First-hand familiarity with the subject and the desire to offer something of value to baseball players and their families led Aaron Mortrud to launch Midwest Recruiting, LLC in October 2020. Mortrud, a 1990 graduate of Bethany Christian School in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), where his head coach was Dan Bodiker, played one season each for head coach Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Oldest son Nick Mortrud went through the recruiting process while playing at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind. Midwest Recruiting, LLC helps market players to prospective colleges in an efficient, affordable way. Mortrud describes it as “Autotrader for Athletes.” “Recruiting is a sales process,” says Mortrud, whose day job is National Sales Manager for Starcraft Inc., and works of the office near his Shipshewana, Ind., home. “College coaches are buyers of a product — the student-athlete. How do you connect the buyer with the product?” Using his relationships with recruiters, Mortrud works for his clients to join the two parties. Once he got the ball rolling last fall, things took off like crazy. “I just picked up a kid from Australia who wants to play college baseball in the U.S.,” says Mortrud. So far three players have found a college baseball home — Kaleb Fritz (Lafayette Jeff Class of 2021) at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Noah Perkins (East Noble Class of 2022) at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and Carson Smith (Knightstown Class of 2022) at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. Others are close to signing. Full Midwest Recruiting, LLC services cost $95. “What I’m trying to do is give as much honest and real information to families at the best cost,” says Mortrud. “Parents deserve to be told the truth about all facets of the game. A profile with a players’ vital data goes on a website that recruiters can go to for their specific needs. For example: One coach might be seeking a left-handed pitcher who throws in the high 80’s and has such-and-such a standard test score. Mortrud sees himself as an unbiased third party who has invested into quality measuring equipment that provides reliable numbers. “The only thing worse than no information is bad information,” says Mortrud. “I don’t want to waste a (college) program’s or a kid’s time. Let’s be honest from the beginning. “I have to maintain my credibility.” Players can also be seen at Midwest Recruiting, LLC-hosted recruiting events. The next ones are a Fall Showcase Oct. 2 and Scout Series Oct. 3 at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. The first is a pro-style workout and assessment. The second includes spots for teams and individuals. A Scout Series event is scheduled for June 25-26, 2022 at Huntington U. Mortrud has experience as a baseball parent and travel ball coach. He is now with the Midwest Pack (run by Westview head coach Jason Rahn) and was with the Eastside Irish before moving from central Ohio back to Indiana six years ago. “College baseball is a job,” says Mortrud of the long days and year-round commitment it takes at that level. “(Players and families) need to know what college baseball is. “This may not be for you. How bad do you really want to play baseball?” Ultimately, the decision is not for the parents but the student-athlete. “That kid’s got to decide what he wants to do,” says Mortrud. Nick Mortrud (Westview Class of 2021) — Aaron’s oldest son — made decision to not play college baseball. “I know what its like to come through the recruiting process as a parent with a kid who does not want to go on after you’ve spent all that time and money,” says Aaron Mortrud. Matty Mortrud (Westview Class of 2023) has more high school and travel ball to play before he might go to college. Midwest Recruiting, LLC is on Facebook and Twitter. In the past week, Mortrud shared on Twitter what it takes to make it at the NAIA and NCAA Division III levels. Those numbers appear below.
Locked up in a pitchers’ duel with Adams Central senior right-hander Justin Bultemeier, Eastside junior right-hander Owen Willard struck out 13 while tossing a one-hitter (he gave up a solo home run on a change-up to lefty-swinging senior Brayden Light in the third inning) as the winning pitcher in helping the Blazers (22-6) to the Sectional 36 championship game at 11 a.m. Monday, May 31 against former Eastside head coach Jason Pierce’s Bluffton Tigers.
“I wish (Aaron) all the luck in the world,” says Dave Neuenschwander, who roomed and played baseball with the elder Willard at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University), and has been head baseball coach at Adams Central for 27 seasons (1991-98 and 2003-21).
Willard and Neuenschwander formed a bond as Foresters in the ‘80s which he endured to this day.
“He’s always been like a big brother to me,” says Willard of Neuenschwander. “He took me under the wing when I came in.”
Says Neunschwander, “Aaron’s a good coach and he’s a great friend. I wish he lived closer. I know he’d do anything for me and I’d do anything for him.
“I’m anxious for the day when we can both retire and spend some time together.”
Willard, a 1984 Eastside graduate, spent a semester at Franklin (Ind.) College and met sophomore third baseman Neuenschwander, a 1983 South Adams High School graduate, when he arrived on the Huntington campus as a pitcher.
Aaron’s first season was the first for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame as head coach. Other future coaches on the squad included Matt Brumbaugh, Mark Flueckiger and Randy Moss.
When Willard and Neuenschwander’s teams squared off Saturday, it was for just the second time. In 2019, Adams Central and Eastside were not in the same sectional and both received a first-round bye so they met just before the tournament at the ASH Centre in Fort Wayne.
“When we play it’s about respect and a good competition,” says Neuenschwander.
What makes Willard a good coach?
“He understands the game,” says Neuenschwander. “He has the passion for the kids.
“He gets them to work hard and focus on what they need to do.”
It’s also helped that Aaron has helped develop strong pitchers like his sons Cade (a 2017 Eastside graduate who pitched for Purdue Fort Wayne 2019-21) and Owen.
Also an accomplished shortstop and hitter, Owen could be a two-way player at the next level. He has not yet made a college commitment.
“It’s a big summer for him,” says Aaron of Cade, who plays travel ball for 5 Star Midwest.
Willard coached softball for 23 years before coaching baseball at the high school varsity level.
“I had coached at the Pony League level,” says Willard. “There was a learning curve going from softball back to baseball. There are pick-off and longer distances between bases. It’s getting that timing in your head. I got kids thrown at the plate (as a third base coach). It took them longer to get there.”
“I’m a humongous believer in owning that inside part of the plate with the fastball,” says Welliever. “It seems to have worked.
“If you can throw the inside fastball, every other pitch is available to you.”
Welliever wants his hurlers to employ solid mechanics. But he is also unique in today’s deviating from today’s prevelant approach.
“My pitchers are always working on stuff, stuff, stuff,” says Welliever, who knows his players enjoy throwing hard. “Most people work on location, location, location.”
Welliever has his catchers set up on the inside black for bullpens about 60-70 percent of the time. Many of his hurlers go hard in and soft away though some have done the opposite.
“It’s OK if once in awhile you hit a batter,” says Welliever. “Don’t get upset.”
Breaking balls are also thrown hard.
“We’re trying to create as much spin on that ball so it breaks as late as possible and the hitter has the least amount of time to react to it,” says Welliever. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”
Welliever has his pitchers build arm strength with long toss and with burnouts aka pulldowns.
The 2008 Crawfordsville pitching staff racked up 397 (No. 3 in the IHSBCA Record Book; No. 1 Lafayette Jeff fanned 450 in 43 games in 1971).
Steven Rice fanned 198 batters in 2009 and finished his Athenians career (2007-10) with 521 K’s.
Welliever worked alongside brother-in-law and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge through 2020.
“One of John’s strengths teaching the fundamentals of fielding,” says Welliever. “(Strong defense) helps pitchers.
“It gives them confidence to attack the hitters and throw strikes.”
Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate, is now Athenians head coach. Motz played at the University of Evansville, served as a graduate assistant at Purdue University and was head coach at North Putnam High School before returning to his alma mater, where he is also the strength & conditioning coach.
The Athenians won Class 3A state championships in 2008 (32-4) and 2011 (29-6).
What keeps Welliever coming back?
“It’s working with the kids and getting them to the point where they’re confident about themselves,” says Welliever. “It’s seeing them succeed in baseball and in life.”
He has witnessed many former players giving back to the community as coaches at the youth and high school levels.
“It is the most satisfying thing,” says Welliever, who grew up around New Market, Ind., and is a 1980 graduate of Southmont High School in Crawfordsville, where he played baseball for Mounties head coach George Davis and counted Froedge and the Taylor twins — Dave and Dan — as teammates. Dave Taylor went on to help found the Indiana Bulls travel organization.
“We played a lot of baseball together,” says Welliever. “It was a really special group of guys.”
Dan Welliever, Rhett’s father, taught junior high and was a wrestling head coach and an assistant in baseball, football and softball at Crawfordsville.
Jamie Welliever, Rhett’s brother, is retired from teaching and has spent two tenures each as head baseball and head wrestling coach at Southmont.
Landon McBride (New Palestine)
A middle school coach for five years (seventh and eighth grade teams often play up to 20 games while feeding the high school program), Landon McBride joined the New Palestine High School staff for the 2007 season. He is the Dragons infield coach and helps with hitters on a staff led since 2012 by Shawn Lyons.
“The thing that jumps out at me the most about Coach Lyons is his absolute passion for his kids,” says McBride. “If you’re not in the inner circle you may not see that. But he does a great job of having his finger no the pulse of where our team is at and where each individual is at.”
McBride sees Lyons as steady.
“He doesn’t get too high; He doesn’t get too low,” says McBride. “He tries to keep our players on that even-keel, knowing there’s going to be ups and downs everyday.”
On game days, McBride serves as Lyons’ right-hand man, bouncing lineups off one another and trading ideas about strategy while also coaching first base.
McBride emphasizes fundamentals when it comes to his infielders fielding ground balls.
“We’re getting reps in every day — the way we think is the right way,” says McBride. “With hitting, we believe in going the other way. We’re utilizing our speed, bunt and steal bases when we can.”
McBride regularly throws batting practice.
“I’m 59 but I’m still chucking it in there,” says McBride. “I try to give them a little sense of velocity (by moving the L screen closer to the plate.”
When the varsity field is not available, New Pal baseball has been able to use the turf football field for long toss, tracking fly balls and taking grounders.
A 1980 graduate of Marshall High School in Indianapolis where he played three seasons for Bob Tremain and one for Brad Goffinet, McBride was a four-year player for Lynn Morrell at Marian University in Indianapolis — at the time an independent NAIA program.
McBride says he appreciates the discipline, structure and attention to detail that Tremain and Goffinet brought to Redskins baseball.
“(Coach Morrell) liked getting the ball into play and swinging away,” says McBride. “It was the pure joy of being around the game.”
Landon, a partner in Indiana Property Services which gives him the schedule freedom to coach baseball, and wife Shari McBride have three children — Ryan (30), Angela (28) and Wes (24). The boys played baseball and Angela was also an athlete at New Palestine.
Mike Zeilinga (New Palestine)
A 1976 New Palestine graduate, Mike Zeilinga coaches Dragons outfielders and leads the junior varsity.
Zeilinga began coaching boys basketball at New Pal in 1996 and led the freshmen for two seasons and the JV for four. He joined Al Cooper’s baseball staff in 2003. Cooper was a Dragons senior when Zeilinga was a freshman.
New Palestine earned a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2003 and state title in 2004.
“The kids keep me young,” says Zeilinga. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching.”
Most Dragons practices begin with stretching and throwing followed by individual defensive position work and team drills (cuts, double cuts and knowing situations).
“Coach McBride is excellent about working with our infielders,” says Zeilinga. “He makes sure they are moving with every pitch.
“Coach Lyons trusts the coaches that he has. He and Coach McBride have coached together that they can read each other’s mind. They have that kind of chemistry.”
During the fall IHSAA Limited Contract Period (twice a week for two hours), 73 players were at workouts while participation was around 65 for recent winter sessions.
“All coaches at New Pal work very well with sharing athletes,” says Zeilinga. “That’s straight from the mentality of Coach (Al) Cooper (athletic director and former head baseball coach).
Zeilinga often works with New Pal outfielders and JV players.
Since varsity and JV teams tend to play on the same night, Zeilinga rarely sees the varsity once the regular season starts.
After each JV game, Zeilinga sends an overview of what his players did well or areas where they need improvement and share that with head coach Shawn Lyons and varsity assistant Landon McBride.
Like McBride, Zeilinga has noticed the head coach’s temperament.
“Coach Lyons doesn’t get real high or real low after a big win or a hard loss,” says Zeilinga. “He’s just a real gentleman of the game.”
Mike, who worked at Eli Lily & Company 35 years before retiring, and wife Susan Zeilinga have two children — Stephanie (a teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis) and Michael (who was the starting center fielder on New Palestine’s 2004 state championship team).
Kevin Hall (New Albany)
Kevin Hall is a 1986 New Albany High School graduate who was a scrappy middle infielder and lead-off hitter for John Buerger, but his association with Bulldogs baseball goes back to before he started school.
Hall, who credits his work ethic for being the youngest of 11, was a batboy for teams featuring older brother David and coached by Stan Sajko in the early 1970’s. Hall still has the tiny pinstriped uniform from those days.
“(Coach Berger) had an attention to detail,” says Hall. “John was very big on pitching and defense. He believed in the bunting game.”
With a few years off here and there, Hall has been on the New Albany baseball coaching staff since 1990. He has been Bulldogs head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chris McIntyre’s top assistant for more than two decades.
“We both have the same philosophy on winning and we’re teaching these kids how to be young men,” says Hall, who leads infielders while also helping with outfielders, hitters and catchers. “When kids get out of school they’re probably not going to be their own boss. They need to learn to take direction.
“We understand that this is the game of failure. If you give us effort, we’ll never get on you about that.”
Hall coaches first base with McIntyre in the third base box.
“Coach McIntyre has a mind like nobody I’ve ever met,” says Hall. “He can process things. He’s analytical. He’s a math teacher. He loves the numbers.”
One day, Hall brought a stop watch to time runners without McIntyre knowing it and — counting in his head — the head coach was only off the actual number by about 1/10th of a second.
“Our program wouldn’t be near where it would be without Chris McIntyre.”
Hall calls baseball “the fairest game ever.”
“Each team gets the same number of outs, same number of opportunities and deals with the same conditions,” says Hall. “There’s no clock.
“You just have to go play.”
Hall throws a good deal of batting practice to the Bulldogs.
“Our kids get a lot of live arms,” says Hall. “I just use aspirin and ice and go back and do it again the next day.”
When McIntyre was approaching New Albany’s all-time win mark, Hall helped organize a special night for him.
After the celebration, Mac pulled Hall aside and said, “Don’t ever do that again” and then thanked him the next day.
“He’s very humble,” says Hall of McIntyre. “He wants the kids to have that limelight and not him.”
With the loss of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, New Albany had time to upgrade its baseball field while also putting in a new softball diamond next door.
Kevin, a plant operator at Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany, and wife Melia Hall have a daughter together — eighth grader Anderson (named for Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson). Kevin’s two older daughters are Samantha and Stephanie. Melia’s son is Aidan.
The 2021 season will mark Ford’s 31st with the Kings. He has always led the infield defense and helped with hitting instruction at Cass, which finished as Class 2A state runners-up in 2009 (20-9).
“It’s pretty collaborative in our program,” says Ford, who coaches first base and sits next to Marschand when the coaches are in the dugout. “We get a sense of the style of play we’re going to use and we coach each of the areas based on what we’re trying to do for that season.
“We we like to put pressure on the defense (on offense). You can do that a lot of different ways. If we have plodders (on the base paths), we can bunt them over. If we have rabbits, we can have more stolen bases, double steals and taking of extra bases.”
Kings coaches like players to play to their strengths and learn to do things like hit behind the runner and put the ball on the ground up the middle.
“We want them to be well-versed in the approach they are going to be taking at the plate based on the situation,” says Ford. “We would really like our players to learn the strategies and the options.
“In practice, we put runners in position and they decide how they are going to score the run.
“Once they have a broader knowledge of how to play, they are going to enjoy it more and be more successful.”
A big part of the Cass offensive blueprint is to get accumulate freebies with dirt-ball reads etc.
“Our approach at the plate has to be to hit hittable strikes,” says Ford. “Early in the count we’re not going to hit his pitch. We’re going to hit our pitch.”
A goal in batting practice is for each player to figure out which pitch he hits best.
BP goal – each player to learn to figure out which pitch he hits best
“Hitting a pitcher’s pitch is giving him a freebie,” says Ford. “Hitting our pitch is somewhat of a freebie for us.”
As part of its SAFE-T offensive plan, Cass wants to score the game’s first run.
Going for the long ball is not a priority, especially at home games where it’s 330 feet down the foul lines and 408 to center field.
“There’s a lot of outfield grass and we’re going to try to pepper it rather than try to hit it out of the park,” says Ford.
Kings defenders focus a lot of on momentum changers.
“One of he biggest on defense is the double play,” says Ford. “We work a lot on turns, feeds and throws to first base while trying to help our pitcher.
“At the high school level, pitching can be a huge variable. Defensive positioning os based on the speed of our pitcher.
“I can’t tell (infielders) every pitch where to align so they have to be cognizant of signals between the pitchers and catcher and know what pitch is coming.”
The Kings also look to prevent opponents from taking the extra base by being in the proper position for cut-offs and double-cuts.
“We’re making sure to be in a good back-up position in case the throw isn’t perfect,” says Ford. “There are a lot of nuances in defense like where the first baseman takes the throw or where the third baseman goes based on the count. At the high school level, the drag bunt is a big strategy.”
Taking nothing for granted, Ford wants his infielders to back up throws from the catcher to the pitcher.
Ford, a 1970 Kokomo Haworth graduate played for for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Keith Slaughter. The 1970 Haworth Huskies were state finalists.
Bill Bright was middle infielder Ford’s coach at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis).
Steve and wife Julia Ford have been married since 1974 and have two daughters — Amanda (a local farm wife with a son and two daughters) and Melanie (who played four years of basketball at the University of Charleston and is now associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator and NCAA compliance officer at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.). Amanda was a manager and Melanie a player for their father as a basketball coach.
Steve Ford was the girls basketball coach at Cass for 18 seasons, concluding in 2007-08.
Jim Kominiewicz has been there as an assistant for all of them. The 2021 season will be Komo’s 31st on the Kingsmen coaching staff. He has been in education for 38 years — eight in South Bend and 30 in the Penn system.
The current staff has Dikos leading the catcher, Kominkiewicz the infielders, Tom Stanton the pitchers and John Westra the outfielders.
“Greg is one of the best catching coaches in the state,” says Kominkiewicz, noting that Penn has produced its share of college backstops. “Catching is one of the hardest things to do. You’re involved in every play.
Kominkiewicz applauds Dikos for his willingness to keep learning and incorporating them into the Kingsmen program.
“Every year we try to do something better,” says Kominkiewicz. “We never stay the same. We try to change things up and keep the kids excited about it.
“Greg is always going to clinics. He’s the best.”
Kominkiewicz has noticed that many clinic speakers reinforce concepts already being taught by Penn coaches.
“It shows we’re doing things right,” says Kominkiewicz.
As an infield coach, Komo stresses getting the palm to the baseball and fielding through it. Time is spent on back-handing and picking up short hops.
Kominkiewicz graduated from South Bend John Adams High School in 1972, where he played baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski.
Komo’s first baseball coaching post was at South Bend Washington High School on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski that also included pitching coach Larry Jackowiak.
“Rick was very intense,” says Kominkiewicz. “He’s a book. We spent a lot of time together. We’d come in on Saturday morning and leave at 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
“I learned a lot of baseball from those guys. Both of them were great coaches.”
A popular drill during the indoor portion of the preseason was a game called “27 Outs.”
As fielders got closer to making it to the finish, balls off fungo bats got harder.
“That’s why (Tomaszewski’s) team were good,” says Kominkiewicz. “They competed every practice.
“We do the same things at Penn. We compete. We test for sit-ups, push-ups and longest throws. We rate their at-bats (4 points for a line drive, 3 for a hard ground ball etc.). Pitchers try to throw the most strikes — things like that.”
Ground balls and double plays are often timed.
Splitting the team into three groups, the Kingsmen go nine outs per round. Losers do extra running or clean up the field.
“A lot of times our practices are harder than the games,” says Kominkiewicz. “But it’s got to be good practice — not just practice. We want to do it right.
“Our theory is we want to good game of catch, put the ball in play (on offense) and pitchers have to throw strikes. That’s what we stress.”
After Washington, Kominkiewicz went to Adams to coach football, wrestling, baseball and and weightlifting then went back to Washington to coach baseball.
Then came the move to Penn, where he also coached football for two years. He has taught and coaches football and wrestling and served as athletic director at Grissom Middle School.
Jim and wife Beth Kominkiewicz have four children — Ryan (38), Brandon (32), Jill (29) and Matt (21) — and seven grandchildren ages six months to 9 years.
Ryan, an engineer with Caterpillar, played baseball at Penn.
Brandon played football at Penn and the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and coaches football at Fort Wayne North Side High School.
Jill is a dental assistant.
Matt played baseball and football at Penn and is on the football team at Saint Francis.
Kevin Fitzgerald (Noblesville)
A 1987 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis where he played two seasons each for former big league pitcher Russ Kemmerer and Richard Bender, Noblesville High School assistant Kevin Fitzgerald served in the U.S. Marine Corps 1989-94 then was an assistant to Duke Burns at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis (2000-02), Dave Mundy at Sheridan (Ind.) High School (2003 and 2004) and head coach at Sheridan (2005 and 2006).
“He was fantastic,” says Fitzgerald of Kemmerer. “There were so many lessons I learned that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.
“For him, it was really teaching about life and baseball was just the tool. He said baseball is played on a six-inch field — the six inches between your ears. There are no such things as physical errors — they’re all mental. You weren’t prepared.”
Bender, who had big shoes to fill replacing the popular Kemmerer, is credited by Fitzgerald for the opportunity to explore leadership.
Brett played four seasons at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for IHSBCA/NEIBA Hall of Famer Mike Frame, graduating in December 1995.
Before landing at Carroll, Brett was on his father’s Dwenger staff from 1996-2002.
Hershberger, who was an elementary physical education teacher for Windmiller, taught his players about focus and intensity.
“It started with him from the time you started playing catch until you got on the bus and went home,” says Windmiller. “All those things in between mattered. Not that you’re going to dwell on it afterward but this current pitch or at-bat is important.
“If you weren’t ready, you were going to hear about it from Lance.”
Hershberger reminded his players that there was a difference between baseball during the high school and summer seasons. There’s a finality to the high school season while the summer — though very important for development and exposure — is a series of games and unattached tournaments.
Brett did not feel the stigma of being a coach’s son.
“It may have just been the guys I played with,” says Brett. “In hindsight, it may be that dad handled it real well.
“I enjoyed playing for him. There were expectations with the way he wanted you to play. He was good at detecting an issue by watching you swing or throw.”
In his son’s eyes, Larry Windmiller was pretty even-keeled.
“He never got upset,” says Brett. “He was kind of in the middle all the time.
“He really let us play. We had a lot of kids with talent. We played loose and had a lot of success.”
The Dwenger Saints bowed out to Highland in the 1991 South Bend Semistate championship game.
At Huntington, Windmiller learned to play with intensity but not to let a mistake or a perceived bad call fester.
“The intensity of a baseball game is there,” says Windmiller. “It has to be. You learn the moments of the game where that’s appropriate. It cannot drive you into making a second mistake. You can’t carry your at-bat into the field. My red light was strike calls I didn’t agree with.
“Coach Frame was great as far as getting me to try to understand that I’m killing myself when I’m doing that. He helped me lose a little bit of the football mentality.”
Windmiller says he and his fellow coaches have matured over the years and tries set a good example for the players.
“When something bad happens, they are going to look at us,” says Windmiller. “We want to be cheering them on and saying let’s go to the next pitch.”
His first spring at Carroll, Windmiller coached junior varsity players with Mike Klopfenstein.
“JV’s great,” says Windmiller. “There’s no all-conference. There’s no media. It’s just young kids learning how to play baseball the correct way.”
At the JV level, win-loss record is irrelevant. It’s about developing. Between the spring and summer ball and getting in the weight room, a player can make big jumps from one season to the next.
Windmiller is a public address announcer for many Carroll sports, including football, boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling. He has coached eighth grade football and seventh grade girls basketball in the system.
Brett took over the FWBF post after the passing of NEIBA Hall of Famer Dick Crumback in 2019.
The NEIBA presents the Dick Crumback Player of the Year annually to an area ballplayer. The honor comes with a $1,000 donation ($500 from the Crumback family and $500 for the FWBF) to the program of the recipient.
“It’s a pretty tight-knit baseball community in Fort Wayne,” says Windmiller, who has also been a Wildcat League coach.
Brett, a sixth grade science teacher at Carroll Middle School, and wife Kara Windmiller (secretary to Chargers athletic director Dan Ginder) live in the Carroll school district and have two daughters — high school sophomore Ryli and seventh grader Hannah.
Brett’s sister Kari played volleyball and basketball at Dwenger.
Because of concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic, most of the college baseball seasons in Indiana came to a premature end.
COVID-19 has caused campuses to shut down with many schools going to remote learning and social distancing practiced across the country. The NCAA, NAIA and National Junior College Athletic Association all decided to cancel their tournaments and baseball schedules have been wiped out.
“It’s been a learning curve for everybody,” says 17th-year Bethel University coach Seth Zartman. “Everything just happened so fast. It almost seems surreal.”
On Monday, March 13, the Mishawaka-based Pilots were 45 minutes from an intra-squad session when the NAIA made its announcement.
That’s when Zartman and his assistants had to inform players that the season was over.
“It’s one of the most not-fun meetings I’ve ever had to do with the team,” says Zartman, who saw his team conclude 2019-20 at 19-7, including 11-0 in the fall. “We helped them get prepared for online classes. On Tuesday, we had equipment check-in. That’s where we’re sitting at this point.
“We’ll savor what we were able to get done and accomplish and move on.”
Senior right-handed pitcher Justin Rasmussen went 6-1 with a 2.59 earned run average and 37 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings.
For a few years, Bethel has taken advantage of an NAIA rule which allows baseball and softball teams to scheduled counter games in the fall.
“It’s something we’ve come to appreciate,” says Zartman. “It brings a better focus to our fall season. It helps us come closer to the 55-game limit and there’s nicer weather to do it in (in the fall).”
The NCAA (D-I) and NAIA granted every current spring sport athlete an extra year of eligibility if they want to use it.
“That’s another process we’re going to have to navigate,” says Zartman. “I’m not sure how many will come back or take advantage of that at this point.”
The NCAA is expected to announce its decision on other levels by March 20.
The Bethel campus is still open, but many students including players, have decided to go home and continue course work via computer. For that reason, Zartman expects that any exit interviews he does will likely be done by phone.
Zartman, with his office away from many of the other BU employees, has been diving into paperwork he probably would not have tackled until May or June. Wife Antira is a teacher in the Jimtown system and goes in three days a week. The four Zartman children are staying home like the rest of their schoolmates.
“We’re hanging onto a new normal right now,” says Zartman.
Of the 38 college baseball programs in Indiana, 13 are in the NAIA. Besides Bethel, they include Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Saint Francis and Taylor.
When the season came to a halt, No. 12-ranked IU Southeast was 18-1. The New Albany-based Grenadiers’ last game was an 11-7 win against Lindsey Wilson in Columbia, Ky., on March 11. The only loss (6-5 in eight innings) came March 4 in the first game of a doubleheader at then-No. 25 Campbellsville (Ky.).
Junior left-hander Hunter Kloke posted a 2.45 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings.
Ben Reel, who has been IU Southeast’s head coach since 2009, is choosing to see the positives in the situation.
“I learned a lot during this time,” says Reel. “You think you’ve seen it all and done it all and you’re dead wrong.”
Reel recalls his high school psychology class and the five stages of grief and loss — denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
In talking with his network of fellow coaches, including former Grenadiers assistant Andrew Dickson (now at Yale, where the Ivy League was among the first to shut down for 2020), Reel found a recurring theme.
“We weren’t really prepared to be the middle men between our universities and our players,” says Reel. “They’re confused. They’re upset.
“You’re the point person to make sense of everything.”
Reel’s focus throughout his coaching career is to recruit people he wants to be around everyday.
“That’s what hurts the most,” says Reel. “We’re prevented from being around the people we love and that’s our players.”
Another message that Reel has bought into and that’s to use this time without daily baseball for personal growth.
“I’m going to get better at something,” says Reel. “You have time to do whatever you want do and whatever you need to do.”
Sophomore Noah Miller hit .389 (14-of-36) and stole seven bases. Sophomore right-hander Zach Verta slugged two homers and drove in 11 runs while also going 2-1 as a pitcher. Junior Jake Everaert (Hebron) had a 6.50 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 18 innings.
Junior right-hander Noah Huseman, senior right-hander Justin Pettit (Jennings County) and senior right-hander Tucker Waddups (Pioneer) are went 2-0 on the mound. Huseman produced a 3.00 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 21 innings.
Freshman left-hander Tyler Schweitzer (Hamilton Southeastern) went 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA. Junior right-hander Kyle Nicolas (0-1, 2.74) struck out 37 in 23 innings. Senior right-hander John Baker (1-2, 2.42) fanned 27 in 22 1/3 innings.
Sophomore right-hander Shane Gray (1-1, 3.57) struck out 19 in 22 2/3 innings. Senior left-hander Nathan Croner (1-1, 3.26) whiffed 18 in 19 1/3 innings. Senior right-hander David Ellis (Princeton Community) went 2-1 to lead the staff in victories.
Freshman right-hander Jett Jackson (1-0, 1.89) with 13 strikeouts in 19 innings and wins leader and sophomore right-hander Cory Brooks (2-2, 5.12) with 16 K’s in 19 1/3 innings were among the pitching leaders.
Senior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) went 2-2 with a 5.87 ERA and struck out 21 in 23 innings. Sophomore left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead) went 1-1 with a 5.94 ERA and fanned 20 in 16 2/3 innings.
Senior and Center Grove product Will Smithey (8-of-20) and sophomore Ty Williams (10-of-25) both hit .400. Smithey has four homers, 16 RBIs and three stolen bases.
Senior left-hander Myc Witty (Lawrence North) and senior right-hander Reid Werner (Greenwood Community) were both 3-0 on the mound. Witty has a 1.59 ERA. Senior left-hander Corey Bates (1-1) has fanned 30 batters in 18 1/3 innings.
Junior Joe Moran (Anderson High School) hit .563 (18-of-32) with one homer and six stolen bases. As a right-handed pitcher, he was 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 20 innings. He is slated to be the Heartland College Athletic Conference’s first player in the prestigious Cape Cod League this summer.
Junior Joe Henschel (Fort Wayne Carroll) hit .409 (9-of-22) with two homers and eight RBIs.
Senior right-hander Nick Rush (Terre Haute North Vigo) went 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA and had nine strikeouts in nine innings. Sophomore right-hander Zach White (Logansport) went 1-0, 1.13) and fanned eight in eight innings.
Junior left-hander Kyle Robinson (2-0, 0.00), sophomore right-hander Bryce Bloode (2-0, 2.93) and junior right-hander Drew Cebulak (1-0, 1.50) with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings were among the mound leaders. Robinson prepped at Crown Point and Bloode at New Prairie.
Clay Woeste makes a throw for the 2020 Indiana Univesity Southeast baseball team. The New Albany-based Grenadiers were 18-1 when the season came to a sudden halt because of concerns about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Indiana University Southeast Photo)
Bethel University (Mishawaka, Ind.) celebrates one of its 2020 baseball victories. The Pilots went 19-7 in 2019-20. The season was shortened when the NAIA shut down because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. (Bethel University Photo)
“We will play small ball and try to hit the ball gap-to-gap,” says Brumbaugh. “We run the bases. We hit-and-run. At the higher levels you hardly see it at all. We probably use it more than most teams.”
Brumbaugh will take a hitter that may be struggling at the plate and ask them to hit-and-run.
“They can go up there thinking about nothing but putting the bat on the ball,” says Brumbaugh.
A 1985 Northrop graduate who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chris Stavreti, Brumbaugh was the starting second baseman and lead-off hitter on the Bruins’ 1983 state championship team. He was first-team all-Summit Athletic Conference, first-team all-area and second-team all-state in 1984. He is among Northrop’s leaders in career (104) and single-season (46 in 1984) for base on balls.
“It was a great opportunity for me to play for a coach who really stressed fundamentals,” says Brumbaugh of Stavreti. “He was a fiery guy who wanted to get the best out of every player he coached.”
Brumbaugh appreciates that Stavreti allowed him to immerse himself in every aspect of coaching as a Bruins assistant.
“He helped me to develop my overall skills as a coach,” says Brumbaugh, who sports a career record is 160-79 with four SAC titles.
In 2016, Northrop earned a sectional championship and Brumbaugh was IHSBCA Regional Coach of the Year.
Northrop has played on its current field since 1982. Since 1999, it’s been known as Stavreti Field. A project was recently completed on Stravreti Clubhouse, a structure with concession stand, rest rooms and coaches office on the first floor and a 37-stall locker room and press box on the second level.=
The field does not have lights. The diamond is sometimes in the flight path of planes flying in or out of nearby Fort Wayne International Airport.
One of Brumbaugh’s Northrop teammates was Eric Wedge, who went on to play and manage in the majors and is now head coach at Wichita State University.
“When he was a player, he was such a hard-nosed, goal-driven person,” saysBrumbaugh. “He was a freshmen playing at the varsity level and had goals and ambitions beyond high school baseball.
“I’m really happy for him he’s back in the game at Wichita State, where he won a College World Series. It’s going to be a challenge. But he’s the kind of guy who can rise to challenge. You could see that coming from a young age.”
Brumbaugh and Wedge has stayed in-contact over the years and he has been known to visit Northrop players when he’s in Fort Wayne.
A 1990 graduate of Huntington (Ind.) College, Brumbaugh was a first-team all-Mid-Central Conference shortstop 1987-89 and first-team all-NAIA district shortstop in 1988 and 1989, playing for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Mike Frame.
After college, Brumbaugh played for Crumback-Symons, a five-time Indiana state champion in Stan Musial baseball. The 1996 team placed third at the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series.
Brumbaugh was a Northrop assistant coach 1990-97. The 1997 Bruins were a Final Four team in the final year of single-class baseball in Indiana.
From 1998-2005, Brumbaugh was an assistant to Lance Hershberger at Indiana Tech. He was the three-time acting head coach at the NAIA World Series. The Warriors won the NAIA World Series in 1998.
Brumbaugh was Hershberger’s assistants at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School 2007-10.
“He’s one of the best teachers of the game. He’s a stickler for details,” says Brumbaugh of Hershberger, who started the baseball program at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne. “He’s a master of all aspects of the game. He’s a tremendous coach. You can’t learn enough from him.
“He’s intense, but he gets his point across.”
Brumbaugh leads a Northrop coaching staff that features Gary Gatchell (who works with hitters), former big leaguer Dustan Mohr (outfielders, base runners and hitters), Jeremy Downs (infielders), Chad Kohli pitchers), Ben Kline (infielders) and Caleb Wynn (catchers) at the varsity level. Mason Neuman is the head junior varsity coach and is assisted by Trevor Snyder and Northrop graduate David Keating.
It’s a big staff, especially considering that Northrop usually has 25 to 30 players for its two squads.
“Only two are paid and the rest are volunteers,” says Brumbaugh. “They love the game and they love the program.”
Most are home-and-home series in the same week or doubleheaders with the teams trading last at-bats. One of the Northrop-Snider games is slated as part of the Parkview Sports Medicine Series at Parkview Field on April 21.
The Bruins are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Carroll, DeKalb, East Noble and Snider. Northrop has won 15 sectional titles — the last in 2016. Besides being state champions in 1983, the Bruins were state runners-up in 1981.
Over the years, St. Joe Little League and Wallen Baseball, which serve players up to age 14, have been a feeder system for Northrop though more and more players are going the travel baseball route.
Matt and Karen Brumbaugh have been married for 22 years and have two daughters at Indiana University – Jensen (20) and Kendall (18).
Matt Brumbaugh, a 1985 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School graduate, enters his ninth season as the Bruins head baseball coach in 2020.
“I have a lot of good friends that I never would have met if I was not involved.”
Abbott, who grew up in Carroll County and graduated from Delphi (Ind.) High School in 1979, began his coaching career as a teenager at the local Babe Ruth League level. He led a group of 13-year-olds to the state tournament in Noblesville.
He pitched at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University), graduating in 1983, and served one year as an assistant at Brookville (Ind.) High School (now part of Franklin County High School) followed by 21 years as a high school head coach at Eastbrook and Huntington North. His teams won more than 300 games, seven county championships, four conference titles, three sectional crowns, one regional title and made one Final Four Appearance (1999 with Eastbrook).
“I always thought the (Mid-Indiana) Conference was tough when I first started,” says Abbott. “The teams were all good because their coaches were really good.”
Abbott had the distinction of pitching the first no-hitter on the new lighted Delphi diamond when he was a junior for the Oracles. He played for three coaches while in high school — Greg Fisher, Dave Young and Mike Lane.
Long before Abbott was associated with high school baseball, he regular at the IHSAA State Finals and remembers seeing Paul “Spider” Fields lead Lafayette Jeff to its second state championship in 1973. Another found memory is going with his father and grandfather to the Colt League World Series, an event organized by Hall of Famer Harry Bradway and staged at Loeb Stadium in Lafayette. One year, he saw future big league pitcher Sid Fernandez compete there.
During the single-class era, Delphi played in an IHSAA sectional with Lafayette Jeff (coached by Fields), West Lafayette (coached by Hall of Famer Fred Campbell), McCutcheon (coached by Hall of Famer Jake Burton), Harrison and Lafayette Central Catholic.
Abbott and Burton first faced off back in the ‘70s Babe Ruth coaching days when Abbott was in Delphi and Burton in Dayton, Ind.
As a Huntington Forester, Abbott played for three head coaches — Jim Wilson, Fred Vonderlage and Tim McKinnon. Current HU coach and Hall of Famer Mike Frame was a third baseman and classmate of Abbott.
In Brookville, the hometown of Brian’s wife, Trisha Abbott, he got to work with another coach bound for the Hall of Fame — Jim Hughes.
“He was a good mentor to me,” says Abbott of Hughes. “He loved baseball. He loved sports. He was a positive person. He always had something good to say about everybody.
“He was one of those people you hate to lose.”
Abbott currently as a pitching coach at Huntington U. and held that position at Indiana Wesleyan University.
A math teacher for 37 years, Abbott currently instructs eighth graders at Riverview Middle School in Huntington. He holds master’s degrees in mathematics and administration from Ball State University.
He often drives to the nearby Crossroads League games himself. When Huntington makes weekend trips to places like Tennessee in February, Abbott and a friend get on the road about 2 a.m. and then come back to Huntington after the last game.
For several summers, Abbott has worked for Hammel Floor Service, sanding, re-lining and lettering basketball floors. He uses his math skills to put down and fill in the patterns.
“It’s really been neat,” says Abbott. “I’ve had a chance to go to a lot of different venues.”
“Growing up, he was a guy I respected,” says Abbott of Wooden, the coaching legend. “I read his book.
“I feel like I have a good feel of the high school land. I follow high school sports and I love baseball. Being in the association is a good role for me because I feel like I’ve got a pretty good feel for a lot of different things.”
After serving as associate executive director to Hall of Famer Bill Jones, Abbott has spent the past eight years at IHSBCA executive director.
He was nominated for Hall of Fame induction by the IHSBCA executive council.
“I was very humbled by it,” says Abbott. “I’m a mule. I’ve coached.
“It’s been a really good experience.”
Abbott got his start in the IHSBCA when future Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson of Mississinewa invited him to his first State Clinic.
“Little did I know what he was trying to do,” says Abbott. “I didn’t figure it out until about a year later.
“I kind of got drafted into service.”
Atkinson would take statewide IHSBCA office and turn over his district representative duties to Abbott, who led the group that fed the old Kokomo Regional for years.
In that role, he got to know one of the association’s founders and leaders in Jones.
“Bill was very thorough and very complimentary,” says Abbott. “He was very nice to me. He would take me underneath his wing and teach me things.”
Abbott has seen the IHSBCA membership grow. Each January, the association’s state clinic brings around 500 coaches to Indianapolis.
The latest renovation at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper is almost paid off.
“We’ve been working real hard at that the last couple of years,” says Abbott. “The coaches association put in about a third of that money — in the $240,000 or $250,000 range.
Brian and Trisha Abbott have two children — Tyler (who is married to Chelsie and have a son named Quinn) and Briley.
Brian Abbott, the executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, will go into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in January 2020 as a contributor/coach. He is also an eighth grade math teacher in addition to serving as pitching coach at Huntington (Ind.) University.
“As a Class A school, we focus on individuals striving to be consistent and the best they can be,” says Kinnison, who has led the Braves since the 2009 season and knows he has some players who see high school as the end of their baseball careers and others who want more. “We push some to where they want to go.”
Baseball is a team sport, but Kinnison sees it as an opportunity to “play against yourself.”
Individuals find what they can do and how they fit into the puzzle and push themselves — even when no one is watching.
“The game should be easy,” says Kinnison. “Practice should be hard. It’s human nature to only do as much as someone would push you to do.
“We want the best version of you on the ball field. Give me 100 percent of what you have today.
“You’re responsible for what you do. At the end of the day, results are bases on the work you put in.”
Kinnison encourages his players to study the game and the opponent.
“Figure out a weakness and exploit it,” says Kinnison. “If you’re fast, steal bases.
“I don’t think kids think the game as much as they could. They just play.”
College-bound players, especially, will be served by understanding the game.”
“We give as much information as we have as a staff,” says Kinnison, who is assisted by Matt Harmon (the Harmon brothers — Mark, Matt and Jake — were involved in bringing state titles to Blackhawk in 2002, 2005 and 2006), Brice Urschel, Nick Braun and Ryan Davis. Harmon and Braun are BCS teachers. Urschel played for Kinnison then at Huntington (Ind.) University.
Some things become instinctual.
“We don’t use signs very much,” says Kinnison. “We take what they’re giving us.”
Kinnison, who was assistant director of construction for a retail investment company in Cincinnati and came back to Fort Wayne on the weekends, was encouraged to apply for the Blackhawk Christian job by Kinzer.
Blackhawk Christian (enrollment around 240 for high school in the K-12 system) is an independent.
Athletic director Joel Cotton makes up the schedule with some input from the coach.
“I didn’t want a bunch of 1A schools on it,” says Kinnison. “I would rather take our lumps (and get better against tougher competition).
“It’s about taking pride in performing. The team that is able to relax and play their normal game can beat you.”
Since Kinnison has been in charge, there has only been a varsity team with about 18 to 20 players per season. For 2020, he expects to have two seniors, two juniors and seven or eight sophomores.
As a way of supporting the school, all players help with a program established in 2011 by BCS Foundation, Inc., called reNEW Upscale Resale.
The Braves part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Blackhawk has won 14 sectional titles — the last in 2017.
Blackhawk Christian played only a handful of games on-campus in 2019 because of wet conditions. The rest of their home dates were contested on the turf at the ASH Centre, home of the World Baseball Academy.
Kevin and Annette Kinnison have three daughters — Taylor, Kenzie and Karlee. Taylor is 22. Eighth grader Kenzie and sixth grader Karlee have attended Blackhawk since they were in kindergarten. Kevin is co-owner of Blue Apple Construction.
Kevin Kinnison has been the head baseball coach at Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne, Ind., since the 2009 season. He played at Fort Wayne Snider High School, Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University). (Steve Krah Photo)
During his days in Sheridan, Ind., Flueckiger taught remedial English to seventh and eighth graders, American Literature to high schoolers and coached just about every sport and lapped up knowledge from Indiana Football Hall of Famer Larry “Bud” Wright for 11 years.
Flueckiger coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization for five years and worked with former Marian College coach Bret Shambaugh.
He then followed Shambaugh in 1996 to Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) as a volunteer pitching coach. It was during the transition from NAIA to NCAA and the team played all its games — 56 a year — on the road for two seasons. He also worked with Brian Donohew at IUPUI.
“I was not the best player in terms of showing respect to my opponents and he had to teach me how to do that,” says Flueckiger. “I thank him for every day he spit it my face or yelled at me because he did it with love.
“He also taught me how to compete and not want to lose.”
Then came the tenure as Frame’s pitching coach. Former Huntington North head coach Jarrod Hammel played at HU.
Since 2000, Flueckiger has been a salesman for Jostens. The past eighth years, he worked northwest Indiana — South Bend to Gary to Lafayette to Wabash — and driven his car about 60,000 miles a year while meeting with coaches, administrators, athletes and parents. He handles Hall of Fame and Coach of the Year rings for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.
“I know everybody,” says Flueckiger.
Bill Jones, one of the IHSBCA founders and long-time executive director, was one of Flueckiger’s mentors.
“I knew him from 1977 on,” says Flueckiger, who competed against him when South Adams went against his DeKalb teams. “He was a great man.”
Along the way, Fluekiger has got to coach against and learn from people like Gary Rogers, who coached baseball at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers for decades and is now at Leo.
When Bob Prescott came to Huntington North football as head football coach for 2019, Flueckiger joined his coaching staff as defensive coordinator.
When the head baseball coach position came open, Flueckiger was encouraged to go for it and was hired in early September. Many football players also play baseball for the Vikings.
“Why not just coach them in another sport?,” says Flueckiger. “I just think the kids at Huntington are great.
“The tradition of Huntington North goes way back. When I was in high school we played against (Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer) Don Sherman. In the summertime, we played in his tournaments.”
Many an afternoon or evening during Flueckiger’s college years were spent in the living room at the Sherman home, watching the Chicago Cubs with Don and son Todd Sherman and learning about baseball.
Focusing on football, Flueckiger said he will probably not begin assembling his baseball coaching staff until around Thanksgiving time.
Mark and high school sweetheart Kim will celebrate 30 years of marriage in December. The couple sides near Markle, Ind., with son Calvin (9).
The Vikings are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Columbia City, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead. Huntington North has won 20 sectional titles — the last in 2017.
Mark Flueckiger, shown in front of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets mural, is the new head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) North High School.
“He was always on the field doing something and we wondered what he was doing,” says Rogers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and National Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “Now, I understand that really well.”
With just one gym at Luers, the location of indoor workouts was not a certainty for Rogers and his teams. It may still get crowded, but there is a main gym and auxiliary available at Leo Junior/Senior, a part of East Allen County Schools.
“I love that logo because I’m a White Sox guy,” says Rogers.
The coach considers himself to be “old school.”
“Everybody wears the uniform the same,” says Rogers. “We’re either all up (with the socks) or all down. We ask them to get haircuts. Those are my things.
“As for the baseball, we always work and always hustle. We want to be the first ones on the field and the first ones off the field. We want to get after every ball.
“I’m trying to teach the game the right way. I disagreed with Bryce Harper when he said there is no right way to play the game. I believe there is.”
One former player really took the Rogers’ insistence on hustle.
While he grew physically after high school and was very talented athletically, Kevin Kiemaier worked his way to the major leagues. He is now the starting center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Rogers cherishes the memory of visiting Kiemaier while he was in rookie ball and him telling his former coach, “the rays like me because I’m a program guy. That serves me well.”
A three-sport athlete at Luers (football, basketball and baseball), Kiemaier demonstrated his athleticism while on the mound in the 2008 South Bend Semistate championship game against Boone Grove. A ball was smashed up the middle and Kiermaier stabbed it behind his back.
“He doesn’t make that play if he’s not an athlete,” says Rogers.
Winning pitcher Kiermaier led off and hurled the first five innings before going to shortstop as Luers beat Elwood 14-9 to win the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2008. That capped a school year in which the Knights also took state crowns in football and basketball.
Besides the state championship, Rogers-coached Luers baseball squads won four sectionals, one regional and one semistate.
He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2008 and has earned district COTY honors twice.
Very involved in the Fort Wayne diamond community, Rogers has been part of Wildcat Baseball League since former Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci asked him to help more than three decades ago. He started as director at Northwood Middle School, moved to St. Joe Little League then took on an administrative role.
On April 23, 2019, Rogers earned career victory No. 500 against Norwell.
Rogers was an assistant to Don Hummel at New Haven and Larry Gerardo at Luers before taking over that program.
The 2018 Leo squad went 19-8. The 2019 team was 18-3 through May 13.
Alex Bireley, Christian Brubaker, Chase Chaney, Ryan Hackworth, Chance McMaken, Tyler Parker and A.J. Restivo are seniors on the current Leo squad. Hackworth has committed to play baseball at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.
Rogers’ assistants are Brent Davis, Brian Turner and Jim Sickafoose with the varsity and Tom Miller and Mitch Meinholtz with the junior varsity. Davis is a New Haven graduate. Turner went to Fort Wayne Snider and played for Indiana Tech when Hershberger was a head coach and Rogers an assistant. Sickafoose is a former Central Noble head coach. There are 33 players in the program in 2019.
The Lions are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, New Haven and Columbia City. Leo has earned eight sectional crowns — the last in 2012.