First-hand familiarity with the subject and the desire to offer something of value to baseball players and their families led Aaron Mortrud to launch Midwest Recruiting, LLC in October 2020. Mortrud, a 1990 graduate of Bethany Christian School in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), where his head coach was Dan Bodiker, played one season each for head coach Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Oldest son Nick Mortrud went through the recruiting process while playing at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind. Midwest Recruiting, LLC helps market players to prospective colleges in an efficient, affordable way. Mortrud describes it as “Autotrader for Athletes.” “Recruiting is a sales process,” says Mortrud, whose day job is National Sales Manager for Starcraft Inc., and works of the office near his Shipshewana, Ind., home. “College coaches are buyers of a product — the student-athlete. How do you connect the buyer with the product?” Using his relationships with recruiters, Mortrud works for his clients to join the two parties. Once he got the ball rolling last fall, things took off like crazy. “I just picked up a kid from Australia who wants to play college baseball in the U.S.,” says Mortrud. So far three players have found a college baseball home — Kaleb Fritz (Lafayette Jeff Class of 2021) at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Noah Perkins (East Noble Class of 2022) at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and Carson Smith (Knightstown Class of 2022) at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. Others are close to signing. Full Midwest Recruiting, LLC services cost $95. “What I’m trying to do is give as much honest and real information to families at the best cost,” says Mortrud. “Parents deserve to be told the truth about all facets of the game. A profile with a players’ vital data goes on a website that recruiters can go to for their specific needs. For example: One coach might be seeking a left-handed pitcher who throws in the high 80’s and has such-and-such a standard test score. Mortrud sees himself as an unbiased third party who has invested into quality measuring equipment that provides reliable numbers. “The only thing worse than no information is bad information,” says Mortrud. “I don’t want to waste a (college) program’s or a kid’s time. Let’s be honest from the beginning. “I have to maintain my credibility.” Players can also be seen at Midwest Recruiting, LLC-hosted recruiting events. The next ones are a Fall Showcase Oct. 2 and Scout Series Oct. 3 at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. The first is a pro-style workout and assessment. The second includes spots for teams and individuals. A Scout Series event is scheduled for June 25-26, 2022 at Huntington U. Mortrud has experience as a baseball parent and travel ball coach. He is now with the Midwest Pack (run by Westview head coach Jason Rahn) and was with the Eastside Irish before moving from central Ohio back to Indiana six years ago. “College baseball is a job,” says Mortrud of the long days and year-round commitment it takes at that level. “(Players and families) need to know what college baseball is. “This may not be for you. How bad do you really want to play baseball?” Ultimately, the decision is not for the parents but the student-athlete. “That kid’s got to decide what he wants to do,” says Mortrud. Nick Mortrud (Westview Class of 2021) — Aaron’s oldest son — made decision to not play college baseball. “I know what its like to come through the recruiting process as a parent with a kid who does not want to go on after you’ve spent all that time and money,” says Aaron Mortrud. Matty Mortrud (Westview Class of 2023) has more high school and travel ball to play before he might go to college. Midwest Recruiting, LLC is on Facebook and Twitter. In the past week, Mortrud shared on Twitter what it takes to make it at the NAIA and NCAA Division III levels. Those numbers appear below.
“I really enjoy doing glove work. I really do,” says Miranda, an Osceola, Ind., resident. “It keeps me around baseball.”
Miranda, 51, grew up in Woodland, Calif., near Sacramento and went to Oakland A’s game with father Joe Sr., and San Diego Padres with his grandfather (Luis and grandmother Eva lived in Tijuana and had Joey visit each August after his baseball season) and uncle and played lots of ball while tending to his glove and those of his ball-playing buddies.
“I got really good at it,” says Miranda, who moved to northern Indiana in 2008.
Over the years, he did research and learned how to break in gloves — what to do and not to do.
Miranda says a glove should not be put in the oven, microwave or steamer.
“It causes cracking,” says Miranda. It will also void the warranty at some sporting goods retailers. “Conditioner soothes the outside of the glove and puts moisture back into glove.”
Proper care will also extend the life of the glove.
“It won’t last as long if you don’t clean it with conditioner,” says Miranda. “I used to to use mink or Neatsfoot oil, but I’ve gotten away from that.
“If you use too much it will make the glove heavy. (Oil) doesn’t dissipate.”
Miranda, who sells new and used gloves, gives maintenance information.
“I recommend conditioning twice a year — the middle of the season and the end to protect the glove over the winter,” says Miranda. “I really like it when parents bring their athlete with them. I can inform the player on how to take care of their glove.
“At $200-$400, that’s a little bit of an investment for the parents.”
High-end gloves can have map or steer or some other kind of leather while low end ones are made of average hyde.
Miranda invites customers to shoot him a text and he will walk them through any questions they might have.
“It’s about my customers,” says Miranda. “It’s like an honor for me working on their glove.
“I have some really loyal customers that only come to me.”
Joey and Rebecca Miranda had four children. The oldest — Casey — died a few years ago. Then there’s sons Andrew and Anthony and daughter Jordan. The boys all played baseball.
When Anthony was at what is now Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., and his glove broke his father informed him that he could fix it. The laces were swept out for white ones and it was a real attention-getter.
The next thing you know other players and parents are coming to Miranda for his glove TLC.
He started buying lace from a local man and word of his work began spreading like wildfire.
Then came Big Head Sports. The name comes from the inflated egos Miranda saw while he was a player.
“I grew up with guys who were supposed to get drafted and didn’t,” says Miranda.
Best friend Jeff Moore is a graphic designer in California and crafted Miranda’s logo. The business motto is “Don’t let your head get bigger than the game.”
“That’s what keeps me humble in what I’m doing. I have yet to advertise other than on Facebook (or Twitter). I get new people every year by word of mouth. That feels good.
“I treat each glove as if it was my own. That’s my work that I’m putting out there.”
Joey and Rebecca have talked about one day opening a store and have been collecting old gloves and baseball memorabilia for decor.
Miranda backs up his work. He will replace materials up to four months and offers free glove-tightening.
A relationship with former South Bend Silver Hawks manager and current general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and head of the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel baseball organization Mark Haley got Miranda in with the South Bend Cubs.
Miranda’s turnaround time is often a few days depending on his schedule. Miranda is a material handler at RC Industries in Elkhart and coaches a Hitters Edge 14U travel team.
Sometimes a glove emergency arises. Like this spring when there was a blowout of Notre Dame senior and Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft prospect Niko Kavadas’ first baseman’s mitt during pregame of a game at Frank Eck stadium.
Miranda, who often took glove-related calls from Irish assistant coach Rich Wallace, got a call from the ND staff and he was off to the ballpark — about 10 miles away.
Miranda knew Kavadas from the player’s time at Penn High School and training with Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich., and had done a small repair on the same beloved glove.
“Niko is pretty superstitious,” says Miranda.
When Joey saw the mitt this time it had zip ties holding it together. Miranda feverishly did his thing and got it to Kavadas in the nick of time.
“I got the glove done as lineups being announced,” says Miranda.
Many folks will use bunny cords or rubber bands when breaking in a glove. Miranda discourages this because it can cause the glove to flex where the cord or band is placed.
With his wife’s permission, he uses old dish towels and puts a ball in the glove pocket where his has been pounding it with a 5-pound weight or glove mallet.
“There’s no flex point and you’re covering a wide area,” says Miranda. “You want to make the pocket round.
“The ball is round — not flat or taco-shaped.”
Miranda recommends catching balls off a pitching machine as part of the break-in process.
“You need to get use to the glove,” says Miranda. “A lot of it is feel.
“Also— old or new — you should be squeezing all the time.”
Many players look for the glove to do all the work.
Now he’s enjoying a unique diamond and educational experience in the sunny Southwest.
Batting in the No. 3 hole, the righty-swinging freshman center fielder is hitting .412 (21-of-51) with two home runs, two triples, six doubles, 23 runs batted in, 21 runs scored, 12 walks, six times hit by pitch and three stolen bases for Arizona Western College in Yuma.
Max (19) is the youngest of Matt and Jennifer Weller’s three sons. Trent (23) and Sam (20) both played soccer at Chesterton.
Max decided a day or two after Christmas 2020 to transfer from Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. — where he spent the fall — to Arizona Western College (a school that also recruited him in high school). He packed up all he had at his Illinois apartment in his truck and went with his parents on a 26-hour drive.
“It was a journey out here,” says Weller. “But all for the good.
“I loved it out here. We get to practice outside reps every single day.”
Using a machine, AWC outfielders field pop-ups and work on their communication.
Most teams on the Matadors’ schedule use wood bats.
“The metal bat games would drag out too long,” says Weller. “The (wood bat) barrel is definitely smaller and does not have as much pop. But there are many truer hits and it’s so much more satisfying.”
Good wood is what 6-foot, 180-pound Weller got on the ball in the first game of a home doubleheader March 9 against Chandler-Gilbert Community College and smacked a homer over the right field fence at Walt Kamman Field. His other college bomb came in a Feb. 18 win against Northeastern in which he plated seven runs.
Weller’s lone four-bagger in high school came as a sophomore in a junior varsity win at LaPorte.
Weller played on the CHS freshmen team in 2017, moved up to JV in 2018 and was on the varsity in 2019, sharing time in right field with Tyler Nelson and at designated hitter.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell leads the Chesterton Trojans.
“He taught me the foundations of the game and how to move runners from first to second,” says Weller of Campbell. “I came to understand the concept that everybody has a role.
“You’ve got to trust the system.”
For a time in high school, Weller was called “Sunshine.” Then wearing long locks, he resembled Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from the movie, “Remember The Titans.”
COVID-19 took away spring sports in Indiana in 2020. But Weller found a summer baseball home.
Many circuits canceled their seasons, but the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., sprang up and Weller was one of a few who had not yet played past high school to participate.
“I loved it,” says Weller, who was assigned to the CSL’s A-Team. “There was a lot of good talent.”
Weller’s weekly routine was to travel from northwest Indiana to his grandparents’ lake house in Monticello, Ind., on Sunday night and then drove back and forth for Monday and Tuesday games at Grand Park.
Weller’s says he has connections for the Grand Park or Valley League in Virginia this summer, but could land elsewhere.
“It’s about finding an opening,” says Weller.
Having chosen to attend Wabash Valley, Weller joined the Warriors in the fall of 2020. Because of the pandemic there were no outside games, but lots of intrasquad action against players bound for NCAA Division I or — in some cases — those that had already played at that level.
“I saw all these great pitches,” says Weller. “I learned how to play with a (ball-strike) count.
“We were practicing everyday for every single week. I was managing that load as student-athlete. All those reps were beneficial.”
Wabash Valley, currently ranked No. 1 in NJCAA D-I, has been led for a quarter century by Rob Fournier.
“He had a lot of knowledge on the game,” says Weller of Fournier. “He was a really personable guy, but he worked you really hard during practice.”
Keehn played at Central Arizona College and in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Mitchem, who played at Brown Mackie College and Tri-State University (now Trine University in Angola, Ind.) has coached at Georgia College, Henderson State University, Drexel University and Marshall University as well as in Germany, Australia and Costa Rica.
Being at AWC has also afforded Weller the opportunity to learn about many cultures and bond with young men from all over the globe.
Besides Indiana’s Weller, there are two Matadors with hometowns in Arizona plus one each from California, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah plus seven from Dominican Republic, three from Netherlands, two from Australia, two from Saskatchewan, two from Venezuela and one each from Czech Republic and Mexico.
Weller’s roommate is Nevada’s D.J. Contreras. They share a dormitory suite with two Dominicans.
“Everyone is open-minded here,” says Weller. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of so far.”
Contreras is from Las Vegas. Weller smacked three doubles for the Matadors in a Feb. 19 trip to Vegas to play a doubleheader with the College of Southern Nevada — the same school where slugger Bryce Harper played prior to pro ball.
Weller is working toward an Associate Degree in Science at the two-year school. This term he is taking Calculus, Chemistry and Astronomy (online).
He takes most of his meals in the campus cafeteria.
“I load up on lunch and get the calories up,” says Weller. “You’re definitely going to burn them in practice.”
After playing in a local league, Weller started playing travel ball at 10U with he Chesterton Slammers. Uncle Brian Eaton was his head coach for three summers. The team then changed its name to the Indiana Strikers. Weller played his 14U summer with the Indiana Breakers.
Rob Kucharski was Weller’s head coach at 15U and 16U with the Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training team. That squad had many northwestern Indiana players.
Migley Field was started with some scrap fencing in 2006 and elements have been added over the years, including Wrigley-like scoreboard and marquee.
Before each home game, they play recordings of retired Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy and the voice of radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes welcomes everyone. Regular-season home games start at 1:20 p.m. as do the Hometown Cup semifinals.
The Hometown Cup draws 70 to 80 teams most years. Twenty fields are used during Saturday pool play — some at the Little League park and some at New Prairie High School.
The Top 48 return Sunday for single-elimination play with the semifinals and championship on Migley Field. Dimensions roughly emulate those in Chicago. It’s 95 feet down the left field line, 98 in the power alleys, 100 to center and 93 down the right field line.
This year, all-time home run leader Scott Soos of the Newts belted his 400th circuit clout. The league has been keeping stats since about 2010.
While Hometown Days is canceled for 2020, the Hometown Cup aka The Wiffle® Ball Championship will go on July 24-26. The home run derby is July 24, pool play July 25 and the Top 48 in single-elimination plus the semifinals and finals July 26. The last two rounds are at Migley Field.
Past finals have drawn hundreds of spectators. BroadcastSport.net is again planning to stream the semifinals and finals on the internet.
ORWBL is one of the few Wiffle® Ball leagues around that has home fields for all its teams — Palace of Bourissa Hills (301 St. Meridian St., New Carlisle) for the Wildcards, The Garage (7564 E. 400 N., Rolling Prairie) for the Kings, The Barnyard (9352 S 150 W., Union Mills) for the Cyclones, Magic Park (Kesling Park, A Street, LaPorte) for the Magic, various locations for the Heat, The Spin Factory (3810 Lincolnway East, Mishawaka) for the Meatspins, The Goat House (53105 Ironwood Rd., South Bend) for the Billy Goats, Manor Field (2332 Kenilworth Dr., Elkhart) for BFAM, Cam Snead Field (51972 Gentian Lane, Mishawaka) for the Panthers, The Hideout (410 French St., Niles, Mich.) for the Godfathers, Rocko’s Park (29481 Lynn St., New Carlisle) for the Leprechauns, Migley Field (500 S. Bray St., New Carlisle) for the Newts, The Land Down Under (110 S. Harris St., New Carlisle) for Emery’s Army and Helmet Head Field (10109 S. 600 W., Union Mills) for the Goon Squad.
Week 4 (June 3) players of the week were Eric Wodrich (Meatspinners) in the American League and Nate Hansen (Leprechauns) in the National League. Wodrich went 15-of-22 (.682 average) with six homers, 12 RBIs and 11 runs. Hansen was 10-of-17 (.588) with eight homers, eight RBIs at the plate and went 2-1 in 19 innings pitched with a 7.68 earned run average.
The ORWBL plays tripleheaders on Sundays for a 24-game regular season. Playoffs run through August. Games are six innings and last 45 minutes to an hour each. The league plays with a pitcher, catcher and three fielders.
The pitching rubber is between 30 and 40 feet from home plate. There will be no called strikes, balls or walks. Batters can strike out swinging. Foul tips caught by the catcher with two strikes will also be a strikeout. The pitcher’s hand rule applies for outs. There is no bunting allowed in slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
It’s always been pitch-to-hit league. Every pitch has to have some sort of arc.
“It was built as a fun league — giving the batter a pitch to hit,” says Magic manager and ORWBL commissioner Alex Friedman. “You get action all the time. Balls are being batted into the field of play. Defense has to be played.
“People enjoy watching our style.”
Maple City is the defending three-time league champion. Friedman took over ORWBL commish duties from Keck.
Friedman says one of the reasons the league uses three outfielders is that Bourissa Hills — home of the former league champion Pterodactyls — is so wide and there’s so much outfield ground to cover.
Covering the world of ORBWL is the Don’t Get Wifflenated podcast. WiffleTalk.com follows all things slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
There’s even a ORWBL Hall of Fame.
The Dirtyard (1117 W. Epler Ave., Indianapolis) is known as one of the top Wiffle® Ball fields in the country.
Circle City will be hosting the National Wiffle® World Series there Sept. 18-20 (it moved from Morenci, Mich.).
The league typically plays Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. There is a one-day round robin tournament to get all eight teams to the field at one time and promote league camaraderie. That recent Sunday event went from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are lights at The Dirtyard.
To be a National Wiffle® member league, a website, statistics and video presence must be kept.
“It’s to prove you are a competitive Wiffle® Ball league,” says Circle City president/commissioner and Short Shorts player Brendan Dudas, oversees The Dirtyard in his parent’s backyard. “You have to be 18 to play for liability reasons.”
Most teams have there own Twitter accounts. Games are often streamed live. Podcasts keep Wiffle® wackos informed.
Dudas and has friends were middle schoolers fooling around in the back yard with a ball and bat in 2009. Four years later, Circle City Wiffle® Ball became a reality.
“It’s been slowly evolving ever since,” says Dudas, who played baseball at Perry Meridian High School and the University of Indianapolis and coached at Center Grove with former Perry coach John Carpenter.
“All the guys in the league are either former athletes,” says Dudas. “They like the competitive nature of sports in general.
“It’s low impact, a controlled environment and we still fulfill the competitive drive we all have. We enjoy being around each other and having fun.”
Circle City plays six-inning games. It’s 3-on-3 (pitcher and two fielders). There can be on a roster and all of them can bat. It’s 45 feet between bases, 47 1/2 feet between the rubber and the strike board.
“You have to have (quality) pitchers in fast pitch (Wiffle® Ball) or it becomes a walk fest,” says Dudas. “In the national tournament, it’s all about pitching. The recipe to win tournament is throw a shutout, make one big play and hit a home run. Scores are often 1-0 and 2-1.”
The Dirt Yard dimensions are 89 feet down the left field line, 97 to left-center, 95 to right-center, 102 to center and 85 down the right field line.
Dudas has observed that most leagues have fields between 75 to 100 down the lines and 85 to 110 to center.
“You get further than than and it gets hard to poke the ball out,” says Dudas.
When the 8 Balls joined the league in 2017, they brought snazzy uniforms with them and the league soon followed suit and now sublimated jerseys are a Circle City requirement.
“We encourage guys to run wild with it,” says Dudas, who cites Keck and the ORWBL as the inspiration for creating his league.
“It’s fun to do something competitive one you get out of high school” says Ratajczyk. “It satisfies everybody’s competitive desires in the summer.
“We had enough friends that wanted to do it consistently. We’ve embraced it as a weekend getaway where we get to see our friends.”
Traditionally a Sunday league, Griffleball went to four weekend tournaments (pool play Saturday and single-elimination Sunday) for the 2020 slate. Remaining dates are June 27-28, July 18-19, Aug. 1-2.
New players can pick the team of their choice. There is also a league waiver wire.
Every squad picks out new flashy uniforms each season.
“We usually sit down in January and February and brainstorm,” says Ratajczyk of Griffleball planning. “This year was the exception with coronavirus.”
While childhood 1-on-1 games between Ryan Galiher and Kyle Lidster can be cited as the genesis of Griffleball, the league’s modern origins date to 2010 when it played on a public basketball court and set up fencing around the grass — ask the Griffle Grounds in Highland.
The 2017 all-star game was played at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith and the league moved its games there for 2018 and 2019.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, a new field — The Warehouse, 5000 W. 45th Ave., Gary — was selected for 2020 action. Opening Day was June 6.
The first eight years of Griffleball, teams were kept intact year after year. The last two years, things were shaken up and there was a re-drafting of players.
Even with the moves, Griffleball has stuck with the same field dimensions — 60 feet down the foul lines, 85 to the gaps and 80 to center.
Griffleball games are five innings and last around an hour. There are four players per team though there is only a pitcher and two fielders at a time. Everyone in the lineup hits.
There is no catcher in fast-pitch Wiffle® Ball, but a strike board (which is 20 inches wide, 32 inches tall and 12 inches off the ground).
There are two outs per inning, five balls for a walk or two hit batsmen in the same at-bat.
Ratajczyk, who has played in all four National Wiffle® (formerly National Wiffle Ball League Association) leagues in Indiana, says fast pitch Wiffle Ball is all about the batter vs. pitcher duel and the scores of games often rely on the elements.
“If the wind is blowing, there will be no runs,” ays Ratajczyk. “If the wind is blowing out, there will be a ton of runs.”
The GBL has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snap Chat.
LWA plays all its games at a six-field compound in an incorporated community near Crown Point on land owned by commissioner/president and Leroy Riot owner/manager Tim Wiltjer. The address is 4504 E. 145th Ave., Crown Point.
In 2020, the league includes 12 teams — Backdoor Sliders, Barn Stormers, Bushleague Badgers, Fabulous Flamingos, Lake County Liners, Leroy Riot, Marvelous Maniacs, Mighty Melon Heads, Noble Narwhals, Porter County Porkers, Squints Sluggers and Walking Tacos.
The Sluggers are the defending champions.
Ty Bothwell (a redshirt pitcher for Indiana University baseball in 2020) and Bo Hofstra (a junior pitcher at Purdue University) are on the Badgers.
There are seven players on each roster with four players competing in games. There are three players on defense — one pitcher and two fielders. The fourth player keeps stats or takes a break.
All four players have to pitch one inning, giving everyone a chance to bat, field and pitch. Regular-season games are five innings with two games a night. A team’s best pitcher goes two innings with one apiece for the other three.
Post-season games are six innings. Forty-eight players compete each Wednesday.
“It breaks up the week,” says Wiltjer of the preferred gameday.
A unique feature of LWA is that only the manager can stay with a team year after year while the rest of the rosters are shuffled.
“We start fresh,” says Wiltjer. “We don’t have a Golden State Warriors thing going on.
“As commissioner, I want to see our guys get along and get together. Teams from so many different cities with so many friend groups.”
The LWA is numbers-driven.
“I’m obsessed with stats,” says Wiltjer.
To keep things competitive, Wiltjer has devised a “salary cap” based on the batting and pitching numbers put up by players. All awards are stat-based. The highest salary is the MVP. Ironman awards go to those with the most at-bats or most innings pitched.
While the first official LWA season was 2014, Wiffle Ball was part of a Lawn Olympics on the property before that.
Leroy plays a hybrid style of Wiffle® Ball. Throwing fast pitch, pitchers can run up a count of up to five balls. After that, he moves closer to the batter and lobs it.
Once a 10-ball count is reached, the batter can elect to take a single or he can elect to keep hitting. At 15 balls, it becomes an automatic double, 20 an automative triple and 25 an automatic home run.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Wiltjer. “It gets runs all the time.”
Teams rotate among the six fields. Two fields are symmetrical with dimensions being 85 feet down the lines and 95 to center.
The four other wider fields give a flavor for Major League Baseball parks, including Boston’s Fenway Park (short porch in right and deeper in right center), Houston’s Minute Maid Park (deeper center, shallow left and right), Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
It’s 45 feet between bases with 48 feet between pitching rubber and strike board.
Batting lineup pitching lineup are the same and must be submitted 24 hours before the game.
The LWA normally begins the first or second week of May. There’s an 11-week regular season (22 games per team).
The 12th team does not make the playoffs. Teams seeded 7-10 go into a single-elimination “death bracket” with the winner earning the No. 8 in the Final Eight. Teams then play two-game series plus a one-inning sudden death game to break ties (if necessary). There can be extra innings.
Pitchers switch every inning during the playoffs.
“All four Indiana (National Wiffle®) leagues are very, very unique,” says Wiltjer. “That’s what makes it awesome.”
Going Corn is the podcast of the Leroy Wiffle® Association.
Indiana players are well-represented on the rolls of the Wiffy Awards presented by National Wiffle®.
Migley Field (ORWBL) was the National Field of the Year in 2019.
The New Carlisle Newts (ORWBL) had the Team Jersey of the Year in 2019.
Friedman (ORWBL) was National Commissioner of the Year in 2018 and National Manager of the Year in 2017.
Nick Arndt (ORWBL) belted his way to National Home Run Champ and Jay Ryans (ORWBL) tossed his way to National Closer of the Year — both in 2012.
Garrett Curless (ORWBL) powered to National Home Run Champ in 2011.
The Dirtyard (CCW) was chosen as National Field of the Year in 2018.
Mid City Moonshots (CCW) sported the Team Logo of the Year in 2019
Caleb Jonkman (LWA) was selected as National Player of the Year in 2017 and 2019 and thumped his way to National Home Run King in 2019. He also is regular in all four Indiana National Wiffle® leagues.
Matt Dykstra (LWA) was National Closer of the Year in 2016.
But long before these happenings, the Jasper Reds were on the diamond scene.
Established as the Jasper Acmes in 1893 and soon changed to the Red Jackets (then Reds) to match the colors of early uniforms, the Reds have been a baseball presence in Jasper ever since. The only interruptions were in 1918, 1922 and 1964-66.
In the early days, players would share in the team’s profits — if there were any — so the team was referred to as semi-pro. That label stuck even after the pay stopped.
There’s no age limit for players. For years, most were in their 20’s and 30’s. This year, there were two 30-somethings among mostly college-age athletes.
It was the Reds’ seventh NBC World Series appearance with 1993, 1994, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 being the other years.
The 2018 Reds went to Louisville to play in the Bluegrass World Series, an event that features former major leaguers.
After Jasper High is done for the season, the Reds play home games at Alvin C. Ruxer Field (formerly Recreation Field).
“They are good to us,” says business manager Bob Alles, noting that Jasper High head coach Terry Gobert mowed the grass on a Sunday so it would be ready for the Reds. “We get (cooling) fans in the dugouts. They bend over backward to help us.
“So many people are good to us. People in Jasper want to keep this team going. We go from one year to the next.”
Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Ruxer once pitched for the Reds and was a big baseball backer. He set up trust funds for the team that helped to defray season costs.
Dating back to 1903, the Reds have also played at South Side Park, Jasper Academy and Gutzweiler Park.
Bob Alles has been with the Reds for 47 years. The 1971 Jasper graduate (he played for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Noblitt) who had one at-bat for the University of Evansville and became a coach (he was an assistant to Hall of Famer Ray Howard) and teacher as well as Reds manager from 1974-93 and 1996.
“I’ve poured my life into this thing,” says Bob Alles. “It takes in inordinate amount of time to get liability insurance, uniforms and equipment.
“It’s very, very time-consuming.”
A retired school teacher, Bob Alles recruits players and raises funds, trying to keep costs down for his athletes, especially the collegians with student loans.
“The easiest thing to get is the players,” says Bob Alles. “The other things are far more difficult.”
Like finding opponents. There are none in close proximity to Jasper.
“When teams come here it’s a free game for them (except gas money),” says Bob Alles. “We have a little money for umpires and a field.
“What I want from (opponents) is two games. We’ll play anybody. It’s very hard to get teams. That’s why we try to play a doubleheader.”
The weather was unkind to the Reds this season with seven rainouts.
“We try to play at least 20 games,” says Bob Alles. “We used to play 30 and 40. We can’t find that many any more.”
Bill Alles, brother of Bob, has served as Reds manager since 1999. Another brother, Tom Alles, is team historian. He wrote a 10-part series in 1993 as the team hit the 100-year mark.
Roman “Romie” Pfeffer was a star for the Reds in the ‘30s and ‘40s and was in the first class of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. Romie and his two brothers — Revard aka “Riff” and Urban aka “Nigg” — were on the Jasper team that played in the Midwest Tournament at Terre Haute, where National/Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was commissioner.
Bob Alles played three summers (1970-72) for Jasper American Legion Post 147 — two for “Nigg” Pfeffer (good friend of Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Gil Hodges, who may have suited up for the Reds for one game in 1941) and one for Noblitt.
Van Lingle Mungo pitched a few games for Jasper during a diamond career that included time with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.
Bob, Bill and Tom’s father — Jerome “Chick” Alles — played for the Reds from 1950-63 and was a three-term mayor, concluding with 1991. All four men are in the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame along with several others with ties to Jasper.
Brenda Alles, Chick’s wife and the boys’ mother, has also provided support throughout the years.
“We just asked guys to play hard,” says Bob Alles. “If they hustle, I can live with losses. It’s an experience. We like a challenge. We love baseball.
“My brother (Bill) and I don’t get paid to do this. We give money to do this. I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had all these years. It’s all about relationships in life. How did you treat people?
Sharing his knowledge, Ed Schlueter is looking to raise the quality of baseball played in his corner of the world.
That corner is located in Jasper County in northwest Indiana — about 20 miles south of Valparaiso and 75 miles southeast of Chicago.
Operating out of a rented 40-by-50 space in a pole barn near Wheatfield with one batting cage and enough room to throw the ball 60 feet, 6 inches, the former college player is passing along his knowledge.
Missing the game he loves, Schlueter started Baseball Directive and began providing private lessons. In the last calendar year, he has worked with about 50 individuals on hitting, pitching and catching.
“I want to spread more baseball to the people around me,” says Schlueter, who was a right-hander pitcher at Saint Joe and before that at Harlem High School near Rockford, Ill., before that. “I want to give direction.”
Schlueter’s lessons are directed to parents and players to “get them headed in the right direction.”
Besides the mechanics of baseball, Schlueter also imparts wisdom about the mental side of the game.
“It’s doing things the right way and being accountable,” says Schlueter. “They have to do more on their own. I give them homework (something to work on before the next lesson) and they spend 5 or 10 minutes a day on it.
“They have to buy into and trust what they’re doing in order to put the work in. A lot of them don’t realize the amount of training that goes into getting to the next level. It’s a mix of talent and hard work. It can’t all just be natural talent.”
It’s important with the younger players to get that work ethic started early.
“By the time they get to middle school or high school, it is instilled,” says Schlueter, who helps players in the Clinton Prairie, Rensselaer Central, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, North Newton school districts and more. A couple of his travel ball clients are the Outcast Thunder (Lowell) and North Central Cyclones (Francesville).
As a one-man operation, Schlueter can focus on each of his pupils.
“I like the whole one-on-one personal connection I can have with players and their parents,” says Schlueter. “They feel like they’re getting 100 percent of the attention all of the time.
“We’re not be rushed to get through everything. I’m providing that customer service.”
He also gets a chance to have quality time with his son. Ed and Meagan Schlueter’s boy — Lucas — is a 5-year-old ballplayer.
For Schlueter, it’s the people that make it worth being in baseball.
At Rensselaer Central, he inherited a good team that won 16 games before bowing to Andrean in the first round of the IHSAA Class 3A Kankakee Valley Sectional in 2012 then struggled the next two seasons.
“The best part of it was developing relationships with my players,” says Schlueter. “It was more about that bond.”
He still shares meals with his former Bombers and regularly communicates with them through phone calls and texts.
Schlueter was part of a tight-knit group at Saint Joe fostered by head coach Rick O’Dette.
“It was a family atmosphere,” says Schlueter. “I’m starting to see other programs envelope that.
“Kids are investing their time and money into college baseball. Ending up with a lifelong family is a huge pay-off.”
Schlueter speaks highly of O’Dette and still maintains contact with the man who has moved on to Saint Leo University in Florida after Saint Joe closed its doors at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
“He’s a great guy and a motivator,” says Schlueter of Coach O. “He pushes you to get the best out of you all the time. He was good at helping guys understand what the game is about. He was always at explaining this is why we do this and why we do that.”
Schlueter’s head coach in high school was Doug Livingston, who has since retired with the most wins in Harlem program history.
Livingston got his players to take ownership and work hard.
With a core of players who grew up on diamonds together, Harlem won back-to-back Illinois High School Association regional titles (equivalent to the sectional in Indiana) in Schlueter’s junior and senior seasons (2005 and 2006).
In 2005, the Huskies became only the second team to go unbeaten in the Northern Illinois Conference (then known as the NIC-9). Schlueter went 7-0 with an 0.91 earned run average in 2005 and 10-2 with one save and a 1.20 ERA in 2006.
“We learned to play as a team,” says Schlueter. “It was not all about one individual. We had depth and learned to rely on one another.”
Ed Schlueter (right) operates Baseball Directive out of a rented space near Wheatfield in northwest Indiana.
Ed Schlueter, a graduate of Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and the former Rensselaer Central High School head baseball coach, is the founder of Baseball Directive. Baseball near Wheatfield, Ind., he provides instruction and information to area players and their parents.
“It came down to the last inning of the last game to see if we were going to make the playoffs,” says Vaughan. “I was thinking there would be postseason baseball Wednesday and then DONE! I was a stunned mess. We had been going and blowing everyday.”
Vaughan, who worked for the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before going to Kansas City, was asked by a youngster in the business about the approach to take with his broadcasts through the Play by Play Announcers, Sideline Reporters, Color Analysts, Studio Hosts page on Facebook.
Vaughan summed up his response.
“There’s no governing body,” says the Texas native. “It’s all preference. There’s no right or wrong answer to the question. You’re on the bus with people for 100 days a year. You get to know people. You can’t help but care.
“It’s human nature to me. I try to be fair (and will let the audience know if a player makes a mistake). But I want them to do well.”
Vaughan was in pre-season mode in Gary — working on play biographies, sending out contracts, updating the website and travel planning — when the KC opportunity presented itself.
T-Bones vice president/general manager Chris Browne, whom Vaughan knew during their time together with the Double-A Jacksonville (Fla.) Suns in the mid-1990’s, invited the broadcaster to join his operation.
“We prayed about it,” says Vaughan, who is married to Dallas area school teacher GayMarie, someone he has known since junior high. “We wanted a clear answer.
“Things happen for a reason — Faith, Hope and Love.”
GayMarie was a regular visitor to her husband in Gary and Dan was close to family in the Elkhart/Goshen area. Being in KC put him closer to his home in Texas.
“They were good to me (in Gary),” says Vaughan. “They gave me a chance (after an 11-year hiatus from broadcasting baseball).”
So he took the job. On the first homestand, GayMarie drove the seven hours to surprise the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations at the park.
Besides calling live action, Vaughan posts game stories and videos on social media and helps promote the team — whether in the U.S. or Australia.
“I’ve got to get reasons for them to come out here,” says Vaughan.
He plans to start a KC blog in October and will also launch a podcast.
Down Under, Vaughan does less writing and more videos for YouTube etc. It’s all about being interactive.
“People love the videos,” says Vaughan. “The ball club has become the source (of information). That’s a responsibility that wasn’t there when I first started (in broadcasting after graduating from Texas Tech).”
“We want to get Facebook likes and Twitter clicks.”
Through baseball, Vaughan has been able to talk about the game with Hall of Famer and Royals vice president of baseball operations George Brett and his son Jackson — on both sides of the Pacific.
Browne, a Royals bat boy back in the 1980’s, has former second baseman Frank White as a first base coach with the T-Bones.
Vaughan notes that independent baseball is flourishing because of the on-field talent and family entertainment and the second chance it offers for ballplayers. Many teams pick up players through word of mouth or former associations.
“That’s there best recruiting tool,” says Vaughan.
In a few weeks, Vaughan will head into his fifth season based in Western Australia, where he co-hosts “Talking Baseball Australia,”the only live baseball radio show aired on the continent.
Thanks to Vaughan, broadcast partner Paul Morgan and others, the Heat achieved their goal of broadcasting every game — home and away — during the 2016-17 season.
“It was a real commitment,” says Vaughan. “Being online helps. Baseball is still a fringe sport in Australia. Cricket and Australian rules football get more radio and TV coverage during (their) summer.”
Like baseball, cricket is a bat and ball sport. But the rules differ greatly and some matches can go on for days.
Vaughan notes that the Twenty-20 cricket — a short form — is gaining an audience and even has the elements of minor league baseball with promotions and sing-alongs.
“(Cricket) is trying to appeal to a younger crowd,” says Vaughan.
ABL rules call for six domestic players to be on the field at any given time.
“The spirt of the rule is to grow the game,” says Vaughan.
An MLB showcase is one way for Australian players to get a chance to play in North America and international tournaments — like the U-18 World Cup (held in 2017 in Thunder Bay, Ont.) and U-23 World Cup (held in ’17 in Monterrey, Mexico, with Australia placing second to Japan) are others.
Dan Vaughan, a Texas native and former play-by-play man for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, calls baseball action for the Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones in the U.S. and Perth Heat in Australia.