By STEVE KRAH
Kyle Kraemer is passionate about the way he coaches baseball at his alma mater — Terre Haute South Vigo High School.
“I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” says Kraemer, a 1986 graduate who is in his 23rd season as Braves head coach. “I learned at a very young age (from a youth coach named Mike Kennedy): ‘When I tell you something, don’t take it personally.’ When I stop talking to you, I don’t care about you and when I don’t care about you, you’re not at a very good place in the program.
“There are kids you can get on and they can take it. There are kids you can get on and they can’t take it, but they learn quickly by watching how others act and respond to what’s going on.”
Kraemer played at South for Ken Martin, learned more about the game while at Purdue University from head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Alexander and pitching coach Steve Green (Kraemer was a Boilermaker team captain and bashed a team-high 10 home runs in 1990), served one season as an assistant at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, returned to Terre Haute as a volunteer assistant to Martin (1993 and 1994) and took over as head coach for the 1995 season.
As a football coach, Kraemer was on the Braves staff from 2007-15. Former South baseball player Mark Raetz was head gridiron coach 2007-12.
The Kraemer-led baseball Braves have won nine sectional titles and four regional crowns — the last of each coming in 2011.
Since his second season as head coach, Kraemer has been assisted by 1981 South graduate and U.S. Marines veteran Brian Pickens.
Kraemer and Pickens share hitting coach duties.
A.J. Reed, who made his Major League Baseball debut with the Houston Astros in 2016 and is currently at Triple-A Fresno, socked 41 homers and drove in 150 runs during his South career, which concluded in 2011. The next year, the bats were changed and it made it harder for teams to score runs with extra-base hits.
“He was a quiet kid,” says Kraemer, who also saw Reed go 26-10 with 390 strikeouts in 260 innings and a 1.88 earned run average on the mound for the Braves (he once threw 143 pitches in a 10-inning semistate outing). “He had the most natural ability I’ve ever seen.”
Another of Kraemer’s top products is Matt Samuels, who pitched at the University of Tennesee and Indiana State University and briefly in the Minnesota Twins organization.
Kyle’s son, Koby, played for him and at ISU and in the Toronto Blue Jays system.
With less-explosive bats a few years ago, Kraemer and Pickens began to change the way they teach hitting.
“Small ball became more important,” says Kraemer. “The bats we use are just dead.”
To generate more power in the hips — not necessarily via home runs — hitters are loading up by raising their knee and creating some momentum in the lower half of the swing and uncoiling to drive the baseball.
All but one of seven 2017 Braves coaches are South graduates. Besides Kraemer and Pickens, there’s Chad Chrisman (23rd year and charged with infield positioning) and three who played for Kraemer — Daniel Tanoos, Scott Flack and T.C. Clary. Pitching coach Adam Lindsay is a graduate of West Vigo High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve DeGroote.
Todd Miles is a former longtime South coach. After returning from the Indiana State Police, Miles (who played on ISU’s College World Series team in 1986) took a job at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute that does not allow him the time to coach with the Braves.
South, who is preparing for the Class 4A Mooresville Sectional, fielded two teams this spring — one varsity and one JV.
The new pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) “forced us to cut back on one (JV) team because we’ve had to limit pitches and we’re short on pitchers.”
“Personally, I don’t think (the pitch count rule) was needed,” says Kraemer. “Most (coaches) did it right.”
As of May 18, none of Kraemer’s moundsmen had thrown more than 103 pitches in a game.
Conference Indiana, which South joined in 2013 after holding membership in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, tends to play league doubleheaders on Saturdays (against Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian and Southport). Braves starters generally work once a week.
“If you use common sense, you’re OK,” says Kraemer. “It will be interesting to get feedback from smaller schools, where can walk and chew gum, they’re going to be a pitcher until they prove they’re not.”
Baseball players learn the game in Cal Ripken Leagues at Riley and Terre Town, Little Leagues at Terre Haute North and West Terre Haute and through various travel baseball organization, including Junior Rex, Indiana Havoc, Redbirds, Junior Sycamores and Mad Dogs plus senior and junior American Legion teams for Wayne Newton Post 346. That program was ran by John Hayes for years and is now headed by his brother Tim.
“Travel ball has really taken off,” says Kraemer. “You might as well embrace it. It’s here to stay. (Post 346) now has more of a travel feel (playing in tournaments with travel ball teams).”
Kyle Kraemer is in his 23rd season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Terre Haute South Vigo High School. (TH South Photo)