Tag Archives: Red Devils

Wood takes the reins of West Lafayette baseball

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New head baseball coach Aaron Wood has long been a part of athletics at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.
As a 2000 West Lafayette graduate, Wood earned eight varsity letters for the Red Devils — three in baseball, three in football and two in basketball.
His head coaches were Dan Walbaum in baseball, Ernie Beck and Lane Custer in football and father David Wood in basketball.
Wood has been an assistant coach for all three sports at West Lafayette.
“It’s my way of giving back,” says Wood, who has gotten to work with Walbaum and Joel Strode in baseball, his father in basketball and Shane Fry in football. “I’ve been a member of this baseball program for a long time. The opportunity (to be head coach) presented itself and I took it.”
In Wood’s 13 years on the baseball staff, West Lafayette won three sectionals, two regionals and seven Hoosier Conference titles.
Next year will mark two decades for Wood with Red Devils football. He was the running backs coach under Fry this fall and the 2022 team was ranked No. 1 in IHSAA Class 3A and finished 13-1.
“I have really enjoyed my time with that program,” says Wood. “I hope in some ways we can mimic the success (football) has had in the baseball program in terms of the postseason.
“We want to have some fun and win a whole bunch of games in the process.”
David Wood retired after the 2020-21 season — his 27th as Red Devils head boys basketball coach. He earned nine sectional titles, including in 1999 and 2000.
Aaron Wood, who is in his fifth year as a Physical Education/Health teacher and strength and conditioning coach for West Lafayette, was hired last week to lead West Lafayette on the diamond. Strode is the Red Devils athletic director.
West Lafayette (enrollment around 730) is a member of the Hoosier Conference (with Benton Central, Hamilton Heights, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes and Western).
Each conference baseball team plays each other twice in a home-and-home series during the same week.
The Red Devils are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with Frankfort, North Montgomery, Northwestern, Twin Lakes and Western. West Lafayette has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2011.
The Red Devils play home games on Bob Friend Field, a facility which recently got new paint and work on the dugouts.
West Lafayette went 13-8 overall and 8-1 in the conference last spring. Senior Evan Cooke (.353 with six home runs and 27 runs batted in and 4-2 on the mound with a 1.51 earned run average for 2022) and junior Jack Shaeffer (.400 with 18 RBIs and 2-3) are expected back for 2023. Cooke scored 34 goals this fall for West Lafayette’s 20-1-1 boys soccer team.
While it is not affiliated with the school, West Lafayette Youth Baseball teaches the game at the younger levels.
While he was busy with football, Wood noticed that some baseball players were getting in work at various places in the fall. He looks forward to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Dec. 5-Feb. 4) where baseball activities will be permitted two times a week for two hours.
Wood is in the process of assembling his coaching staff.
“We need to get administrative things out of the way and start focusing on player development,” said Wood.
A former multi-sport athlete himself, Wood is a believer in it.
“We have to have it for our school to have success,” says Wood. “It does wonders for your support and it develops the sort of toughness that we need to win.
“You’re remaining in competitive environments.”
Wood went into the working world out of high school and earned an degree in Organizational Leadership and Supervision degree from Purdue University more than a decade later.
The husband of West Lafayette Elementary School third grade teacher Jennifer Wood later decided to go into education.
“I have a passion for students and coaching,” says Wood. “I got a graduate certificate from Indiana Wesleyan and here I am.
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made professionally.”
With Aaron and Jennifer both being teachers they are on the same schedule and able to spend time together and with daughter Carson (6) and son Carter (3).
“They enjoy being at the various fields and making it a family affair,” says Wood.

Aaron Wood.

Jeffersonville hires veteran baseball man Stock to run Red Devils

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The reputation of the school and the draw of the game have come together for Shayne Stock.
He was recently approved as head baseball coach at Jeffersonville (Ind.) School.
“It’s one of the most-storied programs in this part of the state if not the whole state,” says Shock, who welcomed 32 players to IHSAA Limited Contact Period Activities. It is hoped that the Red Devils can field three teams — varsity and sub-varsity — this spring.
Jeffersonville (enrollment around 2,130) is a member of the Hoosier Hills Conference (with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour).
The Red Devils were are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour. Jeffersonville has won 26 sectional titles — the last in 2019.
Three alums — Drew Ellis, Gabe Bierman and Drew Campbell — played pro ball in 2022. Ellis, son of previous Jeffersonville head coach and 1984 JHS graduate Derek Ellis, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2021.
The Red Devils regularly produce college players.
Max McEwen (Class of 2022) went to Indiana State University. Shortstop/pitcher Brett Denby is verbally-committed to the University of Georgia.
Jeffersonville plays home games on Don Poole Field at John Schnatter Stadium. The facility got a turf infield a few years back.
In assembling his coaching staff, Stock has gotten commitments so far from Jeff Crawford, Alec Dunn and Josh Biven. Crawford has been in the program for two decades. Dunn, a teacher, played for four years Stock at Hanover. Biven coached New Albany Little League deep into the tournament and is the father of University of Louisville freshman Tucker Biven.
Jeff/GRC Little League also has a shining profile and feeds the high school program. With two middle schools — Parkview and River Valley — Stock hopes to have full seventh and eighth grade teams in the spring.
Stock concluded a 13-year run as head coach at Hanover (Ind.) College in 2018.
“I enjoyed working with the guys on a day-to-day basis, the competition level and the travel,” says Stock.
Before leading the NCAA Division III Hanover Panthers, Stock served as head coach for four years at NCAA DIII Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. (2002 to 2005), pitching coach at DIII DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. (1998 and 1999) and was an assistant at Clarksville (Ind.) High School (1997) and an assistant at Hanover (2000 and 2001) under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dr. Dick Naylor.
A 1992 Clarksville graduate, Shayne played for and later coached with his father Wayne Stock, who went into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 1994.
Everything I know about being professional and communicating with kids I learned in my first 22 years,” says Shayne Stock of his father. “He is the foundation of any opportunity I’ve ever had.
“I would assume there are lots of similarities (in our coaching styles). (My teams are) going to be well-prepared and well-disciplined. We’ll play hard until the 21st out is recorded.”
Stock is a 1996 graduate of the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. Gary Redman led the NCAA Division II Screaming Eagles his freshman year and Mike Goedde the last three seasons.
“(Redman) is the the most meticulous detail-oriented human,” says Stock. “He’s the best baseball coach I’ve been around.
“Pretty much all I do pitching philosophy-wise comes from Coach Goedde.”
Stock earned a Masters in Education from Indiana University Southeast in New Albany in 2004. He has taught at area high schools, including Jeffersonville and Charletown, and is married with children.

Shane Stock.
Shayne Stock.
Don Poole Field at Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School.

Hug looks to do damage or do a job in each plate appearance

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chase Hug has a plan when he goes to the plate.
“My general offensive approach is try to find a ball where I can do some damage early in the count,” says Hug, who played his first season at the University of Evansville in 2022 after a year off for Tommy John (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) surgery and rehabilitation. “Late in the count, get the job done — advance or score a runner.”
Hug, a lefty-swinging first baseman/outfielder, was with the Jaxon Shirley managed-Turf Monsters in the 2022 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., before joining the Northwoods League’s Wausau (Wis.) Woodchucks.
In his first 14 Northwoods League games, Hug is hitting a robust .373 (19-of-51) with six home runs (including three circuit clouts Tuesday, July 26 at Madison), 17 walks (vs. seven strikeouts), 20 runs batted in, 18 runs scored and a 1.353 OPS (.529 on-base percentage plus .824 slugging average).
“I try to make sure everything feels right with my swing — day in and day out,” says Hug, a 6-foot, 190-pounder.
A 2018 graduate of Pike High School in Indianapolis, Hug hit .484 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs as a senior for the Todd Webster-coached Red Devils.
“He was a good guy,” says Hug of Webster.
At Dennis Conley-coached Olney (Ill.) Central College, Hug played in 37 games and hit .358 with 17 extra-base hits (five homers), 35 RBIs and 30 runs for the 2019 Blue Knights. He also made five mound starts and went 2-1 with a 2.63 earned run average and 28 strikeouts in 24 innings.
In the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Hug hit .516 in 31 at-bats with nine extra-base hits (two homers), 20 RBIs and 10 runs as Olney Central went 14-1.
After transferring to Evansville in the fall of 2020, Purple Aces coaches advised him to get checked out when his mound velocity began to dip. Hug learned in December 2020 that he needed Tommy John and had the procedure done Jan. 12, 2021.
Hug missed the spring and summer seasons in 2021. His NCAA Division I debut came Feb. 19, 2022 at North Carolina State. He went on to play in 47 games (40 starts) and hit .238 (36-of-151) with 11 homers, 39 RBIs, 32 runs and a .906 OPS (.396/.510).
“Everybody is truly a brother with one another,” says Hug of the culture fostered by Purple Aces head coach Wes Carroll.
This past spring, Evansville went 32-24 and scored 7.2 runs per game.
“It was pretty fun to watch and be a part of,” says Hug.
Having experienced both junior college and D-I baseball, Hug has witnessed differences.
“JUCO is a harder grind,” says Hug, 22. “At Evansville, we ride charter busses and have our own bed in hotel rooms. Per diem is $15 and we have trainers travel with us.”
Junior college travel was done in vans. Hotels weren’t all that comfortable, per diem was much lower and no trainers made these treks. Then hitters had to face pitchers throwing near triple digits. Olney Central is in National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 24 with teams like John A. Logan, Lincoln Trail and Wabash Valley.
Hug, who has two years of eligibility remaining, is an Exercise Science major at UE.
“The last few years I’ve gotten really big into (weightlifting) to help me get better as an athlete,” says Hug. “In this major I’ve been able to learn a lot.”
While job-shadowing college athletic trainers and personal trainers, he’s been able to see what it means to train for bodybuilding vs. the regular athlete.
Older brother Logan Hug is a personal trainer in Atlanta. The 2011 Pike graduate played four years of collegiate baseball in Indiana — two at Ancilla College and two at Manchester University.
Chase, Logan and older sister Stephanie Hug (who manages a shoe store in Evansville) are the children of Jeff and Anne Hug. Jeff Hug manages a printing firm. Anne Hug is a nurse.
Born in Indianapolis, Chase Hug grew up in Pike Township. He played at Westlane-Delaware Trail Little League and then was in travel ball with the Indiana Mustangs from 10U to 17U.
The summer of 2018, he played for the Lebanon (Ind.) Merchants collegiate team.

Chase Hug (University of Evansville Photo)

Chase Hug (University of Evansville Photo)
Chase Hug (University of Evansville Photo)

Chase Hug (University of Evansville Image)

Chase Hug (Wausau Woodchucks Photo)

Jeffersonville, Louisville grad Campbell makes most of year away from baseball games

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Campbell took a negative and turned it into a positive.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantine of 2020 took away the ability to play baseball.
The Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate and former Olney (Ill.) Central and University of Louisville outfielder was heading into his second season in the Atlanta Braves organization when things came to a standstill. Major League Baseball eventually started up. Minor League Baseball did not.
“It was the longest time without baseball since I was born,” says Campbell, who turns 24 on Oct. 10. “It was definitely hard on me. But I did not lose my passion for the game.”
Eventually, Campbell was able to give lessons at Ellis Baseball Academy in Jeffersonville and that put things into perspective.
“Young kids just wanted to play baseball,” says Campbell. “They’re not worried about contracts or who they’re going to play for.
“So (the time away) was a good re-set for everybody. It’s definitely a kids’ game and sometimes we get away from that.”
Another benefit from teaching hitting is that it helped him with his own offensive game by figuring out a way to explain the concepts.
“It’s easy to stay sharp when I’m teaching someone to hit,” says Campbell. “The mental side means a lot more now that I’m older.”
To Campbell, that means taking care of himself — mentally and physically. He’s doing more reading and journaling and getting a handle on his nutrition and workout routine.
“I’m staying positive,” says Campbell, who doesn’t want to take negative thoughts onto the field.
At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, he has put 10 to 15 pounds on his frame in the last year and plans to add about 15 more in the off-season whether working out in Jeffersonville or Louisville. He eats six meals a day, lifts weights thee times a week and gets in hitting when he can.
“My nutrition is where I’ve really got to step up my game,” says Campbell. “I’m on the path to being the guy (the Braves) want me to be.
“That’s someone who hits for more power with more doubles and triples.”
While he missed two months while dealing with a pulled hamstring, Campbell played at three levels in 2021 — rookie-level (Florida Complex League Braves), Low Class-A (Augusta, Ga., GreenJackets) and High Class-A (Rome, Ga., Braves) — and hit .308 (32-of-104) with five home runs, three triples, seven doubles, 20 runs batted in and 32 runs scored in 27 games.
“I finished strong for the year,” says Campbell, who concluded the year with Rome. “I put myself in a good position for next year.”
Campbell, a lefty batter and thrower, played mostly in right field.
“That’s where I feel the most comfortable,” says Campbell. “But I’m an outfielder.
“I can go get the ball no matter where I’m at.”
Selected in the 23rd round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, Campbell hit .224 (24-of-107) with one homer, one triple, four doubles, seven RBIs and eight runs in 28 games that summer for Rome — then a Low Class-A club.
After that first pro season, he completed his course work at Louisville as a Sport Administration major and Criminal Justice minor.
Campbell logged three collegiate seasons — one at National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Olney Central (2017) and two at NCAA Division I Louisville (2018 and 2019).
He batted .294 (53-of-180) with seven homers, three triples, six doubles, 31 RBIs and 35 runs in 50 games at Olney Central for Blue Knights head coach Dennis Conley.
“It was an awesome experience,” says Campbell. “(Conley) is an all-time great coach. That’s Dennis Conley’s town. Everybody knows Dennis Conley. He parks where he wants.
“He really pushed me. Helped me through everything. He definitely cares about his players.”
At U of L, playing for Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell, Campbell hit .310 (108-of-348) with four homers, three triples, 23 doubles, 70 RBIs and 52 runs in 121 games (97 as a starter).
“To have the chance to play for (McDonnell) was awesome,” says Campbell. “I’m excited to see what he does with the Cardinals (in 2022).”
Louisville went 51-18 and played in 2019 College World Series. Campbell became the first U of L player to be named to the all-CWS team, hitting .462 (6-for-13) with three RBIs. Batting seventh and playing right field, he went 3-for-4 including a walk-off base hit in an elimination game against Mississippi State.
At Jim Patterson Stadium, there is a locker room dedicated to professionals that have played at Louisville. There Campbell is likely to run into people like Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis (Arizona Diamondbacks), New Albany’s Josh Rogers (Washington Nationals), 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick Henry Davis (Pittsburgh Pirates system) and San Francisco Giants minor leaguers Tyler Fitzgerald and Logan Wyatt.
Born in Jeffersonville, Campbell played T-ball at the YMCA in Clarksville and attended grade school and middle school there. He was at Jeff/GRC Little League, where he first played for Derek Ellis (who was later his head coach at Jeffersonville High and runs Ellis Baseball Academy) and then with the Louisville Longhorns and Ironmen travel teams as well as the Ricky Romans-managed Floyds Knobs American Legion Post 42 team.
Drew is the second of Tony and Keri Campbell’s four children. Nick Campbell was a senior at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville when Drew was a freshman.
“It was only time I got to play with my older brother,” says Drew of Nick, who is now 27. Kyle Campbell (16) is a sophomore and Andrea Campbell (15) a freshman — both at Jeffersonville.
Drew played his last three prep seasons at Jeffersonville and graduated in 2016. With the Red Devils, he was reunited with Derek Ellis.
“He teaches baseball the right way,” says Campbell, who counts Derek’s son, Drew Ellis, as one of his buddies.
Campbell was an all-state selection at Jeffersonville. In 2016, he slugged eight home runs, drove in 27 and scored 30 in 25 games and was named Southern Indiana Player of the Year in by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Drew Campbell (Atlanta Braves Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)

New Richmond head coach Brankle combining Old School, New School

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Brankle is a familiar face in a different place on the Wayne County, Ind., baseball scene.
Brankle pitched at Earlham College and for the Richmond RiverRats and was head coach for the Richmond Jazz and Cambridge City Lincoln Middle/High School.
In July, the 28-year-old became head coach at Richmond High School.
With the Red Devils, Brankle is establishing a culture where Old School meets New School.
“I’m going to use a lot of the Old School strategies, but try to do it with a modern approach,” says Brankle. “That’s what our players have grown up with.
“We’re going to be disciplined in how we handle every moment of our day. I’m high on grades. We expect to miss zero assignments and have zero F’s. We’ll be 10 minutes early everywhere we go, including school. We’ll be dressed properly with shirts tucked in and hats forward.
“I know there’s a lot more to this life than baseball I’m going to try to teach them skills in baseball that will help them in those situations.”
Brankle has learned coaches he played for and applied it to his coaching style.
“I’ve taken the best of all of those and found a middle ground,” says Swinson.
Steve Swinson was his coach with the Kokomo (Ind.) Longhorns travel ball team.
“He never yelled,” says Brankle of Swinson. “He built a relationship with you that you respected.
“My high school coaches were more demanding, but also understood the New School mentality.”
Brankle played three years for Jeremy Luna and Brent Owens as a senior at Taylor High School in Kokomo.
(Luna) was hard-nosed — kind of a football style — and was upbeat all the time,” says Brankle, who played shortstop and third base when he was not pitching for the Titans. “(Owens) was even-keeled most of the time.”
At Earlham, Brankle’s head coach was Steve Sakosits.
“Coach was full of energy all the time — most of the time it was positive,” says Brankle of Sakosits. “He has one heckuva of a drive in him and it definitely leaks out to his players.”
Old School in his approach, Coach Sak’s Quakers were expected to be clean-shaven with short hair cuts.
At EC, Brankle was named Newcomer of the Year (2012), Pitcher of the Year (2013) and earned the All-Heartland Collegiate Conference Sportsmanship Award (2013), Captains Award (2015) and George Van Dyke Outstanding Athlete Award (2015). At the time of graduation, he was No. 1 in all-time strikeouts, No. 2 in career saves and innings and No. 3 in career mound appearances.
Brankle played for the RiverRats in the summers of 2013 and 2014. After graduating in 2015 with a Fine Arts degree, he played independent professional baseball with the Lake Erie Crushers.
He was the head coach for the Jazz in the summer of 2016 and assisted Patrick Flanagan at Eaton (Ohio) High School in the springs of 2016 and 2017.
Brankle was head coach at Cambridge City 2018-21. He taught at Richmond Community School’s Test Intermediate School for 2 1/2 years before Cambridge City and is now a Special Education teacher at Richmond’s Dennis Middle School.
In May 2021, Brankle completed a Masters in Education from Indiana University East and is now working on a Masters in Educational Leadership from American College of Education.
Richmond (enrollment around 1,375) is a member of the North Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison of West Lafayette, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon and Muncie Central).
The NCC is split into two divisions with Richmond in the East.
In 2021, the Red Devils were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Muncie Central and Pendleton Heights (2021 host). Richmond has won 29 sectional titles — the last in 2011.
Richmond plays home games on John Cate Field at Don McBride Stadium.
“The history is the best part,” says Brankle of a park built in the 1930s that has seen Bob Feller, Satchel Paige and many more diamond legends play there. “We don’t talk about it enough.
“Some of the kids don’t understand the significance.”

Matt and wife of seven years, Kelsey Brankle, have three children — daughters Amillia (5) and Abigail (3) and son Broden (1 1/2).

Matt Brankle (Richmond High School Photo)
The Brankle family (from left): Amillia, Abigail, Broden, Kelsey and Matt.
The Brankle family (from left): First row — Amillia and Abigail; Back row — Broden, Matt and Kelsey.

Indiana University righty Bierman signs with Miami Marlins

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gabe Bierman has faced adversity and personal crisis on his way to professional baseball.
The Jeffersonville, Ind., lost his father during his freshman year at Indiana University.
Douglas Bierman Jr., passed at 49 on May 16, 2019.
“I fought through my dad’s death and ended on a good note,” says Bierman, who signed July 18 with the Miami Marlins after being selected in the seventh round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
A right-handed pitcher who committed to IU as a Jeffersonville High School freshman, Gabe was on the mound two days after Dougie Bierman died and hurled three shutout innings with four strikeouts against Rutgers and fanned two and allowed just two hits in 3 2/3 innings in an NCAA Tournament game against Illinois Chicago. He wrapped his freshman year as a Hoosier at 4-0. In 20 games (15 as a reliever), he posted a 3.56 earned run average and struck out 46 while walking 18 in 48 innings.
Bierman’s time management skills — something needed by all college students but especially an athlete — were lacking during his early days in Bloomington. He persevered.
As Bierman developed on the diamond, he got tougher. Jeffersonville pitching coach P.J. Thomas and he had talked about being a warrior and that’s the mentality he takes each time he steps on the mound.
“I’m someone who will get the job done and battle,” says Bierman, 21. “I’m a person who fights and fights and fights.”
Add to that pitchability, game management and the stuff that goes along with it.
In three seasons (2019-21) at IU playing for head coach Jeff Mercer and pitching coach Justin Parker, Bierman made 36 appearances (21 starts) and went 11-5
with one save and a 4.00 ERA. He had 150 K’s and 57 walks in 144 innings.
In 2021, Bierman had 12 starts and 5-4 record to go with a 3.16 ERA. He produced 80 strikeouts and 30 walks in 74 innings. On May 9 against Nebraska, the righty whiffed 11 batters and walked one in nine frames.
The COVID-19 pandemic kept Indiana strictly Big Ten Conference games and limited the home crowd at Bart Kaufman Field. That had no adverse effect on Bierman.
“My game and what I do on the mound is focused no matter what,” says Bierman. “There are no external factors.”
When Bierman pledged to play at Indiana, Chris Lemonis was head coach and Kyle Bunn pitching coach. Their successors got a thumbs-up from the pitcher who won four baseball letters and set career and single-game strikeout marks at Jeffersonville.
“I was pretty confident and Mercer and Parker and their good reputation,” says Bierman. “I needed that for my career moving forward.
“What I’m doing now reflects how they treated me and my journey through IU.”
A 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, Bierman throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, change-up and curveball from a three-quarter overhand arm slot.
His fastest pitch is sinking two-seamer that sits at 89 to 93 mph and hit 95 in the summer of 2020 while Bierman was playing for the Prospect League’s Normal (Ill.) Cornbelters.
A sinking change-up came during his freshman year and he added the slider as a sophomore. Rapsodo data has helped him refine these pitches.
“I shortened up arm path in my sophomore year to get better movement on the slider,” says Bierman. “Eventually everything came along with more bite and more movement.”
Bierman signed with the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla., and its there that he is beginning to prepare as a pro.
Miami’s four affiliate clubs are the Low Class-A Jupiter (Fla.) Hammerheads, High Class-A Beloit (Wis.) Snappers, Double-A Pensecola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos and Jacksonville (Fla.) Jumbo Shrimp.
Where does Bierman go and when?
“It depends on how hard I work,” says Bierman. “I’ll put anything on the table for any organization.
“I’ll do anything I have to get to the top.”
Bierman’s first organized baseball came at Jeff/GRC Little League, where he played from age 5 to 12. Then came travel ball with the Louisville-based Ironman Baseball Club 13U to 17U.
Derek Ellis was his head coach with the Jeffersonville Red Devils.
“Derek was great,” says Bierman of Ellis. “We had several meetings together to see what my career could look like. “He pushed me and motivated me to the best version of myself.”
Following his freshmen year at IU, Bierman played for the Northwoods League’s 2019 Kenosha (Wis.) Kingfish.
Since the end of the 2021 season and being selected by and reporting to the Marlins, Bierman spent time in Bloomington keeping physically sharp and spending time with family. His mother is Andrea Bierman. His stepmother is Molly Bierman. He has five siblings — sister Mekenzi (an Indiana University Southeast student) and brothers Elijah, Nick, Ashton and Myles.

Gabe Bierman (Indiana University Photo)
Gabe Bierman (Indiana University Photo)
Gabe Bierman (Indiana University Photo)
Gabe Bierman (Indiana University Photo)
Gabe Bierman (Indiana University Photo)

Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Larry Owens was playing baseball for Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School in the mid-1980’s, he had no sense of his future in the game.

Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.

“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”

Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.

“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”

Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.

“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).

Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992. 

The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).

Entering the college coaching ranks, Owens was as assistant to Warriors head coach Scott Rendel at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1994 and 1995. 

In the fall of 1995, Owens was a volunteer at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) with Keith Guttin as Bears head coach and Paul Evans as pitching coach.

When Mike Snyder left the University of Louisville as pitching coach, Owens got the job and served with Cardinals head coach Lelo Prado in 1996 and 1997.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons saw Owens as pitching coach for Governors head coach Gary McClure at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

That was follow by a four-year stint (2001-04) as Tigers head coach Dave Anderson’s pitching coach at the University of Memphis.

In the summer of 2005, Owens got his first taste of pro coaching. He was pitching coach for the independent Golden League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs with manager Terry Kennedy, who had played in the majors with Anderson. It was also the last season as a player for a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson.

“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”

Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.

“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.

“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”

Owens was an area scout with the Boston Red Sox in 2006.

The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.

Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.

“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”

One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics. 

When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.

“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”

Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).

Owens, who was featured on the Dec. 7, 2020 Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV and hosted by Jeremy Sheetinger, is leading Bellarmine’s move to D-I baseball. He cut his term as American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA D-II chair short when his program made the switch.

The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.

“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.

“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.

Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.

“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.

After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).

“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.

“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”

Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.

“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”

At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.

That ended up being Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., where Lebanon, Ind., native Joe Roberts was the Pirates head coach.

“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”

Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out. 

“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”

Owens was selected in the 27th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by he Atlanta Braves and played that summer for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves, but he knew his future was in coaching.

So after taking 1991 off, he launched into what has been a baseball coaching odyssey.

Larry Owens talks to Ryan Wheat (Louisville Legends Video).
Larry Owens, a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The 2021 season is to be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I. (Bellarmine University Photo)

As instructor, coach, Basham still endorses narrow offensive focus

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Basham did not have multiple hitting philosophies floating in his head when he stepped into the batter’s box as a Lowell (Ind.) High School Red Devil.

Lowell head coach Kent Hess let Basham do his thing and it paid dividends.

“He was a really positive guy,” says Basham of Hess. “He was hands-off. That made a big difference in terms of my development.

“I was keeping a narrow focus.”

That approach allowed lefty-swinging Basham to hit .539 in three varsity seasons (2001-03), one of the best plate careers in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association annals.

As a senior lead-off hitter, Basham hit .583, clubbed 15 home runs and drove in 48 runs and was named the 2003 Northwest Indiana Times Player of the Year as well as all-conference and first-team all-state.

Basham’s junior year saw hum hit .538 with seven homers and 33 RBIs and was all-conference and first-team all-state.

As a junior, Basham hit .495 with eight homers, 50 RBI and gathered all-conference and all-state honors.

He went on to play three seasons at Michigan State University (2004-06).

Basham played for the Spartans right away and hit .297 with eight homers, 15 doubles and 27 runs batted in.

“I hit well, but in terms of being a situational hitter, I was leaving a lot of guys on and not driving guys in,” says Basham. “After I made that a primary focus, changed RBI output for the rest of my career.”

MSU head coach Ted Mahan and hitting coach John Young got Basham to see his problem as a hitter with runners on base.

“Early on I put a lot of pressure on myself in those situations,” says Basham. “The pressure is really all on the pitcher with a runner in scoring position. I had zero pressure on me. I relaxed. This is where I want to be.”

His coaches also reminded Basham that scoring a runner from third base doesn’t always require a hit. Sometimes hitting to the right side of the infield or lofting a fly ball will do the trick.

Basham hit ..358 with eight homers, 12 doubles and 43 RBI as a sophomore. As a junior, with David Grewe as head coach, he hit .373 with eight homers, 12 doubles and 53 RBI. He was twice named all-Big Ten Conference and earned a marketing degree from MSU (2007).

The Toronto Blue Jays selected Basham in the 29th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

After an injury kept him from playing in the Blue Jays organization, but he did log five seasons of independent professional baseball with the Florence (Ky.) Freedom (now known as the Florence Y’alls), Windy City Thunderbolts (Crestwood, Ill.) and Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers.

In 420 pro games, Basham hit .285 (195-of-573) with 50 homers, 39 doubles and 123 RBI.

Now owner of Basham Baseball LLC, a training facility in Whitestown, Ind., Basham still endorses the theory that hitters can have too many voices.

Some players can have many different opinions coming at them from the their head coach, hitting coach, travel coach, father, grandfather and so on.

“They’re all trying to tell them different things,” says Basham. “It happens quite a bit.”

As Basham’s playing career was winding down, he became a coach. He was an assistant to Jim Nohos at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He knew Nohos through the Hammond Chiefs and Hammond Seminoles travel organizations.

Basham was an assistant to Mike Kahirsky at Robert Morris University in Chicago.

At 13, Basham was an original member of the Playmakers travel team fielded by Dave Griffin. His instruction career began at Dave Griffin’s Baseball School in Griffith, Ind.

He has also worked with Justin Stone of Elite Baseball Academy, and former major leaguers John Cangelosi, Dean Anna, and the legendary Bo Jackson at the Bo Jackson Elite Sports Dome in Lockport, Ill.

Ryan and Jessica Basham (both 35) moved from Plainfield, Ill., to central Indiana in 2013, landing first in Whitestown then last winter in Zionsville. Jessica, who is also from Lowell, is a human resource business partner for Sales Force. The couple has two daughters — Emelia (8) and Clara (5).

After the move, Basham was an instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Wheelhouse Baseball Academy and Zionsville Little League. He coached the Indiana Mustangs prior to his current role as 16U coach with the Indy Titans, an organization that has Justin Kamm as president.

Basham was with the same group in 2019 when they competed in 15U events.

“I love work working up through high school — 15U to 17U,” says Basham. “The continuity year or year is important in their development process.”

While the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has everyone separated and training on their own right now, the Titans hope to have a 2020 season.

“We want to try to play as much as possible through June and July,” says Basham. “We usually play 6-8 tournaments.”

The tentative schedule includes appearances with Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield and Pastime Tournaments out-of-town.

“I’m going to reach out to families to see comfort level in traveling in a couple of months,” says Basham, who has been communicating with players via email with suggestions for workouts. “It’s almost like going back in time. They have to learn how to train on your own the best you can with what you’ve got.

“You can hit a bucket (of balls) a day if you have the resources.”

The youngest of Jerry and Janice Basham’s four children (following Laurie, Doug and Mike), Ryan fondly remembers spending hours as a kid having Doug throw batting practice on a field in Lowell.

“Throwing and sprinting are the things you can be doing and can do without anybody else there.”

Basham says if this had been a normal year, his team would have been six weeks into training together six days a week.

This quarantine also offers a chance for players to focus on recruiting by reaching out to coaches with notes of interest and videos.

RYANBASHAMMSU

Ryan Basham, a Lowell (Ind.) High School graduate, played three baseball seasons at Michigan State University (2004-06), twice earning all-Big Ten Conference honors. (Michigan State University Photo)

RYANBASHAMWINDYCITYTHUNDERBOLTSRyan Basham, a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University, swings for the independent professional Windy City Thunderbolts. Basham played five pro seasons and is now a baseball instructor and coach based in central Indiana. (Windy City Thunderbolts Photo)

RYANBASHAMFAMILYThe Basham family of Zionsville, Ind., includes Jessica (35), Ryan (35), Clara (5) and Emelia (8). Ryan and Jessica are both graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School. Ryan is a baseball instructor and coach.

RYANBASHAM4Ryan Basham, a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University, offers baseball instruction. He was a three-time all-state player in high school and twice named all-Big Ten Conference at MSU.

RYANBASHAM3

Ryan Basham, a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University, demonstrates the baseball swing to a young player. Basham was a three-time all-state player in high school and twice named all-Big Ten Conference at MSU.

RYANBASHAM2Ryan Basham is the owner of Basham Baseball LLC in Whitestown, Ind. He is a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University.

RYANBASHAM1

Ryan Basham is the owner of Basham Baseball LLC in Whitestown, Ind. He is a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University.

Number of turf baseball fields on Indiana high school campuses grows

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Follow social media or drive by your local diamond and you may have seen outdoor baseball activity this week.

And it’s mid-January.

What do they say about Indiana weather: “Don’t like it? Just wait a little while and it will change.”

It’s largely with atmospheric conditions in mind that more and more high schools around the Hoosier State have installed artificial turf or are considering such a move.

Looking at on-campus fields only (in alphabetical order), turf has been installed or is on the way at Cascade, Danville Community, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Lake Central, Logansport, Mooresville, Noblesville, Northridge, Northwestern, Penn and Providence and idea has been explored in other places.

Here’s an IndianaRBI.com roundup of these places:

CASCADE

The Cascade Cadets played on turf at their Clayton, Ind., campus for the first time in 2019.

The administration (Scott Stevens is the athletic director) made the call to turf the baseball, softball and football fields.

Cascade head coach Ty Foster sees advantages to having turf.

“Last season we were able to be outside for practice or games everyday of the season except for two days,” says Foster. “Rain earlier in the day or week would of normally pushed us inside for a couple days, but now it’s just a matter of hours or even less that we can go out and take advantage of a full practice without the indoor limitations.

“We are able to go out and do things early in the season when it’s usually the wettest and we are getting new players and returning players up to speed on how we prepare for games that most teams in the state aren’t able to because they are inside for the start of the year and are limited in space.

“We were also able to get in a full schedule of games, except a few that scheduling conflicts with conference opponents got in the way of. That is something we weren’t able to do in my first three seasons at Casacde that we were never lucky to do.

“Our varsity can play games, but most importantly our younger players are able to get more experience and play a full slate of JV games in.”

DANVILLE COMMUNITY

The Danville Warriors are guided on the field by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil. Jon Regashus is AD.

Danville’s diamond has turf in the infield and grass in the outfield since the 2018 season.

“More and more schools going that route,” says Regashus of a field that has FieldTurf (Cincinnati-based The Motz Group was the subcontractor). “We were dealing with a construction project in general (parking lots, bleachers, fencing). We looked at the financials and since the field was being renovated anyway, it was cost versus maintenance.”

Regashus says debt was falling off the school corporation’s books and it opened up funds for capital projects.

The AD adds that its hard to give an exact figure on cost since it was part of a larger project, but he estimates that the whole thing came in at around $700,000.

A machine is used to sweep the turf and keep it as clean as possible.

O’Neil gives his thumbs up to the turf infield.

“My first two years there, it seemed that everyday we had to get water off the field, fix home plate or the mound or drainage areas,” says O’Neil. “We were spending more time fixing the field than getting ready for games.”

O’Neil say players were expending energy pulling a tarp that could have been spent in other game day activities.

“I would take our field over anybody else’s field,” says O’Neil.

The game and bullpen mounds at Danville are clay and the warning track is brick dust.

O’Neil says there is something to be said about working on the field.

“Tractor time — it is therapy,” says O’Neil. “(In the fall) we’d be edging, pulling a weed here and there and put it to sleep. I guarantee I’d be out there on Thanksgiving to breathe the baseball air. I did it at Brownsburg all the time.

“It’s definitely therapeutic.”

Having turf helped keep the Brebeuf Sectional on schedule when the Greencastle-Tri-West game was moved to Danville. A Little League state tournament was hosted by Danville in 2018. Regashus says travel teams pay a rental fee for practices or tournaments.

INDIANAPOLIS BISHOP CHATARD

Chatard‘s Dave Alexander Field on the northeast side of Indianapolis was the first Indiana high school to have a turfed field on its campus. The 2020 season marks the eighth.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Alexander led the capital campaign.

“Dave was very generous with his donation,” says Chatard head coach Mike Harmon. (The Motz Group-installed turf) is 2 1/4 inch. The whole field is same height (since it is a multi-use field shared with Trojans soccer programs).

“We were able to structure it any way we wanted. The football and baseball fields were done the same way.

Harmon, who is also an assistant AD to Mike Ford, says the business office has set a rental fee of $125 per hour.

“It’s a decent income generator in the summer,” says Harmon. “It’s used Thursday through Sunday non-stop.”

JEFFERSONVILLE

The Red Devils of Jeffersonville are on pace to debut The Motz Group-installed turf infield on Don Poole Field in 2020.

There was a groundbreaking ceremony in late November and the project funded by Jeffersonville alum John Schnatter (aka Papa John) went full steam ahead.

“We’re blessed,” says Jeff head coach Derek Ellis. “We would have never had a turf infield or upgrades to our baseball field if it wasn’t for Mr. Schnatter’s generosity.”

Upgrades in the works also call for a new scoreboard, outfield fence, dugout railings and more.

Ellis says the Kentucky Bluegrass in the outfield was in really good shape.

The coach says his players should have no problem making the transition to the new infield surface.

“We live in an era now where these kids are playing on turf fields (like the one at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.) in the summer,” says Ellis. “(Turf) makes you a better fielder with its pretty true consistent playability. Natural surface is a little more aggressive than artificial surface. Of course, it depends on how high or low the grass is cut.”

Ellis notes a turf field is not maintenance-free. The high-traffic areas must be attended so the fibers stand tall.

But the prep time has been cut down considerably.

“Now we’re doing some player development,” says Ellis. “If it’s 35 degrees and the sun’s out it’s like 45 degrees on the turf.

“I’m excited about this. Practices will run smoother. We can get a lot more accomplished.”

Todd Satterly is the Jeffersonville AD.

JENNINGS COUNTY

New baseball and softball fields were in the works at Jennings County in North Vernon, Ind., and the decision was later made to put turf on both diamonds for 2020.

Former Wabash College head baseball coach Cory Stevens is JC’s athletic director and Trent Hardisty is the Panthers head baseball coach.

“We have the ability to get out there much, much earlier in the year,” says Stevens. “It’s not maintenance-free, but we no longer need tarps, rakes or any of those things.

“It’s extremely exciting.”

Stevens says more teams are likely to schedule games at Jennings County.

“Hometown fans get to see your team play a lot more often,” says Stevens. “We have the convenience of being able to play anytime as long as its not lightning or pouring at game time. It also frees up grounds staff for other things.”

Stevens says there will be a standard rental fee for outside teams.

“We would like to generate revenue in the summer,” says Stevens. “We’d like to host as much as we could.”

The Motz Group-installed turf on the baseball field will be on the infield and in foul territory behind the plate, extending to the back cut of the infield. The actual product from The Motz Group is called Triple Play. It’s 2 inches thick in the grass areas and 1.625 inches in the skinned areas. The batter’s boxes, mound and bullpens are turf as well.

Stevens says putting in turf is represents a significant cost savings over time. There will be less rainouts and makeups and less required field maintenance.

The project was paid for by a bond issued to the school corporation.

JC’s football field was converted to synthetic turf in 2018.

LAKE CENTRAL

Lake Central in St. John, Ind., marked its fifth spring with a turf baseball field in 2019.

Many of the outdoor athletic areas for the Indians, including football (2015 was the first season) and softball (since 2014), are covered by FieldTurf. The baseball field is shared with the Indians soccer programs.

“We’re able to do some things other schools can’t,” says LC head baseball coach Mike Swartzentruber. “Ours is all turf – including the mound. It’s one less thing you have to deal with from a maintenance standpoint.

“I don’t miss that for sure.

“In the three years I’ve been here, we’ve played about 20 games a year at our place (with games scheduled on the road moved to Lake Central). We always get our allotted games in.”

Duneland Athletic Conference games are scheduled on consecutive weekdays and both will often by contested at Lake Central.

While programs with grass and dirt field have to buy materials (clay, diamond dry etc.) every year. That’s not the case at Lake Central.

LC’s old varsity field — now used by the junior varsity — is grass. The JV softball field has a turf infield and grass outfield.

Swartzentruber says maintenance on a turf field includes replaces the rubber pellets and sand in the sliding areas.

“With all the kids it takes about 10 minutes,” says Swartzentruber. The mound is held in place by velcro.

The coach says outside teams have asked to use the field while getting ready for regional or semistate play and there is a rental fee involved.

“We’re pretty particular on who uses it,” says Swartzentruber. “We want to makes sure it stays as nice as possible for as long as possible.

“We’re on it a ton. Other sports will be on it some. Freshmen football team practices on it a lot.”

Swartzentruber emailed all the teams on the Indians schedule to let them no that sunflower seeds, gum, colored drinks and metal spikes are not allowed. Teams can wear  turf shoes, tennis shoes or molded cleats.

The field has the same dimensions as Victory Field in Indianapolis.

“Our field is really, really big,” says Swartzentruber. Home runs are a rarity at LC.

LC AD Chris Enyeart explains why turf was adopted at his school.

“Northwest Indiana weather very unpredictable in the spring seasons,” says Enyeart. “The heaviest rain needs an hour to be ready to go. Maintenance is much easier.

“Tryouts have been outside every year we’ve had it. Some teams stuck in the gym two or three weeks behind us.”

Enyeart notes that when snow doesn’t melt on grass fields, it turns to mud.

Not so with turf.

LOGANSPORT

The Logansport Berries have sported turf at Jim Turner Field since the 2016 season. The school turf down on its football, softball and baseball fields at the same time.

Logansport AD Brian Strong says the total project cost just over $2 million. Previous debt was refinanced and and taxes did not go up.

Strong cites the advantages of turf.

“In northern Indiana, it’s a challenge to get on those fields in early spring for practices etc.,” says Strong. “We’re always worried about over-use (noting that soccer teams and youth leagues also play on the field).

“It’s been a great investment in our community. We have so many different programs taking advantage of it.”

Strong estimates that the Berries wind up hosting 18 to 20 baseball games per season.

Maintenance generally means pulling a groomer weekly behind the Gator.

“We want to keep it looking nice,” says Strong. “It takes about the same time or less than mowing. We were probably mowing every other day in-season (with grass).

The facilities have been rented out to small colleges around the state and allowed travel baseball and softball organizations to use it for free.

Colleges begin their seasons in mid-February and have been able to play on Turner Field’s turf.

New Berries head baseball coach Dan Frye remembers all the time Jim Turner Sr. and Jim Turner Jr. put into the original facility.

“We had a beautiful surface when we had a natural field,” says Frye. “They put in countless hours. It was a great field to play on even back in the day.

“But now won’t have rainouts so much and the care and maintenance has gone way down.”

MOORESVILLE

The Mooresville Pioneers took to the SprintTurf-installed FieldTurf for the third season in 2019. There’s no natural grass or dirt on the diamond at all.

“As long as its not pouring down rain, you can pretty much play on it,” says Mooresville head baseball coach Eric McGaha. “There’s not any weather condition you can not play through (short of thunder and lightning).

“You don’t have to put down material to dry the field, It’s dry within 10 minutes of when rain stops. Our diamond (prior to turf) just held too much water. One to 1 1/2 inches of rain would take two or three days to totally dry out.”

“It’s been a really, really good investment for us.”

Mooresville also put turf on its football and softball fields.

McGaha says the crushed rubber inside the fiber of the new turf makes it bouncy and soft to slide on.

“There not a ton of maintenance involved,” says McGaha. “We can use that extra time to practice and get better.

“You want those guys to have opportunities to practice or play. That’s why they’re playing baseball.

“The kids realize they’re in a very fortunate situation.”

Mooresville hosted a southern semistate.

“We got good, positive feedback,” says McGaha.

Because of the warranty, Mooresville does not allow outside groups to play on the field. The baseball diamond is used by the freshmen football team and physical education classes.

“We don’t rent it out,” says Mooresville AD Mike Mossbrucker. “A number of universities have asked us to play, particularly on our softball field.

“We don’t want to overuse it. It stands to reason the more teams you put out there the more the wear and tear is. There is a life expectancy. We’re just not taking any chances.”

NOBLESVILLE

While the Noblesville Millers do not have turf on Dunker Field (varsity), the adjacent JV field with the same dimensions does sport AstroTurf as of the fall of 2019.

“It’s a big help for us in terms of training,” says Noblesville head baseball coach Justin Keever. “We have three teams (two JV and one varsity).”

Keever says turf fields tend to respond in a more consistent way.

“Not all natural fields respond the same,” says Keever. “The grass is higher or lower. Some are fluffy. Some have high lips. Some don’t.

“The Dunk is very quick. We cut it short. It’s like a billiards table out there.”

Leah Wooldridge is AD at Noblesville, where they will host a 2020 tournament featuring Carmel, Penn and St. X of St. Louis.

NORTHRIDGE

Construction has started for a new athletic complex at the Middlebury, Ind., school. The Motz Group will be putting down turf for football/track, softball and baseball. The new digs are to debut in 2020-21. Northridge AD says the project costs nearly $15 million.

“We didn’t have to raise any taxes,” says Harms. “That’s huge. That gets everybody excited.

“It’ll be nice not have to worry about the weather as much. It could rain all day and you could still get out and play. The turnaround is so much quicker.”

Harms says the two existing varsity fields — baseball and softball — will become JV fields.

“Everything will be here on campus for the first time,” says Harms, noting that JV games have been contested at Middlebury Little League. “It had a lot to do with putting in new fields. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had an upgrade to our outdoor faculties.

“It also opens door to hosting sectionals etc. which we couldn’t do before. We’ve already been asked to host both baseball and softball sectionals (in 2021).”

Count Raiders head coach Andrew Brabender among the elated.

“I’m super-excited about it,” says Brabender. “I wasn’t a fan of (turf) as a player. It just makes sense in northern Indiana. You’re really not counting on decent weather until the first of May.”

According to the coach, the new field will have a tire and sand ratio in the infield different than the outfield and there will be walnuts on the warning track that will crunch below fielders’ feet.

Brabender says getting outside after the snow melts means constantly rolling the grass field.

“The ball is never a true roll,” says Brabender. “It always has some kind of bounce.”

Brabender has used college teammate at Hannibal-LaGrange as a resource. Neil Richardson is the head baseball coach at Fox High School in Missouri, where there has been a turf infield and grass outfield for years.

Field maintenance at Northridge’s current grass field takes about 45 minutes to an hour a day when it does not rain and that duty falls to Brabender and his coaching staff.

NORTHWESTERN

Northwestern in Kokomo, Ind., had 50 acres of athletic complex to maintain and needed to do some safety upgrades bring all of fields into a small area, according to AD and former Tigers head baseball coach Dan Armstrong.

So Northwestern wound up with new football, softball and baseball fields installed by SprinTurf. Soccer uses all three multi-purpose fields. The first spring for baseball was in 2018.

“I’m a huge proponent for having high school turf,” says Armstrong. “(Instead of) maintaining the field, (athletes) can get home, get something to eat and get their homework done.”

Armstrong notes that the year prior to putting turf on the football field, it was used for 61 hours. The year after turf saw it host 137 events plus practices.

Even though there were eight inches of rain on baseball/softball sectional week, the games were still played.

“The last time we hosted sectional, rain pushed the final to Thursday and the regional was Saturday,” says Armstrong.

Northwestern has an all-rubber infield.

“It has no sand in it,” says Armstrong. “It plays like a (grass and dirt) baseball field. It’s not real bouncy. The fields are not abrasive.

“We wanted to focus on our kids. We play games at 6 p.m. (and use LED lights when necessary). We get bigger crowds. Plus it’s warmer on the turf.

“It’s been worth every penny we’ve spent on it. I just love it.”

Armstrong says fields need to be groomed for every 50 to 100 hours of use. Rakes and other equipment has been donated to youth programs.

“Gum is devastating,” says Armstrong. “It melts into the carpet. We’ve banned all nuts from our facility.”

Northwestern head baseball coach Ryan Ward considers himself a purist.

“I miss the tractor a little bit,” says Ward. “But instead of chalking or lining, I can get to my wife sooner. But extra reps is what it all boils down to.”

The turf also allows for Northwestern to host a Howard County tournament (with Eastern, Taylor and Western)) the first week of the season.

PENN

The Penn Kingsmen had The Motz Group install turf on varsity baseball and softball fields in Mishawaka, Ind., in time to practice on them in the fall of 2019 and will debut them for game play in 2020.

“I never thought of it,” says Penn head baseball coach Greg Dikos, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “I thought it was out-of-reach.

“(The administration) got the ball rolling and got it done.”

Dikos sees many positives to turf on Jordan Automotive Group Field.

“We get on there a lot sooner and stay out there a lot longer,” says Dikos. “We can do a lot more things outside. We don’t have to worry about gym space.”

Marketed as a multi-use field, the band also practices on the lighted baseball diamond. Dikos also takes his P.E. classes onto the rug. The field is also marked for soccer use.

Dikos attended a workout on maintaining the field, which involves redistributing and adding rubber pellets and sometimes sand in heavy-use areas.

“Kids will be able to get home a lot sooner,” says Dikos. (With the grass and dirt field), every kid had a job (rake etc.). Repair now is so much quicker.

“The varsity dirt we took to the JV field. We fixed it up pretty nice.”

Penn has to coordinate practice and game schedules for three teams — varsity, JV and freshmen.

Jeff Hart is the Kingsmen’s AD.

PROVIDENCE

The Pioneers of Our Lady of Providence had Triple Play Turf installed on the baseball infield in the fall of 2015 and played the first season on it in 2016. The football/soccer field was turfed before that.

“We were just so pleased with the results on our football field,” says Providence AD Mickey Golembeski. “Let’s do what we can on the baseball field based on what we could raise.”

Golembeski says the project was funded by “in kind” donations by alumni.

“I’m guessing it cost in the $250,000 to $300,000 range,” says Golembeski. “But this include a complete re-do of the Bermuda (grass) outfield.”

Since Providence is private and no public monies were involved, the Pioneers and their feeder programs are the only ones to use it.

“With a baseball field, the wear and tear is much quicker and faster than a football field,” says Golembeski. “Proper grooming and maintenance makes a world of difference.”

Players replaces product and brushes it in all those locations after every game and practice. It gives kids pride and ownership in their area.

“It has to be done on a daily basis,” says Golembeski. “But it’s very quick and easy and takes much less time (the maintaining a all-grass and dirt field).

“The athletic department will groom the field with pull-behind brushes — very corse bristles used in a specific pattern — to refurbish and redistribute the base.

“In the long run, it’s going to save us hundreds of thousands of dollars of when we’re going to have a replacement.”

Count Providence head baseball coach Scott Hutchins as a turf fan.

“There’s a lot of things to like,” says Hutchins. “Not having to deal with rainouts in wonderful. “I loved working on the field.”

But on rainy days, he take sponges to it during his planning period. Raking was a daily occurrence.

“Jokingly, I tell people my wife likes it more than I do,” says Hutchins. “I’m at home more and not working on the field.”

DANVILLEFIELD

The combination turf/grass baseball field at Danville (Ind.) Community High School. (Danville Community High School Photo)LAKECENTRALTURFFIELDThe turf baseball field at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. (Lake Central High School Photo)

DAVEALEXANDERFIELDBISHOPCHATARD

Dave Alexander Field — the baseball diamond at Indianapolis Bishop Chatard High School — has had turf since the 2013 season. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Weems setting the bar higher for Pike Red Devils

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Making consistent contenders and productive citizens is a priority for Brandon Weems as head baseball coach at Pike High School in Indianapolis.

The Red Devils play in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (with Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central).

“If we’re ever going to be competitive on a regular basis, we’ve got to get away from just because you showed up, you get to be on the baseball team,” says Weems, who was junior varsity coach at Pike for three seasons then was a volunteer assistant on the staff of Dave Scott at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter before returning to the Red Devils in 2019 as assistant head coach to Todd Webster. “That’s not the way any of those (MIC) schools are and that’s the reason they are successful. There’s competition within the program. If there’s no competition within your own program, then how do you expect to get them to compete with them other teams?”

Pike won the MIC in 2018 then lost many players to graduation and struggled to win many games in 2019. The positive is that many sophomores got varsity playing time.

“They were the ones that earned it whether they were ready for it or not,” says Weems. “That’s what we had so we rolled with it. We’ll be better off for it because a lot of those guys — by the time they’re seniors — will be three-year starters.

“I’ve had my 1-on-1’s with guys I think will be competing for varsity spots and told them where they stand and what they need to work on. I also gave every one of them an idea of who’s coming up behind them and it’s their job to keep that spot.”

That’s the between the lines. There’s also preparing the young men for their next phase be it college, military or work.

“We want to make sure they’re prepared for what life’s going to throw at them,” says Weems, who served in the Indiana Air National Guard as a weather forecaster and observer for nearly seven years and attended Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and now is an accountant for Indianapolis Public Schools in his day job.

His father — the late Tommy Weems — was a disabled veteran who began coaching youth football while still serving in the U.S. Air Force and coached the Weems brothers — Brandon and Brian — in football and basketball when they were growing up.

“He was not able to work,” says Weems. “I don’t come from a affluent background. I come from the same background as a lot of our kids (at Pike).

“The main difference is that I had my dad. A lot of these kids don’t have their dads.

“They’re going to spend a lot more time with me and my staff. We’re going to make sure we’re leading them not only in baseball but we’re reminding them to make good choices like doing their homework, taking time to go to study tables, getting tutoring when they need it, making sure they’re treating the young ladies the way they’re supposed to. We go into all that stuff.”

The coaching staff features Caleb Wakefield (a Pike teacher and U.S. Army veteran who will work with outfielders), Cameron Gardner (a volunteer who coached with Weems and the Indiana Nitro travel organization and will help with infielders), Davon Hardy (the former Irvington Preparatory Academy head coach who will also help with infielders), Xavier Wilder (head junior varsity coach), Nick Lucich (catching coordinator) and Isiah Hatcher (JV assistant).

Even though Pike — which is part of the seventh-largest school district in Indiana — has three gyms, there are still so many athletes and other students vying for practice space. Many off-season baseball workouts are early in the morning or late at night.

Weems says funding has been approved for a new fieldhouse, which will come in handy in the cold months when the Red Devils can’t practice outside on Hildebrand Field.

Last year, beginning in August through the time of high school tryouts, Weems had players in grades 6-8 come in for Sunday workouts.

“We got a really good turnout,” says Weems. “I got almost a full off-season with our incoming freshmen. I knew who they were. They knew who I was. They understood what the expectations were at the high school level.”

This fall and winter, more free workouts have been twice a month on Saturdays for grades 3-8.

High school players are required to do community service hours and one way they fulfill them is to volunteer to help with the youth players.

Pike fielded a summer team last year that was organized by Weems and ran by assistants to provide a competitive opportunity and to make playing in the high school off-season more affordable. Others played for Little League and other organizations.

“We make it voluntarily,” says Weems. “It’s not that if you don’t play with us (during the summer), you can’t play for us (in the spring).

“That is totally fine. I make that clear with the kids. I make that extremely clear with the parents. I make my athletic director aware of what we do.

“It’s what we have to do to compete right now.”

Seems points to Ohio and the ACME Baseball Congress system in place there that provides high school players, coaches and teams an opportunity to continue to play after the high school season ends and is compliant with Ohio High School Athletic Association guidelines.

Weems, 33, hails from Springfield, Ohio, and played at the old Springfield North High School. His class (2004) was the first in school history to win at least 100 games in four years. The Mark Stoll-coached Panthers made it to the district finals (equivalent to the regional in Indiana) three of the four seasons.

He also played in the Babe Ruth League state championship at 13, 14 and 15.

Weems began his coaching career with Springfield North’s freshmen team in the spring of 2005.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be a college baseball player, but I knew I loved the game and didn’t want to be away from it,” says Weems. “I’m an analytical guy. My degree’s in accounting and finance. Baseball kind of lends well to what my strengths are.

“Baseball is one of the last few pure sports that are left because you can’t fake it. When the ball comes your way, you cannot hide. If you’re not trying, everybody’s going to see it.”

Brandon and Dionne Weems celebrated five years of marriage last week. The couple has two sons — Carter (5) and Andrew (3).

BRANDONWEEMS

Brandon Weems is the head baseball coach at Pike High School in Indianapolis.