Competition. It’s one of the things Carter Lohman likes most about baseball. As a left-handed pitcher, the 2018 Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate enjoys the challenge of facing hitters. In four seasons at the University of Louisville (2019-22), he appeared in 38 games (30 in relief) and went 3-4 with a 5.59 earned run average, 62 strikeouts and 52 walks in 58 innings. The Cardinals went 134-65-1 during Lohman’s time with the program, including 51-18 and a College World Series appearance in 2019. Each season was preceded by the Omaha Challenge — a series of competitions to get the team ready for the season and focused on the goal of ending the season at the CWS. For a week or two, the red and black teams took part in swimming, tire flips, 100-meter dashes, lifting and running and more. There was a truck push around the Kentucky State Fairgrounds. Lohman was in the individual top 10 and on the winning team a couple of times. In high school, he played four varsity seasons (all but his junior year as a pitcher-only) for then-HSE head coach Scott Henson and the Royals did the Victory Challenge (the IHSAA State Finals are at Victory Field) early in the spring semester. “It helped make us mentally and physically tougher,” says Lohman. “(Coach Henson) pushed everyone to get the most out of themselves on the field. Our practices were scheduled nicely. There was no lollygagging. That was our time to get better. “At the same time he knew that baseball is fun so let it be fun.” He struck out 125 batters during his prep career and was ranked as Indiana’s top left-handed pitcher by Perfect Game. He also earned two football letters at HSE. Lohman has also enjoyed development at PRP Baseball at Mojo Up Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind., working with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and others and going against other players on Fridays. “It’s a good atmosphere for competing and getting better,” says Lohman. Dan McDonnell is Louisville’s head coach. Lohman worked closely with associate head coach/pitching coach Roger Williams. “He did not take a cookie-cutter approach (to each pitcher),” says Lohman of Williams, who has been at the U of L for 16 seasons. “The emphasis was on learning the game and becoming a better player.” Lohman learned about things like bunting scenarios and first-and-third situations. “I could go for days talking about pitch sequencing,” says Lohman. “You can use your pitches in different ways to get the batters out.” Lohman’s been good enough at it to get paid for it. The 22-year-old southpaw was signed Aug. 1 as a minor league free agent by the Los Angeles Dodgers is now at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., throwing regular bullpen sessions and expecting to make his pro debut soon in the Arizona Complex League. Lohman, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, throws from a high three-quarter arm slot. His four-seam fastball has gotten up to 96 mph. His two-seamer has similar velocity with more horizontal movement to the arm side as opposed to the glove side for the four-seamer. To get more feel for the pitch, Lohman positions his index finger to throw a “spike” curve ball. Thrown harder than his curve, his slider has more horizontal break. His uses a “circle” grip for his change-up. Born in Indianapolis on Christmas Day 1999, Carter is the oldest of Northwestern High School graduates Brian and Andrea Lohman’s four children. Brian Lohman, a sales engineer, played baseball and football in high school and lettered as a defensive back at Purdue University (1992-95). Andrea Lohman, an actuary, was a high school cheerleader. Griffin Lohman, 21, is a right-handed pitcher at Purdue. Ava and Sydney have played volleyball at HSE. The Lohman brothers were teammates briefly during Carter’s senior year of high school and with the Tropics of the 2021 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. What was it like growing up with a ball-playing brother? “The biggest thing was playing catch,” says Carter. “We eventually passed up our dad so we had no one else to throw with.” Carter played recreation ball in Fishers until 8 then travel ball for the Fisher Cats, Indiana Bulls and Evoshield Canes (now Canes Midwest) at 16U and 17U. He met Jared Poland around 10 while both were on the Bulls. Right-hander Poland went on to pitch at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and was selected in the sixth round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Miami Marlins. “We definitely talk about (pitching),” says Lohman of some of his conversations with Poland. Lohman played briefly with the Indiana Nitro in the summer of 2018 before joining other freshmen on the Louisville campus. He had a short stint in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Orleans Firebirds in 2019 and was with the CSL’s Snapping Turtles in 2020. In May, Lohman earned a degree in Exercise Science. “I’ve always been interested in how the body moves,” says Lohman. “It can help me on the field.” Away from baseball, the knowledge gives Lohman many options including athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach and physical therapist. But now it’s about competing on the pitcher’s mound.
When Dustin Butcher took over as head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., following the 2018 season, the former Cougar player and assistant coach (2008-17) had high hopes. “Committed to make history” was the motto. USF went 13-40 in his first season in charge (2019). The was followed by 10-11 in a campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic (2020). Then came the 2021 season and a mark of 34-22 overall (a school record for single-season victories) and a 23-13 ledger in the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League. “We’ve opened some eyes about Saint Francis baseball,” says Butcher, who an attendee at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “We’ve increased our talent pool a lot (from the best player on down). We’ve taken off and narrowed the gap. “There’s competition across the board. I believe competition is vital.” Butcher likes it when his No. 1 and No. 2 player at any given position are challenging each other at practice. “Every rep matters,” says Butcher. “A guy doesn’t go get to a ball and the guy competing against you got that ball. You’re not in the weight room as much as you should be. The guy that’s beating you is in the weight room consistently. “It’s fun to watch these guys compete their rear end off. We are going to put the guy out there that performs and we back up what we say.” Butcher has also watched his players achieve as students. “We had a GPA of 3.4 (as a team) this past semester and it’s consistently gone up,” says Butcher, who earned a psychology degree from USF and Masters in Psychology from Ball State University. “What’s crazy is that when you get smart kids you throw things at them a little bit different and can challenge them a little more about the game.” Butcher has not only seen the talent pool gap shrink, but another facet has improved. “We’ve increased our athleticism tenfold,” says Butcher. “Athletes just find ways. They move their body in different ways.” Many Cougars were multi-sport athletes in high school. “When they come to us and they’re just focusing on baseball and lifting like a baseball player their talent ceiling gets pushed higher and higher because it’s like they’re only focusing on one thing,” says Butcher. “I think that’s helped. I really do.” In 2021, Butcher had Connor Lawhead and Kristian Gayday as assistant coaches and Dylan Farwell (a scout school graduate) as a student assistant who helps with strength and conditioning. Lawhead has since gone Whitman College in Walla, Walla, Wash., and Tanner Gaff has taken his place on the staff. “Coach Lawhead helped out tremendously with the culture as had KG,” says Butcher. “I trust them coaching my son (Nolan) and that’s the highest compliment you can pay any coach.” Gaff has made the transition from a Saint Francis pitcher in 2021 to leading USF pitchers. “I love the energy he has,” says Butcher. “He has done as well as I’ve ever seen to going from a player relationship with his buddies to now being their coach and there is no gray area. “He is Coach Gaff. He does a great job of relating with the guys, but also having a plan like Coach Lawhead had.” Other former Cougar players helping out including Kyle Baker with catcher, Brady Harris with infielders and Noah Freimuth with outfielders. Butcher also credits the impact of assistant athletic trainer Lindsey Foust. “She does a really good job in terms of flexibility, movement patterns and being effiicent,” says Foust. “It’s about keeping them healthy and getting them back on the field (after an injury) as soon as possible.” Saint Francis — with 17 freshmen — is scheduled to open the 2022 season Feb. 4 at Bethel (Tenn.). The first game at Cougar Field is slated for March 4 against Crossroads League rival Huntington.
Accountability, positivity, a spirt of competition and excellence are qualities Jacob Harden is looking to instill as the new head baseball coach at Linton-Stockton High School in Indiana’s Greene County. “I’m big on holding (players) accountable,” says Harden, who was hired to lead the Miners program in July. “I’ll be the first one to get on their tail when they’re doing something wrong, but I’ll be the first one to build them back up. All the coaches I’ve been around cared and still held me to realistic standards. “Positives need to outweigh the negatives.” Harden, who is also a Project Lead The Way computer science teacher at Linton-Stockton Middle School, had players conditioning shortly after the school year began and led players in grades 7-12 during the IHSAA Limited Contact Period in the fall and since the first week of December. “I want to be the program coach,” says Harden, 25. “I don’t want players to meet me for the first time when they’re freshmen.” Besides the middle school program for seventh and eighth graders, the Linton Youth League (T-ball though Grade 6) feeds the high school Miners. Recent graduates moving on to college ball are 2021 graduates Josh Pyne and Kip Fougerousse (son of former Linton-Stockton head coach Matt Fougerousse) to Indiana University. Bracey Breneman (Class of 2022) recently signed with Vincennes (Ind.) University. Harden did his best in the fall to simulate what spring practices will be like with position group work followed by team activity. He set the tone from Day 1. “I set the standard for how I expect things to go,” says Harden. “I mean business. I want us to win state championships. That means working hard. “We’re doing something every minute of our practices and everybody is going to get better.” Harden has players trying to beat one another in cut-off and bunt drills. “Scoop Tennis” — which promotes quick hands and feet and proper glove work — is both fun and competitive. “When guys compete with everything they do that’s going to transfer over to the game,” says Harden. “You want to be be a competitor and find ways to win. “It’s a competitive atmosphere and we’re paying attention to the fine details.” Fall World Series teams vied for the “Folger’s Cup” — an old coffee can found in a dugout. There’s also social media salutes to the “Grinder of the Week” complete with honoree pictured with a coal miner cap. Linton-Stockton baseball embraces the hashtag #PreparingForReign. “Everybody want to be the best they can be, but who’s going to prepare?,” says Harden, who also has his team breaking huddles with a chant of “618.” What’s significant about that number? June 18, 2022 is the date of the IHSAA State Finals at Victory Field in Indianapolis and that’s where the Miners want to be — #Destination618. Harden wants “The Miner Way” to be personified by players who are gritty with good attitudes. “It embodies what this town is all about,” says Harden. “These people have to work for a living. That’s how this community is. “These guys are starting to believe they can do it.” Linton-Stockton’s new uniforms will feature “MH” on the right shoulder to honor baseball backer Mark Hollingsworth, who died at the beginning of the school year. While he’s not on his staff, Harden has got plenty of support from former Miners head coach Bart Berns. Linton-Stockton (enrollment around 390) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, North Central of Farmersburg, North Daviess, Shakamak and White River Valley). In 2021, the Miners were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Eastern Greene, Mitchell, North Knox, Paoli and South Knox and beat North Knox 10-0 in the championship game. Linton-Stockton has won 10 sectional titles. Harden’s assistants are Mike Walters, Craig House and Brian Reel. Walters was a Harden teammate at Northview High School in Brazil, Ind. House is a longtime Linton-Stockton coach who is employed as a coal miner. Reel is the father of Indiana University Southeast head baseball coach Ben Reel. Harden graduated from Northview in 2015. Besides playing Knights head coaches Scott McDonald (2012 and 2013) and Craig Trout (2014 and 2015), he was in the Clay Youth League and was in travel ball as a middle schooler with the Indiana Redbirds and American Legion Baseball for Clinton Post 140 the summer before his senior year and Clay County Post 2 the summer after graduation. He played for Ben Reel at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany in the spring of 2016 and went back that fall. “I had a lot going on,” says Harden. “My grandpa passed away late that fall and one thing led to another. “I was led to step away and come back closer to home.” Harden, who is the son of Brazil’s Mark and Jaime Harden and older brother of sister Kennady Harden (now 19 and an Indiana State freshman) transferred to Vincennes U. “Coach (Chris) Barney took a chance on me,” says Harden, who went in as a walk-on in the fall of 2017 and left in the spring of 2018 as a scholarship player. He became a 4-2-4 player (four-year school, two-year school and four-year school) when he went to Indiana State University in Terre Haute, where Sycamores head coach Mitch Hannahs convinced him it was not worth the risk since Harden had open heart surgery at 16 in 2013 and he was a student manager the rest of the first semester for an ISU team that went on to win a Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship in 2019. Trout invited Harden to be an assistant at Northview and he helped at the varsity and junior varsity levels in 2019 and leading up to the COVID-19-canceled 2020 season. “I’d always known I wanted to coach,” says Harden. “That was the first time I got to put my imprint on something.” In 2021, Harden was an assistant to longtime Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology coach Jeff Jenkins in what turned out to be Jenkins’ final season at the Terre Haute school. Harden assisted manager A.J. Reed of the summer collegiate Prospect League’s Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex in the summer and was on a bus heading to Champion City (Springfield, Ohio) when he got the call from Linton-Stockton asking him to join the Miners. We got to grow real close together,” says Harden of Reed. “He was fighting very hard for me. I got great references and guys on the team pulling for me. It felt so good. “I’ve met a lot of people along the way. I can’t think of too many 25-year-olds has the network I do. I’ve got to learn some much. It’s been a chaotic journey. But you have to have some chaos to get that goal accomplished.” The holder of an associate degree in General Studies from Vincennes and degree in Sports Management from Indiana State, Harden is working toward certification through the Indiana Teachers of Tomorrow program. This semester, his PLTW class is creating apps. Next semester, it will be computer science for innovators and makers. “It gives kids a moment to shine,” says Harden of the STEM students. “It makes them feel good.”
“Larry is charismatic and has a contagious baseball mind,” says Hester.
Hester, who followed his baseball playing career, by traveling all over the country competing in top-flight slow pitch softball tournaments, has his Charlestown players competing during IHSAA Limited Contact Period winter workouts.
“We compete internally all the time,” says Hester. “I have a good group of (10) seniors who love hard work and competing.”
Hester has been getting his Pirates to understand what it means to have love and passion for the game and and enjoying being on the team.
“A lot of that comes from Larry Owens,” says Hester.
Expecting around 24 players in the program this spring, Hester and assistants Bryan Glover, Tony Kailen, George Roberts and Brady Hester will lead a program in varsity and junior varsity competition. Of the five coaches, only Kailen is not a Charlestown graduate.
The site of the Pirates baseball field is the same that Hester knew as a player, but the facility was totally overhauled almost a decade ago.
The former practice football field was turned into a softball field and now baseball and softball share not only a hitting building but a walkway and common area with a concession stand between the two diamonds.
“There’s great energy for our games,” says Hester.
The Pirates are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek. Charlestown has won two sectional titles — 1999 and 2009.
While Hester was a Charlestown assistant he helped establish middle school baseball. Not affiliated with the school system, games are played during the spring. This year, Hester expects one team of sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
Recent Charlestown graduates on college baseball teams include right-handed pitchers Andrew Snider (Morehead, Ky., State University) and Drew Fifer (Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill.).
Two current seniors — right-handed pitcher Eric Wigginton (Spalding University in Louisville) and utility infielder Matthew McCoy (Hanover, Ind., College) — have made college baseball commitments.
Two others from the Class of 2021 weighing their options are catcher Nathaniel Kimbrell and right-handed pitcher Jacob Glover.
Ronni Hester, Brian’s wife, is in retail management. Brian and Ronni have three sons — Brady (22), Dalton (18) and Boomer (13) plus one grandson. Dalton Hester is a Charlestown senior. Boomer Hester is a seventh grader who plays football, basketball, wrestling and baseball with the middle school team and the Rawlings Tigers.
“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.”
“Guys come in on Day 1 and they seem very coachable,” says Benjamin.
Benjamin says coaches may notice some players that are a little standoffish or hard to influence while others are coachable throughout the entire experience.
In many cases, players have a personal instructor, adding more voices to the room.
“You’re trying to navigate all those variables,” says Benjamin. “The vision is the allow the player to play competent-unconscious.”
That vision comes with a set of values.
The first is asking open-ended questions (coach to coach, coach to player, player to coach and player to player) and minimizing statements.
Why is this done?
“I’m trying to develop the awareness and self-awareness of the player by asking him an open-ended question.
“By slowing things down, conversations with players become much more of a dialogue instead of a one-way statement.
“You know a lot more about your players because you’re getting a lot more feedback.”
The player is given a chance to do some self-discovery by answering the open-ended questions.
Benjamin says if a player doesn’t have awareness (knowing what is going on around you) and self-awareness (knowing what you are experiencing), they cannot effectively implement information.
“If anytime they’re stuck they’re looking for a statement, they will have the inability to self-diagnosis pitch-to-pitch during competition.” says Benjamin.
“It’s Strike 1 and they look down to third base and say, ‘Coach, what now?’ You can’t do that. You’ve got to learn how to talk to yourself.
“Most young players talk to themselves in statements instead of open-ended questions. Most statements are negative and not positive and solution-driven.”
Benjamin has found that as players develop they ask themselves open-ended questions, they find a solution the vast majority of the time.
“The coach is there as a sounding board, a facilitator, a counselor, awareness raiser and available when the player gets ‘stuck’ to offer a suggestion,” says Benjamin, who wants his players to own the process.
“If they own it, the ceiling is them. If I own it, their ceiling is me. If their ceiling is me, they’re never going to hit a curveball because I couldn’t do it.”
The relationship becomes a partnership.
“It’s not a threat and it’s not a power struggle,” says Benjamin.
The additional value of communication helping coachability is the coaching staff being aware of the person before the player. Assistant coaches are vital in this area as the front lines of knowing the room.
“There’s death in the family,” says Benjamin. “Girlfriends, adjusting academically, or something going on in the home.
“Nobody on the coaching staff should ever be surprised about what’s going on in a player’s life; it gives you a clearer picture of all the influences in that person’s life when they enter training.”
As a coaching staff, There are typically two individualized meetings a week in which, as a staff, we go down each name on the roster discussing who has what needs that we may be able to meet through various aspects of the program.”
The Indiana Wesleyan staff has players focus on one objective at a time (approach, plan or skill). By showing restraint, they can avoid information overload.
“It is impossible to play unconscious and knowledgeable if we’re carrying all these different things into our performance time,” says Benjamin. “If you’re trying to balance two or three different things, it becomes impossible to execute one.”
At IWU, that one thing for a player might take the entire fall. They focus on the objective, they achieve it and then they move on.
Benjamin desires the coaching staff to over communicate with each other, to be open and always seeking growth.
Benjamin admits that investing in assistants development was not a strength earlier in his coaching career.
Having operated during the first half of his career with just one volunteer assistant, who worked during the day, Benjamin’s ability to understand the value and importance of investing into his assistants was behind. “The last two years, I’ve grown in the ability to delegate, mentor, and invest daily in our assistant coaches.
By doing so, the atmosphere and the productivity is up.”
Benjamin looks to provide a safe atmosphere for his assistants to ask questions.
“That’s how we get better,” says Benjamin. “We talk about players needing to be coached-up, but so do coaches.”
“As a coaching staff, we have blind spots. But if we ask each other open-ended questions, it’s not a threat. It’s an opportunity to grow.”
Benjamin says, “In coaching, time is maybe the most valuable aspect.”
As a coaching staff preparing for this Fall training season, Benjamin and his staff noticed that the areas in which we failed the most in coaching, was coaching a player inside too tight of a time restraint.
Benjamin says a coaching session must provide clarity by the coach and the player, because that often requires time, coaches needed to decide when the best time was to address a coaching opportunity.
Because it negatively impacts trust, the idea is to avoid “Drive-By coaching.”
IWU coaches witnessed this the most in the side cages during Batting Practice rotations.
Rotations may be 8-15 minutes depending on the day.
If four hitters arrive in the side batting cages with limited time, then we found ourselves making a lot of statements since we did not have the time capacity to create the amount of clarity as you would in a different segment of training, early work, or post work.
Now, if we get a coaching opportunity in the cages, we ask ourselves if the player has the foundational awareness and self-awareness to find a solution in the limited amount of time without transferring ownership of the hitter’s development.
If there is not enough time to effectively coach that player in that session, we will act on the coaching opportunity post practice or early work the next day.
“We want to create opportunities for growth so there’s time to land that plane,” says Benjamin.
Practices for the Wildcats are divided into training zones and performance zones.
Training zones entail many reps and a lot of teaching.
“Nothing’s really being measured,” says Benjamin. “It’s a zone where you can make mistakes and experiment.”
Benjamin notes that baseball players in general are training now more than ever.
“Guys are hitting all the time. They’re training all the time,” says Benjamin. “They become really, really good at training.”
That’s where the performance zone comes in, where there is competition with some kind of award or consequence.
“You have to win,” says Benjamin. “We’re transitioning from the training zone where you’re allowed to think, to the performance zone where you shut this thing (points to head) off, get unconscious and just try to win the moment.
“You just try to go beat the other guy.”
This fall, a typical Wildcats practice has three competitions (performance zones) and one learning moment (training zone), in addition, early work is designed as a training zone.
IWU also emphasizes peer-to-peer competere.
“It’s the Latin word for competition and it means to strive together,”
says Benjamin. The personal best comes out by competing with another person.
It does not happen overnight, but it can be healthy for two players to be vying to be the starting shortstop.
It’s often been found that one wins the job and the other ends up starting, too, perhaps at second base or third base.
“Competition is an opportunity and not a threat,” says Benjamin. “We have to have competition. It’s the only way we’ll find out what our personal best is.”
Benjamin invites players to join the IWU program based on three factors — humility, motor and skill.
“They have the confidence to say ‘I’m really good’ and the humility to say ‘I need to get better.’ That’s vital.
“In psychology, they say your self-confidence shows up before your self-awareness does.”
Motor means the ability to work hard with intention each day.
“Skill can always be developed if the first two exist.” says Benjamin.
Rich Benjamin is the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. His first season leading the Wildcats was 2016. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)
“My faith is a big part of who I am,” says Coughenour aka Coach Coke. “I try to teach the young men more about life than I do about baseball sometimes.
“We all live life.”
Coughenour talks his Royals about things like being on time, doing their job, learning from failures and successes, standing by their word and working hard.
“The things that make you a better man,” says Coughenour.
Recent Eastern Hancock graduate Clayton White is on the baseball team at Anderson University and other current Royals have college baseball aspirations. Coughenour is proud that he has sent more young men on to the military and to be policemen and firemen.
Among those going on to the service are Alan Clark (Army Reserves), Kris Cushing (Navy, Dwight Duzan (Navy), Dustin Pettit (Marines and Army), Steven Stunda (Army), Devon Wagoner (Army) and Pedro Wilkinson (Air Force)
Recent graduate Tyler Blattner (Charlottesville) and Easton Fields (Greenfield) are volunteer firefighters and going through fire school.
“He was a very moral man,” says Coughenour of Keiper. “He made sure everybody had a fair chance. It didn’t matter if they were a freshman or a senior.
“He made sure everybody was a part. He treated everybody the same and give them the same opportunities.”
Eastern Hancock players constantly get opportunities to compete — in practice and in games. There are thousands of chances during a school year.
Coughenour splits his team into small groups and has them compete for points in doing certain offensive or defensive skills. The group winner gets a piece of candy. Those with less points have to run.
The top three for a month get T-shirts — gold, silver and blue.
“The same kids don’t always win it,” says Coughenour.
The season champion receives a plaque.
The Royals averaged 16 to 17 players at fall practices, where they divided into teams and scrimmaged. Coughenour was the pitcher.
Some of the advantages to working as a team and not just the coach with a few players at a time is that things like bunt defenses and pick-off moves can be covered early and not just in the few weeks prior to the season opener.
In the off-season, there is school-wide conditioning program and also one that baseball players can use through a cell phone app.
“I give my boys off until after Christmas to hit the weight room,” says Coughenour.
In 2018, the Royals got off to a 1-7 start before finishing 13-15 and tied for second place in its first season as a Mid-Eastern Conference member. Eastern Hancock was the lone MEC school to beat champion Wapahani (1-0 in nine innings in Selma).
The rest of the MEC consists of Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc and Wes-Del. Union did not field a baseball team in 2018.
The Royals are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central. Eastern Hancock mugged with the sectional championship hardware for the only time in 1976.
With the help of athletic director Aaron Spaulding, Coughenour builds a strong non-conference schedule.
“We try to find the best competition around,” says Coughenour. “Our sectional is not an easy one.
Eastern Hancock graduated 10 players last spring. Coughenour expects to have 31 in the program for varsity and junior varsity teams for the 2019 season.
“We’ve been growing,” says Coughenour. “My first couple years, we had 23 or 24. In lean years, it was in the mid-teens. The last three years, we’ve had around 30 kids.”
There’s also a middle school team of seventh and eighth graders that play close to 20 games in the spring.
Varsity, JV and middle school squads share the same on-campus field that was christened in 2010. The Royals played all of their 2009 home games at the Bandits Yard in Greenfield, Ind. (now site of Midwest Astros Academy), while the facility was being completed.
Coughenour coached the Bandits 17U team for five summers. He now coaches an Eastern Hancock summer team that plays in the Greenfield-based Babe Ruth travel league.
Those kids play their home games on the same field they occupy with the high school and middle school teams in the spring.
“We teach kids at a young age how to maintain it,” says Coughenour. “Taking care of the field is a habit. They have ownership in it. High school kids help the junior high kids.
“It becomes pretty seamless. It goes back to the service and building the tradition.”
Chad, who works as chief surveyor for the Hancock County Surveyor’s Office, has been married to Tiffany for 20 years. The couple have three daughters — Josie (16), Abigail (14) and Paige (9). Sophomore Josie and eighth grader Abigail attend Greenfield schools. Paige is home-schooled.
The Coughenours (from left): Paige, Chad, Tammy, Abigail and Josie.
The Eastern Hancock Royals pray prior to a game a few high school baseball seasons ago.
Eastern Hancock High School head baseball coach Chad Coughenour (left) gets xxx to slide into third base in a 2018 game against Cowan.
A.J. Muegge (left) rounds third base as Eastern Hancock High School head baseball coach Chad Coughenour points him toward home during a 2017 game against Knightstown.