By STEVE KRAH
Jeremy Payton took over the baseball program at alma mater Paoli (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School on the second day of official practice in 2022 and was soon coaching the Rams in games.
As the 1994 Paoli graduate approaches his second season in 2023, Payton has been able to actually prepare.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to break things down,” says Payton. “We’re way ahead of the curve.
“We’re already way ahead of where we were last year. I didn’t know where kids played when I took over.”
Players — mostly pitchers — who are not involved in basketball have been attending IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions and preparing their arms and bodies for the season.
“They been throwing 30 to 45 minutes two days a week,” says Payton. “They come in tired from doing weights and conditioning.”
The first official day of IHSAA practice is March 13.
Coming back to high school baseball Payton had to familiarize himself with 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). When he last coached the limit was based on innings.
“That was definitely learning curve last year,” says Payton. “The kids didn’t have the endurance and the ability to cover more than 40 or 50 pitches early and that was different than what I was used to.”
Payton’s coaching staff includes varsity assistant Jeremy Reynolds, volunteer Davis Minton (Class of 2020) and junior varsity coach Ashton Minton (Class of 2019).
In a group of about 24 players for varsity and junior varsity squads, there are three seniors and eight or nine freshmen.
Among returnees is junior Trey Rominger, who only struck out three times in 65 plate appearances while hitting .327 with a .431 on-base percentage, in 2022 has been drawing college interest. He is already the school’s all-time leading rusher in football.
There are also a number of travel ball players.
“We’ve got a lot of good things coming,” says Payton. “It’s just a matter of getting all the pieces in the right spot.”
Aron Busick (Class of 2020) is on the baseball team at Oakland City (Ind.) University.
Paoli (enrollment around 400) is a member of the Patoka Lake Athletic Conference (with Crawford County, Mitchell, Orleans, Perry Central, Springs Valley and West Washington).
The Rams are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Clarksville, Crawford County, Eastern (Pekin) and Providence. Paoli has won eight sectional titles — the last in 1995.
Paoli plays on Trinkle Field (named for Ken Trinkle, who pitched in 216 big league games for the New York Giants in 1943, 1946-48 and Philadelphia Phillies in 1949).
As a U.S. Army Corporal during World War II, Trinkle saw action in the “Battle of the Bulge” and was awarded a Bronze Star.
The on-campus facility recently got upgrades to sod, dirt and warning track and an updated seating area and locker room. The old press box was torn down and a storage room was put in its place.
As a feeder system there is Paoli Youth Diamond Sports (T-ball to 12U) and a school-affiliated junior high program for Grades 6-8. That team has 18 games scheduled April 4-May 22 with home dates at Trinkle Field. The team plays PLAC and non-conference opponents.
Payton’s baseball coach at Paoli was Tom Stuckwisch.
“He was a mentor,” says Payton of Stuckwisch. “He was our baseball coach, math teacher and assistant football coach.
“He was easy to approach. He was very laid-back.
“You didn’t have to make the game real complicated. Just go out and play and relax. Do the little things right and good things happen.”
During Payton’s prep career, the Rams were won about three quarters of their games. The 1993 team won a sectional then lost to Jasper and Scott Rolen in the regional. The 1994 team — ranked among the state’s Top 20 — was edged 2-1 by Springs Valley in the sectional championship game.
Payton graduated from the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.
He moved back to town in 2000 and was a Rams baseball assistant for four years in the mid-2000’s on the staffs of John Hahn and Kyle DeSpain.
Hahn played baseball at Butler University in Indianapolis. DeSpain holds the Hanover (Ind.) College single-season record for doubles with 25 in 2001.
After his baseball stint, Payton served as head softball coach at Paoli through 2012.
Outside of coaching, he is an independent financial advisor in town. Jeremy and wife Marci have two children — Addie (13) and Collier (9) — in Paoli schools.
“My son loves baseball,” says Payton. “He’s been coming to practices and throwing and hitting.”