Tag Archives: Rensselaer

Alum VanWienen wants best for Kankakee Valley baseball

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

Jordon VanWienen has spent his life in the DeMotte/Wheatland, Ind., community and now he’s head baseball coach at his alma mater — Kankakee Valley High School.
The 2006 KVHS graduate was officially moved up from Kougars assistant coach in July. He had served four years as junior varsity head coach — one on the staff of Doug Greenlee and three under Ryan Armstrong then three years as a varsity assistant to Doug Nelson.
“Seeing the KV program excel is true to my heart,” says VanWienen, who was a catcher for Greenlee as a Kougar player.
“He’s got a lot of heart and passion — not only for the game but for his players,” says VanWienen of Greenlee. “He’s about more than just winning baseball games.
“He had our backs.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period concluded Oct. 16 and VanWienen had about 20 to 25 athletes not in fall sports participating in the twice-weekly sessions.
“We got outside every week that we went with good solid practices,” says VanWienen. “We would work on defense one day and offense another day.
“We had a good turnout. The numbers were high, which is a good sign for the program. There are a lot of good work ethics. We’re headed in the right direction.”
Kankakee Valley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Lowell and Munster).
In 2021, the Kougars were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Academies, Glenn, Hanover Central, Knox and River Forest. Kankakee Valley has won four sectional titles — the last in 1999.
Outfielder Nolan McKim (Class of 2020) is on the reserve baseball roster at Indiana Tech. VanWienen says a pair of current Kougars – left-handed pitcher Max Schultz and infielder-outfielder Luke Andree — have college potential and there are others that could play at the next level.
VanWienen’s assistants are Jim Pint, Scott Holmes and Jeremy Rohzon. Hitting coach Pint has been a volunteer at KV for 22 years. Pitching coach Holmes and JV head coach/varsity assistant Rohzon are both Kankakee Valley graduates.
KV has two baseball fields on its Wheatfield campus. A JV/freshmen diamond was used for the first time in 2021.
A strong feeder system is a priority for VanWienen.
“My goal is to have a large involvement with local Little Leagues,” says VanWienen, who sits in the DeMotte Little League board.
A travel ball program of DeMotte/Wheatfield players — the NWI Warriors — was established in August. There are currently 9U and 12U baseball teams.
“The program is designed to get boys playing in April in tournaments and they can play in Little League as well,” says VanWienen. “I intend to start middle school season after high school season.”
VanWienen wants to narrow the gap between Little League and high school where some players lose interest or get involved with other things.
After KV, VanWienen to Franklin (Ind.) College for a few years. He was with the Lance Marshall-coached Grizzlies in fall ball and was involved in athletic training. He now works in the grains department at Iroquois Bio-Energy Company, LLC in Rensselaer, Ind.
Besides coaching Little League and at KV, VanWienen led Outcast Thunder 15U, 16U and 17U travel teams from 2017-19.
Jordon and wife Julie (a 2008 Kankakee Valley graduate) have been married for 12 years. They have two children — son Ayden (10) and daughter Hayley (9). Ayden VanWienen is active in soccer, basketball, baseball and 4-H. Hayley VanWienen participates in soccer, gymnastics and 4-H. The VanWienens have a San Pierre, Ind., address.

The VanWienens (counterclockwise from upper right): Jordon, Julie, Hayley and Ayden.

Notre Dame advances to Super Regional; slates close for ISU, IUS

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

Notre Dame powered its way to a South Bend Regional championship and now the Irish know they will play host and No. 7 national seed Mississippi State in the NCAA Division I tournament‘s Starkville Super Regional (the Bulldogs went unbeaten in winning the Starkville Regional, which wrapped Monday, June 7).
The winner of that best-of-3 super regional series June 11-14 at Dudy Noble Field/Polk-DeMent Stadium will advance to the eight-team College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Former Indiana University head coach Chris Lemonis is the bench boss for the MSU Bulldogs.
Link Jarrett is in his second season as head coach at Notre Dame (33-11).
The No. 10 seed Irish lashed 49 hits with 23 for extra bases and 15 home runs in beating Central Michigan 10-0, Connecticut 26-3 and Central Michigan 14-2 Friday through Sunday June 4-6 at Frank Eck Stadium in taking the South Bend Regional.
Irish senior first baseman Niko Kavadas (Penn High School graduate) belted two home runs and drove in four runs in the first win against CMU.
The lefty slugger that smacked two homers and drove in eight against UConn. In the second game against Central Michigan, Kavadas hit one homer (his school record-setting 21st of the season) with one RBI.
The other dingers rang off the bats of junior Carter Putz (4), senior Ryan Cole (3), junior Brooks Coetzee (2) and senior David LaManna.
Indiana State saw its season end at the Nashville Regional hosted by Vanderbilt. The Mitch Hannahs-coached Sycamores lost 7-6 to Georgia Tech, beat Presbyterian 9-2 and lost 9-0 to Georgia Tech.
Redshirt junior Jordan Schaffer (West Vigo High School) hit .367 with seven homers, one triple, 10 doubles, 34 runs batted in, 52 runs scored and 11 stolen bases for ISU (31-21).
Indiana University Southeast was greeted by a large crowd when it got back to New Albany after its first appearance in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
Playing May 28-June 1, Ben Reel’s Grenadiers (50-16) topped against Concordia (Neb) 4-2, lost 11-5 to Central Methodist (Mo.), bested Keiser (Fla.) 9-7 and lost 14-10 to Faulkner (Ala,).
For the season, senior Matt Monahan (who missed the World Series because of injury) hit .428, junior Brody Tanksley (Bedford North Lawrence High School) drove in 70 runs and junior Clay Woeste (Lawrenceburg High School) stole 38 bases.
Georgia Gwinnett — coached by former Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.) assistant Jeremy Sheetinger — won the red banner as 2021 NAIA national champions. Sheets returned to coaching this season after serving with the American Baseball Coaches Association. He hosts the Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL
Records Through June 7
NCAA Division I
Ball State 38-18 (25-11 MAC)
Notre Dame 33-11 (25-10 ACC)
Evansville 28-27 (11-16 MVC)
Indiana State 31-21 (14-10 MVC)
Indiana 26-18 (26-18 Big Ten)
Purdue 14-25 (14-25 Big Ten)
Butler 14-23 (8-13 Big East)
Valparaiso 16-35 (9-19 MVC)
Purdue Fort Wayne 11-35 (8-28 HL)

NCAA Division II
Indianapolis 27-21 (19-13 GLVC)
Southern Indiana 24-20 (18-14 GLVC)
Purdue Northwest 11-22 (5-19 GLIAC)

NCAA Division III
Franklin 25-14 (23-12 HCAC)
Earlham 25-20 (21-18 HCAC)
Rose-Hulman 23-14 (23-12 HCAC)
Anderson 23-19 (20-17 HCAC)
Hanover 20-20 (20-18 HCAC)
Manchester 19-22 (19-20 HCAC)
Wabash 18-15 (9-6 NCAC)
DePauw 15-21 (8-8 NCAC)
Trine 6-28 (6-17 MIAA)

NAIA
Indiana University Southeast 50-16 (26-1 RSC)
Indiana Wesleyan 44-14 (28-4 CL)
Taylor 37-20 (24-12 CL)
Indiana Tech 35-27 (16-6 WHAC)
Saint Francis 34-22 (23-13 CL)
Huntington 33-16 (23-13 CL)
Indiana University-Kokomo 28-20 (16-10 RSC)
Marian 25-29 (17-19 CL)
Indiana University South Bend 24-24 (19-11 CCAC)
Oakland City 17-27 (10-17 RSC)
Bethel 15-39 (12-24 CL)
Grace 12-31 (9-23 CL)
Calumet of Saint Joseph 7-29 (7-20 CCAC)
Goshen 3-34 (2-26 CL)

Junior College
Ivy Tech Northeast 31-25
Vincennes 24-31 (11-21 MWAC)
Ancilla 6-29 (2-18 MCCAA)

Conferences
NCAA Division I
Big Ten
Atlantic Coast (ACC)
Big East
Horizon (HL)
Mid-American (MAC)
Missouri Valley (MVC)

NCAA Division II
Great Lakes Valley (GLVC)
Great Lakes Intercollegiate (GLIAC)

NCAA Division III
Heartland Collegiate (HCAC)
Michigan Intercollegiate (MIAA)

NAIA
Crossroads League (CL)
Chicagoland Collegiate (CCAC)
Wolverine Hoosier (WHAC)
River States Conference (RSC)

Junior College
Mid-West Athletic (MWAC)
Michigan Community College (MCCAA)

Niko Kavadas (U. of Notre Dame Photo)

Atwood back as baseball coach for North Newton Spartans

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Atwood knows about athletic toughness.

The 1981 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School competed in football for Bob Sharnowski, wrestling for Otis Cress and baseball for Tom Urban — Atwood followed Dave Hicks as the Eagles starting catcher — before playing football for Pete Compise and baseball for Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College and baseball for another multi-time Hall of Famer in Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). Brent Brandon, Don’s son, was a Ravens teammate.

“(Sharnowski) taught us to just be tough,” says Atwood, who is now in his second stint as head baseball coach at North Newton Junior-Senior High School in Morocco, Ind., where he was an assistant then a head coach in the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s and is now also athletic director and dean of students. “You have to be mentally tough in baseball. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Atwood calls Urban “a heckuva a baseball guy.”

“Basics were key to everything,” says Atwood, who experienced an intense coach in Naylor.

“He was a pretty hard-nosed little character,” says Atwood. “(Brandon) was all of the kids.”

Between coaching assignments at North Newton, Atwood was an assistant baseball coach on the staff of Mike Moyzis at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Current Hebron (Ind.) High School head coach and athletic director John Steinhilber was also on the Pumas staff.

Rick O’Dette, who would be Saint Joseph’s head coach for 17 seasons until the school closed at the end of the 2017 season, was an SJC player at the time.

Atwood’s 1997 North Newton baseball club won a Kankakee Valley Sectional title in the last year of the IHSAA single-class era before bowing to Chesterton in the semifinals of the LaPorte Regional.

He then went to Delphi (Ind.) Community High School and was the Oracles head coach for baseball and wrestling.

The 2020-21 school year is Atwood’s second back at North Newton, where he is now athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic kept him from coaching the Spartans in the spring 2020. If the weather cooperates, North Newton could open the season Thursday, April 1 against Hebron. The team is slated to visit Harrison in West Lafayette Saturday, April 3.

With 24 players in the program, the Spartans will field varsity and junior varsity teams, playing home games on the campus located at the school.

Serving students in the towns of Lake Village, Mount Ayr, Roselawn, Sumava Resorts, Thayer and Morocco, North Newton (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North White, South Newton, Tri-County and West Central).

MAC teams meet twice, typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Boone Grove, Hebron (the 2021 host), North Judson-San Pierre, Rensselaer Central and Winamac. North Newton has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019.

Other teams on the Spartans’ schedule include Andrean, Calumet New Tech, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Kankakee Valley, Lake Station Edison, Lowell, Morgan Township, Twin Lakes and Washington Township.

The high school program is fed by youth baseball in Morocco and Roselawn

Atwood’s 2021 assistants are Doug Belt (varsity) and Eric Jones (JV). 

Kyler Rainford, a 2020 North Newton graduate, is on the baseball team at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Morocco has ties to Cooperstown. Native son Sam Rice played in the majors 1915-33 and collected 2,987 hits as a .322 lifetime hitter. He was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. A roadside historical marker was placed in town in 2019.

Mike Atwood has three adult children — Michael (32), Brittney (30) and Braden (29).

Michael is in the U.S. Army serving in Kuwait. Britney works as a technician at a Lafayette, Ind., hospital. 

Braden Atwood was a three-time placer at the IHSAA State Finals (fourth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and second as a senior) at Delphi and went on to a be a four-time placer and NCAA Championship qualifier as well as a three-time team champion at Purdue University. He took part in the U.S. Team Trials and was later a volunteer assistant coach at West Point (Army). He is married and living in Connecticut and has a daughter.

Mike Atwood and his son’s dog Bella.

Affinity for baseball, woodworking leads to Gandolph Bats

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball has been a part of Tom Gandolph’s life since Day 1.

The third of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and wife Ann’s four children (following Dave Jr. and Dan and before Jennifer), Tom played at what is now known as Center Grove Youth Baseball in Greenwood and later played for his father at Center Grove High School, graduating in 1995, and then at NCAA Division II Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., graduating in 1999.

He was on a 15-year-old team that went to the World Series in Kissimmee, Fla., and played varsity ball in the junior and senior years of high school and college. 

Gandolph was a shortstop and pitcher at Center Grove, but was used only as a moundsman in varsity games by SJC head coach Mike Moyzis.

There was also a 13-year run in what was once called the Indianapolis Amateur Baseball League before Gandolph put baseball on the back burner.

A woodworking hobby became Smokey’s Wood Shop — a one-man operation run out of Gandolph’s garage in Bargersville, Ind., which is near Greenwood in Johnson County.

He made some wooden American flags and they were well-received.

Suddenly, the 43-year-old full-time firefighter had a side gig — and a fun one at that.

With son Tanner (who is 6) starting to play in the CGYB, Tom was drawn back to baseball and decided to branch out and added Gandolph Bats as a division of Smokey’s in the latter part of 2020.

“I saw bat-making wood lathe videos,” says Gandolph, who promotes his businesses on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “I’ve been turning a lot of bats since October. Gandolph bats has been keeping me busy.

“I’ve gotten good feedback from friends and travel ball players. They say they’ve got really good pop and weight distribution.”

Counting display, game and fungo bats, Gandolph has produced about 75 so far and currently has orders for the next 15.

Just last week, Gandolph made plans to upgrade to an auto-lathe so he can increase his volume. 

Right now, he might be able to turn seven bats from the time he gets off work and the time he picks up 6-year-old Tanner from school.

Gandolph Bats are made of Maple — a hardwood that is just a little more expensive that Ash. He is also interested in making clubs from Birch.

Now back in the baseball world, Gandolph is learning about the many travel ball teams and training facilities around central Indiana. 

Good friend Jason Taulman, a SJC teammate, runs the Indy Sharks. When Saint Joseph’s shuttered after the 2017, Gil Hodges Field went to seed. Gandolph, Taulman and other friends of the Pumas, worked to rehabilitate the field and travel ball games have been played there.

Rick O’Dette, who played at SJC and was later head coach, is also a 1999 graduate of the school.

A.J. Zapp, who played with Gandolph at Center Grove and in pro ball, has been a coach for the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Besides Tanner, Tom and wife Rachael Gandolph also have a daughter — Mia (20 months).

A custom bat turned by Tom Gandolph of Gandolph Bats, a division of Smokey’s Wood Shop in Bargersville, Ind.
Baseball friends from Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. — Jason Taulman (left) and Tom Gandolph. In 2020, Gandolph started Gandolph Bats as a division of his Smokey’s Wood Shop business.
Rachael and Tom Gandolph take in a baseball game. Tom played baseball at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and many years in the Indianapolis Amateur Baseball League. In 2020, he started Gandolph Bats as a division of Smokey’s Wood Shop in Bargersville, Ind.
Tom Gandolph runs Smokey’s Wood Shop and Gandolph Bats out of shop in Bargersville, Ind.

Young Hammel now in charge at Benton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Hammel has quickly transitioned from student-athlete to educator-coach.

Ten months after pitching his last game for Valparaiso (Ind.) University he was announced as the head baseball coach at Benton Central Junior/Senior High School in Oxford, Ind. 

“I’m super-excited to get after it,” says Hammel, who was originally hired as pitching coach but became a head coach candidate when Jon Vernon opted to spend more time with family and focus on his duties as Benton Central’s head volleyball coach. “We want to do everything with a purpose. 

“Baseball is not like other sports.”

The son of Donovan (Ill.) Elementary fourth grade teacher Todd Hammel and Morocco Elementary first grade teacher Pam Hammel, Jarrett received an Elementary Education degree from VU and began the 2020-21 school year as a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Crossing Elementary in Oxford.

At South Newton — a K-12 school in Kentland, Ind. — Jarrett got a chance to help with younger kids as a high school junior and senior.

“I knew I wanted to be a positive role model — someone to look up to,” says Hammel. “I look up to my parents a lot. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today.

“They’ve always had my back.”

Coming from a close-knit family where both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes, Jarrett counts younger brother Jay as his best friend. They grew up pushing each other in academics and athletics. 

With 1,195 points, 6-foot-4 Jarrett Hammel was the No. 1 all-time scorer in South Newton boys hoops history until he was surpassed by younger brother Jay Hammel with 1,363. The 6-6 Jay is now a 21-year-old junior right-hander on the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball team and a Multimedia Journalism major.

A 2016 South Newton graduate, Jarrett Hammel played baseball for Glenn Donahue and basketball for Mike Hall. 

Hammel was born in Lafayette, Ind., and grew up in Brook, Ind., where he still resides. He knew Donahue as a youth baseball coach who moved up to the high school ranks. 

Jarrett played four high school summers of travel ball with the Indiana Nitro.

His first college baseball season was spent with head coach Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When the school closed, he transferred to Valpo U., and played for head coach Brian Schmack.

Hammel was a high school sophomore when he appeared on O’Dette’s radar. He became a mentor to the pitcher.

“I learned a lot in the year I was (at St. Joe),” says Hammel. “My outlook on life has changed because of him.”

O’Dette stressed being a good example and always staying in contact with people who are close to you.

“Don’t let conversations get stale,” says Hammel. “You never know when they made need you or you may need them.”

Once it was announced that St. Joseph’s was closing, Hammel recalls that O’Dette was worried more about getting us placed than his own career. O’Dette landed at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Hammel played summer college ball for the Lafayette Aviators in 2017 and 2018. Brent McNeil (now pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) managed the team to a Prospect League title in 2017. Will Arnold (now with Prep Baseball Report Arizona) was in charge in 2018.

While Hammel was at South Newton, Valpo also had interest in him and Schmack welcomed the southpaw when he became available.

What did Hammel learn from Schmack?

“Just being a man and owning up to your mistakes,” says Hammel. “Never put the blame on someone else.”

It’s about responding to adversity — something that is plentiful in baseball.

From his personal life, Hammel has learned to greater than his ups and downs.

“When things are not going your way in life you can’t put your head down and go through the motions,” says Hammel. “You have to ride the wave. Life is full of highs and lows.”

He also learned important concepts about teamwork and time management while playing NCAA Division I baseball.

As left-handed pitcher, left-hander Hammel hurled for Valpo at Alabama State March 11, 2020 and was announced as the head of the Bison program Jan. 12, 2021. 

The 23-year-old Hammel conducted his first winter practice session where he engaged with 15 athletes (many BC baseball players are involved in winter sports) and dished out baseball and life lessons. 

Hammel expects his players to be role models.

“I told them that someone is always watching your every move,” says Hammel. “You’re high schoolers now. Be good people and go hard with everything you do.”

Benton Central (enrollment around 550) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division). 

The Bison are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

While the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Benton Central fielded two teams in 2019 and Hammel says he expects to have about 30 players for two squads in 2021.

Hammel is in the process of finding assistant coaches. He would like to have a Benton Central alum on his staff. Bringing in coaches from Newton County is not practical since Brook is in Central Time and Oxford is in Eastern Time.

In looking to his feeder system, Hammel likes the youth program already established and plans to place players in competitive summer leagues and with top travel organizations.

“We want to get them out of their comfort zone and change their outlook on life,” says Hammel, who also plans to start a fall baseball program at BC.

“We went to keep kids at it and try to perfect their craft year-round,” says Hammel. “We’re trying to maximize everyone’s potential.”

Recent Benton Central graduates in college baseball include Matt Taylor and Taylor Varnado with Marian University in Indianapolis. Knights head coach Todd Bacon went to BC.

There’s also Alex Thurston at Valparaiso U., and Payton Hall at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

Benton Central senior Dalton Rennaker is a Marian commit.

Jarrett Hammel, a 2016 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., and 2020 graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) University, has been hired as head baseball coach at Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind.

Andrean, Saint Joseph’s College grad Jaworski GM for Daytona Tortugas

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Jaworski took a piece of his northwest Indiana upbringing and his love for baseball with him to sunny Florida. 

Born in Merrillville, Ind., Jaworski few up in Crown  Point, Ind., attended St. John The Evangelist School in Saint John, Ind., for grades 1-8 then graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville in 2003 and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2007.

Primarily a catcher in high school, Jaworski was a catcher, outfield, first baseman and designated hitter over his four college seasons while majoring in Mass Communications and minoring in Business.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the coaches I’ve had,” says Jaworski, who played for Dave Pishkur at Andrean and Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph. Jaworski was a Pumas assistant on O’Dette’s staff in 2008. 

Pishkur, who picked up his 1,000th career victory and surpassed LaPorte legend Ken Schreiber to become Indiana’s all-time coaching wins leader in 2019, has led the 59ers to eight state championships (2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019).

O’Dette has amassed more than 500 NCAA Divison II victories in 20 seasons — 17 at Saint Joseph’s and three at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

When Saint Joe closed its doors after the 2017 season, O’Dette landed at Saint Leo, which means he is a couple hours’ drive from Jaworski. 

“Our relationship goes pretty deep,” says Jaworski of Coach O. “His kids were in my wedding — all that stuff.”

Jim and wife Stephanie Jaworski are expecting their first child in March 2021.

Other SJC alums (#ForeverPumas) cling to their alma mater while they’ve also adopted Saint Leo and have been known to show up at Saint Leo game pre-COVID-19.

“There are a lot of great memories at Gil Hodges Field for sure,” says Jaworski. “It’s a loyal group,” says Jaworski.”

The 2021 season will be Jaworski’s 12th with the Daytona Torturgas, a minor league affiliate since 2015 of the Cincinnati Reds (the team was tied to the Chicago Cubs 1993-2014). Since November 2009, he has been general manager since December 2018.

He has also held the positions of ticket and group sales manager, director of group sales, vice president of business development and assistant general manager while with Daytona.

Jaworski was a media relations intern with the Lakeland (Fla.) Flying Tigers from January to November 2009.

As general manager, Jaworski has a hand in many aspects of operating the Tortugas. There are full-time and seasonal employees.

The cancellation of the 2020 Baseball Winter Meetings have slowed down the hiring process a little, but Jaworski expects internships to begin in January.

Last week, Major League Baseball extended invitations to 120 minor league teams and Reds also reached out to Daytona. The deadline for accepting those invites is Friday, Dec. 18.

“We need to make sure we gather all the information,” says Jaworski. “If make sure that move, it has to be what is best for the fans, city, community and team.

“It’s all about the game of baseball and doing things here in the community,” says Jaworski. “We’re growing the game we all know and love.

“That’s a pretty cool thing.”

It remains to be seen what league and level Daytona will land in for 2021. In recent years, the Tortugas were in the Advanced Class-A Florida State League. Going forward, Minor League Baseball will have Triple-A, Double-A, Advanced-A and Low-A with rookie-level leagues being eliminated or re-cast.

The pandemic wiped out the entire 2020 minor league season at historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark and there have been furloughs, but the team has hosted 50 to 60 events since the end of May. 

There has been everything from movie nights using the video board, small baseball tournaments and showcases on the artificial turf (installed for the 2019 season), a Bob Ross waiting classic, chicken sales, a dance recital, corporate outings and various awards programs for Volusia County schools. A second blood drive is slated to the park Thursday, Dec. 17.

“We utilize the ballpark as much as we can with health and safety being our No. 1 priority,” says Jaworski.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark opened in 1914 and has undergone many renovations over the years. Hall of Famer Robinson played there with Montreal Royals May 17, 1946.

Bethune-Cookman University, a member of the NCAA Division I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, practices and plays games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.

Jim Jaworski, a graduate of Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., is the general manager of the Daytona (Fla.) Tortugas, an affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds. (Daytona Tortugas Photo)

South Bend Clay graduate Parkhurst enjoys baseball culture at Gardner-Webb

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gardner-Webb University head baseball coach Jim Chester likes his Runnin’ Bulldogs players to check these boxes.

Selfless.

Relentless.

Blue Collar.

Talented.

Keiji Pankhurst, a 2016 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School and a redshirt senior entering his second year at GWU after three years and two playing seasons at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach Fla., appreciates the culture of the NCAA Division I program based in Boiling Springs, N.C.

“Any junior college kid — in my mind — has an aspect to their game that is blue collar,” says Parkhurst, 22. “I don’t know if gritty’s the word. We have a lot of junior college transfers this year with the mentality of going to work everyday.

“We have a strong, strong senior class. We’re such a tight-knit group. Once the core guys decided to come back we knew some special could happen here. We have a bunch of good character guys who play hard.

“It makes going to practice fun. It makes the weight room fun. The intensity that’s brought everyday is second to none.”

In-person classes began Aug. 19, baseball conditioning started Aug. 24 and fall practice got underway Sept. 1 for a Gardner-Webb squad that could wind up with as many as 16 seniors thanks to the NCAA allowing an extra year of eligibility to players who had their 2020 seasons cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re doing individual group things,” says Pankhurst. “We getting back in the swing of things. It’s been since March since many guys have seen (live) pitching or been on a field.

“Coach Chester is very detail-oriented, which I like. You know exactly what you’re getting into when you sign up. 

“Practice is his time. In games, you go play.”

GWU’s last contest was March 10 at the University of North Carolina.

On March 4 at GWU’s Bill Masters Field at John Henry Moss Stadium, Pankhurst was a single shy of a single with three RBIs, three runs and a sacrifice fly in a 4-3 win against Ball State University.

On a full count in the seventh inning, Parkhurst smacked the ball to right center and it bounded off the brick scoreboard and plated a run.

One pitch was delivered in the bottom of the ninth inning and Parkhurst launched it over the center field wall for a walk-off homer.

Parkhurst, who started all 16 games last spring at first base with 117 total chances, one error, nine assists, 12 double plays and a .991 fielding percentage plus a .220 average (11-of-50) with two home runs, 11 runs batted in and 10 runs scored as a righty batter, counts among his teammates outfielders Cam Pearcey and Mitch McLendon and infielder Eric Jones

Pearcey played four seasons at Coastal Carolina University (including for the 2016 College World Series champions) and in 2020 for Gardner-Webb. McLendon has already logged four seasons with the Bulldogs. Jones has been with the program since 2016, having taken 2017 as a medical redshirt.

Chester, the latest guest on the Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV hosted by former Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.) assistant and current Georgia Gwinett College head coach Jeremy Sheetinger, asked players to read a book over the summer and participate in Monday Zoom meetings.

Suggested by former Indiana Chargers travel coach Justin Barber, Parkhurst had already read “Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall in Love with the Process of Becoming Great” by Joshua Metcalf.

“(The book) says you build your own house,” says Pankhurst. “Everyday’s an opportunity to improve yourself.

“It was a good reminder of when we get back to campus that everyday is an opportunity. Keep working and you’ll see the product come to fruition.”

During the quarantine, Parkhurst came home to Granger, Ind., to work and to hone his baseball skills. He also took an online class and is one pace to graduate with a Business Administration degree in the spring.

Parkhurst, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, landed at Gardner-Webb after playing in a junior college all-star game in Lakeland, Fla. He was recruited by former Bulldogs assistant Ross Steedley and agreed to join a program led by Rusty Stroupe. When he arrived in North Carolina, Stroupe had retired and Chester was in charge.

With a grandfather living in Florida, Parkhurst had attended camp at Daytona State and was offered a chance to make the Falcons team. He redshirted as a true freshman behind a returning starting catcher, did much of the team’s receiving as a redshirt freshman and split his time between catcher and first base as a redshirt sophomore.

He hit .305 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 33 games in 2018 and .261 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 38 games in 2019.

“I wouldn’t trade my junior college experience for the world,” says Parkhurst. “Coach (Tim) Touma set me up to be the player and person I am today.”

Parkhurst entered the fall of 2019 at GWU as a catcher then transitioned to first base for the spring of 2020 and expects to be at that position this fall and next spring.

Born in South Bend, Parkhurst and played at South Bend East Side Little League before joining the Barber-coached Chargers around 15.

He played at South Bend St. Joseph High School as a freshman then was a varsity player for three seasons at Clay. Teammates included Aaron Bond, Joey Lange, Trenton Stoner and J.P. Kehoe.

“There were guys you loved to play for,” says Parkhurst. “Everybody played hard for each other.”

Parkhurst played for Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell and John Kehoe. Reinebold took over at his alma mater and where father and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reinebold had success after the death of Chad Hudnall due to cancer in October 2013.

“His baseball mind and passion for Clay baseball is outstanding,” says Parkhurst of Joel Reinebold. “All the coaches — whatever you needed, they were there for you with personal advice or baseball advice. They’d go to bat for you no matter what.”

Riley Tirotta, who played at Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and at the University of Dayton, is a friend and sometime workout partner of Parkhurst.

Keiji is the second of RV company vice president Scott Parkhurst and a golf pro Kasi Hornback’s four sons and only one to go by his Japanese middle name. The other boys are Robert Toshio (25), who is in the U.S. Navy, David Morio (14) and Tommy Touji (12). 

Keiji Parkhurst’s first baseball season at Gardner-Webb University was 2020. (Gardner-Webb U. Video)
Keiji Parkhurst, a graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School, hit a walk-off home run March 4, 2020 to lift Gardner-Webb University to a 4-3 baseball victory against Ball State University. (Gardner-Webb University Photo)
Keiji Parkhurst, a 2016 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School, was at Daytona State College for three years and is entering his second with the baseball program at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C. (Gardner-Webb University Photo)

Purdue’s Nisle getting chance to hone skills in College Summer League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Nisle has been to Victory Field.

So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.

That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.

Through a partnership of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., CSL sprouted as a developmental opportunity.

“Having a place to play is very nice,” says Nisle of the 12-team CSL. “It’s great competition.

“You’re seeing great (pitching) arms.

“I’m getting good at-bats and playing time.”

Nisle plays for the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. 

Purdue outfielder Jack Firestone has also been chosen for the CSL All-Star Game.

A 2017 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., Nisle has played three seasons at Purdue.

In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.

He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.

During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs. 

“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”

Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.

“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.

When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.

“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”

Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.

“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”

The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).

“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.

“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”

Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.

“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.

“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”

Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.

Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.

For his 16U and 17U summers, Ben played for the Ryan Bunnell-coached Indiana Bulls

The summer leading into his freshman year at Purdue, Nisle did not play baseball. He went to campus early to take summer courses and work out.

Gerry Nisle (who works at Pepsi) and wife Michele (who is employed by Franciscan Alliance) have three children — Alex (24), Ben (21) and Mia (14). 

Gerry played football at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Michele was a gymnast at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Alex started his college baseball career at SJC. When the school was closed, he finished at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill. He was named to the all-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team in 2019. Mia plays soccer and basketball.

Ben Nisle, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at Purdue University. He has been chosen for the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game Thursday, July 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Purdue University Photo)

Tiny Tri-County’s LeBeau stresses diamond details

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When you’re a small school, you learn how to make the most of what you’ve got.

That’s what Jeff LeBeau has done at Tri-County High School, an IHSAA Class 1A institution that houses about 250 students.

LeBeau, a 1995 Tri-County graduate, is in his 16th season as Cavaliers head baseball coach after one season as junior varsity coach under Denny Stitz.

Jeff began coaching local youth baseball as a high school junior. After high school, he began assisting his father Craig, a Wolcott High School graduate and former Butler University pitcher who spent 50 years as a player, assistant coach and manager for Remington American Legion Post 280 before retiring a few seasons ago.

The younger LeBeau played four seasons for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame at Huntington University before coming back to Tri-County, which is based in the White County town of Wolcott and also serves parts of Jasper and Benton counties.

Stitz, who helped Tri-County win a Class 1A state title by beating Joe Rademacher’s Barr-Reeve club in 1998, taught Jeff LeBeau how to be successful at a small school.

“Attention to detail is crucial,” says LeBeau. “The student-athlete needs to be able to perform the fundamentals correctly. The  selection pool is limited. You have to get the most out of your student-athlete’s ability.”

LeBeau recalls that Stitz was very organized.

“There was not a practice that went unscheduled or unplanned,” says LeBeau. “We were always active.”

Jeff watched his father take a group of 15 to 18 boys from spring rivals and mesh them into a cohesive summer team that won multiple sectionals and regionals and competed a few times in the Indiana American Legion State Finals. Post 280 has not sponsored a team since Craig LeBeau stepped away. Nearby Lake Village Post 375 does.

In Frame, Jeff saw another detail-oriented coach and one dedicated to teaching more than the game to a group of youngsters — many away from home for the first time.

“He was a great father figure to us,” says LeBeau. “He was good at using the game of baseball to teach us life lessons.

“He taught me a different style of running a baseball practice, breaking down the game action into minor details.”

Playing home games at Remington Community Park (about six miles off-campus), Tri-County carries about 18 to 22 players in all four grades. This year, the Cavaliers played a full junior varsity schedule. The majority of road games are an hour or less from home with some trips to the Lafayette area.

The 2017 season marked Tri-County’s second in the Hoosier Heartland Conference. In 2017-18, the Cavs will be part of the reformed Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North Newton, North White, South Newton and West Central).

Remington Community Park and Wolcott Community Park host Cal Ripken baseball for ages 7-12. Players from North White, Rensselaer and West Central also take part.

Babe Ruth baseball teams (ages 13-15) travel to other area parks.

The Cavaliers have drawn into Game 1 of the eight-team Tri-County Sectional on Wednesday, May 24. The hosts will be after the seventh sectional crown in program history and third during LeBeau’s head coaching tenure (the others came in 2007 and 2011).

LeBeau, an IHSBCA district representative, says the new pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) are bound to be felt during the postseason.

“It will definitely come into play during sectional,” says LeBeau. “How quickly can your No. 1 or No. 2 bounce back?

“It’s not going away. We’ll see what needs to be tweaked (in the future).”

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