Tag Archives: Rick O’Dette

Alum, former pro Richardson now in charge of West Noble Chargers

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

Waylon Richardson, who was named this week as head baseball at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., has had most of his baseball experiences as a player.
Born in Goshen, Richardson grew up around Ligonier, moved near Cromwell in high school (parents Franklin Jr., and Kimberly Richardson own about 220 acres of farmland) and got acquainted with the game early at Wawaka.
At West Noble, he competed four years each in baseball and basketball and two of football.
As a 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher he appeared in 11 games as a senior in 2015 and went 6-1 with one save, a 1.61 earned run average, 85 strikeouts and 30 walks in 56 2/3 innings. As a junior, he pitched in eight games and went 1-3 with a 2.18 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 1/3 innings.
Richardson scored 445 career points on the basketball court.
In his senior football season of 2014, he passed for 1,236 yards and eight touchdowns.
His head coaches were Doug Brown (baseball), Jim Best (basketball) and Monte Mawhorter (football). The trio always seemed to get their older players to take leadership roles.
“They were hard-nosed coaches and role models,” says Richardson. “They got the most out of their group of players each and every year. I still reach out to each of them. I couldn’t have asked for three better high school coaches.”
Richardson went to Kankakee (Ill.) Community College. In 2016, he made one start and experienced a shoulder separation and sat out the rest of the season.
As a redshirt freshman in 2017, he was the Cavaliers closer. In 27 games, he went 2-0 with nine saves and an 0.30 ERA, 39 strikeouts and eight walks in 30 innings. KCC went to Enid, Okla., and won the 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.
Richardson was named to all-region and all-World Series teams.
That summer, he hurled for the Coastal Plain League’s High Point-Thomasville (N.C.) Hi-Toms. He made 11 appearances (10 in relief) and went 2-4 with 4.91 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 11 walks in 14 2/3 innings. He also tore the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his right elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2017.
In 2018, a trainer for the Chicago Cubs visited Kankakee and advised head coach Todd Post and pitching coach Bryce Shafer to shut Richardson down after three appearances because he had come back from surgery too soon. The right-hander continued his rehabilitation and threw bullpens for professional scouts.
Richardson committed to play at Saint Leo (Fla.) University for head coach Rick O’Dette (who played at coached at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.), whose pitching philosophy went hand-in-hand with Shafer.
Post congratulated Richardson when he was named as West Noble head coach.
“He’s like a second father to me,” says Richardson of the veteran field boss. “He got me into that mental mindset that led me to bigger and better things. It got me drafted.”
Post helped Richardson understand the importance of the little things in baseball. Those add up to big things.
“It was a whole new perspective on baseball (for me),” says Richardson.
When the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was held Richardson was selected in the 40th round by the Philadelphia Phillies and pitched in the minors in 2019. Various injuries limited him to three games and three innings. He was released in May 2020. The minor league season was canceled that year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Richardson, who was getting old for a Class-A ballplayer, opted to retire.
Waylon married the former Abby Richards of Churubusco in October 2020 and started working in construction as a remodeler and house flipper and flooring sub-contractor. Abby Richardson is a speech therapist and cheerleading coach at West Noble.
Waylon Richardson, 25, was a varsity assistant to brother Aaron Coy (other siblings include Brittany Richardson and former all-state, Ball State University and Grace College basketball player Haley Richardson) during the 2022 West Noble baseball season. Coy is a 2006 West Noble alum who played baseball at Goshen College.
As the man in charge of the Chargers, Richardson had from nine to 17 players participate in fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activities.
“We share to many athletes at our school,” says Richardson, who held optional open fields after football practice. “Without everyone there it’s hard to put in your philosophy.”
He was able to critique the swings of newer players, getting them to use more of their lower half. He got the older players to take the younger ones under their wins and emphasized knowing where to throw the ball on defense.
The winter Limited Contact Period is Dec. 5-Feb. 4. Richardson plans to have his twice-weekly sessions following basketball practice.
“We want to get as many kids as possible,” says Richardson.
Hitters will be asked to have an approach at the plate and not just be free swingers.
A brand new outdoor batting cage was recently installed at the Chargers’ on-campus field. Richardson’s wish list includes a new scoreboard and a new or remodeled press box.
“I’m excited,” says Richardson. “We lost eight seniors but return at least six everyday starters. We have a really good young freshman class. The ones showing up (at practices) are athletic and versatile.”
Richardson says he sees college baseball potential in Class of 2023’s Elijah Bacon and Winston Deel.
The coaching staff includes returnees Dave Shields, Mel Coyle and Jose Marmolejo.
Shields was on the staff when Richardson was a player.
“I respect his Baseball I.Q.,” says Richardson. “He’s like a father figure to the kids.”
Coyle doubles as a junior varsity coach and groundskeeper.
“He makes sure Charger baseball plays on a beautiful diamond,” says Richardson, who is also hoping to bring on two former college teammates.
Richardson seeks pitchers who get ahead in the count.
“We want to work low in the zone — inside and out,” says Richardson. “If you command two pitches, you can play around with a third and get hitters to chase.”
Looking at his 2023 season opener, Richardson is considering letting pitchers go one inning each to see what they’ve got and doing the same thing in Game 2.
“We want to figure out our rotation and relievers going into conference play and the end of the year,” says Richardson.
West Noble (enrollment around 720) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights and Westview).
The Chargers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Noble, Fairfield, Lakeland, NorthWood and Wawasee. West Noble has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2006.
West Noble Little League (formerly Kimmel Baseball & Softball) prepares players for the high school. Greg Eash is WNLL board president for an organization which has traditionally fielded teams from T-Ball to 1/2 Pints (seventh and eighth graders).
“Greg Eash great coach for our feeder system,” says Richardson. “I’ve told my coaches we need to get down there and show our face to the youth.”

Waylon Richardson (West Noble High School Photo)
Waylon and Abby Richardson (West Noble High School Photo)
Waylon Richardson pitches for West Noble High School.
Waylon Richardson helped Kankakee (Ill.) Community College win the 2017 NJCAA Division II World Series.
Waylon Richardson was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and pitched briefly in the minors. (Four Seam Images)

Pro pitching career takes Strobel to Canada, Mexico

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

An American shined in Canada and got the chance to play in Mexico.
That’s the story of Tasker Strobel’s 2022 as a professional baseball pitcher.
Strobel, a graduate of Avon (Ind.) High School (2013) and Saint Joseph’s College (2017), spent the spring and summer with the independent/MLB Partner League American Association’s Winnipeg Goldeyes.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound left-hander performances for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats against Winnipeg in 2021 made Goldeyes manager/pitching coach Rick Forney want Strobel in 2022.
The 27-year-old southpaw was given a chance to compete for the closer role, landed it and made 53 appearances (all in relief) and went 2-3 with 21 saves (second in the AA to the 23 for Fargo-Moorhead’s Alex DuBord) and a 3.41 earned run average. Strobel racked up 58 strikeouts with 21 walks in 55 1/3 innings.
“(Forney) was good for my career,” says Strobel. “If you were doing well he let you ride and do your own thing.”
The longtime baseball man maintains connections South of the Border and had former Winnipeg slugger Kyle Martin play for Mayos de Navojoa of the Mexican Pacific League (Liga Mexicana del Pacífico or LMP in Spanish) in 2021-22.
Navojoa — managed by Homar Rojas — reached out saying they needed a closer for 2022-23. Strobel and his agent deemed it a good fit and he signed to compete in the 10-team league that has a 68-game regular season runs from October to December and is followed by a playoff series in January to determine the league champion and a berth in the Caribbean Series.
The way it was explained to Strobel, the winter league is essentially all-star teams from the 18-team Mexican League (which runs from April to August) with a few imports mixed in among native Mexicans.
Mayos teammates include three players from the 2022 American Association season — infielder Grant Kay (Chicago Dogs), pitcher Max Kuhns (Sioux City Explorer) and outfielder Zach Nehrir (Cleburne Railroaders).
Through Mexican Pacific League games of Nov. 1, Strobel had finished seven games and was 0-0 with four saves, 4.26 ERA, four strikeouts and one walk in 6 1/3 innings.
What makes a closer in Strobel’s eyes?
“You’ve got to be a little crazy and have that mindset of getting everyone out,” says Strobel. (The other team is) not going to score a run on you.
“You have to lock it in. You can’t miss a spot with any pitch, especially the American Association.”
Throwing from a low three-quarter arm slot, Strobel employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and change-up.
His four-seamer sits at 90 to 91 mph and has been up to 94. His curve has more of a sweeping action that his slider, which is tighter and faster.
“I have two sliders that vary depending on counts and batters,” says Strobel. “I throw a class ‘circle’ change.”
While in Mexico, Strobel is working to learn the basics of Spanish.
“I took German in high school,” says Strobel, who is expanding his vocabulary with online lessons. He also uses Google Translate extensively.
Tasker was born in Overland Park, Kan., and moved to Indiana at 4. The oldest of Chris and Janelle Strobel’s two sons (2017 Avon graduate Spencer Strobel is a super senior lefty pitcher at Indiana Tech) grew up in Avon and went from rec ball to travel ball as soon as he could with the Hendricks County Hurricanes.
In high school, Tasker played with the Indiana Bulls and Jeff Mercer Sr.
Strobel’s varsity coach at Avon High was Troy Drosche. The Orioles pitching coach then was Bob McPike and Strobel also took lessons from former big leaguer Bill Sampen.
These days, Strobel helps Drosche with his high school and Indiana Bulls teams when he is able.
His two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. (2014 and 2015) are what Strobel calls “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Kevin Bowers was — and still is the Statemen’s head coach. Max Hudson coached pitchers in 2014 and Kyle Medley led them in 2015.
“It was literally baseball and school,” says Strobel. “It was about being a JUCO Bandit and I loved it.”
That diamond chapter was followed up by two campaigns with head coach/pitching coach Rick O’Dette at NCAA Division II Saint Joe.
“I love that guy,” says Strobel of Coach O. “He led me into how I think about pitching now.
“We would sometimes butt heads, but we were a good pairing.”
Strobel was a SJC senior in 2017 — the year the school closed and the Pumas program went with it.
That spring, Strobel made 14 appearances (13 starts) and was 7-3 with three complete games, a 3.17 ERA and 68 strikeouts and 30 walks in 88 innings. As a junior, he hurled in 12 games (nine starts) and went went 4-4 with a 4.53 ERA with 57 strikeouts and 13 walks in 57 2/3 innings.
Business degrees were earned from both Lincoln Trail and Saint Joseph’s.
The lefty began his professional career in 2017 with seven appearances for the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers.
Strobel had Tommy John surgery on his elbow at the end of 2017 and did not play in 2018. As soon as he was cleared, he began training at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., and still goes there in the off-season to work with Greg Vogt and Anthony Gomez and to coach other pitchers.
Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development — both at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. — also employed Strobel during his time away from playing the game.
With the independent Utica, Mich.-based United Shore Professional Baseball League’s 2020 Westside Woolly Mammoths, the lefty played in 10 games (nine in relief) with no decisions, a 3.97 ERA, 18 strikeouts and four walks in 11 1/3 innings.
Strobel pitched parts of 2019 and 2021 with the Greg Tagert-managed RailCats, getting into 34 games and going 3-5, a 3.84 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 21 walks in 70 1/3 innings.
Strobel, who is contracted to return to Winnipeg in 2023, wasn’t the only Indiana native in the 2022 Goldeyes bullpen.
Right-hander Zac Ryan, an Andrean High School graduate and former Georgia Tech pitcher drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2017 and released in 2021, made 32 appearances (all in relief) for Winnipeg in 2022. He was 2-1 with a 3.72 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 16 walks in 29 innings.

Tasker Strobel. (PRP Baseball Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Mayos de Navojoa Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Winnipeg Goldeyes Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Winnipeg Goldeyes Photo)

Atwood back as baseball coach for North Newton Spartans

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Atwood knows about athletic toughness.

The 1981 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School competed in football for Bob Sharnowski, wrestling for Otis Cress and baseball for Tom Urban — Atwood followed Dave Hicks as the Eagles starting catcher — before playing football for Pete Compise and baseball for Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College and baseball for another multi-time Hall of Famer in Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). Brent Brandon, Don’s son, was a Ravens teammate.

“(Sharnowski) taught us to just be tough,” says Atwood, who is now in his second stint as head baseball coach at North Newton Junior-Senior High School in Morocco, Ind., where he was an assistant then a head coach in the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s and is now also athletic director and dean of students. “You have to be mentally tough in baseball. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Atwood calls Urban “a heckuva a baseball guy.”

“Basics were key to everything,” says Atwood, who experienced an intense coach in Naylor.

“He was a pretty hard-nosed little character,” says Atwood. “(Brandon) was all of the kids.”

Between coaching assignments at North Newton, Atwood was an assistant baseball coach on the staff of Mike Moyzis at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Current Hebron (Ind.) High School head coach and athletic director John Steinhilber was also on the Pumas staff.

Rick O’Dette, who would be Saint Joseph’s head coach for 17 seasons until the school closed at the end of the 2017 season, was an SJC player at the time.

Atwood’s 1997 North Newton baseball club won a Kankakee Valley Sectional title in the last year of the IHSAA single-class era before bowing to Chesterton in the semifinals of the LaPorte Regional.

He then went to Delphi (Ind.) Community High School and was the Oracles head coach for baseball and wrestling.

The 2020-21 school year is Atwood’s second back at North Newton, where he is now athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic kept him from coaching the Spartans in the spring 2020. If the weather cooperates, North Newton could open the season Thursday, April 1 against Hebron. The team is slated to visit Harrison in West Lafayette Saturday, April 3.

With 24 players in the program, the Spartans will field varsity and junior varsity teams, playing home games on the campus located at the school.

Serving students in the towns of Lake Village, Mount Ayr, Roselawn, Sumava Resorts, Thayer and Morocco, North Newton (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North White, South Newton, Tri-County and West Central).

MAC teams meet twice, typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Boone Grove, Hebron (the 2021 host), North Judson-San Pierre, Rensselaer Central and Winamac. North Newton has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019.

Other teams on the Spartans’ schedule include Andrean, Calumet New Tech, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Kankakee Valley, Lake Station Edison, Lowell, Morgan Township, Twin Lakes and Washington Township.

The high school program is fed by youth baseball in Morocco and Roselawn

Atwood’s 2021 assistants are Doug Belt (varsity) and Eric Jones (JV). 

Kyler Rainford, a 2020 North Newton graduate, is on the baseball team at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Morocco has ties to Cooperstown. Native son Sam Rice played in the majors 1915-33 and collected 2,987 hits as a .322 lifetime hitter. He was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. A roadside historical marker was placed in town in 2019.

Mike Atwood has three adult children — Michael (32), Brittney (30) and Braden (29).

Michael is in the U.S. Army serving in Kuwait. Britney works as a technician at a Lafayette, Ind., hospital. 

Braden Atwood was a three-time placer at the IHSAA State Finals (fourth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and second as a senior) at Delphi and went on to a be a four-time placer and NCAA Championship qualifier as well as a three-time team champion at Purdue University. He took part in the U.S. Team Trials and was later a volunteer assistant coach at West Point (Army). He is married and living in Connecticut and has a daughter.

Mike Atwood and his son’s dog Bella.

Affinity for baseball, woodworking leads to Gandolph Bats

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball has been a part of Tom Gandolph’s life since Day 1.

The third of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and wife Ann’s four children (following Dave Jr. and Dan and before Jennifer), Tom played at what is now known as Center Grove Youth Baseball in Greenwood and later played for his father at Center Grove High School, graduating in 1995, and then at NCAA Division II Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., graduating in 1999.

He was on a 15-year-old team that went to the World Series in Kissimmee, Fla., and played varsity ball in the junior and senior years of high school and college. 

Gandolph was a shortstop and pitcher at Center Grove, but was used only as a moundsman in varsity games by SJC head coach Mike Moyzis.

There was also a 13-year run in what was once called the Indianapolis Amateur Baseball League before Gandolph put baseball on the back burner.

A woodworking hobby became Smokey’s Wood Shop — a one-man operation run out of Gandolph’s garage in Bargersville, Ind., which is near Greenwood in Johnson County.

He made some wooden American flags and they were well-received.

Suddenly, the 43-year-old full-time firefighter had a side gig — and a fun one at that.

With son Tanner (who is 6) starting to play in the CGYB, Tom was drawn back to baseball and decided to branch out and added Gandolph Bats as a division of Smokey’s in the latter part of 2020.

“I saw bat-making wood lathe videos,” says Gandolph, who promotes his businesses on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “I’ve been turning a lot of bats since October. Gandolph bats has been keeping me busy.

“I’ve gotten good feedback from friends and travel ball players. They say they’ve got really good pop and weight distribution.”

Counting display, game and fungo bats, Gandolph has produced about 75 so far and currently has orders for the next 15.

Just last week, Gandolph made plans to upgrade to an auto-lathe so he can increase his volume. 

Right now, he might be able to turn seven bats from the time he gets off work and the time he picks up 6-year-old Tanner from school.

Gandolph Bats are made of Maple — a hardwood that is just a little more expensive that Ash. He is also interested in making clubs from Birch.

Now back in the baseball world, Gandolph is learning about the many travel ball teams and training facilities around central Indiana. 

Good friend Jason Taulman, a SJC teammate, runs the Indy Sharks. When Saint Joseph’s shuttered after the 2017, Gil Hodges Field went to seed. Gandolph, Taulman and other friends of the Pumas, worked to rehabilitate the field and travel ball games have been played there.

Rick O’Dette, who played at SJC and was later head coach, is also a 1999 graduate of the school.

A.J. Zapp, who played with Gandolph at Center Grove and in pro ball, has been a coach for the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Besides Tanner, Tom and wife Rachael Gandolph also have a daughter — Mia (20 months).

A custom bat turned by Tom Gandolph of Gandolph Bats, a division of Smokey’s Wood Shop in Bargersville, Ind.
Baseball friends from Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. — Jason Taulman (left) and Tom Gandolph. In 2020, Gandolph started Gandolph Bats as a division of his Smokey’s Wood Shop business.
Rachael and Tom Gandolph take in a baseball game. Tom played baseball at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and many years in the Indianapolis Amateur Baseball League. In 2020, he started Gandolph Bats as a division of Smokey’s Wood Shop in Bargersville, Ind.
Tom Gandolph runs Smokey’s Wood Shop and Gandolph Bats out of shop in Bargersville, Ind.

Young Hammel now in charge at Benton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Hammel has quickly transitioned from student-athlete to educator-coach.

Ten months after pitching his last game for Valparaiso (Ind.) University he was announced as the head baseball coach at Benton Central Junior/Senior High School in Oxford, Ind. 

“I’m super-excited to get after it,” says Hammel, who was originally hired as pitching coach but became a head coach candidate when Jon Vernon opted to spend more time with family and focus on his duties as Benton Central’s head volleyball coach. “We want to do everything with a purpose. 

“Baseball is not like other sports.”

The son of Donovan (Ill.) Elementary fourth grade teacher Todd Hammel and Morocco Elementary first grade teacher Pam Hammel, Jarrett received an Elementary Education degree from VU and began the 2020-21 school year as a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Crossing Elementary in Oxford.

At South Newton — a K-12 school in Kentland, Ind. — Jarrett got a chance to help with younger kids as a high school junior and senior.

“I knew I wanted to be a positive role model — someone to look up to,” says Hammel. “I look up to my parents a lot. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today.

“They’ve always had my back.”

Coming from a close-knit family where both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes, Jarrett counts younger brother Jay as his best friend. They grew up pushing each other in academics and athletics. 

With 1,195 points, 6-foot-4 Jarrett Hammel was the No. 1 all-time scorer in South Newton boys hoops history until he was surpassed by younger brother Jay Hammel with 1,363. The 6-6 Jay is now a 21-year-old junior right-hander on the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball team and a Multimedia Journalism major.

A 2016 South Newton graduate, Jarrett Hammel played baseball for Glenn Donahue and basketball for Mike Hall. 

Hammel was born in Lafayette, Ind., and grew up in Brook, Ind., where he still resides. He knew Donahue as a youth baseball coach who moved up to the high school ranks. 

Jarrett played four high school summers of travel ball with the Indiana Nitro.

His first college baseball season was spent with head coach Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When the school closed, he transferred to Valpo U., and played for head coach Brian Schmack.

Hammel was a high school sophomore when he appeared on O’Dette’s radar. He became a mentor to the pitcher.

“I learned a lot in the year I was (at St. Joe),” says Hammel. “My outlook on life has changed because of him.”

O’Dette stressed being a good example and always staying in contact with people who are close to you.

“Don’t let conversations get stale,” says Hammel. “You never know when they made need you or you may need them.”

Once it was announced that St. Joseph’s was closing, Hammel recalls that O’Dette was worried more about getting us placed than his own career. O’Dette landed at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Hammel played summer college ball for the Lafayette Aviators in 2017 and 2018. Brent McNeil (now pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) managed the team to a Prospect League title in 2017. Will Arnold (now with Prep Baseball Report Arizona) was in charge in 2018.

While Hammel was at South Newton, Valpo also had interest in him and Schmack welcomed the southpaw when he became available.

What did Hammel learn from Schmack?

“Just being a man and owning up to your mistakes,” says Hammel. “Never put the blame on someone else.”

It’s about responding to adversity — something that is plentiful in baseball.

From his personal life, Hammel has learned to greater than his ups and downs.

“When things are not going your way in life you can’t put your head down and go through the motions,” says Hammel. “You have to ride the wave. Life is full of highs and lows.”

He also learned important concepts about teamwork and time management while playing NCAA Division I baseball.

As left-handed pitcher, left-hander Hammel hurled for Valpo at Alabama State March 11, 2020 and was announced as the head of the Bison program Jan. 12, 2021. 

The 23-year-old Hammel conducted his first winter practice session where he engaged with 15 athletes (many BC baseball players are involved in winter sports) and dished out baseball and life lessons. 

Hammel expects his players to be role models.

“I told them that someone is always watching your every move,” says Hammel. “You’re high schoolers now. Be good people and go hard with everything you do.”

Benton Central (enrollment around 550) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division). 

The Bison are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

While the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Benton Central fielded two teams in 2019 and Hammel says he expects to have about 30 players for two squads in 2021.

Hammel is in the process of finding assistant coaches. He would like to have a Benton Central alum on his staff. Bringing in coaches from Newton County is not practical since Brook is in Central Time and Oxford is in Eastern Time.

In looking to his feeder system, Hammel likes the youth program already established and plans to place players in competitive summer leagues and with top travel organizations.

“We want to get them out of their comfort zone and change their outlook on life,” says Hammel, who also plans to start a fall baseball program at BC.

“We went to keep kids at it and try to perfect their craft year-round,” says Hammel. “We’re trying to maximize everyone’s potential.”

Recent Benton Central graduates in college baseball include Matt Taylor and Taylor Varnado with Marian University in Indianapolis. Knights head coach Todd Bacon went to BC.

There’s also Alex Thurston at Valparaiso U., and Payton Hall at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

Benton Central senior Dalton Rennaker is a Marian commit.

Jarrett Hammel, a 2016 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., and 2020 graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) University, has been hired as head baseball coach at Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind.

Andrean, Saint Joseph’s College grad Jaworski GM for Daytona Tortugas

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Jaworski took a piece of his northwest Indiana upbringing and his love for baseball with him to sunny Florida. 

Born in Merrillville, Ind., Jaworski few up in Crown  Point, Ind., attended St. John The Evangelist School in Saint John, Ind., for grades 1-8 then graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville in 2003 and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2007.

Primarily a catcher in high school, Jaworski was a catcher, outfield, first baseman and designated hitter over his four college seasons while majoring in Mass Communications and minoring in Business.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the coaches I’ve had,” says Jaworski, who played for Dave Pishkur at Andrean and Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph. Jaworski was a Pumas assistant on O’Dette’s staff in 2008. 

Pishkur, who picked up his 1,000th career victory and surpassed LaPorte legend Ken Schreiber to become Indiana’s all-time coaching wins leader in 2019, has led the 59ers to eight state championships (2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019).

O’Dette has amassed more than 500 NCAA Divison II victories in 20 seasons — 17 at Saint Joseph’s and three at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

When Saint Joe closed its doors after the 2017 season, O’Dette landed at Saint Leo, which means he is a couple hours’ drive from Jaworski. 

“Our relationship goes pretty deep,” says Jaworski of Coach O. “His kids were in my wedding — all that stuff.”

Jim and wife Stephanie Jaworski are expecting their first child in March 2021.

Other SJC alums (#ForeverPumas) cling to their alma mater while they’ve also adopted Saint Leo and have been known to show up at Saint Leo game pre-COVID-19.

“There are a lot of great memories at Gil Hodges Field for sure,” says Jaworski. “It’s a loyal group,” says Jaworski.”

The 2021 season will be Jaworski’s 12th with the Daytona Torturgas, a minor league affiliate since 2015 of the Cincinnati Reds (the team was tied to the Chicago Cubs 1993-2014). Since November 2009, he has been general manager since December 2018.

He has also held the positions of ticket and group sales manager, director of group sales, vice president of business development and assistant general manager while with Daytona.

Jaworski was a media relations intern with the Lakeland (Fla.) Flying Tigers from January to November 2009.

As general manager, Jaworski has a hand in many aspects of operating the Tortugas. There are full-time and seasonal employees.

The cancellation of the 2020 Baseball Winter Meetings have slowed down the hiring process a little, but Jaworski expects internships to begin in January.

Last week, Major League Baseball extended invitations to 120 minor league teams and Reds also reached out to Daytona. The deadline for accepting those invites is Friday, Dec. 18.

“We need to make sure we gather all the information,” says Jaworski. “If make sure that move, it has to be what is best for the fans, city, community and team.

“It’s all about the game of baseball and doing things here in the community,” says Jaworski. “We’re growing the game we all know and love.

“That’s a pretty cool thing.”

It remains to be seen what league and level Daytona will land in for 2021. In recent years, the Tortugas were in the Advanced Class-A Florida State League. Going forward, Minor League Baseball will have Triple-A, Double-A, Advanced-A and Low-A with rookie-level leagues being eliminated or re-cast.

The pandemic wiped out the entire 2020 minor league season at historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark and there have been furloughs, but the team has hosted 50 to 60 events since the end of May. 

There has been everything from movie nights using the video board, small baseball tournaments and showcases on the artificial turf (installed for the 2019 season), a Bob Ross waiting classic, chicken sales, a dance recital, corporate outings and various awards programs for Volusia County schools. A second blood drive is slated to the park Thursday, Dec. 17.

“We utilize the ballpark as much as we can with health and safety being our No. 1 priority,” says Jaworski.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark opened in 1914 and has undergone many renovations over the years. Hall of Famer Robinson played there with Montreal Royals May 17, 1946.

Bethune-Cookman University, a member of the NCAA Division I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, practices and plays games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.

Jim Jaworski, a graduate of Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., is the general manager of the Daytona (Fla.) Tortugas, an affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds. (Daytona Tortugas Photo)

Vaught lured back to the dugout with Lake Erie Storm

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Vaught did not see himself leading another college baseball program.

When he retired a head coach at the University of Indianapolis in 2018, Vaught wanted to spend more time with his ailing mother back in Norman, Okla., and was secure in the knowledge that UIndy was in good hands with his former Greyhounds assistant Al Ready.

He had agreed to be head coach/general manager for the Hoptown Hoppers, a summer collegiate wood bat team in Hopkinsville, Ky., then Lake Eric College, a private school and NCAA Division II school in Painesville, Ohio (30 miles northeast of Cleveland) came calling.

Vaught was on vacation with friends when former LEC athletic director Kelley Kish (who had been in the compliance office at UIndy) reached out.

With so many former assistants in coaching, including Jordan Tiegs (now in the Texas Rangers system), Vaught was glad to recommend a candidate or two to the Storm. 

Vaught was invited to the Lake Erie campus and met with president Brian Posler (who had served at Kansas State University and the University of Southern Indiana).

The job was offered to Vaught and he took it in January. 

“I fell in love with the people up there,” says Vaught, who works for athletic director Mollie Hoffman.

Vaught led the Storm to a 3-6-1 mark in a COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. All but one of the losses came in the final inning.

The virus caused the Hoppers season to be called off and the veteran coach spent much of his time between Indianapolis and Oklahoma.

Vaught’s career mark at the NCAA D-I or D-II levels to 978-672-2. 

Starting with the 1985 season, Vaught coached two years at Kansas State, three at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., and 24 at UIndy (1995-2018). He won a school-record 808 wins and the program’s first NCAA Division II College World Series appearance in 2000. The Hounds went 51-15 in 2001.

Then there’s the 305 victories Vaught racked up at the beginning of his coaching career at Connors State College in Warren, Okla.

Vaught, 69, is back in Indianapolis with the Lake Erie closed down because of COVID, but he’s still coaching the Storm.

His fire was reignited last spring and continues to burn.

“I’ve got a lot of energy,” says Vaught. “I love the game. It’s been a big part of my life. Hopefully we’ve made changes in kids’ lives.”

Each year around Christmas, Vaught receives and makes calls to former players. He also reaches out to mentor Gary Ward, who enjoyed so much success at Oklahoma State University and is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

“It doesn’t take anytime to pick up the phone and say thank you,” says Vaught. “Treat people how they are supposed to be treated. That’s how to try to do everyday as a coach. 

“The Lord’s blessed me in so many ways.”

The veteran skipper has so many “baseball brothers” that he appreciates in the baseball fraternity. Among those are Tracy Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Rick O’Dette (Saint Leo Universty), Larry Owens (Bellarmine University) and Josh Rabe (Quincy University).

And the list goes on.

Vaught says he looks forward to bringing his team to UIndy for a April 14, 2021 doubleheader, where he can take the field against former players now coaching the Greyhounds Ready (whose son Cam is a godchild to Vaught) and Trevor Forde. UIndy AD Scott Young was Vaught’s assistant for 14 years.

Former Greyhounds AD Dave Huffman hired Vaught in 1994 and the coach also worked with Sue Willey in her tenure as AD.

Lake Erie plays its home games at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Midwest League’s Lake County Captains.

The Storm belong the the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. Tom Daeger, who played for Vaught at UIndy, is the GMAC commissioner.

Gary Vaught was the head baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis, where he won 808 games in 24 seasons concluding with 2018. In 2020, he started coaching at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. (UIndy Photo)

Sheridan grad Crail driven on the diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Determination has helped Sam Crail enjoy success on the baseball diamond.

The 2017 Sheridan (Ind.) High School graduate heads into his fourth collegiate season — his second at NCAA Division II Saint Leo (Fla.) University — in 2020-21 with a drive for even more.

“I’m a very hard-working individual,” says Crail, 22. “I’m very confident. My confidence allows me to go on the field and not to think about things that happened in the past.

“I move on to the next play.”

The lefty-swinging outfielder started in all 21 of Saint Leo’s games in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder hit a team-best .320 (24-of-75) with four home runs, three triples, three doubles, six stolen bases, 19 runs batted in and 17 runs scored.

Crail played two seasons at Indiana University (2018 and 2019) for head coach Jeff Mercer

“I really loved Indiana as a school,” says Crail. “The depth chart at my position was too deep.

“I needed a change in order to give myself an opportunity to play at the next level.”

Crail played in 55 games at IU and hit .229 with one homer, one triples, two doubles, two stolen bases, 13 RBIs and 16 runs.

Rick O’Dette, who played and coached at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., is head coach at Saint Leo.

Crail likes that O’Dette allows him the freedom to do his own way while offering advice to help him improve his game.

“He really gives all the players the flexibility to do whatever they want in technique and approach,” says Crail. “It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life and adding guidance along the way.”

Along with playing baseball, Crail is on target to earn a degree in Sports Business next spring.

Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate Amir Wright was at Saint Joseph’s when the school closed and he transferred to Saint Leo. After landing in Florida, Crail became fast friends with Wright.

“We connected right off the bat being Indiana guys,” says Crail of Wright. “He’s very good teammate to play for. 

“He’s showed me the ropes.”

Matt Kennedy, who coached with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s, was the hitting coach at Saint Leo before coming back to Indiana to join the Butler University staff.

Kennedy was the head coach of the Snapping Turtles in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and Crail was on the team, hitting .297 (19-of-64) with two triples, four doubles, 12 RBIs and 13 runs.

Before the pandemic, Crail was supposed to play in the Valley League for the Covington (Va.) Lumberjacks.

When the Valley League canceled its season, Crail played in the circuit based about 15 minutes from home.

Crail went to IU to acclimate to the school and the program and did not play in the summer of 2017. He was with the Cody Piechocki-managed Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers of the Northwoods League in 2018 and the Eric Coleman-managed Danville (Ill.) Dans of the Prospect League in 2019. 

At Danville, Crail hit .368 (42-of-114) with seven homers, three triples, seven doubles, six stolen bases, 39 RBIs and 22 runs in 29 games.

Between the shutdown and the 2020 summer season, Crail joined friends — many former Indiana teammates — in working out and having live at-bat sessions at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield.

Crail has trained at RoundTripper since 10 and he began playing travel ball for the Indiana Mustangs.

“I have a good relationship with (owner) Chris Estep and all the guys at RoundTripper,” says Crail.

Born in Carmel and raised in Sheridan, Crail played baseball in the local recreation system before beginning travel ball at 9U with the Indiana Prospects. He went on to represent the Indiana Mustangs (10U to 12U and 17U), Indiana Outlaws (13U) and Indiana Stix (14U to 16U). Head coaches were Shane Cox with the Prospects, Nathan Habegger and Ken Niles with the Mustangs, Dwayne Hutchinson with the Outlaws and Ray Hilbert with the Stix.

Crail played four seasons at Sheridan High — three for Matt Britt and one for Larry Lipker. 

“(Britt) was a really fun guy to be around everyday,” says Crail. “He was a players’ coach. He was one of our friends.

“(Lipker) was the same way. He was one of our buddies. He taught me a lot of life lessons. He gave me some insight as to what baseball would like like at the next level. They were both very knowledgeable about the game.”

Sam is the oldest of Westfield firefighter Ray Crail and house cleaner/health supplement salesperson Christie Crail’s three children. 

Katy Crail (18) is a Sheridan senior who plays basketball and softball. Her softball travel team is the Indiana Shockwaves. Jack Crail (14) is a Sheridan freshman. His travel baseball team is the Indiana Eagles.

Sam Crail, a Sheridan (Ind.) High School graduate, is a baseball outfielder at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He played two seasons at Indiana Universuty before transferring to the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Kennedy joins Butler Bulldogs coaching staff

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Kennedy is back home again in Indiana after spending a few years coaching baseball in Florida.

The Lafayette native joined the staff at Butler University in Indianapolis in January. He is instructing catchers, infielders and hitters, helping pitching coach Ben Norton with recruiting, assisting with camps and clinics and office duties.

“It’s a group effort here,” says Kennedy. “We make sure we are all on the same page.”

Head coach Dave Schrage’s Bulldogs open the 2020 season Feb. 14-16 in Lexington, S.C., with two games each against North Carolina A&T and George Mason. Butler is a member of the Big East Conference.

Kennedy appreciates that Schrage values player development and promotes a family atmosphere.

“It’s about getting guys better and fundamentals,” says Kennedy of Schrage. “He’s a pitching and defense guy and believes in attention to details. He emphasizes base running, which a little bit of a lost art.

“We have a family feel within our clubhouse. He wants to make sure you get home and spend time with your kids. He knows how important that is, especially with the season right around the corner.”

Kennedy has has three children in West Lafayette. Son Karson Kennedy (16) is a junior catcher at Harrison High School, where Pat Lowrey is head coach. Daughter Emilyne (13) is a gymnast and a seventh grader at Battle Ground Middle School. Daughter Jolee (9) is a third grader at Battle Ground Elementary.

The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw Kennedy on the staff of Rick O’Dette at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He had served three different stints with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. ((2005, 2007-08, 2016-17). The school closed its doors after the 2017 season.

“Rick is phenomenal,” says Kennedy. “He believes in the importance of work ethic and that blue collar feel.

“It’s made (going to Butler) an easy transition for me. (O’Dette) was so family-oriented with the team. Players were caring for each other playing for each other. He knew the importance of team and not the ‘I’ factor. He demanded a lot, but you see the rewards of that.”

That’s the way it was at Saint Joseph’s, where alum O’Dette was head coach for 17 years.

When Kentucky Wesleyan College graduate Kennedy came to the Pumas, there was immediate acceptance.

“I’m one of them,” says Kennedy. “(O’Dette) is instilling that culture down at Saint Leo.”

Kennedy began his high school baseball career at Lafayette Central Catholic High School. He was bumped up from the junior varsity to the varsity, took a baseball to the face which required reconstructive surgery and ended his freshmen season early.

He landed a McCutcheon High School. As a senior second baseman, Kennedy was part of coach Jake Burton’s 1999 IHSAA Class 4A state championship team.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Assocation Hall of Famer’s expectations were high for Kennedy and the rest of the Mavericks.

“He saw a lot more in me in what I thought I could do — both as a person and a player,” says Kennedy of Burton. “Jake was great for me. I owe that man a lot. Without his influence, I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.”

Kennedy learned to never be truly satisfied as a player and has carried that into his coaching career, holding himself and his athletes to a high standard.

“You can always learn, always get better,” says Kennedy. “You see there’s little more in there (with players). You have to figure out a way to get them out of them.”

Burton expected his players to work hard, be good people, follow the rules and be accountable for themselves and their actions. They had to make good decisions or they couldn’t be a part of the McCutcheon program.

“That put me in the right direction,” says Kennedy. “It put me with a good group of friends that I still talk to today.”

Kennedy played one season for coach Todd Post at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and three at Kentucky Wesleyan — one for Greg McVey and two for Todd Lillpop.

McVey demanded much from his players and kept them on-task.

“He was a planner,” says Kennedy, who is among the Kentucky Wesleyan career leaders in fielding percentage and assists. “We knew everyday what we were doing. These are the goals of the day and this is what we want to accomplish.”

Like O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s, Lillpop became a college head coach at a young age and learned on the fly.

“He stressed the importance of working everyday and improving,” says Kennedy of Lillpop. “As a team, we had some success.”

The Owensboro-based KWC Panthers made their conference tournament for the first time in well over a decade and turned the program around.

Kennedy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Kentucky Wesleyan in 2003. He began his coaching career as a KWC assistant in 2004.

After his first stop at Saint Joseph’s, he was an assistant to Bob Warn in the Hall of Famer’s last season leading the Indiana State University program.

“He cared so much for that place,” says Kennedy of Warn. “Everything he did was for the good of Indiana State baseball. His legacy there is going to be forever. Guys played hard for him and he was great to work for.

“As a young coach, you think you know more than you do. It’s good to keep your mouth shut and your ears open and you’re going to learn a lot more. (Warn) opened my eyes. There are a lot of different ways to do things.”

After his second tenure at Saint Joseph’s, Kennedy took over the reins at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. (2009-13). His first four teams went 49-9, 50-13, 43-11 and 40-20. The 2009 Cobras, featuring future Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Divison II World Series.

Kiermaier was primarily a shortstop when he came to Parkland. Kennedy, wishing to get some more repetitions for his infielders, asked Kiemaier to move to center field during a fall game. He later told him his path to the next level would be at that position.

Before being selected in the 31st round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Kiemaier was a two-time NJCAA All-American.

“His athleticism was unmatched,” says Kennedy of Kiermaier. “It was fun to watch him out there.”

From spring to fall of 2013, Kennedy was briefly an assistant at High Point (N.C.) University for head coach Chris Cozart.

With his parents in declining health, he decided to move back to the Midwest.

Kennedy knew Jeff Isom through Lafayette baseball circles and was introduced by Bobby Bell.

When Isom became manager of the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers, he invited Kennedy to be his hitting coach. He served in that role during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

“Pro ball is something that always intrigued me a little bit,” says Kennedy. “I checked it out for a couple years.

“I missed the college end of things.”

So he went back with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s.

And now he’s back in Indiana, doing his best to develop players at Butler.

MATTKENNEDYBUTLER

Matt Kennedy, a Lafayette, Ind., native, has joined the baseball coaching staff at Butler University in Indianapolis. His previous job was as an assistant at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. (Butler University Photo)