Tag Archives: Dubois County Bombers

Dubois County Bombers make commitment to community

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

For the Dubois County Bombers of Huntingburg, Ind., it’s about serving the community and providing opportunities for college baseball players in the summer.
A member of the summer collegiate wood bat Ohio Valley League, the Bombers play at League Stadium, where the movies “A League Of Their Own” (1992) and “Soul Of The Game” (1996) were filmed and where Southridge High School plays its home games in the spring.
For the first film, the stadium was expanded from a capacity of 800 to 2,783 and given an antique look (the original grandstand dates back to 1894).
In 2019, the Bombers drew 998 fans per game — among the highest attendance figures in the team OVL, which had nine teams at the time and now sports 10 (besides Dubois County, there’s Kentucky’s Hoptown Hoppers, Owensboro RiverDawgs, Madisonville Miners, Fulton Railroaders, Paducah Chiefs, Muhlenberg County Stallions, Henderson Flash, Franklin Duelers and Full County Rhythm).
“We’re fortunate because Columbia Pictures left us a stadium that we can put that many fans into it,” says Mike Uebelhor, a Huntingburg native who is a principal owner and managing partner for a group that purchased the team in 2012. “We just wanted to make sure that the team stayed here in Dubois County.”
The Bluff City Bombers of the Central Illinois Collegiate League moved to Huntingburg in 2005 and were renamed the Dubois County Bombers. The CICL then merged with the Prospect League. As the Prospect League has a larger geographical footprint, the Bombers moved to the Ohio Valley League as of the 2013 season.
According to Uebelhor, the previous owner was planning on moving the team to another venue.
“We just wanted to make sure this this stadium was not going to sit here and rot,” says Uebelhor. “And so that’s why we kept it here.”
There are 33 season employees. Mike’s wife and daughter — Mary and Ashley — put the whole package together. Mick Uebelhor, a sophomore on Southridge’s IHSAA Class 3A state champions in 2021 is Mike and Mary’s son and a Bombers intern.
“We all have our second separate job opportunities and job descriptions and it all works,” says Mike Uebelhor.
There’s both an electronic and manual scoreboard.
Bombers players where throwback-style uniforms and Peaches — a nod to the All-American Girls Baseball League’s Rockford Peaches — greet fans, help run on-field contests. There are “Musical Chairs” for kids and adults. The opposing teams participates in the “Dizzy Bat Spin.”
Peaches and fans dance to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” in the fifth inning.
Many little girls at the park don the same pink outfits as the Peaches. Girls can get eye pink and boys eye black.
One youngster was heard to say after his blacking, “I’m a professional baseball player.”
There’s a vintage bus parked in front of the stadium with Rockford Peaches on one side and Bombers on the other.
Promotional dates include ’60s Night, Shark Night and Faith & Family Night. The regular season of fun began began June 4 and runs through July 24.
“We’ve always promoted this as 50 percent baseball and 50 percent entertainment,” says Uebelhor. “Most folks would not remember tomorrow what the score was, but they remember they had a good time and they come back. And that’s how we grew up being able to grow our attendance along with a lot of corporate sponsors.”
There is an outfield sign for set designer Harold Collins, who customarily destroys sets after use but agreed with Connie Kay Nass (Huntingburg mayor 1988-96) to keep the improvements to League Stadium.
According to Uebelhor, Budweiser paid $1 million for its permanent sign. Coca-Cola paid $500,000.

Eight former major league players have played at League Stadium — Buddy Blemker, Jim Rushford, Bob Coleman, Steve Cishek, Mitch Stetter, Scott Rolen, Alex Graman, Sean Manaea and Daniel Johnson.
Blemker, a 1955 Huntingburg High School graduate, Huntingburg native Coleman and Rolen (Jasper Class of 1993) are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
A pitcher, Blemker played for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Coleman played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians and managed the Detroit Tigers and Boston Braves.
Third baseman Rolen played for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds.
Catcher Rushford played for the Dubois County Dragons in 1996 and later with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Pitcher Cishek was with the Bombers in 2006. He has played for the Florida/Miami Marlins, Cardinals, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels.
Southridge graduates Stetter (Brewers) and Graman (New York Yankees) pitched in the bigs.
Oakland Athletics hurler Manaea was with the Bombers in 2011.
An outfield with DC in 2015, Johnson was drafted by the Washington Nationals and has played for the MLB Indians.
The 2021 Bombers roster features seven local players — pitcher Weston Allen (Asbury University), first baseman Connor Oxley (Oakland City University), outfielder/second baseman Tucker Schank (Indiana University) and catcher Chase Taylor (University of Evansville commit) of Huntingburg, outfielder Jared Sermersheim (West Virginia Tech) and pitcher Carter Stamm (University of Southern Indiana) of Jasper and infielder Simon Scherry (Heritage Hills High School of U. of Evansville) of Santa Claus — and the rest reside with 17 host families.
There’s usually a waiting list to host players. Many in town have taken players in — Bombers or the independent Dubois County Dragons (1996-2002) — for years.
Taylor, who helped Southridge to the 3A state title on Tuesday, June 22 (the same night that Jasper gave the county a second champion by reigning in Class 4A), was the starting catcher for the Bombers on June 24.
In his debut, Taylor caught former Southridge teammate Allen and stroked a double and scored a run in his first at-bat. He threw out a would-be Franklin base-stealer in the fourth inning.
Travis LaMar, an assistant coach for Southridge who played for the Bombers in 2007-09, has been on the DC coaching staff since 2017 and head coach since 2019.
“It’s great for the community,” says LaMar of the Bombers experience. “The community really gets involved and really supports us.
“You bring in these college kids and it gives them an opportunity to develop their skills and play the game every day and have a little bit of fun while they’re doing it.”
LaMar is an Evansville Harrison High School graduate who was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 44th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander opted to pitch for Olney (Ill.) Central College and then Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He then played independent pro ball for the Lake Erie Crushers and Evansville Otters and was an assistant coach at Harrison.
Travis and Kate LaMar have been married since 2018 and have nine-month old son named Drake. The LaMars reside in Holland, Ind. Travis also teaches physical education at Caze Elementary in Evansville.
LaMar pulled double-duty during Southridge’s state run, going with the Raiders at practices and games and letting his Bombers assistants run the show when there was an overlap.
“I was stretched pretty thin but, you know, it kind of all worked out and it just kind of goes back to the kind of the family atmosphere that we have,” says LaMar. “A lot of these players are from around here and they they understand the league or they’ve been in the league before.
“So you know I can kind of put a lot of trust in that I can put the trust to my coaches.”
Willie Poe, who played for the Bombers’ 2015 and 2017 OVL championship teams, is in his first season on the DC coaching staff.
The Lexington, Ky., native pitched at Bellarmine University. He coached at Iowa Wesleyan University and Indian Hills Community College before joining former Bombers head coach Andy Lasher’s staff at Oakland City U.
Bryce Wilz returns as a DC assistant after pitching for the Bombers in 2013. He played at Southeastern Illinois College and Brescia University. He is currently the pitching coach at SIC. He has coached in the OVL with Muhlenberg County (2018) and was to be with Madisonville in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic took the season away.
Mark Peters is in charge of player recruitment for the Bombers. The Huntingburg native has been connected to high school and college baseball for more than two decades as both a coach and recruiter.
Bombers home games air of WITZ 104.7 FM with Hall of Famer Walt Ferber on play-by-play and Roger Stuckey on color commentary.

Travis LaMar
League Stadium, Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
League Stadium, movie site (Steve Krah Photo).
“A League Of Their Own” was filmed at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
“Soul Of The Game” was filmed at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
League Stadium is in Dubois County, Ind., home to two 2021 IHSAA state champions — the Southridge Raiders and Jasper Wildcats. (Steve Krah Photo)
The Dubois County Bombers won the 2018 Bluegrass World Series. (Steve Krah Photo)
On-field contests are a staple at Dubois County Bombers games. (Steve Krah Photo)
League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., was updated and dedicated in 1991. (Steve Krah Photo)
A Dubois County Bombers “Peach” applies eye pink to a little fan. (Steve Krah Photo)
Many little girls at Dubois County Bombers games dress like the Rockford Peaches as seen in “A League Of Their Own,” a movie filmed at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
A vintage bus in front of League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. It’s the home of the Ohio Valley League’s Dubois County Bombers. (Steve Krah Photo)
A vintage bus in front of League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., serves to remind folks that “A League Of Their Own” was filmed there. The movie about the All-American Girl Baseball League came out in 1992. (Steve Krah Photo)
A famous line from the 1992 movie, “A League Of Their Own.” It was filmed at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

Southern Illinois slugger Archer basking in bonus baseball season

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Play until you can’t play no more.”

Philip Archer plays baseball with the words of his father — Leslie Archer — ringing in his ears.

Granted an extra year of college eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Archer has had hits ringing off his bat in 2021 as a powerful puncher in the Southern Illinois University lineup.

“It’s certainly a blessing to extend your career one more year,” says Archer, a 2016 graduate of Floyd Central High School in Floyds Knobs, Ind., in his fifth college diamond season. “I need to play until I can’t play no more because one day I’m going to be done and enter the real world.

“I will not be a kid anymore.”

As Archer and the Salukis (33-15) enter a Missouri Valley Conference series at Indiana State May 14-16, the lefty-swinging first baseman is hitting .324 (60-of-185) with nine home runs, 16 doubles, 49 runs batted in, 40 runs scored and .965 OPS (.408 on-base percentage plus .557 slugging average).

The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder has produced 13 multi-hit games, including four against Mercer Feb. 26, Southeast Missouri March 24 and Austin Peay April 6.

Archer drove in five runs against Mercer and seven against Austin Peay.

In three seasons at SIU-Carbondale covering 114 games (112 starts), Archer is hitting .302 (127-of-421) with 16 homers, 26 doubles, 94 RBIs, 84 runs and an .869 OPS (.382 on-base percentage plus .487 slugging average).

He was at Olney (Ill.) Central College in 2017 and 2018 and hit .341 (120-of-351) with 15 homers, 29 doubles, 102 RBIs and 82 runs  and an .950 OPS (.397 on-base percentage plus .553 slugging percentage).

What’s Archer’s secret sauce?

“Discipline, hard work and having good coaches and people around me,” says Archer. “With our lineup this whole year, we’ve got a lot of guys swinging it well.”

Archer often bats in the No. 5 or No. 6 hole in SIU head coach Lance Rhodes’ batting order. 

Besides input from Rhodes, Archer also works closely with staffers Brett Peel (hitting coach), Ben Brewer (volunteer) and Kirby McGuire (director of player development).

“Power hitter — that’s my main role on the team,” says Archer. “I’m there to knock in some RBI’s and make some things happen.”

Saluki hitters receive a detailed scouting report before every game. 

It tells them the pitches and tendencies of opposing pitchers.

“If lefty is busting me in, it’s different than a righty living on the outer half,” says Archer.

Archer, who turns 23 on May 28, was born in Indianapolis but grew up in Greenville, Ind.

He got his organized baseball start at Floyds Knobs Community Club. He played travel ball through Highland Youth Recreation and later for the Louisville Elite and Midwest Prospects.

At Floyd Central, Archer played for Highlanders head coach Casey LaDuke.

Casey is a great guy and a great coach,” says Archer. “He’s done a great job with the program and the facilities.

“Learning from him at a young age was huge for me with his elite-level practices.”

At Olney Central, Archer played for veteran Blue Knights head coach Dennis Conley.

With Conley’s success and demeanor, Archer likens him to Hall of Famer Augie Garrido.

“You can’t beat knowledge and experience of Dennis Conley,” says Archer. “He’s got it all.

“He’s calm when he needs to calm, but he’s got a fire.”

During his time at Olney, Archer was a Great Rivers Athletic Conference and National Junior College Athletic Association District 24 Player of the Year. The Blue Knights went 41-16 in 2017 and 42-16 in 2018.

During his college summers, Archer has played for the Dubois County (Ind.) Bombers (2017) and Richmond (Ind.) Jazz (2018).

The Bombers were managed by Andy Lasher, who is now head coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University where Philip’s little brother, Joel, is a freshman infielder/pitcher. 

Former Zionsvillle Community High School and University of Southern Indiana player and SIU assistant Ryan Bertram managed the Jazz.

Leslie and Mary Anne Archer have three sons — Andrew, Philip and Joel. Andrew Archer is with the Clarksville (Ind.) Police Department.

Archer did not play in 2019 while attending to summer classes and a job. There was very little opportunities to play in 2020 due to the pandemic.

A Sport Administration degree was completed last spring. He is now half way to becoming a Master of Health Administration.

After the Indiana State series, Southern Illinois completes the MVC slate with games agaisnt Dallas Baptist and then hosts the conference tournament.

Will professional baseball coming calling for Archer after that?

“If I have an opportunity to play at the next level I’d for sure take it,” says Archer. “If not, I’ll move on and be satisfied with my career.”

Philip Archer (Southern Illinois University Photo)

Princeton’s Barrett coaches where grandfather, Gil Hodges used to play

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Barrett was born and raised in Evansville, Ind.

But before he knew about hometown baseball hero Don Mattingly, he heard stories about Gil Hodges.

That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.

Zach Barrett is now the head baseball coach at Princeton Community High School. The Tigers play on Gil Hodges Field. It’s the same diamond where its namesake and his grandfather once played the game.

“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”

One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.

“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”

Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.

“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”

Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.

Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.

Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.

Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.

“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.

The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.

The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.

Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.

Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.

With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.

Princeton (enrollment around 610) is a member of the reconfigured 13-member Pocket Athletic Conference (with Boonville, Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Mount Vernon of Posey, North Posey, Pike Central, Southridge, South Spencer, Tecumseh, Tell City and Washington).

Conference games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This format promotes the development of pitching depth if teams want to be competitive.

The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Gibson Southern, Pike Central, Southridge, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington. Princeton has won six sectional crowns — the last in 1991.

Barrett’s 2021 assistants are Brad Stone, Alec Sandefur, Reed Farmer, Brandon Winschief and Lane Rumple.

The expectation is that there will be 22 to 24 players to fill out varsity and junior varsity teams with some swinging between the two.

Princeton Youth Baseball, which plays at Jack Bishop Park, helps feed the high school Tigers as does the middle school Cub program.

Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.

“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”

Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes. 

Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.

“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.

“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”

The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights. 

“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”

That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.

“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.

“They’re not selfish.”

Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.

Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.

“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.

“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”

Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.

Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.

Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.

“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players. 

“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.

“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”

Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.

Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.

“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”

Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

College baseball for Barrett included two years under coach Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College (2005 and 2006) and two under coach Steve Peterson at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (2007 and 2008).

“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.

“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”

Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.

“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”

Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.

Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.

In 2008 and 2009, Barrett was the manager of the Dubois County Bombers’ summer collegiate wood bat team.

He began his teaching career and was a football assistant at Evansville Harrison High School on the staffs of Cory Brunson and Lane Oxley prior to Princeton Community.

Barrett and fiancee Kim live on the north side of Evansville and are to be married in July. Kim’s daughter from a previous relationship is Charley (5). Ellie was born to Zach and Kim in May 2019.

Zach Barrett is the head baseball coach at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School.

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Lasher brought in to help with Oakland City transition

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Oakland City (Ind.) University is making a transition from NCAA Division I to NAIA and the Mighty Oaks baseball program has also changed its leadership.

Andy Lasher, who played at Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville and coached at Olney, the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville and for the Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., has been hired as OCU head coach.

T-Ray Fletcher, who was Oakland City head coach for 26 seasons, is still the school’s athletic director.

Since taking the job a few weeks ago, Lasher been concentrating on building up his roster.

“I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting though there are no games to watch,” says Lasher, referring to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which has live baseball shut down at the moment. “There’s been a lot of calls and text messages.”

Lasher, who is tapping into his network of contacts, says he would like to have 35 players in the fall and 40 to 45 in the future so the Mighty Oaks can add a junior varsity program.

In moving from NCAA D-II to NAIA, Oakland City also goes from an independent to a member of the River States Conference, a circuit that also features baseball-playing schools Indiana University Kokomo and Indiana University Southeast.

That takes care of half the schedule. Lasher has the opportunity to fill in the rest of the games, choosing ones that are feasible and keeps players from missing too many classes.

It’s Lasher’s intent to schedule some contests in the fall.

Lasher’s assistants are Jacob Bedwell and Austen Bullington. Washington (Ind.) High School graduate Bedwell was on the OCU team last year. Castle grad Bullington played at Wabash Valley College and the University of Tennessee-Martin.

Lasher was hired by Southern Indiana  last summer and spent much of his time assisting Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Achuleta with hitters and position players.

“I also kept track of academic progress and a lot of little things that don’t happen on the baseball field,” says Lasher. “That’s a much bigger percentage of the job than people realize.

“At the college level, it’s a lot more than the bats and balls. It’s a full-time job for a reason.

“(Archuleta) is one of my favorite people. He’s alot of fun to be around and a really good baseball mind. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Lasher performed many of the same duties during the 2019 season as an assistant on Jason Anderson’s coaching staff at Eastern Illinois University.

He was an assistant to Dennis Conley at Olney Central from the 2014 season until the fall of 2018.

“It was a really good experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” says Lasher, who helped the Blue Knights win 173 games in five seasons.

An outfielder, Lasher played two seasons at Olney (2010 and 2011) for Conley and two at Evansville (2012 and 2013) for Wes Carroll.

Going to Castle, Lasher had heard all about alums Wes and brother Jamey Carroll (who played in the big leagues).

“(Wes Carroll) was a real good player’s coach,” says Lasher. “We had some good teams.”

The Purple Aces won 56 games in Lasher’s two seasons at UE. He played with five players — left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland (Colorado Rockies), lefty-swinging outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski (New York Mets), righty-batting Eric Stamets (Rockies), righty pitcher Kyle Lloyd (San Diego Padres) and lefty hurler Phillip Diehl (Rockies) — who eventually made it to the majors.

For five summers, Lasher was with the Bombers — 2014 as an assistant coach and 2015-18 as manager.

He got to guide many talented players, including New Mexico State University’s Daniel Johnson in 2015, USI’s Logan Brown in 2016 and NMSU’s Nick Gonzales in 2018.

Lefty-hitting outfielder Johnson is now on the Cleveland Indians’ 40-man roster.

Brown is a catcher in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Lasher calls shortstop Gonzales, who was the 2019 NCAA Division I batting champion, the best player he’s ever coached and expects him to be taken about the top picks in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The atmosphere created by Dubois County ownership and fans at League Stadium made Lasher’s time with the Bombers very enjoyable.

“It’s a great place to watch a game,” says Lasher. “It’s a shame they’re not getting to do it this summer (due to COVID-19 causing cancelation of the Ohio Valley League season).”

Lasher graduated in 2009 from Castle, where he played for Curt Welch.

“He was very intense,” says Lasher of Welch, who has also been an assistant wrestling coach for the Knights. “We were probably in better shape physically as any team in the country.”

There was plenty of running and ab workouts.

“It was worth it,” says Welch. “No doubt about it. It got guys ready for the college stuff. You have to be mentally tough and physically in shape in college or you just aren’t going to make it.”

Besides head baseball coach, Lasher is also in charge of maintaining Oakland City athletic fields and is gameday coordinator for any on-campus sporting events. The Mighty Oaks sponsor teams in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer and tennis for men and women and softball and volleyball for women.

Lasher and girlfriend, former Orleans (Ind.) High School, Olney Central and Brescia University basketball player Shelbi Samsil, recently moved to the north side of Indianapolis to be closer to Oakland City.

ANDYLASHEROAKLANDCITYU

Andy Lasher is the new head baseball coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University. He is a graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., and played at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville. He has coached at Olney, Eastern Illinois University, the University of Southern Indiana and with the summer collegiate Dubois County Bombers. (Oakland City University Photo)

 

This Gobert following college version of baseball coaching path

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nick Gobert saw his career path back when he was playing for his father at Jasper (Ind.) High School.

“I thought I was going to be Terry Gobert Jr. and be a teacher and coach,” says Nick Gobert of his father, a long-time JHS educator and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 800 career victories, five state titles (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2006) and three state runner-up finishes (2013, 2015 and 2017). “I’ve always wanted to be a coach, seeing the relationships and how much guys can grow and develop.”

Nick was a two-time team MVP and Most Valuable Pitcher as well as the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner at the 2013 State Finals.

During his high school days, Jasper went 113-18 with three sectional crowns, two regional titles and two semistate championships. He was on the IHSBCA South All-Star squad in 2013. He was honorable mention all-state in 2012 (pitcher) and 2013 (second baseman).

Nick describes his prep days as “the worst/best four years of my life in terms of baseball.”

The baseball bar is set very high for the Jasper Wildcats.

“I was supposed to win four state championships in four years,” says Nick. “That was my mentality.

“I didn’t get special treatment.”

His junior year, he spent three periods during the school day with his father plus all the time on the baseball field. There were tense moments, but a lot of very good memories.

“I’m glad everything happened the way it did,” says Nick.

Terry and Caroline Gobert had five children. Sarah died of leukemia as a toddler. Maria just graduated from Indiana University in three years. Laura will graduate from Jasper this year and head to the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. Julia is in the Jasper Class of 2021.

Nick is the lone Gobert offspring currently pursuing coaching. Along the way, he got a taste for working with older players and recruiting and adjusted his vision to the college game and pursue it while he’s still young.

“I haven’t regretted it so far,” says Gobert.

In July 2019, he was hired as an assistant at Indian Hills Community College. The National Junior College Athletic Association Division I member has campuses in two Iowa towns — Centerville (where baseball is based) and Ottumwa. Centerville has a population under 6,000.

“I’ve been social distancing since I moved to Iowa,” says Gobert.

The coach who turns 26 on May 27 serves on a staff led by Matthew Torrez and coaches third base, helps with recruiting and instruction of infielders, outfielders and hitters and a little bit with pitchers.

Torrez played for Tracy Archuleta at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

After graduating from Jasper in 2013, Gobert played for Tony Vittorio at the University of Dayton in 2014 and 2015.

A torn labrum in 2016 ended his season and he was given a medical redshirt. He transferred to the Southern Indiana, where he played two seasons for Archuleta (2017 and 2018), earning honorable mention NCAA Division II All-American and first-team all-region and first-team all-conference selection in 2018 after batting .357., and served as graduate assistant in 2019. He is working toward as master’s degree in Sport Management.

He played two summers (2014 and 2015) and helped coach one (2016) for the Dubois County Bombers with Andy Lasher, who was a USI assistant and recently became head coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University as manager.

Gobert chose Dayton, which went to an NCAA D-I regional in 2012, and Vittorio for the coach’s blue-collar approach.

“He was very tough-minded and very organized,” says Gobert. “He embraced being a mid-major college. He had a lot of passion for the game.

He was a fiery individual.”

When it came time to travel, Gobert knew the winning tradition at USI led by Archuleta.

“I knew a lot of guys who played for him and spoke highly of him,” says Gobert of the man who brought NCAA Division I national crowns to Southern Indiana in 2010 and 2014. “He had high expectations. Our end goal was being in Cary, N.C. and winning a national title.

“He was concerned for our well-being with tough love. He was easy to play for and he helped me grow and develop and also pursue my passion for coaching.”

In Torrez, Gobert sees a combination of Vittorio and Archuleta.

“He coaches with a lot of energy and likes to put the time in,” says Gobert. “In junior college, you get a lot of hands-on time (more than at NCAA or NAIA schools).

“I’ve learned a ton about the game from him, especially about pitching. I pick his brain quite a bit when it comes to his philosophies.”

Gobert says he and Torrez bring new school and old school together.

“I’ve got old-school roots,” says Gobert. “I’m old school in how we conduct our business.”

The new school comes into play with the use of biomechanics, kinesiology and technology.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Gobert.

Indian Hills played around 20 games in the fall of 2019. The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic caused the 2020 spring season to be shut down after 15 contests. The Falcons never got to play a home game. A March 13 date at Des Moines Area Community College, where Indiana native Nic Mishler is head coach, ended up being the finale.

Since the shutdown, Indian Hills has been conducting classes online (the last day is Monday, May 11) and coaches have been helping a 2020 roster that includes out-of-state players from California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin as well international talent from Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Panama, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela.

Gobert says Indian Hills is also hoping to build the brand by attracting more local players.

Recruiting leads come through videos, apps, web sites and data bases like Prep Baseball Report and FieldLevel.

“We have a contact we go through,” says Gobert. “It’s much easier to communicate these days.

“We get hundreds of emails a week. People looking for a place to play.”

There are about three dozen players in the program right now. There could be as many as 50 in the fall.

Gobert says five are expected to come back for a third year (a measure allowed by the NJCAA because of COVID-19).

Some players are feeling out offers from four-year schools and deciding if they want to come or not.

It’s not just the 2020 class that has been granted an extra year, but so has 2021, 2022 and 2013.

“What a lot of people don’t understand how good this is going to be for junior college baseball,” says Gobert. “This is going to be an ongoing thing for three — maybe — four years.

“Depth will get even better and it will be more competitive than it is now.”

Gobert’s day-to-day routine has only changed in that he can’t visit or see players off-campus or have them visit the Indian Hills campus.

But he can still make calls, watch videos, do office work and maintain the baseball field.

And some day, he will again be able to build those relationships in-person.

NICKANDTERRYGOBERTDUBOISCOUNTYHERALD

Nick Gobert (left) and father Terry helped Jasper (Ind.) High School win 113 games in Nick’s four seasons playing for the Wildcats (2010-13). Nick is now an assistant coach at Indiana Hills Community College in Iowa. Terry, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, has more than 800 wins, five state titles and three runner-up finishes as Jasper head coach. (Dubois County Herald Photo)

NICKGOBERTUSI

Nick Gobert, a graduate of Jasper (Ind.) High School and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, played two baseball seasons at USI and served as a graduate assistant. He is now an assistant at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

NICKGOBERTINDIANHILLS

Nick Gobert, a graduate of Jasper (Ind.) High School and the University of Southern Indiana, is an assistant baseball coach at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. (Indian Hills Community College Photo)

 

Veteran broadcaster Ferber enjoys painting pictures for radio audience

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana broadcaster Walt Ferber calls about 250 live sporting events a year.

He enjoys them all, but he especially appreciates baseball on the radio.

“It lets you use creativity,” says Ferber. “With football and basketball, you dot the i’s and cross the t’s. You get to paint a picture (with baseball).

“It’s my favorite sport because of that. You get a chance to tell a story.”

Ferber, program and sports director, on-air personality and account executive at WITZ AM/FM in Dubois County (the studio is located between Jasper and Huntingburg), is scheduled to do a little more painting as a statewide play-by-play voice at the State Finals for the third straight year on the IHSAA Champions Radio Network.

There are 29 affiliated stations across Indiana that will carry all or some of the four games (two each on Monday and Tuesday, June 17-18, beginning at 5:30 p.m.).

Ferber will be paired with analyst Bob Lovell for the first game (teams to be determined) on June 17 from Victory Field in Indianapolis. Ferber worked alongside Brian Jennings in 2018 and Rob Blackman in 2017.

“Victory Field at the State Finals is one of my favorite place to be,” says Ferber, who has made the trip to Indy often as the Jasper High School Wildcats have made nine appearances in the championship game with five state titles.

“I’ve been spoiled,” says Ferber. “Coach (Terry) Gobert does things the right way. He works very, very hard to get the best out of each of his players. He’s kind of an old school coach.

“(Players) take ownership of what they do. It’s something you learn from the time you’re born into the feeder system.”

That tradition has been reinforced on the air with his Ferber’s partner, Ray Howard. The former Jasper head coach who recently turned 80 will throw batting practice and then make his way to the press box.

“Ray brings a depth of information to the broadcast,” says Ferber. “The last nine year we’ve done this, I’ve learned a tremendous amount of baseball from him.”

This year, Ferber will work 37 high school games, 30 collegiate contests (between the University of Evansville on ESPN3 and the Dubois County Bombers with partner Roger Stuckey on WITZ) plus the Bluegrass World Series and 10 to 15 softball games.

The Bombers play in League Stadium, where the grandstand was built in 1894 and the park became famous when “A League Of Their Own” was filmed there.

“They put on a pretty good show,” says Ferber of the Bombers players and staff.

Ferber (facebook.com/wferber, twitter.com/WaltFerber) calls Jasper football, boys soccer, girls soccer, boys basketball, girls basketball and softball plus some Southridge, Northeast Dubois and Forest Park competition. He also describes Indiana State University women’s basketball.

There will be double duty at the 2019 State Finals for Ferber if Southridge beats South Vermillion to win the Jasper Semistate. He will be on the call for WITZ Saturday, June 8.

At 62, Ferber says he knows he will probably cut back his schedule as some point.

“I don’t see myself retiring altogether,” says Ferber. “I’m pretty lucky to do what I do.

“I’ve wanted to do it ever since I was 5 years old. I did whatever I could to make it happen.”

Ferber did his first work in radio at 14 and had his first play-by-play gig at 15.

He worked at WNAS and WREY in New Albany, becoming perhaps the youngest sports director in the state at the latter station in 1973. He graduated from New Albany High School in 1974 and earned a double major in Telecommunications and Marketing at Indiana University, graduating in 1978.

Ferber was at WTTS in Bloomington from 1974-79 and at WWWY in Columbus in 1979 before landing at WITZ in 1980.

Today, there are three entities and four frequencies — WITZ 104.7 FM, WQKZ 98.5 FM and Juan 99.1 FM and 990 AM (Spanish language station).

Ferber has been a Cincinnati Reds fan since boyhood.

“My favorite player when I was a kid was Pete Rose,” says Ferber. “For obvious reasons, I’m a big fan of Scott Rolen. I got a chance to broadcast all of his games at Jasper High School.”

WQKZ became a St. Louis Cardinals station when Rolen was with that team and has remained a Cards affiliate ever since. Ferber is scheduled to throw out a first pitch when the Chicago Cubs visit Busch Stadium July 31.

Ferber has been married to the former Melanie Padgett since 1980.

“On those nights I’m home, I usually watch what she wants to watch,” says Ferber, who has two sons (Nathan and Jonathon) and two grandchildren.

Awards have come Ferber’s way aplenty, including Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 2010, New Albany High School Hall of Fame in 2011 plus Associated Press Play by Play awards in 1995, 1996 and 1997, ISSA Marv Bates Indiana Sportscaster of the Year in 1996, Indiana Interscholastic Administrators Athletic Association Distinguished Service Award in 1997, Indiana Basketball Coaches Association Virgil Sweet Distinguished Service Award in 2005, Network Indiana Play by Play awards in 2007 and 2008, NI Sportscaster of the Year in 2008 and IHSAA Distinguished Service Media Award in 2011.

IHSAA STATE FINALS

Victory Field, Indianapolis

Indiana Champions Network

Monday, June 17

Radio: Game 1 (5:30 p.m.) — Walt Ferber (play-by-play); Bob Lovell (analyst). Game 2 (following) — Greg Rakestraw (play-by-play); Chris Walker (analyst).

TV: Games 1 & 2 — Mark Jaynes (play-by-play); Brian Jennings (analyst).

Tuesday, June 18

Radio: Game 3 (5:30 p.m.) — Scott McCauley (play-by-play); John Herrick (analyst). Game 4 (following) — Brian Jennings (play-by-play); Justin Keever (analyst).

TV: Games 3 & 4 — Greg Rakestraw (play-by-play); Rob Blackman (analyst).

ROGERSTUCKEYWALTFERBER

Roger Stuckey (left) and Walt Ferber broadcast games for the Dubois County Bombers of the summer collegiate Ohio Valley Baseball League on WITZ 104.7 FM.

WALTFERBERRAYHOWARD

Walt Ferber (left) and Ray Howard are the broadcast team on Jasper (Ind.) High School baseball games on WITZ 104.7 FM. Ferber is scheduled to call the first game of the 2019 IHSAA State Finals for the IHSAA Champions Radio Network.

 

 

 

 

Bellak looking for more than just ballplayers as Hanover College head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grant Bellak jumped into his job as head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College with both feet.

Hired to his first head-coaching position on June 1, a few days later the former Franklin (Ind.) College assistant was already recruiting at an event in Cincinnati and spent the next few weeks looking for student-athletes.

Bellak says he expects to have 32 players in the fall and have recruiting classes of 10 to 12 players the next few seasons.

“I felt comfortable with the recruiting area,” says Bellak, who was the recruiting coordinator at Franklin. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program.

“I want athletes who are big and strong. Power bats and power arms play. Power bats can change the game with one swing. Power arms give you more room for error. You don’t have to be perfect.”

Bella, 32, prides himself in finding value where others miss it.

“I plan on bringing that to Hanover and developing that over four years,” says Bellak. “We want mid-major Division I’s calling asking us to play.”

With the Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville areas as a base, Bellak already has contacts he developed at Franklin that he can use at Hanover. Both are members of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference — an NCAA Division III circuit.

As a D-III school, Hanover (enrollment 1,100) does not give athletic scholarships. The liberal arts institution places a premium on academics.

“The thing I’ve been preaching on the recruiting trail is that fit matters,” says Bellak. “This is not for you if you are not 100 percent Panthers. You have to fit the academic profile, campus profile and athletic profile.”

Almost all of the seniors in his last three recruiting classes at Franklin had job offers prior to graduation.

Bellak is looking for young men coming to Hanover who want to be more than ballplayers. They have aspirations of pursuing careers as CEOs, lawyers, politicians etc.

“Here at Hanover, our focus is wanting guys who want more,” says Bellak. “What is your ‘why’?’

“We want difference makers.”

The Shayne Stock-coached Hanover Panthers went 8-25 overall and 5-12 in the HCAC.

“You can win a lot here,” says Bellak. “The rest of athletic department, that’s what they’re doing.

“It’s one of those opportunities I felt I couldn’t pass up.”

Hanover got Bellak’s attention the first time he arrived on the southern Indiana campus as a Franklin assistant.

“It’s got that ‘wow factor,’” says Bellak. “It’s the way it is back in the woods overlooking the Ohio River and the architecture. There’s lots of green space.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Dick Naylor Field at K.T. Young Ballpark, with its natural grass surface and old trees surrounding the outfield, is also picturesque.

At Franklin, Bellak served on a staff with veteran head coach Lance Marshall.

He saw the behind-the-scenes things that it takes to be a head coach — being an administrator and mentor.

“It’s a different mindset,” says Bellak. “Hours are not just devoted to player development, but developing a program as a whole.

“It’s more than just hitting fungoes and throwing BP. You’re engaging the alumni base and fundraising. It’s all the extras, things the outside world doesn’t see.”

Before Franklin, Bellak was a volunteer assistant at Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., in 2010 and 2011.

A 2004 graduate of Aurora (Ill.) Christian High School, the Big Rock, Ill., native played two seasons at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Ill., and two at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.

Bellak was sixth in the National Junior College Athletic Association in stolen bases in 2006 at Waubonsee.

Webster, coached by Bill Kurich, came within six outs of going to the 2008 NCAA D-III World Series.

In 2009, Bellak worked as a student assistant to Kurich.

“Bill knows what it takes to win,” says Bellak of Kurich. “He has the unique ability to get the most out of you.”

Bellak coached three summers with the Prospect League’s Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., in 2009-11 — the last as field manager. One of his players was future major league pitcher Sean Manaea.

In 2009, Bellak graduated from Webster with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He earned a masters degree in leadership and management from Liberty University’s online program in 2013. The latter is a precursor to a Masters of Business Administration.

“(The leadership and management masters) helped me take a different perspective to coaching,” says Bellak. “The business world isn’t that different than a team.

“The way a CEO motivates someone in the office is not much different than how a coach motivates someone on the field.”

Grant and wife Natasha Bellak have a daughter — Bexley (2).

GRANTBELLAK

Grant Bellak is now the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College after seven seasons as an assistant at Franklin (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)

 

Manaea continues to make adjustments as part of Oakland rotation

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Succeeding in baseball involves a series of adjustments.

Sean Manaea knows this to be true from experience.

A starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, Manaea (pronounced muh-NYE-uh) has made — and will continue to make — the necessary changes to be effective on a Major League Baseball mound.

“It’s been a winding road,” says Manaea, a northwest Indiana native who was selected in the first round of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana State University by the Kansas City Royals and made his big-league debut with Oakland in 2016. “When I first got to pro ball I was trying to strike out the world and go max effort. But I found that I can’t sustain that so I toned it down.

“But I toned it down too much and was getting lit up. I’m still trying to find that happy medium and have some gas left at the end of the game.”

The 6-foot-5 left-hander who played three seasons at South Central (Union Mills) High School and his senior year at Andrean High School (helping the 59ers win the 2010 IHSAA Class 3A state championship) has been known to reach 97 mph on the radar gun, but strives to mix velocity and deception to get hitters out.

“I threw a four-seam fastball about 75 percent of the time (in 2017),” says Manaea, who turns 26 on Feb. 1. “At the end of 2016, I started messing with two-seamer.”

What better — velocity or movement?

“A combination of both is the best,” says Manaea. “You don’t have to throw 97 to 100 mph every pitch to get guys out. The main thing is to be able to throw strikes no matter what kind of movement you have.”

When Manaea’s slider is biting down it provides plenty of swings and misses and groundball outs.

“That’s the pitch I need to get down and throw for a strike,” says Manaea. “That’s one of my main focuses this off-season.”

Taking advantage of the weather and the ability to work out with Athletics trainers at the team’s spring training complex, Manaea spends his winters in Arizona.

“Being physically fit throughout the season is going to help me,” says Manaea. “I played all of 2016 at 255 pounds and felt sluggish and had trouble recovering between starts. Last year, I was at 230 to 235 (after losing appetite while dialing in the proper dose for attention-deficit disorder medication) and I lost muscle and had trouble with recovery. I feel that if I’m at 240 to 245, that’s about right.”

Manaea says his twisting delivery has looked the same most of his life with one exception.

While in the Royals system in 2014, he was asked to pitch more over the top and more direct to the plate.

“It worked out for a little bit,” says Manaea. “But I was thinking about it way to too much. I went back to what was natural to me.

“Everything is a learning process. I feel like I’m on the right track. I’m trying to find it again and be more consistent. I do not want to be not be overly rotational or over the top.”

Making 29 appearances (all starts), the tall southpaw went 12-10 with a 4.37 earned run average. In 158 2/3 innings, he struck out 140 and walked 55. In 2016, all but one of his 25 appearances were starts. He was 7-9 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 124 and walked 37 in 144 2/3 innings.

As of this writing, MLB.com lists Manaea No. 1 on the Oakland depth chart among starting pitchers.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” says Manaea. “At the end of the day, all I want to do is win b all games and get to the World Series and win that. It doesn’t matter if I’m the No. 5 guy or the No. 1 guy. It’s all the same to me. If we all pull together this is a team that can do something special.”

The 2017 Athletics finished in the basement of the American League West (the same division occupied by the world-champion Houston Astros). It was the sixth full season as Oakland manager for Bob Melvin.

While Manaea has picked up in-game advice from the manager and other pointers from his pitching coach (currently Scott Emerson) or bullpen coaches (currently Philip Pohl and Jeremy Dowdy), the ultimate responsibility for his performance falls on him.

“At big league level, you’ve got to have your own routines,” says Manaea. “The pitching coach is there to have you. But you have to make adjustments on your own. You self-diagnose problems along the way. At the end of the day, you’re the one making those pitches.”

Manaea, who is of American Samoa heritage, was born in Valparaiso to Faaloloi and Opal Manaea and grew up in Wanatah. He played for Kevin Hannon and Ron King at South Central. He took part in the first All-Indiana Crossroads Showcase Series after his junior year before transferring and joining coach Dave Pishkur at Andrean.

Sean draws comparisons from Melvin to Pishkur.

“They are both into stats and doing things the right way,” says Manaea, who was 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 16 walks in 24 1/3 innings in 2010. “(Pishkur) is one of the favorite coaches of all-time. He taught us to be on-time and polite to other people. It goes outside of baseball. He was a very much professional coach. He is considered one of the best in Indiana and you can see why.

“He loves the game of baseball and wants to pass it on to the younger generation. He’s definitely a student of the game.”

Pishkur has amassed more than 900 victories at Andrean since 1980. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer has led five Class 3A state champions (2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015) and one 3A state runner-up (2004).

“He knows how he wants done in the classroom and on the baseball field,” says Manaea of Pishkur. “He wants things done the best way possible. You must give it your best every single practice and every time you are on the mound.

“Andrean helped me out with my academics. They got on me about being more productive. Baseball definitely came second at the time.”

Manaea played for head coach Rick Heller and assistants Tyler Herbst and Brian Smiley at Indiana State University.

“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at today without those coaches,” says Manaea. “PFP’s (pitchers’ fielding practice) was the bane of my existence. I just couldn’t do it. (Heller) just wanted the best for me.”

There was adjusting to be done in college after his stellar high school career.

“The fall of my freshmen year (2010), I was only throwing 82 to 85 mph, but I was getting hitters out,” says Manaea. “Then in the winter, after working out for the first time on a structured program I saw my velocity jump. I hit 90 mph for the first time. It was one of those milestones.

“My freshmen season wasn’t that great (5-5, 4.32 ERA, 82 K’s, 48 walks, 83 1/3 innings), but I was maturing as a pitcher.”

In the summer of 2010, Manaea played for the Dubois County Bombers when that Huntingburg, Indiana-based team was in the Prospect League. He drew the attention of pro scouts at the all-star game with his 93 mph stuff and was named league MVP.

“My sophomore year (at ISU) was a little better (5-3, 3.34 ERA, 115 K’s, 37 walks, 115 innings),” says Manaea. “Then I had a really good summer on Cad Cod (5-1, 1.22 ERA, 85 K’s, seven walks in 51 2/3 innings with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks). That was when I realized I could play professional baseball.”

In his last season with the Sycamores, the lefty went 5-4 with a 1.47 ERA. He whiffed 93 and walked 27 in 73 1/3 innings and was drafted in the first round by the Royals.

He was with the KC organization until being traded to the Athletics in July 2015 with Aaron Brooks for Ben Zobrist.

2017 Oakland Athletics Photo Day

Sean Manaea is a left-handed starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. The former South Central (Union Mills) High School, Andrean High School and Indiana State University player made his Major League Baseball debut with Oakland in 2016. (Oakland Athletics Photo)

IHSBCA South All-Stars head coach McKeon sports diamond pedigree

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

B-A-S-E-B-A-L-L demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

So says Jeff McKeon, who has been chosen as South head coach for this weekend’s 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. Practices, junior showcase and banquet are slated for Friday, July 14, with two games Saturday, July 15, and one game Sunday, July 16, at Ball State University in Muncie.

“I believe you must respect the game,” says McKeon, who resigned as head coach at Plainfield High School after the 2017 season (Shane Abrell has been named as his successor). “Once you cross that line, you have to give 100 percent every single time. The game will humble you in a second. If you ever think you are bigger than the game, it will strike back at you in a second.”

McKeon, who led the Quakers to a 94-75 record in his six seasons, was an assistant at three schools prior to Plainfield — one season for Jason Engelbrecht at Evansville Central, two for Steve Johnston at Evansville Reitz and six for Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg.

At Plainfield, McKeon got to be the host coach for the IHSAA’s South semistate games. The field has two berms for spectators and a scoreboard in center field.

Coming from Evansville, where iconic Bosse Field and other parks all have unique features, McKeon likes that the facility is not a “cookie-cutter.”

“I’m a big baseball purist,” says McKeon. “The ballpark should be part of the experience.

“Plainfield has some uniqueness to it.”

A 1993 Evansville North High School graduate, his high school coach was Dan Sparrow. He was a catcher and then a middle infielder at Ashford University in Iowa, graduating in 1997. He also worked two years for the Clinton LumberKings as an intern, grounds crew worker and clubhouse assistant and one for the Birmingham Barons as assistant GM for concessions and in sales.

Jeff comes from a baseball family. He is the son of former minor league catcher and scout and current Evansville Otters radio analyst Bill McKeon. In 2010, Bill was briefly the Otters manager with Jeff as a coach.

Bill McKeon and Joe Unfried, Jeff’s uncle, were teammates on the 1956 Evansville Braves of the Class B Three-I League and founded the non-profit Tri-State Hot Stove League in 1993.

The ’55 Evansville Braves were owned and managed by Bob Coleman. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inducted Coleman in 1980.

Coleman, Engelbrecht, Johnston, Sparrow and Unfried, are all members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class in 2016.

Bill’s older brother and Jeff’s uncle is Jack McKeon, the manager for the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins. Jack also served as skipper for the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds.

In his first off-season as general manager of the Padres, he began to rebuild the club with a series of deals and became known as “Trader Jack.”

Jack’s sons have also been involved in professional baseball. Kasey McKeon was a catcher in the Detroit Tigers system and is now director of player procurement for the Washington Nationals.

Kelly McKeon has scouted for the Padres, where he signed Greg Booker, son-in-law to Jack, brother-in-law to Kasey and Kelly father of former Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Zach Booker. Greg Booker is now a pro scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I’ve had some good mentors,” says McKeon, who is a business teacher at Plainfield and IHSBCA vice president on a leadership team that has included Brian Abbott as executive director, Shane Edwards (Oak Hill), Kevin Hannon (Knox), Scott Hughes (Shelbyville), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Phil McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central) and Ricky Romans (Charlestown).

“Those are awesome guys,” says McKeon. “They are great coaches and even better men. Being with those guys has been life-altering for me.”

Fundamentals and instruction are important to McKeon, who has thrown countless hours of batting practice trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.

“I’ve worked with a lot of very good players,” says McKeon. “But you win not with best players, you win with the role player that has to step up.”

McKeon, who is in charge of vendors at the IHSBCA State Clinic in January, will serve as a vice president in 2017-18 and is due to be president the following year.

This year marked his third as South representative and coach for the Crossroads Series, held the past two season at Ball State.

With Rich Andriole as head coach, the South swept the North in three games at Whiting in 2016.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” says McKeon, who will be assisted by Brad Catey (Hagerstown), Justin Tucker (Batesville), John Major (Columbus East) and have a Plainfield Quaker on the roster for the third straight year. It’s first baseman Daylan Nanny (bound for Arizona Western College) in 2017. Outfielder/first baseman Jackson Blevins was selected in 2016 and went on to Saint Joseph’s College. He is playing for the Dubois County Bombers this summer. After the closing of SJC, Blevins is slated to play at Wabash College in 2017-18.

Pitcher Antonio Lucciola represented Plainfield in the North/South series in 2015.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to be recognized for their accomplishments,” says McKeon.

Jeff and wife Liz have a son and a daughter — Gavin (9) and Katie (5).

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Jeff McKeon, head baseball coach at Plainfield High School 2012-17, will be head coach for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.