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Barney’s spent decade leading Vincennes U. baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Student-athletes are constantly coming and going. That’s the nature of junior college sports.

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at one such two-year institution — Vincennes (Ind.) University.

“I enjoy the challenge,” says Barney. “I enjoy the aspect of recruiting. You’re always looking for the next best thing.”

A poor team can get better quickly with a solid recruiting class.

‘I’m often asked, what are you looking for in college baseball? Bats play. If you can swing the pole, you’re going to play at the junior college level.”

VU’s stated mission is “to provide associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of academic and occupational majors leading to entry to a four-year university or to the workforce.”

Vincennes serves more than 17,000 at its various locations with about a third of that number at the main campus.

“It’s not the typical junior college,” says Barney. “It has a mid-major collegiate feel.”

The goal of the baseball program is to place student-athletes with a place to play at a four-year college. As of last week, 96 Vincennes players had moved on during the decade that Barney’s been in charge, including 32 to NCAA Division I, many to NCAA D-II and NAIA and a few to NCAA D-III.

Barney sees players choose the junior college route for many reasons. Among them are cost, grade issues, level of play, the chance to play right away or be drafted by Major League Baseball and not have to wait to turn 21 or play three seasons like is required at four-year schools.

The Trailblazers’ core beliefs revolve around faith, family, school and baseball.

“It’s like a three-ring circus of academics, athletics and the social scene,” says Barney of Vincennes campus life. “You have to have self-discipline and time management skills. You prioritize where you want to spend your time and what you want to get accomplished out of college.

“You can obtain your full potential as a player. That’s what junior college offers guys.”

Junior college players are allowed to practice more often that those at other levels.

All the time with the team allows individuals to built work ethic, character and emotional stability and, hopefully, have a positive experience.

“It’s an opportunity to get better,” says Barney. “There’s always obstacles and challenges for guys, where it’s an injury, a class, a teammate or playing time. But they learn the fundamental game of baseball.”

School rules say Vincennes freshmen must stay in campus housing. Sophomores have the choice to live on-campus or off-campus. Barney says there’s about a 50-50 split for his current sophomore class.

Barney, who is assisted by Hank Lopez and Matt Goebel, started out with 37 players in the fall and took 31 into the spring.

Almost all of those have hometowns in Indiana.

Until a couple of years ago, Indiana was Barney’s recruiting base. Such scholarship money is based on in-state tuition.

With the favorable rates and so many Illinois junior college baseball programs as opposed to Indiana (which now has three — Vincennes, Ancilla College and Ivy Tech Northeast), plenty of Indiana players choose to play junior college baseball in Illinois.

But Illinois has been opened up so that VU can offer students there a cost similar to what they would get in-state.

“I hope to drive up the price of poker in Illinois for some of those guys,” says Barney of landing Illinois players for the VU program.

Rules allow junior colleges to play 20 games against outside competition in the fall. Vincennes also plays about 10 intrasquad games. There are 56 regular-season games in the spring.

That’s a lot of innings to cover so Barney typically carries 16 to 18 pitches, some of whom also play other positions.

“I love those guys,” says Barney. “If they can be successful at both, it’s well worth or time and energy to put the effort into that.”

The Trailblazers are in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 24. The region is made up of nine Mid-West Athletic Conference members — Vincennes plus Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, Heartland Community College (Normal, Ill.), Illinois Central College (East Peoria, Ill.), John Wood Community College (Quincy, Ill.), Lewis & Clark Community College (Godfrey, Ill.), Lincoln Land Community College (Springfield, Ill.), Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.) and Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.).

Vincennes went into play April 3 at 15-12 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

There is a 32-game conference schedule. The top eight teams go to the MWAC tournament. The winner advances to the NJCAA D-II World Series (May 25-June 1 in Enid, Okla.).

“There’s a lot of positives in moving over to that region,” says Barney. “Before, we were independent in Region 12, which is Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Trying to find games in late March, April and part of May was a bear.”

Vincennes went to the World Series in 2010 and 2014 under the old qualifying format. Teams were required to make it through a sub-regional to get to an eight-team double-elimination tournament that sent the champion to championship series.

The Trailblazers play home games at Jeremy Blemker Field.

Huntingburg, Ind., native Blemker coached for 38 years, including 26 at Vincennes (1980-2006) and amassed a NJCAA-record 1,037 victories. He sent more than 180 players on to play at universities around the country and 27 signed professional contracts.

Blemker, who died in 2012, was an inductee of the NJCAA and Greater Evansville Baseball halls of fame.

The original Blemker Field was on the VU campus. It was razed to make room for Updike Hall Scienc Earth and Mathematics Learning Center and the Trailblazers moved to a new baseball complex on Old Terre Haute Road five years ago.

Barney says the university has continued to provide the team with the means to maintain the facility.

Before landing at VU, Orlando, Fla., native Barney has made several baseball coaching stops. He was assistant coach and recruiting director for 13 years at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

Barney, a graduate of Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tenn., has also served as head coach of the Quincy Gems and Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (summer) and was an assistant at Tennessee Wesleyan, Tusculum University (Greeneville, Tenn.) and St. John’s River State College (Palatka, Fla.) as well as serving on the summer staffs for the Frontier League’s Midwest Sliders (Ypsilanti, Mich.) and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Vermont Mountaineers (Montpelier, Vt.).

Barney counts Mike Policastro, Tom Griffin, Mike Goedde and Mike Robins among his baseball mentors.

Barney played for Policastro (now head coach at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee) at Tenessee Weselyan and was a teammate and coached alongside Griffin (now head coach at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) at that same school. Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was USI head coach when Barney was on the staff. Robins led the squad at St. John’s River.

“You take a little bit from everybody,” says Barney. “You put your own personality on the program, too.

“It’s fun. The kids keep you young and always bring something new to the table.”

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Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Vincennes (Ind.) University in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Scout, instructor Farrell appreciates life lessons learned through baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Farrell identifies baseball talent for a living.

As an area scout for the Kansas City Royals, the Indianapolis resident estimates that he logs 60,000 or more miles a year seeing the best players available from his territory — Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and western Pennsylvania.

His goal is to see a game each day from the start of the college season in mid-February to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in early June.

To give Royals senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Dayton Moore a thorough evaluation of players, Farrell measures more than on-field tools.

“I want to paint a picture of who the guy is if you never laid your eyes on him,” says Farrell, who has been a part of professional baseball since 1991. “I have conversations with moms and dads and his high school coach, summer coach, friends and girlfriend. I gather as much information as possible.”

If the young man participates in another sport, that becomes part of Farrell’s player portrait.

He looks to see how the player interacts with his teammates and how he handles failure.

“Who is he the next at-bat or next pitch?,” says Farrell. “I’m evaluating as many pieces of a person as I can.”

Farrell appreciates working for an organization that wants top-shelf players and also cares about the whole person.

“Working for the Royals is super interesting,” says Farrell. “Dayton Moore wants players who will be good husbands, good fathers, good sons and good men.”

Farrell appreciates the life lessons he has learned from his baseball mentors and applies them in his scouting and as a instructor/coach. He teaches pitching to all ages at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., and works closely with the Indiana Mustangs 16U and 17U teams, which are run by Chris Estep.

He says sports can teach so many lessons — things like being a good teammate, competing for the guy next to you, discipline, effort, preparation and competition.

“I hope I’m giving them a baseball foundation with the ability to have applicable life skills,” says Farrell. “Some of it has to be about your transparency. You need to be humble enough to say to a player, ‘I wasn’t very good at that at your age’ or ‘that was my mistake.’

“It’s a combination of a bunch of stuff. You hope people value it.”

That’s why he’s happy to support Rob Barber with The BASE Indianapolis, a not-for-profit group that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

“Hopefully, we’re offering guys a chance to get into college and further expectations for themselves,” says Farrell.

Born in Logansport, Ind., Farrell got his organized baseball start on the youth diamonds there and played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr., and the Berries of Logansport High School.

“Coach Turner was the best single coach that I had,” says Farrell, a 1987 Logansport graduate. “What I learned him was fairness. You get exactly what you earn in this life. Nothing was ever given.”

A sense of entitlement was not even an issue.

Turner was not a yeller and screamer, but he got his point across.

“He was one of most laid back people I’ve ever met and that fit my personality,” says Farrell.

A road game at West Lafayette and the bus ride home sticks in Farrell’s memory banks. The Berries won, but did not play well or act the way Turner expected.

“We clowned around too much,” says Farrell. “All he said to us: ‘you guys thoroughly embarrassed me with the way you played.’”

Not another word was spoken the rest of the trip.

Logansport was a perennial state powerhouse back in the 1980’s. The Berries won 10 sectionals, four regionals, one semistates and state runner-up finish (1989) during the decade.

The best player in Farrell’s eyes was John Nies.

“He was the best high school shortstop everywhere we went,” says Farrell, who would go from Logansport to Indiana State University along with twins Danny and Dennis Frye.

At ISU, Farrell formed a lasting friendship with teammate Mitch Hannahs (now head coach of the Sycamores) and learned “core life principles” from head coach Bob Warn.

“They were enjoyable lessons and very valuable in making me who I am today,” says Farrell of things emphasized by IHSBCA and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn.

One of those was preparation.

“When you step onto a campus, you better be ready to work your tail off,” says Farrell. “I also learned about believing in who I am.”

A left-handed pitcher who also played first base, center field and other positions, Farrell was a Collegiate Baseball Newspaper All-America selection in 1991. That year, he signed as a minor league free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers. The southpaw pitched six seasons in the Brewers organization (1991-96), reaching Triple-A 1993-96. He was the system’s Pitcher of the Year in 1993. He also also played in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Taiwan.

He became a Brewers scout in 1998 and was with that position until joining the Royals in 2014.

Farrell, 49, has three children — Roni (25), Brianna (22) and Isaiah (13). Father Larry lives in the Logansport area. Mother Mary is in Arkansas. He also has two sisters, one half sister and one half brother.

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Mike Farrell (right), a Kansas City Royals area scout and baseball instructor/coach living in Indianapolis, poses with daughters Brianna (left) and Roni.

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Mike Farrell (left, a Kansas City Royals area scout and baseball/instructor living in Indianapolis, spends time with oldest daughter Roni.

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Mike Farrell is an area scout with the Kansas City Royals and an instructor/coach at Roundtripper Sports Academy and with the Indiana Mustangs. He is a Logansport, Ind., native who played at Indiana State University and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Lemonis hustles to keep Hoosiers competitive, playing baseball the right way

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the early NCAA Division I National Letter of Intent signing period approaches — it’s Nov. 8-15 — Chris Lemonis is doing the thing that has made him one of the nation’s top college baseball recruiters.

“Hustle,” says Lemonis, who is going into his fourth season as head baseball of Indiana University baseball in 2018. “You’ve got to be willing to hustle. You have to have an eye for it. You also have to have a plan. What pieces are you trying to put together? (A player might be the) right fit for one school and not for the other.”

Lemonis, who is 101-72-2 with two NCAA regional appearance (2015, 2017) while leading the Hoosiers, likes to find as much in-state talent as he can and still remain competitive. “The state of Indiana has great high school players. It is a big base for us. We will reach out at times and fiend pieces.”

The Hoosiers — regularly top 25-ranked program — find most players within a five-hour drive from the Bloomington campus.

“But we don’t rule out anybody,” says Lemonis, who has been spending his share of time on the road, visiting recruits and working camps. “We like to be a physical team and an athletic team.”

Lemonis asks that athletes and their parents research to see what fits their needs.

As drawing cards for the Hoosiers, there is an IU degree plus the ever-growing profile of Big Ten Conference baseball. The 2017 season saw five B1G schools make the 64-team NCAA D-I tournament — conference tournament champion and automatic bid winner Iowa plus at-large invitees Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska.

Conference baseball continues to get recognition and revenue through the Big Ten Network.

“We try to keep our kids in this part of the country — Midwest staying at Midwest schools,” says Lemonis. “When I first came to Midwest, all the good players went south. There is now a commitment to baseball in our league.”

As evidence, all of the 13 baseball-playing B1G schools have stadiums that were either built new or renovated in the last few years, many with artificial turf.

Indiana moved to Bart Kaufman Field in 2013. Hoosiers benefactor Bart Kaufman went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.

Illinois plays at Illinois Field, Iowa at Duane Banks Field, Maryland at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, Michigan at Ray Fisher Stadium, Michigan State at McClane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field, Minnesota at Siebert Field, Nebraska at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park, Northwestern at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, Ohio State at Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium, Penn State at Medlar Park at Lubrano Field, Purdue at Alexander Field and Rutgers at Bainton Field. Wisconsin does not have NCAA D-I baseball.

Allowing for the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (IU’s Craig Dedelow was selected int he ninth round in 2017 by the Chicago White Sox and the Hoosiers count former players Micah Johnson, Josh Phegley, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Slegers and Sam Travis as current big leaguers), Lemonis plans his recruiting on a three-year cycle.

The Big Ten does have a rule that players sign a four-year scholarship and not a series of one-year deals, which is common in other conferences.

Lemonis came to Indiana after serving 20 seasons as an assistant coach — 12 at The Citadel (1995-2006) and eight at the University of Louisville (2006-14).

At Louisville, he worked closely with head coach Dan McDonnell and made three trips to the College World Series (2007, 2013, 2014). They were college roommates, teammates and athletic Hall of Famers at The Citadel — the military college in Charleston, S.C.

“He’s a great leader of men and a great coach,” says Lemonis of McDonnell, who spoke at the 2017 IHSBCA State Coaches Clinic in Indianapolis. “He is very big on the motivation side — not only with the players but the staff. He’s always trying to push the program forward and put it in a better place. He’s one of the best in the business — if not the best.”

Phone calls between Lemonis and McDonnell are exchanged a couple of times a week.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Lemonis.

As a left-handed-swinging infielder at The Citadel, Lemonis had two head coaches — American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chal Port and Fred Jordan — before playing minor league baseball (1995-2004) with Triple-A stops in the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

“(Port) was a tough old school coach,” says Lemonis. “He was big on fundamentals and playing the game the right way. He put together kids who became a close-knit group.”

Lemonis served 12 seasons on Jordan’s coaching staff.

“I got most of my development from him,” says Lemonis. “He was big into physicality and the speed of the game. We didn’t start (weight) lifting until Coach Jordan got there.”

When Lemonis was playing, most coaches thought baseball players should stay away from weights in order to remain flexible.

Now, strength and conditioning is a major part of the game. With fall baseball concluded, IU players are spending four days a week in the weight room, becoming bigger, stronger and faster.

Since many Hoosiers play spring, summer and fall, they are now giving their arms a rest. Throwing programs will resume in December and hitting will amp up. After Christmas break, the team will be in “spring training” mode as it prepares to open the 2018 schedule with four in South Carolina — Feb. 16 (Oklahoma), Feb. 17 (Kansas State) and Feb. 18 (South Alabama) in Myrtle Beach and Feb. 19 (Coastal Carolina) in Conway.

The home opener is slated for March 7 (Cincinnati).

Lemonis graduated from Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A move-in, he played his junior year for Jody Rush and senior season for Rick Hardwick, who had come from The Citadel.

As a product of his playing and coaching stops, Lemonis believes in “playing the right way.”

That is reflected in IU being among the top fielding percentage teams in the B1G and the way the Hoosiers train, show up early, hustle and demonstrate positive body language.

“It’s doing a hard 90 down the baseline,” says Lemonis. “It’s respecting the game.”

The IU coaching staff also features Kyle Bunn (associate head coach/pitching), Kyle Cheesebrough (assistant/recruiting coordinator), Zach Lucas (assistant) and Roger Rodeheaver (director of operations).

Cheesebrough and Lucas both played at Louisville and they help Lemonis with the Hoosiers’ offensive game.

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Chris Lemonis enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2018. It will be his 24th as a coach at the NCAA Division I level. (Indiana University Photo)