It was a night of firsts. The summer wood-bat Northern League’s Elkhart (Ind.) County Miracle played its inaugural contest Wednesday, May 31 on the turf at NorthWood High School’s Field of Dreams Complex in Nappanee and earned the first victory in franchise history. Elkhart County bested the visiting Crown Point-based Lake County CornDogs 6-3 to make Wilson Valera a winner in his first game as Miracle manager. “It makes me feel very good and to play the best team in the league,” said Valera after the Miracle topped the NL champions from 2022 and gave them their first loss of the young 2023 season. “Now we know we can do it. Hopefully we can continue to play this way.” Elkhart County led 3-0. Lake County (4-1) tied it at 3-3 with three runs in the sixth inning. The Miracle responded with two in the bottom of the sixth and added one in the seventh.
On-field firsts … Starting lineup: lf Rickey Nye (1-3), 2b Cole Mason (0-3), 1b Bryce Lesher (1-5), c Javier Guevara (2-2), 3b Angel Perez (0-3), cf Jaden Miller (1-3), ss Evan Laws (2-4), dh Dylan Rost (0-3), rf Hunter Christunus (1-3), p Conor Gausselin (6 IP, 6 K’S, 3 BB). Strikeout: Gausselin fanned Lake County lead-off batter Zach Zychowski in the first inning. Hit: Lead-off man Nye’s single to center field to lead off the bottom of the first inning. Home run: Guevara’s three-run blast to left field in the first inning. Stolen base: Miller swiped second base after being hit by a pitch in the first inning. Double play: Third baseman Perez to second baseman Mason to first baseman Lesher in the fourth inning. Relievers: Right-hander Ethan Lengfelder in the seventh inning and righty Robino Vazquez Vallejo in the eighth and ninth. Umpires: Corey Stewart behind the plate and Steve Kajzer on the bases.
Off-the-field firsts … Ceremonial first pitch: William Lee (Vendor Bill’s Bar-B-Que). National anthem singer: Les Eads (member of Hideous Business, a band who entertained prior to the game). Mascot: Scooter made his gameday debut.
The homestand continues with games at 7 p.m. Thursday vs. the Indiana Panthers, Friday vs. the Southland Vikings and Saturday vs. Northwest Indiana Oilmen and 2 p.m. Sunday vs. the Indiana Panthers. Former Chicago Cubs player Ben Zobrist is slated to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and sign autographs Saturday.
Dylan Rost was born in Elkhart, Ind., and will be an infielder on the first Elkhart County Miracle summer baseball team. “It’s very close to home and I knew they were going to create a team that’s competitive of his decision to join the club — which is a hybrid of college and professional players — and opens the 2023 Northern League season at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 31 on the turf at NorthWood High School’s Field of Dreams Complex, 2101 N. Main St., Nappanee (accessible off S.R. 19 via C.R. 150). “The goal in the summer is to get reps, play competitive baseball and get better. “I think everybody’s excited to play and it’s cool to meet guys from all over.” Miracle founder Craig Wallin says a roster that will reach 25 and be led by manager Wilson Valera will represent six states and four nations — the United States, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Evan Sharpley, who helped put together the Miracle roster, reached out to Rost and the player accepted the invitation right away. “Being able to play with some buddies that I know was also going to be a big thing, too.” Rost, a 2021 Elkhart High School graduate, just completed his second season at the NCAA Division III University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. In 2022-23, the 5-foot-9 Rost has played in 20 games for Warhawks teams that went 36-11 and 30-13. When looking for a college program, Rost was impressed the the school’s track record and facilities and contacted the UWW staff which includes head coach John Vodnelich, who has won 683 games and coached two NCAA D-III national championship teams (2005 and 2014). Last summer, the Whitewater team went to Europe with Vodenlich as its guide. “He had a ton of connections,” says Rost of Vodenlich, who played for the Warhawks then in Europe, including Slovenia. “We would be able to go to restaurants and they would be open just for us. “If I were to go by myself I wouldn’t have near the experience that I had.” The 2023 season opened March 15 with nine games in Pensacola, Fla. As a D-III school, the team practices for 16 days in the fall culminated with a five-game intrasquad series. “In November and December is no baseball at all, pretty much all weight room,” says Rost. “Once we get back from winter break in January we’re full go.” Rost, who turned 21 in February, is a General Management major. “I’ve had thoughts of going into teaching, working in an athletic office and coaching,” says Dylan, who is the oldest son of teacher/Elkhart head baseball coach Scott Rost and head volleyball coach/athletic director Jacquie Rost. Younger brother Quinn Rost (Elkhart Class of 2025) also plays baseball and football. Dylan began organized baseball at Cleveland Little League in Elkhart then went with the Michiana Scrappers travel organization through high school. Last summer he played in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and expected to go back this summer by the CSL was dissolved. The Elkhart County Miracle has regular-season games slated until Aug. 3. Northern League (rebranded from the Midwest Collegiate League) opponents include the Northwest Indiana Oilmen, Lake County CornDogs, Indiana Panthers, Griffith Generals and Southland Vikings. Valera spent four days leading Miracle players through workouts at Elkhart High. “I can see a lot of potential in each one of them,” says Valera. “If we spend more time together we’re going to be stronger. “We are very young. Hopefully by the end of the season they are going home better than the way they came. “Our purpose is to work hard and be good human beings.” Josh Gleason, former Goshen College athletic director and current Area Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is the team chaplain. With Preston Andrews (NorthWood Class of 2024) as play-by-play announcer, Miracle games will be broadcast by Michiana Promotions on Federated Media stations (mostly on 101.9 FM or 1340 AM with Saturday night games will air on 95.3 MNC according to News/Talk 95.3 Michiana’s News Channel.
“Let’s go on a cowhide joyride!” It’s become the home run call for young baseball broadcaster Andrew Mild. Bringing his love of the game and excitement to his job, the northwest Indiana native is in his first season as the play-by-play voice of the Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs (Waldorf, Md.). “Every game is a big game — it’s a baseball game,” says Mild. “I’ve listened to too many boring broadcasters.” Mild, who was born in Hammond, Ind. the son of Mark and Becky Mild and the older brother of Breeann, grew up in nearby Crown Point as a Chicago Cubs fan. Mom’s favorite from the 1980’s was Rick Sutcliffe. Breeann Mild (Crown Point, Ind., High School Class of 2020) is now a pre-med student at Purdue University. Andrew bonded with his father with Len Kasper as Cubs TV play-by-play man. Pat Hughes and Ron Santo formed the radio tandem. Hall of Famer Harry Caray died before Andrew was born, but he appreciates his passion. “He brought the excitement and was kind of like the No. 1 fan,” says Mild. “I grew up a baseball fan. My baby pictures were taken in a giant glove. “I just want to bring that excitement and for people to be interested, laugh and have a great time. I want to build a connection. I don’t want to be the next Harry Caray. I want to be the first Andrew Mild.” The young broadcaster has noticed that Hughes talks slow and gets excited when necessary. “You listen to these guys over 100 times a year and you start to develop your own relationship with them,” says Mild. “Ron Santo was so invested.” As an eighth grader at Col. John Wheeler Middle School, Mild went as Hall of Fame slugger Ted Williams for “Wax Museum” day. “I love hitting,” says Mild. “It’s the hardest thing to do in sports. You can fail 7 out of 10 times and still be the best hitter in the league. Ted had a passion for it and I have a passion for it.” Andrew grew up playing baseball and Wiffle@Ball with cousin Riley Clark. “He supposedly taught me how to hit left-handed,” says Mild. “I do everything righty except for golf and bat.” Mild, who turns 24 in July, learned about the gig with the Blue Crabs through TeamworkOnline.com. He sent in an application and his reel developed during his seasons with the Frontier League’s Windy City ThunderBolts and Northern League’s Lake County CornDogs and went through a few interviews. He was offered the job and moved to Maryland in mid-February. Mild does not have a broadcast partner at Southern Maryland. There is a producer in the booth at home, but he’s on his own for road games. “You just have to be prepared,” says Mild. “The good news is that we have so many great guys on the team that I can talk to before the game. A lot of them are willing to tell good stories and I relay that. “Fans just love the stories.” Field staff for the Blue Crabs is manager Stan Cliburn, pitching coach Daryl Thompson, bench coach Ray Ortega and hitting coach Brandon Lee. Aside from play-by-play, Mild prepares game notes, distributes lineups (at home), interviews players after a win and feeds social media and the online scoreboard. FloSports.tv is the live streaming partner of the Atlantic League. The Blue Crabs use streamlabs.com software to produce their scoreboard and other video elements. Mild typically has a team and a personal lap top open with his scorebook next to the mixer. “It keeps me on my toes,” says Mild. “But I don’t know if I’d want to do anything else.” A 2018 honors diploma graduate of Crown Point High, where he played baseball through his junior year, Mild got to broadcast for a league champion in his hometown in 2022. “The CornDogs’ first season was so instrumental to the rest of the league,” says Mild. “The other cities can see just how well it did in Crown Point. I give all credit (CornDogs majority owner) Ralph (Flores). He built a really strong team in a really strong place. “The nice thing about Legacy Fields in Crown Point is that it’s right on the border of Crown Point and Merrillville and Schererville is right there. We got a mixture of guys on that team. We had a packed house every night. I had a great time being the first voice of the team and getting my feet wet being the No. 1 (broadcaster) for a collegiate team. Winning the whole thing, that was great.” Mild was an intern at Windy City in 2021 while making a transition from being a Sport Management/Communications double major at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., — where he was an outfielder on the baseball team — to a Sports Media major with a Marketing minor at Butler University in Indianapolis. He partnered in the ThunderBolts booth with No. 1 broadcaster Connor Onion. “I always came in ready,” says Mild. “I was always asking Connor and my boss — Terry Bonadonna — what I could do better. “They were always willing to talk to me about broadcasting. That’s why I was there — to learn and get better. “They understood my passion. They knew whatever they told me wasn’t just going to be wasted air. What can I keep? What do I get rid of? Trying to slow down my talking was a big thing. “Now I tell myself if you feel like you’re talking too slow you’ve got the right pace. I’m a natural introvert and I became a broadcaster. Good for me.” Mild also got many practice reps on his friend’s MLB: The Show video game or by muting a contest on TV or online. Lecturer/head of Butler+ Media Nick White presented many on-air opportunities while Mild finished up his degree in December 2022 — about two months before landing his current position. “Life comes at you fast as Ferris Bueller once said,” says Mild. “I try to look around every once in awhile.” Another way Mild sharpened his skills was to call games for Crown Point Babe Ruth. Andrew’s grandfather — John Pearson — is president of the league and was an umpire in the first Cal Ripken World Series. Grandmother Gale Pearson is always around the park. His parents are also board members. “It was great, especially during COVID when fans couldn’t really attend the games,” says Mild of broadcasting games on Facebook Live. “They could see and hear everything. “Helping them out during a time of crisis was my way of giving back to the game and the people who love the sport.” His first partner was Alex Coil, who is a graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Arizona State University and now a play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. Onion introduced Mild to Bob Carpenter’s Baseball Scorebook. “I like it because it gives you lots of space to write down notes,” says Mild. “It allows you to put the defense on top of the opposing lineup. If I forget the guys’ name I can look down and look back up and I know I have time to put together a sentence and call the play. “The good part is that you spend so much time with your guys that you can just look at them and know immediately who it is. It might take you the first game of a series to learn the other guys. But after a few games you get into a rhythm and know who that is.” Mild does not have a broadcast partner at Southern Maryland. There is a producer in the booth at home, but he’s on his own at the road. “You just have to be prepared,” says Mild “The good news is that we have so many great guys on the team that I can talk to before the game. A lot of them are willing to tell good stories and I relay that. “Fans just love the stories.” Aside from play-by-play, Mild prepares game notes, distributes lineups (at home), interviews players after a win and feeds social media and the online scoreboard. He typically has a team and a personal lap top open with his scoreboard next to the mixer. “It keeps me on my toes,” says Mild. “But I don’t know if I’d want to do anything else.” Rule experiments in the Atlantic League in 2023 include the designated pinch-runner, single disengagement limit and “Double Hook” designated hitter. Each club will list a player who is not otherwise in the starting lineup as a designated pinch-runner. That player may then be substituted at any point into the game as a baserunner. The player who is substituted for, as well as the pinch-runner, may then return to the game without penalty. South Maryland’s designated runner is switch-hitting outfielder and former collegiate track and field champion sprinter J.T. Reed. The disengagement rule relates to the pitch clock and keeps pitchers from abusing the system while also leading runners to take more daring leads. If the starting pitcher fails to make it through fifth inning, the club loses the DH for the remainder of the game and must either have its pitcher hit or use pinch-hitters when that spot comes up in the batting order. Like Major League Baseball, the Atlantic League has a pitch clock, 3-batter minimum, wider bases, banned the shift and “ghost runner” or extra-inning free runner. The broadcaster disagrees with a scoring decision that sometimes comes with the latter rule. He also understands why things like this have been implemented. “If the ghost runner scores it should not be a blown save,” says Mild. “We’re getting to the point where there are so many things you can turn to that are streaming and at your finger tips, you need something that is going to interest them and keep their attention. That is scoring more runs at a higher volume even if it means changing the rules of the game. “This pitch clock, I love it. We had a 14-2 game last night and it only went 2 1/2 hours. You could add a few seconds, but otherwise it’s a great rule. “After awhile hitters and pitchers get used to it. Hitters are not stepping out of the box and pitchers are working a little faster.” Mild is living his dream. “I’d like to thank the game of baseball and my friends for supporting me throughout the whole process,” says Mild. “They challenged me to be better.”
Tyler Nemtuda did not get to pitch in a competitive baseball game for three years. He got the chance to get back in the game in 2023 and he made the most of it. A left-hander and 2020 graduate of Portage (Ind.) High School, Nemtuda lost his senior season with the Indians to the COVID-19 pandemic. While competing in a travel-ball PBR Future Games event at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Nemtuda attracted the attention of coaches at Florence-Darlington Technical College — a junior college in Florence, S.C. He went for a visit and decided to become a Flo-Dar Stinger. But a car accident about a year into school caused him to drop all his classes and miss out on the 2021 baseball season. Just before the 2022 slate, Nemtuda dislocated his left knee cap. He had surgery and missed that campaign as well. “I had a pretty rough two years,” says Nemtuda. He began running and throwing last July. With his knee on the mend, he got to play for the first time since his junior year at Portage. This spring, the southpaw played for head coach head coach Preston McDonald, pitching coach Jeremy McDonald (not relation to Preston) and assistant pitching coach Ryan Smith and made 18 mound appearances (16 in relief), going 3-1 with two saves, a 3.77 earned run average, 32 strikeouts and 15 walks in 28 2/3 innings. “They told us to work hard, never give up and do your best every time you go out there,” says Nemtuda of his Flo-Dar coaches. “We learned a lot, made a lot of friends and had a good time.” Throwing from an arm slot between three-quarter overhand and sidearm, the lefty uses a two-seam fastball, slider and change-up. The two-seamer can move into or away a hitter on either side of the plate and sits at 87 to 89 mph and has topped out at 90. “That’s like my best pitch right now,” says Nemtuda. “I have a lot of arm-side run and then it will sometimes cut into righties, too. I get a lot of ground balls. He also gets plenty of swings and misses with the fastball when he puts it inside or up in the strike zone. The slider moves to left to right, landing on the back foot of a right-handed hitter. His change-up is a three-finger splitter with the ring and pointer fingers placed outside of his two-seam grip. Nemtuda earned an associate degree in Arts at Florence-Darlington and is committed to join the Bearcats of NCAA Division II Lander University in Greenwood, S.C., in the fall while studying Business Administration. Jason Burke is Lander’s head coach. Alex Moore is pitching coach. The Bearcats are Peach Belt Conference members. Baseball and school keep him busy, but when he has time Nemtuda enjoys fishing. He tends to go for brown trout, steelhead and bass at home and bass in South Carolina. Tyler was born in Chesterton, Ind., and and attended school there until moving to nearby Portage after his freshman year as his father went there for a basketball coaching job. Father Bob Nemtuda is now a Physical Education teacher at Liberty Elementary School in Chesterton. Mother Tracy Nemtuda is nurse for Ambiomed. Older sister Taylor Nemtuda was involved in cross country, tennis and some basketball at Chesterton. Tyler played baseball at what is now Liberty Rec Babe Ruth and State Park Little League — both in Chesterton — and then went into travel ball with the Chesterton-based Duneland Flyers, Illinois-based Elite Baseball and the Indiana Bulls. He was on the Chesterton High School junior varsity as a freshman and the Portage varsity as a sophomore and junior. He played first base and right field when not pitching. His coaches were Bob Dixon and John Selman. “They were just great coaches that would help you with anything,” says Nemtuda. “I lift a lot. They’d always open the gym and weight room for me, which was awesome. “I still talk to them to this day.” Former Portage head coach Doug Nelson has also given facilities access to Nemtuda. This summer, Nemtuda is with the Northern League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. The Adam Enright-managed team is to open its season today (May 25) at Lake County (Crown Point, Ind.) with the home opener at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind., June 7.
Wilson Valera was on the original South Bend (Ind.) White Sox in 1988. Then known as Wilson Uribe, the Dominican Republic native was 18 when he played in 69 games for the Midwest League team managed by Steve Dillard. Craig Wallin was a young broadcaster for that club. Fast forward to 2023 and Wallin is founder of the Northern League’s Elkhart County (Ind.) Miracle. He introduced Valera as the first-year team’s field manager Thursday, May 4 at D-Bat Elkhart training facility. “I’ve been around a little bit and I’m very glad to be able to share my experiences in baseball,” says Valera. “It’s very important for me to show them the right way to play professional baseball and see how they’re doing. “As soon as you see the player you know what kind of potential they have.” Opening week at NorthWood High School’s Field of Dreams Complex is May 31-June 4. Players report May 26 and will begin a series of workouts at Elkhart High School. First pitch on Wednesday, May 31 is slated for 7 p.m. Michiana blues and rock band Hideous Business is to perform from 6 to 7. Ben Zobrist, World Series MVP for the Chicago Cubs in 2016, is slated to throw out the first pitch on Saturday, June 3. It’s also Team Picture Night. “One way or another, this inaugural week of minor league baseball returning to Elkhart County is going to be one our fans will never forget”, says Wallin. “We hope the entire area comes out to join us in celebrating our new team and its entrance into the Northern League.” There are 30 scheduled regular-season home dates through Aug. 3. The Northern League is a hybrid circuit with a mix of summer collegiate players and professionals. Organized by former Notre Dame baseball/football player Evan Sharpley, a roster of 30 to 35 will feature players from around the country with some local talent. Among those featured on the Miracle website are Nathaniel Garcia, Bryce Lesher, Bryce Miller, Jaden Miller, Dylan Rost and Brycen Sherwood. Valera, who is also related to former South Bend Silver Hawks pitcher Greg Aquino, played eight minor league seasons in the White Sox, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets organizations. He was at bullpen catcher for the San Francisco Giants (1989-93) and Cincinnati Reds (1994-95) coached in the Dominican Summer League for the DSL Twins (1996) and DSL Diamondbacks (2008-11). He was with the Arizona Diamondbacks coaching staff in 2011 and moved down to the Missoula Osprey as hitting coach in 2013. He has championship rings from his time in the Carribean World Series. Wallin calls Valera “as good a baseball guy as there is. But he’s a better human being. He is a wonderful man and he has such respect for this game of baseball. “This is a rare breed when you can get a guy of this caliber with minor league experience and big league coaching experience in our inaugural season. It’s pretty special. We’re really, really pumped.” Valera resides in Elkhart and is an instructor at D-Bat Elkhart, 4411 Wyland Drive, Elkhart, which is owned by Jason and Shelbi Baugh and Eric Miller. “I see the enthusiasm from the kids over here and how they want to play baseball,” says Valera. “Elkhart needs to opportunity to have a real baseball team and now the opportunity has been given to coach the first team. “I’m very, very blessed.” Valera’s son — Mikey, 12 — is a talented player in his own right. It was revealed Thursday that Elkhart County will wear white tops with red pinstripes and a red cap at home and red tops with a blue-skulled/red-billed caps on the road. Scooter is the team’s mascot. Tickets may be purchased at the team’s website or at the gate. Fans purchasing Reserved Seat tickets will be seated behind home plate while General Admission ticket holders will find other seating in various spots around the park and are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs and blankets to sit on. To access the facility, take C.R. 150 east off S.R. 19 then follow the lane to the complex. For more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the better part of two decades, Craig Wallin and his partners have attempted to get pro baseball for the place where he lives. The longtime broadcaster who called games for the South Bend (Ind.) White Sox and Notre Dame and has been the voice of NorthWood High School sports in recent years announced that the Elkhart County Miracle are finally going to take the field with games airing on Federated Media stations (mostly on 101.9 FM or 1340 AM with Saturday night games will air on 95.3 MNC according to News/Talk 95.3 Michiana’s News Channel program director John Zimney). The franchise in the Northern League — a six-team wood bat circuit comprised of teams with rosters of amateur and professional players. Other clubs include the Griffith (Ind.) Generals, Indiana Panthers, Lake County CornDogs (Crown Point), Northwest Indiana Oilmen (Whiting) and Southland Vikings (Hammond). Oil City Stadium in Whiting was host to the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. While the Panthers are a traveling team, the others are in Lake County with Elkhart County being around 80 miles to the east. “What we’re trying to build from the (Illinois-Indiana) border to Elkhart and developing all the markets in-between in inter-city tourism,” Popravak said, noting that the footprint of the league is about 100 to 120 miles wide and 50 to 75 miles long. “There’s 1.5 million people that live within that geographic area.” The inaugural Miracle season is slated to open Friday, May 31. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. on the turf at the new NorthWood Field of Dreams in Nappanee, where the team will call home for its first few seasons. The regular season is to close Aug. 3. “We’re pumped about this opportunity,” Miracle founder and president Wallin said at a press conference Tuesday, March 24. “(Ron Bedward) and I started talking 16 years about bringing a minor league team to Elkhart County. We’ve been working diligently on plans.” Northern League president Don Popravak talked about the niche independent minor league baseball plays in 2023. “It is very important because in 2020 Major League Baseball took control of affiliated minor leagues,” Popravak said. “It used to be run as an independent operation.” The first month or so with MLB in charge, the affiliated minors were trimmed of 40 franchises down to 120. “Forty franchises translates to 1,200 playing jobs along with managers, coaching staff and everything else,” Popravak said. “We felt that it creates a great opportunity for a league like us.” The MLB First-Year Player Draft is now just 20 rounds. For years it was 40. The Northern League (which has a linneage dating back to 1902) seeks to attract talent overlooked by MLB. “It gives a young player another chance to prove himself and develop,” Popravak. “That’s what we’re all about — developing talent.” The Miracle will carry a roster of 30 to 35 players with many staying with host families. Some will be professionals and college players may earn through Name Image and Likeness (NLI) agreements. Popravak, who has a broadcast background, notes that the Northern League has sent many young person working on league productions on to ESPN and minor league teams all over the country. “It’s another part of developing talent for the next level,” Popravak said. Former Notre Dame football and baseball player and Seattle Mariners minor leaguer Evan Sharpley is Director of Player Operations for the Miracle. Former Baseball America Executive of the Year John Baxter is senior advisor for the Miracle. As South Bend White Sox, he hired Wallin in 1988. Wallin said the field manager will be introduced soon. Popravak said the league has been exploring more than a dozen markets across northern Indiana for expansion. According to Wallin, tickets will be priced at $10, $8 and $6. “It’s all about affordable family fun,” Popravak. “It’s about families and putting smiles on the faces of younger people and having them come out to the ballpark.” Bill’s Bar-B-Que in Elkhart will be a concession partner. Wallin said a 10,000 seat facility with a retractable roof that can house baseball and professional soccer is being planned. It will be adjacent to a 5,000-seat arena for ice hockey and minor league basketball. Wallin shared a rendering by the Troyer Group Tuesday. At the present, the complex would be near on a tract near the C.R. 17 exit off the U.S. 20 By-Pass in Elkhart. It’s one of the places Wallin and his group have had land contracts off and on over the years as they have worked to bring baseball to the county. Plans for a new stadium and team were revived in 2013 and a stadium was to open in 2014, but that never came to pass. Why Elkhart County? “We chose Elkhart County because it’s been home for me for (about 45 years),” Wallin said. Bringing in the baseball team is a way of adding to the quality of life to the Elkhart/Goshen area. The seven stars in the Miracle logo represent seven Elkhart County cities or towns. It’s been more than a century since the county had a team with professionals. The 1910 Elkhart Blue Sox were part of Organized Baseball and played in the Class D Indiana-Michigan League. The independent Indiana State League of 1888 and a reorganized ISL of 1890 featured teams from Elkhart. For more information on the Elkhart Miracle visit elkhartcountymiracle.com, call (574) 309-7176 or email email@example.com.
Circumstances have caused Conner Tomasic to build his baseball and academic careers in unique ways. The 2018 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., went to Purdue University in West Lafayette for two seasons (2019 and 2020), transferred to South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., for one (2021) and then came back to the Big Ten with Michigan State University (2022). The right-handed pitcher has another year of college eligibility, but his next move might be as an independent pro. This fall, Tomasic is a commuter student at Purdue Northwest in Hammond, Ind., while staying prepared for his diamond future. His major is Construction Engineering and Management Technology. Tomasic entered college as a Kinesiology major. Having had Tommy John surgery in high school he had worked with plenty of physical therapists. A Biology course at Purdue made him decide that was not the path for him. He followed some teammates and went with construction. “I like to see things in front of me and work with my hands,” says Tomasic. “It felt like a teamwork class. I felt comfortable with it. “You learned how to deal with people and work a job site. An associate degree was earned at South Suburban, a two-year school. But Tomasic also faced a bit of a curve. He had to switch his major at Michigan State to Psychology to stay eligible. A 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, Tomasic took the mound 17 times (nine as a starter) for head coach Jake Boss Jr.’s MSU Spartans. He went 4-4 with a 5.40 earned run average, 41 strikeouts and 26 walks in 65 innings. Because of the work load, Tomasic did not play summer ball, focusing on strength training. In July, he began traveling from Schererville, Ind., to PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., to work with Director of Player Development/Pitching Anthony Gomez. The two have known each other since Tomasic — who turned 23 in August — was an eighth or ninth grader and Gomez was coaching in northwest Indiana. “We’ve always been close,” says Tomasic of Gomez. “It’s nice to work with someone who’s seen me grow up and develop. “He knows my delivery almost as well as I do. He knows what I need at the end of the day.” His PNW classes meet Monday through Thursday then Tomasic heads to central Indiana for workouts later that day or on Friday before returning to The Region. Tomasic has three pitches — a four-seam fastball, slider and change-up. His four-seamer was clocked at 92.9 mph this summer at 93 mph at South Suburban. His slider — often thrown between 77 to 79 mph — has evolved. “When I first started throwing it, it was a ‘gyro,’ says Tomasic of the pitch’s movement. “Now it’s getting mike more a ‘bullet’ slider. You can see the dot (as it rotates). “My change-up, some people think it’s a splitter. It depends on what it’s doing that day. The majority of the time it’s going to sink and have arm-side run. But sometimes it dives straight down.” Tomasic describes his delivery as “a little funky.” The arm angle is about mid-three quarter overhand. But the delivery comes low. “It’s something (opposing batters) don’t see that often,” says Tomasic. “My fastball plays up in the zone so it seems fast than it is.” Tomasic sees determination and focus as two of his best athletic qualities. “I’m a guy who know how to separate his sport from his daily life,” says Tomasic. “If I have a bad, I flush it. If I have a good day, I forget about it quick. “You’ve got the day ahead of you in baseball.” Born in Hammond and raised in Schererville, Conner is the oldest of Jerry and Dena Tomasic’s two children. Jennifer Tomasic (Lake Central Class of 2021) played basketball at Indiana University Northwest in Gary and Governors State University (University Park, Ill.). Jerry Tomasic was born in Yugoslavia before that country split and moved to the U.S. around 2. He played baseball but not past junior high and went on to play basketball at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa. Dena Tomasic works at Cheers Food & Drink in Munster, Ind. Conner played for the Dyer team that finished runner-up to eventual Little League World Series qualifier New Castle in 2012. When he was ready for a travel ball transition outside northwest Indiana at 15 to 16 he was unable to play for Top Tier because of his injured elbow. Tomasic shined as a two-way player at Lake Central and got to swing the bat for head coaches Mark Wasikowski and Greg Goff at Purdue and Steve Ruzich at South Suburban. As a three-year letterwinner and four-time scholar-athlete at LC, he played for head coaches Jeff Sandor and Mike Swartzentruber. The Indians won sectional titles in baseball and basketball in 2018 and Tomasic played a part while earning LCHS Pride, Hustle and Desire in both sports. He also earned 2018 Perfect Game All-American and All-Region Team honors. He was the Roger Maris MVP in leading Team Serbia to the title in the 2018 International Baseball Challenge Tournament in Whiting, Ind. In two seasons at Purdue, he hit .250 (3-of-12) with a triple in three runs batted and made one putout and five assists in the field. He pitched in 19 games (all in relief) with an 0-1 record, 4.30 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 11 walks in 25 1/3 innings. At South Suburban, the pitcher/middle infielder was an National Junior College Athletic Association all-region selection as he hit .392 with 60 hits, including eighth home runs, three triples and 12 doubles with 49 RBIs, 28 walks and 15 stolen bases. On the bump, he was 6-1 with a 4.64 ERA, 81 strikeouts and 22 walks in 64 innings. Tomasic played for the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Larks and Midwest Collegiate League’s (now Northern League’s) Northwest Indiana Oilmen in the summers of 2019 and 2020. Along the way the focus became pitching rather than two-way player. “I think I’m athletic enough,” says Tomasic. “I can pull it off.”
Frank Plesac welcomes pressure. The right-handed pitcher from Crown Point, Ind., enjoys facing hitters and the promise that comes with his famous baseball last name. “There are definitely a lot of expectations,” says Frank of being the brother of a current big league hurler (Zach Plesac) and the nephew of one who spent 18 seasons in Major League Baseball (Dan Plesac). “I’d rather have the expectations high with pressure on myself. It helps me perform better. I just try to live up to the name.” Righty Zach Plesac is a starter for the Cleveland Guardians and made his MLB debut in 2019. He is 10 minutes older than twin Ron. Lefty Dan Plesac won 65 games and saved 158 from 1986-2003 and is in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and is a regular on MLB Network. Frank Plesac is coming off his second season at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., where he is 8-12 with a 4.28 earned run average, 129 strikeouts and 31 walks in 138 2/3 innings. In 2022, those marks were 6-5 with a 3.24 ERA, 83 strikeouts and 13 walks in 86 innings which led to an all-Crossroads League first team selection. All but two of his outings fro Bethel have been in a starting role. “I love to start,” says Plesac, 20. “I feel like it’s my game and I’m in-control.” Seth Zartman is the Pilots head coach. Kiel Boynton guides the pitchers. “He introduced the family aspect of the team, which I never really understood before that,” says Plesac of Zartman, who has been head coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. “I’m glad he gave me the opportunity to really experience that. “(Coach Boynton and I) talk a lot about pitching. We pick each other’s brains. We try to learn from each other.” The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Plesac is pitching this summer for the wood bat Northern League’s Justin Huisman-managed Lake County CornDogs, which play at Legacy Fields in Plesac’s hometown of Crown Point. His coach at Crown Point High School was IHSBCA Hall of Famer Steve Strayer. “He’s a character and a great coach,” says Plesac of Strayer. “He always pushed us to be our best. “He impacted the way I viewed baseball and the way I play baseball now.” The youngest of union carpenter Ron and Registered Nurse Jeannie Plesac’s children, Frank played on the Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth fields in Crown Point then went into travel ball with Morris Baseball and the South Shore Bears. In the summer of 2021, he got reps with a local men’s team called the Raw Dogs. Through his first seven mound appearances (six starts) with the CornDogs, the 2022 Northern League East All-Star is 1-0 with a 2.11 ERA. In 34 innings, he has 49 K’s and just three base on balls. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Plesac uses a Four-seam fastball (which topped out at 93 mph in the spring), curveball, slider and change-up. What is his best swing-and-miss pitch? “Definitely the curveball,” says Plesac. “It’s pretty sharp with a deep break. Sometimes I’ll try to get on top of it to get more of a 12-to-6 break. Sometimes I’ll leave the wrist a little open to get more of a slurve action. “It’s a different pitch every time.” Plesac, who has two years of eligibility remaining heading into 2022-23, is a Criminal Justice major. He sees it as a natural fit with one of his favorite non-baseball pursuits. “I’m a big outdoors person,” says Plesac. “I love to hunt. I love to fish. Being a (Department of Natural Resources) conversation officer is everything I want and more. “They say do what you love. That’s what I love doing.” Plesac can see the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield in his future. But first the diamond. “I’m going to try to ride baseball as far as I can,” says Plesac. “Why not?”
Ryan Troxel is splitting his time this summer between college pitcher, youth pitching coach banking intern. He takes the mound for the wood bat Northern League’s Lake County CornDogs, which call Legacy Fields in Crown Point, Ind., home. On his off days, he guides arms for Valparaiso (Ind.) American Legion Post 94 Juniors (17U). “I’ve missed a few (Legion) games because I had to pitch,” says Troxel. “Other than that, I’ve been there. “I’ve been a busy man.” Troxel, a 2019 graduate of Valparaiso High School, pitched a scoreless ninth inning with three strikeouts during the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. A Finance and Management double major at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Troxel is a summer intern for Centier Bank in Merrillville, Ind. Troxel explains why he changed his academic path from Business to Finance. “Finance gives you the options to help people know their (money) goals,” says Troxel. “I also coach baseball because I love helping people.” On the diamond, the right-hander was on the winning side as the East topped the West 5-4 in 10 innings July 12 at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. Troxel’s performance was fitting because the CornDogs right-hander has a regular-season scoreless streak of 12 innings covering last three outings. In eight games (six in relief), he is 3-0 with a 0.65 earned run average. He has 35 strikeouts and eight walks in 27 2/3 innings. He was named Northern League Pitcher of the Week on July 5. A 6-foot-3, 220-pounder, Troxel is coming off his second season at NAIA member Indiana Tech. In seven games (all in relief), he was 0-4 with 14 strikeouts and 15 walks in 27 innings. In his first season with the Warriors (2021), Troxel came out of the bullpen 11 times and was 8-3 with a 4.46 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 innings. Kip McWilliams is Indiana Tech’s head coach and has also taken over pitching coach duties. “He gives us a lot of latitude to do what we want to get ready,” says Troxel of McWilliams. “He’s (coached) for a long time. He knows a lot about the game. “He’s definitely hard on guys. He expects a lot out of us. But — hey — we won a lot of games.” Tech went 32-21 and lost two one-run games as Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference tournament runners-up in 2022. McWilliams earned his 500th coaching win in April. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Troxel uses a four-seam fastball (which has reached 87 mph), curveball, slider (which is generally clocked around 75 mph) and change-up. “I get most of my outs on off-speed pitches,” says Troxel. “I throw my change-up a lot more now. It’s really helped me against left-handers because left-handers have always killed me.” Last weekend, Valpo Post 94 won a regional championship. This weekend, Post 94 is hosting the Indiana American Legion Junior State Tournament at VHS. In 2020, Troxel played for Rocco Mossuto-coached Saint Xavier University (Chicago). In a season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, he appeared in three games (one start) and was 0-0 with one save, a 4.50 ERA, eight strikeouts and eight walks in eight innings. Troxel played for Todd Evans at Valparaiso High. “He gave me a chance during my senior year to prove to him that I could be in the rotation,” says Troxel of Evans. “I think I had a pretty good senior year and he helped me a long the way.” Troxel went 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA and was honorable mention all-state, all-Duneland Athletic Conference, all-area and team MVP in 2019. Born in Elmhurst, Ill., Troxel was 1 when he moved to Valparaiso, where he played Little League then travel ball for the Chesterton Slammers, Triple Crown, Morris Chiefs and Valparaiso Post 94. He is grateful Chiefs coach Dave Sutkowski for his support. “He kept saying, ‘I believe in you,’” says Troxel of Sutkowski. “It was never about him. He was very influential in my choosing to play college baseball and also to move on and keep playing.” Ryan is the oldest of Jeff and Michele Troxel. Brother Zach Troxel is heading into his sophomore year at Valpo. He is pitching this summer for the Indiana Bulls. Jerry Troxel, Ryan and Zach’s grandfather who died in 2021, coached baseball for four decades at Gary Wirt. One of his players was Ron Kittle, who went on to be a major league slugger. “I really do love (coaching),” says Ryan Troxel. “It’s in my blood. That’s definitely in the future for me.”
Cal Curiel came through in the clutch at the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. Batting with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning, righty-swinging Curiel singled to right field to drive in the tying run. The East went on to beat the West 5-4 in 10 innings July 12 at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. Curiel, who started at third base and hit third in the East lineup in the All-Star Game, is on the first-place Lake County CornDogs (24-8), which plays home games at Legacy Fields in Crown Point, Ind. “I love Coach (Steve) Strayer,” says 2021 Crown Point High School graduate Curiel of his Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame head coach. “He’s a great guy and a great coach, too. He knows what he’s doing. “We always have good teams at Crown Point and he’s fun to play for.” Curiel hit .324 with 13 runs batted in and 23 runs scored in 2021. Spending his whole life in the seat of Lake County, Curiel played Little League there and for the Morris Chiefs (now the 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs) from 14U to 18U. That’s when he got to play for Dave Sutkowski. “Bush is awesome,” says Curiel of Sutkowski. “He is one of my favorite coaches ever. He’s always about the players. You could always talk to him in the dugout during the game. He’s going to try to win the ballgame. He’s just awesome.” The Chiefs managed to play about 60 games during the summer of 2020. “(Sutkowski) was finding teams to play around here when we couldn’t get into big tournaments because of COVID,” says Curiel. “It was a great time.” Curiel was one of only two players to appear in all 50 games for NAIA Crossroads League member Grace College (Winona Lake, Ind.) in the spring of 2022. Utility infielder Curiel made 37 starts for the Lancers and hit .333 (54-of-162) with 51 singles, 18 RBIs, 31 runs and 12 stolen bases in 16 attempts. His on-base percentage was .388. “We could have been a little better,” says Curiel of Grace’s 17-33 record. “We look like we’re going up (in 2023). I like the team we have coming in.” The Lancers head coach is Ryan Roth. “Roth is also a super-positive guy,” says Curiel. “He’s super-approachable and you can always talk to him. You can tell he cares about his players.” Through 26 Northern League games with the CornDogs, Curiel was hitting .299 (26-of-87) with five doubles, 19 RBIs, 20 runs and 11 stolen bases. “I’m looking to hit a ball hard early in the count,” says Curiel of his offensive approach. “I’m going to look for my pitch. If I don’t I’m probably going to take or foul the pitch off. “I’m not a huge power guy so I try to take the ball where’s it’s pitched.” Curiel did not play last summer. He took the time to get his body prepared. “I was a pretty skinny kid coming out of high school,” says Curiel. “So I ate a lot and worked out. I tried to put on 10 or 15 pounds so I could compete in college. “I was 18 going into the college season competing with fifth- and six-year players. I had to get physically ready to play.” The 6-foot-2 athlete went from 170 pounds to about 195. Exercise Science is Curiel’s college major. It’s his goal to be a physical therapist. He explains why he chose that path. “I got like super into working out,” says Curiel. “I just like trying to live healthy. I wanted to take a lot of courses on that.” He can use that knowledge to help himself and others. Cal is the son of Mike and Christine Curiel. Sister Ella Curiel is heading into her senior year of high school.