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Allowed to return to practice, gratitude is the attitude for Morris Baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, players at Morris Baseball in northwest Indiana can finally practice again and founder/president Bobby Morris couldn’t be happier.

“It’s as much fun as I’ve had on a baseball field in ages,” says Morris of a workout earlier this week. “The big reason is quarantine and the chaos going on around us.

“I feel a sense of gratitude. Our players feel a sense of gratitude — more so than in January or February.”

Morris says he hopes his organization with around 200 clients, including Chiefs travel teams, will help bring a sense of community and unity as the 2020 season moves forward.

“if we can spread a little positivity and a little gratitude, I’m all for it,” says Morris, who started his training business in 2011 and merged five years ago with the Hammond Chiefs, which mark their 30th season this year.

The first clients Morris had were 9-year-olds.

“Those kids are just now graduating and going on to play college baseball,” says Morris.

A relationship began when Brian Jennings brought Morris together with Chiefs founder Dave Sutkowski.

“It’s mutually a good fit together,” says Morris. “Dave has been pleasure to work with. We got some Chiefs coaches when we merged. They’ve been great mentors with our kids.”

The Morris Baseball mission statement: To recruit excellent talent and provide them with disciplined, well-organized, focused practices with superior instruction and place them in highly competitive opportunities to achieve principle-based success.

“If we produce great players, everything will take care of itself,” says Morris. “We make sure we have great practice facilities and plenty of practice time. 

“We try to produce well-rounded baseball players. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

Until recently, Morris Baseball and the Chiefs were housed at Franciscan Physician Network Schererville Family Health Center (formerly Omni Health & Fitness).

The organization just moved to a training facility at 1075 Breuckman Drive in Crown Point. Morris says the name for the new place will be revealed soon.

The new centrally-located home includes plenty of workout space plus classrooms, player’s lounge, kitchen and coach’s offices.

“For our kids it will be great,” says Morris. “We have internet at player desks. They can hang out there all day if they want.

“We prefer that they study and take batting practice.”

The Morris Chiefs tend to play many local games at the Crown Point Sportsplex, Central Park in Dyer, Ind., and Ho Chunk Baseball Tournaments in Lynwood, Ill.

“Our kids play a lot ,” says Morris. “We do a lot of practicing during the off-season. We play a lot during the season.

“One of our strengths is we keep our kids active throughout the year.”

This summer, the Chiefs’ 15 current teams (with manager): 2021 (Chip Pettit), 17U (Alex Triantafillo), 2022 (Bobby Morris), 16U (Trevor Howard), 15U (Andrew Lowe), 15U (Lee Turnbough), 14U (Shawn Donovan), 13U (Trevor Howard), 13U (Corderro Torres), 12U (Michael Scharnke), 12U (Alex Triantafillo), 11U (James Stovall), 10U (Derek Woerpel), 9U (Bobby Morris) and 8U (Bryan Lopez). 

Sutkowski and Mike Curiel assist Pettit with the 2021 squad. Pettit, who is superintendent of Duneland School Corp., was the first Indiana Mr. Baseball in 1992.

“It’s an extremely gifted group,” says Morris of the 2021 team. “(Pettit and Sutkowski) are two phenomenal sports minds.”

Assistants for Morris with the 2022 Chiefs are Morris Baseball general manager Mike Small plus Tim Horneman.

Bobby’s youngest son, Gavin (10), plays for the 9U Chiefs. Bobby also helps coach the 8U team.

Nick Amatulli has more than 40 years of coaching experience and helps with both of Trevor Howard’s squads. 

Some other Chiefs coaches are John Adams, Tom Blair, Brad Fedak, Brian Fernandez, Trent Howard, Dale Meyer, Kevin Peller, Brad Rohde, Kenny Siegal and Eric Spain.

“We don’t differentiate ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team,” says Morris. “It’s more geared toward the name of the coach. We don’t want the potential for the stigma there. It also incentivizes our coaches to play the game hard and represent themselves well.

“We want Chiefs teams to play hard and be smart players. Any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”

Three Chiefs alums are currently playing pro baseball — third baseman Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays) and left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) in the majors and second baseman Nick Podkul (Toronto Blue Jays) in the minors.

Other players who were selected or played in pro baseball (affiliated and/or independent) include right-hander Matt Pobereyko (Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets), infielder/outfielder Ryan Dineen (Houston Astros), left-hander Trent Howard (Baltimore Orioles), right-hander Dan Faulkner (drafted by Philadelphia Philies), left-hander Blake Mascarello (Phillies), left-hander Andy Loomis (Florida Marlins, Phillies, Orioles), outfielder Ryan Basham (drafted by the Blue Jays), right-hander Cesar Carrillo (San Diego Padres), right-hander Mike Ryan (Atlanta Braves), outfielder Mike Coles (Orioles), left-hander Jon Nourie (Padres), first baseman Matt Mamula (New York Yankees) and right-hander Neal Frendling (Rays).

Morris is a 1990 graduate of Munster (Ind.) High School where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan.

“Bob is an extremely decent man,” says Morris of Shinkan. “He has such a genuine, caring nature.”

Shinkan can also be strict and he expects his players to be disciplined.

“I had a great experience there with Bob,” says Morris. 

After high school, lefty-swinging infielder Morris spent three seasons at the University of Iowa playing for long-time Hawkeyes head coach Duane Banks.

“Duane was just a smart baseball guy,” says Morris. “At Iowa, they really believed in self starters. They threw you out there and expected you to compete for a position.

“That culture helped me a lot in professional baseball.”

Morris was selected as a third baseman in the ninth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs and played nine minor league seasons (1993-2001), logging 636 games and hitting .290 with 36 home runs and 326 RBIs. He reached Double-A in the Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds systems. By hitting .354 with seven homers and 64 RBIs, he was chosen as MVP of the 1994 Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs of the Low Class-A Midwest League. That team was managed by Steve Roadcap

Morris also played for teams managed by Steve Kolinsky, Dave Trembley and Bruce Kimm while with the Cubs, Joel Skinner, Jeff Datz and Max Oliveras with the Indians, Bobby Jones with the Rangers and Mike Rojas and Phillip Wellman with the Reds.

Men that stick out for Morris in his development include Trembley, Jimmy Piersall, Sandy Alomar Sr. and Joe Tanner.

While Trembley never played pro baseball, he managed (Orioles) and coached (Houston Astros) in the big leagues.

“Dave had a great habit for excellence,” says Morris, who won a High Class-A Florida State League championship with Trembley on the 1995 Daytona Cubs. “He expected a lot out of himself and a lot out of us and how we carried ourselves.”

Morris, who turns 48 in November, grew watching Piersall and Harry Caray call Chicago White Sox games on TV. When he learned Morris was from Chicagoland, Piersall became close to Morris as a minor league hitting/outfield coach.

“Jimmy took on a second grandfather role for me,” says Morris.

It was in the Cubs organization that Morris encountered Alomar.

“He’s as smart a baseball person as I’ve ever met,” says Morris. “He’s an absolute genius.”

Tanner was Morris’ first full-season hitting instructor and the inventor of Tanner Tees — a product used by Bobby and brother Hal Morris (a left-handed first baseman/outfielder who played 14 seasons in the big leagues).

“Joe was a was a renaissance man for baseball,” says Bobby Morris. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great influences.”

His earliest diamond influences came from brother Hal.

Hal is seven years older than Bobby. 

“We were constantly competing with one another,” says Bobby. “I was challenged a lot. We were always very close. As I matured and got into high school, Hal brought back stuff from his (college and pro) coaches and we worked on it. 

“That helped in fine-tuning my ability to hit at an early age.”

As youngsters, the brothers spent hours taking batting practice with father Bill pitching and mother Margaret chasing baseballs.

Bill Morris was a four-year baseball letterman Davidson (N.C.) College, went to medical school, did his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, entered the U.S. Army and was at Fort Rucker in Alabama when daughter Beth (who went on to be a state swim champion at Munster High) and son Hal (who shined in baseball for the Mustangs) were born.

The family later came to northwest Indiana, where Bill was a pediatrician working at the Hammond Clinic, St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond and Community Hospital in Munster. He died at 82 in 2017.

“He taught us how to compete and how to be gentlemen,” says Bobby Morris of his father. “He was a class southern gentleman.

“My mom is still with us. She has probably shagged as many baseballs in her life as any big league pitcher.”

Bobby and Gloria Morris have three children. Besides Gavin, there’s recent Arizona State University graduate Gina (22) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis student John (19). Gloria Morris is a Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate.

“We’re Region rats,” says Bobby Morris. “I love northwest Indiana.”

The Morris family (from left): Gina, John, Gloria, Gavin and Bobby. Morris Baseball was established by Bobby Morris, a former college and professional player, in 2011. Five years ago came a merger with the Hammond Chiefs travel organization.

Sutkowski, Hammond/Morris Chiefs marking three decades of baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A celebration is being planned by the Hammond/Morris Chiefs.

The northwest Indiana-based baseball baseball organization is celebrating its 30th season in 2020.

Founder/coach Dave Sutkowski wants all former players to come to a get-together this some summer (time and place to be determined).

When Sutkowski fielded his first Hammond Chiefs team in 1991.

“At that time there was no travel ball,” says Sutkowski. “There was a lot of baseball for kids until 15 in their local leagues and organizations.

“When they would hit 16, the only thing out there for them was (American Legion) ball. Most Legion teams were affiliated with a high school. Some high schools had no affiliations with Legion teams. We wanted to extend the playing time for kids in the summer once they turned 16.”

Sutkowski coached players at ages 14 and 15 in Babe Ruth League that was a basis for the first 16U Hammond Chiefs team.

The next few years, there were 16U and 17U/18U squads.

The Chiefs won a Senior Babe Ruth World Series championship in 2003.

Five years ago, the Hammond Chiefs merged with Morris Baseball. The Morris Chiefs now field teams from 10U to 17U.

High school age kids play a summer and fall season.

“We’re always teaching,” says Sutkowski. “We are in it to teach the game of baseball and help kids with their skills no matter how young or how old.”

There is year-round training opportunities at Morris Baseball based in the Franciscan Health Fitness Center in Schererville, Ind.

As players become older, exposure for college becomes part of the equation and contacts are made with those coaches.

“When we started, college coaches were always at high school games,” said Sutkowski. “College coaches rarely come to high school games (these days) because of the nature of the season.

“Come summertime, they’re all over the place. We try to go to venues where these kids going to have an opportunity to be seen and recruited.”

The Chiefs have regularly traveled to Perfect Game tournaments near Atlanta and to Prep Baseball Report events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

There were more than 400 teams in the 17U division in 2019 at a Perfect Game tournament.

“Not all kids are (NCAA) D-I players and some kids understand that sooner than others. We as coaches have to put a kid in a position where we think he might have the most success.

“We tell kids that there’s nothing wrong with going to play baseball at a Division II, Division III or NAIA school. In Indiana, there are a lot of good programs that are not Division I. We have to find venues that meet the needs of those kids, too.”

Many events are played on college campuses. Sutkowski notes that the Cincy Flames host an event with games played at schools of various levels.

“Someone from that program is out there running event on their field,” says Sutkowski. “That helps out when you’re able to do that.”

The Chiefs have two alums currently in Major League Baseball — Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) and Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays).

Manaea and Brosseau both spoke at a Chiefs banquet during the recent holiday break held at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith.

At 14, Manaea’s parents brought him from Wanatah to play in a fall league in Hammond and he was with the Chiefs through high school.

Sutkowski is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and has attended more than 20 national conventions, including the one that just wrapped in Nashville.

“The first year I went I fell in love with it. We’ve just made it a point to come every year.

“The speakers are outstanding.”

Pro, college, high school, youth and travel ball coaches are all represented in formal meetings and clinic sessions.

There are also several informal discussions throughout the hallways of the convention.

“They’re all talking baseball,” says Sutkowski. “A lot of times you’ll learn just as much in those little sidebar sessions as you will listening to the speakers.”

The 2020 ABCA drew more than 7,100 coaches to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The 2021 convention is Jan. 7-10 at Gaylord National in Washington, D.C.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, which will hold its annual State Clinic Jan. 16-18 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis, is also a regular stop for Sutkowski.

After playing at Hammond Edison Little League, Sutkowski graduated from Hammond Gavit High School in 1978. He is in his 33rd year as a teacher in School City of Hammond. He leads physical education classes for about 600 K-5 students at Lincoln Elementary School.

He stayed involved with baseball after high school as an umpire and a youth coach.

His baseball coaching career at the high school level began as an assistant to George Malis at Hammond. He was also football assistant to Marty Jamrose and Bob Hansen at Hammond Gavit.

Sutkowski then became head baseball coach at Hammond Morton in 1996. The first team was a veteran squad and the second team had only one returning senior and very little varsity experience.

Sutkowski and his players talked about expectations talked about expectations before the season.

“No matter what happens, we never quit at what we do — whether it’s something we’re working on at practice or something during the game,” says Sutkowski. “No matter how frustrating things may become for us, we never lay down and quit. That was our motto.”

At the beginning of the season, the young Governors took their lumps.

“But our kids were getting better,” says Sutkowski. “They never quit. They worked as hard as they could in practice and games.”

One day against Hammond Bishop Noll, Morton got into an early hole.

“I could look at my kids and see they’re done,” says Sutkowski. “We got 10-runned in five (innings).”

Sutkowski did not address his team at the field. They got on the bus and went home.

“I figured I’ve got to do something to remind these kids that we’re not quitters,” says Sutkowski. “I painted our bench pink.

“The players saw it and all understood it.”

Players were responsible for carrying equipment and his lone senior — Justin Hornsby — was made to carry a can of red paint and a brush.

“When we prove that we are no longer going to quit at what we’re doing, you will be the first guy to paint that bench back to red,” says Sutkowski of his remarks to his senior. “That was it.

“The kids all bought into it.”

While the players understood the motivational tactic, it was picked up in the press.

“Since we were using the color pink they thought we were discriminating against females and softball,” says Sutkowski, “It had nothing to do with it — Nothing.”

Sutkowski says former head coach Greg Jancich supported the idea of reinforcing the no-quit rule with the players.

Though he was given no specific reason, the administration opted not to bring Sutkowski back for a third season.

DAVESUTKOWSKI

Dave Sutkowski is the founder of the Hammond/Morris Chiefs travel baseball organization. The 2020 season will be the 30th for the group based in northwest Indiana. (Steve Krah Photo)