Tag Archives: Goshen College

Hisner’s been a hit in decade at Whitko

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plate discipline is something Erik Hisner carried into the batter’s box with him as a player and it’s a concept he teaches his hitters as head baseball coach at Whitko High School.

“We talk a lot about being selectively aggressive,” says Hisner, who enters his 11th season with the Wildcats in 2017. “I want guys to be aggressive on fastballs early in the count if it’s their pitch. The times we’ve gotten in trouble we’ve been almost passive.

“Understanding (baseball) situations is something we continue to work on.”

Whitko, which has moved from Class 3A to 2A, shared the Three Rivers Conference title in 2016 and have been state-ranked in recent seasons. The Wildcats advanced to the sectional championship game for only the second time in program history in 2009.

Hisner, who still holds career offensive records he set at Goshen College where he was a one-time NAIA All-American and NAIA all-region honorable mention selection and three-time all-conference pick from 2002-05 (.419 average, 211 hits, 161 runs batted in, 85 walks), comes from a baseball family.

Grandfather Harley Hisner played in the Boston Red Sox organization. His claim to fame is one mound start in the final game of the 1951 season against the New York Yankees. Harley struck out Mickey Mantle twice and gave up Joe DiMaggio’s last regular-season major league hit (a single). Harley appears in “Once Around The Bases (Triumph Books, 1998).”

Red Sox slugger and Hall of Famer Ted Williams and his “The Science of Hitting” book were respected in the Hisner household and those ideas were passed down to Harley’s son, Randy, who went on to play college baseball and coached his sons — Erik, Ryan, Shane and Gavin — at the Little League, Sandy Koufax or high school level.

In 2015, father and sons played on the same Fort Wayne-based adult league team managed by Erik.

The Hisners are also a family of educators. Randy teaches English at Bellmont High School (where he is also head boys cross country coach). Mother Cheryl teaches first grade at Southeast Elementary School in Decatur.

Erik, 34, is a 2001 Bellmont graduate. He represented the Braves in baseball and basketball four years and tennis for two. On the diamond, his senior year featured conference and sectional championships along with all-conference, all-state and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star honors. He began his teaching career in Fort Wayne and now is a physical education instructor and athletic director at Whitko Middle School.

Ryan, 33, teaches science at Adams Central Senior-Junior High School (where is also an assistant track coach).

Shane, 28, teaches English at Japan.

Gavin, 26, teaches social studies at Bellmont (where is also an assistant boys cross country and track coach).

Besides his father, Erik Hisner also counts his college coaches — Brent Hoober and Jayson Best — among those who taught him the game.

“(Hoober) taught me how to structure and put your program together,” says Hisner of the man who was his head coach his first three collegiate seasons. “He was really good at letting guys play and not over-coaching. He wasn’t a micro-manager with players.

“Sometimes us coaches have to bite our tongue.”

Hisner said he learned much from conversations with Best, who went from pitching coach to head coach at GC in Hisner’s senior year.

“I learned how to manage a game and the the little things that go into it,” says Hisner. “I learned about thinking one or two plays or one or two batters ahead. (Best) played professional ball and had a lot of good stories and insight.”

Hisner was an assistant in Josh Keister’s first season as Maple Leafs head coach in 2006 and was going to be an assistant at Fort Wayne Northrop when the opportunity came up at Whitko.

Having been involved in his fall camps for a few years and because he knew his grandfather, IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bill Jones went to bat for the young Hisner.

“He got my foot in the door” says Hisner.

Two days after taking the job leading into the 2007 season, Hisner found himself among top Indiana baseball minds. There was (Hall of Famers) Jones, Chris Stavretti, Jack Massucci, Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber.

“You talk about the legends of Indiana high school baseball,” says Hisner. “It was like a $25 clinic at a facility in Fort Wayne. You can’t miss that one.”

Hisner has made many connections in the IHSBCA. Former Churubusco coach Mark Grove among his best friends in the profession.

Since Hisner did not have the benefit of an off-season when he started at Whitko, his focus was staying positive and working on a few little things.

“I’m a hitting guy so we talked a lot about approach,” says Hisner. “We’d make sure we knew what we were looking for in certain counts.”

While Whitko had been winless the previous season, it was not as grim as it seemed. The Wildcats had learned plenty of baseball from Lance Hershberger and those players were back to greet Hisner.

“(Hershberger) did a good job here.” says Hisner. “It wasn’t as bad a situation as the numbers might say. It wasn’t a situation where I had to come in a teach them how to throw and lead off.

“The thing about that year is I actually learned a lot from he kids by watching them play. To play for Lance, you’ve got to be pretty tough and pay attention to detail.”

The first Whitko win that season, snapping a long losing skid, was a one-run game against Heritage. Coach Dean Lehrman’s Patriots went on to be Class 2A state runners-up to South Spencer.

After that first year, Whitko took pride in its off-season work. The Wildcats played 25 to 30 games each summer in Hisner’s first few seasons.

“We got that family feel,” says Hisner. “We were kind of in the trenches together. It was nothing fancy. We just played a lot of baseball and got them experience.”

The evolution of travel baseball has limited or helped eliminate summer schedules at many high schools and the number of summer games for the Wildcats has dropped to 15 or 20, but still sees it as a good way to develop players.

Some get a chance to play travel ball and Hisner is all for it if it’s going to benefit the player.

“My parents have been pretty good about asking questions and making sure its a good fit,” says Hisner. “We’ve had good luck with teams like the Indiana Chargers, Summit City Sluggers and others who are doing it for the right reasons. It’s about development and not just playing games.”

Hisner’s coaching staff for 2017 features Travis Bradford, Mark Fisher, Tim Planck, James Stoddard and Seth Patrick. Bradford is a Whitko graduate and former Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne hurler, is the pitching coach. Stoddard and Patrick played for Hisner at Whitko.

“(Patrick) is probably the smartest player I ever coached,” says Hisner of the former Wildcats catcher. “We didn’t call the pitches when he was (a player) here.

“He was one of those program guys, a scrapper type.”

Baseball has long been a strength in the Three Rivers Conference (now containing 10 members), which has produced state champions (Wabash in 1986, Northfield in 2001 and 2012, Manchester in 2002) and a state runners-up (Northfield in 2013).

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Erik Hisner enters his 11th season as head baseball coach at Whitko High School in 2017.

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The Hisners (from left): Shane, Ryan, Randy, Gavin and Erik.

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Childers teaching lessons about adjustment, baseball concepts at Goshen College

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pulling together a Goshen College roster with players from 10 different states and one Canadian province, Alex Childers is going about teaching lessons on and off the baseball diamond.

Childers, who in his fifth season as head coach for the Maple Leafs, wants his athletes to be adaptable, students of the game and above all else — students. After all, GC is a highly-ranked institution of higher learning.

“At the college level, you have got to be good at development,” says Childers, who played his college baseball at Goshen College and Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. “You want to recruit good players, but you’ve got to develop the talent as well.

“When you let then be athletes and players, you can maximize potential. That’s what we try to do.”

Making the most of the fall and winter and the rare spring practices, Childers and his coaching staff of Justin Grubbs, Jackson Callahan and Doug Wellenreiter do their best to create intelligent baseball players.

“I try to teach the game and concepts,” says Childers. “When you micro-manage too much, you’re not teaching the concepts of the game.

“I want guys to understand when it’s a good time to run vs. I’m going to give you the steal sign so you’re going to run. I want players to understand the game. When is it a good time to be aggressive on a ball in the dirt? When is it a good time being aggressive going first to third? As opposed to me just moving the chess pieces around.”

Childers also expects players to be willing to move around on the diamond, which sometimes involves some candid conversations.

“Most guys on our team had a position change,” says Childers. “In the fall, we try to move every single one of our guys around.”

The thought is that knowing a different position never hurts and it gives a player more of a chance to crack the lineup.

“If you think you’re just a second baseman and that’s where you think you’re going to play, that’s great,” says Childers. “But you have to make our team the best when you’re at second base.

“Sometimes that’s a tough concept for guys to get.”

Citing a couple of examples of getting Leafs to buy into a switch, Childers points to current senior Preston Carr and former player Arick Armington.

Carr, who hails from Ontario, came to GC as a pitcher-second baseman. He was turned into an honorable mention all-conference selection and two-time Gold Glove winner in center field.

Armington, who played high school baseball at Elkhart Christian Academy, was convinced to make an adjustment, moving from the middle infield.

“I told him, ‘Aric, we’re better when you’re in center field,’” says Childers. “You have to get guys to buy in.”

And confidence is key.

“It’s a tough thing,” says Childers. “You know how baseball is, if you don’t have an ego you don’t last very long because of how much failure is involved.

“You’ve got to believe that you belong. You’ve got to respect decisions I make as the coach. But if you don’t believe you can do it, you’re in the wrong sport.”

Childers wants his players, especially freshmen, to know what to expect.

“Let’s be honest, here in the north you play on good weather days,” says Childers. “On poor weather days, you’re not playing and you’re back in the (batting) cage. We play 55 games in essentially 2 1/2 months. It is a sprint.”

GC coaches talk about players having the ability to be present.

“We talk say ‘be where your feet are,’” says Childers. “That basically means stats are a reflection of what’s happened in the past, you need to be present right now. If you don’t have that concept, the season can get on you quick. Before you know it, you’re throwing away at-bats or throwing away games and you don’t want to do that in a career that’s so short.”

Some Leafs don’t have a short trip to campus. Besides Indiana and Ontario, the 2017 roster features players from California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

“We have students from all over, why can’t we have baseball players from all over?,” says Childers. “I’d love to have local guys, but we can’t limit ourselves to just that. We have to think outside the box (in recruiting).”

When recruiting, Childers and his staff are looking for players who are academically strong. The NAIA allows 12 scholarships for baseball, but the Crossroads League has a limit of 7.6, so things like institutional aid come into play.

“If the kid has a high GPA, it just increases his scholarship level for the school which I can add onto from a baseball standpoint,” says Childers. “It’s a little bit of a matrix trying to figure out how to package guys the best.”

Childers said players have gone on to professional baseball out of the Crossroads League, but that’s not the focus at GC.

“At the end of the day, college baseball is a means for you to get an education.” says Childers. “If you can keep playing for four more years, that’s just icing on the cake. We treat it that way. I tell parents all the time, we don’t apologize for the academic portion of what we do. You want to keep in perspective what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Childers, who graduated from New Haven High School in 2003, said he owes much of what he knows about baseball to Bulldogs head coach Dave Bischoff.

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who practices harder and is more passionate about the game,” says Childers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He’s somebody who cares deeply.”

Bischoff instilled in Childers, who was also a New Haven assistant for two years after his college playing days, the importance of mental toughness and getting the most out of players.

“My senior year in high school was a pretty senior-laden group but not the most talented group,” says Childers. “Coach Bischoff got the most out of us. We were a 20-win team and won a sectional title. He fit guys into roles and maximized the potential he had.

“I’m pretty fortunate in having him as a mentor.”

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Alex Childers is in his fifth season as head baseball coach at Goshen College in 2017. (Goshen College Photo)

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Alex Childers (left) coaches third base during the 2014 season. (Goshen College Photo)

Kelly building relationships in baseball broadcasting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Benjamin Kelly knows that it’s not easy to get into professional baseball.

Entering his fourth season as the radio play-by-play voice of the Northwest Arkansas Royals (Double-A Texas League), graduate of Lakeland High School (2009) and Goshen College (2013) is enjoying the ride.

“I really do enjoy the grind of it,” says Kelly, who works for a club that plays its 140 games in 152 days with several off days consumed with travel. “I get to watch a baseball game every night.”

Kelly gets to hear stories from managers, coaches and players and relate that to his listeners. He gets to build relationships is he tries to climb the ladder of affiliated baseball just like the men who pitch, hit and catch for pay.

“We’re on the same path to the big leagues, we’re just in different lanes,” says Kelly. “I’m striving everyday to reach out and meet somebody else — somebody who might give you a chance.

“You have to keep those relationships throughout the course of your career.”

Kelly, who played four seasons at Goshen, relates to the game in ways that not all play-by-play broadcaster can.

“I know what it’s like to field a ground ball, make a throw from behind the plate, stand in against a 90 mph fastball,” says Kelly. “I can bring the small nuances the Average Joe can’t. That sets me apart.”

Kelly spends most of his off-season in Arkansas, but he was at his alma mater recently for a preseason banquet. He offered words of advice to the current crop of Maple Leafs.

“Don’t take the four years for granted,” says Kelly in repeating some of his remarks. “Don’t take a pitch off. Don’t take an at-bat off. You’ll regret the one’s you do.”

Kelly also offered to be a contact for anyone wishing to get their foot in the door in pro baseball.

“I’ll do anything I can to help them out,” says Kelly.

After doing plenty of play-by-play in other sports for the award-winning WGCS 91.1 The Globe (run by professor and veteran broadcaster Jason Samuel) and for Paul Condry at the Regional Radio Sports Network, Kelly began getting his chops as a baseball play-by-play man with the independent Schaumburg Boomers in the suburbs of Chicago. There, he built his resume and his relationships and wound up in Springdale, Ark., with the Naturals, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.

“We’re three hours from Kansas City — straight shot up interstate,” says Kelly. “With all the success the Royals have had since I go here in 2014, it’s grown to be more of a Royals area.”

Kelly grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but you won’t notice his Redbird leanings in the way he does his job.

“Whatever organization takes me on, I’ll root for that affiliate,” says Kelly, who does call 32 games a year between the Naturals and the Springfield (Mo.) Cardinals. “I think I’m going to keep that mindset no matter where I go. You rooting interest lies with your employer. That’s the only way to do it.”

The Texas League is a bus league. The miles start to pile up for the Naturals when they cross over from the North Division with teams in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to the four Texas-based clubs in the South Division. Northwest Arkansas visits that side a few times in each half of the split season, making a ride that can last 12 hours to Corpus Christi and Midland on one swing and Frisco and Midland on the other.

While the clock is ticking down to Opening Night (April 6), Kelly has been busy working on his team’s 150-page media guide (culling through box scores to come up with all-time lists etc.) and also working broadcasts of University of Arkansas events for Razorback Sports Network — either TV or online.

“I had never really done TV play-by-play until this (winter),” says Kelly. “It’s opened my eyes. In radio, the play-by-play man is like the star of the show and he must create a picture. In TV, he’s the driver for the color commentator. The play-by-play guy is secondary.”

To catch Kelly with during the Naturals season, visit http://www.nwanaturals.com and click the “Listen Live” tab or find the broadcast on the MiLB.com First Pitch app.

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Renowned ‘Defiance Way’ helps arms add velocity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“I think there’s a 90 mph arm in every school in the country. I’m not sure there’s not one in every class.” — Tom Held, head baseball coach, Defiance (Ohio) High School

In the northwest corner of Ohio, they are developing hard throwers and a Buckeye (Held) and a native Hoosier (Kevin “Scoop” Miller) are playing a big part.

Sometimes known as the “Defiance Way,” a system of throwing progressions and long toss has added 17 members to the 90 mph club since 1999.

Among DHS products are big leaguers Jon Niese (now with the Mets) and Chad Billingsley (most recently with the Phillies). A four-county area (Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Williams) of small schools typically has eight to 12 pro pitchers active each year.

“We throw a lot — more than most people throw,” Held, who has spoken at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic and many other seminars and camps in his Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame career. “We don’t baby the arms. We throw three days a week all winter.”

That off-season program has players throw into a net with tennis balls, softballs and baseballs. They go two sets with each and throw as hard as they can for 72 pitches.

“It seems to have a big impact,” Miller, who is entering his ninth season as pitching coach at Defiance College after a successful baseball and basketball coaching career at Archbold (Ohio) High School (leading the Blue Streaks to the Division 2 state baseball crown in 2005), said. “If guys will invest the time and effort and use the proper mechanics, the sky’s the limit.

“It motivates the kids when they see their (velocity) numbers go up. We also teach them a great 12-6 curve ball, too. That’s the safest pitch you can throw if you do it correctly and it reduces injuries.”

Athleticism has a lot to do with throwing hard, but proper technique and putting in the work is also key.

Much of the program does not involve getting on a mound.

“You must learn how to throw before you learn how to pitch,” Held said. “Throwing is a science and pitching is an art.

Held, whose teams have won 670 games and three Ohio High School Athletic Association Division 2 state titles (2013, 2015 and 2016) in 29 seasons, said a player must spend 4-6 weeks throwing everyday to get their arm into great shape.

“That does not mean you can pitch everyday,” Held said. “Kids don’t throw enough and they pitch too much.”

Held and Miller teach private lessons and run camps in the fall, Christmas break and on Sundays in January and February.

“We don’t label it as a pitching camp, but a throwing camp,” Miller said.

The desire is to get players at the younger ages before they get a chance to develop bad habits.

Held said that throwing — when done properly — does not hurt the arm.

A pitcher from 1983-86 in the Detroit Tigers system, Tom Held learned much of his baseball wisdom from father Mel “Country” Held, a veteran of 13 pro seasons with a “cup of coffee” for the 1956 Baltimore Orioles.

“All they did back then was throw,” Tom Held said.

The younger Held said his Bulldogs — pitchers and position players — will do long toss after a throwing progression every single day once the team gets outdoors.

Miller, a 1980 Jimtown High School and 1984 Goshen College graduate, stresses that conditioning is big for anyone wishing to be good at pitching or throwing.

“We want them in the best shape possible,” Miller said. “We do proper warm-up (of at least 20 minutes) with dynamic and static stretching. We make sure all core muscles are warmed up before we ever pick up baseball.”

Then were are towel drills and throwing progressions, isolating upper and lower body. There are specific drills to isolate every movement.

Long toss is emphasized for Defiance College pitchers, who work their way up throwing the length of a football field (300 feet). These Yellow Jackets will long toss the day before and after they pitch.

And their arms are stronger for it.

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Tom Held (Defiance High School)

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Scoop Miller (Defiance College)