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Indiana Bulls have grown baseball in state nearly three decades

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991.

Taking players exclusively from Indiana was how co-founder Dave Taylor wanted it and that’s the way it has remained all these years.

The Bulls have sent countless players on to college baseball and dozens have been drafted by Major League Baseball.

Two players on the first Bulls team — Todd Dunwoody (Harrison High School in West Lafayette) and Scott Rolen (Jasper) — made it to the big leagues.

Rolen is on the latest National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

Recent Bulls alums to don MLB uniforms include Nevin Ashley (North Knox), Tucker Barnhart (Brownsburg), Tommy Hunter (Indianapolis Cathedral), Micah Johnson (Park Tudor), Adam Lind (Anderson Highland), Josh Lindblom (Harrison of West Lafayette), Lance Lynn (Brownsburg), Alex Meyer (Greensburg), Cameron Perkins (Southport), Clayton Richard (McCutcheon) and Drew Storen (Brownsburg).

“We have pride in that border with Indiana players,” says Bulls executive director Dan Held. “It’s impressive to see all the players that come out of here.”

In 2018, the Bulls have 26 teams from 8U through 18U.

With Held running the show, all will be present at noon Sunday, Jan. 28 at Westfield High School for the annual parent/player organizational meeting.

Barnhart will be the guest speaker and players will receive uniforms and equipment in anticipation of the upcoming season.

The campaign opens first for 8U to 14U. Those squads are expected to play 50 to 60 games apiece during their four-month season.

At this age, the Bulls try not to travel more than three weekends in a row.

“We are not chasing trophies,” says Held.

High school-aged teams — U15 to U18 — get started after the prep season concludes and have eight weekends worth of tournaments and will likely play 30 to 40 games each.

High school baseball is a priority at this age the the Bulls strive to develop relationships with prep coaches (and have several on the coaching staff).

“High school coaches are a fantastic resource,” says Held. “They are with those players for years.

“We are just an additional set of ears and eyes for those coaches.”

The 8U to 14U teams play many games in and around Indiana, but have been known to go to Cooperstown, N.Y., and Omaha, Neb.

Held puts all the schedules together for high school-level teams with an eye on exposure to college scouts.

Some of those showcases include the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn., and World Wood Bat Championships in Cartersville, Ga., as well as the Youth Amateur Baseball Championships and Midwest Prospect League run by Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield with its 26 synthetic surface diamonds.

At the end of the season, coaches fill out an evaluation form for each player — noting strengths and weaknesses — and presents it to the player or their parents and Held also gets a copy.

Annually, the Bulls offer three memorial scholarships — in honor of Daniel Mercer, Craig Moore and Lance Moore.

Once the season ends, there are optional fall workouts. There is no training activity in November and December.

Held left his post as a St. Louis Cardinals coach after the 2006 season to direct the Bulls, which are based in the Indianapolis area but draws players from all corners of the state.

With all his connections in the baseball world, Held is the face of the organization.

When he first came aboard with the Bulls, Held conducted player clinics. But with players spread out across Indiana it was difficult to reach all of them.

Held then decided to focus on educating the coaches to relay the message to the players.

He wants a non-threatening atmosphere and screamers and yellers are not welcome.

All coaches are hired by Held. He is looking for those with strong baseball backgrounds. That is more important than them having a standout player for a son.

“We need to have a coach who runs a quality program,” says Held. “We’d love to have all non-dad coaches. But with time restraints, we can’t always do that. (Coaching) does entail a lot of work.”

Head coaches get a stipend to off-set expenses which they share with their assistants. Player fees are waived for sons playing on a team coached by their father.

Last November, a mandatory coaches retreat was taken to Camp Emma Lou near Bloomington. It is the site of Rolen’s E5 Foundation camps for children and families dealing with illness, loss or other special needs.

“It was a big undertaking, but it was just worth it,” says Held. “It really paid off.

“Part of my job is make sure we’re doing things properly and evaluating the coaches. I give my coaches a big leash. Micro-managing them is a mistake.”

There is manual to help coaches conduct a productive practices.

“I don’t want them having home run derbies and just hitting ground balls,” says Held. “Practice is the most important thing. Players need to get something out of it.

“I monitor my coaches. I don’t want them to go rogue.”

Practices tend to be held once a week in the winter and twice a week in the spring for 8U to 14U teams. Games are mostly played on weekends.

Besides team practices in locales around the Indianapolis area, there are some organizational practices on the calendar. That’s one of the various ways the director stays connected with all the teams. Taking a cue from professional baseball, he has each coaching staff report to him after each weekend. If there was an incident or a significant injury, Held will know about it.

If a parent has a concern, Held says they need to go through the proper channels of communication. He prefers that the matter be addressed first with that player’s coach. Then comes a board member assigned to the team and then comes the director.

“I try to keep a close watch on the pulse of our teams,” says Held. “If there are issues, we try to be visible.

“It’s hard to control 300 sets of parents. You may give a message, but they hear what they want to hear. Our parents have been fantastic with going through the proper chain of command.”

The Bulls — an Indiana not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization has a board of directors filled with business professionals and a set of by-laws. There are currently 23 board members.

In a presentation at the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis, Taylor told those assembled about how to put together and sustain a successful travel organization like the Bulls.

Taylor says the mission must be clear.

Some are established as high school feeder programs. Others are there to go after national championships. Yet others are there to develop talent.

The Bulls were formed to develop and gain exposure for ballplayers in the state.

“Indiana was Alaska in terms of developing college baseball players,” says Taylor.

It’s key to have business people of the board — bankers, lawyers, insurance agents etc. There expertise will help in securing facilities, making deals, establishing policies, setting budgets and managing social media. Other important things to consider are revenue, player fees, sponsors and fundraising.

Taylor says board members are expected to raise money and/or cut a check of their own. They should be “invested” in the organization.

The Bulls have had a sustaining corporate partnership with cap company Lids.

While keeping tabs on all the teams, Held will also coach 16U Black and join Rolen in coaching 10U Grey and their sons — Boston Held and Finn Rolen.

“We’re excited about that,” says Held. “We get our kids to play together and enjoy the game of baseball.”

Held and Rolen were both selected in the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies — third baseman Rolen in the second round and catcher Held in the 42nd round. They were minor league teammates.

Rolen played 17 seasons in the big leagues. Held was a pro player for nine years and a coach for five.

INDIANABULLSLARGELOGO

Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991. (Indiana Bulls Image)

 

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Young Scott has mentally-tough Rossville in 1A state championship game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Scott has steadily risen through the baseball coaching ranks and now finds himself leading a program one win from a state championship.

Scott, 26, is in his first full season at Rossville High School (he took over in 2016) and will lead the 24-8 Hornets against Lanesville (19-6) in the IHSAA Class 1A title game at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

“It’s kinda crazy,” says Scott of his coaching ascent from recreation ball to all-stars to travel baseball to high school assistant and then head coach. “Coaching’s been a part of me since I was 16.”

Scott played two seasons at Lafayette Jeff and one at McCutcheon, where he graduated in 2009. He then played two seasons at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill., before returning to the Lafayette area.

He was going to be an assistant at McCutcheon when Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton left that program and was hired at Rossville, which is located in Clinton Couny.

The 2017 Hornets feature a regular lineup with four senior leaders — shortstop Matt Homco, third baseman-pitcher Trevor Waggoner, Nate Clendenen and first baseman Harrison Whitman — and five sophomores.

“We are a very, very mentally strong team,” says Scott. “The leadership we have at the senior level is like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

The Hornets went 6-2 and placed fourth in the Hoosier Heartland Conference, which played a round robin followed by crossover games. Rossville is in the West Division with Carroll (Flora), Clinton Prairie, Frontier and Tri-County. The East Division includes Eastern (Greentown), Clinton Central, Sheridan and Tri-Central.

Tackling a regular-season schedule with bigger schools like Kokomo, Lafayette Harrison and Logansport in 4A, Maconaquah, Peru and West Lafayette in 3A has toughened Rossville for the postseason.

“That’s how you advance in the tournament — preparation and facing adversity,” says Scott, whose assistant coaches are Jon Jacoby, Evan Muinzer and Mason Roberts.

Rossville bested Pioneer and Clinton Central to win the Frontier Sectional, Daleville and Hagerstown to reign at the Carroll (Flora) Regional and South Newton to take the Plymouth Semistate.

The sectional title was the fourth in school history and first since 2002.

“That’s been really cool for our community,” says Scott. “And it’s made the kids believe.”

Scott Stair was Rossville’s head coach in 2000 when the Hornets won their first regional and made its first State Finals appearance.

Scott has welcomed new IHSAA pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) because it has allowed him to be less “tricky” in calling pitches and trying to strike opponents out or chase pitches out of the strike zone.

Hornet pitchers are much more likely to pitch to contact and Scott likes to switch up his arms to give opponents different looks.

“If we have a walk or go deep in counts, our defense can fall asleep,” says Scott. “It’s helped the whole process. Let them hit it. It’s worked so far.

“A lot of the teams we have in the postseason have a 1A (starter on the mound). I’m not a fan of letting a batter see the pitcher too many times in one game so they don’t get too comfortable.”

Lanesville will be making its second straight 1A championship appearance. The Eagles lost to Daleville in 2016.

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Brad Scott, who took over as head baseball coach at Rossville early in the 2016, has the 2017 Hornets in the IHSAA Class 1A state championship game. (Aaron Kennedy/Frankfort Times Photo)

Kraemer coaches Terre Haute South with passion

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Kraemer is passionate about the way he coaches baseball at his alma mater — Terre Haute South Vigo High School.

“I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” says Kraemer, a 1986 graduate who is in his 23rd season as Braves head coach. “I learned at a very young age (from a youth coach named Mike Kennedy): ‘When I tell you something, don’t take it personally.’ When I stop talking to you, I don’t care about you and when I don’t care about you, you’re not at a very good place in the program.

“There are kids you can get on and they can take it. There are kids you can get on and they can’t take it, but they learn quickly by watching how others act and respond to what’s going on.”

Kraemer played at South for Ken Martin, learned more about the game while at Purdue University from head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Alexander and pitching coach Steve Green (Kraemer was a Boilermaker team captain and bashed a team-high 10 home runs in 1990), served one season as an assistant at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, returned to Terre Haute as a volunteer assistant to Martin (1993 and 1994) and took over as head coach for the 1995 season.

As a football coach, Kraemer was on the Braves staff from 2007-15. Former South baseball player Mark Raetz was head gridiron coach 2007-12.

The Kraemer-led baseball Braves have won nine sectional titles and four regional crowns — the last of each coming in 2011.

Since his second season as head coach, Kraemer has been assisted by 1981 South graduate and U.S. Marines veteran Brian Pickens.

Kraemer and Pickens share hitting coach duties.

A.J. Reed, who made his Major League Baseball debut with the Houston Astros in 2016 and is currently at Triple-A Fresno, socked 41 homers and drove in 150 runs during his South career, which concluded in 2011. The next year, the bats were changed and it made it harder for teams to score runs with extra-base hits.

“He was a quiet kid,” says Kraemer, who also saw Reed go 26-10 with 390 strikeouts in 260 innings and a 1.88 earned run average on the mound for the Braves (he once threw 143 pitches in a 10-inning semistate outing). “He had the most natural ability I’ve ever seen.”

Another of Kraemer’s top products is Matt Samuels, who pitched at the University of Tennesee and Indiana State University and briefly in the Minnesota Twins organization.

Kyle’s son, Koby, played for him and at ISU and in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

With less-explosive bats a few years ago, Kraemer and Pickens began to change the way they teach hitting.

“Small ball became more important,” says Kraemer. “The bats we use are just dead.”

To generate more power in the hips — not necessarily via home runs — hitters are loading up by raising their knee and creating some momentum in the lower half of the swing and uncoiling to drive the baseball.

All but one of seven 2017 Braves coaches are South graduates. Besides Kraemer and Pickens, there’s Chad Chrisman (23rd year and charged with infield positioning) and three who played for Kraemer — Daniel Tanoos, Scott Flack and T.C. Clary. Pitching coach Adam Lindsay is a graduate of West Vigo High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve DeGroote.

Todd Miles is a former longtime South coach. After returning from the Indiana State Police, Miles (who played on ISU’s College World Series team in 1986) took a job at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute that does not allow him the time to coach with the Braves.

South, who is preparing for the Class 4A Mooresville Sectional, fielded two teams this spring — one varsity and one JV.

The new pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) “forced us to cut back on one (JV) team because we’ve had to limit pitches and we’re short on pitchers.”

“Personally, I don’t think (the pitch count rule) was needed,” says Kraemer. “Most (coaches) did it right.”

As of May 18, none of Kraemer’s moundsmen had thrown more than 103 pitches in a game.

Conference Indiana, which South joined in 2013 after holding membership in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, tends to play league doubleheaders on Saturdays (against Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian and Southport). Braves starters generally work once a week.

“If you use common sense, you’re OK,” says Kraemer. “It will be interesting to get feedback from smaller schools, where can walk and chew gum, they’re going to be a pitcher until they prove they’re not.”

Baseball players learn the game in Cal Ripken Leagues at Riley and Terre Town, Little Leagues at Terre Haute North and West Terre Haute and through various travel baseball organization, including Junior Rex, Indiana Havoc, Redbirds, Junior Sycamores and Mad Dogs plus senior and junior American Legion teams for Wayne Newton Post 346. That program was ran by John Hayes for years and is now headed by his brother Tim.

“Travel ball has really taken off,” says Kraemer. “You might as well embrace it. It’s here to stay. (Post 346) now has more of a travel feel (playing in tournaments with travel ball teams).”

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Kyle Kraemer is in his 23rd season as head  baseball coach at his alma mater — Terre Haute South Vigo High School. (TH South Photo)

Keeping Kokomo Wildkats on even-keel duty of Swan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Not every hop is true.

Not every line drive off your bat finds grass before it finds an opponent’s glove.

Not letting those moments keep you down is key to long-term success.

These are the kinds of things Kokomo High School head baseball coach Sean Swan is teaching his Wildkats.

Swan was a Kokomo assistant for four seasons before taking over leadership of the program for the 2015 season. That year, he had six freshmen in the starting lineup. The young Kats had the talent to compete, but were not always equipped for baseball’s inevitable rough patches.

“We prepare these young men to go out and do great things whether it’s in baseball or just life,” says Swan. “We use the game to teach those lessons. We talk about failure a lot. Failure is something you have to work through and how you can learn from it.

“We’ve made great strides in dealing with failure and adversity. We’re not perfect yet and I tell the kids we’re not going to be. Baseball is like that. You’re going to have games where things don’t go your way and you don’t play your best.”

Swan talks to his players about being mental toughness and playing a hard-nosed brand of baseball.

That approach got Kokomo off to a 14-0 start in 2017 even though it found itself down by 13 runs in one of those victories. The Kats fell behind 14-1 in the second game of a North Central Conference doubleheader against Lafayette Harrison only to win 21-18 with the decisive run coming at the end of the game.

“I was pleased we stuck with the process and kept fighting,” says Swan. “I want our guys to be very even-keeled. We talk about playing with emotion but not emotionally. We tell them to focus on playing the game the right way and not so much on who they’re playing against.”

When Kokomo took its first loss of the season — 12-1 to Zionsville — the Kats responded with a 2-1 NCC tournament quarterfinal win against Harrison in eight innings.

The ’17 Kats have 43 players on three squads — varsity and two junior varsity teams (Blue and Red).

Swan’s varsity coaching staff includes Tim Weir (pitching), Eric Dill (infield and hitting), Nick Shanks (outfield and statistics), Shawn Mayfield (hitting) and George Phares (quality control). There’s also Eli Grimes (JV Blue head coach), Andy Dicken (JV Blue assistant), Matt Turner (JV Red head coach) and Chris Beane (JV Red assistant).

Weir is the father of T.J. Weir, a Kokomo graduate and a pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization.

Phares, a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Howard County Sports halls of fame who won an IHSAA Class 2A state championship at Taylor in 2000, serves as an extra set of eyes. He scouts the Kats and gives Swan an honest evaluation on areas that need improvement.

“Sometimes as a head coach, you have blinders and get focused on what you’re trying to accomplish and you miss some things,” says Swan of Phares. “He challenges me in some areas.

“The guys on my staff are great baseball men, but great men in general. I want quality individuals that are high-character people.”

Kokomo once played at historic Highland Park Stadium and practice and play on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, home to the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League.

“We are blessed,” says Swan. “It’s one of the best fields in the state.”

With its fast surface, playing not the carpet has been an adjustment. Even softly-struck balls sometimes get through the infield and outfielders are asked to play deeper in an attempt to keep balls out of the gaps.

At all games — but especially at Municipal — the Kats look to put pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play.

“We try to be aggressive and get pitches we can drive,” says Swan. “Early in counts we want them to be sitting on fastballs. After the count gets deeper or they fall behind in the count, their (strike) zone expands a little bit. They shorten up their swing and then it’s about putting balls in play.”

Swan looks at the new pitch count rule and says it has more of an effect at the JV level than the varsity.

“We build up (varsity) players so they can throw 80 to 100 pitches and we’re comfortable with that,” says Swan. With varsity depth, starters generally pitch just once a week. “But the rule makes us be forward-thinking with our younger guys. We have two junior varsity teams and they’re not efficient with their pitches.

“Bigger schools it won’t effect quite as much, but I really see it effect JV programs, especially at small schools. They just don’t have that depth. They don’t have the arms to eat up innings.”

Swan, a Muncie Central graduate, began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater while still in college.

His first head coaching job came at Lapel. The Bulldogs won just one game the year before he arrived and a few years later won a sectional.

Swan then served five years as assistant to Ryan Bunnell at Westfield and considers him a mentor.

“I learned a great deal from him,” says Swan. “He’s a great baseball guy.

“I tend to be more emotional and he’s very steady. He’s great with X’s and O’s and I watched how he drew up a practice plan.”

Swan was head coach at Tri-Central for three seasons before joining Tim Weeks’ staff at Kokomo, where Swan also now serves as assistant principal.

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Sean Swan is in his third season as head baseball coach at Kokomo High School. He was an assistant for the Wildkats for four seasons before that. He is also an assistant principal at KHS.

Turner wants Logansport players to take field prepared for anything

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Turner Jr. has been a witness and participant in a large swath of Logansport High School baseball history in his 60 years.

He fondly recalls shagging flies while father Jim Turner Sr., prepared the Berries.

Later, he played for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer at LHS. Jim Jr. was the winning pitcher after Jim Jr. gave him the ball as a reliever in the fourth inning of the state championship game in 1975. Final: Berries 11, Indianapolis Marshall 5.

In 28 seasons (1964-91), Jim Sr. won 582 games with four state championships (1975, 1977, 1979, 1991), a state runner-up finish (1989) and another Final Four appearance (1990).

When Larry “Bud” Jones became head coach in 1992, Jim Jr. joined his staff and served seven seasons before becoming head coach himself in 1998.

Learning how to play the game from his father while growing up, the younger Turner gained much knowledge from Jones on how to coach young men.

Never much of a yeller and screamer, Turner Jr. says the players of today are generally not motivated by that coming from a coach and are likely to tune out.

“Coach Jones was a great mentor for me,” says Turner Jr. “It was his demeanor. He was calm but firm with players. He would never chew them out. he would describe what was wrong and give them a positive way to fix something.”

Turner Jr. says an adjustment must be suggested as part of the equation.

“Otherwise, you’re not coaching, you’re criticizing,” says Turner Jr. “Give them a way to fix the problem.”

Turner and his 2017 coaching staff — Brad Platt and Greg Korreckt at the varsity level and Cory Cripe, Ron Kinnaman, Mark Lowry and Carlos Villar with the junior varsity — work diligently with the Berries in practice to cover potential situations. Each position has a kind of checklist of things they should know how to do.

“We just try to teach players to be fundamentally sound and take responsibility for their development,” says Turner Jr. “We try to do our coaching in practice. That way we’ve rehearsed or at least talked about everything that could happen and prepare them for the games.”

The Berries adjust their offensive inclinations to their personnel. Turner Jr. says he needs more time to evaluate the new pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA.

After moving from Riverside Park to Fairview Park, Logan has been on its current on-campus field since the mid-1970’s. It was renamed Jim Turner Field for his father in the early ’90s and in 2016 the Berries became one of the few high schools in Indiana to have artificial turf.

“It’s going to become more and more common,” says Turner Jr. “After a certain period of time the investment pays for itself.”

Before the change to Sprinturf, the field did not drain well and the Berries lost games and practices to inclement weather.

With the turf, Logansport has been able to support a junior high school baseball program as well as soccer and other activities.

Coming off a 16-13 record in 2016, the Berries (10-7, 3-4) head into a May 3 North Central Conference game against Lafayette Harrison.

Established in 1926, the NCC is Indiana’s oldest high school athletic conference. Besides Logansport and Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon are in the West Division with Anderson, Indianapolis Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond in the East Division. The NCC tournament is slated for May 6 and 13.

Logan’s last sectional title came in 2002, the same season the Berries went all the way to the program’s eighth State Finals appearance.

Logansport High School baseball has a long tradition. The Berries now play on turf at Jim Turner Field.

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Logansport High School baseball has a long tradition. The Berries now play on turf at Jim Turner Field.