Tag Archives: Jeff Mercer Jr.

Indianapolis native Vittorio leading Wilmington Quakers with passion, energy

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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.

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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)

 

Helping Michigan pitchers know their strengths mission of Fetter

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the know.

That’s what University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter wants the hurlers in his charge to be.

“First and foremost, I want them to be knowledgeable with who they are as pitchers,” says Fetter, who is guiding to Wolverines staff this weekend in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State, Creighton and Cincinnati are three other competing teams). “Our eyes can deceive us. I want them to be as informed as possible about what they do and own what they do instead of just guessing.”

With Fetter leading the process, Michigan pitchers have access to many resources, including video analysis, Rapsodo and TrackMan to help them devise a plan of attack.

It becomes a combination of approaches that leads to what that player does on the hill.

“It’s not based entirely on technology, a coach or what the player thinks,” says Fetter. “But we marry all those together.”

Fetter assists his pitchers in developing an arsenal and it starts with the fastball.

“What kind of fastball do you throw?,” says Fetter. “Then, how do we attack other teams?

“It all stems with developing a relationship with the player and getting them to buy in to being learners of who they are.”

In his second second at U of M, Fetter has helped produce a number of capable pitchers.

In 2018, Tommy Henry made the all-Big Ten Conference second team while Karl Kauffman was on the third team and Ben Dragani the third and all-freshmen teams. Four Wolverines were signed by Major League Baseball teams — Will Tribucher, Jayce Vacena, Alec Rennard and Troy Miller.

The 2019 all-conference squads include Michigan’s Jeff Criswell (first team), Kauffmann (third team) and Willie Weiss (freshmen). The MLB First-Year Player Draft is June 3-5.

Fetter is a 2004 graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons for Tom Linkmeyer and two for Eric Lentz.

“Tom is great baseball mind, great baseball man,” says Fetter of Linkmeyer. “We still talk quite a bit.

“He took a chance on young kid. He always gave it to you straight. You always knew where you stood. He was always in your corner. I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Fetter remembers Lentz for his positive approach and knowledge of X’s and O’s.

From his 15U to 18U summer, Fetter played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls. His coaches were Dennis Kas, Craig Grow, Jeff Mercer Sr. and C.J. Glander.

“I couldn’t have played for a better summer organization,” says Fetter. “When you’re going up agains the best competition game in and game out, it helps you make the jump to the next level.

“It was a special group. There are some of the best summers of my life.”

One of his Bulls teammates was Jeff Mercer Jr., who is now head coach at Indiana University.

After a redshirt season as a freshman, the 6-foot-8 right-hander played for Michigan and head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Bob Keller from 2006-2009.

“From the moment Rich recruited me, he instilled a great sense of confidence in me as a player,” says Fetter of Maloney. “He really takes an interest in his players and coaching staff.

“He’s a great motivator.”

Fetter says Keller was at the forefront of teaching pitchers to be athletic and stressed pre-throwing routines and properly warming up.

As a pitching coach, Fetter works on helping his starters develop a consistent routine between appearances while monitoring the workload of the relievers. He pushes them on some days and lets the recover on others.

Fetter pitched in 51 games for the Wolverines (40 as a starter) and was 24-8 with a 3.32 earned run average. He struck out 248 and walked 72 in 278 innings. He also pitched for Cotuit Kettleers of the summer collegiate Cape Cod Baseball League in 2007.

When the 2009 MLB Draft came, Fetter was selected in the ninth round by the San Diego Padres. He pitched for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2009 and 2012. His manager at Eugene in 2012 was former Notre Dame head coach and current Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy.

After 51 appearances (37 as a starter), Fetter played his last pro season in 2012 and began coaching in the Padres system in 2013.

Fetter was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Missions and former big leaguer Rich Dauer was the manager and Jimmy Jones the pitching coach.

“They were a great couple of mentors,” says Fetter of Dauer and Jones. “(Dauer) taught me overall game management. From (Jones), I learned about the art of teaching the delivery — rhythm, balance, timing.

“Those are two of the countless people along the way.”

Fetter went from the Padres to becoming a scout for the Los Angeles Angels.

“I go to watch the game from a different perspective,” says Fetter. “I was able formulate opinions on what players do well.”

For the 2016 season, Fetter was reunited with Maloney as his pitching coach at Ball State University, where he got to apply things he had learned as a pro coach and scout.

Three of Fetter’s standout BSU pitchers were Colin Brockhouse, B.J. Butler and Zach Plesac. This past week, Plesac made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Indians.

He then worked in player development with the Los Angeles Dodgers, learning how that organization uses analytics.

That led him to joining the staff of Michigan head coach Erik Bakich.

“He is all-in 24/7,” says Fetter of Bakich. “He’s completely energetic. He lifts everyone up around him. He’s very positive and very prepared.

“He pushes all these guys to play their best and get 100 percent better in their own process of development.”

Fetter, 33, and wife Jessica have a son named Cole. He turned five months next week.

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Chris Fetter is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. He pitched for the Wolverines from 2006-09. (University of Michigan Photo)

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As pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team, Chris Fetter (center) wants his players to be as knowledgeable as possible about what they do and bring it to the mound. Starting May 31, the Wolverines are in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (University of Michigan Photo)

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Chris Fetter, a 2004 Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate and former Indiana Bulls, pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization and assistant at Ball State University, is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. (University of Michigan Photo)

Feyerabend giving back with Franklin Community Grizzly Cubs

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Feyerabend appreciates what his community and a game have done for him.

That’s why he’s decided to give back by becoming the head baseball coach at his alma mater.

Feyerabend is a 1996 graduate of Franklin (Ind.) Community High School. He is now in his sixth season of leading the Grizzly Cubs program after three years as an assistant.

“I do it because I owe a lot of people,” says Feyerabend. “A lot of people helped me a long the way.”

Feyerabend played for two head coaches at FCHS — Noel Heminger and Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.).

Heminger retired and turned the program over to Mercer for Feyerabend’s senior year. He was the head coach when he extended an invitation to coach to Feyerabend, who stayed for two seasons helping Paul Strack before taking over the reins.

From Heminger and the elder Mercer, Feyerabend learned the importance of team.

“We did not worry about the opponent,” says Feyerabend. “Worry about Franklin Community and doing your job. What is your piece in this puzzle?

“The class ahead of me was loaded with talent (including future minor leaguers Randy Phillips and Brian McMillin). I knew I could be a small piece on a great team. If I worked harder, I could be a bigger piece on a great team.”

The Grizzly Cubs advanced to the Richmond Semistate in 1995, bowing to the host Red Devils 7-3 in nine innings in the semifinals.

Feyerabend recalls that when Mercer made out his lineup card, he asked himself, “Does this make Franklin Community High School better?.”

It’s that approach that has simplified things for Feyerabend as a coach.

Not that the job doesn’t keep he and his assistant coaches busy. There is batting practice to throw to 40 players and fungos to hit and so many other details.

Feyerabend has learned that being a sale engineer, spending several hours a week on baseball and raising a family is demanding.

“But it’s all worth it,” says Feyerabend, who lives in Franklin with fiancee Brooke, Lyric (10), Zain (3) and Preston (14 months).

“There’s so much to do,” says Feyerabend. “You have to be there of the love of the game.”

His 2019 coaching staff features Dustin Peddycord, Travis Miles, Dalton Carter (pitching coach), Tyler Urban (Feyerabend’s nephew) and Chad Brown at the varsity level with Dylan Drybread and Dane Johnston leading the junior varsity. All but Carter and Brown are Franklin Community alums.

Feyerabend wants his players to know there is system to follow and it will only work if they commit.

“We’re not working toward a participation certificate,” says Feyerabend. “To make those lifelong memories, you have to buy in. Everybody has a job to do.

“In the winter time, we focus on our swings if we’re not playing basketball. We work on strength and conditioning. We can’t skip steps in the process.

“There’s a process to everything we do. I’m trying to build a monster here. We’re going to do the best job we can do.”

Feyerabend took hitting lessons from Jeff Mercer Sr., even before playing for him and is close with the whole Mercer family, which was honored in April when the Franklin Community diamond was dedicated as Mercer Field.

Mercer Sr., is retiring this year as a business administrator at Franklin. Feyerabend and he talk frequently about baseball or life.

Mercer Field is an on-campus facility is in its 13th year like the rest of the school, which is on the north side of town. With its location, wind and wind chill is always a factor at the diamond in the spring.

“I tell the players it might be OK in the parking lot,” says Feyerabend. “But when they get up to the field they’re going to need sleeves.”

Feyerabend played with the Indiana Bulls in the fledgling years of that elite travel baseball organization in the early 1990’s. His head coach for three summers was Craig Moore.

“He was one of the most intense human beings I’ve ever been around,” says Feyerabend of Moore. “He cared about us. But there was no gray area for him. We performed or we got replaced.”

When Moore told a 15-year-old Feyerabend that he needed to work on his conditioning, he took it to heart and improved in that area.

“Coaches like that, their wisdom is so appreciated,” says Feyerabend. “Kids today don’t work on their deficiencies. My body had to get fixed or I wasn’t going to have an opportunity.”

With the Bulls, Feyerabend was a teammate of top-flight players like A.J. Zapp and Eric Bruntlett.

Corner infielder Feyerabend went on to Indiana State University, where Hall of Famer Bob Warn was head coach and Mitch Hannahs (now the Sycamores head coach) was an assistant.

“(Hannahs) is one of the best baseball minds in the country,” says Feyerabend, who recently got to take his team to ISU’s Bob Warn Field to play Bloomington South thanks to Hannahs and West Vigo coach Culley DeGroote.

Feyerabend is grateful to Mercer Sr., for bringing him back to the game after being away about a decade after college.

“The other reason I do this is that we have great, great kids and human beings in Franklin,” says Feyerabend. “Without that, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

“We’re not winning state championships yet, but we have state-champion character guys.

“We’ve been really, really competitive.”

Franklin Community (enrollment of about 1,570) is part of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Perry Meridian, Plainfield and Whiteland Community).

“It’s super competitive,” says Feyerabend of the MSC. “They’re a lot of good coaches. You know you’re in for it every night.”

A tough non-conference schedule includes Bloomington South, Center Grove, Columbus East, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Cathedral, Roncalli, Silver Creek, Southport and West Vigo.

“We can’t measure the kind of team we are if we don’t play the meanest and nastiest,” says Feyerabend. “We’re going up against the best we can put on the schedule.

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘are we playing are best baseball when we walk into that sectional?’”

The Grizzly Cubs are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Central, Greenwood Community, Martinsville and Whiteland Community. Franklin Community has won five sectionals — the last in 2013. The was the same year the school won conference and Johnson County titles.

Three recent Franklin Community graduates are college baseball rosters — Evan Giles (Indiana State), Alec MacLennan (Judson University) and Jacob Heuchan (Franklin College).

Senior shortstop Luke Miles has committed to Purdue Fort Wayne. Senior Tyce Miller is going to Rose-Hulman to play football. The other three seniors — George Admire, C.J. Brown and Nathaniel Whetstine — have not yet announced college choices.

Franklin Community graduate Jeremy McKinney is currently a relief pitcher in the Washington Nationals organization.

A feeder program for the Grizzly Cubs is Franklin Youth Baseball, which generally serves 7U through 13U.

“We try to keep the kids in Franklin playing together as long as possible,” says Feyerabend.

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Mercer Field is the baseball home of the Franklin (Ind.) Community High School Grizzly Cubs.

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Mercer Field, which was dedicated with the new name in April 2019, is in its 13th year like the rest of the Franklin (Ind.) Community High School campus on the north side of town.

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The location of Mercer Field at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School means that wind and wind chill is almost always a factor during the spring baseball season.

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Franklin (Ind.) Community High School baseball head coach Ryan Feyerabend (right) and son Zion share a ride around Mercer Field. Zion is clutching a baseball.

 

Franklin Community, Hanover grad Miller now coaching at Tusculum

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Todd Miller’s baseball coaching path has taken him to the eastern part of the Volunteer State.

A graduate of Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2002 and Hanover (Ind.) College in 2006, Miller is in his first season as an assistant at Tusculum University, an NCAA Division II school in Greeneville, Tenn.

Recruiting coordinator and assistant coach is charge of hitting, base runners and infielders are duties for Miller, who was hired in the summer of 2018.

He joined Brandon Steele, a former Tusculum assistant who was promoted when Doug Jones resigned as head baseball coach to concentrate on his duties as Pioneers athletic director.

Associate head coach Todd Ireland and graduate assistants John Topoleski and Hayden Pewitt round out the coaching staff.

Tusculum (24-14 through April 4) is part of the South Atlantic Conference (with Anderson of South Carolina, Carson-Newman, Catawba, Coker, Lenoir-Rhyne, Lincoln Memorial, Mars Hill, Newberry, Queens of Charlotte and Wingate).

The Pioneers play home games at Pioneer Park, a stadium owned by the school and also used by the short-season Appalachian League’s Greeneville Reds (Cincinnati Reds affiliate).

“We have, arguably, the best facilities in Division II baseball,” says Miller. Tusculum has indoor covered batting cages. A clubhouse, weight room, video lab and coaches offices are all underneath the stadium. A nearby building is used for defensive work.

Prior to Tusculum, Miller served four seasons as an assistant to Chris Anderson at Belmont (N.C.) Abbey College and four campaigns as an assistant to Jim Gantt at Cattawba College (Salisbury, N.C.).

Anderson played for Gantt at Catawba and joined Miller in turning the Crusaders’ fortunes around.

“We had a lot of success there,” says Miller.

After going 25-25 in 2015 (Miller’s first season), Abbey was 40-14  with a No. 2 national ranking (best in program history) in 2018 (Miller’s last).

“(Gantt) is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around — bar none,” says Miller. “He’s got a fantastic program. He does a great job of developing players. He’s truly winner.”

Miller was a part of winning teams for the Indians. During his time there, Catawba won three conference titles and qualified for regional play three times. The program’s first regional crown and D-II College World Series berth in Cary, N.C., came in 2012.

He was an assistant at his alma mater, Hanover, and helped head coach Shayne Stock in 2009 and 2010. Those were also the junior and senior seasons for brother Adam Miller (Hanover Class of 2010). Their sister, Jessica (Class of 2012), was also a student there at the time.

Two seasons at Bluffton (Ohio) University, where James Grandey was head coach, came right after Miller graduated from Hanover.

In March 2007, Miller was involved in a tragic highway accident in Atlanta. Bluffton was on its way to Florida on its southern trip when a crash took the lives of seven people, including five players.

“I was thrown from the bus,” says Miller. “I went through the front windshield.

“I had four broken bones in my back, a skull fracture and a broken jaw.”

Head coach Grandey was hurt even worse and stayed weeks in a hospital before going back to Ohio.

At 22, Miller became temporary head coach.

“I was talking to guys about losing their best friend and roommate,” says Miller. “We had a team meeting after all the funerals. We said we can play this year if you’d like or not. Nobody is going to judge you either way.

“The team decided it wanted to play and do its best. We played the rest of that season with heavy hearts.”

The first game after the fatal accident was a loss, but the Beavers scored five runs — one for each lost player.

“That was symbolic,” says Miller, who recalls that the outreach locally and nationally was tremendous.

After a month after the accident, Tiffin University (located about 45 minutes from Bluffton) held a Purple Day (in honors of Bluffton’s school colors) and raised $13,000.

He was still dealing with physical and mental issues when Miller met one of the Tiffin students that were a part of the effort. A year later, they went on a date and are now married with three children.

Todd and Leigh Miller have Madeline (6), Brooks (3) and Boone (almost 10 months).

“It shows you that even through that tragedy, there can be a silver lining,” says Miller.

Bluffton is where Miller received his masters degree in business administration and formed a bond with Grandey.

“He’s been a teacher, mentor and friend to me through the years,” says Miller.

He played four seasons at Hanover — the first three for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor and the last for Shayne Stock.

“I enjoyed Coach Naylor very much,” says Miller. “He was very organized and demanded excellence everyday — not only in the game but it practice.

“He was a winner. He was always able to get the best out of you. He was hard on you. But you had to read through the message a little bit. It was what he said not how he said it.”

Miller also played football at Hanover. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, spending his winters with basketball.

At Franklin Community, Miller’s baseball coaches were Jeff Mercer Sr. and Mark Pieper.

Jeff Mercer Sr. is the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr., a Franklin Community graduate and two years younger than Todd Miller. The Miller and Mercer families are long-time friends.

Miller is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and regular attendee of the ABCA Convention in January (the 2020 event is slated for Nashville).

“The ABCA is a must-attend for anybody serious about baseball,” says Miller. “I pick up something new every year.

“It’s relevant for all stages of coaching — youth, high school, college and professional.”

Miller also coached three summers with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization, leading a 14U squad for two years and a 15U team for one. Brother Adam assisted for all three seasons. He also got help from Ben Kleber, who is now head coach at Trinity Christian High School in Seymour, Ind.

One of the players on those Bulls team was Drew Ellis, who went on to play at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization (he begins 2019 at Double-A Jackson, Tenn.).

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Todd Miller (left), a graduate Franklin (Ind.) Community High School and Hanover (Ind.) College, is in his first season as an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. (Tusculum University Photo)

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Todd Miller is an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. His duties include recruiting coordinator and he is in charge of hitters, base runners and infielders. (Tusculum University Photo)

With Barber as president/CEO, The BASE Indianapolis offers diamond, educational opportunities to urban youth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.

The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.

These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.

A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”

Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.

“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. (The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.

“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”

With support from many, programming is free to these young people.

“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”

Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.

“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”

Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.

Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”

Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.

“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”

Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.

He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.

A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.

Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.

Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.

Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.

(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.

“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”

Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.

Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.

Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.

Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.

To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.

In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.

Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.

Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.

“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.

“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”

“But it’s about family.”

For more information, contact Barber at rbarber@thebaseindy.org or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.

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Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)