There’s a place where a baseball can be pitched and struck in Indiana and land in Illinois.
That place is Hermits Park in the 4200 block of Dearborn Avenue on the north side of Hammond, Ind.
In the spring of 2021, the big diamond — where a home run to left field or deep center can clear the state line which cuts through the outfield — will be home to the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology (HAST) baseball program. The school’s softball team will also play at Hermits.
“We started a partnership last year then COVID hit and everything stopped,” says Hensley. “We were one of the last (youth baseball/softball) associations to fold. We were down to only our high school level team that traveled.”
In the fall, Hermits Outlaws played in a fall league at the Ho Chunk Sports Complex in Lynwood, Ill., which is 12 miles southwest of Hermits Park.
Hensley, who is assisted by Travis McKimmey and Ryan Massey, held his last HAST baseball call-out meeting March 11 and has had 10 coming to conditioning sessions. There is hope that more will joint the team. The first IHSAA practice is Monday, March 15.
“We have a real fresh batch,” says Hensley, noting there a a few players who’ve played high school baseball with others who have been away for years or are fairly new to the sport.
“We’ll start with new or younger guys,” says Hensley. “But we gladly accept that challenge.
“There might be more of a level playing field since everybody did not play last year.”
While the focus this spring will be on a varsity team, Hensley says he hopes to bring baseball to middle schoolers — at HAST and the surrounding area — through the partnership with Hermits.
The IHSAA announced this week that Washington Township will be sectional host.
HAST’s first appearance in the state tournament series was in 2017. The Hawks have not won a sectional championship.
While changes continue to be made to the schedule, Hensley says he expects his club to have around 20 regular-season games.
HAST, which was established in 2010, is a charter school focused on both science and technology with a heavy emphasis on a small teacher-to-student ratio. It is both a high school and middle school with grades ranging from 6-12.
Not affiliated with HAST, School City of Hammond currently has four high schools — Hammond, Clark, Gavit and Morton — and will cut down to two.
The district is scheduled in 2021-22 to have Hammond and Clark combine into the new Hammond Central with current Gavit students being divided between Hammond Central and Morton.
“It’s always sad to see a part of someone’s history go,” says Hensley, a 1988 Clark graduate. “But we’re looking for change and something new.”
Dennis and Gail Hensley have been married for 26 years. The couple has two adult children — Taylor (25) and Dennis (20).
With the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, players at Morris Baseball in northwest Indiana can finally practice again and founder/president Bobby Morris couldn’t be happier.
“It’s as much fun as I’ve had on a baseball field in ages,” says Morris of a workout earlier this week. “The big reason is quarantine and the chaos going on around us.
“I feel a sense of gratitude. Our players feel a sense of gratitude — more so than in January or February.”
Morris says he hopes his organization with around 200 clients, including Chiefs travel teams, will help bring a sense of community and unity as the 2020 season moves forward.
“if we can spread a little positivity and a little gratitude, I’m all for it,” says Morris, who started his training business in 2011 and merged five years ago with the Hammond Chiefs, which mark their 30th season this year.
The first clients Morris had were 9-year-olds.
“Those kids are just now graduating and going on to play college baseball,” says Morris.
“It’s mutually a good fit together,” says Morris. “Dave has been pleasure to work with. We got some Chiefs coaches when we merged. They’ve been great mentors with our kids.”
The Morris Baseball mission statement: To recruit excellent talent and provide them with disciplined, well-organized, focused practices with superior instruction and place them in highly competitive opportunities to achieve principle-based success.
“If we produce great players, everything will take care of itself,” says Morris. “We make sure we have great practice facilities and plenty of practice time.
“We try to produce well-rounded baseball players. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”
Until recently, Morris Baseball and the Chiefs were housed at Franciscan Physician Network Schererville Family Health Center (formerly Omni Health & Fitness).
The organization just moved to a training facility at 1075 Breuckman Drive in Crown Point. Morris says the name for the new place will be revealed soon.
The new centrally-located home includes plenty of workout space plus classrooms, player’s lounge, kitchen and coach’s offices.
“For our kids it will be great,” says Morris. “We have internet at player desks. They can hang out there all day if they want.
“We prefer that they study and take batting practice.”
“It’s an extremely gifted group,” says Morris of the 2021 team. “(Pettit and Sutkowski) are two phenomenal sports minds.”
Assistants for Morris with the 2022 Chiefs are Morris Baseball general manager Mike Small plus Tim Horneman.
Bobby’s youngest son, Gavin (10), plays for the 9U Chiefs. Bobby also helps coach the 8U team.
Nick Amatulli has more than 40 years of coaching experience and helps with both of Trevor Howard’s squads.
Some other Chiefs coaches are John Adams, Tom Blair, Brad Fedak, Brian Fernandez, Trent Howard, Dale Meyer, Kevin Peller, Brad Rohde, Kenny Siegal and Eric Spain.
“We don’t differentiate ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team,” says Morris. “It’s more geared toward the name of the coach. We don’t want the potential for the stigma there. It also incentivizes our coaches to play the game hard and represent themselves well.
“We want Chiefs teams to play hard and be smart players. Any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”
Three Chiefs alums are currently playing pro baseball — third baseman Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays) and left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) in the majors and second baseman Nick Podkul (Toronto Blue Jays) in the minors.
“Bob is an extremely decent man,” says Morris of Shinkan. “He has such a genuine, caring nature.”
Shinkan can also be strict and he expects his players to be disciplined.
“I had a great experience there with Bob,” says Morris.
After high school, lefty-swinging infielder Morris spent three seasons at the University of Iowa playing for long-time Hawkeyes head coach Duane Banks.
“Duane was just a smart baseball guy,” says Morris. “At Iowa, they really believed in self starters. They threw you out there and expected you to compete for a position.
“That culture helped me a lot in professional baseball.”
Morris was selected as a third baseman in the ninth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs and played nine minor league seasons (1993-2001), logging 636 games and hitting .290 with 36 home runs and 326 RBIs. He reached Double-A in the Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds systems. By hitting .354 with seven homers and 64 RBIs, he was chosen as MVP of the 1994 Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs of the Low Class-A Midwest League. That team was managed by Steve Roadcap.
While Trembley never played pro baseball, he managed (Orioles) and coached (Houston Astros) in the big leagues.
“Dave had a great habit for excellence,” says Morris, who won a High Class-A Florida State League championship with Trembley on the 1995 Daytona Cubs. “He expected a lot out of himself and a lot out of us and how we carried ourselves.”
Morris, who turns 48 in November, grew watching Piersall and Harry Caray call Chicago White Sox games on TV. When he learned Morris was from Chicagoland, Piersall became close to Morris as a minor league hitting/outfield coach.
“Jimmy took on a second grandfather role for me,” says Morris.
It was in the Cubs organization that Morris encountered Alomar.
“He’s as smart a baseball person as I’ve ever met,” says Morris. “He’s an absolute genius.”
Tanner was Morris’ first full-season hitting instructor and the inventor of Tanner Tees — a product used by Bobby and brother Hal Morris (a left-handed first baseman/outfielder who played 14 seasons in the big leagues).
“Joe was a was a renaissance man for baseball,” says Bobby Morris. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great influences.”
His earliest diamond influences came from brother Hal.
Hal is seven years older than Bobby.
“We were constantly competing with one another,” says Bobby. “I was challenged a lot. We were always very close. As I matured and got into high school, Hal brought back stuff from his (college and pro) coaches and we worked on it.
“That helped in fine-tuning my ability to hit at an early age.”
As youngsters, the brothers spent hours taking batting practice with father Bill pitching and mother Margaret chasing baseballs.
Bill Morris was a four-year baseball letterman Davidson (N.C.) College, went to medical school, did his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, entered the U.S. Army and was at Fort Rucker in Alabama when daughter Beth (who went on to be a state swim champion at Munster High) and son Hal (who shined in baseball for the Mustangs) were born.
The family later came to northwest Indiana, where Bill was a pediatrician working at the Hammond Clinic, St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond and Community Hospital in Munster. He died at 82 in 2017.
“He taught us how to compete and how to be gentlemen,” says Bobby Morris of his father. “He was a class southern gentleman.
“My mom is still with us. She has probably shagged as many baseballs in her life as any big league pitcher.”
Bobby and Gloria Morris have three children. Besides Gavin, there’s recent Arizona State University graduate Gina (22) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis student John (19). Gloria Morris is a Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate.
“We’re Region rats,” says Bobby Morris. “I love northwest Indiana.”