Tag Archives: Pony Baseball

Lafayette’s McNeil has Aviators in thick of pennant chase

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With players coming and going and roles constantly changing during the 2017 summer collegiate wood bat baseball season, Brent McNeil has kept the Lafayette Aviators in the Prospect League playoff hunt.

McNeil, a 2007 Lafayette Jefferson High School graduate and the only head coach the Aviators have had in their two seasons of existence, took his squad into play July 29 and with eight regular-season contests remaining, West-leading Lafayette was 30-22 and two games ahead of Terre Haute.

The Prospect League, which debuted in 2009, includes two divisions in 2017 — Lafayette, Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Quincy (Ill.) and Springfield (Ill.) in the West with Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.), West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

The 60-game season, wood bats and strong competition gives players a taste for professional baseball. Some thrive and others see that the grind is too much for them.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 (the current Aviators roster features players with hometowns in 13 states and Puerto Rico). Mostly because of injuries, there has been plenty of movement for the Aviators throughout the summer.

“You really have to watch out for warning signs of injuries, take care of them and make sure (pitchers) are not throwing too many pitches in one inning,” says McNeil, who played Eastern Illinois University and recently recently hired as the pitching coach at Quincy (Ill.) University after past two spring seasons on the coaching staff at the University of North Florida and director of baseball operations at Indiana State University prior to that.

There is no disabled list in the PL. Players are either on the roster or they are released. It’s up to the teams to find replacements.

“I can’t count how many times the roster has changed since I started putting it together in the fall,” says McNeil, who enlisted the help of second-year assistant Ryan Dineen in building the Aviators. “Having college contacts is huge. Some players have reached out, but I’ve mostly relied on his own contacts. There are coaches I’ve known over the years and trust.”

The old saying in baseball is you can never have too much pitching and that really rings true in summer collegiate baseball, where injuries and innings limits keep mound staffs continually morphing.

“(Working with) pitchers is tough,” says McNeil. “The top 1, 2 and 3 (starters on college teams) are either shut down for the summer or go to Cape Cod or the Northwoods (leagues). I believe we began the summer with about nine starters (and now have seven).

“We’re still trying to establish roles at this point in the season. At any moment, you could lose that guy. You have to find more guys and figure out where they fit in.”

Caleb Sleeman fit the bill July 23 when the Michigan State University right-hander threw the franchise’s first no-hitter in a 12-0 win against Kokomo.

With so many talented players and so much playing time, McNeil makes it a point to do something constructive with his bench players on a daily basis — maybe extra time in the batting cage.

College baseball players try to put on muscle in the weight room during the summer.

“It’s real hard when you’re playing six days a week,” says McNeil.

Loeb Stadium next to the Columbian Park Zoo is the Aviators’ home field. McNeil played his high school baseball there and was with the Lafayette Lightning in the Colt World Series after coming up through the Pony Baseball Leagues at Lafayette’s Armstrong Park. He was a Prospect League player for the former Slippery Rock (Pa.) franchise.

Dineen, who serves as hitting, infield and third base coach for Lafayette, played at Andrean High School for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur then at Eastern Illinois University for Jim Schmitz. He played two seasons as an infielder in the Houston Astros system and has served on the coaching staff at McKendree University.

Parker Osborne replaced Dan Peterson as an Aviators assistant during the season.

Osborne, a former Southern Illinois University outfielder, has been an assistant at Western Illinois University.

Peterson pitched at Indiana State and went to Iowa to pursue a junior college coaching opportunity.

The Aviators are operated through MKE Sports & Entertainment, the same group that runs the rival Kokomo Jackrabbits.

LAFAYETTEAVIATORS

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Lafayette gearing up for another Colt World Series

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Youth baseball and community pride will again be on display when the 2017 Colt World Series makes its appearance Aug. 4-9 in Lafayette.

The championship of Pony Baseball for ages 15-16 will bring 10 zone-winning teams from around the globe together to enjoy moments on the Loeb Stadium field and off.

“It’s a community event,” says Tim Clark, president of Lafayette Colt Tournaments, Inc., the 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization which helps put the spotlight on a Tippecanoe County, Indiana, town has been home to the event  in every year but one since 1969. “People have grown up around the Colt World Series.”

A small volunteer army makes things go. Besides Clark, the executive board features Ryan Johnson (vice president of Colt World Series Relations), Connie Basham (VP of Community Relations), Gus Marin (VP of Logistics), Lynn Clark Secretary (secretary of Communications) and Angie Franklin (treasurer of Fundraising). Steve Miller is Pony Tournament Director. There are also plenty of committee members.

All players — up to 18 per team — will stay with area host families. Coaches, umpires (four per game) and others will be housed in Lafayette hotels.

“One hundred eighty players are here for a week to enjoy the festivities, the community and Lafayette,” says Clark, who adds that it is common for 3,000 fans to pack into Loeb — located next to Columbian Park Zoo — for the final games of each session of the double-elimination tournament.

Games, which will be streamed by MTC Sports Network and broadcast by some Comcast outlets in the Midwest, are played by Major League Baseball rules. Players are permitted to use wood bats but most choose to swing metal.

All those baseball fans will be lodging, dining and shopping in Lafayette during their stay.

To measure the Colt World Series’ economic impact, a company was hired a few years ago to due an audit. Clark says $1.2 million came back to the community.

“The average person spends $4,000 while they’re here in town for a week,” says Clark. “It’s a total community event. The money we raise stays here in Lafayette.”

More years than not, the Colt World Series brings in enough of a profit for the organization to make a contribution to Lafayette Parks & Recreation.

Clark estimates there are around 12,000 Colt teams worldwide with about 50 in Indiana, mostly from the Lafayette, Terre Haute and Evansville areas. To make the CWS, teams have to make it though sectional, regional and zone tournaments.

Zones to be represented this year will U.S. North, U.S. South, U.S. East and U.S. West,  Asian Pacific, Caribbean, European and Mexico. As hosts, the Lafayette All-Stars will participate. The winner of the Harry Bradway qualifying tournament (Hoosier North, Hoosier South, Lafayette Lightning or Rossville) will also earn a Colt World Series berth.

Broadcaster Bradway and teacher/coach John Eberle helped bring the CWS to Lafayette after observing the tournament in Shawnee, Okla., in 1968.

Bradway, who is in his late 90’s, was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002.

Except for 1972 when it was held in Tampa, Fla., the event has been played at Loeb Stadium (dedicated as Columbian Park Recreational Center in 1940 and home to several teams and events including the IHSAA State Finals in 1974, 1975 and 2005).

The first Colt World Series was staged in Ferry, Ohio, in 1953. Lafayette teams have hoisted the championship trophy four times (1977, 1992, 1999, 2000).

Plans call for the 2018 CWS to expand to 12 teams — six U.S. and six international. Japan is to send a team as is Puerto Rico (which is now included the Caribbean zone).

 

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Loeb Stadium in Lafayette, Ind., is home of the Colt World Series for baseball players ages 15-16. The 10-team event for 2017 is slated for Aug. 4-9. (Steve Krah Photo)