Tag Archives: St. Louis Cardinals

Fans keep turning out to see Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Downtown Fort Wayne has become a destination and TinCaps baseball is a big reason.

The minor league team welcomed a franchise-record 413,701 fans to Parkview Field for 68 dates in 2016 and was only slightly behind that pace in 2017 — the ninth at the ballpark on Ewing Street.

Fort Wayne, a San Diego Padres affiliate, drew 252,305 for its first 45 dates, including a single-game record 9,266 on July 4.

“The city has embraced us,” says TinCaps president Mike Nutter. “The people keep coming. It’s been an unbelievable 8 1/2 years and we just want to keep it going.”

A combination of exciting, young talent and ballpark amenities attracts fans from around the region.

“It’s an incredible sports market,” says Nutter, who notes that folks who who root for the Cubs, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Reds and Cardinals agree that the TinCaps are their local team.

Before the streak was stopped in 2016, Fort Wayne had made the playoff seven straight seasons — a mark not matched in the minors or the majors.

Some people come to the park for the food and the promotions, but others want to see a winner and fondly recall the first season at Parkview when Fort Wayne, managed by Doug Dascenzo, won the 2009 Midwest League championship. Led by right-hander Mat Latos, 19 of those players landed in the big leagues.

Nutter has been with the franchise since the fall of 1999. The Fort Wayne Wizards played at the former Memorial Stadium from 1993-2008 and were affiliated with the Minnesota Twins through 1998.

“We were doing that and thought it was great,” says Nutter of the Memorial Stadium days. “We had a hard-working group.”

Current vice presidents David Lorenz, Brian Schackow and Michael Limmer were with the club in those days.

Before coming to the Summit City, Nutter had been in Nashville and watched that ownership have trouble getting a new ballpark (which eventually happened in 2015) so he knew new digs in Fort Wayne were not a sure thing.

“We didn’t know how realistic it was,” says Nutter. “Then it started to get legs and it started to move.”

The TinCaps are run by Hardball Capital. Jason Freier is chairman and CEO of that group, which also runs the Chattanooga Lookouts and Columbia Fireflies.

One idea TinCaps management had when they moved across town is still in place.

“When we came downtown we said lawn seats would be 5 bucks. We liked the way that sounded,” says Nutter. “At the old ballpark — again, not being criticial of it — the cheapest ticket was $6.50. Here was are in Year 9 and they’re still 5 bucks.”

Whether paying $5 or for more-expensive seats, patrons can see a TinCaps team that features three 18-year-olds in the starting infield, including Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop, Hudson Potts at third base and Reinaldo Ilarraza at second base.

Tatis, son of former MLB player Fernando Tatis Sr., has already been MWL Player of the Week twice in 2017 — the first Fort Wayne player to do that since Rymer Liriano in 2011. Baseball Prospectus ranks the young Tatis No. 22 among its Midseason Top 50 prospects.

“On a nightly basis, he stands out as the most-exciting player on the field,” says Sam Geaney, Padres director of player development. “From his raw ability and a lot of his performances, there’s a lot of positives.

“I love the way he plays. It seems like he enjoys playing the game.”

The Padres organization has definitely turned to teens to turn things around and that includes Fort Wayne.

“We are one of the youngest teams in the league,” says Geaney. “We understand there are going to be some growing pains.

“We had a lot of international signings. We have two 17-year-olds (Luis Almanzar and Justin Lopez) and an 18-year-old (Kelvin Melean) at (rookie-level) Tri-City playing on a nightly basis.

“When you sign guys from Latin America, for the most part those guys will be younger — 16 or 17 years old. It’s very clear with our staff that we’re trying to find the best players.”

Slugging first baseman Brad Zunica is a returnee from 2016.

“He’s just continuing to mature,” says Geaney of Zunica. “He had his first full professional season last year. There’s a maturing process that comes with that. He continues to tighten up his swing.

“With the combination of mechanical things and professional development, we’re going to see some results this year.”

With a re-worked pitching staff nurtured by veteran coach Burt Hooton, Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras had his team off to a 12-7 start in the second half after a league-worst 26-44 performance in the first half.

Michel Baez, a 6-foot-8 Cuban right-hander, made his first start in front of a paying crowd on American soil in the July 4 game and impressed by pitching five innings of two-hit shutout baseball with nine strikeouts

“The future is bright I think for the TinCaps in the second half and I know for the Padres in the future,” says Nutter.

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Kirchoff of Northeast Dubois proud to be a branch on sturdy coaching tree

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Kirchoff swells with pride when he thinks about the coaches in his life.

In his 24th season as an Indiana high school head baseball coach — his 15th at Northeast Dubois after nine at Heritage Hills — Kirchoff knows where his roots lie.

Father Rex Kirchoff was his baseball coach and Steve Brett (on his way to 467 wins) his basketball coach at Bloomfield High School, where Brian graduated in 1984. Brian’s uncle is Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame coach Guy Glover.

Another uncle — John Heaton — coached Shelbyville to the boys basketball Final Four in 1986.

Cousin Glen Heaton coached basketballers at Fort Wayne North Side.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Henry Ayres had Brian as an assistant for three seasons before he retired Kirchoff took over for the Patriots.

Before that, Brian played at Indiana State University-Evansville for Larry Shown and then IHSBCA Hall of Famer Brian Kuester and Gary Redman as the school changed its name to the University of Southern Indiana.

“I’m very proud of the coaching tree that I’m a branch of such a coaching tree,” says Kirchoff. “You talk about a guy who’s been lucky. To pick up things from these men is unreal.”

Rex Kirchoff, who is now 81, taught his son the game and is the reason he pursued coaching the sport.

A few years ago, Brian found a way to pay him back.

A family of St. Louis Cardinals fans, the Kirchoffs went to Game 6 of the 2011 World Series (St. Louis bested the Texas Rangers 10-9 in 11 innings on David Freese’s game-winning home run).

“I never saw my dad showing a whole lot of emotion,” says Brian. “He was high-fiving police officers going out of Busch Stadium that night.

“I’ve been very blessed.”

Brian considers himself an “Old School” coach, but he does not always play things by the book.

“I still cringe when people don’t bunt in bunting situations,” says Kirchoff. “When I played for Coach Redman, I found out about being very aggressive on the bases.

“I’m a believer that most kids can move on the bases. You just have to pick ways to do it.”

Not all players a speed merchants. But delayed steals and hit-and-run plays can get the wheels turning.

“You can’t get much done playing station-to-station,” says Kirchoff. “You have to get creative when the kids aren’t quite the fastest.”

Northeast Dubois is an IHSAA Class 1A school of about 270 students. The Jeeps play in the Blue Chip Conference (with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet and Wood Memorial; Washington Catholic is also in the BCC but has no baseball team).

How competitive is the Blue Chip? Kirchhoff notes that Rivet did not win the conference and yet finished as 1A state runner-up in 2013.

“You’ve got to play pretty well to win our conference,” says Kirchoff. an IHSBCA district representative. “In some years, three or four teams — with a break or two — could be the team to end up at Victory Field.

“Our conference champion generally speaking has a pretty good chance to make a run every year.”

Northeast Dubois plays seven round robin conference games and then a variety of non-conference opponents.

“I like the opportunity to play as many different people as possible during the season and keep it fresh with the kids. The farthest we go is Shakamak — about 1 1/2-hour drive.

“For a 1A school, we’re in a really nice spot. We have a nice mix of schools and sizes. We have plenty of options.”

3A’s Jasper, Southridge and Washington, 2A’s Forest Park and 1A’s North Daviess all appear on the non-conference slate.

All but two of NED’s nine sectional titles and two of three regional championships have come on Kirchoff’s watch. The Jeeps play in the opener of the five-team Northeast Dubois Sectional Wednesday, May 24. The hosts are the defending champions.

By the way, a Northeast Dubois Jeep has nothing to do with a mode of transportation. It’s an homage to a character that first appeared in the Popeye comic strip in 1936 — Eugene the Jeep.

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Brian Kirchoff is in his 15th season as head baseball coach at Northeast Dubois High School. Before leading the Jeeps, he was head coach at Heritage Hills.

Hall of Famer Rademacher heeds call back to Barr-Reeve diamond

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“The Ball Park Is Calling And I Must Go.”

Joe Rademacher logged countless hours at the baseball diamond behind Barr-Reeve High School.

Coming to the Daviess County school in the fall of 1976 after a playing career at the University of Evansville, Rademacher threw himself into all things baseball. Not only did he coach high school players, he was also in charge of the summer program for kindergartners through eighth graders. He performed field maintenance and called on sponsors around Montgomery.

He enjoyed teaching the game, doing that well enough to win more than 400 games.

Rademacher’s 1998 Vikings finished the season at Victory Field in Indianapolis with an IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up finish.

The 1972 Holland High School (consolidated after his senior year with Huntingburg to form Southridge) served two separate terms as Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association president, building statewide relationships and gaining satisfaction from the rapport between the coaches and the IHSAA.

In 2007, the IHSBCA welcomed him into its Hall of Fame and his plaque hangs just down the road in Jasper.

But all his baseball responsibilities were physically taxing. After 33 years, Rademacher stepped away.

“I was worn out,” says Rademacher.

Away from all those duties, he had more time to spend with wife Anita and daughters Abby and Amber and to root for his beloved St. Louis Cardinals.

Nathan Lester took over the reins of the Barr-Reeve varsity and held that post for six seasons. Along the way, the field shared with youth baseball and adult slow pitch softball leagues finally put grass around the mound.

“We had one of the last dirt infields in the state,” says Rademacher.

When Lester decided he wanted to see more of his own kids’ games, players ages 6-12 went to the Chuck Harmon Little League in Washington and Rademacher’s teaching job changed from the classroom to physical education sessions without the papers to grade, the Hall of Famer answered the call back to the ball park.

Lester stayed on as an assistant coach and Rademacher began his second stint as the man in charge with the 2016 season and the Vikings won their first sectional crown since 2010.

The 2017 coaching staff also includes Kraig Knepp, Dean Scott, Josh Swartzentruber and Ryan Graber. For more than 20 years, the Vikings have played a junior varsity schedule separate from the varsity.

Junior high players at Barr-Reeve played in the spring and early summer, sharing the same diamond used by the varsity and JV.

“The field takes a beating in April, May and June,” says Rademacher.

A trip to a baseball game — be it in St. Louis or wherever — as an educational experience by the veteran coach.

“What can I learn today?,” says Rademacher, who has also gleaned plenty at clinics. “I watch what other people do. I try to incorporate those things. I played for good coaches (Wayne Ransome at Holland, Wayne Boultinghouse and Bob Hodges as a pitcher at Evansville) and picked up some things from them. I grew up 15 miles from Jasper and I’m now 25 miles from there. If you don’t learn something, you are not paying attention.”

Boultinghouse was a Rockport product who played in the Cardinals organization. Hodges is the brother of former major league, Saint Joseph’s College and Princeton High School star Gil Hodges. Rademacher is proud to say the Holland also produced U of E and pro basketball standout Don Buse.

Barr-Reeve baseball is built on solid pitching, but Rademacher also pays attention to hitting.

On a recent afternoon, the Vikings got ready for a home game against Vincennes Lincoln with indoor tee and cage work in the gym.

“Some of our players were too close to the plate and they were jamming themselves,” says Rademacher. “We wanted them to get back off the plate and diving into pitches better.”

Baseball, teaching and family life have kept Rademacher hopping this spring. The reveal for Abby’s first baby was staged around a weekend with the Cardinals.

By the way, a baby boy is due in August.

Barr-Reeve plays in the Blue Chip Conference (with Loogootee, Northeast Dubois, North Knox, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial).

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Joe Rademacher, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, is in his second stint as head baseball coach at Barr-Reeve High School. Beginning in 1977, he coached 33 years. He took six off and came back for the 2016 campaign. (Steve Krah Photo)

700 wins in, Wapahani’s Dudley has not changed all that much

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Dudley just reached the rarified air of the 700-win plateau as an Indiana high school baseball coach.

Dudley steered Wapahani to a 9-1 win at Mid-Eastern Conference foe Randolph Southern April 12 to reach the milestone.

But that doesn’t mean he’ll be hitting fewer fungos or throwing less batting practice to his players.

Dudley will still be teaching the game and taking care of Raider Field — a diamond showplace in the Delaware County town of Selma.

“I’ve been very fortunate to not only have good players, but good kids,” says Dudley. “They all came from good families that have been supportive of our program.

“A lot more goes into it than one guy getting credit for 700 wins.”

This coach and educator is not given to long-winded speeches or flashiness.

“I’m simple,” says Dudley, an Accounting and Careers teacher at WHS.

Written below his likeness on his Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame web page is a simple, heart-felt sentiment:

“I have been blessed to serve as the Wapahani Varsity Baseball Coach since 1984. This honor is dedicated to the coaches, players, parents, and fans that have made Wapahani Baseball so special to our community.”

The building blocks of the program are straight forward.

“We just do things the right way and with class,” says Dudley. “We’re not here to show people up and do things that would be unsportsmanlike.

“What we’ve tried to do for a long time is have an expectation to win — from Day 1 when I started until now, we expect to win.”

Each senior class feels an obligation to keep the tradition alive.

“They don’t want to stand out and be the group that didn’t win,” says Dudley.

What does 700 victories mean to Dudley?

“I’ve been here a very long time and we’ve been pretty successful throughout those years as well,” says Dudley, a 1976 Wapahani graduate.

Success is just what the Raiders have enjoyed on a regular basis.

Besides 25 MEC titles (1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016), Wapahani has won 14 sectionals (1989, 1990, 1991, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014), six regionals (1989, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2014), two semistates (2004 and 2004), one state championship (2014) and one state runner-up (2004) — all on Dudley’s watch.

The Raiders beat Evansville Mater Dei 2-0 for the 2A title in 2014.

IHSBCA all-stars include Mike Schuck (1986), Brady Stevens (1988), Joe Luce (1989), Bobby Hirst (1990), Mitch Druckemiller (1993), Joe Hirst (1994), Kris Luce (1997), Donnie Collins (1998), Travis Johnson (2002), Eric Van Matre (2004), Jeremy Hazelbaker (2006), Devin Wilburn (2010), Brandon Estep (2011), Hayden Woodard (2013) and Zack Thompson (2016).

Hazelbaker was a standout at Ball State University and made his Major League Baseball debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. He is now with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Playing in the MEC (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, defending 1A state champion Daleville, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Union (Modoc) and Wes-Del) tests the Raiders as does a strong non-conference schedule peppered with larger schools.

“Our conference is pretty competitive,” says Dudley. “It seems that no matter where you’re at, each team has a least one good pitcher. A lot of kids from our conference have played college ball. For being (a 1A/2A) conference that says a lot.”

Baseball has long been a priority at this place. Selma High School (which later consolidated with Center to former Wapahani) won a sectional in the first year of the IHSAA state tournament series (1967).

Time has also given Dudley some perspective and changed his coaching style a little bit.

“I’m a little more laid back after 34 years then I probably was the first 10,” says Dudley. “It’s just a baseball game — not life. When you’re young and full of energy, you think it’s life and death and it’s really not.”

When Dudley took over at Wapahani, the field had an all-dirt infield and now has spacious dugouts, a bricked backstop wall and tiered stands with a substantial press box and concession stand.

“We’ve had a lot of changes,” says Dudley. “The community takes pride in our field and our program.”

In a small town, baseball is a focal point and residents show up to watch high school, junior high (East Central Indiana League) and youth games.

We have a great Little League in Selma that has been strong for year and a lot of kids play in it,” says Dudley. “That’s been a good feeder system for us for sure.”

Dudley, who has a 2017 coaching staff of Jason Dudley, Randy Murphy, Willie Pease, Blake Turner and Drew Brandt, expects his hitters to be aggressive. The Raiders generally don’t grind just to run up the opponent’s pitch count.

“That’s more for the college level,” says Dudley. “We’ve got to be aggressive. You cannot become passive.”

Dudley says he is pretty happy with the current state of Indiana high school baseball. One thing he might change is the amount of time players are allowed to get ready in the preseason.

BRIANDUDLEY

Brian Dudley, a 1976 Wapahani High School graduate, is in his 34th season as Raiders head baseball coach. This year, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer reached the 700-win plateau. (Wapahani Photo)

‘Hoosier Hammer’ Klein was Indiana baseball’s man of steel

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball players today throw iron around as a part of strength training.

An Indiana native who wound up enshrined in Cooperstown and Jasper moved mounds of metal for a living, but that made him strong and it helped him slug his way to the big leagues.

Back in the late 1920’s, Chuck Klein built powerful wrists by moving sturdy steel plates while working at an iron works in his hometown of Indianapolis.

He caught and tossed 180-pound hot steel plates with tongs and tossed them into rolling mills.

His Popeye-like forearms allowed the “Hoosier Hammer” aka “The Powerhouse” to take a terrific cut with a 42-ounce bat — the legal limit at the time — and club 300 home runs to go with a .320 lifetime batting average, 1,201 runs batted in and 398 doubles. The lefty slugger led the National League in circuit clouts four times (43 in 1929, 31 in 1931, 38 in 1932, 28 in 1933).

While with the Philadelphia Phillies early in his career, Klein told the Associated Press that confidence in his forearm power kept him from getting into trouble with his foot work because he did not feel the need to lunge or “get too much body” into his swing.

Chuck pitched in grammar school as a young boy and then became a three-sport star at Southport High School (baseball, basketball and track).

Klein was primarily a right-handed pitcher for the Cardinals on the diamond and had to learn the ropes as an outfielder as a pro.

According to an NEA Service story, Klein got his start in professional baseball when a prohibition agent arranged for him to play for the Evansville Hubs, a St. Louis Cardinals farm team in the Class-B Three-I League.

Klein’s brief time in the minors was two weeks with Evansville and 10 weeks with the Fort Wayne Chiefs of the Central League. After breaking his ankle in the winter of 1927-28, he was sold to Fort Wayne for $200.

When baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis discovered that the Cardinals owned CL teams in both Dayton, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, St. Louis was forced to sell off the Fort Wayne team. Landis now has an elementary school in Logansport named for him.

The Phillies outbid the New York Yankees for Klein’s services and he entered the National League.

He was called up to the Phillies at the end of the 1928 season after signing a $7,500 contract.  In his first 64 games with Philadelphia, he hit .360 with 11 homers and 34 RBI.

Klein had three stints with the Phillies and also played with the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates before retiring in 1944.

For all his heroics on the diamond, Klein suffered after he left the game. According to the Indianapolis Times, he had a nerve disease that impaired his reflexes and memory and crippled his right leg.

Klein died at 53. He was found dead in a flooded bathroom in his Indianapolis home in 1958 and he is buried in hometown.

Chuck Klein Sports Complex is located on Indy’s west side.

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Indiana’s Chuck Klein, a Baseball Hall of Famer who played from 1928-44, wielded a 42-ounce bat.

Kelly building relationships in baseball broadcasting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Benjamin Kelly knows that it’s not easy to get into professional baseball.

Entering his fourth season as the radio play-by-play voice of the Northwest Arkansas Royals (Double-A Texas League), graduate of Lakeland High School (2009) and Goshen College (2013) is enjoying the ride.

“I really do enjoy the grind of it,” says Kelly, who works for a club that plays its 140 games in 152 days with several off days consumed with travel. “I get to watch a baseball game every night.”

Kelly gets to hear stories from managers, coaches and players and relate that to his listeners. He gets to build relationships is he tries to climb the ladder of affiliated baseball just like the men who pitch, hit and catch for pay.

“We’re on the same path to the big leagues, we’re just in different lanes,” says Kelly. “I’m striving everyday to reach out and meet somebody else — somebody who might give you a chance.

“You have to keep those relationships throughout the course of your career.”

Kelly, who played four seasons at Goshen, relates to the game in ways that not all play-by-play broadcaster can.

“I know what it’s like to field a ground ball, make a throw from behind the plate, stand in against a 90 mph fastball,” says Kelly. “I can bring the small nuances the Average Joe can’t. That sets me apart.”

Kelly spends most of his off-season in Arkansas, but he was at his alma mater recently for a preseason banquet. He offered words of advice to the current crop of Maple Leafs.

“Don’t take the four years for granted,” says Kelly in repeating some of his remarks. “Don’t take a pitch off. Don’t take an at-bat off. You’ll regret the one’s you do.”

Kelly also offered to be a contact for anyone wishing to get their foot in the door in pro baseball.

“I’ll do anything I can to help them out,” says Kelly.

After doing plenty of play-by-play in other sports for the award-winning WGCS 91.1 The Globe (run by professor and veteran broadcaster Jason Samuel) and for Paul Condry at the Regional Radio Sports Network, Kelly began getting his chops as a baseball play-by-play man with the independent Schaumburg Boomers in the suburbs of Chicago. There, he built his resume and his relationships and wound up in Springdale, Ark., with the Naturals, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.

“We’re three hours from Kansas City — straight shot up interstate,” says Kelly. “With all the success the Royals have had since I go here in 2014, it’s grown to be more of a Royals area.”

Kelly grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but you won’t notice his Redbird leanings in the way he does his job.

“Whatever organization takes me on, I’ll root for that affiliate,” says Kelly, who does call 32 games a year between the Naturals and the Springfield (Mo.) Cardinals. “I think I’m going to keep that mindset no matter where I go. You rooting interest lies with your employer. That’s the only way to do it.”

The Texas League is a bus league. The miles start to pile up for the Naturals when they cross over from the North Division with teams in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to the four Texas-based clubs in the South Division. Northwest Arkansas visits that side a few times in each half of the split season, making a ride that can last 12 hours to Corpus Christi and Midland on one swing and Frisco and Midland on the other.

While the clock is ticking down to Opening Night (April 6), Kelly has been busy working on his team’s 150-page media guide (culling through box scores to come up with all-time lists etc.) and also working broadcasts of University of Arkansas events for Razorback Sports Network — either TV or online.

“I had never really done TV play-by-play until this (winter),” says Kelly. “It’s opened my eyes. In radio, the play-by-play man is like the star of the show and he must create a picture. In TV, he’s the driver for the color commentator. The play-by-play guy is secondary.”

To catch Kelly with during the Naturals season, visit http://www.nwanaturals.com and click the “Listen Live” tab or find the broadcast on the MiLB.com First Pitch app.

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