Unseasonably-mild weather in December means that the first winter baseball workouts at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School this week were outdoors on the Zollner Stadium football turf. During the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period, Concordia head coach Matt Urban led twice-weekly workouts on Jack Massucci Field, which has been renovated and re-leveled. There were 14 regulars. “We promote multi-sport athletes,” says Urban, who led the program during the 2013 season and since the 2017 slate. “We had 11 football players and four or five in soccer. “We’ve got 38 trying out now.” While several players were lost to graduation in 2021, the Cadets are expected to return three seniors and plenty of quality in other classes. “Last year we had the grittiest bunch of kids,” says Urban, who saw some into the work force with 2021 graduates Tyler Grossman (University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne) Cooper Harris (Siena Heights University in Michigan) going to play college football. “I’ve got a lot of good (returning) talent.” Urban expects to have around three dozen players populating varsity and junior varsity rosters. Other alum moving on to college include Trevyn Moss (Class of 2018) to Northern Kentucky University for baseball, Jaden Parnin (Class of 2020) to Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne for baseball and Jeren Kindig (Class of 2020) to Saint Francis for football. Concordia (enrollment around 630) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead). SAC teams play home-and-series on Tuesdays and Thursdays against conference opponents with an Saturday occasional doubleheader. In 2021, the Cadets were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Garrett, Leo and New Haven. Concordia has won eight sectional crowns — the last in 2018. Coming out of spring break, the Cadets face what Urban calls a “defining week of baseball” April 11-16 — Monday vs. Heritage, Tuesday vs. Dwenger, Wednesday vs. DeKalb, Thursday vs. Dwenger, Friday vs. Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian and Saturday in a doubleheader vs. South Side. Urban’s coaching staff includes pitching coach Randy Jackemeyer, hitting coach Alex McKinistry and Nolan Brooks at the varsity level with former Concordia players Christian Dick, Drew Bordner and Matt Miller working with the JV. Urban, who instructs classes in Geometry, Algebra II and Pre-Calculus at Concordia Lutheran, once taught and coached at Columbia City. He was a baseball assistant to Todd Armstrong prior to his first stint with the Concordia Cadets. A 1993 graduate of tiny South Central High School in Farina, Ill., Urban played fall baseball, basketball and spring baseball for the same head coach — Gary Shirley. “He’s one of the best coaches I ever had,” says Urban of Shirley, who was also an English teacher. “He taught me a lot about the game and was like a father figure. “He coached our summer stuff. I was around him 345 days a year.” Conference baseball games were played in the fall with about 52 contests during the school year. In 2021, South Central won an Illinois state title for Class 1A. After a year of study at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill. Urban went to what is now Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., and was a three-year baseball starter for former Chicago Cubs assistant athletic trainer Mike Palmer. Upon graduation with an education degree in 1998, Urban went right into teaching and coaching middle school basketball in Chicago before moving to the Columbia City/Fort Wayne area. Matt is married to Hallie and has six children — Tyson Urban (19), Hayley Urban (18), Landon Urban (16), Will Sappenfield (8), Stella Urban (2) and Selma Urban (1). Tyson Urban is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech. Hayley Urban plays softball at Ball State University.
The High School and College Baseball Series at Parkview Field hosted by the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps is to feature 46 different schools for a total of 29 games between April 2-29. The TinCaps begin their 120-game High Class-A season May 4.
Tickets ($6) for High School and College Series games go on sale March 24 at ParkviewField.com.
The Parkview Field Ticket Office also will be open for ticket purchases beginning one hour prior to each day’s first pitch.
All transactions must be completed by debit or credit card (no cash). The TinCaps plan to utilize a special seating chart to account for physical distancing between pods of fans. Ballpark concessions will be available as well (no outside food or drink is permitted.)
When the 2020 season and the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft were clipped because of the COVID-19 pandemic, players were given the option of extra years of illegibility.
That means more talent has stayed in D-I that normally would have moved on.
“It’s testament to so many early-season upsets,” says Vanderglas, whose seen the Terre Haute-based Sycamores get off to a 6-4 start with a couple wins at No. 16-ranked Tennessee. “The pitching staffs have a lot more depth.
“There’s no such thing as an easy match-up.”
Vanderglas joined ISU as a volunteer in 2017 and was elevated to assistant coach prior to the 2020 season.
His responsibilities include working with catchers and outfielders and helping with hitters. During games, he is the first base coach.
Vanderglas also assists associate head coach Brian Smiley with recruiting and scouting.
With D-I continuing to be in a “dead” period where it can’t see potential recruits in-person, Vanderglas says there has been a shift in recruiting focus.
“We go a lot more on coach’s recommendations and video,” says Vanderglas. “We’re a lot more virtual with everything. And we have to do a lot more due diligence.
“We like to evaluate a recruit several times so they fit our style. We can see a guy’s physical tools on video, but not the intangibles like how they respond to failure and the overall makeup of the kid. Is he trying to do his best for himself or is he worried about the team?”
The “dead” period is scheduled to end May 30.
“When we get back on the road it will be an action-packed summer,” says Vanderglas. “There are tournaments and showcases about every day of the week.
“We’ll host some prospects showcases on our campus as well.”
Using software called Synergy, a report is compiled with video and statistics. The Sycamores can see the tendencies of opposing pitcher and the trends of hitters so they can move their fielders accordingly.
“We do a decent amount (of defensive shifting) with the analytics,” says Vanderglas. “We try to take away the areas of strength (for opponents).
“In the outfielder, we are a little different that many teams. We’re aggressive. We want to take away bleeders, especially when we’re way ahead or way behind in the (ball-strike) count. The last few years, we’ve shifted a lot more.”
Mitch Hannahs is in his eighth grade leading ISU after returning to his alma mater in 2013.
“His leadership is outstanding,” says Vanderglas. “He’s extremely consistent with guys. There are no ‘off’ days with us. You’ve got to get better each and every day.
“He’s good at blending personalities and getting everyone to commit to a common goal.”
The Sycamores roster includes players from 14 different states plus the Bahamas, Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Hannahs is demanding with his players and expects his assistants to be prepared.
“We don’t want to feel like we’re searching for answers,” says Vanderglas.
Before coming to Indiana State, Vanderglas was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., where he was associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for Statesmen head coach Kevin Bowers.
“(Bowers) was great to me,” says Vandeglas. “He trusted me. He let me have lot of responsibility. I got to learn from learn from trial and error while he offered constant assistance.
“We got after it and opened our boundaries in recruiting. He introduced me to people and gave me free rein to go after the people we wanted.”
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
Ben Davis: Jose Guzman — Pitcher, University of Cincinnati; Kameron Kelly — First Base, Undecided.
Brebeuf Jesuit: Shane Bauer — Pitcher/First Base, Dartmouth College; Karl Meyer — Right Field, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Andrew Pickett — Shortstop, Hope College; Gabe Wright — Center Field, Undecided.
Decatur Central: Timmy Casteel — Third Base, Undecided; Brayden Hazelwood — Shortstop, Indiana University Southeast; Jared Thompson — Pitcher/Center Field, Undecided.
Franklin Central: Austin Carr — Second Base, Grace College; Matt Hall — Pitcher, Ashland University; Corey Jeanor — Shortstop, Ashland University; Austin Snider — Outfield, Manchester University.
Indianapolis North Central: Carter Bailey — Infielder, Undecided; Zach Gessner — Infielder/Pitcher, Undecided; Brendon Gibson — Outfielder, Indiana University Southeast; Joseph Rangel — First Base/Designated Hitter, Undecided.
Lawrence Central: Anthony Steinhardt — Center Field/Pitcher, University of Dayton.
Lawrence North: Ethan Butterfield — Pitcher, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; Marcus Goodpaster — First Base/Pitcher, Undecided; Ty Johnson — Pitcher, Ball State University; Nick Taylor — Left Field/Pitcher, Purdue University.
Park Tudor: Ian Krull — First/Third Base, St. John’s University; Ben Rankin — Pitcher/Right Field, Purdue University.
Perry Meridian: Bayley Arnold — Pitcher, Earlham College; Isaac Jones — Second Base, Undecided; Luciano Salemi — Centerfield, Lake Erie College; Conner Woods — Catcher, North Park University.
Pike: Cameron Powell — First Base, Earlham College; Reggie Thornton — Center Field, Indiana State University.
Roncalli: Will Schoettle — Pitcher, Undecided; Alex Stroud — First Base, Asbury University.
Southport: Kyven Carter — Pitcher, First base, Undecided; Ryan Lezon — Pitcher/Shortstop, Ball State University.
Warren Central: Justin Alexander — Pitcher/Designated Hitter/Outfield, Seminole State College (Fla.); Cameron Booker — Pitcher, Muskegon Community College; Christian W. Jones — Pitcher/First/Third Base, Indiana Tech.
Since 2006, the Tigers have earned six sectional title and one regional crown racked up many victories.
Hagerstown was ranked No. 1 among IHSAA Class 2A teams for much of 2019 and wound up 28-2, losing to Indianapolis Scecina Memorial in the semifinals of the Park Tudor Regional.
With two young daughters, Tigers head coach Brad Catey opted to vacate the head baseball post and concentrate on softball.
New head baseball coach Jay Hale, a 2006 Hagerstown graduate, looks to keep program momentum going by emphasizing organization, discipline and fundamentals just like his high school head coach Lloyd Michael, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.
“He taught the fundamentals of baseball better than anybody,” says Hale, who expects to have eight players back who dressed for varsity in 2019.
A left-handed pitcher, outfielder and first baseman when he played for the Tigers, Hale was part of a team that won 26 games with sectional and regional titles his senior season.
Catey was a Hagerstown assistant in 2006.
“I was always hitting my spots,” says Hale of his pitching. “I had four pitches in high school and college.
“I always adjusted to my scenario.”
Hale pitched two years at Vincennes University for head coach Jon Adams. Ted Thompson, who is now head coach at Tecumseh High School, was a Trailblazers assistant and Hale credits him for teaching him much about catching.
“He taught me more about staying focused, being relaxed and having fun with the game,” says Hale of Peyton for whom he pitched sidearm as a senior to get more playing time. The two have stayed in-contact. “I take a little bit from all the coaches I’ve played for or coached with.
“I have to put the puzzle together and figure out what works. Some don’t respond to a mellow voice. Some crawl into the turtle shell when you yell. Those are the things I have to work through.
“I knew this opportunity was going to arise. I had to step up my game. There are so many different techniques.”
Hale’s goal the past two years is to focus on hitting fundamentals.
“There’s always something knew,” says Hale. “Those old-school guys stick with what they’ve known for years and it still seems to work. Hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
Hale notes that most high school pitchers want to throw outside so he will encourage his hitters to go the other way if that’s where they are pitched.
“We’ll play small ball and hit-and-run,” says Hale. “We’ll spread out (in our stances) and work on firing that back hip over the top of the plate and not pull out the front side. We’ll be more of a linear hitter and try hit the ball up the middle.
“It’s all about timing, balance and making good contact. We’re pounding those three things. We’re aiming to put the ball in play and hit line drives from gap to gap. We’re focused on the fundamentals of the lower half.”
With pitchers, Hale breaks it down into three sections: lower half, middle with the shoulders going last.
“A lot of kids want to leak that front shoulder and hip open,” says Hale. “You’re losing that energy.”
That’s where hitters lose power and pitchers give up velocity.
Hale’s coaching staff features varsity assistant Andy Senese, pitching coach Danny Davis, junior varsity coach Jared Ward and assistant/scorekeeper Kelly Bicknell.
Hagerstown (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester).
The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Centerville, Northeastern, Shenandoah and Union County. Hagerstown has won 11 sectional titles, including six since 2006.
Hale has been to vice president the past couple years at Hagerstown Little League, where Shawn Lieberman is president. Lieberman was part of Hagerstown’s IHSAA Final Four team in 1999.
A few years ago, the Hagerstown Tigers travel team began as an 8U squad and are now up to 10U. Nate Logston, a member of the 1999 team, and Patrick Vinson, who coached Major division state champions in 2019 and the father of recent graduate Grant Vinson, run that squad made up of all Hagerstown players.
“We want to keep the kids together and grow the third, fourth and fifth graders,” says Hale.
Jay and Abby Hale have three boys — fourth grader Jaxon, third grader Jonah and kindergartener Jace.
Catcher Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit who hit .388 last spring, is back for his senior year. Rex Stills, who hit .302 in 60 plate appearances as a freshman, is back for his sophomore season.
There will be opportunities for others to make their mark on varsity baseball for the first time.
How will the Bearcats go about doing that?
“We’re looking to do all the small things right and, hopefully, everything else falls in line with it,” says Kyle Becich, who is entering his ninth year with the program and fifth as head coach. “We’re rebuilding a foundation.”
Becich, who spent four seasons as a Wheeler assistant on the staff of Josh Long, counts Tommy O’Shea, Phil Sanchez, Christian Rosta and Payton Ball as assistant coaches.
The Bearcats generally have 24 players in the program for varsity and junior varsity squads. Some players swing back and forth based on the needs that day.
Past non-conference foes have included Crown Point, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit, Hebron, Hobart, Lowell, Merrillville and North Newton. The Bearcats have met Hebron in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary.
Wheeler is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Twin Lakes. The Bearcats last won a sectional title in 2008.
“It’s a tough sectional,” says Becich of a field which is full of traditionally-strong teams and produced the 2018 3A state champion (Andrean).
Wheeler plays its home games on its campus at Richard Wendt Field. Wendt, a former Wheeler coach, died in 2012.
Recent upgrades to the facility include re-building the pitcher’s mound,installing a new home plate and pitcher’s rubber, leveling the playing surface, realigning the bases, adding new wind screens in the outfield and reworking the speaker system.
Every October, the Bearcats have a field day where players, coaches and parents put the field to rest for the winter.
During the current off-season period, the Bearcats are getting stronger in the weight room.
“I support that, especially for kids that have nowhere to throw right now,” says Becich, noting that some of his players can work out with their travel teams at indoor facilities but not all have that kind of access. “You only have one arm your entire life and so many bullets to throw. It’s best to protect it when you can.”
Wheeler baseball has also been building a relationship with Union Township Little League. Last season, players who hope to one day don the Green, White and Orange were invited to work out on the field and were treated to pizza.
Becich, 32, is a 2005 Munster High School graduate. He played baseball and football for the Mustangs then one football season at North Central College in Naperville, Ill. He finished his education degree at Indiana University in Bloomington. His first job out of college was as a social studies teacher and coach at Wheeler.
Becich credits former assistant principal Jack Schimanski for playing a major role in his development.
“He was a huge mentor for me,” says Becich of Schimanski. “I was picking his brain all the time, learning some of the minor details.”
Schimanski had been a head coach at Joliet (Ill.) Catholic High School and learned much from Gordie Gillespie, who won 1,893 games in his 58-year college coaching career.
Kyle and Kelsey Becich have two children — son Liam (4) and daughter Reese (3).
Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit, catchesfor Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.
Rex Stills crosses the plate for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. He is back for 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.
Mason Diaz, Sam Beier, Jake Armentrout, Nate Gosbin, Adam Wagoner and Hunter Catherman line up for the Wheeler Bearcats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Diaz returns for Wheeler in 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.
The Wheeler baseball team gathers during the annual High School Challenge at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.
Kyle Becich coaches third base for the Wheeler High School baseball team. The 2019 season will be his ninth in the program and fifth as head coach of the Bearcats.
Head coach Kyle Becich (left) and assistant Tommy O’Shea watch their Wheeler High School Bearcats baseball team.
Kyle Becich, head baseball coach and social studies teacher at Wheeler High School near Valparaiso, Ind., and wife Kelsey have two children — son Liam and daughter Reese.
“The MIC is the toughest conference in Indiana in my opinion,” says fourth-year Pike head baseball coach Todd Webster. “Our out-of-conference schedule is fairly tough, too.
“We we think it’s important that we stay positive. We have to tell the kids that they’re getting better.”
It’s about building them up and not beating them down.
Before landing at Pike, Webster was an assistant to Aaron Kroll at Ben Davis — a school fed by Little League programs like Ben Davis, Eagledale and Speedway.
“They had a treasure trove of kids who had skill and were real gutsy and scrappy,” says Webster. “At Pike High School, it’s a little different. Our kids come from a very small Little League (Eagle Creek) and need a lot of development.”
Webster, a 1982 North Central graduate, served several years as a coach and on the executive board at Westlane Delaware Trails Little League — the largest Little League in Washington Township. His board tenure includes time as president.
Something Webster witnessed many times was the formation of travel teams, taking the best players in a given Little League division and putting them on one squad. The fathers of these players would follow and that would reduce the pool of knowledgeable coaches.
Several players come to Pike as freshmen with very little baseball training.
Pike High School & Freshman Center, Pike Career Center and Pike Preparatory Academy serves the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township, which also includes three middle schools (Guion Creek, Lincoln and New Augusta Public Academy North) and several elementary schools (Central, College Park, Deer Run, Eagle Creek, Eastbrook, Fishback Creek, Guion Creek, New Augusta South, Snacks Crossing and the Early Childhood Program).
Todd Webster, who saw the Red Devils win five games in 2017, has father Phil Webster, Mike Sloan and Andrew Lawrence on his coaching staff.
“We just kind of let him do his thing,” says Todd Webster of his father, who began his coaching career in the late ‘60s and joined his son last spring. “It’s an unbelievable wealth of knowledge that he brings.
“It’s just nice having him around. He throws batting practice. My dad’s 77 going on 50. Baseball will keep you young.”
Sloan is a former North Central assistant. Lawrence is a social studies teacher at Pike.
The Pike staff keeps looking for things to complement to build up their players and they just keep plugging.
“We have some very good baseball players at Pike High School,” says Todd Webster.
That group includes junior left-handed pitcher Damon Cox (a verbal commit to Northern Kentucky University), senior left-hander Chase Hug (an Olney Central College commit) and uncommitted seniors in center fielder/right fielder Jordan Garrett and catcher Malachi Hamblin. As a junior, Garrett received all-state votes and was on the all-MHIC and all-Marion County teams.
To get seen and signed by colleges, exposures is key.
“Kids these days put a lot of stock in travel baseball,” says Webster. “Certain organizations get a lot of exposure and certain organizations don’t. It’s really important if you have an upper-level baseball athlete that they choose their travel teams and summer programs very wisely.
“Showcases are also very important.”
Pike is proud to call Hildebrand Field home. The complex has two lighted diamonds with new infields and banners and permanent wind slats and toppers on the outfield fences .
“It’s really a beautiful, beautiful field,” says Webster. “I’ve had some college guys say this high school field is better than ours. Our outside facilities are almost second to none.”
When the Devils are inside, they share gym space with many other groups at Pike and have sometimes access to one drop-down batting cage.
“That’s one of the obstacles we have to try to overcome,” says Webster.
One other way Pike players get in some indoor swings is by borrowing a lobster from Pike’s tennis program. Hitters are able to hit tennis balls in the gym and a net is not necessary.
“You have to be as creative as you can,” says Webster.
A Little League player while growing up, Webster got involved with construction trades classes in high school and did not play baseball at North Central.
“We were building our own houses,” says Webster. “I went into the field right out of high school. Back then the money was too good to pass up. He now a general contractor and owns Webster Commercial Contracting and Webster Home Improvement.
Between general contracting and coaching baseball, Webster considers himself as a man with two full-time jobs.
How does he pull it off?
“I own the business and know the boss really, really well,” says Todd, who is also the son of Carolyn Webster and sibling to brother Channing and sister Grey. “The key to coaching baseball and having your own business is you have to surround yourself with good people. If you get yourself into a pickle, you have people there you can trust.
“My assistant coaches on the baseball team are really good, knowledge and reliable. It is not necessary to micro-manage at all.”
In program history, Pike has won 10 sectionals — the last in 2010 — and one regional (1968).
No fewer than three former Red Devils outfielders have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Jim Watkins in the fifth round by the Boston Red Sox in 1979, Dallas Williams in the 42nd round by the Red Sox in 2003 and Jordan Cheatham in the 43rd round by the Chicago White Sox in 2006. All three had brief minor league careers.
Todd Webster is heading into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Pike High School in Indianapolis in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)
So you pitch and you come over the top or at three-quarter overhand and you’re not getting the results you want. How about changing arm angles and tossing the baseball as a sidearmer or submariner?
Geoff Freeborn, who pitched from the left side at Northern Kentucky University, North Idaho College as well as independent professional baseball and for Team Canada, has created Sidearm Nation to help hurlers with dropping down.
An Illinois Sidearm Nation Camp open to all ages and featuring former pro sidearmers/submariners Peter Sikaras, Kenny Long and Ken Raines is scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. CST Aug. 19-20 at Pro Player Consultants, 5112 Prime Parkway, McHenry, Ill. All pitchers are welcome. Specialized coaching will be provided for sidearmers and submariners. Cost is $290 for both days and $150 for one. The camp will be limited to 40 participants.
Recently, Freeborn participated in an IndianaRBI Q&A session.
Q: Why do pitchers change their arm angle?
A: I guess most pitchers change their arm angle out of necessity. Either struggling with current arm angle and something needs to change or down on the depth chart, not pitching that much. Dropping down isn’t for everyone, if you’re pitching well, why change what’s working? But if you’re getting hit around pretty consistently then why not? You have nothing to lose. If you do drop down or are asked to drop down, you have to fully commit to it for it to work.
Q: What are the advantages of an arm angle change?
A: Overall it’s about deception from a lower angle. For the most part it’s not going to be about lighting up the radar gun. Movement is going to be the key from there.
Q: Is it about changing eye levels?
A: Hitters overall get used to seeing the same angle all the time from coaches in batting practice etc. Sidearm/submarine pitchers can mess that up.
Q: What are the disadvantages?
A: I think one of the disadvantages is that you can get pigeon-holed a little bit, that you can only get same-side hitters out. In pro ball for example I tended to just be a lefty-specialist. Would have been a fun job in the MLB but not necessarily for Indy ball. Guess you also tend to just be a reliever, but at same time that can be a pretty good change for some.
Q: Can anyone change their arm angle?
A: I think overall anyone can change their arm angle or at least give it a shot. It tends to be the pitchers that are tall and lanky that pick up on it quicker. Multi-sport athletes or multi-position players tend to pick up on it quicker than say someone that is just a pitcher only.
Q: Do you have favorite sidearmers?
A: I’d have to say current Blue Jays RHP Joe Smith. Also being a LHP I’d have to say Randy Johnson. I used to love watching him.
Q: How many sidearmers/submariners would you say are in pro ball?
A: That’s a good question. I’d say pretty much at least every time in each level in the minors usually has 1-2 in their bullpen. I think more and more sidewinders are getting drafted now and MLB teams are realizing how important they are.
Q: What about in college baseball?
A: College baseball-wise almost every program probably has 1-2 also in their pen. More colleges are recruiting high school sidewinders instead of having to drop someone down that’s struggling in college.
Q: Do these players tend to be starters or relievers?
A: Most sidewinders do tend to be relievers, do tend to be more successful one time through the order.
Q: I’m guessing there aren’t that many coaches that are familiar with the mechanics of a submariner?
A: I think were there can be some problems is when a pitching coach suggest to a pitcher to drop down but then doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes they get left in the corner to figure it out on their own, which I guess can be a good and bad thing. That’s where hopefully Sidearm Nation can be of help. We have over 200 interviews with current/former pros, basically a free e-book and then we run 5-6 camps per year.
Q: Are the number of sidearmers/submariners on the rise, the decline or steady?
A: Like I mentioned previously I think they are definitely on the rise. More pitchers are realizing by dropping down that can be there ticket to say playing college baseball. Majority of the pitchers I’ve interviewed if didn’t drop down the weren’t going to make their high school or college team then after dropping down, ended up making it to AAA/MLB.
Peter Sikaras, who pitched with the South Bend Silver Hawks, Gary SouthShore RailCats, Team Greece and others, is to be an instructor at a SidearmNation camp Aug. 19-20 in McHenry, Ill.