Tag Archives: Dennis Kas

Ivy Tech’s Hershberger extolls the virtues of vision training

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Ridiculous attention to detail.”

That’s how Lance Hershberger goes about his business as head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind.

That attention was on display as Hershberger talked about “Vision As It Pertains to Hitting in Baseball” during the Huntington North Hot Stove clinic session hosted Sunday, Dec. 1 by new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

Hershberger, with the assistance of Ivy Tech players Grant Hershberger (his son) and Connor Knoblauch, presented information and a number of drills designed to help hitters improve the way they use their eyes.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of vision in baseball,” says Hershberger, who has led the Titans to a 58-32 mark in the first two years of the Ivy Tech program. “If you think it’s not important, try playing the game with your eyes closed.

“It’s the most overlooked and under appreciated skill in the game.”

Hershberger broke his talk into four areas:

• Vision.

• Focus.

• Tee and drill work.

• Live hitting.

“A lot of this vision stuff is really focus,” says Hershberger. “I’m not an optometrist. I can’t give you a prescription for glasses.

“But I can give you some things that will focus on baseball.”

Hershberger said the first place to start is make sure that players can see well. They may need to see an eye doctor or simply commit to wearing their contacts or glasses to improve their vision and performance.

“Don’t take any of that for granted,” says Hershberger. “There is something to that.”

Hershberger talked about the dominant eye vs. back eye and used a water bottle at the edge of the stage as a visual.

He invited the audience to mimic the players and make a triangle with their fingers and put the bottle in the middle.

In closing one eye, the bottle will move outside or close to edge of the triangle.

Closing the other one will make the bottle stay inside the triangle.

The latter will be the dominant eye.

Hershberger says that if the dominant eye is the one closest to the pitcher, they should be fine. If the back eye is dominant then twisting the head to face the pitcher with both eyes is the way to go.

“Here’s one thing about (dominant eye),” says Hershberger. “You can’t change that. I can’t give you any drills. I can’t give you anything to work to change that.”

Rather than concentrating on something they can’t fix, Ivy Tech works on the back eye.

“We make sure our hitters see the pitcher, the ball, the window with their back eye,” says Hershberger. “We’ll do short toss or tee work with the front eye closed.”

For about $1.79, an eye patch can be purchased at the craft store and can be worn for these types of drills, including batting practice.

Hershberger brought out the Brock String, a device that is used in vision therapy that is a 4-foot piece of rope with colored tape every six inches.

“We’ll have our guys focus on that,” says Hershberger. “We usually tie it off on a fence or a post and put it at an angle to simulate the angle of the pitch.

“During this drill, all (the player) sees are the colors. He doesn’t see anything else. He goes up and he goes back down.

“We go for a minute and you should do it five or six times.”

Another vision drill is Thumbs Up.

Players stand apart at distances up to 60 feet with one thumb in the air and they alternate focus on the thumbs.

“We go for a minute. They don’t listen to anything. They don’t see anything (else). That’s all they see. His thumb. Their thumb.

“You do it five or six times a week and you do it all year long, you’ll get better. Your sight may not get better, but your focus will get better on what you’re doing.

“If they’re doing it right, they should have a headache when they’re done.”

In his decades around sports, Hershberger has found that athletes have not really changed.

“I hear it all the time: ‘I can’t coach kids the same way I did 30 years ago,’” says Hershberger. “I don’t believe that. I think the people that have changed are the guys in my shoes, the coaches.

“Kids will work up or down to your expectations.”

The difference now is that the coaches are better with communication.

“I explain why we do it,” says Hershberger. “I put it in a package (of drills) that makes sense to them. Here’s what we’re doing and here’s why we’re doing it.”

Hershberger talked about the importance of seeing the ball early and late.

“There’s 60 feet, 6 inches between the pitcher and the catcher,” says Hershberger. “Everybody sees the ball somewhere along that path. Usually somewhere in the middle.

“They don’t focus on the pitcher real well so they don’t see it out of his hand and know what’s coming. Then they try to guesstimate where it’s going and swing to that spot.

“Good hitters see the ball early and they see it late.”

Hoping it will help his team with vision, Hershberger has had underside of the bill on all Ivy Tech batting helmets painted white to reflect all waves of light.

“Theoretically, we may be able to see a little bit better,” says Hershberger. “I’m trying to do anything I can to get any advantage I can.

“It surely won’t hurt.”

The Titans use drills to track the baseball with their eyes.

Players are told to Google hit king Pete Rose.

“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at taking a pitch,” says Hershberger. “He would track everything into the (catcher’s) glove.

“We want our guys to track the ball.”

The player feeding the ball presents it in the “window” aka arm slot than rolls it and the batters follows it until it stops.

“You’ve got to walk before you run,” says Hershberger. “What we’re teaching there is that ridiculous attention to detail.

“You’re setting the tone for focusing on the ball.”

Ivy Tech has a bag of gimmicks — balls with colors, numbers etc., that are used in these vision drills that are packaged together with other movements in a logical way.

When balls are tossed, the batter can call out whether it is big or small, yellow or white, fastball, curveball or change-up, in, middle or out.

“He is hunting the ball in his hand,” says Hershberger. “None of this is earth-shattering but, hopefully, in the context of how you use it, it’s good.”

With the tee, Hershberger has hitters — swinging a conventional bat, paddle or piece of PVC pipe — load, stride and take it to contact then stop.

“We want them to see the bat hit the ball,” says Hershberger. “Out front on the top half. I’m not a launch angle guy.”

Then the hitter takes a half swing and contacts the ball.

“We’re working on focus,” says Hershberger. “We’re not working on mechanics of  the swing.”

Hershberger offered some other tips about tee work not related to focus.

“Always have a home plate when you’re working on the tee,” says Hershberger. “If you don’t have one, use your hat or your glove. You have to have a reference point.”

The tee is moved around depending what pitch is being worked on.

“Your swing doesn’t change,” says Hershberger. “Your point of contact and turn does.”

Tee placement will almost always vary by player.

“When they’re partners in these drills and the tee never moves from guy to guy, I’m suspect,” says Hershberger. “Oh, you’ve both got the same swing!?

“It’s more likely you’re both being lazy.

“If you don’t move it and set it up for your swing, you’re practicing somebody else’s swing and you’re getting nothing out of it. You have to set it up and be meticulous.

“Ridiculous attention to detail.”

Rapid Fire involves hitting ball after ball post-stride.

“Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!,” says Hershberger. “That’s the logical progression of what we’ve been doing.

“He’s seeing that bat hit that ball.”

Hershberger notes that the hitters’ head does not track the ball off his bat.

“You stay down in there,” says Hershberger, who has been known to take away a practice at-bat of a hitter who tracks the flight of the ball.

Vision and focus is used at Ivy Tech to work on pitch recognition.

The batter quickly calls out the type of pitch — fastball, curveball, change-up — out of the “window.”

In another drill, players who recognize fastball will go quick to the ball and pull it. If it’s a breaking, they will stay back.

There’s also a variation where they learn to sit on a fastball and adjust to a breaking pitch. This combines soft toss and the tee. The soft toss ball or the one on the tee can be hit depending on location — all the while maintaining focus.

HUNTINGTON NORTH HOT STOVE

At Huntington North H.S.

Sundays, 2:30-5 p.m.

(Free)

Remaining Speakers

Dec. 8 — Kip McWilliams (Outfield play); Dennis Kas (Infield Play/Fundamentals); Thad Frame & Donovan Clark (Baserunning)

Dec. 15 — Rich Dunno (King The Hill Trainer/Pitching Drills); Kip McWilliams (Team Drills/Championship Practice); Gary Rogers (TBD)

Dec. 22 — Dan Holcomb (TBD); Dennis Kas (Offensive Approach/Situational Hitting); Mark Flueckiger (Batting Practice with a Purpose)

Jan. 12 — Gary Gatchell (Hitting); Bret Shambaugh (Being Competitive on Game Day)

Jan. 19 — Tom Roy (Pitching/Mental … Calling a Game); Dr. Travis Frantz (Staying Healthy — Tips on Avoiding Injuries in Your Career)

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Lance Hershberger is the head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Ivy Tech Photo)

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Lance Hershberger (left) is the head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. One of his players is son Grant (right). (Ivy Tech Photo)

 

Reds’ VanMeter talks about hitting approach, intangibles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh VanMeter has morphed as a hitter.

From his days growing up in Ossian, Ind., playing travel baseball for the Summit City Sluggers and then his progression from Norwell High School to minor leaguer to big leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds, VanMeter has experienced change.

The 24-year-old shared his knowledge Sunday, Dec. 1 as the lead-off speaker for the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics hosted by new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger, who coached VanMeter as a youngster.

“My view on hitting has changed so much throughout my career, my life, whatever,” says VanMeter, who made his Major League Baseball debut May 5, 2019 and hit .237 with eight home runs and 23 runs batted in over 95 games with the Reds. “I don’t hit the same now as I did when I was 12. I don’t hit the same now as I did when I was in high school or even two years ago when I was in the minor leagues.”

VanMeter gave advice to hitters around 12.

“Just want to build a solid foundation, work from the ground up and really focus on contact,” says VanMeter. “You want to get a good base, be short to the ball and get the barrel to the ball. Keep it really simple the younger you are.”

VanMeter says things begin to change in the early teens. That’s when hitters can begin to driving the ball and not just making contact.

“A lot of it is dependent on what your physicality is,” says VanMeter. “I was small (5-foot-7 and around 120 pounds at 15), but I had a really good foundation to build on.”

VanMeter, who turns 25 March 10, 2020, says that at the highest levels of the game, it is important to get the ball in the air to produce runs.

“For a lot of youth players and youth coaches that can get misinterpreted,” says VanMeter. “When I talk about getting the ball in the air it’s not about hitting a pop-up. You want to drive the ball in the air.

“You get to a certain age and balls on the ground are outs for the most part.”

At younger ages, players with speed are often encouraged to hit the ball on the ground to beat the throw to first or hope for an error by the defense.

“That’s a really bad skill set because it’s really hard to break habits the older you get,” says VanMeter. “If by the time you get to high school all you do is hit ground balls, you’re not going to have a lot of success.

“It’s really hard to break that pattern of what you’ve been doing the last three to four years.”

When giving lessons, VanMeter has even been known to make his hitters do push-ups when they hit grounders in the batting cage.

VanMeter says he does not pretend that he has hitting around figured out, but he does have core principles.

At an early age, he worked at his craft.

“I spent a lot of time trying to get better at hitting,” says VanMeter. “I spent a lot of time in the cage.”

VanMeter notes that when it comes to cage work, tees are for mechanics and flips or batting practice is for things like game situations, timing, and pitch recognition.

“If you struggle hitting off the tee, you need to make some mechanical changes,” says VanMeter. “The ball ain’t moving.

“You should be really good at hitting the ball off the tee.”

VanMeter, who was selected by the San Diego Padres in the fifth round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Norwell, changed his swing two off-seasons ago after having essentially the same approach for more than a decade.

“Coming up through high school and my first few years in the minor leagues, I was a big bat-to-ball guy,” says VanMeter. “I was steep in the (strike) zone. I was really only concentrating on getting the barrel to the ball because that’s what I was taught growing up.

“Obviously, it worked for me.”

VanMeter has learned to hit the ball out front and put it in the air pull-side.

“The best hitters pull the ball 70 percent of the time,” says VanMeter, who rejects the idea that hitters must go to the opposite field. “Youth hitters are behind the 8-ball when they get to college or into professional baseball. They don’t know how to pull the ball. It’s been drilled into the their head. They’ve got to hit the ball the other way.

“There are not many guys unless they are (New York Yankees slugger) Aaron Judge who can consistently hit home runs to the opposite field gap. You’ve got to learn to pull the ball first before you learn to hit the ball the other way.

“Pulling the ball is not hitting duck hooks down the third base line. It’s hitting a back spin ball into the left-center gap if I’m a right-handed hitter. For a left-handed hitter, it’s the right-center gap. That’s where the damage is going to be done.”

The pitch that’s down and away in the zone is hard to pull. That’s a pitcher’s pitch. Moving closer to the plate will bring that pitch closer to the hitter’s attack zone and the change to do damage.

“Damage is what makes you a good player,” says VanMeter. “It’s being able to produce runs.

“Baseball is all about producing runs and limiting runs. If you can do those two things, you’ll play for a long time.”

VanMeter advises youth players to get better at strike zone recognition and that starts in BP.

“You should only swing at strikes in the cage,” says VanMeter. “It’s not just swing the bat at every pitch.

“You need to take a breather. It’s not rapid fire.”

VanMeter recalls that he was 8 when a lesson taught to him by Sluggers founder Mark Delagarza.

“He said baseball is not a cardio sport,” says VanMeter. “You should not be getting your heart rate up when you’re swinging a bat.

“In my opinion, between every swing you should step out, take a deep breath and step back in just like a real game.”

Growing up, Josh spent countless hours taking cuts off his father, Greg VanMeter. And they weren’t all fastballs. There were also breaking balls and change-ups.

“We want to feel good, but at the end of the day, we have to challenge ourselves, too, to become better hitters,” says Van Meter. “You should treat BP more like a game.”

VanMeter says he can see MLB teams hiring independent pitchers to throw batting practice in simulated game situations.

To see pitches, recognize placement, spin and more, big league hitters often stand in during bullpen sessions.

“If we’re facing a guy with a really good breaking ball, I would go stand in on Trevor Bauer’s bullpen because all Trevor wants to throw is breaking balls,” says VanMeter. “You don’t even have to swing. You don’t even need a bat. All you’re doing is training your eyes.”

In recognizing the strike zone, the left-handed-hitting Van Meter splits home plate into thirds — outer, middle and inner.

“It’s about hunting an area in the zone that we want to attack,” says VanMeter. “It’s really hard to hit three pitches (fastball, breaking ball and change-up) in every zone.

“You can hit a fastball pretty much in any zone if you’re on fastball timing. But if (the pitcher) throws a breaking ball and I’m on a fastball , it’s going to be really hard to hit no matter what anybody says. Everybody says, ‘sit hard, you can adjust to soft.’ That’s not as easy as it sounds.

“Knowing the zones and knowing what you’re good at can be a really positive strength.”

VanMeter says that most high school pitchers command the zone away from the hitter.

“Knowing that, I’m going to sit out over the plate because it gives me the best chance to succeed,” says VanMeter. “The key to being a really good hitter is being able to sit out over the plate and take (the inside pitch) for a strike.”

Why?

Most will foul that pitch into their foot.

Having a plan when you go to the plate is another one of the biggest keys you can have,” says VanMeter. “You’ve got to be smart to be a hitter.

“It’s not dumb luck.”

The idea is to get into hitter’s counts (0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1) and avoid pitcher’s counts (0-1, 0-2, 1-2).

VanMeter did that often last spring with Triple-A Louisville. At the time he was called up in May, he was hitting .336 with 13 home runs, 31 RBI, 17 walks and 23 strikeouts. On April 29 in Toledo, he slugged three homers and drove in eight runs.

Up with the Reds, VanMeter began to learn the importance of being ready to hit the first pitch.

“I’ve always been a patient hitter,” says VanMeter. “I’m not a guy who’s afraid to take a strike or get to two strikes

“(Big league pitchers) are way to good for you to take a first-pitch cookie right down the middle. be ready to hit that first pitch. It’s all a mindset.”

VanMeter, who had smacked his first major league homer off St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas July 20 in Cincinnati, remembers a pre-game conversation with Cincinnati hitting coach Turner Ward on Aug. 31 with the Reds facing the Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha in the second game of a doubleheader in St. Louis.

“Why do I feel scared to make an out on the first pitch of an at-bat?,” says VanMeter, recalling his question to Ward.

He was told that the question was not stupid since VanMeter is an elite bat-to-ball hitter who regularly puts the ball in play, is good with two strikes and walks a fair amount.

“Sometimes you just have to choose your spot,” says VanMeter. “(I decided) I’m going to look for a fastball up in the zone (against Wacha) and I’m just going to swing. Sure enough, I get a fastball up and I hit it out of the park on the first pitch of the game.

“What hitting comes down to is giving yourself the best chance to succeed.”

VanMeter has come to make an “A” swing and avoid a “panic” swing.

“We want to get our best swing off every time we swing the bat — every time,” says VanMeter. “We don’t want to compromise our swing just to make contact.”

Taking a panic swing just to make contact can often be worse than missing the ball altogether. A hitter can be in a 1-0 count, get out over his front foot on a breaking ball and hit a weak dribbler to the right side.

“Now you’re taking a right turn back to the dugout,” says VanMeter. “You’ve got to train yourself to take your best swing every time no matter what.”

Hitters must commit to a plan and trust their swing.

“With those silly mistakes we make, we don’t really trust ourselves to get our best swing off and have a productive at-bat,” says VanMeter.

It also takes confidence, but this can’t be given.

VanMeter had a parent ask if he could give his kid confidence.

“No, I can’t funnel your kid confidence,” says VanMeter of his response. “Confidence comes from preparation.

“If you prepare, you’re going to be confident.”

What about a timing mechanism?

“Timing is not about getting your (front) foot down,” says VanMeter. “Your foot’s going to get down before you ever swing the bat. I’m never going to swing with my lead foot off the ground.

“When do I pick my foot off the ground? That’s the biggest thing. When you pick your foot off the ground, you’re going to go regardless.

“I pick my foot off the ground when the pitcher separates his hands. That all comes into sync. I want to make my forward move when his arm is starting to come forward.”

VanMeter now stands straight up and just goes forward, but knows that younger hitters need a lode as a way to generate power.

“Your legs will always be the strongest part of your body, but especially at that age,” says VanMeter. “High school kids are not in the weight room enough.”

As a professional, VanMeter goes against conventional wisdom and uses the straight bar bench press in his training.

“The less reps, the more weight the better,” says VanMeter. “I do two max effort days a week (build up to a one-rep max) and two dynamic effort days a week (more of a speed program).

“The only way you’re going to get stronger is by doing max effort work. You’re not going to get crazy strong by doing three sets of 12. That’s just not how it works. You’ve got to lift heavy to get strong.

“When it comes to baseball, you’ve got to train speed and power because that’s the kind of sport it is.

“My cardio is playing basketball. You’ll never see me on a treadmill or running sprints. Baseball is not a cardio sport. It’s a power sport. It’s a short-interval sport.

“The biggest measurement when it comes to running in baseball is can you get from first from the home on a double in the gap?”

Baseball players are graded by five tools — speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength.

But there is also a sixth tool — intangibles. The Reds saw that in VanMeter, who was drafted as a shortstop but has played second base, third base, left field, right field and first base in their system.

“It’s being a winning player, knowing the game, being a good teammate, being a good leader,” says VanMeter. “When you get to the big leagues, those things matter. In the minor leagues, it’s all about (the five) tools.”

This past year, VanMeter got to meet one of his idols — 10-year big leaguer and 2006 World Series MVP with the Cardinals David Eckstein — and asked him how he did what he did at 5-8, 165.

“I just grinded day in an day out,” says VanMeter of Eckstein’s response. “I was a good teammate. I was a winner.

“That’s what people want — winning players.”

HUNTINGTON NORTH HOT STOVE

At Huntington North H.S.

Sundays, 2:30-5 p.m.

(Free)

Remaining Speakers

Dec. 8 — Kip McWilliams (Outfield play); Dennis Kas (Infield Play/Fundamentals); Thad Frame & Donovan Clark (Baserunning)

Dec. 15 — Rich Dunno (King The Hill Trainer/Pitching Drills); Kip McWilliams (Team Drills/Championship Practice); Gary Rogers (TBD)

Dec. 22 — Dan Holcomb (TBD); Dennis Kas (Offensive Approach/Situational Hitting); Mark Flueckiger (Batting Practice with a Purpose)

Jan. 12 — Gary Gatchell (Hitting); Bret Shambaugh (Being Competitive on Game Day)

Jan. 19 — Tom Roy (Pitching/Mental … Calling a Game); Dr. Travis Frantz (Staying Healthy — Tips on Avoiding Injuries in Your Career)

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Josh VanMeter, a Norwell High School graduate, made his big league baseball debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2019. (Cincinnati Reds photo)

 

Helping Michigan pitchers know their strengths mission of Fetter

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the know.

That’s what University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter wants the hurlers in his charge to be.

“First and foremost, I want them to be knowledgeable with who they are as pitchers,” says Fetter, who is guiding to Wolverines staff this weekend in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State, Creighton and Cincinnati are three other competing teams). “Our eyes can deceive us. I want them to be as informed as possible about what they do and own what they do instead of just guessing.”

With Fetter leading the process, Michigan pitchers have access to many resources, including video analysis, Rapsodo and TrackMan to help them devise a plan of attack.

It becomes a combination of approaches that leads to what that player does on the hill.

“It’s not based entirely on technology, a coach or what the player thinks,” says Fetter. “But we marry all those together.”

Fetter assists his pitchers in developing an arsenal and it starts with the fastball.

“What kind of fastball do you throw?,” says Fetter. “Then, how do we attack other teams?

“It all stems with developing a relationship with the player and getting them to buy in to being learners of who they are.”

In his second second at U of M, Fetter has helped produce a number of capable pitchers.

In 2018, Tommy Henry made the all-Big Ten Conference second team while Karl Kauffman was on the third team and Ben Dragani the third and all-freshmen teams. Four Wolverines were signed by Major League Baseball teams — Will Tribucher, Jayce Vacena, Alec Rennard and Troy Miller.

The 2019 all-conference squads include Michigan’s Jeff Criswell (first team), Kauffmann (third team) and Willie Weiss (freshmen). The MLB First-Year Player Draft is June 3-5.

Fetter is a 2004 graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons for Tom Linkmeyer and two for Eric Lentz.

“Tom is great baseball mind, great baseball man,” says Fetter of Linkmeyer. “We still talk quite a bit.

“He took a chance on young kid. He always gave it to you straight. You always knew where you stood. He was always in your corner. I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Fetter remembers Lentz for his positive approach and knowledge of X’s and O’s.

From his 15U to 18U summer, Fetter played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls. His coaches were Dennis Kas, Craig Grow, Jeff Mercer Sr. and C.J. Glander.

“I couldn’t have played for a better summer organization,” says Fetter. “When you’re going up agains the best competition game in and game out, it helps you make the jump to the next level.

“It was a special group. There are some of the best summers of my life.”

One of his Bulls teammates was Jeff Mercer Jr., who is now head coach at Indiana University.

After a redshirt season as a freshman, the 6-foot-8 right-hander played for Michigan and head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Bob Keller from 2006-2009.

“From the moment Rich recruited me, he instilled a great sense of confidence in me as a player,” says Fetter of Maloney. “He really takes an interest in his players and coaching staff.

“He’s a great motivator.”

Fetter says Keller was at the forefront of teaching pitchers to be athletic and stressed pre-throwing routines and properly warming up.

As a pitching coach, Fetter works on helping his starters develop a consistent routine between appearances while monitoring the workload of the relievers. He pushes them on some days and lets the recover on others.

Fetter pitched in 51 games for the Wolverines (40 as a starter) and was 24-8 with a 3.32 earned run average. He struck out 248 and walked 72 in 278 innings. He also pitched for Cotuit Kettleers of the summer collegiate Cape Cod Baseball League in 2007.

When the 2009 MLB Draft came, Fetter was selected in the ninth round by the San Diego Padres. He pitched for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2009 and 2012. His manager at Eugene in 2012 was former Notre Dame head coach and current Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy.

After 51 appearances (37 as a starter), Fetter played his last pro season in 2012 and began coaching in the Padres system in 2013.

Fetter was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Missions and former big leaguer Rich Dauer was the manager and Jimmy Jones the pitching coach.

“They were a great couple of mentors,” says Fetter of Dauer and Jones. “(Dauer) taught me overall game management. From (Jones), I learned about the art of teaching the delivery — rhythm, balance, timing.

“Those are two of the countless people along the way.”

Fetter went from the Padres to becoming a scout for the Los Angeles Angels.

“I go to watch the game from a different perspective,” says Fetter. “I was able formulate opinions on what players do well.”

For the 2016 season, Fetter was reunited with Maloney as his pitching coach at Ball State University, where he got to apply things he had learned as a pro coach and scout.

Three of Fetter’s standout BSU pitchers were Colin Brockhouse, B.J. Butler and Zach Plesac. This past week, Plesac made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Indians.

He then worked in player development with the Los Angeles Dodgers, learning how that organization uses analytics.

That led him to joining the staff of Michigan head coach Erik Bakich.

“He is all-in 24/7,” says Fetter of Bakich. “He’s completely energetic. He lifts everyone up around him. He’s very positive and very prepared.

“He pushes all these guys to play their best and get 100 percent better in their own process of development.”

Fetter, 33, and wife Jessica have a son named Cole. He turned five months next week.

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Chris Fetter is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. He pitched for the Wolverines from 2006-09. (University of Michigan Photo)

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As pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team, Chris Fetter (center) wants his players to be as knowledgeable as possible about what they do and bring it to the mound. Starting May 31, the Wolverines are in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (University of Michigan Photo)

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Chris Fetter, a 2004 Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate and former Indiana Bulls, pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization and assistant at Ball State University, is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. (University of Michigan Photo)

Dudley heading into 17th season of guiding Frankfort Hot Dogs

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One never knows where life’s path might lead them.

Andy Dudley was born in Greenfield, Ind., grew up in Knightstown, Ind., attended college and got his first coaching job in Indianapolis.

But his first full-time teaching and coaching position took him to Frankfort, Ind.

Dudley was finishing up his math education degree at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and serving on the baseball staff of Duke Burns at Park Tudor School.

“They needed a pitching coach and brought me into the mix,” says Dudley. “That was a great experience for me.

“I got to work with some really good pitchers and catchers.”

He also received a lead that led him to where he is today. Burns told Dudley of an opening for a math teacher and head baseball coach at Frankfort High School.

Burns had been working on the Hot Dogs’ playing facility with his Diamond Vision baseball field business.

Dudley, who graduated from IUPUI in 2001, got an interview at Frankfort and was hired as a teacher and head coach.

“It was a really great fit for me,” says Dudley. “I was grateful for that.”

The 2003 baseball season was his first, which makes the 2019 slate his 17th in Clinton County.

“What I enjoy is that it’s a (an IHSAA Class) 3A school and a big enough town,” says Dudley. “It’s small enough to know all of my kids coming up.

“It’s in the middle of a very rural county. About half of the baseball program is Hispanic. It’s a unique experience.”

Frankfort went 15-13 and won the Sagamore Conference title in 2018. The SAC, which plays home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the last two games split up between a Friday and Saturday, also features Crawfordsville, Danville Community, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone.

The Hot Dogs are in a 3A sectional grouping with Crawfordsville, Lebanon, North Montgomery and Southmont. Frankfort hoisted sectional trophies in back-to-back seasons (2015 and 2016).

Frankfort participated in Indiana’s first state high school baseball tournament back in 1912 and lost in the second round to eventual semifinalist Fort Wayne.

Recent Frankfort graduates have gone on to make an impact at the college level, including shortstop Leo Lopez at Marian University in Indianapolis and outfielder Jarrod Smith at Franklin (Ind.) College.

Dudley expects three current Hot Dog seniors — Casey Henry, Christian Lopez and Jose Valdes Sandoval — to play college ball. All three are right-handed pitchers. Henry and Lopez (brother of Leo) are also outfielders while Valdes Sandoval plays third base.

Dudley’s varsity coaching staff includes two of his former Frankfort players (Blake Ayers and Kansas Varner) as well as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Dennis Kas). Ayers played at Huntington University and Varner at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Isaac Field and Steve Royer will run the junior varsity program.

Dudley says he typically has carries about 25 players for the two squads, which play their games on-campus at a field which has added a pro-style backstop and new dugouts in recent years. Decorative blocks are part of the backstop facade with salutes to alumni and prominent former players and teams.

“It looks really nice,” says Dudley. “We did most of the work ourselves (the team and local baseball backers).”

Among those feeding the Hot Dogs are Frankfort Little League, Frankfort Rotary Baseball (for seventh and eighth graders) and Frankfort-based Indiana Giants travel team. Frankfort has also sent players to travel with the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Prospects among others.

Dudley played for Greg Miller at Knightstown High School, graduating in 1996.

Miller, who had been a member of the Ball State University’s NCAA Sweet Sixteen basketball team in 1989-90, was also Dudley’s basketball coach at Knightstown.

“The biggest thing I got from Coach Miller was the way handled himself as a role model and an adult,” says Dudley, who was a catcher for the Panthers in the spring and while playing for the Bulls and coach Bret Shambaugh in the summer.

As IUPUI head coach, Shambaugh attracted Dudley to play in the capitol city.

“A lot of what I do as a coach and did as a player came from (Shambaugh),” says Dudley. “He was really demanding as a coach but I learned a lot.”

In his second year, he became a full-time pitcher.

Former Jaguars assistant Brian Donahue was IUPUI’s head coach in Dudley’s last two seasons.

“We were just converting to a Division I athletic program,” says Dudley. “I got to be put into a leadership role.”

Andy and Mandy Dudley have two children. Daughter Alaina (12) is a sixth grader. Son Brock (10) is in fourth grade. The couple met when both taught at Greenwood (Ind.) Middle School.

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Head coach Andy Dudley (far left in back row) celebrates with his Frankfort (Ind.) High School baseball team after it won its second straight IHSAA Class 3A sectional title in 2016.

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Andy Dudley has been the head baseball coach at Frankfort (Ind.) High School in the 2003 season.

Diamond expectations high for Miller’s Greenfield-Central Cougars

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greenfield-Central stood toe-to-toe with the team that went on to go undefeated and hoist the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship trophy.

A 1-0 eight-inning loss to Indianapolis Cathedral in last season’s Decatur Central Regional semifinals is enough for the toes of GC players to hit the floor early while preparing for 2018.

“I’ve got 30 kids coming in at 5:45 in the morning,” says Greenfield-Central head coach Robbie Miller. “It’s the only time we can get the gym. That shows how dedicated they are.

“I demand a lot of them. After last year, they see the rewards when we put the time in.

“We can’t just be happy getting there. We’ve got to expect to be there every year. We’ve got to be able to compete at that level to get to the ultimate prize.”

Cougars right-hander Drey Jameson did not allow a hit while striking out 14 over the first seven innings against Cathedral. But the ace bound for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and a spot on the Ball State University roster hit the new pitch limit of 120 and had to leave the mound.

The Irish plated the winning run on a Jake Andriole single with two outs in the top of the eighth. Cathedral went on top Roncalli, Columbus North and Penn on the way to a 29-0 record and a 4A state crown.

“Baseball is a game of inches,” says Miller of the narrow loss to Cathedral. “We had a guy on third base and one out in the bottom of the sixth and our guy hit a one-hop shot to the shortstop. If it’s an inch one way or another we win the ball game in seven innings.”

Miller, who enters his fourth season as GC head coach in 2018, is always talking to his players about high expectations.

Miller’s message: “Everyday you walk on the field it’s a battle. You’ve got to expect to win every time you take the field. You can’t just show up and win. You’ve got to expect and play to win the game.”

A 1997 New Palestine High School graduate who played baseball for coach Lance Marshall at Franklin College, Miller joined the GC coaching staff in 2001. He took two years off just before taking over as head coach.

Miller’s first stint as a varsity assistant at Greenfield-Central came with C.J. Glander. He was a straight shooter with his players and Miller operates the same way.

“You have to be honest with kids and call a spade a spade,” says Miller. “That’s how I look at. It seems that the kids respect that.”

Before and after each season, Miller meets one-on-one with all the players in the program and talks to them about their roles for the coming season or how the just-completed season went.

“Sometimes they like what they hear. Sometimes they don’t like what they hear,” says Miller. “But I’m not going to be one of those that’s going sugarcoat anything with them.”

The 2017 team was filled with players who understood and accepted their roles.

Miller embraces “small ball” and and “quality at-bats” and wants his players to buy into the team concept. The 2017 Cougars went 18-11 while hitting just .245 as squad.

“When we get a sacrifice bunt down, I want everyone in the dugout to go and give him ‘five,’’ says Miller. “He just gave away his at-bat for his team to help us move a runner.

“You should be happy going 0-for-4 and winning vs. going 4-for-4 and losing. That’s about being a team.”

An eight-pitch at-bat that results in a strikeout is still considered a quality at-bat. So is moving the runner with a grounder to the right side of the infield.

Miller also spent one summer coaching with the Indiana Bulls travel organization and a staff that included Glander and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dennis Kas.

“(Kas) used to say that baseball is a game of when. When do you get the hit? When do you make the error?

“People have got to understand that. It’s OK not to have the .500 batting average. I’d rather they hit .280 with 40 RBIs.”

Miller wants his athletes to hold each other accountable.

“If a person next to you is taking a play off, you need to yell at them,” says Miller. “You can do it in a respectful way. But you need to tell them to get their act together.

“Some of the best teams I played on, we were ready to fight. When practice or the game was over, we were best friends.”

While Jameson has moved on and the 2018 Cougars will have plenty of underclassmen with pitching talent, the expectations have not been lowered. Besides that, GC will be defending sectional champions (GC reigned at Pendleton Heights in 2017) and a target to the teams on their schedule.

“It comes with the territory,” says Miller. “I’m trying to get the program from ‘Yay, we played Greenfield!’ to ‘Oh no, we play Greenfield!’”

The Class of 2018 is small but Miller appreciates the leadership. Catcher Braxton Turner is drawing collegiate interest.

Miller’s 2018 assistants will include Mark Vail (former Eastern Hancock head coach), Harold Gibson (father of Minnesota Twins pitcher and 2006 GC graduate Kyle Gibson), Brent Turner and Brandon Plavka. Others are expected to join the staff. Miller says the Cougars could field varsity, junior varsity and freshman/C-teams this spring.

Greenfield-Central belongs to the Hoosier Heritage Conference (along with Delta, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).

The Cougars are grouped in a 4A sectional with Anderson, Connersville, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights and Richmond.

All-time, GC has won 13 sectionals and one regional (2006) and are looking for their first semistate and state titles.

Fenway Park in Boston has it’s “Green Monster.” Molinder Field at Greenfield-Central has a smaller version. The 22-foot high barrier which is about 305 feet from home plate down the left field line was recently re-furbished.

Because of a road down the left field line, the dimensions of the field can’t be expanded to any great extent.

“Anyone who comes there is going to try to hit it over the wall,” says Miller. “We’re trying to get them change their approach at the plate. It just puts a different touch on it. Before, it was just a chain link fence.”

Feeder programs for the high school include Greenfield Youth Baseball Association and travel organizations including two with operations in town — the Indiana Bandits (started by Harold Gibson in 1996) and the Midwest Astros Academy (which established a training facility in Greenfield last fall).

There are also seventh and eighth grade baseball teams at Greenfield-Central Junior High School.

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Robbie Miller enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Greenfield-Central High School in 2018. The 2017 Cougars won the IHSAA Class 4A Decatur Central Sectional. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Westview’s Rahn knows little things can go a long way in baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attention to detail.

Sweating the small stuff because it can lead to big results.

Understand that there is more than one way to do something better.

These are some of the concepts that Jason Rahn brings to his players as the head baseball coach at Westview High School in LaGrange County, Ind.

“You’ve got to be good at that stuff to be able to play at a high level,” says Rahn, who enters his eighth season as Warriors head coach after serving three years as an assistant to Joel Mishler. “We’re fortunate at Westview to be good with things that often get overlooked.”

One area where Rahn looks for improvement is on the basepaths— not just stealing bases, but being aggressive and knowing how to make a dirt-ball read to take an extra base.

“I learned quickly in college that if you know how to run bases you were going to be effective,” says Rahn, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Mike Frame at Huntington University and graduating from Huntington North High School, where he was on squads led by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Sherman and then Chad Daugherty. “You can steal a bag or catch a guy sleeping with the ball in his hand.”

Rahn expects his pitches to throw strikes. But not just pitches in the strike zone.

“Where do you want the strike thrown?,” says Rahn, who knows some strikes can’t be barreled up and others can be crushed.

Rahn goes into each practice with a plan. There is a playbook (written in a way that high school players who have many other things in their life besides baseball can understand).

“It’s repetition and building muscle memory,” says Rahn. “We break down moments and tell why we’re doing it this way. When you see the light bulb come on, you see a huge transition in the kid.”

Mishler, who has experience as a college player, college and high school coach and pro scout and is the founder of the Indiana Chargers travel organization, gets credit from Rahn for his way of teaching game situations.

“He makes it make sense for the kids. You have to realize that some of these kids are 15-year-olds.”

Another dynamic Rahn enjoys is seeing olders players explain things to the younger ones.

“You see who your leaders are just by posting the practice schedule and seeing what happens,” says Rahn.

As a young player on Sherman-coached team, he saw how he interacted with upperclassmen.

“He would push them, but he was also working alongside them as a teammate,” says Rahn. “He was teaching the game as a fan of them.”

Sherman coached the Huntington North baseball team for 38 years until he retired in 2001.

Rahn said some of his best conversations with Sherman came over the fence when first baseman Rahn was playing in college and Sherman was there to watch.

Those moments almost didn’t happen.

In high school, Rahn was all-in for basketball and thought that would be his path in college. He didn’t go out for baseball as a sophomore then watched best friend Thad Frame (Mike’s son) start at shortstop as a freshman.

An ankle injury helped Rahn decide to switch his focus away from the hardwood and onto the diamond.

He was part of a large senior class who enjoyed a special final season in 2003.

He recalls the enthusiastic words of a teammate who said he should be grateful for the opportunity to play and be outside under the blue skies.

As a Huntington University player, Rahn got close with his teammates got to know Mike Frame even better.

“When you sweat and cry next to a guy long enough, you have these tight relationships,” says Rahn. “(Coach Frame) was leading that.

“There has always been a level of intensity about Coach Frame in all aspects of life. He has never been one to not wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’ll always let you know how much he loves you. Coming from a guy who is pushing you physically and mentally, that goes a long way.”

Rahn also gained knowledge from HU assistant coaches Dennis Kas, Brian Abbott and Dave Kennedy. Kas is an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. Abbott is the IHSBCA Executive Director.

At Westview, Rahn guided the Warriors to an IHSAA Class 2A LaVille Sectional title in 2011. His team enjoyed a memorable 2014 season that included a Westview Sectional championship and 18-inning marathon loss to Lafayette Central Catholic championship game of the Whiting Regional.

Five of those Warriors had played for the Indiana Chargers.

Three of them are in college baseball — Judah Zickafoose (Northwestern Oklahoma State University), Tarrin Beachy (Huntington U.) and Jamar Weaver (Huntington U.).

“I knew they were being taught well,” says Rahn, who has also had travel ball players with the Michiana Scrappers, Hitters Edge and Elkhart Titans.

A direct feeder program is Warrior Youth Baseball, which has been overhauled and has Rahn’s thumbprint on it more than ever.

“They use more of my verbiage,” says Rahn, who will have the 12U Warriors (coached by former Westview head coach Mark Engle) playing around 60 games by July 4. There will also be a limited travel scheduled for a 13U/14U team.

Westview is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (along with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights and West Noble).

Rahn’s 2018 high school coaching staff his a family feel to it. Varsity assistants include Steve Christner, Adam Christner and Nate White. Derrike Johns is the junior varsity coach.

Steve Christner’s is Rahn’s father-in-law and Adam Christner his wife’s brother.

Jason, who is employed at Jayco in Middlebury when not coaching, and Whitney Rahn first met at Huntington University.  They got to know one another better when Jason was living in Fort Wayne and Whitney was attending Indiana Purdue at Fort Wayne. The couple has three children — son Brigham (6), daughter Preslee (6) and son Sullivan (1 1/2).

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Jason Rahn, a product of Huntington North High School and Huntington University, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Westview High School in LaGrange County, Ind.

Noblesville baseball culture foundation is program-first

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Keever didn’t start the baseball culture at Noblesville High School.

Millers baseball has a storied tradition. Men like Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Don Dunker and Dennis Kas had the ball rolling before Keever arrived on campus.

The former Twin Lakes High School and Butler University player left coaching and teaching jobs at Avon High School to become Noblesville head coach in the summer of 2004 and logged his first season in 2005.

In 2014, the Millers hoisted an IHSAA Class 4A state championship trophy. In Keever’s first 12 seasons, Noblesville has won four sectionals, three regionals and three titles in the “meat grinder” Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

With baseball assistants Kevin Fitzgerald, Caleb Small, Quinton Miller, Ben Yoder, Eric Slager and Gene Marinacci plus strength and conditioning coach Brian Clarke enforcing the same message, Keever has kept Noblesville among the best big-school programs in Indiana with a set of core values.

“We have really good staff,” says Keever. “They love kids and hold them accountable.

“It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Members of the program — coaches and players — talk about investing in each other and the good of the whole.

“When you can create that ownership in the program, you have something special,” says Keever. “When you have authentically invested in your teammate, they will be more receptive … they know you care.”

It can be expressed in a straight-forward equation — fitting in that Keever’s classroom job is math teacher — Program > Team > Individual.

Adopted from the Butler Way (Keever hit for a school-record average of .426 as a junior for the Steve Farley-coached Bulldogs in 1999), The Miller Way “demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self.”

Noblesville follows the S.T.U.P.H. method.

Servanthood — makes teammates better, lead by giving.

Thankfulness — learn from every circumstance.

Unity — do not divide our house, team first.

Passion — do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence.

Humility — know who we are, strengths and weaknesses.

Keever said its the team-first philosophy that drives all three squads for the Millers — varsity, junior varsity black and junior varsity gold.

Is it a perfect system?

No.

“You’re dealing with teenagers,” says Keever. “There will always be push-back. We’re dealing with human beings here — coaches included.”

But with older players modeling behavior for their younger teammates, it becomes self-policing program and rules violators generally step back in line in short order.

“You learn the most from your peers and teammates,” says Keever. “They speak your same language.”

Keever expects a total buy-in and players striving for the high side of the “C” scale.

“If you’re resistant or reluctant, you are not going to be part of our program,” says Keever. “You can be compliant (do the minimum), committed (go above and beyond) or compelled (go above and beyond and bring people with you).”

To make the Millers better and allow for team bonding, Noblesville has been going on a southern trip (Kentucky in 2008 and Tennessee since 2009). This year means an appearance March 30-April 1 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Conference games will again for played as three-game series.

“It’s a blast,” says Keever of the format. “It’s the college model, how baseball should be played. Our league is able to do something like that. We finding out who has the best team, not just who has the best pitcher. (Indiana high school) baseball needs to get off the basketball model and onto the baseball model, especially in the state tournament.”

Keever notes that in basketball you are pretty much the same team each time out. In baseball, it makes a big difference who is on the mound.

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Noblesville High School head baseball coach Justin Keever is a 1996 Twin Lakes High School and 2001 Butler University graduate. The 2017 season marks his 13th of leading the Millers.