Johnny Maynard is not yet sure where he’ll throw his next regular-season collegiate pitch. But he is certain how he will approach baseball. The way he always has — with a strong work ethic and bulldog mentality. “It’s how I raised by my parents,” says Maynard, who turns 22 today (June 30). “Whatever you start you have to finish. I never quit anything ever. Always go full-out. “I really don’t care who I’m competing against, I know they’re not going to beat me. I’m a 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher. I’m usually one of the smaller guys on the team. I have to work harder to the get the results and earn respect.” Maynard (rhymes with Play Hard), a 2019 Griffith (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School graduate who is now in the Transfer Portal after two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., (2020 and 2021) and one at NCAA Division I Radford (Va.) University. The Sports Management and Marketing major hurled 5 1/3 innings in six appearances for the 2022 Highlanders. Alex Guerra was hired as Radford head coach after the season. This summer, Maynard is pitching for the Coastal Plain League’s Jeremy Knight-coached Asheboro (N.C.) ZooKeepers. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Maynard uses on four-seam fastball, one-seamer, curveball and change-up. The four-seam sits 87 to 89 mph and has been up to 92. “The one-seamer (finger on just one seam) I learned this year,” says Maynard. “My two-seamer was not moving the way I wanted it to. (The one-seamer) gets pretty good movement away from a lefty and has pretty good sink to it. It works off my (circle) change-up (which is generally thrown 82 to 84 mph.” Maynard employs a curve that is 1-to-7 on the clock face. “It drops off the table pretty well,” says Maynard. Born in Munster, Ind., Maynard moved to Griffith as a sixth grader. He played in Munster and Griffith youth leagues then went into travel ball and suited up for the Northwest Indiana Shockers, Steelheads, Cobras, Slammers, Hammond Chiefs and 18U Midwest Irish. At Griffith High, Maynard played four years for Panthers coach coach Brian Jennings, starting as a freshman. “He’s a great guy,” says Maynard of Jennings, who retired after the 2022 season. Lincoln Trail coach Kevin Bowers allowed the righty got to close some games for the Statesman. One of his highlights is slamming the door on highly-ranked John A. Logan during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Maynard split the summer of 2019 between the Irish and Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. He also got in a few innings with that Whiting-based team in 2020. He was with the Tropics of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2021, which allowed him to work at home and then commute two-plus hours to games. Johnny’s mother, Jen Maynard, is a cardiac tech in northwest Indiana. Father Mike Maynard is recently-retired and living in Florida. Sister Lauren Maynard played and coached softball at Purdue Northwest and is now in nursing school.
Baseball has been kind to a young man from Salem, Ind. It’s given him moments of joy and relationships and helped him earn a college degree. Xavier Haendiges (pronounced X-avier Hen-dig-us) says he will keep the game in his life even though his playing days are behind him. “It’s been fun,” says Haendiges, a 2019 Salem High School graduate who redshirted one year, played three seasons at Ohio University and earned a Business Analytics and Marketing degree with a sales certificate this spring. “I met a lot of people I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. “Being able to play the game of baseball and compete everyday has been awesome.” Haendiges has one year of eligibility left, but has opted to move on. “I don’t think my arm could handle playing another season,” says Haendiges, who has also dealt with an ailing back. A righty-swinging middle infielder, he started in 30 of the 31 games he appeared in for the 2022 OU Bobcats. The 6-foot, 170-pounder hit .299 (26-of-81) with one triple, five doubles, six runs batted in and 20 runs scored. In three years, he played in 47 games and hit .252 (31-of-123). Haendiges, who turned 22 on June 15, plans to move to Cincinnati in a few weeks and begin a job as a remote account executive with InSight — an IT solutions company. “Being in marketing and sales keeps me in that competitive mindset,” says Haendiges. “I have to compete for customers and against other salesmen. “I want to be able to challenge myself everyday.” He’s recently taken to golf to help scratch his competitive itch. Growing up in Salem, Haendiges played in the local youth league then began travel ball around 11 with the Indiana Bulls. “It’s a great organization,” says Haendiges. “I’ve had so many opportunities. “It’s led me through so many doors.” With the Salem High Lions, Haendiges played for head coach Brett Miller. “To be a coach you have to have a good personality and love the game,” says Haendiges. “He was a great mentor and a great coach.” Haendiges also played point guard for the Salem basketball team. Xavier is the youngest of Ron and Pam Haendiges’ two sons. Trey Haendiges is 10 years older than Xavier and runs Haendiges Insurance Solutions in Salem and recently made his brother into an uncle and his parents into grandparents. Trey’s affection for the Boston Red Sox has rubbed off on his little brother. “I follow the Red Sox heavily,” says Haendiges. “I’ve been watching the College Word Series. When I move to Cincinnati, I plan to catch some Reds games as well.” Ron Haendiges works at State Farm Insurance in Salem. Pam Haendiges is a former first grade teacher at Bradie Shrum Elementary — the same school that Xavier attended.
Gunnar Pullins sees his future as an event coordinator. Graduated May 7 from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., with a Marketing degree, Pullins has job possibilities all around. “I’m open to going anywhere in the country,” says Pullins, 22. But right now the young man who has planned cornhole tournaments for festivals around northwest Indiana is getting ready for a baseball event. A senior first baseman for the ONU baseball team, Pullins and his teammates recently won the program’s third straight Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament title (not counting the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season) and earned a berth in the NAIA Opening Round. “We want to be as far from home as possible,” says Pullins. On Thursday, Pullins got his wish as the Tigers learned that they will play at the site hosted by Westmont in Santa Barbara, Calif., for the right to compete in the 2022 NAIA World Series May 27-June 3 in Lewiston, Idaho. In the Opening Round, Westmont is the No. 1 seed, Indiana University Southeast No. 2, Olivet Nazarene No. 3 and Antelope Valley (Calif.) No 4. The event is May 16-19. Pullins, a righty swinger, is hitting .358 (53-of-148) with three home runs, three triples, six doubles, 35 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. In 51 games, he sports a .955 OPS (.455 on-base percentage plus .500 slugging average) and has 11-of-14 in stolen base attempts. This is his first season at first base and even though he has another year of eligibility it’s his last as a collegiate player. “My shoulder can only take so much more,” says Pullins. “I tore my shoulder senior year of high school. “I went went from throwing hard to throwing very soft.” He was a shortstop at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School, where he graduated in 2018. He played a lot of third base at Olivet Nazarene until he came to a decision with Tigers head coach Jeff Mullikin to move to the other corner to save his arm. A teammate had done the same in 2021 and did very well. From 2019-21, Pullins got into 80 games for ONU and hit .258 (25-of-97) with no homers, one triple, three doubles, 24 RBIs and 45 runs. He had a .652 OPS (.342/.309) and was 15-of-22 in the stolen base department. In a game of adjustments, Pullins has learned to make his share. Not only changing positions. But he has learned to adjust at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch. Olivet Nazarene has not faced a pitcher with velocity approaching 90 mph in awhile and is sure to see it in the Opening Round. “It’s about getting the foot down and the hands through the (strike) zone at a certain time,” says Pullins, who is preparing with batting practice against live arms and machines. “We do a 40/90 with one of our BP throwers 40 feet away and he’s chucking it and trying to find barrels.” Velocity is one thing and then there is adjustment when the ball breaks. “There are people who throw the ball straight and there are people who have movement,” says Pullins. “It’s easier to get a barrel on it and hit it hard somewhere when it’s straight.” Born and raised in Valparaiso, Pullins played travel ball with the Lake of the Four Seasons Warriors from Crown Point/Boone Grove area then the Cougars who became the Indiana Breakers around Chesterton then the Outsiders Baseball Club with Dave Griffin (the Purdue Northwest head coach). A varsity player for three of his four years at Valparaiso, Pullins recalls the beginning of practice with Vikings head coach Todd Evans. “He called us gentlemen everyday,” says Pullins of Evans. “It was a respectful way to start off our days.” Pullins played basketball as a Valpo freshman and tennis as a junior. Once he committed to Olivet Nazarene, he spent much of his time honing his baseball skills. Why ONU? “They gave me the best opportunity to get the education I wanted,” says Pullins. “And an opportunity to play right away as a freshman.” That first season, Pullins got a few starts and plenty of pinch-hit opportunities. “I could not get into a rhythm the COVID year,” says Pullins. “As a junior, I struggled confidence-wise.” Over the summer, he played slow pitch men’s softball. “I was putting a barrel on the ball,” says Pullins. “Something switched (in baseball). It was a click.” It hasn’t been all baseball and academics for Pullins, He’s been dating the same girl for most of his time in college. “I’ve met a lot of people and played intramural (sports) prior to senior year,” says Pullins. “They have a lot of events here — like every other week.” At the beginning of the year, there’s “Ollies Follies” — games and events with classes competing against each other. “It’s a lot of fun,” says Pullins. Gunnar is the son of Bub Pullins and Samantha Cardwell. He has two sisters. Alex is older. Lyric is younger.
Franklin (Ind.) College enjoyed a 25-14 baseball season in 2021. The Grizzlies hit .299 as a team with 152 extra-base hits (45 home runs) and 87 stolen bases. Of the top eight players in at-bats, six were seniors. Franklin’s fall workouts included many newcomers. “We worked a lot on team offense and defense,” says Jake Sprinkle, who is in his second season as a Franklin assistant coach in 2021-22. “We have a lot of new faces and we want to get those guys acclimated. “We had a lot of scrimmages, letting pitchers and hitters show what they’ve got.” NCAA Division III rules restrict coach-player contact in the winter. “We don’t have individual time,” says Sprinkle. “Seniors and leaders are setting up hitting and throwing groups. They’re making velo and exit velocity jumps and getting stronger in the weight room.” Sprinkle, who works for head coach and associate director of athletics Lance Marshall, has been hitting the recruiting trail and getting plans in place and equipment ordered for the spring of 2022. The season is slated to begin Feb. 26 against Albion at Grizzly Park. “This time of year we’re getting a lot of kids on-campus,” says Sprinkle of recruiting. “We’re trying to get some guys bought-in. We’re still working on 2022 (recruiting) class and reaching out to some 2023’s we’ve seen in the past.” The Franklin website lists a 2021 roster of 45 with 40 of those hailing from Indiana. Sprinkle, who turns 26 on Dec. 28, was born and raised in the Franklin Township section of Indianapolis. He played tennis and baseball at Franklin Central High School. Twin brother Ben was his tennis doubles partner and a baseball teammate. The Flashes were coached on the diamond by John Rockey. “He was an awesome guy,” says Sprinkle of Rockey. “He brought a ton of energy to practice. He taught us what we needed to do at a younger age and prepared guys for college. “We wanted to show up and work every single day.” Jacob Wickliff (now head baseball coach at Beech Grove High School) was a Franklin Central teammate of the Sprinkle brothers. Sprinkle was a right-handed pitcher at the University of Indianapolis. As a UIndy freshman in 2015, Sprinkle went 8-2 with 2.97 earned run average. He struck out 32 and walked 11 in 63 2/3 inning. Tommy John arm surgery caused him to miss the 2016 season and he was granted a medical redshirt before pitching for the Greyhounds from 2017-19. For his four college seasons, he was 22-9 with 3.86 ERA, 179 strikeouts and 68 walks in 240 innings. Sprinkle’s first four years were spent with Gary Vaught as head coach with Al Ready moving up to be head coach his fifth year. “(Coach Vaught) was so personable,” says Sprinkle. “He made everybody feel like they were special and created a personal bond. He would make sure people knew he was there for them. “(Coach Ready) is extremely dedicated and hard-working. He’s a guy who’s going to put his best foot forward, do his research and whatever he can to win.” Landon Hutchison was the Greyhounds pitching coach Sprinkle’s last few seasons. After his college playing days, Sprinkle was briefly in the United Shore Professional Baseball League in the summer of 2019 then spent a year as a UIndy graduate assistant. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Marketing/Information Systems and a master’s degree in Sports Management from UIndy. He joined Marshall’s Franklin coaching staff in September 2020. “(Coach Marshall) is an awesome guy,” says Sprinkle. “He’s extremely hard-working and does everything the right way. “He builds a championship culture — on and off the field.” Besides recruiting, Sprinkle is in charge of Grizzlies infielders and hitters and helps with pitchers. “With our infielders, we’re big on making the routine play,” says Sprinkle. “We re-set every play. It’s about being athletic. “The hitters’ approach is about being on-time and driving the baseball in the gap.” Last summer, Sprinkle coached a 17U travel team for Mike Chitwood’s Indiana Elite organization and will be leading a 17U squad for Chad Fowler’s Powerhouse Athletics group in the summer of 2022. “I thought that’s where my path would take me,” says Sprinkle of coaching. “I was very fortunate to have a lot of great coaches. “I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.” Sprinkle comes from a baseball-loving family. He and his brother grew up being coached by their father, Tracy Sprinkle with support from mother Lori Sprinkle and sister Malorie Sprinkle (a former Franklin Central softball player who’s now a Butler University freshman). Ben Sprinkle began went to Kentucky Wesleyan College for baseball before transferring to Franklin.
Tell Jack Parisi he can’t do something and that’s just the motivation he needs. “My whole baseball career — starting in high school, people said I’m never going to play college baseball and I’m never going to throw 90 mph,” says Parisi, a right-handed pitcher who four seasons at NCAA Division III Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. (2018-21), and is now at NCAA Division I Indiana State University for a graduate transfer year in 2022. “I bundled it all up, threw it aside and went to prove all these people wrong. “Once somebody tells me a goal of mine can’t be achieved I know they’re wrong and I go to work to make it possible.” Parisi, a 2017 graduate of Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., made 41 appearances (38 starts) for Spalding, going 21-8 with four complete games and a 2.97 earned run average. He produced 269 strikeouts and 107 walks in 218 innings while holding opponents to a .215 batting average. In 2021, the 22-year-old righty made 12 starts for Eagles head coach Matt Downs and pitching coach Tayler Sheriff and was 8-3 with two complete games and a 1.67 ERA. He racked up 96 K’s and 29 walks in 75 2/3 innings and foes hit .200. “He is definitely baseball-driven and has a positive mindset,” says Parisi of Downs. “He’s a great friend who I can have trust in.” “One of my best best qualities as an athlete is I’m goal-driven and willing to put in the work to get better,” says Parisi. “I have a strong mindset — on and off the field. I’m very in-tune with everything happening around me. “I’m a pretty focused athlete.” Parisi, a 6-foot, 210-pounder, decided to take his extra year of eligibility granted because the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season, began getting calls and texts just minutes after entering the transfer portal. “I let it all come to me,” says Parisi. “Indiana State was one of the first teams to reach out to me. “They were very interested in me. This is a chance to play for a great coaching staff and great team. I want to prove that I can pitch against the best out there and get my (Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft) stock up and keep my name out there.” ISU head coach Mitch Hannahs indicated that he wanted Parisi to make a visit to the Terre Haute school’s campus as soon as possible. As a Sycamore, he gets to work with a staff of Hannahs, associate head coach Brian Smiley, assistant Brad Vanderglas and volunteer Justin Hancock while continuing to develop as a pitcher. Parisi moved to Terre Haute last week — about two weeks before the start of fall classes — to familiar himself with the ISU weight room and athletic trainers. He earned a Business Administration degree with a focus in Marketing and a minor in Communication at Spalding and plans to pursue a masters in Sport Management at Indiana State. Throwing from a low to middle three-quarter overhand arm slot, Parisi throws a four-seam cutter, sinker, change-up and two kinds of sliders. “My junior year of high school someone noticed that the ball was cutting out of my hand,” says Parisi. “I began calling my fastball a cutter.” His fastest pitch is the sinker, which has been clocked as high as 95 mph and sits at 90 to 93. He uses a “circle” change. His hard slider has a sharp bite at the end a tops out around 85 mpg. His soft slider is more of a “gyro” ball that moves across the plate like a frisbee and maxes out near 79 mph. Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Jack played from 4 until 12 at Don Ayres Little League then had travel ball stints with the Mark DeLaGarza-led Summit City Sluggers, AWP and the Javier DeJesus-coached Fort Wayne Diamondbacks. At Homestead, Parisi played for two Spartans head coaches — Steve Sotir as a freshman and Nick Byall the last three seasons. “I learned a lot from both of them,” says Parisi. “(Byall’s) a great guy and a great coach. He’s there for his players. He’s one of those teachers you can reach out to. “He’s looking out for your best interests.” During his college summers, Parisi has been with the Manatees of the Port Lucie-based Central Florida Collegiate League in 2018, Casey Harms-coached Waterloo (Iowa) Bucks of the Northwoods League in 2019 and trained with Greg Vogt at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., in 2020 and 2021. He credits his time at PRP last summer with developing his sinker and hard slider. Casa Restaurants director of operations Tom Parisi and wife Kathy Parisi have two sons — J.T. (28) and Jack. J.T. Parisi played baseball at Homestead then graduated from Indiana University and law school at Vandberbilt University. He is now a lawyer in Chicago.
Jack Perkins has decided to continue his college baseball career a little closer to home. The 2018 Kokomo (Ind.) High School graduate pitched for the University of Louisville in 2019, missed 2020 while rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery and competed again for the Dan McDonnell-coached Cardinals in 2021. Right-hander Perkins was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 39th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but chose instead to go to college. As a U of L freshman, right-hander Perkins made 16 mound appearances (four as a starter) and went 3-0 with one save and a 4.18 earned run average for a pitching staff coached by Roger Williams. In 32 1/3 innings, he struck out 37 and walked 18. One of his starts was May 14, 2019 at Indiana University. He tossed three shutout innings then faced five batters with recording an out in the fourth. Nine days later in a relief stint against Clemson, Perkins felt a tear in his elbow. Within a week, he had his operation and began his journey back. Suiting up for the Snapping Turtles, Perkins started a few times during the 2020 season of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. The righty went back to Louisville, where he completed a double major in Finance and Marketing in three years (he came out of high school with several college credits) and got into 11 games (10 as a reliever) in 2021. Perkins was 1-1 with one save and a 7.31 ERA. He fanned 15 and walked 22 in 16 innings. Perkins, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, competed for the CSL’s Turf Monsters at the beginning of this summer then waited to see if he was chosen in the 2021 MLB Draft (he was not). He also opted to change schools. His final three choices coming out of high school were Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana. This week, Perkins announced that he is transferring to IU where he will work with Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer, pitching coach Justin Parker and will be reunited with assistant and former Indiana Bulls coach Dan Held. Jack visited Indiana and the pitcher came away impressed with Mercer and Parker. “I made a great connection right away,” says Perkins, 21. “They’re great people as well as great coaches. My dad (Scott) came with me on the visit and thought the same thing.” Perkins was with the Bulls n his 13U to 17U summer, including 16U with Held as head coach and Alex Graman as pitching coach. “Dan Held is great guy,” says Perkins. “I loved playing for Dan. I’ve been close with him since high school. “I’m very grateful for the Bulls organization and all they’ve done for me.” Perkins, whose family moved to Westfield after he left high school, has been working with former big league pitcher Graman and Dr. Jamey Gordon at Pro-X Athlete Development at Grand Park the past couple of years. It also helped Perkins in his decision to transfer to Indiana that already knew many Hoosiers players from competing with or against them in travel ball or in the College Summer League. Perkins and Parker have already had conversations about “tunneling” each delivery from his high three-quarter overhand arm slot so the batter can’t tell the difference between his four-seamer, two-seamer, change-up, curveball or cutter coming out of his hand. “We want to get all my pitches coming out of the same spot to create a little more deception and swing and miss,” says Perkins. “We’re feeding everything off the fastball.” Perkins’ four-seam fastball sits at 94 to 97 mph and hit 99 in the spring. At its best, Perkins’ change-up has been recorded on Trackman with 20 inches of vertical break and 14 inches of horizontal. He describes his curve as having slurve action. “It’s pretty hard and steep with a lot of late break,” says Perkins of a pitch he tends to throw in the 82 to 86 mph range. The cutter is a pitch that Perkins has used to get out of jams with ground balls and quick outs. It has been clocked at up to 95 mph and can break in on left-handed hitters for weak contact or even broken bats. Since his undergraduate work is complete, Perkins has the option of pursuing a masters or a graduate certificate. While he secures an apartment in Bloomington, registers for classes and waits for his transfer to process so he can go on campus, Perkins is honing in Westfield. “My goal to stay in shape, have a clean slate in the fall and get to work,” says Perkins, who has two years of remaining college eligibility. Perkins was born and raised in Kokomo. He played T-ball through age 12 at what is now UCT Baseball. At Kokomo High, Perkins played football for Wildcats head coach Brett Colby and baseball for Kats bench boss Sean Swan. “They are the favorite coaches I’ve ever played for,” says Perkins of Colby and Swan. “They invested in you as a person and a player. They took the invest in you as a person and a player. They took the extra effort to show why they care about you. “There were tons of life lessons.” Scott Perkins was a football player at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. His wife, Carrie, studied nursing at DePauw University. Scott and Carrie have three children — Caitie, Jack and Brooklyn. Caitie started at IU-Bloomington, transferred to IU-Kokomo is on a path to being a nurse practitioner. Guatemala-born Brooklyn was adopted at a young age. She is entering her freshman year at Guerin Catholic High School in Carmel, Ind.
Clay Woeste just played in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, where he made the all-tournament team as Indiana University Southeast’s starting second baseman and lead-off hitter. The NAIA Ball Podcast selected righty swinger Woeste (.374, 8 home runs, 21 runs batted in, 89 runs scored, 38 stolen bases and a 1.053 OPS) as second-team All-America and Grenadiers head coach Ben Reel as National Coach of the Year. While finishing fifth in its first World Series appearance, IUS went 50-16 overall and 26-1 in the River States Conference. At 22, Woeste (pronounced Wee-Stee) can look back on many baseball memories. “It was surreal,” says Woeste of playing in Lewiston. “That’s the best way to describe it. “That’s all we ever talked about and we were finally there.” But once the games began, it was all-business for the Grenadiers. “We would do what you’ve been doing all year,” says Woeste. “Our guys were so special to be around. “No matter what was thrown our way we found a way to get through it.” During the season, shortstop Daunte DeCelllo went out with an injury and Woeste moved to that side of the infield. DeCello came back at the end of year then RSC Player of the Year Matt Monahan got hurt and missed the postseason. Yet IUS just kept going. “No matter what was thrown our way we found a way to get through it,” says Woeste. Reel, who just completed his 13th campaign at the school in New Albany, has built a national power with limited resources. “He has the ability to recruit amazing guys and he does with only one scholarship,” says Woeste. “It’s amazing. “We work really hard in the fall and when we go out in the spring he just lets us play. We reap what we sow.” Woeste considers his athletic quality to be the work ethic and durability that has helped him stay on the field day in and day out. “I keep my body healthy,” says Woeste, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder. That body has stolen 89 bases in 97 attempts from 2018-21. “My sophomore year I came into my own stealing bases (swiping 34-of-34),” say Woeste. “Coach Reel saw that and started leading off all the time and I was pretty much given the green light.” Woeste was supposed to play in the Coastal Plain League in the summer of 2020 but when the COVID-19 pandemic caused that loop to shutdown he took on with the Thoroughbreds in the Louisville Collegiate League, which played most its games at Trinity High School. This summer, Woeste is with the CPL’s Holly Springs (N.C.) Salamanders, coached by Kevin Soine. With a double major (Professional Selling and Marketing) and a minor (Communication) already completed, he plans to return to IU Southeast for his pandemic-related extra year of baseball eligibility. The diamond has been a big part of his life all these years. But that was not his first sport. Clay had his hand on the throttle before he really had his hand on a bat. At 5, he was racing 50 cc machines in motocross. His parents — Matt and Karen Woeste — moved from northern Kentucky to Aurora, Ind., so fourth grader Clay could ride on a track owned by the family of Ezra Hastings (who is now a professional motocross racer). Since there was no motocross in the winter, Clay played basketball in the winter. His hoops coach — Bill Rose — persuaded him to play in what is now called Aurora Youth Baseball. “I never really turned back after that,” says Woeste, who raced until 11 and placed in the top three twice and won at the Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., then turned more and more attention to the diamond. When he reached middle school, Woeste played for the Cincinnati Tribe travel organization. During his high school years, he was with Reds RBI team coached by Roosevelt Barnes, father of Tribe teammate R.J. Barnes. “We got close and I went with him,” says Clay of R.J. Roosevelt Barnes is now also the head baseball coach at LaSalle High School in Green Township, Ohio. Woeste played briefly during his senior summer for the Midland RedHawks and then that fall with the Midland Redskins. After attending South Dearborn schools for grades 4-8 and transferred to Lawrenceburg (Ind.) High School as a freshman and played four baseball seasons for Tigers head coach Nick Tremain. “He was a great coach with us,” says Woeste. “My freshmen year he was more hands-on and harder. He developed us so that by the time we were seniors we just went out and played “That’s why we were so good our senior year.” In 2017, Lawrenceburg (31-2) won the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference and IHSAA Class 3A South Dearborn Sectional then topped Boonville 7-5 in the semifinals of the North Harrison Regional before bowing 4-2 to eventual state champion Jasper in the final.
Wyatt Geesaman is seeking other baseball opportunities and he’s honing his pitching skills in the College Summer League at Grand Park. A 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher, Geesman graduated from Jay County High School in Portland, Ind., in 2019 and began his college experience at the University of Cincinnati, where he made two mound appearances in two years. The former Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant is now in the NCAA Transfer Portal. “I’m looking around and seeing what is a good fit,” says Geesaman, who is with the CSL’s Caleb Fenimore-coached Bag Bandits in 2021 after twirling for the Park Rangers in the circuit’s inaugural season of 2020. “I go out there and try to compete. “I focus on that pitch and try not to let what happened before effect me or what happens next.” Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., is about a 90-minute trip from Portland. Geesaman does his training at home and travels on gameday. Geesaman identifies the area where he’s improved most since his Jay County days. “I’m more consistent,” says Geesaman. “In high school I was kind of wild. I’ve settled down a little bit.” Delivering from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot, Geesaman throws a four-seam fastball which sits at 85 to 89 mph and has been up to 92. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball and a “circle” change-up. Beginning in high school, Geesaman began pitching from the stretch even with the bases empty “It simplified things a little bit,” says Geesaman. At Jay County, Geesaman played for veteran coach Lea Selvey. “I love him,” says Geesaman of Selvey. “He’s a great guy to play for. He still helps me out today if I need help.” Geesaman, 20, was born in Muncie, Ind., grew up in Portland and played his first organized baseball in the Redkey (Ind.) Junior League. At 10, he switched to travel ball and was with the Indiana Longhorns, Summit City Sluggers and Indiana Prospects before spending his high school summers with the Indiana Bulls. Geesaman earned four baseball letters for the Patriots — tossing a perfect game with 18 strikeouts helping his team to a sectional title as a senior. Jay County won conference, sectional and regional titles his junior season. He also played forward in basketball and receiver in football for JC. At Cincinnati, Geesaman was working toward at Marketing degree. Jeff and Lisa Geesaman have two sons — Jacob (a 2021 Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology graduate) and Wyatt. The Bag Bandits are scheduled to play a single game with the Turf Monsters at 7:05 p.m. Sunday, June 20 at Championship Park in Kokomo and a 3 p.m. doubleaheader against the Park Rangers on Monday, June 21 at Grand Park.
The two maintained a relationship and Cheek came back to town as an assistant to head coach Howard at Indiana University Kokomo. The 2021 season will be his third with the Cougars.
“I love it,” says Cheek of working with the energetic Howard. “He will push you day in and day out to be a better leader on or off the field.
“What I enjoy most about him is he gives freedom (to his assistants) as if we were in-charge. I can make the pitching program my own. There is trust my abilities.”
Cheek, 26, is not only IUK’s pitching coach but he leads the program’s academic supervision and community service and helps with camps.
At pitching coach, he looks for aggressiveness and competitiveness.
“What we strive to do is attack hitters,” says Cheek. “We recruit a lot of guys who are athletes that go out and compete. They piece it together inning by inning and put up zeros.”
Cheek wants his hurlers to trust their defense.
“We have plenty of gold glovers on the field so pound the zone,” says Cheek. “Execution is big for us.”
Knowing that not all pitchers are the same, Cheek looks to get each one to identify what makes them successful.
“Every guy is going to have different pitches and different sequences that they throw,” says Cheek, who knows some will around 90 mph with their fastball while others will have to pitch backwards, starting with a breaking ball and spotting their fastball.
“It’s about letting them know their success and know what they have to bring to the table,” says Cheek. “When they take pride int he role they have that’s where you start to see success.”
About half way through fall practice, IUK pitchers (a group that includes Ryan’s brother, Kacey Cheek) are currently in COVID-19 quarantine.
“It’s been a tough fall,” says Cheek. “It make guys see the picture of how they approach each day with an appreciation and a full passion for the game.”
That can be said of the whole squad, which includes returning college players who had their spring season cut short and incoming freshmen who had their senior high school seasons canceled.
Cheek and the other IUK coaches encourage them to respect the game but also have passion.
“Show up with a chip on their shoulder,” says Cheek. “Keep a goal in mind each day and don’t let a day pass.”
Because of the pandemic, the NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to those who want to use it.
Among those back to lead the Cougars are right-handed pitcher Renton Poole (at Bloomington High School South graduate who was selected in the 28th round of the 2018 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers but opted to stay in college) and infielder Austin Weiler.
While being aware of contact tracing, IUK baseball coaches work to separate players on the field and in the weight room. With pitchers away, there are a number of machine scrimmages.
“We’ll have developmental work and one-on-one work when pitchers come back,” says Cheek.
As an academic supervisor, Cheek makes sure players are keeping up their grades up. He stays in-touch with professors and sets study table hours.
“They’re coming to IUK to get an IU degree and play baseball,” says Cheek. “The goal is to get these guys to where they want to go in life.
“My goal is to make sure they’re reaching their goals in the classroom.”
IUK students are currently taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After Thanksgiving to the end of the semester that will be all online.
While COVID-19 regulations and protocols has limited what players can do at the moment, there was plenty of community service with local groups last fall. Cheek says that each team member did up to 25 hours in the fall while meeting Kokomo know they care.
Mitch Hannahs was the head coach and Jordan Tiegs the pitching coach at ISU.
Cheek went to youth camps run by Hannahs when the latter was coaching at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played under,” says Cheek of Hannahs. “He understands the game and knows how to compete.
“He helped me grow as a player and a person.”
Tiegs, who is now a coach in the Rangers organization, had an impact on Cheek.
“He was really smart and knew how to develop guys,” says Cheek of Tiegs. “He really sparked my interest about what a routine meant and entailed — throwing everyday, arm health, your body moving correctly and competing at a high level.”
Cheek appreciates his time with Vincennes head coach Chris Barney.
“He knew the game,” says Cheek of Barney. “He was a little Old School, but I loved it.”
The term “JUCO bandit” is used in baseball circles these days. Cheek tells what it means to him.
“They are guys who are hard-nosed and a little blue collar,” says Cheek. “It was a really good fit for myself to go junior college route. I learned a lot about myself — who I am as a person and player.”
Without the time restrictions of the NCAA and NAIA, junior college players have the chance to spend plenty of time working on their craft.
“We had a fall and spring season and a lot of competition,” says Cheek. “You’d get out of class and then be at the field for six hours at a time.
“We learned what ‘no off days’ meant,” says Cheek. “You didn’t get many.”
Cheek grew up in Oblong, which is Crawford County about 20 miles from the Indiana line and Sullivan County, Indiana.
The 2012 OHS graduate played golf for coach Jason Hartke, basketball for coach Brent Harper and baseball for coach Dave Miller.
Richard and Kelly Cheek have three children — Ryan, Kacey (20) and Lincoln Trail College freshman Katie (18).
“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.
“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”
Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.
“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”
Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings.
Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.
“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”
Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.
Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases.
Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases.
The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.
“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”
In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.
At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.
“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”
Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.
Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.
“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”
Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).
When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.
“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.
“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”
Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.
Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.