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Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Larry Owens was playing baseball for Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School in the mid-1980’s, he had no sense of his future in the game.

Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.

“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”

Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.

“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”

Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.

“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).

Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992. 

The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).

Entering the college coaching ranks, Owens was as assistant to Warriors head coach Scott Rendel at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1994 and 1995. 

In the fall of 1995, Owens was a volunteer at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) with Keith Guttin as Bears head coach and Paul Evans as pitching coach.

When Mike Snyder left the University of Louisville as pitching coach, Owens got the job and served with Cardinals head coach Lelo Prado in 1996 and 1997.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons saw Owens as pitching coach for Governors head coach Gary McClure at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

That was follow by a four-year stint (2001-04) as Tigers head coach Dave Anderson’s pitching coach at the University of Memphis.

In the summer of 2005, Owens got his first taste of pro coaching. He was pitching coach for the independent Golden League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs with manager Terry Kennedy, who had played in the majors with Anderson. It was also the last season as a player for a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson.

“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”

Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.

“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.

“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”

Owens was an area scout with the Boston Red Sox in 2006.

The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.

Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.

“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”

One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics. 

When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.

“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”

Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).

Owens, who was featured on the Dec. 7, 2020 Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV and hosted by Jeremy Sheetinger, is leading Bellarmine’s move to D-I baseball. He cut his term as American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA D-II chair short when his program made the switch.

The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.

“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.

“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.

Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.

“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.

After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).

“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.

“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”

Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.

“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”

At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.

That ended up being Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., where Lebanon, Ind., native Joe Roberts was the Pirates head coach.

“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”

Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out. 

“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”

Owens was selected in the 27th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by he Atlanta Braves and played that summer for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves, but he knew his future was in coaching.

So after taking 1991 off, he launched into what has been a baseball coaching odyssey.

Larry Owens talks to Ryan Wheat (Louisville Legends Video).
Larry Owens, a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The 2021 season is to be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I. (Bellarmine University Photo)

From Bedford to Lexington, Elkins enjoys long broadcast career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Elkins grew up in Bedford, Ind., with a love for baseball and broadcasting.

He played Little League, Babe Ruth and high school ball in the Lawrence County town, usually roaming center field.

“The center fielder is trusted to go get the ball and catch it,” says Elkins, who graduated from Bedford High School (now part of Bedford North Lawrence) in 1970 but not before playing his last two seasons as a Stonecutter for future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Orval Huffman. “It was a fun position to play.”

Appearing often in the World Series or the on the TV Game of the Week, New York Yankees slugging center fielder Mickey Mantle became Elkins’ favorite player.

“I don’t think I had Mickey’s power,” says Elkins.

While his family took the Louisville Courier Journal and tuned into Louisville TV and radio stations, it was the radio that was Elkins’ connection to baseball.

Prior to that season, WBIW in Bedford became part of the St. Louis Cardinals radio network, meaning Elkins could listen to the on-air stylings of Harry Caray.

Growing up a Cardinals fan, 9-year-old Elkins attended his first big league game in 1961 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

He had heard Caray describe on the radio and now he got to see the gigantic scoreboard in left and the pavilion that extended from the right-field foul line to the center field bleachers with his own eyes. He also saw Curt Flood in center field, which was his place throughout the 1960’s.

Elkins was also a fan of Redbirds mainstays Bill White and Lou Brock.

“I liked the way (White) played first base,” says Elkins of the 2020 Cardinals Hall of Famer. “He was left-handed and hit a lot of home runs onto the (Sportsman’s Park) pavilion roof.

“You got used to hearing Lou Brock’s name in the lead-off spot.”

Elkins counts himself fortunate that he had the chance to watch diamond dynamos like Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. He was in the park the day Clemente’s line drive broke Bob Gibson’s leg (July 15, 1967).

Over the years, Elkins watched the Cardinals play in three different home ballparks — Sportsman’s Park, Busch Stadium I and Busch Stadium II and got to see the colorful word pictures by Caray and the more understated stylings of Jack Buck come alive.

Long before he became the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League — a job he did for nine seasons (2009-17), Elkins developed an interest in broadcasting.

When it came time to attend college, he went to the University of Kentucky and earned a telecommunications degree in 1974. With the exception of one year away, he has lived and worked around Lexington ever since.

His first job out of college was at WMIK in Middlesboro, Ky., where he did a little bit of everything. He was a disc jockey and a play-by-play man for high school football, basketball and baseball.

Elkins then became a TV sports reporter for WLEX, an NBC affiliate in Lexington. He had played his share of pick-up hoops back in Bedford and now got cover UK’s 1978 national championship men’s basketball team.

“They were expected to win from preseason on,” says Elkins of a group coached by Joe B. Hall and featuring Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, James Lee and Mike Phillips. “There was some pressure.”

The Fran Curci-coached Kentucky football squad went 10-1 in 1977. Defensive end Art Still was a first-round National Football League draft selection and played in the NFL from 1978-89. Still is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

The father of two adult sons (Adam in Lexington and Tim in Cincinnati) and a grandfather of one with another on the way, Elkins still enjoys UK football — from tailgating to game time.

Elkins spent a year as a TV news reporter at WJTV, a CBS station in Jackson, Miss., before returning to work in public relations at UK and then Transylvania University — also in Lexington.

After that, he was employed as a writer/editor/coordinator of a variety of marketing communications and public relations projects for WYNCOM, Inc., a marketing and seminar company associated with leading business speakers and authors.

Elkins then returned to UK as Director of Communications for the College of Engineering.

In November 2008, he was hired by the Legends as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations.

“It was as big jump at that age,” says Elkins. “But I never regretted it. I never wished that I was somewhere else.

“It was always a pleasure to do the game.”

Like those broadcasters he’s admired, Elkins was sure to let fans know about distinctive traits at the ballpark or if the wind was blowing in or out. He let you the colors of the uniforms and were fans might be congregating.

“Anything you can do to help the fan experience what you’re seeing,” says Elkins. “It’s an important part of the broadcast.”

Elkins called 140 games a year — home at Whitaker Bank Ballpark  (originally known as Applebee’s Park) and away — for the first six years with the Legends and then just home games the last three. He was solo in the booth on the road and occasionally had a color commentator at home. For some TV games, that role was filled by former big league pitcher Jeff Parrett, an Indianapolis native who played at UK.

At the time, the Sally League featured teams in Lakewood, N.J. and Savannah, Ga. — both bus rides of nine or more hours from Lexington.

Elkins recalls one steamy night in Savannah when the bus broke down.

“The air condition was off and it got really hot,” says Elkins.

Players stepped outside and brought mosquitos and fire ants back into the bus with them. The team arrived back in Lexington around noon.

“There were long overnight rides, but you get used to it,” says Elkins. “That’s part of the minor league lifestyle.

“One of the challenges in baseball is to play at top level every day. If you don’t take care of yourself in April and May, it’s going to be pretty tough in July and August. Seeing every game you get to see guys come along and battle through slumps.”

In his second season behind the mike for Lexington, Elkins got to call the exploits of Legends  22-year-old J.D. Martinez and 20-year-old Jose Altuve, both on a path toward the majors.

Before being called up to Double-A, Martinez hit .362 with 15 home runs and 64 runs batted in 88 games. Prior to a promotion to High-A, Altuve hit .308 with 11 homers, 45 RBIs with 39 stolen bases in 94 games.

Elkins was there to call Bryce Harper’s first professional home run, socked for the visiting Hagerstown Suns in 2011.

“It was a line drive over the wall in left-center field,” says Elkins. “Even as an 18-year-old, he was getting a lot of attention.”

Elkins also saw Anthony Rizzo and Mookie Betts on their way up. Rizzo played for Boston Red Sox affiliate Greenville in 2008-09 when he was 18 and 19. Betts was 20 and with the same franchise in 2013.

Stephen Strasburg had already debuted in the majors with the Washington Nationals when he made a rehabilitation appearance for Hagerstown.

Elkins never had what he would call a signature phrase or home run call.

“If you’re doing games every night you settle into your pattern,” says Elkins. “I hope I’m remembered for accurate or entertaining descriptions.”

For years, he has put his descriptive powers to use as a free lance sports broadcaster and recently finished his 14th season as a TV studio host for men’s basketball on UK Sports Network and he sometimes substitutes as play-by-play man for Wildcats baseball.

That’s where he gets to make word pictures at Kentucky Proud Park.

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Keith Elkins, a native of Bedford, Ind., was the baseball play-by-play voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends 2009-2017. His broadcast career stretches from the early 1970’s to the present. (Lexington Legends Photo)

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A long-time baseball fan, Bedord, Ind., native Keith Elkins got the chance to be the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League 2009-17. (Lexington Legends Photo)