Tag Archives: IHSBCA Hall of Fame

Baseball coaching career now has Western grad Reida rolling with Alabama Crimson Tide

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana native Matt Reida has landed back in SEC territory.

This time as an volunteer assistant baseball coach at the University of Alabama.

The 2010 graduate of Western High School in Russiaville, Ind., played four baseball seasons at the University of Kentucky — a Southeastern Conference member — concluding in 2014.

Lefty-swinging infielder Reida (pronounced Ray-da) was selected in the 47th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox. He did not sign and went to college.

The MLB came calling again in 2014. Reida signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Rays and played 42 games for the Gulf Coast League Rays after one contest with the independent River City Rascals.

With the help of then-UK assistant and current Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon, Reida began his coaching career in 2016 on the Indiana University staff then led by Chris Lemonis (who is now head coach at SEC member Mississippi State University).

“I love Coach Bo,” says Reida, 26. “I have the utmost respect for what he does.

“He’s been a mentor for me for years.”

What is Reida doing with the Crimson Tide?

“A little bit of everything,” says Reida. “I’m now helping with the infielders and helping Coach (Jerry) Zulli with hitters. We have coaches (Bohannon, Zulli, Jason Jackson) that have done things at a high level. We all have our hands in a lot of different areas.

“Coach Bohannon is great at empowering his coaches. I’ll help with recruiting.”

While at UK, Bohannon was honored as the 2015 American Baseball Coaches Association/Baseball America National Assistant Coach of the Year.

Lemonis won the same award in 2013 while at the University of Louisville where he served for six seasons (2009-14) then spent four campaigns in charge at Indiana (2015-18).

Reida reflects on his two seasons (2016-17) with Lemonis at IU.

“It was my first experience in college coaching,” says Reida. “I didn’t realize what all went into the job.

“(Lemonis) has the reputation as a recruiter. I saw the see the hours he would spend and his level of commitment, how he would build relationships.”

In 2018, Reida was an assistant at Xavier University. His boss is Cincinnati was former IU player Billy O’Conner, who was in his first season as Musketeers head coach.

“Billy was great because he gave all of his coaches complete freedom,” says Reida. “There was a level of trust.

“He’s going to do a phenomenal job at Xavier. He gets more out of what he has around him.”

O’Conner, who at 31 is one of the younger coaches in NCAA Division baseball, leads from the front.

“He’s out their working on the field. He takes his turn to do laundry. Nothing is beneath him. As the head coach, he jumps in and makes things happen.”

Reida played at Kentucky for Gary Henderson, who led Mississippi State to the College World Series and was named National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Coach of the Year in 2018.

Teaching the mental side of baseball was a strength Reida saw in Henderson.

“He really thought the game at a different level,” says Reida. “He talked about routine a ton and the thought process. He talked about how to handle emotion and adversity and play the game one pitch at a time.

“I also learned from Hendu about personal responsibility. If it is to be, it’s up to me. Ownership was definitely a cornerstone of his program.”

Reida was a teammate of Terre Haute’s A.J. Reed when he won the Golden Spikes Award as D-I baseball’s top player in 2014.

“He’s an extraordinary person and a player,” says Reida of Reed. “I watched him grow for three years. It was neat to be a part of. He was someone that was driven.”

Read has played 48 games in the big leagues with the Houston Astros and slugged 123 home runs in the minors.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ty Calloway was Reida’s coach at Western.

Calloway finished his 36-year coaching career with a 663-310 record with 18 seasons of 20 or more victories and an IHSAA Class 3A state title in 2012.

“I learned a ton from Coach Calloway,” says Reida. “One thing that stuck out with me was his level of commitment to the game and level of preparation.

“You could tell how much baseball meant to him and how passionate he was.”

Born in Kokomo, Reida grew up in nearby Russiaville and winning the city title with his Russiaville Youth Baseball League team against Kokomo area squad at 12 is still one of his baseball highlights.

Among the talented ballplayers of that era were future collegians Nolan Sanburn (Arkansas), Colton Summers (Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne), Seth Vautaw (Ball State) and T.J. Weir (Ball State).

“It’s great area for baseball,” says Reida. “It really is.”

Travel ball included the Central Indiana Kings (a Kokomo area team organized by Matt’s father Chad Reida and Tim Weir), Indiana Bulls and Midland (Ohio) Redskins. T.J. Weir, Tim’s son, pitches in the San Diego Padres organization.

Midland won two Connie Mack World Series championships with Matt Reida on the roster. Along the way, the Redskins had to best teams featuring Manny Machado, Archie Bradley, Dylan Bundy and Mark Appel.

Chad and Shelly Reida have two other children — Tad and Tiffany.

Tad Reida, who is six years older than Matt, played at Western, Wichita State University (2004-05) and Indiana University (2006) and coached at West Virginia University (2009-10) and Air Force Academy (2011). He now is attached to a travel ball organization — CageRat Baseball — in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Tiffany Reida played basketball at Indiana State University.

Matt Reida holds a communications degree from Kentucky, where he graduated Cum Laude in 2014 with a 3.69 grade-point average.

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Matt Reida, a graduate of Western High School in Russiaville, Ind., and the University of Indiana, is now a volunteer assistant baseball coach at the University of Alabama. (University of Alabama Photo)

 

 

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Former McCutcheon, Indiana slugger Sowers displaying power as pro rookie in White Sox system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Sowers has made a habit of clobbering baseballs since his days at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Ind.

As Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2014, the righty-swinging Sowers slugged 11 home runs while hitting .365 with 30 runs batted in and a .514 on-base percentage.

“I consider myself a power hitter,” says Sowers, 22. “I had pretty good power numbers in college and high school.”

That trend has continued in his first professional season with the Chicago White Sox organization.

Sowers was drafted in the 28th round of 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox after playing fours seasons at Indiana University (2015-18) and headed to the Short-Season Class-A Pioneer League to play for the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers.

“I’m really grateful I was drafted by the White Sox,” says Sowers. “They are first class.

“The coaches are really positive and know a lot about the game of baseball. They understand the grind. They know what we’re going through. They’re good about accommodating us in every way possible.”

Tim Esmay is the Great Falls manager. Eric Richardson, who played for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 1994 and 1995, is the Voyagers hitting coach.

Sowers’ first pro homer came in his fourth game on June 20 against Billings.

Playing in the outfield, Sowers helped Great Falls win the PL North Division in the first half of the split season. Through his first 47 games, he was hitting .318 with seven homers, 11 doubles, 26 RBIs with .411 on-base and .518 slugging averages. He started in center field in the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game.

At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Sowers says his power comes from a mixture of size, strength and bat speed.

The dimensions of Centene Stadium in Great Falls is 328 feet down the left field line, 415 to center and 335 down the line in right. Most of his road dingers have been of the opposite-field variety.

“I have long arms and can get great leverage,” says Sowers, who clubbed five of his first seven long balls away from Great Falls. “When I get extended I can hit the ball pretty far.

“Baseball going toward launch angles. But I’m just trying to hit the ball hard.”

Working hard is what was expected by Sowers’ head coach at McCutcheon —  Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“He taught me work ethic and was a big stickler for showing up on time and behaving yourself outside of baseball,” says Sowers. “Was he old school? You could definitely say that.”

“Playing in high school was when I found my true talent for baseball. I was good growing up. Then I started putting it a lot of time outside of school practices.”

A third baseman on the freshman team in 2011, Sowers was an outfielder on the Mavericks varsity 2012-14.

Logan went to the batting cages with his father, Shawn Sowers, and got regular pointers during his  high school and college years from former Purdue University and minor league player Jordan Comadena (who is now bullpen catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates).

An IHSBCA all-stater who played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Richmond in 2014, Sowers was selected in the 31st round of that years’s MLB draft by the San Diego Padres. After weighing his options to go pro out of high school or attend college, he decided to attend Indiana University to play for the Hoosiers and study recreational sport management.

Recruited to IU by Tracy Smith, Sowers was given permission to talk with other schools when Smith left Bloomington, Ind., to become head coach at Arizona State University.

A meeting with incoming head coach Chris Lemonis convinced Sowers to stay committed to Indiana and he played there for four seasons (2015-18), hitting .281 with 37 home runs, 50 doubles, 137 RBIs, a .367 on-base and .480 slugging averages.

“(Lemonis) was big on getting your school work done,” says Sowers. “You’re a student before you’re an athlete.”

Lemonis (now head coach at Mississippi State University) worked with IU’s outfielders and also let his Hoosiers know that time in practice is not good enough to get players to the next level. They had to find time between their studies and team activities to do extra work on their own.

In the summers of 2015 and 2016, Sowers played 38 games in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League — first with the Wareham Gatemen and then the Orleans Firebirds.

Sowers completed all his classwork toward his degree and now just needs to complete an internship, which he says he plans to do next baseball off-season.

Great Falls, which takes bus rides of up to four hours for North Division opponents and treks up to 15 hours for South Division clubs, wraps the regular season Sept. 3, followed by the playoffs.

At season’s end, Sowers says he plans to come back to Lafayette for a few days and then head back to Bloomington to train and pursue a part-time job.

Born in Royal Oak, Mich., Logan lived briefly in Indianapolis, but he spent much of his life in Lafayette, where his father is now a project manager in the IT office service management at Purdue University. Shawn and Valerie Sowers have three children — Madison, Logan and Adrienne.

Logan played travel baseball for the Indiana Pony Express, McCutcheon league and Indiana Eagles before one summer with the Indiana Bulls.

Michael McCormick, a pitcher and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, is also a member of the Great Falls Voyagers.

After Great Falls, the minor league steps on the White Sox ladder are Kannapolis (Low-A), Winston-Salem (High-A), Birmingham (Double-A) and Charlotte (Triple-A).

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Logan Sowers, a former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University slugger, is putting up power numbers in his first professional baseball season. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

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Logan Stevens was Indiana Mr. Baseball at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette and put up power numbers in four seasons at Indiana University. He is now with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Logan Sowers was named to the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game as a member of the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Through 47 games with the 2018 Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers of the Pioneer League, former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University outfielder Logan Sowers was hitting .318 with seven home runs, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in June. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

 

Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

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With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

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Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)

Alum Murdock makes sure DeKalb Barons respect the game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tim Murdock grew up in a baseball-loving family and played for some demanding coaches.

Murdock brings those qualities to his position as head baseball coach at DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind. He just finished his fourth season as the leader of the program after six seasons as an assistant.

Tim is the youngest of three sons belonging to Jim and Carolyn Murdock.

“Dad was born and raised in Philadelphia and taught me the love of the game,” says Tim Murdock of his late father. “It was a great upbringing.”

Oldest son Mark Murdock is newspaper reporter, second son Matt  Murdock a college professor and Tim Murdock teaches English and Social Studies at DeKalb in addition to his baseball coaching duties.

A 1987 DeKalb graduate, Tim played for head coach Bill Jones, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association founder and Hall of Famer.

What was it like playing for Coach Jones?

“At the time, it was demanding,” says Murdock. “In hindsight, it was a very rewarding experience.

“He wanted us performing well under pressure and physical demands and playing with respect for the game.

“He’s major influence on the way I coach today.”

A few years ago, DeKalb retired the No. 24 worn for decades by Jones and is posted at Baron Field.

Steve Harp was a longtime Jones assistant and also made an impact on Murdock.

“He taught us about playing the game the right way and held kids accountable,” says Murdock, who also helped Harp coach the Barons junior varsity. “He had the communication skills and could relate to the players. His strategies and X’s and O’s were impeccable.”

Murdock coached with then replaced Chris Rhodes as the fifth head coach in Barons history.

“He was good at developing the whole player,” says Murdock of Rhodes, who is now DeKalb athletic director. “He believed in off-season weight room training and being mentally tough.

“He was always putting (players) in pressure situations in practice and not lowering any types of expectations.

“The players had to meet his expectations.”

Murdock does the same things with his DeKalb teams.

The Barons compete in the Northeast Eight Conference (along with Bellmont, Columbia City, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell). Conference teams play each other once during the regular season on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

DeKalb played in the IHSAA Class 4A Fort Wayne Carroll Sectional in 2018. Others in the five-team field were Carroll, East Noble, Fort Wayne Northrop and Fort Wayne Snider.

The Barons have won 19 sectional all-time — the last in 2002. DeKalb last took a regional crown in 1998. There were semistate trophies earned in 1977 and 1980. The 1977 team was a state finalist and the 1980 squad state champions.

Alec Brunson, a catcher on the 2018 team bound for Purdue Fort Wayne, played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.

Jimmy Long, who was an IHSBCA All-Star in 1998, is one of Murdock’s assistant coaches.

Two others from the DeKalb Class of 2018 — Dane Mettert (Bluffton University in Ohio) and Jackson Pyck-Hontz (North Central College in Illinois) — are also headed for college baseball. Other recent grads to go that route are Collin Bice (2015) and Quinton Rumsey (2016) at Manchester University.

Murdock gets involved in the recruiting process by pointing interested players toward websites like FieldLevel as well as showcases and camps.

“I do a lot of networking at the (IHSBCA) State Clinic in January,” says Murdock.

Prior to DeKalb, Murdock spent five years teaching and coaching baseball at Eastside High School in Butler, Ind. — the last four as head coach. He did not play baseball in college and went to both Indiana State University and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne).

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a 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).

Murdock says he rarely had a pitcher approach the top of the limit, but the rest requirements has sometimes caused “unintended consequences” for his team and for others.

When possible, teams are more likely to try to win by 10 runs in five innings to save pitches.

“Coaches who would normally go station-to-station will try to score as many rules as possible,” says Murdock. “In the old days that would be considered disrespecting the game.

“If you have a stretch of six games in seven days, to save pitching is a big deal.”

Auburn (Ind.) Little League develops future and current DeKalb players as well as a number of travel baseball organizations.

“Kids see quality competition and they’re playing a lot of games,” says Murdock of travel ball. “They’re showcase their talents as individuals.”

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DeKalb High School head baseball Tim Murdock (right) meets with Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian assistant after the Barons played the Braves.

 

Baseball coach and instructor Christiansen developing leaders at Culver Military Academy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Teaching baseball and other skills in a college preparatory school is what Kurt Christiansen does in his roles as head baseball coach and humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy.

Christiansen has been at the school since the fall of 2008 and has led the Eagles baseball program since 2009 in all but one season, when he was finishing graduate school.

A 1997 graduate of Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Christiansen played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and was a top-notch football receiver.

His diamond teammates included two players selected in the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — A.J. Zapp (in the first round to the Atlanta Braves) and Nick Jamison (in the 31st round to the Detroit Tigers).

After earning his undergraduate degree at Indiana University, where he did not play sports, Christiansen did some student teaching in Australia. He then was a teacher and coached baseball and football for two years at Carmel (Ind.) High School.

Pamela Christiansen, Kurt’s wife went to law school at Valparaiso University, and got a job in South Bend, bringing the family to northern Indiana. Kurt was a teacher and coached baseball and football at NorthWood High School for four years before pursuing the opportunity to teach at CMA.

Christiansen describes the humanities as a combination of Language Arts and Social Studies in a traditional school.

“It’s pretty wonderful,” says Christiansen. “The kids are learning to read and write and think in a pretty interdisciplinary setting.”

Culver Military Academy offers what its website calls “a leadership approach that develops young men into leaders of character who are poised for global success in any career path.”

There is also a Culver Girls Academy. Together with CMA for boys, they form what is known as the Culver Academies.

Students come from far and wide.

While seven players had hometowns in Indiana, Culver’s 2018 roster featured athletes from Alaska, California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington as well as Korea.

Hayden Schott, an outfielder from Newport Beach, Calif., participated in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.

Schott plans to attend Cypress (Calif.) College. The junior college has a tradition of sending players on to NCAA Division I and professional baseball. Among those are former closer extraordinaire Trevor Hoffman (who will be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this weekend) and former big league third baseman Brandon Laird.

In recent years, CMA graduates Connor Bartelman (University of Chicago), Kyle Bartelman (Columbia University in New York), Shane Comiskey (Grinnell College in Iowa), Zach Moffett (Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.) and Perley Provost (Denison University in Granville, Ohio) have gone on to play college baseball.

Culver Academies has a college advising office, which helps students make connections at the university level.

“Ideally, a Culver kid is using baseball to help them find the best academic fit for them,” says Christiansen. “Baseball is part of what got them to the school. The end benefit is a world-class education.”

Christiansen knows that college coaches have often seen players through video, scouting or camps and they are calling him to fish out the story.

“One of the big benefits about being at Culver is that I know my players,” says Christiansen. “I see them on and off the field quite a bit. I have a pretty good sense of who they are.”

Christiansen says Culver Academies students are attractive to colleges not only because they are strong academically, but they’ve also learned to develop independence.

“They’re at a boarding school far from home and they’re figuring out how to take care of themselves,” says Christiansen. “All of that’s done before these colleges get them and that’s a real big bonus.”

It’s not a cookie-cutter approach taken by Christiansen and his fellow instructors.

“Like any school, kids are kids,” says Christiansen. “Each kid is a little bit different. So you’ve got to find ways to connect with them and teach them. But it helps that we’ve got kids who are committed to the mission of the school.

“How do I leverage baseball to deliver on that mission? That’s a question that the staff constantly asks of ourselves — not just to put kids in a position to compete and win baseball games and develop as athletes but develop dispositions and mindsets that will serve them in life.”

With no feeder program, Christiansen often does not know who he will have on his baseball team until school starts in the fall, though he does sometimes find out who has a baseball background during the admissions process.

“In almost 100 percent of the cases I’ve never seen them throw or hit,” says Christiansen. “I have to work pretty hard to recruit our own campus because there’s so many interesting and wonderful opportunities. Kids grow up playing Little League and they get to Culver and decide they want to try crew or lacrosse.

“I have to identify the baseball players and make sure they still want to come out and be part of the program.”

The school’s mission includes a wellness component and students not in a sport must do something to get exercise.

“Not all of our kids are premier athletes,” says Christiansen. “Hockey and lacrosse programs are elite. They’re really, really good — some of the best in the country.”

Baseball, which plays on Wilkins Field, is restricted by school policy from playing more than a couple of games during the school week with other contests on Saturdays. This means CMA schedules around 20 to 23 games or less than the 28 regular-season contests allowed by the IHSAA.

The Eagles went 10-9 and played in the IHSAA Class 3A Mishawaka Marian Sectional (along with Jimtown, John Glenn, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington) in 2018.

“We want to make sure our kids have plenty of time to study and they’re not out until 9 or 10 o’clock at night four or five nights in a row,” says Christiansen.

Being an independent, CMA often gets bumped when other schools must make up conference games.

Christiansen’s coaching staff includes three other senior humanities instructors — J.D. Uebler with the varsity and John Rogers and Andy Strati leading the junior varsity.

Kurt and Pamela Christiansen have three children — Jack (11), Sarah (10) and Joey (5).

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Culver (Ind.) Military Academy head baseball coach Kurt Christiansen with Hayden Schott at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.

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Kurt Christiansen is the head baseball coach and a humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy. He played high school baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph at Center Grove. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Ben Davis alum Bear wants his Giants to respect the game of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

David Bear was on the mound when Ben Davis High School won its state baseball championship and he’s now leading the Giants program as head coach.

Bear, a 1981 Ben Davis graduate, pitched seven innings in a semifinal victory against Richmond and three innings of relief in a championship game triumph against Fort Wayne Northrop to wrap up a stellar prep career with a state crown.

Ralph David Bear Jr. left high school with a career 0.61 earned run average with five no-hitters and two perfect games, including three no-no’s and one perfecto as a senior.

“Coach Cox would let me throw 10 innings every three days no matter what,” says Bear, referring to Giants coach Ken Cox, who would be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1988 and finished his career with 440 victories. Besides the state title, his team earned seven sectionals, four regionals, two semistates and a state runner-up finish (1980). “I loved doing it.”

Bear cherishes his time with Cox.

“He was a man I dearly loved and one of the most respected coaches I know in the state of Indiana,” says Bear.

A couple weeks after regularly taking the ball for Cox’s Giants, the right-hander was on his way to Johnson City, Tenn., to begin his professional baseball career.

Bear was selected in the 27th round of the 1981 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and played five minor league seasons — starting with rookie-level Johnson City (Tenn.) in 1981 and finishing with High Class-A Miami (Fla.) in 1985.

He appeared in 168 games (20 as a starter) and went 25-21 with a 3.68 earned run average, 193 strikeouts and 145 walks in 363 innings.

His manager at Johnson City was Johnny Lewis, who later became the hitting coach in St. Louis.

“He was a very revered man,” says Bear of Lewis, a former outfielder with Cardinals and New York Mets. “I like the way he ran his team.”

Bear was also appreciative of the way Cardinals minor league pitching instructor Bob Milliken explained the craft. Milliken, who had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a bullpen coach and pitching coach in St. Louis.

The 2018 prep season marked Bear’s 12th on the Ben Davis coaching staff and his third as head coach.

Playing in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Central), the Giants went 9-19. MIC teams play each other twice in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with makeup dates on Thursdays and Fridays.

“That is a very tough conference for baseball,” says Bear. “It’s a grinder.

“You better come to play every night. If not, you’ll get your socked knocked off.”

Bear bases his program on concepts like honesty, work, respect and hustle.

“If you’re honest with the kids, you get more out of them,” says Bear, 56. “You also have to believe in them.

“I tell the boys, if you work hard and play the game the right way, good things happen for you. You have to respect it and hustle.”

Reinforcing that message is Bear’s assistant coaches — Kyle Cox and Terrence Davis with the varsity, Kent Spillman with the junior varsity and Robert Jackson with the freshmen. Cox (no relation to Ken Cox) was an IHSBCA North/South All-Star for Ben Davis in 2005.

With nearly 4,400 students, Ben Davis is one of the biggest high schools in Indiana. The graduating class of 2018 alone was over 1,000.

Bear notes that 55 to 60 players come out for baseball and he keeps 14 for the varsity, 14 or 15 for the JV and 15 to 17 for the freshmen. The latter squad tends to be bigger to “give kids a chance to develop.”

At the varsity level, Bear talks to his players about always being ready even if they’re not in the starting lineup.

“You never know when you’re going to get that call,” says Bear. “When you get it, make the best of it.”

Four seniors from 2018 have made commitments to play college baseball. Catcher Zyon Avery is headed to Ohio University. He participated in the IHSBCA North/South Series July 20-22 in South Bend. He is the first Giants all-star since Deaun Williams in 2006.

Going to Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne are shortstop/pitcher Tyler Duncan, outfielder/pitcher Garison Poteet and pitcher/second baseman Ian Schilling.

Former Ben Davis players going into their sophomore years as collegians are Logan Butrum at Wabash College and Isaiah Davis at Vincennes University.

Besides Ben Davis, Bear also coaches summer travel ball. This year, he is with the Evoshield Canes Midwest 15U team (The Indiana Outlaws merged with the Canes a few years ago). The current 15U squad has played in tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield and also in Ohio, North Carolina and, last week, the World Wood Bat Association 2012 Grads or 15U National Championship at Perfect Game Park at LakePoint in Cartersville, Ga.

Bear notes that Perfect Game USA has imposed a pitch count rule with a limit of 95 in a day. Since 2017, the IHSAA has also had a 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).

“I like the way they do it now,” says Bear. “Kids do a lot of throwing these days.”

Away from baseball, Bear fills up game rooms around Indianapolis in his job with Jay Orner and Sons Billiard Co.

David is the son of the late Ralph David Bear Sr. and Beverly Kay Bear and has three younger siblings — Richard, Rock and Stacey.

Bear’s girlfriend is Gretchen Atkins. He has a son (Coy), daughter (Cassie) and grandson (Bane, 3). Gretchen’s daughter is Stephanie Atkins. The Bear house also has a dog named Bear. The petite pooch is a Yorkshire/Australian Terrier mix.

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David Bear, a 1981 Ben Davis High School graduate, is now the head baseball coach of the Indianapolis-based Giants. (Ben Davis Photo)

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Former Ben Davis High School baseball player C.J. Vaughn (left) meets with Giants head baseball coach David Bear. A 1981 BDHS graduate, Bear came back to his alma mater as an assistant coach and has led the program the past three seasons.

 

Plymouth’s Nixon credits Hall of Fame grandfather, teachers, coaches, parents for pushing him to IHSBCA all-star status

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Nixon is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

The diamond where Plymouth High School plays baseball is called Bill Nixon Field.

But the former Pilgrims head coach who won 714 games at PHS from 1970-99 did not talk much about the sport with Benji Nixon when his grandson was a young boy.

“He told me to take care of my classes and grades,” says Benji Nixon. “He knew I had passion to be the best I could in baseball. He wanted to make sure everything else in my life was important to me.”

The young Nixon was a consistent honor-roll student through his elementary school years.

When Benji reached high school, grandpa began dishing out more baseball advice.

“We’d talk about my swing or how to get rid of the ball better (as a middle infielder),” says Benji. “It was a bunch of tips that helped me grow to be a successful player.”

Benji started at shortstop in every one of his team’s games and was good enough on the diamond to be receive honorable mention on the IHSBCA Class 4A all-state team.

He was also chosen for the North squad in the 2018 IHSBCA All-State Series, which is this weekend at Four Winds Field in South Bend (practices and banquet Friday, July 20, noon doubleheader Saturday, July 21, and noon wood-bat game Sunday, July 22).

“It’s a great way to cap everything off at Plymouth and my high school career,” says Benji, who plans to study business at Indiana University and is undecided about trying to walk on for the Hoosiers. “When I talked with my grandfather about it on the phone, it one of my better moments in 18 years on earth.”

Bill Nixon is planning to travel up from Florida to take part in the festivities.

Taking that early academic advice into high school, Benji graduated with a grade-point average around 3.5 and took six Advanced Placement classes his last two years.

“I had relationships with all my teachers,” says Benji. A couple that he maintains contact with are Curtis Nordmann, John Johnson and Scott Michel.

A three-sport athlete, Benji is grateful for his three head coaches — John Barron in football, Ryan Bales in basketball and Ryan Wolfe in baseball — for different reasons.

“Coach Barron wants us to be more than just a football player,” says Benji, a receiver, running back and defensive back on the gridiron. “He wants us to be be active students and (attend other extracurricular events).

“What I’m going to miss most (about football) is my teammates. We’ve created bonds we’ll have the rest of our lives I would hope.”

The 5-foot-10 Nixon played guard for the Pilgrims and credits his coach with helping him control his emotions.

“I was a hot head my freshman year,” says Benji. “Coach Bales did a nice job my last two years of highs school making sure I could stay calm during tough situations.

“I learned how to keep my cool.”

Wolfe encouraged his baseball players to be good students and good citizens, getting involved with the community.

“He’s all about giving back,” says Benji of Wolfe. “Life is about more than just sports.

“It’s about being there for other people.”

The team did volunteer work multiple times this past year.

Rusty and Maggie Nixon have five sons — Jake Kelly, Elijah Nixon, Nate Nixon, Benji Nixon and Zephan Nixon. All played baseball at Plymouth. Zephan is heading into his junior year at PHS.

Rusty Nixon works for WTCA-AM 1050 radio and the Plymouth Pilots News newspaper.

Maggie Nixon  is the managing editor at The Post & Mail in Columbia City.

Benji describes his relationship with his parents.

“(My father) knew I was a lot like him,” says Benji. “He knew when I was frustrated. He let me handle my own problems, which helped me a lot as a person.

“My mom was my support system. She was always there for me. She encouraged me after bad games and kept me going.”

IHSBCA NORTH/SOUTH ALL-STAR SERIES

(At South Bend)

Friday, July 20

Junior Showcase (Four Winds Field), 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

North practice (Four Winds Field), 1:15 to 3 p.m.

South practice (Four Winds Field), 3 to 4:45 p.m.

Banquet (Great Room at Century Center), 7 p.m. Keynote speaker is Greg Kloosterman (former Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College standout who pitched in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and now runs the Game Changers travel organization in Canonsburg, Pa.). Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for 10-and-under.

Saturday, July 21

(Four Winds Field)

Pregame with South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and posthumous tributes to IHSBCA founders and Hall of Famers Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber, 11:35 a.m.

First pitch for doubleheader, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.

Sunday, July 22

First pitch for single wood-bat game, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.

Note: This year marks the fourth time the series has come to South Bend. It was staged at Clay Park in 1976, Coveleski Stadium (now known at Four Winds Field) in 1989 and Notre Dame in 2008 … The North leads the all-time series 65-61, dating back to 1975.

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Benji Nixon takes time during the Plymouth (Ind.) High School prom to stop by Bill Nixon Field for some baseball fun. Nixon was chosen to participate in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series July 20-22 in South Bend. BENJINIXON1

Benji Nixon, a 2018 Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, was chosen to participate in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series July 20-22 in South Bend. Grandfather Bill Nixon is an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.