By finishing 1-2 in the National Amateur Baseball Federation Regional in Fort Wayne, Ind., the Fort Wayne Blues and South Bend Royals earned the right to compete in the 108th NABF Charlie Blackburn Major Division World Series in Battle Creek, Mich. Fort Wayne edged South Bend 13-12 in the regional title game. World Series games will be played at Morrison Field, Nichols Field and C.O. Brown Stadium — all at Bailey Park. The Blues (part of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation) have been assigned to Pool A and the Royals (members of men’s leagues in South Bend and Fort Wayne) to Pool B. There are four pools of four teams each. Pool play begins Wednesday, Aug. 3. Elimination games begin Saturday, Aug. 6 with quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and semifinal play at 3:30 p.m. The championship is slated for noon Sunday, Aug. 7. The Berea (Ohio) Blue Sox won the World Series crown in 2019 and 2021. There was no tournament in 2020.
NABF WORLD SERIES At Battle Creek, Mich. Aug. 3-7 Pool A: Battle Creek Merchants, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Fever, Hattiesburg (Miss.) Black Sox, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Blues. Pool B: Hackensack (N.J.) Troast, Lombard (Ill.) Orioles, South Bend (Ind.) Royals, Manistee (Mich.) Saints. Pool C: Buffalo (N.Y.) Diesel, Beecher (Ill.) Muskies, Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Buckeyes, Sox Baseball (N.J.). Pool D: Berea (Ohio) Blue Sox, Chicago (Ill.) Clout, Addison (Ill.) Braves, Team Deb (N.Y.). Pool Play Aug. 3-5; Quarterfinals and Semifinals Aug. 6; Championship Aug. 7.
Harrison Pittsford is soaking up the knowledge of veterans while getting in his summer reps as a first-year player for the South Bend Royals, members of men’s wood bat leagues in both South Bend and Fort Wayne. At 20, Pittsford is younger than most of his Royals teammates. That includes 53-year-old Jayson Best. “It’s cool learning from guys like Bestie,” says Pittsford, who completed his second year at NCAA Division III Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., in the spring. “I see how they play the game. “It’s a great experience playing with those guys.” Best, who was born in Lafayette, Ind., played professional baseball from 1989-97. He ascended to Double-A in the Minnesota Twins organization as a pitcher and later was head baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He pitched a no-hitter for the Royals in Mishawaka, Ind., on July 10. Pittsford, a 2020 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., comes up to play mostly weekend doubleheaders with former GC hitting star and current Eastern (Greentown) head coach Erik Hisner-managed Royals and Manchester teammate/roommate Hunter Aker (a South Bend Clay High School graduate). While he does some catching, Pittsford is getting playing time in the outfield since he expects to be there much of the time at Manchester. The Royals are to compete in a National Amateur Baseball Federation regional in Fort Wayne July 28-30. The top two finishers move on to the NABF World Series Aug. 2-5 in Battle Creek, Mich. Pittsford was named to the 2022 all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team at designated hitter. The righty swinger played in 30 games (28 starts) and hit .327 (33-of-101) with six home runs, eight doubles, 29 runs batted in, 27 runs scored and a 1.002 OPS (.418 on-base percentage plus .584 slugging average). Rick Espeset competed his 26th season as Manchester head coach in 2022. “Espy got my attention in the recruiting process,” says Pittsford. “His success and longevity eye-catching for me.” Espeset’s Spartans have won 619 games with six national tournament appearances, including two trips to the D-III World Series (2004 and 2013). As much as Pittsford appreciates all the knowledge that Espeset shares, he is also grateful for the insights on the mental approach. “We’re taking time to detach from baseball with breathing and mindfulness,” says Pittsford. As a D-III program, Manchester conducts four weeks of fall practice with the whole team and coaches. Players are then on their own for a few months until everyone reconvenes shortly before the start of the season. “Nothing’s really forced on us,” says Pittsford. “If guys want to get better they are going to get better. I get motivated seeing my teammates working out. “We have good leadership from underclassmen.” A Sport Management major, Pittsford was named Academic all-HCAC in 2022. “I want to stay involved in sports in some capacity,” says Pittsford of his post-college path. “That could be coaching, running a sports facility or being an athletic director. I want to be involved in sports and make a difference for kids and make sure the next generation has the same opportunities I had coming up. “Sports can teach you a lot of life lessons like building character and making friendships.” Born in Bloomington, Ind., and growing up in Ellettsville, Pittsford participated in baseball and basketball through Richland Bean Blossom Youth Sports and was also part of Monroe County Youth Football Association. He was in travel ball with the Ellettsville Explosion, Diamond Dynamics and then Tier Ten. It was with Diamond Dynamics that Pittsford met coach/instructor Tony Kestranek. “He was passionate about baseball,” says Pittsford of Kestranek. “He taught us when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive.” At Edgewood, Pittsford played four years each of football and baseball and two of basketball. A special teams player as a freshman, he was the Mustangs’ starting center for three seasons. Brian Rosenburgh was defensive coordinator Pittsford’s freshman year then head coach for the last three. “I loved him as a person and a coach,” says Pittsford of Rosenburgh, who was also a Physical Education teacher at Edgewood. An football coach was Mychal Doering. “He’s an amazing guy,” says Pittsford of the father of classmate Izaiah Doering and JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) specialist at Edgewood. “He was high-energy and he motivated you. He was always checking on people outside of school and he taught me about life and handling the ups and down. “He’s going through chemo (for cancer). It’s cool to see how he’s battling through that.” Pittsford considered playing college football, but decided to go with his first love of baseball. Besides, at 6-foot, 230 pounds he is considered to be undersized for a college lineman. Bob Jones, who has been a Business teacher for more than 40 years and head baseball coach for 36, passed along many diamond lessons to Pittsford. “He knows a lot of baseball,” says Pittsford of Jones, who went into the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame last week. “It’s nice to learn from a guy who’s been around the game for so long.” One of Jones’ more than 500 victories came during the first game of 2019 — a season that ended with the Mustangs finishing as IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up. Playing in a tournament at Vincennes University, Edgewood fell behind 11-0 to Terre Haute North Vigo after four innings. The Mustangs chipped away and eventually won 20-18 in a game that was played in a steady drizzle. “It was a pretty crazy game,” says Pittsford, who started at catcher and batted No. 2 that day and drove in two runs. Later moved to the No. 9 hole, it was there that Pittsford smacked a walk-off home run against West Vigo in the semifinals of the Owen Valley Sectional. Several other Edgewood players wound up playing college baseball, including Class of 2019’s Joe Kido (Indiana State University), Ethan Vecrumba (Indiana University), Cooper Thacker (University of Southern Indiana) and Blake Deckard (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology), Class of 2020’s Pittsford and Sam Kido (Indiana University South Bend) and Class of 2021’s Luke Hayden (Indiana University). Satoshi Kido — father of Mac, Joe and Sam — was an Edgewood assistant in 2019 and has been Pittsford’s hitting coach since he was 7 or 8. “He’s helped me so much with my swing over the years,” says Pittsford. “He always knows how to fix my swing when I get in a slump.” Pittsford spent much of 2021 dealing with a torn right shoulder labrum. Harrison is the youngest of 1986 Edgewood alums Jay and Cheryl Pittsford’s two sons. Alex Pittsford (25) is a graduate of Edgewood (2016) and Wabash College (2020) and is now pursing his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame. He was in football and swimming in high school. Jay Pittsford taught English for 19 1/2 years and then served as an assistant principal. Cheryl Pittsford is an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Physician’s Assistant.
With a roster featuring college players and those as old as 42, the Fort Wayne-based Jackers are winding down their 2022 regular season. Members of men’s wood bat baseball league in both Fort Wayne (Red Carrington League) and South Bend, the Jackers swept the South Bend Royals Saturday, June 9 and Boehm Park in South Bend and dropped both games of a doubleheader to the Michiana Brewers Sunday, June 10 at Bethel University in Mishawaka. Having already clinched the Carrington League crown, the league season is to conclude for the Jackers (15-6) Tuesday, June 11 against the Blues (7-8) at Carrington Field in Fort Wayne. A National Amateur Baseball Federation regional at both Carrington Field and Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne is slated for Thursday through Saturday, July 28-30. The eight-team event features pool play the first two days. Seeded bracket play begins on Saturday. The field will feature the Jackers, Michiana Brewers, South Bend Royals, Portland (Ind.) Rockets, another Fort Wayne team (Blues or Renegades) and three squads from Michigan. The top two regional finishers move on to the the 16-team NABF World Series is Aug. 2-5 in Battle Creek, Mich. The Jackers made it to the World Series in 2016, 2018 and 2019. In 2021, the South Bend Royals were the round-robin winner from a four-team regional and a World Series qualifier. The Berea Blue Sox (Strongsville, Ohio) came away with the championship trophy. Tom Davidson is in his third season as Jackers manager. A 6-foot-7, right-handed pitcher, Davidson played at Garrett (Ind.) High School (Class of 1998) and what is now known as Manchester University (Class of 2003) and briefly in pro ball. Why does Davidson stay involved? “I just love it,” says Davidson, a retirement planning software salesman. “It gives me a reason to stay in the dugout. “It’s a good chance to be around the guys.” The Jackers typically play 30 to 35 games a summer with most this year coming in the form of a single game on Thursday and a doubleheader on Saturday or Sunday. All players have college baseball experience. Most of the ones who still have eligibility are at Indiana Tech of the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne.
Spencer Nelson enjoyed a comeback baseball season for NCAA Division II Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Mich.) in 2022. After missing the 2021 campaign while recovering from surgery for a torn left hip labrum, South Bend, Ind., native Nelson started in all 50 of GVSU’s games and .325 (67-of-206) with eight home runs, six triples, 17 doubles, 35 runs batted in and 49 runs scored. The righty-swinging lead-off hitter posted a .969 OPS (.386 on-base percentage plus .583 slugging average) and was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Midwest all-region second team and all-Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference second team. He enjoyed four-hit games against Wayne State and Davenport and produced 20 multi-hit contests. A center fielder, Nelson also collected an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award while completing a bachelors degree in Information Systems. “I’m a student first and an athlete second,” says Nelson. “School and athletics is sometimes hard to balance out.” He was on a Pre-Med track while also playing baseball then made a switch. “I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep on Sundays with a lot of stress and sacrifices,” says Nelson. “I decided to devote myself to developing myself as a player and a teammate. “I love baseball and I was not not ready to give it up.” Nelson, 23, plans to pursue a masters in Computer Science while playing for the GVSU Lakers in the spring of 2023. His role in 2022 was often as center fielder and lead-off hitter. “You’re in-charge out there (in center field),” says Nelson. “You can roam wherever you want. It’s a fun little area to hang out.” Playing the outfield, communication becomes key when tracking the ball and making relay throws. “Everybody in the outfield should be aggressive to catch it,” says Nelson. “This year I had a lot of trust in my guys as I tend to do every year. “In college, covering the gaps is extremely important. I’m always telling the left fielder and right fielder no to play straight up and eliminate extra bases when possible.” As for leading off, Nelson also gets to use his speed. “It’s more about contact than power,” says Nelson. “But I’m I’m very adjustable to wherever I play. I’ve batted in the 3-hole. “Wherever you put me I will adjust to that role.” Nelson helped Grand Valley State go 30-22 in 2022. “We definitely played our hearts out,” says Nelson. “But with talent we have we can definitely do better.” Jamie Detillion is the Lakers head coach. “He definitely vouches for his guys,” says Nelson of Detillion. “He’s a very very caring guy and wants to be a winner. “He’s aways listening to input and adjusts to our liking (as players) while maintaining his role.” Born and raised in South Bend, Nelson first fell for the game as a T-ball player at South East Side Little League. He played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers, South Bend Silver Hawks and Hitters Edge. He played varsity baseball for four years at John Adams High School in South Bend, where he earned the all-academic award four times and was a three-time team MVP, two-time team captain and first-team all-Northern Indiana Conference as a senior. Mike Cass was the Eagles head coach when Nelson graduated in 2017. “(Cass) wanted to win and develop the program,” says Nelson. “He made calls for me to (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) and that helped quite a bit. “It’s about being respectful to those above you so they can show respect back to you.” Nelson played for the Kellogg Bruins in 2018 and 2019. “I had two amazing coaches (head coach Eric Laskovy and assistant head coach Jim Miller),” says Nelson. “It was tough love. They taught me a lot on and off the field.” Now 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Nelson left high school weighing about 170. “I was pretty scrawny,” says Nelson. “Kellogg is a blue collar athletic program and school. You’re taught to work hard. “Eating right was the No. 1 thing. I think I worked out for three or four years without missing a day (minus Sundays) “It helped me become a little bigger and made my body as healthy as it’s been.” Nelson played in the South Bend men’s league each summer from 2017-21. He was with the Mishawaka Brewers until joining the South Bend Royals in 2021. In 2022, he played 21 games with the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Muskegon (Mich.) Clippers and hit .293 with four homers and 16 RBIs before coming home to earn some money for college. Spencer is the youngest of Bill and Sheila Nelson’s five children. Indianapolis-based educational administrator Naomi is the oldest, followed by consultant to medical companies Tiara and IBM employee Madison in California and software engineer Connor in Arizona. Bill Nelson is a retired salesman. Sheila Nelson is a hairdresser.
The Mishawaka (Ind.) Brewers — a baseball team co-founded in the 1990’s by Shawn Harper and Alex Parker — took 2021 off and has rebranded as the Michiana Brewers. It is an organization works to provide an opportunity for high school seniors, collegiate baseball players and recent college graduates to play competitive ball with home fields in north central Indiana. With a focus on players in or about to enter college baseball with some former minor leaguers in the mix, the Michiana Brewers — renamed to reflect the wide area where the team gets players — will compete in the National Amateur Baseball Federation’s Major Unlimited Division and play an independent schedule. The South Bend semi-pro league consists of only two teams — the Brewers and South Bend Royals. Under the guidance of manager Harper and pitching coach/assistant Chuck Bowen, the Brewers plan to play around 30 games from Memorial Day weekend to second week of August in 2022. There’s typically one weeknight game (often on Friday) and a doubleheader or tournament on Saturday or Sunday. The season opener is to be a home game with the Fort Wayne Jackers. A home-and-home series is planned with the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Beecher Muskies. The 2022 Charlie Blackburn Major Division NABF World Series is to be played in Battle Creek, Mich. Harper and Bowen place the level of play on the Brewers’ schedule at just below summer wood bat circuits like the Northwood League. The Brewers recently secured Rex Weade Stadium at Harris Township Park in Granger, Ind. — home of Indiana University South Bend baseball — as one home field and hopes to also host games at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and other locales. Now that a home field has been secured, the recruiting process has begun. Two John Glenn graduates — Calumet College of Saint Joseph baseball player Michael Machnic and Holy Cross College basketball player Billy Harness — have committed to the Brewers for the upcoming season. Harper (a 1991 graduate of South Bend John Adams High School who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski then played for and managed the Indiana University South Bend club team) and Bowen (a 2007 graduate of John Glenn where played for John Nadolny and went on to play two years for Joe Yonto at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) recently met with and received support from IUSB head coach Doug Buysse and South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director, 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and former South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley. Harper says he plans to carry a roster of up to 25 with some pitcher-only players. In the past, position players paid $200 to participate with pitcher-onlys paying $100. Sponsorships are being sought to cover team expenses. Commitment is something Harper expects from his players. “On the day of game, I want them to ask themselves if they are excited and can’t wait to get to the field,” says Harper. “If they are torn. If there’s a conflict at all, don’t play. “In 16 years I’ve never forfeited one game. I’m very proud of that.” Harper accepts players to miss 25 percent of the time as long they communicate that with him. In October, Harper was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in Evansville, Ind., after being nominated by former South Bend Senators manager and the man he replaced as South Bend semi-pro league president — Ron Milovich. The best ways to contact are the Michiana Brewers Facebook page or by calling Harper at (574) 514-2028 or Bowen at (574) 780-0696.