Fundamentals will be a priority as new head baseball coach Greg Taylor begins to make his imprint on the program at Indian Creek High School in Trafalgar, Ind. Taylor has been guiding the Braves on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the current IHSAA Limited Contact Period. “We’re establishing fundamentals from the very beginning and preparing them for off-season drills,” says Taylor, whose players will take part in weight training, arm conditioning and have a chance to hit in the “barn” as Indian Creek gets prepared for the 2023 season. “Our strength and conditioning coach (Bram Wood) is fantastic. (Strength training) gives them the advantage of being physically fit and it plays into health. The boys miss less (play and practice time) and are not hurt as often.” Taylor notes that Wood’s training is sports-specific, even geared to positions within sports. Three assistant coaches — Chris Steinway, Mark Ferguson and Craig Davis — were part of the IC staff a year ago. Tim Guyer is new to the program. The Braves look to field varsity and junior squads in 2023. Indian Creek (enrollment around 625) is a member of the Western Indiana Conference (with Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, Owen Valley, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo). The Braves were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Brown County, Edgewood, Owen Valley, Sullivan and West Vigo. Indian Creek has won six sectional titles — the last in 2019. A fieldhouse, which will be used by baseball and other teams, is under construction at Indian Creek. The location of the softball field has been moved. Turf was added to the football field for this fall and is available for baseball and other squads to practice on when their diamonds are too wet. There is a movement to establish a middle school baseball program that would play as a club sport in the spring. Meanwhile, the high school staff is working with local youth league and travel ball players. “We want them to engage in our program,” says Taylor. “That’s an important thing — getting a feeder program following the same philosophy, fundamentals as high school.” A volunteer years ago at Indian Creek when Brian Luse was head coach, Taylor followed Luse to Franklin Community. Recent Indian Creek graduates who moved on to college baseball include the Class of 2018’s Dylan Sprong (Franklin, Ind., College) and 2019’s Dustin Sprong (University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.) and Wyatt Phillips (University of Indianapolis). For several years, Taylor has coached travel baseball. The last four years have been with the Shelby County Cubs. A native of Fort Wayne, Ind., Taylor is a 1992 graduate of Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, where he played four years for Spartans head coach Tom Muth. “We did a lot of fundamental work,” says Taylor, who was a shortstop. He played two years each for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Jerry Blemker at Vincennes (Ind.) University and Gary Hogan at the University of Arkansas Little Rock. Taylor was selected in the 40th round of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. The switch-hitting middle infielder played through 1998. Future National League MVP Jimmy Rollins was a teammate on the 1997 Piedmont Boll Weevils and 1998 Clearwater Phillies and the two sometime roomed together on the road. A senior director in medical affairs for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, Greg has been married to Kate for 25 years. Kate Taylor is in public relations and coaches diving at Indian Creek. The couple has two children — Ella (16) and Grayson (13). Ella Taylor is a junior diving and track athlete at IC. Indiana Creek seventh grader Grayson Taylor is in baseball, tennis, basketball, diving and track.
An Indiana team earned baseball hardware last weekend in the Sunshine State. The Indy Heat reigned in the 35-and-over division at the 2021 National Adult Baseball Association Lou Palmer Memorial Florida World Series Nov. 11-14 in Cocoa and Melbourne. The team made up of Hoosier Townball Association and Indiana Baseball League players from around the central part of the state went 6-1 – 4-1 as the No. 1 seed in pool play – to take the title in the wood bat event. Formed early in 2021 and playing in exhibitions against the Jasper (Ind.) Reds and IBL 18-and-over Rays at new Loeb Stadium in Lafayette, Ind., and in a Labor Day tournament at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., the Indy Heat is co-managed by catcher Paul Staten (46), center fielder/pitcher Chad Justice (38) and pitcher Gabe Cuevas (41). Staten was the oldest in Florida. The youngest was catcher Trevor Nielsen (34). Rules allowed two players no younger than 33 who were not used as pitchers. Most Indy Heat players have experience in high school and beyond. Some play in both the HTA and IBL. Staten played at North Forrest High School in Hattiesburg, Miss., and one year at Jones College in Ellisville, Miss. Justice played at New Castle (Ind.) High School, graduated from Shenandoah High School in Middletown, Ind., ran track on scholarship and also played baseball for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Jerry Blemker at Vincennes (Ind.) University. Cuevas played at South Bend (Ind.) Washington High School and Triton College in River Grove, Ill. “Playing against the Jasper Reds gives us a good dose of baseball early in the season,” says Staten, whose team was competitive in four losses to the long-established organization. “We gave them a ball game. “We’re going to continue exhibition with those guys.” Adult baseball players tends swing wood. “Some of these guys can still create quite a bit of exit velocity with aluminum and composite bats,” says Staten. “The (Men’s Senior Baseball League) tries to adhere to MLB rules as much as possible,” says Justice. Sixteen Indy Heat players were able to make the Florida trip. About half of the team entry fee was picked up by sponsors. Players arranged hotels or airbnb accommodations. The Indy Heat beat the Angels 16-0 in Game 1. John Zangrilli pitched a complete-game shutout. Game 7 was a 15-7 loss to the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Phillies. That’s when the Indiana team opted to scrap their gale blue jerseys for black ones accented by gale blue and laser fuchsia and wore those the rest of the tournament. “We’re not superstitious,” says Staten. “Dirty or not, we were wearing our black jerseys.” The Heat concluded pool games by topping the Dallas (Texas) Redbirds 8-3, Northwest Indiana Royals 6-1 and the Dade City (Fla.) Brewers with Mitch Brock tossing a shutout in the latter contest. The field of eight was cut to four after pool play with overall record being the top criteria for semifinals seeding. Runs against was the first tiebreaker followed by runs scored. The Heat outscored pool play opponents 48-16. The Indy Heat bested the Chattanooga Phillies 14-6 in the semifinals. Yasidro Matos came on in long relief of Zangrilli for the Indiana winners. A rematch with the Dallas Redbirds — a team with players who’ve been together for years — in the championship game resulted in a 4-3 Indy Heat win Cuevas pitching a nine-inning shutout. The tournament started with games having a three-hour time limit, but rains caused that to be cut to two hours in games leading up to the final one. “Hats off to the pitching staff,” says Staten. Indy Heat managers employed a bullpen strategy in Florida. By holding pitchers to about 60 pitches they had fresher arms at the end of the tournament. “Other teams were dying out and we had three good arms going into the finals,” says Justice. “I didn’t guys want to throw more than 60 pitches and seeing (the opposing) lineup more than two or three times.” Restrictions were lifted later in the event. “That’s the time you leave it on the line,” says Staten. “There’s nothing going on after that.” What’s next for the Indy Heat? ‘I don’t foresee us playing in anything competitive between now and spring,” says Staten, who notes that players will keep sharp in batting cages and keep sharp with a few practices before that time. “We’ve got guys that are ready to go now. They’re pumped coming off a championship.”
Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.
“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”
Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.
“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”
Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.
“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).
Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992.
The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).
“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”
Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.
“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.
“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”
The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.
Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.
“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”
One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics.
When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.
“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”
Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).
The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.
“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.
“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.
Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.
“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.
After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).
“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.
“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”
Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.
“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”
At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.
“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.
On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.
“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”
Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.
Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.
“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out.
“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”
“There certainly is a lot of fire and passion in myself, yet a consistency in how we train, how we practice and what our expectations are,” says Smith, who was hired to lead the Bobcats program June 11, 2012. “I would like to think that I’m very competitive. I would like to think that resonates with our team and that we value hard work.”
“Schreib is a very fiery, passionate coach,” says Smith. “He could really put a charge into a team. Coach Servais had that as well. He was probably the most consistent person I’ve ever been around.
“I’d like to think there’s a combination of a little bit of both (in me).”
Smith was a volunteer assistant at Purdue in 1999 then spent two seasons managing in the summer collegiate Northwoods League with the Wisconsin Woodchucks (winning a championship in 2001) before being hired by Schreiber as the Boilermakers pitching coach.
“Everything that I have been able to do as a coach I owe to that man without question,” says Smith of Schreiber. “He gave me a chance to be a college coach when I really didn’t have the resume to get that position.
“I had five awesome years there.”
Chadd Blasko, who was selected in the first round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, was among Smith’s Purdue pitchers.
Smith was associate head coach at Creighton in Omaha, Neb., 2007-12, while gaining wisdom from Servais.
“He’s — without a doubt — one of the 10 best college baseball coaches in the country,” says Smith of Servais. “He’s an outstanding coach, a great teacher of the game.
“A lot of the things I learned about how to run a practice, how to manage a ball club I learned from my time at Creighton with Ed.”
Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, now with the San Francisco Giants organization, was a part of the Smith-led Bluejays staff.
Smith has built the Ohio Bobcats on a few simple concepts.
“In our program pitching and defense are two very big things that we spend a lot of time talking about,” says Smith. “It’s handling the ball and eliminating free bases.”
Ohio, a member of the Mid-American Conference, won MAC tournament titles and qualified for NCAA regional play in 2015 and 2017. Prior to 2015, the Bobcats had made just two NCAA tournament appearances in the 43 previous seasons.
Smith coached four Bobcats — right-handed pitchers Brett Barber, Tom Colletti and Logan Cozart and outfielder Mitch Longo — that went on to play minor league baseball. Colletti is currently in the San Diego Padres system, Cozart with the Colorado Rockies organization and Longo in the Cleveland Indians chain.
The 2019 team is 17-32 overall and 11-14 in the MAC and fighting for a spot in the six-team conference tournament, which is May 22-26 in Avon, Ohio. The Bobcats split the first two of a three-game series at Western Michigan, coached by Indiana native Billy Gernon, May 16 and 17.
“Coach Blemker taught me a lot,” says Smith. “Certainly baseball stuff, but probably more so about discipline, growing up and being a man.
“He’s been very instrumental in my life. He helped me mature. He was very patient with me through some times where I probably not the easiest player to coach.
“His patience and understanding and his toughness helped me in so many ways.”
At IUS, Smith saw right away Parr’s passion and knowledge about hitting.
Smith’s first college coaching gig came in 1998 at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, where Mike Moyzis was head coach and Rick O’Dette (who would coach the the Pumas for years until the school was closed and is now leading the program at Saint Leo University in Florida).
At Ohio U., Smith uses statistics, trends and analysis to make decisions, especially in pitch calling.
“I believe in analytics,” says Smith. “I believe there’s a place for it. It’s very useful if you can get the right information.
“That’s always been the issue at the college level. The information you can get your hands on at times is spotty. It’s getting better and better. There’s the ability to watch film and more games are on TV.There’s a lot more resources to gather good information to make decisions.”
Smith says the higher the sample size, the more reliable the information.
Rob and RaeAnna are the parents of four teenagers — identical twins Sierra and Serena (19), Tyson (15) and Isabelle (13). The twins just completed their freshmen year at Ohio. Tyson is a high school freshman. Isabelle is in the seventh grade.
Rob Smith brings combination of intensity and consistency in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Ohio University in 2019. (/Emilee Chinn/Ohio University Photo)
Rob Smith started as head baseball coach at Ohio University June 11, 2012. He took he Bobcats to the Mid-American Conference tournament titles and NCAA tournament berths in 2015 and 2017. (Maddie Schroeder/Ohio University Photo)
Rob Smith is the head baseball coach at Ohio University. He grew up in Ellettsville, Ind. He played and coached Edgewood High School, played at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast and coached at Purdue University and Creighton University before landing in Athens. (Ohio University Photo)
“I enjoy the challenge,” says Barney. “I enjoy the aspect of recruiting. You’re always looking for the next best thing.”
A poor team can get better quickly with a solid recruiting class.
‘I’m often asked, what are you looking for in college baseball? Bats play. If you can swing the pole, you’re going to play at the junior college level.”
VU’s stated mission is “to provide associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of academic and occupational majors leading to entry to a four-year university or to the workforce.”
Vincennes serves more than 17,000 at its various locations with about a third of that number at the main campus.
“It’s not the typical junior college,” says Barney. “It has a mid-major collegiate feel.”
The goal of the baseball program is to place student-athletes with a place to play at a four-year college. As of last week, 96 Vincennes players had moved on during the decade that Barney’s been in charge, including 32 to NCAA Division I, many to NCAA D-II and NAIA and a few to NCAA D-III.
Barney sees players choose the junior college route for many reasons. Among them are cost, grade issues, level of play, the chance to play right away or be drafted by Major League Baseball and not have to wait to turn 21 or play three seasons like is required at four-year schools.
The Trailblazers’ core beliefs revolve around faith, family, school and baseball.
“It’s like a three-ring circus of academics, athletics and the social scene,” says Barney of Vincennes campus life. “You have to have self-discipline and time management skills. You prioritize where you want to spend your time and what you want to get accomplished out of college.
“You can obtain your full potential as a player. That’s what junior college offers guys.”
Junior college players are allowed to practice more often that those at other levels.
All the time with the team allows individuals to built work ethic, character and emotional stability and, hopefully, have a positive experience.
“It’s an opportunity to get better,” says Barney. “There’s always obstacles and challenges for guys, where it’s an injury, a class, a teammate or playing time. But they learn the fundamental game of baseball.”
School rules say Vincennes freshmen must stay in campus housing. Sophomores have the choice to live on-campus or off-campus. Barney says there’s about a 50-50 split for his current sophomore class.
Barney, who is assisted by Hank Lopez and Matt Goebel, started out with 37 players in the fall and took 31 into the spring.
Almost all of those have hometowns in Indiana.
Until a couple of years ago, Indiana was Barney’s recruiting base. Such scholarship money is based on in-state tuition.
With the favorable rates and so many Illinois junior college baseball programs as opposed to Indiana (which now has three — Vincennes, Ancilla College and Ivy Tech Northeast), plenty of Indiana players choose to play junior college baseball in Illinois.
But Illinois has been opened up so that VU can offer students there a cost similar to what they would get in-state.
“I hope to drive up the price of poker in Illinois for some of those guys,” says Barney of landing Illinois players for the VU program.
Rules allow junior colleges to play 20 games against outside competition in the fall. Vincennes also plays about 10 intrasquad games. There are 56 regular-season games in the spring.
That’s a lot of innings to cover so Barney typically carries 16 to 18 pitches, some of whom also play other positions.
“I love those guys,” says Barney. “If they can be successful at both, it’s well worth or time and energy to put the effort into that.”
Vincennes went into play April 3 at 15-12 overall and 4-4 in the conference.
There is a 32-game conference schedule. The top eight teams go to the MWAC tournament. The winner advances to the NJCAA D-II World Series (May 25-June 1 in Enid, Okla.).
“There’s a lot of positives in moving over to that region,” says Barney. “Before, we were independent in Region 12, which is Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Trying to find games in late March, April and part of May was a bear.”
Vincennes went to the World Series in 2010 and 2014 under the old qualifying format. Teams were required to make it through a sub-regional to get to an eight-team double-elimination tournament that sent the champion to championship series.
The Trailblazers play home games at Jeremy Blemker Field.
Huntingburg, Ind., native Blemker coached for 38 years, including 26 at Vincennes (1980-2006) and amassed a NJCAA-record 1,037 victories. He sent more than 180 players on to play at universities around the country and 27 signed professional contracts.
The original Blemker Field was on the VU campus. It was razed to make room for Updike Hall Scienc Earth and Mathematics Learning Center and the Trailblazers moved to a new baseball complex on Old Terre Haute Road five years ago.
Barney says the university has continued to provide the team with the means to maintain the facility.
Before landing at VU, Orlando, Fla., native Barney has made several baseball coaching stops. He was assistant coach and recruiting director for 13 years at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.
Barney played for Policastro (now head coach at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee) at Tenessee Weselyan and was a teammate and coached alongside Griffin (now head coach at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) at that same school. Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was USI head coach when Barney was on the staff. Robins led the squad at St. John’s River.
“You take a little bit from everybody,” says Barney. “You put your own personality on the program, too.
“It’s fun. The kids keep you young and always bring something new to the table.”
Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Vincennes (Ind.) University in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)
The first season as North Posey head coach was a special one for Jesse Simmons.
After eight seasons in charge at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School, Simmons came to North Posey, where he also works in the guidance department as coordinator for student programs, testing and scholarships.
During his time at Princeton Community, he spent part of his summers managing Princeton American Legion Post 25.
Simmons, a graduate of Gibson Southern High School in Fort Branch, Ind., played for an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jim Reid) in high school and a National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University) his first two years of college.
“You pick stuff from everybody,” says Simmons. “(Reid) was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was always upfront. That’s what I try to do. To a fault, I’m almost too truthful.
“(Reid) was also big on the little things.”
A third baseman in high school, Simmons was moved to shortstop at Vincennes when the starter got hurt.
Blemker was known for his passion.
“Everyday he expected things,” says Simmons of Blemker. “This is how it’s going to be.”
The fiery Blemker, who died in 2012, won 1,178 games during a storied career. At the time of his retirement in 2006, that was the most coaching wins in NJCAA Division II history.
Simmons recalls how Obermeier wanted his athletes to “take care of business” and also had a good working relationship with coaches of other sports. They shared athletes at Gibson Southern.
“(Fletcher) is still a big part of my life,” says Simmons, who not only played for T-Ray’s Mighty Oaks but helped coach them during his fifth year of college while pursuing his master’s degree. “That’s when I got the bug for coaching.”
Heading into his second season at North Posey, Simmons’ coaching staff includes Lennie “Peanut” Titzer, James Hensley, Lance Fleener, Dustin May and Jeremy Lavanchy. Titzer was Simmons’ Babe Ruth League coach and an assistant at Gibson Southern.
The Vikings are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, Perry Central, South Spencer and Tell City. North Posey has an enrollment of about 500.
North Posey plays on a field behind the school that it shares with Cub (seventh and eighth graders playing 15 to 20 games in the spring) and Poseyville Babe Ruth programs (Red and Black teams are part of an eight-team league with biggest part being from Gibson County).
Simmons says he hopes to have an American Legion team — Poseyville Post 278 /New Harmony Post 370 — playing their next summer. The plan is to play weekday games to accommodate the weekend travel ball schedules of his players.
Jesse and Courtney Simmons reside in Haubstadt, Ind. with their five children — sons Jeter (9) and Jensen (8) and daughters Albany (7), Vera (6) and Savannah (1).
The oldest of three children, Jesse’s parents are Jim and Diane Hornby. His siblings are Amber and Quentin.
“(Jeter) thrived under pressure,” says Simmons. “He was a good leader. He was never afraid of the moment and the spotlight is a tough place to play.”
Mattingly, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is from nearby Darmstadt, Ind., and played high school baseball at Evansville Memorial.
Jesse Simmons, the head baseball coach at North Posey High School in Poseyville, Ind., poses with his family. Front row (from left) Jeter Simmons, Vera Simmons, Albany Simmons and Jensen Simmons. Back row (from left) Jesse Simmons, Savannah Simmons and Courtney Simmons.
Drew — the oldest of three Ellis boys — turned heads at Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and in travel baseball with the local Indiana Elite and Indiana Bulls. He graduated from Jeff in 2014 after being honorable mention all-state three times in baseball and twice in basketball.
He excelled in two seasons at the University of Louisville. After redshirting in 2015, Ellis hit .309 with three home runs, six doubles and 22 runs batted in over 47 games his first collegiate season of 2016.
After hitting .227 with eight home runs, eight doubles and 23 runs batted in over 48 games for the Short Season Class-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2017, Ellis moved up to the High-A Visalia (Calif.) Rawhide in 2018 and is hitting .267with 10 homers, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs through 73 games.
In his second minor league season, Ellis compares professional and college baseball.
“Professional baseball is a lot more on your own,” says Drew Ellis, 22. “You’re told what to do in college. In professional baseball, you’re held accountable for what you do. If you don’t do the things you need to do to get ready for each day, you’re not going to have success.
“In college, everybody does the same thing because you’re on a schedule. When you get to professional baseball, you’re on your own and you create your own destiny with that.”
To keep contributing to his team, Ellis has found a way to prepare that suits him.
“I have my own routine,” says Drew Ellis. “You have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s all about making adjustments and sometimes you have to make adjustments on the fly.
“But it starts with your routine.”
With 52 homers and 82 doubles since his junior year of high school, many would call Ellis a power hitter.
“I guess you could say that,” says Drew Ellis. “I look at myself as a professional hitter, whether I’m going up and seeing six or seven pitches or barreling up every ball I see. I like to see myself as a really good hitter.
“I’ve stayed with my approach this year and have not strayed away from it. I recognize the pitch and put a good swing on it.”
Derek is not hesitant to agree with Drew’s employer in labeling him a power hitter.
“The Diamondbacks think he’s a power hitter and is going to hit 25 or 30 homers a year as he progresses,” says Derek Ellis. “He’s doing great. I’m not going to bet against him.”
Derek Ellis has been on the Jeffersonville High coaching staff since the 2008 season and the Red Devils head coach since 2013. He watched Drew play shortstop for four seasons at JHS and then move to Louisville, where McDonnell made him an everyday third baseman.
“What a blessing for Drew to play for a guy like that,” says Derek Ellis of McDonnell. “What you see is what you get. He’s genuine. He’s a great motivator. He’s one of the best coaches in the country.
“The U of L program is really regimented. It really helped him make the transition to pro ball.”
In December 2017, Derek opened the Ellis Baseball Academy in Jeffersonville. The training facility takes up half of an 8,000-square foot building and has three batting and one pitching tunnel. Several area travel teams have asked to use the space.
All three of Derek and Jennifer Ellis’ three sons are baseball players.
Ian Ellis (20) is a right-batting third baseman/second baseman/right-handed pitcher who finished his second year at Olney (Ill.) Community College in 2017 and transferred to Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Jack Ellis (17) is heading into his senior season at Jeffersonville and has already committed to play college baseball at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. This summer, the lefty-hitting third baseman is with the Indiana Bulls Black 17U team, which went to the Perfect Game 2018 Grads or 17U World Wood Bat Association National Championship at the LakePoint Sports Complex in Cartersville, Ga.
Derek Ellis played for three Hall of Fame coaches — Don Poole at Jeffersonville, Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University and Bob Warn at Indiana State University.
“Those two are instrumental in who I am,” says Derek Ellis of Poole and Blemker. “(Poole) expected you to show up and play hard and taught me a lot about game strategy.
“(Blemker) taught me how to be a man. I was a boy going into junior college and thought I knew everything.”
Drew Ellis shows the batting form that has him hitting .267with 10 home runs, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs through 73 games for the High Class-A Visalia Rawhide. Ellis is a Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate and former All-America at the University of Louisville. (Visalia Rawhide Photo)
Drew Ellis, a former Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and University of Louisville standout, is now enjoying baseball success in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. (Visalia Rawhide Photo)
A change of scenery can be just what a ballplayer needs.
Even if that scenery is familiar territory.
Jarrett Grube — traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Cleveland Indians organization in mid-June — is pushing the baseball re-fresh button in a return engagement with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers.
Going into a start Saturday, July 22, Grube was 3-5 overall with a 4.70 earned run average in 16 starts, including 1-2 and 1.69 in five starts for the Clippers. He came off the 7-day disabled list July 16 (right-hand discomfort).
“Things weren’t going my way for whatever reason,” says Grube. “I just call it the ’tale of two tapes.’ Now I’m back over here doing what I’ve always done.”
What Grube has done when successful is keep the opposition off-balance.
“I’m not even thinking about mechanics,” says Grube. “It all just happens fluidly and easily. I’m throwing a lot of strikes and mixing my pitches and keeping the hitters guessing on what’s coming in different counts.”
As a free agent veteran, the Indians brought Grube back because of his track record at the Triple-A level.
“They support you and give you info about the hitters so you can have success,” says Grube. “When you’ve been around for awhile, they let you keep doing your program. As long as you communicate, they support you.”
Between starts, Grube does a longer running session with stretching, some weightlifting and works with a trainer on Day 1. The second day includes long toss, a bullpen session and heavier total-body lifting with two days of recovery before the start. Day 3 is about stretching things out and getting rid of built-up lactic acid. Day 4 is devoted to rest and stretching.
Grube, who played at Vincennes University for head coach Jerry Blemker (who died in 2012) and at the University of Memphis for for head coach Dave Anderson, was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his lone MLB appearance with Los Angeles Angels in 2014 (he retired Josh Donaldson and gave up a three-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes).
One thing that’s kept Grube from being predictable is his ability to change arm angles.
It all just flows.
“When I’m at my best, I’m not really thinking about anything,” says Grube. “I’m throwing every pitch I want to throw in any count and getting a lot of weak contact, maybe strikeout an inning for however many innings I pitch.”
“You learn to grow as a player,” says Grube. “Sometimes you have to take lumps and be able to turn the page pretty quick. You sit and dwell on things, I know that. There’s going to be a lot of things that are out of your control that.
“You just keep on with what you’ve got pictured in your mind that you want to accomplish.”
Grube has been a starting pitcher in Triple-A. If he gets called up to the big leagues, his role would likely be out of the bullpen.
“I’ve got the stuff to relieve, too, for sure,” says Grube.
Born in Fort Wayne (where he lives in the off-season with wife Alyssa and daughter Ensley), Grube’s early diamond days were spent in the Tri-County Little League and in AAU ball. He was a member of the Aboite Braves, coached by Brett Ratcliffe (who is now head coach at Garrett High School).
Grube credits Blemker helping to make him mentally tough, something that has helped him ever since.
“He’d say some things that would make you upset or frustrated,” says Grube, who won 12 games and struck out a then-school-record 172 batters in two seasons with the VU Trailblazers. “He was kind of like a drill sergeant. But he was doing it in a fatherly way. He was trying to get the best out of me. He was lying the foundation for me to go to D-I and then pro ball.”
Grube gained wisdom from Anderson, who played 10 MLB seasons including with the World Series-winning 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers and went on to coach and manage in pro baseball.
Jarrett Grube, a 2000 DeKalb High School graduate, is in his 14th professional baseball season in 2017. (Columbus Clippers Photo)