Tag Archives: Louisville

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

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A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.

 

Assistant Kuester contributes to Southern Indiana diamond success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

University of Southern Indiana baseball has enjoyed plenty of success since Tracy Archuleta stepped on campus at the Evansville school.

His first season leading the Screaming Eagles was 2007. Since then, USI has won nearly 500 games with a pair of NCAA Division II national championships (2010 and 2014).

Jeremy Kuester has been a part of much of it. The 2020 season — cut to 14 games by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic — was his 11th spring on the Southern Indiana coaching staff.

Kuester’s main responsibility?

“I make sure Coach Archuleta has everything in line,” says Kuester, who took the job in August 2009 after a playing career as an outfielder, first baseman and left-handed pitcher. “We both do everything. I work with pitchers 70 to 80 percent of the time. But he will go with the pitchers and I’ll go with the hitters.

“It’s nice to have a fresh set of eyes so we go back and forth — whatever we feel is most beneficial for the guys.”

Kuester has been asked many times what makes Archuleta a winner.

“What’s his secret sauce for success?,” says Kuester. “He connects with people really well. He can take a group of guys then pull the best out of each and every one of those guys.

“He’s a very intense, very driven individual with a lot of knowledge.”

Not that Archuleta won’t laugh on the diamond. He does like to do that on occasion.

“He knows when it’s time to joke around and time to be serious,” says Kuester.

The Screaming Eagles coaching staff, which also includes Andy Lasher and volunteer Kevin Brown, sets the expectations high. Lasher was recently named head coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

“We make sure they’re aware of what they need to accomplish every single day,” says Kuester.

As recruiting coordinator, Kuester looks to bring as much talent to the program as possible.

He says the difference between D-II and D-I often comes down to depth. D-I tends to have more of it. Plus, D-I can give 11.7 scholarships per year and D-II can grant 9. Not fully-funded, USI tends to bestow between 6 and 7.

From a player’s’ perspective, he might also crack the lineup sooner at a D-II school.

“That’s biggest recruiting sell when going after junior college guys,” says Kuester. “Competition (for playing time) is less because the depth isn’t quite there.”

Kuester is not wishy-washy in his player evaluations.

“I’m not the kind of recruiter that leaves question marks,” says Kuester. “I’m blunt. I’m straight to the point. I tell them exactly what I think.”

The pandemic has made planning for the future less cut-and-dried.

When it looked like the season would be at least be put on hold, Southern Indiana (6-8) was coming off a pair of games in Pensacola, Fla. Coaches would try to sort through contingencies and scenarios, which seemed to change daily.

“Nobody was prepared for this,” says Kuester. “The hardest part for us is communicating things with our guys. They see things online before its official. Administrators don’t have the answers either.

“Finally, we (as coaches) decided to sit back and wait. It’s out of our control right now.”

Kuester says the majority of returning players were hoping to play summer baseball. With some leagues canceling (about 10 USI leagues were going to play in the Ohio Valley League), they have been looking for opportunities. Leagues are expected to form at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and in Louisville.

“We want them to find some place where they can play the game a little bit,” says Kuester. “A lot of our guys have went and got jobs for the summer.”

Southern Indiana coaches have suggested for nearly 40 players to keep active and make the best of their situation.

“But we don’t know what they’ve done for the past two months,” says Kuester. “That’s the scariest thing. We want to make sure these guys are going to be healthy. It’s more risky for pitchers than position players.”

The last day of classes for USI was Wednesday, May 6. The term ended with weeks of online instruction.

“It’s not the easiest thing in the world,” says Kuester. “And I was only teaching one class this eight weeks.”

Besides coaching, Kuester is on the faculty and has taught introduction to kinesiology or an activity class (hiking, badminton etc.). He earned a masters degree in Public Administration from Southern Indiana in 2012.

Jeremy and Ashley Kuester were wed in September 2009. She is a nurse practitioner with in Evansville. The couple has three children — first-grader Bryce (7), kindergartener Alli (5) and Colton (3). At their Rockport house, built in 2017, internet access is spotty, making eLearning with Bryce a challenge.

Jeremy slowly downloads YouTube videos for his son to watch and helps him with his homework. When completed, they take a picture with the school-supplied iPad and upload it.

Kuester is a 2005 graduate of South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind., about 40 miles east of the USI campus.

Jeremy’s father — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Kuester — is the Rebels head coach.

“I never thought about him as my dad,” says Jeremy of the time spent playing for Brian. “He never coached me growing up. Whatever the coach says is what you do. When we were on the field I called him Coach.

“It was coach-player relationship at home even during those four years.”

Baseball discussions did happen away from the diamond.

“He’s say you need to improve on this — not in a negative way, just trying to get better.”

Jeremy recalls his last high school game while teammates were sitting around and lamenting the end of the season.

“Dad gave me a big hug and said I’m proud of you,” says Jeremy. “I’ll never forget that.”

Brian Kuester and his father, Ivan, had also been assistant coaches at USI. That’s when Larry Shown was head coach.

Brian and Debbie Kuester’s four children are Jeremy, Shawn, Nathan and Katie. Shawn played baseball at the University of Evansville and Nathan at USI. Katie played softball at Olney Central College.

Jeremy Kuester played his college baseball at the Evansville (2006 for Dave Schrage and 2007 for Dave Seifert) and Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro (2008 and 2009 for head coach Todd Lillpop).

While 2020 was Lillipop’s 19th as KWC head coach, he was a young in the profession when Kuester played for him.

“You could tell was still trying to figure out how he was going to be as a coach,” says Kuester. “He’s done at real good job of maturing as a coach over the years.

“He’s a really good, genuine person.”

Kuester first met Lillpop when another South Spencer graduate played for the Panthers. Kuester opted to transfer there to continue being a two-way player.

He earned a Sports Studies degree from Kentucky Wesleyan.

JEREMYKUESTERFAMILY

The Kuester family of Rockport, Ind., includes father Jeremy, mother Ashley and (clockwise from left) Bryce, Alli and Colton. Jeremy Kuester is an assistant baseball coach and faculty member at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

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University of Southern Indiana baseball assistant coach Jeremy Kuester (center) makes a mound visit. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

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Jeremy Kuester (center) has been on the University of Southern Indiana baseball coaching staff of Tracy Archuleta (left) since August 2009. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

JEREMYKUESTER3

Jeremy Kuester has been an assistant baseball coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville since the 2010 season. He is also on the USI faculty and has a master’s degree from the school. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

 

Jasper (Ind.) Reds making a stamp on baseball since 1893

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a big deal in Jasper, Ind.

The Dubois County seat is home to the Jasper High School Wildcats — five-time IHSAA state champions, four-time state runners-up and 16-time state finalists.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame is housed at Vincennes University-Jasper.

But long before these happenings, the Jasper Reds were on the diamond scene.

Established as the Jasper Acmes in 1893 and soon changed to the Red Jackets (then Reds) to match the colors of early uniforms, the Reds have been a baseball presence in Jasper ever since. The only interruptions were in 1918, 1922 and 1964-66.

In the early days, players would share in the team’s profits — if there were any — so the team was referred to as semi-pro. That label stuck even after the pay stopped.

There’s no age limit for players. For years, most were in their 20’s and 30’s. This year, there were two 30-somethings among mostly college-age athletes.

The 2019 Reds went 13-0 during the regular season then lost twice at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. Some of the top players this summer were pitcher Bo Daves, second baseman Austin Simmers and shortstop Josh Weidenbenner.

It was the Reds’ seventh NBC World Series appearance with 1993, 1994, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 being the other years.

The 2018 Reds went to Louisville to play in the Bluegrass World Series, an event that features former major leaguers.

After Jasper High is done for the season, the Reds play home games at Alvin C. Ruxer Field (formerly Recreation Field).

“They are good to us,” says business manager Bob Alles, noting that Jasper High head coach Terry Gobert mowed the grass on a Sunday so it would be ready for the Reds. “We get (cooling) fans in the dugouts. They bend over backward to help us.

“So many people are good to us. People in Jasper want to keep this team going. We go from one year to the next.”

Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Ruxer once pitched for the Reds and was a big baseball backer. He set up trust funds for the team that helped to defray season costs.

Dating back to 1903, the Reds have also played at South Side Park, Jasper Academy and Gutzweiler Park.

Bob Alles has been with the Reds for 47 years. The 1971 Jasper graduate (he played for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Noblitt) who had one at-bat for the University of Evansville and became a coach (he was an assistant to Hall of Famer Ray Howard) and teacher as well as Reds manager from 1974-93 and 1996.

“I’ve poured my life into this thing,” says Bob Alles. “It takes in inordinate amount of time to get liability insurance, uniforms and equipment.

“It’s very, very time-consuming.”

A retired school teacher, Bob Alles recruits players and raises funds, trying to keep costs down for his athletes, especially the collegians with student loans.

“The easiest thing to get is the players,” says Bob Alles. “The other things are far more difficult.”

Like finding opponents. There are none in close proximity to Jasper.

“When teams come here it’s a free game for them (except gas money),” says Bob Alles. “We have a little money for umpires and a field.

“What I want from (opponents) is two games. We’ll play anybody. It’s very hard to get teams. That’s why we try to play a doubleheader.”

The weather was unkind to the Reds this season with seven rainouts.

“We try to play at least 20 games,” says Bob Alles. “We used to play 30 and 40. We can’t find that many any more.”

Bill Alles, brother of Bob, has served as Reds manager since 1999. Another brother, Tom Alles, is team historian. He wrote a 10-part series in 1993 as the team hit the 100-year mark.

Charlie “Kitty” Girard pitched for the Reds and a little with the 1910 Philadelphia Phillies.

Roman “Romie” Pfeffer was a star for the Reds in the ‘30s and ‘40s and was in the first class of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. Romie and his two brothers — Revard aka “Riff” and Urban aka “Nigg” — were on the Jasper team that played in the Midwest Tournament at Terre Haute, where National/Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was commissioner.

Bob Alles played three summers (1970-72) for Jasper American Legion Post 147 — two for “Nigg” Pfeffer (good friend of Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Gil Hodges, who may have suited up for the Reds for one game in 1941) and one for Noblitt.

Van Lingle Mungo pitched a few games for Jasper during a diamond career that included time with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.

Three Reds are in the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame — Bob Alles, Ruxer and Tim Barrett (who pitched in the big leagues with the 1988 Montreal Expos).

Bob, Bill and Tom’s father — Jerome “Chick” Alles — played for the Reds from 1950-63 and was a three-term mayor, concluding with 1991. All four men are in the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame along with several others with ties to Jasper.

Brenda Alles, Chick’s wife and the boys’ mother, has also provided support throughout the years.

“We just asked guys to play hard,” says Bob Alles. “If they hustle, I can live with losses. It’s an experience. We like a challenge. We love baseball.

“My brother (Bill) and I don’t get paid to do this. We give money to do this. I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had all these years. It’s all about relationships in life. How did you treat people?

“We try to treat them good.”

Since the centennial in 1993, the Jasper Reds have held a reunion. The next one is slated for April 25, 2020. Follow the Reds on Twitter at @JasperReds, Instagram at jasperredsbaseball and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jasper.reds.52.

 

 

 

JASPERREDSUNIFORMSThe Jasper (Ind.) Reds have been on the baseball scene since 1893 and have worn many styles of uniforms. Here are a few. (Jasper Reds Photo)

TOMALLESBILLALLESBOBALLESJASPERREDSThe Alles family has long represented the Jasper (Ind.) Reds baseball team. Here is Tom (left), Bill and Bob. (Jasper Reds Photo)

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Drosche, ‘coachable’ Avon Orioles enjoying the game

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Troy Drosche has been coaching baseball for 17 seasons at Avon (Ind.) High School — the last 11 as head coach.

The Orioles are one victory away from competing in the IHSAA State Finals for the first time. Avon (20-13-1) plays Columbus East (24-4) Saturday, June 8 in the Class 4A south semistate game, which follows the 1 p.m. 3A game (Silver Creek vs. Edgewood) at Mooresville High School.

Drosche and his O’s have gotten to this point by getting his players to “be coachable.”

“We do our best as coaches to create an environment where players enjoy coming to the field everyday,” says Drosche. “It all starts from there — enjoy the GAME.”

Avon (enrollment around 3,200) is a member of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Brownsburg, Fishers, Franklin Central, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield, and Zionsville).

The Orioles are part of a sectional grouping with Brownsburg, Mooresville, Northview, Plainfield, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo. With 2019’s titles, Avon has won five sectionals and two regionals (the previous one in 1994).

“We’ve got this thing rolling pretty good, winning three of last four sectionals,” says Drosche.

Avon reigned at the Terre Haute North Vigo Sectional and Decatur Central Regional.

“In the postseason, pitching and defense has carried us,” says Drosche. “We have done enough offensively and executed at the right times to score enough to survive and advance.

“We like to play situational baseball. Bunting/moving runners/setting ourselves up to get a big hit. We try to get the best matchups and execute our game plan.”

In the sectional semifinals against Northview with the game scoreless and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Avon won in walk-off fashion by scoring a run from third base with a bunt single.

“Our players have bought into their roles and believe that the coaches are going to put them in the best position to win,” says Drosche. “This mindset didn’t come overnight though — it took a lot of time over the years.  

“This group has a unique mix of grit and toughness. Honestly, they just come and play ball — trying not to make things too big or too small.”

Senior right-hander Austin Baugh (Kentucky Wesleyan College commit) and junior left-hander Kyren Power have been the Orioles’ go-to pitchers during the IHSAA tournament. They combined for a two-hit shutout in the sectional championship against Mooresville.

“We didn’t over-work them during the year, so they have been pretty fresh for the postseason and have been outstanding,” says Drosche.

Junior left-handed middle reliever Jake Hoffman and senior lefty closer Lucas Carrillo have shined out of the bullpen during the regular season and postseason. Hoffman has five wins in relief. Carrillo has three victories and seven saves. Both have earned run averages under 2.50.

Junior center fielder Cam Melvin has been Avon’s best hitter with four home runs, three triples, 14 doubles and an average that’s been around .400 most of the season. Baugh, junior second baseman Mason Miller, senior designated hitter Mark Gemmer and junior first baseman Tyce Ferrell have all hit around .300.

Sophomore third baseman Henry Hesson slugged two home runs and Power one during the regional. Senior right fielder Parker Sutton is committed to Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill.

Drosche, a 1992 graduate of Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Ky., and 1996 graduate of Marian College (now Marian University in Indianapolis), is assisted by Ryan East, Nick Spence, Tasker Strobel, Ryan McPike, Bob McPike and Matt Kinney.

East has been with Drosche for 10 years. Spence is the pitching coach. Strobel and Ryan McPike played for Drosche at Avon. Kinney runs the C-team. This year, Avon had 49 players on its varsity, junior varsity and C-teams.

Recent Avon graduates who played college baseball include Spencer Strobel at Purdue Fort Wayne, Noah Navarro at Ball State and Kahi’au Quartero at Marian.

Former Orioles pitchers Jared Miller and Chandler Sanburn competed in the minors in 2018.

Drosche calls Avon’s on-campus home field “one of the best in the state.”

“Matt Dudley is our field maintenance manager and he is flat-out the best in the state,” says Drosche. “And the field is getting better and better since his arrival two years ago.”

The Avon Baseball Club serves is a feeder system for the high school. It is up to 16 teams. The travel program is under the Avon Junior Athletic Association umbrella.

“The high school staff has been heavily involved with the program for a number of years now,” says Drosche.

The Indiana Bulls travel organization has had Drosche as a summer coach.

After coming to central Indiana from Kentucky, Drosche was a four-year starter at shortstop at Marian and helped the Knights win two conference championships. He was an All-American honorable mention and the team’s and conference’s MVP as a senior and was inducted into M-Club Wall of Fame in 2008.

Prior to Avon, he was an assistant at Marian and Ben Davis High School.

Drosche was an assistant at Avon for Clark Reeves for six years before taking over the program. He considers his father Glenn Drosche, Marian coaches Kurt Guldner and Bret Shambaugh, Reeves and fellow business teacher and former Reeves assistant Ralph Hartnagel as mentors.

“(Reeves) was one of the most knowledgeable baseball guys I’ve ever been around,” says Drosche. “He definitely had a certain way of coaching. He held kids to a high standard and expected nothing less from them.

“(Guldner) was a great leader that allowed his teams to play. Sometimes less is more. He allowed us to be baseball players and enjoy the game. That’s something we’re definitely doing this year (at Avon).

“(Hartnagel) is extremely knowledgable. He has great innovative ideas about drills and practices.”

Drosche, who holds a masters degree from the University of Indianapolis, teaches Careers and is a DECA advisor at AHS. He and Hartnagel run the O-Zone school store.

Troy and Jenn Drosche have three children — Olivia (11), Trevor (9) and Kendra (7). All three play travel basketball. Olivia also plays travel softball, Trevor travel baseball and Kendra travel soccer.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 8

North

At Plymouth
Class 1A

Rossville (25-7) vs. Washington Township (22-6), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT

Class 4A
Hamilton Southeastern (21-8) vs. Mishawaka (25-6), following

At Kokomo (Municipal Stadium)
Class 3A

Yorktown (18-14) vs. Andrean (34-1), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 2A

Alexandria Monroe (27-6) vs. Whiting (15-11), following

South

At Mooresville
Class 3A

Silver Creek (23-6) vs. Edgewood (23-3), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 4A

Columbus East (24-4) vs. Avon (20-13-1), following

At Jasper (Ruxer Field)
Class 1A

Tecumseh (21-7) vs. University (20-10-1), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 2A

Southridge (16-8) vs. South Vermillion (24-5), following

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The Drosche family (clockwise from upper right) — Troy, Trevor, Kendra, Olivia and Jenn — celebrate a regional baseball championship for Avon (Ind.) High School. Troy Drosche is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Orioles. Avon plays Silver Creek in the IHSAA Class 4A Mooresville Semistate on Saturday, June 8.

 

Knight teaching Clarksville Generals tradition, respect for the game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clarksville (Ind.) High School sports a robust baseball past.

The Generals earned plenty of IHSAA hardware in the 39 seasons that Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Wayne Stock was head coach.

Besides a State Finals appearance in 1971, Stock’s teams won 744 games with 20 Mid-Southern Conference titles, 12 sectional championships, five regional crowns and one semistate trophy.

Clarksville appears all over the IHSBCA record book.

The Generals hold single-season team marks in batting with 241 walks and pitching with 32 complete games — both in 1971.

The 1973 pitching staff racked up 428 strikeouts and posted a 0.73 earned run average, accomplishments which rank second and third, respectively. The 1968 team hurled 16 shutouts, which ranks tied for fifth.

Dan Gibson set a record for at-bats with 152 in 1971.

Joe McMahel (1995-98) had the most career at-bats with 459 while Matt James (1994-97) ranks fifth. McMahel and James (1994-97) are tied for 10th in career hits with 173 apiece.

D.J. Dewees stole 60 bases in 1992, the third-most in single-season state history.

Brad Turner (1993-96) enjoyed quite the Clarksville pitching career. He is second in starts (52), third in complete games (420), fourth in innings (356) and tied for fifth in shutouts (14).

Guy Finch (1975-78) is third in career shutouts (17), tied for fifth in career wins (43), tied for sixth in single-season strikeouts (199 in 1977) and eighth in career strikeouts (524).

Gary Melson (1968-71) is tied for seventh in career shutouts (13). The right-hander played at Middle Tennessee State University and was selected in the 15th round of the 1975 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Indians. He pitched in the minors through 1981, spending part or all of three seasons in Triple-A.

Jeff Lentz (1965-68) is tied for seventh in career complete games (34).

Turning to defense, Rob Stockdale (1977-80) ranks first in putouts for a career (952) and single season (360 in 1977).

Steve Hartley (1984-87) is sixth in career infield putouts and assists excluding a first baseman (391).

Kelly Allen (1995-98) is ninth in career putouts (712).

Shayne Stock, Wayne’s son, used to be head coach at Hanover (Ind.) College. Wayne Stock once counted Chris McIntyre (New Albany High School head coach) as an assistant and Eric Stotts (Borden High School head coach) as a player.

Jamie Knight, who has coached at various levels since he was 18, is heading into his sixth season as head coach at his alma mater. The 1983 Clarksville graduate played for Stock and is trying to restore an expectation of excellence if not in quite the same old-school way that his coach did.

“He was definitely an influence on me,” says Knight. “He was a cross between Johnny Carson and Bobby Knight.

“He was a funny guy, but he’d certainly tell you when you weren’t doing things right.”

Knight founded the Floyds Knobs (Ind.) American Legion Post 42 baseball program and credits that experience, working with Ricky Romans (who is also head coach at Charlestown High School) for showing him how to handle the current generation of ballplayer.

After serving one season as junior varsity coach at Floyd Central, Knight took the reins at Clarksville for the 2014 season. The Generals had just 12 players in the entire program that first spring.

By the next year, participation had doubled and Knight re-established a JV team and the varsity earned the school’s first sectional title since 2003.

“Clarksville has been a strong baseball school,” says Knight. “When I got here it resembled nothing like that. I’ve tried to to bring that back — the respect for the game, tradition and doing things the right way.

“I’m a strong believer that if you do things the right way, act the right way and show respect for the game that will translate into wins and success

“The hardest part was to get the kids to believe they could reach that level again.”

Another sectional championship was claimed in 2018, beating Eastern (Pekin) in the Class 2A final at Clarksville’s Wayne Stock Field. The Generals’ season ended with a semifinal loss to North Posey at the Austin Regional.

Senior Dee Shelton, a lefty-swinging center fielder and righty-throwing pitcher, has committed to play baseball at Trine University.

Recent Clarksville graduates to move on to the college diamond include Ethan Cummings (Vincennes University), Seth Hamilton (Manchester University for baseball and football) and Nick Jones (Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, Ill.).

Clarksville is in a sectional grouping with Crawford County, Eastern (Pekin), Henryville, Lanesville and Paoli. The IHSAA success factor has moved Providence to 3A while Lanesville came up from 1A.

With an enrollment around 490, Clarksville is the second-smallest school in the Mid-Southern Conference (Austin is smallest at around 375). Other MSC members include Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Eastern (Pekin), North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek.

Knight’s 2019 assistants are Joel DeMoss (fourth season) and Nathan Kane (first season). His first two years at Clarksville, Knight took two former Indiana University Southeast players — Zach Adams and Carter Sibley — as assistants on the recommendation of Grenadiers head coach Ben Reel.

“I like having young coaches coming right from playing in college,” says Knight. “They bring knew drills and they can throw lots of batting practice.”

Adams went on to coach at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., while Sibley went to coach at Campbellsville (Ky.) University.

Clarksville Little League develops some players that will wind up at Clarksville. Others go to Jeffersonville, Providence or Silver Creek.

Former Generals base stealer Dewees is a regional director for the Clarksville/Louisville portion of the Rawlings Tigers travel organization.

Knight spent 25 years with Louisville Metro Police.

“This is kind of my second career,” says Knight of serving as head baseball coach and assistant to athletic director Levi Carmichael at Clarksville.

Knight signed out of high school to play tennis and baseball at Franklin College. When the men’s tennis season was moved from the fall to the spring, he stayed on the court instead of the diamond. He transferred to the University of Louisville and earned a degree in police administration.

Jamie and wife Debbie reside in Floyds Knobs and have been married almost 20 years. She is an occupational therapist.

“She’s fantastic,” says Jamie. “She allows me to coach.”

Jamie’s two sons are both former baseball players at Floyd Central.

Ryan Knight (28) played baseball and tennis for the Highlanders then signed at Franklin College. An injury kept him from playing. He is now a Sellersburg, Ind., police officer.

Patrick Knight (26) was a left-handed pitcher for two seasons at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.

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Jamie Knight, a 1983 Clarksville (Ind.) High School graduate, is the head baseball coach at his alma mater.

 

Tormoehlen wants Brownstown Central Braves to keep priorities straight, runs coming

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brandon Tormoehlen viewed baseball from behind the plate at Brownstown (Ind.) Central High School and Butler University.

This perspective has helped him as a coach.

“Being a catcher, you had to know what everybody else was doing in different situations,” says Tormoehlen, who was honorable mention all-state and a participant in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 2002 and how heads into his second season as Brownstown Central head coach in 2019.

Tormoehlein teaches engineering and math classes during the day, serves part-time with the Indiana National Guard and tries to get his Braves to amass numbers on the scoreboard at baseball game time.

“We try to eliminate reasons for losing,” says Tormoehlen. “We try to be solid in all aspects of the game. We don’t take a big emphasis on batting average or strikeouts. We try to get as many runs as we can.”

BC figures out the best way to attack on a particular days — stealing, bunting or hitting away — and then does it.

Brownstown Central (enrollment 573) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

“It’s a pretty good baseball league,” says Tormoehlen. The MSC champion is determined by nine regular-season games. Each teams plays the others once on Mondays and Thursdays.

The Braves are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Charlestown, Corydon Central, North Harrison, Providence, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek. Brownstown Central has won two sectionals — the last in 2016.

Tormoehlen came back to Brownstown after two seasons as head coach at Scottsburg.

Before that, he was pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., for two seasons on the staff of Matt Tyner.

“He was a great player’s coach,” says Tormoehlen of Tyner, who is now head coach at Towson University in Baltimore. “He had great relationships with all our players and recruits.”

As an NCAA Division II school, Bellarmine would sometimes see players come back to them if things didn’t work out at the D-I level.

Tyner also gave his assistants the freedom to develop their own coaching styles.

“I was running practices from the defensive standpoint and pitchers exactly the way I wanted to do them.”

Before Bellarmine, Tormoehlen served two seasons as an assistant working with catchers and hitters at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Ed Servais was head coach of the Bluejays.

“He was a defensive genius,” says Tormoehlen of Servais. “The scouting we did was very, very in-depth.”

Play-by-plays were printed off by Tormoehlen. From those, Servais and his staff were able to get spray charts and read the tendencies of opposing coaches.

That kind of data is not available at the high school level and the sample size is much smaller.

Tormoehlen also saw Servais run practices a high speed.

“They were very intense and very fast-paced,” says Tormoehlen. “It’s something I’ve done ever since.

“The goal is to get in as many reps as you can in a 2- or 2 1/2-hour time frame. As far as developing players, I’ve not seen a better model.”

Tormoehlen spent one season as an assistant guiding catchers, hitters and outfielders at Indiana Tech on the staff of Kip McWilliams.

With varsity and junior varsity squads, the Warriors carried 52 players.

“That took practice organization to manage those type of numbers,” says Tormoehlen. “(McWilliams) was a great organizer as well.”

Prior to that, Tormoehlen was junior varsity coach for a season at Noblesville (Ind.) High School, a program led by Justin Keever.

“I was 23 at the time, but he let me coach,” says Tormoehlen of Keever. “He didn’t micro-manage at all. He said, ‘you’ve got the JV team and they’re yours.’

“I let my coaches coach (Brownstown Central),” says Tormoehlen. “They’re there for a reason. Give them their duties and let them go with it.”

The 2019 BC staff features Shannon Barger, Fred Perry and Paul Borden with the varsity plus Cole Borden and Jase Hunnicutt with the junior varsity. Cole Borden played at Saint Joseph’s College.

Steve Farley was head coach at Butler when Tormoehlen played for the Bulldogs (2003-05, 2007). A medical redshirt for the 2006 season due to shoulder surgery, the catcher played his last collegiate season while also taking graduate classes.

“Coach Farley is just a great human being,” says Tormoehlen. “He lived his life the right way as far as priorities. He was a great role model and made sure as a college athlete, we were doing that same. There was faith, family, education then your baseball career.

“It’s something I stress with my guys.”

Recent BC graduate Ian Martin is at Vincennes University. Current Braves senior Seth Borden (son of Paul and brother of Cole) has been receiving interest from college baseball teams.

Steve Schrink was head coach at Brownstown Central when Tormoehlen was a player.

“He was a great people person and a player’s coach,” says Tormoehlen. “He always had a really good relationship with his players.”

Tormoehlen tends to keep 24 to 26 players in the program. These players get to use and care for a facility that just keeps getting better.

Located in a valley behind the school, the field recently had a brick backstop cut into the hill with big poles inserted for backstop netting. New dugouts have been added.

By next year, the Braves plan to have a building that houses a new press box, concession stand and restrooms. Plans are call for the installation of 130 to 140 stadium seats.

This fall, the field received a turf insert around the home plate area. The field was also leveled to send drainage outside the foul lines. The plate area had been the lowest part of the field and that’s where water collected when it rained.

“Many teams in our area are doing it,” says Tormoehlen of the insert. “Cost-wise, it pays for itself after a few years. You save money on clay, Turface and time.”

Feeding the high school is a middle school club program — Brownstown Braves Baseball. It includes seventh and eighth grade teams taking players from Brownstown Central Community School Corporation as well as Lutheran Central School in Brownstown and St. John’s Sauers Lutheran School in Seymour. BBB plays 18 to 22 games in the spring.

Players also play travel baseball in the summer for teams based in Brownstown as well as Bloomington, Louisville and elsewhere.

John and Brenda Tormoehlen’s have four children. All are married. Brooke Cahill is the oldest, followed by Brandon. His wife, Mallory, graduated from Greenfield-Central High School in 2005 and Indiana Tech in 2009. She played softball for the Warriors.

The two youngest girls are Jaclyn Jackson and Whitney Fritz.

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The center field view of the baseball field at Brownstown (Ind.) Central High School.

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Brownstown (Ind.) Central High School put a turf insert around the home plate area of its baseball field. This saves cost and time.

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Mallory and Brandon Tormoehlen share a moment at Brandon’s Indiana National Guard boot camp graduation. Brandon Tormoehlen is a teacher and head baseball coach at Brownstown (Ind.) Central High School.

 

Devotion to routine has Jeffersonville’s Ellis excelling in Diamondbacks system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Ellis has displayed baseball talent from an early age.

With father Derek Ellis as his coach, Drew was part of the Jeff/JRC team that won a Great Lakes Region championship and went to the 2008 Little League in Williamsport, Pa. His team went to make the Final Four of the 2010 Junior League World Series in Taylor, Mich.

Drew — the oldest of three Ellis boys — turned heads at Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and in travel baseball with the local Indiana Elite and Indiana Bulls. He graduated from Jeff in 2014 after being honorable mention all-state three times in baseball and twice in basketball.

He excelled in two seasons at the University of Louisville. After redshirting in 2015, Ellis hit .309 with three home runs, six doubles and 22 runs batted in over 47 games his first collegiate season of 2016.

Then came 2017.

Ellis, who was born in Louisville, helped the Dan McDonnell-coached Cardinals (53-12) by hitting .355 with 20 homers, 18 doubles and 61 RBIs in 65 games for the 2017 College World Series qualifiers.

American Baseball Coaches Association, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, D1 Baseball and Perfect Game all named Ellis a First Team All-America. He was on the Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Second Team All-America squads along with being a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award. He was also all-Atlantic Coast Conference first team on the diamond and the ACC Baseball Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a sports management major.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Ellis in the second round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

After hitting .227 with eight home runs, eight doubles and 23 runs batted in over 48 games for the Short Season Class-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2017, Ellis moved up to the High-A Visalia (Calif.) Rawhide in 2018 and is hitting .267  with 10 homers, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs through 73 games.

The links’ in the Diamondbacks minor league chain above Visalia of the California League are the Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) Generals and Triple-A Reno (Nev.) Aces.

In his last 10 games, he’s at .341 with one homer and 10 RBIs through July 4.

MLB Pipeline calls the 6-foot-3, 212-pound righty-swinging third baseman the No. 8 prospect in the D-backs organization. Three of the top seven are pitchers.

In his second minor league season, Ellis compares professional and college baseball.

“Professional baseball is a lot more on your own,” says Drew Ellis, 22. “You’re told what to do in college. In professional baseball, you’re held accountable for what you do. If you don’t do the things you need to do to get ready for each day, you’re not going to have success.

“In college, everybody does the same thing because you’re on a schedule. When you get to professional baseball, you’re on your own and you create your own destiny with that.”

To keep contributing to his team, Ellis has found a way to prepare that suits him.

“I have my own routine,” says Drew Ellis. “You have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s all about making adjustments and sometimes you have to make adjustments on the fly.

“But it starts with your routine.”

With 52 homers and 82 doubles since his junior year of high school, many would call Ellis a power hitter.

“I guess you could say that,” says Drew Ellis. “I look at myself as a professional hitter, whether I’m going up and seeing six or seven pitches or barreling up every ball I see. I like to see myself as a really good hitter.

“I’ve stayed with my approach this year and have not strayed away from it. I recognize the pitch and put a good swing on it.”

Derek is not hesitant to agree with Drew’s employer in labeling him a power hitter.

“The Diamondbacks think he’s a power hitter and is going to hit 25 or 30 homers a year as he progresses,” says Derek Ellis. “He’s doing great. I’m not going to bet against him.”

Derek Ellis has been on the Jeffersonville High coaching staff since the 2008 season and the Red Devils head coach since 2013. He watched Drew play shortstop for four seasons at JHS and then move to Louisville, where McDonnell made him an everyday third baseman.

“What a blessing for Drew to play for a guy like that,” says Derek Ellis of McDonnell. “What you see is what you get. He’s genuine. He’s a great motivator. He’s one of the best coaches in the country.

“The U of L program is really regimented. It really helped him make the transition to pro ball.”

In December 2017, Derek opened the Ellis Baseball Academy in Jeffersonville. The training facility takes up half of an 8,000-square foot building and has three batting and one pitching tunnel. Several area travel teams have asked to use the space.

All three of Derek and Jennifer Ellis’ three sons are baseball players.

Ian Ellis (20) is a right-batting third baseman/second baseman/right-handed pitcher who finished his second year at Olney (Ill.) Community College in 2017 and transferred to Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Jack Ellis (17) is heading into his senior season at Jeffersonville and has already committed to play college baseball at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. This summer, the lefty-hitting third baseman is with the Indiana Bulls Black 17U team, which went to the Perfect Game 2018 Grads or 17U World Wood Bat Association National Championship at the LakePoint Sports Complex in Cartersville, Ga.

Derek Ellis played for three Hall of Fame coaches — Don Poole at Jeffersonville, Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University and Bob Warn at Indiana State University.

“Those two are instrumental in who I am,” says Derek Ellis of Poole and Blemker. “(Poole) expected you to show up and play hard and taught me a lot about game strategy.

“(Blemker) taught me how to be a man. I was a boy going into junior college and thought I knew everything.”

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Drew Ellis shows the batting form that has him hitting .267  with 10 home runs, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs through 73 games for the High Class-A Visalia Rawhide. Ellis is a Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate and former All-America at the University of Louisville. (Visalia Rawhide Photo)

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Drew Ellis, a former Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and University of Louisville standout, is now enjoying baseball success in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. (Visalia Rawhide Photo)

Bellak looking for more than just ballplayers as Hanover College head coach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grant Bellak jumped into his job as head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College with both feet.

Hired to his first head-coaching position on June 1, a few days later the former Franklin (Ind.) College assistant was already recruiting at an event in Cincinnati and spent the next few weeks looking for student-athletes.

Bellak says he expects to have 32 players in the fall and have recruiting classes of 10 to 12 players the next few seasons.

“I felt comfortable with the recruiting area,” says Bellak, who was the recruiting coordinator at Franklin. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program.

“I want athletes who are big and strong. Power bats and power arms play. Power bats can change the game with one swing. Power arms give you more room for error. You don’t have to be perfect.”

Bella, 32, prides himself in finding value where others miss it.

“I plan on bringing that to Hanover and developing that over four years,” says Bellak. “We want mid-major Division I’s calling asking us to play.”

With the Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville areas as a base, Bellak already has contacts he developed at Franklin that he can use at Hanover. Both are members of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference — an NCAA Division III circuit.

As a D-III school, Hanover (enrollment 1,100) does not give athletic scholarships. The liberal arts institution places a premium on academics.

“The thing I’ve been preaching on the recruiting trail is that fit matters,” says Bellak. “This is not for you if you are not 100 percent Panthers. You have to fit the academic profile, campus profile and athletic profile.”

Almost all of the seniors in his last three recruiting classes at Franklin had job offers prior to graduation.

Bellak is looking for young men coming to Hanover who want to be more than ballplayers. They have aspirations of pursuing careers as CEOs, lawyers, politicians etc.

“Here at Hanover, our focus is wanting guys who want more,” says Bellak. “What is your ‘why’?’

“We want difference makers.”

The Shayne Stock-coached Hanover Panthers went 8-25 overall and 5-12 in the HCAC.

“You can win a lot here,” says Bellak. “The rest of athletic department, that’s what they’re doing.

“It’s one of those opportunities I felt I couldn’t pass up.”

Hanover got Bellak’s attention the first time he arrived on the southern Indiana campus as a Franklin assistant.

“It’s got that ‘wow factor,’” says Bellak. “It’s the way it is back in the woods overlooking the Ohio River and the architecture. There’s lots of green space.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Dick Naylor Field at K.T. Young Ballpark, with its natural grass surface and old trees surrounding the outfield, is also picturesque.

At Franklin, Bellak served on a staff with veteran head coach Lance Marshall.

He saw the behind-the-scenes things that it takes to be a head coach — being an administrator and mentor.

“It’s a different mindset,” says Bellak. “Hours are not just devoted to player development, but developing a program as a whole.

“It’s more than just hitting fungoes and throwing BP. You’re engaging the alumni base and fundraising. It’s all the extras, things the outside world doesn’t see.”

Before Franklin, Bellak was a volunteer assistant at Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., in 2010 and 2011.

A 2004 graduate of Aurora (Ill.) Christian High School, the Big Rock, Ill., native played two seasons at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Ill., and two at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.

Bellak was sixth in the National Junior College Athletic Association in stolen bases in 2006 at Waubonsee.

Webster, coached by Bill Kurich, came within six outs of going to the 2008 NCAA D-III World Series.

In 2009, Bellak worked as a student assistant to Kurich.

“Bill knows what it takes to win,” says Bellak of Kurich. “He has the unique ability to get the most out of you.”

Bellak coached three summers with the Prospect League’s Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., in 2009-11 — the last as field manager. One of his players was future major league pitcher Sean Manaea.

In 2009, Bellak graduated from Webster with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He earned a masters degree in leadership and management from Liberty University’s online program in 2013. The latter is a precursor to a Masters of Business Administration.

“(The leadership and management masters) helped me take a different perspective to coaching,” says Bellak. “The business world isn’t that different than a team.

“The way a CEO motivates someone in the office is not much different than how a coach motivates someone on the field.”

Grant and wife Natasha Bellak have a daughter — Bexley (2).

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Grant Bellak is now the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College after seven seasons as an assistant at Franklin (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)

 

Twins right-hander Gibson keeps on dodging bats at a high rate

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mixing a power slider, curve and fastball, Minnesota Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson pitched seven shutout innings Tuesday, May 29 in Kansas City.

The 6-foot-6 native of Greenfield, Ind., recorded a no-decision while lowering his 2018 season earned run average to 3.57.

According to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, Gibson went to a three-ball count on just three of 27 batters faced with getting a first-pitch strike on 16 of them on his way to eight strikeouts and one walk. He surrendered five hits (three singles).

The former University of Missouri hurler was making his 16th career start against the KC Royals.

He has been one of the best swing-and-miss men in baseball. Some call it the “whiff” factor.

One source says he has Major League Baseball’s No. 1 slider and No. 3 curve.

Harold Gibson, Kyle’s father, made the trek from Greenfield to Kauffman Stadium see his son pitch.

That’s not far from where Harold took a brand-new Indiana Bandits 10U select team back in the mid-90’s.

“Kansas City is kind of where it started,” says Harold Gibson. “We started our first team when Kyle was 8 and his cousin (Austin Gibson) was 7. Little did we know what were were getting into.”

The Bandits went to a tournament at the Mid-America Sports Complex in Shawnee, Kan., essentially a suburb of KC.

Even though they lost every game by the 10-run rule, Harold and Sharon Gibson and the other adults were impressed with how they were treated and the passion for the game and knew they would come back.

They were also were sure they had made the right decision in breaking away from the local youth league.

“What an experience,” says Harold. “Our kids loved it.”

Not that the bold move was easy.

Little League had strict boundaries back then. Select teams were not allowed to use their their players, facilities and or play against any of their teams.

At that time, Gibson and company knew of no select teams in Indiana younger than age 13.

“We were taking a chance,” says Harold, who took the knowledge he learned from former Greenfield-Central High School coach Terry Fox (now athletic director at Indianapolis Cathedral) while serving on his coaching staff in the late ’80s and early ’90s and applied it to younger players, including his son and nephew. “God has a huge hand in all of this, but I also give a lot of credit to Terry. I learned so much about coaching from him. I can’t thank him enough.”

That first year, the Bandits played almost 50 games. The next year, they got into the Southwest Ohio League — the third-biggest select circuit in the country. The Indiana boys traveled to Cincinnati and league teams came to Greenfield.

Along the way, the Bandits went about building a training facility and held mandatory workouts up to five nights a week.

Practice was the priority and not playing games.

“It’s not the kids’ fault, but they’re just not learning,” says Harold. “Kids need to learn to pitch and catch. They need to learn the mental part of the game.

“We (must) have coaches that know how to teach it. Playing it the right way is the most fun for everyone.”

By the time Harold stepped away from the organization a decade ago, there were around 18 teams.

Fast forward to the present day, where Kyle Gibson is 30 and has 138 games of big league experience — all as a starter.

Harold has seen his son continue to hone his craft and gain confidence against major league batters.

“It’s all that maturation process, learning what it takes to set up hitters,” says Harold. “It’s making adjustments in games.

“They’ve told him all along to trust his stuff. I don’t think you know the full meaning of that until you throw it up there and guys miss it.

“Last year, he figured out that his fastball is good enough to get guys out. A player has to figure out if his stuff will play (in the majors).”

Kyle Gibson figured out that if he could command his fastball, it would make his breaking pitches more effective.

The big righty was throwing almost every pitch down in the zone. But has started enjoying success using the upper part and having his slider stay in the zone longer.

“Last year, Kyle had one of the best rates of swinging at balls out of the zone,” says Harold. “Consequently, hitters were going up there and just taking.”

Having Lance Lynn (who is slated to start Saturday, June 2) as a rotation mate has also helped.

The former Brownsburg High School standout throws about four different fastballs with differing speeds.

“Throwing a 93 mph fastball all the time, that’s the wrong thing to do,” says Harold.

After coaching Greenfield-Central’s junior varsity and helping establish off-season pitching workouts and in-season practice planning, Harold decided to step away at the end of the 2018 season.

Harold tries to attend Kyle’s starts when it’s within a drive of 10 or so hours (his son’s next turn is Sunday against Cleveland in Minneapolis and there’s a chance to see Kyle’s wife Elizabeth and daughter Hayden).

But with work and also having grandchildren in Louisville (Kyle’s older sister Holly lives there), it’s not always possible for Harold or his wife to be there in-person.

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Kyle Gibson (left) and father Harold Gibson meet up in Baltimore early in the 2018 season. Kyle is a pitcher in Minnesota’s staring rotation. Harold traveled from his home in Greenfield, Ind.

Notre Dame baseball’s Podkul keeps producing and keeping Irish loose

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If 2018 turns out to be the last baseball season at the University of Notre Dame for Nick Podkul, the draft-eligible junior has been treating Fighting Irish followers to a memorable last go-round.

Through Sunday, May 6, the 21-year-old second baseman has started all 48 games for a 24-26 squad and leads the team in batting average (.328), hits (59), runs scored (36), on-base percentage (.446), total bases (95), walks (29) and hit by pitch (12).

Podkul, a right-handed swinger who is among the top Atlantic Coast Conference hitters in all games, is second on the squad in triples (3), stolen bases (9) and multi-hit games (16) and third in home runs (6) and runs batted in (33).

Second baseman Podkul has combined with best friend and junior shortstop Cole Daily to solidify ND’s up-the-middle defense and aid the offense. Podkul has participated in a team-high 33 double plays. Daily is next at 29.

Podkul’s bloop single in the fifth inning Sunday drove in Daily to tie the game.

“He’s been great from start to finish,” says Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki of Podkul. “Defensively, he’s been unbelievable and really, really good.

“He gets consistent quality at-bats and makes hard contact.”

The young man that Aoki calls a “good old fashion baseball rat” for his willingness to work on his game has learned a valuable lesson that he takes with him in each trip to the plate.

“You have to understand that — no matter what — every at-bat counts,” says Podkul, a 6-foot-1, 198-pounder. “That’s how rallies start — when you don’t give up at-bats and you string two or three together.

“That’s a big improvement I’ve made over the years I’ve been here.”

Aoki has noticed.

“He gives away fewer at-bats,” says Aoki. “Pitchers have to work to get him out.

“He’s got a decent walk-to-strikeout ratio (29:28).

“He has been able to increase his power numbers a little bit each year he’s been here through strength and conditioning and getting a little bit more bat speed and more reps.

“He loves to play baseball. I’m really glad to see him having the type of year that he’s having.”

In his three seasons under the Golden Dome, the Andrean High School (Merrillvile, Ind.) graduate’s stock has continued to rise.

As a freshman in 2016, Podkul played in 40 games — 36 as a starter between third base, first base and designated hitter — and hit .288 with no homers, six doubles, 11 RBI, .413 on-base percentage, .352 slugging percentage and eight multi-hit games.

He followed that up as a sophomore in 2017 by starting all 58 games with .285 with five homers, 15 doubles, 20 RBI, .386 on-base percentage, .439 slugging percentage and 17 multi-hit games.

Podkul played for the Nortwoods League’s Battle Creek Bombers in the summer of 2016 and Coastal Plain League’s Morehead City Marlins in 2017.

The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is June 4-6.

“I’m certain he’ll be drafted,” says Aoki. “It’ll just be a matter of where.

“He’ll sit down with his family and I’ll sit down with Nick and we’ll figure out what is best for Nick.

“If he gets drafted where I think he deserves to be drafted, it’s probably time for him to go start his professional career.

“If — for some reason — he goes later, we’’l have to see how that goes.”

Nick, the son of Frank Podkul Sr. (who played baseball and football at Wabash College) and Jackie Weiser, is well aware of his pro potential at the end of the season.

“It’s hard not to think about it,” says Nick. “It’s exciting.

“But at this point, I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. We’ve got a really good group of guys.

“We just want to have fun the rest of the season and see if we can make a run with this thing.”

Podkul and Daily, who were paired together up the middle much of the 2017 season and have spent countless hours taking ground balls together, do their best to keep a smile on their teammates’ faces.

“We like to have fun and keep the guys loose,” says Podkul. “We crack a couple jokes when we’re down. We remind them that we’re still playing a kids game. We’re supposed to have fun with it.”

Says Aoki, “He’s a kid that’s done a phenomenal job of leading our team by example.”

While the American Studies major has been busy with his classes and baseball, Nick has had time to keep up with older brother Frank Podkul Jr.’s senior diamond season at Franklin College.

“He’s killing it this year,” says Nick of Frank. “I’m really happy to see his success.

“He’s a real good role model for me.”

Frank Jr., who is 18 months older than Nick, is hitting .340 with 14 homers, 10 doubles, 54 RBI and 49 runs scored while starting in the infield for the NAIA Grizzlies (35-3).

Nick helped Andrean win Indiana state Class 3A state championships in his junior and senior seasons for 2014 and 2015 and Frank was also there for the first title. In the off-season, the Podkul brothers and other 59ers baseball alums spend some time at Andrean working on their swings and helping out Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Dave Pishkur.

“Andrean was a huge part of my life,” says Nick Podkul. “My basketball and baseball coaches were great. They taught me how to respect the game and how to go about it the right way.

“The teachers put a big emphasis on being a good student and a good person. That really sets you up to do well at Notre Dame.”

Nick spent his younger travel baseball years with the Hammond Chiefs and Indiana Saints.

In his 17U summer — leading into his senior year at Andrean — Podkul played for the Dan Held-coached Indiana Bulls.

“I have to attribute a lot of my success and going to Notre Dame to the Indiana Bulls that summer,” says Podkul. “Coach Held is a really, really good guy. He definitely put me in the right position to succeed and I can’t thank him enough for that.”

With its home schedule wrapped Sunday and final exams this week, Notre Dame visits Northwestern May 15 and Louisville for a three-game ACC series May 17-19.

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Nick Podkul, a University of Notre Dame junior, is leading the Fighting Irish baseball team in categories in 2018. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)

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Nick Podkil, a University of Notre Dame junor and Andrean High School (Merrillville, Ind.) graduate, has raised his stock for the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with his performance this season. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)