It wasn’t that long ago that Brad Stoltzfus was leading off and playing on the right side of the infield for the Goshen (Ind.) College baseball program. The righty swinger from Souderton, Pa. (northwest of Philadelphia), appeared in 199 games for the Maple Leafs from 2015-18. After getting his broadcasting degree, Stoltzfus took a job in town (he’s a shift leader at Goshen Brewing Company) and became a volunteer assistant on head coach Alex Childers’ staff. Justin Grubbs is Goshen’s pitching coach. Michael Walker is the other assistant. As the Maple Leafs get ready for 2023, Stoltzfus is now in a paid position and is guiding hitters and infielders. Stoltzfus wants his hitters to know their strengths and weaknesses. “Know where you can get beat and know the situation and what you’re trying to accomplish at the plate,” says Stoltzfus. “We want you to be good at situational hitting.” It always pays to be selective and not swing at every pitch that comes a hitter’s way. “We have good pitchers in (the NAIA Crossroads League) but we also have pitchers that’ll walk you if you let them,” says Stoltzfus. “We want some guys to be a bit more aggressive because they can hit it in the gap. “Clinton Stroble was one of the best hitters to go through this program I played with him for three years. He and I had very different approaches because he could put one 400 feet away and I couldn’t.” Stoltzfus worked to get on-base so Strobel could knock him in. A student of big league players, Stoltzfus likes the way Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman plays the game. As a hitting coach, Stoltzfus talks about recognizing pitch shapes. “(Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander) Clayton Kershaw is a good example,” says Stoltzfus. “You see a fastball out of his hand and it’s slightly down. Whereas, his curveball is slightly up. If you can see it out of the hand forget the spin. “If you can recognize (shape) right away you know what pitch is coming now and it’s all timing. Timing is a big thing. It’s getting your load and timing down and reacting to the pitch. Put a good swing on the pitch you want.” As a GC player, Stoltzfus was a second baseman as a freshman and sophomore and a first baseman as a junior and senior. As an infield coach, he stresses the ready position and knowing what to do with the baseball when it is hit to them. “I’d like to think I had a very good Baseball I.Q. and was a very good defensive player,” says Stoltzfus. “I would always figure out ways to gain an advantage on my opponent on the mental side of things.” From a teacher at Souderton Area High School. Stoltzfus learned how to visualize success and avoid negative self talk in favor of positive. If you see yourself striking out with the bases loaded or making a crucial error that can lead to it happening. Replace that with getting the key hit or making the right play. The Maple Leafs open the 2023 season Feb. 4-5 with doubleheaders at Union College in Barbourville, Ky. Goshen opens Crossroads League play March 2 at Marian. The first home date is March 4 against Marian. While getting ready, Friday practices will be dedicated to individual player skill development. Sometimes technology like HitTrax or Rapsodo is used to mark progress. “We break down what we think they can do better,” says Stoltzfus. “I try to put myself in their shoes because I know I was in their spot once before. “We’re just trying to go out and get better each day and progress as coaches and players.” Stoltzfus, who graduated in 2018, is grateful for his Goshen education and his experiences at the campus radio station — 91.1 The Globe (WGCS-FM). “Uncle” Duane Stoltzfus is a Professor of Communication. “My parents (Barry and Ingrid) gave me the option to explore and go wherever,” says Brad, got a diploma at GC following his father (business), mother (nursing) and older brother Drew (music) while sister Leah was Brad’s biggest fan. “Ultimately I landed here. I really appreciate the degree I got here because there’s so many things take from what I did in a radio setting and apply that to everyday life and my job (including customer service). “(Assistant Professor of Communication and The Globe advisor) Jason Samuel was an awesome mentor.” Both from the Philly area, Stoltzfus and Samuel have had many discussions about City of Brotherly Love sports teams. Barry Stoltzfus, who went to South Bend (Ind.) Riley High School, was at Wrigley Field in Chicago the day that Mike Schmidt belted four home runs (April 17, 1976) in an 18-16 win for the Philadelphia Phillies over the Cubs. Brad grew up wearing No. 11 on the diamond. When he was making the transition to the bigger field he landed on a team with a player already donning that digit. Consulting with his dad, he decided on No. 20 (Schmidt’s number) and wore that through high school. Stoltzfus sported No. 44 as a Goshen player. On May 25, 2011, Brad and three friends were in Philadelphia to see the Phillies play the Cincinnati Reds. The game went 19 innings and the foursome stayed for the whole thing, even gathering three baseball including a home run ball by Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce.
A unique blend of active youths, men and women go to a space in Franklin, Ind., to get better at their chosen activity or to enjoy the company of friends. Located since 2017 inside the 400 Complex in Franklin, Ind., Powerhouse Athletics is available to college ballplayers who need to get in some cuts or a lift at 2 a.m. or to boys and girls learning in clinics or private lessons. Established in 2013 by Chad Fowler, Powerhouse Athletics’ training space — batting cages, bullpens, defensive areas and a fully-stocked weight room — is in the process of expanding from 20,000 to 33,000 square feet. The place located a mile north of Franklin College and less than two miles west of I-65 is equipped with HitTrax, Rapsodo, Blast sensors, Diamond Kinetics, iPitch, Hack Attack and many other developmental tools. “We also train athletic movement for football, basketball and adults,” says Fowler. “We’ve got a little bit of everything in here. “Our weight room is going from 8 in the morning until 10 at night. Our doors are open basically 100 percent of the time.” During the COVID-19 quarantine of 2020, some college players moved in. “We checked on them and brought them food,” says Fowler. “They were also doing school work.” As of this writing, 512 baseball and softball players train at Powerhouse Athletics. That number includes two 2020-21 Gatorade Player of the Year honorees — Max Clark (Franklin Community High School Class of 2023) in baseball and Keagan Rothrock (Roncalli High School Class of 2023) in softball. There are around 240 contracted players who compete for Team Powerhouse in travel baseball or softball. Each year that’s between 20 and 22 teams. Players come from as far north as Kokomo and as far south as Louisville. “It’s really a community program, but our community is more the state of Indiana than just Franklin,” says Franklin. There are six school districts in Johnson County — Franklin Community (Franklin Community High School), Center Grove Community (Center Grove High School), Clark-Pleasant Community (Whiteland Community High School), Edinburgh Community (Edinburgh High School), Greenwood Community (Greenwood Community High School) and Ninevah-Hensley-Jackson United (Indian Creek High School). Through mutual agreement, these students can train at Powerhouse free of charge if they work around lessons. “They help clean and with clinics and do a lot of mentoring with our youth,” says Fowler, who was born and raised in Franklin and graduated from Franklin Community in 1995. “And they’re not spending money to work on their craft.” Two physical therapists help athletes. Several teachers donate their time to help students with their studies. “We have grade checks here,” says Fowler. “We can help parents reinforce better behavior. We preach good character and good grades. “We want to get them on the right path.” Fowler insists on meeting every parents and athlete and knows them all by name. “(College) coaches call me because I know the kid on a personal level,” says Fowler. “I know his character and his work ethic. “They’re all my kids. There’s going to be some tough conversations. I’m going to love you death.” Powerhouse athletes are held accountable for their actions. Fowler keeps a white trapper folder with apology letters written to people that athletes might have wronged and gives them copies when the the athlete graduates high school. Besides owner Chad Fowler and softball pitching instructor Keagan Rothrock, trainers include Laura Rothrock (softball pitching), Mike Copeland (Max Strength and Performance), Sammy Wilkerson (Max Strength and Performance), Tony Maclennan (catching), Patrick Antone (baseball and softball hitting), Haley Wilkerson (softball hitting), Erin Lee (softball hitting), Corin Dammier (softball catching), Emma Bailey (softball pitching), Jake Sprinkle (baseball pitching), Grant Druckemiller (assistant facility manager and hitting), Cody Fowler (facility manager and hitting) and Dalton Carter (lead pitching instructor and arm health). Full-time employees are Chad Fowler, Cody Fowler, Carter, Druckemiller and office manager Rachel Fowler. Chad and Rachel Fowler have three sons — Cody (25), Blake (22) and Jace (18). Cody Fowler played baseball at Franklin Community High school and attended Indiana State University. Reptile-loving Blake Fowler — he has a room for them at Powerhouse — has completed Ivy Tech and is looking into further educational options. Jace Fowler (Franklin Community Class of 2022) is committed to play baseball at Indiana State. Jace is part of a group that was with Chad Fowler from age 7 to 17 — aka “The Kids That Built The House.” The others are Xavier Brown, Max Clark, Logen Devenport, Drew Doty and Nolan Netter. Clark has been coming to Powerhouse since he was 5. Cooper Trinkle has been part of the crew since 7. Brothers Cooper and Grant Trinkle regularly come to Powerhouse Athletics to help with youth clinics etc. While many athletes have gone from Powerhouse Athletics to college teams and others have made that commitment, Fowler takes no credit for that and he does not place one achievement about another. “That’s that kids and parents’ success,” says Fowler. “I’m just excited for the kid who gets into trade school as one who gets into Indiana State or Vanderbilt. “We literally try to invest in every kid. It’s not just a baseball and softball building. It’s a good place. Everybody is one team. It’s what I require.” Fowler witnesses a facility full of grinders and see that spirit around this cold-weather state. “Indiana is a hotbed for baseball and softball talent,” says Fowler. “It’s incredible. “Our Indiana athletes can compete with anybody out there. They do great work.”
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
There plenty of challenges. One example is with budgeting.
“It’s hard knowing what the landscape is going to look like one, two, three years out and the costs that can add up and the things that are unforeseen,” says Sagerman. “There are minute details and you make sure all of those are accounted for in your planning process.”
When IU goes on the road, Sagerman works with a travel agent and sets up a bus company. The driver is given a full itinerary. Staying at the team hotel, the driver is available whenever team members need the bus. When possible, drivers who are familiar with the Hoosiers are requested.
Sagerman assists Parker with pitch design.
“I enjoy working with all the different tools and making the data applicable to players and coaches,” says Sagerman. “As each class comes in they know more about technology. The coaches do a good job of explaining what the data means.
“It’s not just overwhelming them with an Excel sheet of data.”
IU’s Bart Kaufman Field is equipped with a TrackMan video system which allows Sagerman to present postgame reports to pitchers on every single pitch. They can learn many things about the quality of those pitches, including location and effectiveness, and apply that in the future.
“They can see that their slider in the game was 1 mph slower with an inch less horizontal break than they’ve seen in practice or other games,” says Sagerman.
Another way to make pitches better is by finding comparable data from professional pitchers.
On the hitting side, a heat map of the strike zone can be created to show exit velocity and launch angle and a profile is built.
Sagerman says since this information is available to the opponent, they can use it to attack a hitter’s weaknesses.
“As a hitter, I need to train myself to not swing or hit that pitch better,” says Sagerman.
A virtual reality system helps hitters with pitch recognition. They see how quickly they can pick up pitch type and location.
“We do a good job of using utilizing all the different pieces of technology to paint a picture for that specific athlete,” says Sagerman. “I didn’t access to any of this stuff in college. The boom of tech/analytics has come about in the last two or three years.
“It would have helped my career immensely.”
Sagerman has that there is a misconception that with technology comes an infinite outcome. It must be applied correctly to help the user.
Also, limited resources can bring about results. Sagerman was a coach and administrator with the Dayton Classics travel baseball organization. The Classics used a radar gun. Launch angle was measured with strings in the batting cage.
“My education taught me problem-solving and organizational skills,” says Sagerman. “The engineering, I use on analytics and the pitching side.”
A typical day for Sagerman when the Hoosiers are at home begins with him arriving at the stadium around 7 a.m. for a workout. He then splits his time between operations and pitching tasks.
He answers general emails and communicates with the opposing director of operations.
Sagerman works with IU’s game management staff and he also makes sure the team has the day’s schedule and knows which uniforms to wear. He sees that the pregame meal is set up. He assists the staff in preparing lineup cards.
During the game, he keeps his own scorecard and makes notes. He is also there to make sure everything goes smoothly and is there to get anything needed by the coaches. Monitoring the weather is also part of his job.
After the game, Sagerman runs pitching and hitting reports and gets those to the coaching staff. He also makes sure the team has the schedule for the next day.
“They’re definitely some long days for sure,” says Sagerman.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana played its last game of the 2020 season March 11 (the Hoosiers finished 9-6).
During quarantine time, Sagerman has been working on long-term projects.
“I’m looking for the most efficient processes and to be more organized, efficient and effective,” says Sagerman. “I’m also doing some prep for next year like ordering equipment.”
Denton Sagerman is the Director of Operations/Pitching Development for Indiana University baseball. (Indiana University Photo)
The Valparaiso (Ind.) University assistant is in his fifth season and the second as a full-time staffer. He was a volunteer his first three campaigns with the Crusaders.
“I did not collect a paycheck or have health insurance my first six or seven years of college baseball,” says Winter, who was on the staffs at Muskingum University (New Concord, Ohio) in 2013 and 2014 and Shippensburg (Pa.) University in 2015 before landing at Valpo. “You have to be willing to ride out the storm.”
While at Shippensburg and with his girl friend Dana in Cleveland, Winter stocked shelves 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Lowe’s before beginning his coaching day.
“I was working to coach,” says Winter.
In the summer of 2015, he moved to Cleveland and cleaned at chemical plants while sending out his baseball coaching resume.
“I didn’t think I’d have a chance to move into the Division I game,” says Winter. “I thank Coach Schmack for his willingness to open the resume and look at the cover letter.
“It’s been a life changer for me.”
Kory and Dana Winter have been married a little over two years and have house and a 14-month-old son named Kal.
Winter is now the recruiting coordinator and is in charge of hitters and outfielders.
“The head coach has so much on their plate with administrative stuff,” says Winter. “(Assistant) Casey Fletcher and I map out the game plan (for recruiting). What do we need to two or three years? How do they fit into our culture? We take Schmack’s vision and try to put that into practice.”
They are on the lookout for the under-recruited and tend to go after Midwestern players who understand what it means to play and practice in the cold and can relate to the coaches, who all hail from this part of the country.
Winter goes to see the recruits play and them stays in-contact by phone. It’s also his job to keep track of scholarships and determine what kind of value a student-athlete will bring to the private school.
“To make Valpo financially viable, they give athletic aid,” says Winter. “It’s much more affordable if you have good grades or test scores.
“It makes us more competitive in the recruiting process and more appealing to those families.”
That means a minimum 3.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and and ACT of 23 or better. Winter says the average on the baseball team is between 26 and 28, putting them above the 90 percentile.
“It’s nice about having smart kids,” says Winter. “They ask questions and process the game differently.”
As hitting coach, Winter works to get players to understand their strengths and weaknesses in the strike zone.
“We cater their approach to what they’re good at,” says Winter. “We use HitTrax data to build a case for why a guy should be looking middle-out or middle-in.”
For many, there is an adjustment in hitting at the college level.
“In high school, they might get multiple pitches to hit (per at-bat),” says Winter. “We want to get them to understand how they’re being pitched and when to be aggressive and when not to be. What is your plan?”
With the velocity at the D-I level, hitters must often anticipate the pitch out of the pitcher’s hand.
Hitters learn how to sit on pitches in certain counts. Winter says 2-0 should be a fastball, but they may see a 2-1 change-up or 3-2 curve ball.
Winter takes a very conservative approach to outfield play.
“We want to make the right play vs. the great one,” says Winter. “We want to hit every cut-off man. I don’t care if we have zero assists on the season.”
By missing the cut-off, the defense surrenders extra bases.
“Get the ball to the infielders as quickly and accurately as possible,” says Winter. “The right play makes the different to winning and losing ball games.”
To get outfielders reps, the Crusaders have braved the northwest Indiana cold and taken to the Brown Field football turf.
“We get outside whenever we possibly can,” says Winter. “We were out there in the snow. It’s not ideal.
“We don’t complain about it. That’s just the way it is.”
Valpo (1-2) opened the season Saturday, Feb. 15 at Western Kentucky. That was the first time the Crusaders saw live pitching outside. The Crusaders are at Louisville Friday through Sunday, Feb. 21-23. The first scheduled home game at Emory G. Bauer Field March 24 against Ball State. The first Missouri Valley Conference series is March 27-29 against Dallas Baptist at VU.
Winter graduated from Scioto in 2006. He played for Irish head coach Phil Callaghan, an Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee in 2008.
“He ran an extremely tight ship,” says Winter of Callaghan. “There was a certain standard that every player was held to. We had to sprint on and off the field. We’d even sprint from the bus to the dugout.
“They were small things that may sound crazy. But we’d really buy into the identity of the team and playing ‘the right way.’ That was the mentality and culture. I’m trying to implement that myself (as a coach).”
Winter played four seasons at Wittenberg, where Jay Lewis was the Tigers head coach and Rick White was the pitching coach.
“(Lewis) was an extremely good guy,” says Winter. “Now that I’m coaching college baseball, I look back and remember he was always at the field, mowing the lawn or throwing batting practice. It was total immersion. I really appreciated his work ethic and sweat equity.”
After receiving a degree in English and education from Wittenberg in 2010, Winter taught for a year at Groveport Madison High School and coached with 2004 OHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Tim Saunders at Dublin Coffman in 2011 and Chris Huesman at Dublin Jerome in 2012. In the summers of 2011, 2012 and 2013, Winter coached high schoolers for the Ohio Elite.
By this point, he decided he wanted to be college baseball coach rather than a teacher and hooked on as a graduate assistant at Muskingum on the staff of Muskies head coach Gregg Thompson.
“Coach T was very intense in a good way,” says Winter. “I had never coached under a guy who was just so passionate about winning.”
If Muskingum had a game at noon, Thompson was at the field several hours before that, getting things ready.
“It was a great learning experience for me,” says Winter, who is often on the job by 7 a.m. “You give 100 percent to whatever you’re doing.”
Matt Jones was the head coach at Shippensburg when Winter was with the Raiders and really paying his dues.
“I had to work my way trudging through the mud,” says Winter. “It’s the necessary evil of it.
“It builds some character when you work though some personal adversity.”
Valparaiso (Ind.) University baseball assistant coach Kory Winter (right) talks with head coach Brian Schmack and other Crusaders coaches during the 2019 season. Winter is in his fifth season with Valpo in 2020. (Valparaiso University Photo)
Valparaiso (Ind.) University baseball assistant coach Kory Winter was an volunteer his first three seasons and is now in his fifth with the Crusaders overall. The Ohio native is the recruiting coordinator and leads hitters and outfielders. (Valparaiso University Photo)
In 15 seasons as NAIA-affiliated Trojans head baseball coach, Gould has seen his teams go 515-291. The makes him the all-time wins leader in program history. His 2018 team won a school-record 44 games. There have been seven Crossroads League championships on Gould’s watch and several of his players have earned all-conference honors.
A three-sport athlete in high school, Gould never had a private hitting or pitching lesson in his life. When he structures practices many of his influences come from the coaches he had in sports other than baseball.
“I’ve never approached the game from an overly-mechanical way,” says Gould. “It’s always been through how we develop these skills externally — things I learned playing football and basketball.
“I have this desire to learn, challenge what I’ve learned and challenge what I’ve been taught and maybe look for a better way to do things.”
Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, says what his players do in practice has to be shaped by what they want to do in games.
Outlining game-time expectations, Gould wants Taylor hitter to:
• Get a good pitch to hit.
• Get on time with the fastball.
• Handle the breaking ball.
• Hit the ball hard.
• Be tough with two strikes.
• Be situational.
What does Taylor train this in practice?:
• They are challenged to control the strike zone.
“We’re always praised for taking balls and we always want to have that conversation,” says Gould. “We want that communication (between coaches and players and players and players).
“We want to give them feedback.”
• The speed and angle of the pitches they see is varied.
“Rarely do I throw the ball from 25 feet at 35 mph belt-high, they hit it and we tell them how great they are,” says Gould. In our program — with everything we do — everything and everyone is good and bad not good or bad.
“Because if this, we’ll use a ton of BP variations. I could probably give you 50.”
• Hitters track and/or hit spin everyday.
Taylor pitching coach Justin Barber had his arms tossing breaking pitches while hitters are taking a look.
“We spin a lot of breaking balls off the mound,” says Gould. “I want our hitters in the box, tracking spin and identifying very early ball or strikeout, getting feedback from the catcher. We hit off machines, but we’re identifying breaking balls everyday.
“When I played, we never talked about hitting the breaking ball. If hitting the baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports then hitting the breaking ball is the hardest thing of the hardest thing. We need to be able practice.
“The more you do it, the more it takes the fear out of it. The ball eventually has to pass through the strike zone and it’s learning how to track that.”
• Hitters develop and track exit velocity.
“We get great feedback from HitTrax,” says Gould. “The players love it. It makes them competitive with others. Hopefully, it makes them more competitive with themselves.
• Hitters develop A and B swings and use them daily.
“A B swing is what I used to call two-strike approach,” says Gould. “When I say two-strike approach to our hitters, they took that very passively. They took that to mean don’t strike out. So we changed it to B swing. It gets the point across.
“With B swing there are three things: Choke up on the bat, do not get a hand load and the front toe stays on the ground.”
In 2019, 46 percent of Taylor’s at-bats had two strikes in them.
“If that’s going to happen 46 percent of the time and we’re not practicing that, right?,” says Gould. “Forty to 60 percent of our swings in practice will be B swing approach.
“The most important swings we take are either plus in the count or way behind in the count. I want to make sure that guy’s faced a slider with a B swing.”
• Hitters work on relevant situational hitting.
Gould says the 230-pound 4-hole hitter pounding ground balls to shortstop to him. Neither is the 135-pound 15-year-old trying to drive a runner in with a fly ball.
One drill that the Trojans do in the cage with HitTrax going is for the hitter to face a tough pitch and Gould will ask them to do something with it that they’re good at. Some might be asked to hit-and-run, others to elevate the pitch.
“We just hammer the two or three things we need them to do to be successful and to help us score runs,” says Gould.
What about the training environment?
“It’s what matters the most,” says Gould. “The best thing you can do is surround players with other players who want to develop and compete.
“It’s a common phrase: We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. For players, most pitchers are the average of the people they play catch with everyday. Most hitters are the average of the guys they go hit with.”
Gould says he believes strongly in progressions not rotations.
“We want to think about going smaller to bigger, slower to faster,” says Gould. “We want to really have a plan on how we progress.”
Ninety percent or more swings are done with an external focus.
“If we’re going to do mechanical work, it’s going to be outside of our drill work. It’s going to be one-on-one. Very rarely, do I pull a guy out.
“I may say go hit five line drives to right-center field and let’s see what happens.”
One thing that Gould is careful about is the less mechanical cues he gives to the players, the more they give to each other.
“They don’t know what they’re doing much less what someone else is doing,” says Gould. “That’s a big thing for us.”
Players at Taylor hit in intentionally selected groups of three.
“I don’t like groups of two. I think it’s too quick,” says Gould. “I don’t like groups of four. You can lose them pretty quick.”
Groups may consist of power hitters, speed guys, older players with younger players or the batting order in thirds.
“It is incredibly intentional,” says Gould. “We’ll tell them if they can not hit with them and not give great effort and attention, I’m going to move you (into another group).”
Gould prefers 1-5 swings per round.
“It is a personal pet peeve of mine,” says Gould. “Guys come in and take 10-12 swings and rotate.
“That is not how the swing is. You don’t have that much time to adjust.”
Something is recorded everyday.
“Development is measured against self,” says Gould. “We only want you comparing your numbers to your numbers.
“Guys are very different. If they start comparing themselves to each other, we’re going to have problems.”
Practices include something competitive everyday.
“If we’re doing those groups right, they’re competing against guys it makes sense to compete with,” says Gould.
In their daily schedule, hitters do up to six things in this order:
There many more alums that have come through the organization founded by Chris Estep over the past 25 years. Among those are more than three dozen professional baseball players and more than three dozen collegiate softball players.
“Chris is excited to see all the current and former faces come through,” says Laura Lingner, RoundTripper sports information director. “He wants people to love the game as much as he does.
“Come out and celebrate with him.”
All teams — not just current and former RoundTripper members — are invited to participate in RoundTripper’s Quarter Century HitTrax Tournament at 16708 SouthPark Drive in Westfield.
The event is scheduled for Dec. 26-30 with the first two days being qualifying for the competitive bracket. Teams will play in seven-inning games to determine champions. The facility will be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the celebration and tournament.
The event will benefit three foundations:RoundTripper Foundation, Indiana Mustangs and Colts Baseball Club.
In lieu of an entry fee, participants are asked to donate to one (all all) of the foundations or bring in gently-used baseball or softball equipment to be donated to underprivileged athletes throughout central Indiana.
Even those not swinging in the HitTrax tournament are invited to donate items to the cause and just hang out.
RoundTripper is involved in reviving Christian Park in the Pleasant Run area of Indianapolis. It’s one of the places Estep played baseball as a child.
Another way, RoundTripper has been giving back during the holiday season while celebrating its 25 years are giveaways of equipment provided by corporate sponsors. To see what the staff looks like as Santa’s helpers, go to @RoundTripperAca on Twitter or the RoundTripper Sports Academy Facebook page.
RoundTripper Sports Academy is has been developing diamond athlete for quarter century. Headquarters for the organization started by Chris Estep is at 16708 SouthPark Drive in Westfield, Ind.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An aerial view of the baseball field at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.
Another glance from above at the home of Mississinewa High School Indians baseball field.
Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind., has a new batter’s eye and flagpoles at its baseball field.
Here is what it looked like at the Mississinewa High School baseball field during a work day as upgrades were being made.
Another view of Mississinewa High School baseball field during a work day.
The infield has been conditioned on the baseball field at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.
The Ole Miss Indians celebrate a baseball victory.
Mike Scott, a 1988 Mississinewa High School graduate, is the head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Mississinewa Community Schools Photo)
“I use analytics and metrics to help them reach their potential,” says Marks. “I’m not the traditional baseball trainer.
“All you have to do is give good athletes information. All I do is use science to prove it to them and then they understand it.”
Marks gets hitters to be able to analyze their own swings.
“I want to know what they did wrong, so they can make an adjustment,” says Marks. “It’s more of a college/pro tech approach. We want a kid to be low maintenance at the next level.”
Marks, who started coaching his own Kalamazoo, Mich., area travel team in 2002-03 and worked at Around The Horn baseball school in Kalamazoo 2004-07 before starting his own place in Sturgis in 2008, talks about the kinetic chain of energy, building the swing from he bottom up.
Metcalf, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district player of the year for 2017, has been going to Marks since age 12 with Kavadas, Waite, Carmola and Kleva plus Mishawaka Marian senior Riley Tirotta (Dayton), South Bend Clay senior Trenton Stoner (Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne) also being longtime students. Kerr and South Bend Adams senior Spencer Nelson are newer clients.
Using video analysis and HitTrax technology, Marks talks with these players are many others (he has a long wait list because of demand) about things like launch angle and exit velocity.
Unlike the traditional approach, Marks encourages his hitters to drive the baseball in the air.
“We do not hit down on the ball like I was taught 20 years ago,” says Marks, who played at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. “Line drives over the infielders’ heads leads to extra-base hits. I’d rather see a deep ball to center field than a grounder to shortstop.”
It’s an exciting moment when hitters can inform Marks they had 0 percent ground balls on 100 swings.
The Hitters Edge facility Wall of Fame is filled with many current and former Major League Baseball hitters at the point of contact.
Marks encourages his hitters to find a match and then goes about breaking them down.
“There is a small reconstruction period with kids,” says Marks. “I break the kids down to nothing to teach them core movements that they need to know.
“I want to teach them technique first. Then they can put their own style to the swing.”
Hitters are encouraged to have quick hands and not get jammed at the plate.
Marks wants his hitters to build muscle memory and to become unpredictable at the plate by being able to use all fields and not just pull or hit to the opposite field.
“Then they don’t know how to pitch to you,” says Marks.
IHSAA State Finals players have been tough outs in 2017. Witness some of the Penn numbers.
Penn left-swinging lead-off man Waite is hitting .491 with six home runs, five triples, eight doubles and 40 runs batted in.
Righty Metcalf (.410, 4 HR, 7 2B, 36 RBI), lefty Kavadas (.370, 4 HR, 3 3B, 9 2B, 26 RBI) and righty Kerr (.377, 1 HR, 5 2B, 23 RBI) have also been potent.
Then there’s righty-swinging St. Joe boys Carmola (.446, 3 HR, 4 3B, 12 2B, 28 RBI) and Kleva (.360, 1 HR, 9 2B, 31 RBI).
Hitters Edge instructor Mike Marks meets up with three pupils (from left): Penn High School and Indiana Nitro travel baseball players Trevor Waite, Nolan Metcalf and Niko Kavadas. The three Kingsmen have helped their team into the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.
Taking technology and using it to train and entertain.
That’s what owner Mike Branch is doing with his baseball and softball training facility in South Bend called Teddy BallGames.
Opened in 2016, the place features six indoor batting cages.
One cage is set up with the HitTrax Baseball Simulator, a state-of-the art video capture system capable of tracking the path of a batted ball and displaying it on a big screen monitor.
“This generation is visual,” says Branch. “They don’t realize how cool this is. For somebody our age, we didn’t have this when we were growing up. We didn’t have video. We didn’t have the information that made us better hitters. You either hit or didn’t.”
Branch said the system takes instruction and training from the old “keep your eye on the ball” and allows the player to see what the mechanics of a swing look like.
With patent pending HitTrax technology feedback data telling them the location and speed of the pitch and their average exit velocity plus distance and location of hits (spray chart), they learn things like taking the outside pitch the other way and what pitch they can strike with the biggest probability of getting a hit.
“Eventually, they become their best hitting coach,” says Branch. “My son is 13 and I still work with him quite a but I’ll have him go through some of his swings and assess himself.”
HitTrax users start out with a baseline assessment and can be tracked for progress over a period of time.
Branch notes that not all players and coaches will embrace the technology, preferring to stick with age-old methods.
“Men have egos,” says Branch. “The fact is you can’t see everything at full speed.”
“This is how the pros train (with video),” says Branch. “They use video of the pitcher and they use video of their own swing to determine what they’re doing so they can make those small adjustments.”
Because of the considerable investment in the system (there are not that many available to the public in Indiana), Branch charges more for the HitTrax cage, but has tried to keep it just a little higher than bowling alley fees.
HitTrax offers a data plan subscription where registered users can flag their videos and have access to them on a mobile device. Branch charges $12 a month for this service. Otherwise, players can see their videos at the facility.
In teaching with HitTrax, Branch has learned a few things about working with young hitters.
“You can use cues positively now so they can start to make those improvements,” says Branch. “And you want them to become engaged. If I’m showing a kid this video and he’s staring at the ground, he’s really not picking it up.
Every kid is different in how they take coaching. You want to try to make it a positive thing.”
Branch emphasizes that this tool is being used to make them better and to identify where improvement is needed.
“‘I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m trying to make you understand what you’re doing wrong,’’’ says Branch is repeating his message to his players.
Staying positive is important. The idea is to uplift and not discourage.
“You can’t be all negative, especially with younger hitters,” says Branch.
Similar to golf simulators that allow players to tee it up at Augusta or Pebble Beach, HitTrax entertainment features include the ability to hit in any Major League Baseball park and even the site of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Sessions can be set up for birthday parties, where attendees can go for the fences in a “Home Run Derby.”
Remote games can be played. Teddy BallGames recently got 12U and 14U players to take on C-Side Sports in Washington, Pa., another facility with HitTrax.
Leaderboards are kept in-house and on the regional level to let players see how their scores — mostly tied to exit velocity — stack up with others. A Quality Hit Club competition is underway that pays $250 to the winner.
Branch started going to the batting cages for therapy after an accident about 15 years ago and began wondering where his solid strikes would have landed. He then did extensive study into video analysis technology, including discussions with Wayne State University about developing such a system.
“I knew it was going to take cameras, but then it got out of my wheelhouse,” says Branch.
Cost and the time it would take to process feedback caused him to back off. Then came word from his brother that the technology had been advanced by HitTrax.
“When I found out about it, I got very excited about it,” says Branch. “They took it a little farther on the training side.
“I was thinking more of the entertainment side. I wanted to be able to do remote tournaments and leaderboards and those things.”
Branch says the technology expedited his decision to transition from the rental business to the baseball training business.
The name of his facility pays homage to Hall of Famer Ted Williams aka “Teddy Ballgame.” The cages are surrounded with photos and books on Williams and others from baseball’s storied past.
“When we were kids, we listened to baseball on the radio,” says Branch. “Today, a lot of kids don’t follow the game. There are a lot more distractions for kids. I wanted to educate the younger generation on players like Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig.”
Of course it’s his business, but Branch sees the real worth in having a place to train — not just during the winter months — but spring, summer and fall, too.
“This may be a little controversial, but I believe the people in the south work at it harder than we do in the north,” says Branch. “We continually give the excuses that it’s nice year-round down there.
“Why are there more indoor facilities in the south than there are here? We go to our team practices and our games, but we don’t go back to our individual work. That’s just my opinion.”
Branch notes that one family visiting from the south came to him during Christmas break, saying their son could not go two weeks without batting practice because all the kids where he came from were still practicing.
“It has to be a cultural change,” says Branch. “We have toget out of our paradigm of what we think is enough. I look at this and I’m excited about, but not everybody has that reaction to it.”