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The BASE Indy hosts first Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They were at the start of something.

Playing on the same field in Frederick Douglass Park where Hank Aaron — then with the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns — once launched a home run over 25th Street, young athletes participated in The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic for the very first time.

Teens came from Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh to share fellowship and the game they love with young men from Indianapolis, where a chapter of The BASE Indy was launched in the spring and will be headquartered in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood.

“This is just an extraordinary moment in time for us,” said The BASE Indy executive director Rob Barber as he honored family members of Indiana native Harmon, the first African-American to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

The Indianapolis clubhouse scheduled to open in the fall will be located in the former Safeway grocery at 25th and Sherman near Douglass Park which features Edna Martin Christian Center.

A picnic in the park brought supporters and neighbors together and they witnessed a “first pitch” ceremony.

Participants went to an Indianapolis Indians game, toured NCAA headquarters, attended a college fair, played more baseball at the University of Indianapolis and Bishop Chatard High School and took part in a scout showcase and career roundtable at Victory Field during the four-day event.

“The BASE is more than just a facility,” said Barber. “A lot of people think you’re going to come into a community and get the kids of color, put your hands in and say, ‘let’s play some baseball, hit the books and stay out of trouble, let’s break on three!’

“That is not at all what The BASE is. It’s about a methodology that expects excellence. We look at the young people in the community as assets and treasures that the world doesn’t know about. But we know about them and there’s talent all across this city.

“What they don’t have like some of the other communities across the country and other parts of the city are the same opportunities. The BASE comes in to change mindsets. We want to come in and find out the barriers they have and knock those down.”

Baseball is used to start a conversation and to provide mentoring and a direction for young people.

“We play hard and we compete,” said Barber. “But we ask that they work as hard in the classroom. We ask that, in their personal lives that with the choices they make and the respect they give as a citizen, they contribute back to the community.”

Robert Lewis Jr., who founded The BASE in Boston in 2013, was in Indianapolis to forge relationships and grow the organization.

Lewis shared hugs and encouraging words.

When he asked players how they were and the response was, “good,” Lewis let them know that “good is not good enough.”

“You are exceptional young men,” Lewis told them. “We are going to treat you like you’re exceptional.”

Mike Farrell, a former professional player and current pro scout, was among the coaches in The BASE Indy dugout, sharing his knowledge of baseball and life.

Three of the young men playing for The BASE Indy are Robert Snow, Travis Stumpf and Will Weingartner.

Snow, 17, lives on the east side of Indianapolis and is entering his junior year at Warren Central High School. He plays middle infield, outfield and pitcher.

“What I like most about baseball is that it gets me away from home and away from the outside distractions,” said Snow. “I do what I love to do and play with the people I love to play with.

“The BASE is going to help me get where I need to go college-wise.”

Advice from Barber and Lewis sticks with Snow.

“They told me, ‘always keep my head up and play hard, you never know who’s watching.

“(The Urban Classic) is a pretty fun event. You get to meet new people. You get to have fun with baseball.”

Stumpf, 18, resides on Indy’s west side and the Broad Ripple High School graduate recently completed his freshman year at the University of Louisville. He is majoring in accounting and considering a minor in finance. This coming school year, he plans to participate with College Mentors for Kids. He was a catcher in high school and plays all over the diamond in the summer.

“(Baseball) is a place for me to go when I’m stressed or feeling down,” said Stumpf. “(The BASE) wants to make the environment better for us to live in.

Weingartner, 17, lives in Irvington and is heading into his junior year at Scecina Memorial High School.

“Baseball has always been something I’ve loved to do,” said Weingartner. “It helps me pass time and keep my mind off stuff.

“The BASE means a lot to me. So far, it’s given me the opportunity to play in Chicago. I like my coaches and the opportunities they give me.”

Weingartner attended the Urban Classic college fair and is interested in studying law.

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. Indiana native Harmon was the first African-American to play for the Cincinnati Reds. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. A college fair was held during the event at the Edna Martin Christian Center at Frederick Douglass Park in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE founder Robert Lewis Jr. (left) shares a hug with a Pittsburgh player at The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Chicago players warm up at the University of Indianapolis during The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Bishop Chatard High School’s Dave Alexander Field was a venue for The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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A “first pitch” ceremony at Frederick Douglass Park was part of The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. This same field in Frederick Doulgass Park is where Hank Aaron hit a home run over 25th Street while playing for the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE founder Robert Lewis Jr. (left) talks with The BASE Indy team at the The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy executive director Rob Barber shares in the fellowship at a community picnic during the The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The BASE Indy Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic was staged July 7-10, 2019 in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Setting the bar high, The BASE launches in Indianapolis

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the objective of serving under-appreciated youth, The BASE was officially launched Wednesday, April 24 in Indianapolis.

At a gathering of leaders and supporters at the downtown Strada Education Network, the game plan was presented for The BASE Indy.

Founded in 2013 by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE was started in Boston as a outgrowth of that city’s Astros youth baseball program.

Lewis began coaching the Astros in Boston’s Villa Victoria public housing develop in the 1970s and the president was in Indiana’s capitol to talk about the organization that has now expanded to Chicago, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

Rob Barber, president of The BASE Indy, spoke about the need and the vision of the group.

Tysha Sellers, executive director of the Edna Martin Christian Center, explained a community partnership.

Milt Thompson, attorney and a familiar voice on Indianapolis TV and radio, told the folks how they can lend financial support.

Indiana native Chuck Harmon, the first black man to play for the Cincinnati Reds and a long-time leader in the sports world who died March 19 at 94, was remembered and honored.

Videos were shown that showed how The BASE operates in Boston and how Pete Rose is on board as a supporter.

Another featuring players from Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis pointed out the need.

Lewis rallied the troops Wednesday.

“We’re going to be where our young folks need us most,” said Lewis. “We have to be here.

“Is it about the money? Yes. But engagement is what it’s all about. We are who we’ve been waiting for. Superman and Superwoman are not walking through that door.

“We’re not going to take a day off. We’re not going to take an hour off. We’re going to be right in the grind.”

Lewis talked about empowering the community and that parks and playgrounds that build communities.

“Folks, we have an opportunity to do something special,” said Lewis. “We can change and uplift communities. We have to stand for something bigger than ourselves. Indy, let’s do this.”

From those parks and playgrounds, those young people can be educated and enter the workforce, be productive citizens and provide for their families.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s about the jobs,” said Lewis.

Chuck Harmon’s daughter and caregiver, Cheryl, traveled from Cincinnati to receive a mementos, including a proclamation from Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett declaring Chuck Harmon Day in the city. Harmon was a native of Washington, Ind.

“It’s Cheryl’s cousins that I grew up with and had a tremendous impact on our family,” said Barber, who grew up in southern Indiana and played baseball at Indiana University. “It’s probably a big reason why I’m here today.”

Barber talked about walking about from his former long-time occupation and that The BASE is where he’s supposed to be.

Last summer and fall, Barber visited kids around the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood.

“There is a movement happening on the near northeast side of Indianapolis,” said Sellers. “There’s 12,000 people within Martindale-Brightwood. There are a number of people within this community that believe there is a vision to be a thriving community.

“We can come together and make things happen with partnerships. (Young people) are only looking for opportunities to succeed. And they sometimes need people to help connect the dots. We don’t do it alone.”

Sellers, who was born and raised in Martindale-Brightwood, said the Edna Martin Christian Center focuses on education, financial stability for families and community health.

“We want them to move on to college and career and be successful so that they can come back and invest in a community at a higher level in order for us to break the poverty cycle,” said Sellers. “This is about us empowering this community. This is about us working with the community.

“They’re not only going to rebuild this community, but others as well. They’ll come back to wherever they came from to give back to that area.”

There are many other partners, including Play Ball Indiana (part of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) and universities around Indianapolis.

Barber, who coached Jeff Mercer (the current Indiana University head coach) when he was younger, took some players from The BASE Indy to their first collegiate baseball game in Bloomington in March.

“I cannot believe how well those young men handled themselves and how polite they were,” said Barber.

One of those youngsters — a player at Arsenal Tech coached by Bob Haney named Josh Morrow — has dreams of being an astrophysicist. Some of the debate at the ball game was about gravity on MIrars.

Barber believes that such high aspirations can be obtained through The BASE Indy and its partners.

He spoke about most people being born on second base with their children coming into the world on third base.

Many of those who The BASE Indy will serve have not even gotten up to the plate.

“One of the things that The BASE is extraordinary at doing is equipping and strengthening the legs of the kids so as they get to first base, they have the resources they need in life to begin to be successful and knock down some of those barriers,” said Barber.

Relating a conversation that he had with Irvington Preparatory Academy coach Davon Hardy, Barber heard about the struggles some of the players have to go through just to get to school and the baseball diamond.

One has no electricity at home.

Another is without food.

A third has a father who is incarcerated.

“What priority would baseball be in there life?,” said Barber, echoing Hardy. “At The BASE — before we can get to the part of teaching the baseball skills (former big leaguer Justin Masterson and scout Mike Farrell are among those who will lend their expertise while Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski is also involved) — it’s about giving them an incentive to do something.

“There are some walls we’re going to have to run through to create some opportunities and I’m OK with that. I’m a baseball person. But I’m also passionate about doing the right thing.”

Barber said the The BASE has a proven methodology. But it’s a four-letter word that drives it.

“The thing that drives it is love,” said Barber. “It’s that simple.”

That love in Indy is going to headquartered in Martindale-Brightwood.

“We want to raise their expectations,” said Barber. “I was the first person in my family to go to college.”

A passionate advocate of the baseball community, Thompson also talked about raising the bar.

“Expectations are set so low sometimes we don’t know how low we set them,” said Thompson. “How can we achieve anything unless we’re lifted up?”

Thompson, who has represented several professional athletes, recalled a conversation he had with Indiana basketball legend Oscar Robertson.

He asked the Big O, what he would do against Magic Johnson.

“Milt, what would Magic Johnson do against me?,” said Thompson of Robertson’s reply. “It’s mentality. It’s how you think. You set your expectations higher.”

Thompson talked about how one of his school counselors told him that he was best-suited to work with his hands.

“I didn’t get bitter. I got better,” said Thompson. “That was the best advice I ever heard. My first 10 jury trials, during closing arguments, I was using my hands.

“You set the bar higher, you can go get it.”

Thompson said it is necessary to be honest with yourself in all adversity.

“It’s not always easy,” said Thompson. “You’ve got to take a chance.

“We’re going to fill in the gap. We’re going to do unnecessary things because they are necessary.”

Thompson said the dialogue is being changed in inner cities.

“We don’t have underprivileged kids anymore we have under-appreciated kids,” said Thompson. “That’s the people we’re talking about. They have every have every possibility of greatness. They’re going to use their hands when they talk.

“Want to play the game? Want to pitch in? There are several things we can do.”

Among those things are hosting a fundraiser for the Urban Classic (which will be staged in Indianapolis for the first time in July), sponsor a college tour or career day, serve on an advisory board (education, baseball/softball or life skills/career), connect your personal contacts to The BASE Indy and make a donation to the cause.

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With Barber as president/CEO, The BASE Indianapolis offers diamond, educational opportunities to urban youth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.

The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.

These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.

A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”

Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.

“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. (The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.

“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”

With support from many, programming is free to these young people.

“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”

Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.

“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”

Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.

Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”

Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.

“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”

Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.

He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.

A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.

Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.

Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.

Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.

(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.

“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”

Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.

Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.

Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.

Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.

To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.

In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.

Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.

Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.

“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.

“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”

“But it’s about family.”

For more information, contact Barber at rbarber@thebaseindy.org or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.

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Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)

Homestead graduate Jernigan enjoying experience as second-year pro

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andre Jernigan grew up in Fort Wayne watching young baseball players chase their professional dreams in the Midwest League.

Jernigan, 23, is now doing the same as an infielder with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

A Homestead High School graduate in 2012 and Louisville Slugger All-American at Xavier University in 2016, Jernigan was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the ’16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after being named Big East Conference Player of the Year.

At spring training this year, Jernigan enjoyed picking the brains of former Minnesota Twins who were Fort Wayne Wizards coming through the minors — LaTroy Hawkins (with Fort Wayne in 1993) and Torii Hunter (1994).

“It’s incredible to play on the same fields and in the same league as them,” says Jernigan, who played 36 games for Elizabethton (Rookie-level Appalachian League) after the draft and four contests for the E-Twins in ’17 before being assigned to Cedar Rapids June 29.

“We’re lucky to come out here and just play,” says Jernigan. “I just like to take it day by day and enjoy the experience. It’s that fun and excitement you had when you were a kid that made you want to become a professional baseball player.

“It’s very easy once you get out there to lose sight of that. You start to think of it as a job. My main goal is to come out and learn something new and get better each and everyday.”

Playing so many games, pro baseball can become a mental and physical grind. But Jernigan chooses not to see it that way.

“You don’t think I have to play today, I get to play today,” says Jernigan. “It’s really just a blessing to be out here.”

Jernigan grew up playing shortstop and accept for being moved to third base by then-Homestead head coach Steve Sotir during his sophomore year, he was an everyday shortstop until he became a pro. The Twins have used him at second base, third base, shortstop and even one game at catcher.

“A ground ball’s a ground ball though the ball gets too you faster at third base,” says Jernigan. “The Twins talk about (playing multiple positions). I’ve always been told the more versatile you are, teams can get you more playing time.”

Jernigan is thankful for a foundation laid by Sotir, who now works at The Base in El Paso, Texas, and current Homestead head coach Nick Byall.

“They run a great program,” says Jernigan of Sotir and Byall. “I look back on the drills and some of the things we did. I can’t thank them enough with helping me with my development.”

Scott Googins, who became head coach at the University of Cincinnati after the ’17 season, was head coach at Xavier during Jernigan’s days as a Musketeer.

“Coach Googins made sure that we put together a tough schedule and faced the Vanderbilts and the Arizona States and some high-power arms,” says Jernigan. “Playing those teams in those series definitely helped in the sense that I’ve seen the velocity and the breaking balls.

“I seen some of that electric stuff. The biggest thing (in the minors), everyone you face now is a Friday night guy.”

The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.

“I want to find a pitch and drive it,” says Jernigan. “You must be ready for the fastball at all times. You can adjust to the off-speed after that.”

Andre was born to Frankie and Stacey Jernigan in Muncie and the family landed in Fort Wayne around the time Andre was starting school.

Frankie Jernigan graduated from Muncie Central High School and earned a baseball letter at the University of Nebraska (1989). He passed along his knowledge and love of the game to sons Andre and Austin (who played baseball at Homestead and is now a senior student at Ball State University).

“I can’t thank him enough for all those days when he threw us BP and hit us ground balls,” says Andre of his father.

Andre played travel in younger days with the Mavericks and then with the Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

In one of those small world phenomenons, The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy owner/senior baseball instructor and director of player development Manny Lopez was a minor league teammate of Ramon Borrego when both played in the Twins organization. Borrego is now manager of the Gulf Coast League Twins.

Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.

“I’ve always been good with numbers,” says Jernigan. “It’s one of those things that I find interesting.”

Another interesting family connection is former NBA standout Bonzi Wells. He is connected in Andre’s mother’s side.

Wells shined on the hardwood at Muncie Central and Ball State and then played with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets before stints in China and Puerto Rico.

At 40, Wells now plays in the new BIG3 pro 3-on-3 league.

Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.

“He has that inner drive that keeps you going,” says Jernigan.

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Andre Jernigan, a graduate of Homestead High School and Xavier University, is in the Minnesota Twins organization with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. (Steve Krah Photo)