Tag Archives: Kokomo Jackrabbits

Highland alum Ivetic getting ready for next baseball chapter

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

Dimitri Ivetic does not yet know where he will play college baseball in 2022-23.
But the right-handed pitcher has been in this position before and he’s not pushing the panic button.
Along his college baseball path, 2019 Highland (Ind.) High School graduate Ivetic has been at Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College and Danville (Ill.) Area Community College.
Ivetic (pronounced Eave-Uh-Titch) made the decision to attend each only a few weeks before going there.
“I think it helps me weigh my options and advice and make the decision that I think works best for me,” says Ivetic, 21.
Born in Dyer, Ind., and played in the Highland Babe Ruth League, then travel ball with Morris Chiefs (now 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs) coached by Matt Mamula and Dave Sutkowski and Florida Pokers.
His head coach at Highland High was John Bogner.
“He’s very adamant on the fundamentals,” says Ivetic of Bogner. “He was very big on arm healthy and keeping guys healthy. Those are the biggest things I’ve been able to carry over into college.
“We had a rough senior year, but my sophomore and junior years we won quite a few games.”
How did a kid from northwest Indiana end up on the West Coast?
“Ever since I was younger it was my dream to play college baseball,” says Ivetic. “My favorite school was UCLA. I always wanted to play there. I wasn’t good enough to go to UCLA so I decided to go to JUCO out in California.”
Through a friend, Ivetic met Palomar pitching coach Hayden Carter while the latter was managing the summer wood-bat Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits.
After a visit and seeing the facilities and experiencing the weather, Ivetic joined the program. The righty got into five games totaling three innings for the 2020 Palomar Comets.
“I struggled with command a little bit,” says Ivetic. “Then the pandemic hit and we got shut down with mandates and restrictions. We are all like super-disappointed.
“During that time I was able to go throw at nearby fields. On one of the last days I strained my forearm. I felt something pull in there.
“That bugged me for the next couple months. I worked through it and made some mechanical adjustments which ended up paying off.”
Away from baseball, Ivetic went to the beach and on hikes with his roommates.
“We became a lot closer,” says Ivetic. “Those are some of my best friends to this day that I still talk to (regularly).”
In the summer of 2020, Ivetic did not play but trained at Randy Sullivan’s Florida Baseball ARMory in Lakeland.
“He’s a great guy,” says Ivetic of Sullivan. “He’s very innovative. He helped me a lot over the course of a couple years.”
When Ivetic learned that the pandemic was going to keep Palomar from baseball activities in the fall of 2020 he decided to transfer to Santa Barbara City College.
That turned out to be a tough situation with several COVID-19-related shutdowns and — eventually — no 2021 season.
He played for the Bomb Squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., then went back to Santa Barbara in the fall and it did not go well.
“My velocity was down and I struggled,” says Ivetic. “I made one little adjustment that kind of messed everything up.”
During his fall exit meeting, Ivetic was advised that if he wanted more playing time in 2022 he should transfer so he went back to the Midwest and Danville Area, where he pitched in 12 games (26 2/3 innings) and went 2-2 with two saves, 36 strikeouts and 12 walks.
“Danville was great,” says Ivetic. “The coaches were great. We struggled through some stuff, but overall it was decent.
“I definitely made some memories.”
Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Ivetic uses a four-seam fastball (which has been clocked as high as 90 mph), curveball and sweeping slider.
“My slider is what I’ve been most comfortable with,” says Ivetic. “I can throw it for a strike in basically any count. It’s got more horizontal movement, but sometimes it will start to look more like my curveball.”
Ivetic says he could return to Danville Area in the fall, but has no plans to do so.
“It wouldn’t make much sense to go back to junior college at this point because — academically — it would just put me so far behind on how many credits would transfer,” says Ivetic, a Finance major who is in the Transfer Portal. “I’m not quite sure where I’m going. But we’re starting to get some idea of where I’d like to go.”
Ivetic is back with the CSL’s Bomb Squad and was named to the July 4 All-Star Game. He also trains with PRP Baseball at the Mojo Up Sports Complex in Noblesville, visiting there before games at Grand Park.
PRP Baseball, which was founded by Greg Vogt (now a rehab pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays organization), is under the day-to-day guidance of Anthony Gomez. He has coached Ivetic since he was 16.
Dimitri is of Serbian descent and the only child born to Zarko and Paula Ivetic. His father sells for Jack Tuchten Wholesale Produce in Chicago and his mother works at Nordstrom.

Dimitri Ivetic (Palomar College Photo)
Dimitri Ivetic of the College Summer League at Grand Park’s Bomb Squad (Steve Krah Photo)

Stull joins seasoned group with top-ranked Southeastern U.

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

At 23 and in his fifth season, Eston Stull is a college baseball veteran.
The right-handed pitcher finds himself surrounded by many other seasoned players as part of a Southeastern University team ranked No. 1 in NAIA.
“The best part of this team is humble confidence,” says Stull of the Lakeland, Fla.-based Fire. “You look in the dugout and they’re not nervous. Even if we’re down, they have the confidence that somebody is going to pick them up.
“It’s a team that almost coaches itself. Having that veteran presence has helped this team a lot.”
Stull, a 2017 graduate of Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, played four seasons at Indiana University-Kokomo (2018-21) while earning degrees in Finance and Management.
In 51 mound appearances (27 starts), Stull went 13-4 with a 4.57 earned run average. He amassed 187 strikeouts and 89 walks in 159 2/3 innings.
Matt Howard left the IUK program as head coach and Stull — who was granted an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic — began exploring his options.
“I reached out on Twitter,” says Stull. Those Tweets drew the attention of SEU assistant coach/recruiting director Mike Mendoza and Stull corresponded with him and head coach Adrian Dinkel while pitching in the summer of 2021 for the Northwoods League’s Kokomo Jackrabbits.
Stull decided to join a program that went 51-9 and competed in the 2021 NAIA World Series. Excluding the 2020 COVID season, Southeastern has posted four straight 50-win campaigns and is closing in on a fifth in 2022. Going into The Sun Conference tournament May 5-8 in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Fire is 47-3.
The NAIA Opening Round is slated for May 16-19. Taylor University in Upland, Ind., is one the 10 sites and the SEU could be assigned there which is about 40 miles northeast of Pendleton.
In 14 games (13 in relief), graduate student Stull is 0-0 with 0 saves and a 2.11 ERA. The righty has 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 21 1/3 innings.
Graduate assistant Connor Dailey, who was a reliever 2015-18 at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C., is Southeastern’s pitching coach.
“He’s somewhat our age and easy to talk to,” says Stull of Dailey. “He trusts all of us and let’s us stick to our own routine.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Stull has made the adjustment from starter to relief pitcher.
“I think I fit better in the bullpen for this team,” says Stull, who mixes a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up from a high three-quarter arm angle.
His four-seamer sits 92 to 93 mph and recently reach 97. His curve has a 12-to-6 action. He throws what he calls a “gyro” slider.
“It goes down like a reverse change-up,” says Stull. “I look at the Rapsodo (motion capture system) and try to keep the spin efficiency below 12 and the RPM’s up (he averages 2800 with the pitch).
Stull began throwing his change-up more last summer.
“I have a good shape for it,” says Stull. “It’s just finding the time to get comfortable throwing it in-game.”
Away from the diamond, Stull is working toward a Master of Business Administration and expects to take summer classes and finish as soon as possible. His coaches are looking to place him with a team.
“I want to see how far baseball will take me,” says Stull. “I don’t want to have any regrets.”
Born in Pendelton to Todd and Misty Stull, Eston grew up around the area and played what is now known as Pendleton Junior Baseball/Softball and then in travel ball, including time with the Indiana Nitro.
At Pendleton Heights, his head coach was Travis Keesling.
“I struggled my junior year and did not pitch much,” says Stull. “Coach Keesling sat me down and said you need to figure it out.”
Stull began training with Greg Vogt — first at VIP and then PRP Baseball (in Noblesville, Ind.).
“I had a great senior year,” says Stull.
He still stays in-touch with Vogt.
“I’ve reached out to him a couple of times with tips,” says Stull of the former Carmel (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University hurler who has moved his family to Florida and added rehab pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays system to his PRP Baseball duties.
All three of Todd and Misty’s sons are in college. Eston’s younger brother Walker Stull pitches at Anderson U., and has trained with his at PRP Baseball. The youngest — Harrison Stull — is a student at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Their parents have moved to Jacksonville, Fla.

Eston Stull (Southeastern University Photo)
Eston Stull (Southeastern University Photo)

Former pitcher Floyd seeing things from coaching side with IU-Kokomo

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

Nick Floyd played baseball at Ball State University for four years.
The 2015 graduate of Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Ind., pitched for the Cardinals from 2016-19 then experienced independent professional ball with the American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, The Battle of the Bourbon Trail’s Florence (Ky.) Y’alls (part of a COVID-19 pop-up circuit) and Pioneer League’s Idaho Falls Chukars.
Now he’s seeing the college game from a coach’s perspective.
Floyd, 24, leads pitchers for Indiana University-Kokomo. The Cougars are in the River States Conference (NAIA). He earned his Finance degree at Ball State in 2019, but was offered the opportunity to play pro ball then to coach when Drew Brantley was building his IUK staff and says it suits his temperament.
“All the philosophies are still the same,” says Floyd, comparing his time as a college player and coach. “But now I better understand the little things that my college coaches tried to convey to us.”
Floyd says he now appreciates those team rules set in place by Ball State head coach Rich Maloney.
“Now I step back and look at the program as a whole and value the little things — like going about things the right way, being early to practice and everyone wearing the same thing on the road,” says Floyd. “Every player is supposed to get water only. Pop is not good for them. Everyone wearing the same color (at practice) is important for team unity. We want to be one cohesive unit instead of a bunch of individuals.
“Not everyone’s the same. A little bit of individuality is totally fine. But it also needs to be structured and adding value to the group as a whole.”
Maloney believes in building team culture.
“That’s something he stresses a ton,” says Floyd. “He showed through his actions how I wanted to be as a coach.”
As IUK pitching coach, Floyd reflects the two men who were his pitching coaches at BSU — Chris Fetter (now Detroit Tigers pitching coach) and Dustin Glant (now Indiana University pitching coach). Glant was head coach at Anderson (Ind.) University when Brantley was an assistant.
“The No. 1 thing is attack,” says Floyd, who made 34 mound appearances (14 starts) for the Cardinals. “We want to pitch with the mentality of being the aggressor. I’m going to beat you on this pitch. It starts from the mental side of things. You have to have confidence in your own ability.”
Floyd wants his pitchers to get ahead in ball-strike counts. He would rather they give up a bomb pounding the zone then walking the bases loaded and giving up a squib hit to score multiple runs.
“We always go down in attack mode,” says Floyd. “Coach Glant taught me that.”
Drey Jameson fanned a Ball State and Mid-American Conference-record 146 batters — 14.66 per nine innings — and was named MAC Pitcher of the Year before being selected in first round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Drey definitely attacked,” says Floyd. “He knew he was better than you and he was going to go out and show it.
“That kind of mentality filtered through everyone (on the Ball State pitching staff).”
As IUK prepares for a non-conference doubleaheader against Shawnee State today (March 1) and a three-game RSC series against Ohio Christian, Floyd and graduate assistant Justin Reed (a former IUK player who is also Cougars catchers coach) are working with about 20 pitchers including a few two-way players.
“Right now we’ve built up about four starters,” says Floyd. “Other guys in longer relief could potentially starts.
“One mid-week starter could come out of the pen on the weekend.”
Jeremy Honaker (a Connersville High School graduate who has coached at Zionsville and Martinsville high schools, the University of Indianapolis and in the Indiana Bulls and Canes travel baseball organizations) and student assistant Nate James (a Castle High alum who played at Kankakee Community College before transferring to IUK) are the team’s other coaches.
The Cougars play home games at Kokomo Municipal Stadium — a downtown park it shares with the summer collegiate Kokomo Jackrabbits and Kokomo High School.
“Not many NAIA teams have access to a facility like that,” says Floyd. “We try to get outside any time it is remotely close to being good weather.
“Last week we were shoveling snow for two hours just to get outside.”
When getting outside is not possible, the team can use Cougar Gym, located downtown. The weight room is at the on-campus Student Activities and Events Center.
Floyd accepted the job last summer while he was pitching for Idaho Falls and learning from Chukars field staff of manager Billy Gardner Jr. (a pro manager since 1995), pitching coach Bob Milacki (who pitched in the big leagues) and hitting coach Billy Butler (who was also a major leaguer). A few days after the season, he was in Kokomo.
A former NCAA Division I player, Floyd compares that level to NAIA.
“There isn’t a huge difference,” says Floyd. “The top-end guys on each are pretty comparable.
“Most D-I lineups and pitching staffs are deeper talent-wise.”

Nick Floyd (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)

At 24, Taylor U. grad Waddups coaching pitchers for Mount Vernon Nazarene

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

Tucker Waddups got his first taste of coaching right out of high school. A half decade later, it’s his career.
Waddups, who is now pitching coach at Mount Vernon (Ohio) Nazarene University at the age of 24, graduated from Pioneer Junior/Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind., in 2016 and began giving pitching lessons to youngsters around Cass County.
“I really started to fall in love with it,” says Waddups of sharing his baseball knowledge. “I got work with guys one-on-one, see what made guys tick and do trial-and-error things. I’d what worked and didn’t work.”
A native of Logansport, Ind., Waddups grew up near Cicott Lake, played youth baseball at Rea Park next to Pioneer Elementary from age 4 to 12 followed by Babe Ruth League Baseball in Rochester, Ind., at 13U, the Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws from 14U to 16U, the Ken Niles-coached Indiana Mustangs at 17U and the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays at 18U. He was with the Mike Farrell-coached Brewers Fall Scout Team at 16U and Kevin Christman-coach Giants Fall Scout Team at 17U. He went to Farrell for pitching lessons from age 12 until the end of the high school career.
A right-handed pitcher-only in travel ball and college, Waddups was also a shortstop and first baseman at Pioneer while playing four years for Panthers head coach Rick Farrer.
“We still stay in-touch,” says Waddups of Farrer. “He’s a great man.”
Wads was a four-team all-Loganland, all-Hoosier North Athletic Conference and team captain at Pioneer, where he set career records for earned run average, strikeouts, wins, home runs and runs batted in. As a senior, he was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-State, an IHSBCA North All-Star and Loganland and HNAC Player of the Year.
With a few exceptions, father Murl Waddups coached Tucker on most of his teams growing up. He got to have his father on his staff with the Nitro.
Waddups spent the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017 with the Anderson (Ind.) University baseball team. Dustin Glant (now pitching coach at Indiana University) was Ravens head coach until the end of the fall semester then Drew Brantley (now head coach at Indiana University Kokomo) took over.
A transfer to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., gave Waddups the opportunity to play for head coach Kyle Gould and pitching coach Justin Barber. With an extra COVID-19 season, he suited up for the Trojans for four seasons (2018-21).
“It was definitely a good experience playing for Coach Gould,” says Waddups. “He knows the game well. He’s won a lot of baseball games.
With Gould and Barber, it’s all about player development and getting guys better every year. They did a really good job of taking care of us and making sure we had everything we needed to be successful. It was four of the best years of my life.”
Waddups majored in Sport Management and minored in Coaching at Taylor.
In the summer of 2019, Joel Mishler gave Waddups the chance to coach at 13U team for the Indiana Chargers travel organization founded and directed by Mishler.
“I absolutely loved it,” says Waddups. “It was a blast.”
One of Waddups’ Chargers players was Kai Aoki, son of then-Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki (now head coach at Morehead State University).
“I got to know Mik real well,” says Waddups. “I still talk with him.”
Chad Newhard had been a Taylor assistant and was affiliated with the Indiana Nitro and that relationship led to Waddups coaching at 15U Nitro team in the summer of 2020.
After wrapping his playing career in the spring of 2021, Waddups served as pitching coach for the college wood bat Northwoods League’s Hayden Carter-managed Kokomo Jackrabbits. Waddups pitched for Kokomo in 2017 and 2018 when Gary McClure was Jackrabbits manager.
“He knows how to win really well,” says Waddups of McClure. “He won a lot of games at Austin Peay (University).”
Waddups is slated to head back to the Northwoods League in the summer of 2022 as the pitching coach for the Travese City (Mich.) Pit Spitters. He got to know Traverse City manager Josh Rebandt through frequent meetings between Kokomo and the Spitters in 2021.
The coaching position at Mount Vernon Nazarene came about when Cougars head coach Keith Veale let friend and fellow Crossroads League head coach Gould know about a need for an assistant to guide pitchers and help with recruiting.
Veale and Waddups spoke during the Crossroads League tournament and Waddups saw an MVNU practice before the NAIA Opening Round and decided to take the job.
“I work every single day with pitchers and do their programming,” says Waddups, who also recruits and runs camps. “It’s definitely something I want to do the rest of my life.”
Home Designs by Waddups (formerly Waddups Improvements) is Murl’s business.
Kim Waddups runs a daycare out of her home.
“She taught me a lot about life,” says Tucker. “We’ve gotten really, really close since I went to college.”
Trey Waddups (Pioneer Class of 2018) is Tucker’s younger brother. He played baseball and basketball in high school and is the Panthers’ all-time scoring leader in basketball. He played one season of baseball and is in his third in basketball at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.

Tucker Waddups (Kokomo Jackrabbits Photo)
Tucker Waddups (Kokomo Jackrabbits Photo)

Alum McTagertt keeps growing the game at Lafayette Jeff

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott McTagertt paid his dues before becoming head baseball coach at his alma mater.

A 1986 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, McTagertt was still a Purdue University student when he became a Jeff assistant for the 1988 season.

He has been bringing baseball knowledge to Bronchos ever since. 

McTagertt played for head coach Mark Strader and served on the staffs of Tony Primavera, Ed Gilliland and Kevin Maxwell before taking the reins of the Lafayette Jeff program for the 2008 season.

“(Strader) is probably the best athlete that ever came through Lafayette Jeff,” says McTagertt. “He was very demanding. We respected the guy because you knew what he knew in baseball.

“We put so much intensity into practice. (Strader) got (to play for and) coach with (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul) “Spider” Fields. (Strader) brought some of that fire to us.”

A shortstop and pitcher at Jeff, McTagertt was on the Purdue team for one season behind future big leaguer Archi Cianfrocco while working toward what would be an Education degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).

As a young coach, McTagertt marveled at Primavera’s game management skills.

“I don’t know if there was anybody better than him,” says McTagertt. “He knew everything in the game was going to happen before it happened.

“He was fun to learn from.”

Gilliland had played for and coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte High School.

“(Gilliland) was a disciplinarian,” says McTagertt. “This is the way we’re going to do it. He had set routines. The kids worked hard for him. 

“He liked to ride his top two pitchers a lot. It was the LaPorte Way.”

In a decade with Maxwell, McTagertt witnessed a strong organizer.

“(Maxwell) ran very structured practices,” says McTagertt. “Everything was written out. The kids had to know the practice plan.”

Along the way, McTagertt has continued to have a growth mindset. He has learned much about the game from networking, attending clinics and — in this pandemic year of 2020 — Zoom meetings and other online resources.

“We’re probably the most sharing group of coaches you’re going to find in any sport,” says McTagertt. “Tthere are so many ways to teach in baseball.

“You can always steal an idea or two.”

McTagertt was born in Greenwood, Ind., and came to Lafayette as a fourth grader. That first day in town he attended the Colt World Series at Loeb Stadium.

“It was a big place for my family,” says McTagertt, who started working at Loeb in 1988 and did so until the facility dedicated in 1940 was torn down to make way for the New Loeb Stadium.

Teaching fifth grade STEM at nearby Sunnyside Intermediate, McTagertt drops by regularly to see the progress of the ballpark adjacent to the Columbian Park Zoo that mimics Kokomo Municipal Stadium (home to Kokomo High School, Indiana University Kokomo and summer collegiate Kokomo Jackrabbits) and is oriented the other way from the old Loeb (left field faces the pool and right field is closet to the zoo).

“I didn’t know if I’d ever see this place,” says McTagertt. “It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

With construction of the new Loeb (also home to the summer collegiate Lafayette Aviators), Jeff was going to spend much of 2020 playing road games. But the COVID-19 pandemic took away the season. The Bronchos were just days away from tryouts when what became lockdown began. Individual workouts were distributed via computer. 

In fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practice, the focus was on individual skills and position development.

“We put a premium on teaching since we lost a season,” says McTagertt, who sent the Bronchos from the World Series to the weight room until Dec. 22 and expects to resume activities Jan. 4.

McTagertt’s 2021 coaching staff features John Ripke, Alex Igo and Sean McDonald as varsity assistants. Kevin Igo is the JV Red head coach and is helped by Brian McDonald and Matthew Koeppen. Tim Whitaker is the JV Black (or C-team) head coach and is aided by Daniel Nelson.

The Bronchos tend to have around 40 players in the program. On days when all three squads are in action, there might be 13 to 15 with the varsity, 13 with JV Red and the rest with JV Black.

Jeff (enrollment around 2,080) is in the Northern Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).

The Bronchos are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport and McCutcheon. Jeff won the last of its 17 sectional titles in 2013. The program has also claimed 12 regionals, four semistates, two state championships (1969 and 1973) and one state runner-up (1971).

Two recent Jeff players — brother Justin Walker Jr. (Purdue) and Jacob Walker (Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) — have moved on to college diamonds. Current Bronchos Caleb Koeppen and Brady Preston have received college offers.

For years, Jeff and Lafayette Central Catholic developed young players through the Lafayette Lightning.

About eight years ago — wanting to get more Jeff-bound youngsters involved in competitive play — Junior Broncho Baseball was established. The group fielded 10U, 11U and 12U teams that first year and now has teams from 8U to 15U.

That first 12U team were freshmen in the spring of 2020.

The Junior Bronchos play often at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and Indianapolis Sports Park.

Elite players are encouraged to play for teams like the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Nitro.

“We take rest of the kids and run them through our practices and camps,” says McTagertt. “We get the best of both worlds.”

Utilizing diamonds at Armstrong Park and McCaw Park, Lafayette Youth Baseball is still going strong.

“There’s a wonderful working relationship city, parks department and baseball programs in Lafayette,” says McTagertt.

Scott and Fawn McTagertt (a McCutcheon High School teacher) have three children. Rileigh McTagertt is a junior Education major at Purdue who coaches tennis at Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette. She was in cheerleading, basketball and tennis at Jeff.  

Ashlynn McTagertt played golf, basketball and softball for the Bronchos and is now a freshmen softball player at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College. 

Drew McTagertt is a Tecumseh eighth grader who plays tennis, basketball and baseball.

Scott McTagertt is the head baseball coach at Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School — a position he’s held since the 2008 season. The 1986 Jeff graduated joined the Bronchos coaching staff in 1988.

IU Kokomo’s Cheek emphasizes competition, classroom, community

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Cheek spent the summer collegiate baseball season of 2015 playing for the Kokomo Jackrabbits.

Coming off his first season as a pitcher at Indiana State University, Cheek played for manager Matt Howard.

The two maintained a relationship and Cheek came back to town as an assistant to head coach Howard at Indiana University Kokomo. The 2021 season will be his third with the Cougars.

“I love it,” says Cheek of working with the energetic Howard. “He will push you day in and day out to be a better leader on or off the field.

“What I enjoy most about him is he gives freedom (to his assistants) as if we were in-charge. I can make the pitching program my own. There is trust my abilities.”

Cheek, 26, is not only IUK’s pitching coach but he leads the program’s academic supervision and community service and helps with camps.

At pitching coach, he looks for aggressiveness and competitiveness. 

“What we strive to do is attack hitters,” says Cheek. “We recruit a lot of guys who are athletes that go out and compete. They piece it together inning by inning and put up zeros.”

Cheek wants his hurlers to trust their defense.

“We have plenty of gold glovers on the field so pound the zone,” says Cheek. “Execution is big for us.”

Knowing that not all pitchers are the same, Cheek looks to get each one to identify what makes them successful.

“Every guy is going to have different pitches and different sequences that they throw,” says Cheek, who knows some will around 90 mph with their fastball while others will have to pitch backwards, starting with a breaking ball and spotting their fastball.

“It’s about letting them know their success and know what they have to bring to the table,” says Cheek. “When they take pride int he role they have that’s where you start to see success.”

About half way through fall practice, IUK pitchers (a group that includes Ryan’s brother, Kacey Cheek) are currently in COVID-19 quarantine.

“It’s been a tough fall,” says Cheek. “It make guys see the picture of how they approach each day with an appreciation and a full passion for the game.”

That can be said of the whole squad, which includes returning college players who had their spring season cut short and incoming freshmen who had their senior high school seasons canceled.

Cheek and the other IUK coaches encourage them to respect the game but also have passion.

“Show up with a chip on their shoulder,” says Cheek. “Keep a goal in mind each day and don’t let a day pass.”

Because of the pandemic, the NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to those who want to use it.

Among those back to lead the Cougars are right-handed pitcher Renton Poole (at Bloomington High School South graduate who was selected in the 28th round of the 2018 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers but opted to stay in college) and infielder Austin Weiler.

While being aware of contact tracing, IUK baseball coaches work to separate players on the field and in the weight room. With pitchers away, there are a number of machine scrimmages. 

“We’ll have developmental work and one-on-one work when pitchers come back,” says Cheek.

As an academic supervisor, Cheek makes sure players are keeping up their grades up. He stays in-touch with professors and sets study table hours.

“They’re coming to IUK to get an IU degree and play baseball,” says Cheek. “The goal is to get these guys to where they want to go in life.

“My goal is to make sure they’re reaching their goals in the classroom.”

IUK students are currently taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After Thanksgiving to the end of the semester that will be all online.

While COVID-19 regulations and protocols has limited what players can do at the moment, there was plenty of community service with local groups last fall. Cheek says that each team member did up to 25 hours in the fall while meeting Kokomo know they care.

Cougars associate head coach Drew Brantley heads up camps and is helped by Cheek and Howard.

Cheek took his current job after serving as varsity boys basketball and varsity baseball coach at his alma mater Oblong (Ill.) High School. In 2018 and 2019, he coached Britton’s Bullpen 16U travel team.

As a player, Cheek was in spring training with the independent professional Evansville (Ind.) Otters in 2017.

Cheek pitched two seasons at Indiana State University (2015 and 2016) and two at Vincennes (Ind.) University (2013 and 2014).

As a right-handed collegiate pitcher, Cheek went 10-5 in 32 mound appearances (16 starts) at VU and 2-0 in 11 games (all in relief) at ISU.

Cheek was the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12 MVP in 2014 and helped Vincennes make the NJCAA D-II World Series (placing seventh).

He earned Management and Marketing degree from Indiana State in 2016.

Mitch Hannahs was the head coach and Jordan Tiegs the pitching coach at ISU.

Cheek went to youth camps run by Hannahs when the latter was coaching at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played under,” says Cheek of Hannahs. “He understands the game and knows how to compete.

“He helped me grow as a player and a person.”

Tiegs, who is now a coach in the Rangers organization, had an impact on Cheek.

“He was really smart and knew how to develop guys,” says Cheek of Tiegs. “He really sparked my interest about what a routine meant and entailed — throwing everyday, arm health, your body moving correctly and competing at a high level.”

Cheek appreciates his time with Vincennes head coach Chris Barney.

“He knew the game,” says Cheek of Barney. “He was a little Old School, but I loved it.”

The term “JUCO bandit” is used in baseball circles these days. Cheek tells what it means to him.

“They are guys who are hard-nosed and a little blue collar,” says Cheek. “It was a really good fit for myself to go junior college route. I learned a lot about myself — who I am as a person and player.”

Without the time restrictions of the NCAA and NAIA, junior college players have the chance to spend plenty of time working on their craft.

“We had a fall and spring season and a lot of competition,” says Cheek. “You’d get out of class and then be at the field for six hours at a time.

“We learned what ‘no off days’ meant,” says Cheek. “You didn’t get many.”

Cheek grew up in Oblong, which is Crawford County about 20 miles from the Indiana line and Sullivan County, Indiana. 

The 2012 OHS graduate played golf for coach Jason Hartke, basketball for coach Brent Harper and baseball for coach Dave Miller.

Richard and Kelly Cheek have three children — Ryan, Kacey (20) and Lincoln Trail College freshman Katie (18). 

Ryan Cheek, a graduate of Oblong (Ill.) High School, Vincennes (Ind.) University and Indiana State University, is heading into his third season as a baseball assistant coach at Indiana University Kokomo in 2020-21. (IU Kokomo Photo)

Columbus native Gray deliver for Milwaukee Milkmen in a big way

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Peyton Gray has spent July and August dodging bats.

The right-handed pitcher from Columbus, Ind., playing independent professional baseball has been dominant in his back of the bullpen role.

As the closer for the American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen, Gray goes into play today (Aug. 26) with a 2-0 record, 10 saves and a 0.00 earned run average. In 24 innings, he has yet to allow a run and has struck out 41 (15.375 per nine innings) and walked 10.

“For the most part, I try to stay with myself and pitch to my strengths,” says Gray. “I’ve been able to catch some breaks.

“It’s been fun so far.”

A 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, Gray delivers a fastball, slider and change-up from a three-quarter overarm slot. The slider breaks in on left-handed batters and away from righties and the “Vulcan” change sinks.

But it’s his four-seam fastball that’s been his out pitch. It travels 90 to 93 mph and — he learned while working out in the off-season with Greg Vogt of PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. — that it has an above-average spin rate.

The 2020 season marks Gray’s third in pro ball. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2018 out of Florida Gulf Coast University and played rookie-level and Low Class-A ball in the Rockies system in 2018 and 2019.

A 2014 graduate of Columbus (Ind.) East High School, where he was a four-year letterman for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz, Gray pitched one season at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo (0-1 with two saves, a 3.58 ERA, 21 strikeouts and 18 walks in 37 2/3 innings in 2015), one at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Fla. (8-1 with one save, a 3.93 ERA, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 71 2/3 innings in 2016) and two at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla. (6-5 with one save, a 5.49 ERA, 110 strikeouts and 42 walks in 95 innings in 2017 and 2018).

Gray was both a mid-week starter and weekend reliever at Florida Gulf Coast. He came out of the bullpen in the Rockies organization.

With the Milkmen, he has been used mostly for one-inning outings with two exceptions. He has never faced more than seven batters at a time.

“Throwing’s very crucial,” says Gray. “When you’re sore force yourself to throw and break up whatever’s tight in the body.

Gray uses Driveline PlyoCare balls for recovery both on days he pitches and days he does not.

At 25, Gray is one of the youngest on a roster that features no less than six players with big-league experience — pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Tim Dillard, David Holmberg, Drew Hutchison, A.J. Schugel, and infielder David Washington.

“It’s been really good for me to be around an older crowd like this and learn the game more,” says Gray. “It’s pretty close-knit team. Everybody’s very friendly and down-to-earth.

“I watch how they go about their business. As a professional, you’re in charge of your career. You have to know the ropes if you want that career to last long.”

Gray is now with a team managed by Anthony Barone with Hayden Carter (formerly of the Kokomo, Ind., Jackrabbits) as pitching coach that plays its home games in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin, Wis.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Association is operating with six teams — Milwaukee, Chicago Dogs, Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks, Saint Paul Saints, Sioux Falls Canaries and Winnipeg Goldeyes — playing a 60-game schedule. When the season began, Milwaukee was one of three hubs. Later on, Chicago and Saint Paul opened back up and began hosting games. Winnipeg has been playing mostly road games.

Milwaukee is about a five-hour trip from Columbus meaning his family has been able to see him play in-person.

“They’re huge baseball fans,” says Peyton of father Billy Gray and older brother Jordan Gray. “They get to live their baseball dream through me. They’ve traveled and supported me through all these years.

“It makes me happy to make them proud.”

Billy Gray played high school baseball at Columbus North and Jordan Gray at Columbus East. 

From 12 to 17, Peyton played travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. Billy was head coach of that team in the early years and Shelbyville’s Terry Kuhn filled that role in the later ones.

Bowling is a big deal in the Gray family. Billy owns Gray’s Pro Shop in Columbus Bowling Center. Jordan is the men’s bowling coach at Marian University in Indianapolis and his fiancee — Jerracah Heibel — is an associate head bowling coach at MU. Billy Gray is a Knights assistant.

Lisa Gray, wife of Billy and mother of Jordan and Peyton, works for Bartholemew County Youth Services Center.

Peyton Gray holds a Criminal Justice degree from Florida Gulf Coast and goes on ride-alongs with police officers during the baseball off-season. He says he sees himself going into some form of law enforcement in the future.

Peyton Gray, of Columbus, Ind., has been a lights-out late-inning baseball pitcher for the independent American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen in 2020. He played at Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2018.

Kansas Jayhawks’ Metcalf wearing Northern Michigan Dune Bears jersey this summer

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Metcalf’s 2020 summer plans had him playing baseball in the Northwoods League with the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was reconfigured and the two-year starting first baseman at the University of Kansas is in Traverse City, Mich., as part of a three-team regional pod.

Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has been assigned to the new Northern Michigan Dune Bears. That team plays games against established Traverse City Pit Spitters and new Great Lakes Resorters at at Turkey Creek Stadium. Players are being housed in cabins at Interlochen Center for the Arts, located between Duck, Geneva and Long lakes and close to Lake Michigan.

“We play every two days,” says Metcalf, who was the designated hitter during a season-opening victory Thursday, July 2 against the Pit Spitters. Former Jackrabbits hitting coach Alex O’Donnell, who played at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and is an assistant at Mercyhurst-North East was made a winner in his managing debut. “I’ve been to the beach a couple of times.”

Before the Kansas season was halted in March, Metcalf appeared in 15 games with 12 starts at first base and hit .244 (10-of-41 with two home runs, two doubles, six walks and 10 runs batted in. He belted his homers against Charleston Southern Feb. 22 and Indiana State March 7.

The Jayhawks, with Ritch Price as head coach and his son Ritchie Price as hitting/infield coach, recruiting coordinator and third base coach, were returning from a series March 10-11 at the University of Iowa when they learned that the Ivy League had canceled its season.

“We practiced the next day and the coaches told us it was not looking good,” says Metcalf. 

Soon after that, the season was canceled and campus was closed. Metcalf finished his spring semester classes via computer back in Granger, Ind.

“I was trying to learn accounting online,” says Metcalf, who is working toward a major in Sport Management with a minor in Business. “I got it done.”

The son of Dave and Leslie Metcalf and brother of Lexie Metcalf quarantined for about a month then began going to the Harris Township fields for daily batting practice with Penn classmate Niko Kavadas, who completed his third season at Notre Dame in 2020. 

Metcalf also resumed lessons with Mike Marks at his Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and began mowing lawns with the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation. 

“I wasn’t super-confident about the summer (baseball season),” says Metcalf, who was told June 15 to report to Traverse City, which is about 250 miles due north of Granger. “Now I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.”

Metcalf expects to split his time with the Dune Bears between DH, first base and catcher.

Last summer he played for the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats of the MINK (Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska-Kansas) Collegiate League. He was named to the all-star team and finished second in the home run derby at St. Joseph, Mo., even though he belted 32 total homers in three rounds.

At Kansas in 2019, Metcalf appeared in 44 games (27 starts) and hit .256 (30-of-117) with four homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs.

The summer of 2018 had him in the Expedition League with the Western Nebraska Pioneers.

As a Jayhawk freshman, Metcalf got into 14 games (one as a starter) and hit .077 (1-for-14) with one RBI.

Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn, Metcalf was a career .379 hitter while earning all-state and District Player of the Year recognition and being named to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior. 

Metcalf was on the High Honor Roll four times. The Kingsmen won four Northern Indiana Conference and IHSAA sectional titles, three regionals, two semistates and a Class 4A state championship (he scored two runs in a 3-2 win against Terre Haute North Vigo in 2015). The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder also played football at Penn.

What’s the difference between high school and college baseball?

“It’s the faster pace,” says Metcalf. “It’s how good every single player is. You have to prepare for every single game like it’s a big game — even the mid-week ones. 

“It’s fun, but hard work.”

Metcalf, a righty swinger, sees his power and his ability to hit to all fields as his strengths as a hitter.

“Hitting veto — guys that throw in the low to mid-90’s — means having quick hands,” says Metcalf. “You need to have a short, steady stroke. (The pitcher) will provide the power.”

From his 7U to 14U summer, Metcalf played travel baseball for the Granger Cubs. Teammates included Kavadas, Trevor Waite, Matt Kominkiewicz and Tony Carmola.

He played for Penn’s summer team after his first two high school campaigns then one summer each with the Eric Osborn-coached Indiana Nitro (17U) and Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U). Prior to his senior year, he played for the Kevin Christman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.

Nolan Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has spent three baseball seasons at the University of Kansas. This summer he is with the Northern Michigan Dune Bears of the Northwoods League, playing all his games in Traverse City, Mich. (University of Kansas Image)

Westfield assistant Van Skike accentuates confidence factor

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Confidence and self-assurance was valued by Jason Van Skike as a baseball player and are traits emphasized by him as a coach.

“Baseball is a great teacher of things that happen in your life,” says Van Skike, the second-year pitching coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School. “You focus on the things you can control. There are three things we talk about everyday — work ethic, attitude and confidence.

“You can’t make up for a lost day,” says Van Skike. “You want to always go to bed at night knowing you put in your best effort.”

That’s work ethic.

“You have a choice to have a good attitude or a bad attitude,” says Van Skike. “It’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to get better.

“If you believe good things are going to happen, good things tend to happen. If you believe bad things are going to happen, bad things tend to happen.”

That’s attitude.

“My job is to make sure (Westfield pitchers) feel that they are the absolute man,” says Van Skike. “That’s all do-able if they’ve done the things they need to do on the days leading to (the game appearance).”

That’s confidence.

Van Skike, who turned 31 in April, was a right-handed pitcher at Gig Harbor (Was.) High School, Treasure Valley Community College (Ontario, Ore.) and Indiana State University before the Chicago White Sox system and the independent professional Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. He has coached for Federal Way (Was.) High School, the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits and Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College.

Rick Heller, who is now head coach at the University of Iowa, was ISU head coach when Van Skike was in Terre Haute. Heller had him join the Sycamores after seeing the righty at a sophomore showcase while he was at Treasure Valley.

“(Heller) would preach ‘chest out; a lot of confidence,’” says Van Skike. “I would hear that all the time. I found out that body language plays into the game. If you can trick yourself into thinking you’re the man, you might be the man.

“(Heller) was always talking about body language and confidence.”

Van Skike says it was not until the end of his college career that this lesson really began to sink in.

“I was an excuse maker,” says Van Skike. “If I walked a guy, it wasn’t my fault.”

Tyler Herbst, who is now an assistant at Iowa Western Community College (Council Bluffs, Iowa), was Indiana State’s pitching coach when Van Skike was there.

“(Herbst) made me feel comfortable,” says Van Skike. “He didn’t try to change too much of what I was.”

Herbst went on to help steer Sean Manaea, who is now in the majors.

“He was a baby giraffe at Indiana State and didn’t know how to pitch,” says Van Skike of Manaea.

Van Skike had come a long way by the time he pitched for the Sycamores.

He entered Gig Harbor, he was 5-foot-5 and maybe 135 pounds. He didn’t make the varsity squad until he was a senior.

“They kept me around since I had a sense of urgency,” says Van Skike, who played for Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pete Jansen. “I ran on and off the field. I needed to in order to stand out.”

By the time he was a senior, he had began to fill out and stood 6-3.

He went to Treasure Valley, where Rick Baumann was head coach, with a fastball clocked at 78-82 mph. That’s when he began showing up an hour early for practice every day to do a towel drill. By the end of the fall, he was up to 84 mph. During indoor workouts, he was sitting at 83-86. On a nice day, the team went outside and he was at 88-91 and he was able to sustain that speed.

“I made a 10 mph jump in a four- to five-month span,” says Van Skike. “I needed those extra reps.”

Extra reps is what Van Skike got in junior college, where there is less restriction on the amount of times players and coaches can spend working on the game.

“I loved every moment of it,” says Van Skike of the juco diamond life. “You spend so many hours with your teammates and coaches. You build that brotherhood. Reflecting back, junior college baseball was the most fun for me.”

Van Skike sings the praises of junior college because it also offers a chance to develop. A juco player might get 60 at-bats in the fall between games and scrimmages and around 200 more in the spring. By the end of their sophomore year, they’ve gotten almost 500 at-bats and that doesn’t count summer ball.

Van Skike says a D-I player who does not crack the lineup as a freshman and sophomore — which is often the case — might go into their junior year with less than 100 career at-bats.

“You’ve got to play,” says Van Skike. “You’ve got to get game experience.”

Van Skike left college in 2011 unsure of his baseball future. Scout Mike Shirley (now amateur scouting director) brought him to Madison County for a workout and signed him to a White Sox contract as an undrafted free agent. He hustled to Bristol, Va., of the Appalachian League and picked up an extra-inning victory in his first outing.

His pitching coach at Bristol was Larry Owens, now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.

“(Owens) simplified the game for me,” says Van Skike.

Through 2013, Van Skike appeared in 73 games (64 as a reliever) and went 10-8 with a 3.18 earned run average in 150 2/3 innings. He was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 74 innings at Advanced Class-A Winston-Salem in 2013.

“(Winston-Salem pitching coach) J.R. Perdew was a tremendous help,” says Van Skike. “He told me things I had never thought about before.

“The more simple you can keep baseball the better off you’re going to be.”

Perdew is now the White Sox assistant pitching coordinator.

Van Skike learned to use a cut fastball to be effective against left-handed hitters.

He had a six-month lease on an apartment in St. Louis and expected to be in spring training in 2014 when he was released by the White Sox. He went to live with his parents — Ike and Cathy Van Skike — in Arizona and got a job delivering pizzas. Not having a steady catch partner, he threw into a chain link fence. Occasionally, he would work out with a high school team and they had no trouble hitting his deliveries.

Still, an invitation was extended in Wichita. Even though he did not have a stellar spring training with the Wingnuts, he had enough of a resume on affiliated ball to keep him. The 2014 season saw him start 26 games and got 12-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 110 innings. He started the American Association All-Star Game and helped Wichita win the league title.

It tended to be very breezy out to left field in Wichita. Van Skike used it to his advantage.

“A lot of hitters get big egos when the wind blows,” says Van Skike. “I made my living down and away (to right-handed hitters) and got roll-overs to the shortstop.”

The 2015 campaign was not as successful (7-8, 4.89 in 116 innings) and Van Skike retired as a player.

“Getting into college coaching is extremely difficult,” says Van Skike. He went with friend Arlo Evasick, the head coach at Federal Way and the Eagles qualified for the 2016 state tournament.

That summer, Van Skike ended up back in Indiana on the coaching staff of Jackrabbits manager Matt Howard, who is now head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo.

Van Skike was starting to prepare for a chance to play pro ball in Australia when Heller let him know about an opportunity in Des Moines.

“I got extremely lucky,” says Van Skike.

David Pearson was hired as DMACC head coach and soon hired Van Skike as an assistant. The two had to dismantle the roster after the first season and went into the second year (2018) with mostly freshmen.

Near the end of that season, Van Skike began to examine his relationship with baseball.

“It consumed my life and I missed a lot of family events (as a player),” says Van Skike. “I began missing those again as a college coach.

“I need more of a balance. I didn’t know what that was at the time.”

Through a fortunate sequence of events, Van Skike moved to central Indiana and wound up taking a job as an Edward Jones financial advisor in Westfield.

He was at the right place at the right time since Westfield High School head coach Ryan Bunnell was also looking to fill a slot for a pitching coach.

“I’m still heavily involved with baseball and I can still be around my family and friends,” says Van Skike. “That’s what I was searching for.

“I’m extremely lucky I’m at Westfield.”

The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic took away the 2020 season.

“We had an extremely talented group,” says Van Skike of a Shamrocks team that received votes in the Class 4A preseason poll. “We could’ve won state. But there’s nothing we can do to control it.

“It’s an awkward time for these seniors,” says Van Skike. “They almost don’t want to hear about baseball.

“It’s still a little tender.

“We’ve been talking with juniors and saying let’s do it next year for these seniors (in 2021). They shouldn’t complain one day. Don’t ever take things for granted.”

To help fill the baseball void, Van Skike and Bunnell talk about the game almost daily. They are also involved in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Zoom video conference instructional meetings on Thursday nights.

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Jason Van Skike is a financial advisor at Edwards Jones and the pitching coach at Westfield High School, both in Westfield, Ind. The graduate of Gig Harbor High School in Washington  pitched at Treasure Valley Community College Oregon and Indiana State University as well as in the Chicago White Sox organization and in independent professional baseball. (Edwards Jones Photo)

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Westfield (Ind.) High School varsity baseball coaches in 2020 include (from left): assistant Bill Lindley, head coach Ryan Bunnell and assistant Jason Van Skike. Shamrocks pitchers are led by Van Skike, who played collegiately at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon and Indiana State University and professionally in the Chicago White Sox system and with the independent Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. (Westfield High School Photo)

 

Northridge, Evansville graduate Troyer to play independent pro baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Troyer has changed his swing to add more power and he’s taking it into pro baseball.

A graduate of Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind. (2015), and the University of Evansville (2019), Troyer has been added to the roster of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League’s Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers. The USPBL plays all its games at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Mich., a northern suburb of Detroit.

“I’m super-excited about going there,” says Troyer, a righty-swinging third baseman/shortstop. “I know I can get signed to an affiliated club.”

Since getting his business management degree in May 2019, Troyer has been splitting his time between work and honing his game. Joined by former Jimtown High School and Ball State University pitcher Nick Floyd, training is done in a friend’s barn. Troyer also works out with the Northridge team.

Troyer has been traveling regularly to the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon, Mo., to work with hitting coach Kevin Graham, whose son, Kevin, was the 2018 Gatorade Missouri Player of the Year and now plays at the University of Mississippi.

“He’s the best hitting coach I’ve ever had,” says Troyer of the elder Graham.

Troyer met Graham through Ben Bailey, Troyer’s former Indiana Chargers travel baseball coach who now lives in Missouri.

Bailey, Joel Mishler and George Hofsommer founded the Chargers. Troyer played for the organization from 13 to 18, missing his 17U summer for Tommy John surgery.

“I considered (Bailey and Mishler) both my mentors,” says Troyer. “They’ve been there, done that

they have their connections.

“They know what they’re talking about.”

Troyer attended various tryout camps that went nowhere then in January and February, he went to Palm Springs to play in the California Winter League, a showcase for unsigned players. He impressed former big leaguer Von Joshua and the Birmingham Bloomfield manager invited him to join his club. Joshua was a coach for the 1993 South Bend (Ind.) White Sox.

USPBL spring training is scheduled for April 25-May 7 in Utica. The Beavers’ first game is slated for May 9.

Troyer appeared and started in all 53 games for Evansville as a senior in 2019, batting .249 with two home runs, 11 doubles, 25 runs batted in and 27 runs scored. He also stole 21 bases in 25 attempts. He usually hit first or second in the order to take advantage of his speed.

“I was getting on base and creating opportunities for everybody else to drive in runs,” says Troyer.

As a junior in 2018, Troyer played in 42 games (40 as a starter) and hit .220 with two homers, four doubles, 16 walks and 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts.

Wes Carroll is head coach for the Purple Aces.

“He’s very knowledgeable with an extensive background,” says Troyer of Carroll. “He made it to Triple-A.

“He brought a lot of energy, which I like.”

To get Evansville ready for the Missouri Valley Conference, Evansville played teams like Vanderbilt, Indiana, Boston College, Creighton, Florida Gulf Coast and Iowa.

Troyer chose Evansville after two years at Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill.

“It was my best scholarship,” says Troyer, who had a friend sell him on the academics at UE. “I enjoyed my two years (at Rend Lake).”

Troyer played for the Warriors in 2016 and 2017. Tony Etnier was his head coach his freshmen year and Rend Lake player and strength coach Tyler O’Daniel took over the program his sophomore season.

Etnier offered Troyer a full ride on his first day and O’Daniel was high energy.

“The thing I loved about going to Rend Lake, the competition out of high school was no joke,” says Troyer. “I immediately got better. It turns you from a boy into a man real quick.

“(The Great Rivers Athletic Conference with John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley) is one of the better junior college conferences in the country.”

As a sophomore at Rend Lake, Troyer was hit by a pitch 22 times and ranked second among National Junior College Athletic Association Division I players in that category.

In two seasons at Rend Lake, he hit .285 with two homers, 59 stolen bases and was hit by 41 pitches.

Summers during Troyer’s college career were spent with the Great Lakes League’s Richmond (Ind.) Jazz in 2016, briefly with the Norhwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) Moondogs and then-Prospect League’s Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits in 2017 and South Florida Collegiate League’s Pompano Beach Clippers in 2018.

At 15 and 16, Troyer trained with former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley.

Troyer helped Northridge to the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional title while playing for head coach Andrew Brabender.

“He’s intense, but in a good way,” says Troyer of Brabender. “He brought out the best in me.

“He was able to mold me to be ready for college.”

Troyer earned four letters for the Raiders and hit .429 with seven homers and 35 stolen bases as a senior while earning team MVP and best bat awards. He was a two-time all-Northern Lakes Conference honoree and was named all-state and to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series (The North swept the three-game series in Terre Haute in 2015).

As an NHS sophomore, Troyer played alongside two future NCAA Division I players in Shannon Baker and Brock Logan.

Sam is the third of Steve and Shanna Troyer’s four children. Sean Troyer was not an athlete. Scot Troyer played baseball and football in high school. Sara Troyer is currently a diver at the University of Nebraska. In the recent Big Ten meet, she placed fifth in the 3-meter and 10th in the 1-meter.

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Sam Troyer, a graduate of Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind. (2015) and the University of Evansville (2019), is to play in the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League. He is a righty-swinging third baseman and shortstop. (University of Evansville Photo)