Tag Archives: Dave Griffin

Griffin oversees transition as Purdue Northwest baseball coach

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Griffin is heading into his 10th season of coaching college baseball in northwest Indiana in 2023.
After six seasons in charge at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond (the Warriors won an IHSAA Class 2A state title in 2004 and were 2A state runner-up in 2006), Griffin established the Purdue Calumet program and coached the Peregrines for three seasons (2014-16).
Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central merged to form Purdue Northwest and Griffin has led the Pride since the 2017 season.
The first alumni game was played in October 2022.
“Overall it’s gone pretty well,” says Griffin of the merger. “The big challenge was you had a couple of coaching staffs and a lot of players you had to mold into one.
“Taking the program to (NCAA) Division II was another challenge.”
The 2018 campaign marked PNW’s first in D-II after starting out as an NAIA member. The Pride are part of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“If you’re an established program it won’t take as long, but we hadn’t been that long so it took a little time,” says Griffin of the level change. “It’s been a journey to say the least.”
The 2017 team went 30-18. PNW posted a 18-25 mark in 2018, 21-24 in 2019, 4-5 in 2020 (a season shortened by COVID-19), 11-22 in 2021 and 21-23 in 2022.
For 31 years, the coach has operated Dave Griffin Baseball School. The past 25 years it has been located in Griffith. The organization will field 11 travel ball squads — the Indiana Playmakers — in 2023. Griffin coaches the 17U/18U squad, which helps him with recruiting.
“I get to go out and see kids play,” says Griffin. “That’s always been a good formula for me.”
Griffin says when it comes to recruiting, there’s more to it than the numbers hyped on social media.
“When you say velocity that doesn’t equate to being a good pitcher,” says Griffin. “When you say exit velocity that doesn’t equate to being a good hitter. At some point you’ve got to be able to play.
“It think they tried the same thing in football at the (NFL) Combine. If he ran real well or lifted real well they drafted him high. A lot of times those didn’t work out too well.
“Nobody cares about how they perform. What are their metrics? Don’t get me wrong. Metrics are good, but you’ve got to be able to perform. The challenge we all encounter is finding kids that have metrics that match the ability on the field.”
Griffin notes that even professional scouts often get player evaluations wrong.
“You try to do your homework on a kid as much as you can. We’re talking about scholarship kids,” says Griffin. “On walk-on kids you might take a flier. He might not be fully-mature physically. He might be a late bloomer. Those kids come along, too.”
More 1,500 DGB alums have gone on to college baseball and over 70 have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Sean Manaea, Kody Hoese, Ryan Basham and Nick Podkul. Chad Patrick pitched for PNW and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
“I’ve put a lot of time into both jobs,” says Griffin. “I wake up early and I come home late.
“It’s fun. I like watching the development of players.”
Because of the talent in The Region and the low cost of education at the school where most student takes classes on the Hammond campus (there is a Westville site), PNW gets some bounce-backs from other institutions.
“Kids see that we are starting to build a solid program here,” says Griffin. “It checks a lot of boxes for them.”
The bulk of the current roster comes from Indiana and Illinois. There are players from Michigan, California, Iowa and Texas.
D-II teams are allowed to give up to nine scholarships. PNW is short of that number.
“We’re working our way up,” says Griffin, who currently has 47 players on his roster. Of that number, 35 will be on the travel squad.
As well as overseeing the whole team, Griffin works primarily with hitters and defense.
Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate and former University of South Carolina hurler Brandon Murray is the pitching coach. Former PNW player Anthony Agne is in charge of infielders and former Robert Morris University (Lansing, Ill.) assistant Adam Pasko outfielders.
PNW plays its home games at Laborers’ Local 41 Field in Hammond’s Dowling Park.
“I like the turf and the ambiance of it, being in a neighborhood,” says Griffin. “It’s a good place to play. The sight lines are tremendous.”

Dave Griffin. (Purdue Northwest Photo)

Alum Collins wants ‘refuse to lose’ effort from Shakamak Lakers

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In its storied baseball history, Shakamak Junior/Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind., has appeared in an IHSAA state championship game eight times.
Dylan Collins was on three of those teams — 2012, 2014 and 2015. The Lakers reigned over Class 1A in 2014.
Collins played catcher his first two varsity seasons, second baseman as a junior and shortstop as a senior. He was in the 2-hole in 2012 and at the top of his team’s batting order in the 2014 and 2015.
His head coach for the first three seasons was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip Sweet. Todd Gambill took over the program after Sweet’s retirement.
“Coach Sweet was an all-around good guy,” says Collins. “We looked up to him as a father figure. He was very well-respected and we wanted to win for him.
“We had only one year with Coach Gambill. He was energetic. He knew what he was getting and we produced for him.”
Collins played two seasons at Vincennes (Ind.) University for Chris Barney and one at Purdue Northwest for Dave Griffin.
“(Barney) wanted me from the first time he saw me,” says Collins. “He told you how it was and lived up to the promise.
“(Griffin) was an honest guy and fun to play for.”
Collins came back home to work at Jasonville Utilities and joined the Shakamak baseball coaching staff.
After three seasons as junior varsity coach, Collins was named last week as head coach.
As a product of a program that has has won 27 sectional titles (the last two in 2021 and 2022) with state championships in 2008 and 2014 and runner-up finishes in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2012, 2015 and 2021, Collins knows that expectations are high in the Shakamak community.
“That’s what drives me to do what I do,” says Collins. “That’s the fun part of it.”
Every time Collins comes to Shakamak on-campus diamond he recalls the Laker legacy.
“It’s all the history there,” says Collins. “I remember 2004 and one of the first state runs. My brother (Class of 2006’s Derek Collins) was on the team. I was young and running around.
“There are so many memories.”
Collins’s 2023 coaching staff features Class of 2015’s Jake Walters and pitching coach Braxton Yeryar and Jason Pegg (Bloomfield alum) with previous head coach Jeremy Yeryar (Shakamak of Class of 1993) also helping out.
Braxton Yeryar was Collins’ teammate at Shakamak and a teammate and roommate at Vincennes U.
As the man in charge, Collins wants his Lakers to “refuse to lose” and play with confidence.
Among returnees from a 2022 team that went 16-14 is Indiana Wesleyan University commit and senior Brady Yeryar (.559 with seven home runs and 34 runs batted in as a junior).
Ethan Burdette (Class of 2021) is now at VU.
Shakamak (enrollment around 200) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Central of Farmsburg, North Daviess and White River Valley).
SWIAC teams meet each other one time.
The Lakers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Bloomfield, Clay City, Dugger Union, North Central (Farmersburg) and White River Valley.
Shakamak is to open the 2023 season March 31 at Jasper.
There was weight training and conditioning for the Lakers during the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period. Collins says hitting and other activities will take after the Christmas break.
Shakamak has a junior high baseball team of seventh and eighth graders which play on the high school diamond in the spring. Another feeder is the Shakamak Youth League (T-ball through majors).
Collins and girlfriend Bailey Scott have a 4-month son named Kooper Collins. Dylan’s parents are Jeff and Denise Collins. Jeff Collins (Shakamak Class of 1983) played for head coach Herschel Allen and once held batting records for the Lakers. Brooke Griffith (Class of 2007) is the sister to Dylan and Derek.

Jonathan Miller (left), Dylan Collins and Jeff Gambill.

Dylan Collins, Bailey Scott and their son Kooper Collins.
Dylan Collins (front) is surrounded by brother Derek Collins (left), mother Denise Collins, father Jeff Collins and sister Brooke Griffith.

Kutch heading into third season leading Westville Blackhawks

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brody Kutc is heading into his third season as head baseball coach at Westville (Ind.) Middle/High School with a different focus.
“A point of emphasis moving forward is that we are trying to create great men and good ball players,” says Kutch as he looks to the 2023 season. “I think in past years my competitiveness has gotten the better of me. I chose talent over heart. I chose athleticism over character. I learned the hard way that athleticism and talent do not win ball games. 
“Moving forward we will be emphasizing the type of men our players are before the type of ball player they are.”
Westville (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, Tri-Township, Morgan Township, South Central of Union Mills and Washington Township).
The Blackhawks are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Argos, Culver Community, Marquette Catholic, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy, Triton and Tri-Township. Westville (which went 6-12 overall and 1-6 in the PCC in 2022) has won yet won a sectional championship.
Kutch was a Blackhawks assistant from 2017-20 before taking over leadership of the program.
In the fall of 2020, he was pitching coach at Purdue Northwest.
Kutch teaches “Blackhawk Academy” at Westville — a credit retrieval class — and is also going into his third year as an assistant for the Indiana Playmakers travel organization.
A 2013 graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School, Kutch played four years of baseball for the Slicers.
He played four years at Purdue Northwest and earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2017 and a masters degree in Psychology from Illinois State University in 2020.
Several coaches have helped shaped him.
“Mike Rosenbaum (Rosie) was a Babe Ruth coach in LaPorte for many years,” says Kutch, 27. “I never had the pleasure to play for him but my brother did. I got to be the bat boy and for many years he helped many boys fall in love with the game of baseball while also teaching them the right way to play. Even as a bat boy, he had a positive influence on me as a coach.
“I was lucky enough to be coached by my brother (Michael Kutch) and father (Bruce Kutch) for a few years as well. They were a big positive influence on me.
“Coach Scott Upp and all of my high school coaches taught me valuable fundamentals, discipline, and the importance of how you hold yourself on and off the field.  
“Coach Shane Prance coached me for four years (three as a head coach and one as an assistant). He is one of the most knowledgeable pitching coaches I have ever worked with. I also credit him with showing me how to have fun while playing this game. That may not seem like much but it is something I am extremely thankful for.
“My final year as a player I played for Dave Griffin at PNW. He was one of the best game managers I have played for. He knew how to use his roster and put guys in the right spots to be successful.  
“I learned valuable lessons from each one of these coaches.”
The IHSAA Limited Contact Period was used at Westville to do major renovations on the baseball field, which is located on-campus.
“I do not know the actual dimensions but the field plays big,” says Kutch. “The grass is in incredible shape. That has nothing to do with me. I think we just got lucky with the surface in that instance. 
“Our grass has never been unplayable. The only reason we ever have a delay or a cancelation is due to our infield dirt. Our infield dirt is mostly clay which is an awful chemical makeup for a baseball field. In the spring the rain turns it to mud and in the summer the heat dries it into bedrock. We are in the process of substituting new infield material to try and change this.” 
The middle school team — which serves as a feeder for the high school — played on the field in the fall.
“I normally coach this team but this past year I trusted one of my assistant coaches (Bryce Barton) to direct the middle school program,” says Kutch. “He is doing a great job. He really wants what is best for the kids and truly understands our philosophy here at Westville.”
Besides Barton, Kutch’s high school staff includes Mike Mikulich and Jake Pisowicz.
Cody Brooks (Class of 2022) is now playing for Oakton Community College (Des Plaines, Ill.). He is the first to go on and play college baseball since Kutch has been at Westville. 
“I have many current players that are also pursuing this dream,” says Kutch.
Brody and Elly Kutch have a son named Cooper (1 1/2).

Brody Kutch.
Brody Kutch.
Jackson Shreves (left), Brody Kutch and Brayden Qualkenbush.

Character counts with new Portage head coach Prance

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.

Shane Prance.

Right-hander Patrick embraces baseball’s grind, competition

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chad Patrick is in his second professional baseball season in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.
He turned 24 on Aug. 14 and recently joined the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops of the High-A Northwest League.
Patrick has been pitching more than half his life.
The right-hander was an 11-year-old at DeMotte (Ind.) Little League when he first took the mound.
For years, he got pitching lessons from Joe Plesac and continued to develop as he moved up through Little League, Crown Point (Ind.) Babe Ruth Baseball and into high school.
Born in Crown Point, Patrick moved from Hebron, Ind., to DeMotte for grades 1-7. With a chance to play ball with his cousins and to be another generation of his family to be educated there he came back to Hebron.
Chad Patrick and Tyler Patrick graduated there in 2017 and Travis Patrick got his diploma in 2018.
The Hebron Hawks were coached by John Steinhilber.
“I like John,” says Chad Patrick. “He’s always been good to me.”
Hebron amassed double digits in victories in each of the four seasons Patrick was on the varsity, including 21 his junior year of 2016 and 29 in his senior season of 2017 with a pair of IHSAA Class 2A sectional and regional titles.
Patrick was named all-conference, all-area and all-state.
With a chance a consistent playing time and development, the son of Dan Patrick and Jackie Edwards stayed close to home for college and went to NCAA Division II Purdue Northwest, which has campuses in Hammond and Westville.
As part of the the PNW Pride, Patrick played for head coach Dave Griffin and they became close.
“I think of him as my second dad,” says Patrick of Griffin. “He took care of me there. He was there any time I had a question.
“Right when I met him he told me I had the stuff to be a professional baseball player. He sold me on going to Purdue Northwest instead of D-I opportunities.
“He gave me that confidence.”
In four college seasons (2018-21), Patrick appeared in 32 games (27 starts) and went 12-12 with a 3.36 earned run average, 211 strikeouts and 64 walks over 166 innings.
Patrick has about a year to go to complete a Business Management degree. Griffin, who runs Dave Griffin’s Baseball School (a training facility with travel teams in Griffith, Ind.), has that kind of diploma.
“At some point I’d like to do that on the side,” says Patrick. “Not for the money but to give back to kids and whatnot.”
His pitching coach at PNW was Shane Prance.
“He’s become a really good friend of mine,” says Patrick of Prance (who is now head baseball coach at Portage High School). “He helped me out last off-season and will probably help me this off-season. It depends if I spend it in Arizona or Indiana.”
The righty spent the summer of 2018 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen (Whiting, Ind.) and the summers of 2019 and 2020 with the Northwoods League’s Traverse City (Mich.) Pit Spitters.
Patrick was selected by the Diamondbacks in the fourth round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He got into two games with the Low-A California League’s Visalia (Calif.) Rawhide and went 0-0 with 4.76 ERA, six strikeouts and one walk over 5 2/3 innings.
Spring training for 2022 in Scottsdale, Ariz., saw Patrick break his right wrist. He was a part of pitchers’ fielding practice on a half field when he fell on concrete.
He did a rehab stint with the Arizona Complex League’s Diamondbacks Black then moved on to Visalia and then Hillsboro. For the season, he had made eight appearances (five) and is 2-2 with a 2.08 ERA, 31 strikeouts and nine walks over 21 2/3 innings.
Patrick is part of a five-man rotation.
“I’ve got a routine now,” says Patrick, who does interval training and some light running or biking on the day after a start, long toss and a bullpen session on Day 2 and then does lifting and works on his pitches leading up to the next start and a chance to compete.
“That’s my greatest asset,” says Patrick of his competitiveness. “I’m going to have my best stuff. Nobody likes to lose at what they’re good at.
“What I’ve learned about myself (as a pro) is that it’s a grind and I have the will to work hard everyday. I show up everyday with a good attitude. It comes pretty easy to me.
“If you love what you do you’re not working.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder uses three pitches form a three-quarter arm slot — slider, four-seam fastball and change-up.
His slider runs away from a right-handed hitter. His four-seamer gets up to 94 mph.
“My change-up, I just learned in it Visalia,” says Patrick. “It’s probably my best pitch right now. It just dives.”
Dan Patrick works for Area Sheet Metal in Hobart. Jackie Edwards is a Registered Nurse.
Chad has three older sisters (Katrice, Taylor and Shanan) and a younger brother (Cole). The girls were in various sports at Kankakee Valley. Cole participated in swimming and track and spent two years each at Kankakee Valley and Hebron.

Chad Patrick throws a bullpen for Purdue Northwest in 2020.
Chad Patrick (Purdue Northwest Photo)
Chad Patrick (Purdue Northwest Photo)
Chad Patrick (Arizona Diamondbacks Photo)

Chad Patrick (Visalia Rawhide Photo)

Chad Patrick (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

Pullins, Olivet Nazarene bound for NAIA Opening Round in California

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gunnar Pullins sees his future as an event coordinator.
Graduated May 7 from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., with a Marketing degree, Pullins has job possibilities all around.
“I’m open to going anywhere in the country,” says Pullins, 22.
But right now the young man who has planned cornhole tournaments for festivals around northwest Indiana is getting ready for a baseball event.
A senior first baseman for the ONU baseball team, Pullins and his teammates recently won the program’s third straight Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament title (not counting the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season) and earned a berth in the NAIA Opening Round.
“We want to be as far from home as possible,” says Pullins.
On Thursday, Pullins got his wish as the Tigers learned that they will play at the site hosted by Westmont in Santa Barbara, Calif., for the right to compete in the 2022 NAIA World Series May 27-June 3 in Lewiston, Idaho.
In the Opening Round, Westmont is the No. 1 seed, Indiana University Southeast No. 2, Olivet Nazarene No. 3 and Antelope Valley (Calif.) No 4. The event is May 16-19.
Pullins, a righty swinger, is hitting .358 (53-of-148) with three home runs, three triples, six doubles, 35 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. In 51 games, he sports a .955 OPS (.455 on-base percentage plus .500 slugging average) and has 11-of-14 in stolen base attempts.
This is his first season at first base and even though he has another year of eligibility it’s his last as a collegiate player.
“My shoulder can only take so much more,” says Pullins. “I tore my shoulder senior year of high school.
“I went went from throwing hard to throwing very soft.”
He was a shortstop at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School, where he graduated in 2018. He played a lot of third base at Olivet Nazarene until he came to a decision with Tigers head coach Jeff Mullikin to move to the other corner to save his arm.
A teammate had done the same in 2021 and did very well.
From 2019-21, Pullins got into 80 games for ONU and hit .258 (25-of-97) with no homers, one triple, three doubles, 24 RBIs and 45 runs. He had a .652 OPS (.342/.309) and was 15-of-22 in the stolen base department.
In a game of adjustments, Pullins has learned to make his share. Not only changing positions. But he has learned to adjust at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.
Olivet Nazarene has not faced a pitcher with velocity approaching 90 mph in awhile and is sure to see it in the Opening Round.
“It’s about getting the foot down and the hands through the (strike) zone at a certain time,” says Pullins, who is preparing with batting practice against live arms and machines. “We do a 40/90 with one of our BP throwers 40 feet away and he’s chucking it and trying to find barrels.”
Velocity is one thing and then there is adjustment when the ball breaks.
“There are people who throw the ball straight and there are people who have movement,” says Pullins. “It’s easier to get a barrel on it and hit it hard somewhere when it’s straight.”
Born and raised in Valparaiso, Pullins played travel ball with the Lake of the Four Seasons Warriors from Crown Point/Boone Grove area then the Cougars who became the Indiana Breakers around Chesterton then the Outsiders Baseball Club with Dave Griffin (the Purdue Northwest head coach).
A varsity player for three of his four years at Valparaiso, Pullins recalls the beginning of practice with Vikings head coach Todd Evans.
“He called us gentlemen everyday,” says Pullins of Evans. “It was a respectful way to start off our days.”
Pullins played basketball as a Valpo freshman and tennis as a junior. Once he committed to Olivet Nazarene, he spent much of his time honing his baseball skills.
Why ONU?
“They gave me the best opportunity to get the education I wanted,” says Pullins. “And an opportunity to play right away as a freshman.”
That first season, Pullins got a few starts and plenty of pinch-hit opportunities.
“I could not get into a rhythm the COVID year,” says Pullins. “As a junior, I struggled confidence-wise.”
Over the summer, he played slow pitch men’s softball.
“I was putting a barrel on the ball,” says Pullins. “Something switched (in baseball). It was a click.”
It hasn’t been all baseball and academics for Pullins, He’s been dating the same girl for most of his time in college.
“I’ve met a lot of people and played intramural (sports) prior to senior year,” says Pullins. “They have a lot of events here — like every other week.”
At the beginning of the year, there’s “Ollies Follies” — games and events with classes competing against each other.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Pullins.
Gunnar is the son of Bub Pullins and Samantha Cardwell. He has two sisters. Alex is older. Lyric is younger.

Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)

Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)
Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)
Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)

Podkul’s path takes him to Yinzer Baseball Confederacy

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America.
The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year.
Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
“We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.”
Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc.
“When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that.
“It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.”
After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18).
“He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family.
“On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.”
A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average).
In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional.
“We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.”
With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework.
“At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes.
“Everything is challenging.”
In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016.
Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League.
“It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.”
One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m.
After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019.
In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli.
Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies.
The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547).
The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time.
“It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase.
“You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.”
Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.

Frank Podkul with Andrean High School.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks.
Frank Podkul with the Road Warrior Black Sox of the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy.

Benedictine’s Castillo enjoying summer opportunity in Illinois Valley

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Playing with and against players from bigger schools, Damen Castillo enjoys showing what he can do on a baseball diamond.
Castillo, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound righty-swinging/throwing first baseman, plays during the spring at NCAA Division III Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. This summer, the Highland (Ind.) High School graduate is with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp in the team’s first season in Peru, Ill.
“It’s the competition level,” says Castillo, 21. “The pace of play is faster than what I come from.
“It’s fun being around guys from different schools like that.”
Of the 31 players listed on the team’s online roster, 18 are from Illinois with eight from California and one each from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Castillo is one of six players from NCAA D-III schools (the others are pitchers Jake Dahl of Rockford University, Chandler Kerr of Concordia University Chicago and Justin Rios and Jason Shanner of North Central College and infielder Garry Maynard of Concordia University Chicago).
There are 20 from NCAA D-I, two from NCAA D-II and three from National Junior College Athletic Association institutions.
Teams on Illinois Valley’s schedule, which consists of squads from the Wabash River, Great River, Prairie Land divisions, boasts no less than 105 D-I players.
The Pistol Shrimp are owned and managed by John Jakiemiec, who co-owns a player development academy in Naperville, Ill., Evolution Athletics.
“He’s been great,” says Castillo of Jakiemiec. “When we play, it’s real serious.
“You get your work in and still try to win at the same time.
“It’s been a fun summer.”
Jakiemiec, who played baseball at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., uses his Ivy League education to throw out random facts during bus trips.
“We don’t always know what he’s talking about,” says Castillo. “But we laugh.”
Through 25 games with the Pistol Shrimp, Castillo was hitting .280 (23-of-82) with five home runs, four doubles, 14 runs batted in and 10 runs scored.
“One of my best qualities as a hitter is the ability to drive the ball to the right side of the field,” says Castillo. “I get pitched away and I get a lot of off-speed. Over the years I’ve gotten good at hitting the outside pitch.”
Adam Smith is the head coach at Benedictine.
“He’s been real supportive,” says Castillo of Smith. “He come to me with things he think I can change.”
Castillo appreciates how Smith keeps practices loose and competitive.
“Our team tends to do better when things are like that,” says Castillo, who helped the Eagles go 29-13 overall and 15-5 in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference in 2021. “We do competition things in practice. It’s better than taking mass ground balls or BP.
“It makes it fun.”
In 42 games (all as a starter), Castillo hit .347 (61-of-176) with nine homers, one triple, 18 doubles, 51 RBIs, 35 runs and a 1.009 OPS (.395 on-base percentage plus .614 slugging average).
The 2021 season was his third at Benedictine. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he started all seven games and hit .217 (5-of-23) with one extra-base hit (a double), four RBIs, three runs and a .557 OPS (.296/.261).
As a freshman in 2019, Castillo played a little bit of third base before becoming a full-time first baseman. In 28 games (24 as a starter), he hit .323 (32-of-99) with four homers, six doubles, 21 RBIs, 16 runs and a .885 OPS (.380/.505).
With two years of eligibility left, Castillo is a year away from earning a degree in Management of Organizational Behavior through the Goodwin College of Business.
Castillo and his Eagles teammates are to report back to campus in late August and will get right to work for about eight weeks of workouts before “captain’s practice” where NCAA D-III rules limit contact by the coaching staff.
Born and raised in Highland to Damen and Jodee Castillo with little sister Angelica (a volleyball and softball athlete entering her senior year at Highland High in 2021-22), “D” played travel ball around his hometown until 12 and then went with the Dave Griffiin-coached Indiana Playmakers, Morris (coached by Jim Tucker), Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
When the Midwest Collegiate League shut down and Castillo was not able to play for the Southland Vikings in 2020, he assisted Brogan with the Irish.
“He has been the closest coach to me,” says Castillo of Brogan. The two talk every other day.
This year, Castillo helps Brogan out in practice when his schedule allows.
John Bogner was Castillo’s coach at Highland and had the third baseman on the varsity since early in his freshmen year with the Trojans.
“He was a great high school coach and I learned a lot from him,” says Castillo, who stays in touch with Bogner and dropped by practice during the end of 2021 season to hit with the Highland team.

Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)
Damen Castillo (Benedictine University Photo)
Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)

An infielder much of his life, Dawson roams Schaumburg Boomers outfield

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chase Dawson was an elementary school student the last time he was a regular in the outfield.
At that time he was with the Zuni’s House of Pizza, a travel team that went 44-4 during Dawson’s 8U and 9U travel ball seasons and played in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series.
Now 24, Dawson is back in the outfield for the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers in his second professional baseball season. He’s been mostly in center field or left field during the team’s first 35 games in 2021.
“It’s been a fun little transition,” says Dawson, a 5-foot-9, 185-pounder. “Going into the 2020 season (Boomers manager) Jamie (Bennett) said to be ready for it so I trained my arm a little more.
“I did well the first couple of days of spring training and we brought in some pretty good infielders. Jamie trusted me that I’m athletic enough to make the switch.
“It might sound goofy but one of my best qualities as an athlete is my athleticism. I can do just about anything in any sport.”
Dawson played four years of baseball (two varsity), three years as a soccer midfielder and one as a football defensive back and kicker at Andean High School in Merrillville, Ind., where he graduated in 2015.
A lefty batter and righty thrower, Dawson was the starting second baseman for the Dave Pishkur-coached 59ers’ back-to-back IHSAA Class 3A state champions in 2014 and 2015 (he batted second and scored a run in a 6-0 win against Gibson Southern in ’14 and led off and went 2-of-3 with a triple and tallied the first run in a 2-1 triumph against Jasper in ’15) and was a second sacker the majority of the time in his four seasons at Valparaiso (Ind.) University (2016-19), playing for head coach Brian Schmack.
Dawson says Pishkur has a knack of teaching the fundamentals and getting talented to players to reach their potential.
“It seemed like he out-coached any team we ever played,” says Dawson of Pishkur. “He was definitely hard on us and it stunk at the time, but it’s starting to add up for him.”
Pishkur has more than 1,000 career victories, seven state titles and currently has former players Sean Manaea and Mike Brousseau in the big leagues.
Schmack’s lessons about leadership and tenacity stuck with Dawson, who earned a Business Management degree at Valpo U., in 2019.
“He’s such a good role model,” says Dawson of Schmack. “He brought a lot out of me in my four years.
“He made mentally-tougher player.”
Dawson played in 199 games (152 starts) at VU, hitting .276 (199-of-722) with seven home runs, 13 triples, 30 doubles, 88 runs batted in, 145 runs scored and 28 stolen bases in 37 attempts.
He was named to the Horizon League all-tournament and all-freshman team in 2016 and was all-Missouri Valley Conference second team in 2019.
The summer of 2018 was spent with the Coastal Plain League’s Martinsville (Va.) Mustangs, where he hit .395 and was all named all-CPL first team and the CPL select team that competed against the USA Collegiate National Team in a midseason all-star game.
In 13 contests with the 2019 Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, Dawson’s primary position again was second base.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the RailCats in 2019 and Dawson did not play.
“I shut down baseball activities for five or six months,” says Dawson. “It was a good decision. I came back twice as eager.
“I’ve tried to find positives out of the situation.”
Pat and Lindy Salvi own both the Gary and Schaumburg franchises and RailCats manager Greg Tagert and Schaumburg skipper Bennett are good friends (Bennett pitched for Tagert with the Dubois County Dragons and the RailCats and was Tagert’s pitching coach at Gary). Dawson landed with the Boomers.
“It’s been a very good fit,” says Dawson, who has come to appreciate Bennett’s approach. “He’s very easy to play for because of how relaxed he is.
“He’s very positive and a go-get-the-next-one type of guy.”
Dawson was born in Munster, Ind., and moved to Chesterton, Ind., at a young age. He attended St. Thomas More School in Munster for Grades K-8 then entered Andrean.
Dave Griffin’s Indiana Playmakers were Dawson’s travel team from 10U until high school when he went to Shane Brogan’s Midwest Irish.
Chase is the son of Rick Dawson and Tonia Michalski.
“My dad’s my biggest idol,” says Dawson. “He works his butt off so I can play baseball.
“My little brothers (Kingston, 10, and Maverick, 6) mean more than anything to me. It’s fun to hang out and teach them baseball and basketball.”

Chase Dawson (Valparaiso University Photo)
Chase Dawson runs the bases for the 2021 Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers. (Tom Anson Photo)

Indiana’s college baseball teams take to the diamond for ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cabin fever and cold temperatures have been a reality in Indiana this winter.

But it’s beginning to thaw in many places. College baseball games have been played in the state and institutions from the state have traveled to open the 2021 season.

There are 38 college baseball programs in Indiana — Ball State (Head coach Rich Maloney), Butler (Dave Schrage), Evansville (Wes Carroll), Notre Dame (Link Jarrett), Purdue (Greg Goff), Purdue Fort Wayne (Doug Schreiber), Indiana (Jeff Mercer), Indiana State (Mitch Hannahs) and Valparaiso (Brian Schmack) in NCAA Division I, Indianapolis (Al Ready), Purdue Northwest (Dave Griffin) and Southern Indiana (Tracy Archuleta) in NCAA Division II, Anderson (Matt Bair), DePauw (Blake Allen), Earlham (Steve Sakosits), Franklin (Lance Marshall), Hanover (Grant Bellak), Manchester (Rick Espeset), Rose-Hulman (Jeff Jenkins), Trine (Greg Perschke) and Wabash (Jake Martin) in NCAA Division III, Bethel (Seth Zartman), Calumet of Saint Joseph (Brian Nowakowski), Goshen (Alex Childers), Grace (Ryan Roth), Huntington (Mike Frame), Marian (Todd Bacon), Oakland City (Andy Lasher), Taylor (Kyle Gould), Indiana University-Kokomo (Matt Howard), Indiana University South Bend (Doug Buysse), Indiana University Southeast (Ben Reel), Indiana Tech (Kip McWilliams), Indiana Wesleyan (Rich Benjamin) and Saint Francis (Dustin Butcher) in NAIA and Ancilla (Chris Woodruff), Ivy Tech Northeast (Lance Hershberger) and Vincennes (Chris Barney) in NJCAA — and 26 have already heard “Play Ball!”

Where they’ve been allowed, fans have been in the stands. Others have followed on internet streams.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have altered traditional schedules. Many have gone to longer series to limit travel.

So who’s off to the hottest starts?

Coming off a four-game series sweep against IU Southeast, Huntington is 7-0.

Taylor got the earliest start of any college team in the start, opening its season Jan. 22 in Arizona. The Trojans are 11-6.

Ball State leads D-I clubs at 4-3. The Cardinals split a season-opening series at Arizona.

The Big Ten opted to play conference games only in ’21. Indiana opens March 5 in Minneapolis and will play games against Minnesota and Rutgers.

Meanwhile, Purdue will also open a four-game series against Nebraska in Round Rock, Texas, on March 5.

Purdue Northwest is also scheduled to get going March 5.

Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference teams Earlham, Franklin, Hanover and Manchester open up March 6. Anderson and Rose-Hulman get into the act March 7.

Trine’s lid-lifter is slated for March 13.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through Feb. 28

NCAA Division I

Ball State 4-3

Evansville 3-3

Indiana State 3-4

Notre Dame 2-1

Purdue Fort Wayne 1-3

Valparaiso 1-5 

Butler 0-0

Indiana 0-0

Purdue 0-0

NCAA Division II

Southern Indiana 2-1

Indianapolis 1-5

Purdue Northwest 0-0

NCAA Division III

DePauw 1-1

Wabash 1-1

Anderson 0-0

Earlham 0-0

Franklin 0-0

Hanover 0-0

Manchester 0-0

Rose-Hulman 0-0

Trine 0-0

NAIA

Taylor 11-6

Huntington 7-0

Oakland City 6-4

Saint Francis 6-5

Marian 6-6

Indiana University Southeast 5-10

Indiana Wesleyan 4-7

Indiana University-Kokomo 3-4

Bethel 2-8

Grace 1-3

Goshen 0-2

Indiana University South Bend 0-4 

Indiana Tech 0-7

Calumet of Saint Joseph 0-0

Junior College

Vincennes 2-6

Ancilla 2-6

Ivy Tech Northeast 0-1