Tag Archives: Little League Central Region Headquarters

Taylor U. assistant Atkinson has seen so much baseball around Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Having Rick Atkinson around has given the baseball program at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., “second eyes” for the better part of the last two decades.

“I’m the Don Zimmer of the outfit,” says Atkinson, who has seen plenty on a diamond in his 73 years and has lent his insights to the Trojans for 18 years — the past 16 on a coaching staff headed by Kyle Gould

Bone cancer has not allowed the former Taylor player and longtime Gas City, Ind., resident to travel with the team on its 2021 trips to Arizona and Tennessee.

“I was looking forward to going,” says Atkinson, who tracks the 7-3 Trojans on the internet.

While COVID-19 precautions have also kept him away recently, Atkinson has shared plenty of diamond wisdom over the years.

“On the road, Kyle and I would be together and talk about baseball, the team and what-not,” says Atkinson. “We would not always agree. But when we left our room we were on the same page.”

Atkinson’s health no longer allows him, but he used to coach first base for the Trojans.

“I can’t move too quick,” says Atkinson. The cancer has eaten away his second vertebrae. “It’s good medicine to go over there when I don’t feel good.”

It had once been Atkinson’s responsibility to mow and water the grass and paint the lines at Winterholter Field. 

“All of the sudden we can’t do that,” says Atkinson.

With the advent of artificial turf, those staples of baseball coaching are no longer necessary.

Rick and Sondra Atkinson have three children who all live nearby — Molly and Abby in Gas City and Adam in Muncie. There are eight grandchildren.

“They love to come over to Taylor and hit in the barn or get in the new press box,” says Atkinson. 

A three-time Hall of Famer — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Grant County (Ind.) as an individual and Taylor University as part of a team — Atkinson was a standout third baseman for Jack King-coached Taylor teams from 1966-68 and played one season at Greenville (Ill.) College before playing in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Playing for NAIA Coach of the Year Bob Smith at Greenville in 1969, righty-swinging corner infielder Atkinson hit 12 home runs in 22 games and lead NAIA in homers per game (.55). He was also third in runs batted in per contest (1.55) while hitting .428. Greenville lost in the regional that year and Taylor went on to the NAIA World Series. Smith was also president of the International Baseball Federation that helped get the sport in the Olympics.

As a fast-pitch player, Atkinson helped the Plymouth Club Bombers to three Amateur Softball Association state titles and two runner-up finishes.

Atkinson was in secondary education for 38 years (physical education and health) — eight at Eastbrook High In Marion, Ind., and 30 at Mississinewa High in Gas City. 

At Eastbrook, he was on the football staff with Terry Hoeppner (who went on to be head coach at Miami University in Ohio and Indiana University) at Eastbrook. 

Before returning in 2005, Atkinson served Mississinewa for 24 years as the athletic director and 20 years as the Indians’ baseball coach. He was the North head coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1990.

It was while dining at Cracker Barrel that Atkinson ran into Larry Winterholter who asked him to join his coaching staff at Taylor.

“Will you come back and help me?” Atkinson says of Winterholter’s question. “I’ve been there ever since.”

Gould was a freshman during Atkinson’s first season as as Trojans coach.

“We developed a good relationship,” says Atkinson. “A lot of people think I’m Kyle’s dad.”

Many relationships were formed through baseball over the decades. Atkinson got to know Dick Siler when they were both high school coaches.

“They had the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen,” says Atkinson of the bright red and yellow donned by Siler’s Elkhart Memorial High School teams, which included all-star pitcher Matt Ruess in 1990.

The friendship continued when they both began college coaching at Crossroads League schools — Atkinson at Taylor and Siler at Bethel.

Atkinson invited Siler to stay with him whenever he was in the area. IHSBCA Hall of Famer Siler died in 2020.

A 1965 graduate of Mississinewa, Atkinson earned 11 varsity letters playing baseball and basketball for coach Junior Mannis and football for coach Charlie Fisher. Nine of those teams won conference championships.

One of his fondest memories is playing five games in three different places in the same day.

“When I was 15 we had a high school doubleheader,” says Atkinson. “My mom took me to Kokomo for an American Legion doubleheader (featuring Jonesboro Post 95) then to Indianapolis for semipro tournament (with the Twin City Bankers). 

“We won all five games that day.”

A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers and Portland Rockets is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

Atkinson played against one of former major league pitcher and Anderson, Ind., native Carl Erskine’s sons.

Erskine doesn’t address Atkinson by name. It’s “Hey, Gas City!”

He was 14 when Atkinson started playing for the Bankers. His father, John, was the team’s manager. 

John Atkinson helped build a diamond that is still used today.

There were days when young Rick sold Cokes while sitting on the back part of a station wagon.

At 15, the Bankers placed third in the state tournament and all-stater Atkinson hit .454.

Atkinson recalls when amateur baseball went from wood to metal bats.

“I didn’t like it,” says Atkinson. “I collect fungos. None of them are aluminum.

“I do not remember breaking a bat. I’m sure I did.”

He does remember mending some clubs.

To keep wood bats in circulation, Atkinson used to use small black brad nails to hold them together.

For a few years, Atkinson was in charge of Taylor hitters.

He’d study the players’ swing to see what suited him best. It was easy to identify the best ones.

“A blind man can come into this barn and tell who the good hitters are just by the sound,” says Atkinson. “It’s a different sound.”

Leading a Taylor-based team in a collegiate wood bat league, Atkinson counted future big league center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as one of his players.

Atkinson encouraged the Fort Wayne Bishop Luers graduate to cash in on his speed.

“I know Coach, bunt the ball,” says Atkinson of Kiermaier’s echoing what the coach often told him. “They don’t teach the bunt anymore.”

The coach also lent his know-how with the independent professional Dubois County Dragons in Huntingburg, Ind., and the Anderson (Ind.) Lawmen. The latter team was managed by Texas Rangers bird dog scout Jay Welker and featured Brian Cruz who also played for Atkinson at Mississinewa.

For a few years, Atkinson was a camp director for Little League Central Region Headquarters in Indianapolis.

“I really loved it,” says Atkinson. “Kids from all over the country would come in.”

Campers and counselors affectionately referred to Atkinson as “Papa Bear.”

Rick Atkinson, a longtime assistant baseball coach at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., is the member of the Indiana High School Baseball Association, Grant County (Ind.) and Taylor University halls of fame. (Taylor University Photo)

No steady home field, no problem for Freije, Indianapolis Cathedral

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Some might see the IHSAA Class 4A baseball state championship showdown against Penn (27-6) as a home game for Indianapolis Cathedral (28-0).

After all, it’s only 12 or so miles from the Cathedral campus on 56th Street to the downtown stadium and the Irish did beat Heritage Christian for the city championship at “The Vic” this spring.

On the other hand, Cathedral is the designated road team against the Kingsmen in a game slated for 5 p.m. Saturday, June 17, and that may make sense to some since the Fighting Irish did not have one “home” field during the 2017 season.

Irish varsity games had been played for years at Hair Field near Fort Benjamin Harrison, but when the lease to that facility was not renewed the Irish went looking for places to play.

“We had a month or two not knowing what we were going to do,” says Cathedral head baseball coach Ed Freije.

The independent Irish wound up with home contests at Marian University on the northwest side of Indianapolis and Grand Park in Westfield.

Meanwhile, the school purchased the former Little League International Central Region headquarters at 44th and Mitthoeffer and used that for practices and all junior varsity and freshmen games while construction began on a high school diamond and other athletic fields at what is now called Brunette Park.

But a nomadic season with a new coaching staff did not stop Cathedral from winning each and every time it took the diamond — wherever it was.

The 2017 Irish will be vying to be the fourth unbeaten team during the IHSAA state tournament era (1967-2017), joining Evansville Memorial (30-0 in single class in 1978), Brownsburg (35-0 in 4A in 2005) and Norwell (35-0 in 3A in 2007).

Cathedral’s record was spotless going into the 2013 4A championship game before falling 1-0 to left-hander Tanner Tully and Elkhart Central. The ’13 Irish wound up 28-1.

Freije, a 1999 Cathedral graduate and three-sport athlete for the Irish, returned to the baseball coaching staff after a hiatus when he spent five seasons as the school’s head girls basketball coach (winning 70 games from 2012-13 to 2016-17).

The ’17 Irish returned nine seniors from 2016 and plenty of capable arms.

“Depth of pitching has really helped us this year,” says Freije. “(Pitching coach) Brad Pearson did a a phenomenal job with that staff. We knew that pitching and defense would keep us in games and give us a chance day in and day out.

“(Pitchers have) been around the strike zone and let their defense work. That strong defense behind them gives them a ton of confidence. We like our chances if we’re not giving up more than two or three runs.”

Opponents have scored more than three runs in only three games out of 28 with 15 times have tallied one or no runs.

Senior left-hander Nick Eaton has emerged as Cathedral’s ace. He took the ball in the sectional final, regional semifinal and semistate game and is expected to start against Penn.

Senior right-hander Tommy Kafka, Cathedral’s starting second baseman, has been used effectively in relief.

The Irish also have starting right fielder and senior right-hander Jack Myers, senior right-hander Jack Phillips and starting first baseman and junior left-hander Jake Andriole at the ready for mound duty.

Freije said he did not see the new IHSAA pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) dictating how Cathedral handled its pitchers this season, though it did come into a play with a few opponents.

Besides Pearson (cousin of Cardinal Ritter head coach Dave Scott), Jeremy Sinsabaugh (varsity), Austin Green (JV), Will Hunker (JV) and Keith Yost (freshmen) are also part of the 2017 Cathedral coaching staff.

The Irish are making a seventh State Finals appearance (Cathedral won state championships in 2001 and 2007 and finished as state runner-up in 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2013) after beating Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Lawrence Central and Lawrence North to win the Warren Central Sectional, Greenfield-Central and Roncalli in the Decatur Central Regional and Columbus North in the Plainfield Semistate.

Ed Freije is not the first Indianapolis area coach with that name. His father — also named Ed — is a former baseball and basketball coach at Broad Ripple and basketball coach at New Palestine.

The younger Freije learned about coaching from his father and from Ken Kaufman, Rich Andriole, Tony Vittorio and Linda Bamrick among others.

Freije played baseball at Cathedral for Kaufman and then Andriole (then served as an assistant on his staff for a decade, 2004-13). As a head coach, Andriole won more than 500 games and the two state titles.

Vittorio was Freije’s baseball coach at the University of Dayton, where Freije graduated in 2003.

A Southport High School graduate, Vittorio played at Hanover College and later coached at then NCAA Division II Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before taking over the D-I Dayton Flyers.

Before taking over as Lady Irish head coach, Freije was an assistant to Linda Bamrick. She won 186 games with a state championship (2000-01) in 12 seasons at Cathedral.

The Irish, which have also gathered 21 sectional, 13 regional and six semistate crowns, has sent many players on to college and professional baseball. Catcher Jake Fox made his Major League Baseball debut in 2007 and right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter followed in 2008. Left-hander Dillon Peters was drafted in 2014 and right-hander Ashe Russell in 2015.

EDFREJE

Indianapolis Cathedral baseball coaches for 2017 (left to right): Keith Yost, Austin Green, Jeremy Sinsabaugh, head coach Ed Freije, Brad Pearson and Will Hunker. (Cathedral Photo)

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