Tag Archives: IHBCA Hall of Fame

Former Fort Wayne Carroll catcher Jones decides time is right to turn pro

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

Three years after graduating from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Hayden Jones is bigger and stronger and more mature.
Jones, who signed last week as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds out of Illinois State University, says his biggest growth since his prep days has come on the mental side. That’s why he wanted to go to college first instead of pursuing his pro career right away.
“I put the dollar amount so high no one was going to sign me (out of high school),” says Jones, who turned 21 on April 27. “I’ve learned to accept failure when it comes, knowing its not going to be the end of the world.”
Hayden, whose father Ken Jones was drafted as a catcher by the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now a Purdue Fort Wayne assistant coach and grandfather Bill Jones (who died in November 2015) was a founding member and longtime executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and selected as an IHSBCA Hall of Famer in 1982, played for Dave Ginder at Carroll. The lefty swinger and earned four letters while garnering IHSBCA all-state honors three times and being selected as MVP of the 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
Hayden’s uncle, Brad Jones, lettered in baseball at Ball State University. His son, Tyler Jones, played at the University of Dayton in 2021. Cousin Chris Menzie was a baseball letterwinner at Huntington (Ind.) University. Jennifer Jones is Hayden’s mother.
Hayden Jones spent his freshmen season at Mississippi State University in 2019, appearing in 27 games (14 starts) and hitting .224 (11-of-49) with one home run, four doubles, five runs batted in, five runs scored and a .636 OPS (.269 on-base percentage plus .367 slugging average). His fielding percentage with the Chris Lemonis-coached Bulldogs was .971 with 64 putouts, three assists and two errors.
Because of NCAA Division I transfer rules, he had to sit out the 2020 season.
In 2021 at Illinois State, he played in 38 games (31 starts) and hit .230 (28-of-122) with five homers, two triples, six doubles, 28 RBIs and 15 runs. His OPS was .730 (.296/.434). He also fielded at a .990 clip with 182 putouts, 21 assists and two errors.
“I loved Mississippi State,” says Jones. “My girlfriend (Savannah Shinn) still lives down there. It just wasn’t a fit (baseball-wise).”
At ISU, Jones worked with Redbirds head coach and former big league catcher Steve Holm.
Jones’ mechanics were changed back to where he had been while working with his father in high school.
“It all clicked from there,” says Jones. “I was growing and maturing and understanding the game at a faster pace.”
To Jones, blocking, receiving and controlling the opponents’ running game are important. But overall baseball knowledge is a major key to catching.
“My dad and grandpa gave me that big piece,” says Jones. “You need that support staff. Now they can let go and let the Reds do the magic. I text my dad every single night. He’s learning from me now.”
Playing 18 games this summer in the new MLB Draft League with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), Jones hit .237 (9-of-38) with one homer, one double, seven RBIs, six runs and .725 OPS (.383/.342). He learned from manager Coco Crisp and coach Ron Mahay — both former big leaguers.
While he still has years of eligibility left, Jones decided now was the time to move forward as a baseball player.
“I was ready,” says Jones, who was draft eligible three years out of high school. “I wanted to get my career going and get my foot in the door.”
Jones’ name was not called during the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft. The phone did ring five minutes after its conclusion with his agent telling him that Reds senior director of player personnel Jeff Graupe wanted the catcher.
In short order, he was traveling to Goodyear, Ariz., to take a physical and sign his contract with scouting supervisor Andy Stack.
“It was not the money I was expecting, but you don’t make your money until you get to the big leagues,” says Jones, who has began training. He and other free agents and draftees will see if the Reds assign them to the Arizona League, send them out to an affiliate (Low Class-A Daytona, Fla., Tortugas, High Class-A Dayton, Ohio, Dragons, Double-A Chattanooga, Tenn., Lookouts, Triple-A Louisville, Ky., Bats) or just keep working at camp.
“Nobody knows what to expect,” says Jones. “It’s where they need help in the organization.”
Jones spent the summer of 2020 with the Brent McNeil-coached Turf Monsters in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Among those running the CSL were Phil Wade and Blake Hibler, who coached Jones on Team Indiana in the Fall of 2016 and 2017.
Outside the all-star series, Jones was at Mississippi State in the summer of 2018. He was the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Newport (R.I.) Gulls in 2019.
Jones was pursuing a Recreation and Park Administration at Illinois State. He says he could complete it in another year.

Hayden Jones on Fox 55.
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)
Hayden Jones (24) (Illinois State University Photo)
Savannah Shinn and Hayden Jones.
Hayden Jones (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

McCowin makes himself at home with Saint Francis Cougars

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mikhail McCowin chose the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., for college and as he comes to the end of his senior year as a student-athlete he reflects on the experience.

McCowin, a corner outfielder on the USF baseball team, has found comfort, community, culture and camaraderie as a Cougar.

As an Exercise Science major with a Psychology minor due to participate in May 1 commencement, McCowin sees in Saint Francis the academics he sought and it helped that he was already in Fort Wayne as a 2017 graduate of Bishop Luers High School

McCowin likes that USF has a relatively small campus and student body (about 2,300 students), compared to larger schools that he explored.

“It’s close-knit here,” says McCowin. “Everybody has a familiarity with everybody. I’m more comfortable with smaller campus and interaction between teachers and students.”

With plenty of sweat and toil, players and coaches have gotten Cougar Field back into shape so home games can be staged on-campus rather than at the ASH Centre/World Baseball Academy.

“It looks amazing,” says McCowin of the diamond located on the west side of town. “We have high reverence and respect for our field.

“It’s sweet when fans can come straight from their dorms to the field and we can closely connect to the Saint Francis community. That plays a huge role in how we play.”

It’s common for USF teams to show up to cheer on other Cougar athletes (the school has 18 varsity sports).

An added bonus of the small campus is that the baseball team spends up to seven hours a day with each other, forming strong bonds.

“We get foster that relationship everyday,” says McCowin.

When he was recruiting McCowin through a contact at Athletes With Purpose (AWP) in Fort Wayne, Dustin Butcher (who was a Saint Francis assistant and became head coach following the 2018 season when Greg Roberts retired) emphasized culture at the NAIA member institution.

“He said it will definitely challenge my character and make me a better person,” says McCowin. “We keep ourselves accountable. We pick our brothers up. 

“If they need it, we get them help. We lean on each other.”

McCowin says the team GPA has increased considerably in the last few seasons.

“We take care of our bodies,” says McCowin. “We take care of our schoolwork.”

If there are opportunities — like a job opening or the chance to play for a summer team — the Cougars pass that information along.

There are several local players on the Saint Francis roster and this has allowed families to get involved with coordinating postgame meals — one broke out the grill as the Cougars celectrateb  recent victory — and cheering on the players.

As a student of exercise and psychology, McCowin knows the physical and mental side as a ballplayer.

“I live what I’ve learned everyday,” says McCowin. “I’m always seeking ways to be better at my craft and persevering through hard times.

“I’m making sure my body’s right and healthy.”

Early this season, McCowin tweaked his back and was out of the lineup.

“It was an inflammation of the SI joint at the hip,” says McCowin. “I got back though (physical therapy) and with the trainer. 

“I used every resource to get myself healthy.”

After being discharged, he still goes to the training room — as do many of his teammates — for maintenance.

McCowin follows several physical therapists on social media, including MoveU on Instagram, and seeks out mentors to learn such as AWP co-founder and Sports Performance Chief Performance Officer Bryan Bourcier.

He also has Butcher, who teaches a Sports Psychology class.

Heading into a home series Friday and Saturday, April 16-17 with Mount Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis is riding a six-game win streak and is 27-13 overall and 17-7 in the Crossroads League.

McCowin is hitting .328 (21-of-64) with four home runs, one triple, three doubles, 22 runs batted in, 14 runs scored and 4-of-5 in stolen bases in 26 games. His OPS is 1.004 (.410 on-base percentage plus .594 slugging average).

The righty swinger belted two homers in an April 6 win against visiting Indiana University South Bend.

For his career, McCowin is hitting .267 with nine homers, six triples, 22 doubles, 75 RBIs. 77 runs and is 20-of-25 in stolen bases in 133 games. His OPS is .824 (.384 on-base percentage plus .440 slugging).

McCowin was born in Marietta, Ga., then moved to Atlanta. He came to Fort Wayne while in grade school when the family came to take care of his ailing grandfather. 

Mikhail attended Irwin Elementary and Memorial Park Middle School. Having started baseball at age 4 in Georgia, he continued it at Elmhurst Little League in Fort Wayne and played travel ball for AWP.

At Luers, he was led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary Rogers.

“He definitely taught me resilience,” says McCowin of Rogers. “He brought out a lot of my competitive energy. I was always fighting against myself to be better being a sponge and asking questions.”

There was also plenty of repetition.

McCowin, 21 (he turns 22 on May 20), lives with his mother Kimberly, father Michael and sister Alexis (19). Older siblings Makesha, Sudedra and Michael are out-of-state — Sudedra in Ohio and the others in Texas.

Mikhail McCowin (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Bixler providing power at or near top of Franklin College order

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Bixler smacked two home runs in Franklin (Ind.) College’s win on Saturday, April 10 and was named Monday, April 12 as the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time in his college baseball career.

It wasn’t the first case of multiple-mashing for the Logansport, Ind., native.

The righty-swinging fifth-year senior right fielder lofted two dingers May 10, 2018 against Manchester, two April 17, 2018 against Rose-Hulman, three April 16, 2019 at Rose-Hulman and two March 1, 2020 against Heidelberg.

On April 3, 2021 in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Franklin’s John P. McDowell Field against Hanover, Bixler’s eight-inning clout made the school’s all-time homer king.

The Grizzlies are 13-5 overall and in the HCAC heading into twin bills Saturday, April 17 vs. Rose-Hulman and Sunday, April 18 at Anderson.

The HCAC tournament (site to be determined) in May will include all 10 teams this year with the top five seeds serving as the home team in best-of-three series. A five-team finals will feature a double bye for the top seed. 

Bixler’s head-turning batting numbers so far for 2021 include a .449 (31-of-69) average with five homers, one triple, nine doubles, 25 runs batting, 31 runs scored and 5-of-6 in stolen bases. He owns a .576 on-base percentage and .826 slugging average.

“I look to do damage,” says Bixler of his offensive approach. “I just try to get the ball in the air or in the gap.”

While he has homered to center and right, he estimates that more than half of his long balls have gone out to left field.

During his Franklin days (Bixler played at Indiana Wesleyan in 2017 then transferred), he is hitting .354 (159-of-449) with 33 homers, nine triples, 34 doubles, 145 RBIs, 156 runs and is 32-of-38 in stolen bases. He sports a ..475 on-base percentage and .690 slugging average.

Bixler hit .321 with three homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs in eight games in 2020..

In 2019, he was first-team all-HCAC and third-team all-region by D3Baseball.

In 2018, he was the HCAC Offensive Player of the Year and conference tournament MVP. He was also honored as a third-team All-America pick by D3Baseball.com and was on the D3Baseball.com and American Baseball Coaches Association all-region.

Normally a 2-hole hitter, Bixler has been moved to the top of the Grizzlies order because of an injury to shortstop Quenton Welllington.

Bixler has had little trouble making the switch since he led off for four seasons at Lewis Cass Junior-Senior High School in Walton, Ind. (2013-16).

Is there a difference between 1 and 2?

“Maybe to start the game,” says Bixler. “As lead-off see as many pitches as you can for your teammates.”

Franklin coach Lance Marshall recruited Bixler while the player was in high school and welcomed him when he decided to transfer.

“Everyone respects him,” says Bixler of Marshall, FC head coach since the fall of 1997. “He knows how to win games.

“It’s a fun culture to be around for sure. This was the best fit for me.”

Bixler grew up playing baseball in Logansport and transferred to Lewis Cass after his eighth grade year. With the Kings, he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Marschand.

“He’s huge role model,” says Bixler of Marchand. “He took me under his wing and taught me almost everything I know today about baseball.

“He truly cares for each player. He is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met.”

Bixler was supposed to graduate in 2020. When granted another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to play another season and took a class while also working as a salesman for Warweg & Co., Irrigation in Franklin. He is slated to graduate this spring with a Public Relations degree and a minor in Business.

At 23, Ryan is the youngest of Brad and Kathy Bixler’s four sons. Josh is the oldest, followed by Justin and Brandon.

Ryan Bixler (Franklin College Photo)