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Free agent pitcher Storen exploring his baseball options for 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Storen can trace his love of pitching to front-yard wiffle ball games.

It was there in the Geist section of Indianapolis that the son of Mark and Pam and younger brother of Lindsay discovered he could make the ball do what he wanted.

“At a young age, I was just trying to spin the wiffle ball,” says Storen, now 31 with 470 mound appearances in Major League Baseball behind him. “It kind of worked out well. I learned to spin the ball.”

Once little Drew identified himself as a pitcher, his father took him to get help with his mechanics. The right-hander began working with pitching instructor Jay Lehr at 7.

“Jay taught me how to throw an effective breaking ball without the stress on my arm,” says Storen. “I was a really small kid. I respected the process. I didn’t force it at any point.”

With maturity came size and added velocity.

But it did take time and effort.

“If you’re at my level or a little league level, you need to respect the process,” says Storen. “My dad’s advice was to do one thing everyday to get better. You chip away at it. It does not happen overnight. You’ve got to put the work in.

“It takes a lot of mental strength, but that’s what makes it great.”

Drew came up through Skiles Test Baseball and at 11, his family moved to Brownsburg, Ind. That’s where his father grew up and went to high school and that’s where his son shined at Brownsburg Little League. Drew did his part for a state championship team in 2000. That came between Brownsburg’s appearances in the Little League World Series in 1999 and 2001.

Storen enjoyed a decorated career at Brownsburg High School. He won 30 games with a 1.55 earned run average and 319 strikeouts. He was 9-0 as a sophomore in helping the Bulldogs win an 2005 IHSAA Class 4A state championship. Drew played first base while future major leaguer Lance Lynn was the winning pitcher in the title game.

In Storen’s last two seasons at Brownsburg, future big league Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart was his catcher.

Recognition came with Storen’s pitching abilities. He was honorable mention all-state in 2005 and first-team all-state in 2006 and 2007. He was a three-time first-team on the all-Hoosier Crossroads and Indianapolis Star Metro West teams.

In 2007, he was the Star’s West High School Player of the Year and an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Summers from age 13 to 18 were spent traveling with the Indiana Bulls.

Storen was selected in the 34th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees but did not sign.

Instead, he took his pitching talents westward and played two seasons at Stanford University (2008 and 2009). He ascended the mound 59 times (all in relief) and went 12-4 with 15 saves and a 3.64 ERA. He struck out 116 and walked 23 in 98 1/3 innings.

As a draft-eligible sophomore, Storen was picked in the first round (10th overall) in 2009 by the Washington Nationals.

He made his big league debut in 2010 with Washington and appeared in 54 games with the Nationals that season.

In eight big league seasons with the Washington Nationals (2010-15), Toronto Blue Jays (2016), Seattle Mariners (2016) and Cincinnati Reds (2017), Storen is 29-18 with 99 saves and a 3.45 earned run average. He has 417 strikeouts and 132 walks in 438 innings (all in relief).

Storen performed a rare feat on April 18, 2017 in the ninth inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles. With Tucker catching, he pitched an immaculate inning. That’s three strikeouts on nine pitches. The victims were Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy and Hyun Soo Kim.

“As a bullpen guy, that’s our perfect game,” says Storen.

On Sept. 26, 2017, Storen underwent Tommy John surgery. Reds medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek operated to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in the pitcher’s right elbow. He missed the entire 2018 season.

Recovered from the procedure, free agent Storen has been throwing off a mound — usually to Tucker — for about a month. They often meet at the new Finch Creek Fieldhouse in nearby Noblesville.

“I feel really good,” says Storen. “It’s more than a year out. I’ve given myself plenty of time to respect the process. I was lucky enough to play as long as I did without a major break health-wise. I wanted to make sure I came back better than I was.”

Most of his career, Storen threw from a high three-quarter arm slot to deliver a slider, change-up, four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball.

“I’m able to throw any pitch in any count,” says Storen. “That’s what matters to me.

“That’s why I love pitching. I just play wiffle ball. That’s all.”

With the Reds, Storen did drop down and delivered the ball from multiple angles.

He took feedback from bullpen sessions with Barnhart into the game.

“I still throw to him now,” says Storen of Barnhart. “That’s been great.

“He shoots me straight and know what he’s talking about.”

When Brownsburg Little League moved from Arbuckle Acres in the heart of town to the outskirts, Storen and Barnhart donated a portion of their salaries to the cause and the Reds Community Fund also helped the cause.

“It’s nice to give back in that regard,” says Storen. “Brownsburg is near and dear to my heart. My dad grew up there. I take pride in that. I want to give kids an opportunity to enjoy the game as much as I have.”

A self-described perfectionist, Storen acts as his own pitching coach.

“I’d like to think I know what I need to work on,” says Storen. “I know what I’m not good at.

“I need to make the most of whatever situation I’m in.

“I know I’m not going to be the guy I was back in the day. I know I’m going to be better in a different way.”

While getting his arm back in shape, Storen is also exploring his employment options for 2019.

“With where I’m at, it’s finding your best situation,” says Storen. “I’ll showcase for certain teams and go from there.

“It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. My agent (Brodie Van Wagenen) became the GM of the Mets.”

Storen has been dealing with others in the CAA agency.

“Brodie can’t do both (be an agent and a GM). It’s a really great opportunity for him. He knows the game really well. I can’t knock it.”

Storen is the rare pitcher that was used exclusively in the bullpen in college, drafted as a reliever and has been used in late-inning situations in the majors.

In those high-leverage moments, he knows things can go very well or very bad.

“You’re only as good as the day before,” says Storen. “If I go through a whole year and I didn’t have an interview and not on (ESPN) SportsCenter, I had a very good year

“I would prefer not to be noticed. But I enjoy that challenge. I like perfection

“You have to respect the guy in the box, but not be scared by him and trust what you have. That’s the best scouting report you have.”

Besides a professional ballplayer, Storen is a husband and father. Carmel, Ind., residents Drew and Brittani will celebrate four years of marriage this month. The couple has a 2-year-old son, Jace.

Brittani Storen, who is from Brownsburg and a Purdue University graduate, is a pharmacist. That’s the same profession has Drew’s sister, Lindsay, in Asheville, N.C.

Drew’s father, who goes professionally by Mark Patrick, is a sports broadcaster. Pam Storen is a graphic designer.

While at Stanford, Drew studied product design and has put his knowledge of baseball and mechanical engineering into scheming up the look and performance of own custom cleats.

“I’d like to go back and finish my degree,” says Storen. “I can only be so good at baseball for so long.”

DREWSTORENREDS

Drew Storen, a 2007 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2010. The Carmel, Ind., resident is now a free agent. (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

DREWSTORENGETTYIMAGES

Drew Storen pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017. He had an immaculate inning — three strikeouts on nine pitches — in an April game against the Baltimore Orioles. He had Tommy John surgery in September 2017 and missed the 2018 season. He is now a free agent. (Getty Images)

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Simmons seizes hardware in first season leading North Posey Vikings

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

North Posey High School’s baseball team got to hoist the sectional trophy again in 2018.

The last time the Vikings had earned the hardware was in 2006 when the program went on to the second of back-to-back IHSAA Class 2A state championships with Mike Swartzentruber as head coach.

North Posey went 22-10 last spring, won the 2A Tell City Sectional and saw the season end in the Austin Regional final with a loss to eventual state runner-up Southridge.

Pitcher Shane Harris and outfielder Jarrett Motz made the all-Pocket Athletic Conference as juniors while infielder Camden Bender received honorable mention as a sophomore.

The Vikings finished 5-3 and tied for third place in the PAC (which also includes Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

The first season as North Posey head coach was a special one for Jesse Simmons.

After eight seasons in charge at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School, Simmons came to North Posey, where he also works in the guidance department as coordinator for student programs, testing and scholarships.

During his time at Princeton Community, he spent part of his summers managing Princeton American Legion Post 25.

Simmons, a graduate of Gibson Southern High School in Fort Branch, Ind., played for an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jim Reid) in high school and a National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University) his first two years of college.

He played two more seasons at Oakland City (Ind.) University for head coach T-Ray Fletcher. Toss in the lessons he gained from playing football at Gibson Southern for head coach John Obermeier and that has formed Simmons as a coach.

“You pick stuff from everybody,” says Simmons. “(Reid) was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was always upfront. That’s what I try to do. To a fault, I’m almost too truthful.

“(Reid) was also big on the little things.”

A third baseman in high school, Simmons was moved to shortstop at Vincennes when the starter got hurt.

Blemker was known for his passion.

“Everyday he expected things,” says Simmons of Blemker. “This is how it’s going to be.”

The fiery Blemker, who died in 2012, won 1,178 games during a storied career. At the time of his retirement in 2006, that was the most coaching wins in NJCAA Division II history.

Simmons recalls how Obermeier wanted his athletes to “take care of business” and also had a good working relationship with coaches of other sports. They shared athletes at Gibson Southern.

“(Fletcher) is still a big part of my life,” says Simmons, who not only played for T-Ray’s Mighty Oaks but helped coach them during his fifth year of college while pursuing his master’s degree. “That’s when I got the bug for coaching.”

Heading into his second season at North Posey, Simmons’ coaching staff includes Lennie “Peanut” Titzer, James Hensley, Lance Fleener, Dustin May and Jeremy Lavanchy. Titzer was Simmons’ Babe Ruth League coach and an assistant at Gibson Southern.

The Vikings are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, Perry Central, South Spencer and Tell City. North Posey has an enrollment of about 500.

North Posey plays on a field behind the school that it shares with Cub (seventh and eighth graders playing 15 to 20 games in the spring) and Poseyville Babe Ruth programs (Red and Black teams are part of an eight-team league with biggest part being from Gibson County).

Simmons says he hopes to have an American Legion team — Poseyville Post 278 /New Harmony Post 370 — playing their next summer. The plan is to play weekday games to accommodate the weekend travel ball schedules of his players.

Jesse and Courtney Simmons reside in Haubstadt, Ind. with their five children — sons Jeter (9) and Jensen (8) and daughters Albany (7), Vera (6) and Savannah (1).

The oldest of three children, Jesse’s parents are Jim and Diane Hornby. His siblings are Amber and Quentin.

A New York Yankees fan, Jesse Simmons’ favorite players are Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly.

“(Jeter) thrived under pressure,” says Simmons. “He was a good leader. He was never afraid of the moment and the spotlight is a tough place to play.”

Mattingly, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is from nearby Darmstadt, Ind., and played high school baseball at Evansville Memorial.

JESSESIMMONSFAMILY

Jesse Simmons, the head baseball coach at North Posey High School in Poseyville, Ind., poses with his family. Front row (from left) Jeter Simmons, Vera Simmons, Albany Simmons and Jensen Simmons. Back row (from left) Jesse Simmons, Savannah Simmons and Courtney Simmons.

Building a winning culture a priority for Ambrose, Heritage Christian Eagles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In more than two decades guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Ambrose has learned that the X’s and O’s are important.

But in the last decade of so, Ambrose has begun to place his emphasis on building and maintaining a winning culture. He wants opponents to notice the way his Eagles go about warming up, how they hustle on and off the field and how they treat each other.

“That’s a big part of my coaching now,” says Ambrose. “I want to have a culture that is strong and healthy.”

The 2019 season will mark Ambrose’s 23rd at Heritage Christian School on the northeast side Indianapolis. He spent his first two seasons as junior varsity coach. Before that, the Cleveland, Ohio, native spent three seasons at Heritage Christian in Milwaukee.

Ambrose’s Indy-based program has won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) while always being competitive in the Circle City Conference (which along includes 3A Brebeuf Jesuit, 2A Covenant Christian, 3A Guerin Catholic, 3A Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and 4A Roncalli).

Heritage Christian (a pre-kindergarten through senior school with a current enrollment about 460 in the top four grades) has appeared in the last three city championship games against Indianapolis Cathedral, winning once.

Ambrose, who also teaches social studies at the high school level, has used different key words over the years and currently centers his team philosophy around the acronym E-A-G-L-E-S.

E — Each other.

A — Attitude.

G — God first.

L — Little things are Big things.

E — Effort.

S — Service to others.

The idea is to be both competitive between the while lines while still embracing and displaying Christian values.

“If you don’t care about winning, it’s easy,” says Ambrose. “But can i hold onto to my Christian character traits in the midst of an intense competitive situation?”

Ambrose had this in twins David and Ryan Ledbetter, who helped Heritage Christian to a football state title in the fall of 2008 and baseball state championships in the spring of 2009 and 2010.

First acquainted with the Lebetter boys as junior high youth group members at church, Ambrose later got to coach them when they transferred from Hamilton Southeastern to Heritage Christian after their sophomore year.

The Eagles go on a Dominican Republic mission trip every other year and the Ledbetters went that first year and bonded with their new teammates.

“We were a good team without them,” says Ambrose. “We were a great team with them.

“They were the icing on the cake.”

Both twins went to Cedarville (Ohio) University — Ambrose’s alma mater — and then pitched in the Texas Rangers organization. Ryan pitched through 2016, David through 2018.

“They were high energy, which can drive a coach crazy,” says Ambrose of the Ledbetter twins. “But I’d much rather pull back on a thoroughbred than kick a mule.

“They added that winning edge. Their teammates loved them.”

Team building is also done through a World Series party (scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26) and a leadership retreat for juniors and seniors and other events.

Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Ambrose sees a young team with plenty of freshmen and sophomores in the mix. The Eagles will field two high school teams — varsity and junior varsity.

With Rob Barber going to part-time status, he is looking for another top varsity assistant to pair with Nick Hibner, who is also head JV coach. Gary Vaughan is a JV assistant. Bryan Baker heads up the middle school program (Grades 7-8) with help from Jonathan Baker and Travis Willman.

Ambrose does have a veteran returning in Cooper Williams. The senior right-hander has already verbally committed to Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In order to get him used to being a college closer, Ambrose is thinking of using Williams in short starting stints of about 35 to 50 pitches, where he can use all his arsenal in the first inning if he so chooses.

Circle City Conference games are played at Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series. CCC coaches have been talking about adding an end-of-season conference tournament.

With the help of director of athletics Michelle York, Ambrose builds a non-conference schedule that includes as many sectional opponents as possible (HC is grouped with Eastern Hancock, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central) plus neighboring rival Park Tudor as well as Faith Christian, Liberty Christian and Traders Point Christian.

Dan Ambrose graduated from Parma (Ohio) Senior High School in 1989, where he played for varsity coach Conrad Pokorski and JV coach Tim Tomc (who later took over the Redmen varsity).

Ambrose credits Tomc for teaching him the importance of an organized, focused practice.

“Baseball wasn’t just taking BP while people stood in the outfield,” says Ambrose. “(Tomc) was very structured.”

A full-squad Heritage Christian practice usually features multiple stations with players doing something different at each one.

“Every minute, every kid is doing something,” says Ambrose. “(Baseball coaches) gained a lot from football coaches. With so many kids in football, you have to be organized.”

During the fall, Ambrose had about eight or 10 players two hours two days a week to get in individual skill work while others were occupied with a fall sport. The same will be true in the winter, when the IHSAA practice window re-opens the first week of December.

“I encourage guys to play another sport,” says Ambrose.

Heritage Christian plays its game on-campus. A few years ago, a clubhouse was built near the baseball field and the net backstop — higher than the previous fence — was added last year.

“We lose a lot of foul balls in the neighborhood,” says Ambrose, who raises money for the upgrades through donations, the sale of hats and the Heritage Christian Youth Baseball League.

Started about a dozen years ago, the league for pre-K through fourth grade meets twice a week in the summer on the HC softball field. It is coach-pitch and score is not kept.

“My main goal is to allow kids to get a taste of baseball and realize how fun it can be,” says Ambrose. “If I’ve them them well and they keep playing, I hope they’ll come back to me in the seventh grade.”

Most seasons, the majority of Heritage Christian’s high school players take part in summer travel baseball.

“There’s a big difference when a kid plays the game all summer long,” says Ambrose. “His instincts are better.”

Dan and Amy Ambrose (a Brownsburg, Ind., native who went to Bethesda Christian) have three baseball-playing sons.

Jadon Ambrose is a freshman at Cedarville. Seth Ambrose is a 6-foot-6 sophomore first baseman. Will Ambrose is in the sixth grade.

Coaching for USAthletic (a travel organization started by Barber), Ambrose began coaching Jadon in the summers when he was in junior high and plans to do the same with Will’s 12U team next summer.

Ambrose’s rule of thumb with travel ball is one out-of-town tournament per season.

Heritage Christian graduate Joey Butz is also joined the college baseball world with Huntington (Ind.) University.

DANAMBROSE

Dan Ambrose is the head baseball coach at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. His Eagles have won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) during his tenure. (Heritage Christian School Photo)

 

Weir now running show for Kokomo Wildkats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tim Weir coaches baseball with emotion.

Speakers just might not see or hear it.

“I look laid back,” says Weir. “I’m pretty intense. I don’t scream and yell.

“I’m what you would call quietly competitive. I’m definitely there to win. I’m definitely there to compete. I just don’t get too loud.”

Weir was recently named head baseball coach at Kokomo (Ind.) High School after serving the past two seasons as Wildkats pitching coach.

Kokomo, with Sean Swan as head coach, went 41-14 combined in 2017 and 2018. The Kats won the North Central Conference title in 2018.

Weir, a 1982 Kokomo graduate who played for coaches Carl McNulty and Mike Smith, saw eight players graduate last spring. Among those were several four-year varsity players.

The Kats sent pitchers Jack Perkins (Louisville), Kyle Wade (Purdue) and Bayden Root (Ohio State) on to NCAA Division baseball. Noah Hurlock (Indiana University Kokomo) and Nate Hemmerich (Earlham) also went on to college diamonds.

The past two springs, Weir worked with pitchers that already had plenty of talent and applied what he knows from working with his son T.J. (a 2010 Kokomo graduate who pitches in the San Diego Padres organization).

“We got those guys to understand the mental side of it and how to prepare,” says Weir, who will continue to handle pitching coach duties.

Junior right-hander Charez Butcher and sophomore catcher Jayden Armfield are experienced Kokomo returnees.

The 6-foot-5 Butcher has a fastball in the mid-90s and has gotten plenty of attention from big-time college programs.

Many of the other Kats are talented, but have not been tested at the varsity level.

“We’ve been focusing on fundamentals,” says Weir. “We’re trying to get them up to speed as quickly as possible.”

A new IHSAA rule allowed coaches to practice with their teams for two hours a day two days a week for a a window in the fall. That window closed Oct. 12.

Weir was hired during that time.

“We got a lot done in three weeks,” says Weir, who has a number of two-sport athletes in his baseball program (football, soccer and tennis players in the fall and basketball players and wrestlers in the winter).

He looks forward to the practice window opening again the first week of December.

Weir’s staff includes returning coaches Nick Shanks, Isaac Turner, Matt Turner and George Phares. John Curl comes aboard a hitting coach.

Shanks has coached the Kats for more than a decade. Isaac Turner played at Kokomo and then Anderson University. He is the son of Matt Turner. Phares, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, looks to be Weir’s bench coach.

Curl was a three-time all-state player at Logansport High School, helping the Berries to a state title in 1991 while earning the L.V. Phillips Mental Atttitude Award. He was an All-American and College World Series participant at Texas A&M and played seven seasons of professional baseball.

Weir began coaching when T.J. started playing youth baseball and coached him all the way through high school at the travel ball level. Tim took time off when T.J. was in high school and college (Ball State University).

Father and son have been conducting lessons for teams and individuals during the fall and winter the past five years.

Kokomo is in the West Division of the North Central Conference along with Harrison, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon. The East Division features Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond.

Teams play home-and-home series on weekdays within their divisions. A seeded tournament comes at the end of the season.

While the 2019 schedule has not yet been posted, the Kats have played non-conference games against Marion and Muncie Central as well as Howard County foes Northwestern and Western. There were also games against Brebeuf Jesuit, Huntington North, Norwell, Warsaw, Westfield and Zionsville and games against out-of-state competition in the Prep Baseball Report Classic at Grand Park in Westfield in 2018.

Kokomo plans to field three teams again next spring — varsity and two junior varsity squads (Blue and Red).

Home games and practices are conducted on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

“You can’t beat the facility,” says Weir. “I don’t recall us getting rained out last year.”

Youth baseball in and around town is alive and well, especially for younger players.

The ever-popular “city” tournament typically draws a big crowd at the finals.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” says Weir, noting that T.J. was on the winning team at age 11.

The eight teams feeding into the tournament are Kokomo’s Eastside, Northside, Southside and UCT with county parks Greentown, Northwestern, Russiaville and Taylor also sending teams.

Also feeding the Kokomo Wildkats are the combined seventh and eighth grade squads that play in the spring.

Weir has noticed a substantial drop-off in participation for players in the middle school years.

“That’s one of the challenges I have,” says Weir. “The majority of our kids don’t play travel ball.

“They get into high school and don’t know the fundamentals like they would know in some of the better travel programs.”

Since 2017, Indiana has had a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It hasn’t impacted us in the last two years,” says Weir. “We had a lot of arms. The maximum pitch count has never come into play for us.

“When T.J. played, pitchers routinely pitched the whole game. Kids aren’t programmed to do that anymore.”

To get his pitchers more innings, Weir can see times when he may use multiple arms in a game.

He’s also observed something from watching T.J. — a reliever in all but 22 of his 173 pro appearances.

“It’s whole lot easier to throw one good inning than three,” says Weir.

A software developer for the last 32 years, Weir is employed by DXC Technology. Working from home, he has the flexibility to start his work day early to accommodate baseball.

Tim’s wife, Shelly, is a fourth grade teacher in Kokomo. Daughter Whitney, a twin to T.J., was a cheerleader, volleyball player and track athlete at Kokomo and is now a software developer for Liberty Mutual and lives near Carmel, Ind.

TIMWEIR

Tim Weir, a 1982 Kokomo High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. He served the past two seasons at Wildkats pitching coach.

Mental toughness helps Roncalli grad, current Rays minor leaguer Schnell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It used to burn Nick Schnell when his every at-bat didn’t produce a hit.

He expected to catch every fly.

Then the Indianapolis-born Schnell encountered Roncalli High School head baseball coach Aaron Kroll.

“He helped me a ton on the mental side of the game,” says Schnell of Kroll. “Baseball’s a game of failure. He told me, ‘just believe in yourself’ and ‘ don’t get down on yourself because of one bad at-bat.’”

Kroll encouraged Schnell to become one of the Rebels’ vocal leaders and lead by example by always playing hard.

Schnell responded by helping Roncalli to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a sophomore in 2016 and solid seasons in 2017 and 2018.

The lefty-swinging center fielder enjoyed a monster senior season, hitting .535 with 15 home runs and 37 runs batted in for a 25-6 club that won Marion County and Ben Davis Sectional titles.

“I knew I had the capability to do that my senior year,” says Schnell. “I got on a roll and felt really good.

“I tried to repeat the same thing I was doing. I was playing with a lot of confidence.”

At one particularly red-hot stretch, Schnell went 12-for-15 at the plate with seven homers.

Schnell’s head-turning 2018 season ended in the first round of the Decatur Central Regional with a show of respect from Indianapolis Cathedral.

Leading 6-2 with two outs in the seventh inning with bases loaded for Roncalli and Schnell coming to the plate, the Irish intentionally walked the slugger and wound up with a 6-3 win.

Schnell earned Mr. Baseball honors from the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the Indianapolis Star Player of the Year.

He had verbally committed to play at the University of Louisville during his sophomore season and signed with the Cardinals as a senior.

But with Roncalli’s season winding down and the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft looming, Nick had a decision to make.

“My parents (Jay and Angie Schnell) and I sat down and talked about it,” says Nick. “The professional route is the best for me to create a good career.”

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Schnell as a compensatory first-round draft pick (No. 32 overall) and sent him to their rookie-level Gulf Coast League team in Florida.

Right away, he saw a contrast in high school and pro baseball.

“The biggest difference was consistent velocity I saw (in the minors),” says Schnell. “I saw guys in the mid-90s, even 100. In high school, they were 80 to 85 and every once in awhile you’d see 90.”

While rookie league pitchers were working to control their stuff, even their sliders and curves would come in at 85 mph.

Schnell says it took him a little over a week to make the adjustment.

“It comes with adapting to the game,” says Schnell. “When you see it everyday it becomes second nature to you. It was a daily thing you knew was coming.”

Playing mostly center fielder and some right, the 18-year-old hit .239 with one homer and four RBIs and was 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts in 19 games. His season was cut short in late July with a small stress fracture in his wrist.

“It was a freak thing,” says Schnell. “It came from overuse.”

Rather than rush him back at the end of the season, the Rays let Schnell heal so he could participate in the fall instructional league.

He spent a month in Florida making up for time lost during the summer.

“My main focus was really developing more as a ballplayer — get some at-bats back and getting better in the outfield and getting a better jump on stolen bases.”

School was planning to study sports psychology at Louisville and he gravitated toward Rays minor league mental skills coordinator James Schwabach, who suggesting reading books like “Grit: A Complete Guide on Being Mentally Tough” by James Clear.

The lanky Schnell (he is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds) considers versatility to be his strengths.

“I use my athleticism in all three outfield positions,” says Schnell, who was a starter in center for four seasons at Roncalli while hitting .473 with 25 homers and 109 RBIs. “I have all-fields hitting ability. I can hit to the opposite field or pull side.

“I’m not pull heavy. I use the whole field.”

Nick, the youngest of Jay and Amy Schnell’s three children, comes from an athletic family. His mother played volleyball at Kankakee Community College, where she met her future husband.

Oldest child Aaron Schnell (Roncalli Class of 2014) was three-time all-county in high school and played baseball at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Bailey Schnell (Roncalli ’15) played volleyball for the Rebels and then Western Michigan University.

Nick considers his father and brother as his biggest mentors.

“My dad got my brother and I into sports at an early age,” says Nick. “My brother is five years older. I followed him everywhere.”

Nick Schnell, who attended St. Roch Catholic School in Indianapolis Grades K-8, was a three-sport athlete through eighth grade (football, basketball, baseball). He played basketball his first two years in high school before deciding to concentrate on baseball.

Southport Little League on the south side of Indianapolis is where Schnell got his baseball start. He played there until he was 12.

Travel baseball teams included the Scott Schreiber-coached Blue Wave (a group of Roncallli-bound players) his 13U summer, the Dalton Jones-coached Indiana Twins (14U) and Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws (15U).

Schnell donned the uniform of the Indiana Bulls for two summers, playing for coaches Dan Held (16U) and Sean Laird (17U).

He spent two falls with Team Indiana and participated in an elite tournament in Jupiter, Fla., leading into his sophomore and junior years at Roncalli.

In the summer of 2017, Schnell was selected for the Perfect Game All-Star Classic in San Diego.

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Nick Schnell, a 2018 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, bats for the Gulf Coast Rays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Schnell was selected No. 32 overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. (Cliff Welch Photography)

Kouts’ Tucker wears many hats — coach, teacher, husband, blogger, podcaster, wiffleballer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Tucker wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.

His vehicles are the classroom and the baseball diamond.

Tucker teaches Language Arts and Reading to middle schoolers at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and also serves as head baseball coach. The 2019 season will be his third leading the Kouts Mustangs.

As an educator, Tucker helps students along their path.

“I try to get the kids to be able to handle the real world,” says Tucker. “I tell them, ‘you can be who you want to be.’

“This is the toughest time in history to be a teenager. You can never shut it off.”

Tucker relates to his students and players through his ability to connect.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Tucker. “I get buy-in from the kids through stories, emotion and feelings.

“In coaching and teaching, I am a relationship builder and a communicator. The game is just an opportunity to becoming who we want to become.”

Some refer to that as transformational coaching.

“We’re here to shape the kids through baseball,” says Tucker. “We’re building a culture we are proud of from top the bottom. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tucker does not base his worth in his won-loss record — though he wants his players to experience winning.

“It’s about making an impact with these kids,” says Tucker, who was the fifth person named as baseball coach at Kouts when he took the job (John Hall took over the Mustangs softball program before the 2016 season).

His coaching staff includes two men — Randy Yager and Doug Murray — with little or no baseball background, but that’s not the priority.

“I’m more concerned with bringing in good men,” says Tucker. “True growth comes from the conversations after (players) fail.”

First-year volunteer coach Stefan Roney is a Kouts graduate. He was on the last Mustangs teams to win an IHSAA sectional championship in 2011 (Kouts reigned in the tourney held at Washington Township).

Kouts, a school of about 275 students, is in a Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

The Mustangs belong to the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central (Union Mills), Washington Township and Westville). Boone Grove won the 2018 Class 2A state title.

Tucker played at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., graduating in 2008. He then went on Chicago State University and pitched four seasons in five years, sitting out the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and earning his English degree in December 2013.

His head coaches at Calumet were Larry Drake and Roger Azbill with Michael Caston leading the CSU Cougars Tucker’s first four years and Steve Joslyn his last.

Azbill approach baseball with a blue-collar mentality.

“I learned toughness,” says Tucker of Azbill. “He wanted you to show up everyday and do your job. You wanted to always try to get better.”

Caston was a Hammond, Ind., native who played at Valparaiso University. His pitching coach at Chicago State was former Lake Central High School, Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hurler and Gary SouthShore RailCats player Neal Frendling.

What Tucker remembers most from his college baseball experience is playing teams from every corner of the country and seeing the different styles of playing and coaching.

The year he sat out as a player, Tucker traveled with the team and did laundry. But he also decided his baseball future was in coaching. He came away from each trip with page after page of notes.

Before college, Tucker had played travel baseball for Dave Sutkowski with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Baseball Chiefs) and soaked up much about the game. He later coached with Sutkowski.

“He was very detailed,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “Everything was broken down and position-specific. He was also very competitive.

“We run our stuff (at Kouts) very much like we did with the Chiefs.”

Tucker was the pitching coach for Dave Griffin at Purdue-Calumet for one season before joining Steve Strayer’s coaching staff at Crown Point High School leading up to taking the Kouts job in the winter prior to the 2016 season.

“It was awesome learning from (Griffin),” says Tucker. “He does it a little bit differently. He allows guys to do their own thing. He wants to serve as a guy to help you get where you’re going.”

During games, Tucker would see the wheels turning for Griffin.

“He would call things before they happened,” says Tucker. “He was always thinking ahead.”

Tucker was with Strayer at the time the Bulldogs boss suffered a stroke and marvels at how quickly he bounced back.

“I was so impressed how he could manage so many people,” says Tucker of Strayer. “He was very diligent in his planning.

“He always had that growth mindset. He was always learning and adding to coaching tool kit.”

Strayer was quick to share his faith and to ask the opinions of his assistants, making sure to give them ownership in the program and Tucker takes the same tactic with his staff.

Tucker is also part of the new Wheelhouse Baseball podcast. It is part of the Chicago-based Overtime Sports Network, which promotes its various podcasts and blogs.

With Tucker, best friend and former Chicago State teammate Jeremy Ratjaczyk and avid podcaster and Calumet College of St. Joseph graduate Mikey Kubacki Jr., adding to the chatter, Wheelhouse podcast focuses on historic Major League Baseball games, quirky stats and obscure players.

It’s buddies talking baseball with a sense of humor.

“We’re three goofy guys and we’re quirky,” says Tucker. “We try to be genuine.”

The first episode debuted Oct. 10 and was centered on Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.

Episode 2 is to be about the 10 worst contracts in MLB history.

Episode 3 will feature former Hammond Bishop Noll Institute and current minor league pitcher Matt Pobereyko. Episodes generally premier each Wednesday morning.

While his baseball playing days are done, Tucker still competes on the fast pitch wiffleball field. He plays for both the Griffleball League’s GasHouse Gorillas and in the Leroy Wiffle Ball Association.

Griffleball has been around for eight years and has seven teams playing on Sundays at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith. There is no base running. Wherever the ball lands determines the outcome of the at-bat.

Next year, the LWA is to have 14 teams and seven fields. Player do run the bases. If a team issues five balls to the opposing batter, they must lob the next ball in so there’s more offense.

Jim and wife Mysta Tucker have been married for a year and have two dogs.

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Jim Tucker, a 2008 Calumet High School graduate, delivers a pitch for Chicago State University. He played baseball for the Cougars in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is now head baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. (Chicago State Photo)

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Jim Tucker is a teacher and baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. The graduate of Calumet High School and Chicago State University is also a husband, blogger, podcaster and wiffleballer. The 2019 season will be his third as head coach of the Kouts Mustangs.

Hall of Famer Webster now teaching baseball as Southport Cardinals head coach

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Phil Webster is proud to call himself a professional educator. A former law education teacher at Decatur Central High School on the southwest side of Indianapolis, he left the high school classroom in 2016 after more than five decades.

His baseball coaching career continues.

Following a few seasons as an assistant, he is the man in charge once again.

Webster, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015, is now head coach at Southport High School.

Last spring, Phil served as an assistant/pitching coach with son Todd Webster at Pike High School on Indy’s northwest side.

Before that, he was an assistant at Perry Meridian High School (which is in the same Marion County township — Perry — as Southport and parochial powerhouse Roncalli) after serving on the staff at Mooresville High School in Morgan County.

Webster was head coach at North Putnam High School in Roachdale in 2013. The 2012 season was spent as pitching coach at Franklin (Ind.) College.

Why take the Southport Cardinals job now?

“I enjoy being a head coach,” says Webster. “It allows me to be able to keep teaching the game. It was great coaching with my son. Todd gave me a great opportunity.

“Now, I get to be the guy in-charge.”

Webster ran the show at Decatur Central for 27 seasons, finishing his run in 2011. His Hawks went 558-254 with seven Marion County, 11 conference, 11 sectional, two regional and one semistate title to go with the 2008 IHSAA Class 4A state championship. Decatur bested Homestead 7-3 in that game.

Two of Webster’s former players — Jeff Scott (Brebeuf Jesuit) and Jason Combs (Decatur Central) — are now high school baseball coaches in Indiana.

Prep coaching stops have also come at Plainfield and North Salem. He’s also helped son Todd coach the Pony Express in travel ball.

Webster, who resides in Decatur Township, has been conducting fall workouts at Southport.

“We out here to get ourselves a little better,” says Webster. “I like this team. They’re learners. It’s fun when you’re a coach and educator when you’ve got players that want to learn.

“I look forward to every practice and workout.”

A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to work with an unlimited number of players for two hours two days a week. The access window will close Oct. 12 and open up again the first week of December.

“I don’t like it,” says Webster of a rule he sees as limiting. “If the coach is willing to take the time and if you want to play the game, you’re restricting their ability to grow.

“We we never tell kids to stop studying chemistry or math. But we tell them to stop studying (or practicing) baseball.

Webster points out that players who have the resources can go to the professional instructor, but are not allowed get free instruction from their high school coach during the blackout period.

“The rule is what it is and I’ll respect it,” says Webster. “But we’re holding them back.

“From Oct. 12 to Dec. 3, you can’t do anything (with players as an Indiana high school coach). Why?. What’s the rationale?. I guess the reason must be we don’t want to burn (players) out. (Rule makers) need to trust us a little more. We’re not out there to hurt kids. We’re out there to make them a little better.”

Southport plays its home games at Holder Field — a facility on the Mary Bryant Elementary campus it shares with Perry Township Schools mate Perry Meridian.

The Cardinals belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus North, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

Each conference team plays each other once to determine a champion.

Like he was at many of his other coaching gigs, Webster will be a part of the Marion County Tournament.

“One-eighth of the teams in the county are coached by a Webster,” says Phil, noting that Todd’s Pike Red Devils are also in the field.

The elder Webster inherits a 10-9 team from Mike Klopfenstein, who is stepping away from coaching for now to be with his wife and 1-year-old twins.

One of the returning Southport players is Avery Short. The left-handed pitcher is the lone Indiana representative on the USA Baseball 18U Trials roster.

The University of Louisville commit earned an invitation to a USA Baseball event this summer in Cary, N.C., and was placed in the Trials roster.

During tryouts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in mid-November, a roster of 26 will be cut to 20 on Nov. 20 and go through a series of workouts and exhibition games before playing in the COPABE U-18 Pan-American Championships Nov. 23-Dec. 2 in Panama City, Panama.

Short, an alumnus of Southport Little League, has been clocked at 92 mph with his four-seam fastball and also possesses a two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and “circle” change-up.

He is excited to have Webster leading the SHS program.

“I’m looking forward to working with him for my pitching ability and learning the game since he’s been around it so long,” says Short.

At 76, Webster has assembled a seasoned coaching staff. Mike Chapman was with him for 20 years and Steve Krizmanich (his statistician) 27 at Decatur Central.

“We’re the grey-haired guys,” says Webster. “We may be the oldest staff in the state.”

Dave Chamberlain rounds out the varsity crew. Ken Slaughter and Wendell Slaughter will run the junior varsity. Freshmen coaches have yet to be hired.

In an effort to bring the Southport baseball community together, Webster will keep communication open with coaches, players and parents at the Southport, Edgewood and Indiana Central youth leagues as well as Southport Middle School.

Knowing how important it is to have parent involvement, he is meeting with those who have players in high school and middle school.

“I’d say 90 to 95 percent of parents are very cooperative,” says Webster. “They’re helpful and supportive. The ones who are hostile are very rare.”

Webster has seen a direct correlation over the years to championship teams that have strong parent groups with happy coaches and players.

Noting that high school baseball is played during the “dog days” at the end of the school year, teams must contend with many obstacles.

“At the beginning of the year, you have no demerits and everyone is fresh. Then here comes baseball and the cold weather. It’s a battle. There’s no question about that.”

That’s why Webster appreciates backing from the administration. At Southport that includes Pete Hubert.

“I’ve never had a more cooperative and supportive athletic director,” says Webster of Hubert.

Born six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor — Dec 1, 1941 — Webster grew up in the in the borough of Forest Hills just outside Pittsburgh, Pa.

To this day, he is a diehard rooter for Steel City teams — the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins.

His favorite baseball player is Roberto Clemente. Among his favorite memories are Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series and the 1979 “We Are Fam-il-y!” Pirates.

“I bleed black and gold,” says Webster, who stayed with that color scheme when he picked up his masters degree at Purdue University.

Webster graduated from the now-defunct Wilkinsburg High School and pitched at Milligan College in Tennessee. He wound up in Indiana in the mid-1960s and has been here ever since.

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Phil Webster, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who led Decatur Central to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, is now head baseball coach at Southport High School in Indianapolis.