Tag Archives: Scott French

Ball State grad Riedel appreciates his diamond education

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball taught Jeff Riedel lessons about mental toughness and personal relationships.

Riedel played at Cookeville (Tenn.) High School, Jackson (Mich.) College and Ball State University and coached briefly at the collegiate level and gave lessons before going into construction to support his young family.

Born in Macomb, Mich., Riedel moved to Tennessee around 10 and played at Cookeville for Butch Chaffin.

“He was very much a mental coach,” says Riedel of Chaffin, who mentored the Cavaliers to a 36-2-1 record and a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association AAA regional title in Riedel’s senior year of 2013. “You need to be mentally tough or you won’t be physically tough.”

Cookesville was put out of the tournament by future major league left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield and his Tullahoma team.

Chaffin had his players read a book that Riedel would return to as his diamond career progressed — “Mental Toughness: Baseball’s Winning Edge (by Karl Kuehl, John Kuehl and Casey Tetertiller).”

Riedel (rhymes with needle) appreciated the testimonials from big leaguers that related to specific aspects of mental toughness.

After taking a year away from the diamond, Riedel began his two-year junior college experience at Jackson College. Rick Smith was — and still is — the Jets head coach.

“He knew the game better than anyone I had been around to that point,” says Riedel of Smith. “For a lot of the guys he was hard to understand. I got it right away. We had a really good connection. He expectations for me and I had expectations for myself.

“I probably went above those and that’s what he and I were hoping for.”

As a Jackson sophomore in 2016, Riedel was a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II first-team All-America selection and the Michigan Community Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year. The righty-swinging outfield paced a 37-14 team in batting average (.489), on-base percentage (.571), slugging percentage (.883), runs scored (69), hits (67), doubles (21), triples (12), runs batted in (61) and stolen bases (school-record 48).

“At the junior college level, it was different,” says Riedel. “Our coaches really expected us to better ourselves.”

Players had essentially unlimited access to practice facilities to get in work on their own time.

“It was very much do-it-yourself,” says Riedel. “That helped me going to the Division I level.”

In the fall of 2016, Riedel signed to play at Oakland (Mich.) University, but a coaching change led him to forego that opportunity.

Chris Fetter, then a Ball State assistant (and now pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers), brought Riedel to Muncie, Ind., for a visit and he soon signed with the Cardinals and went on to enjoy his time around head coach Rich Maloney and assistants Scott French and Dustin Glant.

“Having that connection calms you down and lets you relax,” says Riedel. “Coach Maloney was very passionate about the game. He was very intense. 

“What really struck me with him on my visit was that he was very personable. He was very genuine. He told me what he expected out of me. He was very upfront.”

It also got Riedel’s attention that Alex Call was selected in the third round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox.

“I knew Alex signed (at Ball State) for a reason,” says Riedel. “I wanted to see what that was all about.”

In two seasons at BSU, Riedel started 104 times in right field. The first year Alex Maloney, son of the coach and now a volunteer assistant coach at Tennessee Tech University in — of all places — Cookeville, was a roommate.

In 2018, Riedel was named to the all-Mid-American Conference second team and hit .380 in 22 MAC games.

But was a non-league game that really turned heads. In the second game of a March 9 doubleheader at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., Riedel went 5-of-6 with a NCAA-record five doubles.

“I will never forget that day,” says Riedel, who batted in the No. 3 hole in the 20-8 Ball State victory. “I always knew how it was going to go based on my first at-bat. If I was seeing the ball well, I knew it was going to be a good day.”

After sharply grounding out to the shortstop in the first inning, Riedel socked two-baggers to left center in the third, center in the fourth, right center in the fifth, down the third base line in the sixth and to left center in the seventh and final frame.

Riedel earned his Interpersonal Communication degree from Ball State in 2018 and began his coaching career at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Valley Community College that fall. He also taught lessons at the Hardball Fans Academy in Kalamazoo, and coached briefly with the Kalamazoo Growlers during the 2019 Northwoods League summer collegiate wood bat season before opting to take a construction job.

“The thing I enjoyed about coaching was the connection you made with the players,” says Riedel, now 26. “They came to play for you. They had respect for you and you had respect for them.

“The best coaches I played for, I had respect for them as a coach and had a personal connection with them. It relaxed me more.”

While COVID-19 restrictions have interrupted work, Riedel and wife Kayla got to spend extra time with daughter Nora shortly after her birth in Nora in March. The couple that calls Battle Creek, Mich., home welcomed son Wyatt in February 2018.

Jeff Riedel, a 2018 Ball State University graduate, went 5-for-6 with five doubles in a 2018 baseball game against Western Carolina. In two seasons at BSU, he started 104 times in right field. (David Wegiel Jr./Ball State University Photo)
Jeff Riedel locks in a a pitch while playing baseball for Ball State University in 2018. Riedel was born in Michigan, played high school baseball in Tennessee and then junior college ball in Michigan before his two seasons at BSU — 2017 and 2018. He was on the all-Mid-American Conference second team as a senior. (Tim Cowie/Ball State University Photo)
Jeff Riedel was the regular right fielder for the Ball State University baseball program in 2017 and 2018. He went on to briefly coach at the collegiate level and give lessons before taking a construction job. Jeff and Kayla Riedel reside in Battle Creek, Mich., and have two children. (Ball State University Photo)

Loggins believes in ’natural movements’ for young ballplayers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Josh Loggins grew up in Tippecanoe County, Ind., his baseball position was well-established.

Young Josh was a shortstop.

When Loggins reached the eighth grade at Battle Ground Middle School he met John O’Maley, the head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette.

O’Maley told Loggins that he would be a catcher in his program.

Loggins resisted at first, but came to excel behind the plate with the Harrison Raiders. 

On March 11, 1995 — the eve of the baseball season — O’Maley passed away at 46 and six Harrison seniors — Loggins, Nate Linder, Brad Pitts, Brad Sherry, Dusty Sims and Jimmy Taylor — served as pall bearers. The players wore No. 42 patches on their uniforms all season as a tribute to O’Maley.

Jerry Galema became Harrison’s head coach and the team went on to go 34-2 and win the 1995 state championship, besting Fort Wayne Concordia 3-1 in the title game.

“He was passionate about doing the right thing,” says Loggins of Galema, who is now the school’s athletic director. “He was a very detailed, very organized coach and could not have been a better person.”

Future big leaguers Todd Dunwoody (Class of 1993), Erik Sabel (Class of 1993) and Eric Bruntlett (Class of 1996) were Loggins teammates at Harrison.

Loggins was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and IHSBCA North All-Star as a senior catcher. It was as a backstop that he was selected in the seventh round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Instead of going pro out of high school, Loggins went to Purdue University then transferred to the University of Kentucky and played for Wildcats head coach Keith Madison.

The UK coach had quite an impact on Loggins.

“I couldn’t say this more — and I get a little choked up — he’s the best individual I was ever introduced to,” says Loggins of Madison. “He is a genuine individual. It’s how he carries himself.

“He taught us how to be men. Coach Madison took me in where I was struggling to find myself. He helped me immensely. He got me back to confidence and kept me on a path to professional baseball. He’s a very good man.”

At Kentucky, Loggins would start at catcher in midweek games and in Friday and Saturday contests during Southeastern Conference series and be in right field in Sunday.

The righty swinger hit .384 with 15 home runs, five triples, 20 doubles, 63 runs batted in and six stolen bases in 57 games in 1998.

Loggins comes from a baseball family. He father — Vernon Porter “Mick” Loggins — played in local leagues in Danville, Ill. He became an English professor and poet with the pen name V.P. Loggins.

Kenny Loggins, Josh’s uncle, also pitched in Danville. 

Grandfather Elmer “Buck” Loggins was a pro in Alabama as was his brother who was known as “Black Diamond” Loggins. He was a coal miner who doubled as a ballplayer.

It was as an outfielder that Josh Loggins was picked in the 11th round of the 1998 MLB Draft and was sent to Idaho Falls, where he hit .341 with eight homers, five triples, 20 doubles, 64 RBIs and and eight stolen bases in 71 games.

Loggins played for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards in 1999, hitting .297 with 14 homers, seven triples, 29 doubles, 85 RBIs and and 12 stolen bases in 136 games as the regular right fielder. 

Fort Wayne was managed by Dan Simonds, who served stints at Miami (Ohio) University and Xavier University and associate head coach at Indiana University (2014) before becoming Director of Baseball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Before being with the Wizards he had also been an extra in the movie “Rookie of the Year.”

“Dan was a great guy,” says Loggins. “That was my first experience of what it means to be a professional baseball.

“You no longer call them ‘Coach’; it’s their first name or nickname. You are an equal. You are a professional. (Simonds) was relatable. He was a players’ manager.”

Loggins played professional baseball until 2005. He reached Double-A with the Padres, New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies organizations. 

Parts of 2002 and 2003 were spent with the independent Washington (Pa.) Wind Things. He played for the independent Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers in 2004 and 2005. In both places his manager was Lafayette’s Jeff Isom

As business partners, Loggins, Isom and Dunwoody had a stake in the On Deck Training in Lafayette. Isom runs the facility now with Bobby Bell and Pat Murtaugh as instructors and has a travel ball organization.

Loggins’ average in affiliated Minor League Baseball was .288. He hit .315 in indy ball. 

“Those were the best times I had in professional baseball,” says Loggins of independent ball. “There was no pressure moving up or playing for next year’s contract. You were playing ball and having fun.”

Perhaps Loggins’ best pro season was 2003 in Washington when he hit .331 with 24 homers, five triples, 13 doubles, 72 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 74 games.

“I was a hitter — that’s what kept me around a long time,” says Loggins. “I was pretty consistent though I did not perform as well as a platoon guy. 

“I needed to be in there and keep the routine going and seeing pitches often.”

Loggins struck out over 100 times only once from 1998-2005. In fact, he whiffed 635 times while poking 90 homers, 26 triples and 144 doubles and driving in 468 runs in 2,987 plate appearances. He also swiped 81 bases.

He wound up playing every position except shortstop and pitcher. He also played briefly for Team USA in an international qualifier in Bradenton in 2005.

After his playing days, he spent some time as a Boston Red Sox scout. Registered Investment Advisor is the 43-year-old’s full-time job.

Since the early 1990’s, Loggins has been involved with the Indiana Bulls in one way or another. He played on one of the travel organization’s first teams. This year was his first vice president on the board of directors, lending advice to president Quinn Moore, treasurer Brent Mewhinney, secretary Todd Mewhinney and director of baseball operations Scott French

Loggins will be the Bulls 10U Black head coach for 2021 with sons Hayes (10) and Tagg (who turns 9 in November) on the team.

Without any prompting from their father or mother (McCutcheon High School graduate and former WLFI News 18 anchor Gina Quattrocchi Loggins), both boys became right-handed throwers who hit from the left side. It’s what felt right to them.

“You’ve got to be comfortable to hit,” says Loggins. “The motion has to be natural.

A few years ago, Loggins was in Puerto Rico and talked with former Joliet teammate Gabby Delgado (brother-in-law of Carlos Beltran).

Loggins wanted to know why Latino players were so smooth. Delgado told him that most don’t receive instruction until their teens and do what comes natural to them.

“That kind of stuck with me at the time,” says Loggins. “If you think too much or are coached too much it can take the athleticism away from you. It makes you a mechanical player.

“Sometimes the worse thing you can do is teach too much and not just let the kid play naturally and build on natural movements.”

Hayes (left), Tagg and Gina are the sons and wife of Josh Loggins, a graduate of Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., who went on to play college and professional baseball and now coaches his boys and others with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.
Tagg (left) and Hayes surround father Josh Loggins following a tournament win for the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization. Josh Loggins played for the Bulls in the early 1990’s and went on to Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind, followed by college and pro baseball.

French plays to strength as Indiana Bulls director of baseball operations

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott French looks back through the decades and sees all the support his father and mother provided he and sister Jessi when they were growing up near southern Indiana town of Jasonville.

“My parents never said no to anything I wanted to do in athletics,” says French, the director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization since June 2019. “My dad (Steve) was a coal miner and my mom (Pat) a dental assistant. Sports were a priority.

“My dad gave me the opportunity to get better every day.”

Steve French built a batting cage in the back yard of the French home near Shakamak State Park.

“I took a lot of swings in my life,” says Scott. “We didn’t have lessons back then. In that era, we watched more baseball (for French, it was lefty swingers like Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs). Kids get more instruction and more games now.

“I didn’t play more games until I got older.”

French did put his batting cage hacks to use at Shakamak Little League and later Shakamak Junior/Senior High School, where he hit .568 as a junior in 1997 and a state-leading .586 as a senior and was MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All Star Series in 1998.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chip Sweet was the head coach when French played for the Lakers.

“He was a very good example to all of us,” says French of Sweet. “He was very consistent. You knew what you were getting every single day. He threw very good batting practice and he threw it every day.”

Shakamak players also saw plenty of fly balls and grounders in practice. French roamed center field.

Jessi French (now Stanton and a math teacher and dean of students at Linton-Stockton High School) also took advantage of the family cage and paced Indiana in runs batted in during one of her final high school softball seasons.

Scott French was introduced to travel baseball by coach Gary Sylvester and the Indiana Hawks, which were based on the south side of Indianapolis.

When French was 17, Sylvester took he and a few others to the Bulls, where Craig Moore was head coach. The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who died in 2004.

“Craig Moore was awesome,” says French, who helped the Bulls win the National Amateur Baseball Federation High School Division World Series in 1997. “I owe a lot to Gary. I owe a lot of Craig.”

In his Bulls position, French answers to a board of directors with 11U Black head coach Quinn Moore as president, Josh Loggins as vice president, Brent Mewhinney as treasurer and Todd Mewhinney as secretary. Quinn Moore and Jared Moore, head coaches of 11U Black and 11U White teams, respectively, are sons of Craig Moore.

French played for Rich Maloney at Ball State University (1999-2002). The .321 career hitter with a school-record 139 walks played mainly in center or left but was used some in relief and at first base and helped the Cardinals to regular-season Mid-American Conference titles in 1999 and 2001.

He was a volunteer assistant at BSU (2003-07) for head coach Greg Beals and a full-time assistant (2013-18) to Maloney. He holds a degree in Heath and Physical Education/Fitness from Ball State.

At the end of his playing career, French felt the pull of player development.

“I think it’s a strength of mine,” says French. “I’ve got to play to my strength.”

Through Ball State teammate Justin Wechsler, French met instructor/scout Mike Shirley and at 23 went to work for Shirley at his Anderson-based training facility.

While working with Shirley, who is now director of amateur scouting for the Chicago White Sox, French got the chance to instruct players from elementary to college.

“It prepared me for what I’m doing now,” says French. “I was well-rounded.

“I like seeing kids that work hard grow and become something. An average athlete can doing something in baseball through hard work and experience.”

French says the Bulls teach the same concepts and talk about movement patterns with the youngest and oldest players. Once it clicks, they can really take off.

“You can effect a 9-, 10-, 11-year old kid,” says French. “They just have more room to grow.

“We always tell parents, you have to be patient with it. It takes a lot more work than people think it does.”

It ties in with the make-up and dedication of the player and his family.

“That’s life,” says French. “Baseball’s a frustrating game. It gets harder as you get older.

“It takes a certain mentality to play for a long time.”

With the current live baseball shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, French says the Bulls are waiting to see what will be allowed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb as the state begins to gradually re-open.

“We’re waiting for Grand Park (in Westfield) to find out how they can use their space,” says French. “We’re still a lot of figuring out as far as schedules are concerned.

Bullpen Tournaments works hard. They’re planning to have some baseball.”

It may mean playing deeper into August than is typical for the summer season. The current calendar show the Midwest Prospect League from June 16-21 at Grand Park.

In addition to being director of operations, French coaches 15U Black — one of the Bulls 28 teams for 2020.

French says high school teams typically play seven tournaments, taking one weekend a month off.

It’s not uncommon for some younger teams to play in a dozen events spaced out from April to July.

Bulls tryouts are scheduled for Aug. 1-2.

French says there’s a strong possibility that date will get moved to late August.

Bulls head coaches — screened for baseball knowledge, coaching experience and commitment to developing players — are selected by French and approved by the board of directors. Head coaches choose assistant coaches and players.

All coaches, both head coaches and assistants, are required to submit a background check and take online child protection training. The Bulls use ChekCoach to ensure our coaches are informed of their responsibilities to protect all players.

A resident of Noblesville, Ind., French has a 11-year-old daughter and sixth grader-to-be (Lanie) living in Decatur, Ind.

French talked with Sean Laird and Adam Heisler for the LT Brings The Heat podcast episode that dropped May 14.

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Scott French is a graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where he played baseball and spent two stints as an assistant coach. He is now director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization. (Ball State University Photo)

 

Attention to feeder system starting to pay off for Nunley, Deckman, Monroe Central baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

By investing in its feeder system, Monroe Central High School baseball is optimistic about its present and future.

“We’re building the numbers,” says Keith Nunley, who heads into his third season as Randolph County-based Golden Bears head coach in 2018. “We usually have around 20 and hoping to build to 25. The train’s coming a little bit.”

With Nunley (Winchester High School graduate) and best friend and former Ball State University teammate/roommate Matt Deckman (Monroe Central graduate) guiding the varsity squad, MC went 15-11 in 2016 and 14-11 in 2017.

Monroe Central, an IHSAA Class 2A school with an enrollment around 370, sent catcher-outfielder Logan Conklin on the NCAA Division II Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Golden Bears junior shortstop Seth Wilson has verbally committed to Ball State.

A year ago, the Indiana Bears travel organization was established to help train mostly Monroe Central boys (with a few from Winchester).

This spring and summer, the team plans to field five teams — 9U, 10U, 11U, 12U and 15U.

Nunley has two boys (A.J., 12, and Koby, 9) and Deckman three (Bryce, 15, Trey, 10, and Easton, 7). All five are ballplayers. In addition to the Monroe Central Athletic League and all-stars in the spring, they will be involved with the Indiana Bears in the summer. Bryce Deckman is an MC freshman.

“We’re trying to show kids how to play the game the right way,” says Nunley, who was a middle infielder at Ball State 1999-2002 and part of Mid-American Conference regular-season championships in 1999 and 2001 and MAC West titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. “It’s a transition from recreation league to all-stars to travel.”

The Indiana Bears generally stay within an hour of Parker City to find competition, usually venturing to Hamilton County to play at Grand Park in Westfield at the Noblesville Field of Dreams.

“We try to make it a community event during the summer time with our teams sometimes going to the same place,” says Nunley.

Players also travel to the Lapel area to receive instruction from Mike Shirley and Justin Wechsler. Shirley is a national cross-checker for the Chicago White Sox and former Ball State pitcher Wechsler is a White Sox area scout.

Not only do Nunley and Deckman coach baseball together, they also coach AAU basketball and both are employed by Adrenaline Fundraising.

Players coached by Nunley and Deckman at younger ages are beginning to arrive at the high school level with a foundation of skills and knowledge.

“By the time they get to us, we want to hit the ground running and not have an intro period,” says Nunley. “We want to have them come in ready to go.”

At the smallish school, freshmen are often asked to play a varsity role against a solid schedule.

Monroe Central belongs to the Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Randolph Southern, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del).

The sectional group includes Frankton, Lapel, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. Since they have lights, Frankton and Lapel have been sectional hosts in recent years.

Daleville was 2A state champions in 2016 while Wapahani was 2A state runners-up in 2017.

At Winchester, Nunley played for Bill Bush.

“Coach Bush is great human being,” says Nunley. “He was a great leader and a role model to us players.”

Nunley was a player during head coach Rich Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State and the two have remained close. Maloney came back to Muncie beginning with the 2013 season.

“He took me under his wing,” says Nunley. “It was real special time in my life for sure.”

Current Ball State assistant and recruiting coordinator Scott French was in the same recruiting class with Nunley.

The closeness in the relationship and distance has allowed Monroe Central to play games at BSU when the Cardinals are on the road. The Bears are slated to play Adams Central there on April 21.

Besides Nunley and Deckman, MC’s coaching staff features Bracken Barga (junior varsity and junior high coach), Sean Richardson (pitching and youth program coach) and volunteer assistants Bob Gilmore (who is in his 80’s) and Ryan Taylor (who serves as youth baseball coordinator).

When Nunley, whose wife Kate is a special education teacher at Monroe Central, was hired two-plus years ago, an overhaul of Monroe Central’s on-campus field began. That includes the playing surface, mound and home plate area.

“We spent a lot of time and effort turning that thing around,” says Nunley. “The players and coaches do a good job with the up-keep.

“It drains very well. We’ve had road games rained out and we were able to practice at home.”

EASTONDECKMANAJNUNLEYBRYCEDECKMANTREYDECKMANKOBYNUNLEY

The sons of Monroe Central High School baseball coaches Keith Nunley and Matt Deckman practice on the Golden Bears’ field (from left): Easton Deckman, A.J. Nunley, Bryce Deckman, Trey Deckman and Koby Nunley.

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A view of the Monroe Central High School baseball field from the press box.

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Monroe Central High School baseball bead coach Keith Nunley and wife Kate attend a Notre Dame football game with sons Koby (left) and A.J.

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Keith Nunley (back, left) and Matt Deckman pose with sons Koby Nunley (left) and Trey Deckman after a 2017 travel tournament for the Indiana Bears.

Relationships the most memorable thing for Ball State’s Eppers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Eppers can point to some memorable moments during his college diamond days.

The Ball State University senior baseball player is coming off a “career weekend” in which he went 10-of-13 at the plate with his third career home run plus a double, stolen base, sacrifice, four runs scored and three runs batted in.

The Cardinals stopped a nine-game losing skid with a three-game sweep at Western Michigan. BSU outscored the Broncos 46-17. Eppers went 5-for-5 in Game 2 of the series — the first five-hit game of his career.

“We had been pressing a little bit,” says Eppers, speaking for the team as a whole. “We started relaxing and having fun.”

On Tuesday, April 11, Eppers stayed hot with three more hits in an 11-2 win against visiting Valparaiso. In his last four games, he is 13-of-17, raising his average to a team-pacing .311.

Earlier in the 2017 season, Eppers was named Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week.

The 6-foot-4 outfielder strung together hits in eight consecutive plate appearances in his junior season of 2016, spanning two games against Dayton and one against Purdue.

The 2013 Elkhart Central High School graduate (he played center field and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the ’13 Class 4A state title) also counts a victory against powerhouse Louisiana State in 2016 as a highlight.

As a sophomore in 2015, Eppers scored three runs against Akron and helped the Cardinals to the MAC tournament championship game.

But as outstanding as those achievements are, it’s the relationships that Eppers has made in his four BSU seasons that he cherishes most.

“I came on to this team not knowing anybody,” says Eppers. “My roommate, Sean Kennedy, had a monster weekend himself (at Western Michigan). He hit a grand slam and another home run and had a whole bunch of hits (Kennedy was 7-of-9 with nine RBI in three games). He and I are best friends. I’m going to be the best man in his wedding.

“The relationships that I’ve built, that’s what’s made college baseball worth it. Through the highs and the lows, the guys you’re around and that sense of brotherhood is heightened to a new level in college.”

Eppers roomed with right-handed pitcher B.J. Butler as a freshman and later shared a place with Kennedy and Alex Call (selected in the third round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox  after earning MAC Player of the Year honors in 2016) before Call moved on.

“(Sean) has been very versatile. He’s played every infield position this year. He’s kind of the anchor of our defense. Anywhere we need him, he’s there. With his bat, too. In the middle of the lineup, he’s been a heavy hitter … It was a good weekend for him and I in our apartment.”

Besides Eppers, Kennedy and Butler, the other BSU seniors are right-hander David Current, third baseman Alex Maloney (son of Ball State head coach Rich Maloney), first baseman Caleb Stayton and left-handers Evan Korson (a transfer from Northern Kentucky) and Kevin Marnon (a transfer from Akron).

Rich Maloney has enjoyed watching Eppers perform for the Cards.

“He’s very athletic,” says Maloney. “He covers a lot of ground in center field. He has really good speed. He competes really, really well.

“With the other guys we’ve been able to surround him with in his class, he’s been a really nice piece of the puzzle.

“He’s been a joy to coach.”

The past three seasons, that recruiting class has aided in an overall MAC title, two West division crowns and a tournament runner-up finish while averaging 34 wins.

“They’ve all gotten a taste of winning and enjoyed it and they certainly want to pass it on,” says Maloney. “They are leaders and they’re all going to end up graduating. It’s all good and Matt is certainly a big part of it.”

How does Eppers prefer to do his leading?

“Day-to-day, I just try to lead by example,” says Eppers, who has played in 188 career games with 147 starts. “I’m not really one of the hoorah guys.

“I don’t speak just to speak. When I have to be a vocal leader, I pick my times. I feel like that’s not only benefitted me here but my whole life. When you can do that it makes your word go a little bit farther.”

Maloney coached Ball State 1996-2002 then at Michigan 2003-12 before returning to BSU for the 2013 season. A staple as he took over a program that had not been winning was “Gotta Believe” rally cry (#GottaBelieve).

“The first thing in building a program is you’ve got to get everybody to believe,” says Maloney, whose 2017 assistants are Scott French, Dustin Glant and Ray Skjold. “They’ve got to believe in the coaches. They’ve got to believe in the vision. They’ve got to believe in the system. They’ve got to believe in themselves. They’ve got to believe in their teammates. If you get that going then you have a chance to be successful.”

Facing the toughest schedule of Maloney’s BSU coaching career (win vs. Maryland, four losses to both Oregon State and Kent State and defeats to defending national champion Coastal Carolina plus setbacks against Louisville and West Virgina), Ball State got off to an 11-9 start in 2017 then hit a slide once the MAC part of the slate began.

“We came close in several or them, but couldn’t get over the top,” says Maloney. “(Against Western Michigan), we were able to break through.

Eppers has bought in to Maloney’s belief system.

“You gotta believe that you can get the job done,” says Eppers. “That’s something he’s instilled in all of us.”

“The whole reason I came to Ball State was the vision that he sold. To his credit, he did it. He promised us a new field, improved schedules and improved skills and we got it.

“No matter who we’re playing, you can see it in his eyes. He truly believes Ball State is going to win … Coach has taught us not to ever take a back seat to anybody.”

Since Eppers’ sophomore year, Ball Diamond has been covered with artificial turf. This is a growing trend in the northern U.S., where the maintenance is lower and teams are able to play more games even in cold and wet weather.

Another major difference been grass and turf is the speed of the game.

“On turf, everything is a lot faster,” says Eppers. “A single may turn into a double; a double may turn into a triple. Especially at our field, it plays very fast … It’s probably given me a few more triples, too, so I appreciate it.”

Of 33 starts for a 15-18 squad, Eppers has been in center field for 29 games and right field for four.

“Center has always been my favorite position, where I feel most comfortable,” says Eppers. “You’re the shortstop of the outfield in a way. You’re supposed to be the best all-around defensive player in the outfield. Something I’ve always taken pride in is tracking down balls and trying to make catches other people can’t make.”

Eppers, who hits from the right side, was in the No. 8 slot in the batting order during his recent hot weekend in Kalamazoo, but has appeared in every hole but Nos. 3 and 4 this spring and has led off eight times.

“Everyday I have to check, but it’s not that big of a deal,” says Eppers. “I know my job is to get on base. I’m not a guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs. I do have a few extra base hits. That’s where I hit the gaps and I’m able to run.”

While he’s taken hundreds of fly balls in the outfield to improve his defense and bulked up to 202 pounds with work in the weight room, Eppers has also adjusted his approach at the plate. He has become more knowledgeable about situational hitting and what pitches he can connect with the best.

“Early in my career I was very vulnerable to the slider and pitcher-advantage counts,” says Eppers. “Now, I’m a tougher out. When the slider is in the dirt, I’m able to lay off that pitch.

“This year I’ve really worked at hitting pitches in the (strike) zone I know I can barrel up. I’m not chasing as many pitches.”

Eppers, 22, is scheduled to graduate in May with a “high stakes” degree in entrepreneurial management.

“It’s basically a pass-fail major,” says Eppers, who was on the MAC all-academic team in 2016 and carried 3.555 grade-point average in the fall. “For a year, you write a business plan, fine tune it and then Wednesday (April 12) we present it in a room with a panel of judges. If they like what you have to say, they pass you. If they don’t, they fail you. If you fail, you have to opportunity to come back next year and re-try or take a couple some classes and (graduate with a different major).

“It puts some stress on you.”

Eppers and his business partner will present a plan on a not-for-profit gym and counseling service for veterans, military members and first responders in the Indianapolis area.

While he is exploring his post-graduation options, Eppers says he is leaning toward staying on the diamond.

“I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can,” says Eppers. “When I’m not allowed to play anymore I’ll have to re-evaluate my professional life.

“For right now I’m just focused on playing baseball and having fun. I’m trying to play every game like it’s my last.”

MATTEPPERSRUNS

Matt Eppers contributes speed to the Ball State University baseball team. The Elkhart Central High School graduate is in his senior season. (Ball State Photo)

MATTEPPERS

Matt Eppers has played in 188 baseball games as a Ball State Cardinal through Tuesday, April 11. (Ball State Photo)