Tag Archives: Len Buczkowski

Four decades later, South Bend Post 50 still Indiana’s lone American Legion national champions

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

American Legion Baseball dates back to 1925.

Indiana joined in 1926 and has crowned a state champion 91 times, including Rockport Post 254 in 2017 (competing now in the Great Lakes Regional in Napoleon, Ohio).

Only one Indiana team has ever reigned at the American Legion World Series.

That’s South Bend Post 50 in 1977. “Machuca’s Marauders” went 18-0 during the tournament run, which included the state tournament and a win against Lafayette Post 11 in the championship game in Richmond and concluded at the American Legion World Series in Manchester, N.H.

Post 50 topped Boyertown, Pa., Santa Monica, and Hattiesburg, Miss. (twice) to finish as the best 16-18 baseball team in America.

More than 3,800 teams entered the double-elimination event at the local level in ’77 and the lone team standing at the end was from South Bend, Ind.

“We thought that was going to open the flood gates (to other national champions from Indiana Legion baseball),” said Mel Machuca, Post 50 manager in ’77, at a 40-year reunion of the title-takers.

It just hasn’t turned out that way.

Machuca has often been asked over the years how he won a national championship.

“If I knew that I would do it again,” said Machuca in response.

But that team 40 years ago certainly caught lightning in a bottle.

On the way to that special achievement, Post 50 beat the defending national champions (Santa Monica, Calif.) and the previous national runners-up (Arlington Heights, Ill.). Between the two, those loaded squads had 13 players that went on to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The lone MLB draftee for Post 50?

It was Dan Szajko. The outfielder, second baseman and third baseman was picked by the Montreal Expos in the 27th round out of Notre Dame in 1982 and played in the minors through 1985.

Slugging third baseman Jeff Coker did have a brief minor league career after his Post 50 days.

Szajko was the youngest player on a ’77 Post 50 squad dominated by older guys. In those years, American Legion Baseball was 18-and-under (later changed to 19U).

“He was 16 and a gift from (South Bend John Adams High School coach) Len Buczkowski,” recalled Machuca. “Dan Szajko was the player to be named later.”

Two players hit .429 during the Legion tournament run — center fielder Szajko and shortstop Bill Schell.

Greg Heyde (15-1) won eight tournament games, Dave Hankins (15-1) seven, Dennis Janiszewski two and Dave Yates one to pace the pitching staff. Heyde were also left fielders.

First baseman Jim Andert, pitcher/center fielder Mike Clarke, pitcher/right fielder Jeff Kowatch, catcher Scott Madey, catcher Dom Romeo, catcher John Ross, pitcher Jeff Rudasics, pitcher/second baseman Will Shepherd, first baseman Mark Toles and second baseman Gary Vargyas were also a part of the champs. Bob Kouts was past commander of Post 50 and longtime Indiana baseball chairman.

Bill Barcome was assistant coach at American Legion Coach of the Year in ’77 (Machuca was Manager of the Year). Dan Toles was a bench coach during the tournament run. Todd Machuca served as batboy. Veteran reporter Forrest “Woody” Miller wrote about the team’s exploits in the South Bend Tribune.

Janiszewski died in 1996, Kouts in 2002 and Miller in 2009.

Machuca, who would coach Post 50 into the ’80s and went on to guide youth teams in Carmel, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, built what turned out to be  a national championship team with a simple formula. He introduced it at the first ’77 tryout session.

“Baseball is a defensive game,” said Machuca. “Hitting wins games. Pitching wins pennants. Defense wins championships.”

Machuca and Barcome made sure players knew what they were doing on defense.

Post 50 was also well-armed for the task at-hand.

“I was blessed,” said Machuca. “I had eight pitchers (using four of them in tournament play).”

The squad that Machuca assembled became very close, which is in evidence all these years later as players gather to swap stories on the golf course, at dinner and at a South Bend Cubs game.

“What we had here in South Bend, the attitude was amazing,” said Machuca. “They were family.

“They took us for the ride. I didn’t play. Bill didn’t play. Everything was built on trust.”

Machuca interjected confidence from Day 1.

“‘You guys are the best I’ve ever seen. You’re going to win the state championship. Go home and be prepared to work for that,’” said Machuca of his words that day. “It seems that what we’ve lost is kids today aren’t willing to work together for a common goal.

“They want an advantage. They want to be guaranteed this and guaranteed that.”

In American Legion Baseball, the team you register is the team you take into the tournament. There are no add-ons or ringers.

“Whatever you start with, you end with,” said Machuca.

In ’77, there were no designated hitters or courtesy runners in American Legion Baseball and that’s the way coaches, players and organizers liked it.

Tryouts for the ’78 Post 50 team drew 400 eager youngsters.

Two decades after the national title, the Post 50 men of ’77 played a game against the Post 50 team of ’97. The “old” guys did well enough to get that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reaction: “Who are those guys?”

Even folks in the local baseball community did not know about the national champions.

A seed was planted which grew into a book, co-authored by Machuca (No. 20) and player Will Shepherd (No. 11).

“An Inning At A Time: An American Legion Baseball National Championship Story” was published in 2011.

Machuca explained the title of the book.

“I win innings, I don’t win games,” said Machuca. “Games are too big. Do what you can do at the time.”

In the Arlington Heights game, Post 50 got down 5-0 early. Machuca asked his players to come back with one run — two would be a bonus.

“‘We get one run and we’re going to win this game,’” said Machuca of that in-between half innings speech. “Once you get to the point of total confidence on the field, it’s hard to get beat.”

Shepherd looks back on the national title and still marvels at what he and his ball-playing buddies did.

“For my money what makes it special is that it was a legitimate World Series. It was a bracketed, countrywide tournament. One state champion moved on the regional and that one regional champion moved on.”

The 91st American Legion World Series Aug. 10-15 in Shelby, N.C. Games will be shown on ESPN3 and ESPNU.

SBPOST5077-1

South Bend Post 50’s 1977 American Legion Baseball national champions at a 40-year reunion dinner are (from left): First row — Will Shepherd, Bill Schell, manager Mel Machuca, assistant coach Bill Barcome and Jeff Kowatch; Second row —  Paul Kazmierczak (member of ’75 and ’76 team), Mike Clarke, Jim Andert, Greg Heyde, Dave Hankins and Jeff Coker. Not pictured —  Dennis Janiszewski (deceased), Scott Madey, Dom Romeo, John Ross, Jeff Rudasics, Mark Toles, Dan Szajko, Gary Vargyas and Dave Yates plus batboy Todd Machuca and tournament bench coach Dan Toles.

Penn’s Dikos puts program first and piles up hardware

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Everyone knows that the white “P” on those black caps stands for Penn.

But it could just as season stand for another “P” word.

“Bottom line: It’s not a person, it’s the program,” says Penn High School head baseball coach Greg Dikos. “Everybody contributes. You can plug anybody in.”

That’s the way Dikos has operated for three decades on Bittersweet Road in Mishawaka.

The program-first method works.

As the Kingsmen get ready for an IHSAA Class 4A Kokomo Semistate game against Zionsville Saturday, June 10 (following the 1 p.m. 2A game), they are led by a man who has led the program to 702 wins, including 18 sectionals, 10 regionals, three semistates and four state championships (1994, 1998, 2001, 2015) plus 18 Northern Indiana Conference titles in his 30 seasons as head coach (he’s been in the program for 37).

Chasing championships is what they do at Penn.

“Those are definitely our expectations,” says Dikos, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011. “We try to make the kids realize that when they sign up as freshmen.”

Dikos, 60, ticks off the trademarks of the Penn program: “Hard work. Teamwork. Discipline. Commitment.”

While the Kingsmen have numerous NCAA Division I commits in the 2017 lineup, including Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame), Nolan Metcalf (Kansas) and Trevor Waite (Dayton) plus NAIA two-sporter Matt Kominkiewicz (Saint Francis, Ind. for baseball and football), this is not a typical year.

“We have hard-working kids that come in and give it their all, play together,” says Dikos. “Comparatively speaking, with other athletes around the area, we just hold our own because we play as a team.”

Discipline means showing up on time consistently and following Penn’s athletic code of conduct year-round.

Dikos demands discipline in the school building and class room. His players are not allowed to cut class, get tardies or give the teacher a hard time.

“They know the first person the teacher goes to is me,” says Dikos. “If it gets to me, I know that teacher is frustrated. We’ll take care of it right away.”

Penn High School coaches expect their athletes “to be champions on and off the field” and that’s certainly the case in baseball.

Baseball-playing Kingsmen put in a commitment of quality time. Dikos and long-time assistant Jim Kominkiewicz no longer lead five-hour workouts. They’ve learned to get the job done in about 1 1/2. But players are expected to work. Athletes put in countless hours on their own in the fall and winter, working on skills and lifting weights.

The 2016-17 school year was the first for full-time strength and conditioning coach Matt Cates, who puts Penn athletes through sport-specific exercises either during the school day, before or after.

“Our kids have developed immensely,” says Dikos, a health and physical education teacher at PHS. “It’s going to benefit the freshman class this year the most because they’re going to have four years of Cates.”

Players are willing to put in the quality time because of their baseball adoration.

“It’s a difficult sport if you love it. It’s an impossible sport if you don’t love it,” says Dikos. “The kids that make it to their senior year really love it. They have fun doing baseball stuff.

“You just try to built that chemistry and that will lead to the fun.”

While early-season workouts are more regimented, as Penn gets deeper into the postseason, practices at Jordan Automotive Group Field tend to be more relaxed and players are encouraged to enjoy the experience.

Typical of tournament time, Dikos gave his tournament roster the day off Monday so he could work with his younger players. In many years, the Kingsmen have been practicing for the state tournament, the summer travel season and running a youth camp all in the same week.

In addressing players and parents at the beginning of each season Dikos makes one promise: The season will not be perfect.

“We go through the same things that other teams do,” says Dikos. “We have our same problems that other team do. We just try to deal with them as effectively as we can. We try to nip it in the bud.”

Working through those problems present a life lesson.

“You’re not going to get along with your soulmate every single day.,” says Dikos. “You’re going to have problems with you marriage, with your job. These are things you have to work out. These are values I hope are learned going through our program that kids can take with them in college and the rest of their lives.”

Dikos likes the way Paul Holaway puts it.

“We don’t expect perfection; we expect to be exceptionally good,” says Dikos in quoting his senior manager. “You never perfect baseball. It’s always a learning process and change. It’s a series of adjustments every level that you go up

“We (coaches) have that expectation that we’re going to win. Once you build that, the kids go in there expecting that same thing.”

Many Penn baseball alumni were in the crowd to see the ’17 Kingsmen beat Goshen and Elkhart Central (win No. 700 for Dikos) to win the Elkhart Sectional and Lake Central and Andrean to take the LaPorte Regional.

“It really pumped our kids up a lot seeing their ex-teammates,” says Dikos. “I imagine there’s pressure in not letting those guys down, not letting the program down.

“But it’s certainly not emphasized by the coaching staff.”

Besides Kominkiewicz, who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski at South Bend Adams (graduating in 1973) with his quarter century in the program, the staff features Tom Stanton (Penn Class of 2000), John Westra (Sturgis 2003), Elliott Lares (Penn 2014), Brian Lares (Penn 2008) and Collin McNamara (Penn 2014).

Positional coaches are Dikos (catchers), Stanton (pitchers) Kominkiewicz (infielders) and Westra (outfielders). The other help at the junior varsity or freshmen levels.

Trust is big for Dikos, who has come to rely on the opinions of “Komo.”

“He’s one guy you can depend on,” says Dikos of Kominkiewicz. “I know he’s going to be here everyday. He’s going to give it his all.

“One thing he and I have in common is we just want to win. We just try to put our best nine on the field regardless of who it is.”

The current Penn lineup is not the one that took the field at the beginning of the spring.

“It’s something a veteran staff is able to figure out,” says Dikos. “The parents expect their kids to be given a chance. The kids expect to be given a chance — unless it happens to another kid.

“They don’t understand why you stick with a kid for a few games. In reality, you’re giving them the kind of chances you give everybody. You play yourself out of a position. Some parents and players think it should happen faster or they should be given a little more time. “

All the coaching experience really helps.

“We might lose a game along the way trying to figure things out,” says Dikos. “That’s something parents will have a hard time getting a grip on.

“We’re thinking about making a state tournament run.”

Even in a school the size of Penn, there are multi-sport athletes. Dikos just doesn’t see as many as a he once did.

“It beginning to become quite the rarity but not because of (the coaching staff),” says Dikos. “We encourage multi-sport athletes.”

There are five of those on the 2017 baseball tournament roster

“In the past, it was a lot more,” says Dikos. But kids are beginning to specialize.”

Looking to children of Greg and Sally Dikos, sons Greg Jr. and Garrick were three-sport athletes through junior year at Penn and two-sport athletes as seniors. Daughter Sarah played multiple sports in junior high and found her talents led her to just volleyball in high school.

Dikos keeps the lines of communication open with Penn’s other head coaches.

“The only thing we ask is that the athletes tell us what’s going on and are respectful of everybody,” says Dikos. “We don’t want anybody short-changed. If the kids really want it, it’s workable.”

Dikos is a 1975 Swartz Creek (Mich.) High School and 1979 Ball State University graduate who played briefly in the Atlanta Braves organization and has been giving back to the game ever since.

DIKOSKOMINKIEWICZSTANTON

Greg Dikos (center) and long-time assistants Jim Kominkiewicz (left) and Tom Stanton (right) have helped Penn High School into the 2017 Class 4A Kokomo Semistate. Dikos is in his 30th season as head baseball coach and has 702 win and four state titles on his resume. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Getting the most out of players is ultimate goal of Carmel’s Buczkowski

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Buczkowski was in elementary school when he learned how to make out a baseball lineup.

Though he might not have known it at the time, the seeds were being planted for young Matt to follow his father into teaching and coaching.

Len Buczkowski coached 29 seasons at South Bend Adams High School and was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1991 (Matt’s junior year at Adams) and passed away in 2013.

As a teenager, Matt had all kinds of ideas about what he would do with his life. Coaching was not necessarily on that list.

But after playing at Butler University and a brief professional career (he played one season in the Philadelphia Phillies organization where he was briefly a roommate of two-sport standout Ricky Williams and one season with the independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters), Matt heard the coaching profession calling his name.

His first job was at Butler. He was a Bulldogs assistant for one season on the staff of Steve Farley.

Then there was a three-year stint as an assistant to Jim Schmitz at Eastern Illinois University.

Matt and wife Jennifer then moved to Colorado and he started coaching high school players. There was a two-year hitch as an assistant at Mesa Ridge and nine seasons as head coach at Fountain Fort Carson.

Buczkowski returned to central Indiana and served four seasons as head coach at Lawrence Central. Last summer, he was hired to be head coach at Carmel.

“All the places I’ve been I just continued to get better at the coaching craft,” says Buczkowski, 43. “It’s just who I am. It’s ingrained in my blood and my make-up. It’s how I go about my day as a teacher, husband and a father.”

As his experience has grown, his coaching style has evolved.

“When I first started out, I was a pretty strict disciplinarian,” says Buczkowski. “I took over a program that was 2-17 the year before. I had to change to culture of losing. I had to find out who wanted to play baseball and who just wanted to wear the uniform.”

When Matt took his new position, the Buczkowskis already lived in Carmel (Jennifer is a second grade teacher at Towne Meadow Elementary; brother Steve Buczkowski also resides in the district).

Matt knew about the community’s recreation and travel teams in the Carmel Dads Club as well as the work ethic and zest for success already in place. With the Greyhounds, he inherits a team from Dan Roman that has 15 seniors and is used to winning.

“These guys work hard,” says Buczkowski. “They give me a good effort on a daily basis. For the most part, they are mentally and physically tough. When you get that mix together it usually breeds success.

“Ultimately, my goal is to get the most out of my players.”

Buczkowski has learned that motivating young athletes is not “one size fits all” with all the different personalities on the squad.

“It’s about getting to know these guys and knowing which buttons to push,” says Buczkowski. “The longer I coach, I find it’s not just what you say but how they perceive how you’re saying it.”

The 2017 season will open with Carmel ranked No. 1 in Class 4A. Buczkowski, his staff of varsity assistants John Zangrilli (former head coach at Brebeuf and Zionsville) and Brent Berglund, junior varsity coaches Eric Lentz (former head coach at Westfield and Carmel) and Greg Stiller and freshmen coaches Aaron Hahn and Sean Duty are anxious to compete in the strong Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (other members are Ben DavIs, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central (Indianapolis), Pike and Warren Central) and a loaded Westfield Sectional (which also includes Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis North Central and Westfield).

“We’re going hunting and we have some pretty good artillery,” says Buczowski of his talented Hounds. “We’re not hunting with slingshots.

“There’s definitely high expectations at Carmel.”

The program has won 13 sectionals (the last in 2016), five regionals and made two State Finals appearances, finishing as runner-up in 1997.

Something that’s different for Matt or brother Mike (who coached baseball briefly at Caston High School) from when their father or other South Bend coaching legends Jim Reinebold and Ric Tomaszewski were leading programs is all the organized year-round training. Most players have travel coaches and take private hitting or pitching lessons from instructors in addition to being taught by their high school coaches.

“We’re more a part of the process,” says Buczkowski. “Our job is important, but it’s not just one voice they’re hearing anymore.”

Buczkowski sees elite travel organizations like the Indiana Bulls providing exposure and training opportunities that high school coaches just can’t mimic.

“We want our guys playing (in the summer),” says Buczkowski. “That’s the most important thing for their development.

“Indiana baseball is in a really good place. There are really good players. It has a lot to do with the travel piece. Grand Park (in Westfield) has had a tremendous part in that.”

MATTBUCZKOWSKI

Matt Buczkowski enters his first season as Carmel High School head baseball coach in 2017.