Notre Dame has one of the oldest lineups in NCAA Division I college baseball. After a second-straight regional championship, the Link Jarrett-coached Fighting Irish (40-15) beat No. 1-ranked and overall top seed Tennessee 2-1 in the three-game super regional held in Knoxville, Tenn. (8-6 win June 10, 12-4 loss June 11, 7-3 win June 12) to earn a berth in the 2022 College World Series. The event runs June 16-27 in Omaha, Neb. The Notre Dame starting lineup in the super regional clincher featured righty-swinging left fielder Ryan Cole (22), switch-hitting second baseman Jared Miller (23), righty-swinging first baseman Carter Putz (22), designated hitter Jack Zyska (22), righty-swinging catcher David LaManna (23), third baseman Jack Brannigan (21), righty-swinging shortstop Zack Prajzner (22), righty-swinging right fielder Brooks Coetze (22), switch-hitting center fielder Spencer Myers (23) and right-handed pitcher Liam Simon (21). Cole, Miller, LaManna and Myers are all graduate students. Putz, Prajzner and Coetze are seniors. Brannigan and Simon are juniors. Ace John Michael Bertrand (24) started Game 2 against Tennessee. Usual No. 2 weekend starter Austin Temple (22) took the ball for Game 1 to keep Bertrand on his usual rest. Lefty-hander Bertrand and righty Temple are both graduate students. On Wednesday, Bertrand, Brannigan and ND left-hander Jack Findlayreceived All-American honors — Bertrand second team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Branigan third team by Perfect Game and Findlay second team by PG. The last time Notre Dame went to Omaha was 2002 when the Irish went 2-2 and were eliminated by semifinalist Stanford in a year when Texas won the national championship. Bertrand, who was born in 1998, was not yet 4. Texas (47-20) is Notre Dame’s opponent in CWS Game 2 of Bracket 1 at 7 p.m. Friday, June 17. The Longhorns won the Greenville Super Regional with a Game 3 starting combination against host East Carolina featuring four redshirt seniors, two redshirt juniors, three redshirt sophomores and one sophomore. Texas A&M (42-18) plays Oklahoma (42-22) in Game 1 of Bracket 1 at 2 p.m. Friday. In Bracket 2 on Saturday, June 18, it’s Stanford (47-16) vs. Arkansas (43-19) at 2 and Ole Miss (37-22) vs. Auburn (42-20) at 7. The double-elimination phase goes through June 23 with the best-of-three finals June 25-27. Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate Michael Early is the Texas A&M hitting coach. Jarrett is in his second season leading Notre Dame. He began establishing his system in the fall of 2019. He has continued to share his ideas about building complete hitters and has talked about what it means to be a coach. College World Series games will air and be streamed by ESPN.
Nolan Tucker enjoyed a breakout collegiate baseball season at the plate in 2022. The lefty-swinging Valparaiso (Ind.) University second baseman hit a team-best .365 (46-of-126) with one home run, one triple, 14 doubles 17 runs batted in and 21 runs scored for the NCAA Division I Beacons. Tucker pinch hit for head coach Brian Schmack’s club in a March 15 game at Notre Dame became an everyday starter March 18 at Murray State. He was at the top of the batting order the last few games of the season. He went 4-of-5 in the first game of a March 25 doubleheader vs. St. Bonaventure, 4-of-5 April 30 at Southern Illinois April 30, 4-of-4 May 20 at Evansville and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference first team. He was the first Valpo player since 2018 and second since the school joined the MVC to do that. “This was years in the making,” says Tucker, 21. “I finally had a chance to showcase it.” Prior to this spring, Tucker had only played in 20 college games. He made 16 appearances in 2020 before that season was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also the president of his dormitory — Brandt Hall. After playing four games in 2021, he suffered a season-ending injury. He did earn Valparaiso University Presidential Academic Honors and the MVC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award and was on the MVC Honor Roll. While he rehabilitated, Tucker took a deep dive into what he could do to boost his batting. “I wanted to figure this hitting thing out and take it to next level,” says Tucker. “I was looking at videos and comparing myself to big leaguers.” Tucker saw hitting coach Trey Hannam on social media, liked his profile and reached out to him and was soon making the 180-mile trek from Cedar Lake, Ind., to work with him in Milan, Ill. Current Valpo assistants Kory Winter and Mitchell Boe and former assistant Casey Fletcher also played a part in Tucker’s transformation. A 2019 graduate of Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, where he played for Wildcats head coach Ryan Bridges, Tucker was ranked among Indiana’s best shortstops and was four-year letterwinner and three-time all-conference selection. With strong shortstops on the squad (including Benton Central High School graduate Alex Thurston), Tucker made the switch to second base at Valpo to get on the field and has come to love the position. Tucker began wrestling early in elementary school. In high school, his head coaches were Mike Drosias as a freshman and Joshua Rowinski. There were to conference titles and a sectional championship. He was in the 132-pound class as a sophomore in 2016-17 when he went 35-5 and qualified for the semistate then decided to focus on baseball and getting bigger and stronger and did not wrestle as a junior or senior. “It’s a tough sport,” says Tucker of wrestling. “It’s physically and mentally demanding. “The lessons I’ve learned from that sport I’ll carry with me forever.” Tucker was born in Munster, Ind., and grew up in Cedar Lake. He played town ball and then went into travel baseball. He played for the St. John All-Stars, Playmakers, Chiefs, Top Tier, National Pitching Association and then the Dave Sutkowski-coached Morris Chiefs for his 17U summer. “He’s made huge impact on me,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “He’s taught me a lot about the game, but more about life like being punctual, responsible and a leader. “He was always there to reassure you and make you confident. “It’s about the man you become.” Tucker is scheduled to join the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators — managed by Chris Willsey — next Tuesday, May 7. He did not play in 2021 while rehabbing. He was with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics of gthe College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2020. He also got to play for the Jorge Hernandez-managed Independence in the College Summer Baseball Invitational in Bryan/College Station, Texas, where he met fellow Region native and CSBI Unity manager LaTroy Hawkins. Nolan had never met the 21-year major leaguer and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer but got connected through cousin and former Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and Morris Chiefs coach Jim Tucker. In 2019, Nolan Tucker played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s St. Clair Green Giants in Windsor, Ont. Tucker is a Business Management major. He is one year away from getting his undergraduate degree and has three more years of playing eligibility. “I’ll definitely go two more,” says Tucker. “I’m on the bubble about the third year.” Nolan is the oldest of Keith and Julie Tucker’s two children. Keith Tucker works for Team Industrial Services and Julie for Liveops. Daughter Kylin (18) is a 2022 Hanover Central graduate bound for Ball State University.
Sebastian Kuhns is growing as a baseball catcher and the northeast Indiana native is doing it in northeast Texas. The 2020 graduate of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne is a “COVID” freshman at Paris (Texas) Junior College, which is about 100 miles from Dallas. Through the Dragons’ first 17 games of 2022, Kuhns was hitting .400 (10-of-25) with five doubles and nine runs batted in over eight games while splitting playing time with freshman Zach Munton. Kuhns, who missed his senior season at Carroll because of the pandemic, Kuhns split his time in the summer of 2020 between the Chad Hines-coached Indiana Prospects travel team (he played for the Prospects in 2019, too) and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He ended up with the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. Kuhns was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for the 2021 season and hit .268 (11-of-41) with one home run and 13 RBIs in 18 games. He did not play in the summer of 2021, but trained at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind. He did overall and throwing with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and Justin Hancock, hitting with Quentin Brown and Noah Niswonger and strength workouts with Michael Hammerstand, Christian Sullivan and Bram Wood. Kuhns is considering another summer of training at PRP Baseball while possibly playing in the CSL. When Kuhns made it known that he would be transferring from Lincoln Trail, a couple of schools reached out. Among them was Paris, which had three catchers moving on. “I shot Coach (Clay) Cox a message,” says Kuhns. “He responded and now I’m here. I really enjoyed my phone call with him. I could tell everything he said was genuine. “I can’t not say enough about Coach Cox. He’s one of the top motivational coaches I’ve had. He knows what to say to get us fired up. He made it clear what the expectations are. Last year (Paris) had like 3.8 team GPA. They do things right here.” Kuhns signed at Paris — a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 14 member — in mid-June. He he arrived Paris in the fall he was given No. 47. Any significance to to those digits? “Not really. Most of our class had already signed,” says Kuhns. “Maybe my arm’s like an AK-47?” Kuhns is on pace to earn an Associate Degree in Business Management while he hones his skills behind the plate. “There’s so many games within the game that I love,” says Kuhns, who moved from first base to catcher around age 12. “I take pride in picking up mannerisms of all my pitchers. It’s different for every guy.” Kuhns appreciates the engagement of the position. “You’re part of every pitch,” says Kuhns. “My arm is one of the tools that helped me getting into college. I was good at blocking, but my receiving wasn’t great. “(Receiving) is one of the biggest adjustments for me moving from high school to college, where there is a smaller strike zone. You try to steal strikes for your pitcher and keeps strikes as strikes. I’m working on that art. The strike zone in Texas is even smaller.” Kuhns talks about the junior college baseball life. “People throw around JUCO like an adjective,” says Kuhns. “Guys really embrace that. We’re just some gritty guys working hard. That’s one aspect I really like. It really is good baseball. Down here (in Texas) it really is no joke.” Kuhns played at Carroll for head coach Dave Ginder, who stressed all the situational things like first-and-third and bunt coverages. “I didn’t fully appreciate everything he did until I got into college,” says Kuhns. “He knows the game really well and he’s really good at passing it on to his players.” “I see similarities with Coach Cox and Coach Ginder. (Cox) let’s us do our thing. He’s not going to fix it if it ain’t broke.” As a Chargers sophomore, Kuhns was a third-stringer on a catching corps led by Hayden Jones (who is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization). “I can’t say enough about Hayden and what he helped me with in high school,” says Kuhns. “He helped me grow up and mature and with baseball in general. “He comes from a great family. I worked with his dad for a long time.” Kuhns went to Ken Jones (now assistant at Purdue Fort Wayne) at World Baseball Academy for catching and hitting lessons. The player was also at Wallen Baseball Softball and with the Fort Wayne Cubs/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks. Born in Auburn, Ind., Kuhns grew up in the Fort Wayne/Huntertown area. His parents are Brian Kuhns (stepmother Sherri Foster) and Kimberly Kuhns. His siblings are Josh Kuhns, Olivia Kuhns, Kesley Foster, Eric Foster, Chris Kiger, Cassandra Kiger and Kyle Kiger.
Nick Spence wants to bring pep to the steps of ballplayers in yet another part of Hendricks County, Ind. Spence, who played and coached at nearby Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and coached at neighboring Avon (Ind.) High School, was hired as head baseball coach at Tri-West High School in Lizton, Ind., in August 2021 and set about spreading his enthusiasm from the youth level on up. “I want my kids to be excited to be a part of Tri-West baseball,” says Spence. “It’s easier to get kids to play when they’re excited to come to the ballpark. “I’ve gotten nothing but positive vibes from the community.” The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period was mostly about getting to know athletes and showing them what he plans to implement. “I’m pretty fiery and I’m energetic,” says Spence. “We want competition to come through with whatever we’re doing. Baseball is an individual game played by a team. “Baseball is a sport of failure and you have to learn from failure. Don’t let it come to your next AB or on the mound with you.” A big believer in situational baseball, Spence prefers to devote his practices to either offense or defense. “I’m not a big station guy,” says Spence, who looks forward to the first official IHSAA practice date of March 14. Spence’s coaching staff includes Bryan Engelbrecht and Adam Montgomery with the varsity, Gordie Lucas and James Miller with the JV and Mike Gongwer as youth coordinator. Engelbrecht is a longtime Tri-West coach. Montgomery and Gongwer were with Spence at Avon. He wants establish his system and spread the excitement at the youngest levels. “In the past, we’ve had a really good community-based program at Tri-West,” says Spence, who remarried on Dec. 20, 2021 and lives with wife Allison in Pittsboro, Ind. (Nick has three children from a previous marriage all attending Brownsburg schools — junior Madyson (who turns 17 next week), eighth grader Easton (14) and fifth grader Maya (10). “I’ve been working with youth directors, trying to get that back.” Younger players will be involved with Tri-West Little League and Bruin Heat. Spence says he can see that morphing into the Tri-West Baseball Club by 2023. That’s when Tri-West High is scheduled to debut a four-field baseball/softball complex. “They’re starting to push dirt,” says Spence of the project that will bring varsity and junior varsity grass fields with stadium seating, netting and more. In addition, coaches offices and a hitting tunnel will be located on the north end of the football field. “It’ll beautiful.” Spence played for Wayne Johnson and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg High, graduating in 2001, and served as JV coach in 2006 and 2007 then helped current Bulldogs head coach Dan Roman as pitching coach in 2021. Spence counts 2009 Brownsburg graduate Tucker Barnhart as his best friend and was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding. Tucker is now a catcher with the Detroit Tigers. An Indiana Bulls assistant to Troy Drosche during the travel ball season, Spence was the pitching coach on Drosche’s Avon High staff for five years while the Orioles won sectional titles in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and a regional crown in 2019. Spence has also coached with the Bill Sampen-led Indiana Expos travel organization. Spence’s college playing career included one season on the field each pitching for Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College, Tim Bunton at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and Joe Decker at Indiana University Southeast. He went to spring training with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters then began focusing on helping others. “I always wanted to coach,” says Spence. “I always wanted to be involved.” Spence has also been an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Mike Silva (now head coach at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.) at Clarendon (Texas) College, where Adrian Dinkel (now head coach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.) was an assistant. He landed there after meeting Silva at a tournament in Stillwater, Okla., while working for Tom Davidson and Blake Hibler at Pastime Tournaments. Indiana Tech head coach Kip McWilliams had Spence on his staff for one season. Tri-West (enrollment around 630) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community (coached by Pat O’Neil), Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Western Boone). In 2021, the Bruins were part of the IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Greencastle and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. Tri-West has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2018. Recent Tri-West baseball players Riley Bennett (Trine University) and Kai Ross (DePauw University football) have moved on to college sports.
The week that Wes Rincker became school-board official as the new head baseball coach at Shoals (Ind.) High School, he attended his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic (Jan. 14-16, 2022). “I learned a lot at that clinic even after coaching all these years,” says Rincker, who guided players for 14 years in various travel ball organizations in Missouri before moving to Martin County in 2018 to work as a supply technician at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division. “I talked with (Jasper head coach) Terry Gobert and (Shakamak head coach) Jeremy Yeryar, picking up every little tidbit I can. “I know baseball. We’ll work on fundamentals, drill work, mechanics and conditioning and see how many guys have the tools we have to succeed. As an outsider I have a very open mind as who should play at what position. I just want to get them ready for the field. I’m excited to get it going. “(Athletic director) Bryson Abel and (assistant AD) Danielle Cornett taking a chance on me and I appreciate that.” Shoals (enrollment around 200 is a member of the Blue Chip Athletic Conference (with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial). In 2021, the Jug Rox were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Daviess and Vincennes Rivet. Shoals has not yet earned a sectional title. The Jug Rox have not won a sectional game in more than a decade. Rincker is a 1988 Shakamak graduate. He did not play baseball in high school. He retired from the U.S. Air Force after 26 year total in the military, including time in U.S. Army and U.S. Army National Guard. He was at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo., and did did four combat tours — Somalia in1993, Iraq 2006 in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2011. Rincker coached baseball for American Legion Post 131 in Warrenburg, Mo., and the Lee’s Summit (Mo.) Saints — a Christian-base travel team then featuring former major leaguer Les Norman — and in Sedalia, Mo. He also officiated high school basketball and football. Wes’ parents — Lana Bush and Charles Rincker — are from Shoals. “It’s a quiet area,” says Rincker, who enjoys hunting and fishing with his father. “I just love it here away from the city hustle and bustle.” Wes and Amy Rincker are empty-nesters. Daughter Chelsea and husband Jerril Eisenbeck are in Fort Campbell, Ky., where he is an Army sergeant. They have two boys. Oldest son Luke Rincker recently graduated from Iowa State University and moved to San Marcos, Texas. He is in the Air Force Reserve. Youngest son Caleb Rincker lives in Sellersburg, Ind., and is in the Air National Guard. He is also on his father’s Shoals coaching staff along with Kent Hall and Adam Showalter. The first official practice date on the IHSAA calendar is March 14.
Michael Earley has a knack for developing elite hitters. Spencer Torkelson was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State University. His hitting coach was 2006 Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate Earley. “Texas A&M hired a rising star in the coaching ranks with the addition of Mike Earley,” said former ASU coach Tracy Smith (who led the Indiana University program before his time with the Sun Devils) on the Aggies baseball website. “He is the best I’ve seen in my career at developing hitters. However, Coach Earley’s ability to build rapport by balancing toughness and genuine care for the players is what really makes him special. The Aggies are getting a good one.” Earley, 33, played one season for Brian Cleary at the University of Cincinnati, three for Smith at Indiana and spent five in the Chicago White Sox system and one in independent ball. He coached in the Pac-12 Conference at Arizona State for five seasons — the last four as hitting coach — and was hired in mid-June of 2021 to mold hitters for Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference. “I could’ve stayed at Arizona State, but I wanted to explore and see what else was out there,” says Earley, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “I talked to a few schools and ended up at Texas A&M. I could not be happier. It’s been a really, really fun time and a great experience. “Head coach Jim Schlossnagle was a big draw for me. I think he’s the sharpest guy in the game and he’s someone I want to learn from and work for.” Earley hit the recruiting trail right after joining the Aggies staff. Recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain directed hitters his way. “He’s really, really good at finding talent and how to communicate,” says Earley of Cain. “I try to help him as much as I can.” Coming to College Station and the Brazos Valley with his own ideas on hitting, Earley has also incorporated offensive ideas from Schlossnagle. “It’s evolving every year,” says Earley. “I don’t think I’ve ever been quite the same every year though its the same base and foundation. “I mean it’s (NCAA) Division I baseball. The SEC is a step up from the Pac-12, but there’s a lot of good teams and players in the Pac-12 as well. It’s not going to be anything too much different. It’s really a lot of hard work.” Earley enjoyed his time with Torkelson, a right-hitting third baseman in the Detroit Tigers organization. “He’s by far the best hitter I’ve work with to date,” says Earley. “If I ever work with one that again it will be like hitting the baseball lottery. “He’s a generational talent for me. What separates him is not only is he just really, really good, he’s more competitive than anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant type. I’m gonna beat you and you’re not gonna beat me.” The year before Torkelson went was the top pick in the draft, lefty-hitting outfielder Hunter Bishop was taken out of ASU with the 10th overall pick by the San Francisco Giants. Arizona State has elite baseball facilities and so does Texas A&M, which plays in Blue Bell Park. Renovations are on the way for a stadium built in 2012. “The SEC has become an arms race,” says Earley, who says new seating is coming along with a fresh hitting facility and weight room. “This place is already really, really nice. “I don’t know how we’re going to upgrade it but we are and it’s going to be bigger and better. And then — I’m sure — in another 15 years we’ll probably do it all over again.” Besides Schlossnagle, associate head coach Nate Yeskie, Cain and Earley as coaches, there’s a support that with a director of baseball operations (Jason Hutchins), director of player and program development (Chuck Box), sports performance coach (Jerry McMillan) and director of video and analytics (Will Fox). Earley says analytics are very helpful when used the right way. “You don’t want paralysis by analysis,” says Earley. “You find what works for you. There’s definitely a benefit in the game for analytics, but there’s an old word called competing and that can’t get lost.” Nolan Earley, Michael’s brother, is a 2009 Anderson High graduate who played three years at the University of Southern Alabama and in the White Sox organization and independent ball (He played 96 games for the Frontier League Southern Illinois Miners in 2021). He is in Arizona running the Phoenix Hit Dogs. “It’s a development-first travel program,” says Michael Early of the organization started in 2020. “Everyone says they are, but they’re actually not. They’re just trying to win and get the trophies. We’re actually trying the develop and I think it’s a success.”
Kelcey Mucker grew up in the southern part of Indiana and excelled at multiple sports. Born in Washington, Ind., and moving to Lawrenceburg, Ind., around 18 months, Mucker would go on to shine at Lawrenceburg High School. The 1993 graduate played in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Boys Basketball Series as well as the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and the Indiana Football Coaches Association North/South All-Star Game. At the time, he was told he was the first to ever pull off that three-sport feat. One of his teammates in the Indiana-Kentucky and IHSBCA North-South games was Jasper’s Scott Rolen. Both were named to the 2018 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary Team. Mucker, who swang the bat from the left side and threw the baseball and the football with his right arm, was headed to Indiana University on a football scholarship with plans to also represent the Hoosiers in basketball and baseball when his path turned to professional baseball. Selected in the first round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins, all-state outfielder Mucker did not sign right away and had time for those summertime all-star appearances. One day before he was to begin classes at IU — Aug. 9, 1993 — the 6-foot-4 athlete signed with the Twins. “The offer was good and I weighed my options,” says Mucker, the Lawrenceburg High School Athletics Hall of Famer. “I feel like I could’ve played baseball a lot longer than the other sports.” Basketball was his favorite and he excelled at football. He did not put the time into baseball he did the other two. “It was something I could do,” says Mucker, who went on to play 597 pro games, including 109 with the 1995 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards. Mucker played in the Twins system 1993-99 — seeing time at Double-A the last two years. He hooked on with the Cleveland Indians organization as a minor league free agent in 2000 and was released in April. The Oakland Athletics hired him as a scout and assigned him to a Deep South territory. He first moved to Metairie, La., outside New Orleans. He was in Baton Rouge, Fla., for 14 years and three years ago moved 20 miles east to Denham Springs, La., where he lives with wife Lisa. Mucker, who is beginning his 22nd year with the Athletics, is responsible for knowing the baseball talent in Louisiana, Mississippi and southeast Texas (Houston area). At this time of the year, Mucker is spending much of his time getting ready for the spring season. He meets with potential signees through in-home visits or (since the COVID-19 pandemic) sometimes over Zoom calls. “Getting into homes was pretty big for us as area scouts — that face-to-face contact,” says Mucker. “That’s still challenging going into 2022. “I like talking to parents and kids at the ballpark. It’s not so impersonal.” Mucker’s job is tied to being organized. “It’s knowing my area and what’s going on on a daily basis — not only for me but my supervisors and everybody above me so they can get that second look,” says Mucker. “We all can evaluate a player. What ballparks are we going to get in?” Emails let him know when there are changes in games and he’s always on top of the forecast. “I feel like I’m a weatherman,” says Mucker. “Rain is not good for a baseball game.” But — generally speaking — the weather is good and baseball can be played 12 months a year in Mucker’s area. In the winter months, that is often a workout or showcase. “Kids are always working out — sometimes a little bit too much,” says Mucker. “From the draft (now in July during the MLB All-Star break) until start of the season, we’re getting ready for 2022. “I try to see everybody we can prior to next spring so we have an idea.” Unlike Indiana when the snow might still be flying in April, high school baseball in Mucker’s territory tends to start the third week of February. Mucker also keeps tabs on players’ social media accounts. “They might Tweet something they shouldn’t and be a bigger risk,” says Mucker. “For us as scouts that’s part of the equation.” Not all MLB organizations bring their scouts together during the draft. With the exception of 2020 with travel restrictions, Mucker and his colleagues go to Oakland during that time. Mucker is vice president of the Southeastern Scouts Association — a group made up of scouts living in the Deep South and representing all 30 MLB teams. “We meet once a year and talk about initiaves and giving back to the game within our region,” says Mucker, who has also been part of the Buck O’Neil Professional Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association. Mucker notes that there is some uncertainty about what will transpire in baseball until the current lockout is resolved. Scouting has always been competitive, but now that the draft has been cut down to 20 rounds (it was 40 in 2019 and five in 2020) it is even more important to know as much information as possible about players and also what other organizations think about him. How much do the Reds like that player? Can we wait until the third round or take them in the second? “It’s another way — on a bigger scale — to be organized within your territory,” says Mucker. Though he’s lived away from Indiana more than two decades, Kelcey Adair Mucker still has family ties there. His father — retired Indiana State Police trooper of 30 years — Hubert Mucker Jr., is just outside Lawrenceburg. Brother Stacy Mucker and son Kelcey Aaron Mucker live in Lawrenceburg with many other family members in Washington or Indianapolis.
An Indiana team earned baseball hardware last weekend in the Sunshine State. The Indy Heat reigned in the 35-and-over division at the 2021 National Adult Baseball Association Lou Palmer Memorial Florida World Series Nov. 11-14 in Cocoa and Melbourne. The team made up of Hoosier Townball Association and Indiana Baseball League players from around the central part of the state went 6-1 – 4-1 as the No. 1 seed in pool play – to take the title in the wood bat event. Formed early in 2021 and playing in exhibitions against the Jasper (Ind.) Reds and IBL 18-and-over Rays at new Loeb Stadium in Lafayette, Ind., and in a Labor Day tournament at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., the Indy Heat is co-managed by catcher Paul Staten (46), center fielder/pitcher Chad Justice (38) and pitcher Gabe Cuevas (41). Staten was the oldest in Florida. The youngest was catcher Trevor Nielsen (34). Rules allowed two players no younger than 33 who were not used as pitchers. Most Indy Heat players have experience in high school and beyond. Some play in both the HTA and IBL. Staten played at North Forrest High School in Hattiesburg, Miss., and one year at Jones College in Ellisville, Miss. Justice played at New Castle (Ind.) High School, graduated from Shenandoah High School in Middletown, Ind., ran track on scholarship and also played baseball for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Jerry Blemker at Vincennes (Ind.) University. Cuevas played at South Bend (Ind.) Washington High School and Triton College in River Grove, Ill. “Playing against the Jasper Reds gives us a good dose of baseball early in the season,” says Staten, whose team was competitive in four losses to the long-established organization. “We gave them a ball game. “We’re going to continue exhibition with those guys.” Adult baseball players tends swing wood. “Some of these guys can still create quite a bit of exit velocity with aluminum and composite bats,” says Staten. “The (Men’s Senior Baseball League) tries to adhere to MLB rules as much as possible,” says Justice. Sixteen Indy Heat players were able to make the Florida trip. About half of the team entry fee was picked up by sponsors. Players arranged hotels or airbnb accommodations. The Indy Heat beat the Angels 16-0 in Game 1. John Zangrilli pitched a complete-game shutout. Game 7 was a 15-7 loss to the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Phillies. That’s when the Indiana team opted to scrap their gale blue jerseys for black ones accented by gale blue and laser fuchsia and wore those the rest of the tournament. “We’re not superstitious,” says Staten. “Dirty or not, we were wearing our black jerseys.” The Heat concluded pool games by topping the Dallas (Texas) Redbirds 8-3, Northwest Indiana Royals 6-1 and the Dade City (Fla.) Brewers with Mitch Brock tossing a shutout in the latter contest. The field of eight was cut to four after pool play with overall record being the top criteria for semifinals seeding. Runs against was the first tiebreaker followed by runs scored. The Heat outscored pool play opponents 48-16. The Indy Heat bested the Chattanooga Phillies 14-6 in the semifinals. Yasidro Matos came on in long relief of Zangrilli for the Indiana winners. A rematch with the Dallas Redbirds — a team with players who’ve been together for years — in the championship game resulted in a 4-3 Indy Heat win Cuevas pitching a nine-inning shutout. The tournament started with games having a three-hour time limit, but rains caused that to be cut to two hours in games leading up to the final one. “Hats off to the pitching staff,” says Staten. Indy Heat managers employed a bullpen strategy in Florida. By holding pitchers to about 60 pitches they had fresher arms at the end of the tournament. “Other teams were dying out and we had three good arms going into the finals,” says Justice. “I didn’t guys want to throw more than 60 pitches and seeing (the opposing) lineup more than two or three times.” Restrictions were lifted later in the event. “That’s the time you leave it on the line,” says Staten. “There’s nothing going on after that.” What’s next for the Indy Heat? ‘I don’t foresee us playing in anything competitive between now and spring,” says Staten, who notes that players will keep sharp in batting cages and keep sharp with a few practices before that time. “We’ve got guys that are ready to go now. They’re pumped coming off a championship.”
It’s hard not to stand out when you are 6-foot-6. But Ty Johnson did little to rise above as a baseball pitcher until his junior year at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis. Johnson entered high school in the fall of 2016 at 5-10. By the end of freshman year he was 6-2. By the close of his sophomore year in 2018 he was 6-6. “I got hurt a bunch freshman and sophomore year,” says Johnson. “I had growing pains. My body wasn’t ready for it. I was goofy and awkward. “My junior year I got a little more athletic.” The right-hander saw some varsity action as a sophomore for Richard Winzenread’s Wildcats then was a regular as a junior in the spring of 2019. He went 3-0 in seven games with an 0.88 earned run average. In 39 2/3 innings, he struck out 60 and walked 20. That fall he played for Team Indiana, coached by Phil Wade and Blake Hibler. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season — which would have been Johnson’s senior campaign. The lanky hurler attracted interest from scouts leading into the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but was not selected. By this time he had impressed enough to be signed by Ball State University. An injury kept him out of early action, but he did get into three games for the Ben Norton-coached Local Legends of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. At Ball State, Johnson got to work with Cardinals head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Larry Scully. “He trusts me,” says Johnson of Maloney. “He’s always believed in me. He has my back. “That’s reassuring.” Johnson and Scully have grown close. “He checks in all the time,” says Johnson. “We work on my weaknesses. He’s brutally honest. It’s what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear. “I respect that.” Scully has helped Johnson develop a longer delivery to take advantage of his length. “I can maximize my velo potential,” says Johnson. “It will pay off in the long run.” In the spring of 2021, Johnson made 15 mound appearances (11 in relief) and went 4-2 with a 6.83 ERA. In 27 2/3 innings, he recorded 34 strikeouts and 14 walks. In the fall, there was work on a glide step to help in holding baserunners. In-season, there was an emphasis on developing an off-speed pitch and curveball. His three pitches thrown from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot are a four-seam fastball (which sits at 91 to 93 mph and has reached 94), a change-up and curve. By the spring, 195-pounder Johnson’s vertical leap was up to 36 inches. “I’m pretty fast off the mound,” says Johnson. “I’m a lot more athletic than people think. “This summer I got a lot better at fielding my position.” Johnson says he would rather be a starting pitcher. He knows there were several on the BSU staff that had earned their way into that role last spring. “I was suited to be a reliever freshmen year,” says Johnson. “I had no problems with it. I helped them best out of the bullpen. “I prefer starting. That’s what Ball State wants me to do next year.” Back in the CSL in 2021 — this time with the Caleb Fenimore-coached Bag Bandits — Johnson pitched in nine games (all starts) and went 5-1 with one complete game and a 2.03 earned run average. In 48 2/3 innings, he fanned 66 and walked 17. He posted a 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and opponents hit .176 against him. Johnson was named College Summer League at Grand Park Pitcher of the Year. The Bag Bandits beat the Snapping Turtles in the league championship game. The Ball State staff wanted Johnson to play in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League on the East Coast, but the pitcher opted to stay home. He trained in his basement or local gym and was allowed by Winzenread to do his throwing at Lawrence North with Bag Bandits teammate and 2021 LNHS graduate and University of Illinois recruit Cal Shepherd. Academically, Johnson is undecided on his major. But he has declared Coaching as a minor. “I could see me doing that the rest of my life,” says Johnson. “I would enjoy my time.” Johnson was born in Rockwall, Texas, and moved with his family to the Lawrence Township area of Indianapolis when he was 2. At 6, he played Coach Pitch at what is now Fall Creek Softball and Baseball. From 9U to 12U, he played travel ball for the Indiana Kodiaks, Indiana Mustangs and Oaklandon Youth Organization Bombers. Johnson was with the Indiana Bulls from 13U to 17U. His head coaches were Tony Cookery, Ryan Bunnell, Dan Held and Troy Drosche. Basketball was another sport for Johnson until seventh grade. He then decided to concentrate on baseball. Ty (19) is the youngest of three children born to Rick and Lisa Johnson. There’s also Elle (24) and Pierce (22). Salesman Rick played football in high school. Part-time receptionist Lisa played basketball. Elle was born in Wisconsin where she was a high school swimmer. Pierce was born in Texas where he played high school basketball.
A pair of coaches at the beginning of their professional baseball coaching careers with Indiana ties are together in the New York Yankees organization. Former Ball State University assistant Dustin Glant is the pitching coach and one-time Indiana University assistant Casey Dykes the hitting coach for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Pa.) Railriders of Triple-A East (formerly the International League). Both were hired by the Yankees in the summer of 2019. After getting their bearings in the system, they went to instructional league that fall and their first big league spring training in 2020. Glant and Dykes both reside in the Tampa, Fla., area near the organization’s training headquarters during the offseason — Glant with wife Ashley, daughter Evelyn (4) and son David (who turns 2 in December); Dykes with wife Chaney (a former Western Kentucky University basketball player), sons Jett (4) and Kash (2) and daughter Lainey (going on 3 months). At Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Glant and Dykes serve on a staff that features manager Doug Davis, outfield/baserunning coach Raul Dominguez, infield coach Caonabo Cosme, athletic trainer Darren London and strength and conditioning coach Larry Adegoke. With their busy daily schedules, Glant and Dykes don’t spend much time together during the day. They say hello in the morning and then wind down together after games. Glant, 39 (he turns 40 July 20), guided pitchers at BSU from 2017-19 for Cardinals head coach Rich Maloney. As a player, Glant pitched for Generals head coach Dave Fireoved at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wayne High School and Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber at Purdue University and had pro stints in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and independent ball. Glant coached at Marathon (Fla.) and Mount Vernon (Fortville, Ind.) high schools, was a volunteer at Ball State then head coach at Lapel (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University before returning to BSU late in 2016 as pitching coach. Dykes, 31, was the hitting coach at Indiana under head coach Jeff Mercer. Dykes played at Western Kentucky for Hilltoppers head coach Chris Finwood and was a graduate assistant to head coach Matt Myers when Mercer was a WKU volunteer. A 2008 Franklin (Tenn.) High School graduate, who played for Admirals head coach Brent Alumbaugh, Dykes spent four seasons at Western Kentucky (2009-12) and served two seasons as an assistant, becoming volunteer when Mercer left for Wright State University. Before Indiana, Dykes was hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra’s staff at Virginia Military Institute (2015-18). Glant says his gameday at the pro level is similar to what it was in college. “I try to get as much one-on-one and small-group time as possible,” says Glant. “If I don’t I feel I miss things.” The difference is that in college, Glant spent a lot of time in front of a computer reviewing video on how to attack hitters. The process is more streamlined at the pro level. “It’s more development focused here,” says Glant, who might focus on a pitcher’s need to improve at holding runners or locating his fastball in a certain count. “We want to win, but we work on the big picture (getting players ready for the big leagues).” Dykes says there more a sense of urgency in pro ball, especially at the Triple-A level where players have more experience. “You don’t have the background with them (like college players who have been recruited and are usually around for years to build a relationship and go through a fall development season),” says Dykes. “In the pros, you’re playing so many games and you don’t have an offseason with them. “Things are changing constantly.” Glant’s gameday starts with preparing for the day and looking at video of the previous night’s game. In the afternoon, he reviews that with pitchers and finds the positives. Then he oversees staggered bullpen sessions for starters and — just before batting practice — relievers, who might go through a full bullpen or just “touch and feel” to stay sharp. BP is also the time he sits down with that night’s starter, both catchers and analyst Shea Wingate to map out a attack plan. Glant says Wingate’s insight is helpful. “He may find that a pitcher needs to throw more sliders,” says Glant. “We look for places where there are good spots to throw more sliders.” Once the game starts, Glant is right by Davis to make pitching-related decisions. Dykes watches his hitters and offers suggestions if necessary. At Triple-A, there are a mix of veteran players with MLB service time and younger ones trying to earn their first big league call-up. “It’s almost all like assistant coaches,” says Glant of having vets around. “They educate guys in the bullpen. It happens naturally. Guys get together and they start start talking. “They’re kind of mentors to the young guys. It’s been great.” Dykes, who starts his gameday with a workout and video study followed by plenty of batting cage time, sees his job as providing the last piece of the puzzle for players trying to return and debut at the big league level. “I want to help these guys maximize who they are as a player,” says Dykes. “It’s good to work with guys who have experienced it. “This is what they do for a living. They’re all-in.” Like the rest of the world, Glant and Dykes learned a different way of doing things thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that caused cancellation of the 2020 minor league season and separated coaches and players from in-person interaction. “It went from being the worst thing ever to — honestly — the best thing ever,” says Glant. “We learned how to train our guys remotely via Zoom and video-conferencing. We were good at it. “We had a lot of people get better without being at the complex during that time.” Led by director of pitching Sam Briend, manager of pitch development Desi Druschel and Director of Performance John Kremer (an Indianapolis native who pitched of the University of Evansville and in the Yankees system), the organization devised a plan and found a way to develop during COVID. “It was mind-blowing,” says Glant. “We had pitchers buys in.” When Glant got a call in the fall of 2020, he went back to training face-to-face with a few 40-man roster players in Tampa and that rolled into 2021 big league camp. Being away from the clubhouse and the dugout, Dykes missed the relationships. “It made me appreciate that even more,” says Dykes. “It also taught me that you didn’t have to be hands-on and in-person with a player to help them develop. “It was a unique challenge, but made me a better coach. It got me after my comfort zone.” Using technology and video tools became part of Dykes’ coaching world and that will continue. “The world we knew has completely changed,” says Dykes. “It’s definitely more efficient. There’s no arguing that.” Dykes expresses thanks to the men who helped him along his baseball, path including Alumbaugh, Finwood, Myers, Hadra and Mercer as well as former Western Kentucky assistant and current DePauw University head coach Blake Allen and current Indiana assistants Justin Parker and Dan Held. “(Alumbaugh) had a ton of influence,” says Dykes.”He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He saw the potential in me. But he wasn’t going to tell me. He was going to make me work for it. “He had high expectations for me. He really challenged me during some important times in my life.” Dykes, who was a catcher that turned into a third baseman, played three summers during college for Alumbaugh for the Texas Collegiate League’s Brazos Valley Bombers (College Station, Texas). “(Myers, Finwood and Allen) taught me a lot about the work and mentality it takes to be successful,” says Dykes. “They knew that as soon as my playing days were over I wanted to coach.” Dykes learned from Hadra about the importance of being detailed and fine-tuning the process to be able to communicate the message to players. “He’s incredible at that,” says Dykes of Hadra. “He was still a fairly young head coach at that time, but you would never know it. He clings to that process.” With Mercer, Parker and Held at Indiana, Dykes was part of a Hoosiers team that went 37-23 and won the Big Ten title in 2019. IU lost to Texas in the final round of the NCAA Austin Regional.