Tag Archives: L.V. Phillips

West Terre Haute ‘good guy’ Lucas continues to learn the pro baseball life

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Lucas wants to move up to the big leagues just like any other Triple-A baseball player.

Lucas is not like every minor leaguer in the way he involves himself with the community.

The West Terre Haute, Ind., native is known to spend hours signing autographs or visiting children in the hospital. He has done it as he’s moved up the chain in the Cleveland Indians organization and he does it as a catcher/first baseman for the International League’s Columbus Clippers.

“It’s always good for me to get a perspective and worry less about my problems,” says Lucas, who plans to get even more involved in the community as he and wife Kelsey (the couple was married in Terre Haute in December 2016 and former Indiana State University teammates were part of the wedding party) spend the off-season in Columbus.

On the field, Lucas is soaking up as much knowledge as he can while making the most of his chances as a bench player. Through games of July 20, the sixth-year professional has appeared in 16 games during the 2017 season. He appeared in four games for Columbus after 95 with Double-A Akron in 2016.

“There’s a lot to learn,” says Lucas, 26. “There’s lot of veteran guys here. I see how other guys go about their business.”

Lucas began learning the business in 2012. After earning ISU’s first Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award in the spring of ’12, he was taken by the Indians in 12th round of that summer’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his first pro stop in the New York-Penn League at Mahoning Valley.

A catcher much of his baseball life, Lucas has learned to play other places on the diamond.

“Once you start moving up in levels, versatility is a big thing,” says Lucas. “When I get my opportunities, I need to take advantage of them.

“I just try to go about my work the same everyday. I catch bullpens, take BP, do whatever I can keep up with the speed of the day, which can be difficult when you’re not playing everyday.”

Even used on the mound five times this season, Lucas is 1-0 as a pitcher.

Lucas was a West Terre Haute Little League all-star prior to high school, played with various travel baseball teams including the Indiana Bulls and one summer for Terre Haute American Legion Post 346.

The 2009 West Vigo High School graduate played his prep baseball for Steve DeGroote, a 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee.

“He taught me a lot of things about the game and lot of things about life,” Lucas says of DeGroote. “He was one of the most inspirational guys I’ve had in my career along with my dad (Mike Lucas).

“It was an honor that I got to play for (Coach DeGroote). I owe a lot of what I am now.

You knew what he wanted out of his players. He treated us like men even though some of us might not have been yet.

“He taught us how to play the game right. He was all about being a good person.”

Lucas fondly recalls his final high school season and how DeGroote pushed the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish with Lucas being named L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner.

“Every year he would tell us the same thing: This is the best team I’ve ever had on paper,” says Lucas. “My senior year — the best year we’ve ever had in West Vigo history — he never once said it. He was harder on us that year than any of my four years. He was hard on us. But he knew we had a special team and he wasn’t going to take it easy on us. He wasn’t going to let us get big heads.”

Lucas remembers the 2009 team showing up at the school each morning at 6:30 and working to get better even after the regular season was underway.

Mike Lucas, an accountant and lawyer in Terre Haute, has also taught work ethic to his ball-playing son.

“Nothing’s going to be given to you. You have to go out and take it,” says Jeremy of his father’s advice. “I wouldn’t be where I am today with all my dad’s done for me.

“He’s always been there for me.”

Lucas played three years of college baseball at ISU in Terre Haute. Then-Sycamores head coach Rick Heller (now head coach at the University of Iowa) taught his standout receiver about being a good teammate.

It is a lesson he practices in pro baseball, where things are very competitive at the upper levels with players fighting for playing time and the right to move up.

Lucas says it took him some time to adjust to the team dynamic in the minors.

“What I’ve learned is if you’re making your teammates better and you’re making yourself better, that’s the best of both worlds,” says Lucas. “I’ve been on teams that don’t have a lot of guys that do that and I been on teams that do

“It’s a lot more enjoyable when all the guys have the same mindset.”

The nature of Triple-A baseball is plenty of roster moves caused by injuries, trades and on-field performance. That’s given Lucas a chance to meet new faces and to begin pulling with that player.

“When guys move up or down, they just fit right in,” says Lucas. “It’s about being a good teammate and being a good guy.”

JEREMYLUCAS

Jeremy Lucas, a 2009 West Vigo High School graduate, began his professional baseball career in 2012 and his now at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland Indians organization. (Columbus Clippers Photo)

 

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Ginder expects Carroll Chargers to be tough out at tournament time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s been six years since Fort Wayne Carroll stood at Victory Field in Indianapolis celebrating back-to-back IHSAA state baseball championships.

The Chargers beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 in 2010 with Ross O’Neill as L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award recipient and Cathedral 5-3 in 2011.

Carroll head coach Dave Ginder and his staff have used those teams as an example to the Charger teams that followed.

That includes 2017, which is the 15th season for Ginder setting the tone.

“We were fortunate enough to do it two years in a row which was an incredible experience and memories,” says Ginder. “We talk about those kids and how they approached the game a lot to our kids right now.”

With a single-elimination tournament format, Ginder takes nothing for granted while keeping the goal of returning to the State Finals.

“A lot of coaches around the state can say they have a team that can win a state title. To say they’re expecting to is pretty tough to do. We want to continue to develop through the season in hopes that we’re a tough out in May and June.

“Somebody’s going to have got play pretty well to beat us. That’s the goal. But we tell our kids, it’s never easy to advance.”

Carroll, an independent during the regular season, will play in the five-team Class 4A DeKalb Sectional with DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Northrop and Fort Wayne Snider.

The Chargers are off to a 12-3 start in ’17, pushing Ginder’s career victory total to 327.

Since Ginder’s first season as a head coach (2003), Carroll has won eight sectionals, four regionals and two semistates besides the two state titles.

Ginder, a 1991 Carroll graduate, played for Chris Adams at CHS and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University before coming back to be on Adams’ staff.

In Adams, Ginder learned what it meant to be detail-oriented.

“He was very thorough in teaching the game,” says Ginder. “I picked up a lot of details from Chris.

“He got the program started in the direction it’s going today.”

With Brandon, it was his approach with student-athletes.

“It was just the way he talked with kids and treated them with respect and was honest with them,” says Ginder. “This is where I see you fit in our program.”

Ginder’s assistant coaches are Brett Windmiller (15th season), Chad Kohli (eighth season) and Jason Lantz (seventh season) at the varsity level with Andy McNanama (second season) and Jon Timmerman (first season) lead the JV squad. Windmiller is the hitting coach and Kohli the pitching coach.

“I don’t feel like we’ve been effected by the pitching rules,” says Ginder. “We’ve always kept track of pitches and tried to manage kids. We keep them fresh and not overuse them. We haven’t pushed anybody over 100 pitches this spring. Come tournament time who knows what happens?”

Dan Jones is in his first season as Carroll’s strength and conditioning coach.

“I’ve been blessed with tremendous coaches,” says Ginder. “The guys in the dugout I can trust. They’e been with me a long time.

“We’ve had stability. We know each other well and the kids know what to expect. That consistency has been important.”

Ginder is a familiar name in the Fort Wayne athletic and education community.

Math teacher Dave’s father Phil Ginder taught and coached girls basketball at Fort Wayne Northrop and ran Huntertown Lions Club Youth League.

Brother Park Ginder is a former Northrop baseball head coach. Before that, he was a Bruins assistant under Hall of Famer Chris Stavreti and is now principal at Homestead High School.

Twin brother Dan Ginder was an assistant with Park at Northrop and Dave at Carroll and is now athletic director for the Chargers. The twins both played at Anderson U. and then independent pro baseball with the Anderson Lawmen.

Carroll, which has sent many players off to college, does not have a structured feeder system though players come through the Huntertown Lions and Wallen youth leagues and various travel organizations.

Ginder laments that the size and importance of local youth leagues have dwindled around the state and the country over the years.

“Everyone’s got a travel team,” says Ginder. “It has diluted travel baseball, too. Their son may not be not as elite as mom and dad think they are. House ball would be just fine

“The days of house ball picking an all-star team and going to some tournaments as a town and a community are rare anymore. There’s good and bad to everything, but I think there was some good in keeping kids together.”

To keep Carroll baseball in the minds of players and parents, the high school stages camps and a fall league.

“Hopefully, those little guys will want to be Chargers someday,” says Ginder.

This spring, Carroll is carrying 37 players between its varsity and JV squads.

“High school baseball is a short season,” says Ginder. “Playing time is tough. Cuts are not fun for anybody. We’re cutting 30, 40 kids who want to play. We make some tough decisions and there’s some disappointed kids. Unfortunately, there’s not enough space for everybody.”

DAVEGINDER

Dave Ginder, in his 15th season as head baseball coach at Fort Wayne Carroll High School, already has more than 300 wins and two state championships on his resume.

On the occasion of his 300th win, Elkhart Central’s Stutsman reflects on his career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Steve Stutsman had a sweet moment Saturday, May 6.

Elkhart Central beat visiting Angola 5-0 in the second game of a high school baseball doubleheader, giving Stutsman the 300th victory of his coaching career.

Stutsman and his team enjoyed cake and cupcakes to mark the moment then the man reflected on the “program” that brought him this special day.

“I’ve had great players, great coaches and great parents,” says Stutsman. “It’s an honor to get to 300 victories and someone helped in every one of those along the way.”

That includes former assistants like Scott Rost (now head coach at Elkhart Memorial), Andrew Brabender (head coach at Northridge who picked up his 200th career win earlier this season), Jim Treadway (former head coach at Concord and the long-time Bristol American Legion Post 143 manager) plus solid baseball men like Dave Hicks, Jimmy Malcom, Mike Doherty and Pat Doherty and on and on.

“Being part of the program. That’s what it’s all about,” says Stutsman. “It’s not me. Kids come and go. Parents come and go. You’ve got to have one thing and that’s the program. That’s what I’ve tried to build here.”

After serving two years as assistant to Randy Miller as he was ending his second head coaching stint with the Blue Blazers, Stutsman took over in 1996.

“I thought I had a good 20 years in me,” says Stutsman, 64. “I got the job kind of late in life in my late 30’s, early 40’s.

“I’m in my 22nd year and I feel better than when I first started.”

Stutsman, a 1971 Concord High School graduate, leads a 2017 team full of veterans players.

“They’re just a great group of kids,” says Stutsman. “They are young men who really play well together. They listen to you. They try to correct the things we ask them to correct.”

Stutsman sees a collection of young athletes that genuinely like each other and play loose.

“I said to them a couple of weeks ago that I’d rather have a team that has great team chemistry than two or three superstars on the team,” says Stutsman. “I really believe that.”

In 2013, Stutsman was part of an IHSAA Class 4A state championship celebration with a squad that beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0.

Those Blazers featured Indiana Mr. Baseball Tanner Tully (the left-hander homered and fanned 13 batters to the title game and is now at Low Class-A in the Cleveland Indians organization) plus L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner Matt Eppers (now a senior center fielder at Ball State), Cory Malcom (a successful senior right-handed starting pitcher at Arkansas-Little Rock) and Riley Futterknecht (who is wrapping up a strong college career as a left-handed hurler at DePauw).

“That was a great group, too,” says Stutsman. “They liked each other and played well together.

“Championships are awesome and people ask me, ‘why didn’t you retire after you won (in 2013)?’ and I said, “Because I’m still having fun. I still enjoy what I’m doing. I still enjoy watching them go on after high school to college or into a profession and be successful citizens. That — for me — is what coaching is all about.”

Since 1996, Central has won four sectionals (2001, 2011, 2012, 2013) with the one regionals semistate and one state title in 2013.

Stutsman’s “associate head coach” is Steve Asbury, who is in his 14th season on the Blazers staff.

“It’s scary because he knows what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking,” says Stutsman. “He has his responsibilities and he does them really well. It’s like I don’t have to tell him what to do.”

Lonnie Weatherholt and Chad O’Brien been with Stutsman for a decade. Brandon Squibb joined the cohesive varsity staff a few seasons ago. The junior varsity is led by Bodie Bender and longtime assistant Paul Bates (son Devin Prater played for the ’13 state champions).

“It’s nice to have your friends for your assistant coaches,” says Stutsman. “We really work well together.

“I feel like I’m just the head of the whole program and I let my assistants go and do their own thing.”

Stutsman has accomplished much of what he has without the feeder program that many Indiana schools enjoy. There is no junior high baseball in Elkhart and the local Little League parks send players on to various high schools.

Travel baseball is firmly established in the area and Stutsman knows it and accepts it — with a caveat.

“As long as they’re playing baseball and as long as I can trust the travel ball coach to make sure their arms are taken care of, I have no problem,” says Stutsman. “I think it’s good they play under different coaching philosophies.

“But when they hit high school, they know from January until the end of May they are Central ballplayers. I take great pride in making sure that the boys know that.”

Going back to the split of Elkhart High School into Central and Memorial, beginning in 1972-73, there have only been three head baseball coaches at Central — Miller (twice), Mike Lutz and Stutsman.

“I’m really proud of that,” Stutsman said. “If I could, if there’s a merger (and one is planned in 2020-21), I want to hang on until the merger and be the last Central baseball coach.”

Talk about the split has been on the lips of many Elkhartans for the past 44 years. Stutsman is no different.

“Selfishly, I’d like to see what we could do with one school,” says Stutsman. “There have been numerous years that had Central and Memorial been combined we could have went down to State. I don’t know if we could have won it all, but we could have been down there quite often.

“But that’s not why I coach. I coach for the kids and seeing them improve and making them into young adults.”

Stutsman also takes took him up on his invitation in the ‘90s to resurrect the Bristol American Legion Post 143 baseball program that was dormant for a short time after being originally started by Lutz.

“(Treadway) has done a great job and he’s taken a lot of our Central boys with the Bristol Legion,” says Stutsman.

Post 143 played its home game at Rice Field (the former varsity and current Central JV field) before moving around to various facilities and returns to that diamond in 2017.

A former Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association president, Stutsman sees two highlights of his time in a leadership role.

“There’s better communication with coaches throughout the state (mostly via email and newsletters),” says Stutsman. “The pitch count (rule) that we’re doing now was needed. I know it’s a struggle with the smaller schools to find pitchers, but its good to limit the pitches.

“(The IHSBCA) does a great job. I only joined one union and that’s it.”

STEVESTUTSM AN300WINS

Steve Stutsman celebrates his 300th career coaching victory with his 2017 Elkhart Central High School baseball team after the Blue Blazers beat visiting Angola 5-0 in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday, May 6. Stutsman’s first season as ECHS head coach was 1996. (Steve Krah Photo)

While wins keep coming, Jasper’s Gobert keeps it fun

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There used to be a sign near Terry Gobert’s office leading out to Alvin C. Ruxer Field:  “Are you having fun?”

Gobert has coached Jasper High School to five state baseball championships (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006), three runner-up finishes (2010, 2013, 2015) with 11 State Finals appearances since taking over the program in 1988.

The Wildcats also made it in 1986 with Gobert in his first season as an assistant to Ray Howard.

To put it lightly, Jasper has been winners — more than 700 times — with Gobert running the show.

All the while, he reminds himself to enjoy the journey.

“If you followed our program in the spring to the end of the year, you’re going to see kids pushed like they’ve never been pushed,” says Gobert. “But you’re also going to see humor like you’re never seen humor. You want to make it fun for the kids and also for yourself.

“You catch yourself demanding so much, you forget sometimes they’re kids.”

Winning has been such a constant that there is pressure for players to keep the tradition alive. But it’s not something that Gobert or his assistants — Jason Ahlbrand, Phil Kendall, Jeremy Wolf, Jeff Zink and Eric Dall — harp on.

“We push for excellence, we don’t push for W’s,” says Gobert. “But it’s there and the kids feel it. It’s not something I stress.

“With a single-elimination tournament in a sport like baseball, there are so many things that can happen. We play seven innings. You can have 21 hard-hit balls and nothing to show for it. You can have five bloops and win a state title … A good coach understands you can play well and lose.”

In Jasper’s last two state championship game appearances, the Cats came away a 2-1 loss to Norwell in 2013 and 2-1 loss to Andrean in 2015.

How high are the expectations in this baseball-crazed southern Indiana community?

The day after the ’13 setback, Gobert was back in Jasper pumping gas when he was approached by a citizen saying “this group just didn’t have it.”

“We lost two games that year,” says Gobert. “We lost 2-1 in 11 innings to a kid that got drafted (Mount Vernon-Posey right-hander Cody Mobley) and beat that team in the regional and then we lost to a good Andrean team. To say a team didn’t have it, any other community would be embracing that and they’d be legends. You have to fight that. But I’d rather be somewhere that expects to win than to just accept losing.”

Gobert is proud of the sustained excellence at Jasper, where they have taken 37 sectionals, 25 regionals and 13 semistates. The last season under .500 came back in 1972. Since ’88, the Cats have won 20 or more games 25 times with seven campaigns of at least 30 triumphs. The 2016 squad went 28-4.

Jasper won 265 games with Howard at the helm 1977-87 (the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame director still throws daily batting practice and is a radio analyst on WITZ).

Ken Brelage (1977), Keith Leinenbach (1977), Dan Fuhs (1978), Mark Kunkel (1978), Jerry Alles (1979), Brian Persohn (1979), Joe Birge (1980), Mike Ballenger (1981), Mike Burger (1982), Tim Fehribach (1983), Greg Begle (1983), P.J. Wessel (1984), Rick Rasche (1985) and Todd Krapf (1987) were IHSBCA All-Stars for Howard.

Gobert era All-Stars include Ryan Seidl (1991), Andy Noblitt (1992), Scott Rolen (1993), Aaron Rees (1995), Shawn O’Connor (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Scott Kluesner (1998), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Jimmy Corbin (1999), Neil Giesler (2002), Ben Schmidt (2003), Adam Klatka (2006), Broc Litherland (2006), J.T. Stenftenagel (2007), Andy Binkley (2008), Austin Ahrens (2010), Tory Hall (2011), Dan Giesler (2012), Nick Gobert (2013), Scott Stallwood (2014), Austin Alles (2015), Cal Krueger (2016).

Rolen was Indiana Mr. Baseball and went on the play 17 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds.

Mauck played in the Chicago Cubs system for four seasons.

Wildcats to receive the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award at the State Finals include Phil Rohlehder (1967), Phil Kendall (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Sam Linette (2006), Austin Ahrens (2010), Nick Gobert (2013) and Ben Moore (2015).

“I’m more proud that we can maintain that kind of consistency at a public school for four decades,” says Gobert. “Another thing I love about this, the guys who played for Ray and now having their grandkids play for me. Kids I coached at the beginning, I’m coaching their kids now.”

With the advent of travel ball and sports specialization, Gobert has witnessed change over the decades.

A 1979 Greencastle High School graduate, Gobert lettered in football, basketball and baseball for the Tiger Cubs. He still believes in the multi-sport athlete and had many of those on many of his State Finals squads at Jasper.

An active board member with Jasper Youth Baseball, Gobert pleads with parents every year to let their offspring play multiple sports.

“People say it’s a different world now, but I just don’t buy that,” says Gobert. “Kids and parents today think they’ve got to decide at 10, 11 or 12 years of age, Johnny’s going to concentrate on baseball or whatever sport year-round. I don’t think there’s anything good that comes out of it.

“I tell them not to travel to the length they do. I’d rather have a young boy going to bed wishing he could play more baseball than too much baseball. By the time they get to high school it seems they’ve already traveled and they’re tired of it and want something else. Baseball is one of the worst.”

For those who are chasing the few baseball scholarship dollars that are out there, Gobert has this to say:

“I wish they would total up every penny spent, including gas, vehicles, mileage, tires, hotel, food, equipment, entry fees and the damaging effect on their younger sister who is being drug all across the Midwest summer after summer watching a sport they grew to hate because they had to watch their brother play it from the time he was 7 until 14 or whatever.”

The impact that travel baseball has on the high school season is twofold in the IHSBCA Hall of Famer’s mind — players are tired and there’s also the “pool play” mentality coming into the IHSAA’s one-and-done world.

“A good day is they had three hits,” says Gobert. “The Cats may not have won, but they had three hits.

“Every year we have to work harder and harder.”

Growing up in Greencastle, Gobert could name the 10 boys who dressed on every sectional basketball team from 1970-79.

“It used to mean more just to be on your high school team,” says Gobert. “Now so much in society, if you’re not playing by your freshman or sophomore year on varsity, you’re going to move on to something else.”

As a social studies teacher, Gobert presents lessons about civil rights. But it’s the test scores and the grades that parents want to know about more than what their son or daughter is being taught.

“I don’t want to paint a negative picture,” says Gobert.

Jasper has been successful over the decades because of simplicity.

“Get a good pitch to hit and drive it hard,” says Gobert. “(Son Nick who graduated from Jasper in 2013 and played at the University of Dayton) laughs at how simple we keep things.”

While batting averages are distributed to the media, Gobert is more concerned with the Quality At-Bat chart, which accounts for a batter going deep in the count, hitting the ball hard, moving the runner by hitting to the right side or extending an at-bat to eight or nine pitches before striking out.

“I know in my head who’s hitting and who’s not,” says Gobert. “I know in my head who’s making the plays in practice and that’s where the lineup comes from.

“I couldn’t tell you what the kid’s hitting (for average). I can tell you if I want him up there or not in a tough situation.”

Jasper coaches ask players not to give extra outs while on defense or the waste them on offense.

“We don’t want to extend any inning with errors or whatever,” says Gobert. “We don’t want to get doubled up, picked off or run at the wrong time. We want to put the ball in play and put pressure on the (opposing defense).”

Gobert counts it a bonus that all of members of his staff are full-time teachers and all but Forest Park graduate Zink played for the Cats. All are also basketball coaches for boys or girls, leaving much of the preseason work to Gobert, Howard and Kurt Gutgsell. Pitching coach Kendall played six seasons in the minor leagues with Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers affiliates.

“I value their input,” says Gobert of his assistants. “It’s great on the one hand, they understand the program and the expectations.

“But it’s also good to have new blood or outside perspective. That’s why you go to clinics. That’s why you talk to people and you’re willing to change. We don’t just do things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I also don’t go to the national clinic and throw everything out that we’re doing because some clown says this is the way to hit or this is the way to pitch.”

As for pitching, the new pitch count rule has not caused Jasper to alter its ways.

“We try to develop a good staff and we try to get kids where they can go deep in games,” says Gobert. “There’s no magic number (of pitches). Some kids can pick up a ball and throw all day and other kids need four or five days off.”

Gobert believes that daily throwing — not pitching or throwing breaking balls — is the best way to build arm strength.

Four decades ago, Howard was using a chiropractor to keep his team ready and Jasper now uses former player Dr. Jared Brosmer.

“I put a lot of value in that,” says Gobert. “He can do a test and and tell of the kid’s starting to fatigue.”

Jasper plays in the bi-state Big Eight Conference (with Boonville, Mount Vernon, Princeton, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington in Indiana and Mount Carmel in Illinois) and schedules top-flight competition from all over, many of those team’s coming to Ruxer Field with its 2,900 permanent seats, lights and well-groomed playing surface.

“Our field is one of the most beautiful in the country,” says Gobert. “We take a lot of pride and put a lot of work into our facility.”

TERRYGOBERT

Terry Gobert is in his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jasper High School. He has won five state titles and more than 700 games at the southern Indiana powerhouse.

Closser has Alexandria focused on work ethic, respect for the game

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tigers — in the wild — are known for being focused, determined and patient.

On the baseball field, the Tigers of Alexandria-Monroe High School are expected to display some of these characteristics and more.

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria graduate, is in his 11th season as the Alex Tigers head coach.

“We always play hard (and are focused on) the integrity of the game,” says Closser. “I’m real big on treating the game the way it’s supposed to be treated and teaching the kids life lessons.

“It’s not all about baseball. It’s about learning to get along and deal with life, too.”

Closser wants his young athletes to know about strong work ethic.

“Kids are different hard now,” says Closser. “They think they want to work hard and they really don’t know how. We try to teach that.”

Assistant coaches Jeff Sells, Adam Rusche and Braden Warren are helping the sometimes-intense Closser deliver the message.

“You’ve got to trust your assistants,” says Closser. “You’re going to tell them things don’t want anybody else to know. You want to bounce stuff off their heads. They’ve got to take some stuff, too.

“I’m a pretty uptempo guy and I sometimes get excited. They’ve got to know that some of the things I’m saying to them they’ve got to let go over their head and not take it to heart all the time.”

Closser appreciates it when his younger players who don’t yet know his ways are counseled by the veterans.

“Our older kids will take them off to the side and say, ‘his bark is worse than his bite. Take it for what it’s worth. Listen to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it,’” says Closser. “Sometimes you have to be a dad to (players). Sometimes you have to be a coach to them or a mentor.”

When Closser took over at Alex, he established a junior high team, which mirrors what is being done at the high school and essentially has replaced Babe Ruth baseball in town. Those junior high boys play 20 games in June in the East Central Indiana League.

“I wanted them to start learning what we do at our level so when they come in as freshmen they could be ready,” says Closser. “It’s worked out really well for us.”

With so many three-sport athletes, there is not much travel baseball around Alex.

“I like three-sport athletes,” says Closser. “You don’t have to wonder what they’re doing when they’re not around you.

“I played three sports in high school. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it makes them a better person and more disciplined. You’ve got to have a routine.”

Alexandria, an IHSAA Class 2A school, has won 18, 19, 20, 22 and 16 games in the past five years and was off to a 5-2 start in 2017 despite not having a high team batting average.

“We’ll hang our hats on pitching and defensive this year and being aggressive on the bases,” says Closser. “We bunt; we steal; we hit-and-run. At this point, we have to do that kind of stuff to scratch out some runs.”

Baseball has a strong tradition at Alex. The Tigers have won seven sectional (1974, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1998, 2013, 2016), two regional (1981, 1998), one semistate (1998) and one state championship (1998).

The ’98 team (25-4), coached by Monte Sprague, featured Indiana Mr. Baseball J.D. Closser (Jeff’s son went on to play Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round in 1998 and spending parts of the ’98, ’99 and 2000 minor league seasons with the South Bend Silver Hawks).

“It was fun to just sit back and watch,” says Closser. “They had a great team. It wasn’t just about (J.D.).

“It was fun for the other guys because there were always a lot of scouts around.”

In a 4-3 championship game win against Evansville Mater Dei, Joe Granger, Justin Musick and Mike Clark drove in runs while Granger, Clark, Justin Melton and Mat Blanton scored them. Jim Linder went to distance on the mound with nine strikeouts. J.D. Closser was presented with the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award.

That was the first school year for IHSAA class sports and Alex, coached by Garth Cone, also raised the state championship trophy for 2A boys basketball. Wade Leer, David Potter, Trester Award winner Rusty Garner and J.D. Closser logged the most minutes in the 57-43 title game win against Southwestern (Hanover).

J.D., the oldest of Jeff and Emily Closser’s three children, is coaching in the New York Yankees system. He is the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder (a Double-A affiliate).

Josh Closser played basketball at Alex and graduated in 2000. Jackie (Closser) Novinger graduated in 2003 and went on to play basketball at Butler University. One of her high school teammates was 2005 Indiana Miss Basketball Jodi Howell (who played at Purdue University).

The Tigers have produced eighth Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stars — DeWayne Allen (1981), Dan Overman (1984), Barry Morphew (1986), Dean Morehead (1990), Brian Yeagy (1991), Jeff Urban (1995), J.D. Closser (1998) and Owen Young (2014).

Alex plays in the Central Indiana Conference (with Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). Frankton has been ranked this spring in the IHSBCA Top 10. Each league team plays one another once on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That leaves room for top-notch non-conference competition.

“We like to play a good schedule,” says Closser, who saw Alex host at an early-season tournament featuring defending 2A state champion Providence plus Rossville and Peru. “That puts us ready for the conference and for tournament time.”

JEFFCLOSSER

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Alex Tigers.