Looking to provide opportunities for development and exposure in elite travel baseball tournaments while keeping area players in the area, a group of coaches established a Rawlings Tigers outlet in South Bend, Ind.
Coached by Scott Quinn, Kevin Putz and Jason Robbins, the Rawlings Tigers 16U South Bend team participated in five tournaments in its initial season of 2020. The team won the Perfect Game Baseball Association Mid-American Classic. The squad plays mostly in Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report events, many of which are invitation-only.
Quinn, who once owned the South Bend Bandits travel organization, decided to affiliate with the Rawlings Tigers — a group with teams in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Southern Indiana and 27 other states — for name recognition and a commitment to top-flight training and competition, which is part of the Rawlings Tigers culture.
“We were tired of seeing players head to Indianapolis to play in bigger tournaments,” says Quinn, who played at South Bend Riley High School, graduating in 1995, and Spoon River College in Canton, Ill. “We all believe in the practice aspect instead of just show up-and-play the games.
“We wanted the same experience the kids in the Indy area have.”
That means off-season training and the opportunity to build team chemistry since the ideal Rawlings Tigers South Bend roster has no more than 14 and no pitch-only players on the roster and players have multiple responsibilities.
“We’re looking for kids who can play both ways,” says Quinn. “You don’t get better at playing this game by watching it. You get better by playing it
“(Players) need to be on the field and participating in every aspect of the game.”
The Rawlings Tigers South Bend’s roster consists of northern Indiana players.
“Most of our kids know each other off the baseball field,” says Quinn. “We have an abundance of high schools in a small area.
“It all seems to mesh really well.”
There is an emphasis on hustle and unity as well as workouts.
“Effort and team can beat talent any day of the week,” says Quinn. “We tend to practice more than most (travel) teams.
“We’re looking for players that are really committed and want to take that next step. We expect a lot of our players. They must maintain at least a 3.3 GPA. The amount of work we put it is second to none.”
A group tryout for next season was already held at Mishawaka (Ind.) High School. Quinn says individual tryouts can be scheduled.
With many multi-sport athletes, Rawlings Tigers South Bend preseason baseball and strength workouts begin in December at RBIs Unlimited in Mishawaka.
“We have a lot of practices and do a lot of running to get ready for the next season and to prepare players to make the varsity at their high schools,” says Quinn.
The hope is that the 2021 Rawlings Tigers South Bend season will include up to eight tournaments at either the 16U or 17U level.
There will be a PBR National Championships qualifier at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Qualifiers will compete in the nationals at LakePoint in Georgia. There will also be Perfect Game events in the Toledo, Ohio, area as well as PG’s World Wood Bat Association tournaments.
“I’m a big believer in doing training with a wood bat,” says Quinn. “The sound (crack vs. ping) tells you whether you hit the ball correctly or not.”
Putz (Class of 1991) and Robbins (Class of 1990) are both graduates of South Bend Washington High School, where they played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski.
Putz played at Triton College in River Grove, Ill., and New Mexico State U.
Robbins, who is Quinn’s brother-in-law, was a right-handed pitcher at Wake Forest University and in the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks systems, including the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks for manager Dick Scott.
Quinn considers it a privilege to now be coaching with Putz and Robbins.
“I grew up watching them play,” says Quinn.
In seventh grade, Quinn began a long relationship with John Nadolny. He would play for him at Riley and his son — Konner Quinn (Class of 2023) — plays for Nadolny at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind.
“He’s a big influence on my career as a player and coach,” says Quinn of the man they call Nud.
Konnor Putz is also on the Rawlings Tigers South Bend.
Kyle Wade got the chance to be an athletic leader at a young age.
He was an eighth grader in Kokomo, Ind., and attending football workouts when Kokomo High School head coach Brett Colby let him know the expectations of the program and the community.
“This is your team next year” says Wade, recalling the words Colby said to the varsity Wildkats’ heir apparent at quarterback as a freshman in the fall of 2014. “On our first thud (in practice), I think I stuttered the words and dropped the ball.
“(Colby) told me, ‘you can’t show weakness to your teammates’ and ‘never act like you can’t.’ I took that to heart.”
“Coach Swan was positive, but he wasn’t afraid to get on us,” says Wade of his high school baseball experience. “(Swan) trusted us.
“We were an older team with a lot of guys who would go on to Power 5 (college) baseball (including Class of 2018’s Jack Perkins to Louisville and Bayden Root to Ohio State and Class of 2020’s Charez Butcher to Tennessee).”
Wade appreciates Moore for his organization skills and discipline.
“His scouting reports were next level,” says Wade. “Coach Wonnell won a state tournament (Class 1A at Tindley in 2017). He asked me about playing again (as a senior). He wanted a leader. He helped keep me in shape (Wade was 235 pounds at the end of his senior football season and 216 at the close of the basketball season).”
A combination of physicality, basketball I.Q. gained from having a father as a former Kokomo head coach (2000-05), he played on the front line — even guarding 7-footers.
“I had to mature. I’ve led by by example, pushing guys to get better and motivated to play. I’ve had to have mental toughness. I’ve never been one of the most talented guys on my teams.”
But Wade showed enough talent that he had college offers in football and baseball. He chose the diamond and accepted then-head coach Mark Wasikowski’s invitation to play at Purdue University.
“As a freshman coming into a Big Ten program, I had older guys who helped get me going and taught me about work ethic,” says Wade. “He have a lot of new guys (in 2020-21). As a junior, I’m in that position this year and doing it to the best of my ability.”
The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season was his second as a right-handed pitcher for the Boilermakers.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder appeared in five games (all in relief) and went 1-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 6 2/3 innings, he struck out two and walked one.
As a freshman in 2019, Wade got into 15 games (two as a starter) and went 2-2 with a 5.18 ERA. In 40 innings, he struck out 27 and walked 11.
Michael McAvene is doing his best to keep the momentum rolling in his baseball career.
The right-handed pitcher had to push the pause button during his high school and college days because of injury and now he’s at a standstill period as a professional because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down Minor League Baseball in 2020.
As a University of Louisville freshman in the spring of 2017, McAvene was hurt in an April relief stint and soon found himself on the operating table. His next pitch in a collegiate game came April 2018.
After getting into seven games (five as a starter) and going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 17 1/3 innings as a U of L freshman, McAvene went to the bullpen when he came back from his surgery.
The righty made 34 appearances out of the bullpen his last two collegiate seasons, going 2-1 with nine saves, a 3.32 earned run average, 65 strikeouts and 18 walks in 43 1/3 innings. He was named second team all-Atlantic Coast Conference in 2019.
The Cardinals qualified for the NCAA Tournament 2017-19 and went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019.
U of L was ranked No. 1 in the nation during part of that stretch and McAvene was labeled as the team’s closer during the end of that run.
“I loved it,” says McAvene. “You have to have a certain mentality for (that role).
“It came easy for me to get the last out of the game, which in my opinion is the last out to get.”
It was while going for that last out that McAvene received an automative four-game suspension following his ejection for disputing an umpire’s decision in NCAA regional victory over Indiana University.
He counts it as part of his experience.
“I definitely didn’t want to talk about it (immediately after the game),” says McAvene. “But you’ve got to be professional and not let emotions get in the way.”
“(McDonnell) gets you to the point where you’d run through a wall for him and your teammates,” says McAvene. “That’s the culture.
“It’s a testament to the players and the type of people he brings in.”
Williams pushed his pitchers.
“He taught me what it takes to be successful at this level,” says McAvene of Williams. “He’s a very challenging guy. He expects us to be on top of our games at all times. He won’t accept less. He made us accountable.
“When it’s your time, you’re all that’s out there. You have to execute and do all you can to get your team to win.”
McAvene says Williams is one of the best game callers in the country and his scouting reports are second to none.
Appearing in six games with the 2019 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, he went 0-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 20 strikeouts and four walks in 12 2/3 innings. Of 199 pitches, 126 were thrown for strikes.
The way the organization is currently formed, the next step on the ladder would be with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs.
McAvene faced some hitters before spring training and he’s since had some competitive bullpen sessions while following the program laid out by the Cubs. He just hasn’t delivered a pitch in a game since Aug. 31, 2019.
“I have a pretty good player plan sent out by the Cubs,” says McAvene. “I just can’t replicate in-game reps.”
While some of his former Louisville teammates have been involved in the four-team Battle of the Bourbon Trail independent league in Florence and Lexington, McAvene has stayed in central Indiana to train.
The McAvenes family — Rob, Jennifer, Michael and Bradley — lived for years near Camby, near Mooresville, and now reside in Danville.
It’s about a 10-minute trip to Plainfield to work out at the home of his former Ben Davis Little League and Indiana Outlaws travel coach, Jay Hundley, along with pros Jacson McGowan (who played at Brownsburg High School and Purdue University and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays system) and Nick Schnell (who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli in 2018 and is also with the Rays), Indiana University left-hander Zach Behrmann (Indianapolis North Central graduate) and others.
McAvene was able to retire most high school hitters with a fastball and a breaking ball.
While starting at Louisville, he began to get a feel for a change-up. When he went to the back of the Cards’ pen, he used a fastball, slider and curveball and, essentially, shelved the change-up on the shelf.
Given a chance to return to starting with the Cubs, McAvene again began working to get comfortable with throwing a “circle” change — a grip taught to him by a friend while he was with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer of 2018.
“I knew my curveball and my slider were only going to get me so far,” says McAvene. “The change-up sets apart good players from great players.”
Throwing from a low three-quarter arm angle, McAvene throws more two-seam fastballs than four-seamers.
“It has a sinker action,” says McAvene of the two-seamer that registers as a sinker on Cubs’ analytic equipment like Rapsodo and TrackMan. “My arm slot allows for a lot of downward action on it.
“I wanted to make sure I’ve got some lateral movement on it. The sink is an added bonus.”
McAvene’s curve has morphed. He used to throw the pitch in the traditional manner with a sweeping motion.
“I switched the grip to a knuckle curve to get more depth,” says McAvene. “It pairs well with my fastball and slider.”
As for the slider, McAvene was throwing it at Eugene at 86 to 90 mph.
“It has a very hard and tight break,” says McAvene of the slider. “The movement is late and right at the very end.”
After the 2019 season, McAvene finished his Sports Administration degree, graduating magna cum laude in December.
McAvene, who turned 23 on Aug. 24, says he was hopeful that there might be fall instructional league with the Cubs this year. But since it’s already September and Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are still figuring out the terms of their agreement, that looks improbable.
Born in the same Indianapolis hospital where his mother has spent 30 years as an ICU nurse (IU Health University), McAvene grew up in the Mooresville area. He was an Mooresville Little League all-star from 9 to 11 — the last two with his father as coach (Rob McAvene is now an independent distributor for Pepperidge Farms) — before his one year at Ben Davis Little League.
Before attending Roncalli, Michael spent Grades K-6 at North Madison Elementary in Camby and middle school at Saint Mark Catholic School on the south side of Indianapolis.
Bradley McAvene (18) is a 2020 graduate of Indiana Connections Academy.
The Battle rages Aug. 1-Sept. 13 with games contested Wednesday through Sunday at Florence’s UC Health Stadium and Lexington’s Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Claycamp, who commuted from Columbus to begin the season, has made arrangements for an Airbnb in Lexington. When the Legends play in Florence, he stays with family friends in the Lawrenceburg/Sunman, Ind., area.
Ellis, a Jeffersonville High School graduate, played at the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. The third baseman plays home games only for the Legends and Leyengas.
Thompson (Floyd Central) is a 6-6 right-hander who was at Louisville and in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was in indy ball at Sussex County in 2019.
Right-hander Talcott (McCutcheon) last pitched for Earlham College in 2019.
Outfielder Baker played at Ball State University and was in independent ball in the American Association in 2019 (Texas and Kansas City).
Righty Dougherty (Morgan Township) pitched for Grace College before taking the mound in the United Shores Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich.
Floyd (Jimtown) was at Ball State University and the righty hurled for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in 2019.
While his primary position growing up and through college was shortstop, Claycamp has moved around the field.
“I’ve been a utility player my whole life,” says Claycamp.
At Columbus (Ind.) East High School, where he graduated in 2015, he was a shortstop as a freshman, shortstop and second baseman as a sophomore, third baseman as a junior and third baseman, shortstop and second baseman as a senior.
He played those same three spots in his one season at the University of Dayton (2016) and then was locked in at short in three campaigns at Franklin (2017-19). He helped the Grizzlies win back-to-back Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles in his final two campaigns.
Claycamp was invited to pre-Major League Baseball Draft workouts by the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies in, but was unable to attend with Franklin making the school’s deepest ever postseason run, reaching the regional final in Sequin, Texas.
After getting into eight games at NCAA Division I Dayton (two starts), Claycamp transferred to D-III Franklin and played in 128 contests for the Grizzlies. He hit .354 (174-of-491) with 20 home runs (tied for No. 9 in program history), 46 doubles (No. 5 all-time), 133 runs batted in (No. 6) and 143 runs scored (No. 4).
Right-handed pitcher Gray went on to Florida Gulf Coast University, the Colorado Rockies organization and is now in independent pro ball with the Milwaukee Milkmen.
Right-hander/outfielder Curry started at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When SJC school closed, he went to Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Anderson, a 6-foot-8 righty, pitched at Northern Illinois University.
Left-hander Brian Wichman was at Murray State University then hurled for the University of Indianapolis.
Catcher Christian Wichman played briefly at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., where he was also a football player.
Claycamp played in both Bartholomew County Little League (weekdays) and travel baseball (weekends) until he was in high school. Bartholomew County (now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County) won a state title when he was 12 and lost in the Great Lakes Regional championship. The winner went on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Early travel ball teams were the Columbus Crush, Indiana Blazers and BCLL All-Stars. In high school, Claycamp donned the jerseys of the Indiana Redbirds, Indiana Outlaws and Johnson County/Indiana Jaguars.
Besides baseball, Sam played football until middle school. He was on the school basketball team through eighth grade then played intramural and church hoops.
His falls were dedicated to deer hunting.
David and Tammy Claycamp have two sons — Sam and Kobbe (22). David Claycamp is machine shop manager at Innovative Casting Technologies in Franklin. Tammy Claycamp is a teacher at Faith Lutheran Preschool in Columbus. Kobbe Claycamp played baseball and football at Columbus East. He was on the IHSAA Class 5A state championship team in 2017 and state runner-up squad in 2016. He also played club rugby in high school.
A week later, the Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate lashed a two-run double to aid in the A-Team’s 6-4 triumph against the Snapping Turtles.
How does the righty-swinging third baseman assess his strengths?
“Physically, I can do it all on the field — play defense, run and hit for power,” says Barr. “The average is coming along.
“I have athleticism. I was a middle infielder until last year. I have pretty good range (at third base).”
Barr, a 5-foot-11, 191-pounder, has listened to Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer and former assistant Casey Dykes (now a minor league hitting coach in the New York Yankees organization) regarding hitting and done his best to apply it.
“I kist want the ball to spin true,” says Barr. “I don’t want to flare or hook the ball. I look to put myself in a good position to be able to do that.
“If I can spin the ball, I can adjust and do other things.”
Mercer has been on the job since the summer of 2018 and Barr has benefitted.
“He has a lot of information to offer,” says Barr of his head coach. “We are like-minded. We are not afraid to work hard.
“We’re pretty competitive.”
In three seasons at Indiana, Barr played in 97 games (84 starts) and hit .258 (76-of-295) with 19 home runs, 64 runs batted in, 62 runs scored and a .389 on-base percentage.
He decided not to sign and came back to the Hoosiers.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season, Barr started all 15 games at third base and was the regular No. 3 batter in the IU lineup. He hit .246 (14-of-57) with two homers, nine RBIs, 12 runs and a .366 OBP in 15 games.
The last game for a 9-6 team was March 11 against Cincinnati in Bloomington.
Barr stayed in shape and kept his baseball skills sharp while also keeping up with his studies during the quarantine. The Finance major and 2020 Academic All-Big Ten Conference honoree is now around 20 credits shy of his degree.
He is looking forward to in-person classes, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.
“Online classes — I’m not a huge fan of it,” says Barr. “It’s hard to learn business stuff and work through problems online.
“It’s hard to pay attention. I’d prefer to be in class in-person.”
He was honorable mention all-state in 2015 and 2017 and all-Hoosier Heritage Conference 2015-17. Perfect Game rated him as the No. 2 shortstop and No. 14 overall player in Indiana. For his prep career, he hit .333 with nine homers, 45 RBIs and 51 stolen bases.
Barr was a middle infielder and also pitched as a freshman, sophomore and senior.
“I was probably a better pitcher in high school than a hitter,” says Barr. “I had no real thoughts of pitching in college. Most pitchers aren’t 5-10 now.”
Cole was also a safety and wide receiver for the Yorktown Tigers as a freshmen, junior and senior.
Joe and Cherie Barr have four sons — Cole (22), Alex (20), Reid (17) and Drew (15).
Joe Barr is a plant manager at Magna Powertrain. Cherie Barr is a nurse at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. Alex Barr is heading into his junior year as a Wabash College wrestler. Reid Barr will be a Yorktown High School senior and wrestler Drew Barr a YHS sophomore in the fall.
On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.
“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.
“It was awesome.”
The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.
“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”
At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.
A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.
“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”
It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.
“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.
Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load.
He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.
“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.
Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach.
That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.
“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you.
“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”
Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.
Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.
“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.
“It bites and it bites hard.”
Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.
“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.
“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”
Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.
Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.
When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.
“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.
“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”
Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.
“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.
“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game.
“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”
Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.
He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.
During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.
Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.
It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.
“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”
Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.
Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.
“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.
“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”
HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.
So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.
That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.
In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.
He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.
During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs.
“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”
Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.
“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.
When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.
“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”
Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.
“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”
The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).
“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.
“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”
Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.
“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.
“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”
Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.
Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.
A buzzword during the COVID-19 pandemic is “new normal.”
For Purdue University baseball recruiting coordinator Cooper Fouts and the rest of the Boilermaker coaching staff, scouting and evaluating talent has changed during a time when recruits missed out on a 2020 high school season, others had their college campaigns cut short and traveling is discouraged.
“It’s taken a different turn,” says Fouts. “We’re really putting a emphasis on relationships.”
The NCAA recruiting calendar was changed and keeps changing.
“At first, it was we can’t recruit until April 15 and then get back on the road like normal,” says Fouts, 37. “But they kept pushing it back. That just didn’t happen.
“We look at video and honest video with some failures,” says Fouts, who also serves on a staff that includes Chris Marx, volunteer Harry Shipley, director of player development John Madia and supervisor of operations Tim Sarhage. “On our level, there’s more failure than they’e used to. They have to learn and make adjustments. Expectations are even higher.”
In many ways, coaches glean more from failure than success.
“We like to see what their body language looks like,” says Fouts. “When they’re struggling, you see a lot more truth.
“We’re cross-checking more and making more calls since we can’t see for (ourselves). We don’t get to see interactions. And we want to see the whole package. This makes you trust your gut more.”
Ninety minutes of Fouts’ morning in July 8 when spent in a FaceTime call with a player in Texas, talking about and showing them the facilities at Purdue.
There are plenty of conversations with high school and travel coaches, including the opponents of the player.
NCAA rules dictate that players do coaches and not the other way around.
“There’s a large amount of emphasis on how they communicate on the phone,” says Fouts. “I’ve never offered a kid we haven’t seen in-person. That’s a huge change.
“That virtual tour allows (recruits) to make the right decision. We do it multiple times every week.”
Fouts has been coaching since right after college graduation and has done his best to serve the interests of the man in charge. At Purdue, that’s been Wasikowski and Goff.
“It’s the preference of what those head coaches like and how they want to build a team,” says Fouts. “I’m a follower of their desires.”
With Goff, Fouts has a little more freedom with hitters and their day-to-day instruction and planning.
Fouts has not seen players already on the Purdue roster in-person since March. The hope is that they will be reunited Aug. 24. That’s when the 2020-21 school year is scheduled to begin at Purdue.
Prior to coming to West Lafayette, Ind., Fouts spent the second of two stints at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. He was on the Waves staff 2011 and 2012 with head coach Steve Rodriguez (now head coach at Baylor University in Waco, Texas) and 2016-18 with Rick Hirtensteiner at the helm.
“He’s my biggest mentor,” says Fouts of Rodriguez. “he was so good at giving guys the freedom to play.
“He wasn’t a micro-manager. Players were not paralyzed by a thought process. That allowed them to be successful. He does the same thing at Baylor. He knows what his players can and can’t do. They absolutely play loose.”
Hirtensteiner was an assistant to Rodriguez during Fouts’ first tenure at Pepperdine.
“He’s an absolute great man of faith,” says Fouts of Hirtensteiner. “He treats his player so well. He gave me a ton of freedom on the coaching and recruiting side.
“He’s just a thoughtful individual. He’s not emotional. He was never overwhelmed by a situation.”
In between his seasons at Pepperdine, Fouts was on the staff of Eric Madsen at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah (2013-15). Madsen taught him much about the mechanics of hitting and more.
“He’s a really good offensive coach and a great human being,” says Fouts of Madsen. “He allowed me to make a lot of mistakes.”
Harper graduated high school early so he could attend College of Southern Nevada and was selected No. 1 overall in the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals.
Fouts was 11 when he first met Chambers, a man who also coached him his first two years at Bishop Gorman High School in Summerlin, Nev., and for one year at CSN.
“(Chambers) was awesome,” says Fouts. “He’s one of the better managers of people I’ve ever been around.
“He let guys play aggressive and make mistakes.”
Fouts played his final two varsity seasons at Bishop Gorman for head coach Kenny White.
Originally committed to Auburn (Ala.) University, the righty-swinging catcher played three seasons Texas Tech University in Lubbock (2003-05), playing alongside older brother Nathan Fouts. Cooper appeared in 156 games, hitting .265 (114-of-431) with two home runs, 77 runs batted in and 76 runs for Red Raiders head coach Larry Hays.
Fouts remembers that Hays was pretty hands-off as a coach and led assistants tend to day-to-day details.
“He was a great mentor as a Christian man,” says Fouts of Hays, who concluded his Tech run in 2008. “Larry was beloved in that Lubbock community.”
Besides his brother, Fouts got to be teammates with Big 12 Conference Triple Crown winner Josh Brady, who also played at the College of Southern Nevada, and future big league pitcher Dallas Braden.
“(Braden) was one of the two best competitors I’ve ever been around in my life
(the other is Harper),” says Fouts, who still has occasional contact with the two players.
Fouts was drafted twice — the first time in the 26th round by the Oakland Athletics in 2001 — but decided a pro baseball playing career was not for him.
He picked up his diploma on a Saturday and began coaching on Brandon Gilliland’s staff at Lubbock Christian School two days later in 2006.
Fouts was born in Kokomo, Ind., in 1983. At 7, he moved with his family to Indianapolis, where he attended St. Thomas Aquinas School.
After Cooper turned 11 in 1994, the Fouts family moved to Las Vegas and lived there through his high school days with the exception of a one-year stay in Memphis, Tenn.
Cooper and Bri Fouts are to celebrate 10 years of marriage July 24. The couple have three children — daughter Harper (who turns 8 July 29) and sons Emmit (who turns 6 on July 10), and Nash (who turns 4 on Aug. 18).
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.