By STEVE KRAH
Plate discipline is something Erik Hisner carried into the batter’s box with him as a player and it’s a concept he teaches his hitters as head baseball coach at Whitko High School.
“We talk a lot about being selectively aggressive,” says Hisner, who enters his 11th season with the Wildcats in 2017. “I want guys to be aggressive on fastballs early in the count if it’s their pitch. The times we’ve gotten in trouble we’ve been almost passive.
“Understanding (baseball) situations is something we continue to work on.”
Whitko, which has moved from Class 3A to 2A, shared the Three Rivers Conference title in 2016 and have been state-ranked in recent seasons. The Wildcats advanced to the sectional championship game for only the second time in program history in 2009.
Hisner, who still holds career offensive records he set at Goshen College where he was a one-time NAIA All-American and NAIA all-region honorable mention selection and three-time all-conference pick from 2002-05 (.419 average, 211 hits, 161 runs batted in, 85 walks), comes from a baseball family.
Grandfather Harley Hisner played in the Boston Red Sox organization. His claim to fame is one mound start in the final game of the 1951 season against the New York Yankees. Harley struck out Mickey Mantle twice and gave up Joe DiMaggio’s last regular-season major league hit (a single). Harley appears in “Once Around The Bases (Triumph Books, 1998).”
Red Sox slugger and Hall of Famer Ted Williams and his “The Science of Hitting” book were respected in the Hisner household and those ideas were passed down to Harley’s son, Randy, who went on to play college baseball and coached his sons — Erik, Ryan, Shane and Gavin — at the Little League, Sandy Koufax or high school level.
In 2015, father and sons played on the same Fort Wayne-based adult league team managed by Erik.
The Hisners are also a family of educators. Randy teaches English at Bellmont High School (where he is also head boys cross country coach). Mother Cheryl teaches first grade at Southeast Elementary School in Decatur.
Erik, 34, is a 2001 Bellmont graduate. He represented the Braves in baseball and basketball four years and tennis for two. On the diamond, his senior year featured conference and sectional championships along with all-conference, all-state and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star honors. He began his teaching career in Fort Wayne and now is a physical education instructor and athletic director at Whitko Middle School.
Ryan, 33, teaches science at Adams Central Senior-Junior High School (where is also an assistant track coach).
Shane, 28, teaches English at Japan.
Gavin, 26, teaches social studies at Bellmont (where is also an assistant boys cross country and track coach).
Besides his father, Erik Hisner also counts his college coaches — Brent Hoober and Jayson Best — among those who taught him the game.
“(Hoober) taught me how to structure and put your program together,” says Hisner of the man who was his head coach his first three collegiate seasons. “He was really good at letting guys play and not over-coaching. He wasn’t a micro-manager with players.
“Sometimes us coaches have to bite our tongue.”
Hisner said he learned much from conversations with Best, who went from pitching coach to head coach at GC in Hisner’s senior year.
“I learned how to manage a game and the the little things that go into it,” says Hisner. “I learned about thinking one or two plays or one or two batters ahead. (Best) played professional ball and had a lot of good stories and insight.”
Hisner was an assistant in Josh Keister’s first season as Maple Leafs head coach in 2006 and was going to be an assistant at Fort Wayne Northrop when the opportunity came up at Whitko.
Having been involved in his fall camps for a few years and because he knew his grandfather, IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bill Jones went to bat for the young Hisner.
“He got my foot in the door” says Hisner.
Two days after taking the job leading into the 2007 season, Hisner found himself among top Indiana baseball minds. There was (Hall of Famers) Jones, Chris Stavretti, Jack Massucci, Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber.
“You talk about the legends of Indiana high school baseball,” says Hisner. “It was like a $25 clinic at a facility in Fort Wayne. You can’t miss that one.”
Hisner has made many connections in the IHSBCA. Former Churubusco coach Mark Grove among his best friends in the profession.
Since Hisner did not have the benefit of an off-season when he started at Whitko, his focus was staying positive and working on a few little things.
“I’m a hitting guy so we talked a lot about approach,” says Hisner. “We’d make sure we knew what we were looking for in certain counts.”
While Whitko had been winless the previous season, it was not as grim as it seemed. The Wildcats had learned plenty of baseball from Lance Hershberger and those players were back to greet Hisner.
“(Hershberger) did a good job here.” says Hisner. “It wasn’t as bad a situation as the numbers might say. It wasn’t a situation where I had to come in a teach them how to throw and lead off.
“The thing about that year is I actually learned a lot from he kids by watching them play. To play for Lance, you’ve got to be pretty tough and pay attention to detail.”
The first Whitko win that season, snapping a long losing skid, was a one-run game against Heritage. Coach Dean Lehrman’s Patriots went on to be Class 2A state runners-up to South Spencer.
After that first year, Whitko took pride in its off-season work. The Wildcats played 25 to 30 games each summer in Hisner’s first few seasons.
“We got that family feel,” says Hisner. “We were kind of in the trenches together. It was nothing fancy. We just played a lot of baseball and got them experience.”
The evolution of travel baseball has limited or helped eliminate summer schedules at many high schools and the number of summer games for the Wildcats has dropped to 15 or 20, but still sees it as a good way to develop players.
Some get a chance to play travel ball and Hisner is all for it if it’s going to benefit the player.
“My parents have been pretty good about asking questions and making sure its a good fit,” says Hisner. “We’ve had good luck with teams like the Indiana Chargers, Summit City Sluggers and others who are doing it for the right reasons. It’s about development and not just playing games.”
Hisner’s coaching staff for 2017 features Travis Bradford, Mark Fisher, Tim Planck, James Stoddard and Seth Patrick. Bradford is a Whitko graduate and former Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne hurler, is the pitching coach. Stoddard and Patrick played for Hisner at Whitko.
“(Patrick) is probably the smartest player I ever coached,” says Hisner of the former Wildcats catcher. “We didn’t call the pitches when he was (a player) here.
“He was one of those program guys, a scrapper type.”
Baseball has long been a strength in the Three Rivers Conference (now containing 10 members), which has produced state champions (Wabash in 1986, Northfield in 2001 and 2012, Manchester in 2002) and a state runners-up (Northfield in 2013).
Erik Hisner enters his 11th season as head baseball coach at Whitko High School in 2017.
The Hisners (from left): Shane, Ryan, Randy, Gavin and Erik.