Tag Archives: Football

Kansas Jayhawks’ Metcalf wearing Northern Michigan Dune Bears jersey this summer

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Metcalf’s 2020 summer plans had him playing baseball in the Northwoods League with the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was reconfigured and the two-year starting first baseman at the University of Kansas is in Traverse City, Mich., as part of a three-team regional pod.

Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has been assigned to the new Northern Michigan Dune Bears. That team plays games against established Traverse City Pit Spitters and new Great Lakes Resorters at at Turkey Creek Stadium. Players are being housed in cabins at Interlochen Center for the Arts, located between Duck, Geneva and Long lakes and close to Lake Michigan.

“We play every two days,” says Metcalf, who was the designated hitter during a season-opening victory Thursday, July 2 against the Pit Spitters. Former Jackrabbits hitting coach Alex O’Donnell, who played at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and is an assistant at Mercyhurst-North East was made a winner in his managing debut. “I’ve been to the beach a couple of times.”

Before the Kansas season was halted in March, Metcalf appeared in 15 games with 12 starts at first base and hit .244 (10-of-41 with two home runs, two doubles, six walks and 10 runs batted in. He belted his homers against Charleston Southern Feb. 22 and Indiana State March 7.

The Jayhawks, with Ritch Price as head coach and his son Ritchie Price as hitting/infield coach, recruiting coordinator and third base coach, were returning from a series March 10-11 at the University of Iowa when they learned that the Ivy League had canceled its season.

“We practiced the next day and the coaches told us it was not looking good,” says Metcalf. 

Soon after that, the season was canceled and campus was closed. Metcalf finished his spring semester classes via computer back in Granger, Ind.

“I was trying to learn accounting online,” says Metcalf, who is working toward a major in Sport Management with a minor in Business. “I got it done.”

The son of Dave and Leslie Metcalf and brother of Lexie Metcalf quarantined for about a month then began going to the Harris Township fields for daily batting practice with Penn classmate Niko Kavadas, who completed his third season at Notre Dame in 2020. 

Metcalf also resumed lessons with Mike Marks at his Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and began mowing lawns with the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation. 

“I wasn’t super-confident about the summer (baseball season),” says Metcalf, who was told June 15 to report to Traverse City, which is about 250 miles due north of Granger. “Now I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.”

Metcalf expects to split his time with the Dune Bears between DH, first base and catcher.

Last summer he played for the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats of the MINK (Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska-Kansas) Collegiate League. He was named to the all-star team and finished second in the home run derby at St. Joseph, Mo., even though he belted 32 total homers in three rounds.

At Kansas in 2019, Metcalf appeared in 44 games (27 starts) and hit .256 (30-of-117) with four homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs.

The summer of 2018 had him in the Expedition League with the Western Nebraska Pioneers.

As a Jayhawk freshman, Metcalf got into 14 games (one as a starter) and hit .077 (1-for-14) with one RBI.

Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn, Metcalf was a career .379 hitter while earning all-state and District Player of the Year recognition and being named to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior. 

Metcalf was on the High Honor Roll four times. The Kingsmen won four Northern Indiana Conference and IHSAA sectional titles, three regionals, two semistates and a Class 4A state championship (he scored two runs in a 3-2 win against Terre Haute North Vigo in 2015). The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder also played football at Penn.

What’s the difference between high school and college baseball?

“It’s the faster pace,” says Metcalf. “It’s how good every single player is. You have to prepare for every single game like it’s a big game — even the mid-week ones. 

“It’s fun, but hard work.”

Metcalf, a righty swinger, sees his power and his ability to hit to all fields as his strengths as a hitter.

“Hitting veto — guys that throw in the low to mid-90’s — means having quick hands,” says Metcalf. “You need to have a short, steady stroke. (The pitcher) will provide the power.”

From his 7U to 14U summer, Metcalf played travel baseball for the Granger Cubs. Teammates included Kavadas, Trevor Waite, Matt Kominkiewicz and Tony Carmola.

He played for Penn’s summer team after his first two high school campaigns then one summer each with the Eric Osborn-coached Indiana Nitro (17U) and Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U). Prior to his senior year, he played for the Kevin Christman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.

Nolan Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has spent three baseball seasons at the University of Kansas. This summer he is with the Northern Michigan Dune Bears of the Northwoods League, playing all his games in Traverse City, Mich. (University of Kansas Image)

Wirthwein chronicles century of ‘Baseball in Evansville’ in new book

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Wirthwein fondly remembers when professional baseball came back to his hometown.

It was 1966 and his grandfather, attorney Wilbur Dassel, bought season tickets for the Evansville White Sox at Bosse Field

That meant that 12-year-old Kevin got to be a regular at games of the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. 

Evansville had not been a pro outpost since the Evansville Braves played their last Class B Three-I (Illinois-Iowa-Indiana) League season in 1957.

“I had been watching baseball on TV and now I was able to see a real ball game,” says Wirthwein. “I started loving baseball.”

Another way his grandfather fueled that love was by sharing The Sporting News with Kevin. After reading it cover to cover he turned it over to his grandson so he could do the same.

Two of the biggest names on the E-Sox in those years were Bill Melton and Ed Herrmann.

Melton was 21 when the corner infielder and outfielder came to Evansville in 1967 and hit nine home runs and drove in 72 runs. He made his Major League Baseball debut with Chicago in 1968 and led the American League in home runs in 1971 with 33.

Herrmann was a 19-year-old catcher in 1966 and was with Chicago briefly in 1967 before coming back to Evansville in 1967 and 1968. He stuck with the parent White Sox in 1969.

Cotton Nash, who had been a basketball All-American at the University of Kentucky and played in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warrior and ABA with the Kentucky Colonels, was played with Evansville in 1967, 1968 and 1970, belting 33 homers in the first season of the Triplets. 

As a defensive replacement for the Chicago White Sox, Nash caught the last out of Joe Horlen’s no-hitter on Sept. 10, 1967.

On Picture Day at Bosse Field, Wirthwein got to go in the field and snap shots of his diamond heroes with his little Brownie camera.

A few of those color images appear on the cover of Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).

In a group shot, left-handed pitcher Lester Clinkscales is in the middle of the frame. His son, Sherard Clinkscales, was a standout at Purdue who was selected in the first round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals and is now athletic director at Indiana State University.

Wirthwein captures roughly the first century of Evansville baseball in a book published March 2, 2020. 

Through library files, digitized publications and the resources of the Society for American Baseball Research, he uncovered details about teams and characters going back to the Civil War, which ended in 1865.

Bosse Field, which is now the third-oldest professional baseball park in use (behind Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field) came on the scene in 1915.

Wirthwein’s book goes through the Evansville White Sox era and highlights how Triple-A baseball came to town with the Triplets in 1970. The independent Evansville Otters have inhabited Bosse Field since 1995.

Growing up, Wirthwein played youth baseball and then plenty of slow pitch softball.

He graduated from Harrison High School in 1972. He earned a journalism degree at Butler University in Indianapolis in 1976 and took job at The Brownsburg (Ind.) Guide, where he covered everything from sports to the city council and was also a photographer.

After that, he covered trap shooting for Trap & Field Magazine and had a short stint as editor at the Zionsville (Ind.) Times.

Desiring more in his paycheck, Wirthwein went back to Butler and began preparing for his next chapter. He worked toward a Masters of Business Administration (which was completed in 1991) and worked a decade at AT&T and then more than 20 years managing several departments at CNO Financial Group (formerly Conseco) before retiring in June 2019.

“I got lost for 30-plus years,” says Wirthwein, who has returned to his writing roots.

About three years before his last day at CNO he began researching his Evansville baseball book.

“I slowly assembled and had a manuscript shortly before retirement,” says Wirthwein, who is married with four daughters and resides in Fishers, Ind. 

When it came time to find someone to produce the book, he found The History Press, a division of Arcadia Publishing that specializes in regional history.

Wirthwein says Willard Library in Evansville was very helpful in the process, scanning images that wound up in the book.

It took a bit of digging to unearth the treasures from the early years. He was amazed that little had been written about the pre-Bosse Field era.

He did find details on teams like Resolutes, Blues, Brewers, Hoosiers and Blackbirds — all of which seemed to have monetary difficulties and scandals swirling around them.

“The whole 1800’s was just a mess,” says Wirthwein. “Teams were coming and going. Financial failures were everywhere.”

Jumping contracts was very commonplace in 19th century baseball. They were often not worth the paper they were written on since a player could get an offer for more money and be on the next train to that city.

To try to combat this, Evansville joined the League Alliance in 1877. It was a group of major and minor league teams assembled to protect player contracts.

It always seemed to be about money.

The 1895 Evansville Blackbirds led the Class B Southern League for much of the season. But, being nearly destitute, the club began throwing games for a sum that Wirthwein discovered to be about $1,500.

The Atlanta Crackers were supposed to be the beneficiary of the blown ballgames, but it was the Nashville Seraphs who won the pennant. Evansville finished in third — 4 1/2 games back.

Blackbirds right fielder Hercules Burnett socked four home runs in a 25-10 win against the Memphis Giants at Louisiana Street Ball Park May 28, 1895. 

In 1901, catcher Frank Roth hit 36 home runs for the Evansville River Rats of the Three-I League. 

“The Evansville paper thought that to be a world record,” says Wirthwein.

The wooden park on Louisiana, which was built in 1889 near the Evansville stockyards, was in disrepair by 1914 when it collapsed and injured 42 spectators.

Seeing an opportunity, Evansville mayor Benjamin Bosse sprang into action.

“The city had bought this big plot of land,” says Wirthwein. “(Bosse Field) was built in a matter of months. 

“He was ready.”

Unusual for its time, Bosse Field was meant to be a multi-purpose facility from the beginning and became home not only to baseball, but football games, wrestling matches and more.

Wirthstein’s book tells the story of Evansville native Sylvester Simon, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1923 and 1924.

In the fall of 1926, he lost three fingers on his left hand and part of his palm while working in a furniture factory.

He came back to baseball using a customized grip on his bat and with a glove that was repaired using a football protector and played for the Evansville Hubs in 1927 and had pro stops with the Central League’s Fort Wayne (Ind.) Chiefs in 1928 and 1930 and played his last season with the Three-I League’s Quincy (Ill.) Indians in 1932. His bat and glove are at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Hall of Famers Edd Roush (1912-13 Yankees/River Rats), Chuck Klein (1927 Hubs), Hank Greenberg (1931 Hubs) and Warren Spahn (1941 Bees) also spent time in Evansville. Roush is from Oakland City, Ind. Klein hails from Indianapolis.

Huntingburg native Bob Coleman played three seasons in the majors and managed 35 years in the minors, including stints in Evansville.

The Limestone League came to town thanks to travel restrictions during World War II. The Detroit Tigers conducted spring training in Evansville. Indiana also hosted teams in Bloomington (Cincinnati Reds), French Lick (Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox), Lafayette (Cleveland Indians), Muncie (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Terre Haute (White Sox in 1945).

Wirthwein’s research found plenty about barnstorming black baseball teams in the early 1900’s.

In the 1920’s, the Reichert Giants represented Evansville in the Negro Southern League. The Reichert family was fanatic about baseball. Manson Reichert went on to be mayor (1943-48).

“(The Reichert Giants) played semipros when not playing league games,” says Wirthwein. “They lobbied hard to play at Bosse Field when the Class B (Hubs) were out of town, but they kept going turned down.

Games were played at the Louisiana Street park, Eagles Park or at Evansville’s all-black high school, Lincoln.

“They started playing games opposite the Hubs and outdrew them every single time. The Bosse Field people finally acquiesced.”

In the 1950’s, the Evansville Colored Braves were in the Negro Southern League and were rivals of an independent black team, the Evansville Dodgers. Games were played at Bosse Field and Lincoln High.

What about the “Global” disaster?

Evansville-based real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. conceived of the Global Baseball League in 1966. It was to be a third major circuit to compete with the American League and National League. There would be teams all over globe, including the Tokyo Dragons from Japan, and the GBL was headquartered in Evansviile.

“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” says Wirthwein. “The guy just wouldn’t give up.”

Happy Chandler, commissioner of baseball in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was brought in as GBL commissioner. 

Hall of Famers Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter as well as Chico Carrasquel were brought in as managers.

Dilbeck did get the league up and running with six teams and games in Latin America in 1969. Spring training was held in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“It ended up in financial debacle,” says Wirthwein. “(Dilbeck) was banking on getting a television contract. When he couldn’t get that, there was no money.

“The league crashed and burned.”

While he can’t say more now, Wirthwein’s next writing project centers on basketball.

Wirthwein has accepted invitations to talk about his baseball book on Two Main Street on WNIN and Eyewitness News in Evansville and on the Grueling Truth podcast (12:00-39:00).

A baseball advertisement from 1877 that appears in Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).
Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing) tells about River Rats slugger Frank Roth.
Evansville native Sylvester Simon played in the majors with the St. Louis Browns in 1923-24. An industrial accident in the fall of 1926 took three fingers of his left hand and part of the his palm. His pro career continued until 1932. His story is in Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).
The Global Baseball League was an idea hatched in 1966 by Evansville real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. It was to be a third major league and rival the American League and National League. The GBL played a few games in 1969 then collapsed. The story is in Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).
“Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing)” was published March 2, 2002 by Evansville native Kevin Wirthwein. The two color photos on the cover were taken by Wirthwein as a boy at Photo Day at Bosse Field.
Kevin Wirthwein is the author of the book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing). He is a graduate of Harrison High School in Evansville and earned journalism and MBA degrees from Butler University in Indianapolis. Retired from business in 2019, the Fishers, Ind., resident has returned to his writing roots.

New Castle’s Besecker take non-traditional course to D-I’s VMI

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not your typical story of college baseball recruitment and commitment.

Nic Besecker, a senior at New Castle (Ind.) High School, played travel baseball just a few times — his 12U summer with a team called the Revolution and as a fill-in at 16 with 17U Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).

A self-described “rec league” player most of his diamond life, Besecker has in the New Castle Babe Ruth League and toed the rubber of the all-star team in last summer’s Indiana state tournament in Crown Point. That team was coached by Bret Mann, who had also coached New Castle’s entry in the 2012 Little League World Series.

Besecker, a right-handed pitcher, had his velocity clocked just three times during his prep days. He maxed out at 78 mph at an Earlham College camp as a freshman.

He got into the weight room and took a few lessons from pitching coach Jay Lehr and his velo went up.

“He’s been a big part of it,” says Besecker of Lehr, who is based in central Indiana. “We haven’t gotten to him enough. I’ve had only five true lessons with him, but he taught me something every time. He me how to use my lower half and get into my legs.”

Following his junior year at New Castle, he attended a Prep Baseball Report showcase and went as high as 85. In the early part of 2020, he was at another PBR event and got up to 89.

Besecker isn’t the biggest kid on the field either. Rosters list him at 5-11 and 155 pounds. He says he might be closer to 5-9 and 150.

He gets the most out of what he got. That’s why Besecker has been enamored with major league pitcher Tim Lincecum and what he did with his small frame.

“He’s been my idol since I’ve been little,” says Besecker. “What made me fall in love with him is that when he was good, he was the best pitcher in the world. He was so different from everyone else.”

Besecker has prided himself in exceeding expectations.

“Who’s this little squirt?” says Besecker imitating batters facing him for the first time. Then comes the first delivery.

Usually pretty swift.

But it’s not just about the heat.

“I’ve always prided myself in being a pitcher,” says Besecker. “I always knew how to locate.

“I wasn’t just a hurler.”

Besecker’s passion impresses first-year New Castle head coach Brad Pearson, who didn’t get to see the pitcher perform in a senior season that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nic is one of those kids who seems to be all about baseball,” says Pearson. “He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He just loves the sport.”

Pearson also appreciates Besecker’s mound approach.

“He’s not worried about lightning up the radar gun,” says Pearson. “He just wants to get outs.

“That’s pretty refreshing for a high school kid.”

Besecker signed his National Letter of Intent with NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute on May 11.

Funny thing is when Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra and pitching coach Sam Roberts welcome their new recruit to the Lexington, Va., campus it will represent a few firsts.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it will be the first time for Besecker and his coaches will seeing each other in-person when the player makes his first appearance in Virginia.

“I had options,” says ays Besecker, who will step into a program that has sent right-handers Zak Kent, Josh Winder and Matt Eagle into pro baseball in recent seasons. “Coach Hadra and Coach Roberts has something special going on over there.”

Besecker says he does not owe four years of military service after he graduates from VMI.

“I’m going there to play baseball and etch out some kind of career in baseball,” says Besecker. “That’s been my dream.”

Like all first-year VMI students, Besecker will start on the “Rat Line.” He is hopefully that this basic training program that usually lasts from August through January will help him pack on 20 to 30 pounds.

“I would not get that anywhere else,” says Besecker. “I’ve always been a guy to accept that kind of challenge.”

The majority of new cadets begin around Aug. 15, but they have had summer conditioning programs in the past. If those are available and his coaches want him to attend, Besecker might leave for VMI early.

It’s not yet certain when or if New Castle will have a graduation ceremony.

VMI is a member of the Southern Conference. The Keydets went to Virginia and North Carolina before the 2020 season was halted and was to play home-and-home series with Virginia Tech.

The SoCon tournament was to be staged at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. The park has its own “Green Monster.” The Greenville Drive are Low Class-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox.

Besecker played junior varsity baseball as a New Castle freshman and enjoyed his best varsity campaign as a Trojans sophomore.

“I played against guys who were able to hit the ball regardless of velocity,” says Besecker. “You have to be creative (with breaking pitches).”

In two varsity seasons, Besecker went 8-6 with a 2.96 earned run average. He struck out 80 in 71 innings.

The oldest of Kevin and Lauren Besecker’s two sons, Nic was born in Centerville, Ohio and was raised in Greenville, Ohio.

“I’ve been in a small town my whole life,” says Besecker.

When he was 9, his father brought the family to New Castle. That’s where he was a mechanic/crew chief for the racing Armstrong family, including Dakoda and Caleb, and Nic could get into the Focus program for gifted kids.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” says Nic of the move. “It was a perfect storm.”

He went to be inducted into the National Honor Society and participate in speech and debate while posting a 3.6 grade-point average (on a 4.0) scale at New Castle High.

Nic has logged around 200 service hours at New Castle Babe Ruth’s Denny Bolden Field and has been an assistant coach for teams featuring his little brother Drake (the 13-year-old left-hander is already as tall as big brother and finishing seventh grade).

Lauren Besecker holds a sports marketing degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and has what Nic calls a “love/hate relationship” with the Cincinnati Reds. She is waiting management to make the moves to again make the team make a consistent contender.

Before focusing on baseball his senior year, Besecker played football from fourth grade through junior year. The former quarterback was encouraged by Jaymen Nicholson, who coached in fifth and sixth grade and was part of the highs school staff.

“He’s always believed in me,” says Besecker. “Guys like him and Bret Mann have told me, ‘If you want to do it, you can do it.’ They bought in

“That’s catapulted me as far as I’ve gotten so far.”

BRETMANNNICBESECKERBRADPEARSON

New Castle (Ind.) High School senior Nic Besecker (center) celebrates his signing to play NCAA Division I baseball at Virginia Military Institute. He is flanked by Babe Ruth coach Bret Mann (left) and high school head coach Brad Pearson. (New Castle High School Photo)

 

From Bedford to Lexington, Elkins enjoys long broadcast career

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Elkins grew up in Bedford, Ind., with a love for baseball and broadcasting.

He played Little League, Babe Ruth and high school ball in the Lawrence County town, usually roaming center field.

“The center fielder is trusted to go get the ball and catch it,” says Elkins, who graduated from Bedford High School (now part of Bedford North Lawrence) in 1970 but not before playing his last two seasons as a Stonecutter for future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Orval Huffman. “It was a fun position to play.”

Appearing often in the World Series or the on the TV Game of the Week, New York Yankees slugging center fielder Mickey Mantle became Elkins’ favorite player.

“I don’t think I had Mickey’s power,” says Elkins.

While his family took the Louisville Courier Journal and tuned into Louisville TV and radio stations, it was the radio that was Elkins’ connection to baseball.

Prior to that season, WBIW in Bedford became part of the St. Louis Cardinals radio network, meaning Elkins could listen to the on-air stylings of Harry Caray.

Growing up a Cardinals fan, 9-year-old Elkins attended his first big league game in 1961 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

He had heard Caray describe on the radio and now he got to see the gigantic scoreboard in left and the pavilion that extended from the right-field foul line to the center field bleachers with his own eyes. He also saw Curt Flood in center field, which was his place throughout the 1960’s.

Elkins was also a fan of Redbirds mainstays Bill White and Lou Brock.

“I liked the way (White) played first base,” says Elkins of the 2020 Cardinals Hall of Famer. “He was left-handed and hit a lot of home runs onto the (Sportsman’s Park) pavilion roof.

“You got used to hearing Lou Brock’s name in the lead-off spot.”

Elkins counts himself fortunate that he had the chance to watch diamond dynamos like Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. He was in the park the day Clemente’s line drive broke Bob Gibson’s leg (July 15, 1967).

Over the years, Elkins watched the Cardinals play in three different home ballparks — Sportsman’s Park, Busch Stadium I and Busch Stadium II and got to see the colorful word pictures by Caray and the more understated stylings of Jack Buck come alive.

Long before he became the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League — a job he did for nine seasons (2009-17), Elkins developed an interest in broadcasting.

When it came time to attend college, he went to the University of Kentucky and earned a telecommunications degree in 1974. With the exception of one year away, he has lived and worked around Lexington ever since.

His first job out of college was at WMIK in Middlesboro, Ky., where he did a little bit of everything. He was a disc jockey and a play-by-play man for high school football, basketball and baseball.

Elkins then became a TV sports reporter for WLEX, an NBC affiliate in Lexington. He had played his share of pick-up hoops back in Bedford and now got cover UK’s 1978 national championship men’s basketball team.

“They were expected to win from preseason on,” says Elkins of a group coached by Joe B. Hall and featuring Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, James Lee and Mike Phillips. “There was some pressure.”

The Fran Curci-coached Kentucky football squad went 10-1 in 1977. Defensive end Art Still was a first-round National Football League draft selection and played in the NFL from 1978-89. Still is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

The father of two adult sons (Adam in Lexington and Tim in Cincinnati) and a grandfather of one with another on the way, Elkins still enjoys UK football — from tailgating to game time.

Elkins spent a year as a TV news reporter at WJTV, a CBS station in Jackson, Miss., before returning to work in public relations at UK and then Transylvania University — also in Lexington.

After that, he was employed as a writer/editor/coordinator of a variety of marketing communications and public relations projects for WYNCOM, Inc., a marketing and seminar company associated with leading business speakers and authors.

Elkins then returned to UK as Director of Communications for the College of Engineering.

In November 2008, he was hired by the Legends as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations.

“It was as big jump at that age,” says Elkins. “But I never regretted it. I never wished that I was somewhere else.

“It was always a pleasure to do the game.”

Like those broadcasters he’s admired, Elkins was sure to let fans know about distinctive traits at the ballpark or if the wind was blowing in or out. He let you the colors of the uniforms and were fans might be congregating.

“Anything you can do to help the fan experience what you’re seeing,” says Elkins. “It’s an important part of the broadcast.”

Elkins called 140 games a year — home at Whitaker Bank Ballpark  (originally known as Applebee’s Park) and away — for the first six years with the Legends and then just home games the last three. He was solo in the booth on the road and occasionally had a color commentator at home. For some TV games, that role was filled by former big league pitcher Jeff Parrett, an Indianapolis native who played at UK.

At the time, the Sally League featured teams in Lakewood, N.J. and Savannah, Ga. — both bus rides of nine or more hours from Lexington.

Elkins recalls one steamy night in Savannah when the bus broke down.

“The air condition was off and it got really hot,” says Elkins.

Players stepped outside and brought mosquitos and fire ants back into the bus with them. The team arrived back in Lexington around noon.

“There were long overnight rides, but you get used to it,” says Elkins. “That’s part of the minor league lifestyle.

“One of the challenges in baseball is to play at top level every day. If you don’t take care of yourself in April and May, it’s going to be pretty tough in July and August. Seeing every game you get to see guys come along and battle through slumps.”

In his second season behind the mike for Lexington, Elkins got to call the exploits of Legends  22-year-old J.D. Martinez and 20-year-old Jose Altuve, both on a path toward the majors.

Before being called up to Double-A, Martinez hit .362 with 15 home runs and 64 runs batted in 88 games. Prior to a promotion to High-A, Altuve hit .308 with 11 homers, 45 RBIs with 39 stolen bases in 94 games.

Elkins was there to call Bryce Harper’s first professional home run, socked for the visiting Hagerstown Suns in 2011.

“It was a line drive over the wall in left-center field,” says Elkins. “Even as an 18-year-old, he was getting a lot of attention.”

Elkins also saw Anthony Rizzo and Mookie Betts on their way up. Rizzo played for Boston Red Sox affiliate Greenville in 2008-09 when he was 18 and 19. Betts was 20 and with the same franchise in 2013.

Stephen Strasburg had already debuted in the majors with the Washington Nationals when he made a rehabilitation appearance for Hagerstown.

Elkins never had what he would call a signature phrase or home run call.

“If you’re doing games every night you settle into your pattern,” says Elkins. “I hope I’m remembered for accurate or entertaining descriptions.”

For years, he has put his descriptive powers to use as a free lance sports broadcaster and recently finished his 14th season as a TV studio host for men’s basketball on UK Sports Network and he sometimes substitutes as play-by-play man for Wildcats baseball.

That’s where he gets to make word pictures at Kentucky Proud Park.

KEITHELKINS2

Keith Elkins, a native of Bedford, Ind., was the baseball play-by-play voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends 2009-2017. His broadcast career stretches from the early 1970’s to the present. (Lexington Legends Photo)

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A long-time baseball fan, Bedord, Ind., native Keith Elkins got the chance to be the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League 2009-17. (Lexington Legends Photo)

 

Penn’s Lynch 2019-20 Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Lynch has long enjoyed using his drive to succeed to his advantage.

Ask the senior left-handed pitcher/centerfielder from Penn High School in Mishawaka what has made him into the Gatorade Indiana 2019-20 Player of the Year for Baseball and he doesn’t hesitate.

“My athleticism and competitiveness,” says Lynch, who is bound for the University of Notre Dame as a two-way player. “(Hitting) mechanics are something I’ve been working on. Before that I didn’t get too much into that. I used (athleticism and competitiveness) in overcoming some of the flaws in my swing.

“Competitiveness carries over from the batter’s box to the pitching mound. Competitiveness and composure. With the bases loaded and less that two outs, I trust myself to get out of a jam.”

At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Lynch has grown about an inch and packed on 20 pounds of muscle since entering high school.

Lynch, 18, has also gained the wisdom of others along the way.

“A lot of my growth has come with the upper class, especially at Penn,” says Lynch. “Niko Kavadas was a senior when I was a freshman. “He’s given me a lot of great advice. He showed me what it takes to be a Division I college athlete.”

Kavadas, a Notre Dame third baseman, is a candidate for the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He aided Lynch with hitting drills and mechanics, weight lifting tips and talked to him about the mental part of the game.

As a Penn freshman in 2017, Lynch went 7-0 with a 2.86 earned run average and helped Penn to the IHSAA Class 4A state championship game. A righty swinger, he also hit .350 with 26 runs batted in.

In 2018, he was 8-2 with a 2.07 ERA on the mound and hit .456 with 44 RBIs.

As a junior in 2018, his pitching mark was 5-1 with 1.61 ERA. He also hit .330 with 20 RBIs.

The 2020 season was taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For his three-year career, Lynch was 20-3 with a 2.18 ERA with 201 strikeouts and 79 walks. He also batted .378 and plated 90 runs.

Lynch thoroughly enjoyed his time in the Penn program headed by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.

“It was my first time being with a true team with bus rides together and seeing each other at school,” says Lynch. “It taught me some valuable lessons about being a better teammate and a leader as well, working with some of the young guys who needed.

“It’s not being selfish. We’re trying to work as a team and get to that state championship.”

Lynch considers himself as a versatile offensive player — something who can be a threat with his speed, but can also pop the ball into the gaps or over the fence.

“Having a training mindset, I want to get as strong as I can but be flexible,” says Lynch. “It’s not being too big and slow so you can’t stretch doubles and steal those bases.

“Some guys will train for one thing or another. If (the team wants) me to hit for power, I know what to do. If they want me to use speed, I know what to do.

“I’ve worked on my launch angle as I’ve worked on mechanics. Hopefully that will help me hit more home runs along with the doubles.”

On the mound, Lynch possesses a moving fastball clocked at 85 to 90 mph and is able to locate his curve ball and slider.

He describes the action of the breaking balls in terms of a clock face — 11-to-5 with the curve and 10-to-4 with a slider.

“I’ve been trying to get my curve ball more 12-to-6,” says Lynch. “It’s hard for hitters to pick up.

“I love throwing the slider to lefties. That’s probably where it’s most effective. You get them to open up their hips early and roll over on it.”

Lynch verbally committed early to Notre Dame and the new staff headed by Link Jarrett honored that offer.

“Growing up really close to Notre Dame, I loved everything about it — that campus, the traditions,” says Lynch. “Going to football games was really fun.

“The importance of Notre Dame and how valuable an education from that university would be. That really sets it apart.”

Lynch will graduate from Penn with the Latin Academic Honors distinction Cum Laude (4.25 grade-point average or higher on a scale of 4.0).

As a member of Penn’s Student-Athlete Leadership Council, Lynch has taken the lead in the school’s commitment to education-based athletics, creating and implementing lessons such as social media responsibility and how to take care of yourself and your teammates. He has helped organize events ranging from building community to freshmen student-athlete mentoring.

Another plus about playing at Notre Dame is the competition and exposure Lynch will get in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Everyone says great things about Coach Jarrett and the staff,” says Lynch. “I’m real excited to get into that program.”

The third of Gregory and Diana Lynch’s three children (Kristina is now playing soccer at Florida State University and football player Brandon is finishing his eighth grade year at Discovery Middle School), Ryan played for the Granger (Ind.) Cubs travel team from 9-13. To face a higher level of competition, he split his 13U summer with the Cubs and Ohio Elite. That team made it deep into the USSSA 13U World Series at Disney World in Florida.

In high school, Lynch played for the Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws (which became the Evoshield Canes Midwest).

Lynch says last summer was going to be his last with the Canes. With the cancellation of the 2020 Indiana high school season, the team is considering having a short summer run.

“I still have to get word with Coach Jarrett and his opinion on it,” says Lynch. “He doesn’t want me to rush back into anything. It’s something I will consider for this summer.”

Kristina Lynch was selected as the 2017-18 Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year in Girls Soccer and now plays that sport at Florida State University. She helped the Seminoles win the 2018 National Championship.

“She’s made a big impact in my life,” says Ryan of Kristina. “She’s set a great example of what it takes to be successful in all aspects of life. It’s not just hard work on the field. She can manage playing sports and taking extremely hard classes and help out in the community.

“She’s able to reach out and expand as a person.”

Brandon Lynch, 15, was a quarterback and linebacker in middle school and now moves on to the storied Penn football program.

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Ryan Lynch, a senior at Penn High School in Mishawaka, is the Gatorade Indiana 2019-20 Player of the Year for Baseball. He is on his way to the University of Notre Dame. (Penn High School Photo)

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Ryan Lynch, a senior at Penn High School in Mishawaka, is the Gatorade Indiana 2019-20 Player of the Year for Baseball. In three season, the left-handed pitcher/center fielder won 20 games and hit .378 with 90 runs batted in during his prep career. He is bound for the University of Notre Dame. (Penn High School Photo)

Grove appreciates how Churubusco values baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Grove retired as head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2015.

But that hasn’t stopped him from being a regular around “Turtle Town” diamonds.

Grove has helped out with the high school program, now led by 2011 graduate Jordan Turner, and has crossed Churubusco Community Park to watch youth league games.

“Baseball’s important in Churubusco,” says Grove. “It really is.

Grove, a graduate of Bluffton (Ind.) High School and Ball State University (1977), started coaching baseball at Churubusco in 1980 as an assistant to Jerry Lange (who was head football coach at the school 1985-91) and took over the Eagles in 1985. He went on to earn 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. Churubusco won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (reigning four times in the NECC tournament) on his watch and two Allen County Athletic Conference titles.

Grove produced 25 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state selections and six players selected for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Devin Peters (2015), Bryan Brudi (2008), Brad Vaught (2007), Brad Dell (2003), Todd Fleetwood (1997) and Travis Rehrer (1995). Grove was an assistant to North head coach Erik Hisner during the 2015 series.

Peters went on to play for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national champions at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (2017) and participate in the NCAA Division II World Series with Ashland (Ohio) University (2019).

Right-handed pitcher Fred Ransom Jones, a 2004 Churubusco graduate, was selected in the 33rd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees out of the University of Evansville.

Grove’s 1995 squad lost 7-1 to eventual single-class state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci, in the championship game of the Concordia Semistate. Bill Sharpe was the plate umpire in the title games of the Warsaw Sectional, Plymouth Regional, Concordia Semistate and State Finals in ’95.

The ’Busco battery of right-hander Rehrer and catcher Shawn Targgart wound up playing for Richard “Itchy” Jones at the University of Illinois.

Right-hander Brent Gaff represented Churubusco in the majors. He was chosen in the sixth round of the 1977 MLB Draft by the New York Mets and spent parts of 1982-84 with the big club.

“A small town kid from Churubusco can make it to the bigs,” says Grove. “This town is proud of the product they turn out on the baseball field.”

Whether or not an Eagles’ season included any postseason accolades, Grove got a kick out of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“I enjoyed the whole preseason part and working out in the gym,” says Grove. “I moved kids around so we could be the most competitive we could be.”

After games, Grove went home and studied charts to see how to pitch to returning players for the next opponent.

“That was a lot of fun,” says Grove.

He also appreciated the rapport with his players and the camaraderie with his assistant coaches.

“I’ve got to see (players) grow up and become fathers,” says Grove. “You’re only going to be as good as your assistants.”

Business teacher Terry McManama was hired at Churubusco at the same time as Industrial Technology teacher Grove and coached volleyball and softball before he was lured to the baseball staff, where he served for more than two decades.

Math teacher Monte Gerig, who was Eagles head coach from 1973-77, and Chemistry teacher Jim Folland (a former Fort Wayne Elmhurst head baseball coach) were also Grove assistants. When Trent Gerig (Class of 1996), was a player, his father was lured back to coaching baseball.

Coaches in the Churubusco athletic department knew that they needed to share athletes in order for their teams to be competitive so multi-sport athletes were the norm.

“Everybody worked together,” says Grove. “We kept our kids active. We were there for the kids.

“The more sports they play, the more it makes them a rounded athlete. They tend to stay away from injuries because they don’t use the same muscles over and over again until something gives.”

Grove, McManama and Gerig can often be seen together on the golf course.

To stay close to football, Grove and McManama walk the sidelines and keep statistics for Churubusco football, which is now led by Paul Sade.

A former defensive coordinator, Grove was an Eagles assistant from 1979-99. He coached football at Lake State Edison briefly before coming to Whitley County.

Grove is still active with the IHSBCA, helping with registration at the State Clinic each January and assisting with the Class 2A poll. He was a district representative for many years and has served on the North/South All-Stars Series committee and was co-chair of the Baseball Strikes Out Cancer project with former executive director Bill Jones. The campaign raised more than $25,000 for the American Cancer Society.

“The most satisfying committee I ever worked on with the IHSBCA,” says Grove.

He is grateful for the impact of mentors like Hall of Famers Jones (who coached at DeKalb), Masucci, Don Sherman (Huntington North), Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop) and Bill Nixon (Plymouth).

“I was skinny young coach,” says Grove. “I really looked up to those guys. The smartest thing I’ve ever done is that I kept my mouth shut and learned from them.”

At Bluffton, Grove was an outfielder and right-hander pitcher. Fred Murray was the Tigers head coach.

As a thank you to Murray, some member of the Class of 72, including Mike Pettibone, Bruce Hirschy and Jeff Penrod, initiated a reunion a couple of summers ago. Playing on old Wilson Field, Bluffton won its own sectional in 1972.

“Bluffton was a great place to grow up,” says Grove. “there was something going on for kids all the time.”

A summer recreation program provided chances to learn about baseball, swimming, tennis and more.

Denise Milholland, who went to another Wells County high school — Norwell — was introduced to Grove by Jim Watson and they later wed. Eric Milholland, brother of Denise, played in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Mark and Denise Grove have two married daughters and two grandsons — Jennifer, who works for Child Protective Services, and Derek Hupfer with Payton (9) and Brittany, an occupational therapy assistant, and Brennon Moughler with Evan (11).

Jennifer played volleyball, a little basketball and softball at Churubusco then softball at Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.). Brittany played volleyball, a little basketball and tennis for the Eagles. The Hupfers reside in Bluffton and the Moughlers near Butler, Ind.

One of Grove’s hobbies is collecting antique tools and tool boxes and fixing them up. One Christmas, he gave a tool box to each grandson and then let them and their fathers take turns picking out tools.

In January 2020, Grove received a call from Steve Warden on behalf of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Grove was selected for induction into the NEIA Hall of Fame with the banquet moved from the spring to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Classic Cafe Catering & Event Center, 4832 Hillegas Road, Fort Wayne, because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

“That was a happy day at the Grove house,” says Grove, who was on the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot in 2020. “It validates the kind of program we had here at Churubusco.

“We had a lot of support from the administration and community. You don’t win without that.”

The NEIBA will also induct Northrop head coach Matt Brumbaugh and World Baseball Academy Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel and present awards to Tom Knox and Tom Clements. Tickets are $25 each. Mail payment and the number of attendees to NEIBA, P.O. Box 12733, Fort Wayne, IN 46864.

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Mark Grove was head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School from 1985-2015 and earned 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. He is to be inducted into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame Oct. 18.

 

Mumma uses Baseball Utility Travel to develop players, humans

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Mumma learned decades ago he wanted to help others.

“I was touched as a teenager,” says Mumma, who turned 39 on April 1. “It changed me. It humbled me.”

He had the opportunity to help feed and clothe others — in some cases classmates — living in his community.

Mumma (pronounced MOO-muh) still looks back on his days with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at LaPorte (Ind.) High School and remembers that feeling.

Dave Krider and wife Lois led the FCA chapter and helped plant that compassion in Mumma, who earned 11 athletic letters for the LaPorte Slicers (three in football and four each in basketball and baseball), where he graduated in 1999.

“My coaches were fantastic role models and leaders for me,” says Mumma.

After playing for Bob Schellinger on the gridiron, Joe Otis on the hardwood and Ken Schreiber and Scott Upp on the diamond, the Slicer lefty went on to play baseball at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., and Western Michigan University, where he met his future wife Rose (the Mummas now reside in the Detroit Metro town of Fraser, Mich., with their four children — Madelyn, 8, Bradley Jr., 7 Ellie, 3, and Max, 1).

Mumma was drafted as a left-handed pitcher in the 32nd round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.

He was in the Blue Jays system through 2006 then spent three seasons in independent professional baseball with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers and Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers.

Before his playing days ended, he began teaching lessons through his Mumma Baseball Academy.

He found himself being a sounding board for the parents of his clients. They were telling him about their son’s travel ball experience — some of it was negative.

When the opportunity came for Mumma to expand his reach, he wanted to accentuate the positive.

Adam Rosales, a Western Michigan teammate who made it to the majors by playing multiple positions (mostly in the infield), started an online training business called Baseball Utility. Rosales is now a coach in the Oakland Athletics organization.

When Mumma decided to get into the world of travel baseball and to cross-promote, he decided to call his group Baseball Utility Travel.

“I found some like-minded people,” says Mumma. “We can do this without some undesirable things about travel ball.

“Parents can really put a lot of pressure on their own kids.”

It’s about player development and human development.

Something as seemingly innocent as “Come on, Johnny, throw strikes!” can be a negative cue or phrase.

“Studies show that players don’t want you to say these things,” says Mumma. “We’re trying to help guide (parents) on what is proper to say.

“A clap is sometimes better than saying something.”

Baseball Utility Travel’s mission statement: “Development. Our mission statement could end right there. We are about developing your child into the best player he can possibly be at the age and skill level he is currently at. Striving for that on a year to year basis you will see the growth of your child both on the field and off the field. Nothing, including winning will ever trump the development of your child, period. All of this being done in a positive environment that promotes maximum growth.”

Mumma has crafted a comprehensive Code of Conduct for both players and parents and has them sign a copy.

In part, that code states that players are expected to be on time (which means being ready to go 15 minutes before any activity). If they are going to be late, they are expected to call or text their coach.

Another expectation: Spikes on, uniform on, belt on, hat straight, Shirt tucked in, pants not sagging.

“You can rock your hat backward at the mall, I do myself, but on the field it’ll be straight with no hair showing out the front,” says Mumma. “Take pride in how you look.”

Mumma notes that umpires are going to miss calls and players should get used to it. If you show-up an umpire on the field they will promptly be taken out.

“I don’t care if he blew the easiest call ever, we will play with class,” says Mumma. “When you fail, which you will, act like you’ve played the game before and you understand that failure is a big part of this game.

“If you decide to put on a show after you strike out or make an error a replacement will be sent in without hesitation. The same will take place if you hit a pop up and don’t run it out as hard as you can. We will sprint on and off the field as if we were running from the cops.”

Another lesson to be learned is responsibility. So players are expected to carry their own bag, bring their own drinks and equipment.

“Control the things you can control and this will be a great experience,” says Mumma. “Things players can control: Attitude, effort, preparation, hard work and dedication. Things they can’t: Umps, crappy fields, crappy weather, umps, umps, where you hit in the lineup, and much more. And umps.”

As for parents, they are expected to get their player to practice and games on time and communicate with the coach if they are going to be late.

Mumma also tells parents how to deal with game officials.

“Umpires won’t be great so please understand that,” says Mumma. “It is not your job to communicate with them, you will directly affect your son and our team if you take that matter into your own hands. We’re teaching our coaches how handle them with class, and how to get on them when necessary.”

There is a policy where parents can ask a manager or coach about playing time or the place in the batting order 24 hours after a competition. But they must be ready to hear something they might not want to hear.

Parents are asked to cheer and avoid negative cues. They are to stay away from the dugout unless it is absolutely necessary. They are not to approach a coach in the dugout, after a game or in the parking lot.

“Please wait until the next day to handle your issue,” says Mumma. “After games please tell your kids that you are proud of them and you enjoyed watching them play. Baseball will suck the life out of a growing child because it is a game of failure.

“They do not need to get into the car after the game and hear how they went 0-4 and made two errors. Our coaches will handle that part of it and very rarely will it be in the heat of competition or after. We will take care of those types of conversations in practice and training sessions, the correct avenue for learning.”

There are now about 150 players on 12 teams ages 9U to 18U that train and play based out of a facility shared with the Detroit Diamond Jaxx in Warren, Mich., a northern suburb of Detroit.

High school players participate in six tournaments during the summer, finishing by Aug. 1. The younger kids play in eight and are done by July 1.

“Kids need to be kids and have a summer,” says Mumma. “Rest time — physically and mentally — is important for them.”

The season generally begins when the weather breaks in April.

Baseball Utility Travel has won some trophies. But that’s not the important thing.

“It’s not a prestige thing for us,” says Mumma. “Our ratio of practice to games is 2:1.

“(Beginning in late October), we have 70-80 training sessions and 35-40 games.”

Mumma is one of the lead instructors on a staff of 17 — all being former college or professional players.

“We have no parent coaches,” says Mumma. “All our guys coach all the teams in the winter. We train in big groups.

“All of our coaches) has something to offer.”

Joe Small, a former assistant at Macomb Community College, has come aboard to coordinate defensive concepts and do administrative work.

When Mumma was with the Blue Jays, minor leaguers participated in Baseball 101 class room sessions.

That’s when Mumma realized how much could be taught about the game on a chalk board and has brought that to Baseball Utility Travel.

“In these non-competitive situations, kids learn so much better,” says Mumma. On the field — with so many other players and coaches around — some might have a tendency to “clam up.”

To get messages across to his players, Mumma and his staff have brought in many guest speakers — players, coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists and more.

On Monday, April 13, more than 100 participated in a Zoom video conference featuring former big league pitchers Zach Jackson and David Purcey, inventor of the Towel Trainer.

While the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has players and coaches physically apart, Mumma wants his players to be ready when baseball resumes.

“We give them things to do at home,” says Mumma. “Throwing the ball is the best way to get your arm feeling good again. Your body wants the consistency of work.

“Make sure you’re throwing.”

Not just about balls and bats, Baseball Utility Travel is also a charitable organization. Mumma says the group annually spends $25,000 to $30,000 in the community. This is done through such deeds as delivering Thanksgiving meals, Christmas gifts or paying the rent for families who lost their home in a fire.

“I always wanted to do that,” says Mumma. “We have the power of numbers. But it’s just a helping hand.”

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Baseball Utility Travel celebrates with (from left): Chuck Rinehart, Broc Riggs and Brad Mumma. Rinehart is the father-in-law of organization founder Mumma.

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Brad Mumma talks to Baseball Utility Travel players via Zoom conference. The graduate of  LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Western Michigan University founded the organization in the suburbs of Detroit. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Fraser, Mich.’s Mumma family (from left): Max, Rose, Madelyn, Bradley Jr., Ellie and Brad. Baseball Utility Travel was founded by Brad Mumma as a way to lead player and human development.

 

Lewis Cass graduate Marschand makes, maintains fields of all kinds

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As soon as Blake Marschand could put one foot in front of the other, he was stepping on a baseball field.

From a young age, Blake was helping his father groom diamonds and other facilities.

Greg Marschand, a 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, has spent countless hours on fields at Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind., where he is still head baseball coach and athletic director.

“My dad got this etched in me,” says Blake Marschand, who played football, basketball and baseball for the Cass Kings and graduated in 1998. “This is all I knew. There was no sleeping in on the weekends when I was a little kid.

“Sports have always been a big thing to the Marschand family.”

Over the years, Blake saw his father’s work ethic and heard him talk about having a company that builds and maintains these places to play ball.

A right-handed pitcher, Blake played baseball for two years at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City, Ala., and two at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu and retuned to Howard County, Indiana.

He purchased some equipment from former Northwestern High School baseball coach Dan Armstrong and launched Marschand’s Athletic Field Service in 2008.

MAFS works on baseball, softball, football and soccer fields.

On the natural side of things, it’s construction (laser grading, adding DuraEdge infield mix, building mounds and bullpens, complete tear-offs, re-grades, re-builds and more) and maintenance (aerification, fertilization, overseeding, top dressing, deep-tine aerification, edging etc.).

As a regional representative, Marschand applies DuraEdge-engineered infield mix. The product is used on many Major League Baseball fields and throughout the nation. There are three main varieties — Classic, Collegiate and Pro. Each mix is engineered to certain percentages of clay, sand and silt.

Marschand and his crew also perform maintenance on artificial-surface fields throughout the Midwest for Sprinturf.

“I’m not totally against synthetic (turf),” says Marschand. “It’s got it’s place.”

Marschand notes that some schools may not have had their fields built the right or does not have the right equipment or knowledge to maintain those fields correctly.

“If the fields are built using the correct products and materials, it makes maintenance a lot easier,” says Marschand. “Basketball courts get budgeted to be re-surfaced every year, but outside fields often get put on the back burner.

“Outdoor fields being laser-graded every two or three years would be similar to having a basketball court re-surfaced.”

It’s all about maintaining a facility. It cuts down on that big project.

MAFS has been to fields all over Indiana and continues to pick up new business.

For 13 years, Marschand has held the contract at CFD Investments Highland Park Stadium in Kokomo, Ind., doing daily game preparation, clean-up and more.

“We thrive on building and developing that honest relationship with customers,” says Marschand. “We’re not a huge business. I just try to keep it to a small core group of (four to five workers). That way we can be efficient.”

Marschand says that the initial important step in field construction or maintenance is using the correct products such as DuraEdge infield mix and setting the correct grade.

“Looking into the future, that’s just going to help in maintaining the field,” says Marschand. “On a renovation project, it sometimes can be tricky because we have to match the existing grade of the way the field was laid out.

“We’re trying to determine what percentage of grade that is to give them that efficient surface run-off, which is what you want.

“On the DuraEdge side, we shoot for a two-inch cap,” says Marschand. “That will give you a really nice, quality skin surface.”

Marschand says the best time to do field renovation work is in the summer and fall because the weather tends to be nicer and teams are not on the field as often as they are in the spring.

Even though the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has baseball — and other sports — canceled for the spring, MAFS has been busy working on fields.

But it’s not been a typical March and April.

“Usually springs are pretty stressful,” says Marschand. “Once you get those first sunny days, your phone’s ringing off the hook. Everybody wants you there that day. I get it. I’m not mad at them for that.

“The goal is to make your customers happy. You don’t want to keep them waiting.

“We’ve got all kinds of work in the books. I try to lay out my work on a first-come, first-served basis. When customers call I put them on a list and try to run down that list.”

There is not much grade work being done when it’s wet, but the crew can install mounds and perform other tasks.

“I also try to split it up so I’m not burning guys out on the same thing every day,” says Marschand. “That’s what’s so great about this work. It’s always something different. Every place is different and has its own needs.”

Marschand is appreciate of the relationships he has formed in the industry.

“Guys that are way more knowledgeable than me are always willing to talk and discuss whatever the situation might be,” says Marschand. “Having those relationships mean a lot to me and I’m very thankful.”

That includes staffers at DuraEdge, Joey Stevenson with the Indianapolis Indians, Jeremy Tredway at Indiana University and Brian Bornino at Purdue University.

Marschand typically looks for former athletes to work on his crew.

“They understand the work ethic and appreciate the big picture once they start seeing what goes on behind the scenes,” says Marschand.

This week’s schedule called for work on netting and padding on the dugouts at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, building mounds for Noblesville High School, finishing laser-grading at Carroll (Flora) High School, aeriating and later top-dressing at Kokomo High School soccer fields, spraying at Guerin Catholic High School, spraying at Western High School, top-dressing at Eastern High School and a number of things at Rochester High School.

Blake and Tara Marschand live in Kokomo with daughters Kinsley (11) and Bayah (7).

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Marschand’s Athletic Field Service has long held the maintenance contract at CFD Investments Highland Park Stadium in Kokomo, Ind.

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Marschand’s Athletic Field Service has laser-graded Andy Mohr Field, the softball facility at Indiana University.

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Marschand’s Athletic Field Service has laser-graded Alexander Field, Purdue University’s baseball facility.

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The Marschand family (from left): Tara, Bayah, Blake and Kinsley. The Marschands reside in Kokomo, Ind. Blake Marschand is the founder of Marschand’s Athletic Field Service.

Painter’s book details rich history of Negro Leagues baseball in Richmond, Indiana

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The National Road connecting the east to the west passed through the heart of Indiana. Near the eastern end of the state is Richmond.

Dayton, Ohio, is 46 miles to the east Indianapolis 73 to the west. Fort Wayne is 92 miles to the north and Cincinnati 74 to the south.

A place that has been called the “Rose City” has long been sweet on baseball. In his research, Richmond resident Alex Painter discovered that the town was booming with baseball in the late 1800’s.

Local interest in the diamond and Richmond’s place on the map means that many ballplayers — famous and otherwise — have displayed their skills in this Wayne County community.

Sometimes traveling clubs played a local semipro or minor league team. Sometimes two teams met in Richmond.

“It’s an advantageous location,” says Painter, whose particular curiosity in black baseball had him digging through digital files and he learned that 19 baseball Hall of Famers that played in the Negro Leagues came through town — men like Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Biz Mackey, Turkey Stearnes and Willie Wells.

Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil also graced the diamond at Richmond as did Choo Choo Coleman, Sam Hairston and Sam Jethroe.

His “eye-crossing, detail-oriented work” — looking at old issues of the Indianapolis Freeman and other publications — revealed more than 100 Negro Leagues games that took place in Richmond. Another pass turned up more than 350 players.

Baseball Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston played for a professional-caliber Richmond team in 1918 and managed a game here 100 days before he died in 1954. The Indianapolis chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research bears the name of former Negro Leaguer Charleston.

The 1933 Chicago American Giants came to Richmond with four future Baseball Hall of Famers. On the local amateur team — the Lincos — was a Richmond High School graduate and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Weeb Ewbank.

For quite awhile, Painter — a big Cleveland Indians fan — knew that Satchel Paige and Bob Feller came to Richmond on a barnstorming tour in 1946.

Hall of Famer Phil Rizzutto took to the field in Richmond.

Painter, who is Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at alma mater Earlham College in Richmond, also heard stories about how Negro Leaguer Josh Gibson was supposed to have clouted a home run down the left field line over the 415-foot barrier at what is now known as Don McBride Stadium.

The park is now home to Richmond High School baseball and the summer collegiate Richmond Jazz.

Enthralled with the story of former Negro Leaguer and big leaguer Luke Easter, who also came through Richmond in 1946, Painter self-published “Folk Hero Forever: The Eclectic, Enthralling Baseball Life of Luke Easter” in 2018 (Lulu.com).

“It was feat not duplicated for nine years,” says Painter. Easter, who is said to have clouted 650 homers in various circuits, played for the Homestead Grays in 1947 and 1948 and made his Major League Baseball debut with Cleveland in 1949 at 34 (though at the time it was widely reported that he was six years younger).

A few weeks ago, Painter followed that up with “Blackball in the Hoosier Heartland: Unearthing the Negro Leagues Baseball History of Richmond, Indiana.”

“It’s kind of the story of Richmond told through the Negro Leagues and the story of Negro Leagues told through Richmond,” says Painter, who starts at the earliest parts of local baseball history and brings many tales to light.

“It should absolutely be a point of pride for Richmond,” says Painter. “I don’t think people realize how many guys came through here.”

Painter’s latest book is available through Lulu.com and at Amazon.com.

He put out his latest work to coincide with the 100th year anniversary of the Negro National League.

Painter continues to enjoy research there may be more books in the future. A possible subject is John “Snowball” Merida, who integrated baseball in east central Indiana in the early part of the 20th Century. A catcher, he was the only black player on the Spiceland Academy team. In 1905, he was with a Dublin, Ind., team playing a game in Richmond at a field that Painter found out to be just blocks from where he now lives with his wife Alicia and three children — Greyson, Eleanor and Harper. Merida played for the famed Indianapolis ABCs 1907-10 and died and spinal meningitis at 31.

Painter credits Paul Debono’s “History of a Premier Team in the Negro Leagues: The Indianapolis ABCs” as being a big help in his research.

The second oldest of a family of 10, Painter comes from a football family. He and five of his six brothers played at Fort Wayne Snider High School, where he graduated in 2006. Alex played defensive end at Earlham.

Painter is the founder and producer on “Onward to Victory: A Notre Dame Football Podcast” and has been researching the life and career of Fort Wayne native Emil “Red” Sitko, the only man to lead Notre Dame in rushing for four seasons.

GREYSONALICIAELEANORHARPERALEXPAINTER

The Painter family (from left): Greyson, Alicia, Eleanor, Harper and Alex. Alex Painter is the author of two baseball books — “Folk Hero Forever: The Eclectic, Enthralling Baseball Life of Luke Easter” (2018) and “Blackball in the Hoosier Heartland: Unearthing the Negro Leagues Baseball History of Richmond, Indiana” (2020).

LUKEEASTERBOOKALEXPAINTER

Alex Painter’s first book, “Folk Hero Forever: The Eclectic, Enthralling Baseball Life of Luke Easter” (2018).

RICHMONDNEGROLEAGUESBOOKALEXPAINTER

Alex Painter’s latest book, “Blackball in the Hoosier Heartland: Unearthing the Negro Leagues Baseball History of Richmond, Indiana.”

Chesterton, Goshen College graduate Hoover to be voice of Gary SouthShore RailCats

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Laura Hoover thought her summer would again have her calling baseball play-by-play in Connecticut like she did in 2019 with the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

But not so fast.

Hoover, a 2019 Goshen (Ind.) College graduate, was approached by the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in February about her interest in club’s vacant broadcaster job.

Having grown up 20 minutes from U.S. Steel Yard in Chesterton, Ind., and a follower of the team, sure she was interested.

Hoover met with general manager Brian Flenner and field manager Greg Tagert and accepted an offer to be broadcaster and media coordinator.

She officially begins her duties April 1. The RailCats open the May 19 at the Sioux Falls Canaries with the home opener May 22 against the Milwaukee Milkmen. Games will air on Michigan City’s WEFM-FM 95.9.

When word got out of Hoover’s hiring, other AA broadcasters reached out.

“I always want to learn,” says Hoover, 23. “I can learn from other broadcasters. I will happily absorb all that information.”

Using the John Chelsenik-ran Sportscasters Talent Agency of America, the RailCats will find an intern to work with Hoover, helping with on-air duties at home and likely selected road games.

“I am extremely young to be in this position,” says Hoover. “I want to learn from them as much as they are going to be learning through me about a broadcast. It will be a 50/50 kind of deal.

“I’m still learning and I will never stop learning.”

Why baseball broadcasting?

“I just love the sport,” says Hoover, who is already doing preparation for the upcoming season, researching players and other personnel, statistics, history and more and figuring out what she wants to put into the team’s media guide and daily media packets.

“The thing that I’m trying to add more to my broadcast is talking more to players and coaches,” says Hoover. “I want to open that line of communication and use that in the broadcast.”

Growing up in an active family with parents Terry (Andrean High School graduate) and Chris (Hammond Gavit High School graduate) and older brother Jordan (Chesterton High School graduate), Laura participated in basketball, cross country, karate, soccer, track and field and volleyball and came to decide that her best sport was swimming. She attended St. Patrick Catholic School in Chesterton before entering public school as a middle schooler.

She swam four seasons for Chesterton coach Kevin Kinel while working at the school’s student-run radio station — WSDO-FM 88.3 — under the supervision of teacher Matthew Waters. She juggled her swim workouts with her studies and her radio duties, which included studio shifts and play-by-play for football, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and softball.

“I never played baseball and softball,” says Hoover, a 2015 Chesterton graduate. “I’m a student of the game. (Regional Radio Sports Network president/founder) Paul Condry keeps reminding of that.”

Early time spent in the baseball press box was definitely a learning experience for Hoover.

“I did not know how to keep a book,” says Hoover. “I learned that very quickly.”

A drawback of calling baseball for the Chesterton Trojans is that her broadcast partner would sometimes not show up.

That was not a problem in college, where she also took the mic for soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball.

“People showed up to help me broadcast and it just kind of took off,” says Hoover. “I learned how to do it and enjoyed doing it.

“It turned out being one of the sports I love to broadcast the most. I decided to make a life out of it.”

Hoover saw broadcasting as a way to cope with her natural timid nature.

“I was always a really shy kid,” says Hoover. “Speaking behind a mic, you’re never physically face-to-face.

Then came the chance to broadcast.

“I might might as well go do it,” says Hoover. “I tried it out and loved it.

“I decided to pursue a degree in it.”

Hoover chose Goshen for its award-winning communication department, featuring assistant professor Jason Samuel and associate professor Kyle Hufford.

GC has produced many professional sports broadcasters, including Benjamin Kelly (now with the Northwest Naturals in the Kansas City Royals organization and the SEC Network) and Dalton Shetler (who works for the Spartan Sports Network on Michigan State University games).

She worked all four years at WGCS 91.1 FM aka The Globe, serving as student station manager as a senior, and helped re-boot GCTV.

As student station manager, Hoover did many behind-the-scenes things and kept the station and its personnel organized. She was there many late nights and random times day and night.

“I had to make sure I had my time available for everybody else,” says Hoover. “People leaned on me more.”

Her job with the RailCats will mean road trips to nine states (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas, Wisconsin) and one Canadian province (Manitoba).

“I’m not too worried about travel,” says Hoover. “I’m no stranger to 18-20 hour trips. The Globe goes (by train) to New York every year (for the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s Multimedia Conference).

LAURAHOOVER

Laura Hoover, a graduate of Chesterton (Ind.) High School (2015) and Goshen (Ind.) College (2019), has been hired as broadcaster and media coordinator for the Gary SouthShore RailCats. She spent the 2019 season calling games for the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.