Tag Archives: Mentoring

Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

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With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

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Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)

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World Baseball Academy teaching values, leadership in Fort Wayne and beyond

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Character values are being taught at a facility on the west side of Fort Wayne, Ind., and baseball is the platform.

Weaving Knowledge, Integrity, Perseverance, Respect, Initiative and Discipline through the four T’s of Tournaments, Team support, Training and Trips, the World Baseball Academy, located at the Academy of Sports & Health (ASH) Centre, 1701 Freeman Street, is working to “develop leaders who positively impact our world.”

A 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization which is completely self-sustained through fundraisers and grants, the WBA projects that it will serve 5,000 youths through its programs in 2017-18.

“We’re very passionate about helping young people becoming difference makers,” says WBA Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel. “Leadership development is interwoven in everything we do at the World Baseball Academy.

“My personal passion has always been youth development. We help young people recognize their potential and how to meet the needs around themselves. How do we positively serve others? Baseball just happens to be our platform. I’ve found no better outlet than sports.”

This connection helps WBA staffers and volunteers get to know the students and encourage and mentor them.

“We get them to realize that life isn’t all about us,” says Kimmel, a Homestead High School graduate who played baseball at Valparaiso University. “We get to share some life stories with kids.”

The WBA offers training through camps, clinics and personal instruction on a paid and scholarship basis.

“We want to be good at teaching (baseball skills) so we have the credibility to influence,” says Kimmel. “But we don’t grade ourselves at the World Baseball Academy on how many kids are getting college scholarships or playing pro baseball. Those things are happening and that’s great. But we grade ourselves more on how we help other people. We have those ah-ha moments when we serve and give back.

“They take those things that they learn in the game and transfer them into how to be a better dad, a better employee, a better citizen.”

About a fifth of the 5,000 served are in the On Deck initiative for at-risk students, where the WBA partners with agencies like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne to mentor young people and teach them values they can carry throughout their lives.

“It’s been humbling to see the growth and the community support,” says Kimmel. “If this was just about baseball, this project would not be successful. Community, foundation and business leaders are really seeing our heart. We want youth to be difference makers and better people.

The complex has three outdoor fields with artificial turf (and soon lights) and plenty of room for indoor training. Two fields are high school/college and the other youth/high school. There are adjustable baselines and mobile mounds that can be changed based on the level.

This year, Hoosier Classic Summer Baseball Tournaments held at the ASH Centre with some spillover to area college and high school fields will draw 220 teams (up from 150 in 2017).

At this time of the year, the idea is for local usage during the week and tournaments on the weekends.

The fields are also used in the spring by college and high school programs.

Caleb Kimmel says $3.55 million has been raised for Phase I of a $3.8 million project, which includes the new fields and earthwork for Phase II (which includes adaptive fields and partnerships with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and AWS Foundation). Seventeen acres were gutted last April.

Last year, On Deck students gained fulfillment by working with adaptive students.

“Ultimately we’re giving kids the opportunity to serve others,” says Kimmel. “They realize that it’s fun to give back and to serve.”

While the WBA has no teams of its own, many organizations use the facility.

“We are the Switzerland of Baseball in Fort Wayne,” says WBA Marketing Director Kristen Kimmel.

Established on the property in 2005, the WBA began taking its message of servant leadership through baseball to international destinations in 2006. With WBA students leading the way, the organization has served in Bulgaria, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Kenya, Lithuania and Mexico. Players from Bulgaria have even visited Fort Wayne.

Besides the Kimmels, the WBA staff includes Director of Operations Andy McManama, Tournament Director Zach Huttie, Senior Lead Baseball Instructor Ken Jones, Director of Development Linda Buskirk, Scholarship Instructor Tim Petersen, Scholarship Director Melinda Petersen and Outdoor Campus Maintenance man Bud Wolf plus several interns. These are students who get a chance to experience sports management and working on their leadership skills.

The ASH Centre is also home to Optimum Performance Sports, a training facility affiliated with Lutheran Hospital among others.

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants professional basketball team trains and practices at OPS.

State-of-the-art training is offered at Apex Golf Lab.

WBA manages the facility with its outdoor campus and building of about 40,000 square feet.

Caleb Kimmel, who played at Times Corners (now Don Ayres) Little League began helping his father, Brad, run baseball tournaments as a fundraiser for the 1993 Aboit Braves travel team.

Caleb graduated from Homestead in 1999. As a marketing major at Valpo U., his internship was building a small business, running tournaments under the name Between The Lines LLC.

Kimmel’s college coach was Paul Twenge.

“Coach Twenge really had a positive impact on my life,” says Kimmel. “After I dislocated my shoulder my freshman year, I came up to him with tears in my eyes saying I’m ready to quit and I can’t go through this again (after having some injury issues and having to rehab in high school).

“(Twenge) said, ‘I can’t let you quit.’ He had that good balance. He was a Division I coach and they’re on the hook for wins, but he also knew where kids were in life. I appreciated that balance from him.

“I had a mediocre college career, but I enjoyed the experience and struggling through those challenges helped get me to where I am today.”

Keith Potter was the Homestead coach when Kimmel was with the Spartans and later helped him with his tournaments.

“If it wasn’t for Keith I don’t know if these tournaments would have ever survived,” says Kimmel. “He was just so supportive of what we were doing. He’s been a big part of us moving this vision forward.

“I’m very grateful for the coaches I’ve had in my career.”

Around 2008, Between The Lines was dissolved and turned over all programming right to the nonprofit WBA.

“We don’t want to get so focused on dollars and cents that we lose focus on being a community asset for Fort Wayne,” says Kimmel. Just this week, the WBA hosted STEAM (science technology engineering and applied mathematics) camps to spark interest in career paths for On Deck students. “God designed you for a purpose and we can help kids understand that and help them discover those passions.

“The heart of who were are is creating servant leadership opportunities. We see the power in that. Kids see this is what matters in life.”

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The World Baseball Academy is located at 1701 Freeman Street in Fort Wayne, Ind. (WBA Photo)

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The Fort Wayne-based World Baseball Academy takes trips to other countries. (WBA Photo)WORLDBASEBALLACADEMY6

The World Baseball Academy at the ASH Centre sports new turf fields for high school/college and high school/youth are more fields are on the way. (WBA Photo)

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The World Baseball Academy fields at the ASH Centre are home to tournaments as well as local college and high school games. (WBA Photo)

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One of the four T’s at the World Baseball Academy is training. (WBA Photo)

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Mentoring kids and creating future leaders is the vision of  the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne, Ind. (WBA Photo)

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The World Baseball Academy brings smiles to the face of Fort Wayne, Ind., kids. (WBA Photo)

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Young people learn how to be mentors and leaders at the Fort Wayne-based World Baseball Academy. (WBA Photo)