“1932 was such a fascinating year,” says Wolf. “It was a pretty pivotal year in American history.”
On the diamond, there was Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the powerful Yankees, Philadephia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx belting 58 home runs and a tight pennant race in the National League.
The 1932 World Series was Ruth’s last. That year was also the final time he hit 40 or more home runs and or drove in 130 or more runs in a season.
The Babe had a rather un-Ruthian 1925 campaign, hitting .290 with 25 home runs and 67 runs batted in over 98 games.
“People were writing him off, saying he was past his prime,” says Wolf. “But he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”
From 1926 through 1932, Ruth hit .353 with 343 homers and drove in 1,070 runs. In 1927, his slash line was .356/60/165.
The Cubs ended up taking the NL flag even though manager Rogers Hornsby was fired after 99 games and replaced by Charlie Grimm. Hornsby was at the end of his playing days and had many legal problems, some related to his gambling habits.
“The Rajah,” who hit .358 from 1915-37 with three .400 seasons (.401 in 1922, .424 in 1924 and .403 in 1925), was known to be a prickly character.
“He did not get along well with other players, managers or management,” says Wolf of Hornsby, who was not voted a World Series share by the ’32 Cubs.
Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot by his girlfriend/showgirl Violet Popovich at the Hotel Carlos on Sheffield Avenue near Wrigley and recovered in time to help Chicago down the stretch.
Wolf weaves these and other details together in “The Called Shot.”
“It was fascinating to research the ’32 season and challenging to put all the stories together for the book,” says Wolf. “I wanted to tie in the world outside of baseball since 1932 was such an important year in the nation’s history — again, the research was eye-opening for me, and I learned a lot.
“I suppose that’s true for everyone who writes non-fiction — the research exposes us to facts and characters and perceptions about events that we only vaguely knew — in my case, for example, the history of the Bonus Army.”
Wolf enjoyed studying what it was like for ballplayers in the 1930’s. They spent many hours on trains, playing cards and talking baseball. Old players mentored new ones.
In that era, there were eight teams in each league with St. Louis being the farthest point west or south. Likely for monetary reasons, road trips would take weeks. For instance, the Cubs might play games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn, Boston and Cincinnati before coming back to Chicago.
As the Yankees travel from New York to Chicago during the World Series, they made a stop in Elkhart, Ind., to change engines.
“Fifty youngsters charged onto the train and searched for ballplayers,” wrote Wolf in “The Called Shot.” “They found Babe Ruth and mobbed him. Ruth and other players signed autographs for their young fans, and then the youths were shooed from the train.”
The routine and relationships between the press and the ballplayers were different in those days.
Wolf notes that today’s athletes will talk to reporters after a game and then tend to their social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter etc.
“Every player is his own brand,” says Wolf. “They’re in their own world with their own followers.”
Wolf says he first began taking notes for what would become “The Called Shot” around 2000, began the writing process around 2013.
He began talking to literary agent Stacey Glick in 2007, began working on a book proposal after that and got contract with the University of Nebraska Press around 2013. He turned the manuscript over to UNP early in 2019 then did the bibliography and end notes.
“It was about a six-year process,” says Wolf.
The book came out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not easy with book stores being closed, book festivals being canceled and newspapers doing less reviews on baseball books.
Born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1947, Thomas Wolf is the son of Irvin and Jeanette “Jan” Wolf, who met at Indiana University. Irvin was born and raised in Wabash, Ind., attended Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., and then got a doctorate in psychology at IU.
Irvin Wolf was a college professor. He was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill when Thomas was 1 to 7. From second grade through high school, his father taught at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
Irvin’s brother, Jack, attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and lived most of his life after college in New York City.
Eugene “Gene” Wolf, grandfather of Thomas and father to Irvin and Jack, moved to Wabash from Germany and was a partner in the Beitman & Wolf department store and married to Rachel Simon Wolf. The Cubs began broadcasting their games on the radio and Gene Wolf became a big fan. He would travel to see games in Chicago.
The ’32 Series was aired by the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS and NBC.
Thomas Wolf has a bachelor’s degree from Knox College Galesburg, Ill., and a master’s in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa.
Wolf taught at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, UNC Chapel Hill and Santa Clara (Calif.) University and was a testing specialist and writing consultant before focusing on writing projects.
Patricia Bryan, Wolf’s wife, is a professor at the UNC School of Law and has been teaching at the university since 1982. She was a visiting professor at her alma mater — the University of Iowa — when she and her husband toured the prison grounds at Anamosa.
Wolf has produced several articles (many in conjunction with Bryan), including “The Warden Takes a Murderer to the World Series: A Tale of Depression-era Compassion,” “On the Brink: Babe Ruth in Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day,” “The Golden Era of Prison Baseball and the Revenge of Casey Coburn” and “Jack Kerouac and Fantasy Baseball.”
There are plans to write another true crime book set in Iowa.
Thomas Wolf and Patricia Bryan have three sons — John and twins David and Mike. John Wolf (29) is a dog trainer living in North Carolina. David Wolf (27) works in the public relations department for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Wolf (27) is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Purdue-Fort Wayne.
Freedman, a newspaperman for 50 years living in Columbus, Ind., serving as sports editor of the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune, has authored or co-authored about 110 books in the past three decades — about 60 on sports with two-thirds of them being on baseball.
He lived the Phillies story as a Philadelphia Inquirer staffer in 1980 assigned to write the sidebar on World Series MVP and future Hall of Famer Schmidt. The journalist was able to draw from what he witnessed at the time plus research. Philadelphia topped the Kansas City Royals in six games as Schmidt hit .381 (8-of-21) with two home runs, seven runs batted in and six runs score.
The seed that grew into the Cy Young book was decades in the making.
“I had it in my head for years and years and years — almost 30 years,” says Freedman. “I was getting more and more interested in baseball history.”
Even though he was serving as sports editor at the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News at the time, Freedman made a trip to the research library at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and gathered information on the man with 511 career pitching victories — far more than anyone in big league annals and wrote a column about Denton True Young — first known as Cyclone for clobbering a wooden fence with his pitches and then Cy.
“Nobody will ever come close,” says Freedman of durable right-hander Young’s win total. “There have been some Cy Young books, but not a lot.
“This is the first time in 20 years there’s been a new look at Cy Young.”
“(Cy Young is an) old story, but he never gets old,” says Freedman. “I wanted to get Cy Young’s voice as much as possible and get into what kind of guy he was.
“He was not a controversial guy. He did not get into trouble. He didn’t keep late hours. He didn’t party.”
Except for his time on a baseball field, Young spent his time as a farmer in northeast Ohio.
Since Young’s 22-year-old career spans from 1890 to 1911, finding the pitcher’s voice was not easy.
“When Cy Young was playing sportswriters did not go to the locker room right after the game and get quotes,” says Freedman. The scribes were focused on getting play-by-play details into their stories and then meeting deadlines and often racing for the train station for the team’s next game. “Contemporaneous reports are missing.”
Luckily for Freedman and other baseball researchers, Young lived to be 88 and shared his thoughts freely for decades after the end of his career.
“His brains were picked about his highlights,” says Freedman. “That stuff was golden material for a guy like me.”
Young spent much of his Hall of Fame career with two primary catchers — Chief Zimmer and Lou Criger. The latter is an Elkhart, Ind., native who was with Young in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston from 1896 to 1908.
The Cy Young Award was first presented to the top pitcher in Major League Baseball in 1956 in honor of a man who not only won 94 more games than the second man on the list (Hall of Famer Walter Johnson), but tossed an astounding 7,356 innings with 29,565 batters faced and 749 complete games. Both the American and National leagues have handed out the Cy Young Award since 1967.
“I love baseball history,” says Freedman. “I learn something all the time when I do the research.
“I was very happy when I held the Cy Young book in my hand.”
Freedman’s newspaper career started when he was in high school in the Boston suburb of Newton, Mass.
He was with the Inquirer when an Alaskan vacation turned into 17 years as a sports editor there. He later was on the staff at the Chicago Tribune and Florida Times-Union and was sports editor at The Republic in Columbus, Ind. He has won more than 250 journalism awards.
Along the way, Freedman kept researching and writing books. There are many related to Alaska, even one that ties baseball to the remote 49th state.
“As long as I can come up with a great topic in my mind and (a book publisher) also thinks it’s a good idea,” says Freedman.
When his books come out is not entirely up to Freedman. Done and awaiting editor’s approval is a something tentatively called “1930: When Everybody Was Babe Ruth.”
To Freedman, 1930 was the “Year of the Hitter” the way 1968 is referred to as the “Year of the Pitcher.”
“Hitting went crazy and pitching was atrocious,” says Freedman. “That year the seams were raised on the ball. Pitchers could not control it. (Hitters) had the years of their lives.
“After that, they changed the rules so it didn’t happen again.”
Lefty-swinging outfielder George “Showboat” Fisher played four major league seasons — hitting .261 in 1923, .220 in 1924 and .182 in 1931. His 1930 mark was .374 as a reserve for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Fisher lived to 95.
“He got to talk about (the 1930 season) for the rest of his life,” says Freedman, who notes that ’30 was the year of the National League’s last .400 hitter (Hall of Fame first baseman Bill Terry of the New York Giants at .401).
All eight position players in the St. Louis Cardinals regular starting lineup hit .300, including outfielder George Watkins at .373.
It was hoped that the Phillies book would come out as part of a 40th-year anniversary and a celebration was planned during spring training in Clearwater, Fla.
Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and that changed everything about 2020.
On March 16, Freedman was on his way home from a western trip to cover rodeo (he once spent three months in Wyoming researching a book on rodeo). He literally had businesses shutting down behind him as he drove back toward southern Indiana.
One day he ate in a restaurant, the next day they were putting chairs on top of tables at a truck stop.
More recently, Freedman has been able to cover high school football for his paper and has been contemplating his next baseball book project.
First baseman Johnny Mize was a star for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and New York Yankees in the late 1930’s through early 1950’s.
“He’s been under-covered,” says Freedman of the Hall of Fame.
Migley Field was started with some scrap fencing in 2006 and elements have been added over the years, including Wrigley-like scoreboard and marquee.
Before each home game, they play recordings of retired Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy and the voice of radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes welcomes everyone. Regular-season home games start at 1:20 p.m. as do the Hometown Cup semifinals.
The Hometown Cup draws 70 to 80 teams most years. Twenty fields are used during Saturday pool play — some at the Little League park and some at New Prairie High School.
The Top 48 return Sunday for single-elimination play with the semifinals and championship on Migley Field. Dimensions roughly emulate those in Chicago. It’s 95 feet down the left field line, 98 in the power alleys, 100 to center and 93 down the right field line.
This year, all-time home run leader Scott Soos of the Newts belted his 400th circuit clout. The league has been keeping stats since about 2010.
While Hometown Days is canceled for 2020, the Hometown Cup aka The Wiffle® Ball Championship will go on July 24-26. The home run derby is July 24, pool play July 25 and the Top 48 in single-elimination plus the semifinals and finals July 26. The last two rounds are at Migley Field.
Past finals have drawn hundreds of spectators. BroadcastSport.net is again planning to stream the semifinals and finals on the internet.
ORWBL is one of the few Wiffle® Ball leagues around that has home fields for all its teams — Palace of Bourissa Hills (301 St. Meridian St., New Carlisle) for the Wildcards, The Garage (7564 E. 400 N., Rolling Prairie) for the Kings, The Barnyard (9352 S 150 W., Union Mills) for the Cyclones, Magic Park (Kesling Park, A Street, LaPorte) for the Magic, various locations for the Heat, The Spin Factory (3810 Lincolnway East, Mishawaka) for the Meatspins, The Goat House (53105 Ironwood Rd., South Bend) for the Billy Goats, Manor Field (2332 Kenilworth Dr., Elkhart) for BFAM, Cam Snead Field (51972 Gentian Lane, Mishawaka) for the Panthers, The Hideout (410 French St., Niles, Mich.) for the Godfathers, Rocko’s Park (29481 Lynn St., New Carlisle) for the Leprechauns, Migley Field (500 S. Bray St., New Carlisle) for the Newts, The Land Down Under (110 S. Harris St., New Carlisle) for Emery’s Army and Helmet Head Field (10109 S. 600 W., Union Mills) for the Goon Squad.
Week 4 (June 3) players of the week were Eric Wodrich (Meatspinners) in the American League and Nate Hansen (Leprechauns) in the National League. Wodrich went 15-of-22 (.682 average) with six homers, 12 RBIs and 11 runs. Hansen was 10-of-17 (.588) with eight homers, eight RBIs at the plate and went 2-1 in 19 innings pitched with a 7.68 earned run average.
The ORWBL plays tripleheaders on Sundays for a 24-game regular season. Playoffs run through August. Games are six innings and last 45 minutes to an hour each. The league plays with a pitcher, catcher and three fielders.
The pitching rubber is between 30 and 40 feet from home plate. There will be no called strikes, balls or walks. Batters can strike out swinging. Foul tips caught by the catcher with two strikes will also be a strikeout. The pitcher’s hand rule applies for outs. There is no bunting allowed in slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
It’s always been pitch-to-hit league. Every pitch has to have some sort of arc.
“It was built as a fun league — giving the batter a pitch to hit,” says Magic manager and ORWBL commissioner Alex Friedman. “You get action all the time. Balls are being batted into the field of play. Defense has to be played.
“People enjoy watching our style.”
Maple City is the defending three-time league champion. Friedman took over ORWBL commish duties from Keck.
Friedman says one of the reasons the league uses three outfielders is that Bourissa Hills — home of the former league champion Pterodactyls — is so wide and there’s so much outfield ground to cover.
Covering the world of ORBWL is the Don’t Get Wifflenated podcast. WiffleTalk.com follows all things slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
There’s even a ORWBL Hall of Fame.
The Dirtyard (1117 W. Epler Ave., Indianapolis) is known as one of the top Wiffle® Ball fields in the country.
Circle City will be hosting the National Wiffle® World Series there Sept. 18-20 (it moved from Morenci, Mich.).
The league typically plays Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. There is a one-day round robin tournament to get all eight teams to the field at one time and promote league camaraderie. That recent Sunday event went from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are lights at The Dirtyard.
To be a National Wiffle® member league, a website, statistics and video presence must be kept.
“It’s to prove you are a competitive Wiffle® Ball league,” says Circle City president/commissioner and Short Shorts player Brendan Dudas, oversees The Dirtyard in his parent’s backyard. “You have to be 18 to play for liability reasons.”
Most teams have there own Twitter accounts. Games are often streamed live. Podcasts keep Wiffle® wackos informed.
Dudas and has friends were middle schoolers fooling around in the back yard with a ball and bat in 2009. Four years later, Circle City Wiffle® Ball became a reality.
“It’s been slowly evolving ever since,” says Dudas, who played baseball at Perry Meridian High School and the University of Indianapolis and coached at Center Grove with former Perry coach John Carpenter.
“All the guys in the league are either former athletes,” says Dudas. “They like the competitive nature of sports in general.
“It’s low impact, a controlled environment and we still fulfill the competitive drive we all have. We enjoy being around each other and having fun.”
Circle City plays six-inning games. It’s 3-on-3 (pitcher and two fielders). There can be on a roster and all of them can bat. It’s 45 feet between bases, 47 1/2 feet between the rubber and the strike board.
“You have to have (quality) pitchers in fast pitch (Wiffle® Ball) or it becomes a walk fest,” says Dudas. “In the national tournament, it’s all about pitching. The recipe to win tournament is throw a shutout, make one big play and hit a home run. Scores are often 1-0 and 2-1.”
The Dirt Yard dimensions are 89 feet down the left field line, 97 to left-center, 95 to right-center, 102 to center and 85 down the right field line.
Dudas has observed that most leagues have fields between 75 to 100 down the lines and 85 to 110 to center.
“You get further than than and it gets hard to poke the ball out,” says Dudas.
When the 8 Balls joined the league in 2017, they brought snazzy uniforms with them and the league soon followed suit and now sublimated jerseys are a Circle City requirement.
“We encourage guys to run wild with it,” says Dudas, who cites Keck and the ORWBL as the inspiration for creating his league.
“It’s fun to do something competitive one you get out of high school” says Ratajczyk. “It satisfies everybody’s competitive desires in the summer.
“We had enough friends that wanted to do it consistently. We’ve embraced it as a weekend getaway where we get to see our friends.”
Traditionally a Sunday league, Griffleball went to four weekend tournaments (pool play Saturday and single-elimination Sunday) for the 2020 slate. Remaining dates are June 27-28, July 18-19, Aug. 1-2.
New players can pick the team of their choice. There is also a league waiver wire.
Every squad picks out new flashy uniforms each season.
“We usually sit down in January and February and brainstorm,” says Ratajczyk of Griffleball planning. “This year was the exception with coronavirus.”
While childhood 1-on-1 games between Ryan Galiher and Kyle Lidster can be cited as the genesis of Griffleball, the league’s modern origins date to 2010 when it played on a public basketball court and set up fencing around the grass — ask the Griffle Grounds in Highland.
The 2017 all-star game was played at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith and the league moved its games there for 2018 and 2019.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, a new field — The Warehouse, 5000 W. 45th Ave., Gary — was selected for 2020 action. Opening Day was June 6.
The first eight years of Griffleball, teams were kept intact year after year. The last two years, things were shaken up and there was a re-drafting of players.
Even with the moves, Griffleball has stuck with the same field dimensions — 60 feet down the foul lines, 85 to the gaps and 80 to center.
Griffleball games are five innings and last around an hour. There are four players per team though there is only a pitcher and two fielders at a time. Everyone in the lineup hits.
There is no catcher in fast-pitch Wiffle® Ball, but a strike board (which is 20 inches wide, 32 inches tall and 12 inches off the ground).
There are two outs per inning, five balls for a walk or two hit batsmen in the same at-bat.
Ratajczyk, who has played in all four National Wiffle® (formerly National Wiffle Ball League Association) leagues in Indiana, says fast pitch Wiffle Ball is all about the batter vs. pitcher duel and the scores of games often rely on the elements.
“If the wind is blowing, there will be no runs,” ays Ratajczyk. “If the wind is blowing out, there will be a ton of runs.”
The GBL has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snap Chat.
LWA plays all its games at a six-field compound in an incorporated community near Crown Point on land owned by commissioner/president and Leroy Riot owner/manager Tim Wiltjer. The address is 4504 E. 145th Ave., Crown Point.
In 2020, the league includes 12 teams — Backdoor Sliders, Barn Stormers, Bushleague Badgers, Fabulous Flamingos, Lake County Liners, Leroy Riot, Marvelous Maniacs, Mighty Melon Heads, Noble Narwhals, Porter County Porkers, Squints Sluggers and Walking Tacos.
The Sluggers are the defending champions.
Ty Bothwell (a redshirt pitcher for Indiana University baseball in 2020) and Bo Hofstra (a junior pitcher at Purdue University) are on the Badgers.
There are seven players on each roster with four players competing in games. There are three players on defense — one pitcher and two fielders. The fourth player keeps stats or takes a break.
All four players have to pitch one inning, giving everyone a chance to bat, field and pitch. Regular-season games are five innings with two games a night. A team’s best pitcher goes two innings with one apiece for the other three.
Post-season games are six innings. Forty-eight players compete each Wednesday.
“It breaks up the week,” says Wiltjer of the preferred gameday.
A unique feature of LWA is that only the manager can stay with a team year after year while the rest of the rosters are shuffled.
“We start fresh,” says Wiltjer. “We don’t have a Golden State Warriors thing going on.
“As commissioner, I want to see our guys get along and get together. Teams from so many different cities with so many friend groups.”
The LWA is numbers-driven.
“I’m obsessed with stats,” says Wiltjer.
To keep things competitive, Wiltjer has devised a “salary cap” based on the batting and pitching numbers put up by players. All awards are stat-based. The highest salary is the MVP. Ironman awards go to those with the most at-bats or most innings pitched.
While the first official LWA season was 2014, Wiffle Ball was part of a Lawn Olympics on the property before that.
Leroy plays a hybrid style of Wiffle® Ball. Throwing fast pitch, pitchers can run up a count of up to five balls. After that, he moves closer to the batter and lobs it.
Once a 10-ball count is reached, the batter can elect to take a single or he can elect to keep hitting. At 15 balls, it becomes an automatic double, 20 an automative triple and 25 an automatic home run.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Wiltjer. “It gets runs all the time.”
Teams rotate among the six fields. Two fields are symmetrical with dimensions being 85 feet down the lines and 95 to center.
The four other wider fields give a flavor for Major League Baseball parks, including Boston’s Fenway Park (short porch in right and deeper in right center), Houston’s Minute Maid Park (deeper center, shallow left and right), Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
It’s 45 feet between bases with 48 feet between pitching rubber and strike board.
Batting lineup pitching lineup are the same and must be submitted 24 hours before the game.
The LWA normally begins the first or second week of May. There’s an 11-week regular season (22 games per team).
The 12th team does not make the playoffs. Teams seeded 7-10 go into a single-elimination “death bracket” with the winner earning the No. 8 in the Final Eight. Teams then play two-game series plus a one-inning sudden death game to break ties (if necessary). There can be extra innings.
Pitchers switch every inning during the playoffs.
“All four Indiana (National Wiffle®) leagues are very, very unique,” says Wiltjer. “That’s what makes it awesome.”
Going Corn is the podcast of the Leroy Wiffle® Association.
Indiana players are well-represented on the rolls of the Wiffy Awards presented by National Wiffle®.
Migley Field (ORWBL) was the National Field of the Year in 2019.
The New Carlisle Newts (ORWBL) had the Team Jersey of the Year in 2019.
Friedman (ORWBL) was National Commissioner of the Year in 2018 and National Manager of the Year in 2017.
Nick Arndt (ORWBL) belted his way to National Home Run Champ and Jay Ryans (ORWBL) tossed his way to National Closer of the Year — both in 2012.
Garrett Curless (ORWBL) powered to National Home Run Champ in 2011.
The Dirtyard (CCW) was chosen as National Field of the Year in 2018.
Mid City Moonshots (CCW) sported the Team Logo of the Year in 2019
Caleb Jonkman (LWA) was selected as National Player of the Year in 2017 and 2019 and thumped his way to National Home Run King in 2019. He also is regular in all four Indiana National Wiffle® leagues.
Matt Dykstra (LWA) was National Closer of the Year in 2016.
Christiansen has been at the school since the fall of 2008 and has led the Eagles baseball program since 2009 in all but one season, when he was finishing graduate school.
A 1997 graduate of Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Christiansen played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and was a top-notch football receiver.
His diamond teammates included two players selected in the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — A.J. Zapp (in the first round to the Atlanta Braves) and Nick Jamison (in the 31st round to the Detroit Tigers).
After earning his undergraduate degree at Indiana University, where he did not play sports, Christiansen did some student teaching in Australia. He then was a teacher and coached baseball and football for two years at Carmel (Ind.) High School.
Pamela Christiansen, Kurt’s wife went to law school at Valparaiso University, and got a job in South Bend, bringing the family to northern Indiana. Kurt was a teacher and coached baseball and football at NorthWood High School for four years before pursuing the opportunity to teach at CMA.
Christiansen describes the humanities as a combination of Language Arts and Social Studies in a traditional school.
“It’s pretty wonderful,” says Christiansen. “The kids are learning to read and write and think in a pretty interdisciplinary setting.”
Culver Military Academy offers what its website calls “a leadership approach that develops young men into leaders of character who are poised for global success in any career path.”
There is also a Culver Girls Academy. Together with CMA for boys, they form what is known as the Culver Academies.
Students come from far and wide.
While seven players had hometowns in Indiana, Culver’s 2018 roster featured athletes from Alaska, California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington as well as Korea.
Culver Academies has a college advising office, which helps students make connections at the university level.
“Ideally, a Culver kid is using baseball to help them find the best academic fit for them,” says Christiansen. “Baseball is part of what got them to the school. The end benefit is a world-class education.”
Christiansen knows that college coaches have often seen players through video, scouting or camps and they are calling him to fish out the story.
“One of the big benefits about being at Culver is that I know my players,” says Christiansen. “I see them on and off the field quite a bit. I have a pretty good sense of who they are.”
Christiansen says Culver Academies students are attractive to colleges not only because they are strong academically, but they’ve also learned to develop independence.
“They’re at a boarding school far from home and they’re figuring out how to take care of themselves,” says Christiansen. “All of that’s done before these colleges get them and that’s a real big bonus.”
It’s not a cookie-cutter approach taken by Christiansen and his fellow instructors.
“Like any school, kids are kids,” says Christiansen. “Each kid is a little bit different. So you’ve got to find ways to connect with them and teach them. But it helps that we’ve got kids who are committed to the mission of the school.
“How do I leverage baseball to deliver on that mission? That’s a question that the staff constantly asks of ourselves — not just to put kids in a position to compete and win baseball games and develop as athletes but develop dispositions and mindsets that will serve them in life.”
With no feeder program, Christiansen often does not know who he will have on his baseball team until school starts in the fall, though he does sometimes find out who has a baseball background during the admissions process.
“In almost 100 percent of the cases I’ve never seen them throw or hit,” says Christiansen. “I have to work pretty hard to recruit our own campus because there’s so many interesting and wonderful opportunities. Kids grow up playing Little League and they get to Culver and decide they want to try crew or lacrosse.
“I have to identify the baseball players and make sure they still want to come out and be part of the program.”
The school’s mission includes a wellness component and students not in a sport must do something to get exercise.
“Not all of our kids are premier athletes,” says Christiansen. “Hockey and lacrosse programs are elite. They’re really, really good — some of the best in the country.”
Baseball, which plays on Wilkins Field, is restricted by school policy from playing more than a couple of games during the school week with other contests on Saturdays. This means CMA schedules around 20 to 23 games or less than the 28 regular-season contests allowed by the IHSAA.
“We want to make sure our kids have plenty of time to study and they’re not out until 9 or 10 o’clock at night four or five nights in a row,” says Christiansen.
Being an independent, CMA often gets bumped when other schools must make up conference games.
Christiansen’s coaching staff includes three other senior humanities instructors — J.D. Uebler with the varsity and John Rogers and Andy Strati leading the junior varsity.
Kurt and Pamela Christiansen have three children — Jack (11), Sarah (10) and Joey (5).
Culver (Ind.) Military Academy head baseball coach Kurt Christiansen with Hayden Schott at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.
Kurt Christiansen is the head baseball coach and a humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy. He played high school baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph at Center Grove. (Steve Krah Photo)
Coming to the Daviess County school in the fall of 1976 after a playing career at the University of Evansville, Rademacher threw himself into all things baseball. Not only did he coach high school players, he was also in charge of the summer program for kindergartners through eighth graders. He performed field maintenance and called on sponsors around Montgomery.
He enjoyed teaching the game, doing that well enough to win more than 400 games.
The 1972 Holland High School (consolidated after his senior year with Huntingburg to form Southridge) served two separate terms as Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association president, building statewide relationships and gaining satisfaction from the rapport between the coaches and the IHSAA.
In 2007, the IHSBCA welcomed him into its Hall of Fame and his plaque hangs just down the road in Jasper.
But all his baseball responsibilities were physically taxing. After 33 years, Rademacher stepped away.
“I was worn out,” says Rademacher.
Away from all those duties, he had more time to spend with wife Anita and daughters Abby and Amber and to root for his beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
Nathan Lester took over the reins of the Barr-Reeve varsity and held that post for six seasons. Along the way, the field shared with youth baseball and adult slow pitch softball leagues finally put grass around the mound.
“We had one of the last dirt infields in the state,” says Rademacher.
When Lester decided he wanted to see more of his own kids’ games, players ages 6-12 went to the Chuck Harmon Little League in Washington and Rademacher’s teaching job changed from the classroom to physical education sessions without the papers to grade, the Hall of Famer answered the call back to the ball park.
Lester stayed on as an assistant coach and Rademacher began his second stint as the man in charge with the 2016 season and the Vikings won their first sectional crown since 2010.
The 2017 coaching staff also includes Kraig Knepp, Dean Scott, Josh Swartzentruber and Ryan Graber. For more than 20 years, the Vikings have played a junior varsity schedule separate from the varsity.
Junior high players at Barr-Reeve played in the spring and early summer, sharing the same diamond used by the varsity and JV.
“The field takes a beating in April, May and June,” says Rademacher.
A trip to a baseball game — be it in St. Louis or wherever — as an educational experience by the veteran coach.
“What can I learn today?,” says Rademacher, who has also gleaned plenty at clinics. “I watch what other people do. I try to incorporate those things. I played for good coaches (Wayne Ransome at Holland, Wayne Boultinghouse and Bob Hodges as a pitcher at Evansville) and picked up some things from them. I grew up 15 miles from Jasper and I’m now 25 miles from there. If you don’t learn something, you are not paying attention.”
Barr-Reeve baseball is built on solid pitching, but Rademacher also pays attention to hitting.
On a recent afternoon, the Vikings got ready for a home game against Vincennes Lincoln with indoor tee and cage work in the gym.
“Some of our players were too close to the plate and they were jamming themselves,” says Rademacher. “We wanted them to get back off the plate and diving into pitches better.”
Baseball, teaching and family life have kept Rademacher hopping this spring. The reveal for Abby’s first baby was staged around a weekend with the Cardinals.
By the way, a baby boy is due in August.
Barr-Reeve plays in the Blue Chip Conference (with Loogootee, Northeast Dubois, North Knox, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial).
Joe Rademacher, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, is in his second stint as head baseball coach at Barr-Reeve High School. Beginning in 1977, he coached 33 years. He took six off and came back for the 2016 campaign. (Steve Krah Photo)
Chip Sweet (180th HOF inductee): The 1975 Shakamak High School graduate and retired Lakers coach led his alma mater for 21 years — in two stints. His final season of 2014 culminated with an IHSAA Class 1A state championship. His youngest son, Luke, was on the team.
“It was really a pretty special experience,” Sweet said of going out on top.
Older son Josh had been on Shakamak state runner-up teams in 2004 and 2006. The 2012 Sweet-coached Lakers were also state runners-up.
An outfielder as a player, Sweet left the Hoosier State for the Sunshine State for his college baseball experience. After never having been away from home, Sweet spent five years about 1,000 miles away with two years of junior college ball at Central State Community College and three at the University of Florida.
In 1979-80, Sweet coached at Oak Hill Private School in Gainesville, Fla., where the three sons of famed slugger Roger Maris played.
Sweet said Maris did not impose himself on the program.
“He let the coaches do their coaching,” Sweet said. “He was a nice guy.”
Greg Marschand (181st HOF inductee): The 1972 Lewis Cass High School graduate and current Kings coach and athletic director played his college baseball at Columbus (Ga.) State University, where he won a school-record 32 games and learned much from the leader of the program.
“Coach (Charles) Ragsale was a fantastic coach,” Marschand said. “He molded guys from all over nation into a team. But, most of all, he taught us to be men and, on top of that, he taught us to be Christian men.”
A sign on the Cass dressing room points to Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”
Marschand came back from Georgia to Walton, Ind., and through 36 seasons, he had amassed 556 wins with a Class 2A state runner-up finish in 2009.
One of the fitness challenges during Cass practices is called the “Victory Field Challenge.”
“Your ultimate goal is to get back there again (at the State Finals),” Marschand said.
One of his most memorable moments came during the Kings’ annual alumni doubleheader when one of his former players landed his Black Hawk helicopter in right field just to drop in to say hello to his former coach. The player — who Marschand chose not to identify — has since served his country overseas and thrown out the first pitch at a Kings game.
“In coaching, when those kind of things happen, they are more important than any wins, championships or anything else,” Marschand said. “That was a pretty emotional time for me.”
Thanking many family and school members, Marschand also saluted 28-year assistant Steve Ford. They’ve shared many a bus ride together.
Marschand said that when he was down with major back surgery, causing him to miss half the 2016 season, the records were dug out to establish his Hall of Fame credentials.
“What an honor to be voted on by your peers,” Marschand said. “I appreciate each and every one of them for taking the time to cast the ballot to make this happen.”
Paul Ehrman (182nd HOF inductee): The veteran umpire from Batesville and 1963 Carol (Flora) High School graduate began his 49-year career of making the calls in 1964 on the high school and college level after being cut by Ball State Teachers College coach Ray Louthen for being “absolutely too slow.” He had umpired youth games back in 1958.
Ehrman worked the first IHSAA state tournament in 1967. One of his most memorable State Finals came in 1978 and 1979. Future Yankees first baseman and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Mattingly was on Evansville Memorial teams in those years, winning the first one and seeing a 59-game win streak end in the latter.
A baseball and basketball coach and then an AD in the early part of his career, Ehrman became an insurance salesman while continuing umpiring at many levels. He worked in 10 different states and 57 different IHSBCA Hall of Fame coaches. He logged 45 sectionals, 26 regionals, 15 semistate and eight State Finals.
“There’s some really good things and some really bad things about being an umpire,” Ehrman said. “When you’re an umpire, nobody likes you.”
But enough coaches and athletic directors liked him enough to hire him and soon he was scheduling the umpires around southeastern Indiana.
“I enjoyed every minute that I worked,” Ehrman said. There were stretches where he was gone from home more than 40 straight nights while umpiring and appreciates the support from his family.
Married to Karen on June 5, 1965, he worked through many wedding anniversaries.
“She never once complained,” Ehrman said.
Steve DeGroote (183rd HOF inductee): The retired West Vigo High School coach came to Indiana after playing high school and college baseball in Iowa.
DeGroote was on IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach Bob Warn’s staff at Indiana State University before becoming a West Vigo assistant and then head coach from 1993-2013 before another stint on the ISU staff.
DeGroote went all over the U.S. and Canada to recruit players for the Sycamores. Over the years, he noticed more and more baseball talent has turned up on Hoosier soil that has gone on to the college and pro ranks.
One of the highlights of DeGroote’s coaching career came in 2009 with a Class 3A state runner-up finish. The Vikings went into the State Finals at 28-1.
“We had so many people there in green,” DeGroote said. “(The State Finals) was important to our people.”
West Vigo won 525 baseball games on DeGroote’s watch.
DeGroote played football, basketball and baseball in high school and college and his three sons — Cory, Culley and Casey — were also three-sport athletes.
“It makes you a better warrior,” DeGroote said of the multi-sport or non-specializing athlete. “You can work out, but you can never go through warriorship like you do in competition. We don’t have that problem (at West Vigo). We really back each other (as coaches) and try to share (athletes) the best we can and it works out for us.”
DeGroote is also thankful for the lack of outside interference when coaching his athletes.
“I had no problems,” DeGroote said. “They weren’t pampered. I kept telling them, ‘if you guys keep working this hard, you’re going to get my name in the paper.’
“I knew it was more about them than it was about me … All we want is respect.”
Bart Kaufman (184th HOF inductee): The benefactor from Shelbyville was introduced by long-time friend Del Harris, an Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer.
“My first love was baseball,” Harris said. “We all love baseball, but nobody loves baseball any more than Bart Kaufman … How many of you played until 72 (at a Dodgers fantasy camp)?
“He’s one of the most generous and caring people I’ve known in my long life.”
Kaufman, who was nominated by the IHSBCA Hall of Fame Veterans Committee and graduated from Shelbyville High School in 1958 and Indiana University in 1962, spoke about his appreciation for the game and what it has done for him.
“Baseball has been an incredibly important part of my life. It’s permitted me to make lifelong friends like Del Harris and Bill Garrett (the first African-American to play basketball in the Big Ten Conference) … (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and IU coach) Ernie Andres had confidence in me, especially against left-handers. I wasn’t so sure … I enjoyed coaching many boys and men and teaching them the game I loved. I used the discipline that I learned from many coaches … Carl Erskine was the first to suggest I go to Dodgertown in Vero Beach (Fla.) and learn baseball the Dodger Way. Carl has been a friend ever since … Like one of my children told me, if you can’t get inducted into Cooperstown, this is about as good as you’re going to get.”
Kaufman, an outfielder, led the Hoosiers with a .452 batting average in 1961.
One of his most memorable moments came during his junior year when he helped Indiana sweep Ohio State and then got pinned to Judy and they have now been married 54 years with four children.
He went on to play and coach in Indianapolis amateur leagues. He was appointed to a committee that tried to bring Major League Baseball in Indy by Mayor William Hudnut.
Through Kaufman’s philanthropy, baseball fields at IU and Marian University and a softball stadium at the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis all bear his name. Bart Kaufman Field at IU will be the site of the Big Ten tournament May 24-28.
(From left): Don Jennings, Steve DeGroote, Greg Marschand, Paul Ehrman, Bart Kauffman and Chip Sweet.