Alex Lozado is making the transition from college baseball player to coach. Lozado was a right-handed pitcher at the University of South Florida after serving as a pitcher and infielder at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla. In 2021, he made five mound appearances for USF and posted a 3.18 earned run average and 1.06 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in 5 2/3 innings. The Billy Mohl-coached USF Bulls won the American Athletic Conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals. One thing that stands out about Mohl is the way he cared. When Lozado and his roommates experienced a gas leak at their apartment, the coach was quick to help. “He would always tell us that if we got in any trouble — no matter what time it is — to make sure he is our first call,” says Lozado. “I gave him a call at 2 a.m. He said, ‘I’m going to set up the guest bed rooms for you guys. Come on over and stay at my place.’ “Mol is a great coach, but even a better person.” Lozado, whose playing career was ended by an elbow injury, graduated from South Florida in 2022 with a degree in Communications. At Gulf Coast State, Lozado played in 66 games (63 starts) in 2019 and 2020 and hit .268 with two home runs, 28 runs batted in and 28 runs scored. He also made 18 trips to the mound (nine starts) and went 5-2 with four saves, a 3.77 ERA, 56 strikeouts and 11 walks in 62 innings. During the COVID-19-shorted 2020 season, he was 4-2 with a 2.61 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 42 strikeouts and five walks in 41 1/3 innings. He hurled the first four innings of a combined no-hitter against Faulkner. “I was a big-time change-up guy,” says Lozado. “I got the point with my elbow where I couldn’t bend my slider as well. “Change-up was definitely my pitch.” The Mike Kandler-coached Commodores went 44-28 during Lozado’s two-year stint. “I loved Kandler,” says Lozado. “He pushed you real hard, but at the end of the day he’s going to let you know that he loves and cares about you and is going to do anything for your best interests.” Lozado is glad he went the JUCO route. “Graduating from high school at 17 my dad though junior college was probably the best option for me and it was,” says Lozado. “I saw a lot of progress not only from high school to college and from my freshman to sophomore year but grew as a person and a player.” Alex (22) is the oldest of Willie and Karen Lozado’s two children. Floyd Central, graduate Mia Lozado (19) is a junior at the University of Louisville. Willie Lozado, who comes from a Puerto Rican family, was born in the Bronx and went to high school in Brooklyn. The third baseman/shortstop was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1977, did not sign and was then selected by the Milwaukee Brewers out of Miami Dade College in 1978. He met Karen while playing for Triple-A Louisville. Willie played 43 games for Milwaukee in 1984. His only MLB home run — a three-run shot — came on Sept. 11 against Boston’s Steve Crawford at Fenway Park. Willie later coached at Floyd Central. Born in Louisville, Alex grew up in Sellersburg, Ind. The family moved up the hill to Georgetown, Ind., his junior year at Floyd Central. A former Kentucky Baseball Club travel ball player and 2018 graduate of Floyd Central High School (Floyds Knobs, Ind.), Lozado earned three letters and earned all-area, all-Hoosier Hills Conference and Pitcher of the Year honors (he posted a 1.30 ERA as a junior and 1.80 as a senior) while playing for Highlanders head coach Casey LaDuke. “He has a fire to win that is almost unmatched,” says Lozado of LaDuke. Lozado arrived at the University of Tennessee at Martin in August as a volunteer assistant coach for the NCAA Division I Skyhawks. The connection was made through a relationship between USF pitching coach Karsten Whitson and UT Martin hitting coach Pat Cottrell. Working on a staff led by Ryan Jenkins, Lozado works with outfielders and does a myriad of things, including hitting fungos and pitching batting practice. Lozado is working at the Play’n Sports vendor booth at the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention which runs Jan. 5-8 in Nashville.
A former big leaguer living in southern Indiana is sharing his knowledge with young professionals. Kevin Mahar, who played at Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.) for head coach Mitch Hannahs (now head coach at Indiana State University) and at Indiana University for head coach Bob Morgan and briefly as a center fielder with the 2007 Texas Rangers, lives in Jasper, Ind., and has been a coach in the Cincinnati Reds organization since 2013. The 2022 season saw Mahar roving from level to level, including the big leagues, as outfield/baserunning coordinator and has been told he will be in that position in 2023. “Baserunning is about being aggressive and smart,” says Mahar. “We look for the ball in the dirt, take an extra 90 feet. “We put pressure on the pitcher and the defense.” The message to outfielders is straightforward. “Catch the ball,” says Mahar, who also teaches about getting in position, anticipation, reaction and game situations. “A lot of the stuff we do now is detail-oriented,” says Mahar. “We have drills that focus on technique and tempo.” Mahar has worked with players along with Reds special assistant and former Reds flycatcher Eric Davis. “He was an exceptional outfielder and was around a lot,” says Mahar of the man who played 17 MLB seasons. “Our goal is to make sure each player in exceptional at who they are. They all have a lot of ability, but each individual is different. We want to make them the best version of themselves and reach their capabilities. “We are not trying to create robots in the outfield. We allow them to play free out there.” Mahar was born in Pontiac, Mich., but grew up in Midland, Mich. “Jasper is very similar,” says Mahar. “Midland is a big, big sports town.” Among the sports in the town near Saginaw Bay and Michigan’s “thumb” are baseball, hockey and football. Mahar graduated from Midland High School in 1999 (he helped the Chemics to a Class A state title in 1998) then spent one year with Hannahs at Lincoln Trail and four with Morgan at Indiana (one as a redshirt). He earned second-team all-Big Ten Conference honors in 2004 before signing that year as a free agent with the Rangers. “He was great,” says Mahar of Hannahs. “We was a baseball guy. He knew how to get the best of (his players).” With adopted son Malik Chatman a defensive back on the Indiana State football team, Mahar still has occasional contact with Hannahs. “(Coach Morgan) was very, very detail-oriented,” says Mahar. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for him holding me accountable for my actions.” The 6-foot-5 Mahar was in the Rangers system through 2007, played for both the independent Kansas City T-Bones and in the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 2008 and was with the Phillies through 2010. He was mostly a first baseman his last two seasons. He assisted Andy McClain at Brebeuf Jesuit School in Indianapolis in 2011 and Jay Lehr at Carmel (Ind.) High School in 2012. McClain is now head coach at Indianapolis North Central and Lehr is a lead pitching instructor with several pro clients at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. Kevin and wife Atalie moved from Indianapolis to Dubois County — where she is from — about the time he joined the Reds. Atalie Mahar is employed by Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools and is a Health and Occupational Services teacher. There are three other children in the Mahar household — eighth grader Stella (13), fourth grader Nash (10) and Cecilia (1). Mahar, who recently got home from instructional league at Arizona, will be spending time with family while also teaching lessons a few days a week and planning for the 2023 season prior to gearing up for spring training after the first of the year. Mahar was hitting coach at Billings (Mont.) in 2013 and 2014 and hitting coach at Daytona Beach (Fla.) in 2015. After being away from coaching in 2016, he spent the next three seasons (2017-19) as bench coach at Dayton (Ohio) and was at the Reds summer camp then alternate site during the COVID-19 season of 2020. He was bench/gameplanning coach for Louisville (Ky.) in 2021. With the Bats, he gathered advanced scouting reports with information on opponent’s hot and cold zones and tendencies. Mahar has soaked up information along the way. He’s picked up things from many. Among them are Davis, Willie Harris, Juan Samuel, Billy Hatcher and Delino DeShields. These five played in more than 7,200 big league games. “I had some great coaches coming up and I continue to keep learning,” says Mahar. “There are always new techniques and new ways to reach kids. I’ve adapted drills I saw other organizations doing while I was roving.” Mahar also sees the way his players learn. Preferences include Visual, Aural, Read/write and Kinesthetic (VARK). “You learn how to reach each kid,” says Mahar. “Once you understand that, it makes our lives as coaches easier.”
The reputation of the school and the draw of the game have come together for Shayne Stock. He was recently approved as head baseball coach at Jeffersonville (Ind.) School. “It’s one of the most-storied programs in this part of the state if not the whole state,” says Shock, who welcomed 32 players to IHSAA Limited Contact Period Activities. It is hoped that the Red Devils can field three teams — varsity and sub-varsity — this spring. Jeffersonville (enrollment around 2,130) is a member of the Hoosier Hills Conference (with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour). The Red Devils were are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour. Jeffersonville has won 26 sectional titles — the last in 2019. Three alums — Drew Ellis, Gabe Bierman and Drew Campbell — played pro ball in 2022. Ellis, son of previous Jeffersonville head coach and 1984 JHS graduate Derek Ellis, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2021. The Red Devils regularly produce college players. Max McEwen (Class of 2022) went to Indiana State University. Shortstop/pitcher Brett Denby is verbally-committed to the University of Georgia. Jeffersonville plays home games on Don Poole Field at John Schnatter Stadium. The facility got a turf infield a few years back. In assembling his coaching staff, Stock has gotten commitments so far from Jeff Crawford, Alec Dunn and Josh Biven. Crawford has been in the program for two decades. Dunn, a teacher, played for four years Stock at Hanover. Biven coached New Albany Little League deep into the tournament and is the father of University of Louisville freshman Tucker Biven. Jeff/GRC Little League also has a shining profile and feeds the high school program. With two middle schools — Parkview and River Valley — Stock hopes to have full seventh and eighth grade teams in the spring. Stock concluded a 13-year run as head coach at Hanover (Ind.) College in 2018. “I enjoyed working with the guys on a day-to-day basis, the competition level and the travel,” says Stock. Before leading the NCAA Division III Hanover Panthers, Stock served as head coach for four years at NCAA DIII Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. (2002 to 2005), pitching coach at DIII DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. (1998 and 1999) and was an assistant at Clarksville (Ind.) High School (1997) and an assistant at Hanover (2000 and 2001) under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dr. Dick Naylor. A 1992 Clarksville graduate, Shayne played for and later coached with his father Wayne Stock, who went into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 1994. Everything I know about being professional and communicating with kids I learned in my first 22 years,” says Shayne Stock of his father. “He is the foundation of any opportunity I’ve ever had. “I would assume there are lots of similarities (in our coaching styles). (My teams are) going to be well-prepared and well-disciplined. We’ll play hard until the 21st out is recorded.” Stock is a 1996 graduate of the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. Gary Redman led the NCAA Division II Screaming Eagles his freshman year and Mike Goedde the last three seasons. “(Redman) is the the most meticulous detail-oriented human,” says Stock. “He’s the best baseball coach I’ve been around. “Pretty much all I do pitching philosophy-wise comes from Coach Goedde.” Stock earned a Masters in Education from Indiana University Southeast in New Albany in 2004. He has taught at area high schools, including Jeffersonville and Charletown, and is married with children.
Patrick Kolks has given more than a third of his 31 years to Oldenburg (Ind.) Academy baseball and now he’s in charge of the Twisters. Kolks, who was athletic director at his alma mater the past three years, was recently named as head baseball coach and facilities specialist. A 2010 OA graduate, Kolks played four years for the man who founded the program and led it for 21 years — Doug Behlmer, who won 226 games and five sectional titles as Twisters head coach (2003, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2021) after he aided Jeff Greiwe in coaching Milan to the IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up finish in 1999. “He has had multiple players at the next level and a lot of them come back (to visit Oldenburg),” says Kolks. “We want to keep OA baseball on the map like it’s been for the last 20 years thanks to him. “It was pretty impressive (the building the Oldenburg team that started out with no seniors). We competed every year when I played. We finally got over the hump and beat Jac-Cen-Del in the sectional.” For two summers, Kolks played for the Behlmer-managed Batesville American Legion Post 271 team. So far Kolks’ first baseball staff includes 2015 OA graduate Tyler Hogg as pitching coach as well as Behlmer. “He’s not ready to give up baseball all together,” says Kolks, who joined Behlmer’s staff in 2015 after graduating from Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Ky., in 2014. He was a lefty-swinging catcher for the NAIA-member Saints. OA alum Matt Bohman stepped away from the Twisters coaching staff to tend to his growing family. Kolks says he hopes to have seven or eight not playing a fall sport at Oldenburg to come to activities during the IHSAA Limited Contact Period Aug. 29-Oct. 15. “It’s great,” says Kolks. “I can start building that culture.” Some players are involved in a fall baseball league. Two members of the Class of 2023 — Cy Muckerheide and Jacob Stenger — have shown interest in pursuing college baseball. Kolks notes that the 2021 senior class — which includes Hanover (Ind.) College baseball players Chris Hautman and Andrew Oesterling — never missed a beat going from sophomores in 2019, deprived of a 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then winning the school’s first sectional title in 11 years. As facilities specialist, Kolks is responsible for all athletic facilities and some cleaning. There are upgrades planned or underway for the private Catholic high school’s gym as well as the softball and soccer fields. Land is being sought for expansion. The Twisters share a baseball diamond at Liberty Park in Batesville, Ind., with Batesville High School and also practices at The Plex in Batesville. The park and training facility are about seven miles from campus. With Behlmer working a day job in Batesville, the Twisters often did not practice until 5:30 p.m. This gave players a chance to experience a gameday routine, catch up on studies and form relationships with younger teammates by giving them rides to the field. Oldenburg Academy (enrollment around 170) is independent for athletics. The Twisters were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2022 with Hauser, Jac-Cen-Del, Rising Sun and Trinity Lutheran. Born in Cincinnati, Kolks grew up in Brookville, Ind., playing in the Cal Ripken League there and representing Franklin County in all-star tournaments. He attended St. Michael Catholic School in Brookville through eighth grade and then went to Oldenburg Academy. Patrick and wife Emily Kolks married in July 2016 and reside in Lawrencburg, Ind., which is about 30 miles from Oldenburg Academy. The couple met at college. She is the sister of Thomas More teammate Sam Schmeltzer (who was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-state third baseman for South Dearborn and an IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series player in 2007). “She loves baseball,” says Patrick of Emily. “She knows what it’s going to entail.” The Kolks are weekend season ticket holders for the Cincinnati Reds. Patrick is also an avid University of Texas fan. He and Emily visited the campus for his 30th birthday. He appreciates the impact made on and off the field by former Longhorns head baseball coach Augie Garrido.
Competition. It’s one of the things Carter Lohman likes most about baseball. As a left-handed pitcher, the 2018 Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate enjoys the challenge of facing hitters. In four seasons at the University of Louisville (2019-22), he appeared in 38 games (30 in relief) and went 3-4 with a 5.59 earned run average, 62 strikeouts and 52 walks in 58 innings. The Cardinals went 134-65-1 during Lohman’s time with the program, including 51-18 and a College World Series appearance in 2019. Each season was preceded by the Omaha Challenge — a series of competitions to get the team ready for the season and focused on the goal of ending the season at the CWS. For a week or two, the red and black teams took part in swimming, tire flips, 100-meter dashes, lifting and running and more. There was a truck push around the Kentucky State Fairgrounds. Lohman was in the individual top 10 and on the winning team a couple of times. In high school, he played four varsity seasons (all but his junior year as a pitcher-only) for then-HSE head coach Scott Henson and the Royals did the Victory Challenge (the IHSAA State Finals are at Victory Field) early in the spring semester. “It helped make us mentally and physically tougher,” says Lohman. “(Coach Henson) pushed everyone to get the most out of themselves on the field. Our practices were scheduled nicely. There was no lollygagging. That was our time to get better. “At the same time he knew that baseball is fun so let it be fun.” He struck out 125 batters during his prep career and was ranked as Indiana’s top left-handed pitcher by Perfect Game. He also earned two football letters at HSE. Lohman has also enjoyed development at PRP Baseball at Mojo Up Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind., working with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and others and going against other players on Fridays. “It’s a good atmosphere for competing and getting better,” says Lohman. Dan McDonnell is Louisville’s head coach. Lohman worked closely with associate head coach/pitching coach Roger Williams. “He did not take a cookie-cutter approach (to each pitcher),” says Lohman of Williams, who has been at the U of L for 16 seasons. “The emphasis was on learning the game and becoming a better player.” Lohman learned about things like bunting scenarios and first-and-third situations. “I could go for days talking about pitch sequencing,” says Lohman. “You can use your pitches in different ways to get the batters out.” Lohman’s been good enough at it to get paid for it. The 22-year-old southpaw was signed Aug. 1 as a minor league free agent by the Los Angeles Dodgers is now at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., throwing regular bullpen sessions and expecting to make his pro debut soon in the Arizona Complex League. Lohman, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, throws from a high three-quarter arm slot. His four-seam fastball has gotten up to 96 mph. His two-seamer has similar velocity with more horizontal movement to the arm side as opposed to the glove side for the four-seamer. To get more feel for the pitch, Lohman positions his index finger to throw a “spike” curve ball. Thrown harder than his curve, his slider has more horizontal break. His uses a “circle” grip for his change-up. Born in Indianapolis on Christmas Day 1999, Carter is the oldest of Northwestern High School graduates Brian and Andrea Lohman’s four children. Brian Lohman, a sales engineer, played baseball and football in high school and lettered as a defensive back at Purdue University (1992-95). Andrea Lohman, an actuary, was a high school cheerleader. Griffin Lohman, 21, is a right-handed pitcher at Purdue. Ava and Sydney have played volleyball at HSE. The Lohman brothers were teammates briefly during Carter’s senior year of high school and with the Tropics of the 2021 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. What was it like growing up with a ball-playing brother? “The biggest thing was playing catch,” says Carter. “We eventually passed up our dad so we had no one else to throw with.” Carter played recreation ball in Fishers until 8 then travel ball for the Fisher Cats, Indiana Bulls and Evoshield Canes (now Canes Midwest) at 16U and 17U. He met Jared Poland around 10 while both were on the Bulls. Right-hander Poland went on to pitch at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and was selected in the sixth round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Miami Marlins. “We definitely talk about (pitching),” says Lohman of some of his conversations with Poland. Lohman played briefly with the Indiana Nitro in the summer of 2018 before joining other freshmen on the Louisville campus. He had a short stint in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Orleans Firebirds in 2019 and was with the CSL’s Snapping Turtles in 2020. In May, Lohman earned a degree in Exercise Science. “I’ve always been interested in how the body moves,” says Lohman. “It can help me on the field.” Away from baseball, the knowledge gives Lohman many options including athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach and physical therapist. But now it’s about competing on the pitcher’s mound.
When it comes down to crunch time, that’s when Gavin Knust wants the baseball. The left-handed pitcher likes to be called on in the latter innings to get out of a jam or nail down a victory. He’s done it for the past two seasons at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. “I enjoy being the guy the team relies on,” says Knust, 20. “I want to help the team in any way possible to win a ball game.” In 2022, he made 22 relief appearances (16 of them scoreless) and went 4-0 with two saves, a 3.60 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 30 innings. The Grenadiers finished the season 40-15 overall and 20-4 in the River States Conference. The campaign ended in the NAIA Opening Round. As a true freshman in 2021, Knust came out of the bullpen 20 times and went 2-0 with a 3.50 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 12 walks in 36 innings. IUS (50-16, 26-1) earned its first trip to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, in 2021 and Knust appeared in three of four games. Knust was 18 and pitching on one of college baseball’s biggest stages. And this after missing his senior season at Forest Park Junior/Senior High School in Ferdinand, Ind., because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 6 1/3 innings in Idaho, he yielded four hits and two runs while striking out nine and walking two. Older guys like Daunte DeCello, Hunter Kloke, Marco Romero, Derek Wagner (a Tri-West Hendricks High School alum) and Clay Woeste (Lawrenceburg) pushed Knust to be his best. “They were huge role models,” says Knust. “They took me under their wing and took care of me.” All the while, the Grenadiers fed off the words of head coach Ben Reel. “Coach Reel is a huge believer in ‘control the controllables’ — that’s all you can worry about. He tells us to play ‘our’ baseball. Don’t try to be anybody else.” After a 5-10 start, that 2021 team went into the postseason at 40-13. “We were the hottest team in the nation,” says Knust. “That’s all baseball is about — riding the hot streak.” Brandon Mattingly was the pitching coach at IU Southeast in 2022. “He’s a big believer in the mental aspect of baseball and breathing correctly,” says Knust of Mattingly. “He want you doing the same thing every pitch. Baseball is a game of repetition. “It’s a game where you don’t want to make it more complicated that it really is.” As a bullpen arm throwing between three-quarter and over-the-top, Knust relies mostly on a four-seam fastball, two-seamer and curveball. His four-seamer got up to 88 mph in the spring. “(The two-seamer) runs away from the barrel,” says Knust. “The curveball is more like a slurve.” After spending the summer of 2021 with the Ohio Valley League’s Madisonville (Ky.) Miners, Knust is now relieving for the 2022 Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. Through games of July 20, the southpaw had made 15 appearances (10 scoreless) and was 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA, 15 strikeouts and eight walks in 17 1/3 innings. “It’s more about hitting my pitches, working on my spots and just becoming a better pitcher this summer,” says Knust of his in-game goals. Caleb Lang, an assistant at Concordia University Nebraska is Battle Creek’s manager. IU Southeast faced Concordia in Lewiston in 2021. Away from the diamond, there is also bonding and fun on a BC squad made up largely of NAIA players — including Concordia’s Joey Grabanski and Jacob Lycan and Indiana University-Kokomo’s Patrick Mills — with a few D-1’s sprinkled in. “We’re almost getting to the point where we’re a big family now,” says Knust. A few times, host families have allowed some of the Battle Jacks to use their boat to chill on the lake followed by cornhole and a cookout at their house. Knust was born in Jasper, Ind., and grew up in nearby Saint Anthony. He played T-ball at Pine Ridge Elementary in Birdseye. His only summer of travel ball came during high school with the Louisville-based Ironmen Prime. At Forest Park, Knust played football for head coach Ross Fuhs and baseball for Jarred Howard. “(Fuhs) was more of an understanding coach,” says Knust. “You could talk to him about anything in life. He’d always be there for you. “(Howard) got the most out of every player and he tried to make you a better person.” Knust, who has two years of playing eligibility left, is a Marketing major with a Professional Sales minor. “An IU degree in marketing is one of the best you can get,” says Knust. “I enjoy talking and getting to know people.” Gavin is the youngest of Steve and Melissa Knust’s three sons. Ethan Knust (27) works for a concrete company. Eli Knust (25), who played baseball at Huntington (Ind.) University and against Gavin in 2021, works at Memorial Hospital in Jasper and assists Ethan with a concrete side business. Steve Knust is a plumber. Melissa Knust is an oncology nurse at Memorial Hospital.
James Craig was honored in June by the Indiana High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of Interscholastic Officials Association as the top baseball umpire for 2022. Craig, a Fort Wayne resident, was selected for the award by a committee representing the 24 officials associations in Indiana. He is a member of the Northeastern Officials Association. The 57-year-old has been a licensed official for baseball since he was 19. He has worked 26 sectionals, 18 regionals, 11 semistate contests and eight State Finals. More than 10 times, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association has named Craig a district umpire of the year and he has worked a number of IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series, including 2022 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. Craig has also officiated high school football for 22 years and serves as referee on a crew with Fort Wayne’s James Payne (line judge), Mark Herberger (back judge) and Mark Stultz (linesman) and Bluffton’s Mark Mettler (umpire). The group has worked three State Finals, including the 2021 IHSAA Class 6A game between Center Grove and Westfield. “You want to have friends and people you can communicate with and get along,” says Craig of the football crew dynamic. “You should see as much football as you possibly can. Friday should be perfect. See the goofy stuff on Monday and Thursday nights (in freshman and junior varsity games).” Craig prefers to see as many teams and classes as possible in the regular season to be ready for the postseason. A number of football officials are also baseball umpires. Taking regular-season baseball assignments from Fort Wayne Umpires Association, Craig does games around northeast Indiana with multiple partners in a two-man crew. “We switch things up,” says Craig of the decision of who works the plate or the bases. “It’s best for everybody involved. “If it’s a doubleheader and I’ve done the plate in the first game, I guarantee (my partner) will do the plate in the second game. “In the two-man you’ve got one friend on the baseball field and it’s that guy.” During the game, Craig has a rule that he follows. “At the end of the inning always go to the side of the diamond of the defensive team,” says Craig. “They are happy they got the third out. Don’t got to the offensive side ever.” In a typical high school baseball season, Craig umpires about 38 games — each week night and a doubleheader on Saturdays. He has cut back his summer ball schedule though he still does some travel ball tournaments. After all these years, Craig maintains the same philosophy. “See as many pitches, plays and scenarios as you possibly can,” says Craig. “You’re always learning. “I’d like to say I’ve seen everything on a baseball diamond. I haven’t.” When making calls, Craig uses a rule of thumb that includes common sense, fair play and the rules. “It’s my job as an official to interpret rules,” says Craig. “I will never show up a coach. I will never embarrass them. I expect the same thing coming back. Address me by my first name and we’re going to get along just fine. “I’m just out there to do a job and that’s it. I’m calling fairs and fouls, safes and outs. However, Craig knows how teams and players operate. “If you’re not cheating you’re not trying and it’s only cheating when you get caught,” says Craig. “That’s when rules and the reinterpretation comes in. Is it within the spirt of what we’re looking for?” Take the example of all the padding worn by players these days. “There’s more body army than we’ve had ever,” says Craig. “On an inside pitch, they stick that wing out there and — bam! — they’re going to trot down to first base. “Don’t award them a base on that.” Without the armor, players would not be so swift to get in the way of an inside pitch to “wear one.” On the subject of inside pitches. When Craig was 10 he was chosen out of thousands to speak at Bob Gibson’s retirement. Gibson was known for working to the hitter’s side of the plate and intimidating long before elbow pads were a thing. “You didn’t dig in against Bob Gibson,” says Craig. A point of emphasis during the 2022 Indiana high school season included the amount of eye black. “To me it’s a bad look,” says Craig. “It’s nothing but a fashion statement.” In Game 1 of the North/South All-Star Series, Craig was behind the plate when Westfield lefty swinger Keaton Mahan came up in the seventh inning and quickly handed his cell phone to the catcher to take a quick photo with the umpire. “During the regular season, I say ‘get that camera out of here,’” says Craig. “But this was for fun.” In the ninth inning, Ohio State commit Mahan smacked a game-winning grand slam that was estimated to have landed and rolled under a tree about 570 feet from home plate. “He clobbered that thing,” says Craig. “It hit off the house (behind the right field fence) fair.” As for the topic of epic bat flip that’s become so prevalent in baseball, it’s a judgement call on the part of the official when it’s gone too far. “When the bat goes up in the air it becomes a safety issues,” says Craig. “I don’t have a problem with a high school kid showing some enthusiasm. But level of enjoyment must be within the confinements of the rules.” There’s also the issue of sportsmanship, especially with spectators — often parents — who become self-appointed evaluators and are quick to criticize umpires. “Officiating is a thankless profession,” says Craig. “I guarantee somebody is leaving there upset and it’s my fault. “You’re asking for perfection. I’m expected to show up perfect and get better.” He has witnessed a difference between high school baseball and summer travel ball. “Not every kid is going to be the next Derek Jeter, but parents seem to think that and they take it out on officials,” says Craig. “It’s disheartening. “High school baseball and high school sports are taught by teachers who are coaches and there’s built-in respect. It’s not necessarily built-in for travel baseball. “It’s all about me, me, me in the summer as opposed to we, we, we in the spring. We have a set of standards we have to abide by on all sides set by the (National Federation of State High School Associations) and IHSAA. In the summer, it’s a free-for-all.” Not that he wants to paint with a broad brush. “Guys like (Javier DeJesus) and Mark DeLaGarza get it,” says Craig. “I appreciate the job they do for travel baseball.” Craig notes that there were nearly 500 IHSAA baseball games canceled at all levels in 2022 due to the lack of umpires and points to parent/spectator’s inclination to sharply voice their dissenting opinion as a big reason. “If you don’t temper your attitude there will be no officials,” says Craig. “The officials shortage is a nationwide disgrace and it’s not going to get better. “What scares me the most is that when I started the average age (of officials) was 25 or 30,” says Craig. “Now — in most sports — it’s like 50. We’re leaving and there’s nobody behind us.” While he intends to stay longer for football, Craig plans to do one more state tournament rotation for baseball then retire his mask and clicker. He can work as high as the semistate in 2023 and the State Finals in 2024. “That’s enough baseball,” says Craig. That doesn’t mean he regrets his decision to make the calls. “It’s something I treasure and I’m glad I got into it,” says Craig. “I’m not in it for the money. I’m not in it for the fame. “Officiating is wonderful.” Craig did not start his officiating journey in Indiana. He began high school in St. Louis and finished up in Bowling Green, Ky., when his father was transferred to the Corvette plant there. When he was 14 he started umpiring T-ball games. His American Legion coach said he had to do something to give back to the game and umpiring was the only option that paid. After pursuing an academic scholarship at the University of Kentucky, Craig finished college at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. He was IPFW student body president in 1988 and earned a Secondary Education degree but did not go into the classroom. Craig is now a supervisor at Fort Wayne’s at WaterFurnace International (makers of geothermal heating units), where he has worked the past 15 years. He has a 32-year-old daughter — Jocelyn. She graduated from Homestead High School and Indiana University and was chosen as 2009 National Big Brother Big Sister of the Year. She now works in dispatch for the Indiana State Police.
Sam Pinckert was productive in his first baseball season at Oakland (Ind.) City University in 2022. Playing mostly left field with a few of his 46 games at right field and second base, Pinckert hit .269 (42-of-156) with six home runs, one triple, 10 doubles, 38 runs batted in and 43 runs scored plus eight stolen bases with the 31-23 Mighty Oaks. He amassed 14 assists (mostly from the outfield). After three seasons at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio (2019-21), the 2018 graduate of Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., transferred to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., for the fall of 2021 and wound up at NAIA member Oakland City for spring semester. He plans to return in the fall while changing his primary position. OCU head coach Andy Lasher wants to put him back in the infield in 2023 so Pinckert has been playing there this summer with the Ohio Valley League’s Muhlenburg (Ky.) County Stallions — recently at third base for a Mark Silva-managed team. He went to the outfield in the spring of 2022 since the Mighty Oaks had three fifth-year seniors in the infield. Sam, who turns 22 on June 20, is the only child of Dennis and Mona Pinckert of Santa Claus, Ind. Dennis Pinckert works for a cabinet manufacturer. Mona Pinckert is heading into an accounting job with a trucking company. It’s about 40 miles from Santa Claus Oakland City, making it easier for them to attend Sam’s games. Besides his parents, Sam Pinckert considers two men named Andy — Heritage Hills coach Andy Fischer and Oakland City coach Andy Lasher — as mentors. “Coach Fischer is probably the most personable head coach I’ve ever had,” says Pinckert. “He had personality and a relationship with the players. As a teacher, he would have them in class and see them throughout the day. “(Lasher) keeps me level-headed big time. He slows me down and works me through everything.” His college coach also keeps tabs on Pinckert the person, calling him once or twice a week to check up on him. “I can talk with him about anything,” says Pinckert of Lasher. Speed and strength are two qualities that have served Sam well on the diamond. “I’m just a compact athlete,” says the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Pinckert. “I just use my strength in certain ways. I have power though I’m a smaller guy.” Another plus for Pinckert is the mental side. “I just know the game very well,” says Pinckert, who is pursuing a Sport Management degree with a minor in Coaching. Righty-swinging Pinckert describes his approach to hitting. “I’m looking for a ball on the outer half and I’m trying to take it out to in,” says Pinckert. “I want to take the ball to right or right-center.” Pinckert was born in Evansville and grew up in Santa Claus. “Travel ball is really what got me going in baseball and got me a step ahead,” says Pinckert, who has donned the jerseys of the Spikes, Ironmen, Kentuckiana Elite, Avon Hurricanes and Outlaws. Kentuckiana Elite featured many future college players, including Castle High School graduate Brodey Heaton at Belmont University and Paducah Tilghman High School alum Jackson Fristoe at Mississippi State University. Pinckert’s last travel ball stop was with the A.J. Curtis-coached Outlaws. He was with the Avon Hurricanes the summer after high school graduation and Rockport American Legion Post 254 in the summer of 2019. He broke his hand during the regional final against Floyds Knobs Post 44 and and still went on a designated hitter wearing a cast on his right hand. In high school, Pinckert was on the cross country and swim teams and played four years of varsity baseball — three for Greg Gogel and one for Fischer. “He was a very competitive guy,” says Pinckert of Gogel. “We always kind of piggybacked off of that. “He knew what he was talking about.” Pincer was mostly a pitcher for the Patriots as a sophomore and junior and was a utility player as a senior, earning the Cy Young Award for pitching and also playing third base and second base. Through National Scouting Report (NSR), Pinckert went to a camp and was offered a roster spot by then-Muskies assistant and recruiting coordinator Mike Mulvey at NCAA Division III Muskingum. He started every game at shortstop for head coach Gregg Thompson as a freshman in 2019, hitting .282 (33-of-117). A torn labrum and the COVID-19 pandemic limited him to five games in 2020. Still recovering from injury, he saw action in just 12 contests in 2021. Pinckert took batting practice and did not play for a team in the summer of 2020. In 2021, he was with the OVL’s Vic Evans-managed Owensboro (Ky.) RiverDawgs.
Jordan Schaffer has come to the end of his eligibility after a memorable collegiate baseball career. Now he’s continuing in amateur ball while wondering if he might get to play for pay. Schaeffer, a 2016 graduate of West Vigo High School in West Terre Haute, Ind., spent six years at nearby Indiana State University. He redshirted in 2017 then was in 147 games (115 starts) for the Sycamores from 2018-22. The righty-swinging infielder hit .338 (168-of-497) with 11 home runs, four triples, 11 doubles, 69 runs batted in, 118 runs scored and 18 stolen bases. His on-base percentage was .414. He was named first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference in 2021 and 2022. Mitch Hannahs is Indiana State’s head coach. “He’s an unbelievable motivator,” says Schaffer of Hannahs. “His knowledge of the game is second to none. He knows how to get the most out of his players. “He saw something in me. A lot of hard work later, he got more out of me than I expected. You want to get better not only for him but yourself.” In 2022, Schaffer fielded at a .945 clip and was in on 16 double plays. Liking the way it feels, he wears a standard 11 1/2-inch glove when at shortstop, second base and third base. “I move around,” says Schaffer. “That comes from Coach (Brian) Smiley. No player in his infield group plays one position. That makes you more versatile when you got to other teams, especially summer ball teams. It gives you more chances to play.” This is Schaffer’s fifth go-around with a summer wood bat league and second with the Prospect League’s Terre Haute Rex. Tyler Wampler managed Terre Haute to a league championship in 2018. Schaffer played for the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash in 2017, the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Michigan Monarchs in 2019, trained the summer of 2020 and was with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Woodchucks (now the Wausau Woodchucks) in 2021. After winding up his long stint at ISU, Schaffer signed a 10-day contract in the MLB Draft League with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters and has played nine games for the Rex, hitting .412 with one homer and six RBIs. “I’m continuing to play,” says Schaffer, 24. “I may or may not get a chance to play professionally.” The 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is July 17-19. Schaffer, a 6-foot, 180-pounder, could be taken in the 20-round selection process, sign with an MLB organization as an undrafted free agent or seek independent ball opportunity. He notes that the MLB Draft League turns into indy ball post-draft and he could go back there. Schaffer graduated from Indiana State in the spring with double bachelor degrees in Accounting and Sport Management. Born in Terre Haute and growing West Terre Haute, Schaffer was in West Terre Haute Little League then a year of Babe Ruth ball. “I was not able to get on any travel organizations,” says Schaffer. Since age 5, he attended camps conducted by varsity coach Steve DeGroote, worked out with the high schoolers during his middle school years and was a freshman the last season DeGroote served as head coach. “I got the privilege from a young age to know fundamentals he instilled in players,” says Schaffer, who earned four baseball letters and helped West Vigo to two sectional and one regional title. “There were some big-time motivational speeches. I’m thankful I got to play one year under him.” He also played and practiced during the summer with teams organized by DeGroote, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017. Culley DeGroote — Steve’s son — took over the West Vigo program and Schaffer played for him his last three prep years. “Culley did a great job of taking it over,” says Schaffer. “He was assistant to Steve. He kept the same fundamentals. “It’s the same program and West Vigo is not somebody you want to run into in postseason play.” Schaffer played for Terre Haute Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 in the summer of 2016. Jordan is the oldest of Brad and Amy Schaffer’s two children. Macy is a nursing student at Ivy Tech Community College. Brad Schaffer is a bidder for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 725. Amy Schaffer is a lawyer’s assistant at McGlone Law in Terre Haute.
An investment has been made in the future of baseball at Western Boone Junior/Senior High School in Thorntown, Ind., and Michael Nance is part of it. After coaching travel ball in the community, in the junior high program that feeds the high school and helping at the high school level, Nance was hired in July 2021 to guide the Webo Stars. The junior high team has players in Grades 6-8 and plays 12 to 14 games in the spring. Nance reached out to Western Boone Little League and a partnership was formed. The Western Boone Baseball Club offers instruction on Sundays to players age 9 to 12 not involved in travel ball. “It’s an opportunity to get these kids more baseball reps all year,” says Nance. Out of that came 12U and 10U club teams that offer additional games to the Little League schedule. Knowing his current players and what’s in the pipeline, Nance is upbeat in leading a program which produced five varsity victories in 2019 and four in 2021. “I think we can win,” says Nance. “I’m very excited about the next six or eight years from what I can see coming.” Western Boone’s four seniors are Casey Baird, Will Barta, Evan Hine and Mitch Miller. Baird, who has committed to Franklin (Ind.) College for football, will be called on to play multiple positions, including shortstop, second base, catcher and relief pitcher. Barta is a designated hitter. Georgetown (Ky.) College-bound Evan Hine (.325 average with a team-best .509 on-base percentage in 2021) is a third baseman. Miller, who led the Stars with .349 average last season, is a center fielder and lead-off hitter. There’s also junior first baseman Andrew Foster, sophomore left-handed pitcher/right fielder Jackson Grimes, sophomore right-hander/left fielder Luke Jackson, sophomore righty/shortstop Bryce Kopriva, sophomore catcher and clean-up hitter Cole Wiley and freshman second baseman Gavin Hawkins. Nance labels Kopriva, Jackson and Grimes as 1, 1A and 1B on his pitching staff. He points out that athletic Hawkins was the No. 1 singles player in tennis and played on the junior varsity team in basketball. Former Marian University pitcher Gabe Westerfeld is a varsity assistant coach and the program’s pitching coordinator. “We are really, really young on the mound,” says Nance. “Gabe has our young guys believing and there have been velocity increases.” Eric Gubera is JV coach and is also in charge of outfielders and base runners. He has coached with Nance in the summer since their sons were 8. Two years ago, they became affiliated with the Indiana Braves. This summer, they will guide the 12U Indiana Yard Goats — a squad that includes six players from Western Boone, three from Avon and one from Brownsburg player. Nance, who was a catcher at Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Ancilla College (Donaldson, Ind.) and MacMurray College (Jacksonsonville, Ill.), handles catchers, infielders and hitters. There are 22 players in the program and all practice together. Western Boone (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Sagamore Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Tri-West Hendricks). The Stars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Clinton Prairie, Delphi (2022 host), Fountain Central and Seeger. Western Boone has won two sectional titles — 1982 and 1983. Western Boone is scheduled to open the 2022 season with three games this weekend in Unionville, Tenn., south of Nashville. An optional part of the spring break trip is attending Sunday’s Tennessee at Vanderbilt college game. The Stars play home contests on-campus with side-by-side varsity and JV diamonds north of the school building. This year, the Stars got new brick dust for the infield and new wind screens for the outfield as well as a Hack machine and new L screens. At the end of the season, lights will go up. “It’s a really nice place to play,” says Nance. A 2004 Lebanon graduate, Nance played for Tigers head coach Rick Cosgray. “He demanded a lot but got more out kids than they knew they were capable,” says Nance. “You knew he really loved the game. He was always so upbeat and positive. “I have nothing but admiration for Coach Cosgray. I try to run my program like him.” Nance played for two head coaches at Ancilla — Rockie Dodds and Joe Yonto. “(Yonto) had a profound impact on me,” says Nance. “He showed me how to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand (through eye-specific muscle training.” In Nance’s last year at MacMurray, former high school coach Fred Curtis led the Highlanders. “He just loved the game,” says Nance. “He said if you do the fundamentals right and not walk people, you can win ball games.” Nance says he also appreciates the mentoring and assistance he’s received from men also leading high school programs — among them Matthew Cherry (Fishers), Troy Drosche (Avon) and Andy Dudley (Frankfort). “There’s been such support from the coaching community,” says Nance. “They’ve been willing to help.” Nance earned a Special Education degree at MacMurray and a masters in Criminal Justice from Xavier University in Cincinnati. This summer will mark 15 years with Boone County Community Corrections. After starting out as a probation officer, he is now executive director. Michael and wife Emily (who played softball at Manchester University and MacMurray and now works in cancer research at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) have a son and daughter attending Thorntown Elementary — Easton (12) and Harper (10). He enjoys tennis, baseball and duck hunting. She likes soccer and plays travel softball with the Indiana Magic.