Rob Jordan was to lead his first Tipton (Ind.) High School baseball season during the spring of 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic kept the Blue Devils from playing a game. Jordan’s first on-field campaign as head coach was 2021. Most of the players from that team graduated, leaving very little varsity experience in 2022. “Last season was pretty tough on us,” says Jordan of year where Tipton went 2-18 with 27 players in the program. “We had a whole new pitching staff.” Jordan does expect most of his pitching to return in 2023, meaning they will have more experience. There is a big freshman class and the Blue Devils should have eight seniors (Zane Goodrich, Chase Higgins, Houston Nasser, Jack Nasser, Clark Rodibaugh, Joe Shelly, Eli Shook and Austin Smith). “We’ve got good young kids,” says Jordan. “With our veteran leadership, we hope it’s a breakout year.” Ten to 15 players — those not in a fall sport — have been going over fundamentals with Jordan at twice-a-week IHSAA Limited Contact Period fall practices. Tipton (enrollment around 450) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with IHSAA Class 2A Tipton, 3A Hamilton Heights, 2A Lewis Cass, 3A Northwestern and 3A Western in the East Division and 3A Benton Central, 1A Lafayette Central Catholic, 2A Rensselaer Central, 3A Twin Lakes and 3A West Lafayette in the West Division). The Blue Devis were part of an 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Blackford, Eastbrook, Eastern (Greentown), Madison-Grant and Taylor. Tipton has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2009. Tipton plays its games on-campus. A new 30-by-30 college-style scoreboard was installed in the summer and new dugouts are nearing completion. Feeding the high school program are travel baseball teams plus Tipton Youth Baseball League (Little Sluggers ages 3-5, Pee Wee 5-8, Cal Ripken 9-12 and Babe Ruth 13-15). Right-handed pitcher Trayjan Phifer (Class of 2021) moved on to Cleary University in Howell, Mich.). Jordan says pitcher/first baseman Vince Hoover (Class of 2024) has been getting looks for colleges. Jordan’s coaching staff for 2023 includes varsity assistant Steve Cherry, junior varsity head coach Andy Hussong and JV assistant Brian Middleton and possibly two more. A 1988 graduate of Tri-Central Middle/High School in Sharpsville, Ind., Jordan played for Trojans head coach Dave Driggs. “We got a fair opportunity,” says Jordan of his prep days. “Politics wasn’t a factor for playing time.” At the time, there was a big rival between Tri-Central and Tipton and the Trojans are still on the Blue Devils schedule. At Missouri Valley College (Marshall, Mo.), first baseman/utility player Jordan played three seasons and learned about conditioning and hard-nosed play from Vikings head coach Ron Givens before an arm injury ended his career. Jordan coached youth league baseball before taking the reins at Tipton. Rob is foundation seed manager for Beck’s Hybrids. He and wife Laura had a daughter (Jessica) and son (Dylan). Dylan Jordan passed away in 2019 at 16. He was in the Tri-Central Class of 2022.
Todd Farr helped achieve baseball success at Jay County Junior/Senior High School in Portland, Ind., on the staff of veteran head coach Lea Selvey. With Selvey retiring after the 2022 season, Farr is now in charge of keeping the momentum going for the Patriots. Farr was head baseball coach at Eastbrook High School in Marion, Ind., from 2012-17 before becoming a Selvey assistant at Jay County for the 2018 season. In 34 seasons, Selvey won 528 of the 880 games he coached with seven sectional titles, three regional crowns and six conference championships. Selvey also made an impression on Farr. “He brought a lot of fun to the game,” says Farr, who also coached Summit City Sluggers teams with Selvey. “Lea’s an incredible guy. He’s seen a lot. “He’s got a real calm demeanor about him. Players feed off him. Sometimes I get real antsy and uptight at times. “It really was a joy to coach with him the last few years.” When Selvey let it be known that he was retiring, Farr applied for the job and received support from principal Chad Dodd (who coached at Eastbrook with Brian Abbott when Farr was a player and then was head coach at Blackford) and Patriots athletic director Steve Boozier. “I’m greatly appreciative of those guys for believing in me,” says Farr. Jay County (enrollment around 870) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference] (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). The Patriots were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, New Castle and Yorktown. Jay County has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2019. The school board will need to approve Farr’s assistants which will be some of Selvey’s former players. Jay County varsity and junior teams play and practices on Don E. Selvey Field. Lea’s father looked after the diamond followed by Lea. Farr spent much of the summer of 2022 tending to the facility. “I want our guys take to pride in it,” says Farr, who had spent recent summers coaching the Sluggers and the Dirt Bags in the Fort Wayne-based Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League. Denise Selvey, Lea’s wife, has been a babysitter for Todd and Holly Farr. The couple have three children (two girls and a boy) — sixth grader Makenzi (11), fourth grader Kendall (9) and preschooler Kaysen (5). Todd followed Holly to the Jay County district. She is a fourth grade teacher at West Jay Elementary School in Dunkirk. He teaches Special Education for Grades 7-12. Since he is a teacher and a former assistant, Farr already knows the players. He looks forward to working with them twice weekly during the IHSAA Limited Contact Period that goes from Aug. 29-Oct. 15. “We’ll work on fundamentals,” says Farr. “I’m big on do the small things in games that leading to bigger things.” While there are no college commitments yet among current players, Farr says many are working toward that goal. Recent graduates moving on to collegiate diamonds include Wyatt Geesaman (Class of 2019) who went to the University of Cincinnati and is transferring to Northern Kentucky University. There’s also Class of 2022’s Quinn Faulkner and Crosby Heniser headed to Manchester University and Sam Dunlavy bound for Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Kess McBride (Class of 2022) had planned to try to walk-on and become a bullpen catcher at Purdue University. Faulkner, Heniser and McBride were all part of the Muncie Post 19 Chiefs team that won the 2022 Indiana American Legion Senior Baseball Championship and competed in the Great Lakes Regional in Midland, Mich. A school-run junior high program had tryouts in the summer so those players can also participate in fall activities and learn and develop in the Jay County way. “The high school guys will take them under their wings,” says Farr, who expects close to 30 seventh and eighth graders. “This community is big into baseball. Numbers have never been an issue here.” Playing and practicing at Miller-Runkle Field — home of the Portland Rockets — the junior high teams will conduct their season in the spring. Farr says opponents on the schedule will closely resemble that of the high school. The new Jay County Baseball Club is to field 8U, 10U and 11U travel teams in 2023. Farr, who is president of the organization’s board, says there will be a fall skills clinic next month. “It will be a bunch of development,” says Farr. “They’ll see how we warm-up and do fundamental stuff.” The club works with recreation leagues — Portland Junior League and Redkey Junior League. “It’s for kids who want to play some extra baseball,” says Farr. “I truly believe it’s going to lead to some good things in the history of Jay County baseball.” Farr, a 2004 Eastbrook graduate, credits Abbott for setting an example and being a friend. “He’s one of those guys who’s in my corner,” says Farr of Abbott. Before he was his high school baseball coach, Abbott coached Farr in junior high basketball. “I was raised by a single mother,” says Farr. “He picked me up for practice. Then I played for him for four years and I saw how important family is to him. He means a lot to me and my family. “That’s why I’m into coaching baseball today. I saw the joy he had with the guys.” Abbott is now executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and a member of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. Recruited for baseball and football at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., Farr opted to play football. He received a General Studies degree and later earned his teaching accreditation from Taylor online.
Grant Sailors grew up playing baseball a certain way and he is looking to bring those things into his job as head coach at Elwood (Ind.) Community Junior/Senior High School. Hired less than a month ago to lead the Panthers program, the former three-sport athlete at Wabash (Ind.) High School wants the Panthers to “get back to basics.” “It’s the little stuff,” says Sailors, who played football and basketball and was a first-team all-stater in baseball (Matt Stone was head coach) for the Apaches and graduated in 2014 with a brief baseball stint at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. “To me a big thing is how you appear to your coaches, the other team, your fans. “Your jersey is tucked in. Your belt is on. You’re wearing your hat right. It’s little baseball traditions people may not take seriously. “We want to respect the game of baseball. The program I grew up in taught me very well. We want to teach that to the kids in Elwood. “It is a rebuilding process. It is going to take a little time and a whole lot of effort.” Elwood (enrollment around 430) is a member of the Central Indiana Athletic Conference (with Alexandra-Monroe, Blackford, Eastbrook, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). The Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Alexandria-Monroe, Frankton, Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Wapahani and Winchester Community. Elwood has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2014. Sailors, who helped with Wabash boys basketball a few years ago and Elwood softball in the spring of 2022, has been running twice-a-week open fields for Panthers baseball. He also emphasizes being on-time and the hustle factor. “Go out there and give it your all,” says Sailors, who has played with the USA Softball national fastpitch team. “It doesn’t take talent to hustle. These are things that I grew up doing.” Sailors played from age 4 to 12 at Wabash Little League then spent the next few years in the town’s Babe Ruth program. “There was a certain standard for baseball in the town of Wabash,” says Sailors. “Everybody wanted to be a part of the baseball team. “One goal for me and our new athletic director (Ryan Vanskyock) is it to get (Elwood’s Harry Bridges) Little League built back up so kids want to come and play.” That includes coaches clinics so they can see how Sailors teaches the game. Elwood has a junior high baseball for seventh and eighth graders. Sailors has named four of his assistant coaches — Jamie Jetty, Jack Bennett, Devan Frank and Chris Noone. Bennett, who played baseball at Goshen (Ind.) College), and long-time coach Noone are from Elwood. Former prep volleyball, basketball and softball athlete Taylor Noone (Elwood Class of 2016) is Sailors’ girlfriend. The Panthers play and practice on-campus. Money is being raised for renovations. Sailors says it is hoped that Elwood will someday have lights for baseball and softball. When not coaching, Sailors works in kitchen modeling and does woodworking on the side. He is the son of Jason (Kerri) Sailors and Betina Hill. He has three siblings — older younger Zach Sailors (Wabash Class of 2010), younger sister Jillian Sailors (Wabash Class of 2025) and younger brother Jake Sailors. Zach played baseball at Wabash and for four years at Indiana Tech. Jillian has been a travel volleyball player. Jake has been involved in football, basketball and baseball.
Steve Swinson likes the kind of athletes he’s working with as the new head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School, part of the Metropolitan School District of Wabash (Ind.) County. “It’s been really good transition,” says Swinson, who has been leading the Knights since January. “The players’ philosophies are pretty much on the same page as myself. “These are competitive, hard-nosed kids. They want to succeed. They want to be better. “It’s a winning attitude at Southwood. They don’t throw in the towel.” During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, Swinson has been working with players who are not involved in basketball. Twenty eight have signed up for Southwood baseball this spring. “We lost lost five pretty good seniors and a lot of pitching (from the 2021 team),” says Swinson. “The big thing is being consistent. not walking a lot of guys and letting the defense play behind us.” The coach is confident his Knights will do their best to do just that. “They’re going to work at it,” says Swinson. “By the end of the year they’re going to figure some things out.” An advocate of arm care, Swinson wants to make sure he’s maintaining the health of his throwers. “I like the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days),” says Swinson. “A lot of it’s on the athlete. He has to make sure to take care of his arm.” Swinson, who is working with a coaching staff of Cory Blocker and Dan Lloyd at the varsity level and Christian Deeter with the junior varsity, sees college potential in senior left-handed pitcher Koby Thomas, junior catcher Mo Lloyd and junior right-handed pitcher/outfielder Cole Winer. Southwood (enrollment around 230) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko). TRC play each other once and games on Tuesdays and Thursdays In 2021, the Knights were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston (host), North Miami, North White, Northfield, Pioneer and West Central. Southwood has won five sectional titles — the last in 2021. Carson Rich (Class of 2021) tossed a no-hitter in a 4-0 championship game win against Pioneer. Fundraisers will be held to help maintain and upgrade Southwood’s home diamond located north of the football field on the northeast corner of the campus. Swinson says the batting cage is top priority. Dugouts are likely to be re-painted with trimming and edging done to the infield. Stepping down at Eastbrook High School near the end of the 2019 season, Swinson did not coach at high school baseball in 2020 and 2021 but did lead Indiana Nitro travel teams both summers. He was head baseball coach at Eastern (Greentown) High School 2007-11 and has assisted at Western High School. Swinson has served two stints as head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School and is currently head wrestling coach at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. A 1987 Kokomo High School graduate, he retired after 27 1/2 years with the Howard County Highway Department, where he was a supervisor/foreman. Swinson coached Southside baseball in Kokomo to the 1995 Bambino World Series in Abbeyville, La. His coaching stops also include Indiana Wesleyan University (football), Marion High School and Lewis Cass High School. Steve and wife of 29 years — Stacey — live in Greentown and have two children. Son Saxon Swinson (28) is in the IT department at Marian University in Indianapolis. Daughter Shayden Swinson (18) is a Manchester University freshman.
When Brice Davis got the call that led him into professional baseball he was busy on the field. Davis was coaching third base for Indiana Wesleyan University in a doubleheader when the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers manager Jamie Bennett, who pitched of the DuBois County (Ind.) Dragons and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats coached with the RailCats, and outgoing hitting coach Derek Shomon reached out about filling Shomon’s spot since he had taken a coaching job in the Minnesota Twins organization. “They wanted to see if I’d get rattled,” says Davis of the timing. “It was a twisted joke.” But Davis impressed and after the twin bill received text messages and got a good review. The next thing he knew he is joining the Boomers for spring training and after that came a 96-game regular season and the fourth league championship in franchise history. “It was whirlwind,” says Davis of the 2021 baseball season began in early February with Indiana Wesleyan in Lakeland, Fla., and ending in late September with Schaumburg in Washington, Pa. “It was an incredible year and an incredible ride. “It was a really special group (at IWU). To be leaving them at that time was incredibly tough. I’m in awe that we got to share all those runs together.” Indiana Wesleyan wound up 2021 at 44-14, Crossroads League regular-season and tournament champions and an NAIA Opening Round host. Davis, a four-year starter at IWU and a 2013 graduate with a Sports Management degree, spent three seasons on the staff of Wildcats head coach Rich Benjamin (2019-21). “He’s a huge offensive mind and about hitting for power,” says Davis of Benjamin, who was an assistant at Fishers (Ind.) High School before moving on. “I saw it as an opportunity. “I wanted to see if I could hack it at the college level.” Davis first became a hitting instructor in 2009 (his training business is Davis Baseball LLC). But it was a big transition to working with professional hitters in 2021. “You’re helping prepare guys to be successful (in pro ball),” says Davis. “At the college level, you’re doing a lot of development. They’re making strides every single month to be the best versions of themselves and trying to stay locked in. “Guys at the professional level are already pretty talented. They want to take their skill level and apply it against a pitching staff (or individual). In both arenas the goal is to simplify life. You pick out an approach that is going to breed results and success.” The difference between high school and college and pro baseball is that the pros play everyday with much more travel and they don’t have as much time to work on their craft. “Learning how to hit when you’re only 80 percent or getting your two knocks comes in a lot of ways,” says Davis. “I was amazed how many guys played hurt.” How a player felt on any given day is how they prepared for that day’s game. That might mean more batting practice or less. “You can’t treat everyday like Opening Day,” says Davis. “It just doesn’t work like that.” Since Schaumburg is an independent league team, scouting is done differently. Major League-affiliated clubs have access to plenty of stored data on opponents. The only resource available to the Boomers staff was Frontier League TV (2021 was the first year that all league clubs broadcast games). Coaches and players spent a lot of time looking at video to find tendencies. The Evansville Otters were the only team who put pitching velocity on the screen during their broadcasts, leaving Schaumburg to study those videos when teams took on Evansville. In the league championship series against the Washington Wild Things, the staff was at a disadvantage. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boomers had not played anyone on Washington’s side of the league during the regular season. Also, there was no radar gun reading available at Wild Things Park. “It was all hearsay. You had no more information than in a non-conference high school baseball game. It was ‘see it and hit it, boys!’ It was absolute gauntlet level from our staff and our players. It’s not copy-paste-print like it is at some of the other levels. It’s not like high school baseball where you can trade tapes. “It was a big learning curve.” Davis notes that the Frontier League is now partnered with Major League Baseball so maybe things will change for the better. Not all pro players take to information the same way. “This guy wants to know velo and out pitch and this guy wants to know as much as possible,” says Davis. “Other guys don’t want to know anything and just play the game.” And if a pro hitter doesn’t want info, it’s not up to the coach to shove it down his throat. “You have respect for what they’re trying to do,” says Davis. While Schaumburg players hail from all over the country, there are also a number with ties to the area, including former Indiana Wesleyan pitcher Isaiah Rivera from Des Plaines, Ill. “There are a lot of college players in the region,” says Davis. “You don’t want to miss on anything in your back yard. Chicago is a cool city with a lot of great athletes in it.” Davis says many have the misconception that independent ball is full of 27-year-old has-beens. But a good deal have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and spent time in the affiliated minors. The Frontier League is unique because it puts players into Rookie, Experienced and Veteran eligibility classifications and there is a cap on veterans (those turning 29 by Oct. 1). Teams can also make just 30 transaction moves per season. “The world of independent baseball is fascinating,” says Davis. Another thing about 2021 in much of independent ball is that there was no season in 2020 because of the pandemic. “They’re learning how to play baseball again and getting their timing back,” says Davis. “It’s like they’ve been waiting for the prom for two years. “It was about managing emotions, telling them to enjoy the moment and don’t overthink it.” There was a time when Davis didn’t want to think about baseball. It stung too much when his playing career was over and he did not watch a game for two years. Brice’s father was a high school boys basketball coach for many years. Hagerstown, Ind., native Jerry Davis was a head coach at Triton Central and Wawasee and an assistant at Marion and Hamilton Southeastern. He came back to Indiana from Dallas, where Brice was born, to teach math and coach hoops. “I grew up in the gym,” says Brice. “My safe place to process life was listening to bouncing balls. That’s a sanctuary few people understand.” Davis, who did not play high school basketball to focus on baseball opportunities, joined the Hamilton Southeastern hardwood staff of Brian Satterfield and coached freshmen for two seasons. “Climbing up the hard way in basketball appealed to me,” says Davis. “Going to clinics and studying tape was a journey in itself.” Then came the call back to baseball and he answered it. “I’m in a better head space when I’m going to the field,” says Davis, who received words of encouragement that still resonate with him. Brian Abbott, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director and a former IWU assistant, approached Davis at the IHSBCA State Clinic when the latter was on Matt Cherry’s Fishers Tigers staff. “He was one of the first people who told me I needed to be in coaching,” says Davis of Abbott, the IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s because of kids like myself. He said, ‘you belong in this industry. You might be the only person who gets to tell a kid that day that they matter. “You have a purpose to connect with kids.” Davis has taken that connection to heart. “I love teaching the game,” says Davis. “I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of good can be done by powerful teaching and coaching. “It’s a great profession.” Davis, who was part of Fishers’ first graduating class in 2008, was reunited with Cherry for three seasons (2016-18) as an assistant coach. The 2018 team made an IHSAA Class 4A state title run. “He’s single-most influential person in my life besides my dad since I was 15,” says Davis of Cherry. “He knows there’s more to people than baseball. He’s transformational.” Cherry, who had coached Davis prior to the 2016 season he needed a freshman coach. Davis accepted the invitation. “I’ll be darned if I wasn’t completely consumed,” says Davis. “I told (Cherry) the next year I want to be a varsity coach. I want to be with the older kids. I want to dive in and see where it could go.” In 2017 and 2018, Davis was Fishers’ hitting coach. The latter team set 21 school records. “We had all the fun in the world,” says Davis. Now 32 and living in Wheeling, Ill., Davis is teaching at area facilities, including Parkway Bank Sports Complex aka The Dome in Rosemont, Ill., and East Sports Academy in Itaska, Ill., and helping at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Owls head coach Bill Fratto is also an assistant/first base coach for the Boomers. Through it all, Davis has developed a fraternity of brothers at each baseball stage and keeps in-touch with people on his high school, college and pro path. Kris Holtzleiter, the new Eastbrook High School head coach, played and coached with close friend Davis at IWU. “Every season has a story whether it’s good or bad,” says Davis. “You must make the most of the moment you’re in. “It’s not about the championships or the trophies.” It’s the people.
Kris Dill has been coaching for close to two decades — the last three at his alma mater. In his first year in charge (2019), his Taylor High School baseball team lost to eventual state champion Alexandra-Monroe in the IHSAA Class 2A Eastern (Greentown) Sectional final. A 1996 graduate of Taylor in Kokomo, Ind., Dill was a junior varsity assistant on a staff led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer George Phares in 2003. That summer, Phares got him hooked up with a Connie Mack League coaching job. Dill helped guide the Taylor Titans with Phares and then Jeremy Luna through 2010. Later came the opportunity to be head JV softball coach at Kokomo High School for a year and head JV baseball coach for the Wildkats for four years before taking his current position at Taylor. When that happened he stepped down as director of 8U to 14U teams for the Indiana Nitro travel organization and is now a 14U Gold assistant. Born and raised in Kokomo, Dill played at Taylor Southeast Little League, where Dwayne Richmond was one of his coaches. Dill later assisted him at Taylor High. “I learned a ton from him,” says Dill of Richmond. Dill attended Victory Christian Academy from kindergarten through freshmen year. VCA does not have a baseball team. He transferred to Taylor as a sophomore and became acquainted with Phares. “He taught hard lessons,” says Dill, who was a catcher on the field and not such a disciplined student. “If you weren’t doing the right things in the classrooms he wasn’t going to let you get away with that. You’ve got to be accountable. “I did not play college baseball. I was pretty immature.” Dill entered the work force after high school. He got married, started a family and, eventually, decided to go to college. “I was going into youth ministry,” says Dill, who left for Kentucky Christian University (Grayson, Ky.) at the end of July 2003. On Labor Day weekend, Dill, wife Brenda and baby daughter Arianne were traveled back to Kokomo when tragedy struck. “We were 15 minutes from home on U.S. 31 and a drunk driver headed in wrong direction hit us head-on,” says Dill of that Aug. 29. “It killed my wife instantly. I got 100 stitches. My daughter did not have a scratch.” Brenda Sue Dill was 22. Kris Dill stayed in Kentucky for the next two years then moved back to his hometown. He eventually earned a degree from Indiana University Kokomo (2013) and got re-married. He and wife Amy have a son named Kade. Arianne Dill played soccer at nearby Western High School as a freshman and sophomore. She ran cross country and track and Taylor and graduated in 2021. Baseball-playing Kade Dill is a Taylor eighth grader. Kris, who turns 44 in November, teaches general and Advanced College Placement U.S. History at Taylor. As baseball coach, Dill leads a program at a school with an enrollment around 360 and not many with the resources to play travel ball. They often arrive in high school lacking in the fundamentals and diamond experience. “(In 2021-22) we’re going to be in a little better spot,” says Dill. “We got in a summer of Babe Ruth Baseball (the COVID-19 pandemic took away high school and summer action in 2020). We got to play and learn how to play. “We will be able to hit the ground running with varsity players. The JV will get some time to perfect those fundamentals and hone in on them. Our Baseball I.Q. is going to be in a lot better place. “Our kids didn’t play for two years essentially. But we don’t talk about those things. We talk about what we’re going to do to get better.” While slowed down when Dill tested positive and was out for two weeks, Taylor is easing into IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities (the current window is Aug. 30-Oct. 16). Dill’s coaching staff features Tyler Hodson, Tim Douglas and B.J. Pemberton with the varsity and head coach Josiah Bolton and assistant Caden Sullivan with the JV. Taylor plays on George Phares Field. The Titans are a member of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with baseball members Carroll of Flora, Clinton Central, Clinton Prairie, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Sheridan and Tri-Central). In 2021, Taylor was part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Blackford, Eastbrook, Eastern (Greentown), Madison-Grant and Tipton. The Titans have won seven sectional titles — the last in 2015.
Former player Colby Devenport is on the reserve squad at Indiana Tech. Taylor brought back middle school baseball in 2021, which will also help at the high school level. As part of the feeder system, travel teams are being added at Taylor Southeast. “We’re headed in the right direction,” says Dill. “It’s a slow-moving build. We’re going to grind away.” The 8U level is going to Coach Pitch so they can learn how to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. “We have resources,” says Dill. “It’s about using them correctly.”
The High School and College Baseball Series at Parkview Field hosted by the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps is to feature 46 different schools for a total of 29 games between April 2-29. The TinCaps begin their 120-game High Class-A season May 4.
Tickets ($6) for High School and College Series games go on sale March 24 at ParkviewField.com.
The Parkview Field Ticket Office also will be open for ticket purchases beginning one hour prior to each day’s first pitch.
All transactions must be completed by debit or credit card (no cash). The TinCaps plan to utilize a special seating chart to account for physical distancing between pods of fans. Ballpark concessions will be available as well (no outside food or drink is permitted.)
Having Rick Atkinson around has given the baseball program at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., “second eyes” for the better part of the last two decades.
“I’m the Don Zimmer of the outfit,” says Atkinson, who has seen plenty on a diamond in his 73 years and has lent his insights to the Trojans for 18 years — the past 16 on a coaching staff headed by Kyle Gould.
Bone cancer has not allowed the former Taylor player and longtime Gas City, Ind., resident to travel with the team on its 2021 trips to Arizona and Tennessee.
“I was looking forward to going,” says Atkinson, who tracks the 7-3 Trojans on the internet.
While COVID-19 precautions have also kept him away recently, Atkinson has shared plenty of diamond wisdom over the years.
“On the road, Kyle and I would be together and talk about baseball, the team and what-not,” says Atkinson. “We would not always agree. But when we left our room we were on the same page.”
Atkinson’s health no longer allows him, but he used to coach first base for the Trojans.
“I can’t move too quick,” says Atkinson. The cancer has eaten away his second vertebrae. “It’s good medicine to go over there when I don’t feel good.”
It had once been Atkinson’s responsibility to mow and water the grass and paint the lines at Winterholter Field.
“All of the sudden we can’t do that,” says Atkinson.
With the advent of artificial turf, those staples of baseball coaching are no longer necessary.
Rick and Sondra Atkinson have three children who all live nearby — Molly and Abby in Gas City and Adam in Muncie. There are eight grandchildren.
“They love to come over to Taylor and hit in the barn or get in the new press box,” says Atkinson.
Playing for NAIA Coach of the Year Bob Smith at Greenville in 1969, righty-swinging corner infielder Atkinson hit 12 home runs in 22 games and lead NAIA in homers per game (.55). He was also third in runs batted in per contest (1.55) while hitting .428. Greenville lost in the regional that year and Taylor went on to the NAIA World Series. Smith was also president of the International Baseball Federation that helped get the sport in the Olympics.
As a fast-pitch player, Atkinson helped the Plymouth Club Bombers to three Amateur Softball Association state titles and two runner-up finishes.
Atkinson was in secondary education for 38 years (physical education and health) — eight at Eastbrook High In Marion, Ind., and 30 at Mississinewa High in Gas City.
At Eastbrook, he was on the football staff with Terry Hoeppner (who went on to be head coach at Miami University in Ohio and Indiana University) at Eastbrook.
Before returning in 2005, Atkinson served Mississinewa for 24 years as the athletic director and 20 years as the Indians’ baseball coach. He was the North head coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1990.
It was while dining at Cracker Barrel that Atkinson ran into Larry Winterholter who asked him to join his coaching staff at Taylor.
“Will you come back and help me?” Atkinson says of Winterholter’s question. “I’ve been there ever since.”
Gould was a freshman during Atkinson’s first season as as Trojans coach.
“We developed a good relationship,” says Atkinson. “A lot of people think I’m Kyle’s dad.”
Many relationships were formed through baseball over the decades. Atkinson got to know Dick Siler when they were both high school coaches.
“They had the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen,” says Atkinson of the bright red and yellow donned by Siler’s Elkhart Memorial High School teams, which included all-star pitcher Matt Ruess in 1990.
The friendship continued when they both began college coaching at Crossroads League schools — Atkinson at Taylor and Siler at Bethel.
Atkinson invited Siler to stay with him whenever he was in the area. IHSBCA Hall of Famer Siler died in 2020.
A 1965 graduate of Mississinewa, Atkinson earned 11 varsity letters playing baseball and basketball for coach Junior Mannis and football for coach Charlie Fisher. Nine of those teams won conference championships.
One of his fondest memories is playing five games in three different places in the same day.
“When I was 15 we had a high school doubleheader,” says Atkinson. “My mom took me to Kokomo for an American Legion doubleheader (featuring Jonesboro Post 95) then to Indianapolis for semipro tournament (with the Twin City Bankers).
Atkinson played against one of former major league pitcher and Anderson, Ind., native Carl Erskine’s sons.
Erskine doesn’t address Atkinson by name. It’s “Hey, Gas City!”
He was 14 when Atkinson started playing for the Bankers. His father, John, was the team’s manager.
John Atkinson helped build a diamond that is still used today.
There were days when young Rick sold Cokes while sitting on the back part of a station wagon.
At 15, the Bankers placed third in the state tournament and all-stater Atkinson hit .454.
Atkinson recalls when amateur baseball went from wood to metal bats.
“I didn’t like it,” says Atkinson. “I collect fungos. None of them are aluminum.
“I do not remember breaking a bat. I’m sure I did.”
He does remember mending some clubs.
To keep wood bats in circulation, Atkinson used to use small black brad nails to hold them together.
For a few years, Atkinson was in charge of Taylor hitters.
He’d study the players’ swing to see what suited him best. It was easy to identify the best ones.
“A blind man can come into this barn and tell who the good hitters are just by the sound,” says Atkinson. “It’s a different sound.”
Leading a Taylor-based team in a collegiate wood bat league, Atkinson counted future big league center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as one of his players.
Atkinson encouraged the Fort Wayne Bishop Luers graduate to cash in on his speed.
“I know Coach, bunt the ball,” says Atkinson of Kiermaier’s echoing what the coach often told him. “They don’t teach the bunt anymore.”
The coach also lent his know-how with the independent professional Dubois County Dragons in Huntingburg, Ind., and the Anderson (Ind.) Lawmen. The latter team was managed by Texas Rangers bird dog scout Jay Welker and featured Brian Cruz who also played for Atkinson at Mississinewa.
With Scott Haley as Argylls head coach, MG won two games in 2017, three in 2018 and seven in 2019. The latter team won its first game in the IHSAA Class 2A Eastern (Greentown) Sectional.
Haley was stressing fundamentals.
“We had lost nine or 10 seniors when I took over,” says Haley. “We were returning little or no varsity experience. The feeder system was not very strong. We were really betting back to the basics of the game like playing catch the correct way.
“It was a rough first year.”
There was anticipation for the following season. But a pandemic took that away and players didn’t get on the field.
“We were ready for a breakthrough season,” says Haley. “My heart broke for them.”
Haley is now getting Madison-Grant ready for what its hopes will be a fun and successful 2021 campaign, which is slated to open April 5 against Wes-Del. The 2021 roster is expected to have plenty of seniors. Pitcher Nick Evans is expected back as a four-year starter and has gotten plenty of attention from college baseball.
When “Senior Night” comes along, Haley plans to also honor the five players from the Class of 2020.
The Argylls are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Blackford, Eastbrook, Eastern (Greentown), Elwood, Taylor and Tipton. Madison-Grant has won six sectional crowns — the last in 2012.
During the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period, Madison-Grant concentrated on fundamentals.
“We got outside quite a bit and took advantage of the new pitching machine we bought through our fundraiser,” says Haley. “There were a lot of drills and live action.
“We allow junior high kids to come out also. It gets them excited about the game.”
Winter Limited Contact open gyms began this past week and Haley had 15 players Jan. 5 and 11 Jan. 7.
Madison-Grant plays its home games on-campus. Several upgrades have been made or are planned for the field, including installation of new bullpens, re-sodding, refurbishing of dugouts, new wind screens, edging in the infield and outfield and an overhaul of the mound.
“We’ve tried to do something every year to make it better,” says Haley, who hopes to get to show off the place when his team hosts the Grant Four tournament May 1 (with Eastbrook, Mississinewa and Oak Hill) and Argyll Classic (with Eastern of Greentown, Southern Wells and Tri-Central) May 15.
Besides Haley, the Argylls coaching staff includes Mike Evans, Gary Harbert, Norm Dailey (junior varsity) and Brock Massey (junior high). Haley says he anticipates having around 25 players for varsity and JV teams in the spring.
The well-received junior high program for seventh and eighth graders was established two years ago with about 15 players. Baseball will also be a part of the new Madison-Grant Youth Sports League.
“We’re giving them guidelines that we want them to follow so they’ll be ready when they get to high school,” says Haley.
Prior to taking over the MG baseball program, Haley was JV coach for three seasons on Todd Farr’s Eastbrook staff.
“He was a players’ coach,” says Haley of Farr. “He was good on practice schedules and fundamentals. The kids really enjoyed playing for him.
“He built that Easbrook program back up.”
Haley is a 1980 Eastbrook graduate. His baseball coach was Tim Sumner.
“He basically taught me almost everything about the game,” says Haley. “He saw something in myself that I had not seen.
“I owe a lot to him.”
Sumner, a 1965 Hammond Morton High School graduate, was a player and assistant coach Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and an assistant for College World Series teams led by Ron Polk at Mississippi State University. He was also an assistant AD at MSU and was director of athletic academics and athletic compliance at the University of Memphis. He established Batters Box Baseball in Collierville, Tenn. Sumner died Dec. 19, 2019.
Haley attended Huntington College (now Huntington University) for one year, but his playing career was ended when he twice re-broke a wrist he had broken already broken in high school.
He recently retired from a 26-year stint as a Walmart manager and works part-time at Lowe’s in Marion, Ind.
Scott and Barbra Haley have been married 31 years. Their daughter Adara (30) is married to Nicholas Smith.
“As a society we need to have more humility. Mistakes are going to be happen in life. We need to be OK with that.
“We need to change our perspective on things and (recognize) if someone is hurting inside (and show empathy).
“We should just be kind to people. Nobody knows what’s going on in people’s life. With COVID-19, a lot of depression going around. I live by these everyday. My parents (Nick and Anne Lawvere) built these in me at a very young age.”
Nick Lawvere is a science teacher at Highland Middle School in Anderson, Ind. Anne Lawvere is Director of Special Education for Eastbrook Community Schools. Older sister Nicole Lawvere (23) was a standout at Eastbrook and a utility infielder at Indiana University, where she is now attending law school.
A three-time Academic Honor Roll and one-time Commissioner’s List of Academic Excellence (2018-19) selection by the Summit League, Andrew Lawvere (21) is on track to graduate in the spring with a major in Accounting and minor in and Management and Marketing.
He plans to play summer collegiate ball for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2021 and come back for a bonus season in 2022 while either pursuing another degree or applying for graduate school. After that comes law school. Grandmother Judith Golitko and uncle Matthew Golitko are personal injury lawyers with Golitko & Daly P.C. and Andrew did an internship with the firm in 2018.
“I like helping other people,” says Lawvere. “It goes back to my four pillars.”
Lawvere has appearance in 77 games in three seasons for the PFW Mastodons, including 11 (seven as a starter — six at first base and one as designated hitter) during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign.
The righty swinger hit .300 (9-of-30) with one home run, one double, eight runs batted in and four runs scored. He collected three hits with a homer and drove in three runs Feb. 29 at New Mexico State.
As a right-handed relief pitcher, he made four appearances and went 0-1 while striking out five while walking two in 4 1/3 innings. He fanned three in a 1 2/3-inning stint Feb. 23 at Miami (Ohio).
For his career, Lawvere is hitting .242 (48-of-198) with six homers (including a 2019 grand slam against Alabama State), nine doubles, 29 RBIs and 21 runs.
After the 2020 season was called off and Lawvere find himself back at home, he decided to take his strength and conditioning up a few notches. He began training with former Purdue and Ball State pitcher Eric Van Matre at Muncie (Ind.) Crossfit at The Arsenal. He was introduced to Olympic-style weightlifting and lost 20 pounds.
“I really took advantage of quarantine,” says Lawvere. “I’m in the best shape of myself. I educated myself nutritionally.”
Injuries had moved Lawvere away from catching, but he can see himself going back behind the plate again.
“I had a talk with Coach (Doug) Schreiber,” says Lawvere. “This year I think I’ll get to strap up the shin guards.
“I’m pretty confident I’m going to get back to my roots. I’ll do whatever benefits the team.”
Schreiber took over the Mastodons program in July 2019 and had an impact on Lawvere.
“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s been around the game for a long time
I’ve really picked his brain lot. He’s an Old School, which I love. He’s a hard-working guy. We understand each other. We are very similar in a lot of ways.
“On a personal level, he makes random phone calls just to check up on me. We just talk about life. He gets it.”
PFW team meetings are filled with discussions tying life situations — like obstacles and adversity — to baseball.
While the Mastodons were on the way to Western Illinois in mid-March when they had to turn around and head back to Fort Wayne after just 15 games, Lawvere said the team was just getting started in 2020.
“We saw a lot of improvement,” says Lawvere. “Schreiber is going to get the culture of the team right.
“As a senior, I’m trying to put my best effort into the culture. I think we’ll have a lot of success (in 2021).”
When Lawvere came to to the Mastodons, Bobby Pierce was head coach.
“One thing that really sticks out about Coach Pierce is that he understood that people are going to have different ways of thinking,” says Lawvere. “There’s no one right thing about a swing or mechanics.
“He tried to better us as individuals and focused on our strengths.”
Pierce was also receptive when players would reach out.
“I’m always trying to reach my optimal level,” says Lawvere. “I try to get as much information as possible and do what I believe is correct.”
He has been able share baseball knowledge and trade jokes with Mastodons hitting/catchers/outfielders coach Ken Jones.
“I love taking knowledge from (Coach Jones) and using it at different times,” says Lawvere. “We have that open relationship where we can talk.”
IPW has faced challenges since returning to campus this fall. After one practice, the team had to go into a 14-day coronavirus quarantine and returned to the field Sept. 21. All players are on the field but are in pods wearing masks and paying attention to social distancing.
“We’re playing it day-by-day with everything going on,” says Lawvere. “We can’t have another two-week shutdown. We’ve got to set a tone for the Horizon League.”
IPW has moved from the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois) to the Horizon League (with Illinois-Chicago, Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, Wright State and Youngstown State).
“We’ve talked about intangibles and things we can control,” says Lawvere. “If you want this bad you have to do work on your own (more than 20 hours a week of official team activity).”
In a normal setting, the team would do individual work and then team practice in the fall followed by winter workouts, more individual work and holiday break leading up to the spring season.
Lawvere was born in Muncie and grew up in Upland. With many relatives on his father’s side living close, they refer to the area as “Lawvereville.”
After playing coach pitch baseball in Upland, Andrew played travel ball for the Gas City-based Indiana Rebels coached by Tim Young (his son Nolan Young plays at Illinois State), Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits coached by Dwayne Hutchinson (son Dalton Hutchinson played at Taylor University), the Indiana Prospects coached by Drew Kidd and supervised by Todd Nierman and Indiana Bulls coached by Troy Drosche.
Lawvere played four seasons at Eastbrook for former head coach Todd Farr.
“He was very caring,” says Lawvere of Farr. “He wanted me to get recruited. There were times early in my high school career where I was struggling. He believe in me.
“He saw that I worked hard and wanted to get better.”