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Four decades later, South Bend Post 50 still Indiana’s lone American Legion national champions

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

American Legion Baseball dates back to 1925.

Indiana joined in 1926 and has crowned a state champion 91 times, including Rockport Post 254 in 2017 (competing now in the Great Lakes Regional in Napoleon, Ohio).

Only one Indiana team has ever reigned at the American Legion World Series.

That’s South Bend Post 50 in 1977. “Machuca’s Marauders” went 18-0 during the tournament run, which included the state tournament and a win against Lafayette Post 11 in the championship game in Richmond and concluded at the American Legion World Series in Manchester, N.H.

Post 50 topped Boyertown, Pa., Santa Monica, and Hattiesburg, Miss. (twice) to finish as the best 16-18 baseball team in America.

More than 3,800 teams entered the double-elimination event at the local level in ’77 and the lone team standing at the end was from South Bend, Ind.

“We thought that was going to open the flood gates (to other national champions from Indiana Legion baseball),” said Mel Machuca, Post 50 manager in ’77, at a 40-year reunion of the title-takers.

It just hasn’t turned out that way.

Machuca has often been asked over the years how he won a national championship.

“If I knew that I would do it again,” said Machuca in response.

But that team 40 years ago certainly caught lightning in a bottle.

On the way to that special achievement, Post 50 beat the defending national champions (Santa Monica, Calif.) and the previous national runners-up (Arlington Heights, Ill.). Between the two, those loaded squads had 13 players that went on to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The lone MLB draftee for Post 50?

It was Dan Szajko. The outfielder, second baseman and third baseman was picked by the Montreal Expos in the 27th round out of Notre Dame in 1982 and played in the minors through 1985.

Slugging third baseman Jeff Coker did have a brief minor league career after his Post 50 days.

Szajko was the youngest player on a ’77 Post 50 squad dominated by older guys. In those years, American Legion Baseball was 18-and-under (later changed to 19U).

“He was 16 and a gift from (South Bend John Adams High School coach) Len Buczkowski,” recalled Machuca. “Dan Szajko was the player to be named later.”

Two players hit .429 during the Legion tournament run — center fielder Szajko and shortstop Bill Schell.

Greg Heyde (15-1) won eight tournament games, Dave Hankins (15-1) seven, Dennis Janiszewski two and Dave Yates one to pace the pitching staff. Heyde were also left fielders.

First baseman Jim Andert, pitcher/center fielder Mike Clarke, pitcher/right fielder Jeff Kowatch, catcher Scott Madey, catcher Dom Romeo, catcher John Ross, pitcher Jeff Rudasics, pitcher/second baseman Will Shepherd, first baseman Mark Toles and second baseman Gary Vargyas were also a part of the champs. Bob Kouts was past commander of Post 50 and longtime Indiana baseball chairman.

Bill Barcome was assistant coach at American Legion Coach of the Year in ’77 (Machuca was Manager of the Year). Dan Toles was a bench coach during the tournament run. Todd Machuca served as batboy. Veteran reporter Forrest “Woody” Miller wrote about the team’s exploits in the South Bend Tribune.

Janiszewski died in 1996, Kouts in 2002 and Miller in 2009.

Machuca, who would coach Post 50 into the ’80s and went on to guide youth teams in Carmel, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, built what turned out to be  a national championship team with a simple formula. He introduced it at the first ’77 tryout session.

“Baseball is a defensive game,” said Machuca. “Hitting wins games. Pitching wins pennants. Defense wins championships.”

Machuca and Barcome made sure players knew what they were doing on defense.

Post 50 was also well-armed for the task at-hand.

“I was blessed,” said Machuca. “I had eight pitchers (using four of them in tournament play).”

The squad that Machuca assembled became very close, which is in evidence all these years later as players gather to swap stories on the golf course, at dinner and at a South Bend Cubs game.

“What we had here in South Bend, the attitude was amazing,” said Machuca. “They were family.

“They took us for the ride. I didn’t play. Bill didn’t play. Everything was built on trust.”

Machuca interjected confidence from Day 1.

“‘You guys are the best I’ve ever seen. You’re going to win the state championship. Go home and be prepared to work for that,’” said Machuca of his words that day. “It seems that what we’ve lost is kids today aren’t willing to work together for a common goal.

“They want an advantage. They want to be guaranteed this and guaranteed that.”

In American Legion Baseball, the team you register is the team you take into the tournament. There are no add-ons or ringers.

“Whatever you start with, you end with,” said Machuca.

In ’77, there were no designated hitters or courtesy runners in American Legion Baseball and that’s the way coaches, players and organizers liked it.

Tryouts for the ’78 Post 50 team drew 400 eager youngsters.

Two decades after the national title, the Post 50 men of ’77 played a game against the Post 50 team of ’97. The “old” guys did well enough to get that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reaction: “Who are those guys?”

Even folks in the local baseball community did not know about the national champions.

A seed was planted which grew into a book, co-authored by Machuca (No. 20) and player Will Shepherd (No. 11).

“An Inning At A Time: An American Legion Baseball National Championship Story” was published in 2011.

Machuca explained the title of the book.

“I win innings, I don’t win games,” said Machuca. “Games are too big. Do what you can do at the time.”

In the Arlington Heights game, Post 50 got down 5-0 early. Machuca asked his players to come back with one run — two would be a bonus.

“‘We get one run and we’re going to win this game,’” said Machuca of that in-between half innings speech. “Once you get to the point of total confidence on the field, it’s hard to get beat.”

Shepherd looks back on the national title and still marvels at what he and his ball-playing buddies did.

“For my money what makes it special is that it was a legitimate World Series. It was a bracketed, countrywide tournament. One state champion moved on the regional and that one regional champion moved on.”

The 91st American Legion World Series Aug. 10-15 in Shelby, N.C. Games will be shown on ESPN3 and ESPNU.

SBPOST5077-1

South Bend Post 50’s 1977 American Legion Baseball national champions at a 40-year reunion dinner are (from left): First row — Will Shepherd, Bill Schell, manager Mel Machuca, assistant coach Bill Barcome and Jeff Kowatch; Second row —  Paul Kazmierczak (member of ’75 and ’76 team), Mike Clarke, Jim Andert, Greg Heyde, Dave Hankins and Jeff Coker. Not pictured —  Dennis Janiszewski (deceased), Scott Madey, Dom Romeo, John Ross, Jeff Rudasics, Mark Toles, Dan Szajko, Gary Vargyas and Dave Yates plus batboy Todd Machuca and tournament bench coach Dan Toles.

More than 6,000 games in, Kellman still pursuing excellence as ‘Voice of Indians’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like raindrops, no two baseball games are exactly the same.

That’s kept things fresh for Howard Kellman, who has called more than 6,000 games for the Indianapolis Indians since that first one on April 17, 1974.

“Everyday at the ballpark is wonderful,” says Kellman. “It never gets old at all. Everyday is unique.”

The “Voice of the Indians” for all but two seasons (1975 and 1980) since 1974, Kellman likes to see the Tribe emerge victorious. But his main job is to keep the radio or TV audience informed and entertained.

“The most important thing is to pursue excellence – not fame,” says Kellman. “Calling the game is the most important thing. It’s about doing the job, enjoying the moment.

“I want the Indians to win, however I maintain professionalism and paint an accurate word picture. I will certainly display more enthusiasm when the Indians win.”

Kellman is now in his 42nd season with the Indians and serves as one of minor league baseball’s broadcast deans along with Jim Weber (who called his first Toledo Mud Hens game in 1975).

A 2016  heart attack caused Kellman to miss 10 games, but he plans to keep on painting those word pictures.

“I feel great and I would like to go for a long while if I still can,” says Kellman, who majored in radio and television at Brooklyn College receiving his B.A. degree with Cum Laude honors in 1975.

When he started the gig in Indianapolis, the Indians played at Bush Stadium (opened in 1931).

Since the middle of the 1996 season, the Triple-A club has called Victory Field home and Kellman has let folks know that “The lights are on in this beautiful downtown ballpark, located on the corner of West and Maryland.”

Fueled by his devotion to preparation, including pre-game research and chats with those around the game, Kellman is able to share information and stories.

“I can tell things that people don’t know because of my access to players, coaches and managers,” says Kellman. “On radio, it’s about painting a word picture. On TV, it’s about adding captions.”

For more than 20 seasons, he has had a broadcast partner. The past three seasons it’s been Andrew Kappes.

From Vern Rapp in 1974 to Andy Barkett in 2017, Indianapolis has employed 23 different men as managers since Kellman first went behind the mike for the team.

Former big league catcher Buck Rodgers impressed Kellman with his knowledge of moundsmen.

“I saw the way our pitchers improved that (1984) season,” says Kellman.

The Indians were in the American Association through 1997 and have been in the International League since 1998.

Kellman says the IL was very much a pitcher’s league in those early years, but that changed with the addition of newer ballparks. In the 14-team circuit, the oldest stadium is Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium (opened in 1946). All the others debuted since 1988.

A change that Kellman has appreciated is the addition of a pitch clock installed at Triple-A and Double-A parks in 2015. The idea is the speed up the pace of play.

After each pitch during an at-bat (except for those following foul balls), the pitcher has 20 seconds to start his windup or come set if there are baserunners. If he does not comply, a ball is to be called.

“That’s a good thing,” says Kellman. “You don’t need hitters to step out of the box after every pitch. After two years, it has become habit and has shaved 15 minutes off the average times of games.

“You want the ball in play. You want action. It’s important. You want a batter to be up there ready to hit and for a pitcher to throw strikes.”

During Kellman’s tenure, the Indians have been affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds (twice), Montreal Expos, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates. A Bucs’ AAA affiliate since 2005, Indianapolis signed a Player Development Contract extension with Pittsburgh that carries through 2020.

Many honors have come Kellman’s way, including induction to the Indiana Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 2009 and Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2015.

Kellman is also an author and professional speaker. He produced “61 Humorous & Inspiring Lessons I Learned From Baseball” and belongs to the National Speakers Association.

His speeches cover Becoming a Champion, Leadership and Teamwork and more. He recently addressed the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association.

Indians games can be caught on several broadcast platforms, including cable TV, over-the-air radio and online streaming.

HOWARDKELLMAN

Howard Kellman broadcast his first Indianapolis Indians game in 1974. He is able to inform and entertain his radio and TV audience through his access to players, coaches and managers. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)