Tag Archives: Fort Wayne TinCaps

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

RANDYMILLERMITCHWATERS

Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

DALTONTINSLEYPORTLANDROCKETS

Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

PORTLANDROCKETSWALLOFDREAMS1-19

Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

PORTLANDROCKETSWALLOFDREAMS2-19

Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

BRADMILLERRANDYMILLERMICKEYSCOTTPORTLANDROCKETS

Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

PORTLANDROCKETSWALLOFDREAMS1

The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

NEWSCOREBOARDPORTLANDROCKETS18

Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

PORTLANDROCKETS

Helping Michigan pitchers know their strengths mission of Fetter

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the know.

That’s what University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter wants the hurlers in his charge to be.

“First and foremost, I want them to be knowledgeable with who they are as pitchers,” says Fetter, who is guiding to Wolverines staff this weekend in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State, Creighton and Cincinnati are three other competing teams). “Our eyes can deceive us. I want them to be as informed as possible about what they do and own what they do instead of just guessing.”

With Fetter leading the process, Michigan pitchers have access to many resources, including video analysis, Rapsodo and TrackMan to help them devise a plan of attack.

It becomes a combination of approaches that leads to what that player does on the hill.

“It’s not based entirely on technology, a coach or what the player thinks,” says Fetter. “But we marry all those together.”

Fetter assists his pitchers in developing an arsenal and it starts with the fastball.

“What kind of fastball do you throw?,” says Fetter. “Then, how do we attack other teams?

“It all stems with developing a relationship with the player and getting them to buy in to being learners of who they are.”

In his second second at U of M, Fetter has helped produce a number of capable pitchers.

In 2018, Tommy Henry made the all-Big Ten Conference second team while Karl Kauffman was on the third team and Ben Dragani the third and all-freshmen teams. Four Wolverines were signed by Major League Baseball teams — Will Tribucher, Jayce Vacena, Alec Rennard and Troy Miller.

The 2019 all-conference squads include Michigan’s Jeff Criswell (first team), Kauffmann (third team) and Willie Weiss (freshmen). The MLB First-Year Player Draft is June 3-5.

Fetter is a 2004 graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons for Tom Linkmeyer and two for Eric Lentz.

“Tom is great baseball mind, great baseball man,” says Fetter of Linkmeyer. “We still talk quite a bit.

“He took a chance on young kid. He always gave it to you straight. You always knew where you stood. He was always in your corner. I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Fetter remembers Lentz for his positive approach and knowledge of X’s and O’s.

From his 15U to 18U summer, Fetter played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls. His coaches were Dennis Kas, Craig Grow, Jeff Mercer Sr. and C.J. Glander.

“I couldn’t have played for a better summer organization,” says Fetter. “When you’re going up agains the best competition game in and game out, it helps you make the jump to the next level.

“It was a special group. There are some of the best summers of my life.”

One of his Bulls teammates was Jeff Mercer Jr., who is now head coach at Indiana University.

After a redshirt season as a freshman, the 6-foot-8 right-hander played for Michigan and head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Bob Keller from 2006-2009.

“From the moment Rich recruited me, he instilled a great sense of confidence in me as a player,” says Fetter of Maloney. “He really takes an interest in his players and coaching staff.

“He’s a great motivator.”

Fetter says Keller was at the forefront of teaching pitchers to be athletic and stressed pre-throwing routines and properly warming up.

As a pitching coach, Fetter works on helping his starters develop a consistent routine between appearances while monitoring the workload of the relievers. He pushes them on some days and lets the recover on others.

Fetter pitched in 51 games for the Wolverines (40 as a starter) and was 24-8 with a 3.32 earned run average. He struck out 248 and walked 72 in 278 innings. He also pitched for Cotuit Kettleers of the summer collegiate Cape Cod Baseball League in 2007.

When the 2009 MLB Draft came, Fetter was selected in the ninth round by the San Diego Padres. He pitched for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2009 and 2012. His manager at Eugene in 2012 was former Notre Dame head coach and current Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy.

After 51 appearances (37 as a starter), Fetter played his last pro season in 2012 and began coaching in the Padres system in 2013.

Fetter was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Missions and former big leaguer Rich Dauer was the manager and Jimmy Jones the pitching coach.

“They were a great couple of mentors,” says Fetter of Dauer and Jones. “(Dauer) taught me overall game management. From (Jones), I learned about the art of teaching the delivery — rhythm, balance, timing.

“Those are two of the countless people along the way.”

Fetter went from the Padres to becoming a scout for the Los Angeles Angels.

“I go to watch the game from a different perspective,” says Fetter. “I was able formulate opinions on what players do well.”

For the 2016 season, Fetter was reunited with Maloney as his pitching coach at Ball State University, where he got to apply things he had learned as a pro coach and scout.

Three of Fetter’s standout BSU pitchers were Colin Brockhouse, B.J. Butler and Zach Plesac. This past week, Plesac made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Indians.

He then worked in player development with the Los Angeles Dodgers, learning how that organization uses analytics.

That led him to joining the staff of Michigan head coach Erik Bakich.

“He is all-in 24/7,” says Fetter of Bakich. “He’s completely energetic. He lifts everyone up around him. He’s very positive and very prepared.

“He pushes all these guys to play their best and get 100 percent better in their own process of development.”

Fetter, 33, and wife Jessica have a son named Cole. He turned five months next week.

CHRISFETTERMICHIGAN3

Chris Fetter is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. He pitched for the Wolverines from 2006-09. (University of Michigan Photo)

CHRISFETTERMICHIGAN2

As pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team, Chris Fetter (center) wants his players to be as knowledgeable as possible about what they do and bring it to the mound. Starting May 31, the Wolverines are in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (University of Michigan Photo)

CHRISFETTERMICHIGAN1

Chris Fetter, a 2004 Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate and former Indiana Bulls, pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization and assistant at Ball State University, is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. (University of Michigan Photo)

Southwood Knights baseball coach Dailey splits time between field, force, family

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Warren Dailey dons two different uniforms on most days during the spring.

One of them has a ball cap. The other has a badge.

Dailey enters his third season as head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., in 2019.

As a patrolman for the Marion Police Department working third shift, Dailey sometimes goes right from a game to the beat.

He efficiently juggles the two roles.

“I do what I can in the time that I have,” says Dailey, a former high school and college player.

Dailey is a 2001 graduate of Eastbrook High School in Marion, Ind., where he played for head coach Brian Abbott.

“He always cared about you as a person,” says Dailey of Abbott, who is now pitching coach at Huntington University and executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. “That came first for him. I’ve grown to understand that. It’s probably even more important now than it was then.”

As a college player, Dailey spent one season at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne for head coach Billy Gernon (now head coach at Western Michigan University) and two at Indiana Wesleyan University for head coach Mark DeMichael (now IWU athletic director).

“(Gernon) was pretty hard core,” says Dailey. “He played for Bob Morgan (at Indiana University) and that’s where he got everything from. Of course, it was college and you were going from a child to an adult.”

DeMichael often coached 30 or more players and had just one assistant. Dailey still marvels at that.

“You need to surround yourself with plenty of good people,” says Dailey, whose 2019 Southwood staff includes Dalton Gentry, Cory Blocker, David Glickfield and E.J. Devarie.

Gentry (a Southwood graduate), Blocker and Glickfield are back for their third seasons with Dailey. Devarie is entering his first season.

Dailey was as assistant for two seasons at Eastbrook — one on the staff of Ben Irwin and one working with David Day. He spent one season as an assistant to Bengie Rodriguez at Madison-Grant before joining head coach Kris Holtzleiter at Southwood, beginning with the 2013 season. Holtzleiter is now an assistant at Indiana Wesleyan University.

During Dailey’s time on the staff, Southwood has produced three Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stars — outfielder Jackson Blair (2014), pitcher Robbie Cole (2015) and first baseman Clay Hinrichsen (2016). Left-hander Brennan Kelly is on the baseball roster at Eastern Kentucky University.

Southwood (enrollment around 280) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko). TRC games are played on Mondays and Wednesdays with each team playing one another once to determine a champion. The Knights reigned as conference champions in 2015 (7-0) and 2016 (7-2 after Maconaquah and Peru joined the TRC).

“It’s an extremely competitive conference,” says Dailey. “There’s no holding back. You try to navigate the best you can with your pitching staff.”

Dailey says the last week of the conference season has often been crazy with an unexpected result tightening the race.

Southwood has been invited again to participate in the Fort Wayne TinCaps/Parkview Sports Medicine High School Baseball Series at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne. Wabash County Night is slated for Thursday, May 9 with Southwood taking on Wabash at 4:30 p.m., followed by Northfield vs. Manchester around 7.

Among non-conference opponents on Southwood’s schedule are Alexandria-Monroe, Blackford, Bluffton, Eastbrook, Eastern, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Huntington North, Marion, Mississinewa, Oak Hill, Taylor and Western.

The Knights are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, South Newton and West Central. Southwood has won four sectional championships — the last in 2014.

Multiple-sport athletes are the norm at Southwood. Dailey sees a handful of athletes at fall and winter baseball workouts.

“I encourage our guys to do as many sports as they’re able to,” says Dailey, who plans to approach Knights head boys basketball coach John Burrus soon about giving some of his pitchers some time to throw so March 11 (the first official preseason practice date) is not the first time they’ve touched a baseball in months.

Last winter, Southwood had a prolonged basketball run, finishing as 2018 Class 1A state runners-up. Neighboring Oak Hill, coached by Shane Edwards, started its baseball season a little later than originally scheduled after a Class 2A state championship run on the hardwood.

The Knights play their home baseball games on a field affectionately known as “The Launching Pad” for its smallish dimensions.

“It’s just a tiny field,” says Dailey. “The fences are not very far back. I’ve never measured them. I never wanted to put a number on it

“Hitters light up when they show up at our field. It holds more baseballs than it probably should.”

There are a fair number of home runs clubbed at the field, which has a pasture beyond left field and a storage barn down the right field line which sometimes creates a bit of a wind tunnel.

Dailey says the administration considered moving home plate back, but that meant re-doing the infield so the plan never gained any traction.

While there is no junior high baseball at Southwood (the idea has been kicked around), there is the Wabash Little League and Wabash Babe Ruth League prepping younger players.

The Babe Ruth League feeds three area high schools — Southwood, Northfield and Wabash. A few years ago, players were separated based on their high school affiliation and the high school head coach is responsible for finding the head head coach. For Southwood, that’s former Knights player Christian Dieter (who played for head coach Holtzeiter and assistant Dailey).

There are usually about six league teams — one or two for Southwood, two for Northfield and two or three for Wabash. There also some players from the surrounding area that will end up at Maconaquah, Manchester or Peru.

Zach Dials, a 2003 Southwood graduate, was selected in the 28th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Kentucky. A right-handed pitcher, he was a first-team all-state selection as a senior and played at John A. Logan College before UK. He appeared in 157 professional games through 2010.

 

Warren and Kelly Dailey live in Sweetser, Ind., and have four children — Corbin (11), Brianna (8), Chase (6) and Knox (4).

SOUTHWOODKNIGHTS

COBRINKNOXBRIANNACHASEDAILEY

Corbin, Knox, Brianna and Chase Dailey hang out with “The Colonel.” They are the children of Warren and Kelly Dailey. Warren Dailey is head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., and a patrolman with the Marian Police Department.

WARRENCORBINKNOXKELLYCHASEBRIANNADAILEY

The Dailey family attends church (clockwise from left): Warren, Corbin, Knox, Kelly, Chase and Brianna. Warren Dailey is head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., and a patrolman with the Marian Police Department.

KELLYWARRENDAILEY

Kelly and Warren Dailey share a vacation moment. Warren Dailey is head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., and a patrolman with the Marian Police Department.

Son of former Bethel coach Hutcheon now in Indians organization

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dane Hutcheon has found himself on Indiana soil again this summer — in two different professional baseball uniforms.

Hutcheon, the son of former Bethel College head baseball coach Mike Hutcheon, played for the independent Lake Erie (Ohio) Crushers at Evansville in July.

Now back in affiliated ball with the Lake County (Ohio) Captains in the Cleveland Indians organization, Dane has been taking to the diamond during the current series in Fort Wayne.

Hutcheon recently turned 24, but he was just 7 and the team batboy when the Bethel Pilots ventured from Mishawaka, Ind., to Celina, Ohio, and won the 2002 National Christian College Athletic Association national championship.

Mike Hutcheon, who had been a graduate assistant at Mississippi State University under Hall of Fame coach Ron Polk (1988-89), led Bethel for four seasons (2000-03) then went back to his native Colorado and was head coach at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for seven seasons (2004-10) and later three at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood for three (2014-16).

Dane Hutcheon was born in McKinney, Texas and moved with his family to Jackson, Miss., when his father became head baseball coach at Belhaven University, a post he held for five seasons (1995-99) before going to Bethel.

While in northern Indiana, Dane played at what is now known as Harris Baseball Softball in Granger.

A 2013 graduate of Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, where he played for Glenn Millhauser, Dane played college baseball at the University of Montevallo (Ala.) for Chandler Rose (who was an assistant to Mike Hutcheon at Air Force).

“In a way it was like playing for my dad,” says Dane Hutcheon of his time with Rose. “To this day, he’s one of my mentors.

“(Millhauser) was another great guy. I’ve had a lot of luck with coaches.”

After three seasons at Montevallo (2014-16) where he played shortstop and hit .310 with three home runs, four triples, 30 doubles, 83 runs batted in, 132 runs scored and 28 stolen bases, Dane Hutcheon was selected in the 29th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

Hutcheon played for the Short Season Class-A Gulf Coast League Twins in parts of 2016 and 2017 and also with the High-A Fort Myers Miracle in 2017.

The Twins released him in March 2018 and he hooked on with Lake Erie, where he hit .305 with three homers, 29 RBIs and 16 stolen bases as a Frontier League all-star and caught the attention of an Indians scout.

The lefty-swinging 5-foot-9, 177-pounder then moved his base of operations from the west side of Cleveland to the east. His first game with Lake County in the Low Class-A Midwest League was Aug. 21. In his first nine games with the Captains, he hit .300 with nine singles, three RBIs and one stolen base.

“Every one in awhile I squeak a home run out but, other than that, I do whatever I can to try to help the team,” says Hutcheon. “I wasn’t always the fastest or never really had any power (as a youngster). But as I got older and filled out body, things happened in the way they did.

“I was kind of a late bloomer in a way.”

A shortstop in college and second baseman in the Twins system, he has been used at third base so far this summer.

“I have a decent arm and I’m able to move,” says Hutcheon. “It’s been awesome to play other positions. I get to see how it all works.”

Throughout his baseball career, Mike Hutcheon has been Dane Hutcheon’s rock.

“My dad has always been that guy that I could go to if things are going good or bad,” says Hutcheon. “He tells me that there’s so much more than life than just the game. It’s helped me relax. He’s always there to give me pointers. He keeps me strong in my faith. He’s just a great guy to have as a mentor.

“He’s always just a phone call away to help put things into perspective and calm me down when I need it.”

Mike and Laura Hutcheon have four children — Manie, Dane, Gigi and Hal. Dane’s older sister works in Arizona. His younger sister is in college. His younger brother is a baseball player at student at Discovery Canyon Campus High School in Colorado Springs. Laura Hutcheon is the cheerleading coach at Air Force.

“We’re a family full of athletes,” says Dane Hutcheon.

DANEHUTCHEON

Dane Hutcheon, son of former Bethel College baseball head coach Mike Hutcheon, recently joined the Lake County (Ohio) Captains of the Cleveland Indians organization. Dane was a youngster when his father’s 2002 Bethel team won a National Christian College Athletic Association national championship. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Hootons bring ’special vibe’ to Fort Wayne TinCaps

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A husband-and-wife team with decades in baseball has been making an impact on a team and a city since making it their home in the spring and summer for the past six seasons.

Burt Hooton has been the pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps, a Low Class-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres since 2013.

In 2018, he is one a Fort Wayne coaching staff led by manager Anthony Contreras and also featuring hitting coach Jonathan Mathews and fielding coach Jhonny Carvajal.

Like she’s done throughout most of their marriage, wife Ginger Hooton has been there in-person to lend support to her husband and — through her personality — uplift those around her.

And not just because of her mouth-watering desserts like chocolate chip cookies, caramel brownies and Tres Leches cake.

“She’s a people person,” says Burt, who met Ginger in late 1970 when they both attended the University of Texas at Austin, got engaged in September 1972 and married Dec. 30, 1972. “She loves people. She likes pleasing people. She’s extremely friendly.”

TinCaps president Mike Nutter seconds that sentiment.

“She is such a motivator,” says Nutter of Ginger Hooton. “I’ve never heard a negative thing come out of her mouth.

“She has a unique perspective and outlook.”

The Hootons live right next to Parkview Field in the CityScape Flats. When Nutter and his crew were keeping their eye on the radar and dealing with rain delays Thursday, Aug. 16, Ginger sent him an encouraging text from her balcony.

She wanted him to know she had seen a rainbow over the field and wanted to see how he was doing.

“This is my 27th season in Minor League Baseball,” says Nutter. “Along the way, there are a handful of special people that come into your life.

“Ginger and Burt are certainly in that group. It’s a really special connection they have made. They want to work and make an impact in those young kids’ lives. They just have this special vibe.”

Both native Texans, Burt was a broadcast journalism major from the coastal city of Corpus Christi and art major Ginger hailed from the small farming community of Wharton.

The two met through a campus service organization — the Texas Cowboys. Their first date was at the group’s formal dance.

“I never knew he played baseball,” says Ginger. “I wasn’t a big baseball fan.”

She found it odd that so many people were shaking his hand. She learned years later that he had just thrown a no-hitter for the Longhorns.

Burt Hooton began his professional baseball career in 1971.

A standout at UT, the right-handed pitcher was selected in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft (second overall pick) by the Chicago Cubs and went on to pitch until 1985, winning 151 games and racking up over 2,600 innings.

On April 16, 1972, Burt tossed a no-hitter for the Cubs in his fourth MLB game and went on to be an all-star and the National League Championship Series MVP for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (who went on to win the World Series). He was known to possess a wicked knuckle curveball.

Even with all his accomplishments, Nutter marvels that Burt Hooton has no ego.

“He has a great gift of working with these young men,” says Nutter. “Anthony Contreras calls it a ‘feel’ for what will work for them.”

After taking the time to complete his college degree (he promised his mother he would finish it after leaving Texas at the end of his junior year), Burt launched into a coaching career in 1988 and has been a pitching coach at every level of organized professional baseball plus three collegiate seasons with the Texas Longhorns. He was the pitching coach for the big-league Houston Astros 2000-04.

Along the way, Ginger has been making friends in the stands and around the towns where Burt played or coached. When he was coaching in Round Rock, Houston and Oklahoma City, there were enough wives around for Ginger to lead a Bible study.

With younger players (the oldest players on the current Fort Wayne roster is 24 and there are nine teenagers), there is no opportunity with player wives.

“I just really prayed about it and God told me to feed my sheep so I just feed them,” says Ginger. “It’s mostly sweets.”

Pre- and post-game meals are provided by clubhouse manager Sam “Swirley” Lewis.

And it’s not just the players and and coaching staff that have sampled Ginger’s baked goods. Most everyone who works at Parkview Field — front office personnel, ushers, parking lot attendants — has gotten a taste.

The downtown stadium doubles as a public space when a game is not in progress. Many people walk around the perimeter of the field for exercise. Ginger walks there and greets those she encounters along the way.

When Burt and Ginger’s children — Gene and Layne — were very young, they would come to spring training with their parents and be tutored by their mother. As they grew older, they would visit spring training during spring break and then come to whatever baseball city their father called home.

“She always saw to it that she and the kids were wherever I was,” says Burt. “Now, it’s easy. We don’t have any kids (at home). I certainly don’t want to leave her home by herself (in San Antonio).

“I want her here. She wants to be here. We both enjoy it. It’s almost like a five-month vacation.”

This season has seen a steady stream of visits from family and friends. Sometimes when Burt is away, Ginger will go to help daughter Layne with her San Antonio-based store.

“I’ve been entertaining a lot,” says Ginger. “This season has flown by.

“I don’t know what I do, but I stay busy.”

Before moving into CityScape Flats, the Hootons lived next to Parkview Field at The Harrison. For the first few years in Fort Wayne, they resided in places across the city — far enough away that Ginger would sit in the one car they brought from Texas to pick up Burt after games.

Now, he can just walk home.

“I can get stuff done at home,” says Ginger.

The Hootons have gotten to know Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, checking out sites, museums and restaurants.

“Fort Wayne is a great town,” says Burt, the keynote speaker at the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association banquet in May. “The people we have met here have been great.”

Ginger and Burt also drive together on some of the TinCaps’ closer road trips.

“We enjoy traveling around together and being together,” says Burt. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The (Midwest) League is small enough that we can hop in the car and go places like Lansing, Grand Rapids, Dayton, South Bend and Midland, Mich.

“We’re having fun together.”

At 68, Burt takes his coaching career one season at a time.

“As long as I’m still healthy and enjoy it, somebody wants me and she’s OK with it,” says Burt. “When they ask me, I say I’ll ask Ginger and see what she says, She usually says whatever you want to do is fine with me.

“When she says ‘no’ that’ll probably be the end of it.”

Ginger sees the satisfaction her husband gets by helping to launch the pro careers of young pitchers.

“I think his greatest joy is getting to move these young kids up,” says Ginger. “It’s like our own children getting to make it.”

The past few weeks, the Hootons have been watching the Padres on TV and seeing players who once played in Fort Wayne.

“It’s so fun to get to see them experience that,” says Ginger.

And this husband and wife are experiencing so much together.


BURTGINGERHOOTON

Burt (left) and Ginger Hooton share a moment outside Parkview Field, where Burt is in his sixth season as pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. The couple was married Dec. 30, 1972. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

TOMNICHOLS2

With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

TOMNICHOLS1

Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)

Fort Wayne native Reith sharing knowledge as pitching coach in Rays system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Reith played professional baseball for 13 seasons with parts of three in the majors (2001, 2003 and 2004 Cincinnati Reds).

Reith, a 1996 Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School graduate, has plenty to impart to young players as pitching coach for the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods.

But it’s not just about what goes on between the white lines.

“This is about more than just baseball for me,” says Reith. “It’s about young men. The game’s going to be over at some point and, hopefully, they can have a sound future somewhere else.”

Reith, 40, encourages players to approach him about anything.

“They can come to about off-the-field stuff and on-the-field stuff,” says Reith. “I try to be stern, but I try to be a friend to them as well.”

With his young pitchers on the mound, he emphasizes something that helped him during his pro playing career.

“What I focus on mostly is fastball command and getting them to understand the four quadrants of the (strike) zone, how effective that can be and how it sets up their other pitches,” says Reith. “By doing this, starters can also help relievers later in the game.”

Reith says it’s a matter of mechanics for some pitchers and — for others — confidence in their fastball.

“Fastball command was extremely important for me,” says Reith, a 6-foot-5 right-hander who graduated from Concordia in 1996 and was selected in the sixth round of that years’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. “I first learned that in the (High Class-A) Florida State League. In Double-A, I had catchers who forced me to use my fastball. It really opened up a lot of doors for me.”

In the majors, his first manager was former big league catcher Bob Boone. Former MLB pitcher Don Gullett was the pitching coach.

“I had a lot of conversations with Bob Boone about pitch selection and different hitters and what to look for,” says Reith. “(Don Gullett) taught me a lot about work ethic.”

Dave Miley later took over as Reds manager. He ended up as head coach at Franklin County High School in Brockville, Ind.

Reith pitched for the Indianapolis Indians in 2005. Trent Jewett was the manager and Darold Knowles, who won 66 games and save 143 in 765 big league appearances, the pitching coach.

From 2007 to 2009, he played independent ball — first with the Somerset (Mass.) Patriots and then the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks and Joliet (Ill.) Jackhammers.

Sparky Lyle, who pitched in 899 big league games with 99 wins and 238 saves, was the manager and Brett Jodie, who made eight MLB appearances in 2001 with the Yankees and San Diego Padres, the pitching coach his first season in Somerset.

“(Sparky Lyle) stayed back and let us do our thing,” says Reith. “I was pitching pretty well while I was there.

“Brett Jodie helped me out quite a bit. I played with Jodie in the Yankees organization.”

The 2018 season marks Reith’s fourth in the Tampa Bay Rays system. He spent the past three years as pitching coaches with the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League’s Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades.

There are many former Hudson Valley pitchers on the current Bowling Green staff and Reith sees the value in the continuity.

“It’s always good to have a base and knowledge of how they learn and what they’re working on to start a season off,” says Reith. “It’s definitely helped.”

Reith recalls his time in the Midwest League with Dayton in 2000 and relates those experiences to his Hot Rods.

“It wasn’t that long ago I was in their same shoes,” says Reith. “I try to remember what I was going through and what my mind was like.”

Everyone shares in the grind.

“Travel is pretty brutal for us,” says Reith. “But the guys deal well with it.”

According to Google Maps, the distance between the stadium in Bowling Green and MWL sites are as follows: Beloit (Wis.) Snappers 510; Burlington (Iowa) Bees 494; Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels 561; Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings 530; Dayton (Ohio) Dragons 279; Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps 389; Great Lakes Loons (Midland, Mich.) 616; Kane County Cougars (Geneva, Ill.) 479; Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio) 477; Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts 524; Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs 436; Quad Cities River Bandits (Davenport, Iowa) 512; South Bend (Ind.) Cubs 392; West Michigan Whitecaps (Comstock Park, Mich.) 493; Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Appleton, Wis.) 621.

Toward the end of his playing career, Reith earned on online degree in business management from the University of Phoenix. When he retired as a player, he went to work in the corporate world and landed with Champs Sports in Bradenton, Fla.

At the same time, Reith was coaching 14- to 18-year-olds in Sam Marsonek’s SCORE International program — combination travel baseball organization and ministry.

“I really enjoyed teaching the young kids,” says Reith. “That really sparked my interest in what I could do at a different level.”

When the Rays came calling, he started coaching professionals.

Reith’s early diamond days were spent at Wallen Baseball League in Fort Wayne, where teams played by American Amateur Baseball Congress rules and runners could lead off at a younger age the Little League. The league turned 50 in 2008.

He played travel ball for the Fort Wayne Seminoles and Fort Wayne Warriors and four years as a pitcher and outfielder at Concordia for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Massucci.

“He’s an extremely hard worker and a very knowledgeable guy,” says Reith of Massucci. “I didn’t know too much about situational baseball and he taught me a lot.”

Massucci is well-known around Fort Wayne for his long-time association with the Wildcat Baseball League.

Brian is the son of Steve and Nancy Reith, who live in the Fort Wayne area along with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Brian’s sister, Stacey, resides in Fishers, Ind.

Bowling Green has made two visits to Fort Wayne this season and is due for another July 6-9.

Brian, wife Kellie and their children reside in the Bradenton/Sarasota area in Florida. The family — parents, son Dixon (7) and daughter Kinsie (6) — have been together most of the season in Bowling Green. Recently, Kellie went back to Florida to ready to give birth to a second daughter in about two weeks.

BRIANREITHBGHOTRODS2

Brian Reith makes a mound visit as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. The Fort Wayne native is in his fourth season of coaching in the Tampa Bay Rays system. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)

BRIANREITHBGHOTRODS1

Brian Reith signals his approval as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. He is a 1996 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran High School and played 13 professional baseball seasons, including parts of three in the majors. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)