Tag Archives: Kokomo American Legion Post 6

Brantley promotes total student-athlete experience at Indiana University Kokomo

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

Just over a month after being named head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo, Drew Brantley is busy laying the foundation for the Cougars system.
Classes began Aug. 23. Brantley is overseeing two weeks of open field workouts before fall practice officially begins Labor Day (Sept. 6). There will be sessions six days a week for eight weeks culminating Oct. 30. Then the NAIA member Cougars move into the weight room and begin the build-up to the spring. There will be no games against outside competition this fall. There will be three scrimmages per week at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
“It’ll be heavy on individual development as a baseball player,” says Brantley. “We’ll compete in a game-like situations.”
As the Cougars ready themselves for the River States Conference race, they will open the 2022 season with trips to play Louisiana State University Shreveport and Truett McConnelll University (Cleveland, Ga.).
Brantley, who has been on staff the past three seasons including the last two as associate head coach, knows what he desires in an IU Kokomo player.
“I want to get good people into the program,” says Brantley, who turned 29 on Aug. 22. “We want them to have the total student-athlete experience — athletically, academically and socially.”
The idea is to achieve on the field and in the classroom and build friendships and contacts that will last long beyond the college years.
Brantley’s staff includes Jeremy Honaker, Nick Floyd and Justin Reed. Honaker, who was volunteer assistant at the University of Indianapolis in 2020-21, will serve as a positional coach and also help with hitting and baserunning. Former Ball State University and independent professional right-hander Floyd is the Cougars’ pitching coach. Former IU Kokomo player Reed is a graduate assistant and assistant pitching coach. He will work toward his Masters of Business Administration, help in athletic communications and with the baseball team.
Prior to coming to IUK to serve on head coach Matt Howard’s staff, Brantley was an assistant to head coach Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University.
“I worked with infielders and baserunners and assisted with hitters,” says Brantley. “My time at Indiana Wesleyan was awesome. The integrity of the program is held very highly there. I learned how you hold people accountable and how things are supposed to be done.”
Brantley assisted at his alma mater Anderson (Ind.) University for five seasons with a stint as interim coach. Medical issues mean that he was only able to play his freshmen season for David Pressley before becoming a student assistant.
“He was an awesome guy and a great role model,” says Brantley of Pressley, who followed American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon as the man in charge at AU. “A large part of my coaching philosophy comes from (Anderson).”
Dustin Glant later took over a Anderson Ravens head coach and was helped by Brantley.
“I was able to learn a lot under Dustin,” says Brantley. “He showed me the ropes and what its like to conduct yourself professionally. It’s not just about baseball.
“A lot of the success I’ve had has been because of the things he’s showed me and the advice he’s given me.”
Glant is now pitching coach at Indiana University.
At 22, Brantley was named interim coach at Anderson, where he earned his Secondary Education and Teaching degree in 2015 and MBA in 2017.
Says Brantley, “Everyday I was doing the best I knew how.”
The same applies in his current position.
“It’s pretty neat being in this seat,” says Brantley, who guides a program in the town where he was born.
Brantley grew up in Russiaville, Ind., and played T-ball through age 12 at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League. After that came travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings then three summers with Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6.
His coach at Western High School in Russiaville was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Ty Calloway.
After becoming a coach himself, Brantley came to learn how Calloway “coached ‘em up the right way.”
“As a player, he held us to a really high standard,” says Brantley. “He was always on us in practice. Whatever we were doing that day we were going to give our best effort.”
Brantley played three seasons for the Panthers, sitting out his junior year to recuperate from cardiac arrest. In his senior year of 2011, he was an IHSBCA Class 3A first-team all-state second baseman.
“I have an incredible support system,” says Drew, who is the son of Chrysler employee Ron and dental receptionist Angie and younger brother of Alaina. Ron Brantley has been coaching baseball since he was 20 and will help out this fall at IU Kokomo.
Brantley’s first experience as a baseball coach came with a Howard County travel team called the Indiana Flyers. He was with that team from the fall of 2012 through the summer of 2015.
There was also a stint working for Chris Estep as a hitting and defensive instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind.
“He gave me an opportunity to work with younger kids and allowed me to fail a lot,” says Brantley. “Being at RoundTripper was awesome.”

Drew Brantley (Indiana University Kokomo Photo)

Indiana American Legion State Finals July 23-27 in Kokomo

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

Eight teams from around the state will vie for the 2021 Indiana American Legion Baseball Senior State championship Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at CFD Investment Stadium at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Teams in the field will be Crawfordsville Post 72, Kokomo Post 6, Muncie Post 19, Newburgh Post 44, Rockport Post 254, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 and Valparaiso Post 94.
The double-elimination event begins with four games Friday and continues with four contests Saturday, three Sunday, two Monday and two (if necessary) Tuesday.

2021 INDIANA AMERICAN LEGION
SENIOR STATE FINALS
(At Highland Park, Kokomo)
Friday, July 23
Game 1: South Bend Post 151 vs. Newburgh Post 44, 11 a.m.
Game 2: Muncie Post 19 vs. Crawfordsville Post 72, 1:30 p.m.
Game 3: Rockport Post 254 vs. Valparaiso Post 94, 4:30 p.m.
Game 4: South Haven Post 502 vs. Kokomo Post 6, 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 24
Game 5: Game 1 Loser vs. Game 3 Loser, 11 a.m.
Game 6: Game 2 Loser vs. Game 4 Loser, 1 p.m.
Game 7: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner, 4:30 p.m.
Game 8: Game 2 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner, 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 25
Game 9: Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Loser, 1 p.m.
Game 10: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 8 Loser, 3:30 p.m.
Game 11: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 6 p.m.
Monday, July 26
Game 12: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 11 Loser, 1 p.m.
Game 13: Game 10 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner, 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 27
Game 14 (Championship: Game 12 Winner vs. Game 13 Winner, 1 p.m.
Game 15 (If necessary): Second championship game following Game 14.

Thoughts of American Legion baseball keep Cruz going during COVID-19 battle

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

Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts.
The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it.
One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.”
There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy.
“It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered.
Baseball also played a big part.
“Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.”
Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans.
“You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.”
While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance.
Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field.
Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer —  is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020.
For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline.
“He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.”
As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill.
Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay.
“Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.”
Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U).
“It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.”
Being around teams has given Neveah something more.
“I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah.
Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11.
This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season.
“Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz.
Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner.
If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players.
“I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.”
Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers.
Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms.
American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players.
Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021.
Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on.
Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father.
Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year).
Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year.
The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.

Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr. (Steve Krah Photo)
Tony Cruz Jr. and daughter Neveah.
Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr.
A regional title was won by South Bend American Legion Post 151 in 2018.
Tony Cruz Jr. battles COVID-19 in 2020. He was hospitalized 25 days in May, including nine in Intensive Care.
Tony Cruz Jr. had to go on high-flow oxygen during his battle with COVID-19 in 2020.
Out of the hospital after his COVID-19 battle, Tony Cruz came “home” to Jim Reinebold Field, home of South Bend Clay High School and South Bend American Legion Post 151 baseball.
Jim Treadway (left) and Tony Cruz Jr. bond over American Legion, high school baseball.

Earlham right-hander Hemmerich experiencing baseball, more in Alaska

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

Nate Hemmerich has traveled 3,700 miles from home for adventure and baseball.
A Kokomo, Ind., resident and pitcher at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., is exploring and playing this summer with the Alaska Baseball League’s Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks.
The season for the league that also features the Anchorage Bucs, Anchorage Glacier Pilots, Matsu Miners and Peninsula Oilers began June 5. The ABL playoffs are to begin July 30. The independent Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks (who have been host to the Midnight Sun Game since 1906) are to visit Chugiak-Eagle River July 6.
“It’s been amazing,” says Hemmerich of his first month Way Up North. “The competition is really, really good. Alaska is beautiful. You can’t go anywhere without seeing a moose, a bear or a mountain.
“The hospitality that they’ve provided is amazing.”
Hemmerich’s host family in the village of Eagle River — about 15 minutes from Anchorage — has taken he and his roommate to fish for sockeye salmon in the Russian River and go on long trail hikes.
Animal lover and Biochemistry major Hemmerich plans to go to veterinary school after college.
The Chinooks are a faith-based team affiliated with Athletes In Action Baseball. They meet each gameday for discipleship, essentially a Bible study of up to 90 minutes.
Hemmerich played for the Richmond (Ind.) Jazz in 2019. The Xenia (Ohio) Scouts are an AIA team that plays in the same circuit (Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League).
He saw what the Scouts were able and decided to apply for a chance to play in Alaska and was accepted.
When the 2020 ABL season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic Hemmerich, 22, was invited to come this year.
As it turns out the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder did not play last summer and instead had shoulder labrum surgery.
Hemmerich got into six games as a freshman in 2019 and four as a sophomore in 2020. That spring he tore his labrum.
“I didn’t realize I was hurt,” says Hemmerich. “There was pain initially when I would start throwing. Once I got going and got loose the pain would go away.”
Then it got to the point where he could not lift his right shoulder above his head and there was a popping/clicking noise that caused him to have it checked out.
“I was struggling mentally and with my shoulder,” says of the spring at Earlham, where he got into five games.
So far in Alaska he has already made five mound appearances in the Chinooks’ first 19 games and is regaining his form and gaining confidence.
“I’ve worked on my mechanics to eliminate some of the stress on the shoulder,” says Hemmerich. “I’m taking my recovery more seriously. I’m working to strengthen (the shoulder) back to before I got injured.”
Throwing from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Hemmerich uses both two- and four-seam fastballs, a modified “circle” change-up and a slider.
“It’s more slurve-y,” says Hemmerich of the latter pitch. “There’s more left to right movement than up and down.”
The Chinooks play their games in Chugiak on Lee Jordan Field. Jon Groth is the head coach. Chris Beck is the pitching coach, director of operations and general manager. Troy Hervey also helps with the pitching staff.
Born in Indianapolis, Hemmerich moved to Kokomo at age 2. He began organized baseball as a T-baller at what is now known as UCT Youth Baseball.
For his 13U and 14U summers, he played for the Mike Wade-coached Indiana Bulls. He was with Jay Lehr’s Aces Baseball Club teams at 15U and 16U. Eric Osborn and Eric Dill coached the Indiana Nitrro 17U team that included Hemmerich.
The summer before he went to college (2018) Hemmerich played for Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6.
Sean Swan was the head coach at Kokomo High School when Hemmerich donned the Wildkats uniform. They still stay in-touch though Swann is now an assistant principal at Kettering (Ohio) Middle School.
Hemmerich was drawn to Earlham by Quakers head coach Steve Sakosits.
“He’s a high-energy guy,” says Hemmerich of Coach Sak. “He’s hard not to like. He’s got that personality.
“He’s going to coach you hard. He’s going to be straight up with you about what your role is and what you need to get better.”
Beau Smith is Earlham’s pitching coach. Hemmerich says he has at least two years of remaining eligibility at the NCAA Division III school.
Nate is the son of Mike and Sarah Hemmerich and brother of Olivia Hemmerich. Mike Hemmerich works in the Kokomo High School bookstore and helps on Sports Information Director Terry Downham’s football and basketball stat crew. Sarah Hemmerich is a KHS teacher and girls tennis head coach. Olivia Hemmerich is heading into her senior year as a Wildkat.

Nate Hemmerich (Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks Photo)
Nate Hemmerich (Chugiak-Eagle Creek Chinooks Photo)
Nate Hemmerich (Earlham College Photo)
Nate Hemmerich (32) comes off the mound. (Chugiak-Eagle Creek Chinooks Photo)

COVID-19 concerns cause Indiana, national officials to cancel American Legion Baseball, other events

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the first time in generations, there will not be an Indiana or national American Legion Baseball tournament.

Because of concerns with the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, officials have decided to call off 2020 events.

“It’s definite,” says John Hayes, a member of Indiana and national Legion baseball committees. “We’ve canceled the World Series (in Shelby, N.C.) and national regionals. I’ve talked with (state baseball chairman) Owen Wells and we’ve closed up the state of Indiana.

“It’s something we thought long and hard about. It was the right thing to do. This virus thing is not worth taking a chance especially since we don’t know how it’s going to last.”

Hayes says at least five states had shut down Legion baseball for 2020 before the national decision.

An early call was also made since the national organization had already began its fundraising efforts and it purchases plane tickets for regional qualifiers.

While many teams had not yet registered, Hayes estimates there might have been more than 30 senior (19U) teams in Indiana this year with a smaller number of junior (17U) squads.

Some teams had already paid for state tournament and insurance and will now wait for refunds.

Wells, who is based at Rockport Post 254, notes that American Legion Baseball began its national tournament in 1925 and has hosted an event every year since 1927.

Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346, which is managed by Tim Hayes (brother of John), was state tournament runner-up in 2017 and won the state title in both 2018 and 2019.

“We hate it for the kids. We hate it for the program,” says John Hayes. “But if this is the worse thing that ever happens to them, they’ll have a good life.”

Kokomo Post 6 was set to host the 2020 state tournament at Highland Park Stadium and will now host the 2021 event.

“I’m disappointed, but I was expecting it,” says Post 6 manager Don Andrews of the cancellation. “It’s the smart thing to do.

“We could still play travel baseball, but we certainly won’t do that if it’s not safe.”

Andrews notes that his players had already completed fundraising.

In case they would get a chance to play, he is advising them to throw the baseball three of more times a week.

“The most important thing is to keep your arm in shape,” says Andrews. “Everything else they can pick up quickly.”

Kevin Zvokel is the manager for the Muncie Post 19 Chiefs.

“I really feel bad for the players who had already lost their high school and college seasons, especially the seniors who missed an opportunity for a final season of baseball with their friends,” says Zvokel. “In the end, the No. 1 concern is safety for our players, coaches and fans.

“Hopefully things clear and we can still get some baseball in this summer.”

Jill Druskis, Director of the Americanism Division of the American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis, says that national capstone American Legion youth programs are National Oratorical Contest, eight Baseball regional tournaments, Baseball World Series, Boys Nation and the shoulder-to-shoulder match of the Junior Shooting 3-Position Air Rifle National Championship. 

Besides baseball, oratorical, Hoosier Boys State, Boys Nation and national air rifle contests have been canceled. Girls State and Girls Nation are run by American Legion Auxiliary.

“And the awarding of one of our national youth program scholarships has been affected this year as well,” says Druskis. “It is through the Boys State and Girls State programs that youth are afforded eligibility to apply for a Samsung American Legion Scholarship.

“Many Boys State and Girl State delegates did not pursue their application for the 2020 Samsung American Legion Scholarship as a result of their respective Boys State and Girls State program being canceled.”

National Commander of The American Legion James William “Bill” Oxford provides daily updates at this link.

AMERICANLEGIONBASEBALL

Team chemistry counts for plenty with Kokomo Post 6 baseball manager Andrews

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Don Andrews wants to fill his Kokomo American Legion Post 6 baseball team with talented players.

But playing ability is not the first priority for the man who enters his eighth season as senior team manager in 2018 after serving as an assistant and with Post 6’s junior squad.

“Team chemistry is more important than talent,” says Andrews. “It’s something we work really hard at.

“We’re finding out what the dynamics of the team are going to be. I go to a high school baseball game in the spring almost every night. I’m watching the players and also watching the parents.

“By the time (open) tryouts come around (in August) we almost know who we want (for the following year).”

Through his observations and conversations, Andrews will invite desired players to the tryout. He wants kids with a high baseball I.Q.

But — again — there’s more than that.

“A big basis of what we do is try to find high character kids,” says Andrews. “It’s a long, hot summer so we want to have good kids.”

Andrews normally goes through the regular season with about 15 or 16 players and adds a few worthy juniors at the end of the summer.

Post 6 plays around 35 games before the regional. This year, the regular season opens June 4 and closes July 10.

The Kokomo Summer Classic at Highland Park Stadium is slated for June 15-17.

Andrews estimates that 70 percent of Post 6’s games are at Highland Park.

“Everybody loves to play on that field,” says Andrews. “The parks department does a great job of keeping it up.”

Then there’s the dimesions.

“We have a big home field advantage,” says Andrews, eluding to the short distance down the right field line with a high fence. “We know we’ve just got to play. We don’t worry about hitting it over that fence.”

Meanwhile, left-handed batters on opposing teams are practically drooling when they see that short porch.

Kokomo has realized plenty of Legion diamond success in recent years.

The Sixers won regional titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Sectionals were eliminated in 2014, but Kokomo won a few of those on Andrews’ watch.

The Indiana American Legion State Finals rotates from north to south each year with teams bidding for the rights to host.

Kokomo hosted in 2016 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and will do so again this year at Highland Park. The eight-team event (seven regional champions plus the host) is scheduled for July 27-31 (the Kokomo Regional is July 20-22).

The Great Lakes Regional Aug. 8-12 in Napoleon, Ohio, with the American Legion World Series Aug. 16-21 in Shelby, N.C.

Rockport Post 254 won the 2017 state championship in a tournament hosted by Terre Haute Post 346.

While the deadline for entries is still open, Andrews expects there to be up to 32 senior teams in Indiana this year and maybe a dozen or so junior (17U) squads.

Kokomo will also host junior regional and state finals at Highland Park and Northwestern High School July 13-15 and July 19-22, respectively.

Post 6 will take its senior players in 2018 from the following high schools: Kokomo, Northwestern, Western, Taylor, and Logansport.

Junior players come from those those schools plus Oak Hill, Sheridan and Tri-Central.

In some years, the Sixers had players from Eastern, Lewis Cass and Peru.

American Legion Baseball has been a tradition in Indiana since 1926. Legion ball thrives in many corners of the state.

While many Legion rules mimic those of Major League Baseball, the national organization voted not to adopt mound visit restrictions now used by MLB.

Andrews began his coaching career when son Reid was 5 and playing T-ball at Russiaville Little League. Andrews, with the help of Dan Weaver, followed his son up the line, including four years of travel baseball — three with the Bullpen Aces and one with the Central Indiana Kings — and summers with Kokomo Post 6.

Besides bench coach Weaver, Andrews is helped with his Sixers by third base coach Will Harris and first base coach Dave Takacs.

Reid Andrews, a graduate of Western High School and Purdue University, is now general at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield and an assistant to head baseball coach Chris Estep at University High School in Carmel.

The Andrews family is full of coaches. Don’s wife Deb Andrews is a boys and girls swimming assistant coach at Western High.

Daughter Rae Andrews, an Indiana University graduate, is a swim coach and lifeguard at the YMCA of Greater Rochester (N.Y.).

Don Andrews, a 1977 Northwestern High School graduate, played a few years of prep baseball then discovered a talent for running and turned to track and field and cross country.

He was on the track team at Purdue when he was struck by a vehicle during a November training run. A few years later, he was on the cross country and track teams at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and coached the sports during and after college.

Andrews now works at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles transmission plant in Kokomo.

DONANDREWS

Don Andrews is manager of the Kokomo (Ind.) American Legion Post 6 baseball team. The Sixers is scheduled to open the 2018 season June 4. Post 6 will also host regionals and state finals for both junior and senior divisions.

Ward, Northwestern Tigers baseball enjoying ‘firsts’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kokomo, Ind., touts itself as the “City of Firsts” with claims to America’s first commercially-produced automobile and more.

Northwestern High School is enjoying some its own “firsts.”

For the first time, the Tigers have artificial turf on three of their athletic fields — baseball, football and softball.

As Phase 1 of a improvement campaign, a committee of administrators, teachers, parents and community members used grant money to make the upgrades. While not yet determined, a second phase could bring lighted fields and academic improvements.

Fourth-year head baseball coach Ryan Ward got a chance to send his baseball players on the carpet for the first time during fall workouts.

“If it’s warm enough, we can take some kids out there in January and February,” says Ward. “We have the best practice field in the state, especially a school our size (enrollment around 550).”

As the Tigers play their first season on the new-look field in 2018, Ward will continue to assert some other firsts — something he has done since taking over as head coach in 2015 after serving on Kyle Beachy’s staff for the IHSAA Class 3A Twin Lakes Sectional-winning 2014 season.

“We want to play an aggressive style of baseball,” says Ward. “For pitchers, we emphasize first-pitch strikes. As hitters, we look for to drive early in the counts. As baserunners, we will be aggressive. If we make mistakes, they are aggressive mistakes. That’s the brand of ball we’re trying to play.

Ward knows it’s not always easy teenagers to make the right catch, throw and tag in the heat of the moment, so he is going to have his players force the issue.

“We’ve got to keep empowering the kids on our team,” says Ward. “The more we can force our opponents to do, the better chance they are going to make mistakes and give ourselves a better chance to win.”

Ward graduated from Hickory High School in Hermitage, Pa. (about 75 miles northwest of Pittsburgh), in 2009.

Gary Hinkson was Ward’s high school coach. He saw the potential for Ward to go into the profession.

“He gave me that encouragement and motivation,” says Ward of Hinkson, who would win 301 games at Hickory from 1994-2015. “He treated us (players) like we were major leaguers. We carried on the expectations that he set for us.”

In Ward’s sophomore season (2007), the Hickory Hornets won their first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 10 title in 10 years, repeated the feat the next spring and lost in the district championship game in 2009.

At Northwestern, Ward prepares his Tigers for competition in the Hoosier Conference and athletic director and former Northwestern baseball coach Dan Armstrong schedules many other teams in the Kokomo and Lafayette areas.

The HC is split into two divisions — Northwestern, Cass, Hamilton Heights, Tipton and Western in the East and Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Rensselaer Central, Twin Lakes and West Lafayette in the West.

Teams play all the schools in their division in home-and-home series on Wednesdays and Thursdays with crossover games at the end. The top teams in each division square off the title with East Division No. 2 facing West Division No. 2 and so on.

Ward, who counts Jeff Trueblood and Dan Butcher as assistant coaches for 2018, gears his pitching staff toward conference games.

“We have our Wednesday starter and Thursday starter,” says Ward. “It helps pitchers get into a routine and guys are working to be a conference starters.”

In 2017, the IHSAA implemented pitch count rules (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 love the intent of the rules,” says Ward. “It’s putting the focus on the health of the athlete. I’d like to see better communication on how we execute the rule between coaches, umpires and the IHSAA.

“Wow do we keep improving it?”

Northwestern doesn’t have to look far to see the future of its program since the Northwestern Youth Baseball League (T-ball through major baseball) is housed on school grounds and seventh and eighth grade teams play 15 to 20 games in the spring on the varsity field. Truebood, a Northwestern graduate who played college baseball, is NYBL president. Joel Downey and Bruce Smith are middle school coaches.

“From the time they’re 6, they think about wearing purple one day,” says Ward. “They are coming back as alumni. We’re putting the focus on the Northwestern school district and those relationships.”

Many high school-age Tigers play in the summer for travel teams or Kokomo American Legion Post 6.

Ward went to Butler University with the idea of playing baseball, but was cut in his freshman year. He still respects then-Bulldogs head coach Steve Farley as a mentor.

“He was honest with me,” says Ward, who earned a degree from Butler in 2013 and began teaching fifth grade at Northwestern Elementary that fall. Ryan and wife Katelyn, a 2008 Kokomo High School graduate and third grade teacher in Kokomo schools at Lafayette Park International Elementary, were wed in September 2016 and live in the Northwestern district.

NORTHWESTERNTIGERS

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Ryan Ward and wife, Katelyn, are both elementary school teachers — Ryan in the Northwestern district, Katelyn in Kokomo. Ward is entering his fourth season as Northwestern High School head baseball coach in 2018.

 

Kokomo’s Thatcher on next diamond adventure

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Thatcher didn’t see himself pitching in Major League Baseball.

But he did it.

He didn’t see himself coaching college baseball in his hometown.

But he’s doing it.

Thatcher grew up playing the game in Kokomo. There was UCT Little League and stints with Kokomo American Legion Post 6, Russiaville Cubs and Indiana Bulls in the summer and Kokomo High School in the spring.

Many games were played at Kokomo’s historic Highland Park, which was once home to Kokomo Giants, Kokomo Dodgers and Kokomo Highlanders.

“The short porch in right is what I remember most,” Thatcher said. “It was a cool place to play. There were a lot of stands and so it felt big at the time.”

After graduating from KHS in 2000, Thatcher became a legacy at Indiana State University. His father — Phil — played for the Bob Warn-coached Sycamores and so did Joe.

The Warns were family friends and the Thatchers spent many alumni weekends in Terre Haute. It was an easy decision for Joe to go to ISU and be a teammate of Barry Warn, son of Bob the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“(Coach Warn) was great,” Thatcher said. “He really cared about his players. You felt you were part of a family.”

A 6-foot-2 left-hander, Joe started as a freshman then served as ISU’s closer as a sophomore and junior. When the Sycamores got off to a tough start in his senior year and there was not much call for someone to get the last few outs, he went back into the starting rotation.

When the 2004 MLB Draft came at the end of final college campaign, Thatcher’s named wasn’t called. Instead, the southpaw played part of two seasons in the independent Frontier League.

Thatcher joined the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2005 and made his MLB debut came with the San Diego Padres in 2007.

By this point, he knew he was exclusively a reliever.

“In organized pro ball, hard-throwing guys are usually projected as closers,” Thatcher said. “I knew I was going to be a left-handed match-up guy (lefty on lefty). That’s what I tried to focus on.”

Sometimes called a LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out Guy charged with getting out the opponent’s big left-handed batters lat in games), Thatcher was also called upon to pitch full innings, worked with his low three-quarter delivery against left-hander and right-handers.

“I always had confidence in myself that I could get anybody out,” Thatcher said. “I ended up having pretty good numbers against righties in my career.

He also kept himself in shape and shared his off-season regiment along with Dr. Jamey Gordon of St. Vincent Sports Performance and USA Baseball at the recent IHSBCA State Clinic.

“I was around some of the best conditioning staffs in the world (in pro baseball),” Thatcher said. “I saw all the innovative stuff.”

Thatcher was with the Padres organization until being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013. He pitched for the D-backs and Los Angeles Angels in 2014 and the Houston Astros in 2015. His 2016 was spent with Triple-A clubs in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs organizations, but was not on the postseason roster during the World Series run. He decided to retire at the end of the season at age 35.

“I’m most proud of how long I was able to play,” Thatcher said. “It takes a lot to stay there and build up that trust with the coaches and front office people. To go from being un-drafted to someone who spent nine years in the big leagues, I’m pretty proud of that.”

Thatcher had studied insurance and risk management in college and planned to follow his father into that business (Phil works for Regions Bank Insurance) and even got his license and spent some off-seasons as an agent.

“I wasn’t planning on having a big league career,” Thatcher said.

Now, he is staying in baseball as associate head coach for a brand new program at Indiana University Kokomo (the IUK Cougars are scheduled to debut in 2017-18). He has been on the recruiting for about a month.

“We have a lot to offer — an IU degree, good coaching staff (including head coach Matt Howard and assistant coach Zach Hall) and (Kokomo Municipal Stadium) is a huge draw,” Thatcher said. “It gives us a leg up on the competition.

“(The school) wanted to make sure they did it right before they started the program so it wasn’t just thrown together. They do everything top level, first class. The only thing small school about what we’re doing is the actual school size (around 4,100 enrolled students, according to the IUK website).”

IU Kokomo has centrally-located campus and is up to nine sports in its athletic department. The Cougars are an NAIA program and member of the River States Conference.

Thatcher will share his experiences with his student-athletes.

“I played with a lot of good veterans and learned how to be a pro,” Thatcher said. “That meant being disciplined enough to take care of your business without being told to do it.”

And he almost didn’t do it at all.

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Kokomo’s Joe Thatcher as a pitcher with the San Diego Padres.