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Gries cherishes memories of coaching at Evansville Central, Tri-State Hot Stove League

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

Paul Gries has been a very active member of the Evansville, Ind., athletic community.
The Pocket City native taught for 34 years in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation — 10 at Plaza Park (K-8) and the rest at Central High School. His main subjects were Physical Education and Health.
Whatever the season, Gries was organizing and coaching youngsters in flag football, softball, baseball, soccer, basketball and more.
In 1978, he accepted an invitation to join John Wessel’s Central boys basketball coaching staff.
In 1980, he was asked to be a Bears baseball assistant.
“We hardly had a program at all,” says Gries, who took over as head coach in 1981 and began working in earnest on Central’s field.
“If you want to call it a field,” says Gries. “It was nothing. But I had dreams of what I wanted the baseball field to look like.”
With the help of players, coaches and parents, a diamond which was named in honor of Gries in 2016 (Paul Gries Field was dedicated in 2017 a few days after Gries underwent heart surgery) was steadily-crafted.
Gries, 79, was head baseball coach at Central for 21 seasons (1981-2001) before retiring at 58 and going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002.
His teams went 408-196 and earned the first seven sectional titles in program history (1981, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1996, 1997 and 1998) plus the first two regional championships (1981 and 1987) and only semistate crown (1987). Central lost 4-1 to the LaPorte’s mythical national champions in the ’87 state championship game at Bush Stadium in Indianapolis.
Gries coached in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1987 and was named National Coach of the Year in 2000.
“I had some good players (including 1985 graduate and future big league pitcher Andy Benes) and tied to get the most out of every player,” says Gries. “I was spending 14-hour days at Central High School. I was putting every ounce into it.
“It just wore me out.”
It was in 1987 that Gries was approached by longtime professional baseball man and Evansville resident “Singing” Ed Nottle, who had a daughter who was taught by Gries.
Nottle wanted to help Gries and other coaches raise money for their programs.
“We had car washes, candy sales and whatever you can image, but we were making making peanuts until Ed came along,” says Gries, who gathered all the high school and college coaches in town at the EVSC office and what came from planning sessions was the Friends of Bosse Field “Night of Memories.”
What began as a group of former baseball professionals who wanted to ensure that the history of Bosse Field would not be forgotten while fundraising turned into the Tri-State Hot Stove League. Gries served with that organization for 31 years, including stints as vice president and president, and is still involved.
One of the first “Night of Memories” guests was National Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. Gries flew to New Jersey to bring Yogi to town.
Over the years, Evansville native and Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Mattingly aka “Donnie Baseball” was at the first special night and has only missed it on a few occasions.
Gries coached Taylor Mattingly (Don’s oldest son) at Central. When Don was playing for the New York Yankees, he would get in the batting cage take swings after winter workouts by the Bears.
“He’d say, ‘Paul, give me some situations.’ I’d, ‘man on third, tie game, one out in the eighth or ninth inning’ and Mattingly just hit those fly balls,” says Griese. “It was unbelievable how Mattingly prepared himself.”
The next Tri-State Hot Stove League “Night of Memories” is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023 at Meeks Family Fieldhouse in the Carson Center at the University of Evansville. A paid autograph session is slated from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Central Time followed by a chat and live/silent auction at 6.
Featured guests include Don Mattingly, Jamey Carroll, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Barrett, Colson Montgomery, Elijah Dunham, Cameron Decker, Wayne Hagin, Denny McLain, Darrell Evans and Graig Nettles.
“He’s unbelievable,” says Gries of emcee Hagin, who has been a play-by-play man for the Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. “People love listening to the stories.”
Among past guests: Mattingly, Carroll, Eickhoff, Barrett, Hagin, Gabby Allison, Rick Ankiel, Clint Barmes, Andy Benes, Yogi Berra, Raymond Berry, Lou Brock, Don Buse, Steve Carlton, Jack Clark, Roger Clemens, Danny Cox, Andre Dawson, Jim Edmonds, George Foster, Kyle Freeland, Steve Garvey, Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, Mark Grace, Bob Griese, Kevin Hardy, Keith Hernandez, Whitey Herzog, Paul Hornung, Al Hrabosky, Andruw Jones, Tommy John, Jim Kiick, Harmon Killebrew, Lily King, Ray Lankford, Tony LaRussa, Johnny Latner, Larry Little, Gaylord Perry, Bobby Plump, Ozzie Smith, Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Scott Rolen, Enos Slaughter, Frank Robinson, Andy Van Slyke, Lee Smith and Brad Wilkerson.
“They come from all over when they know Don Mattingly is here,” says Gries. “They can get close to him. People in New York can’t do that.”
College/Pro Football Hall of Famer Griese (Rex Mundi High School Class of 1963 and Purdue University Class of 1967) has been to many “Night of Memories.”
“We do this for the kids,” says Gries, who notes that the a non-profit group has raised close to $2 million for youth athletics and youth-focused organizations in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky in three decades.
Gries says the event at its peak netted up to $90,000 in one day.
Some of the money has been given to Habitat for Humanity. Gries says Mattingly, Bob Griese, Brian Griese (Bob’s son who now coaches with the San Francisco 49ers), Calbert Cheaney (a 1989 Evansville Harrison High School graduate who played at Indiana University, the National Basketball Association and now coaches with the Indiana Pacers) and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan (who played at Evansville College and the NBA and was a longtime NBA coach) all
gave large sums to sponsor homes.
A 1961 graduate of Evansville Mater Dei High School, Gries’ prep baseball coach was Len Will (an Indiana Football Hall of Famer).
“He was the gentlest man that I know,” says Gries. “That was the example he shared with us (athletes).”
On the basketball court, Gries eclipsed the 40-point mark three times including a single-game record of 44. That was long before the 3-point arc was put in place. Mater Dei was led on the hardwood by Ed Schultheis in Gries’ freshman and sophomore years and Tom Gore in his junior and senior seasons.
Gries went to Indiana State College (now Indiana State University) for basketball and baseball during an era when freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity.
The injury bug kept biting him on the hardwood. He suffered torn cartilage working out early in his freshman year then experienced ankle and groin ailments as a sophomore and decided not to stick with the Duane Klueh-coached Sycamores.
On the diamond, Gries earned three letters (1963-65, helping the Sycamores go a combined 37-24-2) playing for Paul Wolf (who wound up as a member of both the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and ISU Athletics Hall of Fame).
One of his fond memories is playing catch with future IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tommy John and having John feed the pitching machine for him during preseason workouts before the 1961 Terre Haute Gerstmeyer High School valedictorian reported to spring training.
Gries paced Indiana State in batting average, hits and runs as a junior in 1964 (.357, 25 and 20 ) and senior in 1965 (.413, 26 and 13). He hit .439 in conference games and was Indiana Collegiate Conference co-MVP with Ball State’s Merv Rettenmund (who went on to play 13 in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and California Angels and coached for the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres twice, Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers).
“The great thing about Paul Wolf is that he was old school,” says Gries.
Wolf was a minor league middle infielder 1926-33, including time with the Indianapolis Indians in 1930-31. He was able to pass on wisdom to Gries, who was a switch-hitting shortstop at Indiana State and moved to second base in his second of two pro seasons in the Washington Senators organization (1965-66).
“Pee Wee” (he was 5-foot-9 and 157pounds) spent much of the 1965 Appalachian League season on the disabled list with a sprained ankle after a collision at home plate.
It was during the Vietnam War era and Gries left baseball to joined the U.S. Army Reserves and got married for the first time.
“I got to see the difference between high school and college and college and pro,” says Gries. “What a big step it is.”
Divorced in 1989, Gries was single for 14 years and has been married to Mary, a fellow Catholic who moved to Evansville from Auburn, Ind., for 19 years.
Gries has five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“They are the joy of my life,” says Gries. “I’m going to spend as much time with my kids as I can.”

Paul Gries.
Paul Gries at the Tri-State Hot Stove League “Night of Memories.”

From baseball-fueled friendship of Furman, Brunke, Marovich comes The Yipps Podcast

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball brought them together as boys.

It’s keeping a trio from northwest Indiana connected as young men even though they are scattered across the country.

Creators of the brand new The Yipps Podcast Aaron Furman, Matt Brunke and Brett Marovich were in grade school when they began playing Saint John Youth Baseball together.

Brunke and Marovich grew up as next-door neighbors and have known each other since before they went to elementary school.

Furman and Brunke played baseball through high school. Marovich played until about 16.

Furman played third base for coach Doug Nelson at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake and Brunke second base for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High in Merrillville and graduated in 2014. Brunke helped the 59ers to a IHSAA Class 3A state championship dogpile as a senior.

A year younger than the other two, Marovich did not play baseball at Lake Central High School in St. John, but enjoyed lively conversations with Furman and Brunke about sports.

Like it had for years, this would often go on for hours.

Furman and Brunke were roommates during their freshmen year at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

All earned their bachelor’s degrees.

Furman stayed at USI, got even more immersed in baseball, including positions with the Screaming Eagles team, and earned a Sport Management degree. In February, he started with Sports Info Solutions as a Major League Baseball video scout based in Coplay, Pa., near Allentown.

Brunke transferred to Purdue University Northwest (which has campuses in Hammond and Westville, Ind.) and earned a Business degree before moving to Phoenix where he is a Hertz branch manager.

Marovich picked up a diploma for Mechanical Engineering Technology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and is now employed as a quality/mechanical engineer by Regal Beloit Corp., in Valparaiso, Ind.

During all those spirited boyhood conversations at one another’s houses, a parent would sometimes say they should their own show.

Now they do.

This week marked the debut of The Yipps Podcast (@theyippspod on Twitter), a weekly baseball conversation featuring Furman in Pennsylvania, Brunke in Arizona, Marovich in Indiana and a guest from their location.

An introductory episode dropped May 24, followed by an interview with Nick Podkul May 27. Brunke was a teammate of both Podkul brothers — Frank Jr. and Nick — at Andrean. Nick played at Notre Dame and is now in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

The plan is to feature players and coaches in professional and college baseball and show their “normal side” and put out one episode a week — usually on Wednesday nights.

“Our goal is to get their story and take the professional athlete out of them to show that they’re just normal guys who love baseball,” says Furman.

The Nick Podkul episode tells about how he lost his father while in high school and used that to motivate him.

“It’s the stories you never hear,” says Furman.

Brunke says the idea is to give the listener a deeper connection with the guest.

“They still have a life off the field,” says Brunke. “We want to be the avenue to personalize these guys for fans.

“We want to make (the podcast) a platform for all levels of baseball to share stories about normal people rather than have them seen just as athletes.”

Marovich explains his role in the project, which came to fruition over the past few weeks.

“Baseball is the first sport that we played,” says Marovich. “We’ve always had a passion for it. Why not try to explore this avenue of the Podcast space?

“I have friends who wanted to start this journey and I compelled to help them start it.”

Marovich has no previous audio editing/mixing skills.

“But I’m a quick learner,” says Marovich. “I’m a quick learner.

“If it’s something I’m passionate about, I can grind on it heavily.”

Marovich dove into YouTube videos and is teaching himself about it through trial and error.

Right now, podcasts are recorded by taking the audio from a Zoom conference call. He expects to find a method for a higher sound quality in the future.

In baseball, the “yips” usually manifest themselves in the sudden inability to throw the ball accurately. Three famous examples — Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch, Rick Ankiel.

So podcast rookies Furman, Brunke and Marovich chose The Yipps as their handle.

“We’re probably going to have mistakes, especially in the beginning,” says Marovich, the executive producer. “You have to learn. It’s all part of the experience.

“The best is yet to come.”

Furman got started with USI baseball when he learned that he needed 20 internship hours for one of his Sports Management classes. He approached assistant coach Jeremy Kuester and wound up being team manager for his first two years of college.

“At that time I really wanted to get into coaching,” says Furman.

Then came a conversation between Furman and Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Archuleta just before Christmas break in the fall of 2016.

There were thoughts of purchasing some video scouting equipment for the program.

“I had two weeks to learn the system and then we’re off to Tampa to play our first series,” says Furman. “That’s where my career changed for baseball.”

Furman’s last two seasons at USI were dedicated to working with video, analytics and scouting as it related to player development.

“It was not so much about spin rates and launch angles,” says Furman.

Instead, he was gathering information about the hot and cold zones for opponents and Southern Indiana hitters as well as spray charts and defensive shift reports.

Since then, the baseball world has become more analytics-driven.

“We were the first Division II team in the country to implement one of these systems,” says Furman of USI. “It’s become a big recruiting tool for players.”

Before and after graduation, Furman worked at the Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School, soaking up knowledge from the former big league catcher and current USI volunteer assistant.

“Kevin taught me a lot about the mechanical side of baseball,” says Furman, who learned how to recognize things like hand grip and weight shift. “In 2018, I was helping college hitters at a higher level.”

Furman then worked with the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network, which had many MLB organizations as clients. He worked from a list of players near Evansville and evaluated many NCAA Division I and II as well as some high school players.

“It was a really cool experience,” says Furman.

There were several interviews in the baseball industry before the chance came to join Sports Information Solutions.

“I knew this was a great opportunity to take and I didn’t want to pass it up,” says Furman.

During COVID-19 quarantine time, he has been working on small projects.

When spring training was happening, he was at home or in the office watching feeds of games and charting every pitch, running times, ball off bat speed, velocity, defensive shifts, catcher positions and more.

“It takes awhile to get used to,” says Furman. “It’s basically the same thing I did at USI, but probably with 10 times more data.”

As an SIS video scout, Furman can rewind and zoom to get different camera angles. He usually employs three screens per game.

“Once you get into the groove of things, it’s really fun,” says Furman. “Once the season starts I’ll be doing the same thing.”

Scouts work either the morning or night shift. In the mornings, they go over games that have already been charted and make sure the data is inputted and correct. At night, it’s usually about live games.

With this experience, Furman is not the same kind of baseball fan he was growing up, though he still roots for his Chicago White Sox.

“My viewpoint on baseball is completely different,” says Furman. “I can sit and watch a game and I know what pitch they’re going to throw before they throw it based on things like swing patterns.

“I look at baseball differently than I ever thought I would.”

Brunke counts himself fortunate to have been part of Andrean baseball, led by the Hall of Famer.

“(Pishkur) knows how to get the most out of you as a player,” says Brunke. “There was a sense of pride in wearing (Andrean) across your chest. There was competition within the program. Practice was not easy.

“If you’re going to play in the program, you’re going to have to play your tail off and really buy in or it’s not going to work. It was a super-advanced program.”

Brunke recalls tracking things like launch angle and pitch locations and using them to the 59ers’ advantage.

Next up on The Yipps Podcast (available on Spotify): Atlanta Braves prospect Logan Brown.

The Yipps Podcast is presented by (from left): Aaron Furman, Matt Brunke and Brett Marovich. The trio played baseball together as boys in northwest Indiana and now they talk about it. The podcast was launched May 24, 2020.