Tag Archives: Olivet Nazarene University

Pullins, Olivet Nazarene bound for NAIA Opening Round in California

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

Gunnar Pullins sees his future as an event coordinator.
Graduated May 7 from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., with a Marketing degree, Pullins has job possibilities all around.
“I’m open to going anywhere in the country,” says Pullins, 22.
But right now the young man who has planned cornhole tournaments for festivals around northwest Indiana is getting ready for a baseball event.
A senior first baseman for the ONU baseball team, Pullins and his teammates recently won the program’s third straight Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament title (not counting the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season) and earned a berth in the NAIA Opening Round.
“We want to be as far from home as possible,” says Pullins.
On Thursday, Pullins got his wish as the Tigers learned that they will play at the site hosted by Westmont in Santa Barbara, Calif., for the right to compete in the 2022 NAIA World Series May 27-June 3 in Lewiston, Idaho.
In the Opening Round, Westmont is the No. 1 seed, Indiana University Southeast No. 2, Olivet Nazarene No. 3 and Antelope Valley (Calif.) No 4. The event is May 16-19.
Pullins, a righty swinger, is hitting .358 (53-of-148) with three home runs, three triples, six doubles, 35 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. In 51 games, he sports a .955 OPS (.455 on-base percentage plus .500 slugging average) and has 11-of-14 in stolen base attempts.
This is his first season at first base and even though he has another year of eligibility it’s his last as a collegiate player.
“My shoulder can only take so much more,” says Pullins. “I tore my shoulder senior year of high school.
“I went went from throwing hard to throwing very soft.”
He was a shortstop at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School, where he graduated in 2018. He played a lot of third base at Olivet Nazarene until he came to a decision with Tigers head coach Jeff Mullikin to move to the other corner to save his arm.
A teammate had done the same in 2021 and did very well.
From 2019-21, Pullins got into 80 games for ONU and hit .258 (25-of-97) with no homers, one triple, three doubles, 24 RBIs and 45 runs. He had a .652 OPS (.342/.309) and was 15-of-22 in the stolen base department.
In a game of adjustments, Pullins has learned to make his share. Not only changing positions. But he has learned to adjust at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.
Olivet Nazarene has not faced a pitcher with velocity approaching 90 mph in awhile and is sure to see it in the Opening Round.
“It’s about getting the foot down and the hands through the (strike) zone at a certain time,” says Pullins, who is preparing with batting practice against live arms and machines. “We do a 40/90 with one of our BP throwers 40 feet away and he’s chucking it and trying to find barrels.”
Velocity is one thing and then there is adjustment when the ball breaks.
“There are people who throw the ball straight and there are people who have movement,” says Pullins. “It’s easier to get a barrel on it and hit it hard somewhere when it’s straight.”
Born and raised in Valparaiso, Pullins played travel ball with the Lake of the Four Seasons Warriors from Crown Point/Boone Grove area then the Cougars who became the Indiana Breakers around Chesterton then the Outsiders Baseball Club with Dave Griffin (the Purdue Northwest head coach).
A varsity player for three of his four years at Valparaiso, Pullins recalls the beginning of practice with Vikings head coach Todd Evans.
“He called us gentlemen everyday,” says Pullins of Evans. “It was a respectful way to start off our days.”
Pullins played basketball as a Valpo freshman and tennis as a junior. Once he committed to Olivet Nazarene, he spent much of his time honing his baseball skills.
Why ONU?
“They gave me the best opportunity to get the education I wanted,” says Pullins. “And an opportunity to play right away as a freshman.”
That first season, Pullins got a few starts and plenty of pinch-hit opportunities.
“I could not get into a rhythm the COVID year,” says Pullins. “As a junior, I struggled confidence-wise.”
Over the summer, he played slow pitch men’s softball.
“I was putting a barrel on the ball,” says Pullins. “Something switched (in baseball). It was a click.”
It hasn’t been all baseball and academics for Pullins, He’s been dating the same girl for most of his time in college.
“I’ve met a lot of people and played intramural (sports) prior to senior year,” says Pullins. “They have a lot of events here — like every other week.”
At the beginning of the year, there’s “Ollies Follies” — games and events with classes competing against each other.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Pullins.
Gunnar is the son of Bub Pullins and Samantha Cardwell. He has two sisters. Alex is older. Lyric is younger.

Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)

Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)
Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)
Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)

It’s all about ‘family’ for Nowakowski, Calumet College of St. Joseph Crimson Wave

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

Calumet College of St. Joseph — a private four-year Catholic institution with about 380 undergraduates in Whiting, Ind., embraces a close-knit community.
“It’s a family-oriented school and we have a family-oriented team,” says Brian Nowakowski, head baseball coach for the Crimson Wave since the fall of 2012. “We do everything together (including community service, meals and study tables). We don’t single out a single player for any misdoing.
“When someone hurts we all hurt.”
When Brian and Jeannine Nowakowski’s son, Bryce, required two open heart surgeries in the first year of his young life and then a heart transplant at 2, the CCSJ family rallied with support. Part of the cost of tickets to the Midwest Collegiate League (now rebranded as the Northern League) All-Star Game held at the Crimson Wave’s home park — Oil City Stadium — were given to the Nowakowski family.
When Bryce was prepared for, underwent and recovered from his July 30, 2014 transplant at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the school allowed the head coach to stay there while his assistants — younger brother Scott Nowakowski and Juan Alonso — led the CCSJ baseball team.
“The school let me work from home and I never skipped a beat,” says Nowakowski, whose son is now 9. “I could never re-pay them back.”
With Bryce’s medical condition and his mother recovering after beating cancer, Nowakowski decided it was best not to travel much during a 2021 season effected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If I had COIVD I would not be able to go home,” says Nowakowski, who resides with his wife of 11 years and child in Dyer, Ind.
The 2021 Crimson Wave only played games in the NAIA-affiliated Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“Competing in the CCAC is hard,” says Nowakowski. “We’re fighting for same kids in recruiting. All the teams are very competitive.”
Olivet Nazarene University finished atop the ’21 conference standings.
One feather in the Crimson Wave’s cap is Oil City Stadium, located on 119th Street in downtown Whiting with a unique oil refinery backdrop in the outfield.
“It’s a great stadium,” says Nowakowski. “The City of Whiting does a great job keeping it up. It helps in recruiting.”
Eight Calumet of St. Joseph players — Michael Biegel, Julian Espino, Kevin McCune, Thomas Montes, Cody Plebanski, Shaun Quinn, Glenford Wagner and Luke Woodward — made the 2021 CCAC all-academic team.
A typical mix, the current Crimson Waves roster consists mostly of players from Chicagoland and the Calumet Region with some international students.
“We find the best players we can,” says Nowakowki. “If you want to be a part of the school we’re going to take you.
“We have affordable tuition. There’s no in-state, out-of-state or intentional. It’s all the same.”
Located on New York Avenue in Whiting, CCSJ has an agreement with The Illiana, located across the street. In Oct. 1, the school broke ground on its first residence hall.
In 2022, CCSJ is to open the season Feb. 25 at Hannibal (Mo.)-LaGrange.
The following weekend the Crimson Wave plays a series at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga.
From there CCSJ goes to Lake Wales, Fla., to play in the Warner University Invitational and other games, including at Southeastern.
CCSJ finished outdoor fall practice about two weeks ago. The Crimson Wave did drill work four days a week and competed in intrasquad games on the fifth day.
Right now, players are at the Rittenmeyer Center four days a week conditioning with weightlifting and stability exercises.
Besides Scott Nowakowski (in his seventh year at Calumet College of St. Joseph), the coaching staff also features Nick Relli, Nestor Carillo and Rocco Mossuto. Elli played for Nowakowski at CCSJ. Carillo (Morton Community College in Cicero, Ill.) and Rocco Mossuto (Saint Xavier University in Chicago) are both former head coaches.
Nowakowski grew up on Chicago’s East Side and graduated in 1997 from St. Francis de Sales High School, a member of the vaunted Chicago Catholic League.
“It’s tough competition,” says Nowakowki. “There’s no easy games in the Chicago Catholic League.”
Nowakowski played for Pioneers head coach Al Lodl and was good enough as a right-handed pitcher to sign a free agent contract with the Minnesota Twins organization in 1997 and reported to spring training in 1998. He pitched in the minors that year and 1999 and then was employed in private sector jobs.
But the diamond beckoned.
“I’ve been a baseball guy most of my life,” says Nowakowski. “I missed the game.”
Nowakowski got into coaching as an assistant to Pat Montalbano at Hammond Clark High School and was a Crimson Waves assistant to Tony Myszak for one year before becoming head coach.
A few years into the job, Nowakowski earned an Organizational Management degree from CCSJ.

Brian Nowakowski (Calumet College of St. Joseph Photo)

Carlisle meeting ‘city’ coaching challenges at Indianapolis Washington

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

Baseball players at George Washington High School in Indianapolis are analyzing data in an attempt to get better.
Coach Kyle Carlisle’s Continentals have been going through individualized player development this fall and are crunching the numbers and studying the video.
They are looking at on-base percentage, quality at-bats, batting average and more to improve the offensive side of the game. 
GameChanger clips are being used to change hitting mechanics, plate approach, defensive tendencies, etc.
Indianapolis Washington is even doing a little scouting for the 2022 season. This effort is player-led. Carlisle provides the means and lets the athletes take it from there.

Carlisle is heading into his third season (second on the field since the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 campaign).

Indianapolis Washington (enrollment around 750) is a member of the Greater Indianapolis Athletic Conference (with Crispus AttucksEminenceIndianapolis MetropolitanIrvington Preparatory AcademyPurdue PolytechnicTindley and Victory College Preparatory). The GIAC had four baseball schools in 2021 — Washington, Eminence, Purdue Polytechnic and Tindley. In its first year back, the Continentals made it to the four-team conference tournament, losing to Eminence in the final.

The Continentals made great strides during the 2021 season, with four players earning First-Team All-GIAC honors. Senior Alfonso Gonzalez was an all-conference catcher and Indianapolis Washington’s 2021 Male Athlete of the Year.
Junior outfielder Isaac Kolela earned First-Team honors, boasting a .333 batting average, and .500 OBP.
Sophomore standout Frank Amador earned First-Team honors by posting a win vs. Purdue Poly on the mound in the conference tournament, pitching five innings, with 11 strikeouts and only three walks.
Sophomore third baseman Darnell Stewart earned First-Team with a .400 batting average, and .600 OBP. His biggest moment was the walk-off single to send the Continentals to the GIAC Tournament Championship game.
Carlisle teaches fourth grade at Phalen Leadership Academy 93. He also runs Carlisle Baseball Academy and gives lessons all over the city and consults for travel and youth teams.

“It almost doesn’t feel like work for me,” says Carlisle of coaching baseball. “I love doing it.”

Scott Hicks, George Washington’s athletic director and former Indianapolis Cathedral High School and University of Notre Dame basketball player and longtime Cathedral varsity basketball coach is in Carlisle’s words, “Is our biggest supporter.”
Carlisle went on to say, “Scott has done an amazing job in being a mentor to my development as a varsity coach.”

In 2021, Washington was part of an IHSAA Class 3A baseball sectional grouping with Beech GroveHerronIndianapolis Bishop Chatard and Indianapolis Shortridge. The Continentals have won two sectional titles — 1969 and 1978.

There are challenges in every program and Carlisle and assistant coach James Tradup have their own unique obstacles.
Indianapolis Washington went 11 years without baseball prior to Carlisle taking his first varsity head coaching job to reboot Continentals’ baseball.Washington’s “home” diamond is at Indy Sports Park, which is about 10 miles south of campus.
The teams’ practices on-campus on a converted softball field and roll in portable mounds.

Indianapolis Public Schools are a “school of choice” – which essentially means that students living in Indianapolis, that attend public schools, can choose where they go to High School. No specific middle schools feed Washington.

“Coaching in the city is the hardest thing in the world to do,” says Carlisle. “We have to build relationships with families whose students play middle school baseball and/or travel ball in the city to commit to George Washington.
“And based on proximity to where those families live, can be a hard sell. We hope to build a reputation that does recruiting for us soon.

”While there have been no commitments yet, Carlisle notes that he sees potential college players throughout his team.

A recent graduate received college baseball offers but opted to join the U.S. Army.
Coach Carlisle is a 2007 graduate of Flint (Mich.) Kearsley High School. Carlisle was a pitcher for two seasons each at Olivet Nazarene University (Bourbonnais, Ill.) and Grace College (Winona Lake, Ind.). His head coaches were Todd Reid at ONU and Josh Bailey at Grace. Carlisle earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Grace in 2012 and holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership (2015) and a Master’s Degree in Psychology/Life Coaching (2017) from Grand Canyon University (Phoenix).
Kyle married his wife, Valerie, in 2013. They reside in Speedway, Ind.


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Alfonso Gonzalez and Kyle Carlisle.

Whitehead promotes lifelong lessons with Park Tudor Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s about baseball and beyond for Courtney Whitehead as head coach at Park Tudor School on the north side of Indianapolis.

Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.

“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.

“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”

As far as the baseball part of the equation?

“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”

Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.

“Guys have to be ready for their turn in the rotation,” says Whitehead, whose Panthers compete in the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). 

The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).

Among the other teams on the PT schedule are Brebeuf Jesuit, Bishop Chatard, Crawfordsville, Knightstown, Lapel, Scecina, South Putnam, Waldron and Wapahani.

Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.

Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.

Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.

A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.

In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.

“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”

Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.

“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.

“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”

A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.

Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon

Purdue University presented Whitehead with a Secondary Education degree in 2000. He earned a masters in Athletic Administration from Western Kentucky University in 2013. Whitehead is also in charge of awards for the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.

“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”

Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.

He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.

Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.

Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago). 

“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.

Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.

A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.

Courtney Whitehead is head baseball coach and athletic director at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.

Purdue Fort Wayne right-hander Madura experiences growth

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was not the way he would have scripted it, but Mike Madura saw positive gains when the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 baseball season at Purdue Fort Wayne and sent him home to Munster, Ind.

Unable to get to a gym, right-handed pitcher Madura worked at home and added strength and weight to his 6-foot-6 frame. He now tips the scales at about 205.

While coronavirus did not make an internship with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen practical for the “Passport to Success” points required by Purdue Fort Wayne for his Business Economics and Public Policy major, Madura was able to pitch for the Midwest Collegiate League team for the second straight summer. 

On Sunday, Aug. 16, he threw eight shutout innings of two-hit baseball with eight strikeouts and two walks as the Oilmen beat the DuPage County Hounds in Game 2 of the MCL championship series. It was a must-win situation since DuPage had taken Game 1.

“It was awesome that atmosphere at Oil City Stadium (in Whiting),” says Madura of his 99-pitch outing. “I trusted my preparation.

“I had playoff experience. I pitched in Game of the semifinals (in 2019) and that definitely helped.”

Madura pushed his two-year mark with the Oilmen to 10-0. He was a starter and part-time reliever in 2019 and was strictly used as a starter in 2020 with Chris Cunningham as manager and Matt Pobereyko as pitching coach. 

Playing summer ball so close to home allowed Madura to continue working on his physical gains while also taking two summer courses. He is on pace to graduate from PFW in the spring. He plans to go to Fort Wayne this weekend and classes — some in-person and some online — are to begin Monday, Aug. 24.

The spring of 2020 marked Madura’s first with the NCAA Division I Mastodons. He made four mound appearances (all in relief) and went 0-0 with a 4.60 earned run average, 10 strikeouts and five walks and 15 2/3 innings.

It was the first season at Purdue Fort Wayne for head coach Doug Schreiber and pitching coach Brent McNeil.

“It’s awesome,” says Madura of playing for Schreiber, whose resume includes 18 years as head coach at Purdue in West Lafayette. “He’s got a lot of experience in Division I baseball.”

McNeil leads a pitcher development program that allows hurlers to work based on what their body is telling them.

“Listening to your arm, he really preaches that,” says Madura of McNeil. “Something I like about our program is recovery and sprint work.”

The Dons use Jaeger Sports J-bands, Driveline PlyoCare Balls and also sprint up to 60 yards to help with recovery and conditioning.

“It helps keep your legs in shape,” says Madura. “It helps with recovery by getting the whole body going.

“We don’t run long distance at all. We’re trying to be more explosive.”

This summer, Madura regularly threw his fastball (he has a four-seamer and two-seamer) at 87 to 89 mph and touched 90 a few times. Using a high three-quarter arm slot, he also employs a “circle” change-up and tosses a slider. 

“It has more of a slurve action on it,” says Madura. “It’s a two-plane break. 

“It depends on what I’m trying to do in that at-bat — get it over for a strike or, if I’m trying to put a guy away, I’ll throw it harder.”

Born with two webbed fingers on his left hand, Madura had surgery at about 2. His parents — Mike and Sherrie — bought him baseball gloves for a righty or a lefty and he ended up using the former though he does many everyday tasks with his left hand.

Madura was born and raised in Munster. He played his earliest organized baseball at the Hammond YMCA. From 7 to 9, he played both at Munster Little League and for the traveling Schererville-based Pro Style Rockers. Then came a few summers with the Sports Works Stars. That team was coached by his father — also known as Mike. 

The student-athlete who turns 22 in October is the sixth in a line possessing that name. When he was younger, it was easier to keep him and his father straight by referring to Big Mike and Little Mike. But the younger Madura — sometimes known as Michael — was 6-3 entering high school, 6-5 leaving it and grew an inch since going into college.

Is being tall an advantage?

Madura sees it as one.

“I have a lot more leverage on my pitches,” says Madura. “There’s a downward angle.

“It makes it that much harder on a hitter.”

Michael Madura was with the Northwest Indiana Hurricanes (father Mike as an assistant coach) at 12U and 13U.

Madura closed out his high school summers with the Hammond/Indiana Chiefs, playing for head coach Todd Iwema at 14U and 15U and organization founder Dave Sutkowski at 16U and 17U.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer/geometry teacher Bob Shinkan coached Madura with the Munster High School Mustangs and also had him as class aide.

“Coach Shinkan’s an awesome guy,” says Madura, who admired his ability to have fun while also getting his point across when it was time to get serious.

Madura played for the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Hammond Lakers (with Anthony Spangler as general manager) in the summers at Hammond’s Riverside Park before and after his freshman year at Central Michigan University. 

He redshirted there at CMU in 2018, transferred to South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., and pitched in 2019 while completing his associate degree in Business Administration at the junior college. On the mound, he logged 42 innings in nine appearances (eight starts) and went 0-5 with a 4.29 ERA, 18 strikeouts and eight walks for the Steve Ruzich-coached Bulldogs.

Michael Madura is one of IT project manager Mike and nurse Sherrie Madura’s four athletic children. Tiffany (27) played volleyball at Olivet Nazarene University. Trisha (25) was a at Davenport University. Michael also played basketball until his sophomore year in high school. Kylie (14) is a volleyball and softball player at Munster High.

Mike Madura, a 2017 Munster (Ind.) High School graduate, is a 6-foot-6, 205-pound right-handed pitcher at Purdue Fort Wayne. He is 10-0 over the past two summers with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Kinnison helping Blackhawk Christian baseball players reach their goals

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Kinnison is a facilitator.

As head baseball coach at Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Kinnison helps gets athletes where they need to go.

“As a Class A school, we focus on individuals striving to be consistent and the best they can be,” says Kinnison, who has led the Braves since the 2009 season and knows he has some players who see high school as the end of their baseball careers and others who want more. “We push some to where they want to go.”

Baseball is a team sport, but Kinnison sees it as an opportunity to “play against yourself.”

Individuals find what they can do and how they fit into the puzzle and push themselves — even when no one is watching.

“The game should be easy,” says Kinnison. “Practice should be hard. It’s human nature to only do as much as someone would push you to do.

“We want the best version of you on the ball field. Give me 100 percent of what you have today.

“You’re responsible for what you do. At the end of the day, results are bases on the work you put in.”

Kinnison encourages his players to study the game and the opponent.

“Figure out a weakness and exploit it,” says Kinnison. “If you’re fast, steal bases.

“I don’t think kids think the game as much as they could. They just play.”

College-bound players, especially, will be served by understanding the game.”

Recent graduates to play college baseball include Nathan Targartt and Kole Barkhaus at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and Nate Moonen at  Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. Current Blackhawk Christian junior Callan Wood is among those with college baseball aspirations.

“We give as much information as we have as a staff,” says Kinnison, who is assisted by Matt Harmon (the Harmon brothers — Mark, Matt and Jake — were involved in bringing state titles to Blackhawk in 2002, 2005 and 2006), Brice Urschel, Nick Braun and Ryan Davis. Harmon and Braun are BCS teachers. Urschel played for Kinnison then at Huntington (Ind.) University.

Some things become instinctual.

“We don’t use signs very much,” says Kinnison. “We take what they’re giving us.”

Kinnison is a 1988 Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate who played baseball for three years for Jim Russo then one for Dave Hay as well as football for Mike Hawley and two years of basketball before playing baseball at Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Huntington College (now Huntington University) for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame.

“(Frame) had a greater influence on me after I left than when I was there,” says Kinnison. “He is probably one of the best ambassadors for baseball in northeast Indiana.”

Kinnison was a lead-off or No. 9 hitter who would bunt on his own.

As a coach, he is not inclined to insist his Blackhawk Christian batters lay one down. He usually leaves it up to them.

“I don’t like to take the bat of the the kids’ hands if they going good,” says Kinnison.

After college, Kinnison was an assistant to Matt Kinzer at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and coached for the independent Richmond (Ind.) Roosters, run by IHSBCA Hall of Famer John Cate.

Kinnison, who was assistant director of construction for a retail investment company in Cincinnati and came back to Fort Wayne on the weekends, was encouraged to apply for the Blackhawk Christian job by Kinzer.

Blackhawk Christian (enrollment around 240 for high school in the K-12 system) is an independent.

Among teams the BCS played in 2019 were Bellmont, DeKalb, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Fremont, Heritage, Homestead, Lakewood Park Christian, New Haven, Northfield, Prairie Heights, Southern Wells and Woodlan.

Athletic director Joel Cotton makes up the schedule with some input from the coach.

“I didn’t want a bunch of 1A schools on it,” says Kinnison. “I would rather take our lumps (and get better against tougher competition).

“It’s about taking pride in performing. The team that is able to relax and play their normal game can beat you.”

Since Kinnison has been in charge, there has only been a varsity team with about 18 to 20 players per season. For 2020, he expects to have two seniors, two juniors and seven or eight sophomores.

As a way of supporting the school, all players help with a program established in 2011 by BCS Foundation, Inc., called reNEW Upscale Resale.

The Braves part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Blackhawk has won 14 sectional titles — the last in 2017.

Blackhawk Christian played only a handful of games on-campus in 2019 because of wet conditions. The rest of their home dates were contested on the turf at the ASH Centre, home of the World Baseball Academy.

Kevin and Annette Kinnison have three daughters — Taylor, Kenzie and Karlee. Taylor is 22. Eighth grader Kenzie and sixth grader Karlee have attended Blackhawk since they were in kindergarten. Kevin is co-owner of Blue Apple Construction.

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Kevin Kinnison has been the head baseball coach at Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne, Ind., since the 2009 season. He played at Fort Wayne Snider High School, Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University). (Steve Krah Photo)

 

 

 

Wellenreiter lends wisdom to Goshen Maple Leafs

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Wellenreiter has been swinging a fungo and dishing out baseball knowledge for a long time.

The 2019 season marks his 40th as a coach — five as an assistant at Goshen College after 35 in Illinois at the junior high, high school and professional level.

Since arriving on Hoosier soil, he’s also taken to coaching for the Michiana Scrappers travel organization in the summer.

What does he believe in as a coach?

“Hopefully my kids learn the game and it’s a lifelong value to them,” says Wellenreiter. “The values that you teach are not just baseball. You teach them things in baseball that will help them for the rest of their life — whether it’s discipline, being on-time or never say quit. You hope you have a lasting effect on kids down the road.

“I can’t tell you how many games I’ve won or lost (he actually 625 and went to the round of 16 in the Illinois High School Association tournament six times in 27 seasons at Momence High School). It really doesn’t matter.

“The only important thing is the next one. You don’t take the games with you. You take the people with you. That’s why (baseball’s) the best fraternity to be a part of.”

That fraternity may not have a secret handshake, but it’s given Wellenreiter plenty of memories and perspective.

“Lifelong stuff is what you take with you,” says Wellenreiter, who was pitching coach for a few summers with the independent professional Cook County Cheetahs. “I sometimes had a junior high game in the morning and a minor league game at night. I’m probably the only guy in America who coached junior high and minor league at the same time. Sometimes the junior high game was better.”

What’s the difference between junior high, high school, college and pro?

“In the big picture, the fundamentals of the game is the same,” says Wellenreiter. “It just happens at a faster rate at each level. At the pro level, it happens at 88 to 93 mph. At (the college) level, it happens in the low to mid 80’s. At the high school level, it happens in the 70’s.”

Wellenreiter sees freshmen working to make that adjustment when they arrive at Goshen.

“They may have seen a kid who threw 85 occasionally in high school,” says Wellenreiter. “Now, you’re going to see somebody like that almost everyday at our level. Everybody runs much better at this level. Everybody’s got a better arm.”

Before retiring in 2014 and moving to Goshen to be closer to be closer to one of his daughters and his grandchildren, Wellenreiter was a biology teacher and driver’s education instruction in Illinois.

“I never had any intentions of being a bio teacher when I went to Millikin (University) in Decatur,” says Wellenreiter. “They had the foresight into what the future was going to hold in the education field. You take so much science when you go into P.E. They said, you’re crazy if you don’t take the extra classes so you’re certified to teach science. Make yourself as marketable as you can. That’s all I’ve ever taught — biology.”

With that know-how, it has given the coach a different outlook on training.

“I know how cells work,” says Wellenreiter. “I know what origin of insertion means and the difference between induction and abbuction.”

At Goshen, Wellenreiter works on a staff headed by Alex Childers with Justin Grubbs as pitching coach.

“Alex gives me a lot of freedom,” says Wellenreiter, who knew Childress when he was a student and baseball player at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., and Wellenreiter was an assistant men’s basketball coach for the Tigers (He was also a long-time basketball assistant at Momence) and later a part-time ONU baseball assistant.

Wellenreiter helps with scheduling (he has spent plenty of phone time already this season with postponements and cancellations), travel and, sometimes, ordering equipment. He assists in recruiting, especially in Illinois where he knows all the schools and coaches.

On the field, his duties vary with the day. While Grubbs is working with the pitchers, Wellenreiter and Childress mix it up with the positional players. He throws about 400 batting practice pitches a day and coaches first base for the Maple Leafs.

“When you’re at a small college, you have to be a jack of all trades to get things done. You don’t have a huge coaching staff. I’m part-time, but I’m like part-time/full-time.”

Wellenreiter makes up scouting reports before every game. He keeps a chart on every hitter and what they’ve done against each GC pitcher.

“I do it by hand,” says Wellenreiter. “chart where they hit the ball and plot whether it was pull, oppo or straight.

“The most important pitch is Strike 1. I chart that.”

Wellenreiter recalls a batter from Taylor University who swing at the first pitch just three times in 48 at-bats against Goshen.

“Gee, this isn’t rocket science,” says Wellenreiter. “If the guy isn’t going to swing at the first pitch, what are we putting down (as a signal)? Let’s not be fine. Let’s get Strike 1. Now he’s in the hole 0-1 and you’ve got the advantage.

“Sometimes, you can’t over-think it as pitchers. You’ve got to pitch your game and use your stuff. If the guy’s not catching up to your fastball, go with that. Don’t speed his bat up.”

Goshen coaches will sometimes call pitches from the dugout, but generally lets their catches call the game.

Wellenreiter says charts and tendencies sometimes backfire.

“I remember for one player, the chart said he had pulled the ball to the right side in all eight at-bats,” says Wellenreiter. “So he hits the ball to the left of the second base bag.

“That’s baseball.”

Wellenreiter learned baseball from Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Scott at University High School in Normal, Ill.

“That’s where I learned my stuff,” says Wellenreiter, a 1975 U-High graduate. “(Coach Scott) gave me a chance. I played on the varsity when I was a sophomore.”

Wellenreiter has added to his coaching repertoire as his career has gone along.

“You steal from here. You steal from there,” says Wellenreiter. “You hear something you like and you add it in.”

Smallish in high school, Wellenreiter ran cross country in the fall and played baseball for Pioneers in the spring. He played fastpitch softball for years after college.

“I miss playing,” says Wellenreiter. “ I had a knee replaced four years ago. I hobble around now.”

While coaching in the Frontier League with the Cheetahs (now known as the Windy City Thunderbolts), Wellenreiter got to work alongside former big leaguers Ron LeFlore, Milt Pappas and Carlos May.

One of Wellenreiter’s pitchers made it — Australian right-hander Chris Oxspring — to the majors.

Cook County manager LeFlore was infamous for running his pitchers hard.

“They had to run 16 poles (foul pole to foul pole) everyday,” says Wellenreiter. “Ox couldn’t do them all. We had to DL him because he was too sore and couldn’t keep up with conditioning.”

After spending 2000 with the Cheetahs, Oxspring was picked up by affiliated ball and played for the Fort Wayne Wizards in 2001 and made five appearances for the 2005 San Diego Padres.

Wellenreiter drove up to Milwaukee and spoke Oxspring after his MLB debut.

The pitcher called to his former coach and they met in the visitor’s dugout before the game.

“Hey, Coach Doug,” Oxspring said to Wellenreiter. “Remember those poles? I can do them now.”

Wellenreiter notes that Oxspring made more money in his 34 days with the Padres than he did his entire minor league career.

“That’s why guys fight to get up there,” says Wellenreiter of the baseball pay scale and pension plan.

While coaching the Momence Redskins, Wellenreiter got a close look at future major league right-hander Tanner Roark, who pitched for nearby Wilmington High School.

“I had him at 94 on my radar gun,” says Wellenreiter of Roark, who helped his school win Class A state titles in 2003 and 2005, the latter squad going 41-1. “He’s probably the best I’ve had to go against.”

Wellenreiter notes the differences between high school baseball in Indiana and Illinois and cites the higher number of games they play in the Land of Lincoln.

Illinois allows 35 regular-season games and teams are guaranteed at least one game in the regional (equivalent to the sectional in Indiana). In 2019, the Illinois state finals are May 31-June 1 for 1A and 2A and June 7-8 for 3A and 4A. Regionals begin in the middle of May.

The maximum number of season baseball games in which for any team or student may participate, excluding the IHSAA Tournament Series shall be 28 and no tournament 26 and one tournament.

When eliminated from the tournament, most Illinois teams will let their seniors go and launch right into summer ball, playing 40 to 45 games through early July. The high school head coach usually coaches the team.

“Any kid worth his salt is playing another 25 games in the fall,” says Wellenreiter. “That’s 90 to 100 games a year. The difference in experience adds up. Illinois kids are seeing more stuff.”

Coaching with the Scrappers, Wellenreiter’s teams have never played more than 28 contests.

Junior high baseball is a fall sport in Illinois and has a state tournament modeled after the high school event. The season begins a few weeks before the start of school.

Wellenreiter coached junior high baseball for more than two decades and guided many of the same player from Grades 6 through 12.

There are pockets of junior high baseball around Indiana.

At a small school like Momence (enrollment around 325), coaches had a share athletes. What Wellenreiter saw is that athletes would pick the “glory weekend” if there was a choice between two or more sports.

“One thing I don’t miss about high school is fighting for the kids’ time,” says Wellenreiter. “I never asked my baseball players to do something during the basketball season.”

At Goshen, Wellenreiter can focus on baseball and his family. Doug and wife Kelly have Brooke, her husband and children living in New Paris, Ind., with Bria and her husband out of state.

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Doug Wellenreiter is in his fifth season as an assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. It’s the 40th year in coaching for the Illinois native. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

Childers teaching lessons about adjustment, baseball concepts at Goshen College

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pulling together a Goshen College roster with players from 10 different states and one Canadian province, Alex Childers is going about teaching lessons on and off the baseball diamond.

Childers, who in his fifth season as head coach for the Maple Leafs, wants his athletes to be adaptable, students of the game and above all else — students. After all, GC is a highly-ranked institution of higher learning.

“At the college level, you have got to be good at development,” says Childers, who played his college baseball at Goshen College and Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. “You want to recruit good players, but you’ve got to develop the talent as well.

“When you let then be athletes and players, you can maximize potential. That’s what we try to do.”

Making the most of the fall and winter and the rare spring practices, Childers and his coaching staff of Justin Grubbs, Jackson Callahan and Doug Wellenreiter do their best to create intelligent baseball players.

“I try to teach the game and concepts,” says Childers. “When you micro-manage too much, you’re not teaching the concepts of the game.

“I want guys to understand when it’s a good time to run vs. I’m going to give you the steal sign so you’re going to run. I want players to understand the game. When is it a good time to be aggressive on a ball in the dirt? When is it a good time being aggressive going first to third? As opposed to me just moving the chess pieces around.”

Childers also expects players to be willing to move around on the diamond, which sometimes involves some candid conversations.

“Most guys on our team had a position change,” says Childers. “In the fall, we try to move every single one of our guys around.”

The thought is that knowing a different position never hurts and it gives a player more of a chance to crack the lineup.

“If you think you’re just a second baseman and that’s where you think you’re going to play, that’s great,” says Childers. “But you have to make our team the best when you’re at second base.

“Sometimes that’s a tough concept for guys to get.”

Citing a couple of examples of getting Leafs to buy into a switch, Childers points to current senior Preston Carr and former player Arick Armington.

Carr, who hails from Ontario, came to GC as a pitcher-second baseman. He was turned into an honorable mention all-conference selection and two-time Gold Glove winner in center field.

Armington, who played high school baseball at Elkhart Christian Academy, was convinced to make an adjustment, moving from the middle infield.

“I told him, ‘Aric, we’re better when you’re in center field,’” says Childers. “You have to get guys to buy in.”

And confidence is key.

“It’s a tough thing,” says Childers. “You know how baseball is, if you don’t have an ego you don’t last very long because of how much failure is involved.

“You’ve got to believe that you belong. You’ve got to respect decisions I make as the coach. But if you don’t believe you can do it, you’re in the wrong sport.”

Childers wants his players, especially freshmen, to know what to expect.

“Let’s be honest, here in the north you play on good weather days,” says Childers. “On poor weather days, you’re not playing and you’re back in the (batting) cage. We play 55 games in essentially 2 1/2 months. It is a sprint.”

GC coaches talk about players having the ability to be present.

“We talk say ‘be where your feet are,’” says Childers. “That basically means stats are a reflection of what’s happened in the past, you need to be present right now. If you don’t have that concept, the season can get on you quick. Before you know it, you’re throwing away at-bats or throwing away games and you don’t want to do that in a career that’s so short.”

Some Leafs don’t have a short trip to campus. Besides Indiana and Ontario, the 2017 roster features players from California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

“We have students from all over, why can’t we have baseball players from all over?,” says Childers. “I’d love to have local guys, but we can’t limit ourselves to just that. We have to think outside the box (in recruiting).”

When recruiting, Childers and his staff are looking for players who are academically strong. The NAIA allows 12 scholarships for baseball, but the Crossroads League has a limit of 7.6, so things like institutional aid come into play.

“If the kid has a high GPA, it just increases his scholarship level for the school which I can add onto from a baseball standpoint,” says Childers. “It’s a little bit of a matrix trying to figure out how to package guys the best.”

Childers said players have gone on to professional baseball out of the Crossroads League, but that’s not the focus at GC.

“At the end of the day, college baseball is a means for you to get an education.” says Childers. “If you can keep playing for four more years, that’s just icing on the cake. We treat it that way. I tell parents all the time, we don’t apologize for the academic portion of what we do. You want to keep in perspective what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Childers, who graduated from New Haven High School in 2003, said he owes much of what he knows about baseball to Bulldogs head coach Dave Bischoff.

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who practices harder and is more passionate about the game,” says Childers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He’s somebody who cares deeply.”

Bischoff instilled in Childers, who was also a New Haven assistant for two years after his college playing days, the importance of mental toughness and getting the most out of players.

“My senior year in high school was a pretty senior-laden group but not the most talented group,” says Childers. “Coach Bischoff got the most out of us. We were a 20-win team and won a sectional title. He fit guys into roles and maximized the potential he had.

“I’m pretty fortunate in having him as a mentor.”

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Alex Childers is in his fifth season as head baseball coach at Goshen College in 2017. (Goshen College Photo)

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Alex Childers (left) coaches third base during the 2014 season. (Goshen College Photo)