Tag Archives: Missouri

Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.

Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.

As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.

“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”

Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.

Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.

At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.

Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.

In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.

Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.

Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.

MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.

Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.

The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Communication key for Bullpen Tournaments VP Tucker

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.

A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.

“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Eric Charles went on to play baseball at Purdue University.

Ryan Price’s father Tom Price played baseball for Dr. Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) University and that’s one of the reasons Tucker ended up at the NCAA Division III school.

Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.

Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.

“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”

Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.

“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.

“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”

Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.

“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”

Tucker was named to D3baseball.com’s 2010s All-Decade Team.  During his career, Tucket hit .361 with 52 home runs, 50 doubles, 193 runs batted in and a .730 slugging percentage. He was a first-team All-America selection and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference MVP in 2011.

Franklin (Ind.) College has long been a big HCAC rival for Anderson. Tucker recalls how Grizzlies head coach Lance Marshall sometimes used to bring in a fifth infielder when Tucker was at the plate. 

Not a Marshall fan at the time, Tucker has come to see the veteran coach as one of his favorites.

Tucker received a Management degree with a minor in Entrepreneurship from Anderson U. in 2012. 

His “internship” time was spent coaching (coaching with Cesar Barrientos and the Indiana Baseball Academy Storm while injured in 2009) or playing summer collegiate ball (Fort Mill, S.C., Stingers of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League in 2010 and Hannibal, Mo., Cavemen of the Prospect League in 2011 — a team owned at the time by former big leaguers Ryan Klesko and Woody Williams) and he saw a future related to the diamond. 

“I wanted to make baseball my job whether that was with an indoor facility, coaching, training or tournaments,” says Tucker. “I didn’t know what avenue.”

Tucker was a director at the Incrediplex on the northeast side of Indianapolis 2013-15 and coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization 2012-16.

Since April 2015, Tucker has been part of a different team as vice president for Bullpen Tournaments, Prep Baseball Report Tournaments (with Rhett Goodmiller as director of tournaments) and Pro X Athlete Development (with former big league pitcher Joe Thatcher as co-founder and president) are tenants at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Bullpen, with Tucker as the director of day-to-day operations, is involved with Pro X and works with PBR Indiana and consults with PBR national, which operates LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga., and Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo.

Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.

The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments. 

Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.

“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.

“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”

While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.

Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.

“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.

Bullpen is a very large operation.

“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.

Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.

“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”

With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ. 

Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.

“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.

“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”

But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.

“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?

“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”

An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team that made it happen include Hibler, Tucker, Thatcher, Phil Wade, Luke Dietz, Mark Walther, Matt Bowles, Logan Weins, Cam Eveland and Kevin Ricks. Thatcher and Walther are at Pro X. Weins splits his time between Bullpen Tournaments and PBR Tournaments.

With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.

“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”

As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.

While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.

The fall included more contests than ever.

“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.

“We had a great fall.”

Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February. 

“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker. 

Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.

Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.

“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”

A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches. 

He sees the unique dynamic between between Noblesville’s Justin Keever, Westfield’s Ryan Bunnell, Zionsville’s Jered Moore and Fishers’ Matt Cherry of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

“They’re buddies,” says Tucker. “They go out to eat after the game.”

Michael and wife Dani Tucker live in Noblesville, Ind., with son Cole (5) and Cali (3).

The Tucker family (from left): Cali, Dani, Michael and Cole. Michael Tucker is vice president of Bullpen Tournaments is a tenant at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Butler volunteer Montgomery places premium on relationship building

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bailey Montgomery was well on his way to an engineering degree when he decided that the call to stay in baseball was just too strong.

Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School graduate, was heading into his last season as a player at Western Illinois University in the spring of 2019 when he decided to change his major to General Studies with a Mathematics minor, which allowed him to graduate and pursue a coaching path.

“It’s what I was passionate about,” says Montgomery. “I couldn’t leave the field.”

At 24, Montgomery has been a volunteer coach at Butler University in Indianapolis since August 2020 after serving as hitting coach for the summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2019 and hitting/outfield coach and recruiting director at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 2019-20.

Montgomery places an emphasis on developing relationships with players.

It’s really something I’ve been trying to hang my hat on,” says Montgomery. “I know how important it is at my age that I build trust with the guys. I want the guys to know I truly care about their development and their individual plan.

“Understanding that individual person is so huge.”

The Butler staff is headed by veteran Dave Schrage with full-time assistants Matt Kennedy (hitting coach and recruiting coordinator) and Ben Norton (pitching coach).

Montgomery enjoys listening to Schrage’s stories and soaking up his diamond wisdom.

“It’s something different everyday,” says Montgomery. “Coach Schrage and Coach Kennedy have given me so much freedom. They’ve allowed me to grow as a young coach.”

Montgomery has some keys as a hitting coaching.

“It’s about making everything repeatable and letting them know what we expect from each guy to make our offense as complete as we can make it,” says Montgomery. “We keep it simple and get them to be confident in what they need to do.”

Kennedy and Montgomery have Butler hitters keeping journals that allow the coaches to follow the process and learning methods for each player.

“There’s not one way to skin a cat,” says Montgomery. “It’s understanding where they’re at.

“Being able to manage people is ultimately going to define how successful they are.”

Butler wrapped up two months of fall practice — which included individualized work and intrasquad scrimmages — in October. 

“We had a tremendous fall,” says Montgomery. “We maximized the time with our guys.”

All students left campus after Thanksgiving and are not expected back until late January.

To keep the Bulldogs on track, there have been Zoom calls.

The 2021 season is due to begin Feb. 19. The Big East Conference will go to four-game weekend series. As of now, Butler will be allowed to keep the non-conference games now on the its schedule.

During the Christmas break, Montgomery has stayed in Indianapolis and conducted lessons for players middle school age and younger (the NCAA is not currently allowing camps or lessons with high schoolers).

“I’m getting as many hours in the (batting cage) as I can,” says Montgomery.

Born in Evansville, Ind., Montgomery grew up in Vincennes. He played on Cal Ripken League teams coached by father Ross Montgomery until age 12. When Bailey played travel ball for the Indiana Redbirds at 13U and 14U, Jay Wolfe was the head coach and Ross Montgomery helped.

Montgomery’s 15U, 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Nitro, coached by Eric Dill and Kris Dill. 

At 18U, Montgomery got a taste of college baseball atmosphere with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks.

At Lincoln, Montgomery for a coaching staff led by Brandon Pfoff with Tim Hutchison, Chris Clements and Andy Pinkstaff as assistants.

“We were competitive on a daily basis,” says Montgomery of the Vincennes Lincoln Alices. “It got me ready for the competitive environment at Wabash Valley.

“Coach Hutchison (who is now head coach at Vincennes Lincoln) was and is a great mentor for me as well. We have daily conversations. We’re always throwing ideas off each other. He has a growth mindset.”

Montgomery hit .352 (31-of-88) at WVC for Warriors head coach Rob Fournier in 2016 and 2017 (a season that finished with a third-place finish at the National Junior College World Series) before coming back to coach.

“Coach Fournier is one of the best recruiting guys I’ve ever seen,” says Montgomery. “He’s helped me with the evaluation piece, conversations with recruits and things to look for.

“I’ve learned the value of relationships (with contacts and recruits). I’m thankful for those conversations.”

Through his experiences, Montgomery counts himself as a big advocate for junior college baseball.

“It’s continuing to grow,” says Montgomery. “It’s an awesome environment if you’re a guy looking to grow and develop.”

Montgomery, a righty-swinging first baseman, played played two seasons at Western Illinois (2018 and 2019), appearing in 88 games (77 starts) and hitting .296 with two home runs, 43 runs batted in and a .991 fielding percentage with 317 putouts and just three errors.

Ryan Brownlee (now assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association) was the Leathernecks head coach.

“Coach Brownlee is just passionate about what he does,” says Montgomery. “Handling relationships is what he does really well. He gets his players to buy in.”

While he was still playing, Montgomery was able to serve something of a behind-the-scenes look at being a coach from Brownlee with access to scouting reports and some recruiting communciation.

During his collegiate playing career, Montgomery spent summers with the Hannibal (Mo.) Cavemen (2016), Irish Hills (Mich.) Leprechauns (2017) and Quincy (Ill.) Gems (2018). He was going to return to the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators as manager in 2020, but the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ross and Robin Montgomery have three children — Brittany, Bailey and Jade. Jade Montgomery is a softball pitcher/first baseman at Eastern Illinois University.

Bailey Montgomery is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Butler University Photo)
Bailey Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School, is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. He also played and coached at Wabash Valley College and played and graduated from Western Illinois University. He was a hitting coach for the 2019 summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Butler University Photo)

Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Larry Owens was playing baseball for Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School in the mid-1980’s, he had no sense of his future in the game.

Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.

“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”

Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.

“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”

Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.

“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).

Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992. 

The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).

Entering the college coaching ranks, Owens was as assistant to Warriors head coach Scott Rendel at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1994 and 1995. 

In the fall of 1995, Owens was a volunteer at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) with Keith Guttin as Bears head coach and Paul Evans as pitching coach.

When Mike Snyder left the University of Louisville as pitching coach, Owens got the job and served with Cardinals head coach Lelo Prado in 1996 and 1997.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons saw Owens as pitching coach for Governors head coach Gary McClure at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

That was follow by a four-year stint (2001-04) as Tigers head coach Dave Anderson’s pitching coach at the University of Memphis.

In the summer of 2005, Owens got his first taste of pro coaching. He was pitching coach for the independent Golden League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs with manager Terry Kennedy, who had played in the majors with Anderson. It was also the last season as a player for a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson.

“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”

Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.

“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.

“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”

Owens was an area scout with the Boston Red Sox in 2006.

The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.

Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.

“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”

One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics. 

When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.

“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”

Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).

Owens, who was featured on the Dec. 7, 2020 Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV and hosted by Jeremy Sheetinger, is leading Bellarmine’s move to D-I baseball. He cut his term as American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA D-II chair short when his program made the switch.

The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.

“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.

“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.

Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.

“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.

After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).

“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.

“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”

Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.

“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”

At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.

That ended up being Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., where Lebanon, Ind., native Joe Roberts was the Pirates head coach.

“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”

Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out. 

“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”

Owens was selected in the 27th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by he Atlanta Braves and played that summer for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves, but he knew his future was in coaching.

So after taking 1991 off, he launched into what has been a baseball coaching odyssey.

Larry Owens talks to Ryan Wheat (Louisville Legends Video).
Larry Owens, a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The 2021 season is to be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I. (Bellarmine University Photo)

Keeran to manage Lafayette Aviators at new Loeb Stadium in ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Corn is not involved. But there’s a kind of a reverse “Field of Dreams” thing going on in Lafayette, Ind.

“If You Build It, He Will Come” — in this case — refers to Michael Keeran.

A new Loeb Stadium is being built for the Lafayette Aviators baseball team. After discussions with owner Bill Davidson, Iowa native Keeran has been named as field manager for 2021.

Keeran, a 2012 graduate of Clear Lake (Iowa) High School and the holder of two degrees from Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa (a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Masters in Organizational Leadership with a Sport Management emphasis), welcomes the chance to bring his wife closer to family while also moving up in the baseball world.

“My wife is from Centralia, Ill.,” says Keeran. “I’ve coached near by hometown the past couple summers. (With the Aviators,) I get to coach in a very good league and I get two birds with one stone.”

Michael and Kaitlin Keeran are expecting their first child in December. Centralia is 220 miles from Lafayette and Kaitlin will be able to spend time there and also visit her husband.

“I always wanted to go to a bigger league. It’ll be a brand new stadium and a very good franchise. I thought it would be a good fit.”

The Prospect League is a 14-team college wooden bat summer circuit with teams in Indiana (Lafayette Aviators and Terre Haute Rex), Illinois (Alton River Dragons, Danville Dans, DuPage Pistol Shrimp, Normal CornBelters, Quincy Gems and Springfield Sliders), Ohio (Champion City Kings and Chillicothe Paints), Missouri (Cape Catfish and O’Fallon Hoots), Pennsylvania (Johnstown Mill Rats) and West Virginia (West Virginia Miners).

While 2021 Aviators assistant coaches have been consulted, the official word of their hiring is yet to come.

Keeran managed Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2018 and 2019 — the Albert Lea (Minn.) Lakers followed by the Bancroft (Iowa) Bandits.

After one season as an assistant at Valley City (N.D.) State University (NAIA), Keeran became head coach at Bismarck (N.D.) State College (National Junior College Athletic Association Division II) for the 2020 season. The Mystics had played two games and were in Arizona to play 10 or 11 more when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to be halted.

“We were on a bus for 60 or 70 hours,” says Keeran. “It was awful.

“It’s tough to tell a bunch of young men that their season is over and it has nothing to do with wins or losses.”

While they could have taken an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Keeran encouraged his second-year players from 2020 to take their associate degrees and go to a four-year school.

“It’s not ethically right to hold on to those sophomores,” says Keeran. “I didn’t see the point. You’ve got your degree, now move on.

“We have a very new group (in 2020-21) and we’re very talented.”

With players taking a hybrid class schedule (some in-person and some online), Bismarck State played  few games this fall against four-year schools.

“We treated it like a test for what it’s going to be like in the spring with temperature checks and protocols,” says Keeran.

As a outfielder and pitcher, Keeran played four seasons at Waldorf while also beginning his coaching career. 

Since high school baseball in Iowa is a summer sport, Keeran was able to play college ball and be on the Clear Lake coaching staff for four seasons (2013-16) and helped the Lions win three state titles (2013 in 3A, 2015 in 2A and 2016 in 2A).

“It was pretty cool to be coach at a young age and be mentored,” says Keeran. “Baseball should be played in the summer when it’s warm. That’s why I like coaching in the summer.

“It feels so authentic.”

Keeran says a typical high school gameday would involve batting practice and field preparation around 1 p.m. and the players would come back for a 5:30 p.m. junior varsity game, followed by the varsity.

“It gives kids a chance to work morning jobs in the summer and they don’t have to worry about the stress of class,” says Keeran. “It gives athletes a chance to do other sports. One of my best friends was a four-sport athlete (football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer).”

While the pandemic wiped out high school baseball last spring in Indiana, there was season in Iowa. Four 2020 state champions were crowned Aug. 1 in Des Moines. 

In 2021, the Iowa High School Athletic Association has set the first practice date for May 3 with first of 40 allowed contest dates May 24 and state tournament concluding July 31. Showcase leagues ran by Prep Baseball Report and Perfect Game are typically conducted in the spring.

The 2020 baseball season was the first for head coach Michael Keeran at Bismarck (N.D.) State College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II school. In the summer of 2021, he is to manage the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Bismarck State College Photo)
Michael Keeran, a graduate of Clear Lake High School and Waldorf University in Iowa and the head coach at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, has been named field manager for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League in 2021. (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

At all his coaching stops, Ratcliffe emphasizes hard work, character

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Ratcliffe helped change the mindset in his return to the Trine University baseball coaching staff.

Ratcliffe had helped Thunder head coach Greg Perschke during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and assisted in school-record 25-win seasons then went back to the high school ranks before coming back on board in Angola, Ind., for 2020.

Trine, an NCAA Division III school with a 40-game regular-season limit, averaged 17 wins per year from 2014-19 with high-water marks of 19 in 2017 and 2018.

That was not considered good enough.

So the Thunder went to work in the fall.

“We have our limits when we can and can’t be with them,” says Ratcliffe referring to NCAA D-III contact rules. “But there are expectations from Coach Perschke. His passion for the kids is electric. It just gets everybody.

“There’s an off-season weight program. Kids work around their academics to get a workout in.”

The message is clear: If you want the team to get better, this is what has to happen. Here’s how you do it. Do you want to be a part of that?

At a school full of engineering students and others with rigorous majors, the find a way to get the job done.

“We give them a lot of instruction during our weeks,” says Ratcliffe. “They take this and work hard in the off-season.”

Brought in to help with catchers, infielders and hitters and be a bench coach during games, Ratcliffe says there’s a difference between high school and college that has do with more than age.

“Kids at the college level want to be there instead of doing something in high school,” says Ratcliffe. “Development is extremely different. In high school, you’re developing their skills. In college, you’re fine-tuning their skills.”

Through conversations and short videos, Perschke (Trine head coach since 2002 and the Thunder’s pitching coach) and assistants Ratcliffe and Nick Pfafman provided instruction for a month and then the team’s veterans led a few more weeks of workouts heading into the winter.

“We developed a mindset of how to react and respond to things,” says Ratcliffe. “It’s one of the things I was brought in for.”

When the team came back from Christmas break it had less than a month before its first games. 

Trine went 1-2 Feb. 22-23 in Kentucky then 8-0 March 1-6 in Florida.

Then — suddenly — the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Thunder gathered for an impromptu team photo after a practice and said their goodbyes.

“It was a huge gut punch,” says Ratcliffe. “We had eight seniors (Tony Bottone, Caleb Deiter, Jacob Douglass, Chase Hall, Shawn Ligocki, Nick Ricci, Thomas Rivet and Jake Roddy) that took to this year’s culture. No longer was 18 wins a good year.”

Trine was chosen to finish seventh in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason poll, but seemed to be a on a path that would put them in the MIAA’s top four and a playoff berth.

This summer, Ratcliffe is head coach for the 17U DeKalb County Thunder travel team. His assistant is Cody Krumlauf, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Earlham College who has been a player and coach for the Quakers.

The program was started a few years ago when the players were at the 15U level. The Thunder now also fields 15U and 13U teams.

To be eligible to play for the Thunder, players must play in community baseball organizations in Auburn, Butler, Garrett or St. Joe.

The 17U Thunder is a showcase team for college exposure and plays in events put on by Pastime Tournaments, Crossroads Baseball Series and at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

Ratcliffe was head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School for two stints totaling 13 seasons (2000-06 and 2014-19).

He served as an assistant to DeKalb High head coach Chris Rhodes 2007-11 and was on the staff of Keith Potter at Fort Wayne’s Homestead High School 1997-99.

While with the Spartans, Ratcliffe got to work with future big league catcher Rob Bowen.

“I remember he was a starter working on being a switch hitter,” says Ratcliffe. “If he hit 50 balls off the tee right-handed, he had to hit 50 left-handed. Balance had to be there if h was serious about being a switch hitter.”

Ratcliffe recalls that Bowen hit homers from both sides of the plate early in his minor league days and went on to play in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Caleb Kimmel, who went on to play at Valparaiso University and is now CEO of the World Baseball Academy, was also at Homestead when Ratcliffe was on staff.

Summers from 2002-14 for Ratcliffe meant coaching and evaluating young players for USA Baseball through Tournament of Stars and National Team Identification Series programs. Working in Joplin, Mo., and later Cary, N.C., he got to be around rising diamond stars as teenagers, including Mike Moustakas, Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout, Trevor Bauer, the Upton boys (Justin and B.J.) and Jarrod Parker.

“(Moustakas) had the same kind of energy as a 17-year-old that he did (with the Kansas City Royals) in the World Series. 

“That guy has not changed one bit. He’s such a team player.”

Freeman became of Ratcliffe’s favorites.

“His character in the dugout was unbelievable,” says Ratcliffe of the future Atlanta Braves first baseman. “He was very coachable. Freddie wanted to get better. 

“I’ve told my players this is what you need to be like. It’s not all about baseball. Character is very crucial.”

Trout and Bauer are superstars now. But they didn’t make the national team back then. They didn’t sulk. They put in the work to get better.

The Uptons also failed, but learned from those around them and rebounded. Justin’s path to The Show included 113 games with the 2006 Mark Haley-managed South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks during his 18-year-old season.

While they were nearly two decades apart, Ratcliffe (Class of 1990) and Parker (2007) were both graduates of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind.

Ratcliffe had coached against right-handed pitcher Parker in high school and saw him help Norwell to an IHSAA 3A state championship in 2007.

When it came time for Parker to take the mound that summer Joplin, Ratcliffe offered a little advice: “Go be yourself.”

Parker went on to work out with the Top 40 players in Atlanta and was selected in the first round (No.9 overall) of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in the bigs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. David Price and Moustakas went 1-2 in the ’07 draft.

Ratcliffe’s head coach at Norwell was Stan Reed.

“He had compassion for the players,” says Ratcliffe. “He really cared about us. It showed whether we won or lost.”

A catcher, Ratcliffe went to Purdue University and was redshirted his first season and played sparingly for Boilermakers coach Dave Alexander in his second, though he did get to catch Sherard Clinkscales, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft, later scouted for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Kansas City and coached at Notre Dame before going into athletic administration. 

Clinkscales was associate then senior associate athletic director at North Carolina State and is now AD at Indiana State University.

When Alexander left Purdue to become a scout and pitching coach Steve Green was promoted to head coach, he had a chat with Ratcliffe. It was apparent he was not going to get to play much for the Boilers.

“I was a kid who needed to play,” says Ratcliffe, who was released and allowed to sign at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where Matt Kinzer was the Mastodons head coach.

What did Ratcliffe learn from Norwell grad Kinzer during the 1993 and 1994 seasons?

“It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level,” says Ratcliffe. “If you want to get there you’ve got to put some time in. 

“Talent doesn’t get you to the next level. It takes things like working hard and having good character.”

By the time Tom Muth took over at IPFW in 1995, Ratcliffe knew he wanted to be a coach so he took the opportunity to play multiple positions and learn their nuances. Since the Dons were in need of a second baseman, Ratcliffe moved there and still took time to catch bullpens.

Ratcliffe played independent professional ball as a middle infielder for the Frontier League’s Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in their inaugural season of 1995. Larry Nowlin was the manger and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate part owner.

One of his teammates was future major league switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter Morgan Burkhart. When he came to Fort Wayne as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, Ratcliffe made sure he found a good fishing hole.

After finishing his degree at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ratcliffe became a teacher. 

Besides coaching baseball, he instructs special education classes at Garrett Middle School. His wife of 19 years — Stacy — is a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Ober Elementary in Garrett. The couple have two sons — GHS senior-to-be Blake (17) and GMS eighth grader-to-be Easton (13).

Brett Ratcliffe returned to Trine University in Angola, Ind., for his second stint as assistant baseball coach. He has also been a head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School and an assistant at DeKalb High School in Watlerloo, Ind., and Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. He has helped coach and evaluate players for USA Baseball. This summer, he is the 17U head coach for the DeKalb County Thunder travel program.

Northridge, Evansville graduate Troyer to play independent pro baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Troyer has changed his swing to add more power and he’s taking it into pro baseball.

A graduate of Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind. (2015), and the University of Evansville (2019), Troyer has been added to the roster of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League’s Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers. The USPBL plays all its games at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Mich., a northern suburb of Detroit.

“I’m super-excited about going there,” says Troyer, a righty-swinging third baseman/shortstop. “I know I can get signed to an affiliated club.”

Since getting his business management degree in May 2019, Troyer has been splitting his time between work and honing his game. Joined by former Jimtown High School and Ball State University pitcher Nick Floyd, training is done in a friend’s barn. Troyer also works out with the Northridge team.

Troyer has been traveling regularly to the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon, Mo., to work with hitting coach Kevin Graham, whose son, Kevin, was the 2018 Gatorade Missouri Player of the Year and now plays at the University of Mississippi.

“He’s the best hitting coach I’ve ever had,” says Troyer of the elder Graham.

Troyer met Graham through Ben Bailey, Troyer’s former Indiana Chargers travel baseball coach who now lives in Missouri.

Bailey, Joel Mishler and George Hofsommer founded the Chargers. Troyer played for the organization from 13 to 18, missing his 17U summer for Tommy John surgery.

“I considered (Bailey and Mishler) both my mentors,” says Troyer. “They’ve been there, done that

they have their connections.

“They know what they’re talking about.”

Troyer attended various tryout camps that went nowhere then in January and February, he went to Palm Springs to play in the California Winter League, a showcase for unsigned players. He impressed former big leaguer Von Joshua and the Birmingham Bloomfield manager invited him to join his club. Joshua was a coach for the 1993 South Bend (Ind.) White Sox.

USPBL spring training is scheduled for April 25-May 7 in Utica. The Beavers’ first game is slated for May 9.

Troyer appeared and started in all 53 games for Evansville as a senior in 2019, batting .249 with two home runs, 11 doubles, 25 runs batted in and 27 runs scored. He also stole 21 bases in 25 attempts. He usually hit first or second in the order to take advantage of his speed.

“I was getting on base and creating opportunities for everybody else to drive in runs,” says Troyer.

As a junior in 2018, Troyer played in 42 games (40 as a starter) and hit .220 with two homers, four doubles, 16 walks and 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts.

Wes Carroll is head coach for the Purple Aces.

“He’s very knowledgeable with an extensive background,” says Troyer of Carroll. “He made it to Triple-A.

“He brought a lot of energy, which I like.”

To get Evansville ready for the Missouri Valley Conference, Evansville played teams like Vanderbilt, Indiana, Boston College, Creighton, Florida Gulf Coast and Iowa.

Troyer chose Evansville after two years at Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill.

“It was my best scholarship,” says Troyer, who had a friend sell him on the academics at UE. “I enjoyed my two years (at Rend Lake).”

Troyer played for the Warriors in 2016 and 2017. Tony Etnier was his head coach his freshmen year and Rend Lake player and strength coach Tyler O’Daniel took over the program his sophomore season.

Etnier offered Troyer a full ride on his first day and O’Daniel was high energy.

“The thing I loved about going to Rend Lake, the competition out of high school was no joke,” says Troyer. “I immediately got better. It turns you from a boy into a man real quick.

“(The Great Rivers Athletic Conference with John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley) is one of the better junior college conferences in the country.”

As a sophomore at Rend Lake, Troyer was hit by a pitch 22 times and ranked second among National Junior College Athletic Association Division I players in that category.

In two seasons at Rend Lake, he hit .285 with two homers, 59 stolen bases and was hit by 41 pitches.

Summers during Troyer’s college career were spent with the Great Lakes League’s Richmond (Ind.) Jazz in 2016, briefly with the Norhwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) Moondogs and then-Prospect League’s Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits in 2017 and South Florida Collegiate League’s Pompano Beach Clippers in 2018.

At 15 and 16, Troyer trained with former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley.

Troyer helped Northridge to the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional title while playing for head coach Andrew Brabender.

“He’s intense, but in a good way,” says Troyer of Brabender. “He brought out the best in me.

“He was able to mold me to be ready for college.”

Troyer earned four letters for the Raiders and hit .429 with seven homers and 35 stolen bases as a senior while earning team MVP and best bat awards. He was a two-time all-Northern Lakes Conference honoree and was named all-state and to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series (The North swept the three-game series in Terre Haute in 2015).

As an NHS sophomore, Troyer played alongside two future NCAA Division I players in Shannon Baker and Brock Logan.

Sam is the third of Steve and Shanna Troyer’s four children. Sean Troyer was not an athlete. Scot Troyer played baseball and football in high school. Sara Troyer is currently a diver at the University of Nebraska. In the recent Big Ten meet, she placed fifth in the 3-meter and 10th in the 1-meter.

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Sam Troyer, a graduate of Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind. (2015) and the University of Evansville (2019), is to play in the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League. He is a righty-swinging third baseman and shortstop. (University of Evansville Photo)

 

Lefty Thompson keeps on collecting K’s for Kentucky

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zachary David Thompson goes by Zack.

Perhaps, it’s fitting that the last letter in this standout baseball pitcher’s shortened name is a K.

Zack Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior left-hander at the University of Kentucky, sure has made short work of opposing hitters by putting up strikeout after strikeout.

“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”

Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.

“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.

Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).

Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).

Thompson is on a team with Nick Mingione as head coach and Jim Belanger as pitching coach.

Why did Thompson choose Kentucky?

“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).

“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”

Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”

He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.

“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.

“I got to see how other people do it.”

Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.

“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”

Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.

Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.

“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”

Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.

“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.

“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”

Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.

On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.

High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.

Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.

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Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)

ZACKTHOMPSONUK1

Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)

 

‘Trust the process’ approach guides South Bend’s Mitchell

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Major League Baseball’s minor leagues are about development.

With a motto of “trust the process,” South Bend Cubs outfielder Kevonte Mitchell continues to learn the game in his fourth professional season.

Mitchell, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday, Aug. 12 at Four Winds Field by going 2-of-5 at the plate with a double, two runs batted in and one run scored, originally committed to play at Southeast Missouri State University.

When the baseball and basketball standout and honor roll student at Kennett (Mo.) High School was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 13th round of the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Mitchell opted not to put off his pro development.

“The Cubs made an offer that I couldn’t refuse,” says Mitchell. “Coming out of high school and learning from professionals right away, I felt I needed that. I wanted to learn.”

Kevonte’s dad did not play baseball. His mom played a little softball.

Growing up in the Bootheel region of Missouri, the son of Kevin and Darlene Mitchell and younger brother of Brianne took to the diamond at an early age.

“I found out I was kind of good at it so I just kept playing it when I was younger and here I am today,” says Mitchell.

He looks back on his days as a newly-minted pro and remembers that as another learning opportunity.

“I had to grow up really quickly, I’ll tell you that,” says Mitchell. “I’ll never forget my first night out in Arizona. I’d never been that far from home.”

An 18-year-old Kevonte gave himself a pep talk.

“There’s no turning back now,” says Mitchell. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and play the game that I love.”

After stints with the rookie-level Arizona Cubs in 2014 and 2015 and Single-A short-season Eugene Emeralds in 2015 and 2016, Mitchell has spent the whole 2017 season with South Bend in the Low Class-A Midwest League. The Cubs are 61-56 overall; 22-26 in the second half.

Using his swiftness, Mitchell has played mostly right or left field and been a threat to steal or base or go first-to-third. He was a third baseman and shortstop in high school.

“My speed is a big factor to my game,” says Mitchell. “As an outfielder, I’ve learned about routes and how to get to the ball quicker. I still need help with that.

“I’ll play anywhere (manager Jimmy Gonzalez and the Cubs) need me. I’ll be ready to go out there.”

Where trusting the process comes in the most for the 6-foot-4, 185-pounder is in the right-handed batter’s box.

“I’ve made a lot of adjustments since the start of spring training,” says Mitchell, who came through action Saturday hitting .252 with 11 home runs, 53 RBI, 51 runs scored and 18 stolen bases (.270, 1, 8, 8 and 3 in the last 10 games). “I don’t consider myself a power guy. I have the potential to maybe be a power guy one day.

“I’m just trying to be a better hitter. I’m focusing on going the other way, knowing what the pitcher is doing with runners on base. With two strikes, I try to shorten up (my swing) and see the ball.”

Mitchell saw the basketball go through the net on a regular basis during his time with the Kennett Indians. He poured in 1,585 career points. He was all-state as a senior and holds the school record for rebounds.

“I played whatever the coach needed — 1 through 4,” says Mitchell. “Sometimes I’d bring the ball down (the court). Sometimes I’d be posting up.”

The Cubs don’t want Mitchell getting hurt by playing full-out hoops.

“I’ll shoot a couple shots here and there,” says Mitchell.

But mostly he trusts the process while getting better on the diamond.

KEVONTEMITCHELL

Kevonte Mitchell, a South Bend Cubs outfielder, turned 22 Saturday, Aug. 12. He is in his fourth professional baseball season. (South Bend Cubs Photo)