First-hand familiarity with the subject and the desire to offer something of value to baseball players and their families led Aaron Mortrud to launch Midwest Recruiting, LLC in October 2020. Mortrud, a 1990 graduate of Bethany Christian School in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), where his head coach was Dan Bodiker, played one season each for head coach Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Oldest son Nick Mortrud went through the recruiting process while playing at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind. Midwest Recruiting, LLC helps market players to prospective colleges in an efficient, affordable way. Mortrud describes it as “Autotrader for Athletes.” “Recruiting is a sales process,” says Mortrud, whose day job is National Sales Manager for Starcraft Inc., and works of the office near his Shipshewana, Ind., home. “College coaches are buyers of a product — the student-athlete. How do you connect the buyer with the product?” Using his relationships with recruiters, Mortrud works for his clients to join the two parties. Once he got the ball rolling last fall, things took off like crazy. “I just picked up a kid from Australia who wants to play college baseball in the U.S.,” says Mortrud. So far three players have found a college baseball home — Kaleb Fritz (Lafayette Jeff Class of 2021) at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Noah Perkins (East Noble Class of 2022) at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and Carson Smith (Knightstown Class of 2022) at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. Others are close to signing. Full Midwest Recruiting, LLC services cost $95. “What I’m trying to do is give as much honest and real information to families at the best cost,” says Mortrud. “Parents deserve to be told the truth about all facets of the game. A profile with a players’ vital data goes on a website that recruiters can go to for their specific needs. For example: One coach might be seeking a left-handed pitcher who throws in the high 80’s and has such-and-such a standard test score. Mortrud sees himself as an unbiased third party who has invested into quality measuring equipment that provides reliable numbers. “The only thing worse than no information is bad information,” says Mortrud. “I don’t want to waste a (college) program’s or a kid’s time. Let’s be honest from the beginning. “I have to maintain my credibility.” Players can also be seen at Midwest Recruiting, LLC-hosted recruiting events. The next ones are a Fall Showcase Oct. 2 and Scout Series Oct. 3 at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. The first is a pro-style workout and assessment. The second includes spots for teams and individuals. A Scout Series event is scheduled for June 25-26, 2022 at Huntington U. Mortrud has experience as a baseball parent and travel ball coach. He is now with the Midwest Pack (run by Westview head coach Jason Rahn) and was with the Eastside Irish before moving from central Ohio back to Indiana six years ago. “College baseball is a job,” says Mortrud of the long days and year-round commitment it takes at that level. “(Players and families) need to know what college baseball is. “This may not be for you. How bad do you really want to play baseball?” Ultimately, the decision is not for the parents but the student-athlete. “That kid’s got to decide what he wants to do,” says Mortrud. Nick Mortrud (Westview Class of 2021) — Aaron’s oldest son — made decision to not play college baseball. “I know what its like to come through the recruiting process as a parent with a kid who does not want to go on after you’ve spent all that time and money,” says Aaron Mortrud. Matty Mortrud (Westview Class of 2023) has more high school and travel ball to play before he might go to college. Midwest Recruiting, LLC is on Facebook and Twitter. In the past week, Mortrud shared on Twitter what it takes to make it at the NAIA and NCAA Division III levels. Those numbers appear below.
Matt Brankle is a familiar face in a different place on the Wayne County, Ind., baseball scene. Brankle pitched at Earlham College and for the Richmond RiverRats and was head coach for the Richmond Jazz and Cambridge City Lincoln Middle/High School. In July, the 28-year-old became head coach at Richmond High School. With the Red Devils, Brankle is establishing a culture where Old School meets New School. “I’m going to use a lot of the Old School strategies, but try to do it with a modern approach,” says Brankle. “That’s what our players have grown up with. “We’re going to be disciplined in how we handle every moment of our day. I’m high on grades. We expect to miss zero assignments and have zero F’s. We’ll be 10 minutes early everywhere we go, including school. We’ll be dressed properly with shirts tucked in and hats forward. “I know there’s a lot more to this life than baseball I’m going to try to teach them skills in baseball that will help them in those situations.” Brankle has learned coaches he played for and applied it to his coaching style. “I’ve taken the best of all of those and found a middle ground,” says Swinson. Steve Swinson was his coach with the Kokomo (Ind.) Longhorns travel ball team. “He never yelled,” says Brankle of Swinson. “He built a relationship with you that you respected. “My high school coaches were more demanding, but also understood the New School mentality.” Brankle played three years for Jeremy Luna and Brent Owens as a senior at Taylor High School in Kokomo. (Luna) was hard-nosed — kind of a football style — and was upbeat all the time,” says Brankle, who played shortstop and third base when he was not pitching for the Titans. “(Owens) was even-keeled most of the time.” At Earlham, Brankle’s head coach was Steve Sakosits. “Coach was full of energy all the time — most of the time it was positive,” says Brankle of Sakosits. “He has one heckuva of a drive in him and it definitely leaks out to his players.” Old School in his approach, Coach Sak’s Quakers were expected to be clean-shaven with short hair cuts. At EC, Brankle was named Newcomer of the Year (2012), Pitcher of the Year (2013) and earned the All-Heartland Collegiate Conference Sportsmanship Award (2013), Captains Award (2015) and George Van Dyke Outstanding Athlete Award (2015). At the time of graduation, he was No. 1 in all-time strikeouts, No. 2 in career saves and innings and No. 3 in career mound appearances. Brankle played for the RiverRats in the summers of 2013 and 2014. After graduating in 2015 with a Fine Arts degree, he played independent professional baseball with the Lake Erie Crushers. He was the head coach for the Jazz in the summer of 2016 and assisted Patrick Flanagan at Eaton (Ohio) High School in the springs of 2016 and 2017. Brankle was head coach at Cambridge City 2018-21. He taught at Richmond Community School’s Test Intermediate School for 2 1/2 years before Cambridge City and is now a Special Education teacher at Richmond’s Dennis Middle School. In May 2021, Brankle completed a Masters in Education from Indiana University East and is now working on a Masters in Educational Leadership from American College of Education. Richmond (enrollment around 1,375) is a member of the North Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison of West Lafayette, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon and Muncie Central). The NCC is split into two divisions with Richmond in the East. In 2021, the Red Devils were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Muncie Central and Pendleton Heights (2021 host). Richmond has won 29 sectional titles — the last in 2011. Richmond plays home games on John Cate Field at Don McBride Stadium. “The history is the best part,” says Brankle of a park built in the 1930s that has seen Bob Feller, Satchel Paige and many more diamond legends play there. “We don’t talk about it enough. “Some of the kids don’t understand the significance.”
Matt and wife of seven years, Kelsey Brankle, have three children — daughters Amillia (5) and Abigail (3) and son Broden (1 1/2).
The same week the IHSAA crowns four state champions in Indianapolis, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association will conduct its North/South All-Star Series in Evansville. State Finals are Monday and Tuesday, June 21-22 at Victory Field with the games to be set after semistates. The IHSBCA will hold its all-star game festivities Friday through Sunday, June 25-27 at the University of Evansville and historic Bosse Field. Practice is at U of E’s German American Bank Field at Charles H. Braun Stadium (North workout at 3:15 p.m. Central Time, South workout at 5 Central) followed by the all-star banquet at Crescent Center at Milestones at 7 Central. A noon doubleheader is slated for Saturday at Braun Stadium with a wood-bat single game on Sunday at Bosse Field at 11 a.m. Central. Holiday Inn Express East, 220 Kirkwood Drive, is the team hotel. The North leads 68-63 in the all-time series. Indiana all-stars are seniors nominated by IHSBCA members and selected by a committee. In addition, the IHSBCA Futures Game (non-seniors) is to be staged in Evansville Wednesday, June 28.
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.
“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.
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).
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.
“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.
“I’m a humongous believer in owning that inside part of the plate with the fastball,” says Welliever. “It seems to have worked.
“If you can throw the inside fastball, every other pitch is available to you.”
Welliever wants his hurlers to employ solid mechanics. But he is also unique in today’s deviating from today’s prevelant approach.
“My pitchers are always working on stuff, stuff, stuff,” says Welliever, who knows his players enjoy throwing hard. “Most people work on location, location, location.”
Welliever has his catchers set up on the inside black for bullpens about 60-70 percent of the time. Many of his hurlers go hard in and soft away though some have done the opposite.
“It’s OK if once in awhile you hit a batter,” says Welliever. “Don’t get upset.”
Breaking balls are also thrown hard.
“We’re trying to create as much spin on that ball so it breaks as late as possible and the hitter has the least amount of time to react to it,” says Welliever. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”
Welliever has his pitchers build arm strength with long toss and with burnouts aka pulldowns.
The 2008 Crawfordsville pitching staff racked up 397 (No. 3 in the IHSBCA Record Book; No. 1 Lafayette Jeff fanned 450 in 43 games in 1971).
Steven Rice fanned 198 batters in 2009 and finished his Athenians career (2007-10) with 521 K’s.
Welliever worked alongside brother-in-law and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge through 2020.
“One of John’s strengths teaching the fundamentals of fielding,” says Welliever. “(Strong defense) helps pitchers.
“It gives them confidence to attack the hitters and throw strikes.”
Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate, is now Athenians head coach. Motz played at the University of Evansville, served as a graduate assistant at Purdue University and was head coach at North Putnam High School before returning to his alma mater, where he is also the strength & conditioning coach.
The Athenians won Class 3A state championships in 2008 (32-4) and 2011 (29-6).
What keeps Welliever coming back?
“It’s working with the kids and getting them to the point where they’re confident about themselves,” says Welliever. “It’s seeing them succeed in baseball and in life.”
He has witnessed many former players giving back to the community as coaches at the youth and high school levels.
“It is the most satisfying thing,” says Welliever, who grew up around New Market, Ind., and is a 1980 graduate of Southmont High School in Crawfordsville, where he played baseball for Mounties head coach George Davis and counted Froedge and the Taylor twins — Dave and Dan — as teammates. Dave Taylor went on to help found the Indiana Bulls travel organization.
“We played a lot of baseball together,” says Welliever. “It was a really special group of guys.”
Dan Welliever, Rhett’s father, taught junior high and was a wrestling head coach and an assistant in baseball, football and softball at Crawfordsville.
Jamie Welliever, Rhett’s brother, is retired from teaching and has spent two tenures each as head baseball and head wrestling coach at Southmont.
Landon McBride (New Palestine)
A middle school coach for five years (seventh and eighth grade teams often play up to 20 games while feeding the high school program), Landon McBride joined the New Palestine High School staff for the 2007 season. He is the Dragons infield coach and helps with hitters on a staff led since 2012 by Shawn Lyons.
“The thing that jumps out at me the most about Coach Lyons is his absolute passion for his kids,” says McBride. “If you’re not in the inner circle you may not see that. But he does a great job of having his finger no the pulse of where our team is at and where each individual is at.”
McBride sees Lyons as steady.
“He doesn’t get too high; He doesn’t get too low,” says McBride. “He tries to keep our players on that even-keel, knowing there’s going to be ups and downs everyday.”
On game days, McBride serves as Lyons’ right-hand man, bouncing lineups off one another and trading ideas about strategy while also coaching first base.
McBride emphasizes fundamentals when it comes to his infielders fielding ground balls.
“We’re getting reps in every day — the way we think is the right way,” says McBride. “With hitting, we believe in going the other way. We’re utilizing our speed, bunt and steal bases when we can.”
McBride regularly throws batting practice.
“I’m 59 but I’m still chucking it in there,” says McBride. “I try to give them a little sense of velocity (by moving the L screen closer to the plate.”
When the varsity field is not available, New Pal baseball has been able to use the turf football field for long toss, tracking fly balls and taking grounders.
A 1980 graduate of Marshall High School in Indianapolis where he played three seasons for Bob Tremain and one for Brad Goffinet, McBride was a four-year player for Lynn Morrell at Marian University in Indianapolis — at the time an independent NAIA program.
McBride says he appreciates the discipline, structure and attention to detail that Tremain and Goffinet brought to Redskins baseball.
“(Coach Morrell) liked getting the ball into play and swinging away,” says McBride. “It was the pure joy of being around the game.”
Landon, a partner in Indiana Property Services which gives him the schedule freedom to coach baseball, and wife Shari McBride have three children — Ryan (30), Angela (28) and Wes (24). The boys played baseball and Angela was also an athlete at New Palestine.
Mike Zeilinga (New Palestine)
A 1976 New Palestine graduate, Mike Zeilinga coaches Dragons outfielders and leads the junior varsity.
Zeilinga began coaching boys basketball at New Pal in 1996 and led the freshmen for two seasons and the JV for four. He joined Al Cooper’s baseball staff in 2003. Cooper was a Dragons senior when Zeilinga was a freshman.
New Palestine earned a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2003 and state title in 2004.
“The kids keep me young,” says Zeilinga. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching.”
Most Dragons practices begin with stretching and throwing followed by individual defensive position work and team drills (cuts, double cuts and knowing situations).
“Coach McBride is excellent about working with our infielders,” says Zeilinga. “He makes sure they are moving with every pitch.
“Coach Lyons trusts the coaches that he has. He and Coach McBride have coached together that they can read each other’s mind. They have that kind of chemistry.”
During the fall IHSAA Limited Contract Period (twice a week for two hours), 73 players were at workouts while participation was around 65 for recent winter sessions.
“All coaches at New Pal work very well with sharing athletes,” says Zeilinga. “That’s straight from the mentality of Coach (Al) Cooper (athletic director and former head baseball coach).
Zeilinga often works with New Pal outfielders and JV players.
Since varsity and JV teams tend to play on the same night, Zeilinga rarely sees the varsity once the regular season starts.
After each JV game, Zeilinga sends an overview of what his players did well or areas where they need improvement and share that with head coach Shawn Lyons and varsity assistant Landon McBride.
Like McBride, Zeilinga has noticed the head coach’s temperament.
“Coach Lyons doesn’t get real high or real low after a big win or a hard loss,” says Zeilinga. “He’s just a real gentleman of the game.”
Mike, who worked at Eli Lily & Company 35 years before retiring, and wife Susan Zeilinga have two children — Stephanie (a teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis) and Michael (who was the starting center fielder on New Palestine’s 2004 state championship team).
Kevin Hall (New Albany)
Kevin Hall is a 1986 New Albany High School graduate who was a scrappy middle infielder and lead-off hitter for John Buerger, but his association with Bulldogs baseball goes back to before he started school.
Hall, who credits his work ethic for being the youngest of 11, was a batboy for teams featuring older brother David and coached by Stan Sajko in the early 1970’s. Hall still has the tiny pinstriped uniform from those days.
“(Coach Berger) had an attention to detail,” says Hall. “John was very big on pitching and defense. He believed in the bunting game.”
With a few years off here and there, Hall has been on the New Albany baseball coaching staff since 1990. He has been Bulldogs head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chris McIntyre’s top assistant for more than two decades.
“We both have the same philosophy on winning and we’re teaching these kids how to be young men,” says Hall, who leads infielders while also helping with outfielders, hitters and catchers. “When kids get out of school they’re probably not going to be their own boss. They need to learn to take direction.
“We understand that this is the game of failure. If you give us effort, we’ll never get on you about that.”
Hall coaches first base with McIntyre in the third base box.
“Coach McIntyre has a mind like nobody I’ve ever met,” says Hall. “He can process things. He’s analytical. He’s a math teacher. He loves the numbers.”
One day, Hall brought a stop watch to time runners without McIntyre knowing it and — counting in his head — the head coach was only off the actual number by about 1/10th of a second.
“Our program wouldn’t be near where it would be without Chris McIntyre.”
Hall calls baseball “the fairest game ever.”
“Each team gets the same number of outs, same number of opportunities and deals with the same conditions,” says Hall. “There’s no clock.
“You just have to go play.”
Hall throws a good deal of batting practice to the Bulldogs.
“Our kids get a lot of live arms,” says Hall. “I just use aspirin and ice and go back and do it again the next day.”
When McIntyre was approaching New Albany’s all-time win mark, Hall helped organize a special night for him.
After the celebration, Mac pulled Hall aside and said, “Don’t ever do that again” and then thanked him the next day.
“He’s very humble,” says Hall of McIntyre. “He wants the kids to have that limelight and not him.”
With the loss of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, New Albany had time to upgrade its baseball field while also putting in a new softball diamond next door.
Kevin, a plant operator at Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany, and wife Melia Hall have a daughter together — eighth grader Anderson (named for Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson). Kevin’s two older daughters are Samantha and Stephanie. Melia’s son is Aidan.
The 2021 season will mark Ford’s 31st with the Kings. He has always led the infield defense and helped with hitting instruction at Cass, which finished as Class 2A state runners-up in 2009 (20-9).
“It’s pretty collaborative in our program,” says Ford, who coaches first base and sits next to Marschand when the coaches are in the dugout. “We get a sense of the style of play we’re going to use and we coach each of the areas based on what we’re trying to do for that season.
“We we like to put pressure on the defense (on offense). You can do that a lot of different ways. If we have plodders (on the base paths), we can bunt them over. If we have rabbits, we can have more stolen bases, double steals and taking of extra bases.”
Kings coaches like players to play to their strengths and learn to do things like hit behind the runner and put the ball on the ground up the middle.
“We want them to be well-versed in the approach they are going to be taking at the plate based on the situation,” says Ford. “We would really like our players to learn the strategies and the options.
“In practice, we put runners in position and they decide how they are going to score the run.
“Once they have a broader knowledge of how to play, they are going to enjoy it more and be more successful.”
A big part of the Cass offensive blueprint is to get accumulate freebies with dirt-ball reads etc.
“Our approach at the plate has to be to hit hittable strikes,” says Ford. “Early in the count we’re not going to hit his pitch. We’re going to hit our pitch.”
A goal in batting practice is for each player to figure out which pitch he hits best.
BP goal – each player to learn to figure out which pitch he hits best
“Hitting a pitcher’s pitch is giving him a freebie,” says Ford. “Hitting our pitch is somewhat of a freebie for us.”
As part of its SAFE-T offensive plan, Cass wants to score the game’s first run.
Going for the long ball is not a priority, especially at home games where it’s 330 feet down the foul lines and 408 to center field.
“There’s a lot of outfield grass and we’re going to try to pepper it rather than try to hit it out of the park,” says Ford.
Kings defenders focus a lot of on momentum changers.
“One of he biggest on defense is the double play,” says Ford. “We work a lot on turns, feeds and throws to first base while trying to help our pitcher.
“At the high school level, pitching can be a huge variable. Defensive positioning os based on the speed of our pitcher.
“I can’t tell (infielders) every pitch where to align so they have to be cognizant of signals between the pitchers and catcher and know what pitch is coming.”
The Kings also look to prevent opponents from taking the extra base by being in the proper position for cut-offs and double-cuts.
“We’re making sure to be in a good back-up position in case the throw isn’t perfect,” says Ford. “There are a lot of nuances in defense like where the first baseman takes the throw or where the third baseman goes based on the count. At the high school level, the drag bunt is a big strategy.”
Taking nothing for granted, Ford wants his infielders to back up throws from the catcher to the pitcher.
Ford, a 1970 Kokomo Haworth graduate played for for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Keith Slaughter. The 1970 Haworth Huskies were state finalists.
Bill Bright was middle infielder Ford’s coach at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis).
Steve and wife Julia Ford have been married since 1974 and have two daughters — Amanda (a local farm wife with a son and two daughters) and Melanie (who played four years of basketball at the University of Charleston and is now associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator and NCAA compliance officer at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.). Amanda was a manager and Melanie a player for their father as a basketball coach.
Steve Ford was the girls basketball coach at Cass for 18 seasons, concluding in 2007-08.
Jim Kominiewicz has been there as an assistant for all of them. The 2021 season will be Komo’s 31st on the Kingsmen coaching staff. He has been in education for 38 years — eight in South Bend and 30 in the Penn system.
The current staff has Dikos leading the catcher, Kominkiewicz the infielders, Tom Stanton the pitchers and John Westra the outfielders.
“Greg is one of the best catching coaches in the state,” says Kominkiewicz, noting that Penn has produced its share of college backstops. “Catching is one of the hardest things to do. You’re involved in every play.
Kominkiewicz applauds Dikos for his willingness to keep learning and incorporating them into the Kingsmen program.
“Every year we try to do something better,” says Kominkiewicz. “We never stay the same. We try to change things up and keep the kids excited about it.
“Greg is always going to clinics. He’s the best.”
Kominkiewicz has noticed that many clinic speakers reinforce concepts already being taught by Penn coaches.
“It shows we’re doing things right,” says Kominkiewicz.
As an infield coach, Komo stresses getting the palm to the baseball and fielding through it. Time is spent on back-handing and picking up short hops.
Kominkiewicz graduated from South Bend John Adams High School in 1972, where he played baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski.
Komo’s first baseball coaching post was at South Bend Washington High School on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski that also included pitching coach Larry Jackowiak.
“Rick was very intense,” says Kominkiewicz. “He’s a book. We spent a lot of time together. We’d come in on Saturday morning and leave at 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
“I learned a lot of baseball from those guys. Both of them were great coaches.”
A popular drill during the indoor portion of the preseason was a game called “27 Outs.”
As fielders got closer to making it to the finish, balls off fungo bats got harder.
“That’s why (Tomaszewski’s) team were good,” says Kominkiewicz. “They competed every practice.
“We do the same things at Penn. We compete. We test for sit-ups, push-ups and longest throws. We rate their at-bats (4 points for a line drive, 3 for a hard ground ball etc.). Pitchers try to throw the most strikes — things like that.”
Ground balls and double plays are often timed.
Splitting the team into three groups, the Kingsmen go nine outs per round. Losers do extra running or clean up the field.
“A lot of times our practices are harder than the games,” says Kominkiewicz. “But it’s got to be good practice — not just practice. We want to do it right.
“Our theory is we want to good game of catch, put the ball in play (on offense) and pitchers have to throw strikes. That’s what we stress.”
After Washington, Kominkiewicz went to Adams to coach football, wrestling, baseball and and weightlifting then went back to Washington to coach baseball.
Then came the move to Penn, where he also coached football for two years. He has taught and coaches football and wrestling and served as athletic director at Grissom Middle School.
Jim and wife Beth Kominkiewicz have four children — Ryan (38), Brandon (32), Jill (29) and Matt (21) — and seven grandchildren ages six months to 9 years.
Ryan, an engineer with Caterpillar, played baseball at Penn.
Brandon played football at Penn and the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and coaches football at Fort Wayne North Side High School.
Jill is a dental assistant.
Matt played baseball and football at Penn and is on the football team at Saint Francis.
Kevin Fitzgerald (Noblesville)
A 1987 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis where he played two seasons each for former big league pitcher Russ Kemmerer and Richard Bender, Noblesville High School assistant Kevin Fitzgerald served in the U.S. Marine Corps 1989-94 then was an assistant to Duke Burns at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis (2000-02), Dave Mundy at Sheridan (Ind.) High School (2003 and 2004) and head coach at Sheridan (2005 and 2006).
“He was fantastic,” says Fitzgerald of Kemmerer. “There were so many lessons I learned that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.
“For him, it was really teaching about life and baseball was just the tool. He said baseball is played on a six-inch field — the six inches between your ears. There are no such things as physical errors — they’re all mental. You weren’t prepared.”
Bender, who had big shoes to fill replacing the popular Kemmerer, is credited by Fitzgerald for the opportunity to explore leadership.
Brett played four seasons at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for IHSBCA/NEIBA Hall of Famer Mike Frame, graduating in December 1995.
Before landing at Carroll, Brett was on his father’s Dwenger staff from 1996-2002.
Hershberger, who was an elementary physical education teacher for Windmiller, taught his players about focus and intensity.
“It started with him from the time you started playing catch until you got on the bus and went home,” says Windmiller. “All those things in between mattered. Not that you’re going to dwell on it afterward but this current pitch or at-bat is important.
“If you weren’t ready, you were going to hear about it from Lance.”
Hershberger reminded his players that there was a difference between baseball during the high school and summer seasons. There’s a finality to the high school season while the summer — though very important for development and exposure — is a series of games and unattached tournaments.
Brett did not feel the stigma of being a coach’s son.
“It may have just been the guys I played with,” says Brett. “In hindsight, it may be that dad handled it real well.
“I enjoyed playing for him. There were expectations with the way he wanted you to play. He was good at detecting an issue by watching you swing or throw.”
In his son’s eyes, Larry Windmiller was pretty even-keeled.
“He never got upset,” says Brett. “He was kind of in the middle all the time.
“He really let us play. We had a lot of kids with talent. We played loose and had a lot of success.”
The Dwenger Saints bowed out to Highland in the 1991 South Bend Semistate championship game.
At Huntington, Windmiller learned to play with intensity but not to let a mistake or a perceived bad call fester.
“The intensity of a baseball game is there,” says Windmiller. “It has to be. You learn the moments of the game where that’s appropriate. It cannot drive you into making a second mistake. You can’t carry your at-bat into the field. My red light was strike calls I didn’t agree with.
“Coach Frame was great as far as getting me to try to understand that I’m killing myself when I’m doing that. He helped me lose a little bit of the football mentality.”
Windmiller says he and his fellow coaches have matured over the years and tries set a good example for the players.
“When something bad happens, they are going to look at us,” says Windmiller. “We want to be cheering them on and saying let’s go to the next pitch.”
His first spring at Carroll, Windmiller coached junior varsity players with Mike Klopfenstein.
“JV’s great,” says Windmiller. “There’s no all-conference. There’s no media. It’s just young kids learning how to play baseball the correct way.”
At the JV level, win-loss record is irrelevant. It’s about developing. Between the spring and summer ball and getting in the weight room, a player can make big jumps from one season to the next.
Windmiller is a public address announcer for many Carroll sports, including football, boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling. He has coached eighth grade football and seventh grade girls basketball in the system.
Brett took over the FWBF post after the passing of NEIBA Hall of Famer Dick Crumback in 2019.
The NEIBA presents the Dick Crumback Player of the Year annually to an area ballplayer. The honor comes with a $1,000 donation ($500 from the Crumback family and $500 for the FWBF) to the program of the recipient.
“It’s a pretty tight-knit baseball community in Fort Wayne,” says Windmiller, who has also been a Wildcat League coach.
Brett, a sixth grade science teacher at Carroll Middle School, and wife Kara Windmiller (secretary to Chargers athletic director Dan Ginder) live in the Carroll school district and have two daughters — high school sophomore Ryli and seventh grader Hannah.
Brett’s sister Kari played volleyball and basketball at Dwenger.
A just-concluded fall league featured 84 players — including some middle schoolers — from 22 different Indiana schools with some coming from as far as Terre Haute, Columbus and Fort Wayne.
Playing mostly daylight to dark on Sundays, seven teams competed at Muncie Central.
“Kids are starving to play,” says West, noting how all players lost the spring season and much — if not all — the summer to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is a league designed to introduce kids to the high school game.”
It’s a also a revenue stream for the Bearcats program.
A 1974 graduate of Yorktown (Ind.) High School in Delaware County, West was a 5-foot-6, 155-pound left-handed pitcher for Tigers coach Joe Pena.
West got many hitters out using a a pitch with screwball action, meaning it ran into left-handed batters and away from right-handers.
Though injury limited his college career one season season, he pitched 31 innings and made three starts for the University of Louisville. He went the distance in a 3-2 loss to Indiana and notched another complete game in a 4-1 win against Xavier. He also earned a start in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament against Southern Illinois.
West landed at U of L when former Yorktown catcher Randy Delph — three years older than West — went to play for the Cardinals and recommended the left-hander to head coach Jim Zerilla.
“Don’t tell me you can’t make it,” says West. “I did.”
And not by throwing hard or racking up large strikeout totals — a lesson for his current players.
“The No. 1 thing is to throw the ball over the plate,” says West. “I don’t care how hard how hard you throw it if you can’t control it.
“Try to miss the barrel of the bat and get weak ground balls and and pop-ups. They got by pitch count now. The best inning in baseball is five pitches with two groundouts and a pop-up.
“I try to get my guys to think about pitching instead of just throwing.”
West’s assistant coaches are Ken Zvokel (the Muncie American Legion Post 19 Chiefs manager) plus Dave Garrett and Ball State University student Garris Rehfus.
While there are no college players among recent Muncie Central graduates, West sees potential.
“There are a couple of younger kids who have a chance if they work their hind end’s off,” says West.
After the injury that ended his college mound days, West came back home to work and raise a family. Norm and Jan West — who have been married for 45 years have three boys who all played baseball at Yorktown — Kyle (Class of 1996), Cory (Class of 2000) and Clay (Class of 2007). There are also three grandsons and three granddaughters. All live close-by for grandparents to get quality time.
“We focus more so on youth development — all the skill sets,” says Matt Chandler, who founded the Jaguars in the early 2000’s and is in the second year of a re-boot with a 13U squad in 2020 — his 31st year as a baseball coach. “We cover the intangibles that rec ball may not provide.
“We emphasize body and athletic development before we even get to the baseball training.”
Chandler says there is an emphasis on arm care, including recovery.
“There is a specific way we develop our pitchers,” says Chandler. “The kids experience what they’re going to experience in high school if they get to that level.
“Typically, we take 30 minutes of every practice for stretching and throwing properly and that includes some long toss.”
All bullpen pitches are charted.
“We have a bullpen goal for each kid,” says Chandler. “For example, we might try to throw at least 50 percent strikes.”
These numbers are turned into rankings and shared with the players.
“We build a lesson on how to compete, hold yourself accountable and improve,” says Chandler. “We do similar things for hitting and fielding.”
During batting practice, all defensive chances are charted and the goal is to go error-free on at least 96 percent of them.
But it’s about more than baseball.
“We’ve got to continue to let kids know it’s OK to pray,” says Chandler, who has lost two former players to suicide — one who had played for him at Harrison High School and another former Jaguar. “After every game, we take a knee and give God the glory.
“We want them to know that their coaches have their best interests at heart and they’re more than a jersey number. Every kid I come in contact with them, that I’m here for them and they’re loved. I want to be an outlet for these kids.”
Chandler says he wants players to continue to learn and grow in the game and also have fun so they don’t get burned out, giving it up even before they get to high school.
The organization’s originator says the Jaguars gives opportunities to families who may not have the time or funds to devote to full-fledge travel ball. The team plays many of its games in Lafayette with the Wea Summer Rec complex being a common site.
In 2019, the Jaguars played around 30 games.
“We’re in wait-and-see mode,” says Chandler. “We ordered equipment and gear in anticipation of playing a 15-game schedule that would begin in May. It’ll be whatever state and federal government allow. We usually have a Tippecanoe County rec league.
“But with the (COVID-19 Coronavirus) pandemic that did not get off the ground. Many local teams shut down for the year. We want to allow kids and families to continue and grow and develop so we organized our own league (run by Ryan Johnson).”
Chandler regularly consults with high school, college and pro coaches to increase his baseball knowledge.
“In order for the Jaguars organization to grow, I have to grow as a coach,” says Chandler. “If I don’t, I’m doing a disservice to my players and my program.”
Over the years, the Jaguars have had high school-age players. There are currently 13 players — mostly sixth and seventh graders.
Chandler was born and raised in Lafayette. He played two years of high school baseball at Lafayette Central Catholic. After transferring to Lafayette Jeff, he was cut in his junior and senior years (1988 and 1989).
“I still loved the game,” says Chandler, who began coaching baseball in local youth leagues at 18 and is still at it.
Chandler served as head junior varsity coach on the staff of Joel Strode at West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School in 2009 and 2010 then went back to the youth leagues while coaching the Jaguars on a part-time basis. He was head JV coach at Harrison, where Pat Lowery is head coach, in 2015 and 2016.
In 2017 and 2018, Chandler was head coach at Faith Christian School in Lafayette. As far as he knows, he was the first African-American head baseball coach at the high school in Tippecanoe County.
“Then God called me to a bigger purpose — to re-start the Jaguars program to give back to the youth of our community,” says Chandler.
Matt is married to Jennifer Chandler and has a 20-year-old step-daughter named Hannah.
For just the third year in 31, Matt is coaching his sons — Matthew Chandler Jr. (13) and Thomas Chandler (12).
“It’s a blessing to mentor and coach them,” says Matthew Chandler Sr.
His Jaguars assistants for the second year are Mark McIntosh, James Casab and Vernon Ford.
McIntosh has been a board member and coach at Frankfort (Ind.) Little League. His son, Xavier McIntosh, is a Jaguar.
Casab (Harrison) and Ford (Faith Christian) both played for Chandler, making more than a dozen former players who have coached with him over the years.
“It’s bigger than any trophy I could ever win,” says Chandler. “They come back and give to the kids. They show (current players) what it looks like to give back.”
Thomas Chandler (left) and brother Matthew Chandler Jr., play for Jaguars Baseball Organization, Inc., in Lafayette, Ind. The Jaguars were formed by Matthew Chandler Sr., in the early 2000’s and re-booted in 2019.
Matthew Chandler Sr., is the founder of Jaguars Baseball Organization, Inc., in Lafayette, Ind. The 2020 season marks his 31st of coaching the sport.
There’s a running debate in baseball coaching about the Old School vs. the New School.
The Old School represents the long-used methods.
The New School includes emerging technology and its application to the game.
“We’re always learning,” says Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, who has decades of experience as a professional hitting instructor — most recently working in affiliated baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers organization 2018 and 2019. “Technology is very important. That’s where we are today.
“We are not Old School or New School, We’re In School. If we don’t continue to be In School, we’re going to hurt these kids. Period.”
As Bell teaches lessons and clinics across the country as well as in Noblesville, Ind., at Jason Taulman’s Indy Sharks training facility and will soon in Lafayette at Jeff Isom’s new On Deck Training building, he looks to share he’s learned and shares it with his pupils.
“There’s all this information,” says Bell. “I’m not saying its detrimental. It’s confusing. (Technology) can be a great thing.”
Bell, 56, is adaptinhg to the new tools so he can understand and get players to understand.
“I’ve learned it my way instead of some guy telling me how I must learn it,” says Bell, who has worked with Blast Motion sensors and looks forward to using Rapsodo motion detection.
“Humans see in 2D,” says Bell. “Technology sees in 4D. It’s another set of eyes. It can be a great thing.
“You will see great strides in that kid’s progression if it’s utilized the right way.
“You can’t quantify the movement from the left to the right hemisphere You have to combine (technology) with what he’s thinking, how he’s thinking and why he’s thinking. I understand the importance of it all coming together. I really do.”
Knowing that each player is different, Bell does not expect everyone to have the same movement patterns and to reach them you’ve got to get to know them.
“The individual needs to be an individual,” says Bell. “We want them to be short and direct to the ball. We don’t worry about things we don’t control. We control the (strike) zone and get a good pitch to hit. It sounds like a cliche, but you’re only as good as the pitch you hit.
“We try to keep it as simple as possible. Pitching is too good. They throw so hard.”
Bell wants to relate to his hitters on a personal basis.
“I want to establish a relationship with that player,” says Bell. “That’s the key. This guy’s there for him whenever he needs them.”
Bell is a 1981 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School. His head baseball coach was Mark Strader, who had been a Bronchos standout for and assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul “Spider” Fields.
“(Strader) was one of the best baseball players to come out of Tippecanoe County,” says Bell.
Concepts he associates with Strader are intensity, tenacity, competitiveness, work ethic and doing the little things right.
“He did a lot of things for me,” says Bell, who credits Harmon for getting his a place on Team USA in the 1982 World’s Fair Games in Knoxville, Tenn., and a place in college baseball. “He is a phenomenal man.”
Bell played two seasons at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., where his head coach was Rich Alday and Jim Fleming directed Aztecs hitters.
“(Fleming) was one of the best hitting teachers in the country,” says Bell, who would meet up with him again years later.
From Pima, Bell played two seasons at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) for head coach Byron Wiehe. Jamie Hamilton was an assistant coach for the Mavericks.
Bell signed as a minor league free agent with the California Angels and played three seasons in the Halos’ system 1986-88, primarily as a righty-swinging catcher with Palm Springs or Quad Cities.
Sometime after his playing career ended, Bell moved back to Lafayette. Isom asked him if he wanted to get back into baseball.
“Absolutely not” was Bell’s reply. But Isom asked again later and got Bell to be his hitting coach with the Joliet Jackhammers in the independent Northern League.
Bell went to be hitting coach in the Northern League with the Andy McCauley-managed Schaumburg Flyers in the independent Frontier League with the Jason Verdugo-managed Evansville Otters.
Then comes a call from John Mallee, then hitting coordinator for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins that leads to another call from then vice president of the Marlins Jim Fleming — the same man who was Bell’s hitting coach back in college.
“I actually hung up,” says Bell. “I didn’t think it was Coach Flem.”
Mallee called Bell back and set him straight and Bell was hired by the Marlins and was hitting coach for Greensboro Grasshoppers (2009), Jupiter Hammerheads (2010) and Gulf Coast League Marlins (2011-14).
He was out of organized baseball for a few years and still offering instruction including at Kiwanis International baseball camps for troubled teens in Alaska at the invitation of David Hall.
By this time Mallee was with the Phillies. He called to say that the Brewers were in dire need of a hitting coach. There was one week left in spring training.
But Bell took the gig and spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, N.C. Coincidently, the Mudcats vice president/general manager is Lafayette native Joe Kremer. Bell and Kremer had never met until Bell arrived with the club.
The past five years, Bell has been traveling up from Florida to share his knowledge with Taulman and the Indy Sharks.
“I love everything he does for all those kids,” says Bell. “They’ve progressed extremely.”
Bell has been spending more time in Indiana to be closer to daughter Bobbi, a junior at Purdue University. Bell also has four sons — Brandon and Keaton in Colorado, Zion in California and Kai in North Dakota.
Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, was a hitting coach in the Florida/Miami Marlins system for six years.
Bobby Bell, a 1981 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, has been instructing baseball hitters for decades. In 2018 and 2019, he was a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He works regularly with the Indy Sharks travel organization.
Jason Taulman is a busy man — especially at this time of the year.
For the past eight years, he has run a baseball training facility that some call the “The Facility” or the “Shark Tank” in Noblesville, Ind.
From January to March as players are gearing up for their seasons, Taulman teaches up to 60 lessons (30-minute sessions) per week. From April to September, that number is 20 to 40 with October to December being 20 to 30.
A former college player and coach, Taulman started the Indy Sharks travel baseball program in the fall of 2014 to develop players and to educate them and their parents on the recruiting and scholarship process and more.
“We focus on training and the five tools of a baseball player,” says Taulman. “When the time is ready we’ll showcase you.
“Players don’t have measurable good enough to be recruited (in the early ages).”
In 2020, the Sharks will field seven teams — 12U, 14U, 15 (two teams), 16U and 17U (two teams). The majority of the players on one 17U team were on the original 12U squad.
Taulman says 12U to 14U teams tend to play 40 to 45 games per season while 15U to 17U get in 30 if they have a good summer and advance deep in their tournament.
In teaching pitchers, Taulman’s approach is straight-forward.
“We want to see mechanics that will keep the arm healthy,” says Taulman. “We want them to throw strikes and pitch. That’s lost in today’s technology and social media craze.
“Everybody wants to throw hard. If we’re not doing it safely and are able to locate, velocity does us no good.
“We teach them how to train and get stronger.”
Lafayette, Ind., native Bobby Bell, who was the hitting coach with Carolina in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2019, runs hitting clinics while Taulman runs arm strength/bat speed clinics at the “Shark Tank.”
Taulman began his prep days at Lafayette Jefferson High School. He tranfered to West Lafayette and graduated in 1991.
He played for two head coaches with the Red Devils — Pat Murtaugh and Fred Campbell. Murtaugh was an associate or “bird dog” professional scout and went on to be a full-time scout. He is now employed by the New York Yankees.
“With Coach Murtaugh, I became intrigued about the professional game and what it takes to be at a higher level,” says Taulman. “That was motivation for me.”
Taulman got to know former Purdue University head coach (1978-91)/Seattle Mariners scout Dave Alexander when he mowed his grass.
“He came across as kind of gruff,” says Taulman of Alexander, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “But he has a good heart.”
Former Purdue and McCutcheon and current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Doug Schreiber coached Taulman with the Lafayette Red Sox summer collegiate team.
Right-handed pitcher Taulman played four years for head coach Mike Moyzis and earned an Elementary Education degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. The NCAA Division II Pumas were Great Lakes Valley Conference champions in Taulman’s senior season of 1995.
“(Moyzis) was an outstanding coach,” says Taulman. “He was very big on mental toughness and how to compete.
Moyzis recruited Chicagoland and had many players with swagger.
“He taught you how to carry yourself with confidence,” says Taulman. “Moyzis was off the charts with that stuff.
“For me, it made a world of difference once I began to carry myself that way.”
Moyzis is now vice president of special events for Game Day USA and runs tournaments all over the country. He has brought in Taulman to serve as a coach for select events.
Joe Fletcher was the Saint Joseph’s pitching coach when Taulman was there.
“Fletch had just a huge impact on me,” says Taulman. “That’s when I learned how to pitch. It’s the first time we really learned how to work at the game.
“(Moyzis and Fletcher) were excellent teachers and trainers. They were ahead of their time.”
After graduating from Saint Joseph’s, Taulman played four seasons with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League with Lafayette winning league titles in 1995 and 1996.
In the fall of 1996, the Indiana Baseball Academy opened in Brownsburg and Taulman was a part of that training facility that was co-owned by big league pitcher Jeff Fassero.
Taulman served a short stint with the independent Northern League’s Sioux Falls Canaries in 1999. Former Purdue head coach Steve Green (1992-98) was Sioux Falls’ bench coach.
To start out his coaching career, Taulman served with the independent Frontier League’s Ohio Valley Redcoats and the Lafayette Leopards.
He later was pitching coach for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University when Pat Neshek hurled for the Bulldogs.
In the summer of 2017 and again last year and again last summer, Taulman and others ran travel tournaments with the Indy Sharks at Gil Hodges Field.
Saying he missed raking a field, Farley helped last spring in getting the field ready.
After the Indiana Baseball Association, Taulman helped start the Tippecanoe Baseball Academy in Lafayette with partners Bell, Jake Burton and Matt Kennedy.
IHSBCA Hall of Famer Burton was then the McCutcheon High School head coach and is now at Twin Lakes. Kennedy has been an assistant to O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Leo and is now on the Butler coaching staff.
After Taulman was pitching coach at Butler, he assumed the same duties at Ball State University, where he earned his master’s degree in Coaching Specialization.
He was on head coach Greg Beals’ staff for one season. Jason and Kelly Taulman have four sons — Clark (21), Nick (19), Jack (17) and Brock (14).
When Jason was at Ball State, 2-year-old Nick was diagnosed with Autism.
“We decided that someone needs to be home full-time to manage this,” says Taulman, who by this time had moved his family to Hamilton County. Nick Taulman is a 2019 Fishers High School graduate who participated in the IHSAA Unified Track and Field State Finals.
Jason Taulman, a West Lafayette (Ind.) High School graduate, teaches private baseball lessons and runs the Indy Sharks travel organization out of Noblesville, Ind. He is a former pitcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and was the pitching coach at Butler University and Ball State University. (Steve Krah Photo)
“I have a lot of good friends that I never would have met if I was not involved.”
Abbott, who grew up in Carroll County and graduated from Delphi (Ind.) High School in 1979, began his coaching career as a teenager at the local Babe Ruth League level. He led a group of 13-year-olds to the state tournament in Noblesville.
He pitched at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University), graduating in 1983, and served one year as an assistant at Brookville (Ind.) High School (now part of Franklin County High School) followed by 21 years as a high school head coach at Eastbrook and Huntington North. His teams won more than 300 games, seven county championships, four conference titles, three sectional crowns, one regional title and made one Final Four Appearance (1999 with Eastbrook).
“I always thought the (Mid-Indiana) Conference was tough when I first started,” says Abbott. “The teams were all good because their coaches were really good.”
Abbott had the distinction of pitching the first no-hitter on the new lighted Delphi diamond when he was a junior for the Oracles. He played for three coaches while in high school — Greg Fisher, Dave Young and Mike Lane.
Long before Abbott was associated with high school baseball, he regular at the IHSAA State Finals and remembers seeing Paul “Spider” Fields lead Lafayette Jeff to its second state championship in 1973. Another found memory is going with his father and grandfather to the Colt League World Series, an event organized by Hall of Famer Harry Bradway and staged at Loeb Stadium in Lafayette. One year, he saw future big league pitcher Sid Fernandez compete there.
During the single-class era, Delphi played in an IHSAA sectional with Lafayette Jeff (coached by Fields), West Lafayette (coached by Hall of Famer Fred Campbell), McCutcheon (coached by Hall of Famer Jake Burton), Harrison and Lafayette Central Catholic.
Abbott and Burton first faced off back in the ‘70s Babe Ruth coaching days when Abbott was in Delphi and Burton in Dayton, Ind.
As a Huntington Forester, Abbott played for three head coaches — Jim Wilson, Fred Vonderlage and Tim McKinnon. Current HU coach and Hall of Famer Mike Frame was a third baseman and classmate of Abbott.
In Brookville, the hometown of Brian’s wife, Trisha Abbott, he got to work with another coach bound for the Hall of Fame — Jim Hughes.
“He was a good mentor to me,” says Abbott of Hughes. “He loved baseball. He loved sports. He was a positive person. He always had something good to say about everybody.
“He was one of those people you hate to lose.”
Abbott currently as a pitching coach at Huntington U. and held that position at Indiana Wesleyan University.
A math teacher for 37 years, Abbott currently instructs eighth graders at Riverview Middle School in Huntington. He holds master’s degrees in mathematics and administration from Ball State University.
He often drives to the nearby Crossroads League games himself. When Huntington makes weekend trips to places like Tennessee in February, Abbott and a friend get on the road about 2 a.m. and then come back to Huntington after the last game.
For several summers, Abbott has worked for Hammel Floor Service, sanding, re-lining and lettering basketball floors. He uses his math skills to put down and fill in the patterns.
“It’s really been neat,” says Abbott. “I’ve had a chance to go to a lot of different venues.”
“Growing up, he was a guy I respected,” says Abbott of Wooden, the coaching legend. “I read his book.
“I feel like I have a good feel of the high school land. I follow high school sports and I love baseball. Being in the association is a good role for me because I feel like I’ve got a pretty good feel for a lot of different things.”
After serving as associate executive director to Hall of Famer Bill Jones, Abbott has spent the past eight years at IHSBCA executive director.
He was nominated for Hall of Fame induction by the IHSBCA executive council.
“I was very humbled by it,” says Abbott. “I’m a mule. I’ve coached.
“It’s been a really good experience.”
Abbott got his start in the IHSBCA when future Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson of Mississinewa invited him to his first State Clinic.
“Little did I know what he was trying to do,” says Abbott. “I didn’t figure it out until about a year later.
“I kind of got drafted into service.”
Atkinson would take statewide IHSBCA office and turn over his district representative duties to Abbott, who led the group that fed the old Kokomo Regional for years.
In that role, he got to know one of the association’s founders and leaders in Jones.
“Bill was very thorough and very complimentary,” says Abbott. “He was very nice to me. He would take me underneath his wing and teach me things.”
Abbott has seen the IHSBCA membership grow. Each January, the association’s state clinic brings around 500 coaches to Indianapolis.
The latest renovation at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper is almost paid off.
“We’ve been working real hard at that the last couple of years,” says Abbott. “The coaches association put in about a third of that money — in the $240,000 or $250,000 range.
Brian and Trisha Abbott have two children — Tyler (who is married to Chelsie and have a son named Quinn) and Briley.
Brian Abbott, the executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, will go into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in January 2020 as a contributor/coach. He is also an eighth grade math teacher in addition to serving as pitching coach at Huntington (Ind.) University.