Kyle Callahan’s future is pointed toward a career in health care.
His father (Mike Callahan) and uncle (Jim Callahan) are doctors. He has cousins who are doctors and dentists.
“That’s what I grew up with,” says Callahan, a Biochemistry major at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., where he has been on the Tiger Pride Honor Roll for his first four semesters and is a member of the Future Medical Professionals club with his sights set on medical, dental or optometry school.
But that’s not all.
Callahan is a baseball player.
During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he hit .324 (11-of-34) with two home runs, 18 runs batted in and 10 runs scored in eight games. He started all eight as the Tigers’ designated hitter, batting in the No. 3 hole. After four losses to open the campaign, NCAA Division III DePauw ended with a four-game winning streak.
After sweeping Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders at Manchester University, players were told they could not shake hands with the opposition.
“We were told, ‘you’re not going to do this today.’ We had heard talks about the virus. We knew something was up.”
The team practiced for a few days and then found out the rest of the season was canceled.
“It was definitely a tough pill to swallow,” says Callahan. “Especially for the seniors. They played their last game as a DePauw Tiger.”
Callahan has played two years in the Black and Gold.
In his freshman campaign of 2019, he hit .296 (34-of-115) with four homers and 24 RBIs while scoring 41 runs and learning lessons from Tigers head coach Blake Allen.
“He came from Vanderbilt,” says Callahan of the DePauw graduate who served two stints on the Nashville-based NCAA Division I powerhouse (2004-08, 2015-16). “He definitely knows what he’s talking about.
“He teaches us how be a good player and how to behave off the field. He stresses how important that is after college to be a good person. We have meetings where we talk about that.”
The Tigers also talk about being a good teammate, competitive and displaying mental toughness.
“You’ve got to be mentally tough to play baseball,” says Callahan. “Seven out of 10 times you’re going to fail. You have to focus on your positives.
“You may have one tough day. But there’s always tomorrow. There always’s more AB’s.”
Callahan had a memorable at-bat Tuesday, June 23.
Making a transition from outfield to first base, he’s been playing that position this summer for the Mark Walther-coached Marksmen in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
In the first game of a doubleheader against the Woodchucks, righty-swinger Callahan faced DePauw teammate E.J. White and socked a homer that TrackMan Baseball data says traveled 416.96 feet (the CBL’s longest hit in Week 2).
“It went right down the left field line,” says Callahan. “I pulled it. It kind of hooked around the pole.
“I was afraid the umpire was going to wave the ball foul.”
It’s not a long commute to Grand Park. Callahan is from Zionsvillle, Ind., in nearby Boone County.
A 2018 graduate of Zionsville Community High School, Callahan was on junior varsity as a freshmen and a roster player when the Eagles were IHSAA Class 4A state runners-up in 2016. He started in the outfield in 2017 and 2018 for head coach Jered Moore.
“He was always a great coach,” says Callahan of Moore. “Coming in as a freshmen, I was intimidated by him. Our relationship evolved and he became a friend. He supported us on the field and taught us how to behave off the field.
“He was a great role model and mentor throughout high school.”
Callahan was born in Indianapolis. His father, who now works at St. Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, did a three-year fellowship in Boston and the family landed back in Zionsville when Kyle was 7.
These days, Wade’s son Kyle plays at Purdue University. Former Bulls executive director Held is on the Indiana University coaching staff. Honaker (Martinsville), Drosche (Avon) and Campbell (Lapel) are high school head coaches.
Honaker, Callahan’s 15U Bulls coach, went from Zionsville High assistant to the Artesians and has continued to work with Callahan on his hitting in the summer.
“He’s been an awesome part of my baseball career,” says Callahan.
Last summer when a chance to play for the Chillicothe (Ohio) Paints in the Prospect League fell through, Callahan worked out with long-time friend Nick Nelson. They’ve known each other since middle school and were high school teammates and share the field at DePauw. Nelson was the Tigers’ starting center fielder in 2020.
“He’s short stocky guy,” says Callahan of Nelson. “He’s pretty jacked. He wants to do something in the health field as well, maybe Kinesiology or Physical Therapy school.”
Callahan has to balance the diamond and academics in college.
“It’s tough,” says Callahan. “There’s some hard moments when you feel swamped.
“The important thing is to manage your time wisely. You should really try to stay on top of your work so it doesn’t snowball on you all at once.
“We have great resources at DePauw with teacher assistants and tutoring hours — usually nightly.”
The Tiger Honor Roll was established by director of athletics and recreational sports Stevie Baker-Watson to recognize the top student-athletes. To get on the list, they must have semester grade-point average of 3.40 or higher.
As a D-III program, the Tigers work with coaches in the fall and then — about the end of September — coaches are not allowed to instruct players.
“We have senior- or upperclassmen-led practices,” says Callahan. “It’s important. It weeds out the guys who aren’t fully committed to making baseball a priority.
“It’s definitely a bonding experience.”
When Callahan has rare free time he sometimes works in St. Vincent’s operating rooms as a Patient Care Technician (PCT). He cleans up after a case and gets it ready for the next.
“It’s immersed me into the hospital setting,” says Callahan. “I’ve only worked one day since COVID started and there were no cases when I was there.”
He’s glad he lives near a testing site because the exam is slated for 6:30 a.m.
Mike and Mollie Callahan (a former Westfield Elementary teacher) have three children. Kyle (20) has a twin sister named Grace, who is studying Journalism at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Christian (10) is baseball and basketball player heading into fourth grade.
Melton was 21 when the corner infielder and outfielder came to Evansville in 1967 and hit nine home runs and drove in 72 runs. He made his Major League Baseball debut with Chicago in 1968 and led the American League in home runs in 1971 with 33.
Herrmann was a 19-year-old catcher in 1966 and was with Chicago briefly in 1967 before coming back to Evansville in 1967 and 1968. He stuck with the parent White Sox in 1969.
Cotton Nash, who had been a basketball All-American at the University of Kentucky and played in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warrior and ABA with the Kentucky Colonels, was played with Evansville in 1967, 1968 and 1970, belting 33 homers in the first season of the Triplets.
In a group shot, left-handed pitcher Lester Clinkscales is in the middle of the frame. His son, Sherard Clinkscales, was a standout at Purdue who was selected in the first round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals and is now athletic director at Indiana State University.
Wirthwein captures roughly the first century of Evansville baseball in a book published March 2, 2020.
Through library files, digitized publications and the resources of the Society for American Baseball Research, he uncovered details about teams and characters going back to the Civil War, which ended in 1865.
Bosse Field, which is now the third-oldest professional baseball park in use (behind Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field) came on the scene in 1915.
Growing up, Wirthwein played youth baseball and then plenty of slow pitch softball.
He graduated from Harrison High School in 1972. He earned a journalism degree at Butler University in Indianapolis in 1976 and took job at The Brownsburg (Ind.) Guide, where he covered everything from sports to the city council and was also a photographer.
After that, he covered trap shooting for Trap & Field Magazine and had a short stint as editor at the Zionsville (Ind.) Times.
Desiring more in his paycheck, Wirthwein went back to Butler and began preparing for his next chapter. He worked toward a Masters of Business Administration (which was completed in 1991) and worked a decade at AT&T and then more than 20 years managing several departments at CNO Financial Group (formerly Conseco) before retiring in June 2019.
“I got lost for 30-plus years,” says Wirthwein, who has returned to his writing roots.
About three years before his last day at CNO he began researching his Evansville baseball book.
“I slowly assembled and had a manuscript shortly before retirement,” says Wirthwein, who is married with four daughters and resides in Fishers, Ind.
When it came time to find someone to produce the book, he found The History Press, a division of Arcadia Publishing that specializes in regional history.
It took a bit of digging to unearth the treasures from the early years. He was amazed that little had been written about the pre-Bosse Field era.
He did find details on teams like Resolutes, Blues, Brewers, Hoosiers and Blackbirds — all of which seemed to have monetary difficulties and scandals swirling around them.
“The whole 1800’s was just a mess,” says Wirthwein. “Teams were coming and going. Financial failures were everywhere.”
Jumping contracts was very commonplace in 19th century baseball. They were often not worth the paper they were written on since a player could get an offer for more money and be on the next train to that city.
To try to combat this, Evansville joined the League Alliance in 1877. It was a group of major and minor league teams assembled to protect player contracts.
It always seemed to be about money.
The 1895 Evansville Blackbirds led the Class B Southern League for much of the season. But, being nearly destitute, the club began throwing games for a sum that Wirthwein discovered to be about $1,500.
The Atlanta Crackers were supposed to be the beneficiary of the blown ballgames, but it was the Nashville Seraphs who won the pennant. Evansville finished in third — 4 1/2 games back.
In 1901, catcher Frank Roth hit 36 home runs for the Evansville River Rats of the Three-I League.
“The Evansville paper thought that to be a world record,” says Wirthwein.
The wooden park on Louisiana, which was built in 1889 near the Evansville stockyards, was in disrepair by 1914 when it collapsed and injured 42 spectators.
Seeing an opportunity, Evansville mayor Benjamin Bosse sprang into action.
“The city had bought this big plot of land,” says Wirthwein. “(Bosse Field) was built in a matter of months.
“He was ready.”
Unusual for its time, Bosse Field was meant to be a multi-purpose facility from the beginning and became home not only to baseball, but football games, wrestling matches and more.
Wirthstein’s book tells the story of Evansville native Sylvester Simon, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1923 and 1924.
In the fall of 1926, he lost three fingers on his left hand and part of his palm while working in a furniture factory.
He came back to baseball using a customized grip on his bat and with a glove that was repaired using a football protector and played for the Evansville Hubs in 1927 and had pro stops with the Central League’s Fort Wayne (Ind.) Chiefs in 1928 and 1930 and played his last season with the Three-I League’s Quincy (Ill.) Indians in 1932. His bat and glove are at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Hall of Famers Edd Roush (1912-13 Yankees/River Rats), Chuck Klein (1927 Hubs), Hank Greenberg (1931 Hubs) and Warren Spahn (1941 Bees) also spent time in Evansville. Roush is from Oakland City, Ind. Klein hails from Indianapolis.
Huntingburg native Bob Coleman played three seasons in the majors and managed 35 years in the minors, including stints in Evansville.
The Limestone League came to town thanks to travel restrictions during World War II. The Detroit Tigers conducted spring training in Evansville. Indiana also hosted teams in Bloomington (Cincinnati Reds), French Lick (Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox), Lafayette (Cleveland Indians), Muncie (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Terre Haute (White Sox in 1945).
Wirthwein’s research found plenty about barnstorming black baseball teams in the early 1900’s.
In the 1920’s, the Reichert Giants represented Evansville in the Negro Southern League. The Reichert family was fanatic about baseball. Manson Reichert went on to be mayor (1943-48).
“(The Reichert Giants) played semipros when not playing league games,” says Wirthwein. “They lobbied hard to play at Bosse Field when the Class B (Hubs) were out of town, but they kept going turned down.
Games were played at the Louisiana Street park, Eagles Park or at Evansville’s all-black high school, Lincoln.
“They started playing games opposite the Hubs and outdrew them every single time. The Bosse Field people finally acquiesced.”
In the 1950’s, the Evansville Colored Braves were in the Negro Southern League and were rivals of an independent black team, the Evansville Dodgers. Games were played at Bosse Field and Lincoln High.
What about the “Global” disaster?
Evansville-based real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. conceived of the Global Baseball League in 1966. It was to be a third major circuit to compete with the American League and National League. There would be teams all over globe, including the Tokyo Dragons from Japan, and the GBL was headquartered in Evansviile.
“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” says Wirthwein. “The guy just wouldn’t give up.”
Happy Chandler, commissioner of baseball in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was brought in as GBL commissioner.
Migley Field was started with some scrap fencing in 2006 and elements have been added over the years, including Wrigley-like scoreboard and marquee.
Before each home game, they play recordings of retired Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy and the voice of radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes welcomes everyone. Regular-season home games start at 1:20 p.m. as do the Hometown Cup semifinals.
The Hometown Cup draws 70 to 80 teams most years. Twenty fields are used during Saturday pool play — some at the Little League park and some at New Prairie High School.
The Top 48 return Sunday for single-elimination play with the semifinals and championship on Migley Field. Dimensions roughly emulate those in Chicago. It’s 95 feet down the left field line, 98 in the power alleys, 100 to center and 93 down the right field line.
This year, all-time home run leader Scott Soos of the Newts belted his 400th circuit clout. The league has been keeping stats since about 2010.
While Hometown Days is canceled for 2020, the Hometown Cup aka The Wiffle® Ball Championship will go on July 24-26. The home run derby is July 24, pool play July 25 and the Top 48 in single-elimination plus the semifinals and finals July 26. The last two rounds are at Migley Field.
Past finals have drawn hundreds of spectators. BroadcastSport.net is again planning to stream the semifinals and finals on the internet.
ORWBL is one of the few Wiffle® Ball leagues around that has home fields for all its teams — Palace of Bourissa Hills (301 St. Meridian St., New Carlisle) for the Wildcards, The Garage (7564 E. 400 N., Rolling Prairie) for the Kings, The Barnyard (9352 S 150 W., Union Mills) for the Cyclones, Magic Park (Kesling Park, A Street, LaPorte) for the Magic, various locations for the Heat, The Spin Factory (3810 Lincolnway East, Mishawaka) for the Meatspins, The Goat House (53105 Ironwood Rd., South Bend) for the Billy Goats, Manor Field (2332 Kenilworth Dr., Elkhart) for BFAM, Cam Snead Field (51972 Gentian Lane, Mishawaka) for the Panthers, The Hideout (410 French St., Niles, Mich.) for the Godfathers, Rocko’s Park (29481 Lynn St., New Carlisle) for the Leprechauns, Migley Field (500 S. Bray St., New Carlisle) for the Newts, The Land Down Under (110 S. Harris St., New Carlisle) for Emery’s Army and Helmet Head Field (10109 S. 600 W., Union Mills) for the Goon Squad.
Week 4 (June 3) players of the week were Eric Wodrich (Meatspinners) in the American League and Nate Hansen (Leprechauns) in the National League. Wodrich went 15-of-22 (.682 average) with six homers, 12 RBIs and 11 runs. Hansen was 10-of-17 (.588) with eight homers, eight RBIs at the plate and went 2-1 in 19 innings pitched with a 7.68 earned run average.
The ORWBL plays tripleheaders on Sundays for a 24-game regular season. Playoffs run through August. Games are six innings and last 45 minutes to an hour each. The league plays with a pitcher, catcher and three fielders.
The pitching rubber is between 30 and 40 feet from home plate. There will be no called strikes, balls or walks. Batters can strike out swinging. Foul tips caught by the catcher with two strikes will also be a strikeout. The pitcher’s hand rule applies for outs. There is no bunting allowed in slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
It’s always been pitch-to-hit league. Every pitch has to have some sort of arc.
“It was built as a fun league — giving the batter a pitch to hit,” says Magic manager and ORWBL commissioner Alex Friedman. “You get action all the time. Balls are being batted into the field of play. Defense has to be played.
“People enjoy watching our style.”
Maple City is the defending three-time league champion. Friedman took over ORWBL commish duties from Keck.
Friedman says one of the reasons the league uses three outfielders is that Bourissa Hills — home of the former league champion Pterodactyls — is so wide and there’s so much outfield ground to cover.
Covering the world of ORBWL is the Don’t Get Wifflenated podcast. WiffleTalk.com follows all things slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
There’s even a ORWBL Hall of Fame.
The Dirtyard (1117 W. Epler Ave., Indianapolis) is known as one of the top Wiffle® Ball fields in the country.
Circle City will be hosting the National Wiffle® World Series there Sept. 18-20 (it moved from Morenci, Mich.).
The league typically plays Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. There is a one-day round robin tournament to get all eight teams to the field at one time and promote league camaraderie. That recent Sunday event went from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are lights at The Dirtyard.
To be a National Wiffle® member league, a website, statistics and video presence must be kept.
“It’s to prove you are a competitive Wiffle® Ball league,” says Circle City president/commissioner and Short Shorts player Brendan Dudas, oversees The Dirtyard in his parent’s backyard. “You have to be 18 to play for liability reasons.”
Most teams have there own Twitter accounts. Games are often streamed live. Podcasts keep Wiffle® wackos informed.
Dudas and has friends were middle schoolers fooling around in the back yard with a ball and bat in 2009. Four years later, Circle City Wiffle® Ball became a reality.
“It’s been slowly evolving ever since,” says Dudas, who played baseball at Perry Meridian High School and the University of Indianapolis and coached at Center Grove with former Perry coach John Carpenter.
“All the guys in the league are either former athletes,” says Dudas. “They like the competitive nature of sports in general.
“It’s low impact, a controlled environment and we still fulfill the competitive drive we all have. We enjoy being around each other and having fun.”
Circle City plays six-inning games. It’s 3-on-3 (pitcher and two fielders). There can be on a roster and all of them can bat. It’s 45 feet between bases, 47 1/2 feet between the rubber and the strike board.
“You have to have (quality) pitchers in fast pitch (Wiffle® Ball) or it becomes a walk fest,” says Dudas. “In the national tournament, it’s all about pitching. The recipe to win tournament is throw a shutout, make one big play and hit a home run. Scores are often 1-0 and 2-1.”
The Dirt Yard dimensions are 89 feet down the left field line, 97 to left-center, 95 to right-center, 102 to center and 85 down the right field line.
Dudas has observed that most leagues have fields between 75 to 100 down the lines and 85 to 110 to center.
“You get further than than and it gets hard to poke the ball out,” says Dudas.
When the 8 Balls joined the league in 2017, they brought snazzy uniforms with them and the league soon followed suit and now sublimated jerseys are a Circle City requirement.
“We encourage guys to run wild with it,” says Dudas, who cites Keck and the ORWBL as the inspiration for creating his league.
“It’s fun to do something competitive one you get out of high school” says Ratajczyk. “It satisfies everybody’s competitive desires in the summer.
“We had enough friends that wanted to do it consistently. We’ve embraced it as a weekend getaway where we get to see our friends.”
Traditionally a Sunday league, Griffleball went to four weekend tournaments (pool play Saturday and single-elimination Sunday) for the 2020 slate. Remaining dates are June 27-28, July 18-19, Aug. 1-2.
New players can pick the team of their choice. There is also a league waiver wire.
Every squad picks out new flashy uniforms each season.
“We usually sit down in January and February and brainstorm,” says Ratajczyk of Griffleball planning. “This year was the exception with coronavirus.”
While childhood 1-on-1 games between Ryan Galiher and Kyle Lidster can be cited as the genesis of Griffleball, the league’s modern origins date to 2010 when it played on a public basketball court and set up fencing around the grass — ask the Griffle Grounds in Highland.
The 2017 all-star game was played at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith and the league moved its games there for 2018 and 2019.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, a new field — The Warehouse, 5000 W. 45th Ave., Gary — was selected for 2020 action. Opening Day was June 6.
The first eight years of Griffleball, teams were kept intact year after year. The last two years, things were shaken up and there was a re-drafting of players.
Even with the moves, Griffleball has stuck with the same field dimensions — 60 feet down the foul lines, 85 to the gaps and 80 to center.
Griffleball games are five innings and last around an hour. There are four players per team though there is only a pitcher and two fielders at a time. Everyone in the lineup hits.
There is no catcher in fast-pitch Wiffle® Ball, but a strike board (which is 20 inches wide, 32 inches tall and 12 inches off the ground).
There are two outs per inning, five balls for a walk or two hit batsmen in the same at-bat.
Ratajczyk, who has played in all four National Wiffle® (formerly National Wiffle Ball League Association) leagues in Indiana, says fast pitch Wiffle Ball is all about the batter vs. pitcher duel and the scores of games often rely on the elements.
“If the wind is blowing, there will be no runs,” ays Ratajczyk. “If the wind is blowing out, there will be a ton of runs.”
The GBL has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snap Chat.
LWA plays all its games at a six-field compound in an incorporated community near Crown Point on land owned by commissioner/president and Leroy Riot owner/manager Tim Wiltjer. The address is 4504 E. 145th Ave., Crown Point.
In 2020, the league includes 12 teams — Backdoor Sliders, Barn Stormers, Bushleague Badgers, Fabulous Flamingos, Lake County Liners, Leroy Riot, Marvelous Maniacs, Mighty Melon Heads, Noble Narwhals, Porter County Porkers, Squints Sluggers and Walking Tacos.
The Sluggers are the defending champions.
Ty Bothwell (a redshirt pitcher for Indiana University baseball in 2020) and Bo Hofstra (a junior pitcher at Purdue University) are on the Badgers.
There are seven players on each roster with four players competing in games. There are three players on defense — one pitcher and two fielders. The fourth player keeps stats or takes a break.
All four players have to pitch one inning, giving everyone a chance to bat, field and pitch. Regular-season games are five innings with two games a night. A team’s best pitcher goes two innings with one apiece for the other three.
Post-season games are six innings. Forty-eight players compete each Wednesday.
“It breaks up the week,” says Wiltjer of the preferred gameday.
A unique feature of LWA is that only the manager can stay with a team year after year while the rest of the rosters are shuffled.
“We start fresh,” says Wiltjer. “We don’t have a Golden State Warriors thing going on.
“As commissioner, I want to see our guys get along and get together. Teams from so many different cities with so many friend groups.”
The LWA is numbers-driven.
“I’m obsessed with stats,” says Wiltjer.
To keep things competitive, Wiltjer has devised a “salary cap” based on the batting and pitching numbers put up by players. All awards are stat-based. The highest salary is the MVP. Ironman awards go to those with the most at-bats or most innings pitched.
While the first official LWA season was 2014, Wiffle Ball was part of a Lawn Olympics on the property before that.
Leroy plays a hybrid style of Wiffle® Ball. Throwing fast pitch, pitchers can run up a count of up to five balls. After that, he moves closer to the batter and lobs it.
Once a 10-ball count is reached, the batter can elect to take a single or he can elect to keep hitting. At 15 balls, it becomes an automatic double, 20 an automative triple and 25 an automatic home run.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Wiltjer. “It gets runs all the time.”
Teams rotate among the six fields. Two fields are symmetrical with dimensions being 85 feet down the lines and 95 to center.
The four other wider fields give a flavor for Major League Baseball parks, including Boston’s Fenway Park (short porch in right and deeper in right center), Houston’s Minute Maid Park (deeper center, shallow left and right), Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
It’s 45 feet between bases with 48 feet between pitching rubber and strike board.
Batting lineup pitching lineup are the same and must be submitted 24 hours before the game.
The LWA normally begins the first or second week of May. There’s an 11-week regular season (22 games per team).
The 12th team does not make the playoffs. Teams seeded 7-10 go into a single-elimination “death bracket” with the winner earning the No. 8 in the Final Eight. Teams then play two-game series plus a one-inning sudden death game to break ties (if necessary). There can be extra innings.
Pitchers switch every inning during the playoffs.
“All four Indiana (National Wiffle®) leagues are very, very unique,” says Wiltjer. “That’s what makes it awesome.”
Going Corn is the podcast of the Leroy Wiffle® Association.
Indiana players are well-represented on the rolls of the Wiffy Awards presented by National Wiffle®.
Migley Field (ORWBL) was the National Field of the Year in 2019.
The New Carlisle Newts (ORWBL) had the Team Jersey of the Year in 2019.
Friedman (ORWBL) was National Commissioner of the Year in 2018 and National Manager of the Year in 2017.
Nick Arndt (ORWBL) belted his way to National Home Run Champ and Jay Ryans (ORWBL) tossed his way to National Closer of the Year — both in 2012.
Garrett Curless (ORWBL) powered to National Home Run Champ in 2011.
The Dirtyard (CCW) was chosen as National Field of the Year in 2018.
Mid City Moonshots (CCW) sported the Team Logo of the Year in 2019
Caleb Jonkman (LWA) was selected as National Player of the Year in 2017 and 2019 and thumped his way to National Home Run King in 2019. He also is regular in all four Indiana National Wiffle® leagues.
Matt Dykstra (LWA) was National Closer of the Year in 2016.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
Brogan started the program 13 years ago in Chicago as South Side Irish Baseball. He ran a baseball academy in Bridgeview, Ill., and fielded three teams.
When Shane’s son, Stone Brogan, was deciding on which high school he would attend, he picked Andrean in Merrillville, Ind., and the move was made from Chicago to northwest Indiana. The Brogans landed in Schererville and the travel team became the Midwest Irish.
Shane began coaching at Andrean and has been a 59ers assistant for nine years.
The 2020 Midwest Irish have four teams — 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U. Brogan is head coach of the 18U team. Rosters are predominantly made up of northwest Indiana players, but there are some from Illinois.
“We get a variety of college level players,” says Brogan. “We have a lot of everything.”
Stone Brogan played at NCAA Division III Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.
“I watched Division III baseball for a long, long time,” says Brogan. “There’s great players everywhere.
“There’s a stigma attached to all of these divisions. That’s not the case. There’s tremendous baseball at all levels.”
Nearly half of the current Midwest Irish 18U squad has been with the Irish for at least three seasons. There are 17 players — all from the Class of 2020.
Lake Central’s Brock Begesha (University of Dayton), Marian Catholic’s Adam Huekels (Niagra University) and Mount Carmel’s Nick Miketinic (Butler University) are committed to NCAA Division I schools for baseball.
Portage’s Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis) and Mount Carmel’s Ethan Imlach (Purdue Northwest) are going to D-II programs, Andrean’s Jacob Mullen (Wabash College) and Sam Nagy (Benedictine University), Boone Grove’s Austin Lamar (Manchester University), Chesterton’s Zach McKenna (Anderson University) and Marian Catholic’s Dominick Angellotti (University of Chicago) to D-III schools and Lake Central’s Doug Loden (Joliet Community College), Andrean’s Mason Sannito (Waubonsee Community College), Chesterton’s Max Weller (Wabash Valley College), Taft’s Ernie Day (Iowa Western Community College) and Illiana Christian’s Tavares Van Kuiken (College of DuPage) to junior college baseball.
Boone Grove’s Elijah Covington is currently uncommitted.
“There’s a place for kids who say. ‘I’m going to put in my time. I’m going work hard and I’m going to get good grades.’ If they do that, there’s somewhere to play in baseball. Then however it works out is how it works out.
“At the end of the day, we know that baseball only goes so long for some guys. It’s about a school and a fit and getting that degree. Are program has a lot of that which excites me.”
The 18U Midwest Irish expect to participate in seven tournaments this summer. Following the Pastime event with games at Four Winds Field, Ancilla College, Bethel Unicersity and U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, the organization is heading to Michigan beginning Thursday, June 18. After that comes a tournament with games at minor league parks in Crestwood, Ill., and Rosemont, Ill. The squad is to compete in the Pastimes 18U National Championship (The Irish were runners-up in 2018) at Butler in Indianapolis and at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
“We don’t do the excessive traveling,” says Brogan. “We don’t go to Georgia. We don’t go to Florida.
“I’m a big fan of Pastime. They are getting better and better with how they run their tournaments. They’re putting out more information. They’re shooting more video stuff. I’m really impress with the direction Pastime’s going. President Tom Davidson does a great job.”
With the cancellation of high school ball to COVID-19, the Midwest Irish have practiced more than they have in the past. Fields are northwest Indiana are used. Illiana Christian in Dyer, Ind., has been a home field, but is currently off limits along with all other high school facilities.
“It’s a strange, strange summer,” says Brogan. “I’m just so happy to see kids on the baseball field. Just being able to practice about three weeks ago put a smile on my face.”
Brogan says the Midwest Irish season might be lengthened by a week or two.
“We might go a little bit farther,” says Brogan. “We’ll just see how it goes health-wise. All my guys on my 18U team will be going off to college. Some may leave early so my roster might be a little thinner.
Nanny, who bats and throws lefty and plays in the outfield and at first base, goes after baseball and life the same way.
“My biggest strength is my ability to want to get better every single day,” says Nanny. “I showed up to the park everyday with a plan of how I want to attack the day. I see where I’m at and where I need to get better in order to take my game to the next level.”
Nanny says he’s always been that way.
“That’s the way my dad raised me,” says Daylan, the oldest son of Jamie and Jennifer and older brother of Skylar (12), a player for Evoshield Canes Midwest. “Be your own biggest critic and always find a way to get better so you’re never really getting complacent.”
Nanny has learned its not hard to settle.
“It’s easy to do,” says Nanny. “You see a lot of guys do it.
“The guys who can push themselves — day in and day out — and find a way to get better, even if it’s something super small, hopefully it makes a difference in the end.”
Nanny hit .394 for his high school career, including .452 with a career-high 38 hits as a senior and earned honorable mention on the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A all-state team.
Originally committed to the University of Evansville, Nanny played one junior college campaign at Arizona Western and hit .347 with 11 doubles, one triple, one home run, 34 runs batted in and 46 runs scored to go with 39 walks and a .487 on-base percentage in 57 games.
At NCAA Division I Western Carolina in Cullowhee, N.C., he started 50 times as a sophomore (42 in right field, seven at first base and one at designated hitter) and batted .320 with seven homers, 19 doubles, 31 RBIs, 22 walks and a .403 OBP.
Nanny played in all 15 games before the season was halted, starting 12 in the outfield and three at first base. He batted .211 (12-for-57) on the shortened season with four doubles and seven RBIs while scoring 12 runs.
“I had some uneasiness about how the spring went,” says Nanny. “I had two really good weeks and I had two really bad weeks. I really couldn’t get into a rhythm. It was good-bad-good-bad.
“I had a 1-for-14 stretch at the end that didn’t sit too well with me. I thought I had put in a lot of work to be ready for the season and it didn’t happen.”
Not that he would go back and change it.
“It helped me figure out what I really do to be successful,” says Nanny. “I learned from it. I grew from it.
“I’m a way better baseball player now because of that struggle.”
“The way the world is right now, you’ve got to be ready for anything,” says Nanny, who has two years of college eligibility remaining thanks to an extra year granted by the NCAA with a big portion of 2020 being wiped away. “I don’t want to rule anything out. It’s very different times to say the least.
“If I go back to Western Carolina, I go back to Western Carolina. If I sign (a pro contract), I sign. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m prepared for anything that comes my way.”
Nanny is one year away from a Psychology degree. What he learns in the class room — or online — he tries to apply to his daily life, including on the diamond.
“I find myself learning about the mental side of the game more,” says Nanny.
“I read it once every couple months,” says Nanny. “It’s a very interesting book that gave me a whole different perspective on how to go through the day in and day out of the baseball grind and how to mentally be able to stay at an even keel level.
“This game is hard and it’s easy to let the game get you down. The game’s going to hit you and you have to be ready for it.
“You have to control the things you can control you can control on a daily basis to give yourself the best chance for success. Once you take that swing or the ball leaves your hand, it’s out of your control. You have to be OK with that.”
Nanny notes that “Chop Wood Carry Water” is not a sports book.
“It’s more of a life book, honestly,” says Nanny. “I don’t get too into sports psychology. I try to keep it as basic as possible.
“It’s finding the simplicity within the complexity.”
Born in Indianapolis, Nanny moved from the Ben Davis to the Plainfield school district as a middle schooler. From the age of 13, he played travel baseball with the Indiana Outlaws (now known as the Evoshield Canes Midwest).
“We created because a lot of these guys had nowhere to play,” says Luke Dietz, director of operations for Bullpen Tournaments and acting commissioner for the College Summer League. “We also give them the option to play-and-train, too.”
The CSL is set up to have games turf fields on Mondays and Tuesdays (this week that meant one Monday and two Tuesday). Players can go through training at Pro X, located on the Grand Park Sports Campus, Wednesday through Friday.
Several players also work in various capacities at Grand Park.
“We were not planning on having a collegiate league,” says Dietz. “The way everything happened gave us a way to do it safety.
“We think this is going to be a good opportunity for us to do it for years to come. What’s great about us is that you play all your games here and you have a training schedule as well.”
The focus in the league is not to extend anyone too far.
“We’re directly in-contact with all of their coaches at their colleges,” says Dietz. “They’re setting their programs with us (at Pro X).
“(CSL coaches and trainers) know this guy is only supposed to throw 25 pitches this week. He’s not going to go past that.
“That sets us apart from other leagues.
Dietz says ‘The League” is focused on the needs of the athletes and that’s how the the idea of playing a few games plus training and earning money by working came about.
“Everything we do is for the players,” says Dietz. “It’s not about revenue or anything like that.
“We probably have 40 guys working for us to pay off the league. That’s an opportunity for them to see how we opportunity and put some money in their pocket.”
The CSL sports 261 players, which were gathered through them asking to be invited and by recruiting. Of that number, more than 120 come from NCAA Division I programs.
“It’s not just a league in Indiana,” says Dietz. “It’s a high level of competition college league for sure.”
Daylan Nanny, a Plainfield (Ind.) High School graduate who was a lefty-swinging junior outfielder/first baseman at Western Carolina University in the spring, is in the CSL.
“It’s cool to be back here playing,” says Nanny, who was a 14-year-old travel ball player with the Outlaws (now Evoshield Canes Midwest) in some of the early games at Grand Park and then went to work there. “I’ve spent a good amount of my time on the Grand Park complex. Bullpen Tournaments is a great place to work. They’re great people and I love it.”
Nanny appreciates the summer league’s format.
“This is a really good opportunity to get better,” says Nanny. “The middle of the week to the end of the week is to work on what you struggled with on Monday and Tuesday
“Use that time and get ready to come out the next week ready to play again. It’s a unique setting. If you do it right, you can get really good out of here.”
Some players are from junior colleges and others are incoming freshmen. One ballplayer came from Texas and is staying in a motor home with his father.
There are athletes staying with teammates who live in the area, some in an Air BnB with buddies and others in apartments.
“We sold it as a commuter league, trying to get all of our local guys,” says Dietz. “Especially with the uncertainty of when we were able to start the league because of everything go on in the world, we weren’t going to be able to do housing on such a short notice.”
Every team has at least two college coaches on its staff. One of those is Butler assistant Matt Kennedy.
“We want to get the guys back on the field, knock the rust off a little bit and get them reps,” says Kennedy. “We want to prepare them to go back to their institutions in the fall and be ready to play.”
There was a couple of weeks of “spring training” leading into CSL games. Players came out and took batting practice and fielded grounders. Pitchers threw bullpens.
Kennedy says he expects teams will play close to 36 games in eight weeks.
“In my opinion, that’s a good thing,” says Kennedy. “It’s not 70 games. It gives these guys enough time to play and develop and time to rest and get int he weight room as well.
“These guys have been done basically for three months. Easing them into it with this format is really good. Guys have plenty of time to recover.”
Brunke and Marovich grew up as next-door neighbors and have known each other since before they went to elementary school.
Furman and Brunke played baseball through high school. Marovich played until about 16.
Furman played third base for coach Doug Nelson at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake and Brunke second base for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High in Merrillville and graduated in 2014. Brunke helped the 59ers to a IHSAA Class 3A state championship dogpile as a senior.
A year younger than the other two, Marovich did not play baseball at Lake Central High School in St. John, but enjoyed lively conversations with Furman and Brunke about sports.
Like it had for years, this would often go on for hours.
During all those spirited boyhood conversations at one another’s houses, a parent would sometimes say they should their own show.
Now they do.
This week marked the debut of The Yipps Podcast (@theyippspod on Twitter), a weekly baseball conversation featuring Furman in Pennsylvania, Brunke in Arizona, Marovich in Indiana and a guest from their location.
An introductory episode dropped May 24, followed by an interview with Nick Podkul May 27. Brunke was a teammate of both Podkul brothers — Frank Jr. and Nick — at Andrean. Nick played at Notre Dame and is now in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
The plan is to feature players and coaches in professional and college baseball and show their “normal side” and put out one episode a week — usually on Wednesday nights.
“Our goal is to get their story and take the professional athlete out of them to show that they’re just normal guys who love baseball,” says Furman.
The Nick Podkul episode tells about how he lost his father while in high school and used that to motivate him.
“It’s the stories you never hear,” says Furman.
Brunke says the idea is to give the listener a deeper connection with the guest.
“They still have a life off the field,” says Brunke. “We want to be the avenue to personalize these guys for fans.
“We want to make (the podcast) a platform for all levels of baseball to share stories about normal people rather than have them seen just as athletes.”
Marovich explains his role in the project, which came to fruition over the past few weeks.
“Baseball is the first sport that we played,” says Marovich. “We’ve always had a passion for it. Why not try to explore this avenue of the Podcast space?
“I have friends who wanted to start this journey and I compelled to help them start it.”
Marovich has no previous audio editing/mixing skills.
“But I’m a quick learner,” says Marovich. “I’m a quick learner.
“If it’s something I’m passionate about, I can grind on it heavily.”
Marovich dove into YouTube videos and is teaching himself about it through trial and error.
Right now, podcasts are recorded by taking the audio from a Zoom conference call. He expects to find a method for a higher sound quality in the future.
So podcast rookies Furman, Brunke and Marovich chose The Yipps as their handle.
“We’re probably going to have mistakes, especially in the beginning,” says Marovich, the executive producer. “You have to learn. It’s all part of the experience.
“The best is yet to come.”
Furman got started with USI baseball when he learned that he needed 20 internship hours for one of his Sports Management classes. He approached assistant coach Jeremy Kuester and wound up being team manager for his first two years of college.
“At that time I really wanted to get into coaching,” says Furman.
Then came a conversation between Furman and Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Archuleta just before Christmas break in the fall of 2016.
There were thoughts of purchasing some video scouting equipment for the program.
“I had two weeks to learn the system and then we’re off to Tampa to play our first series,” says Furman. “That’s where my career changed for baseball.”
“Kevin taught me a lot about the mechanical side of baseball,” says Furman, who learned how to recognize things like hand grip and weight shift. “In 2018, I was helping college hitters at a higher level.”
Furman then worked with the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network, which had many MLB organizations as clients. He worked from a list of players near Evansville and evaluated many NCAA Division I and II as well as some high school players.
“It was a really cool experience,” says Furman.
There were several interviews in the baseball industry before the chance came to join Sports Information Solutions.
“I knew this was a great opportunity to take and I didn’t want to pass it up,” says Furman.
During COVID-19 quarantine time, he has been working on small projects.
When spring training was happening, he was at home or in the office watching feeds of games and charting every pitch, running times, ball off bat speed, velocity, defensive shifts, catcher positions and more.
“It takes awhile to get used to,” says Furman. “It’s basically the same thing I did at USI, but probably with 10 times more data.”
As an SIS video scout, Furman can rewind and zoom to get different camera angles. He usually employs three screens per game.
“Once you get into the groove of things, it’s really fun,” says Furman. “Once the season starts I’ll be doing the same thing.”
Scouts work either the morning or night shift. In the mornings, they go over games that have already been charted and make sure the data is inputted and correct. At night, it’s usually about live games.
With this experience, Furman is not the same kind of baseball fan he was growing up, though he still roots for his Chicago White Sox.
“My viewpoint on baseball is completely different,” says Furman. “I can sit and watch a game and I know what pitch they’re going to throw before they throw it based on things like swing patterns.
“I look at baseball differently than I ever thought I would.”
Brunke counts himself fortunate to have been part of Andrean baseball, led by the Hall of Famer.
“(Pishkur) knows how to get the most out of you as a player,” says Brunke. “There was a sense of pride in wearing (Andrean) across your chest. There was competition within the program. Practice was not easy.
“If you’re going to play in the program, you’re going to have to play your tail off and really buy in or it’s not going to work. It was a super-advanced program.”
Brunke recalls tracking things like launch angle and pitch locations and using them to the 59ers’ advantage.
Next up on The Yipps Podcast (available on Spotify): Atlanta Braves prospect Logan Brown.
The Yipps Podcast is presented by (from left): Aaron Furman, Matt Brunke and Brett Marovich. The trio played baseball together as boys in northwest Indiana and now they talk about it. The podcast was launched May 24, 2020.
He played Little League, Babe Ruth and high school ball in the Lawrence County town, usually roaming center field.
“The center fielder is trusted to go get the ball and catch it,” says Elkins, who graduated from Bedford High School (now part of Bedford North Lawrence) in 1970 but not before playing his last two seasons as a Stonecutter for future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Orval Huffman. “It was a fun position to play.”
Appearing often in the World Series or the on the TV Game of the Week, New York Yankees slugging center fielder Mickey Mantle became Elkins’ favorite player.
“I don’t think I had Mickey’s power,” says Elkins.
While his family took the Louisville Courier Journal and tuned into Louisville TV and radio stations, it was the radio that was Elkins’ connection to baseball.
Growing up a Cardinals fan, 9-year-old Elkins attended his first big league game in 1961 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.
He had heard Caray describe on the radio and now he got to see the gigantic scoreboard in left and the pavilion that extended from the right-field foul line to the center field bleachers with his own eyes. He also saw Curt Flood in center field, which was his place throughout the 1960’s.
Over the years, Elkins watched the Cardinals play in three different home ballparks — Sportsman’s Park, Busch Stadium I and Busch Stadium II and got to see the colorful word pictures by Caray and the more understated stylings of Jack Buck come alive.
When it came time to attend college, he went to the University of Kentucky and earned a telecommunications degree in 1974. With the exception of one year away, he has lived and worked around Lexington ever since.
His first job out of college was at WMIK in Middlesboro, Ky., where he did a little bit of everything. He was a disc jockey and a play-by-play man for high school football, basketball and baseball.
The Fran Curci-coached Kentucky football squad went 10-1 in 1977. Defensive end Art Still was a first-round National Football League draft selection and played in the NFL from 1978-89. Still is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
The father of two adult sons (Adam in Lexington and Tim in Cincinnati) and a grandfather of one with another on the way, Elkins still enjoys UK football — from tailgating to game time.
Elkins spent a year as a TV news reporter at WJTV, a CBS station in Jackson, Miss., before returning to work in public relations at UK and then Transylvania University — also in Lexington.
After that, he was employed as a writer/editor/coordinator of a variety of marketing communications and public relations projects for WYNCOM, Inc., a marketing and seminar company associated with leading business speakers and authors.
In November 2008, he was hired by the Legends as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations.
“It was as big jump at that age,” says Elkins. “But I never regretted it. I never wished that I was somewhere else.
“It was always a pleasure to do the game.”
Like those broadcasters he’s admired, Elkins was sure to let fans know about distinctive traits at the ballpark or if the wind was blowing in or out. He let you the colors of the uniforms and were fans might be congregating.
“Anything you can do to help the fan experience what you’re seeing,” says Elkins. “It’s an important part of the broadcast.”
Elkins called 140 games a year — home at Whitaker Bank Ballpark (originally known as Applebee’s Park) and away — for the first six years with the Legends and then just home games the last three. He was solo in the booth on the road and occasionally had a color commentator at home. For some TV games, that role was filled by former big league pitcher Jeff Parrett, an Indianapolis native who played at UK.
At the time, the Sally League featured teams in Lakewood, N.J. and Savannah, Ga. — both bus rides of nine or more hours from Lexington.
Elkins recalls one steamy night in Savannah when the bus broke down.
“The air condition was off and it got really hot,” says Elkins.
Players stepped outside and brought mosquitos and fire ants back into the bus with them. The team arrived back in Lexington around noon.
“There were long overnight rides, but you get used to it,” says Elkins. “That’s part of the minor league lifestyle.
“One of the challenges in baseball is to play at top level every day. If you don’t take care of yourself in April and May, it’s going to be pretty tough in July and August. Seeing every game you get to see guys come along and battle through slumps.”
In his second season behind the mike for Lexington, Elkins got to call the exploits of Legends22-year-old J.D. Martinez and 20-year-old Jose Altuve, both on a path toward the majors.
Before being called up to Double-A, Martinez hit .362 with 15 home runs and 64 runs batted in 88 games. Prior to a promotion to High-A, Altuve hit .308 with 11 homers, 45 RBIs with 39 stolen bases in 94 games.
Elkins was there to call Bryce Harper’s first professional home run, socked for the visiting Hagerstown Suns in 2011.
“It was a line drive over the wall in left-center field,” says Elkins. “Even as an 18-year-old, he was getting a lot of attention.”
Elkins also saw Anthony Rizzo and Mookie Betts on their way up. Rizzo played for Boston Red Sox affiliate Greenville in 2008-09 when he was 18 and 19. Betts was 20 and with the same franchise in 2013.
Stephen Strasburg had already debuted in the majors with the Washington Nationals when he made a rehabilitation appearance for Hagerstown.
Elkins never had what he would call a signature phrase or home run call.
“If you’re doing games every night you settle into your pattern,” says Elkins. “I hope I’m remembered for accurate or entertaining descriptions.”
Keith Elkins, a native of Bedford, Ind., was the baseball play-by-play voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends 2009-2017. His broadcast career stretches from the early 1970’s to the present. (Lexington Legends Photo)
A long-time baseball fan, Bedord, Ind., native Keith Elkins got the chance to be the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League 2009-17. (Lexington Legends Photo)
After serving four seasons (2004-07) as a Scots junior varsity coach on the staff of Highland head coach Jason Stecher (current to Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School and son of long-time Highland head coach Bob Stecher, who retired with more than 500 victories), Leyva was a varsity assistant for three years with Bair (2008-10).
So it was a natural when Bair took over as head baseball coach at Anderson University that he’d reach out to his friend.
“We really hit it off (at Highland) then he asked me to come with him to AU,” says Leyva. “We were getting the band back together.”
The 2020 Anderson season – though it was shortened to nine games because of the COVID-19 pandemic — was the third on Leyva with the Ravens.
His duties include working with outfielders, base running and assisting Bair with hitters. He also coaches first base when AU is at the plate.
Leyva has keys for his outfielders.
“The most important thing we can do is re-direct the ball back to the infield,” says Leyva. “We can shut down the other team’s offense.
“We focus on three goals at all times — keep the double play in order, limit the offense to one base at a time and with balls in the ground we’re 100 percent (no errors).”
The stolen base is a major part of Ravens baseball.
“We got progressively better as we implemented our system,” says Leyva. “We take pride in our base running.
“In a game where the defense has the ball we can take some control back on offense. We’re constantly studying what the game is giving us to see where we can find an advantage.”
Anderson, a member of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, swiped 105 bases in 45 games in 2018. Once Leyva and Bair had their system in place, the team lost to one of the more prolific teams in NCAA Division III, pilfering 109 in 37 games in 2019 and heisting 42 in nine contests in 2020.
“As a rule of thumb, the entire team has the green light,” says Leyva. “We live on those opportunities we’re creating.”
Bair runs the overall hitting system, including small group work in practice. Leyva spends time on the offensive side the outfielders.
“That was awesome, spending time in the dugout with a Hall of Famer,” says Leyva of his experience with Indiana High school Baseball Coaches Association enshrinee Stoudt.
Leyva says Keesling’s ability to leverage the abilities of his coaching staff is one of his strengths.
“He had a football mentality with position coaches,” says Leyva. “He let the infield guy be the infield guy (and so on). He took over that managerial role of figuring out how to best put those pieces together.
“You see staffs being put together that way all over the country. He was early to that concept.”
Leyva fondly looks back on his days playing at Madison Heights for Nikirk (who is now secondary school principal at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis).
“He was really big on personal responsibility and accountability and was really fair,” says Leyva. “He gave the guys opportunities.
“Those are qualities I’ve carried forward in my coaching career.”
Leyva has also coached travel baseball. He was co-founder and a head coach of the Indiana Magic in 2011-12 and was an assistant to Ryan Bunnell with Indiana Bulls 16U in 2013, Mike Farrell with the Indiana Outlaws (an organization started by Jay Hundley which is now part of Evoshield Canes Midwest) in 2014 and Mike Hitt with the Indiana Blue Jays 2015-17.
The Magic was comprised of players from Madison and surrounding counties and won 60 games in two summers.
Besides leading a Bulls team, Bunnell is also head coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School.
Farrell, who played at Indiana State University, is a veteran instructor and a scouting supervisor for the Kansas City Royals.
“That may have been as much fun as I’ve had in baseball.” says Leyva of his time coaching the Blue Jays. “We were a single (18U) team. The roster was all guys committed to playing college baseball at a high level and there were no egos.
“We just had a blast playing really good baseball. We were like 60-5 in three years.”
After graduating from Madison Heights, Leyva attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for two years then transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington. He majored in Computer Information Systems and is a 2000 graduate of IU’s Kelley School of Business and has worked since 2008 for IBM as a System Storage Enterprise Client Technical Specialist.
Carlos and Julie Leyva have three children — fourth grader Mia (10), second grader Izzy (8) and kindergartener Cruz (7). Julie is on the front lines of the pandemic as a nurse practitioner.
Carlos Leyva has been an assistant baseball coach at Anderson (Ind.) University since the 2018 season. (Anderson University Photo)