Tag Archives: Pirates

New head coach Burcham looks for Batesville Bulldogs to push potential

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

Tyler Burcham has gotten to know a few things about Batesville, Ind., in his four years of teaching there and five seasons as a baseball coach.
“We have a town that really rallies around its baseball,” says Burcham, who was a Batesville High School assistant from 2018-22 and recently took over the program from alum Justin Tucker, who guided the BHS program 2016-22. “I learned a lot from (Coach Tucker) and — hopefully — I can continue to push this program in the right direction.”
The Bulldogs won 20 games and lost to Franklin County in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Rushville Consolidated Sectional in 2022.
Batesville (enrollment around 715) is a member of the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Connersville, East Central, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville Consolidated and South Dearborn).
Besides Franklin County and Rushville Consolidated, the Bulldogs were part of a 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Connersville, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg and South Dearborn. Batesville has won 13 sectional titles — the last two in 2018 and 2021.
Burcham, who teaches Health and Physical Education to eighth graders at Batesville Middle School, has already met with some returning players from the Class of 2023 (middle infielder Charlie Schebler is an Ohio State University commit) and morning weightlifting sessions have happened the past two weeks. The goal is to build team chemistry and commitment.
“We’re having a lot of guys coming through this program who want to play collegiately,” says Burcham. “Our next step is to push our potential and see how much harder can we hit the baseball and how much harder we can throw it.
“There’s culture build-up. We want to see how much further can we take this thing.”
Two alums — Zach Britton (Class of 2017) and Bryan Hoeing (Class of 2015) — are in professional baseball and come to work with the next wave during their off-seasons.
“They’ve elevated those expectations,” says Burcham.
Zach Wade (Class of 2022) has gone on to baseball at Adrian (Mich.) College. Other recent graduates who signed at the next level include Class of 2021’s Sam Voegele (Indiana University Southeast) and Riley Zink (Oakland City University) and Class of 2019’s Trey Heidlage (Marian University) and Lane Oesterling (Indiana University Southeast).
Doug Burcham, Tyler’s father, has joined the coaching staff. Other assistants are being sought.
The elder Burcham coached at Waldron in 2022 and recently accepted as job as math teacher at Greensburg.
Doug Burcham was teaching and coach in Versailles, Ind., when Tyler went to school at South Ripley until second grade and then moved to Greensburg.
Tyler did not play varsity as a freshman, when his father was Pirates head coach. Scott Holdsworth was at the head of the program during his three varsity years.
“I remember his ability to create relationships,” says Burcham of Holdsworth. “He motivated players as if they were adults and treated them as such. I always appreciated that about Scott.”
Burcham is a 2013 graduate of Greensburg High School, where he was part of successful programs in soccer, football, basketball and baseball. He was the first man off the bench for the 2013 3A state boys basketball champions.
Recruited by outgoing coach Matt Kennedy, left-handed pitcher Burcham played two baseball seasons at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., for Cobras head coach David Garcia, then two more for Mark Brew at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn.
Brew has been Flames head coach since the 2007 season and has enjoyed success at the NAIA and NCAA Division II levels.
Burcham recalls Brew’s attention to detail.
“We’d practice standing from the National Anthem and he’d grade us on it,” says Burcham. “Everything we did we tried to make sure we were really good at it.
“He always wanted us to be good men. He’s a big family guy and wants the best for everybody.”
After Lee, Tyler was a full-time substitute at Batesville and spent a few months helping his father at Waldron when the opportunity arose to join the Tucker’s Batesville baseball staff.
The Bulldogs plays home games off-campus at Liberty Park, which celebrated its 100th year of baseball in 2021. Batesville shares a skinned-infield diamond with the Oldenburg Academy baseball program and Batesville adult slow pitch softball.
Varsity games and practices are coordinated with Oldenburg. Junior varsity and C-team practices take place at an on-campus field which is adjacent to the football stadium and is considered too small for varsity play.

Batesville Bats — founded by Brandon Blessing and Paul Drake — are a travel organization that worked closely with Tucker and will continue to help Burcham. The 2023 season will be the eighth season for the Bats. There will be teams for 9U to 15U.
Tyler’s mother — Cindy Burcham — is a former nurse and current case manager for Indiana University Health. Both brothers are older. Kyle Burcham works for Amazon and lives in Santa Claus, Ind. Shawn Burcham works with a sports program app and resides in Indianapolis.
Tyler and Carissa Burcham were married in July 2021.
“She’s been a rock star during this whole thing,” says Tyler of his wife. “She wants to help in any way she can.
“I think she knows how much it means to me.”

Tyler Burcham (Batesville Middle School Photo)

Tyler Burcham (Lee University Photo)

Tyler Burcham

Tyler Burcham

Hester takes the wheel for Charlestown Pirates

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A familiar face is now in charge of the Charlestown (Ind.) High School baseball program. 

Brian Hester, a 1987 Charlestown graduate who served nine seasons as an assistant to former head coach Ricky Romans (who led CHS baseball for 17 years) and the past five with Southern Indiana Rawlings Tigers travel organization, is now leading the Pirates on the diamond.

“Ricky has an amazing passion for the game,” says Hester, who came back on board at Charlestown in December. “He loves the game. He studies the game.”

Hester played high school baseball for Mike Hall.

“He was caring with his players,” says Hester. “I could go to him for anything I needed.

“He’s one of the reasons I started teaching and got into coaching.”

After one season playing for Rick Parr at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Hester concentrated on his studies. He is now a Robotics teacher at Charlestown Middle School after beginning his professional life as a mechanical engineer. He also serves on the Charlestown City Council.

Hester calls Parr one of the greatest hitting instructors he’s ever been around.

The former Boston Red Sox minor leaguer had a knack for breaking down the swing and bringing out the best in a hitter.

“Coming out of high school I was mainly a pull hitter,” says Hester. “He opened up my eyes to using the whole field and being a multi-faceted hitter.

“He was one of the very first guys I heard talk about letting the ball travel deep into the (strike) zone.”

Hester says that by letting the ball travel, the hitter can see it a little deeper and can still generate bat speed and power to the opposite field while opening up the defense.

Another coach to have an impact on Hester is Larry Owens, who played for rival Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Poole when Hester was playing and is now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The two have since worked the same camps.

“Larry is charismatic and has a contagious baseball mind,” says Hester.

Hester, who followed his baseball playing career, by traveling all over the country competing in top-flight slow pitch softball tournaments, has his Charlestown players competing during IHSAA Limited Contact Period winter workouts.

“We compete internally all the time,” says Hester. “I have a good group of (10) seniors who love hard work and competing.”

Hester has been getting his Pirates to understand what it means to have love and passion for the game and and enjoying being on the team.

“A lot of that comes from Larry Owens,” says Hester.

Expecting around 24 players in the program this spring, Hester and assistants Bryan Glover, Tony Kailen, George Roberts and Brady Hester will lead a program in varsity and junior varsity competition. Of the five coaches, only Kailen is not a Charlestown graduate.

The site of the Pirates baseball field is the same that Hester knew as a player, but the facility was totally overhauled almost a decade ago.

The former practice football field was turned into a softball field and now baseball and softball share not only a hitting building but a walkway and common area with a concession stand between the two diamonds.

“There’s great energy for our games,” says Hester. 

Charlestown (enrollment around 715) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

The Pirates are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek. Charlestown has won two sectional titles — 1999 and 2009.

Non-conference games on the 2021 schedule include Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, Jennings County, Lanesville, New Washington, Perry Central and South Central (Elizabeth).

Invitees to the May 15 Charlestown Invitational include Boonville, Lebanon and Providence.

While Hester was a Charlestown assistant he helped establish middle school baseball. Not affiliated with the school system, games are played during the spring. This year, Hester expects one team of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. 

Another feeder for CHS baseball is Charlestown Little League

There is no travel organization solely-dedicated to Charlestown players and Hester would like to see that change. 

Greater Clark County Schools includes Charlestown and Jeffersonville. Silver Creek School Corporation is nearby.

Recent Charlestown graduates on college baseball teams include right-handed pitchers Andrew Snider (Morehead, Ky., State University) and Drew Fifer (Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill.).

Two current seniors — right-handed pitcher Eric Wigginton (Spalding University in Louisville) and utility infielder Matthew McCoy (Hanover, Ind., College) — have made college baseball commitments.

Two others from the Class of 2021 weighing their options are catcher Nathaniel Kimbrell and right-handed pitcher Jacob Glover.

Ronni Hester, Brian’s wife, is in retail management. Brian and Ronni have three sons — Brady (22), Dalton (18) and Boomer (13) plus one grandson. Dalton Hester is a Charlestown senior. Boomer Hester is a seventh grader who plays football, basketball, wrestling and baseball with the middle school team and the Rawlings Tigers.

Brian Hester, a 1987 Charlestown (Ind.) High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. He was a Pirates assistant for nine years on the staff of Ricky Romans and coached the past five with the Southern Indiana Rawlings Tigers travel organization.

Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Larry Owens was playing baseball for Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School in the mid-1980’s, he had no sense of his future in the game.

Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.

“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”

Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.

“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”

Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.

“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).

Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992. 

The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).

Entering the college coaching ranks, Owens was as assistant to Warriors head coach Scott Rendel at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1994 and 1995. 

In the fall of 1995, Owens was a volunteer at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) with Keith Guttin as Bears head coach and Paul Evans as pitching coach.

When Mike Snyder left the University of Louisville as pitching coach, Owens got the job and served with Cardinals head coach Lelo Prado in 1996 and 1997.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons saw Owens as pitching coach for Governors head coach Gary McClure at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

That was follow by a four-year stint (2001-04) as Tigers head coach Dave Anderson’s pitching coach at the University of Memphis.

In the summer of 2005, Owens got his first taste of pro coaching. He was pitching coach for the independent Golden League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs with manager Terry Kennedy, who had played in the majors with Anderson. It was also the last season as a player for a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson.

“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”

Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.

“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.

“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”

Owens was an area scout with the Boston Red Sox in 2006.

The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.

Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.

“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”

One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics. 

When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.

“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”

Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).

Owens, who was featured on the Dec. 7, 2020 Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV and hosted by Jeremy Sheetinger, is leading Bellarmine’s move to D-I baseball. He cut his term as American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA D-II chair short when his program made the switch.

The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.

“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.

“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.

Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.

“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.

After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).

“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.

“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”

Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.

“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”

At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.

That ended up being Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., where Lebanon, Ind., native Joe Roberts was the Pirates head coach.

“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”

Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out. 

“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”

Owens was selected in the 27th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by he Atlanta Braves and played that summer for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves, but he knew his future was in coaching.

So after taking 1991 off, he launched into what has been a baseball coaching odyssey.

Larry Owens talks to Ryan Wheat (Louisville Legends Video).
Larry Owens, a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The 2021 season is to be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I. (Bellarmine University Photo)

Former big leaguer Meyer giving back to game with Indiana Bulls

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A dozen years after Alex Meyer donned the jersey of the Indiana Bulls travel baseball uniform as a player, the former big league pitcher is helping the organization as an assistant coach.

“I hope that I bring an extra set of eyes and somebody (Bulls players) can talk to,” says Meyer, 30. “I’m not too removed from playing. I want to help them through the recruiting process. I want to give them somebody they can trust. I don’t want them to think I’m giving them the run-around on anything.”

The Washington Nationals picked right-hander Meyer in the first round (No. 23 overall) of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He made his MLB debut in 2015 with the Minnesota Twins and pitched for the Twins in 2016 before being traded to the Los Angeles Angels late in that season. He also pitched for the Angels in 2017.

Pitching coaches that worked with Meyer included Neil Allen and Rick Anderson with the Twins and Charles Nagy and Rick Honeycutt with the Angels.

“They were all great,” says Meyer. “The majority of the time when I was (in the majors) my coach was Charlie Nagy. He was awesome. He related to me really well.

“I was a nervous kid when I was up there. He put things into perspective and helped me quite a bit.”

While he had little interactions with Twins manager Paul Molitor, Meyer spent more time around Angels skipper Mike Scioscia.

“He’s another guy I loved,” says Meyer of Scioscia. “He’s old school. What he brought to the team was awesome. He was not afraid to jump somebody. He demanded things be done the right way. The way he went about it, I definitely respected.”

Meyer pitched in 22 big league games (19 starts) and went 5-8 with a 4.63 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings.

After retiring from pro baseball in July 2019, Meyer became a sales representative for BSN Sports and does much of his work out of his Greensburg, Ind., home.

Alex and Kyra Meyer have been married close to five years and have two sons — Roman (2) and Max (8 months).

Meyer’s BSN manager is Quinn Moore, who coached him during his 17U and 18U travel ball seasons with the Indiana Bulls — before and after committing to the University of Kentucky.

Moore asked Meyer to help with the Bulls this fall and plans call for him to coach within the organization next summer.

Meyer is a 2008 graduate of Greensburg Community High School, where he played baseball for Pirates head coach Scott Moore. He played basketball for two seasons each for Keith Hipskind and Stacy Meyer and earned all-Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference honors three times as a forward-wing type of player.

“(Moore) made it fun,” says Meyer. “He kept everything loose. It was a very, very enjoyable place to play.

“(Hipskind and Meyer) had a huge impact on me. They had different styles, but very good things, Coach Hipskind was kind of an old school and tough. I like the way he went about his business. He wanted to get every ounce out of his guys that he could. Stacy had a little bit more of a modern approach but was still hard on us. He demanded excellence. He could really break down a team and help you prepare.”

As a Greensburg senior on the diamond, Meyer went 8-0 with a 0.95 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 51 innings. He was named Indiana Mr. Baseball and the Indiana Player of the Year by Gatorade and Louisville Slugger.

He was selected in the 20th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox, but chose to wait on his professional and played three seasons at Kentucky (2009-11).

“I was young,” says Meyer. “I needed to go to school. I needed to learn how to be on my own a little bit and to grow as a baseball player.”

He grew in the game while also adding three inches to his stature in three seasons. He was about 6-foot-6 when he left high school and 6-9 at the end of his college days.

“It was about an inch every year,” says Meyer. “It kept me busy trying to stay accustomed to my body to try to learn how it moved.

“Being tall, you want to use that to your advantage. You want to have that good plane on your fastball.”

He pitched from a three-quarter arm slot at Kentucky and was a lower three-quarter at the end of his pro career.

With Gary Henderson as his head coach and Brad Bohannon his pitching coach, Meyer appeared in 39 games for UK (36 as a starter) and went 13-12 with a 4.73 ERA and 253 strikeouts in 211 2/3 innings.

Meyer says standing on the mound for the Wildcats and facing batters in the Southeastern Conference helped him develop mental toughness.

“I had to learn how to deal with a little big of failure and stay positive,” says Meyer. “That was a huge part of it for me.”

Ride Along With Alex Meyer (Angels Weekly Video)
Alex Meyer, a Greensburg (Ind.) High School graduated pitched in Major League Baseball with the Minnesota Twins followed by the Los Angeles Angels. (Los Angeles Angels Photo)

Gaura stresses competitive environment for Evansville Purple Aces pitchers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Gaura wants his to focus on what his University of Evansville baseball pitchers do best and let the rest take care of itself.

“It’s not about the hitter or the umpire,” says Gaura, heads into his third season in 2020-21. “It’s competing against ourselves.

“We’ve got to be competitive with two to three pitches and try not to over-think it.”

The Aces are beginning their fourth week of team practice after four weeks focused on individuals that missed much of their spring season (Evansville played just 16 games when play was halted in March) and summer to COVID-19. 

“We’re getting them into a competitive environment as much as possible,” says Gaura. “Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we’re treating like a weekend series.”

That means starters are going four or five innings and relievers two our three. The goal is to have each arm get 18 to 20 innings by the end of fall ball.

After team practice, the plan is to go back to a week or two of individual training before Thanksgiving break.

As a COVID-19 measure, students will turn to online classes and testing and not come back to practice until the beginning of 2021. Baseball players will re-assemble in the middle of January — about a month before the start of the season.

“It’s going to be a big challenge this year,” says Gaura. “We’ll rely on guys to get in work on their own.”

Gaura (pronounced Gore-uh) is also UE’s recruiting coordinator. Because of the virus, there have not been many opportunities to see players perform in-person or have face-to-face meetings.

“It’s definitely a strange time,” says Gaura. “We work the phones to build relationships.”

That’s when coaches can get a sense of a potential recruit’s character.

Evansville’s campus is currently open to visitors who must go through a sign-in process. Academic tours are available.

Gaura is on an Aces coaching staff headed by Wes Carroll.

“Wes is an awesome guy to work for,” says Gaura, 28. “He brings energy every single day.

“He gives his assistants a lot of autonomy. He focuses on the culture of the program and allows us to coach the skill aspects of baseball. It’s a great work environment.”

From 2016-18, Gaura was at Mississippi State University, where he served as graduate assistant video coordinator, coordinator of player development and volunteer assistant/camp coordinator and headed up on-campus recruiting was responsible for the organization of all on-campus recruiting, the scholarship and recruiting database and video needs for both player development and advanced scouting. 

During Gaura’s stay in Starkville, Gary Henderson was an MSU assistant then head coach. Henderson began his college coaching career in the late 1980’s.

Gaura gleaned much from the veteran coach about the intricacies of running a pitching staff and program on a day-to-day basis.

“He took me under his wing and taught me the dynamics of working with the coaches and players,” says Gaura. “With his experience, there’s so much that can be learned from him.”

As a 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher, Gaura spent two seasons at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs and two at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn. 

Playing for head coach Marc Rardin, Gaura was 17-1 and helped IWCC to an National Junior College Athletic Association Division I national championship in 2012.

“It was so much more than baseball for Coach Rardin,” says Gaura. “He was teaching us life lessons. 

“I hope I can have half the impact on our guys as he had on me and my teammates.”

Gaura reflects on the JUCO experience.

“It’s not for everybody,” says Gaura. “Guys understand that it’s just a stepping stone piece. 

“You’re working to win while you’re there. But you’re also working because you want to find your next home.”

At Austin Peay, he went 4-2 as a starter then a reliever in 2013 and 2014. His head coach as a APSU player was Gary McClure. He then became a volunteer coach for Travis Janssen.

The program was coming off two regional finals appearances when Austin Peay went to the Governors.

“I wanted to carry on winning ways (experienced at Iowa Western),” says Gaura. “After being around the guys, I knew that was the place for me.”

Gaura cites Janssen for his organization skills.

“He did a really good job of laying out what are jobs were as assistant coaches,” says Gaura. “There was no gray area at all.”

Laura prides himself of being organized with his Evansville pitchers.

“Having my guys know what to expect every day they show up to the field breeds confidence,” says Gaura. “They know exactly what’s expected of them. 

“They’re not showing up to the ballpark wondering. That way they can be mentally prepared when they get to the yard.”

Gaura is a 2010 graduate of Bay Port High School in Suamico, Wis. — just north of Green Bay. Playing for head coach Mike Simoens, he helped the Pirates to a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 state champions state title in 2009 and was a Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association all-star in 2010.

Given the frosty temperatures in northeast Wisconsin, Gaura learned how to get better on the diamond from April to August and what it means to train indoors. His first travel ball came in the summer before his senior year at Bay Port. Before that, he played American Legion Baseball.

“It was a very pure baseball experience,” says Gaura, who has five players from Wisconsin and two from Canada on the Evansville roster. “What I know we’re getting there is blue collar kids from good families. 

“Their best days are ahead of them. They find ways to eliminate the excuse of not being able to go outside for long toss. It’s about being creative. If you are really committed to getting better, there’s a million ways you can get your work in.”

While he does not have any camps scheduled and can see more and more virtual meetings in the future, Gaura was able to attend the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics event Oct, 17 at Bosse Field in Evansville. Former Purples Aces head coach Jim Brownlee came out to share with the audience.

Gaura is engaged to Rachel Parrish and a wedding is planned for Dec. 5 in Orange Beach, Ala. The couple met when Gaura was coaching at Mississippi State.

A conversation with A.J. Gaura (Aces Insider Video)
A.J. Gaura enters his third season as a University of Evansville (Ind.) baseball assistant in 2020-21. He is the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Purple Aces. (University of Evansville Photo)

Baseball, friendship has Leyva assisting Bair at Anderson U.

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Carlos Leyva’s baseball connection to Matt Bair goes back more than two decades.

Leyva and Bair were Babe Ruth teammates in Anderson, Ind., at 13, 14 and 15. Rudy Mannie was the head coach. Leyva was mostly an outfielder and Bair a middle infielder.

In high school ball, Leyva represented the Phil Nikirk-coached Madison Heights Pirates while Bair was nearby with Terry Turner’s Anderson Indians. Both players graduated in 1995.

Leyva, Bair and Mannie were reunited when Bair became the head coach at Anderson Highland High School with Leyva and Mannie as assistants.

“It was cool to see that come full circle,” says Leyva of he and Bair getting to coach with a boyhood mentor in Mannie. “He was a big influence in both our lives.”

Madison Heights and Highland have since been consolidated into Anderson High.

After serving four seasons (2004-07) as a Scots junior varsity coach on the staff of Highland head coach Jason Stecher (current to Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School and son of long-time Highland head coach Bob Stecher, who retired with more than 500 victories), Leyva was a varsity assistant for three years with Bair (2008-10).

So it was a natural when Bair took over as head baseball coach at Anderson University that he’d reach out to his friend.

“We really hit it off (at Highland) then he asked me to come with him to AU,” says Leyva. “We were getting the band back together.”

The 2020 Anderson season – though it was shortened to nine games because of the COVID-19 pandemic — was the third on Leyva with the Ravens.

His duties include working with outfielders, base running and assisting Bair with hitters. He also coaches first base when AU is at the plate.

Leyva has keys for his outfielders.

“The most important thing we can do is re-direct the ball back to the infield,” says Leyva. “We can shut down the other team’s offense.

“We focus on three goals at all times — keep the double play in order, limit the offense to one base at a time and with balls in the ground we’re 100 percent (no errors).”

The stolen base is a major part of Ravens baseball.

“We got progressively better as we implemented our system,” says Leyva. “We take pride in our base running.

“In a game where the defense has the ball we can take some control back on offense. We’re constantly studying what the game is giving us to see where we can find an advantage.”

Anderson, a member of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, swiped 105 bases in 45 games in 2018. Once Leyva and Bair had their system in place, the team lost to one of the more prolific teams in NCAA Division III, pilfering 109 in 37 games in 2019 and heisting 42 in nine contests in 2020.

“As a rule of thumb, the entire team has the green light,” says Leyva. “We live on those opportunities we’re creating.”

Bair runs the overall hitting system, including small group work in practice. Leyva spends time on the offensive side the outfielders.

“Our staff at AU is affluent in the game of baseball,” says Leyva of a group that also features Brandon Schnepp, John Becker, Jeff Freeman, Zach Barnes and Nate McKeon. “We dip our toes into each other’s pools at times.

“We have a rather large staff for a college team. That’s a testament to Bair and local guys who love the game and know what’s going on. Opinions and input is always welcome.”

Prior to joining the Ravens, Leyva spent seven seasons as an an assistant at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School (2011-17) under two Arabians head coaches — two years with Bill Stoudt and five with Travis Keesling. The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh.

“That was awesome, spending time in the dugout with a Hall of Famer,” says Leyva of his experience with Indiana High school Baseball Coaches Association enshrinee Stoudt.

Leyva says Keesling’s ability to leverage the abilities of his coaching staff is one of his strengths.

“He had a football mentality with position coaches,” says Leyva. “He let the infield guy be the infield guy (and so on). He took over that managerial role of figuring out how to best put those pieces together.

“You see staffs being put together that way all over the country. He was early to that concept.”

Leyva fondly looks back on his days playing at Madison Heights for Nikirk (who is now secondary school principal at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis).

“He was really big on personal responsibility and accountability and was really fair,” says Leyva. “He gave the guys opportunities.

“Those are qualities I’ve carried forward in my coaching career.”

Leyva has also coached travel baseball. He was co-founder and a head coach of the Indiana Magic in 2011-12 and was an assistant to Ryan Bunnell with Indiana Bulls 16U in 2013, Mike Farrell with the Indiana Outlaws (an organization started by Jay Hundley which is now part of Evoshield Canes Midwest) in 2014 and Mike Hitt with the Indiana Blue Jays 2015-17.

The Magic was comprised of players from Madison and surrounding counties and won 60 games in two summers.

Besides leading a Bulls team, Bunnell is also head coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School.

Farrell, who played at Indiana State University, is a veteran instructor and a scouting supervisor for the Kansas City Royals.

“That may have been as much fun as I’ve had in baseball.” says Leyva of his time coaching the Blue Jays. “We were a single (18U) team. The roster was all guys committed to playing college baseball at a high level and there were no egos.

“We just had a blast playing really good baseball. We were like 60-5 in three years.”

Thomas Hall, Leyva’s nephew, was on each of those travel teams. The Pendleton Heights graduate was selected for the 2015 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Terre Haute and played at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill.

After graduating from Madison Heights, Leyva attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for two years then transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington. He majored in Computer Information Systems and is a 2000 graduate of IU’s Kelley School of Business and has worked since 2008 for IBM as a System Storage Enterprise Client Technical Specialist.

Carlos and Julie Leyva have three children — fourth grader Mia (10), second grader Izzy (8) and kindergartener Cruz (7). Julie is on the front lines of the pandemic as a nurse practitioner.

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Carlos Leyva has been an assistant baseball coach at Anderson (Ind.) University since the 2018 season. (Anderson University Photo)

 

Northwest Indiana adult baseball league lets men continue to play boys’ game

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fun, camaraderie and competition is on display at diamonds around The Region when the men of the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league come to play the game they enjoyed as boys.

Line drives and laughter filled the air Aug. 3 as the league gathered at Robertsdale Complex — home of Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League — in Whiting for the NWINBA’s 16th annual all-star game.

Hours before teams managed by Luis Gonzalez and Geovanny DeJesus took the field, a home run derby was staged. Twenty-one players entered for $10 each. Danny Garcia of the Brewers took the $210 first prize, besting Theo Owens of the Cubs in a five-pitch swing-off.

The league, established in 2003 by Steve Carpenter, is for players 28-and-over but there is a plus-3 rule that allows for three players per team that must turn 25 by the start of the season.

The oldest player in the league in 2019 is the Yankees’ Hector Tellez, 63. He joined the Diamondbacks in the loop’s second season while working in East Chicago. Mike Bochenek and Wally Bochenek were in the league then and still are playing. He now travels from his home in Coal City, Ill., which is more than 60 miles from Whiting.

“This league has developed so much since it began,” says Tellez. “We’ve all improved — myself included.

“I’m fortunate to be on the field with so many good players.”

The season goes from late April through September. This year, there are 18 regular-season games plus playoffs. Most contests are on the weekends, but there are some Wednesday night games.

“We’ve played just about any place in northwest Indiana,” says NWINABA president Astros player Jeramy Ortiz. The main fields this season have been at Robertsale, Dyer Babe Ruth, Kenny Lofton Field in East Chicago and Heartland Park in St. John. Each team plays two games at U.S. Steel Yard, home of the independent professional Gary SouthShore RailCats.

Teams used Major League Baseball names and wear replica jerseys. The 2019 NWINABA sports 210 players that come northwest Indiana, Chicagoland and the South Bend area and features the Astros, A’s, Brewers, Cubs, Mariners, Marlins, Nationals, Pirates, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees.

By league choice, players swing BBCOR metal or wood bats.

Ortiz is in his ninth NWINABA season. Why does he play?

“I love baseball,” says Ortiz, who is 38 and lives in Munster. “I played in high school (at Hammond Bishop Noll for Craig Pavlina and Doug Ferry Jr.) and college (at Muscatine Community College in Iowa and Culver-Stockton College in Missouri) and was looking for something different than softball.

“It’s Little League for adults. We have players who played just played Little League to guys who played in the pros.”

There are a number of former college players, including those from NCAA Division I schools.

Pitching varies widely.

“There are guys who bring it and those who use control and junk,” says Ortiz.

Will Lanter, 45, is manager of the Mariners and in his 10th season.

“I don’t want to give up the game yet,” says Lanter. “This is family. It’s friends.”

Many games feature full bleachers. There are cookouts on Father’s Day weekend. Little League players come out and watch the older generation.

Like Ortiz, Lanter is involved at Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth. They have helped with field maintenance, fundraisers and more.

“We need to keep the program going,” says Lanter of the youth league. “Without these programs, these kids have nowhere to go.”

In his 10th season, Mike Gerlach, 53, lives in Crown Point and is Red Sox manager. He is a former youth coach. He once coached his son, Mitchell, and now father and son are teammates. Mike’s brother, Keith, also plays for the team.

“It’s one big family in this league,” says Mike Gerlach.

Kyle Hon, 28, resides in Cedar Lake and is manager of the Mariners. This is his third NWINABA campaign. He is a Lake Central High School graduate. He did not play baseball for LC, but has been involved with travel ball or town ball since age 5. He played in a now-defunct adult league in Crown Point.

“I love the game,” says Hon. “I want to play until Father Time tells me I can’t.”

Ken Henriott, 43, played for legendary LaPorte High School coach Ken Schreiber.

“He was probably the best coach in the country,” says Henriott of the man inducted into 13 different halls of fame.

Henriott played for Schreiber’s Slicers and then at Southwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University.

In his first season in the league and an all-star representing the Yankees, Henriott enjoys playing in front of his two children.

“It means a lot to me,” says Henriott. “They get to see what they couldn’t see back in the day.

“I’m a pitcher and I can still hang with these guys. You always keep the batter guessing. It goes back to the basics. You use your fastball and change-up and then the curveball or slider.

“It’s the pitcher against the hitter — always. It’s a chess game. It’s tough to fool these guys. They’re all good players.”

Luis Gonzalez, 35, is manager of the Yankees. The Hammond resident is in his third season in the league. He played at George Washington High School in Chicago.

“I like this league because it caters to older players,” says Gonzalez. “I can’t keep up with the high school kids.

“It’s competitive and a lot of fun.”

Gonzalez says adult baseball for someone married with children is ruled by two things.

“It’s what you’re family is willing to let you do and if your body can keep it up,” says Gonzalez.

Chris Evans, 32, lives in Hammond and is manager of the Nationals. He is in his fourth NWINABA season.

He entered the league as White Sox infielder, managed the Diamondbacks for one season then spent the off-season recruiting players for the Nationals.

“Last year we had a pretty good team,” says Evans, who currently skippers an 8-5 squad.

Ortiz says the league is looking to expand and may create a 38-and-over division in 2020. The NABA, headquartered in Littleton, Colo., allows for flexibility in local leagues and sponsors events for various age divisions, including 50-and-over, 60-and-over and 65-plus.

For more information on the Northwest Indiana League, email NWINABABaseball@gmail.com.

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James Frasure (Cubs) swings for the fences during the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Theo Owens (Cubs) competes the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. Danny Garcia (Brewers) beat Owens in the finals. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Derrick Goad (Tigers) smack the ball during the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeremy Ortiz (Astros) gets loose for the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star game Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)LUISGONZALEZCHRISEVANSNWINABA

Luis Gonzalez (Yankees) and Chris Evans (Nationals) consult prior to the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The patch for the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star game Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league has a close relationship with the Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League and held its all-star festivities Aug. 3 at Robertsdale Complex in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeramy Ortiz (Astros) is president of the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league.

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The Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league held its all-star festivities Aug. 3 at Robertsdale Complex in Whiting. (NWINABA Photo)