Tag Archives: Frontier League

Baseball in Richmond played to the tune of Jazz

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Richmond, Ind., has long appreciated the crack of the baseball bat.

The Rose City fielded professional teams throughout most of the first half of the 20th century and brought pro ball back with the independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters (1995-2005).

Charles Weeghman, the man who built what would become known as Wrigley Field, was born in Richmond in 1874.

These days, the crack comes in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League with the Richmond Jazz.

Playing at John Cate Field at Don McBride Stadium (which dates back to 1936), the Jazz came into the league in 2016. The Richmond RiverRats played collegiate wood-bat baseball in the Prospect League. That team sold and moved to Lafayette, Ind. The GLSCL approached Richmond about joining and a new baseball brand came to town.

Richmond native Deanna Beaman has been a part of the Roosters, RiverRats and Jazz.

A 1996 Richmond High School graduate with a sports management and marketing degree from Indiana University, Beaman served as an intern with the Roosters and served in several capacities with the club for eight seasons.

When the Roosters sold and moved to Traverse City, Mich., to become the Beach Bums of the Frontier League beginning with the 2006 season, it left a baseball void in Richmond.

The hole was filled with changing from pro to college ball and joining the new Prospect League for the summer of 2009 for what turned out to be a seven-season run.

“The college wood bat model is better in this market,” says Beaman.

Then with expansion, costs began to rise in the collegiate summer league world.

“The Prospect League grew and is became more and more expensive to be in that league,” says Beaman, who estimates the team was spending $40,000 per season on travel, not including hotels. “The Great Lakes League approached us. We found that the business models are different in the two leagues.

“There was an interest to keep baseball in the community. You have to be a 501 (c) 3 (non-profit organization) to be in the (GLSCL).”

Beaman is president and general manager of Hitters Hangout Sports Foundation, which operates as the Richmond Jazz.

Richmond players are charged a participation fee (similar to travel baseball) and the club pays a frranchise fee to the league, which must abide by NCAA regulations.

She identifies the top benefits of Great Lakes membership for Richmond is the short season (the team plays a 42-game regular season) and travel is relatively short with no overnight trips.

Richmond is in the GLSCL’s Southern Division with Ohio teams Cincinnati, Hamilton, Southern Ohio and Xenia.

The Central Division features five Ohio teams — Galion, Grand Lake, Licking County, Lorain County and Lima.

Making up the Northern Division are Grand River, Irish Hills, Lake Erie and Muskegon in Michigan and Saint Clair in Ontario, Canada.

Richmond would not see Northern teams until the playoffs.

There were growing pains with the transition from to the Great Lakes. Richmond got a new mayor and park superintendent and the baseball team got a new lease at McBride Stadium in 2016. On the field, Matt Brankle managed the Jazz to a record of 12-29.

Things were completely revamped on the baseball side for the 2017 season. Floridians Brett “Buster” Schneider (assistant coach at NCAA Division I Florida Atlantic University) and Brian Thomas (coach at Gainesville High School) were recruited to be head coach and pitching coach, respectively, and former RiverRats players Joe Pourier was named as a volunteer assistant.

“We have to get a winning ball club in the community,” says Beaman. “Buster has been a great addition for us — both on and off the field. He’s changed some lives in our community. If you want to play at the D-I level, he can tell you what it takes.”

Schneider came to Richmond through a connection Beaman made with a former player.

Jeremiah Klosterman was a catcher on back-to-back Frontier League championship teams in Richmond in 2001 and 2002. The former Florida State University standout owns Hard Knoxx Baseball Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., and Schneider was one of his instructors.

Schneider is in his first season as a summer collegiate head coach, but he did serve three seasons as an assistant for Green Bay of the Northwoods League.

Hitting the ground running (leaving Florida June 2 and beginning practice June 4), Schneider immediately began working on team chemistry with a roster made up of players with hometowns in eight different states. Some players live close enough to commute for games and workouts while others stay with host families.

“You have to get them to buy into your system and play for a chgampionship,” says Schneider. “You have to have a plan in place and you have to win early (with such a short season).”

Through their connections, Beaman and Schneider helped form a Jazz roster that includes players with hometowns in eight states.

“You reach out and get as many good, quality players as you can,” says Schneider. “I want them to use the summer to get better and go back and be conference players of the year and All-Americans.”

By rule, league members must carry a certain number of Division I players in order to be funded by Major League Baseball for developmental reasons. There are numerous collegiate wood bat leagues across the country.

This summer, Richmond has pitchers James Meyer (Valparaiso), Ben Nelson (Virginia Commonwealth) and R.J. Wagner (Dayton), catchers Chase DeBonis (Bethune-Cookman) and Jordan Stacy (Bethune-Cookman), infielder Jordan Gillerman (St. John’s) and outfielders Jack Holden (Eastern Illinois) and Cole Parks (Bethune-Cookman).

“We can get hitters all day long,” says Beaman. “Pitching is the issue. D-I coaches are protecting their starters (and often shutting them down for the summer).

“Across the league, bullpens are very thin. Sometimes we have to go ‘Mississippi State style 3-3-3’ to finish a game.”

Says Thomas, “We’ve done pretty well with the guys we’ve received … We try to keep their pitch counts down … I try to get to know everyone at a personal level.”

GLSCL rules do not allow for a disabled list and player can’t be released based on talent or performance. That means the roster is pretty steady throughout the season.

RICHMONDJAZZ

Reel helps turn IU Southeast into respected NAIA baseball program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast’s baseball team will play in the NAIA Opening Round for the second straight season and the fourth time since 2010.

The 21st-ranked Grenadiers are in Kingsport, Tenn., for a five-team double-elimination event Monday through Thursday, May 15-18.

The winner out of No. 1 seed Keiser (Fla.) (39-18), No. 2 Tennessee Wesleyan (39-18), No. 3 Indiana University Southeast (45-13), No. 4 Talladega (Ala.) (36-22) and No. 5 Marian (Ind.) (29-21) advances to the 10-team NAIA World Series May 26-June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Grenadiers are slated to play Tennessee Wesleyan in Game 2 Monday afternoon. Kingsport is where IUS used to go for their conference tournament. Upon arriving Saturday night, they learned that former Grenadier Shane Weedman had pitched a no-hitter for the Evansville Otters of the independent professional Frontier League.

Other Indiana schools in the Opening Round are Huntington and Indiana Tech.

After losing seven starters from 2016, IU Southeast reloaded in 2017.

“It’s definitely been a year to remember,” says IUS head coach Ben Reel. “This team has been very competitive. When they show up everyday, they work.”

With Opening Round appearances in 2010 and 2011 as Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference conference champions and at-large berths in the KIAC and new River States Conference the past two springs, the Grenadiers have established a respected program.

It’s been a progression that’s taken time to achieve.

When Reel took over as head coach for the 2009 season at age 24 (he followed Joe Decker, who decided to go back to Silver Creek High School), the coaching staff was paid with stipends.

“We were like starving artists,” says Reel. “And nobody knew where we were.”

For the record, the school is in New Albany, just across the Ohio River from downtown Louisville.

“We had to crawl before we could walk and walk before we could jog,” says Reel, now 33 and still one of the younger head coaches in college baseball. “We’re starting to run a little bit. We’re starting to get some momentum and it’s taken a decade.”

Reel, who played at South Dearborn High School in Aurora and Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College before transferring to IU Southeast, led his first team to a 32-24 mark and saw the Grenadiers turn the corner in 2010.

That’s the year IUS went 39-20 (setting a school record for wins), NAIA second team All-American Kyle Lenn smacked 24 home runs and the program produced its first Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selection — Cameron Conner to the Kansas City Royals in the 20th round.

“Once that happened, everything started rolling,” says Reel. “That’s what put us on the map in our region.”

With IU Southeast, the University of Louisville (NCAA Division I), Bellarmine University (D-II) and Spalding University (D-III) all within 10 miles of each other, teams are competing for talent.

“You have to be very competitive,” says Reel, who looks at a roster with 15 players with Indiana hometowns and five from Kentucky. “But once prove you can mentor and develop players, you’ll start getting some better athletes.”

That’s not easy when you only have one scholarship to offer (11 below the NAIA limit).

“That puts us in bottom 10 percent out of the 198 (NAIA) teams in the country,” says Reel. “We take a lot of kids who are raw and help them find a niche.

“We get a lot of guys here who want to be coached. Myself and my staff do a lot of player development. We coach the heck out of them.”

Andrew Stanley, a high school teammate of Reel’s, has been with him since the beginning. The young coaching staff also features Jarret Young (second season), Brian Coffman (first season) and student assistants Justin Franz (fourth season) and Logan Coughlin (first season).

“We roll up our sleeves and get in (the batting cage) with them,” says Reel, who considers his communication skills (he’s talk to just about anyone for hours) and practicality as strengths. “That’s how I was raised. I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m going to show you what to do. That’s what we believe as a staff.

“We go the extra mile. Our biggest selling point is these kids will be coached.”

Reel grew up on a farm near Prairie Creek in Vigo County, spent his middle school years in West Virginia then came back to Indiana and landed at South Dearborn.

With the Knights, he was a catcher for head coach Jay Malott.

“He was a fierce competitor,” says Reel of the former Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis coach. “He was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever good enough. We were never done practicing. We were just relentless. I learned that sense of dedication in high school.”

At Cleveland State, Reel played for Mike Policastro.

“Coach Poli taught me a sense of professional,” says Reel. “He was very calm and very businesslike. He was organized and concise. He would be very honest and open with you about what you needed to do to get to the next level and be a man.”

Reel saw coaching in his future and behind the plate — where he did not make a an error as a sophomore (matching the feat of his senior high school season) — helped prepare him for the profession.

“As a catcher, you’ve got to get to know all these pitchers,” says Reel. “You get to know a bunch of strangers at the collegiate level.”

Relationships have always been important to Reel. One of his best friends — who he met through coaching — is Tennessee Wesleyan assistant Brad Neffendorf (they were in each other’s weddings).

“This game has some of the best people that Planet Earth has to offer,” says Reel. “They just truly love the sport and the people in it.

“That’s the most memorable part of doing this, it’s the people that you meet.”

Reel notes three major things IUS has going for its in community support, education and location.

“We fundraise $50,000 a year,” says Reel. “I takes $70,000 year to run a college baseball program. Our budget is $33,000. You have to have synergy to do that.

“We’re offering an IU degree. We have a tutor on the bus. It’s a big time education.”

Being so close to Louisville is very helpful. There’s so much to do there and there is easy access to an international airport.

BENREEL

At 33, Ben Reel is in his ninth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University Southeast. He has the Grenadiers in the NAIA Opening Round for the fourth time in 2017. (IU Southeast Photo)

Getting the most out of players is ultimate goal of Carmel’s Buczkowski

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Buczkowski was in elementary school when he learned how to make out a baseball lineup.

Though he might not have known it at the time, the seeds were being planted for young Matt to follow his father into teaching and coaching.

Len Buczkowski coached 29 seasons at South Bend Adams High School and was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1991 (Matt’s junior year at Adams) and passed away in 2013.

As a teenager, Matt had all kinds of ideas about what he would do with his life. Coaching was not necessarily on that list.

But after playing at Butler University and a brief professional career (he played one season in the Philadelphia Phillies organization where he was briefly a roommate of two-sport standout Ricky Williams and one season with the independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters), Matt heard the coaching profession calling his name.

His first job was at Butler. He was a Bulldogs assistant for one season on the staff of Steve Farley.

Then there was a three-year stint as an assistant to Jim Schmitz at Eastern Illinois University.

Matt and wife Jennifer then moved to Colorado and he started coaching high school players. There was a two-year hitch as an assistant at Mesa Ridge and nine seasons as head coach at Fountain Fort Carson.

Buczkowski returned to central Indiana and served four seasons as head coach at Lawrence Central. Last summer, he was hired to be head coach at Carmel.

“All the places I’ve been I just continued to get better at the coaching craft,” says Buczkowski, 43. “It’s just who I am. It’s ingrained in my blood and my make-up. It’s how I go about my day as a teacher, husband and a father.”

As his experience has grown, his coaching style has evolved.

“When I first started out, I was a pretty strict disciplinarian,” says Buczkowski. “I took over a program that was 2-17 the year before. I had to change to culture of losing. I had to find out who wanted to play baseball and who just wanted to wear the uniform.”

When Matt took his new position, the Buczkowskis already lived in Carmel (Jennifer is a second grade teacher at Towne Meadow Elementary; brother Steve Buczkowski also resides in the district).

Matt knew about the community’s recreation and travel teams in the Carmel Dads Club as well as the work ethic and zest for success already in place. With the Greyhounds, he inherits a team from Dan Roman that has 15 seniors and is used to winning.

“These guys work hard,” says Buczkowski. “They give me a good effort on a daily basis. For the most part, they are mentally and physically tough. When you get that mix together it usually breeds success.

“Ultimately, my goal is to get the most out of my players.”

Buczkowski has learned that motivating young athletes is not “one size fits all” with all the different personalities on the squad.

“It’s about getting to know these guys and knowing which buttons to push,” says Buczkowski. “The longer I coach, I find it’s not just what you say but how they perceive how you’re saying it.”

The 2017 season will open with Carmel ranked No. 1 in Class 4A. Buczkowski, his staff of varsity assistants John Zangrilli (former head coach at Brebeuf and Zionsville) and Brent Berglund, junior varsity coaches Eric Lentz (former head coach at Westfield and Carmel) and Greg Stiller and freshmen coaches Aaron Hahn and Sean Duty are anxious to compete in the strong Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (other members are Ben DavIs, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central (Indianapolis), Pike and Warren Central) and a loaded Westfield Sectional (which also includes Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis North Central and Westfield).

“We’re going hunting and we have some pretty good artillery,” says Buczowski of his talented Hounds. “We’re not hunting with slingshots.

“There’s definitely high expectations at Carmel.”

The program has won 13 sectionals (the last in 2016), five regionals and made two State Finals appearances, finishing as runner-up in 1997.

Something that’s different for Matt or brother Mike (who coached baseball briefly at Caston High School) from when their father or other South Bend coaching legends Jim Reinebold and Ric Tomaszewski were leading programs is all the organized year-round training. Most players have travel coaches and take private hitting or pitching lessons from instructors in addition to being taught by their high school coaches.

“We’re more a part of the process,” says Buczkowski. “Our job is important, but it’s not just one voice they’re hearing anymore.”

Buczkowski sees elite travel organizations like the Indiana Bulls providing exposure and training opportunities that high school coaches just can’t mimic.

“We want our guys playing (in the summer),” says Buczkowski. “That’s the most important thing for their development.

“Indiana baseball is in a really good place. There are really good players. It has a lot to do with the travel piece. Grand Park (in Westfield) has had a tremendous part in that.”

MATTBUCZKOWSKI

Matt Buczkowski enters his first season as Carmel High School head baseball coach in 2017.

HSE, Henson looking to play the best to prepare for the postseason

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Take a look at the 2017 Hamilton Southeastern High School baseball schedule.

With 18 games in the always ultra-competitive Hoosier Crossroads Conference (three-game series vs. Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville), non-conference games against perennial powers like Brebeuf, Carmel and Roncalli and out-of-state encounters against Louisville (Ky.) Ballard, Louisville (Ky.) Trinity and Metamora Township (Ill.), there are no breathers for the Royals.

And that’s the way fifth-year head coach Scott Henson and the HSE diamond community want it. A stacked regular season can only help come postseason.

“(Our players) truly believe they’re more prepared for the sectional than any other team in the state,” says Henson. “You have to be prepared or else you’re going to be taking an early exit.”

As is Henson’s habit, he is taking his Fishers-based team for an early-season test when the Royals play April 6-8 in the Super Prep Series in the Louisville area (HSE was there two years ago and was rained out at Cincinnati Moeller in 2016 when both teams were atop their respective state polls).

Ballard features All-American outfielder/right-hander pitcher Jordon Adell who may be drafted this spring before ever stepping on the field for the University of Louisville. HSE junior left-hander Carter Lohman has committed to U of L.

“This gives us a measuring stick early in the season,” says Henson. “We also get to stay in a hotel and have some team bonding.”

Henson says he wishes the IHSAA would back off its travel rules which limit teams from going more than 300 miles from the border or playing any teams outside that radius.

“We’ve talked to the Louisville organizers,” says Henson. “We can’t play certain teams.”

This spring will mark the third season of a conference format that more closely reflects a college-like schedule and many HSE players do have aspirations of playing college baseball.

“That three-game series is pushing us to the next level,” says Henson, noting that the HCC has been represented in the Class 4A IHSAA State Finals two of the last three seasons (Noblesville winning in 2014 and Zionsville finishing as runner-up in 2016). “We think we’re the best baseball conference in the state.”

While they want to beat each other between the lines, the coaches in the HCC are also friendly and are known to get together for gatherings or seek each other out at clinics.

Henson says the three-game series forces teams to develop pitching (there were 17 NCAA Division I pitchers in the conference in 2016) and really think about strategy.

“You’re getting a better sense who is the best overall team,” says Henson. “That’s the nature of baseball. You’ve got to do it more than just one night. That’s why the World Series is seven games. They want to see who the best team is over time.”

Entering his 15th season as a high school baseball coach, Henson spent two seasons as head JV coach at HSE before taking over the top spot. Before that, he was the hitting coach for four years at Northern Nash High School in Rocky Mount, N.C., after leaving coaching and going into the business world.

Henson was an assistant for four seasons (1995-98) at his alma mater, Pendleton Heights, where he worked for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt.

“Coach Stoudt had a pretty big influence on my life,” says Henson, who played baseball and football for the man at Pendleton and graduated in 1991 before going on to play college baseball at the University of Indianapolis and IUPUI and one season of pro ball with the independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters. “It seems he was always in my ear.”

Henson just went through cuts at HSE and usually gets a call every year from Stoudt telling him how this time of the year is both the greatest and the worst.

“I’ve got to tell these kids they don’t get to come and play ball anymore,” says Henson. “It’s tough sometimes.”

At a school of 3,200 students, Henson had 97 try out for 50 spots his first season. Since then, he’s had to cut 25 to 30 players each spring.

“I start preparing the guys for this back in October or November,” says Henson. “I tell them, I’d like to keep all of you. You have a passion for the game.’”

The reality is there are only so many spots.

Henson has seen some players cut once or twice and come back and make the squad.

Through it all, there’s a lesson.

“You are going to go through life with things that are tough,” says Henson. “If you get knocked down, you’ve got to get back up and make the best of situations. You rely on your teammates and buddies to put you in a good spot.”

The emphasis at HSE is daily improvement. A coaching staff that includes Kory Seitz, Ken Seitz, Curry Harden, Jeff Mendenhall, Tyler Underwood, Seth Story, Jake Straub, Seth Paladin and Matt Nash reinforces that mantra with varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

“We want to get better everyday,” says Henson. “Work to be your best when you need to be your best.”

The Royals have won 14 sectionals and all of them are represented on the current staff. In their tenures as HSE head coach, IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Seitz claimed nine sectionals, Harden took three and Henson has two (2013, 2015).

Henson has a few other ideas about how to make Indiana high school baseball better.

“I’d love to see us have access to the kids a little more,” says Henson. “Right now, there are periods when we can only work with two kids at a time per coach. There’s a reason travel baseball is becoming more and more important. (Those coaches) have unlimited access.

“I understand the idea behind the rule, but it’s antiquated. We’re missing opportunities.

Henson says the experience could be a little bit better.

“Seeding the tournament would go a long ways,” says Henson. “And we get too caught up in making things geographically feasible.”

If getting the best competition means traveling a few hours, so be it. That’s what it was like in North Carolina, where they do not have an all-comers postseason like Indiana and play a best-of-three championship series.

It’s all about making baseball better.

SCOTTHENSON

Scott Henson is entering his fifth season as head baseball coach at Hamilton Southeastern High School in 2017.