Tag Archives: Fort Wayne

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

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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.

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

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

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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)

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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

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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.

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

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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)

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Jurjevic takes over Indiana Chargers, now based in Fort Wayne

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With even more of an emphasis on strength and conditioning, the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization is moving into its next phase.

Evan Jurjevic, a former Chargers player who has been on the staff since 2015, has taken over as owner and director of operations and will still be an instructor and strength coach.

The Chargers will be based solely in Fort Wayne. To begin with, there will only be 14U, 15U, 16U and 17U travel teams.

“I want to make sure we have a quality product so we will decrease the amount of teams initially,” says Jurjevic. “We want to continue to develop players both on and off the field.”

Joel Mishler, George Hofsommer and Ben Bailey founded the Chargers in 2008 and teams were based in Goshen and Fort Wayne. He will serve as a mentor during the transition.

“What he’s done with developing baseball players at all ages is something I wanted to keep going,” says Jurjevic of Mishler. “I want to prepare them for life.

“Baseball has taught me a lot more about life lessons than the game itself — things like commitment, teamwork and communication.”

Mishler, who has coached baseball for more than three decades, calls Jurjevic “a superstar person, physical therapist and baseball guy.”

Tryouts for the 2019-20 season were held for Aug. 1 and another session is scheduled Aug. 12 at World Baseball Academy, 1701 Freeman St., Fort Wayne.

Starting in November, there will be more than 120 hours of off-season training time at The Summit, 1025 Rudisill Blvd., Fort Wayne.

There will be a weight room, pull-down batting cage, PlyoCare ball and J-Band walls and plenty of space for skill, strength and agility development.

Like before, training with the Chargers is not limited to the organization’s own athletes.

“We want players to come train with us, even if they don’t play with our team, to give them the best opportunity to excel at the game,” says Jurjevic. “We want them to get bigger, stronger and faster.”

Jurjevic, a LaPorte (Ind.) High School graduate, holds an undergraduate degree in exercise physiology and master’s degree in education from Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn., where he played baseball. He just completed course work and now needs to complete three clinical for toward his doctorate of physical therapy at Trine University-Fort Wayne.

Contact Jurjevic or the Chargers by email at inchargers@gmail.com or Twitter at @Strength_IC.

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Evan Jurjevic has added owner and operator to his titles of instructor and strength trainer for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization. The Chargers are now solely-headquartered in Fort Wayne.

 

Fort Wayne’s Wedge takes his passion back to Wichita State

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric Wedge was in his early 30’s when he was already sporting the “dinosaur” mentality of his coaching predecessors in Indiana.

“A team is always going to play off their manager,” said Wedge in this writer’s 2001 self-published book, “Hitting And Hurling In The Heartland: A look at Indiana high school baseball.” “It’s a powerful position and you have to make sure you approach it that way.

“I have a passion for the game. I love kids that love to come out and play. And it’s got to hurt when you lose.

“I’ve got a problem with people who don’t compete every pitch, every out and every game.”

Wedge played at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Chris Stavreti. Stav was a “dinosaur” — a term once attached to 20-year IHSBCA members.

After his playing career, which included four seasons in the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, Wedge managed five seasons in the minors and 10 in the majors — 10 with the Cleveland Indians and three with the Seattle Mariners. Wedge was the American League Manager of the Year in 2007 as the Cleveland lost to Boston in the American League Championship Series.

Now 51, the Fort Wayne native and IHSBCA Hall of Famer has been named head baseball coach at Wichita State University, the school he helped win the College World Series in 1989.

A two-time all-Missouri Valley Conference selection, Wedge is a member of the Wichita State 25-Year Anniversary Team, the WSU Hall of Fame (1996) and is also a member of the league’s All-Centennial Baseball Team.

In his three seasons at WSU, the Shockers reached three NCAA Tournaments and twice played in the CWS (1988, 1989). WSU won three regular-season MVC crowns and two MVC Tournament crowns during his collegiate playing career.

Wedge, a Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer who had a wood bat division named for him at Fort Wayne’s Wallen Little League in June and had been in player development with the Toronto Blue Jays, talked about his new role and about Fort Wayne baseball in a story written by Dean Jackson.

Enjoy that story here.

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Eric Wedge, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native, is the new head baseball coach at Wichita State University. He helped the Shockers win the College World Series in 1989. (Wichita State Photo)

 

Fort Wayne’s Wildcat League going strong in 59th year

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Instilling a love for and the fundamentals of the game.

That’s what the Wildcat Baseball League has been doing in the Fort Wayne area for decades.

In its 59th year in 2019, the youth league founded by Dale McMillen Sr. aka “Mr. Mac” where “everybody makes the team” has instruction and competition going on at 10 sites: Aboite (Summit Middle School), Arlington (Arlington Elementary School), Blackhawk (Blackhawk Middle School), Foster (Foster Park), Hamilton (Hamilton Park), Leo (Leo Junior/Senior High School), New Haven (Havenhurst Park), Northside (Northside Park), St. Joe (St. Joe Baseball Complex) and Wallen (Wallen Baseball Complex).

While the season is already underway with about 1,400 participants, players can still sign up at area sites. There is no cost to play Wildcat. Players provide their own glove. The rest is covered by the league.

Divisions are Kitten (6-8), Kitty (9-11), Kat (11-14) and Tiger (14-15).

“We’re flexible,” says Wildcat League president Bill Derbyshire of the age divisions. “We try to make it comfortable for the kids.”

That’s in keeping with the spirit of Wildcat.

“The fundamental principle is that we give all the kids a chance to play. They get to play without the fear of being intimidated or embarrassed.

“We teach baseball skills in an atmosphere of ‘you can do this.’”

Derbyshire, who first became involved with the Wildcat League as a director at Kekionga in 1969 and went on to coach baseball for 17 seasons at Fort Wayne Elmhurst High School (the field at that site bears his name) and has been league president since 2004, says a common memory for coaches is that of seeing youngsters get their first hit or catch their first fly ball.

The annual “Mr. Mac Day” brings together Wildcat Leaguers for fun and competition. This year it is scheduled for July 12 at Kreager Park. There are all-star games, relays and contests like hitting off a tee, accuracy throw, distance throw and baserunning.

Weekly clinics cover pitching, hitting, infield and outfield play, baserunning, “Mr. Mac Day” fundamentals and sportsmanship.

This year, there are 45 on-site staffers and five in the office at 1302 E. Creighton Ave.

Jack Massucci has served Wildcat baseball for more than 50 years and is currently vice president. He coached 37 seasons at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School and is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Gerry Tilker also has a Wildcat tenure nearing a half century and now serves as commissioner. He was also head coach at Elmhurst.

Gary Rogers is assistant commissioner and league fundamentalist. He is a former Wildcat site director. He coached 32 seasons at Fort Wayne Luers High School and just completed his second at Leo.

Derbyshire, Massucci, Tilker and Rogers are all in the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame.

To register or for more information, contact Wildcat Baseball at 260-456-5821.

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Fort Wayne’s Wildcat Baseball League, where “everyone makes the team,” is in its 59th year in 2019.

 

Culture of caring, accountability propels NAIA World Series-bound Indiana Tech

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Tech’s baseball team has gotten strong pitching, timely hitting, well-placed bunts and taken plenty of extra bases during its 2019 postseason run.

The Warriors (41-14-1) have outscored opponents 30-16 in the Wolverine-Hoosier Conference tournament and 24-12 in the NAIA Opening Round.

Head coach Kip McWilliams says it’s team culture that has Tech in the program’s seventh NAIA World Series appearance and first since 2003. The squad was to leave for Lewiston, Idaho today (May 21) and face Bellevue (Neb.) at 11:30 a.m. EDT Friday (May 24).

“These guys care about each other and hold each other accountable,” says McWilliams. “Culture is the most important thing.

“It starts with the seniors. It’s a great group of guys. They’ve helped molding our freshmen and underclassmen.”

Catcher Glen McClain, third baseman Brandon Dossen, second baseman Javier Castaneda, right-handed pitcher Nate McBroom are among the Warriors’ senior leaders.

McClain, a redshirt senior and graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School, is Tech’s all-time hit leader with 337. He goes to Idaho hitting .431 with 17 home runs and 54 runs batted in.

Heritage High School graduate Dossen carries a .370 average with five homers and 49 RBIs.

Castaneda hails from Miami, Fla., has made 70 assists and participated in 11 double plays on defense.

Wichita, Kan., product McBroom is in the mix to start of relieve in Lewiston. He is 6-3 with a 3.58 earned run average. Tech’s other top pitchers include redshirt junior right-hander Seth Sorenson (9-1, 2.22), junior left-hander Charles Dunavan (9-3, 2.60) and freshman right-hander Hayes Sturtsman (4-1, 5.47).

Sorenson is from Payson, Utah, Dunavan from Sterling Heights, Mich., and Sturtsman is a Manchester High School graduate.

During the run up to the World Series, the lineup has featured junior right fielder Jacob Alvidrez (.315-3-30) at lead-off, followed by junior center fielder Reese Olden (.323-0-28), catcher McClain, third baseman Dossen, freshman first baseman Jake DeFries (.368-3-42), junior designated hitter Spenser McGhee (.338-3-17), second baseman Castaneda, redshirt junior shortstop Jake Ritson (.299-0-30) and junior left fielder Jashaun Simon (.209-1-11).

Alvidrez is from Sacramento, Calif., Olden from New Haven, Ind., DeFries from Crown Point, Ind., McGhee from Virginia Beach, Va., Ritson from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Simon from Kennewick, Wash. Kennewick is less than three hours from Lewiston.

McWilliams, who is in his 12th season at the Fort Wayne school, credits his assistant coaches who take the time to work with the athletes and build trust in the player/coach relationship.

Brent Alwine is in charge of infielders and is key to the Warriors’ defensive positioning.

Pat Collins-Bride works with hitters and helps with recruiting.

Marshall Oetting is the pitching coach and works closely with McWilliams on that aspect of the game.

Miguel Tucker leads the outfielders, helps with recruiting and puts together a scouting report for the rest of the coaching staff. McWilliams says the data helps with positioning and pitch calling and sequencing.

Gordon Turner also helps with infielders and recruiting and is the junior varsity coach.

Tech was one win away from getting back to the World Series in each of the past three seasons, but bowed out in the NAIA Opening Round.

The Warriors have used that as motivation for getting to the next level.

McWilliams, who has long used visualization in his training, has asked players to “close their eyes and remember the last game they played.”

Unless the season ended with a championship, they are know about the heartache of the last-game loss.

“When postseason baseball comes around, there’s only going to be one winner,” says McWilliams. “Even the incoming freshmen can take that feeling and feed off it, using it in their workouts.”

The coach also asks them to go back to their earliest days of baseball.

“Everyone was a star in Little League,” says McWilliams. “Just relax, go out there and have fun.”

It’s all about positivity.

“We have a question for them: What are they feeding their dog?,” says McWilliams. “Is it positive or negative?”

McWilliams was on the Marian University coaching staff the last time Tech made it to Lewiston, but he does maintain contact with former players.

“I’ve received several phone calls and texts,” says McWilliams. “I want them to know they are not forgotten.

“They’re the foundation of where we are today.”

McWilliams has brought in Ivy Tech Northeast head coach Lance Hershberger (who took the Warriors to the World Series in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003), former Indiana Tech athletic director Dan Kline and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and current Grand Valley State University assistant Sam Riggleman to address the 2019 team.

Riggleman was a head coach for 40 years and won 1,023 games at Wesley College, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Southern Illinois University, Bethel College, Dallas Baptist and Spring Arbor University.

As motivation, there’s also the images in McWilliams’ office.

Each time the Warriors has been fortunate enough to win a championship of some kind, a team photo has been taken.

“The poses are almost always the same,” says McWilliams. “They see (those photos) everyday. It’s hilarious. That’s a visual thing for them.”

It links everything together and helps feed the culture.

And culture is what it’s all about for the Indiana Tech Warriors.

 

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Javier Castanedia and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Glen McClain and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Head coach Kip McWilliams and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Javier Castaneda and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

Veteran coach Rogers enjoys having a diamond to call his own with Leo Lions

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Rogers finally is in charge of a baseball facility where he gets first dibs.

In 32 seasons as head coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School, Rogers did not have an on-campus field and shared diamonds around the Summit City.

At various times, the Knights practiced at Tillman Park and played games at McMillen Park, Concordia Seminary and Indiana Tech.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store with my own field,” says Rogers, who is in his second season at Leo Junior/Senior High School in 2019.

Rogers landed at Leo as a guidance counselor when Harding High School closed as a high school, but continued to coach at Luers.

When Dave Boyce stepped away and left an opening at the top of the Lions program, Rogers took the opportunity to coach at the same place where he works during the day.

Having his own diamond is a big plus. Leo is the lone tenant at a field that has seen plenty of upgrades since Rogers took over.

“The kids have really worked hard on this field in the two years that I’ve been here,” says Rogers. “We’re still not done.”

Leo’s baseball field has two new hitting tunnels on the third base side with excess turf from the football field.

Last year, 80 tons of infield dirt material was brought in. The mound was re-built. Using 40 more tons of material, the warning track was extended around Thanksgiving time.

Also last fall, lips were cut out, new sod was planted and the home plate area was lifted.

“Your field is a reflection of your program,” says Rogers. “I’ve always felt that way.”

Rogers is a 1974 graduate of Merrillville (Ind.) High School and he saw how much tender loving care Pirates coach Bill Metcalf put into his field.

“He was always on the field doing something and we wondered what he was doing,” says Rogers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and National Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “Now, I understand that really well.”

He got a chance to plenty of work on the field at Indiana Tech for coaches Lance Hershberger, Steve Devine and Kip McWilliams.

With just one gym at Luers, the location of indoor workouts was not a certainty for Rogers and his teams. It may still get crowded, but there is a main gym and auxiliary available at Leo Junior/Senior, a part of East Allen County Schools.

Leo carries a brand resembling that of the “South Side Hitmen” era of Chicago baseball, a device devised by Boyce and kept by Rogers.

“I love that logo because I’m a White Sox guy,” says Rogers.

The coach considers himself to be “old school.”

“Everybody wears the uniform the same,” says Rogers. “We’re either all up (with the socks) or all down. We ask them to get haircuts. Those are my things.

“As for the baseball, we always work and always hustle. We want to be the first ones on the field and the first ones off the field. We want to get after every ball.

“I’m trying to teach the game the right way. I disagreed with Bryce Harper when he said there is no right way to play the game. I believe there is.”

One former player really took the Rogers’ insistence on hustle.

While he grew physically after high school and was very talented athletically, Kevin Kiemaier worked his way to the major leagues. He is now the starting center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rogers cherishes the memory of visiting Kiemaier while he was in rookie ball and him telling his former coach, “the rays like me because I’m a program guy. That serves me well.”

A three-sport athlete at Luers (football, basketball and baseball), Kiemaier demonstrated his athleticism while on the mound in the 2008 South Bend Semistate championship game against Boone Grove. A ball was smashed up the middle and Kiermaier stabbed it behind his back.

“He doesn’t make that play if he’s not an athlete,” says Rogers.

Winning pitcher Kiermaier led off and hurled the first five innings before going to shortstop as Luers beat Elwood 14-9 to win the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2008. That capped a school year in which the Knights also took state crowns in football and basketball.

Besides the state championship, Rogers-coached Luers baseball squads won four sectionals, one regional and one semistate.

He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2008 and has earned district COTY honors twice.

Very involved in the Fort Wayne diamond community, Rogers has been part of Wildcat Baseball League since former Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci asked him to help more than three decades ago. He started as director at Northwood Middle School, moved to St. Joe Little League then took on an administrative role.

Rogers is on the board for the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is an NEIBA Hall of Famer.

The 2019 NEIBA banquet is May 19. Mike Nutter, Mike Marchesano and Mike Frame are all to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Spearheaded by Rogers and Carroll High School assistant Brett Windmiller, the organization will present at Northeast Indiana High School Player of the Year award.

Rogers played at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and graduated in 1978. He was a sophomore when Dave Goodmiller (now head coach at Norwell High School) was a senior. The two went on the play together in Fort Wayne’s Stan Musial League with Blackie’s Rib Corral and Mexican Joe’s. Rogers was the head coach for the North for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series at Notre Dame in 2008. Dave Goodmiller was an assistant and his son, Rhett Goodmiller, played in the game.

On April 23, 2019, Rogers earned career victory No. 500 against Norwell.

Rogers was an assistant to Don Hummel at New Haven and Larry Gerardo at Luers before taking over that program.

The 2018 Leo squad went 19-8. The 2019 team was 18-3 through May 13.

Alex Bireley, Christian Brubaker, Chase Chaney, Ryan Hackworth, Chance McMaken, Tyler Parker and A.J. Restivo are seniors on the current Leo squad. Hackworth has committed to play baseball at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.

Recent Leo graduates to move on to college ball are Easton Embry (Earlham College), Lukas Kline (Franklin College) and Max Minich (Kankakee Community College).

Rogers’ assistants are Brent Davis, Brian Turner and Jim Sickafoose with the varsity and Tom Miller and Mitch Meinholtz with the junior varsity. Davis is a New Haven graduate. Turner went to Fort Wayne Snider and played for Indiana Tech when Hershberger was a head coach and Rogers an assistant. Sickafoose is a former Central Noble head coach. There are 33 players in the program in 2019.

Leo (enrollment around 975) is a member of the Northeast Eight Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, New Haven and Norwell).

The Lions are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, New Haven and Columbia City. Leo has earned eight sectional crowns — the last in 2012.

Besides various travel teams, Leo Grabill Little League serves as a feeder program for the Lions.

Gary and Jackie Rogers have three daughters — Melissa, Emily and Katie — and five grandchildren.

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Gary Rogers is in his second season as head coach at Leo Junior/Senior High School after 32 seasons at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers.

Byall, Homestead Spartans value preparation

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Potter and Steve Sotir emphasized the fundamental parts of baseball — making the routine play on defense, pounding the strike zone from the mound and following an approach from the batter’s box — as head baseball coaches at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Nick Byall, who played for Potter and coached with Potter and Sotir, is carrying on the tradition while adding his own spin as the man in charge of the Spartans.

“We want to be polished and prepared each day,” says Byall. “When you’re doing (the fundamentals) well it makes the game even more fun.

“At the high school level, we can be really successful doing that.”

Byall, a 2000 Homestead graduate, spent 10 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater (two on Potter’s staff and eight with Sotir) and is in his fourth season as head coach in 2019.

Being competitive is also important to Byall.

“We’re always looking to compete — in a drill or a game,” says Byall, who heads up a program with around 50 players for varsity, junior varsity (JV Blue) and freshmen (JV Gold) schedules.

“We have a smaller senior class and kept a larger freshmen class,” says Byall. “We have 18 on the varsity roster most of the time. Some guys will swing between varsity and JV.”

The coaching staff features Shawn Harkness plus volunteers Josh Brock, Maurie Byall (Nick’s father) and Greg Wehling with the varsity, Austin Plasterer and Kyle Plasterer with JV Blue and Brian Landigran and Dominic Schroeder with JV Gold.

Harkness is pitching coach for the Spartan. He was a JV coach when Byall was a Homestead player.

Brock played and coached at Manchester University.

It’s more than the game that keeps Byall around baseball.

“I want to be a decent role model for (the players),” says Byall. “That’s why we do it.

“I enjoy the kids and the coaches I work with. If not, I wouldn’t do it.”

Homestead plays its varsity games on its campus with the JV teams playing on that diamond or at a field near Summit Middle School.

Marching band is a big deal at the school and the band has its own turf practice surface near the baseball field. The baseball team sometimes uses it when it’s facility is too wet.

There is no middle school baseball at Homestead, but many players participate in travel ball.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who enjoy baseball,” says Byall. “They’re pretty fundamentally sound.”

Senior Kade Kolpien has committed to Taylor University. Senior Will Ferguson has garnered some college baseball interest. Junior Eli MacDonald and sophomore Kaleb Kolpien and Carter Mathison are among younger Spartans getting college looks.

Recent Homestead graduates now with college programs include Justin Miller at Purdue Fort Wayne, Isaac Bair at the University of Indianapolis and Nick Davit and D.J. Moore at Huntington University.

Catcher Rob Bowen was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his big league debut with the Twins in 2003. He also played for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Infielder Andre Jernigan went from Homestead to the Xavier University to the Twins organization.

Right-handed pitcher Taylor Kinzer played at Taylor then in the Los Angeles Angels organization.

Second baseman Ryan Wright played at he University of Louisville and in the Cincinnati Reds system from 2011-15.

Catcher Matt Singleton played at Ball State University and in the Athletics chain.

Outfielder Bobby Glover was a Parkland College, the University of Dayton and with the independent Windy City Thunderbolts (2012).

Left-hander Kyle Leiendecker went to Indiana University.

It’s IU and the allure of Hoosiers basketball that brought Byall to Bloomington.

He was a basketball manager for four years and got to see in the inner workings of big-time college sports and went to the 2002 NCAA tournament championship game with head coach Mike Davis. Byall’s first week on campus was Bob Knight’s last.

Byall earned an education degree from Indiana in 2005 and a masters in business administration from Taylor in 2010. He teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics and U.S. Government at HHS.

Homestead (enrollment around 2,430) has charted a schedule that features Bellmont, DeKalb, Evansville Central, Fishers, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis Cathedral, Mississinewa, Norwell, Wapahani and Warsaw.

For several years, Homestead has made a southern trip during spring break.

“It’s a chance to get away and bond a little bit,” says Byall.

The destination the past few seasons has been Vincennes, Ind. Treks have also been made to Terre Haute, Evansville, Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tenn.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Huntington North. Homestead has won 14 sectionals — the last in 2016. A 4A state runner-up finish was earned in 2008.

Byall is single and lives in the Homestead district.

“I’m real close with my family,” says Byall, the son of Maurie and Rosi Byall and younger brother of Troy Byall. His father owns Byall Homes, Inc., and has been building houses for 40 years. His mother is the Homestead treasurer and also the statistician for her son’s baseball team.

With three children, chiropractor Dr. Troy and wife Erica Byall have made Nick a proud uncle.

NICKBYALLKADEKOLPIEN

Homestead High School baseball coach Nick Byall (left) slaps hands with Kade Kolpien. Byall is in his 14th season as a Spartans coach — fourth as head coach — while Kolpien is in his senior season in 2019.

NICKBYALL

Nick Byall is head baseball coach at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He is a 2000 graduate of the school. (Homestead High School Photo)