But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.
Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.
As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.
“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”
Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.
Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.
Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.
Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.
At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.
Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.
In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.
Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.
Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.
MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.
“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.
Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.
The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.
At 62 and in a year where he lost his wife, Tyner has a different perspective.
“I’m pretty intense as a competitor,” says Tyner. “As you age you don’t lose your intensity, it becomes a different kind of focus. I’m a little more cerebral. Yelling and screaming might have worked in the ‘90s. That doesn’t work now. You have to think about who you’re talking to.
“Hopefully I’ve calmed down. As you mature, you go from thinking it’s your team to how can I serve the kid? Or how can I share the information I’ve learned in my 40 years in the game?”
It’s a horizontal relationship. Tyner lets his assistants take their strengths and run with them.
“I’m not ego-driven anymore,” says Tyner. “We can all learn something from each other and coaches and kids benefit.”
Coaching friends — like Tony Vittorio — are quick to point out when Tyner might lose sight of what his job is.
“I’m a father first and a coach second,” says Tyner. “I don’t have just one son, I have 38 his year. I’m older than all my coaches, so I have more even more sons.”
Tyner was a standout in Decatur, Ill., playing for Ray DeMoulin (a bird dog scout for the Cincinnati Reds who allowed Tyner to try out at 15) at MacAthur High School and Lee Handley (who played in the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers systems) as American Legion manager.
The coin came up heads. Tyner went to Florida, made the Hurricanes roster and played on College World Series teams in 1978, 1979 and 1980, earning Baskin Robbins Player of the Year honors in that final season.
At Miami, Tyner was around coaching legends Ron Fraser and Skip Bertman. The young outfielder marveled at how the two baseball minds could anticipate what was going to happen in a game.
“How did they do that?” says Tyner. who refers to Bertman as a walking baseball encyclopedia. “I hovered closed to him. His sixth sense was incredible.”
Fraser called them the “Miami Greyhounds.”
“I felt I was on a track team,” says Tyner. “That’s how much we ran. We were in shape.”
Before the current 56-game spring limit in NCAA Division I, Miami typically played more than 100 games counting fall and spring.
In 1981, he enjoyed his best offensive and worst defensive season. The parent Orioles had decided to move Cal Ripken Jr. from third base to shortstop and decided to make Tyner into a third sacker. But the hot corner proved pretty hot for him and he made 20 errors in 51 games at third for the Hagerstown Suns.
Fans down both baselines let him know about it with a group of ladies on the third base side pointing out the places where the ball struck the “human dartboard.” Hagerstown spectators donned hard hats on the first base side in case of errant Tyner throws.
His roommate on the road was pitcher Julian Gonzalez. During a game in Salem, Va., after Tyner committed his third error, Hagerstown manager Grady Little came to the mound. Gonzalez told the skipper that his roomie had to go.
There was a bus accident the first weekend of season. The vehicle landed on its side.
“I felt something pop in my back way down low,” says Tyner. “24 hours later I couldn’t move. I missed over 30 games that summer.
At the plate, Tyner was locked in, hitting .301 with 31 home runs and 113 runs batted for the Suns in 1981.
After that, Tyner went back to the outfield where he vied with Drungo Hazewood for the unofficial title of best arm in the Orioles organization.
He would go on to belt 79 home runs in 365 games, playing for Hagerstown in 1981 and 1983 and the Charlotte O’s in 1982 and 1983. Multiple surgeries for bone chips in his right elbow put and end to Tyner’s pro career.
“I put my arm through a little bit of abuse,” says Tyner. “I was a quarterback and pitched in high school. Who knows what I did? It didn’t fail me for five more years. At Miami, I had a really good arm.”
“I’m not sure it gets much better than that,” says Tyner.
It was while coming to Indianapolis to finish his degree at Concordia University that Tyner connected with Butler head coach Steve Farley and began coaching for the Bulldogs. The first go-round, he was on Farley’s staff from 1993-97.
A relationship with the Bulls led to the press box and stands that are there to this day.
At the time, Dave Taylor was president of the organization and Craig Moore was head coach of the 17U team. Tyner started out with the 15U squad.
After coaching four years at Butler making $325 per semester, Tyner decided it was time to make money for his family — wife Laura, daughter Lindsay and son Matthew and got into communication sales and real estate.
Lindsay Dempsey, who is worked as a Registered Nurse, is now 36, married with two children and living Switzerland. Matthew Tyner, 33, is married and a finance and operations manager in Indianapolis.
When Matthew became a teenager, the Bulls approached his father about coaching a new 13U team with Jeremy Guler. The next year, Matt Tyner and Jeff Jamerson coached their sons Matthew and Jason on the 14U Bulls.
“We had top-shelf athletes way ahead of their time,” says Tyner of a team that featured future pros Lance Lynn (Brownsburg), Tommy Hunter (Cathedral) and J.B. Paxson (Center Grove). “It was fun to watch them play.”
“He imparted so much baseball knowledge on these kids,” says Tyner of Alexander, who was integral current baseball fields at Purdue University as well as Indianapolis Bishop Chatard High School, where Matthew Tyner played for Trojans head coach Mike Harmon and graduated in 2005. “What a treat that was.”
A few years later, Matt Tyner got the itch to coach baseball again. This time Farley could pay him a living wage and he went back to work at Butler in August 2007. Pendleton Heights graduate Jason Jamerson was a Bulldog senior in 2009.
“They made me feel like a king and there was one great speaker after the next for 2 1/2 days,” says Tyner. “As a coach you can’t be everything to everybody. But I’m going to use this nugget and I’m going to use that nugget.
“That’s money well-spent.”
In the summer of 2010, Tyner was offered the head coaching position at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. Knights athletic director Scott Wiegandt had been a Triple-A Louisville teammate of Tracy Woodson, a former big league third baseman, Fort Wayne Wizards manager who was then Valparaiso University head coach.
Farley, Woodson and University of Indianapolis head coach Gary Vaught gave Tyner their endorsement.
“We made some serious strides in that program,” says Tyner, who coached then-NCAA Division II Bellarmine to 26-26 and 27-23 marks in 2011 and 2012 with a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and an appearance in the regional tournament championship game against the Grand Valley State University the second year.
Brandon Tormoehlen, now head coach at Brownstown (Ind.) Central High School, was on Tyner’s coaching staff.
Woodson became head coach at the University of Richmond (Va.) and called Tyner to be his recruiting coordinator and hitting coach. It was a post he held for four seasons.
“We had some pretty strong offensive teams,” says Tyner of his time with the Spiders.
Then Towson reached out and hit Tyner was an offer to be the Tigers head coach.
“The first two years at Towson was a challenge for all of us,” says Tyner, who saw his teams go 13-42 in 2018 and 14-39 in 2019. “We are process-driven and not results-driven. Took awhile for those entrenched in a different system to get it.
“Last year was their chance to shine.”
Indianapolis native Laura Anne Tyner passed away Feb. 10 in her hometown and Matt took a leave of absence at Towson. Matt and Laura were wed in 1983. She taught children with special needs and spent 20 years in real estate management.
With former Butler and Purdue University assistant Miller running the team, the 2020 Towson Tigers went 7-8 before the COVID-19 shutdown.
Tyner went down to see the team play in the opener of a weekend series in Miami. It turned out to be a pitchers’ dual. The Hurricanes held on for a 2-1 Feb. 28 victory. Freshman catcher Burke Camper just barely missed a home run in the top of the ninth inning.
“It was a game for the ages,” says Tyner. “It was unbelievable for me to watch and be a part of.”
A few days later, it was decided between Tyner and Towson athletic director Tim Leonard that the coach would come back to the program in mid-March.
“I needed baseball more than baseball needed me,” says Tyner, who got back in time to see the season prematurely halted with the campus being closed and all classes going online. He came back to Indianapolis.
When things opened back up, players were placed in summer leagues. This fall, the Tigers worked out with social distancing and other COVID precautions.
“It was the most competitive for all of us since I’ve been here,” says Tyner. “We have a chance to be pretty good (2021).”
Towson is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Tigers are not fully-funded. There are 6.2 scholarships available and the NCAA Division I limit is 11.7.
“God love the AD and president of this university (Tim Leonard and Dr. Kim Schaztel),” says Tyner. “They’ve done a phenomenal job of keeping us afloat.
Greenlee (South Putnam High School, Indiana State University and Ball State University graduate) won 503 games in a 28-year career with 25 years at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind.
His KV teams won three sectionals, two regionals and seven conference championships. He was the 2013 IHSBCA North All-Star head coach and has served on numerous IHSBCA committees and served 16 years as athletic director at four different schools.
Grove (Bluffton High School and Ball State University graduate) coached Churubusco (Ind.) High School to 513 wins with nine sectionals, four regionals and one semistate (1995).
His teams also won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (four tournament titles) and two Allen County Athletic Conference crowns.
Forty of Grove’s players played college baseball and one was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He coached 25 all-staters, six IHSBCA North All-Stars and was honored as a district coach of the year several times.
Grove has been on many IHSBCA committees and currently helps out at the State Clinic registration table. He has been a mentor to many coaches and is always a willing participant/organizer for clinics and youth baseball events.
Lehrman (Heritage High School and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne graduate) pitched four seasons at IPFW.
He has coached high school baseball for 42 years — nine at Woodlan and 33 at Heritage in Monroeville, Ind. His teams have won 602 games and 12 Allen County Athletic Conference championships.
He is an eight-time ACAC Coach of the Year and has been an IHSBCA District Coach of the Year and twice been on the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars coaching staff.
Lehrman’s teams have won eight sectionals, three regionals, one semistate and made three Final Four appearances. His 2007 squad was state runners-up. He has also coached football for 39 years with six as head coach (40-26).
Dean, a high school mathematics teacher, and wife Janice Lehrman have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne — plus three grandchildren.
McIntrye (Jeffersonville High School and Indiana University Southeast graduate) played at Jeffersonville for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Poole.
Mac’s coaching career began as an assistant to Clarksville (Ind.) High School to IHSBCA Hall of Famer Wayne Stock.
In 25 years as New Albany (Ind.) High School coach, McIntyre has a record of 533-218 with five Hoosier Hills Conference titles, 10 sectional championships and one regional tile with three Final Eight appearances.
He is a four-time District Coach of the Year and five-time conference coach of the year.
McIntyre was IHSBCA President in 2014, has served on numerous committees and has been an IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series three times. He has coached 13 South All-Stars and sent more than 40 players to college baseball. Three of his players have been selected in the MLB Draft and two have played in the majors.
Chris, a high school mathematic teacher at New Albany, and wife Shannon McIntyre have two sons — Tyler and Kevin.
Rogers (Merrillville High School and Huntington College graduate) spent 32 seasons as head coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School and has been in charge at Leo for two seasons.
His teams have won 513 games with Luers taking four sectionals, one regional and one semistate. The 2008 state won a state championship.
Rogers was a State Coach of the Year in 2008 and a two-time IHSBCA District Coach of the Year. He has been on numerous IHSBCA committees and is very active in the Fort Wayne baseball community. He has served as a volunteer assistant at Indiana Tech for many seasons and worked with the Wildcat League for 33 years and serves on the board of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is an NEIBA Hall of Famer.
Selvey (Redkey High School, University of Evansville and Ball State University graduate) has spent his entire coaching career at Jay County High School in Portland, Ind. — five as an assistant and 31 as head coach — and has a career record of 502-333.
His teams have won seven sectionals and three regionals plus five Olympic Conference and one Allen County Athletic Conference title. He was conference coach of the year three times.
Very active in the IHSBCA, Selvey has served as president, a regional representative and on several committees. He has been an assistant coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series two times. He has also been a regional coach of the year and coached 14 All-Stars and numerous players who went on to play in college with three drafted by MLB and two others in independent or overseas baseball.
Selvey has been active in community and junior high baseball and has been active nine years with the Summit City Sluggers travel organization.
Lea, a high school science teacher, and wife Denise Selvey have three three children — Josh, Kyle and Kristen.
Strayer (Prairie Heights High School, Manchester College and Indiana University Northwest graduate) coached at Boone Grove High School in Valparaiso, Ind., and is going into his 19th season at Crown Point (Ind.) High School. His overall coaching record is 619-227 with 15 conference titles, 14 sectional crowns and nine regional championships.
His Crown Point teams have won 396 games and numerous sectional and regional titles to go along with eight Dunelond Athletic Conference crowns. He was named District Coach of the Year three times and served as IHSBCA President and was a 2005 IHSBCA North/South All-Series coach. He has coached 12 Indiana All-Stars and 63 players have gone on to play college baseball (23 in NCAA Division I).
Strayer teaches high school mathematics and resides in Crown Point with wife Jennifer and daughter Charlotte.
Terry (Clinton High School and Indiana State University graduate) played football, basketball and baseball at Clinton and began his coaching journey in 1980 with one season at Turkey Run High School in Marshall, Ind., and has spent the past 38 years as head coach at South Vermillion High School. His career mark is 604-357.
His teams have won nine Wabash River Conference titles, eight sectionals and one regional while finishing in the Final Eight three times and the Final Four once.
Terry has led the Wildcats to 20-plus wins 10 times and coached six IHSBCA All-Stars with numerous all-state players. He has been named an IHSBCA district coach of the year twice and served as IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series coach and participated on many IHSBCA committees.
He has coached at the Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth and American Legion levels and was the head girls basketball coach at South Vermillion for 34 years with two conference titles, five sectionals and 295 wins.
Currently in his 42nd year in education, Terry was at Turkey Run for two years before coming to South Vermillion. Besides head baseball coach, he is currently the school’s athletic director.
Tim and wife Kim, a high school science teacher, have four sons — T.J. (22), Canton (20, Cooper (18) and Easton (14). Tim’s baseball memories are centered around his boys.
Johnson (Gary Roosevelt High School and Indiana State University graduate) played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bob Warn at ISU. Johnson was co-captain for the Sycamores’ first Missouri Valley Conference championship team and first NCAA tournament participant. He had a career .422 average and led the nation in regular-season hitting (.502). He was selected to the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Johnson was selected in the sixth round of the 1979 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. He was MVP of the Florida State League and later played on championship teams in Denver (1981) and Indianapolis (1986).
He made his MLB debut in 1981 and went on to become the Expos’ all-time leader in pinch hits (86). In 428 big league games, he hit .255 with five homers and 59 RBIs. After retirement as a player, he was third base coach for the Chicago White Sox for five seasons.
Reed (Terre Haute South Vigo High School who played at the University of Kentucky) played for Kyle Kraemer at South Vigo and was the Indiana Player of the Year and MVP of the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2011.
The IHSBCA record book lists Reed sixth in single-season homers (18 in 2011) and sixth in career homers (41 from 2008-11).
At UK, Reed’s awards were many, including Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Golden Spikes (nation’s top amateur player), Dick Howser Trophy, ABCA and Baseball America College Player of the Year, John Olerud Trophy, several first-team All-America teams, Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year. In 2012, he was on several Freshman All-America teams.
Reed was chosen in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros and was a minor league all-star in 2015, 2017 and 2018. He won the Joe Bauman Award twice for leading Minor League Baseball in homers. He was the California League MVP and Rookie of the Year with Lancaster in 2015.
He smacked 136 homers in 589 minor league games. He played in 62 MLB contests with the Astros and Chicago White Sox and finished with four homers and 12 RBIs.
He retired from baseball in March 2020 and resides in Riley, Ind., with wife Shelby and their two dogs. He plans to return to college in January 2021 to finish his bachelor’s degree.
Carroll (Castle High School graduate who played at the University of Evansville) played at Castle in Newburgh, Ind., for Dave Sensenbrenner and Evansville for Jim Brownlee. He was an All-American in his senior year of 1996. He name appears 27 times in the Purple Aces baseball record book.
He was drafted in the 14th round of the 1996 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. In his 12-year big league career with the Expos/Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, he produced a 16.6 WAR, 1,000 hits, 13 homers, a .272 average, 560 runs, 265 RBIs, 74 stolen bases, a .349 on-base percentage and .687 OPS (on-base plus slugging).
Carroll scored the last run in Expos history. He led National League second basemen in fielding percentage in 2006. In 2007, his sacrifice fly plated Matt Holliday to win the NL Wild Card Game.
He currently works in the front office for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year-old twins — Cole and Mackenzie.
Miller (who died in 2017) took over the Portland (Ind.) Rockets in 1972 and won more than 900 games in more than 30 years as manager.
In 1992, Miller became American Amateur Baseball Congress state secretary and moved the Indiana tournament to Portland. He managed the Rockets to state titles in 1985, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2006.
An ambassador for baseball, Miller sent more than 30 former players into the high school or college coaching ranks.
In 2000, the Rockets named their home facility Ray Miller Field. In 2002, Miller was the first inductee into the Indiana Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.
Randy Miller, Ray’s son, is the current Portland Rockets manager.
Robinson (Indianapolis Wood High School and Indiana University Kokomo graduate) played one year of high school baseball.
He began umpiring high school games in 1980 and worked for 35 years with 33 sectionals, 25 regionals, 14 semistates and six State Finals. He umpired six IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series and was voted IHSBCA Umpire of the Year five times.
In 1994, Robinson was elected to the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year. He also coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years.
He has been a football official at the high school and college level and worked six years in NCAA Division II and seven in the Mid-American Conference. He has been a replay official for the MAC and Big Ten Conference. He was a replay official for the 2014 National Championship game at the Rose Bowl between Florida State and Auburn.
James and late wife Nada has one daughter and one grandson — Chiquita and Kameron.
Taylor (Southmont High School and Wabash College graduate) was a Little Giants captain and was in college when he began his coaching career. He led teams at the Little League, Babe Ruth, AAU and American Legion levels.
During an AAU coaching stint in Florida, Taylor realized the level of travel baseball and how Indiana was underrepresented in this arena. He formed the Indiana Bulls travel organization with the vision of providing Indiana high school player the opportunity to pursue their college and MLB dreams.
In 1992, the Bulls sponsored two teams and Taylor coached future MLB players Scott Rolen and Todd Dunwoody. Taylor coached the Bulls for four more seasons, served as president for 10, an officer for 20 and has been a director since 1992.
His vision was realized. More than 170 Bulls players have been drafted by MLB (12 in the first round) and over 300 players have received NCAA Division I scholarships. The Bulls have won 22 national titles, a professional staff works 12 months a year and currently field 25 teams from ages 8 to 17. Several of these teams are coached by former professionals who were Bulls players.
Taylor resides in Brownsburg, Ind., and is a leading insurance defense trial attorney. He has served 20 years as a certified Major League Baseball Players Association agent and represented more than 100 pro players and continues to represent former players in various legal matters.
Deadline for returning the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot, which appears in the October newsletter, is Oct. 31.
The IHSBCA State Clinic is scheduled for Jan. 15-17 at Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing. The Hall of Fame and awards banquet will be held at a later time because of COVID-19 restrictions at the hotel.
Namisnak was a designated hitter in the title game and one of nine seniors in the ECHS lineup.
Tanner Tully led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run — one of three Blazer hits off Ashe Russell — then pitched a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.
There was also left fielder Kaleb DeFreese, shortstop Cory Malcom, first baseman Riley Futterknecht, center fielder Matt Eppers, second baseman Casey Ianigro, third baseman Austin McArt and catcher Kyle Smith. Devin Prater and Nick Ponce were also seniors on that team.
Junior right fielder Jesse Zepeda was the lone non-senior in the starting combo (he went on to play at Bethel College and start the Indiana Black Caps travel organization). Junior Mike Wain was a pinch runner.
Look at the game program and you’ll see Central wearing baby blue uniforms. During the tournament run, they broke out “camouflage” tops and that’s what they wore in taking the title.
Tully pitched at Ohio State University and is now in the Cleveland Indians system.
DeFreese went on to play at Indiana Wesleyan University and become an athletic trainer.
Malcom pitched at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and became a regional sales manager.
Futterknecht pitched at DePauw University and became a regional sales manager.
Eppers, who was the 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2013, played at Ball State University and became a national sales and product manager.
Ianigro became an office with the Elkhart Police Department.
McArt went on to become a regional sales manager at Forest River. Malcom, Futterknecht, Eppers and McArt all landed at Forest River Inc.
Freedman, a newspaperman for 50 years living in Columbus, Ind., serving as sports editor of the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune, has authored or co-authored about 110 books in the past three decades — about 60 on sports with two-thirds of them being on baseball.
He lived the Phillies story as a Philadelphia Inquirer staffer in 1980 assigned to write the sidebar on World Series MVP and future Hall of Famer Schmidt. The journalist was able to draw from what he witnessed at the time plus research. Philadelphia topped the Kansas City Royals in six games as Schmidt hit .381 (8-of-21) with two home runs, seven runs batted in and six runs score.
The seed that grew into the Cy Young book was decades in the making.
“I had it in my head for years and years and years — almost 30 years,” says Freedman. “I was getting more and more interested in baseball history.”
Even though he was serving as sports editor at the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News at the time, Freedman made a trip to the research library at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and gathered information on the man with 511 career pitching victories — far more than anyone in big league annals and wrote a column about Denton True Young — first known as Cyclone for clobbering a wooden fence with his pitches and then Cy.
“Nobody will ever come close,” says Freedman of durable right-hander Young’s win total. “There have been some Cy Young books, but not a lot.
“This is the first time in 20 years there’s been a new look at Cy Young.”
“(Cy Young is an) old story, but he never gets old,” says Freedman. “I wanted to get Cy Young’s voice as much as possible and get into what kind of guy he was.
“He was not a controversial guy. He did not get into trouble. He didn’t keep late hours. He didn’t party.”
Except for his time on a baseball field, Young spent his time as a farmer in northeast Ohio.
Since Young’s 22-year-old career spans from 1890 to 1911, finding the pitcher’s voice was not easy.
“When Cy Young was playing sportswriters did not go to the locker room right after the game and get quotes,” says Freedman. The scribes were focused on getting play-by-play details into their stories and then meeting deadlines and often racing for the train station for the team’s next game. “Contemporaneous reports are missing.”
Luckily for Freedman and other baseball researchers, Young lived to be 88 and shared his thoughts freely for decades after the end of his career.
“His brains were picked about his highlights,” says Freedman. “That stuff was golden material for a guy like me.”
Young spent much of his Hall of Fame career with two primary catchers — Chief Zimmer and Lou Criger. The latter is an Elkhart, Ind., native who was with Young in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston from 1896 to 1908.
The Cy Young Award was first presented to the top pitcher in Major League Baseball in 1956 in honor of a man who not only won 94 more games than the second man on the list (Hall of Famer Walter Johnson), but tossed an astounding 7,356 innings with 29,565 batters faced and 749 complete games. Both the American and National leagues have handed out the Cy Young Award since 1967.
“I love baseball history,” says Freedman. “I learn something all the time when I do the research.
“I was very happy when I held the Cy Young book in my hand.”
Freedman’s newspaper career started when he was in high school in the Boston suburb of Newton, Mass.
He was with the Inquirer when an Alaskan vacation turned into 17 years as a sports editor there. He later was on the staff at the Chicago Tribune and Florida Times-Union and was sports editor at The Republic in Columbus, Ind. He has won more than 250 journalism awards.
Along the way, Freedman kept researching and writing books. There are many related to Alaska, even one that ties baseball to the remote 49th state.
“As long as I can come up with a great topic in my mind and (a book publisher) also thinks it’s a good idea,” says Freedman.
When his books come out is not entirely up to Freedman. Done and awaiting editor’s approval is a something tentatively called “1930: When Everybody Was Babe Ruth.”
To Freedman, 1930 was the “Year of the Hitter” the way 1968 is referred to as the “Year of the Pitcher.”
“Hitting went crazy and pitching was atrocious,” says Freedman. “That year the seams were raised on the ball. Pitchers could not control it. (Hitters) had the years of their lives.
“After that, they changed the rules so it didn’t happen again.”
Lefty-swinging outfielder George “Showboat” Fisher played four major league seasons — hitting .261 in 1923, .220 in 1924 and .182 in 1931. His 1930 mark was .374 as a reserve for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Fisher lived to 95.
“He got to talk about (the 1930 season) for the rest of his life,” says Freedman, who notes that ’30 was the year of the National League’s last .400 hitter (Hall of Fame first baseman Bill Terry of the New York Giants at .401).
All eight position players in the St. Louis Cardinals regular starting lineup hit .300, including outfielder George Watkins at .373.
It was hoped that the Phillies book would come out as part of a 40th-year anniversary and a celebration was planned during spring training in Clearwater, Fla.
Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and that changed everything about 2020.
On March 16, Freedman was on his way home from a western trip to cover rodeo (he once spent three months in Wyoming researching a book on rodeo). He literally had businesses shutting down behind him as he drove back toward southern Indiana.
One day he ate in a restaurant, the next day they were putting chairs on top of tables at a truck stop.
More recently, Freedman has been able to cover high school football for his paper and has been contemplating his next baseball book project.
First baseman Johnny Mize was a star for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and New York Yankees in the late 1930’s through early 1950’s.
“He’s been under-covered,” says Freedman of the Hall of Fame.
Melton was 21 when the corner infielder and outfielder came to Evansville in 1967 and hit nine home runs and drove in 72 runs. He made his Major League Baseball debut with Chicago in 1968 and led the American League in home runs in 1971 with 33.
Herrmann was a 19-year-old catcher in 1966 and was with Chicago briefly in 1967 before coming back to Evansville in 1967 and 1968. He stuck with the parent White Sox in 1969.
Cotton Nash, who had been a basketball All-American at the University of Kentucky and played in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warrior and ABA with the Kentucky Colonels, was played with Evansville in 1967, 1968 and 1970, belting 33 homers in the first season of the Triplets.
In a group shot, left-handed pitcher Lester Clinkscales is in the middle of the frame. His son, Sherard Clinkscales, was a standout at Purdue who was selected in the first round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals and is now athletic director at Indiana State University.
Wirthwein captures roughly the first century of Evansville baseball in a book published March 2, 2020.
Through library files, digitized publications and the resources of the Society for American Baseball Research, he uncovered details about teams and characters going back to the Civil War, which ended in 1865.
Bosse Field, which is now the third-oldest professional baseball park in use (behind Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field) came on the scene in 1915.
Growing up, Wirthwein played youth baseball and then plenty of slow pitch softball.
He graduated from Harrison High School in 1972. He earned a journalism degree at Butler University in Indianapolis in 1976 and took job at The Brownsburg (Ind.) Guide, where he covered everything from sports to the city council and was also a photographer.
After that, he covered trap shooting for Trap & Field Magazine and had a short stint as editor at the Zionsville (Ind.) Times.
Desiring more in his paycheck, Wirthwein went back to Butler and began preparing for his next chapter. He worked toward a Masters of Business Administration (which was completed in 1991) and worked a decade at AT&T and then more than 20 years managing several departments at CNO Financial Group (formerly Conseco) before retiring in June 2019.
“I got lost for 30-plus years,” says Wirthwein, who has returned to his writing roots.
About three years before his last day at CNO he began researching his Evansville baseball book.
“I slowly assembled and had a manuscript shortly before retirement,” says Wirthwein, who is married with four daughters and resides in Fishers, Ind.
When it came time to find someone to produce the book, he found The History Press, a division of Arcadia Publishing that specializes in regional history.
It took a bit of digging to unearth the treasures from the early years. He was amazed that little had been written about the pre-Bosse Field era.
He did find details on teams like Resolutes, Blues, Brewers, Hoosiers and Blackbirds — all of which seemed to have monetary difficulties and scandals swirling around them.
“The whole 1800’s was just a mess,” says Wirthwein. “Teams were coming and going. Financial failures were everywhere.”
Jumping contracts was very commonplace in 19th century baseball. They were often not worth the paper they were written on since a player could get an offer for more money and be on the next train to that city.
To try to combat this, Evansville joined the League Alliance in 1877. It was a group of major and minor league teams assembled to protect player contracts.
It always seemed to be about money.
The 1895 Evansville Blackbirds led the Class B Southern League for much of the season. But, being nearly destitute, the club began throwing games for a sum that Wirthwein discovered to be about $1,500.
The Atlanta Crackers were supposed to be the beneficiary of the blown ballgames, but it was the Nashville Seraphs who won the pennant. Evansville finished in third — 4 1/2 games back.
In 1901, catcher Frank Roth hit 36 home runs for the Evansville River Rats of the Three-I League.
“The Evansville paper thought that to be a world record,” says Wirthwein.
The wooden park on Louisiana, which was built in 1889 near the Evansville stockyards, was in disrepair by 1914 when it collapsed and injured 42 spectators.
Seeing an opportunity, Evansville mayor Benjamin Bosse sprang into action.
“The city had bought this big plot of land,” says Wirthwein. “(Bosse Field) was built in a matter of months.
“He was ready.”
Unusual for its time, Bosse Field was meant to be a multi-purpose facility from the beginning and became home not only to baseball, but football games, wrestling matches and more.
Wirthstein’s book tells the story of Evansville native Sylvester Simon, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1923 and 1924.
In the fall of 1926, he lost three fingers on his left hand and part of his palm while working in a furniture factory.
He came back to baseball using a customized grip on his bat and with a glove that was repaired using a football protector and played for the Evansville Hubs in 1927 and had pro stops with the Central League’s Fort Wayne (Ind.) Chiefs in 1928 and 1930 and played his last season with the Three-I League’s Quincy (Ill.) Indians in 1932. His bat and glove are at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Hall of Famers Edd Roush (1912-13 Yankees/River Rats), Chuck Klein (1927 Hubs), Hank Greenberg (1931 Hubs) and Warren Spahn (1941 Bees) also spent time in Evansville. Roush is from Oakland City, Ind. Klein hails from Indianapolis.
Huntingburg native Bob Coleman played three seasons in the majors and managed 35 years in the minors, including stints in Evansville.
The Limestone League came to town thanks to travel restrictions during World War II. The Detroit Tigers conducted spring training in Evansville. Indiana also hosted teams in Bloomington (Cincinnati Reds), French Lick (Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox), Lafayette (Cleveland Indians), Muncie (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Terre Haute (White Sox in 1945).
Wirthwein’s research found plenty about barnstorming black baseball teams in the early 1900’s.
In the 1920’s, the Reichert Giants represented Evansville in the Negro Southern League. The Reichert family was fanatic about baseball. Manson Reichert went on to be mayor (1943-48).
“(The Reichert Giants) played semipros when not playing league games,” says Wirthwein. “They lobbied hard to play at Bosse Field when the Class B (Hubs) were out of town, but they kept going turned down.
Games were played at the Louisiana Street park, Eagles Park or at Evansville’s all-black high school, Lincoln.
“They started playing games opposite the Hubs and outdrew them every single time. The Bosse Field people finally acquiesced.”
In the 1950’s, the Evansville Colored Braves were in the Negro Southern League and were rivals of an independent black team, the Evansville Dodgers. Games were played at Bosse Field and Lincoln High.
What about the “Global” disaster?
Evansville-based real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. conceived of the Global Baseball League in 1966. It was to be a third major circuit to compete with the American League and National League. There would be teams all over globe, including the Tokyo Dragons from Japan, and the GBL was headquartered in Evansviile.
“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” says Wirthwein. “The guy just wouldn’t give up.”
Happy Chandler, commissioner of baseball in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was brought in as GBL commissioner.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
With the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, players at Morris Baseball in northwest Indiana can finally practice again and founder/president Bobby Morris couldn’t be happier.
“It’s as much fun as I’ve had on a baseball field in ages,” says Morris of a workout earlier this week. “The big reason is quarantine and the chaos going on around us.
“I feel a sense of gratitude. Our players feel a sense of gratitude — more so than in January or February.”
Morris says he hopes his organization with around 200 clients, including Chiefs travel teams, will help bring a sense of community and unity as the 2020 season moves forward.
“if we can spread a little positivity and a little gratitude, I’m all for it,” says Morris, who started his training business in 2011 and merged five years ago with the Hammond Chiefs, which mark their 30th season this year.
The first clients Morris had were 9-year-olds.
“Those kids are just now graduating and going on to play college baseball,” says Morris.
“It’s mutually a good fit together,” says Morris. “Dave has been pleasure to work with. We got some Chiefs coaches when we merged. They’ve been great mentors with our kids.”
The Morris Baseball mission statement: To recruit excellent talent and provide them with disciplined, well-organized, focused practices with superior instruction and place them in highly competitive opportunities to achieve principle-based success.
“If we produce great players, everything will take care of itself,” says Morris. “We make sure we have great practice facilities and plenty of practice time.
“We try to produce well-rounded baseball players. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”
Until recently, Morris Baseball and the Chiefs were housed at Franciscan Physician Network Schererville Family Health Center (formerly Omni Health & Fitness).
The organization just moved to a training facility at 1075 Breuckman Drive in Crown Point. Morris says the name for the new place will be revealed soon.
The new centrally-located home includes plenty of workout space plus classrooms, player’s lounge, kitchen and coach’s offices.
“For our kids it will be great,” says Morris. “We have internet at player desks. They can hang out there all day if they want.
“We prefer that they study and take batting practice.”
“It’s an extremely gifted group,” says Morris of the 2021 team. “(Pettit and Sutkowski) are two phenomenal sports minds.”
Assistants for Morris with the 2022 Chiefs are Morris Baseball general manager Mike Small plus Tim Horneman.
Bobby’s youngest son, Gavin (10), plays for the 9U Chiefs. Bobby also helps coach the 8U team.
Nick Amatulli has more than 40 years of coaching experience and helps with both of Trevor Howard’s squads.
Some other Chiefs coaches are John Adams, Tom Blair, Brad Fedak, Brian Fernandez, Trent Howard, Dale Meyer, Kevin Peller, Brad Rohde, Kenny Siegal and Eric Spain.
“We don’t differentiate ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team,” says Morris. “It’s more geared toward the name of the coach. We don’t want the potential for the stigma there. It also incentivizes our coaches to play the game hard and represent themselves well.
“We want Chiefs teams to play hard and be smart players. Any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”
Three Chiefs alums are currently playing pro baseball — third baseman Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays) and left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) in the majors and second baseman Nick Podkul (Toronto Blue Jays) in the minors.
“Bob is an extremely decent man,” says Morris of Shinkan. “He has such a genuine, caring nature.”
Shinkan can also be strict and he expects his players to be disciplined.
“I had a great experience there with Bob,” says Morris.
After high school, lefty-swinging infielder Morris spent three seasons at the University of Iowa playing for long-time Hawkeyes head coach Duane Banks.
“Duane was just a smart baseball guy,” says Morris. “At Iowa, they really believed in self starters. They threw you out there and expected you to compete for a position.
“That culture helped me a lot in professional baseball.”
Morris was selected as a third baseman in the ninth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs and played nine minor league seasons (1993-2001), logging 636 games and hitting .290 with 36 home runs and 326 RBIs. He reached Double-A in the Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds systems. By hitting .354 with seven homers and 64 RBIs, he was chosen as MVP of the 1994 Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs of the Low Class-A Midwest League. That team was managed by Steve Roadcap.
While Trembley never played pro baseball, he managed (Orioles) and coached (Houston Astros) in the big leagues.
“Dave had a great habit for excellence,” says Morris, who won a High Class-A Florida State League championship with Trembley on the 1995 Daytona Cubs. “He expected a lot out of himself and a lot out of us and how we carried ourselves.”
Morris, who turns 48 in November, grew watching Piersall and Harry Caray call Chicago White Sox games on TV. When he learned Morris was from Chicagoland, Piersall became close to Morris as a minor league hitting/outfield coach.
“Jimmy took on a second grandfather role for me,” says Morris.
It was in the Cubs organization that Morris encountered Alomar.
“He’s as smart a baseball person as I’ve ever met,” says Morris. “He’s an absolute genius.”
Tanner was Morris’ first full-season hitting instructor and the inventor of Tanner Tees — a product used by Bobby and brother Hal Morris (a left-handed first baseman/outfielder who played 14 seasons in the big leagues).
“Joe was a was a renaissance man for baseball,” says Bobby Morris. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great influences.”
His earliest diamond influences came from brother Hal.
Hal is seven years older than Bobby.
“We were constantly competing with one another,” says Bobby. “I was challenged a lot. We were always very close. As I matured and got into high school, Hal brought back stuff from his (college and pro) coaches and we worked on it.
“That helped in fine-tuning my ability to hit at an early age.”
As youngsters, the brothers spent hours taking batting practice with father Bill pitching and mother Margaret chasing baseballs.
Bill Morris was a four-year baseball letterman Davidson (N.C.) College, went to medical school, did his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, entered the U.S. Army and was at Fort Rucker in Alabama when daughter Beth (who went on to be a state swim champion at Munster High) and son Hal (who shined in baseball for the Mustangs) were born.
The family later came to northwest Indiana, where Bill was a pediatrician working at the Hammond Clinic, St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond and Community Hospital in Munster. He died at 82 in 2017.
“He taught us how to compete and how to be gentlemen,” says Bobby Morris of his father. “He was a class southern gentleman.
“My mom is still with us. She has probably shagged as many baseballs in her life as any big league pitcher.”
Bobby and Gloria Morris have three children. Besides Gavin, there’s recent Arizona State University graduate Gina (22) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis student John (19). Gloria Morris is a Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate.
“We’re Region rats,” says Bobby Morris. “I love northwest Indiana.”
“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.
“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”
According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.
“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”
With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).
With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.
Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.
“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.
“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”
Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.
“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.
“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.
“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”
With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.
“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”
Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.
“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”
Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.
He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.
Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).
“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”
A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.
At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.
“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”
His arm was tired from the workload.
With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.
Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.
He wanted to only pitch.
Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”
“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”
The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.
In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.
Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.
“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.
Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”
“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.
He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If hepitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.
Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.
He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.
On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.
A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.
“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.
Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.
“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”
During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.
During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.
“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”
Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)
Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)
“He is one of he best human beings of all-time,” says Etchison of Stoudt. “He was close with his players and his players were close with each other. Everyone who played for him just loves him.
“He was so much more than a baseball coach. He was invested in you. He genuinely cares about people.”
Etchison, 31, makes it a point to look Stoudt up whether it’s in Indiana or Florida.
In his third year as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians, Etchison greatly values character.
“The Indians very progressive in how they go about scouting,” says Etchison. “We collect information and get to know a player. Every player has strengths and weaknesses.
“We emphasize make-up as an organization. The make-up is just so huge.”
Etchison, who played at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and the University of Maryland after his Pendleton Heights days (which included back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference championships in 2006 and 2007 and a senior season in which he hit .392 with five homer runs, seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and a spot on the 2007 IHSBCA North/South All-Star team; former Arabians head coach Travis Keesling assisted Stoudt; The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh), wants to know a player’s level of perseverance and his ability to overcome challenges and perform under pressure.
His job is to identify someone who will impact the game at the big league level.
As an area scout living in Dexter, Mich., Etchison is responsible for a territory which includes Indiana and Michigan plus Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, northern Kentucky, South Dakota, western Ohio and Wisconsin.
He goes to games and tournaments in the spring and summer and scout days in the fall featuring players from these territories or — especially in this time of no live baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic — analyzes video to do player assessments and projections.
“I don’t know what we would have done without Synergy (Sports Technology) video,” says Etchison. “We can see mechanical things on tape — things that weren’t possible 10 years ago — and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”
That’s one piece of the scouting puzzle.
“We’ll never not value going to the ballpark,” says Etchison. “There are a lot of things you can’t see on tape.”
Among those are pregame routines and what the player does during warm-ups or batting practice and how he interacts with his coaches and teammates. Body language won’t always show up on a video that is cut up by pitch and swing.
It is said that there are five tools in baseball (hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, throwing and fielding).
“Old school scouting relies so heavily on tools,” says Etchison. “In the majors, a lot of players have one or two.
“The hit tool, that’s the one that matters (for non-pitchers).”
Etchison hears people say that an outfielder can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm.
But can he effectively swing the bat? Those defensive tools might show up once or twice a week.
“The bat shows up four times every game,” says Etchison. “All (big league) outfielders are offensive positions.”
Etchison, who also played travel baseball with the Indiana Bulls prior to college, redshirted his first season at Ball State (2008) and apparel in 20 games for Greg Beals-coached Mid-American Conference West Division champions in 2009.
Knowing that he would see limited playing time in his third year, Etchison made the choice to transfer to Chipola and joined the that program just weeks before the start of the 2010 season.
“The first time I really took a chance on myself was going down there,” says Etchison. “It was a sink-or-swim situation.”
He could either make it or go back to Indiana and leave his baseball career behind.
Playing for Jeff Johnson on a team loaded with future pro players, Etchison became part of the Chipola Indians brotherhood.
“It’s one of the top junior college programs in the country,” says Etchison. “(Johnson) had a very similar impact on his players as Coach Stoudt. He was a big personality, a great baseball coach and a great mentor.
“(Chipola) opened doors for me.”
Johnson had a relationship with then-Maryland head coach Erik Bakich and it helped Etchison land with the Terrapins as part of Bakich’s first recruiting class. He played in 28 games (25 as a starter) in 2011 and 31 (20 as a starter) in 2012. He threw out 14-of-25 runners attempting to steal during his senior season which opened with a dislocated finger that caused him to miss two weeks. He had already suffered a broken hand and a torn meniscus while at the Big Ten school.
Etchison was a Maryland team captain as a senior, helping the Terps win 32 games.
Meanwhile, Bakich encouraged Etchison to consider coaching when his playing days were over. He graduated from Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in December 2012.
“He thought I’d be good at it,” says Etchison. “I had a few real world job opportunities in the finance industry. My parents (Jeff and Shelly Etchison) encouraged me to get into (coaching). They’ve always wanted me to go out and take chances.”
“I fell in love with coaching,” says Etchison. “I really loved being around baseball everyday.”
There was continuity in the Wolverines program and chances to earn money by working camps.
“I was in a great spot,” says Etchison, who briefly got the chance to go on the road and recruit when Sean Kenny left Michigan for the University of Georgia. “Financially, I was able to survive.”
He also got to spend time around a mentor in Bakich.
“He is one of my closest friends,” says Etchison, who got married last summer with Bakich performing the wedding ceremony.
Aaron became the stepfather to two boys — Reid (now 10 and in the fourth grade) and Grant (now 7 and in the first grade). Emily Etchison, who is from Saline, Mich., is due to bring a baby girl into the family at the end of July.
Etchison explains why he became a scout for the Cleveland Indians.
“The organization was extremely impressive,” says Etchison. “It was a great opportunity for growth.”
Another significant person in Etchison’s baseball life is fellow Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley, who is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the Chicago White Sox.
Growing up, Etchison was a regular at Shirley’s training facility.
“Like so many players who grew up in the area and are proud to be ‘Barn Guys,’ I would be remiss if I did not give credit to him for being a baseball mentor and friend for over 20 years,” says Etchison.
Aaron Etchison, a Pendleton (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball at Ball State University, Chipola College and the University of Maryland and coached at the University of Michigan, is an area scout for the Cleveland Indians.