Tag Archives: Evansville Otters

Learning mentality drives baseball coaching vet Bell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a running debate in baseball coaching about the Old School vs. the New School.

The Old School represents the long-used methods.

The New School includes emerging technology and its application to the game.

“We’re always learning,” says Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, who has decades of experience as a professional hitting instructor — most recently working in affiliated baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers organization 2018 and 2019. “Technology is very important. That’s where we are today.

“We are not Old School or New School, We’re In School. If we don’t continue to be In School, we’re going to hurt these kids. Period.”

As Bell teaches lessons and clinics across the country as well as in Noblesville, Ind., at Jason Taulman’s Indy Sharks training facility and will soon in Lafayette at Jeff Isom’s new On Deck Training building, he looks to share he’s learned and shares it with his pupils.

“There’s all this information,” says Bell. “I’m not saying its detrimental. It’s confusing. (Technology) can be a great thing.”

Bell, 56, is adaptinhg to the new tools so he can understand and get players to understand.

“I’ve learned it my way instead of some guy telling me how I must learn it,” says Bell, who has worked with Blast Motion sensors and looks forward to using Rapsodo motion detection.

“Humans see in 2D,” says Bell. “Technology sees in 4D. It’s another set of eyes. It can be a great thing.

“You will see great strides in that kid’s progression if it’s utilized the right way.

“You can’t quantify the movement from the left to the right hemisphere You have to combine (technology) with what he’s thinking, how he’s thinking and why he’s thinking. I understand the importance of it all coming together. I really do.”

Knowing that each player is different, Bell does not expect everyone to have the same movement patterns and to reach them you’ve got to get to know them.

“The individual needs to be an individual,” says Bell. “We want them to be short and direct to the ball. We don’t worry about things we don’t control. We control the (strike) zone and get a good pitch to hit. It sounds like a cliche, but you’re only as good as the pitch you hit.

“We try to keep it as simple as possible. Pitching is too good. They throw so hard.”

Bell wants to relate to his hitters on a personal basis.

“I want to establish a relationship with that player,” says Bell. “That’s the key. This guy’s there for him whenever he needs them.”

Bell is a 1981 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School. His head baseball coach was Mark Strader, who had been a Bronchos standout for and assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul “Spider” Fields.

“(Strader) was one of the best baseball players to come out of Tippecanoe County,” says Bell.

Concepts he associates with Strader are intensity, tenacity, competitiveness, work ethic and doing the little things right.

In the summers, Bell played for Lafayette American Legion Post 11. Manager Eric Harmon became his mentor at a young age.

“He did a lot of things for me,” says Bell, who credits Harmon for getting his a place on Team USA in the 1982 World’s Fair Games in Knoxville, Tenn., and a place in college baseball. “He is a phenomenal man.”

Bell played two seasons at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., where his head coach was Rich Alday and Jim Fleming directed Aztecs hitters.

“(Fleming) was one of the best hitting teachers in the country,” says Bell, who would meet up with him again years later.

From Pima, Bell played two seasons at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) for head coach Byron Wiehe. Jamie Hamilton was an assistant coach for the Mavericks.

Bell signed as a minor league free agent with the California Angels and played three seasons in the Halos’ system 1986-88, primarily as a righty-swinging catcher with Palm Springs or Quad Cities.

Sometime after his playing career ended, Bell moved back to Lafayette. Isom asked him if he wanted to get back into baseball.

“Absolutely not” was Bell’s reply. But Isom asked again later and got Bell to be his hitting coach with the Joliet Jackhammers in the independent Northern League.

Bell went to be hitting coach in the Northern League with the Andy McCauley-managed Schaumburg Flyers in the independent Frontier League with the Jason Verdugo-managed Evansville Otters.

Then comes a call from John Mallee, then hitting coordinator for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins that leads to another call from then vice president of the Marlins Jim Fleming — the same man who was Bell’s hitting coach back in college.

“I actually hung up,” says Bell. “I didn’t think it was Coach Flem.”

Mallee called Bell back and set him straight and Bell was hired by the Marlins and was hitting coach for Greensboro Grasshoppers (2009), Jupiter Hammerheads (2010) and Gulf Coast League Marlins (2011-14).

He was out of organized baseball for a few years and still offering instruction including at Kiwanis International baseball camps for troubled teens in Alaska at the invitation of David Hall.

By this time Mallee was with the Phillies. He called to say that the Brewers were in dire need of a hitting coach. There was one week left in spring training.

But Bell took the gig and spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, N.C. Coincidently, the Mudcats vice president/general manager is Lafayette native Joe Kremer. Bell and Kremer had never met until Bell arrived with the club.

The past five years, Bell has been traveling up from Florida to share his knowledge with Taulman and the Indy Sharks.

“I love everything he does for all those kids,” says Bell. “They’ve progressed extremely.”

Bell has been spending more time in Indiana to be closer to daughter Bobbi, a junior at Purdue University. Bell also has four sons — Brandon and Keaton in Colorado, Zion in California and Kai in North Dakota.

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Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, was a hitting coach in the Florida/Miami Marlins system for six years.

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Bobby Bell, a 1981 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, has been instructing baseball hitters for decades. In 2018 and 2019, he was a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He works regularly with the Indy Sharks travel organization.

 

Brownlee jumping into challenge of new role with ABCA

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Brownlee has always enjoyed a challenge.

As a baseball player, he appreciated being pushed.

The new assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association played for hard-nosed coaches. There was Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, Ind., then his father and brother, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee, at the University of Evansville.

“They were not the easiest people in the world to play for,” says Ryan Brownlee, 45. “But they would keep you accountable.

“I’m in a way better position because of the way I was handled in youth sports.”

Memorial lost in the first round of the 1992 IHSAA State Finals to finish 29-1 and sent many players on to college baseball. That was Ryan Brownlee’s junior year.

“I owe (Merkel) a lot,” says Brownlee. “Over the summer, I read a book on the mental aspects of baseball and that changed my playing career.

“I looked at myself in the mirror. Coach Merkel didn’t need to change. I was the one who needed to change.”

In 1993, Memorial went 36-2 and reigned as state champions (Tim Brownlee was part of a state championship team as a Memorial senior in 1989) with team leaders John Ambrose and John Sartore trading duties on the mound and at third base.

“Quentin was very organized (using the same signs at each level from freshmen to varsity),” says Brownlee. “He doesn’t get the credit, but he was very forward-thinking.

“We were doing breathing techniques back then. He saw it as a way to change mentally.”

In 2017, Brownlee wrote a blog post entitled, “Just Breath.”

Playing for Jim and Tim, Ryan was motivated to be a four-year starter for the Purple Aces and twice earned all-conference honors and was an ABCA All-Region selection.

“You just never got a break,” says Brownlee. “I needed someone to push me.

“There’s always things you needed to improve on. I didn’t need to get complacent.”

Brownlee moved to Evansville in 1979 when his dad went from a teacher and coach at Princeton (Ill.) High School and manager for five summers of the Galesburg Pioneers of the old Central Illinois Collegiate League to head coach at UE. Young Ryan got to see the Evansville Triplets, managed by Jim Leyland, and spend lots of time at one of the country’s historic ballparks.

“I fell in love with the game at Bosse Field,” says Brownlee, who played there as Memorial Tiger, Evansville Purple Ace and then for one summer (1997) as a professional with the Greg Taggert-managed Evansville Otters.

“The first half we were terrible,” says Brownlee. “Our bus broke down in Johnstown (Pa.) and we bonded as a team.”

The Otters got hot in the second half and ended up losing in the independent Frontier League finals to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles.

Brownlee’s resume includes 22 seasons as college baseball coach — seven as head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) plus assistant gigs of nine at the University of Iowa (2004-12), four at James Madison University (2000-03) and two at the University of Evansville (1998-99).

Brownlee worked on the staffs of Jack Dahm at Iowa, Spanky McFarland at James Madison and his father at Evansville.

The UE staff included Tim Brownlee (now owner/president of Diamond Sports Promotions), Jeff Leystra (a student assistant who played with Ryan Brownlee on the Otters) and Ryan Barrett (who played with Ryan from age 9 through college).

After 18 years in the Pocket City, Ryan moved nine hours to Harrisonburg, Va., to join McFarland at James Madison.

“(McFarland) was at complete opposite end of the spectrum (from Quentin Merkel, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee),” says Ryan Brownlee. “He had a low pulse and was very laid-back with a dry sense of humor. You could be yourself.

“Spanky is one of the best pitching minds in the world (he’s coached future big league pitchers Kevin Brown, Dan Meyer, Ryan Reid and Brian Schmack, the current Valparaiso University head coach, among others during his career).”

Brownlee also learned much from James Madison assistant Chuck Bartlett. He had batted No. 4 in a Mississippi State University lineup surrounded by Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro and is now a New York Yankees scout.

Being in a new area also challenged Brownlee to get out of his comfort zone. While at JMU, he earned his masters degree in athletic administration. The Dukes were good enough during Brownlee’s time there (averaging 36 wins per game) that he got his foot in the door at Iowa.

Brownlee helped Dahm stabilize a program that had fallen on hard times. He saw Dahm’s personality somewhere between his father’s and McFarland’s.

“He’s just a really good person,” says Brownlee of Dahm, who later hired Jim Brownlee as Hawkeyes pitching coach after the elder Brownlee was head coach at Illinois State University. “We had to do some heavy lifting in nine years to get that thing built up. I wouldn’t be in the position I am now if not for him.”

In 2012, Brownlee addressed the ABCA Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on the “10 Rules of Recovery.”

It was a time management planner that he continued while at Western Illinois and plans to share his values on personal development during speaking engagements with the ABCA.

“If you can manage yourself away from your working environment that carries into your working environment,” says Brownlee. “Hopefully, that makes you productive. The most successful people can handle a lot more. They can balance things. They don’t seem as rushed.

“I guarantee those people are taking some times for themselves, too. It can’t be all work and it can’t be all free time. You have to have that mix.”

While leading the Western Illinois Leathernecks program presented its challenges because of facilities and school size, Brownlee thoroughly enjoyed his time there because of the people he met.

“For me it was about the relationships with the guys,” says Brownlee, who slept in his office his first year at WIU. “That needed to be our niche. That was an enjoyable experience for me. The coaches were great and the kids were great.

“The opportunity with the ABCA was going to be great.”

Brownlee arrived in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday (Oct. 23) and his first full day at the office was Thursday (Oct. 24).

“It’s similar to coaching,” says Brownlee of his ABCA role. “You wear a lot of different hats.”

This fall, he helped host ABCA Barnstormers Regional Coaches Clinics across the country (he took 10 and Jim Richardson took 10). He also lines up the youth speakers and helps with the hot stoves at the national convention (which is Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville). He assists the ABCA’s youth and travel baseball committees and is a liaison for NCAA Division II. After the New Year, he will be part of the ABCA podcast.

“My dad was an ABCA member. I’ve been an ABCA member for 22 years. This is an opportunity. It’s a great company. It’s been around since 1945. The ABCA has always been there to help coaches. Hopefully, that helps players.”

Ryan has been married to Henderson, Ky., native Aimee for 17 years. The Brownlees have two children — Jackson (16) and Norah (14). Ryan says the plans plan is to have the rest of the family move to North Carolina at the end of the school year.

NORARYANBROWNLEERyan Brownlee (right) shares a moment with daughter Norah. Ryan Brownlee, who played high school, college and pro baseball in Evansville, Ind., and was a college coach for 22 (the last seven at Western Illinois University) has become an assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association.

 

Benningfield has Tell City Marksmen baseball on target for improvement

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Participation numbers have been on the rise and so has the enthusiasm for baseball at Tell City (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School.

The Marksmen had 20 players in the program in 2017, which was Trent Benningfield’s first season as head coach. There were 24 participants in 2018 and 32 have signed up for tryouts for 2019.

Tell City, which is located near the Ohio River in Perry County, has scheduled 22 varsity games and about 15 junior varsity contests this spring.

“I feel like things are going in the right direction,” says Benningfield, a 2011 Tell City graduate and fourth grade teacher at William Tell Elementary. “The boys are putting in a lot more work. They’re seeing what it takes to get to the next level.”

Benningfield lists his goals for the program as developing young men, getting them ready for college or the work force and another thing.

“I’m trying to win as many games as possible every single year,” says Benningfield.

The head coach lives three blocks from Frank Clemens Field, the city-owned diamond where the Marksmen play their home games. There is a hitting building at the facility and the coach has been known to get texts from his players to meet him there for extra swings.

Official practice begins March 11 and the first contest is slated for March 26. Spring break begins March 15 and Benningfield welcomes the opportunity to have some longer workouts.

Since the IHSAA requires 10 practices to participate, Benningfield expects to have his players at those practices.

“If they want to play in first two or three games, they can’t afford to go anywhere,” says Benningfield, who is getting help preparing his players from assistants and TC grads Trent Gunn and Seth Ward.

Gunn, who played for the University of Southern Indiana’s NCAA Division II national championship team in 2014, is in charge of hitting and infield play. Ward also helps with the JV. Benningfield says he is hoping to add one more coach to his staff.

Tell City (enrollment around 430) is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge and Tecumseh).

The Marksmen are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, North Posey, Perry Central and South Spencer.

“It’s one of the toughest 2A sectionals if not the toughest in Indiana,” says Benningfield. “It seems like every year whoever wins our sectional is going to the state championship.

“It’s like a dogfight to win that thing every single year.”

Southridge was 2A state runners-up in 2018. South Spencer was 2A state champions in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Mater Dei was 2A state runners-up in 2012 and 2014. North Posey was state champions in 2005 and 2006.

Tell City’s most-recent sectional crown came in 1997 – the last season of single-class sports.

Benningfield played at Oakland City (Ind.) University for Mighty Oaks head coach T-Ray Fletcher and counted two future high school head coaches as teammates — Eric Barnes (Boonville), Isaac Bowles (Crawford County) and Cody Johnson (North Harrison).

His first two seasons at OCU, Benningfield was a relief pitcher. That meant he got to spend time in the dugout with Fletcher has he made strategic moves.

“That’s what helped me the most,” says Benningfield. “I learned what other teams were thinking.”

Benningfield played four summers for Rockport American Legion Post 254 and manager Jim Haaff, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“He ran a very disciplined team,” says Benningfield of Haaff. “He treated every single person the same. Everybody was supposed to do their job. We came together as a team because of that. I’m hoping to do that with my (Tell City) team as well.”

Recent TC graduate Preston Hendershot is on the baseball team at Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky.

Shane Weedman, who was a 2011 classmate of Benningfield at Tell City and an assistant coach in 2018, played at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast and pitched a no-hitter for the independent Evansville Otters in 2017.

Rick Wilgus, who was Benningfield’s Babe Ruth League coach, runs Tell City’s Cub baseball program. It’s a club that includes sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

“It’s for any kids too old to play (Tell City) Little League and too young for high school,” says Benningfield of a squad that plays many schools in the PAC in the spring and has home games and practices at the former Babe Ruth park — Hughes Owen Field.

Trent and Josalyn Benningfield were married in June 2018. She is  Tell City graduate and fifth grade teacher at William Tell. The former Josalyn Ress was on a sectional softball championship team in 2009 and pitched for four years at Kentucky Wesleyan College.

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Josalyn and Trent Benningfield enjoy a Cincinnati Reds game. Both are teachers at William Tell Elementary in Tell City, Ind. Trent is the head baseball coach at Tell City Junior-Senior High School.

McCrary makes baseball strides at tiny Vincennes Rivet

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian McCrary does not have a deep roster or abundant resources, but the head coach is working to make his athletes better at Rivet Middle/High School in Vincennes, Ind.

McCrary enters his third season in charge of the Patriots in 2019 after years in the travel baseball world.

In each of his first two seasons at the Catholic school, McCrary has had to find enough players to field a team. With just two seniors on a team made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores, Rivet won two games in 2017.

“We took some lumps,” says McCrary. “Working on mentality alone was a challenge.

“We got run-ruled left and right.”

The win total tripled in 2018.

“We were improving with basically the same team,” says McCrary. “It is a process at Rivet. You get a leadership class of two or three kids then what do you have after that?

“If you have numbers, you have options. We don’t have numbers. We get the most out of them. We’ve made tremendous strides.”

Ten players — three are seniors, three juniors, four sophomores — are back for 2019 on a roster of 11. All but two play basketball.

The seniors are McCaine Claycomb, Colton Mouzin and Austin Thomas. Claycomb was the Vincennes Sun-Commercial Player of the Year. Mouzin is an all-area baseball and soccer player. The Patriots were impacted last year when catcher Thomas got hurt and left the lineup.

Rivet (enrollment around 80 for Grades 9-12 with less than 30 boys) is a member of the Blue Chip Athletic Conference (with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, Shoals, South Knox, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial).

Non-conference opponents include Dugger, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial, Jasper, Lawrenceville (Ill.), Linton-Stockton, Mount Carmel (Ill.), North Central (Farmersburg), Olney (Ill.) and Princeton. In the past, the Patriots have played Lincoln and Sullivan.

Rivet is part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Daviess and Shoals. The Patriots have won nine sectional titles — the last two in 2013 and 2014. The Patriots were 1A state runners-up to Lafayette Central Catholic in both 2009 and 2013.

McCrary constantly educates himself about the game by attending clinics and talking with experts.

“I’ve learned a lot,” says McCrary. “Expanding my knowledge to pass on to these kids is my job.” He was at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January. He has also learned from Mike Rodgers, who pitched for the University of Mississippi, the independent Evansville Otters and runs the The Inside Korner training facility in Olney, Ill., which is about 30 miles west of Vincennes.

McCrary met Rodgers at a travel ball clinic. McCrary and his two oldest sons — Colton (a senior at Vincennes Lincoln High School) and Cayden (a seventh grader at Clark Middle School) — have been affiliated with the Vincennes Green Monsters. Brian and Chelsea McCrary’s other two children are first-grade son Ryker and and 2-year-old daughter Oakley.

Rivet players get attention from a coaching staff that includes assistants Conner Eck, Curt Hunkler, Mike Mayles, Curt McCrary and Landon Robbins. Eck, Hunkler and Robbins all played at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. Hunker, Mayles and Robbins are Rivet graduates. Curt McCrary is Brian’s cousin.

“We have classroom work — chalkboard and video — and turn it over to drills,” says McCrary, who has figured out that his team is made up of individuals with differing outlooks and ways of learning.

“Not every kid’s the same,” says McCrary. “Kids today are nowhere near kids of old. Kids’ styles and demeanors have changed completely.

“You have to be willing to change with these kids a little bit to make it work.”

Like other coaches of spring sports, McCrary has to contend with the fact that athletes are sometimes ready for a break by the time their season roles around.

“Baseball suffers because it’s at the end of the school year,” says McCrary. He notes that spring break this year coincides with the beginning of preseason practice (March 11).

The Rivet campus is located on Barnett Street. The school plays its home baseball games on a field about three miles away near Lincoln High and St. Vincent Rectory on Hart Street. The grounds also has an indoor facility known as “The Butch” in honor of late supporter Butch Thomas.

Chad Thomas had the building built in his father’s honor and also helps attend to the maintenance of the diamond.

The team is responsible for the upkeep of the field and the funding of the program.

“We buy our baseballs, uniforms, dirt and chalk,” says McCrary. “Our kids respect what they have.”

Established in 1958, Vincennes Cub League offers baseball for kids as young as 4. The organization hosted the 10U Cal Ripken World Series in 2018. Also last year, a Babe Ruth League was added for ages 13-15.

McCrary says he would like to see more of an emphasis on fundamentals at the Cub level.

A 1996 Vincennes Lincoln graduate, McCrary played baseball for the Alices until his junior year then put all of his energy into another sport as a senior.

“I fell in love with wrestling,” says McCrary, who went on to start the Vincennes Grapplers Club.

It was on the mat in high school that he had an experience that he shares with his young athletes today.

McCrary was competing in the semistate needing to win his second aka “ticket” round match to qualify for the IHSAA State Finals. He was ahead 5-1 in the final period when his opponent rallied to beat him 6-5.

“Just because you’re supposed to be there doesn’t mean you’re going to get there,” says McCrary. “It takes work.”

With a renewed interest in baseball, McCrary attend a 1998 Cincinnati Reds tryout camp at Bosse Field in Evansville. He made the first two day of cuts then decided not to attend the third day. His wife, Chelsea, was closer to completing her degree at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne then he was at Vincennes University and they had a son on the way so Brian went into the work world. He is now employed by Vincennes Water Utilities.

“I regret everyday not going back to that third day of tryouts,” says McCrary. “But life is full of what if’s.

“I try to coach with a little bit of life lessons. Challenge yourself to win for the team today. Ask yourself, ‘did you cheat your team?’”

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Brian McCrary (center) poses with two of his sons — Xxx (left) and Xxx (right) — during a Vincennes Green Monsters travel baseball tournament.

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The 2019 baseball season will be the third for Brian McCrary at head coach at Rivet Midde/High School in Vincennes, Ind.

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Vincennes Rivet baseball coach Brian McCrary visits at the mound with Colton Mouzin, McCaine Claycomb and Austin Thomas. All three players return for their senior year with the Patriots in 2019.

Former Shelbyville, Indiana State righty Larrison soaks up knowledge in first pro baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ethan Larrison went to Arizona and became a sponge.

The right-handed pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks system recently attended fall instructional camp at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale and spent his time soaking up as much baseball knowledge as he could.

“I asked as many questions as I could and tried to get better in every aspect,” says Larrison, a 2014 Shelbyville (Ind.) High School graduate who played for four seasons at Indiana State University (2015-18) in Terre Haute and was selected in the 16th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Diamondbacks. “There were a lot of former major leaguers there. I would soak in as much as these guys could tell us and paid attention to everything that was said.

“I’m not set in any aspect of pitching at all. I decided to go in with an open mind.”

He was impressed to see big leaguer Jake Lamb there grinding away in the same place as instructional league invitees.

“He got to the facility before anybody,” says Larrison of the all-star third baseman.

Larrison was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A all-state honorable mention selection and IHSBCA All-Star as a Shelbyville senior, playing for head coach Scott Hughes.

At ISU, Larrison appeared in 84 games (78 in relief) with an 11-13 record, 10 saves, a 4.12 earned run average, 141 strikeouts and 77 walks in 178 1/3 innings. His head coach was Mitch Hannahs and Jordan Tiegs his pitching coach.

In 2018, Larrison pitched in 25 games (all in relief) and went 3-6 with nine saves, a 3.76 ERA, 50 strikeouts and 23 walks in 55 innings for the Sycamores then got into 15 more contests (all out of the bullpen) and went 6-1 with a 3.10 ERA, 16 strikeouts and 10 walks in 20 innings for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops of the rookie-level Northwest League.

Between his last college season and first professional campaign, it was as much baseball as Larrison had ever played in one year.

“That was the biggest challenge. In summer (collegiate) ball, you might get into five or six games,” says Larrison, who played for the Prospect League’s Bobby Segal-managed Terre Haute Rex in 2015, rested his arm in the summer of 2016 and hurled for the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Hyannis Harbor Hawks in 2017. “We were playing everyday of the week for numerous weeks and getting into several games (in the minors).

Making it through that experience has him looking forward to 2019.

“I’m super excited about next year,” says Larrison, 23. “One of the hardest seasons a professional baseball player can have.

“I’ll be a lot more ready for next year. This is my group now.”

The next rungs on the Diamondbacks minor league ladder are Kane County (Low Class-A), Visalia (High Class-A), Jackson (Double-A) and Reno (Triple-A).

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Larrison touched 96 mph and sat at 92 to 94 mph with his four-seam fastball near the end of the college season. Fatigue and minor injuries pulled that down to 90 to 92 with Hillsboro. His pitching repertoire also features a “circle” change-up, slider and curveball.

“I try to make it as close to 12-to-6 as possible,” says Larrison of his curve. “It’s not sweeping, but something in the middle.”

Before reporting back to Arizona for spring training in early March, Larrison will be working out and plans to begin throwing again around the middle of November. He will also be serving an internship with the Indiana State baseball program as part of his sport management/marketing major.

Larrison, who is 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, says he enjoyed his time playing for Hughes at Shelbyville.

“He would push us, but he would also gave us room to develop on our own,” says Larrison, who helped the Golden Bears win over 20 games and a Hoosier Heritage Conference title in 2014. “Our team chemistry was really good. We played together since we were younger.”

Born in Beech Grove, Ind., Larrison was raised in Waldron, Ind., before moving to nearby Shelbyville as a seventh grader. He played in the Shelby County Babe Ruth League until travel baseball took him to the Indy Expos, Indiana Prospects and Midland (Ohio) Redskins.

Ethan is the youngest child of Gary and Amy Larrison. Brandon is the oldest and Caitlyn the second-born. Gary is a saleman and Amy a bank manager. Brandon works in the automotive industry and Caitlyn is on maternity leave as a teacher.

There have been plenty mentors and role models in Ethan’s life, from his father who played catch with him in the front yard and coached some of his teams to his older brother, who was a Shelbyville basketball player.

“I wanted to be as good as him when I was younger,” says Ethan. “It’s important to have quality coaches and I’ve learned a ton from everybody I’ve been with.”

That includes Hannahs and Tiegs at ISU.

“(Hannahs) was very strong on hard work and doing things when nobody’s watching,” says Larrison.

Tiegs helped Larrison and other Sycamore hurlers with a throwing routine that includes weighted balls and helps loosen and strengthen.

“It’s something he used,” says Larrison of Tiegs, who pitched for Sauk Valley Community College and the University of Charleston and with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters.

Hillsboro Hops Media Day

Ethan Larrison, a 2014 Shelbyville (Ind.) High School graduate, pitched four seasons at Indiana State University and made his professional baseball debut in 2018 in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Ethan Larrison grew up in Indiana and made his pro baseball debut in Oregon in 2018 with the Hillsboro Hops. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Former Shelbyville (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University reliever Ethan Larrison pitches out of the stretch for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2018. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Ethan Larrison pitched in 15 games for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and was invited to the fall instructional league by the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Ethan Larrison throws a pitch for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2018. He played high school baseball in Shelbyville, Ind., and college ball at Indiana State University. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

 

Purdue grad Isom embraces independent pro baseball manager role, wins title with Joliet Slammers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Isom got to do something for the first time in nearly two decades as a professional baseball manager in 2018.

Isom got to hoist the championship trophy as the decision maker for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers — his first title as a pro skipper.

“It only took me 18 years, but I finally got one,” says Isom, a 1990 Lafayette Jefferson High School and 1998 Purdue University graduate who still resides in West Lafayette, Ind. “A lot of teams made the finals and just came up short for one reason or another. Our pitching staff (at Joliet) was outstanding and did not lose guys to major league clubs like some teams did.”

Without Major League Baseball feeding them players, Isom and other independent ball managers go out and found their own players. The Slammers championship squad featured 14 that came from tryout camps.

“I love getting guys that have been overlooked by the draft for one reason or another,” says Isom of his attraction to independent baseball. “Scouting is not an exact science. We work with them and try to continue to make them better players.

“In independent baseball, most teams rely on the manager. I like it that way. I have the ultimate say in who is going to be on our club.

“I value those tryouts. I know the players are hungry if they’re going to a tryout camp.”

The Frontier League is considered a developmental circuit and the maximum age is 27. A couple of top pitchers from 2018 — Nate Antone and Liam O’Sullivan — will age out and Isom intends to help them make connections so they can keep playing either at the independent or affiliated level.

“Indy ball has been a great time for me,” says Isom, a three-time Frontier League Manager of the Year (2002, 2016 and 2018) who turned 46 on Sept. 22. “I loved every minute of it when I was a player and I’ve loved every minute of it as a manager.

“I’ve been fortunate to make a career out of this.”

Isom doesn’t see it as a job. He sees it as an opportunity to pass along what he knows about the game. He soaked up information from the folks in affiliated baseball and he has done the same thing in independent ball.

Besides his current job with the Slammers, Isom’s managing stops have taken him to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles, Washington (Pa.) Wild Things, Joliet JackHammers, Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums and Lake Erie (Ohio) Crushers.

In six seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers system, he managed the West Virginia Power, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Brevard County (Fla.) Manatees and Helena (Mont.) Brewers.

As a left-handed pitcher, Isom played for Tony Primavera at Lafayette Jeff then three seasons at Purdue (1991-93) — one for head coach Dave Alexander and two from Steve Green. Isom went 16-4 with five saves and a 3.72 earned run average over his last two Boiler seasons. In 149 1 /3 innings, he struck out 119 and walked 55.

Isom was born in Pullman, Wash., and wound up in West Lafayette when his father was hired at Purdue (Gary Isom is Professor Emeritus of Toxicology in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology).

The southpaw was an all-Big Ten Conference honoree in 1993 along with teammate and future major league Jermaine Allensworth. The Boilermakers were the only college to recruit Isom.

“As a player, (Alexander) instilled discipline in me,” says Isom of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He taught time management skills and how to hold yourself accountable.

“I had to grow up quick.”

Green imparted wisdom and inspiration.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without Coach Green,” says Isom. “He’s probably the most influential person I’ve had in my baseball career.”

At age 14, Isom played for a Green-managed Pony League team.

“He taught me how to throw a split-finger fastball (forkball) and my career took off from there,” says Isom. “As a pitching coach/head coach, (Green) instilled a lot of confidence in me. He wanted me to have the baseball in my hand.

“I got drafted because of what he taught me.”

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 18th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Isom pitched three seasons in the Pirates and San Diego Padres organizations and then four more in indy ball.

While playing in indy ball, he met two managers — Doug Simunic and Andy McCauley — that helped him on what would lead to a career as a manager.

Isom played for Simunic with the independent Northern League’s Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) RedHawks and was allowed to pick the skipper’s brain.

“I was just trying to learn and he took me under his wing,” says Isom of Simunic, who went on to become the first independent baseball manager to reach 1,000 wins. “I took best from all the managers I had.

“I’m learning everyday.”

MacCauley coached in Fargo-Moorhead and met up with Isom again with the Frontier League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kodiaks.

Isom was released eight times during his pro playing career. After three starts and three losses for Kalamazoo, he cut himself from the team and headed home only to be called back by MacCauley to be pitching coach. The two men have bounced baseball ideas off each other ever since.

MacCauley has been the manager of the Frontier League’s Evansville (Ind.) Otters since 2010.

Isom’s best friend in baseball, MacCauley was in his wedding (Jeff and former Purdue volleyball player/current Klondike Middle School physical education/health teacher Lisa Isom have two children at Harrison High School in West Lafayette — senior volleyballer Samantha and freshman baseballer Will) and trades between Joliet and Evansville are common.

When school is out, Will travels with the Slammers and sees the effort that goes into being a pro player.

“In independent baseball, you’ve got to put up numbers or there’s going to be changes,” says Isom. “Hard work will pay off.”

When he’s not away managing professionals, Isom can be found back in West Lafayette spending time with his family and teaching private lessons at On Deck Baseball, a business owned by former pro player Josh Loggins.

“I want to see kids get quality coaching,” says Isom, who coached two seasons at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the 1990s.

JEFFISOM

Jeff Isom, a graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., managed the Joliet (Ill.) Slammers to the championship of the independent Frontier League in 2018. (Joliet Slammers Photo)

 

Son of former Bethel coach Hutcheon now in Indians organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dane Hutcheon has found himself on Indiana soil again this summer — in two different professional baseball uniforms.

Hutcheon, the son of former Bethel College head baseball coach Mike Hutcheon, played for the independent Lake Erie (Ohio) Crushers at Evansville in July.

Now back in affiliated ball with the Lake County (Ohio) Captains in the Cleveland Indians organization, Dane has been taking to the diamond during the current series in Fort Wayne.

Hutcheon recently turned 24, but he was just 7 and the team batboy when the Bethel Pilots ventured from Mishawaka, Ind., to Celina, Ohio, and won the 2002 National Christian College Athletic Association national championship.

Mike Hutcheon, who had been a graduate assistant at Mississippi State University under Hall of Fame coach Ron Polk (1988-89), led Bethel for four seasons (2000-03) then went back to his native Colorado and was head coach at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for seven seasons (2004-10) and later three at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood for three (2014-16).

Dane Hutcheon was born in McKinney, Texas and moved with his family to Jackson, Miss., when his father became head baseball coach at Belhaven University, a post he held for five seasons (1995-99) before going to Bethel.

While in northern Indiana, Dane played at what is now known as Harris Baseball Softball in Granger.

A 2013 graduate of Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, where he played for Glenn Millhauser, Dane played college baseball at the University of Montevallo (Ala.) for Chandler Rose (who was an assistant to Mike Hutcheon at Air Force).

“In a way it was like playing for my dad,” says Dane Hutcheon of his time with Rose. “To this day, he’s one of my mentors.

“(Millhauser) was another great guy. I’ve had a lot of luck with coaches.”

After three seasons at Montevallo (2014-16) where he played shortstop and hit .310 with three home runs, four triples, 30 doubles, 83 runs batted in, 132 runs scored and 28 stolen bases, Dane Hutcheon was selected in the 29th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

Hutcheon played for the Short Season Class-A Gulf Coast League Twins in parts of 2016 and 2017 and also with the High-A Fort Myers Miracle in 2017.

The Twins released him in March 2018 and he hooked on with Lake Erie, where he hit .305 with three homers, 29 RBIs and 16 stolen bases as a Frontier League all-star and caught the attention of an Indians scout.

The lefty-swinging 5-foot-9, 177-pounder then moved his base of operations from the west side of Cleveland to the east. His first game with Lake County in the Low Class-A Midwest League was Aug. 21. In his first nine games with the Captains, he hit .300 with nine singles, three RBIs and one stolen base.

“Every one in awhile I squeak a home run out but, other than that, I do whatever I can to try to help the team,” says Hutcheon. “I wasn’t always the fastest or never really had any power (as a youngster). But as I got older and filled out body, things happened in the way they did.

“I was kind of a late bloomer in a way.”

A shortstop in college and second baseman in the Twins system, he has been used at third base so far this summer.

“I have a decent arm and I’m able to move,” says Hutcheon. “It’s been awesome to play other positions. I get to see how it all works.”

Throughout his baseball career, Mike Hutcheon has been Dane Hutcheon’s rock.

“My dad has always been that guy that I could go to if things are going good or bad,” says Hutcheon. “He tells me that there’s so much more than life than just the game. It’s helped me relax. He’s always there to give me pointers. He keeps me strong in my faith. He’s just a great guy to have as a mentor.

“He’s always just a phone call away to help put things into perspective and calm me down when I need it.”

Mike and Laura Hutcheon have four children — Manie, Dane, Gigi and Hal. Dane’s older sister works in Arizona. His younger sister is in college. His younger brother is a baseball player at student at Discovery Canyon Campus High School in Colorado Springs. Laura Hutcheon is the cheerleading coach at Air Force.

“We’re a family full of athletes,” says Dane Hutcheon.

DANEHUTCHEON

Dane Hutcheon, son of former Bethel College baseball head coach Mike Hutcheon, recently joined the Lake County (Ohio) Captains of the Cleveland Indians organization. Dane was a youngster when his father’s 2002 Bethel team won a National Christian College Athletic Association national championship. (Steve Krah Photo)