As Ethan Bates grew up in East Central Indiana, he played some outfield and stood on the mound. But it wasn’t until he was leaving Frankton (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2020 and getting ready for college baseball that Bates focused on a different way of pitching. The left-hander turned himself into a sidearmer/submariner and it’s helped him through two seasons at Jimmy Brenneman coached-Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill., and earned him a spot with NCAA Division I Grambling (La.) State University in the fall. It was while playing in a 2019 fall league in Pendleton, Ind., organized by Mike Shirley that Bates began dropping down with his delivery. He liked the results and kept at it. “I’ve been learning the past two years and trying to get better,” says Bates, who developed as a Frontier CC Bobcat. In 23 games (all in relief), he went 2-0 with 24 strikeouts and 22 walks in 24 innings. “The whole JUCO experience made a big impact on me as a player and a human,” says Bates, 20. “I got to grind in the middle of nowhere. You have to work really hard to get what you get in JUCO. “I embrace what it means to be a JUCO Bandit.” Twitter highlights posted of Bates posted by Frontier CC. That got the attention of Grambling State and he was contacted by Direct Message. He went for a visit and later signed with the Tigers in the fall of 2021. Grambling State — where Davin Pierre is the head coach — in located in the north central part of the state about 65 miles from Shreveport. “There’s lots to do,” says Bates. “I wanted wanted to play Down South where it’s warm.” The past two summers, Bates has pitched in the midday heat for the Palm Beach Xtreme of the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League (there was also two games for Trenton, N.J., Thunder of the 2021 MLB Draft League). His Florida connection was Miami resident and Frontier CC outfielder Nick Pompile. In his first 17 appearances for the Xtreme in 2022, he is 3-0 with seven saves, an 0.40 earned run average, 28 strikeouts and eight walks in 22 1/3 innings. Besides a sinking fastball, Bates uses a sweeping slider that moves in on a right-handed hitter and away from a lefty. His change-up drops. Born in Anderson, Ind., Bates went to middle school in the Pendleton Heights district then transferred to Frankton for high school, where he also play basketball for four years and football for one. He played recreation ball at Riverfield in Chesterfield, Ind. His first travel ball team was the Indiana Renegades. Bates spent several summers with the Indiana Bulls, including with head coach Sean Laird at 17U. One of his Bulls teammates was 2020 Mt. Vernon (Fortville) High School alum Nolan Bowser. He has also trained with Vanderbilt University commit Max Clark (Franklin Community Class of 2023) and Indiana University recruit Andrew Wiggins (Heritage Christian Class of 2023). A broken shoulder kept Bates from playing baseball as a Frankton freshman. He was with the varsity most of his sophomore year and all of his year season. The COVID-19 pandemic took away his senior slate. Brad Douglas was and still is the head coach of the Frankton Eagles. “He’s hard-nosed and a great competitor (just like Laird),” says Bates. “I love playing for coaches who are great competitors and have my back.” With an associate degree in Sciences & Arts earned at Frontier CC, Bates plans to major in Sports Management at Grambling State. Ethan, who turns 21 in November, is the son of Ryan Bates (Cami) and Karen Siek (Dan). His siblings are Lauryn Bates, Katie Shadoan and Seth Siek. Katie is the oldest, followed by Ethan, Lauryn and Seth.
Grant Besser’s habit of dodging bats with his pitches got him noticed during his prep days and it continues at the collegiate level. At South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., the left-hander and four-time first-team all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection whiffed 451 in 241 innings with a 1.27 earned run average. He also hit .397 with eight home runs and 58 runs batted in. As a senior, Besser fanned 130 in 54 frame and posted a 0.77 ERA and hit .426 with two homers and 17 RBIs for the Brad Buckingham-coached Starfires. He began working out that winter in Fort Wayne with Pittsburgh Pirates strength trainer Dru Scott. When not pitching, lefty Besser was the unorthodox choice for South Adams at shortstop his last three seasons. “I knew it looked silly, but I had been playing shortstop all my life,” says Besser. “I can throw from any arm angle. I had a great time doing it. “Besides I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it for long. I knew pitching is what I wanted to do.” Besser played in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Madison. He was honored as the 2019 Northeast Indiana Baseball Association/Dick Crumback Player of the Year. The 2021 recipient of the award — Carter Mathison (Homestead/Indiana University) is Besser’s teammate this summer with New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats. Mathison was also the 2021 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Player of the Year. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Besser shined on the mound at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers. In 36 appearances (10 starts), he went 6-4 with eight saves and a 2.66 earned run average as the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Buccaneers posted marks of 16-11 in 2020 (COVID-19 shortened), 44-16 in 2021 and 42-15 in 2022. He amassed 125 strikeouts and 42 walks in 94 2/3 innings. Besser played no summer ball in 2020 and dealt with an injury at the beginning of the 2021. He came back and hurled five innings in the state tournament and did not allow a baserunner. “I really saw a spike in all of my numbers for the good (in 2022),” says Besser. “I blew every category away from the previous years.” He was in 20 games in 2022 and went 3-2 with six saves, a 1.28 ERA, 61 K’s and 16 walks in 42 1/3 innings. Ben Bizier is head coach at Florida SouthWestern State. Derrick Conatser is Bucs pitching coach. “I like that toughness to he brings to the table,” says Besser of Bizier. In his exit interview with Bizier Besser was told that 18 Major League Baseball organizations have been following him as they prepare for the 2022 First-Year Player Draft (July 17-19 in Los Angeles). “He said there’s a really good chance it happens this year,” says Besser, who turns 22 in September. “Out of high school I had zero (college) offers. Coach Buckingham offered me to Florida JUCO’s. I earned a scholarship at FSW in the spring. “Money has never been the big thing for me. It’s opportunity and getting my foot in the door.” This is Besser’s second straight summer at Keene and he has had several meaningful chats with Swamp Bats president and general manager Kevin Watterson. So far, Besser has made four appearances (one start) and is 1-0 with an 0.87 ERA. In 10 1/3 innings, the southpaw has 10 strikeouts and one walk. The NECBL regular season ends July 30. Throughout his college experience, Besser has been used in multiple pitching roles, including starter, long reliever and a closer. “It doesn’t matter to me as long as we get a win,” says Besser. “I’m very versatile.” Besser has excelled with an ability to keep his head when things get tense. “It’s mental toughness. I preach it,” says Besser. “I can spot when somebody doesn’t have that mental toughness. “I’m ready for the situation. I’m consistent with all that I do. I work quick and throw strikes. Preparation and a steady mindset is key.” Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Besser uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball. “My four-seamer has natural run and a high spin rate,” says Besser. “Up in the zone is where I get the most out of it. “This summer it’s been sitting 89 to 91 mph (it hit 92 at Florida SouthWestern State).” Besser’s two-seamer moves in to left-handed hitters and away from righties. His “circle” change-up break to his arm side and is usually clocked around 83 mph. “My curveball is more of a slurve,” says Besser of the pitch that’s often delivered at around 78 mph. “I mix and match. Sometimes it’s 12-to-6 and sometimes I sweep it. It depends on the situation.” Grant is the oldest of Mike and Katina Besser’s two sons. Adam Besser, a right-handed pitcher for Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, turns 20 in August. Mike Besser is a salesman for Moser Motor Sales. Katina Besser is chief financial officer at Swiss Village Retirement Community. The family moved from Geneva and Berne when Grant was in the fifth grade. Beginning at 9U, he played travel ball for the Muncie Longhorns and Indiana Bandits and then Summit City Sluggers founder Mark DeLaGarza reached out to him and he spent two summers with the 17U Sluggers, playing for head coaches Todd Armstrong and Brent Alwine. “My parents’ sacrifices let me do that,” says Grant. “The Sluggers gave me a lot of knowledge on baseball.”
With two years of eligibility remaining, has committed to NCAA Division I Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He signed with the Scarlet Knights over the winter. Why Rutgers? “What really attracting me was coming home to the Big Ten,” says Besser, who was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Geneva and Berne. “It’s up-and-coming program and pretty hard-nosed.” With Steve Owens as head coach and Brendan Monaghan guiding pitchers, the Scarlet Knights posted an overall mark of 44-17 and Big Ten record of 17-7 in 2022. Rutgers played Michigan in the conference tournament championship game. After earning an Associate of Arts degree in Business Management at Florida SouthWestern State, Besser is considering a Labor and Relations major at Rutgers.
Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America. The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan). Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year. Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. “We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.” Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc. “When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that. “It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.” After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18). “He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family. “On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.” A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average). In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional. “We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.” With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework. “At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes. “Everything is challenging.” In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016. Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League. “It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.” One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m. After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019. In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli. Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies. The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547). The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time. “It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase. “You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.” Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.
Three years of showing what he can do pitching in the power-packed Atlantic Coast Conference, University of Virginia right-hander Zach Messinger was selected in the 13th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. “I’m extremely excited and honored to play for a team like the New York Yankees,” says Messinger, 21. “They have 27 World Series championships for a reason.” A 2018 graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Messinger was part of a Virginia program that won 82 of 137 games during his time in Charlottesville and made it to the 2021 College World Series. Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor, who was the pitching coach at Notre Dame for nine seasons (1995-93) under Irish head coach Paul Mainieri, has led the Cavaliers to five CWS appearances with a national title in 2015. The 2021 season was Drew Dickinson’s second as Virginia pitching coach. “He’s already done a phenomenal job,” says Messinger of Dickinson. “He’s one of the best college pitching coaches in the country. “Statistically, we’re one of the best pitching staffs in the ACC because of it.” UVA ranked in the top three in the conference in several categories in 2021, including wins, earned run average, opposing batting average, strikeouts and innings pitched. Assistants Kevin McMullan and Matt Kirby have also helped get the most out of the Cavaliers. “We put full trust in the coaches for their game-by-game and series-by-series preparation,” says Messinger. In his three collegiate campaigns, Messinger made 51 mound appearances (11 starts) and was 5-3 with a 4.42 ERA. He racked up 107 strikeouts with 47 walks in 99 2/3 innings. In 2021, he got into 28 games (24 as a reliever) and was 3-2 with a 4.89 ERA. He fanned 64 and walked 21 in 57 innings. Does Messinger consider himself a starter or reliever? “I can be put out there no matter what,” says Messinger. “I have the mentality, endurance and pitchability to be a starter. “I also also have the capability to come out of the pen in high-stress situations. I can come on with short rest and deliver for the team. It comes down to where the organization thinks is the best fit for me.” Signed on July 22, Messinger is now at the Yankees training headquarters in Tampa, Fla., getting to know personnel and the way the system works and expects to be there into the fall. “The Yankees don’t tend to send new draft guys off to a (minor league) team,” says Messinger. “They like to have guys in-house throwing in front of coaches. “I want to find a good base strength-wise and be where the coaches want me to be by spring training.” The Yankees’ top four affiliates are the Low Class-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons, High Class-A Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades, Double-A Somerset (N.J.) Patriots and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Pa.) Railriders. Messinger employs four pitches from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot — four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and change-up. The four-seamer sat at 93 to 95 mph and touched 97 while Messenger was at Virginia. “The slider has more horizontal break and plays well off the fastball with the same release point,” says Messinger. “It’s late-breaking when I throw it correctly. It has become a pretty good ‘out’ pitch for me.” Messinger calls his “12-to-6” curve “Ol’ Reliable.” “I’ve had it since I was 15 years old,” says Messinger. “I’ve used the same grip ever since I was a kid.” He uses a “circle” change. Born in Evansville, Ind., Messinger moved into the Castle district while in elementary school. His family resided in Chandler, Ind., until his mother accepted a job offer and they moved to Richmond, Va., at the end of Zach’s senior year. Dennis and Lisa Messinger have four sons — Zach and 17-year-old triplets Eli, Lucas and Tyler. Dennis Messinger is a job site supervisor for Shurm Homes. Lisa Messinger is director of environmental sciences at Dominion Energy. He played basketball at Olney (Ill.) Central College. She was a volleyball player at the University of Evansville. Heading into their junior year of high school, all three triplets are athletes — Eli and Lucas in basketball and baseball and Tyler in track. Zach Messinger got his organized baseball start at what is now Evansville East Youth Baseball, but played at what is now Newburgh Junior Baseball from 8U to 11U. Dennis Messinger coached Zach and the Ohio Valley Vipers for his son’s 12U and 13U summers. At 14U and 15U, Zach was with the Cory Luebbheusen-coached Jasper J-Cards. He spent two seasons with the Indiana Bulls (Dan Held at 16U and Sean Laird at 17U). Curt Welch was Messinger’s coach for four varsity seasons at Castle. “That man taught me how to be a man while on the baseball field,” says Messinger. “Behind my father Curt Welch is the second-most influential man in my life. He was tough on me. He saw the potential that I had. It was going to take hard work and focus.” Messinger says Welch taught him how to treat the game and the opposition with respect and how to carry himself on and off the field. “He taught me more than how to hit a baseball or how to pitch,” says Messinger, who played third base when not on the mound. “What stands out is the stuff that was outside the lines.” After going 7-1 with a 1.66 ERA, Messenger was the 2018 Courier & Press All-Metro Player of the Year (he was first-team All-Metro three times) and was named to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and was a Prep Baseball Report Indiana first-team All-State selection. Also a three-letterwinner in basketball, he was Castle’s 2018 Lonnie Fisher Male Athlete of the Year Award winner and graduated with a 3.97 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and was a four-time Scholastic “C” Academic Letter recipient. His major at Virginia is Media Studies. He plans to complete that in the near future. “I’m very excited to have the opportunity to play professional baseball,” says Messinger. “Academics has always important to me and my family.” In the summer of 2018, Messinger went to Virginia early to take summer classes and to train. He played for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats in 2019, but did not play in the summers of 2020 or 2021.
Arsenal Indiana is expanding for the 2021-22 travel baseball season. The affiliate of Arsenal USA Baseball is to go with 12U, 13U, 14U and 15U squads in its third season. “Within two or three years I want to have teams from 12U through 17U,” says Arsenal Indiana director Jeff Cleckner. “I want to have one team at each age group and be very competitive. “I don’t want to water down the brand with seven 15U teams.” Cleckner, a graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School (1989) and Purdue University living in Fishers, Ind., says the focus is on skill development at the younger levels and that the older ones grow their mental approach to the game as they prepare for college baseball. But first the current campaign where Arsenal is fielding a 17U team with Cleckner as head coach and Arsenal Indiana director and a 14U squad guided by Steve Smitherman. In 2020, 16U and 13U teams took the field for the organization. Playing six weekends of seven — starting with the first one in June — the 17U team has competed or will take part in events sponsored by Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and Bullpen Tournaments. The team placed second during the holiday weekend at the PBR Indiana State Games at Championship Park in Kokomo. The 17U’s were 22-9-1 through 30 games. The season wraps with the Perfect Game 17U BCS National Championship July 21-26 at Major League Baseball spring training fields in Fort Myers, Fla. All the other tournaments have been staged at Grand Park in Westfield. “It’s nice with Grand Park,” says Cleckner of the large complex in central Indiana. “Everyone comes to us.” High schools represented on the 17U roster include Avon, Fishers, Harrison (West Lafayette), Heritage Christian, Huntington North, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis North Central, Noblesville, Penn, Plainfield, South Adams, Wapahani, Wawasee, Westfield and Zionsville in Indiana and Edwardsburg in Michigan. Since the older teams can play as many as seven games in five days, there are often a number of pitcher-only players (aka P.O.’s). “It’s nice to have P.O.’s,” says Cleckner. “We can supplement as needed with position players. “We’re mindful of arm care and arm health.” The 14U Arsenal Indiana team began in early April and will play until mid-July and could easily get in 60 games in 3 1/2 months. The 14U team plays in same types of tournaments that the 17U teams plays at Grand Park in Westfield. Arsenal Indiana tryouts are planned for late July or early August, likely at Grand Park. A fall season of four or five weekends features a trip to the Perfect Game WWBA 2022/2023 National Championship Oct. 7-11 in Jupiter, Fla., for the upperclassmen. “The goal of the fall season is getting a little more work going into the winter,” says Cleckner. “You have new kids who’ve joined your team and you’re creating some chemistry and camaraderie.” The fall also provides more college looks for older players. Arsenal Indiana trains in the off-season at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville. What is now Arsenal USA Baseball was began in 1995 by Joe Barth Jr. and son Bob Barth as the Tri-State Arsenal with players from southern New Jersey, Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania. Besides USA National in New Jersey, there are affiliate locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. Many professionals and college players have come through the Arsenal program.
Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement.
He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.
Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.
Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.
“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”
Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.
Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.
“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”
The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.
“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker.
Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.
“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.
“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”
Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.
Flemm is upbeat about the future.
“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.
“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”
As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.
Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.
“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”
The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.
“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players).
“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”
Through hills and valleys, the right-handed pitcher persisted and persevered until he finally stood on a major league mound at 28 and its those kind of lessons he passes along to the next generation with his baseball/softball business — Demand Command.
McClellan, who stands 6-foot-5, earned three letters at Indiana University (1998, 1999 and 2000). He pitched in 41 games, starting 22 with five complete games and one save. In 159 1/3 innings, he posted 111 strikeouts and a 4.58 earned run average while playing for Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan — a man he credits as much for what he did in stressing education as what he did between the white lines.
Long before that McClellan started giving back. He started the Zach McClellan School of Pitching in Bloomington, Ind., in 2002.
Zach and future wife Sarah met at IU. She is from nearby Ellettsville, Ind., and a graduate of Edgewood High School.
During his pro off-seasons, Zach was a student teacher during the day and gave lessons at night during his off-season.
With the growth of the business, McClellan began looking for a new name and a suggestion came from one of his pupils who noted how he was constantly telling them, “Don’t just accept control, demand command.”
McClellan says the difference between control and command is that with control you can throw to a general area and command is being able to execute your pitches to the catcher.
The two main aspects of pitching as McClellan sees them are how hard you throw and can you locate it. In other words: Velocity and command.
“I try to marry those two things,” says McClellan, who notes that location becomes very important when it comes to getting good hitters out.
Believing that training should be fun and challenging, McClellan began getting his young pitchers to play H-O-R-S-E baseball style.
While in the basketball version, a player has to replicate a made shot or take a letter, McClellan’s baseball variation requires one pitcher to execute a pitch — say a fastball to the outside corner — and have the next one up replicate that or take a letter.
The first Demand Command T-shirts McClellan ever had made asked: “Can you play H-O-R-S-E on the mound?”
“It was an inside joke between the instructed kids, myself and their parents,” says McClellan. “People would ask the question about what it meant.
“We were doing something kind of unique and kids were actually executing pitches. What I’ve noticed through the years is that if they have to call the pitch, it’s even better. Now they’re not just throwing a ball in the generally vicinity.”
McClellan never wants training to be drudgery for his players.
“If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it becomes more of a job,” says McClellan. “It’s not a job, it’s an opportunity. It’s fun. If you’re going to come to me it’s not going to feel like work.
“You have to make sure that the kids are enjoying what they’re doing, but learning at the same time.”
Since he began offering instruction, McClellan has preferred small-group lessons of three of four players.
“I say make sure kids aren’t just doing solo private lessons,” says McClellan. “A lot of parents want their kids to work one-on-one with a coach, but when they go on a field they have eight other teammates.
“At the end of the day there’s nobody behind the mound holding your hand and telling you how to correct yourself in a game. You have to have a feel on the adjustments you’re making.”
Every now and then, McClellan likes to match 17-year-old prospect with an 8-year-old learning how to pitch.
“The 17-year-old learns how to teach,” says McClellan. “The more you learn how to teach the better you get at your craft.
“(The teen is) learning how other people receive the information which makes them more receptive of the information.”
Now that he has been at it this long, another McClellan goal is coming to fruition.
“I’ve always wanted to create a community of baseball players that became future leaders,” says McClellan. “Kids that played for me or took lessons from me are now coming back to be coaches for me.”
Matt McClellan played at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., and pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays organization (Toronto selected the right-hander in the seventh round of the 1997 MLB Draft) and for the independent Newark (N.J.) Bears and Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones.
The DC website states the mission: “Demand Command was built on the principles that baseball and softball are teaching mechanisms for more than just the games.
Baseball and Softball have many life lessons within the games. Some examples are leadership, hard work, determination, discipline, working together with many types of people, dealing with success and failure and good character.
“The goal is to teach people the value of Demand Command life principles through baseball and softball. Demand Command stands for much more than commanding pitches or at bats. Demand Command is a way of life.”
Numerous DC alums have gone on to college and pro baseball. Among them is Dylan Stutsman, who pitched at the University of Indianapolis and then pitched for the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers.
Former Texas Rangers draft pick Renton Poole is now a senior pitcher at Indiana University Kokomo.
Zach and Sarah McClellan live in Columbus and have three athletic daughters — Mia (14), Miley (12) and Emery (10).
The McClellan brothers — Jeff (46), Matt (44) and Zach (42 on Nov. 25) — are the offspring of former college athletes.
Father Dave a basketball player at the University of Michigan and Mother Diane a track and field athlete at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.
Jeff played baseball at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.
Zach’s nephew, Sebastian McClellan, is a freshman basketball guard at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Mich. Niece Mallory McClellan recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Fordham University in New York.
Haddad has been in the organization since 2013. He was signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent and was a catcher is the system until 2016, when he served as a player-coach at Staten Island in preparation for a minor league coaching assignment.
But an opportunity came with the major league club and Haddad has been on the Bronx Bombers staff since 2017. He can use his knowledge to help Blake and Swanson with their transition.
Radley and wife Arielle, a Franklin, Ind., native who he met at Butler, moved from Manhattan to New Jersey in January. It’s a 20-minute drive to Yankee Stadium.
Being close year-round has made it easy for Haddad to get to know the ins and outs of the team’s analytics department.
Hadded earned a Finance degree at Butler. His familiarity with regressions, progressions and algorithms allows him to work with weight averages and other analytic concepts.
“You need to have some experience in some upper level math,” says Haddad. “You don’t have to be a genius. It’s math and it’s computers and being able to write codes.
“(Players) are very open to what we’re trying to do. Kids coming from college programs are more up with technology and buzzwords and they understand the value. We’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. Sometimes you just have to use different verbiage.”
Haddad notes that 29-year-old right-hander Gerrit Cole, who signed as a free agent in December 2019 and likely would have been tabbed by manager Aaron Boone as the Yankees’ Opening Day starter had the 2020 season started on time, has embraced analytics during his career.
“He’s really smart guy and cares about his career,” says Haddad. “He applied what they gave him in Houston. He used the information presented to him.
“We’re trying to parlay off of that and make him just a tick better.”
With Haddad being close by, he’s also been able to catch area residents Coleand righty reliever Adam Ottavino during the current COVID-19-related shutdown. Some of those sessions happened in back yards. The Stadium was just recently made available.
Players and staff are literally spread across the globe and have stayed in-touch through group texts and Zoom calls. Sharing of Google Docs has allowed coaches and other pitchers to keep up with their progress.
Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey makes sure they have what they need, including a catcher, so they can stay on track and be ready.
Haddad likes the way Gerrit puts it: “I will keep the pilot light on so I can fire it up.”
Haddad moved with his family to Carmel, Ind., at 10. He played travel baseball with the Carmel Pups. They were in need of a catcher so Radley put on the gear and fell in love with the position.
“I loved everything about it,” says Haddad, who was primarily a catcher at Brebeuf, two seasons at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. (2009 and 2010), and two at Butler (2012 and 2013). “I liked the mental side, being involved in every pitching and calling games. I liked working with all the pitchers and seeing how guys can manipulate the ball.”
John Zangrilli was a frequent spectator at Carmel Pups games and is now Greyhounds pitching coach on a staff led by Matt Buczkowski.
Zangrilli was head coach at Brebeuf when Haddad was there and had a major impact.
“He was the most beneficial person in my baseball career,” says Haddad of Zangrilli. “He taught me about being a real baseball player and taking care of business.
“That meant doing things the right way, paying attention to details.”
It was also the way you treat people. It was more than baseball, it was life skills.
Zangrilli was at Radley and Arielle’s wedding in 2018.
Haddad earned honorable mention all-state honors at Brebeuf. He helped the Braves to an IHSAA Class 3A No. 1 ranking and a Brebeuf Sectional title while hitting .494 with 38 runs scored as a senior.
Playing time at Western Carolina was limited and Haddad decided to go to Butler, where he started 89 games in his two seasons.
NCAA rules at the time required players transferring between Division I school to sit out a transfer season. That’s what Haddad did when he went to Butler, where Steve Farley was Bulldogs head coach.
“Steve was a great guy,” says Haddad. “He welcomed me. He didn’t have any stigma about who I was and why I was leaving a school. He knew I wanted to get on a field.
“He’s a good man who taught people how to live the right way.”
Though he doesn’t get back to Indiana often, Haddad stays connected to central Indiana baseball men Zangrilli, Farley, Chris Estep, Jay Lehr and Greg Vogt.
“We played together or against each other our whole lives,” says Haddad of Vogt. “He’s done a great job of building a program he believes in.”
Bob Haddad Jr., Radley’s father, is Chief Operating Officer at Harrison Lake Country Club in Columbus. Radley’s mother, Lauren Schuh, is remarried.
Radley (30) has two younger brothers — Griffin Haddad (28) and Ian Schuh (20).
Grffin is an assistant athletic trainer for the Green Bay Packers. He went to Brebeuf for four years, earned his undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University and his master’s at the University of Michigan.
Ian spent one year at Brebeuf and finished high school at Carmel. He is at South Dakota State University with his sights on being a conservation officer.
“We try not to water things down. We don’t consider our teams A, B and C. Baseball is baseball. Anybody can beat anybody.”
Going to the top-flight tournaments and inviting many colleges to attend scout days, the Prospects are looking to find a fit for everyone.
“We try not to let players slip through the cracks,” says Stout. “Baseball is one of the few sports you can play at any given level. There’s nothing wrong with Division II, Division III, NAIA or junior college.
“If you’re good enough, you’ll still have a chance to get drafted.”
Stout is constantly on the phone, making connections. Before tournaments, he sends out contact sheets for players who are eligible for communication. He includes the game schedule, pitching rotation, academic and high school coach’s contact information.
“I reach out to the colleges,” says Stout. “I try not to leave any rock unturned. That’s why I have the credibility with the college coaches I do.
“It’s who you know.”
Schedules and travel details are knocked out during the winter with the help of IP coaches. Younger teams start in the spring and play as many as 60 games with high schoolers playing around 40 contests and about five to seven tournaments in the summer. They shut down before school starts again in the fall.
Stout does not want to overload the younger players and encourages the older ones to pursue other sports.
“We give kids an opportunity to have something of a summer and it’s not just baseball, baseball, baseball,” says Stout. “For pitchers, fall is the time for them to take a break (and rest their arms). (Playing football, basketball etc.) creates a more well-rounded athlete to mix it up and do other things
“College coaches watch my players play in high school basketball games. They see that quick twitch (muscle) and how they handle themselves on the court.”
Travel baseball goes places that high school teams do not and plays at a time — the summer — when colleges can devote more time to recruiting.
But Stout sees the relationship between travel ball and high school as very important.
“We embrace the high school coaches and try to keep them involved as much as possible,” says Stout, who counts prep coaches on the IP coaching staff. “It’s a process that involves high school baseball, travel baseball and the young man’s work ethic.
“Sometimes there’s a disconnect with how it gets done.”
IP, which typically fields about two dozen teams from U9 to U18 and trains at Fishers Sports Academy, draws the majority of its players from Indiana but they do come from other places.
“They come play for us every weekend,” says Stout. “They’re not a hired gun or anything. If you’re going four hours, it doesn’t matter which direction. Everybody knows which tournament they need to be in.”
Why would you play for the Indiana Prospects living in New Jersey?
“You treat people the right way,” says Stout.
Doing things the right way is important to the IP Way.
“You put on an Indiana Prospects uniforms we’re going to shake the umpire’s hand and we’re going to respect the game,” says Stout.
The number of players on each 15U to 18U roster varies depending on the number of pitcher-onlys.
“In larger tournaments, you may play eight games in five days,” says Stout. “We want to bring a kid to college as healthy as he can be. I always try to error on the side of caution.”
The Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization has placed more than 400 players in college programs in the last seven or eight years. The group is founded by Mark Peters, son of Miami Marlins pitcher Dillon Peters. Shane Stout is president and director of operations. (Indiana Prospects Photo)