Ryan Troxel is splitting his time this summer between college pitcher, youth pitching coach banking intern. He takes the mound for the wood bat Northern League’s Lake County CornDogs, which call Legacy Fields in Crown Point, Ind., home. On his off days, he guides arms for Valparaiso (Ind.) American Legion Post 94 Juniors (17U). “I’ve missed a few (Legion) games because I had to pitch,” says Troxel. “Other than that, I’ve been there. “I’ve been a busy man.” Troxel, a 2019 graduate of Valparaiso High School, pitched a scoreless ninth inning with three strikeouts during the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. A Finance and Management double major at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Troxel is a summer intern for Centier Bank in Merrillville, Ind. Troxel explains why he changed his academic path from Business to Finance. “Finance gives you the options to help people know their (money) goals,” says Troxel. “I also coach baseball because I love helping people.” On the diamond, the right-hander was on the winning side as the East topped the West 5-4 in 10 innings July 12 at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. Troxel’s performance was fitting because the CornDogs right-hander has a regular-season scoreless streak of 12 innings covering last three outings. In eight games (six in relief), he is 3-0 with a 0.65 earned run average. He has 35 strikeouts and eight walks in 27 2/3 innings. He was named Northern League Pitcher of the Week on July 5. A 6-foot-3, 220-pounder, Troxel is coming off his second season at NAIA member Indiana Tech. In seven games (all in relief), he was 0-4 with 14 strikeouts and 15 walks in 27 innings. In his first season with the Warriors (2021), Troxel came out of the bullpen 11 times and was 8-3 with a 4.46 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 innings. Kip McWilliams is Indiana Tech’s head coach and has also taken over pitching coach duties. “He gives us a lot of latitude to do what we want to get ready,” says Troxel of McWilliams. “He’s (coached) for a long time. He knows a lot about the game. “He’s definitely hard on guys. He expects a lot out of us. But — hey — we won a lot of games.” Tech went 32-21 and lost two one-run games as Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference tournament runners-up in 2022. McWilliams earned his 500th coaching win in April. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Troxel uses a four-seam fastball (which has reached 87 mph), curveball, slider (which is generally clocked around 75 mph) and change-up. “I get most of my outs on off-speed pitches,” says Troxel. “I throw my change-up a lot more now. It’s really helped me against left-handers because left-handers have always killed me.” Last weekend, Valpo Post 94 won a regional championship. This weekend, Post 94 is hosting the Indiana American Legion Junior State Tournament at VHS. In 2020, Troxel played for Rocco Mossuto-coached Saint Xavier University (Chicago). In a season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, he appeared in three games (one start) and was 0-0 with one save, a 4.50 ERA, eight strikeouts and eight walks in eight innings. Troxel played for Todd Evans at Valparaiso High. “He gave me a chance during my senior year to prove to him that I could be in the rotation,” says Troxel of Evans. “I think I had a pretty good senior year and he helped me a long the way.” Troxel went 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA and was honorable mention all-state, all-Duneland Athletic Conference, all-area and team MVP in 2019. Born in Elmhurst, Ill., Troxel was 1 when he moved to Valparaiso, where he played Little League then travel ball for the Chesterton Slammers, Triple Crown, Morris Chiefs and Valparaiso Post 94. He is grateful Chiefs coach Dave Sutkowski for his support. “He kept saying, ‘I believe in you,’” says Troxel of Sutkowski. “It was never about him. He was very influential in my choosing to play college baseball and also to move on and keep playing.” Ryan is the oldest of Jeff and Michele Troxel. Brother Zach Troxel is heading into his sophomore year at Valpo. He is pitching this summer for the Indiana Bulls. Jerry Troxel, Ryan and Zach’s grandfather who died in 2021, coached baseball for four decades at Gary Wirt. One of his players was Ron Kittle, who went on to be a major league slugger. “I really do love (coaching),” says Ryan Troxel. “It’s in my blood. That’s definitely in the future for me.”
Cal Curiel came through in the clutch at the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. Batting with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning, righty-swinging Curiel singled to right field to drive in the tying run. The East went on to beat the West 5-4 in 10 innings July 12 at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. Curiel, who started at third base and hit third in the East lineup in the All-Star Game, is on the first-place Lake County CornDogs (24-8), which plays home games at Legacy Fields in Crown Point, Ind. “I love Coach (Steve) Strayer,” says 2021 Crown Point High School graduate Curiel of his Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame head coach. “He’s a great guy and a great coach, too. He knows what he’s doing. “We always have good teams at Crown Point and he’s fun to play for.” Curiel hit .324 with 13 runs batted in and 23 runs scored in 2021. Spending his whole life in the seat of Lake County, Curiel played Little League there and for the Morris Chiefs (now the 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs) from 14U to 18U. That’s when he got to play for Dave Sutkowski. “Bush is awesome,” says Curiel of Sutkowski. “He is one of my favorite coaches ever. He’s always about the players. You could always talk to him in the dugout during the game. He’s going to try to win the ballgame. He’s just awesome.” The Chiefs managed to play about 60 games during the summer of 2020. “(Sutkowski) was finding teams to play around here when we couldn’t get into big tournaments because of COVID,” says Curiel. “It was a great time.” Curiel was one of only two players to appear in all 50 games for NAIA Crossroads League member Grace College (Winona Lake, Ind.) in the spring of 2022. Utility infielder Curiel made 37 starts for the Lancers and hit .333 (54-of-162) with 51 singles, 18 RBIs, 31 runs and 12 stolen bases in 16 attempts. His on-base percentage was .388. “We could have been a little better,” says Curiel of Grace’s 17-33 record. “We look like we’re going up (in 2023). I like the team we have coming in.” The Lancers head coach is Ryan Roth. “Roth is also a super-positive guy,” says Curiel. “He’s super-approachable and you can always talk to him. You can tell he cares about his players.” Through 26 Northern League games with the CornDogs, Curiel was hitting .299 (26-of-87) with five doubles, 19 RBIs, 20 runs and 11 stolen bases. “I’m looking to hit a ball hard early in the count,” says Curiel of his offensive approach. “I’m going to look for my pitch. If I don’t I’m probably going to take or foul the pitch off. “I’m not a huge power guy so I try to take the ball where’s it’s pitched.” Curiel did not play last summer. He took the time to get his body prepared. “I was a pretty skinny kid coming out of high school,” says Curiel. “So I ate a lot and worked out. I tried to put on 10 or 15 pounds so I could compete in college. “I was 18 going into the college season competing with fifth- and six-year players. I had to get physically ready to play.” The 6-foot-2 athlete went from 170 pounds to about 195. Exercise Science is Curiel’s college major. It’s his goal to be a physical therapist. He explains why he chose that path. “I got like super into working out,” says Curiel. “I just like trying to live healthy. I wanted to take a lot of courses on that.” He can use that knowledge to help himself and others. Cal is the son of Mike and Christine Curiel. Sister Ella Curiel is heading into her senior year of high school.
Dimitri Ivetic does not yet know where he will play college baseball in 2022-23. But the right-handed pitcher has been in this position before and he’s not pushing the panic button. Along his college baseball path, 2019 Highland (Ind.) High School graduate Ivetic has been at Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif., Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College and Danville (Ill.) Area Community College. Ivetic (pronounced Eave-Uh-Titch) made the decision to attend each only a few weeks before going there. “I think it helps me weigh my options and advice and make the decision that I think works best for me,” says Ivetic, 21. Born in Dyer, Ind., and played in the Highland Babe Ruth League, then travel ball with Morris Chiefs (now 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs) coached by Matt Mamula and Dave Sutkowski and Florida Pokers. His head coach at Highland High was John Bogner. “He’s very adamant on the fundamentals,” says Ivetic of Bogner. “He was very big on arm healthy and keeping guys healthy. Those are the biggest things I’ve been able to carry over into college. “We had a rough senior year, but my sophomore and junior years we won quite a few games.” How did a kid from northwest Indiana end up on the West Coast? “Ever since I was younger it was my dream to play college baseball,” says Ivetic. “My favorite school was UCLA. I always wanted to play there. I wasn’t good enough to go to UCLA so I decided to go to JUCO out in California.” Through a friend, Ivetic met Palomar pitching coach Hayden Carter while the latter was managing the summer wood-bat Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits. After a visit and seeing the facilities and experiencing the weather, Ivetic joined the program. The righty got into five games totaling three innings for the 2020 Palomar Comets. “I struggled with command a little bit,” says Ivetic. “Then the pandemic hit and we got shut down with mandates and restrictions. We are all like super-disappointed. “During that time I was able to go throw at nearby fields. On one of the last days I strained my forearm. I felt something pull in there. “That bugged me for the next couple months. I worked through it and made some mechanical adjustments which ended up paying off.” Away from baseball, Ivetic went to the beach and on hikes with his roommates. “We became a lot closer,” says Ivetic. “Those are some of my best friends to this day that I still talk to (regularly).” In the summer of 2020, Ivetic did not play but trained at Randy Sullivan’s Florida Baseball ARMory in Lakeland. “He’s a great guy,” says Ivetic of Sullivan. “He’s very innovative. He helped me a lot over the course of a couple years.” When Ivetic learned that the pandemic was going to keep Palomar from baseball activities in the fall of 2020 he decided to transfer to Santa Barbara City College. That turned out to be a tough situation with several COVID-19-related shutdowns and — eventually — no 2021 season. He played for the Bomb Squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., then went back to Santa Barbara in the fall and it did not go well. “My velocity was down and I struggled,” says Ivetic. “I made one little adjustment that kind of messed everything up.” During his fall exit meeting, Ivetic was advised that if he wanted more playing time in 2022 he should transfer so he went back to the Midwest and Danville Area, where he pitched in 12 games (26 2/3 innings) and went 2-2 with two saves, 36 strikeouts and 12 walks. “Danville was great,” says Ivetic. “The coaches were great. We struggled through some stuff, but overall it was decent. “I definitely made some memories.” Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Ivetic uses a four-seam fastball (which has been clocked as high as 90 mph), curveball and sweeping slider. “My slider is what I’ve been most comfortable with,” says Ivetic. “I can throw it for a strike in basically any count. It’s got more horizontal movement, but sometimes it will start to look more like my curveball.” Ivetic says he could return to Danville Area in the fall, but has no plans to do so. “It wouldn’t make much sense to go back to junior college at this point because — academically — it would just put me so far behind on how many credits would transfer,” says Ivetic, a Finance major who is in the Transfer Portal. “I’m not quite sure where I’m going. But we’re starting to get some idea of where I’d like to go.” Ivetic is back with the CSL’s Bomb Squad and was named to the July 4 All-Star Game. He also trains with PRP Baseball at the Mojo Up Sports Complex in Noblesville, visiting there before games at Grand Park. PRP Baseball, which was founded by Greg Vogt (now a rehab pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays organization), is under the day-to-day guidance of Anthony Gomez. He has coached Ivetic since he was 16. Dimitri is of Serbian descent and the only child born to Zarko and Paula Ivetic. His father sells for Jack Tuchten Wholesale Produce in Chicago and his mother works at Nordstrom.
Nolan Tucker enjoyed a breakout collegiate baseball season at the plate in 2022. The lefty-swinging Valparaiso (Ind.) University second baseman hit a team-best .365 (46-of-126) with one home run, one triple, 14 doubles 17 runs batted in and 21 runs scored for the NCAA Division I Beacons. Tucker pinch hit for head coach Brian Schmack’s club in a March 15 game at Notre Dame became an everyday starter March 18 at Murray State. He was at the top of the batting order the last few games of the season. He went 4-of-5 in the first game of a March 25 doubleheader vs. St. Bonaventure, 4-of-5 April 30 at Southern Illinois April 30, 4-of-4 May 20 at Evansville and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference first team. He was the first Valpo player since 2018 and second since the school joined the MVC to do that. “This was years in the making,” says Tucker, 21. “I finally had a chance to showcase it.” Prior to this spring, Tucker had only played in 20 college games. He made 16 appearances in 2020 before that season was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also the president of his dormitory — Brandt Hall. After playing four games in 2021, he suffered a season-ending injury. He did earn Valparaiso University Presidential Academic Honors and the MVC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award and was on the MVC Honor Roll. While he rehabilitated, Tucker took a deep dive into what he could do to boost his batting. “I wanted to figure this hitting thing out and take it to next level,” says Tucker. “I was looking at videos and comparing myself to big leaguers.” Tucker saw hitting coach Trey Hannam on social media, liked his profile and reached out to him and was soon making the 180-mile trek from Cedar Lake, Ind., to work with him in Milan, Ill. Current Valpo assistants Kory Winter and Mitchell Boe and former assistant Casey Fletcher also played a part in Tucker’s transformation. A 2019 graduate of Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, where he played for Wildcats head coach Ryan Bridges, Tucker was ranked among Indiana’s best shortstops and was four-year letterwinner and three-time all-conference selection. With strong shortstops on the squad (including Benton Central High School graduate Alex Thurston), Tucker made the switch to second base at Valpo to get on the field and has come to love the position. Tucker began wrestling early in elementary school. In high school, his head coaches were Mike Drosias as a freshman and Joshua Rowinski. There were to conference titles and a sectional championship. He was in the 132-pound class as a sophomore in 2016-17 when he went 35-5 and qualified for the semistate then decided to focus on baseball and getting bigger and stronger and did not wrestle as a junior or senior. “It’s a tough sport,” says Tucker of wrestling. “It’s physically and mentally demanding. “The lessons I’ve learned from that sport I’ll carry with me forever.” Tucker was born in Munster, Ind., and grew up in Cedar Lake. He played town ball and then went into travel baseball. He played for the St. John All-Stars, Playmakers, Chiefs, Top Tier, National Pitching Association and then the Dave Sutkowski-coached Morris Chiefs for his 17U summer. “He’s made huge impact on me,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “He’s taught me a lot about the game, but more about life like being punctual, responsible and a leader. “He was always there to reassure you and make you confident. “It’s about the man you become.” Tucker is scheduled to join the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators — managed by Chris Willsey — next Tuesday, May 7. He did not play in 2021 while rehabbing. He was with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics of gthe College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2020. He also got to play for the Jorge Hernandez-managed Independence in the College Summer Baseball Invitational in Bryan/College Station, Texas, where he met fellow Region native and CSBI Unity manager LaTroy Hawkins. Nolan had never met the 21-year major leaguer and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer but got connected through cousin and former Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and Morris Chiefs coach Jim Tucker. In 2019, Nolan Tucker played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s St. Clair Green Giants in Windsor, Ont. Tucker is a Business Management major. He is one year away from getting his undergraduate degree and has three more years of playing eligibility. “I’ll definitely go two more,” says Tucker. “I’m on the bubble about the third year.” Nolan is the oldest of Keith and Julie Tucker’s two children. Keith Tucker works for Team Industrial Services and Julie for Liveops. Daughter Kylin (18) is a 2022 Hanover Central graduate bound for Ball State University.
University of Indianapolis sophomore left-hander Xavier Rivas was named 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings NCAA Division II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder in his second year in the Greyhounds starting rotation went 7-0 with a 2.24 earned run average, 128 strikeouts and 31 walks in 80 1/3 innings over 12 games. His WHIP (walks and hits allowed by innings pitched) was 0.98. Opponents hit .170 off the southpaw. All this from someone who refers to himself as a “late bloomer.” “The winter before my senior year I was throwing 78 to 82 mph, but I wanted to play (in college),” says Rivas, a 2020 Portage (Ind.) High School graduate. “I didn’t want to go and sit. “I was a big kid but I hadn’t grown into my body.” Rivas made a visit to UIndy, threw a bullpen for the coaches and was offered a spot on the team. “The rest is history,” says Rivas, who credits several people for his ascension. The winter before his junior year at Portage, Rivas began training with Joe Plesac (who was the pitching coach at Andrean High School Merrillville, Ind.). “My dad go word of him through my strength coach in Valparaiso (Bub Pullins, whose son Gunnar Pullins was a senior first baseman on the Olivet Nazarene University team in 2022),” says Rivas. At UIndy, Rivas has learned from head coach Al Ready and two pitching coaches — first Landon Hutchison and then Adam Cornwell. Trevor Forde is another Greyhounds assistant. “He’s big on trust,” says Rivas of Ready. “He’s do anything for the players. “It’s nice hearing his opinion. He was a real good hitter.” Hutchison assisted the lefty with his mechanics and Cornwell with the mental side of things. “When I came I had a real robotic back-side arm action,” says Rivas. “(Hutchison) was a big numbers guy. We used Rapsodo (cameras) and he taught me my slider. “(Cornwell) played some pro ball and at UIndy. He’s taught me a lot. He’s helped me with some mechanical cues that added on a few miles per hour.” Throwing from a three-quarter arm angle, Rivas employs a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up. During the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament with warm temperatures that the Greyhounds rarely saw in 2022 (he only pitched two times with the game-time thermometer reaching 60 and one start it was 17 with the wind chill), Rivas was above to get a sweat going on the mound and get his four-seamer up to 92 mph. “We would have themes for bus rides,” says Rivas. “One time it a beach theme and we wore shorts and flip-flops. When we left Indianapolis it was in the 60s or 70s. It was in the 40s when we got there. “That’s the nature of the beast in the Midwest. It’s bipolar weather.” Rivas delivers his curve over the top close to 12-to-6 on the clock face. In an attempt to “tunnel” his pitches, he wants them to look the same coming out of his hand and as they near the plate then they move in different ways. Throwing his slider and change-up around the same speed — 80 to 84 mph — he tries to get the slider to dive down and to the right back foot of right-handed hitters. The change-up goes away from righties. Rivas played one varsity season for Portage head coach Bob Dixon in 2019 (the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic). “He was an older school guy and a nice guy,” says Rivas of Dixon. The pitcher underwent knee surgery from a wrestling injury and played junior varsity ball as a Portage sophomore. Wrestling is a big deal in Xavier’s family. His father Jeremy Rivas went to the IHSAA State Finals three times and was a state runner-up at 125 pounds as a Portage senior in 1993. Jeremy coached at Hobart (Ind.) High School and helped Alex Ramos to a pair of state titles (1999 at 119 and 2000 at 125) and a fifth-place finish (1998 at 119). Xavier Rivas wrestled from sixth through ninth grade for Portage (Leroy Vega was his high school coach). A torn meniscus as a sophomore put an end to his mat career. “I knew baseball was my future,” says Rivas, who was coaxed by friends to play football as a senior. He was a wide receiver and tight end for the Indians in the fall of 2018. Rivas did some powerlifting as early as high school freshman, but nothing was organized. “When I got to college I saw how strong everyone was,” says Rivas. “I’m very competitive. I wanted to be the strongest one on the team.” He got serious about lifting and began getting workouts from friend and competitive lifter Aaron Blake and went heavy with all his lifts when there was a two-month break at UIndy during the winter of 2020-21. “I got up to 230 pounds,” says Rivas. A Mechanical Engineering major, Rivas expects to graduate in five years. He is heading into his true junior year. He did not get an extra year of eligibility since he was not in college during the pandemic. He took a heavy course load during his freshman season — 18 hours — and struggled while doing all online courses and being on the road frequently with the baseball team. “I tried to study on the bus but that didn’t work,” says Rivas. This year has been better with in-person classes and 17 hours in the fall and 15 in the spring. “That was much better,” says Rivas, who mentors freshmen teammates so they don’t suffer the same as he did. This summer, Rivas is with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. Looking for innings, he spent part of the summer of 2021 playing American Legion ball for the South Haven Post 502 Blaze. He spent part of the previous summer with the Midwest Irish. Born in Hobart, Rivas grew up in South Haven and moved to Portage in the middle of his sixth grad year. He started at South Haven Little League at 4. He was playing there and in travel ball at 9. The Portage Tribe and Morris Chiefs were two of his other travel ball teams. Xavier’s mother is Nina Rivas. Sister Mya Rivas (18) is a 2022 Portage graduate who is headed to Purdue University.
Valparaiso Post 94 is doing its part to keep American Legion Baseball in Indiana thriving. In 2021, Post 94 counts Wayne Coil as Senior team field manager and Dan Sherman in the role of general manager/director of operations. Brian Niksch is head coach of the Valpo Juniors. “We’re hanging in there,” says Sherman, who has been involved with the Valpo program for almost 10 years. Son Jake Sherman, a 2017 Andrean High School graduate, played for Charles Pratt Post 94. “Last year with the (COVID-19) pandemic and Indiana American Legion shutting down (its tournament series) hurt. “We’re probably down 10 teams in Indiana (which fields 19U senior and 17U junior squads). The strongest programs are in Rockport (Post 254), Terre Haute (Post 346) and Kokomo (Post 6).” As Post 94 GM/Director of Ops, Sherman helps raise funds, orders equipment and sets schedules. He’s even filled in as an umpire. Artificial turf is going in at Valparaiso High School. That means that the VHS Vikings were “Road Warriors” (Senior Night was held at Valparaiso University) in the spring and the Post 94 is playing an all-away schedule. Featuring many recent Valparaiso High graduates from the 2021 IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional champions, the Senior team plays American Legion and a few travel teams. Most games are within a 60-mile radius of Valpo. In Indiana, there’s Crawfordsville Post 72, East Chicago Post 100/369, Highland Post 180, Hobart Post 502, Kokomo Post 6, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 (the Blaze is based in Hobart and draws high school players from Hobart, Portage, Boone Grove, Wheeler and River Forest) and, possibly, Bristol Post 143. Michigan Legion opponents include Stevensville Post 568 and Three Oaks Post 204. There’s even Napoleon (Ohio) Post 300. Valpo, which has a Senior (19U) and Junior (17U) squad, has or will see the Midwest Rockets, Morris Chiefs, Northwest Indiana Shockers and two Indiana Playmakers squads. There will be regionals at sites to be determined for Senior and Junior teams. Junior regionals are July 8-11 with the State Finals July 15-18 at Terre Haute. Senior regionals are July 15-18 with the State Finals July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo. The 94th American Legion Baseball World Series is slated for Aug. 12-17 in Shelby, N.C. Valpo placed third in the 2019 senior tournament staged in Rockport, Ind. “They play on bluegrass,” says Sherman of Joe Hargis Field, which Post 254 shares with South Spencer High School. “An army of guys to do maintenance and there’s covered stands. “It’s top quality.” Sherman, a former teacher and coach and a longtime attorney, played baseball at South Haven (Mich.) High School and Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., then until age 29 in an adult league. He has an affinity for promoting amateur baseball and particularly likes the American Legion brand. “Baseball has almost become an elitist sport for some that have the money,” says Sherman. “ $250 donation (per player) pays for everything. “A big part of promoting baseball is having good facilities that are fan-friendly.” When the Post 94 Seniors traveled to River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich., Thursday, June 16 to play the Post 204 Oakers he knew that J.C. German and son Jason German would have the field prepped and fans would be there to cheer. Coil, a music teacher at Ben Franklin Middle School in Valparaiso who joined the Post 94 coaching staff in 2018, also coaches the junior varsity at Valpo High under varsity head coach Todd Evans, who encourages all his Vikings to play Legion ball in the summer. One of Wayne’s sons, Alex Coil (VHS Class of 2018), played for Post 94 as well as the Northwest Indiana Rippers in the Babe Ruth World Series. A broadcast intern this summer with the independent professional Frontier League’s Florence (Ky.) Y’alls, Alex is heading into his senior year in Sports Journalism at Arizona State University. Nolan Coil, another of Wayne’s sons and a 2021 Valpo graduate heading to Calvin University in Grand Rapids to study and play baseball, is on the current Post 94 Senior squad. Four other Post 94 players — Nick Koprcina (Calvin), Kyle Lawrence (Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio), Jake Nightingale (Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich.) and Lucas Siewin (Kankakee, Ill., Community College) — are headed to college baseball programs in the fall. The Post 94 Senior roster also includes Josh Brinson, Nate Guzek, Adler Hazlett, Erik Kallen, Matt Levenda, Matt Nightingale, Chris Rahn and Griffey Zborowski. Three 2021 Valpo grads who have made college commitments not playing Legion ball this summer are Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and North/South All-Star Series selection Grant Comstock (Northwestern University), Ty Gill (Purdue University), Carter Kosiara (North Central College in Naperville, Ill.) and Elan Reid (Manchester University). “I like the competition (of American Legion Baseball),” says Wayne Coil. “Many players have just finished their first year of college (at the senior level). The pitching is usually excellence. “The distance to travel and expense is less than when my boys were in travel ball. We get to know the (other Legion) coaches a lot better. They are all volunteering their time. It’s a bunch of great guys.” Coil sees Legion ball making a comeback. “The enthusiasm is greater for it,” says Coil. “If only more high school coaches would become aware of what American Legion is all about.” Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gene Bottorff was infielder/pitcher Coil’s coach at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School. “He was a great mentor,’’ says 1984 MCHS graduate Coil of Bottorff. “My older brother (Class of ’82’s Neal Coil) and I learned quite a bit from him.” Wayne Coil graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and played in a summer baseball league after college. Niksch, a 1997 Valpo High graduate, is the freshmen baseball coach and a business teacher at VHS as well as an IHSAA-licensed umpire. Son Jake Niksch (Class of 2023) has played for the Post 94 Juniors and Seniors this summer. While most Post 94 Juniors players go to Valpo High, New Prairie, Portage and South Central (Union Mills) are also represented on a 14-player roster.
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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)
Growing up, Enright played at Edison Little League/Babe Ruth League in Hammond, Ind., followed by four summers of travel baseball with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Chiefs).
After playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan at Munster, Enright took to the diamond at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. (2008-09) for National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve Ruzich and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville (2010-11) for two-time national champion Tracy Archuleta.
Enright was an NJCAA All-American at South Suburban, hitting .446 with five home runs, 17 doubles and 46 runs batted in. At USI, he started every game for the 2010 NCAA Division II national champions. He also started 55 contests in 2011, helping the Screaming Eagles to a fourth straight Great Lakes Valley Conference championship.
Enright holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Southern Indiana and a Master’s of Arts in coaching from Greenville (Ill.) University.
He also spent seven summers with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen (2012-18) — the last four as manager. The Whiting-based team also won the league title in 2016.
During his time as a coach, Enright has learned the importance of being organized.
“Things can get pretty hectic,” says Enright, 29. “The qualities that I bring to this job as a head coach are thoroughness and the ability to put ideas together.
“I have to make sure things are spelled out and clearly communicated.”
At NCAA Division I Chicago State, Enright worked with Cougars head coach and Hammond (Ind.) High School graduate Michael Caston.
“He was a relationships guy,” says Enright of Caston. “Things were tougher for us and wins were hard to come by. He kept the players in a positive state of mind. He kept everybody’s spirits high and kept things enjoyable.
“He played a lot of really quality schools (during non-conference play).”
Enright’s stint at D-I Arkansas-Little Rock gave him the opportunity to serve on the staff of Trojans head coach Scott Norwood.
“He was a structured, disciplined type of coach,” says Enright of Norwood. “He would make sure everybody was motivated to buy into the program’s philosophy.
“Assistant coaches were allowed a lot of freedom when it came to developing players.”
At NAIA Trinity, Enright worked on a Trolls staff headed by Justin Huisman (who is also a former Oilmen manager) and learned that administrative duties make up a large portion of a head coach’s job.
“I got to really concentrate on baseball a lot,” says Enright. “(Huisman) was very good at the administrative side. He was very organized, a very good planner and very good at keeping players in the know.”
It was in Palos Heights that Enright met the woman that he would marry. Adam and Kimmy Enright were wed in December 2017.
Enright’s top assistant at Missouri Valley — Matt Dwyer — is back for his seventh season in 2019. Dwyer is familiar with both the coaching and administrative sides.
“We tackle things together,” says Enright of Dwyer. “That frees us up to do more baseball.”
“There’s a a lot of instruction and breaking the game down,” says Enright. “It’s a lot more teaching and talking than playing games.”
NAIA rules allow baseball activities for 24 weeks and the Vikings will work six days a week for six weeks in the fall until mid-October and then 18 leading into and including the spring season. The season opener is scheduled for Feb. 8 at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, Ark., with the home opener Feb. 22 against conference opponent Northwestern College.
MVC is part of the 13-member Heart of America Athletic Conference. Teams will play 31 conference games — three each against divisional opponents and two apiece against cross-divisional foes. Division series are usually played on weekends with one nine-inning single game and a doubleheader. Cross-divisional games tend to be weekday doubleheaders.
Enright learned of the opening at Missouri Valley through the American Baseball Coaches Association job board. He attended the annual ABCA Convention when it was in Indianapolis last January.
“It’s something near and dear to my heart,” says Enright. “I try to go as often as I can.
“It’s always worth going. You’re always able to pick up something new, see familiar faces and meet new ones.”
The 2019 ABCA Convention is slated for Jan. 3-6 in Dallas.
Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate and former Northwest Oilmen manager, is the new head baseball coach at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. (Missouri Valley College Photo)
In 13 seasons in Poseyville — 12 as head coach — Swartzentruber experienced plenty of winning. The Vikings were an IHSAA Class 2A state semifinalist in 2000 and won back-to-back 2A state titles in 2005 and 2006.
The second championship came against Hammond Bishop Noll, then coached by Dave Griffin. Flash forward to the present and his son, David Griffin, is a junior pitcher for Swartzentruber at Lake Central.
“I learned a lot there,” says Swartzentruber of his time with Artesians. “It humbled me a little. All coaches have egos.
“We had a couple decent years mixed in, but we struggled.”
He stepped away in his eighth year at the school and contemplated his future.
“I had a lot of time to reflect and realized how much I wanted to get back into it,” says Swartzentruber. He landed interviews at McCutcheon and Lake Central.
“My wife (Misty) was real supportive,” says Swartzentruber. “She told me to make sure it is a place you want to be at. To use a baseball term, make it was a ‘home run.’”
The Swartzentrubers (Mike, Misty, son Griffen and daughter Ryan) were on a Florida vacation in the summer of 2016 when Mike was called and offered the LC job. He accepted on the spot and soon packed up the crew again and headed to Lake County.
Mike Swartzentruber is now in his second season at the school of more than 3,000 students in St. John.
“We’ve enjoyed it up here,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s the hardest job I’ve had in terms of expectation and the number of kids in the program. We had about 100 kids at workouts in the off-season (and there are now 54 players for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams). “But I want to be in a situation where baseball is taken seriously and is a priority.”
Griffen Swartzentruber is a freshman who played for the Indians’ sectional champion boys tennis team in the fall.
Ryan Swartzentruber is a seventh grader who enjoys volleyball and tennis.
Mike was familiar with the LC program since the Indians had come south four years in a row when Todd Iwema was head coach.
With a number of P.O.’s (pitcher-onlys), injuries and early JV call-ups, Swartzentruber has a 23-man varsity squad.
“Everybody who coaches thinks I’m absolutely off my rocker,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s not easy to navigate. There are guys who wish they were playing more. Many times the first time they start are as seniors. With the depth we have, you don’t see a lot of two- or three-year varsity starters.
“I’m still learning. We’ve got good kids. They work hard and are coachable kids.
“We mix and match kids (in a kind of platoon system).”
Pitching has long been a plus at Lake Central. The 2016 team set a national record with 16 shutouts. The last two years, the team earned run average has been at over below 2.00.
“Our pitching staff has been off the charts,” says Swartzentruber. “Any guy we’ve thrown out there has thrown zero after zero.”
“He’s a young pitching coach does a real good job,” says Swartzentruber of Weinmann. “I’m more old school and he’s more new school. The results are there.”
Jay Jones, who went through the ranks with John Mallee (former Chicago Cubs hitting coach who holds that title with the Philadelphia Phillies), instructs Lake Central hitters.
“Jay knows his stuff,” says Swartzentruber.
John Novosel, a baseball veteran who has helped at Griffith and coaches with the Morris Chiefs in the summer, rounds out the varsity staff. Brian McNamara is the junior varsity coach and Jeff Myzak leads the freshmen.
Lake Central plays on an all-turf field with generous dimensions, similar to those of Victory Field in Indianapolis. In Swartzentruber’s two seasons, only one LC player has hit a home run there and only one visitor has cleared the fence in four seasons and that was Chesterton senior Tommy Benson when he socked one to left field last Tuesday, May 15.
Growing up, Swartzentruber’s coach was father Dennis.
“I’ve always been a listen more than I talk guy,” says Mike Swartzentruber. “I’ve picked up stuff from everybody I’ve ever been in contact with.
“My biggest influence is my dad.”
Dennis and Patsy Swartzentruber have two children — daughter Michelle (Heacock) and son Mike.
Steve Walker was Mike Swartzentruber’s baseball coach with the Washington Hatchets.
“We enjoyed playing for him,” says Swartzentruber. “My class was always pretty successful in baseball.
“Jasper beat us in the regional in my senior year.”
At Oakland City, Swartzentruber played for Phil Glover and then Les Hayes and changed his major to education then set off on his teaching and coaching career.
After stints at North Posey, where he won two IHSAA state championships, and Martinsville, Mike Swartzentruber is in his second season as head baseball coach at Lake Central High School in 2018.