By STEVE KRAH
Head coach Todd Evans likes to think of his Valparaiso High School baseball team as a family.
Evans relishes the opportunity to teach his young Vikings about more than hitting, running, pitching and fielding.
There are the life lessons that carry them on to being husbands, fathers and productive citizens.
“Wins and losses are one thing,” says Evans, a 1999 VHS graduate who has been coaching baseball at his alma mater since the early 2000’s and is heading into his fourth season as head coach in 2018. “I want them to come away saying they learned more than baseball. I want them to be a good friend and teammate and, later, a father and member of the community.
“I’m looking to build a family just past my own.”
All of those years but the first his assistant has been big brother Chad (Valparaiso Class of 1996).
“It’s a family affair on a game day,” says Todd, who regularly sees wife Janelle, daughter Evangeline and son Sullivan at the park along with Chad’s wife Holly, daughter Lilly and son Aaron.
Todd and Chad’s parents — Dale and Cindy — and Janelle’s mother — Jaclyn — can also been seen cheering on the Vikings.
That rooting section is going to get a little bigger soon.
Todd and Janelle are expecting another girl in January. Todd won’t be surprised if he gets called away from an early-morning training session with his baseball players.
Todd Evans was a football, wrestling and baseball athlete at VHS — competing for three Hall of Fame coaches (Mark Hoffman in football, John Cook in wrestling and Pat Murphy in baseball).
Evans walked on in baseball at Valparaiso University for then-Crusaders coach Paul Twenge.
Evans coached one baseball season at Westville High School then became a three-sport coach at Valpo High.
Starting in 2001, Evans has been a football assistant for Hoffman and then Dave Coyle and has moved to the freshmen team since becoming head baseball coach.
Evans was head wrestling coach at VHS before giving up that position in 2009 and has since become a mat official.
He started as a freshmen coach when Mickey Morandini was head baseball coach, moved to varsity assistant under Coyle and then replaced Coyle as head coach heading into the 2015 season.
Each of his coaches has lent something to Evans’ coaching style.
“I’m a little mold of every bit and piece I’ve taken,” says Evans, who is now 37. “In coaching three different sports, there are different mentalities. In football, you rely on everybody around you. Wrestling is about the individual. Baseball is a combination of both. You have to focus in and do your job at that specific time.”
Murphy goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January.
“He was coaching against Hall of Fame coaches his whole career — guys like Ken Schreiber, Dave Pishkur, Jack Campbell and Bob Shinkan. This is a nice honor for him,” says Evans, who played on Murphy’s last Vikings squad. “Murph was a no-nonsense guy.”
Evans saw in Coyle a very organized and prepared coach.
“I still run my practice similar to the way he did,” says Evans.
A 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, Evans is grateful to Twenge (who is now head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota) for the opportunity he gave him to play college baseball in his hometown.
“Paul took a gamble on me,” says Evans, who would be the Crusaders’ closer by the end of his freshmen season. “He was the epitome of a players’ coach. You wanted to come to practice everyday. A lot of what (Twenge) did was routine, but once you got into the game you were prepared for those things.”
Evans does the same with his VHS players and concentrates on fundamentals.
“I want to be prepared for 90 to 99 percent of those situations,” says Evans. “Our kids will not bat an eye when those things occur.”
Another thing Evans gained in his college baseball experience was relationships — people who have continued to be in his life long after his VU graduation in 2003.
“You’ve got to love the you’re playing next to,” says Evans. “I’ve got 10-plus seniors (at VHS) and they’ve played with each other for a long time. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it.”
Three of Evans’ seniors have already committed to play college baseball — Nick Caputo at Wabash College, Marcus Gholston at Arizona Western College and Gunnar Pullins at Olivet Nazarene University.
Max Roberts, a 2016 VHS graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The 6-5 left-handed pitcher is the son of Washington Township High School head coach Randy Roberts.
Evans’ paid assistants for 2018 besides brother Chad include VHS graduates Chance Garrison and Greg Simms. John Nuppnau is a volunteer.
It varies, but Evans likes to have 15 to 18 players on his varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.
“This year’s freshman extremely talented so I might push that number up to 20,” says Evans. “I try to have depth with the new pitching rules. More is better than less. We try to make everyone a pitcher at some time or other.”
Valparaiso plays on-campus on Viking Field. Last fall, pads and netted railings were added to the sunken dugouts. This was done for safety and also added more room to the bench area.
Evans says a referendum was passed in Valparaiso that could bring turf and lights to the field in the next few years.
“I’m not sure on the timeline,” says Evans. “It would be nice to be the first school in Porter County to have turf and may be able to host a sectional.”
The Vikings played in the IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional in 2017 and are grouped with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Merrillville and Portage in 2018. Valpo’s last sectional crown came in 2012.
The Duneland Athletic Conference, a circuit established in 1970, counts the Vikings as charter members. Other DAC schools are Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Portage.
As in the past few seasons, conference games will be Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in 2018.
“The thought process behind this is that you couldn’t have same pitcher beat you twice,” says Evans.
LaPorte’s Evan Miller actually beat Valpo three times — twice in the regular season and then the sectional — a few years ago before the new format.
Evans, who is also a physical education teacher at VHS, has witnessed a change since his playing days and feels a responsibility.
“Kids now have more individual training and expect a higher level of coaching and competition,” says Evans. “It’s my job to see that when they step out against a D-I pitcher here and a D-I pitcher there that they are not made a fool of. They are prepared and can let their skills taken over.”
The Evans brothers — Todd (left) and Chad — have been coaching baseball together at their alma mater for more than a decade. Todd is heading into his fourth season as Vikings head coach in 2018.