By STEVE KRAH
Bob Shinkan is proof that you can be both laid-back and intense.
He’s been doing it as head baseball coach at Munster High School for decades.
“I expect 100 percent out of my players,” says Shinkan, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who heads into his 33rd season in 2018 with a 639-323-1 career mark. “I strive for perfection. I push them to a certain extent through my own personality.
“I’m not a fire-up guy but I’m as competitive as anybody can be. I’m laid back unless somebody is not hustling or paying attention. I try to keep things as loose as possible. Kids are going to excel not being tight.
“I want them excited and loose every time we play a ball game.”
Shinkan prepares his players in practice so they can play loose.
“I try to let the kids go out there and not put pressure on them during the games,” says Shinkan. “I don’t try to change too much as the game goes on.”
Shinkan, a 1971 Munster graduate, has been Mustangs baseball head coach since the 1986 season. He moved up from assistant following the tragic death of Hall of Famer Mike Niksic in a boating accident.
“He was old school and I loved it,” says Shinkan of Niksic. “He pushed you real hard and he expected a lot out of you. but gave you all the love that he had.
“I’ve been trying to follow the same tradition Mike had. But times are different and kids have changed. You have to adjust here and there.”
Shinkan played freshmen baseball at Ball State University and then got his undergraduate degree at the Muncie school and came back to Munster to begin his teaching career (he now is a geometry teacher). At the time, there were no coaching openings in boys sports so he started in girls track. He would go on to serve as head volleyball coach was on the Munster football staff of Indiana Football Hall of Famer Leroy Marsh from 1987-2015.
When he joined Niksic’s baseball staff a few years later, Shinkan found himself leading both the junior varsity and freshmen teams.
“It was interesting,” says Shinkan. “In the preseason, I had both teams practicing. Then games would start and the JV would plays Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and freshman on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a doubleheader on Saturday. We were playing games six days a week.
There were just three paid positions in Munster baseball — one varsity and two assistants — and that hasn’t changed.
“That’s the way Mike wanted it,” says Shinkan. “That’s the way we did things.”
Niksic assistants going back to 1965 include Ed Sherry, Don Kemaghan, George Sofianos, John Gott, Dave Knish, Mike Edwards, Bob Maicher, Ed Robertson and, of course, Bob Shinkan.
When Shinkan took over, he assigned one assistant to JV (currently Matt Backs) and one to the freshmen (currently Mike Mikolajczyk). Volunteers have also been very helpful over the years.
Shinkan’s first staff in 1986 included Charles Boston and Mark Agenter. There’s also been Dennis Haas, Paul Banas, Hal Coppage, Jim Magrames, Tom Langus, Steve Tripenfeldas, Jim Davidson, Mike Mendoza, Jeff Rosen, Marty Kell, Jeff Kapp, Elliott Gibbs, Jon Caddick, Anthony Gomez, John Premetz and Alex Coccia.
From his first season in charge, Shinkan has been dividing Munster’s season into thirds.
“That first third, I try to figure out what everybody’s role is,” says Shinkan, who uses the middle third to work on those roles. “Wins and losses are important, but try to get the kids as much playing time as I can. The first part of season, we experiment with lineups. I let players prove to not only me and their teammates, but to themselves that we’re putting them in the right spots.”
By the last third of the season, roles and set and the Mustangs hope to be going after a conference championship and are getting ready for the postseason.
“I’m pretty proud of the program and the success we’ve had down through the years,” says Shinkan.
In program history, Munster has won 12 conference baseball titles (1975, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1994, 1998, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2014) with 12 sectionals (1981, 1985, 1990, 1991, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2016), five regionals (1985, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2010) and four Final Four appearances (2001, 2002, 2006, 2010), including an Class 4A state championship in 2002.
A 9-1 victory against Evansville North wrapped a 25-9 season and allowed the Mustangs to raise the state championship trophy.
Conference make-up and affiliation has changed for Munster over the year. In 2018, the Northwest Crossroads Conference has six members — Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster. Conference games will be home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday is left open as rain date.
Mike Smith came from Logansport to be Munster athletic director in 2001 and said the back-to-back schedule used in the North Central Conference was superior to the round robin schedule used at the time in the old Lake 10 Conference.
“I was the one to bring it up at post-conference meetings,” says Shinkan. “We voted on it and we went to that.”
Shinkan has a say in Munster’s non-conference schedule. Working with current AD Brian Clark, he picks as many Duneland Athletic Conference and sectional opponents as he can get.
“I don’t like to come into a sectional without seeing them during the regular season,” says Shinkan. “I try to beef up the schedule. It gets us ready for the conference season and the sectional.”
For years now, the Mustangs have opened the season in Terre Haute South Vigo Braves Baseball Bash. They play one game Friday and two Saturday in round robin with Mt. Vernon (Posey), New Haven and the host school.
“Kyle Kraemer at Terre Haute South puts on a nice tournament,” says Shinkan. “It helps us bond as a team.”
Shinkan is in the habit of developing at least eight pitchers so he can use four (two starters and two relievers) for conference games and four for non-conference contests.
Conference pitchers put in a rotation in the weeks leading up to the sectional.
“I’ve never been one to throw pitchers to the wolves,” says Shinkan. “We’re going to rest that arm.”
What about the advent in 2017 of the new IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days)?
“I’ve always followed stuff like that anyway,” says Shinkan. “That’s not a big deal. High school coaches are pretty good with that. Summer coaches are a different story.”
Bobby Morris, Hal’s brother, hit a walk-off home run in the championship game against Hammond Gavit that gave Shinkan his first sectional baseball title as a coach in 1990. Bobby, who was a second-team all-state shortstop in 1990, now runs the Morris Baseball & Softball Center in Schererville.
Shinkan’s other all-staters are second baseman Steve Muller (honorable mention) in 1988, third baseman Brent Bodefeld (second team) in 1990, second baseman Brian Christiansen (honorable mention) in 1997, outfielder Brian Wolotka (first team) in 1998, pitcher Jon Nourie (first team) in 2000, outfielder Mike Rosen (first team) in 2002, third baseman Brett Keeler (honorable mention) in 2007, pitcher Ryan Wilkinson (honorable mention) in 2010, outfielder Alex DeRio (honorable mention) in 2014 , outfielder Joe Bryant (first team) in 2015, pitcher Connor Manous (second team) in 2016 and Mike Madura (honorable mention) in 2017.
Niksic coached five all-staters — catcher Scott Keeler (first team) in 1975, shortstop Steve Urbanski (first team) in 1978, outfield Lou Carbonare (second team) and pitcher Paul Banas (second team) in 1982 and third baseman Dave Cerajewski (second team) in 1985.
IHSBCA All-Star North/South Series players from Munster include catcher Scott Keeler in 1975, first baseman Dan Banas in 1976, outfielder Greg Beno in 1977, pitcher Chris Chelich and shortstop Steve Urbanski in 1978, first baseman Hal Morris in 1983, third baseman Dave Cerajewski in 1985, shortstop Bobby Morris in 1990, pitcher Jeff O’Connor in 1995, second baseman Brian Christiansen in 1997, outfielder Brian Wolotka in 1998, pitcher Elliott Gibbs in 2002, pitcher Bryan Bokowy in 2004, shortstop Mike Nowak in 2006, catcher Pete Jurich in 2007, pitcher Ryan Wilkinson in 2010, pitcher Grant Rademacher in 2015, pitcher Connor Manous in 2016 and pitcher Mike Madura in 2017.
Shinkan has sent numerous players on to college baseball.
Nourie was drafted out of high school by the Chicago White Sox, opted instead to play at Southeast Missouri State University (2003-04) and then pitched in the San Diego Padres system and in independent pro baseball.
Munster plays home games on-campus on a lighted field next to the football field.
“We’re very proud of it,” says Shinkan, who has got to be a sectional host for long time. “This year, we put in a brand new infield and bought a new tarp. Going against tradition, we sodded in the baselines for maintenance reasons. We have a two-story press box. A new batting cage is coming.
“I’m very grateful to the administration for keeping up with things,” says Shinkan.
The veteran coach was humbled and happy when the call from his peers to the IHSBCA Hall of Fame came in 2015 and he joined Mike Niksic and Hal Morris.
“You look at those names that are there,” says Shinkan. “Not only names from Calumet Region. I’m in with Don Mattingly and Gil Hodges. It’s a fraternity. I’m so proud of that fact I was able to attain that.”
In 2018, Shinkan and wife Laura will celebrate 40 years of marriage. The couple have two sons — Scott and Michael. Scott graduated from Munster in 1998 and played three seasons at Wabash College. He and wife Laura have a 2-year-old son, Grady, and one on the way. Michael graduated from MHS in 2004. He played baseball as a freshman then pursued golf.
Bob Shinkan, a 1971 Munster High School graduate, has been head baseball coach at his alma mater since the 1986 season. He went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.