Mike Werling sees a diamond in the rough. The new head baseball coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) North Side High School knows there’s been tough times for the Legends and plenty of challenges lie ahead, but his is hopeful he can turn around a struggling program. “It’s going to take time,” says Werling. “We’re going to take our licks (in 2023). I’m looking for commitment and improvement from day to day. “We have the talent to compete. We might sneak up on people that overlook North Side this year. It could be a fun ride.” The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period is in full swing and the Legends work out Mondays and Wednesdays at Carington Field, which is about four miles southeast of the school. There are senior captain-led stretches, throwing projections with Tom Emanski drills, full infield/outfield cut-off work, drop-step drills for outfields and Pitchers Fielding Practice to name a few. “We want to make sure kids know what they’re doing now so it’s not an issue in the spring,” says Werling, who is helped by assistant coaches Reggie Williams and Dezmond McNeilly. Fort Wayne North Side (enrollment around 1,520) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Carroll,Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead). SAC games are played in home-and-home series and some Saturday doubleheaders. “It’s a very big, very tough conference for baseball,” says Werling. The Legends were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Columbia City, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead and Huntington North. North Side is seeking its first sectional title. Hamilton Park Little League feeds the Legends program. “There is a negative stigma for North Side baseball. It’s a matter of changing the culture and making the kids excited about wanting to come out there.” Werling says having Williams as Hamilton Park Little League president will help spread the word and lift up Legends baseball in a positive light. Two players from the Class of 2023 — righty-swinging shortstop/third baseman Gabriel Oliva and left-handed pitcher Christian Cox — have been getting looks for bigger colleges. Welling, who took his new post at the end of August, was pitching coach at North Side 2019 to 2021 and was junior varsity coach at his alma mater — Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., in 2022. Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer Dean Lehrman has been a head baseball coach for 43 seasons — nine at Woodlan and the past 34 at Heritage. “Coach Dean is a special guy,” says Werling, who was a left-handed pitcher for Lehrman and graduated from Heritage in 2008 then at Ohio Northern University for one season and the Portland Rockets before a labrum injury caused him to stop. “There are mannerisms and ways about him he had then and nothing’s changed. They are the same drills and same workouts. He’s big on the little things and fundamentals. And there’s commitment.” “My Dean Lehrman comes out all the time in practice. He’s built a very successful program in his time there. What he does works.” Prior to coaching at North Side, Werling works 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays at Sauder Manufacturing in New Haven, Ind., where he drives a forklift.
A large swath of Josh Foster’s life — nearly 20 years — has been attached to baseball at Adams Central Middle/High School in Monroe, Ind. The new Jets head coach was a student manager for three years of middle school. He played for AC for four years under four different head coaches — Dave Neuenschwander, Mark Conrad, Jody Wendle and Herb Bergman. “It was a blessing,” says Foster. “I gained knowledge from all four.” After college, he came back and served junior varsity coach and then varsity assistant. Neuenschwander approached him to let him know 2022 — Nick Neuenschwander’s senior year — would be his last year leading the baseball program. “We were in-sync,” says Foster of himself and Dave Neunschwander, who also imparted lessons to him on the football field. “My senior year, (head coach Rick) Minnich needed to motivate me a little bit. He sent me to Coach Newy who said we need to to step it up. He was not rude, but was not going to sugar-coat it. We’ve had that friendship. “It’s been great having a mentor like that.” Adams Central lost in the baseball sectional in Foster’s junior year (2000) then finished as IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up in his senior season (2001). Foster was one of 19 seniors on the Jets 2000 Class 1A state football championship team and one of nine 12th graders on the baseball and basketball teams (AC advanced to the regional). Foster played three seasons at the Doug Coate-coached University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. “I was transitioning into a closer, but I was ready to get married,” says Foster, who made high school sweetheart and 2002 Adams Central graduate Julie his wife and the couple went about building a family that now includes five children — seventh grader Jencee, fifth grader Jaxsen, fourth grader Jordyn and kingergarteners Judsen and Jarren. Josh has been involved with coach his sons’ youth and travel teams. Kevin Foster, Josh’s father, took him to Pony League practices at 3 and has helped his son as a coach. Adams Central (enrollment around 375) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). The Jets were part of an IHSAA Class 2A baseball sectional grouping in 2022 with Bluffton, Churubusco, Eastside, South Adams and Woodlan. Adams Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2016. The Jets last won the ACAC in 1976. For the first time in years Adams Central is taking part in IHSAA Limited Contact Period fall practices (two hours two times a week). Led by Foster and junior varsity coach Lance Busse (Class of 2016), these sessions have been attended by up to 12 players — many of them sixth graders. Foster has been putting together AC’s first middle school baseball program. It will likely be a club team with seventh and eighth grade squads playing game against Indiana and Ohio teams during the spring. Two dozen middle school players came out to a recent meeting and more are expected. Foster is seeking volunteers to coach the boys. This supplements the feeder program that is the Monroe Youth League. Besides Busse, Foster expects Jalen Hammond (Class of 2019) to be on the coaching staff. A project on Adams Central’s field calls for leveling the infield and there has been talk of installing a warning track. Knowing the players as he does, Foster is optimistic about the Jets’ potential. “I am expecting a lot out of the guys, says Foster. “We lost nine (to graduation) last year. “If come out ready to work and do things that right way we can be successful.” Class of 2022’s Blake Heyerly at (Vincennes, Ind., University) and Jaren Hildebrand (Spring Arbor University), Class of 2021’s Justin Bultemeier (Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne) and Class of 2019’s Parker Bates (Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne) are recent Adams Central graduates that moved on to college baseball. “Coach Neuenschwander did a nice job of getting guys seen and plan to continue that,” says Foster. Dalton Combs (Class of 2013) was a 2022 Frontier League All-Star in Washington, Pa. Foster took some of his young players to see Combs in the game. Kyle Baker (Class of 2014) is on the Saint Francis coaching staff. Foster is also Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent, based in Monroe.
Athletic history is being made in Columbus, Ind. Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus has been approved for NAIA status in 2022-23. The Crimson Pride are up and running with three programs — baseball, softball and cross country — and more sports are planned. The first official baseball practice was held Tuesday, Sept. 6 on the youth diamonds at CERA Sports Park & Campground in Columbus. “The City of Columbus as a whole never had collegiate sports,” says Scott Bickel, IUPUC’s first head baseball coach. “We need Columbus and their business partners to support us for us to continue to grow.” IUPUC is a sister school to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and offers Indiana and Purdue degrees at in-state tuition rates. An independent pilot program that will not be eligible for NAIA postseason play in the first year, the IUPUC Crimson Pride hopes to get into an athletic conference — preferably the River States Conference (which includes national power Indiana University Southeast plus Indiana University-Kokomo and Oakland City University). The baseball roster currently numbers 44 and the goal is 55 in order to have full varsity and junior varsity schedules. “We want to give them an opportunity to compete for a position,” says Bickel. “We’re going to need to play at a highly-respected level to compete for conference championships. “The main thing we have to do now is install everything. Everything is new to everybody.” Former pitcher/outfielder Bickel was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series participant for Huntington North in 2006 and earned IHSBCA all-state honorable mention in both 2005 and 2006. Among Bickel’s classmates and teammates were Chris Kramer, Andrew Drummond and Jarod Hammel. Kramer went on to play basketball at Purdue University and in the pro ranks. Drummond set offensive records at Huntington (Ind.) University. Hammel also played at HU and is in his second stint as Huntington North head baseball coach. Bickel played two years each at Huntington North for Chad Daugherty and Russ Degitz (Chad’s younger brother Kyle Daugherty was an assistant) and Greg Roberts at the University of Saint Francis, an NAIA school in Fort Wayne. Bickel is a first-time head coach with coaching experience as Roberts’ hitting coach for one season at Saint Francis (2016-17) and four campaigns at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne (2019-22) doing a number of things for head coaches Lance Hershberger and Connor Wilkins. Others Ivy Tech coaches include Javier DeJesus (who gave pitching lessons to high schooler Bickel), Mark Flueckiger, Drew Buffenbarger, Benny Clark, Tony Gorgai, Jeff Griffith, Densil Brumfield and Seth Sorenson. “I have Lance Hershberger to thank for taking a chance with me and offering me an opportunity to network with a great baseball town,” says Bickel. “I really grew my knowledge base from our relationships, and I wouldn’t be here without them.” In some way or other, Bickel says he has also been impacted by Brent Alwine (Indiana Tech and Indiana Summer Collegiate League) Matt Brumbaugh (Fort Wayne Northrop), Patrick Collins-Bride (Indiana Tech), Mark Delagarza (Summit City Sluggers), Steve Devine (Indiana Tech), Rich Dunno (Ground Force Sports), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Zach Huttie (Indiana Tech/World Baseball Academy), Rick Davis (Strike Zone Training Center), Manny Lopez (The Diamond/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks), Kip McWilliams (Indiana Tech) and Mike Nutter (Fort Wayne TinCaps). The 2017-18 Ivy Tech team — aka “The Dirty Dozen” for the 12 players left at season’s end — went 25-18 in that inaugural season. Bickel came along in 2018-19 and saw those players move on to four-year schools. In 2017-18, Bickel was an assistant at Fort Wayne Snider High School. Marc Skelton and Bruce Meyer led the Panthers varsity and assistants included Tim McCrady and Josh Clinkenbeard (who is now Snider head coach). The last two years, Bickel was a player-coach for the Richard Brown-owned Jackers, which qualified for the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series in both seasons. While living in Colorado. Bickel met future wife Allie (the couple celebrates six years of marriage Oct. 15), started a business and played baseball. Bickel holds degrees in Secondary Education for Mathematics and Mild Intervention from Saint Francis (2011) and a Masters of Athletic Administration and Coaching from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (2021). The IUPUC staff also includes pitching coach Zach McClellan (who is also the school’s Director of Athletics and a former big league pitcher), Mac Kido and Tyler Dunbar and is likely to expand. Kido, a 2016 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., briefly attended Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., and has coached at Edgewood and travel ball at the Tier Ten Sports Campus in Spencer, Ind. He will coach Crimson Pride hitters. Dunbar, a 2019 graduate of North Daviess High School in Elnora, Ind., played briefly at Hanover (Ind.) College and transferred to IUPUC to finish his degree in Elementary Education. He has coached travel ball for Demand Command. He will serve infield coach/assistant baserunning coach for the Crimson Pride. “I’ll be mentoring and shepherding Coach Kido and Coach Dunbar the best I can,” says Bickel. “That’s a big goal for me. “I want to give them the autonomy they need to be successful.” Bickel will work with catchers and outfielders. An exhibition game with Ivy Tech Northeast is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8 at Fort Wayne’s Shoaff Park. IUPUC is to open its 2023 season and play its first-ever games Feb. 10-11 against Huntington University in Tuscaloosa, Ala. New Foresters head coach Thad Frame is a 2004 Huntington North graduate, which means he was a Vikings senior when Bickel was a sophomore.
“The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” — a film by Ted Green — made its Indianapolis debut Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Tobias Theater aka The Toby. After the screening presented by Heartland Film, Green told why he chose the documentary subject. “I like to do films that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit,” said Green, a producer, director, writer and researcher who partnered with Indiana Historical Society and created a cinematic portrayal of the man who has impacted the baseball world and so much more. “I just found myself drawn to this 95-year old guy up in Anderson, Ind., who was able to sort of move social mountains — not through bombast, not through money, but through grace, through humility, through servant leadership — and I will tell you that the last two years spent during production were the greatest two years of education of my life. “Maybe just maybe niceness and decency can win in the end.” Esteemed broadcaster Bob Costas summed it up in his on-screen introduction: “It was a story told softly as you’re about to see and hear about a story that cumulatively speaks to a person who’s deeply admirable.” Erskine, who became known as “The Gentleman from Indiana,” was born Dec. 13, 1926 in Anderson, won 122 games as a right-handed pitcher for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Throwing an overhand curveball that Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully said could be seen in a snowstorm, Erskine struck out a then-record 14 batters in the 1953 World Series. “Oisk” — as Brooklyn fans called him — is the last living member of the 1955 team that won the World Series. That group is part of Roger Kahn’s celebrated book, “The Boys of Summer.” Hall of Famer and Indiana native Gil Hodges was also on that team. Erskine threw two no-hitters and the was the starting pitcher in the Dodgers’ first game in LA. But that’s just a part of Erskine’s tale. “When I was a little boy I had this feeling in my soul: Something good is going to happen to you,” said Erskine early in the film. I just had this feeling,” Carl and Betty Erskine will celebrate 75 years of marriage on Oct. 5. They raised four children — Danny, Gary, Susan and Jimmy. The latter was born in 1960 — less than a year after Carl retired from baseball — with Down syndrome. Rather than put Jimmy away in an institution, the Erskine showered him with love and treated him like the rest of the children. “We were an active family,” said Gary Erskine. “Jimmy was not left behind.” Jimmy got on to a school bus for the first time in 1972 and has gone on to lead an independent life. When Carl and Betty’s fourth child came along, Indiana had long took a dim view of the “feeble-minded” and in 1907 was the nation’s first state to enact compulsory sterilization to “prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists.” Expected to live to around 35, Jimmy Erskine turned 62 this year. He worked at Applebee’s in Anderson for two decades and competed in Special Olympics for 50 (starting with the Indiana State Special Olympic Games in Terre Haute in 1970). The Carl and Betty Erskine Society raises money for the Special Olympics. The Erskine Personal Impact Curriculum (EPIC) is a set of materials for elementary, middle and high school students that uses stories from Carl’s life to “create lessons and activities with themes including empowerment, friendship, inclusion and leadership.” Thursday’s event was also a celebration of the Erskine connection to Special Olympics Indiana and helping to promote grace, humility, diversity, inclusion and servant leadership. When Carl was 10 and playing basketball in the alley with friends, 9-year-old Johnny Wilson wandered in. Carl’s question to the boy who happen to be black was, “Do you want to play?” It was the start of long friendship that lasted more than eight decades — one that will be commemorated with a mural in downtown Anderson in 2023. The boy who went on to be known as “Jumpin’” Johnny Wilson came from a family on welfare so he often ate at the Erskine house. Blacks were not welcome in some Anderson restaurants. They could not join the YMCA. They were restricted to the balcony of the movie theater. The Ted Green film made its world premier Aug. 11 at Anderson’s Paramount Theatre with an encore on Aug. 13. “Blacks were expected to be where they were supposed to be and the whites on the other side,” said Erskine. Carl’s parents — Matt and Berths — did not show that prejudice. General Motors Delco Remy inspector Matt Erskine “walked as easily among blacks as whites.” Bertha Erskine “was known for seeing the best in everyone and everything.” Said Carl, “She gave me the feeling that beauty is all around us. Don’t forget to look at it.” Carl went to the blacks-only swimming pool with Johnny Wilson. He didn’t go to places Johnny couldn’t and he sat in the balcony with his pal. They later played together on the Anderson High School basketball team. Wilson was chosen as Indiana Mr. Basketball in 1946 and went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters and is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. He competed in baseball, basketball, football and track and field at Anderson College (now Anderson University) and is in that school’s athletic hall of fame. Erskine, who was later head baseball coach at Anderson College for 12 years and is also in the Ravens Hall of Fame, shined on the diamond for Anderson High and Anderson American Legion Post 127. Throwing a tennis ball against a barn with a strike zone marked in chalk, Carl continually fanned his hero. Said Erskine, “I can’t count how many times I struck out Babe Ruth.” First discovered by Indianapolis scout Stan Feezle, Carl landed with the Dodgers after a stint in the U.S. Navy. The Dodgers were run by Branch Rickey, who signed the Hoosier hurler for $5,000. “I think there was an esteem there,” said Branch Rickey III of the relationship between his grandfather and Erskine. “He just had a deep, deep appreciation for what character could do individually. We loved what character could do for teams.” As a minor leaguer pitching against the big club, Erskine first met Jackie Robinson, who made a point of encouraging him his outing. Erskine made his Dodgers debut in 1948 and went on to toe the rubber for the franchise 335 times. Two Erskine-penned books are “Tales from the Dodgers Dugout” and “What I Learned from Jackie Robinson” and has been involved with Jackie Robinson Day activities with The Base Indy. One day after Erskine had shown kindness to wife and son — Rachel Robinson and Jackie Jr. — Robinson expressed his appreciation. “‘Come on, Jackie, it’s as natural to me as breathing,’” said Erskine of his response. But Jackie was always kind of surprised. He said to me, ‘this black and white thing doesn’t seem to bother you.’ I told him about Johnny my buddy. He said, ‘Carl, I see life divided. You seem to see life connected.’” When Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella was paralyzed in an auto accident in 1958, the first teammate to visit him in the hospital was Erskine. A man of faith who met Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Erskine was there at the start of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Erskine lent his talent to Dale McMillen aka “Mr. Mac” with the Wildcat League for youth in Fort Wayne, Ind. An insurance salesman and a bank president in his hometown, Carl has been a civic leader along with Betty. Anderson has Erskine Elementary School (a video message from Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda at the dedication appears in the film). There’s also was is now known as Anderson Youth Baseball & Softball at Erskine Park. The broadcast premier of “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” is slated for 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22 on WFYI in Indianapolis with PBS stations around Indiana expected to follow. As well as being part of the Heartland International Film Festival Oct. 6-16 in Indianapolis, screenings are planned for Sept. 29 at Eagles Theater in Wabash, Ind., Oct. 13 at Muncie Civic Center with dates to be determined at Artcraft Theater in Franklin, Ind., and Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
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.
Grant Sailors grew up playing baseball a certain way and he is looking to bring those things into his job as head coach at Elwood (Ind.) Community Junior/Senior High School. Hired less than a month ago to lead the Panthers program, the former three-sport athlete at Wabash (Ind.) High School wants the Panthers to “get back to basics.” “It’s the little stuff,” says Sailors, who played football and basketball and was a first-team all-stater in baseball (Matt Stone was head coach) for the Apaches and graduated in 2014 with a brief baseball stint at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. “To me a big thing is how you appear to your coaches, the other team, your fans. “Your jersey is tucked in. Your belt is on. You’re wearing your hat right. It’s little baseball traditions people may not take seriously. “We want to respect the game of baseball. The program I grew up in taught me very well. We want to teach that to the kids in Elwood. “It is a rebuilding process. It is going to take a little time and a whole lot of effort.” Elwood (enrollment around 430) is a member of the Central Indiana Athletic Conference (with Alexandra-Monroe, Blackford, Eastbrook, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). The Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Alexandria-Monroe, Frankton, Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Wapahani and Winchester Community. Elwood has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2014. Sailors, who helped with Wabash boys basketball a few years ago and Elwood softball in the spring of 2022, has been running twice-a-week open fields for Panthers baseball. He also emphasizes being on-time and the hustle factor. “Go out there and give it your all,” says Sailors, who has played with the USA Softball national fastpitch team. “It doesn’t take talent to hustle. These are things that I grew up doing.” Sailors played from age 4 to 12 at Wabash Little League then spent the next few years in the town’s Babe Ruth program. “There was a certain standard for baseball in the town of Wabash,” says Sailors. “Everybody wanted to be a part of the baseball team. “One goal for me and our new athletic director (Ryan Vanskyock) is it to get (Elwood’s Harry Bridges) Little League built back up so kids want to come and play.” That includes coaches clinics so they can see how Sailors teaches the game. Elwood has a junior high baseball for seventh and eighth graders. Sailors has named four of his assistant coaches — Jamie Jetty, Jack Bennett, Devan Frank and Chris Noone. Bennett, who played baseball at Goshen (Ind.) College), and long-time coach Noone are from Elwood. Former prep volleyball, basketball and softball athlete Taylor Noone (Elwood Class of 2016) is Sailors’ girlfriend. The Panthers play and practice on-campus. Money is being raised for renovations. Sailors says it is hoped that Elwood will someday have lights for baseball and softball. When not coaching, Sailors works in kitchen modeling and does woodworking on the side. He is the son of Jason (Kerri) Sailors and Betina Hill. He has three siblings — older younger Zach Sailors (Wabash Class of 2010), younger sister Jillian Sailors (Wabash Class of 2025) and younger brother Jake Sailors. Zach played baseball at Wabash and for four years at Indiana Tech. Jillian has been a travel volleyball player. Jake has been involved in football, basketball and baseball.
James Craig was honored in June by the Indiana High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of Interscholastic Officials Association as the top baseball umpire for 2022. Craig, a Fort Wayne resident, was selected for the award by a committee representing the 24 officials associations in Indiana. He is a member of the Northeastern Officials Association. The 57-year-old has been a licensed official for baseball since he was 19. He has worked 26 sectionals, 18 regionals, 11 semistate contests and eight State Finals. More than 10 times, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association has named Craig a district umpire of the year and he has worked a number of IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series, including 2022 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. Craig has also officiated high school football for 22 years and serves as referee on a crew with Fort Wayne’s James Payne (line judge), Mark Herberger (back judge) and Mark Stultz (linesman) and Bluffton’s Mark Mettler (umpire). The group has worked three State Finals, including the 2021 IHSAA Class 6A game between Center Grove and Westfield. “You want to have friends and people you can communicate with and get along,” says Craig of the football crew dynamic. “You should see as much football as you possibly can. Friday should be perfect. See the goofy stuff on Monday and Thursday nights (in freshman and junior varsity games).” Craig prefers to see as many teams and classes as possible in the regular season to be ready for the postseason. A number of football officials are also baseball umpires. Taking regular-season baseball assignments from Fort Wayne Umpires Association, Craig does games around northeast Indiana with multiple partners in a two-man crew. “We switch things up,” says Craig of the decision of who works the plate or the bases. “It’s best for everybody involved. “If it’s a doubleheader and I’ve done the plate in the first game, I guarantee (my partner) will do the plate in the second game. “In the two-man you’ve got one friend on the baseball field and it’s that guy.” During the game, Craig has a rule that he follows. “At the end of the inning always go to the side of the diamond of the defensive team,” says Craig. “They are happy they got the third out. Don’t got to the offensive side ever.” In a typical high school baseball season, Craig umpires about 38 games — each week night and a doubleheader on Saturdays. He has cut back his summer ball schedule though he still does some travel ball tournaments. After all these years, Craig maintains the same philosophy. “See as many pitches, plays and scenarios as you possibly can,” says Craig. “You’re always learning. “I’d like to say I’ve seen everything on a baseball diamond. I haven’t.” When making calls, Craig uses a rule of thumb that includes common sense, fair play and the rules. “It’s my job as an official to interpret rules,” says Craig. “I will never show up a coach. I will never embarrass them. I expect the same thing coming back. Address me by my first name and we’re going to get along just fine. “I’m just out there to do a job and that’s it. I’m calling fairs and fouls, safes and outs. However, Craig knows how teams and players operate. “If you’re not cheating you’re not trying and it’s only cheating when you get caught,” says Craig. “That’s when rules and the reinterpretation comes in. Is it within the spirt of what we’re looking for?” Take the example of all the padding worn by players these days. “There’s more body army than we’ve had ever,” says Craig. “On an inside pitch, they stick that wing out there and — bam! — they’re going to trot down to first base. “Don’t award them a base on that.” Without the armor, players would not be so swift to get in the way of an inside pitch to “wear one.” On the subject of inside pitches. When Craig was 10 he was chosen out of thousands to speak at Bob Gibson’s retirement. Gibson was known for working to the hitter’s side of the plate and intimidating long before elbow pads were a thing. “You didn’t dig in against Bob Gibson,” says Craig. A point of emphasis during the 2022 Indiana high school season included the amount of eye black. “To me it’s a bad look,” says Craig. “It’s nothing but a fashion statement.” In Game 1 of the North/South All-Star Series, Craig was behind the plate when Westfield lefty swinger Keaton Mahan came up in the seventh inning and quickly handed his cell phone to the catcher to take a quick photo with the umpire. “During the regular season, I say ‘get that camera out of here,’” says Craig. “But this was for fun.” In the ninth inning, Ohio State commit Mahan smacked a game-winning grand slam that was estimated to have landed and rolled under a tree about 570 feet from home plate. “He clobbered that thing,” says Craig. “It hit off the house (behind the right field fence) fair.” As for the topic of epic bat flip that’s become so prevalent in baseball, it’s a judgement call on the part of the official when it’s gone too far. “When the bat goes up in the air it becomes a safety issues,” says Craig. “I don’t have a problem with a high school kid showing some enthusiasm. But level of enjoyment must be within the confinements of the rules.” There’s also the issue of sportsmanship, especially with spectators — often parents — who become self-appointed evaluators and are quick to criticize umpires. “Officiating is a thankless profession,” says Craig. “I guarantee somebody is leaving there upset and it’s my fault. “You’re asking for perfection. I’m expected to show up perfect and get better.” He has witnessed a difference between high school baseball and summer travel ball. “Not every kid is going to be the next Derek Jeter, but parents seem to think that and they take it out on officials,” says Craig. “It’s disheartening. “High school baseball and high school sports are taught by teachers who are coaches and there’s built-in respect. It’s not necessarily built-in for travel baseball. “It’s all about me, me, me in the summer as opposed to we, we, we in the spring. We have a set of standards we have to abide by on all sides set by the (National Federation of State High School Associations) and IHSAA. In the summer, it’s a free-for-all.” Not that he wants to paint with a broad brush. “Guys like (Javier DeJesus) and Mark DeLaGarza get it,” says Craig. “I appreciate the job they do for travel baseball.” Craig notes that there were nearly 500 IHSAA baseball games canceled at all levels in 2022 due to the lack of umpires and points to parent/spectator’s inclination to sharply voice their dissenting opinion as a big reason. “If you don’t temper your attitude there will be no officials,” says Craig. “The officials shortage is a nationwide disgrace and it’s not going to get better. “What scares me the most is that when I started the average age (of officials) was 25 or 30,” says Craig. “Now — in most sports — it’s like 50. We’re leaving and there’s nobody behind us.” While he intends to stay longer for football, Craig plans to do one more state tournament rotation for baseball then retire his mask and clicker. He can work as high as the semistate in 2023 and the State Finals in 2024. “That’s enough baseball,” says Craig. That doesn’t mean he regrets his decision to make the calls. “It’s something I treasure and I’m glad I got into it,” says Craig. “I’m not in it for the money. I’m not in it for the fame. “Officiating is wonderful.” Craig did not start his officiating journey in Indiana. He began high school in St. Louis and finished up in Bowling Green, Ky., when his father was transferred to the Corvette plant there. When he was 14 he started umpiring T-ball games. His American Legion coach said he had to do something to give back to the game and umpiring was the only option that paid. After pursuing an academic scholarship at the University of Kentucky, Craig finished college at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. He was IPFW student body president in 1988 and earned a Secondary Education degree but did not go into the classroom. Craig is now a supervisor at Fort Wayne’s at WaterFurnace International (makers of geothermal heating units), where he has worked the past 15 years. He has a 32-year-old daughter — Jocelyn. She graduated from Homestead High School and Indiana University and was chosen as 2009 National Big Brother Big Sister of the Year. She now works in dispatch for the Indiana State Police.
Harrison Pittsford is soaking up the knowledge of veterans while getting in his summer reps as a first-year player for the South Bend Royals, members of men’s wood bat leagues in both South Bend and Fort Wayne. At 20, Pittsford is younger than most of his Royals teammates. That includes 53-year-old Jayson Best. “It’s cool learning from guys like Bestie,” says Pittsford, who completed his second year at NCAA Division III Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., in the spring. “I see how they play the game. “It’s a great experience playing with those guys.” Best, who was born in Lafayette, Ind., played professional baseball from 1989-97. He ascended to Double-A in the Minnesota Twins organization as a pitcher and later was head baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He pitched a no-hitter for the Royals in Mishawaka, Ind., on July 10. Pittsford, a 2020 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., comes up to play mostly weekend doubleheaders with former GC hitting star and current Eastern (Greentown) head coach Erik Hisner-managed Royals and Manchester teammate/roommate Hunter Aker (a South Bend Clay High School graduate). While he does some catching, Pittsford is getting playing time in the outfield since he expects to be there much of the time at Manchester. The Royals are to compete in a National Amateur Baseball Federation regional in Fort Wayne July 28-30. The top two finishers move on to the NABF World Series Aug. 2-5 in Battle Creek, Mich. Pittsford was named to the 2022 all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team at designated hitter. The righty swinger played in 30 games (28 starts) and hit .327 (33-of-101) with six home runs, eight doubles, 29 runs batted in, 27 runs scored and a 1.002 OPS (.418 on-base percentage plus .584 slugging average). Rick Espeset competed his 26th season as Manchester head coach in 2022. “Espy got my attention in the recruiting process,” says Pittsford. “His success and longevity eye-catching for me.” Espeset’s Spartans have won 619 games with six national tournament appearances, including two trips to the D-III World Series (2004 and 2013). As much as Pittsford appreciates all the knowledge that Espeset shares, he is also grateful for the insights on the mental approach. “We’re taking time to detach from baseball with breathing and mindfulness,” says Pittsford. As a D-III program, Manchester conducts four weeks of fall practice with the whole team and coaches. Players are then on their own for a few months until everyone reconvenes shortly before the start of the season. “Nothing’s really forced on us,” says Pittsford. “If guys want to get better they are going to get better. I get motivated seeing my teammates working out. “We have good leadership from underclassmen.” A Sport Management major, Pittsford was named Academic all-HCAC in 2022. “I want to stay involved in sports in some capacity,” says Pittsford of his post-college path. “That could be coaching, running a sports facility or being an athletic director. I want to be involved in sports and make a difference for kids and make sure the next generation has the same opportunities I had coming up. “Sports can teach you a lot of life lessons like building character and making friendships.” Born in Bloomington, Ind., and growing up in Ellettsville, Pittsford participated in baseball and basketball through Richland Bean Blossom Youth Sports and was also part of Monroe County Youth Football Association. He was in travel ball with the Ellettsville Explosion, Diamond Dynamics and then Tier Ten. It was with Diamond Dynamics that Pittsford met coach/instructor Tony Kestranek. “He was passionate about baseball,” says Pittsford of Kestranek. “He taught us when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive.” At Edgewood, Pittsford played four years each of football and baseball and two of basketball. A special teams player as a freshman, he was the Mustangs’ starting center for three seasons. Brian Rosenburgh was defensive coordinator Pittsford’s freshman year then head coach for the last three. “I loved him as a person and a coach,” says Pittsford of Rosenburgh, who was also a Physical Education teacher at Edgewood. An football coach was Mychal Doering. “He’s an amazing guy,” says Pittsford of the father of classmate Izaiah Doering and JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) specialist at Edgewood. “He was high-energy and he motivated you. He was always checking on people outside of school and he taught me about life and handling the ups and down. “He’s going through chemo (for cancer). It’s cool to see how he’s battling through that.” Pittsford considered playing college football, but decided to go with his first love of baseball. Besides, at 6-foot, 230 pounds he is considered to be undersized for a college lineman. Bob Jones, who has been a Business teacher for more than 40 years and head baseball coach for 36, passed along many diamond lessons to Pittsford. “He knows a lot of baseball,” says Pittsford of Jones, who went into the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame last week. “It’s nice to learn from a guy who’s been around the game for so long.” One of Jones’ more than 500 victories came during the first game of 2019 — a season that ended with the Mustangs finishing as IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up. Playing in a tournament at Vincennes University, Edgewood fell behind 11-0 to Terre Haute North Vigo after four innings. The Mustangs chipped away and eventually won 20-18 in a game that was played in a steady drizzle. “It was a pretty crazy game,” says Pittsford, who started at catcher and batted No. 2 that day and drove in two runs. Later moved to the No. 9 hole, it was there that Pittsford smacked a walk-off home run against West Vigo in the semifinals of the Owen Valley Sectional. Several other Edgewood players wound up playing college baseball, including Class of 2019’s Joe Kido (Indiana State University), Ethan Vecrumba (Indiana University), Cooper Thacker (University of Southern Indiana) and Blake Deckard (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology), Class of 2020’s Pittsford and Sam Kido (Indiana University South Bend) and Class of 2021’s Luke Hayden (Indiana University). Satoshi Kido — father of Mac, Joe and Sam — was an Edgewood assistant in 2019 and has been Pittsford’s hitting coach since he was 7 or 8. “He’s helped me so much with my swing over the years,” says Pittsford. “He always knows how to fix my swing when I get in a slump.” Pittsford spent much of 2021 dealing with a torn right shoulder labrum. Harrison is the youngest of 1986 Edgewood alums Jay and Cheryl Pittsford’s two sons. Alex Pittsford (25) is a graduate of Edgewood (2016) and Wabash College (2020) and is now pursing his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame. He was in football and swimming in high school. Jay Pittsford taught English for 19 1/2 years and then served as an assistant principal. Cheryl Pittsford is an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Physician’s Assistant.
Ryan Troxel is splitting his time this summer between college pitcher, youth pitching coach banking intern. He takes the mound for the wood bat Northern League’s Lake County CornDogs, which call Legacy Fields in Crown Point, Ind., home. On his off days, he guides arms for Valparaiso (Ind.) American Legion Post 94 Juniors (17U). “I’ve missed a few (Legion) games because I had to pitch,” says Troxel. “Other than that, I’ve been there. “I’ve been a busy man.” Troxel, a 2019 graduate of Valparaiso High School, pitched a scoreless ninth inning with three strikeouts during the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. A Finance and Management double major at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Troxel is a summer intern for Centier Bank in Merrillville, Ind. Troxel explains why he changed his academic path from Business to Finance. “Finance gives you the options to help people know their (money) goals,” says Troxel. “I also coach baseball because I love helping people.” On the diamond, the right-hander was on the winning side as the East topped the West 5-4 in 10 innings July 12 at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. Troxel’s performance was fitting because the CornDogs right-hander has a regular-season scoreless streak of 12 innings covering last three outings. In eight games (six in relief), he is 3-0 with a 0.65 earned run average. He has 35 strikeouts and eight walks in 27 2/3 innings. He was named Northern League Pitcher of the Week on July 5. A 6-foot-3, 220-pounder, Troxel is coming off his second season at NAIA member Indiana Tech. In seven games (all in relief), he was 0-4 with 14 strikeouts and 15 walks in 27 innings. In his first season with the Warriors (2021), Troxel came out of the bullpen 11 times and was 8-3 with a 4.46 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 innings. Kip McWilliams is Indiana Tech’s head coach and has also taken over pitching coach duties. “He gives us a lot of latitude to do what we want to get ready,” says Troxel of McWilliams. “He’s (coached) for a long time. He knows a lot about the game. “He’s definitely hard on guys. He expects a lot out of us. But — hey — we won a lot of games.” Tech went 32-21 and lost two one-run games as Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference tournament runners-up in 2022. McWilliams earned his 500th coaching win in April. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Troxel uses a four-seam fastball (which has reached 87 mph), curveball, slider (which is generally clocked around 75 mph) and change-up. “I get most of my outs on off-speed pitches,” says Troxel. “I throw my change-up a lot more now. It’s really helped me against left-handers because left-handers have always killed me.” Last weekend, Valpo Post 94 won a regional championship. This weekend, Post 94 is hosting the Indiana American Legion Junior State Tournament at VHS. In 2020, Troxel played for Rocco Mossuto-coached Saint Xavier University (Chicago). In a season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, he appeared in three games (one start) and was 0-0 with one save, a 4.50 ERA, eight strikeouts and eight walks in eight innings. Troxel played for Todd Evans at Valparaiso High. “He gave me a chance during my senior year to prove to him that I could be in the rotation,” says Troxel of Evans. “I think I had a pretty good senior year and he helped me a long the way.” Troxel went 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA and was honorable mention all-state, all-Duneland Athletic Conference, all-area and team MVP in 2019. Born in Elmhurst, Ill., Troxel was 1 when he moved to Valparaiso, where he played Little League then travel ball for the Chesterton Slammers, Triple Crown, Morris Chiefs and Valparaiso Post 94. He is grateful Chiefs coach Dave Sutkowski for his support. “He kept saying, ‘I believe in you,’” says Troxel of Sutkowski. “It was never about him. He was very influential in my choosing to play college baseball and also to move on and keep playing.” Ryan is the oldest of Jeff and Michele Troxel. Brother Zach Troxel is heading into his sophomore year at Valpo. He is pitching this summer for the Indiana Bulls. Jerry Troxel, Ryan and Zach’s grandfather who died in 2021, coached baseball for four decades at Gary Wirt. One of his players was Ron Kittle, who went on to be a major league slugger. “I really do love (coaching),” says Ryan Troxel. “It’s in my blood. That’s definitely in the future for me.”
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.