A year ago at this time, 2021 Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate Garrett Harker suited up for the North in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. In the summer of 2022, the right-handed pitcher is in the high-profile Cape Cod Baseball League with the Harwich Mariners, managed since 2003 by Steve Englert. In his first two outings covering 3 2/3 relief innings, Harker has allowed no runs and two hits while striking out seven and walking none. “It’s the best league you can play in,” says Harker, 19. “I’m blessed to be here and have this experience. I’m probably one of the youngest guys. “I’m just trying to get some innings and throw in front of as many people as I can.” During his freshmen season at the University of Cincinnati this spring, 6-foot, 200-pound Harker appeared in 16 games (six starts) and went 4-3 with one save and one save and a 7.08 earned run average. He produced 38 strikeouts and 22 walks in 48 1/3 innings. The UC Bearcats head coach is Scott Googins. Harker works closely with pitching coach JD Heilmann. It’s been competitiveness that Heilmann has emphasized with Harker. “Go at the hitter and be the competitor you’ve been,” says Harker. “I’m not the biggest, fastest, strongest guy out there. I’m going to give you 100 percent no matter what I do.” Born in Indianapolis, Harker grew up in Lebanon. He played at Lebanon Little League until about 9 then played for various travel ball teams, including the Lebanon Thunder, Indiana Baseball Club, Indiana Elite, Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Bulls and Team Indiana (fall ball). With the 2020 prep season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harker played three seasons at Lebanon High School for Rick Cosgray. “He’s a players’ coach for sure,” says Harker of Cosgray. “He’ll go to battle for you as long as you give 100 percent.” In 81 high school games, Harker hit .431 (113-of-262) with 13 home runs, 56 runs batted in and 89 runs scored. As a pitcher, he went 19-7 with two saves and a 1.44 ERA. He whiffed 264 and walked 42 in 156 innings. As a senior in 2021, he was 8-0 with one save, a 0.67 ERA, 111 K’s and eight walks in 52 1/3 innings. He was the IHSBCA District K Player of the Year and was the on the Prep Baseball Report Indiana All-State Team and All-USA Central Indiana Postseason Super Team. Harker, who turns 20 on July 23, says it was during his junior year of high school that he really learned how to pitch. The righty throws from a high three-quarter arm angle. “I figured I needed to get on top of the ball and get more spin rate and spin efficiency — all that stuff,” says Harker. He mixes a four-seam fastball that has been clocked as high as 95 mph, a sinking two-seam fastball, “circle” change-up (usually delivered around 80 mph), a traditional slider (with horizontal movement and vertical depth). Harker’s 2020 summer was spent with the 17U Indiana Bulls. In 2021, he got in a few outings with the PRP Baseball Mambas and had workouts for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. Besides baseball, Harker played four years of football (three years as starting quarterback) and one year of basketball at Lebanon. During his gridiron days, he passed for 4,399 yards and 43 touchdowns, including 2,028 and 21 as a junior in 2019. Garrett is the youngest of Larry and Teri Harker’s four children — all former Lebanon athletes. Former Tigers basketball and softball player Kalyn Harker (Class of 2011) is the oldest, followed by former football, basketball and baseball player Isaac Harker (Class of 2014), former volleyball, basketball and softball player Tori Harker (2018) and Garrett Harker. Kalyn played softball at Southern Illinois University. Isaac played quarterback at Indiana State University and Colorado School of Mines and been in the Canadian Football League. Tori played volleyball at Indiana University East. Larry Harker works for Cincinnati Bell Technology Services. Teri Harker is a stay-at-home mom.
Five men will be honored as part of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame class for 2021-2022. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic environment that existed in 2021, the induction ceremony did not take place as the IHSBCA State Clinic was held in a virtual format. The 2021 and 2022 Hall of Fame classes will be honored at a joint ceremony at the IHSBCA state clinic on Jan. 15, 2022 at the Sheraton at Keystone Crossing in Indianapolis at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3/_2022IHSBCAStateClinic. The induction ceremony is a part of the three-day IHSBCA State Clinic and room reservation information is available at http://www.ihsbca.org. The 2021 class includes one coach — Chris McIntyre of New Albany High School; and one contributor/umpire — James Robinson; along with the Veterans Committee nominee — Bernie Allen. The 2022 class includes one coach — Steve Strayer of Crown Point High School and one player — Jamey Carroll. McIntyre graduated from Jeffersonville High School where he played for Hall of Fame coach Don Poole. McIntyre received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Indiana University Southeast. He began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Clarksville High School under Hall of Famer Wayne Stock. McIntyre has been the head coach at New Albany High School for 25 years where his teams have gone 533-218 during that time. His teams have won five Hoosier Hills Conference titles,10 sectional championships and one regional title while reaching the Final Eight three times. He is a four-time District Coach of the Year and five-time Conference Coach of the Year. Mcintyre was the 2014 IHSBCA President, has served on numerous committees and has been an All-Star coach three times. He has coached 13 South All-Stars; over 40 players have gone on to play college baseball; had 3 players drafted and 2 players reach the major league level. Chris and his wife Shannon have two sons — Tyler and Kevin. He currently teaches Mathematics at New Albany High School. Robinson graduated from Harry E. Wood High School in Indianapolis and from Indiana University Kokomo. He played one year of baseball in high school. He started umpiring high school baseball in 1980 and his career lasted for 35 years. During his career, he worked 33 sectionals, 25 regionals, 14 semistates, and six State Championships. He has umpired six IHSBCA North-South series and was voted IHSBCA Umpire of the Year five times. In 1994, James was elected to the National Federation Baseball Rules Committee and served from 1995-1998. In 2002 was named IHSAA/ NFOA Baseball Official of the Year and he was named as the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year. Robinson coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years. He has been a high school and college referee in football. He worked six years in Division II and seven years in the Mid-American Conference. He has also refereed the state basketball finals and the state football finals. Later in his career, he became a replay official for the MAC and then moved to the Big Ten. He was a replay official in the National Championship game in 2014 at the Rose Bowl between Florida State and Auburn. James and his wife, Nada, deceased, has one daughter, Chiquita and one grandson, Kameron. Allen, a native of East Liverpool, Ohio, played his collegiate baseball in West Lafayette for the Purdue University Boilermakers, where he was twice named team MVP. A winner of six varsity letters, he was also the quarterback on the football team and was team MVP in 1960. As starting QB in 1960, he guided the Boilers to wins over No. 12-ranked Notre Dam, Ohio State and No. 1 Minnesota (Associated Press and United Press Internatonal national champion); while also outdueling Georgia’s Fran Tarkenton in the annual Blue-Gray game. In the spring of 1961, his collegiate career ended after being named an All-American shortstop. He then signed with the Minnesota Twins. Allen played for the Twins, Washington Senators, New York Yankees and Montreal Expos. At 6 foot and 185 pounds, Allen was a second baseman for most of his career; playing over 900 games at the position. By the 1971 season, he was splitting his time between second and third base. On Opening Day, April 10, 1962, Allen made his debut for Minnesota at second base. He was put into a position vacated by Billy Martin a week earlier. Allen had one hit (a triple) in four at-bats that day. His rookie performance led to a selection to the 1962 Topps All-Star Rookie Roster and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, finishing behind Tom Tresh and Buck Rodgers. Allen played five seasons for the Twins and was traded to the Senators with pitcher Camilo Pascual for pitcher Ron Kline. After five seasons in Washington, the Senators moved to Texas and traded him to the New York Yankees. Allen played for New York in 1972, backing up second and third base. He played 17 games for the Yankees in 1973 before being purchased by Montreal. The Expos released him two months later. After baseball, he was in the sporting goods business in West Palm Beach and the owner bought a baseball team that Allen helped coach with manager Felipe Alou. They played together with the Yankees and Expos. That team won the Florida State League and then Alou went on to manage in the majors. He then moved back to Ohio and worked for Ferro Corp for 17 years in East Liverpool, the pottery capital of the world. He moved to Carmel in the mid 80’s and has never left. He and his wife play a lot of golf. In 1999, he was selected in the Purdue Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame. Allen has been married for a total of 51 years and has a son; three daughters; a step-son and step-daughter; 16 total grandchildren; and three great grandchidren. Carroll is a 1992 graduate of Castle High School and was coached by Chuck Hawkins. Carroll’s number was retired by Castle and he was a 1992 South All-Star. He played collegiately at the University of Evansville for Jim Brownlee. He graduated in 1996 and was an All-American that same year. His name appears 27 times in the U of E baseball record book. In 2021, the number 23 was retired by the university. Carroll was selected in the 14th round of the MLB Draft by the Expos. Some career numbers are: 16.6 WAR, 1,000 hits, 13 home runs, .272 batting average, 560 runs, 265 runs batted in, 74 stolen bases, .349 on-base percentage and .687 OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging). His career spanned 12 years with the Expos/Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, Los Angels Dodgers, Twins and Kansas City Royals. Some highlights from his MLB career are scoring the last run in Expos history; leading NL 2B in fielding percentage in 2006; and in 2007 he scored Matt Holliday with a sacrifice fly to win the NL Wild Card game. Carroll is recently retired from the Pittsburgh Pirates where he spent four years as a Special Assistant and three years as Defensive Coordinator. He is his wife Kim have 13-year-old twins — Cole and Mackenzie. Strayer attended Prairie Heights High school and received his bachelor’s degree from Manchester College and master’s degree from Indiana University Northwest. His teams have won 641 games with only 236 losses; 15 conference titles; 14 sectional championships; and nine regional crowns. He has coached 13 Indiana All-Stars. 64 players have gone on to play college baseball (23 Division I). Strayer has been named District Coach of the Year in 1996, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007, and 2019. He began his coaching career at Boone Grove High School and won 223 games in 10 seasons, along with seven Porter County championships. He is currently the head coach at Crown Point High School and is beginning his 20th season as coach of the Bulldogs. His CP teams have won 418 games and numerous sectional and regional titles to go along with eight Duneland Athletic Conference titles. He served as IHSBCA President during this time; and was a 2005 and 2021 North All-Star coach. Strayer teaches Mathematics at Crown Point High School. He resides in Crown Point with love of his life Jennifer and beautiful daughter Charlotte.
Only a few years removed from playing himself, Adam Cornwell sees what makes today’s young baseball players tick in the era of metrics and analytics. “It’s a different era of baseball,” says Cornwell, a former pitcher at Bloomington High School North, the University of Indianapolis, University of Pittsburgh and independent professional ball and the head coach of the 2021 Park Rangers in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “They want to show off their athletic ability a little more as well as their velocity, strength and all this stuff. “Metrics are a big numbers and they’re being used. Every single pitch is measured.” When not guiding the Park Rangers, Cornwell can often be found at Grand Park learning how to use technology like TrackMan. He is also seeking his next full-time gig. He just finished a two-year stint on the coaching staff at the University of Dayton, where he had access to Rapsodo, Synergy and more. Jayson King is the Flyers head coach. Cornwell assisted pitching coach Travis Ferrick. Dayton won 11 straight Atlantic-10 Conference games leading into the conference tournament where the Flyers were beaten by Virginia Commonwealth in the championship game. Cornwell spent the 2019 season at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. It Paul Panik’s first season as a head coach and his Gaels staff was among the youngest in NCAA Division I with Panik (29), head assistant Andrew Pezzuto (26), volunteer J.T. Genovese (23) and pitching coach Cornwell (24). “Learning with those guys was awesome,” says Cornwell, now 26. “I had freedom and it made me grow faster. I was thrown into the fire early. “I’m super-thankful for the opportunity I was given over there.” Before beginning his coaching career, right-hander Cornwell pitched briefly with the Frontier League’s 2018 Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums. Manager Dan Rohn and pitching coach Greg Cadaret were former big leaguers. Cornwell was signed by Traverse City after playing for the Grizzly in the California Winter League in Palm Springs. There he got to work with Dom Johnson and work out with Joe Musgrove (who pitched the first no-hitter in San Diego Padres history April 9, 2021). “Dom is probably the best pitching coach in the country,” says Cornwell. “He’s just a stud. “I got to work out with (Musgrave) a lot. I got to learn how pro guys go about their day and their business. Dom showed me how I needed to change my ways of working out. He is the guy that made me the player I was.” Cornwell was connected to Johnson through Tracy Smith, whom Cornwell knew from Smith’s time as head coach at Indiana University in Bloomington. “He is the reason I wanted to get into coaching,” says Cornwell of the former Arizona State University head coach. “I see the way he was day in and day out and how his kids looked up to him. He’s their hero. There’s no better family than that family.” Smith’s children are among Cornwell’s best friends. Jack Smith was going to be in his Oct. 24 wedding in Bloomington (Cornwell is engaged to Renee Rhoades of St. Charles, Ill.) but he is expected to be the starting quarterback at Central Washington University after transferring from Arizona State. Cornwell played three seasons for College Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Vaught and pitching coach Mark Walther at UIndy and graduated in 3 1/2 years. He joined the Pitt Panthers featuring head coach Joe Jordano and pitching coach Jerry Oakes just before the start of the 2017 season. “I credit my coaching path to Coach Vaught,” says Cornwell. “He got me to the University of Pittsburgh. That’s where I made connections to start coaching.” Cornwell, who holds Sport Management from Indianapolis and master’s degree in Athletic Coaching from Ball State University, appreciates his relationship with Walther. “He’s a great dude and a hard worker,” says Cornwell. “As a pitching coach he allowed me to be me.” Walther, the director of operations at Pro X Athlete Development, now runs the College Summer League at Grand Park and Cornwell reached out to him and landed his position with the Park Rangers and has former UIndy pitcher John Hendry and former Center Grove High School pitcher and current Trojans freshmen coach Zach Anderson as assistants. Born and raised in Bloomington, Cornwell played in Danny Smith Park Baseball Leagues in Unionville, Ind., beginning at age 4. The Smithville (Ind.) Sluggers were an early travel team. In high school, he was with the Southern Indiana Redbirds among others. That team featured three players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Seymour High School graduate Zack Brown (fifth round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016), Columbus North alum Daniel Ayers (25th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013) and Greenwood Community graduate Alex Krupa (35th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2015). In one tournament at East Cobb in Atlanta, Cornwell’s team picked up Nick Senzel as a shortstop and Cornwell pitched the only no-hitter of his career. Senzel is now an outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds. A 2013 Bloomington North graduate, Cornwell play for Richard Hurt. “He’s a worker and he does everything right,” says Cornwell of Hurt. “He’s on top of everything. He’s super-prepared. Every practice is down to the T. “He demands respect and in return he gives a ton of respect to his players and the freed to be what they want to be. That’s the way these kids are taking to coaching and he understands that.” Adam is the son of Kara (John) Jacobs and George (Michelle) Cornwell and has seven siblings — Andrew, Matt, Allison, Jake, Sabrina, Ayden and Addisyn.
Bill Pierce, his baseball coach at Floyd Central, let him know about a teaching and coaching opening at Floyd Central and LaDuke came home. After a few years as an assistant, the 1984 FCHS graduate has led the Highlanders on the diamond since 1999.
LaDuke also spent about 15 years on the Floyd Central football staff — most of those with Ron Weigleb, a man he had been a wide receiver, kicker and punter for as a player (LaDuke played one season at Kentucky State University before transferring to BSU, where he decided on an education path as a junior and graduated in 1990).
“He’s my big influence as a coach,” says LaDuke of Weigleb. “Some of the things he instilled into the football program we try to do with the baseball program — things like discipline, responsibility and keeping kids accountable. There’s more to it than just playing the game.”
It’s the life lessons that last.
LaDuke appreciated how Weigleb created a family atmosphere. When his coaches went to a clinic, the wives came along and everyone got close.
Dora LaDuke, a 1986 Floyd Central graduate and former Highlander athlete, died after a long battle with Leukemia in 2012 at age 45. Casey and Dora’s daughter, Sydney, is now a senior Elementary Education major at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany.
Bedford North Lawrence, Jeffersonville, Jennings County and New Albany all have turf on their home diamonds.
Floyd Central plays at spacious Highlander Field.
“It’s one of the biggest fields at the high school level,” says LaDuke. “It’s one of the best natural surface fields in the area. We take pride in it.”
LaDuke, his assistants and players have put in many hours maintaining the field.
“It’s my place to get away,” says LaDuke.
The FCHS sports complex includes two fields each for baseball, softball and soccer next to a stadium used for football and track and field.
Tennis courts are less than a mile away at the middle school, which has club baseball with two eighth grade squads feeding the three at the high school — varsity and two junior varsity teams.
LaDuke says 72 players signed up for fall activities. About 60 participated in tryouts this spring, leaving about 45 players.
The coach says the numbers going into tryouts were higher since cuts were not made prior to the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown and loss of season and many of those players came out again in 2021.
Highlander Youth Recreation sponsors baseball teams from age 5 to 13.
Floyd Central is part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bedford North Lawrence, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, New Albany (the 2021 host) and Seymour. The Highlanders have won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2015.
The 2013 squad was ranked No. 1 in the state. The Highlanders lost to Jeffersonville in the Bedford North Lawrence championship game.
LaDuke’s main 2021 assistants are Floyd Central graduates Jamie Polk and Chris Hogan. With a hiatus as head coach at North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind., Polk has been with LaDuke since he took over the Highlanders. Hogan came on board about three of four years in.
He is a four-time IHSBCA district and five-time Hoosier Hills Conference coach of the year.
McIntyre has coached 13 IHSBCA South All-Stars, more than 40 players who have gone on to play college baseball with three players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and two big leaguers.
Chris, a high school math teacher at New Albany, and wife Shannon have two sons — Tyler and Kevin.
Umpire Robinson is a graduated of Harry E. Wood High School in Indianapolis and Indiana University Kokomo. He played one year of high school baseball and started umpiring high school games in 1980 and enjoyed a 35-year career.
Robinson worked 33 sectionals. 25 regionals, 14 semistates and six state championships. He worked six IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series and was named an IHSBCA Umpire of the Year five times.
In 1994, Robinson was elected to the National Federation Baseball Rules Committee and served from 1995-1998.
In 2002, he was named IHSAA/NFOA Baseball Official of the Year and he was named as the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year. James coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years.
Robinson has been a high school and college referee in football. He worked six years in NCAA Division II and seven years in the Mid-American Conference.
He has also refereed the state basketball finals and the state football finals. Later in his career, he became a replay official for the MAC and then moved to the Big Ten. He was a replay official in the National Championship game in 2014 at the Rose Bowl between Florida State and Auburn.
Robinson has served on the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame board of directors.
James and his wife Nada (deceased) have one daughter and a grandson: Chiquita and Kameron.
Allen played his collegiate baseball at Purdue University, where he was twice named team MVP.
A winner of six varsity letters, Allen was also the quarterback and the MVP of the 1960 football team, helping the Boilers to win over No. 1 Minnesota, No. 12 Notre Dame as well as Ohio State. He out-dueled Fran Tarkenton in the annual Blue-Gray Game.
Allen was an All-American shortstop for Purdue in 1961 and signed with the Minnesota Twins.
A second baseman for most of his pro career, the 6-foot-185-pounder played in more than 1,100 Major League Baseball games for the Twins (making his debut in 1962), Washington Senators, New York Yankees and Montreal Expos.
After his playing career, Allen moved back to his native Liverpool, Ohio — the Pottery Capital of the World — and worked for Ferro Corp. for 17 years.
He moved to Carmel, Ind., in the mid 1980s and has never left. Allen, who has been married for 51 years and has one son, three daughters, a step-son, a step-daughter, 16 total grandchildren and three great grandkids.
Kyle Wade got the chance to be an athletic leader at a young age.
He was an eighth grader in Kokomo, Ind., and attending football workouts when Kokomo High School head coach Brett Colby let him know the expectations of the program and the community.
“This is your team next year” says Wade, recalling the words Colby said to the varsity Wildkats’ heir apparent at quarterback as a freshman in the fall of 2014. “On our first thud (in practice), I think I stuttered the words and dropped the ball.
“(Colby) told me, ‘you can’t show weakness to your teammates’ and ‘never act like you can’t.’ I took that to heart.”
“Coach Swan was positive, but he wasn’t afraid to get on us,” says Wade of his high school baseball experience. “(Swan) trusted us.
“We were an older team with a lot of guys who would go on to Power 5 (college) baseball (including Class of 2018’s Jack Perkins to Louisville and Bayden Root to Ohio State and Class of 2020’s Charez Butcher to Tennessee).”
Wade appreciates Moore for his organization skills and discipline.
“His scouting reports were next level,” says Wade. “Coach Wonnell won a state tournament (Class 1A at Tindley in 2017). He asked me about playing again (as a senior). He wanted a leader. He helped keep me in shape (Wade was 235 pounds at the end of his senior football season and 216 at the close of the basketball season).”
A combination of physicality, basketball I.Q. gained from having a father as a former Kokomo head coach (2000-05), he played on the front line — even guarding 7-footers.
“I had to mature. I’ve led by by example, pushing guys to get better and motivated to play. I’ve had to have mental toughness. I’ve never been one of the most talented guys on my teams.”
But Wade showed enough talent that he had college offers in football and baseball. He chose the diamond and accepted then-head coach Mark Wasikowski’s invitation to play at Purdue University.
“As a freshman coming into a Big Ten program, I had older guys who helped get me going and taught me about work ethic,” says Wade. “He have a lot of new guys (in 2020-21). As a junior, I’m in that position this year and doing it to the best of my ability.”
The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season was his second as a right-handed pitcher for the Boilermakers.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder appeared in five games (all in relief) and went 1-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 6 2/3 innings, he struck out two and walked one.
As a freshman in 2019, Wade got into 15 games (two as a starter) and went 2-2 with a 5.18 ERA. In 40 innings, he struck out 27 and walked 11.
The professional left-handed pitcher was not willing to settle.
So when the Lafayette, Ind., native became a free agent after the 2019 Major League Baseball season, he decided a transformation was in order after appearing in 275 MLB games (210 as a starter) since 2008.
“My performance was not matching up with what I desire to be,” says Richard, who went 1-5 with a 5.96 earned run average in 10 starts with the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays and was released Sept. 12 (his 36th birthday). “I decided to make a tangible change to improve production.
He established a plan of action and came back to Lafayette and started implementing it. He built a barn next to his house and goes out there every morning.
“I’m throwing into a net quite a bit, which isn’t the most fun,” says Richard. “But the net never lies. It shows you exactly where the ball went.
“A good catcher can manipulate pitches.”
The pitcher also wrote down his plan, painstakingly laying out the details.
“Before the baseball world came to a screeching halt, I was frequently asked ‘What are you doing now?’ by friends and family alike,” writes Richard in the introduction to the project. “Although the question was simple enough, I honestly didn’t feel comfortable enough to delve into exactly what I was doing with my time – mostly due to the fact that I didn’t think the majority of people really care where my spin axis was that week.
“Like most unsigned free agent pitchers in professional baseball, it is much easier to state, ‘just throwing every day and waiting for the right opportunity.’
“The reality is I have been up to a lot more than simply throwing a few baseballs everyday. I have used the last few months to make significant changes this off-season. The effectiveness of my pitching repertoire had changed for the worse over the past two seasons.
“Based on that, I could choose to continue down the same path, one with an aim to execute pitches at a higher rate but likely be relegated to a LHP bullpen role, or veer headfirst into changing how my pitches profiled to RHH in an effort to level out the platoon splits for longer outings.
“I honestly debated the choice many times over – my wife likely got sick of my asking her or talking to myself. Ultimately, I came up with a plan to revamp my arsenal to return in time as the starting pitcher, the role I have worked to become since first pitching in my backyard with my dad squatting behind the plate and my mother standing in the box.”
Clayton is the oldest of Barry and Cindy Richard’s three children ahead of daughters Casey (Davenport) and Taylor (Bumgarner). Barry is a retired Lafayette Police offer and has served as sheriff of Tippecanoe County and the executive director of Lyn Trece Boys & Girls Club of Tippecanoe County. Cindy has worked with troubled teenagers.
Most of Richard’s charitable work in baseball has been centered on at-risk youth. He and his wife have worked with the Lyn Trece BGC and and clubs in San Diego.
“We only get to play baseball for so long,” says Richard. “The impact off the field really lasts.”
Richard was the Padres’ nominee for the Heart & Hustle Award (given out annually the the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association to a current player who not only excels not he field, but also “best embodies the values, spirits and traditions of baseball”) and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award (given annually to a Major League Baseball player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement”).
“To be honored with those types of things is really humbling,” says Richard. “It shows what’s really important in life.”
“Sept. 12, 2004,” says Richard, who was then a redshirt freshman. “That was the day after Michigan was upset 28-20 against Notre Dame. Sophomore Chad Henne was kept at quarterback for that game and moving forward. “I saw writing on the wall. I knew my football career at Michigan was probably coming to an end.”
Soon after the Rose Bowl, Richard went to the baseball team. He appeared in 21 games and went 0-1 with five saves and a 2.43 ERA. He was selected in the eighth round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox and signed by Anderson, Ind.-based scout Mike Shirley.
Richard made his big league debut with the White Sox in 2008 at 24. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2009. He elected free agency after the 2013 season.
Richard was traded to the Chicago Cubs and returned to a big league mound in 2015. He returned to the Padres in August 2016 and remained with them until he designated for assignment in December 2018. That same month Richard was traded to the Blue Jays.
For his career, he is 69-84 with a 4.51 ERA and 824 strikeouts in 1,284 2/3 innings.
Richard has been described as a contact pitcher.
“You never set out to have guys hit the ball,” says Richard. “Weak contact on contact on the ground is a really good thing.
“Guys who typically have a lower spin rate tend to sink the ball. That creates more early contact and more early outs with balls on the ground.”
As he began “Project 2020” in earnest, Richard met with Driveline founder/owner Kyle Boddy and started working with manager of online training Dean Jackson.
More from 2020 Project:
“I need to use my past as a compass to my future. I am too evolved in my career to think what I have done doesn’t matter while looking to improve.
“My Past: I learned how to throw a football first.
“Why that’s important: If I desire to make some fundamental changes to my delivery, I need to be willing to change in complete, as the foundation of my throwing process was built around throwing a football.
“I had to make arm, body, and mechanical compensations mid-career due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. (TOS: the compression of the brachia plexus that is the highway of nerves, arteries and/or veins that controls and supplies to the arm. In myself it manifested as drastic pain in the anterior shoulder).
“Why that’s important: I need to be aware of why I started to do ‘strange’ things throwing a baseball and understand that it’ll be difficult to kick those old habits.
“I made additional compensations in 2018 to get past knee issues.
“Why that’s important: For very much the same reason as the TOS. My body had compensated to cover up inefficiencies, and I had to retrain myself to get back to my old self.
“The combination of these three athletic factors left me with a delivery that was nonathletic and not overly effective, so I tried to throw the old delivery out the window.
“Getting rid of that old delivery has been much like getting water out of a tire. You can see it. You don’t want it there. Yet, you are forced to keep flipping over that tire again and again because only a small portion comes out with every flip.
“The easier part for me was self-evaluating thru identifying pitches and zones that needed improvement from my past. The info was sadly pretty clear to me that not much of my arsenal was effective vs RHH other than my slider. The worst part of the self evaluation was that the slider was largely ineffective last season also due to a whole host of reasons.
“What I also found was that my sinker at the bottom of the zone – my bread and butter that generated ground balls — had turned from a viable option to one that was generating less and less favorable results.
“My change-up as well had blended into a pitch that too closely mirrored the not so great metrics of my sinker. My analytics study showed my ability to cut and spin the ball was also compromised, due to the lower arm slot and release angle that had been an effective and physically necessary approach a couple of seasons prior.
“A few years ago after another brief self evaluation, I moved to the other side of the rubber, spent the offseason trying to manipulate the change up, and reintroduce a cut fastball into my mix.
“To my naked eye, these worked great and I was oozing with confidence. The ball flight suggested they were good, catch partners loved them, and bullpen catchers were on board. Everything was smooth and positive until a RHH got into the box and took swings at the pitches.
“Going into this offseason, I set the goal of raising my arm angle to create a better four seam fastball vs RHH. This adjustment would change my approach angle, movement profile, and velocity. The new angle would also allow me to differentiate my off-speed from the FB more effectively.
“I felt like I had a good idea of what I wanted to accomplish but didn’t want to lose out on the opportunity to consult specialists in this area of pitching.
“Last year, I worked with a longtime pitching coach that requests to be anonymous. This year I had started to follow Driveline (DL) through social media and been reading up on their research. I decided to reach out to Kyle Boddy. He quickly responded and gave me all the information I needed. I made the trip to Washington to check out Driveline.
“Their information surprised me a bit but offered a roadmap of the last few months: my lower body was not creating much force, and my delivery was not syncing up efficiently enough to create optimized velocity into the ball.”
Richard offered a summary of his Driveline Report:
“Key Notes: Arm action is overall clean and efficient, elbow is a bit low at ball release. However, this is not currently having a negative effect on the rest of the arm action.
“The trunk opening early into foot plant is most likely pulling the arm out of efficient positions too early in the throw.
“Trunk opens early into foot plant. Hip/shoulder separation and timing are inefficient with room to improve.”
Biomechanics details: “Richard’s upper body kinematic positions are within normal to above average ranges for the most part. He does a great job creating above average scap retraction into foot plant (47 degs). Low shoulder abduction at ball release (79 degs). Besides that, no other glaring inefficiencies noted.
“He does a good job staying stacked with good forward (-10 degs) and lateral (4 degs) trunk tilt early into foot plant. However, there are some other inefficiencies noted. Richard’s trunk is opening early into foot plant (21 degs). This is limiting Richard’s ability to create hip/shoulder separation (18 degs) and timing from peak pelvis to peak torso angular velocity (0.0111 secs). This is most likely a product of inefficient trunk/pelvis positions at foot plant making it hard to create separation and sequence efficiently. Hip/shoulder separation drills should be emphasized to work on this by holding counter-rotation and staying stacked with the trunk while the pelvis opens into foot plant.
“With those notes, I had all the information I needed to start down my path of change,” writes Richard of his plan. “Here is a sample formula for a delivery that I will refer to a few times moving forward: Just as 10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10=100, Mindset+Focus+Breath+Feet+Legs+Hips+Torso+Arms+Hand+Sights=Delivery or an Executed Pitch.
“This is an oversimplification pitch delivery to try to illustrate my point. Every pitcher will have a unique equation that reaches their own version of 100.
“When a pitcher changes one small thing in his delivery, he will no longer be at his desired 100.
“Example: I moved my throwing foot to be more flush with the rubber (had to exaggerate to feel as if my toes were pointing at the plate to get there).
Changing that ‘10’ in my foot to an ‘8’ left my solution at ‘98’. Then, I had to go step by step through the rest of my delivery to see what else needed adjusted to get back to 100. In this case, it was just my sights.
“The foot adjustment happened quickly, and my sights adjusted without much issue. Some fixes come relatively easily, but other changes require many frustrating training sessions to find out what was changed and what correlated adjustment needs made.
“Here are a few of the most frustrating parts I encounter when setting out to make a significant change:
“Seeing what is wrong and not feeling it.
“Feeling an adjustment made and not seeing it.
“Expectations not lining up with reality.
“Physical restrictions limiting a faster progression (in my case, blisters).
“I have also figured out you have to go through the frustrating parts to make progress. If you are not getting sore in new places, experiencing blisters, throwing balls off the backstop, then you’re likely not making much of a change at all.
“Making a fundamental change takes hundreds, even thousands of reps, and the outcome revealed is often incremental. My mind and body have worked together so long and over so many reps, it takes a while to break up the chemistry they have going.
“I started working from home while staying in contact with Dean Jackson of DL. We decided to start working from the ground up. Working on my lower half was a very frustrating process.
“Before the past couple of years, I had never put any thought into what my lower body was doing when I was pitching.
“The first part of my lower half adjustment was easy enough: moving my throwing foot flush with the rubber.
“I originally moved my heel off of the rubber to even out my delivery equation when I moved from the other side of the rubber to face RHH two years ago.
“I was having trouble with my command and made a quick fix to change the way by body angled to the plate vs changing something else.
“In getting my heel closer to the rubber, it improved my ability to get into my left hip. What felt good was often wrong and what felt foreign was generally right where I needed to be.
“I spent months trying to get more out of my legs to no avail. I was going back and forth with Dean, almost daily, toiling over changes that could make the positive impact we so desired. He did a remarkable job promptly responding and sending video examples when necessary.
“My mind was totally on my legs, but that is exactly where I was going wrong: I was putting too much emphasis on them. If I think back to when things were going well before the knee issues, there was no thought put into what my lower half was doing.
“Thinking about how it moves, I’m essentially locking it up. I stole a cue from Trevor Cahill, who sent me a video of him getting his foot down before an obstacle (keeping his glove foot on the throwing side of the midline to the plate). “That is what clicked with me after countless attempts to get my lower half moving ‘right’. What I had been doing was putting so much focus into my leg movement that the process of the lower half going down the slope was taking too long for my foot get down. It was just the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish.
“The next step was how my torso was moving in space at a couple of different points through my delivery.
“Closing off my upper half relative to my hips; Hip/Shoulder separation. The elite throwers do this very well. Over time, my natural ability to do this had been compromised by the many adjustments made to command the ball.
“One of the first attempts was to try to ‘glove tap’ at leg lift. Rob Hill suggested it, and this helped a little, but I didn’t feel that it made as drastic of a change as I desired.
“One day, I remembered back to learning to pitch for the first time in the back yard with my father. I originally misunderstood what he meant when he was telling me ‘all the way back’.
“We would play out imaginary at-bats and call ‘balls’ and ‘strikes.’ If I were to fall behind, he would exclaim, ‘Come on Clayton. All the way back!
“Six-year-old me understood this as reaching my glove and ball all the way back towards second base as far as I could before I delivered the pitch. I didn’t understand ‘all the way back’ as a saying to get back into the count until embarrassingly late in my baseball days.
“So, I used the input from Rob and my father to start getting a little more counter rotation with my upper half by driving my hands back at leg lift.
“Getting on top of the ball: One of the biggest obstacles to get the ball to act how I want it to is to get more ‘on top’ of it. My spin axis has gotten pretty low since my return from TOS.
“My spin axis was measured around 9:45. This leads to a terrific amount of arm side run, but in the past couple years it was not enough to keep the RHH at bay. I needed to find a healthy way to raise my hand and effectively raise my spin axis. “One thing I have heard from many pitching coaches and baseball minds more advanced than mine, is that you don’t mess with a player’s arm angle.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t always listen to this wisdom, and I battled to change mine at times earlier in my career, which led to some arm issues. That left me with the challenge to get my hand more vertical without raising my arm relative to my body.
“Enter Torso Tilt: I elected to use my torso to ‘lean’ glove side in an effort to raise ‘arm angle’ and get my spin axis to a more desirable slot. This worked initially, but then proved to be very inconsistent in terms of spin axis.
“The ball was coming out of the same slot consistently, but the axis was very inconsistent.
“I couldn’t figure this out for a long time. I was throwing with RHP Parker Dunshee and took note of his arm slot that is relatively low compared to his 1:00 spin axis.
“We talked it over, and I tried changing the positioning of my thumb on the baseball. Boom. Spin axis at or above 10:30 nearly every pitch following adjustment.
“My thumb was on the side of the ball and I moved it under or essentially polar opposite of my power fingers.
“After my four-seam fastball was starting to profile how I envisioned it, it was time to start commanding that pitch and doing so at higher intensity levels.
“One thing that I have found when implementing changes into a delivery is that I can perform them fairly easily in drill work or super low intensity situations. The real challenge lies in creating my new outcome as soon as a higher level of intensity is introduced and there is more focus on the outcome of the pitch.
“The moment in which I envision a hitter in the box or try to execute a pitch, my mind/body has a tendency to revert back to the form in which it performed that action in the past.”
“Outside of family, there is nothing in my life that has had as much of an impact on my actions and mindset as baseball. I had a high school football coach that would routinely acknowledge ‘pain is a good teacher’.
“There is not much more painful than giving up a home run to give up the lead or lose an MLB game. Those game experiences of pitches that I was beat on are burnt into my mind and body. If I try to tell my body to throw that pitch, my mind will override a poor decision to stay away from that uber painful experience it was once put in.
“It also provides a level of comfort with the delivery that has worked, for the most part, over the course of my career.
“Unfortunately, that delivery that I revert back to is not one I want moving forward while facing RHH. So, I have to make a habit out of making the uncomfortable, comfortable.
“This is where slow-motion video and pitch measuring tools such as Rapsodo really provide an advantage.
“It is impossible to find big league level talent to take swings off you every time you take the mound to work things out.
“The combination of Rapsodo and film have been introduced to somewhat fill that void.
“Nothing can fully replace the feedback of a big-league hitter, but the metrics and video provided from these sources has been a big step forward in seeing the necessary changes, and if I was making the changes the way I had envisioned.
“Now, instead of ‘feeling’ like that was a good pitch, I can look up and check to see if the numbers backed it up. Whenever I think of mental cues and how our mind perceives our body to be moving,
“I recall a conversation with former MLB veteran and fellow Hoosier, Joe Thatcher. I faced him his senior year of high school, and he threw ‘normal’.
“He developed into a Big Leaguer as a guy that dropped down and was very difficult on LHH. I asked him, “When did you start throwing like this?” when we were teammates in SD. He replied, ‘I feel like I’m throwing the same as everyone else, completely normal.’
“It goes to show, no matter how good we are or how far we have come, very rarely is the vision of our mind’s eye 20/20.
“All too often, early in the process, what felt like a great pitch only felt great because it was closer to how I used to throw.
“I wanted to feel weird and make the weird feeling my new normal. This process takes thousands of throws. It can take thousands of throws at each level of intensity.
“Playing catch — Flatground, Side Work, Live BP, Simulated Game, MiLB Game, MLB Game. As I have worked at each level, I have found that there are certain obstacles that pop up because of my body/mind recalling how it used to perform.
“Back to the process – Command: At this point, many of the variables in my delivery equation have been manipulated.
“The only thing remaining is throwing until my new sights line up with where the ball is actually going, without regressing towards what I’m comfortable with.
“This remains easier said than done. Thousands of throws, even a few off the glove were made in this process.
“I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many intelligent baseball minds over the course of my career. In these times of introspection, I will find myself recalling the cues Darren Balsley used to help me improve my sinker, or how Jim Benedict helped get my velo back after the TOS. Whether it was sights under the glove or the concept of throwing it easy and pulling down, I still draw from those interactions and now I have the 4S FB that I desire.
“Unfortunately, I do not throw 101 mph and have the luxury of living off of one pitch. I am forced to incorporate my off speed to compete at the highest level.
“Every time I use a different grip, some part of my delivery is driven back in time due to the muscle memory of that grip. Some grips take weeks to figure out what was not adding up, like my slider (turns out I was failing to drive my hands back at the top of my leg lift like I was with my FB).
“Other grips took just a few throws to iron out the kinks, like my CH. The new hand placement has allowed for the reintroduction of my cutter and curveball, which was kind of like learning new pitches all over again due to the lack of action those pitches have seen over the past few years.”
“I still have some work to do in getting the release points of my off-speed to mirror more closely that of my FB.
“However, they have gradually gotten closer over the last couple of weeks, and I just need to flip that tire a few more times. A couple more flips and the water will likely be out of it – just like I will be back to my ‘new, old self.’”
There is uncertainty about when the Major League Baseball season is going to begin — if at all — and if there will be Minor League Baseball in 2020.
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.
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.”
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)