Indiana native Gil Hodges has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and he may be getting another posthumous honor. Hodges was born in Princeton in 1924 and grew in Petersburg in southern Indiana. He attended Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Bronze Star recipient as a part of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. He was involved in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. He was a slugging first baseman for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers before managing the “Miracle Mets” to the World Series title in 1969 and dying of a heart attack in 1972. In his 35 looks on a Hall of Fame ballot, Hodges obtained the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the Golden Days Period committee for enshrinement in Cooperstown. The induction ceremony is slated for July 24. Hodges was in the inaugural class of Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in 1979. A water-crossing structure in Columbus, Ind., might be among his next recognition. A resolution passed through both chambers of the Indiana House to ask the Indiana Department of Transportation to ponder renaming the passageway on I-69 over the East Fork of the White River the “Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.” The bridge section is in Columbus. The resolution was co-sponsored by State Representatives Cindy Ledbetter (R-Newburgh) and Shane Lindauer (R-Jasper). “Resolutions don’t need to be signed by the governor,” says Adam Aasen, press secretary for Indiana House Republicans. “The bridge isn’t automatically renamed yet, although INDOT often takes these resolutions into strong consideration.” The famed son of Indiana already has several places bearing his name: • A bridge spanning the East Fork of the White River in northern Pike County on S.R. 57 is named for Hodges. • Princeton Community High School plays on Gil Hodges Field. • The diamond at Saint Joseph’s College, which closed in 2017, is also named for Hodges. • A large mural of Hodges stands at the corner of S.R. 57 and S.R. 61 in Petersburg. • There already is a Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and Gil Hodges Way in New York. • Randy’s Americana Cafe’ in Petersburg has a huge Hodges memorabilia display. A baseball-style lunch is planned in Gil’s honor on April, which would have been his 98th birthday. • Hodges wore 14. Both the Mets and Dodgers have retired that number.
As an introduction to liberal arts, freshmen students at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., take tutorial classes. Eric Dunaway, a BKT Assistant Professor of Economics in his fourth year at the all-male school, has chosen to teach For The Outcome of The Game — a class that class meets 9:45 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and focuses on sports analytics. So far the class of 14 has dug into the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” and went on a field trip to a Cincinnati Reds doubleheader where they enjoyed give-and-take with Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz. “It’s something I’m interested in,” says Dunaway of sports analytics. “We’re learning it together. “I’m thinking about re-tooling it into a sports economics class in the future. I can absolutely teach it again.” Dunaway is a native of Spokane, Wash., and a lifelong Seattle Mariners rooter. “I have a strong background in statistics,” says Dunaway. “Sports analytics is new to me.” “Moneyball” — written by Michael Lewis and published in 2004 — was assigned summer reading for the fall semester elective class. The book tells about how the Oakland Athletics and Billy Beane (who is now Vice President of Baseball Operations) used analytics to their advantage. “It’s changed how (Major League Baseball) is played — for better and worse,” says Dunaway. Is it better or worse? “I try to avoid making the conclusions for the students,” says Dunaway. “We are changing the way we look at what stats matter. “There is no guarantee that making the sport more efficient will make it more fun.” The Sept. 1 St. Louis Cardinals at Reds outing was Wabash College’s first excursion since March 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping the school from those activities for 1 1/2 years. “We’re getting back to one of the things Wabash is really good at,” says Dunaway. “We do a lot of great learning in the field.” Professor of Rhetoric Dr. Todd McDorman, who went with Dunaway and company to Cincinnati, has taken Wabash students to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N,Y. The Society for American Baseball Research member hopes to do so again. Dunaway, who also advises students, says he received a perspective from Schatz into what classes they should take if interested in sports analytics. “Statistics and computer science are the two big subjects,” says Dunaway. “Those are the things you have to enjoy to enjoy doing sports analytics.” Another text for the class is “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won,” written by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim in 2012. Moscowitz, a native of Lafayette, Ind., with bachelor and masters degrees from Purdue University, is a Professor of Finance at Yale University. Wertheim is an accomplished sports journalist. Evan Neukam, Justin Santiago and Jacob White are students in Dunaway’s class. They all shared their takes on sports analytics and baseball. Neukam, a Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate who is on the Wabash baseball team, had seen the “Moneyball” movie (2011) starring Brad Pitt several times but had not read the book. “The biggest difference (between the movie and the book) is that the book goes more into detail on how analytics work than the story of Billy Beane and the Athletics.” Schacht worked with Beane in Oakland. “It was really interesting how (Schatz) got into his position,” says Neukam. “He didn’t use his college major (Economics). He learned on the job. He learned all coding for statistics on his own.” Neukam, a Cardinals fan, is finding out about sabermetrics, its terms and how they work. “I’m not sure what WAR (Wins Above Replacement is,” says Neukam. “But I know that’s pretty important. “The average Exit Velo (off a hitter’s bat) is more important than batting average.” Santiago, who grew up a Milwaukee Brewers fan in Mount Pleasant, Wis., and graduated from Westfield (Ind.) High School, enjoys combining his interest in sports and numbers. “Learning about the field of sports analytics in general has been great for me,” says Santiago. “I knew a decent amount about it. The next few weeks we’re going dive a lot deeper.” Santiago says tutorial classes help students become more well-rounded so they can write, debate and discuss a subject. Looking at MLB trends, Santiago says he has been “frustrated with high number of strikeouts and really low batting averages.” He has been pleased to see the Brewers — which have clinched a 2021 playoff berth — increase batting a average and on-baseball percentage. “Put the ball in play and you have a chance,” says Santiago. “WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is important for pitchers.” During the Cincinnati trip, students were able to ask many questions of Schatz. “I asked about when to move off of a player — when to trade or release them,” says Santiago. “As organization there is balance between knowing talent and this is the major leagues and you can’t give a player an infinite amount of chances. You have to win.” Santiago learned how Schatz dug into data for right-handed pitcher Dan Straily. “(Schatz) thought he could be more successful than his numbers showed and can develop into a better pitcher,” says Santiago. “He played well as a Red and traded him to Marlins for (right-hander) Luis Castillo (who has 40 games for Cincinnati since 2017).” Santiago’s take on “Moneyball”? “(Billy Beane) did not pan out as a player,” says Santiago. “Scouts valued him because of his physical stature and appearance. They over-valued the physical tools but did not look into the numbers and his flaws. “That — in a sense — led him to analytics. It’s not all about looking at a player’s tools. You have to focus on the results and what the numbers really say about the player.” White, a Peoria, Ill., native who pulls for the Cardinals, has his opinions. “I’ve always been on the analysis side,” says White. “I get the argument where the aesthetics are hurt (by analytics). Basketball is all about 3-pointers and baseball’s Three True Outcomes (home run, walk or strikeout). “It’s a product of ‘Moneyball’ and the whole analytics approach. Home runs are more interesting. There are less less stolen bases and bunts. There’s something exciting about a stolen base. It’s lost with the analytics. “If I’m paying money to see my Cardinals I want to see a win, I don’t care how they get it.” Dunaway’s class is giving former Peoria Chiefs foul ball hawker White and his fellow freshmen “a baseline understanding of how sport’s stats work.” Also a Chicago Bears fan, White is involved on 22 fantasy football leagues. “It’s a crude science,” says White of fantasy sports. “I use my best educated guess (to fill out weekly lineups).”
“(Sharnowski) taught us to just be tough,” says Atwood, who is now in his second stint as head baseball coach at North Newton Junior-Senior High School in Morocco, Ind., where he was an assistant then a head coach in the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s and is now also athletic director and dean of students. “You have to be mentally tough in baseball. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”
Atwood calls Urban “a heckuva a baseball guy.”
“Basics were key to everything,” says Atwood, who experienced an intense coach in Naylor.
“He was a pretty hard-nosed little character,” says Atwood. “(Brandon) was all of the kids.”
The 2020-21 school year is Atwood’s second back at North Newton, where he is now athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic kept him from coaching the Spartans in the spring 2020. If the weather cooperates, North Newton could open the season Thursday, April 1 against Hebron. The team is slated to visit Harrison in West Lafayette Saturday, April 3.
With 24 players in the program, the Spartans will field varsity and junior varsity teams, playing home games on the campus located at the school.
Mike Atwood has three adult children — Michael (32), Brittney (30) and Braden (29).
Michael is in the U.S. Army serving in Kuwait. Britney works as a technician at a Lafayette, Ind., hospital.
Braden Atwood was a three-time placer at the IHSAA State Finals (fourth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and second as a senior) at Delphi and went on to a be a four-time placer and NCAA Championship qualifier as well as a three-time team champion at Purdue University. He took part in the U.S. Team Trials and was later a volunteer assistant coach at West Point (Army). He is married and living in Connecticut and has a daughter.
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.
“It was an amazing experience seeing the history of Indiana baseball,” said McKeon, who was excited to see the photo of the 2017 IHSBCA South All-Stars. He was the head coach of that team in Muncie.
The rest of the council includes executive director Brian Abbott, assistant executive director Phil McIntyre, president Kevin Hannon, second vice president Ben McDaniel, third vice president Jeremy Richey and past president Ricky Romans. Hannon’s official duties will end with the IHSAA State Finals, which are scheduled this year on Monday and Tuesday, June 17-18 at Victory Field in Indianapolis (followed by the IHSBCA Futures Game June 19 and North/South All-Star Series June 20-22 in Madison.
The Hall of Fame expansion has a curved wall and resembles an outfield.
The Hall in Jasper is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday through Sunday when Vincennes-Jasper is in session (August to May) and 11 to 3 daily when school is out (May to August). Admission is $4 for ages 13-and-older, $3 for ages 5-12, $2 for ages 60-and-older and free for ages below 5. Group rates are available. Special showings can be arranged by calling 812-482-2262.
Hall of Famers attending the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019 are (from left) Terry Gobert, Tim Nonte, Ray Howard, Joe Rademacher, Jim Reid and Paul Gries. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
A crowd gathers for the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
Executive director and Hall of Famer Ray Howard shows some items at the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
History is preserved at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
The induction classes of 2018 and 2019 are show in their space at the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
One view of the displays at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
A collection of bats at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
The new outfield area at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
A photo of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association South All-Stars with Jeff McKeon as head coach is on display at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
Some uniforms on display at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
Another view of the displays at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
A tribute to Hall of Famer Don Mattingly at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
A salute to Hall of Famer and Jasper High School graduate Scott Jasper at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
The Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame is located in the Ruxer Student Center on the Vincennes University campus in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
Architect drawings for the expansion of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
The expansion of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper was made possible through a substantial donation by the Buehler family. The new space was dedicated on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
The Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Jasper — home to the five-time state champion Jasper High School Wildcats. (Jeff McKeon Photo)
The ribbon cutting for expansion of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Picture Perfect Photo)
Christiansen has been at the school since the fall of 2008 and has led the Eagles baseball program since 2009 in all but one season, when he was finishing graduate school.
A 1997 graduate of Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Christiansen played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and was a top-notch football receiver.
His diamond teammates included two players selected in the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — A.J. Zapp (in the first round to the Atlanta Braves) and Nick Jamison (in the 31st round to the Detroit Tigers).
After earning his undergraduate degree at Indiana University, where he did not play sports, Christiansen did some student teaching in Australia. He then was a teacher and coached baseball and football for two years at Carmel (Ind.) High School.
Pamela Christiansen, Kurt’s wife went to law school at Valparaiso University, and got a job in South Bend, bringing the family to northern Indiana. Kurt was a teacher and coached baseball and football at NorthWood High School for four years before pursuing the opportunity to teach at CMA.
Christiansen describes the humanities as a combination of Language Arts and Social Studies in a traditional school.
“It’s pretty wonderful,” says Christiansen. “The kids are learning to read and write and think in a pretty interdisciplinary setting.”
Culver Military Academy offers what its website calls “a leadership approach that develops young men into leaders of character who are poised for global success in any career path.”
There is also a Culver Girls Academy. Together with CMA for boys, they form what is known as the Culver Academies.
Students come from far and wide.
While seven players had hometowns in Indiana, Culver’s 2018 roster featured athletes from Alaska, California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington as well as Korea.
Culver Academies has a college advising office, which helps students make connections at the university level.
“Ideally, a Culver kid is using baseball to help them find the best academic fit for them,” says Christiansen. “Baseball is part of what got them to the school. The end benefit is a world-class education.”
Christiansen knows that college coaches have often seen players through video, scouting or camps and they are calling him to fish out the story.
“One of the big benefits about being at Culver is that I know my players,” says Christiansen. “I see them on and off the field quite a bit. I have a pretty good sense of who they are.”
Christiansen says Culver Academies students are attractive to colleges not only because they are strong academically, but they’ve also learned to develop independence.
“They’re at a boarding school far from home and they’re figuring out how to take care of themselves,” says Christiansen. “All of that’s done before these colleges get them and that’s a real big bonus.”
It’s not a cookie-cutter approach taken by Christiansen and his fellow instructors.
“Like any school, kids are kids,” says Christiansen. “Each kid is a little bit different. So you’ve got to find ways to connect with them and teach them. But it helps that we’ve got kids who are committed to the mission of the school.
“How do I leverage baseball to deliver on that mission? That’s a question that the staff constantly asks of ourselves — not just to put kids in a position to compete and win baseball games and develop as athletes but develop dispositions and mindsets that will serve them in life.”
With no feeder program, Christiansen often does not know who he will have on his baseball team until school starts in the fall, though he does sometimes find out who has a baseball background during the admissions process.
“In almost 100 percent of the cases I’ve never seen them throw or hit,” says Christiansen. “I have to work pretty hard to recruit our own campus because there’s so many interesting and wonderful opportunities. Kids grow up playing Little League and they get to Culver and decide they want to try crew or lacrosse.
“I have to identify the baseball players and make sure they still want to come out and be part of the program.”
The school’s mission includes a wellness component and students not in a sport must do something to get exercise.
“Not all of our kids are premier athletes,” says Christiansen. “Hockey and lacrosse programs are elite. They’re really, really good — some of the best in the country.”
Baseball, which plays on Wilkins Field, is restricted by school policy from playing more than a couple of games during the school week with other contests on Saturdays. This means CMA schedules around 20 to 23 games or less than the 28 regular-season contests allowed by the IHSAA.
“We want to make sure our kids have plenty of time to study and they’re not out until 9 or 10 o’clock at night four or five nights in a row,” says Christiansen.
Being an independent, CMA often gets bumped when other schools must make up conference games.
Christiansen’s coaching staff includes three other senior humanities instructors — J.D. Uebler with the varsity and John Rogers and Andy Strati leading the junior varsity.
Kurt and Pamela Christiansen have three children — Jack (11), Sarah (10) and Joey (5).
Culver (Ind.) Military Academy head baseball coach Kurt Christiansen with Hayden Schott at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.
Kurt Christiansen is the head baseball coach and a humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy. He played high school baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph at Center Grove. (Steve Krah Photo)
“It’s a different timing mechanism to keep my front side back,” says Combs, a Monroe, Ind., native who has been staying in central Indiana and training at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield. “I’m learning how to use my hips and hands together and staying balanced throughout my swing.
“I’ve been in the weight room everyday working on strength and power.”
RoundTripper trainers have also helped him with improving his speed and agility as he gets ready to head to report to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., on March 1.
“I want to keep developing as a player,” says Combs, 23.
Primarily an outfielder, Combs led Huntington with a .402 batting average and paced the Crossroads League with a .516 on-base percentage.
The senior rapped out 28 extra-base hits (eight home runs, one triple and 19 doubles) and was second in batting as well as runs scored per game (1.08) and hits per game (1.50) and ranked third in slugging (.654), total bases per game (2.44) and doubles per game (.40).
“I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything else,” says Combs. “I really enjoyed Huntington for four years. I learned advanced baseball techniques there.
“I had a really good experience,” says Combs of his first season in pro ball. “The biggest thing I could take away is creating myself a routine so I can go and have the most success possible.”
A 2013 Adams Central graduate, Combs played four varsity baseball seasons for coach Dave Neuenschwander and was also coached by him as a football quarterback and defensive back.
“There was a work ethic he instilled in me,” says Combs. “He’d say, ‘you have a lot of talent, you’ve just got to keep working hard and doing your thing.’ He was always pushing me through the good times and the bad
“He taught us things — on and off the field — about being a good man and staying out of trouble. I really respect Coach Neuenschwander. I can call him a friend today. I appreciate what he did for me at Adams Central.”
The Flying Jets won baseball sectional titles in three of his four seasons (2010, 2011 and 2013) with one regional crown (2013).
Dalton, the son of Kurt and Marie Combs and younger brother of Kyleigh, got his baseball start at Monroe Youth League at Don Ray Memorial Park. At 12, his father coached a travel team — Indiana Aquablast — that went to Cooperstown, N.Y.
While in high school, Dalton played travel baseball for Fort Wayne Cubs, Summit Storm and USAthletic.
Combs graduated from Huntington with a sport management degree and can see himself one day running a training facility. He enjoys working with kids and he has helped out at several camps and with Huntington and its trips to Nicaragua.
Dalton Combs, a graduate of Adams Central High School and Huntington University, is now a left-handed-hitting outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)
Once the season ends, there are optional fall workouts. There is no training activity in November and December.
Held left his post as a St. Louis Cardinals coach after the 2006 season to direct the Bulls, which are based in the Indianapolis area but draws players from all corners of the state.
With all his connections in the baseball world, Held is the face of the organization.
When he first came aboard with the Bulls, Held conducted player clinics. But with players spread out across Indiana it was difficult to reach all of them.
Held then decided to focus on educating the coaches to relay the message to the players.
He wants a non-threatening atmosphere and screamers and yellers are not welcome.
All coaches are hired by Held. He is looking for those with strong baseball backgrounds. That is more important than them having a standout player for a son.
“We need to have a coach who runs a quality program,” says Held. “We’d love to have all non-dad coaches. But with time restraints, we can’t always do that. (Coaching) does entail a lot of work.”
Head coaches get a stipend to off-set expenses which they share with their assistants. Player fees are waived for sons playing on a team coached by their father.
Last November, a mandatory coaches retreat was taken to Camp Emma Lou near Bloomington. It is the site of Rolen’s E5 Foundation camps for children and families dealing with illness, loss or other special needs.
“It was a big undertaking, but it was just worth it,” says Held. “It really paid off.
“Part of my job is make sure we’re doing things properly and evaluating the coaches. I give my coaches a big leash. Micro-managing them is a mistake.”
There is manual to help coaches conduct a productive practices.
“I don’t want them having home run derbies and just hitting ground balls,” says Held. “Practice is the most important thing. Players need to get something out of it.
“I monitor my coaches. I don’t want them to go rogue.”
Practices tend to be held once a week in the winter and twice a week in the spring for 8U to 14U teams. Games are mostly played on weekends.
Besides team practices in locales around the Indianapolis area, there are some organizational practices on the calendar. That’s one of the various ways the director stays connected with all the teams. Taking a cue from professional baseball, he has each coaching staff report to him after each weekend. If there was an incident or a significant injury, Held will know about it.
If a parent has a concern, Held says they need to go through the proper channels of communication. He prefers that the matter be addressed first with that player’s coach. Then comes a board member assigned to the team and then comes the director.
“I try to keep a close watch on the pulse of our teams,” says Held. “If there are issues, we try to be visible.
“It’s hard to control 300 sets of parents. You may give a message, but they hear what they want to hear. Our parents have been fantastic with going through the proper chain of command.”
The Bulls — an Indiana not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization has a board of directors filled with business professionals and a set of by-laws. There are currently 23 board members.
Some are established as high school feeder programs. Others are there to go after national championships. Yet others are there to develop talent.
The Bulls were formed to develop and gain exposure for ballplayers in the state.
“Indiana was Alaska in terms of developing college baseball players,” says Taylor.
It’s key to have business people of the board — bankers, lawyers, insurance agents etc. There expertise will help in securing facilities, making deals, establishing policies, setting budgets and managing social media. Other important things to consider are revenue, player fees, sponsors and fundraising.
Taylor says board members are expected to raise money and/or cut a check of their own. They should be “invested” in the organization.
The Bulls have had a sustaining corporate partnership with cap company Lids.
While keeping tabs on all the teams, Held will also coach 16U Black and join Rolen in coaching 10U Grey and their sons — Boston Held and Finn Rolen.
“We’re excited about that,” says Held. “We get our kids to play together and enjoy the game of baseball.”
He has his health and he has a job he thoroughly enjoys.
Bryk began his professional baseball odyssey as a player in 1969.
At 66 and a cancer survivor, the Schererville resident is still in pro ball in his seventh season special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I’ve been cancer-free for four years. Thank the Good Lord,” says Bryk, who lost a daughter, Becky, to leukemia and friend and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to salivary gland cancer. “I’ve been blessed to be in this game as long as I have. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
“It’s time to give back to the game.”
The former Bill Brykczysnki grew up on the south side of Chicago, graduated from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Ill., and pitched four seasons in the Washington Senators organization. He started coaching college ball in 1974 and managing independent teams in 1977.
He worked with the San Diego Padres 1979-82, managing Gwynn in Walla Walla in 1981. When Gwynn was inducted at Cooperstown in 2007, Bryk was his guest.
In 1982, he left the Padres to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates, both in scouting and player development. Over the next 18 years, Bryk would work as a scouting supervisor, special assignment scout, assistant scouting director, assistant farm director, national cross-checker and pitching coordinator.
“That’s where I really learned the business,” says Bryk.
In November 2010, he joined the Diamondbacks.
Almost five decades in, Bryk is still gaining knowledge.
“I’m still learning,” says Bryk, the 2013 Midwest Scout of the Year. “We’ve got sabermetrics, analytics — all this stuff.”
Arizona, where Mike Hazen is executive vice president and general manager, has three major league scouts (Todd Greene and Mike Piatnik are the other two) with duties divided up among the 30 MLB teams.
Based in northwest Indiana where he’s called home since 1988, Bryk goes out to scout the 10 teams in the American League Central and National League Central. He keeps a report on every player, logging their strengths and weaknesses.
“Are they getting better or getting worse?,” says Bryk. “But — most importantly — what’s inside of them? Are they gamers? Overachievers? Underachievers?
“(Major league scouts are) more detectives more than anything else. You’ve got to find everything you can on them. That’s where contacts come in. You have people you trust in every organization. When you get old and gray-headed you know more people.”
One baseball person who Bryk has known for a long time is Mark Haley. He scouted the California native as a player and has maintained a friendship as Haley has coached and managed in the White Sox and Diamondbacks systems (he is now director of training and instruction of the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and coaches travel baseball).
Bryk, who advises on player trades, acquisitions and roster
moves, has seen all his assigned teams once already and is going back for another look. He plans to take in the Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians series and see New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox after that.
“I’m tightening up my reports,” says Bryk, who will meet with other pro scouts in Arizona at the end of June to discuss organizational needs (as the July 31 trade deadline looms). “We used to do it a little bit later. A lot of teams don’t know if they’re going to be buyers or sellers yet.”
Since he is a pro scout, Bryk was not directly involved with the recent Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
He did attend a post-draft Pro Day hosted Tuesday, June 20 by the Hammond Lakers.
“There were 65 hungry guys — guys worth seeing,” says Bryk of the free tryout event held by Lakers general manager Anthony Spangler. “We gave everybody a fair chance.”
Bryk notes that independent baseball still brings talent to the majors. Evidence of that is David Peralta. The outfielder played American Association before being signed by the Diamondbacks. He went 4-for-5 Wednesday, June 21 vs. the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
Chris Carminucci, Arizona’s independent league coordinator and pro scout, runs independent league tryout camps during spring training in Arizona and in the Chicago suburbs at the home of the Windy City Thunderbolts. That team just sent several players into affiliated baseball, including pitcher Brady Muller to the Diamondbacks.
“I’m glad to see he got another chance,” says Bryk of Pobereyko. “I had more 53rd-rounders make it than high draft picks.”
Rob Mackowiak, a 1994 Lake Central High School graduate, was drafted by Bryk for the Pirates in the Round 53 (when the draft went that deep). The outfielder/third baseman made over 2,600 plate appearances in the majors with the Pirates, White Sox, Padres and Washington Nationals.
“It’s what’s in their heart,” says Bryk in determining who makes it or not. “How much do they want it?”
Even with 40 MLB Draft rounds now, talent is sometimes missed and those players can sometimes get a second chance.
“Scouting is not an exact science,” says Bryk. “You try to make the best decisions you can. Sometimes guys are late bloomers. I ran 20 camps a year as an area scout with the Pirates.”
Sometimes an agent will send a player to Bryk to straighten out his mechanics.
One such player is Dominican right-hander Ariel Hernandez, who worked with Bryk and his son, Billy Bryk Jr., who has coached in independent and affiliated baseball.
Hernandez has been averaging nearly 99 mph with his four-seam fastball out of the bullpen for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017.
Bryk says he did not charge the agent for his services. It was just a part of giving back to baseball.
Bill Bryk began his association with professional baseball in 1969. At 66, the Schererville, Ind., resident is in his seventh season as special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Arizona Diamondbacks Photo)