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.
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.
“We play every two days,” says Metcalf, who was the designated hitter during a season-opening victory Thursday, July 2 against the Pit Spitters. Former Jackrabbits hitting coach Alex O’Donnell, who played at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and is an assistant at Mercyhurst-North East was made a winner in his managing debut. “I’ve been to the beach a couple of times.”
Before the Kansas season was halted in March, Metcalf appeared in 15 games with 12 starts at first base and hit .244 (10-of-41 with two home runs, two doubles, six walks and 10 runs batted in. He belted his homers against Charleston Southern Feb. 22 and Indiana State March 7.
The Jayhawks, with Ritch Price as head coach and his son Ritchie Price as hitting/infield coach, recruiting coordinator and third base coach, were returning from a series March 10-11 at the University of Iowa when they learned that the Ivy League had canceled its season.
“We practiced the next day and the coaches told us it was not looking good,” says Metcalf.
Soon after that, the season was canceled and campus was closed. Metcalf finished his spring semester classes via computer back in Granger, Ind.
“I was trying to learn accounting online,” says Metcalf, who is working toward a major in Sport Management with a minor in Business. “I got it done.”
The son of Dave and Leslie Metcalf and brother of Lexie Metcalf quarantined for about a month then began going to the Harris Township fields for daily batting practice with Penn classmate Niko Kavadas, who completed his third season at Notre Dame in 2020.
Metcalf also resumed lessons with Mike Marks at his Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and began mowing lawns with the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation.
“I wasn’t super-confident about the summer (baseball season),” says Metcalf, who was told June 15 to report to Traverse City, which is about 250 miles due north of Granger. “Now I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.”
Metcalf expects to split his time with the Dune Bears between DH, first base and catcher.
As a Jayhawk freshman, Metcalf got into 14 games (one as a starter) and hit .077 (1-for-14) with one RBI.
Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn, Metcalf was a career .379 hitter while earning all-state and District Player of the Year recognition and being named to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior.
Metcalf was on the High Honor Roll four times. The Kingsmen won four Northern Indiana Conference and IHSAA sectional titles, three regionals, two semistates and a Class 4A state championship (he scored two runs in a 3-2 win against Terre Haute North Vigo in 2015). The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder also played football at Penn.
What’s the difference between high school and college baseball?
“It’s the faster pace,” says Metcalf. “It’s how good every single player is. You have to prepare for every single game like it’s a big game — even the mid-week ones.
“It’s fun, but hard work.”
Metcalf, a righty swinger, sees his power and his ability to hit to all fields as his strengths as a hitter.
“Hitting veto — guys that throw in the low to mid-90’s — means having quick hands,” says Metcalf. “You need to have a short, steady stroke. (The pitcher) will provide the power.”
From his 7U to 14U summer, Metcalf played travel baseball for the Granger Cubs. Teammates included Kavadas, Trevor Waite, Matt Kominkiewicz and Tony Carmola.
He played for Penn’s summer team after his first two high school campaigns then one summer each with the Eric Osborn-coached Indiana Nitro (17U) and Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U). Prior to his senior year, he played for the Kevin Christman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.
Melton was 21 when the corner infielder and outfielder came to Evansville in 1967 and hit nine home runs and drove in 72 runs. He made his Major League Baseball debut with Chicago in 1968 and led the American League in home runs in 1971 with 33.
Herrmann was a 19-year-old catcher in 1966 and was with Chicago briefly in 1967 before coming back to Evansville in 1967 and 1968. He stuck with the parent White Sox in 1969.
Cotton Nash, who had been a basketball All-American at the University of Kentucky and played in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warrior and ABA with the Kentucky Colonels, was played with Evansville in 1967, 1968 and 1970, belting 33 homers in the first season of the Triplets.
In a group shot, left-handed pitcher Lester Clinkscales is in the middle of the frame. His son, Sherard Clinkscales, was a standout at Purdue who was selected in the first round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals and is now athletic director at Indiana State University.
Wirthwein captures roughly the first century of Evansville baseball in a book published March 2, 2020.
Through library files, digitized publications and the resources of the Society for American Baseball Research, he uncovered details about teams and characters going back to the Civil War, which ended in 1865.
Bosse Field, which is now the third-oldest professional baseball park in use (behind Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field) came on the scene in 1915.
Growing up, Wirthwein played youth baseball and then plenty of slow pitch softball.
He graduated from Harrison High School in 1972. He earned a journalism degree at Butler University in Indianapolis in 1976 and took job at The Brownsburg (Ind.) Guide, where he covered everything from sports to the city council and was also a photographer.
After that, he covered trap shooting for Trap & Field Magazine and had a short stint as editor at the Zionsville (Ind.) Times.
Desiring more in his paycheck, Wirthwein went back to Butler and began preparing for his next chapter. He worked toward a Masters of Business Administration (which was completed in 1991) and worked a decade at AT&T and then more than 20 years managing several departments at CNO Financial Group (formerly Conseco) before retiring in June 2019.
“I got lost for 30-plus years,” says Wirthwein, who has returned to his writing roots.
About three years before his last day at CNO he began researching his Evansville baseball book.
“I slowly assembled and had a manuscript shortly before retirement,” says Wirthwein, who is married with four daughters and resides in Fishers, Ind.
When it came time to find someone to produce the book, he found The History Press, a division of Arcadia Publishing that specializes in regional history.
It took a bit of digging to unearth the treasures from the early years. He was amazed that little had been written about the pre-Bosse Field era.
He did find details on teams like Resolutes, Blues, Brewers, Hoosiers and Blackbirds — all of which seemed to have monetary difficulties and scandals swirling around them.
“The whole 1800’s was just a mess,” says Wirthwein. “Teams were coming and going. Financial failures were everywhere.”
Jumping contracts was very commonplace in 19th century baseball. They were often not worth the paper they were written on since a player could get an offer for more money and be on the next train to that city.
To try to combat this, Evansville joined the League Alliance in 1877. It was a group of major and minor league teams assembled to protect player contracts.
It always seemed to be about money.
The 1895 Evansville Blackbirds led the Class B Southern League for much of the season. But, being nearly destitute, the club began throwing games for a sum that Wirthwein discovered to be about $1,500.
The Atlanta Crackers were supposed to be the beneficiary of the blown ballgames, but it was the Nashville Seraphs who won the pennant. Evansville finished in third — 4 1/2 games back.
In 1901, catcher Frank Roth hit 36 home runs for the Evansville River Rats of the Three-I League.
“The Evansville paper thought that to be a world record,” says Wirthwein.
The wooden park on Louisiana, which was built in 1889 near the Evansville stockyards, was in disrepair by 1914 when it collapsed and injured 42 spectators.
Seeing an opportunity, Evansville mayor Benjamin Bosse sprang into action.
“The city had bought this big plot of land,” says Wirthwein. “(Bosse Field) was built in a matter of months.
“He was ready.”
Unusual for its time, Bosse Field was meant to be a multi-purpose facility from the beginning and became home not only to baseball, but football games, wrestling matches and more.
Wirthstein’s book tells the story of Evansville native Sylvester Simon, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1923 and 1924.
In the fall of 1926, he lost three fingers on his left hand and part of his palm while working in a furniture factory.
He came back to baseball using a customized grip on his bat and with a glove that was repaired using a football protector and played for the Evansville Hubs in 1927 and had pro stops with the Central League’s Fort Wayne (Ind.) Chiefs in 1928 and 1930 and played his last season with the Three-I League’s Quincy (Ill.) Indians in 1932. His bat and glove are at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Hall of Famers Edd Roush (1912-13 Yankees/River Rats), Chuck Klein (1927 Hubs), Hank Greenberg (1931 Hubs) and Warren Spahn (1941 Bees) also spent time in Evansville. Roush is from Oakland City, Ind. Klein hails from Indianapolis.
Huntingburg native Bob Coleman played three seasons in the majors and managed 35 years in the minors, including stints in Evansville.
The Limestone League came to town thanks to travel restrictions during World War II. The Detroit Tigers conducted spring training in Evansville. Indiana also hosted teams in Bloomington (Cincinnati Reds), French Lick (Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox), Lafayette (Cleveland Indians), Muncie (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Terre Haute (White Sox in 1945).
Wirthwein’s research found plenty about barnstorming black baseball teams in the early 1900’s.
In the 1920’s, the Reichert Giants represented Evansville in the Negro Southern League. The Reichert family was fanatic about baseball. Manson Reichert went on to be mayor (1943-48).
“(The Reichert Giants) played semipros when not playing league games,” says Wirthwein. “They lobbied hard to play at Bosse Field when the Class B (Hubs) were out of town, but they kept going turned down.
Games were played at the Louisiana Street park, Eagles Park or at Evansville’s all-black high school, Lincoln.
“They started playing games opposite the Hubs and outdrew them every single time. The Bosse Field people finally acquiesced.”
In the 1950’s, the Evansville Colored Braves were in the Negro Southern League and were rivals of an independent black team, the Evansville Dodgers. Games were played at Bosse Field and Lincoln High.
What about the “Global” disaster?
Evansville-based real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. conceived of the Global Baseball League in 1966. It was to be a third major circuit to compete with the American League and National League. There would be teams all over globe, including the Tokyo Dragons from Japan, and the GBL was headquartered in Evansviile.
“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” says Wirthwein. “The guy just wouldn’t give up.”
Happy Chandler, commissioner of baseball in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was brought in as GBL commissioner.
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.
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.
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.
“(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.
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.
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).
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
“We created because a lot of these guys had nowhere to play,” says Luke Dietz, director of operations for Bullpen Tournaments and acting commissioner for the College Summer League. “We also give them the option to play-and-train, too.”
The CSL is set up to have games turf fields on Mondays and Tuesdays (this week that meant one Monday and two Tuesday). Players can go through training at Pro X, located on the Grand Park Sports Campus, Wednesday through Friday.
Several players also work in various capacities at Grand Park.
“We were not planning on having a collegiate league,” says Dietz. “The way everything happened gave us a way to do it safety.
“We think this is going to be a good opportunity for us to do it for years to come. What’s great about us is that you play all your games here and you have a training schedule as well.”
The focus in the league is not to extend anyone too far.
“We’re directly in-contact with all of their coaches at their colleges,” says Dietz. “They’re setting their programs with us (at Pro X).
“(CSL coaches and trainers) know this guy is only supposed to throw 25 pitches this week. He’s not going to go past that.
“That sets us apart from other leagues.
Dietz says ‘The League” is focused on the needs of the athletes and that’s how the the idea of playing a few games plus training and earning money by working came about.
“Everything we do is for the players,” says Dietz. “It’s not about revenue or anything like that.
“We probably have 40 guys working for us to pay off the league. That’s an opportunity for them to see how we opportunity and put some money in their pocket.”
The CSL sports 261 players, which were gathered through them asking to be invited and by recruiting. Of that number, more than 120 come from NCAA Division I programs.
“It’s not just a league in Indiana,” says Dietz. “It’s a high level of competition college league for sure.”
Daylan Nanny, a Plainfield (Ind.) High School graduate who was a lefty-swinging junior outfielder/first baseman at Western Carolina University in the spring, is in the CSL.
“It’s cool to be back here playing,” says Nanny, who was a 14-year-old travel ball player with the Outlaws (now Evoshield Canes Midwest) in some of the early games at Grand Park and then went to work there. “I’ve spent a good amount of my time on the Grand Park complex. Bullpen Tournaments is a great place to work. They’re great people and I love it.”
Nanny appreciates the summer league’s format.
“This is a really good opportunity to get better,” says Nanny. “The middle of the week to the end of the week is to work on what you struggled with on Monday and Tuesday
“Use that time and get ready to come out the next week ready to play again. It’s a unique setting. If you do it right, you can get really good out of here.”
Some players are from junior colleges and others are incoming freshmen. One ballplayer came from Texas and is staying in a motor home with his father.
There are athletes staying with teammates who live in the area, some in an Air BnB with buddies and others in apartments.
“We sold it as a commuter league, trying to get all of our local guys,” says Dietz. “Especially with the uncertainty of when we were able to start the league because of everything go on in the world, we weren’t going to be able to do housing on such a short notice.”
Every team has at least two college coaches on its staff. One of those is Butler assistant Matt Kennedy.
“We want to get the guys back on the field, knock the rust off a little bit and get them reps,” says Kennedy. “We want to prepare them to go back to their institutions in the fall and be ready to play.”
There was a couple of weeks of “spring training” leading into CSL games. Players came out and took batting practice and fielded grounders. Pitchers threw bullpens.
Kennedy says he expects teams will play close to 36 games in eight weeks.
“In my opinion, that’s a good thing,” says Kennedy. “It’s not 70 games. It gives these guys enough time to play and develop and time to rest and get int he weight room as well.
“These guys have been done basically for three months. Easing them into it with this format is really good. Guys have plenty of time to recover.”
“There are some kids you can tell they have it at a young age,” says Stout, who is anxious to show off the talents on a roster made up of athletes from multiple states.
That includes University of Kentucky commit Caden Dana, a right-handed pitcher/lefty-swinging third baseman from Montgomery, N.Y.
“(Dana) has tremendous feel on the mound,” says Stout.
Among the uncommitted on the 2022 Prospects are lefty-batting catcher/third baseman George Baker from Waldorf, Md., and 6-foot-5, 270-pound right-handed pitcher/first baseman Hunter Pudlo of Antioch, Ill.
“We have kids who will be committed at a high level,” says Stout. “The 16-year-old summer is most important summer for recruiting.”
While they can’t sign until the fall of their senior year, many players are expected to make a verbal commitment in the summer or fall.
“The 17-year-old season is still recruited,” says Stout. “But in this day and age scholarship money is pretty much gone at that point.
“We educate kids as much as possible and prepare them for the next step. You don’t want them to enjoy (the commitment) so long you don’t improve. (College) coaches have walked away from a kid (even after a commitment has been made).
“College coaches get paid to win.”
That’s why Stout stresses that a player should go where he is comfortable and he must produce once he gets there.
“It’s all about relationships and how you treat people,” says Stout. “Baseball is a small world. You never want to burn bridges You don’t lie about kids. It’s all about finding right fit for the kid.
“It is cool as an organization to commit to a high-level school. But we don’t want to kids to get on campus and transfer out. That doesn’t make us think we did our job.”
“My dad is passionate about what he does,” says Austin. “I’ve seen some cool moments.”
Austin saw his father weep when former Prospects player J.J. Bleday was selected in the first round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt University by the Miami Marlins as a lefty-swinging outfielder.
Bleday, a 2019 Golden Spikes Award finalist, was going to visit with current Prospects via a Zoom video conference this weekend.
“It’s important for the kids to hear about different types of recruitments,” says Stout, who recently brought on lefty-batting shortstop Clay Dungan to share his story. Dungan played for the Prospects and was a sophomore at Yorktown (Ind.) High School when Stout was a senior then was a mainstay at Indiana State University. He was drafted in the ninth round by the Kansas City Royals in 2019.
Dungan was undersized coming out of high school.
“He committed as a roster spot guy,” says Stout. “He started 90 percent of the games for (Sycamores head coach) Mitch Hannahs.
Austin Stout, a graduate of Yorktown (Ind.) High School and Northern Illinois University, is an assistant baseball coach at his alma mater and Director of Player Development for the Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization.
Confidence and self-assurance was valued by Jason Van Skike as a baseball player and are traits emphasized by him as a coach.
“Baseball is a great teacher of things that happen in your life,” says Van Skike, the second-year pitching coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School. “You focus on the things you can control. There are three things we talk about everyday — work ethic, attitude and confidence.
“You can’t make up for a lost day,” says Van Skike. “You want to always go to bed at night knowing you put in your best effort.”
That’s work ethic.
“You have a choice to have a good attitude or a bad attitude,” says Van Skike. “It’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to get better.
“If you believe good things are going to happen, good things tend to happen. If you believe bad things are going to happen, bad things tend to happen.”
“My job is to make sure (Westfield pitchers) feel that they are the absolute man,” says Van Skike. “That’s all do-able if they’ve done the things they need to do on the days leading to (the game appearance).”
Rick Heller, who is now head coach at the University of Iowa, was ISU head coach when Van Skike was in Terre Haute. Heller had him join the Sycamores after seeing the righty at a sophomore showcase while he was at Treasure Valley.
“(Heller) would preach ‘chest out; a lot of confidence,’” says Van Skike. “I would hear that all the time. I found out that body language plays into the game. If you can trick yourself into thinking you’re the man, you might be the man.
“(Heller) was always talking about body language and confidence.”
Van Skike says it was not until the end of his college career that this lesson really began to sink in.
“I was an excuse maker,” says Van Skike. “If I walked a guy, it wasn’t my fault.”
“(Herbst) made me feel comfortable,” says Van Skike. “He didn’t try to change too much of what I was.”
Herbst went on to help steer Sean Manaea, who is now in the majors.
“He was a baby giraffe at Indiana State and didn’t know how to pitch,” says Van Skike of Manaea.
Van Skike had come a long way by the time he pitched for the Sycamores.
He entered Gig Harbor, he was 5-foot-5 and maybe 135 pounds. He didn’t make the varsity squad until he was a senior.
“They kept me around since I had a sense of urgency,” says Van Skike, who played for Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pete Jansen. “I ran on and off the field. I needed to in order to stand out.”
By the time he was a senior, he had began to fill out and stood 6-3.
He went to Treasure Valley, where Rick Baumann was head coach, with a fastball clocked at 78-82 mph. That’s when he began showing up an hour early for practice every day to do a towel drill. By the end of the fall, he was up to 84 mph. During indoor workouts, he was sitting at 83-86. On a nice day, the team went outside and he was at 88-91 and he was able to sustain that speed.
“I made a 10 mph jump in a four- to five-month span,” says Van Skike. “I needed those extra reps.”
Extra reps is what Van Skike got in junior college, where there is less restriction on the amount of times players and coaches can spend working on the game.
“I loved every moment of it,” says Van Skike of the juco diamond life. “You spend so many hours with your teammates and coaches. You build that brotherhood. Reflecting back, junior college baseball was the most fun for me.”
Van Skike sings the praises of junior college because it also offers a chance to develop. A juco player might get 60 at-bats in the fall between games and scrimmages and around 200 more in the spring. By the end of their sophomore year, they’ve gotten almost 500 at-bats and that doesn’t count summer ball.
Van Skike says a D-I player who does not crack the lineup as a freshman and sophomore — which is often the case — might go into their junior year with less than 100 career at-bats.
“You’ve got to play,” says Van Skike. “You’ve got to get game experience.”
Van Skike left college in 2011 unsure of his baseball future. Scout Mike Shirley (now amateur scouting director) brought him to Madison County for a workout and signed him to a White Sox contract as an undrafted free agent. He hustled to Bristol, Va., of the Appalachian League and picked up an extra-inning victory in his first outing.
His pitching coach at Bristol was Larry Owens, now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.
“(Owens) simplified the game for me,” says Van Skike.
Through 2013, Van Skike appeared in 73 games (64 as a reliever) and went 10-8 with a 3.18 earned run average in 150 2/3 innings. He was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 74 innings at Advanced Class-A Winston-Salem in 2013.
“(Winston-Salem pitching coach) J.R. Perdew was a tremendous help,” says Van Skike. “He told me things I had never thought about before.
“The more simple you can keep baseball the better off you’re going to be.”
Perdew is now the White Sox assistant pitching coordinator.
Van Skike learned to use a cut fastball to be effective against left-handed hitters.
He had a six-month lease on an apartment in St. Louis and expected to be in spring training in 2014 when he was released by the White Sox. He went to live with his parents — Ike and Cathy Van Skike — in Arizona and got a job delivering pizzas. Not having a steady catch partner, he threw into a chain link fence. Occasionally, he would work out with a high school team and they had no trouble hitting his deliveries.
Still, an invitation was extended in Wichita. Even though he did not have a stellar spring training with the Wingnuts, he had enough of a resume on affiliated ball to keep him. The 2014 season saw him start 26 games and got 12-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 110 innings. He started the American Association All-Star Game and helped Wichita win the league title.
It tended to be very breezy out to left field in Wichita. Van Skike used it to his advantage.
“A lot of hitters get big egos when the wind blows,” says Van Skike. “I made my living down and away (to right-handed hitters) and got roll-overs to the shortstop.”
The 2015 campaign was not as successful (7-8, 4.89 in 116 innings) and Van Skike retired as a player.
“Getting into college coaching is extremely difficult,” says Van Skike. He went with friend Arlo Evasick, the head coach at Federal Way and the Eagles qualified for the 2016 state tournament.
That summer, Van Skike ended up back in Indiana on the coaching staff of Jackrabbits manager Matt Howard, who is now head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo.
Van Skike was starting to prepare for a chance to play pro ball in Australia when Heller let him know about an opportunity in Des Moines.
“I got extremely lucky,” says Van Skike.
David Pearson was hired as DMACC head coach and soon hired Van Skike as an assistant. The two had to dismantle the roster after the first season and went into the second year (2018) with mostly freshmen.
Near the end of that season, Van Skike began to examine his relationship with baseball.
“It consumed my life and I missed a lot of family events (as a player),” says Van Skike. “I began missing those again as a college coach.
“I need more of a balance. I didn’t know what that was at the time.”
Through a fortunate sequence of events, Van Skike moved to central Indiana and wound up taking a job as an Edward Jones financial advisor in Westfield.
He was at the right place at the right time since Westfield High School head coach Ryan Bunnell was also looking to fill a slot for a pitching coach.
“I’m still heavily involved with baseball and I can still be around my family and friends,” says Van Skike. “That’s what I was searching for.
“I’m extremely lucky I’m at Westfield.”
The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“We had an extremely talented group,” says Van Skike of a Shamrocks team that received votes in the Class 4A preseason poll. “We could’ve won state. But there’s nothing we can do to control it.
“It’s an awkward time for these seniors,” says Van Skike. “They almost don’t want to hear about baseball.
“It’s still a little tender.
“We’ve been talking with juniors and saying let’s do it next year for these seniors (in 2021). They shouldn’t complain one day. Don’t ever take things for granted.”
Jason Van Skike is a financial advisor at Edwards Jones and the pitching coach at Westfield High School, both in Westfield, Ind. The graduate of Gig Harbor High School in Washington pitched at Treasure Valley Community College Oregon and Indiana State University as well as in the Chicago White Sox organization and in independent professional baseball. (Edwards Jones Photo)
Westfield (Ind.) High School varsity baseball coaches in 2020 include (from left): assistant Bill Lindley, head coach Ryan Bunnell and assistant Jason Van Skike. Shamrocks pitchers are led by Van Skike, who played collegiately at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon and Indiana State University and professionally in the Chicago White Sox system and with the independent Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. (Westfield High School Photo)
Ben Davis: Jose Guzman — Pitcher, University of Cincinnati; Kameron Kelly — First Base, Undecided.
Brebeuf Jesuit: Shane Bauer — Pitcher/First Base, Dartmouth College; Karl Meyer — Right Field, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Andrew Pickett — Shortstop, Hope College; Gabe Wright — Center Field, Undecided.
Decatur Central: Timmy Casteel — Third Base, Undecided; Brayden Hazelwood — Shortstop, Indiana University Southeast; Jared Thompson — Pitcher/Center Field, Undecided.
Franklin Central: Austin Carr — Second Base, Grace College; Matt Hall — Pitcher, Ashland University; Corey Jeanor — Shortstop, Ashland University; Austin Snider — Outfield, Manchester University.
Indianapolis North Central: Carter Bailey — Infielder, Undecided; Zach Gessner — Infielder/Pitcher, Undecided; Brendon Gibson — Outfielder, Indiana University Southeast; Joseph Rangel — First Base/Designated Hitter, Undecided.
Lawrence Central: Anthony Steinhardt — Center Field/Pitcher, University of Dayton.
Lawrence North: Ethan Butterfield — Pitcher, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; Marcus Goodpaster — First Base/Pitcher, Undecided; Ty Johnson — Pitcher, Ball State University; Nick Taylor — Left Field/Pitcher, Purdue University.
Park Tudor: Ian Krull — First/Third Base, St. John’s University; Ben Rankin — Pitcher/Right Field, Purdue University.
Perry Meridian: Bayley Arnold — Pitcher, Earlham College; Isaac Jones — Second Base, Undecided; Luciano Salemi — Centerfield, Lake Erie College; Conner Woods — Catcher, North Park University.
Pike: Cameron Powell — First Base, Earlham College; Reggie Thornton — Center Field, Indiana State University.
Roncalli: Will Schoettle — Pitcher, Undecided; Alex Stroud — First Base, Asbury University.
Southport: Kyven Carter — Pitcher, First base, Undecided; Ryan Lezon — Pitcher/Shortstop, Ball State University.
Warren Central: Justin Alexander — Pitcher/Designated Hitter/Outfield, Seminole State College (Fla.); Cameron Booker — Pitcher, Muskegon Community College; Christian W. Jones — Pitcher/First/Third Base, Indiana Tech.
One was playing for the Duneland Flyers, the other for the Indiana Bulldogs, when they first discovered an interesting coincidence.
“It was kind of funny that there was another Tyler Nelson on a team,” Tyler Nelson of the Bulldogs said.
It was just the beginning for the 10-year olds, Tyler J. Nelson of Chesterton and Andrean’s Tyler D. Nelson of Crown Point. Their baseball paths have continued to cross in the years since, the boys with the same name and talent for the same game building a friendship as they began to climb the ranks in local and state baseball.
“It just really developed the more we played together,” Tyler J. said. “We’d be with each other all the time over the summer.”
At the age of 11, the Nelsons found themselves on the same roster as members of Team Indiana, the first of several seasons they would occupy a dugout together.
“We hit first and second,” said Tyler J., an outfielder most of his career. “I never played shortstop in my life, I look at the card before the game and I was playing shortstop. I was like, OK, whatever. So then the first inning, I get a ball, I make a play, I didn’t say anything. (Tyler D.’s) dad (Bill) was the coach, he made out the lineup, and he’s like, that’s not (my) Tyler. They flipped us.”
Meanwhile, Tyler D., a shortstop, was standing in the outfield, also wondering what was going on.
“I remember thinking, why am I out here?” Tyler D. said. “I just went out there and didn’t think about it. I might’ve had one play or two.”
The confusion has only accelerated over the years, becoming a source of humor for the boys.
“It keeps happening,” Tyler J. said. “We had shirts for all-state, someone went up to someone and said your shirts have a mistake, there’s the same name twice. The coach will say Tyler, we’ll both look and the coach will be looking at one of us, so you’ll just turn away. We just kind of figured it out eventually.”
It didn’t help matters that the boys had similar offensive skill sets, top-of-the-order-type hitters with plus speed, meaning they often batted in succession. Tyler J. has long worn No. 1 and for years, Tyler D. sported No. 2. Heck, they even have an identical nickname, T-Nelly, on their high school teams.
“Sometimes, I batted last and he batted first,” Tyler D. said. “When I’d come up, they’d say, ‘oh, the leadoff guy’s up now.’ We were on a team one time, we had another Tyler. They’d say Tyler and we’d all look.”
In addition to three seasons with Team Indiana, the Nelsons were also teammates on the Indiana Bulldogs as 14-year olds, Elite Baseball as 15s and on a Futures squad before their junior years.
“People get these guys confused all the time,” Shane Nelson, Tyler J.’s dad, said. “I’d have adults text me, they’d see something in the paper and say, ‘hey, did Tyler switch schools? Is he going to Andrean now?’ I’d say, ‘no, no, that’s the other one.’ One time, we had the lineup card before the game, someone said, ‘you’ve got Tyler Nelson on here twice.’ We said, ‘well, there’s two of ‘em.’”
Tyler D.’s mom Kristina recalled over 10 times that parents from other teams asked if they were brothers.
“Because we would name two children the same,” she said. “Then opposing coaches thinking the line-up was wrong, (Prep Baseball Report) and Perfect Game trying to figure out which one since they played on the same team.”
As the boys’ careers continued to intersect, their growing circles of friends also began to overlap more and more, creating some even more humorous moments.
“One time, a girl meant to (direct message) him something on Twitter and sent it to me,” Tyler J. said. “He texted me, like, I think she meant to send that to me.”
“I’ve had other friends text me and say, ‘oh, sorry, I meant that to go to the other Tyler,’” Tyler D. said.
Tyler D. ascended to the Andrean lineup as a freshman after a brief stint on the JV, starting at shortstop on the 59ers’ Class 3A state championship teams the last two seasons. Tyler J. came up to Chesterton’s varsity as a sophomore, becoming an outfield mainstay.
They have never squared off in high school though their teams did meet in a memorable Class 4A Chesterton Sectional final in 2017, a game Andrean won 4-3 with three runs in the top of the seventh inning after the Trojans broke a 1-1, scoring twice in the bottom of the sixth. Tyler J. was on the Chesterton roster but didn’t play, while Tyler D. left the game following an early injury.
The rivalry intensified with the transfer of Tommy Benson from Andrean to Chesterton, reaching the point that the schools stopped playing during the regular season.
“(Benson) was actually my neighbor growing up for 10 years,” Tyler D. said.
With the 59ers back in 4A this season as a result of the success factor, the teams were slated to be in the same sectional again until the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out spring sports and prematurely ended the Nelsons’ prep careers.
Fortunately for both, the cancelled senior season won’t hamper their college plans. Tyler D. drew an early offer from Indiana University and committed to the Hoosiers going into his junior year.
“I liked IU, being the home state, it’s not real far,” he said. “They’re doing a lot of positive things, they have a new coaching staff. They’re really good at developing players. They had like 10 guys drafted last year.”
Tyler J. will play about 60 miles up State Road 46 at Indiana State.
“The recruiting process, I over-stressed it, getting it done,” Tyler J. said. “I felt like it was a good fit, all the coaches are super cool. The biggest thing for me, my goal is to play professionally, and they’re really good at developing guys for pro ball, turning three-star guys into four and five-star guys for the next level.”
In the interim, both are doing what they can to stay on top of their games, given the social constraints.
“I’ve got a batting cage in my basement,” Tyler D. said. “We’ve got a small weight room next to it. My friends text me, can I come over and hit?”
Shane Nelson is the strength and conditioning coach at Chesterton, so Tyler J. has always gone there to work out. Now he’s got to improvise at home.
“I’ll go to the local parks to run and throw,” Tyler J. said. “I have a friend who has a hangar at the Porter County Airport with a batting cage in it.”
Tyler D. was slated to start summer school June 22 and Tyler J. was scheduled to head to Terre Haute on July 5, but neither expects to be heading to campus before August.
“We don’t know anything for sure yet except that all classes are online for the summer,” Tyler J. said.
Before taking the next step in their baseball careers, the two hope to play together one more time this summer with the Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“I am very excited to be playing with the other Tyler again this summer,” Tyler J. said. “It will be a fun end to our high school baseball careers.”
Tyler J. latched on with the Midwest Collegiate League team in March, while Tyler D. joined the roster recently.
“I think it’s icing on the cake because I was never supposed to be playing summer ball this year and I was supposed to be at Indiana,” Tyler D. said. “I never thought I would have played with Tyler (J.) again after the fall and it is just crazy how we ended up back on the same team again. I think it is very funny that we will have to hear our name called from the dugout and we both look at the same time or teams thinking what’s going on with the lineup. This just gives Tyler (J.) and me another laugh at the fact we have two Tyler Nelsons on the same team.”
Follow Jim Peters on Twitter — @JP8185
Tyler D. Nelson (left) and Tyler J. Nelson have been linked by more than a name for years. They are both standout baseball players in northwest Indiana — Tyler D. at Andrean High School and Tyler J, at Chesterton High School. Tyler D. is bound for Indiana University and Tyler J for Indiana State University. (Jim Peters Photo)