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Indiana graduate Cohen voice of the Iowa Cubs

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Alex Cohen went to college, he was surrounded by Chicago Cubs fans.

Growing up a baseball-loving kid in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Cohen pulled for that city’s team and he let his friends at Indiana University know about it.

“I was an obnoxious Phillies fan,” says Cohen.

His first memories of the game surrounded the 1993 National League champions featuring Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra and Curt Schilling.

The first foul ball he ever gathered and first autograph he ever got was from Mickey Morandini, who had played at IU.

Some non-Phillies that got Cohen’s attention were Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez.

Cohen played at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pa. When not on the diamond himself, he was rooting for Phils stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels.

It was also at Upper Dublin that Cohen and friends formed a sports broadcasting club.

Josh Getzoff went on to become pre- and post-game host and play-by-play announcer for the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stephen Watson would go on to be a sports anchor for WISN News in Milwaukee.

Flash forward more than a decade after his high school days and Cohen is the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, Chicago’s affiliate in the  Triple-A Pacific Coast League. The 2020 season is to be his third in Des Moines.

“This is Cubs country,” says Cohen. “Being the voice of a Chicago Cubs affiliate, it comes with a lot of responsibility.

“There’s just so many Cubs fans who come out in full force. You can tell that the Cubs fans are just a little bit different.”

And not just at Principal Park in Iowa.

Cohen recalls a game during a steamy 2018 day in Fresno, Calif.

“I’m getting to the ballpark a little bit late and I see a line out the door with Cubs fans,” says Cohen. “It was essentially a Chicago Cubs home game.”

That’s when he really began to recognize the national appeal of the Cubs.

Cohen was a Journalism major with a Sports Marketing & Management minor at Indiana, a school that was talked up by a friend who went there. The deal was sealed after a visit to Bloomington.

His freshmen year, Cohen wrote about tennis for the Indiana Daily Student.

He worked four years at the student radio station — WIUX.

There was an internship with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Philadelphia’s Triple-A International League affiliate in Allentown, Pa. He soaked up knowledge from the broadcast team of Matt Robbins and Jon Schaeffer.

Cohen was with the Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, Ill.) of the independent Frontier League in 2011 and mentored by Adam Young.

The first job in affiliated baseball came for Cohen with the Milwaukee Brewers organization and the Double-A Southern League’s Huntsville (Ala.) Stars in 2012 and 2013.

Former major leaguer Darnell Coles was a first-time professional manager in Huntsville. Cohen and Coles experienced highs and lows together.

“He’s probably the best guy I’ve ever met in professional baseball,” says Cohen of Coles.

One high moment came when Coles summoned Cohen to the locker room before a game in Jackson, Tenn.

Coles had acted mad on the phone, so Cohen thought he was in trouble.

Instead, Coles introduced Cohen to former Seattle Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. The broadcaster — the one who had imitated a right-handed version of Junior during backyard wiffleball games — and the ballplayer talked for an hour.

Cohen also came to respect and gleaned adjectives and pace of play-by-play voices in the Southern League at the time — Birmingham’s Curt Bloom, Montgomery’s Joe Davis, Pensacola’s Tommy Thrall and Tennessee’s Mick Gillespie.

Bloom’s “approach to the life of working in baseball and embracing the grind” is what Cohen appreciates about the veteran broadcaster.

Davis is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Thrall the Cincinnati Reds.

Cohen says baseball play-by-play requires proper pace and tempo.

“Basketball and football are melodically so quick,” says Cohen. “You’re just following the action.

“Baseball is more of an art form. In a three-hour game, maybe 30 to 40 percent is action.

“You’re filling in all the background between pitches.”

Cohen was not behind the mike in 2014, but was learning as a media relations and broadcast assistant for the Oakland Athletics. He was exposed daily to the on-air styles of Vince Cotroneo and Ken Korach.

The 2015 season saw Cohen back in the booth with the Idaho Falls Chukars, a Kansas City Royals farms club in the short-season Pioneer League.

In 2016 and 2017, Cohen was in the Low Class-A Midwest League as play-by-play man for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods, a member of the Tampa Bay Rays system.

Working in Bowling Green, Cohen learned to see the game from a unique perspective.

“It’s a really different angle when you’re calling from (the) third base (press box),” says Cohen. “Your depth perception is a little off on balls hit to the outfield (You learn to watch the umpire or look at the monitor).

“It’s fun with your strike zone because you can tell pitches up and down a little bit better. In and out is a little more difficult.”

The radio booth at Tacoma of the PCL is also on the third base side.

Cohen encountered communicators like Chris Vosters in Great Lakes, Ball State University graduate Tom Nichols in Dayton and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in Lansing.

“The world’s most-interesting broadcaster,” says Cohen of Goldberg-Strassler. “He’s focused on finding that small detail.”

Along the way, Cohen’s baseball fandom has become tied to his employer.

“As a broadcaster in Minor League Baseball you are a fan of the organization you work for and the affiliate they are with,” says Cohen. “You see these guys work so hard to get to the big leagues.

“You root for them to do well and by proxy you root for the big league team to do well.”

While he tends to work solo on the road, Cohen has a color commentator for home games. Deene Ehlis has been a I-Cubs broadcaster in some capacity for three decades and can tap into that treasure trove of memories.

Ehlis, who for years was paired with Randy Wehofer (who is now Iowa’s assistant general manager), does play-by-play in the middle innings and Cohen moves over to color.

Cohen and Ehlis have developed a rhythm over more than 150 games together.

“It’s more a conversation with baseball intertwined,” says Cohen. “That’s our main job is to paint the picture for the fans.”

Legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas will always have a warm spot in Cohen’s heart.

His current favorite is the Cubs’ Pat Hughes. With Chicago playing so many day games and Iowa so many night contests, Cohen gets to listen to Hughes while prepping for his game.

“The reason Pat is so good on radio is balance,” says Cohen. “Pat paints the picture. It makes sure the fan doesn’t get distracted from the game, but they also get background information.

“He’s just so even-keeled. There’s no bad games. He goes 2-for-4 or 3-for-4 every game as a broadcaster.”

In the PCL, Cohen is in the company of mike men like Nashville’s Jeff Hem, Las Vegas’ Russ Langer, Reno’s Ryan Radtke, Salt Lake’s Steve Klauke, Memphis’ Steve Selby and Oklahoma City’s Alex Freedman.

“They are tremendous guys,” says Cohen.

All have learned about the grind in a 16-team league that is so geographically spread out that it leads to lots to commercial air travel.

“From a travel standpoint, there’s no other minor league league like the PCL,” says Cohen, who notes that getting to airports in the wee hours, arriving in the next city at mid-day and then being ready for a night game is common.

“I’ve been through a lot,” says Cohen. “I’ve lived in a lot of different time zones. I’ve gone paycheck-to-paycheck up until Iowa job.

‘It’s both rewarding and time-consuming. We spend a lot of time away from your family and friends. This is the industry we chose. I don’t view it as paying your dues.”

During the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that has live baseball on hold, Cohen stays sharp by contributing to Iowa Cubs social media and calling simulated games for MLB The Show.

“It scratches that itch,” says Cohen, who was supposed to go out to spring training in Arizona March 20 (pandemic hit March 13). “I definitely have fun with that.”

He’s also been doing media interviews and online chat sessions such as the one he did with the Society for American Baseball Research’s Chicago chapter on Sunday, April 26 as part of the #StayHomeWithSABR initiative.

Asked about his home run call, Cohen told the virtual gathering about his rule.

“My rule when I got into broadcasting was I don’t want to have a home run call until I make it to the big leagues,” says Cohen. “If I make it to the big leagues then I’ll have my own home run call.”

Cohen, who has also called baseball games for the Australian Baseball League as well as in Taiwan, Japan and Colombia and the World Baseball Softball Confederation, has visited or worked at three Indiana ballparks — Victory Field in Indianapolis, Parkview Field in Fort Wayne and Four Winds Field in South Bend.

“I love it,” says Cohen of Victory Field, the home of the Indianapolis Indians and a place about 45 minutes from the IU campus. “I love urban ballparks.”

For this reason, he counts parks in Nashville, Charlotte, Baltimore, Denver and — of course — Chicago among his favorites.

“I really like Wrigley Field because even though it’s not in ‘The Loop’ or anything, you can still see what Wrigleyville has to offer,” says Cohen. “(The Fort Wayne TinCaps‘ Parkview Field is) probably one of my top five parks I’ve ever been to in Minor League Baseball. They just did it right. They have enough berm area. They have enough suite level. It’s so open. You have a panoramic view of the city.”

Cohen says he was unimpressed on his first visit to South Bend in 2011 then he came back after owner Andrew Berlin made many upgrades to the place.

“That ballpark has taken on a life of its own,” says Cohen of the South Bend Cubs‘ stadium. “It’s Wrigleyville Jr. It’s so cool.”

Combining the park, fans, proximity to Notre Dame and downtown amenities, Cohen says, “I’m not sure if there’s any better full scene in the Midwest League.”

Cohen was there the day Eloy Jimenez socked a home run against Bowling Green’s Diego Castillo (who is now with the Rays).

“It was a cold winter night in April,” says Cohen. “It was a 96 mph fastball running up and in.

“I’m not sure that ball has landed yet.”

Count Cohen a fan of Howard Kellman, who has been calling Indianapolis Indians games for more than four decades.

“Howard’s one of those classic voices,” says Cohen. “He’s so steady. You just know that he knows what he’s talking about. You know he’s done his research.

“In terms of pacing and verbiage and pausing, I really do try to emulate Howard.”

As a young broadcaster, Cohen does use advanced stats into his call. But he doesn’t force them.

“I’m not just reading them off a sheet for no reason,” says Cohen. “If Donnie Dewees is batting at the top of the order, you want to talk about his OBP (On-Base Percentage), OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).

“That’s important to a 1- or a 2-hole hitter or someone who needs to get on-base. I don’t want to randomly read out sabermetrics.”

Any advice for anyone thinking of baseball broadcasting as a profession?

“With the contraction of Minor League Baseball, it’s tough,” says Cohen. “You don’t know how many gigs are going to be available at any given time.”

To hone their craft, Cohen prescribes repetition.

“Try to broadcast college or high school games,” says Cohen. “If you can’t, take tape recorder to a professional game.

“Email every single major league media relations director and director of broadcasting and say, ‘Hey, I have my own equipment. I want to get into broadcasting. Can I take one of your empty booths at a random game in May?’”

That gives the aspiring play-by-play man the chance to record a demo that can be sent to other broadcasters and directors for critiques.

“That’s how I got my experience early on,” says Cohen, who says he is open to the idea of being shadowed and then providing access to an open booth at Principal Park.

“You go through that process over and over and over again until you see jobs you want to apply for,” says Cohen.

JOEBIDENALEXCOHENAlex Cohen (right), the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, gets a visit in the booth on July 4, 2019 from Joe Biden. Cohen is a Philadelphia area native and graduate of Indiana University. (Iowa Cubs Photo)

With Barber as president/CEO, The BASE Indianapolis offers diamond, educational opportunities to urban youth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.

The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.

These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.

A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”

Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.

“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. (The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.

“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”

With support from many, programming is free to these young people.

“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”

Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.

“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”

Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.

Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”

Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.

“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”

Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.

He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.

A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.

Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.

Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.

Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.

(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.

“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”

Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.

Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.

Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.

Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.

To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.

In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.

Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.

Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.

“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.

“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”

“But it’s about family.”

For more information, contact Barber at rbarber@thebaseindy.org or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.

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Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)

Evans building a family with Valparaiso Vikings baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coach Todd Evans likes to think of his Valparaiso High School baseball team as a family.

Evans relishes the opportunity to teach his young Vikings about more than hitting, running, pitching and fielding.

There are the life lessons that carry them on to being husbands, fathers and productive citizens.

“Wins and losses are one thing,” says Evans, a 1999 VHS graduate who has been coaching baseball at his alma mater since the early 2000’s and is heading into his fourth season as head coach in 2018. “I want them to come away saying they learned more than baseball. I want them to be a good friend and teammate and, later, a father and member of the community.

“I’m looking to build a family just past my own.”

All of those years but the first his assistant has been big brother Chad (Valparaiso Class of 1996).

“It’s a family affair on a game day,” says Todd, who regularly sees wife Janelle, daughter Evangeline and son Sullivan at the park along with Chad’s wife Holly, daughter Lilly and son Aaron.

Todd and Chad’s parents — Dale and Cindy — and Janelle’s mother — Jaclyn — can also been seen cheering on the Vikings.

That rooting section is going to get a little bigger soon.

Todd and Janelle are expecting another girl in January. Todd won’t be surprised if he gets called away from an early-morning training session with his baseball players.

Todd Evans was a football, wrestling and baseball athlete at VHS — competing for three Hall of Fame coaches (Mark Hoffman in football, John Cook in wrestling and Pat Murphy in baseball).

Evans walked on in baseball at Valparaiso University for then-Crusaders coach Paul Twenge.

Evans coached one baseball season at Westville High School then became a three-sport coach at Valpo High.

Starting in 2001, Evans has been a football assistant for Hoffman and then Dave Coyle and has moved to the freshmen team since becoming head baseball coach.

Evans was head wrestling coach at VHS before giving up that position in 2009 and has since become a mat official.

He started as a freshmen coach when Mickey Morandini was head baseball coach, moved to varsity assistant under Coyle and then replaced Coyle as head coach heading into the 2015 season.

Each of his coaches has lent something to Evans’ coaching style.

“I’m a little mold of every bit and piece I’ve taken,” says Evans, who is now 37. “In coaching three different sports, there are different mentalities. In football, you rely on everybody around you. Wrestling is about the individual. Baseball is a combination of both. You have to focus in and do your job at that specific time.”

Murphy goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January.

“He was coaching against Hall of Fame coaches his whole career — guys like Ken Schreiber, Dave Pishkur, Jack Campbell and Bob Shinkan. This is a nice honor for him,” says Evans, who played on Murphy’s last Vikings squad. “Murph was a no-nonsense guy.”

Evans saw in Coyle a very organized and prepared coach.

“I still run my practice similar to the way he did,” says Evans.

A 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, Evans is grateful to Twenge (who is now head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota) for the opportunity he gave him to play college baseball in his hometown.

“Paul took a gamble on me,” says Evans, who would be the Crusaders’ closer by the end of his freshmen season. “He was the epitome of a players’ coach. You wanted to come to practice everyday. A lot of what (Twenge) did was routine, but once you got into the game you were prepared for those things.”

Evans does the same with his VHS players and concentrates on fundamentals.

“I want to be prepared for 90 to 99 percent of those situations,” says Evans. “Our kids will not bat an eye when those things occur.”

Another thing Evans gained in his college baseball experience was relationships — people who have continued to be in his life long after his VU graduation in 2003.

“You’ve got to love the you’re playing next to,” says Evans. “I’ve got 10-plus seniors (at VHS) and they’ve played with each other for a long time. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it.”

Three of Evans’ seniors have already committed to play college baseball — Nick Caputo at Wabash College, Marcus Gholston at Arizona Western College and Gunnar Pullins at Olivet Nazarene University.

Max Roberts, a 2016 VHS graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The 6-5 left-handed pitcher is the son of Washington Township High School head coach Randy Roberts.

Evans’ paid assistants for 2018 besides brother Chad include VHS graduates Chance Garrison and Greg Simms. John Nuppnau is a volunteer.

It varies, but Evans likes to have 15 to 18 players on his varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

“This year’s freshman extremely talented so I might push that number up to 20,” says Evans. “I try to have depth with the new pitching rules. More is better than less. We try to make everyone a pitcher at some time or other.”

Valparaiso plays on-campus on Viking Field. Last fall, pads and netted railings were added to the sunken dugouts. This was done for safety and also added more room to the bench area.

Evans says a referendum was passed in Valparaiso that could bring turf and lights to the field in the next few years.

“I’m not sure on the timeline,” says Evans. “It would be nice to be the first school in Porter County to have turf and may be able to host a sectional.”

The Vikings played in the IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional in 2017 and are grouped with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Merrillville and Portage in 2018. Valpo’s last sectional crown came in 2012.

The Duneland Athletic Conference, a circuit established in 1970, counts the Vikings as charter members. Other DAC schools are Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Portage.

As in the past few seasons, conference games will be Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in 2018.

“The thought process behind this is that you couldn’t have same pitcher beat you twice,” says Evans.

LaPorte’s Evan Miller actually beat Valpo three times — twice in the regular season and then the sectional — a few years ago before the new format.

Evans, who is also a physical education teacher at VHS, has witnessed a change since his playing days and feels a responsibility.

“Kids now have more individual training and expect a higher level of coaching and competition,” says Evans. “It’s my job to see that when they step out against a D-I pitcher here and a D-I pitcher there that they are not made a fool of. They are prepared and can let their skills taken over.”

Block V 2018

TODD&CHADEVANS

The Evans brothers — Todd (left) and Chad — have been coaching baseball together at their alma mater for more than a decade. Todd is heading into his fourth season as Vikings head coach in 2018.