By STEVE KRAH
Lawrence North High School baseball coach Richard Winzenread expects nothing less than the best from his Wildcats.
There should be no sleepless nights because of lukewarm effort.
It’s been that way since Winzenread took over as leader of the LN program in 1992.
“If we work hard, good things will come,” says Winzenread. “We want to be the best team our talent level will allow. If we do that, we’ve had a successful season.
“At tournament time, we’re a pretty tough out. You have to bring your best game to beat us.”
Winzenread has gathered a wealth of baseball knowledge from coaches at the high school, college and professional level and he shares that with his LN players.
Then he lets them take over.
“We don’t clone them,” says Winzenread. “I don’t want to take away their natural ability. I tell them it’s their responsibility to get better.”
Players need to take the initiative to get extra swings in the batting cage or more ground balls on their own time.
“We’ve had quite a few kids over the years that have made themselves better,” says Winzenread. “Kids have to take ownership.
“Kids today don’t practice enough. You should practice more than you play. You need to be the best player you can be, so you have no regrets.”
The coach can be tough, but he has the student-athlete’s best interests at heart.
“What makes me the most proud is seeing how the kid grows through his four years of our program,” says Winzenread. “I think the kids know I care about them. I want them to be the best version of a person they can be — as a student and a player. We want them to be ready for college.”
Winzenread does his coaching and teaching on the northeast side of Indianapolis. He first learned baseball on the south side from his father Richard and then played at Southport High School, graduating in 1982 and moving on to play for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover College.
Naylor is also in the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
A right-handed pitcher, Winzenread was drafted in the 21st round by the Baltimore Orioles in 1986. In the O’s system he learned much from then-roving pitching instructor Mark Wiley — things he still uses today at Lawrence North.
In his third pro season, Winzenread was injured and decided to come back to Indy. He worked for UPS and helped coach at Southport with Cardinals head coach John Carpenter (John Dwenger was head coach when Winzenread was a Southport player).
Winzenread stayed close to the game by giving lessons and found many of his clients were in the Lawrence area. He completed his education degree and took a middle school teaching job in the Lawrence Township district.
After teaching at various middle schools, Winzenread landed at the high school four years ago as a physical education and health teacher.
Seeing another chance to give back to the game that had been so good to him, Winzenread applied to replace Tim Fitzgerald as LN head coach when he stepped down right before the 1992 season. Fitzgerald is now the varsity assistant on a Wildcats coaching staff that also includes Chris Todd (junior varsity) and Kyle Green (freshmen).
Not knowing how to run a high school program back in ’92, Winzenread made a trip to Indiana University to pick the brain of head coach Bob Morgan.
“He did a lot for me early in my career,” says Winzenread. “He’s one of the best baseball minds around.”
In Winzenread’s first decade at Lawrence North, assistant coach Bob Kraft brought things to the program he had gained while being associated with Stanford University baseball.
Tony Vittorio, who was head coach at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now in his 18th season as head coach at the University of Dayton, followed a similar path to Winzenread in that he played at Southport and Hanover before going into coaching.
“He’s such got tremendous passion,” says Winzenread says of Vittorio. “He works those kids. He can be tough at times. But, in this business you have to be.”
Winzenread has a passion for developing pitchers. Ideally, the Wildcats will have seven or eight capable arms in a season. Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Winzenread uses his top two starters in those games with a third pitcher expected to handle to relief duties. Those pitchers have a bullpen session on Saturday and are ready to go again the following week.
“They build up arm strength to be a starter or build up arm strength to be a reliever and they work different,” says Winzenread.
LN hurlers are expected to throw strikes, but not necessarily rack up K’s.
“Strikeouts are fine, but they’re not something we strive for,” says Winzenread. “Our philosophy is to have (the batter) hit our pitch. Our pitch counts are usually not that high.”
Batters are kept off-balance by the mixing of speeds and location — up and down, in and out, back and forth.
One location in the strike zone is off limits.
“We don’t want to throw it over the middle of the plate,” says Winzenread. “When we warm up, the middle part is black and we have two white edges.
“We want to have a little bit of movement.”
Winzenread calls anything over 15 pitches a stressful inning.
If a pitcher strung together a couple of 26-pitch innings, he would be at 52 and might be done for the day, depending on the athlete.
If those same 52 pitches were spread over five innings, that would be a different story.
“I enjoy winning,” says Winzenread. “But I would never put a kid’s health in front of that — ever.”
With that in mind, he will always protect a pitcher’s arm. If they throw 85 pitches Tuesday, it’s a good bet they might be used as a designated hitter but will not take a field position Wednesday.
The 2016 Mt. Vernon (Fortville) Sectional — won by Lawrence North — was set up with pitching in mind. Games in the six-team format were played on Wednesday with semifinals and finals Monday.
“That’s the only thing that’s fair,” says Winzenread, who has seen LN take seven of its eight all-time sectional titles, both regionals, one semistate crown and one state runner-up finish (7-6 loss to McCutcheon in the 1999 Class 4A final) on his watch. “I wish we’d seed the draw and we don’t. Everyone says ‘pitching and defense (wins championships).’ You can hit all you want, but eventually good pitching is going to shut that down.”
With those factors in mind, LN changed its regular-season schedule and has as many three-game weeks as possible.
No matter where they play on the diamond, Winzenread expects his player to know their role. That might mean starting or coming off the bench.
“Everyone’s got a role to way and you’ve got to accept it,” says Winzenread. “(Reserves are) always constantly paying attention to the game so when you’re number is called, you’re ready.”
And with no regrets.
Richard Winzenread is in his 26th season as head baseball coach at Lawrence North High School.
Richard Winzenread took Lawrence North to the IHSAA State Finals in 1999. He has been head baseball coach for the Wildcats since 1992.