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Kouts’ Tucker wears many hats — coach, teacher, husband, blogger, podcaster, wiffleballer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Tucker wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.

His vehicles are the classroom and the baseball diamond.

Tucker teaches Language Arts and Reading to middle schoolers at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and also serves as head baseball coach. The 2019 season will be his third leading the Kouts Mustangs.

As an educator, Tucker helps students along their path.

“I try to get the kids to be able to handle the real world,” says Tucker. “I tell them, ‘you can be who you want to be.’

“This is the toughest time in history to be a teenager. You can never shut it off.”

Tucker relates to his students and players through his ability to connect.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Tucker. “I get buy-in from the kids through stories, emotion and feelings.

“In coaching and teaching, I am a relationship builder and a communicator. The game is just an opportunity to becoming who we want to become.”

Some refer to that as transformational coaching.

“We’re here to shape the kids through baseball,” says Tucker. “We’re building a culture we are proud of from top the bottom. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tucker does not base his worth in his won-loss record — though he wants his players to experience winning.

“It’s about making an impact with these kids,” says Tucker, who was the fifth person named as baseball coach at Kouts when he took the job (John Hall took over the Mustangs softball program before the 2016 season).

His coaching staff includes two men — Randy Yager and Doug Murray — with little or no baseball background, but that’s not the priority.

“I’m more concerned with bringing in good men,” says Tucker. “True growth comes from the conversations after (players) fail.”

First-year volunteer coach Stefan Roney is a Kouts graduate. He was on the last Mustangs teams to win an IHSAA sectional championship in 2011 (Kouts reigned in the tourney held at Washington Township).

Kouts, a school of about 275 students, is in a Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

The Mustangs belong to the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central (Union Mills), Washington Township and Westville). Boone Grove won the 2018 Class 2A state title.

Tucker played at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., graduating in 2008. He then went on Chicago State University and pitched four seasons in five years, sitting out the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and earning his English degree in December 2013.

His head coaches at Calumet were Larry Drake and Roger Azbill with Michael Caston leading the CSU Cougars Tucker’s first four years and Steve Joslyn his last.

Azbill approach baseball with a blue-collar mentality.

“I learned toughness,” says Tucker of Azbill. “He wanted you to show up everyday and do your job. You wanted to always try to get better.”

Caston was a Hammond, Ind., native who played at Valparaiso University. His pitching coach at Chicago State was former Lake Central High School, Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hurler and Gary SouthShore RailCats player Neal Frendling.

What Tucker remembers most from his college baseball experience is playing teams from every corner of the country and seeing the different styles of playing and coaching.

The year he sat out as a player, Tucker traveled with the team and did laundry. But he also decided his baseball future was in coaching. He came away from each trip with page after page of notes.

Before college, Tucker had played travel baseball for Dave Sutkowski with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Baseball Chiefs) and soaked up much about the game. He later coached with Sutkowski.

“He was very detailed,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “Everything was broken down and position-specific. He was also very competitive.

“We run our stuff (at Kouts) very much like we did with the Chiefs.”

Tucker was the pitching coach for Dave Griffin at Purdue-Calumet for one season before joining Steve Strayer’s coaching staff at Crown Point High School leading up to taking the Kouts job in the winter prior to the 2016 season.

“It was awesome learning from (Griffin),” says Tucker. “He does it a little bit differently. He allows guys to do their own thing. He wants to serve as a guy to help you get where you’re going.”

During games, Tucker would see the wheels turning for Griffin.

“He would call things before they happened,” says Tucker. “He was always thinking ahead.”

Tucker was with Strayer at the time the Bulldogs boss suffered a stroke and marvels at how quickly he bounced back.

“I was so impressed how he could manage so many people,” says Tucker of Strayer. “He was very diligent in his planning.

“He always had that growth mindset. He was always learning and adding to coaching tool kit.”

Strayer was quick to share his faith and to ask the opinions of his assistants, making sure to give them ownership in the program and Tucker takes the same tactic with his staff.

Tucker is also part of the new Wheelhouse Baseball podcast. It is part of the Chicago-based Overtime Sports Network, which promotes its various podcasts and blogs.

With Tucker, best friend and former Chicago State teammate Jeremy Ratjaczyk and avid podcaster and Calumet College of St. Joseph graduate Mikey Kubacki Jr., adding to the chatter, Wheelhouse podcast focuses on historic Major League Baseball games, quirky stats and obscure players.

It’s buddies talking baseball with a sense of humor.

“We’re three goofy guys and we’re quirky,” says Tucker. “We try to be genuine.”

The first episode debuted Oct. 10 and was centered on Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.

Episode 2 is to be about the 10 worst contracts in MLB history.

Episode 3 will feature former Hammond Bishop Noll Institute and current minor league pitcher Matt Pobereyko. Episodes generally premier each Wednesday morning.

While his baseball playing days are done, Tucker still competes on the fast pitch wiffleball field. He plays for both the Griffleball League’s GasHouse Gorillas and in the Leroy Wiffle Ball Association.

Griffleball has been around for eight years and has seven teams playing on Sundays at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith. There is no base running. Wherever the ball lands determines the outcome of the at-bat.

Next year, the LWA is to have 14 teams and seven fields. Player do run the bases. If a team issues five balls to the opposing batter, they must lob the next ball in so there’s more offense.

Jim and wife Mysta Tucker have been married for a year and have two dogs.

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Jim Tucker, a 2008 Calumet High School graduate, delivers a pitch for Chicago State University. He played baseball for the Cougars in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is now head baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. (Chicago State Photo)

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Jim Tucker is a teacher and baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. The graduate of Calumet High School and Chicago State University is also a husband, blogger, podcaster and wiffleballer. The 2019 season will be his third as head coach of the Kouts Mustangs.

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Hall of Famer Shinkan keeps Munster Mustangs loose and ready to play baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bob Shinkan is proof that you can be both laid-back and intense.

He’s been doing it as head baseball coach at Munster High School for decades.

“I expect 100 percent out of my players,” says Shinkan, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who heads into his 33rd season in 2018 with a 639-323-1 career mark. “I strive for perfection. I push them to a certain extent through my own personality.

“I’m not a fire-up guy but I’m as competitive as anybody can be. I’m laid back unless somebody is not hustling or paying attention. I try to keep things as loose as possible. Kids are going to excel not being tight.

“I want them excited and loose every time we play a ball game.”

Shinkan prepares his players in practice so they can play loose.

“I try to let the kids go out there and not put pressure on them during the games,” says Shinkan. “I don’t try to change too much as the game goes on.”

Shinkan, a 1971 Munster graduate, has been Mustangs baseball head coach since the 1986 season. He moved up from assistant following the tragic death of Hall of Famer Mike Niksic in a boating accident.

“He was old school and I loved it,” says Shinkan of Niksic. “He pushed you real hard and he expected a lot out of you. but gave you all the love that he had.

“I’ve been trying to follow the same tradition Mike had. But times are different and kids have changed. You have to adjust here and there.”

Shinkan played freshmen baseball at Ball State University and then got his undergraduate degree at the Muncie school and came back to Munster to begin his teaching career (he now is a geometry teacher). At the time, there were no coaching openings in boys sports so he started in girls track. He would go on to serve as head volleyball coach was on the Munster football staff of Indiana Football Hall of Famer Leroy Marsh from 1987-2015.

When he joined Niksic’s baseball staff a few years later, Shinkan found himself leading both the junior varsity and freshmen teams.

“It was interesting,” says Shinkan. “In the preseason, I had both teams practicing. Then games would start and the JV would plays Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and freshman on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a doubleheader on Saturday. We were playing games six days a week.

There were just three paid positions in Munster baseball — one varsity and two assistants — and that hasn’t changed.

“That’s the way Mike wanted it,” says Shinkan. “That’s the way we did things.”

Niksic assistants going back to 1965 include Ed Sherry, Don Kemaghan, George Sofianos, John Gott, Dave Knish, Mike Edwards, Bob Maicher, Ed Robertson and, of course, Bob Shinkan.

When Shinkan took over, he assigned one assistant to JV (currently Matt Backs) and one to the freshmen (currently Mike Mikolajczyk). Volunteers have also been very helpful over the years.

Shinkan’s first staff in 1986 included Charles Boston and Mark Agenter. There’s also been Dennis Haas, Paul Banas, Hal Coppage, Jim Magrames, Tom Langus, Steve Tripenfeldas, Jim Davidson, Mike Mendoza, Jeff Rosen, Marty Kell, Jeff Kapp, Elliott Gibbs, Jon Caddick, Anthony Gomez, John Premetz and Alex Coccia.

From his first season in charge, Shinkan has been dividing Munster’s season into thirds.

“That first third, I try to figure out what everybody’s role is,” says Shinkan, who uses the middle third to work on those roles. “Wins and losses are important, but try to get the kids as much playing time as I can. The first part of season, we experiment with lineups. I let players prove to not only me and their teammates, but to themselves that we’re putting them in the right spots.”

By the last third of the season, roles and set and the Mustangs hope to be going after a conference championship and are getting ready for the postseason.

“I’m pretty proud of the program and the success we’ve had down through the years,” says Shinkan.

In program history, Munster has won 12 conference baseball titles (1975, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1994, 1998, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2014) with 12 sectionals (1981, 1985, 1990, 1991, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2016), five regionals (1985, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2010) and four Final Four appearances (2001, 2002, 2006, 2010), including an Class 4A state championship in 2002.

A 9-1 victory against Evansville North wrapped a 25-9 season and allowed the Mustangs to raise the state championship trophy.

Conference make-up and affiliation has changed for Munster over the year. In 2018, the Northwest Crossroads Conference has six members — Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster. Conference games will be home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday is left open as rain date.

Mike Smith came from Logansport to be Munster athletic director in 2001 and said the back-to-back schedule used in the North Central Conference was superior to the round robin schedule used at the time in the old Lake 10 Conference.

“I was the one to bring it up at post-conference meetings,” says Shinkan. “We voted on it and we went to that.”

Shinkan has a say in Munster’s non-conference schedule. Working with current AD Brian Clark, he picks as many Duneland Athletic Conference and sectional opponents as he can get.

“I don’t like to come into a sectional without seeing them during the regular season,” says Shinkan. “I try to beef up the schedule. It gets us ready for the conference season and the sectional.”

For years now, the Mustangs have opened the season in Terre Haute South Vigo Braves Baseball Bash. They play one game Friday and two Saturday in round robin with Mt. Vernon (Posey), New Haven and the host school.

Kyle Kraemer at Terre Haute South puts on a nice tournament,” says Shinkan. “It helps us bond as a team.”

Shinkan is in the habit of developing at least eight pitchers so he can use four (two starters and two relievers) for conference games and four for non-conference contests.

Conference pitchers put in a rotation in the weeks leading up to the sectional.

“I’ve never been one to throw pitchers to the wolves,” says Shinkan. “We’re going to rest that arm.”

What about the advent in 2017 of the new IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days)?

“I’ve always followed stuff like that anyway,” says Shinkan. “That’s not a big deal. High school coaches are pretty good with that. Summer coaches are a different story.”

Plenty of talented players have worn the Munster uniform during Shinkan’s career, including Hal Morris who went on to play in the majors and also went into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame.

Bobby Morris, Hal’s brother, hit a walk-off home run in the championship game against Hammond Gavit that gave Shinkan his first sectional baseball title as a coach in 1990. Bobby, who was a second-team all-state shortstop in 1990, now runs the Morris Baseball & Softball Center in Schererville.

Shinkan’s other all-staters are second baseman Steve Muller (honorable mention) in 1988, third baseman Brent Bodefeld (second team) in 1990, second baseman Brian Christiansen (honorable mention) in 1997, outfielder Brian Wolotka (first team) in 1998, pitcher Jon Nourie (first team) in 2000, outfielder Mike Rosen (first team) in 2002, third baseman Brett Keeler (honorable mention) in 2007, pitcher Ryan Wilkinson (honorable mention) in 2010, outfielder Alex DeRio (honorable mention) in 2014 , outfielder Joe Bryant (first team) in 2015, pitcher Connor Manous (second team) in 2016 and Mike Madura (honorable mention) in 2017.

Niksic coached five all-staters — catcher Scott Keeler (first team) in 1975, shortstop Steve Urbanski (first team) in 1978, outfield Lou Carbonare (second team) and pitcher Paul Banas (second team) in 1982 and third baseman Dave Cerajewski (second team) in 1985.

IHSBCA All-Star North/South Series players from Munster include catcher Scott Keeler in 1975, first baseman Dan Banas in 1976, outfielder Greg Beno in 1977, pitcher Chris Chelich and shortstop Steve Urbanski in 1978, first baseman Hal Morris in 1983, third baseman Dave Cerajewski in 1985, shortstop Bobby Morris in 1990, pitcher Jeff O’Connor in 1995, second baseman Brian Christiansen in 1997, outfielder Brian Wolotka in 1998, pitcher Elliott Gibbs in 2002, pitcher Bryan Bokowy in 2004, shortstop Mike Nowak in 2006, catcher Pete Jurich in 2007, pitcher Ryan Wilkinson in 2010, pitcher Grant Rademacher in 2015, pitcher Connor Manous in 2016 and pitcher Mike Madura in 2017.

Shinkan has sent numerous players on to college baseball.

Nourie was drafted out of high school by the Chicago White Sox, opted instead to play at Southeast Missouri State University (2003-04) and then pitched in the San Diego Padres system and in independent pro baseball.

Outfielder Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University and was drafted by the White Sox in 2017.

Munster plays home games on-campus on a lighted field next to the football field.

“We’re very proud of it,” says Shinkan, who has got to be a sectional host for long time. “This year, we put in a brand new infield and bought a new tarp. Going against tradition, we sodded in the baselines for maintenance reasons. We have a two-story press box. A new batting cage is coming.

“I’m very grateful to the administration for keeping up with things,” says Shinkan.

The veteran coach was humbled and happy when the call from his peers to the IHSBCA Hall of Fame came in 2015 and he joined Mike Niksic and Hal Morris.

“You look at those names that are there,” says Shinkan. “Not only names from Calumet Region. I’m in with Don Mattingly and Gil Hodges. It’s a fraternity. I’m so proud of that fact I was able to attain that.”

In 2018, Shinkan and wife Laura will celebrate 40 years of marriage. The couple have two sons — Scott and Michael. Scott graduated from Munster in 1998 and played three seasons at Wabash College. He and wife Laura have a 2-year-old son, Grady, and one on the way. Michael graduated from MHS in 2004. He played baseball as a freshman then pursued golf.

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Bob Shinkan, a 1971 Munster High School graduate, has been head baseball coach at his alma mater since the 1986 season. He went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

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