Tag Archives: Hunter Aker

Edgewood alum Pittsford learns from many along his diamond path

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Harrison Pittsford is soaking up the knowledge of veterans while getting in his summer reps as a first-year player for the South Bend Royals, members of men’s wood bat leagues in both South Bend and Fort Wayne.
At 20, Pittsford is younger than most of his Royals teammates. That includes 53-year-old Jayson Best.
“It’s cool learning from guys like Bestie,” says Pittsford, who completed his second year at NCAA Division III Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., in the spring. “I see how they play the game.
“It’s a great experience playing with those guys.”
Best, who was born in Lafayette, Ind., played professional baseball from 1989-97. He ascended to Double-A in the Minnesota Twins organization as a pitcher and later was head baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He pitched a no-hitter for the Royals in Mishawaka, Ind., on July 10.
Pittsford, a 2020 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., comes up to play mostly weekend doubleheaders with former GC hitting star and current Eastern (Greentown) head coach Erik Hisner-managed Royals and Manchester teammate/roommate Hunter Aker (a South Bend Clay High School graduate).
While he does some catching, Pittsford is getting playing time in the outfield since he expects to be there much of the time at Manchester.
The Royals are to compete in a National Amateur Baseball Federation regional in Fort Wayne July 28-30. The top two finishers move on to the NABF World Series Aug. 2-5 in Battle Creek, Mich.
Pittsford was named to the 2022 all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team at designated hitter.
The righty swinger played in 30 games (28 starts) and hit .327 (33-of-101) with six home runs, eight doubles, 29 runs batted in, 27 runs scored and a 1.002 OPS (.418 on-base percentage plus .584 slugging average).
Rick Espeset competed his 26th season as Manchester head coach in 2022.
“Espy got my attention in the recruiting process,” says Pittsford. “His success and longevity eye-catching for me.”
Espeset’s Spartans have won 619 games with six national tournament appearances, including two trips to the D-III World Series (2004 and 2013).
As much as Pittsford appreciates all the knowledge that Espeset shares, he is also grateful for the insights on the mental approach.
“We’re taking time to detach from baseball with breathing and mindfulness,” says Pittsford.
As a D-III program, Manchester conducts four weeks of fall practice with the whole team and coaches. Players are then on their own for a few months until everyone reconvenes shortly before the start of the season.
“Nothing’s really forced on us,” says Pittsford. “If guys want to get better they are going to get better. I get motivated seeing my teammates working out.
“We have good leadership from underclassmen.”
A Sport Management major, Pittsford was named Academic all-HCAC in 2022.
“I want to stay involved in sports in some capacity,” says Pittsford of his post-college path. “That could be coaching, running a sports facility or being an athletic director. I want to be involved in sports and make a difference for kids and make sure the next generation has the same opportunities I had coming up.
“Sports can teach you a lot of life lessons like building character and making friendships.”
Born in Bloomington, Ind., and growing up in Ellettsville, Pittsford participated in baseball and basketball through Richland Bean Blossom Youth Sports and was also part of Monroe County Youth Football Association.
He was in travel ball with the Ellettsville Explosion, Diamond Dynamics and then Tier Ten.
It was with Diamond Dynamics that Pittsford met coach/instructor Tony Kestranek.
“He was passionate about baseball,” says Pittsford of Kestranek. “He taught us when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive.”
At Edgewood, Pittsford played four years each of football and baseball and two of basketball.
A special teams player as a freshman, he was the Mustangs’ starting center for three seasons.
Brian Rosenburgh was defensive coordinator Pittsford’s freshman year then head coach for the last three.
“I loved him as a person and a coach,” says Pittsford of Rosenburgh, who was also a Physical Education teacher at Edgewood.
An football coach was Mychal Doering.
“He’s an amazing guy,” says Pittsford of the father of classmate Izaiah Doering and JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) specialist at Edgewood. “He was high-energy and he motivated you. He was always checking on people outside of school and he taught me about life and handling the ups and down.
“He’s going through chemo (for cancer). It’s cool to see how he’s battling through that.”
Pittsford considered playing college football, but decided to go with his first love of baseball. Besides, at 6-foot, 230 pounds he is considered to be undersized for a college lineman.
Bob Jones, who has been a Business teacher for more than 40 years and head baseball coach for 36, passed along many diamond lessons to Pittsford.
“He knows a lot of baseball,” says Pittsford of Jones, who went into the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame last week. “It’s nice to learn from a guy who’s been around the game for so long.”
One of Jones’ more than 500 victories came during the first game of 2019 — a season that ended with the Mustangs finishing as IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
Playing in a tournament at Vincennes University, Edgewood fell behind 11-0 to Terre Haute North Vigo after four innings.
The Mustangs chipped away and eventually won 20-18 in a game that was played in a steady drizzle.
“It was a pretty crazy game,” says Pittsford, who started at catcher and batted No. 2 that day and drove in two runs.
Later moved to the No. 9 hole, it was there that Pittsford smacked a walk-off home run against West Vigo in the semifinals of the Owen Valley Sectional.
Several other Edgewood players wound up playing college baseball, including Class of 2019’s Joe Kido (Indiana State University), Ethan Vecrumba (Indiana University), Cooper Thacker (University of Southern Indiana) and Blake Deckard (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology), Class of 2020’s Pittsford and Sam Kido (Indiana University South Bend) and Class of 2021’s Luke Hayden (Indiana University).
Satoshi Kido — father of Mac, Joe and Sam — was an Edgewood assistant in 2019 and has been Pittsford’s hitting coach since he was 7 or 8.
“He’s helped me so much with my swing over the years,” says Pittsford. “He always knows how to fix my swing when I get in a slump.”
Pittsford spent much of 2021 dealing with a torn right shoulder labrum.
Harrison is the youngest of 1986 Edgewood alums Jay and Cheryl Pittsford’s two sons. Alex Pittsford (25) is a graduate of Edgewood (2016) and Wabash College (2020) and is now pursing his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame. He was in football and swimming in high school.
Jay Pittsford taught English for 19 1/2 years and then served as an assistant principal. Cheryl Pittsford is an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Physician’s Assistant.

Harrison Pittsford (Manchester University Photo)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Thoughts of American Legion baseball keep Cruz going during COVID-19 battle

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts.
The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it.
One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.”
There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy.
“It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered.
Baseball also played a big part.
“Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.”
Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans.
“You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.”
While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance.
Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field.
Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer —  is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020.
For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline.
“He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.”
As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill.
Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay.
“Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.”
Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U).
“It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.”
Being around teams has given Neveah something more.
“I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah.
Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11.
This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season.
“Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz.
Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner.
If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players.
“I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.”
Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers.
Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms.
American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players.
Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021.
Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on.
Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father.
Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year).
Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year.
The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.

Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr. (Steve Krah Photo)
Tony Cruz Jr. and daughter Neveah.
Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr.
A regional title was won by South Bend American Legion Post 151 in 2018.
Tony Cruz Jr. battles COVID-19 in 2020. He was hospitalized 25 days in May, including nine in Intensive Care.
Tony Cruz Jr. had to go on high-flow oxygen during his battle with COVID-19 in 2020.
Out of the hospital after his COVID-19 battle, Tony Cruz came “home” to Jim Reinebold Field, home of South Bend Clay High School and South Bend American Legion Post 151 baseball.
Jim Treadway (left) and Tony Cruz Jr. bond over American Legion, high school baseball.

Prep baseball coaches try to lift seniors’ spirits

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY JIM PETERS

For http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t … don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some of us are told at 18, some of us are told at 40, but we’re all told.” — Moneyball

One of the famous quotes from the movie about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane has hit home for many high school seniors whose playing days weren’t ended by the standard baseball career markers — graduation, injury, a roster cut or retirement — but by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know how big it was for me,” South Bend Clay coach Joel Reinebold said of his last prep game. “I was playing for my dad (Jim Reinebold). I stood out in the outfield and cried that it was over.”

The moment is etched in time for Reinebold, who went on to play at Mississippi College. In retrospect, he hurts for the seniors who are not getting any such closure this spring.

“It’s a tough way to end your career,” he said. “I can’t imagine.”

Reinebold and other coaches across Indiana are doing a variety of things to try to ease the disappointment of the lost 2020 season for their final-year players.

One of Reinebold’s endeavors is having individual signs made for his seniors and placing them on the infield with their jerseys under the lights of the diamond, which is named after his father.

“Just give them a little salute, hey, we’re sorry you don’t get to play, but thank you for everything you’ve done for three years,” he said.

Clay expected to have nine seniors this spring, four of whom are first-year players. Catcher-outfielder Mark Williams and outfielder-pitcher Jackson Jones would have been in their fourth year on varsity and Hunter Aker in his third. Other veterans were Miguel Penaloza and Tyler Williams. Aker, a first baseman-shortstop-pitcher, will go on to play at Manchester University, while Bethel University is looking at Jones, an outfielder-pitcher.

“Some are going on to college, some are done and it’s time to figure out something else to do, and some may realize with time that they’re not ready to get out,” Reinebold said.

The team last met on the final day of February for a conditioning session. After an initial two-week shutdown, there was hope for a return March 15. When it was bumped back again, teams held on to the prospect of an abbreviated season until that glimmer was snuffed out with the state’s shutdown for the rest of the school year.

“We can’t even meet,” said Reinebold, who is doing all correspondence via text. “We can’t do anything as a group. We can’t make them work out. I was trying to think of the last time we were together. It seems like forever.”

***

Hope springs eternal in March, when everybody is 0-0 with aspirations for greatness. With a whopping 11 seniors, Jimtown had high expectations for the season, led by shortstop Dustin Whitman, a four-year starter, three-year catcher Sammy Schwartz and outfielder-pitcher Brandon Coble.

“Most coaches are saying that now, but we really had our eyes set on moving the program forward,” Jimmies coach Cory Stoner said. “They’ve worked hard. They practice on their own. We don’t have to tell them what to do. It’s a tribute to them for taking charge. It’s a really close group that gets along. They’ve spent a lot of time together growing up.”

The day after the season was officially cancelled, assistant coach Jim Fredwell approached Stoner with the suggestion of turning on the stadium lights, piggybacking on a idea that has been done across the country as a symbolic tip of the cap to seniors.

“We both have little kids, so it seemed like a fun thing,” Stoner said. “A couple people stopped by (Booster Field). My college coach (Seth Zartman) lives down the road and he came down. It was pretty cool to see.”

Given the opportunity, Stoner hopes to do something more extensive this summer, kicking around the idea of a mock senior night with a cookout or, should the social distancing restrictions be eased back by then, possibly an intra-squad scrimmage.

“We’ve got a great group of seniors and we want to honor them in the right way,” Stoner said. “It’s just hard right now to plan much of anything.”

Stoner recently organized a virtual team meeting during which he let each of the seniors talk and their words warmed his heart.

“Clay Campbell was talking about how devastating this is, but we have to look at the big picture, that there are people who are hurting far worse,” Stoner said. “We try to preach selfless leadership, putting others first, and he’s one who really gets it. It was cool to hear.”

***

Goshen‘s five-player senior class will always hold a special place for RedHawks coach J.J. DuBois, now even more so due to the circumstances.

“I coached them on JV before varsity,” DuBois said. “This was my first group that I’ve had since they were freshmen. It’s a great group of kids, the perfect program guys. Goshen baseball doesn’t have a great history of success. We haven’t won a sectional since 2008. This was our best shot to sneak up on people like Northridge and Penn. We didn’t have a ton of varsity experience, but we have good talent. It was the perfect team for this year.”

DuBois is going to great lengths to honor his seniors in light of them missing out on the chance to fulfill their on-field aspirations. Among them, pitcher-shortstop Skylar Reyes, last season’s MVP, will play at Manchester, and Tommy Cartagena Garcia, who came to the school from Puerto Rico as a sophomore, is also looking at a couple schools.

“Losing their season, they’re so disappointed they don’t get to wear the RedHawks jersey one more time,” he said. “You want to give them things to remember, not just the wins and losses, but something special, fun things like dinner with the guys.”

It started with 20-minute Zoom interviews with each player in which they answered a variety of questions, both related and not related to baseball. Preview clips were posted on the Goshen baseball Twitter account with the full segments available on YouTube.

“They got to tell some cool stories that got them laughing,” DuBois said. “It was a good time.”

Borrowing an idea from basketball coach Michael Wohlford, who had posters done for his players, DuBois is in the process of having replica jerseys put in frames for each seniors. His hope is to hold a ceremony where they can gather the seniors and their parents to recognize them.

“Who knows with the timing,” he said. “We certainly have the room (to spread out) on a baseball field.”

***

NorthWood coach A.J. Risedorph has five players in his senior class — third-year regulars Jaden Miller and Cooper Davis, Josh Stratford, Jack Wysong and Kyler Germann all of whom have been in the program since they were freshmen. Among them, only Miller (Danville Area Community College) is signed to play at the collegiate level, though Wysong is headed to DePauw University for tennis.

“We graduated a pretty good class, so I was more excited about the competition, the young guys who were going to step up,” Risedorph said. “That’s what sports is all about. They put in all the time and have been ready from day one. It’s very unfortunate. A lot of guys are struggling. We want to make sure they’re all right.”

With that in mind, Risedorph has a few projects in the works, starting off with social media posts. After doing some online searching, he’s looking into having personalized bats and replica jerseys done as senior gifts.

“My wife (Jenna) was talking about driving around to the homes and dropping them off,” he said.

The school’s baseball field doesn’t have lights, but Risedorph is thinking about getting the site game ready with bases, batter’s boxes and base lines, then painting the players’ numbers on the grass with the stencils used for football.

“Maybe we can do a drone shot,” he said. “We’d like to get them back out again. It kind of all depends on how long we’re shut down, as we get more information from the state.”

The missed season isn’t impactful on the seniors alone. Risedorph shared the story of junior Sergio Lira Ayala, who came to the school from Puerto Rico during his freshman year.

“He lives and breathes baseball, it’s all he cares about,” Risedorph said. “It’s his escape, with everything he’s dealt with. He just wants to be able to compete. I tell the juniors, you’re the seniors now. The standard of expectations is on their shoulders now.”

***

There’s no protocol, no manual, no reference for coaches on how to tell their seniors they don’t get to play their final season.

“There are guys who like to play and guys who love to play,” Fairfield coach Darin Kauffman said. “I have three of them it was really tough for. I felt awful for calling and leaving a message that we were done for the season. How do you do that? As coaches, it stinks, we want to play, too, but next year, we’ll be at it again. For the seniors, they don’t know if they’ll ever be on a field again and play.”

Of his seniors, just one, Felipe Arevalo, has a possibility of playing in college.

“He’d be really good for a JUCO for two years and go (to a four-year school) from there,” Kauffman said. “He called me right after (the season was cancelled). He was crying. He just loves the game. It was devastating to him. I felt bad. We were talking to colleges and they were planning on seeing him. Now they won’t be able to set up something.”

Kauffman has taken to doing social media posts with pictures of his seniors with write-ups that are going up one a day on the team page, as well as on the athletic department account, which is doing the same for the other spring sports.

“I’d like to have a thing, if we’re allowed to do it, on a nice day, in July even, where we could all meet at the field and recognize all the seniors for everything they’ve done, say some final words,” he said. “They worked hard in the winter. The guys were all for it.”

Fairfield didn’t bring back a great deal of experience after graduating 11 seniors last year, so it will now be in the same boat next season.

“I’m hoping the underclassmen can play at least a couple games,” Kauffman said. “If not, it’ll be almost two years. I don’t know what we’ll do. We won’t have a lot of seniors and it’ll be like really having two freshman classes. We have some young kids who wanted to travel.”

Kauffman has been staying busy with free online clinics and webinars.

“I sent out some things I want them to do, to try to keep their arms in shape,” he said. “Some kids have a back yard big enough to at least go out and do something, but everybody has a different dilemma. We’re all in the same boat on this.”

Follow Jim Peters on Twitter — @JP8185

BOOSTERFIELDLIGHTS

The lights on Booster Field were illuminated to honor Jimtown High School’s Class of 2020, which did not get to play at senior season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams all over Indiana are finding ways to say thanks to the seniors. (Jimtown Baseball Photo)