Tag Archives: IPFW

Umpire of the Year Craig has been making calls nearly four decades

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

James Craig was honored in June by the Indiana High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of Interscholastic Officials Association as the top baseball umpire for 2022.
Craig, a Fort Wayne resident, was selected for the award by a committee representing the 24 officials associations in Indiana. He is a member of the Northeastern Officials Association.
The 57-year-old has been a licensed official for baseball since he was 19. He has worked 26 sectionals, 18 regionals, 11 semistate contests and eight State Finals.
More than 10 times, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association has named Craig a district umpire of the year and he has worked a number of IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series, including 2022 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion.
Craig has also officiated high school football for 22 years and serves as referee on a crew with Fort Wayne’s James Payne (line judge), Mark Herberger (back judge) and Mark Stultz (linesman) and Bluffton’s Mark Mettler (umpire). The group has worked three State Finals, including the 2021 IHSAA Class 6A game between Center Grove and Westfield.
“You want to have friends and people you can communicate with and get along,” says Craig of the football crew dynamic. “You should see as much football as you possibly can. Friday should be perfect. See the goofy stuff on Monday and Thursday nights (in freshman and junior varsity games).”
Craig prefers to see as many teams and classes as possible in the regular season to be ready for the postseason.
A number of football officials are also baseball umpires.
Taking regular-season baseball assignments from Fort Wayne Umpires Association, Craig does games around northeast Indiana with multiple partners in a two-man crew.
“We switch things up,” says Craig of the decision of who works the plate or the bases. “It’s best for everybody involved.
“If it’s a doubleheader and I’ve done the plate in the first game, I guarantee (my partner) will do the plate in the second game.
“In the two-man you’ve got one friend on the baseball field and it’s that guy.”
During the game, Craig has a rule that he follows.
“At the end of the inning always go to the side of the diamond of the defensive team,” says Craig. “They are happy they got the third out. Don’t got to the offensive side ever.”
In a typical high school baseball season, Craig umpires about 38 games — each week night and a doubleheader on Saturdays. He has cut back his summer ball schedule though he still does some travel ball tournaments.
After all these years, Craig maintains the same philosophy.
“See as many pitches, plays and scenarios as you possibly can,” says Craig. “You’re always learning.
“I’d like to say I’ve seen everything on a baseball diamond. I haven’t.”
When making calls, Craig uses a rule of thumb that includes common sense, fair play and the rules.
“It’s my job as an official to interpret rules,” says Craig. “I will never show up a coach. I will never embarrass them. I expect the same thing coming back. Address me by my first name and we’re going to get along just fine.
“I’m just out there to do a job and that’s it. I’m calling fairs and fouls, safes and outs.
However, Craig knows how teams and players operate.
“If you’re not cheating you’re not trying and it’s only cheating when you get caught,” says Craig. “That’s when rules and the reinterpretation comes in. Is it within the spirt of what we’re looking for?”
Take the example of all the padding worn by players these days.
“There’s more body army than we’ve had ever,” says Craig. “On an inside pitch, they stick that wing out there and — bam! — they’re going to trot down to first base.
“Don’t award them a base on that.”
Without the armor, players would not be so swift to get in the way of an inside pitch to “wear one.”
On the subject of inside pitches. When Craig was 10 he was chosen out of thousands to speak at Bob Gibson’s retirement. Gibson was known for working to the hitter’s side of the plate and intimidating long before elbow pads were a thing.
“You didn’t dig in against Bob Gibson,” says Craig.
A point of emphasis during the 2022 Indiana high school season included the amount of eye black.
“To me it’s a bad look,” says Craig. “It’s nothing but a fashion statement.”
In Game 1 of the North/South All-Star Series, Craig was behind the plate when Westfield lefty swinger Keaton Mahan came up in the seventh inning and quickly handed his cell phone to the catcher to take a quick photo with the umpire.
“During the regular season, I say ‘get that camera out of here,’” says Craig. “But this was for fun.”
In the ninth inning, Ohio State commit Mahan smacked a game-winning grand slam that was estimated to have landed and rolled under a tree about 570 feet from home plate.
“He clobbered that thing,” says Craig. “It hit off the house (behind the right field fence) fair.”
As for the topic of epic bat flip that’s become so prevalent in baseball, it’s a judgement call on the part of the official when it’s gone too far.
“When the bat goes up in the air it becomes a safety issues,” says Craig. “I don’t have a problem with a high school kid showing some enthusiasm. But level of enjoyment must be within the confinements of the rules.”
There’s also the issue of sportsmanship, especially with spectators — often parents — who become self-appointed evaluators and are quick to criticize umpires.
“Officiating is a thankless profession,” says Craig. “I guarantee somebody is leaving there upset and it’s my fault.
“You’re asking for perfection. I’m expected to show up perfect and get better.”
He has witnessed a difference between high school baseball and summer travel ball.
“Not every kid is going to be the next Derek Jeter, but parents seem to think that and they take it out on officials,” says Craig. “It’s disheartening.
“High school baseball and high school sports are taught by teachers who are coaches and there’s built-in respect. It’s not necessarily built-in for travel baseball.
“It’s all about me, me, me in the summer as opposed to we, we, we in the spring. We have a set of standards we have to abide by on all sides set by the (National Federation of State High School Associations) and IHSAA. In the summer, it’s a free-for-all.”
Not that he wants to paint with a broad brush.
“Guys like (Javier DeJesus) and Mark DeLaGarza get it,” says Craig. “I appreciate the job they do for travel baseball.”
Craig notes that there were nearly 500 IHSAA baseball games canceled at all levels in 2022 due to the lack of umpires and points to parent/spectator’s inclination to sharply voice their dissenting opinion as a big reason.
“If you don’t temper your attitude there will be no officials,” says Craig. “The officials shortage is a nationwide disgrace and it’s not going to get better.
“What scares me the most is that when I started the average age (of officials) was 25 or 30,” says Craig. “Now — in most sports — it’s like 50. We’re leaving and there’s nobody behind us.”
While he intends to stay longer for football, Craig plans to do one more state tournament rotation for baseball then retire his mask and clicker. He can work as high as the semistate in 2023 and the State Finals in 2024.
“That’s enough baseball,” says Craig.
That doesn’t mean he regrets his decision to make the calls.
“It’s something I treasure and I’m glad I got into it,” says Craig. “I’m not in it for the money. I’m not in it for the fame.
“Officiating is wonderful.”
Craig did not start his officiating journey in Indiana. He began high school in St. Louis and finished up in Bowling Green, Ky., when his father was transferred to the Corvette plant there. When he was 14 he started umpiring T-ball games. His American Legion coach said he had to do something to give back to the game and umpiring was the only option that paid.
After pursuing an academic scholarship at the University of Kentucky, Craig finished college at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. He was IPFW student body president in 1988 and earned a Secondary Education degree but did not go into the classroom.
Craig is now a supervisor at Fort Wayne’s at WaterFurnace International (makers of geothermal heating units), where he has worked the past 15 years.
He has a 32-year-old daughter — Jocelyn. She graduated from Homestead High School and Indiana University and was chosen as 2009 National Big Brother Big Sister of the Year. She now works in dispatch for the Indiana State Police.

New Snider head coach Clinkenbeard sees diamond as a place to learn about more than baseball

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

Josh Clinkenbeard knows the life lessons that can be learned through athetics.
He absorbed them as a baseball and football player at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Snider High School and continues to make it a focus as he has moved up from Panthers assistant to baseball head coach at his alma mater in 2022.
“One of the biggest messages we are trying to share with our guys is about being a good community member,” says Snider Class of 1999’s Clinkenbeard, a former outfielder, first baseman and pitcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Andy Owen (Marc Skelton and Bruce Meyer were assistants; Skelton became head coach after Owen and both Skelton and Meyer retired from baseball coaching after 2021) and tight end for Indiana Football Hall of Famer Russ Isaacs. “As individuals, we will always be a part of some collective group.
“We remind ourselves to be good teammates. We also try to relate our sport to real life like dealing with adversity and working with others, for example.”
Clinkenbeard recalls lessons learned from Owen and company.
“One of the biggest things I remember that still rings true with me is how to handle physical mistakes versus mental mistakes as a coach,” says Clinkenbeard. “Dealing with the mental side of sports can be taught and modeled in practice.”
Snider (enrollment around 1,900) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead).
SAC teams play home-and-series in the same week against conference opponents.
The Panthers are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Carroll, DeKalb (host), East Noble and Northrop. Snider has won 11 sectional titles — the last in 2017. Clinkenbeard was part of that coaching staff.
With 31 players in 2022 for varsity and junior varsity squads, Clinkenbeard is assisted by Payton Bieker, Brandon Phelps, Chase Phelps, Tim McCrady and Jimmy Cunningham.
All but Cunningham are Snider graduates. Bieker (Class of 2008) played at Purdue University, Brandon Phelps (Class of 2013) and Chase Phelps (Class of 2016) at what is now Purdue Fort Wayne. McCrady (Class of 1983) is the JV head coach. Cunningham is a first-year coach.
The Panthers play on Hawley Field (a diamond four miles east of Snider named for former athletic director Michael Hawley who helped plan and build the complex). The facility has been upgraded with irrigation and improved drainage.
“The long-term goal is to have lock rooms on-site with indoor batting cages,” says Clinkenbeard. Snider baseball once played at Carrington Field. When the original was torn down to make room for Memorial Stadium (home of the Fort Wayne Wizards), a new Carrington Field was establish across Coliseum Boulevard. When Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now PFW) purchsed the land, Snider went looking for a new home field.
“The unique part is that we are not on-site which creates many challenges, but because we are nestled among some housing additions it gives us a feeling of being part of a community.”
A 2003 graduate of Butler University with a degree in Biology with a teaching certificate, Clinkenbeard is in his 18th year as a middle school teacher.
Before a rotator cuff injury ended his career, the first baseman was a walk-on at Butler for head coach Steve Farley.
“Great coach who really showed me the details of the game,” says Clinkenbeard of Farley. “There are many drills we did in college that we incorporate in our team today.”
Jakob Byler (University of Saint Francis) and Trevor Newman (Franklin College) are college commits. Mac Hippenhammer (Class of 2017) went to Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to play baseball and football.
Josh and wife Krisanne Clinkenbeard have three children — Olivia, Jase and Hayes.

Fort Wayne Snider High School coaches gather around the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A DeKalb Sectional championship trophy. They are (from left): First row — Payton Bieker, Marc Skelton and Tim McCrady; Second row — Rob Hale, Bruce Meyer, Josh Clinkenbeard and Bruce Dohrn.

Discipline important to Rheinhart, Southern Wells Raiders

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

Blade Rheinhart is leading the baseball program at his alma mater with responsibility and discipline as points of emphasis.
“I like to keep kids disciplined — on and off the field — that creates better young gentlemen,” says Rheinhart, a 2014 graduate of Southern Wells Junior/Senior High School in Poneto, Ind., who took over the Raiders prior to the 2020 season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We do a lot of reflection.”
Rheinhart expects to have 10 or 11 seniors in 2022 — many of them who played at what is now Blackford Youth Baseball coached by his father Art Rheinhart and himself, including little brother Branson Rheinhart.
“They know my expectations,” says Rheinhart. “They know how things are going to be done and what it takes to possibly turn the program around.
“We should be very productive.”
Senior Evan Reynolds is to sign next week to study and play college baseball at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne and some other Raiders are considering their college options.
Evan Huffman, a 2017 Southern Wells graduate who played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, has joined a Raiders coaching staff which also includes Brett Vickery and Tyler Sonnigsen. Huffman was a high school classmate of Brennen Rheinhart, Blade’s middle brother and son of Art and Brandy Rheinhart.
Southern Wells (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Woodlan).
In 2021, the Raiders were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Cowan, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. Southern Wells has not yet won a sectional title.
The Raiders’ home field is on-campus and gets year-to-year maintenance. Southern Wells once had junior high baseball, but does not currently. Local players can go to three different youth baseball leagues— Blackford, Bluffton and Warren.
Rhinehart decided he wanted to be a teacher and coach during his freshmen year at Southern Wells. He went on to earn an Elementary Education degree at Ball State University in 2018 and now teaches sixth grade math at Blackford Intermediate School in Hartford City, Ind.
“I knew the path I wanted to take,” says Rheinhart. “I had excellent teachers throughout my whole career. I wanted their job. Sports a huge part of my life.”
Rheinhart played baseball and basketball at Southern Wells. His head baseball coaches were Keith Kinder (2011 and 2012), Chad Smekens (2013) and Ben Mann (2014). Leading the Raiders in basketball were Ryan Thomas (2010-11 and 2011-12) and Brody Tarter (2012-13, and 2013-14).
Another generation came into the Rheinhart baseball family this year. Two days before Southern Wells’ first baseball game in 2021, Blade’s son William was born. Three days later, the baby was at his first contest.

Blade Rheinhart (Team Mantra Wear Photo)
Blade Rheinhart and son William (Team Mantra Wear Photo)

Gayday sharing homegrown baseball know-how at Saint Francis

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

Kristian Gayday was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Ind., and that’s where he learned about baseball and where he continues to share his knowledge.
Gayday, who turns 30 on Dec. 20, is heading into his fourth season as an assistant coach at the University of Saint Francis, located on the Summit City’s west side.
Growing up near Waynedale on the south end of town, Gayday played at Don Ayres Little League, travel ball for the Aboit Braves and Fort Wayne Cubs (coached by Cisco Morales) then played on the last four teams at Elmhurst High School (it ceased to be a high school after 2009-10) and four years at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne). He has coached in the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks travel organization (formerly Fort Wayne Cubs).
Gayday played three seasons for Eddie Fields and his senior year for Zac Pace at Elmhurst, helping the Trojans go 18-7 and win the program’s first sectional title in eight years. A power-hitting shortstop, he was named all-Summit City Athletic Conference and all-area as a senior.
“(Pace) did a good team with a senior-laden team,” says Gayday.
Bobby Pierce was the coach of the IPFW Mastodons and Gayday played shortstop or third base from 2011-14. A righty swinger, he hit .274 (183-of-667) with 16 home runs, two triples, 31 doubles and 104 runs batted in 201 games.
“He’s such a cool person,” says Gayday of Pierce. “He’s figure out a way to develop guys. He’d break down the swing and show different perspectives.
“He taught me most of what I know today and was such a good mentor.”
In 2015, Gayday played mostly as a corner infielder for the Sonoma (Calif.) Stompers of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. That team was managed by Japan native Takashi Miyoshi.
Gayday, who has worked at The Diamond Baseball & Softball Academy in Fort Wayne, was called away from coaching a Fort Wayne Diamondbacks team to play for Sonoma. He anticipates coaching for the Manny Lopez-led D-backs in 2022.
At Saint Francis, Gayday is on the staff of Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher.
“He’s such a likable guy,” says Gayday of Butcher. “You know he has your back.
“I’m grateful to have him around and being a mentor to me.”
Primary duties for Gayday include working with USF hitters and infielders while also aiding in the running game.
One of the keys for Gayday’s hitters is “being athletic.”
To Gayday, swinging a bat requires attention to pitcher’s tendencies and the mental side.
“We want them to stay back instead of trying to force their body to do something,” says Gayday. “We do not want them having a good approach and not being pull happy.
“Instead of pulling, they can hit a curveball to right field and see what happens.”
Gayday stresses a “prep step” for his infielders.
“It’s a nice hop down into our legs so we can stay low,” says Gayday. “We want to set our feet and make a good throw.
“Everyone is progressing the right way.”
It also helps that the hops at Cougar Field are getting smoother.
“We’ve put a lot of time in that field to make it better,” says Gayday.
Saint Francis, a member of the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League, went 34-22 and stole 73 bases in 86 attempts.
Keys to success include reading the pitcher’s delivery (slide step, leg kick etc.) and his pick-off move.
“We want to put momentum into our steal,” says Gayday. “Being a half step quicker is what we’re looking for.”
While its currently a period where athletes are away from the coaching staff, there can be communication through calls and social media.
When the team comes back from break in early January, the Cougars will hit the ground running in preparation for the 2022 season opener Feb. 4 at Bethel (Tenn.) University.
Besides coaching, Gayday runs the shipping and receiving department for McMahon Best-One Tire & Auto Care in Fort Wayne and answers directly to Pat “Bubba” McMahon, who is also head baseball coach at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne.
Kristian lost both parents — Elmhurst graduates Johnny and Christine — in 2020. He has two older siblings — John Gayday and Natasha Nestleroad.

Kristian Gayday (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Kinzer enjoys baseball bonds as player, scout, agent, coach

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

Matt Kinzer has an eye for baseball talent.
The former Norwell High School (Ossian, Ind.) and Purdue University athlete who played in the majors and the National Football League was living in Fort Wayne, Ind., when he became an amateur scout in 1995 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Kinzer was responsible for assessing amateur players in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Ontario and Quebec.
After five years with Tampa Bay, Kinzer spent a decade as a baseball agent for Reynolds Sports Management, whose owner and CEO is Larry Reynolds (older brother of big league second baseman Harold Reynolds).
“I was his recruiting coordinator for the whole country,” says Kinzer. “We hoped these amateurs are going to make the big leagues and get paid.”
Among others, Kinzer got the Upton brothers — B.J. and Justin — to commit to the company.
LaTroy Hawkins, a Gary, Ind., native who pitched in 1,042 games over 21 MLB seasons, was also a Kinzer client and later went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
At the 2010 Winter Meetings, Dan Jennings (who had been with the Devil Rays) hired Kinzer as a pro scout for the Miami Marlins.
Kinzer went to minor league games and an occasional major league contest to evaluate players and file reports for potential trade opportunities.
The first year he scouted the entire Midwest League out of Fort Wayne. During his five years with the Marlins, he also did international scouting in the Dominican Republic.
While Kinzer was still with the Marlins, the Atlanta Braves called for permission to interview him to scout on the major league side and take on special assignments. He talked with general manager John Coppolella and accepted the deal.
“That gave me a seat at the big table,” says Kinzer, who worked with top executives including president John Hart and senior advisor John Schuerholz in giving opinions and developing a preferential list of who could be traded and who was hands-off in the Braves minor league system. “It took us a couple of years to turn that club around.”
Kinzer also did advanced scouting to check out possible playoff opponents for Atlanta. He had the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League and Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League.
Because of COVID-19 and budgetary reasons, the Braves dismissed the entire major league scouting staff toward the end of the 2020 season.
Leading up to the Tokyo Olympics (which were postponed from 2020 to 2021), Kinzer selected by his peers to sit on the committee that chose Team USA. They started with a big pool and narrowed it down to the final roster.
“It was hard assignment because you could only get guys not on a 40-man roster or had get permission from a club for them to play,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to be part of the decision-making for our country.”
When Kinzer joined the process, Joe Girardi was Team USA manager. When Girardi became Philadelphia Phillies manager the job was passed to Scott Brosius and it wound up with Mike Scioscia.
“I got to listen to Joe Girardi on how he likes to design a team and I said to myself, ‘this is pretty cool,’” says Kinzer. “It was a very humbling experience. You put all those years into working the game of baseball and someone has recognized your ability to evaluate.”
More recently, Kinzer has lent his appraisal skills as a consultant for Program 15 — a part of New Balance Future Stars baseball tournaments. He lives in Lakeland, Fla., and writes player reports on weekends.
Kinzer is also a special events coordinator and fundraising director for Major League Fishing — a circuit that features the world’s top bass anglers.
He is helping prepare for a charity fishing event featuring current and former major leaguers Nov. 19-21 in Guntersville, Ala.
“I’ve spent three decades in the game professionally building trust with current and former guys and their second love is fishing,” says Kinzer. “I grew up on a pond and I liked fishing.”
Participants have baseball and angling in common.
“There’s a connection there,” says Kinzer. “They have a tight fraternity. They’re good old boys.”
Kinzer played youth baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Colin Lister and graduated from Norwell in 1981.
As a sophomore, it was discovered how well he did in booting a football and he led Indiana high schoolers in punting as a junior and senior. He went to Purdue on a full ride in football and also played baseball.
He was selected in the second round of the 1984 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cardinals and made his MLB debut in 1989 at age 25 and went on to pitch nine games for the 1989 Cardinals and 1990 Detroit Tigers. He punted seven times in his one NFL game with the Detroit Lions with a long of 42 yards in Week 5 of 1987 against the Green Bay Packers.
Kinzer, 58, has three sons who all played baseball and graduated from Homestead High School in Fort Wayne.
Taylor Kinzer (33) was drafted twice as a right-handed pitcher — once at the end of his high school career in 2006 in the 34th round by the Washington Nationals and then out of Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) in the 24th round in 2009 by the Los Angeles Angels and competed three seasons in the minors.
Derek Kinzer (31) was an outfielder for IHSAA Class 4A state runner Homestead in 2008, graduated in 2009 and also played at Taylor.
Jordan Kinzer (29) played junior college baseball and now serves in the U.S. Navy.
Matt Kinzer, a Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer, was head baseball coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in 1993 and 1994 and a volunteer assistant coach at Taylor 2011-14 and got to work with Trojans head coach Kyle Gould and assistant and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson.
‘Kyle is one of the best non-Division I coaches around,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to share a bench with Coach A.
“The game itself creates a fraternity and a bond that lasts forever.”

Matt Kinzer.

Lehrman still having fun in 43rd season leading Heritage Patriots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dean Lehrman has been around the baseball program at Heritage Junior-Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., long enough that he is coaching a second generation of Patriots.

Just at the varsity level, there are four players whose fathers played for Lehrman at Heritage. There are seniors Cody David (son of Chad) and Clay Gerardot (son of Matt) and sophomores Jackson Bearman (son of Wade) and Austin Buuck (son of Greg).

The 2021 season is Lehrman’s 43rd season as a head baseball coach — 34th at Heritage after nine at Woodlan

At present, the 1973 Heritage graduate has 632 career wins. The ’21 Patriots are off to a 17-2 start.

“I got in this business because I love baseball and it’s a kids game,” says Lehrman, 66. “I wanted to pass that on to my sons and everybody in the neighborhood’s sons.”

Heritage (enrollment around 600) is a consolidation of Monroeville and Hoagland and that opened in 1969. The Patriots are a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). ACAC teams meet each other one time.

The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Bellmont (the 2021 host), Marion, Mississinewa, Norwell and Oak Hill. Heritage has won nine sectionals (the last in 2015), three regionals and one semistate — all but a 1976 sectional crown on Lehrman’s watch. 

“A bunch of blue-collar, hard-nosed, out-work-you kids” with no superstars earned a state runner-up finish in 2007 (losing to South Spencer in the 2A title game).

Lehrman’s Heritage teams have won numerous conference titles and he has often been chosen ACAC Coach of the Year. He has twice been Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Coach of the Year and was on the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series coaching staff two times.

“In my mind we are still a 2A school although we’ve officially been 3A for several years,” says Lehrman. “It’s a numbers thing.”

Lehrman does not favor athletic specialization and embraces the idea of the multi-sport athlete. He enjoys a sense of cooperation between himself and fellow head coaches Casey Kolkman in football and Adam Gray with basketball and the sharing of athletes.

“I want my kids to be involved in as many sports as they can,” says Lehrman. “It seems that more and more they get funneled into one thing 365/24-7. That’s not good for kid. You get more kids getting burned out that way.

“We’re not pulling kids in different directions and telling them you’ve got to do this in the summer or you can’t play. I’m a firm believer that a kid has to be a kid. He’s got to be free to choose. 

“He should be able to play football, basketball and baseball or whatever combination of sports you want to throw in there.”

Janice Lehrman has been a coach’s wife for all these decades.

“I can’t count how many uniforms she’s sewn back together and she still does it,” says Dean. “She just did it for a JV kid.”

Dean and wife Janice, who live in the country near Hoagland, have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne.

Camyn Klocinski is a social studies teacher at Summerfield Junior-Senior High School in Petersburg, Mich. She has traveled the world and is an expert on World War II.

Derek Lehrman is married with three children. He played football and baseball at Heritage (and was one of several IHSBCA all-stars coached by his father) and baseball at Eastern Michigan University and in the Detroit Tigers system.

He is now the Patriots hitting coach and serves on a staff with pitching coach Scott Lewis, a former left-handed pitcher from Van Wert, Ohio. Junior varsity coaches for 2021 are Heritage alums Jeremy Hullinger, Nick Bosler and Matt Saylor.

Ryne Lehrman (who gets his first name from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg) played football and baseball at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. He and his wife are traveling physical therapists and have one child.

Youth leagues in Monroeville and Hoagland as well as the Harding and New Haven areas feed into Heritage. 

A 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Lehrman used his mechanics, wrist and forearm to generate velocity as a pitcher. His boyhood idol was Nolan Ryan

Lehrman took the mound for four years at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) for Hal Prickett and Dave Hey and drew attention from bird dog major league scouts.

As a coach, Lehrman encourages his pitchers to change speeds and the eye levels of batters.

“No matter how hard you throw if that’s all you do, they’re going to catch up to you,” says Lehrman. “Kids today are trained on pitching machine and you can se the machine to throw 90 or 95 (mph) and they can work on that — boom, boom, boom.

“To me, the change-up is the next-best pitch behind the fastball.”

Among the pitchers to come through Heritage are Andrew Saalfrank, a left-hander who hurled for Indiana University and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Branson Dossen, son of former pro Jarrod Dossen, played baseball at Heritage then Indiana Tech. The younger Dossen was a standout quarterback for the Patriots.

Dustin Butcher is the head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and just led the Cougars to a single-season school record of 34 victories.

The IHSAA has been observing a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) since 2017. Lehrman has been tracking numbers for 43 years.

“We’re never going to hurt a kid,” says Lehrman. “I keep them in by book. At the end of the inning, I can tell you how many pitches he threw and what his first-pitch strike percentage was.”

Lehrman’s father — Donald — ran his scorebook for three decades and Dean now keeps it while his assistants coach the bases.

A teacher of mathematics after college, Lehrman retired from the classroom in June 2020.

“I was very blessed there because I had calculus and trigonometry,” says Lehrman. “I had good kids that wanted to be there and wanted to learn.

“That’s a huge reason I stayed in it for 43 years.”

The East Allen County Schools administration asked him to stay on to lead the Patriots on the diamond.

“As long as I’m still having fun, I’m going to hang around and coach baseball,” says Lehrman.

For many falls, he was on the staffs of two Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Leland Etzler at Woodlan and Bob Yager at Heritage. 

Lehrman was Yager’s defensive coordinator then served six years as Patriots head coach (going 40-26 from 2010-15) before stepping away from the gridiron

He was coaxed back by alum Kolkman, who heads into his second season as Heritage head football coach in the fall.

“Casey was an eighth grader when I first started teaching here,” says Lehrman. “He asked me to help out. I said I’ll do it on one condition. I’m strictly a volunteer and as long as I’m having fun I’ll stick around and do anything you ask.

“Casey has turned the program completely around. Look for big things out of our football team the next couple of years.”

Heritage baseball’s full week began Tuesday, May 11 with a win against Bluffton. The Patriots are slated to visit Van Wert Wednesday, Jay County Thursday and Manchester Friday with a rare Saturday off.

Dean Lehrman, a 1973 graduate of Heritage Junior-Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., is in his 43rd year as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2021. The quote on the Patriots dugout wall is from former Heritage pitching coach Don Grabner. (Steve Krah Photo)

Hamilton Southeastern grad Lang making impact for Purdue Fort Wayne

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The middle of the Purdue Fort Wayne baseball infield has formed a big 1-2 punch at the top of the Mastodons batting order.

Senior Jack Lang, a 2017 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., is PFW’s primary shortstop and leadoff hitter. Batting second and playing second base is junior and Waterford (Wis.) Union High School product Aaron Chapman

In 2021, the pair flipped their offensive roles from 2020 when Chapman was lead-off on Mastodons head coach Doug Schreiber’s lineup card.

Heading into a four-game Horizon League series at Wright State April 9-11, the righty-swinging Lang is hitting .345 (29-of-84) with one triple, three doubles, 12 runs batted in, 13 runs scored and a .409 on-base percentage. He is 11-of-14 in stolen bases.

After leading the Summit League in hitting during the COVID-19 pandemic-shorted 2020 season at .382, Chapman is hitting .256 with two homers, one triple, two doubles, 15 RBIs, 13 runs, a .385 OBP and is 5-of-5 in stolen bases. Coming off a hand injury, Chapman went 8-of-18 last weekend against Northern Kentucky.

Purdue Fort Wayne hit .299 as a team in 2020, ranking them 30th in the country. The ’21 Dons (9-14 overall, 6-10 in the Horizon League) are at .256.

“The numbers don’t reflect it, but we’re starting to make a little push with our offensive game,” says Lang. “Our pitching has improved phenomenally since last year.”

Lang, who hit .205 in 2018 and .206 in 2019 then .290 in 2020, credits Greg Vogt-led PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., and the help of hitting instructor Quentin Brown.

“He helped me turn my swing around,” says Lang of Brown, who played for the school when it was known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW).

The College Summer League at Grand Park’s Snapping Turtles featured Lang in 2020.

Lang, who was born in Carmel, Ind., and grew up in Fishers, was primarily a middle infielder in travel ball (with the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Raiders, Indiana Mustangs and Indiana Havoc) and high school. Two OLMC teammates — Carmel High grads Max Habegger (Lipscomb University) and Cameron Pferrer (University of Missouri) — are now pitching at the NCAA D-I level. Several Indiana Havoc mates are also playing college baseball.

With a little time in center field as a sophomore, Lang was mainly second baseman early in his college days with Fishers graduate Brandon Yoho starting at short through 2019. 

The past two springs, Lang has been PFW’s regular shortstop while getting guidance from Schreiber, who was head coach at Purdue University for 18 years before spending two seasons at McCutcheon High School — both in West Lafayette, Ind. — and taking over in Purdue in the fall of 2019.

“He has done a phenomenal job of turning this program around into something successful,” says Lang of Schreiber. “He has Old School method of how infielders are supposed to train.

“He tries to bring out the best player in you.”

Lang knew that Schreiber was a fiery competitor through friends who were recruited by Schreiber at Purdue.

Playing for passionate coaches growing up — including former HSE head coach and current Indiana University-Kokomo volunteer Scott Henson — Lang is drawn to that style.

“He has a fiery edge,” says Lang, a three-year varsity player for the Royals. “He was not afraid to get on somebody, but it was all out of love.

“It was the edge to help me succeed in the best way possible.”

Lang also got to be coached at Hamilton Southeastern by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Seitz (who led the Royals program for 25 years and came back to help after his retirement) and his son Kory Seitz and stays in-touch with both of them.

“The HSE program is what it is today because of the Seitz family,” says Lang.

While it came two years after his graduation, Lang was a Victory Field in Indianapolis when HSE won the 2019 IHSAA Class 4A state championship.

“We have a great tradition that seniors get to take their home white jerseys (after their senior season),” says Lang, who was donning his old No. 5 and rooting with three former teammates when the Royals edged Columbus East 3-2. “We were probably the loudest in the stadium.”

Current head coach Jeremy Sassanella, who had led the program at Brebeuf Jesuit, has connected with HSE alumni and that includes Lang.

The former Royals middle infielder has also developed a bond with Matt Cherry, who coached rival Fishers to the 4A state crown in 2018.

There was a transition going on when Lang entered college with Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne going by Fort Wayne for a time and then Purdue Fort Wayne.

The Mastodons head baseball coach his first two years was Bobby Pierce.

“Bobby was a great guy,” says Lang. “He came to a lot of my travel ball games and I never knew why. He loved my hustle. 

“He saw the good attitude in me and that I had a potential to be a good player for his program.”

At PFW, Lang has gotten to play with many players he played with or against as a younger athlete. He was roommates with HSE graduate Grant Johnston and Fishers alum Cameron Boyd.

Lang, 22, is on pace to graduate in May as a Business Management major with a Professional Sales Certificate.

“I eventually want to go into sales,” says Lang. “But I want to play as long as I can.”

Granted another year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Lang plans to return for 2021-22 while being work on his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in the fall.

Jack is the oldest of Jeff and Dawn Long’s three children. Nicole Lang (20) plays softball and studies engineering at Rose-Hulman Institutute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. Christian Lang (9) is a baseball-playing third grader.

“Family dad” Doug Pope — father of Justin Pope — has thrown many hours of batting practice to Jack Lang over the years.

Jack Lang (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Fourteen on 2021 ballot for Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fourteen men are finalists for the 2021 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Coaches include Doug Greenlee, Mark Grove, Dean Lehrman, Chris McIntyre, Gary Rogers, Lea Selvey, Steve Strayer and Tim Terry. Greenlee (Kankakee Valley) and Grove (Churubusco) are retired. Lehrman (Heritage), McIntyre (New Albany), Rogers (Leo), Selvey (Jay County), Strayer (Crown Point) and Terry (South Vermillion) are active.

Players are Wallace Johnson and A. J. Reed. Nominated as contributors are Jamey Carroll, Ray Miller, James Robinson and Dave Taylor.

DOUG GREENLEE 

Greenlee (South Putnam High School, Indiana State University and Ball State University graduate) won 503 games in a 28-year career with 25 years at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind. 

His KV teams won three sectionals, two regionals and seven conference championships. He was the 2013 IHSBCA North All-Star head coach and has served on numerous IHSBCA committees and served 16 years as athletic director at four different schools.

MARK GROVE 

Grove (Bluffton High School and Ball State University graduate) coached Churubusco (Ind.) High School to 513 wins with nine sectionals, four regionals and one semistate (1995).

His teams also won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (four tournament titles) and two Allen County Athletic Conference crowns.

Forty of Grove’s players played college baseball and one was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He coached 25 all-staters, six IHSBCA North All-Stars and was honored as a district coach of the year several times.

Grove has been on many IHSBCA committees and currently helps out at the State Clinic registration table. He has been a mentor to many coaches and is always a willing participant/organizer for clinics and youth baseball events.

DEAN LEHRMAN

Lehrman (Heritage High School and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne graduate) pitched four seasons at IPFW.

He has coached high school baseball for 42 years — nine at Woodlan and 33 at Heritage in Monroeville, Ind. His teams have won 602 games and 12 Allen County Athletic Conference championships. 

He is an eight-time ACAC Coach of the Year and has been an IHSBCA District Coach of the Year and twice been on the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars coaching staff.

Lehrman’s teams have won eight sectionals, three regionals, one semistate and made three Final Four appearances. His 2007 squad was state runners-up. He has also coached football for 39 years with six as head coach (40-26).

Dean, a high school mathematics teacher, and wife Janice Lehrman have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne — plus three grandchildren.

CHRIS MCINTYRE 

McIntrye (Jeffersonville High School and Indiana University Southeast graduate) played at Jeffersonville for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Poole. 

Mac’s coaching career began as an assistant to Clarksville (Ind.) High School to IHSBCA Hall of Famer Wayne Stock.

In 25 years as New Albany (Ind.) High School coach, McIntyre has a record of 533-218 with five Hoosier Hills Conference titles, 10 sectional championships and one regional tile with three Final Eight appearances.

He is a four-time District Coach of the Year and five-time conference coach of the year. 

McIntyre was IHSBCA President in 2014, has served on numerous committees and has been an IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series three times. He has coached 13 South All-Stars and sent more than 40 players to college baseball. Three of his players have been selected in the MLB Draft and two have played in the majors.

Chris, a high school mathematic teacher at New Albany, and wife Shannon McIntyre have two sons — Tyler and Kevin.

GARY ROGERS

Rogers (Merrillville High School and Huntington College graduate) spent 32 seasons as head coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School and has been in charge at Leo for two seasons. 

His teams have won 513 games with Luers taking four sectionals, one regional and one semistate. The 2008 state won a state championship.

Rogers was a State Coach of the Year in 2008 and a two-time IHSBCA District Coach of the Year. He has been on numerous IHSBCA committees and is very active in the Fort Wayne baseball community. He has served as a volunteer assistant at Indiana Tech for many seasons and worked with the Wildcat League for 33 years and serves on the board of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is an NEIBA Hall of Famer.

LEA SELVEY

Selvey (Redkey High School, University of Evansville and Ball State University graduate) has spent his entire coaching career at Jay County High School in Portland, Ind. — five as an assistant and 31 as head coach — and has a career record of 502-333. 

His teams have won seven sectionals and three regionals plus five Olympic Conference and one Allen County Athletic Conference title. He was conference coach of the year three times.

Very active in the IHSBCA, Selvey has served as president, a regional representative and on several committees. He has been an assistant coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series two times. He has also been a regional coach of the year and coached 14 All-Stars and numerous players who went on to play in college with three drafted by MLB and two others in independent or overseas baseball.

Selvey has been active in community and junior high baseball and has been active nine years with the Summit City Sluggers travel organization. 

Lea, a high school science teacher, and wife Denise Selvey have three three children — Josh, Kyle and Kristen.

STEVE STRAYER

Strayer (Prairie Heights High School, Manchester College and Indiana University Northwest graduate) coached at Boone Grove High School in Valparaiso, Ind., and is going into his 19th season at Crown Point (Ind.) High School. His overall coaching record is 619-227 with 15 conference titles, 14 sectional crowns and nine regional championships.

His Crown Point teams have won 396 games and numerous sectional and regional titles to go along with eight Dunelond Athletic Conference crowns. He was named District Coach of the Year three times and served as IHSBCA President and was a 2005 IHSBCA North/South All-Series coach. He has coached 12 Indiana All-Stars and 63 players have gone on to play college baseball (23 in NCAA Division I).

Strayer teaches high school mathematics and resides in Crown Point with wife Jennifer and daughter Charlotte.

TIM TERRY

Terry (Clinton High School and Indiana State University graduate) played football, basketball and baseball at Clinton and began his coaching journey in 1980 with one season at Turkey Run High School in Marshall, Ind., and has spent the past 38 years as head coach at South Vermillion High School. His career mark is 604-357.

His teams have won nine Wabash River Conference titles, eight sectionals and one regional while finishing in the Final Eight three times and the Final Four once.

Terry has led the Wildcats to 20-plus wins 10 times and coached six IHSBCA All-Stars with numerous all-state players. He has been named an IHSBCA district coach of the year twice and served as IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series coach and participated on many IHSBCA committees. 

He has coached at the Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth and American Legion levels and was the head girls basketball coach at South Vermillion for 34 years with two conference titles, five sectionals and 295 wins.

Currently in his 42nd year in education, Terry was at Turkey Run for two years before coming to South Vermillion. Besides head baseball coach, he is currently the school’s athletic director.

Tim and wife Kim, a high school science teacher, have four sons — T.J. (22), Canton (20, Cooper (18) and Easton (14). Tim’s baseball memories are centered around his boys.

WALLACE JOHNSON

Johnson (Gary Roosevelt High School and Indiana State University graduate) played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bob Warn at ISU. Johnson was co-captain for the Sycamores’ first Missouri Valley Conference championship team and first NCAA tournament participant. He had a career .422 average and led the nation in regular-season hitting (.502). He was selected to the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Johnson was selected in the sixth round of the 1979 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. He was MVP of the Florida State League and later played on championship teams in Denver (1981) and Indianapolis (1986). 

He made his MLB debut in 1981 and went on to become the Expos’ all-time leader in pinch hits (86). In 428 big league games, he hit .255 with five homers and 59 RBIs. After retirement as a player, he was third base coach for the Chicago White Sox for five seasons.

A.J. REED

Reed (Terre Haute South Vigo High School who played at the University of Kentucky) played for Kyle Kraemer at South Vigo and was the Indiana Player of the Year and MVP of the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2011. 

The IHSBCA record book lists Reed sixth in single-season homers (18 in 2011) and sixth in career homers (41 from 2008-11).

At UK, Reed’s awards were many, including Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Golden Spikes (nation’s top amateur player), Dick Howser Trophy, ABCA and Baseball America College Player of the Year, John Olerud Trophy, several first-team All-America teams, Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year. In 2012, he was on several Freshman All-America teams.

Reed was chosen in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros and was a minor league all-star in 2015, 2017 and 2018. He won the Joe Bauman Award twice for leading Minor League Baseball in homers. He was the California League MVP and Rookie of the Year with Lancaster in 2015.

He smacked 136 homers in 589 minor league games. He played in 62 MLB contests with the Astros and Chicago White Sox and finished with four homers and 12 RBIs.

He retired from baseball in March 2020 and resides in Riley, Ind., with wife Shelby and their two dogs. He plans to return to college in January 2021 to finish his bachelor’s degree.

JAMEY CARROLL

Carroll (Castle High School graduate who played at the University of Evansville) played at Castle in Newburgh, Ind., for Dave Sensenbrenner and Evansville for Jim Brownlee. He was an All-American in his senior year of 1996. He name appears 27 times in the Purple Aces baseball record book.

He was drafted in the 14th round of the 1996 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. In his 12-year big league career with the Expos/Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, he produced a 16.6 WAR, 1,000 hits, 13 homers, a .272 average, 560 runs, 265 RBIs, 74 stolen bases, a .349 on-base percentage and .687 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

Carroll scored the last run in Expos history. He led National League second basemen in fielding percentage in 2006. In 2007, his sacrifice fly plated Matt Holliday to win the NL Wild Card Game.

He currently works in the front office for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year-old twins — Cole and Mackenzie.

RAY MILLER

Miller (who died in 2017) took over the Portland (Ind.) Rockets in 1972 and won more than 900 games in more than 30 years as manager. 

In 1992, Miller became American Amateur Baseball Congress state secretary and moved the Indiana tournament to Portland. He managed the Rockets to state titles in 1985, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

An ambassador for baseball, Miller sent more than 30 former players into the high school or college coaching ranks. 

In 2000, the Rockets named their home facility Ray Miller Field. In 2002, Miller was the first inductee into the Indiana Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.

Randy Miller, Ray’s son, is the current Portland Rockets manager.

JAMES ROBINSON

Robinson (Indianapolis Wood High School and Indiana University Kokomo graduate) played one year of high school baseball.

He began umpiring high school games in 1980 and worked for 35 years with 33 sectionals, 25 regionals, 14 semistates and six State Finals. He umpired six IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series and was voted IHSBCA Umpire of the Year five times.

In 1994, Robinson was elected to the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year. He also coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years.

He has been a football official at the high school and college level and worked six years in NCAA Division II and seven in the Mid-American Conference. He has been a replay official for the MAC and Big Ten Conference. He was a replay official for the 2014 National Championship game at the Rose Bowl between Florida State and Auburn.

James and late wife Nada has one daughter and one grandson — Chiquita and Kameron.

DAVE TAYLOR 

Taylor (Southmont High School and Wabash College graduate) was a Little Giants captain and was in college when he began his coaching career. He led teams at the Little League, Babe Ruth, AAU and American Legion levels.

During an AAU coaching stint in Florida, Taylor realized the level of travel baseball and how Indiana was underrepresented in this arena. He formed the Indiana Bulls travel organization with the vision of providing Indiana high school player the opportunity to pursue their college and MLB dreams.

In 1992, the Bulls sponsored two teams and Taylor coached future MLB players Scott Rolen and Todd Dunwoody. Taylor coached the Bulls for four more seasons, served as president for 10, an officer for 20 and has been a director since 1992.

His vision was realized. More than 170 Bulls players have been drafted by MLB (12 in the first round) and over 300 players have received NCAA Division I scholarships. The Bulls have won 22 national titles, a professional staff works 12 months a year and currently field 25 teams from ages 8 to 17. Several of these teams are coached by former professionals who were Bulls players.

Taylor resides in Brownsburg, Ind., and is a leading insurance defense trial attorney. He has served 20 years as a certified Major League Baseball Players Association agent and represented more than 100 pro players and continues to represent former players in various legal matters.

Deadline for returning the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot, which appears in the October newsletter, is Oct. 31.

The IHSBCA State Clinic is scheduled for Jan. 15-17 at Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing. The Hall of Fame and awards banquet will be held at a later time because of COVID-19 restrictions at the hotel.

At all his coaching stops, Ratcliffe emphasizes hard work, character

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Ratcliffe helped change the mindset in his return to the Trine University baseball coaching staff.

Ratcliffe had helped Thunder head coach Greg Perschke during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and assisted in school-record 25-win seasons then went back to the high school ranks before coming back on board in Angola, Ind., for 2020.

Trine, an NCAA Division III school with a 40-game regular-season limit, averaged 17 wins per year from 2014-19 with high-water marks of 19 in 2017 and 2018.

That was not considered good enough.

So the Thunder went to work in the fall.

“We have our limits when we can and can’t be with them,” says Ratcliffe referring to NCAA D-III contact rules. “But there are expectations from Coach Perschke. His passion for the kids is electric. It just gets everybody.

“There’s an off-season weight program. Kids work around their academics to get a workout in.”

The message is clear: If you want the team to get better, this is what has to happen. Here’s how you do it. Do you want to be a part of that?

At a school full of engineering students and others with rigorous majors, the find a way to get the job done.

“We give them a lot of instruction during our weeks,” says Ratcliffe. “They take this and work hard in the off-season.”

Brought in to help with catchers, infielders and hitters and be a bench coach during games, Ratcliffe says there’s a difference between high school and college that has do with more than age.

“Kids at the college level want to be there instead of doing something in high school,” says Ratcliffe. “Development is extremely different. In high school, you’re developing their skills. In college, you’re fine-tuning their skills.”

Through conversations and short videos, Perschke (Trine head coach since 2002 and the Thunder’s pitching coach) and assistants Ratcliffe and Nick Pfafman provided instruction for a month and then the team’s veterans led a few more weeks of workouts heading into the winter.

“We developed a mindset of how to react and respond to things,” says Ratcliffe. “It’s one of the things I was brought in for.”

When the team came back from Christmas break it had less than a month before its first games. 

Trine went 1-2 Feb. 22-23 in Kentucky then 8-0 March 1-6 in Florida.

Then — suddenly — the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Thunder gathered for an impromptu team photo after a practice and said their goodbyes.

“It was a huge gut punch,” says Ratcliffe. “We had eight seniors (Tony Bottone, Caleb Deiter, Jacob Douglass, Chase Hall, Shawn Ligocki, Nick Ricci, Thomas Rivet and Jake Roddy) that took to this year’s culture. No longer was 18 wins a good year.”

Trine was chosen to finish seventh in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason poll, but seemed to be a on a path that would put them in the MIAA’s top four and a playoff berth.

This summer, Ratcliffe is head coach for the 17U DeKalb County Thunder travel team. His assistant is Cody Krumlauf, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Earlham College who has been a player and coach for the Quakers.

The program was started a few years ago when the players were at the 15U level. The Thunder now also fields 15U and 13U teams.

To be eligible to play for the Thunder, players must play in community baseball organizations in Auburn, Butler, Garrett or St. Joe.

The 17U Thunder is a showcase team for college exposure and plays in events put on by Pastime Tournaments, Crossroads Baseball Series and at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

Ratcliffe was head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School for two stints totaling 13 seasons (2000-06 and 2014-19).

He served as an assistant to DeKalb High head coach Chris Rhodes 2007-11 and was on the staff of Keith Potter at Fort Wayne’s Homestead High School 1997-99.

While with the Spartans, Ratcliffe got to work with future big league catcher Rob Bowen.

“I remember he was a starter working on being a switch hitter,” says Ratcliffe. “If he hit 50 balls off the tee right-handed, he had to hit 50 left-handed. Balance had to be there if h was serious about being a switch hitter.”

Ratcliffe recalls that Bowen hit homers from both sides of the plate early in his minor league days and went on to play in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Caleb Kimmel, who went on to play at Valparaiso University and is now CEO of the World Baseball Academy, was also at Homestead when Ratcliffe was on staff.

Summers from 2002-14 for Ratcliffe meant coaching and evaluating young players for USA Baseball through Tournament of Stars and National Team Identification Series programs. Working in Joplin, Mo., and later Cary, N.C., he got to be around rising diamond stars as teenagers, including Mike Moustakas, Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout, Trevor Bauer, the Upton boys (Justin and B.J.) and Jarrod Parker.

“(Moustakas) had the same kind of energy as a 17-year-old that he did (with the Kansas City Royals) in the World Series. 

“That guy has not changed one bit. He’s such a team player.”

Freeman became of Ratcliffe’s favorites.

“His character in the dugout was unbelievable,” says Ratcliffe of the future Atlanta Braves first baseman. “He was very coachable. Freddie wanted to get better. 

“I’ve told my players this is what you need to be like. It’s not all about baseball. Character is very crucial.”

Trout and Bauer are superstars now. But they didn’t make the national team back then. They didn’t sulk. They put in the work to get better.

The Uptons also failed, but learned from those around them and rebounded. Justin’s path to The Show included 113 games with the 2006 Mark Haley-managed South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks during his 18-year-old season.

While they were nearly two decades apart, Ratcliffe (Class of 1990) and Parker (2007) were both graduates of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind.

Ratcliffe had coached against right-handed pitcher Parker in high school and saw him help Norwell to an IHSAA 3A state championship in 2007.

When it came time for Parker to take the mound that summer Joplin, Ratcliffe offered a little advice: “Go be yourself.”

Parker went on to work out with the Top 40 players in Atlanta and was selected in the first round (No.9 overall) of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in the bigs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. David Price and Moustakas went 1-2 in the ’07 draft.

Ratcliffe’s head coach at Norwell was Stan Reed.

“He had compassion for the players,” says Ratcliffe. “He really cared about us. It showed whether we won or lost.”

A catcher, Ratcliffe went to Purdue University and was redshirted his first season and played sparingly for Boilermakers coach Dave Alexander in his second, though he did get to catch Sherard Clinkscales, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft, later scouted for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Kansas City and coached at Notre Dame before going into athletic administration. 

Clinkscales was associate then senior associate athletic director at North Carolina State and is now AD at Indiana State University.

When Alexander left Purdue to become a scout and pitching coach Steve Green was promoted to head coach, he had a chat with Ratcliffe. It was apparent he was not going to get to play much for the Boilers.

“I was a kid who needed to play,” says Ratcliffe, who was released and allowed to sign at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where Matt Kinzer was the Mastodons head coach.

What did Ratcliffe learn from Norwell grad Kinzer during the 1993 and 1994 seasons?

“It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level,” says Ratcliffe. “If you want to get there you’ve got to put some time in. 

“Talent doesn’t get you to the next level. It takes things like working hard and having good character.”

By the time Tom Muth took over at IPFW in 1995, Ratcliffe knew he wanted to be a coach so he took the opportunity to play multiple positions and learn their nuances. Since the Dons were in need of a second baseman, Ratcliffe moved there and still took time to catch bullpens.

Ratcliffe played independent professional ball as a middle infielder for the Frontier League’s Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in their inaugural season of 1995. Larry Nowlin was the manger and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate part owner.

One of his teammates was future major league switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter Morgan Burkhart. When he came to Fort Wayne as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, Ratcliffe made sure he found a good fishing hole.

After finishing his degree at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ratcliffe became a teacher. 

Besides coaching baseball, he instructs special education classes at Garrett Middle School. His wife of 19 years — Stacy — is a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Ober Elementary in Garrett. The couple have two sons — GHS senior-to-be Blake (17) and GMS eighth grader-to-be Easton (13).

Brett Ratcliffe returned to Trine University in Angola, Ind., for his second stint as assistant baseball coach. He has also been a head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School and an assistant at DeKalb High School in Watlerloo, Ind., and Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. He has helped coach and evaluate players for USA Baseball. This summer, he is the 17U head coach for the DeKalb County Thunder travel program.

Indianapolis native Vittorio leading Wilmington Quakers with passion, energy

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Vittorio is 53 and has been a college baseball coach for three decades.

It was as a teenager on the south side of Indianapolis that he decided that would be his path in life.

Vittorio grew up the youngest of three children at 2925 Anniston Drive, directly across the street from Southport Little League.

“We woke up to the sound of the crowd on Saturdays and Sundays,” says Vittorio. “That’s where the whole love of it came.”

At 15, Tony made the senior league all-stars coached by Jeff Mercer Sr. It was after his first practice with Mercer — then a player at Marian College in Indianapolis and later the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr.  — putting the all-stars through drills and game situations that Vittorio came home and exclaimed that coaching was for him.

“It was that one practice alone,” says Vittorio, who is heading into his second season as head coach at NCAA Division III Wilmington (Ohio) College, which is 35 miles southeast of Dayton.

Vittorio played for Richard Dwenger at Southport High School (Class of 1984) and Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College (Class of 1988).

“We we became close friends through the years,” says Vittorio of mentor Naylor. “I was honored and humbled to do his eulogy at his funeral.”

While playing for Naylor’s Panthers (then an NAIA program), Vittorio pursued a double major in business administration and physical education.

Vittorio spent the 1990 season as a volunteer/graduate assistant at Indiana University under Bob Morgan.

“I always thank Coach Morgan for teaching me how to practice properly,” says Vittorio. “His practice organization was second to no one in the country.”

At 23, Vittorio became a head coach at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and went on to become known as a builder of programs.

“We do not complain about what you don’t have,” says Vittorio. “We just grind it out.”

Vittorio led Lincoln Trail — a junior college — for four seasons. After winning 20 games the first season (1991), the Statesmen won 39, 40 and 45 contests. The year before Vittorio came to town the team won just two games.

That was followed by two years as an assistant to Keith Madison at the University of Kentucky.

“He is as good of a person as I’ve ever met in my life,” says Vittorio of Madison, an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and National Baseball Director for SCORE International. “Coach Madison has this thing figured out — spiritually, mentally.”

Vittorio spent three seasons (1997-99) at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, when the Mastodons were NCAA Division II. His teams won 80 games after IPFW had gone 9-37 the year before he arrived in the Summit City.

Counting Lance Hershberger as one of his dearest friends, Vittorio looks back fondly on the Fort Wayne diamond rivalry they had when he was at IPFW and Hershberger (now at Ivy Tech Northeast) led Indiana Tech.

“He’s a beautiful person,” says Vittorio of Hershberger.

Vittorio began an 18-year run at the University of Dayton in 2000. The program was 22-34 the year before his arrival and went on to 10 seasons of at least 25 victories and seven of at least 30 with the 2009 club winning 38.

His NCAA Division I Flyers won 463 games altogether. the 2012 team participated in the NCAA College Station Regional.

Two pitchers who played for Vittorio at UD are now in the big leagues — right-hander Craig Stammen and left-hander Jerry Blevins.

Three of Vittorio’s former players at Dayton are now coaching at the D-I level. C.J. Gilman is now the top assistant at the Air Force Academy. Jimmy Roesinger, an Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate, is also on the Air Force staff. Jared Broughton, who went to Indianapolis Lutheran High School, is now an assistant at Clemson University.

Several other former Vittorio players and coaches are coaching are various levels.

After his days at Dayton, Vittorio helped coach his son (Nic Vittorio) in the summer with Dayton Thunderbirds, but was not really looking for another college job when Wilmington, a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference, came calling.

His first Quakers team went 8-29 in 2019 and he’s working toward steady improvement.

“I feel revised and amped up again to build a program at this level,” says Vittorio. “There’s a locker room word — culture. We’re looking to change the culture.

“That means implementing your own program of everyday core values — hard work, loyalty, hustle, sportsmanship and the biggest one — passion and energy on a daily basis. I’m a true believer you can’t go to where you want to go without passion and energy.”

Coming from the Division I world, Vittorio has learned to make adjustments in his approach.

Instead of 30 contact dates in the fall, D-III schools get 16. There are 40 regular-season games in the spring instead of 56. D-III does not offer athletic scholarships, but aid is based on academics and need.

“To me, that’s a lot of time lost,” says Vittorio. “But baseball is more pure (at the D-III level). You don’t have to hold the players’ hands on everything they do as you sometimes have to do in D-I.

“Players have a chance to develop leadership skills. They have to form captain/open field practices (when the coaching staff is away).”

Vittorio says the No. 1 job for he and his Wilmington assistants — Danny Thomas and former Richmond High School and Earlham College player Patrick Morrow — is recruiting.

“You can’t win without good players,” says Vittorio, who counts the Midwest as his recruiting base. “It’s more strenuous at this level. You have knock on 100 doors — instead of 50 doors — to get 10 guys.”

Vittorio spends a lot of his time raising money for the baseball program and as director of athletic development, the rest of Wilmington’s athletic department (which includes 18 varsity sports for men and women).

As a coach, He is also working to inspire his players in the classroom, the community and on the baseball field. He is emphasizing player development and building a quality college baseball atmosphere.

“We’re all obsessed with winning and losing,” says Vittorio. “But this whole thing is about making young men the best they can be.”

Vittorio comes back to Indianapolis often. Just last Saturday, he was at Southport Athletic Booster Club Reverse Raffle. He counts Indiana University head men’s basketball coach Archie Miller as a friend from Miller’s six seasons as head coach. Vittorio grew up as a fan of Bob Knight’s IU teams and Notre Dame football.

“That’s the Indiana Italian Catholic in me,” says Vittorio. “I love the state of Indiana. I’m a Hoosier.”

Wilmington visits Franklin College and Vittorio’s friend Lance Marshall at 3 p.m. on March 11.

Tony and Heather Vittorio have two children. Taylor Vittorio (21) is a former volleyball player at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. Nic Vittorio is a senior baseball player at Kettering-Fairmont High School in Kettering, Ohio.

TONYVITTORIOWILMINGTONCOLLEGE

Tony Vittorio, an Indianapolis native, is now the head baseball coach at Wilmington (Ohio) College. Prior to lead the Quakers, he was head coach at the University of Dayton, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and Lincoln Trail Community College. (Wilmington College Photo)