Tag Archives: Jeff McKeon

Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper gets bigger

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame has expanded.

Additional display space has been added at the museum on the Vincennes University campus in Jasper, Ind. A dedication was held Saturday, Jan. 26 inside the Ruxer Student Center.

With an expansion of 1,333 square feet, there is now about 3,600 feet of display space for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame plaques and other baseball artifacts.

Made possible through a substantial donation by the Buehler family, the expansion includes the last two Hall of Fame induction classes — 2018 and 2019 — and room to grow.

“We have plenty of wall space for plaques and other items,” said Hall of Fame executive director Ray Howard.

Saturday’s festivities were attended by Hall of Famers Howard, Terry Gobert, Paul Gries, Tim Nonte, Joe Rademacher and Jim Reid.

Jeff McKeon, who is head coach at South Putnam High School, represented the IHSBCA executive council.

“It was an amazing experience seeing the history of Indiana baseball,” said McKeon, who was excited to see the photo of the 2017 IHSBCA South All-Stars. He was the head coach of that team in Muncie.

The rest of the council includes executive director Brian Abbott, assistant executive director Phil McIntyre, president Kevin Hannon, second vice president Ben McDaniel, third vice president Jeremy Richey and past president Ricky Romans. Hannon’s official duties will end with the IHSAA State Finals, which are scheduled this year on Monday and Tuesday, June 17-18 at Victory Field in Indianapolis (followed by the IHSBCA Futures Game June 19 and North/South All-Star Series June 20-22 in Madison.

The Hall of Fame expansion has a curved wall and resembles an outfield.

The old section has an infield layout with Hall of Famer Don Mattingly at first base, Hall of Famer and Jasper High School graduate Scott Rolen at third base and all Indiana members enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., at second base.

The Hall in Jasper is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday through Sunday when Vincennes-Jasper is in session (August to May) and 11 to 3 daily when school is out (May to August). Admission is $4 for ages 13-and-older, $3 for ages 5-12, $2 for ages 60-and-older and free for ages below 5. Group rates are available. Special showings can be arranged by calling 812-482-2262.

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Hall of Famers attending the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019 are (from left) Terry Gobert, Tim Nonte, Ray Howard, Joe Rademacher, Jim Reid and Paul Gries. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A crowd gathers for the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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Executive director and Hall of Famer Ray Howard shows some items at the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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History is preserved at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The induction classes of 2018 and 2019 are show in their space at the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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One view of the displays at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A collection of bats at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The new outfield area at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A photo of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association South All-Stars with Jeff McKeon as head coach is on display at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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Some uniforms on display at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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Another view of the displays at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A tribute to Hall of Famer Don Mattingly at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A salute to Hall of Famer and Jasper High School graduate Scott Jasper at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame is located in the Ruxer Student Center on the Vincennes University campus in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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Architect drawings for the expansion of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The expansion of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper was made possible through a substantial donation by the Buehler family. The new space was dedicated on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Jasper — home to the five-time state champion Jasper High School Wildcats. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The ribbon cutting for expansion of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019.  (Picture Perfect Photo)

 

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Abrell values life lessons while leading Plainfield Quakers baseball program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a coach and educator, Shane Abrell looks for teachable moments.

Abrell and his coaching staff got the opportunity to teach their players about dealing with failure and about momentum during Abrell’s first season in charge of the Plainfield (Ind.) High School baseball program.

“Life lessons are really important in coaching,” says Abrell. “If we’re not teaching them about life, we’re failing them.”

Facing a formidable schedule, the 2018 Quakers got off to a 2-9 start then went on an 8-3 run on the way to 12-16-1. Right-hander Sam Tackett (an Indiana University Kokomo commit for 2019-20) hooked up in a pitchers’ duel with Braydon Tucker (now at Indiana University) as Plainfield bowed to Northview 1-0 in nine innings in the first round of the IHSAA Class 4A Avon Sectional.

“Now they know they can play with those teams,” says Abrell. “It gives us a lot of mental toughness as time goes on.”

Abrell and his assistants spent much time talking about the team.

“We have some really great conversations,” says Abrell, who welcomes back varsity assistants Josh Morris, Noah Lane and Jaylen Cushenberry, junior varsity coach Brian Holsclaw and freshmen coach Mike Harper for 2019. “We demand a lot of time and effort. But hese guys don’t skip a beat. They make my job easy.”

The coaches were honest with their athletes and admitted when they made mistakes in 2018.

The lines of communication are kept open through that sincerity.

“Baseball is so mentally tough on people,” says Abrell. It’s not for everybody.

“Kids are more willing to come to us when they’re struggling. We’re seeing more players are consoling each other.”

Abrell, who teaches computer science at PHS, was a Plainfield assistant to Jeff McKeon (now head coach at South Putnam High School) for one season before taking over the program.

Prior coming to Hendricks County, Abrell was an assistant to Kyle Kraemer at Terre Haute South Vigo High School from 2001-14 and helped coach youth teams around Terre Haute including the Junior Sycamores and with the John Hayes-managed Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 program.

Abrell played for Kraemer at South Vigo, graduating in 1998.

“Kyle is probably one of the most organized people I’ve come across in coaching,” says Abrell of Kraemer. “He is very meticulous. There was very little down time in practice. You were always moving.”

South Vigo has enjoyed continuity on the coaching staff with assistants like Brian Pickens, T.C. Clary, Todd Miles and Chad Chrisman serving for decades.

“(Kraemer’s) been a great mentor and friend to me,” says Abrell, who will take his Plainfield team to the 2019 Braves Bash at South Vigo. The event also features Munster and New Haven.

Plainfield (enrollment around 1,700) is part of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Perry Meridian and Whiteland).

The MSC plays home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to crown its champion.

The Quakers are part of the IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Avon, Brownsburg, Mooresville, Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo. Plainfield has won eight sectional titles — the last in 1997.

While in Terre Haute, Abrell had the opportunity to coach A.J. Reed and become close T.J. Collett and his family while coaching his brother Doug with the Post 346 junior squad and then as North Vigo athletic director.

Both A.J. and T.J. were Indiana Mr. Baseball honorees — Reed at South Vigo in 2011 and Collett at North Vigo in 2016.   

A walk-on at Indiana State University, Abrell’s coach with the Sycamores was Mitch Hannahs.

Abrell graduated from ISU in 2003 with a B.S. degree in Management Information Systems/Computer Science and worked various jobs, including web designer for Clabber Girl and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Reserve Deputy for the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

“That was an eye opener,” says Abrell of the issues he saw some students dealing with that have nothing to do with a baseball drill or home work assignment.

He makes a point of getting his players to give back by volunteering in the community at a food pantry or with Riley’s Children’s Hospital.

Gratitude is another life lesson Abrell teaches.

“We talk to the kids about thanking their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents for all the time and money they spend,” Abrell.

He was a football, basketball and baseball coach at South Vigo. North Vigo, coached by Shawn Turner and Fay Spetter and featuring Collett, were 4A state runners-up in 2014 and 2015 with Abrell as AD.

Along the way, he attended Western Kentucky University (Master of Education & Kinesiology) and Indiana Wesleyan University (Education Administration).

Baseball has long been a big deal in the Abrell family.

Shane’s grandfather, the late John Abrell, was a long-time Connie Mack baseball coach and sponsor in Terre Haute.

Rick Abrell, Shane’s father, coached youth baseball at Prairie Creek, Prairieton and Riley and was president of Terre Haute Babe Ruth. He now tends to the baseball fields at both South Vigo and West Vigo.

The Abrells are close with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Bob Warn and Steve DeGroote. Warn was head coach at Indiana State from 1975-2006. DeGroote assisted Warn at ISU and then led the West Vigo program.

Abrell says he took something from all the baseball men in his life.

“To be a good coach, you have to accept you’re not going to create something new in baseball,” says Abrell. “You take what you learn and you mold them all together.”

A love of tending the field was ingrained in Abrell. Kraemer had his team spend 30 minutes after each practice and game wielding shovels and rakes and Abrell does the same with his Quakers.

And there’s lots of time spent mowing and edging in the summer and fall.

“For every two hours practicing, probably another two hours working on the field,” says Abrell. “It’s therapy for me.

“We’re blessed at Plainfield. We have a beautiful complex and support from the administration.”

Principal Melvin Siefert and Assistant Principal of Athletics Torrey Rodkey are both former coaches.

The Quakers feeder system includes Plainfield Pee Wee Association, Plainfield Optimist Baseball League and Plainfield Teenage Baseball League (a Babe Ruth League) as well as a locally-based travel organization — the Plainfield Havoc.

“We’re trying to keep travel ball in the community,” says Abrell. “When they play together their whole life is when you have some of the better teams.”

When Abrell took over the program, he contacted Plainfield graduate Jeremy Kehrt. The right-handed pitcher was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 47th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in independent ball in 2017.

“He stops by a lot,” says Abrell of Kehrt. “He works with our pitchers. When he shows up, their eyes get huge.”

Connor Mitchell, a left-hander who pitched in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 2018, also visits to work on arm maintenance. His younger brother, Jackson Mitchell, was the Plainfield’s shortstop in 2018 and is now at Earlham College.

“It means a lot to have alumni reaching out,” says Abrell.

Current Plainfield outfielder/first baseman Jacob Sims is drawing interest from college programs.

A wedding is planned for Shane Abrell and Shannon Bormann in the fall of 2019. Shannon is a nurse anesthetist at IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette.

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T.C. Clary (left), Shannon Bormann, A.J. Reed and Shane Abrell meet at the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. Clary was a baseball teammate and coached with Abrell at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. Bormann is engaged to Abrell. Reed played at South Vigo and was a Pacific Coast League all-star. Abrell is now head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School.

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Shane Abrell is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School. He is also a computer science teacher at PHS.

Confidence carries Plainfield, Butler grad Mitchell into pro baseball with Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Applying advice provided by two of his college coaches, Connor Mitchell earned the right to play professional baseball in 2018.

Mitchell, a left-handed pitcher, finished up a four-year diamond career at Butler University in Indianapolis in 2018.

Dave Schrage has been the Bulldogs head coach and Ben Norton the pitching coach since the 2017 season.

Mitchell credits both men for helping him as a collegian and in getting selected in the 27th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The biggest thing I took away from Coach Schrage is that everything matters — on the field and off the field,” says Mitchell. “All the little things play a role in whether you have success. If you’re doing every thing right way in the classroom and the weight room, all of it makes a difference.”

Norton helped implant a confident mindset.

“He told me to go after hitters and never be hesitant,” says Mitchell of Norton. “Pick a pitch you have conviction with and just throw it.”

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Mitchell delivered four-team and two-seam fastballs that typically traveled at 88 to 92 mph. He also used an adapted “circle” change-up, slider and cut fastball.

In his final Butler campaign, Mitchell made 14 mound appearances (all stars) and went 3-4 with a 4.85 ERA. In 68 2/3 innings, he racked up 80 strikeouts with 19 walks.

For his college career, the southpaw pitched in 41 games (32 starts) with a 8-10 record and 4.74 earned run average. In 160 innings, Mitchell struck out 149 and walked 66. He was a medical redshirt his sophomore year when he had to have an ulnar nerve transposition procedure.

“I had some discomfort when I threw and tingling in my fingers,” says Mitchell. “There have been no issues since then.”

After being drafted in June, the 6-foot-4, 180-pounder worked in 17 games (all in relief) for the rookie-level Ogden (Utah) Raptors. In 29 2/3 innings, the lefty went 4-0 with a 6.67 earned run average, 20 strikeouts and six walks.

Dodgers minor league stops after Ogden are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Mitchell enjoyed his first pro season.

“I liked how efficient and focused everything was,” says Mitchell. “It streamlined. Everybody knew what they needed to do.”

After a week back home in Plainfield, Ind., Mitchell went to Arizona in mid-September and is to spend a month at Camelback Ranch in Glendale for the Dodgers instructional league.

“We’ve been doing a variety of things from pitch design to defense work,” says Mitchell. “It’s been good so far.

“(The Dodgers) give us a lot of freedom, but the expectation for all of us is very high. It feels like a family.”

Support from his actual family comes from father, mother and younger brother — Brooks, Laura and Jackson. His parents own a small drywall sales business in Plainfield. His brother is a freshman baseball player at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind.

Connor Mitchell is a 2014 Plainfield High School graduate. fanned a combined 90 batters in 55 innings during his sophomore and junior seasons for the Quakers, who were then coached by Jeff McKeon.

In the spring of his senior year, Mitchell competed in the Perfect Game Iowa Spring League, where he was named to the Top Prospect Team. He traveled from Indiana to meet his team on days he was scheduled to pitch.

“That league was awesome,” says Mitchell. “There’s a ton of good players in Iowa and the surrounding states.”

Born in Indianapolis, Mitchell spent his early years in Reelsville, Ind., in Putnam County. After moving to central Indiana, he played travel baseball for the Avon Attack, USAthletic and two stints with the Indiana Mustangs, where he formed a friendship with future Butler teammate Garrett Christman.

Mitchell and Christman were roommates throughout college and both graduated in May with degrees in Human Movement and Health Science.

He’s a great player,” says Mitchell of Christman, who was both a shortstop and pitcher at Butler and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants this year. “He does it all.

“He really came on as a pitcher. He eats innings and gets a lot of ground balls. I’m excited to see what he does professionally.”

Mitchell and Christman played for former pro outfielder Chris Estep with the Mustangs.

“He was a big influence on me growing up, developing as me as a player and a person,” says Mitchell of Estep. “He taught me how to handle failure. He’s also fun to be around.”

Brother Jackson also played for the Mustangs.

The Mitchell boys were born four years apart — Connor (23) on Sept. 11 and Jackson (19) on Sept. 10.

Connor was 6 and Jackson 2 on the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“When it happened, I could tell something bad had happened,” says Connor. “It’s definitely a somber day, knowing what that day means to our country.”

Over the years, the brothers and their family have celebrated their birthdays together.

“We enjoy the day and enjoy being together,” says Connor, who plans to enjoy his time back in Indiana this winter by working out and maybe giving back to younger players through private lessons.

Then it’s back to Arizona for spring training to resume his pro baseball career.

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Connor Mitchell made his professional baseball debut in 2018 with the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. He is a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High and Butler University in Indianapolis.

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Garrett Christman (left) and Connor Mitchell both graduated from Butler University in Indianapolis in the spring of 2018. They were travel ball teammates for the Indiana Mustangs then baseball teammates and roommates at Butler. Noblesville High School graduate Christman is now in the San Francisco Giants organization and Mitchell the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

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Butler University baseball teammates Josh Walker (left) and Connor Mitchell were both pitchers for the Bulldogs.

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, stares in for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, lets go for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, winds up for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, delivers a pitch in 2018 for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

Coaches encouraged to nominate seniors for IHSBCA All-Star Series in South Bend

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plans are coming together for the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series Friday through Sunday, July 20-22 in South Bend.

The July 20 IHSBCA Junior Showcase and July 21-22 All-Star Series games will be played at Four Winds Field, home of the Class-A South Bend Cubs.

The All-Star banquet is slated for July 20 at the Century Center in Downtown South Bend. Former Elkhart Central High School, Bethel College and Milwaukee Brewers minor league pitcher Greg Kloosterman has agreed to be the keynote speaker.

Selection of the squads, which will include senior players from all four classes (25 from the South and 25 from the North), is scheduled the morning of the IHSAA State Finals on Saturday, June 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

North and South committees will review the names sent in from the 16 district meetings held on June 3.

Each head coach, who is an IHSBCA member, will receive notification from the district representative informing him of the time and place of the meeting.

District reps are Bob Glover (Hobart) in A, Mark Schellinger (New Prairie) in B, Jim Treadway (Elkhart Central assistant) in C, Pat McMahon (Fort Wayne Canterbury) in D, Andy McClain (Norwell) in E, Travis Keesling (Pendleton Heights) in F, Jay Malott (South Dearborn) in G, Brad King (New Castle) in H, Ryan Wolfe (Plymouth) in I, Kyle Neal (Attica) in J, Matt Cherry (Fishers) in K, Jeff McKeon (Decatur Central assistant) in L, Kyle Kraemer (Terre Haute South Vigo) in M, Jeremy Richey (Seymour) in N, Brian Kirchoff (Northeast Dubois) in O and Mike Goedde (Evansville Central) in P.

A member MUST be present at the meeting to have a senior player nominated for consideration for the 2018 All-Star squads.

Each school is allowed to nominate up to three senior players for All-Star consideration.

Ricky Romans (Charlestown) will chair the South selection committee. Other members are Goedde, Dick Alter (Indianapolis Lutheran), Steve Bray (Northeastern), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Zach Payne (Lanesville), Jeremy Sassanella (Brebeuf Jesuit), Tim Terry (South Vermillion) and Justin Tucker (Batesville).

Kevin Hannon (Knox) will chair the North selection committee and be assisted by Wolfe, Ryan Berryman (Western), Chuck Brimbury (Peru), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Brian Jennings (Griffith), Justin Keever (Noblesville), Dave Neuenschwander (Adams Central) and Bob Shinkan (Munster).

Brian Abbott is executive director of the IHSBCA.

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The 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series is July 20-22 in South Bend.

 

Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

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Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.

 

Alum Catey keeps success going at Hagerstown

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Respect for all the little things have led to big things at a little school.

Hagerstown was ranked No. 1 much of the season in IHSAA Class 1A baseball in 2017.

The Tigers lost in the Carroll (Flora) Regional championship game to eventual state runner-up Rossville and finished 28-5 in Brad Catey’s sixth season as Hagerstown head coach.

Hagerstown reigned at the Seton Catholic Sectional.

Catey spent his whole pre-college school career in Hagerstown (K-12) and graduated in 2000 before studying and playing basketball at Indiana University East in Richmond. He played several positions for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd Michael — shortstop as a freshman, second base as a sophomore, left field as a junior and catcher as a junior.

“I moved wherever Lloyd needed me to move,” says Catey, who was part of 1999 squad that lost to eventual state champion Evansville Mater Dei in the 2A Indianapolis North Central Semistate and also played football and basketball for the Tigers.

Third baseman Cory Childs was a 2A first-team all-state selection for Hagerstown in 1999 while pitcher Jesse Johnson earned that distinction in 2000.

Catey spent four seasons as a Hagerstown assistant before taking over for Michael with the 2012 season.

“He taught me to respect the game,” says Catey of mentor Michael. “We made sure we do the little things right. We always ran on and off the field. We backed up the plate. You give yourself a chance to win.”

Hagerstown has won three sectionals (2013, 2016, 2017) and six crowns in the Tri-Eastern Conference (which also includes Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester) with Catey in charge.

At the same time, the Tigers have produced three first-all-staters — pitcher Cole Bartlett (2A) in 2013, outfielder Owen Golliher (1A) in 2016 and pitcher Drew Pyle (1A) in 2017.

Right-hander Bartlett pitched at the University of Missouri and was taken in the 25th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is with the Missoula (Mont.) Osprey.

Hagerstown’s success got Catey a spot on the North coaching staff for the 2017 IHSBCA All-Star Series in Muncie, where he got to coach TEC Player of the Year Trey Kelley one more time before he headed off to Earlham College.

“That was an awesome experience,” says Catey, who served on a South staff led by Plainfield’s Jeff McKeon and also featuring Batesville’s Justin Tucker and Columbus East’s John Major. “I got to coach a lot of (NCAA) Division I talent.”

H-town goes back to 2A for the 2018 season — and likely the Cambridge City Lincoln Sectional field — with plenty of optimism.

The junior varsity squad, coached by Bruce Charles, went 22-0 last spring.

“We don’t like to rebuild; we reload,” says Catey. “It makes my job a little easier.”

Hagerstown graduates Charles, pitching coach Dan Davis Jr. and outfielders coach Jay Hale (outfielders) are all expected to be part of the staff in 2017-18.

Hagerstown Little League has served as a high school feeder program for years. Many current juniors and seniors represented Indiana at the Great Lakes Regional when they were that age.

To help maintain the relationship with HLL, each high school player is required to umpire two games a year.

“That’s one of the reason we keep our numbers so high,” says Catey. who had 38 players on varsity, junior varsity and C-team squads in 2017. “For a 1A school, that’s really good.

“Most our guys have found a good travel team. We encourage our guys to find a little better competition.”

Among those travel organizations are the Hagerstown Heat, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Nitro.

Across Indiana, the 2017 season brought with it the new IHSAA 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).

Hagerstown had a number of quality arms to get through its schedule, including Kelley (Class of ’17) and Pyle (Class of ’18).

“It didn’t seem to effect us that much,” says Catey. “We had a lot of people we could use. Some other teams had to drop JV games because they had to use guys in varsity games.

“The biggest equation is the JV and varsity pitches they can pitch in a week.”

Catey leads students through simple equations as a math teacher at Hagerstown Elementary.

Recently, he has been teaching young girls how to slide. Oldest daughter Lilly (7) is an 8U softball player. Brad and Darcy Catey’s youngest daughter is Peyton (5).

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Hagerstown High School baseball head coach Brad Catey celebrates a 2017 sectional championship with daughters Peyton (left) and Lilly (right).

IHSBCA South All-Stars head coach McKeon sports diamond pedigree

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

B-A-S-E-B-A-L-L demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

So says Jeff McKeon, who has been chosen as South head coach for this weekend’s 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. Practices, junior showcase and banquet are slated for Friday, July 14, with two games Saturday, July 15, and one game Sunday, July 16, at Ball State University in Muncie.

“I believe you must respect the game,” says McKeon, who resigned as head coach at Plainfield High School after the 2017 season (Shane Abrell has been named as his successor). “Once you cross that line, you have to give 100 percent every single time. The game will humble you in a second. If you ever think you are bigger than the game, it will strike back at you in a second.”

McKeon, who led the Quakers to a 94-75 record in his six seasons, was an assistant at three schools prior to Plainfield — one season for Jason Engelbrecht at Evansville Central, two for Steve Johnston at Evansville Reitz and six for Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg.

At Plainfield, McKeon got to be the host coach for the IHSAA’s South semistate games. The field has two berms for spectators and a scoreboard in center field.

Coming from Evansville, where iconic Bosse Field and other parks all have unique features, McKeon likes that the facility is not a “cookie-cutter.”

“I’m a big baseball purist,” says McKeon. “The ballpark should be part of the experience.

“Plainfield has some uniqueness to it.”

A 1993 Evansville North High School graduate, his high school coach was Dan Sparrow. He was a catcher and then a middle infielder at Ashford University in Iowa, graduating in 1997. He also worked two years for the Clinton LumberKings as an intern, grounds crew worker and clubhouse assistant and one for the Birmingham Barons as assistant GM for concessions and in sales.

Jeff comes from a baseball family. He is the son of former minor league catcher and scout and current Evansville Otters radio analyst Bill McKeon. In 2010, Bill was briefly the Otters manager with Jeff as a coach.

Bill McKeon and Joe Unfried, Jeff’s uncle, were teammates on the 1956 Evansville Braves of the Class B Three-I League and founded the non-profit Tri-State Hot Stove League in 1993.

The ’55 Evansville Braves were owned and managed by Bob Coleman. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inducted Coleman in 1980.

Coleman, Engelbrecht, Johnston, Sparrow and Unfried, are all members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class in 2016.

Bill’s older brother and Jeff’s uncle is Jack McKeon, the manager for the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins. Jack also served as skipper for the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds.

In his first off-season as general manager of the Padres, he began to rebuild the club with a series of deals and became known as “Trader Jack.”

Jack’s sons have also been involved in professional baseball. Kasey McKeon was a catcher in the Detroit Tigers system and is now director of player procurement for the Washington Nationals.

Kelly McKeon has scouted for the Padres, where he signed Greg Booker, son-in-law to Jack, brother-in-law to Kasey and Kelly father of former Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Zach Booker. Greg Booker is now a pro scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I’ve had some good mentors,” says McKeon, who is a business teacher at Plainfield and IHSBCA vice president on a leadership team that has included Brian Abbott as executive director, Shane Edwards (Oak Hill), Kevin Hannon (Knox), Scott Hughes (Shelbyville), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Phil McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central) and Ricky Romans (Charlestown).

“Those are awesome guys,” says McKeon. “They are great coaches and even better men. Being with those guys has been life-altering for me.”

Fundamentals and instruction are important to McKeon, who has thrown countless hours of batting practice trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.

“I’ve worked with a lot of very good players,” says McKeon. “But you win not with best players, you win with the role player that has to step up.”

McKeon, who is in charge of vendors at the IHSBCA State Clinic in January, will serve as a vice president in 2017-18 and is due to be president the following year.

This year marked his third as South representative and coach for the Crossroads Series, held the past two season at Ball State.

With Rich Andriole as head coach, the South swept the North in three games at Whiting in 2016.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” says McKeon, who will be assisted by Brad Catey (Hagerstown), Justin Tucker (Batesville), John Major (Columbus East) and have a Plainfield Quaker on the roster for the third straight year. It’s first baseman Daylan Nanny (bound for Arizona Western College) in 2017. Outfielder/first baseman Jackson Blevins was selected in 2016 and went on to Saint Joseph’s College. He is playing for the Dubois County Bombers this summer. After the closing of SJC, Blevins is slated to play at Wabash College in 2017-18.

Pitcher Antonio Lucciola represented Plainfield in the North/South series in 2015.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to be recognized for their accomplishments,” says McKeon.

Jeff and wife Liz have a son and a daughter — Gavin (9) and Katie (5).

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Jeff McKeon, head baseball coach at Plainfield High School 2012-17, will be head coach for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.