Tag Archives: David Freese

Indiana Elite Baseball stresses development, exposure

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With giving players opportunities to develop and compete at a high level a priority, Indiana Elite Baseball is preparing for the spring and summer travel season.

Started as part of the Center Grove Little League in Greenwood, Ind., Indiana Elite Baseball had one team in 2011 then four teams in 2013 and was up to 10 squads in 2014 and has stayed in that range ever since. IEB will field 10 squads ages 12U through 17U in 2021. Younger players are typically come from central Indiana, but talent comes around the state.

“We started to grow it slowly,” says Indiana Elite Baseball founder and president Mike Chitwood, a former all-city player and 1989 graduate of Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis. “We wanted to do something bigger than a community-based team.

“I have a big passion for doing what I do. I love educating players and families on the process. I tell them to play the game for as long as you can.”

IEB has been a not-for-profit organization since 2013. 

“I try to keep cost as low as possible for our families,” says Chitwood. “You have to do certain things to afford the families and players an opportunity to develop.”

Indiana Elite Baseball can be found taking the field at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo., LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga.

In 2016, the organization got its own indoor training facility on the southeast side of Indianapolis. It’s open year-round only to IEB teams, coaches and instructors.

“It’s been a great addition for the last five years,” says Chitwood. 

Indiana Elite Baseball offers a full winter training program led by director of baseball operations Brian Simmons.

Players train four hours a week November to March. 

“I’m a big advocate of multi-sport athletes,” says Chitwood. “But get to as many (baseball workouts) as you can.”

Younger teams tend to play in 12 events a year, beginning in early to mid-April. Older teams play seven or eight tournaments after Memorial Day.

Simmons is a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis who played at Xavier University and Ball State University and in independent pro ball. He was an assistant at Roncalli to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Wirtz and aided Eric McGaha at Mooresville (Ind.) High School and was head coach at Roncalli and Indianapolis Arlington.

Deron Spink is the other IEB instructor. A California native, Spink coached future big leaguers Ryan Howard and David Freese in the St. Louis area and was head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., and director of baseball operations at Villanova University in Philadelphia before moving to Indiana. 

Spink was a volunteer assistant to Steve Farley at Butler University and is a former director of baseball operations and recruiting for Indiana Elite Baseball who now resides in Evansville while still coming to Indianapolis to give private lessons.

Chitwood, Simmons and vice president Jeff Amodeo make up IEB’s board. Amodeo coaches and does much of the behind-the-scenes work.

Through a relationship with Franklin College the past four years, Chitwood has gotten Grizzlies assistants to coach for Indiana Elite Baseball in the summer. Tim Miller has gone on to become head coach at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. Former Franklin and IEB coach Tyler Rubasky is Miller’s assistant.

Current Franklin assistants Jake Sprinkle, who played at Franklin Central and the University of Indianapolis, and Trevor Tunison, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., also lend their talents to IEB. 

Chitwood used to have a rule that after 15U, there could be no coaches who had sons on the team. 

“As long as a dad is in it for the right reason and they’re not in it to take care of their son, I will let a dad continue as long as they want to continue for multiple reasons,” says Chitwood. “These days, it’s harder and harder to get a guy to spend his entire summer at the baseball field.”

Mike ceased coaching son Blake Chitwood, who played for Roncalli’s IHSAA Class 4A state champions in 2016 and then at the UIndy, and has regretted the decision.

“There’s a misconception that you had to play collegiately or at a higher level professionally to be a coach,” says Chitwood. “(16U Black head coach) Steve Sawa didn’t play past high school. But he’s a student of the game. He’s a great coach.”

John Curl, a Logansport (Ind.) High School graduate who played at Texas A&M and in the Toronto Blue Jays organization and is a Kokomo (Ind.) High School assistant, helps Sawa.

Paul Godsey (Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky.), Dan Sullivan (Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) and Scott Gilliam (UIndy) and Brian Maryan (Rose-Hulman) are former college players who also have sons on their respective teams. Gilliam is assisted by former Eastern Illinois University pitcher and IEB father/coach Kyle Widegren

Thomas Taylor, Kyle Morford and Ryan Mueller are also current IEB head coaches.

After Blake moved on, Mike Chitwood coached the 17U team. He decided by focusing on one team he was doing the rest of the outfit a disservice so he stepped out of the coaching role.

“I like to see all my teams play,” says Chitwood. “It’s important to build the culture and the family atmosphere.”

The goal of IEB’s high school age players is getting to the next level.

Chitwood stresses education with baseball as a means of getting that education.

He asks each player to take baseball out of the equation.

“It has to be a great academic fit,” says Chitwood. “What are you going to be in the future?

“Even if you get to play pro ball, you still have to provide for your family after your playing career.”

Chitwood wants players to know if a school offers a major that interests them and if — realistically — they can play at that level.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the whole environment of the recruiting process. Many coaches have not been able to attend travel events in-person and on-campus visits have been restricted.

“More than ever, it’s important to perform in these showcases,” says Chitwood. “We want to continue to build our relationships with all these (college) coaches.”

Chitwood keeps college programs up-to-date on Indiana Elite Baseball players through social media and the sharing of data such as Rapsodo

To be proactive, Chitwood has hired an intern to take video of game action this season.

Resources like Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and FieldLevel are also tools for exposure.

The pandemic has had another big impact. Many players are coming back for an extra year of eligibility after the 2020 college season was shortened. 

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was cut from 40 to five rounds last year, keeping many players on the amateur side of the equation.

“It’s a different environment now,” says Chitwood. “Opportunities are much less than they were two years ago.”

Mike Chitwood is the founder and president of Indiana Elite Baseball, a not-for-profit travel baseball organization based in Indianapolis. (Indiana Elite Baseball Photo)

Laird’s coaching based on development, discipline, accountability

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sean Laird knows about physical adversity.

As a senior at Kokomo (Ind.) High School, he suffered a fracture to his L4 and L5 vertebrae and had torn muscles in his back.

A four-year letterman and all-conference, all-state and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series selection as a senior in 2005, Laird was good enough as a Wildkat (he set several KHS school records, playing for three head coach — Ed Moon in 2002, Jim Jameson in 2003 and 2004 and Steve Edwards in 2005) and a member of the Indiana Bulls (he helped the 17U team to a World Series runner-up finish in 2003 and Final Four appearance in 2004 while working with the Moore family — Craig, Jered, Quinn and Lance — plus Gary Sylvester and Mick Thornton) to play NCAA Division I baseball and showed up at the University of South Alabama hurt.

Playing through injuries, Laird logged four seasons (2006-10) for the Jaguars and hit .319 with 23 home runs, 41 doubles and 110 runs batted in. A 92 mph fastball shattered his right hand during his junior season. He played his entire senior season with tears in his labrum and rotator cuff and took Cortisone injections to get through it. There was nerve damage and bone spurs in his shoulder. Professional organizations still showed interest his last two years in Mobile, Ala.

“Doctors were saying this obviously is going to need surgery and if you want to play catch with your kids one day it’s probably better to rehab and take care of yourself,” says Laird. “That was a decision I made.

“Looking back on it now, it was all for a reason.”

That reason became seeing young men and women get stronger and be recognized for their hard work.

Laird received his bachelor’s degree in Sports Management and a master’s degree in Health with a focus on Exercise Science. 

He spent one season on the Kokomo coaching staff (2012) became a Indiana Bulls 17U coach/strength and conditioning in the summer of 2011 (a role he still fills and is assisted by Zionsville Community High School head coach Jered Moore).

After two years as strength and conditioning specialist at Westfield (Ind.) High School, he began what is now Laird’s Training LLC in 2014. In 2016, he authored “How to Build a Ballplayer.”

“It’s about how I built myself into a D-I ballplayer and all the trials and tribulations,” says Laird of the book. “I wanted to get all that stuff out of my head so I could share it and help other ballplayers conquer the same things I had to conquer.”

His coaching and life is based on three principles.

“It’s 100 percent character development, discipline and accountability,” says Laird. “People talk about what natural talent does somebody have in life. For me, if you can instill the discipline and teach kids how to hustle — whether it’s in the classroom, on the field or just in life in general — no matter what they choose do do, they’re going to be successful.

“How I run my business and how I coach is 100 percent to get them ready for that next level. That might not be professional. It might be college. It’s also the next level in life.

“Everybody’s going to go through problems in life and adversity. But if you can teach yourself how to have that discipline, you can conquer anything.”

Laird conducts speed camps and strongman training at The Bullpen Academy in Russiaville and two days at home in garage gym in Kokomo.

The 33-year-old is constantly learning.

When it comes to certifications, I’m always getting new ones. I’m always going to clinics continuing my education. If you’re not moving forward, if you’re not getting smarter, you’re regressing.

Besides his masters, Laird is a Certified Physical Preparation Specialist (which means knows how to train athletes in the weight room and in speed and agility for all sports). He also a Certified Underground Strength & Conditioning coach through Zach Even-Esh and is certified in Body Tempering (recovery) and Pn1 (Precision Nutrition).

“I try to formulate an eating plan for each athlete,” says Laird. “Most kids that come to see me are trying to gain muscle.”

Laird says the field of strength and conditioning is ever-changing.

When he was in high school, it was about putting on as much mass as possible and the lifts were power clean, bench press and squat.

“Those are great movements,” says Laird. “But it’s like anything else in life. If you’re only staying in one lane, you’re very limited in your potential.

“The main job for a strength coach is to keep athletes healthy. If we can’t keep them healthy, they can’t be on the field.”

The goal is to make sure the athlete moves their bodies correctly and are taught the proper movement patterns — with and without a load.

“We make sure it’s going to help him with his sport and — ultimately — make him a better athlete,” says Laird.

At South Alabama, Laird played for head coach Steve Kittrell and assistant Alan Luckie. Kittrell is now coaching softball at Spring Hill College in Mobile and Luckie is still at USA.

“Coach Kittrell was definitely a blue-collar type guy,” says Laird. “He focused on the little things.

“He was really a big mind in the game. So many guys learned so much from him.”

Among those were former Bulls Quinn Moore and Jeff Cunningham and future big leaguers Adam Lind (Anderson Highland High School graduate) and David Freese.

Laird took all the information gathered as a player and from his schooling and cultivated my own coaching culture and atmosphere.

Sean and Lauren Laird were high school sweethearts. The couple has three children — Scarlett (3), Crash Levi (18 months) and Arya (born Oct. 24). Crash is named for Kevin Costner’s character in the 1988 movie “Bull Durham.”

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Sean Laird is a head coach for the Indiana Bulls 17 Black travel baseball team.

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Sean Laird, coach of the Indiana Bulls 17 Black travel baseball team and owner of Laird’s Training LLC, spends a moment with his two oldest children Scarlett and Crash Levi.

SEANLAURAARYALAIRDSean and Lauren Laird welcomed Arya to their family Oct. 24, 2019.

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The Lairds (from left): Lauren, Crash Levi, Scarlett and Sean. Arya was born Oct. 24, 2019.

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Sean Laird is the founder and owner of Laird’s Training LLC and head coach for the Indiana Bulls 17 Black travel team. He is a graduate of Kokomo (Ind.) High School and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Alabama.

Kirchoff of Northeast Dubois proud to be a branch on sturdy coaching tree

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Kirchoff swells with pride when he thinks about the coaches in his life.

In his 24th season as an Indiana high school head baseball coach — his 15th at Northeast Dubois after nine at Heritage Hills — Kirchoff knows where his roots lie.

Father Rex Kirchoff was his baseball coach and Steve Brett (on his way to 467 wins) his basketball coach at Bloomfield High School, where Brian graduated in 1984. Brian’s uncle is Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame coach Guy Glover.

Another uncle — John Heaton — coached Shelbyville to the boys basketball Final Four in 1986.

Cousin Glen Heaton coached basketballers at Fort Wayne North Side.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Henry Ayres had Brian as an assistant for three seasons before he retired Kirchoff took over for the Patriots.

Before that, Brian played at Indiana State University-Evansville for Larry Shown and then IHSBCA Hall of Famer Brian Kuester and Gary Redman as the school changed its name to the University of Southern Indiana.

“I’m very proud of the coaching tree that I’m a branch of such a coaching tree,” says Kirchoff. “You talk about a guy who’s been lucky. To pick up things from these men is unreal.”

Rex Kirchoff, who is now 81, taught his son the game and is the reason he pursued coaching the sport.

A few years ago, Brian found a way to pay him back.

A family of St. Louis Cardinals fans, the Kirchoffs went to Game 6 of the 2011 World Series (St. Louis bested the Texas Rangers 10-9 in 11 innings on David Freese’s game-winning home run).

“I never saw my dad showing a whole lot of emotion,” says Brian. “He was high-fiving police officers going out of Busch Stadium that night.

“I’ve been very blessed.”

Brian considers himself an “Old School” coach, but he does not always play things by the book.

“I still cringe when people don’t bunt in bunting situations,” says Kirchoff. “When I played for Coach Redman, I found out about being very aggressive on the bases.

“I’m a believer that most kids can move on the bases. You just have to pick ways to do it.”

Not all players a speed merchants. But delayed steals and hit-and-run plays can get the wheels turning.

“You can’t get much done playing station-to-station,” says Kirchoff. “You have to get creative when the kids aren’t quite the fastest.”

Northeast Dubois is an IHSAA Class 1A school of about 270 students. The Jeeps play in the Blue Chip Conference (with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet and Wood Memorial; Washington Catholic is also in the BCC but has no baseball team).

How competitive is the Blue Chip? Kirchhoff notes that Rivet did not win the conference and yet finished as 1A state runner-up in 2013.

“You’ve got to play pretty well to win our conference,” says Kirchoff. an IHSBCA district representative. “In some years, three or four teams — with a break or two — could be the team to end up at Victory Field.

“Our conference champion generally speaking has a pretty good chance to make a run every year.”

Northeast Dubois plays seven round robin conference games and then a variety of non-conference opponents.

“I like the opportunity to play as many different people as possible during the season and keep it fresh with the kids. The farthest we go is Shakamak — about 1 1/2-hour drive.

“For a 1A school, we’re in a really nice spot. We have a nice mix of schools and sizes. We have plenty of options.”

3A’s Jasper, Southridge and Washington, 2A’s Forest Park and 1A’s North Daviess all appear on the non-conference slate.

All but two of NED’s nine sectional titles and two of three regional championships have come on Kirchoff’s watch. The Jeeps play in the opener of the five-team Northeast Dubois Sectional Wednesday, May 24. The hosts are the defending champions.

By the way, a Northeast Dubois Jeep has nothing to do with a mode of transportation. It’s an homage to a character that first appeared in the Popeye comic strip in 1936 — Eugene the Jeep.

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Brian Kirchoff is in his 15th season as head baseball coach at Northeast Dubois High School. Before leading the Jeeps, he was head coach at Heritage Hills.