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Maloney talks about role as ABCA president, Ball State baseball head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The American Baseball Coaches Association will stage its 75th annual convention Jan. 3-6, 2019 in Dallas. Outgoing ABCA president Rich Maloney will be there to lead off the event.

The Ball State University head baseball coach has served the ABCA in various capacities, including his time on the executive committee. He was fourth, third, second and first vice president prior to his year as president.

Prior to that, he was NCAA Division I baseball committee chairman for six years.

“It’s a journey, honor and a privilege,” says Maloney, who heads into his 24th season as a head coach, including his 14th at BSU, in 2019. “The goal of the ABCA is to enhance baseball at all levels.”

Maloney has gotten a chance to rub shoulders with some of the most accomplished coaches in the country.

“These guys have grown the game and they did it for the love of the game,” says Maloney. 54. “When they started there wasn’t very much money in the game.

“It’s very meaningful. These guys just care about the future of baseball.”

Continuing as a board of directors member, Maloney will have the chance to be part of a body that serves as the “voice” of college baseball.

Maloney, who got his coaching start as a Western Michigan University assistant to ABCA Hall of Famer Fred Decker, has watched the organization experience explosive growth during his time as an ABCA member.

Dave Keilitz, also an ABCA Hall of Famer, led the association for many years and now son Craig Keilitz and his staff do the job.

“(ABCA Executive Director) Craig Keilitz took us into the technology and social media frontier,” says Maloney. “Just watching it grow has been amazing.

“Our game is growing nationally at the college level. You can see this through investments in so many new stadiums across the country.”

Other positives are the popularity of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where the ABCA executive committee meets before taking in the games, the increased number of college players being drafted by Major League Baseball and the academic progress reports of baseball players.

If the 2018 convention in Indianapolis is any indication, 6,000 or more coaches are expected at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center for the world’s biggest baseball convention. There will be numerous presentations, meetings, award presentations and trade show.

Maloney sees the convention — along with other ABCA-partnered platforms like regional Barnstormers Clinics, Baseball ACE Community Clinics, professional development/continuing education credits, podcasts, videos, publications and USA Baseball Education — as opportunities for coaches to learn.

“Everybody is trying to make everybody else better,” says Maloney. “People are so willing to share information. There are no hidden agendas.

“There’s always something you can take away and add value to what you do.”

Each year on the executive committee carries different duties. During his year as second vice president, Maloney was charged with getting the college speakers and being emcee for the ABCA Convention in Anaheim, Calif.

Maloney says there are three items that the ABCA would like the NCAA to address for  Division I baseball — adding a third full-time paid assistant coach position, pace of play and the recruiting calendar.

“The challenge in moving the game forward is always resources,” says Maloney, who notes that D-I baseball is behind other sports in the ratio of paid coaches to number of athletes. At present, a head coach and two paid assistants are allowed to lead a squad of 35 players.

“It’s important for the game and future development of our young coaches to get another paid position paid,” says Maloney, who notes that the volunteer coach is not paid outside of running camps and is not allowed to be on the road recruiting. The recruiting coordinator spends much of his time on the road. “Student-athletes need to have another full-time coach who can be around.”

In surveys of the membership, Maloney has seen that the majority want to add another coach. That’s true even with the programs that may struggle finding the funds to pay for that position.

Maloney’s 2018-19 coaching staff includes full-time assistants Dustin Glant (pitching coach) and Blake Beemer (recruiting coordinator) and volunteer assistant Ray Skjold in addition to operations assistant Nick Swim and strength and condition coach Bill Zenisek.

While Maloney considers himself a baseball purist, he can also see why people — particularly those watching on TV — are concerned with the pace of play.

“Games are getting really, really long and it’s hard to keep people’s attention,” says Maloney. “It behooves us to be under 3:00.”

Some of the ways that conferences have attempted to shave minutes off contests include pitch clocks and automatic intentional walks (no need to throw the four pitches).

The ABCA formed a committee to put forth a proposal to shorten the D-I recruiting calendar and Maloney expects it to achieve traction with the NCAA.

For 2018-19, recruiting contact periods are Aug. 1-26, Sept. 14-Nov. 11 and March 1-July 31 with dead periods Nov. 12-15 and Jan. 3-6 and quiet periods Aug. 27-Sept. 13, Nov. 16-Jan. 2 and Jan. 7-Feb. 28.

“The recruiting calendar should be shortened,” says Maloney. “Kids that want to go to college feel they should continue to go to camps and showcases. If we short calendar, they can have some time off and we can save their arms.”

Maloney notes that the reason that people get into the coaching profession is to have an impact on young lives. It’s not easy to do that when you’re not there.

Shortening the calendar would also allow the recruiting coordinator to spend more time actually coaching. It can also mean an improved family life.

Maloney says shrinking the recruiting window earlier just means programs and athletes have to adjust.

“That doesn’t keep us from getting the players we want,” says Maloney “We just have to make decisions quicker.”

“Guys are going to be out (recruiting) whenever the calendar says. Basketball did a nice job when they shortened their window to bring some sanity.”

Like many mid-major schools, Ball State tends to recruit within its region.

“We get the best kids in the Midwest we can get,” says Maloney. “Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin — those area are our bread and butter.”

But the Cardinals will look elsewhere if they have a specific need.

The current roster also has players from California and New York.

Maloney knows that building a team can be fun and also a challenge.

Players are picked based on the needs of the program and the fit for athlete. They see what a school has to offer in terms of academics and athletics. Some want to stay close to home and others want to get far away and they all need to fit into a structure that allows just 11.7 fully-funded scholarships at the D-I level.

Then there’s players who are drafted out of high school or those that are sophomore and junior eligibles.

“It’s a partial scholarship sport,” says Maloney. “There can be an uncertainty of who is coming back and who isn’t. You have no control over that.

“It’s a delicate balance.”

Ball State, which went 32-26 overall and 17-10 in the Mid-American Conference in 2018, is scheduled to open the 2019 schedule Feb. 15 against Stanford in Tempe, Ariz.

The Cardinals’ home opener is slated for March 12 against Purdue Fort Wayne. The first MAC games are March 22-24 at Western Michigan.

Maloney’s career record is 794-535-1, including 435-291-1 (most wins in BSU history) and 341-244 in his 10 seasons leading the University of Michigan.

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Rich Maloney, head baseball coach at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., is coming to the close of his term as American Baseball Coaches Association president and will lead off the ABCA Convention Jan. 3-6 in Dallas. (Ball State University Photo)

 

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Carr wants Mt. Vernon (Fortville) Marauders to play with ‘Dirtbag’ intensity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Carr wants his Mt. Vernon (Fortville, Ind.) High School baseball players to play with an edge.

As a reward, the Marauders head coach presented “Dirtbag” T-shirts to those athlete who exhibited this brand of baseball in 2018 and plans to do the same again in 2019.

“We’re too nice sometimes,” says Carr. “(The incentive) gave them a reason to play a little harder. I want (opponents) to know they played a game of baseball.

“Every year the team has become closer and closer to what I want. We’re a year older and a year more experienced.”

After seeing Mt. Vernon go 16-12 in 2018, Carr heads into his fifth season as head coach next spring.

“It sounds so cliche’, but I want to get good kids to play hard,” says Carr, who learned more about the profession by attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis in 2018. “I want to get as much out of them as I can.

“I want them to play the game right and be respectful. I tell them to give ‘100 percent, 100 percent of the time.’”

Carr came back to Mt. Vernon (he was an assistant on Dustin Glant’s staff while teaching freshmen physical education during the spring semester in 2012) after spending 2013 as an assistant at Indianapolis Arsenal Tech and 2014 as head coach at Indianapolis Manual.

At the latter stop, the baseball program had been dormant and Carr helped bring it back. It was an experience that was both difficult and rewarding.

“I was knocking on doors and creating relationships to make sure we could field a team,” says Carr. “I had no assistant coach. I did get a lot of support from athletic director and assistant principal Don Burton.”

The Redskins won one game in 2014.

When Carr took over at Mt. Vernon, he was the fifth head coach at the Hancock County school in six years. He has tried to bring a sense of stability to the program and has sent players on to college baseball each year — Zach Spears (Miami University of Ohio and now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization) in 2015, Noah Powell (Ball State University) and Kennedy Parker (Anderson University) in 2016, Braydon Augustinovicz (Franklin College) and Ryan Beck (Indiana University Kokomo) in 2017 and Caleb Rush (Frontier Community College in Illinois) and Dino Tharp (Urbana University in Ohio) in 2018.

Carr expects three seniors to return for 2019 — left fielder Dylan Cole, catcher Sam McCarty and center fielder Thomas Obergfell. Carr sees Cole going to an Ivy League school for academics only with the other two weighing their options of playing college ball.

A 2000 Norwell High School graduate, Carr was a four-year starter for head coach Bob Mosier.

“I learned that it does not matter what grade a kid’s in, if he’s good enough, let him play varsity,” says Carr. “It’s not always a very popular decision to play young guys. But if they’re good enough, put them on the field.”

Carr was one of three freshmen seeing considerable playing time when Norwell won the 1997 Bellmont Sectional and met future Notre Dame and major league pitcher Aaron Heilman and his Logansport teammates in the first round of the Kokomo Regional.

That was the last year of the IHSAA single-class system in Indiana. Carr recalls that the focus at the time of the switch was on basketball.

“It didn’t change that much for baseball,” says Carr. “We were in a sectional before with 2A’s and 3A’s. The Bellmont Sectional was made up of Adams and Wells county schools.”

Mt. Vernon is part of a Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Connersville, Greenfield-Central, Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights and Richmond.

In 2018, the tournament was hosted by Mt. Vernon. Pendleton Heights beat the Marauders in the championship game. The last Mt. Vernon sectional championship season was 2011.

Mt. Vernon is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown). The Marauders went 6-8 in HCC play in 2018, finishing tied for fifth with Pendleton Heights and Shelbyville and behind conference champion New Palestine (11-4), New Castle (9-4), Yorktown (8-6) and Greenfield-Central (7-7).

HCC games are played as Friday night doubleheaders unless New Castle (which does not have lights) is hosting and then the contests are on Saturday.

Mt. Vernon’s lighted varsity diamond is on-campus and has a short brick wall in front of the dugouts rather than a screen. There is an adjacent practice field.

Carr is still filling his 2019 coaching staff. Michael Thompson has been with him each year at the varsity level and will return. Jerry Grill will lead the junior varsity. Other coaches at the varsity, JV and C-team levels have not yet been solidified.

Typically, Carr likes to have 40 players in the program.

“Every year I get better at (explaining to players how they might fit),” says Carr. “I try to be forthright and open, telling them ‘this is the role you’re going to play.’”

Marauder Baseball Club will field 8U through 13U teams in 2019. The club’s first season was 2018.

Other feeder programs for MVHS include middle school baseball, Mt. Vernon Optimist League, Oaklandon Youth Organization and various travel organizations. The Midwest Astros are headquartered in Greenfield. Marauders also play in the summer for the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and others.

The son of Megan Carr, Ryan grew up in Bluffton, Ind., and participated in local youth leagues and travel ball for the Fort Wayne Indians during his high school years.

He played four seasons (2001-04) at Manchester College (now Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.).

The Rick Espeset-coached Spartans won Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament titles in 2002 and 2004, an HCAC regular-season crown in 2004 and went to the 2004 NCAA Division III College World Series in Appleton, Wis.

“He’s an interesting cat,” says Carr of Espeset. “He’s always thinking and changing. He tries things his players maybe don’t understand. But he’s proven himself.

“I loved playing for him.”

Carr tries to mimic Espeset calm demeanor.

“He’s not a rah-rah guy,” says Carr. “I’m more excitable, but I try to keep it cool. I don’t get in an umpire’s face.”

Carr got his history/social studies in 2006. After holding non-education positions, his first teaching job was at Indianapolis Marshall High School in the fall of 2011. That’s when he began helping Glant at Mt. Vernon.

Now a high school history and government teacher at Mt. Vernon, Carr is engaged to Joanna Sajda.

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Ryan Carr (left) and fiancee’ Joanna Sajda enjoy Turkey Run State Park in the spring of 2018. Carr is entering his fifth season at head baseball coach at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind., in 2019.

 

Educated at Anderson U., LaPorte grad Eaton is experiencing independent pro ball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Eaton thoroughly enjoyed his time on and off the baseball field at Anderson (Ind.) University.

Since his last game with the Ravens, the pitcher has been experiencing life as an independent professional player. The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder left-handed pitcher is currently on the disabled list for the Washington (Pa.) Wild Things of the Frontier League.

“Faith has been a vital part of my baseball journey — in large part thanks to my development at Anderson University — and I feel fortunate that I am today in pro ball,” says Eaton, who completed his undergraduate accounting degree in 2015 and Masters of Business Administration with a focus on global business in 2016.

Eaton, a 2011 LaPorte High School graduate, pitched for Anderson in the spring of 2012 and 2013 and underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in the fall of 2013, missing the 2014 spring season.

“It was from wear and tear,” says Eaton. “The ligament wasn’t torn. I had just put so much stress on it over the years, it wasn’t protecting the nerve anymore.

“I talked with a surgeon at Methodist Sports Medicine in Indianapolis. I wanted to continue playing baseball.”

Eaton was given the option of skipping the surgery and going through physical therapy with a chance of success at about 45 percent or getting the procedure with an expected 90 percent success rate.

“It was kind of a no-brainer for me,” says Eaton, who came back to pitch for the Ravens in 2015 and 2016.

David Pressley was the head coach at AU for Eaton’s first four years at the school.

After Anderson won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and qualified for NCAA Division III regional play in 2015, Pressley went back to his home state of Alabama to coach at powerhouse Madison Academy High School.

“I really grew as a person and player at Anderson,” says Eaton. “I learned to be role model for kids. (Presley) taught me how to be a better man and helped me develop my faith.”

Dustin Glant served as Ravens head coach in 2016 before becoming pitching coach at Ball State University.

“(Glant) helped me increase my velocity 6 mph in the (2015-16) off-season,” says Eaton. “I wouldn’t have stood a shot at pro ball if he wasn’t there for my last season at Anderson.”

In three college seasons, the southpaw appeared in 34 games (30 as a starter) with a 16-5 record, 3.21 earned run average, 161 strikeouts and 84 walks in 193 2/3 innings.

Spending much of his time for seven years studying, playing or working out around Anderson, Eaton also was employed part-time doing accounts payable and receivable for Reflectix, a stock reflective insulation manufacturer.

Eaton’s pro path has included stops with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats of the American Association and Tucson (Ariz.) Saguaros in the Pecos League in 2016 and the AA’s Salina (Kan.) Stockade (which played all its games on the road) and Washington in 2017. He signed with the Wild Things in July, made 12 appearances (all in relief) with 1-0 record, one save, 2.21 ERA, 23 K’s and seven free passes in 20 innings and was re-signed in October for the 2018 season.

An ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) sprain near the same area where he had Tommy John surgery has kept Eaton out of action so far this season. He got a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection and is back in LaPorte, where is working out and going through exercises to improve his wrist grip and forearm strength.

“I’m working on my core, cardio or legs — or a mix of them,” says Eaton of his regular gym sessions. Just this past week, he began doing light biceps and shoulder work.

It’s all about building strength back up around his left elbow.

Eaton says he expects to begin throwing again around July 2 and report back to the Wild Things a week after that, though the “diehard Indianapolis Colts fan” did plan to be in Washington to see former NFL Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee play for the Things at It’s All About the Warrior Field at ConSol Energy Park.

Eaton has been following the team’s game on video streaming.

Four pitches are in Eaton’s arsenal — four-seam fastball (he does work on a two-seamer during bullpen sessions), curveball, slider and “circle” change-up from the three-quarter overhand arm slot. He was consistently clocked at 86 to 89 mph on his heater while touching 90 a few times last season.

“As a left-hander, I can get away with a lot more than a righty would,” says Eaton.

But he has learned that there is a drastic difference between facing D-III and professional hitters.

“You have to use a lot more off-speed going into pro ball,” says Eaton. “Sometimes, you can blow it by them in D-III ball. (Pro) hitters a lot better at adjusting.

“They are good at picking up on your mechanics. That’s like smelling blood in the water for the hitter. They see it’s going to be a off-speed pitch and sit back on it.”

At LaPorte High School, Eaton was part of the Scott Upp-coached Slicers varsity for his junior and senior seasons. In 2010, he was 1-0, 1.05 and 20 strikeouts and six walks in 13 1/3 innings for a 27-4 team.

Eaton was 4-3, 4.16, 34 strikeouts and 14 walks in 38 2/3 innings for a 20-10-1 club in his senior season of 2011.

Upp is credited for teaching Eaton about always having an aggressive approach to the game.

“You can’t go in with a soft approach,” says Eaton. “You have to attack everyone.”

One thing Eaton appreciates about the Wild Things is that they are not as likely to swiftly cut someone after a few sub-par performances or for the promise of a better player.

“They stick by you and trust you and give you a sense of security,” says Eaton. “As long as you do everything to your full potential.

“That’s why we usually have such a good clubhouse. Guys can get close and don’t have to worry about leaving the next day.”

Eaton doesn’t mind the distance from home with the way he is treated.

“It’s well worth it playing for a classy organization like Washington,” says Eaton, who grew up in LaPorte and played in the local Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth baseball leagues, beginning at age 11.

His summer travel baseball experience included the Indiana Breakers in 2010 and Plymouth American Legion Post 27 in 2011.

Summers during his college days, were spent working a job and working out.

Eaton counts work ethic as his best quality as an athlete.

“I’ve always got a focus and a plan going into my workout or my day,” says Eaton. “I know what I need to do to get better.”

Jake is the son of Steve Eaton and Terri Wainscott and has a older half sister named Nikki.

His father is a retired from more than 40 years as a bricklayer.

“I mixed a lot of mortar for him over the years,” says Jake of projects around the house.

His mother is a registered nurse.

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Jake Eaton, a LaPorte High School graduate who holds undergraduate and masters degrees from Anderson (Ind.) University, is in independent pro baseball with the Washington (Pa.) Wild Things. (Washington Wild Things Photo)

Campbell, Lapel Bulldogs meeting baseball challenges head-on

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball teams at Lapel High School are faced with unique challenges.

At 470 students, the school is slightly smaller than its corporation partner, Frankton, and one of the smaller ones in the Madison Country area.

Yet, the 2018 schedule for IHSAA Class 2A Lapel features 4A schools like Anderson and Lawrence North and perennial 3A powers like Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Western plus plenty of talented 2A and 1A programs.

“There are definitely challenges,” says Matt Campbell, who enters his second season as Lapel’s head baseball coach in 2018. “It’s not in the size or the athletes that come out of it. Location is a very interesting factor. There are not a lot a lot of schools in close proximity of the same size. We end up playing a lot bigger schools.

“It’s fun to go up against them and have success on different levels every night. I just want to play good baseball schools and play them well.”

In 2017, Lapel hosted a sectional with Frankton, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. The Bulldogs won sectionals in 1976, 1983, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2013 and 2015. Lapel’s lone regional title came in 2006.

Lapel is also an independent, having left the Indiana Crossroads Conference in 2014-15.

Where the disadvantage comes in is with scheduling. Lapel is often the first team to get dropped when conference teams need to make up games.

“In high school sports, there’s nothing better than having rivalries,” says Campbell. “It’s always better to be playing for something. That’s the same way it is with all sports at Lapel.

“Frankton is our rival (in Frankton-Lapel Community Schools). We may not circle it on the calendar, but everybody knows when that game is going to be played.”

The whole community is mourning the loss of Frankton baseball and basketball assistant Chris Hatzell, who died Dec. 26 at age 44.

“He was a great guy,” says Campbell of Hatzell, the Eagles’ first base coach. “He will be missed.”

Campbell enters his second season as Lapel head baseball coach in 2018. He is the eighth man to lead the program in 11 years. The Class of 2017 had four different coaches in four years.

The baseball field at Lapel went in with the new school building a decade ago, but improvement or maintenance projects have slowed with the coaching turnover. Campbell did participate in a recent irrigation upgrade.

Among those moving on were Brad Lantz, Dustin Glant and Matt Bair.

Lantz, a Lapel graduate, went on to become head coach at Guerin Catholic High School and is now an assistant at Noblesville.

Glant became head coach at Anderson University and is now entering his sixth season as an assistant at Ball State University.

Bair is entering his first season as head coach at Anderson U.

Campbell came to Lapel after serving as an assistant at Pendleton Heights — first to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt and then current Arabians head coach Travis Keesling.

“He is the epitome of baseball,” says Campbell of Stoudt. “I talk to him weekly if not more. I can’t get enough of him. There’s a reason he was so successful. He just loves being around the game. When I got this job, I think he was as excited about the game as I was. I gave him one more connection to the game.”

Stoudt was a regular spectator in 2017 at Lapel games.

Campbell played at Hamilton Southeastern High School, graduating in 2001 — the last season as Royals head coach for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Seitz.

“He has a ton of wisdom to give,” says Campbell of Seitz. “One of those things was — don’t stray, keep to the path. He saw the end in sight that we — as 17- and 18-year-olds — didn’t see.

“That’s something that’s stuck with me for a long time. Especially at this time of year. The season seems so far off. Pitchers and catchers meet at 6 a.m. After school, we finally get access to the gym (after winter sports teams). There’s the time in the weight room. But to us coaches, it seems like it’s just around the corner.

“It’s the dawning of a New Year.”

Campbell has also been coaching with the Indiana Bulls organization since 2006. He began as an assistant to Larry Fowler and took over the 18U squad in 2009 and a few years later joined the board of directors.

Fowler is now an assistant to Campbell at Lapel. His other assistants for 2018 include Ryan Scott, Jim Cook, Cameron Mendel, Hunter Cook, Sam Wides and Cade Luker. Scott, Mendel and Luker are all Lapel graduate. Jim Cook coached at Pendleton Heights and his son, Hunter Cook, played there.

Lapel is currently represented in college baseball by Brady Cherry (Ohio State University) and Jaxon Shirley (Weatherford College in Texas).

Left-hander Devon Frank (Lapel Class of 2018) has verbally committed to Anderson U. Other Bulldogs are considering college options.

Campbell graduated from Indiana University (where he did not play baseball), taught 10 years in Pendleton schools and is now teaching seventh grade at Lapel Middle School. Matt and Christene Campbell have two children — Easton (4) and Teaghan (3 months).

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Matt Campbell, a Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate, is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Lapel High School in Madison County in 2018. (Brian Gill Photo)

 

Anderson U. alum Bair looks to build ‘culture of brotherhood’ for Ravens

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Reaching out to re-connect with its winning baseball past, Anderson University has hired alum Matt Bair as head coach.

Bair, a 2001 AU graduate, played for and coached with Dr. Don Brandon and participated in the NCAA Division III World Series as a Ravens player (1998) and assistant coach (2003).

“I’ve been able to connect with several alumni already that are excited in the vision we are putting forward with the baseball program,” says Bair, who had former Anderson player and assistant coach Brent Hoober as the best man in his wedding. “We’re trying to gain some of their energy and momentum back.”

Brandon, who is in the Anderson, American Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after winning 1,100 games in 38 seasons, created what Bair calls a “culture of brotherhood” while competing at a high level.

With a foundation of respect, trust, loyalty, faith and fun, Bair is hoping to do the same.

“If you focus on the relationships, the wins will be the result,” says Bair. “Everybody is out there to win, but it can’t be the focus. It’s not the only piece of the puzzle. A lot of life lessons can be taught through the game. Coach Brandon was a master at that. He had a lot of wisdom. He gave us some great attributes that we could carry forward and be better men.

“I want players to have great memories of being loved by their coaches and teammates. I want to make this the best life experience possible for them.”

The 1996 Anderson High School graduate returns to campus after three high school head-coaching stops — one season at Cowan, three at Anderson Highland and one at Lapel plus an ongoing relationship with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization as a coach, instructor and board member.

Bair’s coaching staff includes Jim Hazen, Carlos Leyva, Jeff Freeman and Zach Barnes as assistants with J.D. Tammen as statistician, Brandon Schnepp as graduate assistant/baseball operations and Jacob Troxell as volunteer assistant. Leyva and Freeman were assistants to Bair at Anderson Highland.

AU coaches are on the recruiting trail — mostly around Indiana and the Midwest — looking for athletes who can help the Ravens compete in NCAA Division III baseball at a national level as well as in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. That means taking aim at some Division I-type talent.

“We want impact guys in our program,” says Bair. “We go after those big guys because sometimes our school is a good fit for them — academically, athletically and socially.”

Being a D-III school that gives no athletic scholarships, Bair says AU is “looking for kids who take a genuine interest in their academics.”

Besides the talent, Bair and company also look for the intangibles of coachability, competitiveness and caring. They are looking for someone who responds to instruction and is driven while being a good teammate.

Bair, the son of Debbie and Kevin Moore of Anderson and Glen Bair of Lapel, played at Anderson High for Terry Turner and Wally Winans. He was a shortstop on the 1995 Indians that reached the semistate.

“Both of them have a real love for the game and the kids that they coach,” says Bair of Turner and Winans, who were coaches in the 2017 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Muncie. “They were good at the X’s and 0’s of the game, but they also had an impact on developing me as a person. They were always good to me. They helped me grow in the game.”

Matt and Brooke Bair have been married 15 years and have three sons — Landon (13), Isaac (12) and Hogan (9).

Besides recruiting, Bair and his staff have been getting prepared for Aug. 28 — the day that players report to campus, where they will be greeted by an upgraded Don Brandon Field (new sod, bullpens, game mound, batting cages and regular visits from Midwest Turf Management).

“I’m really excited about some of these things we’re doing with our facility,” says Bair. “We want create a showcase field.”

NCAA D-III rules allow 16 days of fall practice. Bair plans to use that time for evaluation through practice and an Orange and Black series.

David Pressley was AU head coach after Brandon’s retirement and served for five seasons (2011-15). Dustin Glant led the Ravens in 2016. Drew Brantley and Mark Calder were interim co-head coaches in 2017.

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Matt Bair, a 2001 Anderson University graduate, has been named as head baseball coach of the Ravens.

Relationships the most memorable thing for Ball State’s Eppers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Eppers can point to some memorable moments during his college diamond days.

The Ball State University senior baseball player is coming off a “career weekend” in which he went 10-of-13 at the plate with his third career home run plus a double, stolen base, sacrifice, four runs scored and three runs batted in.

The Cardinals stopped a nine-game losing skid with a three-game sweep at Western Michigan. BSU outscored the Broncos 46-17. Eppers went 5-for-5 in Game 2 of the series — the first five-hit game of his career.

“We had been pressing a little bit,” says Eppers, speaking for the team as a whole. “We started relaxing and having fun.”

On Tuesday, April 11, Eppers stayed hot with three more hits in an 11-2 win against visiting Valparaiso. In his last four games, he is 13-of-17, raising his average to a team-pacing .311.

Earlier in the 2017 season, Eppers was named Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week.

The 6-foot-4 outfielder strung together hits in eight consecutive plate appearances in his junior season of 2016, spanning two games against Dayton and one against Purdue.

The 2013 Elkhart Central High School graduate (he played center field and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the ’13 Class 4A state title) also counts a victory against powerhouse Louisiana State in 2016 as a highlight.

As a sophomore in 2015, Eppers scored three runs against Akron and helped the Cardinals to the MAC tournament championship game.

But as outstanding as those achievements are, it’s the relationships that Eppers has made in his four BSU seasons that he cherishes most.

“I came on to this team not knowing anybody,” says Eppers. “My roommate, Sean Kennedy, had a monster weekend himself (at Western Michigan). He hit a grand slam and another home run and had a whole bunch of hits (Kennedy was 7-of-9 with nine RBI in three games). He and I are best friends. I’m going to be the best man in his wedding.

“The relationships that I’ve built, that’s what’s made college baseball worth it. Through the highs and the lows, the guys you’re around and that sense of brotherhood is heightened to a new level in college.”

Eppers roomed with right-handed pitcher B.J. Butler as a freshman and later shared a place with Kennedy and Alex Call (selected in the third round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox  after earning MAC Player of the Year honors in 2016) before Call moved on.

“(Sean) has been very versatile. He’s played every infield position this year. He’s kind of the anchor of our defense. Anywhere we need him, he’s there. With his bat, too. In the middle of the lineup, he’s been a heavy hitter … It was a good weekend for him and I in our apartment.”

Besides Eppers, Kennedy and Butler, the other BSU seniors are right-hander David Current, third baseman Alex Maloney (son of Ball State head coach Rich Maloney), first baseman Caleb Stayton and left-handers Evan Korson (a transfer from Northern Kentucky) and Kevin Marnon (a transfer from Akron).

Rich Maloney has enjoyed watching Eppers perform for the Cards.

“He’s very athletic,” says Maloney. “He covers a lot of ground in center field. He has really good speed. He competes really, really well.

“With the other guys we’ve been able to surround him with in his class, he’s been a really nice piece of the puzzle.

“He’s been a joy to coach.”

The past three seasons, that recruiting class has aided in an overall MAC title, two West division crowns and a tournament runner-up finish while averaging 34 wins.

“They’ve all gotten a taste of winning and enjoyed it and they certainly want to pass it on,” says Maloney. “They are leaders and they’re all going to end up graduating. It’s all good and Matt is certainly a big part of it.”

How does Eppers prefer to do his leading?

“Day-to-day, I just try to lead by example,” says Eppers, who has played in 188 career games with 147 starts. “I’m not really one of the hoorah guys.

“I don’t speak just to speak. When I have to be a vocal leader, I pick my times. I feel like that’s not only benefitted me here but my whole life. When you can do that it makes your word go a little bit farther.”

Maloney coached Ball State 1996-2002 then at Michigan 2003-12 before returning to BSU for the 2013 season. A staple as he took over a program that had not been winning was “Gotta Believe” rally cry (#GottaBelieve).

“The first thing in building a program is you’ve got to get everybody to believe,” says Maloney, whose 2017 assistants are Scott French, Dustin Glant and Ray Skjold. “They’ve got to believe in the coaches. They’ve got to believe in the vision. They’ve got to believe in the system. They’ve got to believe in themselves. They’ve got to believe in their teammates. If you get that going then you have a chance to be successful.”

Facing the toughest schedule of Maloney’s BSU coaching career (win vs. Maryland, four losses to both Oregon State and Kent State and defeats to defending national champion Coastal Carolina plus setbacks against Louisville and West Virgina), Ball State got off to an 11-9 start in 2017 then hit a slide once the MAC part of the slate began.

“We came close in several or them, but couldn’t get over the top,” says Maloney. “(Against Western Michigan), we were able to break through.

Eppers has bought in to Maloney’s belief system.

“You gotta believe that you can get the job done,” says Eppers. “That’s something he’s instilled in all of us.”

“The whole reason I came to Ball State was the vision that he sold. To his credit, he did it. He promised us a new field, improved schedules and improved skills and we got it.

“No matter who we’re playing, you can see it in his eyes. He truly believes Ball State is going to win … Coach has taught us not to ever take a back seat to anybody.”

Since Eppers’ sophomore year, Ball Diamond has been covered with artificial turf. This is a growing trend in the northern U.S., where the maintenance is lower and teams are able to play more games even in cold and wet weather.

Another major difference been grass and turf is the speed of the game.

“On turf, everything is a lot faster,” says Eppers. “A single may turn into a double; a double may turn into a triple. Especially at our field, it plays very fast … It’s probably given me a few more triples, too, so I appreciate it.”

Of 33 starts for a 15-18 squad, Eppers has been in center field for 29 games and right field for four.

“Center has always been my favorite position, where I feel most comfortable,” says Eppers. “You’re the shortstop of the outfield in a way. You’re supposed to be the best all-around defensive player in the outfield. Something I’ve always taken pride in is tracking down balls and trying to make catches other people can’t make.”

Eppers, who hits from the right side, was in the No. 8 slot in the batting order during his recent hot weekend in Kalamazoo, but has appeared in every hole but Nos. 3 and 4 this spring and has led off eight times.

“Everyday I have to check, but it’s not that big of a deal,” says Eppers. “I know my job is to get on base. I’m not a guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs. I do have a few extra base hits. That’s where I hit the gaps and I’m able to run.”

While he’s taken hundreds of fly balls in the outfield to improve his defense and bulked up to 202 pounds with work in the weight room, Eppers has also adjusted his approach at the plate. He has become more knowledgeable about situational hitting and what pitches he can connect with the best.

“Early in my career I was very vulnerable to the slider and pitcher-advantage counts,” says Eppers. “Now, I’m a tougher out. When the slider is in the dirt, I’m able to lay off that pitch.

“This year I’ve really worked at hitting pitches in the (strike) zone I know I can barrel up. I’m not chasing as many pitches.”

Eppers, 22, is scheduled to graduate in May with a “high stakes” degree in entrepreneurial management.

“It’s basically a pass-fail major,” says Eppers, who was on the MAC all-academic team in 2016 and carried 3.555 grade-point average in the fall. “For a year, you write a business plan, fine tune it and then Wednesday (April 12) we present it in a room with a panel of judges. If they like what you have to say, they pass you. If they don’t, they fail you. If you fail, you have to opportunity to come back next year and re-try or take a couple some classes and (graduate with a different major).

“It puts some stress on you.”

Eppers and his business partner will present a plan on a not-for-profit gym and counseling service for veterans, military members and first responders in the Indianapolis area.

While he is exploring his post-graduation options, Eppers says he is leaning toward staying on the diamond.

“I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can,” says Eppers. “When I’m not allowed to play anymore I’ll have to re-evaluate my professional life.

“For right now I’m just focused on playing baseball and having fun. I’m trying to play every game like it’s my last.”

MATTEPPERSRUNS

Matt Eppers contributes speed to the Ball State University baseball team. The Elkhart Central High School graduate is in his senior season. (Ball State Photo)

MATTEPPERS

Matt Eppers has played in 188 baseball games as a Ball State Cardinal through Tuesday, April 11. (Ball State Photo)