Tag Archives: Lakeland

Kinzer enjoys baseball bonds as player, scout, agent, coach

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

Matt Kinzer has an eye for baseball talent.
The former Norwell High School (Ossian, Ind.) and Purdue University athlete who played in the majors and the National Football League was living in Fort Wayne, Ind., when he became an amateur scout in 1995 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Kinzer was responsible for assessing amateur players in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Ontario and Quebec.
After five years with Tampa Bay, Kinzer spent a decade as a baseball agent for Reynolds Sports Management, whose owner and CEO is Larry Reynolds (older brother of big league second baseman Harold Reynolds).
“I was his recruiting coordinator for the whole country,” says Kinzer. “We hoped these amateurs are going to make the big leagues and get paid.”
Among others, Kinzer got the Upton brothers — B.J. and Justin — to commit to the company.
LaTroy Hawkins, a Gary, Ind., native who pitched in 1,042 games over 21 MLB seasons, was also a Kinzer client and later went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
At the 2010 Winter Meetings, Dan Jennings (who had been with the Devil Rays) hired Kinzer as a pro scout for the Miami Marlins.
Kinzer went to minor league games and an occasional major league contest to evaluate players and file reports for potential trade opportunities.
The first year he scouted the entire Midwest League out of Fort Wayne. During his five years with the Marlins, he also did international scouting in the Dominican Republic.
While Kinzer was still with the Marlins, the Atlanta Braves called for permission to interview him to scout on the major league side and take on special assignments. He talked with general manager John Coppolella and accepted the deal.
“That gave me a seat at the big table,” says Kinzer, who worked with top executives including president John Hart and senior advisor John Schuerholz in giving opinions and developing a preferential list of who could be traded and who was hands-off in the Braves minor league system. “It took us a couple of years to turn that club around.”
Kinzer also did advanced scouting to check out possible playoff opponents for Atlanta. He had the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League and Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League.
Because of COVID-19 and budgetary reasons, the Braves dismissed the entire major league scouting staff toward the end of the 2020 season.
Leading up to the Tokyo Olympics (which were postponed from 2020 to 2021), Kinzer selected by his peers to sit on the committee that chose Team USA. They started with a big pool and narrowed it down to the final roster.
“It was hard assignment because you could only get guys not on a 40-man roster or had get permission from a club for them to play,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to be part of the decision-making for our country.”
When Kinzer joined the process, Joe Girardi was Team USA manager. When Girardi became Philadelphia Phillies manager the job was passed to Scott Brosius and it wound up with Mike Scioscia.
“I got to listen to Joe Girardi on how he likes to design a team and I said to myself, ‘this is pretty cool,’” says Kinzer. “It was a very humbling experience. You put all those years into working the game of baseball and someone has recognized your ability to evaluate.”
More recently, Kinzer has lent his appraisal skills as a consultant for Program 15 — a part of New Balance Future Stars baseball tournaments. He lives in Lakeland, Fla., and writes player reports on weekends.
Kinzer is also a special events coordinator and fundraising director for Major League Fishing — a circuit that features the world’s top bass anglers.
He is helping prepare for a charity fishing event featuring current and former major leaguers Nov. 19-21 in Guntersville, Ala.
“I’ve spent three decades in the game professionally building trust with current and former guys and their second love is fishing,” says Kinzer. “I grew up on a pond and I liked fishing.”
Participants have baseball and angling in common.
“There’s a connection there,” says Kinzer. “They have a tight fraternity. They’re good old boys.”
Kinzer played youth baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Colin Lister and graduated from Norwell in 1981.
As a sophomore, it was discovered how well he did in booting a football and he led Indiana high schoolers in punting as a junior and senior. He went to Purdue on a full ride in football and also played baseball.
He was selected in the second round of the 1984 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cardinals and made his MLB debut in 1989 at age 25 and went on to pitch nine games for the 1989 Cardinals and 1990 Detroit Tigers. He punted seven times in his one NFL game with the Detroit Lions with a long of 42 yards in Week 5 of 1987 against the Green Bay Packers.
Kinzer, 58, has three sons who all played baseball and graduated from Homestead High School in Fort Wayne.
Taylor Kinzer (33) was drafted twice as a right-handed pitcher — once at the end of his high school career in 2006 in the 34th round by the Washington Nationals and then out of Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) in the 24th round in 2009 by the Los Angeles Angels and competed three seasons in the minors.
Derek Kinzer (31) was an outfielder for IHSAA Class 4A state runner Homestead in 2008, graduated in 2009 and also played at Taylor.
Jordan Kinzer (29) played junior college baseball and now serves in the U.S. Navy.
Matt Kinzer, a Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer, was head baseball coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in 1993 and 1994 and a volunteer assistant coach at Taylor 2011-14 and got to work with Trojans head coach Kyle Gould and assistant and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson.
‘Kyle is one of the best non-Division I coaches around,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to share a bench with Coach A.
“The game itself creates a fraternity and a bond that lasts forever.”

Matt Kinzer.

Fishers, Indiana Wesleyan alum Davis comes back to baseball as a coach

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

When Brice Davis got the call that led him into professional baseball he was busy on the field.
Davis was coaching third base for Indiana Wesleyan University in a doubleheader when the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers manager Jamie Bennett, who pitched of the DuBois County (Ind.) Dragons and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats coached with the RailCats, and outgoing hitting coach Derek Shomon reached out about filling Shomon’s spot since he had taken a coaching job in the Minnesota Twins organization.
“They wanted to see if I’d get rattled,” says Davis of the timing. “It was a twisted joke.”
But Davis impressed and after the twin bill received text messages and got a good review. The next thing he knew he is joining the Boomers for spring training and after that came a 96-game regular season and the fourth league championship in franchise history.
“It was whirlwind,” says Davis of the 2021 baseball season began in early February with Indiana Wesleyan in Lakeland, Fla., and ending in late September with Schaumburg in Washington, Pa. “It was an incredible year and an incredible ride.
“It was a really special group (at IWU). To be leaving them at that time was incredibly tough. I’m in awe that we got to share all those runs together.”
Indiana Wesleyan wound up 2021 at 44-14, Crossroads League regular-season and tournament champions and an NAIA Opening Round host.
Davis, a four-year starter at IWU and a 2013 graduate with a Sports Management degree, spent three seasons on the staff of Wildcats head coach Rich Benjamin (2019-21).
“He’s a huge offensive mind and about hitting for power,” says Davis of Benjamin, who was an assistant at Fishers (Ind.) High School before moving on. “I saw it as an opportunity.
“I wanted to see if I could hack it at the college level.”
Davis first became a hitting instructor in 2009 (his training business is Davis Baseball LLC). But it was a big transition to working with professional hitters in 2021.
“You’re helping prepare guys to be successful (in pro ball),” says Davis. “At the college level, you’re doing a lot of development. They’re making strides every single month to be the best versions of themselves and trying to stay locked in.
“Guys at the professional level are already pretty talented. They want to take their skill level and apply it against a pitching staff (or individual). In both arenas the goal is to simplify life. You pick out an approach that is going to breed results and success.”
The difference between high school and college and pro baseball is that the pros play everyday with much more travel and they don’t have as much time to work on their craft.
“Learning how to hit when you’re only 80 percent or getting your two knocks comes in a lot of ways,” says Davis. “I was amazed how many guys played hurt.”
How a player felt on any given day is how they prepared for that day’s game. That might mean more batting practice or less.
“You can’t treat everyday like Opening Day,” says Davis. “It just doesn’t work like that.”
Since Schaumburg is an independent league team, scouting is done differently. Major League-affiliated clubs have access to plenty of stored data on opponents.
The only resource available to the Boomers staff was Frontier League TV (2021 was the first year that all league clubs broadcast games). Coaches and players spent a lot of time looking at video to find tendencies.
The Evansville Otters were the only team who put pitching velocity on the screen during their broadcasts, leaving Schaumburg to study those videos when teams took on Evansville.
In the league championship series against the Washington Wild Things, the staff was at a disadvantage. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boomers had not played anyone on Washington’s side of the league during the regular season. Also, there was no radar gun reading available at Wild Things Park.
“It was all hearsay. You had no more information than in a non-conference high school baseball game. It was ‘see it and hit it, boys!’
It was absolute gauntlet level from our staff and our players. It’s not copy-paste-print like it is at some of the other levels. It’s not like high school baseball where you can trade tapes.
“It was a big learning curve.”
Davis notes that the Frontier League is now partnered with Major League Baseball so maybe things will change for the better.
Not all pro players take to information the same way.
“This guy wants to know velo and out pitch and this guy wants to know as much as possible,” says Davis. “Other guys don’t want to know anything and just play the game.”
And if a pro hitter doesn’t want info, it’s not up to the coach to shove it down his throat.
“You have respect for what they’re trying to do,” says Davis.
While Schaumburg players hail from all over the country, there are also a number with ties to the area, including former Indiana Wesleyan pitcher Isaiah Rivera from Des Plaines, Ill.
“There are a lot of college players in the region,” says Davis. “You don’t want to miss on anything in your back yard. Chicago is a cool city with a lot of great athletes in it.”
Davis says many have the misconception that independent ball is full of 27-year-old has-beens. But a good deal have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and spent time in the affiliated minors.
The Frontier League is unique because it puts players into Rookie, Experienced and Veteran eligibility classifications and there is a cap on veterans (those turning 29 by Oct. 1). Teams can also make just 30 transaction moves per season.
“The world of independent baseball is fascinating,” says Davis.
Another thing about 2021 in much of independent ball is that there was no season in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“They’re learning how to play baseball again and getting their timing back,” says Davis. “It’s like they’ve been waiting for the prom for two years.
“It was about managing emotions, telling them to enjoy the moment and don’t overthink it.”
There was a time when Davis didn’t want to think about baseball. It stung too much when his playing career was over and he did not watch a game for two years.
Brice’s father was a high school boys basketball coach for many years. Hagerstown, Ind., native Jerry Davis was a head coach at Triton Central and Wawasee and an assistant at Marion and Hamilton Southeastern. He came back to Indiana from Dallas, where Brice was born, to teach math and coach hoops.
“I grew up in the gym,” says Brice. “My safe place to process life was listening to bouncing balls. That’s a sanctuary few people understand.”
Davis, who did not play high school basketball to focus on baseball opportunities, joined the Hamilton Southeastern hardwood staff of Brian Satterfield and coached freshmen for two seasons.
“Climbing up the hard way in basketball appealed to me,” says Davis. “Going to clinics and studying tape was a journey in itself.”
Then came the call back to baseball and he answered it.
“I’m in a better head space when I’m going to the field,” says Davis, who received words of encouragement that still resonate with him.
Brian Abbott, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director and a former IWU assistant, approached Davis at the IHSBCA State Clinic when the latter was on Matt Cherry’s Fishers Tigers staff.
“He was one of the first people who told me I needed to be in coaching,” says Davis of Abbott, the IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s because of kids like myself. He said, ‘you belong in this industry. You might be the only person who gets to tell a kid that day that they matter.
“You have a purpose to connect with kids.”
Davis has taken that connection to heart.
“I love teaching the game,” says Davis. “I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of good can be done by powerful teaching and coaching.
“It’s a great profession.”
Davis, who was part of Fishers’ first graduating class in 2008, was reunited with Cherry for three seasons (2016-18) as an assistant coach. The 2018 team made an IHSAA Class 4A state title run.
“He’s single-most influential person in my life besides my dad since I was 15,” says Davis of Cherry. “He knows there’s more to people than baseball. He’s transformational.”
Cherry, who had coached Davis prior to the 2016 season he needed a freshman coach. Davis accepted the invitation.
“I’ll be darned if I wasn’t completely consumed,” says Davis. “I told (Cherry) the next year I want to be a varsity coach. I want to be with the older kids. I want to dive in and see where it could go.”
In 2017 and 2018, Davis was Fishers’ hitting coach. The latter team set 21 school records.
“We had all the fun in the world,” says Davis.
Now 32 and living in Wheeling, Ill., Davis is teaching at area facilities, including Parkway Bank Sports Complex aka The Dome in Rosemont, Ill., and East Sports Academy in Itaska, Ill., and helping at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Owls head coach Bill Fratto is also an assistant/first base coach for the Boomers.
Through it all, Davis has developed a fraternity of brothers at each baseball stage and keeps in-touch with people on his high school, college and pro path. Kris Holtzleiter, the new Eastbrook High School head coach, played and coached with close friend Davis at IWU.
“Every season has a story whether it’s good or bad,” says Davis. “You must make the most of the moment you’re in.
“It’s not about the championships or the trophies.”
It’s the people.

Brice Davis.
Jerry Davis and Brice Davis.
Brice Davis with mother Jerry and mother Paige.
Brice Davis and M.J. Stavola.
Bill Fratto and Brice Davis.
Young Schaumburg (Ind.) Boomers fan and Brice Davis.
Former Indiana Wesleyan University players Isaiah Rivera and Brice Davis a player and coach with the Schaumburg Boomers.

Littlejohn emphasizes fun, aggressiveness for Tippecanoe Valley

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

Just six seasons after playing his last baseball season at Tippecanoe Valley High School new Akron and Mentone in Indiana, Jarred Littlejohn became the Vikings head coach for 2021 after two years as junior varsity coach on Greg Prater’s staff.
As he prepares for 2022, the former four-year outfielder tells what is important to him while leading the Valley program.
“Our biggest thing is to make sure the kids are loose and having fun,” says Littlejohn. “If they’re tight, they’re not going to perform.
“On offense, we want to be aggressive and get the pitch we’re looking for. On every pitch, we have an approach. We know we’re not going to be perfect.”
And then there’s the moundsmen.
“Pitching last year was the best part of our game,” says Littlejohn. “We knew what was working and stayed with it. Work ahead and don’t get behind in the count.
“We had a good defense behind us. (Pitchers) knew we could make the plays in the field.”
Littlejohn played for three coaches in high school — Ryan Moore his freshmen year, Brandon Cody as a sophomore and junior and Justin Brannock as a senior.
“There has not been much stability in the baseball program,” says Littlejohn. “We’re going to try to bring that back.”
Assisting Littlejohn, a machinist at Craig Welding & Manufacturing in Mentone, is Anthony Newcomer and Mike Bowers.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period opened Aug. 30 and closes Oct. 16. Littlejohn has been conducting open fields and weightlifting program that has consistently had six to 12 participants.
Tippecanoe Valley (enrollment around 570) has many baseball players involved in fall sports.
In 2021, there were 26 players taking part in varsity and JV games. The varsity went 12-12.
The Vikings are a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Wabash and Whitko).
Last season, Valley was part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Wawasee and West Noble.The Vikings have won five sectional titles — the last in 2012.
Tippecanoe Valley is fed by youth leagues in Akron and Mentone. Those organizations are a part of Town & Country Baseball of Indiana.
Tanner Andrews, who is now a pitcher in the Miami Marlins organization, is a 2014 graduate who was selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Purdue University.
Littlejohn says right-hander Owen Kirchenstien (Class of 2022) is expected to commit to junior college baseball.

Jarred Littlejohn.
Jarred Littlejohn.

Alum Salazar takes over Wawasee baseball program

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

Knowing that he wanted to apply for a head coach position at his alma mater, Joe Salazar changed his day job.
A few months ago, Salazar became project manager at Grand Design RV in Middlebury, Ind., — a position which requires less hours than his previous place of employment — and was hired to run the baseball program at Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind., where he graduated in 1994.
Salazar, who is in the process of bringing in assistants and plans to get in a few workouts during the current IHSAA Limited Contact Period which ends Oct. 16 while also serving as third-year eighth grade head football coach at Wawasee, has outlined some areas of emphasis.
“We’re looking to improve in a lot of areas — our record, (Northern Lakes Conference) finish and make a good run at sectional,” says Salazar, who takes over the Warriors from Wawasee alum Brent Doty, who resigned to concentrate on his athletic director duties. “We want to get back to the basics and put the ball in play.
“I looked at the stats and a lot of guys left runners on base or did not get down sacrifices.”
Wawasee (enrollment around 950) is a member of the Northern Lakes Conference (with Concord, Goshen, Mishawaka, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw).
In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley and West Noble. Wawasee has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2021 on their own field. The Warriors’ previous sectional championship came in 1997.
The 2021 team went 18-13 overall and 8-6 in the NLC and featured seven seniors. Among those was Kameron Salazar, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series selection now on the baseball team at Marian University in Indianapolis and a roommate of A.J. Bordenet (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tim Bordenet of Lafayette Central Catholic).
Joe’s younger son — Kaleb — is a sophomore. When Kaleb’s classmates were 8 and 9, Joe established the Wawasee Elite travel team that played in 10U events. Joe Salazar was also an assistant coach for Northern Indiana Elite during Kameron’s 12U summer.
Other Wawasee returnees include the Brooks brothers — senior Grant and sophomore Ty. Their new coach be Wawasee’s top two pitchers in 2022.
Grant Brooks, a Butler University commit, hit .415 (39-of-94) with five home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 37 runs batted in and 31 runs in 27 games in 2021. As a pitcher, he appeared in eight games and went 6-1 with a 1.38 earned run average, 48 strikeouts and 14 walks in 40 2/3 innings.
Ty Brooks pitched in nine games and posted a 4-2 mound mark with a 1.70 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 33 innings.
Senior Lucas Ringler, who hit .289 (26-of-90) five triples, three doubles, 16 RBIs and 29 runs in 27 games in ’21, and junior Colt Dolsen, who batted .338 (22-of-65) with 12 RBIs in 24 games, are also expected back.
The junior varsity team wrapped last spring by winning a tournament and several of those players move up to varsity.
“They’re hard workers,” says Salazar of his young squad. “We can have a pretty decent team.”
Four 2020 Wawasee graduates — Logan Adkins (University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.), Levi Brown (Anderson, Ind., University), Antonio Garcia-Sanchez (Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) and Carter Woody (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) — were on college baseball posters in 2021.
Salazar, who has been involved in community sports for many years, hopes to establish a feeder system of travel teams.
“That’s what successful programs are doing,” says Salazar. “They’re playing together (and learning how its done at the high school).”
Joe Salazar participated four years each of baseball and football and two each of basketball and wrestling at Wawasee. His head coaches were Neal Frantz, Randy Aalbregtse and John Blunk on the diamond, Troy Akers and Gene Mitz on the gridiron, Gary Goshert on the court and Scott DeHart on the mat.
At Goshen (Ind.) College, Salazar played three seasons for Maple Leafs head coach DeVon Hoffman and one for Todd Bacon (who is Kameron’s head coach at Marian), switching from shortstop to third base as a freshman.
DeVon was a stickler for details. He wanted to make sure we did things correctly all the time. The little things matter.
Bacon was very young then. He kept the same things going.
Salazar earned a Business degree from Goshen in 1998.
Joe, who is married to Yvonne Salazar, also has two older stepchildren — Riley Weber and Ashley Weber.

Joe Salazar

West Lafayette native Bridge gets hot in final season with Southeastern Fire

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After making three other college baseball stops, Carter Bridge is a productive player with a perennial NAIA powerhouse.

Bridge, a 2016 graduate of Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., spent time with Western Michigan University, Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., and Indiana University has been at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., the past two seasons.

He has been introduced to a winning culture established by Fire head coach Adrian Dinkel and his staff.

“I didn’t know about Southeastern when I was getting recruited,” says Bridge, 22. “I just needed to find a school in Florida. I wanted to play down there.

I get here and find out they are a top five team in the country. They win 40-plus games every year. This team we have right year can go and compete with most (NCAA) D-I ’s.”

Bridge says the Fire’s first mission was to win the Sun Conference and then set its sights on the NAIA College World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

No. 2-ranked Southeastern (47-7) host the five-team NAIA Opening Round Lakeland Bracket. SEU’s first game is tonight (May 17) against the USC-Beaufort (S.C)-Fisher (Mass.) winner in Winter Haven.

The righty-swinging Bridge is a utility player. As he grew up, Bridge played all over the infield. In college, he’s been in the infield and the outfield. Last year at Southeastern, he was in center field. Now he’s in right field.

In 47 games (30 starts) this spring, Bridge is hitting .357 (45-of-126) with seven home runs, eight doubles, 33 runs batted in, 39 runs scored, 7-of-9 in stolen bases and a .986 OPS (.399 on-base percentage plus .587 slugging average).

“The confidence I have in the (batter’s) box is unmatched right now,” says Bridge. “I get in there and I’m like, ‘throw me something I can hit.’

“I’ve always been a pretty good hitter. I’ve known that I can hit. It’s always like a mental thing for me.”

A pinch-hit home run April 17 against Florida Memorial led to a start in SEU’s next game and built Bridge’s confidence. 

“My mindset’s been a complete 180 (from the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021,” says Bridge, who is in his last year of college eligibility. “I stopped putting pressure on myself and starting playing the game like I did when I was a little kid. It’s fun. Enjoy it.”

In 2020 — a season that ended prematurely because of the COVID-19 pandemic — Bridge played in 26 games (21 starts) and hit .370 (27-of-73) with four homers, five doubles, 20 RBIs, 21 runs, 4-of-6 in stolen bases and a 1.056 OPS (.453 on-base percentage plus .603 slugging average).

Bridge completed an Executive Leadership undergraduate degree at Southeastern last year and is well into earning his Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Executive Leadership.

“I’ve always focused on baseball,” says Bridge. “These degrees are definitely helping me further my knowledge in the business world. That’s what I want to do when I’m done with baseball.

“It’s also really helped with my leadership skills. I’m able to communicate better with people.”

Brian and Shanna Bridge have two children — daughter Hunter and son Carter. Dad works for Lafayette Masonry, Mom for State Farm Insurance and sister for Purdue University. Only Carter did not attend Purdue.

Bridge was at Western Michigan for the fall semester of his freshman year then transferred to Heartland, where he spent his freshman spring and all of his sophomore year.

With the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II member Hawks, he was able to build a brotherhood.

“I was able to build those relationships with those guys I knew absolutely nothing about,” says Bridge. “In my sophomore year (2018), we were the No. 2 team in the country. We were a really good team. That stemmed from the brotherhood that team had built.”

Bridge was recruited to Indiana by Chris Lemonis and Kyle Cheesebrough, but both coaches left for Mississippi State. Bridge got into three games with the 2019 Hoosiers and transferred to Southeastern. 

Bridge was born and grew up in the West Lafayette area. His first travel ball team — the Tippecanoe Wolfpack — was started by his father. 

Then came the Northern Baseball Club Stars and Indiana Bulls with head coach Dan Held.

Bridge played for Pat Lowrey at Harrison.

“He introduced me to what I should expect at the college level,” says Bridge, who was the Lafayette Journal & Courier Big School Player of the Year with the Raiders. “He’s also big on the little things — the fine little details of the game.

“That’s what makes him really good coach. He doesn’t let things slide. He’s really stern and he knows what he’s doing.”

Carter Bridge (Southeastern University Photo)

D-Bat Elkhart offers place to get better for baseball, softball players

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a place to get better at baseball and softball in Elkhart, Ind.

Opened in June 2020 and located in an eastside industrial park at 4411 Wyland Drive, the 22,000-square foot facility at D-Bat Elkhart has been attracting families, individuals and teams to train.

Owners are Shelbi and Jason Baugh and Eric Miller. Shelby and Eric are siblings. 

Kaitlyn Frost became general manager in February and is in charge of daily operations. Most days she is at the front desk.

A 2008 graduate of Lakeland High School in LaGrange, Ind., Frost played three seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne before serving as an assistant coach at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been a coach and director of softball for the Michiana Lady Scrappers travel organization.

The training space, which includes batting cages and areas for pitchers and full teams, has been named Francis and Nancy Taylor Fieldhouse to honor Shelbi and Eric’s grandparents.

The Baughs experienced D-Bat locations when they lived in California.

D-Bat baseball and softball academies began in Dallas in 1998 and now has around 120 franchises in the U.S. and China with about 20 more in the works. D-Bat Elkhart franchise is the company’s old one in Indiana so far.

Frost says owners have been discussing the possibility to installing a playing field — or at least a training area — next to the D-Bat Elkhart building, which also includes a room for birthday parties and other celebrations.

D-Bat Elkhart purchased the naming rights to the new turfed baseball and softball fields at Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind.

Current D-Bat Elkhart instructors are Donnie Weatherholt, Jesse Zepeda, Judah Zickafoose for baseball and Heather Erlacher for softball. 

Weatherholt was an all-state player at Concord High School in Elkhart and has coached extensively at the Little League, Babe Ruth and travel levels.

Zepeda was a standout at Elkhart Central High School (he was a junior starter on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state champions) and Bethel College (now Bethel University). He is on the Bethel coaching staff and is the founder of the Indiana Black Caps travel organization.

Zickafoose played at Westview High, Arizona Western College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University. 

Erlacher played at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and Franklin (Ind). College. She has served as pitching coach at Elkhart Central and with the Elkhart Blaze travel team.

Frost says she is looking for more instructors.

“The biggest perk for our instructors is that we make the schedules and deal with the clients,” says Frost. “They don’t have to chase the money.”

Sam Troyer, who played baseball at Northridge and at the University of Evansville, has been working part-time and training at D-Bat Elkhart before resuming his professional career with the independent Pioneer League’s Missoula (Mont.) PaddleHeads. That team also features South Bend Clay graduate and former San Francisco Giants minor leaguer Aaron Bond.

Current hours for D-Bat Elkhart is noon to 9 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Frost says the facility may open at 10 a.m. weekdays when school lets out for the summer.

“What sets us apart is that we don’t require memberships (though there are nearly 300 current members),” says Frost. “We have non-member pricing. 

“Memberships are good if you can come often.”

Memberships are month to month and can be suspended and resumed.

A $38-per-month Gold package includes 15 daily batting cage tokens (about 225 pitches) with discounts on camps, clinics and the pro shop for one person.

A $58-per-month Platinum membership includes unlimited daily swings and covers the whole family. There are bigger discounts for camps and clinics etc.

Non-members may purchase 15 tokens for $25.

Free 30-minute cage rental is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

As a company policy, D-Bat does not sponsors teams in youth or adult leagues or for travel ball. 

“We’re open to all travel, high school, college and Little League (teams and players),” says Frost. Fast pitch and slow pitch softball players also train at D-Bat Elkhart.

Frost has been spreading the word about D-Bat Elkhart on social media and has reached out to nearby Riverview Park, where softball and youth baseball teams hold events.

To reach D-Bat Elkhart, call 574-500-DBAT (3228) or email info@dbatelkhart.com.

‘Making better men’ means most to Bethany Christian coach Kraft

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Kraft would like his baseball players at Bethany Christian High School to take the right approach at the plate, hit the cut-off man and throw strikes from the mound.

But’s that not the most-important thing to the man who has led the Bruins program since the 2018 season.

“No. 1 it’s about making better men,” says Kraft. “It starts with being a good teammate, work ethic and things like that.

“The baseball stuff kind of takes care of itself after that.”

Bethany, a school of about 140 in the top four grades with its campus in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), has 13 players in 2021 and is playing a varsity-only schedule and got off to a 4-0 start through April 22. 

“In a weird way (the COVID-19) pandemic probably benefited us a little bit with being small and not having a JV team,” says Kraft. “We only graduated a senior and junior from the team of two years ago.

“We really only had one player playing travel baseball (last summer). But other schools played less last year.

“We’re really looking forward to growing this year.”

Kraft is assisted this spring by former Fairfield High School players Jason Smith and Jared Christophel  and former Bethany athlete Jared Schlabach.

The Bruins are members of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Career Academy of South Bend, Elkhart Christian Academy, Lakeland Christian Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Argos and ECA are the other baseball-playing schools this spring.

Bethany is part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont (the 2021 host site) and Lakewood Park Christian. The Bruins won their lone sectional title in 1987.

Others on the BC schedule are Bremen, Concord, Fairfield, Goshen, Harlan Christian, Jimtown, Lakeland, LaVille, NorthWood, Oregon-Davis, Prairie Heights, Triton, Wawasee, Westview and White Pigeon (Mich.).

Bethany plays home games at the Dan Bodiker Athletic Fields, located across the railroad tracks behind the school. Kraft says a capitol campaign is expected to bring upgrades to soccer, track and field, softball and baseball.

There are currently no Bethany graduates playing college baseball. Kraft says three of his seniors could play if they want to pursue that route.

The 2021 Boys of Summer Baseball League is expected to include a Bethany junior high team.

Kraft grew up on a dairy farm near Trufant, Mich., and was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. He is a1984 graduate of Lakeview (Mich.) High School and earned an engineering degree at Michigan State University. 

He is employed at Brock Grain Systems in Milford, Ind., as a product director.

Jim and wife Tammy have a son, Logan, and live in New Paris, Ind. Logan played baseball at Fairfield and graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2020.

Logan Kraft played for his father on Boys of Summer Baseball League 10U and 12U teams and Jim coached the New Paris Dukes to a 10U Town & Country Baseball state title in 2016.

Jim Kraft (head baseball coach at Bethany Christian High School)

Baker, Flemm guiding Elkhart Christian Academy Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A 30-something from Indiana and a 20-something from New Jersey have come together to lead the baseball program at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy.

Shawn Baker, 34, and Matthew Flemm, 24, are co-head coaches for the Eagles. 

Baker graduated from Northridge High School (Middlebury, Ind.) in 2005 and Manchester University (North Manchester, Ind.) in 2009 as a Grades 5-12 Social Studies major.

He played at Northridge for two head coaches — Mike Logan and Troy Carson. Rick Espeset was his coach for four seasons at Manchester.

Northridge was very competitive in Baker’s junior and senior seasons and the friendships started off the field carried on to it.

“We’d have our backs there, too,” says Baker.

“Both Mike and Troy instilled the hard-nosed baseball philosophy in us as players,” says Baker of Logan and Carson. “It’s working hard in practice and seeing the transfer over in games.

“I learned a lot from Coach Espeset about the ‘why’ and the philosophy of the game of baseball.”

As an educator, Baker was at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy and Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been at Northridge Middle School for the past eight years, teaching eighth grade Social Studies and coaching seventh grade boys basketball.

He has served an assistant baseball coach at Dowagiac (Mich.) Union High School and Westview for Warriors head coach Jason Rahn.

“I had been getting the itch to coach baseball again,” says Baker, who applied at ECA and was hired in mid-February. The first official day of practice was March 15.

Baker has been married for eight years. Shawn and Heather have a girl and two boys — Aleah (6), Colson (4) and Bennett (2).

Shawn’s younger brother, Shannon Baker, played at Northridge and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now an assistant to A.J. Risedorph at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind.

Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement. 

He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.

Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.

Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.

“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”

Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.

Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.

The Eagles are part of an 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont (the 2021 host), Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. ECA won a sectional title in 2013. 

Besides conference and sectional foes, ECA’s regular-season schedule includes games with 4A’s Concord, Mishawaka and South Bend Riley, 3A’s Culver Academy, John Glenn, Lakeland and NorthWood, 2A’s Bremen and LaVille and 1A’s Culver Community and Oregon-Davis.

“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”

The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.

“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker. 

Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.

“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.

“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”

Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.

Flemm is upbeat about the future.

“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.

“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”

As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.

Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.

“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”

The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.

“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players). 

“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”

Shawn Baker
Matthew Flemm

Parkview Field High School/College Series April 2-29

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The High School and College Baseball Series at Parkview Field hosted by the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps is to feature 46 different schools for a total of 29 games between April 2-29. The TinCaps begin their 120-game High Class-A season May 4.

Tickets ($6) for High School and College Series games go on sale March 24 at ParkviewField.com. 

The Parkview Field Ticket Office also will be open for ticket purchases beginning one hour prior to each day’s first pitch. 

All transactions must be completed by debit or credit card (no cash). The TinCaps plan to utilize a special seating chart to account for physical distancing between pods of fans. Ballpark concessions will be available as well (no outside food or drink is permitted.) 

HIGH SCHOOL & COLLEGE

BASEBALL SERIES

AT PARKVIEW FIELD

Friday, April 2

Purdue Fort Wayne vs. Northern Kentucky (DH), 4 p.m.

Saturday, April 3

Purdue Fort Wayne vs. Northern Kentucky, 1 p.m.

Wednesday, April 7

Eastside vs. DeKalb, 4:30 p.m.

Wabash vs. Mississinewa, 7 p.m.

Friday, April 9

Saint Francis vs. Marian U. (DH), 4 p.m.

Saturday, April 10

Homestead vs. Wapahani (DH), 10:30 a.m.

Tuesday, April 13

Fort Wayne Northrop vs. Fort Wayne Wayne, 4:30 p.m.

Prairie Heights vs. Lakeland, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 14

Indiana Tech vs. Grace (DH), 4 p.m.

Thursday, April 15

South Adams  vs. New Haven, 4:30 p.m.

Northfield vs. Eastbrook, 7 p.m.

Saturday, April 17

Concordia Lutheran vs. Fort Wayne South Side, 10:30 a.m.

West Noble vs. Garrett, 1 p.m.

Tuesday, April 20

Woodlan vs. Leo, 4:30 p.m.

Southern Wells vs. Southwood, 7 p.m.

Thursday, April 22

Fort Wayne Snider vs. Norwell, 4:30 p.m.

Carroll vs. East Noble, 7 p.m.

Friday, April 23

Fort Wayne Bishop Luers vs. Fort Wayne Canterbury, 4:30 p.m.

Warsaw vs. Plymouth, 7 p.m.

Saturday, April 24

Churubusco vs. Manchester, 10:30 a.m.

Whitko vs. Angola, 1 p.m.

Tuesday, April 27

Blackhawk Christian vs. Lakewood Park Christian, 4:30 p.m.

Columbia City vs. Bellmont, 7 p.m.

Thursday, April 29

Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger vs. Fort Wayne North Side (DH), 4:30 p.m.

Parkview Field, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Hard work, fun mix for Richards, Garrett Railroaders

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Diligence and amusement don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Not the way Garrett (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Richards sees it.

“I do demand a lot from my players,” says Richards, who spent a decade of coaching in the Railroaders softball program then took over the baseball post prior to the 2020 season which was taken away by COVID-19. “At the same time, baseball has to still be fun for everybody.

“We want to still work hard for our goals.”

Richards was a softball assistant to Scott Bishop for eight seasons before leading the Garrett team in 2018 and 2019.

“(Bishop) demands perfection,” says Richards. “You’re only going to get that through hard work.”

Prior to Garrett, Richards was a baseball assistant at Central Noble for head coach Jim Sickafoose and baseball assistant Eastside for head coach Jason Pierce.

Richards says Sickafoose has an “old school” way of doing things.

“We had a good team,” says Richards, who helped the Cougars win an IHSAA Class 2A LaVille Sectional title and compete in the Whiting Regional in 2012. “(Coach Sickafoose) wanted to get the most out of everything you can do each day.

“(Coach Pierce) brought a fire for the game. He kept the kids on their toes, letting them know they can’t just go through the motions.”

A 1996 Churubusuco (Ind.) High School graduate, Richards played for Mark Grove.

“(Coach Grove) demanded perfection and hard work,” says Richards. “He was no-nonsense.”

Before class baseball, ‘Busco won Warsaw Sectional and Plymouth Regional crowns and competed in the Fort Wayne Semistate championship against eventual state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran at Fort Wayne’s Memorial Stadium in 1995. 

Richards went on to be a student at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where he earned a Education degree with a focus on middle school Social Studies and Science and later gained a School Counseling masters from the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.

An attendee of several coaching clinics, Richards likes to run an organized practice. 

Everyday players show up they know everything is thought out and in a certain order.

“Anything after 2 1/2 hours and you start to see bad habits,” says Richards. “In 1 1/2 hours, we can get in there, word hard, get good habits formed and have fun.”

Garrett (enrollment around 580) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (along with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview). NECC teams play each other once apiece plus there’s a conference tournament.

“I hope we have a season,” says Richards. “I think we have a lot to look forward to.

“We should be competitive in a really competitive NECC.”

The Railroaders are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Leo and New Haven. Garrett has won three sectional titles — the last in 1973. In recent years, the Railroaders have been rotating as a sectional and regional host.

At its size, the multi-sport athlete is the norm at Garrett. Many baseball players are on the football team and Richards is an assistant in program led by Chris DePew. That means Garrett had just a few participate in practices during fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period for baseball.

Winter workouts — bat and ball activities plus speed and agility and weight work — have regularly been drawing about 17 with the others involved in winter sports. Richards expects to have around 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams.

Last March, Garrett was two days away from its first official day of practice when the pandemic caused a shutdown and loss of the 2020 season.

“What a crazy year,” says Richards. “We had like four kids play travel ball last year and no (Garrett Youth Baseball for ages 5-16). 

“COVID can really hurt a small program.”

A third year as a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School (he was a science teacher prior to that), Richards gets to see student-athletes grow and mature for six years — grades 7-12.

“I build a relationship with them in middle school and earn that trust,” says Richards. “In high school, we get them what they need.”

Richards counts Rudy Fuentes as a varsity assistant coach for 2021. Other assistants are Clay Evans, Steve Orth, Bobby York and Cody Camp. Joe Fuentes (Rudy’s son) is GYB president.

The youth league will base its draft on performance at camps held at the high school in February.

“We work really well together,” says Richards of the accord between GHS and GYB.

Garrett graduate Tristan Taylor is a freshman on the baseball roster at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. Current Railroaders senior Gage Smith is expected to make a college baseball commitment and a number of juniors also have college diamond aspirations.

Jason and wife Emily Richards have three children — Kierra (19), Trey (16) and Brady (8). Kierra Richards is a softball player and Exercise Science major at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. Trey Richards is a junior football and baseball players at Garrett. Third grader Brady Richards, who tuns 9 next week, is involved in football, wrestling and baseball.

Jason Richards is head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School. He is also a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School.