By STEVE KRAH
It was one special season and Mike Namisnak was a part of it.
Elkhart Central went 32-1 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state baseball championship in 2013.
“Not many people in this area can say they had the chance to go to the State Finals much less win State,” says Namisnak, who is now 26.
The Blue Blazers reigned at the Elkhart Sectional, LaPorte Regional and South Bend Semistate before topping Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the right to dogpile at at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
Namisnak was a designated hitter in the title game and one of nine seniors in the ECHS lineup.
Tanner Tully led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run — one of three Blazer hits off Ashe Russell — then pitched a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.
There was also left fielder Kaleb DeFreese, shortstop Cory Malcom, first baseman Riley Futterknecht, center fielder Matt Eppers, second baseman Casey Ianigro, third baseman Austin McArt and catcher Kyle Smith. Devin Prater and Nick Ponce were also seniors on that team.
Junior right fielder Jesse Zepeda was the lone non-senior in the starting combo (he went on to play at Bethel College and start the Indiana Black Caps travel organization). Junior Mike Wain was a pinch runner.
Look at the game program and you’ll see Central wearing baby blue uniforms. During the tournament run, they broke out “camouflage” tops and that’s what they wore in taking the title.
Tully pitched at Ohio State University and is now in the Cleveland Indians system.
DeFreese went on to play at Indiana Wesleyan University and become an athletic trainer.
Malcom pitched at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and became a regional sales manager.
Futterknecht pitched at DePauw University and became a regional sales manager.
Eppers, who was the 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2013, played at Ball State University and became a national sales and product manager.
Ianigro became an office with the Elkhart Police Department.
McArt went on to become a regional sales manager at Forest River. Malcom, Futterknecht, Eppers and McArt all landed at Forest River Inc.
Smith became a television news editor.
Namisnak played one year at Concordia University Ann Arbor, two at Goshen College and then ended his baseball career because of elbow surgeries (the third baseman hurt his arm while diving for a ball in the summer).
He earned his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Southern Indiana and recently became a purchasing agent at Heartland RV.
Namisnak grew up in Elkhart and played at Osolo Little League and in the Elkhart Babe Ruth system as well as travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers. Prater was a Babe Ruth and Scrappers teammate.
These days, Namisnak teaches baseball lessons in his spare time and plays slow pitch softball.
“I break it down with basic fundamental stuff,” says Namisnak of his lessons approach. “It got me into college. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
Mike gives credit to older brother Andy (Elkhart Central Class of 2007) for first teaching him the game.
“From the time I could walk we were playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard,” says Namisnak. “I’d got to his games and we’d work on stuff together. He taught me how to understand the game.”
Andy Namisnak went on to play club baseball at Indiana University.
Steve Stutsman was the Elkhart Central coach that guided the champion Blazers in 2013.
“Coach Stuts was a laid-back coach to me,” says Namisnak. “He had his moments where he’d get fired up and get on us.
“He knew he had a talented team. He gave us the right direction.”
Namisnak came along at a time where he played varsity baseball on the old and new fields at Elkhart Central.
He liked having a clubhouse in the back of the dugout at the new field. But he appreciated the older diamond along Goshen Avenue.
“It’s an old classic field, which I enjoyed,” says Namisnak.
He recalls that when the Elkhart River overflowed its banks and water was lapping against the back of the dugout, the field was still playable.
Namisnak still follows Major League Baseball and is a long-time Chicago Cubs fan.
“It’s nice seeing they have a decent team this year,” says Namisnak. “This shorter season was something of a needed thing (during the COVID-19 pandemic).”
Namisnak has come to embrace the designated hitter in both leagues.
“It’s always fun to see a pitched hit a home run,” says Namisnak. “But the universal DH rule should be kept after this COVID stuff.
“It just makes more sense to me.”
Count Namisnak a fan of expanded playoffs with a compacted schedule.
“More postseason baseball — I’m not going to complain about that,” says Namisnak. “There are no fans at the games so I don’t mind the no days off. Otherwise, you want that home field advantage.
“It plays like high school or Little League ball, not with 50,000 people screaming.”
CGI fans in the stands on TV is too much for Namisnak. But he’s on-board with the cardboard cut-outs. Some teams have taken to giving the fan the the ball if it strikes the cut-out.
Then there’s the extra-inning rule where a runner is placed at second base to start an inning.
“That reminds me of slow pitch softball,” says Namisnak. “It’s not a huge fan of that rule for MLB games.
“It’s just a weird season to sit down and watch baseball.”
It’s a different baseball world from 2013. Was that really only seven years ago?