Robbie Frank was a sophomore starter on Evansville (Ind.) Central High School’s IHSAA state runner-up baseball team in 1987. The 29-win Bears lost 4-1 to LaPorte in the championship game. The Slicers went to be named mythical national champions in that season. Frank started at shortstop for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Griese as a junior and senior at Central and played one season as a utility player at Saint Louis University for Billikens head coach Bob Hughes. The Central Bears were ranked No. 1 during the 1988 season. Central lost to Memorial in the sectional championship in both 1988 and 1989 — 3-0 and 8-2. The Tigers lost in the first round of the semistate in 1988 and won the state crown in 1989. Energy and passion are two things Frank saw Griese bring to the diamond. “It was a great experience to play under him,” says Frank. “We were a very talent team 1987-89. It was a good time to be at Central.” In the summer of 1989, Frank played American Legion baseball for Evansville Funkhouser Post 8. Henry “Mac” LaRue was the manager and son Mark LaRue the head coach. Later on, Frank coached Highland Little League teams in Evansville, including a state runner-up squad when his players were 12 and state champion unit when they were 13. Bryce Frank, Robbie’s son, was on those teams. Robbie Frank has served as manager for Evansville Pate American Legion Post 265, guiding a junior squad to the state championship in 2021 and leading a senior team in 2022. He plans to do the same again in 2023, scheduling 30 to 35 games against the best competition he can find. Frank also spent the past 10 years as an Evansville Central assistant. After head coach Mike Goedde retired at the end of a 12-year run in 2022, Frank was elevated to head coach. “He’s an old school coach,” says Frank of Goedde. “He’s big on playing the game the right way. He gives a lot of responsibility to the kids — not only in baseball but in life.” Goedde expected his players to represent themselves, their families and their schools in an appropriate way. “You never know who’s watching or looking out,” says Frank. When Frank was hired as Central head coach he had one-on-one meetings with returning sophomores, juniors and seniors to discuss expectations. He plans to have IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices — twice a week for two hours — working around basketball which is also having LCP workouts. Among the recent Central graduates to move on to college baseball are the Class of 2022’s Aiden Esarey (Goshen College), Gavin Kelley (Grace College), Ben Kennedy (Taylor University), Ethan Lyke (Murray State University), Ethan Rothschild (University of Southern Indiana) and Kaiden Turner (Grace College), 2021’s Henry Brown (Indiana State University), Garrett Causey (University of Southern Indiana) and Mason Simon (Oakland City University), 2019’s Cory Bosecker (Butler University) and Kody Putnam (Southeastern Illinois College and transferred to Jacksonville State University), 2018’s Sean Becker (Indiana University-Kokomo and transferred to Kentucky Wesleyan College) and Mason White (Indiana University Southeast) and 2017’s Evan Kahre (University of Southern Indiana). Evansville Central (enrollment around 1,075) is a member of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz, Jasper and Vincennes Lincoln). The Bears were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz and Jasper. “It’s a dogfight every year,” says Frank. Central has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2017. The process of hiring Frank’s assistant coaches is in progress. The Bears play home games at Paul Griese Field. Goedde had Bermuda grass added to the infield a few years ago. Each spring, Cub Baseball in Evansville has eighth graders (and some seventh graders) competing on behalf of the high schools they are feeding. Robbie Frank, who is president of Frank Insurance Services Inc. (owned by father Gene Frank), has three children — Faith, Ellie and Bryce. Faith Frank (20) is a former Evansville Central basketball and track athlete now studying at Ivy Tech in Evansville. Ellie Frank (19) was a two-time first-team all-state lacrosse player for the Bears and is now a Murray (Ky.) State University freshman. Bryce Frank (17) is a junior baseball player at Evansville Central.
That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.
“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”
One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.
“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”
Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.
“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”
Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.
Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.
Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.
Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.
“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.
The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.
Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.
Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.
Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.
“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”
Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes.
Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.
“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.
“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”
The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights.
“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”
That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.
“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.
“They’re not selfish.”
Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.
Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.
“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.
“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”
Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.
Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.
Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.
“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players.
“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.
“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”
Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.
Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.
“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”
Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.
“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”
Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.
“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”
Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.
Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.
“He took care of his players,” says Dillman of Sparrow, who died in 2014. “He taught us a lot of life lessons.”
A 2008 North graduate who played for Sparrow, Dillman began coaching right after high school with one year as Huskies freshmen coach before moving up to junior varsity coach/varsity assistant. He was on the staff of Sparrow and then current North head coach Jeremy Jones.
“With Coach Jones, it’s about being on time, being a good teammate and always hustling,” says Dillman. “He’s a player’s coach.
“There’s never a time he doesn’t think about baseball. The attention to detail he puts into his practice plans like no other.”
Dillman, who works for Lamar Advertising in Evansville, has also coached for the former Ironmen (now part of the Louisville Legends) and Indiana Spikes travel organizations.
Hired at Harrison in October after the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period window, Dillman went about meeting his players and establishing his coaching staff.
Keith Ayers and Shane Holmes are varsity assistants. Harrison graduate and former University of Indianapolis and University of Southern Indiana player LaWan Rollins is junior varsity coach.
When the Limited Contact Period window re-opened in January, the Warriors worked on building their arms and conditioning while the new head coach got to know his athletes even better.
“They’re all new to me,” says Dillman. “It’s a fresh start. There’s a new guy and a new system.
While SIAC teams may play each other more than once during the regular season, only one designated game counts during the conference standings.
The Warriors are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Castle, Evansville Central, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz and Jasper. Harrison has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2016. The Andy Rice-coached Warriors were 4A state runners-up in 2000.
Rice poured much into the Harrison program, including the Warriors’ home field that is located two miles west of the school near the National Guard Armory, Roberts Park (former site of Roberts Stadium) and Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve.
In the spirit of taking responsibility, Dillman encourages players with a driver’s license to get players who don’t to practices and games at the field.
Besides Rollins, a recent Harrison graduate in college baseball is Aaron Beck who went to Olney (Ill.) Central College then committed to Indiana State University. Andrew Cope played for USI’s 2014 NCAA Division II national champions.
Getting attention at the collegiate level are junior catcher Zak York and senior middle infielder/pitcher Alex Griffin. Both have been varsity regulars since their respective freshmen years.
Evansville is scheduled to be the site of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Futures Game June 23 at USI and IHSBCA North/South Series June 26-27 to the University of Evansville — and perhaps — historic Bosse Field. That’s the week after the 2021 IHSAA State Finals in Indianapolis.