By STEVE KRAH
Baseball coaches often talk about “playing the game the right way.”
The concept means different things to different coaches.
Scott Rost, who is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach of the Elkhart Memorial High School Crimson Chargers in 2018, emphasizes the importance of hustle, respect and routines that help with the mental approach.
“As coaches we get caught up with a lot of the mechanical things in the game — all the ins and outs of being a good hitter and a good pitcher etc.,” says Rost. “Sometimes we forget about how important it is to sprint on and off the field and play the game the way it is supposed to be played. Don’t show up umpires. Don’t show up your opponent. Those are things we’ve always tried to preach.”
Not only might there be a college scout in the stands, the way a player acts reflects not only on themselves but others.
“You represent yourself (and family),” says Rost. “You represent the school (and community).”
Rost, who graduated from Concord High School in 1989 and Manchester College (now known as Manchester University) in 1993 and holds a master’s degree from Indiana University, learned many lessons as a player for then-Concord head coach Larry “Jake” Jackowiak and assistant Mike Stout (who went on to be head coach at Jimtown High School for 25 seasons) and later as Jackowiak’s varsity assistant.
“They were just good guys and good baseball guys. I have a lot of good memories of playing at Concord,” says Rost. “I learned a lot about discipline and how to play the game the right way. That means hustling on and off the field.
“They taught us how to deal with adversity and the importance of reacting correctly to negative things that happen in the game.”
Rost reminds his players how baseball is a game of failure and how to best deal with that disappointment.
“In baseball, that’s a huge part of being successful,” says Rost. “You’re going to have a lot of times when things don’t go your way.
“You boot a ball, what do you do to get your mind right to go to the next pitch and make the play?”
When Rost was a player, he was a fiery competitor who got upset when thing went wrong for him on the field and saw some others do the same.
“It’s human nature with a lot of kids to slam the glove or toss the helmet,” says Rost. “Things like that, (Jackowiak and Stout) just didn’t allow and made us understand that you’ve got to find other ways to deal with that than to show your frustrations outwardly.”
Rost can recall two examples in summer ball where Jackowiak got his message across.
In one heated game, there was a play at the plate with Rost as the runner. He did not appreciate the tag to his head and got in the catcher’s face.
“Larry said, ‘it’s time for you to sit down,’” says Rost. “Some of it was respecting the game and some of it was keeping your cool and staying mentally sharp.
“There’s a difference in playing with intensity and getting out of control.”
In another contest, Concord was playing well and ahead by about eight runs when Rost decided to steal third base.
Jake gave him one of those looks and said, “don’t ever do that again.”
It’s about respecting the game and playing it “the right way.”
Over the years, Rost has presented his players with mental skills tools they can use to help them in various diamond situations.
“We talk a lot about breathing,” says Rost. “I’m always talking to them about routines.”
Posted in the Memorial dugout are the routines to be followed by each batter up to the fourth hitter in an inning. The Crimson Chargers are not penalized for not sticking to the script, but this is something that can help them.
“In this game, if you’re not mentally tough and have routines and a way to flush things, you’re not going to be very successful,” says Rost. “There’s going to come an end of the road for you at some point in time regardless of how talented you are.”
Rost has also introduced visualization and getting players to see themselves succeed before it actually happens.
“We don’t try to force it down their throat,” says Rost. “We provide it as a tool for them. Every player is a little bit different. Some guys really grab hold of that and really benefit.”
Rost, who applies some of the theories put forward by sports psychologists Dr. Tom Hanson and Dr. Ken Ravizza in their Heads Up Baseball books and in seminars, podcasts and videos, says there is not of lot of difference between players in minor league baseball in terms of physical tools. In many cases, the ones who end up being big leaguers are the ones who can handle the mental side of the game and use routines.
This applies at the high school level.
“If you have the same routine, there’s only minor adjustments that need to be made,” says Rost. “If kids get into situations where they’re not comfortable and don’t have a routine to fall back on, they have a tendency to get nervous, hurry things and make mistakes they normally wouldn’t make.”
Ravizza is famous for saying that players must learn to perform even when they are not at their peak.
“Every day you step on the field, you’re not going to have your ‘A’ game,” says Rost. “Very seldom are you going to feel like a million dollars and the best in the world. It’s just not reality.”
The best players figure out how to be successful with what you have that day.
“For me, that kind of stuff means a lot,” says Rost. “I can see we’re doing things the right way here.”
Siler was Memorial’s head coach in the first 25 years of the program. He is in his 21st season as an assistant at Bethel College in Mishawaka and his 61st year in coaching.
Reinebold, who died in 2017, coached 35 high school seasons and went into professional baseball as a manager, coach and scout. He established the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp in 1993.
Rost is assisted at the varsity level by Brian Blondell, Bruce Baer and Troy Carson. Brent Curry and Jay Bashore lead the junior varsity.
Blondell is a former head coach and assistant at both the college and high school levels and founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel ball organization.
Baer was head girls track coach at Memorial for years and has assisted in other sports and coached for the Scrappers.
Carson was a head high school baseball coach at Howe Military and Northridge and assisted in football and basketball.
Curry was on the baseball staff at Concord.
“I feel blessed with the staff I have,” says Rost. “I have a lot of head coaching experience. I have some very good teachers and very knowledgable baseball guys.”
In the recent parents meeting, Rost spelled out expectations.
“We told them that we’re going to do everything we can to make the guys we have in our program as good as they can be on the baseball field and make them better people,” says Rost. “Everyone is going to have different views on playing time, lineups and all that kind of stuff. If we have a good rapport between our coaches — especially me — and our kids then the kids have a tendency to understand things a little bit more and take things a little bit better. Then, when they go home, the parents have a tendency to understand things a little bit better.
“We’re going to be honest with your kids. We’ll be honest with you. Communication is the key.”
Rost wants parents to know that if they have an issue or a problem, he has an open door and they can talk to him.
“There not always going to like the answer,” says Rost. “But I’m going to tell them the truth. For the most part, people respect that.”
Beginning with former Memorial athletic director Frank Kurth, Rost says he appreciates the flexibility he has had in his schedule over the years, depending on the program’s needs.
Non-conference opponents on the 2018 schedule include Bremen, Culver Military Academy, Edwardsburg (Mich.), Elkhart Central, Jimtown, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, Portage, South Bend Riley and Valparaiso. The Crimson Chargers are also in the Doc Mueller Classic at LaPorte. They are to play Highland, South Bend Adams and LaPorte.
“We jumped on the opportunity to play at LaPorte,” says Rost. “That’s where the regional has been played for a long time.”
Memorial is in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional group with Concord, Elkhart Central, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.
Memorial generally go to games with 12 to 16 players. It depends upon factors like the number of pitcher-only players and who can play multiple positions.
If it will benefit the program and that player, juniors may be sent down to the JV to get playing playing time.
“Our philosophy is basically if any freshman or sophomore is up on the varsity level, they should be playing the majority of the time,” says Rost. “If not, they should be with the JV getting their reps.
“It can be hard for JV coaches to have kids coming and going. But I equate it to Triple-A and the major leagues. If a guy is really tearing it up (on the JV) or there is a need (on the varsity).”
Rost looks at his 2018 stable of Chargers and sees 11 juniors and seniors and up to seven sophomores and freshman who could contribute.
“There are certain years when we felt like we had a set varsity group and a set JV group,” says Rost. “For us this year, that’s not the case. We have some kids who are probably going to float back and forth. We’re going to see how things go.”
While current Memorial players are pondering college baseball opportunities, recent graduates Scottie Clark and Cameron Maxwell are on the team at Grace College and Justin Walter is in the mix at Purdue University Northwest.
Ryan Strausborger, a 2006 Memorial graduate, played in the Minnesota Twins organization in 2017.
Scott’s wife, Jacquie Rost, is Memorial’s athletic director and a longtime successful volleyball coach. The couple have two sons who play baseball — Dylan (15) is a EMHS freshman and Quinn (11) is a fifth grader. Both play for the Scrappers and Scott helps with coaching.
Before taking his current position, Rost was head softball coach at Memorial for four seasons. He has also served one season each as a baseball assistant to Brian Griman at Memorial and Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central, coached football at various levels, including freshmen at Memorial the past few falls, and coached softball at Norwood High School in Cincinnati.
Rost made the team at Manchester and played in the fall of his freshman year then decided to stop playing.
“I don’t regret too many things in my life,” says Rost. “But that’s something I regret a little bit. I wish I would have done that for the experience. Obviously, I love the game.
“I started coaching in the summer, developed a love for it and it took off from there.”
Rost and friend Phil Eddy coached together at Concord Little League. Scott’s younger brother Nic was on his team a couple seasons and was later a Concord freshman with Scott on Jackowiak’s coaching staff.
Jackowiak turned over his summer program to Rost.
“High school baseball in the summer was still a big thing,” says Rost. “A lot of the schools played 20 or 25 games.
“That was a great experience for me. I learned a lot because a lot of times I was the only one there.”
With a merger of Memorial and Central into Elkhart High School scheduled for the fall of 2020, Rost is not sure about the baseball future.
But he knows about the past and present.
“I’ve enjoyed it here,” says Rost. “I’ve had a lot of support. The parents have been great. We’ve had some great kids. They do some amazing things when they leave here.
“That’s the stuff that means a lot to me.”
Scott Rost is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach of the Elkhart Memorial High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)