Tag Archives: Gas City

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Alum Scott concerned with development for Mississinewa Indians

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Putting an emphasis on baseball development, training spaces at Mississinewa High School and in the Grant County city of Gas City, Ind., have expanded in recent years.

Two years ago, Mississinewa Community Schools built an auxiliary gym at the high school that has been helpful to the Indians in baseball and other sports.

“It’s been incredibly beneficial for us,” says Mike Scott, who enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2019. “Before, you could not put the batting cage up until after basketball season.

“This affords us so many more opportunities. I’m thankful to administration for investing for our student-athletes. How did we ever do this before? We’ve been able to gain so much development just with that space.”

In addition, the old Owens Hardware Store has been converted by Caleb Crandall into a training spot now known at “The Academy.” The facility is expected to open in January and includes three batting cages, turf and a HitTrax baseball data tracker.

“It can be a game changer in our development, especially for our youth,” says Scott.

The Indians are fed by in-house travel teams from 8U through high school.

“Coaches follow our drills, philosophies and teachings at a younger age,” says Scott. “You don’t have to spend as much time teaching them things they should have already learned.”

There is also baseball played through Ole Miss Youth Sports. This spring will mark the third season of junior high baseball for Mississinewa.

To help local players get better, Scott runs a hitting league in February and March. A multi-week pitcher/catcher camp is also on the way.

Scott says he appreciates the windows of practice opportunity in the fall and winter where he can work with his players for two hours two days a week. In the fall, this gave the Indians a chance to have a throwing program to build arm strength. It allows pitchers to go through an arm care program. From there, they spent weeks in the weight room.

“Now you can develop that progression and development,” says Scott of the winter practice period which began at the beginning of December. “Teaching can continue. We’re not crushed for time (like in the weeks leading up to the season opener).”

Scott played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson and graduated in 1988. He earned his degree at Indiana University in 1992 and worked in case management with juveniles in a counselor setting before going into teaching.

He was a Mississinewa assistant to Brian Cruz for a decade then served as an assistant at Anderson University and pitching coach at Indiana Wesleyan University before coming back to Ole Miss 12 years ago. He teaches a dual-credit criminal justice class at the high school and is athletic director/school service coordinator at R.J. Baskett Middle School. There are about 550 students in grades 6-8.

Scott credits Atkinson for teaching him the nuances of the diamond.

“Rick’s knowledge of baseball is so immense,” says Scott. “To have any opportunity to sit down with him is an honor

“It was an awesome experience for me to play for him.”

As Indians head coach, Scott generally has between 26 and 28 players populating varsity and junior varsity rosters. He likes to keep 12 to 14 per squad.

The addition of courtesy runners for pitchers and catchers plus the designated hitter provide additional playing opportunities.

“I don’t want too many kids sitting on the bench not getting playing time,” says Scott. “Our season is so short anyway.”

Players get a chance to see where they fit into the puzzle and they don’t always fit where they expected.

“Role playing is difficult for a lot of kids to accept,” says Scott. “When they’re coming up through youth systems, they are often one of the better kids on their team.”

Players find out that the speed of the game increases as they move up in level.

“Freshmen are competing against three other grades and that presents an interesting dynamic,” says Scott. “It also pushes (older) kids. Upperclassmen need to continue working and developing. No position is going to be guaranteed.”

Scott’s 2019 coaching staff features Evan Hammond and pitching coach Kyle Zabst with the varsity and Bryan Elliott with the JV.

The Indians play on-campus on a diamond where Scott spends much of his time.

“I’m a freak when it comes to the baseball field,” says Scott. “I cannot get off it.”

Scott, his assistants and players have re-graded the field, repaired the infield, loud and home plate areas and added a warning track all the way around the field. Home and visitor bullpen mounds have been fixed.

In the future, Scott hopes to get the community and alumni involved in order to make further improvements.

Mississinewa (enrollment of about 810) is part of the Central Indiana Athletic Conference (with Alexandria-Monroe, Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant and Oak Hill).

The Indians, coming off an 10-14 record in 2018, are of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Bellmont, Jay County, Heritage, Marion and Norwell. Mississinewa has won three sectionals — the last in 2006.

In 2017, the Indians went 16-7 with a large senior class and shared in the conference title for the first time in more than 25 years.

Recent Ole Miss graduates that moved on to college baseball include catcher Noah Harris (Goshen College), middle infielder/outfielder Nolan Young (Olney Central College in Illinois and committed to Illinois State University of 2019-20) and third baseman/outfielder Cade McCoin (Indiana Tech).

Mike and Kelly Scott have two sons — Payton and Ryan.

Kelly Scott is an Ole Miss graduate. Payton Scott played baseball at Owens Tech in Toledo, Ohio. Now a physical therapist and athletic trainer, he is engaged to be married in June 2019. Ryan Scott is a Mississinewa freshman. His sports are tennis and golf.

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An aerial view of the baseball field at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.

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Another glance from above at the home of Mississinewa High School Indians baseball field.

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Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind., has a new batter’s eye and flagpoles at its baseball field.

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Here is what it looked like at the Mississinewa High School baseball field during a work day as upgrades were being made.

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Another view of Mississinewa High School baseball field during a work day.

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The infield has been conditioned on the baseball field at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.

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Mike Scott, a 1988 Mississinewa High School graduate, is the head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Mississinewa Community Schools Photo)