Tag Archives: Lafayette Aviators

NAIA RBI leader Bass, Taylor University heading into postseason play

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

T.J. Bass came out of the gate producing at the plate in 2022.
The righty swinger in his fourth baseball season at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., knocked in two run in the Trojans’ campaign-opening win against Kansas Wesleyan in Mesa, Ariz.
Heading into the Crossroads League tournament which begins May 7 at Taylor (note the change because of rain), Bass leads all of NAIA in runs batted in with 84.
Besides that, he’s hitting .382 (71-of-186) with 19 home runs, 14 doubles, 51 runs scored and a 1.254 OPS (.491 on-base percentage plus .763 slugging average).
“I need to start by giving credit to the guys batting before me,” says Bass of his big RBI total. “It seems like I come up with two or three guys on every time.”
Bass, who looks to be aggressive and barrel the ball up on the first good pitch he sees per at-bat, has been used by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould primarily in the No. 3 spot in the batting order with a few games in the 2-hole. He’s often found senior Nick Rusche (.337 with 63 hits) and freshman Kaleb Kolpein (.403 with 77 hits) — and for awhile — sophomore Camden Knepp (.282 with 44 hits)— reaching base before him. Rusche prepped at New Palestine (Ind.) High School, Kolpein at Homestead (Fort Wayne) and Knepp at Northridge (Middelbury).
“The back half the lineup has also been pretty good,” says Bass, a 2018 graduate of Greenwood (Ind,) Community.
Of his 19 homers, Bass has clouted three grand slams (vs. Reinhardt in Waleska, Ga., vs. Olivet Nazarene in Athens, Tenn., and vs. Indiana Wesleyan in Upland), four three-run bombs, seven two-run dingers and five solo shots. The enjoyed two-homer games against Reinhardt and Mount Vernon Nazarene.
Bass belted 14 circuit clouts in Crossroads League regular-season play.
Taylor (36-16) is the No. 2 seed in the eight-team Crossroads League tournament. Regular-season champion Mount Vernon Nazarene is No. 1.
The turf at Winterholter Field will also be the site of an NAIA Opening Round May 16-19.
“It’s incredible,” says Bass of playing at the facility located in the heart of the TU campus that was resurfaced after the 2021 season. “Coach Gould takes huge pride in how the field looks and it’s awesome to see so many fans come out.”
Bass has started in all 52 of the Trojans’ games in 2022, mostly in center field or right field. But he’s also been used as a catcher and first baseman. During his college career, he’s played everywhere but the middle infield and on the mound.
“It’s wherever the team needs me most based on who’s healthy if we need an offensive day or a defensive day,” says Bass. “Coach Gould does a good job of looking at Synergy in scouting teams.”
Taylor players watch videos of opposing hitters and pitchers to study their strengths weaknesses.
At 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, Bass has gotten physically stronger and faster since arriving on-campus thanks to off-season programs led by assistant coach Justin Barber as well as Gould.
When Bass arrived at Taylor in 2018-19, Josh Lane and Wyatt Whitman were seniors.
“They they were both huge role models taking a freshman and hour and a half from home under their wings,” says Bass. “They took the strain off.”
Bass was asked how they could help and if they could pray for him.
When Whitman moved on and acted jersey No. 11, Bass took it.
It was also during his first year at Taylor that Bass was undecided on a major. He landed on Elementary Education.
A camp counselor at a community recreation center since his junior year of high school and the son of high school teacher (Andy Bass) and pre-kindergarten teacher (Jenni Bass) with other educators on both sides of the family, T.J. sees that as a natural career path.
“I’ve been around teaching my whole life,” says Bass. “I really love to be able to work with kids and I like getting to know them and finding their interests.
“It didn’t feel like I would do as well with secondary (students). God was calling me to work with elementary.”
Andy Bass teaches Algebra II and Geometry at Greenwood Community, where he has been head baseball coach since 1998. Jenni Bass ran her own daycare for more than a decade and now works at Waverly Elementary School in the Mooresville corporation.
Timothy James Bass, 22, is the oldest of Andy and Jenni’s four kids. Sam Bass is two years younger than T.J. and living and working in Fort Wayne. Mary Bass is a Greenwood Community freshman. Claire Bass is a sixth grader in the Mooresville system.
T.J. was born and raised in Greenwood and played Little League baseball there. Around fifth grade, he played with the traveling Johnson County Jaguars. The summers following his freshman and sophomore years were spent with the Indiana Bulls. The next summer he played for the Indiana Nitro then was with Demand Command right before and right after his freshman year at Taylor.
Bass did not play during the COVID-19 summer of 2020. In 2021, he split his time between the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
With an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, Bass plans to come back for a fifth season at Taylor in 2023. He expects to do his student teaching this fall.

T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)
T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)

T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)
T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)

Craig provides punch for Evansville Purple Aces

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

Tanner Craig has provided a productive bat for the University of Evansville baseball team since the 2018 season.
The righty swinger sports a batting average of .294 (128-of-435) with 18 home runs, 28 doubles, 76 runs batted in, 60 runs scored and an .859 OPS (.372 on-base percentage plus 487 slugging average) in 116 games.
In 2021, the 6-foot, 220-pound first baseman played in 54 contests (all starts) and hit .299 (60-of-201) with 12 homers, 14 doubles, 47 RBIs, 31 runs and a .929 OPS (.382/.547).
Thanks to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility when the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season — one in which he was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Week and Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week after slugging four homers in a season-openojvng series at Tennessee Tech — Craig is back for a fifth season with the Purple Aces in 2022.
What title best fits Craig as an offensive player?
“I would say I’m a power hitter,” says Craig, 22. “It’s role I’ve played at Evansville and other teams I’ve been on.”
Aces head coach Wes Carroll tabbed Craig as his regular No. 3 hole hitter in 2021.
“I just try to hit the ball hard every time,” says Craig. “I look for a pitch in the part of the (strike) zone I know I can hit it well and swing hard.”
While Craig has seen some exit velocity data, it’s not how he and other UE players often gauge their swings.
“With turf we can get on the field anytime we want,” says Craig of German American Bank Field at Charles H. Braun Stadium. “Ball flight — that tells you a lot about your swing.
“We played one game on (home) turf in the COVID year (then 34 in 2021). We’re very lucky to have it. That’s for sure.”
Craig appreciates Carroll for the way he tailors his approach to each player.
“He really cares for all of us as individuals,” says Craig. “He takes the time to learn how to coach us individually. He knows the best way to get to people.”
Carroll can be firmer with Craig because he knows he can hand it. Another player may need to be cajoled.”
Fall practice began Aug. 30, about a week after the first day of class. Individual work is about to wrap up. That will be followed by team practices and scrimmages. While there has been nothing formal, players have been keeping track of which color teams wins most.
The Aces are also slated to play exhibition games Oct, 9 against Western Kentucky University and Oct. 23 against Wabash Valley College — both at Evansville.
Last spring, Craig earned an Accounting degree and is now working toward a Masters of Leadership. He expects to finish the 18-month course in December 2022.
This summer, Craig played for the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. In 26 games, he hit .386 (34-of-88) with 10 homers, seven doubles, 36 RBIs and 19 runs for a team managed by Michael Keeran. The team went a league-best 41-18 during the regular season and lost to the Cape Catfish in the best-of-three championship series.
“It was a great experience,” says Craig. “It’s a beautiful stadium (the new-look Loeb Stadium).
“It was really fun, my time up there.”
Craig was born in Florence, Ky., and grew up in Scottsburg, Ind., where he played Coach Pitch at what is now Scott County Youth League. He played travel ball for the Smithville (Ind.) Gators, Mark Peters-coached Ironmen (13U to 17U) and Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks (18U).
He began attending schools in Austin, Ind., in sixth grade and graduate from Austin High School in 2017. Craig was a shortstop, third baseman and pitcher for Eagles coach Matt Bayes.
“He’s just a good coach,” says Craig of Bayes. “He’s really good at teaching a lot of aspects of the game.”
One of Craig’s teammates was right-handed pitcher Drew Buhr (Austin Class of 2019), who went to Saint Louis University then transferred to Bellarmine University.
Tanner, who turns 23 in December, is the youngest of Samtec production supervisor Todd and Morgan Foods senior buyer Jennifer Craig.
“They’ve been a huge support for me since I’ve started,” says Tanner of his parents. “They’ve always found ways to get me whatever I need. I can count on one hand the number of games my dad has missed in my college career.
“It’s always nice to see a familiar face in the stands.”
Morgan Dillard, Tanner’s older sister lives in Indianapolis and is in management with CVS Health. She is married with a daughter.
Quintin Craig, Tanner’s older brother, is a project manager of Crown Castle and lives in Louisville with his wife and daughter.
Peyton Craig, Tanner’s younger brother, is a Scottsburg freshman involved in Future Farmers of America.

Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)

Indiana Tech second baseman Snyder returns for extra college season

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

Mike Snyder has been given the chance to extend his college baseball experience and he’s taking it.
A 2016 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball, Snyder, who turned 24 on Aug. 4, logged two seasons at what is now Purdue Fort Wayne then moved a few miles south to Indiana Tech, where he redshirted in 2019 and competed for the Warriors in 2020 and 2021 and is coming back for one last collegiate go-round in 2022.
“I want to keep playing as long as I can and see where it takes me,” says Snyder, who was granted an extra year of college eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Snyder appeared on 59 games and started 56 for Indiana Tech in 2021, hitting .308 (64-of-208), 11 home runs, two triples, 13 doubles, 58 runs batted in, 44 runs scored and a .916 OPS (.368 on-base percentage plus .548 slugging average) from the right side of the plate.
The second baseman posted a .923 fielding percentage with 76 putouts, 103 assists and 16 double plays.
During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 slate, Snyder played in 15 games (14 starts) and hit .400 (20-of-50) with 10 homers, two doubles, 26 RBIs, 16 runs and a 1.523 OBP (.483/1.040). He fielded at a .943 clip with 25 putouts and 25 assists.
Snyder says barrel control is his best offensive quality.
“When I’m on and really doing it I can stay on the same plane and stay consistent,” says Snyder. “I’m in no way a contact hitter. I have my strikeouts. I’m more of a power hitter, especially being my size.”
Snyder stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 pounds and credits weightlifting for much of his power.
“The gym is a big part of my game,” says Snyder. “I try to lift as heavy as a I can. During season I can’t stay on a consistent week-to-week plan, but I lift whenever I have time.”
The average second baseman is rarely as tall as Snyder, but he knows of one ever lankier. Tech played in the 2021 NAIA Opening Round against Oklahoma Wesleyan University. The Eagles’ regular second sacker was 6-8, 236-pound Ryan Kouba.
“(Being tall) only adds range,” says Snyder.
Tech went 11-5 in 2020 and 35-27 in 2021 — the 13th and 14th campaigns with Kip McWilliams as head coach.
“He’s a winner,” says Snyder of McWilliams. He’ll do anything to win. He works us hard. He keeps us accountable throughout the day.
“He makes sure we stay on our studies so we’re eligible to play.”
Snyder is on pace to earn a Sport Management next spring.
In two seasons at Purdue Fort Wayne, Snyder got into 80 games (56 starts) and hit .252 (56-of-222) with two homers, 14 doubles, 18 RBIs and 31 runs for then-Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce.
“He was just a really nice guy,” says Snyder of Pierce. “He was really laid-back and relaxed.”
At Northrop, Snyder was on football varsity for three seasons, first for head coach Tim Martone then Jason Doerffler. He was a safety and quarterback prior to switching to wide receiver as a senior. He was a shooting guard in basketball as a freshman and sophomore for Barak Coolman. Football-related injuries took away his junior and senior seasons on the hardwood.
Snyder dressed with the baseball varsity as a freshman then played with the Bruins’ top team for three more springs. His head coach was Matt Brumbaugh.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” says Snyder of Brumbaugh. “I like the way he went about the game.
“He went about everything with passion.”
Born in Fort Wayne, Snyder moved with his family to South Carolina then back to the Summit City about the time he was starting school. He played T-ball and travel ball out of what is now Wallen Baseball Softball before traveling with the Midwest Gloves and Royville. During his high school years, he was with the AWP Cubs organized by Cisco Morales and coached by Alex McKinstry (father of Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Zach McKinstry), Fort Wayne Rams and Team Indiana coached by Phil Wade and Blake Hibler.
Snyder played for the Fuquay-Varina (N.C.) Twins for three straight college summers — 2018-20 — and earned Carolina-Virgnina Collegiate League all-star selections each and CVCL MVP honors in 2020. That summer he hit .427 (35-of-82) with nine homers, 27 RBIs, 26 runs and a 1.327 OPS (.510/.817). On defense, he had 25 putouts, 21 assists and eight double plays. He was CVCL Player of the Year in 2018, hitting .404 with eight homers, 41 RBIs, 37 runs and a .702 slugging average.
He played briefly in the summer of the 2021 with the Prospect League’s Lafayette Aviators. In five games, he hit .250 (5-of-20) with one double, one RBI and one run.
Industrial cable salesman Jerry and marketing manager Betsy Snyder have three children — Garrett, Mike and Mackenzie. Factory worker Garrett Snyder (26) played football, basketball and baseball at Northrop and one season of basketball at the the University of Northwestern Ohio. Mackenzie Snyder (21) played volleyball and basketball at Northrop and is now on the women’s basketball team at Wittenberg (Ohio) University.

Mike Snyder (Indiana Tech Photo)
Mike Snyder (Lafayette Aviators Photo)
Mike Snyder (Indiana Tech Photo)
Mike Snyder (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

Michigan middle infielder Bertram spending summer with Lafayette Aviators

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

Riley Bertram is spending the last summer before his final college baseball season in the same town where he began playing the game as a boy.
The 21-year-old switch-hitter has been leading off and playing shortstop for the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators at new Loeb Stadium.
Through 17 games for head coach/manager Michael Keeran’s Aviators, Bertram was hitting .273 (15-of-55) with two doubles, eight runs batted in, 12 runs and four stolen bases.
Bertram, a 2018 Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate who has played three seasons (2019-21) at the University of Michigan (he started 31 of the 37 games in which he played in 2021 at second base), was born in Noblesville, Ind., and introduced to the game while father Vince Bertram was the principal at Lafayette Jefferson High School.
“I’m a middle infielder,” says Riley. “I play both second base and shortstop — whatever position the team I’m on needs.”
A year ago, Bertram was with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
Riley is the youngest of Project Lead The Way president and CEO Vince and Western Governors University advisor Jill Bertram’s four boys, behind Josh, Ryan and Drew.
Josh Betram played basketball and baseball at Lafayette Jeff.
Ryan Bertram played three baseball seasons at Evansville (Ind.) Harrison High School and one at Zionsville Community. He was part of the University of Southern Indiana’s NCAA Division II national championship team in 2014 and later an assistant coach at Southern Illinois University and director of operations at Campbell University in Buis Creek, N.C.
Drew Bertram played at Purdue and was a manager for the Boilermakers when Mark Wasikowski was head coach. Drew is a Purdue graduate and is going to graduate school at the West Lafayette school.
It was in the back yard with his brothers that Riley first experimented with switch-hitting. He has been doing it in games since about 13.
At Michigan, Bertram has played in 70 games (49 as a starter) and is hitting .236 (43-of-182) with 14 doubles, 26 RBIs, 30 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. On defense, he has 95 putouts, 136 assists, five errors and a .979 fielding percentage. He led the team in stolen bases in 2021, swiping eight in nine attempts.
Bertram has played three seasons for Wolverines head coach Erik Bakich and assistant Nick Schnabel. Pitching coach Steve Merriman and volunteer coach Brandon Inge joined the staff for the 2021 slate.
“I’m very fortunate to have this coaching staff,” says Bertram. “They know what they’re talking about.
“Coach Bakich is awesome to play for. He is trying to find the best for you. He knows everything about your family. He has your back. He’s someone you could reach out if you need to get something off your chest. He does a good job of building a culture.”
Schnabel works with Michigan infielders, including Bertram.
“He knows the game at a higher level than a lot of people,” says Bertram of Schnabel.
Merriman has made a point of bonding with all UM players and not just pitchers.
“At the college level you need to have at least a baseline relationship with all players if you want to have a culture,” says Bertram. “Everytime Coach Inge talks you have to listen because whatever he’s going to say is going to beneficial to your performance.
“He keeps things loose. He’s bought into the culture Coach Bakich and Coach Schnabel have built.”
Bertram is on pace toward a Communication and Media degree from Michigan in the spring of 2022. He was named Academic All-Big Ten in 2021.
Riley played Little League baseball in Evansville, Ind., when his father served as superintendent of schools. After the family moved to Zionsville, he played for Zionsville Baseball Club and was with the Indiana Bulls travel organization from 15U to 18U, playing for teams with Dan Held, Sean Laird, Jered Moore and Jeremy Honaker as coaches.
Bertram played four seasons for Moore at Zionsville Community and was part of IHSAA Class 4A sectional champions in 2016, 2017 and 2018, regional winners in 2016 and 2017, a semistte title-taker in 2016 and state runner-up in 2016.
In 2018, Bertram was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Honorable Mention All-State selection and IHSBCA North-South All-Star as a third baseman as well as a Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American.
“I’ve always been close with Coach Moore and his family,” says Bertram. “Jered was not only was my coach, but I’ve reached out to him for many things.
Last week I texted him about hitting facilities in (the Lafayette) area and he hooked me up.
“It’s a really strong relationship.”

Riley Bertram (University of Michigan Photo)
Riley Bertram (University of Michigan Photo)
Riley Bertram (University of Michigan Photo)
Riley Bertram (University of Michigan Photo)

Young Hammel now in charge at Benton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Hammel has quickly transitioned from student-athlete to educator-coach.

Ten months after pitching his last game for Valparaiso (Ind.) University he was announced as the head baseball coach at Benton Central Junior/Senior High School in Oxford, Ind. 

“I’m super-excited to get after it,” says Hammel, who was originally hired as pitching coach but became a head coach candidate when Jon Vernon opted to spend more time with family and focus on his duties as Benton Central’s head volleyball coach. “We want to do everything with a purpose. 

“Baseball is not like other sports.”

The son of Donovan (Ill.) Elementary fourth grade teacher Todd Hammel and Morocco Elementary first grade teacher Pam Hammel, Jarrett received an Elementary Education degree from VU and began the 2020-21 school year as a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Crossing Elementary in Oxford.

At South Newton — a K-12 school in Kentland, Ind. — Jarrett got a chance to help with younger kids as a high school junior and senior.

“I knew I wanted to be a positive role model — someone to look up to,” says Hammel. “I look up to my parents a lot. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today.

“They’ve always had my back.”

Coming from a close-knit family where both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes, Jarrett counts younger brother Jay as his best friend. They grew up pushing each other in academics and athletics. 

With 1,195 points, 6-foot-4 Jarrett Hammel was the No. 1 all-time scorer in South Newton boys hoops history until he was surpassed by younger brother Jay Hammel with 1,363. The 6-6 Jay is now a 21-year-old junior right-hander on the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball team and a Multimedia Journalism major.

A 2016 South Newton graduate, Jarrett Hammel played baseball for Glenn Donahue and basketball for Mike Hall. 

Hammel was born in Lafayette, Ind., and grew up in Brook, Ind., where he still resides. He knew Donahue as a youth baseball coach who moved up to the high school ranks. 

Jarrett played four high school summers of travel ball with the Indiana Nitro.

His first college baseball season was spent with head coach Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When the school closed, he transferred to Valpo U., and played for head coach Brian Schmack.

Hammel was a high school sophomore when he appeared on O’Dette’s radar. He became a mentor to the pitcher.

“I learned a lot in the year I was (at St. Joe),” says Hammel. “My outlook on life has changed because of him.”

O’Dette stressed being a good example and always staying in contact with people who are close to you.

“Don’t let conversations get stale,” says Hammel. “You never know when they made need you or you may need them.”

Once it was announced that St. Joseph’s was closing, Hammel recalls that O’Dette was worried more about getting us placed than his own career. O’Dette landed at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Hammel played summer college ball for the Lafayette Aviators in 2017 and 2018. Brent McNeil (now pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) managed the team to a Prospect League title in 2017. Will Arnold (now with Prep Baseball Report Arizona) was in charge in 2018.

While Hammel was at South Newton, Valpo also had interest in him and Schmack welcomed the southpaw when he became available.

What did Hammel learn from Schmack?

“Just being a man and owning up to your mistakes,” says Hammel. “Never put the blame on someone else.”

It’s about responding to adversity — something that is plentiful in baseball.

From his personal life, Hammel has learned to greater than his ups and downs.

“When things are not going your way in life you can’t put your head down and go through the motions,” says Hammel. “You have to ride the wave. Life is full of highs and lows.”

He also learned important concepts about teamwork and time management while playing NCAA Division I baseball.

As left-handed pitcher, left-hander Hammel hurled for Valpo at Alabama State March 11, 2020 and was announced as the head of the Bison program Jan. 12, 2021. 

The 23-year-old Hammel conducted his first winter practice session where he engaged with 15 athletes (many BC baseball players are involved in winter sports) and dished out baseball and life lessons. 

Hammel expects his players to be role models.

“I told them that someone is always watching your every move,” says Hammel. “You’re high schoolers now. Be good people and go hard with everything you do.”

Benton Central (enrollment around 550) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division). 

The Bison are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

While the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Benton Central fielded two teams in 2019 and Hammel says he expects to have about 30 players for two squads in 2021.

Hammel is in the process of finding assistant coaches. He would like to have a Benton Central alum on his staff. Bringing in coaches from Newton County is not practical since Brook is in Central Time and Oxford is in Eastern Time.

In looking to his feeder system, Hammel likes the youth program already established and plans to place players in competitive summer leagues and with top travel organizations.

“We want to get them out of their comfort zone and change their outlook on life,” says Hammel, who also plans to start a fall baseball program at BC.

“We went to keep kids at it and try to perfect their craft year-round,” says Hammel. “We’re trying to maximize everyone’s potential.”

Recent Benton Central graduates in college baseball include Matt Taylor and Taylor Varnado with Marian University in Indianapolis. Knights head coach Todd Bacon went to BC.

There’s also Alex Thurston at Valparaiso U., and Payton Hall at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

Benton Central senior Dalton Rennaker is a Marian commit.

Jarrett Hammel, a 2016 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., and 2020 graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) University, has been hired as head baseball coach at Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind.

Butler volunteer Montgomery places premium on relationship building

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bailey Montgomery was well on his way to an engineering degree when he decided that the call to stay in baseball was just too strong.

Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School graduate, was heading into his last season as a player at Western Illinois University in the spring of 2019 when he decided to change his major to General Studies with a Mathematics minor, which allowed him to graduate and pursue a coaching path.

“It’s what I was passionate about,” says Montgomery. “I couldn’t leave the field.”

At 24, Montgomery has been a volunteer coach at Butler University in Indianapolis since August 2020 after serving as hitting coach for the summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2019 and hitting/outfield coach and recruiting director at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 2019-20.

Montgomery places an emphasis on developing relationships with players.

It’s really something I’ve been trying to hang my hat on,” says Montgomery. “I know how important it is at my age that I build trust with the guys. I want the guys to know I truly care about their development and their individual plan.

“Understanding that individual person is so huge.”

The Butler staff is headed by veteran Dave Schrage with full-time assistants Matt Kennedy (hitting coach and recruiting coordinator) and Ben Norton (pitching coach).

Montgomery enjoys listening to Schrage’s stories and soaking up his diamond wisdom.

“It’s something different everyday,” says Montgomery. “Coach Schrage and Coach Kennedy have given me so much freedom. They’ve allowed me to grow as a young coach.”

Montgomery has some keys as a hitting coaching.

“It’s about making everything repeatable and letting them know what we expect from each guy to make our offense as complete as we can make it,” says Montgomery. “We keep it simple and get them to be confident in what they need to do.”

Kennedy and Montgomery have Butler hitters keeping journals that allow the coaches to follow the process and learning methods for each player.

“There’s not one way to skin a cat,” says Montgomery. “It’s understanding where they’re at.

“Being able to manage people is ultimately going to define how successful they are.”

Butler wrapped up two months of fall practice — which included individualized work and intrasquad scrimmages — in October. 

“We had a tremendous fall,” says Montgomery. “We maximized the time with our guys.”

All students left campus after Thanksgiving and are not expected back until late January.

To keep the Bulldogs on track, there have been Zoom calls.

The 2021 season is due to begin Feb. 19. The Big East Conference will go to four-game weekend series. As of now, Butler will be allowed to keep the non-conference games now on the its schedule.

During the Christmas break, Montgomery has stayed in Indianapolis and conducted lessons for players middle school age and younger (the NCAA is not currently allowing camps or lessons with high schoolers).

“I’m getting as many hours in the (batting cage) as I can,” says Montgomery.

Born in Evansville, Ind., Montgomery grew up in Vincennes. He played on Cal Ripken League teams coached by father Ross Montgomery until age 12. When Bailey played travel ball for the Indiana Redbirds at 13U and 14U, Jay Wolfe was the head coach and Ross Montgomery helped.

Montgomery’s 15U, 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Nitro, coached by Eric Dill and Kris Dill. 

At 18U, Montgomery got a taste of college baseball atmosphere with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks.

At Lincoln, Montgomery for a coaching staff led by Brandon Pfoff with Tim Hutchison, Chris Clements and Andy Pinkstaff as assistants.

“We were competitive on a daily basis,” says Montgomery of the Vincennes Lincoln Alices. “It got me ready for the competitive environment at Wabash Valley.

“Coach Hutchison (who is now head coach at Vincennes Lincoln) was and is a great mentor for me as well. We have daily conversations. We’re always throwing ideas off each other. He has a growth mindset.”

Montgomery hit .352 (31-of-88) at WVC for Warriors head coach Rob Fournier in 2016 and 2017 (a season that finished with a third-place finish at the National Junior College World Series) before coming back to coach.

“Coach Fournier is one of the best recruiting guys I’ve ever seen,” says Montgomery. “He’s helped me with the evaluation piece, conversations with recruits and things to look for.

“I’ve learned the value of relationships (with contacts and recruits). I’m thankful for those conversations.”

Through his experiences, Montgomery counts himself as a big advocate for junior college baseball.

“It’s continuing to grow,” says Montgomery. “It’s an awesome environment if you’re a guy looking to grow and develop.”

Montgomery, a righty-swinging first baseman, played played two seasons at Western Illinois (2018 and 2019), appearing in 88 games (77 starts) and hitting .296 with two home runs, 43 runs batted in and a .991 fielding percentage with 317 putouts and just three errors.

Ryan Brownlee (now assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association) was the Leathernecks head coach.

“Coach Brownlee is just passionate about what he does,” says Montgomery. “Handling relationships is what he does really well. He gets his players to buy in.”

While he was still playing, Montgomery was able to serve something of a behind-the-scenes look at being a coach from Brownlee with access to scouting reports and some recruiting communciation.

During his collegiate playing career, Montgomery spent summers with the Hannibal (Mo.) Cavemen (2016), Irish Hills (Mich.) Leprechauns (2017) and Quincy (Ill.) Gems (2018). He was going to return to the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators as manager in 2020, but the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ross and Robin Montgomery have three children — Brittany, Bailey and Jade. Jade Montgomery is a softball pitcher/first baseman at Eastern Illinois University.

Bailey Montgomery is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Butler University Photo)
Bailey Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School, is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. He also played and coached at Wabash Valley College and played and graduated from Western Illinois University. He was a hitting coach for the 2019 summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Butler University 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.

Keeran to manage Lafayette Aviators at new Loeb Stadium in ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Corn is not involved. But there’s a kind of a reverse “Field of Dreams” thing going on in Lafayette, Ind.

“If You Build It, He Will Come” — in this case — refers to Michael Keeran.

A new Loeb Stadium is being built for the Lafayette Aviators baseball team. After discussions with owner Bill Davidson, Iowa native Keeran has been named as field manager for 2021.

Keeran, a 2012 graduate of Clear Lake (Iowa) High School and the holder of two degrees from Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa (a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Masters in Organizational Leadership with a Sport Management emphasis), welcomes the chance to bring his wife closer to family while also moving up in the baseball world.

“My wife is from Centralia, Ill.,” says Keeran. “I’ve coached near by hometown the past couple summers. (With the Aviators,) I get to coach in a very good league and I get two birds with one stone.”

Michael and Kaitlin Keeran are expecting their first child in December. Centralia is 220 miles from Lafayette and Kaitlin will be able to spend time there and also visit her husband.

“I always wanted to go to a bigger league. It’ll be a brand new stadium and a very good franchise. I thought it would be a good fit.”

The Prospect League is a 14-team college wooden bat summer circuit with teams in Indiana (Lafayette Aviators and Terre Haute Rex), Illinois (Alton River Dragons, Danville Dans, DuPage Pistol Shrimp, Normal CornBelters, Quincy Gems and Springfield Sliders), Ohio (Champion City Kings and Chillicothe Paints), Missouri (Cape Catfish and O’Fallon Hoots), Pennsylvania (Johnstown Mill Rats) and West Virginia (West Virginia Miners).

While 2021 Aviators assistant coaches have been consulted, the official word of their hiring is yet to come.

Keeran managed Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2018 and 2019 — the Albert Lea (Minn.) Lakers followed by the Bancroft (Iowa) Bandits.

After one season as an assistant at Valley City (N.D.) State University (NAIA), Keeran became head coach at Bismarck (N.D.) State College (National Junior College Athletic Association Division II) for the 2020 season. The Mystics had played two games and were in Arizona to play 10 or 11 more when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to be halted.

“We were on a bus for 60 or 70 hours,” says Keeran. “It was awful.

“It’s tough to tell a bunch of young men that their season is over and it has nothing to do with wins or losses.”

While they could have taken an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Keeran encouraged his second-year players from 2020 to take their associate degrees and go to a four-year school.

“It’s not ethically right to hold on to those sophomores,” says Keeran. “I didn’t see the point. You’ve got your degree, now move on.

“We have a very new group (in 2020-21) and we’re very talented.”

With players taking a hybrid class schedule (some in-person and some online), Bismarck State played  few games this fall against four-year schools.

“We treated it like a test for what it’s going to be like in the spring with temperature checks and protocols,” says Keeran.

As a outfielder and pitcher, Keeran played four seasons at Waldorf while also beginning his coaching career. 

Since high school baseball in Iowa is a summer sport, Keeran was able to play college ball and be on the Clear Lake coaching staff for four seasons (2013-16) and helped the Lions win three state titles (2013 in 3A, 2015 in 2A and 2016 in 2A).

“It was pretty cool to be coach at a young age and be mentored,” says Keeran. “Baseball should be played in the summer when it’s warm. That’s why I like coaching in the summer.

“It feels so authentic.”

Keeran says a typical high school gameday would involve batting practice and field preparation around 1 p.m. and the players would come back for a 5:30 p.m. junior varsity game, followed by the varsity.

“It gives kids a chance to work morning jobs in the summer and they don’t have to worry about the stress of class,” says Keeran. “It gives athletes a chance to do other sports. One of my best friends was a four-sport athlete (football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer).”

While the pandemic wiped out high school baseball last spring in Indiana, there was season in Iowa. Four 2020 state champions were crowned Aug. 1 in Des Moines. 

In 2021, the Iowa High School Athletic Association has set the first practice date for May 3 with first of 40 allowed contest dates May 24 and state tournament concluding July 31. Showcase leagues ran by Prep Baseball Report and Perfect Game are typically conducted in the spring.

The 2020 baseball season was the first for head coach Michael Keeran at Bismarck (N.D.) State College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II school. In the summer of 2021, he is to manage the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Bismarck State College Photo)
Michael Keeran, a graduate of Clear Lake High School and Waldorf University in Iowa and the head coach at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, has been named field manager for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League in 2021. (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

Four pillars propel Purdue Fort Wayne’s Lawvere

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hard work.

Humility.

Empathy.

Kindness.

These are the four pillars that form the foundation for Andrew Lawvere the baseball player and person.

The Purdue Fort Wayne senior utility man from Upland, Ind., explains the characteristics that he’s made a part of his daily habits.

“Hard work — I think we all know what that means,” says Lawvere, a 2017 graduate of Eastbrook High School in Marion, Ind., where he was catcher for North in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. “You have to have a strong drive to obtain goals.

“As a society we need to have more humility. Mistakes are going to be happen in life. We need to be OK with that.

“We need to change our perspective on things and (recognize) if someone is hurting inside (and show empathy).

“We should just be kind to people. Nobody knows what’s going on in people’s life. With COVID-19, a lot of depression going around. I live by these everyday. My parents (Nick and Anne Lawvere) built these in me at a very young age.”

Nick Lawvere is a science teacher at Highland Middle School in Anderson, Ind. Anne Lawvere is Director of Special Education for Eastbrook Community Schools. Older sister Nicole Lawvere (23) was a standout at Eastbrook and a utility infielder at Indiana University, where she is now attending law school.

A three-time Academic Honor Roll and one-time Commissioner’s List of Academic Excellence (2018-19) selection by the Summit League, Andrew Lawvere (21) is on track to graduate in the spring with a major in Accounting and minor in and Management and Marketing

He plans to play summer collegiate ball for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2021 and come back for a bonus season in 2022 while either pursuing another degree or applying for graduate school. After that comes law school. Grandmother Judith Golitko and uncle Matthew Golitko are personal injury lawyers with Golitko & Daly P.C. and Andrew did an internship with the firm in 2018.

“I like helping other people,” says Lawvere. “It goes back to my four pillars.”

Lawvere has appearance in 77 games in three seasons for the PFW Mastodons, including 11 (seven as a starter — six at first base and one as designated hitter) during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. 

The righty swinger hit .300 (9-of-30) with one home run, one double, eight runs batted in and four runs scored. He collected three hits with a homer and drove in three runs Feb. 29 at New Mexico State.

As a right-handed relief pitcher, he made four appearances and went 0-1 while striking out five while walking two in 4 1/3 innings. He fanned three in a 1 2/3-inning stint Feb. 23 at Miami (Ohio).

For his career, Lawvere is hitting .242 (48-of-198) with six homers (including a 2019 grand slam against Alabama State), nine doubles, 29 RBIs and 21 runs. 

After the 2020 season was called off and Lawvere find himself back at home, he decided to take his strength and conditioning up a few notches. He began training with former Purdue and Ball State pitcher Eric Van Matre at Muncie (Ind.) Crossfit at The Arsenal. He was introduced to Olympic-style weightlifting and lost 20 pounds.

“I really took advantage of quarantine,” says Lawvere. “I’m in the best shape of myself. I educated myself nutritionally.”

Injuries had moved Lawvere away from catching, but he can see himself going back behind the plate again.

“I had a talk with Coach (Doug) Schreiber,” says Lawvere. “This year I think I’ll get to strap up the shin guards.

“I’m pretty confident I’m going to get back to my roots. I’ll do whatever benefits the team.”

Schreiber took over the Mastodons program in July 2019 and had an impact on Lawvere.

“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s been around the game for a long time

I’ve really picked his brain lot. He’s an Old School, which I love. He’s a hard-working guy. We understand each other. We are very similar in a lot of ways.

“On a personal level, he makes random phone calls just to check up on me. We just talk about life. He gets it.”

PFW team meetings are filled with discussions tying life situations — like obstacles and adversity — to baseball.

While the Mastodons were on the way to Western Illinois in mid-March when they had to turn around and head back to Fort Wayne after just 15 games, Lawvere said the team was just getting started in 2020.

“We saw a lot of improvement,” says Lawvere. “Schreiber is going to get the culture of the team right.

“As a senior, I’m trying to put my best effort into the culture. I think we’ll have a lot of success (in 2021).”

When Lawvere came to to the Mastodons, Bobby Pierce was head coach. 

“One thing that really sticks out about Coach Pierce is that he understood that people are going to have different ways of thinking,” says Lawvere. “There’s no one right thing about a swing or mechanics.

“He tried to better us as individuals and focused on our strengths.”

Pierce was also receptive when players would reach out.

“I’m always trying to reach my optimal level,” says Lawvere. “I try to get as much information as possible and do what I believe is correct.”

He has been able share baseball knowledge and trade jokes with Mastodons hitting/catchers/outfielders coach Ken Jones.

“I love taking knowledge from (Coach Jones) and using it at different times,” says Lawvere. “We have that open relationship where we can talk.”

IPW has faced challenges since returning to campus this fall. After one practice, the team had to go into a 14-day coronavirus quarantine and returned to the field Sept. 21. All players are on the field but are in pods wearing masks and paying attention to social distancing.

“We’re playing it day-by-day with everything going on,” says Lawvere. “We can’t have another two-week shutdown. We’ve got to set a tone for the Horizon League.”

IPW has moved from the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois) to the Horizon League (with Illinois-Chicago, Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, Wright State and Youngstown State).

“We’ve talked about intangibles and things we can control,” says Lawvere. “If you want this bad you have to do work on your own (more than 20 hours a week of official team activity).”

In a normal setting, the team would do individual work and then team practice in the fall followed by winter workouts, more individual work and holiday break leading up to the spring season.

Lawvere was born in Muncie and grew up in Upland. With many relatives on his father’s side living close, they refer to the area as “Lawvereville.”

After playing coach pitch baseball in Upland, Andrew played travel ball for the Gas City-based Indiana Rebels coached by Tim Young (his son Nolan Young plays at Illinois State), Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits coached by Dwayne Hutchinson (son Dalton Hutchinson played at Taylor University), the Indiana Prospects coached by Drew Kidd and supervised by Todd Nierman and Indiana Bulls coached by Troy Drosche.

Lawvere played four seasons at Eastbrook for former head coach Todd Farr.

“He was very caring,” says Lawvere of Farr. “He wanted me to get recruited. There were times early in my high school career where I was struggling. He believe in me.

“He saw that I worked hard and wanted to get better.”

Andrew Lawvere, a graduate of Eastbrook High School in Marion, Ind., is a senior baseball player at Purdue Fort Wayne. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Confidence grows for Butler left-hander Graziano

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Graziano has learned lessons in confidence during his baseball career.

The left-handed pitcher built up a sense of determination that took him to weekend starter in his third season at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Years before, a surge of assurance had helped Graziano make the transition from the freshmen team to varsity as sophomore at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind.

Graziano credits Butler head coach Dave Schrage for giving him the courage to advance as a Bulldog.

“He wants to get the best out of you,” says Graziano of Schrage. “He definitely helped me settle in by instilling that confidence in me. 

“I feel like I was ready to throw pretty well.”

As a Butler freshman in 2018, Graziano made 13 mound appearances (four starts) and went 3-0 with a 4.70 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings.

Primarily a mid-week starter in 2019, the lefty appeared in 15 games (seven starts) and went 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 innings.

The Bulldogs were 8-7 and coming off a March 11 victory against Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in Port Charlotte, Fla., when the team found out the 2020 season had been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were sitting at the pool,” says Graziano. “We thought we were coming back in two weeks.

“We were optimistic.”

It soon turned out that the rest of the campaign was canceled and student-athletes were sent home.

Graziano went back to northwest Indiana having gotten into four games (all as a starter) and went 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings. His first start was on a Saturday and the rest came on Sunday.

“I worked all fall to get there,” says Graziano of his role. “I finally got it. I really liked pitching on the weekend.

“Everyone’s locked in and there’s a little bit of pressure.”

When the 2020 shutdown happened, Graziano had already secured an internship and was looking to find a baseball team for the summer.

A double major in Finance and Risk Management, Graziano is doing his internship with Chicago-based Aon and pitching on weekends with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

Butler business school requires two internships,” says Graziano. “That’s 240 hours. You also take a class, write a paper and do interviews.

“It’s kind of a lot.”

For his first internship, Joe is on the clock online at his house in Schererville, Ind., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. He is upstairs while his mother, Roxanna, does her sales job with U.S. Steel, is in the basement. 

When Joe is done with his internship duties, he does his band and weighted ball work and heads across the street to Autumn Creek Park to play catch with younger brother Joshua. 

At 21, Joe is two years older than his brother. Joshua is enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Their father, Joseph, is a manager at the BP Whiting Refinery, which is very near where Joe is in his second stint with the Oilmen.

The summer right after he graduated from Lake Central in 2017, Joe appeared in seven Northwest Indiana games (five starts) and went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA, 39 strikeouts and six walks in 31 innings.

“It was the first time I faced college hitters,” says Graziano. “I was playing with kids out of The Region. We were  finally on a friendly surface and can be teammates.

Manager Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate, also worked closely with Oilmen pitchers.

In 2020, he is being used strictly as a reliever.

“I didn’t want to rush back into it,” says Graziano. “I’m pitching 2-3 innings at a time. I want to build my stamina and pitch count back up.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound southpaw took off about a week off when the 2020 spring season shut down then began training, lifting weights and throwing while reaching out to the Oilmen.

“I want to keep my spot when I get back to Butler,” says Graziano.

The Oilmen are managed by Chris Cunningham. Graziano spends most of his time with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko.

“I’ve been trying to take in as much information as possible,” says Graziano. “He’s been teaching me this forkball/splitter. I have pretty big hands.

“I like how (Pobereyko) thinks on the mound. You’re better than the hitter. Never lose confidence. I definitely like Po’s mentality.”

In the summer of 2019, Graziano pitched for the Coastal Plain League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs

It was a struggle at first.

“I started doing well toward the end,” says Graziano. “I got a lot better out there. I had a little adversity and I battled through it.”

Fayetteville was managed by David Anderson

Lefty Graziano was with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2018. There, he enjoyed living with a host family and got to play with Butler teammate Connor Schultz.

“You make a lot of new friends in summer ball,” says Graziano, who played for a Lafayette team managed by Will Arnold. Future Butler assistant Jake Ratz was also on the Aviators coaching staff.

Ben Norton is Butler’s pitching coach. He has taught Graziano a slider and helped instill confidence.

“He’s helped me develop into a great pitcher,” says Graziano of Norton. “He helps everyone

“If you struggle, he’s not going to give up on you.”

At Lake Central, three-year letterman Graziano went 20-7 (with a pair of perfect games), including 8-4 against Duneland Athletic Conference opponents. As a senior, he went 6-3 with a 2.11 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 13 walks in 60 innings and helped the Indians to an IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional title

He was all-DAC, all-area (Northwest Indiana Times) and Academic All-State.

Jeff Sandor was LC’s head coach for Graziano’s sophomore and junior seasons. Mike Swartzentruber took over the program in his senior year.

“(Sandor) is the craziest coach I’ve played for and one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” says Graziano. “He was tough on guys. But he had to be be. He demanded that level of play.

“You knew what you had to bring to the table.”

Graziano says Swartzentruber’s strength came in team building.

“Swartz was more calm than Sandor,” says Graziano. “We all knew what we wanted to do. We had a lot of good players. Swartz did a good job of bringing the team together.”

At Lake Central — a school with about 3,300 students — it is not uncommon for close to 100 players to try out for baseball. The high school is fed by three middle schools — Clark, Grimmer and Kahler].

“There’s a lot of competition,” says Graziano, who came through Grimmer. “You feel bad when your friends don’t make the team. The school is so big.”

While the rivalries among the middle schools is fierce, they become one team at LC.

While at Lake Central, southpaw Graziano used a curve ball that was “a little loopy and slow” that fooled many high school hitters.

When he got to Butler, he left the curve for a slider that has a tighter spin and has more horizontal than vertical break.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Graziano also throws a tailing four-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up.

“It’s really good against righties,” says Graziano. “It has depth and tails away.”

Born in Munster, Ind., Graziano spent the early part of his life in nearby Hammond before settling in Schererville.

While playing for the Schererville Shock — coached by Dan Bosold and Dave Lopez — he made close friends. Among those are current Purdue players Ben Nisle and Bo Hofstra as well as Jarrett Lopez (who went to Purdue Northwest).

Grazing played for Apex Baseball in the summers leading into his last two years in high school. Marc Escobedo was the head coach. Brett Summers was his pitching coach/instructor.

“(Summers) always helped me,” says Graziano. “He was always patient.”

Graziano also enjoyed his time on the basketball court. At Lake Central, he played for head coach Dave Milausnic whom he salutes for getting the Indians ready for their demanding schedule.

“Our senior year, we didn’t have a big superstar,” says Graziano. “(Milausnic) had us prepared for every game. 

“I was the point guard as a senior. I was calling the plays and handling the ball a lot.”

Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons for Butler University in Indianapolis (2018-20). The left-hander was a weekend starter during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. (Butler University Photo)
The summer of 2020 is the second for Joe Graziano on the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Olimen. He played for the Whiting, Ind.-based team in 2017, right after his senior year at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. He has pitched three seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Northwest Indiana Oilmen Photo)
Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. The left-hander was a weekend starter in 2020. (Butler University Photo)