Evansville Christian School in Newburgh, Ind., is preparing for its first season of IHSAA tournament eligibility in 2022-23. The Eagles’ program was started by Joe Paulin at the Cub (middle school) level in 2017. There were three players on the day he was hired, including son Thomas Paulin. He was one of seven “Trailblazers” in the Class of 2022. The Eagles went 10-8 last spring. Brandon Juarez (Class of 2022) became the program’s first college commitment, going to NCAA Division I University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. College baseball prospects include three from the Class of 2024 — shortstop/pitcher Josiah Dunham, left-handed pitcher Jaydon Gates and catcher Maddox Brenner. Josiah Dunham, one of Indiana’s top prep basketball players (he averaged 26 points per game in 2021-22), is the brother of New York Yankees minor leaguer and former Indiana University player Elijah Dunham. Evansville Christian athletic director Paul Dunham is the father of both Josiah and Elijah and has coached with Paulin at what is now Golfmoor Baseball Association (Dunham coached one team to within a game of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.) and Evansville Reitz High School. Paulin’s Evansville Christian coaching staff includes Paul Dunham, Matt Brunton and Chris Pillow. In the summer, Evansville Christian coaches guide Newburgh American Legion Post 44 teams with Paulin as manager. Both senior and junior squads have been state finalists the past two years. Before ECS, Paulin was an assistant to Todd DeWeese at Reitz for five years. A 1991 Reitz graduate, Paulin played three seasons for Steve Johnston. As a senior, he was a state champion in Speech and Debate before a short stint at Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.), playing for Tony Vittorio. “He was an excellent coach,” says Paulin of Indianapolis native Vittorio. “He would take advantage of every minute of practice.” During IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices twice a week this fall, Paulin overseen bullpen sessions. “We’re trying to develop our younger guys and the pitching staff,” says Paulin, a Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. What’s Paulin’s “why”? “The reason I began coaching was to be with my kids and their friends,” says Paulin, who recently celebrated 24 years of marriage to Cariann (the mom other baseball moms go to for answers) and has three sons (Cory, Joe Jr. and Thomas) and three daughters (Destiney, Candace and Jacklyn). Cory (28) is the oldest and Evansville Christian first grader Jacklyn (7) and youngest. “I have been blessed enough to be able to coach my daughter Candace and my sons Joe Jr. and Thomas for about 12 years (in baseball or basketball). “As far as I’m concerned this has been the best years of my life and I have really enjoyed spending this time with them. It has been priceless. “I’m a relationship guy. I try to get involved with (athlete’s) lives. High school players need that.” Evansville Christian played its first high school season in 2018 and now has about 50 players for varsity, junior varsity and Cub squads. Experiencing steady growth in recent years, ESC has an enrollment around 210 for high school, which will make them a Class 1A team for IHSAA tournament play. It is a Pre-K-12 school. Its had elementary and middle school students for about 25 years and its first graduating class was 2020. The Eagles won Southern Roads Conference titles in baseball in 2018 and 2019 and are now an athletic independent. The schedule includes mostly Indiana teams though they have played team from Illinois and Kentucky. The Cub feeder program (Grades 7-8 with some sixth graders) plays a spring schedule but also some fall games. The team lost just twice this fall. Evansville Christian plays its home games at Scott Township Baseball & Softball, located about 15 miles from the campus. “Players make a commitment,” says Paulin.
After a one-year hiatus, Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League’s premier event is scheduled to return in 2022. A non-profit organization organized in 1993 with more than 200 members, including Don Mattingly, Bob Griese, Andy Benes, Jamey Carroll, Clint Barmes, Marty Amsler, Evansville area high school and college baseball and softball coaches, area businessmen and community leaders, Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League provides financial assistance to youth organizations in baseball, softball, soccer, football, wrestling, basketball and youth ministry athletics. Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League has distributed more than $2 million to over 100 youth organizations and a partial four-year college scholarship has been given for at least one area high school senior who has shown himself to be an outstanding athlete, student and citizen. The primary fundraiser is the “Night of Memories.” It is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022 at the Carson Center on the campus of the University of Evansville. Featured guests include National Baseball Hall of Famer Rich “Goose” Gossage, former big league outfielder Andruw Jones, hometown favorites Benes, Aaron Barrett and Jerad Eickhoff, Evansville Reitz graduate and New York Yankees prospect Elijah Dunham and 2021 Southridge High School graduate and Chicago White Sox draft selection Colson Montgomery.Wayne Hagin will serve as emcee. Former University of Evansville head baseball coach Jim Brownlee will receive a Legend Award. An autograph session is from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Central Time and open to all ages. Children 12-and-under are admitted free but must be accompanied by an adult with a paid admission and autograph purchase. All items to be signed require autograph ticket (not available online, only sold at the door). Pricing per autograph varies by guest and will be posted at hotstoveleague.org when available. A separate chat session and auction for guests 21-and-older is slated in the Meeks Family Fieldhouse. Doors open at 5 with welcome/introductions at 6:15, presentation of awards at 6:30, chat session at 6:45 and live auction at 7:45. Admission to the main event is $25 per person. Admission tickets purchased for the autograph session will also grant entry into the main event as long as the guest is 21 or older. A golf outing was held in September at Cambridge Golf Club in Evansville which funds the Bob Coleman-Joe Unfried Scholarship Award. Recent winners include Henry Brown (Evansville Central High School and Indiana State University) in 2021, Adam Euler (Evansville Reitz High School and University of Evansville) in 2020, Cory Bosecker (Evansville Central High School and Butler University) in 2019 and Zach Messinger (Castle High School and University of Virginia) in 2018. Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League officers are president Ryan Berger, vice presidents Eric Millay, Tracy Archuleta and Cory Edwards, treasurer Steve Millay, historian Dave Johnson and secretary Steve Johnston.
That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.
“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”
One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.
“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”
Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.
“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”
Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.
Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.
Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.
Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.
“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.
The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.
Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.
Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.
Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.
“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”
Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes.
Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.
“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.
“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”
The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights.
“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”
That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.
“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.
“They’re not selfish.”
Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.
Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.
“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.
“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”
Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.
Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.
Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.
“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players.
“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.
“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”
Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.
Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.
“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”
Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.
“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”
Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.
“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”
Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.
Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.
“I believe you must respect the game,” says McKeon, who resigned as head coach at Plainfield High School after the 2017 season (Shane Abrell has been named as his successor). “Once you cross that line, you have to give 100 percent every single time. The game will humble you in a second. If you ever think you are bigger than the game, it will strike back at you in a second.”
At Plainfield, McKeon got to be the host coach for the IHSAA’s South semistate games. The field has two berms for spectators and a scoreboard in center field.
Coming from Evansville, where iconic Bosse Field and other parks all have unique features, McKeon likes that the facility is not a “cookie-cutter.”
“I’m a big baseball purist,” says McKeon. “The ballpark should be part of the experience.
“Plainfield has some uniqueness to it.”
A 1993 Evansville North High School graduate, his high school coach was Dan Sparrow. He was a catcher and then a middle infielder at Ashford University in Iowa, graduating in 1997. He also worked two years for the Clinton LumberKings as an intern, grounds crew worker and clubhouse assistant and one for the Birmingham Barons as assistant GM for concessions and in sales.
Jeff comes from a baseball family. He is the son of former minor league catcher and scout and current Evansville Ottersradio analyst Bill McKeon. In 2010, Bill was briefly the Otters manager with Jeff as a coach.
Bill’s older brother and Jeff’s uncle is Jack McKeon, the manager for the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins. Jack also served as skipper for the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds.
In his first off-season as general manager of the Padres, he began to rebuild the club with a series of deals and became known as “Trader Jack.”
Jack’s sons have also been involved in professional baseball. Kasey McKeon was a catcher in the Detroit Tigers system and is now director of player procurement for the Washington Nationals.
Kelly McKeon has scouted for the Padres, where he signed Greg Booker, son-in-law to Jack, brother-in-law to Kasey and Kelly father of former Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Zach Booker. Greg Booker is now a pro scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Those are awesome guys,” says McKeon. “They are great coaches and even better men. Being with those guys has been life-altering for me.”
Fundamentals and instruction are important to McKeon, who has thrown countless hours of batting practice trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.
“I’ve worked with a lot of very good players,” says McKeon. “But you win not with best players, you win with the role player that has to step up.”
McKeon, who is in charge of vendors at the IHSBCA State Clinic in January, will serve as a vice president in 2017-18 and is due to be president the following year.
This year marked his third as South representative and coach for the Crossroads Series, held the past two season at Ball State.
With Rich Andriole as head coach, the South swept the North in three games at Whiting in 2016.
“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” says McKeon, who will be assisted by Brad Catey (Hagerstown), Justin Tucker (Batesville), John Major (Columbus East) and have a Plainfield Quaker on the roster for the third straight year. It’s first baseman Daylan Nanny (bound for Arizona Western College) in 2017. Outfielder/first baseman Jackson Blevins was selected in 2016 and went on to Saint Joseph’s College. He is playing for the Dubois County Bombers this summer. After the closing of SJC, Blevins is slated to play at Wabash College in 2017-18.
Pitcher Antonio Lucciola represented Plainfield in the North/South series in 2015.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to be recognized for their accomplishments,” says McKeon.
Jeff and wife Liz have a son and a daughter — Gavin (9) and Katie (5).
Jeff McKeon, head baseball coach at Plainfield High School 2012-17, will be head coach for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.