Johnny Maynard is not yet sure where he’ll throw his next regular-season collegiate pitch. But he is certain how he will approach baseball. The way he always has — with a strong work ethic and bulldog mentality. “It’s how I raised by my parents,” says Maynard, who turns 22 today (June 30). “Whatever you start you have to finish. I never quit anything ever. Always go full-out. “I really don’t care who I’m competing against, I know they’re not going to beat me. I’m a 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher. I’m usually one of the smaller guys on the team. I have to work harder to the get the results and earn respect.” Maynard (rhymes with Play Hard), a 2019 Griffith (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School graduate who is now in the Transfer Portal after two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., (2020 and 2021) and one at NCAA Division I Radford (Va.) University. The Sports Management and Marketing major hurled 5 1/3 innings in six appearances for the 2022 Highlanders. Alex Guerra was hired as Radford head coach after the season. This summer, Maynard is pitching for the Coastal Plain League’s Jeremy Knight-coached Asheboro (N.C.) ZooKeepers. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Maynard uses on four-seam fastball, one-seamer, curveball and change-up. The four-seam sits 87 to 89 mph and has been up to 92. “The one-seamer (finger on just one seam) I learned this year,” says Maynard. “My two-seamer was not moving the way I wanted it to. (The one-seamer) gets pretty good movement away from a lefty and has pretty good sink to it. It works off my (circle) change-up (which is generally thrown 82 to 84 mph.” Maynard employs a curve that is 1-to-7 on the clock face. “It drops off the table pretty well,” says Maynard. Born in Munster, Ind., Maynard moved to Griffith as a sixth grader. He played in Munster and Griffith youth leagues then went into travel ball and suited up for the Northwest Indiana Shockers, Steelheads, Cobras, Slammers, Hammond Chiefs and 18U Midwest Irish. At Griffith High, Maynard played four years for Panthers coach coach Brian Jennings, starting as a freshman. “He’s a great guy,” says Maynard of Jennings, who retired after the 2022 season. Lincoln Trail coach Kevin Bowers allowed the righty got to close some games for the Statesman. One of his highlights is slamming the door on highly-ranked John A. Logan during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Maynard split the summer of 2019 between the Irish and Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. He also got in a few innings with that Whiting-based team in 2020. He was with the Tropics of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2021, which allowed him to work at home and then commute two-plus hours to games. Johnny’s mother, Jen Maynard, is a cardiac tech in northwest Indiana. Father Mike Maynard is recently-retired and living in Florida. Sister Lauren Maynard played and coached softball at Purdue Northwest and is now in nursing school.
A decade ago, Justin Hancock was planning to play baseball at Indiana State University. When the 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher was selected in the ninth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres out of Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Hancock decided instead to go pro rather than transfer to ISU after his two years of junior college, playing first for Statesman head coach Mitch Hannahs and then Kevin Bowers. Pitching for pay took fireballing Hancock through parts of seven seasons in the Padres system — some of 2012 and 2013 was spent with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps — and three in the Chicago Cubs organization, including 10 games at the big league level in 2018. He went 0-0 with a 1.46 earned run average in 12 1/3 innings — all out of the bullpen. Hancock was a starter until shoulder surgery in 2016 and then became a reliever. Non-tendered in November 2018, Hancock signed on with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League for 2019 before retiring as a player. “It was a good experience,” says Hancock. “My wife and daughter came (to Japan). Baseball over there is how baseball was in the ’80s and ‘90s here. There’s not too much power. They hit the ball in the gap and it’s fast-paced. “It’s tough to strike out guys in Japan.” Overall, Hancock saw action in 193 games during his professional career, including 96 starts on the mound. He finished with a 29-37 record, 450 strikeouts and a 4.07 ERA over 579 innings. Hancock was reunited with Hannahs (who returned to his alma mater as ISU head coach in 2013) when he was hired in July 2021 as Indiana State’s pitching coach. The man who recruited Hancock — Brian Smiley — is associate head coach for the Sycamores. “Mitch is just a very good influencer of the players,” says Hancock, 31. “He does a good job of getting the most out of the talent that comes here. “He gets the guys to work hard and become better men. He’s just a really good person.” While Hannahs, Hancock and Smiley share in rounding up players, much of it is coordinated by Smiley. “Smiley does an awesome job,” says Hancock. “He’s a very good recruiter.” While a few players have stayed on-campus, most have gone home and will not be back in Terre Haute until the second week of January. That’s when the Sycamores will really begin ramping up for the 2022 season opener Feb. 18 against Brigham Young in Port Charlotte, Fla. Hancock helps his pitchers develop a daily routine and understand their place on the team. “It comes down to knowing your role and doing that role very, very well,” says Hancock. “And it starts right now. We send these guys home for a winter break. You call them throughout the time they’re gone, but you don’t know what they did while they’re gone. “You can see the guys who have bought in and those who haven’t (when they get back to campus). This time is very crucial.” Being a first-time coach and new to the program, Hancock took the fall to evaluate his staff. “I had not seen any of them throw live,” says Hancock. “I saw how they pitch and what some of their stuff does. “At the D-I level, most of these guys have the stuff. We need to refine it.” That means developing a secondary pitch that the pitcher can put int he strike zone. “We want them to be able to throw a fastball down and away and to trust their stuff,” says Hancock. “You believe you can get ahead (in the count) with the stuff and get hitters out. “With one or two good pitches, you can be a really good college pitcher.” There are 22 pitchers on the roster now. He says that number will likely be 13 or 14 in the spring. Hancock left Lincoln Trail with a fastball between 92 and 95 mph and increased his velocity over time with added strength. “I was more of a late bloomer,” says Hancock. “I refined my craft and worked at it. It was about knowing my body and what it could do.” A 2009 graduate of Defiance (Ohio) High School, Hancock learned about pitching fast from Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and three-time state championship coach Tom Held. “I touched 90 (mph in high school),” says Hancock. “Coach Held does an awesome job. Defiance has that reputation of always having ’90’ arms. (Bulldogs pitchers) want to be that next ’90’ arm and prove people wrong just like I did. Besides Hancock, graduates of the “Definance Way” to pitch in the majors include Jon Niese and Chad Billingsley. Justin is married to a Terre Haute Vigo High School graduate (and former Lincoln Trail College and Marshall University basketball player) Tessa (Johnson) Hancock. The couple have a daughter — Ivy (who turns 3 in January). Tessa’s father — Howie Johnson — played basketball at ISU with Larry Bird and was also a softball teammate of the Hall of Famer.
Kolin Conner is doing his best to get Concordia University Chicago back to the lofty heights the Cougars baseball program had become accustomed. From 2008-19, CUC posted an average record of 35-11 including 40-15 in 2018 and 42-10 in 2019. Conner was the Cougars head assistant (2016-19) — years in which the school won four Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference regular-season titles and made NCAA Division III World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. During the span, CUC was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Conner was named 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year. A graduate of Indianapolis North Central High School (2009) and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2013), Conner took over as head coach at the private school in River Forest, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The Cougars went 5-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 11-25 in 2021. NCAA D-III rules allow for 19 total weeks of organized baseball activity — four in the fall and 15 in the spring. Concordia practiced four times a week during the fall. “We did a lot of teaching. developing and evaluating where our guys are on the depth chart,” says Conner. “After last year, there was a little bit of re-establishing priorities for us. “The work we put in now leads to success in the spring. It’s about holding everybody accountable. The overall success is much bigger than one individual.” Conner says the most-important time comes when players are away from coaches in between fall and spring and must motivate themselves and stay on top of their academics. “Here’s a 17-year-old freshman,” says Conner. “How’s he going to be when no one’s watching? That’s when good leaders and good people are made.” Conner and his coaching staff of head assistant/pitching coach Matt Smith, assistant Abe Paz Agudello, assistant Connor Nelson and graduate assistant Kevin Garcia are getting players to create lifelong habits that will transfer into their lives beyond college. “They get into the world world and (employers and co-workers) can trust these guys,” says Conner, who is currently busy recruiting, doing office work and getting ready for the return of players to practice after the Christmas break. CUC baseball earned an ABCA all-academic team certificate, sported seven players with a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale last spring while posting a 3.2 team GPA — the best among the school’s nine male sports. The Cougars typically have 10 to 12 academic all-conference selections. The roster — currently at 36 — has 22 from the Chicagoland area plus Indiana’s Ben Collins (Chesterton), Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), Brody Mariotti (Yorktown) and Westin Stutzman (Fairfield), six from Arizona (CUC recruits there each fall), two from California and one each from Colorado and Utah. “We get a lot of good and smart kids that don’t have schools to go to,” says Conner. “(Chicago recruits) are used to cold weather and facilities and proud of the city they’re from.” Conners says most players get some sort of aid — packages largely being dependent on grades and test scores — that takes away around half of the annual $42,000 tuition. “It’s important that we’re getting the good character kid who wants to work and wants to win,” says Conner. “Those type of kids are usually pretty good academically. “It’s no coincidence that are best players are usually are best students.” A typical recruiting class is 10 players and Conner says he likes to have five or six signees around Christmas. Conner played for Phil McIntyre at North Central, making varsity as a sophomore and representing the Panthers either as a catcher or outfielder and making long-time friendships. He credits assistant/teacher Andy Noble for helping him in the classroom. “He helped me find my way and who I was as a kid,” says Conner of Noble. Conner was a catcher and first baseman in college. He played two seasons at National Community College Athletic Association member Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for Statesmen head coaches Mitch Hannahs (2010) and Kevin Bowers (2011). Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University. was “very, very good at getting you conditioned mentally and getting the most out of people as players.” Current LTC head coach Bowers brought Conner into the program. “He really, really cares about the kids,” says Conner of Bowers. “He’s got a strong relationship with everybody he recruits.” At Saint Joseph’s, Conner earned an Educational Studies degree with a Communications minor and played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette. “He’s the greatest guy ever,” says Conner of O’Dette, who became head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida when SJC closed its doors after the 2017 season. “He’s the reason I have a job in college baseball. “He’s an unbelievable guy, a great mentor and cares about people.” Conner played two summers of independent professional baseball after college with the 2013 Mike Braymen-managed Joliet (Ill.) Slammers and 2014 Andy McCauley-managed Evansville (Ind.) Otters — both in the Frontier League. Kolin met future wife Lyndsey at Lincoln Trail. The Conners now have two children — son Leo (3) and daughter Layla (4 months).
Cade Carlson quit baseball. He was persuaded to come back with the help a friend. Now Carlson is looking forward to new diamond adventures in a different place and at the NCAA Division I level. A right-handed pitcher and 2018 graduate of University High School in Carmel, Ind., where he was the starter in the Trailblazers’ first state championship game appearance as a senior, Carlson went Northwood University in Midland, Mich., on a baseball scholarship. For reasons Carlson doesn’t go into, he left the school and the game after the fall semester and enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and had every intention of transferring to IU-Bloomington as a sophomore. Lukas Barnes, a Carmel High School graduate who Cade had known most of his life, convinced his buddy to give baseball another try and they became teammates at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio. “I wasn’t that good of a pitcher, but I kept working and got one of those four starting spots,” says Carlson. “My first outing terrible (lasting less than two innings.” The righty made three starts for the National Junior College Athletic Association-member and Steve Dintaman-coached Tartan Pride and was a winner in his last one, going 1-3 for the 2020 season, which was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That summer Carlson pitched in the first season for the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., not far from his Carmel home. He was with the A-Team coached by Kevin Christman. The CSL gave Carlson the chance to see where he stacked up with good talent. Due to COVID, Sinclair made the decision to suspend athletics through 2021-22 and Carlson went to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and outfielder Barnes landed at Danville (Ill.) Community College. In 13 mound appearances (11 starts) for head coach Kevin Bowers and pitching coach Andrew Elliott, Carlson went 6-4 with a 2.72 earned run average. In 59 2/3 innings, he struck out 62 and walked 25. “I thought I had a pretty good year,” says Carlson. “I started out shaky and got on a roll. “I figured out how to pitch as games went on. I was not pitching to my advantage but the hitters’ disadvantage. That was big for my success this year.” The NJCAA’s LTC Statesmen went 32-21. East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., was impressed by Carlson and he agreed to join the NCAA D-I Buccaneers in 2021-22. “(ETSU was) the first school to offer me in the fall,” says Carlson, 21. “I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a good school in a great area and the baseball is good. “It’s a win-win.” With three years of baseball eligibility remaining, Carlson plans to pursue a Sport Management degree. “I’ll go to school and continue to work hard and baseball at higher levels,” says Carlson. East Tennessee State is a member of the Southern Conference. With Joe Pennucci as head coach and Jamie Pinzino as pitching coach, the team went 24-25 in 2021. Carlson throws five pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curveball. He credits Lincoln Trail teammate/roommate Joey Perkins (a left-hander who hails from Lebanon, Ohio, and is bound for Virginia Commonwealth University) for teaching him the change-up which can be thrown from multiple grips. Carlson’s slider (horizontal) and curve (vertical) move on different planes. After going 2-0 in three outings during a temporary contract period with the State College (Pa.) Spikes of the MLB Draft League, Carlson is back in Carmel with father Tyce, mother Christine, brother Tyler and grandmother Carol Pinkley and plans to spend the summer training at RoundTripper Academy in Westfield to get ready for ETSU. “I have not taken a break from throwing in about a year now,” says Carlson. “The first month of summer won’t be about throwing. I’ll be lifting to getting stronger and putting good weight on.” Carlson wants to put about 20 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. Born in Speedway, Carlson grew up in Carmel played rec baseball for the Carmel Dads Club. He played travel ball with the Indiana Mustangs for about a decade. One of Cade’s teammates was Dawson Estep (University Class of 2019), son of Mustangs and RoundTripper founder Chris Estep. After two years at Carmel High School, Carlson transferred to University and played for Estep. “What can I say about Chris?,” says Carlson. “I’ve known Chris forever. Chris puts the spirit of baseball into his players. “If you don’t love baseball you wouldn’t play for Chris.” Tyler Carlson also played baseball for Estep at University, graduating in 2014.
When the 2020 season and the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft were clipped because of the COVID-19 pandemic, players were given the option of extra years of illegibility.
That means more talent has stayed in D-I that normally would have moved on.
“It’s testament to so many early-season upsets,” says Vanderglas, whose seen the Terre Haute-based Sycamores get off to a 6-4 start with a couple wins at No. 16-ranked Tennessee. “The pitching staffs have a lot more depth.
“There’s no such thing as an easy match-up.”
Vanderglas joined ISU as a volunteer in 2017 and was elevated to assistant coach prior to the 2020 season.
His responsibilities include working with catchers and outfielders and helping with hitters. During games, he is the first base coach.
Vanderglas also assists associate head coach Brian Smiley with recruiting and scouting.
With D-I continuing to be in a “dead” period where it can’t see potential recruits in-person, Vanderglas says there has been a shift in recruiting focus.
“We go a lot more on coach’s recommendations and video,” says Vanderglas. “We’re a lot more virtual with everything. And we have to do a lot more due diligence.
“We like to evaluate a recruit several times so they fit our style. We can see a guy’s physical tools on video, but not the intangibles like how they respond to failure and the overall makeup of the kid. Is he trying to do his best for himself or is he worried about the team?”
The “dead” period is scheduled to end May 30.
“When we get back on the road it will be an action-packed summer,” says Vanderglas. “There are tournaments and showcases about every day of the week.
“We’ll host some prospects showcases on our campus as well.”
Using software called Synergy, a report is compiled with video and statistics. The Sycamores can see the tendencies of opposing pitcher and the trends of hitters so they can move their fielders accordingly.
“We do a decent amount (of defensive shifting) with the analytics,” says Vanderglas. “We try to take away the areas of strength (for opponents).
“In the outfielder, we are a little different that many teams. We’re aggressive. We want to take away bleeders, especially when we’re way ahead or way behind in the (ball-strike) count. The last few years, we’ve shifted a lot more.”
Mitch Hannahs is in his eighth grade leading ISU after returning to his alma mater in 2013.
“His leadership is outstanding,” says Vanderglas. “He’s extremely consistent with guys. There are no ‘off’ days with us. You’ve got to get better each and every day.
“He’s good at blending personalities and getting everyone to commit to a common goal.”
The Sycamores roster includes players from 14 different states plus the Bahamas, Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Hannahs is demanding with his players and expects his assistants to be prepared.
“We don’t want to feel like we’re searching for answers,” says Vanderglas.
Before coming to Indiana State, Vanderglas was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., where he was associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for Statesmen head coach Kevin Bowers.
“(Bowers) was great to me,” says Vandeglas. “He trusted me. He let me have lot of responsibility. I got to learn from learn from trial and error while he offered constant assistance.
“We got after it and opened our boundaries in recruiting. He introduced me to people and gave me free rein to go after the people we wanted.”
“It’s been a really good experience,” says Scott of his time so far with the NAIA-member program. “One of the things that drew me here is that it’s close to Bowling Green State. (Hartman and company) were open to me getting what I want out of this program — to form who I am as a coach.”
Since being at UNOH, a member of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, Scott has absorbed drills and procedures and also enjoyed camaraderie with coaches who like to hang out, fish and hunt together.
The Racers staff currently counts Hartman, Scott and associate head coach Aaron Lee and two graduate assistants with pitching experience will be hired.
With NAIA’s COVID-19 pandemic-related decision to cancel fall sports, Northwestern Ohio baseball coaches are sorting out what fall will look for the Racers. Students are supposed to be back on campus for face-to-face classes Sept. 14.
“Right now, we’re in a gray area,” says Scott, who turns 25 this month. “We’ll have to figure things out.
“We hope to get together once or twice a week as a team.”
The 2020 UNOH season came to a halt because of the pandemic on March 8 with the Racers at 8-12.
Back at Bowling Green State, the NCAA Division I program went on the chopping block.
“It was an emotional roller coaster for me,” says Scott. “I didn’t know where baseball is headed with the COVID stuff and (colleges and universities) were cutting sports — not just baseball.”
Schmitz was put in charge of alumni outreach at Bowling Green and former Falcons pitching coach Kyle Hallock, whom Scott knew well as a catcher, was named head coach.
“I tip my cap to Danny Schmitz,” says Scott. “I’m sure he reached out to a lot of the alumni. He has made an impact on a lot of people’s lives.”
Bowling Green State baseball has produced many successful people, including those who went on to the pro diamond, including 19 major leaguers. Among that group are current Miami Marlins third baseman Jon Berti and former big leaguers Orel Hershiser (who won a National League Cy Young Award and helped the Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series win in 1988), Nolan Reimold, Andy Tracy and Roger McDowell.
“It was special to see them step up, donate some money and keep the program,” says Scott.
Frankfort (Ind.) Little League is where Scott got his first taste of organized baseball. Around the same time he also played with a group of local youngsters called the Frankfort Slam. That team was coached by Rodney Smith, Jason Forsythe and at various times, Kent Scott (Jeffery’s father) and Jamie Bolinger (Jeffery’s stepfather).
Kent Scott is employed in Federal-Mogul Powertain in Frankfort.
Jamie Bolinger, who is retired military, works for Lafayette (Ind.) Transitional Housing Center’s Homeless Services.
Maleta Bolinger (Jeffery’s mother) is a registered nurse in Kokomo, Ind.
Shealynne Bolinger (Jeffery’s 19-year-old sister) is finishing up schooling to be a veterinary technician.
Scott and girlfriend Shelby Weaver have been together about nine moths. They also dated in high school. Her son Eli is almost 1.
After spending his 12U summer with the Muncie-based Indiana Wildcats, Jeffery Scott played six travel ball seasons with the Indiana Bulls.
At 13U, he was coached by John Rigney and Rick Hamm. Brothers Todd Miller and Adam Miller led his team at 14U and 15U. Tony Cookerly, Sean Laird and Jim Fredwell coached his team at 16U. Quinn Moore and Dan Held was in charge at 17U. He played briefly at 18U before going to summer school at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., where he spent a year and a half before transferring to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.
Kevin Bowers was and still is head coach for the junior college Statesmen.
“He welcomed me in with open arms mid-year,” says Scott of Bowers. “He made me feel a part of the family. I still talk to him quite a bit. He’s definitely been one of my favorite coaches.
“He was genuine, truthful and transparent. He brings in a lot of talent to Lincoln Trail and gets them to where they want to be.”
Though mostly a catcher in the summers, Scott was a shortstop and pitcher at Clinton Central High School in Michigantown, Ind., playing for Bulldogs head coach Eric Flickinger. He also played football for Mike Quick and Justin Schuhmacher and wrestled for Austin Faulkner.
On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.
“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.
“It was awesome.”
The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.
“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”
At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.
A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.
“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”
It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.
“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.
Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load.
He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.
“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.
Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach.
That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.
“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you.
“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”
Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.
Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.
“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.
“It bites and it bites hard.”
Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.
“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.
“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”
Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.
Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.
When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.
“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.
“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”
Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.
“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.
“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game.
“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”
Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.
He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.
During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.
Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.
It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.
“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”
Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.
Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.
“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.
“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”
HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.
Witty transferred to UIndy and threw 8 2/3 innings in 2018 with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, underwent Tommy John reconstruction surgery that summer and missed the 2019 season.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season, Witty appeared in four games and went 3-0 with a 1.57 earned run average. In 23 innings, he struck out 20 and walked four.
Coming in the second inning, Witty pitched no-decision six innings in his final trip to the mound March 8 against Truman State in Kirksville, Mo.
“We did an opener this year (a reliever pitching the first inning),” says Witty. “It gives the starter the chance to be in the game at the end.”
“It’s a blast (playing for Greyhounds head coach Al Ready). He really wants to change it up.”
Away from the diamond, Witty has achieved a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and will be working toward his masters in Applied Sociology when school resumes in the fall. He has been taking 4-plus-1 graduate courses since he began attending UIndy.
“Coming from the east side of Indianapolis I endured a lot,” says Witty. “I want to be able to help troubled youth and maybe turn around a couple lives — if not all of them.
“I want to work with kids and make sure they’re learning.”
Witty attended Warren Central High School and played for two years (freshmen and split his sophomore year between junior varsity and varsity) and spent his last two on varsity at Lawrence North, where he played for Wildcats head coach Richard Winzenread.
By then, Witty had already committed to Lincoln Trail, where Kevin Bowers is head coach.
“My favorite part about junior college was that there was a lot of guys from a lot of different places and you’ve got to learn how to be one unit,” says Witty. “It was a small town. You make fun with guys that you’ve got.”
Junior college baseball is about development and players are given the time to hone their skills.
“We’d get out of class anywhere from 12 to 1 and you’d be outside for the rest of the day until the sun went down,” says Witty of his time with LTC Statesmen.
Witty throws a fastball, slider, curveball and a change-up from a three-quarter overhand arm slot.
“I spin my fastball pretty well so it runs a little bit,” says Witty, who works with pitching coach Landon Hutchison at UIndy. “(My best pitch) is that or the slider.”
Myc (pronounced Mike) is the son of Michael Witty and Stacy Landers.
The pitcher has three younger siblings — sister Neicy Persinger and brothers Mayson Smith and Merrick Smith.
The Indianapolis native grew up playing multiple sports, trying to become proficient in each of them.
He competed in soccer, football, tennis, bowling and volleyball and wound up being the best at baseball and that’s what took him to various collegiate levels and now has the left-hander pitching as a professional.
Seth could walk a few blocks from Calvary to participate at the Edgewood youth league on the south side. He later played travel ball for the Adam Robertson-coached Indy Bats.
“That’s where I learned and developed at an early age,” says Hougeson of the Bats. “(Robertson) brought out my competitive side. He was a very awesome coach.
“I owe a lot to him. We still stay in-touch.”
Hougeson says competitiveness is his No. 1 strength as an athlete.
“I never give up,” says Hougeson. “I’m always trying to complete that task in front of me.
“I’m hard-working and always doing the little things right. In college, I always prided myself on PFPs (Pitchers Fielding Practice drills).
“It was about fielding my position as a pitcher and being athletic enough to get off and field that bunt and throw it to first.”
Like a fifth infielder?
“Absolutely,” says Hougeson, who turned 22 on April 25.
Indianapolis Lutheran won four sectional titles with Honor Roll Student-Athlete Hougeson on the team and head coach Dick Alter leading the Saints.
“He expected a lot,” says Hougeson of Alter. “He wanted to push you until he got what he was looking for — the best out of your every single day.
“At first, I was a little standoffish. I didn’t know how to respond to it. But, as a I grew up and I matured, it’s just kind of clicked with me. He’s not against me. He’s for me and wants the very best for me.”
Hougeson came to appreciate Alter’s years of experience and it helped groom him for college and beyond.
“I’m always looking for the most competitive baseball and trying to better myself,” says Hougeson. “I continue to get better with the higher level of competition because it continues to push me to get to that next level.”
Concordia University Wisconsin is an NCAA Division III program. In his freshmen season (2016), Hougeson earned honorable mention on the all-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference and was on the NACC all-freshman year, going 3-3 in nine mound appearances (eight starts) with a 3.35 earned run average. In 40 1/3 innings, he struck out 38 and walked nine.
Next came Dyersburg (Tenn.) State Community College. In his one season with the Eagles (2017), Hougeson was named National Junior College (NJCAA) National Pitcher of the Year after going 14-1 with a 1.49 ERA. The southpaw struck out 107 and allowed just 74 hits and 35 walks in 92 1/3 innings.
Hougeson landed at NCAA Division II Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., for his final two college seasons.
As a junior in 2018, Hougeson went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in 12 games (eight starts) for a DSU team that went 42-11 and played in the NCAA Division II South Regional. In 35 1/3 innings, he fanned 39 and walked 22. As a senior in 2019, he made 14 appearances (10 starts) and went 9-0 with three complete games (one shutout) and a 2.44 ERA. In 59 innings, he whiffed 55 and walked 14. The Statesmen went 42-14 and played in the D-II South Super Regional.
“I went out there with no expectations,” says Hougeson. “I was just going to play the best baseball I could possibly do. If I was going to get signed by a team, I was going to be very, very grateful for that.
“If nothing happened out of the summer, I was just going to hang it up and say I gave it all I had.”
He is 15 credit hours plus an internship short of his sports management degree and plans to finish with online classes. He sees himself using his many baseball connections to get job in front office job in baseball which could lead to becoming a general manager.
Or he could follow a long family tradition and go into military service.
“I’d love to join the Air Force and become a fireman,” says Hougeson, noting that his father is currently active in the Air Force and serving overseas. Both brothers (including Caleb Hougeson, who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as an Indianapolis Lutheran third baseman) are in the Army. A grandfather and uncle served in the Marines and a cousin is currently with that service branch. An aunt is in the Air Force.
But sports management or military service are in the future. Hougeson’s present is focused on baseball.
The southpaw pitched in three Palm Springs games and signed with Gary on June 30. That same day, he made his pro debut, tossing four shutout innings while giving up two hits with one strikeout and one walk in a no-decision start against the Kansas City T-Bones.
Altogether, Hougeson has appeared in six RailCats games (five starts) and and is 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. In 23 innings, he has racked up nine K’s and issued nine free passes.
A 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, Hougeson possesses a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, “circle” change-up and curve ball. He usually has an over-the-top release, but sometimes drops down a little and gets arm-side run with his fastball.
Seth Hougeson, an Indianapolis Lutheran High School graduate who played college baseball at Concord University Wisconsin, Dyersburg State Community College and Delta State University, is now with the independent professional Gary (Ind.) South Shore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)