Tag Archives: Fort Branch

’22 Evansville North grad Decker adapting to life with the Dodgers

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

Cameron Decker was a young baseball player at McCutchanville Community Park on the north side of Evansville, Ind., when he donned a Dodgers jersey.
Flash forward about a decade later and Decker is with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
The 18-year old was selected in the 18th round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers. The draft was held July 17-19, he signed July 30 and last week finished a short stint in the Arizona Complex League. He came back to Evansville for a few days then headed back to Glendale, Ariz., for “bridge” league and Arizona Instructional League (which conclude Oct. 8). The Dodgers’ training complex is at Camelback Ranch.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder enjoyed a super senior season at Evansville North High School in 2022. He made 115 plate appearances and hit .447 with 12 home runs, five doubles, three triples and .617 on-base percentage as a righty-swinging shortstop. He bashed six homers in the Huskies’ first three games.
“It was my goal going in to hit a lot of home runs,” says Decker of the offensive approach at the end of his high school career. “(After the hot start), I saw a ton of curveballs and balls. I switched my mindset to be less aggressive and more patient and take what comes my way.
“As a pro, I’ve tried to hunt fastballs. In two-strike counts, I’m looking to put something in-play.”
While he has not fully committed to it, Decker is considering becoming a switch hitter.
“When I was about 12 I took a few (lefty) swing in the cage and my body felt well and not awkward,” says Decker. “I’ll sometime hit (lefty) in the cage to loosen things up.”
Decker was selected to play in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series June 25-26 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion and Evansville North head coach Jeremy Jones was head coach for the South.
A University of Central Florida commit, Decker opted to go pro rather than attend college.
“It was a combination of a lot of things,” says Decker of the factors that went into his decision. “Three years of college is a lot of time. You’re not guaranteed to be drafted again. Development in pro ball is higher than three years of college.
“My dream since I was a little kid to play Major League Baseball.”
Decker, who turns 19 on Sept. 22, is getting used to the transition from amateur to pro baseball.
“I’m enjoying you a lot,” says Decker. “It’s a job and it’s a lot of baseball. We’re at the field 9 to 12 hours a day getting work in and playing games.
“I’m around a lot of smart people who love baseball. It’s pretty cool.”
The Dodgers have used Decker as a corner infielder but he has also gotten reps in the outfield and at shortstop and second base.
Decker considers strength and the ability to cover ground in the infield and outfield and run the bases well as some of his best qualities.
“I’ve always been a strong kid,” says Decker. “I’ve always had power regardless of my height. I’ve been working on being more mobile and loose. “It’s part natural strength. I also hit weight room three times a week for a whole-body workout.”
Since the end of his freshman year at Evansville North, Decker has worked out with Tyler Norton, who is a strength and conditioning coach for the Dodgers and runs TNT Fitness and Performance in Fort Branch, Ind.
Decker was born in Evansville and grew up on the north side. After playing at McCutchanville, he was with Highland and competed in the Indiana Little League State Tournament at age 12.
Playing for father Chad Decker, Cameron went into travel ball with the Evansville Thunder.
“Then it was time to go chase bigger things,” says Cameron, who was with the Canes Midwest coached by David Bear and Phil McIntyre his 15U and 16U summers and 5 Star Midwest coached by Jerry Cowan at 17U.
Along the way, Decker impressed scouts including those with the Dodgers, especially after he showed well in an event in Jupiter, Fla.
Dodgers Upper Midwest area scout Mitch Schulewitz (who pitched the University of Illinois-Chicago) signed Decker to his first pro contract.
Cameron — the oldest of Princeton (Ind.) Community High School graduates Chad and Libby Decker’s two sons — comes from a family with a strong baseball pedigree.
Grandfather Joe Don Decker played at Indiana State and in the Cincinnati Reds system. He was a 1962 spring training roommate of Pete Rose and went as high as Triple-A.
Father Chad Decker set records at Princeton then went to the University of Central Florida as a pitcher. After developing arm problems, he transferred to Indiana University to study business and now sells dental insurance.
Cousin Jeff Goldbach broke Chad’s Princeton hitting records and was drafted in the second round of the 1998 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. He was tragically shot and killed in Greensboro, N.C., in 2021.
Uncle Quinn Decker pitched at Indiana State and lettered in 1996.
Brother Cole Decker (Evansville North Class of 2024) is a lefty-swinging and lefty-throwing outfielder who spent the summer of 2022 with the traveling Louisville Legends. The spring high school season was his first baseball season playing with his big brother.
“We’re a very tight family,” says Cameron. “But summers are usually split with mom and dad trading off (to followed one brother or the other).”
Libby Decker is a former social worker now in marketing. She holds degrees from Indiana State and UCF.

Cameron Decker. (Los Angeles Dodgers Photo)
Cameron and Chad Decker from the McCutchanville days.

Cameron Decker’s first Los Angeles Dodgers organization jersey.

Cameron Decker (left) and Los Angeles Dodgers strength and conditioning coach Tyler Norton in Glendale, Ariz.

Respect for the game essential for May, Gibson Southern baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Continuity.

Consistency.

Stability.

That’s what the Gibson Southern High School baseball program has had since the Titans first took the diamond in the spring of 1975.

Only two men have led the program — Jim Reid and Chris May.

Reid, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, coached the Fort Branch Twigs for one pre-consolidation season. After Fort Branch, Haubstadt and Owensville high schools combined to make Gibson Southern, he was head coach from Day 1 through 2007.

That’s when junior varsity coach and 1974 Haubstadt High School graduate May took over and he’s still on the job. A member of that last graduating class, he played second base for Elites coach Glover Priar then went on to Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) where he was guided for one season by Jim Brown and three by Larry Shown.

Cousin Gary May, a Gibson Southern graduate, was a ISU-E teammate and is now the Titans head softball coach.

After college, Chris May taught one year in Evansville. In 1979-80, he began teaching third and fourth graders in the South Gibson School Corporation. He is now teaching third grade at Haubstadt Community School. He also has decades of experience coaching eighth grade basketball and Junior Titan Football in addition to the high school baseballers.

“It’s a nice change of pace,” says May. “I have the young kids during the day (and the older ones after school).”

Decades of coaching also has its perks.

“It’s neat to see kids coming through and I coached the parents years ago,” says May.

Gibson Southern has enjoyed its share of baseball success, winning outright or sharing nine Pocket Athletic Conference pennants with nine sectional titles, two regional crowns, two semistate championships and one state runner-up finish.

The Titans have reigned in three Evansville Bosse sectionals (2008, 2013, 2014), one Jasper Regional (2014) and one Plainfield Semistate (2014) and placed second in the state (2014 vs. Andrean) — all in IHSAA Class 3A — and also been co-PAC champions twice (2013, 2014) with May in charge.

The 1994 team was in the single-class Final Four. Penn beat the Titans 1-0 then McCutcheon 4-3 to claim its first state championship hardware.

Two Gibson Southern seniors — Brad Heuring in 1994 and Matthew Harpenau in 2014 — have been presented the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award at the IHSAA State Finals.

May likes to win as much as the next guy, but he bases his program on the enjoyment and respect for the game.

“We want the kids to come out and have a good time,” says May. “We teach them baseball the right way. We want them to respect the other team and respect the facilities.”

Countless hours have been spent tending Gibson Southern’s home field on its Fort Branch campus. Among the recent upgrades is the replacement of a windscreen on the outfield wall with privacy slats.

With an interest in hosting a sectional, May says adding more bleachers has been discussed. The 3A Titans were runners-up to Boonville in the 2017 Evansville Bosse Sectional and are assigned with Pike Central, Princeton and probable host Vincennes Lincoln in 2018.

The Pocket Athletic Conference provides a challenge with its competitive programs and its geography. The PAC’s nine schools are in eight different southwest Indiana counties — Gibson Southern in Gibson, Forest Park and Southridge in Dubois, Heritage Hills in Spencer, North Posey in Posey, Pike Central in Pike, South Spencer in Ohio, Tecumseh in Warrick and Tell City in Perry.

While North Posey and Tecumseh are less than 20 miles from Gibson Southern, the others at least least 30 and Tell City is nearly 70. When the Titans play the Marksmen, that game often comes on a Saturday.

“It’s a very good baseball conference,” says May of a circuit boasting seven state crowns (four for South Spencer, two for North Posey, one for Tecumseh) and three state runner-up finishes (two for Tecumseh and one for Gibson Southern).

Each PAC team plays the other once. Occasionally, there are three conference games in the same week, which makes for some decisions on whom to pitch and for how long.

The 2017 season saw the IHSAA adopt new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days). May says he rarely ever lets a pitcher go over 100 tosses in a game. He did have to adjust to the required days of rest when the hurler delivered just over 35.

“You have to be careful,” says May. “That was more of a thing for me. For the most part, (the pitch count rule) seemed like it worked pretty well.”

While he says others might get involved, May expects Zach Pullum, Steve Lintzenich, Danny Colbert and son Dustin May to be part of his 2018 coaching staff.

Chris and Lynn May have two children. In addition to Dustin, there’s Stacey (she is a meteorologist on Channel 25 in Evansville) and there are five grandchildren.

Gibson Southern had two ties to Japanese baseball in 2017. Not only did exchange student Sora Kashiwagi suit up with the Titans, 2004 graduate Eric Campbell played in 21 games for the Hanshin Tigers.

Selected in the second round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, Campbell played in Double-A ball with the Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners organizations.

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CHRISMAY

Chris May is the head baseball coach at Gibson Southern High School. He followed Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reid. They are the only two men to guide the Titans program. (Gibson Southern Photo)

 

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

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TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)