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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.

 

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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)

 

‘Late bloomer’ Cantleberry pitching in Dodgers system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jacob Cantleberry was well into his teens before he became serious about baseball.

Now it’s his profession.

Cantleberry was born in Indianapolis and grew up in Greenwood, Ind., and was more into golf and basketball.

Baseball?

“I was a late bloomer,” says Cantleberry, who is now a 6-foot-1, 180-pound left-handed pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. “I was pretty athletic and thought, ‘maybe I can do this?’ I started out as an outfielder. I got into pitching when I couldn’t hit anything above 86 (mph).”

Cantleberry was a Perfect Game Preseason Underclass All-American in 2015, a two-time Daily Journal Player of the Year under the guidance of head coach Keith Hatfield at Center Grove High School, graduating in 2016.

As a senior, Cantleberry was ranked as Perfect Game’s No. 3 left-handed pitcher and No. 11 recruit as well as a PG Central Regional Preseason All-American. He became an all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference honoree and the Johnson County Player of the Year. He traveled two summers as a high schooler for the Indiana Bulls.

After high school, two seasons were spent at San Jacinto College in Houston, Texas, where he learned from head coach Tom Arrington and pitching coach Eric Weaver and one at the University of Missouri, where Steve Bieser was head coach and Fred Corral pitching coach.

Cantleberry was surrounded by many future pros at San Jacinto.

“(Arrington and Weaver) taught me how to compete,” says Cantleberry. “They were very good with basic stuff, like how to work hitters.”

As a San Jacinto freshman in 2017, National Junior College Athletic Association All-American Cantleberry made 16 starts and was 11-1 with a 1.73 earned run average, 89 strikeouts in 78 innings. The Gators, which have made 25 NJCAA World Series appearances, were national runners-up.

In 2018, Cantleberry made 16 starts and was 12-3 with a 3.32 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 76 innings.

At Missouri, Cantleberry became a Friday night starter and went against Southeastern Conference batsmen.

“They have studs — 1 through 9 — in every single lineup,” says Cantleberry of the SEC, which had 91 players chosen in the MLB draft in 2019.

“I had a really good time and I learned a ton,” says Cantleberry of his experience at Mizzou. “The SEC is the best amateur baseball conference in the country.

“There was a big learning curve, but (Bieser and Corral) were accommodating.”

Cantleberry says his coaches insisted that their players did the little things right.

“They were very detail-oriented,” says Cantleberry. “That’s going to help me a lot to further my career.”

Every bullpen session at Mizzou, a chart was kept with a point system to track what pitches landed and in what counts.

“It would give you that performance grade afterward,” says Cantleberry. “There was focus and intent on every single pitch I threw — even in practice.”

The southpaw made 16 appearances (12 starts) for the Tigers and was 4-5 with a 4.73 ERA. In 72 1/3 innings, he racked up 97 strikeouts and 31 walks.

After a two-inning stint Aug. 26 in which he got the win for the Pioneer League’s Ogden (Utah) Raptors, Cantleberry has made 15 mound appearances (all in relief) and is 2-1 with a 1.25 ERA between Ogden and the Arizona League Mota Dodgers. In 21 2/3 innings, he has 28 K’s and eight walks.

The regular season ends Sept. 2. Ogden has made the playoffs. At the end of that run, Cantleberry will head to Glendale, Ariz., for fall instructional league. Since has already logged plenty of innings between college and pro in 2019, he will go there to work out.

After spending sometime back in Greenwood, Cantleberry says he will decide where he will spent the off-season getting ready for 2020.

The middle child of Rick and Connie Cantleberry, Jacob has two sisters. Devin is older and Riquel is younger.

Jacob is one year away from finishing a degree in rehabilitative health science. He is focusing on baseball for now.

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Jacob Cantleberry is a left-handed pitcher for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. He is a graduate of Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and San Jacinto College in Houston, Texas, and pitched one season at the University of Missouri. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

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Jacob Cantleberry shows the left-handed pitching form that got him selected in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. A former Center Grove High School, San Jacinto College and University of Missouri pitcher, he is now with the Ogden (Utah) Raptors. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

 

Helping Michigan pitchers know their strengths mission of Fetter

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the know.

That’s what University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter wants the hurlers in his charge to be.

“First and foremost, I want them to be knowledgeable with who they are as pitchers,” says Fetter, who is guiding to Wolverines staff this weekend in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State, Creighton and Cincinnati are three other competing teams). “Our eyes can deceive us. I want them to be as informed as possible about what they do and own what they do instead of just guessing.”

With Fetter leading the process, Michigan pitchers have access to many resources, including video analysis, Rapsodo and TrackMan to help them devise a plan of attack.

It becomes a combination of approaches that leads to what that player does on the hill.

“It’s not based entirely on technology, a coach or what the player thinks,” says Fetter. “But we marry all those together.”

Fetter assists his pitchers in developing an arsenal and it starts with the fastball.

“What kind of fastball do you throw?,” says Fetter. “Then, how do we attack other teams?

“It all stems with developing a relationship with the player and getting them to buy in to being learners of who they are.”

In his second second at U of M, Fetter has helped produce a number of capable pitchers.

In 2018, Tommy Henry made the all-Big Ten Conference second team while Karl Kauffman was on the third team and Ben Dragani the third and all-freshmen teams. Four Wolverines were signed by Major League Baseball teams — Will Tribucher, Jayce Vacena, Alec Rennard and Troy Miller.

The 2019 all-conference squads include Michigan’s Jeff Criswell (first team), Kauffmann (third team) and Willie Weiss (freshmen). The MLB First-Year Player Draft is June 3-5.

Fetter is a 2004 graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons for Tom Linkmeyer and two for Eric Lentz.

“Tom is great baseball mind, great baseball man,” says Fetter of Linkmeyer. “We still talk quite a bit.

“He took a chance on young kid. He always gave it to you straight. You always knew where you stood. He was always in your corner. I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Fetter remembers Lentz for his positive approach and knowledge of X’s and O’s.

From his 15U to 18U summer, Fetter played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls. His coaches were Dennis Kas, Craig Grow, Jeff Mercer Sr. and C.J. Glander.

“I couldn’t have played for a better summer organization,” says Fetter. “When you’re going up agains the best competition game in and game out, it helps you make the jump to the next level.

“It was a special group. There are some of the best summers of my life.”

One of his Bulls teammates was Jeff Mercer Jr., who is now head coach at Indiana University.

After a redshirt season as a freshman, the 6-foot-8 right-hander played for Michigan and head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Bob Keller from 2006-2009.

“From the moment Rich recruited me, he instilled a great sense of confidence in me as a player,” says Fetter of Maloney. “He really takes an interest in his players and coaching staff.

“He’s a great motivator.”

Fetter says Keller was at the forefront of teaching pitchers to be athletic and stressed pre-throwing routines and properly warming up.

As a pitching coach, Fetter works on helping his starters develop a consistent routine between appearances while monitoring the workload of the relievers. He pushes them on some days and lets the recover on others.

Fetter pitched in 51 games for the Wolverines (40 as a starter) and was 24-8 with a 3.32 earned run average. He struck out 248 and walked 72 in 278 innings. He also pitched for Cotuit Kettleers of the summer collegiate Cape Cod Baseball League in 2007.

When the 2009 MLB Draft came, Fetter was selected in the ninth round by the San Diego Padres. He pitched for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2009 and 2012. His manager at Eugene in 2012 was former Notre Dame head coach and current Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy.

After 51 appearances (37 as a starter), Fetter played his last pro season in 2012 and began coaching in the Padres system in 2013.

Fetter was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Missions and former big leaguer Rich Dauer was the manager and Jimmy Jones the pitching coach.

“They were a great couple of mentors,” says Fetter of Dauer and Jones. “(Dauer) taught me overall game management. From (Jones), I learned about the art of teaching the delivery — rhythm, balance, timing.

“Those are two of the countless people along the way.”

Fetter went from the Padres to becoming a scout for the Los Angeles Angels.

“I go to watch the game from a different perspective,” says Fetter. “I was able formulate opinions on what players do well.”

For the 2016 season, Fetter was reunited with Maloney as his pitching coach at Ball State University, where he got to apply things he had learned as a pro coach and scout.

Three of Fetter’s standout BSU pitchers were Colin Brockhouse, B.J. Butler and Zach Plesac. This past week, Plesac made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Indians.

He then worked in player development with the Los Angeles Dodgers, learning how that organization uses analytics.

That led him to joining the staff of Michigan head coach Erik Bakich.

“He is all-in 24/7,” says Fetter of Bakich. “He’s completely energetic. He lifts everyone up around him. He’s very positive and very prepared.

“He pushes all these guys to play their best and get 100 percent better in their own process of development.”

Fetter, 33, and wife Jessica have a son named Cole. He turned five months next week.

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Chris Fetter is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. He pitched for the Wolverines from 2006-09. (University of Michigan Photo)

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As pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team, Chris Fetter (center) wants his players to be as knowledgeable as possible about what they do and bring it to the mound. Starting May 31, the Wolverines are in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (University of Michigan Photo)

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Chris Fetter, a 2004 Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate and former Indiana Bulls, pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization and assistant at Ball State University, is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. (University of Michigan Photo)

Feyerabend giving back with Franklin Community Grizzly Cubs

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Feyerabend appreciates what his community and a game have done for him.

That’s why he’s decided to give back by becoming the head baseball coach at his alma mater.

Feyerabend is a 1996 graduate of Franklin (Ind.) Community High School. He is now in his sixth season of leading the Grizzly Cubs program after three years as an assistant.

“I do it because I owe a lot of people,” says Feyerabend. “A lot of people helped me a long the way.”

Feyerabend played for two head coaches at FCHS — Noel Heminger and Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.).

Heminger retired and turned the program over to Mercer for Feyerabend’s senior year. He was the head coach when he extended an invitation to coach to Feyerabend, who stayed for two seasons helping Paul Strack before taking over the reins.

From Heminger and the elder Mercer, Feyerabend learned the importance of team.

“We did not worry about the opponent,” says Feyerabend. “Worry about Franklin Community and doing your job. What is your piece in this puzzle?

“The class ahead of me was loaded with talent (including future minor leaguers Randy Phillips and Brian McMillin). I knew I could be a small piece on a great team. If I worked harder, I could be a bigger piece on a great team.”

The Grizzly Cubs advanced to the Richmond Semistate in 1995, bowing to the host Red Devils 7-3 in nine innings in the semifinals.

Feyerabend recalls that when Mercer made out his lineup card, he asked himself, “Does this make Franklin Community High School better?.”

It’s that approach that has simplified things for Feyerabend as a coach.

Not that the job doesn’t keep he and his assistant coaches busy. There is batting practice to throw to 40 players and fungos to hit and so many other details.

Feyerabend has learned that being a sale engineer, spending several hours a week on baseball and raising a family is demanding.

“But it’s all worth it,” says Feyerabend, who lives in Franklin with fiancee Brooke, Lyric (10), Zain (3) and Preston (14 months).

“There’s so much to do,” says Feyerabend. “You have to be there of the love of the game.”

His 2019 coaching staff features Dustin Peddycord, Travis Miles, Dalton Carter (pitching coach), Tyler Urban (Feyerabend’s nephew) and Chad Brown at the varsity level with Dylan Drybread and Dane Johnston leading the junior varsity. All but Carter and Brown are Franklin Community alums.

Feyerabend wants his players to know there is system to follow and it will only work if they commit.

“We’re not working toward a participation certificate,” says Feyerabend. “To make those lifelong memories, you have to buy in. Everybody has a job to do.

“In the winter time, we focus on our swings if we’re not playing basketball. We work on strength and conditioning. We can’t skip steps in the process.

“There’s a process to everything we do. I’m trying to build a monster here. We’re going to do the best job we can do.”

Feyerabend took hitting lessons from Jeff Mercer Sr., even before playing for him and is close with the whole Mercer family, which was honored in April when the Franklin Community diamond was dedicated as Mercer Field.

Mercer Sr., is retiring this year as a business administrator at Franklin. Feyerabend and he talk frequently about baseball or life.

Mercer Field is an on-campus facility is in its 13th year like the rest of the school, which is on the north side of town. With its location, wind and wind chill is always a factor at the diamond in the spring.

“I tell the players it might be OK in the parking lot,” says Feyerabend. “But when they get up to the field they’re going to need sleeves.”

Feyerabend played with the Indiana Bulls in the fledgling years of that elite travel baseball organization in the early 1990’s. His head coach for three summers was Craig Moore.

“He was one of the most intense human beings I’ve ever been around,” says Feyerabend of Moore. “He cared about us. But there was no gray area for him. We performed or we got replaced.”

When Moore told a 15-year-old Feyerabend that he needed to work on his conditioning, he took it to heart and improved in that area.

“Coaches like that, their wisdom is so appreciated,” says Feyerabend. “Kids today don’t work on their deficiencies. My body had to get fixed or I wasn’t going to have an opportunity.”

With the Bulls, Feyerabend was a teammate of top-flight players like A.J. Zapp and Eric Bruntlett.

Corner infielder Feyerabend went on to Indiana State University, where Hall of Famer Bob Warn was head coach and Mitch Hannahs (now the Sycamores head coach) was an assistant.

“(Hannahs) is one of the best baseball minds in the country,” says Feyerabend, who recently got to take his team to ISU’s Bob Warn Field to play Bloomington South thanks to Hannahs and West Vigo coach Culley DeGroote.

Feyerabend is grateful to Mercer Sr., for bringing him back to the game after being away about a decade after college.

“The other reason I do this is that we have great, great kids and human beings in Franklin,” says Feyerabend. “Without that, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

“We’re not winning state championships yet, but we have state-champion character guys.

“We’ve been really, really competitive.”

Franklin Community (enrollment of about 1,570) is part of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Perry Meridian, Plainfield and Whiteland Community).

“It’s super competitive,” says Feyerabend of the MSC. “They’re a lot of good coaches. You know you’re in for it every night.”

A tough non-conference schedule includes Bloomington South, Center Grove, Columbus East, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Cathedral, Roncalli, Silver Creek, Southport and West Vigo.

“We can’t measure the kind of team we are if we don’t play the meanest and nastiest,” says Feyerabend. “We’re going up against the best we can put on the schedule.

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘are we playing are best baseball when we walk into that sectional?’”

The Grizzly Cubs are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Central, Greenwood Community, Martinsville and Whiteland Community. Franklin Community has won five sectionals — the last in 2013. The was the same year the school won conference and Johnson County titles.

Three recent Franklin Community graduates are college baseball rosters — Evan Giles (Indiana State), Alec MacLennan (Judson University) and Jacob Heuchan (Franklin College).

Senior shortstop Luke Miles has committed to Purdue Fort Wayne. Senior Tyce Miller is going to Rose-Hulman to play football. The other three seniors — George Admire, C.J. Brown and Nathaniel Whetstine — have not yet announced college choices.

Franklin Community graduate Jeremy McKinney is currently a relief pitcher in the Washington Nationals organization.

A feeder program for the Grizzly Cubs is Franklin Youth Baseball, which generally serves 7U through 13U.

“We try to keep the kids in Franklin playing together as long as possible,” says Feyerabend.

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Mercer Field is the baseball home of the Franklin (Ind.) Community High School Grizzly Cubs.

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Mercer Field, which was dedicated with the new name in April 2019, is in its 13th year like the rest of the Franklin (Ind.) Community High School campus on the north side of town.

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The location of Mercer Field at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School means that wind and wind chill is almost always a factor during the spring baseball season.

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Franklin (Ind.) Community High School baseball head coach Ryan Feyerabend (right) and son Zion share a ride around Mercer Field. Zion is clutching a baseball.

 

Lefty Thompson keeps on collecting K’s for Kentucky

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zachary David Thompson goes by Zack.

Perhaps, it’s fitting that the last letter in this standout baseball pitcher’s shortened name is a K.

Zack Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior left-hander at the University of Kentucky, sure has made short work of opposing hitters by putting up strikeout after strikeout.

“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”

Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.

“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.

Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).

Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).

Thompson is on a team with Nick Mingione as head coach and Jim Belanger as pitching coach.

Why did Thompson choose Kentucky?

“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).

“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”

Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”

He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.

“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.

“I got to see how other people do it.”

Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.

“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”

Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.

Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.

“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”

Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.

“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.

“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”

Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.

On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.

High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.

Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.

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Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)

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Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)