Tag Archives: Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne

At all his coaching stops, Ratcliffe emphasizes hard work, character

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Ratcliffe helped change the mindset in his return to the Trine University baseball coaching staff.

Ratcliffe had helped Thunder head coach Greg Perschke during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and assisted in school-record 25-win seasons then went back to the high school ranks before coming back on board in Angola, Ind., for 2020.

Trine, an NCAA Division III school with a 40-game regular-season limit, averaged 17 wins per year from 2014-19 with high-water marks of 19 in 2017 and 2018.

That was not considered good enough.

So the Thunder went to work in the fall.

“We have our limits when we can and can’t be with them,” says Ratcliffe referring to NCAA D-III contact rules. “But there are expectations from Coach Perschke. His passion for the kids is electric. It just gets everybody.

“There’s an off-season weight program. Kids work around their academics to get a workout in.”

The message is clear: If you want the team to get better, this is what has to happen. Here’s how you do it. Do you want to be a part of that?

At a school full of engineering students and others with rigorous majors, the find a way to get the job done.

“We give them a lot of instruction during our weeks,” says Ratcliffe. “They take this and work hard in the off-season.”

Brought in to help with catchers, infielders and hitters and be a bench coach during games, Ratcliffe says there’s a difference between high school and college that has do with more than age.

“Kids at the college level want to be there instead of doing something in high school,” says Ratcliffe. “Development is extremely different. In high school, you’re developing their skills. In college, you’re fine-tuning their skills.”

Through conversations and short videos, Perschke (Trine head coach since 2002 and the Thunder’s pitching coach) and assistants Ratcliffe and Nick Pfafman provided instruction for a month and then the team’s veterans led a few more weeks of workouts heading into the winter.

“We developed a mindset of how to react and respond to things,” says Ratcliffe. “It’s one of the things I was brought in for.”

When the team came back from Christmas break it had less than a month before its first games. 

Trine went 1-2 Feb. 22-23 in Kentucky then 8-0 March 1-6 in Florida.

Then — suddenly — the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Thunder gathered for an impromptu team photo after a practice and said their goodbyes.

“It was a huge gut punch,” says Ratcliffe. “We had eight seniors (Tony Bottone, Caleb Deiter, Jacob Douglass, Chase Hall, Shawn Ligocki, Nick Ricci, Thomas Rivet and Jake Roddy) that took to this year’s culture. No longer was 18 wins a good year.”

Trine was chosen to finish seventh in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason poll, but seemed to be a on a path that would put them in the MIAA’s top four and a playoff berth.

This summer, Ratcliffe is head coach for the 17U DeKalb County Thunder travel team. His assistant is Cody Krumlauf, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Earlham College who has been a player and coach for the Quakers.

The program was started a few years ago when the players were at the 15U level. The Thunder now also fields 15U and 13U teams.

To be eligible to play for the Thunder, players must play in community baseball organizations in Auburn, Butler, Garrett or St. Joe.

The 17U Thunder is a showcase team for college exposure and plays in events put on by Pastime Tournaments, Crossroads Baseball Series and at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

Ratcliffe was head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School for two stints totaling 13 seasons (2000-06 and 2014-19).

He served as an assistant to DeKalb High head coach Chris Rhodes 2007-11 and was on the staff of Keith Potter at Fort Wayne’s Homestead High School 1997-99.

While with the Spartans, Ratcliffe got to work with future big league catcher Rob Bowen.

“I remember he was a starter working on being a switch hitter,” says Ratcliffe. “If he hit 50 balls off the tee right-handed, he had to hit 50 left-handed. Balance had to be there if h was serious about being a switch hitter.”

Ratcliffe recalls that Bowen hit homers from both sides of the plate early in his minor league days and went on to play in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Caleb Kimmel, who went on to play at Valparaiso University and is now CEO of the World Baseball Academy, was also at Homestead when Ratcliffe was on staff.

Summers from 2002-14 for Ratcliffe meant coaching and evaluating young players for USA Baseball through Tournament of Stars and National Team Identification Series programs. Working in Joplin, Mo., and later Cary, N.C., he got to be around rising diamond stars as teenagers, including Mike Moustakas, Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout, Trevor Bauer, the Upton boys (Justin and B.J.) and Jarrod Parker.

“(Moustakas) had the same kind of energy as a 17-year-old that he did (with the Kansas City Royals) in the World Series. 

“That guy has not changed one bit. He’s such a team player.”

Freeman became of Ratcliffe’s favorites.

“His character in the dugout was unbelievable,” says Ratcliffe of the future Atlanta Braves first baseman. “He was very coachable. Freddie wanted to get better. 

“I’ve told my players this is what you need to be like. It’s not all about baseball. Character is very crucial.”

Trout and Bauer are superstars now. But they didn’t make the national team back then. They didn’t sulk. They put in the work to get better.

The Uptons also failed, but learned from those around them and rebounded. Justin’s path to The Show included 113 games with the 2006 Mark Haley-managed South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks during his 18-year-old season.

While they were nearly two decades apart, Ratcliffe (Class of 1990) and Parker (2007) were both graduates of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind.

Ratcliffe had coached against right-handed pitcher Parker in high school and saw him help Norwell to an IHSAA 3A state championship in 2007.

When it came time for Parker to take the mound that summer Joplin, Ratcliffe offered a little advice: “Go be yourself.”

Parker went on to work out with the Top 40 players in Atlanta and was selected in the first round (No.9 overall) of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in the bigs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. David Price and Moustakas went 1-2 in the ’07 draft.

Ratcliffe’s head coach at Norwell was Stan Reed.

“He had compassion for the players,” says Ratcliffe. “He really cared about us. It showed whether we won or lost.”

A catcher, Ratcliffe went to Purdue University and was redshirted his first season and played sparingly for Boilermakers coach Dave Alexander in his second, though he did get to catch Sherard Clinkscales, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft, later scouted for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Kansas City and coached at Notre Dame before going into athletic administration. 

Clinkscales was associate then senior associate athletic director at North Carolina State and is now AD at Indiana State University.

When Alexander left Purdue to become a scout and pitching coach Steve Green was promoted to head coach, he had a chat with Ratcliffe. It was apparent he was not going to get to play much for the Boilers.

“I was a kid who needed to play,” says Ratcliffe, who was released and allowed to sign at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where Matt Kinzer was the Mastodons head coach.

What did Ratcliffe learn from Norwell grad Kinzer during the 1993 and 1994 seasons?

“It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level,” says Ratcliffe. “If you want to get there you’ve got to put some time in. 

“Talent doesn’t get you to the next level. It takes things like working hard and having good character.”

By the time Tom Muth took over at IPFW in 1995, Ratcliffe knew he wanted to be a coach so he took the opportunity to play multiple positions and learn their nuances. Since the Dons were in need of a second baseman, Ratcliffe moved there and still took time to catch bullpens.

Ratcliffe played independent professional ball as a middle infielder for the Frontier League’s Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in their inaugural season of 1995. Larry Nowlin was the manger and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate part owner.

One of his teammates was future major league switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter Morgan Burkhart. When he came to Fort Wayne as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, Ratcliffe made sure he found a good fishing hole.

After finishing his degree at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ratcliffe became a teacher. 

Besides coaching baseball, he instructs special education classes at Garrett Middle School. His wife of 19 years — Stacy — is a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Ober Elementary in Garrett. The couple have two sons — GHS senior-to-be Blake (17) and GMS eighth grader-to-be Easton (13).

Brett Ratcliffe returned to Trine University in Angola, Ind., for his second stint as assistant baseball coach. He has also been a head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School and an assistant at DeKalb High School in Watlerloo, Ind., and Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. He has helped coach and evaluate players for USA Baseball. This summer, he is the 17U head coach for the DeKalb County Thunder travel program.

Western Michigan’s Piotrowicz gets hitters to develop routines

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

While you’ll only see Adam Piotrowicz donning one cap — usually a brown one with a gold “W” — he essentially wears three.

A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Piotrowicz as associate head coach. He also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon.

Piotrowicz, who played at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., describes his associate head coach duties.

“I help out more with scheduling, budget and things of that nature,” says Piotrowicz. “I have more administrative responsibility.”

Piotrowicz guides the Broncos’ offense. In 2019, WMU hit the most home runs (32) since the BBCOR Bat era in 2010 and posted the second highest batting average (.287) since 2012. The team also scored the most runs per game (6.0) since 2008 and racked up the most stolen bases (50) since 2013.

When the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic brought Western Michigan’s 2020 season to a close after 15 games, the Broncos had belted seven homers with a .261 average, 8.6 runs per contest and 35 stolen bases.

“I’m a big believer in having a great two-strike approach and competing in the box,” says Piotrowicz. “It’s about our daily routine — whatever it is.

“Each guy’s different.”

Some hitters are focused on power and others are looking to get the most out of their speed.

It’s the routine that keeps hitters sane.

“This game will drive guy’s crazy,” says Piotrowicz. “Just focus on the day-to-day process. It gets you over the 0-of-10 slumps and keeps you grounded during the 10-for-10.”

It’s helpful to Piotorowicz to know the style of learning that suits hitters best — Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic — in order to best communicate and assist them with their approach, mechanics etc., while competing at all times.

“We want to be a tough out,” says Piotrowicz. “We want to make other team earn all 27 outs.”

Piotrowicz is also aware that all players do not respond to the same coaching techniques based on their personality. Calling a player out in front of his teammates may not be appropriate for one while another will respond well.

“Our center fielder (Blake Dunn), I can yell at him,” says Piotrowicz of a junior from Saugatuck, Mich., who he expects to go high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. “He was a multi-sport athlete and football player. He needs that. He wants that hard coaching.”

The analogy that Piotrowicz favors is the mail. A package, whether sent first class air mail or standard third class will carry the same message and expectations regardless of delivery method.

Piotrowicz says Western’s recruiting territory is reflective of the 2020 WMU roster which features 19 players with hometowns in Michigan, nine from the Chicago area and three from Indiana high schools — junior Ryan Missal (Lowell), sophomore Bobby Dearing (Lafayette Harrison) and freshman Hayden Berg (Penn). The Broncos have received a commitment from Ryan Watt (Mishawaka).

Piotrowicz says the school has helped by making out-of-state tuition only $2,000 to $3,000 more than for in-state students.

Working with Gernon, Piotrowicz absorbs knowledge someone who has plenty of coaching experience. He was an assistant at Indiana University, helped Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) transition to NCAA Division I as assistant then head coach then was a Michigan State University assistant before his first season in charge in Kalamazoo in 2011.

In 2016, WMU won its first Mid-American Conference tournament. Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate Gernon has 210 victories as Broncos skipper, including 104 in the MAC.

“I couldn’t ask for a more supportive boss,” says Piotrowicz of Gernon. “He’s given me a lot of freedom and responsibility.

“I learn something everyday.”

Prior to Western Michigan, Piotrowicz was an assistant for three seasons (2011-13) at Valparaiso (Ind.) University, where former big leaguer Tracy Woodson was head coach at current Crusaders head coach Brian Schmack was pitching coach.

“(Woodson) gave me a ton of freedom and a lot of trust,” says Piotrowicz, who go to work with hitters, infielders, catchers and outfielders while splitting strength and conditioning with Schmack.

In 2012, Valpo was regular season and tournament champions in the Horizon League and competed in the NCAA Gary Regional, losing to Purdue and Kentucky.

In 2013, the Crusaders won the HL tournament and took part in the Indiana Regional, losing to Indiana and Austin Peay but not before knocking out Florida.

Piotrowicz got his college coaching start with two seasons at NCAA Division III Heidelberg University (2009-10) in Tiffin, Ohio, where they won Ohio Athletic Conference Conference and regular-season titles both seasons. The 2010 team won the Mideast Regional and competed in the D-III World Series in Grand Chute, Wis., beating Johns Hopkins and Wisconsin-Stevens Points and losing to eventual champion Illinois Wesleyan and Linfield.

Though he was a graduate assistant, he worked like a full-time coach and had his perceptions of what a coach is shaped while developing head coach Matt Palm’s Student Princes. He aided hitters and catchers and shared in recruiting.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Matt Palm,” says Piotrowicz.

After a season at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (now Bethel University), Piotorowicz finished his playing days at Manchester.

Recruited to Bethel by Mike Hutcheon, Piotrowicz played one season for Pilots head coach Seth Zartman and assistants Dick Siler and Javier Jimenez.

“(Zartman) was a good guy,” says Piotrowicz. “He was very big on team culture.

“(Siler) was amazing. He was very, very knowledgable guy and a down-to-earth person. He worked with catchers and made sure I was in shape.

“(Jimenez) also brought a ton of knowledge.”

Rick Espeset was and still in head baseball coach and athletic director at Manchester. Given his workload and Espeset’s young family, Piotrowicz and his teammates marveled at how organized he was.

“Practices were always detailed,” says Piotrowicz. “He did a good job of teaching guys how to the win the game.”

Points of emphasis included baserunning, defense and playing the game hard and fast.

“You do that and winning will take care of itself,” says Piotrowicz. “We called (Espeset) the ‘Silent Assassin.’ He was a psychology major with a very dry sense of humor. The mental side of the game, that’s where he was the strongest.”

At Glenn, Piotrowicz played for John Nadolny aka “Nud.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better high school coach,” says Piotrowicz. “He coached us tough. He coached us fair.

“He was hard on you, but you know he had good intentions behind it. He wanted you to be better. Nud was great.”

The Glenn Falcons were 2002 Class 2A Jimtown Sectional champions, losing to Manchester in the Jimtown Regional championship game.

In 2003, Glenn won the sectional and regional at Jimtoiwn then lost to Frankton in the 2A State Semifinals.

The 2004 Falcons had a win-filled regular season then lost to Fairfield in the 2A Jimtown Sectional title game.

Piotrowicz, a catcher, had a backyard neighbor and best friend named Andy Groves.

“I caught him since Little League,” says Piotrowicz. “We had all kinds of fights over pitch selection.”

Right-hander Groves pitched four seasons at Purdue University (2004-07) and two in the Colorado Rockies organization (2007-08).

Adam and Heather Piotrowicz, a former Manchester basketball player, have two sons — Hunter (4) and Elliot (1).

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A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Adam Piotrowicz as associate head coach. The graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon. (Western Michigan University Photo)

 

Indianapolis native Vittorio leading Wilmington Quakers with passion, energy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Vittorio is 53 and has been a college baseball coach for three decades.

It was as a teenager on the south side of Indianapolis that he decided that would be his path in life.

Vittorio grew up the youngest of three children at 2925 Anniston Drive, directly across the street from Southport Little League.

“We woke up to the sound of the crowd on Saturdays and Sundays,” says Vittorio. “That’s where the whole love of it came.”

At 15, Tony made the senior league all-stars coached by Jeff Mercer Sr. It was after his first practice with Mercer — then a player at Marian College in Indianapolis and later the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr.  — putting the all-stars through drills and game situations that Vittorio came home and exclaimed that coaching was for him.

“It was that one practice alone,” says Vittorio, who is heading into his second season as head coach at NCAA Division III Wilmington (Ohio) College, which is 35 miles southeast of Dayton.

Vittorio played for Richard Dwenger at Southport High School (Class of 1984) and Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College (Class of 1988).

“We we became close friends through the years,” says Vittorio of mentor Naylor. “I was honored and humbled to do his eulogy at his funeral.”

While playing for Naylor’s Panthers (then an NAIA program), Vittorio pursued a double major in business administration and physical education.

Vittorio spent the 1990 season as a volunteer/graduate assistant at Indiana University under Bob Morgan.

“I always thank Coach Morgan for teaching me how to practice properly,” says Vittorio. “His practice organization was second to no one in the country.”

At 23, Vittorio became a head coach at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and went on to become known as a builder of programs.

“We do not complain about what you don’t have,” says Vittorio. “We just grind it out.”

Vittorio led Lincoln Trail — a junior college — for four seasons. After winning 20 games the first season (1991), the Statesmen won 39, 40 and 45 contests. The year before Vittorio came to town the team won just two games.

That was followed by two years as an assistant to Keith Madison at the University of Kentucky.

“He is as good of a person as I’ve ever met in my life,” says Vittorio of Madison, an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and National Baseball Director for SCORE International. “Coach Madison has this thing figured out — spiritually, mentally.”

Vittorio spent three seasons (1997-99) at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, when the Mastodons were NCAA Division II. His teams won 80 games after IPFW had gone 9-37 the year before he arrived in the Summit City.

Counting Lance Hershberger as one of his dearest friends, Vittorio looks back fondly on the Fort Wayne diamond rivalry they had when he was at IPFW and Hershberger (now at Ivy Tech Northeast) led Indiana Tech.

“He’s a beautiful person,” says Vittorio of Hershberger.

Vittorio began an 18-year run at the University of Dayton in 2000. The program was 22-34 the year before his arrival and went on to 10 seasons of at least 25 victories and seven of at least 30 with the 2009 club winning 38.

His NCAA Division I Flyers won 463 games altogether. the 2012 team participated in the NCAA College Station Regional.

Two pitchers who played for Vittorio at UD are now in the big leagues — right-hander Craig Stammen and left-hander Jerry Blevins.

Three of Vittorio’s former players at Dayton are now coaching at the D-I level. C.J. Gilman is now the top assistant at the Air Force Academy. Jimmy Roesinger, an Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate, is also on the Air Force staff. Jared Broughton, who went to Indianapolis Lutheran High School, is now an assistant at Clemson University.

Several other former Vittorio players and coaches are coaching are various levels.

After his days at Dayton, Vittorio helped coach his son (Nic Vittorio) in the summer with Dayton Thunderbirds, but was not really looking for another college job when Wilmington, a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference, came calling.

His first Quakers team went 8-29 in 2019 and he’s working toward steady improvement.

“I feel revised and amped up again to build a program at this level,” says Vittorio. “There’s a locker room word — culture. We’re looking to change the culture.

“That means implementing your own program of everyday core values — hard work, loyalty, hustle, sportsmanship and the biggest one — passion and energy on a daily basis. I’m a true believer you can’t go to where you want to go without passion and energy.”

Coming from the Division I world, Vittorio has learned to make adjustments in his approach.

Instead of 30 contact dates in the fall, D-III schools get 16. There are 40 regular-season games in the spring instead of 56. D-III does not offer athletic scholarships, but aid is based on academics and need.

“To me, that’s a lot of time lost,” says Vittorio. “But baseball is more pure (at the D-III level). You don’t have to hold the players’ hands on everything they do as you sometimes have to do in D-I.

“Players have a chance to develop leadership skills. They have to form captain/open field practices (when the coaching staff is away).”

Vittorio says the No. 1 job for he and his Wilmington assistants — Danny Thomas and former Richmond High School and Earlham College player Patrick Morrow — is recruiting.

“You can’t win without good players,” says Vittorio, who counts the Midwest as his recruiting base. “It’s more strenuous at this level. You have knock on 100 doors — instead of 50 doors — to get 10 guys.”

Vittorio spends a lot of his time raising money for the baseball program and as director of athletic development, the rest of Wilmington’s athletic department (which includes 18 varsity sports for men and women).

As a coach, He is also working to inspire his players in the classroom, the community and on the baseball field. He is emphasizing player development and building a quality college baseball atmosphere.

“We’re all obsessed with winning and losing,” says Vittorio. “But this whole thing is about making young men the best they can be.”

Vittorio comes back to Indianapolis often. Just last Saturday, he was at Southport Athletic Booster Club Reverse Raffle. He counts Indiana University head men’s basketball coach Archie Miller as a friend from Miller’s six seasons as head coach. Vittorio grew up as a fan of Bob Knight’s IU teams and Notre Dame football.

“That’s the Indiana Italian Catholic in me,” says Vittorio. “I love the state of Indiana. I’m a Hoosier.”

Wilmington visits Franklin College and Vittorio’s friend Lance Marshall at 3 p.m. on March 11.

Tony and Heather Vittorio have two children. Taylor Vittorio (21) is a former volleyball player at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. Nic Vittorio is a senior baseball player at Kettering-Fairmont High School in Kettering, Ohio.

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Tony Vittorio, an Indianapolis native, is now the head baseball coach at Wilmington (Ohio) College. Prior to lead the Quakers, he was head coach at the University of Dayton, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and Lincoln Trail Community College. (Wilmington College Photo)

 

Kinnison helping Blackhawk Christian baseball players reach their goals

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Kinnison is a facilitator.

As head baseball coach at Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Kinnison helps gets athletes where they need to go.

“As a Class A school, we focus on individuals striving to be consistent and the best they can be,” says Kinnison, who has led the Braves since the 2009 season and knows he has some players who see high school as the end of their baseball careers and others who want more. “We push some to where they want to go.”

Baseball is a team sport, but Kinnison sees it as an opportunity to “play against yourself.”

Individuals find what they can do and how they fit into the puzzle and push themselves — even when no one is watching.

“The game should be easy,” says Kinnison. “Practice should be hard. It’s human nature to only do as much as someone would push you to do.

“We want the best version of you on the ball field. Give me 100 percent of what you have today.

“You’re responsible for what you do. At the end of the day, results are bases on the work you put in.”

Kinnison encourages his players to study the game and the opponent.

“Figure out a weakness and exploit it,” says Kinnison. “If you’re fast, steal bases.

“I don’t think kids think the game as much as they could. They just play.”

College-bound players, especially, will be served by understanding the game.”

Recent graduates to play college baseball include Nathan Targartt and Kole Barkhaus at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and Nate Moonen at  Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. Current Blackhawk Christian junior Callan Wood is among those with college baseball aspirations.

“We give as much information as we have as a staff,” says Kinnison, who is assisted by Matt Harmon (the Harmon brothers — Mark, Matt and Jake — were involved in bringing state titles to Blackhawk in 2002, 2005 and 2006), Brice Urschel, Nick Braun and Ryan Davis. Harmon and Braun are BCS teachers. Urschel played for Kinnison then at Huntington (Ind.) University.

Some things become instinctual.

“We don’t use signs very much,” says Kinnison. “We take what they’re giving us.”

Kinnison is a 1988 Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate who played baseball for three years for Jim Russo then one for Dave Hay as well as football for Mike Hawley and two years of basketball before playing baseball at Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Huntington College (now Huntington University) for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame.

“(Frame) had a greater influence on me after I left than when I was there,” says Kinnison. “He is probably one of the best ambassadors for baseball in northeast Indiana.”

Kinnison was a lead-off or No. 9 hitter who would bunt on his own.

As a coach, he is not inclined to insist his Blackhawk Christian batters lay one down. He usually leaves it up to them.

“I don’t like to take the bat of the the kids’ hands if they going good,” says Kinnison.

After college, Kinnison was an assistant to Matt Kinzer at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and coached for the independent Richmond (Ind.) Roosters, run by IHSBCA Hall of Famer John Cate.

Kinnison, who was assistant director of construction for a retail investment company in Cincinnati and came back to Fort Wayne on the weekends, was encouraged to apply for the Blackhawk Christian job by Kinzer.

Blackhawk Christian (enrollment around 240 for high school in the K-12 system) is an independent.

Among teams the BCS played in 2019 were Bellmont, DeKalb, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Fremont, Heritage, Homestead, Lakewood Park Christian, New Haven, Northfield, Prairie Heights, Southern Wells and Woodlan.

Athletic director Joel Cotton makes up the schedule with some input from the coach.

“I didn’t want a bunch of 1A schools on it,” says Kinnison. “I would rather take our lumps (and get better against tougher competition).

“It’s about taking pride in performing. The team that is able to relax and play their normal game can beat you.”

Since Kinnison has been in charge, there has only been a varsity team with about 18 to 20 players per season. For 2020, he expects to have two seniors, two juniors and seven or eight sophomores.

As a way of supporting the school, all players help with a program established in 2011 by BCS Foundation, Inc., called reNEW Upscale Resale.

The Braves part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Blackhawk has won 14 sectional titles — the last in 2017.

Blackhawk Christian played only a handful of games on-campus in 2019 because of wet conditions. The rest of their home dates were contested on the turf at the ASH Centre, home of the World Baseball Academy.

Kevin and Annette Kinnison have three daughters — Taylor, Kenzie and Karlee. Taylor is 22. Eighth grader Kenzie and sixth grader Karlee have attended Blackhawk since they were in kindergarten. Kevin is co-owner of Blue Apple Construction.

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Kevin Kinnison has been the head baseball coach at Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne, Ind., since the 2009 season. He played at Fort Wayne Snider High School, Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University). (Steve Krah Photo)

 

 

 

Former Heritage, Indiana lefty Saalfrank now pitching in Diamondbacks system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Saalfrank has the physical tools to pitch a baseball at high levels.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-hander was a standout at Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., where he graduated in 2016 then for three seasons at Indiana University (he was a weekend starter in 2019) and now in his first professional season in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

After making 15 appearances (12 as a starter) and going 8-1 with a 2.84 earned run average, 98 strikeouts and 26 walks in 73 innings for IU this spring, Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year Saalfrank was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

So far, the southpaw has pitched three of one-inning stints — one for the rookie-level Arizona League Diamondbacks and two for the short-season Class-A Northwest League’s Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA, three strikeouts and one walk. Since he pitched so many innings in the spring, the D-backs are limited his load this summer.

As of now, the next steps up the ladder for the Diamondbacks are at Low-A Kane County (Ill.), Advanced-A Visalia (Calif.), Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) and Triple-A Reno (Nev.).

Delivering from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Saalfrank uses a two-seam fastball, curveball and change-up in games. His fastball has been between 89 and 93 mph. His curve is 83 to 84 and usually has more of a vertical plane. His change-up his been especially sharp this summer. In the bullpen, he has been tinkering with a four-seam fastball and working on a slider.

It’s not just his left arm that has gotten Saalfrank to this point.

“A lot of stuff can go wrong in the game and it doesn’t bother me often,” says Saalfrank. “There’s such a large mental aspect to the game.

“Sometimes you don’t have the greatest physical talent. Playing college ball helps you deal with different situations. You’re good enough. You tell yourself that and deal with the situation that’s thrown at you.”

Saalfrank’s training at Indiana was focused on getting ready for pro ball and now he’s here.

With academic and college time restrictions out of the way, he can put his time into baseball.

“I don’t sleep in too late,” says Saalfrank. “I wake up at 8:30 or 9 everyday.”

That gives him time to relax, grab a meal and head to the stadium, where he will spend up to eight hours for a Hillsboro home game. Stretching begins about three hours before first pitch. On many days, there is weightlifting before or after the game.

“The time commitment is the difference,” says Saalfrank. “It’s fun. I’m getting paid to do what I wanted to do for a living.

“I’m lucky enough to do it.”

Saalfrank was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Hoagland, Ind. Father Doug Saalfrank is a supervisor at B.F. Goodrich. Mother Heidi Saalfrank is a sales representative for Heritage Food Services. Older sister Abby Saalfrank was also an NCAA Division I athlete, playing volleyball at Eastern Illinois University.

Heidi Saalfrank’s brother and sister — Jason Richman (baseball) and Tiffany (Richman) Bennett (volleyball) — both played at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and influenced Andrew and Abby.

“We were always spending time with them and playing sports in the back yard,” says Andrew.

His organized baseball days began in the youth leagues in Hoagland and New Haven. He played for a number of travel teams, including the Indiana Outlaws at the end of his high school days.

Saalfrank took pitching instruction from Rich Dunno for about eight years.

“He played a big part,” says Saalfrank of Dunno, the Fort Wayne-based inventor of the King of the Hill ground force trainer.

At Heritage, Saalfrank was an all-stater as a junior and senior and a four-time all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection. His career mark was 26-7 with a 1.67 ERA and school-record 429 strikeouts and 218 1/3 innings. He was 10-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings in 2015 and followed that up with a 2.15 ERA and 87 K’s in 45 2/3 innings in 2016.

Dean Lehrman was Patriots head coach. Saalfrank credits Lehrman for his emphasis on the mental and emotional aspects of baseball.

“Respect the game,” says Saalfrank. “Respect your teammates. Play for the school name on your chest.”

Saalfrank was recruited to IU by Chris Lemonis (now at Mississippi State University) and worked with Lemonis and pitching coach Kyle Bunn (now at Middle Tennessee State University) for his first two collegiate seasons.

“(Bunn) pushes you,” says Saalfrank. “He expects a lot out of every player. He gets the most out of you. He uses tough love sometimes.”

In Saalfrank’s junior year, Jeff Mercer became the head coach and Justin Parker the pitching coach for the Hoosiers.

“It was a really smooth transition for everybody,” says Saalfrank. “They have a pro style to development.

“It was on me to figure out what I like best and establish a routine to transition into pro ball.

“I learned about handling adversity and finding the positives out of failure.”

The minor league regular season goes through Labor Day then comes the playoffs. Saalfrank plans to return to Indiana in the fall to train and finish his sports management degree. He is just nine credits shy.

Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank pitches for Indiana University.

Andrew Saalfrank is a product of Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Indiana and worked for years with pitching instructor Rich Dunno.

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Andrew Saalfrank, a former Heritage Junior/Senior High school and Indiana University left-hander, is now pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

 

Herrold, Bluffton Tigers preparing to prowl in 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For Stacy Herrold, coaching baseball is not just about balls and strikes, safe and out.

“I look to create those relationships with my boys,” says Herrold, who will make the 2019 season his third as head coach and the eighth in the program at Bluffton (Ind.) High School.

The Tigers went 5-21 in Herrold’s first season in charge. After graduating one senior, Bluffton went and 15-11 in 2018, bowing 7-3 to South Adams in the IHSAA Class 2A Adams Central Sectional championship game. South Adams lost 1-0 to eventual state champion Boone Grove in the Whiting Regional final.

There are 11 players back, including Kankakee Community College commit Gavin King, from that Bluffton team this spring.

“We’re going to have a good run,” says Herrold. “I’m excited.”

Herrold is a 2004 graduate of Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind., where he played two years for coach Mike Buczkowski then two for Clay Hannah.

“He was super-patient,” says Herrold of Buczkowski, son of late Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski. “He wanted to stick with the process. “That’s something I didn’t do very well my first season (at Bluffton) after inheriting a team that was 5-24 the year before.

“(Hannah) wanted us just to compete. He always used that word. He wanted guys who would compete day in and day out.”

After high school, right-handed pitcher Herrold spent five years at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (he was redshirted for one season) and his head coach was Billy Gernon for the first four seasons and Bobby Pierce for the last.

“They had completely different styles, but both had great ways of getting things done,” says Herrold of Gernon and Pierce. “I owe them both a lot.”

“Coach Gernon was the epitome of a college coach. You clock in, work hard and take care of your studies.

“Coach Pierce had more of a pro style coaching philosophy. He trusted us more to get the job done. He didn’t have to watch us like a hawk. It was more about growing as individuals and molding into a collaborative team.”

Herrold, who had Tommy John, ulnar nerve and sports hernia surgeries during his career, is also greatful for Mastodons pitching coach Grant Birely.

“Coach Birely made me so much better of a pitcher,” says Herrold. “I started feeling the ball better out of my hand and having more success.”

One of the highlights was a 4-1 complete-game loss against a strong University of Michigan team in 2009.

Gernon played for Bob Morgan at Indiana University.

“I met Bob Morgan,” says Herrold. “(Gernon) was a spitting image of Bob Morgan. He was intense. He worked us hard. He got the best out of our bodies.

“I also remember he had a plethora of life quotes. I use quotes everyday with my practice plan.”

During this limited contact period, baseball is coordinating with other spring sports for practice time in the “Concrete Jungle” portion of The Tiger Den.

“We use those two hours to the best of our ability, getting arms in shape so we can long toss with the 120- to 150-foot area we have,” says Herrold. “We focus on bullpens, conditioning and taking as many swings as a we can so we can hit the ground running when the first pitch comes.

“If it’s 40 or above, we’ll go out on the turf on the football field.”

The three-sport athlete is not uncommon at Bluffton (enrollment around 470). The Tigers part of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

Bluffton is in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Adams Central, Churubusco, Fort Wayne Canterbury, South Adams and Woodlan. The Tigers have won four sectionals — the last in 2009.

Herrold is getting Bluffton players ready for the 2019 season with the help of assistants Kevin Powell (varsity), Eric Mettler (JV) and Ryan Crist (JV). Powell is a Norwell High School graduate. He teaches in the engineering department at Bluffton and helped place new railings and netting in front of the dugouts at the Tigers’ home field located northwest of the football stadium. Mettler (who pitched at Marietta (Ohio) College) and Crist are Bluffton graduates.

Koltan Moore (Kankakee CC) is a recent Bluffton grad who moved on to college baseball. Dane Hoffman (University of Saint Francis) is another. Jake Garrett finished at the Fort Wayne school two years ago.

In June, Bluffton, New Haven, Adams Central, Heritage and South Adams are among teams who play Monday and Wednesday doubleheaders to give returning players more reps.

Bluffton Youth Baseball has leagues from T-ball to Koufax division (ages 13-15). Area travel teams that attack Tigers include the Bluffton Bandits, Berne Bears and Summit City Sluggers.

Herrold is a sixth grade science teacher at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School. He and wife Andrea (a Fort Wayne Bishop Luers High School graduate) have two children — daughter Finlay (5) and son Hayden (3).

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Stacey Herrold and his Bluffton Tigers celebrate winning the Garrett Invitational in 2018.

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The Herrolds (clockwise from upper left): Stacy, Andrea, Hayden and Finlay. Stacy is head baseball coach at Bluffton (Ind.) High School and teaches sixth grade science at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School.

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Stacy Herrold enters his eighth season as a baseball coach at Bluffton (Ind.) High School in 2019. It will be his third as head coach of the Tigers.

 

McCrary makes baseball strides at tiny Vincennes Rivet

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian McCrary does not have a deep roster or abundant resources, but the head coach is working to make his athletes better at Rivet Middle/High School in Vincennes, Ind.

McCrary enters his third season in charge of the Patriots in 2019 after years in the travel baseball world.

In each of his first two seasons at the Catholic school, McCrary has had to find enough players to field a team. With just two seniors on a team made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores, Rivet won two games in 2017.

“We took some lumps,” says McCrary. “Working on mentality alone was a challenge.

“We got run-ruled left and right.”

The win total tripled in 2018.

“We were improving with basically the same team,” says McCrary. “It is a process at Rivet. You get a leadership class of two or three kids then what do you have after that?

“If you have numbers, you have options. We don’t have numbers. We get the most out of them. We’ve made tremendous strides.”

Ten players — three are seniors, three juniors, four sophomores — are back for 2019 on a roster of 11. All but two play basketball.

The seniors are McCaine Claycomb, Colton Mouzin and Austin Thomas. Claycomb was the Vincennes Sun-Commercial Player of the Year. Mouzin is an all-area baseball and soccer player. The Patriots were impacted last year when catcher Thomas got hurt and left the lineup.

Rivet (enrollment around 80 for Grades 9-12 with less than 30 boys) is a member of the Blue Chip Athletic Conference (with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, Shoals, South Knox, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial).

Non-conference opponents include Dugger, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial, Jasper, Lawrenceville (Ill.), Linton-Stockton, Mount Carmel (Ill.), North Central (Farmersburg), Olney (Ill.) and Princeton. In the past, the Patriots have played Lincoln and Sullivan.

Rivet is part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Daviess and Shoals. The Patriots have won nine sectional titles — the last two in 2013 and 2014. The Patriots were 1A state runners-up to Lafayette Central Catholic in both 2009 and 2013.

McCrary constantly educates himself about the game by attending clinics and talking with experts.

“I’ve learned a lot,” says McCrary. “Expanding my knowledge to pass on to these kids is my job.” He was at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January. He has also learned from Mike Rodgers, who pitched for the University of Mississippi, the independent Evansville Otters and runs the The Inside Korner training facility in Olney, Ill., which is about 30 miles west of Vincennes.

McCrary met Rodgers at a travel ball clinic. McCrary and his two oldest sons — Colton (a senior at Vincennes Lincoln High School) and Cayden (a seventh grader at Clark Middle School) — have been affiliated with the Vincennes Green Monsters. Brian and Chelsea McCrary’s other two children are first-grade son Ryker and and 2-year-old daughter Oakley.

Rivet players get attention from a coaching staff that includes assistants Conner Eck, Curt Hunkler, Mike Mayles, Curt McCrary and Landon Robbins. Eck, Hunkler and Robbins all played at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. Hunker, Mayles and Robbins are Rivet graduates. Curt McCrary is Brian’s cousin.

“We have classroom work — chalkboard and video — and turn it over to drills,” says McCrary, who has figured out that his team is made up of individuals with differing outlooks and ways of learning.

“Not every kid’s the same,” says McCrary. “Kids today are nowhere near kids of old. Kids’ styles and demeanors have changed completely.

“You have to be willing to change with these kids a little bit to make it work.”

Like other coaches of spring sports, McCrary has to contend with the fact that athletes are sometimes ready for a break by the time their season roles around.

“Baseball suffers because it’s at the end of the school year,” says McCrary. He notes that spring break this year coincides with the beginning of preseason practice (March 11).

The Rivet campus is located on Barnett Street. The school plays its home baseball games on a field about three miles away near Lincoln High and St. Vincent Rectory on Hart Street. The grounds also has an indoor facility known as “The Butch” in honor of late supporter Butch Thomas.

Chad Thomas had the building built in his father’s honor and also helps attend to the maintenance of the diamond.

The team is responsible for the upkeep of the field and the funding of the program.

“We buy our baseballs, uniforms, dirt and chalk,” says McCrary. “Our kids respect what they have.”

Established in 1958, Vincennes Cub League offers baseball for kids as young as 4. The organization hosted the 10U Cal Ripken World Series in 2018. Also last year, a Babe Ruth League was added for ages 13-15.

McCrary says he would like to see more of an emphasis on fundamentals at the Cub level.

A 1996 Vincennes Lincoln graduate, McCrary played baseball for the Alices until his junior year then put all of his energy into another sport as a senior.

“I fell in love with wrestling,” says McCrary, who went on to start the Vincennes Grapplers Club.

It was on the mat in high school that he had an experience that he shares with his young athletes today.

McCrary was competing in the semistate needing to win his second aka “ticket” round match to qualify for the IHSAA State Finals. He was ahead 5-1 in the final period when his opponent rallied to beat him 6-5.

“Just because you’re supposed to be there doesn’t mean you’re going to get there,” says McCrary. “It takes work.”

With a renewed interest in baseball, McCrary attend a 1998 Cincinnati Reds tryout camp at Bosse Field in Evansville. He made the first two day of cuts then decided not to attend the third day. His wife, Chelsea, was closer to completing her degree at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne then he was at Vincennes University and they had a son on the way so Brian went into the work world. He is now employed by Vincennes Water Utilities.

“I regret everyday not going back to that third day of tryouts,” says McCrary. “But life is full of what if’s.

“I try to coach with a little bit of life lessons. Challenge yourself to win for the team today. Ask yourself, ‘did you cheat your team?’”

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Brian McCrary (center) poses with two of his sons — Xxx (left) and Xxx (right) — during a Vincennes Green Monsters travel baseball tournament.

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The 2019 baseball season will be the third for Brian McCrary at head coach at Rivet Midde/High School in Vincennes, Ind.

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Vincennes Rivet baseball coach Brian McCrary visits at the mound with Colton Mouzin, McCaine Claycomb and Austin Thomas. All three players return for their senior year with the Patriots in 2019.

Southwood Knights baseball coach Dailey splits time between field, force, family

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Warren Dailey dons two different uniforms on most days during the spring.

One of them has a ball cap. The other has a badge.

Dailey enters his third season as head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., in 2019.

As a patrolman for the Marion Police Department working third shift, Dailey sometimes goes right from a game to the beat.

He efficiently juggles the two roles.

“I do what I can in the time that I have,” says Dailey, a former high school and college player.

Dailey is a 2001 graduate of Eastbrook High School in Marion, Ind., where he played for head coach Brian Abbott.

“He always cared about you as a person,” says Dailey of Abbott, who is now pitching coach at Huntington University and executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. “That came first for him. I’ve grown to understand that. It’s probably even more important now than it was then.”

As a college player, Dailey spent one season at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne for head coach Billy Gernon (now head coach at Western Michigan University) and two at Indiana Wesleyan University for head coach Mark DeMichael (now IWU athletic director).

“(Gernon) was pretty hard core,” says Dailey. “He played for Bob Morgan (at Indiana University) and that’s where he got everything from. Of course, it was college and you were going from a child to an adult.”

DeMichael often coached 30 or more players and had just one assistant. Dailey still marvels at that.

“You need to surround yourself with plenty of good people,” says Dailey, whose 2019 Southwood staff includes Dalton Gentry, Cory Blocker, David Glickfield and E.J. Devarie.

Gentry (a Southwood graduate), Blocker and Glickfield are back for their third seasons with Dailey. Devarie is entering his first season.

Dailey was as assistant for two seasons at Eastbrook — one on the staff of Ben Irwin and one working with David Day. He spent one season as an assistant to Bengie Rodriguez at Madison-Grant before joining head coach Kris Holtzleiter at Southwood, beginning with the 2013 season. Holtzleiter is now an assistant at Indiana Wesleyan University.

During Dailey’s time on the staff, Southwood has produced three Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stars — outfielder Jackson Blair (2014), pitcher Robbie Cole (2015) and first baseman Clay Hinrichsen (2016). Left-hander Brennan Kelly is on the baseball roster at Eastern Kentucky University.

Southwood (enrollment around 280) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko). TRC games are played on Mondays and Wednesdays with each team playing one another once to determine a champion. The Knights reigned as conference champions in 2015 (7-0) and 2016 (7-2 after Maconaquah and Peru joined the TRC).

“It’s an extremely competitive conference,” says Dailey. “There’s no holding back. You try to navigate the best you can with your pitching staff.”

Dailey says the last week of the conference season has often been crazy with an unexpected result tightening the race.

Southwood has been invited again to participate in the Fort Wayne TinCaps/Parkview Sports Medicine High School Baseball Series at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne. Wabash County Night is slated for Thursday, May 9 with Southwood taking on Wabash at 4:30 p.m., followed by Northfield vs. Manchester around 7.

Among non-conference opponents on Southwood’s schedule are Alexandria-Monroe, Blackford, Bluffton, Eastbrook, Eastern, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Huntington North, Marion, Mississinewa, Oak Hill, Taylor and Western.

The Knights are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, South Newton and West Central. Southwood has won four sectional championships — the last in 2014.

Multiple-sport athletes are the norm at Southwood. Dailey sees a handful of athletes at fall and winter baseball workouts.

“I encourage our guys to do as many sports as they’re able to,” says Dailey, who plans to approach Knights head boys basketball coach John Burrus soon about giving some of his pitchers some time to throw so March 11 (the first official preseason practice date) is not the first time they’ve touched a baseball in months.

Last winter, Southwood had a prolonged basketball run, finishing as 2018 Class 1A state runners-up. Neighboring Oak Hill, coached by Shane Edwards, started its baseball season a little later than originally scheduled after a Class 2A state championship run on the hardwood.

The Knights play their home baseball games on a field affectionately known as “The Launching Pad” for its smallish dimensions.

“It’s just a tiny field,” says Dailey. “The fences are not very far back. I’ve never measured them. I never wanted to put a number on it

“Hitters light up when they show up at our field. It holds more baseballs than it probably should.”

There are a fair number of home runs clubbed at the field, which has a pasture beyond left field and a storage barn down the right field line which sometimes creates a bit of a wind tunnel.

Dailey says the administration considered moving home plate back, but that meant re-doing the infield so the plan never gained any traction.

While there is no junior high baseball at Southwood (the idea has been kicked around), there is the Wabash Little League and Wabash Babe Ruth League prepping younger players.

The Babe Ruth League feeds three area high schools — Southwood, Northfield and Wabash. A few years ago, players were separated based on their high school affiliation and the high school head coach is responsible for finding the head head coach. For Southwood, that’s former Knights player Christian Dieter (who played for head coach Holtzeiter and assistant Dailey).

There are usually about six league teams — one or two for Southwood, two for Northfield and two or three for Wabash. There also some players from the surrounding area that will end up at Maconaquah, Manchester or Peru.

Zach Dials, a 2003 Southwood graduate, was selected in the 28th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Kentucky. A right-handed pitcher, he was a first-team all-state selection as a senior and played at John A. Logan College before UK. He appeared in 157 professional games through 2010.

 

Warren and Kelly Dailey live in Sweetser, Ind., and have four children — Corbin (11), Brianna (8), Chase (6) and Knox (4).

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Corbin, Knox, Brianna and Chase Dailey hang out with “The Colonel.” They are the children of Warren and Kelly Dailey. Warren Dailey is head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., and a patrolman with the Marian Police Department.

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The Dailey family attends church (clockwise from left): Warren, Corbin, Knox, Kelly, Chase and Brianna. Warren Dailey is head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., and a patrolman with the Marian Police Department.

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Kelly and Warren Dailey share a vacation moment. Warren Dailey is head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., and a patrolman with the Marian Police Department.

Purdue Fort Wayne’s Birely helps pitchers navigate a world of knowledge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blending various talents into a cohesive unit, helping them navigate a world of knowledge and encouraging a flow of ideas.

This is what Grant Birely gets to do as pitching coach at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne).

Birely, 36, has been on the job since the 2009 season. The Mastodons are scheduled to open the 2019 campaign Feb. 15-17 with four games at Alabama A&M.

The Purdue Fort Wayne roster features 14 active pitchers with two who will likely be medical redshirts.

“I make an individual plan with each of them to become the best they can,” says Birely. “As they get older and go through the program, they take a lot of ownership of their own development and I become a consultant for them. With the young guys, it’s about teaching them what it takes to pitch at this level.”

Birely says the cornerstone of Mastodons pitching is throwing and learning to spin pitches.

“In some form or fashion, there is throwing each day,” says Birely. “It might be 60 feet one day just to get loose. It might be 350 feet if they’re going to long toss that day. I don’t put a distance restriction on them. We tell them to listen to their arm and see how it feels each day.”

The point is, collegiate pitchers are asked to throw a lot.

“There’s no better way to learn to throw than to throw,” says Birely. “We’re working on their craft every single day.”

Playing baseball at the college level, especially Division I, is a major commitment between school work and hours spend getting ready for and playing games.

“We spend everyday with them and they spend so much time on it, they have to love baseball and showing up everyday and working on it,” says Birely. “One thing they’ll leave with is time management when they head into the real world.”

Purdue Fort Wayne pitchers do a hybrid training program that includes band work, stretching and some weighted-ball movements.

“We don’t dive straight into a full weight-ball program because these guys are competing the minute they get on-campus,” says Birely. “They never really have that down time to solely focus on velocity or anything like that. We’re always trying to work on command (of the strike zone) and commanding a second pitch.”

When the weather keeps the Mastodons off the frozen tundra, they do their throwing in a spacious fieldhouse large enough to make tosses of up to 250 or 260 feet.

“We’re very lucky to have that,” says Birely. “It’s just high enough so they can get a little bit of air under the baseball.”

The top two pitchers from 2018 in terms of innings pitched and victories are gone. Right-hander Brandon Phelps, a Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate, pitched 83 innings and won five games as a redshirt senior. Left-hander Damian Helm worked 73 1/3 innings with four victories in his senior season.

As the Mastodons head into the only four-game series of 2019, Birely says junior right-hander Chase Phelps (Brandon’s brother and also a Fort Wayne Snider graduate), junior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) and redshirt senior right-hander Shane Odzark will get the first opportunity to be starting pitchers.

The bullpen is being built with establishing strength in the late innings as a priority.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to try to go and finish games,” says Birely, who counts freshman left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead), sophomore right-hander Sean Ferguson (New Haven) and freshman right-hander Jarrett Miller in the closer mix.

Other right-handers include sophomore Trevor Armstrong (Fort Wayne Snider), sophomore Nathan Hefle, freshman Garrett Hill (University), junior Tyler Kissinger, junior Duane Miller, sophomore Brian Skelton (Westfield) and redshirt freshman Cade Willard (Eastside).

Another lefty is sophomore Spencer Strobel (Avon).

Birely says two freshmen right-hander — Grant Johnston (Hamilton Southeastern) and Drew Pyle (Hagerstown) — have had injuries that will likely make them redshirts.

The pitching coach has learned that he is dealing with players who have different ways of learning. They might be visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

“We have some guys who like to see themselves on video and they can make adjustments based off that,” says Birely. “Some guys I have to put in a position kind of in a kinesthetic way so they can feel it.

“It’s definitely a challenge to figure out each guy.”

And figuring it out is key.

“Anyone who is teaching might be the smartest person in the world but if they can’t get that information to the players, it doesn’t really work and it doesn’t help,” says Birely. “It’s been fun finding different ways to teach and different ways to convey information that I have to them.”

Birely notes that the current generation — Generation Z — gets a bad rap for asking so many questions.

“They have all this information at their finger tips,” says Birely. “Some of it is good and some of it is not good.

“I’d rather have them ask me a question or to try to figure something out than to just go and do it on their own.”

Group chats are a way that information is exchanged.

A pitcher will see a video in social media and ask, “what do you think of this, Coach?.”

Birely asks his hurlers to identify their favorite major league pitcher.

“That gives me some insight of who they’re going to watch,” says Birely. “My favorite pitcher to watch growing up was Greg Maddux. I was never the big velocity guy. Watching him throw a baseball looked like watching a wiffleball.”

He also followed the fortunes of another future Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay went to high school just a few years before Birely in nearby Denver suburb of Arvada.

Birley is a graduate of Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo. He played for current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Bobby Pierce at Central Arizona College (the Vaqueros won the 2002 National Junior College Division I World Series) then finished his collegiate career at the University of New Orleans. That’s where he met his future wife, Bonnie. The two were living in the Big Easy when Hurricane Katrina hit and they moved closer to Grant’s family in Denver.

Retired as a player after one season of independent baseball with the Mesa Miners, Birley went into the business world when a friend asked him to help with freshmen tryouts at Regis Jesuit High School, figuring it would just be for a few hours on a Saturday.

“From the moment I walked out there, I was hooked,” says Birely, who spent two seasons at Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo. When Pierce became head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver, he invited Birely to become Roadrunners pitching coach. When Pierce moved to Indiana to lead the IPFW Mastodons, he asked Birely to come with him.

“I wouldn’t have this opportunity without him,” says Birely of Pierce. “He’s been a mentor and a great person to learn from.

“The best thing about him is that he lets everybody in the organization from players to staff go do their job

he gives them the freedom and creativity to make the program better.”

Pierce promotes a spirit of working together for a common goal.

“He’s very positive,” says Birley. “He’s great to work for. He’s awesome to play for. He allows the players the freedom to exchange ideas.

“Let’s figure it out together.”

Grant and Bonnie Birely have figured out how to balance baseball and family life. The couple has two children — Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School senior Tyler (who is active in theater and show choir) and sixth grader Kaylee.

“Like everyday says you’ve got to have a very understand wife,” says Grant. “She’s on this journey with me. Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.

“She keeps the fort going at home.”

Purdue Fort Wayne plays in the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). That makes for a good deal of travel. When the Mastodons go to the Dakotas, they often leave campus on Wednesday night and return at noon Monday.

“(Players) do a great job of doing their schoolwork on the road,” says Birely. “It’s not uncommon to walk through a hotel lobby and there’s 25 or 30 guys doing their homework.

It’s not uncommon for players to ask for the movies to be turned off on the bus to study for an upcoming test.

“We’ve had guys who understand what it means to be a true student-athlete,” says Birely. “It goes back to time management. They have to rely on themselves a lot to make sure they’re getting their work done.”

Coaches will proctor tests for professors, who email the exam and set the time limit and have the coaches sent it back. Other take online classes to allow flexibility and no requirement to be in a classroom.

Christine Kuznar is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics and meets with players each semester to them on-track toward getting their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“She’s the rock star behind the whole thing,” says Birely.

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Purdue Fort Wayne was formerly known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. In its new branding, the Mastodons have adopted black and gold as school colors with a hint of blue as homage to the IPFW brand. (Purdue Fort Wayne Image)

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Grant Birely, the baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, is a native of Colorado who played and coached for Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce before following him to Indiana. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

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Grant Birely has been baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) since the 2009 season. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

 

 

Alum Harpring has led Rushville Lions baseball program since 2013 season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is important at Rushville (Ind.) Consolidated High School and the the place where the Lions roam is getting a facelift.

The school took over the diamond once run by the Rush County Council of Clubs and facility is going through some major renovation.

New fences and dugouts are expected for the 2019 season. The field already has lights.

“The kids are really excited about it and that’s what it’s about,” says Kyle Harpring, a 1998 Rushville graduate who is heading into his seventh season as Lions head coach. “We’re hoping with the upgrades we’ll get a chance to host a sectional.”

Rushville is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Batesville, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Madison Consolidated and South Dearborn. The Lions last won a sectional title in 1999.

A member of the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Batesville, Connersville, East Central, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg and South Dearborn) since 2013 after years in the Hoosier Heritage Conference, Rushville is coming off a 2018 season where it went 15-10 overall and 7-7 in the conference, which was won by Franklin County.

The EIAC determines its champion with home-and-home series on Mondays and Thursdays.

Among Rushville’s non-conference opponents are 3A’s New Castle, 2A’s Centerville, Hagerstown, Shenandoah and Triton Central and 1A’s Edinburgh and North Decatur.

Mason Springman (.487), Aaron Duncan (.360) and Cameron Craig (.348) were among the top hitters and three-year ace Tyler Wilson (3-4 in 11 appearances), Tyce Carroll (6-0) and Duncan (3-3) the top pitchers in 2018 and are expected to be part of the 10-member senior class in 2019.

Harpring says he expects to have about 25 players for varsity and junior varsity squads with about the same number in the middle school program.

Former Rushville left-hander Brad Busald pitched at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson Ill., in 2017 then transferred to Indiana University.

Harpring’s coaching staff features Eric Harpring, Jason Pavey and Jordan Hoeing at the high school level with Mark Mathews and Billy Martin tending to the middle schoolers.

Eric Harpring, who was a pitcher and outfielder at Huntington University, is Kyle’s brother.

“Eric brings a lot of knowledge to the table,” says Kyle Harpring. “I enjoy being able to share experiences with him.”

The Lions have produced five Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series players and there are related — Brian Harpring (1989), Eric Harpring (2006) and Caleb Fenimore (2010). Brian is an uncle and Caleb a second cousin to Kyle and Eric.

Jeremy Vale (1993) and Jarod Springman (1999) are the Lions’ other former All-Stars.

Pavey and Hoeing are also Rushville graduate. Hoeing played with Fenimore and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Billy Martin is the son of former Rushville Consolidated and Robert L. Jenkins American Legion coach Eric Martin and the brother of Wabash College head coach Jake Martin.

Kyle Harpring played for head coach Jim Bush in high school, Keith Perin in high school and Legion baseball and Eric Martin in Legion ball.

“I was really lucky,” says Kyle Harpring. “I got to play for some really invested baseball guys.

“They were good about instilling the importance of being fundamentally sound, playing hard all the time and knowing the focus you have to have as your progress up the levels. You can’t take plays off.”

Harpring grew up in what he calls a baseball family.

Kyle is the oldest of Mark and Karen Harpring’s three sons. Second son Scott is two years younger than Kyle. Eric was eight grades behind Kyle in school.

After graduating from Franklin College (2003), where he did not play baseball, Kyle Harpring went into teaching. His first job was at Lawrenceburg, where he was an assistant to Tigers head coach Joe Vogelesang and on the same staff with current Lawrenceburg head coach Nick Tremain.

“Joe was phenomenal to coach with,” says Harpring of Vogelgesang. “I was a middle infielder. Joe pitched professionally (in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays systems). I learned an awful lot about pitching from Joe.

“He’s very intense and cares a lot about the kids and the game and playing it the right way.”

Harpring taught middle school for 10 years and now instructs fourth graders at Rushville Elementary East.

A basketball coach while still in college, Harpring has coached that sport from seventh grade through varsity assistant with roles at Rushville, Lawrenceburg, Shelbyville and Triton Central.

Kyle and Ashley Harpring have been married for 10 years. The couple has three children — sons Hudson (7) and Micah (5) and daughter Ella (2). Micah was the “sectional baby” born the night of a first-round game against South Dearborn.

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Kyle Harpring, a 1998 Rushville (Ind.) Consolidated High School graduate, is heading into his seventh season as the Lions head baseball coach in 2019.