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Ivy Tech’s Hershberger extolls the virtues of vision training

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Ridiculous attention to detail.”

That’s how Lance Hershberger goes about his business as head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind.

That attention was on display as Hershberger talked about “Vision As It Pertains to Hitting in Baseball” during the Huntington North Hot Stove clinic session hosted Sunday, Dec. 1 by new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

Hershberger, with the assistance of Ivy Tech players Grant Hershberger (his son) and Connor Knoblauch, presented information and a number of drills designed to help hitters improve the way they use their eyes.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of vision in baseball,” says Hershberger, who has led the Titans to a 58-32 mark in the first two years of the Ivy Tech program. “If you think it’s not important, try playing the game with your eyes closed.

“It’s the most overlooked and under appreciated skill in the game.”

Hershberger broke his talk into four areas:

• Vision.

• Focus.

• Tee and drill work.

• Live hitting.

“A lot of this vision stuff is really focus,” says Hershberger. “I’m not an optometrist. I can’t give you a prescription for glasses.

“But I can give you some things that will focus on baseball.”

Hershberger said the first place to start is make sure that players can see well. They may need to see an eye doctor or simply commit to wearing their contacts or glasses to improve their vision and performance.

“Don’t take any of that for granted,” says Hershberger. “There is something to that.”

Hershberger talked about the dominant eye vs. back eye and used a water bottle at the edge of the stage as a visual.

He invited the audience to mimic the players and make a triangle with their fingers and put the bottle in the middle.

In closing one eye, the bottle will move outside or close to edge of the triangle.

Closing the other one will make the bottle stay inside the triangle.

The latter will be the dominant eye.

Hershberger says that if the dominant eye is the one closest to the pitcher, they should be fine. If the back eye is dominant then twisting the head to face the pitcher with both eyes is the way to go.

“Here’s one thing about (dominant eye),” says Hershberger. “You can’t change that. I can’t give you any drills. I can’t give you anything to work to change that.”

Rather than concentrating on something they can’t fix, Ivy Tech works on the back eye.

“We make sure our hitters see the pitcher, the ball, the window with their back eye,” says Hershberger. “We’ll do short toss or tee work with the front eye closed.”

For about $1.79, an eye patch can be purchased at the craft store and can be worn for these types of drills, including batting practice.

Hershberger brought out the Brock String, a device that is used in vision therapy that is a 4-foot piece of rope with colored tape every six inches.

“We’ll have our guys focus on that,” says Hershberger. “We usually tie it off on a fence or a post and put it at an angle to simulate the angle of the pitch.

“During this drill, all (the player) sees are the colors. He doesn’t see anything else. He goes up and he goes back down.

“We go for a minute and you should do it five or six times.”

Another vision drill is Thumbs Up.

Players stand apart at distances up to 60 feet with one thumb in the air and they alternate focus on the thumbs.

“We go for a minute. They don’t listen to anything. They don’t see anything (else). That’s all they see. His thumb. Their thumb.

“You do it five or six times a week and you do it all year long, you’ll get better. Your sight may not get better, but your focus will get better on what you’re doing.

“If they’re doing it right, they should have a headache when they’re done.”

In his decades around sports, Hershberger has found that athletes have not really changed.

“I hear it all the time: ‘I can’t coach kids the same way I did 30 years ago,’” says Hershberger. “I don’t believe that. I think the people that have changed are the guys in my shoes, the coaches.

“Kids will work up or down to your expectations.”

The difference now is that the coaches are better with communication.

“I explain why we do it,” says Hershberger. “I put it in a package (of drills) that makes sense to them. Here’s what we’re doing and here’s why we’re doing it.”

Hershberger talked about the importance of seeing the ball early and late.

“There’s 60 feet, 6 inches between the pitcher and the catcher,” says Hershberger. “Everybody sees the ball somewhere along that path. Usually somewhere in the middle.

“They don’t focus on the pitcher real well so they don’t see it out of his hand and know what’s coming. Then they try to guesstimate where it’s going and swing to that spot.

“Good hitters see the ball early and they see it late.”

Hoping it will help his team with vision, Hershberger has had underside of the bill on all Ivy Tech batting helmets painted white to reflect all waves of light.

“Theoretically, we may be able to see a little bit better,” says Hershberger. “I’m trying to do anything I can to get any advantage I can.

“It surely won’t hurt.”

The Titans use drills to track the baseball with their eyes.

Players are told to Google hit king Pete Rose.

“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at taking a pitch,” says Hershberger. “He would track everything into the (catcher’s) glove.

“We want our guys to track the ball.”

The player feeding the ball presents it in the “window” aka arm slot than rolls it and the batters follows it until it stops.

“You’ve got to walk before you run,” says Hershberger. “What we’re teaching there is that ridiculous attention to detail.

“You’re setting the tone for focusing on the ball.”

Ivy Tech has a bag of gimmicks — balls with colors, numbers etc., that are used in these vision drills that are packaged together with other movements in a logical way.

When balls are tossed, the batter can call out whether it is big or small, yellow or white, fastball, curveball or change-up, in, middle or out.

“He is hunting the ball in his hand,” says Hershberger. “None of this is earth-shattering but, hopefully, in the context of how you use it, it’s good.”

With the tee, Hershberger has hitters — swinging a conventional bat, paddle or piece of PVC pipe — load, stride and take it to contact then stop.

“We want them to see the bat hit the ball,” says Hershberger. “Out front on the top half. I’m not a launch angle guy.”

Then the hitter takes a half swing and contacts the ball.

“We’re working on focus,” says Hershberger. “We’re not working on mechanics of  the swing.”

Hershberger offered some other tips about tee work not related to focus.

“Always have a home plate when you’re working on the tee,” says Hershberger. “If you don’t have one, use your hat or your glove. You have to have a reference point.”

The tee is moved around depending what pitch is being worked on.

“Your swing doesn’t change,” says Hershberger. “Your point of contact and turn does.”

Tee placement will almost always vary by player.

“When they’re partners in these drills and the tee never moves from guy to guy, I’m suspect,” says Hershberger. “Oh, you’ve both got the same swing!?

“It’s more likely you’re both being lazy.

“If you don’t move it and set it up for your swing, you’re practicing somebody else’s swing and you’re getting nothing out of it. You have to set it up and be meticulous.

“Ridiculous attention to detail.”

Rapid Fire involves hitting ball after ball post-stride.

“Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!,” says Hershberger. “That’s the logical progression of what we’ve been doing.

“He’s seeing that bat hit that ball.”

Hershberger notes that the hitters’ head does not track the ball off his bat.

“You stay down in there,” says Hershberger, who has been known to take away a practice at-bat of a hitter who tracks the flight of the ball.

Vision and focus is used at Ivy Tech to work on pitch recognition.

The batter quickly calls out the type of pitch — fastball, curveball, change-up — out of the “window.”

In another drill, players who recognize fastball will go quick to the ball and pull it. If it’s a breaking, they will stay back.

There’s also a variation where they learn to sit on a fastball and adjust to a breaking pitch. This combines soft toss and the tee. The soft toss ball or the one on the tee can be hit depending on location — all the while maintaining focus.

HUNTINGTON NORTH HOT STOVE

At Huntington North H.S.

Sundays, 2:30-5 p.m.

(Free)

Remaining Speakers

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

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

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

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

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

LANCEHERSHBERGERMUG

Lance Hershberger is the head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Ivy Tech Photo)

LANCEGRANTHERSHBERGER

Lance Hershberger (left) is the head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. One of his players is son Grant (right). (Ivy Tech Photo)

 

Reds’ VanMeter talks about hitting approach, intangibles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh VanMeter has morphed as a hitter.

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

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

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

VanMeter gave advice to hitters around 12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At an early age, he worked at his craft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Obviously, it worked for me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

Most will foul that pitch into their foot.

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

“It’s not dumb luck.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hitters must commit to a plan and trust their swing.

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

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

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

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

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

What about a timing mechanism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HUNTINGTON NORTH HOT STOVE

At Huntington North H.S.

Sundays, 2:30-5 p.m.

(Free)

Remaining Speakers

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

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

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

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

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

JOSHVANMETERREDS19

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

 

Gameday mentality fuels Frame-coached Huntington U. Foresters

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team can’t control the wintry weather and the fact that they have to do almost all of their practicing indoors so far in 2019.

But the Foresters won’t use that as an alibi.

Mike Frame, who is in his 35th season as HU head coach, won’t let that happen.

“We’re not going to use it as an excuse,” says Frame, who has had his players working out inside the Merillat Complex fieldhouse when it’s been too cold or wet to use Forest Glen Park. “It’s the hand that we’ve been dealt so we have to make the most of it.”

Years ago, Frame and close friend Tom Roy (who is now co-head coach at Grace College) came up with ACE. The acronym stands for Attitude, Concentration, Effort. It’s something the student-athletes can control everyday.

“For me, it goes beyond playing baseball,” says Frame, a member of the Huntington University Athletics, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Northeast Indiana Baseball Association halls of fame. “We talk to these young men from the time we recruit them that attitude, concentration and effort is something take you with you when you leave. Someday you’re going to be an employee and the employer is going to want somebody with a great attitude, great concentration and great effort.

“Someday there’s going to be a young lady that would like to have a husband with those qualities and a little boy or little girl that would like to have a father with those qualities.

“Let’s control the things that we can control.”

The Foresters’ schedule called for first 20 road games to be played on the road.

Of that number, a dozen were contested and Huntington split them, including one win against NAIA No. 19-ranked University of the Cumberlands and two against No. 22 Taylor University. The home opener against Spring Arbor University was moved to the turf at Logansport High School, where a 6-5 win was achieved for 7-6 start to the campaign.

“We have to prepare to go out and play right away against really good competition,” says Frame. “We have to make sure what we do in (the fieldhouse) translates outside whether we’ve been on the field or not.”

Practices are conducted at a high tempo.

“We have to have a gameday mentality in all that we do,” says Frame. “That’s one of the reasons we practice with uniforms on, guys hit with helmets on.”

Because Frame believes baseball was not meant to be played indoors, player earn their positions in the fall. He does not play favorites.

“The best player is going to play.,” says Frame “What year you are in school doesn’t matter.”

What makes Crossroads League baseball so strong?

“There’s some stability at the top in terms of coaching,” says Frame, noting his own longevity and that of Mount Vernon Nazarene’s Keith Veale (30th season) and Taylor’s Kyle Gould (15th season). “Those coaches are working at it.”

Frame says the league is made up of similar schools in terms of resources, scholarship money and the like. Member schools tend to be faith-based with a strong focus on academics.

“We have to ask how they can handle things at a Christian school and academically before we ever look at (athletic) ability,” says Frame.

HU pitching coach Brian Abbott is in his second go-around at Huntington after a stint at league member Indiana Wesleyan.

“It’s a very competitive league,” says Abbott. “These teams compete at a very high level.”

The league has produced professional players and former IWU pitcher Brandon Beachy made it all the way to the big leagues.

Former Huntington player Dalton Combs spent the past two seasons as an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“You can get to professional baseball from a small school,” says Abbott, who is also executive director of the IHSBCA. “It might be a little easier as a pitcher. A position player needs to be outside with the at-bats and the ground balls that are harder (to come by) in this weather.”

The winner of the Crossroads League regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament will receive automatic bids to the NAIA Opening Round. If the winner of the regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament are the same team, the second place team from the tournament will be awarded the second automatic bid.

Senior outfielder Donovan Clark (Fort Wayne South Side High School graduate), senior right-handed pitcher D.J. Moore (Homestead), senior first baseman/designated hitter Adam Roser (Northfield), junior right-hander Mason Shinabery (Bellmont), junior left-hander Alex McCutcheon (Huntington North) are part of the current Huntington mix.

All come together for a common cause but with a different perspective.

Clark, who played high school baseball for head coach Sheldon Van Pelt, was on the football team at Indiana University before a back injury ended his career in that sport. With friends Will Coursen-Carr and Tyler Zimske playing baseball at Huntington, he decided to switch his focus to the diamond.

What is the difference between NCAA Division I football and NAIA baseball?

“Baseball — in general — is more mental,” says Clark, who went from defensive back to center fielder. “In football, if you don’t have a tackle, interception or impact the game in some way, you’re not considered the best player on the field.”

The Forester Way has a familiar feel to Clark, who is scheduled to graduate this spring with a business marketing degree.

“It’s a small school,” says Clark. “But the program here goes about things in a big school way. We have a strength coach (Scott Craft).”

With all the indoor workouts, Clark has been getting some reps with the infielders to stay busy and learn something new.

“It’s difficult to come inside and go outside and play a game,” says Clark. “But we’ve done a good job of adapting to it. I’m proud of the team.”

Moore, who played at Homestead for Steve Sotir, has noticed the change between high school and college baseball.

“There’s a big difference,” says Moore. “For one, the game speeds up tremendously. Everybody becomes bigger and stronger. Everybody has better eyes at the plate. When you first come in, you’re facing guys who are three or four years older than you.

“The biggest thing is execution and knowing I can’t just throw the ball over the plate without a purpose like I did in high school. I have to actually hit my spots and have a plan.”

The Crossroads League provides a challenge from top to bottom.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this league,” says Moore. “You’ll have ranked team. You’ll have teams receiving votes. You’ll have teams not even close to receiving votes that will still find a way to win. Any team can come out to play and win. There’s not any dominant team in this whole league.”

Moore has learned how to balance academics and athletics.

“It’s a difficult process, but it’s bearable,” says Moore. “It’s about getting your studies done before practice and keeping in-touch with professors. They understand how busy we are in the spring.”

Moore, a sport management major, says Frame encourages his players to take a heavier course load in the fall, maybe 16 or 17 hours and 12 in the spring with as many morning classes as possible.

Tradition attracted more to Huntington.

“Coach knows what he’s doing,” says Moore. “He’s coached here more than half his life. He’s got a great attitude about things and makes us work hard.”

Roser appreciates the approach and the time spent before practices working  ACE attributes.

“We go over Bible verses and examples of how we can be better with our attitude, concentration and effort,” says Roser. “In baseball, the best team doesn’t always win.

“If you have the right attitude and concentration and you put forth the effort, you can beat a good team no matter what kind of talent they have.”

College baseball requires a great time commitment. But Roser, who played for Tony Uggen at Northfield, knew that when he was being recruited.

“It takes awhile for people to adapt to this kind of culture with how much time we put into baseball and studying,” says Roser. “It’s like a 24-hour job almost.

“Coach Frame does a pretty good job of explaining to us what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Roser is slated to graduate this spring with a sports management degree.

Shinabery also played another position while at Bellmont, but is a pitcher-only for the Foresters. While he came out of the bullpen last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers, he’s been used as a starter for Huntington.

“I have a routine,” says Shinabery. “I know when I’m going to pitch. I just make sure I’m ready to go that day.”

Having support is helpful for the pitching staff.

“Coach Abbott and Coach Frame have faith that all our pitchers can do it,” says Shinabery. “In certain situations, they don’t care who comes in. We can all throw strikes and get the job done

“Just them believing in us helps out me and our staff a lot.”

McCutcheon played his high school baseball in the same town, but began his collegiate career at Vincennes University. After a season, he transferred to Huntington and enjoys the baseball atmosphere.

“Coach Frame sets up the mentality the program has,” says McCutcheon. “We’re a blue collar team. We work hard. Coach Frame encourages toughness in everything. He makes us do things the right way.

“That’s what separates us.”

Assistant coach Thad Frame (Mike’s son) keeps practices humming by constantly reminding players at a swift pace. NAIA game rules call for 20 seconds between pitches and two minutes of warm-up between innings.

“When we pitch, Coach has a timer,” says McCutcheon. “We make sure we are always uptempo.

“Thad wants us to get out on the field as fast as we can. If the hitter is just casually putting his gloves on and we can get him off-guard. That’s an advantage for us if he’s not fully prepared.”

McCutcheon says he knows that two things important to Mike Frame are hustling and being mentally-prepared.

Each day after stretching, players are led through visualization.

“Coach Frame has us lay down for a minute or so and clear out everything,” says McCutcheon. “You see yourself walk everything you’re thinking about out the door and get ready for practice.

“He wants our mindsets to be there everyday. That’s the most important thing for him.”

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MIKEFRAME

Mike Frame is head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Brian Abbott is baseball pitching coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Donovan Clark is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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D.J. Moore is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Adam Roser is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Mason Shinabery is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Alex McCutcheon is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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Roth, Roy now leading Grace Lancers on, off the baseball diamond

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grace College baseball wants workers.

“Having the discipline to do the work is what gets you to the ability,” says Ryan Roth, co-head coach of the Winona Lake, Ind.-based Lancers. “Work ethic is a form of discipline.

“I think it’s necessary. It’s a non-negotiable.”

Roth, who has as been on the Grace coaching staff for a year, and co-head coach Tom Roy, who was Lancers head coach 1980-83 and has served a few seasons as chaplain and a short stint as pitching coach, are leading  young men on and off the diamond.

“You’ve got to have guys at this level who want to work hard and get better,” says Roy, who is helping the NAIA-affiliated school prepare to compete in the Crossroads League. “You have to be able to grind. You have to be disciplined and do the fundamentals properly. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

Fall practice was spent on fundamentals and learning offensive philosophy and swing mechanics and continues as the team returned from winter break this week.

Roy and Roth’s relationship goes back to when Roth played at Huntington University.

“He’s a very good coach,” says Roy of Roth. “I’m no worried about that at all. Coach Roth is really good with pitching and these kids are really improving already.

“We’ve known each other for 13 years. We’re pretty excited about it. We’ll love on the kids. That’s our philosophy.”

The Lancers went 9-18 in the Crossroads in 2018, but swept a doubleheader at eventual conference tournament champion Marian and took a game against regular-season champion Indiana Wesleyan.

“Anybody can win on any given day,” says Roth. “If you give yourself a chance mentally and prepare to win, it doesn’t matter (what the standings say).

“You’ve got to respect your opponents. Make sure you handle your business on game day.”

With 10 teams in the Crossroads, Grace will play nine series. Eight of those will be on the weekend with a 9-inning single game on Friday and a doubleheader with 7- and 9-inning games Saturday. the other series will be held on Tuesdays with a 9-inning single game one week with 7- and 9-inning contests the next. This year, the Lancers host Indiana Wesleyan April 9 and 16 at Miller Field.

The season opener is scheduled for Feb. 27 at Western Michigan University. Grace opens the league season March 8 against Bethel in Vero Beach, Fla.

“We are men for Christ,” says Roth. “We have the utmost respect for all the coaches in the league.

“We are honored for the opportunity to be a part of it.”

The 2019 roster includes junior pitcher David Anderson, sophomore infielder Houston Haney and senior pitcher Logan Swartzentruber. Pitcher Anderson and infielder Haney were honorable mention all-Crossroads selections in 2018 while pitcher Swartzentruber was on the academic all-league list.

Other commitments mean Roy won’t be with the team full-time until March 1. The two men have divided up responsibilities.

Roth said is handling all administrative work and leading efforts in recruiting and establishing the program’s culture.

“Our primary focus is that we grow Godly men,” says Roy, the founder of Unlimited Potential, Inc. and author of six books, including Shepherd Coach: Unlocking the Destiny of You and Your Players. “We know we can coach. We’re very confident in our abilities.”

The coaching staff also features Justin Love, Ryan Moore and Devin Skelton.

Love played at Northridge High School and Ball State University and has almost 20 years of coaching experience. He handles outfield instruction and helps with base running. Love and Roth have both coached at nearby Warsaw High School.

Moore, who is from Kokomo, Ind., played at Indiana Wesleyan where he was an NAIA Gold Glove catcher. He works with Grace receivers.

Skelton is a graduate assistant from Forsyth, Ga., who played at Berry College in Mount Berry, Ga. He handles infielders and helps with recruiting.

With their connections, Roth and Roy have a large network from which to recruit.

“We want to recruit regionally and locally if we can, but we’re not opposed to going coast to coast,” says Roth. “First and foremost, we’re looking for character.”

The 2019 recruiting class has a number of players from northern Indiana and a few from Ohio.

Grace coaches are looking for players who are good teammates, hard workers and those who have a relationship with the Lord.

“We’d like to get a Christian athlete, but they need to be able to play, too,” says Roy. “We’re looking at measurables (like 60-yard dash time etc.) — all the things you do as a pro scout.”

Roth talks with high school and travel coaches and seeks players willing to do the extra things on the field and in the weight room.

“We know if he’s doing it there, he’ll do it here,” says Roth. “The big thing is work ethic. That kind of thing is innate. We look for that in guys.”

To allow more opportunities to grow as baseball players and as men, Grace has added a junior varsity program. Those games will be played in the fall.

Roth played for head coach Jack Rupley at Manchester High School in North Manchester, Ind., where he graduated in 2003.

He was part of the Squires’ IHSAA Class 2A state champions in 2002 and also played football.

Ryan followed in the footsteps of older brother Marc Roth and playing for head coach Mike Frame at Huntington U.

Coach Rupley made fundamental baseball a priority.

“He taught the basics of running bases, bunt defense and situational hitting,” says Roth. “We also believed in treating everybody fairly and letting everybody be the best version of themselves.

“You knew he was going to care about you and value you no matter what happened on the field.”

Playing for Mike Frame (who Roy recruited to Huntington in his time as a coach there) and with Mike’s son, Thad Frame (a current Foresters assistant), Roth received many lessons.

“I learned a lot about how to be a disciplined player,” says Roth. “I learned a lot about the game. My I.Q. increased a ton.”

He also found out how to accept challenges and develop resilience as an athlete.

“Playing for (Frame), you just have to push yourself to get better,” says Roth. “I have a ton of respect for him.”

Roth served in the U.S. Navy 2010-13.

Citing family and personal reasons, Cam Screeton stepped down as Grace head coach in December 2018.

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Tom Roy (left) and Ryan Roth are co-head baseball coaches at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Westview’s Rahn knows little things can go a long way in baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attention to detail.

Sweating the small stuff because it can lead to big results.

Understand that there is more than one way to do something better.

These are some of the concepts that Jason Rahn brings to his players as the head baseball coach at Westview High School in LaGrange County, Ind.

“You’ve got to be good at that stuff to be able to play at a high level,” says Rahn, who enters his eighth season as Warriors head coach after serving three years as an assistant to Joel Mishler. “We’re fortunate at Westview to be good with things that often get overlooked.”

One area where Rahn looks for improvement is on the basepaths— not just stealing bases, but being aggressive and knowing how to make a dirt-ball read to take an extra base.

“I learned quickly in college that if you know how to run bases you were going to be effective,” says Rahn, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Mike Frame at Huntington University and graduating from Huntington North High School, where he was on squads led by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Sherman and then Chad Daugherty. “You can steal a bag or catch a guy sleeping with the ball in his hand.”

Rahn expects his pitches to throw strikes. But not just pitches in the strike zone.

“Where do you want the strike thrown?,” says Rahn, who knows some strikes can’t be barreled up and others can be crushed.

Rahn goes into each practice with a plan. There is a playbook (written in a way that high school players who have many other things in their life besides baseball can understand).

“It’s repetition and building muscle memory,” says Rahn. “We break down moments and tell why we’re doing it this way. When you see the light bulb come on, you see a huge transition in the kid.”

Mishler, who has experience as a college player, college and high school coach and pro scout and is the founder of the Indiana Chargers travel organization, gets credit from Rahn for his way of teaching game situations.

“He makes it make sense for the kids. You have to realize that some of these kids are 15-year-olds.”

Another dynamic Rahn enjoys is seeing olders players explain things to the younger ones.

“You see who your leaders are just by posting the practice schedule and seeing what happens,” says Rahn.

As a young player on Sherman-coached team, he saw how he interacted with upperclassmen.

“He would push them, but he was also working alongside them as a teammate,” says Rahn. “He was teaching the game as a fan of them.”

Sherman coached the Huntington North baseball team for 38 years until he retired in 2001.

Rahn said some of his best conversations with Sherman came over the fence when first baseman Rahn was playing in college and Sherman was there to watch.

Those moments almost didn’t happen.

In high school, Rahn was all-in for basketball and thought that would be his path in college. He didn’t go out for baseball as a sophomore then watched best friend Thad Frame (Mike’s son) start at shortstop as a freshman.

An ankle injury helped Rahn decide to switch his focus away from the hardwood and onto the diamond.

He was part of a large senior class who enjoyed a special final season in 2003.

He recalls the enthusiastic words of a teammate who said he should be grateful for the opportunity to play and be outside under the blue skies.

As a Huntington University player, Rahn got close with his teammates got to know Mike Frame even better.

“When you sweat and cry next to a guy long enough, you have these tight relationships,” says Rahn. “(Coach Frame) was leading that.

“There has always been a level of intensity about Coach Frame in all aspects of life. He has never been one to not wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’ll always let you know how much he loves you. Coming from a guy who is pushing you physically and mentally, that goes a long way.”

Rahn also gained knowledge from HU assistant coaches Dennis Kas, Brian Abbott and Dave Kennedy. Kas is an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. Abbott is the IHSBCA Executive Director.

At Westview, Rahn guided the Warriors to an IHSAA Class 2A LaVille Sectional title in 2011. His team enjoyed a memorable 2014 season that included a Westview Sectional championship and 18-inning marathon loss to Lafayette Central Catholic championship game of the Whiting Regional.

Five of those Warriors had played for the Indiana Chargers.

Three of them are in college baseball — Judah Zickafoose (Northwestern Oklahoma State University), Tarrin Beachy (Huntington U.) and Jamar Weaver (Huntington U.).

“I knew they were being taught well,” says Rahn, who has also had travel ball players with the Michiana Scrappers, Hitters Edge and Elkhart Titans.

A direct feeder program is Warrior Youth Baseball, which has been overhauled and has Rahn’s thumbprint on it more than ever.

“They use more of my verbiage,” says Rahn, who will have the 12U Warriors (coached by former Westview head coach Mark Engle) playing around 60 games by July 4. There will also be a limited travel scheduled for a 13U/14U team.

Westview is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (along with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights and West Noble).

Rahn’s 2018 high school coaching staff his a family feel to it. Varsity assistants include Steve Christner, Adam Christner and Nate White. Derrike Johns is the junior varsity coach.

Steve Christner’s is Rahn’s father-in-law and Adam Christner his wife’s brother.

Jason, who is employed at Jayco in Middlebury when not coaching, and Whitney Rahn first met at Huntington University.  They got to know one another better when Jason was living in Fort Wayne and Whitney was attending Indiana Purdue at Fort Wayne. The couple has three children — son Brigham (6), daughter Preslee (6) and son Sullivan (1 1/2).

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Jason Rahn, a product of Huntington North High School and Huntington University, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Westview High School in LaGrange County, Ind.

Huntington U.’s Frame embraces the relationships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Frame has experienced plenty on the baseball field.

In his 33rd season as head coach at Huntington University, he has seen plenty of hits, runs, errors, walks and strikeouts.

When he started with the Foresters, Frame was not much older than the players he was leading.

“I was so young,” says Frame. “I was concerned I wasn’t going to be respected.

“I was a taskmaster. I felt like I had to control everything.”

As time passed, Frame’s coaching approach transformed.

“Things have changed a lot since I first started,” says Frame. “The biggest change is probably just me. I try to understand coaching better.”

Along the way, he found his own style and what he came to appreciate more than anything are the relationships.

“You coach baseball differently than you coach other sports,” says Frame. “There’s a different rhythm to it. Maybe that’s just me? Part of being successful in coaching is you have to based on your style. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not.”

Frame, a member of the Huntington University Athletic Hall of Fame and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Halls of Fame, does not scream and yell or play mind games. He speaks in truth and love (Ephesians 4:15).

“You have to establish trust and trust is more than what they do on the baseball field,” says Frame. “It’s about their development as a young man. If you develop trust, there’s no reason to be screaming and yelling or playing mind games.

“Coach and player are in it for the same thing, their development — on the field and off.”

Frame also trusts his coaching staff of Thad Frame (Mikes’s son), Mark Flueckiger,  Brian Abbott, Nate Perry, Scott Craft (strength and conditioning) and Dan Wilcher (student assistant). It’s a group that includes four men who played with or for him.

“They’re not just assistant coaches, they’re friends and family,” says Frame. “I don’t try to micro-manage their time or what they teach. Sometimes I’m leading, but most of the time (in practice) they are in charge.”

What about the future?

“You want to leave the program better than you found it,” says Frame. “I’m 56 and have coached for 33 years. I know I’m not going coach 33 more years. I had major heart surgery in November, I’m very healthy and doing fine. Who do you turn this over to?”

Frame entered the 2017 season with a 770-653 record with 13 conference or conference tournament titles. The Foresters have won three of the last nine Crossroads League tournament championships.

“I’m the winningest coach in Huntington University history,” says Frame, a five-time conference coach of the year and former NAIA district and area and National Christian College Athletic Association district coach of the year. “I’m the losingest coach in Huntington University history.”

Frame describes himself as very competitive, but he tries to keep things in perspective.

“I hate to lose,” says Frame. “I want to be able to challenge (players) in the baseball program, But, 15 years from now when they are a husband or father, I want to help them if I can.”

Not a year goes by when Frame doesn’t get correspondence from a former player telling how the lessons he was trying to impart did not hit home until they were out experiencing life after college.

“‘Now I understand some of the things you were trying to do and the spiritual influence,’” says Frame in relating a recent note he received.

Frame also takes satisfaction in the reputation that’s been built over the years.

“We’re known as a program that does things the right way,” says Frame. “There’s a respect level from the people we play.”

The ’17 HU roster includes 21 players from Indiana high schools. But the Foresters are also looking elsewhere for talent.

“We are expanding our recruiting a little bit into junior colleges,” says Frame. “Our starting third baseman (Andrew Nativdad) played at a JuCo in California. We certainly want to be able to recruit in our backyard, but we have signed a kid from Texas and gotten verbals from California and Iowa.

“(In recruiting), we have to find someone who is comfortable to be at a Christian university and be successful at a very good academic school.

“That weeds some kids out.”

Since the late 1950’s, the Foresters have played home games in a wooded ravine. Forest Glen Park, located on the northeast side of campus, is lighted with a capacity of 900, a press box and double bullpens.

“It’s quality place to play,” says Frame. “It’s kind of my garden. I enjoy just developing that facility.”

This season, the Crossroads League has opted to play a balanced conference schedule. There will be many three-game series (usually a single 9-inning game and doubleheader with 9- and 7-inning games).

“I’m looking forward to that,” says Frame. “The game is different 9 innings vs. 7 and we will have to adjust with our pitching. We are the only NAIA sport that plays more in the postseason (all 9-inning games) than regular season.

“In a perfect world, we’d play five 9-inning games a week.”

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Mike Frame is in his 33rd season as head baseball coach at Huntington University.