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Creating opportunities, building character among goals of Michiana Scrappers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With its focus on competition, instruction and development, the Michiana Scrappers travel organization is in its 14th season in 2017.

Began in 2004 with one 15/16 squad — the School of Hard Knocks Scrappers — the Michiana Scrappers now have 17 baseball teams in age groups 9U through 17U (the organization is also involved in softball, basketball and hockey).

There are 260 baseball players and 38 softball players currently playing in tournaments around the Midwest — put on by Baseball Player’s Association, Pastime, United States Speciality Sports Association, Bullpen and others — and training out of The Scrap Yard in Elkhart.

Teams practice twice a week January to April and one to two times a week during the season, which concludes in late July or early August. Tryouts for 2018 are slated for July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6.

Players 9U to 14U are often invited back for the next season. All players 15U and above are asked to try out.

Scrappers founder Brian Blondell reports a low turnover rate of 8 percent.

“Most kids in our organization are not leaving,” says Blondell. “We’re usually filling 1-2 spot max per team.”

Once players try out, coaching staffs will have a chance to offer their sales pitch to the families of players they want. Trying to find the best fit is a priority.

About the time the Scrappers came along, summer high school programs were decreasing and travel ball was growing so then-South Bend St. Joseph assistant Blondell found a place for Indians head coach John Gumpf to send his players in the summer.

“We learned a lot,” says Blondell, who is also director of player operation and a 14U head coach in 2017. In 2005, the organization had swelled seven teams and with interest the growth continued.

Softball was added to the mix in 2014.

While Blondell and his coaches, including Greg Fozo and Buddy Tupper with the current 14U squad, are just as competitive as anyone and the Scrappers have won their share of tournaments, win-at-all-costs is not the driving force.

“Nobody is gaining anything by winning a trophy,” says Blondell. “We’re trying to be as competitive as we possibly can be. The era we’re in — with a lot of parents — everything is driven by awards, placement and trophies.

“We focus on development. If we develop correctly, we’re going to win a lot of championships.”

With a few exceptions, Scrappers players come from the counties surrounding South Bend and Elkhart.

While players are working to make themselves better and — for the older players — get college exposure for themselves, the Scrappers emphasize that baseball is a team game.

“It’s not an individual sport,” says Blondell, the pitching coach at Elkhart Memorial High School (Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost and assistant Bruce Baer are Scrappers head coaches) and former head coach at Indiana University South Bend, Holy Cross College and South Bend Riley High School. “We’re about growing and developing a team environment.”

The implied daily question to players: How are you helping our team get better?

After all, high school and college coaches want good teammates and not selfish players.

Distinguished Scrapper alums include Evan Miller (LaPorte H.S.; IPFW; San Diego Padres system), Chad Whitmer (Penn H.S.; Southern Illinois U.; New York Yankees system), Nathan Thomas (Mishawaka Marian H.S.; Northern Illinois U.), Brock Logan (Northrdge H.S.; IPFW), Blake Cleveland (NorthWood H.S.; Central Michigan U.), Shannon Baker (Northridge H.S.; IPFW), Brett Carlson (South Bend Riley H.S.; Austin Peay U.; Purdue U.) and Pat Borlik (South Bend Washington H.S.; Western Michigan U.).

Just like Sam Riggleman — his coach at Bethel College — said to Blondell, Scrappers are expected to “check their ego at the door.”

“We do everything as a team,” says Blondell, whose son Bryce Blondell plays on his squad. “I also want it to feel like family. We allow them to be kids and really enjoy it.”

Mike Logan, head coach of a 16U team in 2017, is in his 11th season with the Scrappers.

The former Northridge High School head coach sees his job as getting college exposure, building up their baseball skills and teaching them life lessons.

Logan tells players and their parents about college opportunities and stresses the academic side of the equation.

“A lot of times schools might not have much athletic money to give,” says Logan. But there is bound to be funds for good students.

Logan points players toward showcases and sends out weekly emails to college coaches giving them the Scrappers schedules, roster, contact numbers and more.

With players coming from so many different backgrounds, Logan and his assistants — Brian Bishop and Chad Sherwood — stay with the fundamentals and build on their foundation of skills.

Most importantly to Logan is developing “young men of character.”

“This game can teach you about failure,” says Logan. “You get to learn to handle adversity at a young aage. When they become adults, it’s for real.”

Logan, which coached older son Brock with the Scrappers and now is with younger son Nick, sees a group of players that it is talented enough to be successful on the diamond and is also tight off the field.

One group text message and the boys are off the movies together.

It’s this kind of philosophy which drew the former Indiana Dirt Devils from the Fremont area to join the organization in 2017 as the 13U Black Scrappers.

“The kids in that organization are amazing,” says 13U pitching coach Geoff Gilbert. “They support each other. (Younger players) know who the better older kids in our organization are they talk about them all the time. They look up to them.

“I brag on my team all the time and they are pretty good, but our kids are even better young men than they are baseball players.”

The Dirt Devils won two BPA World Series titles, finished second in another and high in yet another before hooking up with Blondell and company.

“The Scrappers have a great reputation,” says Gilbert, who counts son and left-hander Carter Gilbert among his pitchers. “They have big-name recognition. We were a little tiny team in a little tiny pond and couldn’t get kids to try out with us. We’ll be drawing from a much bigger talent pool.”

As a single-team organization, the Dirt Devils dictated everything. With the Scrappers, where Blondell handles all the administrative matters, Gilbert, head coach Brian Jordan and assistant Michael Hogan retain control over their roster and some say in their schedule while also benefitting from the bulk buying power of a larger organization which is sponsored by DeMarini and Wilson.

“With everything they had to offer in the winter, it was a great opportunity,” says Gilbert, who works a few nights a week at the Scrap Yard and has daughter Ava Gilbert playing for the 10U Lady Scrappers team. “We decided to make the switch.”

With players spread out, 13U Black practices one day a week in Ashley (near Fremont and Kendallville) and once at either Pierre Moran or Riverview parks in Elkhart or Newton Park in Lakeville. The older teams practice at Elkhart Memorial, Elkhart Central or South Bend Washington high schools. Scrappers softball practices are conducted at Penn High School.

While players 15U and above tend to play after the high school season is over, the younger teams like 13U Black play 10 to 12 tournaments in the spring and summer.

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MICHIANASCRAPPERS13UBLACK17

The Michiana Scrappers 13U Black players and families celebrate the Fourth of July. in 2017 (Michiana Scrappers Photo)

 

Diamondbacks’ Bryk still learning after decades around baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Bryk is a grateful guy.

He has his health and he has a job he thoroughly enjoys.

Bryk began his professional baseball odyssey as a player in 1969.

At 66 and a cancer survivor, the Schererville resident is still in pro ball in his seventh season special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I’ve been cancer-free for four years. Thank the Good Lord,” says Bryk, who lost a daughter, Becky, to leukemia and friend and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to salivary gland cancer. “I’ve been blessed to be in this game as long as I have. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“It’s time to give back to the game.”

The former Bill Brykczysnki grew up on the south side of Chicago, graduated from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Ill., and pitched four seasons in the Washington Senators organization. He started coaching college ball in 1974 and managing independent teams in 1977.

He worked with the San Diego Padres 1979-82, managing Gwynn in Walla Walla in 1981. When Gwynn was inducted at Cooperstown in 2007, Bryk was his guest.

In 1982, he left the Padres to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates, both in scouting and player development. Over the next 18 years, Bryk would work as a scouting supervisor, special assignment scout, assistant scouting director, assistant farm director, national cross-checker and pitching coordinator.

“That’s where I really learned the business,” says Bryk.

In November 2010, he joined the Diamondbacks.

Almost five decades in, Bryk is still gaining knowledge.

“I’m still learning,” says Bryk, the 2013 Midwest Scout of the Year. “We’ve got sabermetrics, analytics — all this stuff.”

Arizona, where Mike Hazen is executive vice president and general manager, has three major league scouts (Todd Greene and Mike Piatnik are the other two) with duties divided up among the 30 MLB teams.

Based in northwest Indiana where he’s called home since 1988, Bryk goes out to scout the 10 teams in the American League Central and National League Central. He keeps a report on every player, logging their strengths and weaknesses.

“Are they getting better or getting worse?,” says Bryk. “But — most importantly — what’s inside of them? Are they gamers? Overachievers? Underachievers?

“(Major league scouts are) more detectives more than anything else. You’ve got to find everything you can on them. That’s where contacts come in. You have people you trust in every organization. When you get old and gray-headed you know more people.”

One baseball person who Bryk has known for a long time is Mark Haley. He scouted the California native as a player and has maintained a friendship as Haley has coached and managed in the White Sox and Diamondbacks systems (he is now director of training and instruction of the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and coaches travel baseball).

Bryk, who advises on player trades, acquisitions and roster

moves, has seen all his assigned teams once already and is going back for another look. He plans to take in the Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians series and see New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox after that.

“I’m tightening up my reports,” says Bryk, who will meet with other pro scouts in Arizona at the end of June to discuss organizational needs (as the July 31 trade deadline looms). “We used to do it a little bit later. A lot of teams don’t know if they’re going to be buyers or sellers yet.”

Since he is a pro scout, Bryk was not directly involved with the recent Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He did attend a post-draft Pro Day hosted Tuesday, June 20 by the Hammond Lakers.

“There were 65 hungry guys — guys worth seeing,” says Bryk of the free tryout event held by Lakers general manager Anthony Spangler. “We gave everybody a fair chance.”

Bryk notes that independent baseball still brings talent to the majors. Evidence of that is David Peralta. The outfielder played American Association before being signed by the Diamondbacks. He went 4-for-5 Wednesday, June 21 vs. the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

Chris Carminucci, Arizona’s independent league coordinator and pro scout, runs independent league tryout camps during spring training in Arizona and in the Chicago suburbs at the home of the Windy City Thunderbolts. That team just sent several players into affiliated baseball, including pitcher Brady Muller to the Diamondbacks.

Hammond Bishop Noll High School graduate Matt Pobereyko, a former Diamondbacks minor leaguer, just signed with the New York Mets organization after spending time with the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom.

“I’m glad to see he got another chance,” says Bryk of Pobereyko. “I had more 53rd-rounders make it than high draft picks.”

Rob Mackowiak, a 1994 Lake Central High School graduate, was drafted by Bryk for the Pirates in the Round 53 (when the draft went that deep). The outfielder/third baseman made over 2,600 plate appearances in the majors with the Pirates, White Sox, Padres and Washington Nationals.

“It’s what’s in their heart,” says Bryk in determining who makes it or not. “How much do they want it?”

Even with 40 MLB Draft rounds now, talent is sometimes missed and those players can sometimes get a second chance.

“Scouting is not an exact science,” says Bryk. “You try to make the best decisions you can. Sometimes guys are late bloomers. I ran 20 camps a year as an area scout with the Pirates.”

Bryk also gives back to baseball as an instructor in the winter months at the Morris Baseball and Softball Center inside Omni 41 in Schererville.

Sometimes an agent will send a player to Bryk to straighten out his mechanics.

One such player is Dominican right-hander Ariel Hernandez, who worked with Bryk and his son, Billy Bryk Jr., who has coached in independent and affiliated baseball.

Hernandez has been averaging nearly 99 mph with his four-seam fastball out of the bullpen for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017.

Bryk says he did not charge the agent for his services. It was just a part of giving back to baseball.

BILLBRYK

Bill Bryk began his association with professional baseball in 1969. At 66, the Schererville, Ind., resident is in his seventh season as special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Arizona Diamondbacks Photo)

 

Roman being hired as Brownsburg baseball’s top dog

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A veteran coach with a resume full of victories is now in charge of the storied Brownsburg High School baseball program.

Dan Roman, who amassed 406 wins at Lawrence Central and most recently at Carmel, is expected to be approved by the Brownsburg school board next week.

Roman, who stepped down at Carmel after the 2016 season, replaces Eric Mattingly, who resigned at the end of the 2017 season. The Bulldogs went 8-21, losing to Avon in the Class 4A Mooresville Sectional championship game.

“There was an opening at Brownsburg. They called me and I sat down for an interview. It’s a great fit,” says Roman, 51. “I look forward to the challenge of bringing back the greatness of Brownsburg baseball.”

Roman did just that for the Lawrence Central Bears and Carmel Greyhounds.

When Roman took over at LC, the program had not won a sectional since 1981 and he helped bring one to East 56th Street in Indianapolis in his second season (1998). He would help take two more (2002, 2004) in his 16-year stint.

Lawrence Central was IHSAA Class 4A state champions in 2004.

Carmel had not won a sectional since 2000 when Roman brought one in 2016 — his fourth and final season leading the Hounds.

“I look forward to doing the same kind of thing at Brownsburg,” says Roman.

The coach met with Brownsburg players and coaches Tuesday. Roman says Bulldogs athletic director Kelly Waggoner told him he will have total say in building his coaching staff.

“It’s all up in the air as of right now,” says Roman. “Decisions need to be made in the next couple weeks.”

Roman, who resides in Fishers, intends to have an elementary camp June 19-21 and Tuesday practices for high school players throughout the summer.

The workouts are open to all.

“I’m coming in with a fresh start,” says Roman. “I treat everybody the same whether they were a  three-year starter or a freshman coming off of the eighth grade team. I coach them all the same.”

Roman, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers in high school (Don Jennings at Terre Haute North Vigo) and college (Bob Warn at Indiana State University, which went to the College World Series in 1986) and a future Major League Baseball manager in the New York Yankees minor league system (Buck Showalter, who now leads the Baltimore Orioles) wants his players to have self confidence.

“That’s where is all starts,” says Roman. “You’ve got to believe you can win. It’s an attitude.

“I want to bring a mental toughness to Brownsburg. When when step on the field, we can win the ball game. When we step in the batter’s box, we can get a hit. When we step on the mound, we can throw a strike whenever we want. Those kinds of things have to be instilled in a kid’s head to be successful. When you start having negative thoughts in the game of baseball, it can permeate the whole team.”

Brownsburg has produced three players currently in the big leagues — Tucker Barnhart, Lance Lynn and Drew Storen — and many others that went on to college and pro baseball.

The Bulldogs have won 14 sectionals, five regionals and two semistates with 4A State Finals appearances in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and a state title in 2005. The most-recent sectional crown came in 2013.

Brownsburg is a member of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (along with Avon, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville).

“I consider it the best baseball conference in the state,” says Roman. “I may be biased.”

Playing in three-game HCC series, the Bulldogs went 3-15 in 2017.

Roman has already gotten welcome calls from some Hoosier Crossroads coaches.

“They reached out and said kind words and told me the conference just got tougher,” says Roman.

Not only does Roman plan to emphasize toughness, but he plans to sweat the details.

“Baseball is full of little things,” says Roman. “If you teach the little things to your young men, nothing will surprise them. That’s what I’m all about. You’ve got to have your team prepared. You go over situations in practice time and time again and when you see it in the ball game, you know what to do.”

To Roman’s way of thinking, that knowledge brings confidence which brings success.

“When you expect to do well, you will do well,” says Roman.

He plans to do that in Brownsburg purple.

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Dan Roman, who has 406 victories and a state championship in 20 seasons at Lawrence Central and Carmel, is the next head baseball coach at Brownsburg High School. The school board is expected to approve his hire next week.

Moore’s new flock leads Zionsville Eagles back into semistate

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zionsville was on the biggest stage in Indiana high school baseball in 2016.

The Eagles played Roncalli in the IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

Zionsville led 2-1 after their sixth at-bat and then lost 3-2 with the Rebels scoring the decisive run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

That Eagles roster was chock full of impactful seniors. So even though they left Victory Field oh-so-close to a championship in 2016, they flew under the radar in 2017.

“We were so senior-heavy last year, everybody (outside Z-ville) assumed we were going to be down,” says fourth-year ZHS head coach Jered Moore. “Everybody assumed we were going to have to rebuild.”

People in the community knew better.

“Our junior class was always very successful at baseball,” says Moore. “They would have been starting (last year) on a lot of other teams.”

The 2017 version of Zionsville (22-11) is back in the 4A northern semistate against Penn (26-6). The game is slated for Saturday, June 10 at Kokomo (following the 1 p.m. 2A game). The Eagles topped the Kingsmen in last year’s semistate showdown at Kokomo.

The ’16 Eagles had five pitchers who touched 90 mph on the radar gun. There are practically no innings back from that squad and the hardest thrower hits 86 mph.

A deep mound staff is led by right-handers — seniors Max Bohrer and Eli Copner and junior Nick Brier.

The new pitch count rules (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) have been a “non-factor” for Zionsville this season. Starters did not pitch more than once a week and rarely went more than 100 pitches.

“Last year, we had one of the top pitching staffs in the nation — top to bottom,” says Moore. “This pitching staff is completely different. Last year, we threw strikes and threw hard. This year, we rely on throwing strikes and good defense.

“If you concentrate on defense, more than likely you’re going to win games.”

Zionsville stresses pitching and defense so much that they keep a “free base” chart that tracks walks, hit batsmen, passed balls, wild pitches, stolen bases, errors, dirt ball reads, advancing trail runners and extra bases on balls hit to the outfield.

“If we win the free base war, we’re going to win 90 percent of our games,” says Moore. “It’s pretty much held true.

“We can’t be giving up free bases.”

Moore notes that in the four games where the Eagles committed five or more errors, they lost three of those (the win came in extra innings).

Two full-time starters from ’16 (senior third baseman Chad Garisek and junior shortstop Riley Bertram) and one part-timer (junior first baseman Sam Edgell) can be found in the field for the Eagles. The first six batters in the order are all juniors.

Zionsville advanced to the 2017 semistate by beating Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon to win the Kokomo Sectional and Fort Wayne Snider and Fishers to take the Lafayette Jeff Regional.

Playing three-game series in the strong Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Westfield) gets the Eagles ready for the rest of their schedule.

“Our guys are not going to be intimidated,” says Moore. “We just go out and play baseball and see who wins.”

Jered Moore is the son of Craig Moore, who played at East Gary High School and coached back-to-back state runners-up at Blackford High School in 1977 (losing to Logansport and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Jim Turner) and 1978 (losing to Evansville Memorial and IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach Quentin Merkel and player Don Mattingly) and then at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and many years with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who passed away in 2004.

A 1989 Brownsburg graduate who played for Bulldogs head coach Wayne Johnson, Jered Moore also took the diamond at Sam Houston State for Bearkats head coach John Skeeters.

Jered coached about 15 years with the Bulls (he is still a 17U assistant) before joining the Zionsville staff. His brother, Quinn, is also a Bulls coach.

The 2017 Zionsville staff includes Alex Graman (pitching coach), Jeremy Honaker (hitting coach) and Drew Koning (assistant coach) at the varsity level with Josh Medvescek, Jarrett Johnson, Brock Noye and Stephen Damm running the two junior varsity squads (Green and White).

Graman, a Southridge High School graduate, pitched at Indiana State University and briefly with the New York Yankees and in Japan.

Honaker, a Connersville High School graduate, played at the University of Southern Indiana and also coaches with the Indiana Bulls.

Koning, a Lafayette Jeff graduate, played football at Franklin College and also coached with the Indiana Bulls.

ZIONSVILLEEAGLES

With Griffin guiding merger of teams, Purdue Northwest enjoys strong first season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Two Purdue University entities became one in the Region.

Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central came together to form Purdue Northwest.

On the baseball field, the new merger yielded a 30-18 mark for the PNW Pride.

Purdue Northwest coach Dave Griffin, who helmed the Purdue Calumet program for three seasons before the change, expected their to be a little trepidation from some of the players with new leadership. The 2017 roster, which included 25 players with Indiana hometowns and six from Illinois, was roughly split in thirds by former players from PUC and PNC and new recruits.

The transition was a smooth one.

“The kids worked hard and got along really well,” says Griffin. “It was one unit.

“The situation was great. We molded the kids together. I couldn’t ask for anything better. It was a very, very satisfying season.”

At 20-7, the Pride tied Olivet Nazarene for first in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference South Division during the regular season.

PNW’s season ended after it went 1-2 in the CCAC tournament.

The Pride played its home games on the turf of Dowling Park, a facility owned by the City of Hammond and shared with area high schools.

Sophomore outfielder Larry Crisler (.347) was PNW’s top hitter and senior right-hander Matt Sandoval (8-2, 2.48 earned run average) the top pitcher.

Griffin, 55, and his staff, which included former PNC head coach Shane Prance plus Phil Madvek, Vinnie Tornincasa, Dave Waddell, Tom McDermott and Jeff Rutherford this spring, have been recruiting Indiana, Chicagoland and beyond while the program develops an identity.

“People catch on pretty quick,” says Griffin. “I think we’re going in the right direction.”

Since season’s end, Griffin has been tying up loose ends and getting ready for the fall.

This summer, he will coach the Outsiders 17U team based out of Dave Griffin’s Baseball School in Griffith.

He has his views of the travel baseball world.

“I tell parents to play for a solid organization who has a good support staff,” says Griffin. “Games are just one part of the equation. There’s training and speed and agility.

“You need the right people to steer you the right way and someone who’s going to tell you the truth. Some will tell you anything as long as they’re going to make a buck. That’s sometimes where we lose focus a little bit.”

PNW players will hone their skills this summer in various collegiate circuits, including the Midwest Collegiate League, Northwoods League and Prospect League.

Griffin grew up in Dolton and Roseland, Ill., and played at the Dolton-Riverdale Babe Ruth League, where he played with Jimmy Boudreau (son of National Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau) first met baseball mentor and scout Bill Bryk.

“He’s always given me good advice,” says Griffin of Bryk, who now works for the Arizona Diamondbacks. “He kept me involved with the right people.”

Griffin also looks up to scout Bob Szymkowski.

“My story is similar to The Sandlot (movie). We use to play in the sandlot everyday. We’d choose up teams and I’d always be the manager.”

In 1979, Griffin graduated from Thornridge High School and went on to be an NAIA All-American first baseman at Texas Wesleyan University.

He was drafted in 1982 by the Atlanta Braves. His best pro season was 1988 with the Triple-A Richmond Braves, when he hit. 289 with 21 home runs and 72 runs batted in and was named Howe Sports Player of the Year and played in the International League All-Star Game.

Griffin also played in the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees organizations.

During a six-year stint as head coach at Hammond Bishop Noll Institute, Griffin helped lead the Warriors to an IHSAA Class 2A state title in 2004 and a 2A state runner-up finish in 2006.

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Head baseball coach Dave Griffin led Purdue Northwest to a 30-18 mark in 2017. The PNW Pride came about after a merger of Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central programs. (PNW Photo)

Closser has Alexandria focused on work ethic, respect for the game

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tigers — in the wild — are known for being focused, determined and patient.

On the baseball field, the Tigers of Alexandria-Monroe High School are expected to display some of these characteristics and more.

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria graduate, is in his 11th season as the Alex Tigers head coach.

“We always play hard (and are focused on) the integrity of the game,” says Closser. “I’m real big on treating the game the way it’s supposed to be treated and teaching the kids life lessons.

“It’s not all about baseball. It’s about learning to get along and deal with life, too.”

Closser wants his young athletes to know about strong work ethic.

“Kids are different hard now,” says Closser. “They think they want to work hard and they really don’t know how. We try to teach that.”

Assistant coaches Jeff Sells, Adam Rusche and Braden Warren are helping the sometimes-intense Closser deliver the message.

“You’ve got to trust your assistants,” says Closser. “You’re going to tell them things don’t want anybody else to know. You want to bounce stuff off their heads. They’ve got to take some stuff, too.

“I’m a pretty uptempo guy and I sometimes get excited. They’ve got to know that some of the things I’m saying to them they’ve got to let go over their head and not take it to heart all the time.”

Closser appreciates it when his younger players who don’t yet know his ways are counseled by the veterans.

“Our older kids will take them off to the side and say, ‘his bark is worse than his bite. Take it for what it’s worth. Listen to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it,’” says Closser. “Sometimes you have to be a dad to (players). Sometimes you have to be a coach to them or a mentor.”

When Closser took over at Alex, he established a junior high team, which mirrors what is being done at the high school and essentially has replaced Babe Ruth baseball in town. Those junior high boys play 20 games in June in the East Central Indiana League.

“I wanted them to start learning what we do at our level so when they come in as freshmen they could be ready,” says Closser. “It’s worked out really well for us.”

With so many three-sport athletes, there is not much travel baseball around Alex.

“I like three-sport athletes,” says Closser. “You don’t have to wonder what they’re doing when they’re not around you.

“I played three sports in high school. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it makes them a better person and more disciplined. You’ve got to have a routine.”

Alexandria, an IHSAA Class 2A school, has won 18, 19, 20, 22 and 16 games in the past five years and was off to a 5-2 start in 2017 despite not having a high team batting average.

“We’ll hang our hats on pitching and defensive this year and being aggressive on the bases,” says Closser. “We bunt; we steal; we hit-and-run. At this point, we have to do that kind of stuff to scratch out some runs.”

Baseball has a strong tradition at Alex. The Tigers have won seven sectional (1974, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1998, 2013, 2016), two regional (1981, 1998), one semistate (1998) and one state championship (1998).

The ’98 team (25-4), coached by Monte Sprague, featured Indiana Mr. Baseball J.D. Closser (Jeff’s son went on to play Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round in 1998 and spending parts of the ’98, ’99 and 2000 minor league seasons with the South Bend Silver Hawks).

“It was fun to just sit back and watch,” says Closser. “They had a great team. It wasn’t just about (J.D.).

“It was fun for the other guys because there were always a lot of scouts around.”

In a 4-3 championship game win against Evansville Mater Dei, Joe Granger, Justin Musick and Mike Clark drove in runs while Granger, Clark, Justin Melton and Mat Blanton scored them. Jim Linder went to distance on the mound with nine strikeouts. J.D. Closser was presented with the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award.

That was the first school year for IHSAA class sports and Alex, coached by Garth Cone, also raised the state championship trophy for 2A boys basketball. Wade Leer, David Potter, Trester Award winner Rusty Garner and J.D. Closser logged the most minutes in the 57-43 title game win against Southwestern (Hanover).

J.D., the oldest of Jeff and Emily Closser’s three children, is coaching in the New York Yankees system. He is the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder (a Double-A affiliate).

Josh Closser played basketball at Alex and graduated in 2000. Jackie (Closser) Novinger graduated in 2003 and went on to play basketball at Butler University. One of her high school teammates was 2005 Indiana Miss Basketball Jodi Howell (who played at Purdue University).

The Tigers have produced eighth Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stars — DeWayne Allen (1981), Dan Overman (1984), Barry Morphew (1986), Dean Morehead (1990), Brian Yeagy (1991), Jeff Urban (1995), J.D. Closser (1998) and Owen Young (2014).

Alex plays in the Central Indiana Conference (with Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). Frankton has been ranked this spring in the IHSBCA Top 10. Each league team plays one another once on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That leaves room for top-notch non-conference competition.

“We like to play a good schedule,” says Closser, who saw Alex host at an early-season tournament featuring defending 2A state champion Providence plus Rossville and Peru. “That puts us ready for the conference and for tournament time.”

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Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Alex Tigers.

Enthusiasm follows Schrage to Butler

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Schrage does not smile 24 hours day.

It only seems that way.

An upbeat demeanor has followed him through life and a lengthy baseball coaching career.

“I don’t think you can accomplish anything if you are not excited and enthusiastic about it,” says Schrage, who turns 56 this month. “I love going to my job everyday.”

Schrage is in his 29th overall season and first at Butler University in Indianapolis. He has been a head coach in more than 1,500 games and recently won his 750th.

“I feel really fortunate to still be coaching,” says Schrage. “It’s been a fun journey.”

A head coach since 1988, Schrage served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing in Indy.

“Butler is a great fit for me,” says Schrage. Daughters Katy (a Butler graduate) and Bri (a Ball State graduate) both live and work in Indianapolis. “For five years, I was 14 hours away (in Brookings, S.D.).”

Schrage played for Jim Hendry at Creighton University and got his start in coaching when Hendry sent him to St. Thomas University in Florida to be a graduate assistant on the staff of Paul Mainieri.

After that, Schrage was an assistant at Creighton and also was a player/coach for the Queensland Rams Club Team in Australia.

Hendry, the former Chicago Cubs general manager and current special assistant to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, has a son (John) playing baseball at the University of Indianapolis and has been able to catch up with Schrage when he’s in town.

Schrage followed Mainieri as Notre Dame head coach. The friends see each other every year at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention (the event is coming to Indy Jan. 4-7, 2018). Mainieri is now head coach at Louisiana State University.

With the Bulldogs, Schrage embraces The Butler Way — a set of principles established many years ago by famed coach Tony Hinkle.

Barry Collier has been credited for resurrecting the concepts of humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness when he was the school’s head basketball coach and has continued to promote The Butler Way for all sports as athletic director.

“These are the same ideals I have,” says Schrage. “We are developing our players as human beings. They are learning to deal with adversity and overcoming it and becoming a positive influence — on and off the court (or field).”

While Schrage, who is assisted by Ben Norton, Andy Pascoe and Brian Meyer, inherited the current Butler roster (which features 11 players from Indiana hometowns), he was well aware of the diamond talent produced in the Hoosier State.

When he steered Evansville to 43 wins, Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles and advancement to the NCAA Charlottesville Regional finals in 2006, the Purple Aces had several state-trained players.

“That spoke well of the quality of high school baseball (in Indiana),” says Schrage. “The coaches do a tremendous job in running their programs.”

Schrage says the exposure that Indiana players receive at places like Grand Park in Westfield and through the evaluation efforts of Prep Baseball Report are growing the game here.

When he was still coaching in Iowa, Schrage worked at one of the first Perfect Game showcases and now that company is touting itself as the world’s largest baseball scouting service.

“In this media world with Facebooking and all this information out there, it’s very helpful (to college coaches),” says Schrage. “When I first got into coaching, I had to beat the bushes and find players in the small towns. Now, there’s no more secrets. It’s opened up tremendous opportunities for the student-athletes. It’s nothing but advantageous to coaches, kids and their families.”

Butler plays in the Big East Conference with Creighton, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. The conference tournament is scheduled for May 25-28 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., the same stadium as the College World Series. The Big East tournament winner will receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Division I tournament.

Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.
Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.

Dave Schrage (left in blue sweatshirt) follows a play in his first season as head baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. This is his 29th overall season as a head coach. (Brent Smith Photo)

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A head coach since 1988, Dave Schrage (middle) served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing at Butler. (Brent Sm)