Tag Archives: Ohio

Tirotta stays close to home while gearing up for final season with Dayton Flyers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Riley Tirotta is enjoying baseball and family life this summer.

Coming off an abbreviated junior season at the University of Dayton in Ohio because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tirotta spent the first month of quarantine at home in South Bend, Ind., and about a week in Bryan, Texas, where he participated in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational.

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty swinger who has started 109 games at Dayton (including 97 at third base the past two seasons with starts at designated hitter, right field, first base and second base as a freshmen in 2018), Tirotta did not get selected in the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Citing unfinished business, he decided not to sign a free agent contact with an MLB organization and he’s planning to come back for his senior season in 2021.

“We had a really good team at Dayton this year,” says Tirotta. “We can do a lot of special things. We have a lot of seniors returning. If I do some things individually and we win some games, I can put myself in an even better position (for professional baseball). 

“We want to finish what we started.”

As a sophomore, Tirotta led Dayton in hits (59), at-bats (227) and stolen bases (18 in 20 attempts) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (41). He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games. 

His freshmen year yielded 27 hits and seven stolen bases while he fielded at a .987 clip.

A past honoree on the dean’s and Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner’s academic lists, Tirotta is on track to earned his Finance degree at Dayton.

At the CSBI, Tirotta played on a team managed by former big league pitcher, Gary, Ind., native and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins and got to face former high school teammate Nate Thomas and college mate Cole Pletka.

Before joining the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park this week, Tirotta spent about 10 days training at Prospect Performance Academy in Aurora, Ohio — near Cleveland and Akron.

Tirotta has worked for more than a year with agent and PPA founder/owner Ben Simon.

“He’s helping me get ready for pro ball and reaching out to scouts,” says Tirotta of Simon. “We’re pretty good friends.”

The CSL plays its games on Monday and Tuesday (11 a.m. doubleheaders). Tirotta spends the rest of the time in South Bend, where he works out at the O’Brien Fitness Center and the 1st Source Bank Performance Center (home of the South Bend Cubs), where Mark Haley is the director.

Following workouts prescribed by trainers, including those at Dayton, Tirotta hits the gym five or six times a week. He goes through strength and conditioning moves and does sprint training.

“I use my speed as well as my power,” says Tirotta. “Just being at athlete on the baseball field is one of my biggest strengths.

“I like to use my athleticism a lot. I’m making plays and using my arm strength. I take extra bases when I can and get stolen bases. I’m hitting a few home runs here and there. I’m pretty well-rounded. I’m not a power-only guy.”

Dayton played just 14 games before the 2020 season was halted. Tirotta started cold and finished hot. He wound up hitting .228 (13-of-57) with one homer, one double, 15 RBIs, nine runs, four stolen bases.

He batted fourth in the Flyers’ final game on March 9 at Dayton swept a three-game series against Northern Kentucky. 

The previous day, Flyers head coach Jayson King inserted Tirotta in the 3-hole and he went 3-for-6 3-for-6 with a home run, double, three runs batted in and three runs scored.

“I was putting good barrel on the ball and going in a good direction,” says Tirotta. “Then COVID happened.

“(Coach King has) done everything for me. He’s gotten me into the Cape and a lot of good leagues. He gets us where we need to be.”

Tirotta hooked up with the CSL when other collegiate summer leagues were canceled or scaled back for 2020. 

He got into 28 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019 — 19 with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and nine with the Harwich Mariners. He signed a temporary contract with Y-D and finished with league runner-up Harwich. He supposed to go back to Harwich this summer, but the league canceled its schedule.

He knew he wanted to play summer ball. He was not sure where and then the opportunity came at Grand Park.

“There’s a lot of guys I grew up playing with and against,” says Tirotta, a 2017 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls his 17U and 18U summers after being with the South Bend Silver Hawks for 15U and 16U and the Michiana Scrappers for 11U through 14U. Coached by his father, he started organized baseball at Southeast Little League in South Bend.

Playing summer ball two times a week in Indiana, Riley also gets to be around parents Mike and Stacy Tirotta and younger brother Jordan (a 2020 Marian graduate who plans to study dentistry at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis). 

Sunday nights are for dinners at grandpa Frank Tirotta’s house. It’s not unusual for 40 or more relatives and friends to gather for these weekly feasts or on holidays.

“I have a very close family,” says Tirotta. When pandemic hit that shut down meals with his grandfather — a widower — and visits were kept at a distance. “He was fed up with it and itching to see everybody again.”

Mike Marks has broken bread with the Tirottas. He runs the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and has been helping Riley with his swing since Marian coach Joe Turnock and son Josh Turnock recommended him during Tirotta’s freshmen year with the Knights.

“He’s the reason I am a college hitter,” says Tirotta. “I put in a lot of hours with him.

“He’s definitely part of the journey in my baseball career.”

Baseball gears back up again next week. Right now, Tirotta is getting ready to join family for some camping.

Riley Tirotta, a graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This summer he is playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (University of Dayton Photo)

‘High-adrenaline’ righty Bachman lighting up radar guns

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Bachman’s fastball has registered at 96 mph while pitching for the Local Legends during the College Summer League at Grand Park at Westfield, Ind.

The right-hander hit 97 as a Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) freshman in 2019 and again for the RedHawks during the fall.

Bachman, 20, works out regularly at Fishers (Ind.) Sports Academy — owned by Ed Woolwine, who was Bachman’s head coach with the Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization during his first three high school summers. 

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Bachman has also been near the top of the pulldown leader board at PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball, run by Greg Vogt at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.

What helps hit the gas?

“As I get stronger, I stay mobile,” says Bachman, a 2018 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers with 19 mound appearances (18 starts) in two seasons at Miami. “It’s important to stay mobile in your upper and lower half.”

To say mobile as his strength increases, Bachman pays attention to his movement patterns, goes through mobility circuits and does yoga.

Besides a two-seam fastball, Bachman throws a slider — more of a “slurve” which breaks two planes of the strike zone — and a vertical-breaking change-up. 

The Grand Park League began last week and Bachman made his second appearance Tuesday, June 23. He expects to throw a bullpen Saturday at Fishers Sports Academy and take the mound in the college league again Tuesday, June 30.

“It’s definitely competitive,” says Bachman of the circuit that’s a joint venture of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development. “The State of Indiana is oftentimes overlooked.

“There’s no slouch in this league. Everybody is for real.”

Like other pitchers in the league who had their college season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bachman is only pitching for a few innings a time.

“I’m just staying on my routine,” says Bachman. “I’m working on my change-up and bettering my command with my off-speed and fastball.

“There’s no need to worry about velo 11 months prior to next year’s (Major League Baseball First-Year Player) Draft.

Bachman and Miami pitching coach Matthew Passauer have mapped out the hurler’s regimen.

“He’s very flexible about what I want to do,” says Bachman of Passauer. “We work together and bounce ideas of each other and develop a plan.”

As a RedHawks freshman for head coach Danny Hayden, Bachman was an all-Mid-American Conference first-teamer. He went 7-1 with a 3.93 earned run average. He struck out 75 batters in 75 2/3 innings and opponents hit .229 against him. 

With that many innings, he was shut down for the summer collegiate season.

In 2020, the righty started four times and was 1-2 with a 3.42 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings.

“I’m usually a high-adrenaline guy, which is a little unusual for a starter,” says Bachman. “It’s about beating the hitter every time no matter what the situation.”

That’s just the way Bachman is wired. His parents — Kevin Bachman and Suzanne Bachman — divorced when Sam was young and he pushed himself athletically and academically.

“I’m very competitive and driven for sure,” says Bachman. “I always have a chip on my shoulder. I’m never satisfied. Workhorse mentality.”

Bachman’s favorite baseball player is Pete Rose.

“My dad was always a fan,” says Sam, who was born 13 years after Rose retired with 4,256 career hits. “I like his passion and how he played so hard. It reminds me of myself.

“No matter the situation, I’m giving it my all.”

Bachman, who turns 21 on Sept. 30, is both a Premedical Studies co-major and Microbiology major. He plans to ride baseball as far as it will take him then comes medical school.

At HSE — playing for then-Royals head coach Scott Henson — Bachman earned two baseball letters and struck out 100 of 307 batters faced over 21 games.

Bachman appreciates Woolwine for his coaching approach.

“He had a very relaxed mood to him,” says Bachman. “He was not super intense or very hands-on. He let me figure out baseball himself.

“There’s not one way to play. It allowed me to develop into the player I am today.”

When Bachman became more serious about the game, he played travel ball for the Indiana Nitro. The summer before college he played for Ohio’s Midland Redskins, coached by Dave Evans

Tyler Bosma, a teammate with the Prospects and Redskins, also wound up being a starting pitcher at Miami. The left-hander is from Holland, Mich.

Gabe Bachman, Sam’s brother, is about to turn 18. He is planning to attend Purdue University.

Sam Bachman, a graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., who has pitched two seasons at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is playing for the Local Legends in the 2000 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (Miami University Photo)

New Castle’s Besecker take non-traditional course to D-I’s VMI

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not your typical story of college baseball recruitment and commitment.

Nic Besecker, a senior at New Castle (Ind.) High School, played travel baseball just a few times — his 12U summer with a team called the Revolution and as a fill-in at 16 with 17U Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).

A self-described “rec league” player most of his diamond life, Besecker has in the New Castle Babe Ruth League and toed the rubber of the all-star team in last summer’s Indiana state tournament in Crown Point. That team was coached by Bret Mann, who had also coached New Castle’s entry in the 2012 Little League World Series.

Besecker, a right-handed pitcher, had his velocity clocked just three times during his prep days. He maxed out at 78 mph at an Earlham College camp as a freshman.

He got into the weight room and took a few lessons from pitching coach Jay Lehr and his velo went up.

“He’s been a big part of it,” says Besecker of Lehr, who is based in central Indiana. “We haven’t gotten to him enough. I’ve had only five true lessons with him, but he taught me something every time. He me how to use my lower half and get into my legs.”

Following his junior year at New Castle, he attended a Prep Baseball Report showcase and went as high as 85. In the early part of 2020, he was at another PBR event and got up to 89.

Besecker isn’t the biggest kid on the field either. Rosters list him at 5-11 and 155 pounds. He says he might be closer to 5-9 and 150.

He gets the most out of what he got. That’s why Besecker has been enamored with major league pitcher Tim Lincecum and what he did with his small frame.

“He’s been my idol since I’ve been little,” says Besecker. “What made me fall in love with him is that when he was good, he was the best pitcher in the world. He was so different from everyone else.”

Besecker has prided himself in exceeding expectations.

“Who’s this little squirt?” says Besecker imitating batters facing him for the first time. Then comes the first delivery.

Usually pretty swift.

But it’s not just about the heat.

“I’ve always prided myself in being a pitcher,” says Besecker. “I always knew how to locate.

“I wasn’t just a hurler.”

Besecker’s passion impresses first-year New Castle head coach Brad Pearson, who didn’t get to see the pitcher perform in a senior season that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nic is one of those kids who seems to be all about baseball,” says Pearson. “He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He just loves the sport.”

Pearson also appreciates Besecker’s mound approach.

“He’s not worried about lightning up the radar gun,” says Pearson. “He just wants to get outs.

“That’s pretty refreshing for a high school kid.”

Besecker signed his National Letter of Intent with NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute on May 11.

Funny thing is when Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra and pitching coach Sam Roberts welcome their new recruit to the Lexington, Va., campus it will represent a few firsts.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it will be the first time for Besecker and his coaches will seeing each other in-person when the player makes his first appearance in Virginia.

“I had options,” says ays Besecker, who will step into a program that has sent right-handers Zak Kent, Josh Winder and Matt Eagle into pro baseball in recent seasons. “Coach Hadra and Coach Roberts has something special going on over there.”

Besecker says he does not owe four years of military service after he graduates from VMI.

“I’m going there to play baseball and etch out some kind of career in baseball,” says Besecker. “That’s been my dream.”

Like all first-year VMI students, Besecker will start on the “Rat Line.” He is hopefully that this basic training program that usually lasts from August through January will help him pack on 20 to 30 pounds.

“I would not get that anywhere else,” says Besecker. “I’ve always been a guy to accept that kind of challenge.”

The majority of new cadets begin around Aug. 15, but they have had summer conditioning programs in the past. If those are available and his coaches want him to attend, Besecker might leave for VMI early.

It’s not yet certain when or if New Castle will have a graduation ceremony.

VMI is a member of the Southern Conference. The Keydets went to Virginia and North Carolina before the 2020 season was halted and was to play home-and-home series with Virginia Tech.

The SoCon tournament was to be staged at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. The park has its own “Green Monster.” The Greenville Drive are Low Class-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox.

Besecker played junior varsity baseball as a New Castle freshman and enjoyed his best varsity campaign as a Trojans sophomore.

“I played against guys who were able to hit the ball regardless of velocity,” says Besecker. “You have to be creative (with breaking pitches).”

In two varsity seasons, Besecker went 8-6 with a 2.96 earned run average. He struck out 80 in 71 innings.

The oldest of Kevin and Lauren Besecker’s two sons, Nic was born in Centerville, Ohio and was raised in Greenville, Ohio.

“I’ve been in a small town my whole life,” says Besecker.

When he was 9, his father brought the family to New Castle. That’s where he was a mechanic/crew chief for the racing Armstrong family, including Dakoda and Caleb, and Nic could get into the Focus program for gifted kids.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” says Nic of the move. “It was a perfect storm.”

He went to be inducted into the National Honor Society and participate in speech and debate while posting a 3.6 grade-point average (on a 4.0) scale at New Castle High.

Nic has logged around 200 service hours at New Castle Babe Ruth’s Denny Bolden Field and has been an assistant coach for teams featuring his little brother Drake (the 13-year-old left-hander is already as tall as big brother and finishing seventh grade).

Lauren Besecker holds a sports marketing degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and has what Nic calls a “love/hate relationship” with the Cincinnati Reds. She is waiting management to make the moves to again make the team make a consistent contender.

Before focusing on baseball his senior year, Besecker played football from fourth grade through junior year. The former quarterback was encouraged by Jaymen Nicholson, who coached in fifth and sixth grade and was part of the highs school staff.

“He’s always believed in me,” says Besecker. “Guys like him and Bret Mann have told me, ‘If you want to do it, you can do it.’ They bought in

“That’s catapulted me as far as I’ve gotten so far.”

BRETMANNNICBESECKERBRADPEARSON

New Castle (Ind.) High School senior Nic Besecker (center) celebrates his signing to play NCAA Division I baseball at Virginia Military Institute. He is flanked by Babe Ruth coach Bret Mann (left) and high school head coach Brad Pearson. (New Castle High School Photo)

 

Former Pendleton Heights catcher Etchison scouting for Cleveland Indians

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Etchison used to play baseball for a coach who was invested in his players as people as ballplayers.

Now Etchison evaluates diamond talent with an eye for more than the obvious skills.

Etchison was a catcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, graduating in 2007.

“He is one of he best human beings of all-time,” says Etchison of Stoudt. “He was close with his players and his players were close with each other. Everyone who played for him just loves him.

“He was so much more than a baseball coach. He was invested in you. He genuinely cares about people.”

Etchison, 31, makes it a point to look Stoudt up whether it’s in Indiana or Florida.

In his third year as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians, Etchison greatly values character.

“The Indians very progressive in how they go about scouting,” says Etchison. “We collect information and get to know a player. Every player has strengths and weaknesses.

“We emphasize make-up as an organization. The make-up is just so huge.”

Etchison, who played at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and the University of Maryland after his Pendleton Heights days (which included back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference championships in 2006 and 2007 and a senior season in which he hit .392 with five homer runs, seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and a spot on the 2007 IHSBCA North/South All-Star team; former Arabians head coach Travis Keesling assisted Stoudt; The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh), wants to know a player’s level of perseverance and his ability to overcome challenges and perform under pressure.

His job is to identify someone who will impact the game at the big league level.

As an area scout living in Dexter, Mich., Etchison is responsible for a territory which includes Indiana and Michigan plus Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, northern Kentucky, South Dakota, western Ohio and Wisconsin.

He goes to games and tournaments in the spring and summer and scout days in the fall featuring players from these territories or — especially in this time of no live baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic — analyzes video to do player assessments and projections.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Synergy (Sports Technology) video,” says Etchison. “We can see mechanical things on tape — things that weren’t possible 10 years ago — and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

That’s one piece of the scouting puzzle.

“We’ll never not value going to the ballpark,” says Etchison. “There are a lot of things you can’t see on tape.”

Among those are pregame routines and what the player does during warm-ups or batting practice and how he interacts with his coaches and teammates. Body language won’t always show up on a video that is cut up by pitch and swing.

It is said that there are five tools in baseball (hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, throwing and fielding).

“Old school scouting relies so heavily on tools,” says Etchison. “In the majors, a lot of players have one or two.

“The hit tool, that’s the one that matters (for non-pitchers).”

Etchison hears people say that an outfielder can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm.

But can he effectively swing the bat? Those defensive tools might show up once or twice a week.

“The bat shows up four times every game,” says Etchison. “All (big league) outfielders are offensive positions.”

Etchison, who also played travel baseball with the Indiana Bulls prior to college, redshirted his first season at Ball State (2008) and apparel in 20 games for Greg Beals-coached Mid-American Conference West Division champions in 2009.

Knowing that he would see limited playing time in his third year, Etchison made the choice to transfer to Chipola and joined the that program just weeks before the start of the 2010 season.

“The first time I really took a chance on myself was going down there,” says Etchison. “It was a sink-or-swim situation.”

He could either make it or go back to Indiana and leave his baseball career behind.

Playing for Jeff Johnson on a team loaded with future pro players, Etchison became part of the Chipola Indians brotherhood.

“It’s one of the top junior college programs in the country,” says Etchison. “(Johnson) had a very similar impact on his players as Coach Stoudt. He was a big personality, a great baseball coach and a great mentor.

“(Chipola) opened doors for me.”

Johnson had a relationship with then-Maryland head coach Erik Bakich and it helped Etchison land with the Terrapins as part of Bakich’s first recruiting class. He played in 28 games (25 as a starter) in 2011 and 31 (20 as a starter) in 2012. He threw out 14-of-25 runners attempting to steal during his senior season which opened with a dislocated finger that caused him to miss two weeks. He had already suffered a broken hand and a torn meniscus while at the Big Ten school.

Etchison was a Maryland team captain as a senior, helping the Terps win 32 games.

Meanwhile, Bakich encouraged Etchison to consider coaching when his playing days were over. He graduated from Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in December 2012.

“He thought I’d be good at it,” says Etchison. “I had a few real world job opportunities in the finance industry. My parents (Jeff and Shelly Etchison) encouraged me to get into (coaching). They’ve always wanted me to go out and take chances.”

When Bakich became head coach at the University of Michigan he brought Etchison on in the volunteer role, one he stayed in for five seasons (2013-17) plus part of the fall before going into scouting.

“I fell in love with coaching,” says Etchison. “I really loved being around baseball everyday.”

There was continuity in the Wolverines program and chances to earn money by working camps.

“I was in a great spot,” says Etchison, who briefly got the chance to go on the road and recruit when Sean Kenny left Michigan for the University of Georgia. “Financially, I was able to survive.”

He also got to spend time around a mentor in Bakich.

“He is one of my closest friends,” says Etchison, who got married last summer with Bakich performing the wedding ceremony.

Aaron became the stepfather to two boys — Reid (now 10 and in the fourth grade) and Grant (now 7 and in the first grade). Emily Etchison, who is from Saline, Mich., is due to bring a baby girl into the family at the end of July.

Etchison explains why he became a scout for the Cleveland Indians.

“The organization was extremely impressive,” says Etchison. “It was a great opportunity for growth.”

Another significant person in Etchison’s baseball life is fellow Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley, who is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the Chicago White Sox.

Growing up, Etchison was a regular at Shirley’s training facility.

“Like so many players who grew up in the area and are proud to be ‘Barn Guys,’ I would be remiss if I did not give credit to him for being a baseball mentor and friend for over 20 years,” says Etchison.

AARONETCHISON

Aaron Etchison, a Pendleton (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball at Ball State University, Chipola College and the University of Maryland and coached at the University of Michigan, is an area scout for the Cleveland Indians.

 

Indiana’s Sagerman gets competitive fix in operations, pitch development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Denton Sagerman no longer stares down batters or tries to get the baseball past them with his pitches.

But he still has a competitive spirit and he uses it in his roles as Director of Operations/Pitching Development for Indiana University baseball.

“I love competing,” says Sagerman, who started working in Bloomington in August 2018. .”It’s very hard to replicate that once you’re done playing.”

As a right-handed pitcher at the University of Dayton, Sagerman had the ball and could dictate to his opponent.

Now he finds a competitive outlet in the weight room, where he can measure his progress, and in his job.

“In my professional development, I compete,” says Sagerman, 27. “I read about what everybody else is doing. I try to replicate that here and be the best at what I do in the country.

“That’s the goal that motivates me every single day.”

Sagerman’s favorite part of playing was development.

“What are the tools I can use to get better?,” says Sagerman. “I could measure where I was at and show quantitatively where I was going.

“I always wanted to be in a baseball development role.”

What does Sagerman do as a baseball operations man?

“All of the administrative tasks,” says Sagerman. “Everything outside coaching and recruiting.”

He is there to support head coach Jeff Mercer, associate head coach/pitching Justin Parker, assistant coach/recruiting director Dan Held, volunteer assistant Derek Simmons, director of player development Scott Rolen and the rest of the Hoosiers.

Sagerman is responsible for budgeting, scheduling, travel coordination, video breakdown and managing the role of analytics within the program; amongst other general program operations.

Some tools at his disposal include TrackMan, Rapsodo Pitching, HitTrax and WIN Reality (virtual reality).

There plenty of challenges. One example is with budgeting.

“It’s hard knowing what the landscape is going to look like one, two, three years out and the costs that can add up and the things that are unforeseen,” says Sagerman. “There are minute details and you make sure all of those are accounted for in your planning process.”

When IU goes on the road, Sagerman works with a travel agent and sets up a bus company. The driver is given a full itinerary. Staying at the team hotel, the driver is available whenever team members need the bus. When possible, drivers who are familiar with the Hoosiers are requested.

Sagerman assists Parker with pitch design.

“I enjoy working with all the different tools and making the data applicable to players and coaches,” says Sagerman. “As each class comes in they know more about technology. The coaches do a good job of explaining what the data means.

“It’s not just overwhelming them with an Excel sheet of data.”

IU’s Bart Kaufman Field is equipped with a TrackMan video system which allows Sagerman to present postgame reports to pitchers on every single pitch. They can learn many things about the quality of those pitches, including location and effectiveness, and apply that in the future.

“They can see that their slider in the game was 1 mph slower with an inch less horizontal break than they’ve seen in practice or other games,” says Sagerman.

Another way to make pitches better is by finding comparable data from professional pitchers.

On the hitting side, a heat map of the strike zone can be created to show exit velocity and launch angle and a profile is built.

Sagerman says since this information is available to the opponent, they can use it to attack a hitter’s weaknesses.

“As a hitter, I need to train myself to not swing or hit that pitch better,” says Sagerman.

A virtual reality system helps hitters with pitch recognition. They see how quickly they can pick up pitch type and location.

“We do a good job of using utilizing all the different pieces of technology to paint a picture for that specific athlete,” says Sagerman. “I didn’t access to any of this stuff in college. The boom of tech/analytics has come about in the last two or three years.

“It would have helped my career immensely.”

Sagerman has that there is a misconception that with technology comes an infinite outcome. It must be applied correctly to help the user.

Also, limited resources can bring about results. Sagerman was a coach and administrator with the Dayton Classics travel baseball organization. The Classics used a radar gun. Launch angle was measured with strings in the batting cage.

Before coming to IU, Sagerman was Director of Baseball Operations at Wright State University, under head coach Mercer, while focusing on analytics and its use in player development. Before that the graduate of Olmsted Falls (Ohio) High School was employed as an aerospace engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base specializing in Computational Fluid Dynamics as well as a varsity coach at Centerville (Ohio) High School.

Sagerman has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Dayton and a master’s in Sport and Athletic Administration from Gonzaga University.

“My education taught me problem-solving and organizational skills,” says Sagerman. “The engineering, I use on analytics and the pitching side.”

A typical day for Sagerman when the Hoosiers are at home begins with him arriving at the stadium around 7 a.m. for a workout. He then splits his time between operations and pitching tasks.

He answers general emails and communicates with the opposing director of operations.

Sagerman works with IU’s game management staff and he also makes sure the team has the day’s schedule and knows which uniforms to wear. He sees that the pregame meal is set up. He assists the staff in preparing lineup cards.

During the game, he keeps his own scorecard and makes notes. He is also there to make sure everything goes smoothly and is there to get anything needed by the coaches. Monitoring the weather is also part of his job.

After the game, Sagerman runs pitching and hitting reports and gets those to the coaching staff. He also makes sure the team has the schedule for the next day.

“They’re definitely some long days for sure,” says Sagerman.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana played its last game of the 2020 season March 11 (the Hoosiers finished 9-6).

During quarantine time, Sagerman has been working on long-term projects.

“I’m looking for the most efficient processes and to be more organized, efficient and effective,” says Sagerman. “I’m also doing some prep for next year like ordering equipment.”

DENTONSAGERMAN

Denton Sagerman is the Director of Operations/Pitching Development for Indiana University baseball. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Orthopedic surgeon Frantz covers baseball topics

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dr. Travis Frantz played baseball at Fremont (Ind.) High School and Huntington (Ind.) University.

Now an Ohio State University orthopedic surgeon based in Columbus, Ohio, who has worked with New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians doctors, Frantz was back near his college town Jan. 19 for the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

Frantz spoke on several topics, including strength and conditioning, mechanics, simple physics, risky behaviors, baseball specialization and the injury epidemic.

“This is pretty new stuff,” says Frantz, who shared his knowledge and findings from studies conducted by Major League Baseball and others. “This is the best of what we know at the moment for how to keep guys healthy.

“In order to stay healthy you need that whole 180-degree arc of shoulder motion (internal or external rotation). Guys who are short on that we know, particularly in the shoulder, have 2.5 to 3 times more likely risk of suffering an injury when they start to lose that flexibility and that range of motion.

“When there’s rotator cuff weakness, that’s another risk factor for shoulder injury. A shoulder surgery for a pitcher is the kiss of death.

“Elbows we’re really good at. We now have a 97 percent return to the same level with Tommy John surgery. Rotator cuff surgery is 40 or 50 percent. It’s not great.”

When it comes to strengthening the rotator cuff, Frantz points to the Baseball Pitchers and Thowers Ten Exercise Program. It’s what former big league pitcher Jarrod Parker used for injury rehabilitation and prevention (rehab and pre-hab).

Frantz, Parker and athletic trainer Dru Scott have combined forces for Arm Care Camp.

“The whole shoulder adapts when your throw and you’re overhead that much,” says Frantz. “Even the actual bone itself remodels. It does what we call retrovert, meaning it tilts back a little bit.

“The late cocking is a good thing. You get a lot generated from that. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a normal adaptation for high-level throwers over time.”

Frantz notes that elbow injuries commonly occur alongside hip and core injuries. There is an exponential increase in MLB oblique injuries in the past seven years.

Those with hip injuries also have more elbow injuries.

Throwing engages the kinetic chain — movement at one joint affects movement in another.

Frantz says body regions must be conditioned properly. He adds that there is no perfect training system.

“Every therapist, strength and conditioning coach and ‘expert’ will have their opinion,” says Frantz.

Keys to strength and conditioning include doing movements that appropriate for age/level

Well-balanced i.e.. kinetic chain and with an appropriate dosage.

Doctors have found that complete rest may be bad, too. It used to be that heart attack patients were put on weeks of strict bed rest.

“We now know that is one of the worst things we could have done,” says Frantz. “We encourage them to get up and move and lightly stress the heart a little bit.

“A lot of the strength and conditioning coaches now are buying into that philosophy. Taking three days off, just sitting there and not doing anything at all is probably worse than doing something lightly for a couple of days.”

It’s active recovery to keep things moving and loose.

Frantz says there are now many strength and conditioning programs founded in “real” science.

“It has good philosophies,” says Frantz. “It makes sense in what you’re doing and is well-rounded.

“Be careful of the programs that have marketed upon just one success story. Or it’s one pro athlete who is a freak and would have had success with anything he did. They just happen to have his or her name on this program or institution.”

In addressing mechanics, Frantz says the biggest strides made in biomechanics and pitching mechanics in general occur in youth baseball between ages 9-13.

“Interestingly, as your mechanics improve the force that’s put on your elbow joint increases,” says Frantz. “Everywhere else in the body your risk goes down.”

Frantz says that once proper mechanics are developed, there is no difference in mechanics of those with elbow ligament tears and those without.

Kinetic factors associated with pitching injury include early trunk rotation (loss of hip and shoulder separation vs. maintained hip and shoulder separation), altered knee flexion and increased elbow flexion at ball release leads to increased elbow torque.

Looking at simple physics, Frantz says there are 64 Newton meters of force generated at the elbow with each pitch (bone and muscular structures see 32 Nm and the ulnar collateral ligament sees the other 32 Nm).

“Unfortunately what we’ve shown in lab studies looking at elbows is that (the UCL) fails at 33 to 36 units of that force,” says Frantz. “Essentially every time you throw, you’re within a few percentage points of maximum strength before that’s going to break.

“That’s why you’re seeing the amount of injuries you’re seeing.”

The greatest cause/risk factor for injury is increased velocity. Other things that make for a bigger force are increased body weight and height.

MLB revealed that the percentage of pitches 95 mph or above was 4.82 in 2008 and 9.14 in 2015. Where will it be in 2020?

In this era of high strikeout totals, research shows that 18.8 percent of pitches at or above 95 mph resulted in a swinging strike with 8.2 percent for deliveries less than 95 mph.

“Velocity works,” says Frantz. “It’s not going anywhere.”

Off-speed pitch velocity has also increased.

Frantz issues a warning for high injury risk.

“Be aware of the 14- to 18-year-old who hits a growth spurt, gains 25 pounds and suddenly throws 10 mph harder,” says Frantz.

Risky behaviors include pitching with tiredness (7.8 times more likely for injury), pitching with pain (7.5 times more likely for injury), catching when not pitching (2.8 times more likely for injury), pitching on consecutive days (2.5 times more likely for injury) and playing on multiple teams at the same time (1.9 times more likely for injury).

“There’s a difference between having a little bit of fatigue and having true pain when you’re throwing,” says Frantz. “It’s difficult to isolate, particularly in younger kids.

“As guys play a lot they can get a feel for it.”

Frantz says every player’s description of pain and what they can handle is different and coaches need to know their athletes well enough to understand that.

Studies show that breaking balls have not been found to be a direct contributor to arm injury while velocity does contribute.

In players undergoing Tommy John surgery, there is no difference in the amount of curveballs/sliders thrown compared to those who stayed healthy.

Breaking balls have been showed to increase arm pain by as much as 86 percent and arm pain increases injury rates.

Pitch counts have been widely instituted at various levels since 2004.

Frantz says there is no magic number.

Pitch counts do force players, parents and coaches to stop pitching when the arm pain and tiredness are likely to be ignored.

One website resource for guidelines sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball is PitchSmart.org.

Frantz says it is well-documented that throwers in warm weather regions, where there is more actively, the incidence of injury is higher than those in cold weather places.

In looking at specialization, Frantz quoted a study by the New York Yankees doctor of youth baseball in New York state.

The average age to begin dropping sports to focus on another is 8.1 years old.

In interviewing the youth players, he learned that 84 percent wished they played more sports, 47 percent thought about quitting last season and 33 percent were told by baseball coach to stop playing other sports.

In addition, 74 percent reported an injury, 55 percent stated it wasn’t fun to play while they were hurting, 47 percent were told by a parent or coach to keep playing despite pain, 25 percent had hired personal trainers and 5 percent of parents said they would suspend grade/redshirt to gain a competitive advantage.

What’s more, players with elite coaching had an injury rate of 38 percent. The rate dropped to 7.1 percent to those without elite coaching.

Frantz says an argument for not specializing comes from current MLB players.

They have generally been found to have played more sports than current high school players and “specialized” two years later (age 14 vs. 12 now) than current high school players.

Forty percent of big leaguers say specializing at any time did not help them reach professional baseball.

What does science say on the subject?

Frantz notes there is clear evidence of improved physical, emotional and learning development when playing multiple sports.

There is no advantage in specialization before 12 years of age and a clear increase in injuries.

While there have been very little studies done on the youth injuries, studies have revealed that baseball is a relatively safe sport at the highest level. MLB has 3.6 injuries per athlete-exposures compared to 21.4 for the NBA.

Position players have greater incidence of injury and most injuries involve ligaments and tendons.

During a three-month high school season, most injuries occur during the first month.

Frantz says that many claims about weighted balls are not based upon sound science.

Weighted balls have been shown to increase velocity. But that’s with 4- to 6-ounce balls used over the 10-week period by high school and college athletes.

Frantz says there are not current protocols on how weighted balls help as warm-up or recovery tools. It’s a coaching/pitching preference.

There is no evidence weighted balls hurt or harm mechanics.

Nor has there been any study done to prove they reduce injury.

Frantz says there are plenty of myths surrounding long toss.

He has found that is does not increase arm strength.

Throwers lose about 5 percent of arm strength over the course of the season and 11-18 percent from the start to the end of the game.

Long toss may help endurance and arm speed, but does not promote proper pitching mechanics.

Motion analysis has shown significant differences and that increases when long toss goes beyond 180 feet.

There’s an even higher stress on the arm with max effort crow hop long toss.

Yes, long toss is important, but not a requirement. Many pro players never throw more than 120 feet.

It’s a balancing act between increasing endurance and arm speed vs. cumulative fatigue.

Frantz adds that long toss is helpful, but must be used in combination with downtime, good arm care and quality strength and conditioning.

“There is not one perfect long toss program,” says Frantz.

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Dr. Travis Frantz, an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio, covered many baseball topics at the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics. Frantz played at Fremont (Ind.) High School and Huntington (Ind.) University. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Weems setting the bar higher for Pike Red Devils

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Making consistent contenders and productive citizens is a priority for Brandon Weems as head baseball coach at Pike High School in Indianapolis.

The Red Devils play in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (with Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central).

“If we’re ever going to be competitive on a regular basis, we’ve got to get away from just because you showed up, you get to be on the baseball team,” says Weems, who was junior varsity coach at Pike for three seasons then was a volunteer assistant on the staff of Dave Scott at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter before returning to the Red Devils in 2019 as assistant head coach to Todd Webster. “That’s not the way any of those (MIC) schools are and that’s the reason they are successful. There’s competition within the program. If there’s no competition within your own program, then how do you expect to get them to compete with them other teams?”

Pike won the MIC in 2018 then lost many players to graduation and struggled to win many games in 2019. The positive is that many sophomores got varsity playing time.

“They were the ones that earned it whether they were ready for it or not,” says Weems. “That’s what we had so we rolled with it. We’ll be better off for it because a lot of those guys — by the time they’re seniors — will be three-year starters.

“I’ve had my 1-on-1’s with guys I think will be competing for varsity spots and told them where they stand and what they need to work on. I also gave every one of them an idea of who’s coming up behind them and it’s their job to keep that spot.”

That’s the between the lines. There’s also preparing the young men for their next phase be it college, military or work.

“We want to make sure they’re prepared for what life’s going to throw at them,” says Weems, who served in the Indiana Air National Guard as a weather forecaster and observer for nearly seven years and attended Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and now is an accountant for Indianapolis Public Schools in his day job.

His father — the late Tommy Weems — was a disabled veteran who began coaching youth football while still serving in the U.S. Air Force and coached the Weems brothers — Brandon and Brian — in football and basketball when they were growing up.

“He was not able to work,” says Weems. “I don’t come from a affluent background. I come from the same background as a lot of our kids (at Pike).

“The main difference is that I had my dad. A lot of these kids don’t have their dads.

“They’re going to spend a lot more time with me and my staff. We’re going to make sure we’re leading them not only in baseball but we’re reminding them to make good choices like doing their homework, taking time to go to study tables, getting tutoring when they need it, making sure they’re treating the young ladies the way they’re supposed to. We go into all that stuff.”

The coaching staff features Caleb Wakefield (a Pike teacher and U.S. Army veteran who will work with outfielders), Cameron Gardner (a volunteer who coached with Weems and the Indiana Nitro travel organization and will help with infielders), Davon Hardy (the former Irvington Preparatory Academy head coach who will also help with infielders), Xavier Wilder (head junior varsity coach), Nick Lucich (catching coordinator) and Isiah Hatcher (JV assistant).

Even though Pike — which is part of the seventh-largest school district in Indiana — has three gyms, there are still so many athletes and other students vying for practice space. Many off-season baseball workouts are early in the morning or late at night.

Weems says funding has been approved for a new fieldhouse, which will come in handy in the cold months when the Red Devils can’t practice outside on Hildebrand Field.

Last year, beginning in August through the time of high school tryouts, Weems had players in grades 6-8 come in for Sunday workouts.

“We got a really good turnout,” says Weems. “I got almost a full off-season with our incoming freshmen. I knew who they were. They knew who I was. They understood what the expectations were at the high school level.”

This fall and winter, more free workouts have been twice a month on Saturdays for grades 3-8.

High school players are required to do community service hours and one way they fulfill them is to volunteer to help with the youth players.

Pike fielded a summer team last year that was organized by Weems and ran by assistants to provide a competitive opportunity and to make playing in the high school off-season more affordable. Others played for Little League and other organizations.

“We make it voluntarily,” says Weems. “It’s not that if you don’t play with us (during the summer), you can’t play for us (in the spring).

“That is totally fine. I make that clear with the kids. I make that extremely clear with the parents. I make my athletic director aware of what we do.

“It’s what we have to do to compete right now.”

Seems points to Ohio and the ACME Baseball Congress system in place there that provides high school players, coaches and teams an opportunity to continue to play after the high school season ends and is compliant with Ohio High School Athletic Association guidelines.

Weems, 33, hails from Springfield, Ohio, and played at the old Springfield North High School. His class (2004) was the first in school history to win at least 100 games in four years. The Mark Stoll-coached Panthers made it to the district finals (equivalent to the regional in Indiana) three of the four seasons.

He also played in the Babe Ruth League state championship at 13, 14 and 15.

Weems began his coaching career with Springfield North’s freshmen team in the spring of 2005.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be a college baseball player, but I knew I loved the game and didn’t want to be away from it,” says Weems. “I’m an analytical guy. My degree’s in accounting and finance. Baseball kind of lends well to what my strengths are.

“Baseball is one of the last few pure sports that are left because you can’t fake it. When the ball comes your way, you cannot hide. If you’re not trying, everybody’s going to see it.”

Brandon and Dionne Weems celebrated five years of marriage last week. The couple has two sons — Carter (5) and Andrew (3).

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Brandon Weems is the head baseball coach at Pike High School in Indianapolis.

Plainfield, Southern Indiana grad Kehrt scouting for Diamondbacks

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Kehrt is taking the lessons he learned as a player and using them to evaluate baseball talent as an area scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Kehrt, an Avon, Ind., resident, is heading into his third year with the D-backs after concluding his own professional career. As a right-handed pitcher, he competed for 10 seasons in the minors with the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations.

Selected in the 47th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by Boston out of the University of Southern Indiana, Kehrt pitched in the Red Sox system into 2014 and in the Dodgers chain 2014-16, going 45-57 with a 4.55 earned run average over 222 games (128 as a starter). He hurled at the Triple-A level in 2011-14 and 2016.

He was the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs Citizen of the Year in 2011. That same year he was 2-1 in 10 games with Scottsdale of the Arizona Fall League.

He pitched in the Double-A Texas League All-Star Game in 2015. He was with Laguna of the Triple-A Mexican League and Trois-Rivieres of the independent Can-Am League in 2017.

Kehrt also played winter ball in Puerto Rico with Mayaguez in 2012-13 and 2013-14 and Caguas in 2015-16, Venezuela with Zulia in 2014-15 and Magallanes in 2016-17 and Mexico in 2016-1 with Mazatlan.

In his role as scout, he estimates that he drives 50,000 miles a year while checking on high school and college players in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.

“I commute as much as possible,” says Kehrt, who tries to make it back to wife Meagen, 4-year-old son Maddux and 2-year-old daughter Belamy immediately after most scouting trips. “Fall is more organized with scrimmages and scout days and these new exhibition games. Summers and falls have more showcase environments. Spring can be crazy and you can go from Michigan to Kentucky in one day to see players.”

Kehrt traveled to the University of Louisville Wednesday, Oct. 16 to see action in the annual Pizza Bowl fall intrasquad series.

Whenever the weather, schedule changes and traffic allows, Kehrt tries to arrive at the field as early as possible to observe players during warm-ups. He sees how they interact with teammates and coaches.

“I want to get the whole picture of what the player is,” says Kehrt, 32. “I talk to the people in their life. I try to get multiple looks.”

Drey Jameson, a hard-throwing right-hander who signed with the Diamondbacks in the first round out of Ball State University, was tracked by Kehrt.

Kehrt, 33, saw 2019 Southport (Ind.) High School graduate Avery Short several times before Arizona selected the left-handed pitcher in the 12th round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

“For a high school kid, he was able to throw an insane amount of strikes,” says Kehrt of Short. “He had an advanced (baseball) IQ for a 17- or 18-year-old kid.”

Short pitched for Team USA in the U18 Pan-American Championships in Panama in the fall of 2018. The southpaw was reportedly inked by the D-backs for a $922,500 signing bonus.

“They get experience and get used to grinding during the summers (in travel ball),” says Kehrt. “They have fun during their senior years. It’s one last hurrah and they can showcase their stuff.”

Andrew Saalfrank was chosen by the Diamondbacks in the sixth round of the 2019 draft out of Indiana University. Purdue University catcher Nick Dalesandro (10th round) and Indiana State University right-hander Ethan Larrison (16th round) were taken in 2018.

A 2004 graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School, Kehrt played two seasons for Brian Planker and one for Michael Thompson. After playing in the Plainfield Little League and Plainfield Teenage Babe Ruth Baseball League in his younger years, he pitched in a few tournaments with the Indianapolis Bulldogs his 16U summer then spent full summer seasons with the James Hurst-coached travel team as 17U and 18U player.

“(Hurst) gave me the best advice I ever got,” says Kehrt. “He told me to go to college. That’s what he did (left-hander Hurst pitched at Florida Southern College and got into eight games with the 1994 Texas Rangers and hurled in three with the 1995 Indianapolis Indians). “That was a pivotal point in my high school career.”

Off to college to study marketing (he finished his degree in December 2008), Kehrt played at USI for four seasons (2005-08) — the last two with Tracy Archuleta as head coach and Joel Weaver as pitching coach.

“They changed the culture of the team,” says Kehrt of Archuleta and Weaver. “Coach Weaver connected with me on mechanics. He broke it down, made it easy to understand and click in the game.

“I owe a lot to me making a big step to both of those guys.”

Kehrt’s pitching coach for six seasons with Red Sox minor league teams was former big league left-hander Bob Kipper, who spent time with the righty reflecting on the positives and negatives of his outing.

Spending time around major league pitchers in spring training was also instructive to Kehrt.

“I’m a big learn-by-example guy,” says Kehrt. “I’d watch John Lackey during his bullpens and see how his mechanics work.”

With the Dodgers, former big league pitcher Matt Herges was his pitching coach at Double-A and Triple A.

“It was eye-opening how much more I could learn at age 29 and 30,” says Kehrt. “He allowed me to play an extra year.”

Kept busy these days with scouting and family, Kehrt has taught lessons in the past at former big league pitcher Bill Sampen’s Samp’s Hack Shack training facilities.

JEREMYKEHRTREDSOX2

Jeremy Kehrt, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and the University of Indiana, works in the bullpen during his minor league baseball career. He is now an area scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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Jeremy Kehrt pitched in the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers systems during his baseball-playing career.

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The Kehrt family (from left): Jeremy, Maddux, Meagen and Bellamy. Jeremy is an area scout with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Kehrts resides in Avon, Ind.

 

Graybeal getting Central Noble Cougars ready for baseball, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a high school educator, Tyler Graybeal sees his job as getting his students ready for what comes after school while enjoying their time in it.

That explains the points of emphasis for the head baseball coach at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind.

“It’s not wins and losses, it’s doing the right thing,” says Graybeal, who enters his second season of leading the Cougars in 2020 (he was an assistant to Jim Sickafoose in 2018). “We’re preparing them for the next step in life. We want them to have a good time and get better at baseball.”

Graybeal, who teaches Geometry during the school day, has been conducting limited contact sessions twice a week and is pleased with the turnout of high schoolers and middle schoolers.

“We had 17 the past two fall workouts,” says Graybeal, who is also an assistant football coach at Central Noble working with linebackers and wide receivers and serving as junior varsity defensive coordinator. “We have a scrimmage once a week. We’ve set up a mentoring system so the older players can learn to be role models.”

The high school’s feeder program is a league run through Albion Parks with fields at Hidden Diamonds Park and Valleyview Park.

Graybeal, who had 28 players in the entire high school program last spring, says a young 2019-20 squad includes junior Dylan Eggl and senior Nate Burr among its top players. Eggl is power hitter, shortstop and right-handed pitcher. Burr, a transfer from Westview High School, is 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds and is a righty pitcher and first baseman. Both are undecided about college.

A graduate of Crestview High School in Ashland, Ohio, Graybeal got his college degree from the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, where he briefly played baseball. An insurance job brought him to Fort Wayne and then he decided to go into education and coaching.

When he first came to Central Noble, Graybeal was a coach for all high school seasons — football, basketball and baseball. His wife, Elizabeth, insisted that he cut back on that load so basketball was dropped. The couple has a 5-year-old son named Draven and are expecting a second child in January.

At a small school like Central Noble (enrollment around 440), multi-sport athletes are the expectation.

“I encourage my kids to play another sport,” says Graybeal. “You’ve got to be a well-rounded athlete.

“That’s why I coach multiple sports so I see those kids as much as I can and work with them.”

Also working with the baseball players is a coaching staff that features JV head coach Shane Austrap and assistants Justin Stump, Max Smith and Jared Shishler.

Since taking over the Cougars on the diamond, Graybeal and others have worked to improve the home field. Sod has been cut, dugouts have been painted and there’s plenty more to do. An August fundraiser — a coed slow pitch softball tournament — will help with the upgrades.

Central Noble is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview).

The first NECC Home Run Derby originally slated for May has been moved to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3 at Lakeland.

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bremen, Fairfield, LaVille, Prairie Heights and Westview. Central Noble has won three sectional titles — 2009, 2010 and 2012.

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The 2019 Central Noble High School baseball team. It was the first one with Tyler Graybeal as head coach.

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Tyler Graybeal is head baseball coach at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind. He also assists in football and teaches Geometry. He is a graduate of Crestview High School and the University of Mount Union — both in Ohio.

 

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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