Howard Kellman has called more than 6,600 games as a play-by-play broadcaster for the Indianapolis Indians. This week, Kellman stepped away from his longtime duties and travel to St. Petersburg, Fla., to broadcast on the radio for the New York Yankees Friday, Sept. 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Kellman, 70, saw Tampa Bay score a combined eight runs in the seventh and eight innings in a 9-0 victory. Christian Bethancourt socked a two-run home run in the seventh. The Panamanian was the Indianapolis team MVP in 2021. “It was a wonderful experience,” said Kellman while waiting for his flight from Tampa back to Indianapolis. “Working with (color commentator) Suzyn Waldman and producer Jack Maldonado were terrific. “I’ve know the Yankee people for a long time,” said Kellman, an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer. “When there was this word that John Sterling might miss games I reached out to the Yankees and they told me to contact (general manager) Chris Oliviero at WFAN. I sent a CD of my work.” What is the difference between broadcasting Triple-A versus Major League Baseball? “Well, you’ve got the crowd and bigger ballparks,” said Kellman. “It was fun. “Remember, I grew up as a Yankee fan. This was a great thrill.” Kellman, professional speaker, award-winning sportscaster and author, hails from the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, N.Y., and graduated from Brooklyn College. He wound up in Indianapolis, called his first Indians game in 1974 and has been the team’s voice for all but two seasons since (1975 and 1980). It was not Kellman’s first time on the call for a New York team. He broadcast three Mets games in 2014. He filled in for three Chicago White Sox games in 1984. As he does for every contest, Kellman was meticulous in his preparation for the Yankees vs. Rays. “In this day and age it’s a lot easier with the Internet,” said Kellman. “You have everything available to you. I follow the Yankees close and I’m still a Yankees fan. “I got help from the Tampa Bay people from reading things online and also talking to their broadcasters (including Neil Solondz, Dewayne Staats and Andy Freed).” Stats worked in Oklahoma City and Freed in Pawtucket when those teams shared a league with Indianapolis. Kellman missed two home games with the Indians while in Florida. The team has not sent a broadcaster on the road in 2022. He was expected back behind the mic tonight (Sept. 3) as the Indians play at Louisville. Greg Rakestraw, Cheyne Reiter and Jack McMullen handled the game during Kellman’s absence.
Shane Smith has coached baseball for 24 years and at every level from T-ball and 18U travel with the past two years as an assistant at Wabash (Ind.) High School. Smith can now add high school head coach to his list of diamond experiences. Last week he was board-approved to lead the baseball program at Manchester Junior/Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., which is about 20 miles north of Southwood Junior/Senior High School. Oldest son Blake Smith (19) graduated from Wabash in 2022 and is now a freshman baseball player and Sport Management major at Manchester University in North Manchester. Shane and Tiffany Smith’s younger sons Ashton (18 and a senior) and Jackson (15 and a sophomore) are still in involved in baseball at Southwood, which is also in Wabash County and conference rival to Manchester. Ashton Smith played at Wabash the past two years. Daughter Ella Smith is a seventh grade softball player and dancer. “Baseball has been our family thing,” says Shane Smith, who celebrates 20 years of marriage to Tiffany in October. “This is an opportunity I’ve always wanted: to run a varsity baseball program. “I prayed about it. I talked to my family. They’ve been supportive. I don’t take it lightly and I appreciate it.” Smith was involved with the Wabash Pride travel program for eight years, serving as president for six. He also coached for the USA Prime. At Wabash High, he assisted Apaches head coach Jack Holley. They had met when Smith was 13 and playing for the Prep League Blue Jays coached by Holley. “He’s an Old School baseball traditionalist and he’s got a great heart,” says Smith of Holley, who played on Wabash’s 1986 state champions and then at Valparaiso University. “He’s got a great deal of knowledge, but he puts things in perspective. “It’s bigger than baseball. We’re dealing with people’s sons.” During his high school years, Smith also played for Wabash American Legion Post 15 coached by Steve Furnas and Oren Wagner. Smith is a 1999 graduate of Wabash. One of his high school coaches in his younger years was Todd Adams, a former Anderson (Ind.) University player who was in charge of strength and conditioning for the Apaches. “He was a physical specimen,” says Smith of Adams, who is now his insurance agent. “He poured everything he had into us. We were than more than just our stats. “He got the most out of us simply by showing he cared. He expected maximum effort and that’s who I am as a coach.” Rick Espeset, head coach at Manchester University, coached with Smith for four years in the summer and made an impression. “You can achieve success and all these goals but you have to stay grounded,” says Smith. “Everything we did was fun and maximum effort He was a relationship-first guy, too.” Ethan Espeset, Rick’s son, is a 2022 Manchester Junior/Senior High graduate. Manchester (enrollment around 475) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko). The Squires were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Rochester, Wabash and Whitko. Manchester has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2016. The 2002 Squires were 2A state champions. Jack Rupley was Manchester’s head coach from 1998 until retiring at the end of the 2022 season. “Jack was very consistent as far as leading a program and its expectations,” says Smith. “I want to add to the already-strong history.” Smith plans to bring his unique strengths and passions to the Squires baseball program. “I like to play fast and put pressure on the defense,” says Smith. He notes that Wabash stole 140 bases in 2022 and that’s a realistic goal at Manchester. “I like the kids to play loose and fail with confidence. I’m not looking for them to be a robot. I’m going to empower my players to steal that base.” Smith passionate about serving others and he’s going to bring that to the Squires. Wabash conducted a “dad’s practice” with a fathers and male role models joining the players and Smith plans to do the same at Manchester. “We’re going to have a good time,” says Smith. He wants to have walk-up songs and “cool gamed experience” for his players. “I’m an Old School guy with a New School side to me,” says Smith. “I want to mix it up a little.” In just a few days, the Manchester Squires Baseball Facebook page already had over 100 followers. “Excitement is growing,” says Smith. “We want to do something special.” Smith expects eight players with varsity experience to return in 2023. That includes the top four in batting average (junior Garrett Sites .389, sophomore Ethan Hendrix .365, junior Evan Martynowicz .338, junior Gavin Martin .303) and leading base stealers (Sites 11, Hendrix 10, Martynowicz 8 and Martin 7). As a pitcher, Martynowicz went 2-2 with a 2.31 earned run average, 38 strikeouts and 13 walks over 42 1/3 innings. Smith has already attended Manchester sporting events to meet players and parents and reached out to Manchester Recreational Association and wants to offer coach and player clinics. “My main goal is to generate excitement in the community,” says Smith. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. I plan to support these kids and families and have a good foundation of a relationship way before the first day of practice.” The coach plans to have a call-out meeting in the near future. Manchester does not currently have junior high baseball. Smith says he would like to start that, perhaps through MRA. “We want to make sure (younger players) have a sound foundation,” says Smith. “We want to make sure in T-ball they fall in love with the game. So many times we overwhelm the kids and it becomes a job. “They have to have a great experience, continue to love it and have the confidence. Youth baseball is all about fundamentals and gaining confidence. “If we are going to have a true feeder system, the focus has to be development and long-term success over short-term success.” Smith works as a social worker and school safety specialist for Wabash City Schools. He is currently in the L.H. Carpenter Early Learning Center. He is also on the Wabash County’s Child Protection Team, which is an accountability piece for the Department of Child Services. Smith earned a Criminal Justice degree with a minor in Human Resources Management from Saint Leo (Fla.) University.
Grant Besser’s habit of dodging bats with his pitches got him noticed during his prep days and it continues at the collegiate level. At South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., the left-hander and four-time first-team all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection whiffed 451 in 241 innings with a 1.27 earned run average. He also hit .397 with eight home runs and 58 runs batted in. As a senior, Besser fanned 130 in 54 frame and posted a 0.77 ERA and hit .426 with two homers and 17 RBIs for the Brad Buckingham-coached Starfires. He began working out that winter in Fort Wayne with Pittsburgh Pirates strength trainer Dru Scott. When not pitching, lefty Besser was the unorthodox choice for South Adams at shortstop his last three seasons. “I knew it looked silly, but I had been playing shortstop all my life,” says Besser. “I can throw from any arm angle. I had a great time doing it. “Besides I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it for long. I knew pitching is what I wanted to do.” Besser played in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Madison. He was honored as the 2019 Northeast Indiana Baseball Association/Dick Crumback Player of the Year. The 2021 recipient of the award — Carter Mathison (Homestead/Indiana University) is Besser’s teammate this summer with New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats. Mathison was also the 2021 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Player of the Year. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Besser shined on the mound at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers. In 36 appearances (10 starts), he went 6-4 with eight saves and a 2.66 earned run average as the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Buccaneers posted marks of 16-11 in 2020 (COVID-19 shortened), 44-16 in 2021 and 42-15 in 2022. He amassed 125 strikeouts and 42 walks in 94 2/3 innings. Besser played no summer ball in 2020 and dealt with an injury at the beginning of the 2021. He came back and hurled five innings in the state tournament and did not allow a baserunner. “I really saw a spike in all of my numbers for the good (in 2022),” says Besser. “I blew every category away from the previous years.” He was in 20 games in 2022 and went 3-2 with six saves, a 1.28 ERA, 61 K’s and 16 walks in 42 1/3 innings. Ben Bizier is head coach at Florida SouthWestern State. Derrick Conatser is Bucs pitching coach. “I like that toughness to he brings to the table,” says Besser of Bizier. In his exit interview with Bizier Besser was told that 18 Major League Baseball organizations have been following him as they prepare for the 2022 First-Year Player Draft (July 17-19 in Los Angeles). “He said there’s a really good chance it happens this year,” says Besser, who turns 22 in September. “Out of high school I had zero (college) offers. Coach Buckingham offered me to Florida JUCO’s. I earned a scholarship at FSW in the spring. “Money has never been the big thing for me. It’s opportunity and getting my foot in the door.” This is Besser’s second straight summer at Keene and he has had several meaningful chats with Swamp Bats president and general manager Kevin Watterson. So far, Besser has made four appearances (one start) and is 1-0 with an 0.87 ERA. In 10 1/3 innings, the southpaw has 10 strikeouts and one walk. The NECBL regular season ends July 30. Throughout his college experience, Besser has been used in multiple pitching roles, including starter, long reliever and a closer. “It doesn’t matter to me as long as we get a win,” says Besser. “I’m very versatile.” Besser has excelled with an ability to keep his head when things get tense. “It’s mental toughness. I preach it,” says Besser. “I can spot when somebody doesn’t have that mental toughness. “I’m ready for the situation. I’m consistent with all that I do. I work quick and throw strikes. Preparation and a steady mindset is key.” Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Besser uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball. “My four-seamer has natural run and a high spin rate,” says Besser. “Up in the zone is where I get the most out of it. “This summer it’s been sitting 89 to 91 mph (it hit 92 at Florida SouthWestern State).” Besser’s two-seamer moves in to left-handed hitters and away from righties. His “circle” change-up break to his arm side and is usually clocked around 83 mph. “My curveball is more of a slurve,” says Besser of the pitch that’s often delivered at around 78 mph. “I mix and match. Sometimes it’s 12-to-6 and sometimes I sweep it. It depends on the situation.” Grant is the oldest of Mike and Katina Besser’s two sons. Adam Besser, a right-handed pitcher for Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, turns 20 in August. Mike Besser is a salesman for Moser Motor Sales. Katina Besser is chief financial officer at Swiss Village Retirement Community. The family moved from Geneva and Berne when Grant was in the fifth grade. Beginning at 9U, he played travel ball for the Muncie Longhorns and Indiana Bandits and then Summit City Sluggers founder Mark DeLaGarza reached out to him and he spent two summers with the 17U Sluggers, playing for head coaches Todd Armstrong and Brent Alwine. “My parents’ sacrifices let me do that,” says Grant. “The Sluggers gave me a lot of knowledge on baseball.”
With two years of eligibility remaining, has committed to NCAA Division I Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He signed with the Scarlet Knights over the winter. Why Rutgers? “What really attracting me was coming home to the Big Ten,” says Besser, who was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Geneva and Berne. “It’s up-and-coming program and pretty hard-nosed.” With Steve Owens as head coach and Brendan Monaghan guiding pitchers, the Scarlet Knights posted an overall mark of 44-17 and Big Ten record of 17-7 in 2022. Rutgers played Michigan in the conference tournament championship game. After earning an Associate of Arts degree in Business Management at Florida SouthWestern State, Besser is considering a Labor and Relations major at Rutgers.
South Bend, Ind., native Dylan Brammer has pitched his forkball on multiple continents. For most of the past decade, the right-hander has played professional baseball in independent U.S. leagues and abroad. At 32, he’s still got his eye on his next pitch while sharing his knowledge with youngsters coming up in the game. The 2008 graduate of Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School who played at Ancilla College (Donaldson, Ind.), Vincennes (Ind.) University and the University of Northwestern Ohio started his pro career with the independent Frontier League’s Rockford (Ill.) RiverHawks in 2012. Rich Austin was the manager. Rockford was giving Brammer — who was a two-way player in high school and college — a shot at shortstop. “I was always a good hitter, but not a great hitter,” says Brammer. The RiverHawks discovered how hard he threw and sent him to the bullpen to see if he could harness his speed. By the time Brammer was released last day of transactions, he saw his future on the mound. “I know I can compete at that level as a pitcher, but I couldn’t throw strikes,” says Brammer. “I told myself I’m going to concentrate the next eight, nine, 10 years on my craft — pitching.” Brammer, who has Marketing degree from UNOH, worked a genetic software sales job in 2013. But he heard and headed the call of baseball and went back to the diamond. He played with he Pittsburg (Calif.) club for three seasons in the independent Pacific Association. Wayne Franklin managed the Pittsburg Mettle in 2014 while Aaron Miles was in charge of the Pittsburg Diamonds in 2015 and 2016. Brammer started 33 games for Pittsburg and went 16-9 with 206 strikeouts and 102 walks in 217 innings. In the latter part of 2016, Brammer landed with the Steve Brook-managed River City Rascals, a Frontier League team in the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon, Mo. In four games (two starts), he went 2-1 with 13 K’s and eight walks in 17 2/3 innings. An opportunity to play overseas came in 2017 and Brammer was off to the Czech Republic to play for 3n2 International Stars at Prague Baseball Week and for Czech Baseball League’s Skokani Olomouc. A month break between the end of the regular season and the playoffs gave Brammer the opportunity to travel all over eastern Europe. In what is winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer south of the equator, Brammer played in Australia in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. The first two seasons he was with the Port Adelaide Magpies in the South Australia State League and won two Capps Medal awards as MVP. Port Adelaide went to back-to-back championship series. Brammer had games of 23, 21 and 19 strikeouts. He managed in both Port Adelaide and Perth. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he did not go back to club ball in Australia. The 5-foot-10 righty was with the New Jersey Jackals for parts of four seasons, winning 16 games, saving 18 and whiffing 184 while walking 90 in 218 2/3 innings. Brooks Carey managed the team in 2018 and 2019 in the Canadian-American Association. The COVID-19 season of 2020 saw the Jackals in the All-American Baseball Challenge. Carey guided New Jersey in the Frontier League in 2021. When the Jackals were not going to the playoffs, Brammer finished the season with the Atlantic League’s Stan Cliburn-managed Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. In nine games (all in relief) with Southern Maryland in 2021, Brammer went 1-0 with 16 strikeouts and six walks in 14 innings. A testing ground for Major League Baseball, the Atlantic League pushed the mound back to 61 feet, 6 inches, restricted infield shits and had Trackman call balls and strikes during the 2021 season. “It didn’t take that much time to adjust (to 61-6),” says Brammer. “My off-speed was up in the zone at 60-6. It broke a little more and stayed lower in the zone (at 61-6). They did me a favor.” Throwing straight over the top, Brammer uses four pitches — four-seam fastball, cutter, slider and forkball. “I have a heavy fastball that goes from 90 to 92 mph,” says Brammer. “I hide the ball really well and have fast arm speed.” Brammer’s family moved to Florida after his high school days and he has been there in the off-seasons since 19. He received an invitation to pitch in the Mexican League in 2022. With his girlfriend due to have a boy in December, Dylan opted to stay in Delray Beach, Fla., and teach baseball lessons while coaching the 12U East Boynton Blaze. He’s also staying sharp for his next playing opportunity. “I take pride in how serious I take baseball,” says Brammer. “I work at it daily.” Born in South Bend to Michael and Lisa Brammer, Dylan is the second oldest of 10 (seven girls and three boys). Brammer played at South Bend Southeast Little League and helped his team to the state tournament at age 12. When he got older, one of his summer teams was Mishawaka American Legion Post 161 coached by Jeff Moore. He played for Tim Prister at Marian High. “He was tough on us,” says Brammer of Prister. “I loved that about him. He expected a lot out of our class. “We took practices and games serious.” Marian was IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up in 2008, losing 5-1 to Crawfordsville in the championship game at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Brammer played shortstop and batted third that day, getting one of three hits off Athenians left-hander Cameron Hobson. Brammer drew interest from some NCAA D-I schools, including Butler and Michigan State. He says he did not have the grades to get into Butler and went the junior college route. Playing for Ancilla Chargers head coach Joe Yonto, Brammer hit .420 with 13 extra base hits in 44 games in 2009. At Vincennes U. in 2010, Brammer hit .372 with 18 extra base hits and a .428 on-base percentage for the Chris Barney-coached Trailblazers. VU went to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Baseball World Series in Enid, Okla. At Northwestern Ohio in 2011 and 2012, Brammer hit a combined .292 and posted a 1.21 earned run average on the mound with 61 strikeouts in 49 innings. The Racers head coach was Kory Hartman.
Tanner Gaff grew up in Whitley County, Ind., as a middle infielder who moved to the corners as he got older. The right-hander doubled as a pitcher. A 2016 graduate of Whitko Junior/Senior High School in South Whitley, Gaff went to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and was a two-way player until his last season — the extra year granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I had a pretty good year,” says Gaff, who employed Driveline Baseball training methods and increased his velocity going into 2021. As a pitcher-only in ’21, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder made 14 mound appearances and went 8-2 with a 4.15 earned run average and 92 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings. USF went 34-22, setting a school record for single-season victories. Gaff, who earned a degree in Business Management with a Sports concentration in 2020, still wanted to see how far pitching could take him. “I had heard nothing but good things about Tread (Athletics),” says Gaff of the business specializing in online performance coaching. He began training remotely with Tread in the summer of 2021. When Connor Lawhead left the Saint Francis coaching staff and went back to his native Washington, the Cougars were in need of a pitching coach. Gaff filled that role and was part of a staff featuring head coach Dustin Butcher and assistant Kristian Gayday while still honing his own skills. Then came the time to go to Charlotte, N.C., and train with Tread in-house, which he did from February to May of 2022. “Butch was happy for me,” says Gaff of Butcher’s willingness to let him pursue his dreams. “He was all for me furthering my baseball career.” With the help of Tread, Gaff posted videos of him pitching to social media and got the attention of the Minnesota Twins. On May 20, he signed with that organization and is now in Fort Myers gearing up for the Florida Complex League season which opens June 6. The next two steps up the minor league ladder are with the Low-A Florida State League’s Fort Myers Mighty Mussels and High-A Midwest League’s Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Gaff possesses a four-seam fastball, slider/cutter, curve and splitter (split-finger fastball). “My four-seamer has ‘plus’ carry and sits at 91 to 94,” says Gaff, 24. “I’m always looking to gain mph. When it’s right, his slider is delivered about 80 mph. “My splitter is one of my most promising pitches,” says Gaff. “I get good swing-and-miss with it. “I threw it in middle school though I didn’t know it was called a splitter at the time. I’ve always had it in my back pocket. The movement patterns are always consistent. Sometimes it’s left. Sometimes right.” At Tread, Gaff used TrackMan cameras to learned how to manipulate his splitter and other pitches. Born in Columbia City to James and Debra Gaff, Tanner spent his youth on a 40-acre farm (20 acres of farmland and 20 acres of wetlands) about 10 minutes from Columbia City, Larwill and South Whitley. He played in the South Whitley youth league until about sixth grade then travel ball with a homegrown team later the Ken Jones-coached Flippin’ Frogs and Cam Brannock-coached Summit City Sluggers. As a middle schooler, Gaff was on a Pony League travel team that was coached by then-Whitko head coach Erik Hisner (now at Eastern of Greentown). “That helped us with high school,” says Gaff, who had some teammates go on to win the Wildcats’ first sectional title in 2017. “We kept our core together.” Gaff played two years at USF for head coach Greg Roberts and then assistant Butcher took over the program. “(Roberts) was a really nice guy,” says Gaff. “He cared about his players. Butch is a great coach, but an even better person. “He changed the culture. Saint Francis wasn’t always typically known as a good baseball school.” Tanner has two older married sisters — Starr Kane and Isis Ivy.
At 23 and in his fifth season, Eston Stull is a college baseball veteran. The right-handed pitcher finds himself surrounded by many other seasoned players as part of a Southeastern University team ranked No. 1 in NAIA. “The best part of this team is humble confidence,” says Stull of the Lakeland, Fla.-based Fire. “You look in the dugout and they’re not nervous. Even if we’re down, they have the confidence that somebody is going to pick them up. “It’s a team that almost coaches itself. Having that veteran presence has helped this team a lot.” Stull, a 2017 graduate of Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, played four seasons at Indiana University-Kokomo (2018-21) while earning degrees in Finance and Management. In 51 mound appearances (27 starts), Stull went 13-4 with a 4.57 earned run average. He amassed 187 strikeouts and 89 walks in 159 2/3 innings. Matt Howard left the IUK program as head coach and Stull — who was granted an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic — began exploring his options. “I reached out on Twitter,” says Stull. Those Tweets drew the attention of SEU assistant coach/recruiting director Mike Mendoza and Stull corresponded with him and head coach Adrian Dinkel while pitching in the summer of 2021 for the Northwoods League’s Kokomo Jackrabbits. Stull decided to join a program that went 51-9 and competed in the 2021 NAIA World Series. Excluding the 2020 COVID season, Southeastern has posted four straight 50-win campaigns and is closing in on a fifth in 2022. Going into The Sun Conference tournament May 5-8 in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Fire is 47-3. The NAIA Opening Round is slated for May 16-19. Taylor University in Upland, Ind., is one the 10 sites and the SEU could be assigned there which is about 40 miles northeast of Pendleton. In 14 games (13 in relief), graduate student Stull is 0-0 with 0 saves and a 2.11 ERA. The righty has 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 21 1/3 innings. Graduate assistant Connor Dailey, who was a reliever 2015-18 at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C., is Southeastern’s pitching coach. “He’s somewhat our age and easy to talk to,” says Stull of Dailey. “He trusts all of us and let’s us stick to our own routine.” The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Stull has made the adjustment from starter to relief pitcher. “I think I fit better in the bullpen for this team,” says Stull, who mixes a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up from a high three-quarter arm angle. His four-seamer sits 92 to 93 mph and recently reach 97. His curve has a 12-to-6 action. He throws what he calls a “gyro” slider. “It goes down like a reverse change-up,” says Stull. “I look at the Rapsodo (motion capture system) and try to keep the spin efficiency below 12 and the RPM’s up (he averages 2800 with the pitch). Stull began throwing his change-up more last summer. “I have a good shape for it,” says Stull. “It’s just finding the time to get comfortable throwing it in-game.” Away from the diamond, Stull is working toward a Master of Business Administration and expects to take summer classes and finish as soon as possible. His coaches are looking to place him with a team. “I want to see how far baseball will take me,” says Stull. “I don’t want to have any regrets.” Born in Pendelton to Todd and Misty Stull, Eston grew up around the area and played what is now known as Pendleton Junior Baseball/Softball and then in travel ball, including time with the Indiana Nitro. At Pendleton Heights, his head coach was Travis Keesling. “I struggled my junior year and did not pitch much,” says Stull. “Coach Keesling sat me down and said you need to figure it out.” Stull began training with Greg Vogt — first at VIP and then PRP Baseball (in Noblesville, Ind.). “I had a great senior year,” says Stull. He still stays in-touch with Vogt. “I’ve reached out to him a couple of times with tips,” says Stull of the former Carmel (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University hurler who has moved his family to Florida and added rehab pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays system to his PRP Baseball duties. All three of Todd and Misty’s sons are in college. Eston’s younger brother Walker Stull pitches at Anderson U., and has trained with his at PRP Baseball. The youngest — Harrison Stull — is a student at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Their parents have moved to Jacksonville, Fla.
Jarrett Bickel had a decision to make after playing junior college baseball for two seasons. The infielder from South Bend, Ind., with two years of eligibility remaining could take another year at the JUCO level allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Head coach Kyle Forbes invited him to stay at Palm Beach State College. “I was ready to move on to a four-year school and play at the (NCAA) Division I level,” says Bickel, who chose Purdue Fort Wayne over East Tennessee State, New Orleans, Alcorn State and Savannah State. Why the PFW Mastodons? “I was sold on Coach (Doug) Schreiber and his history at Purdue University,” says Bickel. “I knew he was coming here to turn the program around. “He’s awesome. His knowledge for the game is through the roof.” Bickel appreciates Schreiber not only for what he can do for him on the diamond, but away from it. “He shows you how to carry yourself off the field and be a man,” says Bickel, 22. As a player, Bickel has gone from third base to shortstop and settling in as Purdue Fort Wayne’s starting shortstop and lead-off hitter. His double play partner is redshirt sophomore second baseman Brian Erbe. “He has a confidence and swagger he brings everyday,” says Bickel of Erbe. “We kind of feed off that energy.” Going into an April 27 non-conference game at Michigan State, righty swinger Bickel was hitting .259 (38-of-147) with five home runs, 12 doubles, 19 runs batted in, 18 runs scored and a .306 on-base percentage. He collected a season-best four hits April 3 against Wright State and drove in a season-high three runs April 16 at Northern Kentucky. Bickel even pitched 2/3 of an inning Feb. 27 at Cal Baptist. Though he was not in the middle of either, two memorable moments for Bickel came with walk-off wins March 20 against Youngstown State and April 22 vs. Northern Kentucky. Away from the field, Bickel likes to hang out with teammates. He also likes to play golf and go fishing. “I’m an outdoorsy person,” says Bickel. “I don’t like to be inside that much. I love to fish.” A St. Joseph River dam near campus gives him a chance to pull in catfish and bass. In the warm climes of Florida, he liked going on the ocean and catching snook. Bickel grew up a few minutes from Notre Dame and Bickel got to play against the Irish April 20, going 1-for-4 with an RBI. “I’ve always been a Notre Dame fan since I was little,” says Bickel. “Going back there and playing them was pretty special.” ND is No. 3 behind Tennessee and Dallas Bapist in the D1Baseball.com RPI. Bickel assessed the Link Jarrett-coached Irish. “They’re very well put-together and do all the little things,” says Bickel. “They’re well-coached. They are good at situational hitting and have very good (pitching) arms.” Currently fifth in the Horizon League, the Mastodons are looking to finish in the top six to earn a berth in the conference tournament May 25-28 with games hosted by the top seed. The last HL series wraps May 14. The regular season is to end May 21. Enrolled at Purdue Fort Wayne as a General Studies major, he has been taking mostly Business classes. Bickel plans to spent the summer with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. Mastodons pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Brent McNeil managed that team a few years ago. Chris Willsey, Bickel’s head coach two years ago in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., is slated to guide the Aviators in 2022. A 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishwawaka, Ind., Bickel played for Joe Turnock. The Knights won an IHSAA Class 3A Jimtown Sectional title in 2016. In 2019, Bickel played 41 games for Miami Dade College. He did not play in the spring of 2020 — the COVID-19 season. That summer, Bickel was with the Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League’s Mishawaka Brewers as well as the CSL’s Snakes and Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose, hitting .271 with a .403 OBP in 16 games. He played for the Bismarck Larks in 2021 with a OBP of .321 over 112 at-bats. Jarrett is the middle son of Joe and Megan Bickel. Tyler Bickel (24) is working toward becoming a fireman. Xavier Bickel (18) is a Marian senior. Cousin Trey Bickel is head baseball coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College — a junior college in Donaldson, Ind.
Matt Peters has not only unlocked the door to pitching velocity, the Fort Wayne, Ind., right-hander has kicked the door in and the baseball world is taking notice. The 6-foot-4, 215- pound sophomore at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne has been clocked as high as 101 mph. There are seven to nine pro scouts at all of Peters’ mound starts. He nows gets mentioned among the nation’s hardest throwers, including University of Tennessee righty Ben Joyce, who has fired it at 104 mph. Peters was on the cover of Collegiate Baseball. The first time 101 came was March 5 against Lincoln Trail College at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Peters did that again as recently as Monday, April 11 as the Titans played the Trine University junior varsity in Angola, Ind. A Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) commit, Peters has made a significant jump since the summer of 2021. “I worked a lot on my mechanics last fall with Coach Javi,” says Peters. “When I got into my legs my arm slot came up (to mid to high three-quarter overhand).” Ivy Tech pitching coach Javier DeJesus helped Peters reorganize his mechanics to make him move more efficiently. “Matt has confidence in how his body moves,” says DeJesus. “He can trust himself to throw the crap out of the ball and just where to put it. “The first (bullpen) pitch out his hand in the spring was 99 mph. I thought, ‘what did I just create?’” DeJesus gauged Peters’ deliveries last Aug. 16 and the speediest pitch came in at 93 mph. DeJesus, who was an All-American at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, pitched professionally for 10 seasons and has instructed many young arms, put his Titans hurlers — Peters included — through a grueling training program he created 15 years ago that he calls “Hell in the Cell.” “It is just as bad as it sounds,” says DeJesus of the routine that includes plenty of medicine ball work, long toss and sprinting to increase explosiveness. “You get your quick-twitch muscles going,” says Peters. “Coach Javi knows how to teach. He makes me think. He’s taught me a lot about the game.” After about six weeks of training with DeJesus, Peters attended a fall junior college showcase at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Miami pitching coach Jeff Opalewski saw Peters blaze them in at 98 mph and signed the hurler for the Danny Hayden-led RedHawks in 2022-23. Peters follows another gas-throwing Indiana native in Sam Bachman. The Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate was selected in the first round of the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft by the Los Angeles Angels. Bachman and Peters were on competing travel teams when they were of that age. A general studies major, Peters says he needs summer credits to complete his associate’s degree. Peters has been assigned to the MLB Draft League’s Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), where ex-big leaguer Homer Bush is the manager, former 14-year major league lefty Ron Mahay in the pitching coach and Craig Antush the assistant pitching coach. That season begins Besides DeJesus, Peters is also thankful for mentoring by Ivy Tech head coach Connor Wilkins and Titans assistant Scott Bickel. “(Coach Wilkins) is great role model,” says Peters, 21. “He’s helped me become a more mature person. He is a great example. “(Coach Bickel) was the person I really looked to when my parents (Matt and Laurie) got divorced. “I’ve had a lot of people who’ve helped me. My brother (David Peters) has pushed me very hard.” Matt is the youngest of three with sister Rachel being the oldest. Drew Buffenbarger and Mark Flueckiger are also Ivy Tech coaches. The program was established by Lance Hershberger, who was head coach from 2018-21. Because of the savings, Peters transferred to National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Ivy Tech from NJCAA D-I Hillsborough Community College (Tampa, Fla.) where he spent the spring of 2021 after being at NJCAA D-III Oakton Community College (Des Plaines, Ill.) in the fall of 2020. It was while throwing at an indoor facility during winter break that Peters was spotted and presented with the opportunity to play in Florida. A starter for Ivy Tech, he was a reliever for the Hillsbourgh Hawks and Oakton Owls. Peters did not pitch during the summer of 2020 and was with the College Summer league at Grand Park’s Snapping Turtles in 2021. Robb Wicks was the head coach. At Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School, Peters was on the baseball team as a freshman, sophomore and senior and was cut as a junior. “My flip of the switch was when I didn’t play on my Senior Night,” says Peters. Then he graduated in 2019, he was 5-9 and 160 when he graduated then hit my growth spurt his year of college. Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Peters played for the Indiana Prospects at 11 and 12 then for Indiana Baseball Factory from 13 to 17. The latter team was coached and organized by his father. The Prospects were started by uncle Mark Peters. The organization once included cousin Dillon Peters, who is now a left-handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Matt Peters’ four-seam fastball has the most giddy up. “I get a lot of arm-side run with the two-seamer,” says Peters. “My change-up is a slower version of my two-seamer with more depth. “My slider is good because I can throw it hard and it still has depth.” He threw one slider at 90 mph with the rest at 87 to 89 Monday at Trine. DeJesus showed him grips let him try to execute. “Matt has been an absolute joy to work with,” says DeJesus. “I have not called one single pitch of Matt’s “Pitchers and catcher have to work together. That’s how the they learn the game. They get a feel what they’re doing and give me the feedback. “A young man has a mind and he’s got to use it.”
Greg Vogt spent years building a training business he calls PRP Baseball (Passion Resilence Process) and others noticed. The Toronto Blue Jays were impressed enough to offer Vogt the job of Rehab Pitching Coach. Vogt, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School (2008) and Anderson (Ind.) University (2012), accepted and recently moved wife Whitney and three boys — Parker (6), Griffen (4) and Jackson (4 months) — close to the Jays complex in Dunedin, Fla. The organization has established a new 65-acre Player Development Complex for Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball players about 10 minutes from TD Ballpark where the Blue Jays play spring training games. Built during the COVID-19 lockdown, the facility has multiple tools to train and evaluate players including Trackman, Edgertronic, Rapsodo and HitTrax — all tools that Vogt and his staff use at PRP Baseball which is housed at Mojo Up Sports Complex (formerly known as Finch Creek Fieldhouse) in Noblesville, Ind. “That was a big part of making this decision, seeing their investment in player development,” says Vogt, who is in charge of players on the throwing side and is creating some bigger systems including arm care to keep athletes healthy. He regularly meets with pitching coaches and directors of player development. A biomechanical lab with six or seven Edgertronic high-speed cameras allows the tracking of movement, force and other measurable elements that can give feedback to the pitcher. “We can give them a real breakdown,” says Vogt. “(The camera) reads 1 second pitch and there’s like 30-second video. “We can make adjustments to make movement or the pitching arsenal better.” While getting to know faces of players and other Jays personnel, Vogt begins seeing pitchers in various stages of rehab early in the morning. They are split into groups. Depending on the day or their needs or programs, these hurlers may do some combination of throwing, weight lifting and medical treatment. Vogt says PRP Baseball being the “home in Indiana and beyond for all high-level baseball training is still the goal and it continues to be executed. “Our philosophy will be the exact same. We continue to have more college commitments and (MLB) draftees.” So far, 58 players from the Class of 2022 who train with PRP Baseball — in-person or remotely — have made college commitments. Vogt is still the Director of Operations for PRP Baseball and stays connected with his staff in Noblesville that includes Lead Hitting Coach Quentin Brown (who is also now a minor league hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates), Director of Hitting Jake Douglass, Pitching Coach Christian Dukas, Director of Player Development for Pitching Anthony Gomez, Pitching Coach Marcus McCormick, Hitting Coach Noah Niswonger, Director of Camps and Floor Trainer Seth Story, Pitching Coach Tasker Strobel and Director of Sports Performance Bram Wood. Gomez is handling more daily operations responsibilities with Vogt currently off-site. Vogt is still Director of Operations for PRP Baseball and manages all systems and marketing. “I can still take off the work load on some of the back end stuff like making sure we have space, sign-ups, programming software and building spreadsheets,” says Vogt. “Delegating to on-site staff very important to their growth as well.”
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.