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Heard takes on leadership role for Indiana University Kokomo baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Kokomo wasted little time in getting on the collegiate baseball map.

The Cougars’ debut season of 2018 yielded a 31-21-1 record, followed by 36-17 in 2018. IUK was 11-8 through its first 19 games of 2020.

“I’m really proud of where the program’s at,” says Indiana Kokomo head coach Matt Howard. “We’ve been lucky to get a lot of really good student-athletes to come to IUK that have believed in me and believed in our process.

“We’ve been able to accomplish some pretty cool things pretty quickly. We’re still hungry. We still want to be one of — if not the best — NAIA programs in the state.”

IU Kokomo is a member of the River States Conference. The campus is located along South Washington Street, about two miles south of downtown, where the Cougars’ home field — Kokomo Municipal Stadium — is located.

“I tell guys you get a Division I experience here,” says Howard. “You get a Big Ten degree and facility and get some pretty good coaching as well. The only small-school thing about our set-up is our campus.”

One of the student-athletes that was there from the beginning of the baseball program is Jared Heard. Once a first baseman and left-handed pitcher, he was converted into an outfielder at New Castle (Ind.) High School and began to flourish.

Swinging from the left side of the plate, Heard hit .341 with one home run, 40 runs batted in, 54 runs scored and 19 stolen bases in 28 attempts as an IUK freshman in 2018.

In 2019, he hit .337 with seven homers, 33 RBIs, 41 runs and was 16-of-17 in steals.

Through 19 games in 2020, he was hitting .350 with three homers, 15 RBIs, 21 runs and was 3-of-3 in swiping bases.

“Everyone sees the impact he has on the field,” says Howard of Heard. “That is not even close to the impact that he has for us. He’s a great guy, great teammate, great leader, great captain. He’s a guy that just does everything the right way.

“Our program is where it’s at largely because of him.”

Howard says he didn’t know that much about Heard when he recruited him.

“We were starting a program and just kind of throwing a wide net,” says Howard. “We were bringing in everyone we thought could be talented and see what we could do with them. Jared turned out to be a diamond in the rough and a guy a lot of other people should have been recruiting.

“We’re lucky that he ended up here. He’s done a great job for us — on and off the field.”

On a team with several new faces this season, Heard is embracing his leadership role.

“As one of the captains of the team and someone who knows the ins and outs of program so far, that’s one of the biggest things,” says Heard, who shares the title of captain with junior left-handed starting pitcher Owen Callaghan (Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate) and sophomore outfielder Mark Goudy (Noblesville High School graduate).

Heard, a general studies major with minors in psychology and sociology, gets instructions from the coaching staff — associate head coach Drew Brantley (Western High School graduate), assistant Ryan Cheek and student assistant Tyler Lunger — and relays them to his teammates, answering questions when necessary.

“On or off the field, you’ve just got to be that guy who’s open to everybody on the team,” says Heard, who chose to come to Kokomo after hearing Howard’s vision. “I thought this was going to be a better fit for me than other schools.

“I love it here.”

About a month ago, Heard found out that he has a labrum injury meaning he can’t throw and play left field. He has been the Cougars’ designated hitter.

“It’s been a big adjustment for me,” says Heard. “If I’m having a bad day at the plate, I use the field to fuel me up for the rest of the day. If I’m having a bad day in the field, I use the plate to fuel me.

“It’s a big change when you’re used to playing the game the whole time. It’s a big change when you’re sitting in the dugout. I have time to think about my at-bat and what I did wrong and what I did right, but I do like cheering on my teammates.”

Heard has been used anywhere in the first four or five slots in the IUK batting order, dependent upon and opposing pitcher.

“Anywhere you put him, he’s going to be dangerous,” says Howard. “He’s going to be circled by the other team.”

What role does Heard like best?

“I’d say around the 2- to 4-hole,” says Heard. “I was the lead-off hitter my freshmen and sophomore year. That was a big change for me. In high school, I was always a 3- or 4-hole hitter.

“(Howard) told me I had a very different swing than some people. It’s not the most fundamental, but it worked and it helped me get on-base.”

Heard says his swing has not changed, but his role has.

“Over the course of time, I’ve gotten bigger and stronger,” says Heard, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds. That size and muscle has led to more power — often gap-to-gap, but sometimes he pops it over the fence.

At New Castle, Heard played for head coach Brad King (now head coach at Mt. Vernon of Fortville).

“He’s a great coach in my eyes,” says Heard of King. “He really helped me out in my pursuit of playing college baseball. I love him to death. He helped me get to where I am today.”

Heard play for various travel baseball teams, the last being the Indiana Bulls coached by Troy Drosche (who is also head coach at Avon High School).

Jared’s parents are Gary and Melanie Heard. Sister Destiny Heard played collegiate softball.

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Jared Heard, an Indiana University Kokomo junior, has been with the Cougars since they started their baseball program in 2018. He has become a leader for a team that has already gotten used to success. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Pearson wishes for competitive spirit, constant improvement from New Castle Trojans

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Pearson has a vision for what he wants for his program as he prepares his New Castle (Ind.) High School baseball team for its first season with him as head coach in 2020.

Pearson, who has been a high school assistant at Noblesville (2011), Carmel (2012-16) and Indianapolis Cathedral (2017-19), takes over the Trojans with the idea of helping his student-athletes achieve their goals.

“Hopefully, I will be able to help those who want to play at the next level get there,” says Pearson, who takes over at a school that has sent Drew Barber (Indiana University Kokomo), Jared Heard (Indiana University Kokomo), Nick Jones (Anderson University), Jordan May (Anderson University), Taylor Matthews (DePauw University) and Nathan Hacker (Franklin College) on to collegiate baseball in recent years. “The biggest way I think we do that is to establish a competitive culture.

“It has been awhile since New Castle has won a baseball sectional title (2014) and my guys are hungry! So far, they have been doing a great job of listening to instructions, and pushing each other to get better.

“They all have had the mindset that we have talked to them about since Day 1 and that is to get at least 1 percent better every day in whatever it is that they do — whether that is within the game of baseball or improving on being a better teammate.”

The IHSAA Limited Contact Period for fall (Sept. 2-Oct. 19) saw the Trojans get together to get better.

“At a smaller school like New Castle (about 940 students compared to 1,100 at Cathedral), a lot of our student-athletes play a fall sport,” says Pearson. “So our numbers are not as high as what I am used too, but with those that did come out they were able to learn a lot.

“Those that were able to be at fall workouts know what to expect from a practice standpoint under the new staff, on a baseball diamond. So, I envision them to be the leaders once we get back out there in the spring, being able to help teach what to do and when to do things when we transition from one drill to the next.”

What will the Trojans do until the next Limited Contact Period (which begins Dec. 9)?

“I like to give the players some time away and give them some time to rest,” says Pearson. “So all of November they will have off. Once we hit December, we will start getting into the weight room and working on conditioning.

“Then when we get back from winter break, we will continue in the weight room but start to add baseball back in the mix, getting our guys arms ready to go for the season, get in the cage, work on fundamental glove work, and position communication.”

New Castle’s coaching staff features varsity assistants Zak Kellogg, Tyler Smith and Matt Chernoff, junior varsity head coach Frank McMahon and JV assistant A.J. York. Kellogg will work with catchers and hitter, Smith with corner infielders and hitter, Chernoff with outfielders and baserunners and McMahon will be assistant pitching coach to Pearson.

Pearson was the pitching coach at Cathedral with Ed Freje as head coach. The Irish went 29-0 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2017.

Pearson played for Eric Lentz at Carmel, graduating in 2006.

“One of the big things I got from Coach Lentz was how he as a coach would allow us players to just be us,” says Pearson. “He allowed us to just play the game and didn’t over coach us in any aspect.

“He knew that our group had been playing together for a very long time and I think he appreciated the cohesiveness that we had together.”

An arm injury in his senior season ended Pearson’s playing career. He graduated from Purdue University in 2011 with a degree in Physical Education.

Pearson served with Justin Keever at Noblesville then Dan Roman and Jay Lehr while on the Carmel coaching staff.

“Obviously, coaching under Ed Frieje, Dan Roman and Justin Keever has been huge for me,” says Pearson. “All three of them have won a state titles as head coaches.

“I have taken a lot from all three of them, both about the game of baseball and building positive relationships with players and families.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for guys like Jay Lehr. Jay was my pitching instructor as a kid and once I started coaching myself he took me under his wing and continued to teaching me new things about pitching.

“I’m also very lucky to have another coach in my family with my cousin Dave Scott. The year we won the state championship at Cathedral, Dave was also able to lead Cardinal Ritter to a state championship win.

“Him and I have a pretty close relationship, so he has taught me quite a bit about what it takes to be a head coach.

Pearson spends his summer coaching with Ryan Bunnell (head coach at Westfield High School) with the Indiana Bulls.

“He has been a lot of help in the short time period that we have known each other,” says Pearson of Bunnell. “Chris Truby (Philadelphia Phillies infield coordinator) has also been a mentor of mine. Having spent several winters in the batting cages with him teaching kids, I’ve been pretty lucky to pick up a lot of knowledge from him.

“I could probably go on and on, but I have definitely been blessed to have played for great coaches — in high school and through summer ball, and to have coached under some of the best coaches around.”

That being said, Brad’s biggest mentor is his father — Ron Pearson.

“My dad was the one who introduced me to the game that I love,” says Brad, who is Ron and Karen Pearson’s only child. “He was my first coach and the best coach a son could ask for!”

New Castle is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mount Vernon of Fortville, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).

The Trojans are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County and Yorktown. New Castle has won 13 sectional titles.

Pearson plans to be in close contact with his New Castle feeder programs.

“I am a sounding board for the Little League and Babe Ruth,” says Pearson. “They have had a lot of success in their own right and I want them to continue to have that success and build upon it.

“Anything they need from me I will be there to give my advice/opinion. I have told them that this isn’t MY program, it is OUR program. Yes, I may be the leader at the top, but we are all in this together!”

Pearson is hoping to get a lot of things done at the Trojans home diamond — Sunnyside Field.

“To be honest I have quite a wish list, but as we all know everything takes money and we are working to raise that money to help make Sunnyside Field, not only better for tomorrow but better for our future Trojans ways down the road,” says Pearson.

A P.E. and Health teacher at New Castle Middle School, Pearson is a bachelor.

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Cousins Brad Pearson (left) and Dave Scott were part of IHSAA state baseball champions in 2017 — Pearson as pitching coach at Indianapolis Cathedral and Scott as head coach at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter.

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Brad Pearson, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Purdue University, is now the head baseball coach at New Castle (Ind.) High School.

BRADPEARSON1After assistant stints at Indianapolis Cathedral, Carmel and Noblesville, Brad Pearson is now the head baseball coach at New Castle (Ind.) High School. The 2006 Carmel graduate also coaches in the summer with the Indiana Bulls.

 

Laird’s coaching based on development, discipline, accountability

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sean Laird knows about physical adversity.

As a senior at Kokomo (Ind.) High School, he suffered a fracture to his L4 and L5 vertebrae and had torn muscles in his back.

A four-year letterman and all-conference, all-state and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series selection as a senior in 2005, Laird was good enough as a Wildkat (he set several KHS school records, playing for three head coach — Ed Moon in 2002, Jim Jameson in 2003 and 2004 and Steve Edwards in 2005) and a member of the Indiana Bulls (he helped the 17U team to a World Series runner-up finish in 2003 and Final Four appearance in 2004 while working with the Moore family — Craig, Jered, Quinn and Lance — plus Gary Sylvester and Mick Thornton) to play NCAA Division I baseball and showed up at the University of South Alabama hurt.

Playing through injuries, Laird logged four seasons (2006-10) for the Jaguars and hit .319 with 23 home runs, 41 doubles and 110 runs batted in. A 92 mph fastball shattered his right hand during his junior season. He played his entire senior season with tears in his labrum and rotator cuff and took Cortisone injections to get through it. There was nerve damage and bone spurs in his shoulder. Professional organizations still showed interest his last two years in Mobile, Ala.

“Doctors were saying this obviously is going to need surgery and if you want to play catch with your kids one day it’s probably better to rehab and take care of yourself,” says Laird. “That was a decision I made.

“Looking back on it now, it was all for a reason.”

That reason became seeing young men and women get stronger and be recognized for their hard work.

Laird received his bachelor’s degree in Sports Management and a master’s degree in Health with a focus on Exercise Science. 

He spent one season on the Kokomo coaching staff (2012) became a Indiana Bulls 17U coach/strength and conditioning in the summer of 2011 (a role he still fills and is assisted by Zionsville Community High School head coach Jered Moore).

After two years as strength and conditioning specialist at Westfield (Ind.) High School, he began what is now Laird’s Training LLC in 2014. In 2016, he authored “How to Build a Ballplayer.”

“It’s about how I built myself into a D-I ballplayer and all the trials and tribulations,” says Laird of the book. “I wanted to get all that stuff out of my head so I could share it and help other ballplayers conquer the same things I had to conquer.”

His coaching and life is based on three principles.

“It’s 100 percent character development, discipline and accountability,” says Laird. “People talk about what natural talent does somebody have in life. For me, if you can instill the discipline and teach kids how to hustle — whether it’s in the classroom, on the field or just in life in general — no matter what they choose do do, they’re going to be successful.

“How I run my business and how I coach is 100 percent to get them ready for that next level. That might not be professional. It might be college. It’s also the next level in life.

“Everybody’s going to go through problems in life and adversity. But if you can teach yourself how to have that discipline, you can conquer anything.”

Laird conducts speed camps and strongman training at The Bullpen Academy in Russiaville and two days at home in garage gym in Kokomo.

The 33-year-old is constantly learning.

When it comes to certifications, I’m always getting new ones. I’m always going to clinics continuing my education. If you’re not moving forward, if you’re not getting smarter, you’re regressing.

Besides his masters, Laird is a Certified Physical Preparation Specialist (which means knows how to train athletes in the weight room and in speed and agility for all sports). He also a Certified Underground Strength & Conditioning coach through Zach Even-Esh and is certified in Body Tempering (recovery) and Pn1 (Precision Nutrition).

“I try to formulate an eating plan for each athlete,” says Laird. “Most kids that come to see me are trying to gain muscle.”

Laird says the field of strength and conditioning is ever-changing.

When he was in high school, it was about putting on as much mass as possible and the lifts were power clean, bench press and squat.

“Those are great movements,” says Laird. “But it’s like anything else in life. If you’re only staying in one lane, you’re very limited in your potential.

“The main job for a strength coach is to keep athletes healthy. If we can’t keep them healthy, they can’t be on the field.”

The goal is to make sure the athlete moves their bodies correctly and are taught the proper movement patterns — with and without a load.

“We make sure it’s going to help him with his sport and — ultimately — make him a better athlete,” says Laird.

At South Alabama, Laird played for head coach Steve Kittrell and assistant Alan Luckie. Kittrell is now coaching softball at Spring Hill College in Mobile and Luckie is still at USA.

“Coach Kittrell was definitely a blue-collar type guy,” says Laird. “He focused on the little things.

“He was really a big mind in the game. So many guys learned so much from him.”

Among those were former Bulls Quinn Moore and Jeff Cunningham and future big leaguers Adam Lind (Anderson Highland High School graduate) and David Freese.

Laird took all the information gathered as a player and from his schooling and cultivated my own coaching culture and atmosphere.

Sean and Lauren Laird were high school sweethearts. The couple has three children — Scarlett (3), Crash Levi (18 months) and Arya (born Oct. 24). Crash is named for Kevin Costner’s character in the 1988 movie “Bull Durham.”

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Sean Laird is a head coach for the Indiana Bulls 17 Black travel baseball team.

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Sean Laird, coach of the Indiana Bulls 17 Black travel baseball team and owner of Laird’s Training LLC, spends a moment with his two oldest children Scarlett and Crash Levi.

SEANLAURAARYALAIRDSean and Lauren Laird welcomed Arya to their family Oct. 24, 2019.

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The Lairds (from left): Lauren, Crash Levi, Scarlett and Sean. Arya was born Oct. 24, 2019.

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Sean Laird is the founder and owner of Laird’s Training LLC and head coach for the Indiana Bulls 17 Black travel team. He is a graduate of Kokomo (Ind.) High School and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Alabama.

Lefty Short goes from Southport prep to D-backs pro in 2019

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Avery Short had committed to play baseball at the University of Louisville.

But Short graduated from Southport (Ind.) High School and the left-handed pitcher was selected in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Indianapolis native signed his first professional contract for a reported $922,500 and went to the minors, learned a new pitch and was part of a championship team.

Everything lined up perfectly,” says Short of his decision to turn professional. “It was hard opportunity to pass up.”

Short, who participated in the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in July 2018 and competed for Team USA in the U18 Pan-American Championships in Panama in the fall of that year, was not dominant on the mound in his senior season with the Southport Cardinals. But he counts it as a valuable learning experience.

“I didn’t have the best year, but I learned how to deal with adversity,” says Short, 18 (he turns 19 on March 14, 2020). “That will help me in pro ball a lot. Nobody’s going to throw their best in every outing.”

While Short would work on all parts of his game after each mound appearance, he would focus on the areas that were not working for him.

With teammates looking up to him, he got a chance to be a leader. With an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer — Phil Webster — as his head coach, he developed a mindset of being tough and not giving up.

Short says being away from home for three weeks with Team USA taught him to be a little more independent and responsible.

“High school taught me to be a leader and hold myself accountable,” says Short. “Everybody was watching.”

Drawing on his experiences from high school, Team USA and travel ball (including with the Sean Laird-coached 17U Indiana Bulls and Team Indiana), Short made his pro debut July 26.

The lefty made six mound appearances with the Diamondbacks’ rookie-level Arizona League team where he went 0-0 with a 2.57 earn run average, seven strikeouts and no walks in seven innings.

It was a pretty good short season,” says Short. “I was a little tired during the end (from pitching in the Arizona heat).

“It was awesome to get moved up during my first season.”

Short learned new four-seam change-up grip from AZL D-backs pitching coach and former big leaguer Rich Sauveur.

“I have a really good feel for it,” says short of a pitch that has more downward break as opposed to arm-side run.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Short continued to mix the change-up in with four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a curveball and a slider while with the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops of the short-season Northwest League.

Short got into just one game and threw 17 pitches with two strikeouts and no hits or runs allowed, but soaked up knowledge from pitching coach Barry Enright (also a former major pitcher) and thoroughly enjoyed his time with a team that won the NWL championship.

“It was awesome,” says Short of Hillsboro, part of the Portland metropolitan area. “The fanbase was incredible. There were at least 3,000 to 5,000 fans at every game and they were super-engaged.

“It’s a super nice area to live in.”

Short notes that there was an adjustment going from the higher seems of a high school baseball to the lower seams of the minor league ball and that impacted his breaking pitches. He plans to work a lot on the curve and slider in the off-season.

The past three weeks, Short has been in Arizona for a strength camp. Players lift weight four days a week, plus do yoga and get speed training from some of the world-class track coaches who live in the Valley of the Sun.

Wednesdays are off days. Short and his team do team-building activities like paintball, bowling or a World Series watch party.

In January, he returns to Arizona for instructional league.

Back in central Indiana, Short will train at Indianapolis Fitness And Sports Training (IFAST) in Fishers. Eventually, he will begin throwing again to get ready for instructional league.

Avery is the son of Tom (Cathy) Short and Amanda (Scott) Bryan. His siblings are Amber, Abbey, Alec, Payton, Caroline and Lexi.

“I’m the second youngest,” says Avery. “I was able to watch them grow up. I learn from their mistakes and from the good things.”

What about college?

While he’s not sure what area he would study, Short says he would like to pursue higher education in the future.

Right now, he is seeing where baseball will take him.

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Avery Short of Indianapolis played for the USA Baseball National team. (USA Baseball Image)

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Avery Short, a 2019 Southport (Ind.) High School graduate, pitches for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Michael Jacobs All-Star Photos)

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Avery Short, a 2019 Southport (Ind.) High School graduate and USA Baseball alum, was selected in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and finished the season with the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops. (Michael Jacobs All-Star Photos)

 

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

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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.

 

Indiana native Sweeney has college, pro diamond experiences in Florida

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Sweeney has gained much knowledge on a baseball field in 2019.

The tall teenager experienced his lone collegiate season and his first taste of pro ball.

A 6-foot-7, 240-pound left-handed pitcher, the 2018 Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate competed for Pensacola (Fla.) State College in the spring and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in the summer.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself and the game,” says Sweeney, who made his last appearance of the GCL season Aug. 28. “I learned how to pitch, control myself out on the mound and stick to the things I know how to do and not try to out-stretch myself.”

Sweeney pitched in 10 mound games (all starts) and went 2-5 with an 8.13 earned run average, 42 strikeouts and 46 walks in 31 innings at Pensacola State before being selected in the 36th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pirates June 5. His 19th birthday was June 14.

His professional debut came on June 28. While he walked two batters in three of his first five outings, he did strike out three in a 13-pitch performance on July 29. After throwing five of his first 24 pitches for strikes, he wound up at 80-of-146 for the season under the guidance of pitching coach and former big leaguer Fernando Nieve.

Sweeney hurled in 13 games (all in relief), going 0-2 with a 3.45 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 15 walks in 15 2/3 innings. After a brief visit with family a friends in northwest Indiana, Sweeney returns to Bradenton, Fla., on Sept. 8 for three weeks of instructional league.

“We’ll have one thing we need to get better at,” says Sweeney of his mission at instructs. “We’ll stick with it and build off of that.”

Sometime after instructional league, Sweeney says he expects to be back in Pensacola to work out in preparation for 2020.

Does he consider himself a starter or reliever?

“It’s up to (the Pirates) organization,” says Sweeney. “I like starting.

“I’ll do my job and keep moving up in levels.”

In college and the minors, Sweeney got accustomed to spending many hours at the field, between practice, running, weight training and games.

“It was a grind,” says Sweeney. “I had to get used to it.”

At Pensacola, Sweeney played for head coach Brian Lewallyn. His pitching coach was Karsten Whitson (now a volunteer assistant at the University of South Florida).

“(Lewallyn) makes you accountable for everything and gives you real-life advice,” says Sweeney. “He’s always there for us.”

Sweeney says he also formed a quick bond with Whitson, who helped him develop his pitch selection.

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Sweeney uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up that drops off the table with 12-to-6 action.

“(Left-handers) get a lot of sink and run with fastballs,” says Sweeney.

But it’s his slider that has been his strikeout pitch.

“I have a good spin rate on my slider,” says Sweeney. “There’s a downward tilt to it. It’s not a true slider. It’s more of a slurve.”

The son of Tim and Shelly Sweeney and older brother of Hailey Sweeney (now a senior at Wheeler High School), Jake was born in Merrillville, Ind., and grew up in Hobart. His first organized baseball came at Hobart Little League. He later played travel baseball for the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Prospects and Team DeMarini Illinois.

As a multi-sport athlete, Sweeney raced for the Union Township Swim Club from ages 5 to 14 and played basketball through high school. He took the court with A2P in the off-season and spent two prep seasons at Andrean High School and one at Hobart.

“I got a lot of rebounds and was very aggressive on the court,” says Sweeney of basketball, a sport he put to the side to concentrate on baseball.

Sweeney played his first two high school diamond campaigns for the Andrean 59ers and one for the Hobart Brickies, playing for Bob Glover.

“We had a very short time together,” says Sweeney of Glover. “He’s a great guy.”

As a senior, Sweeney pitched in the 2018 Perfect Game Spring League in Iowa on weekends and attended classes at Hobart during the week. After graduation, he headed to Florida to begin the college experience.

And the experiences have just kept coming for the big left-hander.

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Jake Sweeney, who grew up in Hobart, Ind., pitched one season at Pensacola (Fla.) State College in 2019 and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound left-hander. (Pensacola State College Photo)

 

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)