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Building a winning culture a priority for Ambrose, Heritage Christian Eagles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In more than two decades guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Ambrose has learned that the X’s and O’s are important.

But in the last decade of so, Ambrose has begun to place his emphasis on building and maintaining a winning culture. He wants opponents to notice the way his Eagles go about warming up, how they hustle on and off the field and how they treat each other.

“That’s a big part of my coaching now,” says Ambrose. “I want to have a culture that is strong and healthy.”

The 2019 season will mark Ambrose’s 23rd at Heritage Christian School on the northeast side Indianapolis. He spent his first two seasons as junior varsity coach. Before that, the Cleveland, Ohio, native spent three seasons at Heritage Christian in Milwaukee.

Ambrose’s Indy-based program has won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) while always being competitive in the Circle City Conference (which along includes 3A Brebeuf Jesuit, 2A Covenant Christian, 3A Guerin Catholic, 3A Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and 4A Roncalli).

Heritage Christian (a pre-kindergarten through senior school with a current enrollment about 460 in the top four grades) has appeared in the last three city championship games against Indianapolis Cathedral, winning once.

Ambrose, who also teaches social studies at the high school level, has used different key words over the years and currently centers his team philosophy around the acronym E-A-G-L-E-S.

E — Each other.

A — Attitude.

G — God first.

L — Little things are Big things.

E — Effort.

S — Service to others.

The idea is to be both competitive between the while lines while still embracing and displaying Christian values.

“If you don’t care about winning, it’s easy,” says Ambrose. “But can i hold onto to my Christian character traits in the midst of an intense competitive situation?”

Ambrose had this in twins David and Ryan Ledbetter, who helped Heritage Christian to a football state title in the fall of 2008 and baseball state championships in the spring of 2009 and 2010.

First acquainted with the Lebetter boys as junior high youth group members at church, Ambrose later got to coach them when they transferred from Hamilton Southeastern to Heritage Christian after their sophomore year.

The Eagles go on a Dominican Republic mission trip every other year and the Ledbetters went that first year and bonded with their new teammates.

“We were a good team without them,” says Ambrose. “We were a great team with them.

“They were the icing on the cake.”

Both twins went to Cedarville (Ohio) University — Ambrose’s alma mater — and then pitched in the Texas Rangers organization. Ryan pitched through 2016, David through 2018.

“They were high energy, which can drive a coach crazy,” says Ambrose of the Ledbetter twins. “But I’d much rather pull back on a thoroughbred than kick a mule.

“They added that winning edge. Their teammates loved them.”

Team building is also done through a World Series party (scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26) and a leadership retreat for juniors and seniors and other events.

Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Ambrose sees a young team with plenty of freshmen and sophomores in the mix. The Eagles will field two high school teams — varsity and junior varsity.

With Rob Barber going to part-time status, he is looking for another top varsity assistant to pair with Nick Hibner, who is also head JV coach. Gary Vaughan is a JV assistant. Bryan Baker heads up the middle school program (Grades 7-8) with help from Jonathan Baker and Travis Willman.

Ambrose does have a veteran returning in Cooper Williams. The senior right-hander has already verbally committed to Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In order to get him used to being a college closer, Ambrose is thinking of using Williams in short starting stints of about 35 to 50 pitches, where he can use all his arsenal in the first inning if he so chooses.

Circle City Conference games are played at Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series. CCC coaches have been talking about adding an end-of-season conference tournament.

With the help of director of athletics Michelle York, Ambrose builds a non-conference schedule that includes as many sectional opponents as possible (HC is grouped with Eastern Hancock, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central) plus neighboring rival Park Tudor as well as Faith Christian, Liberty Christian and Traders Point Christian.

Dan Ambrose graduated from Parma (Ohio) Senior High School in 1989, where he played for varsity coach Conrad Pokorski and JV coach Tim Tomc (who later took over the Redmen varsity).

Ambrose credits Tomc for teaching him the importance of an organized, focused practice.

“Baseball wasn’t just taking BP while people stood in the outfield,” says Ambrose. “(Tomc) was very structured.”

A full-squad Heritage Christian practice usually features multiple stations with players doing something different at each one.

“Every minute, every kid is doing something,” says Ambrose. “(Baseball coaches) gained a lot from football coaches. With so many kids in football, you have to be organized.”

During the fall, Ambrose had about eight or 10 players two hours two days a week to get in individual skill work while others were occupied with a fall sport. The same will be true in the winter, when the IHSAA practice window re-opens the first week of December.

“I encourage guys to play another sport,” says Ambrose.

Heritage Christian plays its game on-campus. A few years ago, a clubhouse was built near the baseball field and the net backstop — higher than the previous fence — was added last year.

“We lose a lot of foul balls in the neighborhood,” says Ambrose, who raises money for the upgrades through donations, the sale of hats and the Heritage Christian Youth Baseball League.

Started about a dozen years ago, the league for pre-K through fourth grade meets twice a week in the summer on the HC softball field. It is coach-pitch and score is not kept.

“My main goal is to allow kids to get a taste of baseball and realize how fun it can be,” says Ambrose. “If I’ve them them well and they keep playing, I hope they’ll come back to me in the seventh grade.”

Most seasons, the majority of Heritage Christian’s high school players take part in summer travel baseball.

“There’s a big difference when a kid plays the game all summer long,” says Ambrose. “His instincts are better.”

Dan and Amy Ambrose (a Brownsburg, Ind., native who went to Bethesda Christian) have three baseball-playing sons.

Jadon Ambrose is a freshman at Cedarville. Seth Ambrose is a 6-foot-6 sophomore first baseman. Will Ambrose is in the sixth grade.

Coaching for USAthletic (a travel organization started by Barber), Ambrose began coaching Jadon in the summers when he was in junior high and plans to do the same with Will’s 12U team next summer.

Ambrose’s rule of thumb with travel ball is one out-of-town tournament per season.

Heritage Christian graduate Joey Butz is also joined the college baseball world with Huntington (Ind.) University.

DANAMBROSE

Dan Ambrose is the head baseball coach at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. His Eagles have won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) during his tenure. (Heritage Christian School Photo)

 

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Mishler brothers always had baseball coaching in their blood

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Get the Mishlers — father Joel and sons Nic and Zac — together and the conversation turns to the same topic.

“It’s always baseball,” says Nic Mishler. “It drives my mom (Kim) and sister (Hannah) nuts when we are at home.

“We grew up in a college baseball dugout. We live baseball. That’s our family.”

Joel Mishler played and coached college baseball and his boys grew up around the game.

When the elder Mishler established JNZ Baseball and Softball Academy in Shipshewana, Ind., after his days at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Nic and Zac were always around.

They were working on their own skills, but they were also helping others. The brothers got to work with future Ball State University players Matt Eppers, Nick Floyd and Caleb Stayton and Northwestern Oklahoma State University lefty slugger Judah Zickafoose when they were youngsters and pick the brain of major league hitting coach and frequent visiting clinician John Mallee and former University of Michigan and current Ball State head coach Rich Maloney at his camps in Ann Arbor, Mich.

After Glen Oaks, Joel Mishler was head coach at Westview High School near Shipshewana and established the Indiana Chargers travel organization. The Chargers now train in Goshen, Ind., and has helped several players move on to college baseball.

Nic Mishler (Class of 2009) and Zac Mishler (Class of 2011) both played at Westview and became college players — Nic at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich., and Zac at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill., and then Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

What did the Mishler brothers do after their playing days?

Become baseball coaches, of course.

Nic Mishler, 27, has just begun as pitching coach at Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Iowa, after five seasons at Valparaiso (Ind.) University. Before that, he was a student assistant for two years at his father’s alma mater, Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz.

Zac Mishler, 25, is heading into his third season as hitting/infield coach and recruiting coordinator at NCAA Division II Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W.Va. Before landing at ABU, he was at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., where he was in charge of infield play, base running, and recruiting and scheduling.

“I don’t know what else I’d do,” says Zac Mishler of baseball coaching. “I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a little kid.”

Nic Mishler pitched in the Division II Junior College World Series while at Kellogg and appreciates the world of juco baseball.

“To me, what makes junior college so attractive is you are able to recruit very talented players who could use a couple years to get bigger and stronger and develop their craft.

“I want them to know what it means to dogpile. It’s something you never forget. They can work toward a World Series (the 2019 National Junior College Athletic Association D-II Championship is in Enid, Okla.) before moving on to the next level.”

Since junior colleges are two-year institutions and athletes are aiming for four-year schools or the professional ranks, Nic sees the spark in all of them.

“The drive is second to none,” says Nic Mishler. “They’re all fighting for something.

“These are guys who may have been looked over and have a chip on their shoulder.

“I get to help these guys reach their goals. To me, that’s really exciting.”

With this common bond, Nic has witnessed close relationships forming among juco.

“Some of my best friends are from when I was at Kellogg,” says Nic Mishler. “We’re a real close group.”

After working at NCAA Division I Valparaiso, Zac returns to Division II at Alderson Broaddus.

“I really do like D-II baseball,” says Zac Mishler. “There’s a ton of talent and it’s very, very competitive.

“We get a lot of kids who are athletic and just want to chance to play.”

Zac also appreciates that he gets a chance to spend time on teaching and development, passing along the things he’s learned in time as a player and coach.

Jerry Halstead (John A. Logan) and Bobby Pierce (IPFW) were Zac’s head coaches while he was a college player and he coached with Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s before joining the staff of Matt Yurish at ABU.

“(Halstead) taught me a toughness I never knew I had in me,” says Zac Mishler. “(Pierce) taught me more than anybody how to be the same person everyday and how to stay consistent.

“It’s something I try to do in life. He had a big influence on me.”

Yurish has passed along lessons on communication and motivation.

“You get out and meet people and make a good name for yourself,” says Zac Mishler. “And you have to know how how to handle different types of people.

“A common misconception is that everybody needs to be coached the same. You want to tap into each kid and see what makes him tick.

“Coaching is getting people to play at the best of their abilities.”

After playing for Eric Laskovy at Kellogg, Nic and soaked up wisdom from Andy Stankiewicz at Grand Canyon and Brian Schmack at Valpo U. His boss at DMACC is David Pearson.

“(Stankiewicz) gave me my shot at coaching,” says Nic Mishler. “I can’t thank him enough.”

He worked with the Antelopes pitching staff and served as bullpen coach for a team that went to the NCAA Division II World Series. A member of the GCU staff — Nathan Choate — is now an assistant at NCAA Division I Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

One summer, Nic was pitching coach and also worked with infielders and outfielders for the East Texas Pump Jacks in the Texas Collegiate League.

Nic led Valpo catchers and helped Schmack with the pitching staff. He was the catching coach for three-year starter Scott Kapers, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers. Mishler also got to help Trey Ferketic, who found his way from California to pitch in the Midwest for the Crusaders.

“I was in a pretty good situation at Valparaiso,” says Nic Mishler. “They have something good going.

“I have full control over a pitching staff here. This offered me a real good opportunity.”

Pearson — with his NCAA Division I background (he was associate head coach at North Dakota State University) and high energy — also drew Nic.

“I’m a high-energy guy,” says Nic Mishler. “I’m so excited to get to go to work for him everyday.”

Nic and Zac communicate just about everyday by call or text and often speak with their father. Now that Nic is at a junior college, he can recruit Zac’s players and has already had a few conversations.

“It’s cool for me to watch (Zac) chase his dream,” says Nic Mishler. “He works extremely hard. That motivates me to work hard as well.”

DMACC is scheduled to play about a dozen games this fall and was at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., recently for the Prep Baseball Report juco event.

Zac says he was attracted to coaching in because he can work with players throughout the year.

“It’s different mentality (than high school),” says Zac Mishler.

Looking down the line, Zac could see himself as a head coach or an assistant to his big brother.

What if Zac becomes a head coach first?

“(Nic) will be my first call,” says Zac Mishler.

NICMISHLER

Nic Mishler, a 2009 Westview High School graduate, is an assistant baseball coach at Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Iowa.

ZACMISHLER

Zac Mishler, a 2011 Westview High School graduate, is an assistant baseball coach at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W.Va.

South Bend’s Milovich has made a life in minor league baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Milovich was introduced to baseball in South Bend, Ind.

Andy played the game at Southeast Little League, South Bend Riley High School (graduating in 1987) and for South Bend American Legion Post 357 and then at Valparaiso University (graduating in 1992).

“I was raised on ball fields,” says Milovich. “It’s an important part of what I do and it’s what gets me up everyday.

“My baseball roots start in South Bend. It has everything to do with where I’m at now.”

He recalls fondly coming home after school and catching the end of the Chicago Cubs game on WGN-TV. The next morning, he devoured the box score and saw highlights on Ray Rayner’s show.

With Myrtle Beach being a High Class-A affiliate of the Cubs (one step up from Low Class-A South Bend), Milovich was beyond thrilled when he received a World Series ring when the big club won it all in 2016.

Back in 1987, Andy played for Post 357 against South Bend Post 50 in the first game at South Bend’s Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (now known at Four Winds Field).

Beginning with an internship with the South Bend White Sox in 1990, Milovich has made a life in the game with 2018 being his 28th year in professional baseball. He is both president and general manager for the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and president of the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans.

A son of Ron and Judy Milovich and brother to Matt, Brad, Brian and Melanie, Andy learned baseball from his father who began coaching at the Little League level at 18 and continued in adult amateur baseball around South Bend until a few years ago.

Ron Milovich, an optometrist, started a team in the early 1990s featuring local players and some of Andy’s Valpo teammates.

“Dad was always making time for kids and the community,” says Andy. “That’s the way he was raised.”

Andy played at VU for head coach Paul Twenge and at Riley for Ralph “Peanuts” Pienazkiewicz.

Both men instilled in Andy the notion of balancing athletics, academics and personal life and overcoming life’s obstacles through hard work.

“Nothing is given to anybody,” says Milovich. “You have to learn it.

“You take that approach into the business world and you’ll have success.”

As a baseball executive, Milovich has faced the grind of a long season while helping to entertain customers.

“We want to put on a great show and give them a three-hour vacation,” says Milovich. “To use baseball as an opportunity to change communities the way we do is a really rewarding.”

Greenberg Sports Group, founded by Chuck Greenberg, manages minor league baseball franchises in Frisco, Myrtle Beach and State College, Pa. Greenberg is general partner and chief executive officer in Frisco, chairman and managing partner in both Myrtle Beach and State College.

Before joining GSG, Milovich spent 18 years with Palisades Baseball. He has served as assistant general manager and general manager of the Erie (Pa.) SeaWolves, GM of the Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Scrappers, vice president and GM of the West Virginia Power and became president and GM in Myrtle Beach in January 2013.

Milovich says the key to success in Myrtle Beach was “investing in people” and “built on affordability and fun.

“It’s the way we’ll grow it here (in Frisco),” says Milovich, who has turned over the Myrtle Beach GM reins to Ryan Moore.

Milovich went going back and forth between South Carolina and Texas before settling with his wife Cher (the couple met when Andy was working in Mahoning Valley) and daughters Addison (9) and Dylan (7) in Frisco in mid-July.

Frisco, Texas, which has an approximate population of 175,000, has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. It is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (population over 7 million).

The RoughRiders consider north Dallas their primary market and the DFW Metroplex as a whole as their secondary market.

Milovich has been working to get an understanding of the operation and diverse market in Frisco. About half of his staff of 60 or so employees work in ticket sales. Using data, they target the various smaller manageable segments of the market.

“We’re measuring many kinds of groups,” says Milovich.

Frisco and surrounding area is home to many large corporations and there are several other near-by entertainment options, including the Texas Rangers (baseball), Dallas Cowboys (football), Dallas Mavericks (basketball), Dallas Stars (hockey) and FC Dallas (soccer). The RoughRiders are a Double-A affiliate of the Rangers.

Myrtle Beach (with a metropolitan population of around 450,000) is different than Frisco, with its smaller market and staff catering to the needs of both residents and tourists.

The main draw of the area is the beach and the Pelicans are trying to get their share of the entertainment dollar.

Running a minor league team has changed quite a bit since the 1990s.

“It used to be you could have your giveaways and a fireworks show and you could count on the community responding,” says Milovich. “Media consumption is now so fragmented. There are so many entertainment options we didn’t have back then.

“The ability to build promotions that resonate and connect with the masses is a lot tougher.”

To help him grow his network of friends and contacts and to advance the industry, Milovich serves on the steering committees for both the National Sports Forum (scheduled for Feb. 10-12, 2019 in Las Vegas) and Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar (slated for Sept. 24-27, 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa).

ANDYMILOVICH

Andy Milovich, a graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Riley High School and Valparaiso (Ind.) University, is in his 28th year of professional baseball. He is president and general manager of the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and president of the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans. (Myrtle Beach Pelicans Photo)

 

Morgan Township, Grace graduate Dougherty pursuing goals in independent United Shore Baseball League

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time in the life of Joe Dougherty that he convinced himself he was done with baseball.

“I was thinking about giving up on baseball at the time,” says Dougherty, who is pitching for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich. “I’m very thankful I didn’t do it now.

“A lot of people have told me to stick with my dream so I would have no regrets later in life.”

A successful right-handed pitcher, infielder and outfielder at Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., where he helped the Jason Dorshorst-coached Cherokees win IHSAA Class 1A sectional titles as a junior and senior in 2012 and 2013, Dougherty was not planning on pursuing baseball at the next level.

For his prep career, Dougherty won 20 games with 253 strikeouts — both school records. He was 9-3 with a 1.83 ERA and 102 K’s as a junior in 2012 as Morgan Township went 23-5 and followed that up with 18-10 in 2013.

Dorshorst, who went to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, told Dougherty he thought he had what it took play college baseball.

“He helped me a lot,” says Dougherty of Dorshorst. “He understood me as a player. He encouraged me to go after my dream.”

With newfound confidence, that dream had changed pursuing baseball at the college level and — maybe —  beyond.

Enter Bill Barr.

The head baseball coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., Barr was there when Dougherty enjoyed a very fine day on the diamond.

It was in the semifinals of the 2013 Caston Regional. Dougherty clubbed a grand slam, drove in five runs and also pitched in relief in a 6-5 semifinal loss to Elkhart Christian.

After the contest, Dougherty talked with Barr and was convinced to make a campus visit.

That led to a four-season career with the Grace Lancers  the first three with Barr as head coach.

“I give him credit for giving me the opportunity for playing college baseball,” says Dougherty, who made 30 appearances with Barr as head coach and 12 as a senior with Cam Screeton in charge of the Lancers program.

Dougherty fanned 78 and walked 58 in 106 1/3 innings at Grace.

During Grace’s spring trip, Dougherty met Diamond Hoppers manager Paul Noce.

A baseball veteran, Noce who played for the 1987 Chicago Cubs and 1990 Cincinnati Reds and was a successful head coach at Hillsdale (Mich.) College saw potential in Dougherty and invited him to Michigan to throw a bullpen session after the college season.

“It was only throwing in the mid-80’s at that point,” says Dougherty of his velocity. “(Noce) encouraged me to keep working hard.”

So Dougherty went to play for the Shawn Harper-managed Mishawaka Brewers of the Northern Indiana Adult Baseball League and worked out with Shane Zegarac, pitching and strength coach at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. — a short drive from Valparaiso.

“He deserves a lot of credit for getting me here in the first place,” says Dougherty of Zegarac, who pitched in the Texas Rangers organization and parts of three seasons with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent Frontier League.

The 6-foot-3 Dougherty packed on about 20 pounds and his heater was up to low 90’s when he went to pitch for the Canada A’s of 2018 California Winter League. He made eight mound appearances (three as a starter) and was 1-1 with a 2.41 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 12 walks in 20 1/3 innings.

He was signed by the USPBL — a developmental league with four teams (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths are the others) that play all their games at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, a northern suburb of Detroit.

The league takes Mondays off. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are non-public day games. Thursday through Saturday are night contests and Sundays are day games. The regular season began May 11 and wraps Sept. 2. Each team plays 50 games. Rosters are limited to 20 players age 18-26.

“This league is focused on getting players to the next level,” says Dougherty. “They are pretty good at giving guys plenty of time to develop those skills.

“They give you a really good shot to further your career here.”

More than 20 players have gone on to sign contracts with Major League Baseball-affiliated teams since the USPBL debuted in 2016.

Dougherty has been starting and is 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 17 walks in 17 2/3 innings.

Between starts, he does a lot of recovery work and maintenance in the weight room — staying away too much in-season heavy lifting. He also does a lot of running, including sprints.

Dougherty was born and raised in Valparaiso the third child of Keith and Beth Dougherty. His older sisters are Rachel and Kelsey.

He played summer league at Morgan Township and then a little travel baseball in junior high and high school.

At Grace, Joe earned a degree in Design Engineering Technology. He says he is especially interested in computer-aided design.

JOEDOUGHERTY

Joe Dougherty, a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., and Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is now playing for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League. (USPBL Photo)

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Joe Dougherty goes into his wind-up during a game at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Mich. All games in the four-team United Shore Professional Baseball League are played there. (Matt Cripsey Photo)

JOEDOUGHERTYMATTCRIPSEY1

Determination shows on the face of Joe Dougherty as he warms up for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers on the independent United Shore Baseball League. He is a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School and Grace College in Indiana. (Matt Cripsey Photo)

 

Former Valpo U. catcher Kapers now receiving in Rangers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Kapers has a reason to show his choppers and it’s not just because his father is a dentist.

The oldest child of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, and Melissa Kapers, who both work at Creating Smiles PC in St. John, Ind. (across the Lake Central High School), Scott T. Kapers is enjoying his first taste of professional baseball with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

Kapers, right-handed-hitting catcher and Schererville, Ind., native, was selected in the 17th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers after three seasons at Valparaiso University.

After attending Forest Ridge Academy and Grimmer Middle School in Scherville, Kapers crossed the nearby state line and went to Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School.

A middle infielder going into a high school, Kapers converted to catcher to get a chance at playing time on a Caravan team that featured a shortstop (Jerry Houston Jr.) two years ahead of him and a second baseman (Ako Thomas) in his class. Houston went on to the University of Oregon and Thomas to the University of Michigan.

During his sophomore year (2013), Kapers finally cracked the varsity lineup at playoff time and helped coach Brian Hurry’s Caravan to a Illinois High School Athletic Association Class 4A state title (Mount Carmel edged Libertyville 2-1 in Joliet).

Two other Mount Carmel seniors in 2013 — Jason Gasser (Northern Illinois University) and Jeremy Kravetz (University of Kansas) — also went on the NCAA Division I baseball.

Kapers, who played for numerous travel teams over the years (Region Redbirds, Futures Baseball, Northwest Indiana Shockers, Indiana Bulls, Team DeMarini, Grinders Baseball and Cincinnati Reds Fall Scout Team), emailed five college programs a week before being approached by Valpo at a Prep Baseball Report showcase.

He made a verbal commitment in the fall of his junior year and signed his letter of intent with the D-I Crusaders as a Mount Carmel senior.

The Redbirds were a team coached by Scott A. Kapers and other fathers.

John Mallee, who is now the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies and formerly served in that role with the Florida Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, was a Shockers founder and talked to Kapers about attending Mount Carmel.

At VU, Kapers played head coach Brian Schmack and learned about “playing the game the right way” and following routines from him and assistant Ben Wolgamot.

As a catcher, he did much drill work with Nic Mishler. He credits Kory Winter with aiding in improving his physical and mental strength. Kapers played in 45 games as a freshman, 52 as a sophomore and 50 as a junior before being drafted. In 2018, he hit .263 with four home runs, nine doubles and 28 runs batted in.

He also played 92 summer collegiate baseball games for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League in 2016 and 2017.

Through July 6, Kapers had played in seven pro games — two with the Arizona League Rangers and five with Spokane — and was hitting a combined .217 with no homers, two doubles and two RBIs.

Kapers’ approach in the batter’s box revolves around having competitive at-bats.

“It’s about being a smart hitter and not just a swinger,” says Kapers. “Quality at-bats are huge. You string quality at-bats to score runs and that’s how you win games.”

Rangers minor league stops above Spokane, where Kenny Holmberg is the manager, Jared Goedert the hitting coach and Jono Armold the pitching coach, are the Low Class-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, High-A Down East (N.C.) Wood Ducks, Double-A Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) Express.

Following in his older brothers’ footsteps as a catcher at Mount Carmel and heading into his freshman year at Valpo U. is Jake Kapers (18). Sister Madison Kapers (20) will be a junior at VU. She played softball at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Ill.

SCOTTKAPERSSPOKANE4

Scott Kapers gets ready to fire the baseball for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

SCOTTKAPERSSPOKANE3

Scott Kapers seeks “quality at-bat” for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers system. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott Kapers grew up in Northwest Indiana and played baseball in Indiana and Illinois. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Pacific Northwest with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

SCOTTKAPERSSPOKANE2

Scott T. Kapers, son of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, is all smiles as he gets set to take the baseball field for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

‘Walking medical phenomenon’ Barrett on quest to return to Nationals staff

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Barrett still has a hard time believing that he broke his humerus — that long bone in the arm that runs from the shoulder to the elbow — while pitching a baseball.

Barrett, an Evansville native and Washington Nationals reliever, was on his way back from Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his elbow (Sept. 3, 2015 by Dr. James Andrews). Things seemed to be progressing well 11 months after the procedure.

The power right-hander was one week from being sent on a rehab assignment in 2016 when snap! — his arm broke on the 11th pitch of a 20-toss simulated game.

“I went into shock,” says Barrett of the painful moment. “It’s crazy the amount of force and torque I used to break that major bone.

“I must’ve thrown that one pitch very hard.”

Doctors told Barrett that he is the first to break the humerus after Tommy John surgery.

“I’m a walking medical phenomenon,” says Barrett, who debuted in the big leagues with Washington in 2014 and made his last MLB appearance in 2015.

And now he’s working to make a comeback.

Turned from a starter to a reliever in his first professional season (2010), Barrett made the big league team out of 2014 spring training and appeared in 50 games and was 3-0 with a 2.66 earned run average, 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 40 2/3 innings while also pitching in 10 games and 10 innings at Triple-A Syracuse.

In 2015, Barrett made 40 MLB appearances and was 3-3 with a 4.60 ERA. He fanned 35 and walked seven in 29 innings, but landed on the 15-day disabled list with a right biceps strain in both June and August.

“I was pitching nearly everyday and I was in pain for two or three weeks before I went on the DL,” says Barrett, who was soon transferred to the 60-day list. “Being a reliever, throwing everyday is part of the grind.”

Along the way, it was discovered that Barrett had a 90-percent tear in his Ulnar Collateral Ligament and so he underwent the reconstruction then he had his next setback.

But Barrett, signed to a two-year contract by the Nationals to rehab, began throwing again last summer and has worked hard at the club’s training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He now finds himself close to getting closer to the road back to the majors.

Barrett and other players rehabbing injuries have been competing in extended spring training camp games against other organizations along the Space Coast.

“I’m building arm strength and knocking the rust off,” says Barrett. “I hope to go north on a rehab assignment the next few weeks.”

Washington has full-season affiliates in Hagerstown (Low Single-A), Potomac (High Single-A), Harrisburg (Double-A) and Syracuse (Triple-A) and Barrett expects that his assignments will come as a progression.

Barrett — aka “The Bear” — has stayed connected to his buddies in the big leagues and watches the broadcast of nearly every Nationals game.

“I still have many close friends on the team, guys I came up in the farm system with,” says Barrett.

The 6-foot-4 righty holds the distinction of being selected four times in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — in the 44th round in 2006 by the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the 20th round in 2008 by the Minnesota Twins, in the 27th round in 2009 by the Texas Rangers and in the ninth round in 2010 by the Nationals.

Barrett explains why he kept going back into the draft.

“The money was not enough for me to turn away from college,” says Barrett. “I wanted to finish my (liberal arts) degree (three minors — history, sociology and park and recreational management — equals a major). “I  was a ninth-round senior. That’s pretty good. It all worked out.”

Barrett is a 2006 graduate of Evansville Central High School, where he played for coach Jason Engelbrecht. He played two seasons at Wabash Valley College (2007, 2008) in Mount Carmel, Ill., for coach Rob Fournier and two seasons at the University of Mississippi (2009, 2010) for coach Mike Bianco.

Using Barrett some out of the bullpen, Bianco discovered that his stuff played up and he was able to let it go in shorter mound stints.

After turning pro, Barrett developed the mindset of throwing several times a week.

“With the intensity of the later innings, I thrived,” says Barrett.

In 2012, he broke out while pitching in Low-A, High-A and the Arizona Fall League. He was in Double-A and in 2013 and then got the call from Triple-A to the majors in 2014.

The middle son of Dave and Jackie Barrett, Aaron played at Golfmoor Little League on Evansville’s west side before his family moved to the north side where he took to the diamonds of the Highland Baseball Club.

As a 13-year-old, Barrett was on a team that went to Nebraska and won a national championship. Among his teammates was Preston Mattingly, son of Don Mattingly and still one of Aaron’s best friends, and Adam Champion.

Preston Mattingly was a first-round MLB draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and played in the minor until 2011.

Champion played four years at the University Arkansas-Little Rock and then two years in the minors and two in independent baseball.

Ryan Barrett, Aaron’s older brother, graduated form Evansville Central in 2003 and played shortstop for four years at the University of Evansville.

Younger brother Drew Barrett was a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley and two at Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.).

Two cousins — Evansville Central graduate Jason Barrett and Evansville Reitz Memorial graduate Zach Barrett — also went on college baseball — Jason at Ball State and Zach at Olney (Ill.) Central College and Middle Tennessee State University.

“Evansville is such a good baseball town,” says Barrett. “The state of Indiana doesn’t give it enough credit for how good of a baseball town it is.”

While working on the baseball field to make his hometown proud, Aaron is also spending quality time with wife Kendyl and 7-month-old daughter Kollyns.

Aaron+Barrett+Washington+Nationals+Photo+Day+QP-Q6c34yvvl

Aaron Barrett, an Evansville native, is working to get back to the big leagues with the Washington Nationals after breaking his humerus while rehabbing from Tommy John elbow surgery. (Washington Nationals Photo)

 

Ulrey’s diamond passion is a big HIT

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Ulrey has a knack for teaching the game that he loves.

As a professional hitting instructor, the former college player and Major League Baseball draftee works with more than 150 baseball and softball athletes a week at The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind. It was formerly the home of Dream Big Baseball.

Those athletes come from as far away as Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan and all over the state of Indiana.

Ulrey has been involved in youth travel sports as a coach, mentor and instructor since 2010.

In 2015, the New Palestine High School graduate founded the Midwest Astros Academy. In 2018, the academy fields 31 baseball and softball travel teams in age divisions 8U to 17U with players from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

Ulrey handles the day-to-day baseball operations, facility operations, college consulting, instruction and Ben Taylor handles the softball operations and scheduling.

“I am thankful to have a guy like Ben within our academy,” says Ulrey. “Ben puts a lot of time and work into the operations of the Midwest Astros.”

As a player, Ulrey helped New Palestine to a 2004 IHSAA Class 3A state championship. In his senior year (2006), the left-handed swinging and throwing outfielder was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 33rd round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Because of an injury Ulrey made the choice not to sign and went to college.

He played two years at NJCAA Division I Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and one each at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University and the NCAA Division II University of Indianapolis.

His head coaches were Mitch Hannahs at Lincoln Trail, Jim Schmitz at EIU and Gary Vaught at the U of I.

When Ulrey concluded his college playing career in 2010, he took his first coaching job at Beech Grove High School and opened up his first indoor training facility.

At BG, he helped lead the Hornets to their first winning season since 2004 and first sectional title since 2005 when they went 13-9-2 in 2012.

From there, he served assistant coaching stints at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College for head coach Todd Post and Marian University in Indianapolis for head coach Todd Bacon.

At the same time, Ulrey was coaching summer travel teams.

The Yard Sports Complex is the fifth he’s had since 2010 and the only one he runs since moving away from his last facility in Beech Grove.

With the academy based at the Greenfield complex, Ulrey is able to serve his hitting students and oversee the whole operation.

Ulrey tries to manage his schedule so he can interact with as many of the academy’s teams as possible and to watch them play.

“I want to show support,” Ulrey, 30. “But not only that, I love the game of baseball. Every week — seven days a week — I’m either training, coaching or watching our teams practice at the complex or in games on the weekends.

“It’s my life.”

Ulrey is also an associate scout for the Texas Rangers and works under area scout Michael Medici.

The organization continues to grow and have success on and off the field, however; Ulrey doesn’t take all the credit.

“It’s been a blessing,” says Ulrey. “I’ve had a lot of help along with the way. None of this would be possible without great coaches, directors, instructors, players and the support of the parents.”

Christian Montgomery, a Lawrence Central High School graduate and a former New York Mets minor leaguer, works with pitchers.

Nick Ulrey, brother of Chris and assistant coach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, travels to Greenfield to instruct catchers.

Ulrey leaves tournament scheduling up to his coaches.

The youngest teams tend to stay in Indiana. As they reach 10U or 11U, they may take out-of-state trips.

At 12U or 13U, the teams tend to travel a little more. The 13U Majors team, coached by Chris Emberton, goes all over the country to compete in elite tournaments.

Emberton has been with Ulrey since the beginning and has continued to progress and compete at a high level every year.

“It’s nice to get out of Indiana every once in a while and play some different teams,” says Ulrey.

The Midwest Astros’ 15U through 17U Showcase teams, including the Tom Ancelet-coached 17U squad, play in tournaments attended by college coaches at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and other locations around Indiana as well as top-level events in places like Nashville, Louisville, Michigan, Georgia and Florida.

“It’s fun watching your older age groups play because you see guys who have developed already,” says Ulrey. “It’s not so much the coaching. It’s like managing with the older teams. They know how to play. You expect them to go out there and do their job and make plays.

“You get to sit back and watch some really good baseball. These are guys you’ll be seeing at the next level.”

As a coach and instructor, Ulrey gets to work with a wide range of ages.

“We try to teach the basics at 8,” says Ulrey. “They take in as much as they can. Off-speed pitches, mental approach and hitter and pitcher counts, a lot of that stuff is for the older age group kids.

“You try to make it fun for an 8-year-old while still trying to teach them the basics. You’re not trying to teach the older guys — high school, college, professional level — how to stand and how to hold the bat. When they feel there’s something wrong with their swing, you put your opinions in an make adjustments.”

Ulrey wants to relate to everyone on a personal level.

“What a lot of people lack in this profession is the relationship you build with the hitter and the parents,” says Ulrey. “For a kid to trust in what you’re teaching and what you’re saying, they’ve got to believe in you. They’ve got to want be there.”

So as work goes into making the complex ready to host tournaments, Ulrey and the rest of his staff will stay with the plan that has helped the academy grow.

“I feel like we’re doing all the right things right now,” says Ulrey. “Our teams are competing well. Our coaches are doing a good job.

“We’ll keep bringing in quality coaches and players and putting in the work.”

CHRISULREY

Chris Ulrey is founder and president of Midwest Astros Academy, which operates out of The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind.