Tag Archives: St. Mary’s

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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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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Kleber, Trinity Lutheran Cougars are aiming high in 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Ben Kleber and the Trinity Lutheran High School baseball team have set their sights high for the 2019 season.

“We expect to win the sectional,” says Kleber. “We want to be the first team in school history to win a regional game. That’s our goal.”

Trinity Lutheran (enrollment around 150) is an independent school located in Seymour, Ind. The school opened in 2002 and the first baseball season was 2003.

The Cougars’ schedule features Class 4A’s Bedford North Lawrence and Seymour, 3A’s Brown County, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Salem and Scottsburg, 2A’s Austin, Henryville and Southwestern (Hanover) and 1A’s Christian Academy of Indiana, Crothersville, Greenwood Christian Academy, Hauser, Indianapolis Lutheran, Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun, Springs Valley and West Washington. The Trinity Lutheran Invitational on April 13 includes a round robin with 2A’s Eastern (Pekin) and Switzerland County and 4A’s Jennings County.

Trinity schedules bigger schools to get ready for the IHSAA tournament series.

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Crothersville, Orleans and West Washington. Trinity has won five sectional championships — the last two in 2016 and 2017.

Kleber, a graduate of Seymour High School (2007) and Hanover (Ind.) College (2011), was a varsity assistant and junior varsity coach the past two seasons to head coach Brandon Tormoehlen at Brownstown Central.

“I learned a lot about hitting and catching drills from Coach T,” says Kleber of Tormoehlen. “He’s just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to offense. He definitely valued your option on things.

“I like his philosophy on the game all together. He has his guys playing the game fast.”

The previous two springs before he was at Brownstown Central, Kleber was on the Trinity Lutheran varsity staff of head coach Bob Tabeling.

He spent the 2012 and 2013 campaigns coaching freshmen at Seymour with Jeremy Richey as head coach.

“Jeremy was great,” says Kleber of Richey. “I’ll be forever grateful for him giving me the start in coaching at the high school level.”

After playing at Seymour for coach Bob Bowman (the man who led the Owls to an IHSAA state championship in 1988), Kleber pitched at Hanover for Shayne Stock.

“(Bowman) was a baseball guy,” says Kleber. “He knew a lot about the game.”

Much of what Kleber uses at Trinity Lutheran — from pitching to base running to field maintenance — comes from his time at Hanover with Shayne Stock and Panthers bench coach Wayne Stock (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).

“I loved playing for Coach (Shayne) Stock,” says Kleber. “He was

a hard-nosed guy who expected things done the right way. He expected the best of out you. He wanting your playing hard and playing smart.

“I learned so much from sitting and talking to (Wayne Stock).”

Kleber says he is transparent with his players and let’s them know their roles.

“They know what they need to do to get more playing time,” says Kleber. “I’m an open door. I make sure you’re ready to hear the truth and what’s expected of them and what they need to work on.

“Everybody is a piece to a puzzle. We want to be a family as much they want to be a team.”

Kleber’s desire is that his Cougars to be baseball-curious.

“I want our guys to ask questions,” says Kleber. “They have to be students of the game.

“You can’t just show up. You have to understand why.”

During the summers before his junior and senior years at Hanover, Kleber helped Todd Miller coach an Indiana Bulls travel team that included Drew Ellis (who played at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system).

Miller, a Franklin (Ind.) Community High Schoolg graduate who played baseball and football at Hanover, is now a baseball assistant at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn.

The Cougars’ roster features 13 players. There is no junior varsity team this spring. Some of those are also on the track team. Four players who logged significant playing time in 2018 are back.

“We’re young,” says Kleber. “Wwe’re learning a lot of fundamentals and how to play the game the right way.

“We’re building for the sectional.”

Recent Trinity graduates who went on to college baseball are Sam Crick (Hanover) and Jacob Schult (Rose-Hulman).

Kleber is assisted by Tyler Reedy, a Seymour graduate whom Kleber coached before Reedy was in high school. Doug Nichols helps with statistics and field maintenance.

Trinity plays its home games on Alf Snyder Field, an on-campus facility built through a donation from Snyder’s family.

Two years ago, the infield went from grass with dirt cut-outs to a conventional infield.

This year, the mound was replaced and one of the batter’s boxes was re-done. There are new sponsors on the scoreboard. Sponsor banners line the outfield fence and a new batter’s eye is on the way. There is also plans to put fences in front of the dugouts.

Feeder schools from Jackson, Jennings and Bartholomew counties for Trinity Lutheran include Immanuel Lutheran (Seymour), Lutheran Central (Brownstown), St. Ambrose (Seymour), St. Bartholomew (Columbus), St. John’s Sauers (Seymour), St. Mary’s (North Vernon), St. Peter’s Lutheran (Columbus) and White Creek Lutheran (Columbus).

Kleber is a dispatcher for Rose Acre Farms, an egg producer in Seymour.

Ben and Katie Kleber were married in September 2015. They have a son — Braxton (2).

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Braxton Kleber (2) is the son of Ben and Katie Kleber. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.

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Katie and Ben Kleber were married in 2015. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.