Tag Archives: St. Louis

Notre Dame’s Wallace explains recruiting process

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wanted: A baseball athlete who projects as a big league candidate who also has the skills to thrive in highly-competitive academic setting.

That’s sums up the wish list of new University of Notre Dame assistant baseball coach Rich Wallace.

Hired by new head coach Link Jarrett on a staff with pitching coach pitching coach Chuck Ristano, volunteer assistant Scott Wingo and director of baseball operations Steven Rosen, Wallace is charged with identifying and landing players that will fit the needs of the Fighting Irish as recruiting coordinator. He will also work with ND hitters and catchers.

Wallace shared his knowledge on recruiting and more at the first monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club for 2019-20 on Monday, Nov. 18 at Four Winds Field.

“Our goal is to get Notre Dame to the College World Series,” says Wallace, who comes to the Irish from Jacksonville (Fla.) University, where he was Dolphins assistant in 2018 and 2019. “I’ve played against teams who did (go to the CWS). Those teams had (future) big leaguers.

“I’m looking for as many kids who want to be big leaguers as I can — not guys who just want to get drafted.

“It’s my job to find the guys who look like they actually could be big leaguers and mix them with the guys who want to be big leaguers and develop them the best that we can.”

Wallace says it is a necessity playing in a Power 5 league like the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“There’s no way for us to beat Clemson, Florida State, Louisville or Miami with guys that are just OK players,” says Wallace. “Coach (Jarrett) will coach them up. He’ll get them great. But there’s only so much you can do against those guys.”

What is the right kind of player for Notre Dame?

“One with a giant chip on their shoulder who wants to do something that’s really, really hard and they’re excited about that,” says Wallace. “It’s he not, he probably needs to go somewhere else. It’s just not going work.”

Pitchers must be good movers and have fastball command and/or an elite fastball or a premier secondary pitch (both is preferable).

“Give me at least one of the two,” says Wallace. “If you don’t have those in our league, you’ve got no shot.”

Do pitchers have to be big and strong?

“I’d love for the guy to be 6-foot-5 and throw 92 (mph) and have a good breaking ball,” says Wallace, noting that pro ball might snap up that kind of player before Notre Dame ever gets a chance to put them on their roster.

Wallace says that Georgia Tech and North Carolina go after both taller pitchers with heat and shorter hurlers with top-notch breaking balls in case they can’t keep the tall flamethrowers.

“We look for both of those,” says Wallace.

The Irish are after explosive athletes.

Once they are on-campus, it will be up to the staff to make them better.

“You have to trust what you do development-wise,” says Wallace.

As one of the top academic institutions in the country, Notre Dame has admission standards higher than most.

Wallace talked about the basic NCAA Division I requirements.

The floor is a 2.3 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale). All D-I athletes must complete 16 core courses by the end of the their senior year.

Recently, the NCAA has required that 10 of those core courses have to be done before they start their final prep year.

Wallace notes that the top two revenue generators at the NCAA Division I tournament level are men’s basketball and baseball, yet D-I baseball offers 11.7 scholarships (athletic aid) and can carry up to 35 players (no more than 27 athletes on scholarship).

“We’ve got to be really smart about who we are going after,” says Wallace.

Players on athletic aid must receive at least 25 percent.

At Notre Dame, the plan is to carry a maximum of 33 players in the spring (there are 41 on the roster now) on a combination of athletic scholarship and institutional aid.

In addition, NCAA rules no longer allow contact with underclassmen — on or off-campus — until September of their junior year.

There are contact, quiet and dead periods in the recruiting calendar and part of those are at the same time as the season.

Notre Dame tends to play games Friday through Sunday (sometimes traveling on Thursday) with on-campus games Tuesday and/or Wednesday. This means coaches mostly seeing players close to campus on Monday or Thursday (if possible) or missing games or practices to do so.

It’s the high school season — more so than the travel ball season — when Wallace and company want to see players perform.

“We not only want to recruit good players, but winners,” says Wallace. “We want to see them play for their hometown and with their teammates and classmates/

“I’ve got to find guys who really like to compete. That’s hard to do that in a summer setting.”

There’s a one-month recruiting window from mid-September and mid-October and then camps become key to get underclassmen in front of coaches.

Of the nine players who have committed to Notre Dame since Wallace arrived, seven have attend Irish baseball camps. The Irish already have two verbal commitments for the Class of 2023.

“For us, the camps are a huge recruiting tool,” says Wallace. “We’ve got to be smart in the way we use them.”

Wallace notes that campers get a sense of how things are done by ND staff.

“The way we run our program, it’s aggressive. It’s blue collar,” says Wallace. “We present that in camp.

“If the kid is scared off by the way we run things in camp with the intensity and high pace, it might not be the place for him. That’s OK, too.”

Wallace recommends that whatever school a player is considering, it is advisable for them to attend the school’s camp to get a real feel for the program and coaching staff.

“Much of my time is spent on the phone talking to scouts and coaches I trust,” says Wallace. “I build that list so when I do go out I have a plan to go see everybody I need to see.”

Sometimes he likes a player on the other team better than the one he has gone to see.

Such was the case of outfielder Nate Roberts, who went from Northwestern University to Parkland College to High Point (N.C.).

As a High Point recruiter, Wallace got on the phone to head coach Chris Cozart.

“I want the Roberts kid?,” says Wallace of that conversation. “‘He’s playing right field for Parkland. Coach, he’s going to change our program.’

Cozart’s reply: “We need a center fielder. If he’s so good why is he playing right?”

“Wallace: “Because the center fielder is going to play in the big leagues.”

We end up getting the right fielder. He’s a fourth rounder. He led the country in on-base percentage and runs scored. He ended up as a first-team All-American. He pretty much changed the program at High Point.

“The center fielder we couldn’t get was (future big leaguer) Kevin Kiermaier. He turned out to be a pretty good baseball player.”

Notre Dame does not get many junior college transfers since those players must have met requirements to get into ND coming out of high school and have 50 percent of their credits toward Notre Dame degree (the NCAA requires 40 percent) transfer.

The Irish do get graduate transfers.

Wallace says some programs “over-recruit” to prepare for players who sign with pro teams out of high school or might go to another school late in the recruiting process.

“At Notre Dame, we’re not doing that,” says Wallace. “It’s tough to tell a kid to invest in Notre Dame, believe he’s going to get his degree here and before opening day, we chop their legs out (by cutting them from the team).”

When a scout or the player themselves says they are going pro, it’s ways to prepare for that.

“It’s the guy who nobody thinks is going to sign and somebody tries to sneak him in the 29th round for $10,000 and you’re caught,” says Wallace. “I can’t go out in June and find somebody that can get into Notre Dame. It’s not going to happen.”

Being realistic throughout the whole recruiting process is another piece of advice from Wallace.

Can that player really play there?

Does it fit what they want or are able to do academically?

Wallace appreciates the dialogue that he can have with a high school coach who knows the score.

“Some coaches will call and say that guy can play for you,” says Wallace. “I’ll say, ‘have you ever seen us play?’ The answer is no. ‘Have you ever seen us practice?’ The answer is no.”

“Once we get to know you guys as coaches and you’ve seen us play and practice, it’s real easy.”

Another thing that drives Wallace crazy as a recruiter is the campus visit from athletes and parents who are not prepared.

“I’m asking (the athlete) questions and he has no idea what he wants to do,” says Wallace. “Mom is walking around the campus on Facebook. They don’t know any better.”

That’s where coaches can educate them — ask them to do their homework on the school and program, sign up for the NCAA Eligibility Center as soon as they enter high school if they have plans of playing college sports.

“The sooner we can put this in front of kids and their parents the better it is,” says Wallace. “(The Eligibility Center) will give them a free profile.

“If you make your guidance counselor aware, they’ll start sending the stuff in for you.”

It’s also a good idea to send short videos to the top five schools on your wish list.

Wallace says the contacting of coaches should be done by the player and not the parents.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘My son Johnny wants to play for you,’” says Wallace. “Then Johnny probably needs to pick up the computer. I’m sure he’s probably never put his cell phone down. He can send an email.”

Wallace does also not want to see the name of another coach in the league on the subject line.

“They forgot to change the email,” says Wallace. “That one goes right to the trash.”

While taking with coaches on the phone, recruits should let them know what they expect at the end of the rainbow. What are their goals? What degree do they want to pursue?

“At Notre Dame, they have to have some sort of academic goal or it’s just not going to work,” says Wallace.

As a player, Wallace grew up in St. Louis and moved to Orlando for high school. His best college baseball fit was the hometown University of Central Florida, coached by Jay Bergman.

“Pure toughness,” is how Wallace describes Bergman, who won 1,183 games as head coach at Seminole Community College, the University of Florida and UCF. “He still has a giant chip on his shoulder.

“If you didn’t show up everyday ready to work, somebody else will take you job.”

When Wallace arrived at the school and its pro-style atmosphere, there were 62 players on the fall roster. He had to work to find his place with the Knights.

He also saw how much baseball Bergman knew.

“He was magical,” says Wallace. “He would see things a whole other level.”

One time at Clemson, where the Tigers had not lost a non-conference weekend series in about 15 years.

At the end of the game, with UCF down by a run and runners on the corners, Bergman predicts that his first batter will double into the gap to score one run and that the next two batters will safety squeeze to plate two more runs and give his team a two-run lead and that’s just what happens.

Another time against LSU, he asks his No. 2 hitter to bunt a batter to second with one out in the ninth to get scoring position. They did just that and the Knights won.

“He knew how that game was going to play out,” says Wallace of Bergman, who began his coaching career at UCF then served with Cozart at High Point (where he first coached against Link Jarrett), Ed Servais at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and Chris Hayes at Jacksonville.

Wallace graduated from UCF in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies. He and his wife, Alex, have two girls — Easton and Maxx.

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Rich Wallace was an assistant coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University for the 2018 and 2019 baseball seasons before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. (Jacksonville University Photo)

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Rich Wallace (center) was an assistant baseball coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. He is a Central Florida University graduate. He coached at UCF, High Point University and Creighton University before landing at JU. (Jacksonville University Photo)

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Rich Wallace is an assistant baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame on the staff of new head coach Link Jarrett. Wallace is the recruiting coordinator for the Irish and will also help with hitters and catchers. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

Power-Pronation — an alternative way for pitchers to throw

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pitching a baseball subjects large (sometimes dangerous) forces on the arm particularly on the elbow; the weakest link in overhand throwing activities as most orthopedic surgeons and sports medical experts will attest.

When a ball player throws, a substantial force is concentrated principally on the inner part of the elbow (as the arm rotates first externally and then internally).

Placing undue stress on the inner elbow often results in injury, which can lead to ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) surgery (aka Tommy John surgery).

A physics professor and former pro baseball player in New York — Don R. Mueller, Ph.D. — who knows something about pitching and the physics behind it along with a successful senior adult baseball leaguer in St. Louis — Randy Tiefenthaler — suggest that there is an alternative way to throw (with less chance for UCL injuries).

It’s called Power-Pronation (first you supinate and then you pronate).

“You supinate the wrist as the arm swings back (in preparation to throw) and then you pronate the wrist “naturally” as the arm moves forward to release the ball,” says Mueller. “This method of throwing is also powerful because supination creates two unique opportunities for power: (1) activating the biceps muscle to contract (storing energy within the throwing motion itself) and (2) engaging the band-like pronator teres muscle by stretching it across the inner part of the forearm, which like a stretched rubber band releases its energy as the wrist pronates to release the ball.

“Power-Pronation can be viewed as an efficient way of pulling something like a rope, for example, over-your-shoulder (as a construction worker does) or pulling your arm from back-to-front as a MLB pitcher does to throw a ball.

“If only more folks realized that throwing a ball is more precisely depicted as the action of pulling the ball from back-to-front before it is released by the thrower, then perhaps they would better understand Power-Pronation.”

Mueller, a left-hander who threw hard, pitched in the independent Empire State League in 1987 (injuring his shoulder in 1986 and then tearing his UCL in 1989; ending his quest to play further) wants to help others avoid arm injuries; however, still adding a few mph to their fastball by using the power-pronation technique.

“The inner elbow is a time bomb for pitchers who throw hard,” says Mueller. “My research is focused on moving the force away from the inner elbow more toward the outer elbow, which may be more resilient for some players.

“Pitching like other sports activities, which require the player to essentially do the same thing over-and-over again, is a proving ground for various repetitive strain injuries (RSI). I suggest that they try power-pronation if for nothing more that to give their arm a rest from RSI.”

Mueller offers ball players what he calls “3-Points on Pitching/Throwing.”

1. Get the throwing arm up quickly (supinate the wrist if you choose to power-pronate) 2. Carry the center of mass forward as the arm moves from back-to-front. 3. Get the arm out in front with a longer delivery (less elbow strain more shoulder power) as the back leg drives the body forward.

On the follow-through don’t drag the back leg. Get the back leg off the rubber and into the air as the center of mass rotates forward: Explosive power from the legs, hips and shoulder; not so much emphasis on the arm and its weakest link the elbow.

“I’m a guy who still throws with power even at age 57, but perhaps more importantly I’m an expert in throwing pain,” says Mueller. “I have hurt myself repeatedly (from head-to-toe) in different ways and have learned by many trial-and-error experiments how to throw with more power and less pain.”

Mueller states emphatically: “Harness the power of your overall body. Be more like an Olympic athlete; an overall body user. They are the best athletes in the world. For example, Jan Zelezny (javelin thrower) who had just won the Gold Medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta showed coaches with the Atlanta Braves (a few days later) that he could throw a ball over 400 feet! Although he never made a go of pro baseball, his ability to harness his overall body into a throw was remarkable.”

Tiefenthaler, a 2019 member of the Greater St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, pitched at Missouri Baptist University. By the 1980 Major League Baseball (First-Year Player Draft) he had torn his UCL, teres minor muscle (posterior rotator cuff) and suffered various other muscle and tendon injuries.

More recently, in using Power-Pronation principles, Tiefenthaler helped his fellow Midwest Pirates win the 53-and-over Roy Hobbs World Series in 2015 and he was named tournament MVP in 2017 as the Pirates came close to winning the title again.

Eric Tiefenthaler (Randy’s son) employed Power-Pronation techniques at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and he now instructs high school and college pitchers.

“In September I will be 60,” says Randy Tiefenthaler. “And I can legitimately say that I can throw 80 mph with no pain or injury.

“It was (former major league pitcher) Mike Marshall that taught me the value of early forearm turnover and powerful pronation as the keys to getting the most out of your throwing arm. Those two keys help unlock increased velocity. “I am totally convinced that powerful and properly timed actuation of the pronator teres not only produces higher spin-rates on all pitches, but has the added benefit of preventing the olecranon process of the ulna (bony tip of the elbow) from violently colliding with the fossa of the humerus (upper arm bone).

“In other words, you can prevent the violent ‘hitting of the doorstop’ so to speak, on the back of your elbow, which can lead to excess ossification of the back of the elbow and sometimes even fractures.”

Mueller emphasizes the importance of the Power-Pronation as a method for kids to try. “

“If young ball players are willing to learn these techniques from a couple of old guys (who have been there and done that with the associated pain) then perhaps they can avoid such injuries altogether or at least greatly reduce the chance of hurting themselves,” says Mueller. “I also think kids need to extend their arm forward a bit with a longer delivery (like Aroldis Chapman who has a long fluid motion from start to finish) to allow for maximum acceleration of the arm forward, but also improved deceleration (slowing) of the arm once the ball is released.

“I see kids wanting to whip their arm forward, when it is still basically stuck behind them. I want them to carry their center-of-mass slightly forward before they begin to think about releasing the ball. In other words, I want kids to throw more downhill (and further down the hill) as they push themselves off the mound with their back leg. As the physics professor, I refer to this as converting potential energy into kinetic energy with maximum efficiency.”

Mueller also contends that kids don’t get their throwing arm up in time. As a consequence, the arm continues to lag behind the lower body, which begins its motion toward the target; with a dragging arm more likely to become an injured arm in time.

“Get the arm high and throw it lower,” says Mueller.

The professor has analyzed pitchers throughout the history of baseball as he applies his knowledge of physics. He still marvels at the compact and efficient delivery of former Detroit Tigers ace Denny McLain.

“Likely the last 30-game winner I will see in my lifetime,” says Mueller. “Dwight Gooden also had a beautiful delivery with near-perfect timing of the lower and upper body to throw his blazing fastball.”

Furthermore, Mueller observed that with both of these hurlers the arm was the “last thing to happen” as the lower body led the way and he prefers that today’s pitchers go back to this efficient use of the leg kick.

He explains that as the leg first kicks out and then pulls in (with the pitcher turning toward home plate) the big moment of inertia of the extended leg is converted into rotational angular acceleration of the upper body. The arm can then follow through more effectively with greater power and in all probability less chance for injury to the relatively delicate structure of the elbow.

Mueller says, “To maximize your pitching potential you need to use the upper body and lower body in tandem. Too many of the MLB pitchers I see in 21st century baseball are more upper body and not enough lower body.”

Although Mueller views the throwing of the arm forward as a pulling activity as it goes from back-to-front he understands and appreciates the importance of pushing (i.e., pushing off the mound) as a key element to pitching with power.

“I think immediately of Newton’s Third Law of Motion — For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” says Mueller. “You probably can’t throw the ball hard unless you are using this ‘ground force’ effectively.”

While Mueller agrees that you should push hard off the mound, he disagrees with “pitching experts” who advocate the dragging of the back foot (what they commonly refer to as the dragline) as part of this process.

He says, “I suggest that the thrower push forcefully off the pitching rubber and as the upper body rotates fully to the target, get the foot off the ground. If you want to have a 6-inch dragline fine, but I see no “physics-based” reason for a 2-foot dragline as recommended by some pitching coaches.”

Mueller also wants to make it clear that “he is not a pitching coach.”

He is a physics professor who investigates the physics of sports.

Tiefenthaler offers the following advice to anyone who wishes to avoid Tommy John surgery:

1. When breaking the pitching hand from the glove, lead with the

pitching hand in a pendulum swinging fashion that gets the hand up to your driveline position, with the forearm laid back in a supinated fashion ready to throw — this before your front foot plants and the hips and shoulders rotate forward.

2. During and after hip and shoulder rotation while you are driving the ball to the plate, powerfully go from forearm supination to full pronation while attempting to “inwardly” rotate your shoulder in a powerful fashion.

3. Learn to pronate the release of not just the fastball but all off speed/breaking pitches as well.

“Do those three things and you can bullet-proof your arm from UCL injuries,” says Tiefenthaler. “Tim Lincecum comes to mind as a Power-Pronator.

“You can see (in the slow-motion video) how Lincecum outwardly rotates his forearm at the beginning of the final drive home. Then the pronation begins as he drives his fingers through the release such that after release, his pitching hand turns inwardly so much that his palm is facing upward.

“For the novice fan, they would think that this action would injure the arm. However, it actually helps to protect the arm from the elbow to the hand, while at the same time maximizing spin torque on the ball at release.

“As far as the timing of when he gets his arm up and into driveline height; he is late with that, but that is another subject. However, as far as the powerful pronation action is concerned this is a good example.

“There aren’t too many MLB guys who understand how important pronation is to being able to throw the ball with ‘life’. The amount of late, sharp movement on the ball is directly related to the amount of ’powerful pronation’ as it is applied through the release.”

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Physics professor Don Mueller applies his knowledge on the tennis court, too, and can swing effectively with either hand. Mueller is a proponent of Power-Pronation.

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Randy Tiefenthaler (center) is a 2019 inductee into the Greater St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. Here is pictured with two men with St. Louis Cardinals ties — David Freese (left) and National Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. Tiefenthaler is a proponent of Power-Pronation.

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Former New York Mets pitcher had a delivery which started high and finished low — just like Professor Don Mueller recommends as a part of Power-Pronation.

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Denny McLain, the last 30-game winner in the major leagues, was a Power-Pronation kind of pitcher.

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Tim Lincecum also pronated his way to effectiveness on a Major League Baseball mound.

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The difference between pronation and supination.

 

Numbers up for Behlmer, Oldenburg Academy Twisters

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Twisters of Oldenburg (Ind.) Academy enjoyed the highest number of participants and victories in a number of years in 2019.

The IHSAA Class 1A member in Franklin County near Batesville had 24 players in the program and followed up two straight five-win seasons by going 16-8-1.

The Twisters fell to Rising Sun in the championship game of the Jac-Cen-Del Sectional. The win total is two shy of single-season school record.

“We’re on the uptick with enrollment and with kids being interested (in baseball),” says Doug Behlmer, who just finished his 19th season as OA head coach (the private school went coed 19 years ago). “Hopefully, it keeps going.”

Drawing from area parter Catholic elementary and middle schools (St. Louis in Batesville, St. Nicholas in Sunman, St. Mary’s in Greensburg, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Aurora, St. Lawrence in Lawrenceburg, St. Michael in Brookville and St. John the Baptist in Harrison) and public schools in Indiana and Ohio, Oldenburg Academy (enrollment around 225) is an independent in baseball.

The Twisters’ schedule includes 1A’s Blue River Valley, Edinburgh, Greenwood Christian Academy, Jac-Cen-Del, North Decatur, Rising Sun, Seton Catholic, Shawe Memorial, South Decatur, Trinity Lutheran and Waldron, 2A’s Centerville, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, South Ripley, Southwestern (Hanover), Switzerland County and Triton Central 2A, 3A’s Lawrenceburg and Rushville.

Besides Rising Sun and Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy is in sectional grouping with Hauser, North Decatur and South Decatur. The Twisters have won  four sectional titles (2003, 2004, 2005, 2010).

The Twisters play home games at Liberty Park in Batesville — the same facility used by Batesville High School.

With more than a dozen incoming freshmen indicating a desire to play baseball in 2020, Behlmer says the program could have an all-time high of more than 30 players and could even have to make cuts for the first time.

When the program began, there was just 13 freshmen and the Twisters played a junior varsity schedule. That moved toward a full varsity schedule in the next few years.

The 2019 team was led on the mound by sophomore right-handers Chris Hautman, Andrew Oesterling and Riley Schebler and in the batter’s box by Oesterling, Hautman, Schebler, sophomores Race Carle and Patrick Thompson and juniors Matt Sedler, Adam Huber and Michael Hoff.

Senior Hunter Sullivan has committed to play baseball for Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Behlmer’s coaching staff included former OA players Spencer Gommel, Patrick Kolks and Matt Bohman and pitching coach Jeff Ahaus (a Lawrenceburg eye doctor who had two sons play for the Twisters). Bohman is in charge of the junior varsity team.

Points of emphasis include dependability and hard work.

“If you say you’re going do something, make sure you do it,” says Behlmer. “Family, faith and academics all come in front of baseball.”

A 1988 graduate of Greensburg (Ind.) High School, Behlmer played for head coach Roger Cash.

“Coach Cash was an old school guy,” says Behlmer. “He believed in fundamentals and making the routine play. I’ve carried that over to our guys. Nothing too flashy. Be solid. Throw strikes. That sort of thing.”

Doug and Judy Behlmer have been married 21 years and have no children. He is employed by Hill-Rom in Batesville.

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Eye disease can’t stop Plymouth, Murray State grad Elliott

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brandon Elliott may not view the world the way he once did.

But the former standout ballplayer is not letting a rare eye disease keep him from living life to its fullest.

A three-sport athlete in the Plymouth (Ind.) High School Class of 2009 (he captained the football and baseball teams as a senior and also played basketball) who went on to play NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

Brandon, the son of Todd Elliott and Julie and Dave Shook, was born in Munster, Ind., and played youth baseball in nearby Schererville before moving to Plymouth in 2003. His brother is Tyler Shook. His sisters are Shannon Elliott, Andria Shook and Allie Shook.

He was a college graduate and working at his dream job when Brandon began to notice something wasn’t right with the vision in his left eye.

Trying to get some answers, he went to optometrists and opthomalogists in Kentucky.

It was the opinion of Dr. Landen Meeks in Paducah that Brandon likely had Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision. The condition typically starts in one eye and progresses to the other eye within eight months.

Meeks had never diagnosed LHON before. Brandon underwent a spinal tap done to rule out other things.

“He was a straight shooter and Brandon liked that,” says Julie Shook. “He told him there is no cure (for LHON).”

Meanwhile, central vision in the right eye was also going cloudy. Though blurry, Brandon could see shadows and movement in his peripheral vision. He described looking straight ahead like looking into the hole of a donut.

Julie Shook found Dr. Sophia Chung, a neuro-opthalmologist with SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, and took her son to St. Louis. Only genetic blood tests would determine the cause of Brandon’s vision loss so he went through eight hours of testing.

Several weeks went by. On May 10, 2016, the call came. A 25-year-old Brandon Elliott was diagnosed with LHON.

The condition is an inherited form of vision loss. This inheritance applies to genes contained in mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria produce most of the energy that cells need to function and these inherited mutations disrupt the mitochondria and cause cells in the retina to stop working or die.

LHON is a maternal hereditary disease, which means it is passed from the mother. Shannon Elliott was tested and she is a carrier. It is more prominent coming out in males in their mid- to late-20’s. It is not as common to come out in females.

“It is rare,” says Julie Shook. “Everyday they’re learning more. It’s hard as a mother when you find out something they have is something you gave them. But I had no idea.”

After learning of his condition, Brandon let it be known that his life was in Murray, Ky., and he had no intention of returning to Plymouth.

“That was hard,” says Julie Shook, who is dean’s administrative assistant at the University of Notre Dame Law School. “I also know you need to let people make their own decisions on their own time.

“I needed to be strong for him and listen to what he wanted.”

After the tests in St. Louis, the ride back to Kentucky was quiet at first. Then Brandon asked his mother a question.

“He said , ‘How do you go from seeing a 90 mph fastball to not being able to see it?,’” says Julie Shook. “‘It is what it is. God gave it to me for a reason. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m strong and maybe I can help someone somehow.

“‘I just have to go on with life. This is what I’ve been given. I have to go on and enjoy life.’”

That life includes marriage and children, a fulfilling occupation and plenty of support from family and friends.

About six months after graduating with a business administration degree from Murray State in 2013, Elliott went to work for Sportable Scoreboards in Murray.

The family-owned company started in 1986 by Mike Cowen serves clients all over the place and has one of their boards at Johnny Reagan Field — home of Murray State baseball and the place where Elliott earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010 and finished his four-year career with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter).

Brandon was employed in the customer service department and one day a new employee came along — digital designer Meagan Cowen. He soon learned that she was Mike and Joyce Cowen’s granddaughter.

While Brandon and Meagan knew each other before the diagnosis, they began dating after it. They did not tell their grandparents until they had become serious. The young couple was married April 14, 2018 in Paris, Tenn.

“It was an emotional day,” says Julie Shook. “He told me in the morning of that day, ‘Mom, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.’

“What a statement for a 27-year-old to make who lost their vision at 25.”

When she walked down the aisle to become Meagan Elliott, Brandon took out a pair of binoculars to see her when she first appeared.

“That brought everybody to tears,” says Brandon Eggenschwiler, whose Murray State career parallels Elliott’s. “It’s truly amazing. He hasn’t missed a step in his daily life. He still goes on golf outings.

“He’s been a real champ about this whole situation.”

Shannon Elliott expresses her gratitude for Meagan coming into her brother’s life.

“Brandon thought he would never get another girlfriend again,” says Shannon, a 2011 Plymouth High School graduate who played tennis at Saint Mary’s College, graduating in 2015, and earned a mortuary science degree from Vincennes University in 2017. “Mom and I prayed he’d find someone who would accept him for who he is.

“It’s a touching thing.”

While the 25-year-old works for a funeral home in Austin, Texas, sister and brother remain very close.

“He’s my best friend,” says Shannon of Brandon. “I talk to him and his family in Kentucky probably three times a week.

“Meagan been there for him. It’s been unbelievable. I can’t imagine being in her shoes. She has to drive everywhere. I couldn’t be more thankful for what she does for him.”

Brandon and Meagan expect to welcome a baby girl on Thanksgiving Day.

Shannon has been raising money and awareness of her brother and LHON through a website — howhesees.org. She sells bracelets with the inscription “VI510N” — which tells the date his brother was diagnosed.

Brandon and Meagan wrote their own wedding vows. Brandon also wrote vows to Meagan’s young son, Bentley (who would turned 5 in September).

The wedding party was quite large and included Tyler Shook, Brandon Eggenschwiler, Ty Stetson and Reed Thompson.

Three of them had been the top three batters in the Murray State Racers’ lineup at the end of 2013 — left fielder Stetson (Carmel, Ind.) leading off, followed by third baseman Elliott and designated hitter Eggenschwiler (Lexington, Ky). First baseman Michael Kozolowski (Crown Point, (Ind.) was the clean-up hitter. Those four were also roommates in 2012-13.

“Brandon has so many wonderful friends,” says Shook. “That’s just a tribute to Brandon. He’s just such a sweet kid. He has a big heart. People are just drawn to him.

“He’s an inspiration.”

Tyler Shook, a 2010 Plymouth graduate, played baseball and football with stepbrother Brandon in high school and was also an American Legion teammate.

“He was one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with or against,” says Tyler. “He was just good at everything and a quick learner.”

There was competition for competitive bragging rights around the Shook/Elliott household. But never any animosity.

“We all got along really well,” says Tyler. “we still do. Brandon was pretty humble for the skill he had. He wasn’t going out and telling everybody about it. It was always about the team.”

One the football field, defensive end/linebacker Brandon and safety Tyler were called the “Bash Brothers” for their ability to hit on defense even though they wore casts on their hands much of the 2008 season as the John Barron-coached Rockies went 10-1.

“My dad (Dave) raised us with the mindset of ‘tough it out,’” says Tyler. “For lack of better words, ‘If your legs aren’t broken you walk yourself off the field, play through it for the team’ kind of mindset.

“(Brandon) had the grit and was not afraid to stick his nose in there. They called him ’Squirrel’  because he was one of the smallest guys on the field — maybe 5-10, 170. He was not a big guy, but definitely played like one.

“He’s always been incredibly competitive whether it be team sports, golf, video games, you name it. He just has the biggest and strongest heart and drive of anyone I know. I think that mentality is what has helped him through the ups and down of the last few years.”

Thompson, an outfielder from Cheyenne, Wyoming, did not play with Brandon. But he lived near him and was around when his vision began to change and has witnessed how he has adjusted since the LHON diagnosis.

“He can still move around just fine,” says Thompson. “He just has a hard time seeing fine details. His work has been awesome for him. They’ve gotten him a 40-inch flat screen as computer monitor.

“He loves that job. That’s why he stayed in Murray.”

Tony Plothow was both head baseball coach at Plymouth High School and manager for Plymouth American Legion Post 27 when Brandon was a player. Plothow also coached Brandon in basketball at PHS.

Brandon played for Post 27 each summer after his four years of high school and first year of college.

“(Brandon) started for us as a freshman,” says Plothow. “He came in with a lot of confidence and he fit in pretty well. He became a mentor to younger kids.

“He was one of those kids you didn’t have to motive. As he got older, he was a great leader in the locker room.”

Brandon hit .438 with three homers, 22 RBIs and 42 runs scored as a Plymouth senior  and was named MVP of the 2009 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. In Legion ball, he shined against tough competition and got the the attention of Murray State, where he played for head coach Rob McDonald.

Mike Hite was an assistant coach for PHS and Post 27 when Brandon was a player.

“As an athlete, he was a competitor,” says Hite of Brandon. “He was a winner. He was a perfectionist. He always wanted to be the one that came through in the clutch. That was pretty special.”

As Plymouth parks superintendent, Hite employed Brandon for several summers. Allie Shook, Brandon’s stepsister, works for Hite now.

“(Brandon) wanted to excel in whatever he was doing — cutting grass, pulling weeds or going deep in the hole to turn a double play (at shortstop).

“He’s used to succeeding in everything he does and he still is.”

Former Plymouth head basketball coach John Scott recalls Brandon’s contributions in 2007-08, a season that saw the Pilgrims go 22-4 and make it to the Class 3A Warsaw Semistate.

“Brandon was so very athletic,” says Scott. “He was a very streaky shooter. We played NorthWood just before Christmas. He hit some huge 3-pointers for us that night on the road. He, along with a great game from Nick Neidlinger, got us off to a good start in the (Northern Lakes Conference).”

Scott is also assistant athletic director and longtime public address announcer for Pilgrims/Rockies sports.

Evan Jurjevic got to know Brandon as a fellow middle infielder for Plymouth Post 27. Shortstop Elliott was the lone Plymouth High product surrounded by three LaPorte Slicers — second baseman Jurjevic, first baseman Shawn Rogers and third baseman Jake McMahan.

“(Brandon) was an incredible baseball player,” says Jurjevic. “He was extremely hard-working and talented. He played with a lot of energy and heart.

“He was an overall great guy, a good team player. He was always pushing others to get better.”

Jurjevic, a part-time strength coordinator and instructor for the Indiana Chargers travel organization who is pursuing a physical therapy doctorate at Trine University-Fort Wayne, sees his old friend meeting his condition head-on.

“Baseball is easy compared to something like this,” says Jurjevic. “It’s puts things into perspective.

“It’s definitely a challenge and an obstacle he had to overcome.”

While he must sit very close to view television and uses a large monitor at work, Brandon tries to lead as normal a life as possible. He bowls, plays golf and has fun in the backyard with Bentley.

“He doesn’t want people to know,” says Julie. “He was very hesitant about seeing someone about visual needs.”

Dave Shook spent a week with his stepson and they met with Kentucky Visual Aid. Brandon told them he could not take the aids because they were too expensive.

Then he was asked: “Do you pay taxes?”

His answer: “Yes.”

The reply: “You’ve paid for it.”

For more information on Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, visit lhonsociety.org.

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Brandon Elliott, a Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, hits the baseball for Murray (Ky.) State University, where he graduated in 2013 after four seasons. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott finished his four-year baseball career at Murray (Ky.) State University with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter). He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott, a 2009 Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the school’s athletic Wall of Fame for being named MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. He also excelled at football and basketball at Plymouth.

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Meagan and Brandon Elliott on their wedding day — April 14, 2018.

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Brandon, Meagan and Shannon Elliott share a moment during Brandon and Meagan’s wedding on April 14, 2018.

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Brandon Elliott, who was diagnosed in 2016 with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision — uses binoculars to see his bride, Meagan, during their wedding April 14, 2018. The couple met at Sportable Scoreboards in Murray, Ky. Her grandfather, Mike Cowen, founded the company.