Tag Archives: Rich Maloney

Sinker effective pitch for Kokomo native, Padres minor leaguer Weir

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Making more of his pitches go down has helped T.J. Weir go up in professional baseball.

Weir, a graduate of Kokomo High School (2010) and Ball State University (2014), has incorporated a sinker into his pitching repertoire and is now at Double-A in the San Diego Padres organization after beginning the 2017 season at High-A.

According to Tim Weir, T.J.’s father, off-season throwing partner and pitching coach at Kokomo High, his son learned the sinker while playing catch a couple off-seasons back with big league reliever Craig Stammen.

Todd Linklater was one of T.J.’s pitching coaches at Ball State and had coached Stammen while guiding pitchers at the University of Dayton and helped get the two hurlers together.

“Last year he used a four-seam fastball and sometimes a sinker,” says Tim Weir. “This year, it’s primarily a sinker. He can rely on the sinker and can get a swing and miss or ground balls in counts where he used to give up hits.”

T.J. played at UCT Cal Ripken Baseball League until 12 and travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings (coached by Tim Weir, Chad Reida and Keith Vautaw) and Tim Weir-coached Indiana Force through his 15-year-old summer before he went with the Indiana Bulls to be coached by Todd Dunwoody then Alex Rynearson.

All the while Tim, a 1982 Kokomo graduate who played Wildkats baseball for Carl McNulty and Mike Smith, was paying close attention. He knows his sons’ mechanics almost better than he does.

“I don’t like to admit it, but sometimes he’s right,” says T.J. of his father. “He knows the game really well. He watches the game online and sees things I need to fix.”

The 25-year-old Weir now often uses the sinker — thrown at 90 to 93 mph — in fastball situations and it has aided the 6-foot right-hander in going 4-1 with a 1.65 earned run average in 31 games and 49 innings with the Double-A San Antonio Missions after going 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 10 games and 19 1/3 innings with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

Weir, who also throws a curve, slider and occasional change-up, has a way of describing himself as a pitcher.

“I’m a strike thrower,” says T.J. “I get ahead in the count and keep (hitters) off-balance.”

In his last 10 appearances, Weir has thrown 101 of 230 pitches for strikes while going 1-0 with an 0.56 ERA over 16 innings.

“I take pride in throwing strikes, being able to field my position and things like that,” says Weir, who was often a third baseman or shortstop when not pitching at Ball State.

Getting ahead in the count allows Weir to sometimes “pitch backwards” from the conventional sequence.

“The Texas League only has eight teams (four in Texas and four up north),” says T.J. “We play the same three teams over and over again. You need to be able to adjust on the fly.”

But players don’t actually fly in the Texas League. All trips are by bus. The shortest from San Antonio is 2 1/2 hours. It takes about 12 to get to Springfield, Mo. The Missions take two buses on that long haul and don’t have to share seats. Otherwise, players do their best to get comfortable on one. Not an easy task for Weir, but even tougher for bullpen mates like (6-9 Brad Wieck) and (6-7 Trey Wingenter).

T.J. played for Steve Edwards at Kokomo and was a classmate of right-hander Nolan Sanburn, now in the Washington Nationals system.

Weir was recruited to Ball State by Greg Beals and played for Alex Marconi his first two collegiate seasons and Rich Maloney his last two. Before Linklater, his pitching coach at BSU was Jeremy Plexico.

“It was cool to be able to hear from both of them,” says T.J. “They came from two very different experiences. (Plexico) is tall and left-handed. (Linklater) is a short righty.”

Weir went back and forth from believer to starter at Ball State. He was primarily a starter his senior season, when he was selected in the 17th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Padres.

Of his 124 minor league appearances, all but 20 have come as a reliever.

“I’ve found a rhythm and a routine I like in the pen,” says T.J., who usually pitches two innings per outing and has yet to pitch on consecutive days.

He has also learned much from San Antonio pitching coach Jimmy Jones.

“He’s great,” says T.J. of Jones. “We relievers listen in during starter’s bullpens. He’s always dropping knowledge.”

Jones has conveyed the importance of control over the body — even when tired from the long season.

“You learn how to play catch the right way,” says T.J. “You can get in so many bad habits. We play six months straight. You learn how to conduct yourself as a professional and take every rep seriously.”

T.J. will be seriously busy once the 2017 season ends.

Giving back to his hometown, he will conduct a free kids baseball camp Sept. 30 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

On Nov. 18, T.J. is to marry former Ball State volleyball player Kati Vasalakis in Muncie and then move to Cincinnati where she is now working.

After recovering from the 2017 season, Weir begins ramping up his throwing program in preparation of 2018 in December.

TJWEIRSAMISSIONS17

T.J. Weir delivers a pitch for the 2017 San Antonio Missions. The Kokomo, Ind., native is in the San Diego Padres organization. (San Antonio Missions Photo)

 

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IHSBCA All-Star alum Fox speaks from the heart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Fox knows the honor of being chosen as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Before he went on to play at the University of Michigan and 14 seasons in professional baseball — making his big league debut in 2007 with the Chicago Cubs — Fox played for the South in 2000 in Fort Wayne.

Fox, who is now retired as a player and living in Michigan, accepted an invitation from former Wolverines and current Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to address the 2017 All-Stars and their families at a recognition banquet Friday, July 14.

A 1 p.m. doubleheader is slated for Saturday, July 15 with one wood-bat game at noon Sunday, July 16 at Ball State in Muncie.

Outlining the passion, persistence, perseverance and patience it took him to make it to baseball’s pinnacle and play five different positions with seven different MLB organizations plus stints in independent ball and in Mexico and Korea, the Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate told his story.

Fox, 34, first congratulated the Class of 2017 All-Stars.

“This is a great honor,” said Fox. “You may not know it now. But looking back on my career, these are some of the memories that I hold dear. It is a testament to your talent and a dedication to your craft. It’s awesome.”

Why did Maloney choose Fox to speak when the coach has had so many players with what many would call better resumes?

“I asked him why me?,” said Fox. “He chuckled like the answer was obvious — ‘You played. You were there.’ Who else was going to stand up here and talk about getting from here to where I am now?”

Deciding against a prepared speech, Fox spoke from the heart.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t a superstar player,” said Fox, who was selected in the third round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs and signed by scout Stan Zielinski. “I was a role player my whole time in the big leagues (through 193 games, 489 at-bats, 20 home runs, 73 runs batted in with the Cubs, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles). These kids don’t want to be a role player. They want to be the best.”

Fox asked the people who know him best to list his best qualities and he compared them with his own self assessment and came up with those four P’s.

Playing with passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, Fox found a way to stay on the field. He related a story of playing in Triple-A with the Iowa Cubs. He came up as a catcher and was working out before a game as a third baseman when his manager came to him.

“‘Of all the players I ever managed or coached, you’ve got the most out of your ability,’” said Fox of the words he heard that day. “That’s probably the biggest compliment I ever got.”

The manager went on to say that Fox did not have the physical ability of some of his teammates, but he possessed something special and said: “You come out here and find ways to compete. You’re trying a different position not because you have to but because you want to. You’re trying to get better.”

Fox said he was not equipped to talk about being a superstar, but he could speak to the effort it takes to get the most out of his God-given talent.

“My nose was to the grindstone,” said Fox. “I was so concentrated on where I wanted to go that I never actually sat down and thought about what got me there.”

Fox and his closest friends and family agree that he has passion.

“I loved to play baseball and if you don’t love it, it’s not going to last long,” said Fox. “This game can chew you up and spit you out.”

The IHSBCA All-Star alum also encouraged the current All-Stars to enjoy baseball as a team game — something that often goes away when professionals are competing for jobs and playing time and looking out more for themselves than chasing victories.

“That’s why I enjoyed playing in Mexico and playing independent ball,” said Fox. “Guys were just out there playing games.

“There was a time in Triple-A that I hated the most. It didn’t even matter what team was on the other side of the field. It was a competition in your own dugout. That’s not baseball.

For Fox it was about enjoying the competition and seizing the opportunities.

“At the end of the day — even with all the business things — you go out and play,” said Fox. “No matter where it is. No matter what country you’re in. No matter what level you’re at. We get too caught up in where you play and not how you play.”

How about persistence and perseverance?

“Everyday in the major leagues, I was overmatched physically,” said Fox. “These guys were 5-star athletes. I had to find a way to compete. You’ve got to be persistent. Coach Maloney said to me, ‘You know what the second-most favorite thing about you was: You never took ‘no’ for an answer.’”

Fox got much of his MLB playing time on the days when a regular would ask off with a particularly tough pitcher going that day for the other team?

“If you name a tough left-handed pitchers between 2007 and 2011, I probably faced them,” said Fox. “(The regular) would come in and say, ‘CC Sabathia’s pitching today? I don’t feel so good.’”

“When I stepped in that box, I feel I had nothing to lose. They could be a Hall of Famer. What did I care? That’s what made me as good as I was. I just wanted to play.”

Fox also learned to be patient.

“It doesn’t happen on your time,” said Fox. “You can feel like you’re ready. You can feel like you deserve it and you see other people take your place. But you keep playing and you will get your chance.

“They pass guys over because they are too busy complaining (about being slighted).”

Fox reflected on his career and said it was not the numbers he put up but the times he spent with teammates and families and the places he got to see along the way.

“I encourage you to enjoy the journey,” said Fox to the All-Stars. “You don’t know where it’s going to take you. You don’t. You show up everyday, you play hard and you have fun doing it and the rest will take care of itself.

“I once had a friend tell me, ‘You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.’ He’s right. You have no idea where this game is going to take you. You have no idea where life is going to take you.”

To illustrate his point, Fox talked about being invited to big league spring training with the Cubs in 2007 and where it led him.

It was Lou Piniella’s first season as manager and Chicago’s top two catchers — Henry Blanco and Michael Barrett — were called away to the World Baseball Classic. Fox was with the big club, but spent his sweaty afternoons warming up pitchers in the bullpen.

“I knew I was getting sent back down. I knew I wasn’t making the team. But I got the experience. I knew what the scouting report was about me: Good hitter. Can’t play defense. It bothered me. I wanted (Pineilla) to see what I was or wasn’t capable of doing before he read it in a report that I didn’t agree with.”

When Barrett came back from the WBC, Fox was the lone player on the roster who had not logged an at-bat or a defensive inning.

Barrett encouraged Fox to say something to the coaching staff.

The Hoosier finally worked up the courage ask for a chance to show what he could do before going to minor league camp.

Fox got his wish. He would play at the end of an away game against the Royals.

Called to hurry from the bullpen, Fox scrambled to the dugout and to the plate and socked the second pitch he saw — a slider — for a double off the wall.

In the ninth, Fox belts a first-pitch home run to plate the decisive run in a Cubs victory.

The next day, the Milwaukee Brewers came to visit the Cubs. Fox started the game on bullpen duty. When called upon to hit late in the game, he pops another first-pitch homer.

“I’ve seen four pitches (in big league camp) and have two homers and a couple,” said Fox.

The next day, Cubs bench coach Alan Trammel told the team to “keep it close until Fox can hit.”

Fox again homers that day.

“I thought I was going to black out,” said Fox.

The next day against the San Francisco Giants, Fox was called in from he bullpen to play left field — for the first time in his life.

Sent back to the minors, Fox opened the season by playing in the outfield and made his debut July 19 in right field at Wrigley Field.

“It just goes to show you that you never know where this game is going to take you,” said Fox. “I played five different positions in the big leagues (right field, left field, catcher, first base, third base). For a guy who couldn’t use a glove, I thought that was pretty good.

“So don’t ever put yourself in a box or limit yourself. Somebody else may see a capability in you that you don’t see yourself.”

JAKEFOX

Jake Fox, shown with the independent Somerset Patriots, played 14 professional seasons and was a 2000 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant. (Somerset Patriots Photo)

Hoosiers at Lexington Regional; Indiana’s 34 other college teams wrap up 2017 season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University found out Monday, May 29 that they will be a part of the NCAA Division I baseball tournament in 2017.

The Hoosiers (33-22-2) have been assigned to the Lexington Regional as the No. 2 seed (along with host and top-seeded Kentucky, No. 3 North Carolina State and No. 4 Ohio University).

The 64-team D-I tournament includes 16 four-team regionals.

For 34 other collegiate baseball programs in Indiana (eight in NCAA Division I, four in NCAA Division II, nine in NCAA Division III, 13 in NAIA and two in NJCAA) have already concluded their seasons.

Due to the closing of the school in Rensselaer, Saint Joseph’s College (NCAA Division II) played its 122nd and final season this spring.

Indiana University Kokomo (NAIA) is gearing up for its first season in 2018.

Here is a wrap-up for 2017 squads:

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

2017

NCAA Division I

Ball State Cardinals (30-28, 14-10 Mid-American Conference): Rich Maloney, in his 12th overall season in two stints in Muncie, saw Sean Kennedy (first team), Matt Eppers (second team) and Caleb Stayton (second team) make all-MAC. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Butler Bulldogs (31-20, 7-10 Big East Conference): In his first season in Indianapolis, coach Dave Schrage had three all-conference performers in Tyler Houston (first team), Jordan Lucio (second team) and Jeff Schank (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Evansville Purple Aces (18-39, 8-12 Missouri Valley Conference): Ninth-year coach Wes Carroll had Connor Strain (first team), Trey Hair (second team) and Travis Tokarek (second team) make the all- MVC tournament team.

Fort Wayne Mastodons (9-43, 4-26 Summit League): Jackson Boyd was a second-team all-league player for ninth-year coach Bobby Pierce.

Indiana Hoosiers (33-22-2, 14-9-1 Big Ten): Matt Lloyd (second team), Logan Sowers (second team), Craig Dedelow (third team) and Paul Milto (third team) were all-conference honorees during third season at the helm in Bloomington for head coach Chris Lemonis.

Indiana State Sycamores (29-26, 12-9 Missouri Valley Conference): Tony Rosselli (first team), Austin Conway (second team), Dane Giesler (second team) and Will Kincanon (second team) were all-MVC selections in head coach Mitch Hannahs’ fourth season in charge in Terre Haute.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (26-32, 10-20 Atlantic Coast Conference): Seventh-year head coach Mik Aoki had an all-ACC player in Matt Vierling (third team).

Purdue Boilermakers (29-27, 12-12 Big Ten): Gareth Stroh made all-Big Ten in head coach Mark Wasikowski’s first season in West Lafayette. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Valparaiso Crusaders (24-29, 13-15 Horizon League): Before leaving for the Missouri Valley in 2018, James Stea (second team) and Jake Hanson (second team) made the all-Horizon squad for fourth-year head coach Brian Schmack. SEE Indiana RBI story.

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis Greyhounds (27-23, 11-17 Great Lakes Valley Conference): Kyle Orloff (first team), Dylan Stutsman (first team) and Storm Joop (second team) all earned all-conference recognition for 23rd-year head coach Gary Vaught. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Oakland City Oaks (18-29): Head coach T-Ray Fletcher’s team saw its season end with four losses at the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series in Mason, Ohio.

Saint Joseph’s Pumas (35-22, 14-14 Great Lakes Valley Conference): The end of the line came in the Midwest Regional in Midland, Mich. In Rick O’Dette’s 17th season as head coach, he was named GLVC Coach of the Year. All-conference players were Josh Handzik (first team), Riley Benner (second team) and Tasker Strobel (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles (32-21, 22-6 Great Lakes Valley Conference): Tracy Archuleta, in his 11th season as head coach in Evansville, also saw his squad qualify for the Midwest Regional in Midland. All-conference performers were Lucas Barnett (first team and GLVC Pitcher of the Year), Jacob Fleming (first team), Drake McNamara (first team), Kyle Griffin (first team), Justin Watts (second team), Sam Griggs (second team) and Logan Brown (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

NCAA Division III

Anderson Ravens (14-23, 8-16 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): With Drew Brantley and Mark Calder as co-interim head coaches, Brandon Sanders (second team), Augdan Wilson (honorable mention) and Austin Cain (honorable mention) all received all-conference honors.

DePauw Tigers (33-13, 12-5 North Coast Athletic Conference): First-year head coach Blake Allen saw his squad go 2-2 at the Mideast Regional in Washington, Pa., and put Jack Thompson (first team), Mike Hammel (first team), Ryan Grippo (second team), Tate Stewart (second team), Reid Pittard (second team), Collin Einerston (second team) and Andrew Quinn (honorable mention) on the all-conference squad. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Earlham Quakers (30-14, 21-6 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): It was an historic season in Richmond for seventh-year head coach Steve Sakosits. While the program achieved its first-ever 30-win season, it also won regular-season and conference tournament titles and concluded the year at the Mideast Regional in Washington, Pa. All-Conference players were Nate Lynch (first team and HCAC MVP), Howie Smith (first team and HCAC Most Outstanding Pitcher), Eric Elkus (first team), Matt Barger (first team), Cody Krumlauf (first team), Brennan Laird (first team) and Kyle Gorman (honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Franklin Grizzlies (21-17, 13-12 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): All HCAC players for 20th-year head coach Lance Marshall were Jordan Clark (first team), Sam Claycamp (first team), Frank Podkul (second team), Jackson Freed (second team), Nick Wright (second team) and Jacob McMain (honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Hanover Panthers (18-20, 9-17 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Jack Shine (honorable mention) and Tyler Fitch (honorable mention) were recognized as all-conference players in Shayne Stock’s fifth season as head coach.

Manchester Spartans (22-21, 18-9 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Joe Gallatin (HCAC Freshman of the Year and first team), Chad Schultz (first team), Tyler LaFollette (second team), Eric Knepper (second team), Brandon Eck (second team), Christian Smith (second team) and Cory Ferguson (honorable mention) were HCAC for head coach Rick Espeset during his 19th season lead the way in North Manchester. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Rose-Hulman Fightin’ Engineers (18-24, 16-11 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): In his 28th season as head coach at the Terre Haute school, Jeff Jenkins saw Zach Trusk (first team), David Burnside (first team), Conner Shipley (first team) and Drew Schnitz (honorable mention) make all-HCAC. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Trine Thunder (19-18, 13-15 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association): All-MIAA recognition came to Jacob Heller (first team) and Drew Palmer (second team) during head coach Greg Perschke’s 16th season running the show in Angola. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Wabash Little Giants (22-16, 7-10 North Shore Athletic Conference): Former player Jake Martin came back to Crawfordsville for his first season as head coach and put Michael Hermann (first team) and Andrew Roginski (second team) on the all-conference team. SEE Indiana RBI story.

NAIA

Bethel Pilots (22-22, 10-17 Crossroads League): In Seth Zartman’s 14th season leading the program in Mishawaka, his team had all-conference selections in Brandon Diss (gold glove), Austin Branock (honorable mention), Heath Brooksher (honorable mention) and Jared Laurent (honorable mention).

Calumet College of Saint Joseph Crimson Tide (7-44-1, 2-25 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference):  Fifth-year head coach Brian Nowakowski fielded a 2017 team with players from 10 different states as well as the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

Goshen Maple Leafs (26-30-1, 11-16 Crossroads League): Fifth-year head coach Alex Childers watched Clinton Stroble II (first team), Quinlan Armstrong (gold glove), Blake Collins (gold glove), Brad Stoltzfus (gold glove), Preston Carr (honorable mention) and Michael Walter (honorable mention) all receive a Crossroads salute. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Grace Lancers (15-31-1, 7-20 Crossroads League): At the end of the season, the Winona Lake school took the interim tag off interim head coach Cam Screeton for 2018. This spring, he led all-conference picks Austin Baker (honorable mention), Gavin Bussard (honorable mention) and Xavier Harris (honorable mention).

Huntington Foresters (35-13, 22-5 Crossroads League): Crossroads Coach of the Year Mike Frame’s 33rd season as HU head coach brought a regular-season and conference tournament title and a NAIA Opening Round appearance plus the 800th win of his career. All-league players were Shea Beauchamp (first team), Dalton Combs (first team), D.J. Moore (first team), Adam Roser (first team), Mason Shinabery (first team), Tanner Wyse (first team), Michael Crowley (gold glove and honorable mention), Dylan Henricks (gold glove and honorable mention) and Andy Roser (gold glove and honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana Tech Warriors (44-14, 25-6 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference): After finishing third in the tough WHAC, there was seventh NAIA Opening Round trip for 10th-year head coach Kip McWilliams and his Fort Wayne-based squad. All-WHAC players were Matt Bandor (first team), Cody Kellar (first team), Glen McClain (first team and gold glove), Charlie Sipe (first team), Keith Tatum (first team), Tighe Koehring (second team), Peyton Newsom (second team), David Barksdale (Champions of Character) and Dante Biagini (gold glove). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (27-30, 12-15 Crossroads League): Head coach Rich Benjamin, in his second season of calling the shots in Marion, had all-conference selections in Brady West (CL Newcomer of the Year and first team), Brandon Shaffer (first team), Andrew Breytenbach (honorable mention), Kyle Hall (honorable mention) and Jon Young (honorable mention).

Indiana University Kokomo Cougars (Coming in 2018): Matt Howard is the head coach in the City of Firsts. Former big leaguer and Kokomo native Joe Thatcher is IUK’s associate head coach. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana University South Bend Titans (24-26, 13-14 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Chris Mangus was CCAC Player of the Year. All-conference mention also went to Spencer McCool (second team) and Tanner Wesp (second team). Mike Huling was head coach. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana University Southeast Grenadiers (48-15, 25-7 River States Conference): Ranked No. 21 in the country, ninth-year head coach Ben Reel’s squad fell in the championship of the NAIA Opening Round in Kingsport, Tenn. All-RSC selections were Tanner Leenknecht (first team), Logan Barnes (first team), Richard Rodriguez (first team), Ryne Underwood (second team), Gage Rogers (second team), Hector Marmol (Champions of Character and second team), Julian Flannery (second team) and Cody Maloon (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Marian Knights (30-23, 19-8 Crossroads League): Featuring Crossroads Pitcher of the Year Matt Burleton, fourth-year head coach Todd Bacon’s club went to the NAIA Opening Round in Taladega, Ala. Besides Burleton, all-conference choices at the Indianapolis school were Cody Earl (first team), Jordan Jackson (first team), Leo Lopez (honorable mention), John O’Malley (honorable mention) and Brenden Smith (honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Purdue Northwest Pride (30-18, 20-7 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central merged to form PNW, which played its home games at Dowling Park in Hammond. Dave Griffin served as head coach. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Saint Francis Cougars (13-41-1, 6-21 Crossroads League): In his 13th season as head coach at the Fort Wayne school, Greg Roberts directed all-conference players Noah Freimuth (honorable mention), Tanner Gaff (honorable mention) and Kansas Varner (honorable mention).

Taylor Trojans (35-21, 20-7 Crossroads League): Crossroads Player of the Year Jared Adkins helped 13th-year head coach Kyle Gould get his 400th career victory and more. Besides Adkins, all-conference players were TU were Austin Mettica (first team), Matt Patton (first team), Nathan Taggart (first team), Tanner Watson (first team), Sam Wiese (first team), Andrew Kennedy (honorable mention) and Wyatt Whitman (honorable mention).

Junior College

Ancilla Chargers (5-28, 1-21 Michigan Community College Athletic Association): Head coach Joe Yonto’s two-year program in Donaldson featured a 2017 roster with all but one player from Indiana hometowns.

Vincennes Trailblazers (14-32): Ninth-year coach Chris Barney’s team was made up mostly of Indiana players. VU is also a two-year school.

IUHOOSIERSBASEBALL

Relationships the most memorable thing for Ball State’s Eppers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Eppers can point to some memorable moments during his college diamond days.

The Ball State University senior baseball player is coming off a “career weekend” in which he went 10-of-13 at the plate with his third career home run plus a double, stolen base, sacrifice, four runs scored and three runs batted in.

The Cardinals stopped a nine-game losing skid with a three-game sweep at Western Michigan. BSU outscored the Broncos 46-17. Eppers went 5-for-5 in Game 2 of the series — the first five-hit game of his career.

“We had been pressing a little bit,” says Eppers, speaking for the team as a whole. “We started relaxing and having fun.”

On Tuesday, April 11, Eppers stayed hot with three more hits in an 11-2 win against visiting Valparaiso. In his last four games, he is 13-of-17, raising his average to a team-pacing .311.

Earlier in the 2017 season, Eppers was named Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week.

The 6-foot-4 outfielder strung together hits in eight consecutive plate appearances in his junior season of 2016, spanning two games against Dayton and one against Purdue.

The 2013 Elkhart Central High School graduate (he played center field and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the ’13 Class 4A state title) also counts a victory against powerhouse Louisiana State in 2016 as a highlight.

As a sophomore in 2015, Eppers scored three runs against Akron and helped the Cardinals to the MAC tournament championship game.

But as outstanding as those achievements are, it’s the relationships that Eppers has made in his four BSU seasons that he cherishes most.

“I came on to this team not knowing anybody,” says Eppers. “My roommate, Sean Kennedy, had a monster weekend himself (at Western Michigan). He hit a grand slam and another home run and had a whole bunch of hits (Kennedy was 7-of-9 with nine RBI in three games). He and I are best friends. I’m going to be the best man in his wedding.

“The relationships that I’ve built, that’s what’s made college baseball worth it. Through the highs and the lows, the guys you’re around and that sense of brotherhood is heightened to a new level in college.”

Eppers roomed with right-handed pitcher B.J. Butler as a freshman and later shared a place with Kennedy and Alex Call (selected in the third round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox  after earning MAC Player of the Year honors in 2016) before Call moved on.

“(Sean) has been very versatile. He’s played every infield position this year. He’s kind of the anchor of our defense. Anywhere we need him, he’s there. With his bat, too. In the middle of the lineup, he’s been a heavy hitter … It was a good weekend for him and I in our apartment.”

Besides Eppers, Kennedy and Butler, the other BSU seniors are right-hander David Current, third baseman Alex Maloney (son of Ball State head coach Rich Maloney), first baseman Caleb Stayton and left-handers Evan Korson (a transfer from Northern Kentucky) and Kevin Marnon (a transfer from Akron).

Rich Maloney has enjoyed watching Eppers perform for the Cards.

“He’s very athletic,” says Maloney. “He covers a lot of ground in center field. He has really good speed. He competes really, really well.

“With the other guys we’ve been able to surround him with in his class, he’s been a really nice piece of the puzzle.

“He’s been a joy to coach.”

The past three seasons, that recruiting class has aided in an overall MAC title, two West division crowns and a tournament runner-up finish while averaging 34 wins.

“They’ve all gotten a taste of winning and enjoyed it and they certainly want to pass it on,” says Maloney. “They are leaders and they’re all going to end up graduating. It’s all good and Matt is certainly a big part of it.”

How does Eppers prefer to do his leading?

“Day-to-day, I just try to lead by example,” says Eppers, who has played in 188 career games with 147 starts. “I’m not really one of the hoorah guys.

“I don’t speak just to speak. When I have to be a vocal leader, I pick my times. I feel like that’s not only benefitted me here but my whole life. When you can do that it makes your word go a little bit farther.”

Maloney coached Ball State 1996-2002 then at Michigan 2003-12 before returning to BSU for the 2013 season. A staple as he took over a program that had not been winning was “Gotta Believe” rally cry (#GottaBelieve).

“The first thing in building a program is you’ve got to get everybody to believe,” says Maloney, whose 2017 assistants are Scott French, Dustin Glant and Ray Skjold. “They’ve got to believe in the coaches. They’ve got to believe in the vision. They’ve got to believe in the system. They’ve got to believe in themselves. They’ve got to believe in their teammates. If you get that going then you have a chance to be successful.”

Facing the toughest schedule of Maloney’s BSU coaching career (win vs. Maryland, four losses to both Oregon State and Kent State and defeats to defending national champion Coastal Carolina plus setbacks against Louisville and West Virgina), Ball State got off to an 11-9 start in 2017 then hit a slide once the MAC part of the slate began.

“We came close in several or them, but couldn’t get over the top,” says Maloney. “(Against Western Michigan), we were able to break through.

Eppers has bought in to Maloney’s belief system.

“You gotta believe that you can get the job done,” says Eppers. “That’s something he’s instilled in all of us.”

“The whole reason I came to Ball State was the vision that he sold. To his credit, he did it. He promised us a new field, improved schedules and improved skills and we got it.

“No matter who we’re playing, you can see it in his eyes. He truly believes Ball State is going to win … Coach has taught us not to ever take a back seat to anybody.”

Since Eppers’ sophomore year, Ball Diamond has been covered with artificial turf. This is a growing trend in the northern U.S., where the maintenance is lower and teams are able to play more games even in cold and wet weather.

Another major difference been grass and turf is the speed of the game.

“On turf, everything is a lot faster,” says Eppers. “A single may turn into a double; a double may turn into a triple. Especially at our field, it plays very fast … It’s probably given me a few more triples, too, so I appreciate it.”

Of 33 starts for a 15-18 squad, Eppers has been in center field for 29 games and right field for four.

“Center has always been my favorite position, where I feel most comfortable,” says Eppers. “You’re the shortstop of the outfield in a way. You’re supposed to be the best all-around defensive player in the outfield. Something I’ve always taken pride in is tracking down balls and trying to make catches other people can’t make.”

Eppers, who hits from the right side, was in the No. 8 slot in the batting order during his recent hot weekend in Kalamazoo, but has appeared in every hole but Nos. 3 and 4 this spring and has led off eight times.

“Everyday I have to check, but it’s not that big of a deal,” says Eppers. “I know my job is to get on base. I’m not a guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs. I do have a few extra base hits. That’s where I hit the gaps and I’m able to run.”

While he’s taken hundreds of fly balls in the outfield to improve his defense and bulked up to 202 pounds with work in the weight room, Eppers has also adjusted his approach at the plate. He has become more knowledgeable about situational hitting and what pitches he can connect with the best.

“Early in my career I was very vulnerable to the slider and pitcher-advantage counts,” says Eppers. “Now, I’m a tougher out. When the slider is in the dirt, I’m able to lay off that pitch.

“This year I’ve really worked at hitting pitches in the (strike) zone I know I can barrel up. I’m not chasing as many pitches.”

Eppers, 22, is scheduled to graduate in May with a “high stakes” degree in entrepreneurial management.

“It’s basically a pass-fail major,” says Eppers, who was on the MAC all-academic team in 2016 and carried 3.555 grade-point average in the fall. “For a year, you write a business plan, fine tune it and then Wednesday (April 12) we present it in a room with a panel of judges. If they like what you have to say, they pass you. If they don’t, they fail you. If you fail, you have to opportunity to come back next year and re-try or take a couple some classes and (graduate with a different major).

“It puts some stress on you.”

Eppers and his business partner will present a plan on a not-for-profit gym and counseling service for veterans, military members and first responders in the Indianapolis area.

While he is exploring his post-graduation options, Eppers says he is leaning toward staying on the diamond.

“I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can,” says Eppers. “When I’m not allowed to play anymore I’ll have to re-evaluate my professional life.

“For right now I’m just focused on playing baseball and having fun. I’m trying to play every game like it’s my last.”

MATTEPPERSRUNS

Matt Eppers contributes speed to the Ball State University baseball team. The Elkhart Central High School graduate is in his senior season. (Ball State Photo)

MATTEPPERS

Matt Eppers has played in 188 baseball games as a Ball State Cardinal through Tuesday, April 11. (Ball State Photo)