Tag Archives: Frontier League

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)

 

Wellenreiter lends wisdom to Goshen Maple Leafs

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Wellenreiter has been swinging a fungo and dishing out baseball knowledge for a long time.

The 2019 season marks his 40th as a coach — five as an assistant at Goshen College after 35 in Illinois at the junior high, high school and professional level.

Since arriving on Hoosier soil, he’s also taken to coaching for the Michiana Scrappers travel organization in the summer.

What does he believe in as a coach?

“Hopefully my kids learn the game and it’s a lifelong value to them,” says Wellenreiter. “The values that you teach are not just baseball. You teach them things in baseball that will help them for the rest of their life — whether it’s discipline, being on-time or never say quit. You hope you have a lasting effect on kids down the road.

“I can’t tell you how many games I’ve won or lost (he actually 625 and went to the round of 16 in the Illinois High School Association tournament six times in 27 seasons at Momence High School). It really doesn’t matter.

“The only important thing is the next one. You don’t take the games with you. You take the people with you. That’s why (baseball’s) the best fraternity to be a part of.”

That fraternity may not have a secret handshake, but it’s given Wellenreiter plenty of memories and perspective.

“Lifelong stuff is what you take with you,” says Wellenreiter, who was pitching coach for a few summers with the independent professional Cook County Cheetahs. “I sometimes had a junior high game in the morning and a minor league game at night. I’m probably the only guy in America who coached junior high and minor league at the same time. Sometimes the junior high game was better.”

What’s the difference between junior high, high school, college and pro?

“In the big picture, the fundamentals of the game is the same,” says Wellenreiter. “It just happens at a faster rate at each level. At the pro level, it happens at 88 to 93 mph. At (the college) level, it happens in the low to mid 80’s. At the high school level, it happens in the 70’s.”

Wellenreiter sees freshmen working to make that adjustment when they arrive at Goshen.

“They may have seen a kid who threw 85 occasionally in high school,” says Wellenreiter. “Now, you’re going to see somebody like that almost everyday at our level. Everybody runs much better at this level. Everybody’s got a better arm.”

Before retiring in 2014 and moving to Goshen to be closer to be closer to one of his daughters and his grandchildren, Wellenreiter was a biology teacher and driver’s education instruction in Illinois.

“I never had any intentions of being a bio teacher when I went to Millikin (University) in Decatur,” says Wellenreiter. “They had the foresight into what the future was going to hold in the education field. You take so much science when you go into P.E. They said, you’re crazy if you don’t take the extra classes so you’re certified to teach science. Make yourself as marketable as you can. That’s all I’ve ever taught — biology.”

With that know-how, it has given the coach a different outlook on training.

“I know how cells work,” says Wellenreiter. “I know what origin of insertion means and the difference between induction and abbuction.”

At Goshen, Wellenreiter works on a staff headed by Alex Childers with Justin Grubbs as pitching coach.

“Alex gives me a lot of freedom,” says Wellenreiter, who knew Childress when he was a student and baseball player at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., and Wellenreiter was an assistant men’s basketball coach for the Tigers (He was also a long-time basketball assistant at Momence) and later a part-time ONU baseball assistant.

Wellenreiter helps with scheduling (he has spent plenty of phone time already this season with postponements and cancellations), travel and, sometimes, ordering equipment. He assists in recruiting, especially in Illinois where he knows all the schools and coaches.

On the field, his duties vary with the day. While Grubbs is working with the pitchers, Wellenreiter and Childress mix it up with the positional players. He throws about 400 batting practice pitches a day and coaches first base for the Maple Leafs.

“When you’re at a small college, you have to be a jack of all trades to get things done. You don’t have a huge coaching staff. I’m part-time, but I’m like part-time/full-time.”

Wellenreiter makes up scouting reports before every game. He keeps a chart on every hitter and what they’ve done against each GC pitcher.

“I do it by hand,” says Wellenreiter. “chart where they hit the ball and plot whether it was pull, oppo or straight.

“The most important pitch is Strike 1. I chart that.”

Wellenreiter recalls a batter from Taylor University who swing at the first pitch just three times in 48 at-bats against Goshen.

“Gee, this isn’t rocket science,” says Wellenreiter. “If the guy isn’t going to swing at the first pitch, what are we putting down (as a signal)? Let’s not be fine. Let’s get Strike 1. Now he’s in the hole 0-1 and you’ve got the advantage.

“Sometimes, you can’t over-think it as pitchers. You’ve got to pitch your game and use your stuff. If the guy’s not catching up to your fastball, go with that. Don’t speed his bat up.”

Goshen coaches will sometimes call pitches from the dugout, but generally lets their catches call the game.

Wellenreiter says charts and tendencies sometimes backfire.

“I remember for one player, the chart said he had pulled the ball to the right side in all eight at-bats,” says Wellenreiter. “So he hits the ball to the left of the second base bag.

“That’s baseball.”

Wellenreiter learned baseball from Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Scott at University High School in Normal, Ill.

“That’s where I learned my stuff,” says Wellenreiter, a 1975 U-High graduate. “(Coach Scott) gave me a chance. I played on the varsity when I was a sophomore.”

Wellenreiter has added to his coaching repertoire as his career has gone along.

“You steal from here. You steal from there,” says Wellenreiter. “You hear something you like and you add it in.”

Smallish in high school, Wellenreiter ran cross country in the fall and played baseball for Pioneers in the spring. He played fastpitch softball for years after college.

“I miss playing,” says Wellenreiter. “ I had a knee replaced four years ago. I hobble around now.”

While coaching in the Frontier League with the Cheetahs (now known as the Windy City Thunderbolts), Wellenreiter got to work alongside former big leaguers Ron LeFlore, Milt Pappas and Carlos May.

One of Wellenreiter’s pitchers made it — Australian right-hander Chris Oxspring — to the majors.

Cook County manager LeFlore was infamous for running his pitchers hard.

“They had to run 16 poles (foul pole to foul pole) everyday,” says Wellenreiter. “Ox couldn’t do them all. We had to DL him because he was too sore and couldn’t keep up with conditioning.”

After spending 2000 with the Cheetahs, Oxspring was picked up by affiliated ball and played for the Fort Wayne Wizards in 2001 and made five appearances for the 2005 San Diego Padres.

Wellenreiter drove up to Milwaukee and spoke Oxspring after his MLB debut.

The pitcher called to his former coach and they met in the visitor’s dugout before the game.

“Hey, Coach Doug,” Oxspring said to Wellenreiter. “Remember those poles? I can do them now.”

Wellenreiter notes that Oxspring made more money in his 34 days with the Padres than he did his entire minor league career.

“That’s why guys fight to get up there,” says Wellenreiter of the baseball pay scale and pension plan.

While coaching the Momence Redskins, Wellenreiter got a close look at future major league right-hander Tanner Roark, who pitched for nearby Wilmington High School.

“I had him at 94 on my radar gun,” says Wellenreiter of Roark, who helped his school win Class A state titles in 2003 and 2005, the latter squad going 41-1. “He’s probably the best I’ve had to go against.”

Wellenreiter notes the differences between high school baseball in Indiana and Illinois and cites the higher number of games they play in the Land of Lincoln.

Illinois allows 35 regular-season games and teams are guaranteed at least one game in the regional (equivalent to the sectional in Indiana). In 2019, the Illinois state finals are May 31-June 1 for 1A and 2A and June 7-8 for 3A and 4A. Regionals begin in the middle of May.

The maximum number of season baseball games in which for any team or student may participate, excluding the IHSAA Tournament Series shall be 28 and no tournament 26 and one tournament.

When eliminated from the tournament, most Illinois teams will let their seniors go and launch right into summer ball, playing 40 to 45 games through early July. The high school head coach usually coaches the team.

“Any kid worth his salt is playing another 25 games in the fall,” says Wellenreiter. “That’s 90 to 100 games a year. The difference in experience adds up. Illinois kids are seeing more stuff.”

Coaching with the Scrappers, Wellenreiter’s teams have never played more than 28 contests.

Junior high baseball is a fall sport in Illinois and has a state tournament modeled after the high school event. The season begins a few weeks before the start of school.

Wellenreiter coached junior high baseball for more than two decades and guided many of the same player from Grades 6 through 12.

There are pockets of junior high baseball around Indiana.

At a small school like Momence (enrollment around 325), coaches had a share athletes. What Wellenreiter saw is that athletes would pick the “glory weekend” if there was a choice between two or more sports.

“One thing I don’t miss about high school is fighting for the kids’ time,” says Wellenreiter. “I never asked my baseball players to do something during the basketball season.”

At Goshen, Wellenreiter can focus on baseball and his family. Doug and wife Kelly have Brooke, her husband and children living in New Paris, Ind., with Bria and her husband out of state.

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Doug Wellenreiter is in his fifth season as an assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. It’s the 40th year in coaching for the Illinois native. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Mishawaka Marian grad Rinard adding to his coaching responsibilities for Dixie State baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Exciting things are happening in Bobby Rinard’s baseball world.

Entering his fifth season as an assistant coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, Rinard is now a full-time coach and has added recruiting coordinator to his job description.

Dixie State is an NCAA Division II program and has nine fully-funded scholarships. Rinard is learning how to disperse scholarship money on a roster of about 35, taking into consideration things like the needs of the team and Title IV and other NCAA rules compliance.

At present, 47 percent is the most any one player is getting in terms of a full scholarship.

“There is really no such thing as a full-ride scholarship for a baseball player,” says Rinard. “We carry a fall roster of about 40, which matches our male-to-female student ratio.

“Some guys will be walk-ons and some will have the grades that won’t count toward the nine scholarships.

“The tricky part is that you don’t get a clean slate after each year.”

What the program has to work with is based on who leaves and who returns.

Rinard, a South Bend, Ind., native and 2007 Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School graduate whose father Jeff Rinard ran the Chasing A Dream training facility in Lakeville, Ind., says excitement is also in the air around St. George because Dixie State is exploring moving up to NCAA Division I with its athletic programs.

Information is being gathered through town hall meetings and consultants and a vote to decide is expected at the end of November.

“I hope we do go Division I,” says Rinard, who turned 30 on Nov. 9. “But it could go either way.”

NCAA Division I baseball can give 11.7 fully-funded scholarships and hire two full-time assistant coaches. There is a push to get a third full-timer.

At the D-II level, with a limited recruiting budget, Dixie State keeps to the southwest region and looks for players that fit their style of play.

Trailblazers head coach Chris Pfatenhauer, who has worked at the junior college and D-I levels, favors what Rinard calls the “West Coast” style of baseball. There is an emphasis on speed and athleticism. Batters are expected to be able to lay down a sacrifice or squeeze bunt in a crucial situation.

“We’ll put pressure on the defense,” says Rinard. “But we’re not all runts.”

There are also a few players on the roster with some power.

“We don’t talk about launch angle at all,” says Rinard. “Knowing exit velocity can help guys understand what kind of swing they should be taking to the baseball.

“We want to develop a head-high line drive swing. If you can build a repetitive swing like that, your exit velocity is going to be very good.”

Two major recruiting events that the staff ends are the Arizona Fall Classic in Peoria, Ariz., and Baseball Northwest events in Washington. It’s about a six-hour drive from St. George to the Phoenix area.

“We’re really, really selective with what events we go to,” says Rinard, noting that Las Vegas, Nevada, area is full of talent and is about a two-hour drive from St. George.

Dixie State baseball will be competing in a new conference in the spring of 2019. The Trailblazers were in the Pacific West Conference.

Besides Dixie State, the Pac West had eight baseball-playing schools in California (Academy of Art, Azusa Pacific, Biola, California Baptist, Concordia Irvine, Fresno Pacific, Holy Names and Point Loma Nazarene) and two in Hawaii (Hawaii Hilo and Hawaii Pacific) in 2018.

The Blazers were 25-25 overall and 21-19 in the Pac West.

Following the lead of the DSU football program, baseball is now in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

In addition to Dixie State, RMAC baseball features eight institutions in Colorado (Adams State, Colorado Christian, Colorado Mesa, Colorado State-Pueblo, Colorado School of Mines, Metropolitan State, Regis and Colorado Colorado Springs) and one in New Mexico (New Mexico Highlands).

Pfatenhauer saw the change coming, he wasted no time in purchasing heavy jackets. Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., is 7,543 feet above sea level.

Does the altitude effect pitching? Colorado Mesa had the best team earned run average in the RMAC in 2018 at 4.83. Adams State was last at 9.59.

Dixie State’s staff carried a 6.29 while competing in the Pac West and at 2,500-seat Bruce Hurst Field (former big league pitcher Bruce Hurst is a St. George native and a benefactor), where the fences are 12 feet high from the foul poles to the batter’s eye in center, which extends to 20 feet high. Dimensions are 330 down the lines and 390 to center.

St. George has an elevation of 2,860. Located in the southwestern part of Utah. At one time it was a cotton-growing region (thus the name of the school).

Rinard says the high desert climate is typical of Las Vegas, Nevada. The day-time highs this week (Nov. 11-17) have been in the high 50’s and low 60’s.

“I really don’t remember what it’s like to be cold,” says Rinard, who played two seasons as a righty-swinging outfielder at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz. (2008 and 2009) and two at the University of Arizona (2010 and 2011) before a stint in professional baseball and a season as an undergraduate assistant at Arizona in 2014.

Rinard was selected in the 43rd round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets, but did not sign.

After his two seasons in NCAA Division I baseball with Arizona, he signed with the New York Yankees as a minor league free agent in 2011 and played one season a rookie-level Staten Island.

His independent ball stops came with the Frontier League’s Normal (Ill.) Cornbelters in in 2012 and United League’s Edinburg (Texas) Roadrunners in 2013.

Rinard also works with the Trailblazers’ outfielders and hitters and helps coordinate camps.

“I’m helping with everything,” says Rinard, who plans to join the staff Jan. 3-6 for the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas.

Immediate plans call for Rinard to come back to northern Indiana this weekend to be in the wedding of former Bethel College player and Concord High School baseball coach Walter Lehmann. Rinard and Lehmann played together in high school.

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Bobby Rinard (right) is an assistant baseball coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. Going into his fifth season with the Trailblazers in 2019, he added recruiting coordinator to his job description last summer. (Dixie State University Photo)

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Bobby Rinard, a Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School graduate who played at Yavapai College and the University of Arizona, is heading into his fifth season as an assistant baseball coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, in 2019. (Dixie State University Photo)

Former Jay County, Baylor catcher Ludy lands in River City

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In baseball, sometimes you find a position and sometimes it finds you.

Josh Ludy recalls the day he became a catcher.

“I was about 10 and looking at these plastic batting helmets,” says Ludy, 28. “I don’t know why, but I put one on backwards and decided I wanted to be a catcher.”

The next thing you know, Josh had talked his parents into getting him a set of gear and he was a backstop from then on.

Even with all the bumps and bruises that come with the job, that’s where Ludy wanted to be.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” says Ludy. “You just get numb to most of it.”

Sure, he pitched and played the infield a little at Jay County High School in Portland, Ind., where he graduated in 2008, but it was as a catcher that he shined.

Ludy was first-team Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A All-State as a senior and participated in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series with Jay County head coach Lea Selvey on the North coaching staff.

After spending the rest of the summer with the Indiana Bulls travel organization, Ludy went on to a stellar career at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“That was one of the best times of my life,” says Ludy of his college baseball days. “We had great guys who wanted to win.”

Among those was Max Muncy, who put up impressive numbers this season for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Steve Smith was then head baseball coach at Baylor.

“Awesome guy,” says Ludy of Smith. “There was never any question about the way he was doing things.”

In four seasons with the Baylor Bears, Ludy played in 170 games and hit .321 with 21 home runs, 35 doubles and 121 runs batted in.

Hitting .362 with 16 homers, 15 doubles and 71 RBIs for a Baylor squad that went 49-17 and enjoyed a 24-game win streak, Ludy was the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year and an All-American catcher while graduating with a psychology degree in 2012.

Ludy was selected in the eighth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.

He played two seasons in the Phillies system (2012-13) and 17 games with the Oakland Athletics organization in 2014.

Released in July of that year, he caught on with the independent Frontier League’s River City Rascals in O’Fallon, Mo., part of the St. Louis metro area.

That same fall, Josh got married and wife Erin got to really experience the traveling baseball life.

The first two years, the couple moved often.

“She’s been there pretty much the whole time,” says Ludy of the woman he met at Baylor. “She’s been all over the country with me. She’s awesome.

“It’s nice to be the same place for a little while.”

Now living in O’Fallon and co-managing a gun shop in the off-season, Josh is able to come home to see his wife and first children — a 6-month-old daughter named Laurel.

Ludy played for River City in 2015 and was going to retire when the Rascals convinced him to come back in 2016 to serve as a player/hitting coach. He did that again in 2017.

Not active as a player in 2018, Ludy came back as long-time River City manager Steve Brook’s hitting coach.

“My life’s been centered around the game,” says Ludy. “I like being out on the field everyday.”

His duties with the Rascals included getting to the stadium early to do individual work with players. He also threw batting practice, hit fungous and sometimes made mound visits.

Having witnessed both MLB-affiliated and independent pro baseball, Ludy sees the differences.

“The high-end talent is not there (in indy ball),” says Lundy. “But there are a lot of guys who were really good college players. A lot of hitters have been released from affiliated ball or been passed up in the draft.

“There’s less structure as far as your daily stuff (in indy ball).”

Not getting talent from a parent organization means indy teams must find their own and sometime a player’s time with the club doesn’t even allow for a cup of coffee.

“We’ve gotten rid of guys in less than a day,” says Ludy. “Sometimes they only pinch-run and they’re gone.

“It can be pretty cut throat sometimes. There’s only so many roster spots available. It can be a swinging door sometimes.”

Ludy calls Brook’s position a “tough gig.”

“We have our budget lower than most teams in the league,” says Ludy. “It’s hard to find guys who will take less.

“But we’ve had pretty good success doing it.”

The Rascals went 52-44 and lost in a divisional series to eventual Frontier League champion Joliet in 2018. River City went 50-46 in 2017, 49-47 in 2016, 56-40 in 2015 and 61-35 in 2014 — losing in the finals the in ’14 and ’15.

While working and conducting some private lessons, Ludy is sorting out his baseball future. He says he should know soon what 2019 has in-store for him.

Ludy, who was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., grew up just blocks from the youth baseball park in Portland.

At 14, he played travel ball for the Indiana White Sox then spent three summers for USAthletic before the one with the Indiana Bulls.

Josh is the son of Max and Sheri Ludy. His father is a superior court judge in Jay County. His mother is a social worker. A half-brother, Kyle, lives in Indianapolis.

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Josh Ludy, a graduate of Jay County High School in Portland, Ind., and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, hits the baseball for the independent River City Rascals. (River City Rascals Photo)

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Josh Ludy has been with the independent River City Rascals in O’Fallon, Mo., since the middle of the 2014 baseball season, first as a player then a coach. He is a graduate of Jay County High School in Indiana and Baylor University in Texas. (River City Rascals Photo)

 

New Albany, Ball State grad Godfrey makes 2018 season his last as a player

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sean Godfrey had been rounding the bases since his T-ball days at Mt. Tabor Park in New Albany, Ind.

Godfrey went on to a memorable baseball playing career.

The 26-year-old outfielder retired at the end of the 2018 season to seek the next chapter in his life, though he plans to stay connected to the game in some way.

“I’m definitely going to stay in baseball with coaching or giving private lessons,” says Godfrey, who has a business administration degree from Ball State University received in 2014.

Born in Indianapolis in 1992, Godfrey soon moved to New Albany where he played ball at Mt. Tabor until middle school when he began competing for local travel teams.

Godfrey won three baseball letters at New Albany High School, graduating in 2010. The Chris McIntyre-coached Bulldogs went 74-20 during Godfrey’s three varsity seasons with Hoosier Hills Conference titles in 2009 and 2010.

“Coach Mac” taught Godfrey and his teammates how to play the game the right way, to treat your teammates fairly and that details matter.

“Fundamental things are so important,” says Godfrey. “That stuck with me throughout my career.”

The right-handed swinging and throwing Godfrey was all-conference his last two prep seasons and honorable mention all-state as a senior when he hit .486 with seven home runs, four triples, 11 doubles, 54 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. As a junior, he hit .410 with five homers and 14 doubles. His sophomore season yielded a .365 average with 10 doubles.

In his high school summers, Godfrey played travel ball for the Evansville Razorbacks then the Louisville Baseball Club.

In four seasons at Ball State — two for head coach Alex Marconi and two for Rich Maloney —  center fielder Godfrey started 165 games and hit .322 with 17 homers, four triples, 52 doubles, 119 runs batted in and 53 stolen bases.

Godfrey considers Maloney one of his mentors and the two have remained close and still correspond.

“He was good at making it about the team and getting guys to work together and believe in each other,” says Godfrey of Maloney. “We practiced every little detail like running on and off the field. He doesn’t miss much.”

Scott French was a Ball State assistant in Godfrey’s last two seasons and he grew fond of the hitting/outfield coach.

“He was a great player’s coach,” says Godfrey of French. “He’d give you the shirt off his back if you need it.”

Selected in the 22nd round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, Godfrey played in the Braves system until 2016. He hit a combined .280 with 11 homers, 11 triples, 40 doubles, 93 RBIs and 35 stolen bases. He reached Double-A for 58 games in 2015 and 11 in 2016.

Released by the Braves after spring training in 2017, Godfrey caught on with the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers. Former Ball State and Boomers pitcher Cal Bowling helped him make the connection with Schaumburg manager Jamie Bennett.

“It’s a difficult job he has,” says Godfrey of Bennett. “He has to find the players and loses some to to affiliated teams. He has to have a certain number of rookies and veterans. Things are always changing.

“(Independent ball) is more about winning. Guys are trying to win games and get a championship. It reminds me of college baseball. It was definitely enjoyable working with people toward a common goal.”

In 93 games with the Boomers in 2017, Godfrey hit .287 with nine homers, three triples, 19 doubles, 59 RBIs and six stolen bases. In 2018, he hit .253 with six homers, two triples, 19 doubles, 32 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.

According to Frontier League rules, no player can be 27 prior to Jan. 1. Godfrey turns 27 on Jan. 2 and would have been eligible to play in the league in 2019, but decided to move on.

Sean is the oldest son of Chris and Jane Godrey and older brother of Andrew Godfrey.

Chris Godfrey is retired and works part-time at a VA hospital. Jane Godfrey works at a retreat in Henryville, Ind. Former New Albany High tennis player and Indiana University-Purdue University graduate Andrew Godfrey, 22, is a mechanical engineer in Louisville.

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Sean Godfrey, a New Albany (Ind.) High School graduate, played four baseball seasons at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., before playing five professional seasons. (Ball State Photo)

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Sean Godfrey, a New Albany (Ind.) High School graduate, was drafted by the Atlanta Braves out of  Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He played three seasons in the Braves system (2014-16) then two with the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers (2017-18) before retiring as a player.

 

Purdue grad Isom embraces independent pro baseball manager role, wins title with Joliet Slammers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Isom got to do something for the first time in nearly two decades as a professional baseball manager in 2018.

Isom got to hoist the championship trophy as the decision maker for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers — his first title as a pro skipper.

“It only took me 18 years, but I finally got one,” says Isom, a 1990 Lafayette Jefferson High School and 1998 Purdue University graduate who still resides in West Lafayette, Ind. “A lot of teams made the finals and just came up short for one reason or another. Our pitching staff (at Joliet) was outstanding and did not lose guys to major league clubs like some teams did.”

Without Major League Baseball feeding them players, Isom and other independent ball managers go out and found their own players. The Slammers championship squad featured 14 that came from tryout camps.

“I love getting guys that have been overlooked by the draft for one reason or another,” says Isom of his attraction to independent baseball. “Scouting is not an exact science. We work with them and try to continue to make them better players.

“In independent baseball, most teams rely on the manager. I like it that way. I have the ultimate say in who is going to be on our club.

“I value those tryouts. I know the players are hungry if they’re going to a tryout camp.”

The Frontier League is considered a developmental circuit and the maximum age is 27. A couple of top pitchers from 2018 — Nate Antone and Liam O’Sullivan — will age out and Isom intends to help them make connections so they can keep playing either at the independent or affiliated level.

“Indy ball has been a great time for me,” says Isom, a three-time Frontier League Manager of the Year (2002, 2016 and 2018) who turned 46 on Sept. 22. “I loved every minute of it when I was a player and I’ve loved every minute of it as a manager.

“I’ve been fortunate to make a career out of this.”

Isom doesn’t see it as a job. He sees it as an opportunity to pass along what he knows about the game. He soaked up information from the folks in affiliated baseball and he has done the same thing in independent ball.

Besides his current job with the Slammers, Isom’s managing stops have taken him to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles, Washington (Pa.) Wild Things, Joliet JackHammers, Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums and Lake Erie (Ohio) Crushers.

In six seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers system, he managed the West Virginia Power, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Brevard County (Fla.) Manatees and Helena (Mont.) Brewers.

As a left-handed pitcher, Isom played for Tony Primavera at Lafayette Jeff then three seasons at Purdue (1991-93) — one for head coach Dave Alexander and two from Steve Green. Isom went 16-4 with five saves and a 3.72 earned run average over his last two Boiler seasons. In 149 1 /3 innings, he struck out 119 and walked 55.

Isom was born in Pullman, Wash., and wound up in West Lafayette when his father was hired at Purdue (Gary Isom is Professor Emeritus of Toxicology in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology).

The southpaw was an all-Big Ten Conference honoree in 1993 along with teammate and future major league Jermaine Allensworth. The Boilermakers were the only college to recruit Isom.

“As a player, (Alexander) instilled discipline in me,” says Isom of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He taught time management skills and how to hold yourself accountable.

“I had to grow up quick.”

Green imparted wisdom and inspiration.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without Coach Green,” says Isom. “He’s probably the most influential person I’ve had in my baseball career.”

At age 14, Isom played for a Green-managed Pony League team.

“He taught me how to throw a split-finger fastball (forkball) and my career took off from there,” says Isom. “As a pitching coach/head coach, (Green) instilled a lot of confidence in me. He wanted me to have the baseball in my hand.

“I got drafted because of what he taught me.”

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 18th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Isom pitched three seasons in the Pirates and San Diego Padres organizations and then four more in indy ball.

While playing in indy ball, he met two managers — Doug Simunic and Andy McCauley — that helped him on what would lead to a career as a manager.

Isom played for Simunic with the independent Northern League’s Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) RedHawks and was allowed to pick the skipper’s brain.

“I was just trying to learn and he took me under his wing,” says Isom of Simunic, who went on to become the first independent baseball manager to reach 1,000 wins. “I took best from all the managers I had.

“I’m learning everyday.”

MacCauley coached in Fargo-Moorhead and met up with Isom again with the Frontier League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kodiaks.

Isom was released eight times during his pro playing career. After three starts and three losses for Kalamazoo, he cut himself from the team and headed home only to be called back by MacCauley to be pitching coach. The two men have bounced baseball ideas off each other ever since.

MacCauley has been the manager of the Frontier League’s Evansville (Ind.) Otters since 2010.

Isom’s best friend in baseball, MacCauley was in his wedding (Jeff and former Purdue volleyball player/current Klondike Middle School physical education/health teacher Lisa Isom have two children at Harrison High School in West Lafayette — senior volleyballer Samantha and freshman baseballer Will) and trades between Joliet and Evansville are common.

When school is out, Will travels with the Slammers and sees the effort that goes into being a pro player.

“In independent baseball, you’ve got to put up numbers or there’s going to be changes,” says Isom. “Hard work will pay off.”

When he’s not away managing professionals, Isom can be found back in West Lafayette spending time with his family and teaching private lessons at On Deck Baseball, a business owned by former pro player Josh Loggins.

“I want to see kids get quality coaching,” says Isom, who coached two seasons at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the 1990s.

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Jeff Isom, a graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., managed the Joliet (Ill.) Slammers to the championship of the independent Frontier League in 2018. (Joliet Slammers Photo)