Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

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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Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Southpaw Hougeson experiencing pro baseball with Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Hougeson is always looking for a challenge.

The Indianapolis native grew up playing multiple sports, trying to become proficient in each of them.

He competed in soccer, football, tennis, bowling and volleyball and wound up being the best at baseball and that’s what took him to various collegiate levels and now has the left-hander pitching as a professional.

Hougeson (pronounced Ho-geh-sin) is in the starting rotation for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats of the independent American Association. He is scheduled to take the ball today (Aug. 1) when Gary plays host to Winnipeg.

The youngest of Richard and Cara Hougeson’s three sons behind Japheth and Caleb, Seth attended Calvary Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran schools, where his mother was a teacher, before going to high school at Indianapolis Lutheran.

Seth could walk a few blocks from Calvary to participate at the Edgewood youth league on the south side. He later played travel ball for the Adam Robertson-coached Indy Bats.

“That’s where I learned and developed at an early age,” says Hougeson of the Bats. “(Robertson) brought out my competitive side. He was a very awesome coach.

“I owe a lot to him. We still stay in-touch.”

Hougeson says competitiveness is his No. 1 strength as an athlete.

“I never give up,” says Hougeson. “I’m always trying to complete that task in front of me.

“I’m hard-working and always doing the little things right. In college, I always prided myself on PFPs (Pitchers Fielding Practice drills).

“It was about fielding my position as a pitcher and being athletic enough to get off and field that bunt and throw it to first.”

Like a fifth infielder?

“Absolutely,” says Hougeson, who turned 22 on April 25.

Indianapolis Lutheran won four sectional titles with Honor Roll Student-Athlete Hougeson on the team and head coach Dick Alter leading the Saints.

“He expected a lot,” says Hougeson of Alter. “He wanted to push you until he got what he was looking for — the best out of your every single day.

“At first, I was a little standoffish. I didn’t know how to respond to it. But, as a I grew up and I matured, it’s just kind of clicked with me. He’s not against me. He’s for me and wants the very best for me.”

Hougeson came to appreciate Alter’s years of experience and it helped groom him for college and beyond.

“I’m always looking for the most competitive baseball and trying to better myself,” says Hougeson. “I continue to get better with the higher level of competition because it continues to push me to get to that next level.”

Concordia University Wisconsin is an NCAA Division III program. In his freshmen season (2016), Hougeson earned honorable mention on the all-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference and was on the NACC all-freshman year, going 3-3 in nine mound appearances (eight starts) with a 3.35 earned run average. In 40 1/3 innings, he struck out 38 and walked nine.

Next came Dyersburg (Tenn.) State Community College. In his one season with the Eagles (2017), Hougeson was named National Junior College (NJCAA) National Pitcher of the Year after going 14-1 with a 1.49 ERA. The southpaw struck out 107 and allowed just 74 hits and 35 walks in 92 1/3 innings.

Hougeson landed at NCAA Division II Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., for his final two college seasons.

As a junior in 2018, Hougeson went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in 12 games (eight starts) for a DSU team that went 42-11 and played in the NCAA Division II South Regional. In 35 1/3 innings, he fanned 39 and walked 22. As a senior in 2019, he made 14 appearances (10 starts) and went 9-0 with three complete games (one shutout) and a 2.44 ERA. In 59 innings, he whiffed 55 and walked 14. The Statesmen went 42-14 and played in the D-II South Super Regional.

Mike Kinnison retired as Delta State head coach at the end of the season and will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020.

“He’s one of those old-school, hard-nosed coaches,” says Hougeson of Kinnison. “He’s not going to stop until he gets the best out of you.”

Hougeson began his 2019 summer with the Palm Springs Power in the Southern California Collegiate Baseball League.

“I went out there with no expectations,” says Hougeson. “I was just going to play the best baseball I could possibly do. If I was going to get signed by a team, I was going to be very, very grateful for that.

“If nothing happened out of the summer, I was just going to hang it up and say I gave it all I had.”

He is 15 credit hours plus an internship short of his sports management degree and plans to finish with online classes. He sees himself using his many baseball connections to get job in front office job in baseball which could lead to becoming a general manager.

Or he could follow a long family tradition and go into military service.

“I’d love to join the Air Force and become a fireman,” says Hougeson, noting that his father is currently active in the Air Force and serving overseas. Both brothers (including Caleb Hougeson, who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as an Indianapolis Lutheran third baseman) are in the Army. A grandfather and uncle served in the Marines and a cousin is currently with that service branch. An aunt is in the Air Force.

But sports management or military service are in the future. Hougeson’s present is focused on baseball.

The southpaw pitched in three Palm Springs games and signed with Gary on June 30. That same day, he made his pro debut, tossing four shutout innings while giving up two hits with one strikeout and one walk in a no-decision start against the Kansas City T-Bones.

Altogether, Hougeson has appeared in six RailCats games (five starts) and and is 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. In 23 innings, he has racked up nine K’s and issued nine free passes.

A 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, Hougeson possesses a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, “circle” change-up and curve ball. He usually has an over-the-top release, but sometimes drops down a little and gets arm-side run with his fastball.

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Seth Hougeson, an Indianapolis Lutheran High School graduate who played college baseball at Concord University Wisconsin, Dyersburg State Community College and Delta State University, is now with the independent professional Gary (Ind.) South Shore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

‘Stubborn approach’ has Evansville’s Owen at Triple-A level with Pirates

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hunter Owen was playing in his fifth game since being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.

The Evansville, Ind., native was facing a knuckleball pitcher for the first time.

After grounding into a fielder’s choice in his first plate appearance on Thursday, July 18, Owen belted the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the third inning from Syracuse right-hander Mickey Jannis for a two-run home run and the Indians went on to beat the Mets 9-1 at Victory Field.

“You can’t prepare for (the knuckleball),” says Owen. “You have to be willing to battle and stick to your stubborn approach.”

Owen, who swings from the right side, says that when he’s going good he looks for a pitch in a particular location and doesn’t miss it.

That kind of pitch recognition comes with repetition.

“The majority is experience — a lot of at-bats at each level,” says Owen. “The higher up you go, the better the stuff is.

“(Experience) allows you to progress as a hitter — visually and physically.”

Owen was selected out of Indiana State University in the 25th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He experienced 187 at-bats for the short-season West Virginia Black Bears in 2016. In 2017, he had 12 AB’s with the Black Bears, 291 with the Low Class-A West Virginia Power and 10 with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates.

There were 401 at-bats with the Advanced-A Bradenton (Fla.) Marauders in 2018. He opened 2019 with 235 more for the Double-A Altoona (Pa.) Curve.

Owen hit .257 with five homers and 34 runs batted in for 2016, .284 with 13 and 49 in 2017 and .262 with 18 and 60 in 2018.

At Altoona, his numbers were .298, 15 and 44 before his promotion.

The biggest difference between Double-A and Triple-A?

“The pitching,” says Owen. “Guys can throw three to four pitches wherever they want it.

“They have a better plan of how to attack you.”

Owen really learned how to play in attack mode from his head coach at Evansville Mater Dei High School and with Funkhouser American Legion Post 8Jeff Schulz (who played 40 games in the majors with the Pirates and Kansas City Royals).

“What sticks with me is the aggressiveness mentality,” says Owen. “You’re going up to the plate to do damage.

“You also want to be as much of a well-rounded player as a you can be.”

Growing up, Owen was mostly a shortstop. In high school, he was also used at second base and third base (and was also honorable mention all-state on the football field).

Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs told him to embrace versatility and Owen is comfortable in the infield, outfield or behind the plate.

“Any ability to crack the lineup and be versatile for my team,” says Owen. “(Hannahs) made me the ballplayer I am today — for sure.

“More than anything, he helped me grow mentally. He takes pride in having ballplayers with a lot of character that are good people.”

While he’s got 52 minor league homers, Owen does not classify himself as a pure home run hitter.

“I have gap-to-gap power,” says Owen, who is 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds. “I have the ability to drive the baseball over the wall (with a combination of bat speed and strength).”

Owen notes that every hitter has a launch angle — that’s just physics.

He sticks with the approach that’s more conducive to his swing.

“I’m hitting down through (the baseball),” says Owen, who also has 70 doubles and 12 triples in three-plus minor league seasons.

Owen, who resides in Fishers, Ind., in the off-season, began training last winter with Mike Robertson at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFIT) to increase his mobility, overall strength and speed.

“They help you maximize your physical potential,” says Owen.

Now that he’s playing home games in Indianapolis, Owen has had many family and friends in the stands and expects to see more.

“It’s super humbling to have so many people reach out who are interested in my career,” says Owen, who turns 26 Sept. 22. “The big support system behind me makes it super special.”

The youngest of former University of Evansville baseball player Steve and wife Kena Owen’s five children (following Michael, Leslie, Tyler and Mandi), Hunter took advantage of the lessons that position afforded him.

“It was awesome,” says Hunter. “I really took hold to my two brothers.”

Tyler Owen played four years of NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

“He helped me through my high school and college career,” says Hunter of Tyler. “Picking my brother’s brain was super helpful.”

Hunter attended St. Philip Catholic School through the eighth grade and played for the school teams as well as the Southern Indiana Bombers prior to high school. He played a summer with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks before heading off to ISU.

As a Sycamore, Owen was redshirted in 2013 then played from 2014-16. He hit .342 with nine homers and 59 RBIs, including .350, six and 47 as an all-Missouri Valley Conference outfielder in 2016.

At the time he began his pro baseball career, Owen was working toward and sport management degree and plans to complete it at some point.

Right now, he’s battling and being stubborn in his approach.

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Hunter Owen, an Evansville (Ind.) Mater Dei High School graduate who played at Indiana State University, is now with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)

 

Fort Wayne’s Wedge takes his passion back to Wichita State

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric Wedge was in his early 30’s when he was already sporting the “dinosaur” mentality of his coaching predecessors in Indiana.

“A team is always going to play off their manager,” said Wedge in this writer’s 2001 self-published book, “Hitting And Hurling In The Heartland: A look at Indiana high school baseball.” “It’s a powerful position and you have to make sure you approach it that way.

“I have a passion for the game. I love kids that love to come out and play. And it’s got to hurt when you lose.

“I’ve got a problem with people who don’t compete every pitch, every out and every game.”

Wedge played at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Chris Stavreti. Stav was a “dinosaur” — a term once attached to 20-year IHSBCA members.

After his playing career, which included four seasons in the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, Wedge managed five seasons in the minors and 10 in the majors — 10 with the Cleveland Indians and three with the Seattle Mariners. Wedge was the American League Manager of the Year in 2007 as the Cleveland lost to Boston in the American League Championship Series.

Now 51, the Fort Wayne native and IHSBCA Hall of Famer has been named head baseball coach at Wichita State University, the school he helped win the College World Series in 1989.

A two-time all-Missouri Valley Conference selection, Wedge is a member of the Wichita State 25-Year Anniversary Team, the WSU Hall of Fame (1996) and is also a member of the league’s All-Centennial Baseball Team.

In his three seasons at WSU, the Shockers reached three NCAA Tournaments and twice played in the CWS (1988, 1989). WSU won three regular-season MVC crowns and two MVC Tournament crowns during his collegiate playing career.

Wedge, a Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer who had a wood bat division named for him at Fort Wayne’s Wallen Little League in June and had been in player development with the Toronto Blue Jays, talked about his new role and about Fort Wayne baseball in a story written by Dean Jackson.

Enjoy that story here.

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Eric Wedge, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native, is the new head baseball coach at Wichita State University. He helped the Shockers win the College World Series in 1989. (Wichita State Photo)

 

Former Heritage, Indiana lefty Saalfrank now pitching in Diamondbacks system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Saalfrank has the physical tools to pitch a baseball at high levels.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-hander was a standout at Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., where he graduated in 2016 then for three seasons at Indiana University (he was a weekend starter in 2019) and now in his first professional season in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

After making 15 appearances (12 as a starter) and going 8-1 with a 2.84 earned run average, 98 strikeouts and 26 walks in 73 innings for IU this spring, Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year Saalfrank was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

So far, the southpaw has pitched three of one-inning stints — one for the rookie-level Arizona League Diamondbacks and two for the short-season Class-A Northwest League’s Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA, three strikeouts and one walk. Since he pitched so many innings in the spring, the D-backs are limited his load this summer.

As of now, the next steps up the ladder for the Diamondbacks are at Low-A Kane County (Ill.), Advanced-A Visalia (Calif.), Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) and Triple-A Reno (Nev.).

Delivering from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Saalfrank uses a two-seam fastball, curveball and change-up in games. His fastball has been between 89 and 93 mph. His curve is 83 to 84 and usually has more of a vertical plane. His change-up his been especially sharp this summer. In the bullpen, he has been tinkering with a four-seam fastball and working on a slider.

It’s not just his left arm that has gotten Saalfrank to this point.

“A lot of stuff can go wrong in the game and it doesn’t bother me often,” says Saalfrank. “There’s such a large mental aspect to the game.

“Sometimes you don’t have the greatest physical talent. Playing college ball helps you deal with different situations. You’re good enough. You tell yourself that and deal with the situation that’s thrown at you.”

Saalfrank’s training at Indiana was focused on getting ready for pro ball and now he’s here.

With academic and college time restrictions out of the way, he can put his time into baseball.

“I don’t sleep in too late,” says Saalfrank. “I wake up at 8:30 or 9 everyday.”

That gives him time to relax, grab a meal and head to the stadium, where he will spend up to eight hours for a Hillsboro home game. Stretching begins about three hours before first pitch. On many days, there is weightlifting before or after the game.

“The time commitment is the difference,” says Saalfrank. “It’s fun. I’m getting paid to do what I wanted to do for a living.

“I’m lucky enough to do it.”

Saalfrank was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Hoagland, Ind. Father Doug Saalfrank is a supervisor at B.F. Goodrich. Mother Heidi Saalfrank is a sales representative for Heritage Food Services. Older sister Abby Saalfrank was also an NCAA Division I athlete, playing volleyball at Eastern Illinois University.

Heidi Saalfrank’s brother and sister — Jason Richman (baseball) and Tiffany (Richman) Bennett (volleyball) — both played at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and influenced Andrew and Abby.

“We were always spending time with them and playing sports in the back yard,” says Andrew.

His organized baseball days began in the youth leagues in Hoagland and New Haven. He played for a number of travel teams, including the Indiana Outlaws at the end of his high school days.

Saalfrank took pitching instruction from Rich Dunno for about eight years.

“He played a big part,” says Saalfrank of Dunno, the Fort Wayne-based inventor of the King of the Hill ground force trainer.

At Heritage, Saalfrank was an all-stater as a junior and senior and a four-time all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection. His career mark was 26-7 with a 1.67 ERA and school-record 429 strikeouts and 218 1/3 innings. He was 10-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings in 2015 and followed that up with a 2.15 ERA and 87 K’s in 45 2/3 innings in 2016.

Dean Lehrman was Patriots head coach. Saalfrank credits Lehrman for his emphasis on the mental and emotional aspects of baseball.

“Respect the game,” says Saalfrank. “Respect your teammates. Play for the school name on your chest.”

Saalfrank was recruited to IU by Chris Lemonis (now at Mississippi State University) and worked with Lemonis and pitching coach Kyle Bunn (now at Middle Tennessee State University) for his first two collegiate seasons.

“(Bunn) pushes you,” says Saalfrank. “He expects a lot out of every player. He gets the most out of you. He uses tough love sometimes.”

In Saalfrank’s junior year, Jeff Mercer became the head coach and Justin Parker the pitching coach for the Hoosiers.

“It was a really smooth transition for everybody,” says Saalfrank. “They have a pro style to development.

“It was on me to figure out what I like best and establish a routine to transition into pro ball.

“I learned about handling adversity and finding the positives out of failure.”

The minor league regular season goes through Labor Day then comes the playoffs. Saalfrank plans to return to Indiana in the fall to train and finish his sports management degree. He is just nine credits shy.

Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank pitches for Indiana University.

Andrew Saalfrank is a product of Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Indiana and worked for years with pitching instructor Rich Dunno.

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Andrew Saalfrank, a former Heritage Junior/Senior High school and Indiana University left-hander, is now pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

 

Lebanon grad Herrin pitching in Angels system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Travis Herrin has been a professional baseball pitcher since 2015 and the graduate of Lebanon (Ind.) High School (2013) and Wabash Valley College (2015) in Mount Carmel, Ill., has made steadiness his goal.

“I look for consistency,” says Herrin, 24. “It means learning to throw every five days (instead of every seven like in college). That extra two days is a pretty big deal.”

Herrin is a right-hander in the Los Angeles Angels organization with the Inland Empire 66ers in the Advanced Class-A California League.

Inland Empire uses a “piggyback” system for its starting pitchers, meaning Herrin may start one time then come in right after the starter the next. Through June 30, he had made 12 appearances totaling 48 1/3 innings and was 3-2 with one save, a 4.84 earned run average, 45 strikeouts and 24 walks.

“You make sure you get down whatever you need to get done — the weight room, arm care,” says Herrin of each day at the ballpark.

What’s the difference between Advanced-A and lower levels (he has pitched in the rookie-level Pioneer and Arizona leagues and the Low-A Midwest League)?

“Competition,” says Herrin. “You get away with less and less as you move through the system.

“You have to have your stuff going from he first pitch.

Herrin throws a four-seam fastball with arm-side fade, a 12-to-6 curveball, a slider with side-to-side action and a change-up.

“The minor leagues is about development,” says Herrin, who works with people like Inland Empire pitching coach Michael Wuertz and Angels roving minor league instructors Matt Wise and Buddy Carlyle to get dialed in. They use video to study what he does in games and bullpen sessions.

During this past off-season, Herrin rode with Reid Schaller (a Lebanon High school graduate in the Washington Nationals chain) to work with Greg Vogt at PRP Baseball on mechanics and pitch design.

The son of John and Christy Herrin and older brother of Maggie Herrin (an Indiana State University student), Travis played for Rick Cosgray at Lebanon High and Rob Fournier at Wabash Valley.

“He’s a great guy,” says Herrin of Cosgray. “(Fournier) is unreal. He is close to 1,000 wins (for his career). Junior college is a character thing. You don’t get a whole lot of gear. It’s pretty competitive (in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference). There are a lot of guys moving on to (NCAA) D-I schools every year.”

Herrin grew up in Lebanon — a town located northwest of Indianapolis — and played at Lebanon Little League and with the IBA Storm coached by Cesar Barrientos (now an assistant at Wabash College) during his junior summer in high school. He later pitched for the Lebanon Merchants.

Selected in the 18th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Year Player Draft by the Angels, the 6-foot-3 hurler was with the Burlington (Iowa) Bees when he had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery June 19, 2017. He came back in August 2018 and appeared in seven games.

“It was a grind,” says Herrin of the recovery process. “I was doing something every single day to try to get ready.

“I had no doubts about getting ready. I know the organization likes me.”

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Travis Herrin is a graduate of Lebanon (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College pitching in the Los Angeles Angels organization. (Inland Empire 66ers)

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Travis Herrin pitches for the California League’s Inland Empire 66ers — aka California Burritos — in the Los Angeles Angels organization. (Franklin Gutierrez Photo)

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Travis Herrin pitches for the California League’s Inland Empire 66ers — aka California Burritos — in the Los Angeles Angels organization. He is a graduate of Lebanon (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College. (Franklin Gutierrez Photo)