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Evansville Razorbacks promote accountability, communication, commitment

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 18U Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have been a force in the travel baseball world with four Pastime Tournaments national championships and a National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series runner-up finish.

The 2017 team went 40-0.

Established in 2002 by Jeremy Johnson, the Razorbacks have had 336 players sign on with college baseball programs and numerous players have been in pro ball.

“This program sets guys up not only in baseball, but their whole life,” says Johnson. “It’s a fraternity. You’re going to be a Razorback the rest of your life.

“It’s bigger than anybody, including me.”

Johnson is a 1993 Mater Dei graduate. He grew up spending Saturday mornings helping his father groom youth diamonds around Evansville. C.J. Johnson is a 2017 inductee into the Greater Evansville Sports Hall of Fame as a baseball administrator.

At 14, Jeremy severely hurt his right arm and learned how throw serviceably with his left. In high school, he was a successful cross country and track runner.

Johnson networks with college coaches and does his best to educate players and parents on the recruiting process and deciding on the best fit for them.

“My job is to help you find out your ‘why,’’ says Johnson. “What is driving you? If you don’t know that, you can get lost. You need to have a really good grasp on that. If you don’t and everything starts to go south, you’ll start panicking.”

And it doesn’t have to be NCAA Division I or bust. Some are best-suited by going the D-II, D-III, NAIA or junior college route.

“I’m completely over the fact that Division I is the best case scenario (for every player),” says Johnson. “You should pick a school where, if you didn’t play baseball any more, you wouldn’t want to transfer.

“It’s very, very personal thing for each kid. Look at schools that fit you personally. Start putting together legitimate ideas on what you know you want instead of what you think you want.

“High school is very status-orientedYou’re not doing it for your teammates. There’s a 50-50 shot you’ll meet your wife there.

“It’s way more than baseball.”

Johnson says he has watched the transfer portal blow up in recent years in part because of so many early commits (freshmen and sophomore are making verbal commitments these days) and players and parents not doing their due diligence on what they want and what a program has to offer.

“They may be good enough to be a tweener with D-I,” says Johnson. “But they could play more at D-II or go to D-III and be an All-American.

“We don’t want them to have regrets or at least minimize them.”

While he has been involved in most of the 336 college signings, Johnson doesn’t take credit. It’s the players with the talent.

“I’m not the reason any of my kid plays in college,” says Johnson. “I’m just a guy who goes to bat for them. My job is to market them. I’m an avenue.

“The kids are the ones that deserve everything. I didn’t throw a ball, catch a ball or hit it. I’m not the reason for the season.”

A junior college advocate, Johnson says those players tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. Six starters on the Razorbacks’ 2018  team went on to JC ball. The 2017 club was made up mostly of D-I commits.

“It saves money and keeps their options open,” says Johnson. “It makes you grind a little bit. You find out if you really love baseball if you go junior college.”

Johnson says the Razorbacks are well-represented in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley).

Johnson says parents don’t always receive personal feedback when they take their sons to showcases. They get the numbers, but not an idea of what that coaching staff thinks of the player and how they would fit in their program.

Players can go to showcase after showcase and the money spent can add up to the cost of a scholarship.

“Tell me what you’re interested in doing and let me market you,” says Johnson. He will do his best to have college coaches look at the player and let them know what they think.

“College recruiting always in flux,” says Johnson. “(Recruiters) don’t want to tell you yes or no. There’s a lot of maybes. That’s a frustrating thing. I tell parents to build an idea of where their kid really fits.”

In showcases or with private lessons, many times players are told over and over again how good they are.

“Some are honest about good things and bad things,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. You need it.”

Johnson sees his role with the Razorbacks as driven by relationships.

“I get to know the kids,” says Johnson. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with them.”

While many players come from southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky, there is no real limit and have come from several states away.

“I’m not afraid to ask anybody,” says Johnson. “We have the ability to house a few kids.”

Many players spend two seasons with the Razorbacks, which Johnson says averages 17 to 20 college commits per year. In any given year, a third to half of the squad goes into the summer uncommitted.

Among the 2019 high school graduates from Indiana schools on the ’19 summer team were Evansville North shortststop/second baseman Alex Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Austin shortstop/right-handed pitcher/third baseman Drew Buhr (Saint Louis University), Castle left-handed pitcher Blake Ciuffetelli (USI), Castle first baseman Brodey Heaton (Belmont University), Evansville Memorial right-handed pitcher Isaac Housman (USI) and Tecumseh outfielder Steven Molinet (USI).

There’s also shortstop/second baseman Alex Adams (Purdue University), catcher Garret Gray (Butler University), right-handed pitcher Trey Nordmann (Howard College in Texas) and left-handed pitcher/outfielder/first baseman Mark Shallenberger (University of Evansville).

Former Ben Davis High School catcher Zyon Avery (Ohio University), Decatur Central right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and right-hander Garret Simpson (Eastern Kentucky University) are among the recent Razorbacks now playing college baseball.

Razorback alums left-hander Dean Kiekhefer (Oakland Athletics), right-hander Derek Self (Washington Nationals) and outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Boston Red Sox) played at Triple-A in 2019. All three played at the University of Louisville. Kiekhefer appeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 and with Oakland in 2018.

There’s also former Backs Easton McGee and Stewart Ijames.

Right-hander McGee played for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2019.

Outfielder Ijames, a former U of L player and in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, was with the independent Kansas City T-Bones in 2019.

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes Lincoln High School graduate who recently went into the Indiana State University and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after a major league career, played for the Evansville Black Sox (1993-2001), which were picked up by the Razorbacks in 2002.

Johnson was an outfielder for the Jim Wittman-coached Black Sox in 1993-94. In a Black Sox alumni game, Johnson’s last pitch resulted in a Barmes home run.

“I hadn’t pitched in two years,” says Johnson. “Didn’t matter. Would happened on my best day.”

Former U of L catcher Jeff Arnold was signed by scout Kevin Christman and played in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-hander Morgan Coombs went to West Vigo High School and Ball State University then played independent ball.

Outfielder Sean Godfrey played at New Albany High School and Ball State before time in the Atlanta Braves system and indy ball.

First baseman Jon Hedges played at Indiana State.

Third baseman Kevin Hoef went to the University of Iowa and played indy ball.

Catcher Jeremy Lucas played at West Vigo and Indiana State before time in the Cleveland Indians system.

Black Sox right-hander Stephen Obenchain played at Evansville Memorial and the University of Evansville before stints in the Athletics system and independent ball.

First baseman Derek Peterson, who hails from New Jersey, went on to Temple University and played in Baltimore Orioles organization.

Black Sox right-hander Andy Rohleder played at Forest Park High School and the University of Evansville before tenures with the Florida Marlins organization and indy ball.

Right-hander P.J. Thomas, a Jeffersonville High School graduate who played at USI, was twice-drafted by the Red Sox and played indy ball.

Catcher Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) played in the Red Sox organization.

Former Black Sox, Heritage Hills High School and University of Dayton catcher Mark Wahl was in the Orioles system.

While the Razorbacks run a full program with off-season training, Johnson says he is a realist and he knows that players have commitments to their hometown teams and work with their own hitting and pitching instructors. He doesn’t ask them to drive several hours to Evansville to hit them grounders.

“I’m not that full of myself,” says Johnson. “I have the utmost respect for high school programs.

“I love travel ball. But a large amount of travel ball is B.S. It’s such a money-driven situation. Travel ball — as a whole — is expensive for families with travel, hotels and all of that. We try to keep that cost down as low as we possibly can.”

When the 18U Razorbacks do travel, the team stays together in the same hotel.

Many of the players are getting close to going away to college. They get to experience curfews, team meetings and learn personal accountability. It’s an early look at their freshmen year and that first taste of freedom. They are responsible for their own laundry.

“The team runs the team,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot to be learned off the field until they go to college.”

Parents are encouraged treat the weekend like a getaway. All they have to do is attend the games and watch their sons play.

The organization expanded this off-season to 10 teams — 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, two 12U squads, 13U, 14U, 16U and 18U. 8U to 14U is high school prep. 15U to 18U is college prep.

According to Johnson, whose 18U assistant coaches are Bob Davis, Ryan Dills and Buddy Hales, the emphasis is on teaching player accountability at an early age, communication with parents, speed and strength conditioning and commitment to helping the person, then the player.”

Top 18U events in 2020 include June 12-14 in Midland, Ohio, June 18-21 in Louisville, Ky., June 26-28 in Midland, Ohio, June 30-July 1 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, July 5-9 at Perfect Game World Series (invitation only) in Hoover, Ala., and July 15-19 at the 18U Nationals in Indianapolis.

Jeremy and Christi Johnson married in 2013. There are three children — Seth (18), Ava (14) and Conner (13). Conner Johnson, now an eighth grader, was born in 2007, the same year the Razorbacks were NABF World Series runners-up.

“Spending summers with him with me is what ties it all together,” says Jeremy Johnson of time spent with Conner and Backs baseball.

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The Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have placed 336 players in college baseball since 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks)

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Jeremy Johnson (center) is the founder of the Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks travel baseball organization. The Razorbacks’ first season was in 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks Photo)

 

Christman sees baseball through a scout’s eyes

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Christman has been in professional baseball for well over half of his 54 years. He signed his first pro contract as a teenager.

At the end of last summer, Noblesville, Ind., resident Christman concluded a 13-year stint as a scout for the San Francisco Giants and has three World Series rings to show for it. As an area scout, his territory included Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. He also coached at Giants Fall Scout Team that included several players eventually selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Ryan Campbell, Garrett Christman, Harrison Freed, Cory Malcom, Connor Mitchell, Mitch Roman, Tanner Tully, Nolan Watson.

While he is assessing his next move, Christman is helping out Sue and Chris Estep at Round Tripper Sports Academy.

“I’m giving back to the game,” says Christman, who has served as a general manager, coach and advisor on curriculum, facilities and the baseball industry over the years at the place where sons Garrett and Connor Christman trained and played for the Indiana Mustangs as well as Noblesville High School’s 2014 IHSAA Class 4A state champions, which were recently inducted with the NHS Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. “I’m giving back to the program. I’ve always been available for them.”

Christman went to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif., and was a 6-foot-3 catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies and Giants systems before beginning his scouting career on the West Coast with the Milwaukee Brewers and joined the Giants player evaluation staff in 2006.

Along the way, the Midwest became his territory and he and wife Linda moved their family to central Indiana.

Christman has watched technology grow and become a big part of player development.

“It’s changed strength level opportunities,” says Christman. “We understand nutrition and what’s out there to use.

“There’s still a lot of unproven aspects of the technology. The game’s the game. But you don’t leave any stone unturned. You use all resources.”

Chistman uses technology, but he has long employed his evaluation and personal skills to find prospects and to see what makes them tick.

“My job was to always bet on a heartbeat,” says Christman. “With what we were spending on players, that’s just as important. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Christman studies players. Once they pass the eye test, he goes in-depth.

“What has he learned? What has he not learned?,” says Christman. “I could almost be like an FBI agent.”

Like other scouts, Christman would project a player’s potential to get to the majors.

“It’s all conjecture,” says Christman. “I think he can do this.

“It’s like a lump a clay you can mold.”

Only a small percentage of players who enter the system will ever have a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

“It’s a very difficult process,” says Christman. “Eventually, physical talents become similar.”

Things like make-up often make the difference between those who break into the majors and those that don’t.

That’s why scouts like Christman will work hard to find and sign the best players.

“I’m a winner,” says Christman. “It’s a competitive business.”

The proving grounds in baseball is at the high school and college levels.

Christman says many big leaguers were signed out of high school. But the latest trend is to sign college players.

“(Colleges can) develop them three years longer,” says Christman. “(Professional teams tend to) go with a proven track record. History will prevail. That’s what’s driving the sport now. There will be another adjustment later.”

Of course, not all big leaguers are known on the national level by the time they’re 16 and performing in showcases.

“One of the joys of scouting is finding that one guy who’s not in the mainstream,” says Christman.

That’s the story of Adam Duvall, a graduate of Butler Traditional High School in Louisville who played at Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville, made his Major League Baseball debut with the Giants and played with the Cincinnati Reds 2015-18 and the Atlanta Braves in 2018-19. He was a corner infielder in college and has been mostly a left fielder in the bigs.

“His signing was not analytically-driven,” says Christman of Duvall. “He made the game look easy. He had better than average makeup.

“He’s a worker. It’s the grass roots story of a champion.”

MLB has been talking about shrinking the minor leagues, possibly a contraction of 25 percent of teams. If that happens, what would it look like?

With rookie leagues decreased or eliminated, Christman says its likely that players with the least amount of experience would remain in an extended spring training setting before going to Class A ball.

“They will keep players in the complex longer and there will be a higher revolving door at the top,” says Christman. “Either they’re big league players or they’re not.

“It’ll be a little more hands-on at a younger level.”

Noting “it’s all about spots,” Christman says it will harder to enter into baseball at the lower level.

As it stands now, minor leaguers train and play with their organizations from March to September and then are essentially on their own until the next spring.

Christman says a streamlined affiliated baseball could see teams conducting mini-camps throughout the year kind of like OTA’s in football.

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Kevin Christman poses with the World Series trophy. The Noblesville, Ind., resident won three World Series rings as a scout with the San Francisco Giants.

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Kevin Christman earned three World Series rings as a scout for the San Francisco Giants. The Noblesville, Ind., resident has been in pro baseball for more than half his life.

 

Roy talks about pitching with a purpose

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tom Roy has been a coach at the college and high school level and has learned from big leaguers.

He was the first baseball coach at Tippecanoe Valley High School in Akron, Ind., then established Unlimited Potential Inc., and took Major League Baseball players on missions trips around the world, teaching baseball and sharing stories of faith.

He’s also been a pitcher in the San Francisco Giants system and scouted for the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres.

In 2019, he was co-head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. In 2020, he is the special assistant to head coach Ryan Roth.

Roy is the author of “Shepherd Coach: Unlocking The Destiny Of You And Your Players” and now runs the Shepherd Coach Network.

Pro baseball scouts look at identification, projection and probability.

“If that’s the highest level, what do I do to get them there?,” says Roy, who talked primarily about pitching at the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

“Pitching is defense,” says Roy. “Nothing happens until you throw the ball.”

Pitching consists of the physical (weights, swimming, banding, flexiblity, hand and forearm development) and the mental side.

“To be a complete pitcher, you need both,” says Roy. “You should be a student of the game so nothing catches you off-guard.”

Roy wants his pitchers to be competitive and not timid.

“Don’t be milquetoast,” says Roy. “Be a bulldog.”

Former big league pitcher Scott Sanderson comes to Roy’s mind when he thinks of a pitcher who demands the ball.

“You can teach them that,” says Roy. “You can give them a sense of purpose.”

That kind of competitor will be stone-faced and never change expressions on the mound.

They will be able to handle mistakes by their teammates and big offensive innings by the opponent.

The will overcome the elements (rain, heat etc.) and make no excuses.

“(Baseball) I.Q. is huge,” says Roy. “What’s his make-up?

“You as a pitcher better be able to take it when you’re blamed. We’re talking about mental attitude and this while idea of how you get mentally prepared and how do you set up hitters.”

Roy endorses what he calls the “AXIS” method.

In throwing an A to a right-handed batter, the first pitch is a low outside strike.

“We always want to get the first pitch a strike,” says Roy. “We always wanted the guys to have the ball in play within four pitches. In other words, let the defense play a little bit.

“But there are situations where you need to strike guys out.”

The second pitch is up at the top of the A.

“How do you get guys out who are really, really strong in the launch angle?,” says Roy. “Elevate. That ball is really tempting.”

The third pitch is low and inside.

The fourth pitch is under the hands.

The fifth pitch is to the other side and completes the A.

“It gives your pitcher intentionality and competition to make them the bulldog you want them to be,” says Roy.

As a pitching coach, Roy stood between the bullpen mounds and looked for location, flexibility and mechanics while pitches are charted.

“I’m feeling and listening for leadership and attitude,” says Roy. “They miss the first one. You’re there to say, ‘OK. Get your head back in the game.’

“You set a high standard of mental preparation. This counts.”

Another way to attack the hitter would be low and outside, high and inside, high and outside and low and inside, creating an X.

“Setting up hitters is changing speed, location and climbing the ladder — inside or outside,” says Roy of forming the I. “All of this building confidence and the mental side of this game.”

Having a purpose with every strike, the S is formed by a low outside pitch followed by deliveries that are low and inside, under the hands, away, high and outside and high and inside.

Roy says as pitchers begin to learn how to locate their pitches, they should use fastballs and then blend in other pitches as they begin to understand things like release point.

“It’s more than throwing the ball hard,” says Roy. “It’s more than changing speeds. It’s having a purpose and a plan and confidence that you can hit those spots.

“Most of the time as coaches we don’t give that kind of accountability.”

In setting up hitters, Roy looks for his pitchers to have the proper arm extension and to pay attention to the hitters’ feet and hands.

“If the back foot is pointing toward the catcher, there’s no way he’s going to be able to get around on a good fastball,” says Roy. “Hitters give away their weaknesses.

“It’s a difference maker. Start taking this stuff seriously. Talk about having purpose.”

Roy encourages coaches and players to embrace the process.

“You’ve got to break that fear,” says Roy. “Most people are afraid to fail. You have to teach them there’s no such thing really as failure. You’re learning from everything.

“You demand a lot, but you don’t demean them.”

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Tom Roy spoke to the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics attendees on pitching with a purpose.

Lowery fondly recalls Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Maloney has been a head coach in college baseball coach for 24 seasons with 22 campaigns of 30 wins or more and 832 total victories.

Maloney has developed dozens players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

John Lowery Jr. was there at the beginning, serving as assistant coach to Maloney throughout his first stint at Ball State University and two seasons into his tenure at the University of Michigan.

Lowery, who was the West Virginia high school player of the year in 1988 and four-year right-handed pitcher at the University of Minnesota, was in his third season of coaching collegians when Maloney was hired at BSU in the summer of 1995.

After finishing his playing career, Lowery was on Joe Carbone’s staff at Ohio University heading into the 1995 season when Mike Gibbons left the Ball State staff to pursue a scouting job and Pat Quinn, a good friend of Carbone, was looking for a pitching coach for what turned out to be Quinn’s final coaching season. Lowery was hired in January.

When Maloney, who had been an assistant at Western Michigan University, was named Cardinals head coach he inherited Lowery.

“He gets his first head coaching job at 30 years old and he has to keep an assistant for a year,” says Lowery, who was in attendance at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “He was open-minded about it but he told me you need to be able to recruit and evaluate players and you’ve got to be loyal.

“We did have some good players over the years.”

While Lowery was on the BSU staff, the Cardinals produced four players that went on to be drafted in the first round — right-handed pitcher Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall by  Pittsburgh in 2002), outfielder Larry Bigbie (No. 21 overall by Baltimore in 1999) and left-handers Luke Hagerty (No. 32 overall by the Chicago Cubs in 2002) and Jeff Urban (No. 41 overall by the San Francisco Giants in 1998).

Hagerty hails from Defiance, Ohio. The rest are Indiana high school products — Bullington from Madison Consolidated, Bigbie from Hobart and Urban from Alexandria-Monroe.

There was also catcher Jonathan Kessick (third round to Baltimore in 1999), right-handers Justin Wechsler (fourth round to Arizona in 2001) and Paul Henry (seventh round to Baltimore in 2002) and left-hander Jason Hickman (eighth round to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000). Wechsler prepped at Pendelton Heights.

In addition, MLB came calling in the first 20 rounds for left-hander Sam McConnell (11th round Pittsburgh in 1997), catcher Doug Boone (15th round to the Florida Marlins in 2001 and 36th round to the New York Yankees in 2002), left-hander Adam Sheefel (17th round to Cincinnati in 2000), right-hander Bruce Stanley (18th round to Kansas City in 1997) and shortstop Shayne Ridley (19th round to Baltimore in 2000).

Tapping into Indiana high school resources, Boone went to Providence and Stanley Shenandoah.

“He was definitely energetic,” says Lowery of a young Maloney. He was about getting after it. That’s for sure.

“He was aggressive. He could recruit. He understood projectability of players. That’s why he had so many first-rounders. He could look at guys who were sort of under-valued. We can do this, this and this with this kid and he has a chance to be pretty good.”

Lowery says Bullington was undervalued because he was such a good basketball player. He just hadn’t played a lot of baseball.

“For whatever reason he chose to play baseball instead of basketball in college even though his father (Larry Bullington) is one of the best basketball players ever to play at Ball State,” says Lowery. “(Bryan Bullington) really got good at the end of his senior year (of high school in 1999) to the point that he was offered to sign (by Kansas City) and did not.

In three seasons at BSU, Bullington went 29-11 with 357 strikeouts in 296 2/3 innings was selected No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates with a $4,000,000 signing bonus.

Lowery recalls that Hagerty’s parents moved into a smaller house so he could come to Ball State. He ended up being a first-round “sandwich” pick.

Urban was a 6-8 southpaw who got better.

“He could always throw strikes but he couldn’t throw very hard,” says Lowery of Urban. “All of a sudden, he got a lot stronger, did a lot of long toss and started throwing in the lower 90s.”

Urban was also first-round “sandwich” pick.

In their seven campaigns together in Muncie, Lowery and Maloney were part of 256 wins along with three Mid-American Conference titles and four MAC West crowns.

Lowery followed Maloney to Ann Arbor and those first two Wolverines teams won 64 contests and placed in the top three in the Big Ten Conference.

Top MLB draftees during those two years were Indianapolis Cathedral product Jake Fox (third round to the Chicago Cubs in 2003, Carmel graduate Jim Brauer (ninth round to Florida in 2005), Derek Feldkamp (ninth round to Tampa Bay Rays in 2005) and Brock Koman (ninth round to Houston in 2003).

“He’s a great communicator,” says Lowery of Maloney. “He has a vision. He’s intense.

“Kids like to play for him.”

At the end of his second season at Michigan, John and Tricia Lowery had three children under 6 — Abbee, Beau and Brooks — and he decided to leave college coaching and went back to West Virginia.

Lowery has a unique distinction. He turned 50 in 2019 and his high school and college head coaches — father John Lowery Sr. (a founder of the West Virginia High School Baseball Coaches Association and WVHSBCA Hall of Famer) at Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va. and John Anderson at Minnesota — are still serving in the same positions as when he played for them.

For seven seasons, Lowery was head coach at Martinsburg High School. The Bulldogs’ arch rivals are the Jefferson Cougars, coached by his father.

Martinsburg won a state title in 2009 and Jefferson bested Martinsburg on the way to a state crown in 2011. The Lowerys won a state championship together when John Jr., was a player.

The younger Lowery, who now teaches at Jefferson, coached travel ball and softball on and off the next few years then became head baseball coach for four years at Mercersburg Academy, a boarding school in south central Pennsylvania that is about 40 miles from Martinsburg.

Last spring, he traveled often to see Beau Lowery play as a walk-on left-handed pitcher at West Virginia University.

How did Lowery end up going from the Mountaineer State to Minnesota?

Rob Fornasiere, who ended up as a Golden Gophers assistant for 33 years, was a good friend of Bernie Walter, who coached Denny Neagle at Arundel High School in Gambrills, Md., and had gotten the pitcher to come to play at Minnesota.

Fornasiere was at the 1987 Olympic Festival watching Dan Wilson and John Lowery Sr., approaches him to say that his son is talented and would consider playing for the Gophers.

“To Rob’s credit, he didn’t blow my father off,” says Lowery. “Rob was always very organized. At another recruiting even later that year, John Anderson saw me play. I was good enough.”

His first recruiting visit was also his first time on an airplane. He attended Game 7 of the 1987 World Series (St. Louis Cardinals at Minnesota Twins).

In the lunch room, Lowery sat the lunch room at the table next to Reggie Jackson (who was on the ABC broadcast crew).

In his four seasons at Minnesota, Lowery played with six future big leaguers — Neagle, Wilson, Jim Brower, Brent Gates, Kerry Lightenberg and Brian Raabe.

Lowery spent a short time in the Giants organization at Everett, Wash., and Clinton, Iowa, after signing for $1,000 as a free agent with scout Mike Toomey on a car trunk in Huntington, W.Va. His pro debut was memorable.

“I was nervous as all get out,” says Lowery. “I come in with the bases loaded. I balk all three runs in because the balk rule is different in college. You can basically change direction. In pro ball, you had to set.”

Lowery pitched for the Minneapolis Loons of the independent North Central League. The team was managed by Greg Olson. Teammates included Lightenberg and Juan Berenguer.

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John Lowery Jr., was an assistant baseball coach at Ball State University 1995-2002 and the University Michigan 2003-2004 — all but the first year as an assistant to Rich Maloney. Lowey is a former West Virginia high school player of the year who pitched at the University of Minnesota. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

IHSBCA Hall of Fame 2020 class ballots due Oct. 31

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The ballot for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2020 has been sent to the membership.

Each year at the state clinic in January, the IHSBCA inducts five into its Hall of Fame — four by vote of the members and one through the veterans committee.

The ballot, which appears in the October 2019 IHSBCA newsletter, features Doug Greenlee, Mark Grove, Dean Lehrman, Gary Rogers, Lea Selvey, Tim Terry, Tony Uggen and Scott Upp as coaches and Brian Abbott, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Wallace Johnson, Ray Miller and James Robinson as players/contributors.

Greenlee, retired from Kankakee Valley, coached 28 seasons (25 at KV) with 503 victories, seven conference championships, three Indiana High School Athletic Association sectional titles and two regional crowns.

He was the 2013 IHSBCA North All-Star head coach, served on several IHSBCA committees and has served as athletic director for 16 years at four different high schools. He is currently AD at Greencastle.

Greenlee is a graduate of South Putnam High School (1977), Indiana State University (B.S., 1981) and Ball State University (M.A., 1985).

He officiated basketball for more 25 years and worked four State Finals. He coached nine IHSBCA North All-Stars and had numerous players go on to college baseball. Three times his KV teams were ranked No. 1 in the state.

Grove, retired from Churubusco, earned 513 wins, nine IHSAA sectional titles, four regional crowns and a 1995 semistate runner-up. His teams won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (four tournament titles) and two Allen County Athletic Conference crowns.

Grove sent 40 players on to college and one was drafted. He coached 25 all-staters, six IHSBCA North All-Stars and was District Coach of the Year several times.

A long-time IHSBCA member, he has served on several committees and is currently helping out at the state clinic registration table.

Grove has been a mentor to many coaches and is always a willing participant/organizer for clinics and youth baseball events.

He is a graduate of Bluffton High School and Ball State University.

Lehrman, head coach at Heritage for the past 33 years after nine at Woodlan, has posted 602 victories with 12 Allen County Athletic Conference championships, eight sectional title, three regional titles, one semistate crown, three Final Four appearances and state runner-up finish in 2007.

Lehrman is an eight-time ACAC Coach of the Year. He has also been an IHSBCA District Coach of the Year and twice served on the IHSBCA North All-Star coaching staff.

He coached football for 39 years and was head coach for six (40-26).

Dean and Janice Lehrman have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne — plus three grandchildren. Dean Lehrman teaches math at HHS.

Rogers, head coach at Leo the past two years after 32 at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, has 513 career wins. At Luers, his teams won four sectionals titles, one regional crown, one semistate championship and were state champions in 2008.

He was a State Coach of the Year in 2008 and was twice IHSBCA District Coach of the Year. He has served on numerous committees and is very active in the Fort Wayne baseball community. He has been a volunteer assistant at Indiana Tech for many seasons, worked with the Wildcat League for 33 years and serves on the board of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is a Hall of Fame member of that organization.

Rogers is a graduate of Merrillville High School and Huntington College (now Huntington University).

Selvey, head coach at Jay County the last 31 years after five years as a JC assistant, is 502-333 with seven sectional titles and three regional championships. He won five Olympic Conference titles and was that league’s coach of the year three times. The Patriots have also won one Allen County Athletic Conference title.

The graduate of Redkey High School and the University of Evansville with a Master’s degree from Ball State University has been very active with the IHSBA, serving as president, a regional representative, on numerous committees and was twice an assistant for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

Selvey has coached 14 All-Stars and many players who went on to college with three taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and two others playing professional baseball in independent leagues and overseas.

He has been involved in baseball in the community, starting the junior high program at Jay County. He has been active with the Summit City Sluggers for nine years.

Lea and Denise Selvey have three children — Josh, Kyle and Kristen — and teaches science at Jay County.

Terry, head coach at South Vermillion the past 38 years after one season at Turkey Run, is 605-357 with nine Wabash River Conference titles, eight sectional championships and one regional crown. He has won 20-plus games 10 times, coached six IHSBCA All-Stars, been named District Coach of the Year twice and served as North/South All-Star Series coach and participated in numerous IHSBCA committees.

Terry is a 1973 graduate of Clinton High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball. He received his B.S. from Indiana State University in 1978 and M.S. from ISU in 1982.

Terry has helped with Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth and American Legion teams.

He coached girls basketball at South Vermillion for 34 years with two conference titles, five sectionals and 295 wins.

Currently the South Vermillion athletic director, Tim has been married for 23 years to Kim (SVHS Science teacher). The couple has four sons — T.J. (22), Canton (20), Cooper (18) and Easton (14).

Uggen, head coach at Blackford the past six years after 20 at Northfield, has 476 victories, 13 conference titles, seven sectional championships, four regional crowns, two semistate titles, Class 2A state championships in 2001 and 2012 and a 2A state runner-up finish in 2013.

He has coached six IHSBCA North All-Stars, 15 all-state players and 20 have gone on to the next level.

A two-time 2A Coach of the Year, he was IHSBCA North All-Star head coach in 2006 and seven times a District Coach of the Year. He has served on several IHSBCA committees.

Tony and Lisa Uggen have five children — Stephanie, Christian, Brandon, Brendan and Elly. After teaching for 11 years, he served the past 16 as athletic director.

Upp, head coach at LaPorte the past 21.5 years, is 472-197 with five Duneland Athletic Conference titles, eight sectional championships, three regional crowns, two Final Four appearances and one state championship in 2000.

He is a six-time IHSBCA District Coach of the Year, the State Coach of the Year, and District 4 National Coach of the Year. He has been IHSBCA president and served on its board of directors and numerous committees. He is a member of the IHSBCA, American Baseball Coaches Association and National High School Baseball Coaches Association.

Upp coached the 1997 IHSBCA North All-Stars and has sent several players on the college baseball with four making it to the professional ranks.

A graduate of LaPorte, where he played and later coached with 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber, played at and earned his bachelors degree from Missouri State University. He has a Masters in Administration from Indiana University and is in his 28th year in education, currently serving as associate principal at LPHS.

Scott and Pam Upp have three sons — Kevin (who played baseball at Valparaiso University), Kyle (who played baseball at Purdue University) and Travis (who currently plays at Purdue Fort Wayne).

Abbott, IHSBCA executive director since 2012, spent 21 years as a high school coach, serving at Eastbrook and Huntington North. He amassed more than 300 wins, seven county championships, four conference titles, three sectional crowns, one regional title and a Final Four appearance in 1999.

He is also the pitching coach at Huntington University and has been on the baseball coaching staffs of Manchester University and Indiana Wesleyan University.

Barmes, a retired major league infielder/outfielder and graduate of Vincennes Lincoln High School (1997), played one season each at Olney (Ill.) Central College and Indiana State University, the latter for Hall of Fame coach Bob Warn.

While at ISU, Barmes was voted all-region and all-conference after hitting .375 with 93 hits, 10 home runs, 18 doubles, seven triples, 37 runs batted in, 63 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.

He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round in 2000. He played eight seasons with the Rockies (2003-10), one with the Houston Astros (2011), three with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2012-14) and one with the San Diego Padres (2015), hitting .245 with 89 homers, 415 RBI, 932 hits, 434 runs scored and 43 stolen bases.

Barmes appeared in the postseason twice (2009 and 2013) and hit .286 in the 2013 National League Division Series.

Clint and Summer Barmes have two children — Cole and Whitney.

Carroll, a retired major league infielder/outfielder and graduate of Castle High School (1992), played for Dave Sensenbrenner in high school and was an IHSBCA South All-Star as a senior. He played at the University of Evansville for coach Jim Brownlee, graduating in 1996 and earning All-American that same year. His name appears 27 times in the U of E’s baseball record book.

Carroll was chosen in the 14th round of the 1996 draft by the Montreal Expos and played 12 seasons in the the bigs with the Expos (2002-04), Washington Nationals (2005), Colorado Rockies (2006-07), Cleveland Indians (2008-09), Los Angeles Dodgers (2010-11), Minnesota Twins (2012-13) and Kansas City Royals (2013).

Some career numbers are: 16.6 WAR, 1,000 hits, 13 homers, .272 average, 560 runs scored, 265 RBI, 74 stolen base, .349 on-base percentage and .687 On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS).

Carroll scored the last run in Expos history, led National League second basemen in fielding percentage in 2006 and in 2007 he scored Matt Holliday with a sacrifice fly to win the NL Wild Card game.

He currently works in the front office for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year-old twins —  Cole and Mackenzie.

Johnson, a retired major league infielder/outfielder and graduate of Gary Roosevelt High School (1975) and Indiana State University (1979), also played for Sycamores legend Warn.

A co-captain on ISU’s first Missouri Valley Conference championship team and first squad to qualify for the NCAA postseason.

Johnson led the nation in hitting in 1979, hitting .502 for the regular season and .422 for his career.

He was selected in the sixth round of the 1979 draft by the Expos and was Florida State League MVP and a member of Triple-A championship teams in Denver (1981) and Indianapolis (1986).

Johnson played nine seasons in the MLB (1981-84, 1986-90) and is the Expos all-time leader in pinch hits (86). He hit .255 with five homers and 59 RBI in 428. He spent part of 1983 with the San Fransisco Giants and was also in the Oakland Athletics organization.

After his playing career, Johnson was a third base coach with the Chicago White Sox for five seasons.

Miller, an amateur baseball ambassador who died in 2017, managed the Portland Rockets for more than 30 years beginning in 1972 and won over 900 games with state titles in 1985, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

More than 30 former Rockets went into coaching at the high school or college ranks. In 2000, the team’s field was named Ray Miller Field and in 2002 he became the first inductee into the Indiana Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.

Robinson, a retired umpire of 35 years beginning in 1980, worked 33 sectionals, 25 regionals, 14 semistates and six State Finals. He umpired the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series six times times and was voted IHSAA Umpire of the Year on five occasions.

In 1994, Kokomo resident Robinson was elected to the National Federation Baseball Rules Committee and served 1995-98.

In 2002, he was named IHSAA/NFOA Baseball Official of the Year and was selected as the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year.

He has coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years.

The graduate of Wood High School in Indianapolis (where he played one year of baseball) and Indiana University of Kokomo has also been a high school and college football referee, working six years in NCAA Division II and seven in the D-I Mid-American Conference.

He became replay official for the MAC and moved to the Big Ten. He was relay official in the national championship game in 2014. That Rose Bowl featured Florida State and Auburn.

James and wife Nada (deceased) have one daughter, Chiquita, and one grandson, Kameron.

Voting deadline is Oct. 31.

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With refined plate approach, Freed takes off at Butler, lands in Giants system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Harrison Freed began making an offensive jump in the summer of 2018 and the baseball continued to jump off his bat during the 2019 season at Butler University.

The righty-swinging outfielder worked with hitting coach Stu Pederson (father of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson) while with the LaCrosse (Wis.) Loggers of the Northwoods League summer collegiate season, hitting .291 with 12 home runs, 15 doubles, 61 runs batted in and 53 runs scored in 63 games.

“I got more confident as a player and a hitter,” says Freed. “I knew my talent could get me where I am today.

“I made a lot of adjustments working with (Stu Pederson). I did a lot of work to build off what I was doing in the summer with (Roundtripper Sports Academy instructor Chris Estep and Butler hitting coach Andy Pascoe, who had played for LaCrosse during his collegiate career at the University of Evansville).

“(Estep) is an interesting guy. He knows a lot about hitting. He gave me a lot of wisdom. He really knows what he’s talking about. He’s one of the best in the business.”

This past spring at Butler, Freed earned first team all-Big East Conference selection, second team Perfect Game/Rawlings College All-American, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association second team All-American and American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings second team all-region honors while posting a .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts).

Freed says he refined his approach at the plate.

“Instead of going up there and looking for what I want, I’m looking for what I’m going to get,” says Freed. “I’m looking for extra base hits and finding a way to get to second base.

“Launch angle is a word that gets tossed out there. But it has to be natural. Personally, I don’t like launch angle. It creates something before the swing it’s something you can’t always control. If the pitch is down and you try to swing under the ball, it’s not going to work. You have to be able to pick and choose which balls you’re trying to hit in the air.

“I normally drive the ball out of the park when it’s belt-high or above. If it’s down, it has to be something over the plate. If it’s up and away or up and in, I have a better chance.”

His first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Freed’s stat line read .306/2/4/14/8 in 2017 and .240/4/12/37/23 in 2018.

In the summer of 2017, Freed played for the Cal Ripken CollegiateDalto Baseball League’s D.C. Grays with a line of .330/7/9/29/16.

He arrived at Butler at the same time as head coach Dave Schrage.

“He changed the culture,” says Freed of Schrage, who has led the Bulldogs to marks of 31-20, 34-30 and 26-26 in his three seasons in Indianapolis. “He’s a very competitive guy.”

Freed impressed the San Francisco Giants enough that they selected the 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate in the 13th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He is currently trading off between left field and right field for the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes.

The 21-year-old went into the last day of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League regular season (Sept. 2) hitting .269 with seven homers, 15 two-baggers, 26 runs batted in and 28 runs scored in 47 games.

Salem-Keizer has made the playoffs, which begin Sept. 4. After that, Freed expects to come back to Westfield to work out at Roundtripper with the expectation of going to a winter rookie camp or two in California or Arizona. Another Giants minor leaguer, Dalton Combs, has also trained at Roundtripper.

Focusing on baseball for now, Freed says he plans to finish his finance degree following the 2020 season.

The youngest son of former collegiate golfer and Kokomo business owner Mike and Zionsville chemical engineer Jane Freed and younger brother of Louisville area medical salesman Jackson Freed (who played baseball at Franklin College), Harrison played two years with the Westfield Rocks and then with the Indiana Mustangs from age 11 to 17. As an 18-year-old, he spent the summer before college with the Indiana Blue Jays. He also played for coach Kevin Christman’s San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team for three years.

Ryan Bunnell was Freed’s head coach at Westfield High School.

“He’s a really nice guy,” says Freed of Bunnell. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Among Freed’s Shamrocks teammates were Ryan Pepiot (who went on to Butler and is now pitching the Dodgers system), Milo Beam (who went on to play the outfield at Purdue University) and Max McCool (who went on to pitch at Indiana Wesleyan University).

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Harrison Freed hit .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts) for Butler Univesity in 2019. (Butler University Photo).

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. He is a righty-swinging outfielder. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

Mental toughness helps Batesville, Louisville grad Hoeing land in Marlins system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bryan Hoeing has been pushed as an athlete and a person throughout his life.

And that’s the way he likes it.

Now a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher in the Miami Marlins minor league system, Hoeing grew up as the youngest son of a mother who was a standout athlete in her time then a coach and educator.

Donna (Lamping) Hoeing is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. She was a standout at Batesville (Ind.) High School and Ball State University and then coached at Batesville.

When Bryan was 3 (brother Mike is two years older), his father John died of a seizure and Donna was left to raise the two youngsters.

“I like to say I got some athletic genes from her,” says Bryan Hoeing of his mother. “She was single parent, raising me and my brother.

“She found time to make us better athletes and people.”

Donna Hoeing retired two years ago after more than 30 years as a math teacher.

Bryan Hoeing’s head baseball coach at Batesville High School was Alex Davis. With the Bulldogs, Bryan was an Under Armour All-American (2014), ranked No. 131 in his class as well as fourth overall and No. 3 as right-handed pitcher in Indiana by Perfect Game (2015).

He was all-state and a Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference MVP as a junior (2014). The 6-foot-6 athlete earned four letters in baseball and basketball, where he was all-state on the court and also academic all-state.

Besides his mother, sibling and high school coaches, Bryan learned from other coaches and teammates, playing youth baseball in Batesville then the Indiana Bulls travel organization during his teens. Some of his Bulls coaches were Rick Stiner, Quinn Moore, Todd Bacon, Dan Held, Jered Moore and Tony Cookerly.

“I met a lot of great coaches,” says Hoeing. “They helped me develop my craft as a baseball player. My teammates pushed me. They made me want to work even harder.

“(The Bulls) gave me exposure to the college world.”

When it came time to choose a place to play college baseball, Hoeing decided to go about two hours down the road at the University of Louisville, where his mother, brother and extended family and friends could see him play, and be led by head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) did a very good job of motivating us. He said this program is not for everybody. It’s for the right people. You have to buy into his system and trust the way he coaches. It definitely works out.”

Hoeing was selected three times in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — 2015 by the Arizona Diamondbacks (32nd round), 2018 by the San Francisco Giants (36th round) and 2019 by the Miami Marlins (seventh round).

The lanky righty was a redshirt at Louisville in 2016 and pitched for the Cardinals for three seasons (2017-19). He appeared in 52 games (14 starts) and went 10-4 with a 3.34 earned run average, 130 strikeouts and 50 walks in 139 2/3 innings.

In 2019 at U of L, Hoeing took the mound in 22 games (five starts) and was 3-2 with a 2.66 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 12 walks in 50 2/3 innings.

Throwing from a three-quarter overhand arm angle, Hoeing employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, curveball and change-up.

The curveball breaks 1-to-7 on the clock.

“It’s not a true 12-to-6,” says Hoeing. “My change-up dives late. It goes down and in to a righty and down and away to a lefty.”

Hoeing opted to return to Louisville for 2019 to complete his sport administration degree and to reach some teach goals. The Cards (51-18) won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and made it to the College World Series.

Each fall around Thanksgiving, the Louisville squad is split into two groups and competes in team-building activities known as a the “Omaha Challenge.”

“It’s mentally and physically tough,” says Hoeing. “It’s mind over matter. You push yourself and push your teammates because there are times during the season that you’ll have to do that.

“You have to believe and trust in the process.”

Like McDonnell, Hoeing describes Williams’ approach as business-like.

“He wants you to get your work done and be consistent,” says Hoeing. “Roger was really good with approach. He’s a mastermind with pitch calling and what to do in certain situations. He helps you with the mental side of pitching.

“(McDonnell and Williams) are very advanced for the college level.”

The Marlins assigned Hoeing to the New York-Penn League’s Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs. In eight games (all in relief), he is 0-2 with a 4.26 ERA, 14 strikeouts and five walks in 19 innings. Batavia is in the thick of the pennant race. The regular season ends Sept. 2. If the Muckdogs make the playoffs, they could play until mid-September.

Marlins instructional league in Florida is scheduled for Sept. 8-27 and Hoeing has been told to attend. After that, he says he will likely come back to Batesville, seek an off-season job and find a place to work out while getting ready for 2020.

Now that Hoeing is a pro, baseball is his job. Most of his waking hours is devoted to it. He is learning about people from other countries and what it’s like to get one day off a month and to ride on buses for long distances.

“All around, it’s been good,” says Hoeing. “I’m adjusting to it well.”

Hoeing has also been helped along his baseball path by Alex Meyer, a cousin from his father’s side of the family (Alex’s mother Sandy was a sister to John Hoeing).

Meyer, a 6-foot-9 right-hander, went to Greensburg (Ind.) High School, the University of Kentucky pitched for three seasons in the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels and retired in June.

“He helped me with the approach to the game, the mindset and how you go about your day,” says Hoeing of Meyer. “You trust your stuff. You don’t ever doubt your ability. You believe in yourself.”

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Bryan Hoeing, a graduate of Batesville (Ind.) High School and the University of Louisville, is now a pitcher in the Miami Marlins system. (Batavia Muckdogs Photo)