By STEVE KRAH
Tigers — in the wild — are known for being focused, determined and patient.
On the baseball field, the Tigers of Alexandria-Monroe High School are expected to display some of these characteristics and more.
“We always play hard (and are focused on) the integrity of the game,” says Closser. “I’m real big on treating the game the way it’s supposed to be treated and teaching the kids life lessons.
“It’s not all about baseball. It’s about learning to get along and deal with life, too.”
Closser wants his young athletes to know about strong work ethic.
“Kids are different hard now,” says Closser. “They think they want to work hard and they really don’t know how. We try to teach that.”
Assistant coaches Jeff Sells, Adam Rusche and Braden Warren are helping the sometimes-intense Closser deliver the message.
“You’ve got to trust your assistants,” says Closser. “You’re going to tell them things don’t want anybody else to know. You want to bounce stuff off their heads. They’ve got to take some stuff, too.
“I’m a pretty uptempo guy and I sometimes get excited. They’ve got to know that some of the things I’m saying to them they’ve got to let go over their head and not take it to heart all the time.”
Closser appreciates it when his younger players who don’t yet know his ways are counseled by the veterans.
“Our older kids will take them off to the side and say, ‘his bark is worse than his bite. Take it for what it’s worth. Listen to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it,’” says Closser. “Sometimes you have to be a dad to (players). Sometimes you have to be a coach to them or a mentor.”
When Closser took over at Alex, he established a junior high team, which mirrors what is being done at the high school and essentially has replaced Babe Ruth baseball in town. Those junior high boys play 20 games in June in the East Central Indiana League.
“I wanted them to start learning what we do at our level so when they come in as freshmen they could be ready,” says Closser. “It’s worked out really well for us.”
With so many three-sport athletes, there is not much travel baseball around Alex.
“I like three-sport athletes,” says Closser. “You don’t have to wonder what they’re doing when they’re not around you.
“I played three sports in high school. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it makes them a better person and more disciplined. You’ve got to have a routine.”
Alexandria, an IHSAA Class 2A school, has won 18, 19, 20, 22 and 16 games in the past five years and was off to a 5-2 start in 2017 despite not having a high team batting average.
“We’ll hang our hats on pitching and defensive this year and being aggressive on the bases,” says Closser. “We bunt; we steal; we hit-and-run. At this point, we have to do that kind of stuff to scratch out some runs.”
Baseball has a strong tradition at Alex. The Tigers have won seven sectional (1974, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1998, 2013, 2016), two regional (1981, 1998), one semistate (1998) and one state championship (1998).
The ’98 team (25-4), coached by Monte Sprague, featured Indiana Mr. Baseball J.D. Closser (Jeff’s son went on to play Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round in 1998 and spending parts of the ’98, ’99 and 2000 minor league seasons with the South Bend Silver Hawks).
“It was fun to just sit back and watch,” says Closser. “They had a great team. It wasn’t just about (J.D.).
“It was fun for the other guys because there were always a lot of scouts around.”
In a 4-3 championship game win against Evansville Mater Dei, Joe Granger, Justin Musick and Mike Clark drove in runs while Granger, Clark, Justin Melton and Mat Blanton scored them. Jim Linder went to distance on the mound with nine strikeouts. J.D. Closser was presented with the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award.
That was the first school year for IHSAA class sports and Alex, coached by Garth Cone, also raised the state championship trophy for 2A boys basketball. Wade Leer, David Potter, Trester Award winner Rusty Garner and J.D. Closser logged the most minutes in the 57-43 title game win against Southwestern (Hanover).
J.D., the oldest of Jeff and Emily Closser’s three children, is coaching in the New York Yankees system. He is the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder (a Double-A affiliate).
Josh Closser played basketball at Alex and graduated in 2000. Jackie (Closser) Novinger graduated in 2003 and went on to play basketball at Butler University. One of her high school teammates was 2005 Indiana Miss Basketball Jodi Howell (who played at Purdue University).
The Tigers have produced eighth Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stars — DeWayne Allen (1981), Dan Overman (1984), Barry Morphew (1986), Dean Morehead (1990), Brian Yeagy (1991), Jeff Urban (1995), J.D. Closser (1998) and Owen Young (2014).
Alex plays in the Central Indiana Conference (with Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). Frankton has been ranked this spring in the IHSBCA Top 10. Each league team plays one another once on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
That leaves room for top-notch non-conference competition.
“We like to play a good schedule,” says Closser, who saw Alex host at an early-season tournament featuring defending 2A state champion Providence plus Rossville and Peru. “That puts us ready for the conference and for tournament time.”
Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Alex Tigers.