Tag Archives: San Diego Padres

Stoddard keeps communication flowing as North Central College assistant

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

More than five decades after he began, Tim Stoddard is still chasing championships.
The man who helped win a state basketball title at East Chicago (Ind.) Washington (1971), a national basketball crown at North Carolina State University (1974) and a World Series ring for the Baltimore Orioles (1983) has also been an assistant coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., for five College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin regular-season crowns (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021) with three CCIW tournament trophies (2017, 2018 and 2019) plus an NCAA Division IIII World Series appearance (2017).
Stoddard, who turns 69 on Jan. 24, works primarily with Cardinals pitchers — something he did the previous 22 seasons at Northwestern University (1994-2015), where he was on the staff of fellow Central Illinois Collegiate League alum Paul Stevens (now a University of Chicago assistant).
More than two dozen of Stoddard’s pitching pupils have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Three former Northwestern arms — J.A. Happ, Bo Schultz and George Kontos — have pitched in the majors.
North Central head coach Ed Mathey was leading the Northern Illinois University program when he became acquainted with Stoddard and brought his friend in as a part-time coach before the 2016 season. Mathey and assistant Joe Heller are the full-timers among Cardinals baseball coaches.
Without motion-capture equipment to analyze deliveries, Stoddard takes an “old school” approach with his NCC pitchers.
“We work on mechanics as much as anything,” says Stoddard. “We do a lot of throwing.
“The biggest thing about sports is repeatability.”
While some occasionally touch 90 mph, most throw between 83 and 87.
“Then you make sure your change-up and breaking ball is working and concentrate on throwing strikes,” says Stoddard.
The coach is a big believer in communication with his players. He encourages his hurlers to come back the next day to discuss what happened in a game or practice rather than doing it in the heat of the moment.
“I like having two-way discussions so I know what they’re thinking,” says Stoddard. “I don’t want to talk at them. I want to talk with them.
“I’ve made that approach since I started coaching. I never liked it when I was told what to do. It’s the thought process of what went into it.
“I’m trying to get them to pitch more than rare back and throw.”
Stoddard appreciates the receptiveness of his players.
“They listen,” says Stoddard. “That keeps me doing this. They respect what I say.”
North Central went 38-9 overall and 27-5 in league play and led the CCIW in team earned run average (3.41) and batting average (.309).
Unique to NCAA D-III baseball is a Triple-A program (they don’t use the term junior varsity), which allows players to develop with games and practices. North Central carried 50 players on its roster in 2021.
“The only way to get better is to play,” says Stoddard. “We get all these guys an opportunity to play and get better.”
Per D-III rules which restrict the number of active weeks during the school year, North Central players practiced with coaches in the fall and have been training on their own until team activities resume again in late January.
Stoddard has been inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame and Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Jake Arzumanian, who is also in the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame, coached Stoddard on the diamond at East Chicago Washington and in American Legion baseball — both at Block Stadium.
“He was a great man,” says Stoddard of Arzumanian. “He treated me tremendously. He wanted the best for kids.
“He let us have fun and play.”
Indiana Basketball Hall of Famers John Molodet was Stoddard’s high school hardwood coach. Two of his Senators basketball teammates — Junior Bridgeman and Pete Trgovich — are also Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductees.
Another Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer — Norm Sloan — coached Stoddard, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Thompson, Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Monte Towe and the rest the NC State Wolfpack to the ’74 national hoops title, breaking UCLA’s string of seven straight championships. Sloan is a graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis. Towe is an Oak Hill alum.
Sammy Esposito, a former big league infielder, was a basketball assistant to Sloan in ’74 and was also NC State’s head baseball coach. He is in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
As a 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher, he made his Major League Baseball debut with the Chicago White Sox in 1975 and went on to make 485 mound appearances (all in relief). He was with the Orioles (1978-83), Chicago Cubs (1984), San Diego Padres (1985-86), New York Yankees (1986-88) and Cleveland Indians (1989).
Stoddard and fellow East Chicago Washington graduate Kenny Lofton — who played 11 seasons in the big leagues and is also in the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame — are the only two to have played in the World Series (2002 with the San Francisco Giants) and NCAA men’s basketball championship game (1988 with the University of Arizona).
Tim and wife Jane reside in Rolling Meadows, Ill. They have five children together — Laura, Anne, Ellen, Katie and Dan.

Tim Stoddard (North Central College Photo)

Hancock finally dons Indiana State University uniform — as a coach

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A decade ago, Justin Hancock was planning to play baseball at Indiana State University.
When the 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher was selected in the ninth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres out of Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Hancock decided instead to go pro rather than transfer to ISU after his two years of junior college, playing first for Statesman head coach Mitch Hannahs and then Kevin Bowers.
Pitching for pay took fireballing Hancock through parts of seven seasons in the Padres system — some of 2012 and 2013 was spent with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps — and three in the Chicago Cubs organization, including 10 games at the big league level in 2018. He went 0-0 with a 1.46 earned run average in 12 1/3 innings — all out of the bullpen.
Hancock was a starter until shoulder surgery in 2016 and then became a reliever.
Non-tendered in November 2018, Hancock signed on with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League for 2019 before retiring as a player.
“It was a good experience,” says Hancock. “My wife and daughter came (to Japan). Baseball over there is how baseball was in the ’80s and ‘90s here. There’s not too much power. They hit the ball in the gap and it’s fast-paced.
“It’s tough to strike out guys in Japan.”
Overall, Hancock saw action in 193 games during his professional career, including 96 starts on the mound. He finished with a 29-37 record, 450 strikeouts and a 4.07 ERA over 579 innings.
Hancock was reunited with Hannahs (who returned to his alma mater as ISU head coach in 2013) when he was hired in July 2021 as Indiana State’s pitching coach. The man who recruited Hancock — Brian Smiley — is associate head coach for the Sycamores.
“Mitch is just a very good influencer of the players,” says Hancock, 31. “He does a good job of getting the most out of the talent that comes here.
“He gets the guys to work hard and become better men. He’s just a really good person.”
While Hannahs, Hancock and Smiley share in rounding up players, much of it is coordinated by Smiley.
“Smiley does an awesome job,” says Hancock. “He’s a very good recruiter.”
While a few players have stayed on-campus, most have gone home and will not be back in Terre Haute until the second week of January. That’s when the Sycamores will really begin ramping up for the 2022 season opener Feb. 18 against Brigham Young in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Hancock helps his pitchers develop a daily routine and understand their place on the team.
“It comes down to knowing your role and doing that role very, very well,” says Hancock. “And it starts right now. We send these guys home for a winter break. You call them throughout the time they’re gone, but you don’t know what they did while they’re gone.
“You can see the guys who have bought in and those who haven’t (when they get back to campus). This time is very crucial.”
Being a first-time coach and new to the program, Hancock took the fall to evaluate his staff.
“I had not seen any of them throw live,” says Hancock. “I saw how they pitch and what some of their stuff does.
“At the D-I level, most of these guys have the stuff. We need to refine it.”
That means developing a secondary pitch that the pitcher can put int he strike zone.
“We want them to be able to throw a fastball down and away and to trust their stuff,” says Hancock. “You believe you can get ahead (in the count) with the stuff and get hitters out.
“With one or two good pitches, you can be a really good college pitcher.”
There are 22 pitchers on the roster now. He says that number will likely be 13 or 14 in the spring.
Hancock left Lincoln Trail with a fastball between 92 and 95 mph and increased his velocity over time with added strength.
“I was more of a late bloomer,” says Hancock. “I refined my craft and worked at it. It was about knowing my body and what it could do.”
A 2009 graduate of Defiance (Ohio) High School, Hancock learned about pitching fast from Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and three-time state championship coach Tom Held.
“I touched 90 (mph in high school),” says Hancock. “Coach Held does an awesome job. Defiance has that reputation of always having ’90’ arms.
(Bulldogs pitchers) want to be that next ’90’ arm and prove people wrong just like I did.
Besides Hancock, graduates of the “Definance Way” to pitch in the majors include Jon Niese and Chad Billingsley.
Justin is married to a Terre Haute Vigo High School graduate (and former Lincoln Trail College and Marshall University basketball player) Tessa (Johnson) Hancock. The couple have a daughter — Ivy (who turns 3 in January). Tessa’s father — Howie Johnson — played basketball at ISU with Larry Bird and was also a softball teammate of the Hall of Famer.

Justin Hancock records first big league strikeout.
Justin Hancock 96.4 MPH slow motion mound mechanics.
Justin Hancock pitches for the Chicago Cubs in 2018 (Chicago Cubs Photo)
Justin Hancock (Chicago Cubs Photo)

Former Fort Wayne Carroll catcher Jones decides time is right to turn pro

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Three years after graduating from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Hayden Jones is bigger and stronger and more mature.
Jones, who signed last week as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds out of Illinois State University, says his biggest growth since his prep days has come on the mental side. That’s why he wanted to go to college first instead of pursuing his pro career right away.
“I put the dollar amount so high no one was going to sign me (out of high school),” says Jones, who turned 21 on April 27. “I’ve learned to accept failure when it comes, knowing its not going to be the end of the world.”
Hayden, whose father Ken Jones was drafted as a catcher by the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now a Purdue Fort Wayne assistant coach and grandfather Bill Jones (who died in November 2015) was a founding member and longtime executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and selected as an IHSBCA Hall of Famer in 1982, played for Dave Ginder at Carroll. The lefty swinger and earned four letters while garnering IHSBCA all-state honors three times and being selected as MVP of the 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
Hayden’s uncle, Brad Jones, lettered in baseball at Ball State University. His son, Tyler Jones, played at the University of Dayton in 2021. Cousin Chris Menzie was a baseball letterwinner at Huntington (Ind.) University. Jennifer Jones is Hayden’s mother.
Hayden Jones spent his freshmen season at Mississippi State University in 2019, appearing in 27 games (14 starts) and hitting .224 (11-of-49) with one home run, four doubles, five runs batted in, five runs scored and a .636 OPS (.269 on-base percentage plus .367 slugging average). His fielding percentage with the Chris Lemonis-coached Bulldogs was .971 with 64 putouts, three assists and two errors.
Because of NCAA Division I transfer rules, he had to sit out the 2020 season.
In 2021 at Illinois State, he played in 38 games (31 starts) and hit .230 (28-of-122) with five homers, two triples, six doubles, 28 RBIs and 15 runs. His OPS was .730 (.296/.434). He also fielded at a .990 clip with 182 putouts, 21 assists and two errors.
“I loved Mississippi State,” says Jones. “My girlfriend (Savannah Shinn) still lives down there. It just wasn’t a fit (baseball-wise).”
At ISU, Jones worked with Redbirds head coach and former big league catcher Steve Holm.
Jones’ mechanics were changed back to where he had been while working with his father in high school.
“It all clicked from there,” says Jones. “I was growing and maturing and understanding the game at a faster pace.”
To Jones, blocking, receiving and controlling the opponents’ running game are important. But overall baseball knowledge is a major key to catching.
“My dad and grandpa gave me that big piece,” says Jones. “You need that support staff. Now they can let go and let the Reds do the magic. I text my dad every single night. He’s learning from me now.”
Playing 18 games this summer in the new MLB Draft League with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), Jones hit .237 (9-of-38) with one homer, one double, seven RBIs, six runs and .725 OPS (.383/.342). He learned from manager Coco Crisp and coach Ron Mahay — both former big leaguers.
While he still has years of eligibility left, Jones decided now was the time to move forward as a baseball player.
“I was ready,” says Jones, who was draft eligible three years out of high school. “I wanted to get my career going and get my foot in the door.”
Jones’ name was not called during the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft. The phone did ring five minutes after its conclusion with his agent telling him that Reds senior director of player personnel Jeff Graupe wanted the catcher.
In short order, he was traveling to Goodyear, Ariz., to take a physical and sign his contract with scouting supervisor Andy Stack.
“It was not the money I was expecting, but you don’t make your money until you get to the big leagues,” says Jones, who has began training. He and other free agents and draftees will see if the Reds assign them to the Arizona League, send them out to an affiliate (Low Class-A Daytona, Fla., Tortugas, High Class-A Dayton, Ohio, Dragons, Double-A Chattanooga, Tenn., Lookouts, Triple-A Louisville, Ky., Bats) or just keep working at camp.
“Nobody knows what to expect,” says Jones. “It’s where they need help in the organization.”
Jones spent the summer of 2020 with the Brent McNeil-coached Turf Monsters in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Among those running the CSL were Phil Wade and Blake Hibler, who coached Jones on Team Indiana in the Fall of 2016 and 2017.
Outside the all-star series, Jones was at Mississippi State in the summer of 2018. He was the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Newport (R.I.) Gulls in 2019.
Jones was pursuing a Recreation and Park Administration at Illinois State. He says he could complete it in another year.

Hayden Jones on Fox 55.
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)
Hayden Jones (24) (Illinois State University Photo)
Savannah Shinn and Hayden Jones.
Hayden Jones (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

Bloomington’s Cornwell building coaching resume

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Only a few years removed from playing himself, Adam Cornwell sees what makes today’s young baseball players tick in the era of metrics and analytics.
“It’s a different era of baseball,” says Cornwell, a former pitcher at Bloomington High School North, the University of Indianapolis, University of Pittsburgh and independent professional ball and the head coach of the 2021 Park Rangers in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “They want to show off their athletic ability a little more as well as their velocity, strength and all this stuff.
“Metrics are a big numbers and they’re being used. Every single pitch is measured.”
When not guiding the Park Rangers, Cornwell can often be found at Grand Park learning how to use technology like TrackMan. He is also seeking his next full-time gig.
He just finished a two-year stint on the coaching staff at the University of Dayton, where he had access to Rapsodo, Synergy and more. Jayson King is the Flyers head coach. Cornwell assisted pitching coach Travis Ferrick. Dayton won 11 straight Atlantic-10 Conference games leading into the conference tournament where the Flyers were beaten by Virginia Commonwealth in the championship game.
Cornwell spent the 2019 season at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. It Paul Panik’s first season as a head coach and his Gaels staff was among the youngest in NCAA Division I with Panik (29), head assistant Andrew Pezzuto (26), volunteer J.T. Genovese (23) and pitching coach Cornwell (24).
“Learning with those guys was awesome,” says Cornwell, now 26. “I had freedom and it made me grow faster. I was thrown into the fire early.
“I’m super-thankful for the opportunity I was given over there.”
Before beginning his coaching career, right-hander Cornwell pitched briefly with the Frontier League’s 2018 Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums. Manager Dan Rohn and pitching coach Greg Cadaret were former big leaguers.
Cornwell was signed by Traverse City after playing for the Grizzly in the California Winter League in Palm Springs. There he got to work with Dom Johnson and work out with Joe Musgrove (who pitched the first no-hitter in San Diego Padres history April 9, 2021).
“Dom is probably the best pitching coach in the country,” says Cornwell. “He’s just a stud.
“I got to work out with (Musgrave) a lot. I got to learn how pro guys go about their day and their business. Dom showed me how I needed to change my ways of working out. He is the guy that made me the player I was.”
Cornwell was connected to Johnson through Tracy Smith, whom Cornwell knew from Smith’s time as head coach at Indiana University in Bloomington.
“He is the reason I wanted to get into coaching,” says Cornwell of the former Arizona State University head coach. “I see the way he was day in and day out and how his kids looked up to him. He’s their hero. There’s no better family than that family.”
Smith’s children are among Cornwell’s best friends. Jack Smith was going to be in his Oct. 24 wedding in Bloomington (Cornwell is engaged to Renee Rhoades of St. Charles, Ill.) but he is expected to be the starting quarterback at Central Washington University after transferring from Arizona State.
Cornwell played three seasons for College Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Vaught and pitching coach Mark Walther at UIndy and graduated in 3 1/2 years. He joined the Pitt Panthers featuring head coach Joe Jordano and pitching coach Jerry Oakes just before the start of the 2017 season.
“I credit my coaching path to Coach Vaught,” says Cornwell. “He got me to the University of Pittsburgh. That’s where I made connections to start coaching.”
Cornwell, who holds Sport Management from Indianapolis and master’s degree in Athletic Coaching from Ball State University, appreciates his relationship with Walther.
“He’s a great dude and a hard worker,” says Cornwell. “As a pitching coach he allowed me to be me.”
Walther, the director of operations at Pro X Athlete Development, now runs the College Summer League at Grand Park and Cornwell reached out to him and landed his position with the Park Rangers and has former UIndy pitcher John Hendry and former Center Grove High School pitcher and current Trojans freshmen coach Zach Anderson as assistants.
Born and raised in Bloomington, Cornwell played in Danny Smith Park Baseball Leagues in Unionville, Ind., beginning at age 4.
The Smithville (Ind.) Sluggers were an early travel team. In high school, he was with the Southern Indiana Redbirds among others. That team featured three players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Seymour High School graduate Zack Brown (fifth round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016), Columbus North alum Daniel Ayers (25th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013) and Greenwood Community graduate Alex Krupa (35th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2015).
In one tournament at East Cobb in Atlanta, Cornwell’s team picked up Nick Senzel as a shortstop and Cornwell pitched the only no-hitter of his career. Senzel is now an outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds.
A 2013 Bloomington North graduate, Cornwell play for Richard Hurt.
“He’s a worker and he does everything right,” says Cornwell of Hurt. “He’s on top of everything. He’s super-prepared. Every practice is down to the T.
“He demands respect and in return he gives a ton of respect to his players and the freed to be what they want to be. That’s the way these kids are taking to coaching and he understands that.”
Adam is the son of Kara (John) Jacobs and George (Michelle) Cornwell and has seven siblings — Andrew, Matt, Allison, Jake, Sabrina, Ayden and Addisyn.

Adam Cornwell with mother Kara Jacobs.
Adam Cornwell (left) with father George Cornwell.
Adam Cornwell (center) coaching at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.
Adam Cornwell pitching in the California Winter League.
Adam Cornwell pitching for the independent Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums.

Big Head Sports’ Miranda puts love into every glove

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A baseball or softball glove is like a person.

Both need TLC.

A person who provides tender loving care to those fly catchers and grounder grabbers is Joey Miranda. 

He taught himself how to repair his own glove as a ballplayer and he’s been doing it for others as owner of Big Head Sports. His repeat customers include the South Bend Cubs, Notre Dame, Bethel University, Indiana University South Bend and several travel organizations.

“I really enjoy doing glove work. I really do,” says Miranda, an Osceola, Ind., resident. “It keeps me around baseball.”

Miranda, 51, grew up in Woodland, Calif., near Sacramento and went to Oakland A’s game with father Joe Sr., and San Diego Padres with his grandfather (Luis and grandmother Eva lived in Tijuana and had Joey visit each August after his baseball season) and uncle and played lots of ball while tending to his glove and those of his ball-playing buddies.

“I got really good at it,” says Miranda, who moved to northern Indiana in 2008. 

Over the years, he did research and learned how to break in gloves — what to do and not to do.

Miranda says a glove should not be put in the oven, microwave or steamer.

“It causes cracking,” says Miranda. It will also void the warranty at some sporting goods retailers. “Conditioner soothes the outside of the glove and puts moisture back into glove.”

Proper care will also extend the life of the glove.

“It won’t last as long if you don’t clean it with conditioner,” says Miranda. “I used to to use mink or Neatsfoot oil, but I’ve gotten away from that.

“If you use too much it will make the glove heavy. (Oil) doesn’t dissipate.”

Miranda, who sells new and used gloves, gives maintenance information.

“I recommend conditioning twice a year — the middle of the season and the end to protect the glove over the winter,” says Miranda. “I really like it when parents bring their athlete with them. I can inform the player on how to take care of their glove.

“At $200-$400, that’s a little bit of an investment for the parents.”

High-end gloves can have map or steer or some other kind of leather while low end ones are made of average hyde.

Miranda invites customers to shoot him a text and he will walk them through any questions they might have.

“It’s about my customers,” says Miranda. “It’s like an honor for me working on their glove.

“I have some really loyal customers that only come to me.”

Joey and Rebecca Miranda had four children. The oldest — Casey — died a few years ago. Then there’s sons Andrew and Anthony and daughter Jordan. The boys all played baseball.

When Anthony was at what is now Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., and his glove broke his father informed him that he could fix it. The laces were swept out for white ones and it was a real attention-getter.

The next thing you know other players and parents are coming to Miranda for his glove TLC.

He started buying lace from a local man and word of his work began spreading like wildfire.

Then came Big Head Sports. The name comes from the inflated egos Miranda saw while he was a player.

“I grew up with guys who were supposed to get drafted and didn’t,” says Miranda. 

Best friend Jeff Moore is a graphic designer in California and crafted Miranda’s logo. The business motto is “Don’t let your head get bigger than the game.”

“That’s what keeps me humble in what I’m doing. I have yet to advertise other than on Facebook (or Twitter). I get new people every year by word of mouth. That feels good.

“I treat each glove as if it was my own. That’s my work that I’m putting out there.”

Joey and Rebecca have talked about one day opening a store and have been collecting old gloves and baseball memorabilia for decor.

Miranda backs up his work. He will replace materials up to four months and offers free glove-tightening.

A relationship with former South Bend Silver Hawks manager and current general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and head of the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel baseball organization Mark Haley got Miranda in with the South Bend Cubs.

Miranda’s turnaround time is often a few days depending on his schedule. Miranda is a material handler at RC Industries in Elkhart and coaches a Hitters Edge 14U travel team.

Sometimes a glove emergency arises. Like this spring when there was a blowout of Notre Dame senior and Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft prospect Niko Kavadas’ first baseman’s mitt during pregame of a game at Frank Eck stadium.

Miranda, who often took glove-related calls from Irish assistant coach Rich Wallace, got a call from the ND staff and he was off to the ballpark — about 10 miles away.

Miranda knew Kavadas from the player’s time at Penn High School and training with Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich., and had done a small repair on the same beloved glove.

“Niko is pretty superstitious,” says Miranda.

When Joey saw the mitt this time it had zip ties holding it together. Miranda feverishly did his thing and got it to Kavadas in the nick of time.

“I got the glove done as lineups being announced,” says Miranda.

Many folks will use bunny cords or rubber bands when breaking in a glove. Miranda discourages this because it can cause the glove to flex where the cord or band is placed. 

With his wife’s permission, he uses old dish towels and puts a ball in the glove pocket where his has been pounding it with a 5-pound weight or glove mallet.

“There’s no flex point and you’re covering a wide area,” says Miranda. “You want to make the pocket round. 

“The ball is round — not flat or taco-shaped.”

Miranda recommends catching balls off a pitching machine as part of the break-in process.

“You need to get use to the glove,” says Miranda. “A lot of it is feel.

“Also— old or new — you should be squeezing all the time.”

Many players look for the glove to do all the work.

It’s just part of fundamentals — the kind that Miranda teaches as a coach with his travel team or as an assistant to Lawrence “Buster” Hammond at South Bend Washington High School (the Panthers did not field a team this spring because of low participation numbers).

Miranda has been coaching baseball for more than two decades.

“I love coaching because it’s about the kids,” says Miranda. “You make a difference in a young man’s life.

“I’ve been clean and sober for 24 years. That’s my way of giving back.”

To contact Miranda, call 574-855-6332 or email bigheadsports28@gmail.com.

Joey Miranda (left) of Big Head Sports and Eloy Jimenez when the ballplayer was with the South Bend Cubs.
The motto of Big Head Sports — a glove care and re-lacing business owned by Joey Miranda of Osceola, Ind.

Leadership development priority for Kindig’s Argos Dragons

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing leadership is an emphasis as the Argos (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School baseball program comes back from a season without games with a familiar face leading the Dragons.

Joe Kindig, an assistant in 2017 and head coach in 2018 and 2019, has adopted Bill Walsh’s Standards of Performance as part of Argos baseball.

Copies hang in the Dragons dugout and a point or two is highlighted on a daily basis during practice. 

“You only get to do sports for so long and then you are put into the working world, I would like to see my players be good men in society,” says Kindig, who has two sons — junior Dylan and freshman Jackson — on the team and another — Ian (pitching and catching coach) — on a staff that also features Chris Lacher (bench coach) and Todd Montgomery (assistant head coach and father of Dragons batboy/manager Brady). “This helps with that foundation, not just by talking for a few minutes but emphasizing that is also carries over into the classroom as well.

“It is a very good approach and if you live, breathe and adopt those 19 standards not just in baseball but work/job, any other leadership role they have later in life, then they are going to be great contributors to society and leaders down the road.”

Kindig notes that leadership is not just for captains, it’s for everybody.

And it’s not just about bats and balls at Argos.

“We take academics serious, we follow up with kids who may be struggling with grades and try to get them help if needed via tutoring, or any other program that may help them get a better understanding of the subject matter,” says Kindig.

The 2021 Dragons have 17 players — three with previous high school experience — for a varsity-only schedule.

“We’re trying to understand how the game works, situations and things like that,” says Kindig. “We’re basically trying to build everything from the ground up.

“We want to get kids started (playing baseball) as young as we can and bring them up through the ranks. We want to make things as fun as possibly and see if we can start competing again for those sectional and regional titles.”

Argos (enrollment around 150) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Career Academy of South Bend, Lakeland Christian Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Career Academy is not fielding a team this spring. LCA and Trinity do not have baseball programs.

The Dragons are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Culver Community, LaCrosse (the 2021 host), Oregon-Davis, South Central (Union Mills) and Triton. Argos won its lone sectional title in 1998.

Besides conference and sectional foes, the ’21 schedule includes Caston, Covenant Christian, John Glenn, Kouts, LaVille, North Miami, Tippecanoe Valley and West Central.

Argos plays its home games behind the school building. The wish list for the field is new bullpens, a fresh coat of paint on the dugouts plus new dirt for the infield.

During the summer, Argos enters a team in the wood bat Plymouth Junior League. There’s also an Argos Youth League for younger players.

There has been talk of establishing an Argos American Legion Post 68 team for high school age players.

Post 68 was going to field a team in 2020 until COVID-19 came along.

Another way to build up and spark interested in the sport is through winter camps.

Sam Rowe, a 2020 Argos graduate, is on the baseball team at Bethel University in Mishawaka. 

A Bethel graduate — Eric Stults — graduated from Argos and pitched in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves and in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

Kindig grew up in Mishawaka, Ind., and played in the Inter-City Catholic League. In 1998, he graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School, where he ran track and played football. He lives in Argos with wife Amy and sons and is a cost account for Valmont Industries in Plymouth.

Argos (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School baseball coaches (from left): assistant Chris Lacher, head coach Joe Kindig and assistants Todd Montgomery and Ian Kindig. (Steve Krah Photo)

Coulter, South Central Satellites eager for ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Coulter has been head baseball coach at South Central Junior/Senior High School in Union Mills, Ind., for more than 500 days and has yet to earn a win or loss.

Hired prior to 2020, there was much anticipation with a talented group coming back. 

The Satellites won the Porter County Conference for just the third time (2009 and 2017 were the other title seasons) and the IHSAA Class 1A South Bend Career Academy Sectional before losing in the South Bend Regional championship to eventual state runner-up and fellow PCC member Washington Township in 2019. 

Several key starters from that squad returned in 2020.

But the Satellites never took the field in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“That’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” says Coulter. “Like everyone else.”

Coulter and company now getting ready for 2021 with more high hopes.

“I think we’ll be a dark horse this year,” says Coulter. “We’ve revamped the entire program and internally changed our mindset.”

South Central (enrollment around 325) is part of a 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy and Triton. The Satellites have won 16 sectional crowns, including 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. South Central won regional crowns in 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2011.

“We’re the sectional favorite or co-favorite almost every year,” says Coulter. “We don’t want winning sectional defining our season.”

When the Satellites break a huddle in practice, the chant is “138.”

That’s the number of miles from Satellite Field to Victory Field in Indianapolis — site of the IHSAA State Finals.

“We have a very talented group,” says Coulter. “It’s an exciting time to be a South Central baseball player.

“We’re more poised now to make a pretty deep (tournament) run.”

Last summer, South Central took part in five travel tournaments. No players were turned away. There were 32 taking part in games and workouts.

With the majority of the varsity lineup committed to other travel teams, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds played in 17U events. 

With all the players together, a title was won at the On Turf Sports Classic in Columbia City, Ind., beating a team made up of Avon and Plainfield high school players for the championship. There was also a squad from Cincinnati and the Harris Storm (Penn High School players).

There are currently 38 identified with the program, including 18 freshmen. One member of the Class of 2024 — pitcher Bradley Ferrell — shined at a recent Perfect Game event in Florida.

Coulter is a 2009 LaPorte High School graduate. Other LPHS alums on his Satellite coaching staff include pitching coach Tony Ferrell (a member of the 1992 state champions and father of Bradley), Dave Santana and Garrett Kautz with the varsity. Alex Rochowiak is the JV head coach. Zach Lee is the JV pitching coach. Chesterton High School graduate Rochowiak played is the son of Michigan City High School head coach Jeff Rochowiak.

South Central has also gotten new uniforms for its varsity and junior teams and put a new windscreen completely around its home park.

The coaching staff donated their 2020 salaries to pay for infield playing mix, which helps with turnaround time on rain days.

The grass baseline have been replaced with dirt.

“It looks more like a baseball field now,” says Coulter.

Besides South Central, the Porter County Conference includes Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

Boone Grove won the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2018 with Washington Township making it to the Class 1A finale in 2019.

“It’s a pretty solid conference in baseball,” says Coulter. Currently the largest of Indiana’s 1A schools, South Central has yet to win a PCC tournament.

Recent South Central graduates now in NCAA Division I college baseball are Carson Husmann (Bradley University) and Kyle Schmack (Valparaiso University).

The Satellite Series — a competition among groups — was launched in November and will continue until tryouts in March. Upperclassmen drafted teams of underclassmen. Teams compete for weekly points based on attendance, Baseball I.Q. sessions, in-person hitting sessions and school grades.

“The kids have absolutely eaten it up,” says Coulter, who adds that they are vying for a letter jacket patch and a steak dinner grilled by the coaching staff.

South Central players build their Baseball I.Q. with Zoom sessions that have included guests like Evan Miller (a pitcher in the San Diego Padres system who starred at LaPorte High and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) and Rob Younce (a Philadelphia Phillies scout and national travel coach with the Canes).

Coulter encourages his players to talk and think like a coach and presents lessons from American Baseball Coaches Association convention speakers and the Baseball Coaching Bible edited by Jerry Kindall and John Winkin and featuring 27 coaches including LaPorte legend Ken Schreiber.

“It’s been real beneficial,” says Coulter. “The No. 1 priority in our program is to play catch. If you can’t play catch, you can’t play baseball.

“(Our players) hear some words from people at the top of the game.”

There are plans for Coulter and his assistant to tap into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic, which will stream its speakers to members Saturday, Jan. 16. 

“It allows us to grow and stay current with the times,” says Coulter.

After playing football and lacrosse and a few seasons of basketball in high school, Coulter went to Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., where he pursued a Business Management degree and served as a student assistant football coach on the staff of Shannon Griffith.

After a season a junior varsity baseball coach at LaPorte, Coulter led the South Shore Smoke 13U travel team.

Coulter and partner Kevin Tran are Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agents based in LaPorte. 

Zach Coulter is the head baseball coach at South Central High School in Union Mills, Ind. The graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., is also a Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent in LaPorte.

Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

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.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

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.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Former Indiana U., MLB infielder Morandini enjoying ambassador role with Phillies

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mickey Morandini’s baseball talents took him through 1,298 games in Major League Baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays.

The lefty-swinging infielder played in 1,298 regular-season games plus the 1993 World Series and got to represent the USA in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He has coached in the Phillies organization and is now in his third year as a team ambassador.

A big part of Morandini’s diamond development came in his four seasons (1985-88) at Indiana University, playing for Bob Morgan who served as Hoosiers head coach 1984-2005.

“(Morgan) worked our butts off,” says Morandini, who went to IU from Leechburg (Pa.) Area Middle/Senior High School near Pittsburgh, where he played for Blue Devils head coach Bob Obendorf. “Everyday was a grind.

“I got a lot better and a lot stronger.”

Morgan operated with a very set routine. He rolled out drill after drill and players moved from station to station when the whistle blew.

“It was upset and there was a lot of throwing,” says Morandini. “There were no breaks.

“At the end of a two-hour practice, you were exhausted.”

Morandini played third base as a freshman and then switched to shortstop. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1987 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but decided not to sign and went back to Indiana for his senior season and earned second-team All-America honors.

“It was a tough decision to go back to college,” says Morandini. “I’m from Pittsburgh and grew up a huge Pirates fan. But I had the opportunity to play on the Olympic team.”

Morandini, who was dating Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate and future wife Peg, was chosen to go to Korea and helped the USA capture gold at Seoul. First, there was a U.S. tour at minor league parks then games in Italy and Japan. 

“It was an awesome experience,” says Morandini. “I was in the Olympic village hanging out with other athletes.”

Morandini was close to an Elementary Education degree at Indiana. He just didn’t do his student teaching.

Mickey and wife Peg have three sons — Jordan, Griffin and Braydon. The two older boys now live in Indianapolis. Mickey enjoys coming back to IU baseball reunions each October. When the 2020 event was canceled, he put together an impromptu gathering of about 18 players who played golf and spent time together at a lake near Bloomington, Ind.

Chosen in the fifth round of the 1988 MLB Draft by the Phillies, Morandini began his professional career in 1989 by hitting .338 in 63 games at Low-A Spartanburg, .302 in 17 games at High-A Clearwater and .351 in 48 games at Double-A Reading.

“I turned a lot of heads,” says Morandini, who hit .260 in 139 games in 1990 at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre and made his MLB debut with Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 1990. 

His first big-league hit was a 10th-inning single off San Diego Padres right-hander Greg Harris. He later scored the game-winning run on a single by John Kruk.

Morandini, who played most of his MLB games as a second baseman, collected four hits in the 1993 National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves and one in the 1993 World Series against the Blue Jays.

He was an NL All-Star in 1995, the year he hit .283. 

Morandini spent the 1998 and 1999 seasons with the Cubs.

By the time he was dealt to Chicago a few days before Christmas in 1997 Morandini had already lived in northwest Indiana the better part of eight years.

“It was a lot of fun,” says Morandini of his time with the Cubs. “It was a perfect fit. I could drive back and forth to the ballpark. I love Wrigley (Field).”

The 1998 season gave Morandani an up-close view of a pennant race, Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game and the home run battle between Sammy Sosa of Chicago and Mark McGwire of St. Louis.

“It was great to be a part of,” says Morandini, who appeared in the National League Divisional Series for the Cubs against Atlanta and appeared in the same lineup with another former IU playerKevin Orie — 44 times in 1998.

Mickey Mo was with both the Phillies (91 games) and Blue Jays (35 games) in 2000. He went to spring training with Toronto before a rotator cuff issues essentially ended his playing career.

Morandini posted a .268 batting average (1,222-for-4558) with 597 runs, 209 doubles, 54 triples, 32 home runs, 351 runs batted in, 123 stolen bases, 437 bases on balls, .338 on-base percentage and .359 slugging percentage. He finished his career with a .989 fielding percentage as a second baseman.

With the Blue Jays, Morandini was reunited with Jim Fregosi, who had been the Phillies manager for the end of the 1991 season through 1996.

“He had been in the game a long, long time as a player and a coach,” says Morandini of Fregosi. “He knew base ball. He was he first manager that brought me to the big leagues and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

“For him, as long as you played the game and played it the right way, that’s all he could ask for. He knew when to get on you and knew when to pat you on the back. He was really good with dealing with personalities.”

Back in Indiana, Morandini enjoyed coaching his sons in youth and travel baseball. 

He was approached about becoming the head baseball coach at Valparaiso High School.

“It was intriguing,” says Morandini of the opportunity. “I love coaching kids.

“I jumped on it.”

Morandini led the Vikings program for four seasons (2007-10) while Jordan and Griffin were at neighboring Chesterton High School.

“I was going to continue then minor league opportunity came up,” says Morandini, who spent five years coaching in the minors and two in the big leagues prior to Gabe Kapler becoming manager and hiring his own coaches — all with the Phillies organization — before taking his current position. 

As ambassador, the 54-year-old Morandini is the face of the organization and makes many public appearances and attends games at Citizens Bank Ballpark

“I mingle with fans and season ticket holders, go to hospitals and play in charity golf tournaments,” says Morandini, who spends most of his time in the Philly area with a short trip to Clearwater, Fla., to entertain sponsors at spring training. “I love it. It’s an awesome job. I get to meet and greet people.”

Mickey Morandini talks about gripping a baseball. (Philadelphia Phillies Video)
Mickey Morandini, who played baseball at Indiana University 1985-88 and then in Major League Baseball from 1990-2000 with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays, is now a team ambassador for the Phillies. (Philadelphia Phillies Photo)

Saint Francis assistant Lawhead wants his pitches to be relentless

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Lawhead was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to baseball, Fort Wayne, Ind., became his Midwest home in the fall of 2012.

Born in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle, Lawhead graduated from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., in 2010 and pitched for two seasons at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College.

The right-hander played for Warriors head coach Dave Meliah and pitching coach C.J. Biagi and was named a first-team all-East Region relief pitcher and second-team all-Northwest Athletic Conference relief pitcher in 2012 while garnering six saves.

“Coach Meliah taught me a lot of physical and mental toughness and how to prepare at a higher level,” says Lawhead. “I learned how to attack and compete relentlessly and not have any fear.

“I played on two of the grittiest and most-competitive teams I’ve ever been a part of.”

Lawhead describes the juco experience.

“The days are long in junior college, but it helps you develop an appreciation of how much better you can get by working,” says Lawhead. “There’s a natural progression. You can speed up and expedite that process a little bit.”

Through an online recruiting database — FieldLevel — he caught the attention of Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and wound up signing with the Mastodons weeks before his junior year at IPFW. 

“Lucky for me, they needed arms,” says Lawhead. “I wanted to play at the (NCAA) Division I level as well. That’s the reason I went to junior college in the first place.”

The right-handed hurler two seasons (2013 and 2014) for head coach Bobby Pierce and pitching coach Grant Birely and made 41 appearances out of the bullpen with seven wins and nine saves.

“It was a great experience with Coach Pirece and Coach Birely,” says Lawhead. “They helped me see things in detail and that 90 percent of game can be controlled by that pitcher-hitter confrontation.

“They gave us a lot of freedom. There was no micromanaging. We took ownership of our own development.”

Many of Lawhead’s former teammates from the Fort Wayne area have remained very good friends.

“They are my Midwest family if you will,” say Lawhead, 29.

After his playing career, he served as a graduate assistant and then as paid assistant in the Mastodons program from 2015-19. 

Lawhead coached three All-Americans at IPFW — Evan Miller (who was selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and pitched for the Low Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps 2016-18 and in Triple-A in 2019) and all-Summit League performers Greg Kaiser and Brandon Soat (who played for the 2017 independent pro Evansville Otters). 

All three are Indiana prep products — Miller from LaPorte, Kaiser from Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Soat from Homestead.

Along the way, Lawhead earned undergraduate degrees in General Studies and Public Policy and a masters in Organizational Leadership from IPFW/Purdue Fort Wayne.

In the summers of 2014 and 2015, Lawhead was head coach for 13U and 14U teams for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization, working alongside founder/general manager Joel Mishler and director of operations Justin Barber.

“Joel was another big influence in my life as a coach,” say Lawhead. “(The Chargers) are  youth organization so devoted to developing players and men.”

Barber is now the pitching coach at Taylor University.

Zac Mishler, Joel’s youngest son, was Lawhead’s teammate at IPFW.

Former Mastodons infielder and assistant coach Kristian Gayday was offered an opportunity to stay in Fort Wayne and join the coaching staff at the University of Saint Francis by Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher

Gayday was later joined at the NAIA and Crossroads League member school by Lawhead, who left IPFW (now known as Purdue Fort Wayne) when Pierce left to take to take an athletic administration job in Arizona.

“Coach Butcher is great to coach under,” says Lawhead. “Before I even got here, he had established a culture with good athletes and good human beings. There’s also that (relentless) mentality I spoke about earlier. It makes my job a lot easier.

“We can focus on the things that can help us win games in the heat of competition. (Butcher) gives his assistant coaches full autonomy. He does not micromanage. We have a really good relationship.”

At IPFW, Lawhead worked primarily with position players on defense and collaborated with Pierce on hitting.

As a Saint Francis assistant, he throws batting practice and helps out with defense whenever he can but Lawhead’s primarily responsibility is with the Cougars pitching staff.

He covers a variety of areas, but a competitive mentality is a key.

“We talked about body language, self talk and all the thing we can control,” says Lawhead. “We want to compete relentlessly with no fear.

“We want to get to that fight or flight response. We like our guys competing at everything they do and doing it to the highest of their abilities.”

Lawhead has his pitchers using their arms often to build up their tolerance. 

“We throw just about everyday, but not as hard as they can,” says Lawhead. “We want to be able to expose hitters’ weaknesses and get them out.”

COVID-19 restrictions did not allow Saint Francis to have any games with other schools during the six weeks of fall practice, but there was plenty of intrasquad action.

“In my opinion we accomplished our goal of pitchers learning their strengths and how they are going to attack hitters,” says Lawhead. “During week, (pitches) prepared to perform on the weekend. We had a plan in place to recover so we can do that again and again.”

Lawhead says its likely that the Cougars will not have mid-week games during the 2021 season with four-game weekend series in the conference (7- and 9-inning doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays).

Saint Francis finished the fall semester before Thanksgiving. Students, including ballplayers, are due back on-campus in January.

While the student-athletes are away, the coaching staff is recruiting and planning for the season.

“We’re working on how we’re going to attack practice as efficiently as possible when the guys get back,” says Lawhead.

Connor and Victoria Lawhead have a daughter who turns 1 on Dec. 31 — Avery. While Victoria is teaching sixth grade English at Woodside Middle School (a Homestead High School feeder), he is at home with the baby then often heads to the office.

Connor Lawhead, who played two collegiate baseball seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and holds three degrees from the school, is now an assistant coach at Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (IPFW Photo)