By STEVE KRAH
With giving players opportunities to develop and compete at a high level a priority, Indiana Elite Baseball is preparing for the spring and summer travel season.
Started as part of the Center Grove Little League in Greenwood, Ind., Indiana Elite Baseball had one team in 2011 then four teams in 2013 and was up to 10 squads in 2014 and has stayed in that range ever since. IEB will field 10 squads ages 12U through 17U in 2021. Younger players are typically come from central Indiana, but talent comes around the state.
“We started to grow it slowly,” says Indiana Elite Baseball founder and president Mike Chitwood, a former all-city player and 1989 graduate of Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis. “We wanted to do something bigger than a community-based team.
“I have a big passion for doing what I do. I love educating players and families on the process. I tell them to play the game for as long as you can.”
IEB has been a not-for-profit organization since 2013.
“I try to keep cost as low as possible for our families,” says Chitwood. “You have to do certain things to afford the families and players an opportunity to develop.”
In 2016, the organization got its own indoor training facility on the southeast side of Indianapolis. It’s open year-round only to IEB teams, coaches and instructors.
“It’s been a great addition for the last five years,” says Chitwood.
Indiana Elite Baseball offers a full winter training program led by director of baseball operations Brian Simmons.
Players train four hours a week November to March.
“I’m a big advocate of multi-sport athletes,” says Chitwood. “But get to as many (baseball workouts) as you can.”
Younger teams tend to play in 12 events a year, beginning in early to mid-April. Older teams play seven or eight tournaments after Memorial Day.
Simmons is a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis who played at Xavier University and Ball State University and in independent pro ball. He was an assistant at Roncalli to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Wirtz and aided Eric McGaha at Mooresville (Ind.) High School and was head coach at Roncalli and Indianapolis Arlington.
Deron Spink is the other IEB instructor. A California native, Spink coached future big leaguers Ryan Howard and David Freese in the St. Louis area and was head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., and director of baseball operations at Villanova University in Philadelphia before moving to Indiana.
Spink was a volunteer assistant to Steve Farley at Butler University and is a former director of baseball operations and recruiting for Indiana Elite Baseball who now resides in Evansville while still coming to Indianapolis to give private lessons.
Chitwood, Simmons and vice president Jeff Amodeo make up IEB’s board. Amodeo coaches and does much of the behind-the-scenes work.
Through a relationship with Franklin College the past four years, Chitwood has gotten Grizzlies assistants to coach for Indiana Elite Baseball in the summer. Tim Miller has gone on to become head coach at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. Former Franklin and IEB coach Tyler Rubasky is Miller’s assistant.
Current Franklin assistants Jake Sprinkle, who played at Franklin Central and the University of Indianapolis, and Trevor Tunison, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., also lend their talents to IEB.
Chitwood used to have a rule that after 15U, there could be no coaches who had sons on the team.
“As long as a dad is in it for the right reason and they’re not in it to take care of their son, I will let a dad continue as long as they want to continue for multiple reasons,” says Chitwood. “These days, it’s harder and harder to get a guy to spend his entire summer at the baseball field.”
“There’s a misconception that you had to play collegiately or at a higher level professionally to be a coach,” says Chitwood. “(16U Black head coach) Steve Sawa didn’t play past high school. But he’s a student of the game. He’s a great coach.”
Paul Godsey (Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky.), Dan Sullivan (Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) and Scott Gilliam (UIndy) and Brian Maryan (Rose-Hulman) are former college players who also have sons on their respective teams. Gilliam is assisted by former Eastern Illinois University pitcher and IEB father/coach Kyle Widegren.
After Blake moved on, Mike Chitwood coached the 17U team. He decided by focusing on one team he was doing the rest of the outfit a disservice so he stepped out of the coaching role.
“I like to see all my teams play,” says Chitwood. “It’s important to build the culture and the family atmosphere.”
The goal of IEB’s high school age players is getting to the next level.
Chitwood stresses education with baseball as a means of getting that education.
He asks each player to take baseball out of the equation.
“It has to be a great academic fit,” says Chitwood. “What are you going to be in the future?
“Even if you get to play pro ball, you still have to provide for your family after your playing career.”
Chitwood wants players to know if a school offers a major that interests them and if — realistically — they can play at that level.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the whole environment of the recruiting process. Many coaches have not been able to attend travel events in-person and on-campus visits have been restricted.
“More than ever, it’s important to perform in these showcases,” says Chitwood. “We want to continue to build our relationships with all these (college) coaches.”
Chitwood keeps college programs up-to-date on Indiana Elite Baseball players through social media and the sharing of data such as Rapsodo.
To be proactive, Chitwood has hired an intern to take video of game action this season.
The pandemic has had another big impact. Many players are coming back for an extra year of eligibility after the 2020 college season was shortened.
The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was cut from 40 to five rounds last year, keeping many players on the amateur side of the equation.
“It’s a different environment now,” says Chitwood. “Opportunities are much less than they were two years ago.”