Indiana native Gil Hodges has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and he may be getting another posthumous honor. Hodges was born in Princeton in 1924 and grew in Petersburg in southern Indiana. He attended Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Bronze Star recipient as a part of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. He was involved in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. He was a slugging first baseman for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers before managing the “Miracle Mets” to the World Series title in 1969 and dying of a heart attack in 1972. In his 35 looks on a Hall of Fame ballot, Hodges obtained the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the Golden Days Period committee for enshrinement in Cooperstown. The induction ceremony is slated for July 24. Hodges was in the inaugural class of Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in 1979. A water-crossing structure in Columbus, Ind., might be among his next recognition. A resolution passed through both chambers of the Indiana House to ask the Indiana Department of Transportation to ponder renaming the passageway on I-69 over the East Fork of the White River the “Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.” The bridge section is in Columbus. The resolution was co-sponsored by State Representatives Cindy Ledbetter (R-Newburgh) and Shane Lindauer (R-Jasper). “Resolutions don’t need to be signed by the governor,” says Adam Aasen, press secretary for Indiana House Republicans. “The bridge isn’t automatically renamed yet, although INDOT often takes these resolutions into strong consideration.” The famed son of Indiana already has several places bearing his name: • A bridge spanning the East Fork of the White River in northern Pike County on S.R. 57 is named for Hodges. • Princeton Community High School plays on Gil Hodges Field. • The diamond at Saint Joseph’s College, which closed in 2017, is also named for Hodges. • A large mural of Hodges stands at the corner of S.R. 57 and S.R. 61 in Petersburg. • There already is a Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and Gil Hodges Way in New York. • Randy’s Americana Cafe’ in Petersburg has a huge Hodges memorabilia display. A baseball-style lunch is planned in Gil’s honor on April, which would have been his 98th birthday. • Hodges wore 14. Both the Mets and Dodgers have retired that number.
Beach Harmon has long wanted to pursue a career in sports. It’s only fairly recently that he decided to do it as a baseball coach. He’s doing it at the collegiate level. In his first semester of a two-year Master’s in Athletic Administration program, Harmon is a graduate assistant coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., where he holds undergraduate degrees in Sport Management and Criminal Justice and played four years. On a staff head by Ryan Roth, Harmon works with hitters and infielders while Justin Love guides outfielders and baserunners, Ryan Moore leads catchers and Josh Tew assists with pitchers and serves as director of baseball operations. Harmon was also recently named head coach of the New York Collegiate Baseball League’s Genesee Rapids (Houghton, N.Y.) with NAIA-member Grace’s husband-wife tandem of Josh Tew and Lancers softball graduate assistant Samantha Tew also joining the squad as pitching coach and assistant general manager, respectively, for the summer of 2022. Harmon found the job posted on the American Baseball Coaches Association website and applied. In 2020-21, Harmon assisted at Fort Wayne, Ind.’s Indiana Tech on the staff of NAIA-member Warriors head coach Kip McWilliams. “I learned a lot of offensive approach stuff (from McWilliams),” says Harmon. “It’s a lot more in-depth than what a lot of coaches teach.(Tech’s) offense generally shows that. They’re tough to get out. Indiana Tech hitters have approaches for each count and different styles of pitching and use scouting report with the hopes of gaining an edge. “It’s cool to see are hitters take advantage of it,” says Harmon. “I hope I can bring a little bit of that to Grace.” Last summer, Harmon was head coach for the Fort Wayne-based Indiana Collegiate Baseball Summer League’s Indiana Jacks. While in college, he coached four summers in the Wildcat Baseball League at New Haven and Leo. Harmon is also a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Performance Enhancement Specialist and served as a fitness coach and one-on-one trainer at New Haven Fitness Center. The son of longtime coach Beach Harmon Jr., Beach Tyler Harmon has spent most of his 25 years around the diamond. When the younger Harmon joined the Grace staff, his father took his place at Indiana Tech. Born in Fort Wayne, young Beach moved with his family to nearby New Haven early in his elementary school years. He played high school baseball at Concordia Lutheran High School in Fort Wayne — two years with Lance Hershberger as Cadets as head coach and two with his father in charge – and graduated in 2015. He was also on state championship hockey teams in 2012 (3A) and 2014 (4A). “Coach Hershberger was very big on small ball and situational baseball – that helped me throughout my time (as a player) and it’s helped me coaching. “We’d bunt anytime. That’s how we practiced, too.” Hershberger wanted his players to have a high Baseball I.Q., had them read them read the book, “Heads Up Baseball” by Dr. Ken Ravizza and Dr. Tom Hanson and gave them quizzes from it. Beach Harmon Jr., who has also been a high school assistant at New Haven and Fort Wayne North Side, taught his son and his teammates about situational baseball and also being a good teammate and being competitive on every pitch. “I’ve been around the game since I was 5 years old and picked up on things people see as minor that make a big difference throughout the game,” says Beach Tyler. A righty-swinging 6-foot-5 first baseman, Harmon went to Grace, where he played for Bill Barr, Cam Screeton, Tom Roy and Roth in a four-year playing career that concluded in 2019. Harmon says Roth emphasizes discipline. “There was a level of focus and intensity that helped us through the (2019 season),” says Harmon. “We made one of the best runs in school history.” This fall, Harmon has Lancer hitters taking plenty of cuts at Miller Field and getting comfortable in their offensive approaches.
As an introduction to liberal arts, freshmen students at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., take tutorial classes. Eric Dunaway, a BKT Assistant Professor of Economics in his fourth year at the all-male school, has chosen to teach For The Outcome of The Game — a class that class meets 9:45 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and focuses on sports analytics. So far the class of 14 has dug into the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” and went on a field trip to a Cincinnati Reds doubleheader where they enjoyed give-and-take with Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz. “It’s something I’m interested in,” says Dunaway of sports analytics. “We’re learning it together. “I’m thinking about re-tooling it into a sports economics class in the future. I can absolutely teach it again.” Dunaway is a native of Spokane, Wash., and a lifelong Seattle Mariners rooter. “I have a strong background in statistics,” says Dunaway. “Sports analytics is new to me.” “Moneyball” — written by Michael Lewis and published in 2004 — was assigned summer reading for the fall semester elective class. The book tells about how the Oakland Athletics and Billy Beane (who is now Vice President of Baseball Operations) used analytics to their advantage. “It’s changed how (Major League Baseball) is played — for better and worse,” says Dunaway. Is it better or worse? “I try to avoid making the conclusions for the students,” says Dunaway. “We are changing the way we look at what stats matter. “There is no guarantee that making the sport more efficient will make it more fun.” The Sept. 1 St. Louis Cardinals at Reds outing was Wabash College’s first excursion since March 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping the school from those activities for 1 1/2 years. “We’re getting back to one of the things Wabash is really good at,” says Dunaway. “We do a lot of great learning in the field.” Professor of Rhetoric Dr. Todd McDorman, who went with Dunaway and company to Cincinnati, has taken Wabash students to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N,Y. The Society for American Baseball Research member hopes to do so again. Dunaway, who also advises students, says he received a perspective from Schatz into what classes they should take if interested in sports analytics. “Statistics and computer science are the two big subjects,” says Dunaway. “Those are the things you have to enjoy to enjoy doing sports analytics.” Another text for the class is “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won,” written by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim in 2012. Moscowitz, a native of Lafayette, Ind., with bachelor and masters degrees from Purdue University, is a Professor of Finance at Yale University. Wertheim is an accomplished sports journalist. Evan Neukam, Justin Santiago and Jacob White are students in Dunaway’s class. They all shared their takes on sports analytics and baseball. Neukam, a Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate who is on the Wabash baseball team, had seen the “Moneyball” movie (2011) starring Brad Pitt several times but had not read the book. “The biggest difference (between the movie and the book) is that the book goes more into detail on how analytics work than the story of Billy Beane and the Athletics.” Schacht worked with Beane in Oakland. “It was really interesting how (Schatz) got into his position,” says Neukam. “He didn’t use his college major (Economics). He learned on the job. He learned all coding for statistics on his own.” Neukam, a Cardinals fan, is finding out about sabermetrics, its terms and how they work. “I’m not sure what WAR (Wins Above Replacement is,” says Neukam. “But I know that’s pretty important. “The average Exit Velo (off a hitter’s bat) is more important than batting average.” Santiago, who grew up a Milwaukee Brewers fan in Mount Pleasant, Wis., and graduated from Westfield (Ind.) High School, enjoys combining his interest in sports and numbers. “Learning about the field of sports analytics in general has been great for me,” says Santiago. “I knew a decent amount about it. The next few weeks we’re going dive a lot deeper.” Santiago says tutorial classes help students become more well-rounded so they can write, debate and discuss a subject. Looking at MLB trends, Santiago says he has been “frustrated with high number of strikeouts and really low batting averages.” He has been pleased to see the Brewers — which have clinched a 2021 playoff berth — increase batting a average and on-baseball percentage. “Put the ball in play and you have a chance,” says Santiago. “WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is important for pitchers.” During the Cincinnati trip, students were able to ask many questions of Schatz. “I asked about when to move off of a player — when to trade or release them,” says Santiago. “As organization there is balance between knowing talent and this is the major leagues and you can’t give a player an infinite amount of chances. You have to win.” Santiago learned how Schatz dug into data for right-handed pitcher Dan Straily. “(Schatz) thought he could be more successful than his numbers showed and can develop into a better pitcher,” says Santiago. “He played well as a Red and traded him to Marlins for (right-hander) Luis Castillo (who has 40 games for Cincinnati since 2017).” Santiago’s take on “Moneyball”? “(Billy Beane) did not pan out as a player,” says Santiago. “Scouts valued him because of his physical stature and appearance. They over-valued the physical tools but did not look into the numbers and his flaws. “That — in a sense — led him to analytics. It’s not all about looking at a player’s tools. You have to focus on the results and what the numbers really say about the player.” White, a Peoria, Ill., native who pulls for the Cardinals, has his opinions. “I’ve always been on the analysis side,” says White. “I get the argument where the aesthetics are hurt (by analytics). Basketball is all about 3-pointers and baseball’s Three True Outcomes (home run, walk or strikeout). “It’s a product of ‘Moneyball’ and the whole analytics approach. Home runs are more interesting. There are less less stolen bases and bunts. There’s something exciting about a stolen base. It’s lost with the analytics. “If I’m paying money to see my Cardinals I want to see a win, I don’t care how they get it.” Dunaway’s class is giving former Peoria Chiefs foul ball hawker White and his fellow freshmen “a baseline understanding of how sport’s stats work.” Also a Chicago Bears fan, White is involved on 22 fantasy football leagues. “It’s a crude science,” says White of fantasy sports. “I use my best educated guess (to fill out weekly lineups).”
Three years of showing what he can do pitching in the power-packed Atlantic Coast Conference, University of Virginia right-hander Zach Messinger was selected in the 13th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. “I’m extremely excited and honored to play for a team like the New York Yankees,” says Messinger, 21. “They have 27 World Series championships for a reason.” A 2018 graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Messinger was part of a Virginia program that won 82 of 137 games during his time in Charlottesville and made it to the 2021 College World Series. Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor, who was the pitching coach at Notre Dame for nine seasons (1995-93) under Irish head coach Paul Mainieri, has led the Cavaliers to five CWS appearances with a national title in 2015. The 2021 season was Drew Dickinson’s second as Virginia pitching coach. “He’s already done a phenomenal job,” says Messinger of Dickinson. “He’s one of the best college pitching coaches in the country. “Statistically, we’re one of the best pitching staffs in the ACC because of it.” UVA ranked in the top three in the conference in several categories in 2021, including wins, earned run average, opposing batting average, strikeouts and innings pitched. Assistants Kevin McMullan and Matt Kirby have also helped get the most out of the Cavaliers. “We put full trust in the coaches for their game-by-game and series-by-series preparation,” says Messinger. In his three collegiate campaigns, Messinger made 51 mound appearances (11 starts) and was 5-3 with a 4.42 ERA. He racked up 107 strikeouts with 47 walks in 99 2/3 innings. In 2021, he got into 28 games (24 as a reliever) and was 3-2 with a 4.89 ERA. He fanned 64 and walked 21 in 57 innings. Does Messinger consider himself a starter or reliever? “I can be put out there no matter what,” says Messinger. “I have the mentality, endurance and pitchability to be a starter. “I also also have the capability to come out of the pen in high-stress situations. I can come on with short rest and deliver for the team. It comes down to where the organization thinks is the best fit for me.” Signed on July 22, Messinger is now at the Yankees training headquarters in Tampa, Fla., getting to know personnel and the way the system works and expects to be there into the fall. “The Yankees don’t tend to send new draft guys off to a (minor league) team,” says Messinger. “They like to have guys in-house throwing in front of coaches. “I want to find a good base strength-wise and be where the coaches want me to be by spring training.” The Yankees’ top four affiliates are the Low Class-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons, High Class-A Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades, Double-A Somerset (N.J.) Patriots and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Pa.) Railriders. Messinger employs four pitches from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot — four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and change-up. The four-seamer sat at 93 to 95 mph and touched 97 while Messenger was at Virginia. “The slider has more horizontal break and plays well off the fastball with the same release point,” says Messinger. “It’s late-breaking when I throw it correctly. It has become a pretty good ‘out’ pitch for me.” Messinger calls his “12-to-6” curve “Ol’ Reliable.” “I’ve had it since I was 15 years old,” says Messinger. “I’ve used the same grip ever since I was a kid.” He uses a “circle” change. Born in Evansville, Ind., Messinger moved into the Castle district while in elementary school. His family resided in Chandler, Ind., until his mother accepted a job offer and they moved to Richmond, Va., at the end of Zach’s senior year. Dennis and Lisa Messinger have four sons — Zach and 17-year-old triplets Eli, Lucas and Tyler. Dennis Messinger is a job site supervisor for Shurm Homes. Lisa Messinger is director of environmental sciences at Dominion Energy. He played basketball at Olney (Ill.) Central College. She was a volleyball player at the University of Evansville. Heading into their junior year of high school, all three triplets are athletes — Eli and Lucas in basketball and baseball and Tyler in track. Zach Messinger got his organized baseball start at what is now Evansville East Youth Baseball, but played at what is now Newburgh Junior Baseball from 8U to 11U. Dennis Messinger coached Zach and the Ohio Valley Vipers for his son’s 12U and 13U summers. At 14U and 15U, Zach was with the Cory Luebbheusen-coached Jasper J-Cards. He spent two seasons with the Indiana Bulls (Dan Held at 16U and Sean Laird at 17U). Curt Welch was Messinger’s coach for four varsity seasons at Castle. “That man taught me how to be a man while on the baseball field,” says Messinger. “Behind my father Curt Welch is the second-most influential man in my life. He was tough on me. He saw the potential that I had. It was going to take hard work and focus.” Messinger says Welch taught him how to treat the game and the opposition with respect and how to carry himself on and off the field. “He taught me more than how to hit a baseball or how to pitch,” says Messinger, who played third base when not on the mound. “What stands out is the stuff that was outside the lines.” After going 7-1 with a 1.66 ERA, Messenger was the 2018 Courier & Press All-Metro Player of the Year (he was first-team All-Metro three times) and was named to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and was a Prep Baseball Report Indiana first-team All-State selection. Also a three-letterwinner in basketball, he was Castle’s 2018 Lonnie Fisher Male Athlete of the Year Award winner and graduated with a 3.97 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and was a four-time Scholastic “C” Academic Letter recipient. His major at Virginia is Media Studies. He plans to complete that in the near future. “I’m very excited to have the opportunity to play professional baseball,” says Messinger. “Academics has always important to me and my family.” In the summer of 2018, Messinger went to Virginia early to take summer classes and to train. He played for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats in 2019, but did not play in the summers of 2020 or 2021.
Only a few years removed from playing himself, Adam Cornwell sees what makes today’s young baseball players tick in the era of metrics and analytics. “It’s a different era of baseball,” says Cornwell, a former pitcher at Bloomington High School North, the University of Indianapolis, University of Pittsburgh and independent professional ball and the head coach of the 2021 Park Rangers in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “They want to show off their athletic ability a little more as well as their velocity, strength and all this stuff. “Metrics are a big numbers and they’re being used. Every single pitch is measured.” When not guiding the Park Rangers, Cornwell can often be found at Grand Park learning how to use technology like TrackMan. He is also seeking his next full-time gig. He just finished a two-year stint on the coaching staff at the University of Dayton, where he had access to Rapsodo, Synergy and more. Jayson King is the Flyers head coach. Cornwell assisted pitching coach Travis Ferrick. Dayton won 11 straight Atlantic-10 Conference games leading into the conference tournament where the Flyers were beaten by Virginia Commonwealth in the championship game. Cornwell spent the 2019 season at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. It Paul Panik’s first season as a head coach and his Gaels staff was among the youngest in NCAA Division I with Panik (29), head assistant Andrew Pezzuto (26), volunteer J.T. Genovese (23) and pitching coach Cornwell (24). “Learning with those guys was awesome,” says Cornwell, now 26. “I had freedom and it made me grow faster. I was thrown into the fire early. “I’m super-thankful for the opportunity I was given over there.” Before beginning his coaching career, right-hander Cornwell pitched briefly with the Frontier League’s 2018 Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums. Manager Dan Rohn and pitching coach Greg Cadaret were former big leaguers. Cornwell was signed by Traverse City after playing for the Grizzly in the California Winter League in Palm Springs. There he got to work with Dom Johnson and work out with Joe Musgrove (who pitched the first no-hitter in San Diego Padres history April 9, 2021). “Dom is probably the best pitching coach in the country,” says Cornwell. “He’s just a stud. “I got to work out with (Musgrave) a lot. I got to learn how pro guys go about their day and their business. Dom showed me how I needed to change my ways of working out. He is the guy that made me the player I was.” Cornwell was connected to Johnson through Tracy Smith, whom Cornwell knew from Smith’s time as head coach at Indiana University in Bloomington. “He is the reason I wanted to get into coaching,” says Cornwell of the former Arizona State University head coach. “I see the way he was day in and day out and how his kids looked up to him. He’s their hero. There’s no better family than that family.” Smith’s children are among Cornwell’s best friends. Jack Smith was going to be in his Oct. 24 wedding in Bloomington (Cornwell is engaged to Renee Rhoades of St. Charles, Ill.) but he is expected to be the starting quarterback at Central Washington University after transferring from Arizona State. Cornwell played three seasons for College Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Vaught and pitching coach Mark Walther at UIndy and graduated in 3 1/2 years. He joined the Pitt Panthers featuring head coach Joe Jordano and pitching coach Jerry Oakes just before the start of the 2017 season. “I credit my coaching path to Coach Vaught,” says Cornwell. “He got me to the University of Pittsburgh. That’s where I made connections to start coaching.” Cornwell, who holds Sport Management from Indianapolis and master’s degree in Athletic Coaching from Ball State University, appreciates his relationship with Walther. “He’s a great dude and a hard worker,” says Cornwell. “As a pitching coach he allowed me to be me.” Walther, the director of operations at Pro X Athlete Development, now runs the College Summer League at Grand Park and Cornwell reached out to him and landed his position with the Park Rangers and has former UIndy pitcher John Hendry and former Center Grove High School pitcher and current Trojans freshmen coach Zach Anderson as assistants. Born and raised in Bloomington, Cornwell played in Danny Smith Park Baseball Leagues in Unionville, Ind., beginning at age 4. The Smithville (Ind.) Sluggers were an early travel team. In high school, he was with the Southern Indiana Redbirds among others. That team featured three players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Seymour High School graduate Zack Brown (fifth round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016), Columbus North alum Daniel Ayers (25th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013) and Greenwood Community graduate Alex Krupa (35th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2015). In one tournament at East Cobb in Atlanta, Cornwell’s team picked up Nick Senzel as a shortstop and Cornwell pitched the only no-hitter of his career. Senzel is now an outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds. A 2013 Bloomington North graduate, Cornwell play for Richard Hurt. “He’s a worker and he does everything right,” says Cornwell of Hurt. “He’s on top of everything. He’s super-prepared. Every practice is down to the T. “He demands respect and in return he gives a ton of respect to his players and the freed to be what they want to be. That’s the way these kids are taking to coaching and he understands that.” Adam is the son of Kara (John) Jacobs and George (Michelle) Cornwell and has seven siblings — Andrew, Matt, Allison, Jake, Sabrina, Ayden and Addisyn.
Now he’s enjoying a unique diamond and educational experience in the sunny Southwest.
Batting in the No. 3 hole, the righty-swinging freshman center fielder is hitting .412 (21-of-51) with two home runs, two triples, six doubles, 23 runs batted in, 21 runs scored, 12 walks, six times hit by pitch and three stolen bases for Arizona Western College in Yuma.
Max (19) is the youngest of Matt and Jennifer Weller’s three sons. Trent (23) and Sam (20) both played soccer at Chesterton.
Max decided a day or two after Christmas 2020 to transfer from Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. — where he spent the fall — to Arizona Western College (a school that also recruited him in high school). He packed up all he had at his Illinois apartment in his truck and went with his parents on a 26-hour drive.
“It was a journey out here,” says Weller. “But all for the good.
“I loved it out here. We get to practice outside reps every single day.”
Using a machine, AWC outfielders field pop-ups and work on their communication.
Most teams on the Matadors’ schedule use wood bats.
“The metal bat games would drag out too long,” says Weller. “The (wood bat) barrel is definitely smaller and does not have as much pop. But there are many truer hits and it’s so much more satisfying.”
Good wood is what 6-foot, 180-pound Weller got on the ball in the first game of a home doubleheader March 9 against Chandler-Gilbert Community College and smacked a homer over the right field fence at Walt Kamman Field. His other college bomb came in a Feb. 18 win against Northeastern in which he plated seven runs.
Weller’s lone four-bagger in high school came as a sophomore in a junior varsity win at LaPorte.
Weller played on the CHS freshmen team in 2017, moved up to JV in 2018 and was on the varsity in 2019, sharing time in right field with Tyler Nelson and at designated hitter.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell leads the Chesterton Trojans.
“He taught me the foundations of the game and how to move runners from first to second,” says Weller of Campbell. “I came to understand the concept that everybody has a role.
“You’ve got to trust the system.”
For a time in high school, Weller was called “Sunshine.” Then wearing long locks, he resembled Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from the movie, “Remember The Titans.”
COVID-19 took away spring sports in Indiana in 2020. But Weller found a summer baseball home.
Many circuits canceled their seasons, but the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., sprang up and Weller was one of a few who had not yet played past high school to participate.
“I loved it,” says Weller, who was assigned to the CSL’s A-Team. “There was a lot of good talent.”
Weller’s weekly routine was to travel from northwest Indiana to his grandparents’ lake house in Monticello, Ind., on Sunday night and then drove back and forth for Monday and Tuesday games at Grand Park.
Weller’s says he has connections for the Grand Park or Valley League in Virginia this summer, but could land elsewhere.
“It’s about finding an opening,” says Weller.
Having chosen to attend Wabash Valley, Weller joined the Warriors in the fall of 2020. Because of the pandemic there were no outside games, but lots of intrasquad action against players bound for NCAA Division I or — in some cases — those that had already played at that level.
“I saw all these great pitches,” says Weller. “I learned how to play with a (ball-strike) count.
“We were practicing everyday for every single week. I was managing that load as student-athlete. All those reps were beneficial.”
Wabash Valley, currently ranked No. 1 in NJCAA D-I, has been led for a quarter century by Rob Fournier.
“He had a lot of knowledge on the game,” says Weller of Fournier. “He was a really personable guy, but he worked you really hard during practice.”
Keehn played at Central Arizona College and in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Mitchem, who played at Brown Mackie College and Tri-State University (now Trine University in Angola, Ind.) has coached at Georgia College, Henderson State University, Drexel University and Marshall University as well as in Germany, Australia and Costa Rica.
Being at AWC has also afforded Weller the opportunity to learn about many cultures and bond with young men from all over the globe.
Besides Indiana’s Weller, there are two Matadors with hometowns in Arizona plus one each from California, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah plus seven from Dominican Republic, three from Netherlands, two from Australia, two from Saskatchewan, two from Venezuela and one each from Czech Republic and Mexico.
Weller’s roommate is Nevada’s D.J. Contreras. They share a dormitory suite with two Dominicans.
“Everyone is open-minded here,” says Weller. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of so far.”
Contreras is from Las Vegas. Weller smacked three doubles for the Matadors in a Feb. 19 trip to Vegas to play a doubleheader with the College of Southern Nevada — the same school where slugger Bryce Harper played prior to pro ball.
Weller is working toward an Associate Degree in Science at the two-year school. This term he is taking Calculus, Chemistry and Astronomy (online).
He takes most of his meals in the campus cafeteria.
“I load up on lunch and get the calories up,” says Weller. “You’re definitely going to burn them in practice.”
After playing in a local league, Weller started playing travel ball at 10U with he Chesterton Slammers. Uncle Brian Eaton was his head coach for three summers. The team then changed its name to the Indiana Strikers. Weller played his 14U summer with the Indiana Breakers.
Rob Kucharski was Weller’s head coach at 15U and 16U with the Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training team. That squad had many northwestern Indiana players.
Will, a 2016 Lanesville graduate, was hired when Zach Payne resigned in August 2020 as Swingin’ Eagles head coach after leading them since the 2015 season.
At 22, Will is one of the younger varsity head coaches in any sport in Indiana.
“I’m blessed that it happened at my alma mater,” says Will. “There’s no school I love more than Lanesville. It’s such a wonderful small community to be a part of.
“Everyone does know everyone.”
Jon is the youngest of Thomas and Marianne Will’s four children. Older brother Richard Will played tennis at Lanesville and graduated in 2005. His sisters are Jackie Kolkmeier and Cady Gustin. Jackie is married to North Harrison High School head girls basketball coach Jamie Kolkmeier.
The three older ones were all born in Florida, where Thomas and Marianne met while participating in a bowling league. Thomas is originally from Buffalo, N.Y., and Marianne from Youngstown, Ohio.
The family landed in southern Indiana, settled in Lanesville and had Jon, who went on to play tennis, soccer, baseball and golf at Lanesville.
After attending Spalding University in Louisville, Ky., where he saw limited baseball action and then Indiana University Southeast in New Albany briefly, Will decided to go into the working world. For nearly four years he has been employed at First Harrison Bank in Georgetown, Ind., as a vault teller.
At Lanesville, Will played one season (2014) for Rusty McCubbins and two for (2015 and 2016) for Payne. Those were Payne’s first two seasons leading the program. He is now a volunteer assistant at Providence, where he graduated in 2008.
The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, Orleans and South Central (Elizabeth). Lanesville has won five sectional crowns — the last in 2019. The Eagles earned a 1A state title in 2017 after finishing as 1A state runners-up in 2016.
Will played second base and shortstop in the ’16 championship game at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
Two members of the Lanesville Class of 2020 — Gabe Gowens (Hanover College) and Matthew Lindsay (Franklin College) — are on college baseball rosters. Will says there are younger Swingin’ Eagles with college aspirations and have been attending showcases and using recruiting websites.
Lanesville’s coaching staff is a large one, which helps accommodate work schedules. Besides McCubbins (a graduate of St. Xavier High School in Louisviille), there’s Joe Gowens (Eastern of Pekin), Lane Staples (Jennings County), Garrett Sherrell (New Albany), Lucas Timberlake (Lanesville), Taylor Proffitt (West Washington) and Spencer Purcell (Providence).
“It’s tough to find help everyday,” says Will. “Everyone works their way into a different area everyday.”
Staples played at Spalding after Will transferred out. Motivator Purcell handles strength and conditioning duties for the Swingin’ Eagles. Proffitt works with catchers.
Former pitcher Timberlake was a Lanesville classmate of Will’s.
“We talked about how we would be coaching our own ball club one day,” says Will. “Then came this opportunity.
“I’m learning as much as the players are learning everyday. Nobody sees how much the head coach is doing behind the scenes until they’re doing it
Through hills and valleys, the right-handed pitcher persisted and persevered until he finally stood on a major league mound at 28 and its those kind of lessons he passes along to the next generation with his baseball/softball business — Demand Command.
McClellan, who stands 6-foot-5, earned three letters at Indiana University (1998, 1999 and 2000). He pitched in 41 games, starting 22 with five complete games and one save. In 159 1/3 innings, he posted 111 strikeouts and a 4.58 earned run average while playing for Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan — a man he credits as much for what he did in stressing education as what he did between the white lines.
Long before that McClellan started giving back. He started the Zach McClellan School of Pitching in Bloomington, Ind., in 2002.
Zach and future wife Sarah met at IU. She is from nearby Ellettsville, Ind., and a graduate of Edgewood High School.
During his pro off-seasons, Zach was a student teacher during the day and gave lessons at night during his off-season.
With the growth of the business, McClellan began looking for a new name and a suggestion came from one of his pupils who noted how he was constantly telling them, “Don’t just accept control, demand command.”
McClellan says the difference between control and command is that with control you can throw to a general area and command is being able to execute your pitches to the catcher.
The two main aspects of pitching as McClellan sees them are how hard you throw and can you locate it. In other words: Velocity and command.
“I try to marry those two things,” says McClellan, who notes that location becomes very important when it comes to getting good hitters out.
Believing that training should be fun and challenging, McClellan began getting his young pitchers to play H-O-R-S-E baseball style.
While in the basketball version, a player has to replicate a made shot or take a letter, McClellan’s baseball variation requires one pitcher to execute a pitch — say a fastball to the outside corner — and have the next one up replicate that or take a letter.
The first Demand Command T-shirts McClellan ever had made asked: “Can you play H-O-R-S-E on the mound?”
“It was an inside joke between the instructed kids, myself and their parents,” says McClellan. “People would ask the question about what it meant.
“We were doing something kind of unique and kids were actually executing pitches. What I’ve noticed through the years is that if they have to call the pitch, it’s even better. Now they’re not just throwing a ball in the generally vicinity.”
McClellan never wants training to be drudgery for his players.
“If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it becomes more of a job,” says McClellan. “It’s not a job, it’s an opportunity. It’s fun. If you’re going to come to me it’s not going to feel like work.
“You have to make sure that the kids are enjoying what they’re doing, but learning at the same time.”
Since he began offering instruction, McClellan has preferred small-group lessons of three of four players.
“I say make sure kids aren’t just doing solo private lessons,” says McClellan. “A lot of parents want their kids to work one-on-one with a coach, but when they go on a field they have eight other teammates.
“At the end of the day there’s nobody behind the mound holding your hand and telling you how to correct yourself in a game. You have to have a feel on the adjustments you’re making.”
Every now and then, McClellan likes to match 17-year-old prospect with an 8-year-old learning how to pitch.
“The 17-year-old learns how to teach,” says McClellan. “The more you learn how to teach the better you get at your craft.
“(The teen is) learning how other people receive the information which makes them more receptive of the information.”
Now that he has been at it this long, another McClellan goal is coming to fruition.
“I’ve always wanted to create a community of baseball players that became future leaders,” says McClellan. “Kids that played for me or took lessons from me are now coming back to be coaches for me.”
Matt McClellan played at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., and pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays organization (Toronto selected the right-hander in the seventh round of the 1997 MLB Draft) and for the independent Newark (N.J.) Bears and Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones.
The DC website states the mission: “Demand Command was built on the principles that baseball and softball are teaching mechanisms for more than just the games.
Baseball and Softball have many life lessons within the games. Some examples are leadership, hard work, determination, discipline, working together with many types of people, dealing with success and failure and good character.
“The goal is to teach people the value of Demand Command life principles through baseball and softball. Demand Command stands for much more than commanding pitches or at bats. Demand Command is a way of life.”
Numerous DC alums have gone on to college and pro baseball. Among them is Dylan Stutsman, who pitched at the University of Indianapolis and then pitched for the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers.
Former Texas Rangers draft pick Renton Poole is now a senior pitcher at Indiana University Kokomo.
Zach and Sarah McClellan live in Columbus and have three athletic daughters — Mia (14), Miley (12) and Emery (10).
The McClellan brothers — Jeff (46), Matt (44) and Zach (42 on Nov. 25) — are the offspring of former college athletes.
Father Dave a basketball player at the University of Michigan and Mother Diane a track and field athlete at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.
Jeff played baseball at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.
Zach’s nephew, Sebastian McClellan, is a freshman basketball guard at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Mich. Niece Mallory McClellan recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Fordham University in New York.
The Blue Jays were on 64 broadcasts during the shortened season — two exhibition games, 60 regular-season contests and two playoff games — and Wagner worked all of them from a studio in downtown Toronto.
With the help of five camera angles and information graphics provided by MLB, Wagner and his broadcast partners were able to present a game complete with the crack of the bat and pop of the glove.
“It’s the greatest recognition when people say we had no idea you weren’t in Buffalo or Philadelphia,” says Wagner. “That was my goal going into this — to make it seamless on the consumer end.
“To our credit, we were able to pull that off pretty easily from the start.”
Wagner’s employer — SportsNet 590 — made a blanket corporate policy that for the safety of all, they would only be allowed to cover home games if they were at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
The Canadian government did not allow the team to play there and they moved all home dates to Buffalo, N.Y. The 2018 season was Wagner’s first with the Blue Jays after 11 with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
During the off-season, Ben and wife Megan live in Dunedin, Fla. — where the Blue Jays stage spring training — and were hunkered down there when the MLB season finally got started in late July.
Declared as essential, Ben was allowed to enter Canada to work following a 14-day quarantine (the Wagners had been in a modified quarantine since mid-March in Florida).
But that essential status only went with him and Megan had to stay at home in the U.S.
“It was a long-distance relationship,” says Ben. “It was a big sacrifice for her. We used technology as much as we could.”
When things opened up in Dunedin, Ben and Megan drove their golf cart for pick-up meals and groceries.
After Ben’s departure, it was mostly deliveries for Megan and there was the loss of human contact and socialization.
“She became kind of a hermit,” says Ben. “Everything was getting delivered to the door step.
“The heavier lift was done by her. Megan did a great job.”
Wagner’s gameday routine was different. For one thing, he did not get to see the sights.
“I love travel,” says Wagner. “I like to experience new things when we go to a city.
“It gives me an excuse not to suck too much hotel air. It’s part of the enjoyment of this job.”
Earlier in the year, the Toronto metropolitan area was at a standstill even though millions reside there.
“It’s city living and so full of various cultures and life,” says Wagner. That city has an incredible vibe about it.
“Toronto was essentially closed down.”
In 2020, instead of exploring in the morning and going to the ballpark, he went to the studio in Toronto each day at 2 or 3 p.m.
Quinn, who turns 26 in December, was a right-handed pitcher at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for four years (2014-17) and an assistant coach at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., for two seasons (2019 and 2020).
The IHSAA Limited Contact Period for baseball ended Oct. 17. Quinn worked with a few players each Friday, showing them the fundamentals of playing catch and giving them a chance to field ground balls.
Many players were not available since they were involved in football or others were getting ready for basketball season. The dead period lasts until Dec. 7.
Jeff Pittard, the father of Quinn’s former DePauw teammate, Reid Pittard, has committed as a part-time assistant. Other coaching candidates are being considered.
Quinn says he gets a sense that the Bulldogs will be a senior-heavy team in 2021. Among that group of left-handed pitcher J.T. Holton, an Indiana University Kokomo commit.
The new coach recently reached out to youth leagues in Michigantown and Kirkland to build a relationship with future Clinton Central players.
A full-time substitute teacher at the school, Quinn is looking into getting his transition to teaching license. He earned his DePauw bachelor’s degree in Communications. He also holds a personal trainer certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Quinn was brought to DePauw by then-DePauw head coach Jake Martin (head coach at his alma mater, Wabash, since the 2017 season).
“Coach Martin drove all the way from Greencastle to St. Louis to take me and my parents to dinner and drove back in the same day,” says Quinn. “He obviously cared a lot about me and his program.
“He made it very clear about how he wanted to do things.”
As a DePauw Tiger, Quinn took the mound 48 times (24 as a starter). He was honorable mental all-North Coast Athletic Conference as a junior and second team all-NCAC as a senior while also serving as team captain.
During his four years (the last three playing for head coach Blake Allen), DePauw made the NCAA Division III tournament twice and posted the most victories in a four-year record (98) in the history of the program which dates back more than a century.
Allen is a St. Louis native, which helped Quinn relate to the coach.
“He’s super, super passionate,” says Quinn of Allen. “He knows his stuff.”
Allen spent two stints covering five years at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he learned from highly-respected Commodores head coach Tim Corbin.
“(Allen) got the best out of everybody on the team,” says Quinn. “He was really good at understanding the mental side and getting us to lock into that.”
Allen had DePauw hitters in an attacking mindset and Mike Hammel and Jack Thompson both set the school record for home runs in a single-season at 13 in 2017. The ’17 Tigers hit 46 bombs as a team.
As a college freshman, Quinn took a Baseball History class. He is familiar with the old Polo Grounds in New York, where the dimensions were short down the foul lines and deep to center. He looks at the Clinton Central field and is reminded of that image.
“Our center fielder has to be very quick,” says Quinn. “He’ll have a cover a lot of ground.”
He’ll be asking his pitchers to throw a lot of strikes, keep the pitch count down and work to all parts of the strike zone.
Quinn also plans to take a page out of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson’s book.
“Gibson said that with every pitch, act like you meant it to go there,” says Quinn. “Don’t get frustrated. Get the ball back and get ready for that next pitch.”