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The BASE Indy hosts first Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They were at the start of something.

Playing on the same field in Frederick Douglass Park where Hank Aaron — then with the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns — once launched a home run over 25th Street, young athletes participated in The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic for the very first time.

Teens came from Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh to share fellowship and the game they love with young men from Indianapolis, where a chapter of The BASE Indy was launched in the spring and will be headquartered in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood.

“This is just an extraordinary moment in time for us,” said The BASE Indy executive director Rob Barber as he honored family members of Indiana native Harmon, the first African-American to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

The Indianapolis clubhouse scheduled to open in the fall will be located in the former Safeway grocery at 25th and Sherman near Douglass Park which features Edna Martin Christian Center.

A picnic in the park brought supporters and neighbors together and they witnessed a “first pitch” ceremony.

Participants went to an Indianapolis Indians game, toured NCAA headquarters, attended a college fair, played more baseball at the University of Indianapolis and Bishop Chatard High School and took part in a scout showcase and career roundtable at Victory Field during the four-day event.

“The BASE is more than just a facility,” said Barber. “A lot of people think you’re going to come into a community and get the kids of color, put your hands in and say, ‘let’s play some baseball, hit the books and stay out of trouble, let’s break on three!’

“That is not at all what The BASE is. It’s about a methodology that expects excellence. We look at the young people in the community as assets and treasures that the world doesn’t know about. But we know about them and there’s talent all across this city.

“What they don’t have like some of the other communities across the country and other parts of the city are the same opportunities. The BASE comes in to change mindsets. We want to come in and find out the barriers they have and knock those down.”

Baseball is used to start a conversation and to provide mentoring and a direction for young people.

“We play hard and we compete,” said Barber. “But we ask that they work as hard in the classroom. We ask that, in their personal lives that with the choices they make and the respect they give as a citizen, they contribute back to the community.”

Robert Lewis Jr., who founded The BASE in Boston in 2013, was in Indianapolis to forge relationships and grow the organization.

Lewis shared hugs and encouraging words.

When he asked players how they were and the response was, “good,” Lewis let them know that “good is not good enough.”

“You are exceptional young men,” Lewis told them. “We are going to treat you like you’re exceptional.”

Mike Farrell, a former professional player and current pro scout, was among the coaches in The BASE Indy dugout, sharing his knowledge of baseball and life.

Three of the young men playing for The BASE Indy are Robert Snow, Travis Stumpf and Will Weingartner.

Snow, 17, lives on the east side of Indianapolis and is entering his junior year at Warren Central High School. He plays middle infield, outfield and pitcher.

“What I like most about baseball is that it gets me away from home and away from the outside distractions,” said Snow. “I do what I love to do and play with the people I love to play with.

“The BASE is going to help me get where I need to go college-wise.”

Advice from Barber and Lewis sticks with Snow.

“They told me, ‘always keep my head up and play hard, you never know who’s watching.

“(The Urban Classic) is a pretty fun event. You get to meet new people. You get to have fun with baseball.”

Stumpf, 18, resides on Indy’s west side and the Broad Ripple High School graduate recently completed his freshman year at the University of Louisville. He is majoring in accounting and considering a minor in finance. This coming school year, he plans to participate with College Mentors for Kids. He was a catcher in high school and plays all over the diamond in the summer.

“(Baseball) is a place for me to go when I’m stressed or feeling down,” said Stumpf. “(The BASE) wants to make the environment better for us to live in.

Weingartner, 17, lives in Irvington and is heading into his junior year at Scecina Memorial High School.

“Baseball has always been something I’ve loved to do,” said Weingartner. “It helps me pass time and keep my mind off stuff.

“The BASE means a lot to me. So far, it’s given me the opportunity to play in Chicago. I like my coaches and the opportunities they give me.”

Weingartner attended the Urban Classic college fair and is interested in studying law.

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. Indiana native Harmon was the first African-American to play for the Cincinnati Reds. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. A college fair was held during the event at the Edna Martin Christian Center at Frederick Douglass Park in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE founder Robert Lewis Jr. (left) shares a hug with a Pittsburgh player at The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Chicago players warm up at the University of Indianapolis during The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Bishop Chatard High School’s Dave Alexander Field was a venue for The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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A “first pitch” ceremony at Frederick Douglass Park was part of The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. This same field in Frederick Doulgass Park is where Hank Aaron hit a home run over 25th Street while playing for the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE founder Robert Lewis Jr. (left) talks with The BASE Indy team at the The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy executive director Rob Barber shares in the fellowship at a community picnic during the The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Barney’s spent decade leading Vincennes U. baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Student-athletes are constantly coming and going. That’s the nature of junior college sports.

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at one such two-year institution — Vincennes (Ind.) University.

“I enjoy the challenge,” says Barney. “I enjoy the aspect of recruiting. You’re always looking for the next best thing.”

A poor team can get better quickly with a solid recruiting class.

‘I’m often asked, what are you looking for in college baseball? Bats play. If you can swing the pole, you’re going to play at the junior college level.”

VU’s stated mission is “to provide associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of academic and occupational majors leading to entry to a four-year university or to the workforce.”

Vincennes serves more than 17,000 at its various locations with about a third of that number at the main campus.

“It’s not the typical junior college,” says Barney. “It has a mid-major collegiate feel.”

The goal of the baseball program is to place student-athletes with a place to play at a four-year college. As of last week, 96 Vincennes players had moved on during the decade that Barney’s been in charge, including 32 to NCAA Division I, many to NCAA D-II and NAIA and a few to NCAA D-III.

Barney sees players choose the junior college route for many reasons. Among them are cost, grade issues, level of play, the chance to play right away or be drafted by Major League Baseball and not have to wait to turn 21 or play three seasons like is required at four-year schools.

The Trailblazers’ core beliefs revolve around faith, family, school and baseball.

“It’s like a three-ring circus of academics, athletics and the social scene,” says Barney of Vincennes campus life. “You have to have self-discipline and time management skills. You prioritize where you want to spend your time and what you want to get accomplished out of college.

“You can obtain your full potential as a player. That’s what junior college offers guys.”

Junior college players are allowed to practice more often that those at other levels.

All the time with the team allows individuals to built work ethic, character and emotional stability and, hopefully, have a positive experience.

“It’s an opportunity to get better,” says Barney. “There’s always obstacles and challenges for guys, where it’s an injury, a class, a teammate or playing time. But they learn the fundamental game of baseball.”

School rules say Vincennes freshmen must stay in campus housing. Sophomores have the choice to live on-campus or off-campus. Barney says there’s about a 50-50 split for his current sophomore class.

Barney, who is assisted by Hank Lopez and Matt Goebel, started out with 37 players in the fall and took 31 into the spring.

Almost all of those have hometowns in Indiana.

Until a couple of years ago, Indiana was Barney’s recruiting base. Such scholarship money is based on in-state tuition.

With the favorable rates and so many Illinois junior college baseball programs as opposed to Indiana (which now has three — Vincennes, Ancilla College and Ivy Tech Northeast), plenty of Indiana players choose to play junior college baseball in Illinois.

But Illinois has been opened up so that VU can offer students there a cost similar to what they would get in-state.

“I hope to drive up the price of poker in Illinois for some of those guys,” says Barney of landing Illinois players for the VU program.

Rules allow junior colleges to play 20 games against outside competition in the fall. Vincennes also plays about 10 intrasquad games. There are 56 regular-season games in the spring.

That’s a lot of innings to cover so Barney typically carries 16 to 18 pitches, some of whom also play other positions.

“I love those guys,” says Barney. “If they can be successful at both, it’s well worth or time and energy to put the effort into that.”

The Trailblazers are in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 24. The region is made up of nine Mid-West Athletic Conference members — Vincennes plus Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, Heartland Community College (Normal, Ill.), Illinois Central College (East Peoria, Ill.), John Wood Community College (Quincy, Ill.), Lewis & Clark Community College (Godfrey, Ill.), Lincoln Land Community College (Springfield, Ill.), Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.) and Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.).

Vincennes went into play April 3 at 15-12 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

There is a 32-game conference schedule. The top eight teams go to the MWAC tournament. The winner advances to the NJCAA D-II World Series (May 25-June 1 in Enid, Okla.).

“There’s a lot of positives in moving over to that region,” says Barney. “Before, we were independent in Region 12, which is Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Trying to find games in late March, April and part of May was a bear.”

Vincennes went to the World Series in 2010 and 2014 under the old qualifying format. Teams were required to make it through a sub-regional to get to an eight-team double-elimination tournament that sent the champion to championship series.

The Trailblazers play home games at Jeremy Blemker Field.

Huntingburg, Ind., native Blemker coached for 38 years, including 26 at Vincennes (1980-2006) and amassed a NJCAA-record 1,037 victories. He sent more than 180 players on to play at universities around the country and 27 signed professional contracts.

Blemker, who died in 2012, was an inductee of the NJCAA and Greater Evansville Baseball halls of fame.

The original Blemker Field was on the VU campus. It was razed to make room for Updike Hall Scienc Earth and Mathematics Learning Center and the Trailblazers moved to a new baseball complex on Old Terre Haute Road five years ago.

Barney says the university has continued to provide the team with the means to maintain the facility.

Before landing at VU, Orlando, Fla., native Barney has made several baseball coaching stops. He was assistant coach and recruiting director for 13 years at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

Barney, a graduate of Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tenn., has also served as head coach of the Quincy Gems and Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (summer) and was an assistant at Tennessee Wesleyan, Tusculum University (Greeneville, Tenn.) and St. John’s River State College (Palatka, Fla.) as well as serving on the summer staffs for the Frontier League’s Midwest Sliders (Ypsilanti, Mich.) and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Vermont Mountaineers (Montpelier, Vt.).

Barney counts Mike Policastro, Tom Griffin, Mike Goedde and Mike Robins among his baseball mentors.

Barney played for Policastro (now head coach at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee) at Tenessee Weselyan and was a teammate and coached alongside Griffin (now head coach at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) at that same school. Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was USI head coach when Barney was on the staff. Robins led the squad at St. John’s River.

“You take a little bit from everybody,” says Barney. “You put your own personality on the program, too.

“It’s fun. The kids keep you young and always bring something new to the table.”

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Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Vincennes (Ind.) University in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Mishawaka Marian grad Rinard adding to his coaching responsibilities for Dixie State baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Exciting things are happening in Bobby Rinard’s baseball world.

Entering his fifth season as an assistant coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, Rinard is now a full-time coach and has added recruiting coordinator to his job description.

Dixie State is an NCAA Division II program and has nine fully-funded scholarships. Rinard is learning how to disperse scholarship money on a roster of about 35, taking into consideration things like the needs of the team and Title IV and other NCAA rules compliance.

At present, 47 percent is the most any one player is getting in terms of a full scholarship.

“There is really no such thing as a full-ride scholarship for a baseball player,” says Rinard. “We carry a fall roster of about 40, which matches our male-to-female student ratio.

“Some guys will be walk-ons and some will have the grades that won’t count toward the nine scholarships.

“The tricky part is that you don’t get a clean slate after each year.”

What the program has to work with is based on who leaves and who returns.

Rinard, a South Bend, Ind., native and 2007 Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School graduate whose father Jeff Rinard ran the Chasing A Dream training facility in Lakeville, Ind., says excitement is also in the air around St. George because Dixie State is exploring moving up to NCAA Division I with its athletic programs.

Information is being gathered through town hall meetings and consultants and a vote to decide is expected at the end of November.

“I hope we do go Division I,” says Rinard, who turned 30 on Nov. 9. “But it could go either way.”

NCAA Division I baseball can give 11.7 fully-funded scholarships and hire two full-time assistant coaches. There is a push to get a third full-timer.

At the D-II level, with a limited recruiting budget, Dixie State keeps to the southwest region and looks for players that fit their style of play.

Trailblazers head coach Chris Pfatenhauer, who has worked at the junior college and D-I levels, favors what Rinard calls the “West Coast” style of baseball. There is an emphasis on speed and athleticism. Batters are expected to be able to lay down a sacrifice or squeeze bunt in a crucial situation.

“We’ll put pressure on the defense,” says Rinard. “But we’re not all runts.”

There are also a few players on the roster with some power.

“We don’t talk about launch angle at all,” says Rinard. “Knowing exit velocity can help guys understand what kind of swing they should be taking to the baseball.

“We want to develop a head-high line drive swing. If you can build a repetitive swing like that, your exit velocity is going to be very good.”

Two major recruiting events that the staff ends are the Arizona Fall Classic in Peoria, Ariz., and Baseball Northwest events in Washington. It’s about a six-hour drive from St. George to the Phoenix area.

“We’re really, really selective with what events we go to,” says Rinard, noting that Las Vegas, Nevada, area is full of talent and is about a two-hour drive from St. George.

Dixie State baseball will be competing in a new conference in the spring of 2019. The Trailblazers were in the Pacific West Conference.

Besides Dixie State, the Pac West had eight baseball-playing schools in California (Academy of Art, Azusa Pacific, Biola, California Baptist, Concordia Irvine, Fresno Pacific, Holy Names and Point Loma Nazarene) and two in Hawaii (Hawaii Hilo and Hawaii Pacific) in 2018.

The Blazers were 25-25 overall and 21-19 in the Pac West.

Following the lead of the DSU football program, baseball is now in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

In addition to Dixie State, RMAC baseball features eight institutions in Colorado (Adams State, Colorado Christian, Colorado Mesa, Colorado State-Pueblo, Colorado School of Mines, Metropolitan State, Regis and Colorado Colorado Springs) and one in New Mexico (New Mexico Highlands).

Pfatenhauer saw the change coming, he wasted no time in purchasing heavy jackets. Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., is 7,543 feet above sea level.

Does the altitude effect pitching? Colorado Mesa had the best team earned run average in the RMAC in 2018 at 4.83. Adams State was last at 9.59.

Dixie State’s staff carried a 6.29 while competing in the Pac West and at 2,500-seat Bruce Hurst Field (former big league pitcher Bruce Hurst is a St. George native and a benefactor), where the fences are 12 feet high from the foul poles to the batter’s eye in center, which extends to 20 feet high. Dimensions are 330 down the lines and 390 to center.

St. George has an elevation of 2,860. Located in the southwestern part of Utah. At one time it was a cotton-growing region (thus the name of the school).

Rinard says the high desert climate is typical of Las Vegas, Nevada. The day-time highs this week (Nov. 11-17) have been in the high 50’s and low 60’s.

“I really don’t remember what it’s like to be cold,” says Rinard, who played two seasons as a righty-swinging outfielder at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz. (2008 and 2009) and two at the University of Arizona (2010 and 2011) before a stint in professional baseball and a season as an undergraduate assistant at Arizona in 2014.

Rinard was selected in the 43rd round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets, but did not sign.

After his two seasons in NCAA Division I baseball with Arizona, he signed with the New York Yankees as a minor league free agent in 2011 and played one season a rookie-level Staten Island.

His independent ball stops came with the Frontier League’s Normal (Ill.) Cornbelters in in 2012 and United League’s Edinburg (Texas) Roadrunners in 2013.

Rinard also works with the Trailblazers’ outfielders and hitters and helps coordinate camps.

“I’m helping with everything,” says Rinard, who plans to join the staff Jan. 3-6 for the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas.

Immediate plans call for Rinard to come back to northern Indiana this weekend to be in the wedding of former Bethel College player and Concord High School baseball coach Walter Lehmann. Rinard and Lehmann played together in high school.

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Bobby Rinard (right) is an assistant baseball coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. Going into his fifth season with the Trailblazers in 2019, he added recruiting coordinator to his job description last summer. (Dixie State University Photo)

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Bobby Rinard, a Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School graduate who played at Yavapai College and the University of Arizona, is heading into his fifth season as an assistant baseball coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, in 2019. (Dixie State University Photo)

In a family of coaches, Foster showing the way for Cascade Cadets

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ty Foster’s father taught him much about baseball.

Rick Foster coached baseball at Danville (Ind.) Community High School for more than 35 years and passed along what he knew about the game to sons Ryne (Danville Class of 2004) and Ty (Class of 2007).

“He knows so much,” says Ty of his father, who he now counts as an assistant as he heads into his fourth season as head coach at Cascade High School in Clayton, Ind., in 2019. “He dives into the rules and the minor details of coaching.”

“He also makes it enjoyable. You can have a good time (playing baseball). It’s great having him around everyday.”

Ty says his coaching approach is a mix of his former coaches.

Besides his father, there’s Danville basketball coach Brian Barber, Manchester College (now Manchester University) baseball coach Rick Espeset and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter baseball coach Dave Scott.

Barber has won 375 career games, including 336 in 19 seasons at Danville.

Espeset has led the Manchester Spartans for than two decades and a couple of NCAA Division III World Series appearances.

“He was not a big yeller,” says Foster of Espeset. “He would use charisma. There were little tics that you’ll never forget.”

Foster was a first baseman and designated hitter during his college days and was invited to spring training with the independent Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums.

Scott took Ritter to an IHSAA Class 2A state title in 2017. Foster was on his Raiders staff for two seasons before taking over the reins at Cascade.

Besides Rick Foster, Ty’s Cadets coaching staff includes Aaron Clark, Tim Horning, Corey Clark, Todd Blackburn, Mitch Duncan and Griffin Miller.

Aaron Clark is a former Danville coach. Horning works with Cascade’s pitchers. Corey Clark is Aaron’s son. Duncan played shortstop for Ty Foster at Cascade. Miller played for him at Ritter.

Rick Foster is still an industrial technology teacher and a head boys tennis coach and a boys basketball assistant at Danville.

Ty has watched older brother Ryne “fill up his resume” as a coach. He recently became an assistant at St. Charles Community College in Cottleville, Mo., after serving as a volunteer assistant at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

Ryne Foster has also been an assistant at Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, Georgia Southwestern State University and Concordia Colllege in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was head coach of the Boonville, N.Y.-based Adirondack Trail Blazers in the New York Collegiate Baseball League and Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

Cousin Reed Foxworthy is the head baseball coach at Seeger High School in West Lebanon, Ind. He is one of three triplets and is a son to a brother of Ty’s mother, Alice Foster.

Ty is grateful for the support of his mother.

“My mom is my biggest fan and has always been there,” says Ty Foster. “She never missed a game through high school and taking me to watch my dad coach after Little :eague games.

“She’s traveled far and wide when I was in college to see me play whenever she could. She’s helped me with my hitting when my dad wasn’t available and always been her kids’ biggest supporter. I wouldn’t of got to where I am with her being there.”

There is extra excitement around Cascade because a new turf baseball field is nearing completion.

The school will become the first in Hendricks County to put turf on the entire baseball field this fall (Danville has a turf infield and grass outfield). Cadet softball will also play on the carpet.

“We’ll be able to get in more games and practices,” says Ty Foster of the advantages of turf. “We can get out there and long toss instead of going to the auxiliary gym.”

Turf also means a smoother surface.

No more “The Cade claimed another victim today” or “The Cade’s not happy today.”

Ty, who spends his days doing housing inspections for a company in Carmel, Ind., is married to a kindergarten teacher. Katie (Hall) Foster teaches at Mill Creek East Elementary in Clayton. She played softball at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., and was head softball coach at Cascade.

Ty and Katie celebrated their second wedding anniversary in September.

Though plans call for a move to the Indiana Crossroads Conference in 2019-20, Cascade is now in the Western Indiana Conference.

The WIC is separated into divisions — Cascade, Brown County, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley in the East and Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo in the West.

WIC teams play within their division then play crossover playoff games (No. 1 in the East takes on No. 1 in the West etc.).

An IHSAA Class 2A school of about 450, Cascade is in a sectional grouping with Covenant Christian, Indianapolis Arlington, Indianapolis Washington, Indianapolis Shortridge, Park Tudor and Speedway.

The Cadets last won a sectional crown in 2005.

Cascade is on a balanced school calendar, meaning the Cadets get two weeks of spring break. Baseball games are not played until after the break.

By district rule, student-athletes can’t be be forced to miss vacation trips the first week, though Foster holds practices for those who don’t leave town.

Typically, the Cadets have a couple of weeks of preseason baseball practice.

The new IHSAA rule that allows coaches to work with their teams for two hours two days a week during a fall window, which closes Oct. 12 and re-opens the first week of December.

“The spirit of the rule is great,” says Foster. “We can actually get kids going and learn things.”

Cascade Middle School and Cascade Youth League (located in Amo) are feeders for the high school baseball program.

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Former long-time Danville (Ind.) Community High School baseball coach Rick Foster (left) is now on the Cascade High School coaching staff led by youngest son Ty Foster (left). Rick and Alice Foster’s oldest son, Ryne, coaches in college.

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Cascade High School head baseball coach Ty Foster (left) celebrates with Cadet Dylan Kottkamp during the 2018 season. The 2019 campaign will be Foster’s fourth leading the program.

 

Mercer moves to Indiana; Hall speaks highly for their time together at Wright State

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer has been hired as the new head baseball coach at Indiana University after enjoying success at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Mercer’s 2017-18 WSU season included NCAA Division I baseball’s first-ever full-time mental skills coach in Diamyn Hall.

Hall, 24, is grateful for his chance to serve with Mercer.

“It was an incredible opportunity to work with him because I learned a lot of things about business and player development from our conversations throughout the course of the season,” says Hall. “He’s a mastermind when it comes to understanding how to bring on staff members with multiple strengths in specific areas.

“He provided me with the freedom to incorporate the mental game in many new and innovative ways throughout the course of the year. I appreciated it greatly because I like to incorporate the mental game in a unique fashion, different from most traditional ways.”

Mercer gave Hall responsibility and let him use his creativity.

“I’ll never forget his message to me when I came on staff in the fall: I’m going to give you the freedom to apply whatever you feel necessary. But, at the end of the day, I expect you to get it done in the best way possible,” says Hall. “I’m very excited for him, his wife and his newborn. He will be a great father because he embodies the definition of working hard, toughness and doing the right things in order to achieve success and dream goals.

“Anybody that knows his story and has gotten to know him understands that not only has he earned this, but he deserves it. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be one of the best head coaches in the country very soon. I’m extremely confident he will take Indiana University to an even higher level.”

Mercer, an Indiana native, spoke highly about Hall to IndianaRBI as the Raiders were making a push toward the Horizon League title and a berth in the NCAA Stanford Regional.

Looking at the numbers, Wright State improved in many categories from 2017 to 2018 with the addition of the focus on the mental game.

In batting, the 2017 Raiders (38-21 overall, 23-5 in the Horizon League) hit .260 as a team with 519 hits, 37 home runs, 26 triples, 106 doubles, 339 runs scored,  228 walks, 431 strikeouts, a .349 on-base percentage and went 130-of-161 in stolen base attempts. In pitching, WSU had a staff earned run average of 3.70 with 16 saves, 423 strikeouts and 192 walks.

Compare the 2018 offensive stats and Wright State (39-18, 22-6) was better in batting average (.294), hits (574), home runs (42), doubles (120), runs scored (435), walks (268), strikeouts (325), on-base percentage (.394). While the Raiders stole fewer bases, they had a higher success rate at 110-of-128 (85.9 percent) than 2017 (80.7 percent).

Crediting the mental game, Horizon League Player of the Year Gabe Snyder went from hitting .289 with 13 home runs, 17 doubles, 49 runs batted in and .570 slugging percentage in 2017 to .359 with 15 homers, 20 doubles, 73 RBIs and slugged .668 in 2018 — his fourth season at Wright State. The 6-foot-5 lefty-swinging first baseman was selected in the 21st round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

What will Hall do moving forward now that Mercer is gone to IU?

“I will go back to my individual improvement process and re-evaluate last year and find the areas that need to be improved on with the mental game for the 2018-19 season. In order for our players to continue developing their mental game, I must hold myself accountable for continuing to improve and develop my coaching strategies, teachings and processes.

“I learned a lot this past year and I’m very excited to get back to work.”

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Wright State University head coach Jeff Mercer (left) brought in Diamyn Hall (right) as NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach in 2017-18. Mercer recently took the head coaching post at Indiana University. (Wright State University Photo)

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Jeff Mercer is introduced as the new head baseball coach at Indiana University. He came from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (Indiana University Photo)

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Diamyn Hall, the full-time mental skills coach for Wright State University baseball, shares his knowledge with a Raiders player in 2017-18. Hall is working now to improve on his methods and teachings for 2018-19. (Wright State University Photo)

Lemonis hustles to keep Hoosiers competitive, playing baseball the right way

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the early NCAA Division I National Letter of Intent signing period approaches — it’s Nov. 8-15 — Chris Lemonis is doing the thing that has made him one of the nation’s top college baseball recruiters.

“Hustle,” says Lemonis, who is going into his fourth season as head baseball of Indiana University baseball in 2018. “You’ve got to be willing to hustle. You have to have an eye for it. You also have to have a plan. What pieces are you trying to put together? (A player might be the) right fit for one school and not for the other.”

Lemonis, who is 101-72-2 with two NCAA regional appearance (2015, 2017) while leading the Hoosiers, likes to find as much in-state talent as he can and still remain competitive. “The state of Indiana has great high school players. It is a big base for us. We will reach out at times and fiend pieces.”

The Hoosiers — regularly top 25-ranked program — find most players within a five-hour drive from the Bloomington campus.

“But we don’t rule out anybody,” says Lemonis, who has been spending his share of time on the road, visiting recruits and working camps. “We like to be a physical team and an athletic team.”

Lemonis asks that athletes and their parents research to see what fits their needs.

As drawing cards for the Hoosiers, there is an IU degree plus the ever-growing profile of Big Ten Conference baseball. The 2017 season saw five B1G schools make the 64-team NCAA D-I tournament — conference tournament champion and automatic bid winner Iowa plus at-large invitees Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska.

Conference baseball continues to get recognition and revenue through the Big Ten Network.

“We try to keep our kids in this part of the country — Midwest staying at Midwest schools,” says Lemonis. “When I first came to Midwest, all the good players went south. There is now a commitment to baseball in our league.”

As evidence, all of the 13 baseball-playing B1G schools have stadiums that were either built new or renovated in the last few years, many with artificial turf.

Indiana moved to Bart Kaufman Field in 2013. Hoosiers benefactor Bart Kaufman went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.

Illinois plays at Illinois Field, Iowa at Duane Banks Field, Maryland at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, Michigan at Ray Fisher Stadium, Michigan State at McClane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field, Minnesota at Siebert Field, Nebraska at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park, Northwestern at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, Ohio State at Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium, Penn State at Medlar Park at Lubrano Field, Purdue at Alexander Field and Rutgers at Bainton Field. Wisconsin does not have NCAA D-I baseball.

Allowing for the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (IU’s Craig Dedelow was selected int he ninth round in 2017 by the Chicago White Sox and the Hoosiers count former players Micah Johnson, Josh Phegley, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Slegers and Sam Travis as current big leaguers), Lemonis plans his recruiting on a three-year cycle.

The Big Ten does have a rule that players sign a four-year scholarship and not a series of one-year deals, which is common in other conferences.

Lemonis came to Indiana after serving 20 seasons as an assistant coach — 12 at The Citadel (1995-2006) and eight at the University of Louisville (2006-14).

At Louisville, he worked closely with head coach Dan McDonnell and made three trips to the College World Series (2007, 2013, 2014). They were college roommates, teammates and athletic Hall of Famers at The Citadel — the military college in Charleston, S.C.

“He’s a great leader of men and a great coach,” says Lemonis of McDonnell, who spoke at the 2017 IHSBCA State Coaches Clinic in Indianapolis. “He is very big on the motivation side — not only with the players but the staff. He’s always trying to push the program forward and put it in a better place. He’s one of the best in the business — if not the best.”

Phone calls between Lemonis and McDonnell are exchanged a couple of times a week.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Lemonis.

As a left-handed-swinging infielder at The Citadel, Lemonis had two head coaches — American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chal Port and Fred Jordan — before playing minor league baseball (1995-2004) with Triple-A stops in the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

“(Port) was a tough old school coach,” says Lemonis. “He was big on fundamentals and playing the game the right way. He put together kids who became a close-knit group.”

Lemonis served 12 seasons on Jordan’s coaching staff.

“I got most of my development from him,” says Lemonis. “He was big into physicality and the speed of the game. We didn’t start (weight) lifting until Coach Jordan got there.”

When Lemonis was playing, most coaches thought baseball players should stay away from weights in order to remain flexible.

Now, strength and conditioning is a major part of the game. With fall baseball concluded, IU players are spending four days a week in the weight room, becoming bigger, stronger and faster.

Since many Hoosiers play spring, summer and fall, they are now giving their arms a rest. Throwing programs will resume in December and hitting will amp up. After Christmas break, the team will be in “spring training” mode as it prepares to open the 2018 schedule with four in South Carolina — Feb. 16 (Oklahoma), Feb. 17 (Kansas State) and Feb. 18 (South Alabama) in Myrtle Beach and Feb. 19 (Coastal Carolina) in Conway.

The home opener is slated for March 7 (Cincinnati).

Lemonis graduated from Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A move-in, he played his junior year for Jody Rush and senior season for Rick Hardwick, who had come from The Citadel.

As a product of his playing and coaching stops, Lemonis believes in “playing the right way.”

That is reflected in IU being among the top fielding percentage teams in the B1G and the way the Hoosiers train, show up early, hustle and demonstrate positive body language.

“It’s doing a hard 90 down the baseline,” says Lemonis. “It’s respecting the game.”

The IU coaching staff also features Kyle Bunn (associate head coach/pitching), Kyle Cheesebrough (assistant/recruiting coordinator), Zach Lucas (assistant) and Roger Rodeheaver (director of operations).

Cheesebrough and Lucas both played at Louisville and they help Lemonis with the Hoosiers’ offensive game.

CHRISLEMONIS

Chris Lemonis enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2018. It will be his 24th as a coach at the NCAA Division I level. (Indiana University Photo)