By STEVE KRAH
An Indiana team earned baseball hardware last weekend in the Sunshine State.
The Indy Heat reigned in the 35-and-over division at the 2021 National Adult Baseball Association Lou Palmer Memorial Florida World Series Nov. 11-14 in Cocoa and Melbourne.
The team made up of Hoosier Townball Association and Indiana Baseball League players from around the central part of the state went 6-1 – 4-1 as the No. 1 seed in pool play – to take the title in the wood bat event.
Formed early in 2021 and playing in exhibitions against the Jasper (Ind.) Reds and IBL 18-and-over Rays at new Loeb Stadium in Lafayette, Ind., and in a Labor Day tournament at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., the Indy Heat is co-managed by catcher Paul Staten (46), center fielder/pitcher Chad Justice (38) and pitcher Gabe Cuevas (41). Staten was the oldest in Florida. The youngest was catcher Trevor Nielsen (34). Rules allowed two players no younger than 33 who were not used as pitchers.
Most Indy Heat players have experience in high school and beyond. Some play in both the HTA and IBL.
Staten played at North Forrest High School in Hattiesburg, Miss., and one year at Jones College in Ellisville, Miss.
Justice played at New Castle (Ind.) High School, graduated from Shenandoah High School in Middletown, Ind., ran track on scholarship and also played baseball for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Jerry Blemker at Vincennes (Ind.) University.
Cuevas played at South Bend (Ind.) Washington High School and Triton College in River Grove, Ill.
“Playing against the Jasper Reds gives us a good dose of baseball early in the season,” says Staten, whose team was competitive in four losses to the long-established organization. “We gave them a ball game.
“We’re going to continue exhibition with those guys.”
Adult baseball players tends swing wood.
“Some of these guys can still create quite a bit of exit velocity with aluminum and composite bats,” says Staten.
“The (Men’s Senior Baseball League) tries to adhere to MLB rules as much as possible,” says Justice.
Sixteen Indy Heat players were able to make the Florida trip. About half of the team entry fee was picked up by sponsors. Players arranged hotels or airbnb accommodations.
The Indy Heat beat the Angels 16-0 in Game 1. John Zangrilli pitched a complete-game shutout.
Game 7 was a 15-7 loss to the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Phillies. That’s when the Indiana team opted to scrap their gale blue jerseys for black ones accented by gale blue and laser fuchsia and wore those the rest of the tournament.
“We’re not superstitious,” says Staten. “Dirty or not, we were wearing our black jerseys.”
The Heat concluded pool games by topping the Dallas (Texas) Redbirds 8-3, Northwest Indiana Royals 6-1 and the Dade City (Fla.) Brewers with Mitch Brock tossing a shutout in the latter contest.
The field of eight was cut to four after pool play with overall record being the top criteria for semifinals seeding. Runs against was the first tiebreaker followed by runs scored. The Heat outscored pool play opponents 48-16.
The Indy Heat bested the Chattanooga Phillies 14-6 in the semifinals. Yasidro Matos came on in long relief of Zangrilli for the Indiana winners.
A rematch with the Dallas Redbirds — a team with players who’ve been together for years — in the championship game resulted in a 4-3 Indy Heat win Cuevas pitching a nine-inning shutout. The tournament started with games having a three-hour time limit, but rains caused that to be cut to two hours in games leading up to the final one.
“Hats off to the pitching staff,” says Staten.
Indy Heat managers employed a bullpen strategy in Florida. By holding pitchers to about 60 pitches they had fresher arms at the end of the tournament.
“Other teams were dying out and we had three good arms going into the finals,” says Justice. “I didn’t guys want to throw more than 60 pitches and seeing (the opposing) lineup more than two or three times.”
Restrictions were lifted later in the event.
“That’s the time you leave it on the line,” says Staten. “There’s nothing going on after that.”
What’s next for the Indy Heat?
‘I don’t foresee us playing in anything competitive between now and spring,” says Staten, who notes that players will keep sharp in batting cages and keep sharp with a few practices before that time. “We’ve got guys that are ready to go now. They’re pumped coming off a championship.”