Johnny Maynard is not yet sure where he’ll throw his next regular-season collegiate pitch. But he is certain how he will approach baseball. The way he always has — with a strong work ethic and bulldog mentality. “It’s how I raised by my parents,” says Maynard, who turns 22 today (June 30). “Whatever you start you have to finish. I never quit anything ever. Always go full-out. “I really don’t care who I’m competing against, I know they’re not going to beat me. I’m a 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher. I’m usually one of the smaller guys on the team. I have to work harder to the get the results and earn respect.” Maynard (rhymes with Play Hard), a 2019 Griffith (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School graduate who is now in the Transfer Portal after two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., (2020 and 2021) and one at NCAA Division I Radford (Va.) University. The Sports Management and Marketing major hurled 5 1/3 innings in six appearances for the 2022 Highlanders. Alex Guerra was hired as Radford head coach after the season. This summer, Maynard is pitching for the Coastal Plain League’s Jeremy Knight-coached Asheboro (N.C.) ZooKeepers. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Maynard uses on four-seam fastball, one-seamer, curveball and change-up. The four-seam sits 87 to 89 mph and has been up to 92. “The one-seamer (finger on just one seam) I learned this year,” says Maynard. “My two-seamer was not moving the way I wanted it to. (The one-seamer) gets pretty good movement away from a lefty and has pretty good sink to it. It works off my (circle) change-up (which is generally thrown 82 to 84 mph.” Maynard employs a curve that is 1-to-7 on the clock face. “It drops off the table pretty well,” says Maynard. Born in Munster, Ind., Maynard moved to Griffith as a sixth grader. He played in Munster and Griffith youth leagues then went into travel ball and suited up for the Northwest Indiana Shockers, Steelheads, Cobras, Slammers, Hammond Chiefs and 18U Midwest Irish. At Griffith High, Maynard played four years for Panthers coach coach Brian Jennings, starting as a freshman. “He’s a great guy,” says Maynard of Jennings, who retired after the 2022 season. Lincoln Trail coach Kevin Bowers allowed the righty got to close some games for the Statesman. One of his highlights is slamming the door on highly-ranked John A. Logan during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Maynard split the summer of 2019 between the Irish and Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. He also got in a few innings with that Whiting-based team in 2020. He was with the Tropics of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2021, which allowed him to work at home and then commute two-plus hours to games. Johnny’s mother, Jen Maynard, is a cardiac tech in northwest Indiana. Father Mike Maynard is recently-retired and living in Florida. Sister Lauren Maynard played and coached softball at Purdue Northwest and is now in nursing school.
University of Indianapolis sophomore left-hander Xavier Rivas was named 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings NCAA Division II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder in his second year in the Greyhounds starting rotation went 7-0 with a 2.24 earned run average, 128 strikeouts and 31 walks in 80 1/3 innings over 12 games. His WHIP (walks and hits allowed by innings pitched) was 0.98. Opponents hit .170 off the southpaw. All this from someone who refers to himself as a “late bloomer.” “The winter before my senior year I was throwing 78 to 82 mph, but I wanted to play (in college),” says Rivas, a 2020 Portage (Ind.) High School graduate. “I didn’t want to go and sit. “I was a big kid but I hadn’t grown into my body.” Rivas made a visit to UIndy, threw a bullpen for the coaches and was offered a spot on the team. “The rest is history,” says Rivas, who credits several people for his ascension. The winter before his junior year at Portage, Rivas began training with Joe Plesac (who was the pitching coach at Andrean High School Merrillville, Ind.). “My dad go word of him through my strength coach in Valparaiso (Bub Pullins, whose son Gunnar Pullins was a senior first baseman on the Olivet Nazarene University team in 2022),” says Rivas. At UIndy, Rivas has learned from head coach Al Ready and two pitching coaches — first Landon Hutchison and then Adam Cornwell. Trevor Forde is another Greyhounds assistant. “He’s big on trust,” says Rivas of Ready. “He’s do anything for the players. “It’s nice hearing his opinion. He was a real good hitter.” Hutchison assisted the lefty with his mechanics and Cornwell with the mental side of things. “When I came I had a real robotic back-side arm action,” says Rivas. “(Hutchison) was a big numbers guy. We used Rapsodo (cameras) and he taught me my slider. “(Cornwell) played some pro ball and at UIndy. He’s taught me a lot. He’s helped me with some mechanical cues that added on a few miles per hour.” Throwing from a three-quarter arm angle, Rivas employs a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up. During the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament with warm temperatures that the Greyhounds rarely saw in 2022 (he only pitched two times with the game-time thermometer reaching 60 and one start it was 17 with the wind chill), Rivas was above to get a sweat going on the mound and get his four-seamer up to 92 mph. “We would have themes for bus rides,” says Rivas. “One time it a beach theme and we wore shorts and flip-flops. When we left Indianapolis it was in the 60s or 70s. It was in the 40s when we got there. “That’s the nature of the beast in the Midwest. It’s bipolar weather.” Rivas delivers his curve over the top close to 12-to-6 on the clock face. In an attempt to “tunnel” his pitches, he wants them to look the same coming out of his hand and as they near the plate then they move in different ways. Throwing his slider and change-up around the same speed — 80 to 84 mph — he tries to get the slider to dive down and to the right back foot of right-handed hitters. The change-up goes away from righties. Rivas played one varsity season for Portage head coach Bob Dixon in 2019 (the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic). “He was an older school guy and a nice guy,” says Rivas of Dixon. The pitcher underwent knee surgery from a wrestling injury and played junior varsity ball as a Portage sophomore. Wrestling is a big deal in Xavier’s family. His father Jeremy Rivas went to the IHSAA State Finals three times and was a state runner-up at 125 pounds as a Portage senior in 1993. Jeremy coached at Hobart (Ind.) High School and helped Alex Ramos to a pair of state titles (1999 at 119 and 2000 at 125) and a fifth-place finish (1998 at 119). Xavier Rivas wrestled from sixth through ninth grade for Portage (Leroy Vega was his high school coach). A torn meniscus as a sophomore put an end to his mat career. “I knew baseball was my future,” says Rivas, who was coaxed by friends to play football as a senior. He was a wide receiver and tight end for the Indians in the fall of 2018. Rivas did some powerlifting as early as high school freshman, but nothing was organized. “When I got to college I saw how strong everyone was,” says Rivas. “I’m very competitive. I wanted to be the strongest one on the team.” He got serious about lifting and began getting workouts from friend and competitive lifter Aaron Blake and went heavy with all his lifts when there was a two-month break at UIndy during the winter of 2020-21. “I got up to 230 pounds,” says Rivas. A Mechanical Engineering major, Rivas expects to graduate in five years. He is heading into his true junior year. He did not get an extra year of eligibility since he was not in college during the pandemic. He took a heavy course load during his freshman season — 18 hours — and struggled while doing all online courses and being on the road frequently with the baseball team. “I tried to study on the bus but that didn’t work,” says Rivas. This year has been better with in-person classes and 17 hours in the fall and 15 in the spring. “That was much better,” says Rivas, who mentors freshmen teammates so they don’t suffer the same as he did. This summer, Rivas is with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. Looking for innings, he spent part of the summer of 2021 playing American Legion ball for the South Haven Post 502 Blaze. He spent part of the previous summer with the Midwest Irish. Born in Hobart, Rivas grew up in South Haven and moved to Portage in the middle of his sixth grad year. He started at South Haven Little League at 4. He was playing there and in travel ball at 9. The Portage Tribe and Morris Chiefs were two of his other travel ball teams. Xavier’s mother is Nina Rivas. Sister Mya Rivas (18) is a 2022 Portage graduate who is headed to Purdue University.
Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America. The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan). Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year. Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. “We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.” Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc. “When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that. “It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.” After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18). “He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family. “On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.” A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average). In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional. “We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.” With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework. “At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes. “Everything is challenging.” In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016. Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League. “It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.” One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m. After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019. In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli. Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies. The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547). The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time. “It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase. “You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.” Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.
Playing with and against players from bigger schools, Damen Castillo enjoys showing what he can do on a baseball diamond. Castillo, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound righty-swinging/throwing first baseman, plays during the spring at NCAA Division III Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. This summer, the Highland (Ind.) High School graduate is with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp in the team’s first season in Peru, Ill. “It’s the competition level,” says Castillo, 21. “The pace of play is faster than what I come from. “It’s fun being around guys from different schools like that.” Of the 31 players listed on the team’s online roster, 18 are from Illinois with eight from California and one each from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin. Castillo is one of six players from NCAA D-III schools (the others are pitchers Jake Dahl of Rockford University, Chandler Kerr of Concordia University Chicago and Justin Rios and Jason Shanner of North Central College and infielder Garry Maynard of Concordia University Chicago). There are 20 from NCAA D-I, two from NCAA D-II and three from National Junior College Athletic Association institutions. Teams on Illinois Valley’s schedule, which consists of squads from the Wabash River, Great River, Prairie Land divisions, boasts no less than 105 D-I players. The Pistol Shrimp are owned and managed by John Jakiemiec, who co-owns a player development academy in Naperville, Ill., Evolution Athletics. “He’s been great,” says Castillo of Jakiemiec. “When we play, it’s real serious. “You get your work in and still try to win at the same time. “It’s been a fun summer.” Jakiemiec, who played baseball at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., uses his Ivy League education to throw out random facts during bus trips. “We don’t always know what he’s talking about,” says Castillo. “But we laugh.” Through 25 games with the Pistol Shrimp, Castillo was hitting .280 (23-of-82) with five home runs, four doubles, 14 runs batted in and 10 runs scored. “One of my best qualities as a hitter is the ability to drive the ball to the right side of the field,” says Castillo. “I get pitched away and I get a lot of off-speed. Over the years I’ve gotten good at hitting the outside pitch.” Adam Smith is the head coach at Benedictine. “He’s been real supportive,” says Castillo of Smith. “He come to me with things he think I can change.” Castillo appreciates how Smith keeps practices loose and competitive. “Our team tends to do better when things are like that,” says Castillo, who helped the Eagles go 29-13 overall and 15-5 in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference in 2021. “We do competition things in practice. It’s better than taking mass ground balls or BP. “It makes it fun.” In 42 games (all as a starter), Castillo hit .347 (61-of-176) with nine homers, one triple, 18 doubles, 51 RBIs, 35 runs and a 1.009 OPS (.395 on-base percentage plus .614 slugging average). The 2021 season was his third at Benedictine. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he started all seven games and hit .217 (5-of-23) with one extra-base hit (a double), four RBIs, three runs and a .557 OPS (.296/.261). As a freshman in 2019, Castillo played a little bit of third base before becoming a full-time first baseman. In 28 games (24 as a starter), he hit .323 (32-of-99) with four homers, six doubles, 21 RBIs, 16 runs and a .885 OPS (.380/.505). With two years of eligibility left, Castillo is a year away from earning a degree in Management of Organizational Behavior through the Goodwin College of Business. Castillo and his Eagles teammates are to report back to campus in late August and will get right to work for about eight weeks of workouts before “captain’s practice” where NCAA D-III rules limit contact by the coaching staff. Born and raised in Highland to Damen and Jodee Castillo with little sister Angelica (a volleyball and softball athlete entering her senior year at Highland High in 2021-22), “D” played travel ball around his hometown until 12 and then went with the Dave Griffiin-coached Indiana Playmakers, Morris (coached by Jim Tucker), Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan). When the Midwest Collegiate League shut down and Castillo was not able to play for the Southland Vikings in 2020, he assisted Brogan with the Irish. “He has been the closest coach to me,” says Castillo of Brogan. The two talk every other day. This year, Castillo helps Brogan out in practice when his schedule allows. John Bogner was Castillo’s coach at Highland and had the third baseman on the varsity since early in his freshmen year with the Trojans. “He was a great high school coach and I learned a lot from him,” says Castillo, who stays in touch with Bogner and dropped by practice during the end of 2021 season to hit with the Highland team.
Chase Dawson was an elementary school student the last time he was a regular in the outfield. At that time he was with the Zuni’s House of Pizza, a travel team that went 44-4 during Dawson’s 8U and 9U travel ball seasons and played in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series. Now 24, Dawson is back in the outfield for the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers in his second professional baseball season. He’s been mostly in center field or left field during the team’s first 35 games in 2021. “It’s been a fun little transition,” says Dawson, a 5-foot-9, 185-pounder. “Going into the 2020 season (Boomers manager) Jamie (Bennett) said to be ready for it so I trained my arm a little more. “I did well the first couple of days of spring training and we brought in some pretty good infielders. Jamie trusted me that I’m athletic enough to make the switch. “It might sound goofy but one of my best qualities as an athlete is my athleticism. I can do just about anything in any sport.” Dawson played four years of baseball (two varsity), three years as a soccer midfielder and one as a football defensive back and kicker at Andean High School in Merrillville, Ind., where he graduated in 2015. A lefty batter and righty thrower, Dawson was the starting second baseman for the Dave Pishkur-coached 59ers’ back-to-back IHSAA Class 3A state champions in 2014 and 2015 (he batted second and scored a run in a 6-0 win against Gibson Southern in ’14 and led off and went 2-of-3 with a triple and tallied the first run in a 2-1 triumph against Jasper in ’15) and was a second sacker the majority of the time in his four seasons at Valparaiso (Ind.) University (2016-19), playing for head coach Brian Schmack. Dawson says Pishkur has a knack of teaching the fundamentals and getting talented to players to reach their potential. “It seemed like he out-coached any team we ever played,” says Dawson of Pishkur. “He was definitely hard on us and it stunk at the time, but it’s starting to add up for him.” Pishkur has more than 1,000 career victories, seven state titles and currently has former players Sean Manaea and Mike Brousseau in the big leagues. Schmack’s lessons about leadership and tenacity stuck with Dawson, who earned a Business Management degree at Valpo U., in 2019. “He’s such a good role model,” says Dawson of Schmack. “He brought a lot out of me in my four years. “He made mentally-tougher player.” Dawson played in 199 games (152 starts) at VU, hitting .276 (199-of-722) with seven home runs, 13 triples, 30 doubles, 88 runs batted in, 145 runs scored and 28 stolen bases in 37 attempts. He was named to the Horizon League all-tournament and all-freshman team in 2016 and was all-Missouri Valley Conference second team in 2019. The summer of 2018 was spent with the Coastal Plain League’s Martinsville (Va.) Mustangs, where he hit .395 and was all named all-CPL first team and the CPL select team that competed against the USA Collegiate National Team in a midseason all-star game. In 13 contests with the 2019 Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, Dawson’s primary position again was second base. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the RailCats in 2019 and Dawson did not play. “I shut down baseball activities for five or six months,” says Dawson. “It was a good decision. I came back twice as eager. “I’ve tried to find positives out of the situation.” Pat and Lindy Salvi own both the Gary and Schaumburg franchises and RailCats manager Greg Tagert and Schaumburg skipper Bennett are good friends (Bennett pitched for Tagert with the Dubois County Dragons and the RailCats and was Tagert’s pitching coach at Gary). Dawson landed with the Boomers. “It’s been a very good fit,” says Dawson, who has come to appreciate Bennett’s approach. “He’s very easy to play for because of how relaxed he is. “He’s very positive and a go-get-the-next-one type of guy.” Dawson was born in Munster, Ind., and moved to Chesterton, Ind., at a young age. He attended St. Thomas More School in Munster for Grades K-8 then entered Andrean. Dave Griffin’s Indiana Playmakers were Dawson’s travel team from 10U until high school when he went to Shane Brogan’s Midwest Irish. Chase is the son of Rick Dawson and Tonia Michalski. “My dad’s my biggest idol,” says Dawson. “He works his butt off so I can play baseball. “My little brothers (Kingston, 10, and Maverick, 6) mean more than anything to me. It’s fun to hang out and teach them baseball and basketball.”
Now he’s enjoying a unique diamond and educational experience in the sunny Southwest.
Batting in the No. 3 hole, the righty-swinging freshman center fielder is hitting .412 (21-of-51) with two home runs, two triples, six doubles, 23 runs batted in, 21 runs scored, 12 walks, six times hit by pitch and three stolen bases for Arizona Western College in Yuma.
Max (19) is the youngest of Matt and Jennifer Weller’s three sons. Trent (23) and Sam (20) both played soccer at Chesterton.
Max decided a day or two after Christmas 2020 to transfer from Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. — where he spent the fall — to Arizona Western College (a school that also recruited him in high school). He packed up all he had at his Illinois apartment in his truck and went with his parents on a 26-hour drive.
“It was a journey out here,” says Weller. “But all for the good.
“I loved it out here. We get to practice outside reps every single day.”
Using a machine, AWC outfielders field pop-ups and work on their communication.
Most teams on the Matadors’ schedule use wood bats.
“The metal bat games would drag out too long,” says Weller. “The (wood bat) barrel is definitely smaller and does not have as much pop. But there are many truer hits and it’s so much more satisfying.”
Good wood is what 6-foot, 180-pound Weller got on the ball in the first game of a home doubleheader March 9 against Chandler-Gilbert Community College and smacked a homer over the right field fence at Walt Kamman Field. His other college bomb came in a Feb. 18 win against Northeastern in which he plated seven runs.
Weller’s lone four-bagger in high school came as a sophomore in a junior varsity win at LaPorte.
Weller played on the CHS freshmen team in 2017, moved up to JV in 2018 and was on the varsity in 2019, sharing time in right field with Tyler Nelson and at designated hitter.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell leads the Chesterton Trojans.
“He taught me the foundations of the game and how to move runners from first to second,” says Weller of Campbell. “I came to understand the concept that everybody has a role.
“You’ve got to trust the system.”
For a time in high school, Weller was called “Sunshine.” Then wearing long locks, he resembled Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from the movie, “Remember The Titans.”
COVID-19 took away spring sports in Indiana in 2020. But Weller found a summer baseball home.
Many circuits canceled their seasons, but the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., sprang up and Weller was one of a few who had not yet played past high school to participate.
“I loved it,” says Weller, who was assigned to the CSL’s A-Team. “There was a lot of good talent.”
Weller’s weekly routine was to travel from northwest Indiana to his grandparents’ lake house in Monticello, Ind., on Sunday night and then drove back and forth for Monday and Tuesday games at Grand Park.
Weller’s says he has connections for the Grand Park or Valley League in Virginia this summer, but could land elsewhere.
“It’s about finding an opening,” says Weller.
Having chosen to attend Wabash Valley, Weller joined the Warriors in the fall of 2020. Because of the pandemic there were no outside games, but lots of intrasquad action against players bound for NCAA Division I or — in some cases — those that had already played at that level.
“I saw all these great pitches,” says Weller. “I learned how to play with a (ball-strike) count.
“We were practicing everyday for every single week. I was managing that load as student-athlete. All those reps were beneficial.”
Wabash Valley, currently ranked No. 1 in NJCAA D-I, has been led for a quarter century by Rob Fournier.
“He had a lot of knowledge on the game,” says Weller of Fournier. “He was a really personable guy, but he worked you really hard during practice.”
Keehn played at Central Arizona College and in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Mitchem, who played at Brown Mackie College and Tri-State University (now Trine University in Angola, Ind.) has coached at Georgia College, Henderson State University, Drexel University and Marshall University as well as in Germany, Australia and Costa Rica.
Being at AWC has also afforded Weller the opportunity to learn about many cultures and bond with young men from all over the globe.
Besides Indiana’s Weller, there are two Matadors with hometowns in Arizona plus one each from California, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah plus seven from Dominican Republic, three from Netherlands, two from Australia, two from Saskatchewan, two from Venezuela and one each from Czech Republic and Mexico.
Weller’s roommate is Nevada’s D.J. Contreras. They share a dormitory suite with two Dominicans.
“Everyone is open-minded here,” says Weller. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of so far.”
Contreras is from Las Vegas. Weller smacked three doubles for the Matadors in a Feb. 19 trip to Vegas to play a doubleheader with the College of Southern Nevada — the same school where slugger Bryce Harper played prior to pro ball.
Weller is working toward an Associate Degree in Science at the two-year school. This term he is taking Calculus, Chemistry and Astronomy (online).
He takes most of his meals in the campus cafeteria.
“I load up on lunch and get the calories up,” says Weller. “You’re definitely going to burn them in practice.”
After playing in a local league, Weller started playing travel ball at 10U with he Chesterton Slammers. Uncle Brian Eaton was his head coach for three summers. The team then changed its name to the Indiana Strikers. Weller played his 14U summer with the Indiana Breakers.
Rob Kucharski was Weller’s head coach at 15U and 16U with the Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training team. That squad had many northwestern Indiana players.
Brogan started the program 13 years ago in Chicago as South Side Irish Baseball. He ran a baseball academy in Bridgeview, Ill., and fielded three teams.
When Shane’s son, Stone Brogan, was deciding on which high school he would attend, he picked Andrean in Merrillville, Ind., and the move was made from Chicago to northwest Indiana. The Brogans landed in Schererville and the travel team became the Midwest Irish.
Shane began coaching at Andrean and has been a 59ers assistant for nine years.
The 2020 Midwest Irish have four teams — 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U. Brogan is head coach of the 18U team. Rosters are predominantly made up of northwest Indiana players, but there are some from Illinois.
“We get a variety of college level players,” says Brogan. “We have a lot of everything.”
Stone Brogan played at NCAA Division III Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.
“I watched Division III baseball for a long, long time,” says Brogan. “There’s great players everywhere.
“There’s a stigma attached to all of these divisions. That’s not the case. There’s tremendous baseball at all levels.”
Nearly half of the current Midwest Irish 18U squad has been with the Irish for at least three seasons. There are 17 players — all from the Class of 2020.
Lake Central’s Brock Begesha (University of Dayton), Marian Catholic’s Adam Huekels (Niagra University) and Mount Carmel’s Nick Miketinic (Butler University) are committed to NCAA Division I schools for baseball.
Portage’s Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis) and Mount Carmel’s Ethan Imlach (Purdue Northwest) are going to D-II programs, Andrean’s Jacob Mullen (Wabash College) and Sam Nagy (Benedictine University), Boone Grove’s Austin Lamar (Manchester University), Chesterton’s Zach McKenna (Anderson University) and Marian Catholic’s Dominick Angellotti (University of Chicago) to D-III schools and Lake Central’s Doug Loden (Joliet Community College), Andrean’s Mason Sannito (Waubonsee Community College), Chesterton’s Max Weller (Wabash Valley College), Taft’s Ernie Day (Iowa Western Community College) and Illiana Christian’s Tavares Van Kuiken (College of DuPage) to junior college baseball.
Boone Grove’s Elijah Covington is currently uncommitted.
“There’s a place for kids who say. ‘I’m going to put in my time. I’m going work hard and I’m going to get good grades.’ If they do that, there’s somewhere to play in baseball. Then however it works out is how it works out.
“At the end of the day, we know that baseball only goes so long for some guys. It’s about a school and a fit and getting that degree. Are program has a lot of that which excites me.”
The 18U Midwest Irish expect to participate in seven tournaments this summer. Following the Pastime event with games at Four Winds Field, Ancilla College, Bethel Unicersity and U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, the organization is heading to Michigan beginning Thursday, June 18. After that comes a tournament with games at minor league parks in Crestwood, Ill., and Rosemont, Ill. The squad is to compete in the Pastimes 18U National Championship (The Irish were runners-up in 2018) at Butler in Indianapolis and at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
“We don’t do the excessive traveling,” says Brogan. “We don’t go to Georgia. We don’t go to Florida.
“I’m a big fan of Pastime. They are getting better and better with how they run their tournaments. They’re putting out more information. They’re shooting more video stuff. I’m really impress with the direction Pastime’s going. President Tom Davidson does a great job.”
With the cancellation of high school ball to COVID-19, the Midwest Irish have practiced more than they have in the past. Fields are northwest Indiana are used. Illiana Christian in Dyer, Ind., has been a home field, but is currently off limits along with all other high school facilities.
“It’s a strange, strange summer,” says Brogan. “I’m just so happy to see kids on the baseball field. Just being able to practice about three weeks ago put a smile on my face.”
Brogan says the Midwest Irish season might be lengthened by a week or two.
“We might go a little bit farther,” says Brogan. “We’ll just see how it goes health-wise. All my guys on my 18U team will be going off to college. Some may leave early so my roster might be a little thinner.