For the better part of two decades, Craig Wallin and his partners have attempted to get pro baseball for the place where he lives. The longtime broadcaster who called games for the South Bend (Ind.) White Sox and Notre Dame and has been the voice of NorthWood High School sports in recent years announced that the Elkhart County Miracle are finally going to take the field with games airing on Federated Media stations (mostly on 101.9 FM or 1340 AM with Saturday night games will air on 95.3 MNC according to News/Talk 95.3 Michiana’s News Channel program director John Zimney). The franchise in the Northern League — a six-team wood bat circuit comprised of teams with rosters of amateur and professional players. Other clubs include the Griffith (Ind.) Generals, Indiana Panthers, Lake County CornDogs (Crown Point), Northwest Indiana Oilmen (Whiting) and Southland Vikings (Hammond). Oil City Stadium in Whiting was host to the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. While the Panthers are a traveling team, the others are in Lake County with Elkhart County being around 80 miles to the east. “What we’re trying to build from the (Illinois-Indiana) border to Elkhart and developing all the markets in-between in inter-city tourism,” Popravak said, noting that the footprint of the league is about 100 to 120 miles wide and 50 to 75 miles long. “There’s 1.5 million people that live within that geographic area.” The inaugural Miracle season is slated to open Friday, May 31. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. on the turf at the new NorthWood Field of Dreams in Nappanee, where the team will call home for its first few seasons. The regular season is to close Aug. 3. “We’re pumped about this opportunity,” Miracle founder and president Wallin said at a press conference Tuesday, March 24. “(Ron Bedward) and I started talking 16 years about bringing a minor league team to Elkhart County. We’ve been working diligently on plans.” Northern League president Don Popravak talked about the niche independent minor league baseball plays in 2023. “It is very important because in 2020 Major League Baseball took control of affiliated minor leagues,” Popravak said. “It used to be run as an independent operation.” The first month or so with MLB in charge, the affiliated minors were trimmed of 40 franchises down to 120. “Forty franchises translates to 1,200 playing jobs along with managers, coaching staff and everything else,” Popravak said. “We felt that it creates a great opportunity for a league like us.” The MLB First-Year Player Draft is now just 20 rounds. For years it was 40. The Northern League (which has a linneage dating back to 1902) seeks to attract talent overlooked by MLB. “It gives a young player another chance to prove himself and develop,” Popravak. “That’s what we’re all about — developing talent.” The Miracle will carry a roster of 30 to 35 players with many staying with host families. Some will be professionals and college players may earn through Name Image and Likeness (NLI) agreements. Popravak, who has a broadcast background, notes that the Northern League has sent many young person working on league productions on to ESPN and minor league teams all over the country. “It’s another part of developing talent for the next level,” Popravak said. Former Notre Dame football and baseball player and Seattle Mariners minor leaguer Evan Sharpley is Director of Player Operations for the Miracle. Former Baseball America Executive of the Year John Baxter is senior advisor for the Miracle. As South Bend White Sox, he hired Wallin in 1988. Wallin said the field manager will be introduced soon. Popravak said the league has been exploring more than a dozen markets across northern Indiana for expansion. According to Wallin, tickets will be priced at $10, $8 and $6. “It’s all about affordable family fun,” Popravak. “It’s about families and putting smiles on the faces of younger people and having them come out to the ballpark.” Bill’s Bar-B-Que in Elkhart will be a concession partner. Wallin said a 10,000 seat facility with a retractable roof that can house baseball and professional soccer is being planned. It will be adjacent to a 5,000-seat arena for ice hockey and minor league basketball. Wallin shared a rendering by the Troyer Group Tuesday. At the present, the complex would be near on a tract near the C.R. 17 exit off the U.S. 20 By-Pass in Elkhart. It’s one of the places Wallin and his group have had land contracts off and on over the years as they have worked to bring baseball to the county. Plans for a new stadium and team were revived in 2013 and a stadium was to open in 2014, but that never came to pass. Why Elkhart County? “We chose Elkhart County because it’s been home for me for (about 45 years),” Wallin said. Bringing in the baseball team is a way of adding to the quality of life to the Elkhart/Goshen area. The seven stars in the Miracle logo represent seven Elkhart County cities or towns. It’s been more than a century since the county had a team with professionals. The 1910 Elkhart Blue Sox were part of Organized Baseball and played in the Class D Indiana-Michigan League. The independent Indiana State League of 1888 and a reorganized ISL of 1890 featured teams from Elkhart. For more information on the Elkhart Miracle visit elkhartcountymiracle.com, call (574) 309-7176 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Traina has three main points of emphasis as the new head baseball coach at alma mater Merrillville (Ind.) High School — commitment, playing together and team chemistry. “We’re making sure we’re there everyday,” says Traina, who was born in Merrillville, graduated from MHS in 2013 and has been teaching and coaching in the school system since 2017-18. “We were not weightlifting and conditioning very much. We have a strength and conditioning coach at Merrillville now (Brady Willard) so they can lift even when I’m not around.” There is a text group chat that keeps the team communicating and Traina emphasizes staying in constant touch with parents. Team chemistry is built through activities that require athletes coordinating to accomplish a goal. Paul Wirtz was Pirates head coach when Traina joined the staff. Wirtz instituted “Animal Kingdom” workouts where there were stations for throwing, baserunning, conditioning etc., and teamwork was necessary. Traina has had his athletes doing the same. “They have to work step by step together to accomplish the goal,” says Traina. “That’s going make us a much stronger team.” Merrillville (enrollment around 2,100) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso). The Pirates are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side, Hammond Central, Hammond Morton, Hobart, Lake Central and Munster. Merrillville has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2001. The Pirates were state runner-up in 1996. Traina, who has taught at Merrillville Intermediate, Clifford Pierce Middle School and now Biology for freshmen at Merrillville High, was a junior varsity assistant to Connor Buxton then a varsity assistant when Buxton became head coach at Merrillville. When Buxton stepped away Traina became head coach over the summer. “It’s been a career goal to be the head of a program,” says Traina, 28. “I want to turn things around.” The Pirates went 8-15 overall and 3-9 in the DAC in 2022. Traina’s coaching staff counts Jose Carbajol as varsity assistant, Terrance Grayson as JV head coach and Juan Maldonado as JV assistant. Merrillville started middle school baseball workouts at Bill Metcalf Field in July and games were played in the fall with Traina as head coach. High school players helped out. “They were like bench coaches,” says Traina. The first game was at Hanover Central, where Wirtz was serving as middle school coach. Traina says the plan is for middle school baseball to continue as a fall sport. Noting that Merrillville Little League no longer exists, Traina wants to work his way down the youth baseball ladder while building a feeder system for his program. “We want to make sure kids have the opportunity to be exposed to the sport and get better,” says Traina. “We want to put a stop to getting pushed further behind (in development).” Traina expects to have a young squad in 2023 with freshmen on the varsity. Among the older players with college baseball aspirations are seniors Colin Early and Robert Richardson, who played both play varsity as freshmen, and junior Josh Magallon. Pirates moving on to the college diamond since Traina has been coaching include Class of 2018’s Max Govert (Indiana University South Bend), Class of 2019’s Maldonado (Indiana Tech), Brandon Lucero (Earlham College) and Sven Strom (Saint Xavier University) and Class of 2021’s Dylan Coty (junior college). Traina’s summer maintenance job includes taking care of the baseball field, where recent projects have included fixing the bullpens, adding dirt to mounds, turf to plate areas and dugout racks. Traina played at Merrillville for Mark Schellinger. “He’s one of the my favorite teachers and coaches,” says Traina of Schellinger. “When I got this job he reached out to offer any help I need. That meant a lot coming from a guy who had my back for four years here.” He played at Merrillville Little League then travel ball for the Dave Griffin-led Indiana Playmakers then an Indianapolis-based team called the Indiana Irish. His parents — Frank Sr., and Michele — saw that he was shuttled two hours to Indy every week so he could have a new baseball experience and meet new people. “I can’t thank them enough,” says Joe, the youngest of three children. Frank Traina Sr., is retired from Siemens as an electronic engineer. Michele Traina is a school nurse secretary. Ashley (Traina) Kendera (Merrillville Class of 2006) played softball for the Pirates, graduated from Ball State and now works as a page designer for The Times of Northwest Indiana. Her husband, Jason Kendera, is a former Merrillville girls soccer coach. Frank Traina Jr., (Merrillville Class of 2010) played soccer and was a baseball manager for the Pirates during the Schellinger era. He now works as a bank teller. After high school, Joe Traina went to Ball State University where he was a Sport Administration major and Coaching minor. “I always wanted to go down the athletic director route,” says Traina, who got transition to teaching credentials through Calumet College of Saint Joseph. “Once I was in the classroom I decided to stick with teaching.” He is also the head eighth grade boys basketball coach at Clifford Pierce.
Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports? Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State. In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships. Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98. There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward. Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008). A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system. These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:
Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
Who benefits the most from class baseball?
If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion. “The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s). “Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. “I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”
“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. “For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional. “The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period. “It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. “Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question. “Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely. “There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds. “It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it. “But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball. “The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into. “The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”
“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system. “All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting. “I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete. “We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament. “We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”
“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. “Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today. “High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be. “The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo). “There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more. “How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are. “Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level). “I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”
“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. “Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball). “I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down. “I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”
“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. “Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. “The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports. “I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes. The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. “I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A. “Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). “You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw. “Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach. “Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class. Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference. “(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc. “Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”
“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have. “(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size. “Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools. “As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting. I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”
“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class. “Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close. “Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students. “Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. “Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. “The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion. Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”
“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it. “It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools. “Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”
“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis. “Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. “Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. “The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. “As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field. “The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney. Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers. “We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up. “The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. “Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so. “The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most. “The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A. “(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”
“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes. “I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.” “It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.” “Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”
“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint. “Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament. I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals. “A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment. “Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300). “If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth. “At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth. In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”
There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class. “If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win. “At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game. “The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools). “In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up. “I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”
“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same. “Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes. “Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”
“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights. “There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game. “I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes. “For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”
“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part. “We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class. “That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships). “The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.” “There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”
“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. “Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’ We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team. It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area. “The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”
“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started. “Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament. “The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”
“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular. “In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland. Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases. “I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”
“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. “While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. “At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.
“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”
“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game. “I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit. “I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that. “Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”
“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools. To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money. “The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. “I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball. “I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”
“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state. “I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system. “If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four. “Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. “A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer. “One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist. “Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success. It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities. “I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs. “Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney. “The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success. “My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well. “IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball. “I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”
“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school. “If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’ “If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’” “If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools. “Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10! “I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success. “I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”
“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. “All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”
“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis. “The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success. “Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher. “In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”
“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits. “(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. “There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”
“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them. “The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes. The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all. “I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”
“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. “I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. “I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community. “With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”
“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board. “Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players. “I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”
“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships. “Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”
“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo). “The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.
“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”
“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved. The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. “The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.
“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”
“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs.
“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.
“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.
“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”
“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. “More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level. “(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. “There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”
Shane Prance is emphasizing the “Three C’s” as new head baseball coach at alma mater Portage (Ind.) High School. They are: Character, Community and Competition. Prance (Class of 2008) says his No. 1 focus is work ethic. “We want to control the controllables,” says Prance. “We’ll look at attitude, effort, body language, things like that. “From there the baseball skills and talent will take over.” An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 29-Oct. 15 and Prance looks forward to having players take part two days a week for two hours. His agenda has attendees concentrating on arm health and long toss, proper catch routine and learning fundamental drills at each position. After those things comes intrasquad games so he can evaluate players. “We want to get a good baseline to see where they’re at,” says Prance. The off-season will be dedicated to strength and conditioning. Portage (enrollment around 2,400) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Valparaiso). The Indians were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Lowell and Valparaiso. Portage has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2013. Prance is a Health and Physical Education teacher at PHS. In four seasons at Portage (the last three on varsity), Prance played for head coach Tim Pirowski. “He came in when I was a freshman,” says Prance. “I saw how he was building a foundation. There were classroom learning sessions and we were taught baseball. It made you think more in-depth. It’s the basics that sometimes get brushed over.” Born in the south side of Chicago, Prance moved to Portage early in his elementary school days. He played at Portage Little League through high school. As a high schooler, he was with the traveling Indiana Breakers. Prance was a position player and pitcher until blowing out his knee while swinging the bat as a Portage senior. John Weber was Prance’s head coach at Purdue North Central in Westville, Ind. “He had a huge influence on me,” says Prance of Weber. “He’s one of the reasons I wanted to coach.” One of Weber’s strengths was managing the people. “He wanted them to be good high-character people,” says Prance. As a four-year PNC pitcher, right-hander Prance set single-season program records for wins (7), complete games (8), innings (84) and strikeouts (95) — all during his senior campaign of 2012. That summer Prance joined the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg Boomers. He went 1-1 in eight appearances (four as a starter) for the Jamie Bennett-managed club and was released in August. He went back to PNC to finish his degree and joined Weber’s coaching staff. “I always knew I wanted to coach,” says Prance. “I became pitching coach at PNC. The rest is history.” When Weber took an administrative position, Prance became head coach in the fall of 2013 and spent three years in that position. When Purdue North Central and Purdue Calumet merged into Purdue Northwest, Dave Griffin was named head coach and Prance associate head coach. He was later assistant athletic director at Saint Xavier University in Chicago and helped the baseball team. Prance got his coaching feet wet with the Eric Blakeley-led Diamond Kings Fall Baseball League. Blakeley is also the founder of the Crossroads Baseball Series and High School Fall Baseball League. There has also been one-on-one training and travel ball coaching with the Region Playmakers for Prance. As a former college coach, Prance brings that knowledge and long list of contacts to his Portage athletes. “I want to give guys a chance to go play in college,” says Prance. “We want to find the right fit for them to play at the next level. “If baseball gets them in the door to a university event if they don’t play all four years, they’re likely to stay and finish the degree.” Recent Portage graduates to move on to college diamonds include Class of 2020’s infielder Scottie Hansen (South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill.) and left-handed pitcher Xavier Rivas (who went to the University of Indianapolis to the University of Mississippi), Class of 2021’s infielder Danny Puplava (Kankakee Community College) and Class of 2022’s right-hander/corner infielder Joshua Ortiz (Purdue Northwest). Prance and girlfriend Christina have a 2-year-old son named Levi. A daughter is due in October.
Frank Plesac welcomes pressure. The right-handed pitcher from Crown Point, Ind., enjoys facing hitters and the promise that comes with his famous baseball last name. “There are definitely a lot of expectations,” says Frank of being the brother of a current big league hurler (Zach Plesac) and the nephew of one who spent 18 seasons in Major League Baseball (Dan Plesac). “I’d rather have the expectations high with pressure on myself. It helps me perform better. I just try to live up to the name.” Righty Zach Plesac is a starter for the Cleveland Guardians and made his MLB debut in 2019. He is 10 minutes older than twin Ron. Lefty Dan Plesac won 65 games and saved 158 from 1986-2003 and is in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and is a regular on MLB Network. Frank Plesac is coming off his second season at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., where he is 8-12 with a 4.28 earned run average, 129 strikeouts and 31 walks in 138 2/3 innings. In 2022, those marks were 6-5 with a 3.24 ERA, 83 strikeouts and 13 walks in 86 innings which led to an all-Crossroads League first team selection. All but two of his outings fro Bethel have been in a starting role. “I love to start,” says Plesac, 20. “I feel like it’s my game and I’m in-control.” Seth Zartman is the Pilots head coach. Kiel Boynton guides the pitchers. “He introduced the family aspect of the team, which I never really understood before that,” says Plesac of Zartman, who has been head coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. “I’m glad he gave me the opportunity to really experience that. “(Coach Boynton and I) talk a lot about pitching. We pick each other’s brains. We try to learn from each other.” The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Plesac is pitching this summer for the wood bat Northern League’s Justin Huisman-managed Lake County CornDogs, which play at Legacy Fields in Plesac’s hometown of Crown Point. His coach at Crown Point High School was IHSBCA Hall of Famer Steve Strayer. “He’s a character and a great coach,” says Plesac of Strayer. “He always pushed us to be our best. “He impacted the way I viewed baseball and the way I play baseball now.” The youngest of union carpenter Ron and Registered Nurse Jeannie Plesac’s children, Frank played on the Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth fields in Crown Point then went into travel ball with Morris Baseball and the South Shore Bears. In the summer of 2021, he got reps with a local men’s team called the Raw Dogs. Through his first seven mound appearances (six starts) with the CornDogs, the 2022 Northern League East All-Star is 1-0 with a 2.11 ERA. In 34 innings, he has 49 K’s and just three base on balls. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Plesac uses a Four-seam fastball (which topped out at 93 mph in the spring), curveball, slider and change-up. What is his best swing-and-miss pitch? “Definitely the curveball,” says Plesac. “It’s pretty sharp with a deep break. Sometimes I’ll try to get on top of it to get more of a 12-to-6 break. Sometimes I’ll leave the wrist a little open to get more of a slurve action. “It’s a different pitch every time.” Plesac, who has two years of eligibility remaining heading into 2022-23, is a Criminal Justice major. He sees it as a natural fit with one of his favorite non-baseball pursuits. “I’m a big outdoors person,” says Plesac. “I love to hunt. I love to fish. Being a (Department of Natural Resources) conversation officer is everything I want and more. “They say do what you love. That’s what I love doing.” Plesac can see the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield in his future. But first the diamond. “I’m going to try to ride baseball as far as I can,” says Plesac. “Why not?”
Ryan Troxel is splitting his time this summer between college pitcher, youth pitching coach banking intern. He takes the mound for the wood bat Northern League’s Lake County CornDogs, which call Legacy Fields in Crown Point, Ind., home. On his off days, he guides arms for Valparaiso (Ind.) American Legion Post 94 Juniors (17U). “I’ve missed a few (Legion) games because I had to pitch,” says Troxel. “Other than that, I’ve been there. “I’ve been a busy man.” Troxel, a 2019 graduate of Valparaiso High School, pitched a scoreless ninth inning with three strikeouts during the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. A Finance and Management double major at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Troxel is a summer intern for Centier Bank in Merrillville, Ind. Troxel explains why he changed his academic path from Business to Finance. “Finance gives you the options to help people know their (money) goals,” says Troxel. “I also coach baseball because I love helping people.” On the diamond, the right-hander was on the winning side as the East topped the West 5-4 in 10 innings July 12 at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. Troxel’s performance was fitting because the CornDogs right-hander has a regular-season scoreless streak of 12 innings covering last three outings. In eight games (six in relief), he is 3-0 with a 0.65 earned run average. He has 35 strikeouts and eight walks in 27 2/3 innings. He was named Northern League Pitcher of the Week on July 5. A 6-foot-3, 220-pounder, Troxel is coming off his second season at NAIA member Indiana Tech. In seven games (all in relief), he was 0-4 with 14 strikeouts and 15 walks in 27 innings. In his first season with the Warriors (2021), Troxel came out of the bullpen 11 times and was 8-3 with a 4.46 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 innings. Kip McWilliams is Indiana Tech’s head coach and has also taken over pitching coach duties. “He gives us a lot of latitude to do what we want to get ready,” says Troxel of McWilliams. “He’s (coached) for a long time. He knows a lot about the game. “He’s definitely hard on guys. He expects a lot out of us. But — hey — we won a lot of games.” Tech went 32-21 and lost two one-run games as Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference tournament runners-up in 2022. McWilliams earned his 500th coaching win in April. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Troxel uses a four-seam fastball (which has reached 87 mph), curveball, slider (which is generally clocked around 75 mph) and change-up. “I get most of my outs on off-speed pitches,” says Troxel. “I throw my change-up a lot more now. It’s really helped me against left-handers because left-handers have always killed me.” Last weekend, Valpo Post 94 won a regional championship. This weekend, Post 94 is hosting the Indiana American Legion Junior State Tournament at VHS. In 2020, Troxel played for Rocco Mossuto-coached Saint Xavier University (Chicago). In a season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, he appeared in three games (one start) and was 0-0 with one save, a 4.50 ERA, eight strikeouts and eight walks in eight innings. Troxel played for Todd Evans at Valparaiso High. “He gave me a chance during my senior year to prove to him that I could be in the rotation,” says Troxel of Evans. “I think I had a pretty good senior year and he helped me a long the way.” Troxel went 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA and was honorable mention all-state, all-Duneland Athletic Conference, all-area and team MVP in 2019. Born in Elmhurst, Ill., Troxel was 1 when he moved to Valparaiso, where he played Little League then travel ball for the Chesterton Slammers, Triple Crown, Morris Chiefs and Valparaiso Post 94. He is grateful Chiefs coach Dave Sutkowski for his support. “He kept saying, ‘I believe in you,’” says Troxel of Sutkowski. “It was never about him. He was very influential in my choosing to play college baseball and also to move on and keep playing.” Ryan is the oldest of Jeff and Michele Troxel. Brother Zach Troxel is heading into his sophomore year at Valpo. He is pitching this summer for the Indiana Bulls. Jerry Troxel, Ryan and Zach’s grandfather who died in 2021, coached baseball for four decades at Gary Wirt. One of his players was Ron Kittle, who went on to be a major league slugger. “I really do love (coaching),” says Ryan Troxel. “It’s in my blood. That’s definitely in the future for me.”
Cal Curiel came through in the clutch at the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. Batting with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning, righty-swinging Curiel singled to right field to drive in the tying run. The East went on to beat the West 5-4 in 10 innings July 12 at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. Curiel, who started at third base and hit third in the East lineup in the All-Star Game, is on the first-place Lake County CornDogs (24-8), which plays home games at Legacy Fields in Crown Point, Ind. “I love Coach (Steve) Strayer,” says 2021 Crown Point High School graduate Curiel of his Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame head coach. “He’s a great guy and a great coach, too. He knows what he’s doing. “We always have good teams at Crown Point and he’s fun to play for.” Curiel hit .324 with 13 runs batted in and 23 runs scored in 2021. Spending his whole life in the seat of Lake County, Curiel played Little League there and for the Morris Chiefs (now the 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs) from 14U to 18U. That’s when he got to play for Dave Sutkowski. “Bush is awesome,” says Curiel of Sutkowski. “He is one of my favorite coaches ever. He’s always about the players. You could always talk to him in the dugout during the game. He’s going to try to win the ballgame. He’s just awesome.” The Chiefs managed to play about 60 games during the summer of 2020. “(Sutkowski) was finding teams to play around here when we couldn’t get into big tournaments because of COVID,” says Curiel. “It was a great time.” Curiel was one of only two players to appear in all 50 games for NAIA Crossroads League member Grace College (Winona Lake, Ind.) in the spring of 2022. Utility infielder Curiel made 37 starts for the Lancers and hit .333 (54-of-162) with 51 singles, 18 RBIs, 31 runs and 12 stolen bases in 16 attempts. His on-base percentage was .388. “We could have been a little better,” says Curiel of Grace’s 17-33 record. “We look like we’re going up (in 2023). I like the team we have coming in.” The Lancers head coach is Ryan Roth. “Roth is also a super-positive guy,” says Curiel. “He’s super-approachable and you can always talk to him. You can tell he cares about his players.” Through 26 Northern League games with the CornDogs, Curiel was hitting .299 (26-of-87) with five doubles, 19 RBIs, 20 runs and 11 stolen bases. “I’m looking to hit a ball hard early in the count,” says Curiel of his offensive approach. “I’m going to look for my pitch. If I don’t I’m probably going to take or foul the pitch off. “I’m not a huge power guy so I try to take the ball where’s it’s pitched.” Curiel did not play last summer. He took the time to get his body prepared. “I was a pretty skinny kid coming out of high school,” says Curiel. “So I ate a lot and worked out. I tried to put on 10 or 15 pounds so I could compete in college. “I was 18 going into the college season competing with fifth- and six-year players. I had to get physically ready to play.” The 6-foot-2 athlete went from 170 pounds to about 195. Exercise Science is Curiel’s college major. It’s his goal to be a physical therapist. He explains why he chose that path. “I got like super into working out,” says Curiel. “I just like trying to live healthy. I wanted to take a lot of courses on that.” He can use that knowledge to help himself and others. Cal is the son of Mike and Christine Curiel. Sister Ella Curiel is heading into her senior year of high school.
Adam Enright is immersed in college baseball. The Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate is in his second stint head coach of NAIA member Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., and manages the Northwest Indiana Oilmen in the summer wood bat Northern League. Enright managed the East to a 5-4 10-inning win over the West in the 2022 NL All-Star Game July 12 at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. He’s been the in the circuit formerly known as the Midwest Collegiate League for eight years. What brings Enright back? “The people in the organization and the players you get to interact with over the summer,” says Enright, 33. “You see a pretty wide range of players from all levels of college baseball that go to school all over the country. It’s an interesting dynamic.” Enright takes the opportunity to pick the brains of these players. “They’ve all got good information for me,” says Enright. “I ask them how they do things in games and practices and how they run their programs. “As far as information goes, if it’s not nailed to the ground, you can have at it. We try to take all the good stuff that we can.” Enright has witnessed an era in college baseball where the Transfer Portal is as active as ever. It’s been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic where many players have been given extra years of eligibility. “All these student-athletes, they want to play,” says Enright. “They want to go somewhere they fit in and where they’re going to get a chance to grow, develop and actually play.” The added eligibility has led to more players extending their time in college, taking spots that might have been filled by other players. The Northern League — and other summer college loops — are full of players in the portal and seeking a landing spot. “In my 12 years in college baseball I’ve never seen anything like this as far as how late into the summer it is and a lot of players are waiting or trying to find out where they’re going,” says Enright. “It’s made a very interesting recruiting landscape for us all. “It changes the timing of it a ton. In the past because of supply and demand that colleges had to players wanting those spots, you could put a little more pressure on players to make decisions and put more of a timeline on them — like you have two weeks to make a decision. “Now, it’s not as advantageous to do that because there are so many good players who have to wait longer based on opportunities they might find elsewhere.” Enright understands the stress this causes for players and coaches. “There’s less time to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s and admissions and all those things,” says Enright. “But it will shake itself out.” He also subscribes to the same notion as he did before the explosion of transfers. “I’ve always believed that everyone ends up where they belong,” says Enright. “(That is) if they do their homework and they make sure that where they’re going is a place that they’re 100 percent committed to before they go and they’re not jumping at the first offer.” Enright played for Tracy Archuleta at Southern Indiana and was chatting recently with the Eagles head coach. “He said something that made sense,” says Enright. “We’ve had one relatively normal season of college baseball that didn’t have a whole lot of COVID rules and things attached to it. Players transferring for next year need to be in a place where they’re not going to need to or want to transfer again. That’s got to be the driving force for not only their decisions but our decisions as coaches to take guys on. “Some schools might take more than they need and (players) will be right back in that situation where they’re not playing and getting the opportunities and want to transfer again. We as coaches need to make sure the guys — and especial the Transfer Portal guys — are satisfied and they’ll stay where they’re at.” The Northern League regular season is to conclude Aug. 6 with the playoffs Aug. 8-11. Through games of July 14, the first-year Lake County CornDogs (based in Crown Point, Ind.) are in first place at 24-8, followed by the Southland Vikings 20-13, Northwest Indiana Oilmen 19-14, Joliet Generals 14-17, Crestwood Panthers 14-18 and Chicago American Giants 4-24. Games are streamed on YouTube.
Nine years after he guided Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School to a state championship, Tanner Tully was called up to the big leagues. The 27-year-old left-handed pitcher was promoted to the Cleveland Guardians Wednesday, April 20. He was one of three players added to Cleveland’s 40-man roster and 28-man active roster as replacements for pitchers Cal Quantrill and Anthony Castro and infielder Owen Miller, all of whom were placed on the 10-day COVID-19 injured list. His last start with the Triple-A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers was April 15. Tully, who was given jersey No. 56, did not pitch in Wednesday’s home doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox. Starting pitchers announced for the series finale at 1:10 p.m. Eastern today (April 21) were former Crown Point High School and Ball State University right-hander Zach Plesac for Cleveland and Dylan Cease for Chicago. The Guardians were to begin weekend series at Yankee Stadium Friday through Sunday, April 22-24. As of Thursday morning, Cleveland had not announced its starting pitchers against New York. As an Elkhart Central senior, Tully hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the first inning and struck out 13 batters while scattering five singles as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers topped Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state championship at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Some of his high school teammates had played with him as a youngster with the Jimmy Malcom-coached Rip City Rebels. Jimmy’s son, Cory Malcom, went on to pitch at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Tully was Hoosier Diamond magazine’s Indiana Mr. Baseball award winner in 2013. The southpaw pitched for three seasons at Ohio State University (2014-16). He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2014). As a junior (2016), he was first team all-Big Ten, going 8-3 with a 2.34 earned run average and 76 strikeouts to 21 walks in 103 2/3 innings. For his OSU career, he was 18-10 with a 2.93 ERA in 46 games. He competed for the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Bombers (2014) and Cape Cod League’s Orleans Firebirds (2015) in summer collegiate ball and was selected by Cleveland in the 26th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Tully has made minor league stops with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio), Lynchburg (Va.) Hillcats, Akron (Ohio) Rubber Ducks as well as Columbus. Splitting his time between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, Tully was 6-6 with a 3.50 ERA and finished second in the club’s minor league system in innings (113). The left-hander made six starts for the 2021 Arizona Fall League’s Scottsdale Scorpions. At the time of his call-up, he had made 118 pro appearances (94 as starter) and was 32-40 with a 3.89 ERA. He had 428 strikeouts and 113 walks in 583 1/3 innings. Tully is married to the former Taylor Hughes, who was a setter for the Ohio State volleyball team (2015-18).
Calumet Christian School is unbeaten in its first 17 games of the 2022 high school baseball season. The team made up of students from the tiny private school in Griffith, Ind., plus homeschoolers and online students could wind up playing 40 or more games — on either side of the Indiana-Illinois line – this spring. “We continue to try to schedule as many public schools as possible to compete with,” says head coach Bill DeRuiter. Not a member of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, the Patriots are not restricted to a maximum number of contests. According to DeRuiter, there are less than 200 students in grades K-12 with between 30 and 40 in the upper four classes. DeRuiter has been head boys basketball coach at Calumet Christian (formerly Calumet Baptist) the past two winters and took over the baseball program this season and has some expectations for his 12 varsity players (there is also a junior varsity squad of about 16). “What’s really important for us is that you understand your role on the team,” says DeRuiter. “We can’t have 12 players that want to be the star. “You strive to have a better role, more playing time, more responsibility. We talk about being all-in — do it for your team, for yourself as an individual and for your faith.” Senior Jordan Landkrom is hitting a robust .604 (32-of-53) with three home runs, four triples, four doubles, 31 runs batted in and 31 runs scored. Sophomore Carter Tymm sports a .469 average, 31 RBIs and 26 runs. Sophomore Isaiah Palanca is batting .463 with 14 RBIs and 36 runs. There’s also sophomores Jared McKinney (.429), Zack Murphy (.394) and Drew Ruf (.333), junior Kadyn Foutz (.385) and senior Riley Thomas (.333). The combined earned run average of the pitching staff is 0.88 with 156 strikeouts in 95 innings. Thomas, Tymm and junior Ethan Duensing are all 4-0 on the mound while Murphy and Palanca are 2-0. DeRuiter’s squad plays an attacking brand of offensive baseball. “We want to challenge teams to have to make perfect throws and perfect plays,” says DeRuiter. “I’m willing to take chances and be aggressive. We want to take advantage of mistakes. It’s more fun that way.” Of the squad’s 167 hits so far, 47 are for extra bases. Playing in cold and windy conditions for many of their early games, the Patriots make the most of infield singles and bloopers. Calumet Christian plays most of its games on the road. The Patriots’ “home” field is at Schererville Baseball Complex in Crown Point, Ind. Led in scoring by Jordan Landkron, Calumet Christian’s boys basketball team went 22-10 and won a Christian school state championship in 2021-22, beating Heritage Christian (Dyer), Victory Christian (Valparaiso), Calvary Christian (Indianapolis) and Pleasant View Christian (Montgomery) in the playoff run. There is no equivalent postseason event for baseball. “We try to do cool experiences,” says DeRuiter of a slate that includes contests at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind., Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind., Ozinga Field in Crestview, Ill., and Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet, Ill. Those facilities are home to the Gary SouthShore RailCats, Northwest Indiana Oilmen, Windy City Thunderbolts and Joliet Slammers. DeRuiter’s coaching staff features Adam Lankrohn (father of shortstop Jordan), Joe Palanca (father of center fielder Isaiah) and Jeff Duensing (father of first baseman Ethan). The husband of Calumet Christian athletic director Jen Landkrohn, Adam handles scheduling and other details for the team. “He’s the person that makes everything go,” says DeRuiter, who also teaches seventh/eighth grade Social Studies at Crown Point Christian. Before coaching at Calumet Christian, DeRuiter was head women’s basketball coach at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., for five years. The 2005 graduate of Chicago Christian High School, where he played four seasons of football, basketball and baseball, earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Middle Grade Social Sciences from Trinity Christian and a master’s degree in Athletic Administration & Coaching from Concordia University Irvine. DeRuiter calls his high school basketball coach, Ross Douma, his top coaching mentor. “He’s been a great sounding board for me,” says DeRuiter of Douma. “He helped guide me through some tough choices as I was learning the business.” Head junior varsity baseball coach at Chicago Christian was DeRuiter’s first coaching job. He has also served as head boys basketball coach at Evergreen Park (Ill.) Community High School. Bill and Nichole DeRuiter have been married for 11 years and have three children — Trey (9), Charlotte (7) and Jameson (4).