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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)

Free agent pitcher Storen exploring his baseball options for 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Storen can trace his love of pitching to front-yard wiffle ball games.

It was there in the Geist section of Indianapolis that the son of Mark and Pam and younger brother of Lindsay discovered he could make the ball do what he wanted.

“At a young age, I was just trying to spin the wiffle ball,” says Storen, now 31 with 470 mound appearances in Major League Baseball behind him. “It kind of worked out well. I learned to spin the ball.”

Once little Drew identified himself as a pitcher, his father took him to get help with his mechanics. The right-hander began working with pitching instructor Jay Lehr at 7.

“Jay taught me how to throw an effective breaking ball without the stress on my arm,” says Storen. “I was a really small kid. I respected the process. I didn’t force it at any point.”

With maturity came size and added velocity.

But it did take time and effort.

“If you’re at my level or a little league level, you need to respect the process,” says Storen. “My dad’s advice was to do one thing everyday to get better. You chip away at it. It does not happen overnight. You’ve got to put the work in.

“It takes a lot of mental strength, but that’s what makes it great.”

Drew came up through Skiles Test Baseball and at 11, his family moved to Brownsburg, Ind. That’s where his father grew up and went to high school and that’s where his son shined at Brownsburg Little League. Drew did his part for a state championship team in 2000. That came between Brownsburg’s appearances in the Little League World Series in 1999 and 2001.

Storen enjoyed a decorated career at Brownsburg High School. He won 30 games with a 1.55 earned run average and 319 strikeouts. He was 9-0 as a sophomore in helping the Bulldogs win an 2005 IHSAA Class 4A state championship. Drew played first base while future major leaguer Lance Lynn was the winning pitcher in the title game.

In Storen’s last two seasons at Brownsburg, future big league Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart was his catcher.

Recognition came with Storen’s pitching abilities. He was honorable mention all-state in 2005 and first-team all-state in 2006 and 2007. He was a three-time first-team on the all-Hoosier Crossroads and Indianapolis Star Metro West teams.

In 2007, he was the Star’s West High School Player of the Year and an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Summers from age 13 to 18 were spent traveling with the Indiana Bulls.

Storen was selected in the 34th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees but did not sign.

Instead, he took his pitching talents westward and played two seasons at Stanford University (2008 and 2009). He ascended the mound 59 times (all in relief) and went 12-4 with 15 saves and a 3.64 ERA. He struck out 116 and walked 23 in 98 1/3 innings.

As a draft-eligible sophomore, Storen was picked in the first round (10th overall) in 2009 by the Washington Nationals.

He made his big league debut in 2010 with Washington and appeared in 54 games with the Nationals that season.

In eight big league seasons with the Washington Nationals (2010-15), Toronto Blue Jays (2016), Seattle Mariners (2016) and Cincinnati Reds (2017), Storen is 29-18 with 99 saves and a 3.45 earned run average. He has 417 strikeouts and 132 walks in 438 innings (all in relief).

Storen performed a rare feat on April 18, 2017 in the ninth inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles. With Tucker catching, he pitched an immaculate inning. That’s three strikeouts on nine pitches. The victims were Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy and Hyun Soo Kim.

“As a bullpen guy, that’s our perfect game,” says Storen.

On Sept. 26, 2017, Storen underwent Tommy John surgery. Reds medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek operated to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in the pitcher’s right elbow. He missed the entire 2018 season.

Recovered from the procedure, free agent Storen has been throwing off a mound — usually to Tucker — for about a month. They often meet at the new Finch Creek Fieldhouse in nearby Noblesville.

“I feel really good,” says Storen. “It’s more than a year out. I’ve given myself plenty of time to respect the process. I was lucky enough to play as long as I did without a major break health-wise. I wanted to make sure I came back better than I was.”

Most of his career, Storen threw from a high three-quarter arm slot to deliver a slider, change-up, four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball.

“I’m able to throw any pitch in any count,” says Storen. “That’s what matters to me.

“That’s why I love pitching. I just play wiffle ball. That’s all.”

With the Reds, Storen did drop down and delivered the ball from multiple angles.

He took feedback from bullpen sessions with Barnhart into the game.

“I still throw to him now,” says Storen of Barnhart. “That’s been great.

“He shoots me straight and know what he’s talking about.”

When Brownsburg Little League moved from Arbuckle Acres in the heart of town to the outskirts, Storen and Barnhart donated a portion of their salaries to the cause and the Reds Community Fund also helped the cause.

“It’s nice to give back in that regard,” says Storen. “Brownsburg is near and dear to my heart. My dad grew up there. I take pride in that. I want to give kids an opportunity to enjoy the game as much as I have.”

A self-described perfectionist, Storen acts as his own pitching coach.

“I’d like to think I know what I need to work on,” says Storen. “I know what I’m not good at.

“I need to make the most of whatever situation I’m in.

“I know I’m not going to be the guy I was back in the day. I know I’m going to be better in a different way.”

While getting his arm back in shape, Storen is also exploring his employment options for 2019.

“With where I’m at, it’s finding your best situation,” says Storen. “I’ll showcase for certain teams and go from there.

“It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. My agent (Brodie Van Wagenen) became the GM of the Mets.”

Storen has been dealing with others in the CAA agency.

“Brodie can’t do both (be an agent and a GM). It’s a really great opportunity for him. He knows the game really well. I can’t knock it.”

Storen is the rare pitcher that was used exclusively in the bullpen in college, drafted as a reliever and has been used in late-inning situations in the majors.

In those high-leverage moments, he knows things can go very well or very bad.

“You’re only as good as the day before,” says Storen. “If I go through a whole year and I didn’t have an interview and not on (ESPN) SportsCenter, I had a very good year

“I would prefer not to be noticed. But I enjoy that challenge. I like perfection

“You have to respect the guy in the box, but not be scared by him and trust what you have. That’s the best scouting report you have.”

Besides a professional ballplayer, Storen is a husband and father. Carmel, Ind., residents Drew and Brittani will celebrate four years of marriage this month. The couple has a 2-year-old son, Jace.

Brittani Storen, who is from Brownsburg and a Purdue University graduate, is a pharmacist. That’s the same profession has Drew’s sister, Lindsay, in Asheville, N.C.

Drew’s father, who goes professionally by Mark Patrick, is a sports broadcaster. Pam Storen is a graphic designer.

While at Stanford, Drew studied product design and has put his knowledge of baseball and mechanical engineering into scheming up the look and performance of own custom cleats.

“I’d like to go back and finish my degree,” says Storen. “I can only be so good at baseball for so long.”

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Drew Storen, a 2007 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2010. The Carmel, Ind., resident is now a free agent. (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

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Drew Storen pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017. He had an immaculate inning — three strikeouts on nine pitches — in an April game against the Baltimore Orioles. He had Tommy John surgery in September 2017 and missed the 2018 season. He is now a free agent. (Getty Images)

Simmons seizes hardware in first season leading North Posey Vikings

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

North Posey High School’s baseball team got to hoist the sectional trophy again in 2018.

The last time the Vikings had earned the hardware was in 2006 when the program went on to the second of back-to-back IHSAA Class 2A state championships with Mike Swartzentruber as head coach.

North Posey went 22-10 last spring, won the 2A Tell City Sectional and saw the season end in the Austin Regional final with a loss to eventual state runner-up Southridge.

Pitcher Shane Harris and outfielder Jarrett Motz made the all-Pocket Athletic Conference as juniors while infielder Camden Bender received honorable mention as a sophomore.

The Vikings finished 5-3 and tied for third place in the PAC (which also includes Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

The first season as North Posey head coach was a special one for Jesse Simmons.

After eight seasons in charge at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School, Simmons came to North Posey, where he also works in the guidance department as coordinator for student programs, testing and scholarships.

During his time at Princeton Community, he spent part of his summers managing Princeton American Legion Post 25.

Simmons, a graduate of Gibson Southern High School in Fort Branch, Ind., played for an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jim Reid) in high school and a National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University) his first two years of college.

He played two more seasons at Oakland City (Ind.) University for head coach T-Ray Fletcher. Toss in the lessons he gained from playing football at Gibson Southern for head coach John Obermeier and that has formed Simmons as a coach.

“You pick stuff from everybody,” says Simmons. “(Reid) was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was always upfront. That’s what I try to do. To a fault, I’m almost too truthful.

“(Reid) was also big on the little things.”

A third baseman in high school, Simmons was moved to shortstop at Vincennes when the starter got hurt.

Blemker was known for his passion.

“Everyday he expected things,” says Simmons of Blemker. “This is how it’s going to be.”

The fiery Blemker, who died in 2012, won 1,178 games during a storied career. At the time of his retirement in 2006, that was the most coaching wins in NJCAA Division II history.

Simmons recalls how Obermeier wanted his athletes to “take care of business” and also had a good working relationship with coaches of other sports. They shared athletes at Gibson Southern.

“(Fletcher) is still a big part of my life,” says Simmons, who not only played for T-Ray’s Mighty Oaks but helped coach them during his fifth year of college while pursuing his master’s degree. “That’s when I got the bug for coaching.”

Heading into his second season at North Posey, Simmons’ coaching staff includes Lennie “Peanut” Titzer, James Hensley, Lance Fleener, Dustin May and Jeremy Lavanchy. Titzer was Simmons’ Babe Ruth League coach and an assistant at Gibson Southern.

The Vikings are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, Perry Central, South Spencer and Tell City. North Posey has an enrollment of about 500.

North Posey plays on a field behind the school that it shares with Cub (seventh and eighth graders playing 15 to 20 games in the spring) and Poseyville Babe Ruth programs (Red and Black teams are part of an eight-team league with biggest part being from Gibson County).

Simmons says he hopes to have an American Legion team — Poseyville Post 278 /New Harmony Post 370 — playing their next summer. The plan is to play weekday games to accommodate the weekend travel ball schedules of his players.

Jesse and Courtney Simmons reside in Haubstadt, Ind. with their five children — sons Jeter (9) and Jensen (8) and daughters Albany (7), Vera (6) and Savannah (1).

The oldest of three children, Jesse’s parents are Jim and Diane Hornby. His siblings are Amber and Quentin.

A New York Yankees fan, Jesse Simmons’ favorite players are Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly.

“(Jeter) thrived under pressure,” says Simmons. “He was a good leader. He was never afraid of the moment and the spotlight is a tough place to play.”

Mattingly, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is from nearby Darmstadt, Ind., and played high school baseball at Evansville Memorial.

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Jesse Simmons, the head baseball coach at North Posey High School in Poseyville, Ind., poses with his family. Front row (from left) Jeter Simmons, Vera Simmons, Albany Simmons and Jensen Simmons. Back row (from left) Jesse Simmons, Savannah Simmons and Courtney Simmons.

Individual development key as Mercer builds Indiana Hoosiers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer was once in their shoes.

That’s why he takes the approach he does as a head coach in college baseball.

Mercer, who was hired last summer to run the program at Indiana University, wants to give his players their best chance to showcase what they can do.

With that in mind, Mercer and his staff (Dan Held, Justin Parker, Casey Dykes, Scott Rolen and Denton Sagerman) design their fall practice schedule with individual work first before intrasquad and exhibition games.

“Development has always been the core foundational piece of our coaching philosophy,” says Mercer, who came to the Hoosiers after successful two-season run as head coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “You really need to take the time to coach the players. We want to make sure we put guys in position to maximize their strengths.

“You only get to find those strengths through building the relationships and focusing on the individual development of the players.”

Rolen, director of player development, brings his expertise from 17 Major League Baseball seasons and helped the staff lay out the whole 12-week fall plan. Former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and manager Mike Matheny was consulted on coaching and catching. New York Yankees infield coordinator Miguel Cairo was asked for his guidance.

Talking with players, coaches get to see what the goals and the prism through which they view life and baseball.

“It helps a ton to know where they’re coming from when you’re trying to coach them,” says Mercer.

This is not a new concept with Mercer, who played NCAA Division I baseball at the University of Dayton and Wright State before beginning his coaching career.

“We’ve always done individuals first,” says Mercer, 33. “A lot of programs will do the team portion first. That’s their prerogative. I understand that.

“For us, if I look at it from a young man’s perspective. I want to come in and settle in. I want to get in the weight room, get my body right. I want to learn what your expectations of me are as a player.”

The athletes want to know what is expected of them from mechanical, workload and style/brand of baseball standpoints.

“All of those take a lot of time for a player to understand,” says Mercer. “The player will do whatever the expectation is. They always rise to the occasion.

“So if you take five or six weeks and you give them time and structure and coach them like crazy.”

“If I’m a young man, I want to be at my best when I’m competing and showcasing myself in the fall and earning an opportunity to play in the spring.”

By putting the individual work first in the fall, players can figure out where their classes is and make the necessary physical and mechanical adjustments.

Mercer says fear of failure is taken away through this approach.

“Fear of failure is what holds back the most successful people,” says Mercer. “If I remove the fear of failure, I can just go grow and compete.

“All the lessons we’ve been taught can be applied much more readily into the game.

“At the end of the day, these players have one career. It’s our job to help them maximize their opportunity to play this game.”

Mercer says that’s what he wants for his son if he grows up to play college baseball. Jeff and Stephanie Mercer welcome Grady into the world in June.

What brand of baseball will the Hoosiers play in 2019?

“This team is more offensive and can just flat drive the baseball as opposed to a small-ball style,” says Mercer. “Let’s not take a guy who may hit 15 home runs and try to convince him to bunt for 30 hits.

Let’s let him get into good counts. I want to run the bases, but let’s make sure when we have a guy at the plate who can drive the ball, we don’t take the bat out of his hands. We play in a more offensive ballpark (Bart Kaufman Field’s dimensions are 330 feet down the left field line, 400 to center and 340 to right).”

Based on the fall roster, some of the Hoosiers’ top returning hitters  are juniors Matt Gorski (.356 average, 8 home runs, 40 runs batted in for 2018) and Scotty Bradley (.326/7/19) and seniors Ryan Fineman (.309/7/37), Matt Lloyd (.275/9/41) and Logan Kaletha (.261/8/31).

Outfielder Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate) catcher Fineman (California) and outfielder Kaletha (Michigan City) swing from the right side while infielder/catcher Bradley (New Jersey) and utility player Lloyd (Alberta, Canada) are lefties.

There’s also might in the relief core and not just in the late innings.

“We’ve got more bullpen arms,” says Mercer. “We need to make sure we really use our bullpen to accentuate our starters.

“We have mid-relief guys who are good so let’s make sure we utilize that strength.”

With Mercer being new at IU, he came in with no preconceived ideas about players.

“I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful we were,” says Mercer. “I purposely did not look at any of the stats or video from last year.

“I came in with a blank slate for everybody.”

Mercer has never appointed captains, but lets leadership reveal itself.

“Those personalities step forward on their own and you try to empower them,” says Mercer.

When he transferred from the Dayton to Wright State as a player, the coaching staff did not tell him he could not be a leader because he was the new kid on the block.

“I was very empowered to lead early in my time at Wright State and I felt comfortable in that role,” says Mercer. “A big part of my success was me getting to be myself.

“I hope the guys here feel the freedom to be whoever they want to be now and moving forward.”

Mental skills was important at Wright State where Mercer brought in Diamyn Hall as the first full-time coach in D-I baseball devoted to that side of the game. At IU, mental skills are talked about on a regular basis and Mercer leads most of the discussions.

Mercer, a Franklin Community High School graduate, grew up around the Indiana program. His father, Jeff Mercer Sr., was an assistant for the Hoosiers in 1988 and 1989 and helped found the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

Once the surreal idea of leading a team he cared so much about growing up wore off, Mercer began to focus on the day-to-day task.

“You have an ultimate responsibility to the young men and their families and the coaches that entrusted Indiana University to provide them a great experience,” says Mercer. “It’s an awesome responsibility, but it’s one we don’t ever take lightly.

“You can’t get caught being a fan. You’ve got go to work.”

JEFFMERCERIU

Jeff Mercer is the head baseball coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)

 

BLOOMINGTON, IN - 2018.08.23 - Headshot

New Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer has been spending the time to develop individuals this fall.  (Indiana University Photo)

 

Long-time coach Lehr prepares pitchers through Power Alley Baseball Academy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What Jay Lehr enjoys most about coaching baseball is passing along his wisdom to pitchers.

So the seasoned instructor has decided cease fielding travel teams — he ran the Aces Baseball Club out of Hamilton County Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind., for six years —  to focus on pitching instruction.

The Carmel, Ind., resident and president of Power Alley Baseball Academy, teaches individuals and teams at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville and at Mooresville (Ind.) High School

Lehr calls himself a “mechanical nerd.”

Factoring in body type and age, gets pitchers to repeat their deliveries and throw strikes by starting at the feed and working their way up.

Concepts like ground force, lift (balance point), direction with the hip (center of gravity), hand separation, release point and finish are covered.

“The goal is to have pitchers become their own best coach so they can fix themselves,” says Lehr. “Pitching’s boring. You have to do the same thing over and over again.”

Unlike hitters, who can swing the bats hundreds of times a day, pitchers have to build muscle memory using dry runs and reps without delivering the ball.

“It’s like tee work for hitters,” says Lehr. “You’re no good to anybody if you can’t get anybody out.

“And you need to make reps count. There are only so many bullets. You want a career or a season?”

While the baseball world is obsessed with velocity, Lehr would rather see pitchers who can establish the fastball and locate it.

“Throw 83 (mph) with sink and cut,” says Lehr. “I enjoy that. Hopefully, that will come back.”

Lehr likes to challenge his pitchers to throw no more than three pitches per batter.

When working with a group, he likes to end a session with a competition.

Sometimes, they play H-O-R-S-E.

“The first pitcher throws a fastball on the inside corner,” says Lehr. “Everyone else has to do it or they’ve got an ‘H.’

“You want to try to hit a spot and have a purpose every time you throw a ball.”

At the younger ages, Lehr teaches a four-seam, two-seam and no-seam fastball.

Generally, the four-seamer has glove-side movement and is elevated for the batter to chase it.

The two-seamer produces arm-side action.

The no-seam goes down in the strike zone.

If they can command the fastball, Lehr will mix in change-up grips.

“It’s a fine line to when you start the breaking ball,” says Lehr. “I won’t teach it until they can command the fastball and the change-up.”

For all pitchers, the idea is to upset the hitter’s timing.

This can be done through perceived velocity.

By hiding the ball and releasing it late, pitchers can deceive the hitter.

“It’s all about late movement and command,” says Lehr. “And the most important (ball-strike) count is 1-1. Whoever wins the 1-1 battle is way ahead. You’ve got to trust that process (as a pitcher). Commit to a pitch and finish it.”

Lehr says players should be leery about lifting weights too young and should be getting advice from someone who is certified or holds a degree in strength training.

A 1986 Carmel High School graduate, Lehr played one season at Chiplola College in Marianna, Fla., and three at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. His head coaches with the Pumas were Dennis Seitz and Mike Moyzis.

He was coach at the beginning of the Indiana Bulls‘ run and was an instructor when Chris Estep founded Roundtripper Sports Academy in 1993.

Lehr was Carmel pitching coach for seven seasons. He was on Eric Lentz’s staff, served one season as interim head coach then was an assistant to Dan Roman.

Mitch Roman, Dan’s son and a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer, is also a Power Alley instructor as is former big league corner infielder and current Philadelphia Phillies fielding coordinator Chris Truby, former Carmel and Notre Dame player Kyle Fiala and former Triple-A outfielder John Tejeck.

Last spring, Lehr was pitching coach for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Rich Andriole at Guerin Catholic High School in Carmel.

Jay is married to Amy and his two stepchildren — Brandon Stevens and Megann Blea.

Stevens played for Andriole’s IHSAA state champions at Indianapolis Cathedral in 2007. The catcher/pitcher went on to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis and dabbled in independent professional baseball. He is married with a 1-year-old and works as a roofing salesman in Jasper, Ind.

Megann is married to U.S. Army captain/engineer Dustin Blea and resides in Missouri.

Big league right-handers and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduates Lance Lynn and Drew Storen have been working on pitching with Lehr since they were in grade school.

Lynn, 31, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2011 and pitched for the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees in 2018.

Storen, 31, first appeared in an MLB game in 2010 and pitched for the 2017 Cincinnati Reds. The Carmel, Ind., resident missed the 2018 season after having Tommy John elbow surgery. The free agent is exploring his options for 2019.

“Lance has God-given ability,” says Lehr of Lynn. “He’s loose and has the same delivery he’s had since 12 years old. It’s clean and simple.”

A move from the first base side of the rubber closer to the middle helped Lynn excel in the second half in 2018.

Lehr plans to meet Lynn and his strength coach this winter in Nashville, Tenn.

“Drew is very meticulous,” says Lehr of Storen. “He was smaller when he was young so he had to learn how to get people out.

“He did not throw hard until his junior year of high school.

“Once strength caught up to him, the velocity came.”

By then, Storen already knew how to repeat his delivery.

“Drew has a knowledge of the kinetic chain and how it works,” says Lehr. “He has has proprioception (the sense that deals with sensations of body position, posture, balance and motion).

Lehr says Pete Page and Bobby Pierce are the men who taught him the love of the game.

The late Page coached at the Carmel Dads’ Club started a travel program that became the Carmel Pups.

Pierce was head coach at Chipola and retired from Troy (Ala.) University.

JAYLEHR

Jay Lehr is the president of Power Alley Baseball Academy and lead pitching instructor. He conducts individual and team lessons at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., and at Mooresville (Ind.) High School. He has been working with big league pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen since they were kids.

Competitive approach propels former Penn, Southern Illinois pitcher Whitmer into pro baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the Tom Petty song, Chad Whitmerwon’t back down” on the pitching mound.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander showed that growing up in northern Indiana and has kept that approach as a collegian and now a professional.

He was selected in the 10th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees.

Whitmer played for the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2017 and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers organization in June. He is now with the Short Season Class-A Helena (Mont.) Brewers, where Nestor Corredor is the manager and Rolando Valles the pitching coach.

Through July 10, Whitmer had made six appearances (all in relief) and was 2-1 with a 0.00 earned run average, eight strikeouts and three walks in 7 2/3 innings.

Throwing from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Whitmer uses two-seam fastball, “circle” change-up, curveball and slider. His fastball is regularly clocked at 88 to 92 mph.

What about the change in pro organizations?

“I like it here a lot,” says Whitmer of landing with the Brewers in Helena. “They’ve made me feel welcome.

“I’ve adjusted pretty well.”

The next stops in the Brewers system are the Low Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League, High-A Carolina (N.C.) Mudcats, Double-A Biloxi (Miss.) Shuckers and Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Born in South Bend, Ind., Whitmer played at Mishawaka Southwest Little League until he was 10 then was part of a core of travel baseball players who spent years with the Todd Marazita-coached Michiana Clippers (Marazita now coaches for the Michiana Scrappers).

Whitmer was a three-time all-Northern Indiana Conference selection at Penn High School, playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.

“(Dikos) instilled a lot of mental toughness with all the hard work we did,” says Whitmer. “That’s all stuck with me. In the off-season, we had really tough morning workouts. He helped me get to the next level by learning how to work.”

As a sophomore in 2011, Whitmer went 6-2 and led the NIC with a 1.50 ERA. As a junior in 2012, he went 5-4 with 1.44 and .386 batting average. As a senior in 2013, he went 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings.

Sean Galiher was the Kingsmen’s pitching coach at the start of Whitmer’s prep career then turned the reins over to Tom Stanton.

Whitmer, who turned 23 in May, credits both men with helping him fine-tune his mechanics and become more fluid on the mound.

In four seasons at Southern Illinois University, Whitmer was a two-time all-Missouri Valley Conference selection (2016, 2017) for head coach Ken Henderson and pitching coach P.J. Finigan. He hurled in 64 games (34 as a starter) and was 15-13 with a 3.70 ERA, 247 strikeouts and 41 walks in 282 innings.

Whitmer became the Friday-night starter for the Salukis midway through his junior season and held that spot through his senior campaign.

In 2017, Whitmer struck out 13 Indiana State batters, the most K’s by any SIU player since Finigan fanned 17 against Chicago State in 2005.

“One thing (Henderson and Finigan) preached a lot was being aggressive in the (strike) zone,” says Whitmer. “They made me a pretty competitor as well. Even if you don’t have your best stuff one day, you can still go out there and compete.

“You knew you were going to get a decent start out of me on Fridays and they knew they were going to get that out of me at the next level.”

After his freshman season at SIU, Whitmer played summer collegiate ball with the Richmond RiverRats (now known as the Richmond Jazz).

Whitmer is close to completing a degree in sports administration.

Chad is the son of Doug and Sara Whitmer. His father is a web developer and mother an accountant. Older sister Valerie Whitmer was a track and field athlete at Penn and graduated in 2011.

CHADWHITMER

Chad Whitmer, a 2013 graduate who pitched four seasons at Southern Illinois University, is now in the Milwaukee Brewers organization with Helena. (Helena Brewers)