Tag Archives: South Bend

Berlin marks 10 years as South Bend Cubs owner; growth on the horizon

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was on this date 10 years ago that Andrew T. Berlin purchased the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs from former Governor of Indiana and U.S. Navy veteran Joe Kernan.
Wanting to make the occasion memorable, the transaction came on Veterans Day 2011 – 11-11-11 — at 11:11 a.m.
In the last decade, Berlin and the Minor League Baseball franchise affiliated with the Chicago Cubs have helped make many memories for visitors to Four Winds Field.
“When I think about the last 10 years so much has happened – not just when it comes to baseball or even South Bend but the world at large,” said Berlin to a media gathering at the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Life-changing events have affected all of us as we go through the years.
“It all puts everything into perspective. What’s marvelous about baseball is that it provides a foundation for the gathering of friends and family and loved ones. And I take that job very seriously. It’s not just baseball. It’s about the community. It’s about the people. It’s about having fun and celebrating life. And if there was ever a time to do that, it’s probably now as the world struggles to re-open (from the COVID-19 pandemic).”
Berlin looks at the area near the ballpark and sees a rebirth in the past decade — not only commercial but from a population standpoint.
Downtown South Bend continues to grow the development and continues to enjoy investments,” said Berlin. “It feels safer. It feels more vibrant. And the stadium – I’m happy to say — continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the community as well.”
According to AECOM, the South Bend Cubs provide $24 million annual economic impact to the region (based on information provided by the team).
Through various charitable efforts, the club has donated nearly $1.6 million and invested over $32 million into facilities that would improve not only the ballpark, but the community as a whole.
Plans are in the works to expand Four Winds Field (capacity 5,000 permanent seats), adding an upper deck and more suites.
“There’s tremendous investment that’s going to be done in our ballpark over the next several years,” said Berlin, who put millions of his own dollars into keeping the team in South Bend and upgrading the park. “We’re going to be enlarging the stadium and offering more amenities. And making it a place that is comfortable.”
The park – then known as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium aka “The Cove” — was built in 1987 it cost a little under $4 million. He has been told that to built the same stadium that now exists it would run in the neighborhood of $85 million.
At the time Berlin bought the team from Kernan, Berlin was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago-based Berlin Packaging (he is now part of defense firm Shield AI) and the South Bend Silver Hawks were an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate.
Near the end of 2014 came the opportunity to be tied to the Chicago Cubs.
“That was an extraordinary event for the team,” said Berlin. “But I also have to say it was a fantastic vote of confidence in South Bend and the Michiana region.
“The Chicago Cubs — one of the most-celebrated and oldest brands in all of baseball made the decision to come here rather than going anywhere else.”
Renowned third-generation Chicago White Sox groundskeeper Roger Bossard was brought in to install the field surface and a performance center modeled on the one used by the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., was built at Four Winds Field.
The 1st Source Bank Performance Center is used not only by the pros but by the community.
The stadium is also ringed by four apartment buildings – The Ivy at Berlin Place. It is currently 98 percent occupied with two commercial spaces — one 6,000-square feet and one 4,000-square feet available for lease.
In 2021 — with the restructuring of Minor League Baseball under the oversight of Major League Baseball Player Development Contracts were moved from two- or four-year arrangements to 10. South Bend is in the High-A Central League.
The South Bend Cubs’ lease with the city has 20 more years on it.
After having no games in 2020, South Bend drew 217,066 in 2021. In 2019, that number was 319,616.
The Indiana General Assembly passed the Professional Sports Development Act, which benefits the baseball team and other downtown places and businesses.
“Taxes collected in this area – rather than going down to Indianapolis — can stay here in South Bend and can help pay for some of the renovations for Four Winds Field without increasing taxes across the board. In fact, the PSDA wouldn’t even exist if the South Bend Cubs weren’t here.
Berlin notes that the expansion will help the team better cater its fans food and drink needs.
“Currently we are able to feed everyone in the ballpark with just one small kitchen,” said Berlin. “We’ve been able to make do with this, but in increasing crowds and increasing capacity we’ll have to add more back-of-the-house improvements like kitchens and storage.”
Berlin said light construction will begin before 2023 and then building in-earnest will happen after the 2023 season. In the past, smaller projects have been accomplished during the fall and winter months.
Berlin said he is hopeful that current supply chain and transportation issues that can affect construction will smooth out.
“Since we’re not going to be breaking ground for a little while, I have to think that there will be stabilization of the cost of those materials over time,” said Berlin.
What will the new capacity be?
“I hesitate to give you a percentage of increase, but it will be substantial,” said Berlin. “Of the 70 (home) games were have in the season right now, we’re selling out around 55 to 60 games a season.”
Those numbers are dependent largely upon whether and students being in or out of school for the summer.
Going back to 2011, Berlin was not sure he wanted to buy the South Bend team. He was convinced by Kernan and set about putting together his off-the-field team.
“Joe convinced me that this was a diamond in the rough and so we went forward,” said Berlin. “Once I was in, I was all-in. I learned in hard because I wasn’t going to get into a business and not try to be successful.
“And so I brought all the resources I could possibly muster. I was able to recruit some really amazing talent.”
Ever the optimist, Berlin sees his place in the community as a facilitator of memories.
Married with five children and living in the Chicago area, Berlin tries to spend at least one game per homestand in South Bend. Sometimes when his family is with him and the crowds have gone home, the family has a pick-up game under the Four Winds Field lights.

Andrew T. Berlin. (Steve Krah Video)
Andrew T. Berlin.

Pirates’ Haley says pro baseball scouts must ‘finish the play’

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doing all the homework while building and maintaining relationships and trust leading up to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and beyond.
That’s what it’s all about for a scout tied to an MLB organization.
Indiana native Trevor Haley knows. January 2022 will mark his 14th year scouting for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“We have to finish the play on every player we want to select,” says Haley, who was an area scout before becoming a regional supervisor. “The player has to be who we’ve advertised them to do be.
“You’re investing money and draft capital on these players. You need to know if they’re ready. Are they a good fit for your organization?”
The MLB Draft — now 20 rounds over three days at the All-Star Break — is the potential finish line of talent identified by scouts and the other 362 days are the race.
For an area supervisor, a big part of the job is helping players and their families through the process.
Jameson Taillon, a 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher with the New York Yankees, was signed to a Pirates contract by Haley.
“Cultivating and getting to know Jameson and his father Mike that’s a big part of it,” says Haley. “Jameson has overcome a lot of adversity (including testicular cancer surgery during his second MLB season with Pittsburgh in 2017). I couldn’t be prouder of the man he’s become.
“It is a business, but at the core of it are the relationships. Area scouts are listed as the signing scouts, but it’s definitely a collaboration and a team effort.”
Haley recently moved to South Bend, Ind. His current territory is essentially the middle third of the country.
Born in Valparaiso, Ind., Haley was just starting school when he moved to Richmond, Ind.
As a Richmond High School Red Devil, the lefty-swinging first baseman played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate and graduated in 1996.
“He’ll coach you hard, but love you afterward,” says Haley of Cate. “He cared about his players. He cared about winning. He cared about the program. We had some pretty good teams (Richmond won four sectionals, three regionals and two semistates, was twice at State Finals semifinalist and was at or near the top of the state rankings from 1993-96).
“I learned to take pride in how I represented myself on and off the field and take pride in the uniform and the team.”
Haley compares the experience to what he expects it might be like to play for former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight.
“It’s hard going through it but, looking back, you wouldn’t trade it for anything,” says Haley of his time with Cate.
At Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., Haley’s freshmen year was the first for Rick Espeset as Spartans head coach.
“(Espeset) had a completely different style than Coach Cate, who was an expressive motivator,” says Haley. “Espy was much more cerebral in his motivation. He was understated. He was a great team builder.”
Haley received a Business Administration degree from Manchester then was an assistant coach for two years on the staff of Grizzlies head coach Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College.
After a year away from baseball traveling the county working in event marketing, Haley to Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee and received a J.D.Sports Law Certificate in 2006.
The goal had always been to build his resume and open doors in the baseball world.
“That was always my passion,” says Haley. “I took the time to write all the letters and send them out and go though the networking process.”
He landed a baseball operations internship with the 2007 Colorado Rockies. That was the year the team went into the World Series on an improbable 21-1 run that became known as “Rocktober.”
“In my opinion it’s one of the most not-talked-about runs in the history of sports,” says Haley.
Through the Rockies, Haley was able to attend scout school for a chance to enter a limited field. All in all, there are not that many scouts in pro baseball.
“It’s a very insular industry,” says Haley, who got his foot in the door and has been with the Pirates since 2008.
Haley was an area scout in south Texas from 2009-14 before moving back north as an area scout in the Midwest, western Pennsylvania and eastern Canada in 2015 and became a regional supervisor in 2016.

Trevor Haley.

Jenkins helping baseballers, softballers at Teddy BallGames in South Bend

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shawn Jenkins played baseball in South Bend, Ind., as a boy. Now he helps boys and girls get better with bat, ball and glove as owner of Teddy BallGames, a training facility of the city’s northwest side.
Jenkins, who had been taking his South Bend River Bandits Softball teams to Teddy BallGames and helped set up 24-hour access and an alarm system as an ADT employee, took ownership from retiring Mike Branch on Feb. 1, 2021.
The father of three daughters (freshman Lexington, 14, and sixth grader Dellancey, 11, are ballplayers), Jenkins switched from coaching baseball to softball and is now also the head coach of that sport at South Bend Riley High School as well as overseeing the TB Tigers Baseball & Softball Travel Organization.
Softball teams played several games in the fall while baseball — with many in football and other fall sports — took the time off.
The 11U TB Tigers went 50-2, won eight tournaments and ended up ranked No. 1 in the county by Baseball Players Association in 2021.
Teddy BallGames, located just off Cleveland Road at 4085 Meghan Beehler Court, has batting cages and training space for individuals and teams and is outfitted with Rapsodo, HitTrax and

equipment.
There are currently about 75 members and Jenkins says there is room for 120.
Jenkins went from South Bend to Chicagoland and attended Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights then came back to Indiana as a junior and graduated from the former South Bend LaSalle High School in 1991. His head coach was Scott Sill.
“Scott Sill gave me a good foundation,” says Jenkins.
After a junior college stint in California, Jenkins ended up playing baseball and basketball at Waubonsee Community College in Aurora, Ill. The baseball coach was Hall of Famer Dave Randall.
“It was just a great program,” says Jenkins, who was a second baseman. “I was able to play for him and I really leaned a lot. I parlayed that into playing (NCAA) Division II baseball at Lincoln University (in Jefferson City, Mo.). The Blue Tigers were coached by Sergio Espinal, who grew up with Shawon Dunston and a teammate of Pete Incaviglia, Robin Ventura and Doug Dascenzo on a College World Series team at Oklahoma State University, was was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs (1985 and 1986).
Jenkins coached high school basketball in Louisiana and high school and college basketball in California then moved back to Indiana and was an assistant baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School for 12 years. He worked with former Maurice Matthys Little League teammate and best friend John Kehoe. Jenkins was 11 when Matthys won a district title a lost to Concord in sectional play.
For more information on Teddy BallGames, call 574-329-1264.

Teddy BallGames owner Shawn Jenkins (Steve Krah Photo).

Hamilton Southeastern, Indiana U. grad Gorski brings multiple tools to the game

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Gorski brings many attributes to the diamond.
The former Hamilton Southeastern High School and Indiana University outfielder now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization takes pride in his versatility.
“I can do a bunch of stuff on a baseball field,” says Gorski, who swings and throws right-handed. “I consider myself to be a five-tool athlete.”
In 95 games with the 2021 High Class-A Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers (48 in center field, 38 in right field, three in left field, three at first base and three at designated hitter), Gorski hit .223 (80-of-358) 17 home runs, 18 doubles, 56 runs batted in, 62 runs scored, 18 stolen bases and .710 OPS (.294 on-base percentage plus .416 slugging average).
On Sept. 7 at Jersey Shore, 23-year-old Gorski went 5-of-6 with one homer, two RBIs and one run.
Does Gorski consider himself a power hitter?
“I’m starting to think of myself as one,” says Gorski. “I didn’t always.
“During the (COVID-19) quarantine period, I went though a bit of a body change.”
With no Minor League Baseball season in 2020, Gorski focused on strength training at home.
“I could not do a lot of baseball stuff,” says Gorski, who lives in Fishers, Ind.
Once facilities opened, he was able to work on keeping his batting eye and swing in shape.
“I tried to face a live arm,” says Gorski. “You can’t replicate that any other way.”
From October until the holidays, he went to PRP Baseball workouts at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.
Around Feb. 2021 — before spring training in Bradenton, Fla. — he went with Pirates minor league infielder Jared Triolo to Dynamic Sports Training in Houston.
Through it all, Gorski bulked up to 215 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame.
In the field, Gorski is most comfortable in center field though he spent a fair share of time in left as an IU sophomore and right as a Hoosiers junior.
Gorski played three seasons at Indiana University (2017-19) — two for head coach Chris Lemonis and one for Jeff Mercer.
In 165 games (158 as a starter), he hit .306 (189-of-617) with 24 homers, five triples, 32 doubles, 108 RBIs, 127 runs, 57 stolen bases and .869 OPS (.378/.491).
“(Lemonis) was a lot like a dad not like a baseball coach,” says Gorski. “He’s a really good recruiter and knows how to care for people. He cared about the classroom and your family. He was first one to call me (when I got drafted).
“He didn’t try to make anything bigger than what it was. He laid it out for you. You’re going to have to work. He told it straight.”
Mercer took another approach.
“He’s a lot more baseball-driven than Coach Lemonis,” says Gorski. “That’s not a bad thing. They’re just different styles. (With Mercer) it was get big, get strong, hit balls far.
“We won a Big Ten title with him (in 2019). It obviously works.”
Gorski was part of a powerful Indiana lineup that slugged 95 homers (second in the country behind Vanderbilt’s 100) and was selected by Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (57th overall pick).
In 49 games with the short-season 2019 West Virginia Black Bears, he hit .223 (40-of-179) with three home runs, two triples, nine doubles, 22 runs batted in, 32 runs, 11 stolen bases and .643 OPS (.297.346).
His two pro ball seasons have taught Gorski some things.
“I learned that it’s hard,” says Gorski. “You have to have the love of the game to go through the peaks and valleys.”
Since the 2021 season ended, Gorski has been working out at PRP Baseball. Next Sunday he heads to Florida for a month-long hitting camp.
Born Dec. 22, 1997 in South Bend, Ind., Gorski moved to Fishers when he was very young.
He played for the HSE Cats and Indiana Prospects before spending his 13U to 18U summers with the Indiana Nitro with Rick Stiner, Ken Elsbury and Eric Osborn as head coaches.
He was on the freshmen team his first year at Hamilton Southeastern then spent three varsity season with head coach Scott Henson.
“He was a lot like Lemonis,” says Gorski of Henson. “He cared about you more than a baseball player. It was the classroom, your family, your girlfriend.
“He was also a very good baseball coach. He made a lot of players better than expected. He knew how to individualize each person’s styles and connect with them in different ways.”
Henson is now an assistant at Noblesville High School.
Matt, who finished his IU degree in Sports Marketing & Management in the spring, is the youngest of HSE accountant Mark and nurse Lisa Gorski’s three children. Steven Gorski is a seventh grade math teacher at Hamilton Southeastern Intermediate/Junior High. Kristen Gorski is a communications specialist/press secretary for the Indiana Senate.

Matt Gorski (Greensboro Grasshoppers Photo)
Matt Gorski
Matt Gorski

Thoughts of American Legion baseball keep Cruz going during COVID-19 battle

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts.
The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it.
One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.”
There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy.
“It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered.
Baseball also played a big part.
“Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.”
Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans.
“You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.”
While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance.
Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field.
Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer —  is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020.
For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline.
“He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.”
As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill.
Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay.
“Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.”
Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U).
“It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.”
Being around teams has given Neveah something more.
“I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah.
Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11.
This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season.
“Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz.
Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner.
If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players.
“I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.”
Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers.
Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms.
American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players.
Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021.
Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on.
Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father.
Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year).
Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year.
The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.

Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr. (Steve Krah Photo)
Tony Cruz Jr. and daughter Neveah.
Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr.
A regional title was won by South Bend American Legion Post 151 in 2018.
Tony Cruz Jr. battles COVID-19 in 2020. He was hospitalized 25 days in May, including nine in Intensive Care.
Tony Cruz Jr. had to go on high-flow oxygen during his battle with COVID-19 in 2020.
Out of the hospital after his COVID-19 battle, Tony Cruz came “home” to Jim Reinebold Field, home of South Bend Clay High School and South Bend American Legion Post 151 baseball.
Jim Treadway (left) and Tony Cruz Jr. bond over American Legion, high school baseball.

Saint Joseph grad, Morehead State righty Rotkis knows confidence is key

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Rotkis got just eight outs in his first season as a college baseball pitcher.
Taking the mound for Morehead (Ky.) State University in 2020, the right-hander from South Bend (Ind.) Saint Joseph High School hurled 2 1/3 innings.
“It was the worst 2 1/3 innings I pitched in my entire life,” says Rotkis, who gave up 16 earned runs and 14 hits as an MSU freshman. “It was frustrating in the moment. I knew what I was capable of and I didn’t show it.”
That became the driving force for Rotkis through the rest of the COVID-19 spring and summer and into the 2021 season.
After the 2020 shutdown, Rotkis played for the Midwest Collegiate League’s Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“That was awesome,” says Rotkis, who pitched well enough in his first two relief stints that he landed a spot in the Oilmen’s starting rotation.”
He also got to work with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko. He took to approach espoused by the former pro moundsman.
“He said I was just over-thinking things and to go out and do what I know I can do,” says Rotkis, 20. “I gained confidence last summer.
“Confidence is the best tool.”
Playing this spring at Morehead State, where Mik Aoki is the head coach and Brady Ward the pitching coach, Rotkis made 13 appearances (all out of the bullpen) and was 2-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 26 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked 10.
Rotkis uses four pitches — a two-seam sinking fastball, a four-seam fastball, a “circle” change-up and a slider.
“It plays off the sinker and the same tunnel, working different sides of the plate,” says Rotkis, who throws from a mid-three-quarter overhand arm slot which helps with his sinker and touched 92 mph a few times in the spring while sitting in the high 80s. “I like to throw anything to anybody.
“I just throw what I think’s going to beat them at that point.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Rotkis went for an assessment at the P3 (Premier Pitching Performance) lab in St. Louis and is working this summer with Director of Remote Pitching Mitch Plassmeyer while following a structuring throwing and weightlifting plan near home in Granger, Ind.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” says Rotkis of Plassmeyer. “He filled my head with knowledge.”
In the third week of the program, Rotkis lifts four times a week — two upper body and two lower body. He does mobility moves before lifting and throwing.
Working out with former high school teammate Patrick Farrissee (now on the Clemson University club baseball team) on the practice football fields at Notre Dame, Rotkis long tosses 100 yards or more.
As a sophomore, Farrissee was the starting left fielder when Saint Joseph won the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state championship.
Rotkis is a 2019 graduate of Saint Joseph, where he and buddies Farrissee, Mitchell Coleman, Nick Dolniak, Surf Sadowey, Michael Schroeder and Brady Gumpf (now at Notre Dame) played for former Indians head coach John Gumpf and former assistant and current bench boss John Smolinski.
“They made practice enjoyable to come to each day,” says Rotkis, who began to get some NCAA Division I offers through the Area Code Games trials at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
He was recruited by Morehead State when Mike McGuire was head coach and Kane Sweeney the pitching coach and then they both left for the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Aoki and Ward convinced Rotkis to still come play for the Eagles.
Born in Elkhart, Ind., Rotkis moved from Bristol, Ind., to Granger around age 5 with parents Mike and Jill and younger brother Andrew (a 2021 St. Joseph graduate bound for Purdue University).
Joe played at what is now Harris Baseball Softball and then Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend which led to the Michiana Baseball Club travel team. As a high school, he was with the South Bend Cubs travel organization, spending two summers with South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley as coach.
“Mark Haley is one of the smartest and one of the most caring baseball guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to,” says Rotkis. “He’s awesome.
“We were learning the game, the ins and out and the little things.”

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)
Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Cass enjoying success with South Bend John Adams Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Adams High School in South Bend, Ind., is enjoying quite a baseball season so far in 2021.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Mike Cass, the Eagles go into a Thursday, May 20 contest at Penn at 15-3 overall and 6-3 in Northern Indiana Conference games.

“It’s the best season we’ve had in years,” says Cass, who has witnessed steady pitching and defense and has shuffled his lineup to produce some offense. Of the three losses, two came down to the seventh inning.

“We’ve gotten lucky,” says Eagles pitching coach Taylor Neville. “We’ve got pretty good depth at the pitching spot. 

“We always try to develop (the young arms) and give them time at the JV level or in a intrasquad game or a doubleheader where we’re trying to get guys playing time. We see how they perform and what we can fix. We come up with a plan for them. 

“We’ve really had a lot of guys develop. It know it just doesn’t happen here but in summer ball.”

Neville cites Adams senior Bryce Martens as someone who has gotten better as his prep career has progressed.

“In his freshman came up with us (to varsity),” says Neville. “His first game pitching was against Jimtown and he was really struggling with the curve ball. We worked on that and got a very nice curve ball out of it.

“He’s just continued to develop.”

Neville is a graduate of Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln High School.

C.J. Schwartz, another Adams assistant, graduate from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School and played baseball at Grace College in Winona, Lake, Ind.

What does Cass stress with his Adams players?

“Leadership, sportsmanship and fundamentals,” says Cass. “We want to do the little things in baseball like bunt coverage and being where you’re supposed to be (at your position) and those sorts of things.”

Prior to taking over the Adams program, Cass was an assistant to former South Bend St. Joseph head coach John Gumpf and before that an assistant to Scott Sherry at John Adams. 

He credits Gumpf for much about what he knows about coaching the game.

Cass coached at South Bend East Side Little League before his first stint at Adams.

Cass came to Indiana from Pennsbury Township, Pa. — west of Philadelphia where he rooted for the Philadelphia Phillies and his favorite player, Mike Schmidt.

Further educated at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind., and Indiana University South Bend, Cass has been a bookkeeper in the South Bend Community School Corporation for the past 20 years — mostly at John Adams.

Adams (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the NIC (with Bremen, Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington).

“We’ve got some good coaches in this conference,” says Cass. “You can tell they’re good coaches because they’re always there building a program.”

The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth (the 2021 host) and Riley. Adams has won six sectional titles — the last in 2009.

Adams plays its home games at School Field, which is located about a mile off-campus next to the football field of the same name and Jefferson Traditional School.

Mike Cass (South Bend John Adams High School Photo)

Junior college baseball route good to Kuntz

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Roman Kuntz is a different athlete since he left the high school ranks two years ago.

As a Class 3A baseball first-team all-state outfielder in the New Prairie High School Class of 2019, Kuntz carried about 165 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

In his second and final season as a junior college in 2021 the outfielder/first baseman tips the scales at around 220 and is putting the extra muscle to use.

He is sophomore lefty swinger for the Lake Michigan College (Benton Harbor, Mich.) Red Hawks — members of National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12.

Through his first 23 games of 2021 Kuntz is hitting .493 (36-of-73) with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in and 33 runs scored. His OPS is 1.027 (.480 on-base percentage plus .547 slugging average).

On Saturday, Kuntz went 4-of-4 with five RBIs and three runs. Two of his hits against Ivy Tech Northeast cleared the fence at Shoaff Park in Fort Wayne, Ind.

During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, Kuntz hit .310 (9-of-29) with one homer, nine RBIs, 10 runs and a 1.098 OPS (.512 on-base percentage plus .586 slugging average) in 10 games.

Kuntz was supposed to play for the Ohio Valley League’s Muhlenberg (Ky.) Stallions, but the OVL did not play and he would up in the Northwoods League with the Steve Cutter-managed Great Lakes Resorters in Traverse City, Mich.

While his numbers weren’t spectacular, Kuntz credits that experience for playing a major part in his offensive jump in his second season at Lake Michigan College.

“I was seeing some of the top arms in the country,” says Kuntz, who hit .222 (18-of-81) with three homers, 13 RBIs, 15 runs and .730 OPS (.323 on-base percentage plus .407 slugging average) in 25 games. “It’s that and my approach at the plate.”

LMC head coach Zak Wasserman asks his players to “compete all the time.”

“Focus on this pitch right now and just stay locked in,” says Kuntz of Wasserman’s directive. “We can’t focus on a pitch or a swing we haven’t taken yet.

“Just focus on the moment.”

Kuntz and his teammates like to called themselves “juco bandits.”

“It’s just a joke we all have,” says Kuntz. “We don’t always have the best of everything and play on the best fields. You have to put up with what you’re given and just embrace it.

“It akes it that much sweeter when you get to a four-year school.

“The main reason I wanted to go juco with guidance from my coaches was two more years to develop academically and athletically.”

Kuntz is due to earn an Associate of Arts degree at LMC before continuing his athletic and academic career at NCAA Division I Morehead (Ky.) State University for 2021-22. Former Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki is the head coach of the Ohio Valley Conference-member Eagles.

“There’s exciting path ahead of me,” says Kuntz. “I can’t wait to get started on the next journey.”

Kuntz visited a number of schools last summer and made a connection with MSU players Joe Rotkis (a South Bend Saint Joseph graduate who he played against in baseball and hockey) and Priamo Lozado.

What will Kuntz study at Morehead State?

Psychology with an eye on the clinical side.

“I just care for people,” says Kuntz. “Everyone can use someone who can understand and listen to them.”

Roman was born in South Bend, Ind., as the second of Brett and Janel Kuntz’s three children. Brother Addison Clark — yes, the family roots for the Chicago Cubs —  is older by two years and was a New Prairie baseball teammate. 

Sister Helaina is a sophomore and No. 2 singles player on the NPHS girls tennis team.

Roman played baseball almost as soon as he could walk and hockey at age 5.

He was in the New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle, Ind., and played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers then the Tony Cruz-managed South Bend American Legion Post 151 the summer before college. 

A varsity player from sophomore through senior year at New Prairie, Kuntz learned from Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger.

“He’s all about the mental side of the game,” says Kuntz of Schellinger. “That’s so important with baseball.”

Schellinger had his players — all of them and not just captains or seniors — come to his classroom once a week for a leadership meeting.

“Everybody had the leadership responsibility,” says Kuntz. “It takes everybody to be a leader.”

Kuntz skated for the South Bend Irish Rovers travel team and was with the South Bend Riley Wildcats Hockey Club his last three years of high school. Moving from defense to left wing as a senior in 2019, he helped the Wildcats to a Class 2A Indiana state championship.

This summer, Kuntz plans to return to the Northwoods League and for manager Corey Thompson and the Wausau-based Wisconsin Woodchucks.

But first there’s work to do as a “juco bandit.”

Roman Kuntz, a 2019 graduate of New Prairie High School in New Carlisel, Ind., and due to graduate in 2021 from Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., signs to continue his academic and baseball careers beyond junior college at Morehead (Ky.) State University. (Lake Michigan College Photo)

Beasley guides Career Academy South Bend baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Phil Beasley faces some challenges as head baseball coach at Career Academy South Bend (Ind.).

As he goes into his fourth season leading the program at the tuition-free public charter school serving grades 6-12, Beasley is met with issues like getting enough players and retaining those.

The school, which opened in August 2011 with grades 7-9 before expanding, presented its first baseball team in 2014. The Trailblazers became eligible for IHSAA tournament play in 2017 — the year before Beasley became head coach.

“The first year we went into most games with 10 players,” says Beasley. “The second year, it was 13 or 14. Last year, we were in good shape with decent numbers then we did not play (because of the COVID-19 pandemic).”

As the 2021 slate approaches, Beasley has been getting a handful out for winter conditioning. He hopes that number will go up at the end of basketball season and when more students begin coming for in-person instruction.

One of the reasons participation is down is because some students take all their classes online and don’t appear at the campus on the northwest side of South Bend just below the Indiana Toll Road. The school has enrollees from all over the area.

“I don’t get to interact with those kids and that’s where a lot of the recruitment comes from,” says Beasley. “Losing the baseball season really hurt because (students and staff) are not talking about it.

“If doesn’t matter if you never played before. Come out and we’ll have some fun. I’m not going to force a kid to come out and do it.”

These novices — some who have never played or have not been on a diamond since Little League — face a varsity high school schedule with experienced opponents. Some of those will go on to play college baseball.

“Retention is hard,” says Beasley. “Many of them do not come back the next year. 

“That’s our biggest hurdle.”

There is currently no feeder system for CASB baseball, though Beasley is hoping to develop a middle school team in the next couple years. Career Academy has a second South Bend campus — Success Academy — which serves grades K-5.

Career Academy South Bend (enrollment around 360) is a member of the new Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy and Trinity Greenlawn). LCA and Trinity Greenlawn do not currently field baseball teams.

Beasley, who is assisted by Dustin Saunders and Josh King, says plans call for conference games to be played on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Trailblazers practice and play at Boland Park, a public facility about three miles from the school.

Career Academy South Bend is part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Central (Union Mills) and Triton. The Trailblazers have won not won a sectional title. SBCA participated in three IHSAA tournaments — 2017 at the LaVille Sectional and 2018 and 2019 at the South Bend Career Academy Sectional (played at South Bend Clay).

Non-conference and non-sectional opponents on the 2021 schedule include Culver Academies, Fremont, Lakewood Park Christian, Mishawaka, North Miami, South Bend Riley, South Bend Washington, Victory Christian Academy and Westville.

Beasley is a math teacher. This year he leads Algebra and Algebra Lab classes.

He grew up in North Liberty, Ind., and played baseball at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., graduating in 2005. Beasley’s freshmen year was John Nadolny’s first at Falcons head coach.

“He was the coach who taught me the most about all aspects of the game as opposed to just the physical part,” says Beasley. “He had those instincts during the game. Being around baseball his whole life, he did what his gut told him to do and it’s worked out for him.”

Beasley credits “Nud” for teaching him how to look at baseball’s mental side.

“How far I can hit the ball or how hard I can throw is not always the most-important part,” says Beasley.

At Ball State University in Muncie, Beasley played four years of club baseball, serving as president his last two years.

The club played intrasquad games in the fall and then a National Club Baseball Association schedule in the spring. Ball State played in the Great Lakes South Conference with club teams from Indiana University, University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and SIU-Edwardsville.

The student-run club was responsible for securing its own practice time and space — in the winter that meant 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. when the varsity teams weren’t using any of the BSU gyms.

Working with Muncie Parks & Recreation, the club played at Francis Lafferty Park. As president, Beasley had to lead fundraising efforts and put together a proposal to get financial help from the university. There was also making out the roster and other administrative duties that many don’t associate with coaching.

Before coaching at Career Academy South Bend, Beasley served as an assistant and junior varsity coach at South Bend Clay (2012-17). He got to work with baseball veterans like Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell, John Kehoe and Dan Kasper.

“It was very informative,” says Beasley. “(Reinebold) always had something that players could do to get better. I learned a lot from him.”

Beasley also learned how to run a team and craft a schedule.

This image was used while seeking potential baseball players at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy.
Phil Beasley is a math teacher and head baseball coach at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy. His first season in charge of the Trailblazers was 2018. His is a graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind. He played club baseball at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

High school assistants make impact around Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coaches of high school baseball programs across Indiana have enjoyed help from some longtime assistants.

Here are some of their stories:

Rhett Welliever (Crawfordsville)

Going into his 36th season in 2021, Rhett Welliever has been the pitching coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School for his whole run.

“I’m a humongous believer in owning that inside part of the plate with the fastball,” says Welliever. “It seems to have worked.

“If you can throw the inside fastball, every other pitch is available to you.”

Welliever wants his hurlers to employ solid mechanics. But he is also unique in today’s deviating from today’s prevelant approach.

“My pitchers are always working on stuff, stuff, stuff,” says Welliever, who knows his players enjoy throwing hard. “Most people work on location, location, location.”

Welliever has his catchers set up on the inside black for bullpens about 60-70 percent of the time. Many of his hurlers go hard in and soft away though some have done the opposite.

“It’s OK if once in awhile you hit a batter,” says Welliever. “Don’t get upset.”

Breaking balls are also thrown hard.

“We’re trying to create as much spin on that ball so it breaks as late as possible and the hitter has the least amount of time to react to it,” says Welliever. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”

Welliever has his pitchers build arm strength with long toss and with burnouts aka pulldowns.

The 2008 Crawfordsville pitching staff racked up 397 (No. 3 in the IHSBCA Record Book; No. 1 Lafayette Jeff fanned 450 in 43 games in 1971).

Steven Rice fanned 198 batters in 2009 and finished his Athenians career (2007-10) with 521 K’s.

Welliever worked alongside brother-in-law and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge through 2020. 

“One of John’s strengths teaching the fundamentals of fielding,” says Welliever. “(Strong defense) helps pitchers.

“It gives them confidence to attack the hitters and throw strikes.”

Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate, is now Athenians head coach. Motz played at the University of Evansville, served as a graduate assistant at Purdue University and was head coach at North Putnam High School before returning to his alma mater, where he is also the strength & conditioning coach.

The Athenians won Class 3A state championships in 2008 (32-4) and 2011 (29-6).

What keeps Welliever coming back?

“It’s working with the kids and getting them to the point where they’re confident about themselves,” says Welliever. “It’s seeing them succeed in baseball and in life.”

He has witnessed many former players giving back to the community as coaches at the youth and high school levels.

“It is the most satisfying thing,” says Welliever, who grew up around New Market, Ind., and is a 1980 graduate of Southmont High School in Crawfordsville, where he played baseball for Mounties head coach George Davis and counted Froedge and the Taylor twins — Dave and Dan — as teammates. Dave Taylor went on to help found the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

“We played a lot of baseball together,” says Welliever. “It was a really special group of guys.”

Dan Welliever, Rhett’s father, taught junior high and was a wrestling head coach and an assistant in baseball, football and softball at Crawfordsville.

Jamie Welliever, Rhett’s brother, is retired from teaching and has spent two tenures each as head baseball and head wrestling coach at Southmont.

Landon McBride (New Palestine)

A middle school coach for five years (seventh and eighth grade teams often play up to 20 games while feeding the high school program), Landon McBride joined the New Palestine High School staff for the 2007 season. He is the Dragons infield coach and helps with hitters on a staff led since 2012 by Shawn Lyons

“The thing that jumps out at me the most about Coach Lyons is his absolute passion for his kids,” says McBride. “If you’re not in the inner circle you may not see that. But he does a great job of having his finger no the pulse of where our team is at and where each individual is at.”

McBride sees Lyons as steady.

“He doesn’t get too high; He doesn’t get too low,” says McBride. “He tries to keep our players on that even-keel, knowing there’s going to be ups and downs everyday.”

On game days, McBride serves as Lyons’ right-hand man, bouncing lineups off one another and trading ideas about strategy while also coaching first base.

McBride emphasizes fundamentals when it comes to his infielders fielding ground balls.

“We’re getting reps in every day — the way we think is the right way,” says McBride. “With hitting, we believe in going the other way. We’re utilizing our speed, bunt and steal bases when we can.”

McBride regularly throws batting practice.

“I’m 59 but I’m still chucking it in there,” says McBride. “I try to give them a little sense of velocity (by moving the L screen closer to the plate.”

When the varsity field is not available, New Pal baseball has been able to use the turf football field for long toss, tracking fly balls and taking grounders.

A 1980 graduate of Marshall High School in Indianapolis where he played three seasons for Bob Tremain and one for Brad Goffinet, McBride was a four-year player for Lynn Morrell at Marian University in Indianapolis — at the time an independent NAIA program.

McBride says he appreciates the discipline, structure and attention to detail that Tremain and Goffinet brought to Redskins baseball. 

“(Coach Morrell) liked getting the ball into play and swinging away,” says McBride. “It was the pure joy of being around the game.”

Landon, a partner in Indiana Property Services which gives him the schedule freedom to coach baseball, and wife Shari McBride have three children — Ryan (30), Angela (28) and Wes (24). The boys played baseball and Angela was also an athlete at New Palestine.

Mike Zeilinga (New Palestine)

A 1976 New Palestine graduate, Mike Zeilinga coaches Dragons outfielders and leads the junior varsity. 

Zeilinga began coaching boys basketball at New Pal in 1996 and led the freshmen for two seasons and the JV for four. He joined Al Cooper’s baseball staff in 2003. Cooper was a Dragons senior when Zeilinga was a freshman.

New Palestine earned a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2003 and state title in 2004.

“The kids keep me young,” says Zeilinga. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching.”

Most Dragons practices begin with stretching and throwing followed by individual defensive position work and team drills (cuts, double cuts and knowing situations).

“Coach McBride is excellent about working with our infielders,” says Zeilinga. “He makes sure they are moving with every pitch.

“Coach Lyons trusts the coaches that he has. He and Coach McBride have coached together that they can read each other’s mind. They have that kind of chemistry.”

During the fall IHSAA Limited Contract Period (twice a week for two hours), 73 players were at workouts while participation was around 65 for recent winter sessions.

“All coaches at New Pal work very well with sharing athletes,” says Zeilinga. “That’s straight from the mentality of Coach (Al) Cooper (athletic director and former head baseball coach).

Zeilinga often works with New Pal outfielders and JV players.

Since varsity and JV teams tend to play on the same night, Zeilinga rarely sees the varsity once the regular season starts.

After each JV game, Zeilinga sends an overview of what his players did well or areas where they need improvement and share that with head coach Shawn Lyons and varsity assistant Landon McBride.

Like McBride, Zeilinga has noticed the head coach’s temperament.

“Coach Lyons doesn’t get real high or real low after a big win or a hard loss,” says Zeilinga. “He’s just a real gentleman of the game.”

Mike, who worked at Eli Lily & Company 35 years before retiring, and wife Susan Zeilinga have two children — Stephanie (a teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis) and Michael (who was the starting center fielder on New Palestine’s 2004 state championship team).

Kevin Hall (New Albany)

Kevin Hall is a 1986 New Albany High School graduate who was a scrappy middle infielder and lead-off hitter for John Buerger, but his association with Bulldogs baseball goes back to before he started school.

Hall, who credits his work ethic for being the youngest of 11, was a batboy for teams featuring older brother David and coached by Stan Sajko in the early 1970’s. Hall still has the tiny pinstriped uniform from those days.

“(Coach Berger) had an attention to detail,” says Hall. “John was very big on pitching and defense. He believed in the bunting game.”

With a few years off here and there, Hall has been on the New Albany baseball coaching staff since 1990. He has been Bulldogs head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chris McIntyre’s top assistant for more than two decades.

“We both have the same philosophy on winning and we’re teaching these kids how to be young men,” says Hall, who leads infielders while also helping with outfielders, hitters and catchers. “When kids get out of school they’re probably not going to be their own boss. They need to learn to take direction.

“We understand that this is the game of failure. If you give us effort, we’ll never get on you about that.”

Hall coaches first base with McIntyre in the third base box.

“Coach McIntyre has a mind like nobody I’ve ever met,” says Hall. “He can process things. He’s analytical. He’s a math teacher. He loves the numbers.”

One day, Hall brought a stop watch to time runners without McIntyre knowing it and — counting in his head — the head coach was only off the actual number by about 1/10th of a second.

“Our program wouldn’t be near where it would be without Chris McIntyre.”

Hall calls baseball “the fairest game ever.”

“Each team gets the same number of outs, same number of opportunities and deals with the same conditions,” says Hall. “There’s no clock. 

“You just have to go play.”

Hall throws a good deal of batting practice to the Bulldogs.

“Our kids get a lot of live arms,” says Hall. “I just use aspirin and ice and go back and do it again the next day.”

When McIntyre was approaching New Albany’s all-time win mark, Hall helped organize a special night for him.

After the celebration, Mac pulled Hall aside and said, “Don’t ever do that again” and then thanked him the next day.

“He’s very humble,” says Hall of McIntyre. “He wants the kids to have that limelight and not him.”

With the loss of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, New Albany had time to upgrade its baseball field while also putting in a new softball diamond next door. 

Kevin, a plant operator at Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany, and wife Melia Hall have a daughter together — eighth grader Anderson (named for Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson). Kevin’s two older daughters are Samantha and Stephanie. Melia’s son is Aidan.

Steve Ford (Lewis Cass)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Marschand has had Steve Ford on his staff for three-quarters of his tenure leading Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.

The 2021 season will mark Ford’s 31st with the Kings. He has always led the infield defense and helped with hitting instruction at Cass, which finished as Class 2A state runners-up in 2009 (20-9).

“It’s pretty collaborative in our program,” says Ford, who coaches first base and sits next to Marschand when the coaches are in the dugout. “We get a sense of the style of play we’re going to use and we coach each of the areas based on what we’re trying to do for that season.

“We we like to put pressure on the defense (on offense). You can do that a lot of different ways. If we have plodders (on the base paths), we can bunt them over. If we have rabbits, we can have more stolen bases, double steals and taking of extra bases.”

Kings coaches like players to play to their strengths and learn to do things like hit behind the runner and put the ball on the ground up the middle.

“We want them to be well-versed in the approach they are going to be taking at the plate based on the situation,” says Ford. “We would really like our players to learn the strategies and the options.

“In practice, we put runners in position and they decide how they are going to score the run.

“Once they have a broader knowledge of how to play, they are going to enjoy it more and be more successful.”

A big part of the Cass offensive blueprint is to get accumulate freebies with dirt-ball reads etc.

“Our approach at the plate has to be to hit hittable strikes,” says Ford. “Early in the count we’re not going to hit his pitch. We’re going to hit our pitch.”

A goal in batting practice is for each player to figure out which pitch he hits best.

BP goal – each player to learn to figure out which pitch he hits best

“Hitting a pitcher’s pitch is giving him a freebie,” says Ford. “Hitting our pitch is somewhat of a freebie for us.”

As part of its SAFE-T offensive plan, Cass wants to score the game’s first run.

Going for the long ball is not a priority, especially at home games where it’s 330 feet down the foul lines and 408 to center field.

“There’s a lot of outfield grass and we’re going to try to pepper it rather than try to hit it out of the park,” says Ford.

Kings defenders focus a lot of on momentum changers.

“One of he biggest on defense is the double play,” says Ford. “We work a lot on turns, feeds and throws to first base while trying to help our pitcher.

“At the high school level, pitching can be a huge variable. Defensive positioning os based on the speed of our pitcher. 

“I can’t tell (infielders) every pitch where to align so they have to be cognizant of signals between the pitchers and catcher and know what pitch is coming.”

The Kings also look to prevent opponents from taking the extra base by being in the proper position for cut-offs and double-cuts.

“We’re making sure to be in a good back-up position in case the throw isn’t perfect,” says Ford. “There are a lot of nuances in defense like where the first baseman takes the throw or where the third baseman goes based on the count. At the high school level, the drag bunt is a big strategy.”

Taking nothing for granted, Ford wants his infielders to back up throws from the catcher to the pitcher.

Ford, a 1970 Kokomo Haworth graduate played for for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Keith Slaughter. The 1970 Haworth Huskies were state finalists.

Bill Bright was middle infielder Ford’s coach at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis).

Steve and wife Julia Ford have been married since 1974 and have two daughters — Amanda (a local farm wife with a son and two daughters) and Melanie (who played four years of basketball at the University of Charleston and is now associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator and NCAA compliance officer at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.). Amanda was a manager and Melanie a player for their father as a basketball coach.

Steve Ford was the girls basketball coach at Cass for 18 seasons, concluding in 2007-08.

Jim Kominkiewicz (Penn)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos has been head coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., for four Class 4A state titles (1994, 1998, 2001 and 2015) and a state runner-up finish (2017). 

Jim Kominiewicz has been there as an assistant for all of them. The 2021 season will be Komo’s 31st on the Kingsmen coaching staff. He has been in education for 38 years — eight in South Bend and 30 in the Penn system.

The current staff has Dikos leading the catcher, Kominkiewicz the infielders, Tom Stanton the pitchers and John Westra the outfielders.

“Greg is one of the best catching coaches in the state,” says Kominkiewicz, noting that Penn has produced its share of college backstops. “Catching is one of the hardest things to do. You’re involved in every play.

“When have pitchers like Skylar Szynski or Ryan Lynch, you better make sure your catcher can catch the ball.”

Kominkiewicz applauds Dikos for his willingness to keep learning and incorporating them into the Kingsmen program.

“Every year we try to do something better,” says Kominkiewicz. “We never stay the same. We try to change things up and keep the kids excited about it. 

“Greg is always going to clinics. He’s the best.”

Kominkiewicz has noticed that many clinic speakers reinforce concepts already being taught by Penn coaches.

“It shows we’re doing things right,” says Kominkiewicz. 

As an infield coach, Komo stresses getting the palm to the baseball and fielding through it. Time is spent on back-handing and picking up short hops.

Kominkiewicz graduated from South Bend John Adams High School in 1972, where he played baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski.

Komo’s first baseball coaching post was at South Bend Washington High School on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski that also included pitching coach Larry Jackowiak.

“Rick was very intense,” says Kominkiewicz. “He’s a book. We spent a lot of time together. We’d come in on Saturday morning and leave at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. 

“I learned a lot of baseball from those guys. Both of them were great coaches.”

A popular drill during the indoor portion of the preseason was a game called “27 Outs.”

As fielders got closer to making it to the finish, balls off fungo bats got harder.

“That’s why (Tomaszewski’s) team were good,” says Kominkiewicz. “They competed every practice.

“We do the same things at Penn. We compete. We test for sit-ups, push-ups and longest throws. We rate their at-bats (4 points for a line drive, 3 for a hard ground ball etc.). Pitchers try to throw the most strikes — things like that.”

Ground balls and double plays are often timed.

Splitting the team into three groups, the Kingsmen go nine outs per round. Losers do extra running or clean up the field.

“A lot of times our practices are harder than the games,” says Kominkiewicz. “But it’s got to be good practice — not just practice. We want to do it right.

“Our theory is we want to good game of catch, put the ball in play (on offense) and pitchers have to throw strikes. That’s what we stress.”

After Washington, Kominkiewicz went to Adams to coach football, wrestling, baseball and and weightlifting then went back to Washington to coach baseball.

Then came the move to Penn, where he also coached football for two years. He has taught and coaches football and wrestling and served as athletic director at Grissom Middle School.

Jim and wife Beth Kominkiewicz have four children — Ryan (38), Brandon (32), Jill (29) and Matt (21) — and seven grandchildren ages six months to 9 years. 

Ryan, an engineer with Caterpillar, played baseball at Penn. 

Brandon played football at Penn and the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and coaches football at Fort Wayne North Side High School.

Jill is a dental assistant.

Matt played baseball and football at Penn and is on the football team at Saint Francis.

Kevin Fitzgerald (Noblesville)

A 1987 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis where he played two seasons each for former big league pitcher Russ Kemmerer and Richard Bender, Noblesville High School assistant Kevin Fitzgerald served in the U.S. Marine Corps 1989-94 then was an assistant to Duke Burns at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis (2000-02), Dave Mundy at Sheridan (Ind.) High School (2003 and 2004) and head coach at Sheridan (2005 and 2006).

“He was fantastic,” says Fitzgerald of Kemmerer. “There were so many lessons I learned that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.

“For him, it was really teaching about life and baseball was just the tool. He said baseball is played on a six-inch field — the six inches between your ears. There are no such things as physical errors — they’re all mental. You weren’t prepared.”

Bender, who had big shoes to fill replacing the popular Kemmerer, is credited by Fitzgerald for the opportunity to explore leadership.

Fitzgerald joined Justin Keever’s staff at Noblesville in 2007.

The Millers won a Class 4A state championship in 2014.

Involved in all aspects of the program, Fitzgerald’s primary focuses is on hitters and outfielders. He also coaches third base and runs the Millers’ analytics.

“I take a lot of stuff off Justin’s plate,” says Fitzgerald. “Being an assistant coach at Noblesville High School is a better gig than a lot of head coaching jobs around the state.

“(Assistants are) all given specific areas (by Keever). Having that kind of trust and autonomy is one of the keys to the program

“He’s built an unbelievable culture in the program that was evident from Day 1.

“We have pretty intense discussions as a staff on direction. One of Justin’s gifts is to pull that together. When we walk out the door, it’s one voice. It’s a purely collaborative process.

“Justin Keever, to me, is the quintessential baseball coach. It’s truly a joy to be on his staff.”

Fitzgerald says Millers hitters are approach-driven.

“Two strikes and less than two strikes are the only two counts that matter,” says Fitzgerald. “With less then two strikes we’re looking to do damage.

“We want to grind pitchers up so we’re aggressively patient. We’ll give up a pitcher’s strike early in the count because it’s not one we can do damage with. But we’ll wait for a mistake.

“The best way to hit a breaking ball is to don’t miss the fastball.”

Points of emphasis for outfielders include trying not to let balls hit the ground and throwing the ball to the right place so runners don’t move up.

Fitzgerald keeps a freebies chart that tracks trail-runner advances.

“We look to win the freebie war every game,” says Fitzgerald. “We want to score plus-5 or more.”

Tools like FlightScope and Rapsodo are used to gather analytic metrics that can be studied and adapted to what Noblesville seeks to accomplish in individual player development.

“It’s not about maintenance,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s about being progressive and moving to the next level.”

Fitzgerald’s resume also includes a stint as executive director and coach for the Indiana Mustangs and working at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind.

Fitzgerald has gained an appreciation for where the Hoosier State stands in the diamond world.

“I don’t think Indiana high school baseball gets enough credit from the public for being as good as it is,” says Fitzgerald. “big-time college programs are always recruiting in Indiana. They know.”

When talking with a coach from a Southeastern Conference school, Fitzgerald asked the difference between players from warm-weather states and places like Indiana.

“He said that northern players are academy players,” says Fitzgerald. “They lack some of that instruct. They don’t play (as much as warm-weather players). 

“That’s our biggest challenge during the off-season (at Noblesville High). We try to be game-like with game speed and tempo indoors. We do anything we can to create instinct.”

Kevin works for Amazon and holds a Business Management degree and is working toward at Quantitative Economics degree from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Brett Windmiller (Fort Wayne Carroll)

A 1991 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School, Brett Windmiller has been on the staff of head coach Dave Ginder at Carroll High School in Allen County since the 2003 season.

The Chargers were Class 3A state runners-up in 1999 and Class 4A state champions in 2010 and 2011.

“(Coach Ginder) understands the things to be good at,” says Windmiller. “His practice organization great and he’s very aware of time.

“If we’re not doing something right, we move on. We’re not going to beat a dead horse.

“As an assistant coach he’s great to work for. You truly feel like you have a say in things. He asks our opinion.”

Windmiller guides the Chargers’ catchers and infielders.

He expects catchers to learn how to run a game (Ginder and Windmiller do not call pitches).

“We teach our kids this is what we want in certain counts,” says Windmiller. “Practice is where we teach. Kids are freed up to play at game time.”

The Chargers talk about the mental game and preparing for each pitch as taught by Brian Cain.

“Players on our 2011 team were masters of the mental game before we emphasized it,” says Windmiller. “They flat out knew they were going to win. 

“It was an amazing group.”

Ginder played at Carroll (Class of 1991) for Chris Adams and at Anderson University for IHSBCA, Anderson U., and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon.

Windmiller played his freshmen year for IHSBCA/Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer Lance Hershberger and sophomore through senior seasons for his father and NEIBA Hall of Famer Larry Windmiller.

Brett played four seasons at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for IHSBCA/NEIBA Hall of Famer Mike Frame, graduating in December 1995.

Before landing at Carroll, Brett was on his father’s Dwenger staff from 1996-2002.

Hershberger, who was an elementary physical education teacher for Windmiller, taught his players about focus and intensity.

“It started with him from the time you started playing catch until you got on the bus and went home,” says Windmiller. “All those things in between mattered. Not that you’re going to dwell on it afterward but this current pitch or at-bat is important.

“If you weren’t ready, you were going to hear about it from Lance.”

Hershberger reminded his players that there was a difference between baseball during the high school and summer seasons. There’s a finality to the high school season while the summer — though very important for development and exposure — is a series of games and unattached tournaments.

Brett did not feel the stigma of being a coach’s son.

“It may have just been the guys I played with,” says Brett. “In hindsight, it may be that dad handled it real well.

“I enjoyed playing for him. There were expectations with the way he wanted you to play. He was good at detecting an issue by watching you swing or throw.”

In his son’s eyes, Larry Windmiller was pretty even-keeled.

“He never got upset,” says Brett. “He was kind of in the middle all the time.

“He really let us play. We had a lot of kids with talent. We played loose and had a lot of success.”

The Dwenger Saints bowed out to Highland in the 1991 South Bend Semistate championship game.

At Huntington, Windmiller learned to play with intensity but not to let a mistake or a perceived bad call fester.

“The intensity of a baseball game is there,” says Windmiller. “It has to be. You learn the moments of the game where that’s appropriate. It cannot drive you into making a second mistake. You can’t carry your at-bat into the field. My red light was strike calls I didn’t agree with.

“Coach Frame was great as far as getting me to try to understand that I’m killing myself when I’m doing that. He helped me lose a little bit of the football mentality.”

Windmiller says he and his fellow coaches have matured over the years and tries set a good example for the players.

“When something bad happens, they are going to look at us,” says Windmiller. “We want to be cheering them on and saying let’s go to the next pitch.”

His first spring at Carroll, Windmiller coached junior varsity players with Mike Klopfenstein.

“JV’s great,” says Windmiller. “There’s no all-conference. There’s no media. It’s just young kids learning how to play baseball the correct way.”

At the JV level, win-loss record is irrelevant. It’s about developing. Between the spring and summer ball and getting in the weight room, a player can make big jumps from one season to the next.

Windmiller is a public address announcer for many Carroll sports, including football, boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling. He has coached eighth grade football and seventh grade girls basketball in the system.

He is also an NEIBA board member and president of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation, running the Red Carrington League with Richard Brown. 

Brett took over the FWBF post after the passing of NEIBA Hall of Famer Dick Crumback in 2019. 

The NEIBA presents the Dick Crumback Player of the Year annually to an area ballplayer. The honor comes with a $1,000 donation ($500 from the Crumback family and $500 for the FWBF) to the program of the recipient.

“It’s a pretty tight-knit baseball community in Fort Wayne,” says Windmiller, who has also been a Wildcat League coach.

Brett, a sixth grade science teacher at Carroll Middle School, and wife Kara Windmiller (secretary to Chargers athletic director Dan Ginder) live in the Carroll school district and have two daughters — high school sophomore Ryli and seventh grader Hannah.

Brett’s sister Kari played volleyball and basketball at Dwenger.

Rhett Welliever is an assistant baseball coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School. (Susan Ehrlich Photo)
Landon McBride is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Mike Zeilinga is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Kevin (right), with wife Melia, is an assistant baseball coach at New Albany (Ind.) High School.
Steve Ford is an assistant baseball coach at Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.
Jim Kominkiewicz is an assistant baseball coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (The Pennant Photo)
Kevin Fitzgerald is an assistant baseball coach at Noblesville (Ind.) High School.
Brett Windmiller is an assistant baseball coach at Carroll High School in Allen County, Ind.