Tag Archives: Mishawaka

Gerard hired as head coach for 4A Northridge Raiders

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attracted by a talent pool and first-class place to play and train, Chad Gerard went after the head baseball coaching job at Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind., and was hired this fall. His first official day was Oct. 2.
“It’s (an IHSAA Class) 4A school,” says Gerard. “4A jobs don’t open up very often. Facilities available there are state-of-the-art.
“Who wouldn’t want to have that (artificial turf) to play on everyday?”
The 2021 season was the Raiders’ first on the D-Bat Elkhart Field at Jane Allen Athletic Complex rug. Northridge went 17-7 overall and 10-4 in the Northern Lakes Conference.
The Raiders hosted a baseball sectional for the first time. Concord, Goshen, Elkhart, Penn and Warsaw completed the 4A tournament field.
Northridge (enrollment around 1,500) is in the NLC with Concord, Goshen, 4A Mishawaka, 3A NorthWood, 4A Plymouth, Warsaw and 3A Wawasee.
The Raiders have won seven sectional titles — the last in 2019.
Gerard was the head coach at 2A Bremen 2017-21. The Lions are in the Northern Indiana Conference with Elkhart, 3A Mishawaka Marian, 3A New Prairie, Penn, 4A South Bend Adams and 3A South Bend Saint Joseph in one division and Bremen, 3A Glenn, 3A Jimtown, 3A South Bend Clay, 4A South Bend Riley and 3A South Bend Washington in the other.
The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period ended Oct. 16. Gerard a chance to have one introductory workout and another batting practice on the field.
“Then I said, ‘See you in December’ (for the next Limited Contact Period),” says Gerard, who has had 32 players — not including freshmen — indicate interest in going out for 2022. “I’m hoping to be in the mid-40’s range (for three teams in the spring). We’ll be hitting hard in January through mid-March and start of the season.”
Gerard has hired three of six assistant coaches – Mark Bell (pitching coach/first base), Jim Morris (hitting/bench) and Andy Ross (head junior varsity). Vacancies to be filled are JV assistant and both head and assistant C-team. Bell was with Gerard on the Mishawaka High School staff.
Gerard, a former catcher and 1998 Mishawaka High School graduate who played for Gregg Minegar at MHS and Glenn Johnson at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., spent 10 years as an assistant to Cavemen head coach John Huemmer.
With shipping delays in mind, Gerard has started ordering equipment like hats, catcher’s gear, batting helmets and other practice items.
He’s also began planning a fundraiser that Northridge baseball and softball share.
Gerard has also set up communication channels with players and parents, using an app called Remind and started indoor practice plans. The Raiders have a large a fieldhouse.
Like his other coaching stops, Gerard will put an emphasis on servant leadership.
“These players will be husbands, fathers, employees and citizens of the community,” says Gerard. “We’re teaching these kids how to deal with tough situations, how to be on a team and how to deal with losing. That’s our focus.
“God put leaders on this earth to better others — not themselves. The side effect is better baseball players.”
This fall, Gerard was an instructor in the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp.
Away from coaching, Gerard provides on-site Information Technology service for Acruity in Goshen, Ind.
Chad and wife of 13 years, Amanda, reside in Oceola, Ind., with daughter Kaitlyn (10), a fifth grader at Bittersweet Elementary School in the Penn-Harris-Madison system.

Chad Gerard.

Alum Salazar takes over Wawasee baseball program

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Knowing that he wanted to apply for a head coach position at his alma mater, Joe Salazar changed his day job.
A few months ago, Salazar became project manager at Grand Design RV in Middlebury, Ind., — a position which requires less hours than his previous place of employment — and was hired to run the baseball program at Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind., where he graduated in 1994.
Salazar, who is in the process of bringing in assistants and plans to get in a few workouts during the current IHSAA Limited Contact Period which ends Oct. 16 while also serving as third-year eighth grade head football coach at Wawasee, has outlined some areas of emphasis.
“We’re looking to improve in a lot of areas — our record, (Northern Lakes Conference) finish and make a good run at sectional,” says Salazar, who takes over the Warriors from Wawasee alum Brent Doty, who resigned to concentrate on his athletic director duties. “We want to get back to the basics and put the ball in play.
“I looked at the stats and a lot of guys left runners on base or did not get down sacrifices.”
Wawasee (enrollment around 950) is a member of the Northern Lakes Conference (with Concord, Goshen, Mishawaka, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw).
In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley and West Noble. Wawasee has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2021 on their own field. The Warriors’ previous sectional championship came in 1997.
The 2021 team went 18-13 overall and 8-6 in the NLC and featured seven seniors. Among those was Kameron Salazar, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series selection now on the baseball team at Marian University in Indianapolis and a roommate of A.J. Bordenet (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tim Bordenet of Lafayette Central Catholic).
Joe’s younger son — Kaleb — is a sophomore. When Kaleb’s classmates were 8 and 9, Joe established the Wawasee Elite travel team that played in 10U events. Joe Salazar was also an assistant coach for Northern Indiana Elite during Kameron’s 12U summer.
Other Wawasee returnees include the Brooks brothers — senior Grant and sophomore Ty. Their new coach be Wawasee’s top two pitchers in 2022.
Grant Brooks, a Butler University commit, hit .415 (39-of-94) with five home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 37 runs batted in and 31 runs in 27 games in 2021. As a pitcher, he appeared in eight games and went 6-1 with a 1.38 earned run average, 48 strikeouts and 14 walks in 40 2/3 innings.
Ty Brooks pitched in nine games and posted a 4-2 mound mark with a 1.70 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 33 innings.
Senior Lucas Ringler, who hit .289 (26-of-90) five triples, three doubles, 16 RBIs and 29 runs in 27 games in ’21, and junior Colt Dolsen, who batted .338 (22-of-65) with 12 RBIs in 24 games, are also expected back.
The junior varsity team wrapped last spring by winning a tournament and several of those players move up to varsity.
“They’re hard workers,” says Salazar of his young squad. “We can have a pretty decent team.”
Four 2020 Wawasee graduates — Logan Adkins (University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.), Levi Brown (Anderson, Ind., University), Antonio Garcia-Sanchez (Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) and Carter Woody (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) — were on college baseball posters in 2021.
Salazar, who has been involved in community sports for many years, hopes to establish a feeder system of travel teams.
“That’s what successful programs are doing,” says Salazar. “They’re playing together (and learning how its done at the high school).”
Joe Salazar participated four years each of baseball and football and two each of basketball and wrestling at Wawasee. His head coaches were Neal Frantz, Randy Aalbregtse and John Blunk on the diamond, Troy Akers and Gene Mitz on the gridiron, Gary Goshert on the court and Scott DeHart on the mat.
At Goshen (Ind.) College, Salazar played three seasons for Maple Leafs head coach DeVon Hoffman and one for Todd Bacon (who is Kameron’s head coach at Marian), switching from shortstop to third base as a freshman.
DeVon was a stickler for details. He wanted to make sure we did things correctly all the time. The little things matter.
Bacon was very young then. He kept the same things going.
Salazar earned a Business degree from Goshen in 1998.
Joe, who is married to Yvonne Salazar, also has two older stepchildren — Riley Weber and Ashley Weber.

Joe Salazar

Michiana Scrappers, Indiana Twins join Canes Baseball family

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A nationally-recognized travel baseball showcase brand has expanded in Indiana.
Canes Baseball has brought the Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Twins into the family and those organizations have rebranded to Canes Great Lakes and Canes Indiana.
Together with Canes Midwest, there are now three Canes Baseball entities in the Hoosier State.
Canes Midwest president Jay Hundley approached the Scrappers and Twins as Canes was looking to raise its profile in Indiana. Hundley’s Indiana Outlaws, which he founded in 2012, joined Canes a few years ago.
With President and CEO and 17U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.
Canes Great Lakes has a training facility — The Scrap Yard — 4027 N. Home Street in Mishawaka. Canes Indiana works out in three buildings at 6727 S.R. 67 North in Martinsville (next to the Centerbrook Drive-In movie theater).
“It’s good we have this opportunity,” says Brian Blondell, president/director of player operations for the Scrappers and now Canes Great Lakes. “It gives us room for growth and the backing Canes has regionally and nationally.
“This makes the most sense for our kids. Nothing changes day-to-day. We just now have more leverage with Canes National and Canes Midwest.
The School of Hard Knocks Scrappers started in 2004 with one 15U/16U team and grew from there and became the Michiana Scrappers, drawing players from Michigan as well as Indiana. More than 130 players went on to play college baseball.
“It was hard with what you’ve put into it, the branding, colors (orange and black) and all the time and commitment” says Blondell of saying goodbye to the Scrappers identity for baseball. The organization has also been involved in softball, basketball and hockey.
In 2021, the Scrappers were represented by 19 baseball and four softball teams.
Recent tryouts for Canes Great Lakes brought out 203 players. Blondell says his part of the system could field up to 22 teams in 2022. That includes three at the 15U level.
Scott Haase, vice president and pitching coordinator for the Indiana Twins and now Canes Indiana, expects there will be around 14 teams wearing the familiar gold and black Canes colors for Canes Indiana in 2022.
Jason Clymore, the father of boy-girl twins born in 2009 who founded the Indiana Twins in 2012, was approached by Hundley about his organization becoming part of Canes Baseball.
Haase says the Canes were impressed with the Twins’ track record.
“Jason has been in the travel ball world for over 20 years developing athletes and are organization has continued to develop athletes each and every year so they wanted us to be the representative for Canes Indiana,” says Haase.
Twins players came from around the state and Haase says he expects that to continue with Canes Indiana.
“The difference now is those athletes that weren’t too sure about making that travel and now willing to make that travel,” says Haase. “It’s a national brand and that’s a big deal to our organization. There’s been immediate buy-in from everybody. We’ve been known across the state, but to be known nationally is a jump we’re more than ready for.”
For more information about Canes Great Lakes, contact at canesgreatlakes@gmail.com.
To know more about Canes Indiana, contact canesindiana@gmail.com.

Canes Baseball
Canes Great Lanes
Michiana Scrappers
Brian Blondell
Indiana Twins
Jason Clymor
Scott Haase
Canes Indiana
Jay Hundley of Canes Midwest (gray)

Mishawaka grad Jablonski gets his college baseball chance at Valpo U.

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grant Jablonski had assumed that his baseball playing career was coming to an end with his couple of innings on the mound in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series in Madison, Ind.
The Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate had not gotten any college baseball honors and had already enrolled as a student-only at Purdue University.
“I had given up on baseball,” says Jablonski, who exited Mishawaka in 2019 as the school record holder in career pitching wins (20) and career stolen bases (63) and was part of three sectional championship teams on the diamond (2016, 2018, 2019). “I wanted to play at a bigger school, but I had nowhere to go after I graduated.”
It turns out that two former Valparaiso (Ind.) University assistant coaches were going to help Jablonski turn things around.
Nic Mishler, who was then on the staff at Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College, was scouting at a sectional game and reached out to Jablonski.
“I owe him a lot,” says Jablonski of Westview High School graduate Mishler who is now head coach at DACC.
Ben Wolgamot, a Western Kentucky University who had also been at Valpo, pulled some strings.
It also helped Jablonski that VU head coach Brian Schmack was at the all-star series since his son, Kyle Schmack, was participating — and on his way to MVP.
After a postgame conversation, Jablonski went to visit Coach Schmack on the Valpo campus and soon was starting his NCAA Division I baseball experience.
“It’s crazy,” says Jablonski, who was 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds when he stepped on the campus. “I owe Coach Schmack a lot for giving me a chance.
“I’m still trying to put weight on,” says right-hander Jablonski who is now up to 5-10 and 175.
In two seasons (2020-21), he has appeared in six games (all in relief) and is 0-0 with a 6.24 earned run average with six strikeouts and four walks in 4 1/3 innings.
In his second season in the College Summer League at Grand Park, Jablonski has been working a morning jobs and commuting to Westfield, Ind., on the days he starts. On July 20, the Moon Shots right-hander pitched 5 1/3 no-hit innings with one walk. The reason he came out of the game is that the team only had two pitchers available for a nine-inning game and Michael Brewer needed some mound time.
Jablonski played for the A-Team when the CSL cropped up in 2020 as other summer collegiate leagues were shutting down during COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a really good league,” says Jablonski, noting that University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis (No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft to the Pittsburgh Pirates) and Miami University fireballer and Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate Sam Bachman (No. 9 overall to the Los Angeles Angels) played at Grand Park in 2020.
Former San Francisco Giants scout Kevin Christman has been Jablonski’s head coach in both his CSL seasons.
“He’s a super good coach to have,” says Jablonski of Christman. “He’s a good source of baseball knowledge.”
Throwing from the three-quarter overhand arm slot, Jablonski employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, change-up and slider. His four-seamer sits about 86 to 89 mph. His curve moves end-over-end in a 12-to-6 fashion. His “circle” change has a low spin rate and drops. His slider — with more horizontal break — is somewhere between the fastball and change-up with its spin.
“The fastball and change-up compliment each other well when its coming from the same (release point).”
Jablonski says his fastball has spun at around 2300 rpm with the curve as high as about 2500.
There are flat screens at Grand Park that prominently display spin rates and velocity.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” says Jablonski. “You don’t need to fire 95, 96, 97 to be a good college pitcher.
“You need to threw multiple pitches in multiple counts for strikes and have command.”
Jablonski saw Schmack employ an opener (right-hander Easton Rhodehouse) and followed him with a starter (righty Ryan Mintz) in Valpo’s weekend series and both were able to spot pitches well and pitch to weak contact.
Left-hander Geremy Guerrero had a standout season for Missouri Valley Conference rival Indiana State University.
“He is by no means overpowering,” says Jablonski of Guerrero. “But he throws all pitches for command in all counts.”
One thing Jablonski appreciates about Schmack is the he makes small tweaks and does not overhaul a pitcher’s mechanics if it’s not necessary.
“He doesn’t try to change you too much,” says Jablonski. “It’s smaller changes.
“He knows what he’s talking about for sure.”
Born and raised in Mishawaka, Grant played for the Landsharks and later the Mishawaka Mayhem (2011-13), coached by father Jason Jablonski and Mike Fisher. That was followed by the Mike Lee-coached Indiana Shredders (2014-17), Mike Logan-coached Michiana Scrappers (2017-18) and Jim Shively-coached Indiana Chargers (2018-19).
Jablonski earned nine varsity letters at Mishawaka — four in baseball, three in basketball and two in football. His head coaches were John Huemmer in baseball, Ryan Watson and Ron Heclinski in basketball and Bart Curtis and Keith Kinder in football.
“He’s a great coach,” says Jablonski of Huemmer. “We had such a senior-led team (in 2019). He let us work on our own.”
The pitcher/middle infielder earned IHSBCA Class 4A honorable mention all-state honors in 2019 and was all-Northern Indiana Conference second team in 2017 and 2019.
Jablonski, who turns 21 on Sept. 1, is a Business Analytics major and Supply Chain and Logistics Management minor at Valpo U.
Grant’s parents are Jason and Kelley Jablonski. His siblings — both older — are Sydney Jablonski and Ryan Lewis.
Jason Jablonski is administrative director at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. Kelley Jablonski works at Beacon Health & Fitness.
Sydney Jablosnki is heading into pharmacy school at Purdue.
Ryan Lewis, who played baseball at Mishawaka High and Ancilla College, is employed by the City of Mishawaka.

WSBT-TV Video on Grant Jablonski
Grant Jablonski (Valparaiso University Photo)
Grant Jablonski (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Grant Jablonski (Valparsaiso University Photo)

Region-raised slugger Seymour selected by Tampa Bay Rays

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bobby Seymour strikes an imposing figure on the baseball field.
The lefty-swinging first baseman stands 6-foot-4 and weight 250.
“I’m pretty big and physical,” says Seymour. “I’m definitely powerful.
“I have a smart baseball I.Q. and play the game the right way.”
This week the 22-year-old resident of St. John, Ind., and 2017 graduate of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago was selected in the 13th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays out of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is to travel to St. Petersburg, Fla., next Tuesday for a physical and could begin his professional playing career soon.
With one year of eligibility remaining because of COVID-19, Seymour has represented the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on the diamond for four seasons.
In 176 games, Seymour hit .320 (223-of-695) with 38 home runs, 45 doubles, 190 runs batted in, 135 runs scored.
With 21, Seymour was among the nation’s top NCAA Division homer hitters in 2021. Ahead of him were South Carolina’s Wes Clarke and Florida State’s Matheu Nelson with 23 apiece and Notre Dame’s Niko Kavadas with 22. Tied with Seymour were Northeastern’s Jared Dupere, Dallas Baptist’s Jackson Glenn, Memphis’ Hunter Goodman and Texas Tech’s Jace Jung.
Kavadas, a 2018 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., is an 11th-round 2021 draft pick of the Boston Red Sox.
What are Seymour’s best qualities as a hitter?
“Being able to drive the ball to all fields,” says Seymour. “When guys are in scoring position, you you just want to drive them in.
“You’re trying to do a job. You just want to want a good swing on something and pass the torch.”
Playing for Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter, associate head coach/hitting coach Bill Cilento and volunteer coach Joey Hammond (now head coach at High Point University), Seymour shined.
“It was an absolute pleasure playing for (Walter),” says Seymour. “He always knew how to get me to perform at my best. He made it a priority to make me better.”
Seymour could always count on Cilento and Hammond to throw him extra batting practice or help him with his defense. He went from 10 errors as a freshman to 12 in his next three seasons.
The pandemic shortened the 2020 campaign. Seymour turned heads around the college baseball world in 2019, hitting .377 with seven homers, 12 doubles, a nation-leading 92 RBIs (45 with two outs) and 51 runs. He was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist. All-American honors came from Collegiate Baseball (first team), Perfect Game (second team), American Baseball Coaches Association (second team), D1Baseball.com (third team).
Seymour continued to produce even after being struck by what turned out to be appendicitis during an ACC series against North Carolina State. Even with stabbing pains in his abdomen, adrenaline and antibiotics allowed him to the stay in the lineup.
That summer Seymour played a few weeks with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League and was going to join Team USA, but ended up having appendix surgery while on the Cape.
“My dad (Bob) happened to be there, which was good,” says Seymour.
Seymour did not play summer collegiate ball this year while getting ready for the draft, working out at The Max in McCook, Ill., home to Top Tier Baseball and his hitting instructor since high school, Matt Plante.
The power hitter was in the Northwoods League in the summers of 2018 (St. Cloud, Minn., Rox) and 2020 (Rockford, Ill., Rivets).
Born in Harvey, Ill., in 1998, Robert John Seymour moved from Homewood, Ill., to St. John with his family when he was about 5. He played in youth leagues from 6 to 8 then travel ball for the Region Redbirds followed by the Illinois Sparks and Top Tier Baseball.
Many travel ball teammates and opponents from either side of the Indiana-Illinois State Line wound up playing in the Chicago Catholic League, including Scott Kapers (now in the Texas Rangers system).
After a few months at Brother Rice, Seymour followed family tradition by enrolling at Mount Carmel. He father, grandfather and uncles went there.
Playing for Caravan head coach Brian Hurry, Seymour was selected as the 2017 Daily Southtown Player of the Year after hitting .561 with 15 homers, 10 doubles and 48 RBIs. In a junior, he hit .374 with four homers, 10 doubles and 51 RBIs. Mount Carmel was an Illinois Class 4A state runner-up in 2015.
Seymour made an immediate impact at Wake Forest, earning Collegiate Baseball Freshmen All-American honors.
Bob and Zoe Ann Seymour have three children — Adrienne, Lizzie and Bobby. The girls both graduated from Lake Central High School in St. John. Lizzie Seymour played softball and George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Bobby Seymour (Wake Forest University Photo)

Thoughts of American Legion baseball keep Cruz going during COVID-19 battle

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts.
The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it.
One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.”
There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy.
“It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered.
Baseball also played a big part.
“Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.”
Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans.
“You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.”
While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance.
Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field.
Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer —  is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020.
For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline.
“He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.”
As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill.
Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay.
“Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.”
Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U).
“It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.”
Being around teams has given Neveah something more.
“I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah.
Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11.
This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season.
“Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz.
Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner.
If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players.
“I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.”
Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers.
Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms.
American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players.
Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021.
Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on.
Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father.
Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year).
Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year.
The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.

Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr. (Steve Krah Photo)
Tony Cruz Jr. and daughter Neveah.
Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr.
A regional title was won by South Bend American Legion Post 151 in 2018.
Tony Cruz Jr. battles COVID-19 in 2020. He was hospitalized 25 days in May, including nine in Intensive Care.
Tony Cruz Jr. had to go on high-flow oxygen during his battle with COVID-19 in 2020.
Out of the hospital after his COVID-19 battle, Tony Cruz came “home” to Jim Reinebold Field, home of South Bend Clay High School and South Bend American Legion Post 151 baseball.
Jim Treadway (left) and Tony Cruz Jr. bond over American Legion, high school baseball.

Cass enjoying success with South Bend John Adams Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Adams High School in South Bend, Ind., is enjoying quite a baseball season so far in 2021.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Mike Cass, the Eagles go into a Thursday, May 20 contest at Penn at 15-3 overall and 6-3 in Northern Indiana Conference games.

“It’s the best season we’ve had in years,” says Cass, who has witnessed steady pitching and defense and has shuffled his lineup to produce some offense. Of the three losses, two came down to the seventh inning.

“We’ve gotten lucky,” says Eagles pitching coach Taylor Neville. “We’ve got pretty good depth at the pitching spot. 

“We always try to develop (the young arms) and give them time at the JV level or in a intrasquad game or a doubleheader where we’re trying to get guys playing time. We see how they perform and what we can fix. We come up with a plan for them. 

“We’ve really had a lot of guys develop. It know it just doesn’t happen here but in summer ball.”

Neville cites Adams senior Bryce Martens as someone who has gotten better as his prep career has progressed.

“In his freshman came up with us (to varsity),” says Neville. “His first game pitching was against Jimtown and he was really struggling with the curve ball. We worked on that and got a very nice curve ball out of it.

“He’s just continued to develop.”

Neville is a graduate of Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln High School.

C.J. Schwartz, another Adams assistant, graduate from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School and played baseball at Grace College in Winona, Lake, Ind.

What does Cass stress with his Adams players?

“Leadership, sportsmanship and fundamentals,” says Cass. “We want to do the little things in baseball like bunt coverage and being where you’re supposed to be (at your position) and those sorts of things.”

Prior to taking over the Adams program, Cass was an assistant to former South Bend St. Joseph head coach John Gumpf and before that an assistant to Scott Sherry at John Adams. 

He credits Gumpf for much about what he knows about coaching the game.

Cass coached at South Bend East Side Little League before his first stint at Adams.

Cass came to Indiana from Pennsbury Township, Pa. — west of Philadelphia where he rooted for the Philadelphia Phillies and his favorite player, Mike Schmidt.

Further educated at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind., and Indiana University South Bend, Cass has been a bookkeeper in the South Bend Community School Corporation for the past 20 years — mostly at John Adams.

Adams (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the NIC (with Bremen, Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington).

“We’ve got some good coaches in this conference,” says Cass. “You can tell they’re good coaches because they’re always there building a program.”

The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth (the 2021 host) and Riley. Adams has won six sectional titles — the last in 2009.

Adams plays its home games at School Field, which is located about a mile off-campus next to the football field of the same name and Jefferson Traditional School.

Mike Cass (South Bend John Adams High School Photo)

Penn grad Yoder assigned to D-III World Series as umpire

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Yoder played for a state championship football team and was part of a competitive baseball program in high school. 

He was on a conference title-winning football team in college.

He served in the U.S. Army and is still attached as a civilian worker. 

Yoder knows about being part of a team. 

He also knows that there are more than two teams on the field or court for each game. 

There are the opponents and there are the game officials.

“Umpiring equates to playing sports and the military,” says Yoder. “On the field, you’re a team.”

Yoder, a 1985 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who lives in Powhatan, Va., and works at Fort Lee, has earned the right to umpire at the 2021 NCAA Division III World Series June 4-9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 

CWS games will be played at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium — home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels of the High-A Central League (formerly known as the Midwest League).

Yoder has umpired NCAA Division I and Division III colleges along the East Coast from Pennsylvania to North Carolina for 16 years. He works Old Dominion Athletic ConferenceMid-Atlantic Conference, Colonial Athletic Association and Atlantic 10 Conference games and has worked out-of-league Atlantic Coast Conference contests. 

In 2016, Yoder was a D-III regional alternate. He made it onto the field in the postseason in 2017 and 2018 and was a regional and super regional crew chief in 2019 — the year that D-III adopted the D-I postseason model of regional, super regional and College World Series.

Yoder had noticed that super regional crew chiefs tend to be assigned to the D-III CWS the next year. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 regular season early and took away the postseason.

This past week it was confirmed that Yoder is part of the D-III College World Series crew.

The son of Mishawaka residents Keith (who was on the Penn-Harris-Madison school board) and Virginia Yoder (who was a teacher) and brother of Granger’s Kevin Yoder, Mark was a youngster traveling with his father to basketball referee gigs when he got his first taste for athletic officiating.

At Penn, Mark Yoder was a tight end for Indiana Football Hall of Fame coach Chris Geesman and a junior on the Kingmen’s first state champion in 1983.

A football assistant and head football coach at Penn was Chuck Wegner, also an Indiana Football Hall of Famer.

“I love Geez,” says Yoder. “As a kid you don’t realize what you learn from your coaches. They just instilled such a mentality of teamwork and counting on each other.

“(Geesman) was hard, but he was always fair. I got to play because I worked hard or didn’t get to play because I didn’t work hard.”

Yoder remembers Wegner’s policy with game officials.

“He would never let us mouth off to an umpire,” says Yoder. “That was a huge no-no. He would never tolerate that. 

“Occasionally he would chirp about a pitch. But I don’t ever remember Chuck getting silly with officials.”

Current Penn head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos coached Yoder as a junior varsity player and then led the Kingsmen for much of his senior season while Wegner was away on medical leave.

Through it all, Yoder was able to apply criticism as an athlete and get better.

“It’s no different in umpiring,” says Yoder.

After graduating from Penn in 1985, Yoder played two football seasons at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., for RHIT Hall of Famer Scott Duncan

The Fightin’ Engineers won what is now the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in 1986. 

When an injury ended his gridiron playing career, Yoder transferred to Indiana State University in Terre Haute and earned his degree.

On an ROTC scholarship and commissioned to the Army, Yoder was an intramural basketball official for $10 a game at Rose-Hulman and also worked other sports at Rose and ISU.

Yoder took a hiatus from officiating while focusing on his military career. The last few years of active duty, he found himself in Germany and served Department of Defense high school baseball, basketball and volleyball.

When he arrived back in the U.S. and the Richmond, Va., area Yoder aligned with the Old Dominion Umpires Association — a group that trains and supports baseball officials. 

He contacted ODUA commissioner Greg Walls and was invited to work a fall scrimmage at the University of Richmond in the fall of 2008.

“I had no umpire gear (it was still on a boat coming from Germany,” says Yoder. “I showed up in shorts and a collared shirt.

“They were running three-man. I had never worked in the three-man system. We never did that in Europe.”

Yoder was made the third base umpire.

“I was a fish out of water,” says Yoder, who soon learned three-man mechanics with the help of a veteran umpire.

He also got to polish his two-man techniques at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va.

Yoder spent the winter of 2008-09 honing his skills and worked his first high school game in the spring at the Class 3A varsity level (the highest in Viriginia at the time).

He figured he has earned his way.

“If you have the skills, ability and game management you’re going to work,” says Yoder. “It’s not the good old boys club.

“You can’t hide a good umpire and you can’t hide a bad umpire. I had enough potential to keep an eye on.”

Walls was not only high school commissioner for the ODUA but supervisor of umpires for the D-III ODAC. 

In 2009 and 2010, Walls gave Yoder high school and American Legion ball assignments with umpires who did college baseball. At the same time, the Indiana native attended two-man camps as well as a three-man camp ran by Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Umpires.

Yoder worked junior college games in 2011 and 2012 and his first D-III game in 2013. By 2015 he was doing almost a full conference season. After that came some D-I assignments.

Yoder has four children all living in northern Indiana — Andrew (Southwest), Sarah (New Paris), Zac South Bend) and Matthew (Elkhart). Matthew Yoder just enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Umpires at the 2019 NCAA Division III Super Regional baseball tournament staged at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.: Greg Kiewitt (Baltimore), Jerry Buresh (Quinton, Va.), Dan Miller (Sebring, Fla.) and Mark Yoder (Powhatan, Va.). Yoder is a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute and a U.S. Army veteran and current civilian worker
Mark Yoder, a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute and a U.S. Army veteran, has been assigned as a baseball umpire at the 2021 NCAA Division III College World Series June 4-9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Baker, Flemm guiding Elkhart Christian Academy Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A 30-something from Indiana and a 20-something from New Jersey have come together to lead the baseball program at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy.

Shawn Baker, 34, and Matthew Flemm, 24, are co-head coaches for the Eagles. 

Baker graduated from Northridge High School (Middlebury, Ind.) in 2005 and Manchester University (North Manchester, Ind.) in 2009 as a Grades 5-12 Social Studies major.

He played at Northridge for two head coaches — Mike Logan and Troy Carson. Rick Espeset was his coach for four seasons at Manchester.

Northridge was very competitive in Baker’s junior and senior seasons and the friendships started off the field carried on to it.

“We’d have our backs there, too,” says Baker.

“Both Mike and Troy instilled the hard-nosed baseball philosophy in us as players,” says Baker of Logan and Carson. “It’s working hard in practice and seeing the transfer over in games.

“I learned a lot from Coach Espeset about the ‘why’ and the philosophy of the game of baseball.”

As an educator, Baker was at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy and Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been at Northridge Middle School for the past eight years, teaching eighth grade Social Studies and coaching seventh grade boys basketball.

He has served an assistant baseball coach at Dowagiac (Mich.) Union High School and Westview for Warriors head coach Jason Rahn.

“I had been getting the itch to coach baseball again,” says Baker, who applied at ECA and was hired in mid-February. The first official day of practice was March 15.

Baker has been married for eight years. Shawn and Heather have a girl and two boys — Aleah (6), Colson (4) and Bennett (2).

Shawn’s younger brother, Shannon Baker, played at Northridge and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now an assistant to A.J. Risedorph at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind.

Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement. 

He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.

Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.

Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.

“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”

Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.

Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.

The Eagles are part of an 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont (the 2021 host), Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. ECA won a sectional title in 2013. 

Besides conference and sectional foes, ECA’s regular-season schedule includes games with 4A’s Concord, Mishawaka and South Bend Riley, 3A’s Culver Academy, John Glenn, Lakeland and NorthWood, 2A’s Bremen and LaVille and 1A’s Culver Community and Oregon-Davis.

“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”

The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.

“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker. 

Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.

“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.

“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”

Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.

Flemm is upbeat about the future.

“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.

“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”

As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.

Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.

“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”

The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.

“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players). 

“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”

Shawn Baker
Matthew Flemm

Elkhart Lions — a combination of Central and Memorial — about to take the diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bringing the “City with A Heart” together, Elkhart (Ind.) High School has melded two high school baseball programs into one.

The Elkhart Lions are scheduled to open their inaugural season since consolidating athletic departments on Wednesday, March 31 against Concord at Elkhart West (formerly known as Elkhart Memorial’s Charger Field), where all baseball contests and practices are slated to take place this spring.

“We’re a one-school community now,” says Elkhart head baseball coach Scott Rost. “Everyone’s Elkhart.

“People have really bought into that.”

Elkhart (enrollment around 3,450) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend Saint Joseph and South Bend Washington). 

In 2021, Washington will not field a team. Clay will play a junior varsity schedule.

The Lions are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Concord, Goshen, Northridge (the 2021 host), Penn and Warsaw. Elkhart Central won 12 sectional titles plus the 4A state crown in 2013. Elkhart Memorial was a six-time sectional champion.

Besides conference and sectional opponents, Elkhart is slated to meet Andrean, Angola, Chesterton, Edwardsburg (Mich.), Fairfield, Michigan City, Munster, NorthWood, Valparaiso and Westview.

With 36 players in the program, the Lions are planning to take on complete varsity and junior varsity schedules with some C-team games.

One set of Elkhart uniforms will feature blue pinstripes topped with a blue cap adorned by a gold “E.”

Former Memorial head coach Rost guides a staff featuring Brian Blondell, Bruce Baer, Jay Bashore, Steve Asbury, Matt Kloss and Cody Quier.

After the staff was assembled, a few players not in fall sports were able to get together after Labor Day.

When the fall season concluded and weight training and open gyms began Lions baseball really began to take shape.

“It went really smooth,” says Rost. “The seniors have done a really good job. They seem to all get along and work well together. They’ve set the tone for the younger guys in the process.”

Elkhart sports 10 seniors.

“We have some talented young men,” says Rost. “We’re really upbeat and high on that group.

“We have guys with varsity experience. But they have not played high school baseball for two years (because of the COVID-19 pandemic taking out the 2020 season) and our sophomores have not played high school baseball.”

Dylan Rost (Wisconsin-Whitewater). Collin Baer (Anderson University) and Bryce Blondell (Purdue Northwest) — all coach’s son — have committed to play college baseball. Vinny Ambrose and Graham Elli are both planning to play football at the University of Indianapolis.

Rost says Dominic Russo and Cameron Wiltfong are among those that could go on to collegiate diamonds if they make that choice.

While some have had to get used to the way Rost does things, the coach notes that the athletes have not gotten caught up in the Central vs. Memorial or East vs. West mentality.

Academically, students in Grades 9-12 attend Elkhart East or Elkhart West in 2020-21. For athletics and extracurricular activites, there is one entity: The Lions. In 2021-22, freshmen will be housed at East campus with Grades 10-12 at the West campus.

Bryce Blondell