Tag Archives: Indiana State University

Passion draws Wabash College assistant Niespodziany to coaching

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wabash College baseball assistant Jordan Niespodziany appreciates coaches that do their jobs with feeling.

The South Bend, Ind., native played at South Bend South East Little League, St. Jude Catholic School in South Bend and at Marian High School in neighboring Mishawaka.

It was while attending Marian Knights baseball camps as a grade schooler that Niespodziany was led by head coach Tim Prister, a Marian graduate who played at University of Notre Dame.

“(Prister) was such a passionate coach,” says Niespodziany. “He was such a passionate coach.

“He’s first guy who pushed me toward being a coach.”

Niespodziany played for Prister at Marian and learned that he expected his players to buy into his passion and did everything they could to make the team successful.

The Knights went to the IHSAA Class 3A state championship game in 2008. Junior right-handed pitcher Niespodziany led the team in victories that season with eight.

In the summers leading into his junior and senior years of high school, Niespodziany played travel ball for the Jim Reboulet-coached Indiana Dirtbags.

“He’s had the experience at the highest level,” says Niespodziany of Reboulet. “He brought the seriousness of the game and let me know some of the goals he thought were attainable for me.

“I always enjoy seeing him when I’m out recruiting.”

At NCAA Division III DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., 6-foot-4 Niespodziany made six mound appearances in 2010 and eight in 2013 with team bests of four victories and a 3.32 earned run average while completing his Computer Science degree. He missed the 2011 and 2012 seasons because of Tommy John surgery.

While not toeing the rubber for the Tigers, Niespodziany served as a player-coach. Jake Martin was DePauw’s head coach at the time (he guided the Tigers from 2010-16) and is heading into his fifth season leading Wabash in 2021.

“That added to my perspective,” says Niespodziany of his time as a player-coach. “I’m able to relate to the team and (players) with struggles or injuries.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help them succeed on or off the field.”

Niespodziany coached five seasons at DePauw — the first two as a graduate assistant who also worked in Athletics Communications for director Bill Wagner and also earned a Masters in Sport Management at Indiana State University. 

“(Martin) is very similar to Coach Prister with his passion for baseball,” says Niespodziany. “He was an assistant for six years, figuring out different things that worked.

“He has the ability to connect with the guys. He also knows there’s a biggest goal, especially at the Division III level. We’re here to make better men and enter life after baseball.”

Wabash and DePauw are both members of the North Coast Athletic Conference.

Niespodziany, 30, has been on the Wabash coaching staff for two seasons (2019 and 2020). The Little Giants went 21-19 in 2019 and 6-2 in 2020 (a slate ended early by COVID-19).

As Wabash pitching coach, Niespodziany wants his hurlers to do what they do best.

“There’s so many different pitching gurus now,” says Niespodziany. “A lot of information is being thrown at them.

“They need to make sure what I’m saying to them makes sense. They’ve not all cookie-cutter pitchers. They need to do they can to advance.”

Niespodziany shares recruiting duties with Martin.

Located in Crawfordsville, Ind., Wabash College is a private all-male school with high degree of academic rigor.

“It’s easier to check guys off early,” says Niespodziany. “We want to get a guy who’s passionate about this place. We love to compete and we want to win. 

“Wabash is a place that sets you up for success and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

While COVID-19 has changed the way things are done on-campus, the admissions office was able to accept visits from potential students and students were able to meet for classes during the fall semester.

At first, baseball workouts were done in groups of 10 maximum and got up to 20 so the Little Giants could scrimmage. Masks were always worn.

“It was a challenge for myself and Jake,” says Niespodziany. “We did the best we could.”

Jordan married the former Emma Derheimer in August. The couple lives in Westfield, Ind.  It’s close to Grand Park, where Niespodziany is able to recruit players.

Jordan Niespodziany, a graduate of Marian High School in Mishwaka, Ind., who played and coached at DePauw University, is now an assistant baseball coach at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. (Wabash College Photo)

Assistant Pustay preparing for 11th season at DePauw U.

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Pustay has witnessed plenty of winning since he returned to his college alma mater to coach baseball.

The 2009 graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., joined the Tigers for the 2011 season and has been with the program as an assistant ever since. 

In Pustay’s 10 seasons heading into 2021, DePauw is 201-176 and has been as high as No. 11 in the NCAA Division III national rankings (2012).

The North Coast Athletic Conference member Tigers went 4-4 before COVID-19 put an end to the 2020 season. 

As of this writing, the DePauw staff features fifth-year head coach Blake Allen (who is in charge of pitchers and catcher) and Pustay (who is responsible for infielders, outfielders and hitters plus recruiting). 

Pustay asks his infielders in particular to be aggressive. 

“I want them making mistakes on their toes rather than making mistakes on their heels,” says Pustay. “I don’t want them to get in bad position and let ball play them.

“A rule we’ve tried to instill the last two years is for infielders try to say four words between each pitch (encouragement to the pitch or something strategic). It’s so they’re engaged and not waiting for something to happen.”

Outfielders are expected to make the play that’s “smart, controlled and correct.”

“Their aggression is a little more controlled,” says Pustay. “They have to be 90 percent sure to throw to the lead base. Otherwise, cut your losses and get the ball to second base (to keep the double play in order).”

Hitting is based on keeping things simple and playing to the athlete’s strengths.

“You win with who you are a a hitter,” says Pustay. “There’s a million different ways to win a ballgame. We’d like nothing better than putting a bunch of crooked numbers on the board, but there’s noting wrong with winning with a hundred paper cuts.

“We make sure we know ourselves as hitters. We are allowing guys the freedom to swing away if they feel that’s their game and really helps us.

“We want to make a good swing and hit the ball hard. We try to compete like heck on every pitch.”

In keeping the approach simple, the shorter the pre-swing thought the better.

“If you’re speaking to yourself in full sentences, you have to get out of the box,” says Pustay. “We want to use one or two words.”

Former Purdue University Northwest hurler Kyle Flessner was a volunteer coach last spring, but has since become the pitching coach at East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss.

As a two-man crew, Pustay and Allen conducted fall practice in September and October. 

As a social distancing measure and so each student could have a solo dormitory room, only freshmen and sophomores were on-campus while juniors and seniors took online classes. Ballplayers worked out on their own or in small groups away from DePauw.

“It was sort of a blessing and curse all at the same time,” says Pustay. “For the freshmen, it was a great fall. They had a lot of great individual time — one-on-one development with the coaches. 

“We had 12 position players on-campus. It was a nice crash course for freshmen for sure.”

Having the others off-campus was not ideal, but coaches and players made it work with plenty of Zoom meetings and phone calls. Pustay and Allen regularly checked in with their student-athletes.

“What I missed most this fall was the daily interaction with players walking by my office on the way to class or the weight room,” says Pustay. “As (DePauw head men’s basketball coach Bill Fenlon says), it’s a relationship business.

“You have to care for these guys on and off the field. You find out what’s important to them. It’s a mentorship.”

Pustay has been with Allen for the past four seasons after spending six with Jake Martin at the head of the Tigers program.

“The thing I really appreciate about Blake is that character counts with him,” says Pustay. “You win with the right people.

“Personally, not only has he given me a lot of responsibility but he also commands results. We’ve got to keep working. We can’t have time where we’re patting ourselves on the back for too long.”

As a father of three, Allen has also passed along lessons about balancing family life and baseball. Matt and Laura Pustay live in Indianapolis with daughter Ellie (3) and son Joey (1).

“It’s important to take time for your family during a pretty demanding coaching schedule,” says Pustay.

These are the kinds of values put forth by American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Roberts when Pustay served on his Cotuit Kettleers staff in the Cap Cod League in the summer of 2014.

“It was a graduate course — essentially — in baseball,” says Pustay. “I could talk for days about Mike Roberts. He taught myself and the other assistants about how to treat people. He really taught us how to make everybody around the park feel like they were a part of it. That whole community lived for the Kettleers.

“It was a very family-friendly experience.”

Pustay got to know the names of a lot of dogs and kids.

“Mike Roberts taught me how to be a better person and trust myself,” says Pustay. “He’s a class act.”

Through Allen’s Vanderbilt University connections, Pustay has worked four fall camps at the NCAA D-I powerhouse (2015-19). Tim Corbin is the Commodores head coach. 

Pustay has also worked camps at Notre Dame during the tenure of Mik Aoki and and Kentucky when Gary Henderson was head coach.

A native of Granville, Ohio, Pustay graduated from Granville High School in 2005 and earned three baseball letters at DePauw (2007, 2008 and 2009) as a catcher while playing for head coach Matt Walker (who is now head football coach at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls). 

In 2009, seniors Pustay, Jack Gavin, David Morefield, Mike Stout and Justin Weiner were co-captains for DePauw.

The “Palm-Up Award” is given to the most selfless Tigers teammate and Pustay earned it three times.

For two summers during his college career, Pustay played for the Newark (Ohio) Mavericks. 

He holds a Communication degree from DePauw and a Masters of Communication from Indiana State University.

Pustay helped former high school teammate Sean Rainey with the Granville American Legion Post 398 team in the summer of 2009 then became an assistant at NCAA D-III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and was with the Ryan Grice-coached Crusaders for 2010 spring season.

“Coach Grice gave me a pretty long leash,” says Pustay. “He handed the catching position over to me. It was the best thing to happen to me as a young coach, being given that much responsibility.”

Grice did not nit-pick, he just asked that Pustay keep him posted about what he was doing.

Martin, who was a DePauw assistant when Pustay played for the Tigers, had put in a good word for him at Capital.

When Martin became DePauw’s head coach, he brought Pustay back to Greencastle. The two have remained close even after Martin went down the road to become head coach at Wabash College.

Matt Pustay has been an assistant baseball coach at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., since the 2011 season. He finished his playing career with the Tigers in 2009. (DePauw University Photo)

Morristown, Indiana State grad Parker scouts international talent for Dodgers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Parker is getting a World Series ring.

“I’m looking forward to that,” says Parker. “I’ve been in baseball over 20 years.”

The graduate of Morristown (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School (1994) and Indiana State University (1998) is an international scouting crosschecker for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a franchise which raised Major League Baseball’s Commissioner’s Trophy in 2020. 

Parker, 44, is heading into his fifth year with the Dodgers in 2021. While his travel outside the U.S. has been curtailed this year because of COVID-19 (just two trips since March), he has been to Latin America many times and to Asia in search of baseball talent.

Based in Tampa, Fla., Parker has been able to travel to Miami in recent months to evaluate international players. 

His priority leading up to spring training will be getting ready for the signing of the 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft class in January. During a normal year, that would have been done on July 2 following the June draft. Once players are signed most will be assigned to the Dominican Summer League.

“We’re safely trying to get our jobs done,” says Parker, who counts Dodgers international scouting executive Ismael Cruz as his boss. Parker was with the Toronto Blue Jays when he first worked with Cruz.

With Alex Anthopoulos as general manager and Dana Brown as special assistant to the GM for the Blue Jays, Parker first worked in pro scouting and dealt with arbitration cases and was later promoted to the head of amateur scouting and oversaw Toronto’s participation in the MLB Draft.

Brown hired Parker as assistant scouting director for the Montreal Expos. For that position, he moved to Montreal in his second year (2004; the franchise’s last in Canada before becoming the Washington Nationals).

Parker worked primarily in amateur scouting and draft preparation while also helping on the pro scouting side.

“Dana Brown is one guy I give a lot of credit to for help me along the way as a mentor,” says Parker. “A lot of what I’ve been able to do is because of him.”

Brown is now vice president of scouting for the Atlanta Braves, where Anthopoulos is now president of baseball operations and general manager.

Parker was with the Expos/Nationals for seven years. When the team moved to D.C., Parker went there. His last two years he was director of baseball operations, dealing with administrative matters such as contracts and transactions.

His Expos tenure began in player development development operations at the spring training complex in Melbourne, Fla.

“I did a little bit of everything on the minor league side with player development,” says Parker.

Prior to that, Parker was employed by MLB. He was assistant director of baseball operations for the Arizona Fall League for one year and the AFL’s director of baseball ops the second year.

He worked with all 30 MLB teams and had a hand in many things including dealing with umpires and AFL host stadiums. He also got to see the game’s top prospects on display.

Parker helped in the sports information department at ISU — working extensively with Rob Ervin and Jennifer Little — and earned a Business Management degree from the Terre Haute school in 1998.

“I wanted to work in sports,” says Parker. “I knew that a business background would help.”

Parker was born in Michigan and moved to Morristown around 4. Since he was a youngster and playing basketball and some youth baseball in Shelby County, Ind., the oldest son of Richard and Linda Parker (now retired teachers) and older brother of Jason Parker (who nows lives outside Indianapolis) has been interested in the behind-the-scenes side of sports.

The summer of graduating from high school (1994), Parker joined the grounds crew for the Indianapolis Indians and was with the Triple-A team in that role in 1994 and 1995 and was an intern in 1996 as the Indians moved from Bush Stadium to Victory Field.

Parker’s first experience in baseball scouting came during an internship with the Colorado Rockies during the summer of 1997. He entered scouting reports, went through the draft, got to hear other scouts talk about baseball under Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard and also helped with the media relations staff in the press box.

“It was a great every level position,” says Parker.

After going back to ISU to earn his degree Parker saw there was a regime change in the Rockies front office.  

Parker spent three years — one as an intern and two as a full-time employee in media relations with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills

After that, he got back into baseball with the Arizona Fall League.

Parker has had a guiding principle throughout his career.

“It’s so important to work with good people and do the best job you can,” says Parker. “Do a good job and let things fall where they may after that. You’re not necessarily looking for your next job.”

Brian and wife Bree, who met while working with the Nationals, are the parents of twin girls. Bree Parker works in human resources with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brian Parker, a graduate of Morristown (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School and Indiana State University, is international scouting crosschecker for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Baseball odyssey takes former Indiana Tech assistant Collins-Bride back to Bay Area

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Baseball’s a really beautiful thing. You have to be consistent, work hard and have fun.”

Those words tell of Patrick Collins-Bride’s sentiment toward the diamond game.

It’s a game that has taken him across north America and to Japan.

“C.B.” — as friends know him — played high school ball in northern California (graduating from Encinal Junior-Senior in Alameda in 2008) and collegiate ball in the Bay Area (Laney College in Oakland) and in south Florida (Ave Maria University near Naples). 

Coaching gigs have come in California (San Francisco Seals collegiate summer team that made trips to Canada, Alaska and many states and now at Academy of Art University in San Francisco), Florida (Ave Maria) and Indiana (Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne).

In his current position, working for Urban Knights head coach Dan McDermott, Collins-Bride, 30, is in charge of pitchers, catchers and infielders.

“I’m a teacher,” says Collins-Bride, who joined the ArtU coaching staff in September 2019. “Baseball and strength and conditioning seems to be my best form of teaching.

“When you see people grow and see the light click on and they create really good habits, that’s the special part.”

Developing pitchers at the NCAA Division II PacWest Conference institution for Collins-Bride is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. 

“It’s individualistic once you have a base,” says Collins-Bride. “It depends on the players’ needs.”

Some pitchers possess good command and need to improve their stuff. Some have superior velocity but lack movement on their pitches. Others need concentration on the mental side of baseball.

“We’re picking and choosing what we focus on,” says Collins-Bride.

A strength and conditioning coach for several Indiana Tech teams, Collins-Bride has studied biomechanics as it relates to athletes. He has become OnBaseU-certified.

“You have to know how each player moves and how they’re supposed to move,” says Collins-Bride, who does a movement assessment on each ArtU pitcher. “That’s critical. 

“You structure the off-season around filling those buckets.”

You’re not treating every car like a Toyota. You also have Dodges and Kias. You don’t spend all your time racing the Lamborghini, you also spend time working with it in the garage.

COVID-19 caused the Urban Knights’ 2020 season to halt after 20 games. McDermott and Collins-Bride helped the player see the quarantine as an opportunity for growth.

“It was a chance to check something on your bucket list,” says Collins-Bride. “If you don’t do it, shame on you.

“Many (players) came back (in the fall) in the biggest shape of their lives,” says Collins-Bride. “It was really cool to see what these guys did over 6-7 months after only hearing about it over the phone.”

Alameda resident Collins-Bride used the extra time to go on long bike rides, including a trek around Lake Tahoe.

ArtU practices at The Presidio and plays games at Laney College. During fall practice, players went through daily temperature and system checks.

Most of the time, workouts were conducted with just six to eight players.

“It was different,” says Collins-Bride. “But it was really good from a development standpoint.”

There was more one-on-one time with coaching while raw skills — running, throwing, fielding and swinging — were being refined mixed with intrasquad play.

“Ideally, that’s what a fall should be — create some raw skills and play a little bit,” says Collins-Bride. “Summer baseball is failing kids. They’re playing too much and not practicing enough or practicing too much and not playing enough.

“We had a really good balance (in the fall.).”

It’s about building proper motor patterns. That’s why weighted balls and bats are used to carve a new path for the brain.

“It’s a brand new road and they learn that quickly,” says Collins-Bride.

Born in San Francisco, the son of carpenter Bob Bride and professor/nurse practitioner Geraldine Collins-Bride grew up loving baseball. 

Patrick’s father did not have much experience at the game, but he did come up with several tools to guide “FUN-damentals” for Little Leaguers. Bob devoured books and DVDs while researching training methods.

“He’d have us swing ax handles,” says Collins-Bride. “We’d hit wiffle balls with hoses to teach us to whip the bat. He turned a leaf blower into a wiffle ball pitching machine. To develop soft hands, we’d toss eggs or water balloons. We had stations all around my small house.”

Flood lights were installed over the garage so these sessions could go deep into the night.

Patrick went to the Boys & Girls Club and learned about pitching from major leaguers who hailed from Alameda. Pitcher Dontrelle Willis taught him how to play “strikeout.”

Middle schooler Collins-Bride learned about the proper way to field a grounder from shortstop Jimmy Rollins at an RBI camp held at Encinal.

Collins-Bride expresses gratitude of coaching with McDermott, who is heading into his 28th season as a college coach in 2021.

“It’s like coaching with your dad,” says Collins-Bride. “He really, really loves you and he’s not going to let you mess up.

“We get really great life lessons all the time. I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Collins-Bride coached for five seasons at Indiana Tech (2015-19), where Kip McWilliams is the Warriors head coach. “C.B.” worked with hitters, infielders, catchers and volunteered his strength and conditioning services while pursuing and after completing his Masters of Marketing and Management.

Indiana Tech typically carries a roster of 60 or more to help fund the program — with varsity and developmental teams.

“We had to carry a lot of players,” says Collins-Bride. “We decided if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it really well.

“Playoff time is when the Warriors showed up.”

Collins-Bride notes that almost all the players in the starting lineup in the 2015 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference championship game started out on the development team.

When Tech went to the 2019 NAIA World Series, former developmental players also played a key role.

“That was so important,” says Collins-Bride of the large squad. “They all trained together. We created an efficient practice style. Everybody had a purpose.

“We competed. If you were recruited there, you worked hard. When you have that many guys with a passion for baseball, it makes for such a good atmosphere.

“To do it right, you make sure you treat each kid well. I think we accomplished that. The beautiful thing about baseball and life is what a kid can make out of himself in two or four years.”

Collins-Bride said the Tech culture was based on standards and not rules.

“There was an acceptable level of behavior for everyone in the program and accountability is a two-way street (standards applied equally to players and coaches),” says Collins-Bride. “Coaches didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walked.”

Or — better yet — they hustled from station to station just like the players.

It was also an atmosphere of positivity.

“No BCE (Blaming, Complaining or Excuses) was allowed,” says Collins-Bride. “Because it’s not helping the situation.”

Collins-Bride sights three players — Brandon Dossen, David Barksdale and Dante Biagini — as examples of those who bought into the Tech system.

Dosson, a graduate of Heritage High School in Monroeville, Ind., was a highly-touted player in high school who wound up behind an All-American for a few seasons with the Warriors then got a chance to hit behind Tech standout and No. 3 hitter Glen McClain.

Barksdale, who went to Cass Tech High School in Detroit, spent a few seasons on the developmental team then got his chance to shine with the varsity in a game against Florida Memorial.

“He had been training really, really hard,” says Collins-Bride. “He hit a ground ball in the 6-hole and beat it out for a base hit. That was pretty special.”

Collins-Bride calls Biagini, hard-nosed player from San Francisco, the “most impactful kid I’ve ever been around.”

“He was the epitome of leadership,” says Collins-Bride of the national gold glove shortstop. “He’d say what coaches would have to say. He’d see things and fix them.

“They way he practiced, he raised the level of everyone around him.”

Collins-Bride had been with McWilliams when he observed a Spring Arbor University practice led by head coach Sam Riggleman. The SAU Cougars made workouts fast and as game-like a possible.

“Practice is the hardest thing we would do,” says Collins-Bride. “Games were slow. Everything (in practice) counted. Everything had detail.”

Collins-Bride noticed that long-time Lewis-Clark State College coach Ed Cheff and Folsom Lake College coach Rich Gregory (who played for future Indiana State University and University of Washington coach Lindsay Meggs on a NCAA Division II championship team at Cal State Chico) also took to that kind of preparation — skill under pressure.

It did no good to see 50 mph batting practice pitches when the game was going to bring 90 mph.

Collins-Bride went from Ave Maria, where he played two seasons (2011 and 2012) and coached two (2013 and 2014), after checking his options of serving as a graduate assistant to Scott Dulin at Fisher College in Boston. 

On his first working day with Tech, he flew from San Francisco to Boston then drove 15 hours to Fort Wayne. He met McWilliams at 5 a.m. and they drove all the way to Vincennes (Ind.) for a junior college showcase.

“We talked baseball the whole way,” says Collins-Bride.

During Collins-Bride’s entire at Tech, Debbie Warren was the athletic director.

“She was an unbelievable leader of people,” says Collins-Bride. “She knew how to push you. She was very tough and phenomenal to work with.”

Warren helped get the weight room updated just about the time Collins-Bride was leaving to go back to California.

While he was there he planted a desk near the weights and managed 80 athletes in a two-hour window.

While in Fort Wayne, Collins-Bride also got to manage the Indiana Summer Collegiate League’s Kekiongas and played in the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series with the Jackers.

Shawn Summe, a graduate of Penn High School and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., was the head coach at NAIA Ave Maria. He started the program. The Gyrenes’ first season was 2010.

“(Summe) is a very intense person and an emotional leader,” says Collins-Bride. “We practiced really hard. He was really awesome to play for. 

“He deeply had your back and wanted you to succeed.”

Collins-Bride, who received a Politics degree from Ave Maria, sees his transition from player to coach as a smooth one.

“It was easy to step into a role of leadership and demand respect,” says Collins-Bride. “We had a special senior group in 2013.”

Pete Lesniewski, Gabe Loweree, Trace McDermott, Justin Repullo and Alex Sanchez raised their game that spring for a Ave Maria team that went 38-21.

“(The seniors) were the epitome of sacrifice,” says Collins-Bride. “They didn’t party. They were very good in the classroom. They motivated and led by example.”

Collins-Bride was an AMU assistant on the same staff as Chuck Lennon and Jeff Tenbarge.

Lennon, who died in 2019 at 80, won three baseball letters at Notre Dame and later taught at the university and served as three decades for the Notre Dame Alumni Association.

Lennon’s zeal was on display even at early hours when Collins-Bride was getting a few more winks before greeting the day on an Ave Maria road trip.

“He’s say, ‘Wake up C.B., the world is waiting for us,” says Collins-Bride. “Talk about positivity. He was a beaming, shining light.”

After a semester at Cal State East Bay, Collins-Bride transferred to California Community College Athletic Association member Laney and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Eagles coach Francisco Zapata.

“Coach Z is a great human being,” says Collins-Bride. “He really knew his stuff and he knew how to push you.

“It was really hard to let him down. You know what he had to go through to play baseball. You’ve got nothing to complain about.”

Zapata grew up in Nicaragua and brought a work ethic to his coaching.

“There was an expectation level,” says Collins-Bride.

His prep career began on the Alameda High junior varsity for coach Joe Pearse and concluded at Encinal for Jim Saunders.

“(Pearse) was a hard-nosed guy,” says Collins-Bride. “We were working hard and there was a lot of competition. 

“(Saunders, who coached Rollins) was an excellent manager of talent.”

During his time as a player and manager with the San Francisco Seals, Collins-Bride not only got a chance to enjoy the rivalry with the Arcata-based Humboldt Crabs but got the chance to play all over the place. During a two-year span, he traveled through 33 states and played in around 20. 

Among Collins-Bride’s side jobs has been head of social media marketing for MDS Baseball Bats (a company owned by Brad Lightfoot that has appeared at many conventions, including the American Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association).

Collins-Bride and Sara Schaefer are engaged to be married in Fort Wayne in September 2021.

Patrick Collins-Bride has been an assistant baseball coach at Academy of Art University in San Francisco since September 2019. He coached five seasons at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. (2015-19). He played two seasons at Ave Maria (Fla.) High School for Penn High School and Bethel College (now Bethel University) graduate Shawn Summe. (ArtU Photo)

Longtime assistant Smiley contributes to Sycamores’ baseball success

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Smiley has enjoyed success in his time on the Indiana State University baseball coaching staff. 

The Sycamores earned three NCAA tournament berths (2012, 2014 and 2019) with Smiley in the fold. From 2010-20, ISU is 340-230.

He has recruited and brought plenty of talent to Indiana State. Some of those players include Major league Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections Sean Manaea (first round), Jeff Degano (second), Jake Petricka (second), Dakota Bacus (ninth), Clay Dungan (ninth), Colin Rae (12th), Triston Polley (16th) and Ryan Strausborger (16th). 

Manaea pitched in 11 regular-season games for the 2020 Oakland Athletics.

Petricka has pitched in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers.

Bacus took the mound in 11 games for the 2020 Washington Nationals.

Rae pitched in nine regular-season contests with the 2020 Chicago Cubs.

Outfielder Strausborger played 31 games in the big leagues with the 2015 Texas Rangers.

Smiley has been on ISU staffs helmed by three different men. He was hired by former head coach Lindsay Meggs in the summer of 2009. 

After Meggs left to become head coach at the University of Washington, Smiley served four years on the staff of Rick Heller

When Heller took the head coaching position at University Iowa, Smiley followed him to Iowa City in the summer of 2013 and came back to Indiana State upon the hiring Mitch Hannahs, whose first season as the Sycamores boss was 2014.

As assistant in his first eight seasons at Indiana State, Smiley was named associate head coach in August 2017. He’s done about everything a coach can be asked to do in his time in Terre Haute.

“I’ve done everything from laundry to you name it,” says Smiley.

His current duties include defensive responsibilities and coaching third base on game days.

Smiley is also ISU’s recruiting coordinator — a job that has been made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Players being recruited can not meet on-campus with coaches — though there have been times where they could tour the school through the admissions office — and coaches have not been able to see players in-person at summer tournaments because of the dead period imposed by the NCAA by Division I baseball since March.

“We’re having to make decisions based on video and a coach’s word,” says Smiley. “You don’t get a good feel of how they play the game. You’re just grading out their tools on video.”

Under ideal circumstances, Indiana State would like to see a player at least two or three times and get the assessment of multiple coaches.

“(Recruits) can’t watch us practice. They can’t eat with us. They get to know us as coaches. We can’t sell them on things we normally would. There are guys that haven’t really been here that are committed to us.”

On a positive note, fall practice went pretty smoothly for the Sycamores though the window was moved up from the original plan of ending around Thanksgiving (ISU started in September and ended in the middle October).

“It was the right decision, says Smiley. “We feel like we were pretty fortunate. We got through team segment pretty healthy. We missed a few quarantined freshmen.

“With all our instrasquads, 90 to 95 percent of the team could participate. We could have been missing main players. You have that and it’s difficult putting in anything (as far as plays or schemes).”

Indiana State experienced good weather and went from individual practice to team and back to individuals.

The university has gone to virtual classes for the rest of the semester and most of the team has already returned to their homes with a plan of coming back to Terre Haute in January.

Smiley is a 2003 graduate of Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons each for head coaches Dave Bell and Paul Quinzer and earned three all-Big Eight Conference selections and helped the Wildcats to conference titles in 2002 and 2003.

“(Bell) was intense and hard-nosed,” says Smiley.  “He demanded a lot and typically got a lot in return.”

Smiley says Indiana State alum Quinzer’s coaching style was more laid-back.

An infielder who played mostly at third base, Smiley started his college playing career Triton College in River Grove, Ill., playing for Trojans head coach Bob Symonds.

When Symonds retired, Smiley transferred to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and played for Hannahs.

“Mitch is a born leader,” says Smiley of Hannahs. “He’s an outstanding motivator. He is someone who is going to practice what he preaches. 

“You know what you’re going to get. The words coming out of his mouth aren’t fake. He’s genuine. He cares about his players and they know that.

“What sets him apart from others is that he knows how handle tough situations and doesn’t rush. His decision-making is on-point all the time and that’s underrated.”

After his two junior college stops, Smiley played two seasons at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for Trojans head coach Jim Lawler, who has also been the pitching coach at Texas A&M. 

Smiley began coaching career in the summer of 2007 with Dubois County Bombers as an assistant coach. He quickly named manager of the wood bat college team and served in that capacity for three seasons. He also was a student assistant Little Rock and coached at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College for Jaguars head coach Tim Bunton.

“I did pitching at Danville and helped with everything,” says Smiley. “I learned a lot from Tim. I’m very grateful for my year at Danville.

“He was very good with cuts and relays and being in the right place at the right time.”

Brian and wife Katie Smiley have three children — Isaac (5), Christian (4) and Vivian (2). Katie, whose maiden name is Grossman, is a 2004 Evansville Memorial High School graduate who played soccer at the University of Southern Indiana.

Brian Smiley is the associate head coach for the Indiana State University baseball program. The 2021 season will be his 12th with the Sycamores. (Indiana State University Photo)
Brian Smiley has done a little bit of everything as a baseball coach at Indiana State University. His first season in Terre Haute was 2010. In August 2017, he was named associate head coach. (Indiana State University Photo)

Fourteen on 2021 ballot for Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fourteen men are finalists for the 2021 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Coaches include Doug Greenlee, Mark Grove, Dean Lehrman, Chris McIntyre, Gary Rogers, Lea Selvey, Steve Strayer and Tim Terry. Greenlee (Kankakee Valley) and Grove (Churubusco) are retired. Lehrman (Heritage), McIntyre (New Albany), Rogers (Leo), Selvey (Jay County), Strayer (Crown Point) and Terry (South Vermillion) are active.

Players are Wallace Johnson and A. J. Reed. Nominated as contributors are Jamey Carroll, Ray Miller, James Robinson and Dave Taylor.

DOUG GREENLEE 

Greenlee (South Putnam High School, Indiana State University and Ball State University graduate) won 503 games in a 28-year career with 25 years at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind. 

His KV teams won three sectionals, two regionals and seven conference championships. He was the 2013 IHSBCA North All-Star head coach and has served on numerous IHSBCA committees and served 16 years as athletic director at four different schools.

MARK GROVE 

Grove (Bluffton High School and Ball State University graduate) coached Churubusco (Ind.) High School to 513 wins with nine sectionals, four regionals and one semistate (1995).

His teams also won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (four tournament titles) and two Allen County Athletic Conference crowns.

Forty of Grove’s players played college baseball and one was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He coached 25 all-staters, six IHSBCA North All-Stars and was honored as a district coach of the year several times.

Grove has been on many IHSBCA committees and currently helps out at the State Clinic registration table. He has been a mentor to many coaches and is always a willing participant/organizer for clinics and youth baseball events.

DEAN LEHRMAN

Lehrman (Heritage High School and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne graduate) pitched four seasons at IPFW.

He has coached high school baseball for 42 years — nine at Woodlan and 33 at Heritage in Monroeville, Ind. His teams have won 602 games and 12 Allen County Athletic Conference championships. 

He is an eight-time ACAC Coach of the Year and has been an IHSBCA District Coach of the Year and twice been on the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars coaching staff.

Lehrman’s teams have won eight sectionals, three regionals, one semistate and made three Final Four appearances. His 2007 squad was state runners-up. He has also coached football for 39 years with six as head coach (40-26).

Dean, a high school mathematics teacher, and wife Janice Lehrman have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne — plus three grandchildren.

CHRIS MCINTYRE 

McIntrye (Jeffersonville High School and Indiana University Southeast graduate) played at Jeffersonville for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Poole. 

Mac’s coaching career began as an assistant to Clarksville (Ind.) High School to IHSBCA Hall of Famer Wayne Stock.

In 25 years as New Albany (Ind.) High School coach, McIntyre has a record of 533-218 with five Hoosier Hills Conference titles, 10 sectional championships and one regional tile with three Final Eight appearances.

He is a four-time District Coach of the Year and five-time conference coach of the year. 

McIntyre was IHSBCA President in 2014, has served on numerous committees and has been an IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series three times. He has coached 13 South All-Stars and sent more than 40 players to college baseball. Three of his players have been selected in the MLB Draft and two have played in the majors.

Chris, a high school mathematic teacher at New Albany, and wife Shannon McIntyre have two sons — Tyler and Kevin.

GARY ROGERS

Rogers (Merrillville High School and Huntington College graduate) spent 32 seasons as head coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School and has been in charge at Leo for two seasons. 

His teams have won 513 games with Luers taking four sectionals, one regional and one semistate. The 2008 state won a state championship.

Rogers was a State Coach of the Year in 2008 and a two-time IHSBCA District Coach of the Year. He has been on numerous IHSBCA committees and is very active in the Fort Wayne baseball community. He has served as a volunteer assistant at Indiana Tech for many seasons and worked with the Wildcat League for 33 years and serves on the board of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is an NEIBA Hall of Famer.

LEA SELVEY

Selvey (Redkey High School, University of Evansville and Ball State University graduate) has spent his entire coaching career at Jay County High School in Portland, Ind. — five as an assistant and 31 as head coach — and has a career record of 502-333. 

His teams have won seven sectionals and three regionals plus five Olympic Conference and one Allen County Athletic Conference title. He was conference coach of the year three times.

Very active in the IHSBCA, Selvey has served as president, a regional representative and on several committees. He has been an assistant coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series two times. He has also been a regional coach of the year and coached 14 All-Stars and numerous players who went on to play in college with three drafted by MLB and two others in independent or overseas baseball.

Selvey has been active in community and junior high baseball and has been active nine years with the Summit City Sluggers travel organization. 

Lea, a high school science teacher, and wife Denise Selvey have three three children — Josh, Kyle and Kristen.

STEVE STRAYER

Strayer (Prairie Heights High School, Manchester College and Indiana University Northwest graduate) coached at Boone Grove High School in Valparaiso, Ind., and is going into his 19th season at Crown Point (Ind.) High School. His overall coaching record is 619-227 with 15 conference titles, 14 sectional crowns and nine regional championships.

His Crown Point teams have won 396 games and numerous sectional and regional titles to go along with eight Dunelond Athletic Conference crowns. He was named District Coach of the Year three times and served as IHSBCA President and was a 2005 IHSBCA North/South All-Series coach. He has coached 12 Indiana All-Stars and 63 players have gone on to play college baseball (23 in NCAA Division I).

Strayer teaches high school mathematics and resides in Crown Point with wife Jennifer and daughter Charlotte.

TIM TERRY

Terry (Clinton High School and Indiana State University graduate) played football, basketball and baseball at Clinton and began his coaching journey in 1980 with one season at Turkey Run High School in Marshall, Ind., and has spent the past 38 years as head coach at South Vermillion High School. His career mark is 604-357.

His teams have won nine Wabash River Conference titles, eight sectionals and one regional while finishing in the Final Eight three times and the Final Four once.

Terry has led the Wildcats to 20-plus wins 10 times and coached six IHSBCA All-Stars with numerous all-state players. He has been named an IHSBCA district coach of the year twice and served as IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series coach and participated on many IHSBCA committees. 

He has coached at the Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth and American Legion levels and was the head girls basketball coach at South Vermillion for 34 years with two conference titles, five sectionals and 295 wins.

Currently in his 42nd year in education, Terry was at Turkey Run for two years before coming to South Vermillion. Besides head baseball coach, he is currently the school’s athletic director.

Tim and wife Kim, a high school science teacher, have four sons — T.J. (22), Canton (20, Cooper (18) and Easton (14). Tim’s baseball memories are centered around his boys.

WALLACE JOHNSON

Johnson (Gary Roosevelt High School and Indiana State University graduate) played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bob Warn at ISU. Johnson was co-captain for the Sycamores’ first Missouri Valley Conference championship team and first NCAA tournament participant. He had a career .422 average and led the nation in regular-season hitting (.502). He was selected to the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Johnson was selected in the sixth round of the 1979 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. He was MVP of the Florida State League and later played on championship teams in Denver (1981) and Indianapolis (1986). 

He made his MLB debut in 1981 and went on to become the Expos’ all-time leader in pinch hits (86). In 428 big league games, he hit .255 with five homers and 59 RBIs. After retirement as a player, he was third base coach for the Chicago White Sox for five seasons.

A.J. REED

Reed (Terre Haute South Vigo High School who played at the University of Kentucky) played for Kyle Kraemer at South Vigo and was the Indiana Player of the Year and MVP of the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2011. 

The IHSBCA record book lists Reed sixth in single-season homers (18 in 2011) and sixth in career homers (41 from 2008-11).

At UK, Reed’s awards were many, including Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Golden Spikes (nation’s top amateur player), Dick Howser Trophy, ABCA and Baseball America College Player of the Year, John Olerud Trophy, several first-team All-America teams, Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year. In 2012, he was on several Freshman All-America teams.

Reed was chosen in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros and was a minor league all-star in 2015, 2017 and 2018. He won the Joe Bauman Award twice for leading Minor League Baseball in homers. He was the California League MVP and Rookie of the Year with Lancaster in 2015.

He smacked 136 homers in 589 minor league games. He played in 62 MLB contests with the Astros and Chicago White Sox and finished with four homers and 12 RBIs.

He retired from baseball in March 2020 and resides in Riley, Ind., with wife Shelby and their two dogs. He plans to return to college in January 2021 to finish his bachelor’s degree.

JAMEY CARROLL

Carroll (Castle High School graduate who played at the University of Evansville) played at Castle in Newburgh, Ind., for Dave Sensenbrenner and Evansville for Jim Brownlee. He was an All-American in his senior year of 1996. He name appears 27 times in the Purple Aces baseball record book.

He was drafted in the 14th round of the 1996 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. In his 12-year big league career with the Expos/Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, he produced a 16.6 WAR, 1,000 hits, 13 homers, a .272 average, 560 runs, 265 RBIs, 74 stolen bases, a .349 on-base percentage and .687 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

Carroll scored the last run in Expos history. He led National League second basemen in fielding percentage in 2006. In 2007, his sacrifice fly plated Matt Holliday to win the NL Wild Card Game.

He currently works in the front office for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year-old twins — Cole and Mackenzie.

RAY MILLER

Miller (who died in 2017) took over the Portland (Ind.) Rockets in 1972 and won more than 900 games in more than 30 years as manager. 

In 1992, Miller became American Amateur Baseball Congress state secretary and moved the Indiana tournament to Portland. He managed the Rockets to state titles in 1985, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

An ambassador for baseball, Miller sent more than 30 former players into the high school or college coaching ranks. 

In 2000, the Rockets named their home facility Ray Miller Field. In 2002, Miller was the first inductee into the Indiana Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.

Randy Miller, Ray’s son, is the current Portland Rockets manager.

JAMES ROBINSON

Robinson (Indianapolis Wood High School and Indiana University Kokomo graduate) played one year of high school baseball.

He began umpiring high school games in 1980 and worked for 35 years with 33 sectionals, 25 regionals, 14 semistates and six State Finals. He umpired six IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series and was voted IHSBCA Umpire of the Year five times.

In 1994, Robinson was elected to the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year. He also coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years.

He has been a football official at the high school and college level and worked six years in NCAA Division II and seven in the Mid-American Conference. He has been a replay official for the MAC and Big Ten Conference. He was a replay official for the 2014 National Championship game at the Rose Bowl between Florida State and Auburn.

James and late wife Nada has one daughter and one grandson — Chiquita and Kameron.

DAVE TAYLOR 

Taylor (Southmont High School and Wabash College graduate) was a Little Giants captain and was in college when he began his coaching career. He led teams at the Little League, Babe Ruth, AAU and American Legion levels.

During an AAU coaching stint in Florida, Taylor realized the level of travel baseball and how Indiana was underrepresented in this arena. He formed the Indiana Bulls travel organization with the vision of providing Indiana high school player the opportunity to pursue their college and MLB dreams.

In 1992, the Bulls sponsored two teams and Taylor coached future MLB players Scott Rolen and Todd Dunwoody. Taylor coached the Bulls for four more seasons, served as president for 10, an officer for 20 and has been a director since 1992.

His vision was realized. More than 170 Bulls players have been drafted by MLB (12 in the first round) and over 300 players have received NCAA Division I scholarships. The Bulls have won 22 national titles, a professional staff works 12 months a year and currently field 25 teams from ages 8 to 17. Several of these teams are coached by former professionals who were Bulls players.

Taylor resides in Brownsburg, Ind., and is a leading insurance defense trial attorney. He has served 20 years as a certified Major League Baseball Players Association agent and represented more than 100 pro players and continues to represent former players in various legal matters.

Deadline for returning the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot, which appears in the October newsletter, is Oct. 31.

The IHSBCA State Clinic is scheduled for Jan. 15-17 at Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing. The Hall of Fame and awards banquet will be held at a later time because of COVID-19 restrictions at the hotel.

Pandemic creates unique experience for Blue Jays broadcaster Wagner

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wagner experienced a baseball season like no other in his broadcast career in 2020.

Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School (1999) near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University (2003) and the radio voice of the Toronto Blue Jays, called games during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Blue Jays were on 64 broadcasts during the shortened season — two exhibition games, 60 regular-season contests and two playoff games — and Wagner worked all of them from a studio in downtown Toronto.

“We were really fortunate,” says Wagner. “Major League Baseball was taking tremendous care of us.”

With the help of five camera angles and information graphics provided by MLB, Wagner and his broadcast partners were able to present a game complete with the crack of the bat and pop of the glove.

“It’s the greatest recognition when people say we had no idea you weren’t in Buffalo or Philadelphia,” says Wagner. “That was my goal going into this — to make it seamless on the consumer end.

“To our credit, we were able to pull that off pretty easily from the start.”

Wagner’s employer — SportsNet 590 — made a blanket corporate policy that for the safety of all, they would only be allowed to cover home games if they were at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

The Canadian government did not allow the team to play there and they moved all home dates to Buffalo, N.Y. The 2018 season was Wagner’s first with the Blue Jays after 11 with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.

During the off-season, Ben and wife Megan live in Dunedin, Fla. — where the Blue Jays stage spring training — and were hunkered down there when the MLB season finally got started in late July.

Declared as essential, Ben was allowed to enter Canada to work following a 14-day quarantine (the Wagners had been in a modified quarantine since mid-March in Florida). 

But that essential status only went with him and Megan had to stay at home in the U.S.

“It was a long-distance relationship,” says Ben. “It was a big sacrifice for her. We used technology as much as we could.”

When things opened up in Dunedin, Ben and Megan drove their golf cart for pick-up meals and groceries.

After Ben’s departure, it was mostly deliveries for Megan and there was the loss of human contact and socialization.

“She became kind of a hermit,” says Ben. “Everything was getting delivered to the door step.

“The heavier lift was done by her. Megan did a great job.”

Wagner’s gameday routine was different. For one thing, he did not get to see the sights.

“I love travel,” says Wagner. “I like to experience new things when we go to a city.

“It gives me an excuse not to suck too much hotel air. It’s part of the enjoyment of this job.”

Earlier in the year, the Toronto metropolitan area was at a standstill even though millions reside there.

“It’s city living and so full of various cultures and life,” says Wagner. That city has an incredible vibe about it.

“Toronto was essentially closed down.”

In 2020, instead of exploring in the morning and going to the ballpark, he went to the studio in Toronto each day at 2 or 3 p.m.

Wagner got to ride with TV’s Buck Martinez and Joe Siddall.

“It was a true treat,” says Wagner. “I learned a ton about them and a ton about the game just listening to them talk.”

There were no one-on-one pregame interviews with coaches, players and managers. The Blue Jays set up Zoom interviews for the media.

“There was no opportunity to foster relationships and you forced to share nuggets with everybody else,” says Wagner. “There were growing pains, but we made the best of it.”

There was a shortened season. Wagner says it could have been longer had players and management not burned up so much time while not coming to an agreement.

“Baseball did itself a disservice,” says Wagner. “It had a chance to get itself started and have an exclusive window (to sports fans).”

Wagner notes that many were starting to feel pandemic fatigue by June and baseball could have filled the void for an entertainment-starved audience.

“The game missed an opportunity for about eight weeks,” says Wagner. “It was an opportunity to organically grow its game where people had nothing to do.

“Instead, baseball was not going head to head with basketball, hockey and then football. It was fighting for people’s attention.”

Since the Blue Jays season ended, Ben and Megan have been reunited in Florida and there’s not many daily baseball duties for him.

“It’s likely to ramp up with free agency,” says Wagner. “Right now it’s really low key.”

Ben Wagner (left) interviews Toronto Blue Jays player Justin Smoak in the dugout before a game, something Wagner did not get to do in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (SportsNet 590 Photo)
During a normal baseball season, Ben Wagner would broadcast games from the home radio booth at Rogers Centre in Toronto. During the COVID-19 pandemic season of 2020, he did all broadcasts from a downtown studio. The Blue Jays played home games in Buffalo, N.Y. (SportsNet 590 Photo)
Ben Wagner holds one of the World Series trophies the Toronto Blue Jays won before he became a radio play-by-play voice for the team. (SportsNet 590 Photo)
Ben Wagner has been the radio voice of the Toronto Blue Jays since 2018. He is a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University. He worked all 64 broadcasts in 2020 from a Toronto studio because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (SportsNet 590 Photo)

IU Kokomo’s Cheek emphasizes competition, classroom, community

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Cheek spent the summer collegiate baseball season of 2015 playing for the Kokomo Jackrabbits.

Coming off his first season as a pitcher at Indiana State University, Cheek played for manager Matt Howard.

The two maintained a relationship and Cheek came back to town as an assistant to head coach Howard at Indiana University Kokomo. The 2021 season will be his third with the Cougars.

“I love it,” says Cheek of working with the energetic Howard. “He will push you day in and day out to be a better leader on or off the field.

“What I enjoy most about him is he gives freedom (to his assistants) as if we were in-charge. I can make the pitching program my own. There is trust my abilities.”

Cheek, 26, is not only IUK’s pitching coach but he leads the program’s academic supervision and community service and helps with camps.

At pitching coach, he looks for aggressiveness and competitiveness. 

“What we strive to do is attack hitters,” says Cheek. “We recruit a lot of guys who are athletes that go out and compete. They piece it together inning by inning and put up zeros.”

Cheek wants his hurlers to trust their defense.

“We have plenty of gold glovers on the field so pound the zone,” says Cheek. “Execution is big for us.”

Knowing that not all pitchers are the same, Cheek looks to get each one to identify what makes them successful.

“Every guy is going to have different pitches and different sequences that they throw,” says Cheek, who knows some will around 90 mph with their fastball while others will have to pitch backwards, starting with a breaking ball and spotting their fastball.

“It’s about letting them know their success and know what they have to bring to the table,” says Cheek. “When they take pride int he role they have that’s where you start to see success.”

About half way through fall practice, IUK pitchers (a group that includes Ryan’s brother, Kacey Cheek) are currently in COVID-19 quarantine.

“It’s been a tough fall,” says Cheek. “It make guys see the picture of how they approach each day with an appreciation and a full passion for the game.”

That can be said of the whole squad, which includes returning college players who had their spring season cut short and incoming freshmen who had their senior high school seasons canceled.

Cheek and the other IUK coaches encourage them to respect the game but also have passion.

“Show up with a chip on their shoulder,” says Cheek. “Keep a goal in mind each day and don’t let a day pass.”

Because of the pandemic, the NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to those who want to use it.

Among those back to lead the Cougars are right-handed pitcher Renton Poole (at Bloomington High School South graduate who was selected in the 28th round of the 2018 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers but opted to stay in college) and infielder Austin Weiler.

While being aware of contact tracing, IUK baseball coaches work to separate players on the field and in the weight room. With pitchers away, there are a number of machine scrimmages. 

“We’ll have developmental work and one-on-one work when pitchers come back,” says Cheek.

As an academic supervisor, Cheek makes sure players are keeping up their grades up. He stays in-touch with professors and sets study table hours.

“They’re coming to IUK to get an IU degree and play baseball,” says Cheek. “The goal is to get these guys to where they want to go in life.

“My goal is to make sure they’re reaching their goals in the classroom.”

IUK students are currently taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After Thanksgiving to the end of the semester that will be all online.

While COVID-19 regulations and protocols has limited what players can do at the moment, there was plenty of community service with local groups last fall. Cheek says that each team member did up to 25 hours in the fall while meeting Kokomo know they care.

Cougars associate head coach Drew Brantley heads up camps and is helped by Cheek and Howard.

Cheek took his current job after serving as varsity boys basketball and varsity baseball coach at his alma mater Oblong (Ill.) High School. In 2018 and 2019, he coached Britton’s Bullpen 16U travel team.

As a player, Cheek was in spring training with the independent professional Evansville (Ind.) Otters in 2017.

Cheek pitched two seasons at Indiana State University (2015 and 2016) and two at Vincennes (Ind.) University (2013 and 2014).

As a right-handed collegiate pitcher, Cheek went 10-5 in 32 mound appearances (16 starts) at VU and 2-0 in 11 games (all in relief) at ISU.

Cheek was the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12 MVP in 2014 and helped Vincennes make the NJCAA D-II World Series (placing seventh).

He earned Management and Marketing degree from Indiana State in 2016.

Mitch Hannahs was the head coach and Jordan Tiegs the pitching coach at ISU.

Cheek went to youth camps run by Hannahs when the latter was coaching at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played under,” says Cheek of Hannahs. “He understands the game and knows how to compete.

“He helped me grow as a player and a person.”

Tiegs, who is now a coach in the Rangers organization, had an impact on Cheek.

“He was really smart and knew how to develop guys,” says Cheek of Tiegs. “He really sparked my interest about what a routine meant and entailed — throwing everyday, arm health, your body moving correctly and competing at a high level.”

Cheek appreciates his time with Vincennes head coach Chris Barney.

“He knew the game,” says Cheek of Barney. “He was a little Old School, but I loved it.”

The term “JUCO bandit” is used in baseball circles these days. Cheek tells what it means to him.

“They are guys who are hard-nosed and a little blue collar,” says Cheek. “It was a really good fit for myself to go junior college route. I learned a lot about myself — who I am as a person and player.”

Without the time restrictions of the NCAA and NAIA, junior college players have the chance to spend plenty of time working on their craft.

“We had a fall and spring season and a lot of competition,” says Cheek. “You’d get out of class and then be at the field for six hours at a time.

“We learned what ‘no off days’ meant,” says Cheek. “You didn’t get many.”

Cheek grew up in Oblong, which is Crawford County about 20 miles from the Indiana line and Sullivan County, Indiana. 

The 2012 OHS graduate played golf for coach Jason Hartke, basketball for coach Brent Harper and baseball for coach Dave Miller.

Richard and Kelly Cheek have three children — Ryan, Kacey (20) and Lincoln Trail College freshman Katie (18). 

Ryan Cheek, a graduate of Oblong (Ill.) High School, Vincennes (Ind.) University and Indiana State University, is heading into his third season as a baseball assistant coach at Indiana University Kokomo in 2020-21. (IU Kokomo Photo)

Logansport’s Titan Bat Company making it mark in industry

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s a story of faith, community, perseverance and quality. 

Partners Trampas Young and Todd Stephens have kept grinding to get Titan Bat Company where it is today. 

Before there was a business, Young hand-carved bats in the garage at his Logansport, Ind., home.

First, it was miniatures. Then came a gamer for son Baylee Young (who will be a senior on the Goshen (Ind.) College team in 2020-21).

In 2014, former Logansport High School baseball players Young (Class of 1991) and Stephens (Class of 1993) joined forces to form an LLC.

Young is the bat maker. Stephens handles the business side of things.

The company grew and TItan moved to a 5,000-square foot building at 2135 Stoney Pike off U.S. 35 in March 2020.

The facility allows room for a semi-automatic copy lathe as well as new ultra-accurate MotionCat CNC machine and other necessary equipment.

“It allows us to keep up with the demand,” says Stephens. “The cupping machine allows us to take (up to) 6/10 of an ounce off a bat.”

There’s a place still tool bats by hand.

“On a good day, that’s a four-hour process,” says Young.

There’s an area for dipping bats in lacquer, painting them and applying logos.

The end of one room is devoted to the storing and caring of precious cargo.

It’s the wood that sets Titan apart. The company only uses Prime billets of ash, maple and cedar with 7- to 10-percent moisture content to turn a bat. In the wood industry, there’s Choice, Select and Prime and they all come with different price points.

“The billets are the best you can get on the market,” says Stephens, who lettered at Indiana State University in 1996 and 1997. “We could certainly buy cheaper.”

But Titan is making boutique hand-crafted baseball bats.

“We’re focused on quality,” says Stephens. “When makes us unique is that you can’t just buy wood from anywhere. We use wood that’s wedge-split that’s true to the slope of the grain.

“The wood can be too dry or too wet, which means it’s green inside and heavy. You have to have a specific bullet for a specific model.”

Titan is currently producing up to 30 models.

“We have a lot of repeat customers,” says Young. “We stick with Prime (wood) even for youth.”

Those loyal customers come back for the sound of a ball struck by a Titan.

“It stands out,” says Young. 

There’s a reason the product carries that name.

Before thinking about going into business, former Logansport Church of Christ preacher Young was having a discussion with wife Tracey.

They came across the definition of Titan, which is a standout, powerful person.

“To me, that means the Lord,” says Young’

There’s sign in the shop letting visitors know that Titan is a “Kingdom Business” and cites Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

A year ago, David Cook of Hoosier Bat Company in Valparaiso, Ind., approached Titan about producing its labeled bats.

“He saw Trampas’ craftsmanship and that validated our brand,” says Stephens.

While they have not yet been certified for Major League Baseball, which means an inspection of bats and facility plus a $30,000 fee, Titan bats are being used by independent professional ball (including the American Association and Frontier League) and by amateur players (travel ballers including the Propsects National Team in Texas and training facilities like PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., and Pro X Athlete Development and RoundTripper Sports Academy, both in Westfield, Ind.) from youth through college (including the College Summer League at Grand Park and Prospect League). 

The Titan has been tested by former big leaguers Johnny Damon and Mike Sweeney as well as current Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Andy Young. Former Indiana State player Young stroked a double off Houston Astros right-hander Enrique Abreu for his first MLB hit Aug. 4.

The Logansport factory has two hitting cages so a bat can be both crafted and tested on-site.

When Titan gets the green light to be used by the MLB, it won’t mean a switch.

“We would not change a thing we’re doing as far as quality, 

Titan also makes award bats for teams, companies and causes.

The bats have been used to recognize a sales “Quota Buster,” the memorial for Abigail Williams and Liberty German in Delphi, Ind., and as an auction item for a Marines Corps scholarship fund.

Young notes that one bat supports a dozen or more small businesses. Among those is Tina Buch of Tate’s Laser Engraving in Kokomo, Ind

There’s been plenty of learning the last six years.

“When he and I started this we did not have the support of a bigger company,” says Stephens. “We had to figure out everything on our own.”

Titan is basically a two-man operation in Logansport with Young and Stephens also working full-time jobs.

“It’s a part-time job with full-time hours,” says Young. “But for me it’s not even work, it’s part of my life.”

It’s not been unusual for Young and Stephens to take vacation days, weekends or late nights to knock out an order.

Stephens says grinding has gotten the partners to this point.

“It cost more than we thought,” says Stephens. “You have to have passion to get through the tough stuff.

“It helps to have a business partner who’s on the same page with a passion for baseball and a passion for the process.”

To get where it’s at, Titan has taken on investors — businessmen Dan Rose of Lafayette, Ind., and Phil Williams of Kokomo and Indiana State athletic director Sherard Clinkscales in Terre Haute, Ind.

“He has a ton of connections,” says Carmel, Ind., resident Stephens of Clinkscales, a former pro player and scout and college coach.

Williams has been handling social media for Titan.

It was important to keep the business in Logansport with its rich baseball history.

“They believe in fundamentals and how to play the game,” says Stephens, who attended a recent Berries alumni game with former LHS coaches Jim Turner Sr., Jim Turner Jr., and Rich Wild.

A Titan bat costs $100 to $160 with the higher end being a customized stick. Young says a metal bat can cost up to $500.

Stephens notes that the advantage of a Titan bat is immediate feedback. It has about a six-inch sweet spot — considerably less than a metal or composite club.

Titan is also experimenting on a concept from Hoosier that is a three-piece bat with maple, hickory and birch. Hickory is the hardest wood but can’t be used for the whole bat because it’s too heavy.

Want a Titan Bat Company product? Use promo code “TITAN15” and get 15 percent off a custom bat.

Trampas Young of Titan Bat Company in Logansport, Ind., makes a bat with a MotionCat CNC machine. (Steve Krah Video)
The first gamer bat hangs in a place of honor at Titan Bat Company in Logansport, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Faith is a key component at the Titan Bat Company of Logansport, Ind. It became an LLC in 2014 with partners Trampas Young and Todd Stephens. (Steve Krah Photo)
Todd Stephens (left) and Trampas Young are partners in the Titan Bat Company in Logansport, Ind. They both played baseball at Logansport High School and now produced hand-carved bats. (Steve Krah Photo)
In 2000, the Titan Bat Company — which is Trampas Young (left) and Todd Stephens — moved to a 5,000-foot facility in Logansport, Ind. The company uses only Prime wood to put out their hand-carved products. (Steve Krah Photo)

New Palestine grad Watson goes from Cornhusker to Sycamore

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keegan Watson is back in his home state for college baseball.

After playing at the University of Nebraska in 2018 and 2019, transferring and sitting out the 2020 season, Watson is eager to shine as a two-way player at Indiana State University.

The 2017 graduate of New Palestine (Ind.) High School made five appearances (three starts) as a corner outfielder and pitched in relief in six games in 2018 and took the field as a position player 24 times (17 as a starter) in 2019 while earning two letters for the Cornhuskers

Batting and hurling right-handed, Watson collected 15 runs batted in and logged 5 1/3 innings on the mound and entered the NCAA transfer portal after the 2019 fall semester. 

The 6-foot-3, 198-pounder considered going to an NCAA Division II school so he would not have to sit out, but ended up staying in D-I and was required to miss only a half year while coming back to his state of residence. 

Recruited by Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs while at New Palestine, Watson reached out to the Sycamores for a chance and was given one.

After moving to Indiana State, he was not eligible to play in the spring, but will be able to participate with the Sycamores this fall. Watson has two years of eligibility remaining.

“I work hard and show up in the weight room and at practice,” says Watson of his baseball strengths. “I’m a pretty intense guy when it comes down to it.”

He says his he used to let his emotions get the best of him, but he’s learned to get that under control.

Since entering college Watson has changed his major to Psychology and says he has at least three semesters left toward his degree.

While he did not play last summer, Watson was with the Tim Brown-coached Lake Erie Monarchs of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in 2018.

This summer, he is close to home as a member of the Local Legends in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Entering play on July 6, the team coached by Ben Norton and Jake Ratz is 5-4-1. 

Watson was tipped off about the 12-team loop by former New Palestine teammate Jason Hall-Manley, who goes to Anderson University and plays for the CSL’s Juice.

“See ball – hit ball,” says Watson of his hitting approach this summer. “I’m just trying to see pitches and get live AB’s.

“For me, cage work is locking in mechanics. In the game, you can only focus on so many things and your swing isn’t one of those. You have to trust muscle memory.”

Watson, 21, was born in Jasper, Ind., and moved to Fountaintown near New Palestine as he was entering seventh grade. Keegan is the son of Dan and Amy and the younger brother of Callee. The family moved when his mother took a job in the Indianapolis area.

He split his freshmen season between the junior varsity and varsity and was up with head coach Shawn Lyons for his final three springs with the Dragons.

“He knows what he’s taking about,” says Watson of Lyons. “He’s intense. He’s good a reading people. He’s not afraid to let you know when he thinks you’re not giving your best effort.”

Prior to high school, Watson played four years of travel baseball for the Indiana D-I Hoosiers, which had players from the Bedford, Ind., area.

His 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Bulls, where he was coached by Sean Laird. Watson was with the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U) before heading to Nebraska.

Watson is hoping Indiana State can use him out of the bullpen like he did with the Cornhuskers.

“I’m pretty confident in all my stuff,” says Watson. “I could pitch backwards or normal. 

“Whatever got the job done.”

Keegan Watson, a New Palestine (Ind.) High School graduate, played two baseball seasons at the University of Nebraska and has transferred to Indiana State University for 2020-21. He is with the Local Legends in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Ind. (University of Nebraska Photo)