Tag Archives: Spring Arbor University

Gameday mentality fuels Frame-coached Huntington U. Foresters

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team can’t control the wintry weather and the fact that they have to do almost all of their practicing indoors so far in 2019.

But the Foresters won’t use that as an alibi.

Mike Frame, who is in his 35th season as HU head coach, won’t let that happen.

“We’re not going to use it as an excuse,” says Frame, who has had his players working out inside the Merillat Complex fieldhouse when it’s been too cold or wet to use Forest Glen Park. “It’s the hand that we’ve been dealt so we have to make the most of it.”

Years ago, Frame and close friend Tom Roy (who is now co-head coach at Grace College) came up with ACE. The acronym stands for Attitude, Concentration, Effort. It’s something the student-athletes can control everyday.

“For me, it goes beyond playing baseball,” says Frame, a member of the Huntington University Athletics, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Northeast Indiana Baseball Association halls of fame. “We talk to these young men from the time we recruit them that attitude, concentration and effort is something take you with you when you leave. Someday you’re going to be an employee and the employer is going to want somebody with a great attitude, great concentration and great effort.

“Someday there’s going to be a young lady that would like to have a husband with those qualities and a little boy or little girl that would like to have a father with those qualities.

“Let’s control the things that we can control.”

The Foresters’ schedule called for first 20 road games to be played on the road.

Of that number, a dozen were contested and Huntington split them, including one win against NAIA No. 19-ranked University of the Cumberlands and two against No. 22 Taylor University. The home opener against Spring Arbor University was moved to the turf at Logansport High School, where a 6-5 win was achieved for 7-6 start to the campaign.

“We have to prepare to go out and play right away against really good competition,” says Frame. “We have to make sure what we do in (the fieldhouse) translates outside whether we’ve been on the field or not.”

Practices are conducted at a high tempo.

“We have to have a gameday mentality in all that we do,” says Frame. “That’s one of the reasons we practice with uniforms on, guys hit with helmets on.”

Because Frame believes baseball was not meant to be played indoors, player earn their positions in the fall. He does not play favorites.

“The best player is going to play.,” says Frame “What year you are in school doesn’t matter.”

What makes Crossroads League baseball so strong?

“There’s some stability at the top in terms of coaching,” says Frame, noting his own longevity and that of Mount Vernon Nazarene’s Keith Veale (30th season) and Taylor’s Kyle Gould (15th season). “Those coaches are working at it.”

Frame says the league is made up of similar schools in terms of resources, scholarship money and the like. Member schools tend to be faith-based with a strong focus on academics.

“We have to ask how they can handle things at a Christian school and academically before we ever look at (athletic) ability,” says Frame.

HU pitching coach Brian Abbott is in his second go-around at Huntington after a stint at league member Indiana Wesleyan.

“It’s a very competitive league,” says Abbott. “These teams compete at a very high level.”

The league has produced professional players and former IWU pitcher Brandon Beachy made it all the way to the big leagues.

Former Huntington player Dalton Combs spent the past two seasons as an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“You can get to professional baseball from a small school,” says Abbott, who is also executive director of the IHSBCA. “It might be a little easier as a pitcher. A position player needs to be outside with the at-bats and the ground balls that are harder (to come by) in this weather.”

The winner of the Crossroads League regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament will receive automatic bids to the NAIA Opening Round. If the winner of the regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament are the same team, the second place team from the tournament will be awarded the second automatic bid.

Senior outfielder Donovan Clark (Fort Wayne South Side High School graduate), senior right-handed pitcher D.J. Moore (Homestead), senior first baseman/designated hitter Adam Roser (Northfield), junior right-hander Mason Shinabery (Bellmont), junior left-hander Alex McCutcheon (Huntington North) are part of the current Huntington mix.

All come together for a common cause but with a different perspective.

Clark, who played high school baseball for head coach Sheldon Van Pelt, was on the football team at Indiana University before a back injury ended his career in that sport. With friends Will Coursen-Carr and Tyler Zimske playing baseball at Huntington, he decided to switch his focus to the diamond.

What is the difference between NCAA Division I football and NAIA baseball?

“Baseball — in general — is more mental,” says Clark, who went from defensive back to center fielder. “In football, if you don’t have a tackle, interception or impact the game in some way, you’re not considered the best player on the field.”

The Forester Way has a familiar feel to Clark, who is scheduled to graduate this spring with a business marketing degree.

“It’s a small school,” says Clark. “But the program here goes about things in a big school way. We have a strength coach (Scott Craft).”

With all the indoor workouts, Clark has been getting some reps with the infielders to stay busy and learn something new.

“It’s difficult to come inside and go outside and play a game,” says Clark. “But we’ve done a good job of adapting to it. I’m proud of the team.”

Moore, who played at Homestead for Steve Sotir, has noticed the change between high school and college baseball.

“There’s a big difference,” says Moore. “For one, the game speeds up tremendously. Everybody becomes bigger and stronger. Everybody has better eyes at the plate. When you first come in, you’re facing guys who are three or four years older than you.

“The biggest thing is execution and knowing I can’t just throw the ball over the plate without a purpose like I did in high school. I have to actually hit my spots and have a plan.”

The Crossroads League provides a challenge from top to bottom.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this league,” says Moore. “You’ll have ranked team. You’ll have teams receiving votes. You’ll have teams not even close to receiving votes that will still find a way to win. Any team can come out to play and win. There’s not any dominant team in this whole league.”

Moore has learned how to balance academics and athletics.

“It’s a difficult process, but it’s bearable,” says Moore. “It’s about getting your studies done before practice and keeping in-touch with professors. They understand how busy we are in the spring.”

Moore, a sport management major, says Frame encourages his players to take a heavier course load in the fall, maybe 16 or 17 hours and 12 in the spring with as many morning classes as possible.

Tradition attracted more to Huntington.

“Coach knows what he’s doing,” says Moore. “He’s coached here more than half his life. He’s got a great attitude about things and makes us work hard.”

Roser appreciates the approach and the time spent before practices working  ACE attributes.

“We go over Bible verses and examples of how we can be better with our attitude, concentration and effort,” says Roser. “In baseball, the best team doesn’t always win.

“If you have the right attitude and concentration and you put forth the effort, you can beat a good team no matter what kind of talent they have.”

College baseball requires a great time commitment. But Roser, who played for Tony Uggen at Northfield, knew that when he was being recruited.

“It takes awhile for people to adapt to this kind of culture with how much time we put into baseball and studying,” says Roser. “It’s like a 24-hour job almost.

“Coach Frame does a pretty good job of explaining to us what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Roser is slated to graduate this spring with a sports management degree.

Shinabery also played another position while at Bellmont, but is a pitcher-only for the Foresters. While he came out of the bullpen last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers, he’s been used as a starter for Huntington.

“I have a routine,” says Shinabery. “I know when I’m going to pitch. I just make sure I’m ready to go that day.”

Having support is helpful for the pitching staff.

“Coach Abbott and Coach Frame have faith that all our pitchers can do it,” says Shinabery. “In certain situations, they don’t care who comes in. We can all throw strikes and get the job done

“Just them believing in us helps out me and our staff a lot.”

McCutcheon played his high school baseball in the same town, but began his collegiate career at Vincennes University. After a season, he transferred to Huntington and enjoys the baseball atmosphere.

“Coach Frame sets up the mentality the program has,” says McCutcheon. “We’re a blue collar team. We work hard. Coach Frame encourages toughness in everything. He makes us do things the right way.

“That’s what separates us.”

Assistant coach Thad Frame (Mike’s son) keeps practices humming by constantly reminding players at a swift pace. NAIA game rules call for 20 seconds between pitches and two minutes of warm-up between innings.

“When we pitch, Coach has a timer,” says McCutcheon. “We make sure we are always uptempo.

“Thad wants us to get out on the field as fast as we can. If the hitter is just casually putting his gloves on and we can get him off-guard. That’s an advantage for us if he’s not fully prepared.”

McCutcheon says he knows that two things important to Mike Frame are hustling and being mentally-prepared.

Each day after stretching, players are led through visualization.

“Coach Frame has us lay down for a minute or so and clear out everything,” says McCutcheon. “You see yourself walk everything you’re thinking about out the door and get ready for practice.

“He wants our mindsets to be there everyday. That’s the most important thing for him.”

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MIKEFRAME

Mike Frame is head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Brian Abbott is baseball pitching coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

DONOVANCLARK

Donovan Clark is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

DJMOORE

D.J. Moore is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Adam Roser is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Mason Shinabery is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Alex McCutcheon is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Westons share faith, fondness for pitching a baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Weston chose “a quarter” and it changed his baseball life.

Weston was a left-handed relief pitcher at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University in the last two weeks of his senior season when he decided to experiment.

The 2013 Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate had been propelling the baseball from a high three-quarter arm slot. On this day in Cougars bullpen in 2017, he decided to drop down. He went from three-quarter to what he calls “a quarter” — a sidearm kind of delivery.

Weston was accurate and the new approach gave the 6-foot-2, 170-pounder some deception.

“It’s a little bit like Chris Sale, but the one I most emulate is Donnie Hart of the (Baltimore) Orioles. He’s a little bit lower even.”

Weston graduated from SAU in the spring of 2017 major in recreation and leisure management and minor in Spanish and went to pitcher for the Beecher (Ill.) Muskies in the Chicago Suburban Baseball League.

A solid starter with the Muskies, he was chosen to start in the league’s all-star game and then signed for the rest of the summer to play in the Detroit Tigers organization.

In five games (three as a starter) with the Gulf Coast League Tigers West, Weston went 2-0 with a 4.50 earned run average, 12 strikeouts and two walks in 24 innings.

He was released by the Tigers in October 2017, but signed with the Chicago White Sox in April 2018.

At the start of extended spring training at the beginning of April, the White Sox were short on pitching so director of player development Chris Getz gave Weston a call and an opportunity to keep pitching as a professional.

“It’s such a cool opportunity to play the game that I love,” says Weston of the pro experience. “It’s a bonus to get paid for it.

“I get to play it at a high level with a lot of great guys.”

He made 32 appearances (all in relief) with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers and Arizona League White Sox and went 2-6 with a 4.87 ERA, 38 strikeouts and six walks in 47 1/3 innings. After a rough start at Great Falls, he had a streak where he gave up just one hit in six games. He was moved to Arizona with an influx of arms from the draft.

Weston, who turned 24 on Dec. 13 is now back in Valparaiso and juggling a busy schedule. He is working 40 or more hours a week while planning a February wedding and working out five or six days a week to get ready for spring training in March.

He is at the gym in Valparaiso most days, but occasionally drives over to the Chicago to work out with White Sox director of strength and conditioning Allen Thomas.

Right now, Weston is mostly lifting weights. He will begin throwing soon.

Weston met fiancee Amy Kanyer at Liberty Bible Church in Chesterton, Ind.

“We dated all this year long distance,” says Weston. “She’s learning quick (about the pro baseball lifestyle). She’s super supportive. I’m very appreciative of that.

“My mom did it for I don’t know how many years.”

Drew’s mother is Lisa Weston. Her husband of nearly 35 years (their anniversary is Dec. 31) is Mickey Weston, who played pro ball from 1982-96. A right-handed pitcher out of Eastern Michigan University, Mickey appeared in 23 games in the majors with the Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. He went 1-2 with a 7.15 ERA, 11 strikeouts and 19 walks in 44 innings.

Since 1996, Mickey Weston has been the executive director for Unlimited Potential Inc., an organization founded by Tom Roy (now chaplain and co-head baseball coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) whose vision is to “work to reach, teach, and train baseball players for the purpose of sending them out to make disciples of Jesus who love God passionately and love others radically.”

A key Bible passage for UPI is Acts 1:8: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

“We want to get them outside of themselves,” says Mickey of the ballplayers that come in contact with UPI. “The game of baseball can make us fairly selfish folks.

“This gets the ballplayers to think of others more highly than themselves.”

He notes that former White Sox right-handed reliever Scott Linebrink is now building wells around the world with Water Mission.

Mickey has worked in partnership with missionaries in more than 40 countries. This off-season, teams are going to South Africa, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guatemala and Germany.

As a youngster, Drew accompanied his father on some trips. His first as a professional player came last fall in Germany.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Drew. “We got to teach kids about baseball and teach kids about Jesus.”

The group went from town to town and taught baseball skills.

“We met afterwards in dugout and talked about why we love the game and why we love Jesus,” says Drew. “It’s a cool segue opportunity.”

Drew was born in Detroit in 1994. When Mickey became UPI executive director, he moved his family to the headquarters in Winona Lake. Drew grew up playing ball around Warsaw.

Drew is the third of Mickey and Weston’s four children.

Eldest daughter Erica Harrigan and husband Rob live in Indianapolis where she works for Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and he in human resources for Indiana University Health.

Second daughter Kayla Aanderud is an OBGYN resident in Michigan. Her husband, Brian, is the U.S. Army Special Forces.

Youngest daughter Marissa Weston is a violinist in graduate school at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh after graduating from the Jacobs School of Music at IU. Lisa, Erica, Kayla and Drew also play instruments.

When UPI founder Roy handed over White Sox chaplain duties to Mickey Weston and Bryan Hickerson, the two made the commute from north central Indiana to Chicago. To cut down on the commute, the Westons relocated to Valparaiso in 2008 when Drew was entering the eighth grade.

It’s 50 minutes from Valpo to Guaranteed Rate Field. Through Baseball Chapel, Mickey offers services to home and away players plus the umpires. Lisa serves the wives.

Drew played at Valparaiso High School. Dave Coyle was then the Vikings head coach. Current Valparaiso head coach Todd Evans was an assistant.

The lesson that young Weston learned from Coyle was to “really persevere.”

“He had a football mentality,” Weston says of Coyle. “To overcome adversity, that was kind of his thing.”

Mickey Weston has always been his son’s personal pitching coach.

“He’d talk to me about about how I did and how I could do better,” says Drew. “It’s cool to have him in my corner, encouraging me.”

Mickey was asked to assess his son’s pitching strengths.

“It’s control and being able to change speeds,” says Mickey. “He’s able to locate really well and he has movement.

“I didn’t allow him to throw a curveball until he was about 16 and it really forced him to develop his change-up.”

Mickey’s own baseball stock rose when he developed a sinker. It was his third year in Double-A. He was pitching in the bullpen in Tulsa.

“The ball came off my finger and dropped off the table,” says Mickey. “(Former major league right-hander) Glenn Abbott was my pitching coach and had been working with me.

“Less than a year and I was in the big leagues.”

Mickey Weston was a sinker/slider pitcher who created a lot of movement and hovered between 88 and 92 mph while inducing ground balls with his right-handed deliveries.

Ambidextrous as a toddler, Drew Weston fell in love with sister Kayla’s mitt. He wore it all the time. He even slept with it. As a result, he became the third lefty in the Weston household, joining Kayla and his mother.

DREWWESTONSPRINGARBOR

Drew Weston pitched from a high three-quarter arm angle for much of his career at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University. He later dropped down and is now pitching professionally in the Chicago White Sox system. (Spring Arbor University Photo)

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Drew Weston, a graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Spring Arbor (Mich.) University, pitched for the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in 2018. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

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Drew Weston (left) and father Mickey Weston share a moment when Drew was with the Detroit Tigers organization in 2018.

MICKEYDREWWESTON

Mickey Weston (left) visits son Drew Weston when Drew was with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system in 2018. Former big league pitcher Mickey is executive director for Unlimited Potential Inc. and works through Baseball Chapel as chaplain for the Chicago White Sox.

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Drew Weston (right) and fiancee Amy Kanyer share a moment during the 2018 baseball season. Drew pitched in the Chicago White Sox system. The couple are to wed in February 2019.

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Dropping his arm angle helped Drew Weston earn a place in professional baseball. He played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Spring Arbor University. First signed by the Detroit Tigers, he is now in the Chicago White Sox system. (Phrake Photography Photo)

 

Zartman coaches, cares for Bethel College Pilots

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Zartman has shared slices of life with hundreds of players in two decades as a college baseball coach.

There have been moments shared in dugouts, on bus rides and at team meals and community service projects.

The man who has led the program at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., since the 2004 season has always viewed these young men as more than athletes.

They are people, too.

“I want to love those guys the very best that I can while they’re here,” says Zartman. “When they leave, that love doesn’t change. You’re very appreciative of who they are as people.”

Zartman, a 1998 Bethel graduate, tries to see what makes each one tick and does his best to lead them on and off the diamond.

“Your players are more than just a roster number,” says Zartman. “They’re more important than that.

“It’s the relationship you build with those guys and getting to know them for who they are not only on the field but off. Who are they within their families? What do they like to do?.

“To have a genuine care for who they are as a person allows you to understand how you can deal with them on the field as well and make them the best baseball player you can.”

It’s a lesson he learned while playing at Bethel for head coach Sam Riggleman. 

Zartman, who wrapped his career as the Pilots’ all-time leader in home runs (37), runs batted in (181), doubles (61) and slugging percentage (.625) and was inducted into the Bethel College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006, saw Riggleman’s example of how to “treat and love your players.”

Riggleman displayed an attention to detail and a way of pushing the right button to get the most out of his players.

“When you’re a player for Sam you understand real quickly the importance of details and the small things,” says Zartman, who is going into his 16th season as Bethel head coach in 2018-19. “Coach was very well-organized. You never question whatever plan he had for what we were doing every single day.

“It had to do with your focus and what attitude you were going to show up with everyday. Those are things I’ve tried to carry on in my coaching career.”

Prior to returning to his alma mater, Zartman started the program at Mid-Continent College in Mayfield, Ky. The school (which has since closed) was changing to a liberal arts institution and adding athletics.

Zartman tried to get a graduate assistant coaching position after graduating from Bethel and when he found none, he went into the business world for a year.

Zartman is now in his 20th season as a head coach without ever having been an assistant.

“It’s very unusual,” says Zartman. “Guys ask all the time about how to get going in this realm. I can tell them that my story’s not the one that you look at.

“I was very fortunate to get that opportunity freshly out of school.”

Most head coaches went through the grind, starting out as a graduate assistant and/or volunteer coach before serving multiple seasons as a full-time assistant.

One year removed from being a player, Zartman took a call from Riggleman and found out about Mid-Continent.

“In my interview I found out they had already interviewed 20-plus coaches that had experience at the college level and every single one of them turned down,” says Zartman, recalling the summer of 1999. “Then here comes this young kid one year out of college. But — Praise God! — I got the call and they offered me the job.

“I started the program from Ground Zero.”

In the four seasons that Zartman was there, Mid-Continent built a baseball field from scratch and finally reached double digits in wins in his last season.

“It was a tough road, but a road I wouldn’t trade for anything,” says Zartman. “When you’re thrown into the fire like that, you learn a lot and quickly.

“You’re young and green and you just go with instinct. You and learn the best way you know how.”

Between learning on the job, spending time on the phone with Riggleman and being led by the Mid-Continent administration, Zartman began to navigate life as a college head coach.

Recruiting has changed for Zartman during his time in charge at BC, where the current tuition is about $28,500.

“Just in my 16 years here at Bethel, we’ve had four different scholarship systems,” says Zartman. “We go from a standard to a certain pot of money to a period of time with no (athletic) scholarships to today when we’re in a discount rate system.”

Zartman says the biggest switch in recent years is that players are making their college decisions a lot sooner. Rare are the days that they commit in the summer and then come to campus in the fall.

“It’s helped us build our recruiting lists earlier,” says Zartman. “We’re in the period right now where a lot of Class of ’19 kids are making their decisions.

“They want to have a stress-free senior year.”

While trying to build a roster that the Bethel administration wants to be between 28 and 35 athletes, the Pilots coaching staff (Zartman, Kiel Boynton and Dick Siler) get out to high school games at the end of the college season and then really focus on summer travel tournaments — particularly Pastime Tournaments at the University of Notre Dame and Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Bethel coaches also see players via video and identify potential recruits through Prep Baseball Report.

“A lot of kids are now promoting themselves,” says Zartman. “With the videos, we can get a quick glimpse to see what they’re like.”

The current roster includes players with hometowns in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, California, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Venezuela.

“We’re starting to branch out and get guys from a broader spectrum,” says Zartman. “Some of these guys have never seen snow before. They end up adapting and they really enjoy their experience.”

Bethel is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The NAIA allows its baseball teams to play 55 games during the school year. The Pilots are to play six games that count toward their record this fall with Saturday noon doubleheaders Sept. 22 (vs. Trinity International University), Sept. 29 (at University of Michigan-Dearborn) and Oct. 6 (vs. UM-Dearborn).

“I love the NAIA from the standpoint that we can spend time with our players,” says Zartman, who was a four-time NAIA All-American as a player. “We can do things off the field with them.”

On the baseball side, teams are allowed 24 weeks of activity during the school year, counting backwards from the last regular-season game. For Bethel this year that means six weeks in the fall and the rest in the spring.

Bethel belongs to the Crossroads League (along with Goshen College, Grace College, Huntington University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Marian University, Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, Spring Arbor University and Taylor University). The CL tries to play as many conference games on weekends as possible.

With schedules aligning, Bethel and Grace are slated play their series in Vero Beach, Fla., in March 2019.

A member of the American Baseball Coaches Association, Zartman plans to attend the ABCA Convention Jan. 3-6 in Dallas.

“I definitely love the camaraderie,” says Zartman. “There is so much perspective to gain from other coaches.

“The clinic speakers are next to none. We also get to have our voices heard (in NAIA meetings).”

Zartman is a 1994 graduate of Caston High School in Fulton, Ind., where he played for head coach Dick Farrer (who is now at Pioneer High School in Royal Center, Ind.).

In his freshman season, Zartman, Farrer came to him and his teammates asking about their diamond dreams. For Seth, it was to be a starting catcher and that goal was attained.

“He enabled us to go for it,” says Zartman of Farrer. “He allowed us to get into those positions and really show what we could do.

“I remember Coach Farrer saying as long you’re giving me your best then I have nothing to complain about. He really, really enhanced the positives.”

Zartman began playing summer youth baseball in Fulton and then switched to Rochester, Ind., to be closer to father Marty’s job. Marty coached back then and later helped Seth at Bethel.

Seth played in Rochester through Babe Ruth before entering high school. In the summers, he played for Walton American Legion Post 418. His coaches were Mike Platt and Larry “Bud” Jones, the latter being the head coach at Logansport High School.

“Coach Jones was a very attention-to-detail guy. He was big on the fundamentals of the game.

“I was very fortunate in all my levels to play for coaches that emphasized how important the fundamentals of baseball are and working those all the time are what makes you the player you’re going to be.

“It’s not just showing up everyday because you have the talent to overpower somebody.”

Zartman knows that a lot of people say that’s the old school way of baseball.

“I’m a firm believer that the old school is the new school,” says Zartman. “You have to do those things.

“That repetition in practice — doing things over and over — implants in you those things that become second nature when you go play a game.”

In addition to his coaching duties, Zartman is the head groundskeeper for outdoor athletic facilities at Bethel. He is assisted by head women’s soccer coach Jamie Lindvall and head cross country/assistant track and field coach Ryan Sommers.

Zartman was diagnosed in January 2012 with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). It is a thickening of the heart muscle (myocardium). The condition can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. HCM may also affect the heart’s electrical system.

“I had a good check-up in May,” says Zartman. “I go to Boston in October for my yearly check-up with my main HCM doctor.

“I feel very blessed. God’s been really good in protection and provision.”

Marty and Joyce Zartman, who are also Caston High graduates, have four boys. Seth is one year older than Sean, five years older than Luke and 15 years older than Ethan. Between the three, they have six children. Seth coached Ethan Zartman at Bethel.

Seth and Anitra Zartman, who met at Bethel as student-athletes, have been married for 18 years. The couple has four kids — Senica (14), Ty (14), Lyric (7) and Evik (5).

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Seth Zartman, a 1998 Bethel College graduate and BC Athletic Hall of Famer, is in his 16th year as head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

New Saint Francis Cougars head baseball coach Butcher committed to making history

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dustin Butcher wants baseball success for his alma mater.

The new head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., is committed to making the Cougars into a perennial championship contender — something already achieved by the school’s football and basketball programs.

“To do something special, you have to commit to it,” says Butcher, who takes over the program after the retirement of Greg Roberts. “We’re going to make history here at some point.

“I’m excited. I have a lot of pride in this university.”

Saint Francis is a member of the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League (along with Bethel College, Goshen College, Grace College, Huntington University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Marian University, Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, Spring Arbor University and Taylor University). The Cougars are seeking their first regular-season or tournament title in baseball.

USF head football coach Kevin Donley is the winningest coach in NAIA history. Men’s basketball Chad LaCross has won over 70 percent of his games with two national runner-up teams. Coach Jason Ridge now leads a women’s basketball program that won a national title in 2014.

Butcher graduated from Heritage High School in Monroeville, Ind., and played baseball and soccer at Saint Francis, completing his undergraduate degree in 2001. He went on to earn a masters in sports and exercise psychology from Ball State University.

During his internship with USF’s soccer teams — men and women — Butcher got a chance to built the mental skill set of athletes.

Butcher played baseball for coach Dean Lehrman at Heritage. His USF coaches were Steve Kovacs and Doug Coate in baseball and Ken Nuber then Mitch Ellisen in soccer.

“I’m thankful,” says Butcher. “Coach Lehrman kind of saved me from myself. He was very honest. I wasn’t on the best path. I wasn’t living up to expectations.”

Butcher says he contributed to Cougars soccer for his willingness to be a grinder.

“I was good in high school, but at the collegiate level I wasn’t good enough,” says Butcher. “But I think I made everybody around me better because I would never stop.

“It made me realize that you need guys like that. I pushed guys in practice. They knew you couldn’t take a day off.”

Butcher’s first assistant college baseball coaching stop came at Marian in Indianapolis on the staff of Kurt Guldner and assistants Kip McWilliams and Toby Rogers.

Jessica Butcher, Dustin’s wife, is a family doctor with Lutheran Health Physicians. She did her residency in Fort Wayne and Dustin coached a season at Saint Francis and then went with head coach McWilliams at Indiana Tech. Butcher returned to Saint Francis to join Roberts in the fall of 2008 and remained until the present.

“I’m appreciative of Coach Guldner giving me my first job,” says Butcher. “Coach Mac is really the one that got me going to the (annual American Baseball Coaches Association national convention). If you love baseball and you’ve never been to an ABCA convention, you need to go. It’s mind-blowing.

“It’s such a cool culture of coaches. It’s a group of guys constantly trying to learn and share information. I love it.”

Butcher is grateful for Roberts, who allowed him to find his own way of implementing his philosophy.

“He allowed us to coach,” says Butcher, who also served alongside Miguel Tucker (who is now on McWilliams’ staff at Indiana Tech). “He gave us full autonomy. He allowed us to fail and succeed on his watch. He was just so good at teaching. He always had an angle that would make you think.

“I owe him a lot.”

As head coach, Butcher will emphasize the grinder mentality

“I want to challenge them to where they hit a wall physically and they have to figure out how to get to the other side,” says Butcher. “You’ve got to find something within yourself.”

To narrow the gap on the competition, Butcher expects his athletes to move some iron.

“I’m a big believer in the weight room — it allows you to compete at a higher level quicker.

“To win at the NAIA level, you see a lot of teams across the country in the World Series or Top 25 with transfers (Division I or junior college). We don’t have the luxury of being able to pluck any JC kid or get every Division I bounce-back. We don’t have the financial capability. To be able to compete, we’ve got to push in the weight room.

“To make history, we need to do more — we need to develop more, we need to take more swings outside of practice time. That’s something I’m going to ask our coaches to do.”

Former Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne player Kristian Gayday has been hired as a USF baseball assistant and a search is one for a second assistant. Gayday, who played for Mastodons and head coach Bobby Pierce, will lead Cougars hitters and help with infielders and outfielders.

Butcher is especially fond of the methods favored by strength and conditioning specialist Eric Cressey. Because they seem to be more in-line with baseball, the coach says his Cougars will front squat and deadlift.

Recruiting at Saint Francis focuses on a 50-mile radius around the school. Anyone from inside that ring can commute. By school policy, those outside that radius must live on campus and that adds to the cost.

The 2019 online roster includes 15 players from Allen or surrounding Indiana counties.

Using resources like FieldLevel and getting athletes to on-campus to experience the atmosphere of home football games, Butcher is wrapping up the 2018-19 recruiting class while also looking for 2019-20 commits.

Travel organizations that have been good to Saint Francis are the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks, Summit City Sluggers and Indiana Chargers.

“Those are three top programs,” says Butcher. “You want to make sure you see them in the summer because they always have kids to recruit.”

He expects his roster to hover between 30 and 40 players, which will take practices and a few scrimmages in the fall and a 55-game schedule in the spring. Some winter workouts will take place at The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy. All home games will be played on the turf at the ASH Centre in Fort Wayne.

Dustin, the oldest of six children, is the son of Becki Beauchot and Steve Butcher. Dustin’s sisters are Abbi, Emily and Daisy with Sam and Jack (a senior-to-be at Heritage).

Living in Leo, Ind., Dustin and Jessica Butcher have two children — Nolan (9) and Ella (7). Ella was in Miguel Tucker’s wedding. Jessica has been the baby doctor for former USF players.

“That’s why you do it,” says Butcher of the bonds formed through baseball. “It’s a family. That’s hard to get through to coaches.

“I hope they understand it.”

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Alum and long-time assistant coach Dustin Butcher is now the head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Risedorph has NorthWood Panthers playing baseball with accountability, confidence, toughness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If it seems like NorthWood High School baseball players are jacked up all the time, there’s a reason for that.

First-year Panthers head coach A.J. Risedorph asked his players at the Elkhart County school and that’s the way they want to attack the 2018 season.

Several players, including seniors Payton Bear and Brant Mast (a Spring Arbor University signee) and juniors Matt Dutkowski and Alec Holcomb, return from a 2017 squad went 26-2 overall and 14-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference and won IHSAA Class 3A NorthWood Sectional and Bellmont Regional titles with Jay Sheets at the helm.

“We want to be high energy the entire game,” says Risedorph, a former NorthWood assistant baseball coach who returns as the leader of the program after a season away from the diamond. “We celebrate everything — regardless of outcome.”

A batter might see six pitches then fly out to center field.

But it’s a “quality at-bat.”

“We put a positive spin on something they would normally look at as failure,” says Risedorph. “Positive reinforcement is huge.”

In the Panthers’ first two games of the campaign (a 13-0 win against Westview and 9-8 triumph against Mishawaka), Risedorph has noticed Dutkowski coming up to his teammates and lending encouragement and that’s the kind of culture the NorthWood social studies teacher and student council sponsor is trying to build.

Risedorph wants his club to react well to adversity, something the Panthers did when down 8-7 in the seventh inning against Mishawaka.

“We don’t win that game is our guys panic,” says Risedorph. “I’m real happy with the group that we have. They are level-headed. They have ice in their veins.”

A graduate of East Noble High School (2006) and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne (2011), former right-handed pitcher, shortstop and third baseman Risedorph has drawn some of his coaching philosophies and methods from his high school and college coaches and one current mentor.

“I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of leaders,” says Risedorph.

Kevin Irons was his head baseball coach at East Noble as the Knights competed in the old Northeast Hoosier Conference (along with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell).

Billy Gernon and then Bobby Pierce led the way at IPFW. Mastodons pitching coach Grant Birely also played a big role.

Irons brought Risedorph up to the varsity midway through his freshmen season and taught him plenty about the game.

Risedorph recalls the intensity of a Gernon-led practice.

“He really set a standard for that,” says Risedorph. “He made sure guys were going to buy into the program.”

Pierce took over the Mastodons after Gernon left to become head coach at Western Michigan University. Risedorph constantly picked the brains of Pierce and Birely while playing and also while serving as a first base coach during rehabilitation. Injury took away Risedorph’s 2007 and 2010 seasons.

“(Pierce) runs a very pro-style program,” says Risedorph. “He wants you to be you. He wanted players to represent themselves the right way. He didn’t want you to be something you weren’t and he was very big on the mental side.

“(Pierce and Birely) were able to get the best out of us.”

There were no radical changes in batting stances or arm slots. Players were allowed to work within their own approach.

Risedorph lets his players be themselves within a framework.

“They need structure,” says Risedorph. “They do better when they have it.”

Since 2012-13, Risedorph has been a varsity assistant NorthWood head boys basketball coach Aaron Wolfe and the Panthers have gone 123-25 with four sectional crowns during that span.

“He showed me that you can have meaningful professional relationships with student-athletes,” says Risedorph of Wolfe.

Attending his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January, Risedorph picked up some pointers about practice structure from Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki and outfield play from Indiana University Kokomo head coach Matt Howard.

Risedorph, who counts Matt Cox and Kevin Roberts as varsity assistants and Greg Estepp and Aaron Arnold as junior varsity coaches guiding a group of 32 players, has his practices broken down into individualized instruction, group skills and team skills.

While “Embrace the Pace” means one thing to the Nappanee Chamber of Commerce, it’s another kind of progression for the Panthers.

“There’s no down time,” says Risedorph. “There has to be a pace to our practice.

“We try to put ourselves in stressful situations. It’s so hard to simulate that stuff in practice. It comes from our pace.

“Yet we want to be calm when we do it. You cannot perform when you’re not loose.”

Risedorph says Birely used to say, “Know your numbers” — as in the stress scale.

“Sometimes you need to step back, breathe and slow your heart rate,” says Risedorph. “(The mentality is) Next Pitch. You don’t let the momentum get the best of you — good or bad.”

NorthWood players are also expected to embrace the concepts of being accountable, confident and tough.

Accountability means doing the right thing, at the right time, all the time.

Confidence entails the beliefs and behaviors that result from a passion to make oneself better.

Toughness is part of being ready, relentless and responsive.

The 2017 sectional title marked the 11th in NorthWood history and sixth since 2011. The regional championship was the program’s first since 1983.

In 2018, the Panthers are in a 3A sectional group with Angola, Fairfield, Lakeland, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

Besides NorthWood, the NLC features Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee.

Many NorthWood players are part of travel baseball organizations, including the Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Chargers.

Estepp coaches the NorthWood 14U team in the summer.

“We are not short of quality coaches in this area,” says Risedorph. “It’s nice they care about the kids’ future.

“We’re very fortunate so many of these kids are putting in work.”

Risedorph says he is looking to get more involved with Nappanee Youth Baseball League and Wakarusa Baseball/Softball League.

Before landing at NorthWood, a part of Wa-Nee Community Schools and where former Bremen baseball coach Norm Sellers is athletic director, Risedorph taught for one year at East Noble Middle School and was a baseball assistant to Irons. Risedorph did his student teaching at Fort Wayne Snider High School.

A.J. and Jenna Risedorph have two daughters — Quinlynn (4) and Reagan (1). A.J. is the son of Randy and Iolet Risedorph and has three brothers — Ryan, Eric and Brayden.

NorthWood graduate Blake Cleveland is now playing baseball at Central Michigan University.

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A.J. Risedorph is in his first season as NorthWood High School head baseball coach. The East Noble High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne graduate is back with the program after a year away. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

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Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)