BY STEVE KRAH
Putting a spotlight on the Indiana University program is aim of the folks from Talking Hoosier Baseball — a podcast devoted to the sport at IU — along with its associated website (iubase.com).
In alphabetical order, the THB team features Josh Bennett, Chris Feeny, Carl James and Cassady Palmer with help of student interns.
“We say we are a fan site and we have a specific niche that we’re fulfilling,” says James. “When we (started) there was hardly anything. I have to say we’re in a golden age of media at least from an IU student perspective.
“You’ve got some really great coverage from the Indiana Daily Student. IUSTV does good stuff. WIUX is now broadcasting games.”
Using the tagline “Meet Me At the Bart,” the crew can be found sitting near the home dugout on the third base side at Bart Kauffman Field. The next home games on the 2023 schedule are slated for March 24-26 vs. Ohio State. Tailgating tends to happen on Saturdays.
During games, Bennett’s young kids hawk foul balls and homers and have been able to give the spheres back to the players who planted them.
“There’s not a bad seat in the house,” says Bennett, who grew up in Monrovia, Ind., where he played baseball.
His father — a Bedford, Ind., native — was an adjunct professor at Indiana and the family followed Hoosier sports.
His first IU memory was attending games at Sembower Field in the late 1980’s. Mickey Morandini was his counselor at a youth baseball camp staged in John Mellencamp Pavilion when Bennett was 8 or 9.
Sembower was replaced in the spring of 2013 by Bart Kauffman Field.
“I actually went to Purdue but rooted for IU up there and got kicked out of some places from time to time,” says Bennett. “I love IU sports and baseball especially.”
In talking about the origin of the website, he noted that coverage for basketball and football was abundant but not nearly so for the Hoosiers on the diamond.
“These kids in baseball and the other Olympic sports are paying to play at this university and represent this school,” says Bennett. “They don’t get their just due as far as we were concerned.
“We wanted to branch out and have some other avenues to get some information out there.
“We wanted to give them some exposure.”
Bennett designed the first version of the site and it has been tweaked by James with his tech background.
Day jobs have Bennett as an electronics technician at NWSC Division Crane Navy Base southwest of Bloomington, Feeny as a behavioral health technician at Indiana Center for Recovery in Bloomington, James as a digital media specialist at IU’s Kelley School of Business and Palmer as an epidemiologist for the Missouri Health Department.
Feeny spent his early years in Massapequa, N.Y., on Long Island and moved to Brooklyn in his 20’s and is a major New York Mets fan.
His brother attended IU so Chris knew about Sembower Field and Bloomington and made it his home in 2014.
“I bought season tickets (for IU baseball) and jumped in with two feet pretty early,” says Feeny. “I was used to going to 40 or 50 Met games a year.
Those trips took an hour on the subway and going to see the Hoosiers was a snap.
“Before I knew anything about it I was in,” says Feeny. “I met a lot of cool people.”
Feeny started a Facebook group and Twitter handle early in 2017. The website was created late that year.
It was at a tailgate party that the idea of starting a podcast emerged out of a conversation between Feeny, James and Brian Tonsoni.
Tonsoni had the crew doing the podcast live the first year.
“It was a lot more nerve-wracking,” says Feeny. “We don’t do that any more.”
Feeny is the one who gives out weekly awards for hitting, pitching and defense in the form of red belts.
“The first year we did this we saw all these belts breaking on the field so the goof was it would be a good prize to win a red belt,” says Feeny.
Last year, Big Ten pick ‘ems minus Indiana’s games were added to the mix. There are three B1G series this weekend — Purdue at Michigan State, Penn State at Michigan and Illinois at Nebraska. Palmer was 32-11 as the best picker on the team in 2022.
“It does not apply to Basketball Bracketology — ever,” says Palmer. “My brackets always bust every year.”
Weekly episodes are now recorded as the baseball schedule and the availability of the THB team dictates.
“We’ve been lucky enough to get some player interviews the last few years,” says Bennett. “We’ve also had Bart Kauffman on.”
Former IU player Kauffman is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
A preview of upcoming series is a weekly podcast staple.
When possible, there is live-blogging during games. Recaps are posted on the site.
The team has allowed THB to connect and there are now post-game wrap-ups featuring head coach Jeff Mercer’s comments.
“We are blessed with that access,” says Bennett.
“They are generous with their time,” says Feeny. “They really are.”
A recent postgame allowed 29 minutes with the coach.
“You get Jeff Mercer talking about baseball and he’ll just keep going,” says James. “That’s been a positive.”
Pro Ball Hoosiers is a Twitter page that tracks Indiana players in baseball, basketball and football. Through a suggestion from those people, interviews with Mercer or players are now posted as separate podcasts.
Pro Ball Hoosiers, Jeremy Gray and THB collaborated on an IU baseball alumni draft early during COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Players from all eras were eligible.
“I went back to 1884,” says James. “Sixty percent of my picks were before 1950.”
Both of James’ parents are from Martinsville, Ind. His father was a catcher for the MHS Artesians and went into the U.S. Navy.
Carl moved around as a “Navy brat” and the family ended up in Bloomington when his father retired from the service. James graduated from Bloomington North High School.
“I was not an athlete,” says James. “I did play some baseball when I was really young. I’m a pretty small guy and was more of a theater person.”
A retail career took him all over. When that ended he wound up back in Bloomington in 2013.
“I was able to actually pay attention to sports again,” says James. “The first sporting event I went to was an IU baseball game. I pretty much got hooked.”
He met up with the others on the THB team through social media.
Along the way he got into Baseball Bracketology.
His Facebook niche was speculating IU chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
“You want to play teams that win games,” says James who compares D-I squads and their victories and losses.
“Particularly NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index (RPI),” says James. “It’s a formula they cooked up specifically for basketball in the early ‘80s. It’s a simple formula. You take all the wins and losses of the team’s opponents (winning percentage) and that makes up 50 percent of it. You take the 25 percent of the opponents’ opponents and 25 percent is that team’s own winning percentage although there is an adjustor for that based on whether the game was played at home, away or neutral.
“For baseball it’s like .7 for a home win and 1.3 points for a home win. It’s basically a bonus given to northern teams because they play more road games than southern teams do.”
James says northern teams are punished by the fact they can’t consistently scrimmage outside in the winter months.
“IU — now having a turf field and being far enough south to have decent weather — does pretty well,” says James. “They can actually schedule a couple of mid-week games in February. This year they’ve been able to play them.”
At this writing, the Hoosiers at 11-0 in all 2023 games at Bart Kauffman Field.
Both of Palmer’s parents are from Missouri. They moved to Bloomington at the time Indiana was winning an NCAA basketball national championship in 1987 and Cassady was born in Bloomington.
Her father got a teaching degree and the family moved to Syracuse, Ind., and she graduated from Wawasee High School then attended IU.
“I followed the (baseball) team quite a bit,” says Palmer. “I could watch practices from the top floor of Briscoe (Hall) when they were at Sembower.
“Particularly in grad school I started really getting into data analysis,” says Palmer. “I started trying to apply some of the stuff I was learning a baseball data set. Except there aren’t really baseball data sets at the college level — not in the same way as basketball or football.
“That means I need to make my own data set, which means I need to keep score. If I want percent of first-pitch strikes I have to know what all the first pitches are.”
She began sharing her knowledge in Facebook groups and on Twitter and live-Tweeted at fall ball games and scrimmages.
Palmer was quick to point out the sample size.
She would give her findings then conclude with something like “we’re only five games in so take this with a big block of salt.”
Palmer still tracks IU baseball data while residing in Missouri.
“I do the in-game numbers,” says Palmer. “Carl does the across-games numbers.”
The THB team has gone to season-opening series at Memphis (2019), Louisiana State (2020), Clemson (2022) and Auburn (2023).
“All the Tigers,” says Palmer.