Tag Archives: NCAA Division I

Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

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

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

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

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

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Francis assistant Lawhead wants his pitches to be relentless

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Lawhead was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to baseball, Fort Wayne, Ind., became his Midwest home in the fall of 2012.

Born in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle, Lawhead graduated from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., in 2010 and pitched for two seasons at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College.

The right-hander played for Warriors head coach Dave Meliah and pitching coach C.J. Biagi and was named a first-team all-East Region relief pitcher and second-team all-Northwest Athletic Conference relief pitcher in 2012 while garnering six saves.

“Coach Meliah taught me a lot of physical and mental toughness and how to prepare at a higher level,” says Lawhead. “I learned how to attack and compete relentlessly and not have any fear.

“I played on two of the grittiest and most-competitive teams I’ve ever been a part of.”

Lawhead describes the juco experience.

“The days are long in junior college, but it helps you develop an appreciation of how much better you can get by working,” says Lawhead. “There’s a natural progression. You can speed up and expedite that process a little bit.”

Through an online recruiting database — FieldLevel — he caught the attention of Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and wound up signing with the Mastodons weeks before his junior year at IPFW. 

“Lucky for me, they needed arms,” says Lawhead. “I wanted to play at the (NCAA) Division I level as well. That’s the reason I went to junior college in the first place.”

The right-handed hurler two seasons (2013 and 2014) for head coach Bobby Pierce and pitching coach Grant Birely and made 41 appearances out of the bullpen with seven wins and nine saves.

“It was a great experience with Coach Pirece and Coach Birely,” says Lawhead. “They helped me see things in detail and that 90 percent of game can be controlled by that pitcher-hitter confrontation.

“They gave us a lot of freedom. There was no micromanaging. We took ownership of our own development.”

Many of Lawhead’s former teammates from the Fort Wayne area have remained very good friends.

“They are my Midwest family if you will,” say Lawhead, 29.

After his playing career, he served as a graduate assistant and then as paid assistant in the Mastodons program from 2015-19. 

Lawhead coached three All-Americans at IPFW — Evan Miller (who was selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and pitched for the Low Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps 2016-18 and in Triple-A in 2019) and all-Summit League performers Greg Kaiser and Brandon Soat (who played for the 2017 independent pro Evansville Otters). 

All three are Indiana prep products — Miller from LaPorte, Kaiser from Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Soat from Homestead.

Along the way, Lawhead earned undergraduate degrees in General Studies and Public Policy and a masters in Organizational Leadership from IPFW/Purdue Fort Wayne.

In the summers of 2014 and 2015, Lawhead was head coach for 13U and 14U teams for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization, working alongside founder/general manager Joel Mishler and director of operations Justin Barber.

“Joel was another big influence in my life as a coach,” say Lawhead. “(The Chargers) are  youth organization so devoted to developing players and men.”

Barber is now the pitching coach at Taylor University.

Zac Mishler, Joel’s youngest son, was Lawhead’s teammate at IPFW.

Former Mastodons infielder and assistant coach Kristian Gayday was offered an opportunity to stay in Fort Wayne and join the coaching staff at the University of Saint Francis by Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher

Gayday was later joined at the NAIA and Crossroads League member school by Lawhead, who left IPFW (now known as Purdue Fort Wayne) when Pierce left to take to take an athletic administration job in Arizona.

“Coach Butcher is great to coach under,” says Lawhead. “Before I even got here, he had established a culture with good athletes and good human beings. There’s also that (relentless) mentality I spoke about earlier. It makes my job a lot easier.

“We can focus on the things that can help us win games in the heat of competition. (Butcher) gives his assistant coaches full autonomy. He does not micromanage. We have a really good relationship.”

At IPFW, Lawhead worked primarily with position players on defense and collaborated with Pierce on hitting.

As a Saint Francis assistant, he throws batting practice and helps out with defense whenever he can but Lawhead’s primarily responsibility is with the Cougars pitching staff.

He covers a variety of areas, but a competitive mentality is a key.

“We talked about body language, self talk and all the thing we can control,” says Lawhead. “We want to compete relentlessly with no fear.

“We want to get to that fight or flight response. We like our guys competing at everything they do and doing it to the highest of their abilities.”

Lawhead has his pitchers using their arms often to build up their tolerance. 

“We throw just about everyday, but not as hard as they can,” says Lawhead. “We want to be able to expose hitters’ weaknesses and get them out.”

COVID-19 restrictions did not allow Saint Francis to have any games with other schools during the six weeks of fall practice, but there was plenty of intrasquad action.

“In my opinion we accomplished our goal of pitchers learning their strengths and how they are going to attack hitters,” says Lawhead. “During week, (pitches) prepared to perform on the weekend. We had a plan in place to recover so we can do that again and again.”

Lawhead says its likely that the Cougars will not have mid-week games during the 2021 season with four-game weekend series in the conference (7- and 9-inning doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays).

Saint Francis finished the fall semester before Thanksgiving. Students, including ballplayers, are due back on-campus in January.

While the student-athletes are away, the coaching staff is recruiting and planning for the season.

“We’re working on how we’re going to attack practice as efficiently as possible when the guys get back,” says Lawhead.

Connor and Victoria Lawhead have a daughter who turns 1 on Dec. 31 — Avery. While Victoria is teaching sixth grade English at Woodside Middle School (a Homestead High School feeder), he is at home with the baby then often heads to the office.

Connor Lawhead, who played two collegiate baseball seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and holds three degrees from the school, is now an assistant coach at Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (IPFW Photo)

Longtime assistant Smiley contributes to Sycamores’ baseball success

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Smiley has enjoyed success in his time on the Indiana State University baseball coaching staff. 

The Sycamores earned three NCAA tournament berths (2012, 2014 and 2019) with Smiley in the fold. From 2010-20, ISU is 340-230.

He has recruited and brought plenty of talent to Indiana State. Some of those players include Major league Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections Sean Manaea (first round), Jeff Degano (second), Jake Petricka (second), Dakota Bacus (ninth), Clay Dungan (ninth), Colin Rae (12th), Triston Polley (16th) and Ryan Strausborger (16th). 

Manaea pitched in 11 regular-season games for the 2020 Oakland Athletics.

Petricka has pitched in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers.

Bacus took the mound in 11 games for the 2020 Washington Nationals.

Rae pitched in nine regular-season contests with the 2020 Chicago Cubs.

Outfielder Strausborger played 31 games in the big leagues with the 2015 Texas Rangers.

Smiley has been on ISU staffs helmed by three different men. He was hired by former head coach Lindsay Meggs in the summer of 2009. 

After Meggs left to become head coach at the University of Washington, Smiley served four years on the staff of Rick Heller

When Heller took the head coaching position at University Iowa, Smiley followed him to Iowa City in the summer of 2013 and came back to Indiana State upon the hiring Mitch Hannahs, whose first season as the Sycamores boss was 2014.

As assistant in his first eight seasons at Indiana State, Smiley was named associate head coach in August 2017. He’s done about everything a coach can be asked to do in his time in Terre Haute.

“I’ve done everything from laundry to you name it,” says Smiley.

His current duties include defensive responsibilities and coaching third base on game days.

Smiley is also ISU’s recruiting coordinator — a job that has been made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Players being recruited can not meet on-campus with coaches — though there have been times where they could tour the school through the admissions office — and coaches have not been able to see players in-person at summer tournaments because of the dead period imposed by the NCAA by Division I baseball since March.

“We’re having to make decisions based on video and a coach’s word,” says Smiley. “You don’t get a good feel of how they play the game. You’re just grading out their tools on video.”

Under ideal circumstances, Indiana State would like to see a player at least two or three times and get the assessment of multiple coaches.

“(Recruits) can’t watch us practice. They can’t eat with us. They get to know us as coaches. We can’t sell them on things we normally would. There are guys that haven’t really been here that are committed to us.”

On a positive note, fall practice went pretty smoothly for the Sycamores though the window was moved up from the original plan of ending around Thanksgiving (ISU started in September and ended in the middle October).

“It was the right decision, says Smiley. “We feel like we were pretty fortunate. We got through team segment pretty healthy. We missed a few quarantined freshmen.

“With all our instrasquads, 90 to 95 percent of the team could participate. We could have been missing main players. You have that and it’s difficult putting in anything (as far as plays or schemes).”

Indiana State experienced good weather and went from individual practice to team and back to individuals.

The university has gone to virtual classes for the rest of the semester and most of the team has already returned to their homes with a plan of coming back to Terre Haute in January.

Smiley is a 2003 graduate of Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons each for head coaches Dave Bell and Paul Quinzer and earned three all-Big Eight Conference selections and helped the Wildcats to conference titles in 2002 and 2003.

“(Bell) was intense and hard-nosed,” says Smiley.  “He demanded a lot and typically got a lot in return.”

Smiley says Indiana State alum Quinzer’s coaching style was more laid-back.

An infielder who played mostly at third base, Smiley started his college playing career Triton College in River Grove, Ill., playing for Trojans head coach Bob Symonds.

When Symonds retired, Smiley transferred to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and played for Hannahs.

“Mitch is a born leader,” says Smiley of Hannahs. “He’s an outstanding motivator. He is someone who is going to practice what he preaches. 

“You know what you’re going to get. The words coming out of his mouth aren’t fake. He’s genuine. He cares about his players and they know that.

“What sets him apart from others is that he knows how handle tough situations and doesn’t rush. His decision-making is on-point all the time and that’s underrated.”

After his two junior college stops, Smiley played two seasons at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for Trojans head coach Jim Lawler, who has also been the pitching coach at Texas A&M. 

Smiley began coaching career in the summer of 2007 with Dubois County Bombers as an assistant coach. He quickly named manager of the wood bat college team and served in that capacity for three seasons. He also was a student assistant Little Rock and coached at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College for Jaguars head coach Tim Bunton.

“I did pitching at Danville and helped with everything,” says Smiley. “I learned a lot from Tim. I’m very grateful for my year at Danville.

“He was very good with cuts and relays and being in the right place at the right time.”

Brian and wife Katie Smiley have three children — Isaac (5), Christian (4) and Vivian (2). Katie, whose maiden name is Grossman, is a 2004 Evansville Memorial High School graduate who played soccer at the University of Southern Indiana.

Brian Smiley is the associate head coach for the Indiana State University baseball program. The 2021 season will be his 12th with the Sycamores. (Indiana State University Photo)
Brian Smiley has done a little bit of everything as a baseball coach at Indiana State University. His first season in Terre Haute was 2010. In August 2017, he was named associate head coach. (Indiana State University Photo)

Vaught lured back to the dugout with Lake Erie Storm

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Vaught did not see himself leading another college baseball program.

When he retired a head coach at the University of Indianapolis in 2018, Vaught wanted to spend more time with his ailing mother back in Norman, Okla., and was secure in the knowledge that UIndy was in good hands with his former Greyhounds assistant Al Ready.

He had agreed to be head coach/general manager for the Hoptown Hoppers, a summer collegiate wood bat team in Hopkinsville, Ky., then Lake Eric College, a private school and NCAA Division II school in Painesville, Ohio (30 miles northeast of Cleveland) came calling.

Vaught was on vacation with friends when former LEC athletic director Kelley Kish (who had been in the compliance office at UIndy) reached out.

With so many former assistants in coaching, including Jordan Tiegs (now in the Texas Rangers system), Vaught was glad to recommend a candidate or two to the Storm. 

Vaught was invited to the Lake Erie campus and met with president Brian Posler (who had served at Kansas State University and the University of Southern Indiana).

The job was offered to Vaught and he took it in January. 

“I fell in love with the people up there,” says Vaught, who works for athletic director Mollie Hoffman.

Vaught led the Storm to a 3-6-1 mark in a COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. All but one of the losses came in the final inning.

The virus caused the Hoppers season to be called off and the veteran coach spent much of his time between Indianapolis and Oklahoma.

Vaught’s career mark at the NCAA D-I or D-II levels to 978-672-2. 

Starting with the 1985 season, Vaught coached two years at Kansas State, three at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., and 24 at UIndy (1995-2018). He won a school-record 808 wins and the program’s first NCAA Division II College World Series appearance in 2000. The Hounds went 51-15 in 2001.

Then there’s the 305 victories Vaught racked up at the beginning of his coaching career at Connors State College in Warren, Okla.

Vaught, 69, is back in Indianapolis with the Lake Erie closed down because of COVID, but he’s still coaching the Storm.

His fire was reignited last spring and continues to burn.

“I’ve got a lot of energy,” says Vaught. “I love the game. It’s been a big part of my life. Hopefully we’ve made changes in kids’ lives.”

Each year around Christmas, Vaught receives and makes calls to former players. He also reaches out to mentor Gary Ward, who enjoyed so much success at Oklahoma State University and is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

“It doesn’t take anytime to pick up the phone and say thank you,” says Vaught. “Treat people how they are supposed to be treated. That’s how to try to do everyday as a coach. 

“The Lord’s blessed me in so many ways.”

The veteran skipper has so many “baseball brothers” that he appreciates in the baseball fraternity. Among those are Tracy Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Rick O’Dette (Saint Leo Universty), Larry Owens (Bellarmine University) and Josh Rabe (Quincy University).

And the list goes on.

Vaught says he looks forward to bringing his team to UIndy for a April 14, 2021 doubleheader, where he can take the field against former players now coaching the Greyhounds Ready (whose son Cam is a godchild to Vaught) and Trevor Forde. UIndy AD Scott Young was Vaught’s assistant for 14 years.

Former Greyhounds AD Dave Huffman hired Vaught in 1994 and the coach also worked with Sue Willey in her tenure as AD.

Lake Erie plays its home games at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Midwest League’s Lake County Captains.

The Storm belong the the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. Tom Daeger, who played for Vaught at UIndy, is the GMAC commissioner.

Gary Vaught was the head baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis, where he won 808 games in 24 seasons concluding with 2018. In 2020, he started coaching at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. (UIndy Photo)

Madia helps manage many moving parts for Purdue baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Madia sees a vibrant future for college baseball in general and Purdue University baseball in particular.

“The sport — to me — is on a similar trajectory as college basketball,” says Madia, the director of player development for the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Ind. — a role created for the 2020 season. “The lights are getting brighter. The stage is getter bigger.

“College baseball has a very good chance to be a healthy revenue generator for universities.”

Madia sees momentum building for the idea of starting the season — at least at the NCAA Division I level — later and playing into July.

“We’re in total favor of that,” says Madia, who earned baseball letters at Purdue in 1975, 1976 and 1978 and came the Boilers to take the new position of director of baseball operations in 2015. “Team would playing in better weather in north and it would level the playing field. We’d have a better chance of keeping top talent in-state.

“It would not surprise me if 6,000 to 8,000 a game at Alexander Field with that model. People in the community to can go out to nice venue at a reasonable price. Purdue is very well-placed. Our ability to add seating is easy. We have very generous concourse areas and room for more seating down the left field line.”

That’s the future. In the present, Madia is helping the program maximize its potential while getting ahead of challenges.

Madia’ efforts complement those of Boilers head coach Greg Goff, assistants Cooper Fouts, Chris Marx and Harry Shipley and supervisor of operations Tim Sarhage.

There’s a planning meeting each morning because there are a lot of moving parts.

“As much as possible we want to anticipate as many scenarios as we can

proactive rather than reactive,” says Madia. “When we’e prepared it takes the stress off our program and student-athletes.

“We want to make sure everyone knows their role and how it can help us be successful on the field, classroom and community.”

In D-I baseball, besides areas like strategic and practice planning, training and travel, there are other things to navigate like NCAA regulations, compliance, player needs and alumni.

“We always boil it down to this: We have to do a great job with our student-athletes,” says Madia. “We them to look back and say I had a great student-athlete experience at Purdue. That’s going to bode well for our future.”

To achieve this goal, the school has assembled high baseball I.Q. personnel and added many resources — academic, cultural, time management and medical (which addresses physical and mental well-being). 

Of course right now, COVID-19 protocols are a major issue. The virus halted the 2020 season after 14 games (the Boilers went 7-7).

“These kids have ever been exposed to anything like that,” says Madia. “Players have had relatives with virus.”

NCAA D-I rules allow a 45-day window for fall practice. Purdue started in September ended in late October. 

“We were plowing new ground,” say Madia. “We never had to plan a fall around a COVID world.

“Following strict guidelines put in place by the university, players are tested every week.

“If there’s an exposure, there’s a very aggressive protocol to get them out of the bubble,” says Madia. “We spent a lot of time as a staff to build natural bubbles within the program/ The ame guys with each other everyday.

“We had to single out baseballs for them. Equipment was wiped down. It was a lot of work and planning but it kept us safe.

“We got through entire fall without any major disruptions.”

Moving back to the individual phase, they’ve gone from 20 hours a week of practice with athletes to eight.

The Boilers have a relatively large number of newcomers. It’s been a challenge to build camaraderie while social distancing.

“Coach Goff really likes to do a lot of team activities and build that rapport and culture of family,” says Madia.

Purdue goes virtual after Thanksgiving. Most students will leave campus next Wednesday and not return until January. 

Madia says they must test negative for COVID before being allowed back on-campus.

“In-season we’ll probably be testing our guys everyday,” says Madia. “It looks like the Big Ten (Conference) will not allow non-conference games. The protocol is same for all conference schools.”

If there are more Big Ten games than usual — say four-game weekend schedules instead of three — Madia wonders if teams will be allowed more than the usual 27-man travel roster.

Prior to returning to Purdue in his operations role, Madia worked in industry as an executive with Dow Chemical and CH2M as a global business and HR leader. 

He has long been on the Purdue Athletic Advisory Board and held various advisory roles to the College of Agriculture. 

He has coached amateur baseball and served on the board of the Indiana Bulls travel organization. He was an associate scout for the Baltimore Orioles.

Former Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber brought Madia on as director of operations. In that role, he was responsible for alumni outreach, player and staff professional/career development and other general marketing/operations duties to advance the program.

“I always viewed Purdue as one of the best decisions I made in my life,” says Madia. “Coming out of Purdue University can definitely open doors for you. It’s up to you to kick them in.

“I’ve always maintained good relationships with coaches and players. This is one way of giving back and staying involved.

“I’ve had a ball with it. With a new position you get to determine what that looks like when you stand it up.”

A lefty swinger and thrower, Utica, N.Y., native Madia played first base for Joe Sexson and Dave Alexander when the Boilers played across campus at Lambert Field. He missed the 1977 season with injury.

“Coach Sexson would make a great mayor,” says Madia. “He knew everybody. He had a great way of communicating with each player as an individual.

“He was a fun guy to be around. He was also ultra-competitive.”

Alexander, who died Feb. 26, 2020 at 79, was the coach for Madia’s last two Purdue seasons and two became close friends after that.

“He took the whole game of baseball to another baseball with his knowledge and I.Q.,” says Madia of Alexander. “He taught you how important it was to appreciate and honor the game.”

Alexander brought intensity to the diamond.

“If you were meek and didn’t want to bring it everyday you weren’t going to be very successful around Coach Alexander,” says Madia. “Everybody saw that side of Alex. the side they didn’t see was how loyal he was to the guys that played for him. He would do anything for you. When you were done playing for hm was the time to build that friendship.”

With Madia’s input, Alexander began recruiting in upstate New York. Many good players come from that area to this day.

“With Dave Alexander there was no gray. It was black and white. If he trusted you, he was with you,” says Madia. “He was very, very passionate about politics and history. I stayed in close contact with him all the way up to the end. He had a big impact on my life.”

Madia was named Distinguished Alumnus by the School of Animal Sciences and the College of Agriculture in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and a Purdue Old Master in 2014.

John and Jean, also a Purdue graduate, have four children and Boiler grads — Megan (2005), Katie (2007), former Purdue baseball player Drew (2010) and Dan (2011).

John Madia, a Purdue University graduate, is the Boilermakers baseball director of player development. (Purdue University Photo)
The Purdue University baseball family is guided by (from left): First row — assistant Chris Marx, director of baseball development John Madia and head coach Greg Goff; second row — assistants Harry Shipley and Cooper Fouts. (Purdue University Photo)
Leading the Purdue University baseball program are (from left): assistants Chris Marx and Cooper Fouts, head coach Greg Goff, director of player development and volunteer assistant Harry Shipley. (Purdue University Photo)
John Madia, a Purdue University graduate, is the Boilermakers director of baseball development. He came back to Purdue as director of baseball operations in 2015. (Purdue University Photo)

Veteran baseball coach Tyner gains new perspective

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Tyner still carries a fervor around the diamond.

It just shows itself in a different way.

Tyner, who began his college baseball coaching career at Butler University in Indianapolis in the early 1990’s and also guided early Indiana Bulls travel teams during the summer, is heading into his fourth season at Towson (Md.) University.

At 62 and in a year where he lost his wife, Tyner has a different perspective.

“I’m pretty intense as a competitor,” says Tyner. “As you age you don’t lose your intensity, it becomes a different kind of focus. I’m a little more cerebral. Yelling and screaming might have worked in the ‘90s. That doesn’t work now. You have to think about who you’re talking to.

“Hopefully I’ve calmed down. As you mature, you go from thinking it’s your team to how can I serve the kid? Or how can I share the information I’ve learned in my 40 years in the game?”

Tyner’s Towson coaching staff features associate head coach Miles Miller and assistants Tanner Biagini and Danny Pulfer

It’s a horizontal relationship. Tyner lets his assistants take their strengths and run with them. 

“I’m not ego-driven anymore,” says Tyner. “We can all learn something from each other and coaches and kids benefit.”

Coaching friends — like Tony Vittorio — are quick to point out when Tyner might lose sight of what his job is.

“I’m a father first and a coach second,” says Tyner. “I don’t have just one son, I have 38 his year. I’m older than all my coaches, so I have more even more sons.”

Tyner was a standout in Decatur, Ill., playing for Ray DeMoulin (a bird dog scout for the Cincinnati Reds who allowed Tyner to try out at 15) at MacAthur High School and Lee Handley (who played in the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers systems) as American Legion manager.

After Tyner went undrafted by Major League Baseball, a coin flip was used to decide where he would venture to play college ball. Heads meant he’d try to walk on at the University of Miami (Fla.). Tails would send him to Arizona State University.

The coin came up heads. Tyner went to Florida, made the Hurricanes roster and played on College World Series teams in 1978, 1979 and 1980, earning Baskin Robbins Player of the Year honors in that final season.

At Miami, Tyner was around coaching legends Ron Fraser and Skip Bertman. The young outfielder marveled at how the two baseball minds could anticipate what was going to happen in a game.

“How did they do that?” says Tyner. who refers to Bertman as a walking baseball encyclopedia. “I hovered closed to him. His sixth sense was incredible.”

Fraser called them the “Miami Greyhounds.”

“I felt I was on a track team,” says Tyner. “That’s how much we ran. We were in shape.”

Before the current 56-game spring limit in NCAA Division I, Miami typically played more than 100 games counting fall and spring.

Selected in the ninth round of the 1980 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Tyner played for the Miami Orioles in 1980. 

In 1981, he enjoyed his best offensive and worst defensive season. The parent Orioles had decided to move Cal Ripken Jr. from third base to shortstop and decided to make Tyner into a third sacker. But the hot corner proved pretty hot for him and he made 20 errors in 51 games at third for the Hagerstown Suns.

Fans down both baselines let him know about it with a group of ladies on the third base side pointing out the places where the ball struck the “human dartboard.” Hagerstown spectators donned hard hats on the first base side in case of errant Tyner throws.

His roommate on the road was pitcher Julian Gonzalez. During a game in Salem, Va., after Tyner committed his third error, Hagerstown manager Grady Little came to the mound. Gonzalez told the skipper that his roomie had to go.

There was a bus accident the first weekend of season. The vehicle landed on its side. 

“I felt something pop in my back way down low,” says Tyner. “24 hours later I couldn’t move. I missed over 30 games that summer.

At the plate, Tyner was locked in, hitting .301 with 31 home runs and 113 runs batted for the Suns in 1981.

After that, Tyner went back to the outfield where he vied with Drungo Hazewood for the unofficial title of best arm in the Orioles organization.

He would go on to belt 79 home runs in 365 games, playing for Hagerstown in 1981 and 1983 and the Charlotte O’s in 1982 and 1983. Multiple surgeries for bone chips in his right elbow put and end to Tyner’s pro career.

“I put my arm through a little bit of abuse,” says Tyner. “I was a quarterback and pitched in high school. Who knows what I did? It didn’t fail me for five more years. At Miami, I had a really good arm.”

Besides Little, his minor league managers were John Hart, Lance Nichols and Mark Wiley.

Little later managed the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. Hart became a successful front office man for the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves and as a TV analyst.

Tyner calls Hart the quintessential manager-type manager.

“He was a true professional guy,” says Tyner of Hart. “He’s let you do what you needed to do. Grady Little was more hands-on. They were both pretty successful in their own way.

“I got lucky. I played so some great managers and coaches.”

In spring training games with the Orioles, Tyner shared the dugout with current manager Earl Weaver and future managers Joe Altobelli and Ray Miller

“I’m not sure it gets much better than that,” says Tyner.

It was while coming to Indianapolis to finish his degree at Concordia University that Tyner connected with Butler head coach Steve Farley and began coaching for the Bulldogs. The first go-round, he was on Farley’s staff from 1993-97.

A relationship with the Bulls led to the press box and stands that are there to this day.

At the time, Dave Taylor was president of the organization and Craig Moore was head coach of the 17U team. Tyner started out with the 15U squad.

After coaching four years at Butler making $325 per semester, Tyner decided it was time to make money for his family — wife Laura, daughter Lindsay and son Matthew and got into communication sales and real estate. 

Lindsay Dempsey, who is worked as a Registered Nurse, is now 36, married with two children and living Switzerland. Matthew Tyner, 33, is married and a finance and operations manager in Indianapolis. 

When Matthew became a teenager, the Bulls approached his father about coaching a new 13U team with Jeremy Guler. The next year, Matt Tyner and Jeff Jamerson coached their sons Matthew and Jason on the 14U Bulls.

“We had top-shelf athletes way ahead of their time,” says Tyner of a team that featured future pros Lance Lynn (Brownsburg), Tommy Hunter (Cathedral) and J.B. Paxson (Center Grove). “It was fun to watch them play.”

Since Matthew was not at that elite level, he switched after that at played for the Indiana Mustangs based out of RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, a facility run by Chris Estep. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Alexander was there to help. He covered the costs for many Mustangs activities. 

“He imparted so much baseball knowledge on these kids,” says Tyner of Alexander, who was integral current baseball fields at Purdue University as well as Indianapolis Bishop Chatard High School, where Matthew Tyner played for Trojans head coach Mike Harmon and graduated in 2005. “What a treat that was.”

A few years later, Matt Tyner got the itch to coach baseball again. This time Farley could pay him a living wage and he went back to work at Butler in August 2007. Pendleton Heights graduate Jason Jamerson was a Bulldog senior in 2009.

Farley took Tyner to his first American Baseball Coaches Association convention in 1994. There he got to meet up again with Fraser and Bertman and soaked up the baseball know-how.

“They made me feel like a king and there was one great speaker after the next for 2 1/2 days,” says Tyner. “As a coach you can’t be everything to everybody. But I’m going to use this nugget and I’m going to use that nugget.

“That’s money well-spent.”

In the summer of 2010, Tyner was offered the head coaching position at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. Knights athletic director Scott Wiegandt had been a Triple-A Louisville teammate of Tracy Woodson, a former big league third baseman, Fort Wayne Wizards manager who was then Valparaiso University head coach.

Farley, Woodson and University of Indianapolis head coach Gary Vaught gave Tyner their endorsement. 

“We made some serious strides in that program,” says Tyner, who coached then-NCAA Division II Bellarmine to 26-26 and 27-23 marks in 2011 and 2012 with a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and an appearance in the regional tournament championship game against the Grand Valley State University the second year. 

Brandon Tormoehlen, now head coach at Brownstown (Ind.) Central High School, was on Tyner’s coaching staff.

Woodson became head coach at the University of Richmond (Va.) and called Tyner to be his recruiting coordinator and hitting coach. It was a post he held for four seasons.

“We had some pretty strong offensive teams,” says Tyner of his time with the Spiders.

Then Towson reached out and hit Tyner was an offer to be the Tigers head coach. 

“The first two years at Towson was a challenge for all of us,” says Tyner, who saw his teams go 13-42 in 2018 and 14-39 in 2019. “We are process-driven and not results-driven. Took awhile for those entrenched in a different system to get it.

“Last year was their chance to shine.”

Indianapolis native Laura Anne Tyner passed away Feb. 10 in her hometown and Matt took a leave of absence at Towson. Matt and Laura were wed in 1983. She taught children with special needs and spent 20 years in real estate management.

With former Butler and Purdue University assistant Miller running the team, the 2020 Towson Tigers went 7-8 before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Tyner went down to see the team play in the opener of a weekend series in Miami. It turned out to be a pitchers’ dual. The Hurricanes held on for a 2-1 Feb. 28 victory. Freshman catcher Burke Camper just barely missed a home run in the top of the ninth inning.

“It was a game for the ages,” says Tyner. “It was unbelievable for me to watch and be a part of.”

A few days later, it was decided between Tyner and Towson athletic director Tim Leonard that the coach would come back to the program in mid-March.

“I needed baseball more than baseball needed me,” says Tyner, who got back in time to see the season prematurely halted with the campus being closed and all classes going online. He came back to Indianapolis.

When things opened back up, players were placed in summer leagues. This fall, the Tigers worked out with social distancing and other COVID precautions.

“It was the most competitive for all of us since I’ve been here,” says Tyner. “We have a chance to be pretty good (2021).”

Towson is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Tigers are not fully-funded. There are 6.2 scholarships available and the NCAA Division I limit is 11.7.

“God love the AD and president of this university (Tim Leonard and Dr. Kim Schaztel),” says Tyner. “They’ve done a phenomenal job of keeping us afloat.

“They don’t come any better.”

Matt Tyner was introduced as head baseball coach at Towson (Md.) University prior to the 2018 season. (Towson University Video)
Matt Tyner, a former Butler University assistant and coach with the Indiana Bulls, is heading into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Towson (Md.) University in 2021. (Towson University Photo)

‘Eye’ on the prize for Fischer’s Heritage Hills Patriots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Fischer has a simple formula for baseball success as head coach at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind.

“We we try to be as fundamentally-sound as possible,” says Fischer. “We spend a lot of times on those techniques.

“We keep it as simple as possible. We try to minimize (the game) to 21 outs.”

A 1998 Heritage Hills graduate, Fischer was a Patriots assistant for nine years before taking the program’s reins. The 2021 season will be his fourth in that role.

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 slate statewide. It hit hard at Heritage Hills where expectations were high.

“It’s pretty aggravating,” says Fischer. “We were going to have eight seniors. We were going to have a very experienced pitching staff coming back and a handful of three-year starters.

“It was disappointing not being able to see what they were going to do.”

In 2019, the Patriots won 22 games and were runners-up in the Pocket Athletic Conference and IHSAA Class 3A Evansville Bosse Sectional.

The PAC has expanded from eight to 12 schools in 2020-21. Boonville, Mount Vernon (Posey), Princeton and Washington have joined Heritage Hills, Forest Park, Gibson Southern, North Posey, Pike Central, South Spencer, Tecumseh and Tell City. Each team will meet each other once during the conference season.

Heritage Hills (enrollment around 600) is part of a 3A sectional grouping with Boonville, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial, Gibson Southern and Mount Vernon (Posey). The Patriots last won a sectional crown in 2011. 

Fischer, who counts Mike Guth and Brad Fella as assistant coaches and is looking to fill a couple vacancies, expects to have around 25 in the program next spring to fill varsity and junior varsity rosters.

Simon Scherry, a member of the Heritage Hills Class of 2020, is now a freshman infielder at the NCAA Division I University of Evansville. Other recent graduates in the collegiate baseball ranks include sophomore infielder Mitchel Becher (NCAA Division II University of Missouri-St. Louis) and junior infielder Sam Pinckert (NCAA Division III Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio).

Heritage Hill’s home field is on its campus. About a decade ago, the infield was changed to have cut-out areas around home plate and the bases with grass in the other areas.

“It helps with drainage,” says Fischer. “We very rarely have rain-out games now.

“It plays just like a turf field.”

Another unique feature is a batter’s eye 375 feet from the plate in center field.

“It’s the only one I know of in southern Indiana,” says Fischer of the structure made of green barn metal that is 60 feet wide and 24 feet tall and topped by the same yellow capping as the rest of the fence. 

Much of the outfield is surrounded by woods. 

“Before leaves are on the trees it’s really hard to pick up a baseball,” says Fischer, who built the batter’s eye based on a design created by his Heritage Hills engineering students.

Fischer earned an Elementary Education degree with a Mathematics minor at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, where he briefly played baseball. 

He earned a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Oakland City (Ind.) University and an Engineering Accreditation for teaching at the University of Kentucky.

Besides teaching and coaching baseball, Fischer is the head girls soccer coach at Heritage Hills. The Patriots won the 2020 2A Bosse Sectional then fell in the Jasper Regional championship match. The team was without senior Haley Osborne during the tournament because of COVID-19 quarantine.

With most baseball players in football, soccer and cross county in the fall and Fischer coaching girls soccer, Heritage Hills did not meet during the fall Limited Contact Period for baseball.

When the next window opens in December, plans call for station work in the school’s fieldhouse.

“We’ll do a lot of hitting and arm exercises to get our pitchers ready,” says Fischer.

Feeder systems for Patriots include the various parks in the North Spencer Little League (T-ball through age 12) and the Heritage Hills Cub program (seventh and eighth graders with varsity and JV teams).

Andy and wife Rachael have three children ages 12, 9 and 6.

Heritage Hills High School’s baseball field with its distinctive batter’s eye.
Andy Fischer, a 1998 graduate of Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., is heading into his fourth season as the Patriots head baseball coach in 2021.

South Bend Clay graduate Parkhurst enjoys baseball culture at Gardner-Webb

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gardner-Webb University head baseball coach Jim Chester likes his Runnin’ Bulldogs players to check these boxes.

Selfless.

Relentless.

Blue Collar.

Talented.

Keiji Pankhurst, a 2016 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School and a redshirt senior entering his second year at GWU after three years and two playing seasons at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach Fla., appreciates the culture of the NCAA Division I program based in Boiling Springs, N.C.

“Any junior college kid — in my mind — has an aspect to their game that is blue collar,” says Parkhurst, 22. “I don’t know if gritty’s the word. We have a lot of junior college transfers this year with the mentality of going to work everyday.

“We have a strong, strong senior class. We’re such a tight-knit group. Once the core guys decided to come back we knew some special could happen here. We have a bunch of good character guys who play hard.

“It makes going to practice fun. It makes the weight room fun. The intensity that’s brought everyday is second to none.”

In-person classes began Aug. 19, baseball conditioning started Aug. 24 and fall practice got underway Sept. 1 for a Gardner-Webb squad that could wind up with as many as 16 seniors thanks to the NCAA allowing an extra year of eligibility to players who had their 2020 seasons cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re doing individual group things,” says Pankhurst. “We getting back in the swing of things. It’s been since March since many guys have seen (live) pitching or been on a field.

“Coach Chester is very detail-oriented, which I like. You know exactly what you’re getting into when you sign up. 

“Practice is his time. In games, you go play.”

GWU’s last contest was March 10 at the University of North Carolina.

On March 4 at GWU’s Bill Masters Field at John Henry Moss Stadium, Pankhurst was a single shy of a single with three RBIs, three runs and a sacrifice fly in a 4-3 win against Ball State University.

On a full count in the seventh inning, Parkhurst smacked the ball to right center and it bounded off the brick scoreboard and plated a run.

One pitch was delivered in the bottom of the ninth inning and Parkhurst launched it over the center field wall for a walk-off homer.

Parkhurst, who started all 16 games last spring at first base with 117 total chances, one error, nine assists, 12 double plays and a .991 fielding percentage plus a .220 average (11-of-50) with two home runs, 11 runs batted in and 10 runs scored as a righty batter, counts among his teammates outfielders Cam Pearcey and Mitch McLendon and infielder Eric Jones

Pearcey played four seasons at Coastal Carolina University (including for the 2016 College World Series champions) and in 2020 for Gardner-Webb. McLendon has already logged four seasons with the Bulldogs. Jones has been with the program since 2016, having taken 2017 as a medical redshirt.

Chester, the latest guest on the Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV hosted by former Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.) assistant and current Georgia Gwinett College head coach Jeremy Sheetinger, asked players to read a book over the summer and participate in Monday Zoom meetings.

Suggested by former Indiana Chargers travel coach Justin Barber, Parkhurst had already read “Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall in Love with the Process of Becoming Great” by Joshua Metcalf.

“(The book) says you build your own house,” says Pankhurst. “Everyday’s an opportunity to improve yourself.

“It was a good reminder of when we get back to campus that everyday is an opportunity. Keep working and you’ll see the product come to fruition.”

During the quarantine, Parkhurst came home to Granger, Ind., to work and to hone his baseball skills. He also took an online class and is one pace to graduate with a Business Administration degree in the spring.

Parkhurst, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, landed at Gardner-Webb after playing in a junior college all-star game in Lakeland, Fla. He was recruited by former Bulldogs assistant Ross Steedley and agreed to join a program led by Rusty Stroupe. When he arrived in North Carolina, Stroupe had retired and Chester was in charge.

With a grandfather living in Florida, Parkhurst had attended camp at Daytona State and was offered a chance to make the Falcons team. He redshirted as a true freshman behind a returning starting catcher, did much of the team’s receiving as a redshirt freshman and split his time between catcher and first base as a redshirt sophomore.

He hit .305 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 33 games in 2018 and .261 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 38 games in 2019.

“I wouldn’t trade my junior college experience for the world,” says Parkhurst. “Coach (Tim) Touma set me up to be the player and person I am today.”

Parkhurst entered the fall of 2019 at GWU as a catcher then transitioned to first base for the spring of 2020 and expects to be at that position this fall and next spring.

Born in South Bend, Parkhurst and played at South Bend East Side Little League before joining the Barber-coached Chargers around 15.

He played at South Bend St. Joseph High School as a freshman then was a varsity player for three seasons at Clay. Teammates included Aaron Bond, Joey Lange, Trenton Stoner and J.P. Kehoe.

“There were guys you loved to play for,” says Parkhurst. “Everybody played hard for each other.”

Parkhurst played for Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell and John Kehoe. Reinebold took over at his alma mater and where father and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reinebold had success after the death of Chad Hudnall due to cancer in October 2013.

“His baseball mind and passion for Clay baseball is outstanding,” says Parkhurst of Joel Reinebold. “All the coaches — whatever you needed, they were there for you with personal advice or baseball advice. They’d go to bat for you no matter what.”

Riley Tirotta, who played at Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and at the University of Dayton, is a friend and sometime workout partner of Parkhurst.

Keiji is the second of RV company vice president Scott Parkhurst and a golf pro Kasi Hornback’s four sons and only one to go by his Japanese middle name. The other boys are Robert Toshio (25), who is in the U.S. Navy, David Morio (14) and Tommy Touji (12). 

Keiji Parkhurst’s first baseball season at Gardner-Webb University was 2020. (Gardner-Webb U. Video)
Keiji Parkhurst, a graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School, hit a walk-off home run March 4, 2020 to lift Gardner-Webb University to a 4-3 baseball victory against Ball State University. (Gardner-Webb University Photo)
Keiji Parkhurst, a 2016 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School, was at Daytona State College for three years and is entering his second with the baseball program at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C. (Gardner-Webb University Photo)

Fireballer Klein anxious to begin professional career

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Will Klein is pumping gas and saving a little gas.

Klein, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Eastern Illinois University, has regularly hit 99 mph on radar guns.

Last summer while competing in the Northwoods League All-Star Game, the 2017 graduate of Bloomington (Ind.) High School North hit triple digits. 

In his last appearance of the summer, he pumped in a pitch at 100 mph.

Klein was the EIU Panthers’ Friday starter in 2020 and went 1-2  in four appearances with a 3.33 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24 1/3 innings before the season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While university facilities were off limits, Klein and two of his three roommates stayed in Charleston, Ill., and got ready for the MLB Draft, which was shaved from 40 to five rounds this year. 

Klein played catch in parking lots and open fields, threw PlyoCare Balls against park fences and used kettle bells, benches and dumb bells in the living room.

Kansas City took Klein with the 135th overall pick.

“I talked to every team,” says Klein, 20. “I could tell some were more interested than others.

“The Royals were definitely the team that communicated with me the most.”

With the Minor League Baseball season called off, Klein has been training with PRP Baseball’s Greg Vogt at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., up to six days a week. 

The pitcher, who has added muscle and now packs 230 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, saves time and fuel by staying with an aunt and uncle in Fishers.

“The Royals sent a weight lifting, throwing and running schedule,” says Klein. “I blend that with what Greg’s doing.”

Klein first worked out at PRP Baseball last summer and also went there in the winter.

Klein’s natural arm slot has been close to over the top.

From there, he launches a four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball (it moves from 12-to-6 on the clock face), “gyro” slider (it has more downward and less lateral movement than some sliders) and a “circle” change-up.

In three seasons at EIU, Klein’s walks-per-nine innings went from 9.6 in 2018 to 9.9 in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.

Why the control improvement?

“A lot of repetition and smoothing out the action,” says Klein. “I’ve been able to get a feel for what I was doing and a more efficient movement pattern with my upper and lower halves.

“Throwing more innings helped, too. I didn’t throw a whole lot in high school.”

Playing for head coach Richard Hurt, Klein was primarily a catcher until his senior year. In the second practice of his final prep season, he broke the thumb on his pitching hand and went to the outfield.

The previous summer while playing with the Indiana Bulls, Klein had gotten the attention of Eastern Illinois at Prep Baseball Report showcase held at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Klein would be an NCAA Division I pitcher. He played at EIU for head coach Jason Anderson and had two pitching coaches — Julio Godinez in 2018 and 2019 and Tim Brown in 2020.

“(Anderson) was very helpful coming from pro ball,” says Klein of the former University of Illinois right-hander who pitched in the big leagues with the New York Yankees and New York Mets. “He knew what it took mentally and physically and took me from a thrower to a pitcher.”

Former catcher Godinez brought energy and also helped Klein learn about pitch sequences.

Brown was given full reign of the Panthers staff by Anderson this spring.

Klein struggled his freshmen year, starting three of 14 games and going 1-1 with a 6.62 ERA. He was used in various bullpen roles as a sophomore and went 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA. 

He was the closer and Pitcher of the Year with the Lakeshore Chinooks in the summer of 2019 when he hit 100 on the gun and was told he would be a starter when he got back to EIU in the fall.

For his college career, Klein was 2-2 and struck out 62 in 42 1/3 innings.

Born in Maryville, Tenn., Will moved to Bloomington at 3. Both his parents — Bill and Brittany — are Indiana University graduates.

Will played youth baseball at Winslow and with the Unionville Arrows and then with local all-star teams before high school. During those summers, he was with the Mooresville Mafia, which changed its name the next season to Powerhouse Baseball. 

At 17U, Troy Drosche was his head coach with the Indiana Bulls. At 18U, he played for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays. 

The summer between his freshman and sophomore years at EIU, Klein was with the Prospect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans.

Will is one semester from earning his degree in Biological Sciences.

“I grew up loving science,” says Will, who has had both parents teach the subject. Bill Klein has taught at Jackson Creek Middle School with Brittany Klein is a Fairview Elementary. Both schools are in Bloomington.

Will is the oldest of their three children. The 6-4 Sam Klein (18) is a freshman baseball player at Ball State University. Molly (13) is an eighth grader who plays volleyball, basketball and softball.

Will Klein pitched at Eastern Illinois University. (D1 Baseball Video)
Will Klein, a 2017 graduate of Bloomington (Ind.) High School South, pitched three baseball seasons at Eastern Illinois University and was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals. (Eastern Illinois University Photo)

Purdue Fort Wayne right-hander Madura experiences growth

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was not the way he would have scripted it, but Mike Madura saw positive gains when the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 baseball season at Purdue Fort Wayne and sent him home to Munster, Ind.

Unable to get to a gym, right-handed pitcher Madura worked at home and added strength and weight to his 6-foot-6 frame. He now tips the scales at about 205.

While coronavirus did not make an internship with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen practical for the “Passport to Success” points required by Purdue Fort Wayne for his Business Economics and Public Policy major, Madura was able to pitch for the Midwest Collegiate League team for the second straight summer. 

On Sunday, Aug. 16, he threw eight shutout innings of two-hit baseball with eight strikeouts and two walks as the Oilmen beat the DuPage County Hounds in Game 2 of the MCL championship series. It was a must-win situation since DuPage had taken Game 1.

“It was awesome that atmosphere at Oil City Stadium (in Whiting),” says Madura of his 99-pitch outing. “I trusted my preparation.

“I had playoff experience. I pitched in Game of the semifinals (in 2019) and that definitely helped.”

Madura pushed his two-year mark with the Oilmen to 10-0. He was a starter and part-time reliever in 2019 and was strictly used as a starter in 2020 with Chris Cunningham as manager and Matt Pobereyko as pitching coach. 

Playing summer ball so close to home allowed Madura to continue working on his physical gains while also taking two summer courses. He is on pace to graduate from PFW in the spring. He plans to go to Fort Wayne this weekend and classes — some in-person and some online — are to begin Monday, Aug. 24.

The spring of 2020 marked Madura’s first with the NCAA Division I Mastodons. He made four mound appearances (all in relief) and went 0-0 with a 4.60 earned run average, 10 strikeouts and five walks and 15 2/3 innings.

It was the first season at Purdue Fort Wayne for head coach Doug Schreiber and pitching coach Brent McNeil.

“It’s awesome,” says Madura of playing for Schreiber, whose resume includes 18 years as head coach at Purdue in West Lafayette. “He’s got a lot of experience in Division I baseball.”

McNeil leads a pitcher development program that allows hurlers to work based on what their body is telling them.

“Listening to your arm, he really preaches that,” says Madura of McNeil. “Something I like about our program is recovery and sprint work.”

The Dons use Jaeger Sports J-bands, Driveline PlyoCare Balls and also sprint up to 60 yards to help with recovery and conditioning.

“It helps keep your legs in shape,” says Madura. “It helps with recovery by getting the whole body going.

“We don’t run long distance at all. We’re trying to be more explosive.”

This summer, Madura regularly threw his fastball (he has a four-seamer and two-seamer) at 87 to 89 mph and touched 90 a few times. Using a high three-quarter arm slot, he also employs a “circle” change-up and tosses a slider. 

“It has more of a slurve action on it,” says Madura. “It’s a two-plane break. 

“It depends on what I’m trying to do in that at-bat — get it over for a strike or, if I’m trying to put a guy away, I’ll throw it harder.”

Born with two webbed fingers on his left hand, Madura had surgery at about 2. His parents — Mike and Sherrie — bought him baseball gloves for a righty or a lefty and he ended up using the former though he does many everyday tasks with his left hand.

Madura was born and raised in Munster. He played his earliest organized baseball at the Hammond YMCA. From 7 to 9, he played both at Munster Little League and for the traveling Schererville-based Pro Style Rockers. Then came a few summers with the Sports Works Stars. That team was coached by his father — also known as Mike. 

The student-athlete who turns 22 in October is the sixth in a line possessing that name. When he was younger, it was easier to keep him and his father straight by referring to Big Mike and Little Mike. But the younger Madura — sometimes known as Michael — was 6-3 entering high school, 6-5 leaving it and grew an inch since going into college.

Is being tall an advantage?

Madura sees it as one.

“I have a lot more leverage on my pitches,” says Madura. “There’s a downward angle.

“It makes it that much harder on a hitter.”

Michael Madura was with the Northwest Indiana Hurricanes (father Mike as an assistant coach) at 12U and 13U.

Madura closed out his high school summers with the Hammond/Indiana Chiefs, playing for head coach Todd Iwema at 14U and 15U and organization founder Dave Sutkowski at 16U and 17U.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer/geometry teacher Bob Shinkan coached Madura with the Munster High School Mustangs and also had him as class aide.

“Coach Shinkan’s an awesome guy,” says Madura, who admired his ability to have fun while also getting his point across when it was time to get serious.

Madura played for the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Hammond Lakers (with Anthony Spangler as general manager) in the summers at Hammond’s Riverside Park before and after his freshman year at Central Michigan University. 

He redshirted there at CMU in 2018, transferred to South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., and pitched in 2019 while completing his associate degree in Business Administration at the junior college. On the mound, he logged 42 innings in nine appearances (eight starts) and went 0-5 with a 4.29 ERA, 18 strikeouts and eight walks for the Steve Ruzich-coached Bulldogs.

Michael Madura is one of IT project manager Mike and nurse Sherrie Madura’s four athletic children. Tiffany (27) played volleyball at Olivet Nazarene University. Trisha (25) was a at Davenport University. Michael also played basketball until his sophomore year in high school. Kylie (14) is a volleyball and softball player at Munster High.

Mike Madura, a 2017 Munster (Ind.) High School graduate, is a 6-foot-6, 205-pound right-handed pitcher at Purdue Fort Wayne. He is 10-0 over the past two summers with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)