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Wickliff, baseball-playing Beech Grove Hornets ‘turn the page’

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Beech Grove (Ind.) High School baseball adopted a mantra as the Hornets took to the diamond in 2021 under head coach Jacob Wickliff: Turn the page.
“Physically and philosophically one will never reach the end of the book unless you turn the page,” says Wickliff of the fresh-start approach in a program he was hired to lead in the summer of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“The clear message to everyone is that we’re starting over,” says Wickliff. “That’s been big with parents. Our upperclassmen and key underclassmen have bought in.”
Wickliff has been made excitement and standards a high priority at Beech Grove, which is just inside the I-465 corridor southwest of Indianapolis.
“Kids weren’t excited to play here and that’s been our big push,” says Wickliff, who says there is a buzz around the Hornets who play at new all-turf on-campus facility — Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
The diamond, which debuted in 2021, is part of a district referendum that put turf on the football field and added the baseball and softball fields and other school-related projects.
Baseball games and practices used to be at Sarah T. Bolton Park in Beech Grove.
Since the new baseball field is landlocked, it is 297 feet down the left field line and there’s 10-foot high fence from the pole to left-center.
Planes that fly by can’t miss the place since there’s a huge black, orange and white Hornet logo in center field.
The field also brings in plenty of rental fees that Wickliff turns right back into the baseball program to cover the cost of spirit packs and more.
Wickliff, who teaches at Beech Grove Middle School, wants the excitement to reach down to the community’s younger players from Beech Grove Little League which leads to the junior high program then the high school.
A tradition has been started of inviting junior high players to have a practice and play a game on the turf at the end of the season. Beech Grove Middle School play its home games at South Grove Intermediate.
“It goes back to excitement,” says Wickliff of getting those youngsters charged up about baseball.
Beech Grove (enrollment around 1,000) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central).
Last spring, the ICC adopted a two-game series format. There are home-and-home conference games each Tuesday and Wednesday.
In 2021, the Hornets were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Herron, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, George Washington and Indianapolis Shortridge. Beech Grove has won six sectional crowns — the last in 2014.
With a smaller student-athlete pool and so many multi-sport athletes, Beech Grove did not participate in the recent fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period.
But many returnees play travel ball and fall ball in addition to a fall sport.
“Guys doing it year-round deserve a little bit of a break,” says Wickliff. “Winter time is where we have to make the most growth and development.”
Two seniors finished the season at Beech Grove in 2021. One of those — Garrett Esposito — is now on the baseball team at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill.
Wickliff says hopes to have several college baseball-worthy players in the Class of 2023 by the time they’re entering their senior year.
Beech Grove assistant coaches include Garry Hampton, Austin Jones and Ryan Kendall with the varsity and Christian Brown (head coach) and Justin Duhamell (assistant) with the junior varsity.
Wickliff is a 2012 graduate of Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played baseball for John Rockey and football for Michael Karpinski.
“I’m still in-touch with him to this day,” says Wickliff of Karpinski. “He’s one of my pivotal role models.”
Head JV baseball coach Devin Phillips was someone Wickliff looked up to going through school and had a big impact on him.
“He started process of me becoming a coach,” says Wickliff of Phillips. “It’s the way he was able to relate with the players and build those relationships.”
After earning a Physical Education degree with a Coaching minor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, he completed a Masters in Coaching Education and Athlete Development from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
While in college, Wickliff coached baseball with Rockey at Franklin Central and also was a middle school then freshmen football coach in an FC program led by Burt Austin followed by Grant Lewis.
Wickliff has been involved with three travel baseball organizations — the Indiana Astros, Midwest Astros and currently, Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).
After years of coaching 15U to 17U teams, he is now helms the 18U Signature team and serves as Director of Baseball Operations for high school age groups and is a lead evaluator on the Coaching Evaluation Team.
Jake Banwart, who counted Wickliff as an assistant at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis before the latter took his current Beech Grove job, is BAM president.
Jacob and wife Bridget Wickliff were married Nov. 2, 2019. They reside in Perry Township.

Jacob Wickliff.
The Beech Grove (Ind.) High School Hornets with head coach Jacob Wickliff.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Coach Jacob Barnwart.

Mortrud’s Midwest Recruiting, LLC approaching 1-year anniversary

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-hand familiarity with the subject and the desire to offer something of value to baseball players and their families led Aaron Mortrud to launch Midwest Recruiting, LLC in October 2020.
Mortrud, a 1990 graduate of Bethany Christian School in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), where his head coach was Dan Bodiker, played one season each for head coach Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
Oldest son Nick Mortrud went through the recruiting process while playing at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind.
Midwest Recruiting, LLC helps market players to prospective colleges in an efficient, affordable way.
Mortrud describes it as “Autotrader for Athletes.”
“Recruiting is a sales process,” says Mortrud, whose day job is National Sales Manager for Starcraft Inc., and works of the office near his Shipshewana, Ind., home. “College coaches are buyers of a product — the student-athlete. How do you connect the buyer with the product?”
Using his relationships with recruiters, Mortrud works for his clients to join the two parties.
Once he got the ball rolling last fall, things took off like crazy.
“I just picked up a kid from Australia who wants to play college baseball in the U.S.,” says Mortrud.
So far three players have found a college baseball home — Kaleb Fritz (Lafayette Jeff Class of 2021) at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Noah Perkins (East Noble Class of 2022) at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and Carson Smith (Knightstown Class of 2022) at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. Others are close to signing.
Full Midwest Recruiting, LLC services cost $95.
“What I’m trying to do is give as much honest and real information to families at the best cost,” says Mortrud. “Parents deserve to be told the truth about all facets of the game.
A profile with a players’ vital data goes on a website that recruiters can go to for their specific needs. For example: One coach might be seeking a left-handed pitcher who throws in the high 80’s and has such-and-such a standard test score.
Mortrud sees himself as an unbiased third party who has invested into quality measuring equipment that provides reliable numbers.
“The only thing worse than no information is bad information,” says Mortrud. “I don’t want to waste a (college) program’s or a kid’s time. Let’s be honest from the beginning.
“I have to maintain my credibility.”
Players can also be seen at Midwest Recruiting, LLC-hosted recruiting events. The next ones are a Fall Showcase Oct. 2 and Scout Series Oct. 3 at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. The first is a pro-style workout and assessment. The second includes spots for teams and individuals.
A Scout Series event is scheduled for June 25-26, 2022 at Huntington U.
Mortrud has experience as a baseball parent and travel ball coach. He is now with the Midwest Pack (run by Westview head coach Jason Rahn) and was with the Eastside Irish before moving from central Ohio back to Indiana six years ago.
“College baseball is a job,” says Mortrud of the long days and year-round commitment it takes at that level. “(Players and families) need to know what college baseball is.
“This may not be for you. How bad do you really want to play baseball?”
Ultimately, the decision is not for the parents but the student-athlete.
“That kid’s got to decide what he wants to do,” says Mortrud.
Nick Mortrud (Westview Class of 2021) — Aaron’s oldest son — made decision to not play college baseball.
“I know what its like to come through the recruiting process as a parent with a kid who does not want to go on after you’ve spent all that time and money,” says Aaron Mortrud.
Matty Mortrud (Westview Class of 2023) has more high school and travel ball to play before he might go to college.
Midwest Recruiting, LLC is on Facebook and Twitter. In the past week, Mortrud shared on Twitter what it takes to make it at the NAIA and NCAA Division III levels. Those numbers appear below.

Aaron Mortrud

Wapahani, Ball State graduate Wilburn takes over Delta baseball program

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The way Devin Wilburn sees it, life is about timing.
Just when he and his wife were looking to move closer to home and family for the arrival of their first child, a job opportunity opened up.
Teacher Devin and nurse Maddie Wilburn were living in Florida when the chance to come to come back to the Muncie, Ind., area came as daughter Tatum was on the way.
Tatum is now 2 months old and Devin (who turned 30 on Sept. 18) is the head baseball coach and a physical education teacher at Delta High School.
Delta (enrollment around 800) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).
In 2021, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Delta has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2016.
The Wilburns reside in Selma, about 10 minutes from both sets of grandparents and in the same town where they graduated from Wapahani High School.
Devin went 24-9 and struck out 309 batters while while walking 79 in 203 1/3 innings while playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley and graduating in 2010.
“A lot of stuff fell in place,” says Devin Wilburn, who comes to the Eagles after spending the 2021 season as an assistant to head coach Kyle Gould at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., after one spring season (2020) as head coach at Countryside High School in Clearwater Fla.
Wilburn, who holds a Sport Administration degree (2014) and Masters in Sport Administration (2016) from Ball State University, was an assistant to head coach Rich Maloney at BSU in Muncie in 2019 after spending the fall of 2018 on Matt Bair’s staff at Anderson (Ind.) University. He was the pitching coach at Taylor 2015-18.
A left-handed pitcher, Wilburn played three seasons for head coaches Alex Marconi (2011 and 2012) and Maloney (2015).
At 20, Wilburn had a colon procedure and spent the better part of two years recuperating then returned to the diamond with the Cardinals.
“It was a cool ending to my career,” says Wilburn. “I working out with my best friend, Jon Keesling (who played at Wapahani then Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion).
“My ball was moving pretty good. Maybe I’ll give (a comeback) a shot.”
Wilburn made the team and in 27 mound appearances (26 in relief) went 4-2 for a 33-25 squad that played in the Mid-American Conference championship game in 2015.
“That last year I got to play changed my life in so many ways,” says Wilburn. It was through Ball State volunteer assistant Rhett Goodmiller that he was connected with Taylor.
The summer before joining the Trojans, Wilburn was the head coach of the Indiana Prospects 17U national travel team. The talented club featured future Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft first-round pick J.J. Bleday plus two others now in the minors — Gianluca Dalatri and Sean Mooney — with the help of father Bryan Wilburn.
Wilburn has formed his coaching philosophy through the men he played for and coached with — Dudley, Maloney and Gould — and more.
“Along the way you make it yours,” says Wilburn. “You learn from coaching conventions and podcasts and put your own spin on it.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some really good baseball teams and coaches.
“Coach Dudley and I have a real good relationship. He just does things the right way. He was my first mentor. I learned so much from him.
“He had such a high expectation for us. He let us shine with what we were good at.”
Devin, the only child of Bryan and Missie Wilburn, moved from Muncie to Selma in the fourth grade and his first teacher was Jason Dudley, Brian’s son and a longtime Wapahani baseball assistant.
“I was part of those good traditions that shape your life in so many ways,” says Wilburn, who counted three former Wapahani teammates in the wedding party when he married Maddie a little over three years ago. “I’m so grateful to go through that program.
“I look back fondly on my high school days.”
A youth baseball coach for several decades, Russell Wilburn had a field named in his honor in Muncie’s Chambers Park when Devin was a young boy.
Bryan Wilburn and brother Dan both played baseball at Muncie Central High School and Bryan went on to the diamond life at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and Dan to Valparaiso University.
After being recruited by Greg Beals, playing for Marconi and then Maloney, the latter hired him as an assistant.
“I wore many hats,” says Wilburn. “I got to work with catchers and some with outfielders. My end goal was to find a head coaching job at small college or high school.
“I wanted to be a well-rounded coach.”
Wilburn is appreciative of Blake Beemer, who was a Cardinals teammate and then a coaching colleague.
“I’m grateful for his mentorship,” says Wilburn of Beemer. “I also coached with Dustin Glant. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever heard talk about pitching.”
Gould gave Wilburn his first crack at college coaching.
“He is probably the best mentor in my life,” says Wilburn. “I’ve learned so much from him from the baseball and the life perspective
“He opened my eyes in so many different ways. I could not be more grateful for the time I spent over there learning from him. (Taylor) is a wonderful place.”
It was at Taylor that Wilburn also got to be on staff with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson and Justin Barber.
“Coach A forgot more about baseball than what I knew,” says Wilburn. “Justin and I had a good relationship when we recruited his players when he was with the Indiana Chargers.”
At Delta, Wilburn has hired former Ball State teammate Scott Baker as his pitching coach with other assistant hires pending school board approval.
The Eagles play on Veteran’s Field.
“We’ve got a couple of projects,” says Wilburn, whose been assessing Delta’s baseball needs since taking the job. “We’ve got a nice facility and a real supportive booster club.”
Feeders for Wilburn’s program include Delta Little League in Royerton and East Central Indiana junior high league run by Jason Dudley.
Current senior left-hander Nick Crabtree has committed to Taylor.
And Wilburn continues his love affair with the game.
Says the coach, “Baseball is what keeps me sane in life and forget the daily stress.”

Devin Wilburn (Delta High School Image)
The Wilburns (from left): Maddie, Tatum and Devin.
Devin and Maddie Wilburn with daughter Tatum.
Devin Wilburn (red pullover) with Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney (2), assistant Blake Beemer (24) and the Cardinals in 2019.
Devin Wilburn (right) coaches at Taylor University.
Devin Wilburn and the Taylor University baseball team celebrate a victory.
Devin Wilburn (second from left) with mentor and Taylor University head baseball coach Kyle Gould.

Franklin Central’s Schoettle promotes pride, accountability

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There are a few things that Greg Schoettle holds dear as head baseball coach at Franklin Central High School on the southeast side of Indianapolis.

Schoettle values the relationships he builds with his student-athletes. He expects them to take pride in being a Franklin Central Flash while being accountable for everything they do — on and off the diamond.

“It’s wanting to be part of the program and doing what is expected to be successful at this level,” says Schoettle, who joined the Flashes staff in 2010 and has been in charge since 2019. “We play in the toughest baseball conference in the state.

“It’s eye-opening for our kids.”

Franklin Central (enrollment around 3,000) is a member of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville). 

The HCC has accounted for four state championships — Brownsburg in 2005, Noblesville in 2014, Fishers in 2018 and Hamilton Southeastern in 2019. Franklin Central was state runner-up in 1992. Other runner-up finishes include 2003 and 2004 for Brownsburg, 1998 and 2009 for Westfield and 2016 for Zionsville.

Since 2010, the conference has combined to win 17 sectionals, seven regionals and four semistates.

Conference teams play each other in a two-game home-and-home series in the same week.

The Flashes are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with New Palestine, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport and Warren Central. Franklin Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2018 — the season the Flashes joined the HCC.

Schoettle is a 1985 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Wirtz

At Franklin Central, Schoettle was an assistant to head coach John Rockey and was on the same staff with John McCormick.

Schoettle credits Wirtz, Rockey and McCormick for teaching him valuable lessons.

From Wirtz, he learned the importance of fundamentals. From Rockey, he gained a grasp on everyday coaching situations.

McCormick, an Indianapolis Cathedral graduate who had also coaches at Bishop Chatard, Lawrence Central and Noblesville, died of brain cancer in 2016 at 44. He left an impression on many with his knack of making you think you were the most important person on the planet.

“Everybody that knew John loved John,” says Schoettle. “I only knew him for three years, but I felt like I lost a brother.”

Schoettle earned a business degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI) and worked several jobs before deciding to go into education. This is his 16th year of teaching for the FCHS math instructor. 

Prior to coaching baseball at Franklin Central, Schoettle coached football with Mike Harmon at Brebeuf Jesuit and guided son Jackson’s in travel baseball team.

It was just a few days before tryouts in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down — and then wiped out — the season.

“It was heartbreaking,” says Schoettle. “We had 12 seniors on our roster last year.

“But everybody was in the same boat (losing the season.

“We’re excited to see who’s going to step up (in 2021). It’s up for grabs. The kids know that.”

Right now, Schoettle has 50 to 60 kids coming to off-season conditioning. They are working on flexibility, endurance and speed.

“We want to get in the best shape we can right now,” says Schoettle. “The beauty of it is I have great assistant coaches.”

At 30, Devin Anderson is the oldest of 53-year-old Schoettle’s helpers and is a varsity assistant. He is an Evansville Harrison High School graduate.

Ben Kennedy is the junior varsity head coach. He is assisted by Tom Rockey (son of John Rockey). Brett Massengale is the freshmen coach. Kennedy, Rockey and Massengale are all Franklin Central graduates.

The Flashes tend to have about 45 players in the program for their three teams.

There are two baseball fields on-campus that are adjacent to one another. The varsity diamond has lights.

“It’s nice having fields next to each other,” says Schoettle. “We can have four-team tournaments or the varsity and JV can play at the same time.”

While Schoettle would like to have turf on the baseball field, his players have been able to practice occasionally on the football turf on the other end of campus.

The high school program at Franklin Central is fed by Franklin Township Little League and Franklin Central Junior High. The latter fields seventh and eighth grade teams.

Senior Sam Mettert has committed to play baseball at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill.

Recent Franklin Central graduates on college rosters include Austin Carr (Grace), Cade Fitzpatrick (Ball State), Jarod Gillespie (Indiana University Kokomo) and Austin Snider (Manchester). Matt Hall and Corey Jeanor came on the FC committed to Ashland (Ohio) University. Kameron Leach committed to the University of Indianapolis then developed arm issues and was then unable to play.

Greg and is married to Roncalli graduate Liz. The couple have two children — Jackson (22) and Lucy (14). Jackson Schoettle pitched one year at Roncalli and ran cross country for four years. Lucy Schoettle is a Franklin Central freshmen and a dancer.

Greg Schoettle is head baseball coach and a math teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis.

Alum McTagertt keeps growing the game at Lafayette Jeff

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott McTagertt paid his dues before becoming head baseball coach at his alma mater.

A 1986 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, McTagertt was still a Purdue University student when he became a Jeff assistant for the 1988 season.

He has been bringing baseball knowledge to Bronchos ever since. 

McTagertt played for head coach Mark Strader and served on the staffs of Tony Primavera, Ed Gilliland and Kevin Maxwell before taking the reins of the Lafayette Jeff program for the 2008 season.

“(Strader) is probably the best athlete that ever came through Lafayette Jeff,” says McTagertt. “He was very demanding. We respected the guy because you knew what he knew in baseball.

“We put so much intensity into practice. (Strader) got (to play for and) coach with (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul) “Spider” Fields. (Strader) brought some of that fire to us.”

A shortstop and pitcher at Jeff, McTagertt was on the Purdue team for one season behind future big leaguer Archi Cianfrocco while working toward what would be an Education degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).

As a young coach, McTagertt marveled at Primavera’s game management skills.

“I don’t know if there was anybody better than him,” says McTagertt. “He knew everything in the game was going to happen before it happened.

“He was fun to learn from.”

Gilliland had played for and coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte High School.

“(Gilliland) was a disciplinarian,” says McTagertt. “This is the way we’re going to do it. He had set routines. The kids worked hard for him. 

“He liked to ride his top two pitchers a lot. It was the LaPorte Way.”

In a decade with Maxwell, McTagertt witnessed a strong organizer.

“(Maxwell) ran very structured practices,” says McTagertt. “Everything was written out. The kids had to know the practice plan.”

Along the way, McTagertt has continued to have a growth mindset. He has learned much about the game from networking, attending clinics and — in this pandemic year of 2020 — Zoom meetings and other online resources.

“We’re probably the most sharing group of coaches you’re going to find in any sport,” says McTagertt. “Tthere are so many ways to teach in baseball.

“You can always steal an idea or two.”

McTagertt was born in Greenwood, Ind., and came to Lafayette as a fourth grader. That first day in town he attended the Colt World Series at Loeb Stadium.

“It was a big place for my family,” says McTagertt, who started working at Loeb in 1988 and did so until the facility dedicated in 1940 was torn down to make way for the New Loeb Stadium.

Teaching fifth grade STEM at nearby Sunnyside Intermediate, McTagertt drops by regularly to see the progress of the ballpark adjacent to the Columbian Park Zoo that mimics Kokomo Municipal Stadium (home to Kokomo High School, Indiana University Kokomo and summer collegiate Kokomo Jackrabbits) and is oriented the other way from the old Loeb (left field faces the pool and right field is closet to the zoo).

“I didn’t know if I’d ever see this place,” says McTagertt. “It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

With construction of the new Loeb (also home to the summer collegiate Lafayette Aviators), Jeff was going to spend much of 2020 playing road games. But the COVID-19 pandemic took away the season. The Bronchos were just days away from tryouts when what became lockdown began. Individual workouts were distributed via computer. 

In fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practice, the focus was on individual skills and position development.

“We put a premium on teaching since we lost a season,” says McTagertt, who sent the Bronchos from the World Series to the weight room until Dec. 22 and expects to resume activities Jan. 4.

McTagertt’s 2021 coaching staff features John Ripke, Alex Igo and Sean McDonald as varsity assistants. Kevin Igo is the JV Red head coach and is helped by Brian McDonald and Matthew Koeppen. Tim Whitaker is the JV Black (or C-team) head coach and is aided by Daniel Nelson.

The Bronchos tend to have around 40 players in the program. On days when all three squads are in action, there might be 13 to 15 with the varsity, 13 with JV Red and the rest with JV Black.

Jeff (enrollment around 2,080) is in the Northern Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).

The Bronchos are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport and McCutcheon. Jeff won the last of its 17 sectional titles in 2013. The program has also claimed 12 regionals, four semistates, two state championships (1969 and 1973) and one state runner-up (1971).

Two recent Jeff players — brother Justin Walker Jr. (Purdue) and Jacob Walker (Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) — have moved on to college diamonds. Current Bronchos Caleb Koeppen and Brady Preston have received college offers.

For years, Jeff and Lafayette Central Catholic developed young players through the Lafayette Lightning.

About eight years ago — wanting to get more Jeff-bound youngsters involved in competitive play — Junior Broncho Baseball was established. The group fielded 10U, 11U and 12U teams that first year and now has teams from 8U to 15U.

That first 12U team were freshmen in the spring of 2020.

The Junior Bronchos play often at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and Indianapolis Sports Park.

Elite players are encouraged to play for teams like the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Nitro.

“We take rest of the kids and run them through our practices and camps,” says McTagertt. “We get the best of both worlds.”

Utilizing diamonds at Armstrong Park and McCaw Park, Lafayette Youth Baseball is still going strong.

“There’s a wonderful working relationship city, parks department and baseball programs in Lafayette,” says McTagertt.

Scott and Fawn McTagertt (a McCutcheon High School teacher) have three children. Rileigh McTagertt is a junior Education major at Purdue who coaches tennis at Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette. She was in cheerleading, basketball and tennis at Jeff.  

Ashlynn McTagertt played golf, basketball and softball for the Bronchos and is now a freshmen softball player at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College. 

Drew McTagertt is a Tecumseh eighth grader who plays tennis, basketball and baseball.

Scott McTagertt is the head baseball coach at Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School — a position he’s held since the 2008 season. The 1986 Jeff graduated joined the Bronchos coaching staff in 1988.

Moore baseball legacy lives on with Indiana Bulls

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Craig Moore had an exceptional eye for baseball aptitude. Through his considerable networking, he was able to get opportunities for players to display their diamond skills at the next level.

Lance Moore, Craig and Carol Moore’s oldest son, had such a love for the game and the ability to convey what he knew to young athletes.

The baseball world lost Craig Moore Oct. 23, 2003 at 34, and Craig Moore Feb. 16, 2004 at 56.

Their legacy lives on through the Indiana Bulls, a travel baseball organization. Scholarships are presented annually in the names of Craig Moore and Lance Moore.

Founded in 1991 with play beginning in 1992, the Bulls brought together the state’s elite for top-flight competition and exposure to college coaches and professional scouts and that continues to this day.

Craig Moore coached Blackford High School in Hartford City, Ind., to IHSAA state runner-up finishes in 1977 and 1978.

The East Gary (Ind.) High School graduate also coached Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI) to success while it transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division I and was a Brownsburg (Ind.) High School assistant.

Moore was brought to the Bulls for the second season. 

“Craig is the best talent evaluator I’ve ever seen,” says Dave Taylor, one of the Bulls founders and first coaches. “He had an amazing, uncanny ability to size up talent quickly.

“He’s one of the greatest recruiters I’ve ever seen and had tremendous enthusiasm. I’d run through a wall for that guy. (Players had) great loyalty for him. He was very demanding. But he loved his guys and they loved him.”

Taylor played baseball at Southmont High School and captained the Wabash College team in 1983 then went to law school and began coaching Babe Ruth baseball at the state championship level. 

He soon learned something.

“Indiana was not a baseball state,” says Taylor. “It was very provincial and very hometown-based — even American Legion was geographically-limited.

“The baseball world tended to be dominated by towns with size and tradition. There was not a lot of great baseball beyond that. There was nowhere for a great player to go.”

Ohio and Kentucky had elite travel baseball since the 1960’s, but not Indiana.

“We were behind,” says Taylor. “There was no high level of competition in Indiana for the elite.”

Taylor notes that the 1992 Major League Baseball Player Draft had just one selection from Indiana — Jay County High School graduate Shane White in the 24th round by the Chicago Cubs — while Ohio had more than 100 with over half that number out of the Cincinnati area alone.

When a national tournament rolled around, Taylor coached the Indiana representative. Open tryouts were held and there were players from all over the state, though most came from central Indiana.

Indiana lost in the medal round in Tallahassee, Fla., getting beat by eventual champion California but beating Georgia and Texas along the way.

“It was a great experience,” says Taylor, who learned that the players on the Sacramento-based California team had been playing 180 games a year since age 8. “Practicing for two weeks was not how you made better baseball players.

“We would take the top five (players in the state) and fill in with like players.”

As the Indiana Bulls took shape, Taylor gathered men like John Thiel, Bob Lowrie, Bob Stephens and Tony Miller for their business and baseball expertise and also landed Jeff Mercer Sr., Mike Mundy, Dave Mundy and Craig Moore on the coaching staff.

A real estate appraiser for his day job, Moore spent hours away from his profession seeking the right fit for his players.

“He had a really good feel where a guy would have success,” says Taylor. “He would help find the right situation for that kid.

“He was all about the kids. He was tireless man at helping kids get their college scholarships.”

Many times, every senior in the Bulls program was placed by the winter of their final prep year.

Taylor marvels at how Moore was able to make quick fixes during games and set his guys on the right path.

“He didn’t mince words,” says Taylor. “He was very direct. He knew you didn’t motivate everybody the same way.”

As a result of Moore’s drive, the Bulls as a whole moved forward. 

“He forced us to get better at everything as an organization,” says Taylor. “He wasn’t going to sit around and wait.

“He was just an amazing guy. He just gave and gave and gave.”

Taylor remembers Lance Moore as his father’s right hand man.

“Lance was a really bright guy — almost a baseball genius,” says Taylor. “He was a gentle giant (at 6-foot-3 and 225). Lance always had a smile. He had no enemies.”

Lance Moore played at Brownsburg, where he graduated in 1988 — brothers Jered Moore (1989) and Quinn Moore (1996) followed. 

All three Moore boys played for Wayne Johnson.

“He was a good baseball man,” says Quinn Moore of Johnson. “He just wanted to help kids. He never took a dime for it. He always gave back his coaching stipend.

“He he did it the right way. He demanded respect and that we played the game the right way.”

Johnson helped build the current Brownsburg diamond and took pride in its upkeep.

“He built a winning culture in Brownsburg,” says Quinn. “Wayne probably doesn’t get enough credit for building Brownsburg into a baseball power.”

Jered Moore played college baseball at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

“Dad had the desire to help kids reach their dreams and goals,” says Jered, who is now head coach at Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School and will leads the Bulls 12U White squad in 2021. “Back then did not have all the scouting services you have now. He was constantly on the phone. His long distance bill was high.

“He knew the and how to judge talent. Coaches really respected his decisions.”

Jered notes that the first players from Indiana to sign at Stanford University, including future major league infielder Eric Bruntlett, did so based on Craig Moore’s reputation.

The Bulls have dozens of players recruited to college baseball teams each year and more than 170 have been selected in the MLB Draft with a dozen first-rounders (starting with the most-recent selections) — Drey Jameson, Kody Hoese, Zack Thompson, Nick Schnell, Alex Meyer, Justin O’Conner, Drew Storen, Aaron Heilman (twice), Andy Brown, A.J. Zapp, Lance Lynn and Tommy Hunter.

Bruntlett, Heilman, Meyer, Storen, Lynn, Hunter, Scott Rolen, Josh Lindblom, Todd Dunwoody, Clint Barmes, J.D. Closser, Neal Musser, Rob Bowen, Mitch Stetter, Joe Thatcher, Heath Phillips, Jake Fox, Wes Whisler, Adam Lind, Clayton Richard, Nevin Ashley, Micah Johnson, Cameron Perkins and Tucker Barnhart are Bulls alums that made it to the majors.

Rolen, Zapp, Closser, Whisler, Lind, Richard, Lynn, Meyer, Barnhart and O’Conner have all been honored as Indiana Mr. Baseball.

Grand Park, a complex in Westfield, Ind., with 26 total baseball fields, is home to the Indiana Bulls. The 2021 season is to feature 30 Bulls teams 8U to 17U.

In the 1980’s, it was not unusual for a high school-aged team to play 15 to 20 games in the summer. Now they play around 50.

“This gives them a ton of time on the mound,” says Jered Moore. “They’re just better ballplayers with all that experience. The more games you play the better you become.

“When dad was coaching the Bulls we would host a tournament at IU, Butler, Ball State or Purdue two times a year. At other times, we were traveling. We spent 20 or 21 days in June and July in a hotel. 

“Grand Park gives us a chance to give kids more exposure with all the kids in one location.”

Quinn Moore began at the University of South Alabama and finished at Indiana University. He is now in his second year as Indiana Bulls president.

“My dad took the Bulls to another level,” says Quinn. “A Carmel-based organization grew into the statewide Indiana Bulls.”

While his teams earned their share of victories and titles, that was not the bottom line with Craig Moore.

“It was never about winning over exposure,” says Quinn. “A college coach was there to see if the kid could hit the ball in the gap (even if the situation called for a bunt).”

Based on his experience as a college coach, Craig Moore set pitching rotations so college recruiters would know when and where to see Bulls arms.

“He knew what was best for kids at recruitable ages,” says Quinn, who will lead the Bulls 12U Black team in 2021. “The (Bulls) email chain started with him and my brother and I took it from there.”

Quinn says his father tended to carry a larger roster — 18 to 20 players with 10 of those also being pitchers. Now it’s more like 16 with plenty of two-way players. Of course, there are more teams.

When Craig Moore was coaching, he might have three or four pitchers who touched 90 mph. These days, the majority of hurlers on 17U rosters touch 90-plus.

Cerebral palsy likely kept Lance Moore from playing past high school.

“It was important for Lance to be involved with the Bulls and at a high level of baseball,” says Taylor.

When Jered Moore began coaching for the Bulls in 1999, he invited brother Lance to be an assistant.

“It was awesome,” says Jered. “We were best friends.

“He was very quiet, but he knew the game.”

Jered Moore considers himself fortunate to be a in baseball-crazy Zionsville, where 103 players came to a high school call out meeting. During the fall Limited Contact Period, players not in fall sports participated in practices on Mondays and scrimmages on Wednesdays.

“Indiana high school baseball is in a really good place as far as talent and the number of players that are playing,” says Jered, who is also a real estate appraiser.

The sport had long been a family affair and in the summer of 2003 all four Moores — Craig, Lance, Jered and Quinn — coached a 17U team together. 

“That’s my favorite year of coaching,” says Jered Moore.

At that time, future big league pitchers Lynn, Lindblom and Hunter toed the rubber for the Bulls.

Before Dan Held left the Bulls to become an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at IU, it was he and Quinn Moore that controlled social media and a hashtag was created: #BullsFam.

Quinn, who is also a regional sales manager for BSN Sports, enjoys seeing former players now coaching in the organization and having their sons play for the Bulls. Among those is Josh Loggins, Eric Riggs and Rolen (who played on the first Bulls team in 1992).

“The Bulls are family to me,” says Quinn. “It was family to my dad and to my brothers.”

Scott French played for Craig Moore’s Bulls and is now the organization’s director of baseball operations. 

“Craig was awesome,” says French, who was a standout catcher at Shakamak High School and Ball State University, coached at BSU and helps with Mike Shirley in teaching lessons at The Barn in Anderson, Ind. “He made it a really good experience.

“Craig could coach in any era in my opinion. He knew when to push buttons and when not to push buttons.

“He was very honest, which is all you could ask of a coach. He was very credible. He didn’t sell players (to coaches and scouts), he just put them in front of people. We have the connections, structure and process (with the Bulls). He was part of starting that process.

“Quinn and Jered have put in a lot of time to help people get somewhere. It’s a passion for them and they got it from their dad.”

Craig Moore made an impact as a coach with the Indiana Bulls travel organization. He also coached to Blackford High School to two state runner-up finishes, led the program at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and was an assistant at Brownsburg High School.
Lance Moore, a 1988 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate and the oldest son of Craig and Carol Moore, helped coach the Indiana Bulls travel organization in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. In 2003, four Moores — Craig, Lance, Jered and Quinn — were on the same Bulls coaching staff.
In 2003, Craig Moore (front row) and sons Jered, Lance and Quinn were on the same Indiana Bulls coaching staff. Lance Moore died in 2003 and Craig in 2004. Jered and Quinn are still very involved with the travel organization. Quinn Moore is currently president.

Confidence grows for Butler left-hander Graziano

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Graziano has learned lessons in confidence during his baseball career.

The left-handed pitcher built up a sense of determination that took him to weekend starter in his third season at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Years before, a surge of assurance had helped Graziano make the transition from the freshmen team to varsity as sophomore at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind.

Graziano credits Butler head coach Dave Schrage for giving him the courage to advance as a Bulldog.

“He wants to get the best out of you,” says Graziano of Schrage. “He definitely helped me settle in by instilling that confidence in me. 

“I feel like I was ready to throw pretty well.”

As a Butler freshman in 2018, Graziano made 13 mound appearances (four starts) and went 3-0 with a 4.70 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings.

Primarily a mid-week starter in 2019, the lefty appeared in 15 games (seven starts) and went 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 innings.

The Bulldogs were 8-7 and coming off a March 11 victory against Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in Port Charlotte, Fla., when the team found out the 2020 season had been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were sitting at the pool,” says Graziano. “We thought we were coming back in two weeks.

“We were optimistic.”

It soon turned out that the rest of the campaign was canceled and student-athletes were sent home.

Graziano went back to northwest Indiana having gotten into four games (all as a starter) and went 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings. His first start was on a Saturday and the rest came on Sunday.

“I worked all fall to get there,” says Graziano of his role. “I finally got it. I really liked pitching on the weekend.

“Everyone’s locked in and there’s a little bit of pressure.”

When the 2020 shutdown happened, Graziano had already secured an internship and was looking to find a baseball team for the summer.

A double major in Finance and Risk Management, Graziano is doing his internship with Chicago-based Aon and pitching on weekends with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

Butler business school requires two internships,” says Graziano. “That’s 240 hours. You also take a class, write a paper and do interviews.

“It’s kind of a lot.”

For his first internship, Joe is on the clock online at his house in Schererville, Ind., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. He is upstairs while his mother, Roxanna, does her sales job with U.S. Steel, is in the basement. 

When Joe is done with his internship duties, he does his band and weighted ball work and heads across the street to Autumn Creek Park to play catch with younger brother Joshua. 

At 21, Joe is two years older than his brother. Joshua is enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Their father, Joseph, is a manager at the BP Whiting Refinery, which is very near where Joe is in his second stint with the Oilmen.

The summer right after he graduated from Lake Central in 2017, Joe appeared in seven Northwest Indiana games (five starts) and went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA, 39 strikeouts and six walks in 31 innings.

“It was the first time I faced college hitters,” says Graziano. “I was playing with kids out of The Region. We were  finally on a friendly surface and can be teammates.

Manager Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate, also worked closely with Oilmen pitchers.

In 2020, he is being used strictly as a reliever.

“I didn’t want to rush back into it,” says Graziano. “I’m pitching 2-3 innings at a time. I want to build my stamina and pitch count back up.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound southpaw took off about a week off when the 2020 spring season shut down then began training, lifting weights and throwing while reaching out to the Oilmen.

“I want to keep my spot when I get back to Butler,” says Graziano.

The Oilmen are managed by Chris Cunningham. Graziano spends most of his time with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko.

“I’ve been trying to take in as much information as possible,” says Graziano. “He’s been teaching me this forkball/splitter. I have pretty big hands.

“I like how (Pobereyko) thinks on the mound. You’re better than the hitter. Never lose confidence. I definitely like Po’s mentality.”

In the summer of 2019, Graziano pitched for the Coastal Plain League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs

It was a struggle at first.

“I started doing well toward the end,” says Graziano. “I got a lot better out there. I had a little adversity and I battled through it.”

Fayetteville was managed by David Anderson

Lefty Graziano was with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2018. There, he enjoyed living with a host family and got to play with Butler teammate Connor Schultz.

“You make a lot of new friends in summer ball,” says Graziano, who played for a Lafayette team managed by Will Arnold. Future Butler assistant Jake Ratz was also on the Aviators coaching staff.

Ben Norton is Butler’s pitching coach. He has taught Graziano a slider and helped instill confidence.

“He’s helped me develop into a great pitcher,” says Graziano of Norton. “He helps everyone

“If you struggle, he’s not going to give up on you.”

At Lake Central, three-year letterman Graziano went 20-7 (with a pair of perfect games), including 8-4 against Duneland Athletic Conference opponents. As a senior, he went 6-3 with a 2.11 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 13 walks in 60 innings and helped the Indians to an IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional title

He was all-DAC, all-area (Northwest Indiana Times) and Academic All-State.

Jeff Sandor was LC’s head coach for Graziano’s sophomore and junior seasons. Mike Swartzentruber took over the program in his senior year.

“(Sandor) is the craziest coach I’ve played for and one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” says Graziano. “He was tough on guys. But he had to be be. He demanded that level of play.

“You knew what you had to bring to the table.”

Graziano says Swartzentruber’s strength came in team building.

“Swartz was more calm than Sandor,” says Graziano. “We all knew what we wanted to do. We had a lot of good players. Swartz did a good job of bringing the team together.”

At Lake Central — a school with about 3,300 students — it is not uncommon for close to 100 players to try out for baseball. The high school is fed by three middle schools — Clark, Grimmer and Kahler].

“There’s a lot of competition,” says Graziano, who came through Grimmer. “You feel bad when your friends don’t make the team. The school is so big.”

While the rivalries among the middle schools is fierce, they become one team at LC.

While at Lake Central, southpaw Graziano used a curve ball that was “a little loopy and slow” that fooled many high school hitters.

When he got to Butler, he left the curve for a slider that has a tighter spin and has more horizontal than vertical break.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Graziano also throws a tailing four-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up.

“It’s really good against righties,” says Graziano. “It has depth and tails away.”

Born in Munster, Ind., Graziano spent the early part of his life in nearby Hammond before settling in Schererville.

While playing for the Schererville Shock — coached by Dan Bosold and Dave Lopez — he made close friends. Among those are current Purdue players Ben Nisle and Bo Hofstra as well as Jarrett Lopez (who went to Purdue Northwest).

Grazing played for Apex Baseball in the summers leading into his last two years in high school. Marc Escobedo was the head coach. Brett Summers was his pitching coach/instructor.

“(Summers) always helped me,” says Graziano. “He was always patient.”

Graziano also enjoyed his time on the basketball court. At Lake Central, he played for head coach Dave Milausnic whom he salutes for getting the Indians ready for their demanding schedule.

“Our senior year, we didn’t have a big superstar,” says Graziano. “(Milausnic) had us prepared for every game. 

“I was the point guard as a senior. I was calling the plays and handling the ball a lot.”

Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons for Butler University in Indianapolis (2018-20). The left-hander was a weekend starter during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. (Butler University Photo)
The summer of 2020 is the second for Joe Graziano on the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Olimen. He played for the Whiting, Ind.-based team in 2017, right after his senior year at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. He has pitched three seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Northwest Indiana Oilmen Photo)
Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. The left-hander was a weekend starter in 2020. (Butler University Photo)

Tirotta stays close to home while gearing up for final season with Dayton Flyers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Riley Tirotta is enjoying baseball and family life this summer.

Coming off an abbreviated junior season at the University of Dayton in Ohio because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tirotta spent the first month of quarantine at home in South Bend, Ind., and about a week in Bryan, Texas, where he participated in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational.

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty swinger who has started 109 games at Dayton (including 97 at third base the past two seasons with starts at designated hitter, right field, first base and second base as a freshmen in 2018), Tirotta did not get selected in the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Citing unfinished business, he decided not to sign a free agent contact with an MLB organization and he’s planning to come back for his senior season in 2021.

“We had a really good team at Dayton this year,” says Tirotta. “We can do a lot of special things. We have a lot of seniors returning. If I do some things individually and we win some games, I can put myself in an even better position (for professional baseball). 

“We want to finish what we started.”

As a sophomore, Tirotta led Dayton in hits (59), at-bats (227) and stolen bases (18 in 20 attempts) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (41). He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games. 

His freshmen year yielded 27 hits and seven stolen bases while he fielded at a .987 clip.

A past honoree on the dean’s and Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner’s academic lists, Tirotta is on track to earned his Finance degree at Dayton.

At the CSBI, Tirotta played on a team managed by former big league pitcher, Gary, Ind., native and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins and got to face former high school teammate Nate Thomas and college mate Cole Pletka.

Before joining the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park this week, Tirotta spent about 10 days training at Prospect Performance Academy in Aurora, Ohio — near Cleveland and Akron.

Tirotta has worked for more than a year with agent and PPA founder/owner Ben Simon.

“He’s helping me get ready for pro ball and reaching out to scouts,” says Tirotta of Simon. “We’re pretty good friends.”

The CSL plays its games on Monday and Tuesday (11 a.m. doubleheaders). Tirotta spends the rest of the time in South Bend, where he works out at the O’Brien Fitness Center and the 1st Source Bank Performance Center (home of the South Bend Cubs), where Mark Haley is the director.

Following workouts prescribed by trainers, including those at Dayton, Tirotta hits the gym five or six times a week. He goes through strength and conditioning moves and does sprint training.

“I use my speed as well as my power,” says Tirotta. “Just being at athlete on the baseball field is one of my biggest strengths.

“I like to use my athleticism a lot. I’m making plays and using my arm strength. I take extra bases when I can and get stolen bases. I’m hitting a few home runs here and there. I’m pretty well-rounded. I’m not a power-only guy.”

Dayton played just 14 games before the 2020 season was halted. Tirotta started cold and finished hot. He wound up hitting .228 (13-of-57) with one homer, one double, 15 RBIs, nine runs, four stolen bases.

He batted fourth in the Flyers’ final game on March 9 at Dayton swept a three-game series against Northern Kentucky. 

The previous day, Flyers head coach Jayson King inserted Tirotta in the 3-hole and he went 3-for-6 3-for-6 with a home run, double, three runs batted in and three runs scored.

“I was putting good barrel on the ball and going in a good direction,” says Tirotta. “Then COVID happened.

“(Coach King has) done everything for me. He’s gotten me into the Cape and a lot of good leagues. He gets us where we need to be.”

Tirotta hooked up with the CSL when other collegiate summer leagues were canceled or scaled back for 2020. 

He got into 28 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019 — 19 with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and nine with the Harwich Mariners. He signed a temporary contract with Y-D and finished with league runner-up Harwich. He supposed to go back to Harwich this summer, but the league canceled its schedule.

He knew he wanted to play summer ball. He was not sure where and then the opportunity came at Grand Park.

“There’s a lot of guys I grew up playing with and against,” says Tirotta, a 2017 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls his 17U and 18U summers after being with the South Bend Silver Hawks for 15U and 16U and the Michiana Scrappers for 11U through 14U. Coached by his father, he started organized baseball at Southeast Little League in South Bend.

Playing summer ball two times a week in Indiana, Riley also gets to be around parents Mike and Stacy Tirotta and younger brother Jordan (a 2020 Marian graduate who plans to study dentistry at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis). 

Sunday nights are for dinners at grandpa Frank Tirotta’s house. It’s not unusual for 40 or more relatives and friends to gather for these weekly feasts or on holidays.

“I have a very close family,” says Tirotta. When pandemic hit that shut down meals with his grandfather — a widower — and visits were kept at a distance. “He was fed up with it and itching to see everybody again.”

Mike Marks has broken bread with the Tirottas. He runs the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and has been helping Riley with his swing since Marian coach Joe Turnock and son Josh Turnock recommended him during Tirotta’s freshmen year with the Knights.

“He’s the reason I am a college hitter,” says Tirotta. “I put in a lot of hours with him.

“He’s definitely part of the journey in my baseball career.”

Baseball gears back up again next week. Right now, Tirotta is getting ready to join family for some camping.

Riley Tirotta, a graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This summer he is playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (University of Dayton Photo)

Allowed to return to practice, gratitude is the attitude for Morris Baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, players at Morris Baseball in northwest Indiana can finally practice again and founder/president Bobby Morris couldn’t be happier.

“It’s as much fun as I’ve had on a baseball field in ages,” says Morris of a workout earlier this week. “The big reason is quarantine and the chaos going on around us.

“I feel a sense of gratitude. Our players feel a sense of gratitude — more so than in January or February.”

Morris says he hopes his organization with around 200 clients, including Chiefs travel teams, will help bring a sense of community and unity as the 2020 season moves forward.

“if we can spread a little positivity and a little gratitude, I’m all for it,” says Morris, who started his training business in 2011 and merged five years ago with the Hammond Chiefs, which mark their 30th season this year.

The first clients Morris had were 9-year-olds.

“Those kids are just now graduating and going on to play college baseball,” says Morris.

A relationship began when Brian Jennings brought Morris together with Chiefs founder Dave Sutkowski.

“It’s mutually a good fit together,” says Morris. “Dave has been pleasure to work with. We got some Chiefs coaches when we merged. They’ve been great mentors with our kids.”

The Morris Baseball mission statement: To recruit excellent talent and provide them with disciplined, well-organized, focused practices with superior instruction and place them in highly competitive opportunities to achieve principle-based success.

“If we produce great players, everything will take care of itself,” says Morris. “We make sure we have great practice facilities and plenty of practice time. 

“We try to produce well-rounded baseball players. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

Until recently, Morris Baseball and the Chiefs were housed at Franciscan Physician Network Schererville Family Health Center (formerly Omni Health & Fitness).

The organization just moved to a training facility at 1075 Breuckman Drive in Crown Point. Morris says the name for the new place will be revealed soon.

The new centrally-located home includes plenty of workout space plus classrooms, player’s lounge, kitchen and coach’s offices.

“For our kids it will be great,” says Morris. “We have internet at player desks. They can hang out there all day if they want.

“We prefer that they study and take batting practice.”

The Morris Chiefs tend to play many local games at the Crown Point Sportsplex, Central Park in Dyer, Ind., and Ho Chunk Baseball Tournaments in Lynwood, Ill.

“Our kids play a lot ,” says Morris. “We do a lot of practicing during the off-season. We play a lot during the season.

“One of our strengths is we keep our kids active throughout the year.”

This summer, the Chiefs’ 15 current teams (with manager): 2021 (Chip Pettit), 17U (Alex Triantafillo), 2022 (Bobby Morris), 16U (Trevor Howard), 15U (Andrew Lowe), 15U (Lee Turnbough), 14U (Shawn Donovan), 13U (Trevor Howard), 13U (Corderro Torres), 12U (Michael Scharnke), 12U (Alex Triantafillo), 11U (James Stovall), 10U (Derek Woerpel), 9U (Bobby Morris) and 8U (Bryan Lopez). 

Sutkowski and Mike Curiel assist Pettit with the 2021 squad. Pettit, who is superintendent of Duneland School Corp., was the first Indiana Mr. Baseball in 1992.

“It’s an extremely gifted group,” says Morris of the 2021 team. “(Pettit and Sutkowski) are two phenomenal sports minds.”

Assistants for Morris with the 2022 Chiefs are Morris Baseball general manager Mike Small plus Tim Horneman.

Bobby’s youngest son, Gavin (10), plays for the 9U Chiefs. Bobby also helps coach the 8U team.

Nick Amatulli has more than 40 years of coaching experience and helps with both of Trevor Howard’s squads. 

Some other Chiefs coaches are John Adams, Tom Blair, Brad Fedak, Brian Fernandez, Trent Howard, Dale Meyer, Kevin Peller, Brad Rohde, Kenny Siegal and Eric Spain.

“We don’t differentiate ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team,” says Morris. “It’s more geared toward the name of the coach. We don’t want the potential for the stigma there. It also incentivizes our coaches to play the game hard and represent themselves well.

“We want Chiefs teams to play hard and be smart players. Any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”

Three Chiefs alums are currently playing pro baseball — third baseman Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays) and left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) in the majors and second baseman Nick Podkul (Toronto Blue Jays) in the minors.

Other players who were selected or played in pro baseball (affiliated and/or independent) include right-hander Matt Pobereyko (Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets), infielder/outfielder Ryan Dineen (Houston Astros), left-hander Trent Howard (Baltimore Orioles), right-hander Dan Faulkner (drafted by Philadelphia Philies), left-hander Blake Mascarello (Phillies), left-hander Andy Loomis (Florida Marlins, Phillies, Orioles), outfielder Ryan Basham (drafted by the Blue Jays), right-hander Cesar Carrillo (San Diego Padres), right-hander Mike Ryan (Atlanta Braves), outfielder Mike Coles (Orioles), left-hander Jon Nourie (Padres), first baseman Matt Mamula (New York Yankees) and right-hander Neal Frendling (Rays).

Morris is a 1990 graduate of Munster (Ind.) High School where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan.

“Bob is an extremely decent man,” says Morris of Shinkan. “He has such a genuine, caring nature.”

Shinkan can also be strict and he expects his players to be disciplined.

“I had a great experience there with Bob,” says Morris. 

After high school, lefty-swinging infielder Morris spent three seasons at the University of Iowa playing for long-time Hawkeyes head coach Duane Banks.

“Duane was just a smart baseball guy,” says Morris. “At Iowa, they really believed in self starters. They threw you out there and expected you to compete for a position.

“That culture helped me a lot in professional baseball.”

Morris was selected as a third baseman in the ninth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs and played nine minor league seasons (1993-2001), logging 636 games and hitting .290 with 36 home runs and 326 RBIs. He reached Double-A in the Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds systems. By hitting .354 with seven homers and 64 RBIs, he was chosen as MVP of the 1994 Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs of the Low Class-A Midwest League. That team was managed by Steve Roadcap

Morris also played for teams managed by Steve Kolinsky, Dave Trembley and Bruce Kimm while with the Cubs, Joel Skinner, Jeff Datz and Max Oliveras with the Indians, Bobby Jones with the Rangers and Mike Rojas and Phillip Wellman with the Reds.

Men that stick out for Morris in his development include Trembley, Jimmy Piersall, Sandy Alomar Sr. and Joe Tanner.

While Trembley never played pro baseball, he managed (Orioles) and coached (Houston Astros) in the big leagues.

“Dave had a great habit for excellence,” says Morris, who won a High Class-A Florida State League championship with Trembley on the 1995 Daytona Cubs. “He expected a lot out of himself and a lot out of us and how we carried ourselves.”

Morris, who turns 48 in November, grew watching Piersall and Harry Caray call Chicago White Sox games on TV. When he learned Morris was from Chicagoland, Piersall became close to Morris as a minor league hitting/outfield coach.

“Jimmy took on a second grandfather role for me,” says Morris.

It was in the Cubs organization that Morris encountered Alomar.

“He’s as smart a baseball person as I’ve ever met,” says Morris. “He’s an absolute genius.”

Tanner was Morris’ first full-season hitting instructor and the inventor of Tanner Tees — a product used by Bobby and brother Hal Morris (a left-handed first baseman/outfielder who played 14 seasons in the big leagues).

“Joe was a was a renaissance man for baseball,” says Bobby Morris. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great influences.”

His earliest diamond influences came from brother Hal.

Hal is seven years older than Bobby. 

“We were constantly competing with one another,” says Bobby. “I was challenged a lot. We were always very close. As I matured and got into high school, Hal brought back stuff from his (college and pro) coaches and we worked on it. 

“That helped in fine-tuning my ability to hit at an early age.”

As youngsters, the brothers spent hours taking batting practice with father Bill pitching and mother Margaret chasing baseballs.

Bill Morris was a four-year baseball letterman Davidson (N.C.) College, went to medical school, did his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, entered the U.S. Army and was at Fort Rucker in Alabama when daughter Beth (who went on to be a state swim champion at Munster High) and son Hal (who shined in baseball for the Mustangs) were born.

The family later came to northwest Indiana, where Bill was a pediatrician working at the Hammond Clinic, St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond and Community Hospital in Munster. He died at 82 in 2017.

“He taught us how to compete and how to be gentlemen,” says Bobby Morris of his father. “He was a class southern gentleman.

“My mom is still with us. She has probably shagged as many baseballs in her life as any big league pitcher.”

Bobby and Gloria Morris have three children. Besides Gavin, there’s recent Arizona State University graduate Gina (22) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis student John (19). Gloria Morris is a Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate.

“We’re Region rats,” says Bobby Morris. “I love northwest Indiana.”

The Morris family (from left): Gina, John, Gloria, Gavin and Bobby. Morris Baseball was established by Bobby Morris, a former college and professional player, in 2011. Five years ago came a merger with the Hammond Chiefs travel organization.

Weems setting the bar higher for Pike Red Devils

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Making consistent contenders and productive citizens is a priority for Brandon Weems as head baseball coach at Pike High School in Indianapolis.

The Red Devils play in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (with Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central).

“If we’re ever going to be competitive on a regular basis, we’ve got to get away from just because you showed up, you get to be on the baseball team,” says Weems, who was junior varsity coach at Pike for three seasons then was a volunteer assistant on the staff of Dave Scott at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter before returning to the Red Devils in 2019 as assistant head coach to Todd Webster. “That’s not the way any of those (MIC) schools are and that’s the reason they are successful. There’s competition within the program. If there’s no competition within your own program, then how do you expect to get them to compete with them other teams?”

Pike won the MIC in 2018 then lost many players to graduation and struggled to win many games in 2019. The positive is that many sophomores got varsity playing time.

“They were the ones that earned it whether they were ready for it or not,” says Weems. “That’s what we had so we rolled with it. We’ll be better off for it because a lot of those guys — by the time they’re seniors — will be three-year starters.

“I’ve had my 1-on-1’s with guys I think will be competing for varsity spots and told them where they stand and what they need to work on. I also gave every one of them an idea of who’s coming up behind them and it’s their job to keep that spot.”

That’s the between the lines. There’s also preparing the young men for their next phase be it college, military or work.

“We want to make sure they’re prepared for what life’s going to throw at them,” says Weems, who served in the Indiana Air National Guard as a weather forecaster and observer for nearly seven years and attended Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and now is an accountant for Indianapolis Public Schools in his day job.

His father — the late Tommy Weems — was a disabled veteran who began coaching youth football while still serving in the U.S. Air Force and coached the Weems brothers — Brandon and Brian — in football and basketball when they were growing up.

“He was not able to work,” says Weems. “I don’t come from a affluent background. I come from the same background as a lot of our kids (at Pike).

“The main difference is that I had my dad. A lot of these kids don’t have their dads.

“They’re going to spend a lot more time with me and my staff. We’re going to make sure we’re leading them not only in baseball but we’re reminding them to make good choices like doing their homework, taking time to go to study tables, getting tutoring when they need it, making sure they’re treating the young ladies the way they’re supposed to. We go into all that stuff.”

The coaching staff features Caleb Wakefield (a Pike teacher and U.S. Army veteran who will work with outfielders), Cameron Gardner (a volunteer who coached with Weems and the Indiana Nitro travel organization and will help with infielders), Davon Hardy (the former Irvington Preparatory Academy head coach who will also help with infielders), Xavier Wilder (head junior varsity coach), Nick Lucich (catching coordinator) and Isiah Hatcher (JV assistant).

Even though Pike — which is part of the seventh-largest school district in Indiana — has three gyms, there are still so many athletes and other students vying for practice space. Many off-season baseball workouts are early in the morning or late at night.

Weems says funding has been approved for a new fieldhouse, which will come in handy in the cold months when the Red Devils can’t practice outside on Hildebrand Field.

Last year, beginning in August through the time of high school tryouts, Weems had players in grades 6-8 come in for Sunday workouts.

“We got a really good turnout,” says Weems. “I got almost a full off-season with our incoming freshmen. I knew who they were. They knew who I was. They understood what the expectations were at the high school level.”

This fall and winter, more free workouts have been twice a month on Saturdays for grades 3-8.

High school players are required to do community service hours and one way they fulfill them is to volunteer to help with the youth players.

Pike fielded a summer team last year that was organized by Weems and ran by assistants to provide a competitive opportunity and to make playing in the high school off-season more affordable. Others played for Little League and other organizations.

“We make it voluntarily,” says Weems. “It’s not that if you don’t play with us (during the summer), you can’t play for us (in the spring).

“That is totally fine. I make that clear with the kids. I make that extremely clear with the parents. I make my athletic director aware of what we do.

“It’s what we have to do to compete right now.”

Seems points to Ohio and the ACME Baseball Congress system in place there that provides high school players, coaches and teams an opportunity to continue to play after the high school season ends and is compliant with Ohio High School Athletic Association guidelines.

Weems, 33, hails from Springfield, Ohio, and played at the old Springfield North High School. His class (2004) was the first in school history to win at least 100 games in four years. The Mark Stoll-coached Panthers made it to the district finals (equivalent to the regional in Indiana) three of the four seasons.

He also played in the Babe Ruth League state championship at 13, 14 and 15.

Weems began his coaching career with Springfield North’s freshmen team in the spring of 2005.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be a college baseball player, but I knew I loved the game and didn’t want to be away from it,” says Weems. “I’m an analytical guy. My degree’s in accounting and finance. Baseball kind of lends well to what my strengths are.

“Baseball is one of the last few pure sports that are left because you can’t fake it. When the ball comes your way, you cannot hide. If you’re not trying, everybody’s going to see it.”

Brandon and Dionne Weems celebrated five years of marriage last week. The couple has two sons — Carter (5) and Andrew (3).

BRANDONWEEMS

Brandon Weems is the head baseball coach at Pike High School in Indianapolis.