Tag Archives: Illinois State University

Beemer brings energy as new Butler Bulldogs field boss

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

Blake Beemer was hired as head baseball coach at NCAA Division I Butler University in Indianapolis in June 2022.
Beemer, a former first baseman at Ball State University (2010-13) and volunteer assistant at Penn State University (2014-15) and assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at both Eastern Illinois University (2016-18) and Ball State (2019-22), brings a style to his players he describes as energetic.
“They’ll get energy from me,” says Beemer, 31. “They’ll get dirt honesty. And I think that’s going to help build relationships.
“Guys are going to know where they stand. They’re going to know I care about them. They’re going to know who I am as a human being. Really building those relationships in that foundation will allow us to build toughness and accountability. We’ll build it with with energy will build relationships.”
As an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator at Ball State over the past four seasons, Beemer helped the Cardinals to a 123-65 record with a Mid-American Conference regular-season championship and an appearance in the MAC Tournament championship game in 2022.
“I learned under one of the best in the business under (Ball State head coach) Rich Maloney,” says Beemer, who earned two degrees from BSU — a bachelor’s degree in 2012 and an Masters of Business Administration in 2014. “I’ve had a chance to see success at a high level through him.
“I think I know the state pretty well. I know what it takes to win him in major baseball. And I’ve got the energy to make sure this thing gets going.
“It’s a cool opportunity. I can tell you I’m very humbled to have this chance. And it’s a neat opportunity. This place can be a rock show. I mean, Butler has everything from the academic side to the location to facilities we can we can really win. Not to mention it’s a great conference (the Big East which also includes baseball-playing members Connecticut, Creighton, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall. Villanova and Xavier). It’s a it’s a really cool opportunity.”
The Bulldogs went 20-35-1 overall and 4-16-1 in the Big East in 2022. It was the last season for the retiring Dave Schrage.
What does it take to win at the mid-major level?
“First off you’ve got to you got to do the recruiting right.” says Beemer. “I mean you win with players and you win with people. So in recruiting we’re after land guys that that are tough. I think in college baseball, you win with toughness.
“I think it takes execution. And at Ball State what we did there was we tried to get really good on the mound. And I think here we’ve got to get really good on the mound (at Butler). If you have some horses that can carry you along ways and baseball.
“And so I think you’ll see an increased emphasis to help us get better on the bump and to get tougher and to execute at a high level. Baseball is the same everywhere, right? Good pitching, defense and timely hitting. If you do those three things, you’ll be alright.”
With building toughness in mind, Beemer has his Bulldogs waking up at 5 a.m. for workouts. They’re doing sprint work and some other training to which they have not been exposed.
“I think that there is a energy level that you have to be able to get through whether it’s strength training, speed training, conditioning or for our practice,” says Beemer. “I mean we’re having long practices that the energy has been great, but you build toughness that way.
“We’re going to have games that are three and a half hours. We have to have great intent, great focus and great energy in the ninth inning the same as we do when we start the game. That day-in and day-out consistency, that’s where you build toughness.”
With a national reputation at Butler, thanks in large part to the recent success of the Bulldogs basketball program, Beemer sees a expanded recruiting footprint for the private school.
That means getting some players from the New York City or Washington D.C. areas.
“It’s a great degree,” says Beemer. “We just came out in U.S. News and World Report as the No. 1 Midwest regional university in the country. It’s an unbelievable education and I think that speaks volumes across the country.”
Beemer’s staff includes assistant coach, pitching coach Ross Learnard, assistant coach Bladen Bales and volunteer coach Dan Wilcher.
Learnard pitched at Parkland College and Purdue University (he was a two-time All-American) and coached at Illinois State University and Purdue. His duties with the Boilermakers focused on pitching analytics and team operations.
“(Coach Learnard) is really, really detailed and connects with our guys at a high level,” says Beemer. “He’s a great pitching mind I keep telling everybody. I think he’ll be in the SEC. He’ll be an elite pitching coach at one of the high-end jobs within the next seven years. just think I think he’s a stud.
“He develops arms as well. He knows how to take care of the guys. He sees things that are really advanced level.”
Bales was with Beemer at Ball State in 2022. Before that he coached at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Neb., and managed the Nebraska City American Legion junior team to a state runner-up finish in 2017. He has also coached the Lakeshore Chinooks of the summer collegiate Northwoods League.
Bales played at McCook (Neb.) Community College and Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.
“He’s a tireless worker,” says Beemer of Bales. “He has a great eye for talent and recruiting.
“I’ve known Dan (Wilcher) for years. We both grew up in Dayton, Ohio. And Dan helps lead our infield play, a lot of our throwing progressions and throwing programs and helps with field maintenance (at Bulldog Park). He’s our Swiss Army knife. He does it all for us.”
The first two weeks of fall practice at Butler was for individuals. Team practice began on Labor Day and will go until mid-October with intrasquad games twice a week. After that, there will be a transition back to individuals.
“Everybody’s new so it’s a clean slate for everybody is what I’ve been telling our guys,” says Beemer. We get to play outside opponents (Frontier Community College on noon Oct. 1 at home and Ball State Oct. 8 in Muncie). But every day is evaluation, whether it’s an intrasquad, in the weight room or just a BP session, our guys are always being evaluated the same way.
“They’re evaluating me. They’re seeing what my coaching style is. They’re seeing how I instruct things. I think that in today’s world, just understand you’re always under a microscope. You’re always being evaluated. Our guys know that. And so every day we’re trying to have competition. We want to get better every day and and move this thing forward day by day.”
Since his hire, Beemer has been getting his face in front of the community.
Alums are coming back for the induction of the 1998 team (that won a then-school record 33 games) into the Butler Athletic Hall of Fame Sept. 24 and the Oct. 1 exhibition and Oct. 2 golf outing. The coach has been on the phone talking to alums and boosters and spoke on the air during an Indianapolis Indians broadcast.
“We’ve got a great opportunity for this place to really take off,” says Beemer. “I’m proud of it really proud of being a Butler Bulldog and I’m very fortunate for it.”

Blake Beemer. (Butler University Photo)\
Blake Beemer. (Butler University Photo)

Indiana products making mark in bigs, minors

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

Left-handed pitcher Zack Thompson, who was a star at Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and the University of Kentucky, made his Major League Baseball debut when he earned a four-inning save for the St. Louis Cardinals June 3 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Thompson, 24, has made 10 starts for the Triple-A Memphis (Tenn.) Redbirds in 2022 and is 2-2 with a 4.67 earned run average.
Zach McKinstry (Fort Wayne North Side/Central Michigan) has split his time between the minors and the big-league Los Angeles Dodgers and the lefty-swinging infielder is currently on the active roster with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. He made his big league debut in 2020.
McKinstry, 27, is hitting .335 with three home runs and 20 runs batted in over 164 MiLB at-bats and is 1-for-5 with LA — the hit being a June 3 two-run home run off New York Mets right-hander Chris Bassitt.
Right-hander Ryan Pepiot (Westfield/Butler) had made his MLB debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 11. He is back with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.
Pepiot, 24, is 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA in nine appearances for OKC and 0-0 with a 3.18 ERA in three games (11 1/3 innings) in the big leagues.
Many other players are also on active rosters in the minors.
Right-hander Luke Albright (Fishers/Kent State) is with the High-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Albright, 22, is 3-2 with a 3.64 ERA in 10 starts.
Third baseman Cole Barr (Yorktown/Indiana University) plays for the High-A Everett (Wash.) AquaSox (Seattle Mariners).
Barr, 24, is hitting .172 with three homers and 17 RBIs.
Right-hander Gabe Bierman (Jeffersonville/Indiana) toes the rubber for the Low-A Jupiter (Fla.) Hammerheads (Miami Marlins).
Bierman, 22, is 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts).
Right-hander Garrett Burhenn (Lawrence North/Ohio State) takes the bump for the Low-A Lakeland (Fla.) Flying Tigers (Detroit Tigers).
Burhenn, 22, is 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts.
Lefty-swinging outfielder Zach Britton (Batesville/Louisville) is with the High-A Vancouver (B.C.) Canadians (Toronto Blue Jays).
Britton, 23, is hitting .206 with four homers and 11 RBIs.
Right-hander Zack Brown (Seymour/Kentucky) is one step from the majors with the Triple-A Nashville (Tenn.) Sounds (Milwaukee Brewers).
Brown, 27, is 1-0 with two saves and a 3.54 ERA in 17 relief appearances.
Outfielder Drew Campbell (Jeffersonville/Louisville) swings from the left side for the High-A Rome Braves (Atlanta Braves).
Campbell, 24, is hitting .266 with one homer and 22 RBIs.
Left-hander Jacob Cantleberry (Center Grove/Missouri/San Jacinto) is with the High-A Great Lakes Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers) in Midland, Mich.
Cantleberry, 24, is 2-1 with one save and a 6.10 ERA in 13 games out of the bullpen.

Right-hander Adysin Coffey (Delta/Wabash Valley) is on the Development List as a reliever with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox).

Coffey, 23, is 2-2 with two saves a 7.30 ERA in 13 games.
Lefty-swinging outfielder Craig Dedelow (Munster/Indiana) takes his cuts for the Double-A Birmingham (Ala.) Barons (Chicago White Sox).
Dedelow, 27, is hitting .226 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs.
Lefty-swinging second baseman Clay Dungan (Yorktown/Indiana State) is with Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers (Kansas City Royals).
Dungan, 26, is hitting .204 with three homers and 18 RBIs.
Outfielder Elijah Dunham (Evansville Reitz/Indiana) bats lefty for the Double-A Somerset Patriots (New York Yankees) in Bridgewater, N.J.
Dunham, 24, is hitting .346 with seven homers and 27 RBIs.
Right-hander Parker Dunshee (Zionsville/Wake Forest) is spinning pitches for the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators (Oakland Athletics).
Dunshee, 27, is 1-5 with a 7.24 ERA in 12 games (10 starts).

Righty-swinging outfielder Matt Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern/Indiana) is with Double-A Altoona (Pa.) Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates).

Gorski, 24, is hitting .290 with 19 homers and 46 RBIs.
Left-hander Timmy Herrin (Terre Haute South Vigo/Indiana) takes the mound for the Triple-A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers (Cleveland Guardians).
Herrin, 25, is 0-2 with one save and a 4.00 ERA in 17 relief appearances.
Right-hander Bryan Hoeing (Batesville/Louisville) challenges hitters for the Triple-A Jacksonville (Fla.) Jumbo Shrimp (Miami Marlins).
Hoeing, 25, is 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts.
Lefty-swinging outfielder Jacob Hurtubise (Zionsville/Army) is with the Double-A Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts (Cincinnati Reds).
Hurtubise, 24, is hitting .299 with no homers and five RBIs. He has spent some time on the IL.
Right-hander Drey Jameson (Greenfield-Central/Ball State) fires it for the Triple-A Reno (Nev.) Aces (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Jameson, 24, is 3-5 with a 5.80 ERA in 12 games (11 starts).
Catcher Hayden Jones (Carroll/Mississippi State/Illinois State) is also a lefty swinger and plays for the Low-A Daytona (Fla.) Tortugas (Cincinnati Reds).
Jones, 22, is hitting .210 with one homer and eight RBIs.
Righty-swinging catcher Scott Kapers (Mount Carmel, Ill./Valparaiso) is with the High-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads (Texas Rangers).
Kapers, 25, is hitting .257 with five homers and 16 RBIs.
Lefty-swinging first baseman Niko Kavadas (Penn/Notre Dame) competes for the Low-A Salem (Va.) Red Sox (Boston Red Sox).
Kavadas, 23, is hitting .253 with seven homers and 31 RBIs.
Right-hander Chayce McDermott (Pendleton Heights/Ball State) journeys around the circuit with the High-A Asheville (N.C.) Tourists (Houston Astros).
McDermott, 23, is 5-1 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 games (six starts).
First baseman Jacson McGowan (Brownsburg/Purdue) plies his trade with the Double-A Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays).
McGowan, 24, is hitting .276 with one homer and two RBIs. He has been on the IL in 2022.
Right-hander Zach Messinger (Castle/Virginia) hurls for the Low-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons (New York Yankees).
Messinger, 22, is 0-4 with two saves and a 4.85 ERA in 18 games (15 in relief).
Right-hander Evan Miller (LaPorte/Purdue Fort Wayne) works mostly out of the bullpen for the Triple-A El Paso (Texas) Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres).
Miller, 27, is 1-2 with two saves and a 6.59 ERA in 21 games (19 in relief).
Lefty-swinging shortstop Colson Montgomery (Southridge) is with the Low-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox).
Montgomery, 20, is hitting .295 with four homers and 23 RBIs.
Righty-swinging infielder Nick Podkul (Andrean/Notre Dame) was with the Buffalo (N.Y.) Bisons (Toronto Blue Jays).
Podkul, 25, is hitting .178 with two homers and nine RBIs.
Left-hander Triston Polley (Brownsburg/Indiana State) has been a reliever for the High-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads (Texas Rangers).
Polley, 25, is 6-2 with one save and a 5.67 ERA in 16 games (all out of the bullpen).
Outfielder Grant Richardson (Fishers/Indiana) bats lefty for the Low-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons (New York Yankees).
Richardson, 22, is hitting .207 with two homers and 16 RBIs.
Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank (Heritage/Indiana) is a reliever for the High-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Saalfrank, 24, is 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA in 17 bullpen games.
Andy Samuelson (LaPorte/Wabash Valley) pitched for the Rookie-level Braves (Atlanta Braves) until retiring June 11.
Samuelson, 23, pitched 1/3 of an inning in 2022.
Right-hander Caleb Sampen (Brownsburg/Wright State) pours it in for the Double-A Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays).
Sampen, 25, is 1-12 with a 5.02 ERA in nine appearances (five starts). He has been on the IL in 2022.
Right-hander Reid Schaller (Lebanon/Vanderbilt) is part of the bullpen for the Double-A Harrisburg (Pa.) Senators (Washington Nationals).
Schaller, 25, is 2-0 with one save and a 2.89 ERA in 14 bullpen contests.
Lefty-swinging outfielder Nick Schnell (Roncalli) is back on the field after a long injury-list stint. He plays for the Low-A Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs (Tampa Bay Rays).
Schnell, 22, was activated May 31 and is hitting .333 with no homers and six RBIs. The “Diamonds in the Rough” podcast features Schnell and Cole Wilcox.
Left-hander Garrett Schoenle (Fort Wayne Northrop/Cincinnati) mostly comes out of the bullpen for the High-A Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash (Chicago White Sox).
Schoenle, 23, is 3-1 with one save and a 1.39 ERA in 14 games (13 in relief).
Left-hander Avery Short (Southport) has been starting for the High-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Short, 21, is 0-4 with a 4.58 ERA in nine starts.
Left-hander Tommy Sommer (Carmel/Indiana) is a starter for the Low-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox).
Sommer, 23, is 2-4 with a 3.13 ERA in 11 starts.
Right-hander Skylar Szynski (Penn) was drafted in 2016 and has missed much time because of injury. He is Low-A Stockton (Calif.) Ports (Oakland Athletics).
Szynski, 24, is 1-1 with a 12.66 ERA in 15 bullpen games.
Right-hander Nolan Watson (Lawrence North) is mostly a reliever for the Double-A San Antonio Missions (San Diego Padres).
Watson, 25, is 1-2 with a 7.76 ERA in 14 appearances (12 in relief).
Among those on the 7-day injury list are right-hander Sam Bachman (Hamilton Southeastern/Miami of Ohio) with the Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas (Los Angeles Angels) in Madison, Ala., righty-swinging third baseman Kody Hoese (Griffith/Tulane) with the Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers (Los Angeles Dodgers), right-hander Michael McAvene (Roncalli/Louisville) with the High-A South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs) and righty-swinging third baseman Riley Tirotta (Mishawaka Marian/Dayton) with the High-A Vancouver (B.C.) Canadians (Toronto Blue Jays).
Bachman, 22, is 0-0 with a 1.98 ERA in four starts.
Hoese, 24, is hitting .284 with three homers and 21 RBIs.
McAvene, 24, is 0-0 with a 40.50 ERA in one relief appearance.
Tirotta, 23, is hitting .209 with three homers and 20 RBIs.
Right-hander Tanner Andrews (Tippecanoe Valley/Purdue) with the Triple-A Sacramento (Calif.) River Cats (San Francisco Giants), right-hander Pauly Milto (Roncalli/Indiana) with the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash (Chicago White Sox) and righty-swinging third baseman Hunter Owen (Evansville Mater Dei/Indiana State) with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh Pirates) are on the 60-day IL.
Andrews, 26, is 0-0 with an 11.12 ERA in four relief games.
Milto, 25, is 0-0 with a 3.07 ERA in nine games (eight in relief).
Owen, 28, is hitting .256 with no homers and five RBIs. He made his MLB debut in 2021.

Zack Thompson (MLB Photo)

Brownlee makes diamond impact at Evansville, Illinois State, more

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

Jim Brownlee built a long, successful baseball coaching career on the principles of fundamentals and discipline.
Now 76, retired and living with wife of 51 years — Candy — in Gulf Breeze in the Florida Panhandle (the couple moved there in April 2021), Brownlee can look back on a run that includes 23 seasons as head coach at the University of Evansville (1980-2002), seven seasons at Illinois State University (2003-09) and one season as University of Iowa pitching coach (2013). He was also a longtime basketball official.
“I learned the game of baseball from my college baseball coach Duffy Bass,” says Brownlee of the former Illinois State University head coach and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He was about as good at fundamentals of anybody I’ve been around — whether it was catching, hitting, bunting or pitching. I kind of patterned myself after him.”
A 1963 graduate of Antioch (Ill.) Community High School, Brownlee played for Bass at Illinois State from 1967-70 and was a teammate of future major league pitcher Buzz Capra. The 1969 Collegiate Division National champions went 33-5 and ran the table in the postseason.
“I learned the running game at a very young age,” says Brownlee. “We were very aggressive at Evansville. One year we had 202 stolen bases.
“I had lesser talent at Evansville. We didn’t have the full amount of scholarships. We had guys we thought would get better and they did. We had guys never drafted out of high school that were drafted out of college.
“I think college baseball has always been that way. (Development’s) at an all-time high. But we’re still behind the 8-ball with scholarships and dates. It used to be we had 120 games between fall and spring (at the NCAA D-I level and now it’s 56 games in the spring with 11.7 scholarships for a roster of 35).
“College baseball keeps growing. It’s become a money-maker.”
That money is bound to go even higher if the season was moved into the warmer months.
Says Brownlee, “40 years ago I proposed we play in the summer.”
Brownlee was “hard-nosed” as a coach.
“Discipline is important to me as a retired Marine,” says Brownlee.
After his playing days ended and having served a stint with the U.S. Marines, Brownlee became an assistant baseball coach at Illinois State (1975-76) and was as head coach for the Galesburg Pioneers in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (which later merged with the Prospect League), where he encountered Bloomington Bobcats pitcher Tim Stoddard. The 6-foot-7 right-hander from East Chicago, Ind., was on his way to an MLB career and is now an assistant coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.
Before UE, Brownlee coached at Princeton (Ill.) High School (1976-79).
As Evansville coach, Brownlee won 701 games with four 40-win seasons and seven conference coach of the year honors.
Among his players were future big leaguers Sal Fasano, Andy Benes and Jamey Carroll and Purple Aces head coach Wes Carroll. Benes and the Carroll brothers are Pocket City natives.
The Purple Aces have retired Brownlee’s No. 6 and Benes’ No. 30.
Brownlee has been inducted into the Illinois State University Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the Redbirds’ ’69 national champions, the University of Evansville Athletics Hall of Fame, the Lake County (Ill.) High Schools Sports Hall of Fame, the Bloomington-Normal Officials Association Wayne Meece Hall of Fame and is slated to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame in Evansville in May.
A founding member of the Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League, that group will honor Brownlee with its Legends Award Jan. 15.
Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League supports amateur athletics around the Evansville area. It started as an effort to save Bosse Field, which was established in 1915 and for years was the home to high school baseball and football, American Legion baseball and the Triple-A Evansville Triplets before affiliated pro ball left town.
The stadium, which now houses the independent pro Evansville Otters and was host to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2021, looked to be condemned and torn down back in the ‘80s.
That’s when Brownlee — who had his UE teams playing home games there at the time — got together with former minor league relief pitcher and manager “Singin’ Ed” Nottle and Evansville Central High School coach Paul Gries and brought in folks like Indiana, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer and Rex Mundi High School graduate Bob Griese, former MLB all-star and Evansville Memorial alum Don Mattingly and former big league pitcher and Evansville Central High grad Benes to help raise funds.
Since then, not only has Bosse Field been saved but local high school and college fields have been upgraded.
“It’s about facilities and making it better and showing it’s an important sport,” says Brownlee.
UE now plays on turf at German American Bank at Charles H. Braun Stadium.
“It was a labor of love for all of us,” says Brownlee. “I’m really proud of what we’ve built with the baseball community there.”
Brownlee had both his sons — Tim and Ryan — as UE players and then coached with both of them.
Tim Brownlee was also on the Illinois State staff and employed his father for a decade with his Normal, Ill.-based baseball tournament company — Diamond Sports Promotions. Between Evansville and ISU, Tim assisted his father for 17 seasons.
Ryan Brownlee was an assistant at Evansville (1998-99), James Madison University (2000-03) and Iowa (2004-12) and head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) and is now Assistant Executive Director and weekly podcast host for the Greensboro, N.C.- based ABCA. The ABCA Convention is Jan. 6-9 in Chicago. He plans to appear at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 14-16 in Indianapolis. Jamey Carroll is to go into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame Jan. 15.

Jim Brownlee (University of Evansville Photo)

Learnard’s transition from player to coach brings him back to Purdue

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

Purdue University’s special 2018 baseball season was heading toward a conclusion when senior closer Ross Learnard began thinking about his future.
The Boilermakers were on their way to a 38-21 record that included 17-6 mark in the Big Ten Conference — second to Minnesota — and an NCAA Regional berth.
Learnard was finishing up his Agricultural Economics degree.
“After each game late down the stretch I’d be in the shower and thinking my last out is going to come here soon,” says Learnard, a 6-foot-2 left-hander went 2-2 with 15 saves, a 3.37 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 34 2/3 innings in 2018. “I just can’t see myself getting a 9-to-5 inside job.
“I decided at that point that I wanted to coach and began to pursue my options.”
Purdue pitching coach Steve Holm went to Illinois State University to become head coach and brought Learnard on as a graduate assistant (he earned a Master of Business Administration degree at ISU) and director of operations in the fall of 2018.
From there Learnard went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where he had pitched in 2015 and 2016, and served as a recruiting coordinator and taught many parts of the game in helping Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Greg Goff, who was a Purdue volunteer assistant in 2018 and has been head coach since Mark Wasikowski left for the University of Oregon after the 2019 campaign, recently hired Learnard to handle Pitching Analytics & Team Operations.
High on Learnard’s list of duties is collaborating and communicating with pitching coach Chris Marx as it relates to player development.
“He sets the expectation and culture with the pitching staff and its my job to supplement that and to make it better.”
To do that means making sense of available numbers.
“The game is going towards being data-driven, especially with this generation we’re coaching now,” says Learnard. “(Players are) always on their phones.
“This era of baseball and player that we have is the most read up on the scientific aspect of how you pitcher, where it be biomechanics or ball-flight metrics (like horizontal and vertical break and Revolutions Per Minute aka RPMs).
“It’s insane what analytics can really tell you. ERA, hits allowed and WHIP (walks and hit per innings pitched) can only give you a small portion of the context. You have to pull back the layers and see where you’re getting your swings and misses, where you’re getting your weak contact,
“It’s just untapped potential.”
There are also students on campus who understand data analysis that give feedback to the baseball program.
Just three years removed from being a player, Learnard sees a difference.
“At least in my circle, it was not as data-driven,” says Learnard. “I try to be a lifelong learner as a coach. You can never be satisfied. It’s adapt or die.
I’m trying to read as much as I can about the new-school metrics, analytics and data.
“It’s very important to be well-versed in all things numbers and all the different modalities to train pitchers.”
Purdue uses a Rapsodo machine to read ball-flight metrics and determine things like spin axis, spin direction and spin efficiency.
“You can see the way the ball is moving in space,” says Learnard. “We also use a high-speed camera to see how guys are releasing the ball.
“We can give them mental cues to shape the pitch that we’re going for.”
Learnard, who turns 26 on Oct. 5, went to Catlin (Ill.) High School near Danville and graduated in 2014. A co-op with Jamaica High School (Sidell, Ill.) was called Salt Fork for sports.
The lefty made 21 mound appearances (12 in relief) and went 10-3 with 2.72 ERA, 105 strikeouts and 25 walks in 76 1/3 innings for Parkland in 2015 and 2016.
At Purdue in 2017 and 2018, Learnard got into 56 games (all in relief) and was 8-2 with 19 saves, a 1.78 ERA, 70 stakeouts and 18 walks in 81 innings.
As a senior, he was named a Collegiate Baseball Third Team All-American, Third Team all-Big Ten and was on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Watch List. He was Big Ten Pitcher of the Week in April and Perfect Game National Pitcher of the Week in May. He was also Academic all-Big Ten.
Purdue’s 45-day window for 2021 fall workouts began Sept. 9 and plans call for it to wrap Oct. 23. Fall ball scrimmages are open to the public Sept. 29, Oct. 1, Oct. 3, Oct. 5, Oct. 8, Oct. 15 and Oct. 28. The Boilers host two 1 p.m. exhibition games with junior colleges — Oct. 9 against Wabash Valley College (Mount Carmel, Ill.) and Oct. 16 against John A. Logan College (Carterville, Ill.). The Black and Gold World Series is slated for Oct. 21-23.
“Right now we’re in full team mode,” says Learnard. “We’re setting the expectations of what we want in the spring. We’re helping these (newcomers) perform at a high level and bring them up to the returner speed.
“We’re always trying to individualize (development). It’s not cookie cutter.”

Ross Learnard (Purdue University Photo)

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

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

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

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

Catcher Hewitt experiencing MLB Draft League

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

Duncan Hewitt has always played baseball with emotion.
As the Indianapolis native has matured he has learned how to harness that passion and make it work for him.
Hewitt, a 2016 graduate of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, credits Wildcats head coach Richard Winzenread for helping him channel his emotion on the diamond.
“I learned how to control my competitive edge playing for him,” says Hewitt. “I’m an emotional guy. He taught me how to embrace (my emotions).
“Don’t run from it. Find a way to turn that into something positive.”
Hewitt continued to do that at Butler University in Indianapolis. He played for the Bulldogs 2017-21, taking a medical redshirt year when he tore his meniscus 15 games into the 2019 season. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he still has a year of eligibility.
“I’m certainly more level-headed and more calm, cool and collected than I have been at any time in my career,” says Hewitt, a team captain the past two seasons after having that unofficial designation at the end of his prep days.
Playing for Butler head coach Dave Schrage, Hewitt has appeared in 123 games (96 starts) with 675 putouts, 58 assists and just four errors and a .995 fielding percentage.
Though he played in just 15 games, Hewitt’s best offensive season was 2019 when the righty swinger hit .333 (15-of-45) with two home runs, 18 runs batted in and a .967
(. 434 on-base percentage plus .533 slugging average).
“It’s been a lot of fun,” says Hewitt of the Butler experience and playing for Schrage. “I got very, very lucky.
“He’s been around the game so long. I know he’s always got my back. I know he cares for me and my teammates very deeply.”
The connection between Hewitt and Winzenread continues as they still talk on a weekly basis and enjoys getting together with the coach and former LN teammate Nolan Watson (who pitches in the Kansas City Royals system) to talk baseball.
Hewitt, who turned 23 on May 17, is with the Coco Crisp-managed Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio) of the new MLB Draft League this summer. He and his teammates were going to travel to Pittsburgh to work out for the Pirates at PNC Park today (June 7) and then play a three-game series at the West Virginia Black Bears and three-game set at the Frederick (Md.) Keys.
“It’s a really, really cool idea,” says Hewitt of the MLB Draft League, an exposure circuit that sprung up out of the overhauling of Minor League and college summer league baseball with the MLB First-Year Player Draft being pared down and moved to July (the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft is scheduled for July 11-13). “I’m surprised its taking this long for something like this to come to fruition.
“It’s really giving guys a chance to come out and play and get a couple of last looks (for professional teams) and I’m finding it’s more for guys who haven’t gotten any looks at all. They’re proving they can play with anybody in the country. It’s cool to some of these come out with a chip on their shoulder and show what they can do.”
The MLB Draft League gives players a taste of pro baseball. They learn what it’s like to play everyday with most games beginning at 7 p.m. They see what its like to prepare for that and get the proper rest so they can perform at their best. A typical day at the park is 1 to 10 p.m.
“There are nuance things you can only gain through experience,” says Hewitt.
Three other Indiana players — Sam Crail (Sheridan High School and Saint Leo University), Hayden Jones (Fort Wayne Carroll High School and Illinois State University) and Garrett Schoenle (Fort Wayne Northrop High School and University of Cincinnati) — are on the Mahoning Valley roster and there are others in the league.
What Hewitt appreciates most about summer baseball is the blending of players.
“We’re coming from extremely different lifestyles,” says Hewitt. “But we’re all chasing the exact same thing.”
As a catcher, Hewitt has come to see the game like a coach or manager.
“(Catcher) is a position that takes good leadership and understanding personalities — when to chew someone out and when to put a hand on someone’s shoulder,” says Hewitt. “It’s a big, big reason I pride myself on making decisions in moments like that.”
Growing up in Lawrence Township, Hewitt got his first taste of league baseball through Oaklandon Youth Organization. He began playing for various travel teams around 9 including the Indiana Bulls in high school.
“I think I did it right,” says Hewitt. “My dad (Mike Hewitt) kept me away from the daddy ball experience and the crazy parents.
“I wore a lot of jerseys, but I always say I played for the Bulls.”
Dan Held was Hewitt’s coach with that travel organization.
“He was the first coach I had that was a professional himself,” says Hewitt of Held, who played at the Triple-A level in the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets organizations and is now an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Indiana University.
“To be on his team you had to be at a certain skill level and invited to play,” says Hewitt. “He introduced me to professionalism on the field.
“It was the way you carried yourself and how you went about your business.”
Duncan’s mother is Heather Hewitt and his sister is Presley Hewitt (18). The Lawrence North graduae is heading to the University of Cincinnati as a sophomore after starting at Ball State University.

Duncan Hewitt (Butler U. Photo)

Duncan Hewitt (Butler U. Photo)

IU Southeast dodges elimination at NAIA World Series; Notre Dame, Indiana State get NCAA bids

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast was a winner in its first-ever NAIA Baseball World Series game. 

The Grenadiers beat Concordia (Neb.) 4-2 Friday, May 28 in Lewiston, Idaho.

The next day IUS fell 11-5 to Central Methodist (Mo.) and played in an elimination game Monday, May 31 against Keiser (Fla.). 

IU Southeast (50-15) was a 9-7 winner in that one. The Grenadiers  face Faulkner (Ala.) today (June 1).

The NAIA Word Series continue until June 4.

Notre Dame and Indiana State are the teams from the state making the NCAA Division I tournament (the draw for the Road to Omaha was announced Monday).

After beating Virginia Tech 8-0 and losing to Virginia 14-1 at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., the Irish will host the South Bend Regional. It will be the first time postseason baseball has been at ND since 2004.

Each regional field features four teams, playing in a double-elimination format. All 16 regionals are scheduled to be conducted from Friday, June 4 to Monday, June 7 (if necessary).

Notre Dame (30-11) plays Central Michigan (40-16) at 1 p.m., followed by Connecticut (33-17) against Michigan (27-17) at 7. Irish head coach Link Jarrett was named the ACC Coach of the Year.

Indiana State went 3-2 at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Carbondale, Ill. — beating Illinois State 5-2 and Southern Illinois 11-8, losing to Dallas Baptist 10-1, beating Southern Illinois 9-7 then losing to Dallas Baptist 12-8 (in 11 innings).

The Sycamores are in the Nashville Regional. Georgia Tech (29-23) plays Indiana State (30-19) at 1 p.m. Friday while Vanderbilt (40-15) takes on Presbyerian (22-21) at 7.

Indiana State earned its 11th NCAA postseason appearance in program history and the third under head coach Mitch Hannahs.

Ball State (38-18) swept a four-game Mid-American Conference home series with Miami (Ohio). The Cardinals did not hear their name called Monday.

Nor did Indiana (26-18). The Hoosiers went 1-2 in a Big Ten Conference series at Maryland.

Purdue (16-26) wrapped the season with one win against Penn State and a doubleheader split against Minnesota in a Big Ten pod weekend.

The 2021 season also closed at the MVC tournament for Valparaiso (16-35) and Evansville (28-27). Valpo went 2-2 and UE 1-1 in Carbondale.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through May 23

NCAA Division I

Ball State 38-18 (25-11 MAC) 

Notre Dame 30-11 (25-10 ACC) 

Evansville 28-27 (11-16 MVC) 

Indiana State 27-17 (14-10 MVC) 

Indiana 26-18 (26-18 Big Ten)

Purdue 14-25 (14-25 Big Ten) 

Butler 14-23 (8-13 Big East) 

Valparaiso 16-35 (9-19 MVC) 

Purdue Fort Wayne 11-35 (8-28 HL) 

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis 27-21 (19-13 GLVC) 

Southern Indiana 24-20 (18-14 GLVC) 

Purdue Northwest 11-22 (5-19 GLIAC) 

NCAA Division III

Franklin 25-14 (23-12 HCAC) 

Earlham 25-20 (21-18 HCAC) 

Rose-Hulman 23-14 (23-12 HCAC)

Anderson 23-19 (20-17 HCAC) 

Hanover 20-20 (20-18 HCAC) 

Manchester 19-22 (19-20 HCAC) 

Wabash 18-15 (9-6 NCAC) 

DePauw 15-21 (8-8 NCAC) 

Trine 6-28 (6-17 MIAA) 

NAIA

Indiana University Southeast 50-15 (26-1 RSC) 

Indiana Wesleyan 44-14 (28-4 CL) 

Taylor 37-20 (24-12 CL) 

Indiana Tech 35-27 (16-6 WHAC) 

Saint Francis 34-22 (23-13 CL) 

Huntington 33-16 (23-13 CL) 

Indiana University-Kokomo 28-20 (16-10 RSC) 

Marian 25-29 (17-19 CL) 

Indiana University South Bend 24-24 (19-11 CCAC) 

Oakland City 17-27 (10-17 RSC) 

Bethel 15-39 (12-24 CL) 

Grace 12-31 (9-23 CL) 

Calumet of Saint Joseph 7-29 (7-20 CCAC) 

Goshen 3-34 (2-26 CL) 

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northeast 31-25 

Vincennes 24-31 (11-21 MWAC) 

Ancilla 6-29 (2-18 MCCAA) 

Conferences

NCAA Division I

Big Ten

Atlantic Coast (ACC)

Big East 

Horizon (HL)

Mid-American (MAC)

Missouri Valley (MVC)

NCAA Division II

Great Lakes Valley (GLVC)

Great Lakes Intercollegiate (GLIAC)

NCAA Division III

Heartland Collegiate (HCAC)

Michigan Intercollegiate (MIAA)

NAIA

Crossroads League (CL)

Chicagoland Collegiate (CCAC)

Wolverine Hoosier (WHAC)

River States Conference (RSC)

Junior College 

Mid-West Athletic (MWAC)

Michigan Community College (MCCAA)

Notre Dame top seed in ACC; Indiana State No. 2 in MVC

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Notre Dame (29-10, 25-10) has earned the No. 1 seed for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament

The event is slated for May 25-30 in Greensboro, N.C.

The Irish meet No. 12 seed Virginia Tech in Tuesday’s second game. ND’s current four-game win streak includes a three game weekend sweep at Virginia Tech.

Penn High School graduate and Notre Dame first baseman Niko Kavadas heads to Carolina with 16 home runs and 49 runs batted in.

Missouri Valley Conference tournament play begins and Indiana State (27-17, 14-10) goes in as the No. 2 seed while Evansville (28-26, 11-16) is No. 7 and Valparaiso (14-33, 9-19) No. 8.

Games will be played May 25-29 at Southern Illinois-Carbondale.

The Sycamores receive a first-round bye to Day 2 while UE (vs. Illinois State) and Valpo (vs. Missouri State) play on the first day.

Indiana State overcame an 8-0 deficit to win 13-10 at Evansville Saturday to secure the No. 2 seed in the eight-team tourney behind Dallas Baptist (33-15).

Left-hander Geremy Guerrero is 9-1 with a 1.92 earned run average and catcher Max Wright has 14 homers and 37 RBIs for the Sycamores.

Ball State (34-18, 25-11) won its first two games then lost two in a Mid-American Conference series at Ohio. The Cardinals wrap the MAC season May 28-30 with four games against Miami (Ohio) in Muncie.

Nick Powell (.353) leads BSU in hitting. Right-hander John Baker (7-3, 2.45) has been the No. 1 starting pitcher.

Indiana (24-16, 24-16) has lost the first three games of its Big Ten Conference pod series, dropping two to Nebraska and one to Ohio State in Bloomington. The Hoosiers host the Buckeyes again today (May 24).

A 9-8 loss for Purdue (14-25, 14-25) at Minnesota Sunday kept the Boilermakers from a four-game sweep of the Golden Gophers. 

A three-team pod (Purdue, Penn State, Minnesota) in West Lafayette is slated for May 27-29.

The 2021 season came to a close for both Butler (14-23 overall, 8-13 in the Big East Conference) and Purdue Fort Wayne (11-35 overall and 8-28 in the Horizon League).

The five-team finals of the NCAA Division III Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament saw Transylvania emerge as champions.

Transy bested Earlham (25-20, 21-18) in the final game. Bluffton knocked out Anderson (23-19, 20-17). A loss to Anderson eliminated Franklin (25-14, 23-12).

Indiana Tech (35-27) and Indiana Wesleyan (44-14) both bowed out in NAIA Opening Round play in the Marion Bracket.

Vincennes (24-31) saw its slate finish in the junior college Mid-West Athletic Conference tournament.

Of the state’s 38 college baseball programs, eight are still playing. There’s seven in NCAA Division I and there’s one in NAIA.

Indiana University Southeast (48-14) earned its first trip to the NAIA College World Series, which is May 28-June 4 in Lewiston, Idaho.

More on the Grenadiers’ special season can be found here.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through May 23

NCAA Division I

Ball State 34-18 (25-11 MAC) 

Notre Dame 29-10 (25-10 ACC) 

Evansville 28-26 (11-16 MVC) 

Indiana State 27-17 (14-10 MVC) 

Indiana 24-16 (24-16 Big Ten)

Purdue 14-25 (14-25 Big Ten) 

Butler 14-23 (8-13 Big East) 

Valparaiso 14-33 (9-19 MVC) 

Purdue Fort Wayne 11-35 (8-28 HL) 

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis 27-21 (19-13 GLVC) 

Southern Indiana 24-20 (18-14 GLVC) 

Purdue Northwest 11-22 (5-19 GLIAC) 

NCAA Division III

Franklin 25-14 (23-12 HCAC) 

Earlham 25-20 (21-18 HCAC) 

Rose-Hulman 23-14 (23-12 HCAC)

Anderson 23-19 (20-17 HCAC) 

Hanover 20-20 (20-18 HCAC) 

Manchester 19-22 (19-20 HCAC) 

Wabash 18-15 (9-6 NCAC) 

DePauw 15-21 (8-8 NCAC) 

Trine 6-28 (6-17 MIAA) 

NAIA

Indiana University Southeast 48-14 (26-1 RSC) 

Indiana Wesleyan 44-14 (28-4 CL) 

Taylor 37-20 (24-12 CL) 

Indiana Tech 35-27 (16-6 WHAC) 

Saint Francis 34-22 (23-13 CL) 

Huntington 33-16 (23-13 CL) 

Indiana University-Kokomo 28-20 (16-10 RSC) 

Marian 25-29 (17-19 CL) 

Indiana University South Bend 24-24 (19-11 CCAC) 

Oakland City 17-27 (10-17 RSC) 

Bethel 15-39 (12-24 CL) 

Grace 12-31 (9-23 CL) 

Calumet of Saint Joseph 7-29 (7-20 CCAC) 

Goshen 3-34 (2-26 CL) 

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northeast 31-25 

Vincennes 24-31 (11-21 MWAC) 

Ancilla 6-29 (2-18 MCCAA) 

Conferences

NCAA Division I

Big Ten

Atlantic Coast (ACC)

Big East 

Horizon (HL)

Mid-American (MAC)

Missouri Valley (MVC)

NCAA Division II

Great Lakes Valley (GLVC)

Great Lakes Intercollegiate (GLIAC)

NCAA Division III

Heartland Collegiate (HCAC)

Michigan Intercollegiate (MIAA)

NAIA

Crossroads League (CL)

Chicagoland Collegiate (CCAC)

Wolverine Hoosier (WHAC)

River States Conference (RSC)

Junior College 

Mid-West Athletic (MWAC)

Michigan Community College (MCCAA)

Crews roams center field, leads off for Evansville Purple Aces

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the buffalo that used to roam his family’s farm, Kenton Crews is drawn to the open expanses of the baseball field.

A center fielder since his days at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., Crews uses the handle @superbuffaloman on Twitter and rambles in the middle of the outfield as a University of Evansville redshirt junior.

“I love playing center field,” says Crews, a 6-foot-1, 187-pounder. “It’s the most fun thing of everything about baseball.”

Crews, 23, tends to play shallow for the Purple Aces and chases balls over his head.

“I feel more comfortable running back and catching balls over my shoulder,” says Crews, who used to do a similar thing as Heritage Hills football wide receiver. 

When Crews reached UE, his favorite number — 5 — was not available. It was the number worn by his father Michael, who was a center fielder and a football player at Ball State University.

Kenton decided to go with 15 in purple, orange and white because that’s the digit donned by fly-chasing center fielder Jim Edmonds with the St. Louis Cardinals. Kenton grew up rooting for the Redbirds and stars like Edmonds, Jasper, Ind., native Scott Rolen and slugger Albert Pujols.

Speed put Crews in the outfield and made him effective in the lead-off slot with the Aces at-bat.

“One thing that we really focus on is that when the lead-off hitter each inning gets on base your chances of scoring go up,” says Crews. “A lot of (lead-off hitters) will take pitches. But if you can get a hittable pitch you should swing at it — especially fastballs early in the count instead of swing at the pitcher’s pitch.

“I’m usually pretty aggressive when I’m hitting lead-off.”

Going into a Missouri Valley Conference series April 23-25 against Illinois State, Crews is hitting .393 (35-of-89) with three home runs, four triples, eight doubles, 22 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and 6-of-9 in stolen bases. He sports a 1.145 OPS (.471 on-baseball percentage and .674 slugging average) in 28 games (24 starts).

For his career — which includes a redshirt season due to injury in 2019 — Crews is hitting .295 (161-of-545) with 11 homers, eight triples, 32 doubles, 79 RBIs, 81 runs and 33-of-42 in stolen bases. His OPS is .793 (.349 on-baseball percentage and .444 slugging average) in 143 games.

The righty swinger has 10 multi-hit games in 2021. He hit for the cycle (homer, triple, double and single) March 21 against visiting Butler. His 4-for-5 day produced four RBIs and two runs scored.

During his cycle, Crews tripled to left center in the bottom of the first inning, doubled to center in the third, homered to left in the seventh and singled in the eighth.

“Teammates were talking about it at a whisper,” says Crews about the Evansville dugout. “People didn’t know how to act.

“I was nervous about it. I didn’t want to let everybody down.”

The first two cycles of Crews’ baseball life came as a grade schooler with a Dale (Ind.) Buffaloes. 

Born in Evansville, Kenton lived with father Michael, mother Kathleen and sister Sienna in a house in Lincoln State Park.

Kenton grew up catching snakes, frogs and turtles for the nature center where his father was — and still is — an interpretive naturalist. He was a football coach at Heritage Hills Middle School was a long stretch.

When Kenton was 7, the family moved to a 100-acre farm, where the Crews raised big, wooly mammals and ran a restaurant — Buffalo Run Farm, Grill & Gifts — for two decades.

Michael coached Sienna’s T-ball team (she is a year older than her brother). After the Buffaloes, Kenton played travel ball with the Southern Indiana Spikes from 8-13. He was with the HHMS and was on a Pony team in Tell City, Ind.

As a high schooler, Crews was an all-stater and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series MVP as a senior in 2016 and also a all-state and all-conference baseball and football players. 

Greg Gogel was then head baseball coach at Heritage Hills.

“I love Coach Gogel with all my heart,” says Crews of a longtime family friend and former teammate of cousin Cole Seifrig (who took a lateral from future pro quarterback Jay Cutler and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cutler in overtime to lead Heritage Hills to a 27-24 victory against Zionville in the 2000 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game). “He taught me more lessons in life than anyone other than my dad.”

Gogel’s wife, Jenna, is Kenton’s chiropractor.

Crews played for the Louisville-based Ironmen Baseball Club then — the summer following his senior year at Heritage Hills — the Evansville Razorbacks.

After missing his 16U summer with a hamstring injury, Kenton decided to attend college where his sister Sienna ran cross country and track.

He also liked the sincerity displayed by Aces head coach Wes Carroll and his staff during the recruiting process.

“They came to me instead of me chasing after somebody else,” says Crews. “I appreciated that effort and that honesty.

“Coach Carroll knows what he’s talking about. He told me he can make me into a better baseball player. I hope we can be friends and have a relationship the rest of my life.”

Kenton is the fourth NCAA Division I competitor in the family.

“She’s the real athlete in our family,” says Kenton of his mother.

As Kathleen Beumel, she was a 10-time state champion in cross country and track at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky. After attending Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, she transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was cheer captain. At 20, she experienced a crippling injury.

“She broke her neck and was paralyzed,” says Kenton. “She wasn’t supposed to walk again or have kids.

“It’s a miracle she was able to move again and she was able to run.”

Kathleen Crews is now a program assistant at Heritage Hills and involved in the community.

Kenton graduated from UE in December 2020 with a degree in Communication, Advertising and Public Relations and is now pursuing a Masters in Leadership. All the courses are online.

“We get to work at our own pace,” says Crews. “We’re now learning empathy and showing people better ways to do things.”

Crews spent the summers of 2017 and 2018 with the Northwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs and after sitting out the summer of 2019 while recuperating he was with the NL’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Mac Daddies, where former Mankato teammate and Indiana State player C.J. Huntley was on the coaching staff and Greg Weyrich was the manager.

“He was a super nice guy and knew a lot,” says Crews, who has another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 spring season. “I’m waiting to see about this summer.

“I’d like to play another season if (Carroll) would have me.”

Kenton Crews (University of Evansville Photo)

Competitive juices flow on Fridays at PRP Baseball

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Friday is “Compete Day” for PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball.

After week of training, players get a competitive outlet in a controlled game played inside spacious Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind

PRP Baseball founder Greg Vogt, who talked with IndianaRBI about strength training for overhead athletes in November 2019, explains the culture of working hard each day and athletes pushing athletes.

“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”

During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.

Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.

“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”

Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.

Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.

College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.

Vogt says Friday’s session alone had players representing the following Indiana universities: Anderson, Ball State, Butler, DePauw, Huntington, Indiana, IU Kokomo, Indiana State, Indiana Wesleyan, Purdue, Purdue Fort Wayne, Saint Francis and Taylor. Plus there were those from Akron, College of Charleston, Illinois State, Northern Kentucky and Spalding as well as junior colleges John Wood, Lincoln Trail and South Suburban.

That’s just Friday’s list.

Several players from College Summer League at Grand Park in nearby Westfield, Ind., train with Vogt and company at PRP Baseball.

Dominick Berardi, a right-handed pitcher at Daytona (Fla.) State College was sent to work with PRP Baseball for the summer.

“They’re coming and they’re asking for housing,” says Vogt of his ever-growing client list from outside Indiana.

Vogt notes that three 2020 high school graduates from northwest Indiana — IU commit Tyler Nelson (Andrean), Illinois State commits Gene Kolarik (Crown Point) and Jonathan Sabotnik (Crown Point) — travel together to play in the Grand Park league and train at PRP Baseball.

Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games. 

The American Association is playing with six teams (Chicago Dogs, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Milwaukee Milkmen, Sioux Falls Canaries and Winnipeg Goldeyes) rotating between three cities — Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota/Minnesota, Franklin, Wis.,. and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Polley, a 23-year-old left-hander, played at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University before being drafted by the Rangers in the 16th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.

“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”

Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.

“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”

Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.

Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.

“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.

“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”

Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.

For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.

With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.

“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.

“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”

Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.

“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.

Milto, 23, is a right-hander who played at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and Indiana University before being selected by the White Sox in the 23rd round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working. 

“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”

Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.

“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto. 

While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.

“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible. 

“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”

Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment. 

“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development. 

“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”

Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.

“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.

“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.

“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”

Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.

“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”

Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.

“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”

When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.

“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.

“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”

Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.

Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”

“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.

“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”

Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.

“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”

And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.

“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”

Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.

He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.

“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.

“I’ve been maintaining.”

Vogt says pro pitchers Jacob Cantleberry (Center Grove High School graduate and former University of Missouri left-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system), Timmy Herrin (Terre Haute South Vigo High School graduate and former IU left-hander in the Cleveland Indians system) and Will Klein (Bloomington North High School graduate and former Eastern Illinois University right-hander drafted in the fifth round in 2020 by the Kansas City Royals) are expected to be a part of the PRP Baseball culture soon.

Christian Sullivan, a 2014 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., and four-year right-handed pitcher at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18), has joined the PRP Baseball staff as a strength coordinator/jack-of-all-trades.

“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.

“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”

Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). 

“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent. 

“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity. 

“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”

Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.

“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”

Triston Polley, a former Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University player now in the Texas Rangers organization, warms up for PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball “Compete Day” Friday, June 19 at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
One of the mottos of the PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball is “Rent’s Due Every Day.” It promotes a culture of hard work and competition. (PRP Baseball Image)