By STEVE KRAH
A 30-something from Indiana and a 20-something from New Jersey have come together to lead the baseball program at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy.
Shawn Baker, 34, and Matthew Flemm, 24, are co-head coaches for the Eagles.
Baker graduated from Northridge High School (Middlebury, Ind.) in 2005 and Manchester University (North Manchester, Ind.) in 2009 as a Grades 5-12 Social Studies major.
He played at Northridge for two head coaches — Mike Logan and Troy Carson. Rick Espeset was his coach for four seasons at Manchester.
Northridge was very competitive in Baker’s junior and senior seasons and the friendships started off the field carried on to it.
“We’d have our backs there, too,” says Baker.
“Both Mike and Troy instilled the hard-nosed baseball philosophy in us as players,” says Baker of Logan and Carson. “It’s working hard in practice and seeing the transfer over in games.
“I learned a lot from Coach Espeset about the ‘why’ and the philosophy of the game of baseball.”
As an educator, Baker was at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy and Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been at Northridge Middle School for the past eight years, teaching eighth grade Social Studies and coaching seventh grade boys basketball.
He has served an assistant baseball coach at Dowagiac (Mich.) Union High School and Westview for Warriors head coach Jason Rahn.
“I had been getting the itch to coach baseball again,” says Baker, who applied at ECA and was hired in mid-February. The first official day of practice was March 15.
Baker has been married for eight years. Shawn and Heather have a girl and two boys — Aleah (6), Colson (4) and Bennett (2).
Shawn’s younger brother, Shannon Baker, played at Northridge and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now an assistant to A.J. Risedorph at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind.
Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement.
He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.
Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.
Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.
“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”
Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.
Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.
The Eagles are part of an 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont (the 2021 host), Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. ECA won a sectional title in 2013.
Besides conference and sectional foes, ECA’s regular-season schedule includes games with 4A’s Concord, Mishawaka and South Bend Riley, 3A’s Culver Academy, John Glenn, Lakeland and NorthWood, 2A’s Bremen and LaVille and 1A’s Culver Community and Oregon-Davis.
“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”
The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.
“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker.
Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.
“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.
“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”
Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.
Flemm is upbeat about the future.
“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.
“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”
As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.
Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.
“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”
The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.
“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players).
“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”