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Assistant Pustay preparing for 11th season at DePauw U.

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Pustay has witnessed plenty of winning since he returned to his college alma mater to coach baseball.

The 2009 graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., joined the Tigers for the 2011 season and has been with the program as an assistant ever since. 

In Pustay’s 10 seasons heading into 2021, DePauw is 201-176 and has been as high as No. 11 in the NCAA Division III national rankings (2012).

The North Coast Athletic Conference member Tigers went 4-4 before COVID-19 put an end to the 2020 season. 

As of this writing, the DePauw staff features fifth-year head coach Blake Allen (who is in charge of pitchers and catcher) and Pustay (who is responsible for infielders, outfielders and hitters plus recruiting). 

Pustay asks his infielders in particular to be aggressive. 

“I want them making mistakes on their toes rather than making mistakes on their heels,” says Pustay. “I don’t want them to get in bad position and let ball play them.

“A rule we’ve tried to instill the last two years is for infielders try to say four words between each pitch (encouragement to the pitch or something strategic). It’s so they’re engaged and not waiting for something to happen.”

Outfielders are expected to make the play that’s “smart, controlled and correct.”

“Their aggression is a little more controlled,” says Pustay. “They have to be 90 percent sure to throw to the lead base. Otherwise, cut your losses and get the ball to second base (to keep the double play in order).”

Hitting is based on keeping things simple and playing to the athlete’s strengths.

“You win with who you are a a hitter,” says Pustay. “There’s a million different ways to win a ballgame. We’d like nothing better than putting a bunch of crooked numbers on the board, but there’s noting wrong with winning with a hundred paper cuts.

“We make sure we know ourselves as hitters. We are allowing guys the freedom to swing away if they feel that’s their game and really helps us.

“We want to make a good swing and hit the ball hard. We try to compete like heck on every pitch.”

In keeping the approach simple, the shorter the pre-swing thought the better.

“If you’re speaking to yourself in full sentences, you have to get out of the box,” says Pustay. “We want to use one or two words.”

Former Purdue University Northwest hurler Kyle Flessner was a volunteer coach last spring, but has since become the pitching coach at East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss.

As a two-man crew, Pustay and Allen conducted fall practice in September and October. 

As a social distancing measure and so each student could have a solo dormitory room, only freshmen and sophomores were on-campus while juniors and seniors took online classes. Ballplayers worked out on their own or in small groups away from DePauw.

“It was sort of a blessing and curse all at the same time,” says Pustay. “For the freshmen, it was a great fall. They had a lot of great individual time — one-on-one development with the coaches. 

“We had 12 position players on-campus. It was a nice crash course for freshmen for sure.”

Having the others off-campus was not ideal, but coaches and players made it work with plenty of Zoom meetings and phone calls. Pustay and Allen regularly checked in with their student-athletes.

“What I missed most this fall was the daily interaction with players walking by my office on the way to class or the weight room,” says Pustay. “As (DePauw head men’s basketball coach Bill Fenlon says), it’s a relationship business.

“You have to care for these guys on and off the field. You find out what’s important to them. It’s a mentorship.”

Pustay has been with Allen for the past four seasons after spending six with Jake Martin at the head of the Tigers program.

“The thing I really appreciate about Blake is that character counts with him,” says Pustay. “You win with the right people.

“Personally, not only has he given me a lot of responsibility but he also commands results. We’ve got to keep working. We can’t have time where we’re patting ourselves on the back for too long.”

As a father of three, Allen has also passed along lessons about balancing family life and baseball. Matt and Laura Pustay live in Indianapolis with daughter Ellie (3) and son Joey (1).

“It’s important to take time for your family during a pretty demanding coaching schedule,” says Pustay.

These are the kinds of values put forth by American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Roberts when Pustay served on his Cotuit Kettleers staff in the Cap Cod League in the summer of 2014.

“It was a graduate course — essentially — in baseball,” says Pustay. “I could talk for days about Mike Roberts. He taught myself and the other assistants about how to treat people. He really taught us how to make everybody around the park feel like they were a part of it. That whole community lived for the Kettleers.

“It was a very family-friendly experience.”

Pustay got to know the names of a lot of dogs and kids.

“Mike Roberts taught me how to be a better person and trust myself,” says Pustay. “He’s a class act.”

Through Allen’s Vanderbilt University connections, Pustay has worked four fall camps at the NCAA D-I powerhouse (2015-19). Tim Corbin is the Commodores head coach. 

Pustay has also worked camps at Notre Dame during the tenure of Mik Aoki and and Kentucky when Gary Henderson was head coach.

A native of Granville, Ohio, Pustay graduated from Granville High School in 2005 and earned three baseball letters at DePauw (2007, 2008 and 2009) as a catcher while playing for head coach Matt Walker (who is now head football coach at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls). 

In 2009, seniors Pustay, Jack Gavin, David Morefield, Mike Stout and Justin Weiner were co-captains for DePauw.

The “Palm-Up Award” is given to the most selfless Tigers teammate and Pustay earned it three times.

For two summers during his college career, Pustay played for the Newark (Ohio) Mavericks. 

He holds a Communication degree from DePauw and a Masters of Communication from Indiana State University.

Pustay helped former high school teammate Sean Rainey with the Granville American Legion Post 398 team in the summer of 2009 then became an assistant at NCAA D-III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and was with the Ryan Grice-coached Crusaders for 2010 spring season.

“Coach Grice gave me a pretty long leash,” says Pustay. “He handed the catching position over to me. It was the best thing to happen to me as a young coach, being given that much responsibility.”

Grice did not nit-pick, he just asked that Pustay keep him posted about what he was doing.

Martin, who was a DePauw assistant when Pustay played for the Tigers, had put in a good word for him at Capital.

When Martin became DePauw’s head coach, he brought Pustay back to Greencastle. The two have remained close even after Martin went down the road to become head coach at Wabash College.

Matt Pustay has been an assistant baseball coach at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., since the 2011 season. He finished his playing career with the Tigers in 2009. (DePauw University Photo)

Former MLB pitcher McClellan giving back to baseball through Demand Command

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach McClellan began his professional baseball career at age 21.

Through hills and valleys, the right-handed pitcher persisted and persevered until he finally stood on a major league mound at 28 and its those kind of lessons he passes along to the next generation with his baseball/softball business — Demand Command.

McClellan, who stands 6-foot-5, earned three letters at Indiana University (1998, 1999 and 2000). He pitched in 41 games, starting 22 with five complete games and one save. In 159 1/3 innings, he posted 111 strikeouts and a 4.58 earned run average while playing for Hoosiers head coach  Bob Morgan — a man he credits as much for what he did in stressing education as what he did between the white lines.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2000 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals, McClellan logged 192 appearances (87 starts) and 606 1/3 innings and played at Spokane, Wash., Burlington, Iowa, Wilmington, Del., Tulsa, Okla., and Colorado Springs, Colo., finally made his MLB debut in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies.

McClellan relieved in 12 games with Colorado that season, going 1-0 with 13 strikeouts in 14 innings. The Rockies went to the World Series in 2007.

He got to be around diamond leaders like Indiana native LaTroy Hawkins as well as Todd Helton.

His playing career concluded in 2010 with the independent Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats.

His managers included Tom Poquette, Joe Szekely, Jeff Garber in the Royals minor league system, Tom Runnells, Marv Foley, Fred Ocasio and Stu Cole in the Rockies minor league chain with Clint Hurdle at the MLB level with the Rockies and Greg Tagert with the RailCats.

Long before that McClellan started giving back. He started the Zach McClellan School of Pitching in Bloomington, Ind., in 2002. 

Zach and future wife Sarah met at IU. She is from nearby Ellettsville, Ind., and a graduate of Edgewood High School. 

During his pro off-seasons, Zach was a student teacher during the day and gave lessons at night during his off-season.

With the growth of the business, McClellan began looking for a new name and a suggestion came from one of his pupils who noted how he was constantly telling them, “Don’t just accept control, demand command.”

McClellan says the difference between control and command is that with control you can throw to a general area and command is being able to execute your pitches to the catcher.

The two main aspects of pitching as McClellan sees them are how hard you throw and can you locate it. In other words: Velocity and command.

“I try to marry those two things,” says McClellan, who notes that location becomes very important when it comes to getting good hitters out.

Believing that training should be fun and challenging, McClellan began getting his young pitchers to play H-O-R-S-E baseball style.

While in the basketball version, a player has to replicate a made shot or take a letter, McClellan’s baseball variation requires one pitcher to execute a pitch — say a fastball to the outside corner — and have the next one up replicate that or take a letter.

The first Demand Command T-shirts McClellan ever had made asked: “Can you play H-O-R-S-E on the mound?”

“It was an inside joke between the instructed kids, myself and their parents,” says McClellan. “People would ask the question about what it meant.

“We were doing something kind of unique and kids were actually executing pitches. What I’ve noticed through the years is that if they have to call the pitch, it’s even better. Now they’re not just throwing a ball in the generally vicinity.”

McClellan never wants training to be drudgery for his players.

“If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it becomes more of a job,” says McClellan. “It’s not a job, it’s an opportunity. It’s fun. If you’re going to come to me it’s not going to feel like work.

“You have to make sure that the kids are enjoying what they’re doing, but learning at the same time.”

Since he began offering instruction, McClellan has preferred small-group lessons of three of four players.

“I say make sure kids aren’t just doing solo private lessons,” says McClellan. “A lot of parents want their kids to work one-on-one with a coach, but when they go on a field they have eight other teammates.

“At the end of the day there’s nobody behind the mound holding your hand and telling you how to correct yourself in a game. You have to have a feel on the adjustments you’re making.”

Every now and then, McClellan likes to match 17-year-old prospect with an 8-year-old learning how to pitch.

“The 17-year-old learns how to teach,” says McClellan. “The more you learn how to teach the better you get at your craft. 

“(The teen is) learning how other people receive the information which makes them more receptive of the information.”

Now that he has been at it this long, another McClellan goal is coming to fruition.

“I’ve always wanted to create a community of baseball players that became future leaders,” says McClellan. “Kids that played for me or took lessons from me are now coming back to be coaches for me.”

Demand Command now trains baseball and softball players in southern Indiana (through partnerships with Owen Valley Sports Complex in Spencer and Maximum Velocity Performance in Columbus) and in Zach’s native Toledo, Ohio, where brother Matt McClellan is the Demand Command Toledo owner.

Matt McClellan played at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., and pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays organization (Toronto selected the right-hander in the seventh round of the 1997 MLB Draft) and for the independent Newark (N.J.) Bears and Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones.

Between Indiana and Ohio, Demand Command typically fields around 40 travel squads ages 7U to 18U through Pastime Tournaments and USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association).

The DC website states the mission: “Demand Command was built on the principles that baseball and softball are teaching mechanisms for more than just the games. 

Baseball and Softball have many life lessons within the games. Some examples are leadership, hard work, determination, discipline, working together with many types of people, dealing with success and failure and good character. 

“The goal is to teach people the value of Demand Command life principles through baseball and softball. Demand Command stands for much more than commanding pitches or at bats. Demand Command is a way of life.”

Numerous DC alums have gone on to college and pro baseball. Among them is Dylan Stutsman, who pitched at the University of Indianapolis and then pitched for the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers.

Former Texas Rangers draft pick Renton Poole is now a senior pitcher at Indiana University Kokomo.

Zach and Sarah McClellan live in Columbus and have three athletic daughters — Mia (14), Miley (12) and Emery (10).

The McClellan brothers — Jeff (46), Matt (44) and Zach (42 on Nov. 25) — are the offspring of former college athletes. 

Father Dave a basketball player at the University of Michigan and Mother Diane a track and field athlete at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

Jeff played baseball at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.

Zach’s nephew, Sebastian McClellan, is a freshman basketball guard at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Mich. Niece Mallory McClellan recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Fordham University in New York.

Demand Command is a baseball/softball training and travel organization founded by Zach McClellan.
Zach McClellan, a native of Toledo, Ohio, who pitched at Indiana University 1998-2000, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies. He began giving pitching lessons in 2002. (Colorado Rockies Photo)
Former Colorado Rockies pitcher and Demand Command founder Zach McClellan signs autographs for youth baseball players.
Zach McClellan runs the Indiana portion of Demand Command baseball and softball out of facilities in Spencer and Columbus in southern Indiana. He played at Indiana University and pitched in the big leagues. (Demand Command Photo)

Former Indiana Tech pitcher Kowalski coaching at Northland College

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Adam Kowalski is getting a chance to make his mark as a college baseball coach. He is months into his job as an assistant at NCAA Division III and Upper Midwest Athletic Conference member Northland College in Ashland, Wis. 

Working for head coach and Northland alum Jeremy Snow, Kowalski is in charge of the LumberJacks pitchers.

It’s a different path than Kowalski was on just a few years go when he stepped away from the college world as a player after a discouraging first experience. 

The pitcher from Arlington Heights, Ill., lost his passion.

And that doesn’t work for the 6-foot-4 right-hander.

“I’m not the kind of guy who does not want to do something unless I’m totally devoted to it,” says Kowalski, who spent his first year out of Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School, where he played for Jeff Grybash and graduated in 2013, on the roster at North Park University in Chicago but did not get into a game. “It was a wake-up call at North Park that set the tone for me personally: You need to figure yourself out.”

Kowalski was prepared for a life outside of baseball. Then found himself back on a diamond in men’s league and decided to give the college game another try. 

He spent 2015-16 at Harper College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division III school in Palatine, Ill. He appeared in nine games (five starts) for Hawks head coach Cliff Brown with one win and three complete games.

Kowalski decided to transfer to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he spent his first season on the Tech developmental squad following a summer in the Indiana Summer Summer Collegiate League season with the Fort Wayne Kekiongas managed by then-Tech assistant Pat Collins-Bride.

The summer of 2018, Kowalski played with the Kyle Floyd-managed Saginaw (Mich.) Sugar Beets then the 2019 campaign with the Tech varsity and recently finished the course work for a Criminal Justice degree from school.

In the Summit City with the Kip McWilliams-coached Warriors, Kowalski’s baseball fire stoked. 

The big righty struck out 10 in 9 1/3 innings out of the bullpen and was an Ultimate Warrior nominee in 2019. Tech went to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. 

It’s that connection with McWilliams and others at Tech that helped him get on the coaching staff of Steve Jaksa at NCAA Division II Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State University in University Center, Mich., as a volunteer for 2019-20 and land his current role on the banks of Lake Superior. He arrived on-campus at Northland this fall.

“It’s not what you know or who you know, it’s who knows you,” says Kowalski, 25. “If not for my time of Indiana Tech and that period of growth, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It helps to have those types of guys in your corner and speaking for who you are and has seen you put in the work.

“There are people who made me realize who I am and what I can do. I’m very grateful for staff at Indiana Tech, my former teammates, the people I competed against. I now have chance to be a major part of changing a program.”

It’s not lost on Kowalski that he’s starting a coaching job in the middle of a global pandemic.

“It’s an interesting time,” says Kowalski. “I sincerely things will clear up and we can return back to the things we love to do.

“We got through a full fall season — with mainly instrasquads. We were just beginning our off-season training when everything shut down.

It started out with student-athletes in a hybrid — some online classes and some in-person — then only those with prior approval were allowed to stay on-campus.

Kowalski says the LumberJacks were beginning to develop a team identity when they were told to go home.

“It’s a day-to-day process and our guys have done a tremendous job every day we get to practice together,” says Kowalski. “These are smart players. We were teaching some of the bigger concepts and faster-moving practices were becoming ingrained.”

Like at Indiana Tech, Kowalski sees player development at Northland as a personalized experience.

“We’re not trying to create carbon copies,” says Kowalski. “We want everyone to maximize their strengths while improving their weaknesses.”

A Kinesthetic or hands-on learner, Kowalski uses YouTube videos and other resources to take in concepts that he passes on to his players.

He’s also using things he’s learned about Driveline and Ground Force Sports (makers of the King of the Hill training device) and using it to make his LumberJacks better.

While there are a few volunteers, much of the coaching load falls to Kowalski and Snow. The latter is a 2010 NC graduate and spent 2019-20 as an assistant at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima after four seasons as head coach at Lourdes University in Sylvania. Both are NAIA members.

Snow and Kowalski have been busy with recruiting players to the school located 70 miles east of Duluth, Minn. and 260 miles northwest of Appleton, Wis. Ashland is a town of about 8,000 and fishing and hunting is popular with residents and Northland baseball players. When Snow was a player, they put a deer stand on a foul pole and brought down an animal with a bow.

Though he grew up in a metro environment and has never hunted, Kowalski has been taking a hunting safety course.

Adam Kowalski, who played baseball at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., and has completed his course work toward at Criminal Justice degree from the school, started this fall as the pitching coach at NCAA Division III Northland College in Ashland, Wis. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Former Indiana Tech pitcher Adam Kowalski is now the pitching coach at Northland College in Ashland, Wis. Occasionally, the right-hander who went to Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School, jumps on the mound to participate in a scrimmage. (Northland College Photo)

Vaught lured back to the dugout with Lake Erie Storm

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Vaught did not see himself leading another college baseball program.

When he retired a head coach at the University of Indianapolis in 2018, Vaught wanted to spend more time with his ailing mother back in Norman, Okla., and was secure in the knowledge that UIndy was in good hands with his former Greyhounds assistant Al Ready.

He had agreed to be head coach/general manager for the Hoptown Hoppers, a summer collegiate wood bat team in Hopkinsville, Ky., then Lake Eric College, a private school and NCAA Division II school in Painesville, Ohio (30 miles northeast of Cleveland) came calling.

Vaught was on vacation with friends when former LEC athletic director Kelley Kish (who had been in the compliance office at UIndy) reached out.

With so many former assistants in coaching, including Jordan Tiegs (now in the Texas Rangers system), Vaught was glad to recommend a candidate or two to the Storm. 

Vaught was invited to the Lake Erie campus and met with president Brian Posler (who had served at Kansas State University and the University of Southern Indiana).

The job was offered to Vaught and he took it in January. 

“I fell in love with the people up there,” says Vaught, who works for athletic director Mollie Hoffman.

Vaught led the Storm to a 3-6-1 mark in a COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. All but one of the losses came in the final inning.

The virus caused the Hoppers season to be called off and the veteran coach spent much of his time between Indianapolis and Oklahoma.

Vaught’s career mark at the NCAA D-I or D-II levels to 978-672-2. 

Starting with the 1985 season, Vaught coached two years at Kansas State, three at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., and 24 at UIndy (1995-2018). He won a school-record 808 wins and the program’s first NCAA Division II College World Series appearance in 2000. The Hounds went 51-15 in 2001.

Then there’s the 305 victories Vaught racked up at the beginning of his coaching career at Connors State College in Warren, Okla.

Vaught, 69, is back in Indianapolis with the Lake Erie closed down because of COVID, but he’s still coaching the Storm.

His fire was reignited last spring and continues to burn.

“I’ve got a lot of energy,” says Vaught. “I love the game. It’s been a big part of my life. Hopefully we’ve made changes in kids’ lives.”

Each year around Christmas, Vaught receives and makes calls to former players. He also reaches out to mentor Gary Ward, who enjoyed so much success at Oklahoma State University and is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

“It doesn’t take anytime to pick up the phone and say thank you,” says Vaught. “Treat people how they are supposed to be treated. That’s how to try to do everyday as a coach. 

“The Lord’s blessed me in so many ways.”

The veteran skipper has so many “baseball brothers” that he appreciates in the baseball fraternity. Among those are Tracy Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Rick O’Dette (Saint Leo Universty), Larry Owens (Bellarmine University) and Josh Rabe (Quincy University).

And the list goes on.

Vaught says he looks forward to bringing his team to UIndy for a April 14, 2021 doubleheader, where he can take the field against former players now coaching the Greyhounds Ready (whose son Cam is a godchild to Vaught) and Trevor Forde. UIndy AD Scott Young was Vaught’s assistant for 14 years.

Former Greyhounds AD Dave Huffman hired Vaught in 1994 and the coach also worked with Sue Willey in her tenure as AD.

Lake Erie plays its home games at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Midwest League’s Lake County Captains.

The Storm belong the the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. Tom Daeger, who played for Vaught at UIndy, is the GMAC commissioner.

Gary Vaught was the head baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis, where he won 808 games in 24 seasons concluding with 2018. In 2020, he started coaching at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. (UIndy Photo)

‘Eye’ on the prize for Fischer’s Heritage Hills Patriots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Fischer has a simple formula for baseball success as head coach at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind.

“We we try to be as fundamentally-sound as possible,” says Fischer. “We spend a lot of times on those techniques.

“We keep it as simple as possible. We try to minimize (the game) to 21 outs.”

A 1998 Heritage Hills graduate, Fischer was a Patriots assistant for nine years before taking the program’s reins. The 2021 season will be his fourth in that role.

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 slate statewide. It hit hard at Heritage Hills where expectations were high.

“It’s pretty aggravating,” says Fischer. “We were going to have eight seniors. We were going to have a very experienced pitching staff coming back and a handful of three-year starters.

“It was disappointing not being able to see what they were going to do.”

In 2019, the Patriots won 22 games and were runners-up in the Pocket Athletic Conference and IHSAA Class 3A Evansville Bosse Sectional.

The PAC has expanded from eight to 12 schools in 2020-21. Boonville, Mount Vernon (Posey), Princeton and Washington have joined Heritage Hills, Forest Park, Gibson Southern, North Posey, Pike Central, South Spencer, Tecumseh and Tell City. Each team will meet each other once during the conference season.

Heritage Hills (enrollment around 600) is part of a 3A sectional grouping with Boonville, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial, Gibson Southern and Mount Vernon (Posey). The Patriots last won a sectional crown in 2011. 

Fischer, who counts Mike Guth and Brad Fella as assistant coaches and is looking to fill a couple vacancies, expects to have around 25 in the program next spring to fill varsity and junior varsity rosters.

Simon Scherry, a member of the Heritage Hills Class of 2020, is now a freshman infielder at the NCAA Division I University of Evansville. Other recent graduates in the collegiate baseball ranks include sophomore infielder Mitchel Becher (NCAA Division II University of Missouri-St. Louis) and junior infielder Sam Pinckert (NCAA Division III Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio).

Heritage Hill’s home field is on its campus. About a decade ago, the infield was changed to have cut-out areas around home plate and the bases with grass in the other areas.

“It helps with drainage,” says Fischer. “We very rarely have rain-out games now.

“It plays just like a turf field.”

Another unique feature is a batter’s eye 375 feet from the plate in center field.

“It’s the only one I know of in southern Indiana,” says Fischer of the structure made of green barn metal that is 60 feet wide and 24 feet tall and topped by the same yellow capping as the rest of the fence. 

Much of the outfield is surrounded by woods. 

“Before leaves are on the trees it’s really hard to pick up a baseball,” says Fischer, who built the batter’s eye based on a design created by his Heritage Hills engineering students.

Fischer earned an Elementary Education degree with a Mathematics minor at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, where he briefly played baseball. 

He earned a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Oakland City (Ind.) University and an Engineering Accreditation for teaching at the University of Kentucky.

Besides teaching and coaching baseball, Fischer is the head girls soccer coach at Heritage Hills. The Patriots won the 2020 2A Bosse Sectional then fell in the Jasper Regional championship match. The team was without senior Haley Osborne during the tournament because of COVID-19 quarantine.

With most baseball players in football, soccer and cross county in the fall and Fischer coaching girls soccer, Heritage Hills did not meet during the fall Limited Contact Period for baseball.

When the next window opens in December, plans call for station work in the school’s fieldhouse.

“We’ll do a lot of hitting and arm exercises to get our pitchers ready,” says Fischer.

Feeder systems for Patriots include the various parks in the North Spencer Little League (T-ball through age 12) and the Heritage Hills Cub program (seventh and eighth graders with varsity and JV teams).

Andy and wife Rachael have three children ages 12, 9 and 6.

Heritage Hills High School’s baseball field with its distinctive batter’s eye.
Andy Fischer, a 1998 graduate of Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., is heading into his fourth season as the Patriots head baseball coach in 2021.

Keeran to manage Lafayette Aviators at new Loeb Stadium in ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Corn is not involved. But there’s a kind of a reverse “Field of Dreams” thing going on in Lafayette, Ind.

“If You Build It, He Will Come” — in this case — refers to Michael Keeran.

A new Loeb Stadium is being built for the Lafayette Aviators baseball team. After discussions with owner Bill Davidson, Iowa native Keeran has been named as field manager for 2021.

Keeran, a 2012 graduate of Clear Lake (Iowa) High School and the holder of two degrees from Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa (a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Masters in Organizational Leadership with a Sport Management emphasis), welcomes the chance to bring his wife closer to family while also moving up in the baseball world.

“My wife is from Centralia, Ill.,” says Keeran. “I’ve coached near by hometown the past couple summers. (With the Aviators,) I get to coach in a very good league and I get two birds with one stone.”

Michael and Kaitlin Keeran are expecting their first child in December. Centralia is 220 miles from Lafayette and Kaitlin will be able to spend time there and also visit her husband.

“I always wanted to go to a bigger league. It’ll be a brand new stadium and a very good franchise. I thought it would be a good fit.”

The Prospect League is a 14-team college wooden bat summer circuit with teams in Indiana (Lafayette Aviators and Terre Haute Rex), Illinois (Alton River Dragons, Danville Dans, DuPage Pistol Shrimp, Normal CornBelters, Quincy Gems and Springfield Sliders), Ohio (Champion City Kings and Chillicothe Paints), Missouri (Cape Catfish and O’Fallon Hoots), Pennsylvania (Johnstown Mill Rats) and West Virginia (West Virginia Miners).

While 2021 Aviators assistant coaches have been consulted, the official word of their hiring is yet to come.

Keeran managed Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2018 and 2019 — the Albert Lea (Minn.) Lakers followed by the Bancroft (Iowa) Bandits.

After one season as an assistant at Valley City (N.D.) State University (NAIA), Keeran became head coach at Bismarck (N.D.) State College (National Junior College Athletic Association Division II) for the 2020 season. The Mystics had played two games and were in Arizona to play 10 or 11 more when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to be halted.

“We were on a bus for 60 or 70 hours,” says Keeran. “It was awful.

“It’s tough to tell a bunch of young men that their season is over and it has nothing to do with wins or losses.”

While they could have taken an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Keeran encouraged his second-year players from 2020 to take their associate degrees and go to a four-year school.

“It’s not ethically right to hold on to those sophomores,” says Keeran. “I didn’t see the point. You’ve got your degree, now move on.

“We have a very new group (in 2020-21) and we’re very talented.”

With players taking a hybrid class schedule (some in-person and some online), Bismarck State played  few games this fall against four-year schools.

“We treated it like a test for what it’s going to be like in the spring with temperature checks and protocols,” says Keeran.

As a outfielder and pitcher, Keeran played four seasons at Waldorf while also beginning his coaching career. 

Since high school baseball in Iowa is a summer sport, Keeran was able to play college ball and be on the Clear Lake coaching staff for four seasons (2013-16) and helped the Lions win three state titles (2013 in 3A, 2015 in 2A and 2016 in 2A).

“It was pretty cool to be coach at a young age and be mentored,” says Keeran. “Baseball should be played in the summer when it’s warm. That’s why I like coaching in the summer.

“It feels so authentic.”

Keeran says a typical high school gameday would involve batting practice and field preparation around 1 p.m. and the players would come back for a 5:30 p.m. junior varsity game, followed by the varsity.

“It gives kids a chance to work morning jobs in the summer and they don’t have to worry about the stress of class,” says Keeran. “It gives athletes a chance to do other sports. One of my best friends was a four-sport athlete (football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer).”

While the pandemic wiped out high school baseball last spring in Indiana, there was season in Iowa. Four 2020 state champions were crowned Aug. 1 in Des Moines. 

In 2021, the Iowa High School Athletic Association has set the first practice date for May 3 with first of 40 allowed contest dates May 24 and state tournament concluding July 31. Showcase leagues ran by Prep Baseball Report and Perfect Game are typically conducted in the spring.

The 2020 baseball season was the first for head coach Michael Keeran at Bismarck (N.D.) State College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II school. In the summer of 2021, he is to manage the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Bismarck State College Photo)
Michael Keeran, a graduate of Clear Lake High School and Waldorf University in Iowa and the head coach at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, has been named field manager for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League in 2021. (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

Former Yorktown catcher Tanner uses his experiences as instructor, coach

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanner stays in-touch with Dintaman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloomington-born Wolf brings 1932 back to life with ‘The Called Shot’

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Thomas Wolf knew he wanted to write about the compassionate prison warden who took an inmate serving a life sentence to the World Series.

It became so much more.

Charlie Ireland took charge at Anamosa (Iowa) Men’s Reformatory and soon bonded over baseball and the Chicago Cubs with convicted murderer Harry “Snap” Hortman. The warden made a promise that if the Cubs made it to the Series, Ireland and Hortman would attend games at Wrigley Field

That pledge was kept and they, Charles Ireland (the warden’s son) and inmate Shorty Wakefield were there to see the Cubs take on the New York Yankees in Games 3 and 4 on Oct. 1 and 2 in 1932.

In the fifth inning of Game 3, Babe Ruth ripped the fifth pitch from Charlie Root for a home run. Many of said that the Bambino predicted the blast and pointed to where he would deposit it.

Wolf’s book, “The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, & The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (Nebraska Press, 2020),” covers that the many events swirling around that fabled clout.

“1932 was such a fascinating year,” says Wolf. “It was a pretty pivotal year in American history.”

On the diamond, there was Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the powerful Yankees, Philadephia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx belting 58 home runs and a tight pennant race in the National League.

The 1932 World Series was Ruth’s last. That year was also the final time he hit 40 or more home runs and or drove in 130 or more runs in a season.

The Babe had a rather un-Ruthian 1925 campaign, hitting .290 with 25 home runs and 67 runs batted in over 98 games.

“People were writing him off, saying he was past his prime,” says Wolf. “But he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”

From 1926 through 1932, Ruth hit .353 with 343 homers and drove in 1,070 runs. In 1927, his slash line was .356/60/165.

The Cubs ended up taking the NL flag even though manager Rogers Hornsby was fired after 99 games and replaced by Charlie Grimm. Hornsby was at the end of his playing days and had many legal problems, some related to his gambling habits.

“The Rajah,” who hit .358 from 1915-37 with three .400 seasons (.401 in 1922, .424 in 1924 and .403 in 1925), was known to be a prickly character.

“He did not get along well with other players, managers or management,” says Wolf of Hornsby, who was not voted a World Series share by the ’32 Cubs.

Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot by his girlfriend/showgirl Violet Popovich at the Hotel Carlos on Sheffield Avenue near Wrigley and recovered in time to help Chicago down the stretch.

The Jurges story is likely an inspiration for the 1951 novel, “The Natural” by Bernard Malamude. The movie adaptation stars Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs.

Former player and AL umpire George Moriarty was suspended for a fight with the Chicago White Sox.

After making one big league appearance in 1930, colorful right-hander Dizzy Dean had a breakout year in 1932, winning 18 games for St. Louis Cardinals.

Guy Bush, Kiki Cuyler, Woody English, Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Mark Koenig, Pat Malone and Lon Warneke were among the other key performers for the 1932 Cubs.

The 1932 Yankees, managed by former Cubs skipper Joe McCarthy, also had Sammy Byrd, Ben Chapman, Earle Combs, Frank Crosetti, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Red Ruffing and Joe Sewell.

Away from baseball, 1932 was a presidential election year. Both the Democrat and Republican nominating conventions were held in Chicago thanks to mayor Anton Cermak

With the Great Depression swirling and World War I veterans staging a Bonus March and then camping out in Washington D.C., Franklin D. Roosevelt would replace Herbert Hoover in the White House. FDR was in attendance at Game 3 of the World Series. 

So was baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis with nephews Charlie and Lincoln Landis from Logansport, Ind., and entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Prohibition was on its way to be repealed in 1933.

Wolf weaves these and other details together in “The Called Shot.”

“It was fascinating to research the ’32 season and challenging to put all the stories together for the book,” says Wolf. “I wanted to tie in the world outside of baseball since 1932 was such an important year in the nation’s history — again, the research was eye-opening for me, and I learned a lot.

“I suppose that’s true for everyone who writes non-fiction — the research exposes us to facts and characters and perceptions about events that we only vaguely knew — in my case, for example, the history of the Bonus Army.”

Wolf enjoyed studying what it was like for ballplayers in the 1930’s. They spent many hours on trains, playing cards and talking baseball. Old players mentored new ones.

In that era, there were eight teams in each league with St. Louis being the farthest point west or south. Likely for monetary reasons, road trips would take weeks. For instance, the Cubs might play games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn, Boston and Cincinnati before coming back to Chicago.

As the Yankees travel from New York to Chicago during the World Series, they made a stop in Elkhart, Ind., to change engines.

“Fifty youngsters charged onto the train and searched for ballplayers,” wrote Wolf in “The Called Shot.” “They found Babe Ruth and mobbed him. Ruth and other players signed autographs for their young fans, and then the youths were shooed from the train.”

The routine and relationships between the press and the ballplayers were different in those days.

Wolf notes that today’s athletes will talk to reporters after a game and then tend to their social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter etc.

“Every player is his own brand,” says Wolf. “They’re in their own world with their own followers.”

Wolf says he first began taking notes for what would become “The Called Shot” around 2000, began the writing process around 2013. 

He began talking to literary agent Stacey Glick in 2007, began working on a book proposal after that and got contract with the University of Nebraska Press around 2013. He turned the manuscript over to UNP early in 2019 then did the bibliography and end notes. 

“It was about a six-year process,” says Wolf.

The book came out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not easy with book stores being closed, book festivals being canceled and newspapers doing less reviews on baseball books.

With the help of Adam Rifenberick of Press Box Publicity, Wolf did about 40 podcasts and radio interviews to promote the book in June and July. He has been on Baseball by the Book Podcast with Justin McGuire (Episode 258) and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schapp (ESPN).

Born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1947, Thomas Wolf is the son of Irvin and Jeanette “Jan” Wolf, who met at Indiana University. Irvin was born and raised in Wabash, Ind., attended Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., and then got a doctorate in psychology at IU. 

Irvin Wolf was a college professor. He was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill when Thomas was 1 to 7. From second grade through high school, his father taught at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Irvin’s brother, Jack, attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and lived most of his life after college in New York City.

Eugene “Gene” Wolf, grandfather of Thomas and father to Irvin and Jack, moved to Wabash from Germany and was a partner in the Beitman & Wolf department store and married to Rachel Simon Wolf. The Cubs began broadcasting their games on the radio and Gene Wolf became a big fan. He would travel to see games in Chicago.

The ’32 Series was aired by the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS and NBC.

Thomas Wolf has a bachelor’s degree from Knox College Galesburg, Ill., and a master’s in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa.

Wolf taught at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, UNC Chapel Hill and Santa Clara (Calif.) University and was a testing specialist and writing consultant before focusing on writing projects.

Patricia Bryan, Wolf’s wife, is a professor at the UNC School of Law and has been teaching at the university since 1982. She was a visiting professor at her alma mater — the University of Iowa — when she and her husband toured the prison grounds at Anamosa. 

Bryan and Wolf co-authored “Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland (University of Iowa Press, 2007).”

Wolf has produced several articles (many in conjunction with Bryan), including “The Warden Takes a Murderer to the World Series: A Tale of Depression-era Compassion,” “On the Brink: Babe Ruth in Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day,” “The Golden Era of Prison Baseball and the Revenge of Casey Coburn” and “Jack Kerouac and Fantasy Baseball.”

There are plans to write another true crime book set in Iowa.

Wolf has been a regular attendee of the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture and is a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) member. He says he tapped into the SABR Baseball Biography Project for background on many subjects and Retrosheet for game details in “The Called Shot.”

Thomas Wolf and Patricia Bryan have three sons — John and twins David and Mike. John Wolf (29) is a dog trainer living in North Carolina. David Wolf (27) works in the public relations department for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Wolf (27) is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Thomas Wolf, who was born in Bloomington, Ind., is the author of the book, “The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, & The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (Nebraska Press, 2020).”

Clinton Central, Bowling Green State grad Scott experiences ‘emotional roller coaster’ in first year as baseball coach

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeffery Scott saw the lessons that can be learned from baseball from the time he was a kid playing in Frankfort, Ind., to when he was winding up his playing career at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

It was with the Danny Schmitz-coached Falcons that he decided he wanted to become a coach.

While working on a degree in Sport Management with a minor in Marketing that was achieved in 2019, Scott soaked in information from veteran Schmitz and the other BGSU staffers.

“Coach Schmitz is an old school type of coach,” says Scott. “He has a lot of knowledge about the game. I was able to talk with him everyday and learn stuff.

“I talked with him and the rest of the coaching staff on what to expect. He’s been really good influence on me baseball and life-wise.”

Before his senior year, Scott worked at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and made a determination.

“If I don’t get to play baseball anymore I’d like to stay around the game,” says Scott. “I’d like to be making an impact and sharing my knowledge.”

He wanted to prepare young men for life and to face adversity like you face in baseball.

Scott, who was a catcher and outfielder at Bowling Green State for three seasons (playing in 127 games and starting 114 from 2017-19), made a visit to the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima as a senior and talked with Racers head coach Kory Hartman and his staff and signed on as a graduate assistant. He expects to earn his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) next spring.

“It’s been a really good experience,” says Scott of his time so far with the NAIA-member program. “One of the things that drew me here is that it’s close to Bowling Green State. (Hartman and company) were open to me getting what I want out of this program — to form who I am as a coach.”

Since being at UNOH, a member of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, Scott has absorbed drills and procedures and also enjoyed camaraderie with coaches who like to hang out, fish and hunt together. 

The Racers staff currently counts Hartman, Scott and associate head coach Aaron Lee and two graduate assistants with pitching experience will be hired.

With NAIA’s COVID-19 pandemic-related decision to cancel fall sports, Northwestern Ohio baseball coaches are sorting out what fall will look for the Racers. Students are supposed to be back on campus for face-to-face classes Sept. 14.

“Right now, we’re in a gray area,” says Scott, who turns 25 this month. “We’ll have to figure things out. 

“We hope to get together once or twice a week as a team.”

The 2020 UNOH season came to a halt because of the pandemic on March 8 with the Racers at 8-12. 

Back at Bowling Green State, the NCAA Division I program went on the chopping block.

Baseball was reinstated through the efforts of Schmitz and other baseball alumni. 

“It was an emotional roller coaster for me,” says Scott. “I didn’t know where baseball is headed with the COVID stuff and (colleges and universities) were cutting sports — not just baseball.”

Schmitz was put in charge of alumni outreach at Bowling Green and former Falcons pitching coach Kyle Hallock, whom Scott knew well as a catcher, was named head coach.

“I tip my cap to Danny Schmitz,” says Scott. “I’m sure he reached out to a lot of the alumni. He has made an impact on a lot of people’s lives.”

Bowling Green State baseball has produced many successful people, including those who went on to the pro diamond, including 19 major leaguers. Among that group are current Miami Marlins third baseman Jon Berti and former big leaguers Orel Hershiser (who won a National League Cy Young Award and helped the Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series win in 1988), Nolan Reimold, Andy Tracy and Roger McDowell.

“It was special to see them step up, donate some money and keep the program,” says Scott.

Frankfort (Ind.) Little League is where Scott got his first taste of organized baseball. Around the same time he also played with a group of local youngsters called the Frankfort Slam. That team was coached by Rodney Smith, Jason Forsythe and at various times, Kent Scott (Jeffery’s father) and Jamie Bolinger (Jeffery’s stepfather).

Kent Scott is employed in Federal-Mogul Powertain in Frankfort.

Jamie Bolinger, who is retired military, works for Lafayette (Ind.) Transitional Housing Center’s Homeless Services.

Maleta Bolinger (Jeffery’s mother) is a registered nurse in Kokomo, Ind.

Shealynne Bolinger (Jeffery’s 19-year-old sister) is finishing up schooling to be a veterinary technician.

Scott and girlfriend Shelby Weaver have been together about nine moths. They also dated in high school. Her son Eli is almost 1.

After spending his 12U summer with the Muncie-based Indiana Wildcats, Jeffery Scott played six travel ball seasons with the Indiana Bulls.

At 13U, he was coached by  John Rigney and Rick Hamm. Brothers Todd Miller and Adam Miller led his team at 14U and 15U. Tony Cookerly, Sean Laird and Jim Fredwell coached his team at 16U. Quinn Moore and Dan Held was in charge at 17U. He played briefly at 18U before going to summer school at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., where he spent a year and a half before transferring to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Kevin Bowers was and still is head coach for the junior college Statesmen.

“He welcomed me in with open arms mid-year,” says Scott of Bowers. “He made me feel a part of the family. I still talk to him quite a bit. He’s definitely been one of my favorite coaches.

“He was genuine, truthful and transparent. He brings in a lot of talent to Lincoln Trail and gets them to where they want to be.”

Though mostly a catcher in the summers, Scott was a shortstop and pitcher at Clinton Central High School in Michigantown, Ind., playing for Bulldogs head coach Eric Flickinger. He also played football for Mike Quick and Justin Schuhmacher and wrestled for Austin Faulkner.

Jeffery Scott observes catchers during a baseball practice as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima. Scott was a catcher at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He is a graduate of BGSU and Clinton Central High School in Michigantown, Ind., near Frankfort. (UNOH Photo)
Jeffery Scott is a 2019 graduate of Bowling Green (Ohio) State University, where he played three baseball for three seasons (2017-19). The graduate of BGSU and Clinton High School in Michigantown, Ind., is a graduate assistant baseball coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima. (Bowling Green State University Photo)

Quest for knowledge takes Hall of Fame coach, educator Siler through all of his days

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Curiosity was a part of Dick Siler’s nature.

He wanted to know things.

When you talked with him you knew he was going to ask questions.

“What have you been up to?”

“How’s your mother?”

“Can you tell me something new?”

When he got a chance, he explored historical places and books and soaked in as much new knowledge as he could.

As a coach, he wanted to break down and understand plays and positions so he could convey those to his athletes.

It’s that sense of interest that took Siler through his 84 years.

No doubt he had the sense of wonder as a boy growing up on a poultry farm near Ashland, Ohio, and playing sports on that same land. He was a catcher in baseball and wound up as a center and linebacker in football. 

Too busy on the farm to go into Ashland to play ball, a plot was dedicated for that purpose. Sometimes it was used by the circus.

“It was two thirds football field, one third baseball field,” Siler once said. “The east end zone was just dirt.

“Dad let me use a panel truck,” said Siler. “I contacted people and got eight or nine other guys and we went around and played softball or baseball — probably more softball than baseball.

“If we had two bats, that was great. Most guys didn’t have baseball spikes.”

Siler carried big diamond dreams.

“I loved baseball so much,” said Siler. “I wanted to learn and nobody was teaching me.”

When it came time to play at Ashland High School, Siler (Class of 1953) did not play varsity. Future big league catcher John Roseboro (Class of 1951) was ahead of him.

“He threw a lot harder from his knees than I could shoot a gun behind the plate,” said Siler, who was on the junior varsity as a freshman and sophomore and at the start of his junior year.

Then came a call from the varsity. He got to the game on a Farmall F-20 tractor.

“It’s the only way I could get there,” said Siler. “I had no other vehicle.

“I threw on the gear. I didn’t have time to warm up  They put me right in.”

The first or second runner got on base and went to steal.

“When I threw the ball, I felt like my whole arm went down to second base,” said Siler. “Something just ripped in there. I couldn’t get the ball back to the pitcher. They ended up pulling me out the game.

“That was the last school ballgame that I played. That was heartbreaking.”

Siler went on to coach baseball for decades, but he never threw batting practice. He caught BP until one of his knees locked up on him. The number of reps made with a fungo bat is nearly incalculable.

From north central Ohio, Siler took his curiosity to North Manchester, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University), where he played football and got the knee injury to remember it by the rest of his days.

More importantly, it was at Manchester that he met Marjorie Thompson. The two wed in 1956 and wound up in her hometown of Elkhart, Ind. 

Dick took a job teaching and coaching at Jimtown High School after graduating Manchester in 1957.

His first coaching assignment was with Jimmies football. He was a coach all the way until the end, including the last 23 years as an assistant at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind.

The Siler family, which grew to include three children (Scott, Laurie and Julie), lived for years in Elkhart. Scott Siler was the Indiana Umpire of the Year in 2018.

Dick became head baseball coach at Elkhart High in 1968 and led that program through 1972. A split of the school sent him into a 25-year run as head baseball coach at Elkhart Memorial High School, where he also was a football assistant for many years.

The 1992 Crimson Chargers were the first Elkhart County baseball team to play in the IHSAA State Finals.

After retiring as coach and social studies teacher at Memorial (he won more than 500 games at the high school level), Siler accepted an invitation from Bethel head coach Sam Riggleman to join the Pilots staff. Margie came along as a scorekeeper. 

She fought a battle with cancer for two decades before dying in 2002. She got to live in a new house in Mishawaka for a short time. Bethel has presented a scholarship in her name and has a plaque in her honor at Patterson Field at Jenkins Stadium.

Dick Siler, who went on to be on the staffs of Mike Hutcheon and Seth Zartman, talked of his wife often. He passed away at his Mishawaka home around 1:45 a.m. Monday, July 20. 

What did he gain most from coaching all those years?

“I enjoy the kids just for who they are — seeing them grow or seeing them change,” said Siler. “I get to see the light go on — he finally gets the idea about timing and using the barrel of the bat to hit.”

Whether it was baseball, football, track, wrestling or basketball (he coached those sports, too), it was about instruction.

“I wanted to teach,” said Siler. “I wanted to tell them this is the best way to do it.

“Kids are hungry to learn if you’ll just teach them.

“Too many people do too much yelling and not teaching. Kids want to get better and they love the game.”

Siler was a founder of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and a member of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. He also belonged to the American Baseball Coaches Association and National High School Baseball Coaches Association. He is also enshrined in sports halls of fame in Ashland County, Ohio, and Elkhart County, Ind.

Siler said he went into coaching baseball with a football mentality.

“A kid would say to me, ‘Coach, we’re trying not to fail,” said Siler. “That was a big learning and turning point for me. I need to teach them better than just yelling.

“For some, it’s just really hard (to fail). It destroys them. They failed Grandpa. They failed Dad. They failed the girlfriend. They failed the coach. It’s a heavy burden.”

Ever inquisitive, Siler asked these questions: How do we enjoy the sport more? and How do we get there?

“You don’t do it through negativity, I’ll tell you that,” said Siler. “My son (Scott) threw a bat once when he was really young and I made him run the hills. ‘But Daddy, I’m so young.’ I probably handled it a different way and I didn’t. That wasn’t right. 

“You make mistakes. You’ve got to live with those, too.”

As a high school baseball coach, Siler was faced with having to cut down his roster.

“Only so many people can make the team,” said Siler. When he took over at Elkhart High, he could not use freshmen and still had about 125 trying out. 

Siler and assistant Randy Miller had to do their evaluations inside a tiny downtown gym.

“We tried to be as fair as we could and didn’t have a whole lot of complaints,” said Siler. “Later, I did.”

Siler said figuring out the top and bottom of the roster is the easy part.

“Some of the kids who come up are coached by people who know baseball better than a lot of others,” said Siler. “The better athletes adjust faster and better than the lesser athletes.”

While Siler could teach technique and improve upon it, he knew that “some talent is just God-given.”

Siler said the difference in a successful high school player and an unsuccessful one came down to attitude.

“I’m not much on all-ness statements,” said Siler. “Sometimes the dog wags the tail and sometimes the tail wags the dog. In my perspective, the program is more important than the individual. Period.

“If you think you are going run the program or effect the program in a negative way, you’re not going to be around. The program is what it’s all about.”

Siler insisted on a pregame prayer.

“They’ll have to fire me,” said Siler. “I’m not changing. That was very important to me.

“I live and die on the idea of ‘family first.’”

Many family members came to visit or called in Dick’s final days.

Dick Siler, who began his coaching career in the 1950’s, was an assistant baseball coach at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., from the 1998 season to 2020. He died July 20. (Bethel University Photo)