“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 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.
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.
“Any junior college kid — in my mind — has an aspect to their game that is blue collar,” says Parkhurst, 22. “I don’t know if gritty’s the word. We have a lot of junior college transfers this year with the mentality of going to work everyday.
“We have a strong, strong senior class. We’re such a tight-knit group. Once the core guys decided to come back we knew some special could happen here. We have a bunch of good character guys who play hard.
“It makes going to practice fun. It makes the weight room fun. The intensity that’s brought everyday is second to none.”
In-person classes began Aug. 19, baseball conditioning started Aug. 24 and fall practice got underway Sept. 1 for a Gardner-Webb squad that could wind up with as many as 16 seniors thanks to the NCAA allowing an extra year of eligibility to players who had their 2020 seasons cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re doing individual group things,” says Pankhurst. “We getting back in the swing of things. It’s been since March since many guys have seen (live) pitching or been on a field.
“Coach Chester is very detail-oriented, which I like. You know exactly what you’re getting into when you sign up.
“Practice is his time. In games, you go play.”
GWU’s last contest was March 10 at the University of North Carolina.
On March 4 at GWU’s Bill Masters Field at John Henry Moss Stadium, Pankhurst was a single shy of a single with three RBIs, three runs and a sacrifice fly in a 4-3 win against Ball State University.
On a full count in the seventh inning, Parkhurst smacked the ball to right center and it bounded off the brick scoreboard and plated a run.
One pitch was delivered in the bottom of the ninth inning and Parkhurst launched it over the center field wall for a walk-off homer.
Parkhurst, who started all 16 games last spring at first base with 117 total chances, one error, nine assists, 12 double plays and a .991 fielding percentage plus a .220 average (11-of-50) with two home runs, 11 runs batted in and 10 runs scored as a righty batter, counts among his teammates outfielders Cam Pearcey and Mitch McLendon and infielder Eric Jones.
Pearcey played four seasons at Coastal Carolina University (including for the 2016 College World Series champions) and in 2020 for Gardner-Webb. McLendon has already logged four seasons with the Bulldogs. Jones has been with the program since 2016, having taken 2017 as a medical redshirt.
Chester, the latest guest on the Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV hosted by former Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.) assistant and current Georgia Gwinett College head coach Jeremy Sheetinger, asked players to read a book over the summer and participate in Monday Zoom meetings.
“(The book) says you build your own house,” says Pankhurst. “Everyday’s an opportunity to improve yourself.
“It was a good reminder of when we get back to campus that everyday is an opportunity. Keep working and you’ll see the product come to fruition.”
During the quarantine, Parkhurst came home to Granger, Ind., to work and to hone his baseball skills. He also took an online class and is one pace to graduate with a Business Administration degree in the spring.
Parkhurst, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, landed at Gardner-Webb after playing in a junior college all-star game in Lakeland, Fla. He was recruited by former Bulldogs assistant Ross Steedley and agreed to join a program led by Rusty Stroupe. When he arrived in North Carolina, Stroupe had retired and Chester was in charge.
With a grandfather living in Florida, Parkhurst had attended camp at Daytona State and was offered a chance to make the Falcons team. He redshirted as a true freshman behind a returning starting catcher, did much of the team’s receiving as a redshirt freshman and split his time between catcher and first base as a redshirt sophomore.
He hit .305 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 33 games in 2018 and .261 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 38 games in 2019.
“I wouldn’t trade my junior college experience for the world,” says Parkhurst. “Coach (Tim) Touma set me up to be the player and person I am today.”
Parkhurst entered the fall of 2019 at GWU as a catcher then transitioned to first base for the spring of 2020 and expects to be at that position this fall and next spring.
Born in South Bend, Parkhurst and played at South Bend East Side Little League before joining the Barber-coached Chargers around 15.
He played at South Bend St. Joseph High School as a freshman then was a varsity player for three seasons at Clay. Teammates included Aaron Bond, Joey Lange, Trenton Stoner and J.P. Kehoe.
“There were guys you loved to play for,” says Parkhurst. “Everybody played hard for each other.”
Parkhurst played for Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell and John Kehoe. Reinebold took over at his alma mater and where father and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reinebold had success after the death of Chad Hudnall due to cancer in October 2013.
“His baseball mind and passion for Clay baseball is outstanding,” says Parkhurst of Joel Reinebold. “All the coaches — whatever you needed, they were there for you with personal advice or baseball advice. They’d go to bat for you no matter what.”
Riley Tirotta, who played at Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and at the University of Dayton, is a friend and sometime workout partner of Parkhurst.
Keiji is the second of RV company vice president Scott Parkhurst and a golf pro Kasi Hornback’s four sons and only one to go by his Japanese middle name. The other boys are Robert Toshio (25), who is in the U.S. Navy, David Morio (14) and Tommy Touji (12).
The Battle rages Aug. 1-Sept. 13 with games contested Wednesday through Sunday at Florence’s UC Health Stadium and Lexington’s Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Claycamp, who commuted from Columbus to begin the season, has made arrangements for an Airbnb in Lexington. When the Legends play in Florence, he stays with family friends in the Lawrenceburg/Sunman, Ind., area.
Ellis, a Jeffersonville High School graduate, played at the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. The third baseman plays home games only for the Legends and Leyengas.
Thompson (Floyd Central) is a 6-6 right-hander who was at Louisville and in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was in indy ball at Sussex County in 2019.
Right-hander Talcott (McCutcheon) last pitched for Earlham College in 2019.
Outfielder Baker played at Ball State University and was in independent ball in the American Association in 2019 (Texas and Kansas City).
Righty Dougherty (Morgan Township) pitched for Grace College before taking the mound in the United Shores Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich.
Floyd (Jimtown) was at Ball State University and the righty hurled for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in 2019.
While his primary position growing up and through college was shortstop, Claycamp has moved around the field.
“I’ve been a utility player my whole life,” says Claycamp.
At Columbus (Ind.) East High School, where he graduated in 2015, he was a shortstop as a freshman, shortstop and second baseman as a sophomore, third baseman as a junior and third baseman, shortstop and second baseman as a senior.
He played those same three spots in his one season at the University of Dayton (2016) and then was locked in at short in three campaigns at Franklin (2017-19). He helped the Grizzlies win back-to-back Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles in his final two campaigns.
Claycamp was invited to pre-Major League Baseball Draft workouts by the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies in, but was unable to attend with Franklin making the school’s deepest ever postseason run, reaching the regional final in Sequin, Texas.
After getting into eight games at NCAA Division I Dayton (two starts), Claycamp transferred to D-III Franklin and played in 128 contests for the Grizzlies. He hit .354 (174-of-491) with 20 home runs (tied for No. 9 in program history), 46 doubles (No. 5 all-time), 133 runs batted in (No. 6) and 143 runs scored (No. 4).
Right-handed pitcher Gray went on to Florida Gulf Coast University, the Colorado Rockies organization and is now in independent pro ball with the Milwaukee Milkmen.
Right-hander/outfielder Curry started at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When SJC school closed, he went to Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Anderson, a 6-foot-8 righty, pitched at Northern Illinois University.
Left-hander Brian Wichman was at Murray State University then hurled for the University of Indianapolis.
Catcher Christian Wichman played briefly at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., where he was also a football player.
Claycamp played in both Bartholomew County Little League (weekdays) and travel baseball (weekends) until he was in high school. Bartholomew County (now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County) won a state title when he was 12 and lost in the Great Lakes Regional championship. The winner went on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Early travel ball teams were the Columbus Crush, Indiana Blazers and BCLL All-Stars. In high school, Claycamp donned the jerseys of the Indiana Redbirds, Indiana Outlaws and Johnson County/Indiana Jaguars.
Besides baseball, Sam played football until middle school. He was on the school basketball team through eighth grade then played intramural and church hoops.
His falls were dedicated to deer hunting.
David and Tammy Claycamp have two sons — Sam and Kobbe (22). David Claycamp is machine shop manager at Innovative Casting Technologies in Franklin. Tammy Claycamp is a teacher at Faith Lutheran Preschool in Columbus. Kobbe Claycamp played baseball and football at Columbus East. He was on the IHSAA Class 5A state championship team in 2017 and state runner-up squad in 2016. He also played club rugby in high school.
“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.
So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.
That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.
In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.
He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.
During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs.
“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”
Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.
“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.
When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.
“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”
Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.
“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”
The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).
“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.
“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”
Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.
“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.
“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”
Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.
Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
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.
“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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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)
Jason Taulman is a busy man — especially at this time of the year.
For the past eight years, he has run a baseball training facility that some call the “The Facility” or the “Shark Tank” in Noblesville, Ind.
From January to March as players are gearing up for their seasons, Taulman teaches up to 60 lessons (30-minute sessions) per week. From April to September, that number is 20 to 40 with October to December being 20 to 30.
A former college player and coach, Taulman started the Indy Sharks travel baseball program in the fall of 2014 to develop players and to educate them and their parents on the recruiting and scholarship process and more.
“We focus on training and the five tools of a baseball player,” says Taulman. “When the time is ready we’ll showcase you.
“Players don’t have measurable good enough to be recruited (in the early ages).”
In 2020, the Sharks will field seven teams — 12U, 14U, 15 (two teams), 16U and 17U (two teams). The majority of the players on one 17U team were on the original 12U squad.
Taulman says 12U to 14U teams tend to play 40 to 45 games per season while 15U to 17U get in 30 if they have a good summer and advance deep in their tournament.
In teaching pitchers, Taulman’s approach is straight-forward.
“We want to see mechanics that will keep the arm healthy,” says Taulman. “We want them to throw strikes and pitch. That’s lost in today’s technology and social media craze.
“Everybody wants to throw hard. If we’re not doing it safely and are able to locate, velocity does us no good.
“We teach them how to train and get stronger.”
Lafayette, Ind., native Bobby Bell, who was the hitting coach with Carolina in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2019, runs hitting clinics while Taulman runs arm strength/bat speed clinics at the “Shark Tank.”
Taulman began his prep days at Lafayette Jefferson High School. He tranfered to West Lafayette and graduated in 1991.
He played for two head coaches with the Red Devils — Pat Murtaugh and Fred Campbell. Murtaugh was an associate or “bird dog” professional scout and went on to be a full-time scout. He is now employed by the New York Yankees.
“With Coach Murtaugh, I became intrigued about the professional game and what it takes to be at a higher level,” says Taulman. “That was motivation for me.”
Taulman got to know former Purdue University head coach (1978-91)/Seattle Mariners scout Dave Alexander when he mowed his grass.
“He came across as kind of gruff,” says Taulman of Alexander, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “But he has a good heart.”
Former Purdue and McCutcheon and current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Doug Schreiber coached Taulman with the Lafayette Red Sox summer collegiate team.
Right-handed pitcher Taulman played four years for head coach Mike Moyzis and earned an Elementary Education degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. The NCAA Division II Pumas were Great Lakes Valley Conference champions in Taulman’s senior season of 1995.
“(Moyzis) was an outstanding coach,” says Taulman. “He was very big on mental toughness and how to compete.
Moyzis recruited Chicagoland and had many players with swagger.
“He taught you how to carry yourself with confidence,” says Taulman. “Moyzis was off the charts with that stuff.
“For me, it made a world of difference once I began to carry myself that way.”
Moyzis is now vice president of special events for Game Day USA and runs tournaments all over the country. He has brought in Taulman to serve as a coach for select events.
Joe Fletcher was the Saint Joseph’s pitching coach when Taulman was there.
“Fletch had just a huge impact on me,” says Taulman. “That’s when I learned how to pitch. It’s the first time we really learned how to work at the game.
“(Moyzis and Fletcher) were excellent teachers and trainers. They were ahead of their time.”
After graduating from Saint Joseph’s, Taulman played four seasons with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League with Lafayette winning league titles in 1995 and 1996.
In the fall of 1996, the Indiana Baseball Academy opened in Brownsburg and Taulman was a part of that training facility that was co-owned by big league pitcher Jeff Fassero.
Taulman served a short stint with the independent Northern League’s Sioux Falls Canaries in 1999. Former Purdue head coach Steve Green (1992-98) was Sioux Falls’ bench coach.
To start out his coaching career, Taulman served with the independent Frontier League’s Ohio Valley Redcoats and the Lafayette Leopards.
He later was pitching coach for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University when Pat Neshek hurled for the Bulldogs.
In the summer of 2017 and again last year and again last summer, Taulman and others ran travel tournaments with the Indy Sharks at Gil Hodges Field.
Saying he missed raking a field, Farley helped last spring in getting the field ready.
After the Indiana Baseball Association, Taulman helped start the Tippecanoe Baseball Academy in Lafayette with partners Bell, Jake Burton and Matt Kennedy.
IHSBCA Hall of Famer Burton was then the McCutcheon High School head coach and is now at Twin Lakes. Kennedy has been an assistant to O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Leo and is now on the Butler coaching staff.
After Taulman was pitching coach at Butler, he assumed the same duties at Ball State University, where he earned his master’s degree in Coaching Specialization.
He was on head coach Greg Beals’ staff for one season. Jason and Kelly Taulman have four sons — Clark (21), Nick (19), Jack (17) and Brock (14).
When Jason was at Ball State, 2-year-old Nick was diagnosed with Autism.
“We decided that someone needs to be home full-time to manage this,” says Taulman, who by this time had moved his family to Hamilton County. Nick Taulman is a 2019 Fishers High School graduate who participated in the IHSAA Unified Track and Field State Finals.
Jason Taulman, a West Lafayette (Ind.) High School graduate, teaches private baseball lessons and runs the Indy Sharks travel organization out of Noblesville, Ind. He is a former pitcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and was the pitching coach at Butler University and Ball State University. (Steve Krah Photo)
Entering his third season in charge of the Knights in 2020, Jeff Stanski is part of a legacy that started with his father, Ron Stanski, and also includes Larry Gerardo and Gary Rogers.
Ron Stanski played at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and got the baseball program at Fort Wayne Central Catholic running smoothly and won a sectional title in 1970.
When CC closed and Luers opened, the elder Stanski was there to get the program started in 1973. He went on to serve as a baseball and football coach at Harding High School in Fort Wayne and was athletic director at Luers before retirement.
Rogers followed Ron Stanski, led the Knights for 32 years and is now head coach at Leo (Ind.) High School.
“They were into fundamentals, playing the right way and working hard,” says Jeff Stanski of his head coach predecessors.
Now in his mid-70s, Ron Stanski is part of son Jeff’s coaching staff.
“He is a great resource to fall back on,” says Jeff Stanski, who played baseball for Luers and graduated in 1992, got a degree from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. in 1996, and is now teachers U.S. History, Economics and Leadership at his high school alma mater.
Jeff Stanski is also offensive coordinator for a Luers football program which features Kyle Lindsay as head coach. Previous football coaching stops include assistant gigs at Luers, Tri-State University (now Trine University) and Fort Wane Snider High School.
Stanski has five baseball assistants.
“I have a great staff around me,” says Stanski.
Besides his father and “right-hand man” Tim Birkmeier, there’s former professional pitcher Pedro Hernandez, Luers graduate and former Michigan State player Larry Young as well as Ray Pickard and Miles Martinez.
The Knights are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Dwenger, Concordia, Garrett, Leo and New Haven. Luers has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2012. Luers reigned as 2008 Class 2A state champions.
Kevin Kiemaier, who roams center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, is a Luers graduate. Some current players go to alum and former big league pitcher Mike Roesler.
While they have not made any college commitments, Stanski says seniors Nick Birkmeier and Carter Pickard and junior Lukas North have drawn interest.
Luers is fed by several Catholic grade schools. Stanski says that while the school is diverse, many did come from one of those feeder schools.
Jeff and Sara Stanski have three children. Freshman Charlie Stanski is a Luers freshman who plays football and baseball. Daughter Sophie Stanski is an eighth grader who plays volleyball and basketball. First grader Sam Stanski plays baseball.
Jeff Stanski is the head baseball coach at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Bishop Luers Photo)
“There certainly is a lot of fire and passion in myself, yet a consistency in how we train, how we practice and what our expectations are,” says Smith, who was hired to lead the Bobcats program June 11, 2012. “I would like to think that I’m very competitive. I would like to think that resonates with our team and that we value hard work.”
“Schreib is a very fiery, passionate coach,” says Smith. “He could really put a charge into a team. Coach Servais had that as well. He was probably the most consistent person I’ve ever been around.
“I’d like to think there’s a combination of a little bit of both (in me).”
Smith was a volunteer assistant at Purdue in 1999 then spent two seasons managing in the summer collegiate Northwoods League with the Wisconsin Woodchucks (winning a championship in 2001) before being hired by Schreiber as the Boilermakers pitching coach.
“Everything that I have been able to do as a coach I owe to that man without question,” says Smith of Schreiber. “He gave me a chance to be a college coach when I really didn’t have the resume to get that position.
“I had five awesome years there.”
Chadd Blasko, who was selected in the first round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, was among Smith’s Purdue pitchers.
Smith was associate head coach at Creighton in Omaha, Neb., 2007-12, while gaining wisdom from Servais.
“He’s — without a doubt — one of the 10 best college baseball coaches in the country,” says Smith of Servais. “He’s an outstanding coach, a great teacher of the game.
“A lot of the things I learned about how to run a practice, how to manage a ball club I learned from my time at Creighton with Ed.”
Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, now with the San Francisco Giants organization, was a part of the Smith-led Bluejays staff.
Smith has built the Ohio Bobcats on a few simple concepts.
“In our program pitching and defense are two very big things that we spend a lot of time talking about,” says Smith. “It’s handling the ball and eliminating free bases.”
Ohio, a member of the Mid-American Conference, won MAC tournament titles and qualified for NCAA regional play in 2015 and 2017. Prior to 2015, the Bobcats had made just two NCAA tournament appearances in the 43 previous seasons.
Smith coached four Bobcats — right-handed pitchers Brett Barber, Tom Colletti and Logan Cozart and outfielder Mitch Longo — that went on to play minor league baseball. Colletti is currently in the San Diego Padres system, Cozart with the Colorado Rockies organization and Longo in the Cleveland Indians chain.
The 2019 team is 17-32 overall and 11-14 in the MAC and fighting for a spot in the six-team conference tournament, which is May 22-26 in Avon, Ohio. The Bobcats split the first two of a three-game series at Western Michigan, coached by Indiana native Billy Gernon, May 16 and 17.
“Coach Blemker taught me a lot,” says Smith. “Certainly baseball stuff, but probably more so about discipline, growing up and being a man.
“He’s been very instrumental in my life. He helped me mature. He was very patient with me through some times where I probably not the easiest player to coach.
“His patience and understanding and his toughness helped me in so many ways.”
At IUS, Smith saw right away Parr’s passion and knowledge about hitting.
Smith’s first college coaching gig came in 1998 at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, where Mike Moyzis was head coach and Rick O’Dette (who would coach the the Pumas for years until the school was closed and is now leading the program at Saint Leo University in Florida).
At Ohio U., Smith uses statistics, trends and analysis to make decisions, especially in pitch calling.
“I believe in analytics,” says Smith. “I believe there’s a place for it. It’s very useful if you can get the right information.
“That’s always been the issue at the college level. The information you can get your hands on at times is spotty. It’s getting better and better. There’s the ability to watch film and more games are on TV.There’s a lot more resources to gather good information to make decisions.”
Smith says the higher the sample size, the more reliable the information.
Rob and RaeAnna are the parents of four teenagers — identical twins Sierra and Serena (19), Tyson (15) and Isabelle (13). The twins just completed their freshmen year at Ohio. Tyson is a high school freshman. Isabelle is in the seventh grade.
Rob Smith brings combination of intensity and consistency in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Ohio University in 2019. (/Emilee Chinn/Ohio University Photo)
Rob Smith started as head baseball coach at Ohio University June 11, 2012. He took he Bobcats to the Mid-American Conference tournament titles and NCAA tournament berths in 2015 and 2017. (Maddie Schroeder/Ohio University Photo)
Rob Smith is the head baseball coach at Ohio University. He grew up in Ellettsville, Ind. He played and coached Edgewood High School, played at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast and coached at Purdue University and Creighton University before landing in Athens. (Ohio University Photo)