Tag Archives: Phil Kluesner

Former Indiana University player McConnell leading baseball program at Barr-Reeve

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

A former Indiana University baseball player is sharing his experience and knowledge as head coach at Barr-Reeve Middle/High School in the tiny Daviess County town of Montgomery.
Trevor McConnell, who graduated from Bloomington (Ind.) High School South in 2005 and earned his IU degree in December 2008, enjoyed his first on-field season with Barr-Reeve in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic took away 2020. He was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Joe Rademacher during the 2019 season.
Before Barr-Reeve, McConnell spent five seasons as an assistant to Bloomington South head coach Phil Kluesner (2014-18) and five as head coach and athletic director at Eastern Greene (2009-13).
A center fielder in high school, McConnell played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Grier Werner at Bloomington South and was recruited to play at IU by Bob Morgan.
“(Werner) was an old-school guy,” says McConnell. “He had that football mentality. He wanted physical and mental toughness from his teams and pushed us to take on that mentality because baseball is a game of failure.”
By the time McConnell joined the Hoosiers, Tracy Smith was head coach. He saw action in 65 games from 2006-08 and counted future big leaguer Josh Phegley as a teammate. Michael Earley went on to be a college coach (he’s now at Texas A&M).
“I learned a ton from Coach Smith in my time around the IU program,” says McConnell, who picked up pointers in practice planning, strategy and all facets of running a baseball team. “(Werner and Smith) are responsible for molding my coaching mindset more than anybody.”
McConnell sustained a career-ending arm injury and served as a volunteer assistant to Smith in the fall of 2008.
By then, McConnell saw his path as a teacher and coach and took the job the Eastern Greene positions at 23.
McConnell played summer ball for Kluesner with the Bloomington Wizards and accepted an invitation to coach with him.
“He welcomed me with open arms,” says McConnell of Kluesner. “He’s one of my best friends.”
At Barr-Reeve, McConnell teaches junior high school education and has a coaching staff that features pitching coach Rademacher, varsity assistant/infield coach Nathan Lester and head junior varsity coach Joe Cummings. All three have been head coaches at the high school level — Rademacher in two stints at Barr-Reeve, Lester at Barr-Reeve and Cummings at Pike Central.
There’s also JV assistant Ryan Graber, who played for Rademacher and Lester, former Vincennes Lincoln and University of Southern Indiana national championship player Craig Heinz, Beau Sluder, Trevor Yoder and Kraig Knepp. Chris Winkler runs Barr-Reeve’s junior high baseball program (Grades 7 and 8).
“I appreciate having experienced guys with me in the dugout,” says McConnell, who works with Vikings hitters and outfielders. “I have no ego. Joe Rademacher has been a good mentor for me. He’s been super gracious.
“He told me has still has a fire for the game and would like to be around if you want me.”
The Vikings play on Joe Rademacher Field. An old agriculture building was recently converted into a hitting/training facility for Barr-Reeve baseball and softball.
“We have four full-length (batting) cages,” says McConnell. “We are spoiled.”
A T-ball league is hosted by Barr-Reeve. Coach Pitch leagues start at Chuck Harmon Little League in nearby Washington, Ind.
The Viking Baseball Club sponsors teams of local students from second grade through 12U.
“They play together as a group with ‘Barr Reeve’ across their chest,” says McConnell, who attends and runs some VBC practices in the winter to show players the way he does it at the high school. A three-week fall camp for Grades 2-6 ran by McConnell and his assistants and players just concluded.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. Starting after Labor Day, McConnell has been leading close to 20 baseball players two days a week. Those practices are on Mondays and Wednesdays and many also participate in basketball activities with Josh Thompson on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Thompson guided Barr-Reeve to an IHSAA Class 1A state championship in 2020-21 and a state runner-up finished in 2018-19.
“I like the fact we can instruct and be more hands-on with our players,” says McConnell of the current off-season set-up. “There’s less quantity but the quality is a lot better.
“We can coach them up.”
Barr-Reeve (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Blue Chip Conference (with Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial). In recent years, Washington Catholic has not fielded a baseball team.
In 2001, the Vikings were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Loogootee, North Daviess (host site), Shoals and Vincennes Rivet. Barr-Reeve has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019 — Rademacher’s last season as head coach. A senior on that ’19 team — Gage Wilson — went on to Vincennes (Ind.) University for baseball.
The youngest child of former college football coach Bob McConnell and wife Barbara, Trevor was born in Amherst, Mass., when his father was on the staff at the University of Massachusetts.
About the time Trevor went into kindergarten, his family (including older brother Ryan) had moved to Nashville with Bob McConnell joining the football staff at Vanderbilt University.
From 1995-2001, the McConnells were in Baton Rouge, La., and Bob was coaching at Lousiana State University.
Trevor McConnell’s freshmen baseball season was spent as a varsity role player at Parkview Baptist High School, where Eagles head coach and Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee M.L. Woodruff was on the way to one of his 11 state championships. His 27-season record was 603-163-2.
“I learned a lot of fundamentals,” says McConnell of Woodruff. “He was super-organized and super-efficient.”
The McConnells wound up in Bloomington when Bob was hired by Hoosiers head football coach Gerry DiNardo, who also coached at Vandy and LSU.
After years of the gypsy lifestyle of a college football coach, Bob McConnell went into financial services and retired last fall. Barbara McConnell is a Muncie, Ind., native. Ryan McConnell (38) resides in Baton Rouge.
Trevor (35) and wife Jessica both went to Bloomington South and began dating at IU. They have been married since 2009. The couple have two children — second grader Nolan (who turns 8 in October) and kindergartener Lauren (5).

The McConnells (from left): Jessica, Trevor, Nolan and Lauren.
The McConnells (clockwise from upper left): Trevor, Jessica, Nolan and Lauren.
Trevor (left) and Ryan McConnell.
Trevor McConnell (30).
Trevor McConnell directs traffic.
Trevor McConnell swings the fungo.

Coachability, athleticism help Kelzer make splash in two sports

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Kelzer casts a pretty imposing figure on a pitching mound.

At 6-foot-7 and close to 250 pounds, he looks like he means business when he comes out of the bullpen late in a game.

As a right-hander in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, he plays with intensity and swagger.

But it wasn’t always that way for the Bloomington, Ind., native.

Kelzer recalls being a freshman swimmer at Bloomington High School South.

“I was not really that good,” says Kelzer, who is now 24. “I was tall and lanky and skin and bones. I was 6-6 and maybe 160. That’s pretty skinny for someone that tall.”

With time, Kelzer filled out his frame.

With encouragement from his coaches, he became a fierce competitor — no matter the sport. He swam and played baseball at South for four years and football for his first three.

He gained even more confidence when he was allowed to pursue the mound and the pool at Indiana University.

Kelzer was a two-time high school All-American swimmer. He was a part of state championship relay teams (200 freestyle in 2011 and 2012 and 400 freestyle in 2012) and placed fifth in the 50 freestyle (2012) while helping Bloomington to runner-up finishes in his junior and senior seasons.

Kyle Ruth was the Panthers head coach in Kelzer’s sophomore and junior seasons. Kirk Grand was an assistant in 2010-11 and head coach in 2011-12.

“Swimming is a sport where you stare at a line at the bottom of a pool,” says Kelzer of Ruth and Grand. “They were young and brought new styles and techniques. They kept things really exciting and competitive among the swimmers.”

As a South baseball player, Kelzer was impacted by head coach Phil Kluesner.

“He taught me the basics of baseball and how to compete,” says Kelzer. “You have to battle from the beginning to the end of the game. (Kluesner) brought the intensity every single day. It got pass down to all of his players.”

Kelzer went to IU with the idea of swimming and playing baseball.

“I was going to give it a shot for first two years and juggle both,” says Kelzer. “It happened I picked (baseball) my sophomore year.”

When then-Hoosiers head baseball coach Tracy Smith opted to redshirt him as a freshman, he was able to concentrate on swimming. He did that for one season.

“I look back at it now and was a genius idea,” says Kelzer. “It was really smart move on (Smith’s) part. It gave me another year of leverage. I had that experience of being a college athlete for a year with swimming.”

While Smith’s team was moving toward a 2013 College World Series appearance, Kelzer was learning lessons in the water in a program led by Ray Looze.

“He really knows his stuff,” says Kelzer of Looze. “He knows how to push each individual swimmer to their absolute limits.”

Baseball came back into Kelzer’s life his second year in college. He went on to pitched three seasons at Indiana (2014-16), going 8-10 with eight saves and a 3.09 earned run average.

He made 25 mound appearances (all in relief) in 2014, 17 (11 starts) in 2015 and 22 (all in relief) in 2016. He threw a total of 145 2/3 innings with 149 strikeouts and 52 walks.

Smith put Kelzer in a starting role at the beginning of the season when Kyle Hart was not yet available after having Tommy John surgery.

Before Smith and Brandon Higelin left after the 2014 season to become head coach and pitching coach at Arizona State University, they imparted wisdom to Kelzer.

“Tracy is a really, really good coach,” says Kelzer. “He’s not just coach, he’s a teacher.

“It was a bigger learning curve with Higgy. I had not pitched for a year so I was that piece of clay he was able to mold into any pitcher he wanted me to be.”

Higelin is now director of baseball operations at the University of Arizona.

Chris Lemonis came on as Hoosiers head baseball coach and brought Kyle Bunn on as pitching coach, beginning in 2015.

Kelzer credits Lemonis for helping him form the mindset of a dominant pitcher.

“If you’re team scores you some runs, you go out there and have shutdown innings,” says Kelzer. “You have to have that fearless attitude and that swagger. You act like you belong out there. (Lemonis) gave me the confidence to own up to my responsibilities on the mound.

“Bunn took (the mold started by Higelin) and helped me be what would be best for me.”

All the while, Kelzer listened and put his knowledge into action.

“I like to think I was a very coachable athlete,” says Kelzer. “I was able to hone in on what the coaches were saying. That was one of the key reasons I was able to compete at such a high level in two sports.

“And there’s always that God-given talent of being 6-foot-7.”

Since he was past 21, Kelzer draft eligible after his first two collegiate seasons. He was picked in the 22nd round of the 2014 draft by the New York Yankees and in the 14th round of the 2015 draft by the Chicago Cubs, but opted to go back to school each time.

The first time he passed on pro ball, he was just getting back into the game.

“I needed to develop as a person,” says Kelzer. “I was still pretty young. I was 21.”

The second time, he wanted to prove he could have a better college season.

Kelzer selected in the 18th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies.

The big righty spent parts of 2016 and 2017 with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters in the short-season New York-Penn League and finished the 2017 season with the Low Class-A Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws.

To date, Kelzer has made 32 appearances (all in relief) and is 2-2 with three saves. He has 43 strikeouts and 18 walks in 42 1/3 innings with a 4.89 ERA.

While starters have a routine leading up to their next appearance, relievers have to always be ready to go.

“You have no idea when you’re going to be throwing,” says Kelzer. “You have to be 100 percent focused every single game.”

The youngest of Tom and Roberta Kelzer’s three children after Sarah and Hannah, Jake grew up playing many sports. He started playing baseball as a little kid, but his only travel baseball year was at 15.

“Dad never wanted me to get worn out or sick of the game,” says Kelzer. “Looking back at it it was beneficial to my career in baseball.”

With an eye on his long-term future, Kelzer is to graduate Dec. 16 with a Business Management degree from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

“I like where that management can take me,” says Kelzer. “I like that leadership role and that competitive feeling.”

Having his schooling complete also gives the reliever a sense of relief.

“It’s always nice to have that lifted off your shoulders so you can focus on baseball,” says Kelzer. “That’s going to be my life after this weekend. That’s going to be a great feeling.”

Before heading to Florida for spring training, Kelzer has been working out at IU.

“Lemonis opens up everything to us,” says Kelzer, who is reunited with strength and conditioning coach Will Alli. “It’s something cool IU does for its returning athletes. Many have to go out and join a gym. I’m extremely blessed with that.”

Kelzer goes through a program set up by the Phillies and Alli adds in his exercises.

“It’s about staying active and healthy,” says Kelzer. “Show up at spring training and be able to crush everything. That’s the main goal.”

JAKEKELZER

Jake Kelzer, a 2012 Bloomington High School South graduate, helped win state titles as a swimmer and was good enough in both sports to swim and play baseball at Indiana University. He started his pro career in the Philadelphia Phillies system in 2016. (Lakewood BlueClaws Photo)

 

Alum Kluesner leading Bloomington South on diamond

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s be said that people are the sum of their added experiences and influences.

Phil Kluesner picked up some things from his high school coach and others from his college coach and others along the way and it has brought him to where he is — heading into his 10th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater, Bloomington High School South.

Kluesner, a 1990 Bloomington South graduate, was an outfielder and left-handed pitcher in a Panthers program led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Grier Werner and later spent three seasons (1998-2000) on Werner’s coaching staff.

“I learned a lot from him,” says Kluesner of Werner. “He was very demanding but also very caring.”

From Werner, Kluesner saw a consistency of work ethic and the importance of building relationships.

He uses the latter not only as a coach but as an educator. He is currently a U.S. History teacher at BHSS.

Kluesner’s college baseball experience was a couple of seasons at the University of Southern Indiana, where Mike Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was leading the Screaming Eagles.

Listing the qualities instilled by Goedde, Kluesner lists intensity, work ethic and competitive drive.

“We had a lot of talent on that team,” says Kluesner, who was with the baseball team for two years. He would earn a mass communications degree from USI and a secondary education degree from Indiana University-Bloomington.

Kluesner’s first coaching go-round came in Babe Ruth League baseball in Bloomington.

“I really liked it,” says Kluesner. “Rex Grossman was on my team. He was a phenomenal baseball player. He was just a better football player.”

Grossman would later be Indiana’s Mr. Football and quarterback at the University of Florida and in the National Football League.

After Kluesner’s stint as a South assistant, he served two seasons as a Shelbyville High School assistant to Mike Hobbs and Scott Hughes and then was head coach at Columbus North High School 2003-08 before coming back to wear the purple and white.

Kluesner coached a travel team made up mostly of South players known as the Bloomington Wizards and is considering bringing it back just to keep his players together.

“We’ve got some pretty good young talent coming through,” says Kluesner. “Travel teams are like mushrooms when you get too much rain. So many of them pop up. It’s almost overwhelming.

“The big thing I’ve noticed chemistry is difficult with them playing all over the place. They don’t know each other. It makes it difficult with our high school team. Chemistry is the thing teams are lacking. It’s become highly individualistic. It’s a team sport.”

With control of his own high school players, Kluesner will have a say in development.

“In the summer, it’s about showcasing yourself,” says Kluesner. “You get your hacks and sit down. I’m not going to discourage all kids from doing that. Some need (higher-profile travel baseball). But we could offer that with our Wizards and do it for less money. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just my opinion.”

Kluesner has produced Class 4A sectional championship teams in 2010, 2015 and 2016 and sent a number of players on to NCAA Division I college baseball.

There’s Joe Forney (Class of 2011) to Xavier (and is now director of baseball operations at Miami of Ohio), John Robertson (Class of 2011) to Miami of Ohio, Jake Kelzer (Class of 2012) to Indiana (and is now in the Philadelphia Phillies organization), Nolan Rogers (Class of 2013) to Vanderbilt, Gage Rogers (Class of 2014) to High Point in North Carolina (and is now at Indiana University Southeast) and Tyler Van Pelt (2017) to Indiana.

Alex Franklin (Class of 2018) made a verbal commit to Indiana as a sophomore and signed in early November.

Franklin has been a shortstop and a center fielder. With his BHSS head coach valuing versatility, he’s also in the pitching mix.

“The more pitchers the better,” says Kluesner. “I don’t have a lot of pitcher-onlys.”

While on the subject of pitching, what about the pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) adopted in 2017?

“I’m a pitching guy and I think it’s too lenient,” says Kluesner. “The pitch count should be a little more stringent. I’ve never pitched a guy 120 pitches in my life. We try to set our schedules week to week basis. My big arm will only throw once a week.”

It’s all about a lack of effectiveness.

“We need to teach kids to be efficient and not be so erratic,” says Kluesner, who has had hurlers throw complete games in 70 or fewer tosses. That’s the reason they pitch so many pitches.

“Kids are out of control. They’re over throwing. There’s so much emphasis on velocity nowadays. Kids can be effective if they’re competitive.”

Catchers are expected to rely on their own knowledge to help guide the pitcher.

“I’m big on teaching kids to call their own game behind the plate,” says Kluesner. “You know they get it when they cut you off and say, “I know, Coach. I know what to call.’

“Catchers are better ballplayers if they learn.”

Besides letting the players take ownership of the game, there’s a third dimension by being behind the dish that coaches don’t see clearly from the dugout. Catchers know if the pitch is in or out, up or down and can adjust the pitch selection accordingly.

Another teaching point for all players is not to argue with or complain to the umpire.

“It’s their job to adapt to the umpire,” says Kluesner. “They’re all different.”

Kluesner’s assistants for 2018 are Trevor McConnell (varsity), Eric Dodds (varsity), Mike Vaughn (junior varsity), A.J. Hartman (JV and freshmen) and Kevin Gross (freshmen).

South typically keeps 45 to 50 players for its three teams.

“We always seem to have some large freshmen classes,” says Kluesner. “The year we went to semistate (2015), we had 11 seniors. On average, we have six or seven.

“It’s hard to keep all those kids anymore,” says Kluesner. “The mentality has changed. It’s hard to teach them roles. Everyone wants to be the star.”

Kluesner says the ideal number of players for a single week-night game is around 14 or 15. That way he can get his bench players into the game as courtesy/pinch runners, defensive replacements, pinch-hitters or relief pitchers.

The varsity roster might swell near 20 for the weekend doubleheader as Kluesner and his assistants bring JV players to reward them for their performance.

The Panthers belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

Panthers home games are played at Groh Memorial Field, which dates back to 1965.

“It’s the original field,” says Kluesner, referring to the split of Bloomington High School into South and North for the 1972-73 school year. “It’s hollowed ground to us.

“When you think you’re playing the same place as thousands of other players, it gives you goosebumps. I make sure the players know that and respect that.”

Kluesner is expecting a major overhaul of the facility soon and South could welcome lights for the 2018 season.

The Panthers belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

In a format change for 2018, all conference teams will play each other once to determine the champion. Before, there were divisions with an end-of-season tournament.

PHILKLUESNER

Phil Kluesner, a 1990 Bloomington High School South graduate, is entering his 10th season as Panthers head baseball coach in 2018.