Tag Archives: Indiana University South Bend

Character is foundation of program for South Bend Riley’s Harris

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Harris learned about discipline, structure and staying on-task from an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and he’s incorporating those concepts and more in his coaching career.

Harris, who played for Ric Tomaszewski and graduated from South Bend Washington High School in 1992, is heading into his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018.

“Coach 6 was very disciplined about how he went about his business,” says Harris of Tomazewski. “All of us understood the expectations he had for us — even from our field maintenance and making sure we did the right things in cleaning up and preparing the field.

“We go about our business and preparing the kids (at Riley) in the same way.”

A cornerstone of the Riley Wildcats program is character.

“We really look for high-character kids and great student-athletes,” says Harris. “Academics is a really big part of what we try to instill in our kids about life after high school.

“Our boys are all high achievers in the classroom and we tell them there’s always a place in college for them somewhere.”

Riley routinely carries a team grade-point average about 3.0 and has been at 3.8.

“From freshmen all the way through, the expectations are really high and the kids take that seriously and focus really hard,” says Harris. “It’s a testament to the kids and the parents.

“Grades come first. Academics are going to carry you a lot farther (than athletics).”

Riley currently has graduate Gabe Douglass on the baseball team at Grace College. Brett Carlson finished up at Purdue University a few years ago. Current Wildcats senior Zach Meert has committed to Indiana University South Bend, now led by former Riley assistant and Washington head coach Doug Buysse.

Harris and his assistant coaches — Mike Armey, Gavin Adams, Cameron Evans, Andrew Teall and Steve Fletcher — stress the importance of being good people all the time and not just on the baseball field.

“You represent South Bend; you represent Riley; you represent your family; you represent me as a coach; and we want to represent each other well,” says Harris, who is married to Sybil and has two boys — Riley sophomore baseball player Jackson Williams (16) and Gregory Harris (10). “I try to be a high-character person myself to make sure I’m representing my family, my baseball family, South Bend and my school well and those expectations stay high.”

Harris is passionate about baseball and the life lessons that can be taught through the sport.

“It helps them prepare for the world,” says Harris. “I love the relationships I’ve built with these kids.”

Adams, Evans and Teall all played for Harris at Riley and are now coaching with him.

Between the lines, Harris wants his hitters to have the ability to manufacture runs if power is not present, to make the routine defensive plays and for pitchers to throw strikes on their first delivery.

“First-pitch strike success will lead to success,” says Harris. “If we don’t throw a strike on that first pitch, the odds are a little bit different.”

Even before the IHSAA adopted pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days), Riley coaches were keeping them low.

“We use a program when scoring the game that alerts me early where they’re at and we’ll begin to shut them down,” says Harris. “Mike Armey, my pitching coach, is really on top of that.

“Sixty-five pitches is a long day for us. We never try to over-use a kids arm no matter what.”

Competition among teammates means that players can’t get too comfortable with their position. Coupled with pitching moves, that means that there are many players who can play multiple places on the diamond.

Overall, it’s about the Wildcats giving it their all.

“We want to play the game the right way constantly,” says Harris. “If we put our best effort out there, we’ll take what we get with it. We’ve had some kids with quite a bit of talent and we’ve had some kids come a long way.”

All Riley players receive a defensive playbook that they must know and understand and are expecting to work toward increasing their Baseball I.Q.

“One day they may be parents and pass those lessons on just like I learned from Tomaszewski,” says Harris. “There are still things I believe in that I learned in high school.”

South Bend Community School Corporation has four IHSAA member high schools — Riley, Adams, Clay and Washington — plus Rise Up Academy. There are 10 intermediate centers (grades 5-8) and 18 primary centers (grades K-4).

With smaller freshmen classes than in recent years, overall athletic program numbers are down at Riley. The Wildcats will field a softball team for girls this spring, but did not in 2017.

Harris has 27 baseball players in 2018. Some will split time between varsity and junior varsity.

“We want to fill both and make sure the development is where it needs to be,” says Harris. “With the emergence of travel sports, the Little Leagues aren’t feeding into you the way they used to. With school of choice and magnet programs, kids go where they want.

“We’re trying to reach out in different areas to get kids interested in playing sports.”

New SBCSC athletic director Seabe Gavin and Riley AD Dan Kyle is encouraging high school varsity coaches to meet with intermediate school coaches and it’s likely the primary schools will also be contacted.

“We’re still trying to tap into the Little Leagues and see what they have,” says Harris, who counts South Side and South Bend South East as feeder parks for Riley. “We’re always trying have a place for kids to play baseball.”

While Little League participation is down, travel ball is up.

In the summer, Harris has coached travel baseball with the Michiana Scrappers. This year, he will coach the 16U squad for the Michiana Repetition. The program is directed by new South Bend Washington High School head baseball coach and Riley graduate Marcus LaSane.

Players are encouraged to find some kind of team.

“They need to keep playing ball,” says Harris.

Lessons are offered by Harris at Teddy Ballgames training facility in South Bend.

Harris, who is a product engineer at Dec-O-Art in Elkhart, began coaching baseball at South Bend South Side Little League and then migrated to assistant positions at Riley before following Dave Luczkowski as head coach.

The Wildcats play on-campus at Bob Rush Field. Through fundraising, baseball has found ways to upgrade dugouts and purchase new wind screens while maintaining mounds and playing surfaces.

Harris says getting a new warning track is a goal. A  big-ticket item on the wish list is a press box and lights are dream.

Riley belongs to the Northern Indiana Conference along with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington. The NIC produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion (St. Joseph) and a 4A state runner-up (Penn) in 2017.

“You can’t take a day off (in the NIC),” says Harris.

Non-conference opponents on the Wildcats schedule include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Kokomo, LaVille, Michigan City, Plymouth, Triton and Warsaw.

Riley is in a 4A sectional group with Adams, Clay, LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“We may take our lumps early,” says Harris. “We want to be better than ‘South Bend good’ and make a run in the tournament.”

GREGHARRIS

Greg Harris is entering his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

ANDREWBRABENDER

Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

O’Neil brings discipline, enthusiasm to Danville Warriors baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Backed by an administration and community that makes baseball a priority, second-year head coach Pat O’Neil and his Danville Community High School Warriors are aiming high.

“I want to bring a sense of confidence to the players and the program,” says O’Neil. “They can be as good as they want to be by putting in the correct amount of time, doing things the right way and doing things together.

“I’m taking the same approach I did at Brownsburg. A state championship is your goal. It’s not given to you. You’ve got to put in the effort and go the extra mile. I’m really pleased with the direction the (Danville) program is going.”

Including five seasons at the helm for Fountain Central High School, 10 for Brownburg High School and one for Danville Community, O’Neil’s career record is 348-112.

Armed with discipline, enthusiasm and organization learned as a player and later assistant for high school baseball coaching icon Ken Schreiber while serving on his LaPorte staff for IHSAA state championships in 1987 and 1990, O’Neil led Brownsburg on the diamond from 2001-10. The Bulldogs earned a state crown in 2005 after a state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004.

“The main goal is to get the blue (championship) ring at the end of the season,” says O’Neil, a 1975 LaPorte graduate and younger brother of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip O’Neil. “I’ve got three blue rings and I know how good the blue feels.”

O’Neil coached future major leaguers at Brownsburg — pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen and catcher Tucker Barnhart — and still communicates regularly with all three. In the three years after leaving the Bulldogs program, O’Neil took time off from coaching and saw many of their games.

When Lebanon High School head coach Rick Cosgray was looking for a pitching coach, he invited O’Neil to join the Tigers staff. In the first of his three seasons (2014-16), Lebanon won its first sectional since 2000.

Danville, which won the most-recent of its eight sectional titles in 2015, went 15-11 in 2017 and lost a 1-0 pitchers’ duel to eventual champion Indian Creek in the semifinals of the Class 3A Danville Sectional.

“It just came down to us not making a couple plays in the seventh inning,” says O’Neil, who saw the game’s lone run score on an 0-2 passed ball with two outs in the top of the seventh. Danville had runners at second and third when the game ended.

O’Neil’s varsity assistants are Danville graduates Jake Marckel and John Fuson with Chris Marckel (father of Jake) leading the junior varsity. O’Neil says he expects to have around 36 players in the program in the spring.

The 2018 Warriors will sport a roster full of seniors who are three- and four-year starters.

“They want to send a message that Danville baseball is program to be reckoned with and they want to lead the charge,” says O’Neil, who counts catcher Tarron Lawson, first baseman Ethan Shafer, right-handed pitcher Jackson Wynn, center fielder Dylan Snider, right-hander Tristan Morrell and right-hander/third baseman Isaac McGregor in the Class of 2018.

Lawson, Shafer and Wynn are Danville’s tri-captains. Lawson has committed to Eastern Illinois University while there has been college interest in some of the other Warriors.

O’Neil looks to get contributions from a junior class which includes shortstop/second baseman Blake Mills, utility man Mark Broderick, catcher Shane Bradley and right-hander Max Schumacher.

The importance of the unit is stressed by O’Neil.

“It’s all about team and there’s a role for everybody,” says O’Neil. “We encourage them about doing the best they can.”

The veteran coach notes that it doesn’t really matter where a batter appears on the lineup card.

“In the game, there’s only one legit lead-off hitter in the game (and that’s in the first inning),” says O’Neil. “When it’s your turn to produce, go up and produce. I want everybody to think they’re the No. 3 hitter.”

O’Neil cites the example of Austin Nickol at Brownsburg. He batted No. 5 and went into the 2004 State Finals hitting .281 with eight runs batted in then batted in the No. 9 hole and hit  .407 with 22 RBI going into the 2005 championship game. The Bulldogs wound up 35-0 and Nickol received a scholarship to Butler University.

Danville belongs to the Sagamore Conference (along with Crawfordsville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone). The conference observes a schedule with home-and-home games in the same week for a total of 14 league games.

“The Sagamore is going to be strong this year,” says O’Neil. “It’s the most competitive top to bottom in the five years I’ve been around it.”

Danville has never won the Sagamore in baseball since joining in 2000. The Warriors were Mid-State Conference champions in 1946, 1951 and 1967 and West Central Conference champions in 1988, 1989, 1994 and 1998.

The Warriors’ 2018 non-conference slate includes Beech Grove, Cascade, Covenant Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Monrovia, Northview, Owen Valley, Plainfield, Speedway plus the Hendricks County Tournament (Avon, Brownsburg, Cascade, Plainfield and Tri-West Hendricks are in that).

Hendricks County Tournament titles came Danville’s way in 1989, 1991 and 1994.

Danville will again host the sectional. But the tournament field and the playing surface will have a new look. Because of success factor or shuffling, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter (2A state runner-up in 2017), Brebeuf and Tri-West Hendricks have moved in to join Danville, Greencastle and Indianapolis Northwest.

With support of superintendent Dr. Tracey Shafer, principal Dr. P.J. Hamann, athletic director Jon Regashus (who was an O’Neil assistant at Brownsburg) and others, there have been several athletic upgrades on campus. On the way for the baseball field are many new items — a turf infield, drainage and sprinkling system for the outfield, fencing and bleaches. The dugouts and press box are to be renovated with a locker room added upstairs in the press box building.

The community’s youngest players play recreation and travel baseball. Danville Community Middle School’s seventh/eighth grade team is to play about 20 games in the spring.

“We want them to play as much as they can and get as much experience as possible,” says O’Neil.

Before O’Neil went to Brownsburg (he has been a health teacher at the school since 2000-01), he was a Midwest scout for the Tampa Bay Rays. At Fountain Central, he was also head football coach for five seasons (1990-94).

In seven seasons at LaPorte with Schreiber, he became very close with the Hall of Famer and learned much about developing pitchers.

“You don’t start in March,” says O’Neil. “You have to build up strength so they can throw 110 pitches and feel strong.”

By state tournament time, O’Neil wants to have a well-establish No. 1 and No. 2 starter but depth is also important.

“We want to develop another four or five guys who can come in and throw strikes and feel confident,” says O’Neil, who saw four Danville pitchers — Weston, Shafer, Morrell, and MacGregor — go down with non-baseball injuries in the last month of the 2017 regular season and had younger players step in to pick up the slack.

Before coaching at LaPorte, Pat spent two season on brother Chip’s staff at South Bend St. Joseph.

The younger O’Neil played two seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan College after two at Vincennes University. He earned an undergraduate degree from KWC in 1980 and a master’s degree from Indiana University South Bend in 1990.

Married nearly eight years to Carol, Pat has two daughters. Oldest daughter Maureen and husband Matt Hoard have two boys — Clark (8) and A.J. (5). Youngest Katie and spouse Brandon Jewell have pets. Stepson Michael is a recent Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology graduate. Stepdaughter Jennifer is a nursing student at the University of Indianapolis.

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Pat O’Neil enters his second season as head  baseball coach at Danville Community High School in 2018. He coached five seasons at Fountain Central and 10 at Brownsburg, earning state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004 and a state championship in 2005.

 

Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

RICHBENJAMINIWUBASEBALL

Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

ABCA’s Sheetinger covers the bases of college baseball recruiting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Navigating the maze that can be college baseball recruiting, players and their parents can use some straight-forward answers.

Jeremy Sheetinger, a former college player and coach who is now College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association and ABCA “Calls from the Clubhouse” Podcast host, travels the country to offer advice.

That’s just what he did recently in a visit to the South Bend Cubs/1st Source Bank Performance Center as guest of director Mark Haley and Indiana University South Bend head coach Doug Buysse.

Sheetinger, who played at Franklin County (Ky.) High School and Kentucky Wesleyan College (NCAA Division II) and was an assistant and recruiting coordinator at both Brescia University (NAIA) and assistant at Georgetown College (NAIA), Director of Operations at the University of Kentucky (D-I), lead assistant and recruiting coordinator at Saint Joseph’s College (D-II) in Indiana and head coach at Spalding University (D-III) in Louisville, packed in plenty of information.

The high-energy Sheetinger, who now lives in Greensboro, N.C., where the ABCA is headquartered, and also serves as a associate scout with the Atlanta Braves, covered coach evaluations, parents’ impact and role, contact with coaches, campus visits, resources, differences in collegiate levels, finding the right fit, making a recruiting video, camps and showcases and a timeline for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

EVALUATION

Sheetinger, who has given talks on recruiting about 2,000 times and worked baseball camps in 35 different states, says coaches are always evaluating and projecting players.

They use their past experiences and players to judge current players.

“We’ve got to use what we know to be true,” says Sheetinger. “If I see a kid who’s 6-2, 180 with a clean right-handed swing, I will remember a player who went on to be a conference player of the year. If I see 5-7, 135 with a bad swing (and short parents), I know that kid is never going to be 6-2.

“I’m looking at you through the eyes of all the players I ever coached. Mom and dad, it has nothing to do with your opinion of him as a player.”

If catchers take too long to get rid of the baseball with a very slow POP time, but can mash at the plate, they might help a college team as a first baseman.

A player with strong, accurate arm who can run might be a fit in a college outfield. But that throw must be on the money.

“When it’s time to throw something out, you’ve got to throw somebody out,” says “Coach Sheets.”

It’s also possible that movement that hurts a player in the outfielder helps him as a pitcher.

What about that big-bodied kid at shortstop for his high school?

“He can’t play short in college, but he’s got a great arm,” says Sheetinger. “Where can he play for me? Third base.”

The five baseball tools are hit for power, hit for average, defense, arm strength and running speed.

The average high school player has an exit ball velocity of 75 to 84 mph, average arm velo of 70 to 80 mph in the field, 70 to 75 mph at catcher and a 60-yard dash time of 7.0 to 7.2 seconds.

“I’m not telling your how to spend your money,” says Sheetinger. “Hitting lessons are great. Pitching lessons are great. But think about speed lessons and conditioning lessons.

“Think about going to the track at 6 o’clock in the morning and running sprints. You go, Sheets, what are you talking about? I’m not going to the track at 6 a.m. That’s why you run a 7.9. I’ll be your best friend if you just let me.”

Velocity is not the ultimate indicator for pitchers. Pitch control, secondary pitches, composure and maturity, athleticism and handling the running game are more important.

For all players, there are intangibles like attitude, leadership, energy, Baseball I.Q., confidence, clutch and the will to win.

“College coaches are watching everything,” says Sheetinger. “They don’t miss a beat. When you’re in a showcase event or you’re in a game and coaches are present and you hit a ground ball back to the pitcher, I want to see your best 90 time.

“That stuff matters. Run your best time every time.”

Sheetinger says players are evaluated on how they handle adversity and points to the example of a recruiting trip he made while at Saint Joseph’s, looking to offer a 75 percent scholarship to a pitcher.

This kid had stuff. But he also had an attitude, though the man calling balls and strikes was squeezing him and did not hesitate to let everyone in the ballpark know it.

“Bad umpires are multiplying daily,” says Sheetinger. “That ain’t going away. I’m more interested in your body language and presence.”

The pitcher enjoyed two lights-out innings then ran into adversity in the third.

He plunked the first batter, uncorked a wild pitch to send the runner to second and then gave up a duck snort and a double in the gap. A mound visit from his coach was greeted by plenty of walking around, cap removal and lack of eye contact.

“We’ve got maturity issues,” says Sheetinger.

The coach returns to the dugout and it’s duck snort, double and another hit-by-pitch.

When the coach comes back out to take the pitcher out, the youngster heaves the ball toward the sky and the coach catches when it comes down. Before the pitcher crosses the foul line, he fires his glove into the dugout.

Recruiting visit over.

On another recruiting trip, Sheetinger remembers seeing the opposite kind of behavior. A strong No. 3 hitter popped up on the infield in a key situation.

With Sheetinger’s eyes following him the whole way, the player carries his helmet and bat to the dugout, does a 30-second re-set, puts down his equipment and his back on the rail cheering before the No. 4 hitters sees his first pitch.

“That’s a great teammate,” says Sheetinger. “That’s a really good kid. Two weeks later, he gets a Division I offer. He was never going to come to play for me. But I like watching kids like that.

“It doesn’t show up on paper. But things matter.”

Sheetinger says it is easy to measure things like fastball velocity and 60-yard time. But not everything fits on a spreadsheet.

“Some things you can’t coach,” says Sheetinger. “Can you really coach someone to hustle? I can probably put fear into you to hustle. But either you hustle or you don’t.  It’s like either your pants are on-fire or they’re not. It’s not up to me to light your pants on-fire. It’s who you are internally.”

These kinds of players won’t get out-worked. They need to be taken seriously.

PARENTS’ IMPACT AND ROLE

Parents can either be a huge positive or negative influence on their son’s recruitment.

What parents do could be the first impression a coach gets about the player.

“Parents, as a college coach and as a scout, I don’t think you’re sweet when you yell at umpires,” says Sheetinger. “That’s the biggest turn-off for me of anything you do.

“Nobody barks at you when you flip burgers, let him do his job. If you want to be a coach so you can bark at umpires, apply for the job. If you need to do that, go to some other team’s game so we can track it back to your kid on the field.

“I assure you I’ve asked over a hundred people in the stands at a showcase ‘who’s dad is that?’

“Please change your ways. It reflects bad on your son.”

The Blame Game is not welcome.

“If you something against your high school coach, ask yourself this question: Does he really have something against my kid or is my kid just not good enough?,” says Sheetinger. “Most coaches will play the best players because most coaches like winning.”

Coaches pick up on how parents and players talk and act toward one another.

Players are expected to be in the forefront of the recruiting process.

Sheetinger encourages players to spend two hours twice a week doing online research on their college choices. If they are decided on their major, they start with that and see how many possible schools offer it. Then the look at the performance of the baseball program through archives, rosters and statistics.

“If a school has gone 10-40 10 years in a row, guess what Year 11 is going to look like?,” says Sheetinger. “If that coach has been there 10 years and they won five his first year, 10 his second, 20 his third year, 25 the next years and the last three years they’ve won the conference championship, that dude’s building something. The coach can’t hide that.

“Do your homework.”

The young athletes should be the ones communicating with coaches through minimal calls and emails.

“Players, take ownership of this process,” says Sheetinger. “I don’t want emails from mom and dad.”

CONTACT WITH COACHES

Email is the best way to reach out/introduce yourself to a college coach.

These emails should come from an appropriate address and be “meat and potatoes” — Subject … Name … Graduation Year … Position(s) … Hometown/High School … Grades … Research … Video link (include this with every correspondence).

Players should expects emails, texts and calls from coaches and be quick to respond to them.

Sheetinger advises players to treat every program as the most important one and to be respectful of the coach’s time and efforts.

Evaluation is still happening and communication is the key. Body language, eye contact, handshakes and paying attention all matter.

How do players talk?

What is important to them?

Sheetinger compares recruiting to dating.

“I like you,” says Sheetinger. “I’m going to try to convince you to like me.”

“I’m going to give you my spiel. We’re going to get to know your son because in a way because coaches step in as pseudo-stepfathers. We need to have a relationship. We need to have a bond. We’ve got to get along. (Parents) won’t be there.”

CAMPUS VISITS

This gives a player and his family a glance at the coaches, program, campus life and academics.

They will meet with the admissions and financial aid departments and get a campus tour etc.

Coaches will run the first visit.

Sheetinger says players should do 90 percent of the talking and parents 10 percent.

Players may make 10 official visits (spend the night) and unlimited unofficial visits (day visits).

On these visits, players are allowed to work out at D-II, NAIA and junior college schools but not at D-I and D-III.

There is a difference between a Baseball Visit (set up through the baseball staff) and Admissions Visit (no guarantee to see the baseball staff).

RESOURCES

College/University websites offer information on admissions and financial aid as well as biographies, archives, statistics and rosters for the baseball program.

Other helpful sites and resources: NCAA.org (rules, info), NCAA.com (stats, champions), NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly Clearinghouse; helps with collection of transcripts, core classes; D-I and D-II must register; cost is $65), NAIA.org, NAIA Eligibility Center (handles transcripts; all players must register; $75), FAFSA.gov (Due Oct. 1 of Senior Year), high school guidance counselor.

DIFFERENCE IN COLLEGIATE LEVELS

NCAA Division I (295 programs) may offer 11.7 max scholarships if fully funded (60 percent). Roster limits are 35 at the end of the fall with 27 on 25-percent scholarship.

Recruiting has ramped up for the majority of D-I teams.

NCAA Division II (254 programs) can give 9.0 max scholarships if fully funded (40 percent). There is no roster limit. That number will be set by the school, athletic department or coaches.

The top program work ahead in recruiting. Most are year-to-year.

NCAA Division III (383 programs) does not offer athletic scholarships. It is all academic- and financial-aid based. Like D-II, rosters are only limited by program choice.

Early decisions and admission dates are important. Most schools are year-to-year with their recruiting.

NAIA (187 program) may offer 12.0 max scholarships with exemptions. Again, there is no association-dictated roster limit. The majority of programs recruit year-to-year.

Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, is one of the best college teams in the country regardless of level. The Warriors have won the NAIA World Series 19 times, including 2015, 2016 and 2017.

NJCAA (410 programs across 3 divisions) gives 24.0 max scholarships in D-I, 24.0 max Tuition scholarships (no room and board) in D-II and zero athletic scholarships in D-III. The association imposes no roster limits. Recruiting is year-to-year at most of these two-year institutions.

Tyler (Texas) Junior College has taken the last four straight NJCAA Division III national titles.

Sheetinger says there is great baseball at all levels. The top teams in D-II, D-III, NAIA and NJCAA can win games on the D-I level.

He sums it up by saying that at the upper levels of D-I, most programs are already 90 to 95 percent done getting commitments from current seniors (Class of 2018) with juniors (Class of 2019) 80 percent done, sophomores (Class of 2020) 60 percent complete and freshmen (Class of 2021) 30 to 40 percent already committed.

“That’s how accelerated recruiting has gotten,” says Sheetinger. “It wasn’t that way 10 years ago.

The ABCA recently conducted a recruiting summit. A panel of 16 coaches came up with a proposed recruiting calendar to calm down the early signings.

“Coaches don’t like evaluating 13-year-olds,” says Sheetinger. “It’s hard enough to project a 16-year-old. D-II, D-III, NAIA and junior college are hot on this senior class. You’ve got to keep things in perspective.

“There are a lot more opportunities out there.”

Sheetinger says the reason many people recall their college years so fondly is because they are 18 to 22 and away from their parents and figuring out what kind of man, worker, husband and father they’re going to be. They are sorting out their religious and political views.

Take 35 guys spending nine months together on busses and in dorm rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms and cafeterias while figuring this out and you see the beginnings of lifelong bonds.

“It’s the best experience of your life,” says Sheetinger. “If you can go play, you should go play.”

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Players must be a fit for a program, taking into consideration that coach’s style and the recruiting class.

Sheetinger likes to use the analogy of the fork with each prong being a priority in the college decision-making process. The fork could have as many as five prongs.

Prongs are sure to include academics and fit. Does a school offer the degree a player wants and how does he fit into the needs of the baseball program?

“You never go to play at a school that doesn’t offer a degree that you in your heart of hearts really want,” says Sheetinger.

Other things to consider are social atmosphere on-campus, location/geography and the cost.

A player might social butterfly and being in clubs or fraternities and going to concerts is important.

How big is the college compared to the player’s high school or hometown?

Is the school close enough for parents to regularly attend games?

How’s the weather?

If you don’t like the cold, maybe a school in upper Michigan is probably not for you.

If players have not asked their parents how much they are willing to pay out-of-pocket, they need to have that conversation.

Sheetinger says it is best to funnel down toward a players’ top choices of schools from 10 to 5 to 3.

Players should be aggressive, working toward and “yes” or “no” answer.

Can I play here or not?

Responses from coaches should be treated as hot leads. Response should be quick and player should try to get more info on the program and work toward campus visits.

MAKING A RECRUITING VIDEO

A professional video is not necessary. A good smartphone video will do the trick.

But a video is key. It gives coaches instant evaluation.

The video should be short. Position players will have five swing views from the side and five from the front or behind. Show a variety of defensive movement and throws (maximum of 8).

If a player has speed, show it with a 60-yard home-to-first video clip.

Pitching videos will show five fastballs, five curves and five change-ups from the wind-up and three each from the stretch.

Game footage must be edited.

Contact info, stats and coach’s info may be included.

CAMPS AND SHOWCASES

Players interested in a particular school are encouraged to go to their camp and be seen by their staff.

They must be mindful of database emails (every email doesn’t mean they are being recruited) and the “Cattle Calls” approach to camp population and marketing.

Campers should ask if other colleges will be attending. The price should be justified with how many possible evaluations they will receive by their attendance.

Sheetinger says it’s important to think of the coach’s perspective.

They notice players who stand out (bright cap and stirrups and name on the back of a jersey is helpful) and ones who exhibit hustle, energy, positivity and confidence.

A handshake and a thank you to every coach at the end of camp will go a long way.

TIMELINE

Freshmen are pointed toward strength and speed training, attending camps to get familiar with that environment and focusing on grades etc.

Sophomores continue with strength and speed training and camps and after the high school season begin emailing college coaches with info, videos, summer schedule etc.

Juniors have a very important year and season. They are looking to get their name out there. They do the training and camps and showcases in front of a large number of college coaches. They send emails to college coaches before the summer begins. They begin to funnel their list of schools.

Seniors  have a very active year. They do all the training and attend unsigned senior events. They are aggressive with emails to coaches and ask for campus visits. In the fall, they have campus visits, submit applications and many will commit. In the spring and summer, they will make final visits and commit.

ABCA CONVENTION

The ABCA national convention is coming Jan. 4-7, 2018 to the Indiana Convention Center and JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. More than 6,000 coaches and 330 exhibiting companies are expected.

JEREMYSHEETINGERCORNBELTSPORTSCREDIT

Jeremy Sheetinger is College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association. He was in South Bend recently to advise players, parents and coaches about college recruiting. (Cornbelt Sports Photo)

 

Jimtown’s Mast asks players to hone in on their strengths

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What can you hang your hat on?

That’s the question that Darin Mast asks of his players and the team as a whole as head baseball coach at Jimtown High School.

“Find out what you can do and do it well,” says Mast, who enters his 11th overall season with the Jimmies in 2018 (he was JV coach for five years before taking over the varsity reigns in 2013). “Keep the game simple. Baseball is complicated enough.”

Mast got his first impression of organized baseball and how to the do things when he reached Goshen High School and first played on the junior varsity for coach Brian Eldridge. Mast was called up from the to the varsity as a sophomore in 1988 and got to experience the first of three straight GHS sectional championships. He was a letterman when the Redskins reigned in 1989 and 1990.

By that time, Eldridge had taken over as head coach from Elkhart County Sports Hall of Famer Devon Hoffman.

Taking what he learned from Eldridge, Mast went to Adrian (Mich.) College, where Craig Rainey was just getting started (2018 will be his 25th season). Before Mast got to the NCAA Division III school, Adrian had suffered through an 0-22 season.

What he witnessed early on were players who were undisciplined and did not know the fundamentals.

“I was so thankful to come from a (high school) program that did roll out the baseball and just play,” says Mast.

By Mast’s junior year, he was part of the first Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association-winner in school history.

It was the beginning of a winning tradition. The current pack of Bulldogs won a record ninth straight MIAA crown. Rainey 619 (427 in conference play). Adrian went the NCAA D-III championship eight straight times (2008-15).

“I remember back then (Rainey) told us that people want to play us now, but we won’t be a door mat for long,” says Mast. “It’s neat to see someone with that passion and drive succeed.”

Mast finished up his playing career in 1994. While he completed his degree, he got his first taste of coaching when he joined Rainey’s staff and helped with some of the pitchers in the spring of 1995.

A chance to “fly solo” came Mast’s way that summer when he led a Sylvania (Ohio) Mavericks travel team.

He spent some time as a substitute teacher then got hired by Goshen Community Schools in 1996. Mast coached baseball at his alma mater for four seasons — two with the junior varsity and two with the varsity. In the summers, he joined Eldridge in a lawn mowing business. Eldridge died in 2014.

After Goshen, Mast taught and did not coach at Garrett High School for a year before returning Elkhart County as a teacher at Jimtown Junior High. He spent five years as junior varsity baseball coach. When Mike Stout wrapped his 25-year career of leading the Jimmies program after the 2012 season, Mast was promoted to head coach.

“Very instrumental” is the way Mast describes Stout’s impact on his career as a coach and educator. Not only did he learn when he was on Stout’s coaching staff, he is still a teacher in the building where Stout is principal.

“I can pop into his office anytime and run stuff my him,” says Mast. “He is very cerebral.”

While game situations often called for a quick decision, Mast has come to appreciate Stout’s ability to step back and examine all the angles.

“I’ve learned from Mike to think things through,” says Mast. “He is never too quick to react to something. Things are not as bad as young initially perceive them. When I was younger, I would over-react.”

Mast is now one who likes to prepare for what might happen.

“I like to know the answer before the question is asked,” says Mast. “What do I do if a kid can’t (pitch) seven innings?”

Helping him this season will be returning varsity assistants Jordan Smith and Lee Mast (Darin’s father), varsity staff newcomer Kevin McMahon (formerly at Mishawaka Marian) and JV coach Cory Stoner.

Volunteer Lee Mast is a former softball coach at Goshen High School and Goshen College.

“He keeps me out of trouble,” says Darin of Lee. “He’s my sounding board.

“Not a lot of people have had the opportunity to coach with the dads. That’s priceless. We’ve had good times together.”

Goshen is an IHSAA Class 4A school. Jimtown is in 3A.

“We have to the play the cards we’re dealt,” says Mast. “Some classes we’re stacked with good players.”

Some are a work-in-progress.

“We’re going to be young and inexperienced this year,” says Mast. “That’s OK if we learn and get better every time out.”

Mast plans a call-out for 2018 before Christmas break. Pre-season workouts begin January.

Then comes the time that the coach dreads.

“I have one bad day a year — Cut Day,” says Mast. “It’s hard.”

Mast talks to everyone who tries out for his program whether they make the cut or not. He offers pointers to those who might want to work on their game and try out again the following season.

“That’s something I will not compromise on,” says Mast. “That’s the right thing to do.”

Mast tries to project candidates, especially freshmen, based on their coach ability and attitude. He also expects them to have a decent amount of baseball ability. There is not enough time to teach the game from scratch.

About 40 tried out for the 2017 Jimmies. While he has no hard and fast number that he keeps, he likes to have no more than 14 on the JV to allows players a good amount of repetitions.

Jimtown is part of the 13-team Northern Indiana Conference (along with 2A school Bremen, 3A schools John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington and 4A schools Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley).

The non-conference schedule includes early-April and late-May dates with Goshen of the Northern Lakes Conference. RedHawks head coach Josh Keister was a player when Mast was on the GHS coaching staff.

Other NLC foes include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge and NorthWood. There’s also games with Northeast Corner Conference teams Fairfield and Westview, Hoosier North Athletic Conference member LaVille and independent Bethany Christian.

Jimtown plays its home contests at Booster Field, which debuted in 1976. The facility, which sports lights, has seen its share of sectional and regional games.

In order to get on the road quickly for away games, the Jimmies often use smaller buses so they can leave soon after dismissal.

No fewer than three of Mast’s former Jimtown players are now on college rosters. There’s Nick Floyd at Ball State University, Collin Gordon at Indiana University South Bend (transferred from Anderson University) and Blane Bender at Ancilla College.

Mast looks at Floyd as a measuring stick of what at D-I player looks like.

“Not everyone who comes through here is a college baseball player,” says Mast. “I owe it to the ones who can get to the next level to get them there.”

Mast notes that a college-bound player is one who is self-motivated to put in the extra work in baseball training and seeking out the program that fits them best.

With Mast, honesty is the best policy. Not looking to over-hype, he will tell it like it is when talking with players, their parents and college coaches.

He also has an open-door policy.

“If a player wants to know about playing time, I want him to come and ask me,” says Mast. “I’ll be honest. I’m not going to beat around bush.”

DARINMAST

Darin Mast, a graduate of Goshen High School and Adrian (Mich.) College, is entering his 11th season of coaching baseball at Jimtown High School in 2018 — his sixth as head coach. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)