Tag Archives: Steve Stutsman

After getting so much from baseball, Elkhart Central, Bethel graduate Kloosterman is sharing with youth in his community

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The little white ball with 108 stitches has given so much to Greg Kloosterman.

“Everything pure in my life came from baseball,” says Kloosterman, 35. “It allowed me to go to college and experience pro baseball. I met my wife while playing pro baseball. Now we have two beautiful young sons.”

A diamond standout at Elkhart Central High School (1997-2000) and Bethel College (2001-03), the left-hander pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization (2003-05). Greg and Megan, who met in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, while he was playing for Beloit, have Grady (9) and Blake (6).

While having his car serviced in Pittsburgh Greg met the father-in-law of Bethel assistant athletic director Chris Hess and was hired for his first job in the oil and gas industry. He is now a sales engineer for Carbo Ceramics and services clients around the Northeast.

Still very much involved in sports, Kloosterman and Kristi Hilbert are partners in GameChangers Baseball Club in Canonsburg, Pa., near Pittsburgh. The facility currently trains 75 youth baseball players in a four-county area and plan to add softball in the fall.

With the help of corporate and private sponsors, GameChangers will soon be changing the way it operates.

“I will no longer support the pay-to-play model,” says Kloosterman of a program that has a roll-out date scheduled for June 1. “My passion is to be able to provide a high level of baseball and softball to anybody willing to earn it.

“Mom and dad’s check book does not insure you can play. It’s all about development, but it’s not going to cost any of our players a dollar.”

GameChangers is in the process of implementing an academic and athletic institute to provide baseball, softball and other sports for every kid regardless of socio-economic standing. Planning for the initiative began in August 2016 and many people have gotten on-board.

“We will make their academics their tuition,” says Kloosterman, who holds a B.S. degree in organizational management from Bethel. “A lot of our young folk are in pretty bad situations. They don’t have parents to look over their homework. They don’t get $20 for every ‘A’ they bring home.

“We want to make them successful in school while making baseball and softball the base.”

If a young person needs assistance or recommendation with a university of college, GameChargers has every intention of helping them get there.

“My goal is that if our athletes our privileged enough to play college baseball, they never have to take an athletic scholarship,” says Kloosterman. “Academic scholarships can’t be taken away; athletic scholarships can.”

While GC teams will play in tournaments, they won’t be in it to chase trophies.

“A son or daughter going to college not having to play any money, that’s what a championship means to me,” says Kloosterman.

GameChangers will host college and career fairs, social media do-and-don’t presentations and showcases while inviting local colleges and universities to check out their operation and their student-athletes.

The organization is working toward being fully-funded and providing all the equipment needed for players to be successful in the classroom and on the field. Besides bats, balls and uniforms, there’s laptops, back packs and academic tutors.

Kloosterman and company are using baseball to fulfill what he sees as a duty.

“Every person who can has the morale obligation to make sure kids are warm, fed, educated and un-abused,” says Kloosterman. “If you don’t think you do, you need to go to the doctor and get your mind right.

“I’m just in a position I can do that. Since I’m in that position, I don’t have a choice.”

Kloosterman notes that kids are most at-risk from 2:30 to 7 p.m.

“Parents aren’t home and kids are unsupervised,” says Kloosterman. “They can come to us.”

He is not worried about accommodating higher numbers of youngsters.

“It’s like facing Clayton Kershaw and you have two strikes on you and you’ve got to drive in that run,’ says Kloosterman. “You’ve got to figure out a way.”

Kloosterman, who recently accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet Friday, July 20 at Century Center in South Bend, insists that players earn what they get.

It’s a concept that he sees as very rare.

“It’s a vital life lesson,” says Kloosterman. “In baseball at the 18-and-under level, kids don’t have a skin in the game. But from 6, 7 and 8, just because you show up doesn’t mean you play. We want to them earn your spot everyday.

“That’s completely lost on today’s players. They didn’t have to take it away from somebody and hold it. They never had to do it.

“The game didn’t change. There are 35 guys in each dugout (in college baseball). Nine players still play.”

As an Elkhart Central player for head coach Steve Stutsman, Kloosterman was honorable mention Class 4A All-State in 2000.

Going into 2018, Kloosterman was the Blue Blazers’ career leader in innings (256 1/3), walks (160), losses (23) and wild pitches (23), second in strikeouts (317), tied for fourth in complete games (19) and fifth in wins (17). Offensively, he ranks first in batting average (.415) and on-base percentage (.530) and second in hits (137), runs batted in (97) and innings played (749) and fourth in home runs (16).

As an outfielder and pitcher at Bethel, he played for coaches Sam Riggleman and Mike Hutcheon.

Kloosterman helped Hutcheon’s Pilots win a National Christian College Athletic Association national championship in 2002.

He was an NCCAA Division II All-American in 2002 and 2003 and NAIA honorable mention All-American in 2003. He was the NCCAA National Player of the year and Mid-Central Conference (now Crossroads League) Player of the Year in 2003.

The left-handed slugger hit .380 with 40 home runs and 138 in his three collegiate seasons, b testing 18 home runs in 2002 and 20 in 2003. As a pitcher, he fanned 162.

Selected in the ninth round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Kloosterman pitched in 61 games (55 as a starter) with a 12-28 record a 5.28 earned run average.

Before landing in Pennsylvania, Kloosterman was a coach and instruct for Slammers Training Academy in Lake Forest, Ill.

Along the way, he gained an appreciation for teammates.

Those mates come in different forms.

“One teammate is your best friend,” says Kloosterman. “One teammate you are trying to compete with. Competition is healthy and you’re pushing one another.

“Another teammate is a leader to you. You definitely respect this person. Another teammate looks up to you.”

Kloosterman counted Tom Gifford, Nick Treadway, Marcel Guevara, Javier Guevara, Chris Jergens, Brock Doty and Javier Jimenez among his Bethel band of brothers.

“If it wasn’t for my teammates, I don’t where I’d have gone,” says Kloosterman. “All those guys were instrumental in getting where I got. You have to be surrounded with good teammates.

“If you try to play this game solo, you’re going to miss a ton of fun and probably not be as successful as you could be.”

His teammates and friends have been there for him and his family over the year. When Grady was born with a heart rhythm condition called Long QT syndrome, he received a pacemaker at six days old. Last December, he received his second pacemaker.

“He’s doing wonderful,” says Greg of his baseball-loving third grader.

Through genetic testing, it was learned the Megan and her father, Michael, also have the syndrome and so does Blake. They all treat it with medicine.

KLOOSTERMANS

The Kloostermans (from left): Greg, Megan, Grady and Blake.

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Rost emphasizes respect, routines as he leads Elkhart Memorial Crimson Chargers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball coaches often talk about “playing the game the right way.”

The concept means different things to different coaches.

Scott Rost, who is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach of the Elkhart Memorial High School Crimson Chargers in 2018, emphasizes the importance of hustle, respect and routines that help with the mental approach.

“As coaches we get caught up with a lot of the mechanical things in the game — all the ins and outs of being a good hitter and a good pitcher etc.,” says Rost. “Sometimes we forget about how important it is to sprint on and off the field and play the game the way it is supposed to be played. Don’t show up umpires. Don’t show up your opponent. Those are things we’ve always tried to preach.”

Not only might there be a college scout in the stands, the way a player acts reflects not only on themselves but others.

“You represent yourself (and family),” says Rost. “You represent the school (and community).”

Rost, who graduated from Concord High School in 1989 and Manchester College (now known as Manchester University) in 1993 and holds a master’s degree from Indiana University, learned many lessons as a player for then-Concord head coach Larry “Jake” Jackowiak and assistant Mike Stout (who went on to be head coach at Jimtown High School for 25 seasons) and later as Jackowiak’s varsity assistant.

“They were just good guys and good baseball guys. I have a lot of good memories of playing at Concord,” says Rost. “I learned a lot about discipline and how to play the game the right way. That means hustling on and off the field.

“They taught us how to deal with adversity and the importance of reacting correctly to negative things that happen in the game.”

Rost reminds his players how baseball is a game of failure and how to best deal with that disappointment.

“In baseball, that’s a huge part of being successful,” says Rost. “You’re going to have a lot of times when things don’t go your way.

“You boot a ball, what do you do to get your mind right to go to the next pitch and make the play?”

When Rost was a player, he was a fiery competitor who got upset when thing went wrong for him on the field and saw some others do the same.

“It’s human nature with a lot of kids to slam the glove or toss the helmet,” says Rost. “Things like that, (Jackowiak and Stout) just didn’t allow and made us understand that you’ve got to find other ways to deal with that than to show your frustrations outwardly.”

Rost can recall two examples in summer ball where Jackowiak got his message across.

In one heated game, there was a play at the plate with Rost as the runner. He did not appreciate the tag to his head and got in the catcher’s face.

“Larry said, ‘it’s time for you to sit down,’” says Rost. “Some of it was respecting the game and some of it was keeping your cool and staying mentally sharp.

“There’s a difference in playing with intensity and getting out of control.”

In another contest, Concord was playing well and ahead by about eight runs when Rost decided to steal third base.

Jake gave him one of those looks and said, “don’t ever do that again.”

It’s about respecting the game and playing it “the right way.”

Over the years, Rost has presented his players with mental skills tools they can use to help them in various diamond situations.

“We talk a lot about breathing,” says Rost. “I’m always talking to them about routines.”

Posted in the Memorial dugout are the routines to be followed by each batter up to the fourth hitter in an inning. The Crimson Chargers are not penalized for not sticking to the script, but this is something that can help them.

“In this game, if you’re not mentally tough and have routines and a way to flush things, you’re not going to be very successful,” says Rost. “There’s going to come an end of the road for you at some point in time regardless of how talented you are.”

Rost has also introduced visualization and getting players to see themselves succeed before it actually happens.

“We don’t try to force it down their throat,” says Rost. “We provide it as a tool for them. Every player is a little bit different. Some guys really grab hold of that and really benefit.”

Rost, who applies some of the theories put forward by sports psychologists Dr. Tom Hanson and Dr. Ken Ravizza in their Heads Up Baseball books and in seminars, podcasts and videos, says there is not of lot of difference between players in minor league baseball in terms of physical tools. In many cases, the ones who end up being big leaguers are the ones who can handle the mental side of the game and use routines.

This applies at the high school level.

“If you have the same routine, there’s only minor adjustments that need to be made,” says Rost. “If kids get into situations where they’re not comfortable and don’t have a routine to fall back on, they have a tendency to get nervous, hurry things and make mistakes they normally wouldn’t make.”

Ravizza is famous for saying that players must learn to perform even when they are not at their peak.

“Every day you step on the field, you’re not going to have your ‘A’ game,” says Rost. “Very seldom are you going to feel like a million dollars and the best in the world. It’s just not reality.”

The best players figure out how to be successful with what you have that day.

Rost has saved notes from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Dick Siler and Jim Reinebold commending Rost on the way his teams played the game.

“For me, that kind of stuff means a lot,” says Rost. “I can see we’re doing things the right way here.”

Siler was Memorial’s head coach in the first 25 years of the program. He is in his 21st season as an assistant at Bethel College in Mishawaka and his 61st year in coaching.

Reinebold, who died in 2017, coached 35 high school seasons and went into professional baseball as a manager, coach and scout. He established the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp in 1993.

Rost is assisted at the varsity level by Brian Blondell, Bruce Baer and Troy Carson. Brent Curry and Jay Bashore lead the junior varsity.

Blondell is a former head coach and assistant at both the college and high school levels and founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel ball organization.

Baer was head girls track coach at Memorial for years and has assisted in other sports and coached for the Scrappers.

Carson was a head high school baseball coach at Howe Military and Northridge  and assisted in football and basketball.

Curry was on the baseball staff at Concord.

“I feel blessed with the staff I have,” says Rost. “I have a lot of head coaching experience. I have some very good teachers and very knowledgable baseball guys.”

In the recent parents meeting, Rost spelled out expectations.

“We told them that we’re going to do everything we can to make the guys we have in our program as good as they can be on the baseball field and make them better people,” says Rost. “Everyone is going to have different views on playing time, lineups and all that kind of stuff. If we have a good rapport between our coaches — especially me — and our kids then the kids have a tendency to understand things a little bit more and take things a little bit better. Then, when they go home, the parents have a tendency to understand things a little bit better.

“We’re going to be honest with your kids. We’ll be honest with you. Communication is the key.”

Rost wants parents to know that if they have an issue or a problem, he has an open door and they can talk to him.

“There not always going to like the answer,” says Rost. “But I’m going to tell them the truth. For the most part, people respect that.”

Memorial belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasse). There are 14 conference games.

Beginning with former Memorial athletic director Frank Kurth, Rost says he appreciates the flexibility he has had in his schedule over the years, depending on the program’s needs.

Non-conference opponents on the 2018 schedule include Bremen, Culver Military Academy, Edwardsburg (Mich.), Elkhart CentralJimtown, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, Portage, South Bend Riley and Valparaiso. The Crimson Chargers are also in the Doc Mueller Classic at LaPorte. They are to play Highland, South Bend Adams and LaPorte.

“We jumped on the opportunity to play at LaPorte,” says Rost. “That’s where the regional has been played for a long time.”

Memorial is in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional group with Concord, Elkhart Central, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

Memorial generally go to games with 12 to 16 players. It depends upon factors like the number of pitcher-only players and who can play multiple positions.

If it will benefit the program and that player, juniors may be sent down to the JV to get playing playing time.

“Our philosophy is basically if any freshman or sophomore is up on the varsity level, they should be playing the majority of the time,” says Rost. “If not, they should be with the JV getting their reps.

“It can be hard for JV coaches to have kids coming and going. But I equate it to Triple-A and the major leagues. If a guy is really tearing it up (on the JV) or there is a need (on the varsity).”

Rost looks at his 2018 stable of Chargers and sees 11 juniors and seniors and up to seven sophomores and freshman who could contribute.

“There are certain years when we felt like we had a set varsity group and a set JV group,” says Rost. “For us this year, that’s not the case. We have some kids who are probably going to float back and forth. We’re going to see how things go.”

While current Memorial players are pondering college baseball opportunities, recent graduates Scottie Clark and Cameron Maxwell are on the team at Grace College and Justin Walter is in the mix at Purdue University Northwest.

Ryan Strausborger, a 2006 Memorial graduate, played in the Minnesota Twins organization in 2017.

Scott’s wife, Jacquie Rost, is Memorial’s athletic director and a longtime successful volleyball coach. The couple have two sons who play baseball — Dylan (15) is a EMHS freshman and Quinn (11) is a fifth grader. Both play for the Scrappers and Scott helps with coaching.

Rost has had players participate with many travel organizations, including the Indiana Chargers, Elkhart Titans, Indiana Land Sharks and Granger Cubs.

Before taking his current position, Rost was head softball coach at Memorial for four seasons. He has also served one season each as a baseball assistant to Brian Griman at Memorial and Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central, coached football at various levels, including freshmen at Memorial the past few falls, and coached softball at Norwood High School in Cincinnati.

Rost made the team at Manchester and played in the fall of his freshman year then decided to stop playing.

“I don’t regret too many things in my life,” says Rost. “But that’s something I regret a little bit. I wish I would have done that for the experience. Obviously, I love the game.

“I started coaching in the summer, developed a love for it and it took off from there.”

Rost and friend Phil Eddy coached together at Concord Little League. Scott’s younger brother Nic was on his team a couple seasons and was later a Concord freshman with Scott on Jackowiak’s coaching staff.

Jackowiak turned over his summer program to Rost.

“High school baseball in the summer was still a big thing,” says Rost. “A lot of the schools played 20 or 25 games.

“That was a great experience for me. I learned a lot because a lot of times I was the only one there.”

With a merger of Memorial and Central into Elkhart High School scheduled for the fall of 2020, Rost is not sure about the baseball future.

But he knows about the past and present.

“I’ve enjoyed it here,” says Rost. “I’ve had a lot of support. The parents have been great. We’ve had some great kids. They do some amazing things when they leave here.

“That’s the stuff that means a lot to me.”

SCOTTROST

Scott Rost is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach of the Elkhart Memorial High School  in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the 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)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

ANDREWBRABENDER

Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

On the occasion of his 300th win, Elkhart Central’s Stutsman reflects on his career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Steve Stutsman had a sweet moment Saturday, May 6.

Elkhart Central beat visiting Angola 5-0 in the second game of a high school baseball doubleheader, giving Stutsman the 300th victory of his coaching career.

Stutsman and his team enjoyed cake and cupcakes to mark the moment then the man reflected on the “program” that brought him this special day.

“I’ve had great players, great coaches and great parents,” says Stutsman. “It’s an honor to get to 300 victories and someone helped in every one of those along the way.”

That includes former assistants like Scott Rost (now head coach at Elkhart Memorial), Andrew Brabender (head coach at Northridge who picked up his 200th career win earlier this season), Jim Treadway (former head coach at Concord and the long-time Bristol American Legion Post 143 manager) plus solid baseball men like Dave Hicks, Jimmy Malcom, Mike Doherty and Pat Doherty and on and on.

“Being part of the program. That’s what it’s all about,” says Stutsman. “It’s not me. Kids come and go. Parents come and go. You’ve got to have one thing and that’s the program. That’s what I’ve tried to build here.”

After serving two years as assistant to Randy Miller as he was ending his second head coaching stint with the Blue Blazers, Stutsman took over in 1996.

“I thought I had a good 20 years in me,” says Stutsman, 64. “I got the job kind of late in life in my late 30’s, early 40’s.

“I’m in my 22nd year and I feel better than when I first started.”

Stutsman, a 1971 Concord High School graduate, leads a 2017 team full of veterans players.

“They’re just a great group of kids,” says Stutsman. “They are young men who really play well together. They listen to you. They try to correct the things we ask them to correct.”

Stutsman sees a collection of young athletes that genuinely like each other and play loose.

“I said to them a couple of weeks ago that I’d rather have a team that has great team chemistry than two or three superstars on the team,” says Stutsman. “I really believe that.”

In 2013, Stutsman was part of an IHSAA Class 4A state championship celebration with a squad that beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0.

Those Blazers featured Indiana Mr. Baseball Tanner Tully (the left-hander homered and fanned 13 batters to the title game and is now at Low Class-A in the Cleveland Indians organization) plus L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner Matt Eppers (now a senior center fielder at Ball State), Cory Malcom (a successful senior right-handed starting pitcher at Arkansas-Little Rock) and Riley Futterknecht (who is wrapping up a strong college career as a left-handed hurler at DePauw).

“That was a great group, too,” says Stutsman. “They liked each other and played well together.

“Championships are awesome and people ask me, ‘why didn’t you retire after you won (in 2013)?’ and I said, “Because I’m still having fun. I still enjoy what I’m doing. I still enjoy watching them go on after high school to college or into a profession and be successful citizens. That — for me — is what coaching is all about.”

Since 1996, Central has won four sectionals (2001, 2011, 2012, 2013) with the one regionals semistate and one state title in 2013.

Stutsman’s “associate head coach” is Steve Asbury, who is in his 14th season on the Blazers staff.

“It’s scary because he knows what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking,” says Stutsman. “He has his responsibilities and he does them really well. It’s like I don’t have to tell him what to do.”

Lonnie Weatherholt and Chad O’Brien been with Stutsman for a decade. Brandon Squibb joined the cohesive varsity staff a few seasons ago. The junior varsity is led by Bodie Bender and longtime assistant Paul Bates (son Devin Prater played for the ’13 state champions).

“It’s nice to have your friends for your assistant coaches,” says Stutsman. “We really work well together.

“I feel like I’m just the head of the whole program and I let my assistants go and do their own thing.”

Stutsman has accomplished much of what he has without the feeder program that many Indiana schools enjoy. There is no junior high baseball in Elkhart and the local Little League parks send players on to various high schools.

Travel baseball is firmly established in the area and Stutsman knows it and accepts it — with a caveat.

“As long as they’re playing baseball and as long as I can trust the travel ball coach to make sure their arms are taken care of, I have no problem,” says Stutsman. “I think it’s good they play under different coaching philosophies.

“But when they hit high school, they know from January until the end of May they are Central ballplayers. I take great pride in making sure that the boys know that.”

Going back to the split of Elkhart High School into Central and Memorial, beginning in 1972-73, there have only been three head baseball coaches at Central — Miller (twice), Mike Lutz and Stutsman.

“I’m really proud of that,” Stutsman said. “If I could, if there’s a merger (and one is planned in 2020-21), I want to hang on until the merger and be the last Central baseball coach.”

Talk about the split has been on the lips of many Elkhartans for the past 44 years. Stutsman is no different.

“Selfishly, I’d like to see what we could do with one school,” says Stutsman. “There have been numerous years that had Central and Memorial been combined we could have went down to State. I don’t know if we could have won it all, but we could have been down there quite often.

“But that’s not why I coach. I coach for the kids and seeing them improve and making them into young adults.”

Stutsman also takes took him up on his invitation in the ‘90s to resurrect the Bristol American Legion Post 143 baseball program that was dormant for a short time after being originally started by Lutz.

“(Treadway) has done a great job and he’s taken a lot of our Central boys with the Bristol Legion,” says Stutsman.

Post 143 played its home game at Rice Field (the former varsity and current Central JV field) before moving around to various facilities and returns to that diamond in 2017.

A former Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association president, Stutsman sees two highlights of his time in a leadership role.

“There’s better communication with coaches throughout the state (mostly via email and newsletters),” says Stutsman. “The pitch count (rule) that we’re doing now was needed. I know it’s a struggle with the smaller schools to find pitchers, but its good to limit the pitches.

“(The IHSBCA) does a great job. I only joined one union and that’s it.”

STEVESTUTSM AN300WINS

Steve Stutsman celebrates his 300th career coaching victory with his 2017 Elkhart Central High School baseball team after the Blue Blazers beat visiting Angola 5-0 in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday, May 6. Stutsman’s first season as ECHS head coach was 1996. (Steve Krah Photo)

Relationships the most memorable thing for Ball State’s Eppers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Eppers can point to some memorable moments during his college diamond days.

The Ball State University senior baseball player is coming off a “career weekend” in which he went 10-of-13 at the plate with his third career home run plus a double, stolen base, sacrifice, four runs scored and three runs batted in.

The Cardinals stopped a nine-game losing skid with a three-game sweep at Western Michigan. BSU outscored the Broncos 46-17. Eppers went 5-for-5 in Game 2 of the series — the first five-hit game of his career.

“We had been pressing a little bit,” says Eppers, speaking for the team as a whole. “We started relaxing and having fun.”

On Tuesday, April 11, Eppers stayed hot with three more hits in an 11-2 win against visiting Valparaiso. In his last four games, he is 13-of-17, raising his average to a team-pacing .311.

Earlier in the 2017 season, Eppers was named Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week.

The 6-foot-4 outfielder strung together hits in eight consecutive plate appearances in his junior season of 2016, spanning two games against Dayton and one against Purdue.

The 2013 Elkhart Central High School graduate (he played center field and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the ’13 Class 4A state title) also counts a victory against powerhouse Louisiana State in 2016 as a highlight.

As a sophomore in 2015, Eppers scored three runs against Akron and helped the Cardinals to the MAC tournament championship game.

But as outstanding as those achievements are, it’s the relationships that Eppers has made in his four BSU seasons that he cherishes most.

“I came on to this team not knowing anybody,” says Eppers. “My roommate, Sean Kennedy, had a monster weekend himself (at Western Michigan). He hit a grand slam and another home run and had a whole bunch of hits (Kennedy was 7-of-9 with nine RBI in three games). He and I are best friends. I’m going to be the best man in his wedding.

“The relationships that I’ve built, that’s what’s made college baseball worth it. Through the highs and the lows, the guys you’re around and that sense of brotherhood is heightened to a new level in college.”

Eppers roomed with right-handed pitcher B.J. Butler as a freshman and later shared a place with Kennedy and Alex Call (selected in the third round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox  after earning MAC Player of the Year honors in 2016) before Call moved on.

“(Sean) has been very versatile. He’s played every infield position this year. He’s kind of the anchor of our defense. Anywhere we need him, he’s there. With his bat, too. In the middle of the lineup, he’s been a heavy hitter … It was a good weekend for him and I in our apartment.”

Besides Eppers, Kennedy and Butler, the other BSU seniors are right-hander David Current, third baseman Alex Maloney (son of Ball State head coach Rich Maloney), first baseman Caleb Stayton and left-handers Evan Korson (a transfer from Northern Kentucky) and Kevin Marnon (a transfer from Akron).

Rich Maloney has enjoyed watching Eppers perform for the Cards.

“He’s very athletic,” says Maloney. “He covers a lot of ground in center field. He has really good speed. He competes really, really well.

“With the other guys we’ve been able to surround him with in his class, he’s been a really nice piece of the puzzle.

“He’s been a joy to coach.”

The past three seasons, that recruiting class has aided in an overall MAC title, two West division crowns and a tournament runner-up finish while averaging 34 wins.

“They’ve all gotten a taste of winning and enjoyed it and they certainly want to pass it on,” says Maloney. “They are leaders and they’re all going to end up graduating. It’s all good and Matt is certainly a big part of it.”

How does Eppers prefer to do his leading?

“Day-to-day, I just try to lead by example,” says Eppers, who has played in 188 career games with 147 starts. “I’m not really one of the hoorah guys.

“I don’t speak just to speak. When I have to be a vocal leader, I pick my times. I feel like that’s not only benefitted me here but my whole life. When you can do that it makes your word go a little bit farther.”

Maloney coached Ball State 1996-2002 then at Michigan 2003-12 before returning to BSU for the 2013 season. A staple as he took over a program that had not been winning was “Gotta Believe” rally cry (#GottaBelieve).

“The first thing in building a program is you’ve got to get everybody to believe,” says Maloney, whose 2017 assistants are Scott French, Dustin Glant and Ray Skjold. “They’ve got to believe in the coaches. They’ve got to believe in the vision. They’ve got to believe in the system. They’ve got to believe in themselves. They’ve got to believe in their teammates. If you get that going then you have a chance to be successful.”

Facing the toughest schedule of Maloney’s BSU coaching career (win vs. Maryland, four losses to both Oregon State and Kent State and defeats to defending national champion Coastal Carolina plus setbacks against Louisville and West Virgina), Ball State got off to an 11-9 start in 2017 then hit a slide once the MAC part of the slate began.

“We came close in several or them, but couldn’t get over the top,” says Maloney. “(Against Western Michigan), we were able to break through.

Eppers has bought in to Maloney’s belief system.

“You gotta believe that you can get the job done,” says Eppers. “That’s something he’s instilled in all of us.”

“The whole reason I came to Ball State was the vision that he sold. To his credit, he did it. He promised us a new field, improved schedules and improved skills and we got it.

“No matter who we’re playing, you can see it in his eyes. He truly believes Ball State is going to win … Coach has taught us not to ever take a back seat to anybody.”

Since Eppers’ sophomore year, Ball Diamond has been covered with artificial turf. This is a growing trend in the northern U.S., where the maintenance is lower and teams are able to play more games even in cold and wet weather.

Another major difference been grass and turf is the speed of the game.

“On turf, everything is a lot faster,” says Eppers. “A single may turn into a double; a double may turn into a triple. Especially at our field, it plays very fast … It’s probably given me a few more triples, too, so I appreciate it.”

Of 33 starts for a 15-18 squad, Eppers has been in center field for 29 games and right field for four.

“Center has always been my favorite position, where I feel most comfortable,” says Eppers. “You’re the shortstop of the outfield in a way. You’re supposed to be the best all-around defensive player in the outfield. Something I’ve always taken pride in is tracking down balls and trying to make catches other people can’t make.”

Eppers, who hits from the right side, was in the No. 8 slot in the batting order during his recent hot weekend in Kalamazoo, but has appeared in every hole but Nos. 3 and 4 this spring and has led off eight times.

“Everyday I have to check, but it’s not that big of a deal,” says Eppers. “I know my job is to get on base. I’m not a guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs. I do have a few extra base hits. That’s where I hit the gaps and I’m able to run.”

While he’s taken hundreds of fly balls in the outfield to improve his defense and bulked up to 202 pounds with work in the weight room, Eppers has also adjusted his approach at the plate. He has become more knowledgeable about situational hitting and what pitches he can connect with the best.

“Early in my career I was very vulnerable to the slider and pitcher-advantage counts,” says Eppers. “Now, I’m a tougher out. When the slider is in the dirt, I’m able to lay off that pitch.

“This year I’ve really worked at hitting pitches in the (strike) zone I know I can barrel up. I’m not chasing as many pitches.”

Eppers, 22, is scheduled to graduate in May with a “high stakes” degree in entrepreneurial management.

“It’s basically a pass-fail major,” says Eppers, who was on the MAC all-academic team in 2016 and carried 3.555 grade-point average in the fall. “For a year, you write a business plan, fine tune it and then Wednesday (April 12) we present it in a room with a panel of judges. If they like what you have to say, they pass you. If they don’t, they fail you. If you fail, you have to opportunity to come back next year and re-try or take a couple some classes and (graduate with a different major).

“It puts some stress on you.”

Eppers and his business partner will present a plan on a not-for-profit gym and counseling service for veterans, military members and first responders in the Indianapolis area.

While he is exploring his post-graduation options, Eppers says he is leaning toward staying on the diamond.

“I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can,” says Eppers. “When I’m not allowed to play anymore I’ll have to re-evaluate my professional life.

“For right now I’m just focused on playing baseball and having fun. I’m trying to play every game like it’s my last.”

MATTEPPERSRUNS

Matt Eppers contributes speed to the Ball State University baseball team. The Elkhart Central High School graduate is in his senior season. (Ball State Photo)

MATTEPPERS

Matt Eppers has played in 188 baseball games as a Ball State Cardinal through Tuesday, April 11. (Ball State Photo)