivates a player,” says Broughton. “At the ACC level and a Clemson, our guys are very motivated by becoming professionals and their development is huge. Eventually, they have the ability and dream about becoming a Major League player.
“In Division III, a lot of kids are there as a student because they want to go to that particular school. They’re there to play baseball for the love of the game.”
Even with the differences, Broughton says players at Clemson face some of the same matters they do at Earlham or Piedmont.
“They’re still 18 to 22 years old and they’re battling confidence issues and flaws in their game,” says Broughton. “At the D-I level, especially at a place like Clemson, we have an amazing budget and technology and there is the manpower. At the small college level, you wear a lot of hats within the program.”
Besides a coaching staff of Lee, Broughton, Bradley LeCroy and Andrew See, Clemson’s baseball support staff includes a director of operations (Brad Owens), director of player development (Ben Paulsen), special assistant to the head coach (Matt Heath), athletic trainer (Travis Johnston), strength and conditioning coach (Rick Franzblau), director of equipment (Mike Wilson), bullpen catchers (Carter Fricks and Barrett Winter) and student managers (Tommy Tsimbinos, Bryson Gault, Jake Machado, Wilson Mullis and Bowen Gault).
While these other folks can’t hit fungos, throw batting practice or do other coaching on the field, they are valuable. They’re like another set of eyes and help break down data for coaches and players.
Time will tell, but Broughton does allow himself to peer into the future.
“I definitely have aspirations to be a head coach,” says Broughton. “I want to stay at the Division I level right now. That’s kind of where it’s at. I really do love the competition. I love the caliber of players I get to work with.
“I’m trying to take advantage of this great opportunity.”

Clemson University volunteer assistant baseball coach Jared Broughton at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Gouker putting Indianapolis Lutheran players, coaches to the ‘test’

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

Promoting retention of concepts taught, Indianapolis Lutheran High School head baseball coach Adam Gouker is testing his players as they prepare for the 2022 season.
“People talk about the five tools of baseball (speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength),” says Gouker, who was hired prior to the 2020 season canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic and led the Saints on the field for the first time in 2021. “Baseball I.Q. or Baseball Awareness is the most under-taught part of baseball.
“We put players through mental training.”
Ramping it up in January, players will witness presentations on various parts of the game and then take an exam which produces a metric — a Baseball Academics Rating (BAR).
“We are by no stretch of the imagination the most athletic team, but we understand what to do with the ball (on defense),” says Gouker. “It makes us extremely competitive.
“It’s my favorite thing to teach. The guys eat it up and it builds passion.”
As co-founder and vice president of BAMFAM (Baseball Academics Midwest/Fastpitch Academics Midwest) and owner/operator of Extra Innings Indy South, Gouker has been testing players’ knowledge for years.
“I’m involved in a lot of instruction,” says Gouker. “Baseball is life.”
Gower also insists that his assistant Lutheran coaches get certified through Dugout Coalition.
“It’s a a really useful tool to make sure we’re all teaching accurately the same things,” says Gouker. “There are lot of coaches out there in the world that have been involved in baseball in the past and not enough recognition if those coaches are staying up with the latest and greatest in the sport.”
In getting Dugout Coalition-certified, coaches take in about 44 hours of online training and then must pass an exam.
Lutheran assistants for 2022 are Zach Akers, Tyler Danner, Josh Meaney, Russell Parker and Jonas Akers. Danner, Meaney and Parker are also BAMFAM coaches. Jonas Akers, son of Zach, is a former Lutheran player now attending Wabash College.
Another emphasis for Gouker’s Saints is base running. Players able to attend fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices (many others were involved in fall sports, including the state championship-winning Lutheran football team) worked on base running (reading pitchers, getting leads) and there will be more of the same when the next LCP window opens Dec. 6 along with arm strengthening, velocity care, defensive fundamentals, batting practice, weight training and — of course — mental training.
Lutheran’s high-octane running program produced 143 stolen bases in 2021 with four players in double digits for a squad that played 27 games.
Senior Sean Moore, a commit to Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio (where former University of Indianapolis assistant Landon Hutchinson is head coach) is coming off a 22-steal season as is senior Cade Tabit. Senior Cole Perkins swiped 19 in ’21.
“We had a pretty solid offensive year,” says Gouker. “We want to make sure their defensive side is as high as we can have it.”
The Saints play home games on-campus. The facility has recently had its mound and home plate areas re-built and lean bars added in the dugout.
“We want players up and engaged in the game,” says Gouker.
There’s also been talk of upgrading the backstop with padding and new netting.
Recent Lutheran graduates that moved on to college baseball include Matt Alter (Piedmont University in Demorest, Ga., and now at Hanover College) and Noah Wood (Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and now at Franklin College).
Lutheran graduate Jared Broughton was once a Piedmont assistant and is now a volunteer assistant at Clemson University.
A feeder system for the high school are the Junior Saints junior high team (formerly coached by Greg Hughes), which had about a dozen seventh and eighth graders taking on area teams in 2021.
Lutheran (enrollment around 220) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Beech Grove, Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Monrovia, Scecina Memorial, Speedway and Triton Central).
Conference games are played in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“I like that format,” says Gouker. “This way you’re not facing the same pitcher each time and you can make adjustments from the first game to the second.”
In 2021, the Saints were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Edinburgh, Greenwood Christian Academy, Morristown, Southwestern (Shelbyville) and Waldron. Lutheran has won 13 sectional titles — the last in 2019.
Lutheran’s social media includes Facebook and Instagram.
Gouker is a 2007 graduate of Alexandra-Monroe Junior/Senior High School who played at Anderson (Ind.) University. He has been married to high school sweethart Hannah since 2014. The couple has a son — Odin (10 months).

Adam Gouker (Indianapolis Lutheran High School Photo)

Indiana State Hall of Famer Grapenthin enjoys baseball from the business side

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Midwest weather didn’t always allow for ideal training conditions.

But that didn’t stop Indiana State University coach Bob Warn from fielding competitive baseball teams back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Dick Grapenthin knows because he was there.

Grapenthin has been a sporting goods executive for the better part of the past 30 years. But as a right-handed pitcher from Iowa, he began his college experience at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College then toed the rubber for the ISU Sycamores in 1979 (leading the Missouri Valley Conference champions and NCAA regional qualifiers with 45 strikeouts) and 1980 (pacing the squad with nine wins, 53 strikeouts and 76 innings).

Grapenthin then went into pro ball and made it to the majors with the Montreal Expos.

“Bob had a lot of success bringing in blue collar grinders,” says Grapenthin of Hall of Famer Warn. “We had a really, really nice team and great work habits.”

To get time in the physical education center in the winter, the team often practiced from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. then players went to their 8 a.m. classes.

Warn was very organized.

“We’d use every part of an indoor facility for some type of drills,” says Grapenthin. “We always had something going on.”

Grapenthin, who was inducted into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame as an individual in 2016 after being honored for his involvement with the 1986 College World Series team in 2002, remembers ISU traveling to Florida to play the vaunted Miami Hurricanes.

“We didn’t have the talent those guys had, but we were very well-schooled in fundamentals,” says Grapenthin. “You had to do that. You couldn’t play as much (in the north) because it was cold out.”

On nicer days, the team would practice on the turf at Memorial Stadium (football).

Mitch Hannahs was on the 1986 ISU team and is now head coach. Grapenthin saw the team play last season at Vanderbilt, the team that went on to the win the College World Series. While the Commodores had the lights-out pitching arms, he saw more skill from the Sycamores.

“Mitch has done such a great job,” says Grapenthin.

After his playing days at ISU concluded in 1980, Grapenthin signed with the Expos as a minor league free agent. He came back to Terre Haute in the fall and winter to work out with and coach the Sycamores.

He made his Major League Baseball debut in 1983. He split the 1984 and 1985 seasons between Montreal and the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, managed by Buck Rodgers and then Felipe Alou.

“A lot of those guys are still there,” says Grapenthin, noting that former president and chairman Max Schumacher remains involved with the club and radio voice Howard Kellman is still calling games for the Tribe — only its now downtown at Victory Field and not on 16th Street at Bush Stadium.

Grapenthin’s playing career concluded in 1989 and he spent two seasons as pitching coach to Bill Wilhelm at Clemson University.

Much of his focus with his pitchers was on mechanics.

“I focused a lot on trying to try to get kids in a position to make repeatable actions and be consistent,” says Grapenthin. “I taught from the feet up.”

Grapenthin learned much about baseball from Warn and Wilhelm. He also found out about how tough it can be to coach.

“That is a very hard lifestyle,” says Grapenthin. “Coaches make an unbelievable amount of sacrifices to be really good.

“I wanted more of a controlled family life.”

Dick and Cindy Grapenthin live in Alpharetta, Ga., north of Atlanta, and have three children — two daughters and a son. Alex is a Clemson graduate. Kristi is an Auburn University graduate. Trevor Grapenthin is a economics major and baseball player at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Cindy Grapenthin holds a doctorate in psychology from Indiana State and has a individual and family psychology practice as well as being an assistant professor of psychology at Brenau University in Gainesville, Ga.

Dick Grapenthin earned his Master of Business Administration degree from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in 1993.

He worked for Easton for seven years then Mizuno for seven. In 2015, he started his own sports management and consulting business — BoneChip Enterprises — and consulted for Louisville Slugger for three threes then spent another nine with Mizuno.

He started PBPro (PlayersBrandPro) two years ago. The company makes custom game gloves and infield trainers ranging from $120 to $300. Infield guru and top instructor Ron Washington teaches with the PBPro WashDonutTrainer and 9.5-inch PBPro WashTrainer.

Grapenthin appears at MLB Winter Meetings clubhouse show, American Baseball Coaches Association trade show, state coaches clinics, spring training and at grass roots events around the Atlanta area.

“I love working with people who are passionate about the game,” says Grapenthin. “It’s a lot of fun.

“I’ve done that basically my whole life. It’s like you’re not going to work.”

Why gloves?

“I wanted to do something unique,” says Grapenthin. “There’s not a lot of people focused on baseball/softball training gloves at a high end.”

He says one of the strengths of company is its knowledge of production and factories.

“I knew people in that industry and I just kind of like baseball gloves,” says Grapenthin. “I enjoy making nice stuff.”

Grapenthin does not consider himself to be a designer, but he does bring ideas to craftsmen and they make the adjustments in patterns and gloves. He relays feedback from players an coaches.

“There are always ways we can make gloves better,” says Grapenthin.

The PBPro website offers a custom feature that allows the buyer to build their own glove.

With 18 different thread colors and many webs and leathers, the options go on and on and on.

For Grapenthin, the game of baseball has to be fun.

And fun is what he’s having after all these years.

DICKGRAPENTHIN

Dick Grapenthin, an Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Famer, pitched for the Montreal Expos 1983-85. He has long been a sporting goods executive and is the founder of BoneChip Enterprises and PBPro.

 

Indianapolis native Vittorio leading Wilmington Quakers with passion, energy

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Vittorio is 53 and has been a college baseball coach for three decades.

It was as a teenager on the south side of Indianapolis that he decided that would be his path in life.

Vittorio grew up the youngest of three children at 2925 Anniston Drive, directly across the street from Southport Little League.

“We woke up to the sound of the crowd on Saturdays and Sundays,” says Vittorio. “That’s where the whole love of it came.”

At 15, Tony made the senior league all-stars coached by Jeff Mercer Sr. It was after his first practice with Mercer — then a player at Marian College in Indianapolis and later the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr.  — putting the all-stars through drills and game situations that Vittorio came home and exclaimed that coaching was for him.

“It was that one practice alone,” says Vittorio, who is heading into his second season as head coach at NCAA Division III Wilmington (Ohio) College, which is 35 miles southeast of Dayton.

Vittorio played for Richard Dwenger at Southport High School (Class of 1984) and Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College (Class of 1988).

“We we became close friends through the years,” says Vittorio of mentor Naylor. “I was honored and humbled to do his eulogy at his funeral.”

While playing for Naylor’s Panthers (then an NAIA program), Vittorio pursued a double major in business administration and physical education.

Vittorio spent the 1990 season as a volunteer/graduate assistant at Indiana University under Bob Morgan.

“I always thank Coach Morgan for teaching me how to practice properly,” says Vittorio. “His practice organization was second to no one in the country.”

At 23, Vittorio became a head coach at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and went on to become known as a builder of programs.

“We do not complain about what you don’t have,” says Vittorio. “We just grind it out.”

Vittorio led Lincoln Trail — a junior college — for four seasons. After winning 20 games the first season (1991), the Statesmen won 39, 40 and 45 contests. The year before Vittorio came to town the team won just two games.

That was followed by two years as an assistant to Keith Madison at the University of Kentucky.

“He is as good of a person as I’ve ever met in my life,” says Vittorio of Madison, an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and National Baseball Director for SCORE International. “Coach Madison has this thing figured out — spiritually, mentally.”

Vittorio spent three seasons (1997-99) at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, when the Mastodons were NCAA Division II. His teams won 80 games after IPFW had gone 9-37 the year before he arrived in the Summit City.

Counting Lance Hershberger as one of his dearest friends, Vittorio looks back fondly on the Fort Wayne diamond rivalry they had when he was at IPFW and Hershberger (now at Ivy Tech Northeast) led Indiana Tech.

“He’s a beautiful person,” says Vittorio of Hershberger.

Vittorio began an 18-year run at the University of Dayton in 2000. The program was 22-34 the year before his arrival and went on to 10 seasons of at least 25 victories and seven of at least 30 with the 2009 club winning 38.

His NCAA Division I Flyers won 463 games altogether. the 2012 team participated in the NCAA College Station Regional.

Two pitchers who played for Vittorio at UD are now in the big leagues — right-hander Craig Stammen and left-hander Jerry Blevins.

Three of Vittorio’s former players at Dayton are now coaching at the D-I level. C.J. Gilman is now the top assistant at the Air Force Academy. Jimmy Roesinger, an Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate, is also on the Air Force staff. Jared Broughton, who went to Indianapolis Lutheran High School, is now an assistant at Clemson University.

Several other former Vittorio players and coaches are coaching are various levels.

After his days at Dayton, Vittorio helped coach his son (Nic Vittorio) in the summer with Dayton Thunderbirds, but was not really looking for another college job when Wilmington, a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference, came calling.

His first Quakers team went 8-29 in 2019 and he’s working toward steady improvement.

“I feel revised and amped up again to build a program at this level,” says Vittorio. “There’s a locker room word — culture. We’re looking to change the culture.

“That means implementing your own program of everyday core values — hard work, loyalty, hustle, sportsmanship and the biggest one — passion and energy on a daily basis. I’m a true believer you can’t go to where you want to go without passion and energy.”

Coming from the Division I world, Vittorio has learned to make adjustments in his approach.

Instead of 30 contact dates in the fall, D-III schools get 16. There are 40 regular-season games in the spring instead of 56. D-III does not offer athletic scholarships, but aid is based on academics and need.

“To me, that’s a lot of time lost,” says Vittorio. “But baseball is more pure (at the D-III level). You don’t have to hold the players’ hands on everything they do as you sometimes have to do in D-I.

“Players have a chance to develop leadership skills. They have to form captain/open field practices (when the coaching staff is away).”

Vittorio says the No. 1 job for he and his Wilmington assistants — Danny Thomas and former Richmond High School and Earlham College player Patrick Morrow — is recruiting.

“You can’t win without good players,” says Vittorio, who counts the Midwest as his recruiting base. “It’s more strenuous at this level. You have knock on 100 doors — instead of 50 doors — to get 10 guys.”

Vittorio spends a lot of his time raising money for the baseball program and as director of athletic development, the rest of Wilmington’s athletic department (which includes 18 varsity sports for men and women).

As a coach, He is also working to inspire his players in the classroom, the community and on the baseball field. He is emphasizing player development and building a quality college baseball atmosphere.

“We’re all obsessed with winning and losing,” says Vittorio. “But this whole thing is about making young men the best they can be.”

Vittorio comes back to Indianapolis often. Just last Saturday, he was at Southport Athletic Booster Club Reverse Raffle. He counts Indiana University head men’s basketball coach Archie Miller as a friend from Miller’s six seasons as head coach. Vittorio grew up as a fan of Bob Knight’s IU teams and Notre Dame football.

“That’s the Indiana Italian Catholic in me,” says Vittorio. “I love the state of Indiana. I’m a Hoosier.”

Wilmington visits Franklin College and Vittorio’s friend Lance Marshall at 3 p.m. on March 11.

Tony and Heather Vittorio have two children. Taylor Vittorio (21) is a former volleyball player at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. Nic Vittorio is a senior baseball player at Kettering-Fairmont High School in Kettering, Ohio.

TONYVITTORIOWILMINGTONCOLLEGE

Tony Vittorio, an Indianapolis native, is now the head baseball coach at Wilmington (Ohio) College. Prior to lead the Quakers, he was head coach at the University of Dayton, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and Lincoln Trail Community College. (Wilmington College Photo)

 

Kuester adding to rich baseball tradition at South Spencer

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Down on the Ohio River sits the town of Rockport, Ind.

They love their baseball there.

South Spencer High School and Rockport American Legion Post 254 have been making them proud for years.

The South Spencer Rebels have won four IHSAA state titles in five State Finals appearances and won sectional crowns in 2015, 2016 and 2017, pushing the program’s total to 23.

South Spencer holds outright or share several 2A State Finals team records, including most hit (16 vs. Heritage in 2007), most runs batted in (12 in 2007) and most at-bats (38 in 2007). Todd Marn drove in a record five runs in 2007.

Rockport Post 254 has piled up all kinds of hardware at the state level and the 2016 team played in the American Legion Baseball World Series in Shelby, N.C.

Brian Kuester, who is also a social studies teacher, is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer. He and his assistants also guide Post 254’s 17U Junior Legion team in the summer.

Kuester is just the third South Spencer head coach in more than 50 years. He took over for Jim Haaff (who is still the manager of Rockport’s Senior Legion squad). Haaff followed Bill Evans.

All three men are enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I take a lot of pride in following two guys like that,” says Kuester, who took the Rebels to Class 2A state championships in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Among active coaches with state championships, Tim Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic) ranks first with seven, followed by Terry Gobert (Jasper) and Dave Pishkur (Andrean) with five each and Kuester and Greg Dikos (Penn) with four apiece.

South Spencer was in the State Finals in the IHSAA’s third state tournament in 1969. “You’re expected to have a good program. Some years are going to be better than others. Like at any small school (South Spencer has around 400 students), it’s going to be that way.

“We know we have a target on our backs almost every time we go out there to play, which is a great thing. It’s better being on that end than on the other end. We see a lot of people’s 1’s and 2’s. That only makes us better.

“The kids expect it, know it and kind of relish that.”

Seven starters from the 2017 South Spencer Sectional champions graduated and Kuester expects maybe three or four seniors in 2018. This just means other players will now get their chance to shine.

“We’re a very small school and we have a lot of blue-collar type kids,” says Kuester. “We don’t get the big Division I players very often. But we’ve had a share of nice talent.”

After leaving South Spencer, left-hander Blake Monar pitched three seasons at Indiana University and was selected in the 12th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals. He played two seasons in the Nationals systems and then with the independent Evansville Otters.

Right-hander Josh Garrett was a first-round pick in 1996 by the Boston Red Sox and pitched six professional seasons.

Kevin Davis, also a right-hander, pitched four season at Middle Tennessee State University and was a 55th round selection of the California Angels in 1996, but no record could be found of him playing in the minors.

Recent IHSCA North/South All-Star Series players have been Nathan Hall (2011), Jared Lauer (2012), Nathan Kuester (2014), Jon Stallings (2015) and Sammy Rowan (2017).

Brice Stuteville (Frontier Community College in Illinois) is among recent graduates playing college baseball.

South Spencer baseball is built on concepts like hard work, dedication and being disciplined in behavior and performance.

Multi-sport participation is the rule rather than the exception.

“We like them to be involved in other sports and have that competitiveness in them and we want them putting priorities straight,” says Kuester. “Baseball is obviously not more important than other things in life. But when we’re on the field, it’s got to be the most important thing.

“We try to instill dedication.”

Brian Kuester, the son of former professional player, manager and scout Ivan Kuester and younger brother of former Clemson University player Steve Kuester, is a 1976 Evansville Central High School graduate. For the Bears, he played for Bud Steiler and Ted Niemeier.

Brian calls his father and brother his biggest influences in baseball.

“My brother told me that as a catcher, you’re the only one who can see everybody else on the field,” says Kuester. “You have to be the leader. You have to know every position and what they need to be doing in every situation. You have to be able to basically teach pitching as a catcher and be a psychologist, trying to get the most out of your pitcher.

“Being a catcher definitely has a major impact in being a head coach.”

Like his brother, Brian was a catcher and went on to play at Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) from 1977-80. His coach was former minor league pitcher Larry Shown.

Kuester was a graduate assistant at Southeastern Louisiana University and served as coach for Boonville and Evansville Pate American Legion and Oakland City University teams and five seasons at Tecumseh High School. He was associate head coach at Southern Indiana and an assistant for one season of Haaff’s South Spencer staff.

The 2018 Rebels coaching staff features Shawn Kuester, Mike Ogilvie and Mitch Rust at the varsity level and Chris Bartlett leading the junior varsity.

South Spencer is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (along with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

Games are not played in a set pattern.

“Some weeks we might have two or three conference games,” says Kuester. “Some weeks we have no conference games.

“Our schedule is very, very tough. But that’s the way we want it.”

Non-conference dates in Indiana include Boonville, Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz, Floyd Central, Jasper, Martinsvillle, Perry Central, Washington plus the Jasper Invitational.

Kentucky include Apollo, Daviess County, Hancock County and Henderson County and Owensboro Catholic.

Brian and Debbie Kuester have four children — Jeremy, Shawn, Nathan and Katie. All the boys played at South Spencer for their father. In college, Jeremy Kuester played two seasons at the University of Evansville and two at Kentucky Wesleyan College and is now University of Southern Indiana pitching coach.

Shawn Kuester at Evansville and Nathan Kuester is a senior at Southern Indiana. Katie Kuester is a softball player at Olney (Ill.) Central College.

Ivan Kuester, Brian, Kuester, Jeremy Kuester, Bill Evans and Jim Haaff) are members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame — a group that inducted its first class in 2016.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a pitch count rule (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).

Kuester said it has had zero effect on his teams and he only had one pitcher — son Jeremy — ever go above 120 pitches in a game. The main reason is that his pitchers also play other positions.

“I’m not always going to save my best for conference,” says Kuester. “If he’s available, we’re going to do it. Last year, we only threw our No. 1 in a couple of conference games. That’s just how it fell.

“We want to win the conference, but that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the (state) tournament.

The Rebels are all in it together.

“We stay away from he ‘me, me, me’ that our society seems to be in right now,” says Kuester. “We try to concentrate on what’s best for the team.

“Our players have bought into the concept. They learned if they play together, it will make you better as a team.”

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Brian Kuester is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind., in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)