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Purdue Fort Wayne’s Birely helps pitchers navigate a world of knowledge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blending various talents into a cohesive unit, helping them navigate a world of knowledge and encouraging a flow of ideas.

This is what Grant Birely gets to do as pitching coach at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne).

Birely, 36, has been on the job since the 2009 season. The Mastodons are scheduled to open the 2019 campaign Feb. 15-17 with four games at Alabama A&M.

The Purdue Fort Wayne roster features 14 active pitchers with two who will likely be medical redshirts.

“I make an individual plan with each of them to become the best they can,” says Birely. “As they get older and go through the program, they take a lot of ownership of their own development and I become a consultant for them. With the young guys, it’s about teaching them what it takes to pitch at this level.”

Birely says the cornerstone of Mastodons pitching is throwing and learning to spin pitches.

“In some form or fashion, there is throwing each day,” says Birely. “It might be 60 feet one day just to get loose. It might be 350 feet if they’re going to long toss that day. I don’t put a distance restriction on them. We tell them to listen to their arm and see how it feels each day.”

The point is, collegiate pitchers are asked to throw a lot.

“There’s no better way to learn to throw than to throw,” says Birely. “We’re working on their craft every single day.”

Playing baseball at the college level, especially Division I, is a major commitment between school work and hours spend getting ready for and playing games.

“We spend everyday with them and they spend so much time on it, they have to love baseball and showing up everyday and working on it,” says Birely. “One thing they’ll leave with is time management when they head into the real world.”

Purdue Fort Wayne pitchers do a hybrid training program that includes band work, stretching and some weighted-ball movements.

“We don’t dive straight into a full weight-ball program because these guys are competing the minute they get on-campus,” says Birely. “They never really have that down time to solely focus on velocity or anything like that. We’re always trying to work on command (of the strike zone) and commanding a second pitch.”

When the weather keeps the Mastodons off the frozen tundra, they do their throwing in a spacious fieldhouse large enough to make tosses of up to 250 or 260 feet.

“We’re very lucky to have that,” says Birely. “It’s just high enough so they can get a little bit of air under the baseball.”

The top two pitchers from 2018 in terms of innings pitched and victories are gone. Right-hander Brandon Phelps, a Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate, pitched 83 innings and won five games as a redshirt senior. Left-hander Damian Helm worked 73 1/3 innings with four victories in his senior season.

As the Mastodons head into the only four-game series of 2019, Birely says junior right-hander Chase Phelps (Brandon’s brother and also a Fort Wayne Snider graduate), junior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) and redshirt senior right-hander Shane Odzark will get the first opportunity to be starting pitchers.

The bullpen is being built with establishing strength in the late innings as a priority.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to try to go and finish games,” says Birely, who counts freshman left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead), sophomore right-hander Sean Ferguson (New Haven) and freshman right-hander Jarrett Miller in the closer mix.

Other right-handers include sophomore Trevor Armstrong (Fort Wayne Snider), sophomore Nathan Hefle, freshman Garrett Hill (University), junior Tyler Kissinger, junior Duane Miller, sophomore Brian Skelton (Westfield) and redshirt freshman Cade Willard (Eastside).

Another lefty is sophomore Spencer Strobel (Avon).

Birely says two freshmen right-hander — Grant Johnston (Hamilton Southeastern) and Drew Pyle (Hagerstown) — have had injuries that will likely make them redshirts.

The pitching coach has learned that he is dealing with players who have different ways of learning. They might be visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

“We have some guys who like to see themselves on video and they can make adjustments based off that,” says Birely. “Some guys I have to put in a position kind of in a kinesthetic way so they can feel it.

“It’s definitely a challenge to figure out each guy.”

And figuring it out is key.

“Anyone who is teaching might be the smartest person in the world but if they can’t get that information to the players, it doesn’t really work and it doesn’t help,” says Birely. “It’s been fun finding different ways to teach and different ways to convey information that I have to them.”

Birely notes that the current generation — Generation Z — gets a bad rap for asking so many questions.

“They have all this information at their finger tips,” says Birely. “Some of it is good and some of it is not good.

“I’d rather have them ask me a question or to try to figure something out than to just go and do it on their own.”

Group chats are a way that information is exchanged.

A pitcher will see a video in social media and ask, “what do you think of this, Coach?.”

Birely asks his hurlers to identify their favorite major league pitcher.

“That gives me some insight of who they’re going to watch,” says Birely. “My favorite pitcher to watch growing up was Greg Maddux. I was never the big velocity guy. Watching him throw a baseball looked like watching a wiffleball.”

He also followed the fortunes of another future Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay went to high school just a few years before Birely in nearby Denver suburb of Arvada.

Birley is a graduate of Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo. He played for current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Bobby Pierce at Central Arizona College (the Vaqueros won the 2002 National Junior College Division I World Series) then finished his collegiate career at the University of New Orleans. That’s where he met his future wife, Bonnie. The two were living in the Big Easy when Hurricane Katrina hit and they moved closer to Grant’s family in Denver.

Retired as a player after one season of independent baseball with the Mesa Miners, Birley went into the business world when a friend asked him to help with freshmen tryouts at Regis Jesuit High School, figuring it would just be for a few hours on a Saturday.

“From the moment I walked out there, I was hooked,” says Birely, who spent two seasons at Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo. When Pierce became head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver, he invited Birely to become Roadrunners pitching coach. When Pierce moved to Indiana to lead the IPFW Mastodons, he asked Birely to come with him.

“I wouldn’t have this opportunity without him,” says Birely of Pierce. “He’s been a mentor and a great person to learn from.

“The best thing about him is that he lets everybody in the organization from players to staff go do their job

he gives them the freedom and creativity to make the program better.”

Pierce promotes a spirit of working together for a common goal.

“He’s very positive,” says Birley. “He’s great to work for. He’s awesome to play for. He allows the players the freedom to exchange ideas.

“Let’s figure it out together.”

Grant and Bonnie Birely have figured out how to balance baseball and family life. The couple has two children — Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School senior Tyler (who is active in theater and show choir) and sixth grader Kaylee.

“Like everyday says you’ve got to have a very understand wife,” says Grant. “She’s on this journey with me. Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.

“She keeps the fort going at home.”

Purdue Fort Wayne plays in the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). That makes for a good deal of travel. When the Mastodons go to the Dakotas, they often leave campus on Wednesday night and return at noon Monday.

“(Players) do a great job of doing their schoolwork on the road,” says Birely. “It’s not uncommon to walk through a hotel lobby and there’s 25 or 30 guys doing their homework.

It’s not uncommon for players to ask for the movies to be turned off on the bus to study for an upcoming test.

“We’ve had guys who understand what it means to be a true student-athlete,” says Birely. “It goes back to time management. They have to rely on themselves a lot to make sure they’re getting their work done.”

Coaches will proctor tests for professors, who email the exam and set the time limit and have the coaches sent it back. Other take online classes to allow flexibility and no requirement to be in a classroom.

Christine Kuznar is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics and meets with players each semester to them on-track toward getting their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“She’s the rock star behind the whole thing,” says Birely.

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Purdue Fort Wayne was formerly known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. In its new branding, the Mastodons have adopted black and gold as school colors with a hint of blue as homage to the IPFW brand. (Purdue Fort Wayne Image)

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Grant Birely, the baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, is a native of Colorado who played and coached for Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce before following him to Indiana. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

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Grant Birely has been baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) since the 2009 season. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

 

 

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Fort Wayne Dwenger’s Garrett relishes fatherly roles 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Garrett relishes being a father and a father figure.

He and wife Sharon have 11 offspring “running around on the earth. Two lived briefly in the womb.

Emily (24), Dominic (23), Louis (21) and Grace (19) all attended Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School where Jason is pastoral minister and head coach for football and baseball.

Senior Michael (18), sophomore Cecilia (16) and freshman Simon (14) are current Dwenger students. Xavier (13), Lydia (10), Blaise (8) and Jude (4) are future Dwenger Saints.

A 1988 Dwenger graduate, Garrett saw a chance to impact many young lives and came back to his alma mater in 2012 after serving in several jobs and coaching his kids in youth sports.

“I’m constantly in a fatherly role,” says Garrett, who saw the Saints go 14-1 and win the 2018 IHSAA Class 4A state football championship in his first season in charge after six seasons as offensive coordinator and heads into his sixth season as head baseball coach this spring. “When I say these guys become like my sons it’s genuine.

“It’s something I love to do. I’ve been given some blessings and graces to be able to manage.”

How does he manage all his roles?

It’s a matter of balance.

“It comes back to my faith and believing what I do is something the Lord created me to do,” says Garrett. “I believe it’s my vocation. My work is an opportunity allows me to grow as a husband and father.

“My wife is a tremendous support for that.”

Garrett maintains a close relationship with his baseball coaches.

“We made an agreement to see this through,” says Garrett, who counts Steve Devine as assistant head coach and Todd Ellinger, Brad Brown, Mick Steele and Chad Kahlenbeck as assistants. Kahlenbeck is heading into his fourth season. The others are going into their sixth.

Devine is a former Indiana Tech head coach. He works with the varsity and JV squads with a concentration on pitching and base running. Fort Wayne Snider graduate Ellinger and Dwenger grad Brown both played baseball at Purdue University and are Dwenger football assistants.

In baseball, Ellinger works with both varsity and JV and serves as hitting coach. Brown spends most of his time with the varsity and works with catchers and the defense. Dwenger alum Steele is head JV coach and helps with fielding. Fort Wayne Concordia grad Kahlenbeck assists with the JV.

“In this role — as the head coach — I need to be the visionary and let guys coach,” says Garrett. “The time investment is not much different than I was used to. You’re managing and insuring the relationships and element of team are in place.”

The Saints play an aggressive brand of baseball. Dwenger stole 133 bases in his first season and have pilfered at least 100 bags each year since, using many of the principles of graduate Matt Talarico (who is assistant coach and player development director at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and the founder of StealBases.com).

“We’re aggressive,” says Garrett. “Some would say more of a small ball team — Get ‘em on. Get ‘em over.

Get ‘em in.”

Garrett and his players are well aware that the team that scores the most runs wins, so they will use the bunt, squeeze bunt, push bunt and slash to fuel their offense.

“It goes back to my years as a (Dwenger) player under coach Lance Hershberger,” says Garrett of the man who now heads up the baseball program at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. “Everybody on the team was expected to know how to bunt.

“We are certainly willing and able.”

By stealing home, Dwenger clinched the 2017 Summit Athletic Conference title. The SAC also includes Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead. Conference foes meet twice, either in a home-and-home series with day in-between or in a doubleheader.

The Saints are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Luers, Concordia, Garrett, Leo, New Haven and Columbia City. Dwenger has won 11 sectionals — the last in 2016.

Dwenger hitters take pride in taking pitches or getting plunked by them to get on base for scoring opportunities.

Garrett notes that the high school season goes by pretty quickly (batters are lucky if they get 100 at-bats) and there’s no time for a prolonged slump. Dwenger’s style usually helps it get around that offensive lull.

Garrett likes to have 30 to 32 players in the program, which allows players to get enough repetitions to continuing development.

The recent advent of pitcher-only players has opened up the roster a little bit.

“It creates opportunities for some guys,” says Garrett. “That’s been a really good thing for us. We’ve had guys have the chance to pitch in college.

“If you want to play baseball at the next level, you certainly will have that opportunity through our program.”

Since 2014, Dwenger has sent Dan Connolly (2015) to Hanover College, Noah Freimuth (2016) to the University of Saint Francis, Jack Harris (2016) to Saint Francis, Louis Garrett (2016) to Ave Maria University, Parker Noll (2016) to Wabash College, Dalton O’Boyle (2016) to St. Petersburg Junior College, Andrew Rolfsen (2016) to Anderson University, Eric Doyle (2018) to Ivy Tech Northeast, Eddie Morris (2018) to Ivy Tech, Michael Sundahl (2018) to Mount St. Joseph University and Jake Vanek (2018) to Heidelberg University. Grant Richardson played at Dwenger from 2015-16 and played his senior year at Fishers High School before going on to Indiana University. There are no current college commits for the Saints.

Dwenger graduates to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as pitchers include left-handers Andy Helmer (New York Yankees in 1996 and Cleveland Indians out of Purdue in 2000) and Terry Kieffer (Montreal Expos out of Indian Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa, in 1973 and St. Louis Cardinals out of Louisiana State University in 1974) and righty Ben Norton (Arizona Diamondbacks out of the University of Evansville in 2007). Norton is now the pitching coach at Butler University.

While it varies from year to year, Garrett estimates that 25 to 30 percent play both football and baseball at Dwenger on average. Of 92 football players last fall, 35 are in a winter sport and many will be three-sport athletes.

The multi-sport athlete is common at this institution.

“The culture, coaching and school, we encourage that very strongly,” says Garrett. “Why do we play sports? What’s the purpose of it? We see sports as a vehicle to grow in virtue. It’s a way they learn tremendous lessons in life. We want them to find as many competitive opportunities as possible.

Not only do they get the chance to stay healthy through engaging in physical activity, they get the chance to embrace and battle through adversity.

Dwenger football has a tradition of excellence and that translates to the baseball diamond.

Is there pressure?

“I believe there’s accountability to herald the great traditions in this school,” says Garrett. “It’s how we play, who we are and how we respect the opponent. The wins and losses take care of themselves.

“We have a deep spiritual component, a style of football that’s tough and gritty and are strong academically.

“Our motto is: Trust. Unity. Toughness. We genuinely care for each other.”

Dwenger shares Shoaff Park with Ivy Tech Northeast. Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation owns the facilities and the teams manage it. The relationship was initiated by former Dwenger head baseball coach Larry Windmiller.

Garrett played football for head coach Andy Johns at Dwenger then played four seasons of football for head coach Bill Reagan and two of baseball at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Heading the Pumas in baseball were Dennis Stitz in 1990 and Mike Moyzis in 1991.

After graduating SJC in 1992, Garrett went to Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., to get a masters in guidance and counseling and served a graduate assistantship in the school’s counseling department.

Garrett helped form Conquest Clubs and Programs, a leadership program for fathers and sons. He was executive director of Redeemer Radio in Fort Wayne and worked as a pastoral associate at Saint Mary’s in Decatur, Ind., before returning to Dwenger. He ran the St. Charles middle school program before joining the high school staff.

The main feeder schools for Dwenger (which has an enrollment of about 1,020 in Grades 9-12) includes St. Charles Borromeo, St. Jude, St. Vincent de Paul, Our Lady of Good Hope and Queen of Angels in Fort Wayne as well as St. Mary of the Assumption of Avila, Ind., and St. Joseph of Garrett, Ind.

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The Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger Saints baseball team celebrate another run crossing the plate.

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Father Jason and son Louis Garrett share a moment on the baseball field with the Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School Saints. Jason Garrett is also pastoral minister and head football coach at the school.

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The Garrett family includes father Jason, mother Sharon and children Emily, Dominic, Louis, Grace, Michael, Cecilia, Simon, Xavier, Lydia, Blaise and Jude.

Hall of Famer Webster now teaching baseball as Southport Cardinals head coach

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Phil Webster is proud to call himself a professional educator. A former law education teacher at Decatur Central High School on the southwest side of Indianapolis, he left the high school classroom in 2016 after more than five decades.

His baseball coaching career continues.

Following a few seasons as an assistant, he is the man in charge once again.

Webster, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015, is now head coach at Southport High School.

Last spring, Phil served as an assistant/pitching coach with son Todd Webster at Pike High School on Indy’s northwest side.

Before that, he was an assistant at Perry Meridian High School (which is in the same Marion County township — Perry — as Southport and parochial powerhouse Roncalli) after serving on the staff at Mooresville High School in Morgan County.

Webster was head coach at North Putnam High School in Roachdale in 2013. The 2012 season was spent as pitching coach at Franklin (Ind.) College.

Why take the Southport Cardinals job now?

“I enjoy being a head coach,” says Webster. “It allows me to be able to keep teaching the game. It was great coaching with my son. Todd gave me a great opportunity.

“Now, I get to be the guy in-charge.”

Webster ran the show at Decatur Central for 27 seasons, finishing his run in 2011. His Hawks went 558-254 with seven Marion County, 11 conference, 11 sectional, two regional and one semistate title to go with the 2008 IHSAA Class 4A state championship. Decatur bested Homestead 7-3 in that game.

Two of Webster’s former players — Jeff Scott (Brebeuf Jesuit) and Jason Combs (Decatur Central) — are now high school baseball coaches in Indiana.

Prep coaching stops have also come at Plainfield and North Salem. He’s also helped son Todd coach the Pony Express in travel ball.

Webster, who resides in Decatur Township, has been conducting fall workouts at Southport.

“We out here to get ourselves a little better,” says Webster. “I like this team. They’re learners. It’s fun when you’re a coach and educator when you’ve got players that want to learn.

“I look forward to every practice and workout.”

A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to work with an unlimited number of players for two hours two days a week. The access window will close Oct. 12 and open up again the first week of December.

“I don’t like it,” says Webster of a rule he sees as limiting. “If the coach is willing to take the time and if you want to play the game, you’re restricting their ability to grow.

“We we never tell kids to stop studying chemistry or math. But we tell them to stop studying (or practicing) baseball.

Webster points out that players who have the resources can go to the professional instructor, but are not allowed get free instruction from their high school coach during the blackout period.

“The rule is what it is and I’ll respect it,” says Webster. “But we’re holding them back.

“From Oct. 12 to Dec. 3, you can’t do anything (with players as an Indiana high school coach). Why?. What’s the rationale?. I guess the reason must be we don’t want to burn (players) out. (Rule makers) need to trust us a little more. We’re not out there to hurt kids. We’re out there to make them a little better.”

Southport plays its home games at Holder Field — a facility on the Mary Bryant Elementary campus it shares with Perry Township Schools mate Perry Meridian.

The Cardinals belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus North, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

Each conference team plays each other once to determine a champion.

Like he was at many of his other coaching gigs, Webster will be a part of the Marion County Tournament.

“One-eighth of the teams in the county are coached by a Webster,” says Phil, noting that Todd’s Pike Red Devils are also in the field.

The elder Webster inherits a 10-9 team from Mike Klopfenstein, who is stepping away from coaching for now to be with his wife and 1-year-old twins.

One of the returning Southport players is Avery Short. The left-handed pitcher is the lone Indiana representative on the USA Baseball 18U Trials roster.

The University of Louisville commit earned an invitation to a USA Baseball event this summer in Cary, N.C., and was placed in the Trials roster.

During tryouts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in mid-November, a roster of 26 will be cut to 20 on Nov. 20 and go through a series of workouts and exhibition games before playing in the COPABE U-18 Pan-American Championships Nov. 23-Dec. 2 in Panama City, Panama.

Short, an alumnus of Southport Little League, has been clocked at 92 mph with his four-seam fastball and also possesses a two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and “circle” change-up.

He is excited to have Webster leading the SHS program.

“I’m looking forward to working with him for my pitching ability and learning the game since he’s been around it so long,” says Short.

At 76, Webster has assembled a seasoned coaching staff. Mike Chapman was with him for 20 years and Steve Krizmanich (his statistician) 27 at Decatur Central.

“We’re the grey-haired guys,” says Webster. “We may be the oldest staff in the state.”

Dave Chamberlain rounds out the varsity crew. Ken Slaughter and Wendell Slaughter will run the junior varsity. Freshmen coaches have yet to be hired.

In an effort to bring the Southport baseball community together, Webster will keep communication open with coaches, players and parents at the Southport, Edgewood and Indiana Central youth leagues as well as Southport Middle School.

Knowing how important it is to have parent involvement, he is meeting with those who have players in high school and middle school.

“I’d say 90 to 95 percent of parents are very cooperative,” says Webster. “They’re helpful and supportive. The ones who are hostile are very rare.”

Webster has seen a direct correlation over the years to championship teams that have strong parent groups with happy coaches and players.

Noting that high school baseball is played during the “dog days” at the end of the school year, teams must contend with many obstacles.

“At the beginning of the year, you have no demerits and everyone is fresh. Then here comes baseball and the cold weather. It’s a battle. There’s no question about that.”

That’s why Webster appreciates backing from the administration. At Southport that includes Pete Hubert.

“I’ve never had a more cooperative and supportive athletic director,” says Webster of Hubert.

Born six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor — Dec 1, 1941 — Webster grew up in the in the borough of Forest Hills just outside Pittsburgh, Pa.

To this day, he is a diehard rooter for Steel City teams — the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins.

His favorite baseball player is Roberto Clemente. Among his favorite memories are Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series and the 1979 “We Are Fam-il-y!” Pirates.

“I bleed black and gold,” says Webster, who stayed with that color scheme when he picked up his masters degree at Purdue University.

Webster graduated from the now-defunct Wilkinsburg High School and pitched at Milligan College in Tennessee. He wound up in Indiana in the mid-1960s and has been here ever since.

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Phil Webster, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who led Decatur Central to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, is now head baseball coach at Southport High School in Indianapolis.

 

World Baseball Academy teaching values, leadership in Fort Wayne and beyond

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Character values are being taught at a facility on the west side of Fort Wayne, Ind., and baseball is the platform.

Weaving Knowledge, Integrity, Perseverance, Respect, Initiative and Discipline through the four T’s of Tournaments, Team support, Training and Trips, the World Baseball Academy, located at the Academy of Sports & Health (ASH) Centre, 1701 Freeman Street, is working to “develop leaders who positively impact our world.”

A 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization which is completely self-sustained through fundraisers and grants, the WBA projects that it will serve 5,000 youths through its programs in 2017-18.

“We’re very passionate about helping young people becoming difference makers,” says WBA Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel. “Leadership development is interwoven in everything we do at the World Baseball Academy.

“My personal passion has always been youth development. We help young people recognize their potential and how to meet the needs around themselves. How do we positively serve others? Baseball just happens to be our platform. I’ve found no better outlet than sports.”

This connection helps WBA staffers and volunteers get to know the students and encourage and mentor them.

“We get them to realize that life isn’t all about us,” says Kimmel, a Homestead High School graduate who played baseball at Valparaiso University. “We get to share some life stories with kids.”

The WBA offers training through camps, clinics and personal instruction on a paid and scholarship basis.

“We want to be good at teaching (baseball skills) so we have the credibility to influence,” says Kimmel. “But we don’t grade ourselves at the World Baseball Academy on how many kids are getting college scholarships or playing pro baseball. Those things are happening and that’s great. But we grade ourselves more on how we help other people. We have those ah-ha moments when we serve and give back.

“They take those things that they learn in the game and transfer them into how to be a better dad, a better employee, a better citizen.”

About a fifth of the 5,000 served are in the On Deck initiative for at-risk students, where the WBA partners with agencies like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne to mentor young people and teach them values they can carry throughout their lives.

“It’s been humbling to see the growth and the community support,” says Kimmel. “If this was just about baseball, this project would not be successful. Community, foundation and business leaders are really seeing our heart. We want youth to be difference makers and better people.

The complex has three outdoor fields with artificial turf (and soon lights) and plenty of room for indoor training. Two fields are high school/college and the other youth/high school. There are adjustable baselines and mobile mounds that can be changed based on the level.

This year, Hoosier Classic Summer Baseball Tournaments held at the ASH Centre with some spillover to area college and high school fields will draw 220 teams (up from 150 in 2017).

At this time of the year, the idea is for local usage during the week and tournaments on the weekends.

The fields are also used in the spring by college and high school programs.

Caleb Kimmel says $3.55 million has been raised for Phase I of a $3.8 million project, which includes the new fields and earthwork for Phase II (which includes adaptive fields and partnerships with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and AWS Foundation). Seventeen acres were gutted last April.

Last year, On Deck students gained fulfillment by working with adaptive students.

“Ultimately we’re giving kids the opportunity to serve others,” says Kimmel. “They realize that it’s fun to give back and to serve.”

While the WBA has no teams of its own, many organizations use the facility.

“We are the Switzerland of Baseball in Fort Wayne,” says WBA Marketing Director Kristen Kimmel.

Established on the property in 2005, the WBA began taking its message of servant leadership through baseball to international destinations in 2006. With WBA students leading the way, the organization has served in Bulgaria, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Kenya, Lithuania and Mexico. Players from Bulgaria have even visited Fort Wayne.

Besides the Kimmels, the WBA staff includes Director of Operations Andy McManama, Tournament Director Zach Huttie, Senior Lead Baseball Instructor Ken Jones, Director of Development Linda Buskirk, Scholarship Instructor Tim Petersen, Scholarship Director Melinda Petersen and Outdoor Campus Maintenance man Bud Wolf plus several interns. These are students who get a chance to experience sports management and working on their leadership skills.

The ASH Centre is also home to Optimum Performance Sports, a training facility affiliated with Lutheran Hospital among others.

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants professional basketball team trains and practices at OPS.

State-of-the-art training is offered at Apex Golf Lab.

WBA manages the facility with its outdoor campus and building of about 40,000 square feet.

Caleb Kimmel, who played at Times Corners (now Don Ayres) Little League began helping his father, Brad, run baseball tournaments as a fundraiser for the 1993 Aboit Braves travel team.

Caleb graduated from Homestead in 1999. As a marketing major at Valpo U., his internship was building a small business, running tournaments under the name Between The Lines LLC.

Kimmel’s college coach was Paul Twenge.

“Coach Twenge really had a positive impact on my life,” says Kimmel. “After I dislocated my shoulder my freshman year, I came up to him with tears in my eyes saying I’m ready to quit and I can’t go through this again (after having some injury issues and having to rehab in high school).

“(Twenge) said, ‘I can’t let you quit.’ He had that good balance. He was a Division I coach and they’re on the hook for wins, but he also knew where kids were in life. I appreciated that balance from him.

“I had a mediocre college career, but I enjoyed the experience and struggling through those challenges helped get me to where I am today.”

Keith Potter was the Homestead coach when Kimmel was with the Spartans and later helped him with his tournaments.

“If it wasn’t for Keith I don’t know if these tournaments would have ever survived,” says Kimmel. “He was just so supportive of what we were doing. He’s been a big part of us moving this vision forward.

“I’m very grateful for the coaches I’ve had in my career.”

Around 2008, Between The Lines was dissolved and turned over all programming right to the nonprofit WBA.

“We don’t want to get so focused on dollars and cents that we lose focus on being a community asset for Fort Wayne,” says Kimmel. Just this week, the WBA hosted STEAM (science technology engineering and applied mathematics) camps to spark interest in career paths for On Deck students. “God designed you for a purpose and we can help kids understand that and help them discover those passions.

“The heart of who were are is creating servant leadership opportunities. We see the power in that. Kids see this is what matters in life.”

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The World Baseball Academy is located at 1701 Freeman Street in Fort Wayne, Ind. (WBA Photo)

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The Fort Wayne-based World Baseball Academy takes trips to other countries. (WBA Photo)WORLDBASEBALLACADEMY6

The World Baseball Academy at the ASH Centre sports new turf fields for high school/college and high school/youth are more fields are on the way. (WBA Photo)

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The World Baseball Academy fields at the ASH Centre are home to tournaments as well as local college and high school games. (WBA Photo)

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One of the four T’s at the World Baseball Academy is training. (WBA Photo)

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Mentoring kids and creating future leaders is the vision of  the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne, Ind. (WBA Photo)

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The World Baseball Academy brings smiles to the face of Fort Wayne, Ind., kids. (WBA Photo)

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Young people learn how to be mentors and leaders at the Fort Wayne-based World Baseball Academy. (WBA Photo)

Former Homestead, IPFW pitcher Weaver briefly with Gary, goes back to Florence

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chuck Weaver went undrafted by Major League Baseball at the close of his college career.

But the 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher did not let that keep him from becoming a professional.

Weaver, who toed the rubber for Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Taylor University in Upland, Ind., Vincennes University and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, earned his first paycheck for pitching with the Florence (Ky.) Freedom in the independent Frontier League in 2013. He was an FL All-Star in 2014.

Appearing in 49 games (45 as a starter) with 17 victories, he was with Florence until August of 2015.

That’s when he signed with the Miami Marlins organization and hurled 22 innings with 19 strikeouts and three walks with short-season Batavia.

In 2016, Weaver went 9-5 with Low Class-A Greensboro. He fanned 72 and walked just 10 in 83 innings. His WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) was 1.04.

But he also hurt his elbow. Weaver underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery Oct. 25, 2016 and missed the entire 2017 season.

Weaver worked hard on getting back. He went to 2018 spring training with the Marlins only to be released a few weeks later.

He had played at Homestead for coach Steve Sotir with one season each at Taylor for Kyle Gould and at Vincennes for Chris Barney and two at IPFW for Bobby Pierce.

After his released, the Fort Wayne head coach welcomed Weaver to practice when he asked to throw to Mastodons catchers.

“I still stay in touch with Bobby all the time,” says Weaver of Pierce. “He’s a great guy.”

Florence still held Weaver’s contract and could have returned to the Freedom, but wanted to try his luck in the independent American Association.

“I’m a big family guy,” says Weaver, 27. “I wanted my mom to come watch and support. I feel like this is the best fit of all the teams in the American Association.”

Chuck’s mother and stepfather — Susan Abbott and Rod Abbott — as well as stepbrothers — Ryan Abbott and Ray Abbott — are all in the Fort Wayne area. They’re about 150 miles from Gary.

So Florence manager Dennis Pelfrey, who coached four seasons for Gary SouthShore RailCats manager Greg Tagert, recommended Weaver to the AA club based in northwest Indiana.

Weaver made his first start for Gary — a no-decision — Sunday, May 20 at U.S. Steel Yard.

He goes to the mound with a fastball, change-up and slider.

The majority of his fastballs are of the two-seam variety. However, he does have a four-seamer.

When he was making his way back from surgery with the Marlins, Weaver was reunited with former Florence pitching coach Chad Rhoades.

Rhoades, who pitched for Gary in 2012, coached pitchers at short-season Batavia in 2016 and later served as Marlins rehab pitching coordinator. In the latter role, he helped Weaver add a four-seam heater to his repertoire.

On May 31, the RailCats announced they had traded Weaver to Florence.

Like the majority of players in independent baseball, Weaver is looking to showcase himself for MLB-affiliated teams.

He explained the dynamic.

“You see more of a drive for the game and more desire to play (in indy ball),” says Weaver. “In affiliated, I feel a lot of the guys took it serious but not as serious as the guys here.

“It was more individualized in affiliated and it’s more (team-oriented) here. People are helping each other.”

While developing in an affiliated system, players may spend a lot of time working on one particular element of their game and teams are not focused as much on winning as getting the player up the chain toward the big league team.

“Guys would go out there and throw only fastballs because they had to work on fastball command,” says Weaver of affiliated ball. “Here, you’re trying to get that shot. You want to showcase all your stuff.

What does Weaver see as his strengths?

“I’m a real hard worker,” says Weaver. “I wasn’t drafted, but I felt like a pushed my way (to affiliated baseball). I have to continue to push myself.

“Even if I’m tired after a long bus ride, I have to take it serious and get my work in. I can’t be lazy about it.

“It’s my job.”

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Chuck Weaver, a Homestead High School graduate who also pitched for Taylor University, Vincennes University, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and in the Miami Marlins organization among others, is now with the Gary SouthShore RailCats. (Gary SouthShore RailCats Photo)

 

McMahon keeps it positive for Canterbury Cavaliers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mixing academic and athletic achievement, Pat McMahon continues to encourage and challenge baseball players at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne.

Canterbury was founded as an independent, coeducational day school in 1977. A college preparatory education is offered to students in early childhood through Grade 12. Of nearly 1,000 students, around 300 of them are the high school.

According to McMahon, yearly tuition is around $22,000.

The 2018 season marks McMahon’s 28th in charge of the Cavaliers on the diamond.

Why does he still do it?

“I’m still helping kids,” says McMahon, 54. “I want to teach the game and I want to teach it right.

“It’s the influence on the players.”

His guidance has been appreciated.

McMahon is one of 50 national recipients of the Positive Coaching Alliance’s coveted National Double-Goal Coach Award presented by TeamSnap, named for coaches who strive to win while also pursuing the more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports.

Besides website and newsletter mentions, the award carries a $200 prize, a certificate and two tickets to PCA’s National Youth Sports Awards Dinner and Benefit to be held April 28 at Stanford University in California.

In teaching a “game of failure” and dealing with many situations like interacting with parents, McMahon turned to the PCA for resources.

“I’ve been attending classes and seminars for 14 years with PCA,” says McMahon. “I get a lot out of it.”

In turn, so do his athletes.

Of the 25 letters of recommendation for the award, 19 came from former players.

“That means a lot to me,” says McMahon, who sees all of his student-athletes go on to college. Eighteen of them have played college baseball.

Switch-hitting corner infielder Simon Klink played at Purdue University and then made it to Double-A with the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-handed pitcher Chris Squires was a relief pitcher at Indiana University and advanced to Double-A with the Florida Marlins system and also played independent pro baseball.

Both of Pat and Kim McMahon’s outfield-roaming sons played baseball in college — Paddy McMahon with he club team at Tulane University in New Orleans and Danny McMahon at  Swathmore College near Philadelphia.

More recently, McMahon and Canterbury has sent Matt Kent to Xavier University, Sam Tallo to Trine University, Tommy Filus to Ave Maria University, Curtis Hoffman to Washington University in St. Louis and Ben Yurkanin to Taylor University.

With its college prep mission, academics absolutely take precedence at Canterbury.

During exam week, no games can be scheduled and practices are voluntary.

“I call it ‘money week,’ says McMahon. “That’s when they get really good grades to get good college offers.”

Two baseball players scored a perfect 36 on the SAT.

“My kids can miss any practices for academics at any point,” says McMahon. “It’s STUDENT-athlete and we’ve lost track of that (at many places).

“We just don’t let them get complacent.”

Top juniors on the current Cavaliers squad are Ben Axel and Liam Ward.

Canterbury has a no-cut policy. Everyone who goes out for the team makes it.

“That makes it unique,” says McMahon. “I’m mixing kids who really can’t play the game with college prospects.

“I’ve found they bring out the best in each other. That really helps my kids at the next level.”

McMahon, who spent the early part of his life in Detroit and his the nephew of Tigers minor league outfielder Don DeDonatis II and cousin of Tigers minor league second basman and United States Speciality Sports Association assistant executive director Don DeDonatis III, is a big believer in team chemistry and likes to say “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

“I’m very big on culture,” says McMahon. “I have to see how the mold together.”

Canterbury players have parents who are accomplished business professionals.

“These kids have to be successful,” says McMahon, who helps operate McMahon’s Best One Tire & Auto Care.

The company, established by his father Pat in 1969 after moving from Detroit, has 104 employees. While Pat is called Coach around the field. Around the shop, he is known as Bubba.

Kim McMahon runs the company and stays involved with Canterbury baseball.

“She’s the whole reason this has worked,” says Pat. “She helps with parents. She knows the history of the program.”

Canterbury’s academic calendar features three weeks off at Christmas and a two-week spring break.

The Cavaliers do not belong to a conference and play in an IHSAA Class 2A group with Adams Central, Bluffton, Churubusco, Eastside and South Adams.

Canterbury hosted the 2017 sectional, The Cavs hoisted sectional trophies in 2009 and 2014 and took regional hardware in 2009.

Canterbury’s 22-game regular-season schedule in 2018 includes opponents in 4A (Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead) and 3A (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Heritage, Leo) plus Central Noble in 2A, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian and Lakewood Park Christian in 1A and non-IHSAA member Harlan Christian.

A 1982 Dwenger graduate, McMahon played at Valparaiso University and learned from Emory Bauer and was a teammate of future big league player and manager Lloyd McClendon. Both are Crusader and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers.

“Em Bauer taught me so much about life,” says McMahon. “He was a neat guy.”

McMahon graduated Valpo U. in 1986 and came back to the Summit City. He was a pitcher for Mexican Joe’s in Fort Wayne’s Stan Musial League when he was approached about the possibility of coaching at Canterbury. He accepted.

The first few seasons, the Cavs played all their games on the road. Canterbury funded new dugouts and bleachers at the University Saint Francis for the right to play games there.

With the help of baseball ambassador and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bill Jones and financial backing of former New York Yankees minor leaguer Pete Eshelman (who is owner Joseph Decuis restaurant and other properties in Roanoke and Columbia City), Canterbury got its own field with dimensions mimicking Yankee Stadium.

Former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and National Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda have visited the field.

“It’s the most gorgeous facility I’ve ever seen,” says McMahon. “I learned everything from Bill Jones. He’d bring in (IHSBCA Hall of Famers) Ken Schreiber, Chris Stavareti and Jack Massucci. Those guys just knew baseball.”

IHSBCA coaches in Canterbury’s district — many of who are educators — continue to make McMahon their representative.

“That means a lot to me that my peers say I can be that person,” says McMahon. “I really admire teachers.”

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Pat McMahon is in his 28th season as head baseball coach at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne in 2018. He is also one of 50 national recipients of the Positive Coaching Alliance’s coveted National Double-Goal Coach Award presented by TeamSnap, named for coaches who strive to win while also pursuing the more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports. (PCA Photo)

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Pat McMahon (second from left) meets Steve Young (third from left) at the Positive Coaching Alliance National Youth Sports Awards & Benefit at Stanford University April 28, 2018. McMahon received a National Double-Goal Coach Award and Young the Ronald L. Jensen Award For Lifetime Achievement.

 

Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

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Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.