First-hand familiarity with the subject and the desire to offer something of value to baseball players and their families led Aaron Mortrud to launch Midwest Recruiting, LLC in October 2020. Mortrud, a 1990 graduate of Bethany Christian School in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), where his head coach was Dan Bodiker, played one season each for head coach Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Oldest son Nick Mortrud went through the recruiting process while playing at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind. Midwest Recruiting, LLC helps market players to prospective colleges in an efficient, affordable way. Mortrud describes it as “Autotrader for Athletes.” “Recruiting is a sales process,” says Mortrud, whose day job is National Sales Manager for Starcraft Inc., and works of the office near his Shipshewana, Ind., home. “College coaches are buyers of a product — the student-athlete. How do you connect the buyer with the product?” Using his relationships with recruiters, Mortrud works for his clients to join the two parties. Once he got the ball rolling last fall, things took off like crazy. “I just picked up a kid from Australia who wants to play college baseball in the U.S.,” says Mortrud. So far three players have found a college baseball home — Kaleb Fritz (Lafayette Jeff Class of 2021) at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Noah Perkins (East Noble Class of 2022) at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and Carson Smith (Knightstown Class of 2022) at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. Others are close to signing. Full Midwest Recruiting, LLC services cost $95. “What I’m trying to do is give as much honest and real information to families at the best cost,” says Mortrud. “Parents deserve to be told the truth about all facets of the game. A profile with a players’ vital data goes on a website that recruiters can go to for their specific needs. For example: One coach might be seeking a left-handed pitcher who throws in the high 80’s and has such-and-such a standard test score. Mortrud sees himself as an unbiased third party who has invested into quality measuring equipment that provides reliable numbers. “The only thing worse than no information is bad information,” says Mortrud. “I don’t want to waste a (college) program’s or a kid’s time. Let’s be honest from the beginning. “I have to maintain my credibility.” Players can also be seen at Midwest Recruiting, LLC-hosted recruiting events. The next ones are a Fall Showcase Oct. 2 and Scout Series Oct. 3 at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. The first is a pro-style workout and assessment. The second includes spots for teams and individuals. A Scout Series event is scheduled for June 25-26, 2022 at Huntington U. Mortrud has experience as a baseball parent and travel ball coach. He is now with the Midwest Pack (run by Westview head coach Jason Rahn) and was with the Eastside Irish before moving from central Ohio back to Indiana six years ago. “College baseball is a job,” says Mortrud of the long days and year-round commitment it takes at that level. “(Players and families) need to know what college baseball is. “This may not be for you. How bad do you really want to play baseball?” Ultimately, the decision is not for the parents but the student-athlete. “That kid’s got to decide what he wants to do,” says Mortrud. Nick Mortrud (Westview Class of 2021) — Aaron’s oldest son — made decision to not play college baseball. “I know what its like to come through the recruiting process as a parent with a kid who does not want to go on after you’ve spent all that time and money,” says Aaron Mortrud. Matty Mortrud (Westview Class of 2023) has more high school and travel ball to play before he might go to college. Midwest Recruiting, LLC is on Facebook and Twitter. In the past week, Mortrud shared on Twitter what it takes to make it at the NAIA and NCAA Division III levels. Those numbers appear below.
Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement.
He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.
Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.
Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.
“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”
Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.
Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.
“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”
The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.
“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker.
Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.
“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.
“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”
Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.
Flemm is upbeat about the future.
“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.
“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”
As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.
Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.
“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”
The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.
“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players).
“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”
Many programs are planning to play a few games once restrictions are lifted July 1.
Teams will be using this opportunity to recognize the Class of 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entire IHSAA spring sports season, including baseball.
Regional tournaments would have been played Saturday (June 6).
Following is a sampling of some the salutes across Indiana.
Hornets head coach Roger Roddy says current plans call for Monday and Thursday practices and Friday intrasquad games the last two weeks in July with senior recognition July 30.
A family picnic is in the mix. Like many programs, Angola has been giving social media shout-outs via Twitter.
Greyhounds head coach Matt Buczkowski traveled to the homes of his seniors to present a commemorative bat.
Warriors coach Pat O’Neil made video wrap-ups after every games of a faux season. The Hall of Famer “saw” his team win a virtual state title.
Once the quarantine began but before the season was canceled, O’Neil asked his players to send him a 20-second video of them working on offensive and defensive skills. There was an award for the most dedicated player.
There was a parade of cars at the baseball field.
“One coach gave a letter certificate, one coach gave letters or chevrons, one coach gave new jerseys,” says O’Neil. “They took individual photos in center field with new jerseys.
“It was good to see them be enthusiastic.”
When July arrives, O’Neil is planning to have practices for junior varsity and varsity players, including seniors.
A scrimmage with a senior recognition that includes souvenir bats and a cookout is slated for July 6.
A youth camp is also planned at the end of July.
In the last year of the program before the merger of Elkhart Memorial and Elkhart Central, Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost conducted a Twitter tournament and voters selected their favorite jersey.
Rost was also hired to be head coach of the Elkhart High School Lions in 2020-21.
Tigers head coach Matt Cherry hopes his team will be able to play doubleheaders July 13-14 with seniors being saluted.
“It’s the craziest spring I’ve ever been a part of,” says Eagles head coach Brad Douglas. “I’ve tried to reach out to the boys the best we can following all the social distancing protocol.”
Gift baskets with sunflower seeds, Gatorade, bubble gum and a baseball painted by Brian Borumn was taken to the seniors.
Tributes were placed on Twitter and new jerseys were made available for photos.
“At least once, we want to put them on and get a team picture,” says Douglas. “I don’t want these boys to be forgotten just because we didn’t get to play this year.”
Panthers head coach Brian Jennings turned on the lights at his field at 9:20 p.m. as a tribute to the Class of 2020.
Trojans head coach John Bogner, who counted son Justin among his seniors, has done his best to acknowledge the Class of 2020.
Social media has been part of that.
Without games to play on what would have been Senior Day for the Vikings, head coach Mark Fluekiger spent 12 hours working on Viking Field.
As the sun was setting, he took photos and recorded a video tribute to seniors.
The Jimmies are looking forward to a unique doubleheader on July 11.
Early in the day comes delayed commencement. At 7:30 p.m., Jimtown plays Bristol Americn Legion Post 143 in a game at Booster Field.
Jimmies coach Cory Stoner says he expects that all 11 of his seniors will be able to play catch with their fathers prior to playing in the contest.
Stoner, who is also the JHS head football coach, also plans to have baseball practices in July.
Drive Main Street in Lanesville, Ind., and you’ll see banners on light poles for senior sports athletes — that includes 11 baseball seniors.
“They’ve meant a lot to our program,” says Swingin’ Eagles head coach Zach Payne. “They’e good kids and good leaders.”
Payne says there may be a joint event with Lanesville softball. There has also been talk about games in late July featuring Corydon Central, North Harrison, South Central (Elizabeth) and Crawford County.
Slicers head coach Scott Upp had Schreiber Field lit up at 8:20 p.m. as a nod to his seniors.
May 20 was supposed to be Senior Night for Mishawaka.
Cavemen head coach John Huemmer went to Freddie Fitzsimmons Field, hung nine senior jerseys on the backstop and turned on the lights.
A Senior Night dinner was being planned. An engraved gift bat will include the bats of seniors.
Huemmer is hopeful that there will be a few practices and games in July.
Bear Tolman Field had the numbers of New Prairie’s eight seniors painted on it and there’s drone photos to prove it.
Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger says its not likely that high school teams will practice or play this summer though his players have connected with their various travel organizations.
“We’re hoping to get together as a team to recognize team and seniors,” says Schellinger, who was the head coach for the North at the 2019 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Madison (the 2020 series in Evansville was canceled). “(Seniors) made very big contributions to our program — on and off the field. They added to the culture and raised the expectations. They set examples for younger players.
“We still spent a lot of time together as a team and a group (in the preseason) — even though games didn’t start.”
Raiders head coach Andrew Brabender says his team gathered at a player’s house for a senior dinner.
Nothing is set in stone, but Brabender says he’d like to put together an alumni game in late July or early August to be staged at the new turfed athletic complex.
“It’s a little closure for seniors,” says Brabender. “They weren’t going to get to play on that field anyway.”
Knights coach Craig Trout has gotten banners and jerseys to his players for photo opportunities.
Senior numerals have been painted on the field.
Northview is hoping to have a wiffle ball game after July 4.
“It’s hard right now for (the players),” says Trout. “It’s hard for their parents.”
Panthers head coach A.J. Risedorph has filled his time not only with online teaching and helping with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Zoom meetings, he’s been dressing his diamond.
Senior numbers have been emblazoned on the field.
SOUTH BEND CLAY
Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold saw that uniforms were distributed for photos.
Twitter appreciation was spread on Twitter.
Yard signs were made as was a video to the tune of “Centerfield” by John Fogerty.
Clay assistant coach Tony Cruz, who recently was released from the hospital following COVID-19 treatment, has invited players to join his South Bend American Legion Post 151 team this summer.
“It’s an unfortunate situation for everybody at all levels,” says Warriors head coach Jason Rahn. “First and foremost, everyone’s health and safety is the top priority.”
Westview lost several top players to graduation in 2019, but there was excitement for 2020.
“We thought we did a good job of re-loading,” says Rahn.
Seniors have been spotlighted on Twitter with vintage-looking baseball cards.
The Class of 2020 has been invited for a July 16 home game against Bristol American Legion Post 143. Westview looks to play at Lakeland July 20 and host another Northeast Corner Conference foe July 22.
While the local recreation season has been canceled with local parks just now opening, travel ball (8U to 14U) is on.
“We feel like we’re making the best of it,” says Rahn, who indicates a camp is being planned for rec ball players.
“You’ve got to be good at that stuff to be able to play at a high level,” says Rahn, who enters his eighth season as Warriors head coach after serving three years as an assistant to Joel Mishler. “We’re fortunate at Westview to be good with things that often get overlooked.”
One area where Rahn looks for improvement is on the basepaths— not just stealing bases, but being aggressive and knowing how to make a dirt-ball read to take an extra base.
“I learned quickly in college that if you know how to run bases you were going to be effective,” says Rahn, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Mike Frame at Huntington University and graduating from Huntington North High School, where he was on squads led by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Sherman and then Chad Daugherty. “You can steal a bag or catch a guy sleeping with the ball in his hand.”
Rahn expects his pitches to throw strikes. But not just pitches in the strike zone.
“Where do you want the strike thrown?,” says Rahn, who knows some strikes can’t be barreled up and others can be crushed.
Rahn goes into each practice with a plan. There is a playbook (written in a way that high school players who have many other things in their life besides baseball can understand).
“It’s repetition and building muscle memory,” says Rahn. “We break down moments and tell why we’re doing it this way. When you see the light bulb come on, you see a huge transition in the kid.”
Mishler, who has experience as a college player, college and high school coach and pro scout and is the founder of the Indiana Chargers travel organization, gets credit from Rahn for his way of teaching game situations.
“He makes it make sense for the kids. You have to realize that some of these kids are 15-year-olds.”
Another dynamic Rahn enjoys is seeing olders players explain things to the younger ones.
“You see who your leaders are just by posting the practice schedule and seeing what happens,” says Rahn.
As a young player on Sherman-coached team, he saw how he interacted with upperclassmen.
“He would push them, but he was also working alongside them as a teammate,” says Rahn. “He was teaching the game as a fan of them.”
Sherman coached the Huntington North baseball team for 38 years until he retired in 2001.
Rahn said some of his best conversations with Sherman came over the fence when first baseman Rahn was playing in college and Sherman was there to watch.
Those moments almost didn’t happen.
In high school, Rahn was all-in for basketball and thought that would be his path in college. He didn’t go out for baseball as a sophomore then watched best friend Thad Frame (Mike’s son) start at shortstop as a freshman.
An ankle injury helped Rahn decide to switch his focus away from the hardwood and onto the diamond.
He was part of a large senior class who enjoyed a special final season in 2003.
He recalls the enthusiastic words of a teammate who said he should be grateful for the opportunity to play and be outside under the blue skies.
As a Huntington University player, Rahn got close with his teammates got to know Mike Frame even better.
“When you sweat and cry next to a guy long enough, you have these tight relationships,” says Rahn. “(Coach Frame) was leading that.
“There has always been a level of intensity about Coach Frame in all aspects of life. He has never been one to not wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’ll always let you know how much he loves you. Coming from a guy who is pushing you physically and mentally, that goes a long way.”
Rahn also gained knowledge from HU assistant coaches Dennis Kas, Brian Abbott and Dave Kennedy. Kas is an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. Abbott is the IHSBCA Executive Director.
A direct feeder program is Warrior Youth Baseball, which has been overhauled and has Rahn’s thumbprint on it more than ever.
“They use more of my verbiage,” says Rahn, who will have the 12U Warriors (coached by former Westview head coach Mark Engle) playing around 60 games by July 4. There will also be a limited travel scheduled for a 13U/14U team.
Rahn’s 2018 high school coaching staff his a family feel to it. Varsity assistants include Steve Christner, Adam Christner and Nate White. Derrike Johns is the junior varsity coach.
Steve Christner’s is Rahn’s father-in-law and Adam Christner his wife’s brother.
Jason, who is employed at Jayco in Middlebury when not coaching, and Whitney Rahn first met at Huntington University.They got to know one another better when Jason was living in Fort Wayne and Whitney was attending Indiana Purdue at Fort Wayne. The couple has three children — son Brigham (6), daughter Preslee (6) and son Sullivan (1 1/2).
Jason Rahn, a product of Huntington North High School and Huntington University, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Westview High School in LaGrange County, Ind.