Tag Archives: Jeff Mercer

Indiana’s Mercer talks about offensive progression

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer spoke at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis for the first time as head coach at Indiana University.

His presentation was “An 8-Week Offensive Progression.”

Mercer, a Franklin (Ind.) Community High School graduate, addressed the group a few times when he was coaching at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

“I was raised by many of the people in this room,” said Mercer. “We are in essence as young people as we grow, we are the product of our environment. We truly are. I’m the product of this environment.”

The coach emphasizes individual development at IU and does not attack anything without a plan.

“I’m a firm believer in systems and processes,” said Mercer. “When we got to Wright State we implemented a system on everything.

“From an offensive standpoint, there has to be an identity in the way we develop and coach our players.”

Mercer was proud to announce that 10 of the 14 everyday position players at Wright State the past three seasons are either in professional baseball or will be at the end of the coming season.

In his system, baseline testing is done at the beginning.

“I let a guy show me what he can do,” said Mercer. “We start start at the most basic concepts. We don’t want to leave guys behind.”

Mercer called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle the “most important book I’ve ever read.”

One of the concepts in the book: Whatever you’re practicing, chunk it up into the smallest, possible units.

“We’re going chunk it, repeat it and understand what we’re learning,” said Mercer. “We’re going chunk it and repeat it over and over.

“We need to chunk it and blend it and take it into the next phase very slowly.”

In Week 1, Mercer introduces drills for players to feel tempo, pace and sequence of their swing.

“I want to work up from the ground,” said Mercer. “I want the legs to work first, the hands to work second and the lower half to turn the barrel (of the bat).

“I don’t want the hands to pull the barrel across the body. I don’t want that disconnection.”

The base stealing system will be implemented in Week 1.

“We’ll be very uptempo, very aggressive,” says Mercer.

IU volunteer coach Casey Dykes comes from Virginia Military Institute, a program that was among the nation’s leaders in stolen bases (The Keydets swiped 95 in 117 attempts in 2018).

“We will run a lot of bases,” said Mercer. “From the very beginning, we don’t necessarily do conditioning, we do base running.

“If you want to run bases, you’ve got to run bases. If you want to run fast, you’ve got to sprint.”

Mercer wants his hitters to have a feel for the entire strike zone, including depth and width. To do this, they need to have constant feedback. This is done in Week 2 by using numbered plates (going from 1-6).

Movement and flexibility assessments are done.

“If guys are rigid in their hips, it’s going to be difficult for those guys to drive the ball the other way,” said Mercer. “It’s the way God made them. We have to work that into their approaches.”

Mercer said it is important for players to begin seeing fastballs of 90 mph off the machine in Week 2. He doesn’t want the first time they see them be at game time.

“The machine punishes guys who are long and steep,” said Mercer. “I’m not a big believer in abusing guys. I don’t want to hurt their ego. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I want them to punish the machine unless they’re doing something really wrong and the machine gets them.

“Find a velocity that works for you.”

Week 3 brings the team offense.

“It’s really important how we handle a stolen base during an at-bat if we’re going to be a team that steals bases,” said Mercer. “If you get a good jump and your batter is swinging every time you get a 1-0 count off a breaking ball, you’ve got a problem.

“We’re one offensive unit. We have to work together as such. Are identity has to come together.”

Mercer wants his players to know what to do in given situations and how to adjust if there is a chance in game plan.

Game approaches are emphasized in Week 4.

It’s all about getting an advantage on the man delivering the baseball.

“If Plan B was as good as Plan A, it would be Plan A. Every pitcher has a Plan A, even if it’s no good,” said Mercer. “Our job (as the offense) is to put together an approach and a system as a offensive unit that’s a virus that attacks  that guy and gets him off Plan A and on to Plan B. Nobody has Plan C.”

Mercer said if his team wants to put up a “crooked number” — two our more runs in an inning, it takes five quality at-bats in a row unless there is a two-run home run in the mix.

In Mercer’s system, ways to beat a pitcher include elevating the pitch count and “beat his brains in.”

“We’re going to hunt pitches early and knock him out in the first couple of innings,” said Mercer.

How about timing pitches?

“I always want to be on fastball timing and adjust down to breaking ball,” said Mercer. “Know the height of the pitch you’re going to face. Is it going to be a 12-to-6 curveball? We have to do our scouting reports and do our due diligence.

“If I’m on fastball timing, it has to cross the middle 8 to 10 inches of the plate. It’s a pitch I think I can drive (right on right or left on left). I’m going to chase the inside bottom of the ball with my eyes. I’m not going to change my swing.”

Mercer said repetition is the key in recognizing and hitting breaking balls. This can be done off the machines or live.

Running a program based on development, Mercer has always gone with weeks of individual work first then adds the team element in his time as a head coach.

In the progression, team practice begins in Week 5.

“We’re going to have a defensive emphasis,” said Mercer. “As good as you want to be offensively, it comes and it goes. If we can’t play defensively, we’re going to lose anyway.”

Mercer will begin increasing the degree of difficulty with pitch distances, speeds and locations.

“The hardest part for young hitters is they don’t have a sense of timing,” said Mercer. “They don’t know when to start. They don’t know how to be malleable in that regard.”

Mercer said knowing how to take batting practice is incredibly important. There is drill work followed by four or five rounds in the cage.

“We have to ramp up to be able to compete everyday,” said Mercer. “We structure it everyday so they get the same routine.”

Full-game setting with scouting reports and live scrimmages come in Week 6 of the progression.

Coach-pitch scrimmages help address weaknesses.

“All teams struggle with first and second and less than two outs,” said Mercer. “We’re going to get used to it.”

Wright State (3.12) was the No. 1 offense in the country scoring in the first three innings in 2018. The Raiders did this through buying into an approach based on a scouting report on the starting pitcher.

Tempo/rhythm drills are incorporated in Week 7.

Mercer said hitting needs to go at a quick pace.

“It’s unfair to ask a group of guys to do something they have not been explicitly prepared to do,” said Mercer. “We’re always growing and trying learn (as coaches). At the end of the day, these guys only get one career.”

In Week 8, coaches set game situations to practice weaknesses. Videotaping will reveal these things.

“It’s not about trying to show guys up, it’s about trying to get guys better,” said Mercer. “Our criticisms matter. We have to build them up.”

Mercer wants to be sure he prepares his players. So it goes back to repeating the message.

“I’m going to beat a dead horse,” said Mercer. “I’m going to be super redundant. You’re going to look at me and go, ‘would you please stop talking about that?’ I don’t care.

“My greatest fear as a coach is a guy looks at me from the batter’s box and they give me a look that tells me ‘you didn’t get me ready for this.’ That’s a terrible feeling as a coach.”

Mercer said that if his team is going to be able to consistently put up crooked numbers, hitters have to be able to hit with men on base.

“We have to be able to apply approaches and data and streamline,” said Mercer. “I’m an analytics guy. But only in the way it applies to winning baseball games. If we can’t be builders and confidence growers, we’re missing the boat in my opinion.”

Fall practice at the NCAA D-I level typically takes 12 to 13 weeks. After the eight-week progression, Mercer’s team will chunk it, repeat and learn it.

AN 8-WEEK OFFENSIVE PROGRESSION

Jeff Mercer, Indiana University

Week 1: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Video initial swings, swing measurements.

• Discuss basic movement patterns.

— Feet Crossover drill series, short bat hand load series.

• Base stealing system begins.

Week 2: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Introduce numbered plate.

— Short bat with numbered plate front toss.

• Outline specific drill work for personal swing issues.

• Introduce pitching matches.

— 78-80 mph from 52 feet, use as BP.

• Introduce small ball: bunt technique, hit/run, slash.

Week 3: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Role of team offense – handle stolen base during AB.

• Introduce 3 approaches and 2-strike approach.

• Breaking ball breakdown – off machines.

Week 4: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Game approaches – how they apply to situations and role in team offense.

• Breaking ball variances.

— Begin changing velo and variations.

• Introduce offensive signs.

Week 5: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Team practice begins.

— Early work offensive routines, team practice = defense.

• Increase difficulty as identity takes shape – machines 82-85 from 52 feet.

• How to take BP, rounds etc.

Week 6: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Live game scrimmages begin, still use coach pitch scrimmage to address weaknesses.

— Short scrimmages during week daily, long on weekends.

• Introduce scouting reports and how to use information.

Week 7: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Tempo/rhythm short drills.

— Drills focused on movement feel more than mechanical breakdown.

• Machine work variations.

– 3 plate fastballs, 2 plate breaking balls, off set machines, extended legs etc.

Week 8: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Set game situations to practice weaknesses.

— Base stealing emphasized; start every inning with runner on base.

• RBI situations are priority; preset situations often and emphasize approach.

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Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer talks about “An 8-Week Offensive Progression” at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeff Mercer is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2019 after achieving success at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (Indiana University Photo)

 

 

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Goal-setting, evaluation important to Bergman, Triton Central Tigers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Bergman wants to keep the lines of communication open with his Triton Central High School baseball team. He wants his Tigers to set and achieve goals.

To do this, he has set up some systems for his program based in Fairland, Ind.

“We really talk about three types of goals — Process, Performance and Outcome,” says Bergman, who is heading into his fifth season as Triton Central head coach in 2019.

Process goals revolve are controllable concepts such as working hard, attitude, hustle, mechanics and knowing your role.

Performance goals, which can be adjusted from week-to-week, include getting 60 to 65 percent first-pitch strokes, an on-base percentage of .400 or better, scoring eight runs a game, fielding at a .975 clip or better, having 75 percent Quality At-Bats and winning the “freebie war.”

Outcome goals are winning game at a time and ratchet up to being state-ranked, top four in the Indiana Crossroads Conference, winning the conference, sectional, regional, semistate and state titles.

Bergman also puts a lot of stock in evaluation.

“We want them to know their strengths and weaknesses,” says Bergman. “It’s something we as a coaching staff focus on.”

When he was head coach at Ohio Northern University (2006-11), Bergman hired Jeff Mercer (now head coach at Indiana University) as an assistant coach. The two worked out a system for evaluating players.

Justin Parker, now pitching coach at IU, was also on Bergman’s ONU staff.

At Triton Central, Bergman and his assistants meet with each athlete prior to the season to discuss where they rate and help them set goals.

Hitters, infielders, outfielders and catchers are all rated on a 1-to-5 scale in five categories. Pitchers are rated in six areas.

TC coaches look at hitters in terms of average, power, mechanics, approach and knowledge, infielders for hands, range, mechanics, arm strength and knowledge, outfielders for route, mechanics, speed, arm strength and knowledge and catchers for receiving, blocking, knowledge, athletic ability and arm strength. Pitchers are rate for mechanics, arm strength, mound presence, location, off-speed pitch and movement.

Bergman’s 2019 assistants are Travis Hensler, Scott Brown, Scott Lattimer and David Chapman. Hensler is in the paid position and handles hitting, operations and the junior varsity team. Brown is in charge of infielders, Latimer outfielders and Triton Cental graduate Chapman pitchers. Bergman works with catchers and helps with the other areas.

Numbers in the program have fluctuated between 15 and 24. This year, the Tigers have 12 seniors.

Triton Central (enrollment of about 475) plays each conference foe (Beech Grove, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Monrovia, Park Tudor and Speedway) once each, typically on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Working with athletic director Bryan Graham and athletic secretary Barb Guhl, Bergman has built a non-conference schedule featuring Arsenal Tech, Decatur Central, Greenfield-Central, Greenwood, Heritage Christian, Rushville, Shelbyville, South Decatur and Traders Point.

“We really try to play some bigger schools,” says Bergman.

The Tigers are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional pairing with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Irvington Prep Academy and Knightstown. Triton Central has won three sectionals – the last in 2012. Triton Central won a 2A state championship in 2003.

Home games are contested on-campus.

“We’ve done a ton with the facility, painting, cleaning up and edging it,” says Bergman. “We take pride in the presentation of our field.”

Development is aided with the addition of a portable batting tunnel and access to a fieldhouse.

Feeding the high school program is a new Triton Central Middle School team (19 players participated in 2018) as well as Triton Central Tigers 10U and 12U travel teams. The Future Tigers Athletics is active. There is a T-ball league for ages 3-5 (48 kids played in 2018) and coach pitch for ages 6-8 (68 took part in 2018). A 9-10 division is being added for 2019.

There was an FTA Night at an Indianapolis Indians game and the camp last March drew 118.

“The growth and development has taken some time,” says Bergman. “It’s definitely going in the right direction.”

Bergman is a 1997 Rushville Consolidated High School graduate. With the Lions, he played baseball for head coach Jim Bush

“He was always positive,” says Bergman of Bush. “You never heard anything negative from Coach Bush.”

Bergman played football and baseball at Franklin (Ind.) College. He arrived at the school the same years as Lance Marshall, who was his receivers coach in the fall and head baseball coach in the spring. The Grizzlies struggled on the diamond the first spring. By 2001, Franklin was nationally-ranked.

“He showed a toughness and determination in building a program,” says Bergman of Marshall. “It’s the hard work he’s put in on the recruiting path.”

In 2005, Bergman was a full-time coach for Marshall.

“He let you do your thing as an assistant,” says Bergman, who sent Jordan Crouse from Triton Central to Franklin to study and play baseball.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in secondary education from Franklin in 2001, Bergman pursued his masters in business leadership at Manchester College (now Manchester University) and coached the 2002 to 2004 seasons on a Spartans staff headed by Rick Espeset.

“I was very fortunate,” says Bergman. “Espy gave me a ton of responsibility with recruiting, hitting and outfield play.

“Espy is a great leader. He gives suggestions, but he lets his assistants make

make it their own.”

Manchester had talented players during Bergman’s time there and the Spartans qualified for two regionals and the 2004 NCAA Division III World Series.

In the summer of 2002, Bergman was tapped to coach the Fort Wayne-based Indiana Dox collegiate team. Owned by future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Colin Lister, the Dox went 44-10 and earned a berth in the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series.

Besides coaching, Bergman works as an Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent in Shelbyville. Jeremy and wife Amber have two children — son Ty (8) and daughter Avery (4).

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The Triton Central Tigers call Fairland in Shelby County, Ind., home.

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Justin Bergman has been the head baseball coach at Triton Central High School in Fairland, Ind., since the 2015 season.

 

 

New IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rolen reflects on family, baseball career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Circumstances kept the family of Scott Rolen away as he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

But the former Jasper (Ind.) High School standout and 17-year major league third baseman had his loved ones on his mind during festivities Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 in Indianapolis.

Scott and Niki Rolen have two children — Raine (14) and Finn (11). Their daughter got sick at basketball practice so they were unable to be at the Sheraton at the Crossing.

Now the director of player development — a volunteer position — on head coach Jeff Mercer’s baseball staff at Indiana University, Rolen is around the lend his expertise.

By rule, he does not coach individuals and can only recruit on-campus. But he can evaluate and provide input to that the Hoosiers can use.

“I can coach the coaches, basically,” says Rolen. “I can talk with them about practice strategies and what each player can work on.

“It’s a great fit. There’s a real good thing going there right now.”

The position allows him freedom for family time.

“The kids are my first priority,” says Rolen. “I bounce in and bounce out.”

Last summer, Scott and Dan Held coached their sons on an Indiana Bulls 10U Grey travel team. Rolen lives in Bloomington and brought six players from his neck of the woods, including son Finn. Held, who lived central Indiana and served as Bulls executive at the time, added six players, including son Boston.

The team played a small schedule and was done by the first part of July.

“Everybody could go on vacation, have fun or play other sports,” says Rolen. “They could swim, throw the frisbee, have a blast.”

He anticipates a similar schedule for an 11U team in 2019. Dan Held is now assistant coach/recruiting director at IU.

Rolen played for the original Bulls team co-founded by Dave Taylor in the early 1990’s. The club featured top talent from around the state and played when the baseball landscape was much different than today.

The travel baseball world has really morphed into something big,” says Rolen. “I’m very careful with my son.

“I love high school sports. I love rec sports. There’s spot for some extra baseball, but I believe in playing year-round everything.

“I believe in the athlete. I don’t believe in the baseball player. I’d like to see a little more well-rounded athlete.”

Rolen, who was Indiana Mr. Baseball and runner-up to Indiana Mr. Basketball as a Jasper senior, also played tennis in high school. He was offered a basketball scholarship to the University of Georgia before being selected in second round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.

He was the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year and went on to play for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays. He finished with .281 average, 2,077 hits, 316 home runs and 1,287 runs batted in and 1,211 runs scored. He was an eight-time Gold Glove winner and recipient of a Silver Slugger Award in 2002. He earned a World Series ring in 2006 with St. Louis. He has had four shoulder surgeries and is scheduled for back surgery next week.

Scott grew up the youngest of Ed and Linda Rolen’s three children behind Todd and Kristie.

Mom and dad were teachers and the Rolen kids were busy with sports. But they found a way to get together at meal time.

“We have a real close tight-knit family,” says Rolen. “My parents never missed a ball game, whether it was mine, Kristie’s or Todd’s. They split up, divided and conquered.

“They really put us in a nice position to succeed in sports and school and gave us a nice solid upbringing.”

Rolen made a major gift of an unspecified amount for the construction of IU’s Bart Kaufman Field in 2013 and the clubhouse is named in honor of his parents.

Scott makes a point of telling his father how much appreciates his father. Ed Rolen, who is now in Florida and unable to travel, can’t understand the fuss.

“Dad’s the kind of guy that when I thank him, he says ‘for what?,’ says Scott. “Well, for being a great dad.

“He was there and he loved us — always.”

Rolen, with brother Todd as executive director, has been showing love to other families through the Enis Furley aka E5 Foundation.

“It’s named after an error at third base,” says Rolen. “You poke a little fun at yourself from time to time.”

Through E5, Indiana Children’s Wish Fund and other organizations, four families with special needs children are identified and all their expenses are paid to come to Camp Emma Lou, a property of about 75 acres on Lake Monroe near Bloomington.

These kids get to experience a petting zoo, baseball field, bond fires, swim in the lake and more.

“It’s just a little something that we can give back,” says Rolen.

The foundation also brings sixth graders in Monroe County — about 1,000 kids — to the camp in spring and fall for leadership field trips and team-building activities.

“We talk to them about things that are going on in their lives,” says Rolen.

Scott (Class of 1993) and Todd (Class of ’91) played baseball together for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Terry Gobert (induction Class of 2007). In Todd’s senior year, the Wildcats rebounded from a tough start to advance to the IHSAA State Finals.

Rolen, who was inducted into the 41st annual Hall of Fame class with Ron McClain, Fred “Cy” Williams, Bob Schellinger and Pat O’Neil, recalls Gobert’s effective methods.

“Coach Gobert was pretty laid-back,” says Rolen. “We were able to practice in shorts. But if we need to slide, we need to slide.

“We had to get our work done. If we don’t do our work, we’re going to wear pants and we’re going run.”

Rolen was nominated for the Hall of Fame by Ryan Berryman, head coach at Western High School and also an Indiana Bulls coach.

Hall of Famer Ray Howard (induction Class of 1990) is executive director of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame, located on the Vincennes University campus in Jasper, and was again behind the mic at Friday’s banquet. The Hall is about to unveil more display space.

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Jasper Hall of Famers (from left): Ray Howard (inducted in 1990), Scott Rolen (2019) and Terry Gobert (2007). Hall of Fame executive director Howard is a former Jasper (Ind.) High School head coach and current assistant. Rolen played for head coach Gobert at Jasper then for 17 years in the majors. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Scott Rolen is director of player development on head coach Jeff Mercer’s baseball squad at Indiana University. (Indiana University Photo)

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Scott Rolen, who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Jasper High School in 1993, played for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays. He is now an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

 

Relationships are key for Lowrey, Harrison Raiders

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Lowrey wants to know how his players can hit, pitch or field the baseball.

But he also wants to relate to them as people.

The head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., puts a priority on building relationships as he develops his Raiders on the diamond.

“Without the relationships, players aren’t going to listen to you,” says Lowrey, who enters his seventh season in charge at Harrison in 2019. “It doesn’t matter how much you know.

“Then the baseball comes.”

Lowrey’s baseball knowledge was built as a player at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette and at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Senior right-hander Lowrey was the winning pitcher for the 1999 IHSAA Class 4A state champions (McCutcheon beat Lawrence North 7-6). He recorded a called third strike with the bases loaded to end the game.

“I threw a lot of pitches that day,” says Lowrey. “It was one of those drizzling nights. Between me and my catcher (Nick McIntyre, who went on to play at Purdue University then pro ball and is now an assistant coach at the University of Toledo), we had passed balls and wild pitches. But were able to get out of the sticky situation.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jake Burton was then the Mavericks head coach.

“He had high expectations which made us better,” says Lowrey of Burton. “He helped me as a coach know the importance of organization and discipline both as a player and a coach.”

At Ball State, Lowrey spent three seasons for Rich Maloney and one with Greg Beals. Lowrey appeared in 32 games and the Cardinals won the Mid-American Conference title in 2001 and MAC West crowns in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

“(Maloney) does such a good job of building relationships with the community and players,” says Lowrey. “He connects to so many top-end recruits. He’s one of the best recruiters nationally. He has had a lot of success in the Big Ten and the MAC.”

Teammates who went high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft during Lowrey’s time at BSU include right-hander Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall in 2002 to the Pittsburgh Pirates), left-hander Luke Hagerty (first round in 2002 to the Chicago Cubs), outfielder Brad Snyder (first round in 2003 to the Cleveland Indians), right-hander Paul Henry (seventh round in 2002 to the Baltimore Orioles) and right-hander Justin Weschler (fourth round in 2001 to the Arizona Diamondbacks).

Outfielder Larry Bigbie went in the first round of the 1999 draft to Baltimore. Burlington played high school ball at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated, Weschler at Pendleton Heights and Bigbie at Hobart. Hagerty and Snyder are Ohio products while Henry played in high school baseball in Tennessee.

Lowery remembers Beals (now head coach at Ohio State University) as having a high Baseball I.Q. and the ability to enjoy it.

“He really understood the game and he had a lot of fun doing it,” says Lowrey. “Baseball is a kid’s game and it’s meant to be fun.”

Lowery began his coaching career with junior varsity stints at Delta (2004) and McCutcheon (2005). He was pitching coach at Harrison in 2006 and 2007 before serving as head coach at Delphi (2008-12). He was going to be head coach at Brownsburg, but some health issues arose and he stayed in Lafayette, eventually becoming head baseball coach and a special education teacher at Harrison.

The Raiders have sent a number of players on to college baseball during Lowrey’s tenure.

“I take pride in that,” says Lowrey. “I try to help our kids reach those goals if that’s what they want.”

Outfielder/shortstop Carter Bridge has transferred from Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., to Indiana University, where Franklin Community High School graduate Jeff Mercer is now head coach. Left-hander Matt McConnell and outfielder/left-hander Bobby Dearing are both at Western Michigan University, where New Albany graduate Billy Gernon is head coach.

Current Harrison senior Jack Ross, now recuperating from Tommy John surgery, has committed to play at Taylor University.

Lowrey says shortstop Trey Cochran and catcher/first baseman Jacob Kyle are starting the recruiting process.

The Harrison coaching staff for 2019 includes Christian Vukas, Dave Gilbert and Kerry Yoder with Lowrey and the varsity plus Jon Laird and Deryk Quakenbush as well as Shawn Louks, Leighton Mennen and Hayden Kuxhausen with the Blue and Orange units.

Lowery expects about 65 to 70 for tryouts with 45 to 50 making the three squads. There will be 14 to 20 players per team, including some used as courtesy runners and some pitcher-onlys.

“We want to develop these kids,” says Lowrey. “Especially at the two JV levels, we want to make sure we don’t miss out on the develop.”

Harrison has one on-field diamond.

“That goes back to Coach Burton and that organization,” says Lowrey. “We have to be organized and creative in how we approach practices and games.”

Harrison uses a batting practice circuit with every player on the field. The Raiders sometimes utilize the adjacent football field.

“We want to make sure kids are in small groups and constantly working,” says Lowrey.

Harrison is part of the North Central Conference (with Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon in the West Division and Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond in the East Division). Teams play home-and-home series within their divisions then compete in a seeded cross-divisional tournament the two Saturdays in May.

The Raiders are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, McCutcheon and Zionsville. Harrison has won 11 sectional crowns — the last in 2015.

Pat and Lauren Lowrey were married in 2005. She is the former Lauren Jillson, who played three sports at Munster (Ind.) High School and volleyball at Ball State, where she met Pat. The couple have two sons — Jeremy (11) and Brady (8).

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Pat Lowrey, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Ball State University, is entering his seventh season as head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., in 2019.

 

Kleine making MLB impact in Milwaukee Brewers front office

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Contract negotiation, data analysis and event management are three skills Matt Kleine wields in his role with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Dating back to his first summer as an associate scout (2007), Kleine has held various roles in scouting and baseball operations for the Brewers and completed his first year as director of player operations for the Major League Baseball club in October.

While still in high school, Kleine saw that his on-the-field time was not likely to extend past college. So he began to look for ways to stay involved in baseball.

“I knew I really wanted to pursue a career on the front office side of things,” says Kleine, who graduated from Hamilton Southeastern High School in 2004.

Kleine, who was born in Indianapolis and moved to Fishers, Ind., prior to kindergarten, enjoyed his time as a baseball player.

Swinging and throwing from the left side, the outfielder played travel ball during his high school and college summers for USAthletic and coach Rob Barber (one of Kleine’s teammates was Jeff Mercer, now head baseball coach at Indiana University).

Kleine competed at Hamilton Southeastern for former University of Texas pitcher Curry Harden and at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for Matt Walker.

Harden taught Kleine and the other HSE Royals about discipline and approaching each game with a tenacious attitude.

“You had to bring your ‘A’ Game’ everyday,” says Kleine.

His off-field baseball career got a boost when writer Will Carroll came to speak at DePauw. A relationship was formed that led to a three-plus years as an intern with Baseball Prospectus for Kleine, who produced Carroll’s weekly radio show.

On the diamond, Kleine was a four-year letterwinner and three-time team MVP and all-conference selection for DePauw. He was team captain as a senior. He knocked in 120 as a Tiger. At the time his career wrapped that was a school record.

Kleine was a Management Fellow and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication in 2008.

He became an associate scout with the Brewers before his playing days were even complete. Kleine had taken pitching lessons as a youngster from Mike Farrell so he approached the then Brewers area scout (Indianapolis resident Farrell now scouts for the Kansas City Royals) to learn the ropes and evaluated players between his summer collegiate games.

Kleine also served as a media relations intern with the Houston Astros.

Once in Milwaukee, he earned a Juris Doctorate from Marquette University Law School and his certification in Sports Law from the National Sports Law Institute.

He has was the president of Marquette’s Sports Law Society, a member of the Sports Law Review and a volunteer in the school’s legal clinic.

Through his research, he found that the common denominator for most of the baseball jobs that interested him were held by people with a law degree or other post-graduate education.

Knowing about analysis and critical thinking has helped Kleine in salary arbitration for the Brewers.

Since earning his law degree, Kleine has served as volunteer judge for the Marquette University Law School Intramural Sports Law Negotiation Competition and Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition.

According to MLB, “Players who have three or more years of Major League service but less than six years of Major League service become eligible for salary arbitration if they do not already have a contract for the next season.

“Players who have less than three but more than two years of service time can also become arbitration eligible if they meet certain criteria; these are known as ‘Super Two’ players. Players and clubs negotiate over appropriate salaries, primarily based on comparable players who have signed contracts in recent seasons.

“A player’s salary can indeed be reduced in arbitration — with 20 percent being the maximum amount by which a salary can be cut — although such instances are rare.”

Management will use comparable players — aka “comps” — as well as statistics and performance data their evaluation.

“We try to tell the people side of the story,” says Kleine. “We don’t get overly complicated or get caught up in fancy (sabermetric) acronyms. “Who is this player and where do they fit within the market?.

“We have a dialogue with the players’ agent. Hopefully, we arrive at a compromise. A very small percentage of arbitration eligible players end up in a hearing room.”

If an arbitration hearing is necessary, the proceedings will be attended by several people.

“It’s certainly a unique process,” says Kleine. “It’s like performance review in front of up to 50 other people.

The hearing features a panel of three arbiters (judges) who listen to the arguments of both sides and come to a decision.

The session will also be attended by representatives of the involved club, league office, players association, support staff and other observers, including reps from other clubs.

“By and large, the are respectful and professional proceedings,” says Kleine.

As baseball’s Winter Meetings approach (Dec. 9-13 in Las Vegas), the Brewers and MLB’s 29 other franchises are focused on free agency or possible trades while finalizing their major league and minor league staffs for 2019.

“That’s one thing about the MLB calendar, there’s always something going on,” says Kleine. “It just depends on the time of the year.”

In season, baseball operations and field staff like manager Craig Counsell and bench coach Pat Murphy collaborate with the help of advance scouts.

“We’re attacking opponents weaknesses and identifying our own strengths,” says Kleine. “Once the game starts, it’s up to Craig and the coaching staff how to deploy the roster.”

Mike and Toni Kleine are Matt’s parents. His father runs a State Farm Insurance agency in Fishers. His mother is retired from teaching in the Carmel school system. Matt has a younger sister — Jordan.

Matt and wife Samantha live in St. Francis, Wis. The couple is expecting their first child in early 2019.

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Matt Kleine, a graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and Marquette University Law School, is director of player operations for the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

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)

New Indiana pitching coach Parker places premium on development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Parker has been on the job as Indiana University baseball pitching coach for about three months.

The Fort Wayne, Ind., native, who spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons at the University of Central Florida after five campaigns at alma mater Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, has spent his time in Bloomington learning what makes each of his IU players tick and then creating an individualized program to maximize their potential.

“With (Hoosiers head) coach (Jeff) Mercer and I, it’s very individualistic development,” says Parker, who was a teammate of Mercer’s at Wright State. “It’s very much tailored toward their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all.”

Parker is taking the time to know his pitchers’ personalities as well as the pitches they throw.

“A lot of this fall has been self-scouting,” says Parker as IU comes near the end of a 12-week fall practice period. “You have to get to know them to be able to put together a plan for each of them.

“As a player, all you want is feel like your coaches are invested in your career. You want to make them feel like they’re leaving each day excited about getting better. Then they’re willing to come to work the next day.”

Relationships are key.

“We want to run a family program,” says Parker. “You build trust that way. That’s the name of the game when it comes to development.

“When you want to base your program off development, you have to gain the trust. You have to get to know them. You have to spend time with them.”

The team was invited after Tuesday’s practice to watch Game 1 of the World Series together.

Parker, Mercer and recruiting coordinator Dan Held have been identifying potential new Indiana players.

But they are also working to give the current ones their best chance at success.

“Recruiting is incredibly important,” says Parker. “We hope to do that at a high level. We’ve already got a great start.

“Development is kind of the second pillar.”

Looking at the fall roster, pitchers who saw the most playing time with the Hoosiers during the 2018 season are Pauly Milto (79 2/3 innings), Cameron Beauchamp (52 1/3), Cal Krueger (44 2/3), Andrew Saalfrank (35 2/3), Tommy Sommer (29 1/3) and Connor Manous (24).

Senior Milto (Roncalli High School graduate), junior Krueger (Jasper) and sophomore Manous (Munster) are right-handers. Juniors Beauchamp (Peru) and Saalfrank (Heritage) and sophomore Sommer (Carmel) are lefties.

Milto and Beauchamp were primarily used as starters last spring while Beauchamp, Saalfrank, Sommer and Manous were mostly relievers. All of Krueger’s 27 came out of the bullpen.

Born in Fort Wayne to Brent and Ranelle Parker and the older brother of eventual big league pitcher Jarrod Parker, Justin played Wildcat Baseball and at Elmhurst Little League as well as for a local travel team.

Parker was with the Indiana Bulls at 17 and 18. Among his teammates were future big league pitchers Lance Lynn, Tommy Hunter and Josh Lindblom.

In four seasons at Wayne High School, Parker was a right-handed pitcher and shortstop for Generals head coach Tim Gaskill.

Parker picked up on Gaskill’s emphasis on work ethic and putting in the reps.

“Baseball is such a game of repetition,” says Parker. “Confidence is hard to come by without success unless you’re willing to prepare.

“(Gaskill) used to talk about getting your confidence from the work you’ve put in. You trust that work is greater than the opponent. If you’re willing to work at that level, you ought to be confident regardless of your success.”

Parker was selected in the 43rd round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins as a right-handed pitcher at Wayne.

He had been an IHSAA Class 3A all-stater, hitting .498 with six home runs and 22 stolen bases as a Wayne senior, but opted to go to college.

Playing at Wright State for Raiders head coach Rob Cooper, Parker was a two-time all-Horizon League honoree (2007 at designated hitter, 2008 at shortstop) and was drafted again in 2008 in the sixth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a shortstop.

Parker played at Yakima, Wash., in 2008. He logged 91 games for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 2009 and was with the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2010 and Minnesota Twins system in 2011.

When his playing career was complete, he went back to Wright State to finish his Organizational Leadership degree and was offered a spot on the coaching staff. He worked with head coaches Cooper then Greg Lovelady. Parker followed Lovelady to Central Florida.

“(Lovelady) is one of the most down-to-earth, easy-to-play-for players’ coaches,” says Parker. “Guys just feel comfortable playing for him.

“Baseball is a hard game to play. Sometimes — as coaches — we can forget that. We (as coaches) haven’t played in a long time.

“Coach Lovelady was good at getting guys to play free and easy. There was no tension or pressure from the coaching staff.

“We have to be relatable. We have to be identifiable. We have to have patience. Those are all things I’ve taken from him.”

What are Parker’s strengths as a coach?

“Understanding the game,” says Parker. “I’ve seen it at a high level from both sides. I’m more patient as a pitching coach because I’ve been at a higher level as a position player. I think I can see things in pitchers from the eyes of a hitter.

“I’ll always tell guys the truth. I’ll always hold them accountable. I’m very detailed and very unassuming. I’m very thorough with an individualized program. Those things have helped the guys I’ve worked with have successful careers.”

Parker, 31, has coached 12 MLB draft selections, including five in the first 10 rounds. He sent nine arms to the pro ranks in just two seasons at UCF.

Justin and Angela Parker will celebrate four years of marriage in November.

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Justin Parker is the pitching coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)BLOOMINGTON, IN - 2018.08.23 - Headshot

New Indiana University pitching coach Justin Parker shows his players how to do things during a fall practice. (Indiana University Photo)