By STEVE KRAH
Fairfield High School is coming down the home stretch of the 2017 baseball season and heading into the postseason.
The Falcons hope to finish strong for head coach Keeton Zartman in his final campaign.
Zartman, a 2007 FHS graduate who is currently a math teacher at Fairfield, is changing jobs and getting married this summer.
The next man to lead the program is longtime high school assistant and junior high head coach Darin Kauffman. The 2005 Fairfield graduate was a left-handed pitcher for the Falcons.
Kauffman, a fifth grade teacher at West Noble Middle School who also coaches junior high boys basketball and has been a boys tennis assistant at Fairfield as well as keeping the scorebook for varsity and JV boys basketball, is anxious to get started. But he does not want to step on the toes of his friend and former teammate.
“I don’t want to disrespect (Zartman’s) program,” says Kauffman, who will continue to serve out his seventh season as junior varsity coach and be with the varsity when the JV is not in action. “I wish him the best on his new career and marriage. This is his team. We’re still focused on this year. We’re not done yet.”
Zartman, a former Falcon catcher who once helped Kauffman with the JV and later replaced Brodie Garber as head coach, made his intentions known at the start of this season. Then came the process of finding his replacement.
“It’s kind of weird timing,” says Kauffman, who met with athletic director Mark Hofer earlier in the spring and was approved for the new position by the school board last week. “But the board wasn’t going to meet again until June 8 and we’ve got summer camps coming up June 19-23.”
Kauffman played one season at Grace College before shoulder problems caused him to give up playing.
Garber, 1995 Fairfield graduate, approached Kauffman about coaching and he was on his staff for eight years before the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Famer and former Huntington University baseball and basketball player stepped down to concentrate on his head girls basketball coaching duties.
“I learned a lot from Brodie,” says Kauffman, who began coaching for him in the summer between his freshmen and sophomore years of college. “The biggest thing was (keeping up) team morale. He was good at getting guys to believe in what he was doing and we were very successful. He got kids to come out and play the game the right way and have fun while they were doing it.”
Fairfield has won six sectionals and one regional and all but one sectional came during Garber’s time as coach. The 2010 Falcons went 24-4 and lost to eventual state runner-up Delphi in the Class 2A Kokomo Semistate.
Kauffman says he is grateful he can still consult with Garber (who was in his first season as head baseball coach in Kauffman’s freshman year at Fairfield) and other Fairfield coaches and plans to keep that positive outlook in his role as head coach.
With his enthusiasm, Kauffman is hoping to attract some more talent back to the baseball program.
“We’re a couple of kids from getting to that next level, where we used to be,” says Kauffman. “We’re trying to get kids to play multiple sports and stick with it for all four years.”
Pierce Zent is Kauffman’s JV assistant in 2016-17 and plans call for him to be on Kauffman’s staff in 2017-18. Caleb Yoder has indicated an interest in coaching the JV.
“It’s hard in baseball to find a JV coach,” says Kauffman, noting that the JV plays away when the varsity is home and vice versa with just one diamond at Fairfield and many schools on the schedule. “The JV coach has got to be in charge of getting the field ready. He has to run his own practices. With most other sports, varsity and JV are together.”
Kauffman has already decided on the foundation of his program.
“We’ve got to increase our pitching depth for next year,” says Kauffman. “It all comes back to pitching and defense.
“If you can’t pitch and you can’t defend, you’re not going to win a sectional.”
Efficient mound work and strong defense is bound to keep pitch counts down and with the new rules governing pitch counts that’s more important than ever.
“The biggest factor (with pitch counts) is when are you going to play next?,” says Kauffman, who knows that a certain amount of pitches equates to a required number of days to rest. “One pitch can make a difference in a day.”
Here is the scale: 1 to 35 pitches (0 days); 36 to 60 (1 day); 61 to 80 (2 days); 81 to 100 (3 days); 101 to 120 (4 days).
As hitters, do you look to see more pitches just to rack up the count or stay aggressive?
Kauffman says the first pitch of an at-bat is often the most hittable one a batter will see.
“We’re going to take fastballs right down the middle and then we’re going to swing at sliders or curve balls that we can’t hit?,” says Kauffman.
Fairfield plays in the 12-team Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview) and is in the Class 3A NorthWood Sectional.
Darin Kauffman, a 2005 Fairfield High School graduate and longtime assistant coach, will be the Falcons’ head baseball coach for 2017-18.