By STEVE KRAH
A celebration is being planned by the Hammond/Morris Chiefs.
The northwest Indiana-based baseball baseball organization is celebrating its 30th season in 2020.
Founder/coach Dave Sutkowski wants all former players to come to a get-together this some summer (time and place to be determined).
When Sutkowski fielded his first Hammond Chiefs team in 1991.
“At that time there was no travel ball,” says Sutkowski. “There was a lot of baseball for kids until 15 in their local leagues and organizations.
“When they would hit 16, the only thing out there for them was (American Legion) ball. Most Legion teams were affiliated with a high school. Some high schools had no affiliations with Legion teams. We wanted to extend the playing time for kids in the summer once they turned 16.”
Sutkowski coached players at ages 14 and 15 in Babe Ruth League that was a basis for the first 16U Hammond Chiefs team.
The next few years, there were 16U and 17U/18U squads.
The Chiefs won a Senior Babe Ruth World Series championship in 2003.
Five years ago, the Hammond Chiefs merged with Morris Baseball. The Morris Chiefs now field teams from 10U to 17U.
High school age kids play a summer and fall season.
“We’re always teaching,” says Sutkowski. “We are in it to teach the game of baseball and help kids with their skills no matter how young or how old.”
There is year-round training opportunities at Morris Baseball based in the Franciscan Health Fitness Center in Schererville, Ind.
As players become older, exposure for college becomes part of the equation and contacts are made with those coaches.
“When we started, college coaches were always at high school games,” said Sutkowski. “College coaches rarely come to high school games (these days) because of the nature of the season.
“Come summertime, they’re all over the place. We try to go to venues where these kids going to have an opportunity to be seen and recruited.”
The Chiefs have regularly traveled to Perfect Game tournaments near Atlanta and to Prep Baseball Report events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
There were more than 400 teams in the 17U division in 2019 at a Perfect Game tournament.
“Not all kids are (NCAA) D-I players and some kids understand that sooner than others. We as coaches have to put a kid in a position where we think he might have the most success.
“We tell kids that there’s nothing wrong with going to play baseball at a Division II, Division III or NAIA school. In Indiana, there are a lot of good programs that are not Division I. We have to find venues that meet the needs of those kids, too.”
Many events are played on college campuses. Sutkowski notes that the Cincy Flames host an event with games played at schools of various levels.
“Someone from that program is out there running event on their field,” says Sutkowski. “That helps out when you’re able to do that.”
The Chiefs have two alums currently in Major League Baseball — Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) and Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays).
Manaea and Brosseau both spoke at a Chiefs banquet during the recent holiday break held at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith.
At 14, Manaea’s parents brought him from Wanatah to play in a fall league in Hammond and he was with the Chiefs through high school.
Sutkowski is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and has attended more than 20 national conventions, including the one that just wrapped in Nashville.
“The first year I went I fell in love with it. We’ve just made it a point to come every year.
“The speakers are outstanding.”
Pro, college, high school, youth and travel ball coaches are all represented in formal meetings and clinic sessions.
There are also several informal discussions throughout the hallways of the convention.
“They’re all talking baseball,” says Sutkowski. “A lot of times you’ll learn just as much in those little sidebar sessions as you will listening to the speakers.”
The 2020 ABCA drew more than 7,100 coaches to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The 2021 convention is Jan. 7-10 at Gaylord National in Washington, D.C.
The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, which will hold its annual State Clinic Jan. 16-18 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis, is also a regular stop for Sutkowski.
After playing at Hammond Edison Little League, Sutkowski graduated from Hammond Gavit High School in 1978. He is in his 33rd year as a teacher in School City of Hammond. He leads physical education classes for about 600 K-5 students at Lincoln Elementary School.
He stayed involved with baseball after high school as an umpire and a youth coach.
His baseball coaching career at the high school level began as an assistant to George Malis at Hammond. He was also football assistant to Marty Jamrose and Bob Hansen at Hammond Gavit.
Sutkowski then became head baseball coach at Hammond Morton in 1996. The first team was a veteran squad and the second team had only one returning senior and very little varsity experience.
Sutkowski and his players talked about expectations talked about expectations before the season.
“No matter what happens, we never quit at what we do — whether it’s something we’re working on at practice or something during the game,” says Sutkowski. “No matter how frustrating things may become for us, we never lay down and quit. That was our motto.”
At the beginning of the season, the young Governors took their lumps.
“But our kids were getting better,” says Sutkowski. “They never quit. They worked as hard as they could in practice and games.”
One day against Hammond Bishop Noll, Morton got into an early hole.
“I could look at my kids and see they’re done,” says Sutkowski. “We got 10-runned in five (innings).”
Sutkowski did not address his team at the field. They got on the bus and went home.
“I figured I’ve got to do something to remind these kids that we’re not quitters,” says Sutkowski. “I painted our bench pink.
“The players saw it and all understood it.”
Players were responsible for carrying equipment and his lone senior — Justin Hornsby — was made to carry a can of red paint and a brush.
“When we prove that we are no longer going to quit at what we’re doing, you will be the first guy to paint that bench back to red,” says Sutkowski of his remarks to his senior. “That was it.
“The kids all bought into it.”
While the players understood the motivational tactic, it was picked up in the press.
“Since we were using the color pink they thought we were discriminating against females and softball,” says Sutkowski, “It had nothing to do with it — Nothing.”
Sutkowski says former head coach Greg Jancich supported the idea of reinforcing the no-quit rule with the players.
Though he was given no specific reason, the administration opted not to bring Sutkowski back for a third season.
Dave Sutkowski is the founder of the Hammond/Morris Chiefs travel baseball organization. The 2020 season will be the 30th for the group based in northwest Indiana. (Steve Krah Photo)