With a roster featuring college players and those as old as 42, the Fort Wayne-based Jackers are winding down their 2022 regular season. Members of men’s wood bat baseball league in both Fort Wayne (Red Carrington League) and South Bend, the Jackers swept the South Bend Royals Saturday, June 9 and Boehm Park in South Bend and dropped both games of a doubleheader to the Michiana Brewers Sunday, June 10 at Bethel University in Mishawaka. Having already clinched the Carrington League crown, the league season is to conclude for the Jackers (15-6) Tuesday, June 11 against the Blues (7-8) at Carrington Field in Fort Wayne. A National Amateur Baseball Federation regional at both Carrington Field and Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne is slated for Thursday through Saturday, July 28-30. The eight-team event features pool play the first two days. Seeded bracket play begins on Saturday. The field will feature the Jackers, Michiana Brewers, South Bend Royals, Portland (Ind.) Rockets, another Fort Wayne team (Blues or Renegades) and three squads from Michigan. The top two regional finishers move on to the the 16-team NABF World Series is Aug. 2-5 in Battle Creek, Mich. The Jackers made it to the World Series in 2016, 2018 and 2019. In 2021, the South Bend Royals were the round-robin winner from a four-team regional and a World Series qualifier. The Berea Blue Sox (Strongsville, Ohio) came away with the championship trophy. Tom Davidson is in his third season as Jackers manager. A 6-foot-7, right-handed pitcher, Davidson played at Garrett (Ind.) High School (Class of 1998) and what is now known as Manchester University (Class of 2003) and briefly in pro ball. Why does Davidson stay involved? “I just love it,” says Davidson, a retirement planning software salesman. “It gives me a reason to stay in the dugout. “It’s a good chance to be around the guys.” The Jackers typically play 30 to 35 games a summer with most this year coming in the form of a single game on Thursday and a doubleheader on Saturday or Sunday. All players have college baseball experience. Most of the ones who still have eligibility are at Indiana Tech of the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne.
Austin Mannan has found his “why” and he pursues it on a daily basis as an educator and coach.
“I felt like I’ve had so many people pour their time and effort into me,” says Mannan, a special education teacher at Lane Middle School in Fort Wayne, Ind., and the head baseball coach at Fort Wayne North Side High School. “I have a duty to give that back to kids.
“I want to change somebody’s life. At the end of the day I don’t care what kind of baseball player you are, I want you to be a better person than when you got to me.
“I want them to look back and say he really cared about me. He really went the extra mile.”
Mannan has embraced his mindset and takes a cue from motivational speaker Eric Thomas, who asks “What’s Your Why?”
“Everybody has a reason to get out of bed everyday,” says Mannan. “You have to decide what that motivation is and what you can do to get there.
“(North Side) is an inner-city school. These kids have challenging backgrounds. We want to help them to be a better person.”
The Legends are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Columbia City, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead and Huntington North. North Side is seeking its first sectional title.
Also the home of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation‘s Jackers, Carrington Field underwent renovations that the Legends did not get to enjoy in 2020 with the prep season being wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s pretty nice,” says Mannan, who notes that many previous games at Carrington were wiped out when it rained.
Eight seniors were on the 2020 roster, including college recruits in left-handed pitcher Max Meisner (Huntington University), shortstop Cameron Woehnker (Grace College) and hurler Taegan Armey (Indiana Tech).
Mannan’s 2021 assistants are Jordan Young, Toni Georgi and Armey, who developed an arm injury that caused him to shut it down rather than play college ball.
North Side junior right-hander Nate Spurlock has been getting attention from college programs.
As a player, Mannan got to know the junior college baseball grind from two head coaches — Kevin Bowers at Lincoln Trail and Clark at Spoon River.
“As a JuCo Bandit you’re a grinder,” says Mannan. “You’re putting in the work and getting after it.
“The grind of being a junior college player is incredible. You become so tough playing at that level.”
A typical schedule began with conditioning at 5 a.m., followed by classes, practice, study table and more practice with it all winding up about 10 p.m. Then the same thing the next day.
To get in games against top early-season competition, the team would cram 10 players each in three vans and drive 14 hours to Texas. Meal money was capped at $5 a day.
Junior college baseball is full of potential professional players and they are all MLB First Year Player Draft-eligible.
Two of Mannan’s Lincoln Trail teammates — Damon Olds (Kansas City Royals out of Indiana State University) and Justin Watts (Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Southern Indiana) — were drafted in 2017.
In Mannan’s LTC recruiting class, 10 of 13 went on to NCAA Division I programs. Two went to NCAA Division II.
After a year at Spoon River (2014-15), Mannan landed at NAIA Saint Francis for two years (2015-16 and 2016-17). Greg Roberts was the Cougars head coach and his successor, Dustin Butcher, was an assistant.
Mannan, who also played summer ball for the Danville (Va.) Marlins in 2015 and Laramie (Wyo.) Colts in 2016, was honorable mention all-Crossroads League in the spring of 2016.
At Saint Francis, Mannan earned a Secondary Education degree in 2018 and a Masters in Special Education in 2020.
It was by coming to Fort Wayne that Mannan met an Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne student from Crown Point, Ind., named Adalyn.
Austin and Adalyn Mannan were married in September 2020. She is a manager at Planet Fitness.
“We were supposed to go on our honeymoon during Christmas break,” says Mannan. Instead, the couple had a bout with COVID. Austin spent a week in the hospital. Except for occasional shortness of breath, he says that has recovered.
In his current position, working for Urban Knights head coach Dan McDermott, Collins-Bride, 30, is in charge of pitchers, catchers and infielders.
“I’m a teacher,” says Collins-Bride, who joined the ArtU coaching staff in September 2019. “Baseball and strength and conditioning seems to be my best form of teaching.
“When you see people grow and see the light click on and they create really good habits, that’s the special part.”
Developing pitchers at the NCAA Division II PacWest Conference institution for Collins-Bride is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.
“It’s individualistic once you have a base,” says Collins-Bride. “It depends on the players’ needs.”
Some pitchers possess good command and need to improve their stuff. Some have superior velocity but lack movement on their pitches. Others need concentration on the mental side of baseball.
“We’re picking and choosing what we focus on,” says Collins-Bride.
A strength and conditioning coach for several Indiana Tech teams, Collins-Bride has studied biomechanics as it relates to athletes. He has become OnBaseU-certified.
“You have to know how each player moves and how they’re supposed to move,” says Collins-Bride, who does a movement assessment on each ArtU pitcher. “That’s critical.
“You structure the off-season around filling those buckets.”
You’re not treating every car like a Toyota. You also have Dodges and Kias. You don’t spend all your time racing the Lamborghini, you also spend time working with it in the garage.
COVID-19 caused the Urban Knights’ 2020 season to halt after 20 games. McDermott and Collins-Bride helped the player see the quarantine as an opportunity for growth.
“It was a chance to check something on your bucket list,” says Collins-Bride. “If you don’t do it, shame on you.
“Many (players) came back (in the fall) in the biggest shape of their lives,” says Collins-Bride. “It was really cool to see what these guys did over 6-7 months after only hearing about it over the phone.”
Alameda resident Collins-Bride used the extra time to go on long bike rides, including a trek around Lake Tahoe.
ArtU practices at The Presidio and plays games at Laney College. During fall practice, players went through daily temperature and system checks.
Most of the time, workouts were conducted with just six to eight players.
“It was different,” says Collins-Bride. “But it was really good from a development standpoint.”
There was more one-on-one time with coaching while raw skills — running, throwing, fielding and swinging — were being refined mixed with intrasquad play.
“Ideally, that’s what a fall should be — create some raw skills and play a little bit,” says Collins-Bride. “Summer baseball is failing kids. They’re playing too much and not practicing enough or practicing too much and not playing enough.
“We had a really good balance (in the fall.).”
It’s about building proper motor patterns. That’s why weighted balls and bats are used to carve a new path for the brain.
“It’s a brand new road and they learn that quickly,” says Collins-Bride.
Born in San Francisco, the son of carpenter Bob Bride and professor/nurse practitioner Geraldine Collins-Bride grew up loving baseball.
Patrick’s father did not have much experience at the game, but he did come up with several tools to guide “FUN-damentals” for Little Leaguers. Bob devoured books and DVDs while researching training methods.
“He’d have us swing ax handles,” says Collins-Bride. “We’d hit wiffle balls with hoses to teach us to whip the bat. He turned a leaf blower into a wiffle ball pitching machine. To develop soft hands, we’d toss eggs or water balloons. We had stations all around my small house.”
Flood lights were installed over the garage so these sessions could go deep into the night.
Patrick went to the Boys & Girls Club and learned about pitching from major leaguers who hailed from Alameda. Pitcher Dontrelle Willis taught him how to play “strikeout.”
Middle schooler Collins-Bride learned about the proper way to field a grounder from shortstop Jimmy Rollins at an RBI camp held at Encinal.
Collins-Bride expresses gratitude of coaching with McDermott, who is heading into his 28th season as a college coach in 2021.
“It’s like coaching with your dad,” says Collins-Bride. “He really, really loves you and he’s not going to let you mess up.
“We get really great life lessons all the time. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Collins-Bride coached for five seasons at Indiana Tech (2015-19), where Kip McWilliams is the Warriors head coach. “C.B.” worked with hitters, infielders, catchers and volunteered his strength and conditioning services while pursuing and after completing his Masters of Marketing and Management.
Indiana Tech typically carries a roster of 60 or more to help fund the program — with varsity and developmental teams.
“We had to carry a lot of players,” says Collins-Bride. “We decided if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it really well.
“Playoff time is when the Warriors showed up.”
Collins-Bride notes that almost all the players in the starting lineup in the 2015 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference championship game started out on the development team.
“That was so important,” says Collins-Bride of the large squad. “They all trained together. We created an efficient practice style. Everybody had a purpose.
“We competed. If you were recruited there, you worked hard. When you have that many guys with a passion for baseball, it makes for such a good atmosphere.
“To do it right, you make sure you treat each kid well. I think we accomplished that. The beautiful thing about baseball and life is what a kid can make out of himself in two or four years.”
Collins-Bride said the Tech culture was based on standards and not rules.
“There was an acceptable level of behavior for everyone in the program and accountability is a two-way street (standards applied equally to players and coaches),” says Collins-Bride. “Coaches didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walked.”
Or — better yet — they hustled from station to station just like the players.
It was also an atmosphere of positivity.
“No BCE (Blaming, Complaining or Excuses) was allowed,” says Collins-Bride. “Because it’s not helping the situation.”
Dosson, a graduate of Heritage High School in Monroeville, Ind., was a highly-touted player in high school who wound up behind an All-American for a few seasons with the Warriors then got a chance to hit behind Tech standout and No. 3 hitter Glen McClain.
Barksdale, who went to Cass Tech High School in Detroit, spent a few seasons on the developmental team then got his chance to shine with the varsity in a game against Florida Memorial.
“He had been training really, really hard,” says Collins-Bride. “He hit a ground ball in the 6-hole and beat it out for a base hit. That was pretty special.”
Collins-Bride calls Biagini, hard-nosed player from San Francisco, the “most impactful kid I’ve ever been around.”
“He was the epitome of leadership,” says Collins-Bride of the national gold glove shortstop. “He’d say what coaches would have to say. He’d see things and fix them.
“They way he practiced, he raised the level of everyone around him.”
Collins-Bride had been with McWilliams when he observed a Spring Arbor University practice led by head coach Sam Riggleman. The SAU Cougars made workouts fast and as game-like a possible.
“Practice is the hardest thing we would do,” says Collins-Bride. “Games were slow. Everything (in practice) counted. Everything had detail.”
Collins-Bride noticed that long-time Lewis-Clark State College coach Ed Cheff and Folsom Lake College coach Rich Gregory (who played for future Indiana State University and University of Washington coach Lindsay Meggs on a NCAA Division II championship team at Cal State Chico) also took to that kind of preparation — skill under pressure.
It did no good to see 50 mph batting practice pitches when the game was going to bring 90 mph.
Collins-Bride went from Ave Maria, where he played two seasons (2011 and 2012) and coached two (2013 and 2014), after checking his options of serving as a graduate assistant to Scott Dulin at Fisher College in Boston.
On his first working day with Tech, he flew from San Francisco to Boston then drove 15 hours to Fort Wayne. He met McWilliams at 5 a.m. and they drove all the way to Vincennes (Ind.) for a junior college showcase.
“We talked baseball the whole way,” says Collins-Bride.
During Collins-Bride’s entire at Tech, Debbie Warren was the athletic director.
“She was an unbelievable leader of people,” says Collins-Bride. “She knew how to push you. She was very tough and phenomenal to work with.”
Warren helped get the weight room updated just about the time Collins-Bride was leaving to go back to California.
While he was there he planted a desk near the weights and managed 80 athletes in a two-hour window.
Shawn Summe, a graduate of Penn High School and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., was the head coach at NAIA Ave Maria. He started the program. The Gyrenes’ first season was 2010.
“(Summe) is a very intense person and an emotional leader,” says Collins-Bride. “We practiced really hard. He was really awesome to play for.
“He deeply had your back and wanted you to succeed.”
Collins-Bride, who received a Politics degree from Ave Maria, sees his transition from player to coach as a smooth one.
“It was easy to step into a role of leadership and demand respect,” says Collins-Bride. “We had a special senior group in 2013.”
Lennon, who died in 2019 at 80, won three baseball letters at Notre Dame and later taught at the university and served as three decades for the Notre Dame Alumni Association.
Lennon’s zeal was on display even at early hours when Collins-Bride was getting a few more winks before greeting the day on an Ave Maria road trip.
“He’s say, ‘Wake up C.B., the world is waiting for us,” says Collins-Bride. “Talk about positivity. He was a beaming, shining light.”
After a semester at Cal State East Bay, Collins-Bride transferred to California Community College Athletic Association member Laney and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Eagles coach Francisco Zapata.
“Coach Z is a great human being,” says Collins-Bride. “He really knew his stuff and he knew how to push you.
“It was really hard to let him down. You know what he had to go through to play baseball. You’ve got nothing to complain about.”
Zapata grew up in Nicaragua and brought a work ethic to his coaching.
“There was an expectation level,” says Collins-Bride.
His prep career began on the Alameda High junior varsity for coach Joe Pearse and concluded at Encinal for Jim Saunders.
“(Pearse) was a hard-nosed guy,” says Collins-Bride. “We were working hard and there was a lot of competition.
“(Saunders, who coached Rollins) was an excellent manager of talent.”
During his time as a player and manager with the San Francisco Seals, Collins-Bride not only got a chance to enjoy the rivalry with the Arcata-based Humboldt Crabs but got the chance to play all over the place. During a two-year span, he traveled through 33 states and played in around 20.
The Shawn Harper-managed Brewers lost this week to the Jackers in the tournament finals and the Grand Park league wrapped last week. Snakes manager Jake Martin and the rest of the team witnessed a home run by righty-swinging Bickel that TrackMan measured at 436 feet with a 103 mph exit velocity.
“I feel like I can do everything well on the baseball field,” says Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and a member of the Palm Beach (Fla.) State College squad. “I hit for power. I have speed. I am smooth in the field with a strong arm.”
“It all comes back to my work ethic and how hard I train.”
Bickel, who is primarily a shortstop but can play second base or third base, got to North Dakota’s capital city after a 14-hour drive from South Bend. He reached out to Bull Moose manager Mitchell Gallagher, sent video and stayed in-touch with the Xavier University assistant.
“He brought me aboard when they had a need for an infielder,” says Bickel, who joins a team that is 6-26 playing in the COVID-19-induced pod system. The North Dakota Region consists of three teams all playing at Bismarck’s Dakota Community Bank & Trust Field — the Bull Moose, Larks and Mandan Flickertails. Players are housed in a hotel two-to-a-room. The season is to continue until Sept. 1.
“Hopefully, I can put up so good numbers here since I won’t get much exposure this fall,” says Bickel, alluding to the fact that junior college baseball canceled its fall season, meaning the loss of more than 20 games at the Palm Beach State Pro Day.
Online classes for the Business Management major begin Aug. 31. The school is closed until January, meaning Bickel will come home to South Bend after his time in North Dakota. Bickel’s 21st birthday is Jan. 21, 2021.
He struggled at the plate with the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Sharks and opted to take off 2019-20 to re-tool his swing. Bickel was offered a scholarship by head coach Kyle Forbes to join the Palm Beach State program. The Panthers are NJCAA D-I members and part of the Florida College System Activities Association.
Jarrett, 20, is the middle child of Joe and Megan Bickel. Joe owns a lawn care service. Tyler Bickel is 23. Xavier Bickel is 17.