Tag Archives: IHSAA

McIntyre gives back to the game as North Central coach, IHSBCA leader

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

North Central High School of Indianapolis competes in a conference and sectional loaded with baseball talent.

The Panthers — with Phil McIntyre as head coach — take on opponents in the mighty Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, Pike and Warren Central). North Central is grouped in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional with Carmel, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Westfield.

“Our kids play at a very high level,” says McIntyre, who enters his 13th season on East 86th Street in 2017-18. “I think we play in the toughest sectional.”

The MIC plays 14 home-and-home conference games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The Panthers are also in the 16-team Marion County Tournament, which takes four wins to earn the championship — something NC did in 2016. Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis — site of the IHSAA State Finals — plays host to the championship games for the county and city tournaments. Being inside or outside the I-465 corridor determines the tournament for Indianapolis area teams.

“It’s almost tougher than winning a sectional,” says McIntyre of the county tournament. “(The tough schedule) that just gets our kids motivated. All our kids have the goal to play college baseball.”

And that’s not all.

North Central is renowned for its high academic standards and was one of the state’s first to offer an International Baccalaureate program. School policy dictates that all athletes must carry at least a 2.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale to be eligible.

NC baseball regularly posts a of 3.4 or better and has many academic all-state honorees.

“There’s a lot of opportunities,” says McIntyre, who teaches health and physical education in addition to his coaching duties. “We have more (Advanced Placement) courses than (many schools). It makes (our athletes) well-rounded.”

“Coach Mac” has built his program on the principles of respect for the game, selflessness and mental toughness.

“Our kids work very hard in what they do,” says McIntyre. “It’s a lot of fun to see their growth.”

The Panthers emphasize things like the hit-and-run, sacrifice and quality at-bats.

“They do that without having to be told,” says McIntyre. “It’s been a growing process when it comes to that.”

McIntyre is also proud to see alums come back to support current players.

“That shows something about our program,” says McIntyre.

North Central had a proud baseball moment this summer when outfielder Roy Thurman III was selected as MVP of the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie. The 2018 series will be played in South Bend at Four Winds Field.

McIntyre, who served as South head coach for the 2013 series, was there in his role as assistant to IHSBCA director Brian Abbott.

In his role, former association president McIntyre heads up the Junior Showcase at the all-star series and helps form and facilitate committees. Among those are North/South All-Star Series, State Clinic, Academic All-State, Media Relations, Top 10 Polls, Districts (there are 16 of them) and Umpire of the Year.

McIntyre enjoyed his experience with the American Baseball Coaches Association (which will hold its 2018 national convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis) when he was an assistant to Bret Shambaugh at Marian College (now Marian University) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).

When McIntyre entered the high school ranks as an assistant to Steve Strayer at Boone Grove, he became acquainted with Bill Jones, the executive director and one of the IHSBCA founding fathers. He became hooked on the fellowship and the cooperation in the association.

“I just love being around coaches and learning,” says McIntyre. “It just means something to me — learning from those coaches and giving back.”

McIntyre gained passion for baseball while playing for head coach Charles Tait at Rensselaer Central High School. Phil graduated in 1990 and became the first in his family to go to college. He played for Shambaugh at Marian and got his degree in 1994.

“I learned so much about what I did not know (from Shambaugh),” says McIntyre. “(He is) why I wanted to be a coach.”

Shambaugh taught lessons about fundamentals and discipline which McIntyre still uses.

After a year at Boone Grove, McIntyre spent nine seasons as a varsity assistant for Wayne Johnson and then Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg. He was there when the community send teams to the Little League World Series in 1999 and 2001 and when the BHS Bulldogs had future major leaguers Lance Lynn, Drew Storen and Tucker Barnhart.

Brownsburg went to three straight IHSAA state championship games — finishing as runners-up in both 2003 and 2004 and going 35-0 as champs in 2005.

McIntyre took over a North Central program that had been struggling and won a sectional crown the first season (2006).

Getting the Panthers ready for 2018 will be McIntyre and his coaching staff of Scott King, Gabe Hoffman, Chad Cunningham, Nick Birch, Seth Hoffman, Tim Short and Katie Cluver. With Philip Webb leaving the staff to become head coach at Western Boone, McIntyre is sorting out roles. He has named Cluver as NC’s head freshmen coach.

“It’s a great opportunity for her,” says McIntyre of Cluver, the daughter of a coach who went to high school and college in Illinois. “The association has been very supportive.”

One season into the new IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days), McIntyre has a few observations.

“It was a learning experience this year when it came to our pitch count rule,” says McIntyre.  “Some teams had to take players out of (tournament games) because they reached their pitch limit. But that’s part of the game.”

McIntyre, who would like to see the IHSAA lengthen the season and add games (right now teams play 26 plus a tournament) and have championship series rather than a single-game title contest, says arm care is the most important thing and the rule forces teams to develop pitching depth.

“I kind of like that myself,” says McIntyre. “It really effects JV and C-team during the regular season. They have (a lower pitch limit and) more games in a shorter amount of times and need more pitchers. Do you have enough arms at the smaller schools? It becomes a numbers game.”

The number in the McIntyre household is four. Phil and wife Marlene have two children — Grace (17) and Ty (14).

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Phil McIntyre is the head baseball coach at North Central High School in Indianapolis and assistant to the executive director for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.

 

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Batesville’s brand of baseball based on ‘havoc’ thanks to Tucker

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a new baseball tradition at Batesville High School. Call it the Running of the Bulldogs.

Releasing its brand of “havoc,” Batesville has turned up the heat on opponents with its baserunning and bunting.

It’s a style choice made by Justin Tucker (BHS Class of 2007) when he took over as head coach of his alma mater for the 2016 season. He learned it from John Rigney when both were to Scott Holdsworth at Greensburg High School.

Rigney, who took Batesville to a state runner-up finish in 2002, adopted the go-go model as a freshmen coach under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary O’Neal at Madison.

“We are very aggressive,” says Tucker, who watched his 2017 squad swipe 116 bases while going 21-10 and making it to the championship game of the IHSAA Class 3A South Dearborn Sectional. “Our guys will go first-to-third and force balks. It’s just a fun way to play.”

Tucker’s collection of grinders started the 2017 campaign at 10-8 then went on a run.

“When you’re feeling good, the ball just bounces your way,” says Tucker, who watched his club make the dirt fly on the skinned infield at Batesville’s Liberty Park.

In the sectional final against Lawrenceburg, the Bulldogs led 6-5 going in the seventh inning thanks to a three-run home run in the fifth by sophomore Quinn Werner before losing 7-6.

Senior Zach Britton — a University of Louisville commit and a left-handed slugger who had teammates playing outside the fence to protect nearby houses whenever the team looking batting practice at Liberty Park — was on base when the game ended.

Britton has been reunited with former Batesville teammate Bryan Hoeing at the U of L, while playing for Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell, a speaker at the 2017 IHSBCA State Clinic in Indianapolis.

“They are probably pitching and catching to one another,” says Tucker. “I’m glad our kids are being put in (McDonnell’s) hands.”

As a center fielder in 2017, Werner made 79 putouts (one short of the single-season state record set by Goshen’s Rick Mirer in 1989). Werner had a shot to surpass the career mark of 191 established by John Glenn’s Lonnie Shetler (2007-10).

Batesville had come back to best South Dearborn 17-12 in the 2017 sectional semifinals. The Knights plated 11 runs in the fourth inning while the Bulldogs tallied seven in the top of the seventh. They finished the game with 12 stolen bases.

“The guys have some grit,” says Tucker.

In his first season in charge at Batesville, Tucker had to fill seven starting positions yet the Bulldogs went 10-10 and bowed 7-3 to Greensburg in the 3A Madison Sectional championship game. Batesville knocked off state-ranked Franklin County in the first round.

Tucker was a primarily a center fielder when he played for Ozzie Smith and Gary Jewell at Batesville. He went on to Indiana University Purdue University-Columbus. While there, he spent two seasons as freshmen baseball coach at Greensburg. When he graduated, he became a teacher and junior varsity coach for the Pirates.

Greensburg made it to the championship game of the Jasper Semistate in 2012, losing 10-9 to Brebeuf Jesuit.

As a Batesville sophomore, Tucker had experienced semistate play as the Bulldogs went to the final at Jasper and lost 3-0 to Evansville Memorial.

Batesville won the Connersville Sectional and beat North Harrison in the one-game regional to make it to the semistate.

Years later, Tucker came back to Batesville when an opening for associate principal and head baseball coach opened at the same time.

He enjoys the release that coaching baseball gives him.

“As an assistant principal you deal with a lot of discipline,” says Tucker. “(Coaching is) truly therapeutic. Some people jog. Some people read a book. That’s what I truly enjoy doing.”

Baseball allows him to have a positive impact and build relationships with students.

Tucker had a unique chance to build relationships with top seniors from all over when he was named as a South coach for the 2017 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.

“It was just awesome to be around all those players and coaches,” says Tucker. “I’m following (the careers of) all those guys I coached now.”

Batesville plays in the eight-team Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Connersville, East Central, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville and South Dearborn). Starting with 2018, the EIAC will play a piggyback type of schedule with home-and-home conference games against the same opponent on Mondays and Thursdays.

The 2017 season brought with it the introduction of the IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

Tucker says he favors the rule because it adds strategy and planning elements for he and his coaching staff, which includes Batesville graduates Alex Meer, Eric Feller, Ian Manlove and Jason Meyer and Franklin County alum Brian Roleson.

At tournament time, the rule really came into play, especially when rain forced the Bulldogs to play once Saturday and twice Monday at the sectional.

“I had a senior I would have loved to pitch in the sectional championship,” says Tucker. “How can you make it even better than it is right now is the real question?”

The Bulldogs fielded a varsity, JV and freshmen team in 2017 and had nearly 50 players try out for the program. Feeder programs include Batestville Babe Ruth League and a travel organization called the Batesville Bats.

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Justin Tucker, a 2007 Batesville High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. In 2017, he was on the South coaching staff for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.

 

Uggen accepts challenge of returning to to alma mater Blackford

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Uggen achieved much diamond success away from the place he grew up.

As head coach at Northfield High School from 1994-2013, Uggen’s Norsemen enjoyed many victories. IHSAA state championships came in 2001 and 2012 with a state runner-up in 2013.

But Uggen’s heart belongs to Hartford City, so he came back Blackford High School as athletic director and head baseball coach, beginning with the 2013-14 school year.

“Although I loved it at Northfield (and also served 10 years as AD there), I felt it was time to focus on the greater challenge of rebuilding my alma mater that hadn’t had a winning season since ‘04,” says Uggen, a 1983 Blackford graduate. “I guess you could say I personally wanted to know if I really was a good coach or just a by-product of being in the right place at the right time.”

On the heels of 4-23 in 2015 and 8-21 in 2016, Uggen’s 2017 Bruins went 17-13 overall and 3-4 in the Central Indiana Conference. It was Blackford’s first winning varsity baseball season since 2004.

The special campaign also included the school’s first sectional title in any sport since 2010 when the Red, Black & White reigned at 2A Blackford Sectional.

“I am proud of where we have come over the past three years,” says Uggen. “And it was great to see the community come out at sectional in full force as it was a great experience for the kids and community.”

The spring of 1991 is the only year since 1980 that Uggen has not coached a baseball team at some level. He helped coach a Babe Ruth League squad at 16. A few years later, he started a six-year run of guiding his own Babe Ruth team.

Uggen took his first teaching job at Northfield in 1991-92 and was hired as junior varsity coach and heir apparent to long-time Norsemen head coach Craig Winegardner.

As a player, Uggen was part of minor league (third grade), Little League (Grades 4-6) and Babe Ruth (7-9) programs before playing for coach Gary Cheesman at Blackford.

“I liked his passion for the game and the fact that he had high expectations for us,” says Uggen of Cheesman. “Looking back I appreciated that he ran a disciplined program as well.”

Uggen played three seasons (1985-87) at Taylor University, where Larry Winterholter was head coach. A pitcher during his freshmen and junior seasons, Uggen sat out his sophomore year because a rotator cuff injury that plagued his college career.

Out of eligibility because of tranferrng from Purdue University at mid-semester and then going to Ball State University, Uggen did not play as a senior. Winterholter did allow him to pick his brain as a student assistant coach.

“Coach Winterholter was less intense as a coach than Coach Cheesman, but he still was a disciplinarian,” says Uggen. “I appreciated playing for each as they gave me different perspectives as to how to reach athletes. It allowed me to learn that different players respond differently to how they are coached. So some kids like the more ‘in your face approach’ while others are more receptive to being pulled aside and talked to.

“Over the years I try to adapt to how I feel the kids best respond which can be a challenge. A couple years I never felt like I was on the same page, but I have always liked a challenge so that makes coaching interesting.”

What qualities does Uggen wish to instill in his players?

“First and foremost, I want our kids to reflect a ‘class act’ program,” says Uggen. “And that starts with discipline. Without a doubt, the best teams I have coached were the ones who were disciplined and focused on wanting to learn and get better. Not all of them had winning records, but I felt many of those teams still exceeded my expectations and that’s a testament to their efforts.

“I also want to instill a strong work ethic and a commitment to excellence. In short, I want them to learn to compete at a high level.

Hopefully, my hope would be that all who play for me look back and say ‘Coach Uggen made me a better baseball player and person’ and have pride in their accomplishments as individuals and as teams when all is said and done.”

The 2017 season marked the first for the new IHSAA pitch rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) and Uggen has has his take on it.

“I will admit I was leary at first,” says Uggen. “But in the end, the pitch count rule was a big reason we won the sectional. Taylor, who we beat in the sectional final, had to throw their ace all 10 innings in the opening win so he was done for the tournament.

“And in the sectional championship, we tied it when down to our last strike and they unfortunately ran out of pitching and had to turn to a young many who had only thrown about eight innings all year. So yes, the pitch count worked in our favor in the tournament.”

Uggen tried to worked up to five pitchers into a game early in the season then whittled back to three or less per game as pitch counts went up and the pitchers who could consistently throw strikes were identified.

“I think that helped us develop more kids capable of handling the grind of as the season wore on,” says Uggen. “And, thankfully, most of those kids are back (for 2018).”

His assistant coaches will be Bob Banter, Travis Huffman and Devon Kirkwood at the varsity level with Travis Huffman has JV head coach and Lucas Miller as JV assistant.

Uggen says he would be in favor of changing the IHSAA ‘open gym’ rule.

“I think it ties coaches’ hands only being able to work with two kids directly at a time,” says Uggen. “That frustrates me, especially knowing that there are schools probably not following the rule.

“Yes, I understand that not having it may open up some coaches to coaching year-round. We do it because it is the right thing to do and because I can’t say we are going to be a ‘class act’ and then break the rules.

“And, frankly, there are a lot of kids today that get pulled in the wrong direction for whatever reason. If I could work with more kids than those kids are less likely to get lured into doing something they shouldn’t.”

Tony and and wife Lisa have been married eight years and have five children ages 12 to 23 — Stephanie Uggen, Christian Fleener, Brandon Fleener, Brendan Uggen and Elly Uggen.

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Tony Uggen, a 1983 Blackford High School graduate, has been athletic director and head baseball coach at his alma mater since 2013-14 after a long stint in both jobs at Northfield High School. (Blackford Photo)

 

Closser heeds call of baseball coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.D. Closser played professional baseball for 14 seasons.

After two campaigns away from the diamond, the former Indiana Mr. Baseball decided it was time to return to the game that has been so good to him.

“I wanted to give back what I’ve learned and make a career out of it,” says Closser, the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. “(Baseball is) what I’ve done my whole life.”

His goal is to make it back to the majors in some capacity.

Closser was 18 when he began his pro playing career in 1998 after being selected in the fifth round of that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Alexandria-Monroe High School. The Monte Sprague-coached Tigers won the 1998 IHSAA Class 2A state title.

Closser played for the South Bend Silver Hawks for parts of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons and made his MLB debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2004 and logged 160 MLB games over three seasons.

He also played in the Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers systems through 2011.

Closser was 34 when he started coaching in 2014 with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees.

The former left-handed-swinging catcher spent two seasons in Tampa (working for managers Al Pedrique and Dave Bialas) and is now 37 and in his second year with Trenton.

Closser, who serves on the staff of 2017 Eastern League Manager of the Year Bobby Mitchell, carries the official title of defensive coach. Mitchell was also Trenton manager in 2016.

Coaching duties for Closser in 2017 include throwing batting practice and hitting fungos during batting practice while concentrating on the team’s catchers before, during and after contests.

“I make sure they get their work in,” says Closser. “I also get advance reports together for coaches and catchers and set up a gameplan for opposing teams. (In the bullpen), I give (relievers) a brief rundown on who is coming into the game.”

Closser says there is more game planning done and in-game adjustments made in Double-A than at lower levels of MLB-affiliated baseball.

“They’re executing pitches and working off their strengths (in A-ball),” says Closser catchers and pitchers. “You begin to spot a hitter’s weaknesses (in Double-A).”

There is also plenty of work on blocking and receiving pitches and talk of Pop times (time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the intended fielder receives his throw.).

Like all organizations, the Yankees have a way they like to develop their players. But they do allow their coaches some freedom to use their own experiences to help players.

“You can incorporate our own ideas, things that have worked for you,” says Closser.

A few years ago, he helped one of his catchers by passing on a lesson he had learned about speeding up his throws to second base.

“I wanted him to get the ball in his throwing hand and in the air as fast as possible,” says Closser. “It is a thought process.”

Growing up, Closser’s thoughts were filled with baseball, fueled by men like Sprague and his father, Jeff (who is now head baseball coach at Alex).

Young J.D. gained a foundation based on work ethic.

“It was about going out and practicing,” says Closser. “So much of today’s player is showcasing and playing games. My dad instilled in me that you practice everyday. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice. It’s the Rule of 10,000. If you want to be good at anything, you have to do it 10,000 times.”

J.D. also learned about accountability.

“Your teammates and coaching staff are counting on you to show up and do your game everyday,” says Closser.

What he misses most about his playing days is the unity.

“I remember the clubhouse atmosphere being part of a team,” says Closser. “There was that competing everyday day and learning how to attack hitters.”

At home in Raleigh, N.C., Closser’s home team features wife Holley and daughters Belle (14), Callie (12) and Maebry (1). Belle is a freshmen in high school and Callie a seventh grader. Holley is from the area. She met J.D. when he played in Zebulon for the 2002 Carolina Mudcats.

Closser will have to wait to see what off-season assignments the Yankees might send his way. Trenton was to close out the regular season Monday, Sept. 4, and open the Eastern League playoffs Wednesday, Sept. 6.

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J.D. Closser, a 1998 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is a bullpen coach with the Trenton Thunder in the New York Yankees organization. He played 14 professional baseball seasons and 2017 is his fourth as a coach. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

Terre Haute’s Wampler learning patience with Rex

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tyler Wampler has learned plenty in his two seasons as the head coach of the summer collegiate wood bat baseball Prospect League’s Terre Haute Rex.

At the top of the list is patience.

“I’m pretty young so I’m just out of playing,” says Wampler, 25. “I realize I can’t go out there (on the field). I can’t control anything. I need to patient with the players and understand that mistakes are going to happen and just be the same guy everyday.”

Wampler, who played for Rick Heller and Mitch Hannahs at Indiana State University 2011-14 and in the Los Angeles Dodgers system 2014-15 then spent the spring of 2016 as a volunteer assistant coach at ISU, was given full authority by general manager Bruce Rosselli put together the entire 2017 Rex roster.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 players. Last year, Wampler used around 40 players in 2016 and expects to do the same this summer.

“There’s a lot of turnover,” says Wampler. “It’s not like you’re just releasing guys. It’s usually for injuries or innings limits (on pitchers).”

As is the case all around the baseball world, pitching is a priority in Terre Haute.

“I’m a firm believer that pitching and defense wins champions,” says Wampler. “We want to start off getting the best arms we can and get as many as we can. You will have to shut guys down midway through the season because their arms are getting tired or they reach a certain amount of innings. You have to be real careful with them.”

Scott Lawson is pitching coach for the Rex. Lawson is a 1997 Terre Haute North Vigo High School who played at John A. Logan Community College, the University of Georgia and in independent professional baseball before coaching at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and at Terre Haute North.

Wampler is coaching in his hometown again this summer and giving baseball lessons at The Hitting Zone in the off-season. He is a 2010 graduate of West Vigo High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve DeGroote.

Wampler helped the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish as a junior in 2009. He started at shortstop and went 2-of-3 in the title game.

Playing for DeGroote, Heller and Hannahs, Wampler experienced three different coaching styles.

“They all worked so I can use all three and mold it into my own way,” says Wampler.

The Prospect League is a 10-team circuit in 2017 with Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Lafayette (Ind.), Quincy (Ill.), Springfield (Ill.) in the West Division and Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.) and West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

Going into play Aug. 1 and with six regular-season contests remaining, Terre Haute was 29-25 and three games behind West-leading Lafayette. The two-tier playoffs are scheduled to begin Aug. 6.

“This league is headed in the right direction and has a lot of good things going,” says Wampler. “It’s a way for these guys to play 60 games (in the summer after 50 or more games in the spring). It’s close to a minor league schedule. They’re getting great experience. They have to come out and perform every night. They’re expected to play well because they have guys behind them that can take their spot.”

Wampler played three summers in collegiate wood bat leagues — two in the Northwoods League (Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers in Minnestoa and the Eau Claire Express in Wisconsin) and one for the Rex (named for the Clabber Girl brand of coffee).

While some players come from across the country and stay with host families, Wampler notes the uniqueness of the Terre Haute franchise, which plays on ISU’s Bob Warn Field.

“We try to get a lot of local guys,” says Wampler. “We think Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley is a hotbed for baseball.

“We do have guys come from all over, including Florida and the Dominican Republic (outfielder Jalbert Melo was a recent PL Player of the Week). They stay with host families. Our host families are great. We turn people away each year, there are so many families that want to host. That’s a good problem to have.

“I remember when I was a player. Host families are like family to you and they care about what you’re doing. They stay in-touch years later.”

TERREHAUTEREX

West Terre Haute ‘good guy’ Lucas continues to learn the pro baseball life

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Lucas wants to move up to the big leagues just like any other Triple-A baseball player.

Lucas is not like every minor leaguer in the way he involves himself with the community.

The West Terre Haute, Ind., native is known to spend hours signing autographs or visiting children in the hospital. He has done it as he’s moved up the chain in the Cleveland Indians organization and he does it as a catcher/first baseman for the International League’s Columbus Clippers.

“It’s always good for me to get a perspective and worry less about my problems,” says Lucas, who plans to get even more involved in the community as he and wife Kelsey (the couple was married in Terre Haute in December 2016 and former Indiana State University teammates were part of the wedding party) spend the off-season in Columbus.

On the field, Lucas is soaking up as much knowledge as he can while making the most of his chances as a bench player. Through games of July 20, the sixth-year professional has appeared in 16 games during the 2017 season. He appeared in four games for Columbus after 95 with Double-A Akron in 2016.

“There’s a lot to learn,” says Lucas, 26. “There’s lot of veteran guys here. I see how other guys go about their business.”

Lucas began learning the business in 2012. After earning ISU’s first Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award in the spring of ’12, he was taken by the Indians in 12th round of that summer’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his first pro stop in the New York-Penn League at Mahoning Valley.

A catcher much of his baseball life, Lucas has learned to play other places on the diamond.

“Once you start moving up in levels, versatility is a big thing,” says Lucas. “When I get my opportunities, I need to take advantage of them.

“I just try to go about my work the same everyday. I catch bullpens, take BP, do whatever I can keep up with the speed of the day, which can be difficult when you’re not playing everyday.”

Even used on the mound five times this season, Lucas is 1-0 as a pitcher.

Lucas was a West Terre Haute Little League all-star prior to high school, played with various travel baseball teams including the Indiana Bulls and one summer for Terre Haute American Legion Post 346.

The 2009 West Vigo High School graduate played his prep baseball for Steve DeGroote, a 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee.

“He taught me a lot of things about the game and lot of things about life,” Lucas says of DeGroote. “He was one of the most inspirational guys I’ve had in my career along with my dad (Mike Lucas).

“It was an honor that I got to play for (Coach DeGroote). I owe a lot of what I am now.

You knew what he wanted out of his players. He treated us like men even though some of us might not have been yet.

“He taught us how to play the game right. He was all about being a good person.”

Lucas fondly recalls his final high school season and how DeGroote pushed the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish with Lucas being named L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner.

“Every year he would tell us the same thing: This is the best team I’ve ever had on paper,” says Lucas. “My senior year — the best year we’ve ever had in West Vigo history — he never once said it. He was harder on us that year than any of my four years. He was hard on us. But he knew we had a special team and he wasn’t going to take it easy on us. He wasn’t going to let us get big heads.”

Lucas remembers the 2009 team showing up at the school each morning at 6:30 and working to get better even after the regular season was underway.

Mike Lucas, an accountant and lawyer in Terre Haute, has also taught work ethic to his ball-playing son.

“Nothing’s going to be given to you. You have to go out and take it,” says Jeremy of his father’s advice. “I wouldn’t be where I am today with all my dad’s done for me.

“He’s always been there for me.”

Lucas played three years of college baseball at ISU in Terre Haute. Then-Sycamores head coach Rick Heller (now head coach at the University of Iowa) taught his standout receiver about being a good teammate.

It is a lesson he practices in pro baseball, where things are very competitive at the upper levels with players fighting for playing time and the right to move up.

Lucas says it took him some time to adjust to the team dynamic in the minors.

“What I’ve learned is if you’re making your teammates better and you’re making yourself better, that’s the best of both worlds,” says Lucas. “I’ve been on teams that don’t have a lot of guys that do that and I been on teams that do

“It’s a lot more enjoyable when all the guys have the same mindset.”

The nature of Triple-A baseball is plenty of roster moves caused by injuries, trades and on-field performance. That’s given Lucas a chance to meet new faces and to begin pulling with that player.

“When guys move up or down, they just fit right in,” says Lucas. “It’s about being a good teammate and being a good guy.”

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Jeremy Lucas, a 2009 West Vigo High School graduate, began his professional baseball career in 2012 and his now at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland Indians organization. (Columbus Clippers Photo)

 

IHSBCA South All-Stars head coach McKeon sports diamond pedigree

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

B-A-S-E-B-A-L-L demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

So says Jeff McKeon, who has been chosen as South head coach for this weekend’s 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. Practices, junior showcase and banquet are slated for Friday, July 14, with two games Saturday, July 15, and one game Sunday, July 16, at Ball State University in Muncie.

“I believe you must respect the game,” says McKeon, who resigned as head coach at Plainfield High School after the 2017 season (Shane Abrell has been named as his successor). “Once you cross that line, you have to give 100 percent every single time. The game will humble you in a second. If you ever think you are bigger than the game, it will strike back at you in a second.”

McKeon, who led the Quakers to a 94-75 record in his six seasons, was an assistant at three schools prior to Plainfield — one season for Jason Engelbrecht at Evansville Central, two for Steve Johnston at Evansville Reitz and six for Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg.

At Plainfield, McKeon got to be the host coach for the IHSAA’s South semistate games. The field has two berms for spectators and a scoreboard in center field.

Coming from Evansville, where iconic Bosse Field and other parks all have unique features, McKeon likes that the facility is not a “cookie-cutter.”

“I’m a big baseball purist,” says McKeon. “The ballpark should be part of the experience.

“Plainfield has some uniqueness to it.”

A 1993 Evansville North High School graduate, his high school coach was Dan Sparrow. He was a catcher and then a middle infielder at Ashford University in Iowa, graduating in 1997. He also worked two years for the Clinton LumberKings as an intern, grounds crew worker and clubhouse assistant and one for the Birmingham Barons as assistant GM for concessions and in sales.

Jeff comes from a baseball family. He is the son of former minor league catcher and scout and current Evansville Otters radio analyst Bill McKeon. In 2010, Bill was briefly the Otters manager with Jeff as a coach.

Bill McKeon and Joe Unfried, Jeff’s uncle, were teammates on the 1956 Evansville Braves of the Class B Three-I League and founded the non-profit Tri-State Hot Stove League in 1993.

The ’55 Evansville Braves were owned and managed by Bob Coleman. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inducted Coleman in 1980.

Coleman, Engelbrecht, Johnston, Sparrow and Unfried, are all members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class in 2016.

Bill’s older brother and Jeff’s uncle is Jack McKeon, the manager for the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins. Jack also served as skipper for the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds.

In his first off-season as general manager of the Padres, he began to rebuild the club with a series of deals and became known as “Trader Jack.”

Jack’s sons have also been involved in professional baseball. Kasey McKeon was a catcher in the Detroit Tigers system and is now director of player procurement for the Washington Nationals.

Kelly McKeon has scouted for the Padres, where he signed Greg Booker, son-in-law to Jack, brother-in-law to Kasey and Kelly father of former Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Zach Booker. Greg Booker is now a pro scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I’ve had some good mentors,” says McKeon, who is a business teacher at Plainfield and IHSBCA vice president on a leadership team that has included Brian Abbott as executive director, Shane Edwards (Oak Hill), Kevin Hannon (Knox), Scott Hughes (Shelbyville), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Phil McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central) and Ricky Romans (Charlestown).

“Those are awesome guys,” says McKeon. “They are great coaches and even better men. Being with those guys has been life-altering for me.”

Fundamentals and instruction are important to McKeon, who has thrown countless hours of batting practice trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.

“I’ve worked with a lot of very good players,” says McKeon. “But you win not with best players, you win with the role player that has to step up.”

McKeon, who is in charge of vendors at the IHSBCA State Clinic in January, will serve as a vice president in 2017-18 and is due to be president the following year.

This year marked his third as South representative and coach for the Crossroads Series, held the past two season at Ball State.

With Rich Andriole as head coach, the South swept the North in three games at Whiting in 2016.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” says McKeon, who will be assisted by Brad Catey (Hagerstown), Justin Tucker (Batesville), John Major (Columbus East) and have a Plainfield Quaker on the roster for the third straight year. It’s first baseman Daylan Nanny (bound for Arizona Western College) in 2017. Outfielder/first baseman Jackson Blevins was selected in 2016 and went on to Saint Joseph’s College. He is playing for the Dubois County Bombers this summer. After the closing of SJC, Blevins is slated to play at Wabash College in 2017-18.

Pitcher Antonio Lucciola represented Plainfield in the North/South series in 2015.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to be recognized for their accomplishments,” says McKeon.

Jeff and wife Liz have a son and a daughter — Gavin (9) and Katie (5).

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Jeff McKeon, head baseball coach at Plainfield High School 2012-17, will be head coach for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.