Tag Archives: Rob Bowen

At all his coaching stops, Ratcliffe emphasizes hard work, character

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Ratcliffe helped change the mindset in his return to the Trine University baseball coaching staff.

Ratcliffe had helped Thunder head coach Greg Perschke during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and assisted in school-record 25-win seasons then went back to the high school ranks before coming back on board in Angola, Ind., for 2020.

Trine, an NCAA Division III school with a 40-game regular-season limit, averaged 17 wins per year from 2014-19 with high-water marks of 19 in 2017 and 2018.

That was not considered good enough.

So the Thunder went to work in the fall.

“We have our limits when we can and can’t be with them,” says Ratcliffe referring to NCAA D-III contact rules. “But there are expectations from Coach Perschke. His passion for the kids is electric. It just gets everybody.

“There’s an off-season weight program. Kids work around their academics to get a workout in.”

The message is clear: If you want the team to get better, this is what has to happen. Here’s how you do it. Do you want to be a part of that?

At a school full of engineering students and others with rigorous majors, the find a way to get the job done.

“We give them a lot of instruction during our weeks,” says Ratcliffe. “They take this and work hard in the off-season.”

Brought in to help with catchers, infielders and hitters and be a bench coach during games, Ratcliffe says there’s a difference between high school and college that has do with more than age.

“Kids at the college level want to be there instead of doing something in high school,” says Ratcliffe. “Development is extremely different. In high school, you’re developing their skills. In college, you’re fine-tuning their skills.”

Through conversations and short videos, Perschke (Trine head coach since 2002 and the Thunder’s pitching coach) and assistants Ratcliffe and Nick Pfafman provided instruction for a month and then the team’s veterans led a few more weeks of workouts heading into the winter.

“We developed a mindset of how to react and respond to things,” says Ratcliffe. “It’s one of the things I was brought in for.”

When the team came back from Christmas break it had less than a month before its first games. 

Trine went 1-2 Feb. 22-23 in Kentucky then 8-0 March 1-6 in Florida.

Then — suddenly — the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Thunder gathered for an impromptu team photo after a practice and said their goodbyes.

“It was a huge gut punch,” says Ratcliffe. “We had eight seniors (Tony Bottone, Caleb Deiter, Jacob Douglass, Chase Hall, Shawn Ligocki, Nick Ricci, Thomas Rivet and Jake Roddy) that took to this year’s culture. No longer was 18 wins a good year.”

Trine was chosen to finish seventh in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason poll, but seemed to be a on a path that would put them in the MIAA’s top four and a playoff berth.

This summer, Ratcliffe is head coach for the 17U DeKalb County Thunder travel team. His assistant is Cody Krumlauf, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Earlham College who has been a player and coach for the Quakers.

The program was started a few years ago when the players were at the 15U level. The Thunder now also fields 15U and 13U teams.

To be eligible to play for the Thunder, players must play in community baseball organizations in Auburn, Butler, Garrett or St. Joe.

The 17U Thunder is a showcase team for college exposure and plays in events put on by Pastime Tournaments, Crossroads Baseball Series and at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

Ratcliffe was head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School for two stints totaling 13 seasons (2000-06 and 2014-19).

He served as an assistant to DeKalb High head coach Chris Rhodes 2007-11 and was on the staff of Keith Potter at Fort Wayne’s Homestead High School 1997-99.

While with the Spartans, Ratcliffe got to work with future big league catcher Rob Bowen.

“I remember he was a starter working on being a switch hitter,” says Ratcliffe. “If he hit 50 balls off the tee right-handed, he had to hit 50 left-handed. Balance had to be there if h was serious about being a switch hitter.”

Ratcliffe recalls that Bowen hit homers from both sides of the plate early in his minor league days and went on to play in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Caleb Kimmel, who went on to play at Valparaiso University and is now CEO of the World Baseball Academy, was also at Homestead when Ratcliffe was on staff.

Summers from 2002-14 for Ratcliffe meant coaching and evaluating young players for USA Baseball through Tournament of Stars and National Team Identification Series programs. Working in Joplin, Mo., and later Cary, N.C., he got to be around rising diamond stars as teenagers, including Mike Moustakas, Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout, Trevor Bauer, the Upton boys (Justin and B.J.) and Jarrod Parker.

“(Moustakas) had the same kind of energy as a 17-year-old that he did (with the Kansas City Royals) in the World Series. 

“That guy has not changed one bit. He’s such a team player.”

Freeman became of Ratcliffe’s favorites.

“His character in the dugout was unbelievable,” says Ratcliffe of the future Atlanta Braves first baseman. “He was very coachable. Freddie wanted to get better. 

“I’ve told my players this is what you need to be like. It’s not all about baseball. Character is very crucial.”

Trout and Bauer are superstars now. But they didn’t make the national team back then. They didn’t sulk. They put in the work to get better.

The Uptons also failed, but learned from those around them and rebounded. Justin’s path to The Show included 113 games with the 2006 Mark Haley-managed South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks during his 18-year-old season.

While they were nearly two decades apart, Ratcliffe (Class of 1990) and Parker (2007) were both graduates of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind.

Ratcliffe had coached against right-handed pitcher Parker in high school and saw him help Norwell to an IHSAA 3A state championship in 2007.

When it came time for Parker to take the mound that summer Joplin, Ratcliffe offered a little advice: “Go be yourself.”

Parker went on to work out with the Top 40 players in Atlanta and was selected in the first round (No.9 overall) of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in the bigs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. David Price and Moustakas went 1-2 in the ’07 draft.

Ratcliffe’s head coach at Norwell was Stan Reed.

“He had compassion for the players,” says Ratcliffe. “He really cared about us. It showed whether we won or lost.”

A catcher, Ratcliffe went to Purdue University and was redshirted his first season and played sparingly for Boilermakers coach Dave Alexander in his second, though he did get to catch Sherard Clinkscales, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft, later scouted for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Kansas City and coached at Notre Dame before going into athletic administration. 

Clinkscales was associate then senior associate athletic director at North Carolina State and is now AD at Indiana State University.

When Alexander left Purdue to become a scout and pitching coach Steve Green was promoted to head coach, he had a chat with Ratcliffe. It was apparent he was not going to get to play much for the Boilers.

“I was a kid who needed to play,” says Ratcliffe, who was released and allowed to sign at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where Matt Kinzer was the Mastodons head coach.

What did Ratcliffe learn from Norwell grad Kinzer during the 1993 and 1994 seasons?

“It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level,” says Ratcliffe. “If you want to get there you’ve got to put some time in. 

“Talent doesn’t get you to the next level. It takes things like working hard and having good character.”

By the time Tom Muth took over at IPFW in 1995, Ratcliffe knew he wanted to be a coach so he took the opportunity to play multiple positions and learn their nuances. Since the Dons were in need of a second baseman, Ratcliffe moved there and still took time to catch bullpens.

Ratcliffe played independent professional ball as a middle infielder for the Frontier League’s Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in their inaugural season of 1995. Larry Nowlin was the manger and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate part owner.

One of his teammates was future major league switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter Morgan Burkhart. When he came to Fort Wayne as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, Ratcliffe made sure he found a good fishing hole.

After finishing his degree at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ratcliffe became a teacher. 

Besides coaching baseball, he instructs special education classes at Garrett Middle School. His wife of 19 years — Stacy — is a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Ober Elementary in Garrett. The couple have two sons — GHS senior-to-be Blake (17) and GMS eighth grader-to-be Easton (13).

Brett Ratcliffe returned to Trine University in Angola, Ind., for his second stint as assistant baseball coach. He has also been a head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School and an assistant at DeKalb High School in Watlerloo, Ind., and Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. He has helped coach and evaluate players for USA Baseball. This summer, he is the 17U head coach for the DeKalb County Thunder travel program.

Byall, Homestead Spartans value preparation

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Potter and Steve Sotir emphasized the fundamental parts of baseball — making the routine play on defense, pounding the strike zone from the mound and following an approach from the batter’s box — as head baseball coaches at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Nick Byall, who played for Potter and coached with Potter and Sotir, is carrying on the tradition while adding his own spin as the man in charge of the Spartans.

“We want to be polished and prepared each day,” says Byall. “When you’re doing (the fundamentals) well it makes the game even more fun.

“At the high school level, we can be really successful doing that.”

Byall, a 2000 Homestead graduate, spent 10 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater (two on Potter’s staff and eight with Sotir) and is in his fourth season as head coach in 2019.

Being competitive is also important to Byall.

“We’re always looking to compete — in a drill or a game,” says Byall, who heads up a program with around 50 players for varsity, junior varsity (JV Blue) and freshmen (JV Gold) schedules.

“We have a smaller senior class and kept a larger freshmen class,” says Byall. “We have 18 on the varsity roster most of the time. Some guys will swing between varsity and JV.”

The coaching staff features Shawn Harkness plus volunteers Josh Brock, Maurie Byall (Nick’s father) and Greg Wehling with the varsity, Austin Plasterer and Kyle Plasterer with JV Blue and Brian Landigran and Dominic Schroeder with JV Gold.

Harkness is pitching coach for the Spartan. He was a JV coach when Byall was a Homestead player.

Brock played and coached at Manchester University.

It’s more than the game that keeps Byall around baseball.

“I want to be a decent role model for (the players),” says Byall. “That’s why we do it.

“I enjoy the kids and the coaches I work with. If not, I wouldn’t do it.”

Homestead plays its varsity games on its campus with the JV teams playing on that diamond or at a field near Summit Middle School.

Marching band is a big deal at the school and the band has its own turf practice surface near the baseball field. The baseball team sometimes uses it when it’s facility is too wet.

There is no middle school baseball at Homestead, but many players participate in travel ball.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who enjoy baseball,” says Byall. “They’re pretty fundamentally sound.”

Senior Kade Kolpien has committed to Taylor University. Senior Will Ferguson has garnered some college baseball interest. Junior Eli MacDonald and sophomore Kaleb Kolpien and Carter Mathison are among younger Spartans getting college looks.

Recent Homestead graduates now with college programs include Justin Miller at Purdue Fort Wayne, Isaac Bair at the University of Indianapolis and Nick Davit and D.J. Moore at Huntington University.

Catcher Rob Bowen was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his big league debut with the Twins in 2003. He also played for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Infielder Andre Jernigan went from Homestead to the Xavier University to the Twins organization.

Right-handed pitcher Taylor Kinzer played at Taylor then in the Los Angeles Angels organization.

Second baseman Ryan Wright played at he University of Louisville and in the Cincinnati Reds system from 2011-15.

Catcher Matt Singleton played at Ball State University and in the Athletics chain.

Outfielder Bobby Glover was a Parkland College, the University of Dayton and with the independent Windy City Thunderbolts (2012).

Left-hander Kyle Leiendecker went to Indiana University.

It’s IU and the allure of Hoosiers basketball that brought Byall to Bloomington.

He was a basketball manager for four years and got to see in the inner workings of big-time college sports and went to the 2002 NCAA tournament championship game with head coach Mike Davis. Byall’s first week on campus was Bob Knight’s last.

Byall earned an education degree from Indiana in 2005 and a masters in business administration from Taylor in 2010. He teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics and U.S. Government at HHS.

Homestead (enrollment around 2,430) has charted a schedule that features Bellmont, DeKalb, Evansville Central, Fishers, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis Cathedral, Mississinewa, Norwell, Wapahani and Warsaw.

For several years, Homestead has made a southern trip during spring break.

“It’s a chance to get away and bond a little bit,” says Byall.

The destination the past few seasons has been Vincennes, Ind. Treks have also been made to Terre Haute, Evansville, Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tenn.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Huntington North. Homestead has won 14 sectionals — the last in 2016. A 4A state runner-up finish was earned in 2008.

Byall is single and lives in the Homestead district.

“I’m real close with my family,” says Byall, the son of Maurie and Rosi Byall and younger brother of Troy Byall. His father owns Byall Homes, Inc., and has been building houses for 40 years. His mother is the Homestead treasurer and also the statistician for her son’s baseball team.

With three children, chiropractor Dr. Troy and wife Erica Byall have made Nick a proud uncle.

NICKBYALLKADEKOLPIEN

Homestead High School baseball coach Nick Byall (left) slaps hands with Kade Kolpien. Byall is in his 14th season as a Spartans coach — fourth as head coach — while Kolpien is in his senior season in 2019.

NICKBYALL

Nick Byall is head baseball coach at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He is a 2000 graduate of the school. (Homestead High School Photo)

 

 

Kloosterman shares his passion for baseball with IHSBCA All-Stars

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Kloosterman shared a story of perseverance and belief Friday, July 20 at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet.

The former standout at Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College who was a left-handed pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization is now a husband and father of two who works in the gas and oil business and coaches youth baseball in Pennsylvania.

Kloosterman took the audience of about 250 at the Century Center in downtown South Bend through his baseball journey. Many of his remarks were aimed directly at the all-stars — recently-graduated players from across the state who were chosen to play three games (two Saturday and one Sunday) at Four Winds Field.

With wife Megan and sons Grady and Blake in the audience, Kloosterman described what he labeled the four stages of baseball.

It was during Stage 1 that he started to develop his belief in himself.

“In Stage 1, you’re 6 years old, chewing on dandelions, doing cartwheels in the outfield,” said Kloosterman. “I was that kid.”

Though his coach criticized him for his ways, he used to to fuel him.

“I truly, honestly, passionately don’t care what you think about me,” said Kloosterman. “You’re opinion means absolutely nothing. You have no idea what I’m capable of doing.

“I can’t tell you how vital this has been.”

Then emphasized a few points to the all-stars.

“Trust me, gentlemen, there’s going to be a college coach that looks at you and says ‘no.’ Should you quit?,” said Kloosterman. “There’s going to be a D-I coach that looks at you and says you’re not fast enough. Should you quit?

“That tool came in handy not just in T-ball but in pro ball.”

In the second stage, a drive and hunger was developed.

“Do you remember the first time you wanted to beat the living tar out of your opponent?,” said Kloosterman. “The world stopped. You stopped hearing all the crazy parents yell at you, coaches (acting) like they’re trying out for the big leagues and didn’t even notice your friends on the other team.

“It was an uncontrollable, insatiable desire to put a quick foot on their throat and win by 10 in five. I was 12. I became addicted to winning.”

Kloosterman admits that when he didn’t win as a 12-year-old, he completely melted down.

“I cried after every loss until I was 13,” said Kloosterman. “I was icorrigible. I’m glad I got over that because that could have gotten really weird in high school and college.”

Kloosterman credits this drive as a the single most important thing that allowed him to play as long as he did and brought him success in his career.

“Losing stinks,” said Kloosterman. “There’s no justification for it. We can learn from it.

“But make no mistake, winning’s great. Winning’s the reason we train the way we do. It’s why we stay late and don’t go to parties.

“We have laser focus. We don’t do it so we can lose. We do it so we can win.”

Stage 3 is when Kloosterman tasted success, but also learned that there were other talented ballplayers in his world. He saw the nasty stuff of second-round Major League Baseball draftee Eric Good, gave up a home run and was picked off first base in the same game by major league catcher-to-be Rob Bowen and got hit regularly by future major leaguer Hunter Pence.

“I hold that pretty close to my heart because I always wanted to strive to be better,” said Kloosterman. “Look to those people who were that good and so special and fight to be like that. Go beat them. If you can’t do it now, do it tomorrow.”

It’s still a driving factor in his life and he related it to the all-stars in the audience.

“It motivates me to work even harder. Someone, somewhere is better than you,” said Kloosterman. “They throw harder, run faster and hit the ball harder. And, to be honest, they’re probably a freshman.

“Never forget what got you here and you use these times to make you stronger.”

Kloosterman, 36, is now in the fourth stage. He coaches baseball, but he no longer plays it. But he can look back fondly on the people and moments that helped get him to this point.

“I reaped all the benefits while playing this game,” said Kloosterman. “Now, I’m reaping the benefits post-baseball.”

He thanked his family at the beginning of his speech. At the end, he singled out Elkhart Central coach Steve Stutsman and wife Kristie and Central assistant, Concord head coach, Bristol American Legion Post 143 manager and North/South All-Star Series organizer Jim Treadway and his wife Mary Jane for their impact on his life.

“I always call him Coach because he earned it,” said Kloosterman of Steve Stutsman, who is also head coach for the North in this year’s North/South All-Star Series. “He allowed me to play on his team at Elkhart Central from 1997-2000.

“What he might not tell you that he basically allowed me to live with him my whole career because I didn’t have the best home life.

“Coach, you loved me and I can’t thank you enough for that. You gave me a place to play baseball and forget how bad things were outside the white lines.”

Jim Treadway introduced Kloosterman and said, “You never know where this road is going to take you guys. But continue to work hard and believe in yourselves when nobody else does.”

Kloosterman expressed his appreciation for Treadway, who he met as a Central freshman and has been close with ever since.

“He was somebody that has the guts to grab a 13-year-old kid and talk some sense into him,” said Kloosterman. “He loved me when I wasn’t good, loved me when I was good and gave me the encouragement to be better than where I came from.

“Jim Treadway, without you I would have failed. I want to thank you for guiding me, discipling me and giving me everything and — above all — love. You will always be a dad to me.”

Kloosterman wrapped up his remarks by encouraging all-stars to thank the people in their lives, especially parents, coaches and trainers and then told them that it’s them that will help grow the game in the future.

“They don’t get thanked enough,” said Kloosterman. “As weird as this may sound to you right now, giving back to the game of baseball is way better than whatever you get from this game

“Take the time to teach you kids the game. Teach them what you know. Remind them how much fun this game is.”

Kloosterman presented himself as evidence that baseball can provide so much — an education, a job, relationship and a family.

“Let a kid hit a bomb off you,” said Kloosterman. “Let a kid strike you out.

“Build this next generation of baseball players better than you.”

TREADWAYSKLOOSTERMANS

Jim and Mary Jane Treadway (left) share a moment with Megan and Greg Kloosterman Friday, July 20 at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet at Century Center in downtown South Bend. Greg Kloosterman was the keynote speaker. (Steve Krah Photo)