By STEVE KRAH
When baseball players are pushed past the comfort zone, that’s when progress is made.
That’s the way Joe Turnock, sixth-year head coach at Marian High School in Mishawaka, goes about his job of developing young athletes.
“It’s about developing and being pushed beyond his experience,” says Turnock. “We want to stretch them, challenge them.
“I don’t care what year you graduate If you can play and have the mental maturity.”
That may mean a freshman standing in against a gas-throwing senior. But if they can handle it, their age and grade is not factored in.
Turnock, a graduate of Marian (1982) and Indiana University (1986), knows that being mentally strong is important in a game not always filled with moments of success.
“Baseball resembles life,” says Turnock. “There’s a lot of failure in the game. What do you do to respond after something negative happens — something that might not be within your control?
“The most important muscle is between the ears. It’s your mental make-up.”
Learning to cope in these situations while in high school will help in the future.
“Not everything works according to plan,” says Turnock. “You’ve got to able to bounce back.
“Control what you can control and compete.”
Even in games that may have resulted in losses, the positives are added up.
“Did you scrap back and win the last few innings?,” says Turnock. “There are things you can build on in your next game or practice.”
Turnock joined a Marian coaching staff led by Tim Prister after spending time in the showcase/travel baseball world. Turnock was a coach with the Michiana Scrappers and continues to be affiliated with the Crossroads Baseball Series.
Youngest son Josh (Joe and Amy Turnock also have 24-year-old Joe) was a catcher for the Scrappers and a battery mate of Evan Miller.
Now 22, Josh Turnock was a freshman on Marian’s IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up team in 2011.
The young Turnock and Miller went on to play for the North in the 2014 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All/Star Series.
While Josh Turnock is at Eastern Illinois University, LaPorte graduate Miller is now pitching in the San Diego Padres organization.
At EIU, Josh got to catch Michael McCormick. The right-hander who played at Speedway High School for father Marcus McCormick is now in the Chicago White Sox system.
Riley Tirotta, a 2017 Marian graduate, was a standout at shortstop and also played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series before heading to the University of Dayton.
Turnock has helped Tirotta, who has trained with Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich., and others get the attention of college coaches.
“A lot of the recruiting process had changed,” says Turnock. “You have to proactive and market yourself.”
Some of the recruiting tools including sending out videos and attending the showcases appropriate for the player.
For instance, a player suited for the NAIA or NCAA Division III will not be best-served at a showcase with mostly D-I coaches.
“There’s enough college baseball out there,” says Turnock. “Find where you’re going to fit. It’s not the glamor and glitz that people think it is. There’s a lot of work.”
With Tirotta’s athleticism, his coach was able to use him at various places in the infield and on the mound.
When Turnock had exit interviews with his players at the season of the ’17 season, he advised the returnees to work on versatility.
“If your name is on the lineup card, that’s a good day,” says Turnock. Players should not be concerned about where they are on the field or in the batting order. Just compete and contribute.
Roles can change. It happens at the high school level and it happens in the big leagues.
Take Chicago Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery as an example.
“He might start then be used in middle relief then close then start again,” says Turnock.
Marian is a Roman Catholic secondary school, operated by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and is a college preparatory institution.
The Knights are also in Class 3A-sized school.
“We have to share athletes,” says Turnock. “We know that not all players will make it to open gyms (or fields) when they are in-season (with another sport). But I want a kid who had to stand on the foul line and had to knock down two free throws with no time on the clock.
“Kids know who should be taking those shots or who should be at the plate in a key situation. Most kids’ self-awareness is a lot higher than people give them credit for.”
Turnock believes everyone should take part in a team sport — something that prepares them for the work world. There is teamwork and the discovery that sometimes not everyone pulls their weight.
As Marian looks toward the 2018 season, Keith Schreiber and Ryan Dainty are returnees to Turnock’s coaching staff.
“(Schreiber) is a phenomenal addition,” says Turnock of the former Glen Oaks Community College head coach and youngest son of the late Ken Schreiber. A 13-time Hall of Famer who won 1,010 games and seven state titles at LaPorte, Ken died Sept. 8 at age 83.
Dainty, Dean of Student Formation at Marian, is the head junior varsity coach.
Turnock tends to carry a large number of JV players in order to give them opportunities and a chance to get better so they can help at the varsity level.
“You never know how kids are going to develop,” says Turnock.
Walter Lehmann, a Marian graduate who was on Turnock’s staff, has become head coach at Concord High School.
Turnock says he is looking to add to his staff.
“We look at the coaches the same as the players,” says Turnock. “I don’t have an ego. The goal is to be successful as a team. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit for it.”
The Knights play in the Northern Indiana Conference. In 2017, the NIC produced a 3A state champion (South Bend St. Joseph) and 4A state runner-up (Penn).
“I’ve got a lot of respect for both of those guys,” says Turnock of St. Joe coach John Gumpf and Penn coach Greg Dikos, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s a strong conference from top to bottom. On any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”
The NIC has 13 teams (Marian, Penn, St. Joseph, Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, New Prairie, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley and South Bend Washington) and is broken into divisions.
Marian plays home-and-home games with NIC teams St. Joseph, Mishawaka and Elkhart Central and a round robin with traditionally-strong programs Fort Wayne Carroll and Northridge.
“We want to have to grind through the season,” says Turnock. “When we get into the sectional, it’s not something we haven’t seen before.”
Joe Turnock. a 1982 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, is in his sixth season as Knights head baseball coach in 2017-18. (Steve Krah Photo)