Tag Archives: Lafayette Aviators

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)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Terre Haute’s Wampler learning patience with Rex

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tyler Wampler has learned plenty in his two seasons as the head coach of the summer collegiate wood bat baseball Prospect League’s Terre Haute Rex.

At the top of the list is patience.

“I’m pretty young so I’m just out of playing,” says Wampler, 25. “I realize I can’t go out there (on the field). I can’t control anything. I need to patient with the players and understand that mistakes are going to happen and just be the same guy everyday.”

Wampler, who played for Rick Heller and Mitch Hannahs at Indiana State University 2011-14 and in the Los Angeles Dodgers system 2014-15 then spent the spring of 2016 as a volunteer assistant coach at ISU, was given full authority by general manager Bruce Rosselli put together the entire 2017 Rex roster.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 players. Last year, Wampler used around 40 players in 2016 and expects to do the same this summer.

“There’s a lot of turnover,” says Wampler. “It’s not like you’re just releasing guys. It’s usually for injuries or innings limits (on pitchers).”

As is the case all around the baseball world, pitching is a priority in Terre Haute.

“I’m a firm believer that pitching and defense wins champions,” says Wampler. “We want to start off getting the best arms we can and get as many as we can. You will have to shut guys down midway through the season because their arms are getting tired or they reach a certain amount of innings. You have to be real careful with them.”

Scott Lawson is pitching coach for the Rex. Lawson is a 1997 Terre Haute North Vigo High School who played at John A. Logan Community College, the University of Georgia and in independent professional baseball before coaching at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and at Terre Haute North.

Wampler is coaching in his hometown again this summer and giving baseball lessons at The Hitting Zone in the off-season. He is a 2010 graduate of West Vigo High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve DeGroote.

Wampler helped the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish as a junior in 2009. He started at shortstop and went 2-of-3 in the title game.

Playing for DeGroote, Heller and Hannahs, Wampler experienced three different coaching styles.

“They all worked so I can use all three and mold it into my own way,” says Wampler.

The Prospect League is a 10-team circuit in 2017 with Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Lafayette (Ind.), Quincy (Ill.), Springfield (Ill.) in the West Division and Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.) and West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

Going into play Aug. 1 and with six regular-season contests remaining, Terre Haute was 29-25 and three games behind West-leading Lafayette. The two-tier playoffs are scheduled to begin Aug. 6.

“This league is headed in the right direction and has a lot of good things going,” says Wampler. “It’s a way for these guys to play 60 games (in the summer after 50 or more games in the spring). It’s close to a minor league schedule. They’re getting great experience. They have to come out and perform every night. They’re expected to play well because they have guys behind them that can take their spot.”

Wampler played three summers in collegiate wood bat leagues — two in the Northwoods League (Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers in Minnestoa and the Eau Claire Express in Wisconsin) and one for the Rex (named for the Clabber Girl brand of coffee).

While some players come from across the country and stay with host families, Wampler notes the uniqueness of the Terre Haute franchise, which plays on ISU’s Bob Warn Field.

“We try to get a lot of local guys,” says Wampler. “We think Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley is a hotbed for baseball.

“We do have guys come from all over, including Florida and the Dominican Republic (outfielder Jalbert Melo was a recent PL Player of the Week). They stay with host families. Our host families are great. We turn people away each year, there are so many families that want to host. That’s a good problem to have.

“I remember when I was a player. Host families are like family to you and they care about what you’re doing. They stay in-touch years later.”

TERREHAUTEREX

Lafayette’s McNeil has Aviators in thick of pennant chase

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With players coming and going and roles constantly changing during the 2017 summer collegiate wood bat baseball season, Brent McNeil has kept the Lafayette Aviators in the Prospect League playoff hunt.

McNeil, a 2007 Lafayette Jefferson High School graduate and the only head coach the Aviators have had in their two seasons of existence, took his squad into play July 29 and with eight regular-season contests remaining, West-leading Lafayette was 30-22 and two games ahead of Terre Haute.

The Prospect League, which debuted in 2009, includes two divisions in 2017 — Lafayette, Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Quincy (Ill.) and Springfield (Ill.) in the West with Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.), West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

The 60-game season, wood bats and strong competition gives players a taste for professional baseball. Some thrive and others see that the grind is too much for them.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 (the current Aviators roster features players with hometowns in 13 states and Puerto Rico). Mostly because of injuries, there has been plenty of movement for the Aviators throughout the summer.

“You really have to watch out for warning signs of injuries, take care of them and make sure (pitchers) are not throwing too many pitches in one inning,” says McNeil, who played Eastern Illinois University and recently recently hired as the pitching coach at Quincy (Ill.) University after past two spring seasons on the coaching staff at the University of North Florida and director of baseball operations at Indiana State University prior to that.

There is no disabled list in the PL. Players are either on the roster or they are released. It’s up to the teams to find replacements.

“I can’t count how many times the roster has changed since I started putting it together in the fall,” says McNeil, who enlisted the help of second-year assistant Ryan Dineen in building the Aviators. “Having college contacts is huge. Some players have reached out, but I’ve mostly relied on his own contacts. There are coaches I’ve known over the years and trust.”

The old saying in baseball is you can never have too much pitching and that really rings true in summer collegiate baseball, where injuries and innings limits keep mound staffs continually morphing.

“(Working with) pitchers is tough,” says McNeil. “The top 1, 2 and 3 (starters on college teams) are either shut down for the summer or go to Cape Cod or the Northwoods (leagues). I believe we began the summer with about nine starters (and now have seven).

“We’re still trying to establish roles at this point in the season. At any moment, you could lose that guy. You have to find more guys and figure out where they fit in.”

Caleb Sleeman fit the bill July 23 when the Michigan State University right-hander threw the franchise’s first no-hitter in a 12-0 win against Kokomo.

With so many talented players and so much playing time, McNeil makes it a point to do something constructive with his bench players on a daily basis — maybe extra time in the batting cage.

College baseball players try to put on muscle in the weight room during the summer.

“It’s real hard when you’re playing six days a week,” says McNeil.

Loeb Stadium next to the Columbian Park Zoo is the Aviators’ home field. McNeil played his high school baseball there and was with the Lafayette Lightning in the Colt World Series after coming up through the Pony Baseball Leagues at Lafayette’s Armstrong Park. He was a Prospect League player for the former Slippery Rock (Pa.) franchise.

Dineen, who serves as hitting, infield and third base coach for Lafayette, played at Andrean High School for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur then at Eastern Illinois University for Jim Schmitz. He played two seasons as an infielder in the Houston Astros system and has served on the coaching staff at McKendree University.

Parker Osborne replaced Dan Peterson as an Aviators assistant during the season.

Osborne, a former Southern Illinois University outfielder, has been an assistant at Western Illinois University.

Peterson pitched at Indiana State and went to Iowa to pursue a junior college coaching opportunity.

The Aviators are operated through MKE Sports & Entertainment, the same group that runs the rival Kokomo Jackrabbits.

LAFAYETTEAVIATORS

Baseball in Richmond played to the tune of Jazz

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Richmond, Ind., has long appreciated the crack of the baseball bat.

The Rose City fielded professional teams throughout most of the first half of the 20th century and brought pro ball back with the independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters (1995-2005).

Charles Weeghman, the man who built what would become known as Wrigley Field, was born in Richmond in 1874.

These days, the crack comes in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League with the Richmond Jazz.

Playing at John Cate Field at Don McBride Stadium (which dates back to 1936), the Jazz came into the league in 2016. The Richmond RiverRats played collegiate wood-bat baseball in the Prospect League. That team sold and moved to Lafayette, Ind. The GLSCL approached Richmond about joining and a new baseball brand came to town.

Richmond native Deanna Beaman has been a part of the Roosters, RiverRats and Jazz.

A 1996 Richmond High School graduate with a sports management and marketing degree from Indiana University, Beaman served as an intern with the Roosters and served in several capacities with the club for eight seasons.

When the Roosters sold and moved to Traverse City, Mich., to become the Beach Bums of the Frontier League beginning with the 2006 season, it left a baseball void in Richmond.

The hole was filled with changing from pro to college ball and joining the new Prospect League for the summer of 2009 for what turned out to be a seven-season run.

“The college wood bat model is better in this market,” says Beaman.

Then with expansion, costs began to rise in the collegiate summer league world.

“The Prospect League grew and is became more and more expensive to be in that league,” says Beaman, who estimates the team was spending $40,000 per season on travel, not including hotels. “The Great Lakes League approached us. We found that the business models are different in the two leagues.

“There was an interest to keep baseball in the community. You have to be a 501 (c) 3 (non-profit organization) to be in the (GLSCL).”

Beaman is president and general manager of Hitters Hangout Sports Foundation, which operates as the Richmond Jazz.

Richmond players are charged a participation fee (similar to travel baseball) and the club pays a frranchise fee to the league, which must abide by NCAA regulations.

She identifies the top benefits of Great Lakes membership for Richmond is the short season (the team plays a 42-game regular season) and travel is relatively short with no overnight trips.

Richmond is in the GLSCL’s Southern Division with Ohio teams Cincinnati, Hamilton, Southern Ohio and Xenia.

The Central Division features five Ohio teams — Galion, Grand Lake, Licking County, Lorain County and Lima.

Making up the Northern Division are Grand River, Irish Hills, Lake Erie and Muskegon in Michigan and Saint Clair in Ontario, Canada.

Richmond would not see Northern teams until the playoffs.

There were growing pains with the transition from to the Great Lakes. Richmond got a new mayor and park superintendent and the baseball team got a new lease at McBride Stadium in 2016. On the field, Matt Brankle managed the Jazz to a record of 12-29.

Things were completely revamped on the baseball side for the 2017 season. Floridians Brett “Buster” Schneider (assistant coach at NCAA Division I Florida Atlantic University) and Brian Thomas (coach at Gainesville High School) were recruited to be head coach and pitching coach, respectively, and former RiverRats players Joe Pourier was named as a volunteer assistant.

“We have to get a winning ball club in the community,” says Beaman. “Buster has been a great addition for us — both on and off the field. He’s changed some lives in our community. If you want to play at the D-I level, he can tell you what it takes.”

Schneider came to Richmond through a connection Beaman made with a former player.

Jeremiah Klosterman was a catcher on back-to-back Frontier League championship teams in Richmond in 2001 and 2002. The former Florida State University standout owns Hard Knoxx Baseball Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., and Schneider was one of his instructors.

Schneider is in his first season as a summer collegiate head coach, but he did serve three seasons as an assistant for Green Bay of the Northwoods League.

Hitting the ground running (leaving Florida June 2 and beginning practice June 4), Schneider immediately began working on team chemistry with a roster made up of players with hometowns in eight different states. Some players live close enough to commute for games and workouts while others stay with host families.

“You have to get them to buy into your system and play for a chgampionship,” says Schneider. “You have to have a plan in place and you have to win early (with such a short season).”

Through their connections, Beaman and Schneider helped form a Jazz roster that includes players with hometowns in eight states.

“You reach out and get as many good, quality players as you can,” says Schneider. “I want them to use the summer to get better and go back and be conference players of the year and All-Americans.”

By rule, league members must carry a certain number of Division I players in order to be funded by Major League Baseball for developmental reasons. There are numerous collegiate wood bat leagues across the country.

This summer, Richmond has pitchers James Meyer (Valparaiso), Ben Nelson (Virginia Commonwealth) and R.J. Wagner (Dayton), catchers Chase DeBonis (Bethune-Cookman) and Jordan Stacy (Bethune-Cookman), infielder Jordan Gillerman (St. John’s) and outfielders Jack Holden (Eastern Illinois) and Cole Parks (Bethune-Cookman).

“We can get hitters all day long,” says Beaman. “Pitching is the issue. D-I coaches are protecting their starters (and often shutting them down for the summer).

“Across the league, bullpens are very thin. Sometimes we have to go ‘Mississippi State style 3-3-3’ to finish a game.”

Says Thomas, “We’ve done pretty well with the guys we’ve received … We try to keep their pitch counts down … I try to get to know everyone at a personal level.”

GLSCL rules do not allow for a disabled list and player can’t be released based on talent or performance. That means the roster is pretty steady throughout the season.

RICHMONDJAZZ