The Battle rages Aug. 1-Sept. 13 with games contested Wednesday through Sunday at Florence’s UC Health Stadium and Lexington’s Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Claycamp, who commuted from Columbus to begin the season, has made arrangements for an Airbnb in Lexington. When the Legends play in Florence, he stays with family friends in the Lawrenceburg/Sunman, Ind., area.
Ellis, a Jeffersonville High School graduate, played at the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. The third baseman plays home games only for the Legends and Leyengas.
Thompson (Floyd Central) is a 6-6 right-hander who was at Louisville and in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was in indy ball at Sussex County in 2019.
Right-hander Talcott (McCutcheon) last pitched for Earlham College in 2019.
Outfielder Baker played at Ball State University and was in independent ball in the American Association in 2019 (Texas and Kansas City).
Righty Dougherty (Morgan Township) pitched for Grace College before taking the mound in the United Shores Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich.
Floyd (Jimtown) was at Ball State University and the righty hurled for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in 2019.
While his primary position growing up and through college was shortstop, Claycamp has moved around the field.
“I’ve been a utility player my whole life,” says Claycamp.
At Columbus (Ind.) East High School, where he graduated in 2015, he was a shortstop as a freshman, shortstop and second baseman as a sophomore, third baseman as a junior and third baseman, shortstop and second baseman as a senior.
He played those same three spots in his one season at the University of Dayton (2016) and then was locked in at short in three campaigns at Franklin (2017-19). He helped the Grizzlies win back-to-back Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles in his final two campaigns.
Claycamp was invited to pre-Major League Baseball Draft workouts by the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies in, but was unable to attend with Franklin making the school’s deepest ever postseason run, reaching the regional final in Sequin, Texas.
After getting into eight games at NCAA Division I Dayton (two starts), Claycamp transferred to D-III Franklin and played in 128 contests for the Grizzlies. He hit .354 (174-of-491) with 20 home runs (tied for No. 9 in program history), 46 doubles (No. 5 all-time), 133 runs batted in (No. 6) and 143 runs scored (No. 4).
Right-handed pitcher Gray went on to Florida Gulf Coast University, the Colorado Rockies organization and is now in independent pro ball with the Milwaukee Milkmen.
Right-hander/outfielder Curry started at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When SJC school closed, he went to Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Anderson, a 6-foot-8 righty, pitched at Northern Illinois University.
Left-hander Brian Wichman was at Murray State University then hurled for the University of Indianapolis.
Catcher Christian Wichman played briefly at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., where he was also a football player.
Claycamp played in both Bartholomew County Little League (weekdays) and travel baseball (weekends) until he was in high school. Bartholomew County (now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County) won a state title when he was 12 and lost in the Great Lakes Regional championship. The winner went on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Early travel ball teams were the Columbus Crush, Indiana Blazers and BCLL All-Stars. In high school, Claycamp donned the jerseys of the Indiana Redbirds, Indiana Outlaws and Johnson County/Indiana Jaguars.
Besides baseball, Sam played football until middle school. He was on the school basketball team through eighth grade then played intramural and church hoops.
His falls were dedicated to deer hunting.
David and Tammy Claycamp have two sons — Sam and Kobbe (22). David Claycamp is machine shop manager at Innovative Casting Technologies in Franklin. Tammy Claycamp is a teacher at Faith Lutheran Preschool in Columbus. Kobbe Claycamp played baseball and football at Columbus East. He was on the IHSAA Class 5A state championship team in 2017 and state runner-up squad in 2016. He also played club rugby in high school.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
Brogan started the program 13 years ago in Chicago as South Side Irish Baseball. He ran a baseball academy in Bridgeview, Ill., and fielded three teams.
When Shane’s son, Stone Brogan, was deciding on which high school he would attend, he picked Andrean in Merrillville, Ind., and the move was made from Chicago to northwest Indiana. The Brogans landed in Schererville and the travel team became the Midwest Irish.
Shane began coaching at Andrean and has been a 59ers assistant for nine years.
The 2020 Midwest Irish have four teams — 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U. Brogan is head coach of the 18U team. Rosters are predominantly made up of northwest Indiana players, but there are some from Illinois.
“We get a variety of college level players,” says Brogan. “We have a lot of everything.”
Stone Brogan played at NCAA Division III Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.
“I watched Division III baseball for a long, long time,” says Brogan. “There’s great players everywhere.
“There’s a stigma attached to all of these divisions. That’s not the case. There’s tremendous baseball at all levels.”
Nearly half of the current Midwest Irish 18U squad has been with the Irish for at least three seasons. There are 17 players — all from the Class of 2020.
Lake Central’s Brock Begesha (University of Dayton), Marian Catholic’s Adam Huekels (Niagra University) and Mount Carmel’s Nick Miketinic (Butler University) are committed to NCAA Division I schools for baseball.
Portage’s Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis) and Mount Carmel’s Ethan Imlach (Purdue Northwest) are going to D-II programs, Andrean’s Jacob Mullen (Wabash College) and Sam Nagy (Benedictine University), Boone Grove’s Austin Lamar (Manchester University), Chesterton’s Zach McKenna (Anderson University) and Marian Catholic’s Dominick Angellotti (University of Chicago) to D-III schools and Lake Central’s Doug Loden (Joliet Community College), Andrean’s Mason Sannito (Waubonsee Community College), Chesterton’s Max Weller (Wabash Valley College), Taft’s Ernie Day (Iowa Western Community College) and Illiana Christian’s Tavares Van Kuiken (College of DuPage) to junior college baseball.
Boone Grove’s Elijah Covington is currently uncommitted.
“There’s a place for kids who say. ‘I’m going to put in my time. I’m going work hard and I’m going to get good grades.’ If they do that, there’s somewhere to play in baseball. Then however it works out is how it works out.
“At the end of the day, we know that baseball only goes so long for some guys. It’s about a school and a fit and getting that degree. Are program has a lot of that which excites me.”
The 18U Midwest Irish expect to participate in seven tournaments this summer. Following the Pastime event with games at Four Winds Field, Ancilla College, Bethel Unicersity and U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, the organization is heading to Michigan beginning Thursday, June 18. After that comes a tournament with games at minor league parks in Crestwood, Ill., and Rosemont, Ill. The squad is to compete in the Pastimes 18U National Championship (The Irish were runners-up in 2018) at Butler in Indianapolis and at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
“We don’t do the excessive traveling,” says Brogan. “We don’t go to Georgia. We don’t go to Florida.
“I’m a big fan of Pastime. They are getting better and better with how they run their tournaments. They’re putting out more information. They’re shooting more video stuff. I’m really impress with the direction Pastime’s going. President Tom Davidson does a great job.”
With the cancellation of high school ball to COVID-19, the Midwest Irish have practiced more than they have in the past. Fields are northwest Indiana are used. Illiana Christian in Dyer, Ind., has been a home field, but is currently off limits along with all other high school facilities.
“It’s a strange, strange summer,” says Brogan. “I’m just so happy to see kids on the baseball field. Just being able to practice about three weeks ago put a smile on my face.”
Brogan says the Midwest Irish season might be lengthened by a week or two.
“We might go a little bit farther,” says Brogan. “We’ll just see how it goes health-wise. All my guys on my 18U team will be going off to college. Some may leave early so my roster might be a little thinner.
“We created because a lot of these guys had nowhere to play,” says Luke Dietz, director of operations for Bullpen Tournaments and acting commissioner for the College Summer League. “We also give them the option to play-and-train, too.”
The CSL is set up to have games turf fields on Mondays and Tuesdays (this week that meant one Monday and two Tuesday). Players can go through training at Pro X, located on the Grand Park Sports Campus, Wednesday through Friday.
Several players also work in various capacities at Grand Park.
“We were not planning on having a collegiate league,” says Dietz. “The way everything happened gave us a way to do it safety.
“We think this is going to be a good opportunity for us to do it for years to come. What’s great about us is that you play all your games here and you have a training schedule as well.”
The focus in the league is not to extend anyone too far.
“We’re directly in-contact with all of their coaches at their colleges,” says Dietz. “They’re setting their programs with us (at Pro X).
“(CSL coaches and trainers) know this guy is only supposed to throw 25 pitches this week. He’s not going to go past that.
“That sets us apart from other leagues.
Dietz says ‘The League” is focused on the needs of the athletes and that’s how the the idea of playing a few games plus training and earning money by working came about.
“Everything we do is for the players,” says Dietz. “It’s not about revenue or anything like that.
“We probably have 40 guys working for us to pay off the league. That’s an opportunity for them to see how we opportunity and put some money in their pocket.”
The CSL sports 261 players, which were gathered through them asking to be invited and by recruiting. Of that number, more than 120 come from NCAA Division I programs.
“It’s not just a league in Indiana,” says Dietz. “It’s a high level of competition college league for sure.”
Daylan Nanny, a Plainfield (Ind.) High School graduate who was a lefty-swinging junior outfielder/first baseman at Western Carolina University in the spring, is in the CSL.
“It’s cool to be back here playing,” says Nanny, who was a 14-year-old travel ball player with the Outlaws (now Evoshield Canes Midwest) in some of the early games at Grand Park and then went to work there. “I’ve spent a good amount of my time on the Grand Park complex. Bullpen Tournaments is a great place to work. They’re great people and I love it.”
Nanny appreciates the summer league’s format.
“This is a really good opportunity to get better,” says Nanny. “The middle of the week to the end of the week is to work on what you struggled with on Monday and Tuesday
“Use that time and get ready to come out the next week ready to play again. It’s a unique setting. If you do it right, you can get really good out of here.”
Some players are from junior colleges and others are incoming freshmen. One ballplayer came from Texas and is staying in a motor home with his father.
There are athletes staying with teammates who live in the area, some in an Air BnB with buddies and others in apartments.
“We sold it as a commuter league, trying to get all of our local guys,” says Dietz. “Especially with the uncertainty of when we were able to start the league because of everything go on in the world, we weren’t going to be able to do housing on such a short notice.”
Every team has at least two college coaches on its staff. One of those is Butler assistant Matt Kennedy.
“We want to get the guys back on the field, knock the rust off a little bit and get them reps,” says Kennedy. “We want to prepare them to go back to their institutions in the fall and be ready to play.”
There was a couple of weeks of “spring training” leading into CSL games. Players came out and took batting practice and fielded grounders. Pitchers threw bullpens.
Kennedy says he expects teams will play close to 36 games in eight weeks.
“In my opinion, that’s a good thing,” says Kennedy. “It’s not 70 games. It gives these guys enough time to play and develop and time to rest and get int he weight room as well.
“These guys have been done basically for three months. Easing them into it with this format is really good. Guys have plenty of time to recover.”
Mike Harmon has taught his players at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis to pay attention to those during his 20 seasons as head baseball coach for the Trojans.
“Those 3-2 games come down to overthrows or not taking the extra base,” says Harmon. “I’m also a big advocate of multi-sport athletes.”
Chatard has won 13 state titles in football and one in boys basketball. The Trojans have also claimed 11 sectionals, seven regionals, one semistate and one state finalist finish (1973) with five sectionals and two regionals on Harmon’s watch as coach.
During the IHSAA fall Limited Contact Period, Harmon led nine or 10 athletes not involved in a fall sport (many Chatard baseball players are in football or tennis) in player development.
The Trojans will be work in the weight room until the next LCP (Dec. 9-Feb. 8).
Chatard was the first Indiana high school to have artificial baseball turf on-campus. Dave Alexander Field is heading into its eighth spring as a turf field.
“With turf, we will stay outside as long as we can,” says Harmon.
CCC teams play home-and-home series for five straight weeks — usually on Tuesdays and Wednesday. Last year, a seeded postseason tournament was added.
Chatard last won the Indianapolis city tournament in 2011 and lost in the semifinals in 2019. The 14-team event is also seeded. In 2020, the city and county championships are slated for May 14 at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.
The Trojans are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Beech Grove, Herron, Indianapolis Manual and Indianapolis Shortridge. Chatard’s most-recent sectional crown came in 2007.
A Catholic school, Chatard is part of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis North Deanery along with Cathedral High School, Christ the King School, Immaculate Heart of Mary School. St. Joan of Arc School, St. Lawrence School, St. Matthew School, St. Pius School, St. Simon the Apostle School and St. Thomas Aquinas School. Harmon says more than a third of Chatard students come from ND feeder schools.
A college preparatory school, almost all Chatard students further their education past high school.
Current Chatard senior Patrick Mastrian has committed to the University of Michigan. Others are expected to go on to college diamonds.
Harmon considers helping place players who want to play college baseball a big part of his job.
“I coached in grad school at Butler for three years so I feel like I know (what colleges are looking for),” says Harmon. “We talk to our players as early as sophomore year.”’
A meeting is set up with parents and all involved are encouraged to do their homework on prospective schools.
Harmon says he will tell it like it is when it comes to dealing with college recruiters.
“I try to be honest with them,” says Harmon. “I tell them come out and watch them play.
“You don’t want to feed them a line of bull and it comes and haunts and you.”
Harmon’s coaching staff includes Joe Milharcic and Ken Menser with the varsity, Brian Harrison with the junior varsity and Coley Gaynor and Dave Whittemore with the freshmen. Cathedral graduate Milharcic is a Chatard teacher and has been with the program for 16 years. Chatard alum Whittemore also teaches at the school. Menser played at Butler, Gaynor at Ritter High School and Harrison is a Ben Davis High School graduate.
A 1984 Chatard graduate, Harmon is a former football head coach and baseball assistant at Brebeuf Jesuit in Indianapolis. He was on the football staff at Chatard for a decade and still helps the team on game nights. He is also in his 15th year as an assistant athletic director.
Harmon played baseball at Chatard for Tony Primavera, who was good at making coaching points.
“He really taught the game — things that didn’t show up in the box score like lead-off walks and two-out hits,” says Harmon. “He really talked the game with us.
“I appreciated him more after I played for him when I did play for him.”
Harmon played three seasons for Larry Gallo (now executive associate athletic director at the University of North Carolina) and one for Pat Murphy (now the bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers) at the University of Notre Dame. Both had pitching backgrounds, but different approaches.
“(Gallo) was very family-oriented,” says Harmon. “He was always asking how things are going outside of baseball. He was a people person.”
“(Murphy) was hard-line and was about baseball 24/7.”
Mike is married to Roncalli graduate Karen Harmon. The Harmons have three children. Emma Harmon (20) is an Indiana University sophomore. Elaina Harmon (16) is a Roncalli junior. Andrew Harmon is in sixth grade. He is a ballboy for Chatard in football and batboy in baseball.
Mike Harmon has been the head baseball coach at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis for 20 seasons. (Bishop Chatard Photo)
Hutchins says he would like to stretch out his starters and have his bullpen pitchers throw a lesser number of pitches two or three days a week to get used to doing that during the season.
“Right now, it’s hard to get their arms ready,” says Hutchins.
His assistants include Providence alums Jacob Julius (2004), Tre Watson (2016) and Colin Rauck (2015) plus former Indiana University Southeast pitcher Elliott Fuller and Jennings County graduate and former IUS player Brian Jackson.
Associate head coach Julius played and coached at the University of Arkansas and played in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Watson was on the Pioneers’ state title team in 2016 and is now the hitting coach. Fuller works with pitcher and is the head junior varsity coach. Jackson works with catchers. Rauck is a JV assistant.
Providence (enrollment around 360) is an athletic independent with no conference affiliation.
The Pioneers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Austin, Clarksville, Crawford County, Eastern of Pekin and Henryville. Providence has won 18 sectional titles — the last in 2017. The Pioneers were 2A state champions in 2016.
No current Pioneers have made college baseball commitments.
Hutchins has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Indiana University Southeast. He teaches Chemistry and is Dean of Students at Providence.
Scott and Traci Hutchins have two baseball-playing sons — senior Bryce Hutchins and freshman Logan Hutchins. Both are second basemen.
The Hutchins family (from left): Bryce, Logan, Traci and Scott. After 23 seasons as an assistant, alum Scott Hutchins is now the head baseball coach at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind.
Pearson, who has been a high school assistant at Noblesville (2011), Carmel (2012-16) and Indianapolis Cathedral(2017-19), takes over the Trojans with the idea of helping his student-athletes achieve their goals.
“It has been awhile since New Castle has won a baseball sectional title (2014) and my guys are hungry! So far, they have been doing a great job of listening to instructions, and pushing each other to get better.
“They all have had the mindset that we have talked to them about since Day 1 and that is to get at least 1 percent better every day in whatever it is that they do — whether that is within the game of baseball or improving on being a better teammate.”
The IHSAA Limited Contact Period for fall (Sept. 2-Oct. 19) saw the Trojans get together to get better.
“At a smaller school like New Castle (about 940 students compared to 1,100 at Cathedral), a lot of our student-athletes play a fall sport,” says Pearson. “So our numbers are not as high as what I am used too, but with those that did come out they were able to learn a lot.
“Those that were able to be at fall workouts know what to expect from a practice standpoint under the new staff, on a baseball diamond. So, I envision them to be the leaders once we get back out there in the spring, being able to help teach what to do and when to do things when we transition from one drill to the next.”
What will the Trojans do until the next Limited Contact Period (which begins Dec. 9)?
“I like to give the players some time away and give them some time to rest,” says Pearson. “So all of November they will have off. Once we hit December, we will start getting into the weight room and working on conditioning.
“Then when we get back from winter break, we will continue in the weight room but start to add baseball back in the mix, getting our guys arms ready to go for the season, get in the cage, work on fundamental glove work, and position communication.”
New Castle’s coaching staff features varsity assistants Zak Kellogg, Tyler Smith and Matt Chernoff, junior varsity head coach Frank McMahon and JV assistant A.J. York. Kellogg will work with catchers and hitter, Smith with corner infielders and hitter, Chernoff with outfielders and baserunners and McMahon will be assistant pitching coach to Pearson.
Pearson was the pitching coach at Cathedral with Ed Freje as head coach. The Irish went 29-0 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2017.
Pearson played for Eric Lentz at Carmel, graduating in 2006.
“One of the big things I got from Coach Lentz was how he as a coach would allow us players to just be us,” says Pearson. “He allowed us to just play the game and didn’t over coach us in any aspect.
“He knew that our group had been playing together for a very long time and I think he appreciated the cohesiveness that we had together.”
An arm injury in his senior season ended Pearson’s playing career. He graduated from Purdue University in 2011 with a degree in Physical Education.
“Obviously, coaching under Ed Frieje, Dan Roman and Justin Keever has been huge for me,” says Pearson. “All three of them have won a state titles as head coaches.
“I have taken a lot from all three of them, both about the game of baseball and building positive relationships with players and families.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for guys like Jay Lehr. Jay was my pitching instructor as a kid and once I started coaching myself he took me under his wing and continued to teaching me new things about pitching.
“I’m also very lucky to have another coach in my family with my cousin Dave Scott. The year we won the state championship at Cathedral, Dave was also able to lead Cardinal Ritter to a state championship win.
“Him and I have a pretty close relationship, so he has taught me quite a bit about what it takes to be a head coach.
“He has been a lot of help in the short time period that we have known each other,” says Pearson of Bunnell. “Chris Truby (Philadelphia Phillies infield coordinator) has also been a mentor of mine. Having spent several winters in the batting cages with him teaching kids, I’ve been pretty lucky to pick up a lot of knowledge from him.
“I could probably go on and on, but I have definitely been blessed to have played for great coaches — in high school and through summer ball, and to have coached under some of the best coaches around.”
That being said, Brad’s biggest mentor is his father — Ron Pearson.
“My dad was the one who introduced me to the game that I love,” says Brad, who is Ron and Karen Pearson’s only child. “He was my first coach and the best coach a son could ask for!”
The Trojans are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County and Yorktown. New Castle has won 13 sectional titles.
Pearson plans to be in close contact with his New Castle feeder programs.
“I am a sounding board for the Little League and Babe Ruth,” says Pearson. “They have had a lot of success in their own right and I want them to continue to have that success and build upon it.
“Anything they need from me I will be there to give my advice/opinion. I have told them that this isn’t MY program, it is OUR program. Yes, I may be the leader at the top, but we are all in this together!”
Pearson is hoping to get a lot of things done at the Trojans home diamond — Sunnyside Field.
“To be honest I have quite a wish list, but as we all know everything takes money and we are working to raise that money to help make Sunnyside Field, not only better for tomorrow but better for our future Trojans ways down the road,” says Pearson.
A P.E. and Health teacher at New Castle Middle School, Pearson is a bachelor.
Cousins Brad Pearson (left) and Dave Scott were part of IHSAA state baseball champions in 2017 — Pearson as pitching coach at Indianapolis Cathedral and Scott as head coach at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter.
Brad Pearson, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Purdue University, is now the head baseball coach at New Castle (Ind.) High School.
After assistant stints at Indianapolis Cathedral, Carmel and Noblesville, Brad Pearson is now the head baseball coach at New Castle (Ind.) High School. The 2006 Carmel graduate also coaches in the summer with the Indiana Bulls.
Tony Vittorio is 53 and has been a college baseball coach for three decades.
It was as a teenager on the south side of Indianapolis that he decided that would be his path in life.
Vittorio grew up the youngest of three children at 2925 Anniston Drive, directly across the street from Southport Little League.
“We woke up to the sound of the crowd on Saturdays and Sundays,” says Vittorio. “That’s where the whole love of it came.”
At 15, Tony made the senior league all-stars coached by Jeff Mercer Sr. It was after his first practice with Mercer — then a player at Marian College in Indianapolis and later the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr. — putting the all-stars through drills and game situations that Vittorio came home and exclaimed that coaching was for him.
“It was that one practice alone,” says Vittorio, who is heading into his second season as head coach at NCAA Division III Wilmington (Ohio) College, which is 35 miles southeast of Dayton.
“We we became close friends through the years,” says Vittorio of mentor Naylor. “I was honored and humbled to do his eulogy at his funeral.”
While playing for Naylor’s Panthers (then an NAIA program), Vittorio pursued a double major in business administration and physical education.
Vittorio spent the 1990 season as a volunteer/graduate assistant at Indiana University under Bob Morgan.
“I always thank Coach Morgan for teaching me how to practice properly,” says Vittorio. “His practice organization was second to no one in the country.”
At 23, Vittorio became a head coach at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and went on to become known as a builder of programs.
“We do not complain about what you don’t have,” says Vittorio. “We just grind it out.”
Vittorio led Lincoln Trail — a junior college — for four seasons. After winning 20 games the first season (1991), the Statesmen won 39, 40 and 45 contests. The year before Vittorio came to town the team won just two games.
“He is as good of a person as I’ve ever met in my life,” says Vittorio of Madison, an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and National Baseball Director for SCORE International. “Coach Madison has this thing figured out — spiritually, mentally.”
Vittorio spent three seasons (1997-99) at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, when the Mastodons were NCAA Division II. His teams won 80 games after IPFW had gone 9-37 the year before he arrived in the Summit City.
“He’s a beautiful person,” says Vittorio of Hershberger.
Vittorio began an 18-year run at the University of Dayton in 2000. The program was 22-34 the year before his arrival and went on to 10 seasons of at least 25 victories and seven of at least 30 with the 2009 club winning 38.
His NCAA Division I Flyers won 463 games altogether. the 2012 team participated in the NCAA College Station Regional.
Several other former Vittorio players and coaches are coaching are various levels.
After his days at Dayton, Vittorio helped coach his son (Nic Vittorio) in the summer with Dayton Thunderbirds, but was not really looking for another college job when Wilmington, a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference, came calling.
His first Quakers team went 8-29 in 2019 and he’s working toward steady improvement.
“I feel revised and amped up again to build a program at this level,” says Vittorio. “There’s a locker room word — culture. We’re looking to change the culture.
“That means implementing your own program of everyday core values — hard work, loyalty, hustle, sportsmanship and the biggest one — passion and energy on a daily basis. I’m a true believer you can’t go to where you want to go without passion and energy.”
Coming from the Division I world, Vittorio has learned to make adjustments in his approach.
Instead of 30 contact dates in the fall, D-III schools get 16. There are 40 regular-season games in the spring instead of 56. D-III does not offer athletic scholarships, but aid is based on academics and need.
“To me, that’s a lot of time lost,” says Vittorio. “But baseball is more pure (at the D-III level). You don’t have to hold the players’ hands on everything they do as you sometimes have to do in D-I.
“Players have a chance to develop leadership skills. They have to form captain/open field practices (when the coaching staff is away).”
“You can’t win without good players,” says Vittorio, who counts the Midwest as his recruiting base. “It’s more strenuous at this level. You have knock on 100 doors — instead of 50 doors — to get 10 guys.”
Vittorio spends a lot of his time raising money for the baseball program and as director of athletic development, the rest of Wilmington’s athletic department (which includes 18 varsity sports for men and women).
As a coach, He is also working to inspire his players in the classroom, the community and on the baseball field. He is emphasizing player development and building a quality college baseball atmosphere.
“We’re all obsessed with winning and losing,” says Vittorio. “But this whole thing is about making young men the best they can be.”
Vittorio comes back to Indianapolis often. Just last Saturday, he was at Southport Athletic Booster Club Reverse Raffle. He counts Indiana University head men’s basketball coach Archie Miller as a friend from Miller’s six seasons as head coach. Vittorio grew up as a fan of Bob Knight’s IU teams and Notre Dame football.
“That’s the Indiana Italian Catholic in me,” says Vittorio. “I love the state of Indiana. I’m a Hoosier.”
Tony and Heather Vittorio have two children. Taylor Vittorio (21) is a former volleyball player at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. Nic Vittorio is a senior baseball player at Kettering-Fairmont High School in Kettering, Ohio.
Tony Vittorio, an Indianapolis native, is now the head baseball coach at Wilmington (Ohio) College. Prior to lead the Quakers, he was head coach at the University of Dayton, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and Lincoln Trail Community College. (Wilmington College Photo)
His first two teaching jobs were in Gas City, Ind., and Switz City, Ind.
Then the Washington County, Ind., native came back south and became an educator and a coach at a school just up the road from where he grew up.
Ingram is a 2011 graduate of Salem (Ind.) High School. He had three coaches in four years. The last one was Brett Miller.
The Lions’ two county rivals were West Washington and Eastern (Pekin). His father, Larry Ingram, was head coach at Eastern for 29 seasons, concluding in 2011.
After earning his degree in kinesiology with an emphasis on physical education at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in 2015, Brent Ingram worked one year each as a teacher only at Mississinewa High School and White River Valley High School.
Then West Washington Junior-Senior High School principal MaryAnne Knapp called to say that the Senators needed a P.E. teacher and a head baseball coach.
To his his, he is just the second head baseball coach in the history of the program that was also a teacher.
“That’s a big deal to be able to recruit kids,” says Ingram. “Our numbers are better. We expect to have eight or nine freshmen.”
Ingram took both teaching and coaching positions in 2017-18 and made his father one of his assistants.
“I grew up around a baseball coach and a baseball setting and I loved every minute of it,” says Ingram, who counts Larry Ingram, Tim Barksdale and Lincoln Jones as West Washington assistants.
Barksdale is the former director of the youth league in Campbellsburg and a school board member. Jones teaches business at West Washington. The North Harrison High School graduate pitched for four years at Franklin (Ind.) College.
The 2000 baseball season will be Brent Ingram’s third at the IHSAA Class 1A school of about 290 students.
The first season saw the Senators on the wrong end of many run-rule games. That only happened a couple times last spring.
“They’ve improved,” says Ingram, who has had about a dozen players in the program and on a few occasions — such as days when baseball games and track meets fell on the same day — went into games with just nine. There was a time he his left fielder was playing with the broken arm. “It makes you sweat a little bit. If the guys are willing to put the time in, they’re going to play.”
Moving players around the diamond is the norm.
“We’ve had bunch of different lineups in the last few years,” says Ingram. “That’s for sure.”
Baseball is a priority at West Washington as evidenced by the building a junior high diamond next to the high school facility — Claude C. Combs Field (named for the former Senators head coach and current school board member).
The junior high team is affiliated with the school system and coached by West Washington Elementary principal Tom Rosenbaum and West Washington Community Schools superintendent Keith Nance.
A training building with indoor mounds and batting cages will also benefit the Senators.
Whether that will translate into any home runs at Combs Field remains to be seen. While is is 300 feet down the lines and 350 to center, the field sits up on a hill and the wind seems to always be blowing in.
Ingram has never witnessed a game-time home run there.
Combs Field is lighted and has brick dugouts, raised fences all the way around and, recently, a turf home plate area was added.
“For a 1A, we have awesome facilities,” says Ingram.
The Senators are part of a sectional grouping with Crothersville, New Washington and Shawe Memorial. West Washington, a sectional host the past two years, has yet to win a sectional title.
Besides Eastern (Pekin) and Salem, past non-conference opponents have included Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, Clarksville, Crothersville, Evansville Christian, North Harrison, Orleans, Scottsburg, Shoals, Southwestern (Hanover) and Trinity Lutheran.
The Ingrams (from left): Brooke, Nick, Dustin, Larry, Luke, Janis and Brent. Brent Ingram is head baseball coach at West Washington High School in Campbellsburg, Ind. Larry Ingram, who was head coach at Eastern (Pekin) for 29 years, is one of his assistants. Brent and Dustin are the sons of Larry and Janis. Nick and Luke are the sons of Dustin and Brooke.
Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is not an easy thing to do well.
Grant Bellak, who enters his second season as head baseball coach at NCAA Division III Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019-20, has his Panthers (15-19 during the 2019 season) following a simplified offensive approach that he first began to develop as an assistant at D-III Franklin (Ind.) College.
In 2018, the Grizzlies were national leaders in batting average, OPS (on-base plus slugging), runs per game, home runs and walks.
“The coaching community has been really, really good to me,” says Bellak, who gave shout-outs to Ryan Brownlee (ABCA Assistant Executive Director of Coaching Outreach and former Western Illinois University head coach), Bill Kurich (Webster University head coach), Adam Smith (Benedictine University head coach) and Lance Marshall (Franklin College head coach).
The Barnstormers appearance was Bellak’s first time as a presenter at an ABCA clinic.
“We look at the approach to hitting as all-encompassing,” says Bellak.
He quoted ABCA Hall of Famer Jerry Weinstein’s 2014 statement that a big league pitcher only hits what he defines as his spot 24 percent of the time.
“For us as hitters, we need to be prepared to hit a lot of ‘mistake’ pitches,” says Bellak. “That’s what you’re going to get.
“To be a high level offense, we need to simplify our approach. At the same time — as (hitting and mental skills guru) Steve Springer says — you won’t hit anything if you’re trying to hit everything.”
Bellak has developed four absolutes for his hitters.
“No. 1, you have to be the best athletic version of yourself,” says Bellak. “It can be two completely different things from our shortstop to our first baseman.
“Secondly, your front foot has to leave the ground at some point.”
Bellak can only think of a few big leaguers — Ian Kinsler and Albert Pujols are two examples — who have had a lot of success keeping their foot on the ground the entire time.
“We teach front foot down on-time,” says Bellak of his third absolute. “We want to work on sequencing from the back side of our body.”
No. 4 involves the player knowing their identity and how they fit into team goals. Hanover’s offensive team goal is an .840 OPS (ideally around .420 on-base average and .420 slugging percentage).
“Our lead-off hitter will try to get to that .840 in a significantly different way than our No. 4 hitter,” says Bellak. “By identifying what category you fit into, you will have a defined set of measurable goals to strive for.
“Being honest with yourself and your abilities will allow you to achieve your goals and help this offense win games.”
Bellak puts offensive players into four categories — Sparks, Hybrid, Hybrid-Plus and Power.
Sparks have a high on-base average, lower slugging percentage and a high number of stolen bases. They generally strike out only once per 15 at-bats and produce less than two home runs, six or more doubles and 10 to 15 stolen bases.
Hybrid players provide a high on-base average and good slugging percentage. They strike out once per 10 at-bats with two or more homers, eight or more doubles and less than six stolen bases.
Hybrid-Plus entails high marks in on-base and slugging averages and the ability to steal bases consistently with one strikeout per 10 at-bats with four or more homers, 12 or more doubles and eight or more stolen bases.
Power hitters are above average in on-base average and excellent in slugging. They will not steal bases often (four or less) and have one strikeout per eight at-bats with five or more homers, 12 or more doubles.
Bellak and his coaching staff are very careful with verbal cues.
“Kids today are very literal,” says Bellak. “You see it all the time. You say, ‘get your front foot down early.’ Then he sits and he can’t sequence properly.
For instance, Hanover coaches will never say “Use your hands” but instead say “Get Turned.”
Instead of “Go oppo,” it’s “Use the backside.”
It’s not “Let it get deep,” but “Use the fat part of the field.”
Rather than “Get on top,” they say “Release the barrel out front.”
Instead of “Use your hands,” it’s “Get turned.”
Following the advice of mental performance expert Brian Cain, words that end with “not” or “‘nt” are not to be used as cues because those negatives stick in the player’s brains.
“We try to change those to ‘you can,’ ‘you will’ vs. ‘won’t,’ ‘don’t,’ ‘can’t.’”
Bellak wants his hitters to “hunt” pitches (aggressive) rather than thinking in terms of a passive word like “wait.”
Hitters ask themselves questions like “Where have I had success?,” “Where do function best?” or “Where am I hitting the ball the hardest and why would I come away from that?”
As a visual tool, Bellak has his players place a large ball (around the size of a basketball) and put it over the plate where they feel they will be most-successful at the plate.
“It’s a pitch they are looking for and they can touch it, see it and feel it,” says Bellak. “We tell them during BP that they’re not going to let any pitches touch their glass ball.”
There is freedom to move the ball around to suit the hitters’ strengths. Power hitters typically want pitches that are “middle-in.”
“Expect them to take more pitches in BP because they’ll say, ‘Coach, that was a little bit off my glass ball,” says Bellak. “But, all of a sudden, they become more refined in their approach and we create height, depth and location.
“It really focuses their approach. It’s simple. It doesn’t take long to explain. You’re getting them free to what they want to do at the plate as hitters.
“With the influx of data, most hitters these days are pretty honest with themselves. I know which pitch I’m going to hammer.”
Grant Bellak is the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)