Tag Archives: IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series

Kansas Jayhawks’ Metcalf wearing Northern Michigan Dune Bears jersey this summer

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Metcalf’s 2020 summer plans had him playing baseball in the Northwoods League with the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was reconfigured and the two-year starting first baseman at the University of Kansas is in Traverse City, Mich., as part of a three-team regional pod.

Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has been assigned to the new Northern Michigan Dune Bears. That team plays games against established Traverse City Pit Spitters and new Great Lakes Resorters at at Turkey Creek Stadium. Players are being housed in cabins at Interlochen Center for the Arts, located between Duck, Geneva and Long lakes and close to Lake Michigan.

“We play every two days,” says Metcalf, who was the designated hitter during a season-opening victory Thursday, July 2 against the Pit Spitters. Former Jackrabbits hitting coach Alex O’Donnell, who played at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and is an assistant at Mercyhurst-North East was made a winner in his managing debut. “I’ve been to the beach a couple of times.”

Before the Kansas season was halted in March, Metcalf appeared in 15 games with 12 starts at first base and hit .244 (10-of-41 with two home runs, two doubles, six walks and 10 runs batted in. He belted his homers against Charleston Southern Feb. 22 and Indiana State March 7.

The Jayhawks, with Ritch Price as head coach and his son Ritchie Price as hitting/infield coach, recruiting coordinator and third base coach, were returning from a series March 10-11 at the University of Iowa when they learned that the Ivy League had canceled its season.

“We practiced the next day and the coaches told us it was not looking good,” says Metcalf. 

Soon after that, the season was canceled and campus was closed. Metcalf finished his spring semester classes via computer back in Granger, Ind.

“I was trying to learn accounting online,” says Metcalf, who is working toward a major in Sport Management with a minor in Business. “I got it done.”

The son of Dave and Leslie Metcalf and brother of Lexie Metcalf quarantined for about a month then began going to the Harris Township fields for daily batting practice with Penn classmate Niko Kavadas, who completed his third season at Notre Dame in 2020. 

Metcalf also resumed lessons with Mike Marks at his Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and began mowing lawns with the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation. 

“I wasn’t super-confident about the summer (baseball season),” says Metcalf, who was told June 15 to report to Traverse City, which is about 250 miles due north of Granger. “Now I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.”

Metcalf expects to split his time with the Dune Bears between DH, first base and catcher.

Last summer he played for the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats of the MINK (Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska-Kansas) Collegiate League. He was named to the all-star team and finished second in the home run derby at St. Joseph, Mo., even though he belted 32 total homers in three rounds.

At Kansas in 2019, Metcalf appeared in 44 games (27 starts) and hit .256 (30-of-117) with four homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs.

The summer of 2018 had him in the Expedition League with the Western Nebraska Pioneers.

As a Jayhawk freshman, Metcalf got into 14 games (one as a starter) and hit .077 (1-for-14) with one RBI.

Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn, Metcalf was a career .379 hitter while earning all-state and District Player of the Year recognition and being named to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior. 

Metcalf was on the High Honor Roll four times. The Kingsmen won four Northern Indiana Conference and IHSAA sectional titles, three regionals, two semistates and a Class 4A state championship (he scored two runs in a 3-2 win against Terre Haute North Vigo in 2015). The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder also played football at Penn.

What’s the difference between high school and college baseball?

“It’s the faster pace,” says Metcalf. “It’s how good every single player is. You have to prepare for every single game like it’s a big game — even the mid-week ones. 

“It’s fun, but hard work.”

Metcalf, a righty swinger, sees his power and his ability to hit to all fields as his strengths as a hitter.

“Hitting veto — guys that throw in the low to mid-90’s — means having quick hands,” says Metcalf. “You need to have a short, steady stroke. (The pitcher) will provide the power.”

From his 7U to 14U summer, Metcalf played travel baseball for the Granger Cubs. Teammates included Kavadas, Trevor Waite, Matt Kominkiewicz and Tony Carmola.

He played for Penn’s summer team after his first two high school campaigns then one summer each with the Eric Osborn-coached Indiana Nitro (17U) and Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U). Prior to his senior year, he played for the Kevin Christman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.

Nolan Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has spent three baseball seasons at the University of Kansas. This summer he is with the Northern Michigan Dune Bears of the Northwoods League, playing all his games in Traverse City, Mich. (University of Kansas Image)

Batesville, Louisville graduate Britton drafted by Blue Jays

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Britton might have to wait to put on a uniform and stride to the plate in a professional baseball game for the first time.

But he is ready for that to happen.

Britton, a lefty-swinging outfielder/catcher at the University of Louisville, was selected Thursday, June 11 in the fifth round (No. 136 overall) of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.

The 2017 Batesville (Ind.) High School graduate has two years of college eligibility remaining with a extra year being granted by the NCAA when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the 2020 season to be stopped in mid-March.

But he came out of high school with 21 college credits thanks to Advanced Placement classes, took summer classes prior to his first year at Louisville and during two collegiate summer league seasons (2018 with the Newport Gulls in Rhode Island and 2019 with the Orleans Firebirds on Cape Cod) and finished his Sport Administration degree this spring.

“I feel confident that I’m going to sign with the Blue Jays,” says Britton, who has been consulting with area scout Nate Murrie. “I’m excied to start my career with them.

“I’m a winner. I’m a guy who plays the game hard.”

With no live baseball at the moment and the 2020 Minor League Baseball season in doubt, Britton awaits his next move.

“It’s a waiting game,” says Britton, 21. “I’ll see what (the Blue Jays) tell me to do.”

Before the 2020 season was stopped, Britton was hitting .322 with one home runs, 12 runs batted in and an NCAA Division I-leading 12 doubles in 17 games (all starts) for a 13-4 team.

In what turned out to be the final game, left fielder Britton batted No. 3 and went 3-of-5 and plated three runs against Chicago State on March 11.

After the shutdown, Britton spent a few weeks training in Florida then came back to Batesville and has been there ever since.

Always a left-handed hitter since he began organized baseball at 5 or 6, Britton grew up big leaguers with lefty swings like Ken Griffey Jr., switch-hitter Chipper Jones and Chase Utley.

“I definitely watched those guys coming up,” says Britton. “I took pieces of their swing and tried to put it into mine.

“I like to think of myself as a professional hitter with a good approach. I like to use the whole field and hit the ball where it’s pitched. I’m not going for home runs and I’m never swinging out of my shoes. I take what the pitcher gives me and I know the situation.”

Britton played for head coach Dan McDonnell at Louisville.

“He’s a very intelligent baseball mind,” says Britton of McDonnell. “He knows what it takes to win. He knew what I had to do to get into pro ball and one day become a big leaguer. He helped me tremendously along the way.

“He taught us how to be professional on and off the field and to be accountable. He does a good job of running a team and a program.”

Eric Snider is the Cardinals hitting coach.

“We’ve worked together a lot the last few years,” says Britton of Snider. “He’s been a tremendous help to me.

“He’s always a guy I can talk to and learn from in terms of the swing.”

Britton played four varsity baseball season at Batesville — two for head coach Alex Davis and two for current Bulldogs head coach Justin Tucker

A 2017 Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American and three-time all-conference selection, Britton hit .553 with six homers, 16 doubles, 27 RBIs and 41 runs scored as a Batesville senior.

Chosen as a catcher for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series, Britton did not play because he was already enrolled in summer school at Louisville.

He’s been mostly an outfielder in college. So where does he play as a pro?

“Wherever they want to develop me, I’ll be happy to do that,” says Britton.

After playing in local leagues, Britton began travel ball at age 10 with the Indiana Prospects. He was with the Indiana Nitro at 11 and 12 and then the Indiana Bulls from 13 until he went to college. Sean Laird and Dave Taylor were among his Bulls head coaches.

Zach is the son of Barry and Debbie Britton and has two older siblings. Half brother James  served in the U.S. Marines and played football at Franklin (Ind.) College. Half sister Devin played volleyball at Anderson (Ind.) University.

Zach Britton, a 2017 graduate of Batesville (Ind.) High School and 2020 graduate of the University of Louisville, was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. (University of Louisville Photo)

Baseball, friendship has Leyva assisting Bair at Anderson U.

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Carlos Leyva’s baseball connection to Matt Bair goes back more than two decades.

Leyva and Bair were Babe Ruth teammates in Anderson, Ind., at 13, 14 and 15. Rudy Mannie was the head coach. Leyva was mostly an outfielder and Bair a middle infielder.

In high school ball, Leyva represented the Phil Nikirk-coached Madison Heights Pirates while Bair was nearby with Terry Turner’s Anderson Indians. Both players graduated in 1995.

Leyva, Bair and Mannie were reunited when Bair became the head coach at Anderson Highland High School with Leyva and Mannie as assistants.

“It was cool to see that come full circle,” says Leyva of he and Bair getting to coach with a boyhood mentor in Mannie. “He was a big influence in both our lives.”

Madison Heights and Highland have since been consolidated into Anderson High.

After serving four seasons (2004-07) as a Scots junior varsity coach on the staff of Highland head coach Jason Stecher (current to Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School and son of long-time Highland head coach Bob Stecher, who retired with more than 500 victories), Leyva was a varsity assistant for three years with Bair (2008-10).

So it was a natural when Bair took over as head baseball coach at Anderson University that he’d reach out to his friend.

“We really hit it off (at Highland) then he asked me to come with him to AU,” says Leyva. “We were getting the band back together.”

The 2020 Anderson season – though it was shortened to nine games because of the COVID-19 pandemic — was the third on Leyva with the Ravens.

His duties include working with outfielders, base running and assisting Bair with hitters. He also coaches first base when AU is at the plate.

Leyva has keys for his outfielders.

“The most important thing we can do is re-direct the ball back to the infield,” says Leyva. “We can shut down the other team’s offense.

“We focus on three goals at all times — keep the double play in order, limit the offense to one base at a time and with balls in the ground we’re 100 percent (no errors).”

The stolen base is a major part of Ravens baseball.

“We got progressively better as we implemented our system,” says Leyva. “We take pride in our base running.

“In a game where the defense has the ball we can take some control back on offense. We’re constantly studying what the game is giving us to see where we can find an advantage.”

Anderson, a member of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, swiped 105 bases in 45 games in 2018. Once Leyva and Bair had their system in place, the team lost to one of the more prolific teams in NCAA Division III, pilfering 109 in 37 games in 2019 and heisting 42 in nine contests in 2020.

“As a rule of thumb, the entire team has the green light,” says Leyva. “We live on those opportunities we’re creating.”

Bair runs the overall hitting system, including small group work in practice. Leyva spends time on the offensive side the outfielders.

“Our staff at AU is affluent in the game of baseball,” says Leyva of a group that also features Brandon Schnepp, John Becker, Jeff Freeman, Zach Barnes and Nate McKeon. “We dip our toes into each other’s pools at times.

“We have a rather large staff for a college team. That’s a testament to Bair and local guys who love the game and know what’s going on. Opinions and input is always welcome.”

Prior to joining the Ravens, Leyva spent seven seasons as an an assistant at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School (2011-17) under two Arabians head coaches — two years with Bill Stoudt and five with Travis Keesling. The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh.

“That was awesome, spending time in the dugout with a Hall of Famer,” says Leyva of his experience with Indiana High school Baseball Coaches Association enshrinee Stoudt.

Leyva says Keesling’s ability to leverage the abilities of his coaching staff is one of his strengths.

“He had a football mentality with position coaches,” says Leyva. “He let the infield guy be the infield guy (and so on). He took over that managerial role of figuring out how to best put those pieces together.

“You see staffs being put together that way all over the country. He was early to that concept.”

Leyva fondly looks back on his days playing at Madison Heights for Nikirk (who is now secondary school principal at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis).

“He was really big on personal responsibility and accountability and was really fair,” says Leyva. “He gave the guys opportunities.

“Those are qualities I’ve carried forward in my coaching career.”

Leyva has also coached travel baseball. He was co-founder and a head coach of the Indiana Magic in 2011-12 and was an assistant to Ryan Bunnell with Indiana Bulls 16U in 2013, Mike Farrell with the Indiana Outlaws (an organization started by Jay Hundley which is now part of Evoshield Canes Midwest) in 2014 and Mike Hitt with the Indiana Blue Jays 2015-17.

The Magic was comprised of players from Madison and surrounding counties and won 60 games in two summers.

Besides leading a Bulls team, Bunnell is also head coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School.

Farrell, who played at Indiana State University, is a veteran instructor and a scouting supervisor for the Kansas City Royals.

“That may have been as much fun as I’ve had in baseball.” says Leyva of his time coaching the Blue Jays. “We were a single (18U) team. The roster was all guys committed to playing college baseball at a high level and there were no egos.

“We just had a blast playing really good baseball. We were like 60-5 in three years.”

Thomas Hall, Leyva’s nephew, was on each of those travel teams. The Pendleton Heights graduate was selected for the 2015 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Terre Haute and played at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill.

After graduating from Madison Heights, Leyva attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for two years then transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington. He majored in Computer Information Systems and is a 2000 graduate of IU’s Kelley School of Business and has worked since 2008 for IBM as a System Storage Enterprise Client Technical Specialist.

Carlos and Julie Leyva have three children — fourth grader Mia (10), second grader Izzy (8) and kindergartener Cruz (7). Julie is on the front lines of the pandemic as a nurse practitioner.

CARLOSLEYVAANDERSONU

Carlos Leyva has been an assistant baseball coach at Anderson (Ind.) University since the 2018 season. (Anderson University Photo)

 

Former Pendleton Heights catcher Etchison scouting for Cleveland Indians

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Etchison used to play baseball for a coach who was invested in his players as people as ballplayers.

Now Etchison evaluates diamond talent with an eye for more than the obvious skills.

Etchison was a catcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, graduating in 2007.

“He is one of he best human beings of all-time,” says Etchison of Stoudt. “He was close with his players and his players were close with each other. Everyone who played for him just loves him.

“He was so much more than a baseball coach. He was invested in you. He genuinely cares about people.”

Etchison, 31, makes it a point to look Stoudt up whether it’s in Indiana or Florida.

In his third year as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians, Etchison greatly values character.

“The Indians very progressive in how they go about scouting,” says Etchison. “We collect information and get to know a player. Every player has strengths and weaknesses.

“We emphasize make-up as an organization. The make-up is just so huge.”

Etchison, who played at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and the University of Maryland after his Pendleton Heights days (which included back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference championships in 2006 and 2007 and a senior season in which he hit .392 with five homer runs, seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and a spot on the 2007 IHSBCA North/South All-Star team; former Arabians head coach Travis Keesling assisted Stoudt; The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh), wants to know a player’s level of perseverance and his ability to overcome challenges and perform under pressure.

His job is to identify someone who will impact the game at the big league level.

As an area scout living in Dexter, Mich., Etchison is responsible for a territory which includes Indiana and Michigan plus Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, northern Kentucky, South Dakota, western Ohio and Wisconsin.

He goes to games and tournaments in the spring and summer and scout days in the fall featuring players from these territories or — especially in this time of no live baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic — analyzes video to do player assessments and projections.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Synergy (Sports Technology) video,” says Etchison. “We can see mechanical things on tape — things that weren’t possible 10 years ago — and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

That’s one piece of the scouting puzzle.

“We’ll never not value going to the ballpark,” says Etchison. “There are a lot of things you can’t see on tape.”

Among those are pregame routines and what the player does during warm-ups or batting practice and how he interacts with his coaches and teammates. Body language won’t always show up on a video that is cut up by pitch and swing.

It is said that there are five tools in baseball (hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, throwing and fielding).

“Old school scouting relies so heavily on tools,” says Etchison. “In the majors, a lot of players have one or two.

“The hit tool, that’s the one that matters (for non-pitchers).”

Etchison hears people say that an outfielder can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm.

But can he effectively swing the bat? Those defensive tools might show up once or twice a week.

“The bat shows up four times every game,” says Etchison. “All (big league) outfielders are offensive positions.”

Etchison, who also played travel baseball with the Indiana Bulls prior to college, redshirted his first season at Ball State (2008) and apparel in 20 games for Greg Beals-coached Mid-American Conference West Division champions in 2009.

Knowing that he would see limited playing time in his third year, Etchison made the choice to transfer to Chipola and joined the that program just weeks before the start of the 2010 season.

“The first time I really took a chance on myself was going down there,” says Etchison. “It was a sink-or-swim situation.”

He could either make it or go back to Indiana and leave his baseball career behind.

Playing for Jeff Johnson on a team loaded with future pro players, Etchison became part of the Chipola Indians brotherhood.

“It’s one of the top junior college programs in the country,” says Etchison. “(Johnson) had a very similar impact on his players as Coach Stoudt. He was a big personality, a great baseball coach and a great mentor.

“(Chipola) opened doors for me.”

Johnson had a relationship with then-Maryland head coach Erik Bakich and it helped Etchison land with the Terrapins as part of Bakich’s first recruiting class. He played in 28 games (25 as a starter) in 2011 and 31 (20 as a starter) in 2012. He threw out 14-of-25 runners attempting to steal during his senior season which opened with a dislocated finger that caused him to miss two weeks. He had already suffered a broken hand and a torn meniscus while at the Big Ten school.

Etchison was a Maryland team captain as a senior, helping the Terps win 32 games.

Meanwhile, Bakich encouraged Etchison to consider coaching when his playing days were over. He graduated from Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in December 2012.

“He thought I’d be good at it,” says Etchison. “I had a few real world job opportunities in the finance industry. My parents (Jeff and Shelly Etchison) encouraged me to get into (coaching). They’ve always wanted me to go out and take chances.”

When Bakich became head coach at the University of Michigan he brought Etchison on in the volunteer role, one he stayed in for five seasons (2013-17) plus part of the fall before going into scouting.

“I fell in love with coaching,” says Etchison. “I really loved being around baseball everyday.”

There was continuity in the Wolverines program and chances to earn money by working camps.

“I was in a great spot,” says Etchison, who briefly got the chance to go on the road and recruit when Sean Kenny left Michigan for the University of Georgia. “Financially, I was able to survive.”

He also got to spend time around a mentor in Bakich.

“He is one of my closest friends,” says Etchison, who got married last summer with Bakich performing the wedding ceremony.

Aaron became the stepfather to two boys — Reid (now 10 and in the fourth grade) and Grant (now 7 and in the first grade). Emily Etchison, who is from Saline, Mich., is due to bring a baby girl into the family at the end of July.

Etchison explains why he became a scout for the Cleveland Indians.

“The organization was extremely impressive,” says Etchison. “It was a great opportunity for growth.”

Another significant person in Etchison’s baseball life is fellow Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley, who is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the Chicago White Sox.

Growing up, Etchison was a regular at Shirley’s training facility.

“Like so many players who grew up in the area and are proud to be ‘Barn Guys,’ I would be remiss if I did not give credit to him for being a baseball mentor and friend for over 20 years,” says Etchison.

AARONETCHISON

Aaron Etchison, a Pendleton (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball at Ball State University, Chipola College and the University of Maryland and coached at the University of Michigan, is an area scout for the Cleveland Indians.

 

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

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A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.

 

French plays to strength as Indiana Bulls director of baseball operations

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott French looks back through the decades and sees all the support his father and mother provided he and sister Jessi when they were growing up near southern Indiana town of Jasonville.

“My parents never said no to anything I wanted to do in athletics,” says French, the director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization since June 2019. “My dad (Steve) was a coal miner and my mom (Pat) a dental assistant. Sports were a priority.

“My dad gave me the opportunity to get better every day.”

Steve French built a batting cage in the back yard of the French home near Shakamak State Park.

“I took a lot of swings in my life,” says Scott. “We didn’t have lessons back then. In that era, we watched more baseball (for French, it was lefty swingers like Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs). Kids get more instruction and more games now.

“I didn’t play more games until I got older.”

French did put his batting cage hacks to use at Shakamak Little League and later Shakamak Junior/Senior High School, where he hit .568 as a junior in 1997 and a state-leading .586 as a senior and was MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All Star Series in 1998.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chip Sweet was the head coach when French played for the Lakers.

“He was a very good example to all of us,” says French of Sweet. “He was very consistent. You knew what you were getting every single day. He threw very good batting practice and he threw it every day.”

Shakamak players also saw plenty of fly balls and grounders in practice. French roamed center field.

Jessi French (now Stanton and a math teacher and dean of students at Linton-Stockton High School) also took advantage of the family cage and paced Indiana in runs batted in during one of her final high school softball seasons.

Scott French was introduced to travel baseball by coach Gary Sylvester and the Indiana Hawks, which were based on the south side of Indianapolis.

When French was 17, Sylvester took he and a few others to the Bulls, where Craig Moore was head coach. The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who died in 2004.

“Craig Moore was awesome,” says French, who helped the Bulls win the National Amateur Baseball Federation High School Division World Series in 1997. “I owe a lot to Gary. I owe a lot of Craig.”

In his Bulls position, French answers to a board of directors with 11U Black head coach Quinn Moore as president, Josh Loggins as vice president, Brent Mewhinney as treasurer and Todd Mewhinney as secretary. Quinn Moore and Jared Moore, head coaches of 11U Black and 11U White teams, respectively, are sons of Craig Moore.

French played for Rich Maloney at Ball State University (1999-2002). The .321 career hitter with a school-record 139 walks played mainly in center or left but was used some in relief and at first base and helped the Cardinals to regular-season Mid-American Conference titles in 1999 and 2001.

He was a volunteer assistant at BSU (2003-07) for head coach Greg Beals and a full-time assistant (2013-18) to Maloney. He holds a degree in Heath and Physical Education/Fitness from Ball State.

At the end of his playing career, French felt the pull of player development.

“I think it’s a strength of mine,” says French. “I’ve got to play to my strength.”

Through Ball State teammate Justin Wechsler, French met instructor/scout Mike Shirley and at 23 went to work for Shirley at his Anderson-based training facility.

While working with Shirley, who is now director of amateur scouting for the Chicago White Sox, French got the chance to instruct players from elementary to college.

“It prepared me for what I’m doing now,” says French. “I was well-rounded.

“I like seeing kids that work hard grow and become something. An average athlete can doing something in baseball through hard work and experience.”

French says the Bulls teach the same concepts and talk about movement patterns with the youngest and oldest players. Once it clicks, they can really take off.

“You can effect a 9-, 10-, 11-year old kid,” says French. “They just have more room to grow.

“We always tell parents, you have to be patient with it. It takes a lot more work than people think it does.”

It ties in with the make-up and dedication of the player and his family.

“That’s life,” says French. “Baseball’s a frustrating game. It gets harder as you get older.

“It takes a certain mentality to play for a long time.”

With the current live baseball shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, French says the Bulls are waiting to see what will be allowed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb as the state begins to gradually re-open.

“We’re waiting for Grand Park (in Westfield) to find out how they can use their space,” says French. “We’re still a lot of figuring out as far as schedules are concerned.

Bullpen Tournaments works hard. They’re planning to have some baseball.”

It may mean playing deeper into August than is typical for the summer season. The current calendar show the Midwest Prospect League from June 16-21 at Grand Park.

In addition to being director of operations, French coaches 15U Black — one of the Bulls 28 teams for 2020.

French says high school teams typically play seven tournaments, taking one weekend a month off.

It’s not uncommon for some younger teams to play in a dozen events spaced out from April to July.

Bulls tryouts are scheduled for Aug. 1-2.

French says there’s a strong possibility that date will get moved to late August.

Bulls head coaches — screened for baseball knowledge, coaching experience and commitment to developing players — are selected by French and approved by the board of directors. Head coaches choose assistant coaches and players.

All coaches, both head coaches and assistants, are required to submit a background check and take online child protection training. The Bulls use ChekCoach to ensure our coaches are informed of their responsibilities to protect all players.

A resident of Noblesville, Ind., French has a 11-year-old daughter and sixth grader-to-be (Lanie) living in Decatur, Ind.

French talked with Sean Laird and Adam Heisler for the LT Brings The Heat podcast episode that dropped May 14.

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Scott French is a graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where he played baseball and spent two stints as an assistant coach. He is now director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization. (Ball State University Photo)

 

IHSBCA hoping to have some baseball this summer

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When the 2020 high school baseball season was shut down even before it began because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Penn head coach Greg Dikos described the feeling for he and his wife.

“Yesterday was like a kick in the stomach for Sally and I both,” says Greg Dikos, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 700 victories, four state titles and a runner-up finish in 32 seasons of the news that came down Thursday, April 2. “We were both in tears over the whole dang thing.”

The feeling has been echoed all across the state.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association executive committee met through video conference Monday, May 4 to vote and have discussion on many items, including some that pertain to baseball.

Dr. Jennifer McCormick, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, clarified Wednesday, May 6 the school closure order. She says June 30 is the end of the school year and all school buildings are to be closed until that date.

In accordance, the IHSAA is suspending any school-sponsored activities through June 30.

While adhering to IHSAA guidance and state directives as Indiana slowly re-opens, the IHSBCA executive council has convened to discuss what’s next for Indiana high school baseball.

IHSBCA executive director Brian Abbott says schools have the option to take a moratorium week at the beginning of July or by-pass it.

Abbott says the IHSAA granted 10 baseball activity day with four as competition days.

“Common sense dictates you’d want to practice a little bit and make sure your guys are in condition before playing,” says Abbott.

Since high school campuses will be closed though June and fall sports is supposed to be starting up in August, that leaves July as the period to get in school-sponsored baseball activity.

The IHSBCA will recognized academic all-state players in 2020. There will be no all-state selections nor the North/South All-Star Series. The event was to be held in Evansville and that will be the site in 2021.

IHSBCA District Coach of the Year will be service awards in 2020. There will be no umpire or media awards.

While details are pending, Abbott says the IHSBCA hopes to conduct a Futures Game in July.

The Crossroads Baseball Series is also planning to have showcase in July.

An IHSBCA proposal to allow throwing during conditioning.

“Conditioning is not Limited Contact but rather a time to condition your body for a sport (weights, general conditioning activities, band work, plyometrics etc.),” says Abbott. “That’s a positive thing. We can throw more often.”

In February, Assistant Commissioner Robert Faulkens reported to the IHSAA about the administration of the 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).

At the May IHSAA meeting, it was decided that a team that violates the rule must forfeit the contest and report the violation in writing to the IHSAA.

The IHSAA had assigned an official scorer to track pitches during the state tournament series.

According to Feb, 21 IHSAA minutes: “At the conclusion of each inning, the head coaches will meet at the plate and exchange pitch counts for both teams for the inning which was just concluded. If there is a discrepancy, the Official Scorer pitch count will be used. The Official Scorer will notify coaches when a pitcher reaches each pitch count threshold (36, 61, 81, 101 and 120).

“At the conclusion of the game, both coaches will reconcile the pitch count for each pitcher on each team. Any discrepancies in pitch counts will be determined by the Official Scorer Pitch Count.

“The responsibility for administering the pitch count remains with the Head Coach. The Pitch Count is a Participation Rule and not a game rule. Much like the quarter count in football and basketball. It is not the duty, or responsibility, of the Umpires, nor the Official Scorer, to administer the Pitch Count.”

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This Gobert following college version of baseball coaching path

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nick Gobert saw his career path back when he was playing for his father at Jasper (Ind.) High School.

“I thought I was going to be Terry Gobert Jr. and be a teacher and coach,” says Nick Gobert of his father, a long-time JHS educator and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 800 career victories, five state titles (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2006) and three state runner-up finishes (2013, 2015 and 2017). “I’ve always wanted to be a coach, seeing the relationships and how much guys can grow and develop.”

Nick was a two-time team MVP and Most Valuable Pitcher as well as the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner at the 2013 State Finals.

During his high school days, Jasper went 113-18 with three sectional crowns, two regional titles and two semistate championships. He was on the IHSBCA South All-Star squad in 2013. He was honorable mention all-state in 2012 (pitcher) and 2013 (second baseman).

Nick describes his prep days as “the worst/best four years of my life in terms of baseball.”

The baseball bar is set very high for the Jasper Wildcats.

“I was supposed to win four state championships in four years,” says Nick. “That was my mentality.

“I didn’t get special treatment.”

His junior year, he spent three periods during the school day with his father plus all the time on the baseball field. There were tense moments, but a lot of very good memories.

“I’m glad everything happened the way it did,” says Nick.

Terry and Caroline Gobert had five children. Sarah died of leukemia as a toddler. Maria just graduated from Indiana University in three years. Laura will graduate from Jasper this year and head to the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. Julia is in the Jasper Class of 2021.

Nick is the lone Gobert offspring currently pursuing coaching. Along the way, he got a taste for working with older players and recruiting and adjusted his vision to the college game and pursue it while he’s still young.

“I haven’t regretted it so far,” says Gobert.

In July 2019, he was hired as an assistant at Indian Hills Community College. The National Junior College Athletic Association Division I member has campuses in two Iowa towns — Centerville (where baseball is based) and Ottumwa. Centerville has a population under 6,000.

“I’ve been social distancing since I moved to Iowa,” says Gobert.

The coach who turns 26 on May 27 serves on a staff led by Matthew Torrez and coaches third base, helps with recruiting and instruction of infielders, outfielders and hitters and a little bit with pitchers.

Torrez played for Tracy Archuleta at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

After graduating from Jasper in 2013, Gobert played for Tony Vittorio at the University of Dayton in 2014 and 2015.

A torn labrum in 2016 ended his season and he was given a medical redshirt. He transferred to the Southern Indiana, where he played two seasons for Archuleta (2017 and 2018), earning honorable mention NCAA Division II All-American and first-team all-region and first-team all-conference selection in 2018 after batting .357., and served as graduate assistant in 2019. He is working toward as master’s degree in Sport Management.

He played two summers (2014 and 2015) and helped coach one (2016) for the Dubois County Bombers with Andy Lasher, who was a USI assistant and recently became head coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University as manager.

Gobert chose Dayton, which went to an NCAA D-I regional in 2012, and Vittorio for the coach’s blue-collar approach.

“He was very tough-minded and very organized,” says Gobert. “He embraced being a mid-major college. He had a lot of passion for the game.

He was a fiery individual.”

When it came time to travel, Gobert knew the winning tradition at USI led by Archuleta.

“I knew a lot of guys who played for him and spoke highly of him,” says Gobert of the man who brought NCAA Division I national crowns to Southern Indiana in 2010 and 2014. “He had high expectations. Our end goal was being in Cary, N.C. and winning a national title.

“He was concerned for our well-being with tough love. He was easy to play for and he helped me grow and develop and also pursue my passion for coaching.”

In Torrez, Gobert sees a combination of Vittorio and Archuleta.

“He coaches with a lot of energy and likes to put the time in,” says Gobert. “In junior college, you get a lot of hands-on time (more than at NCAA or NAIA schools).

“I’ve learned a ton about the game from him, especially about pitching. I pick his brain quite a bit when it comes to his philosophies.”

Gobert says he and Torrez bring new school and old school together.

“I’ve got old-school roots,” says Gobert. “I’m old school in how we conduct our business.”

The new school comes into play with the use of biomechanics, kinesiology and technology.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Gobert.

Indian Hills played around 20 games in the fall of 2019. The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic caused the 2020 spring season to be shut down after 15 contests. The Falcons never got to play a home game. A March 13 date at Des Moines Area Community College, where Indiana native Nic Mishler is head coach, ended up being the finale.

Since the shutdown, Indian Hills has been conducting classes online (the last day is Monday, May 11) and coaches have been helping a 2020 roster that includes out-of-state players from California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin as well international talent from Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Panama, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela.

Gobert says Indian Hills is also hoping to build the brand by attracting more local players.

Recruiting leads come through videos, apps, web sites and data bases like Prep Baseball Report and FieldLevel.

“We have a contact we go through,” says Gobert. “It’s much easier to communicate these days.

“We get hundreds of emails a week. People looking for a place to play.”

There are about three dozen players in the program right now. There could be as many as 50 in the fall.

Gobert says five are expected to come back for a third year (a measure allowed by the NJCAA because of COVID-19).

Some players are feeling out offers from four-year schools and deciding if they want to come or not.

It’s not just the 2020 class that has been granted an extra year, but so has 2021, 2022 and 2013.

“What a lot of people don’t understand how good this is going to be for junior college baseball,” says Gobert. “This is going to be an ongoing thing for three — maybe — four years.

“Depth will get even better and it will be more competitive than it is now.”

Gobert’s day-to-day routine has only changed in that he can’t visit or see players off-campus or have them visit the Indian Hills campus.

But he can still make calls, watch videos, do office work and maintain the baseball field.

And some day, he will again be able to build those relationships in-person.

NICKANDTERRYGOBERTDUBOISCOUNTYHERALD

Nick Gobert (left) and father Terry helped Jasper (Ind.) High School win 113 games in Nick’s four seasons playing for the Wildcats (2010-13). Nick is now an assistant coach at Indiana Hills Community College in Iowa. Terry, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, has more than 800 wins, five state titles and three runner-up finishes as Jasper head coach. (Dubois County Herald Photo)

NICKGOBERTUSI

Nick Gobert, a graduate of Jasper (Ind.) High School and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, played two baseball seasons at USI and served as a graduate assistant. He is now an assistant at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

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Nick Gobert, a graduate of Jasper (Ind.) High School and the University of Southern Indiana, is an assistant baseball coach at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. (Indian Hills Community College Photo)

 

Grove appreciates how Churubusco values baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Grove retired as head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2015.

But that hasn’t stopped him from being a regular around “Turtle Town” diamonds.

Grove has helped out with the high school program, now led by 2011 graduate Jordan Turner, and has crossed Churubusco Community Park to watch youth league games.

“Baseball’s important in Churubusco,” says Grove. “It really is.

Grove, a graduate of Bluffton (Ind.) High School and Ball State University (1977), started coaching baseball at Churubusco in 1980 as an assistant to Jerry Lange (who was head football coach at the school 1985-91) and took over the Eagles in 1985. He went on to earn 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. Churubusco won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (reigning four times in the NECC tournament) on his watch and two Allen County Athletic Conference titles.

Grove produced 25 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state selections and six players selected for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Devin Peters (2015), Bryan Brudi (2008), Brad Vaught (2007), Brad Dell (2003), Todd Fleetwood (1997) and Travis Rehrer (1995). Grove was an assistant to North head coach Erik Hisner during the 2015 series.

Peters went on to play for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national champions at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (2017) and participate in the NCAA Division II World Series with Ashland (Ohio) University (2019).

Right-handed pitcher Fred Ransom Jones, a 2004 Churubusco graduate, was selected in the 33rd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees out of the University of Evansville.

Grove’s 1995 squad lost 7-1 to eventual single-class state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci, in the championship game of the Concordia Semistate. Bill Sharpe was the plate umpire in the title games of the Warsaw Sectional, Plymouth Regional, Concordia Semistate and State Finals in ’95.

The ’Busco battery of right-hander Rehrer and catcher Shawn Targgart wound up playing for Richard “Itchy” Jones at the University of Illinois.

Right-hander Brent Gaff represented Churubusco in the majors. He was chosen in the sixth round of the 1977 MLB Draft by the New York Mets and spent parts of 1982-84 with the big club.

“A small town kid from Churubusco can make it to the bigs,” says Grove. “This town is proud of the product they turn out on the baseball field.”

Whether or not an Eagles’ season included any postseason accolades, Grove got a kick out of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“I enjoyed the whole preseason part and working out in the gym,” says Grove. “I moved kids around so we could be the most competitive we could be.”

After games, Grove went home and studied charts to see how to pitch to returning players for the next opponent.

“That was a lot of fun,” says Grove.

He also appreciated the rapport with his players and the camaraderie with his assistant coaches.

“I’ve got to see (players) grow up and become fathers,” says Grove. “You’re only going to be as good as your assistants.”

Business teacher Terry McManama was hired at Churubusco at the same time as Industrial Technology teacher Grove and coached volleyball and softball before he was lured to the baseball staff, where he served for more than two decades.

Math teacher Monte Gerig, who was Eagles head coach from 1973-77, and Chemistry teacher Jim Folland (a former Fort Wayne Elmhurst head baseball coach) were also Grove assistants. When Trent Gerig (Class of 1996), was a player, his father was lured back to coaching baseball.

Coaches in the Churubusco athletic department knew that they needed to share athletes in order for their teams to be competitive so multi-sport athletes were the norm.

“Everybody worked together,” says Grove. “We kept our kids active. We were there for the kids.

“The more sports they play, the more it makes them a rounded athlete. They tend to stay away from injuries because they don’t use the same muscles over and over again until something gives.”

Grove, McManama and Gerig can often be seen together on the golf course.

To stay close to football, Grove and McManama walk the sidelines and keep statistics for Churubusco football, which is now led by Paul Sade.

A former defensive coordinator, Grove was an Eagles assistant from 1979-99. He coached football at Lake State Edison briefly before coming to Whitley County.

Grove is still active with the IHSBCA, helping with registration at the State Clinic each January and assisting with the Class 2A poll. He was a district representative for many years and has served on the North/South All-Stars Series committee and was co-chair of the Baseball Strikes Out Cancer project with former executive director Bill Jones. The campaign raised more than $25,000 for the American Cancer Society.

“The most satisfying committee I ever worked on with the IHSBCA,” says Grove.

He is grateful for the impact of mentors like Hall of Famers Jones (who coached at DeKalb), Masucci, Don Sherman (Huntington North), Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop) and Bill Nixon (Plymouth).

“I was skinny young coach,” says Grove. “I really looked up to those guys. The smartest thing I’ve ever done is that I kept my mouth shut and learned from them.”

At Bluffton, Grove was an outfielder and right-hander pitcher. Fred Murray was the Tigers head coach.

As a thank you to Murray, some member of the Class of 72, including Mike Pettibone, Bruce Hirschy and Jeff Penrod, initiated a reunion a couple of summers ago. Playing on old Wilson Field, Bluffton won its own sectional in 1972.

“Bluffton was a great place to grow up,” says Grove. “there was something going on for kids all the time.”

A summer recreation program provided chances to learn about baseball, swimming, tennis and more.

Denise Milholland, who went to another Wells County high school — Norwell — was introduced to Grove by Jim Watson and they later wed. Eric Milholland, brother of Denise, played in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Mark and Denise Grove have two married daughters and two grandsons — Jennifer, who works for Child Protective Services, and Derek Hupfer with Payton (9) and Brittany, an occupational therapy assistant, and Brennon Moughler with Evan (11).

Jennifer played volleyball, a little basketball and softball at Churubusco then softball at Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.). Brittany played volleyball, a little basketball and tennis for the Eagles. The Hupfers reside in Bluffton and the Moughlers near Butler, Ind.

One of Grove’s hobbies is collecting antique tools and tool boxes and fixing them up. One Christmas, he gave a tool box to each grandson and then let them and their fathers take turns picking out tools.

In January 2020, Grove received a call from Steve Warden on behalf of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Grove was selected for induction into the NEIA Hall of Fame with the banquet moved from the spring to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Classic Cafe Catering & Event Center, 4832 Hillegas Road, Fort Wayne, because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

“That was a happy day at the Grove house,” says Grove, who was on the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot in 2020. “It validates the kind of program we had here at Churubusco.

“We had a lot of support from the administration and community. You don’t win without that.”

The NEIBA will also induct Northrop head coach Matt Brumbaugh and World Baseball Academy Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel and present awards to Tom Knox and Tom Clements. Tickets are $25 each. Mail payment and the number of attendees to NEIBA, P.O. Box 12733, Fort Wayne, IN 46864.

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Mark Grove was head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School from 1985-2015 and earned 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. He is to be inducted into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame Oct. 18.

 

Indiana baseball teams coping with COVID-19 separation

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

UPDATE: Since this story was published, the spring sports season has been canceled by the Indiana High School Athletic Association. The announcement came shortly after Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced that there would be no more in-person classes for the 2019-20 school year.

This was supposed to be the first week of the 2020 Indiana high school baseball regular season.

But the game is on hold while the world deals with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic through social distancing.

In a landscape that is ever-changing, many states have already closed down for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has ruled that all Indiana schools be closed until May 1.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has stated that there is hope for shortened regular season beginning with five required practices — rather than the usual 10 — after schools are allowed to re-open. The state tournament series would follow.

Right now, sectionals are slated for May 27-June 1 with regionals June 6, semistates June 13 and the State Finals June 19-20 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Futures Game and North/South All-Star Series is to be the next week in Evansville.

Time will tell if any of that happens.

How are some coaches and teams dealing with the quarantine?

Crawfordsville coach John Froedge has his Athenians working together though they are physically apart.

“Our players have been strongly encouraged to follow all local, state and federal guidelines in helping to not spread the virus,” says Froedge, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “We are beginning to ramp back up this week with anticipation of a May 4 start.”

The Athenians, ranked No. 3 in the IHSBCA Class 3A preseason poll, have been communicating via calls, texts and Zoom video conferences and had a meeting scheduled to share team and position workouts through Google Sheets that includes links to instructional and motivational videos, articles etc.

“The workouts are all the things they can do by themselves or with a brother or dad,” says Froedge. “The idea is that we’re all working in the same things remotely. They then long each day what they’ve done and share with teammates in various ways, short videos included.

“Our hope for the players — especially seniors in all spring sports — is that they will get some kind of season, however brief it might be. But even if we don’t have a season, we still have a team and are creating memories and imparting life lessons.”

Jon Gratz coached Columbus East to a 4A state runner-up finish in 2019.

He has communicated with his Olympians, ranked No. 3 IHSBCA 4A preseason poll, through texting. He suggests things players can do as individuals since school and other facilities are now off limits.

“It’s about getting creative,” says Gratz. “It’s tough to know what guys are doing.

The biggest concern is that if we have five days of practice and play games to know that guys are in shape to throw and do all that stuff.”

A math teacher, Gratz has been using a platform called It’s Learning three days a week to lead AP and lower level classes. He has made some videos and shared them with his students.

Remind is a platform that is used for group messages.

Gratz says he is taking advantage of the extra time at home to spend with his family and learn things about baseball that he normally would not have time to learn.

At 4A Lake Central, fourth-year head coach Mike Swartzentruber was a few days from beginning tryouts at a school of 3,300 when the shutdown came.

The Indians were return seven starters from regional finalist squad and is ranked No. 2 in the preseason 4A poll.

“You feel for the kids, especially the seniors who have put in so much time and done what you’ve asked them to do for four years,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s hard trying to find the words to say to kids.

“But, in the grand scheme of things, people’s health is greater than playing a game. The trend is not very good right now. But we’re trying to stay positive.”

Swartzentruber has shared workouts that players can do in their basement, garage or driveway. He asks them all to find regular cardiovascular exercise.

“It’s all up to them,” says Swartzentruber. “We say whatever you do, make sure you do don’t put yourself in jeopardy from a health standpoint.”

Swartzentruber teaches seven classes and is now doing that from home since Lake Central adopted eLearning. Assignments are given through the Canvas platform.

“Its a little tricky,” says Swartzentruber. “I know there’s going to be some things lost in translation when you’re not face-to-face.”

Shane Edwards, head coach at 3A Oak Hill and a member of the IHSBCA executive council, has kept plenty busy fielding questions from other coaches from around the state.

“Coaches are nervous,” says Edwards. “They’re concerned and want to be informed.

“We’re kind of in the dark about where this is going.”

Edwards has stayed connected to his players with weekly emails to suggest workouts they can do on their own or with a parent or sibling. The Golden Eagles coaching staff uses group texts to stay on the same page.

“We still hold out hope that we’re going to play,” says Edwards.

With a late start and an abbreviated season, Edwards says many teams will be doing in May what they normally do in March and April.

“Usually by May, you feel comfortable with your lineup and pitching staff,” says Edwards. “So now do you try to get a lot of games in or make progress for when the tournament comes? It’s a delicate balance we’re all going to have to play.”

Oak Hill typically has in-season hitting sessions a couple of times a week during the season. Edwards says that time might be used to bring his young players up to speed on varsity baseball.

“You can’t replace game situations,” says Edwards. “I would want as much coaching time as I could have in those practice situations.”

Also an assistant high school principal, Edwards says Oak Hill is looking to supply some district students with laptops will begin online learning next week.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph is just three career wins shy of 800.

When he’s not home tending to projects ordering puzzles or watching TV with his wife, Gandolph has been going to Indianapolis Scecina Memorial High School two or three times a week to work on the Crusaders’ facility.

“I’m just by my lonesome,” says Gandolph, who has mowed grass and done work on Scecina’s new hitting building in the block house where the old weight room was located.

March 16 was supposed to be the first official day of IHSAA practice. During the Limited Contact Period, the Crusaders got a chance to work out on the grass.

2A No. 3-ranked Scecina’s first game was slated for this Saturday at the end of spring break.

Should the season begin in early May, Gandolph foresees his team hosting a Saturday doubleheader against Providence and then getting in one round of Indiana Crossroads Conference games before the postseason.

“I don’t get too hung up on planning,” says Gandolph. “It’s a day-by-day type thing anyway.”

He takes that same attitude about the milestone victory in his future.

“(No. 800) will come whenever it comes,” says Gandolph, who has been a his alma mater since the 2014 season after years at Center Grove, where he also taught for 40 years.

Gandolph says he has kept in-touch with players through texts and Twitter posts.

“I give suggestions to keep them busy and healthy and, hopefully, keep them positive,” says Gandolph.

While the team has not yet done any Zoom conferences, the Gandolph family has used the technology and is planning to do so this week to celebrate the seventh birthday of one of Dave’s grandsons.

Washington Township was 1A state runner-ups in 2019 with Randy Roberts as coach. The Senators are No. 1 in the IHSBCA preseason rankings.

Like many, Roberts has seen the levels of coronavirus restriction increase. Until the latest constraints were put in place, some players were going to the homes of teammates with batting cages at their homes and conducting their own practices.

“Parents are now following the guidelines that have been set down and keeping their kids at home,” says Roberts. “They’re in that better safe-than-sorry mode.”

Roberts says he has witnessed two extremes on social media regarding COVID-19.

“It’s not that big a deal and no more than flu and older people with prior health issues (are at risk) or on the other side, it’s serious, don’t mess with it,” says Roberts. “We’re expecting the worse and hoping for the best.”

Roberts says many of his players put in plenty of off-season work before the interruption.

“I keep hoping that this thing will level off and we can get back to school,” says Roberts. “Our boys and their parents were pretty devastated when they got sent home from school.

“If theres a glimmer of hope, the boys will start hooking up and getting in their time before I can be with them.”

Roberts has been home with two baseball-playing sons. Max Roberts is a pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization. William Roberts is a 2019 Washington Township graduate who sat out a year while getting ready to go the junior college route.

Randy and William went to see Max, who was attending a Mariners “gas” camp in Arizona, when they began to shut things down and send players home as minor league spring training was about to start.

Roberts says some in his area have talked about playing two or three games a week prior to the sectional. If possible, he can see the Senators playing just about everyday leading into the postseason.

A teacher at Washington Township Elementary, Roberts has been instructing via laptop.

Having taken online classes himself, he is convinced of one thing: “Kids need to be in school.”

“You find yourself doing assignments just to get them done,” says Roberts. “Without the interaction, I never thought there was a whole lot of learning getting done.”

Daleville, with Terry Turner at the helm, is ranked No. 2 in the IHSBCA 1A poll.

“My heart goes out to all these high school seniors in all spring sports if they don’t have an opportunity to participate,” says Turner. “It’s just an awful feeling.

“I guess I’m being selfish here, but in the last four years I’ve won two (1A) state titles (in 2016 and 2018). We have the possibility of a third one (with six players, including five starters, from the 2018 team). I was really excited about it. We have right group of kids with the right mentality.

“I have my doubts we’ll even get to see what would happen.”

Turner has had little contact with his players since the lockdown began and has been doing his best to teach online to his pupils at Anderson High School.

“I’m bored out of mind,” says Turner. “I can’t get out to talk to these kids. That’s the worst part.

“Some of the kids have texted me. I have great senior leadership. They’ve gotten together a few times to go throw and stuff. I tell them to do the best they can to stay in baseball shape.”

Daleville was fundraising to pay for its overnight trip to Jasper, but for safety-sake, Turner put an end to that.

Turner had beefed up the Broncos schedule to get them ready for the state tournament.

“I wouldn’t have done that unless I felt like I had a team that could compete,” says Turner. “I said, ‘let’s have a challenge.’”

Regardless of what happens this year, Turner says he has decided that 2021 is going to be his last spring as a coach and teacher.

“I have grandkids I want to spend some time with,” says Turner. “I have a bucket list I want to do.”

At 4A Terre Haute South Vigo, the Braves were hoping to dedicate a full season to Brian Pickens, a 25-year assistant coach who died of throat cancer Jan. 28.

“I still think about him everyday,” says South Vigo head coach Kyle Kraemer. “It’s all perspective.

“The biggest thing is the fear of the unknown. There are so many what-ifs and unknowns. It’s just crazy.

“We are living through history. You’re talking about fighting something you can’t see.”

The Braves spent to winter building up a library of Hudl videos of themselves hitting and pitching that can now be used as references for at-home workouts.

“I’m trying to be prepared,” says Kraemer, who is hopeful that South Vigo might be able to play Conference Indiana opponents and some others prior to the postseason — if there is one.

When the IHSAA ruled this past winter that teams can have 10 summer practices with four contest dates, Kraemer says he didn’t think much about it.

“Now I think a lot of coaches are going to take advantage of that if possible,” says Kraemer.

Also a teacher, Kraemer says eLearning is to kick in Vigo County on April 6. This is spring break. There were eight waiver days prior to that.

Mark Schellinger, head coach at 3A New Prairie, has spent part of his days tending to eLearning — either from home or at the school — and has joined with his assistants in working on Harry “Bear” Tolmen Field.

“It was weird, knowing (players) could not be out there with us,” says Schellinger, whose Cougars are No. 10 in the 3A preseason rankings. (It’s tough for everybody, but it’s really tough for the kids.

“But we have to take a step back and see there is a bigger picture.”

Schellinger says safety and health are the first priority for players, followed by staying on top of their eLearning and then staying in shape, especially with throwing.

“We’re hoping to be proactive so we have a plan in place,” says Schellinger. “But it’s hard to make those decisions or make those plans.

“There’s just so much unknown right now.”

Should the season get started in early May, Schellinger says he favors playing as many regular-season games as possible.

“The kids want to play, especially in a short time span,” says Schellinger. “Hopefully our pitchers are ready for that.”

New Prairie does have pitching depth, though Schellinger hardly expects 100 from anyone out of the gate.

IHSBCA RANKINGS

(2020 Preseason)

4A

1. Penn

2. Lake Central

3. Columbus East

4. Crown Point

5. Hamilton Southeastern

6. Andrean

7. Columbus North

8. Center Grove

9. Carmel

10. Noblesville

Receiving votes: Avon, Carroll (Fort Wayne), Fishers, Homestead, Jasper, Jeffersonville, Munster, New Albany, Northridge, Westfield.

3A

1. Edgewood

2. South Bend St. Joseph

3. Crawfordsville

4. Western

5. Silver Creek

6. Brebeuf Jesuit

7. West Vigo

7. Yorktown

9. Lebanon

10. New Prairie

Receiving votes: Danville, Evansville Memorial, Griffith, Guerin Catholic, Hanover Central, Heritage Hills, Indian Creek, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, Kankakee Valley, NorthWood, Norwell, Providence, South Dearborn, South Vermillion, Southridge.

2A

1. Alexandria-Monroe

2. Lafayette Central Catholic

3. Indianapolis Scecina Memorial

4. Lewis Cass

4. North Posey

4. Speedway

7. Wapahani

8. Delphi

9. University

10. Linton-Stockton

Receiving votes: Blackford, Boone Grove, Covenant Christian, LaVille, Monroe Central, South Adams, Wheeler.

1A

1. Washington Township

2. Daleville

3. Tecumseh

4. Lanesville

5. North Miami

6. Shakamak

7. Rossville

8. Riverton Parke

9. Barr-Reeve

10. Kouts

Receiving votes: Clinton Central, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fremont, Hauser, Loogootee, North Daviesss, North White, Rising Sun, South Central (Union Mills), Trinity Lutheran, Wes-Del.

IHSAABASEBALL