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‘The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story’ makes Indianapolis premier

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

“The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” — a film by Ted Green — made its Indianapolis debut Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Tobias Theater aka The Toby.
After the screening presented by Heartland Film, Green told why he chose the documentary subject.
“I like to do films that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit,” said Green, a producer, director, writer and researcher who partnered with Indiana Historical Society and created a cinematic portrayal of the man who has impacted the baseball world and so much more. “I just found myself drawn to this 95-year old guy up in Anderson, Ind., who was able to sort of move social mountains — not through bombast, not through money, but through grace, through humility, through servant leadership — and I will tell you that the last two years spent during production were the greatest two years of education of my life.
“Maybe just maybe niceness and decency can win in the end.”
Esteemed broadcaster Bob Costas summed it up in his on-screen introduction: “It was a story told softly as you’re about to see and hear about a story that cumulatively speaks to a person who’s deeply admirable.”
Erskine, who became known as “The Gentleman from Indiana,” was born Dec. 13, 1926 in Anderson, won 122 games as a right-handed pitcher for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers.
Throwing an overhand curveball that Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully said could be seen in a snowstorm, Erskine struck out a then-record 14 batters in the 1953 World Series.
“Oisk” — as Brooklyn fans called him — is the last living member of the 1955 team that won the World Series. That group is part of Roger Kahn’s celebrated book, “The Boys of Summer.” Hall of Famer and Indiana native Gil Hodges was also on that team.
Erskine threw two no-hitters and the was the starting pitcher in the Dodgers’ first game in LA.
But that’s just a part of Erskine’s tale.
“When I was a little boy I had this feeling in my soul: Something good is going to happen to you,” said Erskine early in the film. I just had this feeling,”
Carl and Betty Erskine will celebrate 75 years of marriage on Oct. 5. They raised four children — Danny, Gary, Susan and Jimmy.
The latter was born in 1960 — less than a year after Carl retired from baseball — with Down syndrome. Rather than put Jimmy away in an institution, the Erskine showered him with love and treated him like the rest of the children.
“We were an active family,” said Gary Erskine. “Jimmy was not left behind.”
Jimmy got on to a school bus for the first time in 1972 and has gone on to lead an independent life.
When Carl and Betty’s fourth child came along, Indiana had long took a dim view of the “feeble-minded” and in 1907 was the nation’s first state to enact compulsory sterilization to “prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists.”
Expected to live to around 35, Jimmy Erskine turned 62 this year. He worked at Applebee’s in Anderson for two decades and competed in Special Olympics for 50 (starting with the Indiana State Special Olympic Games in Terre Haute in 1970).
The Carl and Betty Erskine Society raises money for the Special Olympics.
The Erskine Personal Impact Curriculum (EPIC) is a set of materials for elementary, middle and high school students that uses stories from Carl’s life to “create lessons and activities with themes including empowerment, friendship, inclusion and leadership.”
Thursday’s event was also a celebration of the Erskine connection to Special Olympics Indiana and helping to promote grace, humility, diversity, inclusion and servant leadership.
When Carl was 10 and playing basketball in the alley with friends, 9-year-old Johnny Wilson wandered in.
Carl’s question to the boy who happen to be black was, “Do you want to play?”
It was the start of long friendship that lasted more than eight decades — one that will be commemorated with a mural in downtown Anderson in 2023.
The boy who went on to be known as “Jumpin’” Johnny Wilson came from a family on welfare so he often ate at the Erskine house.
Blacks were not welcome in some Anderson restaurants. They could not join the YMCA. They were restricted to the balcony of the movie theater.
The Ted Green film made its world premier Aug. 11 at Anderson’s Paramount Theatre with an encore on Aug. 13.
“Blacks were expected to be where they were supposed to be and the whites on the other side,” said Erskine.
Carl’s parents — Matt and Berths — did not show that prejudice.
General Motors Delco Remy inspector Matt Erskine “walked as easily among blacks as whites.”
Bertha Erskine “was known for seeing the best in everyone and everything.”
Said Carl, “She gave me the feeling that beauty is all around us. Don’t forget to look at it.”
Carl went to the blacks-only swimming pool with Johnny Wilson. He didn’t go to places Johnny couldn’t and he sat in the balcony with his pal.
They later played together on the Anderson High School basketball team. Wilson was chosen as Indiana Mr. Basketball in 1946 and went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters and is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. He competed in baseball, basketball, football and track and field at Anderson College (now Anderson University) and is in that school’s athletic hall of fame.
Erskine, who was later head baseball coach at Anderson College for 12 years and is also in the Ravens Hall of Fame, shined on the diamond for Anderson High and Anderson American Legion Post 127.
Throwing a tennis ball against a barn with a strike zone marked in chalk, Carl continually fanned his hero.
Said Erskine, “I can’t count how many times I struck out Babe Ruth.”
First discovered by Indianapolis scout Stan Feezle, Carl landed with the Dodgers after a stint in the U.S. Navy.
The Dodgers were run by Branch Rickey, who signed the Hoosier hurler for $5,000.
“I think there was an esteem there,” said Branch Rickey III of the relationship between his grandfather and Erskine. “He just had a deep, deep appreciation for what character could do individually. We loved what character could do for teams.”
As a minor leaguer pitching against the big club, Erskine first met Jackie Robinson, who made a point of encouraging him his outing.
Erskine made his Dodgers debut in 1948 and went on to toe the rubber for the franchise 335 times.
Two Erskine-penned books are “Tales from the Dodgers Dugout” and “What I Learned from Jackie Robinson” and has been involved with Jackie Robinson Day activities with The Base Indy.
One day after Erskine had shown kindness to wife and son — Rachel Robinson and Jackie Jr. — Robinson expressed his appreciation.
“‘Come on, Jackie, it’s as natural to me as breathing,’” said Erskine of his response. But Jackie was always kind of surprised. He said to me, ‘this black and white thing doesn’t seem to bother you.’ I told him about Johnny my buddy. He said, ‘Carl, I see life divided. You seem to see life connected.’”
When Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella was paralyzed in an auto accident in 1958, the first teammate to visit him in the hospital was Erskine.
A man of faith who met Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Erskine was there at the start of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Erskine lent his talent to Dale McMillen aka “Mr. Mac” with the Wildcat League for youth in Fort Wayne, Ind.
An insurance salesman and a bank president in his hometown, Carl has been a civic leader along with Betty.
Anderson has Erskine Elementary School (a video message from Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda at the dedication appears in the film).
There’s also was is now known as Anderson Youth Baseball & Softball at Erskine Park.
The broadcast premier of “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” is slated for 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22 on WFYI in Indianapolis with PBS stations around Indiana expected to follow.
As well as being part of the Heartland International Film Festival Oct. 6-16 in Indianapolis, screenings are planned for Sept. 29 at Eagles Theater in Wabash, Ind., Oct. 13 at Muncie Civic Center with dates to be determined at Artcraft Theater in Franklin, Ind., and Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis premier of the Ted Green film “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” was Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Tobias Theater aka The Toby. (Steve Krah Photo)
A memento from the Indianapolis premier of the Ted Green film “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story.” (Steve Krah Photo)

Former switch hitter Allbry switches gears, reflects on diamond experiences

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

Baseball took Allbry Major all over America.
The Indianapolis native played in many places as a travel baller and then had college baseball adventures at three schools and with numerous summer collegiate teams.
His playing career over, the 23-year-old reflects on his experiences as he finishes Week 1 on his first full-time job.
What did he get out of baseball?
“It taught me how to compete,” says Major. “That was something very important to me. Anything can be competition.
“There’s also the relationships I made with people. It’s really a small world once you get to summer ball.”
Major is now a manager trainee at a Enterprise Rent-A-Car store near San Francisco. He settled there with girlfriend and former Arizona State University softball player Mailey McLemore. Both finished their degrees this spring — Major in General Studies with a focus in Applied Sciences at Louisiana State University Shreveport and McLemore in Sports Business at ASU.
Born in Indianapolis as the only child of Kendrick and Marcy Major (a trackster who competed for Indiana State University and a multi-sport prep athlete), Allbry was in Pike Township until attending North Central High School, where he graduated in 2017.
In 2016, he named all-Marion County and helped the Phil McIntyre-coached Panthers to the county championship. He was academic all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference his last three years.
Major made the basketball squad as a senior. He had classes with members of the team and would participate in pick-up games so he decided to go out for head coach Doug Mitchell’s squad. Mitchell went into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022.
People always assumed that at 6-foot-6 he was a basketball player.
“That’s everybody’s first guess,” says Major. But his first love was for the diamond.
His baseball journey got rolling around age 7 at Westlane-Delaware Little League. There were travel ball stops with the Pony Express, Smithville Gators, Indiana Bandits, Indiana Outlaws, New Level Baseball Tornadoes (Illinois) and then — during his junior high and high school years — the Cincinnati Spikes, including his 17U summer.
“I didn’t like (being an only child),” says Major. “I always wanted siblings. I wasn’t a big fan of the spotlight.”
Major enjoyed getting to know so many coaches and teammates. He also learned from travel ball trips that sometimes had four players to a room that there were stages to the summer in the early years.
“I started out the season super excited to play again with my travel team,” says Major. “In the middle of the year, they got on my nerves. The last week or two I was irritated and mad at them. I grew out out that once I got to college. Everybody was more independent. You handle your business and get out.”
The summer before going to Xavier University in Cincinnati, the 6-6, 215-pound switch-hitting outfielder was with the Elmira (N.Y.) Pioneers of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
Major played at Xavier in 2018 and 2019, but not during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
He was named Big East Conference Freshman of the Year in 2018 after hitting .291 (46-of-158) with two home runs, nine doubles, 21 runs batted in and 16 runs scored in 47 games (46 starts). As 16 games as a pitcher (eight starts), the right-hander went 3-5 with one save, a 4.96 earned run average, 54 strikeouts and 24 walks in 61 2/3 innings. He had just a handful of pitching outings after that.
In 2019, Major played in 51 games (all starts) and hit .281 (57-of-203) with seven homers, 15 doubles, 34 RBIs and 32 runs.
The Musketeers head coach was Billy O’Conner.
Major was at Arizona State University in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021.
With the Tracy Smith-coached Sun Devils, he was in 27 games and hit .196 with two homers and 10 RBIs.
“I trying to go D-I again (after Arizona State), but there was the road block of being academically eligible,” says Major, noting how credits transferred from one school to the next.
A Finance major when he started at Xavier, he switched to Communications because it was easier with his full load of baseball activities. He was going to continue down that path at ASU, but not all credits transferred and he went with General Studies/Applied Sciences (including Business, Communications and Sociology).
Along the way, Major discovered his learning style to be hands-on (aka Kinesthetic). On the VARK scale there is Visual, Auditory, Reading and writing and Kinesthetic.
“I identify more with that,” says Major. “The better coaches made me understand why I was doing what I was doing. Once I understood I just kind of bought in more.
“Not everybody’s the same.”
Joining close friend Zyon Avery (Ben Davis Class of 2018) at LSUS gave Major the opportunity to play in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, in 2022. The Brad Neffendorf-coached Pilots went 53-8 in their second straight World Series season with two losses coming in Idaho.
In 51 games with LSUS, Major hit .333 (49-of-147) with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and 38 runs.
Major encountered many wood bat summer league situations in college. He played briefly for both the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Brewster Whitecaps and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Valley Blue Sox (Holyoke, Mass.) in the summer of 2018.
He went back to the Cape in 2019 with the Cotuit Kettleers (his head coach was American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Roberts). He had no summer team in 2020.
In 2021, Major suited up for the Prospect League’s Chris Willsey-managed Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators.
In 99 collegiate summer league games, he hit .302 with six homers and 49 RBIs.
Major was hoping to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but knew time was not on his side.
“After Arizona State, that was my last real chance because of my age,” says Major. “I know how big of a factor that plays in the draft.”
He had a chance to play independent pro ball, but decided to go with Mailey (daughter of former all-pro defensive back and San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl XIX-champion Dana McLemore and a former softball standout at Carlmont High School in Belmont, Calif.) and begin working.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a job because I’ve been playing summer ball,” says Major. “I’m trying to adjust to that.
“It’s the most expensive part of the country.”
Major doesn’t see himself leaving baseball behind entirely. Coaching might be his next avenue.
“I’m still going to be involved as much as a I can,” says Major. “I’ll have to see what my schedule is like now that I’m working.”

Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (Arizona State University Photo)

Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (Arizona State University Photo)

Allbry Major (Xavier University Photo)

Stoddard keeps communication flowing as North Central College assistant

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

More than five decades after he began, Tim Stoddard is still chasing championships.
The man who helped win a state basketball title at East Chicago (Ind.) Washington (1971), a national basketball crown at North Carolina State University (1974) and a World Series ring for the Baltimore Orioles (1983) has also been an assistant coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., for five College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin regular-season crowns (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021) with three CCIW tournament trophies (2017, 2018 and 2019) plus an NCAA Division IIII World Series appearance (2017).
Stoddard, who turns 69 on Jan. 24, works primarily with Cardinals pitchers — something he did the previous 22 seasons at Northwestern University (1994-2015), where he was on the staff of fellow Central Illinois Collegiate League alum Paul Stevens (now a University of Chicago assistant).
More than two dozen of Stoddard’s pitching pupils have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Three former Northwestern arms — J.A. Happ, Bo Schultz and George Kontos — have pitched in the majors.
North Central head coach Ed Mathey was leading the Northern Illinois University program when he became acquainted with Stoddard and brought his friend in as a part-time coach before the 2016 season. Mathey and assistant Joe Heller are the full-timers among Cardinals baseball coaches.
Without motion-capture equipment to analyze deliveries, Stoddard takes an “old school” approach with his NCC pitchers.
“We work on mechanics as much as anything,” says Stoddard. “We do a lot of throwing.
“The biggest thing about sports is repeatability.”
While some occasionally touch 90 mph, most throw between 83 and 87.
“Then you make sure your change-up and breaking ball is working and concentrate on throwing strikes,” says Stoddard.
The coach is a big believer in communication with his players. He encourages his hurlers to come back the next day to discuss what happened in a game or practice rather than doing it in the heat of the moment.
“I like having two-way discussions so I know what they’re thinking,” says Stoddard. “I don’t want to talk at them. I want to talk with them.
“I’ve made that approach since I started coaching. I never liked it when I was told what to do. It’s the thought process of what went into it.
“I’m trying to get them to pitch more than rare back and throw.”
Stoddard appreciates the receptiveness of his players.
“They listen,” says Stoddard. “That keeps me doing this. They respect what I say.”
North Central went 38-9 overall and 27-5 in league play and led the CCIW in team earned run average (3.41) and batting average (.309).
Unique to NCAA D-III baseball is a Triple-A program (they don’t use the term junior varsity), which allows players to develop with games and practices. North Central carried 50 players on its roster in 2021.
“The only way to get better is to play,” says Stoddard. “We get all these guys an opportunity to play and get better.”
Per D-III rules which restrict the number of active weeks during the school year, North Central players practiced with coaches in the fall and have been training on their own until team activities resume again in late January.
Stoddard has been inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame and Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Jake Arzumanian, who is also in the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame, coached Stoddard on the diamond at East Chicago Washington and in American Legion baseball — both at Block Stadium.
“He was a great man,” says Stoddard of Arzumanian. “He treated me tremendously. He wanted the best for kids.
“He let us have fun and play.”
Indiana Basketball Hall of Famers John Molodet was Stoddard’s high school hardwood coach. Two of his Senators basketball teammates — Junior Bridgeman and Pete Trgovich — are also Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductees.
Another Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer — Norm Sloan — coached Stoddard, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Thompson, Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Monte Towe and the rest the NC State Wolfpack to the ’74 national hoops title, breaking UCLA’s string of seven straight championships. Sloan is a graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis. Towe is an Oak Hill alum.
Sammy Esposito, a former big league infielder, was a basketball assistant to Sloan in ’74 and was also NC State’s head baseball coach. He is in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
As a 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher, he made his Major League Baseball debut with the Chicago White Sox in 1975 and went on to make 485 mound appearances (all in relief). He was with the Orioles (1978-83), Chicago Cubs (1984), San Diego Padres (1985-86), New York Yankees (1986-88) and Cleveland Indians (1989).
Stoddard and fellow East Chicago Washington graduate Kenny Lofton — who played 11 seasons in the big leagues and is also in the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame — are the only two to have played in the World Series (2002 with the San Francisco Giants) and NCAA men’s basketball championship game (1988 with the University of Arizona).
Tim and wife Jane reside in Rolling Meadows, Ill. They have five children together — Laura, Anne, Ellen, Katie and Dan.

Tim Stoddard (North Central College Photo)

‘Small ball’ is winning baseball to Jennings County’s Sigler

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

B.J. Sigler has a long association with baseball, coaching for many years at the youth level and serving as president/executive director for Ohio Valley Sports Productions — a travel tournament organization that runs events from mid-March to late October — and as Kentucky USSSA Baseball State Director.
He started coaching for the Indiana Bulls in 2015 and is now with an 11U group.
Add to all that head baseball coach at Jennings County High School in North Vernon, Ind. He was hired to lead the Panthers in July and 2022 will be his first season.
Sigler played for Ben Hornung at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind. (Class of 1994) and one season for Rick Parr at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Ind., before serving four years in the U.S. Air Force, graduating from the University of Houston and returning to Indiana in 2005.
He calls himself “pretty old school” when it comes to his diamond approach.
“It comes down to pitching and defense and we’ll be playing a little bit of ‘small ball.’’’ says Sigler. “That goes against the grain a little bit in this day and age, but it’s still winning baseball.”
Sigler, who lives in North Vernon, inherits a program that did not graduate a player in 2021. Among the returnees is Indiana University commit Jacob Vogel, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound right-handed pitcher in the Class of 2022 who is a three-sport athlete at Jennings County (tennis, basketball and baseball).
Another senior, Carson McNulty, is committed to Indiana Tech while a couple of others have not yet declared their college choice.
There were 26 players in the Jennings County program in 2021, but there could be well north of that number in 2022 and enough freshmen to play a C-team schedule.
“We’ll evaluate that in the spring,” says Sigler, did get to have high schoolers and middle schoolers in workouts during the recent IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Aug. 30-Oct. 16).
The Panthers have a home field with a turf infield and natural grass outfield.
“I absolutely love it,” says Sigler. “We may be able to come outside during the next Limited Contact Period and get some work in. It also helps with rain (in the spring).”
The junior high program is being jump-started in 2021-22. Other feeders include Panther Baseball Club teams and a local recreation league. High school players are part of several different travel organizations around Indiana.
Jennings County (enrollment around 1,200) is a member of the Hoosier Hills Conference (with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, New Albany and Seymour).
Each HCC team meets once during the regular season. The champion of the seven-team circuit is determined during a tournament near the end of the season.
In 2021, the Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, New Albany and Seymour. Jennings County has won 11 sectional titles — the last in 2006.

Sigler’s Jennings County assistants are Jason Maddox and Tyler Vogel with the varsity and Pete Manowitz and Doug Mills with the junior varsity.
Madison Consolidated High School graduate Jason Maddox is the son of Columbus North alum Parker Maddox (now at Iowa Western Community College).
Tyler Vogel is a 2017 JC graduate who played two years at Marian University and is the older brother of Jacob Vogel.
Manowitz prepped at Columbus East and Mills at Jennings County.
Besides Tyler Vogel, recent JC grads who went on to college baseball include Caleb Eder (Indiana Wesleyan University) and Bret Sawyer (Franklin College).
B.J., who has also served eight years as an assistant football coach, is married to 1995 Jennings County graduate, current Panthers head girls basketball and former Indiana University women’s basketball player Kristi (Green) Sigler. She was part of the 2020 Indiana basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Silver Anniversary Team.
The Siglers have two baseball-playing sons — sophomore Cole (16) and fifth grader Brycen (11). Players is the Class of 2024 were 6 when B.J. began coaching them.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Larry Sigler (Induction Class of 1993) is B.J.’s uncle.

B.J. Sigler.

Riggs shares prep, college, pro experiences with next generation

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like many Indiana boys, Eric Riggs’ athletic focus growing up in Brownsburg, Ind., was basketball.

His father, David Riggs, was on the 1962 Evansville Bosse state championship team and earned a letter on the hardwood at the University of Evansville in 1966-67. The Purple Aces were NCAA Division II national champions in 1963-64 and 1964-65.

David’s father Walter Riggs and uncle Clarence Riggs are both in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Both graduated from Evansville Central High School and Evansville College.

Walter Riggs, grandfather of Eric, coached Evansville Central to an IHSAA state runner-up finish to Lafayette Jeff in 1948.

Eric Riggs, who is 6-foot-2 and played on Steve Brunes-coached Brownsburg High School teams that went 20-5 and 24-3 in his junior (1993-94) and senior seasons (1994-95), accepted a basketball scholarship to the University of Central Florida.

Playing Knights head coach Kirk Speraw, Riggs started in 22 of 30 games and averaged 11.4 points and 3.1 assists per game as a freshman in 1995-96. UMass and Marcus Camby knocked UCF out of the 1996 NCAA tournament.

Then Riggs turned his attention back to the diamond.

In his 16U, 17U and 18U summers, Riggs played travel baseball for the Indiana Bulls — the first two years with Jeff Mercer Sr. as head coach and the last with Bret Shambaugh.

The switch-hitting infielder had played baseball at Brownsburg for head coach Wayne Johnson and assistants Craig Moore and Mick Thornton. Big league pitcher Jeff Fassero came in to help the Bulldogs during the off-season.

“(Johnson) was a players’ coach,” says Riggs. “We were pretty stacked in our senior class. We had a lot of guys play at the next level (including Brian Stayte, Mark Voll and Joel Martin).”

Junior Quinn Moore, youngest son of Craig, was the mound ace in 1995 and went on to play at the University of South Alabama.

During a basketball recruiting trip to the school near Orlando in the spring of 1995, Riggs met with UCF baseball coach Jay Bergman near the end of the program’s 29-game win streak.

“He was very positive,” says Riggs of Bergman. “Coach Moore had been in Coach Bergman’s ear to let me walk on.

“(Craig Moore) was very instrumental in my baseball career. I just kind of played it. Basketball was my first sport.”

“I had never played year-round baseball. I wanted to find out what that was like. I ended up getting a partial baseball scholarship.”

Before he knew it, Riggs was batting ninth and starting at second base at the NCAA D-I level.

From 1996-98, Riggs amassed a career average of .362 with 49 doubles and a .573 slugging percentage. As an all-Atlantic Sun Conference first-team shortstop in 1998, he hit .394 with 26 doubles, 154 total bases and 64 runs scored.

Selected in the fourth round of the 1998 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Riggs was one of 10 UCF players picked from a 41-21 team. Two of those — pitcher Mike Maroth (Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals) and outfielder Esix Snead (New York Mets) — reached the majors.

In the winter of 2000-01, Riggs played a few months in Queensland, Australia, before returning to the U.S. and the Dodgers. He was with that organization for eight years (1998-2004, 2006), getting as far as Triple-A in 2003, 2004 and 2006.

In three seasons, his roommate was David Ross (who went on to be a 14-year big league catcher and is now manager of the Chicago Cubs).

“He’s a natural leader,” says Riggs of Ross. “Being a catcher that was his state of mind. He managed the pitching staff well.

“He was just a solid baseball player. Once he got his chance (in the majors), he showed them what he could do as a catcher and hit a little bit.”

Riggs also played Double-A ball for the Houston Astros in 2005 and was briefly with the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers at the beginning of 2007 before finishing up his pro career that year in Double-A with the Miami Marlins.

In 10 seasons at all levels, Riggs played in 1,050 games (with 500 appearances at shortstop, 235 at second base and 216 at third base) and hit .264 with 78 homers, 217 doubles, 459 RBIs and slugging percentage of .406.

Steve Farley, then the Butler University head coach, brought Riggs on as a part-time volunteer coach in the spring of 2008.

“Steve gave me a chance to see what coaching at that level was like,” says Riggs. “He was a very, very smart baseball man. He was great to learn from and watch work.

“I had a blast.”

Riggs also had the opportunity to pick the baseball brain of Butler assistant Matt Tyner, who had played the University of Miami (Fla.) for Ron Fraser and in the Baltimore Orioles system. After Butler, Tyner was head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., a University of Richmond (Va.) assistant and head coach at Towson (Md.) State University.

With a change in his full-time job in 2009, Riggs changed his focus to coaching his sons. Eric and wife Trisha have four sons. Bryce (16) is a sophomore at Noblesville (Ind.) High School. Twins Blake (13) and Brooks (13) are seventh graders at Noblesville West Middle School. Beckett (8) is a third grader at Noble Crossing Elementary School. 

The three oldest Riggs boys have had their father as a coach with the Indiana Bulls. Eric was an assistant with Bulls teams Bryce played on from age 8 to eighth grade and he is now head coach of the 13U White team as well as a board of directors member. The 12-player roster (pitcher-only players become a thing in the high school years) includes Blake and Brooks. 

The team played in two fall tournaments and plans to ramp up preparation for the 2021 season of 11 tournaments with 50 or more games in January. His assistants include Brandon Inge, J.J. Beard and Kyle Smith. Former MLB third baseman/catcher Inge (Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates) go back to their Cape Cod Baseball League days in college with 1997 Bourne Braves.

Kevin O’Sullivan (who went on to coach the 2017 national championship team at the University of Florida) was the Bourne head coach. The ace of the pitching staff was left-hander Mark Mulder, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 MLB Draft and went on to win 103 games in nine Major League Baseball seasons with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals.

When he can, Eric also helps coach the Noblesville Millers travel team that includes Beckett.

“I’m using what I’ve learned from players and coaches I’ve been around,” says Riggs. “I want to pass that to kids to make them better people and baseball players.”

Riggs, 44, is also a sales pro for BSN Sports with college and high school clients. He says uniform trends at the high school level tend to revolve around what catches a coach’s eye on the college scene. If they like the Vanderbilt look, they may wish to replicate in their school colors.

The Riggs family (clockwise from top left): Eric, Bryce, Trisha, Brooks, Beckett and Blake. Eric Riggs, a 1995 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, played pro baseball for 10 years and now helps coach his boys with the Indiana Bulls and Noblesville Millers travel organizations. 

Flueckiger’s coaching path leads him to Huntington North Vikings baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Huntington North High School head baseball coach Mark Flueckiger has had the good fortune of being around many fertile coaching minds during his athletic days.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of great people in the sports world,” says Flueckiger. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

“You’re always learning something new from somebody.”

Flueckiger (pronounced FLICK-uh-ger) graduated in 1982 from South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., where he played for Bob Bridge in football, Kent Hoopingarner in basketball and Dean Stahly in baseball.

Bridge is in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. Stahly is in the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 1982 Starfires were state finalist, losing to eventual state runner-up Roncalli 1-0 in the semifinals.

“Flick” started out at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., where he was going to play football for Jim Law and wound up walking on the baseball team led by Larry Winterholter before transferring to Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) to be reunited with long-time friend and teammate Dave Neuenschwander (they played together from age 7 to 25, the latter years being with the Portland, Ind., Rockets) and to learn from Foresters coach Mike Frame. He played three years for Huntington and graduated in 1988.

While he was still in college, Flueckiger was a baseball assistant to Steve Rinker at Adams Central High School.

During his days in Sheridan, Ind., Flueckiger taught remedial English to seventh and eighth graders, American Literature to high schoolers and coached just about every sport and lapped up knowledge from Indiana Football Hall of Famer Larry “Bud” Wright for 11 years.

Flueckiger coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization for five years and worked with former Marian College coach Bret Shambaugh.

Among the Bulls players Fluekiger coached as 16-year-olds were futures pros Matt Mauck, Clint Barmes and Ryan Hutchison.

He then followed Shambaugh in 1996 to Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) as a volunteer pitching coach. It was during the transition from NAIA to NCAA and the team played all its games — 56 a year — on the road for two seasons. He also worked with Brian Donohew at IUPUI.

From there, Flueckiger went to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne and helped teams led by Lance Hershberger then Steve Devine.

Flueckiger was at Adams Central and Hershsberger at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger when they first coached against one another.

Matt Brumbaugh was a Tech assistant and had been shortstop at Huntington when Flueckiger was a player.

“You know how the coaching fraternity works,” says Flueckiger. “It’s one big brotherhood.

“It’s a circle that never ends.”

After four years with the Warriors, Flueckiger served on Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Frame’s staff for 14 years as a pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.

As a player, he learned discipline from Frame.

“I was not the best player in terms of showing respect to my opponents and he had to teach me how to do that,” says Flueckiger. “I thank him for every day he spit it my face or yelled at me because he did it with love.

“He also taught me how to compete and not want to lose.”

Then came the tenure as Frame’s pitching coach. Former Huntington North head coach Jarrod Hammel played at HU.

For a decade, Flueckiger coached summer travel baseball for Mark DeLaGarza’s Summit City Sluggers. He coached at 15-year-old Josh VanMeter.

Since 2000, Flueckiger has been a salesman for Jostens. The past eighth years, he worked northwest Indiana — South Bend to Gary to Lafayette to Wabash — and driven his car about 60,000 miles a year while meeting with coaches, administrators, athletes and parents. He handles Hall of Fame and Coach of the Year rings for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.

“I know everybody,” says Flueckiger.

Bill Jones, one of the IHSBCA founders and long-time executive director, was one of Flueckiger’s mentors.

“I knew him from 1977 on,” says Flueckiger, who competed against him when South Adams went against his DeKalb teams. “He was a great man.”

Along the way, Fluekiger has got to coach against and learn from people like Gary Rogers, who coached baseball at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers for decades and is now at Leo.

When Bob Prescott came to Huntington North football as head football coach for 2019, Flueckiger joined his coaching staff as defensive coordinator.

When the head baseball coach position came open, Flueckiger was encouraged to go for it and was hired in early September. Many football players also play baseball for the Vikings.

“Why not just coach them in another sport?,” says Flueckiger. “I just think the kids at Huntington are great.

“The tradition of Huntington North goes way back. When I was in high school we played against (Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer) Don Sherman. In the summertime, we played in his tournaments.”

Many an afternoon or evening during Flueckiger’s college years were spent in the living room at the Sherman home, watching the Chicago Cubs with Don and son Todd Sherman and learning about baseball.

Focusing on football, Flueckiger said he will probably not begin assembling his baseball coaching staff until around Thanksgiving time.

Mark and high school sweetheart Kim will celebrate 30 years of marriage in December. The couple sides near Markle, Ind., with son Calvin (9).

Huntington North (enrollment around 1,500) is a member of the Northeast 8 Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Leo, New Haven and Norwell).

The Vikings are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Columbia City, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead. Huntington North has won 20 sectional titles — the last in 2017.

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Mark Flueckiger, shown in front of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets mural, is the new head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) North High School.

 

Mental toughness helps Batesville, Louisville grad Hoeing land in Marlins system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bryan Hoeing has been pushed as an athlete and a person throughout his life.

And that’s the way he likes it.

Now a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher in the Miami Marlins minor league system, Hoeing grew up as the youngest son of a mother who was a standout athlete in her time then a coach and educator.

Donna (Lamping) Hoeing is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. She was a standout at Batesville (Ind.) High School and Ball State University and then coached at Batesville.

When Bryan was 3 (brother Mike is two years older), his father John died of a seizure and Donna was left to raise the two youngsters.

“I like to say I got some athletic genes from her,” says Bryan Hoeing of his mother. “She was single parent, raising me and my brother.

“She found time to make us better athletes and people.”

Donna Hoeing retired two years ago after more than 30 years as a math teacher.

Bryan Hoeing’s head baseball coach at Batesville High School was Alex Davis. With the Bulldogs, Bryan was an Under Armour All-American (2014), ranked No. 131 in his class as well as fourth overall and No. 3 as right-handed pitcher in Indiana by Perfect Game (2015).

He was all-state and a Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference MVP as a junior (2014). The 6-foot-6 athlete earned four letters in baseball and basketball, where he was all-state on the court and also academic all-state.

Besides his mother, sibling and high school coaches, Bryan learned from other coaches and teammates, playing youth baseball in Batesville then the Indiana Bulls travel organization during his teens. Some of his Bulls coaches were Rick Stiner, Quinn Moore, Todd Bacon, Dan Held, Jered Moore and Tony Cookerly.

“I met a lot of great coaches,” says Hoeing. “They helped me develop my craft as a baseball player. My teammates pushed me. They made me want to work even harder.

“(The Bulls) gave me exposure to the college world.”

When it came time to choose a place to play college baseball, Hoeing decided to go about two hours down the road at the University of Louisville, where his mother, brother and extended family and friends could see him play, and be led by head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) did a very good job of motivating us. He said this program is not for everybody. It’s for the right people. You have to buy into his system and trust the way he coaches. It definitely works out.”

Hoeing was selected three times in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — 2015 by the Arizona Diamondbacks (32nd round), 2018 by the San Francisco Giants (36th round) and 2019 by the Miami Marlins (seventh round).

The lanky righty was a redshirt at Louisville in 2016 and pitched for the Cardinals for three seasons (2017-19). He appeared in 52 games (14 starts) and went 10-4 with a 3.34 earned run average, 130 strikeouts and 50 walks in 139 2/3 innings.

In 2019 at U of L, Hoeing took the mound in 22 games (five starts) and was 3-2 with a 2.66 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 12 walks in 50 2/3 innings.

Throwing from a three-quarter overhand arm angle, Hoeing employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, curveball and change-up.

The curveball breaks 1-to-7 on the clock.

“It’s not a true 12-to-6,” says Hoeing. “My change-up dives late. It goes down and in to a righty and down and away to a lefty.”

Hoeing opted to return to Louisville for 2019 to complete his sport administration degree and to reach some teach goals. The Cards (51-18) won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and made it to the College World Series.

Each fall around Thanksgiving, the Louisville squad is split into two groups and competes in team-building activities known as a the “Omaha Challenge.”

“It’s mentally and physically tough,” says Hoeing. “It’s mind over matter. You push yourself and push your teammates because there are times during the season that you’ll have to do that.

“You have to believe and trust in the process.”

Like McDonnell, Hoeing describes Williams’ approach as business-like.

“He wants you to get your work done and be consistent,” says Hoeing. “Roger was really good with approach. He’s a mastermind with pitch calling and what to do in certain situations. He helps you with the mental side of pitching.

“(McDonnell and Williams) are very advanced for the college level.”

The Marlins assigned Hoeing to the New York-Penn League’s Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs. In eight games (all in relief), he is 0-2 with a 4.26 ERA, 14 strikeouts and five walks in 19 innings. Batavia is in the thick of the pennant race. The regular season ends Sept. 2. If the Muckdogs make the playoffs, they could play until mid-September.

Marlins instructional league in Florida is scheduled for Sept. 8-27 and Hoeing has been told to attend. After that, he says he will likely come back to Batesville, seek an off-season job and find a place to work out while getting ready for 2020.

Now that Hoeing is a pro, baseball is his job. Most of his waking hours is devoted to it. He is learning about people from other countries and what it’s like to get one day off a month and to ride on buses for long distances.

“All around, it’s been good,” says Hoeing. “I’m adjusting to it well.”

Hoeing has also been helped along his baseball path by Alex Meyer, a cousin from his father’s side of the family (Alex’s mother Sandy was a sister to John Hoeing).

Meyer, a 6-foot-9 right-hander, went to Greensburg (Ind.) High School, the University of Kentucky pitched for three seasons in the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels and retired in June.

“He helped me with the approach to the game, the mindset and how you go about your day,” says Hoeing of Meyer. “You trust your stuff. You don’t ever doubt your ability. You believe in yourself.”

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Bryan Hoeing, a graduate of Batesville (Ind.) High School and the University of Louisville, is now a pitcher in the Miami Marlins system. (Batavia Muckdogs Photo)

 

Bell makes discipline, competitiveness cornerstones for Columbia City baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What Columbia City (Ind.) High School baseball needed was a dose of discipline and a culture of competitiveness.

That’s way Rob Bell saw it so he decided to apply to be the Eagles head coach going into the 2018 season.

The previous two Columbia City teams had won three games. In Bell’s first campaign in charge last spring, the Eagles went 6-21.

“We got better,” says Bell, who had coached basketball, football and softball at the high school level before taking on baseball. “The best thing we did last year is we competed. We were in the majority of our games.”

Just two players from that team graduated and up to nine seniors and 10 players who started in 2018 are expected back in 2019.

“How these guys pull together as a team, that’s going to determine how well we do this year,” says Bell. “We’re trying to drive some of that individuality out of it.”

Bell was an assistant to Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Wayne Kreiger for Columbia City’s girls basketball program and served on the Eagles boys basketball staff of Chris Benedict and coached middle school basketball and football at Columbia City.

There have also been stints as girls basketball head coach at Whitko and girls basketball freshman coach at Angola as well as football and softball assistant jobs at Garrett, the school Bell graduated from in 1991.

Bell, 45, has been at Columbia City for 18 years — first as a science teacher and now as dean of students. He was convinced that he was the man to help Eagles baseball.

An Eagle Scout while he was in high school, Bell brought in the Boy Scout Law (A scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent) as a code of conduct in his first head coaching job with Whitko girls basketballers.

With Columbia City baseball, he’s added Disciplined to the list.

“What this program needed I believe is discipline with someone who knew how to build a program and a culture and who could define the expectations of all the members of the program,” says Bell. “If you discipline yourself and nobody else has to.”

He also wants his athletes to know that each of them represents a piece of a much bigger puzzle.

“We’re trying to build that culture of selflessness and get our guys to understand that,” says Bell. “We’ve got them to volunteer in the community.”

This culture includes his own family. Rob and Lori Bell, who have been married for 20 years, have two baseball-playing sons at Columbia City — senior Dalton and freshman Brady.

Bell counts five men as the biggest influences on his coaching career. Besides Kreiger and Benedict, there’s his football coach at Garrett (Greg Moe), the head girls basketball coach when he was student-teaching at Angola (Doug Curtis) and the head softball coach when he was assisting at Garrett (father-in-law Alan Hunter).

“I’d like to think I’m a combination of all of them mixed in with what I do well to make it my own,” says Bell. “I wanted to be a lot like (Moe). He had a huge impact on my life.

“There was his intensity, work ethic and willingness to prepare. He loved us and because he loved us, he would not let us settle for anything less than our best. He drove us to get that out of us.

“I’m extremely intense. I’d like to think I’m as organized and prepared as he was.”

Bell played baseball his first two years at Garrett then switched to track. He went to Butler University to study pharmacy and play football. Along the way, he gave up the grid and switched to education. He finished college at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

So far, Columbia City’s 2019 coaching staff includes Bell, Skylar Campbell, Jared Ambrose with the varsity and Justin Dailey with the junior varsity. Campbell is an agriculture teacher/Future Farmers of America advisor and Ambrose a business teacher at the school. Dailey is still attending Indiana Tech. Bell says he expects to add one more to his staff.

Last spring, there were 31 players for varsity and JV teams. This fall, 31 freshmen have indicated their interest in playing baseball in the spring, causing Bell to look into the possibility of fielding a C-team or freshmen squad in 2019.

“I’d love to be able to carry 45 guys,” says Bell. “The biggest hamstringing thing is pitching depth.

“We may be able to keep kids as pitcher-onlys — at least for this year.”

The pitching depth issue really comes to the front when the schedule gets stacked up. Between having one field on-campus and the weather, last spring saw one stretch where Columbia City’s JV played six-days-a-week for two straight weeks.

Looking to the future, Columbia City is planning to build a new high school and move into it in 2020-21. With that will come new athletic facilities.

Long before that happens, Bell wants to field a squad to fans can get behind.

“We’d like to have a really quality product in terms of guys in the program,” says Bell. “People will come to watch good guys OK baseball.

“It’s not enjoyable to watch a bunch of jerks.”

Columbia City plays in the Northeast Eight Conference (along with Bellmont, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell). Conference games tend to be played twice a week and each team plays the others once.

The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, Leo and New Haven. Columbia City has won nine sectional titles all-time — the last in 2007.

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Rob Bell is the dean of students and head baseball coach at Columbia City (Ind.) High School.

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Head coach Rob Bell (right) talks with Cameron Harris during the 2018 Columbia City (Ind.) High School baseball season. Harris is expected back for his senior year and Bell’s second in charge in 2019.

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Rob Bell (center) enjoys time with sons Dalton (left) and Brady (right). Bell is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Columbia City (Ind.) High School in 2019. The Bell boys are both ballplayers, Dalton a senior and Brady a freshman.

 

Tippecanoe Valley, Purdue grad Andrews chose baseball over football and is now getting paid to pitch in Marlins system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tanner Andrews was on a pigskin path when the horsehide took over.

A three-sport standout (football, basketball and baseball) at Tippecanoe Valley High School near Akron, Ind., Andrews had made more than a half dozen unofficial campus football visits to Purdue University and thought he was on his way to playing receiver for the Boilermakers.

When his gridiron days at Tippecanoe Valley were over, he held just about every record — single-game, season and career — belonged to to Andrews.

He landed in West Lafayette alright. But as a baseball player.

“It’s God putting me right where I need to be,” says Andrews, who is now on the pitching staff of the Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs in the Miami Marlins organization.

While attending a clinic in Fort Wayne, Purdue pitcher Nick Wittgren (who is now also in the Marlins system and has spent time in the majors) saw Andrews pitch and arranged for him to throw a bullpen for Boilers pitching coach Tristan McIntyre. Purdue coaches liked what they saw and wound up signing Andrews.

Mostly a shortstop and center fielder in high school, where he played one year each for head coaches Scott Backus and Ryan Moore and two for Brandon Cody, Andrews came to concentrate on pitching at Purdue. He played four seasons (2015-18) — two for head coach Doug Schreiber and two for head coach Mark Wasikowski.

In 60 mound appearances (38 starts), Andrews went 17-15 with one save, a 3.69 earned run average, 184 strikeouts and 120 walks over 257 2/3 innings. He was used mostly out of the bullpen as a freshman and sophomore and a starter as a junior and senior.

Andrews says he appreciates Schreiber’s old-school approach.

“We did a lot of team bounding through hard work,” says Andrews. “We did a lot of early-morning running and were in very good shape. He pushed you beyond what you thought you could do.

“Coach Schreib gave me the opportunity to play baseball at the school I wanted to go to and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.”

Wasikowski came in with an attention to details.

“All details matter to him,” says Andrews. “He puts his players in the best position to win.”

In his first two seasons, Waz led the Boilers to 29 and 38 victories. The 2018 team played in the Big Ten Conference championship game and participated in the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional.

Andrews played summer wood-bat baseball in college with the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the Prospect League and Kalamazoo Growlers of the Northwoods League.

His name was called in the 10th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Marlins. After one game with the Gulf Coast League Marlins, Andrews was assigned to Batavia in the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League.

The next stops on the Marlins minor league road are Greensboro (Low-A), Jupiter (High-A), Jacksonville (Double-A) and New Orleans (Triple-A).

In his first 10 games with the Muckdogs (eight in relief), he is 1-0 with a 3.91 ERA. In 23 innings, he has 19 strikeouts and four walks.

Former big leaguer Mike Jacobs is the Batavia manager. Jason Erickson is the pitching coach.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Andrews delivers the baseball from a high three-quarter arm slot.

Andrews considers his athleticism to be his best trait on the mound.

“I move pretty well and can field my position,” says Andrews. “I have good body control and fluid movement.”

Born in Rochester, Ind., Andrews played travel baseball for the Fort Wayne Indians from age 10 to 15 for coach Ray Moon, who played in the Cincinnati Reds organization and independent professional baseball.

After a travel season with the South Bend-based Michiana Clippers, Andrews used his summers to concentrate on football and basketball.

His head football coach at Tippecanoe Valley was Jeff Shriver while Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Patrick guided Andrews and the Vikings on the hardwood.

With friend and classmate Ben Shriver (the coach’s son) at quarterback, Valley footballers were a close-knit group.

“It was a family atmosphere,” says Andrews. “You were focused on the guy next to you. That’s the way it is in all sports, really. When you do that you get more out of yourself.”

Andrews credits Patrick for getting the most out of him and his teammates.

“Coach Patrick pushed us mentally and physically in practice,” says Andrews, who played all over the court and scored over 1,000 career points. “He prepared me for what I’m going through now.”

Andrews says what he enjoyed most about his high school baseball days was the two years he got to be teammates with older brother Brody Andrews (Class of 2012).

“It was fun to go tot he park everyday with my brother and best friend,” says Tanner.

Todd and Marget Andrews are parents to Brody and Andrew and their cousin Nico (9) is also part of the household.

Tanner graduated from Purdue in May with a degree in organizational leadership.

“I want to go into coaching and that goes hand-in-hand,” says Andrews, who learned about reading with change, making adjustments, solving problems and dealing with people.

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Tanner Andrews, a Tippecanoe Valley High School and Purdue University graduate, is in his first season of professional baseball with the Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs in the Miami Marlins system. (Purdue Photo)

 

Lanky lefty Roberts displaying ‘will to win’ as Mariners minor leaguer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Max Roberts wants to be a winner.

He says that’s what drives him as an athlete.

“Competing is the biggest thing. It’s the will to win,” says Max Roberts. “It’s just who I am.”

That drive was instilled by his father — long-time Washington Township Middle/High School head baseball coach and fifth grade teacher Randy Roberts and grandfather Norman Roberts — and has followed Max throughout his diamond life.

“Between the two of us, Max probably acts more like his grandfather than he acts like me,” says Randy Roberts. His father lives in Warsaw, Ind., where Randy grew up. Randy played baseball for Jim Miller (who an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee) at Warsaw Community High School, graduating in 1978. From there, he played for Tom Roy at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. “My dad gave me the love for baseball. He was an incredible worker.”

From a very young age, Max showed the ability to throw a ball where he wanted.

“When he was 2 or 3 years old and we would play catch, he had good location and good aim,” says Randy Roberts, who has won eight IHSAA Class 1A sectionals in 22 seasons at Washington Township. “He’s always been pretty good at locating his pitches. He’s never been the hardest thrower on his team. He’s always been the best at getting outs.

“He’s a strike thrower.”

His father also admires Max’s lack of fear with throwing inside to batters.

“Most kids at the lower levels — when they get two strikes — they’re looking to go away,” says Randy. “It’s humiliating to hit a batter with two strikes. He’s always been good at coming inside. He has confidence in doing that.”

Max Roberts, who turns 21 on July 23, graduated from Valparaiso (Ind.) High School in 2016, played one year at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

The 6-foot-6, 190-pound left-hander made 10 appearances (seven starts) in 2017 and went 1-1 with a 5.18 earned run average, 18 strikeouts and nine walks in 24 1/3 innings the rookie-level Arizona League Mariners.

In 2018, he has pitched in three games (all starts) and is 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA, 17 strikeouts and three walks in 15 innings with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

How has he improved the last year?

“By having a feel for every pitch in any count,” says Max Roberts, who throws a four-seam fastball (consistently thrown at 87 to 89 mph and occasionally touching 91 to 92), curveball and four-seam “circle” change-up from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot.

“I definitely have some arm-side run,” says Roberts, who credits much of what he knows about pitching to his father and a relationship Randy has with Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. “They bounce ideas of each other.”

When Max was still in grade school, Randy attended the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago and invited Strom to extend his trip and spend a few days with Roberts in Valpo. Over the years, Randy and Max have visited Strom when he was nearby, sent video for for his analysis or texted questions. He has always been swift with his replies.

“There’s no better human being in baseball than Brent Strom,” says Randy Roberts.

Roberts was a late recruit at Wabash Valley, committing less than a month before arriving on-campus in the fall. By the third weekend of the spring, Roberts was the Friday starter for head coach Rob Fournier.

“(Fournier) was big on competing,” says Roberts. “He he didn’t care who you were — just go out and throw strikes and win games.”

Roberts went 10-1 with one save for WVC. Under the guidance of Fournier and pitching coach Jeff Bolen, he sported a 1.44 ERA, 98 strikeouts and 28 walks in 94 innings. Of his 17 appearances, 13 came as a starter. His lone loss was in relief.

Todd Evans was Roberts’ head coach at Valparaiso High.

Roberts got his formal baseball start in the Valpo Americans League before playing travel ball with the Boone Grove Wolves and then the Valpo Sting.

In high school, he was with the Indiana Chargers for four summers, working with coaches Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and Ryan Marken.

“I was in an environment with guys who wanted to play baseball,” says Max Roberts of the Chargers experience. “They cared.

“As a former college coach, (Mishler) knew what it took to compete at the next level. The biggest thing there was the winter workouts. That’s when you can see the biggest improvements in your game.”

The lanky Roberts put about 20 pounds last fall at the Mariners’ high performance training camp and has kept it on by consuming 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day.

“In the past, I had a hard time gaining and maintaining weight,” says Roberts. “This this year, it hasn’t been a problem.”

Vancouver hitters had a problem against Roberts in a June 20 game before a capacity crowd of 6,412 at Nat Bailey Stadium in British Columbia. The lefty retired the first 18 Canadians before allowing the first hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The next steps on the Mariners’ minor league ladder are the Low Class-A Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings, High Class-A Modesto (Calif.) Nuts, Double-A Arkansas Travelers and Triple-A Tacoma (Wash.) Rainiers.

Max is the oldest of Randy and Anne Roberts’ three children. Sophia just graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington in the spring. Baseball-playing William will enter his senior year at Washington Township in the fall.

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Max Roberts, a Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. He is now a starting pitcher with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Everett AquaSox)

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Max Roberts delivers a pitch for the 2018 Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Max Roberts, who played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Illinois, looks in for the sign as a pitcher for the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox in the Seattle Mariners system. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Left-hander Max Roberts delivers the ball from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot. He was drafted in 2018 by the Seattle Mariners and assigned to the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)