BY STEVE KRAH
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.