By finishing 1-2 in the National Amateur Baseball Federation Regional in Fort Wayne, Ind., the Fort Wayne Blues and South Bend Royals earned the right to compete in the 108th NABF Charlie Blackburn Major Division World Series in Battle Creek, Mich. Fort Wayne edged South Bend 13-12 in the regional title game. World Series games will be played at Morrison Field, Nichols Field and C.O. Brown Stadium — all at Bailey Park. The Blues (part of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation) have been assigned to Pool A and the Royals (members of men’s leagues in South Bend and Fort Wayne) to Pool B. There are four pools of four teams each. Pool play begins Wednesday, Aug. 3. Elimination games begin Saturday, Aug. 6 with quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and semifinal play at 3:30 p.m. The championship is slated for noon Sunday, Aug. 7. The Berea (Ohio) Blue Sox won the World Series crown in 2019 and 2021. There was no tournament in 2020.
NABF WORLD SERIES At Battle Creek, Mich. Aug. 3-7 Pool A: Battle Creek Merchants, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Fever, Hattiesburg (Miss.) Black Sox, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Blues. Pool B: Hackensack (N.J.) Troast, Lombard (Ill.) Orioles, South Bend (Ind.) Royals, Manistee (Mich.) Saints. Pool C: Buffalo (N.Y.) Diesel, Beecher (Ill.) Muskies, Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Buckeyes, Sox Baseball (N.J.). Pool D: Berea (Ohio) Blue Sox, Chicago (Ill.) Clout, Addison (Ill.) Braves, Team Deb (N.Y.). Pool Play Aug. 3-5; Quarterfinals and Semifinals Aug. 6; Championship Aug. 7.
With a roster featuring college players and those as old as 42, the Fort Wayne-based Jackers are winding down their 2022 regular season. Members of men’s wood bat baseball league in both Fort Wayne (Red Carrington League) and South Bend, the Jackers swept the South Bend Royals Saturday, June 9 and Boehm Park in South Bend and dropped both games of a doubleheader to the Michiana Brewers Sunday, June 10 at Bethel University in Mishawaka. Having already clinched the Carrington League crown, the league season is to conclude for the Jackers (15-6) Tuesday, June 11 against the Blues (7-8) at Carrington Field in Fort Wayne. A National Amateur Baseball Federation regional at both Carrington Field and Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne is slated for Thursday through Saturday, July 28-30. The eight-team event features pool play the first two days. Seeded bracket play begins on Saturday. The field will feature the Jackers, Michiana Brewers, South Bend Royals, Portland (Ind.) Rockets, another Fort Wayne team (Blues or Renegades) and three squads from Michigan. The top two regional finishers move on to the the 16-team NABF World Series is Aug. 2-5 in Battle Creek, Mich. The Jackers made it to the World Series in 2016, 2018 and 2019. In 2021, the South Bend Royals were the round-robin winner from a four-team regional and a World Series qualifier. The Berea Blue Sox (Strongsville, Ohio) came away with the championship trophy. Tom Davidson is in his third season as Jackers manager. A 6-foot-7, right-handed pitcher, Davidson played at Garrett (Ind.) High School (Class of 1998) and what is now known as Manchester University (Class of 2003) and briefly in pro ball. Why does Davidson stay involved? “I just love it,” says Davidson, a retirement planning software salesman. “It gives me a reason to stay in the dugout. “It’s a good chance to be around the guys.” The Jackers typically play 30 to 35 games a summer with most this year coming in the form of a single game on Thursday and a doubleheader on Saturday or Sunday. All players have college baseball experience. Most of the ones who still have eligibility are at Indiana Tech of the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne.
Fort Wayne’s Bob Rachlow was named 2021 Umpire of the Year by the National Amateur Baseball Federation at the 107th NABF Major/Unlimited Division World Series in Battle Creek, Mich. Rachlow has made many calls from Little League to college to men’s wood bat league to professional over the years. It was as a Little League coach that spark ignited his start as an umpire. Guiding his son’s team in a district game, he did not see eye-to-eye with the men making the calls that day. He said as much to the tournament director. “I’ll expect to see you at our classes next winter” was the reply. “I went in not knowing anything,” says Rachlow. “How much I did not know was scary.” Rachlow closely studied the rules, started at the youth level and soon got recruited for high school ball. “You have to know the rules cold,” says Rachlow. “I thought I knew the rules as a coach. “As umpires, we have to know all the rules — and not just fair/foul, ball/strike.” There’s also game management. “A lot of people can do 90 percent of it, but to move up you must have a feel for the game,” says Rachlow. “You can’t umpire by the book. You have to umpire with the book. “Sometimes it’s the spirit of the rule.” By 2009, he was working a college baseball schedule. An owner for nearly 19 years with Luminary Wealth (formerly Capstone Advisors) — a financial investment firm in Fort Wayne — Rachlow has a partner that allows him the flexibility to work games in the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League, NCAA Division III’s Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, occasional NCAA Division I or as a minor league fill-in for the the High-A Central League’s Fort Wayne TinCaps. “It’s unbelievably a neat thing to do,” says Rachlow of the pro experience. “If I’m in front of 1,000 people that’s a big crowd for my usual games. There’s the sounds and the cheering (at Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field). You take that all in and it’s all directed at the field of play. As a fan you’re on the other side. “I’m very grateful to be able to do that.” Many of his assignments come through the College Baseball Umpires Association. Each February, Rachlow escape the Indiana cold and goes to Port Charlotte, Fla., to umpire in the Snowbird Baseball Classic — a series of games involving NCAA D-I and D-III teams. The event is to include Indiana State University in 2022. “I get some games under my belt before the Indiana season,” says Rachlow. “I also use it as a family vacation. My wife (Darlene) and dog come down. I get to umpire. She gets to go on the beach. It’s kind of a win-win.” Bob and Darlene have two sons — Aaron (who turns 29 Sunday) and Nathan (26). Both played high school baseball. Fort Wayne Black Christian School and Cedarville (Ohio) University graduate Aaron Rachlow began umpiring 10-year-old girls softball when he was 12 and is now a Cincinnati-based college umpire with a wife and a toddler. Nathan Rachlow played in Fort Wayne’s Wildcat Baseball League and graduated from Lakewood Park Christian School and Indiana Tech. Bob Rachlow hails from Itasca, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago. He played baseball at Lake Park High School, where he graduated in 1979. He earned an Actuarial Science degree from the University of Iowa and went from Louisville to southern California and wound up to Fort Wayne in 1990. Rachlow keeps a spreadsheet tracking his umpire assignments. He worked 124 games in 2021 and 114 in 2019. There was a dip in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of his spring games are of the college variety. In the summer, Rachlow umpires in the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation as well as the Indiana Summer Collegiate Summer Baseball League and Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. Rachlow recalls an unusual play in one of his collegiate games. With a runner at first base, a batter hit a liner to shortstop, who guided the ball with his glove to the ground then picked it out of the dirt and threw to second second for a force and the second base relayed to first base for an apparent double play. “I had read about this in the rule book but had never seen it happen in real life,” says Rachlow. “I was the base umpire, and when I turned to see the shortstop ‘drop the ball,’ I called time – called the batter-runner out and put the runner back on first base. Then I turned to the shortstop and said, ‘nice try!’ He just grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “What I thought was interesting was when he got back to the dugout, the coach called him over and said, ‘that may work in Little League, but not here at the collegiate level. What you should have done instead was catch the ball and fire it over to first base to double off the runner as he was initially running when the ball was hit.’ “Good teaching moment!”
Austin Mannan has found his “why” and he pursues it on a daily basis as an educator and coach.
“I felt like I’ve had so many people pour their time and effort into me,” says Mannan, a special education teacher at Lane Middle School in Fort Wayne, Ind., and the head baseball coach at Fort Wayne North Side High School. “I have a duty to give that back to kids.
“I want to change somebody’s life. At the end of the day I don’t care what kind of baseball player you are, I want you to be a better person than when you got to me.
“I want them to look back and say he really cared about me. He really went the extra mile.”
Mannan has embraced his mindset and takes a cue from motivational speaker Eric Thomas, who asks “What’s Your Why?”
“Everybody has a reason to get out of bed everyday,” says Mannan. “You have to decide what that motivation is and what you can do to get there.
“(North Side) is an inner-city school. These kids have challenging backgrounds. We want to help them to be a better person.”
The Legends are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Columbia City, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead and Huntington North. North Side is seeking its first sectional title.
Also the home of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation‘s Jackers, Carrington Field underwent renovations that the Legends did not get to enjoy in 2020 with the prep season being wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s pretty nice,” says Mannan, who notes that many previous games at Carrington were wiped out when it rained.
Eight seniors were on the 2020 roster, including college recruits in left-handed pitcher Max Meisner (Huntington University), shortstop Cameron Woehnker (Grace College) and hurler Taegan Armey (Indiana Tech).
Mannan’s 2021 assistants are Jordan Young, Toni Georgi and Armey, who developed an arm injury that caused him to shut it down rather than play college ball.
North Side junior right-hander Nate Spurlock has been getting attention from college programs.
As a player, Mannan got to know the junior college baseball grind from two head coaches — Kevin Bowers at Lincoln Trail and Clark at Spoon River.
“As a JuCo Bandit you’re a grinder,” says Mannan. “You’re putting in the work and getting after it.
“The grind of being a junior college player is incredible. You become so tough playing at that level.”
A typical schedule began with conditioning at 5 a.m., followed by classes, practice, study table and more practice with it all winding up about 10 p.m. Then the same thing the next day.
To get in games against top early-season competition, the team would cram 10 players each in three vans and drive 14 hours to Texas. Meal money was capped at $5 a day.
Junior college baseball is full of potential professional players and they are all MLB First Year Player Draft-eligible.
Two of Mannan’s Lincoln Trail teammates — Damon Olds (Kansas City Royals out of Indiana State University) and Justin Watts (Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Southern Indiana) — were drafted in 2017.
In Mannan’s LTC recruiting class, 10 of 13 went on to NCAA Division I programs. Two went to NCAA Division II.
After a year at Spoon River (2014-15), Mannan landed at NAIA Saint Francis for two years (2015-16 and 2016-17). Greg Roberts was the Cougars head coach and his successor, Dustin Butcher, was an assistant.
Mannan, who also played summer ball for the Danville (Va.) Marlins in 2015 and Laramie (Wyo.) Colts in 2016, was honorable mention all-Crossroads League in the spring of 2016.
At Saint Francis, Mannan earned a Secondary Education degree in 2018 and a Masters in Special Education in 2020.
It was by coming to Fort Wayne that Mannan met an Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne student from Crown Point, Ind., named Adalyn.
Austin and Adalyn Mannan were married in September 2020. She is a manager at Planet Fitness.
“We were supposed to go on our honeymoon during Christmas break,” says Mannan. Instead, the couple had a bout with COVID. Austin spent a week in the hospital. Except for occasional shortness of breath, he says that has recovered.
“I’m a humongous believer in owning that inside part of the plate with the fastball,” says Welliever. “It seems to have worked.
“If you can throw the inside fastball, every other pitch is available to you.”
Welliever wants his hurlers to employ solid mechanics. But he is also unique in today’s deviating from today’s prevelant approach.
“My pitchers are always working on stuff, stuff, stuff,” says Welliever, who knows his players enjoy throwing hard. “Most people work on location, location, location.”
Welliever has his catchers set up on the inside black for bullpens about 60-70 percent of the time. Many of his hurlers go hard in and soft away though some have done the opposite.
“It’s OK if once in awhile you hit a batter,” says Welliever. “Don’t get upset.”
Breaking balls are also thrown hard.
“We’re trying to create as much spin on that ball so it breaks as late as possible and the hitter has the least amount of time to react to it,” says Welliever. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”
Welliever has his pitchers build arm strength with long toss and with burnouts aka pulldowns.
The 2008 Crawfordsville pitching staff racked up 397 (No. 3 in the IHSBCA Record Book; No. 1 Lafayette Jeff fanned 450 in 43 games in 1971).
Steven Rice fanned 198 batters in 2009 and finished his Athenians career (2007-10) with 521 K’s.
Welliever worked alongside brother-in-law and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge through 2020.
“One of John’s strengths teaching the fundamentals of fielding,” says Welliever. “(Strong defense) helps pitchers.
“It gives them confidence to attack the hitters and throw strikes.”
Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate, is now Athenians head coach. Motz played at the University of Evansville, served as a graduate assistant at Purdue University and was head coach at North Putnam High School before returning to his alma mater, where he is also the strength & conditioning coach.
The Athenians won Class 3A state championships in 2008 (32-4) and 2011 (29-6).
What keeps Welliever coming back?
“It’s working with the kids and getting them to the point where they’re confident about themselves,” says Welliever. “It’s seeing them succeed in baseball and in life.”
He has witnessed many former players giving back to the community as coaches at the youth and high school levels.
“It is the most satisfying thing,” says Welliever, who grew up around New Market, Ind., and is a 1980 graduate of Southmont High School in Crawfordsville, where he played baseball for Mounties head coach George Davis and counted Froedge and the Taylor twins — Dave and Dan — as teammates. Dave Taylor went on to help found the Indiana Bulls travel organization.
“We played a lot of baseball together,” says Welliever. “It was a really special group of guys.”
Dan Welliever, Rhett’s father, taught junior high and was a wrestling head coach and an assistant in baseball, football and softball at Crawfordsville.
Jamie Welliever, Rhett’s brother, is retired from teaching and has spent two tenures each as head baseball and head wrestling coach at Southmont.
Landon McBride (New Palestine)
A middle school coach for five years (seventh and eighth grade teams often play up to 20 games while feeding the high school program), Landon McBride joined the New Palestine High School staff for the 2007 season. He is the Dragons infield coach and helps with hitters on a staff led since 2012 by Shawn Lyons.
“The thing that jumps out at me the most about Coach Lyons is his absolute passion for his kids,” says McBride. “If you’re not in the inner circle you may not see that. But he does a great job of having his finger no the pulse of where our team is at and where each individual is at.”
McBride sees Lyons as steady.
“He doesn’t get too high; He doesn’t get too low,” says McBride. “He tries to keep our players on that even-keel, knowing there’s going to be ups and downs everyday.”
On game days, McBride serves as Lyons’ right-hand man, bouncing lineups off one another and trading ideas about strategy while also coaching first base.
McBride emphasizes fundamentals when it comes to his infielders fielding ground balls.
“We’re getting reps in every day — the way we think is the right way,” says McBride. “With hitting, we believe in going the other way. We’re utilizing our speed, bunt and steal bases when we can.”
McBride regularly throws batting practice.
“I’m 59 but I’m still chucking it in there,” says McBride. “I try to give them a little sense of velocity (by moving the L screen closer to the plate.”
When the varsity field is not available, New Pal baseball has been able to use the turf football field for long toss, tracking fly balls and taking grounders.
A 1980 graduate of Marshall High School in Indianapolis where he played three seasons for Bob Tremain and one for Brad Goffinet, McBride was a four-year player for Lynn Morrell at Marian University in Indianapolis — at the time an independent NAIA program.
McBride says he appreciates the discipline, structure and attention to detail that Tremain and Goffinet brought to Redskins baseball.
“(Coach Morrell) liked getting the ball into play and swinging away,” says McBride. “It was the pure joy of being around the game.”
Landon, a partner in Indiana Property Services which gives him the schedule freedom to coach baseball, and wife Shari McBride have three children — Ryan (30), Angela (28) and Wes (24). The boys played baseball and Angela was also an athlete at New Palestine.
Mike Zeilinga (New Palestine)
A 1976 New Palestine graduate, Mike Zeilinga coaches Dragons outfielders and leads the junior varsity.
Zeilinga began coaching boys basketball at New Pal in 1996 and led the freshmen for two seasons and the JV for four. He joined Al Cooper’s baseball staff in 2003. Cooper was a Dragons senior when Zeilinga was a freshman.
New Palestine earned a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2003 and state title in 2004.
“The kids keep me young,” says Zeilinga. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching.”
Most Dragons practices begin with stretching and throwing followed by individual defensive position work and team drills (cuts, double cuts and knowing situations).
“Coach McBride is excellent about working with our infielders,” says Zeilinga. “He makes sure they are moving with every pitch.
“Coach Lyons trusts the coaches that he has. He and Coach McBride have coached together that they can read each other’s mind. They have that kind of chemistry.”
During the fall IHSAA Limited Contract Period (twice a week for two hours), 73 players were at workouts while participation was around 65 for recent winter sessions.
“All coaches at New Pal work very well with sharing athletes,” says Zeilinga. “That’s straight from the mentality of Coach (Al) Cooper (athletic director and former head baseball coach).
Zeilinga often works with New Pal outfielders and JV players.
Since varsity and JV teams tend to play on the same night, Zeilinga rarely sees the varsity once the regular season starts.
After each JV game, Zeilinga sends an overview of what his players did well or areas where they need improvement and share that with head coach Shawn Lyons and varsity assistant Landon McBride.
Like McBride, Zeilinga has noticed the head coach’s temperament.
“Coach Lyons doesn’t get real high or real low after a big win or a hard loss,” says Zeilinga. “He’s just a real gentleman of the game.”
Mike, who worked at Eli Lily & Company 35 years before retiring, and wife Susan Zeilinga have two children — Stephanie (a teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis) and Michael (who was the starting center fielder on New Palestine’s 2004 state championship team).
Kevin Hall (New Albany)
Kevin Hall is a 1986 New Albany High School graduate who was a scrappy middle infielder and lead-off hitter for John Buerger, but his association with Bulldogs baseball goes back to before he started school.
Hall, who credits his work ethic for being the youngest of 11, was a batboy for teams featuring older brother David and coached by Stan Sajko in the early 1970’s. Hall still has the tiny pinstriped uniform from those days.
“(Coach Berger) had an attention to detail,” says Hall. “John was very big on pitching and defense. He believed in the bunting game.”
With a few years off here and there, Hall has been on the New Albany baseball coaching staff since 1990. He has been Bulldogs head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chris McIntyre’s top assistant for more than two decades.
“We both have the same philosophy on winning and we’re teaching these kids how to be young men,” says Hall, who leads infielders while also helping with outfielders, hitters and catchers. “When kids get out of school they’re probably not going to be their own boss. They need to learn to take direction.
“We understand that this is the game of failure. If you give us effort, we’ll never get on you about that.”
Hall coaches first base with McIntyre in the third base box.
“Coach McIntyre has a mind like nobody I’ve ever met,” says Hall. “He can process things. He’s analytical. He’s a math teacher. He loves the numbers.”
One day, Hall brought a stop watch to time runners without McIntyre knowing it and — counting in his head — the head coach was only off the actual number by about 1/10th of a second.
“Our program wouldn’t be near where it would be without Chris McIntyre.”
Hall calls baseball “the fairest game ever.”
“Each team gets the same number of outs, same number of opportunities and deals with the same conditions,” says Hall. “There’s no clock.
“You just have to go play.”
Hall throws a good deal of batting practice to the Bulldogs.
“Our kids get a lot of live arms,” says Hall. “I just use aspirin and ice and go back and do it again the next day.”
When McIntyre was approaching New Albany’s all-time win mark, Hall helped organize a special night for him.
After the celebration, Mac pulled Hall aside and said, “Don’t ever do that again” and then thanked him the next day.
“He’s very humble,” says Hall of McIntyre. “He wants the kids to have that limelight and not him.”
With the loss of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, New Albany had time to upgrade its baseball field while also putting in a new softball diamond next door.
Kevin, a plant operator at Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany, and wife Melia Hall have a daughter together — eighth grader Anderson (named for Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson). Kevin’s two older daughters are Samantha and Stephanie. Melia’s son is Aidan.
The 2021 season will mark Ford’s 31st with the Kings. He has always led the infield defense and helped with hitting instruction at Cass, which finished as Class 2A state runners-up in 2009 (20-9).
“It’s pretty collaborative in our program,” says Ford, who coaches first base and sits next to Marschand when the coaches are in the dugout. “We get a sense of the style of play we’re going to use and we coach each of the areas based on what we’re trying to do for that season.
“We we like to put pressure on the defense (on offense). You can do that a lot of different ways. If we have plodders (on the base paths), we can bunt them over. If we have rabbits, we can have more stolen bases, double steals and taking of extra bases.”
Kings coaches like players to play to their strengths and learn to do things like hit behind the runner and put the ball on the ground up the middle.
“We want them to be well-versed in the approach they are going to be taking at the plate based on the situation,” says Ford. “We would really like our players to learn the strategies and the options.
“In practice, we put runners in position and they decide how they are going to score the run.
“Once they have a broader knowledge of how to play, they are going to enjoy it more and be more successful.”
A big part of the Cass offensive blueprint is to get accumulate freebies with dirt-ball reads etc.
“Our approach at the plate has to be to hit hittable strikes,” says Ford. “Early in the count we’re not going to hit his pitch. We’re going to hit our pitch.”
A goal in batting practice is for each player to figure out which pitch he hits best.
BP goal – each player to learn to figure out which pitch he hits best
“Hitting a pitcher’s pitch is giving him a freebie,” says Ford. “Hitting our pitch is somewhat of a freebie for us.”
As part of its SAFE-T offensive plan, Cass wants to score the game’s first run.
Going for the long ball is not a priority, especially at home games where it’s 330 feet down the foul lines and 408 to center field.
“There’s a lot of outfield grass and we’re going to try to pepper it rather than try to hit it out of the park,” says Ford.
Kings defenders focus a lot of on momentum changers.
“One of he biggest on defense is the double play,” says Ford. “We work a lot on turns, feeds and throws to first base while trying to help our pitcher.
“At the high school level, pitching can be a huge variable. Defensive positioning os based on the speed of our pitcher.
“I can’t tell (infielders) every pitch where to align so they have to be cognizant of signals between the pitchers and catcher and know what pitch is coming.”
The Kings also look to prevent opponents from taking the extra base by being in the proper position for cut-offs and double-cuts.
“We’re making sure to be in a good back-up position in case the throw isn’t perfect,” says Ford. “There are a lot of nuances in defense like where the first baseman takes the throw or where the third baseman goes based on the count. At the high school level, the drag bunt is a big strategy.”
Taking nothing for granted, Ford wants his infielders to back up throws from the catcher to the pitcher.
Ford, a 1970 Kokomo Haworth graduate played for for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Keith Slaughter. The 1970 Haworth Huskies were state finalists.
Bill Bright was middle infielder Ford’s coach at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis).
Steve and wife Julia Ford have been married since 1974 and have two daughters — Amanda (a local farm wife with a son and two daughters) and Melanie (who played four years of basketball at the University of Charleston and is now associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator and NCAA compliance officer at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.). Amanda was a manager and Melanie a player for their father as a basketball coach.
Steve Ford was the girls basketball coach at Cass for 18 seasons, concluding in 2007-08.
Jim Kominiewicz has been there as an assistant for all of them. The 2021 season will be Komo’s 31st on the Kingsmen coaching staff. He has been in education for 38 years — eight in South Bend and 30 in the Penn system.
The current staff has Dikos leading the catcher, Kominkiewicz the infielders, Tom Stanton the pitchers and John Westra the outfielders.
“Greg is one of the best catching coaches in the state,” says Kominkiewicz, noting that Penn has produced its share of college backstops. “Catching is one of the hardest things to do. You’re involved in every play.
Kominkiewicz applauds Dikos for his willingness to keep learning and incorporating them into the Kingsmen program.
“Every year we try to do something better,” says Kominkiewicz. “We never stay the same. We try to change things up and keep the kids excited about it.
“Greg is always going to clinics. He’s the best.”
Kominkiewicz has noticed that many clinic speakers reinforce concepts already being taught by Penn coaches.
“It shows we’re doing things right,” says Kominkiewicz.
As an infield coach, Komo stresses getting the palm to the baseball and fielding through it. Time is spent on back-handing and picking up short hops.
Kominkiewicz graduated from South Bend John Adams High School in 1972, where he played baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski.
Komo’s first baseball coaching post was at South Bend Washington High School on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski that also included pitching coach Larry Jackowiak.
“Rick was very intense,” says Kominkiewicz. “He’s a book. We spent a lot of time together. We’d come in on Saturday morning and leave at 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
“I learned a lot of baseball from those guys. Both of them were great coaches.”
A popular drill during the indoor portion of the preseason was a game called “27 Outs.”
As fielders got closer to making it to the finish, balls off fungo bats got harder.
“That’s why (Tomaszewski’s) team were good,” says Kominkiewicz. “They competed every practice.
“We do the same things at Penn. We compete. We test for sit-ups, push-ups and longest throws. We rate their at-bats (4 points for a line drive, 3 for a hard ground ball etc.). Pitchers try to throw the most strikes — things like that.”
Ground balls and double plays are often timed.
Splitting the team into three groups, the Kingsmen go nine outs per round. Losers do extra running or clean up the field.
“A lot of times our practices are harder than the games,” says Kominkiewicz. “But it’s got to be good practice — not just practice. We want to do it right.
“Our theory is we want to good game of catch, put the ball in play (on offense) and pitchers have to throw strikes. That’s what we stress.”
After Washington, Kominkiewicz went to Adams to coach football, wrestling, baseball and and weightlifting then went back to Washington to coach baseball.
Then came the move to Penn, where he also coached football for two years. He has taught and coaches football and wrestling and served as athletic director at Grissom Middle School.
Jim and wife Beth Kominkiewicz have four children — Ryan (38), Brandon (32), Jill (29) and Matt (21) — and seven grandchildren ages six months to 9 years.
Ryan, an engineer with Caterpillar, played baseball at Penn.
Brandon played football at Penn and the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and coaches football at Fort Wayne North Side High School.
Jill is a dental assistant.
Matt played baseball and football at Penn and is on the football team at Saint Francis.
Kevin Fitzgerald (Noblesville)
A 1987 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis where he played two seasons each for former big league pitcher Russ Kemmerer and Richard Bender, Noblesville High School assistant Kevin Fitzgerald served in the U.S. Marine Corps 1989-94 then was an assistant to Duke Burns at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis (2000-02), Dave Mundy at Sheridan (Ind.) High School (2003 and 2004) and head coach at Sheridan (2005 and 2006).
“He was fantastic,” says Fitzgerald of Kemmerer. “There were so many lessons I learned that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.
“For him, it was really teaching about life and baseball was just the tool. He said baseball is played on a six-inch field — the six inches between your ears. There are no such things as physical errors — they’re all mental. You weren’t prepared.”
Bender, who had big shoes to fill replacing the popular Kemmerer, is credited by Fitzgerald for the opportunity to explore leadership.
Brett played four seasons at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for IHSBCA/NEIBA Hall of Famer Mike Frame, graduating in December 1995.
Before landing at Carroll, Brett was on his father’s Dwenger staff from 1996-2002.
Hershberger, who was an elementary physical education teacher for Windmiller, taught his players about focus and intensity.
“It started with him from the time you started playing catch until you got on the bus and went home,” says Windmiller. “All those things in between mattered. Not that you’re going to dwell on it afterward but this current pitch or at-bat is important.
“If you weren’t ready, you were going to hear about it from Lance.”
Hershberger reminded his players that there was a difference between baseball during the high school and summer seasons. There’s a finality to the high school season while the summer — though very important for development and exposure — is a series of games and unattached tournaments.
Brett did not feel the stigma of being a coach’s son.
“It may have just been the guys I played with,” says Brett. “In hindsight, it may be that dad handled it real well.
“I enjoyed playing for him. There were expectations with the way he wanted you to play. He was good at detecting an issue by watching you swing or throw.”
In his son’s eyes, Larry Windmiller was pretty even-keeled.
“He never got upset,” says Brett. “He was kind of in the middle all the time.
“He really let us play. We had a lot of kids with talent. We played loose and had a lot of success.”
The Dwenger Saints bowed out to Highland in the 1991 South Bend Semistate championship game.
At Huntington, Windmiller learned to play with intensity but not to let a mistake or a perceived bad call fester.
“The intensity of a baseball game is there,” says Windmiller. “It has to be. You learn the moments of the game where that’s appropriate. It cannot drive you into making a second mistake. You can’t carry your at-bat into the field. My red light was strike calls I didn’t agree with.
“Coach Frame was great as far as getting me to try to understand that I’m killing myself when I’m doing that. He helped me lose a little bit of the football mentality.”
Windmiller says he and his fellow coaches have matured over the years and tries set a good example for the players.
“When something bad happens, they are going to look at us,” says Windmiller. “We want to be cheering them on and saying let’s go to the next pitch.”
His first spring at Carroll, Windmiller coached junior varsity players with Mike Klopfenstein.
“JV’s great,” says Windmiller. “There’s no all-conference. There’s no media. It’s just young kids learning how to play baseball the correct way.”
At the JV level, win-loss record is irrelevant. It’s about developing. Between the spring and summer ball and getting in the weight room, a player can make big jumps from one season to the next.
Windmiller is a public address announcer for many Carroll sports, including football, boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling. He has coached eighth grade football and seventh grade girls basketball in the system.
Brett took over the FWBF post after the passing of NEIBA Hall of Famer Dick Crumback in 2019.
The NEIBA presents the Dick Crumback Player of the Year annually to an area ballplayer. The honor comes with a $1,000 donation ($500 from the Crumback family and $500 for the FWBF) to the program of the recipient.
“It’s a pretty tight-knit baseball community in Fort Wayne,” says Windmiller, who has also been a Wildcat League coach.
Brett, a sixth grade science teacher at Carroll Middle School, and wife Kara Windmiller (secretary to Chargers athletic director Dan Ginder) live in the Carroll school district and have two daughters — high school sophomore Ryli and seventh grader Hannah.
Brett’s sister Kari played volleyball and basketball at Dwenger.