BY STEVE KRAH
Bob Haney grew up during a time when baseball thrived on the near east side of Indianapolis.
Through his efforts with the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and as head coach at Arsenal Technical High School, he is working to raise the talent level and expectations around Indy and beyond.
With mentors and coaches like his father, Robert Haney (a Baptist minister), and John Gannon, Bob began playing and learning the game at Christian Park. He went on to be the only sophomore on an all-senior squad when Tech had 5,000 students.
Haney’s high school coaches were Dave George (father of former NFL quarterback Jeff George) and Ivan Moorman.
Flash forward more than three decades, and 1981 Tech graduate Haney saw that his alma mater — a school with an enrollment around 3,000 — did not have enough players to field a baseball team.
That was three years ago.
“The program completely fell part,” says Haney, who became Titans head coach for the 2018 season. “We’re on a mission to turn the program back around.”
It took until February 2018 with Haney teaching basic fundamentals for Tech to go forward with their schedule.
Haney says the numbers of players in the inner-city began to go down when District 7 Little League parks closed and the youngsters in those district were not exposed to organized baseball.
RBI, which counts Haney as baseball director is overseen by the Play Ball Indiana board.
The organization had 60 players — five teams of 12 each — playing on Sundays in 2011.
In 2018, there were more than 1,700 players (baseball and softball) participating with teams under the RBI umbrella, including those in high school baseball and in the RBI Sunday Showcase.
Started more than 20 years ago by men in New Palestine, Ind., the Sunday Showcase provides an extra chance to play and gives all-star teams the opportunity to prepare for tournaments.
The founders handed it off to some coaches in Zionsville, Ind., who then turned the reins over to Haney.
“They bring the communities to us,” says Haney. “Knightstown, Zionsville and Franklin are three that come to us every year.
“They bring us equipment and our parents don’t have to pay travel expenses. Our teams are getting better.”
There are four main RBI parks in Indianapolis — Christian, Forest Manor, Garfield and Rhodius. Efforts are being made to bring Riverside into the mix.
Haney says Forest Manor Park sat empty for seven years before RBI got involved and now serves more than 300 ball-playing kids.
“It’s packed now,” says Haney. “There’s an awful lot of activity.
“Kids would not be playing if it were not for the RBI program.”
Looking at the players coming up through RBI that are about to reach high school age, Haney sees a bright future at Tech as well as other places.
“The program is paying off,” says Haney, who has been instructing younger kids on Sundays.
Baseball and the community are also getting a shot in the arm with the launch of The BASE Indy, which will be headquartered in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood near Forest Manor Park.
The BASE Indy plans to stage its Urban Classic in early July. An RBI Super Regional is slated for late July at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
There are four Indianapolis Public Schools high schools running now and three have a baseball teams in 2019 — Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks and Shortridge. Washington does did not field a team this spring.
None of those schools have a baseball diamond on their campuses. Tech shares Forest Manor Park with Attucks, Purdue Poly (a team with just freshmen and sophomores in 2019) and Tindley. Shortridge is at Arlington Park.
Of the other inner-city schools in Indianapolis, Manual has its own field while Irvington Prep Academy plays at Irvington Park while Providence Cristo Rey and Herron are at Rhodius Park. Howe did not have a baseball team this spring.
Haney is a production associate at the Honda plant in Greensburg, Ind. He is out the door most weekdays a little after 5 a.m. and begins work at 6:30. He is able to burn off his days off in two-hour increments and will leave two hours early at 1 p.m. during the baseball season.
He coaches the Arsenal Tech team then checks on the doings at the RBI parks.
“I love what I’m doing,” says Haney. “I feel like we’ve got things going in the right direction.
“There’s lot of work to do in the inner-city, but we’re looking to move RBI program statewide. Everybody wants to be a part of what we’re doing.”
Haney says Scottsburg and Muncie are two communities that have shown an interest in RBI.
At Arsenal Tech, Haney is assisted by Danny Turner, Stacy Fields, James Garmany and volunteers Warren Belton and Roger Rebeneck. Turner is a Howe graduate who runs the Indiana Styx travel organization. Fields and Garmany are Tech teachers. Fields is also an assistant varsity basketball coach at the school. Belton does many things in the RBI system, including umpiring. Rebeneck assists the most during the summer and fall months.
Arsenal Tech (enrollment around 3,000) is a member of the North Central Conference (with Anderson, Harrison of West Lafayette, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).
“We’re in an extremely tough conference,” says Haney. “The kids are getting to play in a lot of really neat places.”
The Titans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Indianapolis Cathedral, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, New Palestine and Warren Central. Tech’s lone sectional title came in 1970.
Most of the 2019 Tech squad is expected back for 2020.
Haney and wife Karri have four grown children — Jennifer, Robert Edward, Jeremiah and Jay. Karri Haney has battled breast cancer. Jay Haney played baseball at Warren Central and Perry Meridian high schools and for Vincennes University’s first Junior College World Series qualifier.
Bob Haney and Scott Kehl reunite on the same field at Christian Park in Indianapolis where they played as boys decades before. Haney is active in baseball at head coach at Arsenal Technical High School and baseball director for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI).
The 2018 Arsenal Tech Titans baseball team.