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Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball




Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the pitch count rule (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)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.


Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)



Former LaPorte, Indiana standout DeMuth heading into fifth pro baseball season




Dustin DeMuth’s fourth professional baseball season gave him the chance to see what it means when you move up the ladder.

DeMuth, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana University by the Milwaukee Brewers, played 96 games at High-A Brevard County, Fla., and 34 contests at Double-A Biloxi, Miss., in 2016 then 116 more at Biloxi in 2017.

“It was definitely an up-and-down season,” says DeMuth, who hit .244 with nine home runs, 20 doubles and 40 runs batted in from the left-handed batter’s box and also honed his skills at first base in ’17. “There is a separator from High-A to Double-A ball. It was a grind. It was fun though. I learned a lot.”

DeMuth, a 2010 LaPorte High School graduate, saw the pace of play speed up in the Double-A Southern League. He also faced pitchers who have better command of their stuff.

“You see velocity all through the minor leagues,” says DeMuth. “(Double-A pitchers) have velocity and can put it where they want it. They can locate off-speed pitches. You have to be ready for any pitch in any count.

“They’ll attack you differently every time you go up there. You have to keep making adjustments.”

Defensively, DeMuth continued to pick up on the cues needed to play well at first base.

“I’ve always been a pretty good hitter,” says DeMuth. “But I always thought my defense was lacking.”

DeMuth has picked up a number of things from Brewers coaches on hitting, fielding and footwork.

“A lot of people have different ways of teaching things,” says DeMuth. “You find something that clicks in your head,you understand it and you go with it.”

DeMuth’s off-season has been eventful. He got engaged to girlfriend of more than four years — Caitlin Hansen — last November and the couple plans to wed this November.

Dustin and Caitlin met through mutual friends. The Roncalli High School graduate is a former defensive specialist on the IU volleyball team.

DeMuth has also been in Bloomington working out with the Hoosiers baseball team as he gets ready for 2018 spring training in Arizona. The Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate is at Colorado Springs, Colo.

Indiana’s program is now headed by Chris Lemonis. Tracy Smith was the Hoosiers head coach when DeMuth played in Cream and Crimson.

DeMuth credits Smith for instilling mental toughness in his players.

“He helped us move on from the rough spots and mistakes and continue to grind,” says DeMuth of Smith, who is now head coach at Arizona State University. “He was a great mentor for all of us.”

It was a talented and close-knit group that played in the College World Series in 2013 and the NCAA Regional in 2014 and won back-to-back Big Ten Conference titles. DeMuth’s teammates included several players on their way to pro baseball, including Kyle Schwarber (who made his MLB debut in 2015 with the Chicago Cubs), Aaron Slegers (2017 with the Minnesota Twins), Sam Travis (2017 with the Boston Red Sox) and Jake Kelzer (a Bloomington native now pitching in the Philadelphia Phillies system).

“It was like a family to be honest,” says DeMuth. “Most of those guys are still good friends.”

DeMuth was drafted in the eighth round by the Twins in 2013, but opted to go back to IU. After being chosen as a third-team All-American as a junior, he was a first-team All-American while hitting .374 with five homers and 40 RBIs as a senior. His career average was .344 in 236 games (all starts) and left the program ranked No. 1 all-time in doubles (63) and No. 2 in hits (316).

Born in Merrillville, DeMuth went to school in Highland, Ind., through sixth grade, went to Edgewood Middle School in Ellettsville, Ind., then moved to LaPorte during his seventh grade year. He played four seasons for the LaPorte High School Slicers and is grateful for the chance head coach Scott Upp gave him to be a varsity regular in left field as a freshman.

“That was a big deal back then,” says DeMuth. “(Upp) is one of the reasons I went on to play baseball in college.”

A three-sport athlete at LaPorte, there was a time early in his prep career where DeMuth ranked basketball and football ahead of baseball.

But he saw 6-foot-2 point guards becoming a rarity at the big-time college level and began seeing the opportunities on the diamond.

“I always wanted to go to college and play D-I and baseball was definitely the best route to go,” says DeMuth, who is featured in the book Slicer Baseball, A Cut Above: The History of LaPorte Baseball.

While in high school, DeMuth played a few summers of travel baseball for the Indiana Chargers.

At IU, he followed up his freshman year with the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs of the Florida Collegiate Summer League and his sophomore year with the Wareham Gatemen of Cape Cod Baseball League.

Dustin, 26, is the youngest Dave and Judy DeMuth’s four children, coming after David, Jenny and Julie. Dave, a former Merrillville High School assistant principal, is retired. Judy DeMuth is superintendent of Monroe County School Corporation. The girls both played college basketball — two-time all-Big Ten performer Jenny at Indiana and Julie at Ball State University.


Dustin DeMuth, a former LaPorte High School and Indiana University baseball standout, is going into his fifth season in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2018. (Biloxi Shuckers Photo)


Indiana Bulls have grown baseball in state nearly three decades




Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991.

Taking players exclusively from Indiana was how co-founder Dave Taylor wanted it and that’s the way it has remained all these years.

The Bulls have sent countless players on to college baseball and dozens have been drafted by Major League Baseball.

Two players on the first Bulls team — Todd Dunwoody (Harrison High School in West Lafayette) and Scott Rolen (Jasper) — made it to the big leagues.

Rolen is on the latest National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

Recent Bulls alums to don MLB uniforms include Nevin Ashley (North Knox), Tucker Barnhart (Brownsburg), Tommy Hunter (Indianapolis Cathedral), Micah Johnson (Park Tudor), Adam Lind (Anderson Highland), Josh Lindblom (Harrison of West Lafayette), Lance Lynn (Brownsburg), Alex Meyer (Greensburg), Cameron Perkins (Southport), Clayton Richard (McCutcheon) and Drew Storen (Brownsburg).

“We have pride in that border with Indiana players,” says Bulls executive director Dan Held. “It’s impressive to see all the players that come out of here.”

In 2018, the Bulls have 26 teams from 8U through 18U.

With Held running the show, all will be present at noon Sunday, Jan. 28 at Westfield High School for the annual parent/player organizational meeting.

Barnhart will be the guest speaker and players will receive uniforms and equipment in anticipation of the upcoming season.

The campaign opens first for 8U to 14U. Those squads are expected to play 50 to 60 games apiece during their four-month season.

At this age, the Bulls try not to travel more than three weekends in a row.

“We are not chasing trophies,” says Held.

High school-aged teams — U15 to U18 — get started after the prep season concludes and have eight weekends worth of tournaments and will likely play 30 to 40 games each.

High school baseball is a priority at this age the the Bulls strive to develop relationships with prep coaches (and have several on the coaching staff).

“High school coaches are a fantastic resource,” says Held. “They are with those players for years.

“We are just an additional set of ears and eyes for those coaches.”

The 8U to 14U teams play many games in and around Indiana, but have been known to go to Cooperstown, N.Y., and Omaha, Neb.

Held puts all the schedules together for high school-level teams with an eye on exposure to college scouts.

Some of those showcases include the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn., and World Wood Bat Championships in Cartersville, Ga., as well as the Youth Amateur Baseball Championships and Midwest Prospect League run by Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield with its 26 synthetic surface diamonds.

At the end of the season, coaches fill out an evaluation form for each player — noting strengths and weaknesses — and presents it to the player or their parents and Held also gets a copy.

Annually, the Bulls offer three memorial scholarships — in honor of Daniel Mercer, Craig Moore and Lance Moore.

Once the season ends, there are optional fall workouts. There is no training activity in November and December.

Held left his post as a St. Louis Cardinals coach after the 2006 season to direct the Bulls, which are based in the Indianapolis area but draws players from all corners of the state.

With all his connections in the baseball world, Held is the face of the organization.

When he first came aboard with the Bulls, Held conducted player clinics. But with players spread out across Indiana it was difficult to reach all of them.

Held then decided to focus on educating the coaches to relay the message to the players.

He wants a non-threatening atmosphere and screamers and yellers are not welcome.

All coaches are hired by Held. He is looking for those with strong baseball backgrounds. That is more important than them having a standout player for a son.

“We need to have a coach who runs a quality program,” says Held. “We’d love to have all non-dad coaches. But with time restraints, we can’t always do that. (Coaching) does entail a lot of work.”

Head coaches get a stipend to off-set expenses which they share with their assistants. Player fees are waived for sons playing on a team coached by their father.

Last November, a mandatory coaches retreat was taken to Camp Emma Lou near Bloomington. It is the site of Rolen’s E5 Foundation camps for children and families dealing with illness, loss or other special needs.

“It was a big undertaking, but it was just worth it,” says Held. “It really paid off.

“Part of my job is make sure we’re doing things properly and evaluating the coaches. I give my coaches a big leash. Micro-managing them is a mistake.”

There is manual to help coaches conduct a productive practices.

“I don’t want them having home run derbies and just hitting ground balls,” says Held. “Practice is the most important thing. Players need to get something out of it.

“I monitor my coaches. I don’t want them to go rogue.”

Practices tend to be held once a week in the winter and twice a week in the spring for 8U to 14U teams. Games are mostly played on weekends.

Besides team practices in locales around the Indianapolis area, there are some organizational practices on the calendar. That’s one of the various ways the director stays connected with all the teams. Taking a cue from professional baseball, he has each coaching staff report to him after each weekend. If there was an incident or a significant injury, Held will know about it.

If a parent has a concern, Held says they need to go through the proper channels of communication. He prefers that the matter be addressed first with that player’s coach. Then comes a board member assigned to the team and then comes the director.

“I try to keep a close watch on the pulse of our teams,” says Held. “If there are issues, we try to be visible.

“It’s hard to control 300 sets of parents. You may give a message, but they hear what they want to hear. Our parents have been fantastic with going through the proper chain of command.”

The Bulls — an Indiana not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization has a board of directors filled with business professionals and a set of by-laws. There are currently 23 board members.

In a presentation at the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis, Taylor told those assembled about how to put together and sustain a successful travel organization like the Bulls.

Taylor says the mission must be clear.

Some are established as high school feeder programs. Others are there to go after national championships. Yet others are there to develop talent.

The Bulls were formed to develop and gain exposure for ballplayers in the state.

“Indiana was Alaska in terms of developing college baseball players,” says Taylor.

It’s key to have business people of the board — bankers, lawyers, insurance agents etc. There expertise will help in securing facilities, making deals, establishing policies, setting budgets and managing social media. Other important things to consider are revenue, player fees, sponsors and fundraising.

Taylor says board members are expected to raise money and/or cut a check of their own. They should be “invested” in the organization.

The Bulls have had a sustaining corporate partnership with cap company Lids.

While keeping tabs on all the teams, Held will also coach 16U Black and join Rolen in coaching 10U Grey and their sons — Boston Held and Finn Rolen.

“We’re excited about that,” says Held. “We get our kids to play together and enjoy the game of baseball.”

Held and Rolen were both selected in the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies — third baseman Rolen in the second round and catcher Held in the 42nd round. They were minor league teammates.

Rolen played 17 seasons in the big leagues. Held was a pro player for nine years and a coach for five.


Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991. (Indiana Bulls Image)


Baseball talent search makes Yankees scout Gibbons busy man




Somewhere out there is a power-packing hitter or lights-out pitcher and Mike Gibbons aims to find him and secure his services for his bosses.

Gibbons is an area scout for the New York Yankees and annually spends up to 40,000 ground miles and more in the air, assessing amateur players in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky that might be suitable to don Yankee pinstripes.

Lessons learned as a coach at the University of Notre Dame and Ball State University have helped carry the South Bend native through 23 years of hunting for potential professional baseball talent.

in this profession, it’s a grind.

“It’s everyday,” says Gibbons, 52. “You’ve got to be self-motivated. You’ve got to get up and get your work done and stay on top of it. You either have the passion for it or you don’t.”

Gibbons, who lives in the suburbs of Cincinnati, is often on the go trying to land players for the 27-time world champions.

“Things have changed a lot over 23 years,” says Gibbons, who scouted for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1995-2002 and started with the Yankees in 2003. “There’s not a whole lot of off-season anymore. There are showcases galore. You can find one every weekend if you want. College scout days run deeper into the fall and a lot of home visits with college and high school players. Then it’s Christmas.

“We have (scouting) meetings in January then we’re outside watching colleges scrimmage in early February.”

Early in the season, Gibbons has learned to do more flying and goes to warm weather. Last February, he saw Notre Dame play in San Diego and tends to spend a week to 10 days on the West Coast every year.

“You can go wherever you want to see your teams play,” says Gibbons. “As long you’re getting your work done.”

When college teams return to the Midwest and high schools open their seasons, Gibbons is really hopping.

He might be in northern Indiana checking out a high school pitcher on a Tuesday and then be in Kentucky Wednesday looking at a college hitter.

“You have to juggle your schedule and prioritize,” says Gibbons. “Your car is your office.”

A lot of what he does in the spring is dictated by the elements.

“You get a three- or four-day run in Michigan where the weather is nice, you better get up there,” says Gibbons. “You spend a lot of time watching the Weather Channel and looking at the apps on your phone.”

Gibbons knows there’s only so many days in the spring. That’s why so many schools have opted for artificial turf that helps them lower the number of rainouts.

The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft comes is scheduled for June 4-6. The Yankees currently have the 23rd pick in the first of 40 rounds. The Detroit Tigers have the No. 1 selection.

“The draft is such a crap shoot,” says Gibbons. “You have to get really lucky to get players in the draft. Some years your area is deep and you don’t get many guys. In other years, your area is not very deep and you end up getting two or three guys.”

Once Gibbons identifies a potential draftee, the national cross-checker and the scouting director take a look and they are comparing these players from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky to those all over the nation.

“It’s a big country,” says Gibbons. “There’s good players everywhere. Your bosses have to see these kids play well.

“(The scouting director and cross-checker) are focusing on the top part of the draft — the top five or 10 rounds,” says Gibbons. “Not somebody we might be able to sign in the 21st round.”

It’s up to Gibbons to have enough visits with the player, his family and agent to know how likely it is that the Yankees can get his name on a contract.

“You’re not going to draft kids in top 10 rounds you are going to have a tough time signing,” says Gibbons. “With the (slotting) rules now, you lose the money if you can’t sign the kid in the first 10 rounds.”

Slotting rules allow so much to be spent in certain rounds and that takes out much of the negotiating of the past.

“It’s pretty clear,” says Gibbons. “Here’s the slot and here’s what it’s paying. Can we get this done or not?”

In the summer and fall, Gibbons has places he likes to go. He sees top college players in the Cape Cod League and elite high school prospects in the East Coast Pro (which moves to in Hoover, Ala., in 2018), Perfect Game World Wood Bat Tournament in Jupiter, Fla., and national teams at USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, N.C.

Gibbons enjoys maintaining relationships with players after become pros.

“Old scouts back in the day would say, ‘sign ‘em and forget ‘em.’ I don’t necessarily agree with that,” says Gibbons. “I will text with (former New Albany High School and University of Louisville left-hander) Josh Rogers after his outings. You can’t help but love these kids and pull for them. You want them to do well.

“I don’t try to blow these kids up too much. But you just get to the big leagues with somebody.”

And he’s grateful to be working for the Yankees.

“I enjoy what I’m doing,” says Gibbons. “It’s an honor to work for arguably the best franchise in the history of sports. It’s an exciting time for us with all the young players coming up. Guys we drafted and developed and are now helping us win.”

Gibbons played at South Bend St. Joseph High School for Chip O’Neil, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

“When you’re that age you don’t understand coaching, you don’t understand how good the guy was,” says Gibbons, who graduated St. Joe in 1983. “He was great.”

Gibbons, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, pitched well enough for O’Neil and the Indians to go to Miami Dade South Junior College (now Miami Dade College) in Florida, where he played in 1984 and 1985 and was coached by Charlie Greene.

“He was terrific,” says Gibbons of Greene, who was a pitching coach in the New York Mets system and an author of books on pitching. “I had arm problems in high school. I was fortunate to play for a guy like Charlie.”

In those days, NCAA Division I teams could play an unlimited amount of fall games and Dade South played often against the University of Miami. Gibbons impressed enough for the Hurricanes to offer him a scholarship.

When Gibbons joined Miami for the 1986 season, coach Ron Fraser and the ‘Canes had just won the College World Series.

What was it about Fraser, the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer?

“His personality,” says Gibbons, who played two seasons at Miami. “He didn’t do a ton of coaching. He left that to Brad Kelley and his other assistants. He was figurehead. He was good in the community and with fundraising. They loved him.”

Gibbons went undrafted and landed with the independent Salt Lake City Trappers in the rookie-level Pioneer League. He went 1-3 with eight saves and a 0.82 earned run average in 26 appearances (all in relief) in 1988.

Salt Lake City is where Mike’s father, Jim Gibbons, had played in 1953 with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Class C affiliate.

Jim Gibbons would go on to manage in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization then serve in many capacities at Notre Dame, including assistant baseball and basketball coach. The 1953 ND graduate helped recruit future Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to campus as well as future pro baseball and basketball player and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ron Reed and ND president Edward “Monk” Malloy.

Jim Gibbons, who was on the baseball staff of Jake Kline, would be Notre Dame’s Assistant Vice President for Special Events and Protocol for 37 years.

Dan Duquette signed Mike Gibbons for the Montreal Expos and the pitcher was sent to Rockford, Ill., for the 1989 season, where he was 3-2 with two saves and a 1.76 ERA in 40 games against Low Class-A Midwest League competition.

Traded from the Expos to the Chicago White Sox in the Rule 5 Draft. Gibbons was going to be assigned to the Midwest League’s South Bend White Sox in 1990. Rather than repeat levels and pitch in his hometown, he went into coaching and joined the Notre Dame staff of Pat Murphy.

“From Murph and my dad, I learned about work ethic and how much you have to put into coaching,” says Gibbons. “I’m 22 or 23 years old myself and dealing with really intelligent guys at Notre Dame. I jumped in with both feet and was very committed. It was a lot of responsibility. It taught me some of the lessons I carry with me today.”

After his stint under the Golden Dome, Gibbons spent one season and part of another at Ball State. Pat Quinn was then the Cardinals head coach.

One of Gibbons’ roommates at Miami was Greg Vaughn, who had gone on to be a slugger for 15 seasons in the big leagues and about half of those were in Milwaukee. He helped Gibbons get an interview with the Brewers and a start to his scouting career.

Mike is married to Mary Beth. The couple have two children — Tyler and Olivia.

Tyler Gibbons played at NCAA Division III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and is now with the Cincinnati Reds as video coordinator for amateur scouting. The job will have him traveling the country, capturing players on video and writing reports.

Olivia is a high school senior. She is looking into medical school and possibility of playing college volleyball.


Coachability, athleticism help Kelzer make splash in two sports




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.”


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)


Crown Point’s Plesac in Indians system making up for lost time




Zach Plesac’s true introduction to professional baseball was delayed.

The Crown Point native spent the spring and summer of 2017 making up for time lost.

Plesac, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, was selected out of Ball State University in the 12th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Two months before that life-altering June event, he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his pitching arm, ending his college mound days and making the rest of the year about rehabilitation rather than facing batters.

At Ball State, Plesac had been splitting his time between pitcher, outfielder and designated hitter as a junior.

Head coach Rich Maloney brought Plesac to Muncie.

“He believed in me,” says Plesac. “I thought I was going to play a position and maybe pitch a little.”

When Plesac set a school single-season record for victories while going 12-2 with a 2.11 earned run average, 67 strikeouts and 33 walks in 85 1/3 innings and 25 appearances (six starts) as a freshman in 2014, his mound profile increased.

In 2015, he went 5-5 with 3.27 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 38 walks in 107 1/3 innings and 16 appearances (all starts). Since he could swing the bat, he was also used as an outfielder, DH and first baseman.

The came his junior season in 2016.

Mostly from the No. 5 hole in the order, he hit .304 with 15 runs batted in. As the Cardinals’ Friday night starter, he pitched in 11 games (eight as a starter) and was 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA and a nine-inning shutout against Miami University of Ohio.

“The next morning, I could not throw a baseball,” says Plesac. “I knew something was wrong.”

His next start came against Central Michigan and Plesac was still not feeling normal. A check of his arm revealed a partial tear.

Now he was faced with the decision of getting the surgery right away or staying in the lineup as a hitter.

“As much as I wanted to play, I didn’t want to be hurt,” says Plesac. “I had to do what was best for my career.”

While he was working his way back post-surgery in Arizona, he began taking online classes. He kept it up all season and has earned a general studies major with three minors (communication, psychology of human development and sociology).

“Now I can go into 2018 season and  focus on playing ball with no nervousness (about school),” says Plesac, who is scheduled to walk in BSU winter commencement ceremonies Dec. 16.

Plesac finally walked up on a pro mound in game action in 2017 extended spring training action against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A witness to the event was Chris Fetter. He had been Ball State’s pitching coach and had become a pitching coordinator for the Dodgers.

“That’s my boy. He’s the man to me. He’s a mentor,” says Plesac of Fetter, who is now pitching coach at the University of Michigan. “He was there on the last pitch of my college career and first pitch of my professional career.”

Plesac was first assigned to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the short-season New York-Penn League. He went 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA for the Niles, Ohio-based club and made eight appearances (seven as a starter), starting with limitation of three innings.

After Mahoning Valley came a stint with six starts for the Low Class-A Midwest League with the Lake County Captains. He went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA for the team in Eastlake, Ohio. By season’s end, he was up to five innings or 60 pitches. He wound up the season with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks in 51 total innings.

“Finding the (strike) zone was a big key for me,” says Plesac. “That’s what I wanted to work on. If I can find the zone, it doesn’t matter how hard I’m throwing. I could be effective.”

Plesac used his fastball most in 2017, followed by his change-up (which became his most-effective pitch), slider and curve. He saw his velocity return and he was regularly hitting the gun at 91 to 94 mph with his fast one.

“I had so much confidence,” says Plesac. “I felt ready. I didn’t feel like I was a year behind.

“I’m coming out max effort. You have to be smart with how you pitch. Max effort doesn’t mean you lose control. I’m so comfortable. I’m just trusting in God.”

The righty is happy to say he goes into 2018 with no innings restrictions.

“I’ve put in the work,” says Plesac. “I’ve got good routine to help me keep moving forward.

“Daily, I’m growing and becoming wiser about the game.”

Plesac views his time since starting in pro ball as a period of personal growth.

In college, he was on a schedule based on practices and what the coaches dictated. As a pro, he has been able to take the reigns of his schedule.

“It’s really fun,” says Plesac. “The people I’ve met have changed my life.”

He is pleased to be going through the journey with the Indians.

“I fell into best organization,” says Plesac. “They know how to treat people. This (delayed start) has been a blessing — to be honest.”

Plesac is in the same organization with Elkhart Central High School graduate and left-handed hurler Tanner Tully. The two were roommates for the 2013 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and both play in the Area Code Games.

Since the 2017 season wrapped, Plesac has been able to spend time in Los Angeles where girlfriend and former BSU diver Quinn Bixler is in graduate school at Loyola Marymount University and working out with Jordan Smolar at NWI Performance in Crown Point.

A a Crown Point High School athlete, Plesac earned three letters in baseball and helped the Steve Strayer-coached Bulldogs to a 27-4 record in his senior season of 2013 and to sectional and regional titles in 2011. He also claimed two letters each in football and basketball.

Strayer made an impact on Plesac then and still does.

“He groomed me into who I am as a baseball player and a man,” says Plesac. “I can remember when I was freshman practicing with the other kids. I was at third base. I made a bad throw to first and I said, ‘it slipped.’ He told me, ‘don’t make excuses ever.’

“Now I don’t make excuses for anything happens. You can’t get caught up in that. I’ve been able to go to Coach Strayer for all types of things. He’s been a good person in my life. He’s always helped me out.”

Plesac who turns 23 Jan. 21, is also taking the time to catch up with family.

Ron and Jeannie Plesac have three children — twins Zach and Ronnie (Zach is 10 minutes older) and Frankie (15).

Ronnie Plesac pitched at Parkland College in Illinois and State College of Florida. Frankie Plesac is a Crown Point sophomore ballplayer.

Uncle Dan Plesac pitched 18 years in the majors and is now an on-air regular with MLB Network.

“He’s there for me whenever I need him,” says Zach of man who in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and won 65 games and saved 158 for the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies.

The pitcher plans to attend a strength camp in January before heading back to Arizona for spring training.

“I’ve caught myself up ability-wise,” says Plesac. “I’m ready to rock.”


Zach Plesac, a 2013 Crown Point High School graduate, made his pro baseball debut in 2017 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The right-handed pitcher was drafted in 2016 by the Cleveland Indians and spent the season rehabbing from Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He pitched three seasons at Ball State University (2014-16). (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)


Alum Kluesner leading Bloomington South on diamond




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.


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