Tag Archives: Craig Grow

Hickman passing on his passion for baseball with Faith Christian Eagles

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Faith Christian School was established in Lafayette, Ind., in 1997.

FCS baseball is led by Dan Hickman. The 2020 season will be his second as Eagles head coach.

A graduate of Rensselaer (Ind.) Central High School and Missouri State University (1989), Hickman came to Faith Christian after helping for many years at RCHS including running the Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken programs there.

Hickman played baseball for the Rensselaer Central Bombers. Craig Grow was the head coach in Hickman’s freshman year then left for Loogootee and other coaching stops. Kent LeBeau was RCHS head coach in Hickman’s last three prep seasons.

“Both men were mild-tempered and highly-respected individuals,” says Hickman of Grow and LeBeau. “I learned that winning the right way is the only way to win.

“Winning at all costs will catch up to you in life.”

Hickman played at Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State) and was a senior captain for Keith Guttin, who had led the Bears since the 1983 season and racked up more than 1,200 victories during his coaching career.

“I am very proud to have played for Coach Guttin,” says Hickman. “He had a massive impact on my life. I’ve met no one who desires to win more than he does, but he has the same beliefs as my high school coaches.

“You win with hard work, commitment, dedication and grit. No short cuts.”

Faith Christian (enrollment around 220) is an independent with no conference affiliation.

“It is a challenge being an independent and getting teams on our schedule,” says Hickman. “Most schools’ first priority is their conference games.

“I would be in favor at some point of belonging to a conference.

We currently play a good mix of Christian and public schools in the area.”

The 2019 regular-season schedule included dates with Attica, Carroll (Flora), Clinton Central, Covenant Christian, Delphi, Frontier, Greenwood Christian, Horizon Christian, Maconaquah, Morgan Township, Pioneer, Seeger, Sheridan, Traders Point Christian, Tri-Central and West Lafayette.

The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Attica, Covington, North Vermillion and Riverton Parke. Faith Christian has not yet won a sectional title.

In 2019, there were 19 players in the program.

“My hope is that the numbers will steadily grow so that we can have a consistent junior varsity schedule that will feed the varsity,” says Hickman.

There is a also a middle school team for seventh and eighth graders which plays games from mid-April to June.

What drives Hickman and the Eagles?

“Our goal is simple,” says Hickman. “To compete in baseball at a high level so as to attract kids in our area to FCS schools.

“We see value in a Christian education and we want to do everything with a spirit of excellence. I have a passion for baseball and want nothing more than to pass that on to our local youth.

“To be able to use baseball to advance my faith is a true gift.”

Hickman is hoping to know who his 2020 assistants will be in the coming months.

Dan and Alicia Hickman have three children — Amanda, Cole and Jonathon. Alicia works at BACA, a Autism center for kids in Fishers, Ind. Amanda is married and living in Carmel, Ind. Cole, a 2010 Wabash (Ind.) College graduate, works for Geico in Carmel. Jonathon is a Wabash junior.

“(Jonathon) is a massive sports enthusiast and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pursue a career in the sports industry,” says Dan Hickman.

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Dan Hickman is the head baseball coach at Faith Christian School in Lafayette, Ind.

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Dan Hickman passes on his passion for baseball as the head coach at Faith Christian School in Lafayette, Ind. He played at and graduated from Rensselaer (Ind.) High School and Missouri State University.

 

Helping Michigan pitchers know their strengths mission of Fetter

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the know.

That’s what University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter wants the hurlers in his charge to be.

“First and foremost, I want them to be knowledgeable with who they are as pitchers,” says Fetter, who is guiding to Wolverines staff this weekend in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State, Creighton and Cincinnati are three other competing teams). “Our eyes can deceive us. I want them to be as informed as possible about what they do and own what they do instead of just guessing.”

With Fetter leading the process, Michigan pitchers have access to many resources, including video analysis, Rapsodo and TrackMan to help them devise a plan of attack.

It becomes a combination of approaches that leads to what that player does on the hill.

“It’s not based entirely on technology, a coach or what the player thinks,” says Fetter. “But we marry all those together.”

Fetter assists his pitchers in developing an arsenal and it starts with the fastball.

“What kind of fastball do you throw?,” says Fetter. “Then, how do we attack other teams?

“It all stems with developing a relationship with the player and getting them to buy in to being learners of who they are.”

In his second second at U of M, Fetter has helped produce a number of capable pitchers.

In 2018, Tommy Henry made the all-Big Ten Conference second team while Karl Kauffman was on the third team and Ben Dragani the third and all-freshmen teams. Four Wolverines were signed by Major League Baseball teams — Will Tribucher, Jayce Vacena, Alec Rennard and Troy Miller.

The 2019 all-conference squads include Michigan’s Jeff Criswell (first team), Kauffmann (third team) and Willie Weiss (freshmen). The MLB First-Year Player Draft is June 3-5.

Fetter is a 2004 graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons for Tom Linkmeyer and two for Eric Lentz.

“Tom is great baseball mind, great baseball man,” says Fetter of Linkmeyer. “We still talk quite a bit.

“He took a chance on young kid. He always gave it to you straight. You always knew where you stood. He was always in your corner. I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Fetter remembers Lentz for his positive approach and knowledge of X’s and O’s.

From his 15U to 18U summer, Fetter played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls. His coaches were Dennis Kas, Craig Grow, Jeff Mercer Sr. and C.J. Glander.

“I couldn’t have played for a better summer organization,” says Fetter. “When you’re going up agains the best competition game in and game out, it helps you make the jump to the next level.

“It was a special group. There are some of the best summers of my life.”

One of his Bulls teammates was Jeff Mercer Jr., who is now head coach at Indiana University.

After a redshirt season as a freshman, the 6-foot-8 right-hander played for Michigan and head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Bob Keller from 2006-2009.

“From the moment Rich recruited me, he instilled a great sense of confidence in me as a player,” says Fetter of Maloney. “He really takes an interest in his players and coaching staff.

“He’s a great motivator.”

Fetter says Keller was at the forefront of teaching pitchers to be athletic and stressed pre-throwing routines and properly warming up.

As a pitching coach, Fetter works on helping his starters develop a consistent routine between appearances while monitoring the workload of the relievers. He pushes them on some days and lets the recover on others.

Fetter pitched in 51 games for the Wolverines (40 as a starter) and was 24-8 with a 3.32 earned run average. He struck out 248 and walked 72 in 278 innings. He also pitched for Cotuit Kettleers of the summer collegiate Cape Cod Baseball League in 2007.

When the 2009 MLB Draft came, Fetter was selected in the ninth round by the San Diego Padres. He pitched for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2009 and 2012. His manager at Eugene in 2012 was former Notre Dame head coach and current Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy.

After 51 appearances (37 as a starter), Fetter played his last pro season in 2012 and began coaching in the Padres system in 2013.

Fetter was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Missions and former big leaguer Rich Dauer was the manager and Jimmy Jones the pitching coach.

“They were a great couple of mentors,” says Fetter of Dauer and Jones. “(Dauer) taught me overall game management. From (Jones), I learned about the art of teaching the delivery — rhythm, balance, timing.

“Those are two of the countless people along the way.”

Fetter went from the Padres to becoming a scout for the Los Angeles Angels.

“I go to watch the game from a different perspective,” says Fetter. “I was able formulate opinions on what players do well.”

For the 2016 season, Fetter was reunited with Maloney as his pitching coach at Ball State University, where he got to apply things he had learned as a pro coach and scout.

Three of Fetter’s standout BSU pitchers were Colin Brockhouse, B.J. Butler and Zach Plesac. This past week, Plesac made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Indians.

He then worked in player development with the Los Angeles Dodgers, learning how that organization uses analytics.

That led him to joining the staff of Michigan head coach Erik Bakich.

“He is all-in 24/7,” says Fetter of Bakich. “He’s completely energetic. He lifts everyone up around him. He’s very positive and very prepared.

“He pushes all these guys to play their best and get 100 percent better in their own process of development.”

Fetter, 33, and wife Jessica have a son named Cole. He turned five months next week.

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Chris Fetter is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. He pitched for the Wolverines from 2006-09. (University of Michigan Photo)

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As pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team, Chris Fetter (center) wants his players to be as knowledgeable as possible about what they do and bring it to the mound. Starting May 31, the Wolverines are in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (University of Michigan Photo)

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Chris Fetter, a 2004 Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate and former Indiana Bulls, pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization and assistant at Ball State University, is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. (University of Michigan Photo)

Former North Central (Farmersburg), Evansville right-hander Strain now pitching in Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Strain’s baseball journey began in west central Indiana and it currently has him playing near the thumb in Michigan’s “mitten.”

Strain, who grew up in Sullivan County, Ind., played three varsity seasons at North Central High School in Farmersburg and five seasons at the University of Evansville, is now a Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand and a reliever for the Great Lakes Loons of the Low Class-A Midwest League.

A 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander, Strain regularly hits 92 to 95 mph on the radar gun with his sinking two-seam fastball. He also has a change-up and a “slurve” (combination slider and curve).

“I’m working on a true slider,” says Strain, 23. “I’ve been throwing 35 to 40 pitches on two days rest, depending on the situation.”

Strain was selected in the ninth round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers, but did not make it into a regular-season minor league game until 2018.

Going into play June 27, he was 2-0 with a 1.40 earned run average with 16 strikeouts and eighth walks in 19 1/3 innings. After suffering a groin injury in his second spring training outing, he was kept in Glendale, Ariz., for extended camp until making his Loons debut May 17.

“I’ve been focusing on keeping my body healthy,” says Strain, who was a starting pitcher at Evansville. “I’m working on getting a feel for my pitches during catch.”

What strikes him about the Midwest League?

“I was surprised with how nice the parks are in this league,” says Strain, who plays home games with the Loons at Dow Diamond.

Midland, Mich., is also closer to his hometown Shelburn, Ind., (about 450 miles) than Glendale.

Strain credits UE head coach Wes Carroll and pitching coach Cody Fick for advancing his development.

“Coach Carroll taught me the mentality of being comfortable while I’m uncomfortable,” says Strain, who pitched for the Purple Aces 2013-17 with 51 appearances (42 as a starter). “Throughout my college years I grew and learned how to handle things and how to compete and attack everything with the right mindset.”

Strain calls Fick the “biggest competitor I’ve ever been around.”

“He has an absolute will to win in everything he does,” says Strain of Fick. “He cares about the game about as much as anyone I’ve seen in my years in baseball.”

Done with class work as an accounting/business management major, Strain says he plans to do an internship in the off-season to complete his college degree. More than once, he was named to the Missouri Valley Conference Honor Roll.

At North Central, Strain lettered as a sophomore for Thunderbirds coach Darin Simpson then played his last two prep seasons for Craig Grow.

“(Grow) taught me how to enjoy the game,” says Strain. “He is one of the absolutely nicest human beings I’ve been around. He always has a smile on his face. He taught me to treat people the right way.”

As a North Central senior in 2012, Strain posted an ERA of 1.30 for 30 innings and he hit .398. As an all-stater, he had a 1.54 ERA in 70 1/3 innings and hit .451 as a junior. The Thunderbirds went 25-7 and were 2011 IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up.

Strain got his baseball start at Northeast Youth League and then played travel ball for the Farmersburg Outlaws.

Connor’s parents are Jeff Strain and Paula Strain. He has two brothers — fraternal twin Tyler Strain and Callan Strain.

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Connor Strain, a product of North Central (Farmersburg) High School and the University of Evansville, is now pitching in the Los Angeles Dodgers system with the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Connor Strain delivers a pitch in 2018 for the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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As Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand, former North Central (Farmersburg) High School and University of Evansville pitcher is playing for the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

 

Alum Steimel now pointing way for Sullivan Golden Arrows baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A man who has been leading at the developmental levels of community baseball is now the head coach at Sullivan High School.

Tony Steimel, a 1990 Sullivan graduate, has spent the past decade in charge of the recreational Sullivan Baseball League, which begins with 4-year-olds who swing against pitches from coaches and play in games where outs are counted.

“We want to get kids used to real baseball as young as possible,” says Steimel, the SBL president. “We don’t challenge kids enough. They can handle more than we give them credit for.”

For the last five years, the owner of Steimel Communications in Sullivan has been a volunteer, spending much of his time coaching seventh and eighth graders in games all around west central and southern Indiana.

“That’s as key and important as anything we’ve done around here,” says Steimel of a non-school affiliated group which plays as far north as South Vermillion territory, as far south as Barr-Reeve and as far east as Edgewood. “What they do going into high school is really critical to your program.”

Those teams played “A” and “B” five-inning doubleheaders while using up to 10 different pitchers with an eye on the future.

“Anybody who has the mental capacity and the desire should be put on the mound,” says Steimel. “That’s the same way it is at the junior varsity level.”

This spring, Sullivan has schedule 20 dates for its junior high-aged teams and Shawn McKinney will coach those kids when not working with the junior varsity or varsity squads at the high school.

“It’s in good hands,” says Steimel of the junior high program. “We’ll be on the same field. We’ll definitely be talking.”

Steimel, who will also be assisted by newcomer Josh Wood and local baseball veterans Tom Hannon, Tom Hanks, Brian Pirtle and Brian Schulze, takes over a Golden Arrows high school program with a history of success.

Since 1985, Sullivan has gone 534-357-1 with 10 seasons of 20 wins or more.

Matt McLaren guided the Arrows for six seasons (2012-17) and went 110-62. The last three squads were 21-9, 20-9 and 21-6. He is now head baseball coach at Richland County High School in Olney, Ill.

Bob Mirkovich (1964 to 1981, 238-150-3) and Craig Grow (1995 to 2004 and 2010; 194-112-1) are two of the winningest Sullivan coaches over the years.

Current Sullivan athletic director Otto Clements was Steimel’s head coach in his senior season.

Mirkovich coached in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 1976 and 1982 and Craig Grow coached the All-Stars in 2002.

Sullivan players in the series have been shortstop Jack Smith (1976), pitcher Charley Noble (1977), outfielder Greg Bender (1982), shortstop Greg Wood (1986), pitcher Jon Boothe (1987), shortstop Michael Rinck (1998), shortstop K.C. Grow (2001), pitcher Devin Jones (2002) and third baseman Korey Grow (2004).

Sullivan has won 16 sectionals (1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 2015), three regionals (1976, 1987, 1991) and one semistate (1976) and had one state runner-up finish (1976).

Thirteen times, the Arrows have reigned as conference baseball champions (1973, 1976, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1997, 1998  and 1999 in the old Tri-River Conference and 2017 in the Western Indiana Conference).

Sullivan is the WIC West Division with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and West Vigo.

The East Division features Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley.

In 2018, WIC teams will again play a home-and-home series against divisional foes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with the first game counting toward conference standings. Crossover games will be played at the end with the top teams in each division meeting for the championship.

The Arrows are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brown County, Edgewood, Owen Valley and West Vigo.

Sullivan heads into the spring with a few familiar varsity faces and some new ones. There were around 24 players on the first day of practice Monday, March 12.

Some of those have less baseball experience than others. But Steimel welcomes them.

“There are teams that need players and players that need teams,” says Steimel. “We want to include kids that need to be part of something positive. There’s a lot of negative things kids can get into.

“It should set a good example for our star players as well.”

While graduation took six seniors in 2017 and five of nine position players and three of five starting pitchers are gone, the Arrows still have senior right-handed pitcher/shortstop Sam Steimel (a University of Evansville commit) and senior catcher Shane Garner. Both have been starters since they were freshmen.

Senior outfielder/left-hander Chris Taylor and junior corner infielder Jack Conner also returns.

“We’ve got a really young group,” says Tony Steimel. “Our sophomores are solid but unproven. Kids that played JV last year will be asked to step up this year.”

Sophomore right-hander Bray Foster slots in as Sullivan’s No. 1 pitcher behind Sam Steimel. Sophomore first baseman Max Mize is also in the mix.

While Sam Steimel has been playing for the Indiana Bulls, his father says many of his top players have played travel baseball with organizations based in Terre Haute, including the Indiana Havoc (a group Tony Steimel has coached) and Mad Dog. There’s also Sullivan American Legion Post 139.

Sullivan plays its games on-campus at a field that got new lights a few years ago. Plans have been drawn up and budgets made for upgrades in the next few years. That includes 35-foot high netting to replace the backstop and new handicap-accessible bleachers.

Tony and Alison Steimel, a Sullivan graduate, will be married 20 years in 2018. Besides Sam, they have another son. Freshman Eli is a left-handed pitcher and first baseman.

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The Steimels (from left): Alison, Tony, Eli and Sam. Tony Steimel is the new head baseball coach at Sullivan High School. Sam Steimel is a senior and Eli a freshman for the Golden Arrows.