Tag Archives: Gary SouthShore RailCats

While pursuing his own baseball goals, Coursel helps others with theirs

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Robbie Coursel has learned a few things on his baseball journey and he’s sharing those lessons with others.
Born in Michigan City, Ind., Coursel is a right-handed pitcher who has played at the college and professional levels.
Through his business – Robbie Coursel Baseball — he provides instruction and helps players go after their goals.
Coursel played three baseball seasons at Michigan City High School for Wolves head coach David Ortiz and campaigns for football head coach Craig Buzea and finished his diamond prep career at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., graduating in 2012.
His head coach with the Vikings was Rob Stanifer, who pitched for the 1997-98 Florida Marlins and 2000 Boston Red Sox.
In October of his senior year, Coursel was given the opportunity to move to Florida with longtime scout and roving instructor Ralph Bufano, who has worked with Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and many others.
“He saw that I had a strong arm and was a good athlete and that I had the chance to play pro ball,” says Coursel of Bufano. “He changed the trajectory of my whole life.
“Getting into player development has given me a greater reach than playing alone. I’m able to serve others. As a player I can entertain others and profit myself like Ralph impacted myself.
“They carve a path for themselves using baseball as a vehicle. (Helping others is) where my passion is. The more I’m able to learn from my abilities, the more I’m able to teach. I love what I do.”
Moving away from loved ones at 17 was not easy.
“I did not know anybody, but I met people through the game,” says Coursel, who is now 27 (he turns 28 in December). “It was definitely challenging. But they had courage to let me go.”
Coursel impressed enough at Northeast High to land a scholarship with St. Petersburg College and played two seasons for the Clearwater-based Titans, head coach Ryan Beckman and pitching coach T.J. Large, who hurled in the Red Sox and is now in player development for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“(SPC) has such a history of producing professional players,” says Coursel, who lived with Bufano during his first year in Florida.
After his junior college experience, Coursel moved on to NCAA Division I Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
John McCormack was — and still is — the Owls head coach. Pitching coach Jason Jackson is now at the University of Alabama.
“I loved playing for him,” says Coursel of McCormack. “I still stay in-touch with him to this day.”
During Coursel’s time there, FAU was ranked as high as No. 8 in the country and had six players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft both seasons.
Coursel was taken in the 26th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and went to the Appalachian League that summer followed by fall instructional league where he got to compete with players from all levels.
The righty spent two seasons in the Pirates system then signed with the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and pitched for a team he rooted for when he was young. He was with the Greg Tagert-managed club 2018, 2019 and 2021. There was no AA season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Coursel was released by the RailCats in July, he is hopeful to earn a chance to toe the rubber for Gary in 2022 and — perhaps — make his way back to an MLB organization.
He has nothing but praise for longtime baseball man Tagert.
“He is very intelligent, very hard-working, very professional,” says Coursel. “He knows what it takes to win. He believes in his methods to accomplishing that. I’m behind him 100 percent.
“I respect that wisdom and Baseball I.Q.”
Coursel addresses what he perceives as the differences between indy and affiliated pro ball.
“The players are more refined in the American Association,” says Coursel. “Most of these guys are fully-developed. They’re more experienced.
“But it’s ‘perform now.’ They want to win.
“(Affiliated ball) has raw talent and younger players and is very developmental-based.”
Both brands of baseball seek folks who bring more than just ball-playing abilities.
“They have players who are so valuable that they want good people around them — high-character individuals. That alone — along with ability — can get you a career in independent ball.
“Ability is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s not the main thing we focus on (at Robbie Coursel Baseball). It’s championship mentality in everything you apply yourself to. You can be successful in whatever they put their mind to.”
Coursel conducts his lessons at various locations around northwest Indiana. A training facility with indoor and outdoor areas is in the works. He has several places around the country to see what he wants for his place. He is also looking for instructors with hitting, pitching and strength training knowledge to add to his staff.
Robbie and high school sweetheart were married a little over a year ago in Florida and welcomed daughter Layla into the world Oct. 28.

Robbie Coursel.
Robbie Coursel.
Benea & Layla Coursel.

Fishers, Indiana Wesleyan alum Davis comes back to baseball as a coach

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Brice Davis got the call that led him into professional baseball he was busy on the field.
Davis was coaching third base for Indiana Wesleyan University in a doubleheader when the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers manager Jamie Bennett, who pitched of the DuBois County (Ind.) Dragons and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats coached with the RailCats, and outgoing hitting coach Derek Shomon reached out about filling Shomon’s spot since he had taken a coaching job in the Minnesota Twins organization.
“They wanted to see if I’d get rattled,” says Davis of the timing. “It was a twisted joke.”
But Davis impressed and after the twin bill received text messages and got a good review. The next thing he knew he is joining the Boomers for spring training and after that came a 96-game regular season and the fourth league championship in franchise history.
“It was whirlwind,” says Davis of the 2021 baseball season began in early February with Indiana Wesleyan in Lakeland, Fla., and ending in late September with Schaumburg in Washington, Pa. “It was an incredible year and an incredible ride.
“It was a really special group (at IWU). To be leaving them at that time was incredibly tough. I’m in awe that we got to share all those runs together.”
Indiana Wesleyan wound up 2021 at 44-14, Crossroads League regular-season and tournament champions and an NAIA Opening Round host.
Davis, a four-year starter at IWU and a 2013 graduate with a Sports Management degree, spent three seasons on the staff of Wildcats head coach Rich Benjamin (2019-21).
“He’s a huge offensive mind and about hitting for power,” says Davis of Benjamin, who was an assistant at Fishers (Ind.) High School before moving on. “I saw it as an opportunity.
“I wanted to see if I could hack it at the college level.”
Davis first became a hitting instructor in 2009 (his training business is Davis Baseball LLC). But it was a big transition to working with professional hitters in 2021.
“You’re helping prepare guys to be successful (in pro ball),” says Davis. “At the college level, you’re doing a lot of development. They’re making strides every single month to be the best versions of themselves and trying to stay locked in.
“Guys at the professional level are already pretty talented. They want to take their skill level and apply it against a pitching staff (or individual). In both arenas the goal is to simplify life. You pick out an approach that is going to breed results and success.”
The difference between high school and college and pro baseball is that the pros play everyday with much more travel and they don’t have as much time to work on their craft.
“Learning how to hit when you’re only 80 percent or getting your two knocks comes in a lot of ways,” says Davis. “I was amazed how many guys played hurt.”
How a player felt on any given day is how they prepared for that day’s game. That might mean more batting practice or less.
“You can’t treat everyday like Opening Day,” says Davis. “It just doesn’t work like that.”
Since Schaumburg is an independent league team, scouting is done differently. Major League-affiliated clubs have access to plenty of stored data on opponents.
The only resource available to the Boomers staff was Frontier League TV (2021 was the first year that all league clubs broadcast games). Coaches and players spent a lot of time looking at video to find tendencies.
The Evansville Otters were the only team who put pitching velocity on the screen during their broadcasts, leaving Schaumburg to study those videos when teams took on Evansville.
In the league championship series against the Washington Wild Things, the staff was at a disadvantage. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boomers had not played anyone on Washington’s side of the league during the regular season. Also, there was no radar gun reading available at Wild Things Park.
“It was all hearsay. You had no more information than in a non-conference high school baseball game. It was ‘see it and hit it, boys!’
It was absolute gauntlet level from our staff and our players. It’s not copy-paste-print like it is at some of the other levels. It’s not like high school baseball where you can trade tapes.
“It was a big learning curve.”
Davis notes that the Frontier League is now partnered with Major League Baseball so maybe things will change for the better.
Not all pro players take to information the same way.
“This guy wants to know velo and out pitch and this guy wants to know as much as possible,” says Davis. “Other guys don’t want to know anything and just play the game.”
And if a pro hitter doesn’t want info, it’s not up to the coach to shove it down his throat.
“You have respect for what they’re trying to do,” says Davis.
While Schaumburg players hail from all over the country, there are also a number with ties to the area, including former Indiana Wesleyan pitcher Isaiah Rivera from Des Plaines, Ill.
“There are a lot of college players in the region,” says Davis. “You don’t want to miss on anything in your back yard. Chicago is a cool city with a lot of great athletes in it.”
Davis says many have the misconception that independent ball is full of 27-year-old has-beens. But a good deal have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and spent time in the affiliated minors.
The Frontier League is unique because it puts players into Rookie, Experienced and Veteran eligibility classifications and there is a cap on veterans (those turning 29 by Oct. 1). Teams can also make just 30 transaction moves per season.
“The world of independent baseball is fascinating,” says Davis.
Another thing about 2021 in much of independent ball is that there was no season in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“They’re learning how to play baseball again and getting their timing back,” says Davis. “It’s like they’ve been waiting for the prom for two years.
“It was about managing emotions, telling them to enjoy the moment and don’t overthink it.”
There was a time when Davis didn’t want to think about baseball. It stung too much when his playing career was over and he did not watch a game for two years.
Brice’s father was a high school boys basketball coach for many years. Hagerstown, Ind., native Jerry Davis was a head coach at Triton Central and Wawasee and an assistant at Marion and Hamilton Southeastern. He came back to Indiana from Dallas, where Brice was born, to teach math and coach hoops.
“I grew up in the gym,” says Brice. “My safe place to process life was listening to bouncing balls. That’s a sanctuary few people understand.”
Davis, who did not play high school basketball to focus on baseball opportunities, joined the Hamilton Southeastern hardwood staff of Brian Satterfield and coached freshmen for two seasons.
“Climbing up the hard way in basketball appealed to me,” says Davis. “Going to clinics and studying tape was a journey in itself.”
Then came the call back to baseball and he answered it.
“I’m in a better head space when I’m going to the field,” says Davis, who received words of encouragement that still resonate with him.
Brian Abbott, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director and a former IWU assistant, approached Davis at the IHSBCA State Clinic when the latter was on Matt Cherry’s Fishers Tigers staff.
“He was one of the first people who told me I needed to be in coaching,” says Davis of Abbott, the IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s because of kids like myself. He said, ‘you belong in this industry. You might be the only person who gets to tell a kid that day that they matter.
“You have a purpose to connect with kids.”
Davis has taken that connection to heart.
“I love teaching the game,” says Davis. “I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of good can be done by powerful teaching and coaching.
“It’s a great profession.”
Davis, who was part of Fishers’ first graduating class in 2008, was reunited with Cherry for three seasons (2016-18) as an assistant coach. The 2018 team made an IHSAA Class 4A state title run.
“He’s single-most influential person in my life besides my dad since I was 15,” says Davis of Cherry. “He knows there’s more to people than baseball. He’s transformational.”
Cherry, who had coached Davis prior to the 2016 season he needed a freshman coach. Davis accepted the invitation.
“I’ll be darned if I wasn’t completely consumed,” says Davis. “I told (Cherry) the next year I want to be a varsity coach. I want to be with the older kids. I want to dive in and see where it could go.”
In 2017 and 2018, Davis was Fishers’ hitting coach. The latter team set 21 school records.
“We had all the fun in the world,” says Davis.
Now 32 and living in Wheeling, Ill., Davis is teaching at area facilities, including Parkway Bank Sports Complex aka The Dome in Rosemont, Ill., and East Sports Academy in Itaska, Ill., and helping at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Owls head coach Bill Fratto is also an assistant/first base coach for the Boomers.
Through it all, Davis has developed a fraternity of brothers at each baseball stage and keeps in-touch with people on his high school, college and pro path. Kris Holtzleiter, the new Eastbrook High School head coach, played and coached with close friend Davis at IWU.
“Every season has a story whether it’s good or bad,” says Davis. “You must make the most of the moment you’re in.
“It’s not about the championships or the trophies.”
It’s the people.

Brice Davis.
Jerry Davis and Brice Davis.
Brice Davis with mother Jerry and mother Paige.
Brice Davis and M.J. Stavola.
Bill Fratto and Brice Davis.
Young Schaumburg (Ind.) Boomers fan and Brice Davis.
Former Indiana Wesleyan University players Isaiah Rivera and Brice Davis a player and coach with the Schaumburg Boomers.

An infielder much of his life, Dawson roams Schaumburg Boomers outfield

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chase Dawson was an elementary school student the last time he was a regular in the outfield.
At that time he was with the Zuni’s House of Pizza, a travel team that went 44-4 during Dawson’s 8U and 9U travel ball seasons and played in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series.
Now 24, Dawson is back in the outfield for the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers in his second professional baseball season. He’s been mostly in center field or left field during the team’s first 35 games in 2021.
“It’s been a fun little transition,” says Dawson, a 5-foot-9, 185-pounder. “Going into the 2020 season (Boomers manager) Jamie (Bennett) said to be ready for it so I trained my arm a little more.
“I did well the first couple of days of spring training and we brought in some pretty good infielders. Jamie trusted me that I’m athletic enough to make the switch.
“It might sound goofy but one of my best qualities as an athlete is my athleticism. I can do just about anything in any sport.”
Dawson played four years of baseball (two varsity), three years as a soccer midfielder and one as a football defensive back and kicker at Andean High School in Merrillville, Ind., where he graduated in 2015.
A lefty batter and righty thrower, Dawson was the starting second baseman for the Dave Pishkur-coached 59ers’ back-to-back IHSAA Class 3A state champions in 2014 and 2015 (he batted second and scored a run in a 6-0 win against Gibson Southern in ’14 and led off and went 2-of-3 with a triple and tallied the first run in a 2-1 triumph against Jasper in ’15) and was a second sacker the majority of the time in his four seasons at Valparaiso (Ind.) University (2016-19), playing for head coach Brian Schmack.
Dawson says Pishkur has a knack of teaching the fundamentals and getting talented to players to reach their potential.
“It seemed like he out-coached any team we ever played,” says Dawson of Pishkur. “He was definitely hard on us and it stunk at the time, but it’s starting to add up for him.”
Pishkur has more than 1,000 career victories, seven state titles and currently has former players Sean Manaea and Mike Brousseau in the big leagues.
Schmack’s lessons about leadership and tenacity stuck with Dawson, who earned a Business Management degree at Valpo U., in 2019.
“He’s such a good role model,” says Dawson of Schmack. “He brought a lot out of me in my four years.
“He made mentally-tougher player.”
Dawson played in 199 games (152 starts) at VU, hitting .276 (199-of-722) with seven home runs, 13 triples, 30 doubles, 88 runs batted in, 145 runs scored and 28 stolen bases in 37 attempts.
He was named to the Horizon League all-tournament and all-freshman team in 2016 and was all-Missouri Valley Conference second team in 2019.
The summer of 2018 was spent with the Coastal Plain League’s Martinsville (Va.) Mustangs, where he hit .395 and was all named all-CPL first team and the CPL select team that competed against the USA Collegiate National Team in a midseason all-star game.
In 13 contests with the 2019 Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, Dawson’s primary position again was second base.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the RailCats in 2019 and Dawson did not play.
“I shut down baseball activities for five or six months,” says Dawson. “It was a good decision. I came back twice as eager.
“I’ve tried to find positives out of the situation.”
Pat and Lindy Salvi own both the Gary and Schaumburg franchises and RailCats manager Greg Tagert and Schaumburg skipper Bennett are good friends (Bennett pitched for Tagert with the Dubois County Dragons and the RailCats and was Tagert’s pitching coach at Gary). Dawson landed with the Boomers.
“It’s been a very good fit,” says Dawson, who has come to appreciate Bennett’s approach. “He’s very easy to play for because of how relaxed he is.
“He’s very positive and a go-get-the-next-one type of guy.”
Dawson was born in Munster, Ind., and moved to Chesterton, Ind., at a young age. He attended St. Thomas More School in Munster for Grades K-8 then entered Andrean.
Dave Griffin’s Indiana Playmakers were Dawson’s travel team from 10U until high school when he went to Shane Brogan’s Midwest Irish.
Chase is the son of Rick Dawson and Tonia Michalski.
“My dad’s my biggest idol,” says Dawson. “He works his butt off so I can play baseball.
“My little brothers (Kingston, 10, and Maverick, 6) mean more than anything to me. It’s fun to hang out and teach them baseball and basketball.”

Chase Dawson (Valparaiso University Photo)
Chase Dawson runs the bases for the 2021 Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers. (Tom Anson Photo)

Dix ‘walks in his purpose’ with Region Legion Expos, Calumet New Tech

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ray Dix III is using baseball and education to help youngsters in northwest Indiana.
A 2001 Merrillville High School graduate and former East Chicago American Legion Post 369 player, Dix guides to diamond programs for the Region Legion Expos (E.C. Post 369/Lake Station Post 100) and Calumet New Tech High School in Gary.
“Post 369 is near and dear to my heart,” says Dix. “Bob Castillo, (father) Alonzo Olvera and (son) Juan Olvera kept it going for a long time.”
Dix expresses his gratitude to the late Joe Kusiak.
“My organization does not exist without Joe,” says Dix of the man who died in 2019. “He made it his personal mission to make sure some inner city kids got the same opportunities as suburban kids.”
The Region Legion Expos are a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. Each player is charged $200, but can sell $1 raffle tickets throughout the season to off-set the cost.
“We don’t turn kids away because of money,” says Dix. “I accept anything they come up with.”
Dix notes that there was an Chamber of Commerce event with Gary native and former big leaguer and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins.
Initiatives by the Gary SouthShore RailCats, Home Field Advantage and MLB’s Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities (RBI) were gaining traction before the pandemic.
The Region Legion Expos are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Each player is charged $200, but can sell $1 raffle tickets throughout the season to off-set the cost.
“We don’t turn kids away because of money,” says Dix. “I accept anything they come up with.”
The 2021 season marks the fifth for the Region Legion Expos and there are senior (19U) and junior (17U) squads. While recent rains have taken games away, both teams scheduled around 20 regular-season games.
Most senior games have been played at the Kenny Lofton Baseball Complex in East Chicago with junior games at the former Lake Station Little League.
In the future, Dix expects that the Region Legion Expos will play home games at Calumet New Tech (the field was built on the campus just a few years ago) and renovated E.J. Block Stadium in East Chicago. Tim Stoddard played for Post 369 and East Chicago Washington High School (later consolidated into East Chicago Central) at Block on his way to the majors.
RLE are in the Michiana League along with Bristol Post 143, Highland Post 80, South Bend Post 151 and Valparaiso Post 94 in Indiana, Stevensville Post 568 and Three Oaks Post 204 in Michigan and Palos Park Post 1993 in Illinois.
“We hope to grow the league,” says Dix, who is assisted by East Chicago Central High School head coach Jimmy Flores. “We stay away from days that Babe Ruth games are scheduled to give kids more chances to play baseball.”
The plan is for league coaches to meet this fall to map out an even larger schedule for next season.
“We hope to get more Legion teams,” says Dix. “We’re growing every year. We have more junior teams.
“When I played 20 years ago almost everybody had a Legion team. It’s great competition. We don’t see a bad team all summer. Nobody’s bad. That’s what I love about it.”
The 2021 junior sectional (Post 369/100 Region Legion Expos, Post 100 Region Riptide, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 Blaze and Valparaiso Post 94) is scheduled for July 8-11 at Hobart.
The senior sectional (Post 369/100 Region Legion Expos, Highland Post 80, South Haven Post 502 Blaze and Valparaiso Post 94) is slated for July 15-18 at Highland.
While the COVID-19 pandemic took away what was going to be Dix’s first season at Calumet in the spring of 2020, the Legion team had an abbreviated season without a state tournament last summer.
“We were wiping down everything,” says Dix. “We had no (COVID) cases.”
The ’21 Calumet New Tech Warriors had 15 players on the roster. Dix was assisted by former Gary Roosevelt and Bowman Academy head coach Kevin Bradley (who had Dix as an assistant at Bowman) plus Daniel Wendrickx and scorekeeper Steve Heck.
This week after the Region Legion Expos played Palos Heights the two sides went through an actual handshake line — something not allowed during the high school season in the spring though teams tipped their caps at the end of games.
“I didn’t know how much I missed the handshake line,” says Dix. “We show each other respect for what you just went through.
“Even at the MLB level, guys shake hands with (their teammates).”
The Region Legion Expos have sent Gary West graduates Antonio Reed (Clark Atlanta University) and Zamare Vincent (Calumet College of Saint Joseph), Merrillville alums Thomas Butler (Ancilla College and University of Indianapolis), Darius Kendall (Purdue University Northwest) and Thomas Smith (Bethel University) and Portage grads Shayne Devine (Trine University) and Kody McGuire (Goshen College) on to college baseball while Christian Ayala (Hammond Bishop Noll) and Dylan Coty (Merrillville baseball and basketball) have received offers.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have some talented players,” says Dix, who has watched others stay out of trouble, go on to trade schools and become productive citizens.
Dix, son of former Gary and current Fort Wayne minister Ray Dix Jr., and retired secretary Jewel Cody and grandson of former steelworker and court bailiff Ray Dix Sr., makes sure players are making their grades and get SAT preparation assistance.
He is three semesters from his education degree, which he will likely complete at Purdue University Northwest.
“If I get to teach high school and coach baseball I will not work for the rest of my life,” says Dix. “I will be walking in my purpose and be forever grateful.”
Dix says area youth coaches and organizers at all levels try to stick to together for the good of the kids.
“The goal to always have a safe space,” says Dix. “We all see the writing on the wall.
“We don’t want to see it die.”
It’s people like Bentley Ellis at Glenn Park Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken in Gary and Tracy Brough, president of Calumet Region Little League, which in 2021 included Duneland Park, Lake Station and Roosevelt Park and had about 150 players at all ages. Bradley, Ellis and Brough are on the CRLL board.
“We’re a feeder group for American Legion ball,” says Brough. “Players age out of Little League (4 to 16) and can keep playing.”
During the offseason, a group called the Gary United Baseball Collaborative was formed to meet in the offseason and discuss options for area youth.
“We see how can we increase the opportunities for kids with their skill levels, training and experiences,” says Brough. “We cross-post (on social media) and communicate in the offseason so (players and their families) know what’s going on.”
At Merrillville High, Dix played two seasons for Fenton Macke and two for Zac Wells.
“Other than with Coach Castillo, I have not learned more on the mental side of baseball than I did in the few conversations I had with Coach Macke,” says Dix. “He had an amazing way of getting young people to think the game. This is how you stay in the lineup.
“That is what you want once you get to the high school level and beyond. You find your niche and work it and that trickles to life. That stuck with me as a 14-year-old kid.”
Dix admires Macke and current Washington Township head baseball coach Randy Roberts — men who know what its like to each at the middle school level and coach high schoolers.
“If you have them from sixth grade on, they already know what you want (in high school),” says Dix, who plans add a middle school baseball at Calumet in the fall. “They know the style.
“Everything is about relationship-building.”
Wells, who also coached Ray’s little brother Rahdric Dix (Merrillville Class of 2007 who went on to play at Butler University and the University of Southern Indiana), was a three-sport start for the Pirates who had the ability to break down the intricacies of an athletic task.
“Absolute tactician,” says Dix of Wells. “He had that Innate ability to show you the technical part of the game.
“I use his hitting methods to this day.”
Rahdric was Ray III’s first trainee and he’s had many since. Dix indicates that he would like to eventually be able to direct a program that includes players as young as 8.
“It’s about being able to create uniformity and consistency,” says Dix.

Ray Dix III (left) celebrates a Region Legion championship with his team.
Ray Dix III, Gary Chamber of Commerce president Chuck Hughes and former big league pitcher LaTroy Hawkins appear at a Chamber event prior to Gary native Hawkins being inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Baseball organizers in northwest Indiana collaborate as evidenced by Calumet Area Little League president Tracy Brough (left) and Region Legion Expos manager and Calumet New Tech High School head coach Ray Dix III.
Ray Dix III at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind., home of the indepedent pro baseball Gary SouthShore RailCats. He is the manager of the Region Legion Expos and head coach at Calumet New Tech High School.

Crossroads Baseball Series helps talent connect with next level programs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connecting baseball players who wish to play at the next level with coaches seeking talent is something that the Crossroads Baseball Series has been doing for more than a decade.

Started in 2008 by former Indiana University and professional infielder Eric Blakeley as an outgrowth of his Diamond Kings training business in northwest Indiana, CBS has grown to include showcases, tournaments and fall leagues in numerous states.

Blakeley ran Diamond Kings — former Griffith (Ind.) High School and Tulane University standout and current Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Kody Hoese was one of his early pupils — for about a decade. 

Crossroads Baseball Series began as a way for “Region” area players to have exposure events without traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago. 

The first CBS event held at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard include future big league pitcher Sean Manaea. Blakeley notes that 85 of the 87 players involved went on to play college baseball.

At Crossroads Baseball Series showcases, players work out in front of college coaches and play in prospect games against top recommended players.

There are 17 tournaments on the 2021 calendar with events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Many of these are for 14U to 18U players.

“We’re on the verge of growing our tournament space,” says Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series. “There’s a high demand for quality tournaments that don’t cost $2,000. We try to stay around $1,000 price point.”

Blakeley says college coaches can get on an RSVP list and attend events and receive information from them.

Rosters are collected and each player fills out an information form. Coaches have full access to this for free.

CBS provides social media coverage for recruiters and players’ families to share.

“We pride ourselves on educating the families,” says Blakeley. “We can get your names out there.

“The players have to do their research and count the schools that match (their choices).”

What Crossroads Baseball Series does, according to Blakeley, makes it easier for players to communicate with college coaches and do their research.

Blakeley emphasizes that college coaches will know if a player has done his homework on his program. 

It is even more important now that the competition for roster spots has become even more fierce with many players staying in college baseball longer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the smaller MLB Draft.

“It’s become a lot more competitive to get into these schools — academically and athletically,” says Blakeley.

The words of former Indiana University and current Arizona State University head coach Tracy Smith ring true with Blakeley.

“If you want to play college baseball, there’s a place for you,” says Blakeley. “You just need to do your research and go to camps.”

Travis Keesling, former head coach at Pendleton Heights High School, is Vice President of Baseball Operations for CBS after starting out as a coach selecting players for a showcase.

“Travis has a very good baseball background,” says Blakeley. “He knows the game very well.”

Keesling deals with finding on-field personnel, RSVPing college coaches and the overall vision of the company. He and Blakeley talk on a daily basis.

Nelson Gord, a former minor league opponent to Blakeley who resides in Illinois and is Director of Baseball for NCSA (Next College Student Athlete), is also Director of Recruiting Education for Crossroads Baseball Series.

“He’ll come to events and speak to parents about the recruiting process,” says Blakeley of Gord.

NCSA had purchased a platform called Coach Packet and CBS now has its own app that incorporates video, social media and results to the same player profile. College coaches are given access to this information.

The Crossroads Baseball Series staff also features field coordinators include Rob Fay, Craig Cotter and Austin Green.

Blakeley was a four-sport athlete at Greenville (Ohio) Senior High School.

“I was fortunate to have good coaches for high school and summer ball,” says Blakeley. “I got hit by pitch and broke my arm and did not play junior year of high school.”

The righty-swinging infielder wound up at Indiana through a relationship his coach had with Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan.

“He taught you some things about life,” says Blakeley. “There’s nothing easy about getting through a practice with Bob Morgan.

“He taught you accountability and taking care of yourself.”

As much as the process has changed over the year, one things has remained constant.

“It was word-of-mouth then and it’s still that way today,” says Blakeley. Coaches want to hear from coaches who they consider trustworthy and whose opinion they respect. “What has changed is technology. There is accessibility and instant updates now.”

Another change is the age of those being seriously pursued by recruiters.

“Recruiting has gotten a lot earlier,” says Blakeley. “When we started Crossroads in 2008, every single of the players had not made their college choice yet and were juniors going into their senior year. Ten years later, eighth graders were (verbally) committing going into their freshmen year.”

A shortstop for much of his four seasons at IU (1999-02), Blakeley was selected in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a second baseman.

After his first pro season, Blakeley had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He was in Class-A ball in 2003 and 2004 and made it up to Triple-A in 2005.

Released by the Mariners in 2005, Blakeley played for the independent Joliet (Ill.)JackHammers and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. 

“I wasn’t trying to go back into affiliated ball,” says Blakeley. “I had my business and had gotten married (to Lake Central High School graduate Laura).”

Gary won the Northern League title in 2007 and were runners-up in 2008.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert invited him back for 2009, but Blakeley decided to focus on his business and having a family. 

Eric and Laura Blakeley now resides in Fishers, Ind., with daughters Isabella (10) and Gianna (8). Eric coaches both girls on the Fishers Cats.

“Sports can teach kids for the future — about adversity and how to overcome it,” says Blakeley. “Don’t think what might happen bad. Think what might happen good. 

“Failure is going to help you where you want to be. They just don’t understand that yet.”

Eric Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series

Thurston now leading Southwestern Rebels on diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nearly a decade after guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Thurston is back in that role.

Hired as School Resource Officer at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., in January 2020, he became Rebels head baseball coach around mid-year.

Thurston was head coach at nearby Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School 2009-11 while also serving as D.A.R.E officer in the junior high. He resigned as baseball coach when he became chief of the City of Madison Police Department.

Meanwhile, he headed up Long Toss Indiana LLC and the Indiana Rawlings Tigers LLC, helping players with arm care and Mental Toughness Training.

A few years ago, Thurston sold the businesses as a package. He was invited by head coach Grant Bellak to join the Hanover College coaching staff and had spent 2019 and 2020 with the Panthers when the opportunities came along at Southwestern.

“One thing I really enjoyed about Hanover was the personal interaction with players,” says Thurston, who played tennis, basketball and baseball at Mooresville (Ind.) High School and baseball at Hanove. “They knew where they were in life and where they were going to go. They were thankful to play more baseball. But it’s probably not going to be their profession after college.

“I learned so much in the last two years about how to run a program and how to run a practice. I think I’ll be a much better coach than I was before.”

As SRO, Thurston estimates that he spends more than half his time on relationships with the rest split between counseling and his law enforcement duties.

Until becoming coach, he got to know students as people and not as athletes. 

Thurston took the coaching job in time to lead a few summer workouts in June and then guided IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities in the fall.

“It was intrasquad games, (batting practice), infield drills and arm care. We did long toss to stretch arms out,” says Thurston. “Looking back on it, it more about me getting to the know the kids and the program and them getting to know me and my style.

“My style has evolved over the years. At Madison — to a fault — I was a little bit of a control freak. Now I have really good assistants and I expect them to coach.”

Thurston’s Rebels staff includes Ethan Leach, Brian Crank and Brendon Bump.

Leach played at Madison Consolidated and Indiana University Southeast. Crank, who is dean of students and junior varsity boys basketball coach at Southwestern, played at Franklin (Ind.) College an was a JV coach for Thurston at Madison. Pitching coach Bump took the mound for Marshall University (Huntington, W.Va.) and was on Shayne Stock’s Hanover coaching staff.

Winter conditioning began at Southwestern last week. Thurston expects around 22 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring.

Southwestern (enrollment around 375) is a member of the Ohio River Valley Conference (with Jac-Cen-Del, Milan, Rising Sun, Shawe Memorial, South Ripley and Switzerland County).

ORVC teams play each other twice on a home-and-home basis.

Though it may not happen in 2021, Thurston says he would like those games to come in the same week.

“That avoids team having one really good pitcher to space out their conference games and pitch the same kid in every game,” says Thurston. “You get more of a true team conference champion.”

Super ATV Field, located on the Southwestern campus, has a turfed home plate area. A new scoreboard — never used with the cancellation of the 2020 season — is expected to be in-place for the Rebels’ first home game of 2021.

Thurston says there’s talk of lighting the field and expanding the dugouts.

“Of course that comes down to that almighty dollar,” says Thurston.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Milan, North Decatur, South Decatur, South Ripley and Switzerland County. Southwestern’s lone sectional title came in 1999.

The Madison Cubs are on the Rebels’ schedule. Southwestern has never beaten Madison in varsity baseball. When the Rebels won the Class 2A Jeffersonville Regional in 1999, the Cubs and Indiana Mr. Baseball Bryan Bullington won the 3A state championship.

“I’m going to be low key,” says Thurston of this spring’s Southwestern-Madison meeting. “I’m going to treat it just like any other game.

“There’s no pressure for us to win.”

Thurston is also a regional scout for SportsForce Baseball — a recruiting service that helps players find the best fit at the college level.

Last summer, he was able to help athletes while serving as a tournament director for Pastime Tournaments

“I often tell players to take baseball out of the equation,” says Thurston. “Is it the right fit academically, financially and socially? Is it the right distance from home and the right size of school?

“Check all the other boxes first. If baseball is important to you, let’s go somewhere we can play. Some are OK with being the program guy.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic has come extra years of eligibility for college players. Thurston says his gut tells him that it may be until 2023 before the trickle-down effect that hits younger college players — and even high schoolers — settles down.

There has traditionally been youth baseball run by the Hanover parks department. Southwestern schedules up to 20 games in the spring for its junior team of seventh and eighth graders.

Recent Southwestern graduate Bailey Elliott is on the baseball roster at Vincennes (Ind.) University. Thurston says he expects the Rebels to produce more college players in the next few years.

Dan and wife Jackie Thurston will be married 32 years in March. The couple has three children — Trey (29), Ryan (26) and Trisha (22).

Trey Thurston is in veterinary school at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.

Left-handed pitcher Ryan Thurston played at Madison Consolidated and Western Kentucky University and in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He was with the independent Chicago Dogs and Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2019 and is expected to be back with that club in 2021. Gary did not field a team in 2020 and Thurston went with the indy Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and Winnipeg Goldeyes.

University of Cincinnati graduate Trisha Thurston works for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati.

Dan Thurston was an assistant baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019 and 2020. He is now head coach at Southwestern High School in Hanover.
Dan Thurston is the head baseball coach at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., and a regional scout for SportsForce Baseball. He was head coach at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School 2009-11 and the formerly owned Long Toss Indiana LLC and Indiana Rawlings Tigers LLC.

Former MLB pitcher McClellan giving back to baseball through Demand Command

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach McClellan began his professional baseball career at age 21.

Through hills and valleys, the right-handed pitcher persisted and persevered until he finally stood on a major league mound at 28 and its those kind of lessons he passes along to the next generation with his baseball/softball business — Demand Command.

McClellan, who stands 6-foot-5, earned three letters at Indiana University (1998, 1999 and 2000). He pitched in 41 games, starting 22 with five complete games and one save. In 159 1/3 innings, he posted 111 strikeouts and a 4.58 earned run average while playing for Hoosiers head coach  Bob Morgan — a man he credits as much for what he did in stressing education as what he did between the white lines.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2000 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals, McClellan logged 192 appearances (87 starts) and 606 1/3 innings and played at Spokane, Wash., Burlington, Iowa, Wilmington, Del., Tulsa, Okla., and Colorado Springs, Colo., finally made his MLB debut in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies.

McClellan relieved in 12 games with Colorado that season, going 1-0 with 13 strikeouts in 14 innings. The Rockies went to the World Series in 2007.

He got to be around diamond leaders like Indiana native LaTroy Hawkins as well as Todd Helton.

His playing career concluded in 2010 with the independent Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats.

His managers included Tom Poquette, Joe Szekely, Jeff Garber in the Royals minor league system, Tom Runnells, Marv Foley, Fred Ocasio and Stu Cole in the Rockies minor league chain with Clint Hurdle at the MLB level with the Rockies and Greg Tagert with the RailCats.

Long before that McClellan started giving back. He started the Zach McClellan School of Pitching in Bloomington, Ind., in 2002. 

Zach and future wife Sarah met at IU. She is from nearby Ellettsville, Ind., and a graduate of Edgewood High School. 

During his pro off-seasons, Zach was a student teacher during the day and gave lessons at night during his off-season.

With the growth of the business, McClellan began looking for a new name and a suggestion came from one of his pupils who noted how he was constantly telling them, “Don’t just accept control, demand command.”

McClellan says the difference between control and command is that with control you can throw to a general area and command is being able to execute your pitches to the catcher.

The two main aspects of pitching as McClellan sees them are how hard you throw and can you locate it. In other words: Velocity and command.

“I try to marry those two things,” says McClellan, who notes that location becomes very important when it comes to getting good hitters out.

Believing that training should be fun and challenging, McClellan began getting his young pitchers to play H-O-R-S-E baseball style.

While in the basketball version, a player has to replicate a made shot or take a letter, McClellan’s baseball variation requires one pitcher to execute a pitch — say a fastball to the outside corner — and have the next one up replicate that or take a letter.

The first Demand Command T-shirts McClellan ever had made asked: “Can you play H-O-R-S-E on the mound?”

“It was an inside joke between the instructed kids, myself and their parents,” says McClellan. “People would ask the question about what it meant.

“We were doing something kind of unique and kids were actually executing pitches. What I’ve noticed through the years is that if they have to call the pitch, it’s even better. Now they’re not just throwing a ball in the generally vicinity.”

McClellan never wants training to be drudgery for his players.

“If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it becomes more of a job,” says McClellan. “It’s not a job, it’s an opportunity. It’s fun. If you’re going to come to me it’s not going to feel like work.

“You have to make sure that the kids are enjoying what they’re doing, but learning at the same time.”

Since he began offering instruction, McClellan has preferred small-group lessons of three of four players.

“I say make sure kids aren’t just doing solo private lessons,” says McClellan. “A lot of parents want their kids to work one-on-one with a coach, but when they go on a field they have eight other teammates.

“At the end of the day there’s nobody behind the mound holding your hand and telling you how to correct yourself in a game. You have to have a feel on the adjustments you’re making.”

Every now and then, McClellan likes to match 17-year-old prospect with an 8-year-old learning how to pitch.

“The 17-year-old learns how to teach,” says McClellan. “The more you learn how to teach the better you get at your craft. 

“(The teen is) learning how other people receive the information which makes them more receptive of the information.”

Now that he has been at it this long, another McClellan goal is coming to fruition.

“I’ve always wanted to create a community of baseball players that became future leaders,” says McClellan. “Kids that played for me or took lessons from me are now coming back to be coaches for me.”

Demand Command now trains baseball and softball players in southern Indiana (through partnerships with Owen Valley Sports Complex in Spencer and Maximum Velocity Performance in Columbus) and in Zach’s native Toledo, Ohio, where brother Matt McClellan is the Demand Command Toledo owner.

Matt McClellan played at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., and pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays organization (Toronto selected the right-hander in the seventh round of the 1997 MLB Draft) and for the independent Newark (N.J.) Bears and Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones.

Between Indiana and Ohio, Demand Command typically fields around 40 travel squads ages 7U to 18U through Pastime Tournaments and USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association).

The DC website states the mission: “Demand Command was built on the principles that baseball and softball are teaching mechanisms for more than just the games. 

Baseball and Softball have many life lessons within the games. Some examples are leadership, hard work, determination, discipline, working together with many types of people, dealing with success and failure and good character. 

“The goal is to teach people the value of Demand Command life principles through baseball and softball. Demand Command stands for much more than commanding pitches or at bats. Demand Command is a way of life.”

Numerous DC alums have gone on to college and pro baseball. Among them is Dylan Stutsman, who pitched at the University of Indianapolis and then pitched for the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers.

Former Texas Rangers draft pick Renton Poole is now a senior pitcher at Indiana University Kokomo.

Zach and Sarah McClellan live in Columbus and have three athletic daughters — Mia (14), Miley (12) and Emery (10).

The McClellan brothers — Jeff (46), Matt (44) and Zach (42 on Nov. 25) — are the offspring of former college athletes. 

Father Dave a basketball player at the University of Michigan and Mother Diane a track and field athlete at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

Jeff played baseball at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.

Zach’s nephew, Sebastian McClellan, is a freshman basketball guard at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Mich. Niece Mallory McClellan recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Fordham University in New York.

Demand Command is a baseball/softball training and travel organization founded by Zach McClellan.
Zach McClellan, a native of Toledo, Ohio, who pitched at Indiana University 1998-2000, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies. He began giving pitching lessons in 2002. (Colorado Rockies Photo)
Former Colorado Rockies pitcher and Demand Command founder Zach McClellan signs autographs for youth baseball players.
Zach McClellan runs the Indiana portion of Demand Command baseball and softball out of facilities in Spencer and Columbus in southern Indiana. He played at Indiana University and pitched in the big leagues. (Demand Command Photo)

Former Yorktown catcher Tanner uses his experiences as instructor, coach

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zeth Tanner was 6 when he got his first baseball lesson.

He received the foundation that led him to play in high school, college and, briefly, independent professional ball.

Tanner, 26, is now an instructor at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in his hometown of Yorktown, Ind., as well as a coach with the Indiana Nitro travel organization.

Over the years, Tanner has soaked up diamond knowledge from Kevin Long (current Washington National hitting coach), Mike Stafford (former Ball State and Ohio State assistant), Mike Shirley (Chicago White Sox amateur scouting director), Michael Earley (Arizona State hitting coach), Mike Farrell (Kansas City Royals scout), Kyle Rayl (former Muncie, Ind., area instructor) and more.

“I believe in doing things the right way,” says Tanner, who primarily a catcher and designated hitter in the collegiate and pro ranks. “I don’t like kids talking back to the umpire. Treat people with respect.

“If the umpire makes a bad call, learn from it and move on.”

Playing for former head coach Mike Larrabee at Yorktown (Ind.) High School, Tanner learned the value of hustle. 

The coach gave his biggest praise to the power-hitting Tanner the day he hit a routine pop fly that resulted in him standing on second base when the second baseman mishandled the ball because he took off running at impact.

“You’ve got to work hard,” says Tanner, who was head coach of the 16U Nitro Cardinal and assisted by Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate and NCAA Division I Murray State University pitcher Carter Poiry in the spring and summer and is now an assistant to organization founder Tim Burns with the 16U Nitro Gold. “I’m not a fan of people who just show up to play and don’t do anything in-between the weekends.”

Last weekend was the first of the fall season for the Nitro, which will play most events at Grand Park in Westfield, and close out with a Canes Midwest tournament.

Tanner, who was born in Muncie and raised on a 40-acre horse farm in Yorktown, played for the Nitro when he was 18 after several travel ball experiences, including with USAthletic, Pony Express, Brewers Scout Team and Team Indiana (for the Under Armour Futures Game). 

Tanner has witnessed a change in travel ball since he played at that level.

“There are more team readily available,” says Tanner. “It used to be if you played travel ball you were good. Now it’s more or less watered down.

“You’ll see a really good player with kids I don’t feel are at his level.”

While the Indiana Bulls one of the few elite organization with multiple teams per age group, that is more common these days.

Older brother Zach Tanner played for the Bulls and went on to play at National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.), NCAA Division I Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio) and in the American Association with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and the Grays of the Frontier League before coaching at NJCAA Division III Owens Community College (Perrysburg, Ohio) and NAIA Indiana Wesleyan University.

Zeth Tanner began his college baseball career at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University, redshirting his sophomore season (2015). David Pressley was then the Ravens head coach.

In 2016, Tanner helped Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio) to its first NJCAA Division II World Series berth. The Steve Dintaman-coached Tartan Pride placed third. It’s the furthest Sinclair has gone in the JUCO World Series to date.

Tanner stays in-touch with Dintaman.

“He’s a very good coach and very into the mental game,” says Tanner of Dintaman. “He taught me a lot and has a lot to do with the path that I’m on.”

From Sinclair, Tanner went to NCAA Division II Urbana (Ohio) University and played two seasons (2017 and 2018) for Blue Knights head coach Jake Oester (son of former Cincinnati Reds middle infielder Ron Oester).

“He knows a lot of baseball,” says Tanner of the younger Oester. “He’s a very passionate guy.”

Urbana closed its doors at the end of the 2020 spring semester.

Tanner graduated Magna Cum Laude in Management from Urbana and then signed a professional contract with the Santa Fe (N.M.) Fuego of the independent Pecos League. 

“I really liked it,” says Tanner. “It was 100 degrees almost everyday. But it was a dry heat.

“The ball the flies out of the park like nothing.”

Tanner launched several homers in practice and one in the lone official game that he played.

He was dealt to the White Sands Pupfish (Alamogordo, N.M.). When he was sent to a third Pecos League team — Monterey (Calif.) Amberjacks — he decided it was time to come back to Indiana.

He finished the summer of 2018 playing with his brother on the Portland (Ind.) Rockets and played with that amateur long-established team again in 2019.

Tanner ended up as a Pro X Athlete Development instructor for baseball and softball offering catching, hitting and fielding private training sessions through a Nitro referral and interview with Jay Lehr

Former Muncie Northside High School and University of South Carolina player Mark Taylor is owner of 5 Tool Academy, where Zach Tanner (31) is also an instructor.

Zeth Tanner, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate, swings the bat for Urbana (Ohio) University, where he played baseball and earned a Management degree.
Zeth Tanner swings during 2016 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Wold Series home run derby. Tanner and Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio) placed third in the tournament.
Zeth Tanner (right) gives catching instruction. Tanner teaches baseball lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and at 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown, Ind.
Zeth Tanner (foreground) teaches a catching lesson. Former Yorktown (Ind.) High School catcher Tanner teaches baseball lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown.
Zeth Tanner is a coach in the Indiana Nitro travel baseball organization. He has been working with 16U teams.
Zeth Tanner, a graduate of Yorktown (Ind.) High School and Urbana (Ohio) University, is a baseball instructor and coach. He gives lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown and coaches with the Indiana Nitro travel organization. He played high school, college and pro baseball.

Columbus East, Franklin College grad Claycamp gets pro ball opportunity in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Claycamp began playing baseball at 3.

The Columbus, Ind., native had a pretty good idea might be on the diamond at 23.

But when his workouts before professional coaches and scouts did not yield an offer, he figured his baseball would come in an adult amateur league.

Claycamp played in a few games in one such circuit in Indianapolis when a unique pro opportunity arose.

He completed a paid internship in the purchasing department at Faurecia USA from the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2020. In December 2019, he earned his degree in History.

More than a year after his college eligibility ran out and eight months after getting his degree Claycamp signed to participate in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail — a co-op pro league. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing cancellation of the independent Frontier League and Low Class-A South Atlantic League seasons for 2020, a league was formed with two teams each in Lexington (Legends and Leyengas) and Florence (Y’alls and Freedom).

The Battle rages Aug. 1-Sept. 13 with games contested Wednesday through Sunday at Florence’s UC Health Stadium and Lexington’s Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

Claycamp, who commuted from Columbus to begin the season, has made arrangements for an Airbnb in Lexington. When the Legends play in Florence, he stays with family friends in the Lawrenceburg/Sunman, Ind., area.

Other Indiana players in The Battle include Drew Ellis, Jeff Thompson, Walker Talcott, Will Baker, Joe Dougherty and Nick Floyd.

Ellis, a Jeffersonville High School graduate, played at the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. The third baseman plays home games only for the Legends and Leyengas.

Thompson (Floyd Central) is a 6-6 right-hander who was at Louisville and in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was in indy ball at Sussex County in 2019.

Right-hander Talcott (McCutcheon) last pitched for Earlham College in 2019.

Outfielder Baker played at Ball State University and was in independent ball in the American Association in 2019 (Texas and Kansas City).

Righty Dougherty (Morgan Township) pitched for Grace College before taking the mound in the United Shores Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich.

Floyd (Jimtown) was at Ball State University and the righty hurled for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in 2019.

So far, Claycamp has played left field, third base and first base for the 2020 Lexington Legends, who counts Eddie Brooks as manager with former pro scout Steve Chandler as well as Chad Martin and Dom Fucci as coaches.

While his primary position growing up and through college was shortstop, Claycamp has moved around the field.

“I’ve been a utility player my whole life,” says Claycamp. 

At Columbus (Ind.) East High School, where he graduated in 2015, he was a shortstop as a freshman, shortstop and second baseman as a sophomore, third baseman as a junior and third baseman, shortstop and second baseman as a senior.

He played those same three spots in his one season at the University of Dayton (2016) and then was locked in at short in three campaigns at Franklin (2017-19). He helped the Grizzlies win back-to-back Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles in his final two campaigns.

Claycamp was invited to pre-Major League Baseball Draft workouts by the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies in, but was unable to attend with Franklin making the school’s deepest ever postseason run, reaching the regional final in Sequin, Texas.

After getting into eight games at NCAA Division I Dayton (two starts), Claycamp transferred to D-III Franklin and played in 128 contests for the Grizzlies. He hit .354 (174-of-491) with 20 home runs (tied for No. 9 in program history), 46 doubles (No. 5 all-time), 133 runs batted in (No. 6) and 143 runs scored (No. 4).

Lance Marshall is Franklin’s head coach.

“Coach Marshall’s awesome,” says Claycamp. “He’s very much a player’s coach.

“He lives and breathes baseball. He gets very in-depth with a lot of things. He’s talked more about the little things in baseball than anybody I’ve ever been around.”

But as important as the sport is, it’s not the top thing on Marshall’s list.

“From Day 1, he makes it very clear that it’s faith, family, baseball then school,” says Claycamp.

At East, Claycamp played for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz.

“It was a good program,” says Claycamp. “We always had a lot of good talent. They were guys I grew up playing with.”

Among them were Peyton Gray, Cam Curry, Will Anderson, Brian Wichman and Christian Wichman.

Right-handed pitcher Gray went on to Florida Gulf Coast University, the Colorado Rockies organization and is now in independent pro ball with the Milwaukee Milkmen.

Right-hander/outfielder Curry started at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When SJC school closed, he went to Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Anderson, a 6-foot-8 righty, pitched at Northern Illinois University.

Left-hander Brian Wichman was at Murray State University then hurled for the University of Indianapolis.

Catcher Christian Wichman played briefly at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., where he was also a football player.

Claycamp played in both Bartholomew County Little League (weekdays) and travel baseball (weekends) until he was in high school. Bartholomew County (now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County) won a state title when he was 12 and lost in the Great Lakes Regional championship. The winner went on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Early travel ball teams were the Columbus Crush, Indiana Blazers and BCLL All-Stars. In high school, Claycamp donned the jerseys of the Indiana Redbirds, Indiana Outlaws and Johnson County/Indiana Jaguars.

Besides baseball, Sam played football until middle school. He was on the school basketball team through eighth grade then played intramural and church hoops.

His falls were dedicated to deer hunting.

David and Tammy Claycamp have two sons — Sam and Kobbe (22). David Claycamp is machine shop manager at Innovative Casting Technologies in Franklin. Tammy Claycamp is a teacher at Faith Lutheran Preschool in Columbus. Kobbe Claycamp played baseball and football at Columbus East. He was on the IHSAA Class 5A state championship team in 2017 and state runner-up squad in 2016. He also played club rugby in high school.

The Battle of the Bourbon Trail is a baseball co-op between Florence and Lexington in Kentucky. (Florence Y’alls/Lexington Legends Image)
Sam Claycamp played three baseball seasons at Franklin (Ind.) College, landing on the all-time Top 10 in several offensive categories. (Franklin College Photo)
Sam Claycamp played shortstop at Franklin (Ind.) College for three seasons (2017-19). He is a graduate of Columbus (Ind.) East High School. (Franklin College Photo)
Sam Claycamp was a .354 hitter in his three baseball seasons at Franklin (Ind.) College (2017-19). The Columbus (Ind.) East High School and FC graduate is now playing in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail pro league with the Lexington (Ky.) Legends. (Franklin College Photo)

Competitive juices flow on Fridays at PRP Baseball

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Friday is “Compete Day” for PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball.

After week of training, players get a competitive outlet in a controlled game played inside spacious Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind

PRP Baseball founder Greg Vogt, who talked with IndianaRBI about strength training for overhead athletes in November 2019, explains the culture of working hard each day and athletes pushing athletes.

“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”

During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.

Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.

“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”

Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.

Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.

College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.

Vogt says Friday’s session alone had players representing the following Indiana universities: Anderson, Ball State, Butler, DePauw, Huntington, Indiana, IU Kokomo, Indiana State, Indiana Wesleyan, Purdue, Purdue Fort Wayne, Saint Francis and Taylor. Plus there were those from Akron, College of Charleston, Illinois State, Northern Kentucky and Spalding as well as junior colleges John Wood, Lincoln Trail and South Suburban.

That’s just Friday’s list.

Several players from College Summer League at Grand Park in nearby Westfield, Ind., train with Vogt and company at PRP Baseball.

Dominick Berardi, a right-handed pitcher at Daytona (Fla.) State College was sent to work with PRP Baseball for the summer.

“They’re coming and they’re asking for housing,” says Vogt of his ever-growing client list from outside Indiana.

Vogt notes that three 2020 high school graduates from northwest Indiana — IU commit Tyler Nelson (Andrean), Illinois State commits Gene Kolarik (Crown Point) and Jonathan Sabotnik (Crown Point) — travel together to play in the Grand Park league and train at PRP Baseball.

Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games. 

The American Association is playing with six teams (Chicago Dogs, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Milwaukee Milkmen, Sioux Falls Canaries and Winnipeg Goldeyes) rotating between three cities — Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota/Minnesota, Franklin, Wis.,. and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Polley, a 23-year-old left-hander, played at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University before being drafted by the Rangers in the 16th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.

“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”

Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.

“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”

Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.

Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.

“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.

“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”

Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.

For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.

With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.

“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.

“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”

Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.

“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.

Milto, 23, is a right-hander who played at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and Indiana University before being selected by the White Sox in the 23rd round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working. 

“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”

Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.

“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto. 

While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.

“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible. 

“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”

Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment. 

“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development. 

“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”

Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.

“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.

“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.

“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”

Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.

“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”

Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.

“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”

When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.

“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.

“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”

Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.

Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”

“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.

“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”

Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.

“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”

And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.

“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”

Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.

He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.

“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.

“I’ve been maintaining.”

Vogt says pro pitchers Jacob Cantleberry (Center Grove High School graduate and former University of Missouri left-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system), Timmy Herrin (Terre Haute South Vigo High School graduate and former IU left-hander in the Cleveland Indians system) and Will Klein (Bloomington North High School graduate and former Eastern Illinois University right-hander drafted in the fifth round in 2020 by the Kansas City Royals) are expected to be a part of the PRP Baseball culture soon.

Christian Sullivan, a 2014 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., and four-year right-handed pitcher at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18), has joined the PRP Baseball staff as a strength coordinator/jack-of-all-trades.

“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.

“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”

Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). 

“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent. 

“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity. 

“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”

Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.

“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”

Triston Polley, a former Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University player now in the Texas Rangers organization, warms up for PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball “Compete Day” Friday, June 19 at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
One of the mottos of the PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball is “Rent’s Due Every Day.” It promotes a culture of hard work and competition. (PRP Baseball Image)