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Kennedy joins Butler Bulldogs coaching staff

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Kennedy is back home again in Indiana after spending a few years coaching baseball in Florida.

The Lafayette native joined the staff at Butler University in Indianapolis in January. He is instructing catchers, infielders and hitters, helping pitching coach Ben Norton with recruiting, assisting with camps and clinics and office duties.

“It’s a group effort here,” says Kennedy. “We make sure we are all on the same page.”

Head coach Dave Schrage’s Bulldogs open the 2020 season Feb. 14-16 in Lexington, S.C., with two games each against North Carolina A&T and George Mason. Butler is a member of the Big East Conference.

Kennedy appreciates that Schrage values player development and promotes a family atmosphere.

“It’s about getting guys better and fundamentals,” says Kennedy of Schrage. “He’s a pitching and defense guy and believes in attention to details. He emphasizes base running, which a little bit of a lost art.

“We have a family feel within our clubhouse. He wants to make sure you get home and spend time with your kids. He knows how important that is, especially with the season right around the corner.”

Kennedy has has three children in West Lafayette. Son Karson Kennedy (16) is a junior catcher at Harrison High School, where Pat Lowrey is head coach. Daughter Emilyne (13) is a gymnast and a seventh grader at Battle Ground Middle School. Daughter Jolee (9) is a third grader at Battle Ground Elementary.

The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw Kennedy on the staff of Rick O’Dette at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He had served three different stints with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. ((2005, 2007-08, 2016-17). The school closed its doors after the 2017 season.

“Rick is phenomenal,” says Kennedy. “He believes in the importance of work ethic and that blue collar feel.

“It’s made (going to Butler) an easy transition for me. (O’Dette) was so family-oriented with the team. Players were caring for each other playing for each other. He knew the importance of team and not the ‘I’ factor. He demanded a lot, but you see the rewards of that.”

That’s the way it was at Saint Joseph’s, where alum O’Dette was head coach for 17 years.

When Kentucky Wesleyan College graduate Kennedy came to the Pumas, there was immediate acceptance.

“I’m one of them,” says Kennedy. “(O’Dette) is instilling that culture down at Saint Leo.”

Kennedy began his high school baseball career at Lafayette Central Catholic High School. He was bumped up from the junior varsity to the varsity, took a baseball to the face which required reconstructive surgery and ended his freshmen season early.

He landed a McCutcheon High School. As a senior second baseman, Kennedy was part of coach Jake Burton’s 1999 IHSAA Class 4A state championship team.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Assocation Hall of Famer’s expectations were high for Kennedy and the rest of the Mavericks.

“He saw a lot more in me in what I thought I could do — both as a person and a player,” says Kennedy of Burton. “Jake was great for me. I owe that man a lot. Without his influence, I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.”

Kennedy learned to never be truly satisfied as a player and has carried that into his coaching career, holding himself and his athletes to a high standard.

“You can always learn, always get better,” says Kennedy. “You see there’s little more in there (with players). You have to figure out a way to get them out of them.”

Burton expected his players to work hard, be good people, follow the rules and be accountable for themselves and their actions. They had to make good decisions or they couldn’t be a part of the McCutcheon program.

“That put me in the right direction,” says Kennedy. “It put me with a good group of friends that I still talk to today.”

Kennedy played one season for coach Todd Post at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and three at Kentucky Wesleyan — one for Greg McVey and two for Todd Lillpop.

McVey demanded much from his players and kept them on-task.

“He was a planner,” says Kennedy, who is among the Kentucky Wesleyan career leaders in fielding percentage and assists. “We knew everyday what we were doing. These are the goals of the day and this is what we want to accomplish.”

Like O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s, Lillpop became a college head coach at a young age and learned on the fly.

“He stressed the importance of working everyday and improving,” says Kennedy of Lillpop. “As a team, we had some success.”

The Owensboro-based KWC Panthers made their conference tournament for the first time in well over a decade and turned the program around.

Kennedy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Kentucky Wesleyan in 2003. He began his coaching career as a KWC assistant in 2004.

After his first stop at Saint Joseph’s, he was an assistant to Bob Warn in the Hall of Famer’s last season leading the Indiana State University program.

“He cared so much for that place,” says Kennedy of Warn. “Everything he did was for the good of Indiana State baseball. His legacy there is going to be forever. Guys played hard for him and he was great to work for.

“As a young coach, you think you know more than you do. It’s good to keep your mouth shut and your ears open and you’re going to learn a lot more. (Warn) opened my eyes. There are a lot of different ways to do things.”

After his second tenure at Saint Joseph’s, Kennedy took over the reins at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. (2009-13). His first four teams went 49-9, 50-13, 43-11 and 40-20. The 2009 Cobras, featuring future Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Divison II World Series.

Kiermaier was primarily a shortstop when he came to Parkland. Kennedy, wishing to get some more repetitions for his infielders, asked Kiemaier to move to center field during a fall game. He later told him his path to the next level would be at that position.

Before being selected in the 31st round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Kiemaier was a two-time NJCAA All-American.

“His athleticism was unmatched,” says Kennedy of Kiermaier. “It was fun to watch him out there.”

From spring to fall of 2013, Kennedy was briefly an assistant at High Point (N.C.) University for head coach Chris Cozart.

With his parents in declining health, he decided to move back to the Midwest.

Kennedy knew Jeff Isom through Lafayette baseball circles and was introduced by Bobby Bell.

When Isom became manager of the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers, he invited Kennedy to be his hitting coach. He served in that role during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

“Pro ball is something that always intrigued me a little bit,” says Kennedy. “I checked it out for a couple years.

“I missed the college end of things.”

So he went back with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s.

And now he’s back in Indiana, doing his best to develop players at Butler.

MATTKENNEDYBUTLER

Matt Kennedy, a Lafayette, Ind., native, has joined the baseball coaching staff at Butler University in Indianapolis. His previous job was as an assistant at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. (Butler University Photo)

 

Learning mentality drives baseball coaching vet Bell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a running debate in baseball coaching about the Old School vs. the New School.

The Old School represents the long-used methods.

The New School includes emerging technology and its application to the game.

“We’re always learning,” says Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, who has decades of experience as a professional hitting instructor — most recently working in affiliated baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers organization 2018 and 2019. “Technology is very important. That’s where we are today.

“We are not Old School or New School, We’re In School. If we don’t continue to be In School, we’re going to hurt these kids. Period.”

As Bell teaches lessons and clinics across the country as well as in Noblesville, Ind., at Jason Taulman’s Indy Sharks training facility and will soon in Lafayette at Jeff Isom’s new On Deck Training building, he looks to share he’s learned and shares it with his pupils.

“There’s all this information,” says Bell. “I’m not saying its detrimental. It’s confusing. (Technology) can be a great thing.”

Bell, 56, is adaptinhg to the new tools so he can understand and get players to understand.

“I’ve learned it my way instead of some guy telling me how I must learn it,” says Bell, who has worked with Blast Motion sensors and looks forward to using Rapsodo motion detection.

“Humans see in 2D,” says Bell. “Technology sees in 4D. It’s another set of eyes. It can be a great thing.

“You will see great strides in that kid’s progression if it’s utilized the right way.

“You can’t quantify the movement from the left to the right hemisphere You have to combine (technology) with what he’s thinking, how he’s thinking and why he’s thinking. I understand the importance of it all coming together. I really do.”

Knowing that each player is different, Bell does not expect everyone to have the same movement patterns and to reach them you’ve got to get to know them.

“The individual needs to be an individual,” says Bell. “We want them to be short and direct to the ball. We don’t worry about things we don’t control. We control the (strike) zone and get a good pitch to hit. It sounds like a cliche, but you’re only as good as the pitch you hit.

“We try to keep it as simple as possible. Pitching is too good. They throw so hard.”

Bell wants to relate to his hitters on a personal basis.

“I want to establish a relationship with that player,” says Bell. “That’s the key. This guy’s there for him whenever he needs them.”

Bell is a 1981 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School. His head baseball coach was Mark Strader, who had been a Bronchos standout for and assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul “Spider” Fields.

“(Strader) was one of the best baseball players to come out of Tippecanoe County,” says Bell.

Concepts he associates with Strader are intensity, tenacity, competitiveness, work ethic and doing the little things right.

In the summers, Bell played for Lafayette American Legion Post 11. Manager Eric Harmon became his mentor at a young age.

“He did a lot of things for me,” says Bell, who credits Harmon for getting his a place on Team USA in the 1982 World’s Fair Games in Knoxville, Tenn., and a place in college baseball. “He is a phenomenal man.”

Bell played two seasons at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., where his head coach was Rich Alday and Jim Fleming directed Aztecs hitters.

“(Fleming) was one of the best hitting teachers in the country,” says Bell, who would meet up with him again years later.

From Pima, Bell played two seasons at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) for head coach Byron Wiehe. Jamie Hamilton was an assistant coach for the Mavericks.

Bell signed as a minor league free agent with the California Angels and played three seasons in the Halos’ system 1986-88, primarily as a righty-swinging catcher with Palm Springs or Quad Cities.

Sometime after his playing career ended, Bell moved back to Lafayette. Isom asked him if he wanted to get back into baseball.

“Absolutely not” was Bell’s reply. But Isom asked again later and got Bell to be his hitting coach with the Joliet Jackhammers in the independent Northern League.

Bell went to be hitting coach in the Northern League with the Andy McCauley-managed Schaumburg Flyers in the independent Frontier League with the Jason Verdugo-managed Evansville Otters.

Then comes a call from John Mallee, then hitting coordinator for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins that leads to another call from then vice president of the Marlins Jim Fleming — the same man who was Bell’s hitting coach back in college.

“I actually hung up,” says Bell. “I didn’t think it was Coach Flem.”

Mallee called Bell back and set him straight and Bell was hired by the Marlins and was hitting coach for Greensboro Grasshoppers (2009), Jupiter Hammerheads (2010) and Gulf Coast League Marlins (2011-14).

He was out of organized baseball for a few years and still offering instruction including at Kiwanis International baseball camps for troubled teens in Alaska at the invitation of David Hall.

By this time Mallee was with the Phillies. He called to say that the Brewers were in dire need of a hitting coach. There was one week left in spring training.

But Bell took the gig and spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, N.C. Coincidently, the Mudcats vice president/general manager is Lafayette native Joe Kremer. Bell and Kremer had never met until Bell arrived with the club.

The past five years, Bell has been traveling up from Florida to share his knowledge with Taulman and the Indy Sharks.

“I love everything he does for all those kids,” says Bell. “They’ve progressed extremely.”

Bell has been spending more time in Indiana to be closer to daughter Bobbi, a junior at Purdue University. Bell also has four sons — Brandon and Keaton in Colorado, Zion in California and Kai in North Dakota.

BOBBYBELLMARLINS

Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, was a hitting coach in the Florida/Miami Marlins system for six years.

BOBBYBELLBREWERS

Bobby Bell, a 1981 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, has been instructing baseball hitters for decades. In 2018 and 2019, he was a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He works regularly with the Indy Sharks travel organization.

 

DeYoung embraces relationships, technology as instructor, pro baseball coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Devin DeYoung saw his future when he was a teenager and it was as a baseball coach.

“I knew from when I was 13 and hitting with John Mallee and Anthony Iapoce that’s what I wanted to do,” says DeYoung, 30. “(Mallee and Iapoce) had such an impact on me.

“I learned how to relate to people and to empower people just by interacting with them. They genuinely cared about every kid they worked with. I try to model how I approach the game after them.

Both men are major league hitting coaches — Malee with the Los Angeles Angels and Iapoce with the Chicago Cubs.

DeYoung will be a bench coach with the Double-A Birmingham Barons in the Chicago White Sox organization in 2020.

A 2008 graduate of Lake Central High Schoolin St. John, Ind., DeYoung played catcher for head coach Todd Iwema. He went on to play two seasons at the College of Lake County in Graylake, Ill., and one at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn.

After that came a very brief stint as a player with the Rockland Boulders of the independent professional Can-Am League. He finished out the 2015 season with the Pomona, N.Y,-based team as a player-coach.

In 2016, DeYoung was a coach with the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters in the Northwoods League, a college collegiate circuit. He coached catchers, outfielders and hitters for a team that won both halves of a split season and the playoffs. More than a dozen players on that team went on to sign professional contracts.

“It’s best preparation for professional baseball there is,” says DeYoung. “We played 72 games in 75 games.”

There were no days off for the Wisconsin Rafters staff with the league’s all-star game, showcase and postseason. That meant a stretch of more than 80 days without time off.

In 2017 and 2018, DeYoung was bench coach/hitting coach with the Crestwood, Ill.-based Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent pro Frontier League. At the time, the league was predominantly a rookie league and has since consolidated with teams in the Can-Am League.

“It revives guy’s careers and helps them get back into or have their first shot at affiliated baseball,” says DeYoung of indy ball.

DeYoung has pro hitters coming from all over Chicagoland to hit with him at the Omni 41 and Morris Baseball facility in Schererville, Ind.

One of those hitters was Ryan Fitzgerald, who went to Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill., and played for the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2017 and was signed by the Boston Red Sox and for the 2018 season.

DeYoung spent the 2019 campaign in the Red Sox system with the Greenville (S.C.) Drive.

As bench coach on a staff led by manager Iggy Suarez, DeYoung did many things. He coached first base and third base, instructed players on catching and base running and assisted Suarez, hitting coach Nelson Paulino and pitching coach Bob Kipper.

When Ryan Johansen became assistant hitting coordinator for the White Sox, he asked DeYoung to join the organization.

“The White Sox seem to be a really good fit for me,” says DeYoung. “They’re moving in a really good direction.

“It’s exciting to see the steps they’re talking and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

He will be a bench coach for Barons manager Justin Jirschele, who will be 29 when the Southern League season opens.

“I will aid in the work load and try to make everybody’s job easier,” says DeYoung. “I’ll collect data and just try to be the voice of reason.

“Genuinely caring about players. That’s how I go about player development.”

DeYoung is scheduled to report to spring training in Arizona Feb. 8. Before then, he will continue to teach lessons and clinics through Devin DeYoung Pro Baseball/Softball. But he’s carved out time to learn about players who may land in Birmingham in 2020 and for his family.

Devin and high school sweetheart Samantha DeYoung reside in St. John and have a daughter, Ella (7).

Much of what DeYoung knows about business came from working as a youngster at DeYoung Interiors of St. John, which was established in 1928.

DeYoung has cultivated a network of baseball people, including Justin Stone (Director of Hitting for the Cubs) and Travis Kerber at Elite Baseball Training in Chicago.

“Every time I’m around them I seem to grow,” says DeYoung. “The people I’ve had the privilege of being around helps with my obsession with trying to learn more about the game.

“I have a desperate pursuit of making baseball easier for other players than it was for me.”

DeYoung has learned how to incorporate things like Blast Motion, Edgertronic cameras, Force Plate, K-Vest and Rapsodo to assess players and build player plans.

He has started to do Electromyography (EMG) testing, which measures muscular activity through the swing.

“It helps you quantify things you can’t see within the swing,” says DeYoung. “You get a baseline and create a player plan. You can see deficiencies in the swing or a movement assessment. We can eliminate some guessing.

“We can find out what these players are capable of doing physiologically. We’re really early in the process.”

GWINN DAVIS / GREENVILLE DRIVE

Devin DeYoung (11) talks with Dustin Pedroia during a Greenville Drive game. DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., was a coach in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. (Greenville Drive Photo)

GWINN DAVIS / GREENVILLE DRIVE

Devin DeYoung (11) talks with Jonathan Ortega during a Greenville Drive game. DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., was a coach in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. (Greenville Drive Photo)

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Devin DeYoung (11) coaches third base in 2019 for the Greenville (S.C.) Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization. The team’s home park has its own Green Monster. DeYoung is a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. (Greenville Drive Photo)

GWINN DAVIS / GREENVILLE DRIVE

Devin DeYoung (left) sees relationships as the key to player development. He was with the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. The graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., is now with the Chicago White Sox system. (Greenville Drive Photo)

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Devin DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has known he wanted to be a baseball coach since 13. Here he is in 2019 with the Greenville Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization. (Greenville Drive Photo)

GWINN DAVIS / GREENVILLE DRIVE

Devin DeYoung swings the fungo bat as a coach for the Greenville (S.C.) Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. The graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., is now in the Chicgao White Sox system. (Greeenville Drive Photo)

DEVINDEYOUNGGREENVILLE1

Devin DeYoung, a 2008 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., knew at 13 and taking hitting lessons from John Maleee and Anthony Iapoce that his future was as a baseball coach. He was with the Greenville Drive in the Boston Red Sox system in 2019 and will be with the Birmingham Barons in the Chicago White Sox organization in 2020. (Greenville Drive Photo)

 

 

Brownlee jumping into challenge of new role with ABCA

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Brownlee has always enjoyed a challenge.

As a baseball player, he appreciated being pushed.

The new assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association played for hard-nosed coaches. There was Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, Ind., then his father and brother, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee, at the University of Evansville.

“They were not the easiest people in the world to play for,” says Ryan Brownlee, 45. “But they would keep you accountable.

“I’m in a way better position because of the way I was handled in youth sports.”

Memorial lost in the first round of the 1992 IHSAA State Finals to finish 29-1 and sent many players on to college baseball. That was Ryan Brownlee’s junior year.

“I owe (Merkel) a lot,” says Brownlee. “Over the summer, I read a book on the mental aspects of baseball and that changed my playing career.

“I looked at myself in the mirror. Coach Merkel didn’t need to change. I was the one who needed to change.”

In 1993, Memorial went 36-2 and reigned as state champions (Tim Brownlee was part of a state championship team as a Memorial senior in 1989) with team leaders John Ambrose and John Sartore trading duties on the mound and at third base.

“Quentin was very organized (using the same signs at each level from freshmen to varsity),” says Brownlee. “He doesn’t get the credit, but he was very forward-thinking.

“We were doing breathing techniques back then. He saw it as a way to change mentally.”

In 2017, Brownlee wrote a blog post entitled, “Just Breath.”

Playing for Jim and Tim, Ryan was motivated to be a four-year starter for the Purple Aces and twice earned all-conference honors and was an ABCA All-Region selection.

“You just never got a break,” says Brownlee. “I needed someone to push me.

“There’s always things you needed to improve on. I didn’t need to get complacent.”

Brownlee moved to Evansville in 1979 when his dad went from a teacher and coach at Princeton (Ill.) High School and manager for five summers of the Galesburg Pioneers of the old Central Illinois Collegiate League to head coach at UE. Young Ryan got to see the Evansville Triplets, managed by Jim Leyland, and spend lots of time at one of the country’s historic ballparks.

“I fell in love with the game at Bosse Field,” says Brownlee, who played there as Memorial Tiger, Evansville Purple Ace and then for one summer (1997) as a professional with the Greg Taggert-managed Evansville Otters.

“The first half we were terrible,” says Brownlee. “Our bus broke down in Johnstown (Pa.) and we bonded as a team.”

The Otters got hot in the second half and ended up losing in the independent Frontier League finals to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles.

Brownlee’s resume includes 22 seasons as college baseball coach — seven as head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) plus assistant gigs of nine at the University of Iowa (2004-12), four at James Madison University (2000-03) and two at the University of Evansville (1998-99).

Brownlee worked on the staffs of Jack Dahm at Iowa, Spanky McFarland at James Madison and his father at Evansville.

The UE staff included Tim Brownlee (now owner/president of Diamond Sports Promotions), Jeff Leystra (a student assistant who played with Ryan Brownlee on the Otters) and Ryan Barrett (who played with Ryan from age 9 through college).

After 18 years in the Pocket City, Ryan moved nine hours to Harrisonburg, Va., to join McFarland at James Madison.

“(McFarland) was at complete opposite end of the spectrum (from Quentin Merkel, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee),” says Ryan Brownlee. “He had a low pulse and was very laid-back with a dry sense of humor. You could be yourself.

“Spanky is one of the best pitching minds in the world (he’s coached future big league pitchers Kevin Brown, Dan Meyer, Ryan Reid and Brian Schmack, the current Valparaiso University head coach, among others during his career).”

Brownlee also learned much from James Madison assistant Chuck Bartlett. He had batted No. 4 in a Mississippi State University lineup surrounded by Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro and is now a New York Yankees scout.

Being in a new area also challenged Brownlee to get out of his comfort zone. While at JMU, he earned his masters degree in athletic administration. The Dukes were good enough during Brownlee’s time there (averaging 36 wins per game) that he got his foot in the door at Iowa.

Brownlee helped Dahm stabilize a program that had fallen on hard times. He saw Dahm’s personality somewhere between his father’s and McFarland’s.

“He’s just a really good person,” says Brownlee of Dahm, who later hired Jim Brownlee as Hawkeyes pitching coach after the elder Brownlee was head coach at Illinois State University. “We had to do some heavy lifting in nine years to get that thing built up. I wouldn’t be in the position I am now if not for him.”

In 2012, Brownlee addressed the ABCA Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on the “10 Rules of Recovery.”

It was a time management planner that he continued while at Western Illinois and plans to share his values on personal development during speaking engagements with the ABCA.

“If you can manage yourself away from your working environment that carries into your working environment,” says Brownlee. “Hopefully, that makes you productive. The most successful people can handle a lot more. They can balance things. They don’t seem as rushed.

“I guarantee those people are taking some times for themselves, too. It can’t be all work and it can’t be all free time. You have to have that mix.”

While leading the Western Illinois Leathernecks program presented its challenges because of facilities and school size, Brownlee thoroughly enjoyed his time there because of the people he met.

“For me it was about the relationships with the guys,” says Brownlee, who slept in his office his first year at WIU. “That needed to be our niche. That was an enjoyable experience for me. The coaches were great and the kids were great.

“The opportunity with the ABCA was going to be great.”

Brownlee arrived in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday (Oct. 23) and his first full day at the office was Thursday (Oct. 24).

“It’s similar to coaching,” says Brownlee of his ABCA role. “You wear a lot of different hats.”

This fall, he helped host ABCA Barnstormers Regional Coaches Clinics across the country (he took 10 and Jim Richardson took 10). He also lines up the youth speakers and helps with the hot stoves at the national convention (which is Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville). He assists the ABCA’s youth and travel baseball committees and is a liaison for NCAA Division II. After the New Year, he will be part of the ABCA podcast.

“My dad was an ABCA member. I’ve been an ABCA member for 22 years. This is an opportunity. It’s a great company. It’s been around since 1945. The ABCA has always been there to help coaches. Hopefully, that helps players.”

Ryan has been married to Henderson, Ky., native Aimee for 17 years. The Brownlees have two children — Jackson (16) and Norah (14). Ryan says the plans plan is to have the rest of the family move to North Carolina at the end of the school year.

NORARYANBROWNLEERyan Brownlee (right) shares a moment with daughter Norah. Ryan Brownlee, who played high school, college and pro baseball in Evansville, Ind., and was a college coach for 22 (the last seven at Western Illinois University) has become an assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association.

 

Buddies Quarles, Moralez to teach baseball in China

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jaylen Quarles welcomes new adventures in his life.

The Indianapolis native will soon experience new things and share his bat and ball knowledge on the other side of the globe.

“I’m ready to learn something different,” says Quarles, who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in sports management from the University of Southern Indiana (2017 and 2019), where he played baseball. “I would love to learn a second language.”

The former Screaming Eagles outfielder/designated hitter will get a chance to pick up a Mandarin dialect spoken in Tianjin, China.

Quarles and best friend Andrew Moralez are scheduled to leave Monday morning (Sept. 15) from Indianapolis for Toronto and then on to China and a year as instructors for Dallas-based D-BAT Baseball & Softball Academies.

After a week of training in Beijing, Lawrence Central High School graduate Quarles and Bishop Chatard High School and Kentucky Wesleyan College grad Moralez will move about 70 miles southeast to the metropolis of Tianjin. With the help of translators, they will teach players ages 3 to 18.

“The contract is a full year,” says Quarles. “We get holidays off, but not enough time to come home.

“In the ninth or 10th month, we can negotiate for a second year.”

At 25, Moralez is also ready for adventure and getting himself experience toward his goal of coaching at the international level. He was recruited by D-BAT director of China Operations David Fisher and sent a resume and video montage.

“A lot of people don’t get to do this kind of stuff,” says Moralez. “I might as well take advantage of it.”

Quarles and Moralez have known each other since they were 9. Jaylen was playing for the Indiana Pony Express and Andrew, who moved to Indiana from Colorado at 6, the Westfield (Ind.) Indians. From 11 to 18, the two were summer mates with the Pony Express.

Jon Richardson was the leader of that travel organization.

“Jon was a really good influence on us when we were younger,” says Moralez, who later coached at 17U Pony Express team for Richardson. “He kept us accountable.

“I can’t being to explain how much he’s done for me and my career.”

Quarles is a 2012 graduate of Lawrence Central, where he lettered in baseball and football. He was honorable mention all-state, first team all-Conference Indiana and all-Marion County as a senior while hitting .463 with 20 runs batted in.

He was playing eighth grade football when coach Dan Roman fired a football into the air one day at practice and told Jaylen “make sure you call it.”

Roman, the head baseball coach at Lawrence Central at the time, knew that the youngster was familiar with the diamond.

But that was news to Quarles.

“I had no idea he knew I played baseball,” says Quarles. “I enjoyed playing for Dan Roman at LC.”

Besides the Pony Express, Quarles also played parts of two summers with Indianapolis RBI, playing in national tournaments in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

He went on to participate in two seasons of junior college baseball at Southeastern Illinois College. As a sophomore in 2014, the lefty-swinger hit .367 with 39 runs scored and team-best 26 RBIs.

After transferring to USI, Quarles played 33 games (22 starts) and hit .363 with 18 runs in 2015. After being a medical redshirt in 2016, he played 35 games (29 starts at designated hitter) in 2017 while hitting .310 with 14 runs and 14 RBIs.

Why degrees in sports management?

“Growing up all I wanted to do was play baseball,” says Quarles, who posted a 3.8 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale (in grad school). “I want to stay around the business.

“This is the type of job that I want. I’d eventually like to be a college coach at any level.”

Moralez was a three-year starter at Chatard, playing shortstop, second base, right field and pitching for Trojans head coach Mike Harmon. He was honorable all-Marion County in 2010.

What Moralez appreciates about Harmon is his ability to bring players together.

“He harped on family a lot with us,” says Moralez. “I look that into college and pro ball.”

“I wanted to want the team to be one and have good chemistry. I wanted to get everybody on board with one mission.”

The right-handed pitcher at Kentucky Wesleyan from 2013-16, making 39 mound appearances with nine victories for the Todd Lillpop-coached Panthers. He earned a degree in graphic design.

After college, Moralez took part in the California Winter League and then spring training with the independent Frontier League’s Evansville (Ind.) Otters in 2017.

Moralez landed with the Thoroughbred Mustangs of the independent Thoroughbred Baseball League in Lexington, Ky. With Scott Nathanson as manager, the Mustangs won the league championship.

Through BaseballJobsOverseas.com, Moralez was going to play in Austria when he developed bone spurs and instead stayed in the U.S. and took an office job.

While Moralez has been working in Indianapolis, Quarles has been living and working in the Evansville area. He got internship credit working for Kevin and Kate Brown at Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School in Mount Vernon, Ind., and continued to give lessons and coach travel softball.

“I got really comfortable in Evansville,” says Quarles. “I gained and formed relationships.”

That includes USI head coach Tracy Archuleta, who he surprised recently by popping in at practice.

Quarles, 26, was offered the chance to join D-BAT in the spring through a Facebook message from former USI pitcher Dan Marcacci. But Jaylen was finishing his graduate degree and the softball season was about to begin.

“I had obligations,” says Quarles. “I’ve been all-in with these girls. I can’t leave them hanging.”

Fast forward to this week and Quarles has been in Indianapolis making preparations to travel to China, including getting shots and squaring away paperwork.

Jaylen is the son of Leonza and Crystle Quarles. He has a sister, Jazzemine.

Andrew is the youngest of Oscar and Julie Moralez. Jesse Moralez is the older brother.

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Andrew Moralez, a graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis and Kentucky Wesleyan College, delivers a 2017 pitch for the independent Thoroughbred Mustangs in Lexington, Ky.  He will soon be teaching baseball in China with best friend Jaylen Quarles. They played travel ball together on the Pony Express. (Thoroughbred Baseball League Photo)

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Indianapolis native Jaylen Quarles bats for the University of Southern Indiana. The 2012 Lawrence Central High School graduate will soon be teaching baseball in China with best friend Andrew Moralez. They played travel ball together on the Pony Express. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

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Andrew Moralez fires a pitch for Kentucky Wesleyan College. On this day, he hit the radar gun at 94 mph. The KWC and Bishop Chatard High School graduate will soon be teaching baseball in China with best friend Jaylen Quarles. (Kentucky Wesleyan College Photo)

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Jaylen Quarles prepares for the pitch while playing for the University of Southern Indiana. The USI and Lawrence Central High school graduate will soon be teaching baseball in China with best friend Andrew Moralez. (University of Southern Indiana)

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At Kentucky Wesleyan College baseball senior day in 2017, Andrew Moralez is surrounded by his family. From left, there’s big brother Jesse Moralez, mother Juile Moralez and father Oscar Moralez.

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Crystle and Leonza Quarles share a moment with son Jaylen Quarles during the latter’s baseball-playing days at the University of Southern Indiana.

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Andrew Moralez played baseball at Kentucky Wesleyan College and will soon be teaching the game in China with best friend Jaylen Quarles. He is a graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis (Kentucky Wesleyan University Photo)

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Jaylen Quarles played baseball at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville and will soon be teaching the game in China with best friend Andrew Moralez. He is a graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

 

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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Barney’s spent decade leading Vincennes U. baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Student-athletes are constantly coming and going. That’s the nature of junior college sports.

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at one such two-year institution — Vincennes (Ind.) University.

“I enjoy the challenge,” says Barney. “I enjoy the aspect of recruiting. You’re always looking for the next best thing.”

A poor team can get better quickly with a solid recruiting class.

‘I’m often asked, what are you looking for in college baseball? Bats play. If you can swing the pole, you’re going to play at the junior college level.”

VU’s stated mission is “to provide associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of academic and occupational majors leading to entry to a four-year university or to the workforce.”

Vincennes serves more than 17,000 at its various locations with about a third of that number at the main campus.

“It’s not the typical junior college,” says Barney. “It has a mid-major collegiate feel.”

The goal of the baseball program is to place student-athletes with a place to play at a four-year college. As of last week, 96 Vincennes players had moved on during the decade that Barney’s been in charge, including 32 to NCAA Division I, many to NCAA D-II and NAIA and a few to NCAA D-III.

Barney sees players choose the junior college route for many reasons. Among them are cost, grade issues, level of play, the chance to play right away or be drafted by Major League Baseball and not have to wait to turn 21 or play three seasons like is required at four-year schools.

The Trailblazers’ core beliefs revolve around faith, family, school and baseball.

“It’s like a three-ring circus of academics, athletics and the social scene,” says Barney of Vincennes campus life. “You have to have self-discipline and time management skills. You prioritize where you want to spend your time and what you want to get accomplished out of college.

“You can obtain your full potential as a player. That’s what junior college offers guys.”

Junior college players are allowed to practice more often that those at other levels.

All the time with the team allows individuals to built work ethic, character and emotional stability and, hopefully, have a positive experience.

“It’s an opportunity to get better,” says Barney. “There’s always obstacles and challenges for guys, where it’s an injury, a class, a teammate or playing time. But they learn the fundamental game of baseball.”

School rules say Vincennes freshmen must stay in campus housing. Sophomores have the choice to live on-campus or off-campus. Barney says there’s about a 50-50 split for his current sophomore class.

Barney, who is assisted by Hank Lopez and Matt Goebel, started out with 37 players in the fall and took 31 into the spring.

Almost all of those have hometowns in Indiana.

Until a couple of years ago, Indiana was Barney’s recruiting base. Such scholarship money is based on in-state tuition.

With the favorable rates and so many Illinois junior college baseball programs as opposed to Indiana (which now has three — Vincennes, Ancilla College and Ivy Tech Northeast), plenty of Indiana players choose to play junior college baseball in Illinois.

But Illinois has been opened up so that VU can offer students there a cost similar to what they would get in-state.

“I hope to drive up the price of poker in Illinois for some of those guys,” says Barney of landing Illinois players for the VU program.

Rules allow junior colleges to play 20 games against outside competition in the fall. Vincennes also plays about 10 intrasquad games. There are 56 regular-season games in the spring.

That’s a lot of innings to cover so Barney typically carries 16 to 18 pitches, some of whom also play other positions.

“I love those guys,” says Barney. “If they can be successful at both, it’s well worth or time and energy to put the effort into that.”

The Trailblazers are in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 24. The region is made up of nine Mid-West Athletic Conference members — Vincennes plus Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, Heartland Community College (Normal, Ill.), Illinois Central College (East Peoria, Ill.), John Wood Community College (Quincy, Ill.), Lewis & Clark Community College (Godfrey, Ill.), Lincoln Land Community College (Springfield, Ill.), Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.) and Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.).

Vincennes went into play April 3 at 15-12 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

There is a 32-game conference schedule. The top eight teams go to the MWAC tournament. The winner advances to the NJCAA D-II World Series (May 25-June 1 in Enid, Okla.).

“There’s a lot of positives in moving over to that region,” says Barney. “Before, we were independent in Region 12, which is Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Trying to find games in late March, April and part of May was a bear.”

Vincennes went to the World Series in 2010 and 2014 under the old qualifying format. Teams were required to make it through a sub-regional to get to an eight-team double-elimination tournament that sent the champion to championship series.

The Trailblazers play home games at Jeremy Blemker Field.

Huntingburg, Ind., native Blemker coached for 38 years, including 26 at Vincennes (1980-2006) and amassed a NJCAA-record 1,037 victories. He sent more than 180 players on to play at universities around the country and 27 signed professional contracts.

Blemker, who died in 2012, was an inductee of the NJCAA and Greater Evansville Baseball halls of fame.

The original Blemker Field was on the VU campus. It was razed to make room for Updike Hall Scienc Earth and Mathematics Learning Center and the Trailblazers moved to a new baseball complex on Old Terre Haute Road five years ago.

Barney says the university has continued to provide the team with the means to maintain the facility.

Before landing at VU, Orlando, Fla., native Barney has made several baseball coaching stops. He was assistant coach and recruiting director for 13 years at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

Barney, a graduate of Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tenn., has also served as head coach of the Quincy Gems and Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (summer) and was an assistant at Tennessee Wesleyan, Tusculum University (Greeneville, Tenn.) and St. John’s River State College (Palatka, Fla.) as well as serving on the summer staffs for the Frontier League’s Midwest Sliders (Ypsilanti, Mich.) and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Vermont Mountaineers (Montpelier, Vt.).

Barney counts Mike Policastro, Tom Griffin, Mike Goedde and Mike Robins among his baseball mentors.

Barney played for Policastro (now head coach at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee) at Tenessee Weselyan and was a teammate and coached alongside Griffin (now head coach at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) at that same school. Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was USI head coach when Barney was on the staff. Robins led the squad at St. John’s River.

“You take a little bit from everybody,” says Barney. “You put your own personality on the program, too.

“It’s fun. The kids keep you young and always bring something new to the table.”

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Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Vincennes (Ind.) University in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)