By STEVE KRAH
Arsenal Indiana is expanding for the 2021-22 travel baseball season.
The affiliate of Arsenal USA Baseball is to go with 12U, 13U, 14U and 15U squads in its third season.
“Within two or three years I want to have teams from 12U through 17U,” says Arsenal Indiana director Jeff Cleckner. “I want to have one team at each age group and be very competitive.
“I don’t want to water down the brand with seven 15U teams.”
Cleckner, a graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School (1989) and Purdue University living in Fishers, Ind., says the focus is on skill development at the younger levels and that the older ones grow their mental approach to the game as they prepare for college baseball.
But first the current campaign where Arsenal is fielding a 17U team with Cleckner as head coach and Arsenal Indiana director and a 14U squad guided by Steve Smitherman. In 2020, 16U and 13U teams took the field for the organization.
Playing six weekends of seven — starting with the first one in June — the 17U team has competed or will take part in events sponsored by Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and Bullpen Tournaments.
The team placed second during the holiday weekend at the PBR Indiana State Games at Championship Park in Kokomo. The 17U’s were 22-9-1 through 30 games.
The season wraps with the Perfect Game 17U BCS National Championship July 21-26 at Major League Baseball spring training fields in Fort Myers, Fla. All the other tournaments have been staged at Grand Park in Westfield.
“It’s nice with Grand Park,” says Cleckner of the large complex in central Indiana. “Everyone comes to us.”
High schools represented on the 17U roster include Avon, Fishers, Harrison (West Lafayette), Heritage Christian, Huntington North, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis North Central, Noblesville, Penn, Plainfield, South Adams, Wapahani, Wawasee, Westfield and Zionsville in Indiana and Edwardsburg in Michigan.
Since the older teams can play as many as seven games in five days, there are often a number of pitcher-only players (aka P.O.’s).
“It’s nice to have P.O.’s,” says Cleckner. “We can supplement as needed with position players.
“We’re mindful of arm care and arm health.”
The 14U Arsenal Indiana team began in early April and will play until mid-July and could easily get in 60 games in 3 1/2 months. The 14U team plays in same types of tournaments that the 17U teams plays at Grand Park in Westfield.
Arsenal Indiana tryouts are planned for late July or early August, likely at Grand Park.
A fall season of four or five weekends features a trip to the Perfect Game WWBA 2022/2023 National Championship Oct. 7-11 in Jupiter, Fla., for the upperclassmen.
“The goal of the fall season is getting a little more work going into the winter,” says Cleckner. “You have new kids who’ve joined your team and you’re creating some chemistry and camaraderie.”
The fall also provides more college looks for older players.
Arsenal Indiana trains in the off-season at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville.
What is now Arsenal USA Baseball was began in 1995 by Joe Barth Jr. and son Bob Barth as the Tri-State Arsenal with players from southern New Jersey, Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania. Besides USA National in New Jersey, there are affiliate locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Many professionals and college players have come through the Arsenal program.