Tag Archives: Michigan City

American Legion Baseball in Indiana experiences more boom than doom

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a state teaming with travel teams, Indiana is keeping American Legion Baseball alive.

“It’s getting better,” says Indiana American Legion Baseball chairman and longtime Rockport Post 254 manager Owen Wells of the 19-U program. “We were in a slump for awhile.”

A decade ago, Legion ball fielded around 65 teams. When the money started moving away from American Legion Baseball and toward travel ball, the number of teams was cut in two.

“It used to be that it seemed the parents thought the more they spent, the better their kids were going to be,” says Wells. “Now, it seems they’re seeing that maybe that’s not true.

“They see a lot better competition than they do in high school or travel ball … You have to go by the rules or you don’t play American Legion ball. It’s as simple as that. We protect our kids, coaches, the program.”

With almost a half century in American Legion Baseball, Wells is quick to sing it’s praises.

“We have a structured program,” says Wells. “We have an eight-team state tournament. The best of that goes to the national regional tournament. The winner of that goes on the Shelby, N.C. for the World Series.

“Once you win your state tournament, national picks up all your fees — your travel, meals, hotel rooms. You get on a travel team and you can go to 10 World Series and each one of them costs parents X amount of dollars.”

Wells is proud of the organization of American Legion Baseball in Indiana. At the end of each season, officials meet to discuss things that went right and things that need to be changed.

“We don’t let things linger on,” says Wells.

American Legion Baseball has a code of sportsmanship: “I will keep the rules; Keep faith with my teammates; keep my temper; Keep myself fit; Keep a stout heart in defeat; Keep my pride under in victory; Keep a sound soul; A clean mind; and and healthy body.”

The 2016 ALB World Series drew well over 100,000 for five days and the last two games were broadcast live by ESPN. This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 10-15. As is tradition, the ALB World Series winner will be the guest of Major League Baseball for the second game of its World Series.

Wells notes that ALB also provides full-coverage insurance and requires background checks for its coaches. There is also now a pitch count rule — similar to the one now used by the IHSAA.

Players are also eligible to apply for a statewide scholarship.

There are on boundaries or restrictions when recruiting travel ball players. By rule, all ALB teams have to draw their players from high schools that do not exceed a total of 5,000 enrollment. Rockport tends to get its players from South Spencer and a number of other small schools in southern Indiana and the Owensboro, Ky., area.

The first Indiana ALB state champion (Indianapolis) was crowned in 1926. Branford Post 140 reigned as the second kings of Indiana Legion ball in 1928.

Ever since, a state champion has emerged. The 2016 state winner (Rockport Post 254) advanced to the 90th ALB World Series.

There was some coming and going in between seasons. Notably, there is no Muncie Post 19 Chiefs or Plymouth Post 27 Diamond Spyders squads this summer. Both are past state champions.

South Bend Post 50 was Indiana’s only American Legion World Series champion in 1977 and 40-year anniversary festivities are planned in July. But there will be no Post 50 unit on the field this season.

But there are new teams, including Region Legion Expos squads in northwest Indiana. Legion baseball is filling the gap left by the elimination of Little League’s Big League division (18-and-under) in Indiana.

The 2017 slated opened with 44 approved registrants (30 senior, 14 junior).

According to state commander Joe Kusiak, senior teams i(19-and-under) include Attica Post 52, Boonville Post 200, Brazil Clay County Post 2, Bristol Post 143, Cicero Post 341, Clinton Post 140, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Evansville Eugene Pate Post 265, Greene County Eagles, Highland Post 180, Jasper Post 147, Kokomo Post 6, Lafayette Post 11, Lake Village Post 375 Spartans, Liberty Post 122 Patriots, Madison Post 9, Mike Miller Post 94/37, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Princeton Post 25, Region Legion Expos 1, Region Legion Exposure Expos, Region Legion Expos 3, Rockport Post 254, Rockville Post 48, Seymour Post 89, South Bend Post 357, Sullivan Post 139, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94.

Junior clubs (age 17-and-under) are Boonville Post 200 Juniors, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Greene County Eagles, Jasonville Post 172, Kokomo Post 6, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Michigan City Post 37 Wolves, Region Legion Expos 4, Richmond Post 65, Rockport Post 254, Rockport Post 254 Cubs, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94 Junior Vikings.

There will be no sectionals, but eight regionals leading to the eight-team state tournament in Terre Haute July 21-25 (Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo will serve as host sites). The state tournament rotates north and south above and below I-70. The 2016 event was staged in Kokomo.

Tim Hayes is in his second season of leading Terre Haute Post 346 after taking over for his brother John. In 31 seasons, John Hayes amassed a record of 930-390 with 28 sectionals, 12 regionals, seven state championships, one Great Lakes Regional title and three regional runner-up finishes. The 2006 team placed second at the ALB World Series.

The local aspect of Legion ball is attractive to Tim Hayes.

“You can still have competitive teams that are community-based in my opinion,” says Hayes, who draws his 2017 roster from Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South, West Vigo and Marshall, Ill. (one player) and plans to play 35-40 games with trips to Missouri and Tennessee. “There are still kids and parents out there that are believers. We’ve been fortunate here that we’ve been able to keep the largest percent of our A and B level players (Post 346 alums include big leaguers like Josh Phegley and A.J. Reed). Our program is rich in tradition. (Players) want to represent our community and our veterans. How long it will last is hard to say.”

A 501 (c) 3 organization raises money for the Post 346 program.

Dave Shinn is in his second year as manager of Mike Miller Post 34-97, a Michigan City-based team. His father, Al Shinn, was involved with ALB, Michiana Amateur Baseball League and Connie Mack Baseball League teams for decades and had played and managed in the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers organizations. Al Shinn died in 2016.

The younger Shinn expects his team to play about 25 regular-season games (with no overnight trips) plus the postseason. He likes the quality of baseball and the pace.

“Once I got into it, I really enjoyed the competition,” says Dave Shinn. “Five or six games in a weekend is too much baseball. You can’t learn that much when you’re playing that much.”

Post 34/97 draws its players from Michigan City, Marquette Catholic, LaPorte, Chesterton, Westville and South Central (Union Mills), plays home games at Marquette with about a dozen players active for each contest.

“We try to keep all the kids active,” says Shinn.

To raise money for Valparaiso Post 94, general manager Kusiak has sold commemorative Chicago Cubs World Series bats made by Valpo-based Hoosier Bat Co.

Bristol Post 143 manager Jim Treadway has brought his team back to Elkhart Central for home games after moving around Elkhart County for home fields. Like many Indiana ALB teams, Bristol has produced many players who went on to play college or pro baseball. Ryan Strausborger made his MLB debut in 2015.

OWENWELLSAMLEGION

Owen Wells is a longtime manager of Rockpost American Legion Post 254’s baseball team and is the Indiana baseball chairman. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaPorte has three dozen IHSAA sectional baseball championships to its credit.

But the Slicers had experienced a title drought.

Until 2017.

The orange and black will not only be hosting but playing in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional for the first time since 2010.

Coach Scott Upp’s team earned that right by winning the Plymouth Sectional.

“Pitching and defense — that was the story of the sectional,” says Upp, who got commanding mound performances from Andy Samuelson and Chandler Banic. “We didn’t knock the cover off the ball. We got timely hits.”

LaPorte advanced through the sectional by beating South Bend Clay, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“All three of those programs are well-known throughout northern Indiana,” says Upp.

The regional field at Schreiber Field features Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) in Game 1, Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) in Game 2 and the regional final at night Saturday, June 3. Andrean is No. 6 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association 4A poll. LaPorte, Lake Central and Penn all received votes.

Between the four schools, they have won 18 state crowns (LaPorte 8, Andrean 5, Penn 4 and Lake Central) 1).

Upp knows from his experience as a LaPorte player (he’s a 1986 graduate who played for and later coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber) knows about the intensity and urgency of postseason baseball.

“You have your regular season and your second season,” says Upp. “If you can get hot or be playing your best ball at that time.”

LaPorte lost to Chesterton in the regular-season finale, but took the time between then and their sectional games and “got back to the basics.”

“We got individual time in with defense and hitting,” says Upp. “Our pitchers got a chance to breathe a little bit.”

Getting that chance to practice and refresh is just what the Slicers needed going into the sectional.

While LaPorte has won plenty of sectionals, Upp notes that it has become a tougher proposition since the class system came along with the 1998 season (the year he took over for Schreiber 11 games in).

With all the state’s biggest schools and, in the case of Andrean (playing “up” in class because of the IHSAA success factor, postseason success is not a given.

“We seem to have different sectional champs every year and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Upp. “It’s good baseball.

“I’m not making excuses for LaPorte and why we’ve had a seven-year span. It is more difficult.”

Upp calls IHSAA state tournament games “a rough way to go.”

“In high school baseball, you take one guy on the mound and that team becomes totally different,” says Upp. “And it’s a one-and-done tournament.”

There are no series or second chances.

The coach notes that there are not too many back-to-back champions in the Duneland Athletic Conference (which also includes Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso) either.

The 2017 Slicers were tied for first place in the DAC going into the final two games with Chesterton. LaPorte lost both games against Chesterston and split two games each with Crown Point, Lake Central and Valparaiso, finishing 9-5 and in fourth in the conference.

Chesterton won it at 11-3 (then lost to Andrean in the Chesterton Sectional championship game).

It’s all-Slicer coaching staff at LaPorte. Everyone played their high school baseball on Schreiber Field.

Jeff DeMass (Class of 2005) is the pitching coach. Rob Schellinger (1998) has moved up from the junior varsity to be a varsity assistant. Mark Manering (1981) is a volunteer varsity coach. The JV Slicers are led by Kevin Upp (2010) with help from Blake Hindsley (2005).

The rich traditions of the program are detailed in a book, Slicer Baseball: A Cut Above (produced by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest) and sold by LaPorte High School.

SCOTTUPP

Scott Upp, a 1986 LaPorte High School graduate, has been the Slicers’ head baseball coach since early in the 1998 season. His 2017 team will play in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional. (Steve Krah Photo)

Outlook on baseball, life changes for Crown Point’s Strayer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Discipline and dedication are still important to Steve Strayer.

Crown Point High School’s head baseball coach (2017 is his 15th season) holds to the concepts that’s made him successful (the Bulldogs have won seven sectionals, five regionals and six Duneland Athletic Conference titles on Strayer’s watch).

“We have to keep kids accountable. That’s important,” says Strayer. “The way the culture is today, people look the other way on things. That doesn’t do us any good as a society.

“I believe in being disciplined. But I’ve been a little less rigid.”

On March 18, 2016, Strayer’s outlook changed when he suffered a stroke.

“I didn’t have to go through any rehab or speech therapy,” says Strayer. “I was fortunate I recovered so well. I think I missed a week.”

Strayer, who is also a math teacher at CPHS, went through the season and school year before he realized his level of fatigue.

“I felt fine, but as the year went on, I was getting worn out and I didn’t realize how worn out I was,” says Strayer. “Once the season was over with, I really had to recuperate.”

With time to rest and the help of his wife Jennifer (they will be married 20 years in 2017), Strayer is close to feeling like his old self at 50 and in his 27th overall season as a coach.

“I feel very good,” says Strayer. “I’m very sharp mentally. I don’t think I was very sharp last year. I wasn’t always aware of the little things.”

He just makes sure to get 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

Helping the Dogs alone are a coaching staff full of Region graduates — Matt McCaleb varsity (Chesterton Class of 1997), Brett Keeler varsity (Munster 2009), Matt Zurbriggen (Crown Point 2009) with the varsity, Dave Hoffman (Crown Point 2006) and Austin Atherton (Crown Point 2011) with the junior varsity and Scott Retig (Crown Point 1985) and Steve Lowe (Crown Point 2011) with the freshmen. Former assistant Jose Andrade (Crown Point 2011) has also had a big impact in recent seasons. Zubriggen, Hoffman, Atherton, Lowe and Andrade all played at CP for Strayer while Retig played for Ed Sherry.

The Bulldogs tend to carry 15-18 players per team. Strayer says the number depends players being able to accept their responsibilities within the team structure.

“We constantly monitor and talk with our players about their roles,” says Strayer. “Some of them are not happy with the roles, but they are a good teammate and fulfill the role. A lot of times, we will cut a decent player because we know they will not be happy with being a role player.”

Crown Point is a baseball-crazy community.

“A lot of the parents and kids are into it,” says Strayer. “It’s very competitive. They’re playing a lot of games and trying to improve their skills.”

Cal Ripken and travel teams often practice at the high school fieldhouse. Players also attend summer and winter camps put on by CPHS.

With Chesterton, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso in the DAC, Crown Point needs to stay on top of its game to stay in the title mix.

“You have to have some discipline on the baseball field to be able to compete,” says Strayer. “All of these other schools have a lot of talent also.”

Strayer-coached clubs strive to be proficient with base running, defense, drawing walks and bunting.

“Doing the little things can get you over the top,” says Strayer. “My better teams have always done those teams well.”

Strayer takes pride in having developed strong players and productive citizens. CP has produced its share of academic all-staters.

“Year after year, we have very competitive, hard-working teams,” says Strayer. “We get a lot of classy individuals that go on to (college) and prosper.”

Before arriving at Crown Point, Strayer was head coach at Boone Grove for 10 seasons. During the span, the Wolves took six sectional, four regional and seven Porter County Conference crowns. A highlight of Strayer’s career came in 1996 when BG beat LaPorte 3-2 in the championship game of the LaPorte Regional.

“That was probably my most exciting win,” says Strayer, who was 29 at the time and going against Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber. “They were pretty loaded.

“I was very young and naive and didn’t know what I was doing.”

Strayer, a former IHSBCA president and district representative, graduated from Prairie Heights High School in 1985. He attended Calvin College for one year and transferred to Manchester University, where he graduated in 1990. He was an assistant for two seasons at Prairie Heights before taking over at Boone Grove.

STEVESTRAYER

Steve Strayer is in his 15th season as head baseball coach at Crown Point High School, 25th as a head coach and 27th overall. (Crown Point Photo)