Tag Archives: Elkhart Central

Wherever he goes, Smith takes a big piece of Elkhart with him

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

Ron Smith’s career has taken him away from his hometown.
A 1974 graduate of Elkhart (Ind.) Memorial High School, he played baseball and basketball at Furman (S.C.) University, coached basketball at Miami University-Middletown (Ohio) and Middletown High School and was head baseball coach for 23 years at Furman, resigning after the 2016 season and still resides in the Palmetto State.
“I love South Carolina,” says Smith, who is in both the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame. “But Elkhart will always be my home.”
It was as a first grader that Smith began playing baseball at the City With A Heart’s Hawthorne Little League. He lived about two blocks away from Pierre Moran Park, wandered up one day and was on a team the next.
After that came Studebaker Park and Babe Ruth League at Elkhart FOP Park.
“We had good coaches throughout,” says Smith. “It was a great experience.
“I was so fortunate to grow up in Elkhart.”
It was also in elementary school that Smith learned from a coach that at his size he had better develop both hands as a basketball player.
“I really took that to heart,” says Smith, who shined on the court for head coaches Keith Dougherty (Elkhart), Jim Powers (Elkhart Memorial) and Joe Williams (Furman).”
The year before starting at Furman, Williams guided Jacksonville and Artis Gilmore to the NCAA championship game against UCLA.
On the prep diamond, Smith played three years for Dick Siler — one at Elkhart and two at Memorial.
“I took a little bit from all of those people,” says Smith. “Their influence was certainly impactful for me.”
Smith was the starting shortstop in his sophomore season of 1972. Steered Siler, Elkhart won the Elkhart Sectional and South Bend Regional and bowed 3-0 to eventual semistate champion Hammond Morton in the semifinals of the South Bend Semistate.
The following year Elkhart split into two schools.
“I think we would have been a state championship team the next year,” says Smith. “But instead we split. Central and Memorial had two pretty good teams. But they did not have the pitching depth to be really good.”
Smith says he would have loved playing as a teammate of Tom Calhoun instead of trying to fight through a Tom Eastman pick while guarding Calhoun in crosstown Memorial-Central rivalry basketball games.
Beginning with the fall of 2020, athletic teams in Elkhart began playing as one and were called the Lions. The town again has one high school.
“I was very happy to see a united Elkhart,” says Smith, who attended a few Lions football game with great nephew Quinn Rost (Class of 2025) as sophomore quarterback. “It’s really neat.”
Smith is uncle to Jacquie Rost, who is head volleyball coach and an athletic director at Elkhart and married to head baseball coach Scott Rost.
“I’m so proud of her and Scott,” says Smith. “(Class of 2021’s Dylan and Quinn) are the kind of boys I would love to have on my team.
“They are ‘team’ guys.”
Teachers — like Coe Strain — were also helpful to Smith along his journey.
An ardent follower of sports, Mrs. Strain got choir singer Smith involved in drama.
“I was probably the only athlete involved in the first musical,” says Smith. “But my senior year there were five or six.
“I developed an appreciation. The teamwork that is required for a drama production or a musical is very similar to that in the athletic endeavor.
“Everybody has to execute. Everybody has a part to play.”
Smith, a three-year letterwinner in tennis, basketball and baseball, earned the Tim Bringle Memorial Award as Elkhart’s top senior male athlete in 1974.
He was at Furman when he was selected in the ninth round of the 1977 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent parts of five seasons in the Phillies system, including five a Triple-A. The first few years he was still playing basketball at Furman during the winter.
After leaving college in his senior year, Smith went to spring training in Clearwater, Fla., with hopes of making the Double-A team in Reading, Pa.
“I had a good spring and felt good about things,” says Smith, who was one of 175 minor leaguers competing for 125 roster slots on five teams. “They called me in and said you really did but we like this Ryne Sandberg. I said, ‘Sandberg can’t make the play in the hole’ — which is true — but they moved him to second base and he had a Hall of Fame career.”
Smith also spent time playing behind future long-time major leaguer Julio Franco while also sitting near the manager when he was not in the game.
“I listened and learned,” says Smith.
When he was released as a player, Smith accepted an offer to manage the Phillies team in Helena, Mont., in 1982.
“I think I was the youngest manager in all of professional baseball,” says Smith.
When a new ownership/front office regime came to Philadelphia, Smith was among those to be let go.
“That was fine,” says Smith. “I was really into coaching basketball.
“I was ready to get out (of baseball).”
Then came the opportunity to possibly coach baseball at Furman.
Smith was enjoying his time at Middletown High when he was having a conversation with a mentor about his situation.
“He said — first of all what does your wife want to do?,” says Smith. “Then think about this: How many (NCAA) Division I baseball programs are there in the country? How many high school basketball jobs are there?”
In 23 seasons, he won 580 games with a Southern Conference championship in 2005.
This at a school with high tuition and far less than the limit of 11.7 scholarships.
“Furman is an expensive school,” says Smith. “It was hard to compete.
“But I feel like we got as much out of our players as anyone. As a coach, you want to see them improve individually. As a team, you want them to have that synergy — that something that allows them to achieve beyond the individual components that they have because of their working together.
“That is the most rewarding thing as a coach.”
Upon taking over the program, Smith had four goals: graduate on time, grow up (develop as a person), get better (improve on the field) and win championships.
“We faithfully stayed with that approach and as a result we had a tremendous graduation rate
anybody who stayed for four years graduated,” says Smith. “I’m so proud of the players that came out of the program — really fine young men, successful family men and good people.”
Ron’s wife — Elizabeth “Beth” Jordan Smith — died Oct. 25, 2021 at 58.
Forty five former players came from all over the country to Greenville to attend Beth Smith’s memorial service.
“It really meant a lot to me,” says Smith, 66. That validated my career in many ways.”
Since his wife’s passing, Smith has been taking some time for himself and has been able to travel and play golf with friends.
For the past three years, Smith has been a color commentator for Clemson (S.C.) University baseball home games shown on video
Smith’s approach is to comment on the game like he’s watching it on TV with a buddy
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Smith.
Not a rookie to broadcasting before the Clemson gig, Smith was a radio color commentator for Furman basketball for six years.
He’s also followed MLB.
“I’m glad they’re going to have a time clock for pitching,” says Smith. “The games have gotten too long.”
While he sees why some teams are based around power, there is more to the game than the three-run bomb.
“I really enjoy some of that small-ball stuff that maybe people don’t appreciate nowadays,” says Smith. “I don’t think there’s a better game than baseball when the ball is in-play. There’s a lot of down time.
“But when the ball is hit, it’s just a perfect game.
If you field it cleanly, the guy is out by a step at first base.
“What’s more exciting than seeing a guy hit a ball in the right-center gap and trying to stretch it into a triple? It’s great.”
In May 2020, Furman announced the elimination of its baseball program.
“It’s in a state of limbo now,” says Smith of Paladins baseball. “The field still intact and still pretty well maintained.
“I’m hoping that in the near future it will be reinstated.”

Ron Smith. (Furman University Photo)

Determination helps Sherwood enjoy college baseball success

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

Brycen Sherwood has followed moments of doubt with episodes of clout since leaving Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School.
The 2019 ECHS graduate, who was a standout for Blue Blazers head coach Steve Stutsman, struggled in his first days on the diamond at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.
“I did really bad the fall of freshman year,” says Sherwood nearly three years later. “I said, ‘I don’t think I’m good enough to play college baseball.’”
After a talk with his father — former Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University) player Chad Sherwood (who collected a school record-tying five hits in a 1996 game) — Brycen came to a decision.
“I was going to finish the year out and work really hard,” says Sherwood, 21. “If it doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t pan out.”
Sherwood was at MNU through a family connection. Uncle Craig Sherwood, a 1994 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant, played at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., with Pioneers head coach Ryan Thompson.
In the spring of 2020, Brycen got into eight games during a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened schedule.
“The last week of the season Coach T let me start in a midweek game at third base and I hit a home run,” says Sherwood of a two-run shot socked in the third inning of a March 11 contest against Olivet Nazarene. “I left (freshman year) on a high note.”
By going 7-of-15, lefty swinger Sherwood hit .467 in 2020 and his confidence grew.
With limited opportunities, he did not play that summer. But he worked on his game.
In 2021, Sherwood played in 52 games (51 starts) for MNU and hit .408 (64-of-157) with eight homers, 42 runs batted in, 53 runs scored, nine stolen bases and a 1.200 OPS (.518 on-base percentage plus .682 slugging average).
Sherwood, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder, made it a goal to get stronger.
“My swing has always been pretty good,” says Sherwood. “I really started dedicating myself to the weight room.
“Embracing the grind is probably the biggest reason I’m starting to hit balls out.”
Thompson put shortstop Sherwood in the No. 2 hole in his batting order in 2022 and he hit .333 (65-of-195) with 11 homers, 40 RBIs, 70 runs and five stolen bases in 57 games (all starts). He posted a 1.067 OPS (.457/.610).
MidAmerica Nazarene went 39-18 and wound up the season in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
“It’s such a great baseball environment,” says Sherwood. “(Harris Field) is right in a valley. The views are just beautiful. They have a grounds crew. The players are the grounds crew for our school.
“People in Lewiston love their Lewis-Clark State team. The games are televised and that is awesome. It’s a really neat opportunity to play for something bigger than yourself.”
This summer, Sherwood has been playing shortstop and third base as a second-half addition to the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. He had appeared in 11 games through July 21.
Sherwood was going to play in the same circuit with the Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs, but his contract was canceled with MidAmerica Nazarene’s march to the NAIA World Series.
There is familiarity in Battle Creek. Battle Jacks manager Caleb Lang is an assistant at Concordia University Nebraska, which also played in Lewiston. Lang reached out to Thompson about Sherwood’s availability.
The other Battle Creek shortstop is Robbie Merced. He plays for Central Methodist University, a Heart of America Athletic Conference rival for MNU.
In a league full of NCAA Division I players, the Battle Jacks have plenty of NAIA talent.
“You’re an underdog when we take the field (in the NAIA) so it brings you a little closer together,” says Sherwood.
With a COVID year added, Sherwood has two seasons of remaining eligibility. The Business Administration major says he might add another major or minor. He is interested in Computer Applications.
Born and raised in Elkhart in October of 2000, Sherwood took to shortstop at an early age.
“I had above average learning ability,” says Brycen. “My dad (Chad) and uncles (Craig and former Franklin County High School head coach Clark) knew how to play – they taught me a lot of things.”
At one point in ‘90s, all three Sherwood brothers played in the outfield at Anderson.
Brycen started organized baseball at Osolo Little League in Elkhart then was in travel ball with the Michiana Scrappers followed by a summer with Bristol American Legion Post 143.
Chad Sherwood recently retired after 25 years with the Indiana State Police. He was a master trooper detective.
Chad and wife April Sherwood (a librarian at Eastwood Elementary in Elkhart — Go Wildcats!) have two other children. Lauryn Sherwood is a nursing student at Indiana University Fort Wayne. Baseball player Brady Sherwood is heading into his sophomore year at Elkhart High School.
“I think he’s going to be the best of all of us,” says Brycen of little brother. “We will see.”

Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)
Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Dogpile including Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Elkhart’s Tully makes MLB debut at Yankee Stadium for Guardians

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

Tanner Tully’s Major League Baseball debut came Friday, April 22 at Yankee Stadium in New York.
The left-handed pitcher who played at Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Ohio State University was called up to the Cleveland Guardians as part of a move when three players were placed on the COVID 19/injured list.
Tully was with Cleveland for a series with the Chicago White Sox, pitched in New York and then returned to Triple-A Columbus the next day.
“Now we can work on getting back up there again,” says Tully, 27.
The lefty pitched the fifth and sixth innings, facing all nine hitters in the Yankees lineup, including seven right-handers.
His first two pitches to lead-off man D.J. LeMahieu — four-seam fastballs — were strikes (swing-and-miss and foul ball). The third — a slider — resulted in a groundout to shortstop.
Two of the first three deliveries to 6-foot-7, 282-pound Aaron Judge were strikes. The New York slugger worked a full-count and lined an opposite field pitch into the short right field porch for his second home run of the night.
Tully got ahead 0-1 on lefty swinger Anthony Rizzo and coaxed a flyout to center field.
The lefty went 2-2 on Giancarlo Stanton before yielding a single to left field.
Tully made seven pitches to Josh Donaldson, issuing a walk to Josh Donaldson and getting a visit from Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis.
The first toss to lefty batter Joey Gallo wound up with a groundout to first base.
In the sixth, Tully got ahead 0-1 on Gleyber Torres before a flyout to center.
The count on Isiah Kiner-Falefa was 1-1 before another flyout to center.
Tully retired Jose Trevino on seven pitches, the last resulting in a foul pop-out to first base.
The southpaw wound up throwing 25 of 38 pitches for strikes for the Terry Francona-managed Guardians.
While he may throw a few more four-seamers than the others, Tully has tried to throw his four pitches — four-seamer, change-up, slider and curve — in close to equal amounts. He sat down with coaches in recent years and came to this decision.
“I throw off-speed a lot more than I used to,” says Tully. “It’s more about location and getting outs.”
Back in Columbus, where Andy Tracy is the manager and Rigo Beltran the pitching coach, Tully expects to start again sometime this week for the Clippers.
The day of a start, Tully is looked at for a solid five or six innings.
“You do everything you can and let the bullpen come in,” says Tully. “Baseball’s evolved a lot . It’s hard to face a lineup three times through.”
Even with scouting reports and video to study opposing hitters (who can also do the same with pitchers).
Tully says the Cleveland organization wants to keep pitchers like him stretched out so they can help as starters or as receivers at the big league level.
“I don’t care if start or I’m in the bullpen,” says Tully. “As long as I get to throw.”
The day after his minor league starts, Tully lifts weights to stay strong and does sprint work.
“You want to be explosive from Point A to Point B,” says Tully. “They call it fast-twitch. Long-distance running doesn’t really help. You’re not conditioning for long distance as a pitcher.
“I’ve grown into the last two or three years. It’s max effort when you’re out there. You’re out there for 10 or 15 minutes, you take a break and go max effort again.”
Two days after a start, Tully throws 25 to 30 pitches in the bullpen.
“I’m working on stuff I want to get better at,” says Tully, who lifts again the next day and then some more running the day before the next start.”
Tully throws some everyday between starts with some long toss on Day 2 or 4, depending on how he feels.
Tanner and wife (the former Taylor Hughes) live in Columbus. She is a former Ohio State volleyball player who just wrapped her career playing in Portugal and is now an auditor for Cardinal Health.
“I’m probably one of the only people in the country that get to live at home and play baseball,” says Tully. “Not many people get to do that.”
With Taylor working all day, Tanner spends his time working out, playing with the dog or doing things around the house. Off days — like Monday — are for relaxing.
Columbus plays in the International League. The Clippers have a six-game homestand April 26-May 1 against Louisville. Columbus is to visit Indianapolis June 7-12.

Tanner Tully (Cleveland Guardians Photo)

Elkhart’s Tully gets called to the big leagues by Guardians

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

Nine years after he guided Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School to a state championship, Tanner Tully was called up to the big leagues.
The 27-year-old left-handed pitcher was promoted to the Cleveland Guardians Wednesday, April 20. He was one of three players added to Cleveland’s 40-man roster and 28-man active roster as replacements for pitchers Cal Quantrill and Anthony Castro and infielder Owen Miller, all of whom were placed on the 10-day COVID-19 injured list.
His last start with the Triple-A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers was April 15.
Tully, who was given jersey No. 56, did not pitch in Wednesday’s home doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox. Starting pitchers announced for the series finale at 1:10 p.m. Eastern today (April 21) were former Crown Point High School and Ball State University right-hander Zach Plesac for Cleveland and Dylan Cease for Chicago.
The Guardians were to begin weekend series at Yankee Stadium Friday through Sunday, April 22-24. As of Thursday morning, Cleveland had not announced its starting pitchers against New York.
As an Elkhart Central senior, Tully hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the first inning and struck out 13 batters while scattering five singles as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers topped Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state championship at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Some of his high school teammates had played with him as a youngster with the Jimmy Malcom-coached Rip City Rebels. Jimmy’s son, Cory Malcom, went on to pitch at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Tully was Hoosier Diamond magazine’s Indiana Mr. Baseball award winner in 2013.
The southpaw pitched for three seasons at Ohio State University (2014-16). He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2014). As a junior (2016), he was first team all-Big Ten, going 8-3 with a 2.34 earned run average and 76 strikeouts to 21 walks in 103 2/3 innings. For his OSU career, he was 18-10 with a 2.93 ERA in 46 games.
He competed for the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Bombers (2014) and Cape Cod League’s Orleans Firebirds (2015) in summer collegiate ball and was selected by Cleveland in the 26th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Tully has made minor league stops with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio), Lynchburg (Va.) Hillcats, Akron (Ohio) Rubber Ducks as well as Columbus.
Splitting his time between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, Tully was 6-6 with a 3.50 ERA and finished second in the club’s minor league system in innings (113). The left-hander made six starts for the 2021 Arizona Fall League’s Scottsdale Scorpions.
At the time of his call-up, he had made 118 pro appearances (94 as starter) and was 32-40 with a 3.89 ERA. He had 428 strikeouts and 113 walks in 583 1/3 innings.
Tully is married to the former Taylor Hughes, who was a setter for the Ohio State volleyball team (2015-18).

Tanner Tully (Cleveland Guardians Photo)

Clark, Nanny, Trinkle launch HitClub Player Development Services

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

Three buddies who trained together as they were rising through the ranks of Indiana baseball are now sharing their knowledge as part of a new business.
Plainfield (Ind.) High School graduates Kalib Clark (24) and Daylan Nanny (22) and Columbus (Ind.) North High School alum Cooper Trinkle (23) have formed HitClub Player Development Services.
“I want people to know how passionate we are about the game of baseball and helping out that next level of baseball player in Indiana,” says Trinkle, who played for Ben McDaniel at Columbus North, graduating in 2017 and going on to play infield at the University of Evansville, John A. Logan College, Indiana University and Saint Leo (Fla.) University.
After playing for Jeff McKeon at Plainfield and high school commencement in 2017, lefty-swinging outfielder Nanny took the diamond at Arizona Western College and Western Carolina University. He transferred to Indiana State University for a fifth year of eligibility granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An injury in the fall of 2021 caused him to have spinal fusion surgery a little over a month ago.
While Trinkle and Nanny are done as players, Clark is still pursuing a playing career at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., where former Bethel University (Mishawaka, Ind.) pitcher and coach Ryan Thompson is Pioneers head coach, former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University assistant Colton Punches and Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan Univdesity graduate and former Grace College head coach Cam Screeton are on the coaching staff, former Bethel player Chad Jenkins in the sports information director and Jake Bisland (Zionsville) and Brycen Sherwood (Elkhart Central) are on the roster.
Right-handed pitcher Clark has also played at Indiana University Kokomo and Post University in Waterbury, Ct., and studied Data Analytics and Applied Mathematics.
At present, Clark is doing research and development for HitClub while Nanny and Trinkle —  who tied for the most career hits in Plainfield High history with 100 — are conducting group lessons. Nanny is working with hitters and Trinkle with infielders. Following three months of lead-up time, the first HitClub training sessions were conducted Jan. 17.
Lessons are for ages 13U and up and generally last 60 to 90 minutes. Training sites are Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (7 to 10 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays), Hit Factory in Columbus (Thursday nights) and Powerhouse Athletics in Franklin, Ind. (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays).
“Our goal is to help prepare players for their upcoming high school seasons and show them things they are going to see in college,” says Nanny. “We want to have Indiana hitters be more prepared for the next level.
“We want to close that gap in preparedness time. Young players have to show up more prepared than we did. (College) rosters are more flooded (with talent). That’s what we want to accomplish through our training.”
Nanny and Trinkle began training together while they were in high school and envisioned someday training players in Indiana, where winter weather is a reality.
“Cooper and I both played college baseball in the southern part of the country and saw how many more at-bats and game reps southern players get,” says Nanny. “Northern hitters have to put themselves in more (game-like) scenarios.
“Indiana is a very blue-collar state. People know how to work hard. That’s what we want to add to. It’s important that standard is upheld moving forward.”
Nanny and Trinkle were at the 2022 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 14-16.
“The coaches association gave us a great opportunity to come and meet all the coaches,” says Nanny. “We’re very thankful for that opportunity.”
Nanny and Trinkle were both two-time all-stars in the College Summer League at Grand Park and both work for Prep Baseball Report Indiana. They have been invited to be a part of training in CSL in 2022, utilizing Pro X and on-field workouts.
To contact HitClub, email Hitclub2022@gmail.com or call 317-908-8606.

HitClub Player Development Services was started by Kalib Clark, Daylan Nanny and Cooper Trinkle.
Daylan Nanny (left) and Cooper Trinkle in the College Summer League at Grand Park.
Kalib Clark (Norwich Sea Unicorns Photo)

D-Bat Elkhart offers place to get better for baseball, softball players

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a place to get better at baseball and softball in Elkhart, Ind.

Opened in June 2020 and located in an eastside industrial park at 4411 Wyland Drive, the 22,000-square foot facility at D-Bat Elkhart has been attracting families, individuals and teams to train.

Owners are Shelbi and Jason Baugh and Eric Miller. Shelby and Eric are siblings. 

Kaitlyn Frost became general manager in February and is in charge of daily operations. Most days she is at the front desk.

A 2008 graduate of Lakeland High School in LaGrange, Ind., Frost played three seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne before serving as an assistant coach at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been a coach and director of softball for the Michiana Lady Scrappers travel organization.

The training space, which includes batting cages and areas for pitchers and full teams, has been named Francis and Nancy Taylor Fieldhouse to honor Shelbi and Eric’s grandparents.

The Baughs experienced D-Bat locations when they lived in California.

D-Bat baseball and softball academies began in Dallas in 1998 and now has around 120 franchises in the U.S. and China with about 20 more in the works. D-Bat Elkhart franchise is the company’s old one in Indiana so far.

Frost says owners have been discussing the possibility to installing a playing field — or at least a training area — next to the D-Bat Elkhart building, which also includes a room for birthday parties and other celebrations.

D-Bat Elkhart purchased the naming rights to the new turfed baseball and softball fields at Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind.

Current D-Bat Elkhart instructors are Donnie Weatherholt, Jesse Zepeda, Judah Zickafoose for baseball and Heather Erlacher for softball. 

Weatherholt was an all-state player at Concord High School in Elkhart and has coached extensively at the Little League, Babe Ruth and travel levels.

Zepeda was a standout at Elkhart Central High School (he was a junior starter on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state champions) and Bethel College (now Bethel University). He is on the Bethel coaching staff and is the founder of the Indiana Black Caps travel organization.

Zickafoose played at Westview High, Arizona Western College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University. 

Erlacher played at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and Franklin (Ind). College. She has served as pitching coach at Elkhart Central and with the Elkhart Blaze travel team.

Frost says she is looking for more instructors.

“The biggest perk for our instructors is that we make the schedules and deal with the clients,” says Frost. “They don’t have to chase the money.”

Sam Troyer, who played baseball at Northridge and at the University of Evansville, has been working part-time and training at D-Bat Elkhart before resuming his professional career with the independent Pioneer League’s Missoula (Mont.) PaddleHeads. That team also features South Bend Clay graduate and former San Francisco Giants minor leaguer Aaron Bond.

Current hours for D-Bat Elkhart is noon to 9 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Frost says the facility may open at 10 a.m. weekdays when school lets out for the summer.

“What sets us apart is that we don’t require memberships (though there are nearly 300 current members),” says Frost. “We have non-member pricing. 

“Memberships are good if you can come often.”

Memberships are month to month and can be suspended and resumed.

A $38-per-month Gold package includes 15 daily batting cage tokens (about 225 pitches) with discounts on camps, clinics and the pro shop for one person.

A $58-per-month Platinum membership includes unlimited daily swings and covers the whole family. There are bigger discounts for camps and clinics etc.

Non-members may purchase 15 tokens for $25.

Free 30-minute cage rental is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

As a company policy, D-Bat does not sponsors teams in youth or adult leagues or for travel ball. 

“We’re open to all travel, high school, college and Little League (teams and players),” says Frost. Fast pitch and slow pitch softball players also train at D-Bat Elkhart.

Frost has been spreading the word about D-Bat Elkhart on social media and has reached out to nearby Riverview Park, where softball and youth baseball teams hold events.

To reach D-Bat Elkhart, call 574-500-DBAT (3228) or email info@dbatelkhart.com.

Elkhart Lions — a combination of Central and Memorial — about to take the diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bringing the “City with A Heart” together, Elkhart (Ind.) High School has melded two high school baseball programs into one.

The Elkhart Lions are scheduled to open their inaugural season since consolidating athletic departments on Wednesday, March 31 against Concord at Elkhart West (formerly known as Elkhart Memorial’s Charger Field), where all baseball contests and practices are slated to take place this spring.

“We’re a one-school community now,” says Elkhart head baseball coach Scott Rost. “Everyone’s Elkhart.

“People have really bought into that.”

Elkhart (enrollment around 3,450) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend Saint Joseph and South Bend Washington). 

In 2021, Washington will not field a team. Clay will play a junior varsity schedule.

The Lions are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Concord, Goshen, Northridge (the 2021 host), Penn and Warsaw. Elkhart Central won 12 sectional titles plus the 4A state crown in 2013. Elkhart Memorial was a six-time sectional champion.

Besides conference and sectional opponents, Elkhart is slated to meet Andrean, Angola, Chesterton, Edwardsburg (Mich.), Fairfield, Michigan City, Munster, NorthWood, Valparaiso and Westview.

With 36 players in the program, the Lions are planning to take on complete varsity and junior varsity schedules with some C-team games.

One set of Elkhart uniforms will feature blue pinstripes topped with a blue cap adorned by a gold “E.”

Former Memorial head coach Rost guides a staff featuring Brian Blondell, Bruce Baer, Jay Bashore, Steve Asbury, Matt Kloss and Cody Quier.

After the staff was assembled, a few players not in fall sports were able to get together after Labor Day.

When the fall season concluded and weight training and open gyms began Lions baseball really began to take shape.

“It went really smooth,” says Rost. “The seniors have done a really good job. They seem to all get along and work well together. They’ve set the tone for the younger guys in the process.”

Elkhart sports 10 seniors.

“We have some talented young men,” says Rost. “We’re really upbeat and high on that group.

“We have guys with varsity experience. But they have not played high school baseball for two years (because of the COVID-19 pandemic taking out the 2020 season) and our sophomores have not played high school baseball.”

Dylan Rost (Wisconsin-Whitewater). Collin Baer (Anderson University) and Bryce Blondell (Purdue Northwest) — all coach’s son — have committed to play college baseball. Vinny Ambrose and Graham Elli are both planning to play football at the University of Indianapolis.

Rost says Dominic Russo and Cameron Wiltfong are among those that could go on to collegiate diamonds if they make that choice.

While some have had to get used to the way Rost does things, the coach notes that the athletes have not gotten caught up in the Central vs. Memorial or East vs. West mentality.

Academically, students in Grades 9-12 attend Elkhart East or Elkhart West in 2020-21. For athletics and extracurricular activites, there is one entity: The Lions. In 2021-22, freshmen will be housed at East campus with Grades 10-12 at the West campus.

Bryce Blondell

Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.

Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.

As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.

“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”

Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.

Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.

At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.

Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.

In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.

Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.

Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.

MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.

Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.

The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Namisnak reflects on Elkhart Central championship of ’13, today’s game

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was one special season and Mike Namisnak was a part of it.

Elkhart Central went 32-1 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state baseball championship in 2013.

“Not many people in this area can say they had the chance to go to the State Finals much less win State,” says Namisnak, who is now 26. 

The Blue Blazers reigned at the Elkhart Sectional, LaPorte Regional and South Bend Semistate before topping Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the right to dogpile at at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Namisnak was a designated hitter in the title game and one of nine seniors in the ECHS lineup.

Tanner Tully led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run — one of three Blazer hits off Ashe Russell — then pitched a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.

There was also left fielder Kaleb DeFreese, shortstop Cory Malcom, first baseman Riley Futterknecht, center fielder Matt Eppers, second baseman Casey Ianigro, third baseman Austin McArt and catcher Kyle Smith. Devin Prater and Nick Ponce were also seniors on that team.

Junior right fielder Jesse Zepeda was the lone non-senior in the starting combo (he went on to play at Bethel College and start the Indiana Black Caps travel organization). Junior Mike Wain was a pinch runner.

Look at the game program and you’ll see Central wearing baby blue uniforms. During the tournament run, they broke out “camouflage” tops and that’s what they wore in taking the title.

Tully pitched at Ohio State University and is now in the Cleveland Indians system.

DeFreese went on to play at Indiana Wesleyan University and become an athletic trainer.

Malcom pitched at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and became a regional sales manager.

Futterknecht pitched at DePauw University and became a regional sales manager.

Eppers, who was the 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2013, played at Ball State University and became a national sales and product manager.

Ianigro became an office with the Elkhart Police Department.

McArt went on to become a regional sales manager at Forest River. Malcom, Futterknecht, Eppers and McArt all landed at Forest River Inc.

Smith became a television news editor.

Namisnak played one year at Concordia University Ann Arbor, two at Goshen College and then ended his baseball career because of elbow surgeries (the third baseman hurt his arm while diving for a ball in the summer).

He earned his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Southern Indiana and recently became a purchasing agent at Heartland RV.

Namisnak grew up in Elkhart and played at Osolo Little League and in the Elkhart Babe Ruth system as well as travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers. Prater was a Babe Ruth and Scrappers teammate.

These days, Namisnak teaches baseball lessons in his spare time and plays slow pitch softball.

“I break it down with basic fundamental stuff,” says Namisnak of his lessons approach. “It got me into college. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Mike gives credit to older brother Andy (Elkhart Central Class of 2007) for first teaching him the game.

“From the time I could walk we were playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard,” says Namisnak. “I’d got to his games and we’d work on stuff together. He taught me how to understand the game.”

Andy Namisnak went on to play club baseball at Indiana University.

Steve Stutsman was the Elkhart Central coach that guided the champion Blazers in 2013.

“Coach Stuts was a laid-back coach to me,” says Namisnak. “He had his moments where he’d get fired up and get on us. 

“He knew he had a talented team. He gave us the right direction.”

Namisnak came along at a time where he played varsity baseball on the old and new fields at Elkhart Central. 

He liked having a clubhouse in the back of the dugout at the new field. But he appreciated the older diamond along Goshen Avenue.

“It’s an old classic field, which I enjoyed,” says Namisnak.

He recalls that when the Elkhart River overflowed its banks and water was lapping against the back of the dugout, the field was still playable.

Namisnak still follows Major League Baseball and is a long-time Chicago Cubs fan.

“It’s nice seeing they have a decent team this year,” says Namisnak. “This shorter season was something of a needed thing (during the COVID-19 pandemic).”

Namisnak has come to embrace the designated hitter in both leagues.

“It’s always fun to see a pitched hit a home run,” says Namisnak. “But the universal DH rule should be kept after this COVID stuff. 

“It just makes more sense to me.”

Count Namisnak a fan of expanded playoffs with a compacted schedule.

“More postseason baseball — I’m not going to complain about that,” says Namisnak. “There are no fans at the games so I don’t mind the no days off. Otherwise, you want that home field advantage.

“It plays like high school or Little League ball, not with 50,000 people screaming.”

CGI fans in the stands on TV is too much for Namisnak. But he’s on-board with the cardboard cut-outs. Some teams have taken to giving the fan the the ball if it strikes the cut-out.

Then there’s the extra-inning rule where a runner is placed at second base to start an inning.

“That reminds me of slow pitch softball,” says Namisnak. “It’s not a huge fan of that rule for MLB games.

“It’s just a weird season to sit down and watch baseball.”

It’s a different baseball world from 2013. Was that really only seven years ago?

Mike Namisnak plays slow pitch softball these days. He was a senior on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state baseball champions at Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School.

DeDario takes over South Bend Riley Wildcats program

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Vince DeDario wanted to be a high school baseball coach when he began his teaching career 15 years ago.

It turned out that he launched into a career as a high school football assistant and spent 15 seasons on various staffs in South Bend, Ind. — Washington, Adams and Clay.

The 2020 will be his first as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley, where he is also a physical education and health teacher.

DeDario inherits a program that graduated several seniors in 2019.

“It’s a pretty fresh start,” says DeDario. “We’ve got two returning seniors and two juniors. The rest are freshmen and sophomores.

“We’re building from the bottom up. It’s all about fundamentals, playing the game the right way and having fun while we do it. I’m recruiting the heck out of the hallways. I’m probably going to end up with maybe six seniors now because of that.”

Demario led the Wildcats through IHSAA Limited Contract practice in the fall and winter workouts are now in progress. The turnout has been high.

“I’m expecting 40 kids for tryouts,” says Demario. “I want to keep 30.

“The kids are excited. I’m excited.”

Weather permitting, Riley will play a full schedule, which features nine road games to open the season.

During spring break, the Wildcats will have an overnight trip with a contest against Lindblom Math & Science Academy on April 7 on the turf of Curtis Granderson Stadium at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

On April 8, Riley plays Bowman Academy in Hammond.

Wildcats assistant Larry Vaznonis was a baseball and basketball standout at Hammond Gavit High School and Purdue University Calumet and is a member of the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame. He reached out to Purdue Northwest and arranged for Riley to practice and play on the turf at Dowling Park.

The following weekend, Riley will play Kokomo in a doubleheader at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

Riley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Marian, Mishawaka, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington).

NIC teams play one another once and games are scheduled on Mondays, Wednesdays and sometimes Fridays. The Wildcats’ first conference game is slated for April 13 on the new turf at Penn’s Jordan Automotive Group Field.

Riley is part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth and South Bend Adams. The Wildcats have won two sectional titles — 1975 and 1991.

While retired teacher Vaznonis comes in as varsity first base coach, Mishawaka Police Department detective Mike Armey returns from the 2019 Riley season and will be varsity pitch coach.

Former Benedictine University and Eastern Illinois University pitcher and Notre Dame video crew worker Kyle Arnett is the head JV coach.

Mishawaka Police officer Jacob Craft is a JV assistant.

Former Riley all-conference softball player and current Harrison Elementary teacher Courtney (Armey) Mitchell is the Wildcats’ academic advisor.

DeDario and Arnett are developing a plan for pitchers with arm care in mind.

“We want to limit the number of throws put on each kids’ arm even at practice,” says DeDario. “When a kid pitches on a Monday, I don’t necessarily want him starting at shortstop on Wednesday after going through an entire infield practice on Tuesday.

“We want to be very diligent on how we’re using each kid. You have to be smart about it.”

Riley plans to return to using the diamond at Jackson Middle School for JV games and practices. The varsity will continue to call Bob Rush Field home.

DeDario is a 1999 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka. He played baseball freshmen and sophomore year. His freshmen year was the last as head coach for Lou Lanzalotto.

Football was the sport DeDario played throughout high school with Reggie Glon as head coach.

DeDario played some club baseball at Loyola University in Chicago. He earned an associate degree at Holy Cross College and received a bachelor’s degree in education from Indiana University South Bend.

He was on the football staffs of Frank Amato and, most recently, Jay Johnson at Washington, Joe Szajko at Clay and Amato at Adams.

For many years, DeDario has taken to the air waves as a sports broadcaster. He currently helps with color commentary and occasional talk show duty at WSBT AM 960. He is also a Notre Dame football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated.

Vince and Kristen DeDario were married in 2004 and have five children — seventh grader Dylan (12), fourth grade twins Ella (10) and Lily (10), second grader Chloe (7) and pre-schooler Liam (4).

DeDario spent the past six years coaching middle school baseball at South Bend’s Jefferson Traditional School.

The Bulldogs had gone winless when he took over the program and got to the point where they competed for the championship in 2017 and 2018 and won it in 2019

Jefferson played against South Bend schools and against Inter-City Catholic League and Catholic Youth Organization members. Besides public schools, the varsity played against ICCL squads and the junior varsity against CYO competition.

Many games were played at Riley.

“We built the program up so much that I had to have cuts the past two years,” says DeDario. “We had 40 kids coming out for the team.”

Some of those players will be part of DeDario’s Riley program.

VINCEDEDARIO

Vince DeDario is the new head baseball coach for 2020 at South Bend (Ind.) Riley High School, where he also teaches physical education and health. (Steve Krah Photo)