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Indianapolis native McClain helped change athletic training in baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ron McClain was on the forefront of change in athletic training for baseball. The Indianapolis native worked with some of the best players of all-time in a career that went from 1973-2004. He plied his trade with the Indianapolis Indians, Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos. He was the National League trainer for the All-Star Game in 1982 (Montreal), 1989 (Anaheim) and 1997 (Cleveland).

A National Athletic Trainers Association member beginning with his college days, McClain helped found the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.

McClain’s accomplishments will be recognized Friday, Jan. 18 at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and awards dinner. It will be held during the IHSBCA State Clinic at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis. Contributor McClain will be inducted along with player Fred “Cy” Williams, coach Pat O’Neil, contributor Bob Schellinger and player Scott Rolen.

McClain grew up on the south side of Indianapolis near the Silver Hills Riding Stables and took an early appreciation of horses. He was also into sports of all kinds. He played varsity football and was a reserve for basketball and baseball at Warren Central High School, where he graduated in 1968.

Combining an interest in athletics and medicine, McClain studied physical education and training at Indiana University and graduated in 1975.

While he was still in college, he was driving a truck as a summer job in 1973 when he learned of the Indians’ need for a trainer and served a few months as a volunteer then turned to IU for the fall semester.

McClain impressed enough that he was invited to serve with the parent Reds in spring training and the Indians during the season in 1974 before again returning to IU in the fall.

From 1975-79, McClain trained for the Reds in spring training and Indians during the season then returned to Cincinnati each September to assist head trainer Larry Starr.

“That was quite a thrill,” says McClain. “It was the Big Red Machine era and I was a fan.”

Johnny Bench and Pete Rose were among his favorite players.

“I really came to admire Joe Morgan,” says McClain.

In his first season in Indianapolis, the team featured Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster and Dan Driessen. Ray Knight came along the next year.

McClain and the elder Griffey shared a birthday (April 10) and were fast friends.

“He was a real genuine guy,” says McClain. “He was just a good guy and a family man.”

Images of Ken Griffey Sr. instructing his tiny son — Ken Griffey Jr. —  are still etched on McClain’s memory.

He also recalls Griffey Sr. and Foster taking him out for ice cream after games.

“It’s hard to find an ice cream shop open at 11 p.m.,” says McClain.

“The best person as a superstar I ever met was Tom Seaver,” says McClain.

Sparky Anderson was the manager for McClain’s first five years he was associated with Cincinnati. John McNamara was Reds skipper in 1979.

Starr and McClain brought strength training into baseball with the addition of Nautilus equipment in 1975.

Players who had gotten where they were within such training were hesitant at first.

McClain says the Reds did not stretch before games in 1974. They did some stretching during spring training then began throwing the baseball.

In 1976, the training staff added long distance running and modified sprints to the spring regimen.

“To a baseball player, long distance means two times around the field (about a half mile),” says McClain. “Everything is so slow to move in baseball. Managers are older ex-players. This is how I did it. Players wanted to conserve their energy.

“Conditioning was at a very low level. By August, a lot of these guys were wilting. They didn’t keep up their strength.”

With Indianapolis, McClain worked with managers Vern Rapp, Jim Snyder and Roy Majtyka.

Rapp after 1975 and joined the coaching staff at Montreal, where they were looking for a trainer with baseball knowledge and experience.

“They were having trouble finding one that wasn’t a hockey trainer,” says McClain. “They were not knowledgeable enough about shoulders and throwing arms in their opinion.

McClain received a referral from Indianapolis general manager Max Schumacher and Reds executive Sheldon “Chief” Bender that helped him land the head trainer position in Montreal and he held that job from 1980 until 2004.

“I aced the interview and got hired,” says McClain. “I spent the next 25 years in the big leagues, which was quite a thrill.”

Expos managers during his tenure were Dick Williams, Jim Fanning, Bill Virdon, Buck Rodgers, Tom Runnells, Felipe Alou, Jeff Torborg and Frank Robinson.

When McClain started in Montreal, the club had just a few pieces of strength equipment.

“I changed all that,” says McClain, who saw 20-by-30 strength training room go in. The Expos did stretches and used free weights as well as Nautilus and Cybex machines for strength training at a time when some teams only had stationary bikes

“Some were slow to get on the bandwagon,” says McClain. “It takes awhile for most teams to abide by good advice. You don’t know if it’s good advice for a few years.”

In June 1980, McClain gave Andre Dawson a simple device which helped his Hall of Fame career.

Dawson had injured his knees in football and had surgery while in high school. They took a beating in baseball, particularly on the hard artificial surface of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

“I was like running on padded cement,” says McClain.

Dawson’s knees really swelled on airplane flights.

“Cabins are pressurized at 10,000 feet,” says McClain. “He would have inflammation (a build up fluid) and it was hard to play the next day.”

McClain gave the outfielder a neoprene compression sleeve and that took care of the swelling and discomfort.

It was also 1980 that the Expos brought in Bill Sellers as a exercise science and nutritional expert.

“It all kind of goes hand-in-hand and now every team has to have a certified chef for the home team and the visiting team,” says McClain. “But it’s a tough thing to get a superior athlete to change their ways. They already think they are the best. They have to fail first.”

It was common for players to insist on being in the lineup even when injuries slowed them down.

“Guys like Dawson and Gary Carter, they will always tell you that they want to play,” says McClain. “They would aggravate things a lot. Especially with soft tissue injuries. They think they can play then the tear in further.”

The Expos had speedsters like Tim Raines, Indianapolis native Rodney Scott and Ron LeFlore.

“They would aggravate injuries and be out an extra week,” says McClain. “You almost have to prove to each guy individually what’s going to happen.

“As a young trainer they didn’t listen to me as much as they did later.”

Players weren’t the only ones to turn a deaf ear to the expert.

“Dick Williams didn’t listen to anybody,” says McClain. “Bill Virdon was a tough one to deal with.”

Later managers like Rodgers and Alou had a better understanding of the role of training in baseball.

McClain says it was the training staff that was dictating to the coaching staff the limits that should be placed on pitchers to keep them healthy.

Bill Sampen, who now lives in central Indiana and runs Samp’s Hack Shack training facilities in Brownsburg and Plainfield where McClain takes 11-year-old grandson Andrew for lessons, pitched for the Expos 1990-92 and was used mostly in long relief.

“You can overwork them pretty easily in that position,” says McClain, noting that attention should be paid to the number of pitches and consecutive days these pitchers throw. (Expos pitching coach) Galen Cisco welcomed stuff like that.

McClain also witnessed the strain put on pitchers’ elbows, wrists and shoulders in throwing the split-finger fastball.

“They snap the elbow really hard,” says McClain. “That’s why there were not throwing it that much now.”

McClain was in the ballpark when history was made July 18, 1999 as David Cone tossed a no-hitter for the Yankees against the visiting Expos on Yogi Berra Day.

“I remember how good he was with a bum shoulder,” says McClain.

It was also in New York that McClain was in the middle of a dust-up that got him suspended for the final seven games in 1997.

McClain, manager Alou and second baseman Mike Lansing were all tossed by plate umpire Larry Vanover after a disputed ninth-inning play at home plate. The Mets beat the Expos 1-0 at Shea Stadium on Sept. 14.

Montreal’s David Segui tried to score on a Darrin Fletcher double. After taking a throw from Rey Ordonez, New York catcher Todd Pratt resulted in an out call. But Expos, including McClain, saw the ball lying on the ground.

At the time, base umpires in the field could not advise the home plate umpire’s call, a rule that changed in 1998. McClain recalls that crew chief Harry Wendelstedt said to Alou within earshot of Vanover: “I can’t tell him if he won’t ask.”

“He still didn’t ask,” says McClain of Vanover. “That wasn’t right.”

Remembering something he saw in a movie, McClain used his finger and thumb to make the shape of an “L” on his forehead and said, “You are a loser and a cheat.”

“My idea was let’s get the call right no matter whose feelings get hurt,” says McClain, who had suspected that the umpires were in a hurry to catch their flight out of town.

McClain enjoyed his time away from the ballpark in Montreal.

“It’s an international city,” says McClain, who lived in a condo there during the season then came back to wife Pamela and daughter Ashley in central Indiana the off-season.

He learned enough French to be passable and also spoke some Spanish, which helped him communicate with Latin players.

McClain got to watch Vladimir Guerrero in the early part of his career.

“He was one great player,” says McClain of the former Expo. “He never did master English. All he wanted to do was to eat, sleep, play baseball and video games.”

McClain notes that Rusty Staub — aka “Le Grande Orange” — already knew French from growing up in New Orleans. Catcher Carter did his best with the language.

He also remembers something of a hometown advantage.

There were many games played in April and September where the temperature was below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius).

“It was always so cold in Montreal,” says McClain. “It hurt the other team. We were more used to it.”

McClain is a classic car enthusiast (he’s owned a 1961 Corvette “Fuelie” and 1934 Ford Victoria). He also enjoys shooting and has taken up golf since retirement. Ron and Pamela McClain reside in Franklin Township on the southeast side of Indianapolis.

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The McClains of Indianapolis — Pamela and Ron — enjoy their travels. Ron McClain is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.

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The McClains of Indianapolis — Pamela and Ron — see the Grand Canyon. Ron McClain is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis visits the Grand Canyon. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.  He also trained for the Indianapolis Indians.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He also trained for the Cincinnati Reds.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He is an Indiana University graduate.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He is a Warren Central High School graduate.

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Two former Montreal Expos — catcher Darrin Fletcher and athletic trainer Ron McClain — meet up. Fletcher played 14 seasons in the big leagues with the Los Angels Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. McClain was with the Expos for 25 years.

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Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain (center) shares a moment with Amy and Bill Sampen at Samp’s Hack Shack in Plainfield, Ind. Indianapolis resident McClain is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. Bill Sampen pitched for the Expos 1990-92.

 

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Lawrence Central righty Montgomery goes pro in Orioles system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.J. Montgomery pitched in his first professional baseball game July 11, 2018 — a one-inning stint for the Gulf Coast League Orioles.

But the 6-foot right-hander has been preparing for pro ball since his sophomore year at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.

That was 2013 and Montgomery was primarily a center fielder for then-Bears head coach Matt Buczowski.

Having played in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, South Bend, Ind., native Buczkowski saw potential in young Montgomery.

“Started teaching me what the lifestyle was like and started preparing me for it,” says Montgomery of Buczkowski, who is now head baseball coach at Carmel (Ind.) High School and regularly trades texts with his former player. “I love Coach Butch. He’s a really good friend of mine.”

Buczkowski told Montgomery he needed to put in the time and effort to reach his potential.

“You can’t let anybody out-work with you,” says Montgomery of Buczkowski’s advice.

In his junior year, right-hander Montgomery got more more opportunities and struck out 96 batters in 63 innings with a 1.63 earned run average.

Swinging a potent bat, Montgomery hit .456 with 10 home runs as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stater in his senior year at LC (2015).

As a high school freshmen, Montgomery’s head coach was Dan Roman (now head coach at Brownsburg High School).

Staying loose and having fun were qualities Montgomery took from Roman.

Montgomery, who played football for four years at Lawrence Central, logged two junior college baseball seasons at Northwest Florida State College (2016-17) before landing in NCAA Division I baseball with the University of Central Florida (2018).

As a freshman at Northwest Florida, he made 16 appearances (12 in relief) and went 3-2 with two saves, two complete games and a 2.64 ERA. In 47 2/3 innings, he racked up 56 strikeouts with 10 walks.

Montgomery was selected in the 33rd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Francisco Giants. He opted to stay in college and went back for his second season at Northwest Florida and pitched in 13 games (12 as a starter), going 8-2 with three complete games and a 1.87 ERA. In 82 innings, he fanned 82 and walked 20.

Raiders coach Doug Martin taught his players, including Montgomery, the meaning of work ethic and not getting to bring for one’s breeches.

“In Juco, everything is blue collar,” says Montgomery. “I was told to just stay humble and be the guy you are.”

In his one season at Central Florida, where Greg Lovelady was Knights head coach and Fort Wayne, Ind., native Justin Parker the pitching coach, Montgomery competed in 17 contests (eight as a starter) and was 6-4 with one save, one complete game and a 2.54 ERA. In 63 2/3 innings, he whiffed 74 and walked 21.

“(Lovelady) taught me about the mental game and dealing with failure,” says Montgomery. “Not everything is going to go your way. You deal with it

“You can only control what you can control. After you let go of the ball, you can’t control much unless it’s a come-backer.”

Montgomery credits Parker (who is now pitching coach at Indiana University) for helping him develop his off-speed stuff.

“I’ve always been able to throw hard,” says Montgomery. “(Parker) told me to find my grip and throw it with the same confidence as my fastball.”

Montgomery was chosen in the seventh round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles. After the one game in the GCL, he moved up to the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds of the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League.

In his first nine games with Aberdeen (all in relief), Montgomery was 1-0 with one save and a 5.56 ERA. in 11 innings, he struck out 13 and walked eight.

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Montgomery has touched 97 mph with both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs. He usually sits between 92 and 95 mph.

“I attack with the fastball then work in the off-speed (which includes a “circle” change-up, “spike” curveball and slider,” says Montgomery. “I have more control with the four-seam (which tends to have more revolutions than the two-seam).”

In his brief time in pro baseball, Montgomery has witnessed the difference between college and the minors beyond the raised level of talent and athleticism.

“In college, the schedule is more structured,” says Montgomery. “(In pro ball), you do what you need to get ready. It’s on you. It’s your career. It’s up to you whether you succeed or fail.”

Jarrett James Montgomery was born in Indianapolis (his parents are Alan Montgomery and Crystal Walton) and played at Oaklandon Youth Organization and Skiles Test Baseball. He played travel ball from age 13 to 17 with the Indiana Prospects then spent a summer with the Houston (Texas) Banditos.

Older brother Christian Montgomery, who also graduated from Lawrence Central, pitched in the New York Mets system from 2012-16.

After Aberdeen, where Kyle Moore is the manager and Mark Hendrickson the pitching coach, the next links in the Orioles minor league chain are Delmarva (Low-A), Frederick,(High-A), Bowie (Double-A) and Norfolk (Triple-A).

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J.J. Montgomery, a graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis who pitched at Northwest Florida State College and the University of Central Florida, is now with the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds in the Baltimore Orioles organization. (Aberdeen IronBirds Photo)

Ben Davis alum Bear wants his Giants to respect the game of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

David Bear was on the mound when Ben Davis High School won its state baseball championship and he’s now leading the Giants program as head coach.

Bear, a 1981 Ben Davis graduate, pitched seven innings in a semifinal victory against Richmond and three innings of relief in a championship game triumph against Fort Wayne Northrop to wrap up a stellar prep career with a state crown.

Ralph David Bear Jr. left high school with a career 0.61 earned run average with five no-hitters and two perfect games, including three no-no’s and one perfecto as a senior.

“Coach Cox would let me throw 10 innings every three days no matter what,” says Bear, referring to Giants coach Ken Cox, who would be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1988 and finished his career with 440 victories. Besides the state title, his team earned seven sectionals, four regionals, two semistates and a state runner-up finish (1980). “I loved doing it.”

Bear cherishes his time with Cox.

“He was a man I dearly loved and one of the most respected coaches I know in the state of Indiana,” says Bear.

A couple weeks after regularly taking the ball for Cox’s Giants, the right-hander was on his way to Johnson City, Tenn., to begin his professional baseball career.

Bear was selected in the 27th round of the 1981 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and played five minor league seasons — starting with rookie-level Johnson City (Tenn.) in 1981 and finishing with High Class-A Miami (Fla.) in 1985.

He appeared in 168 games (20 as a starter) and went 25-21 with a 3.68 earned run average, 193 strikeouts and 145 walks in 363 innings.

His manager at Johnson City was Johnny Lewis, who later became the hitting coach in St. Louis.

“He was a very revered man,” says Bear of Lewis, a former outfielder with Cardinals and New York Mets. “I like the way he ran his team.”

Bear was also appreciative of the way Cardinals minor league pitching instructor Bob Milliken explained the craft. Milliken, who had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a bullpen coach and pitching coach in St. Louis.

The 2018 prep season marked Bear’s 12th on the Ben Davis coaching staff and his third as head coach.

Playing in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Central), the Giants went 9-19. MIC teams play each other twice in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with makeup dates on Thursdays and Fridays.

“That is a very tough conference for baseball,” says Bear. “It’s a grinder.

“You better come to play every night. If not, you’ll get your socked knocked off.”

Bear bases his program on concepts like honesty, work, respect and hustle.

“If you’re honest with the kids, you get more out of them,” says Bear, 56. “You also have to believe in them.

“I tell the boys, if you work hard and play the game the right way, good things happen for you. You have to respect it and hustle.”

Reinforcing that message is Bear’s assistant coaches — Kyle Cox and Terrence Davis with the varsity, Kent Spillman with the junior varsity and Robert Jackson with the freshmen. Cox (no relation to Ken Cox) was an IHSBCA North/South All-Star for Ben Davis in 2005.

With nearly 4,400 students, Ben Davis is one of the biggest high schools in Indiana. The graduating class of 2018 alone was over 1,000.

Bear notes that 55 to 60 players come out for baseball and he keeps 14 for the varsity, 14 or 15 for the JV and 15 to 17 for the freshmen. The latter squad tends to be bigger to “give kids a chance to develop.”

At the varsity level, Bear talks to his players about always being ready even if they’re not in the starting lineup.

“You never know when you’re going to get that call,” says Bear. “When you get it, make the best of it.”

Four seniors from 2018 have made commitments to play college baseball. Catcher Zyon Avery is headed to Ohio University. He participated in the IHSBCA North/South Series July 20-22 in South Bend. He is the first Giants all-star since Deaun Williams in 2006.

Going to Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne are shortstop/pitcher Tyler Duncan, outfielder/pitcher Garison Poteet and pitcher/second baseman Ian Schilling.

Former Ben Davis players going into their sophomore years as collegians are Logan Butrum at Wabash College and Isaiah Davis at Vincennes University.

Besides Ben Davis, Bear also coaches summer travel ball. This year, he is with the Evoshield Canes Midwest 15U team (The Indiana Outlaws merged with the Canes a few years ago). The current 15U squad has played in tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield and also in Ohio, North Carolina and, last week, the World Wood Bat Association 2012 Grads or 15U National Championship at Perfect Game Park at LakePoint in Cartersville, Ga.

Bear notes that Perfect Game USA has imposed a pitch count rule with a limit of 95 in a day. Since 2017, the IHSAA has also had a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“I like the way they do it now,” says Bear. “Kids do a lot of throwing these days.”

Away from baseball, Bear fills up game rooms around Indianapolis in his job with Jay Orner and Sons Billiard Co.

David is the son of the late Ralph David Bear Sr. and Beverly Kay Bear and has three younger siblings — Richard, Rock and Stacey.

Bear’s girlfriend is Gretchen Atkins. He has a son (Coy), daughter (Cassie) and grandson (Bane, 3). Gretchen’s daughter is Stephanie Atkins. The Bear house also has a dog named Bear. The petite pooch is a Yorkshire/Australian Terrier mix.

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David Bear, a 1981 Ben Davis High School graduate, is now the head baseball coach of the Indianapolis-based Giants. (Ben Davis Photo)

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Former Ben Davis High School baseball player C.J. Vaughn (left) meets with Giants head baseball coach David Bear. A 1981 BDHS graduate, Bear came back to his alma mater as an assistant coach and has led the program the past three seasons.

 

Power, positivity propel Terre Haute’s Reed in baseball career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Reed is known for hitting the baseball very hard and for long distances.

How does the Terre Haute, Ind., native do it?

“I’m always looking for a heater,” says Reed of his approach at the plate. “I don’t want to let any fastballs in the zone go. I feel that’s the pitch I do the most damage on.

“If I can hit the fastball to left-center, I’m able to stay on the off-speed and hit it to right-center.”

Reed, a 6-foot-4, 260-pounder lefty-swinging first baseman, uses his dimensions to challenge the dimensions of ballparks.

“My size plays to my advantage really well,” says Reed, who lost about 15 pounds last off-season. “For other guys it’s bat speed.

“I feel like I can get away with a little bit more missing the barrel because I’ve got more behind the ball.”

Folks are still talking about Reed’s 2017 blast at Southwest University Park in El Paso, Texas.

“It cleared their Jumbotron,” says Reed. “It probably would have cleared these lights (at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio).

So Reed has light-tower power?

“On that particular swing, yeah,” says Reed, who was a slugging star at Terre Haute South Vigo High School and the University of Kentucky before being selected in the second round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Houston Astros.

He was in Columbus this week as a representative of the Pacific Coast League’s Fresno Grizzlies in the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game.

Reed, who swings a 34/32 Victus bat, was hitting .264 with 19 home runs, 11 doubles, three triples, 73 runs batted in and a .903 OPS (on-base plus slugging) average through games of July 12.

Reed, who turned 25 in May, led all of Minor League Baseball in home runs with 34 in both 2015 and 2017, winning the Joe Bauman Home Run Award. Bauman socked 72 for the 1954 Roswell (N.M.) Rockets.

To date, Reed has 114 circuit clouts in the minors plus three in 131 at-bats at the big league level with the Astros (his first one came July 2, 2016, off David Robertson of the Chicago White Sox). He clubbed 40 in three seasons at Kentucky (2012-14) and before that walloped 41 for Terre Haute South. He was named Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2011.

He stacked up honors at UK. In 2014, he was chosen for the Golden Spikes Award, Dick Howser Trophy and John Olerud Two-Way Player Award as well as national college player of the year by Baseball America, Perfect Game USA, ABCA, Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger. He was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year.

“We decided for my junior year that we were going to do something special,” says Reed, who credits former Kentucky hitting coach Brian Green for his offensive approach. “If I could set a good example, everybody was going to follow and that’s what happened. It was a really good year.

“I owe him a lot.”

UK went 36-26 and played in the NCAA tournament in 2014. Green is now head coach at New Mexico State University.

Reed went 26-10 on the mound at Terre Haute South Vigo and was selected in the 25th round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the New York Mets, but opted to play as a two-way player at Kentucky, where Gary Henderson was head coach and also led the pitching staff.

“He’s one of the best pitching guys in the country,” says Reed of Henderson, who went on to be pitching coach then interim head coach at Mississippi State University. “He was a really good coach for me for three years.”

Southpaw Reed made 46 mound appearances (35 starts) for Kentucky and was 19-13 with a 2.83 earned run average, 174 strikeouts and 53 walks in 247 1/3 innings.

Two men that had a big impact on Reed’s development as he grew up in Terre Haute are South Vigo head coach Kyle Kraemer and American Legion Post 346 manager John Hayes.

“Coach Kraemer and I are still very close,” says Reed. “I started working with him well before I was in high school. I guess he saw something in me.

“He spent a lot of time with me working on my swing. That’s where it really started to pay off for me. He’s a very big part of my baseball career.”

Reed played Dixie Bee and Riley baseball then Legion ball with Post 346 and Hayes (who led that highly-successful program from 1985-2015) before turning it over to brother Tim Hayes.

“(John Hayes) is one of the most positive guys I’ve ever been around in the game of baseball,” says Reed. “He cared so much for his players.

“He’s a very influential person in my career.”

The bonds with the Hayes family were strengthened through Reed’s friendship with Jacob Hayes (son of Tim and Gail). A year ahead of A.J. in school, Jacob went on to play baseball at Indiana State University.

Darryl Robinson has been Reed’s hitting coach in three of his four seasons in pro baseball — High-A and last two years in Triple-A.##

“He’s kind of the same way as Kraemer,” says Reed of Robinson. “He’s just a very positive guy. He feeds your head with so much positive energy that you’re up there just knowing you’re going to be successful. That really works for me.”

Upbeat is the way Reed (#AJReed on Instagram) likes to approach baseball.

“I like to have fun,” says Reed. “You can’t play this game without having fun. There’s too much failure.”

Reed has observed plenty of success on his home state’s baseball scene.

“Baseball’s a big deal in Indiana,” says Reed. “They produce a lot of really good players. It’s obviously tough to compete with Florida, California and Texas where they get to play year-round outside. But we produce talent in Indiana for sure.

When Reed was at Terre Haute South, the Braves played in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference.

At the time, the MIC feature both Terre Haute schools — South Vigo and North Vigo — as well as Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence North, Indianapolis North Central and Warren Central

“You saw a lot of good talent in those Indianapolis schools,” says Reed.

A.J. and wife Shelby Reed have been married for nearly three years and are proud owners of cockapoos Moose and Buck. The Reeds recently bought a house in Terre Haute to be close to her family. A.J.’s mother, Debbie, lives in Florida. He also has two older sisters — Leslie and Carrie.

AJREEDASTROS2

A.J. Reed, a former star at Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School and the University of Kentucky, is now playing in the Houston Astros organization. He has three home runs in 131 at-bats at the big-league level and 114 long balls in the minors since 2014. (Houston Astros Photo)

AJREEDTRIPLEAASG18

Terre Haute’s A.J. Reed signs autographs for fans at the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. He played first base and batted No. 4 for the Pacific Coast League while representing the Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies. (Steve Krah Photo)

AJREEDFRESNO

A.J. Reed, a Terre Haute, Ind., native, represented the Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies in the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. Through July 12, he had clubbed 19 home runs and knocked in 73 runs. (Fresno Grizzlies Photo)

State’s baseball talent exposure has multiplied; Just ask Hibler of Bullpen Tournaments, PBR Indiana

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time when college baseball recruiters and pro scouts did not hold the Hoosier State in high regard.

“Indiana has always been talented as a state,” says Blake Hibler. “But from an exposure standout, it was always overlooked.

“Indiana was some place you drove through. People are now stopping. They realize what kind of talent there is.”

Hibler, founder of Prep Baseball Report Indiana who is now kept busy as program director/event manager for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., has watched the state raise its profile with the help of travel baseball and strong college programs.

“(Big leaguers like) Adam Lind, Scott Rolen and Lance Lynn kind of paved the way for Indiana baseball to become big,” says Hibler. “The explosion came when Purdue was a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA tournament (in 2012) and (Indiana University) went to Omaha (for the College World Series in 2013).”

At the lower levels, the University of Southern Indiana went NCAA Division II World Series in 2007 and won it all in 2010 and 2014. The University of Indianapolis went to the D-II World Series in 2000 and 2012. Manchester appeared in the D-III World Series in 2004 and 2013.

“This allowed Indiana to become more exposed,” says Hibler. “When we started PBR, college coaches contacted us asking ‘where is that sleeper?’ We don’t have sleepers anymore.

“Colleges are very aware of every player in our state.”

In his role at Grand Park, Hibler oversees 16 straight weekends of travel baseball events in the spring and summer and another six in the fall.

There’s something baseball-related going on — games, tournaments, showcases — at the facility with 26 diamonds from the end of January through October.

There are 12 full-size fields — four with full synthetic turf fields and eight with synthetic infields and grass outfields. Hibler considers eight of those high school or college fields.

Bullpen Tournaments, which counts 90 percent of its business as baseball with some softball, leases the facility from Grand Park. The land is owned by the City of Westfield.

As the sole operator, Bullpen’s 100 employees take care of everything from restrooms to common area mowing to field maintenance to practice scheduling and more.

From the beginning of June to the end of July, there are 230 to 280 teams at Grand Park every weekend. Of those, 115 are high school-age squads.

There are often more than one tournament going on — maybe U9 through U12 games on one side of the complex and high schoolers on the other.

In June and July, Bullpen hosts American Baseball Championships for Youth Baseball, U13, U14, U15, U16, U17 and U18.

An elite event is the PBR Future Games. The eighth annual tournament is slated for Aug. 1-4 with 24 teams and players from more than 40 states.

In 2017, all five collegiate power conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) were represented with more than 80 percent of schools in those leagues in attendance.

“This year won’t be any different,” says Hibler of the 16U event. “It’s the best uncommitted sophomores in the country.

“It’s kind of a culmination of their season and kickoff to their junior year. The recruiting calendar falls in perfect. Sept. 1 is when college coaches can begin calling and have direct  conversations with these recruits.”

The first Future Games was held in 2011 with four teams.

Nolan Watson was MVP in 2015, the year he was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Lawrence North High School.

Technology helps keep track of all Bullpen tournaments.

There is a phone app for that. It can be uploaded from the Google Play Store.

Hibler is the “tech guy” for both Bullpen Tournaments and PBR-Indiana and does a podcast with PBR owner/director Phil Wade. Many of those focus on events at Grand Park or the top high school players and teams in the state.

With all its facilities, there is a large economic impact that comes with the complex.

“The most common question we get is: How do you pay for Grand Park?,” says Hibler. “Ultimately, the mayor (Andy Cook) took a risk. He decided to make youth sports his industry.”

The City of Westfield owns the land and owns and operates the Grand Park Events Center, which will house the Indianapolis Colts Training Camp this year, and the soccer facility.

Hotels and restaurants are on the way. There are also private facilities springing up like Pro X Athlete Development and Pacers Athletic Center.

A graduate of Lawrence Central High School who played for the Indiana Mustangs and Danville Area Community College, Hibler has worked for RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield and Pastime Tournaments as well as an associate MLB scout.

Hibler joined the PBR family in November 2010. At the time, he was in his second stint as the pitching coach for Lawrence Central, where he saw two pitchers get drafted in 2011 — Christian Montgomery (11th round, Mets) and Jared Ruxer (29th round, Indians). He was originally the pitching coach from 2004-2005 before returning for 2007-2011.

He has seen how competitive recruiting is, but it is usually not cut throat.

“Baseball is little more loyal with the verbal commitment than other sports,” says Hibler. “College coaches are buddies. They don’t necessarily go after other kids as aggressively as basketball and football.

“I would be naive to say it doesn’t happen (in baseball).”

A premium is placed on players who play in the middle of the diamond.

“Pitching is the easiest thing to project,” says Hibler. “If you’re 92 (mph) now, you’re going be 92 or better we you reach college. There’s a lot more to dream on with your catchers, shortstops and centerfielders.

“Typically, you’re looking for in that younger age group is athleticism and physicality. You get the combination of athleticism and physicality, those are the kids who typically commit early.”

Hibler notes that outside of the state’s top 10 or so players, most commit in their junior or even senior years.

How is success gauged in the travel baseball world?

“For 14-and-under, success is still defined by wins and losses,” says Hibler. “15-and-up is defined by scholarships and exposure.

“Lost in all of this is competitiveness. In the Future Games, Indiana always plays Illinois on Friday night. That’s still the most-attended game because there’s a rivalry there.”

Hibler says players appreciate playing against equal competition. With so many travel teams out there, mismatches happen.

“The better players relax or shut down during games,” says Hibler. “They don’t play hard during the summer sometimes unless they are in front of college coaches or playing a really good team.”

The ABC tournaments were designed with two tiers — the first to determine which division teams belong in and the second to crown Gold, Silver and Bronze division champions.

“That way it creates competitive baseball,” says Hibler.

Hibler notes that when the Indiana Bulls were started in the early 1990s to give the state’s best the chance to play top competition and receive exposure, they were the only organization out there. There are now many options and the talent is more evenly divided.

There are those who think that team chemistry is easier to build with a high school program than travel baseball, where players are coming from many different directions.

“Travel baseball is figuring that out and trying to combat it,” says Hibler. “They’re starting to put the development piece back into it a little bit.”

There is a misconception on the part of some players (and their parents) about travel ball and high school ball. They are putting more emphasis on travel.

“Some of these kids believe that travel baseball is more important to their future than high school is,” says Hibler. “A lot of college coaches still call the high school coach first after that initial talk with the travel coach.

“High school simulates a little bit of what college life could be — academics, girls, scouting reports, being a student and an athlete.

“A high school coach has to deal with the player and his girl friend got in a fight during seventh period and this kid has to be on the field in 15 minutes to play a game. The summer ball coach doesn’t have to deal with that as much.”

Then there are the trouble makers and malcontents.

“If you’re a bad kid and live in a community, everyone in that community knows you’re a bad kid,” says Hibler. “You can hide that in travel ball and travel sports in general.”

Hibler has seen players go out of there way to make high school coaches mad for no reason.

“They think it works like travel baseball,” says Hibler. “They can do whatever they want and pack up and leave. Some administrations allow that. But there’s a lot of good programs that don’t.”

Outside of loyalty, there is nothing binding that keeps a player with a travel organization. For various reasons, many players have jumped from team to team. Some players have skipped high school and played only travel baseball.

“Kids get handled with such care during the summer because the penalty is you lose them,” says Hibler. “Coaches don’t know if you handle them like they’re supposed to be handled — with discipline and holding them accountable.

“Some (coaches) take that approach. For others, it’s the Wild, Wild West. Do what you want.”

Hibler says players need both travel and high school and they need to respect the differences.

Travel players show up, play and leave. They pitch from pristine mounds. Maintenance at million-dollar fields is handled by someone else.

High schoolers must take on more responsibility. At many schools, they have to pick up trash in the dugout, sweep and rake to make the fields ready for play.

A few years ago, the coach of a team of 8-year-olds asked to change fields because one was too bumpy.

Hibler’s response: “You don’t live in the real world. We practiced in parking lots.”

BULLPENTOURNAMENTS

Bullpen Tournaments runs baseball and softball events out of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

 

Ulrey’s diamond passion is a big HIT

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Ulrey has a knack for teaching the game that he loves.

As a professional hitting instructor, the former college player and Major League Baseball draftee works with more than 150 baseball and softball athletes a week at The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind. It was formerly the home of Dream Big Baseball.

Those athletes come from as far away as Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan and all over the state of Indiana.

Ulrey has been involved in youth travel sports as a coach, mentor and instructor since 2010.

In 2015, the New Palestine High School graduate founded the Midwest Astros Academy. In 2018, the academy fields 31 baseball and softball travel teams in age divisions 8U to 17U with players from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

Ulrey handles the day-to-day baseball operations, facility operations, college consulting, instruction and Ben Taylor handles the softball operations and scheduling.

“I am thankful to have a guy like Ben within our academy,” says Ulrey. “Ben puts a lot of time and work into the operations of the Midwest Astros.”

As a player, Ulrey helped New Palestine to a 2004 IHSAA Class 3A state championship. In his senior year (2006), the left-handed swinging and throwing outfielder was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 33rd round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Because of an injury Ulrey made the choice not to sign and went to college.

He played two years at NJCAA Division I Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and one each at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University and the NCAA Division II University of Indianapolis.

His head coaches were Mitch Hannahs at Lincoln Trail, Jim Schmitz at EIU and Gary Vaught at the U of I.

When Ulrey concluded his college playing career in 2010, he took his first coaching job at Beech Grove High School and opened up his first indoor training facility.

At BG, he helped lead the Hornets to their first winning season since 2004 and first sectional title since 2005 when they went 13-9-2 in 2012.

From there, he served assistant coaching stints at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College for head coach Todd Post and Marian University in Indianapolis for head coach Todd Bacon.

At the same time, Ulrey was coaching summer travel teams.

The Yard Sports Complex is the fifth he’s had since 2010 and the only one he runs since moving away from his last facility in Beech Grove.

With the academy based at the Greenfield complex, Ulrey is able to serve his hitting students and oversee the whole operation.

Ulrey tries to manage his schedule so he can interact with as many of the academy’s teams as possible and to watch them play.

“I want to show support,” Ulrey, 30. “But not only that, I love the game of baseball. Every week — seven days a week — I’m either training, coaching or watching our teams practice at the complex or in games on the weekends.

“It’s my life.”

Ulrey is also an associate scout for the Texas Rangers and works under area scout Michael Medici.

The organization continues to grow and have success on and off the field, however; Ulrey doesn’t take all the credit.

“It’s been a blessing,” says Ulrey. “I’ve had a lot of help along with the way. None of this would be possible without great coaches, directors, instructors, players and the support of the parents.”

Christian Montgomery, a Lawrence Central High School graduate and a former New York Mets minor leaguer, works with pitchers.

Nick Ulrey, brother of Chris and assistant coach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, travels to Greenfield to instruct catchers.

Ulrey leaves tournament scheduling up to his coaches.

The youngest teams tend to stay in Indiana. As they reach 10U or 11U, they may take out-of-state trips.

At 12U or 13U, the teams tend to travel a little more. The 13U Majors team, coached by Chris Emberton, goes all over the country to compete in elite tournaments.

Emberton has been with Ulrey since the beginning and has continued to progress and compete at a high level every year.

“It’s nice to get out of Indiana every once in a while and play some different teams,” says Ulrey.

The Midwest Astros’ 15U through 17U Showcase teams, including the Tom Ancelet-coached 17U squad, play in tournaments attended by college coaches at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and other locations around Indiana as well as top-level events in places like Nashville, Louisville, Michigan, Georgia and Florida.

“It’s fun watching your older age groups play because you see guys who have developed already,” says Ulrey. “It’s not so much the coaching. It’s like managing with the older teams. They know how to play. You expect them to go out there and do their job and make plays.

“You get to sit back and watch some really good baseball. These are guys you’ll be seeing at the next level.”

As a coach and instructor, Ulrey gets to work with a wide range of ages.

“We try to teach the basics at 8,” says Ulrey. “They take in as much as they can. Off-speed pitches, mental approach and hitter and pitcher counts, a lot of that stuff is for the older age group kids.

“You try to make it fun for an 8-year-old while still trying to teach them the basics. You’re not trying to teach the older guys — high school, college, professional level — how to stand and how to hold the bat. When they feel there’s something wrong with their swing, you put your opinions in an make adjustments.”

Ulrey wants to relate to everyone on a personal level.

“What a lot of people lack in this profession is the relationship you build with the hitter and the parents,” says Ulrey. “For a kid to trust in what you’re teaching and what you’re saying, they’ve got to believe in you. They’ve got to want be there.”

So as work goes into making the complex ready to host tournaments, Ulrey and the rest of his staff will stay with the plan that has helped the academy grow.

“I feel like we’re doing all the right things right now,” says Ulrey. “Our teams are competing well. Our coaches are doing a good job.

“We’ll keep bringing in quality coaches and players and putting in the work.”

CHRISULREY

Chris Ulrey is founder and president of Midwest Astros Academy, which operates out of The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind.