When John Smith took over as head baseball coach at Morgan Township Middle/High School on the south side of Valparaiso, Ind., the Class of 2022 was in their freshmen year. Two members of that class — left fielder Nate Hudkins and shortstop Nate Lemmons — are now seniors and the Cherokees are coming off the program’s fifth sectional championship and first since 2018. “The guys are proud of the accomplishment,” says Smith. “They see the fruit of their labors.” University of Dubuque (Iowa)-bound Lemmons (.388 average, 22 runs batted in, 28 runs, 20 stolen bases) plus Hudkins (.355, 18 RBI, 28 runs, 17 stolen bases) are part of a Morgan Township offense that also features sophomore Keagen Holder (.426, 15 RBI, 15 runs, 10 stolen bases), junior Jayke Putz (.414, 26 RBI, 29 runs), junior Max Rakowski (.406, 16 RBI, 20 runs), sophomore Grant Cowger (.389), freshman Chase Rosenbaum (.379, 17 RBI, 19 runs), junior D.J. Hand (.310, 16 RBI, 19 runs) and sophomore Jack Wheeler (14 RBI, 18 runs, 12 stolen bases). The mound crew features Wheeler (5-1, 0.92 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 20 walks over 45 2/3 innings) and Putz (3-2, 3.67, 42 K’s, 20 BB, 34 1/3 IP). The current crop of sophomores were eighth graders when Smith took over the school’s fall middle school baseball program. “Getting those players at a young age has been beneficial for me,” says Smith, who teaches high school and middle school Health and Physical Education. “We get with them early in their baseball careers and establish the culture and the ideals with we strive for. “We give them that knowledge and get them used to me and how I coach.” After winning the 2022 IHSAA Class 1A Westville Sectional, Morgan Township is bound for the South Bend Washington Regional (which is being played Saturday, June 4 at South Bend Clay’s Jim Reinebold Field). The first semifinal features No. 4-ranked South Central (Union) Mills) and No. 9 Caston at 11 a.m. Eastern Time/10 a.m. Central Time followed by the 17-8 Cherokees against No. 10 Fremont around 1:30/12:30. Morgan Township (enrollment around 240) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, South Central of Union Mills, Washington Township and Westville). The Cherokees went 5-2 in the PCC in 2022, finishing third behind Boone Grove (7-0) and South Central (6-1). Besides the hosts and Morgan Township, the Westville Sectional included 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Kouts, Marquette Catholic and Washington Township. Smith is assisted by Boone Grove graduate and Morgan Township P.E./Health teacher Dean Hill and Washington Township alum Levi Oman. Hill is in charge of the junior varsity team. In 2022, the Cherokees finished the regular season with 24 players in the program. Morgan Township calls Curtis C. Casbon Field home. The diamond on the east side of the school has a backdrop of trees in left field. The facility is shared with Morgan Township Summer League 8U and 10U teams. Smith is a 2010 graduate of Shakamak Junior/Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind. Chip Sweet, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017, came back for his second stint as Lakers head coach when Smith was a senior, following three years with Matt Fougerousse rowing the boat. “He was very knowledgeable guy about baseball and life and how to carry yourself off the field,” says Smith of Sweet. “It was about character and how they represent themselves, their community and their school. “Coach Fougerousse was an extension of Coach Sweet. He wanted that fire to win and lead and be great young men. It’s something that program stands for.” At Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Smith earned an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and a masters in Kinesiology and Exercise Science. John and wife Megan Smith have been married nearly three years. They do not have children.
South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School got to celebrate its baseball past and present when the Colonials reached a milestone May 14 at Jim Reinebold Field. The Colonials swept a doubleheader from visiting Bowman Leadership Academy. The first-game win marked the 1,000th since Clay joined South Bend Community School Corporation in 1964. Jim Reinebold led the program to its first 503 victories from 1964-88. He helped found the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and was a member of its initial Hall of Fame induction class in 1979. He established the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp in 1993 and it the developmental camp is still an autumn tradition. “He was the GOAT,” says Joel Reinebold, one of Jim’s sons and the head coach at Clay since the 2014 season. There have been many family connections at Clay over the decades. That continues with Denny Grounds, who played for Jim Reinebold in 1964, and his grandson, Colin Monsma, who is on Joel Reinebold’s 2022 team. “We’re very, very young and very, very inexperienced,” says Reinebold, who at times has had four freshmen and two first-time high school players in his starting lineup. “But they know about the tradition of program and what is expected of them. They got a big kick of getting 1,000 wins on their watch. “We stress pride in the program, taking care of what we have and appreciating what you have.” All this during a time when there is talk of school closures in South Bend, including Clay. “We don’t know anything,” says Reinebold of the rumors. “We just take it day by day. “It would be a crime to shut it down. It’s a great school.” When Jim Reinebold started at Clay, the team played on a diamond located on the site of the current field. Joel Reinebold remembers watching “No. 4” and his teams from the monkey bars. The Colonials then played at Bendix (Kennedy) Park and then at Clay Park before landing at what is now Jim Reinebold Field (so named following J.R.’s death in 2017) while Chip O’Neil, who is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer, was head coach. Since coming back to Clay, Joel estimates that the program and its supporters have raised more than $50,000 for upgrades to the facility. How many hours has Joel spent working on it? “I wouldn’t even begin to guess,” says Reinebold. “I wish I had a dollar for every hour.” Clay will host a Class 3A sectional (with Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend Saint Joseph and South Bend Washington) May 25, 26 and 30 and a 1A regional (with regional winners from the South Central of Union Mills, Caston, Fremont and Westville sectionals) June 4. “I want a semistate (in the future),” says Reinebold. “It’s more work for us, but I’m glad we host the sectional and regional and can show off the field a little bit.” Reinebold, who was the original groundskeeper at Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium in South Bend (now called Four Winds Field), cares for a field which sports athletic bluegrass with a Washington Ball Mix for the infield. “I like the coloring and texture,” says Reinebold. “It drains very well.” Reinebold is always partial to Pro’s Choice infield conditioner. “It helps the playability of the field and its prevents it from getting too hard or too soft,” says Reinebold. “It’s the same stuff I used at the stadium.” After graduating from Clay and playing at Mississippi College, Reinebold was an assistant to his father then Dan Kasper at Clay. He then helped Brian Buckley at Hillsdale (Mich.) College, served as an assistant at Penn High School (the Kingsmen won their first state championship in 1994) followed by a head coaching stint at South Bend Adams (1995-2000), another assistant stretch at Penn (2001-2012) and finally leading the program at Clay. His current coaching staff includes pitching coach Kasper and former Adams player Nate Meadimber. The Colonials have won 12 sectional titles, including in the first two years of the IHSAA state tournament (1967 and 1968). Since 1967, only South Bend Riley boys swimming (29) has earned more sectional champions among SBCSC schools. Clay reigned as state baseball champions in 1970. Jay Parker and Bob Schell were captains on that team and are part of a group of Colonials who were selected in the Major League Baseball Draft out of high school or college. Besides Parker (Chicago White Sox 1970) and Schell (Chicago Cubs 1970), there’s Roger Benko (Chicago White Sox 1967), Gary King (Cleveland Indians 1970), Kent Juday (Cleveland Indians 1972), Andy Replogle (St. Louis Cardinals 1975), Bret Mitchell (Kansas City Royals 1977), Tim Hudnall (Montreal Expos 2002), Mike Wolff (Baltimore Orioels 1994) and Aaron Bond (San Francisco Giants 2017). Replogle pitched in the majors. Joel Reinebold helps youth players in Indiana and Jamaica through his efforts with Rounding Third, a a non-profit organization he helped start with former South Bend White Sox/Silver Hawks front office man John Baxter and others.
Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts. The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it. One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.” There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy. “It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered. Baseball also played a big part. “Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.” Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans. “You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.” While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance. Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field. Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer — is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020. For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline. “He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.” As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill. Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay. “Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.” Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind. Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U). “It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.” Being around teams has given Neveah something more. “I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah. Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11. This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season. “Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz. Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner. If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players. “I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.” Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers. Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms. American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players. Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn. Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021. Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo. Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on. Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father. Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year). Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year. The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.