Tag Archives: Keith Dougherty

Wherever he goes, Smith takes a big piece of Elkhart with him

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ron Smith’s career has taken him away from his hometown.
A 1974 graduate of Elkhart (Ind.) Memorial High School, he played baseball and basketball at Furman (S.C.) University, coached basketball at Miami University-Middletown (Ohio) and Middletown High School and was head baseball coach for 23 years at Furman, resigning after the 2016 season and still resides in the Palmetto State.
“I love South Carolina,” says Smith, who is in both the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame. “But Elkhart will always be my home.”
It was as a first grader that Smith began playing baseball at the City With A Heart’s Hawthorne Little League. He lived about two blocks away from Pierre Moran Park, wandered up one day and was on a team the next.
After that came Studebaker Park and Babe Ruth League at Elkhart FOP Park.
“We had good coaches throughout,” says Smith. “It was a great experience.
“I was so fortunate to grow up in Elkhart.”
It was also in elementary school that Smith learned from a coach that at his size he had better develop both hands as a basketball player.
“I really took that to heart,” says Smith, who shined on the court for head coaches Keith Dougherty (Elkhart), Jim Powers (Elkhart Memorial) and Joe Williams (Furman).”
The year before starting at Furman, Williams guided Jacksonville and Artis Gilmore to the NCAA championship game against UCLA.
On the prep diamond, Smith played three years for Dick Siler — one at Elkhart and two at Memorial.
“I took a little bit from all of those people,” says Smith. “Their influence was certainly impactful for me.”
Smith was the starting shortstop in his sophomore season of 1972. Steered Siler, Elkhart won the Elkhart Sectional and South Bend Regional and bowed 3-0 to eventual semistate champion Hammond Morton in the semifinals of the South Bend Semistate.
The following year Elkhart split into two schools.
“I think we would have been a state championship team the next year,” says Smith. “But instead we split. Central and Memorial had two pretty good teams. But they did not have the pitching depth to be really good.”
Smith says he would have loved playing as a teammate of Tom Calhoun instead of trying to fight through a Tom Eastman pick while guarding Calhoun in crosstown Memorial-Central rivalry basketball games.
Beginning with the fall of 2020, athletic teams in Elkhart began playing as one and were called the Lions. The town again has one high school.
“I was very happy to see a united Elkhart,” says Smith, who attended a few Lions football game with great nephew Quinn Rost (Class of 2025) as sophomore quarterback. “It’s really neat.”
Smith is uncle to Jacquie Rost, who is head volleyball coach and an athletic director at Elkhart and married to head baseball coach Scott Rost.
“I’m so proud of her and Scott,” says Smith. “(Class of 2021’s Dylan and Quinn) are the kind of boys I would love to have on my team.
“They are ‘team’ guys.”
Teachers — like Coe Strain — were also helpful to Smith along his journey.
An ardent follower of sports, Mrs. Strain got choir singer Smith involved in drama.
“I was probably the only athlete involved in the first musical,” says Smith. “But my senior year there were five or six.
“I developed an appreciation. The teamwork that is required for a drama production or a musical is very similar to that in the athletic endeavor.
“Everybody has to execute. Everybody has a part to play.”
Smith, a three-year letterwinner in tennis, basketball and baseball, earned the Tim Bringle Memorial Award as Elkhart’s top senior male athlete in 1974.
He was at Furman when he was selected in the ninth round of the 1977 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent parts of five seasons in the Phillies system, including five a Triple-A. The first few years he was still playing basketball at Furman during the winter.
After leaving college in his senior year, Smith went to spring training in Clearwater, Fla., with hopes of making the Double-A team in Reading, Pa.
“I had a good spring and felt good about things,” says Smith, who was one of 175 minor leaguers competing for 125 roster slots on five teams. “They called me in and said you really did but we like this Ryne Sandberg. I said, ‘Sandberg can’t make the play in the hole’ — which is true — but they moved him to second base and he had a Hall of Fame career.”
Smith also spent time playing behind future long-time major leaguer Julio Franco while also sitting near the manager when he was not in the game.
“I listened and learned,” says Smith.
When he was released as a player, Smith accepted an offer to manage the Phillies team in Helena, Mont., in 1982.
“I think I was the youngest manager in all of professional baseball,” says Smith.
When a new ownership/front office regime came to Philadelphia, Smith was among those to be let go.
“That was fine,” says Smith. “I was really into coaching basketball.
“I was ready to get out (of baseball).”
Then came the opportunity to possibly coach baseball at Furman.
Smith was enjoying his time at Middletown High when he was having a conversation with a mentor about his situation.
“He said — first of all what does your wife want to do?,” says Smith. “Then think about this: How many (NCAA) Division I baseball programs are there in the country? How many high school basketball jobs are there?”
In 23 seasons, he won 580 games with a Southern Conference championship in 2005.
This at a school with high tuition and far less than the limit of 11.7 scholarships.
“Furman is an expensive school,” says Smith. “It was hard to compete.
“But I feel like we got as much out of our players as anyone. As a coach, you want to see them improve individually. As a team, you want them to have that synergy — that something that allows them to achieve beyond the individual components that they have because of their working together.
“That is the most rewarding thing as a coach.”
Upon taking over the program, Smith had four goals: graduate on time, grow up (develop as a person), get better (improve on the field) and win championships.
“We faithfully stayed with that approach and as a result we had a tremendous graduation rate
anybody who stayed for four years graduated,” says Smith. “I’m so proud of the players that came out of the program — really fine young men, successful family men and good people.”
Ron’s wife — Elizabeth “Beth” Jordan Smith — died Oct. 25, 2021 at 58.
Forty five former players came from all over the country to Greenville to attend Beth Smith’s memorial service.
“It really meant a lot to me,” says Smith, 66. That validated my career in many ways.”
Since his wife’s passing, Smith has been taking some time for himself and has been able to travel and play golf with friends.
For the past three years, Smith has been a color commentator for Clemson (S.C.) University baseball home games shown on video
Smith’s approach is to comment on the game like he’s watching it on TV with a buddy
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Smith.
Not a rookie to broadcasting before the Clemson gig, Smith was a radio color commentator for Furman basketball for six years.
He’s also followed MLB.
“I’m glad they’re going to have a time clock for pitching,” says Smith. “The games have gotten too long.”
While he sees why some teams are based around power, there is more to the game than the three-run bomb.
“I really enjoy some of that small-ball stuff that maybe people don’t appreciate nowadays,” says Smith. “I don’t think there’s a better game than baseball when the ball is in-play. There’s a lot of down time.
“But when the ball is hit, it’s just a perfect game.
If you field it cleanly, the guy is out by a step at first base.
“What’s more exciting than seeing a guy hit a ball in the right-center gap and trying to stretch it into a triple? It’s great.”
In May 2020, Furman announced the elimination of its baseball program.
“It’s in a state of limbo now,” says Smith of Paladins baseball. “The field still intact and still pretty well maintained.
“I’m hoping that in the near future it will be reinstated.”

Ron Smith. (Furman University Photo)
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Morgan Township, Grace graduate Dougherty pursuing goals in independent United Shore Baseball League

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time in the life of Joe Dougherty that he convinced himself he was done with baseball.

“I was thinking about giving up on baseball at the time,” says Dougherty, who is pitching for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich. “I’m very thankful I didn’t do it now.

“A lot of people have told me to stick with my dream so I would have no regrets later in life.”

A successful right-handed pitcher, infielder and outfielder at Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., where he helped the Jason Dorshorst-coached Cherokees win IHSAA Class 1A sectional titles as a junior and senior in 2012 and 2013, Dougherty was not planning on pursuing baseball at the next level.

For his prep career, Dougherty won 20 games with 253 strikeouts — both school records. He was 9-3 with a 1.83 ERA and 102 K’s as a junior in 2012 as Morgan Township went 23-5 and followed that up with 18-10 in 2013.

Dorshorst, who went to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, told Dougherty he thought he had what it took play college baseball.

“He helped me a lot,” says Dougherty of Dorshorst. “He understood me as a player. He encouraged me to go after my dream.”

With newfound confidence, that dream had changed pursuing baseball at the college level and — maybe —  beyond.

Enter Bill Barr.

The head baseball coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., Barr was there when Dougherty enjoyed a very fine day on the diamond.

It was in the semifinals of the 2013 Caston Regional. Dougherty clubbed a grand slam, drove in five runs and also pitched in relief in a 6-5 semifinal loss to Elkhart Christian.

After the contest, Dougherty talked with Barr and was convinced to make a campus visit.

That led to a four-season career with the Grace Lancers  the first three with Barr as head coach.

“I give him credit for giving me the opportunity for playing college baseball,” says Dougherty, who made 30 appearances with Barr as head coach and 12 as a senior with Cam Screeton in charge of the Lancers program.

Dougherty fanned 78 and walked 58 in 106 1/3 innings at Grace.

During Grace’s spring trip, Dougherty met Diamond Hoppers manager Paul Noce.

A baseball veteran, Noce who played for the 1987 Chicago Cubs and 1990 Cincinnati Reds and was a successful head coach at Hillsdale (Mich.) College saw potential in Dougherty and invited him to Michigan to throw a bullpen session after the college season.

“It was only throwing in the mid-80’s at that point,” says Dougherty of his velocity. “(Noce) encouraged me to keep working hard.”

So Dougherty went to play for the Shawn Harper-managed Mishawaka Brewers of the Northern Indiana Adult Baseball League and worked out with Shane Zegarac, pitching and strength coach at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. — a short drive from Valparaiso.

“He deserves a lot of credit for getting me here in the first place,” says Dougherty of Zegarac, who pitched in the Texas Rangers organization and parts of three seasons with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent Frontier League.

The 6-foot-3 Dougherty packed on about 20 pounds and his heater was up to low 90’s when he went to pitch for the Canada A’s of 2018 California Winter League. He made eight mound appearances (three as a starter) and was 1-1 with a 2.41 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 12 walks in 20 1/3 innings.

He was signed by the USPBL — a developmental league with four teams (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths are the others) that play all their games at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, a northern suburb of Detroit.

The league takes Mondays off. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are non-public day games. Thursday through Saturday are night contests and Sundays are day games. The regular season began May 11 and wraps Sept. 2. Each team plays 50 games. Rosters are limited to 20 players age 18-26.

“This league is focused on getting players to the next level,” says Dougherty. “They are pretty good at giving guys plenty of time to develop those skills.

“They give you a really good shot to further your career here.”

More than 20 players have gone on to sign contracts with Major League Baseball-affiliated teams since the USPBL debuted in 2016.

Dougherty has been starting and is 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 17 walks in 17 2/3 innings.

Between starts, he does a lot of recovery work and maintenance in the weight room — staying away too much in-season heavy lifting. He also does a lot of running, including sprints.

Dougherty was born and raised in Valparaiso the third child of Keith and Beth Dougherty. His older sisters are Rachel and Kelsey.

He played summer league at Morgan Township and then a little travel baseball in junior high and high school.

At Grace, Joe earned a degree in Design Engineering Technology. He says he is especially interested in computer-aided design.

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Joe Dougherty, a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., and Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is now playing for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League. (USPBL Photo)

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Joe Dougherty goes into his wind-up during a game at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Mich. All games in the four-team United Shore Professional Baseball League are played there. (Matt Cripsey Photo)

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Determination shows on the face of Joe Dougherty as he warms up for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers on the independent United Shore Baseball League. He is a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School and Grace College in Indiana. (Matt Cripsey Photo)