Tag Archives: Dave Neuenschwander

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Coaches encouraged to nominate seniors for IHSBCA All-Star Series in South Bend

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plans are coming together for the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series Friday through Sunday, July 20-22 in South Bend.

The July 20 IHSBCA Junior Showcase and July 21-22 All-Star Series games will be played at Four Winds Field, home of the Class-A South Bend Cubs.

The All-Star banquet is slated for July 20 at the Century Center in Downtown South Bend. Former Elkhart Central High School, Bethel College and Milwaukee Brewers minor league pitcher Greg Kloosterman has agreed to be the keynote speaker.

Selection of the squads, which will include senior players from all four classes (25 from the South and 25 from the North), is scheduled the morning of the IHSAA State Finals on Saturday, June 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

North and South committees will review the names sent in from the 16 district meetings held on June 3.

Each head coach, who is an IHSBCA member, will receive notification from the district representative informing him of the time and place of the meeting.

District reps are Bob Glover (Hobart) in A, Mark Schellinger (New Prairie) in B, Jim Treadway (Elkhart Central assistant) in C, Pat McMahon (Fort Wayne Canterbury) in D, Andy McClain (Norwell) in E, Travis Keesling (Pendleton Heights) in F, Jay Malott (South Dearborn) in G, Brad King (New Castle) in H, Ryan Wolfe (Plymouth) in I, Kyle Neal (Attica) in J, Matt Cherry (Fishers) in K, Jeff McKeon (Decatur Central assistant) in L, Kyle Kraemer (Terre Haute South Vigo) in M, Jeremy Richey (Seymour) in N, Brian Kirchoff (Northeast Dubois) in O and Mike Goedde (Evansville Central) in P.

A member MUST be present at the meeting to have a senior player nominated for consideration for the 2018 All-Star squads.

Each school is allowed to nominate up to three senior players for All-Star consideration.

Ricky Romans (Charlestown) will chair the South selection committee. Other members are Goedde, Dick Alter (Indianapolis Lutheran), Steve Bray (Northeastern), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Zach Payne (Lanesville), Jeremy Sassanella (Brebeuf Jesuit), Tim Terry (South Vermillion) and Justin Tucker (Batesville).

Kevin Hannon (Knox) will chair the North selection committee and be assisted by Wolfe, Ryan Berryman (Western), Chuck Brimbury (Peru), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Brian Jennings (Griffith), Justin Keever (Noblesville), Dave Neuenschwander (Adams Central) and Bob Shinkan (Munster).

Brian Abbott is executive director of the IHSBCA.

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The 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series is July 20-22 in South Bend.

 

Former Adams Central, Huntington U. standout Combs preparing for second season in Giants system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dalton Combs has gotten a kick out of his many baseball experiences.

This fall and winter, the graduate of Adams Central High School and Huntington University has been crafting a little kick in his left-handed swing as he prepares for his second professional baseball season in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“It’s a different timing mechanism to keep my front side back,” says Combs, a Monroe, Ind., native who has been staying in central Indiana and training at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield. “I’m learning how to use my hips and hands together and staying balanced throughout my swing.

“I’ve been in the weight room everyday working on strength and power.”

RoundTripper trainers have also helped him with improving his speed and agility as he gets ready to head to report to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., on March 1.

“I want to keep developing as a player,” says Combs, 23.

Primarily an outfielder, Combs led Huntington with a .402 batting average and paced the Crossroads League with a .516 on-base percentage.

The senior rapped out 28 extra-base hits (eight home runs, one triple and 19 doubles) and was second in batting as well as runs scored per game (1.08) and hits per game (1.50) and ranked third in slugging (.654), total bases per game (2.44) and doubles per game (.40).

“I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything else,” says Combs. “I really enjoyed Huntington for four years. I learned advanced baseball techniques there.

“(Coach Mike Frame) was always pushing us to be the best we could.”

Combs cherishes the time he had with teammates and coaches.

“We had a great bond,” says Combs. “Everybody got a long well. That’s what I enjoyed most.”

Home games were played at scenic Forest Glen Park with its taller-than-most right field fence.

“My teammates joked with me that all I had to do was pull the ball for a home run,” says Combs. “But it seems I always hit home runs away (from Huntington).”

Combs, who hit .248, .386 and .355 in his first three seasons as a Forester, was selected in the 35th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Giants and played 23 games for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of the Class-A Short-Season Northwest League. He hit .208 with one homer, two doubles and 11 runs batted in.

“I had a really good experience,” says Combs of his first season in pro ball. “The biggest thing I could take away is creating myself a routine so I can go and have the most success possible.”

A 2013 Adams Central graduate, Combs played four varsity baseball seasons for coach Dave Neuenschwander and was also coached by him as a football quarterback and defensive back.

“There was a work ethic he instilled in me,” says Combs. “He’d say, ‘you have a lot of talent, you’ve just got to keep working hard and doing your thing.’ He was always pushing me through the good times and the bad

“He taught us things — on and off the field — about being a good man and staying out of trouble. I really respect Coach Neuenschwander. I can call him a friend today. I appreciate what he did for me at Adams Central.”

The Flying Jets won baseball sectional titles in three of his four seasons (2010, 2011 and 2013) with one regional crown (2013).

Dalton, the son of Kurt and Marie Combs and younger brother of Kyleigh, got his baseball start at Monroe Youth League at Don Ray Memorial Park. At 12, his father coached a travel team — Indiana Aquablast — that went to Cooperstown, N.Y.

While in high school, Dalton played travel baseball for Fort Wayne Cubs, Summit Storm and USAthletic.

In the summers at Huntington, he was part of the New York College Baseball League’s Genesee (N.Y.) Rapids in 2014, Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers in 2015 and Northwood League’s Kalamazoo Growlers in 2016.

Combs graduated from Huntington with a sport management degree and can see himself one day running a training facility. He enjoys working with kids and he has helped out at several camps and with Huntington and its trips to Nicaragua.

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Dalton Combs, a graduate of Adams Central High School and Huntington University, is now a left-handed-hitting outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

 

 

Time away from baseball coaching changes Adams Central’s Neuenschwander

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Neuenschwander pushed the pause button on his high school baseball coaching career.

While away from the diamond, he gained a different perspective and came back refreshed with a changed outlook.

Neuenschwander, who has also a football assistant for 22 years, led the Adams Central Flying Jets baseball program from 1991-98 then took 1999 through 2002 off. During that time, he read a book by Tony Dungy — “Quiet Strength.”

“It was very positive for me and my coaching,” says Neuenschwander, who altered his style when he returned to the dugout at the school in Monroe, Ind., in 2003. “I’ve learned to enjoy it more and more. I don’t take the winning and losing as personal as I used to. I used to be a screamer and yeller. But there’s other ways of doing this. I have more of a relationship with my players. It doesn’t mean I can’t push them when they’e not putting out.”

Neuenschwander, who has been teaching for 27 years, has come to really appreciate the relationships with current players and those that have graduated and gone on to make their way in the world as husbands and fathers.

“We can fellowship,” says Neuenschwander. “I know that each player is different. Each player’s home life is different. Their expectations are different.”

If they are on the team long enough, youth athletes are also bound to change during their careers.

Take the case of Dalton Combs (Class of 2013), who is now an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization after a standout career at Huntington University.

“(Combs) was part of one of most successful senior classes here,” says Neuenschander of a 2013 AC club that won 26 games and lost to Northfield in the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate. “He started as freshman. He matured physically, mentally and athletically in four years.”

Five of AC’s eight sectional titles have come on Neuenschwander’s watch — the latest in 2016.

The coach has also come to embrace that no two teams are the same.

“The beauty of coaching high school baseball, each year is a new puzzle and it’s my job to put that puzzle together,” says Neuenschwander. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Neuenschwander is grateful that he got to play baseball for two Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers — Dean Stahly at South Adams High School and Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University). Dave graduated high school in 1983 and college in 1987.

“He was there a long time,” says Neuenschwander of former Starfires coach Stahly. “He loved the game of baseball. He taught me how to throw a curveball and still use his old-fashioned drills when I want to teach the curve.”

Neuenschwander was a junior on the 1982 South Adams team that lost to Roncalli in the semifinals of the single-class State Finals. Mike Dull was on that ’82 team and went on to play at the University of South Alabama where he was a roommate of Luis Gonzalez, the man who drove in the winning run in the 2001 World Series.

Many lessons were learned in four seasons the Frame-led Foresters.

“He taught us about discipline,” says Neuenschwander. “Becoming a teacher in general, I was given the fundamentals. There was also integrity. Mike’s a man of faith and his integrity was well taught to us.

“He’s a good friend.”

Tom Roy, founder Unlimited Potential Inc., and is now an assistant coach and chaplain at Grace College was a Frame assistant when Neuenschwander’s time at Huntington.

Neuenschwander has sent Combs and others to play for Frame and currently has a couple players on college rosters — Conner Lengerich at Spring Arbor University and Andrew Hammond at Indiana Tech.

“At a small school (enrollment under 400), we have to be really proactive in letting schools know if our kids are interested,” says Neuenschwander. “I see it as a major part of my job. It’s something I want to do. If a student-athlete wants to go to college, I will assist in any way I can. I will show them how to get on-line and do things.”

AC players attend showcases in order to be seen by college coaches. Younger players in the area play travel baseball for the Bluffton Bandits while others have gone to the Summit City Sluggers and Berne Bears among others.

The three-sport athlete is alive and well at Adams Central.

“We encourage them to do everything,” says Neuenschwander. “One of the biggest challenge high school baseball players have is that they’ve been on the go all year and the seniors getting ready to graduate and ready for school to end. Some kids need to get jobs to pay for college so we have to be flexible with practices during the state tournament.”

Being married to an educator has also helped Neuenschwander. Wife Christy teaches third grade at Salamonie School in Huntington County.

“She is definitely a coach’s wife,” says Dave. “She’s very supportive in what I do. She is very level-headed. We weigh out issues and work through them.”

The couple have a married daughter (Whitney teaches at Speedway) and son in eighth grade (Nick).

The Jets are members of the Allen County Athletic Conference (along with Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

“It’s pretty competitive,” says Neuenschwander of the ACAC. “Schools are fairly close to each other. We know the players and coaches very well.”

Neuenschwander was a teammate of current Jay County head baseball coach Lea Selvey back in the early 1980’s with the Portland Rockets.

Winter workouts are starting with about 10 players participating and the others in a winter sport. Neuenschwander’s assistants are Josh Foster (varsity) and Joel Reinhard (junior varsity). Fall open fields were run by Reinhard with Neuenschwander coaching football. Other volunteers are expected to help the Jets on the diamond in the spring.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It didn’t bother me at all,” says Neuenschwander. “It really makes the game a little more strategic in a sense.”

He and his assistants had to really plan when they would use a pitcher and for how long.

“You need to develop more pitchers — not just throwers,” says Neuenschwander. “At the JV level, it’s really positive. There are more opportunities for players to play.”

JV limits are tighter than varsity and there has been discussions about making it the same as varsity.

We’re still here to protect you because you are a child,” says Neuenschwander. “Some summer coaches may not protect them as much as they should so they put it in the hands of the educators. It became the coach’s responsibility to document (pitcher use). I become liable if he didn’t have the proper rest.”

Dave is the youngest of six children born to Delmar and Dessi Neuenschwander. His father was a butcher. Berne Locker Meats has been in the family for about 70 years.

Brothers Don and Doug also played at Huntington. Doug went on to pitch at Triple-A in the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates systems. The three girls are Dana, Danita Jo and Dian. Doug and Dana are both in the Huntington University Athletics Hall of Fame.

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Dave Neuenschwander is the long-time baseball coach at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind.