Tag Archives: Rick Espeset

Smith building excitement as new Manchester Squires coach

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

Shane Smith has coached baseball for 24 years and at every level from T-ball and 18U travel with the past two years as an assistant at Wabash (Ind.) High School.
Smith can now add high school head coach to his list of diamond experiences.
Last week he was board-approved to lead the baseball program at Manchester Junior/Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., which is about 20 miles north of Southwood Junior/Senior High School.
Oldest son Blake Smith (19) graduated from Wabash in 2022 and is now a freshman baseball player and Sport Management major at Manchester University in North Manchester.
Shane and Tiffany Smith’s younger sons Ashton (18 and a senior) and Jackson (15 and a sophomore) are still in involved in baseball at Southwood, which is also in Wabash County and conference rival to Manchester. Ashton Smith played at Wabash the past two years.
Daughter Ella Smith is a seventh grade softball player and dancer.
“Baseball has been our family thing,” says Shane Smith, who celebrates 20 years of marriage to Tiffany in October. “This is an opportunity I’ve always wanted: to run a varsity baseball program.
“I prayed about it. I talked to my family. They’ve been supportive. I don’t take it lightly and I appreciate it.”
Smith was involved with the Wabash Pride travel program for eight years, serving as president for six. He also coached for the USA Prime.
At Wabash High, he assisted Apaches head coach Jack Holley. They had met when Smith was 13 and playing for the Prep League Blue Jays coached by Holley.
“He’s an Old School baseball traditionalist and he’s got a great heart,” says Smith of Holley, who played on Wabash’s 1986 state champions and then at Valparaiso University. “He’s got a great deal of knowledge, but he puts things in perspective.
“It’s bigger than baseball. We’re dealing with people’s sons.”
During his high school years, Smith also played for Wabash American Legion Post 15 coached by Steve Furnas and Oren Wagner.
Smith is a 1999 graduate of Wabash. One of his high school coaches in his younger years was Todd Adams, a former Anderson (Ind.) University player who was in charge of strength and conditioning for the Apaches.
“He was a physical specimen,” says Smith of Adams, who is now his insurance agent. “He poured everything he had into us. We were than more than just our stats.
“He got the most out of us simply by showing he cared. He expected maximum effort and that’s who I am as a coach.”
Rick Espeset, head coach at Manchester University, coached with Smith for four years in the summer and made an impression.
“You can achieve success and all these goals but you have to stay grounded,” says Smith. “Everything we did was fun and maximum effort
He was a relationship-first guy, too.”
Ethan Espeset, Rick’s son, is a 2022 Manchester Junior/Senior High graduate.
Manchester (enrollment around 475) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko).
The Squires were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Rochester, Wabash and Whitko. Manchester has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2016. The 2002 Squires were 2A state champions.
Jack Rupley was Manchester’s head coach from 1998 until retiring at the end of the 2022 season.
“Jack was very consistent as far as leading a program and its expectations,” says Smith. “I want to add to the already-strong history.”
Smith plans to bring his unique strengths and passions to the Squires baseball program.
“I like to play fast and put pressure on the defense,” says Smith. He notes that Wabash stole 140 bases in 2022 and that’s a realistic goal at Manchester. “I like the kids to play loose and fail with confidence. I’m not looking for them to be a robot. I’m going to empower my players to steal that base.”
Smith passionate about serving others and he’s going to bring that to the Squires.
Wabash conducted a “dad’s practice” with a fathers and male role models joining the players and Smith plans to do the same at Manchester.
“We’re going to have a good time,” says Smith.
He wants to have walk-up songs and “cool gamed experience” for his players.
“I’m an Old School guy with a New School side to me,” says Smith. “I want to mix it up a little.”
In just a few days, the Manchester Squires Baseball Facebook page already had over 100 followers.
“Excitement is growing,” says Smith. “We want to do something special.”
Smith expects eight players with varsity experience to return in 2023. That includes the top four in batting average (junior Garrett Sites .389, sophomore Ethan Hendrix .365, junior Evan Martynowicz .338, junior Gavin Martin .303) and leading base stealers (Sites 11, Hendrix 10, Martynowicz 8 and Martin 7).
As a pitcher, Martynowicz went 2-2 with a 2.31 earned run average, 38 strikeouts and 13 walks over 42 1/3 innings.
Smith has already attended Manchester sporting events to meet players and parents and reached out to Manchester Recreational Association and wants to offer coach and player clinics.
“My main goal is to generate excitement in the community,” says Smith. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. I plan to support these kids and families and have a good foundation of a relationship way before the first day of practice.”
The coach plans to have a call-out meeting in the near future.
Manchester does not currently have junior high baseball. Smith says he would like to start that, perhaps through MRA.
“We want to make sure (younger players) have a sound foundation,” says Smith. “We want to make sure in T-ball they fall in love with the game. So many times we overwhelm the kids and it becomes a job.
“They have to have a great experience, continue to love it and have the confidence. Youth baseball is all about fundamentals and gaining confidence.
“If we are going to have a true feeder system, the focus has to be development and long-term success over short-term success.”
Smith works as a social worker and school safety specialist for Wabash City Schools. He is currently in the L.H. Carpenter Early Learning Center.
He is also on the Wabash County’s Child Protection Team, which is an accountability piece for the Department of Child Services.
Smith earned a Criminal Justice degree with a minor in Human Resources Management from Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Shane Smith.
The Smiths (clockwise from upper left): Shane, Ashton, Blake, Jackson, Tiffany and Ella.

“Dad’s Practice” with Blake, Shane, Ashton and Doug Smith.

Shane Smith (left) advises a Wabash High hitter.

Edgewood alum Pittsford learns from many along his diamond path

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

Harrison Pittsford is soaking up the knowledge of veterans while getting in his summer reps as a first-year player for the South Bend Royals, members of men’s wood bat leagues in both South Bend and Fort Wayne.
At 20, Pittsford is younger than most of his Royals teammates. That includes 53-year-old Jayson Best.
“It’s cool learning from guys like Bestie,” says Pittsford, who completed his second year at NCAA Division III Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., in the spring. “I see how they play the game.
“It’s a great experience playing with those guys.”
Best, who was born in Lafayette, Ind., played professional baseball from 1989-97. He ascended to Double-A in the Minnesota Twins organization as a pitcher and later was head baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He pitched a no-hitter for the Royals in Mishawaka, Ind., on July 10.
Pittsford, a 2020 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., comes up to play mostly weekend doubleheaders with former GC hitting star and current Eastern (Greentown) head coach Erik Hisner-managed Royals and Manchester teammate/roommate Hunter Aker (a South Bend Clay High School graduate).
While he does some catching, Pittsford is getting playing time in the outfield since he expects to be there much of the time at Manchester.
The Royals are to compete in a National Amateur Baseball Federation regional in Fort Wayne July 28-30. The top two finishers move on to the NABF World Series Aug. 2-5 in Battle Creek, Mich.
Pittsford was named to the 2022 all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team at designated hitter.
The righty swinger played in 30 games (28 starts) and hit .327 (33-of-101) with six home runs, eight doubles, 29 runs batted in, 27 runs scored and a 1.002 OPS (.418 on-base percentage plus .584 slugging average).
Rick Espeset competed his 26th season as Manchester head coach in 2022.
“Espy got my attention in the recruiting process,” says Pittsford. “His success and longevity eye-catching for me.”
Espeset’s Spartans have won 619 games with six national tournament appearances, including two trips to the D-III World Series (2004 and 2013).
As much as Pittsford appreciates all the knowledge that Espeset shares, he is also grateful for the insights on the mental approach.
“We’re taking time to detach from baseball with breathing and mindfulness,” says Pittsford.
As a D-III program, Manchester conducts four weeks of fall practice with the whole team and coaches. Players are then on their own for a few months until everyone reconvenes shortly before the start of the season.
“Nothing’s really forced on us,” says Pittsford. “If guys want to get better they are going to get better. I get motivated seeing my teammates working out.
“We have good leadership from underclassmen.”
A Sport Management major, Pittsford was named Academic all-HCAC in 2022.
“I want to stay involved in sports in some capacity,” says Pittsford of his post-college path. “That could be coaching, running a sports facility or being an athletic director. I want to be involved in sports and make a difference for kids and make sure the next generation has the same opportunities I had coming up.
“Sports can teach you a lot of life lessons like building character and making friendships.”
Born in Bloomington, Ind., and growing up in Ellettsville, Pittsford participated in baseball and basketball through Richland Bean Blossom Youth Sports and was also part of Monroe County Youth Football Association.
He was in travel ball with the Ellettsville Explosion, Diamond Dynamics and then Tier Ten.
It was with Diamond Dynamics that Pittsford met coach/instructor Tony Kestranek.
“He was passionate about baseball,” says Pittsford of Kestranek. “He taught us when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive.”
At Edgewood, Pittsford played four years each of football and baseball and two of basketball.
A special teams player as a freshman, he was the Mustangs’ starting center for three seasons.
Brian Rosenburgh was defensive coordinator Pittsford’s freshman year then head coach for the last three.
“I loved him as a person and a coach,” says Pittsford of Rosenburgh, who was also a Physical Education teacher at Edgewood.
An football coach was Mychal Doering.
“He’s an amazing guy,” says Pittsford of the father of classmate Izaiah Doering and JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) specialist at Edgewood. “He was high-energy and he motivated you. He was always checking on people outside of school and he taught me about life and handling the ups and down.
“He’s going through chemo (for cancer). It’s cool to see how he’s battling through that.”
Pittsford considered playing college football, but decided to go with his first love of baseball. Besides, at 6-foot, 230 pounds he is considered to be undersized for a college lineman.
Bob Jones, who has been a Business teacher for more than 40 years and head baseball coach for 36, passed along many diamond lessons to Pittsford.
“He knows a lot of baseball,” says Pittsford of Jones, who went into the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame last week. “It’s nice to learn from a guy who’s been around the game for so long.”
One of Jones’ more than 500 victories came during the first game of 2019 — a season that ended with the Mustangs finishing as IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
Playing in a tournament at Vincennes University, Edgewood fell behind 11-0 to Terre Haute North Vigo after four innings.
The Mustangs chipped away and eventually won 20-18 in a game that was played in a steady drizzle.
“It was a pretty crazy game,” says Pittsford, who started at catcher and batted No. 2 that day and drove in two runs.
Later moved to the No. 9 hole, it was there that Pittsford smacked a walk-off home run against West Vigo in the semifinals of the Owen Valley Sectional.
Several other Edgewood players wound up playing college baseball, including Class of 2019’s Joe Kido (Indiana State University), Ethan Vecrumba (Indiana University), Cooper Thacker (University of Southern Indiana) and Blake Deckard (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology), Class of 2020’s Pittsford and Sam Kido (Indiana University South Bend) and Class of 2021’s Luke Hayden (Indiana University).
Satoshi Kido — father of Mac, Joe and Sam — was an Edgewood assistant in 2019 and has been Pittsford’s hitting coach since he was 7 or 8.
“He’s helped me so much with my swing over the years,” says Pittsford. “He always knows how to fix my swing when I get in a slump.”
Pittsford spent much of 2021 dealing with a torn right shoulder labrum.
Harrison is the youngest of 1986 Edgewood alums Jay and Cheryl Pittsford’s two sons. Alex Pittsford (25) is a graduate of Edgewood (2016) and Wabash College (2020) and is now pursing his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame. He was in football and swimming in high school.
Jay Pittsford taught English for 19 1/2 years and then served as an assistant principal. Cheryl Pittsford is an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Physician’s Assistant.

Harrison Pittsford (Manchester University Photo)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Now at St. Charles CC, Foster familiar with many levels of college baseball

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

Ryne Foster has first-hand knowledge of many forms of college baseball.
The 2004 graduate of Danville (Ind.) Community High School played for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dr. Don Brandon at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University.
Coaching stops have taken Foster to N’s Concordia University (Ann Arbor, Mich.), NCAA D-II’s Georgia Southwestern University (Americus, Ga.), National Junior College Athletic Association’s Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, NCAA D-I’s Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and NJCAA’s St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.).
“It’s helped in the recruiting process,” says Foster of his familiarity with all those levels. “I kind of know what everybody’s talking about.”
The son of former Danville head baseball coach Rick Foster (and wife Alice) and older brother of current Cascade High School head coach Ty Foster (a 2007 Danville graduate who played four years at Manchester University for Spartans head coach Rick Espeset), Ryne Foster has been the St. Charles Cougars staff since 2018-19. He serves as associate head coach/hitting coach for head coach Jeff Bolen.
Foster, who was an assistant at Madison-Grant High School in Fairmount, Ind., before going into college coaching, was a volunteer/catchers coach for Danny Schmitz at Bowling Green, assistant/catchers coach for Mike Policastro at Cleveland State, assistant/outfielders for Bryan McLain at Georgia Southwestern and graduate assistant for Kyle Rayl at Concordia. Rayl is a former assistant at Anderson U.
NCAA D-I rules do not allow volunteers to recruit off-campus. Foster has participated in the process at all the other places he’s been.
“(Recruiting) is the most important part off the field in college baseball,” says Foster. “If you can get some good players you can do some good stuff.”
Junior college is generally a two-year experience. With the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Charles currently has 18 third-year players — 13 of which started their college careers with the Cougars.
With added years of eligibility in the NCAA and NAIA, it has many players staying in college baseball longer than anticipated. This — in turn — has trickled down to high schoolers looking for a place to play.
“There’s really quite a back log and then you put the transfer portal on top of that,” says Foster. “The talent is phenomenal at a lot of places. It seems all arms throw 90 mph or above.
“The thing that hurt the high school kids is an offer you would have gotten four or five years ago might not be there now.”
St. Charles, which is in NJCAA Division I Region 16, gets players kicking back from all levels, including NCAA D-I.
When Foster was in high school, he was aware of just one junior college baseball program in Indiana — NCJAA Division II Region 24’s Vincennes University. In 2022, there’s also NJC AA Division II Region 12’s Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne.
Missouri has 11 junior college programs (eight in NJCAA Division I and three in NJCAA Division II). Illinois sports 35 (10 in NCJAA Division I, four in NJCAA Division II and 21 in NJCAA Division III).
“Knowing what I know now I would have done everything I could to find a junior college out of high school,” says Foster, noting that there are fewer restrictions on the number of hours a week an athlete can practice or play, tuition is cheaper and there is a chance in two years to go to a school they may not have been able to attend out of high school.
“As coaches we’re able to be part of everything — academic monitoring, the weight lifting program and practice everyday with them,” says Foster. “There’s never a time other than family time I can’t work with you because you’re out of hours this week.”
“Juco Bandit” appears on many Twitter profiles. What does it mean?
“After being around it, it’s a term of pride for a lot of our guys,” says Foster. “It means a different level of toughness. Nothing handed to these guys and if it was, it was then taken away. It’s not the (NCAA) Division I life. There’s 2 and 3 a.m. leave times for a doubleheader.
“It’s a different mindset. The guys come out to play ball. That’s why they’re here.”
Foster and other St. Charles coaches do what they can to develop players for the next level.
“We move them on to good Division I and Division II programs when they’re done here,” says Foster. “We’re always making connections with coaches at that level and they’re helping us out.
“They know what kind of kids they’re getting out of junior college. They’re getting kids who are tough. It’s a big ask to come out of high school in play in the Big Ten, Big 12 or the SEC. There’s no substitute for experience.”
St. Charles plays 25 to 30 scrimmages in the fall with 56 regular-season games plus the postseason in the spring.
“We the fall for our sophomores to get exposure,” says Foster. “(Four-year school) come out and scout. We also get to see our freshmen and prepare for the spring.”
Besides his baseball duties, Foster is also in charge of the St. Charles athletic fields (baseball, softball and soccer). They are all grass.
“I starting learning with my dad being a high school coach,” says Foster. “It’s second nature. Many a spring break as a kid was spent out there getting the field ready.”
Rick Foster is head boys tennis coach and boys basketball assistant at Danville. He coached Warriors baseball almost 40 years and now helps Ty on the diamond at Cascade.
Ryne sees going into the profession as a natural.
“I couldn’t think of myself doing anything else,” says Foster. “I grew up with it. My dad was old school. You do things the right way and play hard. It’s the same way he grew up playing. Nothing too fancy.”
After playing tennis, basketball and baseball in high school (brother Ty played football, basketball and baseball), Ryne played both basketball and baseball his first two years at Anderson. In his fifth year, he came back to the Ravens basketball program.
“I love guys who play different sports (in high school),” says Foster. “They can develop so much when they can focus in one area. They have all kinds of potential.”
Foster relishes the chance to grow his baseball know-how and his network while attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, which meets each January (the 2022 version was in Chicago).
“You meet up with people from all over the country,” says Foster. “It’s a big fraternity. It’s pretty cool to be part of it.”
Baseball brought Ryne together with the woman he now calls his wife. He was working for Pastime Tournaments at an event in Nashville and met Nikki, who was attending down from Minnesota for a bachelorette party. Ryne and Nikki Foster were wed June 22, 2021 in a Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
“She’s been with me through the coaching run in two different places,” says Foster. “She knows it’s not your normal 9-to-5 job.
“It’s hard to find someone who understands the work.”

Ryne and Nikki Foster (Crockette’s Images)
Ryne and Nikki Foster
Ryne, Rick and Ty Foster (Crockette’s Images)

Bice now in charge of DeKalb Barons baseball

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

Collin Bice grew up playing at Auburn (Ind.) Little League then DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind.
This week, Bice was named head baseball coach at his alma mater after two years as a Barons assistant. His coaching in the spring at the high school makes Bice familiar with the returnees and his coaching of 14U all-stars in the summer has allowed him to get to know the incoming freshmen.
The 25-year-old is well aware of the winning tradition at DeKalb, having played for Chris Rhodes for his first three prep seasons and Tim Murdock as a senior and from years of taking lessons from Ken Jones. Bice was a freshmen when he began coaching at the Little League and led many teams with friend Bruce Bell.
“DeKalb baseball has always been an above-average baseball team,” says Bice, who was made school-board official Dec. 21. “We’re not looking to recreate the wheel. We’re asking what is it going to take to take us to the next level?
“I like to consider myself a high-energy guy. I’m going to be flying around with (the players). I plan to increase the tempo and intensity of practice. I hate standing around.
“Playing for Coach Rhodes really sparked my passion for the game. I had a great four seasons myself as a Baron. That’s what I want to recreate. I want to impact the lives of 15- to 18-year-olds and give them a great experience.”
Bice, a former catcher, likes the way Rhodes and Murdock broke practices into individual groups and will continue to do that.
“Each practice we’ll work on what we need to enhance based on the last game or week,” says Bice. “We want to get better each and every day.”
A 2015 DeKalb graduate, Bice played one season for Bob Koopmann at Rockford (Ill.) University and three at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., for Rick Espeset. He credits the Spartans bench boss for imparting plenty of baseball knowledge.
A coach of a team every summer except 2018 when he gave lessons as an intern at the Strike Zone in Omaha, Neb., during the summer of 2018, Bice graduated from Manchester in 2019 with a degree in Business Management with a minor in Coaching.
While his DeKalb coaching staff is not completed, Bice plans to have former University of Saint Francis left-handed pitcher Kyle DeKoninck return and will likely have father and DeKalb paraprofessional Randy Bice helping him this spring.
DeKalb (enrollment around 1,120) is a member of the Northeast Eight Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell).
In recent season, NE8 game were played as home-and-home series at Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In the 2021, the Barons were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Carroll, East Noble, Fort Wayne Northrop and Fort Wayne Snider. DeKalb has won 19 sectional titles — the last in 2002. A state championship was earned by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Jones in 1980.
DeKalb plays home games on-campus at Baron Field. The grass at the facility was replaced last year.
Feeding high school program is Auburn Little League (T-ball to age 12) at Rieke Park and the Junior League (ages 13-15).
“I’ve always coached that Junior League level,” says Bice. “That’s important to me.”
The past two DeKalb graduating classes have produced college baseball players — Tyler Stahl (Indiana Tech) and Easton Rhodes (Trine University) graduated in 2020 and Aric Ehmke (Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill.), Steele Jackson (Pasco-Hernando State College in New Port Richey, Fla.) and Nolan Nack (Trine) earned diplomas in 2021.
There have been no signings or commitments from current Barons, but Bice expects that to change.
“Our senior class will probably have a few,” says Bice. “The junior class is pretty strong.”
Collin’s mother is Dusti Bice, who played on DeKalb’s first softball team as a senior in 1986. His younger brother — Hayden Bice — is a Southern Illinois University Architecture major.
Collin Bice is agent aspirant in the office of State Farm Insurance agent Morgan Hefty, located in Auburn.
Bice roots for the Cleveland Guardians (formerly Indians).

Collin Bice.
Alex Leslie (DeKalb Class of 2023) and Collin Bice.
Then-DeKalb assistant Collin Bice visits the mound during the 2021 IHSAA Class 4A Carroll Sectional baseball championship game.

Pirates’ Haley says pro baseball scouts must ‘finish the play’

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

Doing all the homework while building and maintaining relationships and trust leading up to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and beyond.
That’s what it’s all about for a scout tied to an MLB organization.
Indiana native Trevor Haley knows. January 2022 will mark his 14th year scouting for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“We have to finish the play on every player we want to select,” says Haley, who was an area scout before becoming a regional supervisor. “The player has to be who we’ve advertised them to do be.
“You’re investing money and draft capital on these players. You need to know if they’re ready. Are they a good fit for your organization?”
The MLB Draft — now 20 rounds over three days at the All-Star Break — is the potential finish line of talent identified by scouts and the other 362 days are the race.
For an area supervisor, a big part of the job is helping players and their families through the process.
Jameson Taillon, a 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher with the New York Yankees, was signed to a Pirates contract by Haley.
“Cultivating and getting to know Jameson and his father Mike that’s a big part of it,” says Haley. “Jameson has overcome a lot of adversity (including testicular cancer surgery during his second MLB season with Pittsburgh in 2017). I couldn’t be prouder of the man he’s become.
“It is a business, but at the core of it are the relationships. Area scouts are listed as the signing scouts, but it’s definitely a collaboration and a team effort.”
Haley recently moved to South Bend, Ind. His current territory is essentially the middle third of the country.
Born in Valparaiso, Ind., Haley was just starting school when he moved to Richmond, Ind.
As a Richmond High School Red Devil, the lefty-swinging first baseman played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate and graduated in 1996.
“He’ll coach you hard, but love you afterward,” says Haley of Cate. “He cared about his players. He cared about winning. He cared about the program. We had some pretty good teams (Richmond won four sectionals, three regionals and two semistates, was twice at State Finals semifinalist and was at or near the top of the state rankings from 1993-96).
“I learned to take pride in how I represented myself on and off the field and take pride in the uniform and the team.”
Haley compares the experience to what he expects it might be like to play for former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight.
“It’s hard going through it but, looking back, you wouldn’t trade it for anything,” says Haley of his time with Cate.
At Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., Haley’s freshmen year was the first for Rick Espeset as Spartans head coach.
“(Espeset) had a completely different style than Coach Cate, who was an expressive motivator,” says Haley. “Espy was much more cerebral in his motivation. He was understated. He was a great team builder.”
Haley received a Business Administration degree from Manchester then was an assistant coach for two years on the staff of Grizzlies head coach Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College.
After a year away from baseball traveling the county working in event marketing, Haley to Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee and received a J.D.Sports Law Certificate in 2006.
The goal had always been to build his resume and open doors in the baseball world.
“That was always my passion,” says Haley. “I took the time to write all the letters and send them out and go though the networking process.”
He landed a baseball operations internship with the 2007 Colorado Rockies. That was the year the team went into the World Series on an improbable 21-1 run that became known as “Rocktober.”
“In my opinion it’s one of the most not-talked-about runs in the history of sports,” says Haley.
Through the Rockies, Haley was able to attend scout school for a chance to enter a limited field. All in all, there are not that many scouts in pro baseball.
“It’s a very insular industry,” says Haley, who got his foot in the door and has been with the Pirates since 2008.
Haley was an area scout in south Texas from 2009-14 before moving back north as an area scout in the Midwest, western Pennsylvania and eastern Canada in 2015 and became a regional supervisor in 2016.

Trevor Haley.

Baker, Flemm guiding Elkhart Christian Academy Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.”

Shawn Baker
Matthew Flemm

Indiana’s college baseball teams take to the diamond for ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cabin fever and cold temperatures have been a reality in Indiana this winter.

But it’s beginning to thaw in many places. College baseball games have been played in the state and institutions from the state have traveled to open the 2021 season.

There are 38 college baseball programs in Indiana — Ball State (Head coach Rich Maloney), Butler (Dave Schrage), Evansville (Wes Carroll), Notre Dame (Link Jarrett), Purdue (Greg Goff), Purdue Fort Wayne (Doug Schreiber), Indiana (Jeff Mercer), Indiana State (Mitch Hannahs) and Valparaiso (Brian Schmack) in NCAA Division I, Indianapolis (Al Ready), Purdue Northwest (Dave Griffin) and Southern Indiana (Tracy Archuleta) in NCAA Division II, Anderson (Matt Bair), DePauw (Blake Allen), Earlham (Steve Sakosits), Franklin (Lance Marshall), Hanover (Grant Bellak), Manchester (Rick Espeset), Rose-Hulman (Jeff Jenkins), Trine (Greg Perschke) and Wabash (Jake Martin) in NCAA Division III, Bethel (Seth Zartman), Calumet of Saint Joseph (Brian Nowakowski), Goshen (Alex Childers), Grace (Ryan Roth), Huntington (Mike Frame), Marian (Todd Bacon), Oakland City (Andy Lasher), Taylor (Kyle Gould), Indiana University-Kokomo (Matt Howard), Indiana University South Bend (Doug Buysse), Indiana University Southeast (Ben Reel), Indiana Tech (Kip McWilliams), Indiana Wesleyan (Rich Benjamin) and Saint Francis (Dustin Butcher) in NAIA and Ancilla (Chris Woodruff), Ivy Tech Northeast (Lance Hershberger) and Vincennes (Chris Barney) in NJCAA — and 26 have already heard “Play Ball!”

Where they’ve been allowed, fans have been in the stands. Others have followed on internet streams.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have altered traditional schedules. Many have gone to longer series to limit travel.

So who’s off to the hottest starts?

Coming off a four-game series sweep against IU Southeast, Huntington is 7-0.

Taylor got the earliest start of any college team in the start, opening its season Jan. 22 in Arizona. The Trojans are 11-6.

Ball State leads D-I clubs at 4-3. The Cardinals split a season-opening series at Arizona.

The Big Ten opted to play conference games only in ’21. Indiana opens March 5 in Minneapolis and will play games against Minnesota and Rutgers.

Meanwhile, Purdue will also open a four-game series against Nebraska in Round Rock, Texas, on March 5.

Purdue Northwest is also scheduled to get going March 5.

Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference teams Earlham, Franklin, Hanover and Manchester open up March 6. Anderson and Rose-Hulman get into the act March 7.

Trine’s lid-lifter is slated for March 13.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through Feb. 28

NCAA Division I

Ball State 4-3

Evansville 3-3

Indiana State 3-4

Notre Dame 2-1

Purdue Fort Wayne 1-3

Valparaiso 1-5 

Butler 0-0

Indiana 0-0

Purdue 0-0

NCAA Division II

Southern Indiana 2-1

Indianapolis 1-5

Purdue Northwest 0-0

NCAA Division III

DePauw 1-1

Wabash 1-1

Anderson 0-0

Earlham 0-0

Franklin 0-0

Hanover 0-0

Manchester 0-0

Rose-Hulman 0-0

Trine 0-0

NAIA

Taylor 11-6

Huntington 7-0

Oakland City 6-4

Saint Francis 6-5

Marian 6-6

Indiana University Southeast 5-10

Indiana Wesleyan 4-7

Indiana University-Kokomo 3-4

Bethel 2-8

Grace 1-3

Goshen 0-2

Indiana University South Bend 0-4 

Indiana Tech 0-7

Calumet of Saint Joseph 0-0

Junior College

Vincennes 2-6

Ancilla 2-6

Ivy Tech Northeast 0-1

Alum Wells returns to coach Cowan Blackhawks

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Wells grew up in the Delaware County, Ind., community of Cowan, just south of Muncie.

“I have always taken pride in the fact that I was raised in Cowan,” says Wells. “I honestly believe that it is has always been one of the closest-knit communities. Everybody knows everybody and would do anything to help a neighbor in need at anytime.”

Wells, 27, was recently named baseball head coach at his alma mater and is to join the teaching staff at Cowan Elementary School in January 2021. He is currently finishing his tenure in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis at Rhoades Elementary.

Growing up, Wells played at what is now known as the Cowan Baseball and Softball League and then shined for four varsity baseball seasons as a catcher for Cowan Junior/Senior High School, playing his first three for Camden Parkhurst and his senior year for Seth Paul. As a senior in 2012, Wells was an all-state selection. 

“I was able to learn many aspects of the game from both coaches,” says Wells of Parkhurst and Paul. “I was able to learn how to actually ‘enjoy’ the game when I was playing with Camden. 

“During my first two years at Cowan, it was a very memorable time to be a Blackhawk baseball player. I was able to learn from some of the greatest players to ever come from the program during those years. Justin O’Conner, Jake O’Conner, Kirby Campbell, Cody Campbell, just to name a few. 

“I truly fell in love with the game of baseball when I was playing with those guys and playing underneath Camden. I learned how to compete at an extremely high level and also have fun at the same time. It is a mix that I still carry with me today.”

Paul taught Wells a different set of skills.

“We actually had a tendency to share some disagreements when I was playing underneath him,” says Wells. “He challenged me and pushed me mentally more than any coach had before. He made me not just love the game, but begin to understand it and what it takes to win. 

“Our team was not as skilled as the earlier Cowan teams my senior year, but we came together due to great chemistry and how well Seth prepared us. Being the (Hoosier Heritage Conference) champion in 2012 is still one of my favorite baseball memories. We did not win that conference title with skill alone, we won it with passion and hard work. It was a great year to exit as a Blackhawk.”

While in high school, Wells was with the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Mustangs as well as the Muncie American Legion Post 19 Chiefs.

Wells was at catcher/third baseman for two seasons (2013 and 2014) at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., for Rick Espeset. The 2013 Spartans went 39-7-1 and played in the program’s second NCAA Division III World Series.

“I learned so many things from Coach Espeset in the two years I was there,” says Wells. “The greatest part of coaching that I learned from Coach Espy was organization. 

“He was the most organized coach that I ever had the privilege of playing for. Every player knew exactly what to do and where to be every single day at practice and that was because of how well-oiled of a machine he created.”

Espeset posted daily practice plans that were down to the exact minute and he expected his players to follow that plan.

Another thing that got Wells’ attention is that Espeset had his seniors do the “grunt” work of baseball.

“It wasn’t the freshman carrying the bags to the buses or making sure the field was in perfect condition — it was the seniors,” says Wells. “This set a tone for me as a player because I knew the seniors were never getting out of the grunt work and that made me want to work even harder as a freshman.”

Wells also recalls an acronym that was a big part of the Manchester program — T.O.B.

That stands for “transfer of blame.”

“Teams that struggle to compete always have a ‘transfer of blame,’ which means they never take accountability for their own mistakes,” says Wells. “They want to transfer the blame to something or someone else. 

“I remember one instance where a player was late to practice and he came in and said, ‘my alarm didn’t go off’ and the whole dugout just responded T.O.B and that player knew that excuse wasn’t going to fly. 

“I only played two years at Manchester, but I learned so many things that I still carry with me today.”

Wells transferred to Ball State University in Muncie and received his Elementary Education degree in 2017.

In 2015 and 2016, Wells coached on Paul’s staff at Delta High School — also in Delaware County. 

“Seth and I are extremely competitive and I believe that was what helped us become successful together at Delta,” says Wells. “He knew my passion and knowledge of the game and allowed me to input my own philosophies and thoughts into the daily practices. 

“The experience with Seth allowed me to truly fall in love with the game as a coach rather than just a player. I started to experience the challenges of coaching that you never think of when you are just playing. He allowed me to observe him and shadow him to start to fully understand what it means to become a head coach.”

Another of Wells’ favorite baseball memories was when Delta won the 2016 IHSAA Class 3A Bellmont Regional and competed in the Kokomo Semistate.

Wells was an assistant at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers in 2019 and 2020. Royals head coach Jeremy Sassanella made him a junior varsity head coach.

“I gained so much knowledge of how to be a coach from Coach Sass,” says Wells. “We began to start working together in late February due to a coach leaving the program in early 2019. 

“I immediately picked up on his genuineness as a person. He honestly cares and loves every single player and staff member in his program. His greatest strength I believe is how well he communicates with his players, staff, and most importantly the parents in the program. 

“He treats every single player in his program the exact same way no matter if they are a freshmen just entering the program or the 4A state final starting pitcher. He expects every player to control two things: FOCUS and EFFORT. If you control those two things he will never be upset with you and I respected that as a staff member.”

Hamilton Southeastern reigned as IHSAA Class 4A state champions in 2019. Of course, the 2020 season was taken away by COVID-19.

Wells’ coaching resume all includes three summers with the Indiana Prospects (2018-20). He was head coach for 14U for two years and 15U for one.

“My experience with the Prospects organization was a great one,” says Wells. “I was able to meet great people while I was coaching with them such as Shane Stout, Chad Hinds and Ed Woolwine. 

“These connections let me get to know families in the Indianapolis area where I was able to open my own catching school at (Woolwine-owned) Fishers Sports Academy for local up-and-coming or high school players in the area. I am still currently working with my catching school and excited to start up lessons very soon.”

Aaron married the former Valorie Flick Sept. 5 and the couple resides in Noblesville, Ind. She is a 2016 Cowan graduate. As a volleyball libero she helped the Blackhawks to the first IHSAA state title in any team sport in the fall of 2012. She collected 26 digs in the Class 1A championship match against Loogootee. 

Valorie went on to a standout career at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and completed her first season a head volleyball coach at Daleville Junior/Senior High School in Delaware County in 2020.

Aaron is the son of Indiana Wesleyan University graduates Steve and Karen Wells and the younger brother of Matt Wells (who works for a South Bend area law firm and has a toddler with wife Kristin).

Aaron Wells, a 2012 graduate of Cowan High School in Delaware County, Ind., has been named head baseball coach at his alma mater.

Smolinski now running the show for Saint Joe baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coach Smo is raring to go.

John Smolinski, who first wore a baseball uniform for Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind., as a player in 2004 and was an Indians assistant coach for the past eight seasons is now Saint Joe’s head coach.

Smolinski is anxious to continue the legacy started by John Gumpf, who led the program from 2007-20 with seven sectionals, two regionals, one semistate and a Class 3A state championship in 2017

The last pitch that Brady Gumpf, now at Notre Dame, saw for Saint Joe was thumped for a home run against eventual state champion Andrean in the 2019 Griffith Regional championship game.

“I was fortunate to play for him and coach with him,” says Smolinski of Brady Gumpf’s father, John. “I got to understand his thoughts and how he thinks about the game.

“My goal is to make him proud and build upon the foundation he has started for Saint Joe.

“I’m very loyal to this school. I have big shoes to fill. It’s emotional. It’s high expectations. I’m embracing it.”

Smolinski’s senior year at Saint Joseph (2007) was Gumpf’s first as head coach. The Indians won Plymouth Sectional and one-game regional crowns and lost to future major league pitcher Jarrod Parker and eventual state champion Norwell in the Plymouth Semistate. Norwell finished the 2007 season at 35-0.

“We had a great team and a lot of seniors,” says Smolinski of Saint Joe. “There was a program chance when Coach Gumpf came in there.”

In Gumpf, Smolinski saw a competitor who respected the opposition and demanded the best out of his players and plans to emulate those qualities.

As interim coach, Smolinski led the Indians through Limited Contacted Period practice two days a week with about two dozen players. 

“We did not have any positive COVID cases,” says Smolinski. “Our (practice) structure has changed. We take this very serious.”

Attendance was taken before each workout to make sure every student was able to participate. They were put into smaller groups — each player having a group number — and socially-distanced. 

Coaches and players were always masked-up. He expects to have 13 seniors and 16 freshmen among 50 players for varsity, JV and freshman squads in the spring.

“It went really well,” says Smolinski. “Everybody bought into it.

“Not having the (spring) season hurt everyone (though most everyone played travel ball in the summer). 

“We got after it. I got great feedback from the players. I was happy with the senior leadership. It was great to have some normalcy.”

At the end of the fall, Smolinski applied for the vacant head coaching position and went through the interview process. 

Smolinski, who played four years at Manchester University for Rick Espeset before joining the Saint Joe coaching staff, was named head coach this week. Tom Washburn is expected be a varsity assistant and Dan Mentock the junior varsity head coach. There are other assistants, including a freshmen head coach, to hire.

“The last 24 hours have been kind of crazy,” says Smolinski, speaking on Nov. 4. “A lot of people have reached out to me. 

“At Saint Joe, we’re a family. You can tell. People are willing to help out.”

Smolinski says players will likely get to help design an alternate jersey for the Indians. Recently, that look has featured black though the school colors are Columbia Blue and White. Coach Smo says Saint Joe will continuing to don a black cap.

Away from his coaching job, Smolinski is a self-employed social media manager that amplifies athletic accounts on Twitter including WhistleSports and FanSided.

Saint Joseph (with an enrollment around 850) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Marian, Mishawaka, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley and South Bend Washington).

The Indians are in a Class 3A sectional grouping with Marian, New Prairie, South Bend Clay and South Bend Washington.

John Smolinski, a 2007 graduate of Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind., is now head baseball coach at his alma mater.
John Smolinski has been named head baseball coach at Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind. The 2007 Saint Joe graduate was a varsity assistant for eight years on the staff of John Gumpf.

Manchester’s Pinarski enjoying diamond opportunity

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael Pinarski was not sure where baseball was going to take him in the summer of 2020.

When word came down that the remainder of the 2020 season had been canceled at NCAA Division III Manchester University because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pinarski and his teammates were coming off a 6-5 March 10 victory at Taylor University.

“It was a high note for us,” says Pinarski. “We were going into our Florida trip. That got cancelled and the rest of our season got cancelled.

“It was a bummer.”

After quarantine came the chance to play for the Nighthawks in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., where he is got to see many of his baseball friends.

“I like the availability they give us — the opportunity to come out here and show our skills, just have fun and play with other people,” says Pinarski of the CSL, a collaborative effort of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development which is scheduled to conclude July 30.

Last summer, Pinarski played with the National Amateur Baseball Federation-affiliated Mishawaka Brewers and may have played for that squad again and pursued an internship (he is a double major in Sport Management and Marketing). But the pandemic took away the latter and the Grand Park league came along.

Most of Pinarski’s jobs have revolved around diamonds. He worked the last three summers at Riverview Park softball complex in Elkhart, getting fields ready for games.

Pinarski, a 2017 graduate of Goshen (Ind.) High School, has played three seasons at Manchester in North Manchester, Ind. He has two more years of eligibility. One was added by the NCAA because of the pandemic.

In 71 games — mostly at shortstop — he has hit .247 (54-of-219) with two home runs, 25 runs batted in and 44 runs scored.

In 12 pitching appearances (10 including four starts in 2019), the right-hander is 1-4 with four saves. In 37 innings, he has 28 strikeouts and eight walks.

As a sophomore in 2019, Pinarski was on the all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference first team after hitting .262 (27-of-103) with one hour, one triple and five doubles. His on-base percentage was .412. He also earned four saves on the mound.

In 2020, Pinarski hit .304 (7-of-23) in seven games. In one three-inning mound appearance with five strikeouts and one walk.

But those aren’t the biggest source of pride.

“My best quality is probably on the defensive side — being smooth and quick to the ball, getting rid of it and getting the ball there on time,” says Pinarski.

He’s done it all as a Type 1 Diabetic.

Michael is the third of Jim and Valerie Pinarski’s five children — Andrea and Stephen are older; Nathan and Lucas are younger. Andrea and Stephen went to Concord High School, where they were athletes.

Andrea Pinarski is now the Mintuemen’s head softball coach. Stephen Pinarski was a baseball standout for Manchester. His senior season was 2018. 

Michael and Nathan went to Goshen High School. Michael says Lucas looks to be headed to Concord.

Goshen Little League gave Michael his first organized baseball experiences.

“I fell in love with it,” says Pinarski. “I was there basically everyday I could be.”

When it was time for travel baseball, Pinarski went with the Goshen Dugout Club then the Michiana Scrappers.

During his high school summers, Pinarski played for the Jim Treadway-managed Bristol American Legion Post 143.

Josh Keister was Pinarski’s head coach at Goshen High.

Pinarski calls his coach at Manchester — Rick Espeset — “a man of few words.”

“I like him as a coach and as a person,” says Pinarski. “He’s pretty good.”

Michael Pinarski, a 2017 Goshen (Ind.) High School graduate, has played three baseball seasons at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. He is with the Nighthawks of the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (Manchester University Photo)