Riley Bertram is spending the last summer before his final college baseball season in the same town where he began playing the game as a boy. The 21-year-old switch-hitter has been leading off and playing shortstop for the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators at new Loeb Stadium. Through 17 games for head coach/manager Michael Keeran’s Aviators, Bertram was hitting .273 (15-of-55) with two doubles, eight runs batted in, 12 runs and four stolen bases. Bertram, a 2018 Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate who has played three seasons (2019-21) at the University of Michigan (he started 31 of the 37 games in which he played in 2021 at second base), was born in Noblesville, Ind., and introduced to the game while father Vince Bertram was the principal at Lafayette Jefferson High School. “I’m a middle infielder,” says Riley. “I play both second base and shortstop — whatever position the team I’m on needs.” A year ago, Bertram was with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Riley is the youngest of Project Lead The Way president and CEO Vince and Western Governors University advisor Jill Bertram’s four boys, behind Josh, Ryan and Drew. Josh Betram played basketball and baseball at Lafayette Jeff. Ryan Bertram played three baseball seasons at Evansville (Ind.) Harrison High School and one at Zionsville Community. He was part of the University of Southern Indiana’s NCAA Division II national championship team in 2014 and later an assistant coach at Southern Illinois University and director of operations at Campbell University in Buis Creek, N.C. Drew Bertram played at Purdue and was a manager for the Boilermakers when Mark Wasikowski was head coach. Drew is a Purdue graduate and is going to graduate school at the West Lafayette school. It was in the back yard with his brothers that Riley first experimented with switch-hitting. He has been doing it in games since about 13. At Michigan, Bertram has played in 70 games (49 as a starter) and is hitting .236 (43-of-182) with 14 doubles, 26 RBIs, 30 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. On defense, he has 95 putouts, 136 assists, five errors and a .979 fielding percentage. He led the team in stolen bases in 2021, swiping eight in nine attempts. Bertram has played three seasons for Wolverines head coach Erik Bakich and assistant Nick Schnabel. Pitching coach Steve Merriman and volunteer coach Brandon Inge joined the staff for the 2021 slate. “I’m very fortunate to have this coaching staff,” says Bertram. “They know what they’re talking about. “Coach Bakich is awesome to play for. He is trying to find the best for you. He knows everything about your family. He has your back. He’s someone you could reach out if you need to get something off your chest. He does a good job of building a culture.” Schnabel works with Michigan infielders, including Bertram. “He knows the game at a higher level than a lot of people,” says Bertram of Schnabel. Merriman has made a point of bonding with all UM players and not just pitchers. “At the college level you need to have at least a baseline relationship with all players if you want to have a culture,” says Bertram. “Everytime Coach Inge talks you have to listen because whatever he’s going to say is going to beneficial to your performance. “He keeps things loose. He’s bought into the culture Coach Bakich and Coach Schnabel have built.” Bertram is on pace toward a Communication and Media degree from Michigan in the spring of 2022. He was named Academic All-Big Ten in 2021. Riley played Little League baseball in Evansville, Ind., when his father served as superintendent of schools. After the family moved to Zionsville, he played for Zionsville Baseball Club and was with the Indiana Bulls travel organization from 15U to 18U, playing for teams with Dan Held, Sean Laird, Jered Moore and Jeremy Honaker as coaches. Bertram played four seasons for Moore at Zionsville Community and was part of IHSAA Class 4A sectional champions in 2016, 2017 and 2018, regional winners in 2016 and 2017, a semistte title-taker in 2016 and state runner-up in 2016. In 2018, Bertram was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Honorable Mention All-State selection and IHSBCA North-South All-Star as a third baseman as well as a Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American. “I’ve always been close with Coach Moore and his family,” says Bertram. “Jered was not only was my coach, but I’ve reached out to him for many things. Last week I texted him about hitting facilities in (the Lafayette) area and he hooked me up. “It’s a really strong relationship.”
In 2021, the pair flipped their offensive roles from 2020 when Chapman was lead-off on Mastodons head coach Doug Schreiber’s lineup card.
Heading into a four-game Horizon League series at Wright State April 9-11, the righty-swinging Lang is hitting .345 (29-of-84) with one triple, three doubles, 12 runs batted in, 13 runs scored and a .409 on-base percentage. He is 11-of-14 in stolen bases.
After leading the Summit League in hitting during the COVID-19 pandemic-shorted 2020 season at .382, Chapman is hitting .256 with two homers, one triple, two doubles, 15 RBIs, 13 runs, a .385 OBP and is 5-of-5 in stolen bases. Coming off a hand injury, Chapman went 8-of-18 last weekend against Northern Kentucky.
With a little time in center field as a sophomore, Lang was mainly second baseman early in his college days with Fishers graduate Brandon Yoho starting at short through 2019.
The past two springs, Lang has been PFW’s regular shortstop while getting guidance from Schreiber, who was head coach at Purdue University for 18 years before spending two seasons at McCutcheon High School — both in West Lafayette, Ind. — and taking over in Purdue in the fall of 2019.
“He has done a phenomenal job of turning this program around into something successful,” says Lang of Schreiber. “He has Old School method of how infielders are supposed to train.
“He tries to bring out the best player in you.”
Lang knew that Schreiber was a fiery competitor through friends who were recruited by Schreiber at Purdue.
Playing for passionate coaches growing up — including former HSE head coach and current Indiana University-Kokomo volunteer Scott Henson — Lang is drawn to that style.
“He has a fiery edge,” says Lang, a three-year varsity player for the Royals. “He was not afraid to get on somebody, but it was all out of love.
“It was the edge to help me succeed in the best way possible.”
Lang also got to be coached at Hamilton Southeastern by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Seitz (who led the Royals program for 25 years and came back to help after his retirement) and his son Kory Seitz and stays in-touch with both of them.
“The HSE program is what it is today because of the Seitz family,” says Lang.
“We have a great tradition that seniors get to take their home white jerseys (after their senior season),” says Lang, who was donning his old No. 5 and rooting with three former teammates when the Royals edged Columbus East 3-2. “We were probably the loudest in the stadium.”
“I eventually want to go into sales,” says Lang. “But I want to play as long as I can.”
Granted another year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Lang plans to return for 2021-22 while being work on his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in the fall.
Jack is the oldest of Jeff and Dawn Long’s three children. Nicole Lang (20) plays softball and studies engineering at Rose-Hulman Institutute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. Christian Lang (9) is a baseball-playing third grader.
“Family dad” Doug Pope — father of Justin Pope — has thrown many hours of batting practice to Jack Lang over the years.
The Shawn Harper-managed Brewers lost this week to the Jackers in the tournament finals and the Grand Park league wrapped last week. Snakes manager Jake Martin and the rest of the team witnessed a home run by righty-swinging Bickel that TrackMan measured at 436 feet with a 103 mph exit velocity.
“I feel like I can do everything well on the baseball field,” says Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and a member of the Palm Beach (Fla.) State College squad. “I hit for power. I have speed. I am smooth in the field with a strong arm.”
“It all comes back to my work ethic and how hard I train.”
Bickel, who is primarily a shortstop but can play second base or third base, got to North Dakota’s capital city after a 14-hour drive from South Bend. He reached out to Bull Moose manager Mitchell Gallagher, sent video and stayed in-touch with the Xavier University assistant.
“He brought me aboard when they had a need for an infielder,” says Bickel, who joins a team that is 6-26 playing in the COVID-19-induced pod system. The North Dakota Region consists of three teams all playing at Bismarck’s Dakota Community Bank & Trust Field — the Bull Moose, Larks and Mandan Flickertails. Players are housed in a hotel two-to-a-room. The season is to continue until Sept. 1.
“Hopefully, I can put up so good numbers here since I won’t get much exposure this fall,” says Bickel, alluding to the fact that junior college baseball canceled its fall season, meaning the loss of more than 20 games at the Palm Beach State Pro Day.
Online classes for the Business Management major begin Aug. 31. The school is closed until January, meaning Bickel will come home to South Bend after his time in North Dakota. Bickel’s 21st birthday is Jan. 21, 2021.
He struggled at the plate with the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Sharks and opted to take off 2019-20 to re-tool his swing. Bickel was offered a scholarship by head coach Kyle Forbes to join the Palm Beach State program. The Panthers are NJCAA D-I members and part of the Florida College System Activities Association.
Jarrett, 20, is the middle child of Joe and Megan Bickel. Joe owns a lawn care service. Tyler Bickel is 23. Xavier Bickel is 17.
Ratcliffe had helped Thunder head coach Greg Perschke during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and assisted in school-record 25-win seasons then went back to the high school ranks before coming back on board in Angola, Ind., for 2020.
Trine, an NCAA Division III school with a 40-game regular-season limit, averaged 17 wins per year from 2014-19 with high-water marks of 19 in 2017 and 2018.
That was not considered good enough.
So the Thunder went to work in the fall.
“We have our limits when we can and can’t be with them,” says Ratcliffe referring to NCAA D-III contact rules. “But there are expectations from Coach Perschke. His passion for the kids is electric. It just gets everybody.
“There’s an off-season weight program. Kids work around their academics to get a workout in.”
The message is clear: If you want the team to get better, this is what has to happen. Here’s how you do it. Do you want to be a part of that?
At a school full of engineering students and others with rigorous majors, the find a way to get the job done.
“We give them a lot of instruction during our weeks,” says Ratcliffe. “They take this and work hard in the off-season.”
Brought in to help with catchers, infielders and hitters and be a bench coach during games, Ratcliffe says there’s a difference between high school and college that has do with more than age.
“Kids at the college level want to be there instead of doing something in high school,” says Ratcliffe. “Development is extremely different. In high school, you’re developing their skills. In college, you’re fine-tuning their skills.”
Through conversations and short videos, Perschke (Trine head coach since 2002 and the Thunder’s pitching coach) and assistants Ratcliffe and Nick Pfafman provided instruction for a month and then the team’s veterans led a few more weeks of workouts heading into the winter.
“We developed a mindset of how to react and respond to things,” says Ratcliffe. “It’s one of the things I was brought in for.”
When the team came back from Christmas break it had less than a month before its first games.
Trine went 1-2 Feb. 22-23 in Kentucky then 8-0 March 1-6 in Florida.
Then — suddenly — the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Thunder gathered for an impromptu team photo after a practice and said their goodbyes.
This summer, Ratcliffe is head coach for the 17U DeKalb County Thunder travel team. His assistant is Cody Krumlauf, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Earlham College who has been a player and coach for the Quakers.
The program was started a few years ago when the players were at the 15U level. The Thunder now also fields 15U and 13U teams.
To be eligible to play for the Thunder, players must play in community baseball organizations in Auburn, Butler, Garrett or St. Joe.
While with the Spartans, Ratcliffe got to work with future big league catcher Rob Bowen.
“I remember he was a starter working on being a switch hitter,” says Ratcliffe. “If he hit 50 balls off the tee right-handed, he had to hit 50 left-handed. Balance had to be there if h was serious about being a switch hitter.”
Ratcliffe recalls that Bowen hit homers from both sides of the plate early in his minor league days and went on to play in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.
Caleb Kimmel, who went on to play at Valparaiso University and is now CEO of the World Baseball Academy, was also at Homestead when Ratcliffe was on staff.
“(Moustakas) had the same kind of energy as a 17-year-old that he did (with the Kansas City Royals) in the World Series.
“That guy has not changed one bit. He’s such a team player.”
Freeman became of Ratcliffe’s favorites.
“His character in the dugout was unbelievable,” says Ratcliffe of the future Atlanta Braves first baseman. “He was very coachable. Freddie wanted to get better.
“I’ve told my players this is what you need to be like. It’s not all about baseball. Character is very crucial.”
Trout and Bauer are superstars now. But they didn’t make the national team back then. They didn’t sulk. They put in the work to get better.
The Uptons also failed, but learned from those around them and rebounded. Justin’s path to The Show included 113 games with the 2006 Mark Haley-managed South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks during his 18-year-old season.
While they were nearly two decades apart, Ratcliffe (Class of 1990) and Parker (2007) were both graduates of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind.
Ratcliffe had coached against right-handed pitcher Parker in high school and saw him help Norwell to an IHSAA 3A state championship in 2007.
When it came time for Parker to take the mound that summer Joplin, Ratcliffe offered a little advice: “Go be yourself.”
Parker went on to work out with the Top 40 players in Atlanta and was selected in the first round (No.9 overall) of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in the bigs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. David Price and Moustakas went 1-2 in the ’07 draft.
Ratcliffe’s head coach at Norwell was Stan Reed.
“He had compassion for the players,” says Ratcliffe. “He really cared about us. It showed whether we won or lost.”
A catcher, Ratcliffe went to Purdue University and was redshirted his first season and played sparingly for Boilermakers coach Dave Alexander in his second, though he did get to catch Sherard Clinkscales, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft, later scouted for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Kansas City and coached at Notre Dame before going into athletic administration.
When Alexander left Purdue to become a scout and pitching coach Steve Green was promoted to head coach, he had a chat with Ratcliffe. It was apparent he was not going to get to play much for the Boilers.
What did Ratcliffe learn from Norwell grad Kinzer during the 1993 and 1994 seasons?
“It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level,” says Ratcliffe. “If you want to get there you’ve got to put some time in.
“Talent doesn’t get you to the next level. It takes things like working hard and having good character.”
By the time Tom Muth took over at IPFW in 1995, Ratcliffe knew he wanted to be a coach so he took the opportunity to play multiple positions and learn their nuances. Since the Dons were in need of a second baseman, Ratcliffe moved there and still took time to catch bullpens.
Ratcliffe played independent professional ball as a middle infielder for the Frontier League’s Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in their inaugural season of 1995. Larry Nowlin was the manger and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate part owner.
One of his teammates was future major league switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter Morgan Burkhart. When he came to Fort Wayne as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, Ratcliffe made sure he found a good fishing hole.
After finishing his degree at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ratcliffe became a teacher.
Besides coaching baseball, he instructs special education classes at Garrett Middle School. His wife of 19 years — Stacy — is a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Ober Elementary in Garrett. The couple have two sons — GHS senior-to-be Blake (17) and GMS eighth grader-to-be Easton (13).