Tag Archives: St. Louis Cardinals

Kinzer enjoys baseball bonds as player, scout, agent, coach

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

Matt Kinzer has an eye for baseball talent.
The former Norwell High School (Ossian, Ind.) and Purdue University athlete who played in the majors and the National Football League was living in Fort Wayne, Ind., when he became an amateur scout in 1995 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Kinzer was responsible for assessing amateur players in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Ontario and Quebec.
After five years with Tampa Bay, Kinzer spent a decade as a baseball agent for Reynolds Sports Management, whose owner and CEO is Larry Reynolds (older brother of big league second baseman Harold Reynolds).
“I was his recruiting coordinator for the whole country,” says Kinzer. “We hoped these amateurs are going to make the big leagues and get paid.”
Among others, Kinzer got the Upton brothers — B.J. and Justin — to commit to the company.
LaTroy Hawkins, a Gary, Ind., native who pitched in 1,042 games over 21 MLB seasons, was also a Kinzer client and later went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
At the 2010 Winter Meetings, Dan Jennings (who had been with the Devil Rays) hired Kinzer as a pro scout for the Miami Marlins.
Kinzer went to minor league games and an occasional major league contest to evaluate players and file reports for potential trade opportunities.
The first year he scouted the entire Midwest League out of Fort Wayne. During his five years with the Marlins, he also did international scouting in the Dominican Republic.
While Kinzer was still with the Marlins, the Atlanta Braves called for permission to interview him to scout on the major league side and take on special assignments. He talked with general manager John Coppolella and accepted the deal.
“That gave me a seat at the big table,” says Kinzer, who worked with top executives including president John Hart and senior advisor John Schuerholz in giving opinions and developing a preferential list of who could be traded and who was hands-off in the Braves minor league system. “It took us a couple of years to turn that club around.”
Kinzer also did advanced scouting to check out possible playoff opponents for Atlanta. He had the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League and Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League.
Because of COVID-19 and budgetary reasons, the Braves dismissed the entire major league scouting staff toward the end of the 2020 season.
Leading up to the Tokyo Olympics (which were postponed from 2020 to 2021), Kinzer selected by his peers to sit on the committee that chose Team USA. They started with a big pool and narrowed it down to the final roster.
“It was hard assignment because you could only get guys not on a 40-man roster or had get permission from a club for them to play,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to be part of the decision-making for our country.”
When Kinzer joined the process, Joe Girardi was Team USA manager. When Girardi became Philadelphia Phillies manager the job was passed to Scott Brosius and it wound up with Mike Scioscia.
“I got to listen to Joe Girardi on how he likes to design a team and I said to myself, ‘this is pretty cool,’” says Kinzer. “It was a very humbling experience. You put all those years into working the game of baseball and someone has recognized your ability to evaluate.”
More recently, Kinzer has lent his appraisal skills as a consultant for Program 15 — a part of New Balance Future Stars baseball tournaments. He lives in Lakeland, Fla., and writes player reports on weekends.
Kinzer is also a special events coordinator and fundraising director for Major League Fishing — a circuit that features the world’s top bass anglers.
He is helping prepare for a charity fishing event featuring current and former major leaguers Nov. 19-21 in Guntersville, Ala.
“I’ve spent three decades in the game professionally building trust with current and former guys and their second love is fishing,” says Kinzer. “I grew up on a pond and I liked fishing.”
Participants have baseball and angling in common.
“There’s a connection there,” says Kinzer. “They have a tight fraternity. They’re good old boys.”
Kinzer played youth baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Colin Lister and graduated from Norwell in 1981.
As a sophomore, it was discovered how well he did in booting a football and he led Indiana high schoolers in punting as a junior and senior. He went to Purdue on a full ride in football and also played baseball.
He was selected in the second round of the 1984 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cardinals and made his MLB debut in 1989 at age 25 and went on to pitch nine games for the 1989 Cardinals and 1990 Detroit Tigers. He punted seven times in his one NFL game with the Detroit Lions with a long of 42 yards in Week 5 of 1987 against the Green Bay Packers.
Kinzer, 58, has three sons who all played baseball and graduated from Homestead High School in Fort Wayne.
Taylor Kinzer (33) was drafted twice as a right-handed pitcher — once at the end of his high school career in 2006 in the 34th round by the Washington Nationals and then out of Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) in the 24th round in 2009 by the Los Angeles Angels and competed three seasons in the minors.
Derek Kinzer (31) was an outfielder for IHSAA Class 4A state runner Homestead in 2008, graduated in 2009 and also played at Taylor.
Jordan Kinzer (29) played junior college baseball and now serves in the U.S. Navy.
Matt Kinzer, a Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer, was head baseball coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in 1993 and 1994 and a volunteer assistant coach at Taylor 2011-14 and got to work with Trojans head coach Kyle Gould and assistant and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson.
‘Kyle is one of the best non-Division I coaches around,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to share a bench with Coach A.
“The game itself creates a fraternity and a bond that lasts forever.”

Matt Kinzer.

Wabash College class gives freshmen look into sports analytics

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

As an introduction to liberal arts, freshmen students at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., take tutorial classes.
Eric Dunaway, a BKT Assistant Professor of Economics in his fourth year at the all-male school, has chosen to teach For The Outcome of The Game — a class that class meets 9:45 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and focuses on sports analytics.
So far the class of 14 has dug into the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” and went on a field trip to a Cincinnati Reds doubleheader where they enjoyed give-and-take with Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz.
“It’s something I’m interested in,” says Dunaway of sports analytics. “We’re learning it together.
“I’m thinking about re-tooling it into a sports economics class in the future. I can absolutely teach it again.”
Dunaway is a native of Spokane, Wash., and a lifelong Seattle Mariners rooter.
“I have a strong background in statistics,” says Dunaway. “Sports analytics is new to me.”
“Moneyball” — written by Michael Lewis and published in 2004 — was assigned summer reading for the fall semester elective class. The book tells about how the Oakland Athletics and Billy Beane (who is now Vice President of Baseball Operations) used analytics to their advantage.
“It’s changed how (Major League Baseball) is played — for better and worse,” says Dunaway.
Is it better or worse?
“I try to avoid making the conclusions for the students,” says Dunaway. “We are changing the way we look at what stats matter.
“There is no guarantee that making the sport more efficient will make it more fun.”
The Sept. 1 St. Louis Cardinals at Reds outing was Wabash College’s first excursion since March 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping the school from those activities for 1 1/2 years.
“We’re getting back to one of the things Wabash is really good at,” says Dunaway. “We do a lot of great learning in the field.”
Professor of Rhetoric Dr. Todd McDorman, who went with Dunaway and company to Cincinnati, has taken Wabash students to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N,Y. The Society for American Baseball Research member hopes to do so again.
Dunaway, who also advises students, says he received a perspective from Schatz into what classes they should take if interested in sports analytics.
“Statistics and computer science are the two big subjects,” says Dunaway. “Those are the things you have to enjoy to enjoy doing sports analytics.”
Another text for the class is “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won,” written by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim in 2012. Moscowitz, a native of Lafayette, Ind., with bachelor and masters degrees from Purdue University, is a Professor of Finance at Yale University. Wertheim is an accomplished sports journalist.
Evan Neukam, Justin Santiago and Jacob White are students in Dunaway’s class. They all shared their takes on sports analytics and baseball.
Neukam, a Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate who is on the Wabash baseball team, had seen the “Moneyball” movie (2011) starring Brad Pitt several times but had not read the book.
“The biggest difference (between the movie and the book) is that the book goes more into detail on how analytics work than the story of Billy Beane and the Athletics.”
Schacht worked with Beane in Oakland.
“It was really interesting how (Schatz) got into his position,” says Neukam. “He didn’t use his college major (Economics). He learned on the job. He learned all coding for statistics on his own.”
Neukam, a Cardinals fan, is finding out about sabermetrics, its terms and how they work.
“I’m not sure what WAR (Wins Above Replacement is,” says Neukam. “But I know that’s pretty important.
“The average Exit Velo (off a hitter’s bat) is more important than batting average.”
Santiago, who grew up a Milwaukee Brewers fan in Mount Pleasant, Wis., and graduated from Westfield (Ind.) High School, enjoys combining his interest in sports and numbers.
“Learning about the field of sports analytics in general has been great for me,” says Santiago. “I knew a decent amount about it. The next few weeks we’re going dive a lot deeper.”
Santiago says tutorial classes help students become more well-rounded so they can write, debate and discuss a subject.
Looking at MLB trends, Santiago says he has been “frustrated with high number of strikeouts and really low batting averages.”
He has been pleased to see the Brewers — which have clinched a 2021 playoff berth — increase batting a average and on-baseball percentage.
“Put the ball in play and you have a chance,” says Santiago. “WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is important for pitchers.”
During the Cincinnati trip, students were able to ask many questions of Schatz.
“I asked about when to move off of a player — when to trade or release them,” says Santiago. “As organization there is balance between knowing talent and this is the major leagues and you can’t give a player an infinite amount of chances. You have to win.”
Santiago learned how Schatz dug into data for right-handed pitcher Dan Straily.
“(Schatz) thought he could be more successful than his numbers showed and can develop into a better pitcher,” says Santiago. “He played well as a Red and traded him to Marlins for (right-hander) Luis Castillo (who has 40 games for Cincinnati since 2017).”
Santiago’s take on “Moneyball”?
“(Billy Beane) did not pan out as a player,” says Santiago. “Scouts valued him because of his physical stature and appearance. They over-valued the physical tools but did not look into the numbers and his flaws.
“That — in a sense — led him to analytics. It’s not all about looking at a player’s tools. You have to focus on the results and what the numbers really say about the player.”
White, a Peoria, Ill., native who pulls for the Cardinals, has his opinions.
“I’ve always been on the analysis side,” says White. “I get the argument where the aesthetics are hurt (by analytics). Basketball is all about 3-pointers and baseball’s Three True Outcomes (home run, walk or strikeout).
“It’s a product of ‘Moneyball’ and the whole analytics approach. Home runs are more interesting. There are less less stolen bases and bunts. There’s something exciting about a stolen base. It’s lost with the analytics.
“If I’m paying money to see my Cardinals I want to see a win, I don’t care how they get it.”
Dunaway’s class is giving former Peoria Chiefs foul ball hawker White and his fellow freshmen “a baseline understanding of how sport’s stats work.”
Also a Chicago Bears fan, White is involved on 22 fantasy football leagues.
“It’s a crude science,” says White of fantasy sports. “I use my best educated guess (to fill out weekly lineups).”

Wabsash College freshmen went to see the Cincinnati Reds and learn about sports analytics Sept. 1, 2021.
Cincinnati Reds Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz meets with Wabash College students Sept. 1.
Eric Dunaway, BKT Assistant Professor of Economics at Wabash College, took members of his tutorial class on sports analytics to see the Cincinnati Reds and hear from Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz.

Alum Ashbrook teaching, coaching Union County Patriots

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

Jordan Ashbrook is invested in education and athletics in Union County, Ind.
The 2011 Union County High School graduate represents the third generation of his family to teach at Union County.
A physical education teacher, strengh and conditioning coach and head baseball coach at UCHS in Liberty, Jordan has a mother — Teresa Ashbrook — who teaches first grade at Liberty Elementary School.
Jordan’s grandfather — the late Norbert Bleill – was also a Union County teacher.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jordan moved to Oxford, Ohio, then to Union County as a preschooler. He played high school baseball then coached alongside Jeff Matthews and took over the Patriots program before the 2020 season canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ashbrook admires retired Navy Master Chief Matthews for his ability to motivate and to forge those with leadership leanings.
“You can talk about championships, but until you put in the work and effort to get there, it’s just talk,” says Ashbrook. “He really left it up to the guys he trusted in — his captains.”
A catcher and first baseman earlier in his prep career, three-year varsity player Ashbrook was an all-state second baseman as a senior.
At NCAA Division III Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Ashbrook was a corner infielder and designated hitter for head coach George Powell.
Coming to the Cardinals at 5-foot-10 and 180, Ashbrook was encouraged to add 20 pounds of muscle by the spring. He came close, getting up to 195.
The lefty swinger hit .287 with four home runs and 29 runs batted in as a sophomore in 2013 and .200 with two homers and 14 RBIs as a senior in 2015.
Ashbrook was a double major at Otterbein in Health Education and Physical Education.
“It’s good to bring knowledge from college and see the development we’ve been able to have in the last three years,” says Ashbrook the strength and conditioning coach for all Union County athletic teams. “I have pre and post data. We max out about every fourth week. It’s nice to see the steady increase throughout the year. You see the change in bodies from fall to spring.”
With an enrollment around 400, Union County is full of multi-sport performers.
“Sharing the athletes here is something we have to do if we want to be successful,” says Ashbrook. “I tell my (baseball players) to play at least one other sport and be an all-around athlete.”
Teacher Pat Tafelski handled strength and conditioning duties when Ashbrook attended Union County.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. For the final five weeks of the window, Ashbrook intends to have traditional baseball practices on Tuesdays and intraquad scrimmages on Thursdays. The past two weeks he was regularly getting 16 athletes at weight room sessions. He expects around 20 at LCP dates.
Union County is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City and Winchester). TEC games are generally played once a week.
In 2021, the Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern and Shenandoah. Union County has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2018.
Ashbrook is assisted by Union County teacher Daniel Taylor and longtime Pats assistant Ron Webb.
Union County plays on Bill Webb Field, which gives spectators, players and coaches a view of the Liberty water tower.
The varsity diamond is behind youth fields.
“It’s cool seeing all the kids you’re going to coach in the future playing alongside you,” says Ashbrook, who has ramped up to middle school baseball program at Union County and got 48 to come to a callout meeting last week. Those players are invited to participate in fall workouts with the high school.
Being a small school, Ashbrook says getting college exposure for his athletes calls for some grinding. He sends on profiles to help the process. Recent Union County graduates to move on to the next level include Mason Hornung (Wilmington College), Denton Shepler (University of Indianapolis) and Nate Webb (Ohio Northern University).
As a hitting and pitching instructor at the former Powerhouse Performance Training facility in Richmond, Ind. (now Morrow’s Yard), Ashbrook worked with several players who went on to play college ball.
Jordan and wife Shelby Ashbrook have a daughter — Mylee (16 months). Jerry Ashbrook is Jordan’s father. His younger sister is Taylor Ashbrook.

Jordan Ashbrook (Union County High School Photo)
Union County High (Liberty, Ind.) baseball.
Jordan Ashbrook (right) and Union County High School baseball players.
Feats of strength Union County High School (Liberty, Ind.) style.

Indiana Nitro grows from one team into successful travel ball organization

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

Indiana Nitro — a travel baseball organization launched in the central part of the state — has had 164 college commits and five Major League Baseball draft selections since 2014.
Among Nitro alums who went on to pro baseball are Zach Britton (Toronto Blue Jays system), Matt Gorski (Pittsburgh Pirates), Niko Kavadas (Boston Red Sox), Devin Mann (Los Angeles Dodgers), Tommy Sommer (Chicago White Sox) and Zack Thompson (St. Louis Cardinals).
The Nitro fielded more than 20 teams — spring, summer and fall — at the 8U to 17U levels in recent seasons. The group has earned many victories and championships and competed in multiple states.
It all began with a single 11U team that took to the diamond in 2010.
Tim Burns, whose sons Brendan and Brock were playing travel ball, was exploring diamond opportunities for his boys when he was approached by some fathers about coaching a team.
With the idea of being able to control development and practice schedules, the elder Burns agreed and led that first Nitro squad, featuring Brock.
Most of the players were from Hamilton County — one of the exceptions being Batesville’s Britton. Brock Burns is now on the football team at Ball State University as an outside linebacker while Brendan Burns was a right-handed pitcher for BSU baseball; Tim Burns is a graduate of Ball State where his major was Telecommunications.
Both Burns brothers are Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates — Brendan in 2014 and Brock in 2017.
Most games in 2010 were played in central Indiana and the team went 50-5 with five tournament titles. Eleven of the 12 players on that first team went on to play at the collegiate level.
Tammy Burns, Tim’s wife, told him that he did not have the time to head a travel organization. Yet momentum kept on building.
“Kids wanted to play,” says Burns.
Parents and players gathered and voted on a team name — Burns presented around 300 choices found on Google — and team colors. The Nitro wound up donning Athletic Gold and Cardinal Red and uses explosive terms like Bombs and Gas on social media.
In 2011, the Nitro had four teams. The number went to seven in 2012 then 11 in 2013. It jumped to 20 in 2014 (the first year the organization had a high school age team).
“The snowball got big,” says Burns. “It took on a life of its own.”
The mantra of the Nitro is “Advancing players to the next level.” That came to mean grooming them to play high school baseball and then — for those who wished to do so — college baseball.
“It’s a very complex recruiting process that we came up with over the years,” says Burns, a 1982 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., who grew up on the diamonds of Goodland, Ind., and counted Tracy Smith (who went on to coach at Miami University-Middletown, Miami University, Indiana University and Arizona State University) as a teammate. “You dive deep into it and build relationships with college coaches and recruiters.
“Learning how to help these kids get recruited was important to our board (of directors) and and organization.”
Nitro staffers work the phones on behalf of their players and are constantly seeking talent and getting ready for the next thing.
“It’s a year-round job,” says Burns, who is employed in sales for Bally Sports Indiana (the Indiana Pacers TV Network). “There’s so much behind the scenes in the off-season. It keeps the board and volunteers busy.”
Randy Poiry has been on the board since the beginning. Two sons — catcher Rutger Poiry (Lincoln Trail College and Eastern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher Carter Poiry (Murray State University and Quinnipiac University) — played for the Nitro.
Directors are Chris Poland (daily operations and high school age teams) and Dan Rodgers (ages 8-14). Jared Poland, son of Chris, is at the University of Louisville. Nathan Rodgers (Carmel High School Class of 2024) played for his father on the Nitro 14U Gold team in 2021.
Burns, who coached the Nitro 16U Gold team to a 26-9-1 mark in 2021 and will move up to coach the 17U Gold squad in 2022, gets players from near and far.
“We don’t care where they come from,” says Burns. “We want good kids from good families who want to put in the work.”
Nitro players train at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus in Westfield, Ind. A membership is included with fees.
Burns counts four nephews — South Newton graduates Jarrett Hammel and Jay Hammel and Benton Central High school alums Payton Hall and Conner Hall — among former Nitro players. Former Saint Joseph’s College and Valparaiso right-hander Jarrett Hammel is now head baseball coach at Benton Central. Jay Hammel is a righty pitcher at Quincy (Ill.) University. Payton Hall is an outfielder at Oakland City (Ind.) University after transferring from the University of Southern Indiana. Former middle infielder Connor Hall is an Aviation Management student at Indiana State University.

Baseball is in the blood for Terre Haute’s Moore, Kraemer, Dumas family

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Terre Haute, Ind., high school baseball rivals meet for the second time this spring on Friday, May 7, one family will be out in force.

It’s just that some will be in opposite dugouts and bleachers.

Senior infielder/pitcher Cade Moore will represent North Vigo. His uncle, Kyle Kraemer, has been the head coach at South Vigo since the 1995 season. He is a 1986 South Vigo graduate who went on to play at Purdue University.

Cade’s mother, Amanda Moore (South Vigo Class of 1992), is Kyle’s sister. Amanda is married to Scott Moore (North Vigo Class of 1990), who began his teaching and coaching career at South Vigo and is now an administrator at North Vigo. Scott’s parents are Steve and Diane Moore. 

Steve Moore (Terre Haute Garfield Class of 1962) was North Vigo head coach when his son played for the Patriots. Diane graduated from Garfield in 1964.

Kyle’s parents are Bob and Kelly Dumas. They once rooted for another grandson in former South Vigo Braves and Indiana State University standout Koby Kraemer (Class of 2008), son of Kyle.  Father coached son.

Bob Dumas is a Massachusetts native who came to Terre Haute to attend Indiana State University and met Kelly (Terre Haute Gerstmeyer Tech Class of 1965).

A retired heating and cooling man, Bob Dumas is not hard to spot at at North Vigo-South Vigo game. He’s the one with the shirt that’s half blue with an “N” and red with an “S.” He had it made at an embroidery business in town.

“We’ve been South fans every since Kyle went to high school,” says Bob. “It’s been kind of a twisted year with Cade at North.

“There will be more favoritism to Cade because he’s actually playing.”

Says Kelly Dumas, “It’s a whole range of emotions. We’ve never been North fans.”

Cade, an only child, has always lived in the North Vigo district and attended DeVaney Elementary School and Woodrow Wilson Middle School. He played at Terre Haute North Little League. He’s also played travel ball with Mad Dog Baseball (coached by Travis Mason) and American Legion ball for Wayne Newton Post 346.

“I was a big fan of South watching (Koby) play as a little kid,” says Cade, who has taken hitting lessons from Koby and Kyle.”

What advice does Cade take from grandfather Steve Moore?

“Keep my head in the game and focus on making the right play,” says Cade, 18. “Be a leader and be a teammate. I’ve always been one to have a teammates’ back. Stick with a program. It’s been instilled from grandparents and parents. If you see a teammate knocked over you go help them up.

“I’m hearing the same thing from my coaches.”

Steve Moore, who has taught science at North Vigo, Indiana State and South Vigo, was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Jennings then took over the Patriots for six years in the early 1990’s. 

“My expertise was in teaching the game,” says Steve, who for 18 years was the only man to tend to the overall maintenance of the North Vigo diamond which would become known as Don Jennings Field. “You have to think the game. Some kids are not thinking like they should about the game.

“We stressed fundamentals. Know what to do when the ball comes to you. In practice, we would go over just about everything.”

One of the school clubs at North Vigo was Baseball. Members/players would talk about the game and expand their knowledge.

“They had to learn the rules of baseball,” says Steve. “I gave tests. It was all in fun.

“It was a way to teach the game from a different perspective.”

He appreciates what he sees on the field from his grandson.

“I told Cade not too long ago. ‘You’re better than your dad and a whole lot better than your Grandpa,” says Steve. “He’s constantly thinking.”

Steve Moore enjoyed being a Fellowship of Christian Athletes sponsor at North Vigo, bringing in speakers like former big league catcher and Terre Haute native Brian Dorsett, and coaching Scott and against players like future major leaguers Don Mattingly (Evansville Memorial) and Scott Rolen (Jasper) and well as Kyle Kraemer.

“I did not like to see Kyle come to the plate,” says Steve. “His technique was always good. He could hit the daylights out of that ball.”

Scott Moore, who is now assistant principal of building and grounds at North Vigo, takes over as Post 346 manager — a position long held by John Hayes and then Tim Hayes.

Of course, Cade gets pointers from his father.

“Take charge and keep your teammates in the game as well as yourself,” says Cade of that advice. He’s more of the fundamental type.

“He can break down my (right-handed) swing for me and help me make an adjustment.”

Says Scott, “I talk to Cade about how being a part of a team is important and working with other people for a common goal.

“It’s about setting goals and working hard. What could I have done differently? Those are life lessons.”

Scott Moore — and the rest of the family — have watched Cade excel on the tennis court. Cade and doubles partner and classmate Ethan Knott (a close friend that he’s known since they played youth baseball together) came within two wins of making the State Finals in the fall of 2019.

“Being involved in multiple sports helps the athlete all-around,” says Scott. 

Cade probably could have played tennis at the next level, but he has committed to play baseball at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro. The Panthers are led by head coach Todd Lillpop.

“I like the way he runs his program,” says Cade. “I’ll go there to play infield. I’ll be a two-way if he likes me on the mound.”

Cade has been mostly a shortstop and third baseman when not on the mound for North Vigo.

Both sets of grandparents have already scouted at KWC and the town and look forward to spending time there and the places where the Panthers play.

“(Kentucky Wesleyan) has same colors as Garfield,” says Diane Moore. “Steve and I felt right at home.”

Diane, who retired after 32 years at the Vigo County Library, was brought up in a baseball-loving family.

“Before I even met Steve my father was a big Chicago Cubs fan,” says Diane. “My mother was from St. Louis and a Cardinals fan.”

Steve, who lived across the alley from Diane’s grandparents, met his future bride in high school.

Cade grew up spending plenty of time at his grandparents’ house. When he was young, Woodrow Wilson teacher Amanda dropped him her son at Steve and Diane’s and his grandmother took him to DeVaney. 

“(Cade) and Grandpa played I don’t know how much catch in our cul de sac,” says Diane.

Being part of a family filled with educators has not been lost on Cade.

“Not only has it helped me on the field but in the classroom as well,” says Cade.

It doesn’t hurt that he has ready access to facilities thanks to his dad’s job.

“Education has always been our focus,” says Amanda Moore. “You’re here to get an education first and then you can participate in extracurricular activities.

“Cade’s always been a pretty good student though it took a little bit of guidance in kindergarten and first grade.”

Says Scott, “Fortunately he had some good habits and worked through some things. (As an only child), my wife and I were able to focus on him. There was tough love. I wouldn’t say we spoiled him.”

Being six years younger than brother Kyle, Amanda tagged along or begged out when he had games when they were youngsters. She was a gymnast and then a diver at South Vigo.

“Not until Cade started playing baseball did I have any interest in it,” says Amanda. “One great thing about having Cade involved in baseball for so many years is the friendships. These people have become almost like family. 

“Some of the parents are like an aunt and uncle to Cade and vice versa. We travel together. We’ve supported each other when one child has been injured.

“It’s been nice to develop those almost familial relationships with those other people and children.”

Amanda has watched her son learn life lessons through sports. While in junior high he was on the track team and did not like it. But there was no quitting the team.

“When you make a commitment you can not back out of that,” says Amanda. “Taking the easy way out is not going to teach you anything about life.

“My brother has shown that loyalty is an important value to have and develop even through the tough times.”

Amanda also sees similarities in her son and nephew and notices a similar dynamic between her husband and son and her brother and his son.

“I can see the competitive edge and desire to work hard,” says Amanda. “I can see that mirror in Koby and Cade. They want to win and are willing to work hard.

“Kyle and Scott walk that fine line between being a coach and dad and not showing any favoritism. 

“Sometimes dad is tougher on their own child than they are on their own players.”

Kelly Dumas, a retired teacher who saw Kyle first play T-ball at age 3 and make tin-foil balls to throw around the house when it was too cold to go outside, has been to diamonds all over the place and made friendships with players and their families.

“We’ve enjoyed 50 years of baseball,” says Kelly. “I just like to watch all the different players come through and follow what they do afterward. It’s good to see both my grandsons be successful

“We’ve been so many places with Koby, especially when he played for the (Terre Haute) Rex (the summer collegiate team that will be managed in 2021 by former big league slugger and Kyle Kraemer player A.J. Reed). We went to little towns with old wooden stadiums.

“Cade’s been working very hard to be the best he can be.”

Koby Kraemer, who briefly played in the Toronto Blue Jays system after college, is now assistant strength and conditioning coach at Ohio State University.

“We all love the game,” says Koby of the family’s affinity for baseball. “It plays a big part in our lives.

“The reason my dad has coached so long is because he loves it. The reason he’s successful is that he challenges people to be better.

“You get more out of them then they thought they had in them. That’s what makes good coaches.”

Besides April 30 (the Patriots won 8-5 at South Vigo) and May 7 at North Vigo, the rivals could meet three times this season. Both are in the IHSAA Class 4A Plainfield Sectional.

Kyle Kraemer (left) stands with father Bob Dumas and Cade Moore. Kraemer is the head baseball coach at Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School and the son of Dumas and uncle of Terre Haute (Ind.) North Vigo senior infielder/pitcher Cade Moore. Dumas wears a custom shirt touting the South Vigo Braves and North Vigo Patriots.
A baseball family in Terre Haute, Ind. (from left): Steve Moore, Diane Moore, Amanda Moore, Kyle Kraemer, Cade Moore, Steve Moore, Kelly Dumas and Bob Dumas. Kraemer is head coach at Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School. His nephew, Cade Moore, is a senior infielder/pitcher for Terre Haute (Ind.) North Vigo High School.

Crews roams center field, leads off for Evansville Purple Aces

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the buffalo that used to roam his family’s farm, Kenton Crews is drawn to the open expanses of the baseball field.

A center fielder since his days at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., Crews uses the handle @superbuffaloman on Twitter and rambles in the middle of the outfield as a University of Evansville redshirt junior.

“I love playing center field,” says Crews, a 6-foot-1, 187-pounder. “It’s the most fun thing of everything about baseball.”

Crews, 23, tends to play shallow for the Purple Aces and chases balls over his head.

“I feel more comfortable running back and catching balls over my shoulder,” says Crews, who used to do a similar thing as Heritage Hills football wide receiver. 

When Crews reached UE, his favorite number — 5 — was not available. It was the number worn by his father Michael, who was a center fielder and a football player at Ball State University.

Kenton decided to go with 15 in purple, orange and white because that’s the digit donned by fly-chasing center fielder Jim Edmonds with the St. Louis Cardinals. Kenton grew up rooting for the Redbirds and stars like Edmonds, Jasper, Ind., native Scott Rolen and slugger Albert Pujols.

Speed put Crews in the outfield and made him effective in the lead-off slot with the Aces at-bat.

“One thing that we really focus on is that when the lead-off hitter each inning gets on base your chances of scoring go up,” says Crews. “A lot of (lead-off hitters) will take pitches. But if you can get a hittable pitch you should swing at it — especially fastballs early in the count instead of swing at the pitcher’s pitch.

“I’m usually pretty aggressive when I’m hitting lead-off.”

Going into a Missouri Valley Conference series April 23-25 against Illinois State, Crews is hitting .393 (35-of-89) with three home runs, four triples, eight doubles, 22 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and 6-of-9 in stolen bases. He sports a 1.145 OPS (.471 on-baseball percentage and .674 slugging average) in 28 games (24 starts).

For his career — which includes a redshirt season due to injury in 2019 — Crews is hitting .295 (161-of-545) with 11 homers, eight triples, 32 doubles, 79 RBIs, 81 runs and 33-of-42 in stolen bases. His OPS is .793 (.349 on-baseball percentage and .444 slugging average) in 143 games.

The righty swinger has 10 multi-hit games in 2021. He hit for the cycle (homer, triple, double and single) March 21 against visiting Butler. His 4-for-5 day produced four RBIs and two runs scored.

During his cycle, Crews tripled to left center in the bottom of the first inning, doubled to center in the third, homered to left in the seventh and singled in the eighth.

“Teammates were talking about it at a whisper,” says Crews about the Evansville dugout. “People didn’t know how to act.

“I was nervous about it. I didn’t want to let everybody down.”

The first two cycles of Crews’ baseball life came as a grade schooler with a Dale (Ind.) Buffaloes. 

Born in Evansville, Kenton lived with father Michael, mother Kathleen and sister Sienna in a house in Lincoln State Park.

Kenton grew up catching snakes, frogs and turtles for the nature center where his father was — and still is — an interpretive naturalist. He was a football coach at Heritage Hills Middle School was a long stretch.

When Kenton was 7, the family moved to a 100-acre farm, where the Crews raised big, wooly mammals and ran a restaurant — Buffalo Run Farm, Grill & Gifts — for two decades.

Michael coached Sienna’s T-ball team (she is a year older than her brother). After the Buffaloes, Kenton played travel ball with the Southern Indiana Spikes from 8-13. He was with the HHMS and was on a Pony team in Tell City, Ind.

As a high schooler, Crews was an all-stater and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series MVP as a senior in 2016 and also a all-state and all-conference baseball and football players. 

Greg Gogel was then head baseball coach at Heritage Hills.

“I love Coach Gogel with all my heart,” says Crews of a longtime family friend and former teammate of cousin Cole Seifrig (who took a lateral from future pro quarterback Jay Cutler and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cutler in overtime to lead Heritage Hills to a 27-24 victory against Zionville in the 2000 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game). “He taught me more lessons in life than anyone other than my dad.”

Gogel’s wife, Jenna, is Kenton’s chiropractor.

Crews played for the Louisville-based Ironmen Baseball Club then — the summer following his senior year at Heritage Hills — the Evansville Razorbacks.

After missing his 16U summer with a hamstring injury, Kenton decided to attend college where his sister Sienna ran cross country and track.

He also liked the sincerity displayed by Aces head coach Wes Carroll and his staff during the recruiting process.

“They came to me instead of me chasing after somebody else,” says Crews. “I appreciated that effort and that honesty.

“Coach Carroll knows what he’s talking about. He told me he can make me into a better baseball player. I hope we can be friends and have a relationship the rest of my life.”

Kenton is the fourth NCAA Division I competitor in the family.

“She’s the real athlete in our family,” says Kenton of his mother.

As Kathleen Beumel, she was a 10-time state champion in cross country and track at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky. After attending Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, she transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was cheer captain. At 20, she experienced a crippling injury.

“She broke her neck and was paralyzed,” says Kenton. “She wasn’t supposed to walk again or have kids.

“It’s a miracle she was able to move again and she was able to run.”

Kathleen Crews is now a program assistant at Heritage Hills and involved in the community.

Kenton graduated from UE in December 2020 with a degree in Communication, Advertising and Public Relations and is now pursuing a Masters in Leadership. All the courses are online.

“We get to work at our own pace,” says Crews. “We’re now learning empathy and showing people better ways to do things.”

Crews spent the summers of 2017 and 2018 with the Northwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs and after sitting out the summer of 2019 while recuperating he was with the NL’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Mac Daddies, where former Mankato teammate and Indiana State player C.J. Huntley was on the coaching staff and Greg Weyrich was the manager.

“He was a super nice guy and knew a lot,” says Crews, who has another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 spring season. “I’m waiting to see about this summer.

“I’d like to play another season if (Carroll) would have me.”

Kenton Crews (University of Evansville Photo)

Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.

Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.

As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.

“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”

Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.

Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.

At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.

Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.

In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.

Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.

Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.

MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.

Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.

The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Riggs shares prep, college, pro experiences with next generation

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like many Indiana boys, Eric Riggs’ athletic focus growing up in Brownsburg, Ind., was basketball.

His father, David Riggs, was on the 1962 Evansville Bosse state championship team and earned a letter on the hardwood at the University of Evansville in 1966-67. The Purple Aces were NCAA Division II national champions in 1963-64 and 1964-65.

David’s father Walter Riggs and uncle Clarence Riggs are both in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Both graduated from Evansville Central High School and Evansville College.

Walter Riggs, grandfather of Eric, coached Evansville Central to an IHSAA state runner-up finish to Lafayette Jeff in 1948.

Eric Riggs, who is 6-foot-2 and played on Steve Brunes-coached Brownsburg High School teams that went 20-5 and 24-3 in his junior (1993-94) and senior seasons (1994-95), accepted a basketball scholarship to the University of Central Florida.

Playing Knights head coach Kirk Speraw, Riggs started in 22 of 30 games and averaged 11.4 points and 3.1 assists per game as a freshman in 1995-96. UMass and Marcus Camby knocked UCF out of the 1996 NCAA tournament.

Then Riggs turned his attention back to the diamond.

In his 16U, 17U and 18U summers, Riggs played travel baseball for the Indiana Bulls — the first two years with Jeff Mercer Sr. as head coach and the last with Bret Shambaugh.

The switch-hitting infielder had played baseball at Brownsburg for head coach Wayne Johnson and assistants Craig Moore and Mick Thornton. Big league pitcher Jeff Fassero came in to help the Bulldogs during the off-season.

“(Johnson) was a players’ coach,” says Riggs. “We were pretty stacked in our senior class. We had a lot of guys play at the next level (including Brian Stayte, Mark Voll and Joel Martin).”

Junior Quinn Moore, youngest son of Craig, was the mound ace in 1995 and went on to play at the University of South Alabama.

During a basketball recruiting trip to the school near Orlando in the spring of 1995, Riggs met with UCF baseball coach Jay Bergman near the end of the program’s 29-game win streak.

“He was very positive,” says Riggs of Bergman. “Coach Moore had been in Coach Bergman’s ear to let me walk on.

“(Craig Moore) was very instrumental in my baseball career. I just kind of played it. Basketball was my first sport.”

“I had never played year-round baseball. I wanted to find out what that was like. I ended up getting a partial baseball scholarship.”

Before he knew it, Riggs was batting ninth and starting at second base at the NCAA D-I level.

From 1996-98, Riggs amassed a career average of .362 with 49 doubles and a .573 slugging percentage. As an all-Atlantic Sun Conference first-team shortstop in 1998, he hit .394 with 26 doubles, 154 total bases and 64 runs scored.

Selected in the fourth round of the 1998 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Riggs was one of 10 UCF players picked from a 41-21 team. Two of those — pitcher Mike Maroth (Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals) and outfielder Esix Snead (New York Mets) — reached the majors.

In the winter of 2000-01, Riggs played a few months in Queensland, Australia, before returning to the U.S. and the Dodgers. He was with that organization for eight years (1998-2004, 2006), getting as far as Triple-A in 2003, 2004 and 2006.

In three seasons, his roommate was David Ross (who went on to be a 14-year big league catcher and is now manager of the Chicago Cubs).

“He’s a natural leader,” says Riggs of Ross. “Being a catcher that was his state of mind. He managed the pitching staff well.

“He was just a solid baseball player. Once he got his chance (in the majors), he showed them what he could do as a catcher and hit a little bit.”

Riggs also played Double-A ball for the Houston Astros in 2005 and was briefly with the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers at the beginning of 2007 before finishing up his pro career that year in Double-A with the Miami Marlins.

In 10 seasons at all levels, Riggs played in 1,050 games (with 500 appearances at shortstop, 235 at second base and 216 at third base) and hit .264 with 78 homers, 217 doubles, 459 RBIs and slugging percentage of .406.

Steve Farley, then the Butler University head coach, brought Riggs on as a part-time volunteer coach in the spring of 2008.

“Steve gave me a chance to see what coaching at that level was like,” says Riggs. “He was a very, very smart baseball man. He was great to learn from and watch work.

“I had a blast.”

Riggs also had the opportunity to pick the baseball brain of Butler assistant Matt Tyner, who had played the University of Miami (Fla.) for Ron Fraser and in the Baltimore Orioles system. After Butler, Tyner was head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., a University of Richmond (Va.) assistant and head coach at Towson (Md.) State University.

With a change in his full-time job in 2009, Riggs changed his focus to coaching his sons. Eric and wife Trisha have four sons. Bryce (16) is a sophomore at Noblesville (Ind.) High School. Twins Blake (13) and Brooks (13) are seventh graders at Noblesville West Middle School. Beckett (8) is a third grader at Noble Crossing Elementary School. 

The three oldest Riggs boys have had their father as a coach with the Indiana Bulls. Eric was an assistant with Bulls teams Bryce played on from age 8 to eighth grade and he is now head coach of the 13U White team as well as a board of directors member. The 12-player roster (pitcher-only players become a thing in the high school years) includes Blake and Brooks. 

The team played in two fall tournaments and plans to ramp up preparation for the 2021 season of 11 tournaments with 50 or more games in January. His assistants include Brandon Inge, J.J. Beard and Kyle Smith. Former MLB third baseman/catcher Inge (Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates) go back to their Cape Cod Baseball League days in college with 1997 Bourne Braves.

Kevin O’Sullivan (who went on to coach the 2017 national championship team at the University of Florida) was the Bourne head coach. The ace of the pitching staff was left-hander Mark Mulder, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 MLB Draft and went on to win 103 games in nine Major League Baseball seasons with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals.

When he can, Eric also helps coach the Noblesville Millers travel team that includes Beckett.

“I’m using what I’ve learned from players and coaches I’ve been around,” says Riggs. “I want to pass that to kids to make them better people and baseball players.”

Riggs, 44, is also a sales pro for BSN Sports with college and high school clients. He says uniform trends at the high school level tend to revolve around what catches a coach’s eye on the college scene. If they like the Vanderbilt look, they may wish to replicate in their school colors.

The Riggs family (clockwise from top left): Eric, Bryce, Trisha, Brooks, Beckett and Blake. Eric Riggs, a 1995 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, played pro baseball for 10 years and now helps coach his boys with the Indiana Bulls and Noblesville Millers travel organizations. 

Namisnak reflects on Elkhart Central championship of ’13, today’s game

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was one special season and Mike Namisnak was a part of it.

Elkhart Central went 32-1 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state baseball championship in 2013.

“Not many people in this area can say they had the chance to go to the State Finals much less win State,” says Namisnak, who is now 26. 

The Blue Blazers reigned at the Elkhart Sectional, LaPorte Regional and South Bend Semistate before topping Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the right to dogpile at at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Namisnak was a designated hitter in the title game and one of nine seniors in the ECHS lineup.

Tanner Tully led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run — one of three Blazer hits off Ashe Russell — then pitched a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.

There was also left fielder Kaleb DeFreese, shortstop Cory Malcom, first baseman Riley Futterknecht, center fielder Matt Eppers, second baseman Casey Ianigro, third baseman Austin McArt and catcher Kyle Smith. Devin Prater and Nick Ponce were also seniors on that team.

Junior right fielder Jesse Zepeda was the lone non-senior in the starting combo (he went on to play at Bethel College and start the Indiana Black Caps travel organization). Junior Mike Wain was a pinch runner.

Look at the game program and you’ll see Central wearing baby blue uniforms. During the tournament run, they broke out “camouflage” tops and that’s what they wore in taking the title.

Tully pitched at Ohio State University and is now in the Cleveland Indians system.

DeFreese went on to play at Indiana Wesleyan University and become an athletic trainer.

Malcom pitched at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and became a regional sales manager.

Futterknecht pitched at DePauw University and became a regional sales manager.

Eppers, who was the 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2013, played at Ball State University and became a national sales and product manager.

Ianigro became an office with the Elkhart Police Department.

McArt went on to become a regional sales manager at Forest River. Malcom, Futterknecht, Eppers and McArt all landed at Forest River Inc.

Smith became a television news editor.

Namisnak played one year at Concordia University Ann Arbor, two at Goshen College and then ended his baseball career because of elbow surgeries (the third baseman hurt his arm while diving for a ball in the summer).

He earned his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Southern Indiana and recently became a purchasing agent at Heartland RV.

Namisnak grew up in Elkhart and played at Osolo Little League and in the Elkhart Babe Ruth system as well as travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers. Prater was a Babe Ruth and Scrappers teammate.

These days, Namisnak teaches baseball lessons in his spare time and plays slow pitch softball.

“I break it down with basic fundamental stuff,” says Namisnak of his lessons approach. “It got me into college. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Mike gives credit to older brother Andy (Elkhart Central Class of 2007) for first teaching him the game.

“From the time I could walk we were playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard,” says Namisnak. “I’d got to his games and we’d work on stuff together. He taught me how to understand the game.”

Andy Namisnak went on to play club baseball at Indiana University.

Steve Stutsman was the Elkhart Central coach that guided the champion Blazers in 2013.

“Coach Stuts was a laid-back coach to me,” says Namisnak. “He had his moments where he’d get fired up and get on us. 

“He knew he had a talented team. He gave us the right direction.”

Namisnak came along at a time where he played varsity baseball on the old and new fields at Elkhart Central. 

He liked having a clubhouse in the back of the dugout at the new field. But he appreciated the older diamond along Goshen Avenue.

“It’s an old classic field, which I enjoyed,” says Namisnak.

He recalls that when the Elkhart River overflowed its banks and water was lapping against the back of the dugout, the field was still playable.

Namisnak still follows Major League Baseball and is a long-time Chicago Cubs fan.

“It’s nice seeing they have a decent team this year,” says Namisnak. “This shorter season was something of a needed thing (during the COVID-19 pandemic).”

Namisnak has come to embrace the designated hitter in both leagues.

“It’s always fun to see a pitched hit a home run,” says Namisnak. “But the universal DH rule should be kept after this COVID stuff. 

“It just makes more sense to me.”

Count Namisnak a fan of expanded playoffs with a compacted schedule.

“More postseason baseball — I’m not going to complain about that,” says Namisnak. “There are no fans at the games so I don’t mind the no days off. Otherwise, you want that home field advantage.

“It plays like high school or Little League ball, not with 50,000 people screaming.”

CGI fans in the stands on TV is too much for Namisnak. But he’s on-board with the cardboard cut-outs. Some teams have taken to giving the fan the the ball if it strikes the cut-out.

Then there’s the extra-inning rule where a runner is placed at second base to start an inning.

“That reminds me of slow pitch softball,” says Namisnak. “It’s not a huge fan of that rule for MLB games.

“It’s just a weird season to sit down and watch baseball.”

It’s a different baseball world from 2013. Was that really only seven years ago?

Mike Namisnak plays slow pitch softball these days. He was a senior on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state baseball champions at Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School.

Keeping overhead athletes strong, mobile aim of trainer, coach Laird

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If you were in Zionsville, Ind., a few months ago and saw Nate Dohm pushing his mother’s SUV down the street, it wasn’t because of vehicle trouble.

Dohm was doing his best to keep up with baseball strength and conditioning workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Laird’s Training LLC closed because of the lockdown and no access to weighted sleds or other equipment, the athlete had to improvise.

Dohm, a senior at Zionsville Community High School in 2020-21, began working out with Sean Laird in the fall of his eighth grade year. He first participated in Laird’s winter arm care and velocity program as a sophomore and has done it consistently since then.

Right-hander Dohm registered a pulldown max of 89 mph as a sophomore and 95 mph as a junior.

“My jumps on the mound were much bigger,” says Dohm, a right-hander who hit 83 mph as a freshmen, 89 mph as a sophomore and 92 mph as a junior. The Ball State University commit played for Laird this summer on the Indiana Bulls 17 Black squad. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if I didn’t start lifting with Sean and doing that velo program.

“He helped me get stronger (physically and mentally). He doesn’t make it easy for you. It’s about pushing through that. You have to want to get better if you want to do his workouts.”

Laird has seen Dohm reap the rewards for his sweat.

“His work ethic is second to none,” says Laird. “The kid has literally changed his life.

“He’s changing himself into a power pitcher, which is cool to see.”

Taking his methods with him to the Bulls (it wasn’t unusual to see them doing side-hill sprints before or after a game), Laird was able to see strides in right-hander and Ohio University commit Brady Linkel (South Ripley High School Class of 2021).

“He’s one of those disciplined hard-nosed guys,” says Laird. “You saw him getting stronger and stronger by the end of the summer.”

That Bulls 17 Black team also featured Purdue Fort Wayne commits Bryce Martens (South Bend Adams High School Class of 2021) and Braxton Wilson (Martinsville Class of 2021).

Laird, a former Kokomo (Ind.) High School and University of South Alabama player who works out of Bullpen Academy in Russiaville, Ind., and his home gym, has been running arm care and velocity programs since 2014.

“I was always a hard thrower growing up,” says Laird. “The last five or six years, it’s become very popular to throw as hard as you can.

“I see things people are doing that are really good and really bad. I saw a need. Everything I do is based on my experience, sports, and exercise science background. I want to focus on improving strength, core stability, mobility, and athleticism in our athletes. I take care of the arm and athlete first.”

Laird’s training methods include building athleticism from the ground up.

Typical in-person arm care/velo program sessions will last around 90 to 105 minutes twice a day. The first day is about strength and power, the second day explosive or dynamic effort work.

Athletes are given things to do on their own on the other days of the week.

When the players are with Laird there is a warm-up of 30 to 45 minutes that includes ground-based mobility work, including bands to strengthen the rotator cuff and scapula. There are also exercises with plyometic and medicine balls and attention to Thoracic Spine (T-Spine) movement.

After the warm-up comes activation. There is weighted sled work for the lower half. Weight med balls are used in upper body plyometics.

“We want to create force from the ground up,” says Laird, who also has his players do one-legged box jumps and hurdles to promote explosiveness and agility. “My goal is to have a more mobile and explosive athlete.”

Baseball or softball players — overhead athletes — in the program don’t touch a ball for about 45 minutes then they throw for 15 to 20 minutes maximum. They spend 12 or so minutes on long toss and then begin pulldowns.

“We want them to get their bodies into their throws,” says Laird. “Then we go into a recovery period and do blood-pumping band work and mobility stuff. 

“We want to make sure elbow, flexors and extenders are strong.”

The same is true for the T-Spine and ankles.

While recovery is done as a group, Laird knows that not all his athletes are the same and have individual needs.

“I’m a big guy on communication,” says Laird. “Let me know what they feel.”

On the third day of the program, Laird has his players throwing a football — something that Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan did in his training. 

“We want to throw with a tight spiral,” says Laird. “Throwing a football teaches pronation and good arm motion. You get immediate feedback with a football. It you have bad mechanics, you’ll throw a wounded duck. You have to be efficient.”

Players are encouraged to build their arms through long toss — working up to throwing the ball 300 or more feet if they are comfortable with it and can maintain mechanics, but everyone is different and distance can be different depending on the athlete’s ability.

Zack Thompson, who played for Laird with the Indiana Bulls and then the University of Kentucky and in the St. Louis Cardinals system, prefers to cap his long toss at 120 feet.

“It helps him mechanically,” says Laird.

This summer, which followed a spring without high school baseball, the Bulls played into mid-August and got in more games than a normal travel season.

“We wanted to make sure we could keep playing,” says Laird. “We treated June as spring training (and gradually increased pitch counts). By July, we hit the ground running.”

The Bulls are playing fall ball. Laird is busy with his training busy so he is not coaching.

Another place where Laird invests his time is with former college teammate Adam Heisler and the LT Brings The Heat Baseball Development Podcast.

“It’s been awesome,” says Laird, who joined Heisler to drop Episode 18 on Sept. 12. “There’s so many avenues and topics to cover in baseball.”

The platform has allowed them to inform players and parents about training, recruiting and the protocol of travel baseball.

“It’s good for kids to hear the stories,” says Laird. “Everybody’s route to college or professional baseball is different.”

Sean Laird is the owner and founder of Laird’s Training and is a coach with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.