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Northwest Indiana adult baseball league lets men continue to play boys’ game

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fun, camaraderie and competition is on display at diamonds around The Region when the men of the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league come to play the game they enjoyed as boys.

Line drives and laughter filled the air Aug. 3 as the league gathered at Robertsdale Complex — home of Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League — in Whiting for the NWINBA’s 16th annual all-star game.

Hours before teams managed by Luis Gonzalez and Geovanny DeJesus took the field, a home run derby was staged. Twenty-one players entered for $10 each. Danny Garcia of the Brewers took the $210 first prize, besting Theo Owens of the Cubs in a five-pitch swing-off.

The league, established in 2003 by Steve Carpenter, is for players 28-and-over but there is a plus-3 rule that allows for three players per team that must turn 25 by the start of the season.

The oldest player in the league in 2019 is the Yankees’ Hector Tellez, 63. He joined the Diamondbacks in the loop’s second season while working in East Chicago. Mike Bochenek and Wally Bochenek were in the league then and still are playing. He now travels from his home in Coal City, Ill., which is more than 60 miles from Whiting.

“This league has developed so much since it began,” says Tellez. “We’ve all improved — myself included.

“I’m fortunate to be on the field with so many good players.”

The season goes from late April through September. This year, there are 18 regular-season games plus playoffs. Most contests are on the weekends, but there are some Wednesday night games.

“We’ve played just about any place in northwest Indiana,” says NWINABA president Astros player Jeramy Ortiz. The main fields this season have been at Robertsale, Dyer Babe Ruth, Kenny Lofton Field in East Chicago and Heartland Park in St. John. Each team plays two games at U.S. Steel Yard, home of the independent professional Gary SouthShore RailCats.

Teams used Major League Baseball names and wear replica jerseys. The 2019 NWINABA sports 210 players that come northwest Indiana, Chicagoland and the South Bend area and features the Astros, A’s, Brewers, Cubs, Mariners, Marlins, Nationals, Pirates, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees.

By league choice, players swing BBCOR metal or wood bats.

Ortiz is in his ninth NWINABA season. Why does he play?

“I love baseball,” says Ortiz, who is 38 and lives in Munster. “I played in high school (at Hammond Bishop Noll for Craig Pavlina and Doug Ferry Jr.) and college (at Muscatine Community College in Iowa and Culver-Stockton College in Missouri) and was looking for something different than softball.

“It’s Little League for adults. We have players who played just played Little League to guys who played in the pros.”

There are a number of former college players, including those from NCAA Division I schools.

Pitching varies widely.

“There are guys who bring it and those who use control and junk,” says Ortiz.

Will Lanter, 45, is manager of the Mariners and in his 10th season.

“I don’t want to give up the game yet,” says Lanter. “This is family. It’s friends.”

Many games feature full bleachers. There are cookouts on Father’s Day weekend. Little League players come out and watch the older generation.

Like Ortiz, Lanter is involved at Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth. They have helped with field maintenance, fundraisers and more.

“We need to keep the program going,” says Lanter of the youth league. “Without these programs, these kids have nowhere to go.”

In his 10th season, Mike Gerlach, 53, lives in Crown Point and is Red Sox manager. He is a former youth coach. He once coached his son, Mitchell, and now father and son are teammates. Mike’s brother, Keith, also plays for the team.

“It’s one big family in this league,” says Mike Gerlach.

Kyle Hon, 28, resides in Cedar Lake and is manager of the Mariners. This is his third NWINABA campaign. He is a Lake Central High School graduate. He did not play baseball for LC, but has been involved with travel ball or town ball since age 5. He played in a now-defunct adult league in Crown Point.

“I love the game,” says Hon. “I want to play until Father Time tells me I can’t.”

Ken Henriott, 43, played for legendary LaPorte High School coach Ken Schreiber.

“He was probably the best coach in the country,” says Henriott of the man inducted into 13 different halls of fame.

Henriott played for Schreiber’s Slicers and then at Southwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University.

In his first season in the league and an all-star representing the Yankees, Henriott enjoys playing in front of his two children.

“It means a lot to me,” says Henriott. “They get to see what they couldn’t see back in the day.

“I’m a pitcher and I can still hang with these guys. You always keep the batter guessing. It goes back to the basics. You use your fastball and change-up and then the curveball or slider.

“It’s the pitcher against the hitter — always. It’s a chess game. It’s tough to fool these guys. They’re all good players.”

Luis Gonzalez, 35, is manager of the Yankees. The Hammond resident is in his third season in the league. He played at George Washington High School in Chicago.

“I like this league because it caters to older players,” says Gonzalez. “I can’t keep up with the high school kids.

“It’s competitive and a lot of fun.”

Gonzalez says adult baseball for someone married with children is ruled by two things.

“It’s what you’re family is willing to let you do and if your body can keep it up,” says Gonzalez.

Chris Evans, 32, lives in Hammond and is manager of the Nationals. He is in his fourth NWINABA season.

He entered the league as White Sox infielder, managed the Diamondbacks for one season then spent the off-season recruiting players for the Nationals.

“Last year we had a pretty good team,” says Evans, who currently skippers an 8-5 squad.

Ortiz says the league is looking to expand and may create a 38-and-over division in 2020. The NABA, headquartered in Littleton, Colo., allows for flexibility in local leagues and sponsors events for various age divisions, including 50-and-over, 60-and-over and 65-plus.

For more information on the Northwest Indiana League, email NWINABABaseball@gmail.com.

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James Frasure (Cubs) swings for the fences during the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Theo Owens (Cubs) competes the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. Danny Garcia (Brewers) beat Owens in the finals. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Derrick Goad (Tigers) smack the ball during the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeremy Ortiz (Astros) gets loose for the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star game Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)LUISGONZALEZCHRISEVANSNWINABA

Luis Gonzalez (Yankees) and Chris Evans (Nationals) consult prior to the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The patch for the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star game Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league has a close relationship with the Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League and held its all-star festivities Aug. 3 at Robertsdale Complex in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeramy Ortiz (Astros) is president of the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league.

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The Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league held its all-star festivities Aug. 3 at Robertsdale Complex in Whiting. (NWINABA Photo)

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Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Hawkins knows the importance of being nice

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Only nine men in the history of Major League Baseball made more pitching appearances that LaTroy Hawkins.

From 1995-2015, the lanky right-hander took the mound 1,042 times for 11 different MLB organizations — Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies (twice), New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.

Originally signed by Daniel Durst, the 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate made a minor league stop with the Fort Wayne Wizards in 1993 and went on to won 75 games and save 127 in the big leagues.

Along the way, “The Hawk” met thousands of folks.

Hawkins always tried to treat them with kindness — the way he was taught growing up in Gary, Ind., by mother Debra Morrow and grandparents Lesley Cannon and Eddie and Celestine Williams.

“I always wanted to do the right thing,” says Hawkins, who will be inducted into the Indiana High Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January. “Part of that is having a positive impact on others.

“I learned at a young age that trouble easy to get into and hard to get out of. I didn’t want to be a thorn in my (mother or grandparents’) side. I wanted to put a smile on people’s face.”

LaTroy’s mother still resides in Gary as do Mr. and Mrs. Williams. Grandmother Lesley died more than a decade ago, but her words and actions still ring true with LaTroy.

“She taught me about caring about people,” says Hawkins. “It didn’t matter what color they were.

“She had this uncanny way of opening up her home to everybody. You could always get three hot meals from her. She had a real sweet presence about her.

“She told me to always be willing to help people. You never know when you might need help. You always nice to people. Show them that you care. That always stuck with me.”

Lesley asked her grandson to always be that way.

“I try to be nice 99 percent of the time,” says Hawkins. “It’s hard to be nice 100 percent of the time. You come across more good people than (bad people).”

Maybe he didn’t always know your name.

“Hey, Big Fella!”

But Hawkins had — and still continues to have — time for everyone in his sphere that has revolved around a little white sphere. That might be folks on the grounds crew, security staff or on the loading dock.

“I made it my business to get to know everybody around me that made my day a little smoother once I left my front door and went to work,” says Hawkins.

When he learned about his Hall of Fame selection, he saw it as recognition for hard work and good character.

“It’s also the things you’ve done to grow the game of baseball in Indiana and around the world,” says Hawkins. “That’s having a positive impact I think.”

Now retired from his 21-year playing career, Hawkins is back with the Twins as a Special Assistant to Baseball Operations. His responsibilities include: contributing to the development of the organizational pitching philosophy used in the selection and development of all players. He will occasionally serve as an analyst for Twins games on Fox Sports North.

In working with the organization’s minor league pitchers, he gets them to set realistic goals and to help with both the mental and mechanical sides of their trade.

He talks about throwing high fastballs, pitching inside or down and away and when to use the curve ball.

But he also stresses the importance of data — something he paid little attention to as a player.

“It won’t work for everybody, but they’ll be some careers saved because of it,” says Hawkins. “It was a thing (when I played), but I didn’t want to know it.”

“When I started to 1995, analytics had a very small imprint.”

People relied on the human element and scouting.

“All we had to go on back then was the eye test,” says Hawkins. “Either you could do it or you couldn’t. Now there’s a reason for that and a program that can help you do it.”

Hawkins, who turns 45 on Dec. 21, helps hurlers change their grip to get a higher spin rate on their deliveries. After hanging out with Twins video personnel last March and seeing TrackMan data from spring training games and and also the numbers from his last three seasons (2013-15), he saw how spin rate either helped or harmed his own performance.

“That’s when I really got interested,” says Hawkins. “I saw what made me the pitcher I was. I didn’t care how hard I threw. Coming up in the Twins organization it was about command. That’s why I lasted so long. When I started throwing harder, I had still had command.”

It was also helpful that Hawkins possessed loose wrists, long fingers and strong hands.

“You’ve got to have two out of three to be able to do some of those things with the baseball,” says Hawkins.

Before going to spring training in 2018, Hawkins plans to travel to Indianapolis for the Jan. 28 Indiana Hall of Fame banquet at the Sheraton at the Keystone at the Crossing. The rest of the induction class includes coaches Rich Andriole (Indianapolis Cathedral/Guerin Catholic) and Pat Murphy (Valparaiso High School/retired), contributor Colin Lister (Fort Wayne/deceased) and Veteran’s Committee selection Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians broadcaster).

LaTroy and Anita Hawkins (who is a Gary Roosevelt High School graduate) celebrated their 17th year of marriage Nov. 25. The couple have a 16-year-old daughter — Troi — and reside in the Dallas area.

Westin Hotels & Resorts, Justin Tuck, LaTroy Hawkins And Rocco DiSpirito Launch "Make Monday Better" Campaign With Surprise Giveaway At A.C.E. High School In Canarsie, Brooklyn

LaTroy Hawkins began his 21-year Major League Baseball career with the Minnesota Twins and now works in the team’s front office. The 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate is part of the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. (Yahoo Photo)

 

Despite challenges, baseball is making its way in Gary

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s not easy being a teenage baseball player in Gary, Indiana.

Area schools have closed, making for less opportunities in the spring.

Little League nationwide has dropped its Big League (ages 17-18) divisions for baseball and softball, leaving several players looking for a place to play this summer, including more than 250 in Indiana District 1 (Gary area).

American Legion (19-and-under) to the rescue.

Kevin Bradley and Ray Dix III know the situation well. The two men coached a Big League team together last year. This spring, Bradley is back for his second season as head coach at Bowman Academy and Dix has joined a coaching staff that also includes Lorenzo Scott.

Bradley, 44, is a veteran of the Gary Fire Department who first played T-ball at East Glenn. When that field was damaged, he and others moved to Midtown Little League (now Gary Metro Area Little League, where he is now president), also at 21st and Harrison. He went on to now-closed Gary Lew Wallace High School, graduating in 1991. He earned a scholarship to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., as a third baseman, shortstop and pitcher (he still plays in an area adult league).

After one season, he returned home as a volunteer coach in various leagues. coached at Gary Roosevelt for seven years before coming to Bowman.

Bradley wants to be involved for the good of the youngsters and the game.

“To me it’s important to have a high school coach — in this city especially — that knows the game and loves the game instead of just having somebody because they couldn’t find anybody else to coach,” says Bradley, who uses baseball to teach his players life lessons like accountability. “Once you leave high school everything is about life. If they want to play on the next level, they have to know what’s expected of them from their college coach as far as work ethic and everything like that.

“At the next level, you’re in the world now. There’s no more mommy and daddy picking you up to go to school.”

Thirteen players — seniors Zavion Brown, Martrell Dixon, Darreall Payne, Antonio Price, Devin Russell and Charles Thompson III, juniors Joseph Moore, Langston Stalling and Aaron Whittaker, sophomore Jordan Adams and Keondre Pippins and freshmen Deysean Jenkins and Ezekiel Sankey — come from all over the city come to Roosevelt Park at 21st Avenue and Harrison St. for home games and practices. It requires some boys to take two buses to get there.

Bowman Academy is a charter school.

“Charter schools offer an alternative education to public schools,” says Dix. “Parents who are a little more concerned about what’s in a child’s text book will send them to Bowman. It’s just a matter of choice.”

One of three Gary high schools fielding baseball teams this spring (West Side and 21st Century are the other two) Bowman has already played doubleheaders at South Bend Clay and Delphi.

“We try to expose the kids to different areas,” says Bradley. “We go out and play someone different as opposed to playing all the schools around here.”

The original idea was to beef up the schedule to get ready for sectional play. Because of IHSAA sanctions against all Bowman athletic teams, there will be no postseason this year and next.

These games will get some players ready for the summer, where American Legion baseball is going to fill some of the void left by the departure of Big League baseball.

At least three American Legion teams are being formed under the name Region Legion Expos with ties to East Gary Memorial Post 100 in Lake Station. Donations are being sought to foot the bills for uniforms, travel, umpires and more. Dix is also looking for more coaches.

While Bradley began playing baseball at age 4, many Gary kids are staying away from Little League at Gary Area Metro (west of I-65) or Miller (east of 1-65) because leadership has changed so much over the years.

“We’ve also found the older the kids get, the less interested they become,” says Bradley. “They old enough to drive, get a job or a girlfriend, whatever. In the this area basketball is the king. So we battle everyday trying to get these kids interested in baseball

“We try to make it feasible for parents to afford to have their kids play. Even if they never played before, we just want to introduce them to the game.”

Bradley, Dix and Scott look at baseball as “serious business” and that’s why they’ve embraced the Legion baseball for those who want to continue playing the game in high school and beyond.

Dix, 33, grew up playing baseball in East Chicago Civic Little League. His family moved to right before his freshman year and he played at Merrillville High School.

“I learned so much baseball from (Pirates coach Fenton Macke),” says Dix. “He allowed me as a freshman to ask too many questions. He was amazing.”

Dix went on to attend Indiana University and began helping as a coach with his little brother’s team at Merrillville Little League.

“By the end of the summer I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I was 19 years old,” says Dix.

Rahdric Dix went on to letter in basketball and baseball at Merrillville played baseball at Butler University and the University of Southern Indiana.

“My brother was an amazing athlete and a really good ballplayer,” says Dix, who went from coaching Little League in Merrillville to Lake Station. He was also an assistant for five years at Lake Station Edison High School. After a year off, he spent two years on the staff at Gary West Side — the same school that gave the baseball world 21-year big league pitcher LaTroy Hawkins.

Dix, who is working on his college degree, is concerned about all the potential idle youth caused by taking away baseball for older teens, but he is excited about the exposure that the ones who do get to play will receive. He plans to take his team to Illinois and Michigan and play 20 to 25 regular-season games this summer.

“The biggest hurdle we’re having is getting people to understand the giant change that’s come about,” says Dix. “I want to give as many opportunities to as many young men as I can (through American Legion baseball).

“The goal is to get kids seen (by colleges). Kids are going to get seen for $100. Everybody else is going to charge up to $1,000.”

Legion ball became an option when Dix came in contact with Indiana second district baseball chairman Joe Kusiak, who is looking to add teams around northwest Indiana.

There would have been multiple options if they cut off the program at 17U or 16U, but that would exclude players going into or coming out of their senior year or, for some, their freshmen year of college.

“It was the first league I saw that would allow our older kids to still play,” says Dix. “You don’t want to tell our kids they don’t have anything to do in the summer. That’s not the world’s greatest idea. They’ll find something to do that none of us would enjoy.”

Having organized baseball gives these young men a positive outlet.

“One of the things that scares me the most is when they go away to college and they have to come back here,” says Dix. “They’ve spent eight or nine months away from the situation, bettering their lives, and they have to come back here and they don’t have the structure they had when they were at school.”

Scott, a St. Louis native married to a local gal, played at Ball State University and then eight seasons in the minors, making it to Triple-A in the Marlins organization. He began coaching with Bradley last season at Bowman.

“We found a gem when they put us together,” says Bradley of Scott. “We have coaches here with the knowledge to teach. We’ve got a great group of kids. They are receptive to all of us.”

The coaches try to keep the communication at a high level. Bradley, Dix and Scott might all be saying the same thing but in different ways. If players are not grasping what they are being taught, they are encouraged to ask for an explanation from a coach they can best understand.

“You learn that every kid is different,” says Bradley. “I may have to find a new way to show this kid how to field this ground ball.”

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Bowman Academy’s baseball team pauses during practice Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at Roosevelt Park in Gary. The Eagles are (from left): head coach Kevin Bradley, Aaron Whittaker, Kiondre Pippins, Joseph Moore, Langston Stalling, Devin Russell, Jordan Adams, Antonio Price, Martrell Dixon and assistant coach Ray Dix III. Not pictured: assistant coach Lorenzo Scott, Zavion Brown, Ezekiel Sankey, Deysean Jenkins, Darreall Payne and Charles Thompson III. (Steve Krah Photo)