Tag Archives: NJCAA Division II World Series

Illinois junior colleges tap into Indiana baseball talent

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Illinois junior college baseball has long been a destination for Indiana players.
Many have used the two-year institutions to springboard into a four-year school or the professional ranks.
Our neighbors to the west sport 41 National Junior College Athletic Association programs in Division I, II and III (Regions 4 or 24).
There is a difference between divisions.
NJCAA Divisions I and II can offer up to 24 athletic scholarships. Division III schools do not. Most (but not all) junior colleges have other scholarship and financial aid options.
Illinois’ NJCAA D-I teams include Frontier Community College (Fairfield), John A. Logan College (Carterville), Kakaskia College (Centralia), Kishwaukee College (Malta), Lake Land College (Mattoon), Lincoln Trail College (Robinson), Olive-Harvey College (Chicago), Olney Central College (Olney), Rend Lake College (Ina), Shawnee CC (Ullin), South Suburban College (South Holland), Southeastern Illinois College (Harrisburg), Southwestern Illinois College (Swansea), Triton College (River Grove) and Wabash Valley College (Mount Carmel).
Wabash Valley went 59-9 and qualified for the 2022 NJCAA D-I World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” says Wabash Valley coach Aaron Biddle, who is in his eighth season with the Warriors and first as head coach in 2023. “We’ve had some very good Indiana kids over the years. We’re just right across the border form Princeton, Ind. Getting into Evansville and going up to Indianapolis are great recruiting sources for us.
“Our conference is real competitive.”
John A. Logan, Kakaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois and Wabash Valley is in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference.
WVC plays mostly D-I schools with a few D-II’s sprinkled in.
“The more D-I opponents you have on your schedule the better it is for your (RPI) rankings,” says Biddle.
What does “JUCO Bandit” means to Biddle, who started his college playing career at former NJCAA D-III St. Catharine in Kentucky and finished at NCAA D-II Kentucky Wesleyan.
“Maybe he’s not be getting the offers he wants at (NCAA) D-I or a big school and he’s going to bet on himself and he’s going to go the JUCO route, grind for two years and get better everyday and definitely get that offer he’s not getting right now,” says Biddle. “We get to spend a lot of time with our guys. We get to be with them almost every single day. There’s not a lot of restrictions on how much practice time we have.
“The big things is that in the fall, we get to play 14 dates. We get to play every weekend. Guys are getting all those extra innings and they’re getting to compete. That’s a big thing for us.
“In baseball you’ve got to play to get better.”
Biddle says the funnest aspect of his job is seeing players land at their dream school.
South Suburban posted a 42-19 record in 2022.
Kevin Bowers has been head coach at Lincoln Trail since the 2010 season. That was the sophomore season of Justin Hancock (who went on to pitch in the big leagues and is now an Indiana State University assistant).
Bowers was on the LTC staff since 2001 and was an assistant to then-Statesmen head coach Mitch Hannahs (who is now head coach at Indiana State).
Bowers coached at ISU for the 2000 season. Lincoln Trail is about 10 miles from the Indiana line and 40 miles from ISU.
“The talent level is just off the chart,” says Bowers. “I’m certainly not knocking the state of Illinois. We’ve had a great deal of success with kids out of Indiana.”
Bowers has a take on “JUCO Bandit.”
“We develop an ‘ask no quarter, take no quarter’ mentality,” says Bowers. “We don’t want for a lot. We don’t need a lot. But we try to get a lot done.
“’Bandit has that negative connotation to it. When you go to junior college your mindset is that you’re foregoing the 100,000-seat football stadium. There’s not a lot of nightlife. Campus activities are geared around the athletics. You develop a worker’s mentality.
“There’s not a lot of thrills, but the talent at this level is crazy good.”
Bowers said there was a time when junior college baseball was battling the perception that their players had got booted from another school or could not make grades.
“Our guys are getting it done in the classroom and they’re getting it done on the field,” says Bowers, whose program earned a 2021-22 American Baseball Coaches Association Team Excellence Award for posting a grade-point average of 3.0 or above. “It’s a situation where academically you’re not going to lose ground.”
Illinois’ NJCAA D-II squads are Black Hawk-Moline College (Moline), Carl Sandburg College (Galesburg), Danville Area CC (Danville), Elgin CC (Elgin), Heartland CC (Normal), Highland College (Freeport), Illinois Central College (East Peoria), Illinois Valley CC (Oglesby), John Wood CC (Quincy), Kankakee CC (Kankakee), College of Lake County (Grayslake), Lewis & Clark CC (Godfrey), Lincoln Land CC (Springfield), McHenry County College (Crystal Lake), Moraine Valley CC (Palos Heights), Morton College (Cicero), Parkland College (Champaign), Prairie State College (Chicago Heights), Sauk Valley CC (Dixon) and Spoon River College (Canton).
Heartland (49-10) played in the 2022 NJCAA D-II World Series in Enid, Okla.
The Mid-West Athletic Conference features Heartland, Danville Area, Illinois Central, John Wood, Lewis & Clark, Lincoln Land, Parkland and Spoon River plus Vincennes (Ind.) University.
Also in 2022, Kankakee went 43-17, McHenry 40-18, Black Hawk-Moline 35-20, Lake County 32-20 and Morton 32-20.
Illinois’ NJCAA D-III features College of DuPage (Glen Ellyn), Harper College (Palatine), Joliet Junior College (Joliet), Oakton CC (Skokie), Rock Valley College (Rockport) and Waubonsee CC (Sugar Grove).
The Arrowhead Conference is made up of Black Hawk-Moline, Carl Sandburg, Highland, Illinois Valley, Kishwaukee and Sauk Valley.
Oakton (34-28-1) competed in the 2022 NJCAA D-III World Series in Greenville, Tenn.
Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference includes Lake County, Elgin, McHenry County, Moraine Valley, Morton, Oakton, Prairie State and Waubonsee.
Since 1993, Triton is a two-time D-I World Series runner-up (1993 and 1994).
D-II World Series titles were earned by Kishwaukee (1999), Lincoln Land (2000), Parkland (2002 and 2009) and Kankakee (2017). Parkland was also a runner-up in 2018.
Joliet earned D-III World Series championships in 1994, 2008 and 2012 and placed second in 1995 and 2015. Oakton reigned in D-III in 2018 and Waubonsee was runner-up in 1996.

Marian, Northwestern Ohio alum Brammer independent ball veteran

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

South Bend, Ind., native Dylan Brammer has pitched his forkball on multiple continents.
For most of the past decade, the right-hander has played professional baseball in independent U.S. leagues and abroad.
At 32, he’s still got his eye on his next pitch while sharing his knowledge with youngsters coming up in the game.
The 2008 graduate of Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School who played at Ancilla College (Donaldson, Ind.), Vincennes (Ind.) University and the University of Northwestern Ohio started his pro career with the independent Frontier League’s Rockford (Ill.) RiverHawks in 2012. Rich Austin was the manager.
Rockford was giving Brammer — who was a two-way player in high school and college — a shot at shortstop.
“I was always a good hitter, but not a great hitter,” says Brammer.
The RiverHawks discovered how hard he threw and sent him to the bullpen to see if he could harness his speed.
By the time Brammer was released last day of transactions, he saw his future on the mound.
“I know I can compete at that level as a pitcher, but I couldn’t throw strikes,” says Brammer. “I told myself I’m going to concentrate the next eight, nine, 10 years on my craft — pitching.”
Brammer, who has Marketing degree from UNOH, worked a genetic software sales job in 2013. But he heard and headed the call of baseball and went back to the diamond.
He played with he Pittsburg (Calif.) club for three seasons in the independent Pacific Association. Wayne Franklin managed the Pittsburg Mettle in 2014 while Aaron Miles was in charge of the Pittsburg Diamonds in 2015 and 2016.
Brammer started 33 games for Pittsburg and went 16-9 with 206 strikeouts and 102 walks in 217 innings.
In the latter part of 2016, Brammer landed with the Steve Brook-managed River City Rascals, a Frontier League team in the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon, Mo. In four games (two starts), he went 2-1 with 13 K’s and eight walks in 17 2/3 innings.
An opportunity to play overseas came in 2017 and Brammer was off to the Czech Republic to play for 3n2 International Stars at Prague Baseball Week and for Czech Baseball League’s Skokani Olomouc.
A month break between the end of the regular season and the playoffs gave Brammer the opportunity to travel all over eastern Europe.
In what is winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer south of the equator, Brammer played in Australia in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The first two seasons he was with the Port Adelaide Magpies in the South Australia State League and won two Capps Medal awards as MVP. Port Adelaide went to back-to-back championship series. Brammer had games of 23, 21 and 19 strikeouts.
He managed in both Port Adelaide and Perth. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he did not go back to club ball in Australia.
The 5-foot-10 righty was with the New Jersey Jackals for parts of four seasons, winning 16 games, saving 18 and whiffing 184 while walking 90 in 218 2/3 innings.
Brooks Carey managed the team in 2018 and 2019 in the Canadian-American Association. The COVID-19 season of 2020 saw the Jackals in the All-American Baseball Challenge.
Carey guided New Jersey in the Frontier League in 2021. When the Jackals were not going to the playoffs, Brammer finished the season with the Atlantic League’s Stan Cliburn-managed Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.
In nine games (all in relief) with Southern Maryland in 2021, Brammer went 1-0 with 16 strikeouts and six walks in 14 innings.
A testing ground for Major League Baseball, the Atlantic League pushed the mound back to 61 feet, 6 inches, restricted infield shits and had Trackman call balls and strikes during the 2021 season.
“It didn’t take that much time to adjust (to 61-6),” says Brammer. “My off-speed was up in the zone at 60-6. It broke a little more and stayed lower in the zone (at 61-6). They did me a favor.”
Throwing straight over the top, Brammer uses four pitches — four-seam fastball, cutter, slider and forkball.
“I have a heavy fastball that goes from 90 to 92 mph,” says Brammer. “I hide the ball really well and have fast arm speed.”
Brammer’s family moved to Florida after his high school days and he has been there in the off-seasons since 19.
He received an invitation to pitch in the Mexican League in 2022. With his girlfriend due to have a boy in December, Dylan opted to stay in Delray Beach, Fla., and teach baseball lessons while coaching the 12U East Boynton Blaze. He’s also staying sharp for his next playing opportunity.
“I take pride in how serious I take baseball,” says Brammer. “I work at it daily.”
Born in South Bend to Michael and Lisa Brammer, Dylan is the second oldest of 10 (seven girls and three boys).
Brammer played at South Bend Southeast Little League and helped his team to the state tournament at age 12.
When he got older, one of his summer teams was Mishawaka American Legion Post 161 coached by Jeff Moore.
He played for Tim Prister at Marian High.
“He was tough on us,” says Brammer of Prister. “I loved that about him. He expected a lot out of our class.
“We took practices and games serious.”
Marian was IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up in 2008, losing 5-1 to Crawfordsville in the championship game at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Brammer played shortstop and batted third that day, getting one of three hits off Athenians left-hander Cameron Hobson.
Brammer drew interest from some NCAA D-I schools, including Butler and Michigan State. He says he did not have the grades to get into Butler and went the junior college route.
Playing for Ancilla Chargers head coach Joe Yonto, Brammer hit .420 with 13 extra base hits in 44 games in 2009.
At Vincennes U. in 2010, Brammer hit .372 with 18 extra base hits and a .428 on-base percentage for the Chris Barney-coached Trailblazers. VU went to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Baseball World Series in Enid, Okla.
At Northwestern Ohio in 2011 and 2012, Brammer hit a combined .292 and posted a 1.21 earned run average on the mound with 61 strikeouts in 49 innings. The Racers head coach was Kory Hartman.

Dylan Brammer (Bert Hindman Photo)
Dylan Brammer (Bert Hindman Photo)
Dylan Brammer (Bert Hindman Photo)
Dylan Brammer (Skokani Olomouc Photo)
Dylan Brammer (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

Managing relationships key for UIndy baseball assistant Forde

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Trevor Forde saw the game from behind the mask as a player.
The University of Indianapolis assistant baseball coach knows what makes catchers tick.
Evanston (Ill.) High School graduate Forde (pronounced Ford like the car) was a backstop and played for former catchers Nate Metzger at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., and Gary Vaught and Al Ready at UIndy.
After competing for Frank Consiglio and graduating from Evanston in 2011, Forde played for two National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series qualifiers (2012 and 2013) with Metzger.
“Coach Consiglio taught me to put in the work,” says Forde. “The guys that out-work you will have more success.
“(Metzger, who is now associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Wright State University) gave me my first look and passion for coaching college baseball. He’s a special human.”
Forde played for Vaught at NCAA Division II Indianapolis in 2015 and 2016 and then went right into coaching, beginning with as a graduate assistant in 2017 and 2018. He holds a bachelor’s degree and masters in Sport and Fitness Administration/Management from UIndy.
Former Indianapolis backstop and longtime assistant Ready became head coach of the Greyhounds beginning with the 2019 season.
“(Vaught and Ready) solidified that thought of coaching,” says Forde. “There’s a lot to be said why catchers get into the coaching realm. They see the whole field
“They are really good at managing relationships. They work with all the pitchers. That guy steps out on the mound and he believes in you. You have that connection.”
Forde says that ties in with coaching.
“You’re dealing with so many personalities and getting guys to trust you,” says Forde.
Many hats are worn by Forde the coach. He is in charge of Hounds catchers and also helps develop hitters and plays a big part in recruiting.
“Since catcher is my former position, I take a lot of pride it that,” says Forde. “We’ve got a pretty good catching core.
“In the simplest of forms I always tell catchers to make strikes strikes and we want to win the border line pitch. We’ve got to put ourselves in position to present the ball to the umpire well. We want to be on-time and have a subtle movement to manipulate the ball back to center.”
Forde says every college catcher has to be able to control the running game.
Throwing out would-be base stealers is one thing, but Forde shares the philosophy shared by Bellarmine University coach Larry Owens about limiting steal attempts.
“That resonates with me,” says Forde. “We can show arm strength. The word can get out (to runners). If you limit the amount of attempts, the number of stolen bases is going to be reduced.”
Forde says recruiting at this time of year is not as intense at the D-II level as it is in the summer and fall.
“We’re tying up loose ends with guys we’ve had contact with and late bloomers,” says Forde. “Next year’s recruiting class is pretty much wrapped up for us.”
In dealing with recruits, Forde tells it like it is.
“We’re going to be brutally honest at times with guys,” says Forde. “We won’t present ideas that aren’t realistic. The more honest you can be with the guy — and especially with their parents — the better.
“There are no grey areas. We are blunt at times.”
UIndy is part of the Great Lakes Valley Conference with teams in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. Those three states plus Ohio, Kentucky and Wisconsin are at the core of the Greyhounds’ recruiting territory though the 2022 online roster also lists players from Canada and Colombia.
“We’re doing a pretty good job getting in the right players who believe in what we’re trying to do,” says Forde. “We need guys who are the right fit.”
In this COVID-19 pandemic era with players taking extra years of eligibility, Forde says it is important to know the players’ intentions about coming back or moving on.
“He might (repeatedly) say ‘I’m coming back’ then he gets a job offer,” says Forde. “As baseball coaches we brought him into our institution to get a degree.”
Forde and Ready are seeking well-rounded players and place a premium on defense.
“Coach Ready said it best — we’ve got to play both ends of the game,” says Forde. “At some positions I’d take a lesser bat with a plus-glove. The game is meant to be pitching and defense. You’re only as good as that guy that you roll out on the bump.
“I want my pitcher to be confident. If the ball is in-play their defense is going to make the play.”
The Greyhounds go for moundsmen that understand how to pitch and that contact is not a bad thing.
“We’re looking for bulldogs — guys that aren’t going to shy away from the moment,” says Forde. “That stems from our preparation. We teach guys how to pitch and how to read swings.
“We want a complete pitcher.”
Adam Cormwell is UIndy’s pitching coach. Scott Holdsworth is a volunteer assistant. Jacob Christie is a graduate assistant. The support staff includes athletic trainer Makenna McAteer, strength and conditioning coach Andrew Fallon and sports information GA Brady Budke.
Indianapolis, which went 23-21 overall and placed second in the GLVC at 19-13, opens the 2022 season Feb. 18 at Greyhound Park against Notre Dame (Euclid, Ohio). A series at Lake Erie (Painesville, Ohio), where former UIndy assistant Landon Hutchison is now head coach, begins March 11.

Trevor and high school sweathart Emma were married in July 2020.

Trevor Forde (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Trevor Forde (University of Indianapolis Photo)

IU Kokomo’s Cheek emphasizes competition, classroom, community

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Cheek spent the summer collegiate baseball season of 2015 playing for the Kokomo Jackrabbits.

Coming off his first season as a pitcher at Indiana State University, Cheek played for manager Matt Howard.

The two maintained a relationship and Cheek came back to town as an assistant to head coach Howard at Indiana University Kokomo. The 2021 season will be his third with the Cougars.

“I love it,” says Cheek of working with the energetic Howard. “He will push you day in and day out to be a better leader on or off the field.

“What I enjoy most about him is he gives freedom (to his assistants) as if we were in-charge. I can make the pitching program my own. There is trust my abilities.”

Cheek, 26, is not only IUK’s pitching coach but he leads the program’s academic supervision and community service and helps with camps.

At pitching coach, he looks for aggressiveness and competitiveness. 

“What we strive to do is attack hitters,” says Cheek. “We recruit a lot of guys who are athletes that go out and compete. They piece it together inning by inning and put up zeros.”

Cheek wants his hurlers to trust their defense.

“We have plenty of gold glovers on the field so pound the zone,” says Cheek. “Execution is big for us.”

Knowing that not all pitchers are the same, Cheek looks to get each one to identify what makes them successful.

“Every guy is going to have different pitches and different sequences that they throw,” says Cheek, who knows some will around 90 mph with their fastball while others will have to pitch backwards, starting with a breaking ball and spotting their fastball.

“It’s about letting them know their success and know what they have to bring to the table,” says Cheek. “When they take pride int he role they have that’s where you start to see success.”

About half way through fall practice, IUK pitchers (a group that includes Ryan’s brother, Kacey Cheek) are currently in COVID-19 quarantine.

“It’s been a tough fall,” says Cheek. “It make guys see the picture of how they approach each day with an appreciation and a full passion for the game.”

That can be said of the whole squad, which includes returning college players who had their spring season cut short and incoming freshmen who had their senior high school seasons canceled.

Cheek and the other IUK coaches encourage them to respect the game but also have passion.

“Show up with a chip on their shoulder,” says Cheek. “Keep a goal in mind each day and don’t let a day pass.”

Because of the pandemic, the NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to those who want to use it.

Among those back to lead the Cougars are right-handed pitcher Renton Poole (at Bloomington High School South graduate who was selected in the 28th round of the 2018 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers but opted to stay in college) and infielder Austin Weiler.

While being aware of contact tracing, IUK baseball coaches work to separate players on the field and in the weight room. With pitchers away, there are a number of machine scrimmages. 

“We’ll have developmental work and one-on-one work when pitchers come back,” says Cheek.

As an academic supervisor, Cheek makes sure players are keeping up their grades up. He stays in-touch with professors and sets study table hours.

“They’re coming to IUK to get an IU degree and play baseball,” says Cheek. “The goal is to get these guys to where they want to go in life.

“My goal is to make sure they’re reaching their goals in the classroom.”

IUK students are currently taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After Thanksgiving to the end of the semester that will be all online.

While COVID-19 regulations and protocols has limited what players can do at the moment, there was plenty of community service with local groups last fall. Cheek says that each team member did up to 25 hours in the fall while meeting Kokomo know they care.

Cougars associate head coach Drew Brantley heads up camps and is helped by Cheek and Howard.

Cheek took his current job after serving as varsity boys basketball and varsity baseball coach at his alma mater Oblong (Ill.) High School. In 2018 and 2019, he coached Britton’s Bullpen 16U travel team.

As a player, Cheek was in spring training with the independent professional Evansville (Ind.) Otters in 2017.

Cheek pitched two seasons at Indiana State University (2015 and 2016) and two at Vincennes (Ind.) University (2013 and 2014).

As a right-handed collegiate pitcher, Cheek went 10-5 in 32 mound appearances (16 starts) at VU and 2-0 in 11 games (all in relief) at ISU.

Cheek was the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12 MVP in 2014 and helped Vincennes make the NJCAA D-II World Series (placing seventh).

He earned Management and Marketing degree from Indiana State in 2016.

Mitch Hannahs was the head coach and Jordan Tiegs the pitching coach at ISU.

Cheek went to youth camps run by Hannahs when the latter was coaching at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played under,” says Cheek of Hannahs. “He understands the game and knows how to compete.

“He helped me grow as a player and a person.”

Tiegs, who is now a coach in the Rangers organization, had an impact on Cheek.

“He was really smart and knew how to develop guys,” says Cheek of Tiegs. “He really sparked my interest about what a routine meant and entailed — throwing everyday, arm health, your body moving correctly and competing at a high level.”

Cheek appreciates his time with Vincennes head coach Chris Barney.

“He knew the game,” says Cheek of Barney. “He was a little Old School, but I loved it.”

The term “JUCO bandit” is used in baseball circles these days. Cheek tells what it means to him.

“They are guys who are hard-nosed and a little blue collar,” says Cheek. “It was a really good fit for myself to go junior college route. I learned a lot about myself — who I am as a person and player.”

Without the time restrictions of the NCAA and NAIA, junior college players have the chance to spend plenty of time working on their craft.

“We had a fall and spring season and a lot of competition,” says Cheek. “You’d get out of class and then be at the field for six hours at a time.

“We learned what ‘no off days’ meant,” says Cheek. “You didn’t get many.”

Cheek grew up in Oblong, which is Crawford County about 20 miles from the Indiana line and Sullivan County, Indiana. 

The 2012 OHS graduate played golf for coach Jason Hartke, basketball for coach Brent Harper and baseball for coach Dave Miller.

Richard and Kelly Cheek have three children — Ryan, Kacey (20) and Lincoln Trail College freshman Katie (18). 

Ryan Cheek, a graduate of Oblong (Ill.) High School, Vincennes (Ind.) University and Indiana State University, is heading into his third season as a baseball assistant coach at Indiana University Kokomo in 2020-21. (IU Kokomo Photo)

Former Yorktown catcher Tanner uses his experiences as instructor, coach

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zeth Tanner was 6 when he got his first baseball lesson.

He received the foundation that led him to play in high school, college and, briefly, independent professional ball.

Tanner, 26, is now an instructor at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in his hometown of Yorktown, Ind., as well as a coach with the Indiana Nitro travel organization.

Over the years, Tanner has soaked up diamond knowledge from Kevin Long (current Washington National hitting coach), Mike Stafford (former Ball State and Ohio State assistant), Mike Shirley (Chicago White Sox amateur scouting director), Michael Earley (Arizona State hitting coach), Mike Farrell (Kansas City Royals scout), Kyle Rayl (former Muncie, Ind., area instructor) and more.

“I believe in doing things the right way,” says Tanner, who primarily a catcher and designated hitter in the collegiate and pro ranks. “I don’t like kids talking back to the umpire. Treat people with respect.

“If the umpire makes a bad call, learn from it and move on.”

Playing for former head coach Mike Larrabee at Yorktown (Ind.) High School, Tanner learned the value of hustle. 

The coach gave his biggest praise to the power-hitting Tanner the day he hit a routine pop fly that resulted in him standing on second base when the second baseman mishandled the ball because he took off running at impact.

“You’ve got to work hard,” says Tanner, who was head coach of the 16U Nitro Cardinal and assisted by Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate and NCAA Division I Murray State University pitcher Carter Poiry in the spring and summer and is now an assistant to organization founder Tim Burns with the 16U Nitro Gold. “I’m not a fan of people who just show up to play and don’t do anything in-between the weekends.”

Last weekend was the first of the fall season for the Nitro, which will play most events at Grand Park in Westfield, and close out with a Canes Midwest tournament.

Tanner, who was born in Muncie and raised on a 40-acre horse farm in Yorktown, played for the Nitro when he was 18 after several travel ball experiences, including with USAthletic, Pony Express, Brewers Scout Team and Team Indiana (for the Under Armour Futures Game). 

Tanner has witnessed a change in travel ball since he played at that level.

“There are more team readily available,” says Tanner. “It used to be if you played travel ball you were good. Now it’s more or less watered down.

“You’ll see a really good player with kids I don’t feel are at his level.”

While the Indiana Bulls one of the few elite organization with multiple teams per age group, that is more common these days.

Older brother Zach Tanner played for the Bulls and went on to play at National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.), NCAA Division I Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio) and in the American Association with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and the Grays of the Frontier League before coaching at NJCAA Division III Owens Community College (Perrysburg, Ohio) and NAIA Indiana Wesleyan University.

Zeth Tanner began his college baseball career at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University, redshirting his sophomore season (2015). David Pressley was then the Ravens head coach.

In 2016, Tanner helped Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio) to its first NJCAA Division II World Series berth. The Steve Dintaman-coached Tartan Pride placed third. It’s the furthest Sinclair has gone in the JUCO World Series to date.

Tanner stays in-touch with Dintaman.

“He’s a very good coach and very into the mental game,” says Tanner of Dintaman. “He taught me a lot and has a lot to do with the path that I’m on.”

From Sinclair, Tanner went to NCAA Division II Urbana (Ohio) University and played two seasons (2017 and 2018) for Blue Knights head coach Jake Oester (son of former Cincinnati Reds middle infielder Ron Oester).

“He knows a lot of baseball,” says Tanner of the younger Oester. “He’s a very passionate guy.”

Urbana closed its doors at the end of the 2020 spring semester.

Tanner graduated Magna Cum Laude in Management from Urbana and then signed a professional contract with the Santa Fe (N.M.) Fuego of the independent Pecos League. 

“I really liked it,” says Tanner. “It was 100 degrees almost everyday. But it was a dry heat.

“The ball the flies out of the park like nothing.”

Tanner launched several homers in practice and one in the lone official game that he played.

He was dealt to the White Sands Pupfish (Alamogordo, N.M.). When he was sent to a third Pecos League team — Monterey (Calif.) Amberjacks — he decided it was time to come back to Indiana.

He finished the summer of 2018 playing with his brother on the Portland (Ind.) Rockets and played with that amateur long-established team again in 2019.

Tanner ended up as a Pro X Athlete Development instructor for baseball and softball offering catching, hitting and fielding private training sessions through a Nitro referral and interview with Jay Lehr

Former Muncie Northside High School and University of South Carolina player Mark Taylor is owner of 5 Tool Academy, where Zach Tanner (31) is also an instructor.

Zeth Tanner, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate, swings the bat for Urbana (Ohio) University, where he played baseball and earned a Management degree.
Zeth Tanner swings during 2016 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Wold Series home run derby. Tanner and Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio) placed third in the tournament.
Zeth Tanner (right) gives catching instruction. Tanner teaches baseball lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and at 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown, Ind.
Zeth Tanner (foreground) teaches a catching lesson. Former Yorktown (Ind.) High School catcher Tanner teaches baseball lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown.
Zeth Tanner is a coach in the Indiana Nitro travel baseball organization. He has been working with 16U teams.
Zeth Tanner, a graduate of Yorktown (Ind.) High School and Urbana (Ohio) University, is a baseball instructor and coach. He gives lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown and coaches with the Indiana Nitro travel organization. He played high school, college and pro baseball.