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Fenimore experiences baseball and more in Germany, Australia

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball helped Caleb Fenimore get a college education.

It is also allowing the player from east central Indiana see other parts of the world.

A 2010 Rushville Consolidated High School graduate who played 2011-14 at Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, Fenimore step between the white lines in Germany in the summer and Australia in the winter and he has thoroughly enjoyed three German seasons with the Dohren Wild Farmers and two Australian campaigns with the Macarthur Orioles.

“Overall, this experience has been the best in my life,” says Fenimore, 26. “There is nothing I would change about the last couple of years and I would recommend it to any ballplayer.

“It’s not just about traveling the world and playing a game. It’s about living in a country for six months and becoming a part of the culture and it becoming a part of you. I have many memories on the field that I will remember. But I have so many more memories off the field that I will never forget with people that I’ll never forget.”

Primarily a catcher, Fenimore was named the No. 1 batter by the International Baseball Community (BaseballJobsOverseas.com) and best batter in the Bundesliga Nord (North) with a league-leading 1.471 OPS (.608 on-base percentage plus .864 slugging percentage), eight home run and drove in 24 runs batted in for a team that went 15-9 in the regular season. He hit .424.

The Wild Farmers, which had twice placed first in the second league going 24-4 in 2015 and 22-6 in 2016, moved up to the first league in 2017.

The Wild Farmers practiced three times a week and played games on the weekends. The smallness of Dohren allowed Fenimore to bond with his teammates.

“It is a great big family and we, as a team, are able to walk 10 minutes or less (or bike 3 minutes or less) to anyone’s house in the village to do something,” says Fenimore. Entertainment could also be found by leaving his host family and taking the train to Hamburg. An occasional off weekend would allow the American to explore other countries in tightly-packed Europe.

Fenimore, whose family roots are in Germany and Austria, got the chance to play there through Evan Porter.

A veteran of many European baseball seasons, including one with the Solingen Alligators in Germany, Porter was an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (a Summit League member just like IPFW aka Fort Wayne) and connected Fenimore with Johst Dallmann of the Dohren Wild Farmers.

After his first season in Germany, Fenimore was contacted by Kye Hislop of the Macarthur Orioles in Sydney and eventually signed there for an opportunity to play baseball in the winter and also experience another culture.

Macarthur went 19-6 (with plenty of rainouts) and won the regular-season title in Fenimore’s first season. The Orioles won a best-of-three series and went to the Grand Final, where they were swept and finished the season at 21-9.

The next winter, Macarthur went 26-4 in winning the regular season and also took the Grand Final title, finishing 30-6 overall.

The great thing about this season is that we also won the Club Championship which takes points from all the teams from your club and how they do in their respective levels in the league,” says Fenimore. “I was very fortunate to receive the Gold Glove Award from my club both seasons.”

The Orioles trained twice a week and played games on Wednesdays and either Saturdays or Sundays. When he could, Fenimore would travel to look around Sydney or places like Wollongong.

“I think it’s one of the greatest places in the world,” says Fenimore. “I would often down down there with my teammates Bobby Twedt and hang out during the week as we would hike mountains, go to the beach, hike a waterfall or just go and fund something cool that we hadn’t seen before.”

The last few years, Fenimore had been coming back to the U.S. for just a few days before heading off to the next country for another season. He is taking this winter off and not going to Australia, but he plans to re-join the Wild Farmers in March for his fourth season in Germany.

Fenimore says will assess his future after that. All the while, he plans to really savor his time.

“As much as I love playing ball, I know that eventually my career will be over,” says Fenimore. “I can see myself living in both Germany and Australia (and America of course too), so it will be a tough decision when that time comes.

“I hope to always be involved closely with baseball. This game has been my life for as long as I can remember and I have learned so much in this game. I also know that there is also still so much for me to learn and I think that is the best part about baseball. There is always something new you can learn. While the game itself will never change (hopefully), the way we do things and adjust and execute are changing with every pitch and we can always learn that way.”

Caleb, the son of Bruce and Joni Fenimore, grew up around baseball, playing in the Rushville Little League until age 8. At 9, he joined the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits travel ball organization and was with it two summers into his college career.

His 18U season, Caleb played with the Summit City Sluggers. Bruce Fenimore was there as a coach with the teams and was at camps following his son from station and station and taking notes.

“My biggest influence to this day is still my dad,” says Fenimore. “He has taught me so much in this game and he is still learning as well. I still consider him my coach as he still throws me batting practice and throws out a suggestion here and there of he thinks he sees something.

“He’s also good at getting in some hit by pitch practice while I’m in the cage too. I can’t thank him enough for all that he has done for me in this game.

“He bred me to be a catcher. He knew the importance of the position as it was the same one he played and knows that a great catcher can change and help a team in many ways.”

Bruce Fenimore coached the Indiana Bandits 16U/18U and college teams in 2017.

Jake Fox, who was a catcher in the big leagues with the Cubs, Athletics and Orioles, is Caleb’s godfather. The former Indianapolis Cathedral High School and University of Michigan receiver gave Fenimore plenty of helpful pointers.

Last summer, Fox was the guest speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet in Muncie.

Fenimore wound up his prep career at Rushville Consolidated as an IHSBCA all-star. Playing for coach Keith Perin, he collected 97 hits and drove in 76 runs during his Lions days — both school records. He bashed 10 home runs, including six in 2010. As a pitcher, he posted a 2.01 career earned run average (1.34 in 2010).

Second cousin Kyle Harpring is now head baseball coach at Rushville.

At IPFW, Fenimore found a combination that he like — a small campus, a major he wanted to pursue (chemistry/pre-med), a chance to play NCAA Division I baseball and knowledgeable coaching staff, including head coach Bobby Pierce and assistant Grant Birely. After committing, he received a Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship which pays full in-state tuition.

“Coach Pierce and Coach Birely are great men and great coaches in my opinion,” says Fenimore. “I have learned many things from many different coaches during my career from my dad teaching me since I was a little kid to all the college coaches that we both took things from as I was growing up and going to different camps and clinics. “But, being with Coach Pierce and Coach Birely for four years, I have picked up a lot from them. The things that stick with me the most are bat control, early and late count rhythm, plate discipline, pitch calling and sequencing, situations and just how every ballplayer is different and some players need to do things different ways.

“I have nothing but respect for both of them and still enjoy leanring from them whenever I can be around them up there in Fort Wayne.”

Bruce Fenimore, a 1983 Rushville Consolidated graduate, played football and baseball at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute and is a civil engineer. Joni Fenimore, a 1984 Rushville Consolidated graduate played basketball for the school’s 1981 state runners-up and is a math teacher at RCHS.

Caleb is the oldest of four children. His sisters are Mariah (22), Hallie (16) and Alexis (15). Mariah is a former college soccer player now studying civil engineering as a Trine University senior. Junior Hallie and freshman Alexis attend Rushville Consolidated.

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Caleb Fenimore, a product of Rushville Consolidated High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, has played three baseball seasons in Germany with the Dohren Wild Farmers. This past summer, he was the No. 1 batter in Bundesliga Nord and International Baseball Community.  He has also played two winters with the Macarthur Orioles in Australia. (Georg Hoff Photos)

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New Haven baseball top dog Bischoff paying it forward

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Bischoff first barked out baseball commands for the Bulldogs of New Haven High School as an assistant coach in the early 1980’s.

Since the 1985 season, Bischoff has been the top diamond dog.

Taking lessons learned from some of Indiana’s top high school baseball minds, Bischoff has been successful enough at this East Allen County institution that he has been directing those commands at a facility renamed in 2009 as Bischoff Field.

“It should probably be named for my wife for putting up with us all these years,” says Dave, referring to Kristen, whom he married in the fall of 1984, himself and the two sons who played for him — Matt and Kyle (both who went on to play at Purdue University for Doug Schreiber). Matt is now his father’s pitching coach. “Matt says he’s my consultant. With that title, he can offer free advice at all times. He chose the job description.”

The current New Haven coaching staff also features former Bulldog players Mike Snyder and Brandon Pease and former Fort Wayne Concordia High School head coach Beach Harmon. The New Haven pitching record book is full of entries with Brandon Pease and Matt Bischoff.

It was also Matt who sent out a survey a few years ago to 100 of his father’s former New Haven players. The response was tremendous and some of them even focused on baseball.

The 2017 season will be Dave Bischoff’s 33rd season at New Haven. In the previous 32, the Bulldogs have won 586 games, 10 sectionals and three regionals while making three IHSAA Final Four appearances and taking four titles in a traditionally baseball-rich conference, which has morphed from the Northeastern Indiana Athletic Conference to the Northeast Eight Conference.

Bischoff Field, which will be sectional host site in ’17, has been upgraded over the years with a covered grandstand behind home plate, wooden walls in the power alleys and a wind screen in center field.

The veteran coach, inducted by his peers in 2014 to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, is proud that he has sent more than 50 players on to college and two — son Matt as well as Dave Doster (who played two seasons in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies) — went on to professional ball. Around two dozen have gone on to coach at the high school level with a few coaching in college.

Dave Bischoff gets even more satisfaction knowing that the life lessons he was passing along as a leader and mentor — be on time, bring your best, show up — were absorbed by young men who went on to be successful husbands, fathers and business owners. There’s even been an FBI agent or two.

Baseball began for Bischoff in Adams County. Back in the 1960’s, Little League baseball meant a city league in Decatur and a country league in Monmouth. Young Dave played in the latter.

He also played in a plenty of non-organized games while making his way up through Pony League (teams were based in Decatur, Burns, Geneva and Monroe) with hopes of playing or Bellmont High School on the corner of Adams and 13th at Worthman Field.

“It’s probably over-stated, but we played a lot and were coached little,” says Bischoff of his formative baseball days. “We played a lot of pick-up games. We learned by trial and error. To get better, you had to make adjustments.”

By the time Bischoff reached high school, there were 30 freshmen — or about 20 percent of the boys in the class — trying out for baseball.

Dave was cut that first year.

Determined, he played baseball in Convoy, Ohio and fast pitch softball in a local church league.

“Playing fast pitch softball against men, you learn a lot that way,” says Dave. Bischoff’s reputation for bunting and slashing teams at New Haven stem from all the fast-pitch softball he pitched in high school and college.

As a sophomore, Bischoff made the baseball team at Bellmont, where he graduated in 1975.

After that, he got a chance to play college baseball at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, then an NCAA Division III program. He chose the school because it was close, the price was right, it afforded him a chance to play.

A history buff, Bischoff gravitated toward becoming a social studies teacher (he’s taught history and English since the fall of 1982) and he’d decided coaching was also for him.

While still in college, Bischoff began coaching Little Leaguers and was given a chance to coach Bellmont’s summer program by new Braves head coach John Cate.

“In a sense, he gave me my first shot,” says Bischoff of Cate. “John impressed upon me the organizational skills to put together a program. He did things first class. It was evident kids bought into what he was doing.

“I understood real quick those are the things you have to do if you’re going to be successful.”

Cate took Bischoff to his first IHSBCA State Clinic in 1980 and that’s where he first met Purdue University coach Dave Alexander, who is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. The clinic would become an annual ritual and Bischoff would get to travel to and from Indianapolis with Hall of Famers like Bill Jones (DeKalb), Don Sherman (Huntington North) and Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop).

“It was like a got three clinics,” says Bischoff of his northeast Indiana-based travel companions. “They were great coaches and mentors. They would share anything with you.”

For two years after college, Bischoff served as a substitute teacher in East Allen County Schools and a baseball assistant to New Haven head coach and IHSBCA charter member Don Hummel before taking a full-time teaching position and baseball assistant job for two more years at Norwell Hugh School.

When Bischoff was established at New Haven and Jones stopped hosting his own coaches clinic at DeKalb, he encouraged the young coach to start one of his own. Jones hooked him up with Hall of Famers Ken Schreiber (LaPorte) and Jim Reinebold (South Bend Clay) as clinicians.

“I got to know those guys right away,” says Bischoff. “I feel fortunate that from a very early age I was being mentored by the founding fathers of the association. Those guys are professionals, organizers and icons. There are real good guys when it came to helping out a young coach.”

Bischoff was an IHSBCA district representative for 10 years and was the organization’s president in 2005-06.

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The Bischoffs (from left): Dave, Kristen, Matt, Casey (Kyle’s wife) and Kyle. (Family Photo Supplied)

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Gernon building successful baseball culture at Western Michigan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Billy Gernon is reaping the rewards of his labor as a college baseball coach while also giving back to a game he embraced as boy.

Gernon saw his sixth Western Michigan University squad go 22-34 and win the school’s first-ever Mid-American Conference tournament championship in 2016 while the Broncos earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 1989.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” says Gernon. “I’m trying to capture that momentum and bottle it.”

Left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin was chosen as WMU’s first MAC tournament MVP and was then selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, getting an invitation to big league spring training in 2017.

Akin was the Broncos’ highest draft pick since Harry Shaughnessy in 1970. Shortstop Connor Smith was named 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year.

As if to prove that old adage about the importance of pitching and defense, Western was among the nation’s leaders in fielding percentage at .978 — the all-time best mark at a school that started playing baseball in 1911.

“The strengths for me as a coach speaks to where I come from,” says Gernon. “Competition for big bats is heavy. Competition for defense is not as high.”

Gernon’s first season in Kalamazoo was 2011 after two at Michigan State University and nine as head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Gernon grew up near the baseball fields near Mt. Tabor Road in New Albany, Ind.

“The game became surrogate father,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time.

“I came from a broken home at a very early age. I had an unexplainable love for the game. I was gifted at pitching. Being good at it probably made me like it more.”

Now 50, Gernon still fondly looks back to his 13-year-old summer at playing Babe Ruth League baseball in New Albany, Ind., for a trio of enthusiastic coaches — Louis Jensen Jr., Buzz Benson and John Shine.

“They were young guys and they were a lot of fun,” says Gernon. “I remember looking forward to going to practice.”

Jensen is now director of high school eduction for New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.

After graduating from New Albany High School in 1985, Gernon took his pitching talents to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He was the MVP for the IUS and that gave him a chance to play for IU Bloomington as a senior in 1990. Head coach Bob Morgan asked him to join the Hoosiers and he was excited about his opportunity.

Then tragedy struck.

“My brother died it the day I got there,” says Gernon. A car wreck took David Gernon’s life in 1989. “I was a very vulnerable person.”

Morgan’s passion pushed Gernon to succeed on the diamond.

“At Big Ten level, you need to win,” says Gernon. “You need to perform.”

With Morgan’s insistence on hard work, no excuses and accountability, Gernon flourished and became IU’s closer.

“He catapulted me to another level,” says Gernon.

Somewhere along the line, his focus went away from becoming a radio announcer and a chance to coach came along.

“I just decided to go for it,” says Gernon.

There were bumps along the way. At IPFW, Gernon took over a program that made a transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I during his tenure. For seven of his nine seasons in Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were not in a conference and had just five in-state scholarships with no paid assistant coaches. The teams averaged 11 home games and 40 road games per season.

Yet, Gernon still scheduled the best competition he could find even if his record (157-275-3 in those nine campaigns) suffered for it.

“The biggest teacher for me, personally, has been failure,” says Gernon.

Time, maturity and sincerity plus having a son of his own (Jacob David is 16 and a sophomore at Portage Central High School) have also taught him to be a better coach.

“I always try to keep my brother’s spirit alive in me,” says Gernon. “It’s important to me that my players know I love them. I need to do a better job of not only making sure I was saying it, but doing it.”

His Broncos have responded to that passion.

“Players want to perform for me,” says Gernon, who is 136-193 at WMU. “When they don’t, they’re so bothered. They don’t need anything from me but to address the wound.

“Failure is an event, not a person. The game is riddled with failure and great players learn how to deal with it.”

More than ever, Gernon is concerned with building the culture.

“Cultures are more important than anything,” says Gernon. “Great cultures win over talent. It’s my job as a leader to have guys know what the culture is and become great messengers of the team’s philosophy and culture.”

Gernon expects players to spread the word in the locker room: This is how we do things and this is what’s expected.

“Great culture is why Western won the first MAC tournament in school history and went to the NCAA tournament,” says Gernon. “We have great leaders.”

And through it all, he’s giving back.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time. I’m trying to do everything I can to serve it in the form of gratitude. I talk to current players more about their legacy, how they want to be remembered and the mark they want to leave on other players.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach.”

It’s just that important.

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Western Michigan University head baseball coach Billy Gernon played at New Albany High School, Indiana University Southeast and IU Bloomington and coached at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before heading north. (Western Michigan University Photo)