Tag Archives: Indiana Wesleyan University

Spencer wants Sheridan Blackhawks to be ‘all-conference’ teammates

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

Adam Spencer has learned that if you want to make a leader you let someone take the lead.
If you went them to be a valuable part of the group you show them how.
Spencer, the head baseball coach at Sheridan (Ind.) High School since 2017, defines his role.
“I’m a developer of men,” says Spencer, who is also a sixth grade math teacher and activities director at Sheridan Middle School (he earned an Elementary Education degree from Ball State University in 1998 and about a decade later at Masters in Education from Indiana Wesleyan University). “Everybody wants to win. I want to help make good fathers, good husbands, good friends.
“We talk about being an all-conference teammate. These are things we don’t have stats on.”
Through the years of coaching youth sports, Spencer has gotten to the point where players are asked to take charge in certain areas.
“Early on I never gave anybody leadership roles,” says Spencer. “Our guys run our drills (supervised by coaches). We put our upperclassmen in leadership roles.”
The baseball team is also involved in community service.
“We try to help others if we can,” says Spencer, whose players have raked leaves, pulled weeds and even helped the Sheridan Historical Society move across Main Street (S.R. 38).
Spencer is a 1993 Sheridan graduate. He did not play baseball or basketball in high school though he as a big fan of the sport. His father passed away when Adam was in elementary school and he worked during the winter and spring.
He did play football at Sheridan for Hall of Famer Larry “Bud” Wright and was on an IHSAA state championship team in 1992.
His love of baseball led Spencer to the Indianapolis Umpire Association and he officiated games for 17 years.
As his children got older (Adam and wife of 21 years, Lindsay, have four sons), he got involved in coaching at the middle school level.
At Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Spencer was on the football staffs of Lance Scheib and Kent Wright.
Years later, Matt Britt gave him the chance to coach middle school baseball at Sheridan. Some of those players were on the 2019 Blackhawks team that went 14-6 and lost to eventual Carroll (Flora) Regional champion Rossville in the Class 1A Sheridan Sectional championship.
Spencer was pitching coach for Larry Lipker for a season before taking over as head coach.
Sheridan (enrollment around 330) is a member of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Carroll of Flora, Clinton Central, Clinton Prairie, Delphi, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Taylor and Tri-Central).
In 2022, HHC teams will play one another on Tuesdays and Thursdays with some Saturday doubleheaders. In 2013, there will be 11 conference games included a seeded end-of-season tournament.
In 2021, the Blackhawks were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Clinton Central, Frontier (the 2021 host), Rossville, South Newton and Tri-County. Sheridan has won its lone sectional title in 2004.
Sheridan plays its home games on Kent Harris Field (named after a former Blackhawks baseball coach).
In the fall, Blake Marschand-owned Marschand’s Athletic Field Service laser-graded the diamond and there was no Limited Contact Period activity. Spencer says there might have been five athletes involved that don’t play football or another fall sport at Sheridan. Spencer also coaches middle school football.
Through a partnership formed between Spencer and Michael Tucker, Sheridan hosts some Bullpen Tournaments games and has access to the turf diamonds at Grand Park in nearby Westfield, Ind.
Spencer’s assistant baseball coaches are Sheridan alum Adam Durr and Ryan Conley, whom he met from IUA.
Sam Crail (Class of 2017) played at Indiana University and then went to Saint Leo (Fla.) University.
Zach Mannies (Class of 2018) played at Ancilla College and then West Liberty (W.Va.) University.
Cameron Hovey (Class of 2021) is on the baseball and football teams at Manchester University.
Spencer sees college baseball potential in current seniors Gavin Reners and Silas DeVaney if they should pursue that path.
“(Reners and DeVaney) will be the leaders of our team (in 2022),” says Spencer.
Caine Spencer played for his father at the end of his middle school and high school baseball days and is now a 21-year-old junior at Ball State.
Adam and Lindsay’s other three boys — sophomore Camden (16), eighth grader Chance (14) and fifth grader Crew (11) – are also baseball players.
Feeders for Sheridan High School baseball are a Sheridan Babe Ruth League team of seventh and eighth graders that play in the late spring and into the summer plus young players in Sheridan Community Recreation Inc. (SCRI).
A middle school baseball camp introduces players to the ways and the language used at Sheridan High School.
“I’m invested in the program at every level,” says Spencer.

Adam Durr (left) and Adam Spencer.
Adam Spencer, Cole Macintosh and Camden Spencer.
Adam Spencer and Sheridan, Ind., youth baseball players.
Adam Spencer.
Shirley Delph (stripes) with the Spencers (clockwise) — Lindsay, Caine, Adam, Chance, Chase and Crew,
The Spencers (from left): Chance, Adam, Caine, Camden, Crew and Lindsay.
Adam Spencer surrounded by sons Caine and Chance, Camden and Crew.

Family comes first for North Miami baseball’s Floor

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

Shannon Floor has been coaching baseball for more than three decades.
He began in the Wabash (Ind.) Little League and Junior/Senior League and later led travel teams with the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers and seventh and eighth graders at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
He was asked to join the varsity coaching staff and 2021 was his first season as Warriors head coach.
Floor credits three men for getting him to where he’s at as a coach — Carl Pace, Mark Delagarza and Troy Hudson.
“They’ve been tremendous mentors to me,” says Floor.
Pace, who is now head softball coach at Southwood Junior-Senior High School in Wabash, led Little League teams with Floor as his assistant.
Delagarza is the founder of the Summit City Sluggers and has run the organization since 1996. He counts Floor as a 17U head coach.
Hudson, the North Miami athletic director, ran the Warriors baseball program and brought Floor on board when Hudson moved up from assistant to head coach for 2017.
The 2022 season will be Floor’s fifth at North Miami. In 2018, he guided middle schoolers in the spring and then took players into Babe Ruth ball in the summer and finished as state runner-up to New Castle and placed fourth at the Ohio Valley Regional in West Virginia.
The following spring (2019), North Miami won its first-ever IHSAA sectional championship, besting West Central, Caston and Northfield to win the Class 1A tournament at Caston.
Hudson stepped down after what would have been the 2020 season (canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and Floor was installed as head coach.
Floor holds three things dear while guiding his team.
“No. 1 is family,” says Floor, himself a married man with three ball-playing three sons. “No. 2 is team fundamentals and development. We want to rely on each other and make each other accountable. We also want to be succeeding in academics.
“Then we work on playing good ball on the field.”
North Miami had just over 20 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in 2021.
“We could have 28 to 30 (for 2022) if everything holds up,” says Floor. “(Winning) has spring-loaded our program. It’s the first time the excitement has been at that level and the numbers started growing.
“We want to keep going in that direction.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period went from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and the Warriors took full advantage of it.
“We had a very good turnout,” says Floor. “We averaged 16 to 18 guys (in twice-weekly two-hour sessions) — about triple from last year.”
Since North Miami is a small school with many fall athletes, one of the sessions was held on Saturday afternoons so it did not interrupt football activities.
North Miami (enrollment around 290) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).
Based on the IHSAA Portal, Maconquah and Peru are the largest TRC schools with around 660 students reach, followed by Tippecanoe Valley (around 570), Rochester (around 510), Manchester (around 500), Wabash (around 470) and Whitko (around 450). Below North Miami are Northfield (around 275) and Southwood (around 230).
“For a 1A school it’s one of the tougher conferences,” says Floor.
In 2021, the Warriors were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North White, Northfield, Pioneer, Southwood and West Central.
Warrior Field — on the North Miami campus — has received upgrades in recent years, including new layers of soil. Last year, a nine-inning scoreboard and flagpole was installed. This year warning tracks, dugouts and bullpens are getting facelifts.
The setting includes pine trees circling much of the outfield.
“Its come a long way,” says Floor. “It is one of the most beautiful fields you can play on.”
Floor’s assistants are Peru graduate Josh Donathan and North Miami alums Pat Masters and Chad Wright. Masters is a senior at Manchester University. Wright lead the JV Warriors.
Besides the middle school teams, North Miami Youth League, a Town & Country Baseball-sanctioned organization in Denver, feeds the high school.
The diamond is in Floor’s blood.
“My entire family has been a baseball family,” says Floor, a 1988 graduate of Manchester High School in North Manchester, Ind.
While he did not play the game in high school, Shannon did suit up until 16 and began coaching at 20.
Shannon (51) is the oldest of three sons born to Gene (now deceased) and Rita (now known as Rita Slater and living in North Manchester) and is six year older than Shawn and eight older than Shane.
Shawn Floor, who coached with Shannon, has two boys who played at Wabash High School and the next level — Jordan Floor at Jackson (Mich.) College and Trevor Floor at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Shane Floor played, but has not done much coaching. He has girls who are not into sports.
For as long as he’s coached baseball, Shannon Floor has been a cattle farmer — the last 15 years with his own farm.
Shannon and wife Amy have been married of 17 years. Their sons are junior Kolton (17), eighth grader Karter (14) and fifth grader Keaton (10). Kolton Floor has been with the Summit City Sluggers since 8. The other two play baseball and other sports.

The scoreboard and flagpole at scenic Warrior Field at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
Assistant coach Pat Masters, senior Tyler Bauer, head coach Shannon Floor, senior Alex Masters and assistant coach Josh Donathan at the 2021 North Miami Middle/High School baseball awards program.

‘Small ball’ is winning baseball to Jennings County’s Sigler

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

B.J. Sigler has a long association with baseball, coaching for many years at the youth level and serving as president/executive director for Ohio Valley Sports Productions — a travel tournament organization that runs events from mid-March to late October — and as Kentucky USSSA Baseball State Director.
He started coaching for the Indiana Bulls in 2015 and is now with an 11U group.
Add to all that head baseball coach at Jennings County High School in North Vernon, Ind. He was hired to lead the Panthers in July and 2022 will be his first season.
Sigler played for Ben Hornung at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind. (Class of 1994) and one season for Rick Parr at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Ind., before serving four years in the U.S. Air Force, graduating from the University of Houston and returning to Indiana in 2005.
He calls himself “pretty old school” when it comes to his diamond approach.
“It comes down to pitching and defense and we’ll be playing a little bit of ‘small ball.’’’ says Sigler. “That goes against the grain a little bit in this day and age, but it’s still winning baseball.”
Sigler, who lives in North Vernon, inherits a program that did not graduate a player in 2021. Among the returnees is Indiana University commit Jacob Vogel, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound right-handed pitcher in the Class of 2022 who is a three-sport athlete at Jennings County (tennis, basketball and baseball).
Another senior, Carson McNulty, is committed to Indiana Tech while a couple of others have not yet declared their college choice.
There were 26 players in the Jennings County program in 2021, but there could be well north of that number in 2022 and enough freshmen to play a C-team schedule.
“We’ll evaluate that in the spring,” says Sigler, did get to have high schoolers and middle schoolers in workouts during the recent IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Aug. 30-Oct. 16).
The Panthers have a home field with a turf infield and natural grass outfield.
“I absolutely love it,” says Sigler. “We may be able to come outside during the next Limited Contact Period and get some work in. It also helps with rain (in the spring).”
The junior high program is being jump-started in 2021-22. Other feeders include Panther Baseball Club teams and a local recreation league. High school players are part of several different travel organizations around Indiana.
Jennings County (enrollment around 1,200) is a member of the Hoosier Hills Conference (with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, New Albany and Seymour).
Each HCC team meets once during the regular season. The champion of the seven-team circuit is determined during a tournament near the end of the season.
In 2021, the Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, New Albany and Seymour. Jennings County has won 11 sectional titles — the last in 2006.

Sigler’s Jennings County assistants are Jason Maddox and Tyler Vogel with the varsity and Pete Manowitz and Doug Mills with the junior varsity.
Madison Consolidated High School graduate Jason Maddox is the son of Columbus North alum Parker Maddox (now at Iowa Western Community College).
Tyler Vogel is a 2017 JC graduate who played two years at Marian University and is the older brother of Jacob Vogel.
Manowitz prepped at Columbus East and Mills at Jennings County.
Besides Tyler Vogel, recent JC grads who went on to college baseball include Caleb Eder (Indiana Wesleyan University) and Bret Sawyer (Franklin College).
B.J., who has also served eight years as an assistant football coach, is married to 1995 Jennings County graduate, current Panthers head girls basketball and former Indiana University women’s basketball player Kristi (Green) Sigler. She was part of the 2020 Indiana basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Silver Anniversary Team.
The Siglers have two baseball-playing sons — sophomore Cole (16) and fifth grader Brycen (11). Players is the Class of 2024 were 6 when B.J. began coaching them.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Larry Sigler (Induction Class of 1993) is B.J.’s uncle.

B.J. Sigler.

Fishers, Indiana Wesleyan alum Davis comes back to baseball as a coach

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

When Brice Davis got the call that led him into professional baseball he was busy on the field.
Davis was coaching third base for Indiana Wesleyan University in a doubleheader when the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers manager Jamie Bennett, who pitched of the DuBois County (Ind.) Dragons and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats coached with the RailCats, and outgoing hitting coach Derek Shomon reached out about filling Shomon’s spot since he had taken a coaching job in the Minnesota Twins organization.
“They wanted to see if I’d get rattled,” says Davis of the timing. “It was a twisted joke.”
But Davis impressed and after the twin bill received text messages and got a good review. The next thing he knew he is joining the Boomers for spring training and after that came a 96-game regular season and the fourth league championship in franchise history.
“It was whirlwind,” says Davis of the 2021 baseball season began in early February with Indiana Wesleyan in Lakeland, Fla., and ending in late September with Schaumburg in Washington, Pa. “It was an incredible year and an incredible ride.
“It was a really special group (at IWU). To be leaving them at that time was incredibly tough. I’m in awe that we got to share all those runs together.”
Indiana Wesleyan wound up 2021 at 44-14, Crossroads League regular-season and tournament champions and an NAIA Opening Round host.
Davis, a four-year starter at IWU and a 2013 graduate with a Sports Management degree, spent three seasons on the staff of Wildcats head coach Rich Benjamin (2019-21).
“He’s a huge offensive mind and about hitting for power,” says Davis of Benjamin, who was an assistant at Fishers (Ind.) High School before moving on. “I saw it as an opportunity.
“I wanted to see if I could hack it at the college level.”
Davis first became a hitting instructor in 2009 (his training business is Davis Baseball LLC). But it was a big transition to working with professional hitters in 2021.
“You’re helping prepare guys to be successful (in pro ball),” says Davis. “At the college level, you’re doing a lot of development. They’re making strides every single month to be the best versions of themselves and trying to stay locked in.
“Guys at the professional level are already pretty talented. They want to take their skill level and apply it against a pitching staff (or individual). In both arenas the goal is to simplify life. You pick out an approach that is going to breed results and success.”
The difference between high school and college and pro baseball is that the pros play everyday with much more travel and they don’t have as much time to work on their craft.
“Learning how to hit when you’re only 80 percent or getting your two knocks comes in a lot of ways,” says Davis. “I was amazed how many guys played hurt.”
How a player felt on any given day is how they prepared for that day’s game. That might mean more batting practice or less.
“You can’t treat everyday like Opening Day,” says Davis. “It just doesn’t work like that.”
Since Schaumburg is an independent league team, scouting is done differently. Major League-affiliated clubs have access to plenty of stored data on opponents.
The only resource available to the Boomers staff was Frontier League TV (2021 was the first year that all league clubs broadcast games). Coaches and players spent a lot of time looking at video to find tendencies.
The Evansville Otters were the only team who put pitching velocity on the screen during their broadcasts, leaving Schaumburg to study those videos when teams took on Evansville.
In the league championship series against the Washington Wild Things, the staff was at a disadvantage. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boomers had not played anyone on Washington’s side of the league during the regular season. Also, there was no radar gun reading available at Wild Things Park.
“It was all hearsay. You had no more information than in a non-conference high school baseball game. It was ‘see it and hit it, boys!’
It was absolute gauntlet level from our staff and our players. It’s not copy-paste-print like it is at some of the other levels. It’s not like high school baseball where you can trade tapes.
“It was a big learning curve.”
Davis notes that the Frontier League is now partnered with Major League Baseball so maybe things will change for the better.
Not all pro players take to information the same way.
“This guy wants to know velo and out pitch and this guy wants to know as much as possible,” says Davis. “Other guys don’t want to know anything and just play the game.”
And if a pro hitter doesn’t want info, it’s not up to the coach to shove it down his throat.
“You have respect for what they’re trying to do,” says Davis.
While Schaumburg players hail from all over the country, there are also a number with ties to the area, including former Indiana Wesleyan pitcher Isaiah Rivera from Des Plaines, Ill.
“There are a lot of college players in the region,” says Davis. “You don’t want to miss on anything in your back yard. Chicago is a cool city with a lot of great athletes in it.”
Davis says many have the misconception that independent ball is full of 27-year-old has-beens. But a good deal have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and spent time in the affiliated minors.
The Frontier League is unique because it puts players into Rookie, Experienced and Veteran eligibility classifications and there is a cap on veterans (those turning 29 by Oct. 1). Teams can also make just 30 transaction moves per season.
“The world of independent baseball is fascinating,” says Davis.
Another thing about 2021 in much of independent ball is that there was no season in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“They’re learning how to play baseball again and getting their timing back,” says Davis. “It’s like they’ve been waiting for the prom for two years.
“It was about managing emotions, telling them to enjoy the moment and don’t overthink it.”
There was a time when Davis didn’t want to think about baseball. It stung too much when his playing career was over and he did not watch a game for two years.
Brice’s father was a high school boys basketball coach for many years. Hagerstown, Ind., native Jerry Davis was a head coach at Triton Central and Wawasee and an assistant at Marion and Hamilton Southeastern. He came back to Indiana from Dallas, where Brice was born, to teach math and coach hoops.
“I grew up in the gym,” says Brice. “My safe place to process life was listening to bouncing balls. That’s a sanctuary few people understand.”
Davis, who did not play high school basketball to focus on baseball opportunities, joined the Hamilton Southeastern hardwood staff of Brian Satterfield and coached freshmen for two seasons.
“Climbing up the hard way in basketball appealed to me,” says Davis. “Going to clinics and studying tape was a journey in itself.”
Then came the call back to baseball and he answered it.
“I’m in a better head space when I’m going to the field,” says Davis, who received words of encouragement that still resonate with him.
Brian Abbott, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director and a former IWU assistant, approached Davis at the IHSBCA State Clinic when the latter was on Matt Cherry’s Fishers Tigers staff.
“He was one of the first people who told me I needed to be in coaching,” says Davis of Abbott, the IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s because of kids like myself. He said, ‘you belong in this industry. You might be the only person who gets to tell a kid that day that they matter.
“You have a purpose to connect with kids.”
Davis has taken that connection to heart.
“I love teaching the game,” says Davis. “I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of good can be done by powerful teaching and coaching.
“It’s a great profession.”
Davis, who was part of Fishers’ first graduating class in 2008, was reunited with Cherry for three seasons (2016-18) as an assistant coach. The 2018 team made an IHSAA Class 4A state title run.
“He’s single-most influential person in my life besides my dad since I was 15,” says Davis of Cherry. “He knows there’s more to people than baseball. He’s transformational.”
Cherry, who had coached Davis prior to the 2016 season he needed a freshman coach. Davis accepted the invitation.
“I’ll be darned if I wasn’t completely consumed,” says Davis. “I told (Cherry) the next year I want to be a varsity coach. I want to be with the older kids. I want to dive in and see where it could go.”
In 2017 and 2018, Davis was Fishers’ hitting coach. The latter team set 21 school records.
“We had all the fun in the world,” says Davis.
Now 32 and living in Wheeling, Ill., Davis is teaching at area facilities, including Parkway Bank Sports Complex aka The Dome in Rosemont, Ill., and East Sports Academy in Itaska, Ill., and helping at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Owls head coach Bill Fratto is also an assistant/first base coach for the Boomers.
Through it all, Davis has developed a fraternity of brothers at each baseball stage and keeps in-touch with people on his high school, college and pro path. Kris Holtzleiter, the new Eastbrook High School head coach, played and coached with close friend Davis at IWU.
“Every season has a story whether it’s good or bad,” says Davis. “You must make the most of the moment you’re in.
“It’s not about the championships or the trophies.”
It’s the people.

Brice Davis.
Jerry Davis and Brice Davis.
Brice Davis with mother Jerry and mother Paige.
Brice Davis and M.J. Stavola.
Bill Fratto and Brice Davis.
Young Schaumburg (Ind.) Boomers fan and Brice Davis.
Former Indiana Wesleyan University players Isaiah Rivera and Brice Davis a player and coach with the Schaumburg Boomers.

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.

Righty Ledbetter’s route leads to Indiana

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

Collin Ledbetter was born and raised in Arizona, but the Midwest has also been pretty good to him as he has pursued higher levels of education and baseball.
In the summer of 2021, the right-handed pitcher experienced his first opportunity to play for pay in the United Shores Professional Baseball League.
The 25-year-old arrived this week back in his adopted hometown of Indianapolis where he will plot his future.
Ledbetter is a 2015 graduate of Northwest Christian School in Phoenix. He arrived at the same time as head baseball coach and former Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Rod Bair and was with the varsity for four years.
“We’re still great friends until this day,” says Ledbetter of Bair. “He had a great impact on me as a player and on my growth as a man as well.”
Starting out his college baseball journey in the Valley of the Sun, Ledbetter joined the Dave Grant-coached Glendale (Ariz.) Community College team and pitched for the Gauchos in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“(Glendale) has a great reputation — not only in Arizona — but around the country,” says Ledbetter. “I remember being intimidated going into the program. Coach Grant was a real encourager.
“He always gave guys a chance to prove themselves and was always there for help when you needed it.”
Ledbetter was recruited out of high school by Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich. David Mitroff was the Golden Eagles head coach at the time. In Ledbetter’s second year at Glendale, Mitroff moved to Phoenix and became a reference for the pitcher’s next move.
Mitroff connected Ledbetter with coaching friend Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University. After visiting the IWU campus in Marion, the player decided that it was the best fit for him and came to the Midwest.
“(Indiana Wesleyan) was an up-and-coming NAIA program looking to add pitching depth,” says Ledbetter. “It was the right place for me. It is Christian and a private school. My faith is very important to me.
“Coach Benjamin focused on creating an atmosphere where Jesus was first before baseball. Obviously, he wanted to win. He wanted us to use our talent to the best of our ability to God’s glory.”
Kris Holtzleiter was the Indiana Wesleyan pitching coach during Ledbetter’s time with the Wildcats.
“He’s one of the best encouragers I know,” says Ledbetter of Holtzleiter. “There’s nobody that doesn’t like him. He focuses on the positives, never the negatives.
“As someone who is hard on myself and expects a lot out of myself, I appreciated that.”
Ledbetter herniated a disc in his back that required surgery and redshirted in 2018 – his junior year — after playing in just six games.
At about the same time, Collin’s parents Paul and Deb and younger siblings Lauren and Carson moved from Arizona to Indianapolis to be closer to extended family.
Collin pitched for IWU — getting into eight games (five in relief) with a 0-2 record, 8.47 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 innings – and received a bachelors degree in Sports Management in 2019.
Wishing to pursue a Masters in Sport Management on an accelerated timeline with cost in mind, Ledbetter opted to transfer to Campbellsville (Ky.) University and used his redshirt senior season with the NAIA Tigers in 2020.
“(Head coach Beauford Sanders and pitching coach Brett Neffendorf) loved to win more than anyone I’ve ever played for,” says Ledbetter, who pitched in three games and 2 2/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA during the truncated 2020 campaign. “That’s a great thing. That was important to me.”
Ledbetter said the coaches were no-nonsense and helped players focus on short-term and long-term goals.
After his time at Campbellsville was there more baseball for Ledbetter?
He sure hoped so.
“The goal was always to play professional baseball and keep playing as long as I can,” says Ledbetter.
But there was plenty of uncertainty. Minor League Baseball canceled its 2020 season and many independent leagues followed suit.
Ledbetter kept himself in shape and began training with Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.
“Jay really took me under his wing,” says Ledbetter, who had the chance to play catch with former big league pitcher Drew Storen and central Indiana minor leaguers like Parker Dunshee and Nolan Watson. “I saw a lot of development as a pitcher.
“I started showing signs of improvement and that I had the stuff to play at the next level.”
Ledbetter reached out to teams and leagues, including the four-team, Utica, Mich.-based USPBL (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths).
It was only a matter of hours when director of operations Jason Orenduff replied to his email and he soon found himself headed to Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, about 25 miles north of Detroit.
Assigned to the Woolly Mammoths, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder Ledbetter was a relief pitcher for a team co-managed by John Dombrowski and Taylor Grzelakowski.
“They definitely had our best interests in mind at all times,” says Ledbetter. “It was a fun atmosphere at the field every day.”
USPBL games were played Thursday through Sunday. There was no practice on Mondays and it was an optional weight room day. There were practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We were split into position groups,” says Ledbetter. “Pitchers went through an extensive stretching routine. As a reliever I had to be ready at all times. Tuesday was usually my bullpen days with 20-25 pitches and weights. Wednesdays I’d play catch and work on off-speed grips from 60 feet.”
Ledbetter said gameday routines were based on the individual needs of each player. Some recovered faster than others.
“We would hold each other accountable,” says Ledbetter, who made 21 mound appearances (20 in relief) with a 2-4 mark, three saves, 2.78 ERA, 23 K’s and 22 walks in 27 2/3 innings.
While Ledbetter has received an invitation to return to the USPBL in 2022, the league does have a two-year cap.
“Their goal is to push guys out of their as quickly as they can,” says Ledbetter. “They want everybody to be signed my an affiliated team.
“They saw a lot of growth in me as a player. They want the best for everyone. They’ve encouraged me to look at my other options.”
Taking a break to re-set physically and mentally, Ledbetter does not plan to begin throwing again for three or four weeks.
Meanwhile he will pursue a part-time job and may give private lessons.
He will also take the time to enjoy family. Paul Ledbetter is in the insurance business. Deb Ledbetter is a former flight attendant. Lauren Ledbetter (21) is a radiology technician. Carson Ledbetter (19) is attending trade school to become an electrician.
Collin is not related to twins Ryan and David Ledbetter, but he has formed a relationship with the former pitchers at Heritage Christian High School, Cedarville (Ohio) University and the Texas Rangers organization.
Ryan Ledbetter works for a company that has done business with Paul Ledbetter’s firm. Over time, Collin got to know both Ryan and David.
“We hit it off,” says Collin. “We’ve kept in-touch ever since.”

Collin Ledbetter (USPBL Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)

Wilkins wants ‘selfless’ players at Ivy Tech Northeast

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

It’s a team-first concept that Connor Wilkins is emphasizing as the new head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind.
In June, Wilkins took over the Titans program started by Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Lance Hershberger.
“Be a selfless player and put your team ahead yourself,” says Wilkins, who turns 29 in October. “It’s a team approach. It’s never individual goals. Are you willing to do what is necessary for your team to succeed even if you fail?”
Wilkins has this in mind when looking for players to compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II program.
“We are very strict about how we recruit,” says Wilkins. “We see how they interact with their parents and their teammates. We coach the entire person. The results on the ball field take care of themselves.”
With games and practices at Shoaff Park, Ivy Tech is currently engaged in fall ball. They have had six scrimmages and could wind up having as many as 28 — most of them on the road at such four-year schools as the University of Northwestern Ohio, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan University and Taylor University.
The Titans went 1-0-1 in the recent Puma JUCO Classic — a Prep Baseball Report showcase at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
There are nearly 40 players honing fundamentals and getting down the details of Ivy Tech’s offensive and defensive systems.
“We start working on things now so that come spring time their mechanics and bodies are locked in,” says Wilkins, who is working toward a Masters in Exercise Science and Wellness with a concentration in Fitness and Performance through Liberty University.
Wilkins’ assistant coaches are Scott Bickel, Drew Buffenbarger, Javier DeJesus and Mark Flueckiger. Buffenbarger was Ivy Tech’s first baseball captain. DeJesus, who played for the Fort Wayne Wizards, is the Titans pitching coach. Flueckiger, who played at Huntington College (now Huntington University), has high school and college coaching experience.
A 2011 graduate of Concordia Lutheran High School, catcher Wilkins played for Steve Kleinschmidt as Cadets freshman and his last three seasons for Hershberger.
Wilkins went to Rick Smith-coached NJCAA member Jackson (Mich.) College then transferred to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, where an L5 (fifth Lumbar Vertabra) injury on top of a preexisting back issue ended his playing days in the fall of 2013.
His original career path was to follow grandfather Harry Wallace’s footsteps and become a chiropractor before he got the teaching and coaching bug. Wallace (who died in 2006) practiced for 60 years around Ligonier and Fort Wayne.
Wilkins transferred from Indiana Tech to Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and changed his major to Secondary Education through Indiana University.
In the spring of 2014, he was on the baseball staff of Fort Wayne Northrop High School head coach Matt Brumbaugh.
Before becoming head coach and an advisor at Ivy Tech, Wilkinson spent three years at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, where he taught History, Health Sciences and Strength & Conditioning.
Connor is the youngest of Dan and Beth Wilkins’ four children after Danielle Molter (36), Matthew Wilkins (34) and Brianna Kompara (32). Dan Wilkins is a retired IT specialist at GTE (now Verizon) and Beth Wilkins is in customer service at Parkview Hospital Randallia.
Connor and wife Alana will celebrate three years of marriage in October. Alana Wilkins is a Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate and an insurance underwriter. The couple have a daughter — Rey (2).

The Wilkins family (from left): Rey, Alana and Connor.
The Wilkins family — Matt, Alana and little Rey.

Earley keeps busy on diamond, court with Daleville Broncos

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

Austin Earley is going to be busy in 2021-22 as a varsity coach in two sports, a teacher, husband and father.
Earley was hired in June as head baseball coach at Daleville (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School. He was junior varsity coach for the Broncos in 2018 and 2019, would have been a varsity assistant in 2020 (a season taken away by COVID-19) and did serve in that position in 2021 on the staff of Terry Turner, who retired after that campaign.
Daleville won IHSAA Class 1A state championships on Turner’s watch in 2016 and 2018.
“Coach Turner is definitely a baseball enthusiast and he loved being part of the high school game and having relationships with the kids,” says Earley. “He related things to life. A lot of things he did we’re going to continue to do.”
Earley expects to field varsity and junior varsity teams in 2022.
“We lost eight seniors and are bringing in eight or nine freshmen,” says Earley. “It’s a balancing act with total innings.”
The winter of 2020-21 marked Earley’s first season as head girls basketball coach at Daleville. He was junior varsity boys basketball coach under Broncos head coach Tyler Stoller from 2017-18 to 2019-20.
With Bryce Drew as head coach, Earley served as head manager for the Valparaiso (Ind.) University men’s basketball team, graduating from VU in 2015.
Earley credits the experience in shaping him as a coach and person.
“It instilled the philosophy of servant leadership,” says Earley. “I try to convey that to all my kids. Even as the head coach I don’t consider myself to be above anybody.
“You never know who’s watching.”
He played one season of baseball at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. (2012), then transferred to Valpo U.
During the school day, Earley teaches physical education for Grades 7-12.
Austin and wife of seven years, Ellie, have an adopted son named Dukane (who turns 4 in October).
Austin is a 2011 graduate of Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, where he was a four-year outfielder for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt.
“Coach Stoudt — to this day — is a big mentor for me,” says Earley. “He’s one of the first persons I talked to when I got (the job as Daleville head baseball coach). He’s a lifelong friend and lifelong mentor.”
Earley appreciates the discipline and organization Stoudt brought to Arabians baseball.
“Down to the smallest detail he had a plan mapped out,” says Earley.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and Earley has been leading baseball players two times a week.
“We’re doing the best we can,” says Earley, who coaches at a school with an enrollment around 275. “We’ve got quite a few shared athletes and we started soccer (at Daleville) this year.”
High school and junior high players have been at fall baseball activities. Spring baseball for Grades 6-8 was started at the school in 2019.
“We’re trying to continue and build the legacy of Daleville baseball,” says Earley, who is assisted by Jake Sorenson, Curtis Wilson and Elliott Jackson.
Daleville is a member of the Mid-Eastern Conference (with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del).
In 2021, the Broncos were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Cowan, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. Daleville has won 11 sectional titles — the last in 2019.
Recent Daleville graduates to move on to college baseball include Evan Etchison (Grace College), Cayden Gothrup (Ball State University), Ryan Hale (Huntington University), Josh Price (Anderson University), Peyton Smith (Goshen College), Max Stecher (Indiana University Southeast), Jared Waltermire (Crown College in Saint Bonifacius, Minn.) and Ayden Wilson (Indiana Wesleyan University).

The Earley family — Ellie, Dukane and Austin.
The Earley family — Ellie, Dukane and Austin.

Brantley promotes total student-athlete experience at Indiana University Kokomo

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

Just over a month after being named head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo, Drew Brantley is busy laying the foundation for the Cougars system.
Classes began Aug. 23. Brantley is overseeing two weeks of open field workouts before fall practice officially begins Labor Day (Sept. 6). There will be sessions six days a week for eight weeks culminating Oct. 30. Then the NAIA member Cougars move into the weight room and begin the build-up to the spring. There will be no games against outside competition this fall. There will be three scrimmages per week at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
“It’ll be heavy on individual development as a baseball player,” says Brantley. “We’ll compete in a game-like situations.”
As the Cougars ready themselves for the River States Conference race, they will open the 2022 season with trips to play Louisiana State University Shreveport and Truett McConnelll University (Cleveland, Ga.).
Brantley, who has been on staff the past three seasons including the last two as associate head coach, knows what he desires in an IU Kokomo player.
“I want to get good people into the program,” says Brantley, who turned 29 on Aug. 22. “We want them to have the total student-athlete experience — athletically, academically and socially.”
The idea is to achieve on the field and in the classroom and build friendships and contacts that will last long beyond the college years.
Brantley’s staff includes Jeremy Honaker, Nick Floyd and Justin Reed. Honaker, who was volunteer assistant at the University of Indianapolis in 2020-21, will serve as a positional coach and also help with hitting and baserunning. Former Ball State University and independent professional right-hander Floyd is the Cougars’ pitching coach. Former IU Kokomo player Reed is a graduate assistant and assistant pitching coach. He will work toward his Masters of Business Administration, help in athletic communications and with the baseball team.
Prior to coming to IUK to serve on head coach Matt Howard’s staff, Brantley was an assistant to head coach Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University.
“I worked with infielders and baserunners and assisted with hitters,” says Brantley. “My time at Indiana Wesleyan was awesome. The integrity of the program is held very highly there. I learned how you hold people accountable and how things are supposed to be done.”
Brantley assisted at his alma mater Anderson (Ind.) University for five seasons with a stint as interim coach. Medical issues mean that he was only able to play his freshmen season for David Pressley before becoming a student assistant.
“He was an awesome guy and a great role model,” says Brantley of Pressley, who followed American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon as the man in charge at AU. “A large part of my coaching philosophy comes from (Anderson).”
Dustin Glant later took over a Anderson Ravens head coach and was helped by Brantley.
“I was able to learn a lot under Dustin,” says Brantley. “He showed me the ropes and what its like to conduct yourself professionally. It’s not just about baseball.
“A lot of the success I’ve had has been because of the things he’s showed me and the advice he’s given me.”
Glant is now pitching coach at Indiana University.
At 22, Brantley was named interim coach at Anderson, where he earned his Secondary Education and Teaching degree in 2015 and MBA in 2017.
Says Brantley, “Everyday I was doing the best I knew how.”
The same applies in his current position.
“It’s pretty neat being in this seat,” says Brantley, who guides a program in the town where he was born.
Brantley grew up in Russiaville, Ind., and played T-ball through age 12 at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League. After that came travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings then three summers with Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6.
His coach at Western High School in Russiaville was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Ty Calloway.
After becoming a coach himself, Brantley came to learn how Calloway “coached ‘em up the right way.”
“As a player, he held us to a really high standard,” says Brantley. “He was always on us in practice. Whatever we were doing that day we were going to give our best effort.”
Brantley played three seasons for the Panthers, sitting out his junior year to recuperate from cardiac arrest. In his senior year of 2011, he was an IHSBCA Class 3A first-team all-state second baseman.
“I have an incredible support system,” says Drew, who is the son of Chrysler employee Ron and dental receptionist Angie and younger brother of Alaina. Ron Brantley has been coaching baseball since he was 20 and will help out this fall at IU Kokomo.
Brantley’s first experience as a baseball coach came with a Howard County travel team called the Indiana Flyers. He was with that team from the fall of 2012 through the summer of 2015.
There was also a stint working for Chris Estep as a hitting and defensive instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind.
“He gave me an opportunity to work with younger kids and allowed me to fail a lot,” says Brantley. “Being at RoundTripper was awesome.”

Drew Brantley (Indiana University Kokomo Photo)

Thoughts of American Legion baseball keep Cruz going during COVID-19 battle

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

Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts.
The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it.
One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.”
There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy.
“It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered.
Baseball also played a big part.
“Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.”
Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans.
“You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.”
While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance.
Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field.
Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer —  is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020.
For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline.
“He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.”
As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill.
Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay.
“Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.”
Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U).
“It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.”
Being around teams has given Neveah something more.
“I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah.
Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11.
This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season.
“Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz.
Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner.
If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players.
“I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.”
Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers.
Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms.
American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players.
Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021.
Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on.
Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father.
Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year).
Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year.
The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.

Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr. (Steve Krah Photo)
Tony Cruz Jr. and daughter Neveah.
Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr.
A regional title was won by South Bend American Legion Post 151 in 2018.
Tony Cruz Jr. battles COVID-19 in 2020. He was hospitalized 25 days in May, including nine in Intensive Care.
Tony Cruz Jr. had to go on high-flow oxygen during his battle with COVID-19 in 2020.
Out of the hospital after his COVID-19 battle, Tony Cruz came “home” to Jim Reinebold Field, home of South Bend Clay High School and South Bend American Legion Post 151 baseball.
Jim Treadway (left) and Tony Cruz Jr. bond over American Legion, high school baseball.