Speed is Tyler Finke’s calling card on the baseball field. He shows it while roaming center field and swiping bases at a record pace for Southeastern Louisiana University and he did it while growing up in Columbus, Ind., and shining for the Columbus North High School Bull Dogs. A fifth-year SLU senior, Finke has 41 putouts in as many chances. The righty swinger is hitting a team-leading .364 with one home runs, four doubles, 14 runs batted in and 23 runs scored — mostly from the 2-hole — through 14 games. “I’m able to track down balls and impact the game on the defensive side and limiting balls that drop out there,” says Finke. “I’ve got (lead-off man Rhett Rosevear) in front of me and we can get guys on base and score some runs.” At 15-of-16 in stolen bases for 2023, Finke is 71-of-80 for his career and had tied the school record. The 5-foot-11, 165-pounder pilfered nine bases in 16 games in 2020 (a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic), 19 in 46 games in 2021 and 28 in 58 games in 2022. He hit .396 and amassed 38 stolen bases in 41 attempts for Snead State Community College in Boaz, Ala., in 2019 after hitting .415 and setting career and single-season stolen base marks at Columbus North with 108 and 48. “Speed’s been my biggest strength as an athlete,” says Finke. “I’ve developed it over the years, but I’ve always been the fastest kid on the team.” As a youngster, Finke improved his speed through plyometrics, body awareness and proper running form. “I always ran the right way and always had the speed to back it up,” says Finke. “We still do a little work with our strength coach (Kyle Vagher). He’s done a great job improving our speed and agility in the off-season. “It’s been mostly about adding strength.” Finke, who turns 24 in April, gained an extra year of eligibility because of COVID. He completed a Sport Management degree last semester. This spring marks his fourth playing for Matt Riser at SLU in Hammond, La. “Skip is one of the old-school, hard-nosed dudes,” says Finke. “He expects a lot from you. He expects you to play hard every single time. That’s what we love about him. “We know he’s going to get the best out of his team every performance.” He credits his coach for making him even more of a weapon on the bases. “Having speed helps,” says Finke. “But Riser has given me some extra tools and tricks of the trade that help maximize my speed.” It’s things like reading the pitcher and sinking into his legs right before the pitch to get his best jump. “Getting that extra foot ahead of the baseball has really helped me,” says Finke. “Our whole team can run pretty much. We take pride in that. At any point we can take a base.” Casey Underwood was Finke’s head coach at Snead State. “His first year as coach was my year there,” says Finke. “The stuff he’s built around that program is absolutely incredible. “I can’t say anything but nice things about what he’s done and what he means to me as a coach.” Finke has never been a fan of the cold and saw himself playing college ball in the south. While in high school playing travel ball for Demand Command, he got to play against junior college teams in the fall. One of those was Snead State. Older brother Evan Finke (Columbus North Class of 2015) played for the Parsons and Tyler followed him. Evan went on to Purdue Northwest and is now an engineer in Columbus. Little sister Carley Finke (Columbus North Class of 2020) is a former volleyball defensive specialist and current nursing student at Indiana University Purdue University-Columbus. Evan, Tyler and Carley are the offspring of Rodney and Beth Finke. A 2018 graduate of Columbus North, Tyler Finke played for then-Bull Dogs head coach Ben McDaniel. “He got us prepared to play the college game,” says Finke. “We were a high school program, but we had a lot of talent.”
Kelcey Mucker grew up in the southern part of Indiana and excelled at multiple sports. Born in Washington, Ind., and moving to Lawrenceburg, Ind., around 18 months, Mucker would go on to shine at Lawrenceburg High School. The 1993 graduate played in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Boys Basketball Series as well as the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and the Indiana Football Coaches Association North/South All-Star Game. At the time, he was told he was the first to ever pull off that three-sport feat. One of his teammates in the Indiana-Kentucky and IHSBCA North-South games was Jasper’s Scott Rolen. Both were named to the 2018 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary Team. Mucker, who swang the bat from the left side and threw the baseball and the football with his right arm, was headed to Indiana University on a football scholarship with plans to also represent the Hoosiers in basketball and baseball when his path turned to professional baseball. Selected in the first round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins, all-state outfielder Mucker did not sign right away and had time for those summertime all-star appearances. One day before he was to begin classes at IU — Aug. 9, 1993 — the 6-foot-4 athlete signed with the Twins. “The offer was good and I weighed my options,” says Mucker, the Lawrenceburg High School Athletics Hall of Famer. “I feel like I could’ve played baseball a lot longer than the other sports.” Basketball was his favorite and he excelled at football. He did not put the time into baseball he did the other two. “It was something I could do,” says Mucker, who went on to play 597 pro games, including 109 with the 1995 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards. Mucker played in the Twins system 1993-99 — seeing time at Double-A the last two years. He hooked on with the Cleveland Indians organization as a minor league free agent in 2000 and was released in April. The Oakland Athletics hired him as a scout and assigned him to a Deep South territory. He first moved to Metairie, La., outside New Orleans. He was in Baton Rouge, Fla., for 14 years and three years ago moved 20 miles east to Denham Springs, La., where he lives with wife Lisa. Mucker, who is beginning his 22nd year with the Athletics, is responsible for knowing the baseball talent in Louisiana, Mississippi and southeast Texas (Houston area). At this time of the year, Mucker is spending much of his time getting ready for the spring season. He meets with potential signees through in-home visits or (since the COVID-19 pandemic) sometimes over Zoom calls. “Getting into homes was pretty big for us as area scouts — that face-to-face contact,” says Mucker. “That’s still challenging going into 2022. “I like talking to parents and kids at the ballpark. It’s not so impersonal.” Mucker’s job is tied to being organized. “It’s knowing my area and what’s going on on a daily basis — not only for me but my supervisors and everybody above me so they can get that second look,” says Mucker. “We all can evaluate a player. What ballparks are we going to get in?” Emails let him know when there are changes in games and he’s always on top of the forecast. “I feel like I’m a weatherman,” says Mucker. “Rain is not good for a baseball game.” But — generally speaking — the weather is good and baseball can be played 12 months a year in Mucker’s area. In the winter months, that is often a workout or showcase. “Kids are always working out — sometimes a little bit too much,” says Mucker. “From the draft (now in July during the MLB All-Star break) until start of the season, we’re getting ready for 2022. “I try to see everybody we can prior to next spring so we have an idea.” Unlike Indiana when the snow might still be flying in April, high school baseball in Mucker’s territory tends to start the third week of February. Mucker also keeps tabs on players’ social media accounts. “They might Tweet something they shouldn’t and be a bigger risk,” says Mucker. “For us as scouts that’s part of the equation.” Not all MLB organizations bring their scouts together during the draft. With the exception of 2020 with travel restrictions, Mucker and his colleagues go to Oakland during that time. Mucker is vice president of the Southeastern Scouts Association — a group made up of scouts living in the Deep South and representing all 30 MLB teams. “We meet once a year and talk about initiaves and giving back to the game within our region,” says Mucker, who has also been part of the Buck O’Neil Professional Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association. Mucker notes that there is some uncertainty about what will transpire in baseball until the current lockout is resolved. Scouting has always been competitive, but now that the draft has been cut down to 20 rounds (it was 40 in 2019 and five in 2020) it is even more important to know as much information as possible about players and also what other organizations think about him. How much do the Reds like that player? Can we wait until the third round or take them in the second? “It’s another way — on a bigger scale — to be organized within your territory,” says Mucker. Though he’s lived away from Indiana more than two decades, Kelcey Adair Mucker still has family ties there. His father — retired Indiana State Police trooper of 30 years — Hubert Mucker Jr., is just outside Lawrenceburg. Brother Stacy Mucker and son Kelcey Aaron Mucker live in Lawrenceburg with many other family members in Washington or Indianapolis.
Shawn Jenkins played baseball in South Bend, Ind., as a boy. Now he helps boys and girls get better with bat, ball and glove as owner of Teddy BallGames, a training facility of the city’s northwest side. Jenkins, who had been taking his South Bend River Bandits Softball teams to Teddy BallGames and helped set up 24-hour access and an alarm system as an ADT employee, took ownership from retiring Mike Branch on Feb. 1, 2021. The father of three daughters (freshman Lexington, 14, and sixth grader Dellancey, 11, are ballplayers), Jenkins switched from coaching baseball to softball and is now also the head coach of that sport at South Bend Riley High School as well as overseeing the TB Tigers Baseball & Softball Travel Organization. Softball teams played several games in the fall while baseball — with many in football and other fall sports — took the time off. The 11U TB Tigers went 50-2, won eight tournaments and ended up ranked No. 1 in the county by Baseball Players Association in 2021. Teddy BallGames, located just off Cleveland Road at 4085 Meghan Beehler Court, has batting cages and training space for individuals and teams and is outfitted with Rapsodo, HitTrax and
equipment. There are currently about 75 members and Jenkins says there is room for 120. Jenkins went from South Bend to Chicagoland and attended Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights then came back to Indiana as a junior and graduated from the former South Bend LaSalle High School in 1991. His head coach was Scott Sill. “Scott Sill gave me a good foundation,” says Jenkins. After a junior college stint in California, Jenkins ended up playing baseball and basketball at Waubonsee Community College in Aurora, Ill. The baseball coach was Hall of Famer Dave Randall. “It was just a great program,” says Jenkins, who was a second baseman. “I was able to play for him and I really leaned a lot. I parlayed that into playing (NCAA) Division II baseball at Lincoln University (in Jefferson City, Mo.). The Blue Tigers were coached by Sergio Espinal, who grew up with Shawon Dunston and a teammate of Pete Incaviglia, Robin Ventura and Doug Dascenzo on a College World Series team at Oklahoma State University, was was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs (1985 and 1986). Jenkins coached high school basketball in Louisiana and high school and college basketball in California then moved back to Indiana and was an assistant baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School for 12 years. He worked with former Maurice Matthys Little League teammate and best friend John Kehoe. Jenkins was 11 when Matthys won a district title a lost to Concord in sectional play. For more information on Teddy BallGames, call 574-329-1264.
Rock Creek Community Academy in Sellersburg, Ind., fielded its first baseball team in 2021. The Jay Hafele-coached Lions played at the junior varsity level and did not participate in the IHSAA tournament. RCCA ended the season with 13 players. More than half of the team had played little or no organized baseball. “A lot of people came out because they wanted to try it,” says Hafele, who expects the numbers and Baseball I.Q. to climb. “I think we’re going to have 20 this year,” says Hafele, a 1998 Evansville Harrison High School graduate who played three years of college baseball and is teaching Physical Education, Health and Life Skills to high school and middle school students at the K-12 institution (it became a charter school in 2010). “We’ll have more knowledgeable people than we’ve ever had that played Little League and (baseball’s) been a part of their life. “We don’t have a field (on-campus) yet, but that’s in the works.” Rock Creek played and practiced last spring at Silver Creek Township Park, which is less than a mile from the school. Two public high schools — Silver Creek and Charlestown — are 1.3 and 6.1 miles away, respectively. More participation means the possibility of more pitchers which will help with the IHSAA pitch count rule. “Our rule of thumb is let the hitter get himself out,” says Hafele. “Throw strikes. That’s all we need.” Other concepts that the coach sees as important are sportsmanship, leadership, fun and the ability to move on from mistakes. “We’re not letting the last play effect your next play,” says Hafele. “I can’t emphasize that enough. “Just get the next out.” Hafele hopes his team — which again play a JV slate in 2022 — will be able to scrimmage Charlestown in the preseason to more-prepared for games. B.J. Paro is one of his assistants and Hafele hopes to have more. The Lions’ 2021 schedule included Indiana’s Cannelton, Columbus Christian, Crawford County, Henryville, Jennings County, Lanesville, Perry Central, Providence, Scottsburg, Shawe Memorial, Springs Valley and West Washington and Kentucky’s Whitefield Academy. Rock Creek Community Academy (enrollment around 180) is an independent with no athletic conference affiliation. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. With Rock Creek’s size (about 180 in the top four grades) and many players in football (seven of nine 2021 baseball starters played that sport and Hafele has been on the coaching staff) or soccer, the Lions have not worked out in the fall. RCCA’s football team practices on-campus, but rents space at Woehrle Athletic Complex, which is five miles from campus in Jeffersonville, Ind., for home games. An outfielder as a player, Hafele played for head coach Andy Rice at Harrison then for one season for Mike Goedde at the University of Southern Indiana before transferring to John A. Logan College, a National Junior College Athletic Association member in Carterville, Ill., and played one season for Jerry Halstead. From there, Hafele went to NCAA Division I McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., but never suffered a shoulder injury and never played for the Cowboys. He played his final college season for Rick Parr at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, where he earned a bachelor’s degree. Jay and wife Jill, who also teaches at Rock Creek, have three children — son Cooper (12), daughter Skylar (7) and son Chase (2).
A former Indiana University baseball player is sharing his experience and knowledge as head coach at Barr-Reeve Middle/High School in the tiny Daviess County town of Montgomery. Trevor McConnell, who graduated from Bloomington (Ind.) High School South in 2005 and earned his IU degree in December 2008, enjoyed his first on-field season with Barr-Reeve in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic took away 2020. He was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Joe Rademacher during the 2019 season. Before Barr-Reeve, McConnell spent five seasons as an assistant to Bloomington South head coach Phil Kluesner (2014-18) and five as head coach and athletic director at Eastern Greene (2009-13). A center fielder in high school, McConnell played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Grier Werner at Bloomington South and was recruited to play at IU by Bob Morgan. “(Werner) was an old-school guy,” says McConnell. “He had that football mentality. He wanted physical and mental toughness from his teams and pushed us to take on that mentality because baseball is a game of failure.” By the time McConnell joined the Hoosiers, Tracy Smith was head coach. He saw action in 65 games from 2006-08 and counted future big leaguer Josh Phegley as a teammate. Michael Earley went on to be a college coach (he’s now at Texas A&M). “I learned a ton from Coach Smith in my time around the IU program,” says McConnell, who picked up pointers in practice planning, strategy and all facets of running a baseball team. “(Werner and Smith) are responsible for molding my coaching mindset more than anybody.” McConnell sustained a career-ending arm injury and served as a volunteer assistant to Smith in the fall of 2008. By then, McConnell saw his path as a teacher and coach and took the job the Eastern Greene positions at 23. McConnell played summer ball for Kluesner with the Bloomington Wizards and accepted an invitation to coach with him. “He welcomed me with open arms,” says McConnell of Kluesner. “He’s one of my best friends.” At Barr-Reeve, McConnell teaches junior high school education and has a coaching staff that features pitching coach Rademacher, varsity assistant/infield coach Nathan Lester and head junior varsity coach Joe Cummings. All three have been head coaches at the high school level — Rademacher in two stints at Barr-Reeve, Lester at Barr-Reeve and Cummings at Pike Central. There’s also JV assistant Ryan Graber, who played for Rademacher and Lester, former Vincennes Lincoln and University of Southern Indiana national championship player Craig Heinz, Beau Sluder, Trevor Yoder and Kraig Knepp. Chris Winkler runs Barr-Reeve’s junior high baseball program (Grades 7 and 8). “I appreciate having experienced guys with me in the dugout,” says McConnell, who works with Vikings hitters and outfielders. “I have no ego. Joe Rademacher has been a good mentor for me. He’s been super gracious. “He told me has still has a fire for the game and would like to be around if you want me.” The Vikings play on Joe Rademacher Field. An old agriculture building was recently converted into a hitting/training facility for Barr-Reeve baseball and softball. “We have four full-length (batting) cages,” says McConnell. “We are spoiled.” A T-ball league is hosted by Barr-Reeve. Coach Pitch leagues start at Chuck Harmon Little League in nearby Washington, Ind. The Viking Baseball Club sponsors teams of local students from second grade through 12U. “They play together as a group with ‘Barr Reeve’ across their chest,” says McConnell, who attends and runs some VBC practices in the winter to show players the way he does it at the high school. A three-week fall camp for Grades 2-6 ran by McConnell and his assistants and players just concluded. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. Starting after Labor Day, McConnell has been leading close to 20 baseball players two days a week. Those practices are on Mondays and Wednesdays and many also participate in basketball activities with Josh Thompson on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Thompson guided Barr-Reeve to an IHSAA Class 1A state championship in 2020-21 and a state runner-up finished in 2018-19. “I like the fact we can instruct and be more hands-on with our players,” says McConnell of the current off-season set-up. “There’s less quantity but the quality is a lot better. “We can coach them up.” Barr-Reeve (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Blue Chip Conference (with Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial). In recent years, Washington Catholic has not fielded a baseball team. In 2001, the Vikings were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Loogootee, North Daviess (host site), Shoals and Vincennes Rivet. Barr-Reeve has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019 — Rademacher’s last season as head coach. A senior on that ’19 team — Gage Wilson — went on to Vincennes (Ind.) University for baseball. The youngest child of former college football coach Bob McConnell and wife Barbara, Trevor was born in Amherst, Mass., when his father was on the staff at the University of Massachusetts. About the time Trevor went into kindergarten, his family (including older brother Ryan) had moved to Nashville with Bob McConnell joining the football staff at Vanderbilt University. From 1995-2001, the McConnells were in Baton Rouge, La., and Bob was coaching at Lousiana State University. Trevor McConnell’s freshmen baseball season was spent as a varsity role player at Parkview Baptist High School, where Eagles head coach and Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee M.L. Woodruff was on the way to one of his 11 state championships. His 27-season record was 603-163-2. “I learned a lot of fundamentals,” says McConnell of Woodruff. “He was super-organized and super-efficient.” The McConnells wound up in Bloomington when Bob was hired by Hoosiers head football coach Gerry DiNardo, who also coached at Vandy and LSU. After years of the gypsy lifestyle of a college football coach, Bob McConnell went into financial services and retired last fall. Barbara McConnell is a Muncie, Ind., native. Ryan McConnell (38) resides in Baton Rouge. Trevor (35) and wife Jessica both went to Bloomington South and began dating at IU. They have been married since 2009. The couple have two children — second grader Nolan (who turns 8 in October) and kindergartener Lauren (5).
Just over a month after being named head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo, Drew Brantley is busy laying the foundation for the Cougars system. Classes began Aug. 23. Brantley is overseeing two weeks of open field workouts before fall practice officially begins Labor Day (Sept. 6). There will be sessions six days a week for eight weeks culminating Oct. 30. Then the NAIA member Cougars move into the weight room and begin the build-up to the spring. There will be no games against outside competition this fall. There will be three scrimmages per week at Kokomo Municipal Stadium. “It’ll be heavy on individual development as a baseball player,” says Brantley. “We’ll compete in a game-like situations.” As the Cougars ready themselves for the River States Conference race, they will open the 2022 season with trips to play Louisiana State University Shreveport and Truett McConnelll University (Cleveland, Ga.). Brantley, who has been on staff the past three seasons including the last two as associate head coach, knows what he desires in an IU Kokomo player. “I want to get good people into the program,” says Brantley, who turned 29 on Aug. 22. “We want them to have the total student-athlete experience — athletically, academically and socially.” The idea is to achieve on the field and in the classroom and build friendships and contacts that will last long beyond the college years. Brantley’s staff includes Jeremy Honaker, Nick Floyd and Justin Reed. Honaker, who was volunteer assistant at the University of Indianapolis in 2020-21, will serve as a positional coach and also help with hitting and baserunning. Former Ball State University and independent professional right-hander Floyd is the Cougars’ pitching coach. Former IU Kokomo player Reed is a graduate assistant and assistant pitching coach. He will work toward his Masters of Business Administration, help in athletic communications and with the baseball team. Prior to coming to IUK to serve on head coach Matt Howard’s staff, Brantley was an assistant to head coach Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University. “I worked with infielders and baserunners and assisted with hitters,” says Brantley. “My time at Indiana Wesleyan was awesome. The integrity of the program is held very highly there. I learned how you hold people accountable and how things are supposed to be done.” Brantley assisted at his alma mater Anderson (Ind.) University for five seasons with a stint as interim coach. Medical issues mean that he was only able to play his freshmen season for David Pressley before becoming a student assistant. “He was an awesome guy and a great role model,” says Brantley of Pressley, who followed American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon as the man in charge at AU. “A large part of my coaching philosophy comes from (Anderson).” Dustin Glant later took over a Anderson Ravens head coach and was helped by Brantley. “I was able to learn a lot under Dustin,” says Brantley. “He showed me the ropes and what its like to conduct yourself professionally. It’s not just about baseball. “A lot of the success I’ve had has been because of the things he’s showed me and the advice he’s given me.” Glant is now pitching coach at Indiana University. At 22, Brantley was named interim coach at Anderson, where he earned his Secondary Education and Teaching degree in 2015 and MBA in 2017. Says Brantley, “Everyday I was doing the best I knew how.” The same applies in his current position. “It’s pretty neat being in this seat,” says Brantley, who guides a program in the town where he was born. Brantley grew up in Russiaville, Ind., and played T-ball through age 12 at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League. After that came travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings then three summers with Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6. His coach at Western High School in Russiaville was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Ty Calloway. After becoming a coach himself, Brantley came to learn how Calloway “coached ‘em up the right way.” “As a player, he held us to a really high standard,” says Brantley. “He was always on us in practice. Whatever we were doing that day we were going to give our best effort.” Brantley played three seasons for the Panthers, sitting out his junior year to recuperate from cardiac arrest. In his senior year of 2011, he was an IHSBCA Class 3A first-team all-state second baseman. “I have an incredible support system,” says Drew, who is the son of Chrysler employee Ron and dental receptionist Angie and younger brother of Alaina. Ron Brantley has been coaching baseball since he was 20 and will help out this fall at IU Kokomo. Brantley’s first experience as a baseball coach came with a Howard County travel team called the Indiana Flyers. He was with that team from the fall of 2012 through the summer of 2015. There was also a stint working for Chris Estep as a hitting and defensive instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind. “He gave me an opportunity to work with younger kids and allowed me to fail a lot,” says Brantley. “Being at RoundTripper was awesome.”
Zyon Avery is known for taking several tools with him to the baseball field. A self-described “utility” player, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder from Indianapolis grew up with catcher as his primary position, but he has also been used as a corner infielder/outfielder and more. “I move very well for my size,” says Avery, 21. “I move my feet and have very fluid hands. It allows me to play a lot of different positions. In travel ball and high school I played all over the place. “Coaches take advantage of my athletic ability.” Avery was a varsity starter at third base his first two years at Ben Davis High School and the top catcher his last two. He also saw time at shortstop and on the mound. The versatile athlete will call a new place his baseball home when he reports this weekend to NAIA member Louisiana State University Shreveport. He landed with the Brad Neffendorf-coached Pilots after spending the 2021 season at National Junior College Athletic Association affiliate Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.). Making most of his starts at first base, the righty swinger hit .355 (44-of-124) with 13 home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 45 runs batted in, 43 runs scored, four stolen bases and a 1.245 OPS (.487 on-base percentage plus .758 slugging average) for a team that went 36-17 under Cobras head coach Jon Goebel. Not able to get the credits to transfer to an NCAA Division I school, Avery decided to follow former Parkland teammate Trevor Burkhart to LSU Shreveport. “It’s the best fit for my family,” says Avery, the son of Dana and Kimberly and older brother of Jahmir (15). The Averys moved to Indy’s west side when Zyon was 6. Dana Avery is a maintenance, repair and operations buyer for Keihin. Kimberly Avery is a cargo shipment organizer for BDP International. Jahmir Avery is a freshman basketball player at Ben Davis, where Zyon graduated in 2018. Avery earned four baseball letters and was a three-year captain at Ben Davis. He was an Under Armour Preseason All-American and rated as the No. 2 catcher in the state of Indiana by Prep Baseball Report as a senior. As a junior, he led the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference with 22 doubles and 30 walks, earned All-Marion County and All-State honors and was named a Perfect Game Underclass All-American. As a sophomore, he was chosen as a Perfect Game Underclass All-American. After playing at Ben Davis — the last three seasons for Giants head coach David Bear — Zyon went to Ohio University where Edgewood High School (Ellettsville, Ind.) graduate Rob Smith was Bobcats head coach. Appearing in 25 games, Avery hit .192 with a .591 OPS (.283 on-base percentage plus .308 slugging average) as a freshman in 2019 and redshirted in 2020 following shoulder surgery. For a few months he was bound for Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., but wound up at Parkland. Avery played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Southern Ohio Copperheads (Athens, Ohio) in 2019, spent the summer of 2020 rehabilitating and split 2021 between a temporary contract with the Propsect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans and the Kernels Collegiate League (Normal, Ill.). Born in Los Angeles, Zyon began playing at Ben Davis Little League after moving to the Indianapolis area. He played travel ball for Tony Page and the Indiana Mustangs at 10U and 11U, John Keller, Mike Wade and the Indiana Bulls at 12U to 15U, Eric McGaha and the Indiana Outlaws at 16U, Trent Hanna and the Cincinnati Spikes at 17U and Jeremy Johnson and the Evansville Razorbacks at 18U. Avery, who between redshirting and COVID-19 has three remaining years of college eligibility, was a Physical Activity and Sport Coaching major at Ohio. That degree was not offered at Parkland. He says he will begin at LSUS in General Studies. He turns 22 in October.
DeJesus and former WOWO radio personality Charly Butcher founded the Fort Wayne Cubs, which later became the Diamondbacks.
Born in Ponce, P.R., DeJesus moved to Moss Bluff, La., as a boy then Beaumont, Texas, where he was one of only two sophomores to play varsity baseball at West Brook Senior High School (catcher Jason Smith, who went on to the University of Texas-Arlington and the Colorado Rockies organization, was the other).
It was as a 10th grader that DeJesus caught the attention of University of Southwestern Louisiana assistant coach Emrick Jagneaux.
“He said, ‘once you get this thing figured out with the curveball, I’ll come back and pick you up,’” says DeJesus of Jagneaux. “He was true to his word.”
DeJesus went to USL (now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette) and went 23-1 in three seasons (1990-92) for the Mike Boulanger-coached Ragin’ Cajuns.
The lefty was 22-0 as a starter. He came on in relief against Oregon State University and three crucial errors led to his only college setback.
In his three seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns went 47-18, 49-20 and 38-23 and won two American South Conference titles and a Sun Belt Conference West crown.
DeJesus won 13 games for Southwest Louisiana in 1992, was an All-American, co-Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and selected to Team Puerto Rico. An elbow injury suffered during the Olympic Trials kept him from going to the Barcelona Games, where first-time Olympic baseball qualifier Puerto Rico placed fifth.
In the summer of 1990, DeJesus played American Legion Baseball in Louisiana for McNeese State University head coach Tony Robichaux and assistant Todd Butler.
Robichaux was head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette 1995-2019 (he died after the 2019 season) and won more than 1,100 games in his 33-year career.
The Twins selected DeJesus in the 17th round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
He got into just two games in 1992 then went 9-0 at rookie-level Elizabethton, Tenn., in 1993.
“He’s one of the nicest overall men that has ever graced us with his presence,” says DeJesus of Smith. “His philosophy was very simple: Show us what you can do.”
DeJesus remembers that Smith was very mild-mannered until the morning after an Appalachian League playoff loss at Bluefield, Va., that saw the team get extra-boisterous at the hotel.
Let’s just say the Twins were chewed out before riding back to Tennessee.
Playing at Low Class-A Fort Wayne in 1994, DeJesus encountered manager Jim Dwyer and pitching coach Stew Cliburn.
It was in Fort Wayne that DeJesus, who was in the bullpen at old Memorial Stadium, witnessed the first professional home run for 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez.
DeJesus can still see the hanging slider by Shane Bowers, who had a cup of coffee with the 1997 Twins, that A-Rod popped for the Appleton Foxes.
Southpaw DeJesus was 5-2 with two saves, a 0.93 earned run average, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 38 2/3 innings at Fort Wayne and was at Double-A Nashville briefly before injury cut his season short.
DeJesus recalls that a Nashville TV station aired a lengthy piece about his injury. Xpress manager Phil Roof and pitching coach Rick Anderson were complimentary, saying how the lefty had the make-up to be a top-flight closer or set-up man.
“My fastball never came back after surgery,” says DeJesus.
After four games at Double-A New Britain, Conn., in 1995, DeJesus spent parts of that season and all of 1996 in independent pro ball with the Alexandria (La.) Aces and the Rio Grande Valley White Wings in Harlingen, Texas.
DeJesus was with Alexandria again in 1997 and hooked on with the Chicago Cubs system, going 3-1 in eight games in 1997 and 5-5 in 1998 — both for High Class-A Daytona, Fla.
Stan Cliburn, twin brother of Stew and Alexandria manager in 1997, fondly recalls DeJesus.
“Great competitor and a winner when he toed the pitchers mound!,” says Cliburn. “Class act.”
Ricky VanAsselberg, who is now the general manager/field manager of the Acadiana Cane Cutters summer collegiate team in Lafayette, La., was an Alexandria teammate.
“I love Javi,” says VanAsselberg. “What a great guy. Great competitor.
“Warrior on the mound.”
It was Alan Dunn, Daytona pitching coach in 1997, that DeJesus learned the 3-2-1 pitch sequencing method that he employs with his young players to this day.
“He showed me that concept and it’s made a world of difference,” says DeJesus. “It gives you the opportunity to be your own pitching coach.”
The method begins with 12 pitches to various parts of the strike zone — inside and outside — and allows the pitcher to evaluate where is more or less consistent, where he is improving or regressing and where his mechanics can be altered to effect the release point.
DeJesus, who likes to take to Twitter to debunk modern training philosophy, is not a big fan of speed for speed’s sake.
“Look at players’ heart,” says DeJesus. “That can’t be quantified. They don’t play for numbers.
“Velocity is king now. To me that’s not pitching. That’s measurables. You have to integrate velocity and command.
“If you have no clue where it’s going, what’s the purpose of training.”
When teaching his sons to hit, DeJesus has spent time listening to hitting coaches and it’s also helped him as pitching instructor.
“The more I know about hitting, the more I can help pitchers,” says DeJesus. “We can expose weaknesses.”
Puerto Rico-born Jose Santiago, a former big league pitcher and Daytona’s pitching coach in 1998, tried to get DeJesus to become a coach in the Cubs organization.
“I thought I still had some games to play,” says DeJesus. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and not someone else’s.”