Tag Archives: Summit City Sluggers

Fenimore experiences baseball and more in Germany, Australia

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball helped Caleb Fenimore get a college education.

It is also allowing the player from east central Indiana see other parts of the world.

A 2010 Rushville Consolidated High School graduate who played 2011-14 at Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, Fenimore step between the white lines in Germany in the summer and Australia in the winter and he has thoroughly enjoyed three German seasons with the Dohren Wild Farmers and two Australian campaigns with the Macarthur Orioles.

“Overall, this experience has been the best in my life,” says Fenimore, 26. “There is nothing I would change about the last couple of years and I would recommend it to any ballplayer.

“It’s not just about traveling the world and playing a game. It’s about living in a country for six months and becoming a part of the culture and it becoming a part of you. I have many memories on the field that I will remember. But I have so many more memories off the field that I will never forget with people that I’ll never forget.”

Primarily a catcher, Fenimore was named the No. 1 batter by the International Baseball Community (BaseballJobsOverseas.com) and best batter in the Bundesliga Nord (North) with a league-leading 1.471 OPS (.608 on-base percentage plus .864 slugging percentage), eight home run and drove in 24 runs batted in for a team that went 15-9 in the regular season. He hit .424.

The Wild Farmers, which had twice placed first in the second league going 24-4 in 2015 and 22-6 in 2016, moved up to the first league in 2017.

The Wild Farmers practiced three times a week and played games on the weekends. The smallness of Dohren allowed Fenimore to bond with his teammates.

“It is a great big family and we, as a team, are able to walk 10 minutes or less (or bike 3 minutes or less) to anyone’s house in the village to do something,” says Fenimore. Entertainment could also be found by leaving his host family and taking the train to Hamburg. An occasional off weekend would allow the American to explore other countries in tightly-packed Europe.

Fenimore, whose family roots are in Germany and Austria, got the chance to play there through Evan Porter.

A veteran of many European baseball seasons, including one with the Solingen Alligators in Germany, Porter was an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (a Summit League member just like IPFW aka Fort Wayne) and connected Fenimore with Johst Dallmann of the Dohren Wild Farmers.

After his first season in Germany, Fenimore was contacted by Kye Hislop of the Macarthur Orioles in Sydney and eventually signed there for an opportunity to play baseball in the winter and also experience another culture.

Macarthur went 19-6 (with plenty of rainouts) and won the regular-season title in Fenimore’s first season. The Orioles won a best-of-three series and went to the Grand Final, where they were swept and finished the season at 21-9.

The next winter, Macarthur went 26-4 in winning the regular season and also took the Grand Final title, finishing 30-6 overall.

The great thing about this season is that we also won the Club Championship which takes points from all the teams from your club and how they do in their respective levels in the league,” says Fenimore. “I was very fortunate to receive the Gold Glove Award from my club both seasons.”

The Orioles trained twice a week and played games on Wednesdays and either Saturdays or Sundays. When he could, Fenimore would travel to look around Sydney or places like Wollongong.

“I think it’s one of the greatest places in the world,” says Fenimore. “I would often down down there with my teammates Bobby Twedt and hang out during the week as we would hike mountains, go to the beach, hike a waterfall or just go and fund something cool that we hadn’t seen before.”

The last few years, Fenimore had been coming back to the U.S. for just a few days before heading off to the next country for another season. He is taking this winter off and not going to Australia, but he plans to re-join the Wild Farmers in March for his fourth season in Germany.

Fenimore says will assess his future after that. All the while, he plans to really savor his time.

“As much as I love playing ball, I know that eventually my career will be over,” says Fenimore. “I can see myself living in both Germany and Australia (and America of course too), so it will be a tough decision when that time comes.

“I hope to always be involved closely with baseball. This game has been my life for as long as I can remember and I have learned so much in this game. I also know that there is also still so much for me to learn and I think that is the best part about baseball. There is always something new you can learn. While the game itself will never change (hopefully), the way we do things and adjust and execute are changing with every pitch and we can always learn that way.”

Caleb, the son of Bruce and Joni Fenimore, grew up around baseball, playing in the Rushville Little League until age 8. At 9, he joined the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits travel ball organization and was with it two summers into his college career.

His 18U season, Caleb played with the Summit City Sluggers. Bruce Fenimore was there as a coach with the teams and was at camps following his son from station and station and taking notes.

“My biggest influence to this day is still my dad,” says Fenimore. “He has taught me so much in this game and he is still learning as well. I still consider him my coach as he still throws me batting practice and throws out a suggestion here and there of he thinks he sees something.

“He’s also good at getting in some hit by pitch practice while I’m in the cage too. I can’t thank him enough for all that he has done for me in this game.

“He bred me to be a catcher. He knew the importance of the position as it was the same one he played and knows that a great catcher can change and help a team in many ways.”

Bruce Fenimore coached the Indiana Bandits 16U/18U and college teams in 2017.

Jake Fox, who was a catcher in the big leagues with the Cubs, Athletics and Orioles, is Caleb’s godfather. The former Indianapolis Cathedral High School and University of Michigan receiver gave Fenimore plenty of helpful pointers.

Last summer, Fox was the guest speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet in Muncie.

Fenimore wound up his prep career at Rushville Consolidated as an IHSBCA all-star. Playing for coach Keith Perin, he collected 97 hits and drove in 76 runs during his Lions days — both school records. He bashed 10 home runs, including six in 2010. As a pitcher, he posted a 2.01 career earned run average (1.34 in 2010).

Second cousin Kyle Harpring is now head baseball coach at Rushville.

At IPFW, Fenimore found a combination that he like — a small campus, a major he wanted to pursue (chemistry/pre-med), a chance to play NCAA Division I baseball and knowledgeable coaching staff, including head coach Bobby Pierce and assistant Grant Birely. After committing, he received a Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship which pays full in-state tuition.

“Coach Pierce and Coach Birely are great men and great coaches in my opinion,” says Fenimore. “I have learned many things from many different coaches during my career from my dad teaching me since I was a little kid to all the college coaches that we both took things from as I was growing up and going to different camps and clinics. “But, being with Coach Pierce and Coach Birely for four years, I have picked up a lot from them. The things that stick with me the most are bat control, early and late count rhythm, plate discipline, pitch calling and sequencing, situations and just how every ballplayer is different and some players need to do things different ways.

“I have nothing but respect for both of them and still enjoy leanring from them whenever I can be around them up there in Fort Wayne.”

Bruce Fenimore, a 1983 Rushville Consolidated graduate, played football and baseball at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute and is a civil engineer. Joni Fenimore, a 1984 Rushville Consolidated graduate played basketball for the school’s 1981 state runners-up and is a math teacher at RCHS.

Caleb is the oldest of four children. His sisters are Mariah (22), Hallie (16) and Alexis (15). Mariah is a former college soccer player now studying civil engineering as a Trine University senior. Junior Hallie and freshman Alexis attend Rushville Consolidated.

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Caleb Fenimore, a product of Rushville Consolidated High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, has played three baseball seasons in Germany with the Dohren Wild Farmers. This past summer, he was the No. 1 batter in Bundesliga Nord and International Baseball Community.  He has also played two winters with the Macarthur Orioles in Australia. (Georg Hoff Photos)

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Baseball passion rooted in family for Jay County’s Selvey

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Long after the last out, Lea Selvey can be found tending to a plot of land he knows very well.

Selvey drags, edges and waters until his favorite baseball field is just so.

After all, the game is in his blood and this diamond bears his father’s name.

As the spring of 2018 looms, Lea Selvey heads into his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jay County High School on the outskirts of Portland, Ind.

The Patriots play on Don E. Selvey Field — a facility built from scratch by its namesake with his building trades students after the school was opened in the mid-1970’s as part of a consolidation bringing together Bryant, Dunkirk, Pennville, Portland and Redkey.

Don Selvey started his baseball coaching career long before the IHSAA state tournament came along in 1967 and was a head baseball coach for the Green Township Tigers, Gray Redbirds and Redkey Wolves. Green Township became part of Monroe Central in 1958, Gray part of Redkey in 1965 and Redkey part of Jay County in 1975.

“Those are all trivia questions now,” says Lea Selvey, a member of the last Redkey graduating class in 1975 who served as Jay County assistant to Ted Habegger (who later served as the Patriots athletic director) before becoming head coach and employing his father as one of his assistants. “I truly have a passion for the game of baseball and come from a family that loves the game as well. The games themselves are a blast, but I truly  have enjoyed the friendships and stories that have been made due to the game.”

Selvey has welcomed the opportunity to work with students as a biology and health teacher and as a coach. Besides baseball, he has been a boys basketball assistant, girls basketball head coach and currently helps out with the cross country program.

I can be their coach and I can also be their mentor,” says Selvey. “I try to instill in the kids that hard work, effort and being an honest and upright person. We want to do things the right way and do them all the time. I want to be a first-class program with first-class people.

“I like to think it’s more than baseball. There’s life skills. Wins and losses take care of themselves. I really don’t worry about that too much.”

In his first 29 seasons as head coach, Selvey is 462-321 with six sectional titles (1987, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995 and 2007) and two regional crowns (1992 and 1993).

The first player Selvey sent to the NCAA Division I level was IHSBCA All-Star MVP Shannon Stigleman, who went to Purdue University. Hopes are high for Shannon’s son and current Jay County senior, Cole Stigleman.

During Selvey’s tenure, the Patriots have moved from the Classic Athletic Conference to the Olympic Athletic Conference and, after a few years as an independent, the Allen County Athletic Conference (which also includes Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan.).

ACAC teams play each other once during the season with games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some of the opponents on Jay County’s non-conference schedule are Wapahani, Norwell, Bellmont and Delta. The closest road game is across the Ohio line against Buckeye State powerhouse Coldwater.

Since class baseball became a reality in 1997-98, Jay County has gone back and forth between Class 4A and Class 3A. With a little over 1,000 students, the Pats are currently in 3A. Jay County lost to eventual sectional champion Yorktown in the semifinals of the 2017 Yorktown Sectional.

In 2018, Selvey’s team is in a sectional mix with Bellmont, Heritage, Marion, Mississinewa and Norwell.

The son of Don and Gladys Selvey has shared many of those moments with wife Denise and children Josh (29), Kristen (26) and Kyle (22).

Josh Selvey played a few seasons at Trine University and is now on his father’s coaching staff along with Pete Byrum and Todd Farr. Kristen Selvey is a Jay County cheerleader coach. Kyle Selvey is heading into his senior season as a shortstop at Huntington University.

Byrum played baseball at Indiana Tech. Farr was head baseball at Eastbrook last spring and served as a North assistant in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series — something Lea Selvey did in 2008 in South Bend and 2014 in Richmond with Kyle as one of the players.

“It’s just an honor,” says Selvey of coaching the all-stars. “You get to be around other kids. You get to know some of them even for that brief amount of time and then you follow them.”

The elder Selvey and Farr also coached the college team for the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers travel organization.

Kyle Selvey is a Sluggers alum and also played with the Portland Rockets, a team of current and former college and some ex-pros.

Lea Selvey served as IHSBCA president in the early 2000’s. He cherishes the chance he gets to talk baseball with coaches around the state.

“Our association is really one of the better ones in the nation,” says Selvey. “Its always been a very strong association and that’s come from the leadership.”

I remember when Bill Jones and Don Sherman took me under their wing a little bit,” says Selvey of coaches who helped shape the organization are part of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. “I’m very grateful to those guys.”

Except for college and his first teaching job, Lea Selvey has spent most of his life in Jay County. He first went to Ball State University then transferred to the University of Evansville and logged two seasons as a player — first for Bob Hodges.

“I just thought the world of that guy,” says Selvey of the brother of famed slugger Gil Hodges. He also played with the Purple Aces for Jim Brownlee.

Selvey taught  briefly at Frontier in White County before taking teaching job at East Jay Middle School and joining Habegger’s baseball staff. When Habegger retired from coaching, Selvey took his place.

And he’s been on the job at this special place ever since.

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Lea Selvey is heading into his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jay County High School in 2018. His Patriots play on Don E. Selvey Field — a facility named for his father.

 

Versatile VanMeter seeking opportunties in Reds organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Versatility is valued by the Cincinnati Reds.

That’s why they have Josh VanMeter playing multiple positions for the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

“I take more than one glove to the park everyday,” says VanMeter, a 2013 Norwell High School graduate who has played third base, left field and first base in his last 10 games and is listed on his MiLB.com profile as a second baseman. “It’s good for my career to play many different spots. I’ve definitely enjoyed it.”

Dick Schofield, a former major league shortstop, is Pensacola’s defensive and third base coach and has helped VanMeter with positioning and attacking the ball.

While guiding Pensacola into a Southern League playoff berth, Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly has continued to get at-bats for lefty-swinging VanMeter.

“(Kelly) likes the way I go about my business,” says VanMeter, a 5-foot-11, 165-pounder. “I’m a guy who plays the game the right way. I give you competitive at-bats day in and day out.

“Show up and compete. That’s a big thing in the game of baseball.”

In his first 125 games and 451 at-bats at Double-A, VanMeter was hitting .264 with five home runs, one triple, 29 doubles, 52 runs batted in, 45 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.

With Gookie Dawkins as his hitting coach, VanMeter says he is improving his knowledge of the strike zone.

“You learn to lay off the tough pitches, especially with two strikes,” says VanMeter, 22. “It’s about not missing good pitches to hit.”

VanMeter was traded by the San Diego Padres to the Reds organization Dec. 9, 2016 and was told by agent Joe Speed how that would increase his opportunities. He was selected by San Diego in the fifth round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He had committed to play at Illinois State University, but decided to go pro and signed with area scout Mark Conner (now director of scouting for the Padres).

“The opportunity to go straight into pro baseball was something I couldn’t pass up,” says VanMeter. “I thought I was mentally ready to play baseball everyday

“I promised my mom after I got drafted I would someday get my degree.”

Josh is the middle child of Greg and Amy VanMeter. Older brother Tyler played high school soccer. Younger sister Carlie was a cheerleader at Norwell and is now on the cheer squad at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne.

After closing his record-setting Norwell career with a Class 3A Indiana state championship, Josh VanMeter played for the Arizona League Padres that summer before spending all of 2014 with the Low Class-A Fort Wayne TinCaps.

In April 2015, VanMeter suffered a leg injury while turning a double play at second base. Playing at Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field, he collided with Lansing Lugnuts runner Rowdy Tellez. The result was a broken left fibula and months of grueling physical rehabilitation.

VanMeter walked on an aqua treadmill with the water level lowered every two days. He underwent painful deep tissue massage stop the build-up scar tissue. He did end up playing 25 games in Fort Wayne in 2015 before moving on to High Class-A Lake Elsinore then Double-A San Antonio as well as the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

He split his time between second base and shortstop in 2013 and 2014, played second base in 2015 and was a third baseman in 2016.

So popular was VanMeter — the first player from northeast Indiana to play for the TinCaps — that president Mike Nutter decided to honor the player with his own bobblehead.

“It was pretty special,” says VanMeter. “Pat Kelly made a big deal about it in spring training. Getting to play in Fort Wayne was special that year and a half.”

VanMeter played travel baseball from 2007-12 with the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers, playing for father Greg (now Sluggers president) and diamond veteran Mark Delalarza.

“That was a great experience,” says Josh VanMeter. “(Delagarza) had a huge impact on me. He taught me to be a man and made me the player I am today. I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world.”

Josh’s profile in the baseball universe raised with his MVP performance while playing fall ball for the Andy Slack-coached Reds Midwest Scout Team at the Perfect Game Kernels Foundation tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2012.

Playing for coach Andy McClain at Norwell, three-time all-stater VanMeter set school records for career doubles (44) and single-season pitching wins (14) and walks (41) while tying for single-season home runs (9) in 2013 and single-season hits (53) and doubles (20) in 2011. The win record had been held by Jarrod Parker, who went on to pitch in the big leagues.

“(McClain) is always there for me,” says VanMeter. “He’s just a great person. He has held me accountable.”

During the state title run, VanMeter saw how McClain handled a team featuring 10 seniors.

“We knew what we had to do to win a state championship,” says VanMeter, who scored both runs on hits by Jonah Patten in a 2-1 win against Jasper. “He gave us a lot of freedom and that was good for us.”

With VanMeter at point guard, Norwell was a 3A basketball state runner-up in 2012. He went on to become a school record holder for 3-pointers, No. 2 in all-time scoring and third in assists.

“High school with him was a lot of fun,” says Greg VanMeter, who was calling much of action on the internet for www.wellscountyvoice.com. The site covers Knights football, boys basketball, girls basketball and baseball games.

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Josh VanMeter, a 2013 Norwell High School graduate, is in his first season in the Cincinnati Reds organization with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in 2017. (Barrett McClean/Pensacola Blue Wahoos Photo)

Hershberger pouring baseball passion into new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Twice in a lifetime.

Lance Hershberger is starting another college baseball program in his native Fort Wayne.

Hershberger, who turns 62 Friday, June 9, built the Indiana Tech program from the ground up (1991-2003) and took the Warriors to multiple NAIA College World Series trips.

Now, Hershberger is heading up the new squad at Ivy Tech Northeast — the third community college baseball program in Indiana, following Vincennes University and Ancilla College. It also brings the number of Indiana college programs at all levels to 36.

Hershberger and his assistants — Connor Wilkins, Dru Sebastian, Todd Armstrong and and Mark Delagarza — are currently on the recruiting trail for the Ivy Tech Northeast Titans, which will field a team in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II in 2017-18. Teams are allowed to play 56 spring games with more contests in the fall.

Hershberger would like to carry about a 25 players the first year. That’s a minimum of four outfielders, three middle infielders, four corner infielders, three of four catchers and as many pitchers as he can get.

“If we get 100 kids in here for visits, we’ll meet our 25,” says Hershberger. “The excitement level’s there.”

As an NJCAA D-II school, Ivy Tech Northeast is eligible to provide athletic scholarships limited to tuition, books, fees, and course required supplies. The school is researching the possibility of joining a conference in the region.

Hershberger, who was inducted last weekend into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame and coaches the Summit City Sluggers 16U travel team which includes son Grant (daughter Maddie just graduated from Homestead High School), is educating folks about community college baseball.

“I think there’s really a place for a JUCO here in northern Indiana,” says Hershberger. “In Indiana there’s a big void of knowledge about junior college. A lot of players think it’s a step down (from NCAA Divisions I, II and II and NAIA).

“You go south and you go west and they understand what they’re about.”

Hershberger, a Wawasee Prepatory School and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne graduate (he also attended the University of Saint Francis) who has also coached high school ball at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Whitko and with the Wildcat Baseball League, lists some of the main reasons a player chooses a junior college:

1. His grades weren’t good enough to go to a four-year school.

2. Maybe he was drafted and didn’t get the round or the money he wanted and doesn’t want to wait until after his junior year to get drafted again.

3. He’s not big enough yet or needs to work on his skills.

The top two objectives when Hershberger was flying high at Indiana Tech were compete for the national championships (during Hershberger’s tenure, the Warriors won 407 games and were NAIA World Series runner-up in 1998 and a fifth-place finisher in 2003 as well as a World Series participant in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 ) and send players on to the professional ranks.

While winning is important, development and getting a player ready for the next level will be the top priorities at Ivy Tech Northeast.

“Every program I run or am coaching for is going to compete we want to win,” says Hershbeger. “But we’re going to get kids ready.”

Hershberger (Kansas City Kansas), Wilkins (Jackson of Michigan) and Sebastian (Owens of Ohio) all played community college baseball. Hershberger is excited that Ivy Tech Northeast chancellor Jerrilee Mosier once worked at Allen Community College in Iola, Kan., which is in the same conference at KCK.

“She gets it,” says Hershberger of Mosier. “She knows what it takes.

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right or I’m not in. You can be a great coach at the college level, but if you don’t have the resources to get players it doesn’t matter.”

State Representative Bob Morris has also helped make baseball at Ivy Tech Northeast a reality.

Hershberger notes all the ties to northeast Indiana with the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College team that won the 2017 NJCAA Division II World Series.

Assistant coach Bryce Shafer (Northfield High School) played for the Sluggers, Valparaiso University and in the Chicago Cubs organization. KCC’s 2017 roster included Logan Gallaway (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Noah Hoeffel (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Devin Peters (Churubusco), Pancho Luevano (West Noble), Waylon Richardson (West Noble) and Brennan Kelly (Southwood) plus Indiana products Benjamin Clevenger (Carmel) and Caleb Matthews (RoncallIi).

“We hope to keep some of (the local talent) home,” says Hershberger, “We would eventually like to recruit nationally, but I don’t think we can every forget that we are a community college.”

The NCAA D-I College World Series is slated for June 17-27/28. Hershberger promises that the eight teams in Omaha will have rosters with plenty of players from junior colleges.

Hershberger signed on at Indiana Tech in late July, meaning that it was too late in the recruiting cycle to bring in much talent and the first squad went 0-23.

“I think it better positioned starting out than Indiana Tech was,” says Hershberger. “People find that hard to believe because they look at the stadium down there (at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Anthony Road) which I designed. They see the end product.”

All that happened over time. When Indiana Tech was national runners-up in 1998, the Warrior Field had one set of bleachers behind a chain link backstop (most fans sat on the berm), wooden bleachers and the “press box” was a card table with scoreboard controller.

“There’s going to be bumps,” says Hershberger of the Ivy Tech Northeast program. “There’s going to be naysayers. Indiana Tech was the same way.

“(Baseball) put vibrancy into that school. We’re hoping to do it again.”

As he does with all his other baseball ventures, Hershberger is bringing passion and “ridiculous attention to detail.”

He has already been checking on the facilities at Ivy Tech Northeast’s North and South campuses, picked out “old school” green and white uniform designs, met with planners on a baseball stadium (the Titans are likely to play home games at Shoaff Park until a field can be constructed on the north campus behind the Innovation Center on Stellhorn Road), talked with local patrons about funding and on and on.

“I’m really busy,” says Hershberger. “I’m really tired. But it’s a good tired. I’m really fulfilling what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m involved in all kinds of baseball stuff in Fort Wayne.

“It’s what I do. I’m a baseball coach, a baseball guy.”

Besides getting Ivy Tech baseball up and running, he’s also the executive director of Community Impact Zone, a non-profit organization that is partnering with groups like Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana and the Euell Wilson Center bring the game to intercity kids at Fort Wayne’s Strike Zone Training Center, 4141 N. Clinton.

Ivy Tech will also do its indoor workouts at the facility.

“It’s a been a dream of mine for a long time, this urban initiative,” says Hershberger. “I don’t want to walk away from it right when I’m finally getting it going. I don’t want kids to limit their options or their horizons. I want them to look at baseball as a viable option for college and beyond.

Many area high schools have already volunteered to the Community Impact Zone instructors.

Hershberger is working with urban leaders to get young adults from the community to observe his coaches so they can take knowledge back to their neighborhoods and maybe rejuvenate local youth leagues.

“I love teaching the game,” says Hershberger.

He does that for players from college age on down to kindergartners.

Baseball. It’s what he does.

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Lance Hershberger has been involved in many baseball ventures in his hometown of Fort Wayne in his 62 years. The latest include the new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program along with Community Impact Zone. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Getting players ready for next level what it’s all about for Delagarza, Summit City Sluggers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Mark Delagarza sees it, there are two paths for travel baseball organizations.

Some like the game but are not that intense about it. To Delagarza, that describes 80 percent of Indiana teams.

The rest are serious about competition and learning.

“I’m in that 20 percent,” says Delagarza, who founded the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. “We try to do things right and develop players.”

Among the many alumni to play in college or beyond are major leaguers Kevin Kiermaier and Jarrod Parker.

Delagarza, who runs the Sluggers with Greg VanMeter and Steve Devine, says there are three reasons that players are in summer baseball — they want to get to the next level; they wish to get better; or they play because their parents say they must get a job if they don’t.

“I can deal with two out of the three,” says Delagarza.

At 57, Delagarza has been involved with baseball as a player or coach since age 10. He moved from Janesville, Wis., to Fort Wayne to follow his career at General Motors. He was with GM for 33 years.

Besides the Sluggers, he has been a high school head coach at Southern Wells and an assistant at Norwell (where sons Nick and Andy played) and Columbia City as well as an assistant at Manchester University. He has also led the Twins Scout teams in fall baseball and has served as an associate scout for the Minnesota Twins (he still counts supervisor Bill Milos as a good friend in the game) and New York Mets.

The Sluggers started with one team and moved from 12U to 18U as Andy Delagarza and his teammates got older. When Andy went on to college baseball (at Coastal Carolina), Mark was approached about keeping it going and Summit City hit the re-set button at 15U.

Eventually, younger squads were added to a growing group and the emphasis continued to be getting players ready for college ball.

“Five or six years ago, I realized that kids stay committed to the same (travel ball) program,” says Delagarza. “If you don’t get them when they’re young, you might not get them at all.”

Today, the Sluggers field seven squads (12U, 13U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and College). Younger teams are just beginning their season of 45 to 60 games with older squads joining in for about 40 contests as the high school and college seasons are concluding.

Why so many games?

“It’s a necessary thing,” says Delagarza. “Kids don’t know how to play unless they play. They need to play to learn the game. You don’t hear people say you’re doing too many math or spelling problems.

“In Indiana, we can’t play too much.”

With games at Huntington University, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan, Manchester and Saint Francis, college squads play in the Indiana Summer Collegiate League (other squads for 2017 are to be the Kekiongas, Panthers and Flippin’ Frogs). The league offers no housing and is made up mostly of area athletes. Cost is $500 per player.

Fees can be defrayed for other players with optional monthly fundraisers.

Summit City winds up the season in late July and holds tryouts for the next season in August at Homier Park in Huntington (site of the Sluggers’ Standing Up To Cancer Tournament for ages U9 to U14 June 9-11).

“If we wait until September or October, other organizations take the players,” says Delagarza. “We’ll play games every weekend in September.”

For older teams, many of those games are against collegiate squads.

“It challenges them and gives them the chance to see how good college players are,” says Delagarza. “We’re trying to educate them. But we spend most of time educating parents. I tell those going on spring break to get off the beach and go see a college baseball game (to see what it’s all about).”

During the fall and winter, the Sluggers train at a facility in Huntington.

Delagarza coaches the 15U team. Other current Summit City head coaches are Mark Fisher (12U), Brent Alwine (13U), Matt Stidam (14U), Lance Hershberger (16U), Todd Armstrong (17U) and Lea Selvey (College).

Finding the ones Delagarza wants is not always easy. He has found that many high school coaches are tired at the end of their seasons and don’t wish to coach in the summer and fall.

“It’s trying,” says Delagarza. “I don’t like dads coaching. I like skilled coaches with knowledge.”

If Delagarza had his way, summer baseball needs more direction. One place to start is to have divisions so that top level teams would not be grouped with lower ones at tournaments.

“We’re under the same umbrella and it’s all watered down,” says Delagarza. “These dad teams should be in house ball. I don’t mean to sound arrogant.

“We beat someone 22-1 and it does no one any good. That doesn’t help develop a player. The only way to fix it is to have major tournament directors filter the teams they bring in.”

Delagarza would like to see more league play where there is time for pregame and postgame routines.

He wishes Indiana would return to more games where younger teams don’t play on high school/college-sized fields before the players are ready, which to him means 15U. That usually means the mound is at 54 feet from the plate and the bases 80 feet apart (as opposed to 60 feet, 6 inches and 90 feet).

Since pitchers have a tough time throwing strikes at the longer distance, games tend to be very slow.

Delagarza notes that son Andy did not throw a breaking ball until his junior year at Norwell and advises young pitchers to do the same, getting hitters out with location and by changing speeds.

“Fill the strike zone with fastballs on both sides of the plate and see what happens,” says Delagarza.

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Mark Delagarza (shown when coaching for Manchester University) started the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. The Fort Wayne-based organization plans to field seven teams in 2017.

Norwell’s McClain passing along work ethic, enthusiasm

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy McClain is part of a chain.

McClain has connected with people along his baseball journey and intends to do his part to keep the links coming.

Entering his 26th season as a high school coach in Indiana in 2017, including his 11th as head coach, McClain counts it a privilege to have played for and coached under Bill Tutterow at Martinsville High School and formed so many relationships and friendships through the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.

“I’ve got to meet a lot of great coaches through the years,” says McClain, the longtime emcee at the annual IHSBCA State Clinic who his also going into his fifth season as Norwell head coach. “It’s my responsibility to pass along what I know to the other young guys.”

McClain will be sharing things he absorbed from IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tutterow, who passed away in 2015.

“He was a big mentor,” says McClain. “He really taught me the game.”

Tutterow showed McClain what it meant to work hard and be competitive and enthusiastic and those qualities have been hallmarks at each of his stops.

“I love baseball and I love the kids who play it,” says McClain. “It’s fun to work with them and grind things out. Whether you’re a player, husband or father, I show them that hard work is going to pay off for you.

“I’m still enthusiastic about it and my kids feed off that a little bit.”

Norwell has won 15 sectionals, six regionals, three semistates and three state championships as a program. In his first four seasons, McClain helped contribute two sectionals, one regional, one semistate and one state title. But for him, it is about the young men on the diamond and not the man making out the lineup.

“Don’t think you know it all and don’t let your ego get in the way,” says McClain. “Put the game and the kids before yourself.”

McClain played at Manchester University and was a part of Tutterow’s staff for eight seasons — the last seven being semistate appearances for the Artesians.

LaVille High School presented an opportunity to be a head coach and McClain served the Lancers in that capacity for three years while also soaking up plenty of diamond knowledge from another Hall of Famer as an instructor at the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp.

McClain returned to central Indiana at Indianapolis Arlington, where he worked for three seasons — the last as head coach.

Brebeuf was McClain’s baseball home for seven years, the last two as head coach. In his final season of 2012, the Braves lost 8-1 to Western in the IHSAA Class 3A championship game.

At that point, McClain was planning to join John Zangrilli’s staff at Zionsville. But when Zangrilli left the Eagles (he is now pitching coach at Carmel) and Kelby Weybright stepped down as head coach at Norwell, the Knights hired McClain to run the show.

“Coach Weybright started this program on the right track,” says McClain. “It was an easy mesh. He’s a mentor.”

Weybright now serves as a vice principal at Norwell. Junior Garrett Weybright, Kelby’s son, is expected to be the starting second baseman for the Knights this spring.

With Kelby Weybright as head baseball coach, Norwell won two 3A state titles (beating New Palestine 3-1 in eight innings in 2003 and topping Evansville Mater Dei 5-0 in 2007) and was a 3A state runner-up (losing 13-13 to Jasper in 2006).

In McClain’s first season as Knights head coach, San Diego Padres minor league-to-be Josh VanMeter (14-1) bested L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner Nick Gobert (9-1) in a pitchers’ dual and Norwell edged Jasper 2-1 for the 3A title.

“(VanMeter) is an incredible leader,” says McClain of a player who won more games on the mound as a Norwell senior than future Major League Baseball pitcher Jarrod Parker before going pro as a middle infielder. “He’s one of those kids who is talented but also works hard.

“It was an honor and pure coincidence that the Padres drafted him and he got to spend that time in Fort Wayne (with the low Class-A Midwest League’s TinCaps in 2014 and 2015).”

Thanks to a trade following the 2016 season, VanMeter is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization.

Jasper head coach Terry Gobert, another IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is among McClain’s many mentors.

“He’s just a class act,” says McClain of the man who has earned five state crowns with the Wildcats. “When I was at Martinsville, Coach Gobert owned us.”

McClain prefers a small coaching staff. He has assistants at Norwell — Dave Goodmiller (pitching) and Jamie Feldheiser (junior varsity).

In looking at the new pitch count rule for 2017, Goodmiller and McClain went back over 2016 games and found out they would never have violated it even one time.

“It’s a lot of common sense and good things for pitchers,” says McClain of the limits put in place for the health and safety of young athletes. “I don’t see it as a hinderance or a problem.”

He has noticed a few schools have canceled JV games, fearing they might rack up too many total pitches.

“I would hope schools would let it run its course for a year,” says McClain.

Feldheiser was a senior pitcher/third baseman on the 2006 Knights team.

“You can have too many voices,” says McClain. “That hurts kids more than it helps them.”

When McClain went to northeastern Indiana, he also quickly formed a baseball bond with Mark DeLaGarza, founder of the Summit City Sluggers travel baseball organization. McClain knows that many players from the ’13 state championship team at Norwell enjoyed plenty of travel baseball success with the Sluggers the previous summer.

I joined them and I have an understanding of their organization,” says McClain. “If (a travel baseball group is) trying to help kids and promote the game, let’s figure out how we can do it together.”

McClain, who had coached summer collegiate players in Indianapolis, has been doing the same for the Sluggers the past few summers in a league that has also included the Fort Wayne Panthers, Northeast Kekiongas and Twin City Bankers.

Norwell plays in the Northeast Eight Conference. The schedule calls for the Knights to meet each other NE8 member — Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo and New Haven — one time each.

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Andy McClain (right) and Josh VanMeter won a state championship at Norwell High School in 2013. (Norwell Photo)

Hisner’s been a hit in decade at Whitko

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plate discipline is something Erik Hisner carried into the batter’s box with him as a player and it’s a concept he teaches his hitters as head baseball coach at Whitko High School.

“We talk a lot about being selectively aggressive,” says Hisner, who enters his 11th season with the Wildcats in 2017. “I want guys to be aggressive on fastballs early in the count if it’s their pitch. The times we’ve gotten in trouble we’ve been almost passive.

“Understanding (baseball) situations is something we continue to work on.”

Whitko, which has moved from Class 3A to 2A, shared the Three Rivers Conference title in 2016 and have been state-ranked in recent seasons. The Wildcats advanced to the sectional championship game for only the second time in program history in 2009.

Hisner, who still holds career offensive records he set at Goshen College where he was a one-time NAIA All-American and NAIA all-region honorable mention selection and three-time all-conference pick from 2002-05 (.419 average, 211 hits, 161 runs batted in, 85 walks), comes from a baseball family.

Grandfather Harley Hisner played in the Boston Red Sox organization. His claim to fame is one mound start in the final game of the 1951 season against the New York Yankees. Harley struck out Mickey Mantle twice and gave up Joe DiMaggio’s last regular-season major league hit (a single). Harley appears in “Once Around The Bases (Triumph Books, 1998).”

Red Sox slugger and Hall of Famer Ted Williams and his “The Science of Hitting” book were respected in the Hisner household and those ideas were passed down to Harley’s son, Randy, who went on to play college baseball and coached his sons — Erik, Ryan, Shane and Gavin — at the Little League, Sandy Koufax or high school level.

In 2015, father and sons played on the same Fort Wayne-based adult league team managed by Erik.

The Hisners are also a family of educators. Randy teaches English at Bellmont High School (where he is also head boys cross country coach). Mother Cheryl teaches first grade at Southeast Elementary School in Decatur.

Erik, 34, is a 2001 Bellmont graduate. He represented the Braves in baseball and basketball four years and tennis for two. On the diamond, his senior year featured conference and sectional championships along with all-conference, all-state and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star honors. He began his teaching career in Fort Wayne and now is a physical education instructor and athletic director at Whitko Middle School.

Ryan, 33, teaches science at Adams Central Senior-Junior High School (where is also an assistant track coach).

Shane, 28, teaches English at Japan.

Gavin, 26, teaches social studies at Bellmont (where is also an assistant boys cross country and track coach).

Besides his father, Erik Hisner also counts his college coaches — Brent Hoober and Jayson Best — among those who taught him the game.

“(Hoober) taught me how to structure and put your program together,” says Hisner of the man who was his head coach his first three collegiate seasons. “He was really good at letting guys play and not over-coaching. He wasn’t a micro-manager with players.

“Sometimes us coaches have to bite our tongue.”

Hisner said he learned much from conversations with Best, who went from pitching coach to head coach at GC in Hisner’s senior year.

“I learned how to manage a game and the the little things that go into it,” says Hisner. “I learned about thinking one or two plays or one or two batters ahead. (Best) played professional ball and had a lot of good stories and insight.”

Hisner was an assistant in Josh Keister’s first season as Maple Leafs head coach in 2006 and was going to be an assistant at Fort Wayne Northrop when the opportunity came up at Whitko.

Having been involved in his fall camps for a few years and because he knew his grandfather, IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bill Jones went to bat for the young Hisner.

“He got my foot in the door” says Hisner.

Two days after taking the job leading into the 2007 season, Hisner found himself among top Indiana baseball minds. There was (Hall of Famers) Jones, Chris Stavretti, Jack Massucci, Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber.

“You talk about the legends of Indiana high school baseball,” says Hisner. “It was like a $25 clinic at a facility in Fort Wayne. You can’t miss that one.”

Hisner has made many connections in the IHSBCA. Former Churubusco coach Mark Grove among his best friends in the profession.

Since Hisner did not have the benefit of an off-season when he started at Whitko, his focus was staying positive and working on a few little things.

“I’m a hitting guy so we talked a lot about approach,” says Hisner. “We’d make sure we knew what we were looking for in certain counts.”

While Whitko had been winless the previous season, it was not as grim as it seemed. The Wildcats had learned plenty of baseball from Lance Hershberger and those players were back to greet Hisner.

“(Hershberger) did a good job here.” says Hisner. “It wasn’t as bad a situation as the numbers might say. It wasn’t a situation where I had to come in a teach them how to throw and lead off.

“The thing about that year is I actually learned a lot from he kids by watching them play. To play for Lance, you’ve got to be pretty tough and pay attention to detail.”

The first Whitko win that season, snapping a long losing skid, was a one-run game against Heritage. Coach Dean Lehrman’s Patriots went on to be Class 2A state runners-up to South Spencer.

After that first year, Whitko took pride in its off-season work. The Wildcats played 25 to 30 games each summer in Hisner’s first few seasons.

“We got that family feel,” says Hisner. “We were kind of in the trenches together. It was nothing fancy. We just played a lot of baseball and got them experience.”

The evolution of travel baseball has limited or helped eliminate summer schedules at many high schools and the number of summer games for the Wildcats has dropped to 15 or 20, but still sees it as a good way to develop players.

Some get a chance to play travel ball and Hisner is all for it if it’s going to benefit the player.

“My parents have been pretty good about asking questions and making sure its a good fit,” says Hisner. “We’ve had good luck with teams like the Indiana Chargers, Summit City Sluggers and others who are doing it for the right reasons. It’s about development and not just playing games.”

Hisner’s coaching staff for 2017 features Travis Bradford, Mark Fisher, Tim Planck, James Stoddard and Seth Patrick. Bradford is a Whitko graduate and former Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne hurler, is the pitching coach. Stoddard and Patrick played for Hisner at Whitko.

“(Patrick) is probably the smartest player I ever coached,” says Hisner of the former Wildcats catcher. “We didn’t call the pitches when he was (a player) here.

“He was one of those program guys, a scrapper type.”

Baseball has long been a strength in the Three Rivers Conference (now containing 10 members), which has produced state champions (Wabash in 1986, Northfield in 2001 and 2012, Manchester in 2002) and a state runners-up (Northfield in 2013).

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Erik Hisner enters his 11th season as head baseball coach at Whitko High School in 2017.

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The Hisners (from left): Shane, Ryan, Randy, Gavin and Erik.