But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.
Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.
As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.
“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”
Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.
Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.
Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.
Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.
At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.
Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.
In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.
Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.
Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.
MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.
“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.
Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.
The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.
In his current position, working for Urban Knights head coach Dan McDermott, Collins-Bride, 30, is in charge of pitchers, catchers and infielders.
“I’m a teacher,” says Collins-Bride, who joined the ArtU coaching staff in September 2019. “Baseball and strength and conditioning seems to be my best form of teaching.
“When you see people grow and see the light click on and they create really good habits, that’s the special part.”
Developing pitchers at the NCAA Division II PacWest Conference institution for Collins-Bride is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.
“It’s individualistic once you have a base,” says Collins-Bride. “It depends on the players’ needs.”
Some pitchers possess good command and need to improve their stuff. Some have superior velocity but lack movement on their pitches. Others need concentration on the mental side of baseball.
“We’re picking and choosing what we focus on,” says Collins-Bride.
A strength and conditioning coach for several Indiana Tech teams, Collins-Bride has studied biomechanics as it relates to athletes. He has become OnBaseU-certified.
“You have to know how each player moves and how they’re supposed to move,” says Collins-Bride, who does a movement assessment on each ArtU pitcher. “That’s critical.
“You structure the off-season around filling those buckets.”
You’re not treating every car like a Toyota. You also have Dodges and Kias. You don’t spend all your time racing the Lamborghini, you also spend time working with it in the garage.
COVID-19 caused the Urban Knights’ 2020 season to halt after 20 games. McDermott and Collins-Bride helped the player see the quarantine as an opportunity for growth.
“It was a chance to check something on your bucket list,” says Collins-Bride. “If you don’t do it, shame on you.
“Many (players) came back (in the fall) in the biggest shape of their lives,” says Collins-Bride. “It was really cool to see what these guys did over 6-7 months after only hearing about it over the phone.”
Alameda resident Collins-Bride used the extra time to go on long bike rides, including a trek around Lake Tahoe.
ArtU practices at The Presidio and plays games at Laney College. During fall practice, players went through daily temperature and system checks.
Most of the time, workouts were conducted with just six to eight players.
“It was different,” says Collins-Bride. “But it was really good from a development standpoint.”
There was more one-on-one time with coaching while raw skills — running, throwing, fielding and swinging — were being refined mixed with intrasquad play.
“Ideally, that’s what a fall should be — create some raw skills and play a little bit,” says Collins-Bride. “Summer baseball is failing kids. They’re playing too much and not practicing enough or practicing too much and not playing enough.
“We had a really good balance (in the fall.).”
It’s about building proper motor patterns. That’s why weighted balls and bats are used to carve a new path for the brain.
“It’s a brand new road and they learn that quickly,” says Collins-Bride.
Born in San Francisco, the son of carpenter Bob Bride and professor/nurse practitioner Geraldine Collins-Bride grew up loving baseball.
Patrick’s father did not have much experience at the game, but he did come up with several tools to guide “FUN-damentals” for Little Leaguers. Bob devoured books and DVDs while researching training methods.
“He’d have us swing ax handles,” says Collins-Bride. “We’d hit wiffle balls with hoses to teach us to whip the bat. He turned a leaf blower into a wiffle ball pitching machine. To develop soft hands, we’d toss eggs or water balloons. We had stations all around my small house.”
Flood lights were installed over the garage so these sessions could go deep into the night.
Patrick went to the Boys & Girls Club and learned about pitching from major leaguers who hailed from Alameda. Pitcher Dontrelle Willis taught him how to play “strikeout.”
Middle schooler Collins-Bride learned about the proper way to field a grounder from shortstop Jimmy Rollins at an RBI camp held at Encinal.
Collins-Bride expresses gratitude of coaching with McDermott, who is heading into his 28th season as a college coach in 2021.
“It’s like coaching with your dad,” says Collins-Bride. “He really, really loves you and he’s not going to let you mess up.
“We get really great life lessons all the time. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Collins-Bride coached for five seasons at Indiana Tech (2015-19), where Kip McWilliams is the Warriors head coach. “C.B.” worked with hitters, infielders, catchers and volunteered his strength and conditioning services while pursuing and after completing his Masters of Marketing and Management.
Indiana Tech typically carries a roster of 60 or more to help fund the program — with varsity and developmental teams.
“We had to carry a lot of players,” says Collins-Bride. “We decided if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it really well.
“Playoff time is when the Warriors showed up.”
Collins-Bride notes that almost all the players in the starting lineup in the 2015 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference championship game started out on the development team.
“That was so important,” says Collins-Bride of the large squad. “They all trained together. We created an efficient practice style. Everybody had a purpose.
“We competed. If you were recruited there, you worked hard. When you have that many guys with a passion for baseball, it makes for such a good atmosphere.
“To do it right, you make sure you treat each kid well. I think we accomplished that. The beautiful thing about baseball and life is what a kid can make out of himself in two or four years.”
Collins-Bride said the Tech culture was based on standards and not rules.
“There was an acceptable level of behavior for everyone in the program and accountability is a two-way street (standards applied equally to players and coaches),” says Collins-Bride. “Coaches didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walked.”
Or — better yet — they hustled from station to station just like the players.
It was also an atmosphere of positivity.
“No BCE (Blaming, Complaining or Excuses) was allowed,” says Collins-Bride. “Because it’s not helping the situation.”
Dosson, a graduate of Heritage High School in Monroeville, Ind., was a highly-touted player in high school who wound up behind an All-American for a few seasons with the Warriors then got a chance to hit behind Tech standout and No. 3 hitter Glen McClain.
Barksdale, who went to Cass Tech High School in Detroit, spent a few seasons on the developmental team then got his chance to shine with the varsity in a game against Florida Memorial.
“He had been training really, really hard,” says Collins-Bride. “He hit a ground ball in the 6-hole and beat it out for a base hit. That was pretty special.”
Collins-Bride calls Biagini, hard-nosed player from San Francisco, the “most impactful kid I’ve ever been around.”
“He was the epitome of leadership,” says Collins-Bride of the national gold glove shortstop. “He’d say what coaches would have to say. He’d see things and fix them.
“They way he practiced, he raised the level of everyone around him.”
Collins-Bride had been with McWilliams when he observed a Spring Arbor University practice led by head coach Sam Riggleman. The SAU Cougars made workouts fast and as game-like a possible.
“Practice is the hardest thing we would do,” says Collins-Bride. “Games were slow. Everything (in practice) counted. Everything had detail.”
Collins-Bride noticed that long-time Lewis-Clark State College coach Ed Cheff and Folsom Lake College coach Rich Gregory (who played for future Indiana State University and University of Washington coach Lindsay Meggs on a NCAA Division II championship team at Cal State Chico) also took to that kind of preparation — skill under pressure.
It did no good to see 50 mph batting practice pitches when the game was going to bring 90 mph.
Collins-Bride went from Ave Maria, where he played two seasons (2011 and 2012) and coached two (2013 and 2014), after checking his options of serving as a graduate assistant to Scott Dulin at Fisher College in Boston.
On his first working day with Tech, he flew from San Francisco to Boston then drove 15 hours to Fort Wayne. He met McWilliams at 5 a.m. and they drove all the way to Vincennes (Ind.) for a junior college showcase.
“We talked baseball the whole way,” says Collins-Bride.
During Collins-Bride’s entire at Tech, Debbie Warren was the athletic director.
“She was an unbelievable leader of people,” says Collins-Bride. “She knew how to push you. She was very tough and phenomenal to work with.”
Warren helped get the weight room updated just about the time Collins-Bride was leaving to go back to California.
While he was there he planted a desk near the weights and managed 80 athletes in a two-hour window.
Shawn Summe, a graduate of Penn High School and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., was the head coach at NAIA Ave Maria. He started the program. The Gyrenes’ first season was 2010.
“(Summe) is a very intense person and an emotional leader,” says Collins-Bride. “We practiced really hard. He was really awesome to play for.
“He deeply had your back and wanted you to succeed.”
Collins-Bride, who received a Politics degree from Ave Maria, sees his transition from player to coach as a smooth one.
“It was easy to step into a role of leadership and demand respect,” says Collins-Bride. “We had a special senior group in 2013.”
Lennon, who died in 2019 at 80, won three baseball letters at Notre Dame and later taught at the university and served as three decades for the Notre Dame Alumni Association.
Lennon’s zeal was on display even at early hours when Collins-Bride was getting a few more winks before greeting the day on an Ave Maria road trip.
“He’s say, ‘Wake up C.B., the world is waiting for us,” says Collins-Bride. “Talk about positivity. He was a beaming, shining light.”
After a semester at Cal State East Bay, Collins-Bride transferred to California Community College Athletic Association member Laney and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Eagles coach Francisco Zapata.
“Coach Z is a great human being,” says Collins-Bride. “He really knew his stuff and he knew how to push you.
“It was really hard to let him down. You know what he had to go through to play baseball. You’ve got nothing to complain about.”
Zapata grew up in Nicaragua and brought a work ethic to his coaching.
“There was an expectation level,” says Collins-Bride.
His prep career began on the Alameda High junior varsity for coach Joe Pearse and concluded at Encinal for Jim Saunders.
“(Pearse) was a hard-nosed guy,” says Collins-Bride. “We were working hard and there was a lot of competition.
“(Saunders, who coached Rollins) was an excellent manager of talent.”
During his time as a player and manager with the San Francisco Seals, Collins-Bride not only got a chance to enjoy the rivalry with the Arcata-based Humboldt Crabs but got the chance to play all over the place. During a two-year span, he traveled through 33 states and played in around 20.
When you talked with him you knew he was going to ask questions.
“What have you been up to?”
“How’s your mother?”
“Can you tell me something new?”
When he got a chance, he explored historical places and books and soaked in as much new knowledge as he could.
As a coach, he wanted to break down and understand plays and positions so he could convey those to his athletes.
It’s that sense of interest that took Siler through his 84 years.
No doubt he had the sense of wonder as a boy growing up on a poultry farm near Ashland, Ohio, and playing sports on that same land. He was a catcher in baseball and wound up as a center and linebacker in football.
Too busy on the farm to go into Ashland to play ball, a plot was dedicated for that purpose. Sometimes it was used by the circus.
“It was two thirds football field, one third baseball field,” Siler once said. “The east end zone was just dirt.
“Dad let me use a panel truck,” said Siler. “I contacted people and got eight or nine other guys and we went around and played softball or baseball — probably more softball than baseball.
“If we had two bats, that was great. Most guys didn’t have baseball spikes.”
Siler carried big diamond dreams.
“I loved baseball so much,” said Siler. “I wanted to learn and nobody was teaching me.”
When it came time to play at Ashland High School, Siler (Class of 1953) did not play varsity. Future big league catcher John Roseboro (Class of 1951) was ahead of him.
“He threw a lot harder from his knees than I could shoot a gun behind the plate,” said Siler, who was on the junior varsity as a freshman and sophomore and at the start of his junior year.
Then came a call from the varsity. He got to the game on a Farmall F-20 tractor.
“It’s the only way I could get there,” said Siler. “I had no other vehicle.
“I threw on the gear. I didn’t have time to warm up They put me right in.”
The first or second runner got on base and went to steal.
“When I threw the ball, I felt like my whole arm went down to second base,” said Siler. “Something just ripped in there. I couldn’t get the ball back to the pitcher. They ended up pulling me out the game.
“That was the last school ballgame that I played. That was heartbreaking.”
Siler went on to coach baseball for decades, but he never threw batting practice. He caught BP until one of his knees locked up on him. The number of reps made with a fungo bat is nearly incalculable.
From north central Ohio, Siler took his curiosity to North Manchester, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University), where he played football and got the knee injury to remember it by the rest of his days.
More importantly, it was at Manchester that he met Marjorie Thompson. The two wed in 1956 and wound up in her hometown of Elkhart, Ind.
Dick took a job teaching and coaching at Jimtown High School after graduating Manchester in 1957.
His first coaching assignment was with Jimmies football. He was a coach all the way until the end, including the last 23 years as an assistant at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind.
The Siler family, which grew to include three children (Scott, Laurie and Julie), lived for years in Elkhart. Scott Siler was the Indiana Umpire of the Year in 2018.
Dick became head baseball coach at Elkhart High in 1968 and led that program through 1972. A split of the school sent him into a 25-year run as head baseball coach at Elkhart Memorial High School, where he also was a football assistant for many years.
The 1992 Crimson Chargers were the first Elkhart County baseball team to play in the IHSAA State Finals.
After retiring as coach and social studies teacher at Memorial (he won more than 500 games at the high school level), Siler accepted an invitation from Bethel head coach Sam Riggleman to join the Pilots staff. Margie came along as a scorekeeper.
She fought a battle with cancer for two decades before dying in 2002. She got to live in a new house in Mishawaka for a short time. Bethel has presented a scholarship in her name and has a plaque in her honor at Patterson Field at Jenkins Stadium.
Dick Siler, who went on to be on the staffs of Mike Hutcheon and Seth Zartman, talked of his wife often. He passed away at his Mishawaka home around 1:45 a.m. Monday, July 20.
What did he gain most from coaching all those years?
“I enjoy the kids just for who they are — seeing them grow or seeing them change,” said Siler. “I get to see the light go on — he finally gets the idea about timing and using the barrel of the bat to hit.”
Whether it was baseball, football, track, wrestling or basketball (he coached those sports, too), it was about instruction.
“I wanted to teach,” said Siler. “I wanted to tell them this is the best way to do it.
“Kids are hungry to learn if you’ll just teach them.
“Too many people do too much yelling and not teaching. Kids want to get better and they love the game.”
Siler said he went into coaching baseball with a football mentality.
“A kid would say to me, ‘Coach, we’re trying not to fail,” said Siler. “That was a big learning and turning point for me. I need to teach them better than just yelling.
“For some, it’s just really hard (to fail). It destroys them. They failed Grandpa. They failed Dad. They failed the girlfriend. They failed the coach. It’s a heavy burden.”
Ever inquisitive, Siler asked these questions: How do we enjoy the sport more? and How do we get there?
“You don’t do it through negativity, I’ll tell you that,” said Siler. “My son (Scott) threw a bat once when he was really young and I made him run the hills. ‘But Daddy, I’m so young.’ I probably handled it a different way and I didn’t. That wasn’t right.
“You make mistakes. You’ve got to live with those, too.”
As a high school baseball coach, Siler was faced with having to cut down his roster.
“Only so many people can make the team,” said Siler. When he took over at Elkhart High, he could not use freshmen and still had about 125 trying out.
Siler and assistant Randy Miller had to do their evaluations inside a tiny downtown gym.
“We tried to be as fair as we could and didn’t have a whole lot of complaints,” said Siler. “Later, I did.”
Siler said figuring out the top and bottom of the roster is the easy part.
“Some of the kids who come up are coached by people who know baseball better than a lot of others,” said Siler. “The better athletes adjust faster and better than the lesser athletes.”
While Siler could teach technique and improve upon it, he knew that “some talent is just God-given.”
Siler said the difference in a successful high school player and an unsuccessful one came down to attitude.
“I’m not much on all-ness statements,” said Siler. “Sometimes the dog wags the tail and sometimes the tail wags the dog. In my perspective, the program is more important than the individual. Period.
“If you think you are going run the program or effect the program in a negative way, you’re not going to be around. The program is what it’s all about.”
Siler insisted on a pregame prayer.
“They’ll have to fire me,” said Siler. “I’m not changing. That was very important to me.
“I live and die on the idea of ‘family first.’”
Many family members came to visit or called in Dick’s final days.
It was a week before the start of the 2019 season and the Lakers suddenly had a need for a pitching coach.
GVSU graduate assistant Jon Newman played for Riggleman at Spring Arbor. Grand Valley head coach Jamie Detillion contacted the veteran skipper about his interest.
“He was looking for someone with some experience and provide a different perspective,” says Riggleman, who accepted the invitation and went about assessing the pitching staff while relishing the idea of creating a competitive culture and mentoring young coaches (Detillion, Newman and Cody Grice).
Riggleman made it clear he did not want to step back into the world of recruiting or administrative details, but he had plenty to offer.
“Teaching and watching guys get better still lights a fire,” says Riggleman. “It gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction.”
Two years prior to Riggleman’s arrival at GVSU, the Lakers had been focused on velocity enhancement programs.
“The ability to command the strike zone was really, really in jeopardy,” says Riggleman. “We walked away from all those (velocity-building) things.”
Pitchers were asked to — do just that — pitch.
“How do you set people up and put them away?,” says Riggelman, who is back for the 2020 season. “How do you force contact on your terms?”
Riggleman has been refining mechanics and mechanical efficiency and getting his hurlers to attack hitters, putting them in defensive (ball-strike) counts.
GVSU pitchers are asked to command two-seam fastballs in order to create late movement while also developing an effective change-up.
“Guys are spending plenty of time working on breaking balls,” says Riggleman.
“There’s so much quality in players across the board at the Division II level,” says Riggleman. “There are no breaks here. Every single day is going to be a battle.
“How you go about preparing teams becomes the critical issue.”
At his previous stops, Riggleman prepared his players like they were going to compete at the highest level.
“We made practices competitive and demanding,” says Riggleman. “We forced failure on them and made them make adjustments because that it what’s going to happen in the game.
“We have to find a way to replicate. That’s what I’m trying to do at Grand Valley.”
It was early in his career that Riggleman figured out the kind of coach he wanted to be.
“Coaching is an opportunity to help kids develop in their personal, spiritual and emotional lives and athletically,” says Riggleman. “So many life lessons can be pulled out of this game. I’ve tried to take advantage of that.”
As a college coach, Riggleman knows that parents are turning over their sons to guide them in the right way and he does not take that responsibility lightly.
“I had an obligation to do that,” says Riggleman. “Kids are a lot more important than I am.”
When Riggleman was at Mount Vernon Nazarene and in his formative years developing his coaching philosophy, Bob Starcher was head coach at Malone College in Canton, Ohio.
“He took me under his wing,” says Riggleman of Starcher whom he met in the fall of 1979. “I saw guy who put incredibly competitive teams on the field and truly loved his guys. It was a model I gravitated toward.
“You don’t stay in coaches for 40-plus years and enjoy doing it, if you’re doing it exclusively to win games. I never lost sight of what I was doing and why I was doing it — developing young men.
“You’ve got to demand a great deal, but you’ve got to love them at the same time.”
Riggleman learned how to get players to exhibit quiet toughness and be very competitive yet humble. His successor at Mount Vernon, Keith Veale, went into the NAIA Hall of Fame Jan. 3 in Nashville and Sam and wife Kathy were there for the induction.
Riggleman played for ABCA Hall of Famer Burbridge, who won 1,003 games and retired as Spring Arbor head coach after the 2004 season, then coached alongside him before taking over the Cougars program.
“He had such an instrumental impact on me,” says Riggleman of Burbridge.
The two roomed together at the ABCA convention and shared many ideas about baseball and life.
In 2000, Burbridge was head coach for a team of all-stars that went to the Czech Republic and Riggleman was brought along as pitching coach. The following year, Riggleman was head coach on the tour.
Jones preceded Riggleman at SIU.
“His style was really different and unique,” says Riggleman of the former Salukis and University of Illinois boss. “He was and tremendous game coach. Very intuitive.”
Riggleman spent five seasons (1995-99) in Mishawaka, Ind., at Bethel College (now Bethel University).
“We had a great run there,” says Riggleman, who went 176-88 with two Crossroads League championships (1997 and 1998) and a league tournament title (1998) and led Bethel to three NCCAA national runner-up finishes. “A lot of fun and some really good teams there.”
He often got a chance to right son Jeremie’s name into the lineup at shortstop.
“My single greatest highlight of my coaching career was to coach Jeremie at that time,” says Riggleman, who is the grandfather of four. Jeremie Riggleman is now an assistant professor of art at Taylor University. Sam and Kathy’s daughter, Sarah, is married and lives in Granger, Ind.
Sam Riggleman enters his second season as baseball pitching coach at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., in 2020. He was a head coach for 40 years, including five at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., and won over 1,000 games. (Grand Valley State University Photo)
“I’m a firm believer in having everybody practice together,” says McWilliams. “I know that sounds like a nightmare for some high school coaches. You can get so much out of your practices.
“Younger players learn your systems for their four years.”
While he sees the benefit of individual work, McWilliams loves to do team drills and he shared some of those with the Hot Stove.
The tone is set at the beginning. While the old Green Bay Packers ran on “Lombardi Time” and being on time was late, the Warriors run on “Indiana Tech Time.”
“If practice is at 3, we’re stretching at 2:45,” says McWilliams. During that time, a “quote of the day” is shared. There is discussion of the program’s core values or standards.
Seniors will present a word of the day, telling their teammates what it means to them and maybe the Webster’s Dictionary definition and how the team and coaches can use that word to jell together.
“It’s so important that the guys get a great stretch,” says McWilliams. “It’s also important for the coaching staff to be out there when the team is stretching.”
Tech gets all 65 players in a big circle and center field and McWilliams addresses each one of them daily.
“I don’t want a day to go by that I don’t say anything to or greet one of my guys,” says McWilliams. “I think that’s so important.”
There’s a no-walking rule for the Warriors.
“That includes me,” says McWilliams. “If we expect our guys to hustle all the time on the field, then I need to hustle all the time on the field.
“If I see them walking, I hold them accountable. If they see my coaching staff or me walking, they hold me accountable. We’re all at the same level there.”
After stretching comes the throwing routine. The Warriors go through championship level catch with each position having a specific focus like infielders working on quick hands etc.
Then comes the four corners drill.
“I know it’s something they’ve been doing from Little League on up,” says McWilliams. “That is a great drill. Keep doing it.”
McWilliams once attended at practice at Spring Arbor University when American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Sam Riggleman was the head coach.
“He flat out told me, ‘Kip, this is the reason why we’re always top five in the country defensively,’” says McWilliams of Riggleman’s devotion to four corners. “It’s not just the throwing and catching of the four corners, it’s the communication. That’s key.
“In baseball, there are so many plays that are made when we’re actually fielding a ground ball or catching a fly ball when we take our eyes off the target.”
McWilliams uses an example from his family life. Kip and Melissa welcomed a baby into their lives five years ago.
When Ava was a baby, Melissa would talk softly to her through the baby monitor to calm her at night.
“Ava’s in the dark but she hears a very comfortable voice,” says McWilliams. “What happens if you’ve got a shortstop who fields that ball in the hole and he doesn’t know exactly where the first base bag is? He knows it’s over it that direction.
“But he’s hearing a comforting voice. ‘Hit me in the chest! Hit me in the chest!’ Or even a third baseman saying, ‘Hit Rich in the chest! Hit Rich in the chest!’”
McWilliams says communication can help when a ball is bobbled.
“Everyone on the field is yelling you’ve got time ‘You’ve got time!,” says McWilliams. “Because everybody panics. They grab it and just throw it and now it becomes another error.”
Then Tech practices its pre-game routine aka I/O (“In and Out”).
“Our ‘In and Out’ is pretty unique,” says McWilliams, noting that teams are allowed 10 minutes for I/O during the NAIA postseason. “We like to get it in about nine minutes. We’ve got two guys deep at every position. We’ll hammer it out to the point that just about every play in baseball is done during our pre-game. It’s a workout for the coaches.”
Every fungo is struck from home plate. Coaches don’t go out in the grass. They try to hit line drives and fly balls to the outfielders, but if it’s a ground ball infielders are supposed to lay out for it.
“That sets a tone and it sends a statement to your opponents before the game,” says McWilliams.
A few times a season, McWilliams finds himself asking the same question of new players: Could you have gotten that ball if you dove for it?
“Before they can give me an answer, I say we’ll never know because you didn’t dive,” says McWilliams.
Tech allows finishes a team drill with a game-winner.
“That helps guys get fired up a little bit,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t execute it — guess what? — we’ve got to keep doing it.”
I/O typically ends with a pop-up to the catcher and all players come in an make that catch together.
At the end of practice, the very last play will be a championship game-winner and that is followed with a hand shake line for players and coaches.
Drills are called by specific names so it’s easier to set up.
“The Difference” is a bunting drill. About seven years ago, it was added to the practice rotation because the Warriors lacked in its ability to bunt or field a bunt.
It covers bunting, base running and defense.
Bunters are asked to execute a bunt for a hit, a drag bunt or a push bunt on the first live pitch. If the first pitch is not a strike, the second pitch becomes a suicide squeeze.
Foul balls are played like a passed ball or wild pitch. Runners are super-aggressive on the base paths.
“We really put that pressure on that defense,” says McWilliams.
Tech doesn’t have regular batting practice on the field. They call it “Thundering Buffalo.”
Because 65 players on the field running through BP resembles as heard of thundering buffalo.
Hitters are split into small groups to work on specific things while getting a max of 60 balls in a crate per round and a max of five swings per at-bat.
“We want to focus on hitting the ball hard,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t hit the ball hard they’re out of the cage. It could be your first swing.
“As a coach, you’ve got to enjoy kicking them out of the cage. What do most young people struggle with today in baseball? It’s game day. When adversity hits, they struggle with it.As a coaching staff, it’s our responsibility to give them as many adverse situations as possible in practice to prepare them for that game.”
At Tech, practices are supposed to be lot tougher than games.
Base running during “Thundering Buffalo” involves working on various things like the hit-and-run, steal jump etc. That includes “don’t be silly” or get caught breaking from second at the wrong time on a ground ball and being thrown out.
“We’re very big with our communication with our base runners at third and second,” says McWilliams. “Too may times I see base runners at second run the runner off at third. The runner at second has no idea when the runner at third is going.”
The runners will work on leads and when they’re going like on-contact with the infield in.
If runners reach first, the defense turns two.
With coaches throwing live BP, pitchers take a knee behind the “L” screen with a ball in their glove. When a ball hits the screen, the pitchers turn two.
Infielders will work on looking the runner back and throwing the ball to first.
Outfielders will not play at a regular depth — either very shallow working on pop-up communication with the infielders and balls hit over their head or very deep to get more reps on balls off the wall or diving for balls in front of them.
“There’s nothing that’s ever really routine in the game of baseball,” says McWilliams. “Outfielders are gassed during Thundering Buffalo.”
Another reason for the fast pace is that when players are exhausted, the first thing that goes away is the mental side.
Practicing consistently at a fast pace allows for coachable moments when there is a mental or physical breakdown.
One important drill is relays and tandems where outfielders go to a specific location (foul line or gap) and throw the ball off the fence to start a relay sequence. All Tech outfielders do this and there are several reps.
“We’re one of the better teams in the country when it comes to tandems and relays,” says McWilliams. “We get so many assists every year from our outfield because we practice those tandems and relays non-stop.”
One way to get the infielders more involved in communication is for the catchers to put up a number — 2, 3, or 4 — and have the infielders yell out the call.
In the first and third defense and offense drill, players gain more confidence by going over the plays on a regular bases.
There are three offensive players — a batter and runners at first and third. The defense is set with every position covered. There is live pitching off the mound. Pitchers hold runners on first and are encouraged to try to pick them off.
At the end of practice, players “sweep the sheds.”
“One of the greatest things I got out of baseball as a player was my responsibility to the team for the field,” says McWilliams. “We’re teaching our guys a lot if we can teach them that responsibly at a younger age.”
The Huntington North Hot Stove series is scheduled to continue at 2-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22 and resume with sessions Jan. 12 and Jan. 19.
Kip McWilliams is the head baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Indiana Tech Photo)
McClain, a redshirt senior and graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School, is Tech’s all-time hit leader with 337. He goes to Idaho hitting .431 with 17 home runs and 54 runs batted in.
Heritage High School graduate Dossen carries a .370 average with five homers and 49 RBIs.
Castaneda hails from Miami, Fla., has made 70 assists and participated in 11 double plays on defense.
Wichita, Kan., product McBroom is in the mix to start of relieve in Lewiston. He is 6-3 with a 3.58 earned run average. Tech’s other top pitchers include redshirt junior right-hander Seth Sorenson (9-1, 2.22), junior left-hander Charles Dunavan (9-3, 2.60) and freshman right-hander Hayes Sturtsman (4-1, 5.47).
Sorenson is from Payson, Utah, Dunavan from Sterling Heights, Mich., and Sturtsman is a Manchester High School graduate.
During the run up to the World Series, the lineup has featured junior right fielder Jacob Alvidrez (.315-3-30) at lead-off, followed by junior center fielder Reese Olden (.323-0-28), catcher McClain, third baseman Dossen, freshman first baseman Jake DeFries (.368-3-42), junior designated hitter Spenser McGhee (.338-3-17), second baseman Castaneda, redshirt junior shortstop Jake Ritson (.299-0-30) and junior left fielder Jashaun Simon (.209-1-11).
Alvidrez is from Sacramento, Calif., Olden from New Haven, Ind., DeFries from Crown Point, Ind., McGhee from Virginia Beach, Va., Ritson from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Simon from Kennewick, Wash. Kennewick is less than three hours from Lewiston.
McWilliams, who is in his 12th season at the Fort Wayne school, credits his assistant coaches who take the time to work with the athletes and build trust in the player/coach relationship.
Brent Alwine is in charge of infielders and is key to the Warriors’ defensive positioning.
Marshall Oetting is the pitching coach and works closely with McWilliams on that aspect of the game.
Miguel Tucker leads the outfielders, helps with recruiting and puts together a scouting report for the rest of the coaching staff. McWilliams says the data helps with positioning and pitch calling and sequencing.
Gordon Turner also helps with infielders and recruiting and is the junior varsity coach.
Tech was one win away from getting back to the World Series in each of the past three seasons, but bowed out in the NAIA Opening Round.
The Warriors have used that as motivation for getting to the next level.
McWilliams, who has long used visualization in his training, has asked players to “close their eyes and remember the last game they played.”
Unless the season ended with a championship, they are know about the heartache of the last-game loss.
“When postseason baseball comes around, there’s only going to be one winner,” says McWilliams. “Even the incoming freshmen can take that feeling and feed off it, using it in their workouts.”
The coach also asks them to go back to their earliest days of baseball.
“Everyone was a star in Little League,” says McWilliams. “Just relax, go out there and have fun.”
It’s all about positivity.
“We have a question for them: What are they feeding their dog?,” says McWilliams. “Is it positive or negative?”
McWilliams was on the Marian University coaching staff the last time Tech made it to Lewiston, but he does maintain contact with former players.
“I’ve received several phone calls and texts,” says McWilliams. “I want them to know they are not forgotten.
“They’re the foundation of where we are today.”
McWilliams has brought in Ivy Tech Northeast head coach Lance Hershberger (who took the Warriors to the World Series in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003), former Indiana Tech athletic director Dan Kline and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and current Grand Valley State University assistant Sam Riggleman to address the 2019 team.
Riggleman was a head coach for 40 years and won 1,023 games at Wesley College, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Southern Illinois University, Bethel College, Dallas Baptist and Spring Arbor University.
As motivation, there’s also the images in McWilliams’ office.
Each time the Warriors has been fortunate enough to win a championship of some kind, a team photo has been taken.
“The poses are almost always the same,” says McWilliams. “They see (those photos) everyday. It’s hilarious. That’s a visual thing for them.”
It links everything together and helps feed the culture.
And culture is what it’s all about for the Indiana Tech Warriors.
Javier Castanedia and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Glen McClain and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Head coach Kip McWilliams and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Javier Castaneda and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Seth Zartman has shared slices of life with hundreds of players in two decades as a college baseball coach.
There have been moments shared in dugouts, on bus rides and at team meals and community service projects.
The man who has led the program at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., since the 2004 season has always viewed these young men as more than athletes.
They are people, too.
“I want to love those guys the very best that I can while they’re here,” says Zartman. “When they leave, that love doesn’t change. You’re very appreciative of who they are as people.”
Zartman, a 1998 Bethel graduate, tries to see what makes each one tick and does his best to lead them on and off the diamond.
“Your players are more than just a roster number,” says Zartman. “They’re more important than that.
“It’s the relationship you build with those guys and getting to know them for who they are not only on the field but off. Who are they within their families? What do they like to do?.
“To have a genuine care for who they are as a person allows you to understand how you can deal with them on the field as well and make them the best baseball player you can.”
It’s a lesson he learned while playing at Bethel for head coach Sam Riggleman.
Zartman, who wrapped his career as the Pilots’ all-time leader in home runs (37), runs batted in (181), doubles (61) and slugging percentage (.625) and was inducted into the Bethel College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006, saw Riggleman’s example of how to “treat and love your players.”
Riggleman displayed an attention to detail and a way of pushing the right button to get the most out of his players.
“When you’re a player for Sam you understand real quickly the importance of details and the small things,” says Zartman, who is going into his 16th season as Bethel head coach in 2018-19. “Coach was very well-organized. You never question whatever plan he had for what we were doing every single day.
“It had to do with your focus and what attitude you were going to show up with everyday. Those are things I’ve tried to carry on in my coaching career.”
Prior to returning to his alma mater, Zartman started the program at Mid-Continent College in Mayfield, Ky. The school (which has since closed) was changing to a liberal arts institution and adding athletics.
Zartman tried to get a graduate assistant coaching position after graduating from Bethel and when he found none, he went into the business world for a year.
Zartman is now in his 20th season as a head coach without ever having been an assistant.
“It’s very unusual,” says Zartman. “Guys ask all the time about how to get going in this realm. I can tell them that my story’s not the one that you look at.
“I was very fortunate to get that opportunity freshly out of school.”
Most head coaches went through the grind, starting out as a graduate assistant and/or volunteer coach before serving multiple seasons as a full-time assistant.
One year removed from being a player, Zartman took a call from Riggleman and found out about Mid-Continent.
“In my interview I found out they had already interviewed 20-plus coaches that had experience at the college level and every single one of them turned down,” says Zartman, recalling the summer of 1999. “Then here comes this young kid one year out of college. But — Praise God! — I got the call and they offered me the job.
“I started the program from Ground Zero.”
In the four seasons that Zartman was there, Mid-Continent built a baseball field from scratch and finally reached double digits in wins in his last season.
“It was a tough road, but a road I wouldn’t trade for anything,” says Zartman. “When you’re thrown into the fire like that, you learn a lot and quickly.
“You’re young and green and you just go with instinct. You and learn the best way you know how.”
Between learning on the job, spending time on the phone with Riggleman and being led by the Mid-Continent administration, Zartman began to navigate life as a college head coach.
Recruiting has changed for Zartman during his time in charge at BC, where the current tuition is about $28,500.
“Just in my 16 years here at Bethel, we’ve had four different scholarship systems,” says Zartman. “We go from a standard to a certain pot of money to a period of time with no (athletic) scholarships to today when we’re in a discount rate system.”
Zartman says the biggest switch in recent years is that players are making their college decisions a lot sooner. Rare are the days that they commit in the summer and then come to campus in the fall.
“It’s helped us build our recruiting lists earlier,” says Zartman. “We’re in the period right now where a lot of Class of ’19 kids are making their decisions.
“They want to have a stress-free senior year.”
While trying to build a roster that the Bethel administration wants to be between 28 and 35 athletes, the Pilots coaching staff (Zartman, Kiel Boynton and Dick Siler) get out to high school games at the end of the college season and then really focus on summer travel tournaments — particularly Pastime Tournaments at the University of Notre Dame and Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
Bethel coaches also see players via video and identify potential recruits through Prep Baseball Report.
“A lot of kids are now promoting themselves,” says Zartman. “With the videos, we can get a quick glimpse to see what they’re like.”
The current roster includes players with hometowns in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, California, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Venezuela.
“We’re starting to branch out and get guys from a broader spectrum,” says Zartman. “Some of these guys have never seen snow before. They end up adapting and they really enjoy their experience.”
Bethel is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The NAIA allows its baseball teams to play 55 games during the school year. The Pilots are to play six games that count toward their record this fall with Saturday noon doubleheaders Sept. 22 (vs. Trinity International University), Sept. 29 (at University of Michigan-Dearborn) and Oct. 6 (vs. UM-Dearborn).
“I love the NAIA from the standpoint that we can spend time with our players,” says Zartman, who was a four-time NAIA All-American as a player. “We can do things off the field with them.”
On the baseball side, teams are allowed 24 weeks of activity during the school year, counting backwards from the last regular-season game. For Bethel this year that means six weeks in the fall and the rest in the spring.
In his freshman season, Zartman, Farrer came to him and his teammates asking about their diamond dreams. For Seth, it was to be a starting catcher and that goal was attained.
“He enabled us to go for it,” says Zartman of Farrer. “He allowed us to get into those positions and really show what we could do.
“I remember Coach Farrer saying as long you’re giving me your best then I have nothing to complain about. He really, really enhanced the positives.”
Zartman began playing summer youth baseball in Fulton and then switched to Rochester, Ind., to be closer to father Marty’s job. Marty coached back then and later helped Seth at Bethel.
Seth played in Rochester through Babe Ruth before entering high school. In the summers, he played for Walton American Legion Post 418. His coaches were Mike Platt and Larry “Bud” Jones, the latter being the head coach at Logansport High School.
“Coach Jones was a very attention-to-detail guy. He was big on the fundamentals of the game.
“I was very fortunate in all my levels to play for coaches that emphasized how important the fundamentals of baseball are and working those all the time are what makes you the player you’re going to be.
“It’s not just showing up everyday because you have the talent to overpower somebody.”
Zartman knows that a lot of people say that’s the old school way of baseball.
“I’m a firm believer that the old school is the new school,” says Zartman. “You have to do those things.
“That repetition in practice — doing things over and over — implants in you those things that become second nature when you go play a game.”
In addition to his coaching duties, Zartman is the head groundskeeper for outdoor athletic facilities at Bethel. He is assisted by head women’s soccer coach Jamie Lindvall and head cross country/assistant track and field coach Ryan Sommers.
Zartman was diagnosed in January 2012 with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). It is a thickening of the heart muscle (myocardium). The condition can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. HCM may also affect the heart’s electrical system.
“I had a good check-up in May,” says Zartman. “I go to Boston in October for my yearly check-up with my main HCM doctor.
“I feel very blessed. God’s been really good in protection and provision.”
Marty and Joyce Zartman, who are also Caston High graduates, have four boys. Seth is one year older than Sean, five years older than Luke and 15 years older than Ethan. Between the three, they have six children. Seth coached Ethan Zartman at Bethel.
Seth and Anitra Zartman, who met at Bethel as student-athletes, have been married for 18 years. The couple has four kids — Senica (14), Ty (14), Lyric (7) and Evik (5).
Seth Zartman, a 1998 Bethel College graduate and BC Athletic Hall of Famer, is in his 16th year as head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Steve Krah Photo)
“Everything pure in my life came from baseball,” says Kloosterman, 35. “It allowed me to go to college and experience pro baseball. I met my wife while playing pro baseball. Now we have two beautiful young sons.”
While having his car serviced in Pittsburgh Greg met the father-in-law of Bethel assistant athletic director Chris Hess and was hired for his first job in the oil and gas industry. He is now a sales engineer for Carbo Ceramics and services clients around the Northeast.
Still very much involved in sports, Kloosterman and Kristi Hilbert are partners in GameChangers Baseball Club in Canonsburg, Pa., near Pittsburgh. The facility currently trains 75 youth baseball players in a four-county area and plan to add softball in the fall.
With the help of corporate and private sponsors, GameChangers will soon be changing the way it operates.
“I will no longer support the pay-to-play model,” says Kloosterman of a program that has a roll-out date scheduled for June 1. “My passion is to be able to provide a high level of baseball and softball to anybody willing to earn it.
“Mom and dad’s check book does not insure you can play. It’s all about development, but it’s not going to cost any of our players a dollar.”
GameChangers is in the process of implementing an academic and athletic institute to provide baseball, softball and other sports for every kid regardless of socio-economic standing. Planning for the initiative began in August 2016 and many people have gotten on-board.
“We will make their academics their tuition,” says Kloosterman, who holds a B.S. degree in organizational management from Bethel. “A lot of our young folk are in pretty bad situations. They don’t have parents to look over their homework. They don’t get $20 for every ‘A’ they bring home.
“We want to make them successful in school while making baseball and softball the base.”
If a young person needs assistance or recommendation with a university of college, GameChargers has every intention of helping them get there.
“My goal is that if our athletes our privileged enough to play college baseball, they never have to take an athletic scholarship,” says Kloosterman. “Academic scholarships can’t be taken away; athletic scholarships can.”
While GC teams will play in tournaments, they won’t be in it to chase trophies.
“A son or daughter going to college not having to play any money, that’s what a championship means to me,” says Kloosterman.
GameChangers will host college and career fairs, social media do-and-don’t presentations and showcases while inviting local colleges and universities to check out their operation and their student-athletes.
The organization is working toward being fully-funded and providing all the equipment needed for players to be successful in the classroom and on the field. Besides bats, balls and uniforms, there’s laptops, back packs and academic tutors.
Kloosterman and company are using baseball to fulfill what he sees as a duty.
“Every person who can has the morale obligation to make sure kids are warm, fed, educated and un-abused,” says Kloosterman. “If you don’t think you do, you need to go to the doctor and get your mind right.
“I’m just in a position I can do that. Since I’m in that position, I don’t have a choice.”
Kloosterman notes that kids are most at-risk from 2:30 to 7 p.m.
“Parents aren’t home and kids are unsupervised,” says Kloosterman. “They can come to us.”
He is not worried about accommodating higher numbers of youngsters.
“It’s like facing Clayton Kershaw and you have two strikes on you and you’ve got to drive in that run,’ says Kloosterman. “You’ve got to figure out a way.”
“It’s a vital life lesson,” says Kloosterman. “In baseball at the 18-and-under level, kids don’t have a skin in the game. But from 6, 7 and 8, just because you show up doesn’t mean you play. We want to them earn your spot everyday.
“That’s completely lost on today’s players. They didn’t have to take it away from somebody and hold it. They never had to do it.
“The game didn’t change. There are 35 guys in each dugout (in college baseball). Nine players still play.”
As an Elkhart Central player for head coach Steve Stutsman, Kloosterman was honorable mention Class 4A All-State in 2000.
Going into 2018, Kloosterman was the Blue Blazers’ career leader in innings (256 1/3), walks (160), losses (23) and wild pitches (23), second in strikeouts (317), tied for fourth in complete games (19) and fifth in wins (17). Offensively, he ranks first in batting average (.415) and on-base percentage (.530) and second in hits (137), runs batted in (97) and innings played (749) and fourth in home runs (16).
He was an NCCAA Division II All-American in 2002 and 2003 and NAIA honorable mention All-American in 2003. He was the NCCAA National Player of the year and Mid-Central Conference (now Crossroads League) Player of the Year in 2003.
The left-handed slugger hit .380 with 40 home runs and 138 in his three collegiate seasons, b testing 18 home runs in 2002 and 20 in 2003. As a pitcher, he fanned 162.
Along the way, he gained an appreciation for teammates.
Those mates come in different forms.
“One teammate is your best friend,” says Kloosterman. “One teammate you are trying to compete with. Competition is healthy and you’re pushing one another.
“Another teammate is a leader to you. You definitely respect this person. Another teammate looks up to you.”
Kloosterman counted Tom Gifford, Nick Treadway, Marcel Guevara, Javier Guevara, Chris Jergens, Brock Doty and Javier Jimenez among his Bethel band of brothers.
“If it wasn’t for my teammates, I don’t where I’d have gone,” says Kloosterman. “All those guys were instrumental in getting where I got. You have to be surrounded with good teammates.
“If you try to play this game solo, you’re going to miss a ton of fun and probably not be as successful as you could be.”
His teammates and friends have been there for him and his family over the year. When Grady was born with a heart rhythm condition called Long QT syndrome, he received a pacemaker at six days old. Last December, he received his second pacemaker.
“He’s doing wonderful,” says Greg of his baseball-loving third grader.
Through genetic testing, it was learned the Megan and her father, Michael, also have the syndrome and so does Blake. They all treat it with medicine.
The Kloostermans (from left): Greg, Megan, Grady and Blake.
With its focus on competition, instruction and development, the Michiana Scrappers travel organization is in its 14th season in 2017.
Began in 2004 with one 15/16 squad — the School of Hard Knocks Scrappers — the Michiana Scrappers now have 17 baseball teams in age groups 9U through 17U (the organization is also involved in softball, basketball and hockey).
Teams practice twice a week January to April and one to two times a week during the season, which concludes in late July or early August. Tryouts for 2018 are slated for July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6.
Players 9U to 14U are often invited back for the next season. All players 15U and above are asked to try out.
Scrappers founder Brian Blondell reports a low turnover rate of 8 percent.
“Most kids in our organization are not leaving,” says Blondell. “We’re usually filling 1-2 spot max per team.”
Once players try out, coaching staffs will have a chance to offer their sales pitch to the families of players they want. Trying to find the best fit is a priority.
About the time the Scrappers came along, summer high school programs were decreasing and travel ball was growing so then-South Bend St. Joseph assistant Blondell found a place for Indians head coach John Gumpf to send his players in the summer.
“We learned a lot,” says Blondell, who is also director of player operation and a 14U head coach in 2017. In 2005, the organization had swelled seven teams and with interest the growth continued.
Softball was added to the mix in 2014.
While Blondell and his coaches, including Greg Fozo and Buddy Tupper with the current 14U squad, are just as competitive as anyone and the Scrappers have won their share of tournaments, win-at-all-costs is not the driving force.
“Nobody is gaining anything by winning a trophy,” says Blondell. “We’re trying to be as competitive as we possibly can be. The era we’re in — with a lot of parents — everything is driven by awards, placement and trophies.
“We focus on development. If we develop correctly, we’re going to win a lot of championships.”
With a few exceptions, Scrappers players come from the counties surrounding South Bend and Elkhart.
While players are working to make themselves better and — for the older players — get college exposure for themselves, the Scrappers emphasize that baseball is a team game.
“It’s not an individual sport,” says Blondell, the pitching coach at Elkhart Memorial High School (Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost and assistant Bruce Baer are Scrappers head coaches) and former head coach at Indiana University South Bend, Holy Cross College and South Bend Riley High School. “We’re about growing and developing a team environment.”
The implied daily question to players: How are you helping our team get better?
After all, high school and college coaches want good teammates and not selfish players.
Just like Sam Riggleman — his coach at Bethel College — said to Blondell, Scrappers are expected to “check their ego at the door.”
“We do everything as a team,” says Blondell, whose son Bryce Blondell plays on his squad. “I also want it to feel like family. We allow them to be kids and really enjoy it.”
Mike Logan, head coach of a 16U team in 2017, is in his 11th season with the Scrappers.
The former Northridge High School head coach sees his job as getting college exposure, building up their baseball skills and teaching them life lessons.
Logan tells players and their parents about college opportunities and stresses the academic side of the equation.
“A lot of times schools might not have much athletic money to give,” says Logan. But there is bound to be funds for good students.
Logan points players toward showcases and sends out weekly emails to college coaches giving them the Scrappers schedules, roster, contact numbers and more.
With players coming from so many different backgrounds, Logan and his assistants — Brian Bishop and Chad Sherwood — stay with the fundamentals and build on their foundation of skills.
Most importantly to Logan is developing “young men of character.”
“This game can teach you about failure,” says Logan. “You get to learn to handle adversity at a young aage. When they become adults, it’s for real.”
Logan, which coached older son Brock with the Scrappers and now is with younger son Nick, sees a group of players that it is talented enough to be successful on the diamond and is also tight off the field.
One group text message and the boys are off the movies together.
It’s this kind of philosophy which drew the former Indiana Dirt Devils from the Fremont area to join the organization in 2017 as the 13U Black Scrappers.
“The kids in that organization are amazing,” says 13U pitching coach Geoff Gilbert. “They support each other. (Younger players) know who the better older kids in our organization are they talk about them all the time. They look up to them.
“I brag on my team all the time and they are pretty good, but our kids are even better young men than they are baseball players.”
The Dirt Devils won two BPA World Series titles, finished second in another and high in yet another before hooking up with Blondell and company.
“The Scrappers have a great reputation,” says Gilbert, who counts son and left-hander Carter Gilbert among his pitchers. “They have big-name recognition. We were a little tiny team in a little tiny pond and couldn’t get kids to try out with us. We’ll be drawing from a much bigger talent pool.”
As a single-team organization, the Dirt Devils dictated everything. With the Scrappers, where Blondell handles all the administrative matters, Gilbert, head coach Brian Jordan and assistant Michael Hogan retain control over their roster and some say in their schedule while also benefitting from the bulk buying power of a larger organization which is sponsored by DeMarini and Wilson.
“With everything they had to offer in the winter, it was a great opportunity,” says Gilbert, who works a few nights a week at the Scrap Yard and has daughter Ava Gilbert playing for the 10U Lady Scrappers team. “We decided to make the switch.”
With players spread out, 13U Black practices one day a week in Ashley (near Fremont and Kendallville) and once at either Pierre Moran or Riverview parks in Elkhart or Newton Park in Lakeville. The older teams practice at Elkhart Memorial, Elkhart Central or South Bend Washington high schools. Scrappers softball practices are conducted at Penn High School.
While players 15U and above tend to play after the high school season is over, the younger teams like 13U Black play 10 to 12 tournaments in the spring and summer.
The Michiana Scrappers 13U Black players and families celebrate the Fourth of July. in 2017 (Michiana Scrappers Photo)
With plenty of experience back from the 2016 Opening Round qualifier, 18th-ranked Indiana Tech (41-12) has been assigned as the No. 2 seed at the five-team Bartlesville, Okla., site. The winner of the double-elimination event scheduled for Monday through Thursday, May 15-18, will have their ticket punched to the 10-team NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
Indiana Tech plays No. 3 Bryan (Tenn.) (37-18). No. 1 Oklahoma Wesleyan (48-9), No. 4 Midland (Neb.) (40-18) and No. 5 St. Ambrose (28-23) will also be competing in Bartlesville for a berth in Lewiston.
Indiana Tech, conference tournament champion Northwestern Ohio and tournament runner-up Davenport (Mich.) are three Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference teams in the Opening Round — Northwestern Ohio at Lima, Ohio, and Davenport at Bellevue, Neb.
McWilliams credits a roster full of players used to winning with the ability to focus on the task at hand has Indiana Tech back in championship contention. The Warriors will have scouting reports on the opponent, but are more concerned with what they do best.
“We focus on ourselves,” says McWilliams. “The game of baseball is very interesting. It’s the best teams, not the most talent that gets you there. We work well together. We focus on the fundamentals. We look to execute the pitch or execute the play.”
Tech executed well enough in 2017 to surpass the 40-win plateau for the third straight year and this came against a super-strong schedule inside and outside the WHAC.
“We’re not trying to go through the season perfect,” says McWilliams. “You can go 50-5 or something by scheduling lesser opponents. We want to be challenged. We want our guys to expect a fight.
“If I’m going to go down south, I want play southern schools that have already been outside for awhile. Many times before conference we’re .500 or below because of the strength of our schedule. I’d much rather lose a game 1-0 to the best team in the country than win 35-2.”
Fast-paced practices get the team ready for what might come.
McWilliams recalls dialing up the curveball machine to throw a “Chris Sale slider.”
The players protested, saying they’ll never see that in a game.
McWilliams’ response: “You never know.”
With a coaching staff that includes Gordon Turner (eighth season), Zach Huttle (third season), Bryant Mistler (third season), Pat Collins-Bride (third season) and graduate assistant Cody O’Neal (first season), McWilliams leads a 2017 roster with players from seven different states and three Canadian provinces. There are 14 with Indiana hometowns (most near the Fort Wayne campus), seven from California and one each from Florida and Texas. Some of them are transfers. Tech has a strong relationship with many junior college coaches.
Having a successful background gives players a better chance of landing with the Warriors.
“We’re recruiting kids that can compete at that tournament level,” says McWilliams. “If we’re looking at Player A and Player B and they are both about the same in talent, we may look at their experience in the postseason to see who we might actually offer that scholarship.
“There’s something about those guys who are winners. We can get them come to Indiana Tech and have a great experience.
“My father (the late David McWilliams) gave me some great advice: Get good players and stay out of the way.”
The Tech experience also includes an education and McWilliams is careful to give his players a chance to hit the books, experience collegiate life and be fresh for the diamond. After all, the NAIA season, including fall and spring periods, is 24 weeks, not including the postseason.
“It’s like a full-time job,” says McWilliams. “We give guys enough rest time so they can focus on being a student-athlete.
“We give them some time off and time away so we’re not at each other’s throats.”
“I was not very good at baseball, but I loved it and I loved it because of Coach Werner,” says McWilliams. “He held me accountable. He pushed me to be the best teammate I could be.
“(Moriarty) taught me just how important the leaders on the team are. I remember my senior year. The team had a bad day at practice. Mo called us captains into his office and jumped on us. It was all our fault. We’ve got to be there to hold the other teammates accountable. Everybody has a job to do.”
McWilliams played baseball and football for two seasons at Franklin College. His baseball coach was Lance Marshall, who taught him much about the mental and physical aspects of pitching.
Coaching came into McWilliams’ life when he went to Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and worked with Brian Donahue and Mark Flueckiger (now at Huntington).
Before landing at Tech, McWilliams was at Marian College (now Marian University) in Indianapolis for eight seasons (six of which ended with the Knights making the NAIA tournament). His head coach was Kurt Guldner, who reached the 500-win plateau during his career.
“It’s not just coaches you coached with, but coaches you coached against,” says McWilliams. “When I went against Sam Riggleman at Spring Arbor I knew I was going to walk away learning some things.
“Coaching college baseball is such a nice fraternity. We share ideas all the time. Everything we do is taken from other coaches.”
From his own experience, McWilliams learned in his first year as a head coach that he didn’t want captains. He had 15 seniors, named three as captains.
“The other 12 don’t lead because they don’t think that’s their job,” says McWilliams. “Seniors do help with the team culture.”
At Tech, that means making sure every player is welcomed and the attitude stays positive. College is hard enough.
“When we have practice we don’t know how their day’s been going,” says McWilliams. “If we start riding them and riding them, they are going to shut down. We want to keep trust in each other.”
Kip McWilliams is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Indiana Tech. The Warriors are heading into the NAIA Opening Round for the seventh time under his leadership. (Indiana Tech Photo)