By STEVE KRAH
Hammond (Ind.) Central High School’s first baseball season in 2022 will come under the leadership of head coach Michael Caston.
The 1998 Hammond High graduate has set a path for the Wolves.
“We have a philosophy we’re going to follow,” says Caston. “You have to learn and buy into the philosophy to be successful.”
Caston, who was head coach at Hammond Gavit following stints as a Calumet College of St. Joseph assistant and assistant then head coach at Chicago State University, breaks his philosophy into offense, defense, pitching and base running.
“Early in the count we’re looking to drive fastballs in the strike zone,” says Caston of his hitting theory. “I believe in ‘back spin’ baseball.’ The ball travels father and we hit it into the gaps.
“We want to get front foot down early to create base. As the front foot gets down, you load your hands and transfer your weight to explode on the ball. We keep the barrel of the bat up and take the shortest path to the ball. That creates your launch angle.”
Knowing that there is a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) in high school, Caston expects an attack mentality.
“If you have a good fastball, throw fastballs early in the county,” says Caston. “We we’re not going to waste any pitches. Why throw curveballs when nobody has hit your fastball yet?
“We like to pound the zone with fastballs early.”
With a dozen juniors and seniors and a mix of right-handers and left-handers in a group of 26 players (varsity and junior varsity), Caston expects them to carry the load for the Wolves and that includes on the mound.
“Defensively, it’s very simple,” says Caston. “If you can catch it and throw it, you’re going to be very successful.”
He has been teaching his players backhand and glove-side techniques as well as situational defense.
He wants his defenders to know what to do with the ball when it’s put in-play and practice reflects that.
“In the game it becomes natural to them,” says Caston. “In our system everyone knows they have a job on every play.”
Caston wants his Wolves to play a “very exciting brand of baseball” and that includes aggressiveness on the base paths.
“I like to advance runners various ways,” says Caston. “We don’t move runners by bunting. I pride myself in having players reading balls in the dirt before they even hit the dirt. We like to utilize fake bunt-and-steal.
“We’re very aggressive on the base paths on hits to the outfield. We want to force the (opposing defense) to make a clean play.”
Caston has been pleased at his player’s eagerness to learn.
“It’s a total change for most of the kids I’m coaching,” says Caston. “They’re amazed at all the new things they’ve been learning. They’ve learned to change their old habits to the new philosophy.
“They’re catching on pretty quickly.”
Hammond Central assistant coaches are Albert Carpen and Erick Chavarria at the varsity level and Michael Korba with the JV. All three are graduates of Hammond Clark High School. Carpen played for Caston at Chicago State and Chavarria at MacMurray College. Carpen was among the top hitters in NCAA Division I in 2012 when he posted an average of .426 and on-base percentage of .522.
Hammond High was razed to make way for the new Hammond Central and Clark was also closed, leaving the School City of Hammond with two high schools — Central and Morton.
In 2022, Hammond Central will play baseball home games at Gavit. A new field is planned on the Central campus.
Hammond Central’s first college baseball commit is Anthony Huber to Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill.
Most Hammond Gavit players landed at Morton. Among those getting collegiate looks is Ryan Peppers.
The feeder system includes Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth, Hammond Optimist Youth Sports and Hessville Little League plus various travel ball organizations.
Hammond Central (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side and Hammond Morton).
Each GLAC team meets twice.
The Wolves are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland (2022 host), Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster.
Among opponents not in the GLAC or sectional are Bowman Academy, Calumet Christian, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Hammond Bishop Noll, River Forest and Whiting.
Caston, a middle infielder growing up, played three seasons for George Malis and his senior year for Greg O’Donnell at Hammond High. He was a pitcher at Valparaiso (Ind.) University for head coach Paul Twenge.
“I was a young kid on a veteran team,” says Caston of his freshmen season at Hammond. “Coach Malis said ‘go out there and do your thing and focus on hitting the ball up the middle.’ I took those words to hear and executed what he told me.”
In his first year of college, famed pitching coach Tom House came in for a week and Caston adopted some of House’s ideas about mechanics.
Caston teaches Integrated Chemistry and Physics in his first year at Morton. He taught at Gavit for four.
Michael has been married to Tina Caston for five years and has three stepsons — Nathan (20), William (13) and Lukas (12). William plays football and baseball, Lukas soccer and baseball.