By STEVE KRAH
Max Weller did not get to have a senior baseball season at Chesterton (Ind.) High School.
Now he’s enjoying a unique diamond and educational experience in the sunny Southwest.
Batting in the No. 3 hole, the righty-swinging freshman center fielder is hitting .412 (21-of-51) with two home runs, two triples, six doubles, 23 runs batted in, 21 runs scored, 12 walks, six times hit by pitch and three stolen bases for Arizona Western College in Yuma.
The Madators (14-4) are members of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference and National Junior College Athletic Association Division I.
Max (19) is the youngest of Matt and Jennifer Weller’s three sons. Trent (23) and Sam (20) both played soccer at Chesterton.
Max decided a day or two after Christmas 2020 to transfer from Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. — where he spent the fall — to Arizona Western College (a school that also recruited him in high school). He packed up all he had at his Illinois apartment in his truck and went with his parents on a 26-hour drive.
“It was a journey out here,” says Weller. “But all for the good.
“I loved it out here. We get to practice outside reps every single day.”
Using a machine, AWC outfielders field pop-ups and work on their communication.
Most teams on the Matadors’ schedule use wood bats.
“The metal bat games would drag out too long,” says Weller. “The (wood bat) barrel is definitely smaller and does not have as much pop. But there are many truer hits and it’s so much more satisfying.”
Good wood is what 6-foot, 180-pound Weller got on the ball in the first game of a home doubleheader March 9 against Chandler-Gilbert Community College and smacked a homer over the right field fence at Walt Kamman Field. His other college bomb came in a Feb. 18 win against Northeastern in which he plated seven runs.
Weller’s lone four-bagger in high school came as a sophomore in a junior varsity win at LaPorte.
Weller played on the CHS freshmen team in 2017, moved up to JV in 2018 and was on the varsity in 2019, sharing time in right field with Tyler Nelson and at designated hitter.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell leads the Chesterton Trojans.
“He taught me the foundations of the game and how to move runners from first to second,” says Weller of Campbell. “I came to understand the concept that everybody has a role.
“You’ve got to trust the system.”
For a time in high school, Weller was called “Sunshine.” Then wearing long locks, he resembled Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from the movie, “Remember The Titans.”
COVID-19 took away spring sports in Indiana in 2020. But Weller found a summer baseball home.
Many circuits canceled their seasons, but the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., sprang up and Weller was one of a few who had not yet played past high school to participate.
“I loved it,” says Weller, who was assigned to the CSL’s A-Team. “There was a lot of good talent.”
Cole Barr, Cooper Trinkle, Daylan Nanny and Hayden Wynja were among his A-Team mates.
Weller’s weekly routine was to travel from northwest Indiana to his grandparents’ lake house in Monticello, Ind., on Sunday night and then drove back and forth for Monday and Tuesday games at Grand Park.
Weller’s says he has connections for the Grand Park or Valley League in Virginia this summer, but could land elsewhere.
“It’s about finding an opening,” says Weller.
Having chosen to attend Wabash Valley, Weller joined the Warriors in the fall of 2020. Because of the pandemic there were no outside games, but lots of intrasquad action against players bound for NCAA Division I or — in some cases — those that had already played at that level.
“I saw all these great pitches,” says Weller. “I learned how to play with a (ball-strike) count.
“We were practicing everyday for every single week. I was managing that load as student-athlete. All those reps were beneficial.”
Wabash Valley, currently ranked No. 1 in NJCAA D-I, has been led for a quarter century by Rob Fournier.
“He had a lot of knowledge on the game,” says Weller of Fournier. “He was a really personable guy, but he worked you really hard during practice.”
At Arizona Western, Drew Keehn is the head coach. Weller works closely with assistant Zeke Mitchem.
Keehn played at Central Arizona College and in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Mitchem, who played at Brown Mackie College and Tri-State University (now Trine University in Angola, Ind.) has coached at Georgia College, Henderson State University, Drexel University and Marshall University as well as in Germany, Australia and Costa Rica.
Being at AWC has also afforded Weller the opportunity to learn about many cultures and bond with young men from all over the globe.
Arizona Western College is home to international students from over 30 countries.
Besides Indiana’s Weller, there are two Matadors with hometowns in Arizona plus one each from California, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah plus seven from Dominican Republic, three from Netherlands, two from Australia, two from Saskatchewan, two from Venezuela and one each from Czech Republic and Mexico.
Weller’s roommate is Nevada’s D.J. Contreras. They share a dormitory suite with two Dominicans.
“Everyone is open-minded here,” says Weller. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of so far.”
Contreras is from Las Vegas. Weller smacked three doubles for the Matadors in a Feb. 19 trip to Vegas to play a doubleheader with the College of Southern Nevada — the same school where slugger Bryce Harper played prior to pro ball.
Associate athletic director Tim Slack calls the action — home and away — on the Arizona Western College Athletics Facebook page.
Weller is working toward an Associate Degree in Science at the two-year school. This term he is taking Calculus, Chemistry and Astronomy (online).
He takes most of his meals in the campus cafeteria.
“I load up on lunch and get the calories up,” says Weller. “You’re definitely going to burn them in practice.”
After playing in a local league, Weller started playing travel ball at 10U with he Chesterton Slammers. Uncle Brian Eaton was his head coach for three summers. The team then changed its name to the Indiana Strikers. Weller played his 14U summer with the Indiana Breakers.
Rob Kucharski was Weller’s head coach at 15U and 16U with the Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training team. That squad had many northwestern Indiana players.
At 17U, Weller played for the 18U Midwest Rangers. The Jeff Bohlen-coached team based out of Chicago Heights, Ill., featured South Central (Union Mills)’s Carson Husmann and Kyle Schmack.
That fall, Weller was with the Cangelosi Sparks with Andrew Massey as head coach and Lucas Fritsch as an assistant.
Weller split the summer of 2020 between the Grand Park league and the Midwest Irish 18U team coached by Shane Brogran.
Among Weller’s other travel teammates has been Frank Podkul, who played at Andrean High School and Franklin College.