Tag Archives: Prep Baseball Report

Keeran to manage Lafayette Aviators at new Loeb Stadium in ’21

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Corn is not involved. But there’s a kind of a reverse “Field of Dreams” thing going on in Lafayette, Ind.

“If You Build It, He Will Come” — in this case — refers to Michael Keeran.

A new Loeb Stadium is being built for the Lafayette Aviators baseball team. After discussions with owner Bill Davidson, Iowa native Keeran has been named as field manager for 2021.

Keeran, a 2012 graduate of Clear Lake (Iowa) High School and the holder of two degrees from Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa (a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Masters in Organizational Leadership with a Sport Management emphasis), welcomes the chance to bring his wife closer to family while also moving up in the baseball world.

“My wife is from Centralia, Ill.,” says Keeran. “I’ve coached near by hometown the past couple summers. (With the Aviators,) I get to coach in a very good league and I get two birds with one stone.”

Michael and Kaitlin Keeran are expecting their first child in December. Centralia is 220 miles from Lafayette and Kaitlin will be able to spend time there and also visit her husband.

“I always wanted to go to a bigger league. It’ll be a brand new stadium and a very good franchise. I thought it would be a good fit.”

The Prospect League is a 14-team college wooden bat summer circuit with teams in Indiana (Lafayette Aviators and Terre Haute Rex), Illinois (Alton River Dragons, Danville Dans, DuPage Pistol Shrimp, Normal CornBelters, Quincy Gems and Springfield Sliders), Ohio (Champion City Kings and Chillicothe Paints), Missouri (Cape Catfish and O’Fallon Hoots), Pennsylvania (Johnstown Mill Rats) and West Virginia (West Virginia Miners).

While 2021 Aviators assistant coaches have been consulted, the official word of their hiring is yet to come.

Keeran managed Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2018 and 2019 — the Albert Lea (Minn.) Lakers followed by the Bancroft (Iowa) Bandits.

After one season as an assistant at Valley City (N.D.) State University (NAIA), Keeran became head coach at Bismarck (N.D.) State College (National Junior College Athletic Association Division II) for the 2020 season. The Mystics had played two games and were in Arizona to play 10 or 11 more when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to be halted.

“We were on a bus for 60 or 70 hours,” says Keeran. “It was awful.

“It’s tough to tell a bunch of young men that their season is over and it has nothing to do with wins or losses.”

While they could have taken an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Keeran encouraged his second-year players from 2020 to take their associate degrees and go to a four-year school.

“It’s not ethically right to hold on to those sophomores,” says Keeran. “I didn’t see the point. You’ve got your degree, now move on.

“We have a very new group (in 2020-21) and we’re very talented.”

With players taking a hybrid class schedule (some in-person and some online), Bismarck State played  few games this fall against four-year schools.

“We treated it like a test for what it’s going to be like in the spring with temperature checks and protocols,” says Keeran.

As a outfielder and pitcher, Keeran played four seasons at Waldorf while also beginning his coaching career. 

Since high school baseball in Iowa is a summer sport, Keeran was able to play college ball and be on the Clear Lake coaching staff for four seasons (2013-16) and helped the Lions win three state titles (2013 in 3A, 2015 in 2A and 2016 in 2A).

“It was pretty cool to be coach at a young age and be mentored,” says Keeran. “Baseball should be played in the summer when it’s warm. That’s why I like coaching in the summer.

“It feels so authentic.”

Keeran says a typical high school gameday would involve batting practice and field preparation around 1 p.m. and the players would come back for a 5:30 p.m. junior varsity game, followed by the varsity.

“It gives kids a chance to work morning jobs in the summer and they don’t have to worry about the stress of class,” says Keeran. “It gives athletes a chance to do other sports. One of my best friends was a four-sport athlete (football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer).”

While the pandemic wiped out high school baseball last spring in Indiana, there was season in Iowa. Four 2020 state champions were crowned Aug. 1 in Des Moines. 

In 2021, the Iowa High School Athletic Association has set the first practice date for May 3 with first of 40 allowed contest dates May 24 and state tournament concluding July 31. Showcase leagues ran by Prep Baseball Report and Perfect Game are typically conducted in the spring.

The 2020 baseball season was the first for head coach Michael Keeran at Bismarck (N.D.) State College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II school. In the summer of 2021, he is to manage the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Bismarck State College Photo)
Michael Keeran, a graduate of Clear Lake High School and Waldorf University in Iowa and the head coach at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, has been named field manager for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League in 2021. (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

Rawlings Tigers South Bend serving travel players from northern Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Looking to provide opportunities for development and exposure in elite travel baseball tournaments while keeping area players in the area, a group of coaches established a Rawlings Tigers outlet in South Bend, Ind.

Coached by Scott Quinn, Kevin Putz and Jason Robbins, the Rawlings Tigers 16U South Bend team participated in five tournaments in its initial season of 2020. The team won the Perfect Game Baseball Association Mid-American Classic. The squad plays mostly in Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report events, many of which are invitation-only.

Quinn, who once owned the South Bend Bandits travel organization, decided to affiliate with the Rawlings Tigers — a group with teams in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Southern Indiana and 27 other states — for name recognition and a commitment to top-flight training and competition, which is part of the Rawlings Tigers culture.

“We were tired of seeing players head to Indianapolis to play in bigger tournaments,” says Quinn, who played at South Bend Riley High School, graduating in 1995, and Spoon River College in Canton, Ill. “We all believe in the practice aspect instead of just show up-and-play the games.

“We wanted the same experience the kids in the Indy area have.”

That means off-season training and the opportunity to build team chemistry since the ideal Rawlings Tigers South Bend roster has no more than 14 and no pitch-only players on the roster and players have multiple responsibilities.

“We’re looking for kids who can play both ways,” says Quinn. “You don’t get better at playing this game by watching it. You get better by playing it

“(Players) need to be on the field and participating in every aspect of the game.”

The Rawlings Tigers South Bend’s roster consists of northern Indiana players. 

“Most of our kids know each other off the baseball field,” says Quinn. “We have an abundance of high schools in a small area.

“It all seems to mesh really well.”

There is an emphasis on hustle and unity as well as workouts.

“Effort and team can beat talent any day of the week,” says Quinn. “We tend to practice more than most (travel) teams.

“We’re looking for players that are really committed and want to take that next step. We expect a lot of our players. They must maintain at least a 3.3 GPA. The amount of work we put it is second to none.”

A group tryout for next season was already held at Mishawaka (Ind.) High School. Quinn says individual tryouts can be scheduled.

With many multi-sport athletes, Rawlings Tigers South Bend preseason baseball and strength workouts begin in December at RBIs Unlimited in Mishawaka

“We have a lot of practices and do a lot of running to get ready for the next season and to prepare players to make the varsity at their high schools,” says Quinn.

The hope is that the 2021 Rawlings Tigers South Bend season will include up to eight tournaments at either the 16U or 17U level. 

There will be a PBR National Championships qualifier at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Qualifiers will compete in the nationals at LakePoint in Georgia. There will also be Perfect Game events in the Toledo, Ohio, area as well as PG’s World Wood Bat Association tournaments.

“I’m a big believer in doing training with a wood bat,” says Quinn. “The sound (crack vs. ping) tells you whether you hit the ball correctly or not.”

Putz (Class of 1991) and Robbins (Class of 1990) are both graduates of South Bend Washington High School, where they played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski

Putz played at Triton College in River Grove, Ill., and New Mexico State U.

Robbins, who is Quinn’s brother-in-law, was a right-handed pitcher at Wake Forest University and in the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks systems, including the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks for manager Dick Scott.

Quinn considers it a privilege to now be coaching with Putz and Robbins.

“I grew up watching them play,” says Quinn.

In seventh grade, Quinn began a long relationship with John Nadolny. He would play for him at Riley and his son — Konner Quinn (Class of 2023) — plays for Nadolny at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind.

“He’s a big influence on my career as a player and coach,” says Quinn of the man they call Nud.

Konnor Putz is also on the Rawlings Tigers South Bend.

The Rawlings Tigers South Bend 16U team won the Perfect Game Baseball Association Mid-American Classic in 2020. It was the first season for the travel team. The Rawlings Tigers have teams in 28 teams and bases. Other bases in Indiana include Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Southern Indiana.

Relationships key for Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaching continuity is one of the ingredients that helps fuel the Canes Midwest Baseball travel program.

In order to build relationships and develop players, coaching staffs tend to stay with the same group of players from their 14U through 17U seasons.

“If I’ve only been around these kids for eight weeks in summer, I don’t really get to know the kid and the family,” says Jay Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball president and 17U head coach. “The cycle — I believe in that.”

Hundley recalls an emotional goodbye by himself and his assistant coaches to the Canes 17U team when they played their last game of 2019.

“We cried like babies for 25 minutes straight,” says Hundley. “(The players and their parents) became our second family.”

That bond happens through years of training (off-season workouts are done at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.), traveling and playing together. 

In 2020, Canes Midwest Baseball is fielding six teams — 11U (head coach Eric McGaha with help from Joe Haley), 12U (Jamie Nanny with Jeremy Sensenbaugh), 13U (Jeff Millington with Ryan Wolfe), 15U (Jeremy Honaker with Drew Koning and Drew Bertram), 16U (Phil McIntyre with David Bear) and 17U (Hundley with Phillip Webb, Ben McDaniel and Hunter McIntosh). 

McGaha (Mooresville), Honaker (Martinsville), McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central), Bear (Ben Davis), Webb (Western Boone) and McDaniel (Columbus North) are all high school head coaches. Sensenbaugh (Indianapolis Cathedral), Koning (Zionsville) and McIntosh (Columbus North) are also high school assistants. Bertram played at Purdue University and just graduated.

Hundley says there will be teams at each age from 10U to 17U when new squads are formed for 2020-21.

“We’ll only only ever have only one team per age group,” says Hundley. “We want to have the best kids and coaches. We’re trying to grow it the right way — slowly and surely.

“We’ve had the same coaches for almost 10 years.”

Hundley founded the Indiana Outlaws around 2012. A few years ago, that organization merged with Canes Baseball.

With President and CEO and 18U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.

“The Outlaws were known in Indiana and surrounding areas,” says Hundley. 

While Canes Midwest Baseball is locally owned and operated, Hundley says the national Canes brand helps with outreach in getting better players and with exposure to college programs.

Canes Midwest Baseball does not have a huge board of directors.

“It’s like a mom-and-pop operation,” says Hundley. “It’s myself and our coaches. It’s about baseball at the end of the day. 

“We’re getting guys into college and developing our younger players. We build great relationships with families. We do it for the right reasons.”

Hundley says 21 of the 23 players on the 17U team in 2019 (members of the Class of 2020) made college baseball commitments.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 college season was cut short and players were given an extra year of eligibility. High school seniors missed the entire spring campaign.

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was sliced from 40 to five rounds. 

On top of that, the recruiting calendar for NCAA Divisions I and II was changed so coaches can’t see players in-person until after July 31. The travel season is essentially over by then.

To deal with that, Hundley says Canes Midwest Baseball will continue to provide those college coaches with video and use the equity built built over the years between the travel group and the college recruiters.

“We have to vouch for our player’s character, but we can’t oversell a player who’s not a fit for the school or we lose credibility,” says Hundley. “(Recruiters) can see a guy’s talent, but can’t see what’s in his heart or between his ears.”

It’s typical that close to 90 percent of players are committed by the end of the 17U summer.

Hundley says that it used to be that the 17U summer was the most important for players bound for Division I Power 5 programs. 

That has changed to 16U and some players have even made verbal commitments as 15U players. At 17U, there are still D-I commitments made as well as at other collegiate levels.

“The landscape has changed so much,” says Hundley. “There may be a chain reaction for three or four years. There are a lot of guys that didn’t leave college because of not being drafted.

“The waters have gotten very muddy. I don’t think it’s going to get clear for awhile.”

The 17U Canes Midwest team has already participated in three events for 2020. This week, the squad goes to the Prep Baseball Report Midwest Premier Super 17 at Creekside Baseball Park — an invitational-only tournament near Kansas City. That will be followed by the PBR Indiana Upperclass State Games and Bullpen 17 Amateur Baseball Championships (both at Grand Park in Westfield), the PBR 17U National Championship at LakePoint near Atlanta. 

Depending on participation by college recruiters, Hundley says the 17U Canes Midwest team might also play in the next Bullpen Midwest Prospect League event at Grand Park.

With their bright gold attire, it’s usually not difficult to spot the Canes at a tournament.

Hundley is a 1997 graduate of Ben Davis High School and played for head coach Dave Brown. Later on, Hundley was a Ben Davis assistant for six years and followed Aaron Kroll to staff Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and was on his staff 2015-19. 

The Roncalli Rebels — junior Michael McAvene was the winning pitcher (who later played at the University of Louisville and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2019) and sophomore Nick Schnell (who was selected as Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2018 and drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays that same year) —  won the 2016 IHSAA Class 4A state title. McAvene and Schnell are also Outlaws/Canes Midwest alums.

Other Outlaws/Canes Midwest players drafted in recent years include Jacson McGowan (Rays, 2018), Drew Campbell (Atlanta Braves, 2019), Andrew Saalfrank (Arizona Diamondbacks, 2019).

For the past 22 years, Hundley has been part of the concrete construction industry. He is the owner of Extreme Concrete Cutting, Inc.

The Canes Midwest travel baseball organization has six teams in 2020.
Jay Hundley (center) is the head coach and president of the Canes Midwest travel organization. The graduate of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis started the Indiana Outlaws and later merged with the Canes.
Jay Hundley (right) with son Bronx Robert Hundley. Jay is the president and coach of Canes Midwest travel baseball.

New Castle’s Besecker take non-traditional course to D-I’s VMI

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not your typical story of college baseball recruitment and commitment.

Nic Besecker, a senior at New Castle (Ind.) High School, played travel baseball just a few times — his 12U summer with a team called the Revolution and as a fill-in at 16 with 17U Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).

A self-described “rec league” player most of his diamond life, Besecker has in the New Castle Babe Ruth League and toed the rubber of the all-star team in last summer’s Indiana state tournament in Crown Point. That team was coached by Bret Mann, who had also coached New Castle’s entry in the 2012 Little League World Series.

Besecker, a right-handed pitcher, had his velocity clocked just three times during his prep days. He maxed out at 78 mph at an Earlham College camp as a freshman.

He got into the weight room and took a few lessons from pitching coach Jay Lehr and his velo went up.

“He’s been a big part of it,” says Besecker of Lehr, who is based in central Indiana. “We haven’t gotten to him enough. I’ve had only five true lessons with him, but he taught me something every time. He me how to use my lower half and get into my legs.”

Following his junior year at New Castle, he attended a Prep Baseball Report showcase and went as high as 85. In the early part of 2020, he was at another PBR event and got up to 89.

Besecker isn’t the biggest kid on the field either. Rosters list him at 5-11 and 155 pounds. He says he might be closer to 5-9 and 150.

He gets the most out of what he got. That’s why Besecker has been enamored with major league pitcher Tim Lincecum and what he did with his small frame.

“He’s been my idol since I’ve been little,” says Besecker. “What made me fall in love with him is that when he was good, he was the best pitcher in the world. He was so different from everyone else.”

Besecker has prided himself in exceeding expectations.

“Who’s this little squirt?” says Besecker imitating batters facing him for the first time. Then comes the first delivery.

Usually pretty swift.

But it’s not just about the heat.

“I’ve always prided myself in being a pitcher,” says Besecker. “I always knew how to locate.

“I wasn’t just a hurler.”

Besecker’s passion impresses first-year New Castle head coach Brad Pearson, who didn’t get to see the pitcher perform in a senior season that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nic is one of those kids who seems to be all about baseball,” says Pearson. “He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He just loves the sport.”

Pearson also appreciates Besecker’s mound approach.

“He’s not worried about lightning up the radar gun,” says Pearson. “He just wants to get outs.

“That’s pretty refreshing for a high school kid.”

Besecker signed his National Letter of Intent with NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute on May 11.

Funny thing is when Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra and pitching coach Sam Roberts welcome their new recruit to the Lexington, Va., campus it will represent a few firsts.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it will be the first time for Besecker and his coaches will seeing each other in-person when the player makes his first appearance in Virginia.

“I had options,” says ays Besecker, who will step into a program that has sent right-handers Zak Kent, Josh Winder and Matt Eagle into pro baseball in recent seasons. “Coach Hadra and Coach Roberts has something special going on over there.”

Besecker says he does not owe four years of military service after he graduates from VMI.

“I’m going there to play baseball and etch out some kind of career in baseball,” says Besecker. “That’s been my dream.”

Like all first-year VMI students, Besecker will start on the “Rat Line.” He is hopefully that this basic training program that usually lasts from August through January will help him pack on 20 to 30 pounds.

“I would not get that anywhere else,” says Besecker. “I’ve always been a guy to accept that kind of challenge.”

The majority of new cadets begin around Aug. 15, but they have had summer conditioning programs in the past. If those are available and his coaches want him to attend, Besecker might leave for VMI early.

It’s not yet certain when or if New Castle will have a graduation ceremony.

VMI is a member of the Southern Conference. The Keydets went to Virginia and North Carolina before the 2020 season was halted and was to play home-and-home series with Virginia Tech.

The SoCon tournament was to be staged at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. The park has its own “Green Monster.” The Greenville Drive are Low Class-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox.

Besecker played junior varsity baseball as a New Castle freshman and enjoyed his best varsity campaign as a Trojans sophomore.

“I played against guys who were able to hit the ball regardless of velocity,” says Besecker. “You have to be creative (with breaking pitches).”

In two varsity seasons, Besecker went 8-6 with a 2.96 earned run average. He struck out 80 in 71 innings.

The oldest of Kevin and Lauren Besecker’s two sons, Nic was born in Centerville, Ohio and was raised in Greenville, Ohio.

“I’ve been in a small town my whole life,” says Besecker.

When he was 9, his father brought the family to New Castle. That’s where he was a mechanic/crew chief for the racing Armstrong family, including Dakoda and Caleb, and Nic could get into the Focus program for gifted kids.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” says Nic of the move. “It was a perfect storm.”

He went to be inducted into the National Honor Society and participate in speech and debate while posting a 3.6 grade-point average (on a 4.0) scale at New Castle High.

Nic has logged around 200 service hours at New Castle Babe Ruth’s Denny Bolden Field and has been an assistant coach for teams featuring his little brother Drake (the 13-year-old left-hander is already as tall as big brother and finishing seventh grade).

Lauren Besecker holds a sports marketing degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and has what Nic calls a “love/hate relationship” with the Cincinnati Reds. She is waiting management to make the moves to again make the team make a consistent contender.

Before focusing on baseball his senior year, Besecker played football from fourth grade through junior year. The former quarterback was encouraged by Jaymen Nicholson, who coached in fifth and sixth grade and was part of the highs school staff.

“He’s always believed in me,” says Besecker. “Guys like him and Bret Mann have told me, ‘If you want to do it, you can do it.’ They bought in

“That’s catapulted me as far as I’ve gotten so far.”

BRETMANNNICBESECKERBRADPEARSON

New Castle (Ind.) High School senior Nic Besecker (center) celebrates his signing to play NCAA Division I baseball at Virginia Military Institute. He is flanked by Babe Ruth coach Bret Mann (left) and high school head coach Brad Pearson. (New Castle High School Photo)

 

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

AJZAPPCARD

A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.

 

What’s in a name?: Andrean’s Tyler Nelson and Chesterton’s Tyler Nelson continue to cross baseball paths 

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BY JIM PETERS

For http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One was playing for the Duneland Flyers, the other for the Indiana Bulldogs, when they first discovered an interesting coincidence.

“It was kind of funny that there was another Tyler Nelson on a team,” Tyler Nelson of the Bulldogs said.

It was just the beginning for the 10-year olds, Tyler J. Nelson of Chesterton and Andrean’s Tyler D. Nelson of Crown Point. Their baseball paths have continued to cross in the years since, the boys with the same name and talent for the same game building a friendship as they began to climb the ranks in local and state baseball.

“It just really developed the more we played together,” Tyler J. said. “We’d be with each other all the time over the summer.”

At the age of 11, the Nelsons found themselves on the same roster as members of Team Indiana, the first of several seasons they would occupy a dugout together.

“We hit first and second,” said Tyler J., an outfielder most of his career. “I never played shortstop in my life, I look at the card before the game and I was playing shortstop. I was like, OK, whatever. So then the first inning, I get a ball, I make a play, I didn’t say anything. (Tyler D.’s) dad (Bill) was the coach, he made out the lineup, and he’s like, that’s not (my) Tyler. They flipped us.”

Meanwhile, Tyler D., a shortstop, was standing in the outfield, also wondering what was going on.

“I remember thinking, why am I out here?” Tyler D. said. “I just went out there and didn’t think about it. I might’ve had one play or two.”

The confusion has only accelerated over the years, becoming a source of humor for the boys.

“It keeps happening,” Tyler J. said. “We had shirts for all-state, someone went up to someone and said your shirts have a mistake, there’s the same name twice. The coach will say Tyler, we’ll both look and the coach will be looking at one of us, so you’ll just turn away. We just kind of figured it out eventually.”

It didn’t help matters that the boys had similar offensive skill sets, top-of-the-order-type hitters with plus speed, meaning they often batted in succession. Tyler J. has long worn No. 1 and for years, Tyler D. sported No. 2. Heck, they even have an identical nickname, T-Nelly, on their high school teams.

“Sometimes, I batted last and he batted first,” Tyler D. said. “When I’d come up, they’d say, ‘oh, the leadoff guy’s up now.’ We were on a team one time, we had another Tyler. They’d say Tyler and we’d all look.”

In addition to three seasons with Team Indiana, the Nelsons were also teammates on the Indiana Bulldogs as 14-year olds, Elite Baseball as 15s and on a Futures squad before their junior years.

“People get these guys confused all the time,” Shane Nelson, Tyler J.’s dad, said. “I’d have adults text me, they’d see something in the paper and say, ‘hey, did Tyler switch schools? Is he going to Andrean now?’ I’d say, ‘no, no, that’s the other one.’ One time, we had the lineup card before the game, someone said, ‘you’ve got Tyler Nelson on here twice.’ We said, ‘well, there’s two of ‘em.’”

Tyler D.’s mom Kristina recalled over 10 times that parents from other teams asked if they were brothers.

“Because we would name two children the same,” she said. “Then opposing coaches thinking the line-up was wrong, (Prep Baseball Report) and Perfect Game trying to figure out which one since they played on the same team.”

As the boys’ careers continued to intersect, their growing circles of friends also began to overlap more and more, creating some even more humorous moments.

“One time, a girl meant to (direct message) him something on Twitter and sent it to me,” Tyler J. said. “He texted me, like, I think she meant to send that to me.”

“I’ve had other friends text me and say, ‘oh, sorry, I meant that to go to the other Tyler,’” Tyler D. said.

Tyler D. ascended to the Andrean lineup as a freshman after a brief stint on the JV, starting at shortstop on the 59ers’ Class 3A state championship teams the last two seasons. Tyler J. came up to Chesterton’s varsity as a sophomore, becoming an outfield mainstay.

They have never squared off in high school though their teams did meet in a memorable Class 4A Chesterton Sectional final in 2017, a game Andrean won 4-3 with three runs in the top of the seventh inning after the Trojans broke a 1-1, scoring twice in the bottom of the sixth. Tyler J. was on the Chesterton roster but didn’t play, while Tyler D. left the game following an early injury.

The rivalry intensified with the transfer of Tommy Benson from Andrean to Chesterton, reaching the point that the schools stopped playing during the regular season.

“(Benson) was actually my neighbor growing up for 10 years,” Tyler D. said.

With the 59ers back in 4A this season as a result of the success factor, the teams were slated to be in the same sectional again until the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out spring sports and prematurely ended the Nelsons’ prep careers.

Fortunately for both, the cancelled senior season won’t hamper their college plans. Tyler D. drew an early offer from Indiana University and committed to the Hoosiers going into his junior year.

“I liked IU, being the home state, it’s not real far,” he said. “They’re doing a lot of positive things, they have a new coaching staff. They’re really good at developing players. They had like 10 guys drafted last year.”

Tyler J. will play about 60 miles up State Road 46 at Indiana State.

“The recruiting process, I over-stressed it, getting it done,” Tyler J. said. “I felt like it was a good fit, all the coaches are super cool. The biggest thing for me, my goal is to play professionally, and they’re really good at developing guys for pro ball, turning three-star guys into four and five-star guys for the next level.”

In the interim, both are doing what they can to stay on top of their games, given the social constraints.

“I’ve got a batting cage in my basement,” Tyler D. said. “We’ve got a small weight room next to it. My friends text me, can I come over and hit?”

Shane Nelson is the strength and conditioning coach at Chesterton, so Tyler J. has always gone there to work out. Now he’s got to improvise at home.

“I’ll go to the local parks to run and throw,” Tyler J. said. “I have a friend who has a hangar at the Porter County Airport with a batting cage in it.”

Tyler D. was slated to start summer school June 22 and Tyler J. was scheduled to head to Terre Haute on July 5, but neither expects to be heading to campus before August.

“We don’t know anything for sure yet except that all classes are online for the summer,” Tyler J. said.

Before taking the next step in their baseball careers, the two hope to play together one more time this summer with the Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

“I am very excited to be playing with the other Tyler again this summer,” Tyler J. said. “It will be a fun end to our high school baseball careers.”

Tyler J. latched on with the Midwest Collegiate League team in March, while Tyler D. joined the roster recently.

“I think it’s icing on the cake because I was never supposed to be playing summer ball this year and I was supposed to be at Indiana,” Tyler D. said. “I never thought I would have played with Tyler (J.) again after the fall and it is just crazy how we ended up back on the same team again. I think it is very funny that we will have to hear our name called from the dugout and we both look at the same time or teams thinking what’s going on with the lineup. This just gives Tyler (J.) and me another laugh at the fact we have two Tyler Nelsons on the same team.”

Follow Jim Peters on Twitter — @JP8185

TYLERDNELSONTYLERJNELSONTyler D. Nelson (left) and Tyler J. Nelson have been linked by more than a name for years. They are both standout baseball players in northwest Indiana — Tyler D. at Andrean High School and Tyler J, at Chesterton High School. Tyler D. is bound for Indiana University and Tyler J for Indiana State University. (Jim Peters Photo)

 

Indy Sharks founder Taulman emphasizes healthy mechanics, throwing strikes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Taulman is a busy man — especially at this time of the year.

For the past eight years, he has run a baseball training facility that some call the “The Facility” or the “Shark Tank” in Noblesville, Ind.

From January to March as players are gearing up for their seasons, Taulman teaches up to 60 lessons (30-minute sessions) per week. From April to September, that number is 20 to 40 with October to December being 20 to 30.

A former college player and coach, Taulman started the Indy Sharks travel baseball program in the fall of 2014 to develop players and to educate them and their parents on the recruiting and scholarship process and more.

“We focus on training and the five tools of a baseball player,” says Taulman. “When the time is ready we’ll showcase you.

“Players don’t have measurable good enough to be recruited (in the early ages).”

In 2020, the Sharks will field seven teams — 12U, 14U, 15 (two teams), 16U and 17U (two teams). The majority of the players on one 17U team were on the original 12U squad.

Taulman says 12U to 14U teams tend to play 40 to 45 games per season while 15U to 17U get in 30 if they have a good summer and advance deep in their tournament.

The 17U Sharks will participate in top-notch recruiting events like the New Balance Program 15 in Cincinnati as well as the Prep Baseball Report Midwest Prospect League and Bullpen Tournaments Amateur Baseball Championships at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and the Perfect Game USA World Wood Bat Association National Championship in Marietta, Ga.

Taulman is a proponent of the Ron Wolforth’s Texas Baseball Ranch method and the coaching of Woolforth, Derek Johnson and Brent Strom.

In teaching pitchers, Taulman’s approach is straight-forward.

“We want to see mechanics that will keep the arm healthy,” says Taulman. “We want them to throw strikes and pitch. That’s lost in today’s technology and social media craze.

“Everybody wants to throw hard. If we’re not doing it safely and are able to locate, velocity does us no good.

“We teach them how to train and get stronger.”

Lafayette, Ind., native Bobby Bell, who was the hitting coach with Carolina in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2019, runs hitting clinics while Taulman runs arm strength/bat speed clinics at the “Shark Tank.”

Taulman began his prep days at Lafayette Jefferson High School. He tranfered to West Lafayette and graduated in 1991.

He played for two head coaches with the Red Devils — Pat Murtaugh and Fred Campbell. Murtaugh was an associate or “bird dog” professional scout and went on to be a full-time scout. He is now employed by the New York Yankees.

“With Coach Murtaugh, I became intrigued about the professional game and what it takes to be at a higher level,” says Taulman. “That was motivation for me.”

Taulman got to know former Purdue University head coach (1978-91)/Seattle Mariners scout Dave Alexander when he mowed his grass.

“He came across as kind of gruff,” says Taulman of Alexander, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “But he has a good heart.”

Former Purdue and McCutcheon and current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Doug Schreiber coached Taulman with the Lafayette Red Sox summer collegiate team.

Right-handed pitcher Taulman played four years for head coach Mike Moyzis and earned an Elementary Education degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. The NCAA Division II Pumas were Great Lakes Valley Conference champions in Taulman’s senior season of 1995.

“(Moyzis) was an outstanding coach,” says Taulman. “He was very big on mental toughness and how to compete.

Moyzis recruited Chicagoland and had many players with swagger.

“He taught you how to carry yourself with confidence,” says Taulman. “Moyzis was off the charts with that stuff.

“For me, it made a world of difference once I began to carry myself that way.”

Moyzis is now vice president of special events for Game Day USA and runs tournaments all over the country. He has brought in Taulman to serve as a coach for select events.

Joe Fletcher was the Saint Joseph’s pitching coach when Taulman was there.

“Fletch had just a huge impact on me,” says Taulman. “That’s when I learned how to pitch. It’s the first time we really learned how to work at the game.

“(Moyzis and Fletcher) were excellent teachers and trainers. They were ahead of their time.”

When Taulman was an SJC senior, Rick O’Dette was a freshman. O’Dette went on to serve 17 years as Pumas head coach before the school was closed at the end of the 2017 season.

Lawrence North High School junior catcher/outfielder Jack Taulman, one of Jason’s sons, attended a showcase at Saint Leo (Fla.) University, where O’Dette is now the head coach.

After graduating from Saint Joseph’s, Taulman played four seasons with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League with Lafayette winning league titles in 1995 and 1996.

In the fall of 1996, the Indiana Baseball Academy opened in Brownsburg and Taulman was a part of that training facility that was co-owned by big league pitcher Jeff Fassero.

Taulman served a short stint with the independent Northern League’s Sioux Falls Canaries in 1999. Former Purdue head coach Steve Green (1992-98) was Sioux Falls’ bench coach.

To start out his coaching career, Taulman served with the independent Frontier League’s Ohio Valley Redcoats and the Lafayette Leopards.

He later was pitching coach for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University when Pat Neshek hurled for the Bulldogs.

In the summer of 2017 and again last year and again last summer, Taulman and others ran travel tournaments with the Indy Sharks at Gil Hodges Field.

Saying he missed raking a field, Farley helped last spring in getting the field ready.

After the Indiana Baseball Association, Taulman helped start the Tippecanoe Baseball Academy in Lafayette with partners Bell, Jake Burton and Matt Kennedy.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Burton was then the McCutcheon High School head coach and is now at Twin Lakes. Kennedy has been an assistant to O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Leo and is now on the Butler coaching staff.

After Taulman was pitching coach at Butler, he assumed the same duties at Ball State University, where he earned his master’s degree in Coaching Specialization.

He was on head coach Greg Beals’ staff for one season. Jason and Kelly Taulman have four sons — Clark (21), Nick (19), Jack (17) and Brock (14).

When Jason was at Ball State, 2-year-old Nick was diagnosed with Autism.

“We decided that someone needs to be home full-time to manage this,” says Taulman, who by this time had moved his family to Hamilton County. Nick Taulman is a 2019 Fishers High School graduate who participated in the IHSAA Unified Track and Field State Finals.

JASONTAULMAN

Jason Taulman, a West Lafayette (Ind.) High School graduate, teaches private baseball lessons and runs the Indy Sharks travel organization out of Noblesville, Ind. He is a former pitcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and was the pitching coach at Butler University and Ball State University. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Sutkowski, Hammond/Morris Chiefs marking three decades of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A celebration is being planned by the Hammond/Morris Chiefs.

The northwest Indiana-based baseball baseball organization is celebrating its 30th season in 2020.

Founder/coach Dave Sutkowski wants all former players to come to a get-together this some summer (time and place to be determined).

When Sutkowski fielded his first Hammond Chiefs team in 1991.

“At that time there was no travel ball,” says Sutkowski. “There was a lot of baseball for kids until 15 in their local leagues and organizations.

“When they would hit 16, the only thing out there for them was (American Legion) ball. Most Legion teams were affiliated with a high school. Some high schools had no affiliations with Legion teams. We wanted to extend the playing time for kids in the summer once they turned 16.”

Sutkowski coached players at ages 14 and 15 in Babe Ruth League that was a basis for the first 16U Hammond Chiefs team.

The next few years, there were 16U and 17U/18U squads.

The Chiefs won a Senior Babe Ruth World Series championship in 2003.

Five years ago, the Hammond Chiefs merged with Morris Baseball. The Morris Chiefs now field teams from 10U to 17U.

High school age kids play a summer and fall season.

“We’re always teaching,” says Sutkowski. “We are in it to teach the game of baseball and help kids with their skills no matter how young or how old.”

There is year-round training opportunities at Morris Baseball based in the Franciscan Health Fitness Center in Schererville, Ind.

As players become older, exposure for college becomes part of the equation and contacts are made with those coaches.

“When we started, college coaches were always at high school games,” said Sutkowski. “College coaches rarely come to high school games (these days) because of the nature of the season.

“Come summertime, they’re all over the place. We try to go to venues where these kids going to have an opportunity to be seen and recruited.”

The Chiefs have regularly traveled to Perfect Game tournaments near Atlanta and to Prep Baseball Report events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

There were more than 400 teams in the 17U division in 2019 at a Perfect Game tournament.

“Not all kids are (NCAA) D-I players and some kids understand that sooner than others. We as coaches have to put a kid in a position where we think he might have the most success.

“We tell kids that there’s nothing wrong with going to play baseball at a Division II, Division III or NAIA school. In Indiana, there are a lot of good programs that are not Division I. We have to find venues that meet the needs of those kids, too.”

Many events are played on college campuses. Sutkowski notes that the Cincy Flames host an event with games played at schools of various levels.

“Someone from that program is out there running event on their field,” says Sutkowski. “That helps out when you’re able to do that.”

The Chiefs have two alums currently in Major League Baseball — Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) and Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays).

Manaea and Brosseau both spoke at a Chiefs banquet during the recent holiday break held at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith.

At 14, Manaea’s parents brought him from Wanatah to play in a fall league in Hammond and he was with the Chiefs through high school.

Sutkowski is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and has attended more than 20 national conventions, including the one that just wrapped in Nashville.

“The first year I went I fell in love with it. We’ve just made it a point to come every year.

“The speakers are outstanding.”

Pro, college, high school, youth and travel ball coaches are all represented in formal meetings and clinic sessions.

There are also several informal discussions throughout the hallways of the convention.

“They’re all talking baseball,” says Sutkowski. “A lot of times you’ll learn just as much in those little sidebar sessions as you will listening to the speakers.”

The 2020 ABCA drew more than 7,100 coaches to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The 2021 convention is Jan. 7-10 at Gaylord National in Washington, D.C.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, which will hold its annual State Clinic Jan. 16-18 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis, is also a regular stop for Sutkowski.

After playing at Hammond Edison Little League, Sutkowski graduated from Hammond Gavit High School in 1978. He is in his 33rd year as a teacher in School City of Hammond. He leads physical education classes for about 600 K-5 students at Lincoln Elementary School.

He stayed involved with baseball after high school as an umpire and a youth coach.

His baseball coaching career at the high school level began as an assistant to George Malis at Hammond. He was also football assistant to Marty Jamrose and Bob Hansen at Hammond Gavit.

Sutkowski then became head baseball coach at Hammond Morton in 1996. The first team was a veteran squad and the second team had only one returning senior and very little varsity experience.

Sutkowski and his players talked about expectations talked about expectations before the season.

“No matter what happens, we never quit at what we do — whether it’s something we’re working on at practice or something during the game,” says Sutkowski. “No matter how frustrating things may become for us, we never lay down and quit. That was our motto.”

At the beginning of the season, the young Governors took their lumps.

“But our kids were getting better,” says Sutkowski. “They never quit. They worked as hard as they could in practice and games.”

One day against Hammond Bishop Noll, Morton got into an early hole.

“I could look at my kids and see they’re done,” says Sutkowski. “We got 10-runned in five (innings).”

Sutkowski did not address his team at the field. They got on the bus and went home.

“I figured I’ve got to do something to remind these kids that we’re not quitters,” says Sutkowski. “I painted our bench pink.

“The players saw it and all understood it.”

Players were responsible for carrying equipment and his lone senior — Justin Hornsby — was made to carry a can of red paint and a brush.

“When we prove that we are no longer going to quit at what we’re doing, you will be the first guy to paint that bench back to red,” says Sutkowski of his remarks to his senior. “That was it.

“The kids all bought into it.”

While the players understood the motivational tactic, it was picked up in the press.

“Since we were using the color pink they thought we were discriminating against females and softball,” says Sutkowski, “It had nothing to do with it — Nothing.”

Sutkowski says former head coach Greg Jancich supported the idea of reinforcing the no-quit rule with the players.

Though he was given no specific reason, the administration opted not to bring Sutkowski back for a third season.

DAVESUTKOWSKI

Dave Sutkowski is the founder of the Hammond/Morris Chiefs travel baseball organization. The 2020 season will be the 30th for the group based in northwest Indiana. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Friend to Indiana baseball Cava passes at 73

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana’s baseball community lost a great friend with the sudden passing Dec. 18 of Pete Cava at 73.

Indiana broadcast pioneer Reid Duffy may have said it best.

“Pete certainly lived up to the reputation of ‘never meeting a stranger,’” said Duffy, who knew Cava for decades and lived near him in Indianapolis.

When you were his friend, Cava greeted with a warm smile and hand shake that turned into a hug.

So many remember him as their cheerleader. He always seemed to be there with encouraging words of advice.

Cava was sharing stories with friends at an Oscar Charleston Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research planning dinner when he suffered an attack that turned out to be an aortic dissection. He died soon after being rushed to a nearby Methodist Hospital.

Cava lived in Indianapolis for more than 40 years though his New York roots never really left him.

A native of Staten Island, he was born July 26, 1946 and was a New York Yankees fan and a first baseman as a young man. In 1969, he graduated from Fordham University, where he worked in the sports information department.

He served in the U.S. Army, working in the Public Affairs Office of the First Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan. He worked as a sports reporter and a radio program director before joining the Amateur Athletic Union in 1974.

He spent more than 20 years as a media information director for USA Track & Field and also served as a press liaison for the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic, The Athletics Congress, the AAU and other groups.

Cava was a regular at SABR conventions, frequently as a presenter.

The owner of International Sports Associates and a writing and editing specialist, Cava also wrote columns for the Indianapolis Star, Agence France-Presse and the National Scholastic Sports Foundation. He contributed to Baseball America.

Cava could frequently be found in the press box at Indianapolis Indians games or covering high school contests around central Indiana.

He shared his knowledge on Hoosier History Live! on WICR 88.7 FM.

Years ago, Cava coached Little League with Todd Webster, who went on to be head coach at Pike High School.

Later on, Cava kept the scorebook for the Indiana Pony Express travel team.

In recent years, he has covered games for Prep Baseball Report Indiana and has been publicizing his latest book, “Indiana-Born Major League Baseball Players:  A Biographical Dictionary, 1871-2014.” It’s a work that took 22 years to complete. He kept readers up-to-date on Indiana-related baseball doings with his weekly Facebook posts. He also authored “Tales from the Cubs Dugout.”

Cava is survived by his wife, Molly, son Andy and daughter Nancy. Visitation is 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2 at Leppert Mortuary, 740 East 86th St., Indianapolis with funeral mass 11:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 3 at St. Luke Catholic Church, 7575 Holliday Drive E., Indianapolis.

PETECAVA

Pete Cava (1946-2019) was a fixture on the Indiana and international baseball scene. He died in Indianapolis Dec. 18, 2019.

Pascoe provides Butler Bulldogs hitters with knowledge, tools

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Butler University batsmen have been putting up better power numbers since Andy Pascoe arrived on campus as hitting coach on head coach Dave Schrage’s staff prior to the 2017 season.

In 2019, the Bulldogs hit .261 with 463 runs scored, 39 home runs and 95 doubles.

Harrison Freed, a right-handed-swinging junior outfielder and Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, hit .376 with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 runs batted in.

In 2018, BU hit .272 with 324 runs, 20 homers and 107 doubles.

Lefty-swinging senior outfielder Gehrig Parker paced the Bulldogs by hitting .336 with seven homers, 15 doubles and 37 RBIs.

In 2017, those totals were . 256 average, 256 runs, 35 homers and 71 doubles.

Tyler Houston, then a righty-swinging junior outfielder and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, hit. 287 and led the team with 12 homers to go with 13 doubles and 38 RBIs.

In 2016 — the year prior to Pascoe landing in Indianapolis — Butler hit .246 with 225 runs, 11 homers and 90 doubles.

Pascoe, a graduate of Traverse City (Mich.) Central High School, worked as the Director of Scouting for Prep Baseball Report Michigan before arriving at Butler. Before that he was the assistant baseball coach and recruiting coordinator at his alma mater, the University of Evansville and holds a degree in exercise science.

Not all hitters are the same, but what are Pascoe’s points of emphasis?

“Being on time with the barrel, staying athletic in the box and working their bodies properly to get the most out of their swing,” says Pascoe. “A hitter’s approach is largely dictated on the situation as to where they are at in the count, who is on the mound, where runners are, and how they have been pitched by a team or pitcher.”

Butler hitters have a routine as they go through fall, winter and spring.

“We try to hit on the field as much as possible throughout the year so they are able to see the flight of the ball, which can give the hitter good feedback,” says Pascoe. “We go through a lot of drills as well early on to get them to feel their body moving properly – this will be done in the fall and preseason daily in the cages.

“When we get on the field we look more to situational hitting and hitting high velocity and breaking balls.

“Another component is also giving them more tools as a hitter – working on base hit bunting is big for a large majority of our guys. “While we talk about approach the entire year, the regular season is where we mainly focus on that so they do not get bogged down by mechanics and they can just be athletic and let everything work.”

Video and pitching machines are used often in training for Bulldog hitters.

“This past year was the first year that we used the hitting Rapsodo, which is a great tool to use in the cages when we can not get outside on the field,” says Pasceo. “Weighted bats have also been a big tool we have used at Butler.”

Launch angle and exit velocity are also a part of the equation.

“LA and EV can be useful data when tracking progress and what range for those works best for each hitter,” says Pascoe. “Certain guys are better with higher LA while others are better at lower LA. “EV can be good to give a hitter feedback to progress with getting stronger or gaining bat speed as well as just overall ability to square the ball up.

“When it comes to game time, we try to not chase these numbers so much and just look to get in there and compete.”

Analytics has become a big part of the collegiate game and it’s no different at Butler.

“Analytics do come into play quite a bit as we look at how to play certain hitters, shifting our infielders and outfielders around,” says Pascoe. “We also use analytics to determine certain matchups from both and offensive and defensive standpoint.”

Pascoe sees several outstanding qualities in Schrage as a coach.

“Coach Schrage has a lot of knowledge about the game of baseball, but he also has the drive to continue to learn more and grow as a coach,” says Pascoe. “He is very good at developing and maintaining a strong culture in programs – a lot of which attributes to his strong communication skills, his passion for the game as well as his players, and how he holds players and coaches accountable.”

Schrage, Pascoe and pitching coach Ben Norton all share in recruiting duties, but it is Pascoe that is typically on the road a little more during fall and spring practices.

Pascoe, an infielder and catcher, played at Evansville for head coach Wes Carroll from 2007-10. As a junior he was on the all-Missouri Valley Conference second team at designated hitter, leading the Purple Aces in hitting at .331.

“I enjoyed my time playing for Wes,” says Pascoe. “He always pushed me to be a good ball player and a good person while holding me accountable.

“Playing for him, he brought a lot of energy and passion for the Evansville program. For me, it was easy to play for him because I knew he cared about me and had a lot of pride for the program while also teaching me about the game of baseball.”

After his playing career was over, Pascoe joined Carroll’s coaching staff and spent five seasons (2011-15) learning the craft.

“Coaching for him provided me with a lot of experience early because he gave me the freedom as a coach to work with hitters and catchers a lot, while also giving me many responsibilities with recruiting,” says Pascoe.

One of the Aces was Kevin Kaczmarski, who played his last season in Evansville in 2015 and made his Major League Baseball debut with the New York Mets in 2018.

“We really worked with Kevin on getting rhythm to his swing, especially early in his college career,” says Pascoe. “He came in with an extreme amount of athleticism but was a little stiff with his swing so once he learned to loosen up, have some rhythm and load up on time, he really took off.

“Once he gained some rhythm to himself and to his swing, we got him to use the whole field with authority. All of this was done because he wanted to learn it and he put in a lot of work to do it.”

Pascoe has several men he considers leaders in his life, including father Paul, Schrage, Carroll, high school coach Ian Hearn (now head coach at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern High School), former Evansville assistant Marc Wagner and former Traverse City Central, Western Michigan University and Detroit Tigers organization player and college coach Sam Flamont.

“All of them have taught me about the game of baseball and the intricacies, but also how to handle different players and their personalities and to enjoy the process that goes into everyday coaching,” says Pascoe. “(Flamont) has also been a major role model and mentor for me – he is the biggest reason why am where I am at in my life.”

Pascoe, who is single, will keep busy this summer, running tournament games on-campus and recruiting.

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Andy Pascoe, a graduate of Traverse City (Mich.) Central High School and the University of Evansville, is an assistant coach at Butler University. Among his responsibilities, he leads the hitters and helps with recruiting. (Butler University Photo)

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Andy Pascoe (left) has seen offensive numbers improve since taking over as Butler University hitting coach for the 2017 season. (Butler University Photo)

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Andy Pascoe just completed his third season as hitting coach at Butler University in 2019. Before arriving in Indianapolis, he played and coached at the University of Evansville. (Butler University Photo)