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.
“I had never heard of Oscar Charleston,” says Beer. “When I found out he was from Indiana I was floored.”
The National Baseball Hall of Famer from Indianapolis and long-time Negro Leagues star just wasn’t on Beer’s radar.
With a sense of “Indiana patriotism,” Beer decided he wanted to know more.
Around 2012, he got serious about his research and decided to write a comprehensive book about the “Hoosier Comet” and his times.
“I had to learn everything about the Negro Leagues and African American culture and history in the early 20th Century,” says Beer, a Society for American Baseball Research member. “I was a baseball guy and had read a good deal of baseball history, but not black baseball.
“I looked for every mention I could find of Charleston. I did a thorough investigative job. I wanted it to be pretty definitive. The thing about biography is you can’t make things up. It’s not like philosophy.”
Beer won the Seymour Medal that recognizes the author(s) of the best book of baseball history or biography first published during the preceding calendar year and the Larry Ritter Book Award presented for the best new book set primarily in the Deadball Era.
Between 1924-48, he managed the Harrisburg Giants, Hilldale Club, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Toledo Crawfords, Toledo-Indianapolis Crawfords, Philadelphia Stars and Brooklyn Brown Dodgers plus East All-Stars, West All-Stars and Negro National League All-Stars.
Beer’s first reading about Charleston online showed him to be a bully and someone with an uncontrollable temper and not well-liked.
“That’s not true,” says Beer after much more research. “He got into fights on the field, but not that much more than other players did at the time.
“He was very well-liked and charming. He smiled and was charismatic.”
Beer learned that Charleston had an affinity for billiards and playing the piano. He taught himself Spanish when he was in Cuba.
“He was intellectual and socially ambitious,” says Beer. “He was fascinating. I expected a mean jock. That’s not who he was.”
Beer, who has also published a blog about Charleston, discovered that Charleston broke the color line for paid big league scouts when Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey put him on the payroll in 1945 — two years before Jackie Robinson played for Rickey’s club.
“I can’t find record of anyone who was paid to do that before that,” says Beer. “(Top Dodgers scout) Clyde Sukeforth is how we know about that.”
Sukeforth not only helped bring Robinson to the Dodgers, but another future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. Charleston knew well about the catcher since he played and managed in Campy’s hometown of Philadelphia.
After getting his undergraduate degree at Indiana and master’s and doctorates at Texas, Beer worked as vice president of publications and editor in chief at Intercollegiate Studies Institute Books. ISI produces books written by academics intended for an audience outside their own disciplines.
Beer is the principal partner and co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC, a national firm that provides strategic consulting and services to non-profit organizations. His Phoenix office is three blocks from SABR headquarters at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and he helps SABR with fundraising. He also attends meetings of the Hemond-Flame Delhi chapter (the Indianapolis SABR chapter is named for Oscar Charleston).
While Beer is working on an anthology of Negro Leagues writing, his next book will not be about baseball. It will focus on Fr. Francisco Garces (1738-1781), a Spanish missionary priest who led an expedition across the Mojave Desert.
Jeremy is married to Kara, who is from the Phoenix area. Brother Jonah Beer is married (Sara) and lives in Napa, Calif. Sister Amanda Woodiel is married (Thomas) with five children and resides in Goshen, Ind. Ken Beer, who ran a real estate school and was a world traveler, died in 2018. Lynne Beer passed away in 2009.
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.
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).
Haddad has been in the organization since 2013. He was signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent and was a catcher is the system until 2016, when he served as a player-coach at Staten Island in preparation for a minor league coaching assignment.
But an opportunity came with the major league club and Haddad has been on the Bronx Bombers staff since 2017. He can use his knowledge to help Blake and Swanson with their transition.
Radley and wife Arielle, a Franklin, Ind., native who he met at Butler, moved from Manhattan to New Jersey in January. It’s a 20-minute drive to Yankee Stadium.
Being close year-round has made it easy for Haddad to get to know the ins and outs of the team’s analytics department.
Hadded earned a Finance degree at Butler. His familiarity with regressions, progressions and algorithms allows him to work with weight averages and other analytic concepts.
“You need to have some experience in some upper level math,” says Haddad. “You don’t have to be a genius. It’s math and it’s computers and being able to write codes.
“(Players) are very open to what we’re trying to do. Kids coming from college programs are more up with technology and buzzwords and they understand the value. We’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. Sometimes you just have to use different verbiage.”
Haddad notes that 29-year-old right-hander Gerrit Cole, who signed as a free agent in December 2019 and likely would have been tabbed by manager Aaron Boone as the Yankees’ Opening Day starter had the 2020 season started on time, has embraced analytics during his career.
“He’s really smart guy and cares about his career,” says Haddad. “He applied what they gave him in Houston. He used the information presented to him.
“We’re trying to parlay off of that and make him just a tick better.”
With Haddad being close by, he’s also been able to catch area residents Coleand righty reliever Adam Ottavino during the current COVID-19-related shutdown. Some of those sessions happened in back yards. The Stadium was just recently made available.
Players and staff are literally spread across the globe and have stayed in-touch through group texts and Zoom calls. Sharing of Google Docs has allowed coaches and other pitchers to keep up with their progress.
Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey makes sure they have what they need, including a catcher, so they can stay on track and be ready.
Haddad likes the way Gerrit puts it: “I will keep the pilot light on so I can fire it up.”
Haddad moved with his family to Carmel, Ind., at 10. He played travel baseball with the Carmel Pups. They were in need of a catcher so Radley put on the gear and fell in love with the position.
“I loved everything about it,” says Haddad, who was primarily a catcher at Brebeuf, two seasons at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. (2009 and 2010), and two at Butler (2012 and 2013). “I liked the mental side, being involved in every pitching and calling games. I liked working with all the pitchers and seeing how guys can manipulate the ball.”
John Zangrilli was a frequent spectator at Carmel Pups games and is now Greyhounds pitching coach on a staff led by Matt Buczkowski.
Zangrilli was head coach at Brebeuf when Haddad was there and had a major impact.
“He was the most beneficial person in my baseball career,” says Haddad of Zangrilli. “He taught me about being a real baseball player and taking care of business.
“That meant doing things the right way, paying attention to details.”
It was also the way you treat people. It was more than baseball, it was life skills.
Zangrilli was at Radley and Arielle’s wedding in 2018.
Haddad earned honorable mention all-state honors at Brebeuf. He helped the Braves to an IHSAA Class 3A No. 1 ranking and a Brebeuf Sectional title while hitting .494 with 38 runs scored as a senior.
Playing time at Western Carolina was limited and Haddad decided to go to Butler, where he started 89 games in his two seasons.
NCAA rules at the time required players transferring between Division I school to sit out a transfer season. That’s what Haddad did when he went to Butler, where Steve Farley was Bulldogs head coach.
“Steve was a great guy,” says Haddad. “He welcomed me. He didn’t have any stigma about who I was and why I was leaving a school. He knew I wanted to get on a field.
“He’s a good man who taught people how to live the right way.”
Though he doesn’t get back to Indiana often, Haddad stays connected to central Indiana baseball men Zangrilli, Farley, Chris Estep, Jay Lehr and Greg Vogt.
“We played together or against each other our whole lives,” says Haddad of Vogt. “He’s done a great job of building a program he believes in.”
Bob Haddad Jr., Radley’s father, is Chief Operating Officer at Harrison Lake Country Club in Columbus. Radley’s mother, Lauren Schuh, is remarried.
Radley (30) has two younger brothers — Griffin Haddad (28) and Ian Schuh (20).
Grffin is an assistant athletic trainer for the Green Bay Packers. He went to Brebeuf for four years, earned his undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University and his master’s at the University of Michigan.
Ian spent one year at Brebeuf and finished high school at Carmel. He is at South Dakota State University with his sights on being a conservation officer.
Getting players ready for the next stage in their baseball careers is what it’s all about for Jim Reboulet and son Travis as they coach the Indiana Nitro 18U Gold travel team.
“These kids who are going to be playing college baseball, we get them acclimated by showing them what they can expect,” says Jim Reboulet, who is based in Hamilton County. “We run our run our program the way a college would.”
As a result, three quarters of Nitro players went right into the lineup as collegiate freshmen.
“We show what it’s going to take to compete, what it’s going to take athletically from a development standpoint,” says the elder Reboulet. “We work on their weaknesses.”
Consulting with their college coaches, the Reboulets may be asked to put players in their future roles. A starting pitcher might be asked to go to the bullpen or vice versa. Infielders are encouraged to play all four positions, making their playing chances that much better.
Catchers and pitchers are taught how to call a game by studying hitters.
The catcher just doesn’t put down signs without a reason.
When future major league catcher Kevin Plawecki was 16, he played for Reboulet in the summer and was tutored on the art of game calling. Based on observation, he figured out when to pitch the hitter up and in, change his eye level and exploit his weaknesses.
That made Plawecki valuable when he went to Purdue University.
“(Then-Boilermakers head coach) Doug Schreiber took pitch calling away from the pitching coach and gave it to Kevin,” says Reboulet. “Kevin is known for calling a good game at the professional level.”
Rebuilt wants their to be a rationale for his pitchers to throw a certain pitch and for the catcher to call for it.
“Try not to do a pattern,” says Reboulet. “Create a strategy of throwing to a particular hitter based on what he’s showing you. That’s advanced scouting.
“You’re not get away from throwing it down the middle and overpower people (in college). You’ve got to learn how to pitch.”
On the other side of the coin, Reboulet wants hitters to figure out what pitchers are trying to do to get them out.
“Some kids had no idea of a breaking ball count,” says Reboulet. “You look fastball, but don’t be surprised when a breaking ball comes.
“We teach them the patterns the pitchers use and to pay attention to what the pitcher’s doing in certain situations and certain counts. They are creatures of habit.”
There’s also getting ready mentally to play more games at a higher level of competition and intensity.
“We put them in those types of situations where that’s going to happen,” says Reboulet.
With a roster consisting mostly of central Indiana players, Nitro 18U Gold has begun conducting social distancing practices and games will start the last week in June. Most games will be played in the area run by either Pastime Tournaments or Bullpen Tournaments.
The middle of Jim and Tina Reboulet’s three sons, Travis Reboulet is the Nitro 18U Gold head coach. Travis played at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., Vincennes (Ind.) University, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and the independent pro Joliet (Ill.) Slammers.
Older brother Tyler Reboulet played college baseball at the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie and Mars Hill (N.C.) University. Younger brother Tanner Reboulet took the field for USC Salkehatchie.
Before college, the Reboulet boys played travel baseball for their father on a squad known as the Indiana Dirtbags.
Triton, coached by Bob Symonds, went to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., Jim’s freshmen year. Triton third baseman Mike Rizzo went on to become general manager and president of operations for the 2019 World Series-winning Washington Nationals.
Kirby Puckett was at Triton between the Reboulet brothers — after Jim and before Jeff.
Symonds was a Southern Illinois graduate assistant when he began recruiting Reboulet at a Salukis camp.
“A lot of the stuff I teach the kids today I learned from Itch,” says Reboulet. “He’s a fundamentalist. He would break you down.
As a middle infielder, Reboulet would work on the details of how to turn a double play, footwork, hand position and how to attack the ball on a backhand.
Reboulet was one of many on those teams to play pro ball.
Jim Reboulet, 58, enjoyed a minor league baseball career that saw him steal 290 bases in six years and play at the Triple-A level for both the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 20th-round selection of the Cardinals in the 1983 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft swiped 71 bags at High Class-A St. Petersburg in 1986, 62 at Low-A Savannah in 1984 and 52 at Double-A Harrisburg in 1987.
The righty-swinger enjoyed a 32-game hit streak for Harrisburg in 1987. In spring training, he turned double plays with Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith and batted just behind then-Pirates lead-off man Barry Bonds.
“George Kissell (field coordinator in the Cardinals organization) taught the same things as Itch Jones,” says Reboulet. “My brother and I had reputations of being fundamentally sound when we played.”
Jeff Reboulet, two years younger than Jim, also went to Alter and Triton before LSU and, eventually, a 12-year career as big league middle infielder, playing for the Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1992-2003. The Twins drafted him in the 10th round in 1986.
All three of Jeff Reboulet’s son played college ball — Jason at Vincennes U. and USC Salkahatchie, Zack at the University of New Orleans, USC Salkehatchie and Indiana University Southeast and Lucas at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill.
Having moved to Fishers, Ind., to take a sales job three decades ago, Jim Reboulet is now a senior account executive for Logicalis, Inc., in Indianapolis.
Flash forward more than a decade after his high school days and Cohen is the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, Chicago’s affiliate in theTriple-A Pacific Coast League. The 2020 season is to be his third in Des Moines.
“This is Cubs country,” says Cohen. “Being the voice of a Chicago Cubs affiliate, it comes with a lot of responsibility.
“There’s just so many Cubs fans who come out in full force. You can tell that the Cubs fans are just a little bit different.”
Former major leaguer Darnell Coles was a first-time professional manager in Huntsville. Cohen and Coles experienced highs and lows together.
“He’s probably the best guy I’ve ever met in professional baseball,” says Cohen of Coles.
One high moment came when Coles summoned Cohen to the locker room before a game in Jackson, Tenn.
Coles had acted mad on the phone, so Cohen thought he was in trouble.
Instead, Coles introduced Cohen to former Seattle Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. The broadcaster — the one who had imitated a right-handed version of Junior during backyard wiffleball games — and the ballplayer talked for an hour.
Working in Bowling Green, Cohen learned to see the game from a unique perspective.
“It’s a really different angle when you’re calling from (the) third base (press box),” says Cohen. “Your depth perception is a little off on balls hit to the outfield (You learn to watch the umpire or look at the monitor).
“It’s fun with your strike zone because you can tell pitches up and down a little bit better. In and out is a little more difficult.”
The radio booth at Tacoma of the PCL is also on the third base side.
“The world’s most-interesting broadcaster,” says Cohen of Goldberg-Strassler. “He’s focused on finding that small detail.”
Along the way, Cohen’s baseball fandom has become tied to his employer.
“As a broadcaster in Minor League Baseball you are a fan of the organization you work for and the affiliate they are with,” says Cohen. “You see these guys work so hard to get to the big leagues.
“You root for them to do well and by proxy you root for the big league team to do well.”
While he tends to work solo on the road, Cohen has a color commentator for home games. Deene Ehlis has been a I-Cubs broadcaster in some capacity for three decades and can tap into that treasure trove of memories.
Ehlis, who for years was paired with Randy Wehofer (who is now Iowa’s assistant general manager), does play-by-play in the middle innings and Cohen moves over to color.
Cohen and Ehlis have developed a rhythm over more than 150 games together.
“It’s more a conversation with baseball intertwined,” says Cohen. “That’s our main job is to paint the picture for the fans.”
Legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas will always have a warm spot in Cohen’s heart.
His current favorite is the Cubs’ Pat Hughes. With Chicago playing so many day games and Iowa so many night contests, Cohen gets to listen to Hughes while prepping for his game.
“The reason Pat is so good on radio is balance,” says Cohen. “Pat paints the picture. It makes sure the fan doesn’t get distracted from the game, but they also get background information.
“He’s just so even-keeled. There’s no bad games. He goes 2-for-4 or 3-for-4 every game as a broadcaster.”
All have learned about the grind in a 16-team league that is so geographically spread out that it leads to lots to commercial air travel.
“From a travel standpoint, there’s no other minor league league like the PCL,” says Cohen, who notes that getting to airports in the wee hours, arriving in the next city at mid-day and then being ready for a night game is common.
“I’ve been through a lot,” says Cohen. “I’ve lived in a lot of different time zones. I’ve gone paycheck-to-paycheck up until Iowa job.
‘It’s both rewarding and time-consuming. We spend a lot of time away from your family and friends. This is the industry we chose. I don’t view it as paying your dues.”
During the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that has live baseball on hold, Cohen stays sharp by contributing to Iowa Cubs social media and calling simulated games for MLB The Show.
“It scratches that itch,” says Cohen, who was supposed to go out to spring training in Arizona March 20 (pandemic hit March 13). “I definitely have fun with that.”
Asked about his home run call, Cohen told the virtual gathering about his rule.
“My rule when I got into broadcasting was I don’t want to have a home run call until I make it to the big leagues,” says Cohen. “If I make it to the big leagues then I’ll have my own home run call.”
Cohen, who has also called baseball games for the Australian Baseball League as well as in Taiwan, Japan and Colombia and the World Baseball Softball Confederation, has visited or worked at three Indiana ballparks — Victory Field in Indianapolis, Parkview Field in Fort Wayne and Four Winds Field in South Bend.
“I love it,” says Cohen of Victory Field, the home of the Indianapolis Indians and a place about 45 minutes from the IU campus. “I love urban ballparks.”
For this reason, he counts parks in Nashville, Charlotte, Baltimore, Denver and — of course — Chicago among his favorites.
“I really like Wrigley Field because even though it’s not in ‘The Loop’ or anything, you can still see what Wrigleyville has to offer,” says Cohen. “(The Fort Wayne TinCaps‘ Parkview Field is) probably one of my top five parks I’ve ever been to in Minor League Baseball. They just did it right. They have enough berm area. They have enough suite level. It’s so open. You have a panoramic view of the city.”
Cohen says he was unimpressed on his first visit to South Bend in 2011 then he came back after owner Andrew Berlin made many upgrades to the place.
“That ballpark has taken on a life of its own,” says Cohen of the South Bend Cubs‘ stadium. “It’s Wrigleyville Jr. It’s so cool.”
Combining the park, fans, proximity to Notre Dame and downtown amenities, Cohen says, “I’m not sure if there’s any better full scene in the Midwest League.”
“It was a cold winter night in April,” says Cohen. “It was a 96 mph fastball running up and in.
“I’m not sure that ball has landed yet.”
Count Cohen a fan of Howard Kellman, who has been calling Indianapolis Indians games for more than four decades.
“Howard’s one of those classic voices,” says Cohen. “He’s so steady. You just know that he knows what he’s talking about. You know he’s done his research.
“In terms of pacing and verbiage and pausing, I really do try to emulate Howard.”
As a young broadcaster, Cohen does use advanced stats into his call. But he doesn’t force them.
“I’m not just reading them off a sheet for no reason,” says Cohen. “If Donnie Dewees is batting at the top of the order, you want to talk about his OBP (On-Base Percentage), OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).
“That’s important to a 1- or a 2-hole hitter or someone who needs to get on-base. I don’t want to randomly read out sabermetrics.”
Any advice for anyone thinking of baseball broadcasting as a profession?
“With the contraction of Minor League Baseball, it’s tough,” says Cohen. “You don’t know how many gigs are going to be available at any given time.”
To hone their craft, Cohen prescribes repetition.
“Try to broadcast college or high school games,” says Cohen. “If you can’t, take tape recorder to a professional game.
“Email every single major league media relations director and director of broadcasting and say, ‘Hey, I have my own equipment. I want to get into broadcasting. Can I take one of your empty booths at a random game in May?’”
That gives the aspiring play-by-play man the chance to record a demo that can be sent to other broadcasters and directors for critiques.
“That’s how I got my experience early on,” says Cohen, who says he is open to the idea of being shadowed and then providing access to an open booth at Principal Park.
“You go through that process over and over and over again until you see jobs you want to apply for,” says Cohen.
Alex Cohen (right), the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, gets a visit in the booth on July 4, 2019 from Joe Biden. Cohen is a Philadelphia area native and graduate of Indiana University. (Iowa Cubs Photo)
Four years later, the right-hander was and pitching in the big leagues. He wound up being 6-2 and 195. He was a professional pitcher from 2004-14.
Along the way, Wade developed clean mechanics and the ability to repeat them.
“As I got bigger and stronger, the velocity went up,” says Wade, who appeared with the Dodgers in 2008 and 2009 and the New York Yankees in 2011 and 2012 and played in the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets and Kansas City Royals organizations as well as a some time with the independent Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers.
Jay Lehr also works with pitchers at Pro X Athlete in Westfield, Ind., and Wade began getting lessons from him around age 11.
As an instructor himself, Wade teaches the mechanics of the pitching delivery. But he also focuses on the “C” word.
“It’s about being competitive,” says Wade. “If you compete, good things happen. It’s really that simple.
“You’re getting the most out of what you’re doing that day.”
Wade says pitchers — baseball players — must grind and overcome adversity. That approach will also carry them outside the white lines of the diamond.
“It shapes you mentally for later in life,” says Wade. “(It helps when) you’re trying to get a promotion in corporate America.”
Wade played in the highest level of baseball — the big leagues — but Wade says you can be competitive at every level.
“You’d be amazed where that will take you,” says Wade.
Making steady progress is key.
“It’s hard for any kid to see where they’re going to be in five years,” says Wade. “You have to get a little bit better each day
“You make micro-adjustments over time. If you shrink these kids’ (immediate) goals and expectations, it makes it easier to digest.”
As a pro scout for the Padres, Wade is assigned to follow players — Low Class-A through the majors — with the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays. Other pro scouts in the system have MLB organizations that they follow.
“We compile as much information as we can about guys we like,” says Wade, who is required to file 25 reports every five days. He can set his own schedule and will flies more than amateur scouts typically do to see players for multiple games.
“You have to see them a few days before you remotely know who they are,” says Wade. “Position guys more difficult. They might be off (when you see them). They might have bad series or a good series. You have to filter through that.”
While the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic currently has baseball shut down and Wade at home with his family (wife Mikaeala, 12-year-old daughter Amaya, a sixth grader, and 6-year-old son Camden, a kindergartner) in Zionsville, Ind., he typically spends 25 days in spring training between Florida and Arizona and then sees about 100 games from early April until the July 31 trade deadline. August and September is devoted to following up and seeing players that might have been missed April through July.
Cory Wade, a graduate of Indianapolis Broad Ripple High School who played at Kentucky Wesleyan College, played in the big leagues for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees and is now a pro scout with the San Diego Padres. (Getty Images)