Tag Archives: Summit City Sluggers

Reds’ VanMeter talks about hitting approach, intangibles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh VanMeter has morphed as a hitter.

From his days growing up in Ossian, Ind., playing travel baseball for the Summit City Sluggers and then his progression from Norwell High School to minor leaguer to big leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds, VanMeter has experienced change.

The 24-year-old shared his knowledge Sunday, Dec. 1 as the lead-off speaker for the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics hosted by new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger, who coached VanMeter as a youngster.

“My view on hitting has changed so much throughout my career, my life, whatever,” says VanMeter, who made his Major League Baseball debut May 5, 2019 and hit .237 with eight home runs and 23 runs batted in over 95 games with the Reds. “I don’t hit the same now as I did when I was 12. I don’t hit the same now as I did when I was in high school or even two years ago when I was in the minor leagues.”

VanMeter gave advice to hitters around 12.

“Just want to build a solid foundation, work from the ground up and really focus on contact,” says VanMeter. “You want to get a good base, be short to the ball and get the barrel to the ball. Keep it really simple the younger you are.”

VanMeter says things begin to change in the early teens. That’s when hitters can begin to driving the ball and not just making contact.

“A lot of it is dependent on what your physicality is,” says VanMeter. “I was small (5-foot-7 and around 120 pounds at 15), but I had a really good foundation to build on.”

VanMeter, who turns 25 March 10, 2020, says that at the highest levels of the game, it is important to get the ball in the air to produce runs.

“For a lot of youth players and youth coaches that can get misinterpreted,” says VanMeter. “When I talk about getting the ball in the air it’s not about hitting a pop-up. You want to drive the ball in the air.

“You get to a certain age and balls on the ground are outs for the most part.”

At younger ages, players with speed are often encouraged to hit the ball on the ground to beat the throw to first or hope for an error by the defense.

“That’s a really bad skill set because it’s really hard to break habits the older you get,” says VanMeter. “If by the time you get to high school all you do is hit ground balls, you’re not going to have a lot of success.

“It’s really hard to break that pattern of what you’ve been doing the last three to four years.”

When giving lessons, VanMeter has even been known to make his hitters do push-ups when they hit grounders in the batting cage.

VanMeter says he does not pretend that he has hitting around figured out, but he does have core principles.

At an early age, he worked at his craft.

“I spent a lot of time trying to get better at hitting,” says VanMeter. “I spent a lot of time in the cage.”

VanMeter notes that when it comes to cage work, tees are for mechanics and flips or batting practice is for things like game situations, timing, and pitch recognition.

“If you struggle hitting off the tee, you need to make some mechanical changes,” says VanMeter. “The ball ain’t moving.

“You should be really good at hitting the ball off the tee.”

VanMeter, who was selected by the San Diego Padres in the fifth round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Norwell, changed his swing two off-seasons ago after having essentially the same approach for more than a decade.

“Coming up through high school and my first few years in the minor leagues, I was a big bat-to-ball guy,” says VanMeter. “I was steep in the (strike) zone. I was really only concentrating on getting the barrel to the ball because that’s what I was taught growing up.

“Obviously, it worked for me.”

VanMeter has learned to hit the ball out front and put it in the air pull-side.

“The best hitters pull the ball 70 percent of the time,” says VanMeter, who rejects the idea that hitters must go to the opposite field. “Youth hitters are behind the 8-ball when they get to college or into professional baseball. They don’t know how to pull the ball. It’s been drilled into the their head. They’ve got to hit the ball the other way.

“There are not many guys unless they are (New York Yankees slugger) Aaron Judge who can consistently hit home runs to the opposite field gap. You’ve got to learn to pull the ball first before you learn to hit the ball the other way.

“Pulling the ball is not hitting duck hooks down the third base line. It’s hitting a back spin ball into the left-center gap if I’m a right-handed hitter. For a left-handed hitter, it’s the right-center gap. That’s where the damage is going to be done.”

The pitch that’s down and away in the zone is hard to pull. That’s a pitcher’s pitch. Moving closer to the plate will bring that pitch closer to the hitter’s attack zone and the change to do damage.

“Damage is what makes you a good player,” says VanMeter. “It’s being able to produce runs.

“Baseball is all about producing runs and limiting runs. If you can do those two things, you’ll play for a long time.”

VanMeter advises youth players to get better at strike zone recognition and that starts in BP.

“You should only swing at strikes in the cage,” says VanMeter. “It’s not just swing the bat at every pitch.

“You need to take a breather. It’s not rapid fire.”

VanMeter recalls that he was 8 when a lesson taught to him by Sluggers founder Mark Delagarza.

“He said baseball is not a cardio sport,” says VanMeter. “You should not be getting your heart rate up when you’re swinging a bat.

“In my opinion, between every swing you should step out, take a deep breath and step back in just like a real game.”

Growing up, Josh spent countless hours taking cuts off his father, Greg VanMeter. And they weren’t all fastballs. There were also breaking balls and change-ups.

“We want to feel good, but at the end of the day, we have to challenge ourselves, too, to become better hitters,” says Van Meter. “You should treat BP more like a game.”

VanMeter says he can see MLB teams hiring independent pitchers to throw batting practice in simulated game situations.

To see pitches, recognize placement, spin and more, big league hitters often stand in during bullpen sessions.

“If we’re facing a guy with a really good breaking ball, I would go stand in on Trevor Bauer’s bullpen because all Trevor wants to throw is breaking balls,” says VanMeter. “You don’t even have to swing. You don’t even need a bat. All you’re doing is training your eyes.”

In recognizing the strike zone, the left-handed-hitting Van Meter splits home plate into thirds — outer, middle and inner.

“It’s about hunting an area in the zone that we want to attack,” says VanMeter. “It’s really hard to hit three pitches (fastball, breaking ball and change-up) in every zone.

“You can hit a fastball pretty much in any zone if you’re on fastball timing. But if (the pitcher) throws a breaking ball and I’m on a fastball , it’s going to be really hard to hit no matter what anybody says. Everybody says, ‘sit hard, you can adjust to soft.’ That’s not as easy as it sounds.

“Knowing the zones and knowing what you’re good at can be a really positive strength.”

VanMeter says that most high school pitchers command the zone away from the hitter.

“Knowing that, I’m going to sit out over the plate because it gives me the best chance to succeed,” says VanMeter. “The key to being a really good hitter is being able to sit out over the plate and take (the inside pitch) for a strike.”

Why?

Most will foul that pitch into their foot.

Having a plan when you go to the plate is another one of the biggest keys you can have,” says VanMeter. “You’ve got to be smart to be a hitter.

“It’s not dumb luck.”

The idea is to get into hitter’s counts (0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1) and avoid pitcher’s counts (0-1, 0-2, 1-2).

VanMeter did that often last spring with Triple-A Louisville. At the time he was called up in May, he was hitting .336 with 13 home runs, 31 RBI, 17 walks and 23 strikeouts. On April 29 in Toledo, he slugged three homers and drove in eight runs.

Up with the Reds, VanMeter began to learn the importance of being ready to hit the first pitch.

“I’ve always been a patient hitter,” says VanMeter. “I’m not a guy who’s afraid to take a strike or get to two strikes

“(Big league pitchers) are way to good for you to take a first-pitch cookie right down the middle. be ready to hit that first pitch. It’s all a mindset.”

VanMeter, who had smacked his first major league homer off St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas July 20 in Cincinnati, remembers a pre-game conversation with Cincinnati hitting coach Turner Ward on Aug. 31 with the Reds facing the Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha in the second game of a doubleheader in St. Louis.

“Why do I feel scared to make an out on the first pitch of an at-bat?,” says VanMeter, recalling his question to Ward.

He was told that the question was not stupid since VanMeter is an elite bat-to-ball hitter who regularly puts the ball in play, is good with two strikes and walks a fair amount.

“Sometimes you just have to choose your spot,” says VanMeter. “(I decided) I’m going to look for a fastball up in the zone (against Wacha) and I’m just going to swing. Sure enough, I get a fastball up and I hit it out of the park on the first pitch of the game.

“What hitting comes down to is giving yourself the best chance to succeed.”

VanMeter has come to make an “A” swing and avoid a “panic” swing.

“We want to get our best swing off every time we swing the bat — every time,” says VanMeter. “We don’t want to compromise our swing just to make contact.”

Taking a panic swing just to make contact can often be worse than missing the ball altogether. A hitter can be in a 1-0 count, get out over his front foot on a breaking ball and hit a weak dribbler to the right side.

“Now you’re taking a right turn back to the dugout,” says VanMeter. “You’ve got to train yourself to take your best swing every time no matter what.”

Hitters must commit to a plan and trust their swing.

“With those silly mistakes we make, we don’t really trust ourselves to get our best swing off and have a productive at-bat,” says VanMeter.

It also takes confidence, but this can’t be given.

VanMeter had a parent ask if he could give his kid confidence.

“No, I can’t funnel your kid confidence,” says VanMeter of his response. “Confidence comes from preparation.

“If you prepare, you’re going to be confident.”

What about a timing mechanism?

“Timing is not about getting your (front) foot down,” says VanMeter. “Your foot’s going to get down before you ever swing the bat. I’m never going to swing with my lead foot off the ground.

“When do I pick my foot off the ground? That’s the biggest thing. When you pick your foot off the ground, you’re going to go regardless.

“I pick my foot off the ground when the pitcher separates his hands. That all comes into sync. I want to make my forward move when his arm is starting to come forward.”

VanMeter now stands straight up and just goes forward, but knows that younger hitters need a lode as a way to generate power.

“Your legs will always be the strongest part of your body, but especially at that age,” says VanMeter. “High school kids are not in the weight room enough.”

As a professional, VanMeter goes against conventional wisdom and uses the straight bar bench press in his training.

“The less reps, the more weight the better,” says VanMeter. “I do two max effort days a week (build up to a one-rep max) and two dynamic effort days a week (more of a speed program).

“The only way you’re going to get stronger is by doing max effort work. You’re not going to get crazy strong by doing three sets of 12. That’s just not how it works. You’ve got to lift heavy to get strong.

“When it comes to baseball, you’ve got to train speed and power because that’s the kind of sport it is.

“My cardio is playing basketball. You’ll never see me on a treadmill or running sprints. Baseball is not a cardio sport. It’s a power sport. It’s a short-interval sport.

“The biggest measurement when it comes to running in baseball is can you get from first from the home on a double in the gap?”

Baseball players are graded by five tools — speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength.

But there is also a sixth tool — intangibles. The Reds saw that in VanMeter, who was drafted as a shortstop but has played second base, third base, left field, right field and first base in their system.

“It’s being a winning player, knowing the game, being a good teammate, being a good leader,” says VanMeter. “When you get to the big leagues, those things matter. In the minor leagues, it’s all about (the five) tools.”

This past year, VanMeter got to meet one of his idols — 10-year big leaguer and 2006 World Series MVP with the Cardinals David Eckstein — and asked him how he did what he did at 5-8, 165.

“I just grinded day in an day out,” says VanMeter of Eckstein’s response. “I was a good teammate. I was a winner.

“That’s what people want — winning players.”

HUNTINGTON NORTH HOT STOVE

At Huntington North H.S.

Sundays, 2:30-5 p.m.

(Free)

Remaining Speakers

Dec. 8 — Kip McWilliams (Outfield play); Dennis Kas (Infield Play/Fundamentals); Thad Frame & Donovan Clark (Baserunning)

Dec. 15 — Rich Dunno (King The Hill Trainer/Pitching Drills); Kip McWilliams (Team Drills/Championship Practice); Gary Rogers (TBD)

Dec. 22 — Dan Holcomb (TBD); Dennis Kas (Offensive Approach/Situational Hitting); Mark Flueckiger (Batting Practice with a Purpose)

Jan. 12 — Gary Gatchell (Hitting); Bret Shambaugh (Being Competitive on Game Day)

Jan. 19 — Tom Roy (Pitching/Mental … Calling a Game); Dr. Travis Frantz (Staying Healthy — Tips on Avoiding Injuries in Your Career)

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Josh VanMeter, a Norwell High School graduate, made his big league baseball debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2019. (Cincinnati Reds photo)

 

IHSBCA Hall of Fame 2020 class ballots due Oct. 31

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The ballot for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2020 has been sent to the membership.

Each year at the state clinic in January, the IHSBCA inducts five into its Hall of Fame — four by vote of the members and one through the veterans committee.

The ballot, which appears in the October 2019 IHSBCA newsletter, features Doug Greenlee, Mark Grove, Dean Lehrman, Gary Rogers, Lea Selvey, Tim Terry, Tony Uggen and Scott Upp as coaches and Brian Abbott, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Wallace Johnson, Ray Miller and James Robinson as players/contributors.

Greenlee, retired from Kankakee Valley, coached 28 seasons (25 at KV) with 503 victories, seven conference championships, three Indiana High School Athletic Association sectional titles and two regional crowns.

He was the 2013 IHSBCA North All-Star head coach, served on several IHSBCA committees and has served as athletic director for 16 years at four different high schools. He is currently AD at Greencastle.

Greenlee is a graduate of South Putnam High School (1977), Indiana State University (B.S., 1981) and Ball State University (M.A., 1985).

He officiated basketball for more 25 years and worked four State Finals. He coached nine IHSBCA North All-Stars and had numerous players go on to college baseball. Three times his KV teams were ranked No. 1 in the state.

Grove, retired from Churubusco, earned 513 wins, nine IHSAA sectional titles, four regional crowns and a 1995 semistate runner-up. His teams won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (four tournament titles) and two Allen County Athletic Conference crowns.

Grove sent 40 players on to college and one was drafted. He coached 25 all-staters, six IHSBCA North All-Stars and was District Coach of the Year several times.

A long-time IHSBCA member, he has served on several committees and is currently helping out at the state clinic registration table.

Grove has been a mentor to many coaches and is always a willing participant/organizer for clinics and youth baseball events.

He is a graduate of Bluffton High School and Ball State University.

Lehrman, head coach at Heritage for the past 33 years after nine at Woodlan, has posted 602 victories with 12 Allen County Athletic Conference championships, eight sectional title, three regional titles, one semistate crown, three Final Four appearances and state runner-up finish in 2007.

Lehrman is an eight-time ACAC Coach of the Year. He has also been an IHSBCA District Coach of the Year and twice served on the IHSBCA North All-Star coaching staff.

He coached football for 39 years and was head coach for six (40-26).

Dean and Janice Lehrman have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne — plus three grandchildren. Dean Lehrman teaches math at HHS.

Rogers, head coach at Leo the past two years after 32 at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, has 513 career wins. At Luers, his teams won four sectionals titles, one regional crown, one semistate championship and were state champions in 2008.

He was a State Coach of the Year in 2008 and was twice IHSBCA District Coach of the Year. He has served on numerous committees and is very active in the Fort Wayne baseball community. He has been a volunteer assistant at Indiana Tech for many seasons, worked with the Wildcat League for 33 years and serves on the board of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is a Hall of Fame member of that organization.

Rogers is a graduate of Merrillville High School and Huntington College (now Huntington University).

Selvey, head coach at Jay County the last 31 years after five years as a JC assistant, is 502-333 with seven sectional titles and three regional championships. He won five Olympic Conference titles and was that league’s coach of the year three times. The Patriots have also won one Allen County Athletic Conference title.

The graduate of Redkey High School and the University of Evansville with a Master’s degree from Ball State University has been very active with the IHSBA, serving as president, a regional representative, on numerous committees and was twice an assistant for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

Selvey has coached 14 All-Stars and many players who went on to college with three taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and two others playing professional baseball in independent leagues and overseas.

He has been involved in baseball in the community, starting the junior high program at Jay County. He has been active with the Summit City Sluggers for nine years.

Lea and Denise Selvey have three children — Josh, Kyle and Kristen — and teaches science at Jay County.

Terry, head coach at South Vermillion the past 38 years after one season at Turkey Run, is 605-357 with nine Wabash River Conference titles, eight sectional championships and one regional crown. He has won 20-plus games 10 times, coached six IHSBCA All-Stars, been named District Coach of the Year twice and served as North/South All-Star Series coach and participated in numerous IHSBCA committees.

Terry is a 1973 graduate of Clinton High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball. He received his B.S. from Indiana State University in 1978 and M.S. from ISU in 1982.

Terry has helped with Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth and American Legion teams.

He coached girls basketball at South Vermillion for 34 years with two conference titles, five sectionals and 295 wins.

Currently the South Vermillion athletic director, Tim has been married for 23 years to Kim (SVHS Science teacher). The couple has four sons — T.J. (22), Canton (20), Cooper (18) and Easton (14).

Uggen, head coach at Blackford the past six years after 20 at Northfield, has 476 victories, 13 conference titles, seven sectional championships, four regional crowns, two semistate titles, Class 2A state championships in 2001 and 2012 and a 2A state runner-up finish in 2013.

He has coached six IHSBCA North All-Stars, 15 all-state players and 20 have gone on to the next level.

A two-time 2A Coach of the Year, he was IHSBCA North All-Star head coach in 2006 and seven times a District Coach of the Year. He has served on several IHSBCA committees.

Tony and Lisa Uggen have five children — Stephanie, Christian, Brandon, Brendan and Elly. After teaching for 11 years, he served the past 16 as athletic director.

Upp, head coach at LaPorte the past 21.5 years, is 472-197 with five Duneland Athletic Conference titles, eight sectional championships, three regional crowns, two Final Four appearances and one state championship in 2000.

He is a six-time IHSBCA District Coach of the Year, the State Coach of the Year, and District 4 National Coach of the Year. He has been IHSBCA president and served on its board of directors and numerous committees. He is a member of the IHSBCA, American Baseball Coaches Association and National High School Baseball Coaches Association.

Upp coached the 1997 IHSBCA North All-Stars and has sent several players on the college baseball with four making it to the professional ranks.

A graduate of LaPorte, where he played and later coached with 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber, played at and earned his bachelors degree from Missouri State University. He has a Masters in Administration from Indiana University and is in his 28th year in education, currently serving as associate principal at LPHS.

Scott and Pam Upp have three sons — Kevin (who played baseball at Valparaiso University), Kyle (who played baseball at Purdue University) and Travis (who currently plays at Purdue Fort Wayne).

Abbott, IHSBCA executive director since 2012, spent 21 years as a high school coach, serving at Eastbrook and Huntington North. He amassed more than 300 wins, seven county championships, four conference titles, three sectional crowns, one regional title and a Final Four appearance in 1999.

He is also the pitching coach at Huntington University and has been on the baseball coaching staffs of Manchester University and Indiana Wesleyan University.

Barmes, a retired major league infielder/outfielder and graduate of Vincennes Lincoln High School (1997), played one season each at Olney (Ill.) Central College and Indiana State University, the latter for Hall of Fame coach Bob Warn.

While at ISU, Barmes was voted all-region and all-conference after hitting .375 with 93 hits, 10 home runs, 18 doubles, seven triples, 37 runs batted in, 63 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.

He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round in 2000. He played eight seasons with the Rockies (2003-10), one with the Houston Astros (2011), three with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2012-14) and one with the San Diego Padres (2015), hitting .245 with 89 homers, 415 RBI, 932 hits, 434 runs scored and 43 stolen bases.

Barmes appeared in the postseason twice (2009 and 2013) and hit .286 in the 2013 National League Division Series.

Clint and Summer Barmes have two children — Cole and Whitney.

Carroll, a retired major league infielder/outfielder and graduate of Castle High School (1992), played for Dave Sensenbrenner in high school and was an IHSBCA South All-Star as a senior. He played at the University of Evansville for coach Jim Brownlee, graduating in 1996 and earning All-American that same year. His name appears 27 times in the U of E’s baseball record book.

Carroll was chosen in the 14th round of the 1996 draft by the Montreal Expos and played 12 seasons in the the bigs with the Expos (2002-04), Washington Nationals (2005), Colorado Rockies (2006-07), Cleveland Indians (2008-09), Los Angeles Dodgers (2010-11), Minnesota Twins (2012-13) and Kansas City Royals (2013).

Some career numbers are: 16.6 WAR, 1,000 hits, 13 homers, .272 average, 560 runs scored, 265 RBI, 74 stolen base, .349 on-base percentage and .687 On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS).

Carroll scored the last run in Expos history, led National League second basemen in fielding percentage in 2006 and in 2007 he scored Matt Holliday with a sacrifice fly to win the NL Wild Card game.

He currently works in the front office for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year-old twins —  Cole and Mackenzie.

Johnson, a retired major league infielder/outfielder and graduate of Gary Roosevelt High School (1975) and Indiana State University (1979), also played for Sycamores legend Warn.

A co-captain on ISU’s first Missouri Valley Conference championship team and first squad to qualify for the NCAA postseason.

Johnson led the nation in hitting in 1979, hitting .502 for the regular season and .422 for his career.

He was selected in the sixth round of the 1979 draft by the Expos and was Florida State League MVP and a member of Triple-A championship teams in Denver (1981) and Indianapolis (1986).

Johnson played nine seasons in the MLB (1981-84, 1986-90) and is the Expos all-time leader in pinch hits (86). He hit .255 with five homers and 59 RBI in 428. He spent part of 1983 with the San Fransisco Giants and was also in the Oakland Athletics organization.

After his playing career, Johnson was a third base coach with the Chicago White Sox for five seasons.

Miller, an amateur baseball ambassador who died in 2017, managed the Portland Rockets for more than 30 years beginning in 1972 and won over 900 games with state titles in 1985, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

More than 30 former Rockets went into coaching at the high school or college ranks. In 2000, the team’s field was named Ray Miller Field and in 2002 he became the first inductee into the Indiana Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.

Robinson, a retired umpire of 35 years beginning in 1980, worked 33 sectionals, 25 regionals, 14 semistates and six State Finals. He umpired the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series six times times and was voted IHSAA Umpire of the Year on five occasions.

In 1994, Kokomo resident Robinson was elected to the National Federation Baseball Rules Committee and served 1995-98.

In 2002, he was named IHSAA/NFOA Baseball Official of the Year and was selected as the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year.

He has coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years.

The graduate of Wood High School in Indianapolis (where he played one year of baseball) and Indiana University of Kokomo has also been a high school and college football referee, working six years in NCAA Division II and seven in the D-I Mid-American Conference.

He became replay official for the MAC and moved to the Big Ten. He was relay official in the national championship game in 2014. That Rose Bowl featured Florida State and Auburn.

James and wife Nada (deceased) have one daughter, Chiquita, and one grandson, Kameron.

Voting deadline is Oct. 31.

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IHSBCALOGO

Flueckiger’s coaching path leads him to Huntington North Vikings baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Huntington North High School head baseball coach Mark Flueckiger has had the good fortune of being around many fertile coaching minds during his athletic days.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of great people in the sports world,” says Flueckiger. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

“You’re always learning something new from somebody.”

Flueckiger (pronounced FLICK-uh-ger) graduated in 1982 from South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., where he played for Bob Bridge in football, Kent Hoopingarner in basketball and Dean Stahly in baseball.

Bridge is in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. Stahly is in the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 1982 Starfires were state finalist, losing to eventual state runner-up Roncalli 1-0 in the semifinals.

“Flick” started out at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., where he was going to play football for Jim Law and wound up walking on the baseball team led by Larry Winterholter before transferring to Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) to be reunited with long-time friend and teammate Dave Neuenschwander (they played together from age 7 to 25, the latter years being with the Portland, Ind., Rockets) and to learn from Foresters coach Mike Frame. He played three years for Huntington and graduated in 1988.

While he was still in college, Flueckiger was a baseball assistant to Steve Rinker at Adams Central High School.

During his days in Sheridan, Ind., Flueckiger taught remedial English to seventh and eighth graders, American Literature to high schoolers and coached just about every sport and lapped up knowledge from Indiana Football Hall of Famer Larry “Bud” Wright for 11 years.

Flueckiger coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization for five years and worked with former Marian College coach Bret Shambaugh.

Among the Bulls players Fluekiger coached as 16-year-olds were futures pros Matt Mauck, Clint Barmes and Ryan Hutchison.

He then followed Shambaugh in 1996 to Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) as a volunteer pitching coach. It was during the transition from NAIA to NCAA and the team played all its games — 56 a year — on the road for two seasons. He also worked with Brian Donohew at IUPUI.

From there, Flueckiger went to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne and helped teams led by Lance Hershberger then Steve Devine.

Flueckiger was at Adams Central and Hershsberger at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger when they first coached against one another.

Matt Brumbaugh was a Tech assistant and had been shortstop at Huntington when Flueckiger was a player.

“You know how the coaching fraternity works,” says Flueckiger. “It’s one big brotherhood.

“It’s a circle that never ends.”

After four years with the Warriors, Flueckiger served on Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Frame’s staff for 14 years as a pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.

As a player, he learned discipline from Frame.

“I was not the best player in terms of showing respect to my opponents and he had to teach me how to do that,” says Flueckiger. “I thank him for every day he spit it my face or yelled at me because he did it with love.

“He also taught me how to compete and not want to lose.”

Then came the tenure as Frame’s pitching coach. Former Huntington North head coach Jarrod Hammel played at HU.

For a decade, Flueckiger coached summer travel baseball for Mark DeLaGarza’s Summit City Sluggers. He coached at 15-year-old Josh VanMeter.

Since 2000, Flueckiger has been a salesman for Jostens. The past eighth years, he worked northwest Indiana — South Bend to Gary to Lafayette to Wabash — and driven his car about 60,000 miles a year while meeting with coaches, administrators, athletes and parents. He handles Hall of Fame and Coach of the Year rings for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.

“I know everybody,” says Flueckiger.

Bill Jones, one of the IHSBCA founders and long-time executive director, was one of Flueckiger’s mentors.

“I knew him from 1977 on,” says Flueckiger, who competed against him when South Adams went against his DeKalb teams. “He was a great man.”

Along the way, Fluekiger has got to coach against and learn from people like Gary Rogers, who coached baseball at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers for decades and is now at Leo.

When Bob Prescott came to Huntington North football as head football coach for 2019, Flueckiger joined his coaching staff as defensive coordinator.

When the head baseball coach position came open, Flueckiger was encouraged to go for it and was hired in early September. Many football players also play baseball for the Vikings.

“Why not just coach them in another sport?,” says Flueckiger. “I just think the kids at Huntington are great.

“The tradition of Huntington North goes way back. When I was in high school we played against (Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer) Don Sherman. In the summertime, we played in his tournaments.”

Many an afternoon or evening during Flueckiger’s college years were spent in the living room at the Sherman home, watching the Chicago Cubs with Don and son Todd Sherman and learning about baseball.

Focusing on football, Flueckiger said he will probably not begin assembling his baseball coaching staff until around Thanksgiving time.

Mark and high school sweetheart Kim will celebrate 30 years of marriage in December. The couple sides near Markle, Ind., with son Calvin (9).

Huntington North (enrollment around 1,500) is a member of the Northeast 8 Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Leo, New Haven and Norwell).

The Vikings are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Columbia City, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead. Huntington North has won 20 sectional titles — the last in 2017.

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Mark Flueckiger, shown in front of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets mural, is the new head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) North High School.

 

Herrold, Bluffton Tigers preparing to prowl in 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For Stacy Herrold, coaching baseball is not just about balls and strikes, safe and out.

“I look to create those relationships with my boys,” says Herrold, who will make the 2019 season his third as head coach and the eighth in the program at Bluffton (Ind.) High School.

The Tigers went 5-21 in Herrold’s first season in charge. After graduating one senior, Bluffton went and 15-11 in 2018, bowing 7-3 to South Adams in the IHSAA Class 2A Adams Central Sectional championship game. South Adams lost 1-0 to eventual state champion Boone Grove in the Whiting Regional final.

There are 11 players back, including Kankakee Community College commit Gavin King, from that Bluffton team this spring.

“We’re going to have a good run,” says Herrold. “I’m excited.”

Herrold is a 2004 graduate of Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind., where he played two years for coach Mike Buczkowski then two for Clay Hannah.

“He was super-patient,” says Herrold of Buczkowski, son of late Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski. “He wanted to stick with the process. “That’s something I didn’t do very well my first season (at Bluffton) after inheriting a team that was 5-24 the year before.

“(Hannah) wanted us just to compete. He always used that word. He wanted guys who would compete day in and day out.”

After high school, right-handed pitcher Herrold spent five years at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (he was redshirted for one season) and his head coach was Billy Gernon for the first four seasons and Bobby Pierce for the last.

“They had completely different styles, but both had great ways of getting things done,” says Herrold of Gernon and Pierce. “I owe them both a lot.”

“Coach Gernon was the epitome of a college coach. You clock in, work hard and take care of your studies.

“Coach Pierce had more of a pro style coaching philosophy. He trusted us more to get the job done. He didn’t have to watch us like a hawk. It was more about growing as individuals and molding into a collaborative team.”

Herrold, who had Tommy John, ulnar nerve and sports hernia surgeries during his career, is also greatful for Mastodons pitching coach Grant Birely.

“Coach Birely made me so much better of a pitcher,” says Herrold. “I started feeling the ball better out of my hand and having more success.”

One of the highlights was a 4-1 complete-game loss against a strong University of Michigan team in 2009.

Gernon played for Bob Morgan at Indiana University.

“I met Bob Morgan,” says Herrold. “(Gernon) was a spitting image of Bob Morgan. He was intense. He worked us hard. He got the best out of our bodies.

“I also remember he had a plethora of life quotes. I use quotes everyday with my practice plan.”

During this limited contact period, baseball is coordinating with other spring sports for practice time in the “Concrete Jungle” portion of The Tiger Den.

“We use those two hours to the best of our ability, getting arms in shape so we can long toss with the 120- to 150-foot area we have,” says Herrold. “We focus on bullpens, conditioning and taking as many swings as a we can so we can hit the ground running when the first pitch comes.

“If it’s 40 or above, we’ll go out on the turf on the football field.”

The three-sport athlete is not uncommon at Bluffton (enrollment around 470). The Tigers part of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

Bluffton is in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Adams Central, Churubusco, Fort Wayne Canterbury, South Adams and Woodlan. The Tigers have won four sectionals — the last in 2009.

Herrold is getting Bluffton players ready for the 2019 season with the help of assistants Kevin Powell (varsity), Eric Mettler (JV) and Ryan Crist (JV). Powell is a Norwell High School graduate. He teaches in the engineering department at Bluffton and helped place new railings and netting in front of the dugouts at the Tigers’ home field located northwest of the football stadium. Mettler (who pitched at Marietta (Ohio) College) and Crist are Bluffton graduates.

Koltan Moore (Kankakee CC) is a recent Bluffton grad who moved on to college baseball. Dane Hoffman (University of Saint Francis) is another. Jake Garrett finished at the Fort Wayne school two years ago.

In June, Bluffton, New Haven, Adams Central, Heritage and South Adams are among teams who play Monday and Wednesday doubleheaders to give returning players more reps.

Bluffton Youth Baseball has leagues from T-ball to Koufax division (ages 13-15). Area travel teams that attack Tigers include the Bluffton Bandits, Berne Bears and Summit City Sluggers.

Herrold is a sixth grade science teacher at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School. He and wife Andrea (a Fort Wayne Bishop Luers High School graduate) have two children — daughter Finlay (5) and son Hayden (3).

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Stacey Herrold and his Bluffton Tigers celebrate winning the Garrett Invitational in 2018.

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The Herrolds (clockwise from upper left): Stacy, Andrea, Hayden and Finlay. Stacy is head baseball coach at Bluffton (Ind.) High School and teaches sixth grade science at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School.

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Stacy Herrold enters his eighth season as a baseball coach at Bluffton (Ind.) High School in 2019. It will be his third as head coach of the Tigers.

 

Parker, Frantz, Scott address baseball arm care

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bringing together a unique combination of baseball perspectives, the Summit City Sluggers hosted an Arm Care Camp Dec. 15 featuring former big league pitcher Jarrod Parker, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Travis Frantz and athletic trainer Dru Scott.

The three Indiana natives came to the Sluggers training facility at 5730 Bluffton Road in Fort Wayne to give back to the baseball community. It was the first camp Parker, Frantz and Scott have done together.

Parker, a 2007 graduate of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind., was selected in the first round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The right-hander made his professional debut with the South Bend Silver Hawks in 2008 and played until 2015, including stops with the Diamondbacks in 2011 and Oakland Athletics in 2012 and 2013. He went through five elbow surgeries.

Finally, one surgeon — Dr. Neal ElAttrache — was willing to try to put Parker’s elbow back together again. ElAttrache works at the Kerlin-Jobe Surgical Center in Los Angeles and had done procedures on Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant.

“I knew I was in good hands,” says Parker, 30.

But there came a point that he decided to retire as a player rather than face the possibility of another elbow blow-out.

“I had gone through enough ups and downs and medical advice that said don’t do it again because I don’t want to fix it,” says Parker. “I don’t want anybody else to ever go through what I had to go through in terms of injuries, bouncing back and injuries. That’s why we’re trying to put events on like this throughout the country.”

Parker lives in Nashville with wife Lauren, a dentist. He opened Parker Sports Performance in late September 2018. The facility has two large batting tunnels, a full mound tunnel and a state-of-the-art weight room.

PSP does not have travel teams of its own, but welcomes teams and individuals and is a place for professionals to train in the off-season.

“We want to be the home base where they can come and develop and learn,” says Parker. “Our goal is to develop better people, better athletes and better baseball players.”

Parker’s assistant at PSP is Ro Coleman, who played at Vanderbilt University and in the Detroit Tigers organization.

Frantz, a 2007 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate, is a former third baseman and pitcher. He suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in high school then played at Huntington University, graduating as an exercise science major in 2011. He moved on to Indiana University School of Medicine. He has one more year of residency to complete at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Parker and Frantz were travel ball teammates in their 15U, 16U and 17U summers for Sluggers coach Mark Delagarza.

Father Neal Frantz was on the Fremont coaching staff when son Travis was playing for the Eagles.

Emphasizing a strength and conditioning program suitable for baseball players, which hits the rotator cuff and scapular muscles was a point Frantz, Parker and Scott made at the camp.

“Even through those exercises can be mundane and repetitive at times, doing those with good form will hopefully help you increase velocity and prevent injury,” says Frantz. “In high school, you should work on being an athlete and not just a baseball player.”

The exercises are designed with full range of motion and working the muscles that stabilize the shoulder.

The muscles in the upper back should not be neglected because they are also connected to the shoulder.

Frantz notes that studies have shown the benefits of playing different sports, training in different ways and taking time away from other sports.

It’s also important for baseball players to know their arm and their bodies.

“It’s OK to throw with soreness,” says Frantz. “But you have to distinguish between soreness and pain.

“Throwing with pain can lead to a negative spiral of injury. You need to know when to back down and know the concerning risk factors.”

Scott was a three-sport athlete at Clinton Prairie High School in Frankfort, Ind., graduating in 2003. He played baseball for two seasons at Manchester (Ind.) College (now Manchester University), graduating in 2007.

It was an injury during the fall of his first season that introduced him to the trainer’s room.

“It literally changed my life and shaped the path I’m on right now,” says Scott, who spent one season as athletic trainer at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School before being hired by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He began working his way up the chain in 2009.

In 2018, Scott completed his 10th season with the Pirates organization and second with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. Dru and wife Mandy have launched Scott Athletic Training and are moving the business to the Sluggers training facility.

“We’re trying educate players, coaches, parents on what an athlete looks like and, specifically, what an overhead athlete looks like,” says Scott. “That’s not strictly just taking care of your arm. It’s more of a holistic approach of what your core does and how strong it is, how mobile your hips are and how it truly does effect your shoulder.

“We try produce as many healthy baseball players and healthy people as possible.”

Frantz talks about the core and working the muscles in both the front and back.

“It’s more than just six-pack abs,” says Frantz. “It’s about having strength, flexibility and motion and all those things.”

While professional pitchers are known to do some throwing everyday during the season, Scott notes that they shut down to rest at season’s end and usually don’t pick up a ball until late November or even December.

For amateurs, rest periods are also key — particularly in younger players who are still growing.

Scott says three things athletes need to do is push, pull and carry.

“That’s the foundation of a lot of strength and conditioning programs,” says Scott. “You’ve got to be able to push — that’s your squat. You’ve got to be able to pull — that’s your deadlift or anything posterior chain on your back side. And you’ve got to be able to carry — you have to have some strong core and strong forearms to play not just baseball, but any sport.”

Scott notes that the huge power lifts seen on Instagram and other social media done by elite athletes didn’t just happen overnight. A lot of work went in to being able to correctly perform that exercise.

“You’ve got to start with the foundation to build a house,” says Scott. “You don’t start with the roof and move down.

“It’s starts at an early age. We have kids come in as early as 10. It may look different than having a bar on their bar squatting. But we’re still mastering those movement patterns of a squat or being able to bend over and move some stuff.

“Whether you’re 10 or 90, you can benefit from a good strength and conditioning program. It starts with mastering the basics. You can never go wrong being strong and it starts somewhere.”

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Dru Scott (left), Jarrod Parker, Mark Delagarza and Dr. Travis Frantz gather Dec. 15 for the Arm Care Camp at the Summit City Sluggers training facility in Fort Wayne.

Bock, Fremont Eagles eager to add to their baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fremont (Ind.) High School chased down an elusive sectional baseball championship in 2018.

Head coach Justin Bock saw the Eagles grab the program’s first sectional title since 2005, beating Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian 5-4 in the final of the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.

Fremont (15-16) went on to lose 3-2 to Northfield in the championship game of the Caston Regional.

“We worked really hard to get that sectional trophy,” says Fremont head coach Justin Bock, who heads into his 22nd season in the program and 11th in charge in 2019.

Four-year starter Rhett Evans has moved on to Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich.

Bock expects the 2019 Eagles to be young and talented. The coach anticipates he will have one senior, but four returning starters. A couple of freshmen could find their way into the lineup. There could be as many as 30 players in the program, including 12 ninth graders.

It’s anticipated that senior center fielder Ethan Marten will be back for his third season as a Fremont starter.

Junior left-hander Mick Laisure (0.99 earned run average in 36 1/3 innings in 2008) and right-hander/right fielder Connor Kreis are supposed to return in 2019 as is sophomore lead-off man and second baseman Kameron Colclasure. As a pitcher, he was 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA in more than 24 varsity innings in 2018. He hurled a shutout against Fairfield and earned a relief victory against DeKalb.

“He throws three pitches with great control,” says Bock of Colclasure, who was awarded varsity letters in three sports as a freshman (football, basketball and baseball). He is expected to move over to shortstop in 2019.

Fremont, located in Steuben County in northeast Indiana, is a member of the 12-team Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview).

Each team plays the other once. There is also a blind-draw conference tournament in the middle of the season.

“It gives the kids a taste of what sectional is like,” says Bock. “It has a one-and-done tournament feel.”

The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Fremont is on the 1A/2A border and could go back up with the next realignment in 2019-20.

Bock has Fremont in the early-season Coldwater (Mich.) Invitational, an event that has the Eagles playing three games in one day.

“Our hitters get to see great pitching early in the year,” says Bock. “It gets us ready to see conference pitching.”

It also means Fremont could use as many as nine pitchers. This puts an emphasis on building pitching depth.

“It has become routine for us,” says Bock. “If we have you going through workouts, you will be on the mound.

“We can win by pitching to contact and playing good defense.”

The 2019 season will be the third of the IHSAA 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). Before that, pitchers were allowed 10 innings every three days.

“(The pitch count rule) has emphasized what we really believe,” says Bock, who used 11 different arms in varsity competition in 2018 with Evans has the most innings going into sectional play at 28, keeping him fresh. “We’re not afraid to throw guys.

“We have to work more on mixing pitches and pitching to contact. We can’t afford to walk people.”

This kind of approach to pitching has helped Bock and his coaching staff find some hidden gems over the years.

Bock’s 2019 assistants are Ron Colclasure, Dave Smith, Jim Burkhart and Chad Baker at the varsity level and Ian Burkhart with the junior varsity. Baker splits his time between Fremont and Glen Oaks, where his son Braxton Baker (the step-brother of Rhett Evans) went after Fremont.

Being a 1A school with about 300 students, Fremont is full of multi-sport athletes. This meant that many were busy during the fall practice window.

Bock says practice will begin in earnest in early January when pitchers and catchers report for pre-season workouts.

The high school program is fed by Fremont Youth League and a number of travel baseball organizations, including Hitters Edge, Kalamazoo Maroons, Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Sting. In the past, there have been players go with Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers.

“A lot of our kids go north because of how close we are to Michigan,” says Bock.

Fremont graduate and current Indiana Tech baseball standout Glen McClain played travel ball for the Kalamazoo Maroons.

A 1993 Fremont graduate after moving in from the Ann Arbor, Mich., area as a sophomore, Bock earned an English degree at Taylor University and master’s in education at Indiana Wesleyan University.

He spent 19 years at Fremont and is in his third year as an assistant professor and placement coordinator at Trine University in Angola, Ind.

Bock’s baseball coach at Fremont was Roger Probst, who led the Eagles on the diamond 1985-2007 and is now the school’s athletic director.

“He’s the most organized person I’ve ever been around,” says Bock of Probst. “He’s the best athletic director in the state and a clear communicator.”

Bock served as a Probst assistant for 11 seasons before taking over the baseball reins 2008.

A junior high football coach and varsity boys basketball assistant to Eagles head coach Craig Helfrich (as is Ron Colclasure), Bock says it makes sense for him to be a head coach in the spring.

“Baseball really suits my personality,” says Bock. “I enjoy the pace of the game and the time to reflect on how we want to respond to a situation.

“It’s much healthier for me to be a baseball coach.”

Justin and April Bock have two children — freshman Ethan and sixth grader Delaney. After 12 years at Angola Middle School, April Bock teaches sixth grade at Fremont Middle School, where Delaney Bock is a student. Ethan Bock is a tennis, basketball and baseball athlete at Fremont High School.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball coaches celebrate with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Chad Baker, Jim Burkhart, Ian Burkhart, Ryan Allman, head coach Justin Bock, Ron Colclasure and Dave Smith.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball seniors and head coach pose with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Zack Peele, Rhett Evans, head coach Justin Bock, Joe Molter, Seth McDowell and Evan Trusty.

 

New Saint Francis Cougars head baseball coach Butcher committed to making history

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dustin Butcher wants baseball success for his alma mater.

The new head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., is committed to making the Cougars into a perennial championship contender — something already achieved by the school’s football and basketball programs.

“To do something special, you have to commit to it,” says Butcher, who takes over the program after the retirement of Greg Roberts. “We’re going to make history here at some point.

“I’m excited. I have a lot of pride in this university.”

Saint Francis is a member of the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League (along with Bethel College, Goshen College, Grace College, Huntington University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Marian University, Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, Spring Arbor University and Taylor University). The Cougars are seeking their first regular-season or tournament title in baseball.

USF head football coach Kevin Donley is the winningest coach in NAIA history. Men’s basketball Chad LaCross has won over 70 percent of his games with two national runner-up teams. Coach Jason Ridge now leads a women’s basketball program that won a national title in 2014.

Butcher graduated from Heritage High School in Monroeville, Ind., and played baseball and soccer at Saint Francis, completing his undergraduate degree in 2001. He went on to earn a masters in sports and exercise psychology from Ball State University.

During his internship with USF’s soccer teams — men and women — Butcher got a chance to built the mental skill set of athletes.

Butcher played baseball for coach Dean Lehrman at Heritage. His USF coaches were Steve Kovacs and Doug Coate in baseball and Ken Nuber then Mitch Ellisen in soccer.

“I’m thankful,” says Butcher. “Coach Lehrman kind of saved me from myself. He was very honest. I wasn’t on the best path. I wasn’t living up to expectations.”

Butcher says he contributed to Cougars soccer for his willingness to be a grinder.

“I was good in high school, but at the collegiate level I wasn’t good enough,” says Butcher. “But I think I made everybody around me better because I would never stop.

“It made me realize that you need guys like that. I pushed guys in practice. They knew you couldn’t take a day off.”

Butcher’s first assistant college baseball coaching stop came at Marian in Indianapolis on the staff of Kurt Guldner and assistants Kip McWilliams and Toby Rogers.

Jessica Butcher, Dustin’s wife, is a family doctor with Lutheran Health Physicians. She did her residency in Fort Wayne and Dustin coached a season at Saint Francis and then went with head coach McWilliams at Indiana Tech. Butcher returned to Saint Francis to join Roberts in the fall of 2008 and remained until the present.

“I’m appreciative of Coach Guldner giving me my first job,” says Butcher. “Coach Mac is really the one that got me going to the (annual American Baseball Coaches Association national convention). If you love baseball and you’ve never been to an ABCA convention, you need to go. It’s mind-blowing.

“It’s such a cool culture of coaches. It’s a group of guys constantly trying to learn and share information. I love it.”

Butcher is grateful for Roberts, who allowed him to find his own way of implementing his philosophy.

“He allowed us to coach,” says Butcher, who also served alongside Miguel Tucker (who is now on McWilliams’ staff at Indiana Tech). “He gave us full autonomy. He allowed us to fail and succeed on his watch. He was just so good at teaching. He always had an angle that would make you think.

“I owe him a lot.”

As head coach, Butcher will emphasize the grinder mentality

“I want to challenge them to where they hit a wall physically and they have to figure out how to get to the other side,” says Butcher. “You’ve got to find something within yourself.”

To narrow the gap on the competition, Butcher expects his athletes to move some iron.

“I’m a big believer in the weight room — it allows you to compete at a higher level quicker.

“To win at the NAIA level, you see a lot of teams across the country in the World Series or Top 25 with transfers (Division I or junior college). We don’t have the luxury of being able to pluck any JC kid or get every Division I bounce-back. We don’t have the financial capability. To be able to compete, we’ve got to push in the weight room.

“To make history, we need to do more — we need to develop more, we need to take more swings outside of practice time. That’s something I’m going to ask our coaches to do.”

Former Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne player Kristian Gayday has been hired as a USF baseball assistant and a search is one for a second assistant. Gayday, who played for Mastodons and head coach Bobby Pierce, will lead Cougars hitters and help with infielders and outfielders.

Butcher is especially fond of the methods favored by strength and conditioning specialist Eric Cressey. Because they seem to be more in-line with baseball, the coach says his Cougars will front squat and deadlift.

Recruiting at Saint Francis focuses on a 50-mile radius around the school. Anyone from inside that ring can commute. By school policy, those outside that radius must live on campus and that adds to the cost.

The 2019 online roster includes 15 players from Allen or surrounding Indiana counties.

Using resources like FieldLevel and getting athletes to on-campus to experience the atmosphere of home football games, Butcher is wrapping up the 2018-19 recruiting class while also looking for 2019-20 commits.

Travel organizations that have been good to Saint Francis are the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks, Summit City Sluggers and Indiana Chargers.

“Those are three top programs,” says Butcher. “You want to make sure you see them in the summer because they always have kids to recruit.”

He expects his roster to hover between 30 and 40 players, which will take practices and a few scrimmages in the fall and a 55-game schedule in the spring. Some winter workouts will take place at The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy. All home games will be played on the turf at the ASH Centre in Fort Wayne.

Dustin, the oldest of six children, is the son of Becki Beauchot and Steve Butcher. Dustin’s sisters are Abbi, Emily and Daisy with Sam and Jack (a senior-to-be at Heritage).

Living in Leo, Ind., Dustin and Jessica Butcher have two children — Nolan (9) and Ella (7). Ella was in Miguel Tucker’s wedding. Jessica has been the baby doctor for former USF players.

“That’s why you do it,” says Butcher of the bonds formed through baseball. “It’s a family. That’s hard to get through to coaches.

“I hope they understand it.”

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Alum and long-time assistant coach Dustin Butcher is now the head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)