Wilson Valera was on the original South Bend (Ind.) White Sox in 1988. Then known as Wilson Uribe, the Dominican Republic native was 18 when he played in 69 games for the Midwest League team managed by Steve Dillard. Craig Wallin was a young broadcaster for that club. Fast forward to 2023 and Wallin is founder of the Northern League’s Elkhart County (Ind.) Miracle. He introduced Valera as the first-year team’s field manager Thursday, May 4 at D-Bat Elkhart training facility. “I’ve been around a little bit and I’m very glad to be able to share my experiences in baseball,” says Valera. “It’s very important for me to show them the right way to play professional baseball and see how they’re doing. “As soon as you see the player you know what kind of potential they have.” Opening week at NorthWood High School’s Field of Dreams Complex is May 31-June 4. Players report May 26 and will begin a series of workouts at Elkhart High School. First pitch on Wednesday, May 31 is slated for 7 p.m. Michiana blues and rock band Hideous Business is to perform from 6 to 7. Ben Zobrist, World Series MVP for the Chicago Cubs in 2016, is slated to throw out the first pitch on Saturday, June 3. It’s also Team Picture Night. “One way or another, this inaugural week of minor league baseball returning to Elkhart County is going to be one our fans will never forget”, says Wallin. “We hope the entire area comes out to join us in celebrating our new team and its entrance into the Northern League.” There are 30 scheduled regular-season home dates through Aug. 3. The Northern League is a hybrid circuit with a mix of summer collegiate players and professionals. Organized by former Notre Dame baseball/football player Evan Sharpley, a roster of 30 to 35 will feature players from around the country with some local talent. Among those featured on the Miracle website are Nathaniel Garcia, Bryce Lesher, Bryce Miller, Jaden Miller, Dylan Rost and Brycen Sherwood. Valera, who is also related to former South Bend Silver Hawks pitcher Greg Aquino, played eight minor league seasons in the White Sox, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets organizations. He was at bullpen catcher for the San Francisco Giants (1989-93) and Cincinnati Reds (1994-95) coached in the Dominican Summer League for the DSL Twins (1996) and DSL Diamondbacks (2008-11). He was with the Arizona Diamondbacks coaching staff in 2011 and moved down to the Missoula Osprey as hitting coach in 2013. He has championship rings from his time in the Carribean World Series. Wallin calls Valera “as good a baseball guy as there is. But he’s a better human being. He is a wonderful man and he has such respect for this game of baseball. “This is a rare breed when you can get a guy of this caliber with minor league experience and big league coaching experience in our inaugural season. It’s pretty special. We’re really, really pumped.” Valera resides in Elkhart and is an instructor at D-Bat Elkhart, 4411 Wyland Drive, Elkhart, which is owned by Jason and Shelbi Baugh and Eric Miller. “I see the enthusiasm from the kids over here and how they want to play baseball,” says Valera. “Elkhart needs to opportunity to have a real baseball team and now the opportunity has been given to coach the first team. “I’m very, very blessed.” Valera’s son — Mikey, 12 — is a talented player in his own right. It was revealed Thursday that Elkhart County will wear white tops with red pinstripes and a red cap at home and red tops with a blue-skulled/red-billed caps on the road. Scooter is the team’s mascot. Tickets may be purchased at the team’s website or at the gate. Fans purchasing Reserved Seat tickets will be seated behind home plate while General Admission ticket holders will find other seating in various spots around the park and are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs and blankets to sit on. To access the facility, take C.R. 150 east off S.R. 19 then follow the lane to the complex. For more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Putting a spotlight on the Indiana University program is aim of the folks from Talking Hoosier Baseball — a podcast devoted to the sport at IU — along with its associated website (iubase.com). In alphabetical order, the THB team features Josh Bennett, Chris Feeny, Carl James and Cassady Palmer with help of student interns. “We say we are a fan site and we have a specific niche that we’re fulfilling,” says James. “When we (started) there was hardly anything. I have to say we’re in a golden age of media at least from an IU student perspective. “You’ve got some really great coverage from the Indiana Daily Student. IUSTV does good stuff. WIUX is now broadcasting games.” Using the tagline “Meet Me At the Bart,” the crew can be found sitting near the home dugout on the third base side at Bart Kauffman Field. The next home games on the 2023 schedule are slated for March 24-26 vs. Ohio State. Tailgating tends to happen on Saturdays. During games, Bennett’s young kids hawk foul balls and homers and have been able to give the spheres back to the players who planted them. “There’s not a bad seat in the house,” says Bennett, who grew up in Monrovia, Ind., where he played baseball. His father — a Bedford, Ind., native — was an adjunct professor at Indiana and the family followed Hoosier sports. His first IU memory was attending games at Sembower Field in the late 1980’s. Mickey Morandini was his counselor at a youth baseball camp staged in John Mellencamp Pavilion when Bennett was 8 or 9. Sembower was replaced in the spring of 2013 by Bart Kauffman Field. “I actually went to Purdue but rooted for IU up there and got kicked out of some places from time to time,” says Bennett. “I love IU sports and baseball especially.” In talking about the origin of the website, he noted that coverage for basketball and football was abundant but not nearly so for the Hoosiers on the diamond. “These kids in baseball and the other Olympic sports are paying to play at this university and represent this school,” says Bennett. “They don’t get their just due as far as we were concerned. “We wanted to branch out and have some other avenues to get some information out there. “We wanted to give them some exposure.” Bennett designed the first version of the site and it has been tweaked by James with his tech background. Day jobs have Bennett as an electronics technician at NWSC Division Crane Navy Base southwest of Bloomington, Feeny as a behavioral health technician at Indiana Center for Recovery in Bloomington, James as a digital media specialist at IU’s Kelley School of Business and Palmer as an epidemiologist for the Missouri Health Department. Feeny spent his early years in Massapequa, N.Y., on Long Island and moved to Brooklyn in his 20’s and is a major New York Mets fan. His brother attended IU so Chris knew about Sembower Field and Bloomington and made it his home in 2014. “I bought season tickets (for IU baseball) and jumped in with two feet pretty early,” says Feeny. “I was used to going to 40 or 50 Met games a year. Those trips took an hour on the subway and going to see the Hoosiers was a snap. “Before I knew anything about it I was in,” says Feeny. “I met a lot of cool people.” Feeny started a Facebook group and Twitter handle early in 2017. The website was created late that year. It was at a tailgate party that the idea of starting a podcast emerged out of a conversation between Feeny, James and Brian Tonsoni. Tonsoni had the crew doing the podcast live the first year. “It was a lot more nerve-wracking,” says Feeny. “We don’t do that any more.” Feeny is the one who gives out weekly awards for hitting, pitching and defense in the form of red belts. “The first year we did this we saw all these belts breaking on the field so the goof was it would be a good prize to win a red belt,” says Feeny. Last year, Big Ten pick ‘ems minus Indiana’s games were added to the mix. There are three B1G series this weekend — Purdue at Michigan State, Penn State at Michigan and Illinois at Nebraska. Palmer was 32-11 as the best picker on the team in 2022. “It does not apply to Basketball Bracketology — ever,” says Palmer. “My brackets always bust every year.” Weekly episodes are now recorded as the baseball schedule and the availability of the THB team dictates. “We’ve been lucky enough to get some player interviews the last few years,” says Bennett. “We’ve also had Bart Kauffman on.” Former IU player Kauffman is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. A preview of upcoming series is a weekly podcast staple. When possible, there is live-blogging during games. Recaps are posted on the site. The team has allowed THB to connect and there are now post-game wrap-ups featuring head coach Jeff Mercer’s comments. “We are blessed with that access,” says Bennett. “They are generous with their time,” says Feeny. “They really are.” A recent postgame allowed 29 minutes with the coach. “You get Jeff Mercer talking about baseball and he’ll just keep going,” says James. “That’s been a positive.” Pro Ball Hoosiers is a Twitter page that tracks Indiana players in baseball, basketball and football. Through a suggestion from those people, interviews with Mercer or players are now posted as separate podcasts. Pro Ball Hoosiers, Jeremy Gray and THB collaborated on an IU baseball alumni draft early during COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Players from all eras were eligible. “I went back to 1884,” says James. “Sixty percent of my picks were before 1950.” Both of James’ parents are from Martinsville, Ind. His father was a catcher for the MHS Artesians and went into the U.S. Navy. Carl moved around as a “Navy brat” and the family ended up in Bloomington when his father retired from the service. James graduated from Bloomington North High School. “I was not an athlete,” says James. “I did play some baseball when I was really young. I’m a pretty small guy and was more of a theater person.” A retail career took him all over. When that ended he wound up back in Bloomington in 2013. “I was able to actually pay attention to sports again,” says James. “The first sporting event I went to was an IU baseball game. I pretty much got hooked.” He met up with the others on the THB team through social media. Along the way he got into Baseball Bracketology. His Facebook niche was speculating IU chances of making the NCAA Tournament. “You want to play teams that win games,” says James who compares D-I squads and their victories and losses. “Particularly NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index (RPI),” says James. “It’s a formula they cooked up specifically for basketball in the early ‘80s. It’s a simple formula. You take all the wins and losses of the team’s opponents (winning percentage) and that makes up 50 percent of it. You take the 25 percent of the opponents’ opponents and 25 percent is that team’s own winning percentage although there is an adjustor for that based on whether the game was played at home, away or neutral. “For baseball it’s like .7 for a home win and 1.3 points for a home win. It’s basically a bonus given to northern teams because they play more road games than southern teams do.” James says northern teams are punished by the fact they can’t consistently scrimmage outside in the winter months. “IU — now having a turf field and being far enough south to have decent weather — does pretty well,” says James. “They can actually schedule a couple of mid-week games in February. This year they’ve been able to play them.” At this writing, the Hoosiers at 11-0 in all 2023 games at Bart Kauffman Field. Both of Palmer’s parents are from Missouri. They moved to Bloomington at the time Indiana was winning an NCAA basketball national championship in 1987 and Cassady was born in Bloomington. Her father got a teaching degree and the family moved to Syracuse, Ind., and she graduated from Wawasee High School then attended IU. “I followed the (baseball) team quite a bit,” says Palmer. “I could watch practices from the top floor of Briscoe (Hall) when they were at Sembower. “Particularly in grad school I started really getting into data analysis,” says Palmer. “I started trying to apply some of the stuff I was learning a baseball data set. Except there aren’t really baseball data sets at the college level — not in the same way as basketball or football. “That means I need to make my own data set, which means I need to keep score. If I want percent of first-pitch strikes I have to know what all the first pitches are.” She began sharing her knowledge in Facebook groups and on Twitter and live-Tweeted at fall ball games and scrimmages. Palmer was quick to point out the sample size. She would give her findings then conclude with something like “we’re only five games in so take this with a big block of salt.” Palmer still tracks IU baseball data while residing in Missouri. “I do the in-game numbers,” says Palmer. “Carl does the across-games numbers.” The THB team has gone to season-opening series at Memphis (2019), Louisiana State (2020), Clemson (2022) and Auburn (2023). “All the Tigers,” says Palmer.
Scott Rolen, who was a standout at Jasper (Ind.) High School and for 17 Major League Baseball seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays, will be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer. July 23 is the big induction day. The man who signed the future Hall of Famer who was selected in the second round of the 1993 MLB First-Year Player Draft is also a Hoosier. Hobart’s Scott Trcka was an area scout with the Phillies when he secured Rolen. “I followed him all summer,” says Trcka, who saw Rolen play multiple times and became friendly with his family. “I did all the leg work. I did all the (research on) make-up and signability.” The popular theory in the scouting world was that Rolen would pursue his hoops option instead of baseball. “Indiana’s a basketball heaven,” says Trcka. “Both of his parents (Ed and Linda) were teachers. He had a scholarship for basketball at (the University of) Georgia. “(Other scouts) didn’t think he would sign. I had a handshake. It was a tough negotiation. It was a long summer. But it got done. “He was not like a $1,000 college senior. He was a high school player and you needed to spend some time on him.” It was a different environment three decades years ago. “Today they’d walk away from a guy like that or drop a ton of money on him,” says Trcka. “Compared to the player he is, I gave him nothing. I gave him fair money for the round and the place. I didn’t over do it. “It was a trust thing.” At Jasper, Rolen was a third baseman, shortstop and pitcher. “He had a fastball he could pump up to 93 (mph),” says Trcka. “He showed his arm strength then and all it did was improve. When he got up to the big leagues he had a rocket. “With his arm and his agility he could’ve played shortstop in the big leagues.” Track notes that average major league runner gets down down the line from the plate to first base in 4.3 seconds. Rolen was clocked in 4.01. “That’s flying — especially for a big man.” says Trcka of player who was 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds in the majors. “He had pretty good instincts on the bases. He’d take that extra bag. “He was a special guy.” Rolen went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2019 and is now Director of Player Development at Indiana University. In a New York Times article by Tyler Kepner dated Jan. 24, 2023, Trcka is credited with Dick Lawlor and Marti Wolever as scouts that recommended Rolen to former Phillies scouting director Mike Arbuckle. Like so many relationships he made in 27-plus years as an MLB scout, Trcka enjoyed the one he made with Rolen’s parents. He still gets Christmas cards from them and still hears from players, families, coaches and other scouts. “It was a great game,” says Trcka. “I loved it. Even though the job did take me away from the family, I couldn’t ask for a job that I enjoyed more.” In various capacities Trcka scouted for the Phillies 1989-2001 and 2013-16, San Diego Padres 2002-05 and New York Mets 2006-12. He covered winter ball in the Dominican Republic from 1998-2001. In 2005, he was assigned four MLB teams in spring training along with 24 minor league teams during the season. In 2007, he spent two weeks covering pro baseball in Japan. “It was a good job,” says Trcka. “I enjoyed my time. I met a lot of great people. If you were to tell me I’d have access to go into major league clubhouses and things like that when I was a kid, I would probably lose my marbles and couldn’t wait to grow up. “I signed a lot of big leaguers. That was the biggest thrill.” Besides Rolen, Trcka also signed the following MLB players as an area supervisor: Steve Parris (1989, fifth round), Gary Bennett (1990, 11th), Mike Grace (1991, 10th), Tony Fiore (1992, 28th), David Doster (1993, 27th), Kevin Sefcik (1993, 33rd), Jason Boyd (1994, eighth) and Kevin Plawecki (2012, first, 35th overall selection). New Haven (Ind.) High School graduate Doster played mostly second base at Indiana State University and in the bigs and Japan. Westfield (Ind.) High School alum Plawecki was a catcher at Purdue University and played his eighth MLB season in 2022. As a crosschecker, Trcka recommended Pat Burrell, Jason Michaels, Jorge Padilla, Brett Myers, Marlon Byrd, Gavin Floyd, Khalil Greene, Tim Stauffer, Colt Morton, Dirk Hayhurst and Aaron Nola. The first time Trcka saw LaTroy Hawkins he was a lanky freshman at Gary (Ind.) West Side High School. “He was a good kid,” says Trcka. “I really liked him. He had a whip for an arm. You knew he was going to be pretty good. “He turned out to be a real gem.” Hawkins went on to pitch 21 seasons in the majors and went in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 2018. Trcka helped fellow scout Bill Bryk conduct tryout camps for the Pittsburgh Pirates in northwest Indiana. It was during the change toward more analytics and less traditional scouting that Trcka was let go by the Phillies. “Everything has changed now,” says Trcka. “Baseball people don’t run the game anymore. “It was once a great game, but it’s far from that anymore. Statistical information doesn’t tell what a real player is about inside.” Not that Trcka ignored the numbers. When scouting college players, he always sought out the press box and found the stat sheet. He wanted to know how many times a batter struck out or walked and how many stolen bases a player had. “Doubles were always big,” says Trcka. “Doubles can show what the future holds for you as far as home run power. “We looked at all that stuff. All scouts did that. Not just me.” What about WAR (Wins Above Replacement)? “I don’t know how to do it and I don’t want to know,” says Trcka. “It was a different time. I know you’ve got to move with the times, but when something’s not broke don’t fix it.” In recent years, Trcka has been focused on his family including grandchildren. When he happened to be watching a game on TV and saw a batter make the last out in one inning and start on second base in extra innings, he was introduced to what commonly is called the “ghost runner.” “What’s going on in this game?,” says Trcka. “They’re doing a fine job of trying to destroy the game. “It’s a sad commentary.” The son of Dick and Joan Trcka, Scott spent his first three years of high school at Hobart and his senior year at Calumet, graduating in 1976. As a Warrior, Trcka played for his father and against future big league slugger Ron Kittle, who was a senior at Gary Wirt High School. Dick Trcka spent 28 years in a variety of coaching roles at Calumet and won more than 200 games as head baseball coach. The field at what is now Calumet New Tech bears his name. Scott Trcka was Director of Player Personnel and Development for the summer collegiate wood bat Northwest Indiana Oilmen in 2019.
Howard Kellman has called more than 6,600 games as a play-by-play broadcaster for the Indianapolis Indians. This week, Kellman stepped away from his longtime duties and travel to St. Petersburg, Fla., to broadcast on the radio for the New York Yankees Friday, Sept. 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Kellman, 70, saw Tampa Bay score a combined eight runs in the seventh and eight innings in a 9-0 victory. Christian Bethancourt socked a two-run home run in the seventh. The Panamanian was the Indianapolis team MVP in 2021. “It was a wonderful experience,” said Kellman while waiting for his flight from Tampa back to Indianapolis. “Working with (color commentator) Suzyn Waldman and producer Jack Maldonado were terrific. “I’ve know the Yankee people for a long time,” said Kellman, an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer. “When there was this word that John Sterling might miss games I reached out to the Yankees and they told me to contact (general manager) Chris Oliviero at WFAN. I sent a CD of my work.” What is the difference between broadcasting Triple-A versus Major League Baseball? “Well, you’ve got the crowd and bigger ballparks,” said Kellman. “It was fun. “Remember, I grew up as a Yankee fan. This was a great thrill.” Kellman, professional speaker, award-winning sportscaster and author, hails from the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, N.Y., and graduated from Brooklyn College. He wound up in Indianapolis, called his first Indians game in 1974 and has been the team’s voice for all but two seasons since (1975 and 1980). It was not Kellman’s first time on the call for a New York team. He broadcast three Mets games in 2014. He filled in for three Chicago White Sox games in 1984. As he does for every contest, Kellman was meticulous in his preparation for the Yankees vs. Rays. “In this day and age it’s a lot easier with the Internet,” said Kellman. “You have everything available to you. I follow the Yankees close and I’m still a Yankees fan. “I got help from the Tampa Bay people from reading things online and also talking to their broadcasters (including Neil Solondz, Dewayne Staats and Andy Freed).” Stats worked in Oklahoma City and Freed in Pawtucket when those teams shared a league with Indianapolis. Kellman missed two home games with the Indians while in Florida. The team has not sent a broadcaster on the road in 2022. He was expected back behind the mic tonight (Sept. 3) as the Indians play at Louisville. Greg Rakestraw, Cheyne Reiter and Jack McMullen handled the game during Kellman’s absence.
Left-handed pitcher Zack Thompson, who was a star at Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and the University of Kentucky, made his Major League Baseball debut when he earned a four-inning save for the St. Louis Cardinals June 3 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Thompson, 24, has made 10 starts for the Triple-A Memphis (Tenn.) Redbirds in 2022 and is 2-2 with a 4.67 earned run average. Zach McKinstry (Fort Wayne North Side/Central Michigan) has split his time between the minors and the big-league Los Angeles Dodgers and the lefty-swinging infielder is currently on the active roster with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. He made his big league debut in 2020. McKinstry, 27, is hitting .335 with three home runs and 20 runs batted in over 164 MiLB at-bats and is 1-for-5 with LA — the hit being a June 3 two-run home run off New York Mets right-hander Chris Bassitt. Right-hander Ryan Pepiot (Westfield/Butler) had made his MLB debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 11. He is back with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. Pepiot, 24, is 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA in nine appearances for OKC and 0-0 with a 3.18 ERA in three games (11 1/3 innings) in the big leagues. Many other players are also on active rosters in the minors. Right-hander Luke Albright (Fishers/Kent State) is with the High-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks). Albright, 22, is 3-2 with a 3.64 ERA in 10 starts. Third baseman Cole Barr (Yorktown/Indiana University) plays for the High-A Everett (Wash.) AquaSox (Seattle Mariners). Barr, 24, is hitting .172 with three homers and 17 RBIs. Right-hander Gabe Bierman (Jeffersonville/Indiana) toes the rubber for the Low-A Jupiter (Fla.) Hammerheads (Miami Marlins). Bierman, 22, is 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts). Right-hander Garrett Burhenn (Lawrence North/Ohio State) takes the bump for the Low-A Lakeland (Fla.) Flying Tigers (Detroit Tigers). Burhenn, 22, is 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts. Lefty-swinging outfielder Zach Britton (Batesville/Louisville) is with the High-A Vancouver (B.C.) Canadians (Toronto Blue Jays). Britton, 23, is hitting .206 with four homers and 11 RBIs. Right-hander Zack Brown (Seymour/Kentucky) is one step from the majors with the Triple-A Nashville (Tenn.) Sounds (Milwaukee Brewers). Brown, 27, is 1-0 with two saves and a 3.54 ERA in 17 relief appearances. Outfielder Drew Campbell (Jeffersonville/Louisville) swings from the left side for the High-A Rome Braves (Atlanta Braves). Campbell, 24, is hitting .266 with one homer and 22 RBIs. Left-hander Jacob Cantleberry (Center Grove/Missouri/San Jacinto) is with the High-A Great Lakes Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers) in Midland, Mich. Cantleberry, 24, is 2-1 with one save and a 6.10 ERA in 13 games out of the bullpen.
Right-hander Adysin Coffey (Delta/Wabash Valley) is on the Development List as a reliever with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox).
Coffey, 23, is 2-2 with two saves a 7.30 ERA in 13 games. Lefty-swinging outfielder Craig Dedelow (Munster/Indiana) takes his cuts for the Double-A Birmingham (Ala.) Barons (Chicago White Sox). Dedelow, 27, is hitting .226 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs. Lefty-swinging second baseman Clay Dungan (Yorktown/Indiana State) is with Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers (Kansas City Royals). Dungan, 26, is hitting .204 with three homers and 18 RBIs. Outfielder Elijah Dunham (Evansville Reitz/Indiana) bats lefty for the Double-A Somerset Patriots (New York Yankees) in Bridgewater, N.J. Dunham, 24, is hitting .346 with seven homers and 27 RBIs. Right-hander Parker Dunshee (Zionsville/Wake Forest) is spinning pitches for the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators (Oakland Athletics). Dunshee, 27, is 1-5 with a 7.24 ERA in 12 games (10 starts).
Righty-swinging outfielder Matt Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern/Indiana) is with Double-A Altoona (Pa.) Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates).
Gorski, 24, is hitting .290 with 19 homers and 46 RBIs. Left-hander Timmy Herrin (Terre Haute South Vigo/Indiana) takes the mound for the Triple-A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers (Cleveland Guardians). Herrin, 25, is 0-2 with one save and a 4.00 ERA in 17 relief appearances. Right-hander Bryan Hoeing (Batesville/Louisville) challenges hitters for the Triple-A Jacksonville (Fla.) Jumbo Shrimp (Miami Marlins). Hoeing, 25, is 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts. Lefty-swinging outfielder Jacob Hurtubise (Zionsville/Army) is with the Double-A Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts (Cincinnati Reds). Hurtubise, 24, is hitting .299 with no homers and five RBIs. He has spent some time on the IL. Right-hander Drey Jameson (Greenfield-Central/Ball State) fires it for the Triple-A Reno (Nev.) Aces (Arizona Diamondbacks). Jameson, 24, is 3-5 with a 5.80 ERA in 12 games (11 starts). Catcher Hayden Jones (Carroll/Mississippi State/Illinois State) is also a lefty swinger and plays for the Low-A Daytona (Fla.) Tortugas (Cincinnati Reds). Jones, 22, is hitting .210 with one homer and eight RBIs. Righty-swinging catcher Scott Kapers (Mount Carmel, Ill./Valparaiso) is with the High-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads (Texas Rangers). Kapers, 25, is hitting .257 with five homers and 16 RBIs. Lefty-swinging first baseman Niko Kavadas (Penn/Notre Dame) competes for the Low-A Salem (Va.) Red Sox (Boston Red Sox). Kavadas, 23, is hitting .253 with seven homers and 31 RBIs. Right-hander Chayce McDermott (Pendleton Heights/Ball State) journeys around the circuit with the High-A Asheville (N.C.) Tourists (Houston Astros). McDermott, 23, is 5-1 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 games (six starts). First baseman Jacson McGowan (Brownsburg/Purdue) plies his trade with the Double-A Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays). McGowan, 24, is hitting .276 with one homer and two RBIs. He has been on the IL in 2022. Right-hander Zach Messinger (Castle/Virginia) hurls for the Low-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons (New York Yankees). Messinger, 22, is 0-4 with two saves and a 4.85 ERA in 18 games (15 in relief). Right-hander Evan Miller (LaPorte/Purdue Fort Wayne) works mostly out of the bullpen for the Triple-A El Paso (Texas) Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres). Miller, 27, is 1-2 with two saves and a 6.59 ERA in 21 games (19 in relief). Lefty-swinging shortstop Colson Montgomery (Southridge) is with the Low-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox). Montgomery, 20, is hitting .295 with four homers and 23 RBIs. Righty-swinging infielder Nick Podkul (Andrean/Notre Dame) was with the Buffalo (N.Y.) Bisons (Toronto Blue Jays). Podkul, 25, is hitting .178 with two homers and nine RBIs. Left-hander Triston Polley (Brownsburg/Indiana State) has been a reliever for the High-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads (Texas Rangers). Polley, 25, is 6-2 with one save and a 5.67 ERA in 16 games (all out of the bullpen). Outfielder Grant Richardson (Fishers/Indiana) bats lefty for the Low-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons (New York Yankees). Richardson, 22, is hitting .207 with two homers and 16 RBIs. Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank (Heritage/Indiana) is a reliever for the High-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks). Saalfrank, 24, is 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA in 17 bullpen games. Andy Samuelson (LaPorte/Wabash Valley) pitched for the Rookie-level Braves (Atlanta Braves) until retiring June 11. Samuelson, 23, pitched 1/3 of an inning in 2022. Right-hander Caleb Sampen (Brownsburg/Wright State) pours it in for the Double-A Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays). Sampen, 25, is 1-12 with a 5.02 ERA in nine appearances (five starts). He has been on the IL in 2022. Right-hander Reid Schaller (Lebanon/Vanderbilt) is part of the bullpen for the Double-A Harrisburg (Pa.) Senators (Washington Nationals). Schaller, 25, is 2-0 with one save and a 2.89 ERA in 14 bullpen contests. Lefty-swinging outfielder Nick Schnell (Roncalli) is back on the field after a long injury-list stint. He plays for the Low-A Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs (Tampa Bay Rays). Schnell, 22, was activated May 31 and is hitting .333 with no homers and six RBIs. The “Diamonds in the Rough” podcast features Schnell and Cole Wilcox. Left-hander Garrett Schoenle (Fort Wayne Northrop/Cincinnati) mostly comes out of the bullpen for the High-A Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash (Chicago White Sox). Schoenle, 23, is 3-1 with one save and a 1.39 ERA in 14 games (13 in relief). Left-hander Avery Short (Southport) has been starting for the High-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks). Short, 21, is 0-4 with a 4.58 ERA in nine starts. Left-hander Tommy Sommer (Carmel/Indiana) is a starter for the Low-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox). Sommer, 23, is 2-4 with a 3.13 ERA in 11 starts. Right-hander Skylar Szynski (Penn) was drafted in 2016 and has missed much time because of injury. He is Low-A Stockton (Calif.) Ports (Oakland Athletics). Szynski, 24, is 1-1 with a 12.66 ERA in 15 bullpen games. Right-hander Nolan Watson (Lawrence North) is mostly a reliever for the Double-A San Antonio Missions (San Diego Padres). Watson, 25, is 1-2 with a 7.76 ERA in 14 appearances (12 in relief). Among those on the 7-day injury list are right-hander Sam Bachman (Hamilton Southeastern/Miami of Ohio) with the Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas (Los Angeles Angels) in Madison, Ala., righty-swinging third baseman Kody Hoese (Griffith/Tulane) with the Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers (Los Angeles Dodgers), right-hander Michael McAvene (Roncalli/Louisville) with the High-A South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs) and righty-swinging third baseman Riley Tirotta (Mishawaka Marian/Dayton) with the High-A Vancouver (B.C.) Canadians (Toronto Blue Jays). Bachman, 22, is 0-0 with a 1.98 ERA in four starts. Hoese, 24, is hitting .284 with three homers and 21 RBIs. McAvene, 24, is 0-0 with a 40.50 ERA in one relief appearance. Tirotta, 23, is hitting .209 with three homers and 20 RBIs. Right-hander Tanner Andrews (Tippecanoe Valley/Purdue) with the Triple-A Sacramento (Calif.) River Cats (San Francisco Giants), right-hander Pauly Milto (Roncalli/Indiana) with the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash (Chicago White Sox) and righty-swinging third baseman Hunter Owen (Evansville Mater Dei/Indiana State) with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh Pirates) are on the 60-day IL. Andrews, 26, is 0-0 with an 11.12 ERA in four relief games. Milto, 25, is 0-0 with a 3.07 ERA in nine games (eight in relief). Owen, 28, is hitting .256 with no homers and five RBIs. He made his MLB debut in 2021.
Indiana native Gil Hodges has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and he may be getting another posthumous honor. Hodges was born in Princeton in 1924 and grew in Petersburg in southern Indiana. He attended Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Bronze Star recipient as a part of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. He was involved in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. He was a slugging first baseman for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers before managing the “Miracle Mets” to the World Series title in 1969 and dying of a heart attack in 1972. In his 35 looks on a Hall of Fame ballot, Hodges obtained the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the Golden Days Period committee for enshrinement in Cooperstown. The induction ceremony is slated for July 24. Hodges was in the inaugural class of Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in 1979. A water-crossing structure in Columbus, Ind., might be among his next recognition. A resolution passed through both chambers of the Indiana House to ask the Indiana Department of Transportation to ponder renaming the passageway on I-69 over the East Fork of the White River the “Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.” The bridge section is in Columbus. The resolution was co-sponsored by State Representatives Cindy Ledbetter (R-Newburgh) and Shane Lindauer (R-Jasper). “Resolutions don’t need to be signed by the governor,” says Adam Aasen, press secretary for Indiana House Republicans. “The bridge isn’t automatically renamed yet, although INDOT often takes these resolutions into strong consideration.” The famed son of Indiana already has several places bearing his name: • A bridge spanning the East Fork of the White River in northern Pike County on S.R. 57 is named for Hodges. • Princeton Community High School plays on Gil Hodges Field. • The diamond at Saint Joseph’s College, which closed in 2017, is also named for Hodges. • A large mural of Hodges stands at the corner of S.R. 57 and S.R. 61 in Petersburg. • There already is a Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and Gil Hodges Way in New York. • Randy’s Americana Cafe’ in Petersburg has a huge Hodges memorabilia display. A baseball-style lunch is planned in Gil’s honor on April, which would have been his 98th birthday. • Hodges wore 14. Both the Mets and Dodgers have retired that number.
Lloyd McClendon first burst onto the baseball consciousness of America 50 years ago and he’s been involved in pro ball for four decades. At 63, McClendon says he would like another shot as a manager or bench coach at the big league level. “Hopefully an opportunity comes my way one more time,” says McClendon, who lives in Valparaiso, Ind. “I’m at a point in my career where I’ve paid my dues and earned the opportunity to do it again. “I’m enjoying life.” McClendon became known as “Legendary Lloyd” when he smacked five home runs in five swings at the 1971 Little League World Series. He played in Willamsport, Pa., on the first LLWS team comprised completely of black players. “Over five or 10 years, I’ve really started to realize what a tremendous impact we had on this country,” says McClendon. “I’ve come to realize you did do something kind of special.” Speaking to IndiandRBI on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 17, 2022), McClendon talked about the civil rights icon. “Dr. King was not only a tremendous leader, motivator and speaker, but he lived his life in such a manor that it’s hard not to admire,” says McClendon, who was also a guest of MLB Network Monday. “The moment that we stop giving and caring for others is the moment we start to die. “It just lets you know what your life should be all about.” McClendon also recalls the famous quote by Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” McClendon grew up in Gary, Ind. — a town that has also produced big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins and Wallace Johnson — and played football, basketball and baseball at Roosevelt High School, graduating in 1977 and playing three seasons at Valparaiso University. His head coaches were Walt Taliaferro (football), Ron Heflin (basketball) and Benny Dorsey (Roosevelt baseball) and Emory Bauer (Valpo baseball). “These guys were so influential in my life,” says McClendon. “It’s hard to imagine where I’d be with without them.” From Taliaferro, McClendon learned about responsibility and being a teammate. A passion for competition was imparted by Heflin. Dorsey showed how to win and how to lose, humility, respect and compassion. “(Bauer) took me over the top and taught me about being a professional and how to go about my business,” says McClendon, who hit .330 with 18 homers, 73 runs batted in and twice received all-conference honors for the Crusaders before being selected in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets. The righty-swinging catcher, outfielder and first baseman made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1987. He hit a combined .244 with 35 homers and 154 RBIs for the Reds (1987-88), Chicago Cubs (1989-90) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1990-94). McClendon, who is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Valparaiso University Athletics Hall of Fame and due to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame (May 13-14, 2022 in Evansville), was manager of the Pirates (2001-05) and Seattle Mariners (2014-15 and served as the interim manager for the Detroit Tigers (2020). A Detroit player won the American League batting title in four of McClendon’s seven seasons as the team’s hitting coach — Magglio Ordonez (2007) and Miguel Cabrera (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015). McClendon marvels at the .363 posted by Ordonez. “This guy was just phenomenal,” says McClendon. “He did not have one infield hit. Running the bases was not his forte.’” What did McClendon do to help Cabrera? “I just made sure they had a cab to get the ball park,” says McClendon. “The coach is only as good as the talent he has not he field. “I did try to instill was good work ethic and knowing how to grind things out.” Cabrera became the majors’ first Triple Crown winner (leader in average, homers, RBIs) since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 when he hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs in 2012. The next season, Miggy went .348/44/137 — and was nine homers and one RBI of shy of a second straight Triple Crown (Baltimore’s Chris Davis bashed 53 homers and knocked in 138). As a hitter himself and a hitting coach, McClendon saw the worth in studying opposing pitchers. “Do your homework,” says McClendon. “Knowledge is power. I was a grinder. I wanted to know my opponents and what they were going to do in big situations. I hit to all fields. If (the pitcher) made a mistake I hit it out of the ball park. “Cabrera has a memory like an elephant. He would just keep it simple. He had that consistency and ability to grind it out. He wasn’t going to get much. He saw so few pitches (where he could do damage) per game and was tremendous.” What McClendon enjoys most about managing in the leadership factor. That bug first bit him as a 9-year-old Little Leaguer. “I enjoy working with young men and seeing talent come to life,” says McClendon, who also manager the Triple-A Toledo Mudhens in the Tigers system in 2016 and 2017. “Adrenaline flows at the head of the ship and moving through tough waters at times. It was a lot of fun.” If McClendon got the call to manage again who would he call to be on his staff? He declines to name specific names. “Baseball is so dynamic especially with analytics,” says McClendon. “You have to make sure you have the right people in place.” In 2021, the San Francisco Giants won 107 regular-season games with an on-field coaching staff of 14 led by manager Gabe Kapler. “It’s nice to have that many people and that type of budget,” says McClendon. “It’s hard to argue with success. “They did something right.” For the past decade, McClendon has been teaching hitting to youngsters — most age 12 to 18. He works at Triple Crown Valparaiso Baseball & Softball Training Center as does son Bo, who instructs the younger ages. Bo McClendon, 34, played at Merrillville High School, where he set stolen base records, and Valparaiso U., as well as in the Tigers organization. Married for 40 years to Ingrid (the couple met at Valpo U.), they also have a daughter — Schenell — living with her husband and their granddaughter — Bryn (2 1/2) — near Washington D.C. Say McClendon of the little one, “She’s got Grandpa wrapped around her finger.”
Duncan Hewitt has always played baseball with emotion. As the Indianapolis native has matured he has learned how to harness that passion and make it work for him. Hewitt, a 2016 graduate of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, credits Wildcats head coach Richard Winzenread for helping him channel his emotion on the diamond. “I learned how to control my competitive edge playing for him,” says Hewitt. “I’m an emotional guy. He taught me how to embrace (my emotions). “Don’t run from it. Find a way to turn that into something positive.” Hewitt continued to do that at Butler University in Indianapolis. He played for the Bulldogs 2017-21, taking a medical redshirt year when he tore his meniscus 15 games into the 2019 season. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he still has a year of eligibility. “I’m certainly more level-headed and more calm, cool and collected than I have been at any time in my career,” says Hewitt, a team captain the past two seasons after having that unofficial designation at the end of his prep days. Playing for Butler head coach Dave Schrage, Hewitt has appeared in 123 games (96 starts) with 675 putouts, 58 assists and just four errors and a .995 fielding percentage. Though he played in just 15 games, Hewitt’s best offensive season was 2019 when the righty swinger hit .333 (15-of-45) with two home runs, 18 runs batted in and a .967 (. 434 on-base percentage plus .533 slugging average). “It’s been a lot of fun,” says Hewitt of the Butler experience and playing for Schrage. “I got very, very lucky. “He’s been around the game so long. I know he’s always got my back. I know he cares for me and my teammates very deeply.” The connection between Hewitt and Winzenread continues as they still talk on a weekly basis and enjoys getting together with the coach and former LN teammate Nolan Watson (who pitches in the Kansas City Royals system) to talk baseball. Hewitt, who turned 23 on May 17, is with the Coco Crisp-managed Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio) of the new MLB Draft League this summer. He and his teammates were going to travel to Pittsburgh to work out for the Pirates at PNC Park today (June 7) and then play a three-game series at the West Virginia Black Bears and three-game set at the Frederick (Md.) Keys. “It’s a really, really cool idea,” says Hewitt of the MLB Draft League, an exposure circuit that sprung up out of the overhauling of Minor League and college summer league baseball with the MLB First-Year Player Draft being pared down and moved to July (the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft is scheduled for July 11-13). “I’m surprised its taking this long for something like this to come to fruition. “It’s really giving guys a chance to come out and play and get a couple of last looks (for professional teams) and I’m finding it’s more for guys who haven’t gotten any looks at all. They’re proving they can play with anybody in the country. It’s cool to some of these come out with a chip on their shoulder and show what they can do.” The MLB Draft League gives players a taste of pro baseball. They learn what it’s like to play everyday with most games beginning at 7 p.m. They see what its like to prepare for that and get the proper rest so they can perform at their best. A typical day at the park is 1 to 10 p.m. “There are nuance things you can only gain through experience,” says Hewitt. Three other Indiana players — Sam Crail (Sheridan High School and Saint Leo University), Hayden Jones (Fort Wayne Carroll High School and Illinois State University) and Garrett Schoenle (Fort Wayne Northrop High School and University of Cincinnati) — are on the Mahoning Valley roster and there are others in the league. What Hewitt appreciates most about summer baseball is the blending of players. “We’re coming from extremely different lifestyles,” says Hewitt. “But we’re all chasing the exact same thing.” As a catcher, Hewitt has come to see the game like a coach or manager. “(Catcher) is a position that takes good leadership and understanding personalities — when to chew someone out and when to put a hand on someone’s shoulder,” says Hewitt. “It’s a big, big reason I pride myself on making decisions in moments like that.” Growing up in Lawrence Township, Hewitt got his first taste of league baseball through Oaklandon Youth Organization. He began playing for various travel teams around 9 including the Indiana Bulls in high school. “I think I did it right,” says Hewitt. “My dad (Mike Hewitt) kept me away from the daddy ball experience and the crazy parents. “I wore a lot of jerseys, but I always say I played for the Bulls.” Dan Held was Hewitt’s coach with that travel organization. “He was the first coach I had that was a professional himself,” says Hewitt of Held, who played at the Triple-A level in the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets organizations and is now an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Indiana University. “To be on his team you had to be at a certain skill level and invited to play,” says Hewitt. “He introduced me to professionalism on the field. “It was the way you carried yourself and how you went about your business.” Duncan’s mother is Heather Hewitt and his sister is Presley Hewitt (18). The Lawrence North graduae is heading to the University of Cincinnati as a sophomore after starting at Ball State University.
Like many Indiana boys, Eric Riggs’ athletic focus growing up in Brownsburg, Ind., was basketball.
His father, David Riggs, was on the 1962 Evansville Bosse state championship team and earned a letter on the hardwood at the University of Evansville in 1966-67. The Purple Aces were NCAA Division II national champions in 1963-64 and 1964-65.
Playing Knights head coach Kirk Speraw, Riggs started in 22 of 30 games and averaged 11.4 points and 3.1 assists per game as a freshman in 1995-96. UMass and Marcus Camby knocked UCF out of the 1996 NCAA tournament.
Then Riggs turned his attention back to the diamond.
The switch-hitting infielder had played baseball at Brownsburg for head coach Wayne Johnson and assistants Craig Moore and Mick Thornton. Big league pitcher Jeff Fassero came in to help the Bulldogs during the off-season.
“(Johnson) was a players’ coach,” says Riggs. “We were pretty stacked in our senior class. We had a lot of guys play at the next level (including Brian Stayte, Mark Voll and Joel Martin).”
Junior Quinn Moore, youngest son of Craig, was the mound ace in 1995 and went on to play at the University of South Alabama.
During a basketball recruiting trip to the school near Orlando in the spring of 1995, Riggs met with UCF baseball coach Jay Bergman near the end of the program’s 29-game win streak.
“He was very positive,” says Riggs of Bergman. “Coach Moore had been in Coach Bergman’s ear to let me walk on.
“(Craig Moore) was very instrumental in my baseball career. I just kind of played it. Basketball was my first sport.”
“I had never played year-round baseball. I wanted to find out what that was like. I ended up getting a partial baseball scholarship.”
Before he knew it, Riggs was batting ninth and starting at second base at the NCAA D-I level.
From 1996-98, Riggs amassed a career average of .362 with 49 doubles and a .573 slugging percentage. As an all-Atlantic Sun Conference first-team shortstop in 1998, he hit .394 with 26 doubles, 154 total bases and 64 runs scored.
In the winter of 2000-01, Riggs played a few months in Queensland, Australia, before returning to the U.S. and the Dodgers. He was with that organization for eight years (1998-2004, 2006), getting as far as Triple-A in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
In three seasons, his roommate was David Ross (who went on to be a 14-year big league catcher and is now manager of the Chicago Cubs).
“He’s a natural leader,” says Riggs of Ross. “Being a catcher that was his state of mind. He managed the pitching staff well.
“He was just a solid baseball player. Once he got his chance (in the majors), he showed them what he could do as a catcher and hit a little bit.”
Riggs also played Double-A ball for the Houston Astros in 2005 and was briefly with the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers at the beginning of 2007 before finishing up his pro career that year in Double-A with the Miami Marlins.
In 10 seasons at all levels, Riggs played in 1,050 games (with 500 appearances at shortstop, 235 at second base and 216 at third base) and hit .264 with 78 homers, 217 doubles, 459 RBIs and slugging percentage of .406.
Steve Farley, then the Butler University head coach, brought Riggs on as a part-time volunteer coach in the spring of 2008.
“Steve gave me a chance to see what coaching at that level was like,” says Riggs. “He was a very, very smart baseball man. He was great to learn from and watch work.
“I had a blast.”
Riggs also had the opportunity to pick the baseball brain of Butler assistant Matt Tyner, who had played the University of Miami (Fla.) for Ron Fraser and in the Baltimore Orioles system. After Butler, Tyner was head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., a University of Richmond (Va.) assistant and head coach at Towson (Md.) State University.
With a change in his full-time job in 2009, Riggs changed his focus to coaching his sons. Eric and wife Trisha have four sons. Bryce (16) is a sophomore at Noblesville (Ind.) High School. Twins Blake (13) and Brooks (13) are seventh graders at Noblesville West Middle School. Beckett (8) is a third grader at Noble Crossing Elementary School.
The three oldest Riggs boys have had their father as a coach with the Indiana Bulls. Eric was an assistant with Bulls teams Bryce played on from age 8 to eighth grade and he is now head coach of the 13U White team as well as a board of directors member. The 12-player roster (pitcher-only players become a thing in the high school years) includes Blake and Brooks.
The team played in two fall tournaments and plans to ramp up preparation for the 2021 season of 11 tournaments with 50 or more games in January. His assistants include Brandon Inge, J.J. Beard and Kyle Smith. Former MLB third baseman/catcher Inge (Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates) go back to their Cape Cod Baseball League days in college with 1997 Bourne Braves.
Kevin O’Sullivan (who went on to coach the 2017 national championship team at the University of Florida) was the Bourne head coach. The ace of the pitching staff was left-hander Mark Mulder, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 MLB Draft and went on to win 103 games in nine Major League Baseball seasons with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals.
When he can, Eric also helps coach the Noblesville Millers travel team that includes Beckett.
“I’m using what I’ve learned from players and coaches I’ve been around,” says Riggs. “I want to pass that to kids to make them better people and baseball players.”
Riggs, 44, is also a sales pro for BSN Sports with college and high school clients. He says uniform trends at the high school level tend to revolve around what catches a coach’s eye on the college scene. If they like the Vanderbilt look, they may wish to replicate in their school colors.
With the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, players at Morris Baseball in northwest Indiana can finally practice again and founder/president Bobby Morris couldn’t be happier.
“It’s as much fun as I’ve had on a baseball field in ages,” says Morris of a workout earlier this week. “The big reason is quarantine and the chaos going on around us.
“I feel a sense of gratitude. Our players feel a sense of gratitude — more so than in January or February.”
Morris says he hopes his organization with around 200 clients, including Chiefs travel teams, will help bring a sense of community and unity as the 2020 season moves forward.
“if we can spread a little positivity and a little gratitude, I’m all for it,” says Morris, who started his training business in 2011 and merged five years ago with the Hammond Chiefs, which mark their 30th season this year.
The first clients Morris had were 9-year-olds.
“Those kids are just now graduating and going on to play college baseball,” says Morris.
“It’s mutually a good fit together,” says Morris. “Dave has been pleasure to work with. We got some Chiefs coaches when we merged. They’ve been great mentors with our kids.”
The Morris Baseball mission statement: To recruit excellent talent and provide them with disciplined, well-organized, focused practices with superior instruction and place them in highly competitive opportunities to achieve principle-based success.
“If we produce great players, everything will take care of itself,” says Morris. “We make sure we have great practice facilities and plenty of practice time.
“We try to produce well-rounded baseball players. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”
Until recently, Morris Baseball and the Chiefs were housed at Franciscan Physician Network Schererville Family Health Center (formerly Omni Health & Fitness).
The organization just moved to a training facility at 1075 Breuckman Drive in Crown Point. Morris says the name for the new place will be revealed soon.
The new centrally-located home includes plenty of workout space plus classrooms, player’s lounge, kitchen and coach’s offices.
“For our kids it will be great,” says Morris. “We have internet at player desks. They can hang out there all day if they want.
“We prefer that they study and take batting practice.”
“It’s an extremely gifted group,” says Morris of the 2021 team. “(Pettit and Sutkowski) are two phenomenal sports minds.”
Assistants for Morris with the 2022 Chiefs are Morris Baseball general manager Mike Small plus Tim Horneman.
Bobby’s youngest son, Gavin (10), plays for the 9U Chiefs. Bobby also helps coach the 8U team.
Nick Amatulli has more than 40 years of coaching experience and helps with both of Trevor Howard’s squads.
Some other Chiefs coaches are John Adams, Tom Blair, Brad Fedak, Brian Fernandez, Trent Howard, Dale Meyer, Kevin Peller, Brad Rohde, Kenny Siegal and Eric Spain.
“We don’t differentiate ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team,” says Morris. “It’s more geared toward the name of the coach. We don’t want the potential for the stigma there. It also incentivizes our coaches to play the game hard and represent themselves well.
“We want Chiefs teams to play hard and be smart players. Any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”
Three Chiefs alums are currently playing pro baseball — third baseman Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays) and left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) in the majors and second baseman Nick Podkul (Toronto Blue Jays) in the minors.
“Bob is an extremely decent man,” says Morris of Shinkan. “He has such a genuine, caring nature.”
Shinkan can also be strict and he expects his players to be disciplined.
“I had a great experience there with Bob,” says Morris.
After high school, lefty-swinging infielder Morris spent three seasons at the University of Iowa playing for long-time Hawkeyes head coach Duane Banks.
“Duane was just a smart baseball guy,” says Morris. “At Iowa, they really believed in self starters. They threw you out there and expected you to compete for a position.
“That culture helped me a lot in professional baseball.”
Morris was selected as a third baseman in the ninth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs and played nine minor league seasons (1993-2001), logging 636 games and hitting .290 with 36 home runs and 326 RBIs. He reached Double-A in the Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds systems. By hitting .354 with seven homers and 64 RBIs, he was chosen as MVP of the 1994 Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs of the Low Class-A Midwest League. That team was managed by Steve Roadcap.
While Trembley never played pro baseball, he managed (Orioles) and coached (Houston Astros) in the big leagues.
“Dave had a great habit for excellence,” says Morris, who won a High Class-A Florida State League championship with Trembley on the 1995 Daytona Cubs. “He expected a lot out of himself and a lot out of us and how we carried ourselves.”
Morris, who turns 48 in November, grew watching Piersall and Harry Caray call Chicago White Sox games on TV. When he learned Morris was from Chicagoland, Piersall became close to Morris as a minor league hitting/outfield coach.
“Jimmy took on a second grandfather role for me,” says Morris.
It was in the Cubs organization that Morris encountered Alomar.
“He’s as smart a baseball person as I’ve ever met,” says Morris. “He’s an absolute genius.”
Tanner was Morris’ first full-season hitting instructor and the inventor of Tanner Tees — a product used by Bobby and brother Hal Morris (a left-handed first baseman/outfielder who played 14 seasons in the big leagues).
“Joe was a was a renaissance man for baseball,” says Bobby Morris. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great influences.”
His earliest diamond influences came from brother Hal.
Hal is seven years older than Bobby.
“We were constantly competing with one another,” says Bobby. “I was challenged a lot. We were always very close. As I matured and got into high school, Hal brought back stuff from his (college and pro) coaches and we worked on it.
“That helped in fine-tuning my ability to hit at an early age.”
As youngsters, the brothers spent hours taking batting practice with father Bill pitching and mother Margaret chasing baseballs.
Bill Morris was a four-year baseball letterman Davidson (N.C.) College, went to medical school, did his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, entered the U.S. Army and was at Fort Rucker in Alabama when daughter Beth (who went on to be a state swim champion at Munster High) and son Hal (who shined in baseball for the Mustangs) were born.
The family later came to northwest Indiana, where Bill was a pediatrician working at the Hammond Clinic, St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond and Community Hospital in Munster. He died at 82 in 2017.
“He taught us how to compete and how to be gentlemen,” says Bobby Morris of his father. “He was a class southern gentleman.
“My mom is still with us. She has probably shagged as many baseballs in her life as any big league pitcher.”
Bobby and Gloria Morris have three children. Besides Gavin, there’s recent Arizona State University graduate Gina (22) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis student John (19). Gloria Morris is a Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate.
“We’re Region rats,” says Bobby Morris. “I love northwest Indiana.”