Tag Archives: Tigers

Lebanon alum Harker hurling for Harwich in Cape Cod Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A year ago at this time, 2021 Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate Garrett Harker suited up for the North in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
In the summer of 2022, the right-handed pitcher is in the high-profile Cape Cod Baseball League with the Harwich Mariners, managed since 2003 by Steve Englert.
In his first two outings covering 3 2/3 relief innings, Harker has allowed no runs and two hits while striking out seven and walking none.
“It’s the best league you can play in,” says Harker, 19. “I’m blessed to be here and have this experience. I’m probably one of the youngest guys.
“I’m just trying to get some innings and throw in front of as many people as I can.”
During his freshmen season at the University of Cincinnati this spring, 6-foot, 200-pound Harker appeared in 16 games (six starts) and went 4-3 with one save and one save and a 7.08 earned run average. He produced 38 strikeouts and 22 walks in 48 1/3 innings.
The UC Bearcats head coach is Scott Googins. Harker works closely with pitching coach JD Heilmann.
It’s been competitiveness that Heilmann has emphasized with Harker.
“Go at the hitter and be the competitor you’ve been,” says Harker. “I’m not the biggest, fastest, strongest guy out there. I’m going to give you 100 percent no matter what I do.”
Born in Indianapolis, Harker grew up in Lebanon. He played at Lebanon Little League until about 9 then played for various travel ball teams, including the Lebanon Thunder, Indiana Baseball Club, Indiana Elite, Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Bulls and Team Indiana (fall ball).
With the 2020 prep season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harker played three seasons at Lebanon High School for Rick Cosgray.
“He’s a players’ coach for sure,” says Harker of Cosgray. “He’ll go to battle for you as long as you give 100 percent.”
In 81 high school games, Harker hit .431 (113-of-262) with 13 home runs, 56 runs batted in and 89 runs scored. As a pitcher, he went 19-7 with two saves and a 1.44 ERA. He whiffed 264 and walked 42 in 156 innings. As a senior in 2021, he was 8-0 with one save, a 0.67 ERA, 111 K’s and eight walks in 52 1/3 innings.
He was the IHSBCA District K Player of the Year and was the on the Prep Baseball Report Indiana All-State Team and All-USA Central Indiana Postseason Super Team.
Harker, who turns 20 on July 23, says it was during his junior year of high school that he really learned how to pitch.
The righty throws from a high three-quarter arm angle.
“I figured I needed to get on top of the ball and get more spin rate and spin efficiency — all that stuff,” says Harker.
He mixes a four-seam fastball that has been clocked as high as 95 mph, a sinking two-seam fastball, “circle” change-up (usually delivered around 80 mph), a traditional slider (with horizontal movement and vertical depth).
Harker’s 2020 summer was spent with the 17U Indiana Bulls. In 2021, he got in a few outings with the PRP Baseball Mambas and had workouts for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.
Besides baseball, Harker played four years of football (three years as starting quarterback) and one year of basketball at Lebanon. During his gridiron days, he passed for 4,399 yards and 43 touchdowns, including 2,028 and 21 as a junior in 2019.
Garrett is the youngest of Larry and Teri Harker’s four children — all former Lebanon athletes. Former Tigers basketball and softball player Kalyn Harker (Class of 2011) is the oldest, followed by former football, basketball and baseball player Isaac Harker (Class of 2014), former volleyball, basketball and softball player Tori Harker (2018) and Garrett Harker.
Kalyn played softball at Southern Illinois University. Isaac played quarterback at Indiana State University and Colorado School of Mines and been in the Canadian Football League. Tori played volleyball at Indiana University East.
Larry Harker works for Cincinnati Bell Technology Services. Teri Harker is a stay-at-home mom.

Garrett Harker (University of Cincinnati Photo)
Garrett Harker (University of Cincinnati Photo)

VanderWoude has second-year IHSAA member Illiana Christian in semistate

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Illiana Christian was plenty successful on the baseball diamond when the high school was in Lansing, Ill.
As recently as 2004 — with Dave Beezhold as head coach — the Vikings qualified for the Illinois state tournament and went 27-8.
In 2018, Illiana Christian relocated from Lansing, where it was founded in 1945, to an incorporated area of Dyer, Ind. In 2020-21, it became a full Indiana High School Athletic Association member.
The 2022 Vikings won the program’s first IHSAA sectional and regional titles and are one win away from the State Finals.
In earning a date opposite No. 3-ranked Wapahani (24-4) in the 2A Kokomo Semistate at noon Central Time Saturday, June 11, Illiana Christian won the Whiting Sectional (Bowman Academy 19-0, Hammond Bishop Noll 3-1 and Wheeler 16-4) and Whiting Regional (Winamac 11-1 and Eastside 7-0).
Alum and former Beezhold assistant Jeff VanderWoude’s first year leading the Vikings was 2019-20 — the season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Illiana Christian went 19-6 and lost 2-1 to Wheeler in the 2A Whiting Sectional championship game.
VanderWoude sees the closeness of the players and a willingness to put others before themselves has been a formula for success.
“We’ve been getting them to buy in and loving each other,” says VanderWoude. “We don’t have a ‘me’ person.
“We are controlling the controllable.
“They play as one really well. In the game against Eastside, we were competing one pitch at a time.”
Emphasizing the mental side, VanderWoude has seen his players adjust when there is a temporary lack of focus.
Illiana Christian (enrollment around 480) joined the Greater South Shore Conference (with baseball members Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting) in 2021.
With the addition of the Vikings, the conference is broken into divisions with teams playing two games with their division and one against squads in the other division. Illiana Christian is paired with Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll and Hanover Central. The 2022 Vikings went 8-3 in the GSSC, finishing behind Hanover Central (10-1) and tying Griffith (8-3).
Through 24 games, Illiana Christian was led offensively by junior pitcher Kevin Corcoran (.468 average, four home runs, 34 runs batted in, 11 stolen bases), senior center fielder Ivan VanBeek (.421, 18 RBI, 22 SB), senior second baseman Levi Hescott (.368), senior left fielder Tyler Barker (.339, 27 RBI), the coach’s son — sophomore shortstop Isaac VanderWoude (.333, 15 RBI, 19 SB) and junior first baseman Cody DeJong (.329, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 11 SB).
The bulk of the pitching has been handled by left-hander Corcoran (3-1, 2.29 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 13 walks 39 2/3 innings), right-hander VanBeek (2-2, 1.58, 44 K’s, four walks, 31 IP) and senior lefty Austin Maslanka (3-0, 2.10, 34 K’s, 10 walks, 20 IP).
Assistant coaches are Shane Zegarac, Dale Meyer, Kevin Corcoran, Caleb Jonkman, Greg Gierling and Bo Hofstra.
“We are where we are because of those guys,” says VanderWoude. “They are salt of the earth people.”
Zegarac pitched for Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., Eastern Kentucky University and in the Texas Rangers system plus independent ball.
Corcoran is a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. Illiana Christian alum Meyer played at Southern Illinois University. Hofstra pitched for Illiana Christian and Purdue University. Jonkman, who has been National Wiffle@Ball Player of the Year more than once, and Gierling are also IC grads.

Others with Illiana Christian connections are grad Fletcher Bandstra at Calvin College (Grand Rapids), Carter Doorn (from IC to Lake Central to Purdue University) and former Vikings player D.J. Gladney (Chicago White Sox organization).
The Vikings have on-campus diamond which is tended to by coaches and Dave Vermuelen (the father of former player Chris Vermuelen).
“It’s a nice field,” says VanderWoude. “In Illinois, we used limestone. We have a fairway mower and put designs in the field. It gets constant water and treatment.
“We’re taking pride in what we have.”
After graduating from Illiana Christian in 1997, outfielder Jeff VanderWoude played for Cobras head coach Rod Lovett at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and then for Tigers head coach Beauford Sanders at Campellsville (Ky.) University.
VanderWoude was on the Parkland coaching staff of Dave Seifert, who went on to be an assistant then head coach at the University of Evansville. As a Philadelphia Phillies regional cross-checker, he had VanderWoude working for him for about a decade.
VanderWoude, runs Perm-A-Seal — an asphalt maintenance business in Lynwood, Ill. — with father Keith. Jeff and wife Jori have four children. Besides Isaac (16), there’s Lydia (15), Mya (13) and Hayvn (9). Lydia VanderWoude played varsity softball as an Illiana Christian freshman in 2022. Mya VanderWoude is heading into the eighth grade and Havyn VanderWoude fourth grade.

The 2022 Illiana Christian Vikings earned sectional and regional titles at Whiting and are bound for the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate.
Cody DeJong.

The wife and children of Illiana Christian High School head baseball coach Jeff VandWoude are (from left): First row — Havyn VanderWoude. Second row — Mya VanderWoude, Jori VanderWoude and Lydia VanderWoude. Third row — Isaac VanderWoude.

Pierce wants Bluffton Tigers to play with ‘controlled aggression’

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Pierce knows what kind of identity he wants for his Bluffton (Ind.) High School baseball team.
“Our motto is to control what we can control,” says Pierce, who asks his Tigers not to dwell on mistakes and to rally together. “We’re very much a family here. This sport has a lot of ups and down. We want our players to have controlled aggression and do the little things the best they possibly can.”
Pierce stresses life lessons, high academics and building maturity in young men.
“We want to productive members of society,” says Pierce, who took over the program before the 2020 season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic after seven seasons as head coach at Eastside Junior/Senior High School (Butler, Ind.) and two campaigns leading the Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School program. “You learn that through team sports.”
Bluffton went 14-16-1 in 2021 with five on-run losses and a pair of one-run victories with a team featuring just one senior starter.
“We’re young on paper, but we’ve got a lot of experience on the field,” says Pierce in looking ahead to 2022. “We’ve got a lot of athletes. We’re in a really good spot with guys who can move around the field.
“As long as we can keep our heads I think we’re going to be a pretty dangerous baseball team.”
The 14 players on Bluffton’s MaxPreps.com roster (as of March 28) include six seniors — middle infielder/pitcher Brock Drayer, outfielder/catcher Lukas Hunt, outfielder/pitcher/first baseman Dylan King, outfielder/pitcher/shortstop Kyler Rolston, pitcher/first baseman Grant Thompson and pitcher/outfielder Kayden Vineyard plus four juniors in corner infielder/pitcher Curtis Ellis, catcher/outfielder Kayden King, pitcher/infielder/outfielder, outfielder/pitcher Austin Lewis, Andrew Onuegbu and outfielder/pitcher Drew Pressler and three sophomores in pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Braxton Betancourt, middle infielder/pitcher Eli Garrett and catcher/pitcher Brody Lewis.
Left-hander Betancourt (5-5, 1.43 earned run average, 97 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings) was the Tigers’ No. 1 pitcher in 2021 and Pierce expects him to have the same role in 2022. Bluffton is to open the season Tuesday, April 5 at New Haven.
On a team with as many as 10 players can be effective pitchers, Pierce looks at right-hander Ellis as his probable No. 2.
Kaleb Riley (Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Indiana University South Bend.
Bluffton (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).
The Tigers is scheduled play Adams Central and Southern Wells twice with the second game counting toward the ACAC standings. Bluffton is slated to meet Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Woodlan one time each.
In 2021, the Tigers were runner-up in a IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Adams Central, Eastside (host and champion), Churubusco, South Adams and Woodlan. Bluffton has won five sectional crowns — the last in 2019.
Bluffton plays home games on Everett Scott Field. The facility on the north side of the campus is named after the Indiana Hall of Famer who played in a then-record 1,307 consecutive games for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees 1916-25.
Providing early diamond opportunities is Bluffton Youth Baseball (T-ball to age 15). Most high school players are with travel organizations, including the Indiana Bandits, Midwest Aces and Summit City Sluggers.
Pierce’s 2022 coaching staff features Tim Garrett, Marco Betancourt (pitching coach) and Doug Pressler with the varsity and Trae Jojola and Cody Harris with the junior varsity.
A 1993 graduate of St. Marys (Ohio) High School, Pierce played one season at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio, and then transferred to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. He got hurt in the fall and did not get to play for Lance Hershberger’s Warriors.
Pierce, who teaches seventh grade at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School, has two daughters — Leo sophomore Lillian (16) and Heritage grade schooler Harper (8).

Bluffton (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Pierce (left) and Cameron Nestleroad (Greenbear Photography Photo).
Bluffton (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Pierce (Greenbear Photography Photo).

Hilton promotes fundamentals with Crothersville Tigers

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric Hilton is breaking baseball down to the basic elements as head coach at Crothersville (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.
In his second year leading the Jackson County-based Tigers in 2021-22, Hilton wants his players throwing to the correct bases and knowing situations.
“It’s basics and fundamentals,” says Hilton. “We’ve been working on it in the off-season. We are making progress in that area.”
In 2020-21, Crothersville had just one athlete who had played any baseball in the last four years. To have enough players to field a team, there were 10 boys and four girls. There were too few girls for a softball squad.
Crothersville (enrollment around 125) is a member of the Southern Athletic Conference (with Borden, Henryville, Lanesville, New Washington and South Central (Elizabeth).
In 2021, the Tigers were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with New Washington (host), Shawe Memorial and West Washington. Crothersville has not yet won a sectional title.
At such a small school, participation numbers have always been an issue. Then came the pandemic.
“A lot of kids didn’t return to baseball after COVID (took away the 2020 season),” says Hilton. “They found other things to do.”
But things are looking up for the spring of 2022. Fourteen different boys have participated in off-season activities and 21 signed up recently with the intention of coming out for baseball.
“We have very decent numbers,” says Hilton, who counts Rita Fletcher as an assistant with another four or five possibles.
Three players — senior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Matthew Clouse, sophomore catcher/pitcher/second baseman Logen O’Sullivan and sophomore shortstop/center fielder Lucas Hilton (the coach’s oldest son) — have indicated their desire to play college baseball.
Junior high baseball, which is played in nearby communities like Austin, Brownstown, Seymour and Scottsburg, has not been present at Crothersville for a few years. Hilton hopes to bring that back in the next few years.
Right now the Crothersville Youth League (T-ball to age 14) serves as a feeder program.
Before taking the job at Crothersville, Hilton coached Lucas with travel ball teams, including the Southern Indiana Venom, Blazers and The Swings.
A 1995 graduate of Seymour High School, Hilton played baseball for the Owls as a freshman and sophomore. He was also in football as a ninth grader and then went to soccer.
He graduated at Indiana University Purdue University Columbus and graduated from Ashworth University in Peachtree Corners, Ga. He is in grocery merchandising with the Louisville division of the Kroger Co., working with 116 stores.
Eric and Jennifer Hilton have been married 17 years. Lucas Hilton is 16 and Tyler Hilton 12.

Eric Hilton.

Broughton enjoys coaching life as Clemson volunteer

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jared Broughton is heading into his ninth season as a college baseball coach in 2022.
It will be his third as a volunteer assistant at Clemson (S.C.) University on the staff of Tigers head coach Monte Lee.
Broughton, 32, is a 2008 graduate of Indianapolis Lutheran High School (where he played for uncle Dick Alter) and played at Vincennes (Ind.) University and University of Dayton.
He began his coaching career at two NCAA Division III schools — first Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., then Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga. (2017-19).
What’s the D-I volunteer life like?
“I would say it’s great because I can really focus on just coaching the players,” says Broughton, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “It’s kind of great to be at a place like Clemson being a volunteer because I just really show up and I’ve got some of the best players in the country to work with.”
The Atlantic Coast Conference member went 25-27 overall and 17-11 in the ACC in 2021. The 2022 season is to open Feb. 18 at home against Indiana University. Clemson is to visit Notre Dame April 8-10.
While Broughton does not directly involved in recruiting, he does help facilitate campus visits and shows them around the baseball facility which features Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Broughton coordinates baseball camps at Clemson (the next one begins Jan. 16) and that is the primary source of his income.
As now structured, NCAA D-I baseball has three paid coaches — head coach and two assistants. Volunteers put in as many — if not more hours — than anyone on the staff.
“The last few years there’s been some really big-time coaches that have spoken up about it and how we’re underfunded and that the (full-time) coach-to-player ratio is the lowest in any sport.
“I think that with more conversation and more awareness for what volunteers out there do it’s going to help when legislation comes up again.”
Having coached in the D-I and D-III worlds, what does Broughton see as the big differences?
“It’s just what motivates a player,” says Broughton. “At the ACC level and a Clemson, our guys are very motivated by becoming professionals and their development is huge. Eventually, they have the ability and dream about becoming a Major League player.
“In Division III, a lot of kids are there as a student because they want to go to that particular school. They’re there to play baseball for the love of the game.”
Even with the differences, Broughton says players at Clemson face some of the same matters they do at Earlham or Piedmont.
“They’re still 18 to 22 years old and they’re battling confidence issues and flaws in their game,” says Broughton. “At the D-I level, especially at a place like Clemson, we have an amazing budget and technology and there is the manpower. At the small college level, you wear a lot of hats within the program.”
Besides a coaching staff of Lee, Broughton, Bradley LeCroy and Andrew See, Clemson’s baseball support staff includes a director of operations (Brad Owens), director of player development (Ben Paulsen), special assistant to the head coach (Matt Heath), athletic trainer (Travis Johnston), strength and conditioning coach (Rick Franzblau), director of equipment (Mike Wilson), bullpen catchers (Carter Fricks and Barrett Winter) and student managers (Tommy Tsimbinos, Bryson Gault, Jake Machado, Wilson Mullis and Bowen Gault).
While these other folks can’t hit fungos, throw batting practice or do other coaching on the field, they are valuable. They’re like another set of eyes and help break down data for coaches and players.
Time will tell, but Broughton does allow himself to peer into the future.
“I definitely have aspirations to be a head coach,” says Broughton. “I want to stay at the Division I level right now. That’s kind of where it’s at. I really do love the competition. I love the caliber of players I get to work with.
“I’m trying to take advantage of this great opportunity.”

Clemson University volunteer assistant baseball coach Jared Broughton at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Former three-sport star Mucker entering 22nd year as Oakland Athletics scout

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.

Kelcey Mucker in 1996.
Gathering at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle, Ind., in 2018 (from left): Hubert Mucker Jr., Kelcey Adair Mucker, Stacy Mucker, Kelcey Aaron Mucker and D’Kari Mucker.

Fishers, Indiana Wesleyan alum Davis comes back to baseball as a coach

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Brice Davis got the call that led him into professional baseball he was busy on the field.
Davis was coaching third base for Indiana Wesleyan University in a doubleheader when the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers manager Jamie Bennett, who pitched of the DuBois County (Ind.) Dragons and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats coached with the RailCats, and outgoing hitting coach Derek Shomon reached out about filling Shomon’s spot since he had taken a coaching job in the Minnesota Twins organization.
“They wanted to see if I’d get rattled,” says Davis of the timing. “It was a twisted joke.”
But Davis impressed and after the twin bill received text messages and got a good review. The next thing he knew he is joining the Boomers for spring training and after that came a 96-game regular season and the fourth league championship in franchise history.
“It was whirlwind,” says Davis of the 2021 baseball season began in early February with Indiana Wesleyan in Lakeland, Fla., and ending in late September with Schaumburg in Washington, Pa. “It was an incredible year and an incredible ride.
“It was a really special group (at IWU). To be leaving them at that time was incredibly tough. I’m in awe that we got to share all those runs together.”
Indiana Wesleyan wound up 2021 at 44-14, Crossroads League regular-season and tournament champions and an NAIA Opening Round host.
Davis, a four-year starter at IWU and a 2013 graduate with a Sports Management degree, spent three seasons on the staff of Wildcats head coach Rich Benjamin (2019-21).
“He’s a huge offensive mind and about hitting for power,” says Davis of Benjamin, who was an assistant at Fishers (Ind.) High School before moving on. “I saw it as an opportunity.
“I wanted to see if I could hack it at the college level.”
Davis first became a hitting instructor in 2009 (his training business is Davis Baseball LLC). But it was a big transition to working with professional hitters in 2021.
“You’re helping prepare guys to be successful (in pro ball),” says Davis. “At the college level, you’re doing a lot of development. They’re making strides every single month to be the best versions of themselves and trying to stay locked in.
“Guys at the professional level are already pretty talented. They want to take their skill level and apply it against a pitching staff (or individual). In both arenas the goal is to simplify life. You pick out an approach that is going to breed results and success.”
The difference between high school and college and pro baseball is that the pros play everyday with much more travel and they don’t have as much time to work on their craft.
“Learning how to hit when you’re only 80 percent or getting your two knocks comes in a lot of ways,” says Davis. “I was amazed how many guys played hurt.”
How a player felt on any given day is how they prepared for that day’s game. That might mean more batting practice or less.
“You can’t treat everyday like Opening Day,” says Davis. “It just doesn’t work like that.”
Since Schaumburg is an independent league team, scouting is done differently. Major League-affiliated clubs have access to plenty of stored data on opponents.
The only resource available to the Boomers staff was Frontier League TV (2021 was the first year that all league clubs broadcast games). Coaches and players spent a lot of time looking at video to find tendencies.
The Evansville Otters were the only team who put pitching velocity on the screen during their broadcasts, leaving Schaumburg to study those videos when teams took on Evansville.
In the league championship series against the Washington Wild Things, the staff was at a disadvantage. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boomers had not played anyone on Washington’s side of the league during the regular season. Also, there was no radar gun reading available at Wild Things Park.
“It was all hearsay. You had no more information than in a non-conference high school baseball game. It was ‘see it and hit it, boys!’
It was absolute gauntlet level from our staff and our players. It’s not copy-paste-print like it is at some of the other levels. It’s not like high school baseball where you can trade tapes.
“It was a big learning curve.”
Davis notes that the Frontier League is now partnered with Major League Baseball so maybe things will change for the better.
Not all pro players take to information the same way.
“This guy wants to know velo and out pitch and this guy wants to know as much as possible,” says Davis. “Other guys don’t want to know anything and just play the game.”
And if a pro hitter doesn’t want info, it’s not up to the coach to shove it down his throat.
“You have respect for what they’re trying to do,” says Davis.
While Schaumburg players hail from all over the country, there are also a number with ties to the area, including former Indiana Wesleyan pitcher Isaiah Rivera from Des Plaines, Ill.
“There are a lot of college players in the region,” says Davis. “You don’t want to miss on anything in your back yard. Chicago is a cool city with a lot of great athletes in it.”
Davis says many have the misconception that independent ball is full of 27-year-old has-beens. But a good deal have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and spent time in the affiliated minors.
The Frontier League is unique because it puts players into Rookie, Experienced and Veteran eligibility classifications and there is a cap on veterans (those turning 29 by Oct. 1). Teams can also make just 30 transaction moves per season.
“The world of independent baseball is fascinating,” says Davis.
Another thing about 2021 in much of independent ball is that there was no season in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“They’re learning how to play baseball again and getting their timing back,” says Davis. “It’s like they’ve been waiting for the prom for two years.
“It was about managing emotions, telling them to enjoy the moment and don’t overthink it.”
There was a time when Davis didn’t want to think about baseball. It stung too much when his playing career was over and he did not watch a game for two years.
Brice’s father was a high school boys basketball coach for many years. Hagerstown, Ind., native Jerry Davis was a head coach at Triton Central and Wawasee and an assistant at Marion and Hamilton Southeastern. He came back to Indiana from Dallas, where Brice was born, to teach math and coach hoops.
“I grew up in the gym,” says Brice. “My safe place to process life was listening to bouncing balls. That’s a sanctuary few people understand.”
Davis, who did not play high school basketball to focus on baseball opportunities, joined the Hamilton Southeastern hardwood staff of Brian Satterfield and coached freshmen for two seasons.
“Climbing up the hard way in basketball appealed to me,” says Davis. “Going to clinics and studying tape was a journey in itself.”
Then came the call back to baseball and he answered it.
“I’m in a better head space when I’m going to the field,” says Davis, who received words of encouragement that still resonate with him.
Brian Abbott, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director and a former IWU assistant, approached Davis at the IHSBCA State Clinic when the latter was on Matt Cherry’s Fishers Tigers staff.
“He was one of the first people who told me I needed to be in coaching,” says Davis of Abbott, the IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s because of kids like myself. He said, ‘you belong in this industry. You might be the only person who gets to tell a kid that day that they matter.
“You have a purpose to connect with kids.”
Davis has taken that connection to heart.
“I love teaching the game,” says Davis. “I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of good can be done by powerful teaching and coaching.
“It’s a great profession.”
Davis, who was part of Fishers’ first graduating class in 2008, was reunited with Cherry for three seasons (2016-18) as an assistant coach. The 2018 team made an IHSAA Class 4A state title run.
“He’s single-most influential person in my life besides my dad since I was 15,” says Davis of Cherry. “He knows there’s more to people than baseball. He’s transformational.”
Cherry, who had coached Davis prior to the 2016 season he needed a freshman coach. Davis accepted the invitation.
“I’ll be darned if I wasn’t completely consumed,” says Davis. “I told (Cherry) the next year I want to be a varsity coach. I want to be with the older kids. I want to dive in and see where it could go.”
In 2017 and 2018, Davis was Fishers’ hitting coach. The latter team set 21 school records.
“We had all the fun in the world,” says Davis.
Now 32 and living in Wheeling, Ill., Davis is teaching at area facilities, including Parkway Bank Sports Complex aka The Dome in Rosemont, Ill., and East Sports Academy in Itaska, Ill., and helping at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Owls head coach Bill Fratto is also an assistant/first base coach for the Boomers.
Through it all, Davis has developed a fraternity of brothers at each baseball stage and keeps in-touch with people on his high school, college and pro path. Kris Holtzleiter, the new Eastbrook High School head coach, played and coached with close friend Davis at IWU.
“Every season has a story whether it’s good or bad,” says Davis. “You must make the most of the moment you’re in.
“It’s not about the championships or the trophies.”
It’s the people.

Brice Davis.
Jerry Davis and Brice Davis.
Brice Davis with mother Jerry and mother Paige.
Brice Davis and M.J. Stavola.
Bill Fratto and Brice Davis.
Young Schaumburg (Ind.) Boomers fan and Brice Davis.
Former Indiana Wesleyan University players Isaiah Rivera and Brice Davis a player and coach with the Schaumburg Boomers.

Righty Ledbetter’s route leads to Indiana

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Collin Ledbetter was born and raised in Arizona, but the Midwest has also been pretty good to him as he has pursued higher levels of education and baseball.
In the summer of 2021, the right-handed pitcher experienced his first opportunity to play for pay in the United Shores Professional Baseball League.
The 25-year-old arrived this week back in his adopted hometown of Indianapolis where he will plot his future.
Ledbetter is a 2015 graduate of Northwest Christian School in Phoenix. He arrived at the same time as head baseball coach and former Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Rod Bair and was with the varsity for four years.
“We’re still great friends until this day,” says Ledbetter of Bair. “He had a great impact on me as a player and on my growth as a man as well.”
Starting out his college baseball journey in the Valley of the Sun, Ledbetter joined the Dave Grant-coached Glendale (Ariz.) Community College team and pitched for the Gauchos in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“(Glendale) has a great reputation — not only in Arizona — but around the country,” says Ledbetter. “I remember being intimidated going into the program. Coach Grant was a real encourager.
“He always gave guys a chance to prove themselves and was always there for help when you needed it.”
Ledbetter was recruited out of high school by Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich. David Mitroff was the Golden Eagles head coach at the time. In Ledbetter’s second year at Glendale, Mitroff moved to Phoenix and became a reference for the pitcher’s next move.
Mitroff connected Ledbetter with coaching friend Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University. After visiting the IWU campus in Marion, the player decided that it was the best fit for him and came to the Midwest.
“(Indiana Wesleyan) was an up-and-coming NAIA program looking to add pitching depth,” says Ledbetter. “It was the right place for me. It is Christian and a private school. My faith is very important to me.
“Coach Benjamin focused on creating an atmosphere where Jesus was first before baseball. Obviously, he wanted to win. He wanted us to use our talent to the best of our ability to God’s glory.”
Kris Holtzleiter was the Indiana Wesleyan pitching coach during Ledbetter’s time with the Wildcats.
“He’s one of the best encouragers I know,” says Ledbetter of Holtzleiter. “There’s nobody that doesn’t like him. He focuses on the positives, never the negatives.
“As someone who is hard on myself and expects a lot out of myself, I appreciated that.”
Ledbetter herniated a disc in his back that required surgery and redshirted in 2018 – his junior year — after playing in just six games.
At about the same time, Collin’s parents Paul and Deb and younger siblings Lauren and Carson moved from Arizona to Indianapolis to be closer to extended family.
Collin pitched for IWU — getting into eight games (five in relief) with a 0-2 record, 8.47 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 innings – and received a bachelors degree in Sports Management in 2019.
Wishing to pursue a Masters in Sport Management on an accelerated timeline with cost in mind, Ledbetter opted to transfer to Campbellsville (Ky.) University and used his redshirt senior season with the NAIA Tigers in 2020.
“(Head coach Beauford Sanders and pitching coach Brett Neffendorf) loved to win more than anyone I’ve ever played for,” says Ledbetter, who pitched in three games and 2 2/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA during the truncated 2020 campaign. “That’s a great thing. That was important to me.”
Ledbetter said the coaches were no-nonsense and helped players focus on short-term and long-term goals.
After his time at Campbellsville was there more baseball for Ledbetter?
He sure hoped so.
“The goal was always to play professional baseball and keep playing as long as I can,” says Ledbetter.
But there was plenty of uncertainty. Minor League Baseball canceled its 2020 season and many independent leagues followed suit.
Ledbetter kept himself in shape and began training with Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.
“Jay really took me under his wing,” says Ledbetter, who had the chance to play catch with former big league pitcher Drew Storen and central Indiana minor leaguers like Parker Dunshee and Nolan Watson. “I saw a lot of development as a pitcher.
“I started showing signs of improvement and that I had the stuff to play at the next level.”
Ledbetter reached out to teams and leagues, including the four-team, Utica, Mich.-based USPBL (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths).
It was only a matter of hours when director of operations Jason Orenduff replied to his email and he soon found himself headed to Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, about 25 miles north of Detroit.
Assigned to the Woolly Mammoths, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder Ledbetter was a relief pitcher for a team co-managed by John Dombrowski and Taylor Grzelakowski.
“They definitely had our best interests in mind at all times,” says Ledbetter. “It was a fun atmosphere at the field every day.”
USPBL games were played Thursday through Sunday. There was no practice on Mondays and it was an optional weight room day. There were practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We were split into position groups,” says Ledbetter. “Pitchers went through an extensive stretching routine. As a reliever I had to be ready at all times. Tuesday was usually my bullpen days with 20-25 pitches and weights. Wednesdays I’d play catch and work on off-speed grips from 60 feet.”
Ledbetter said gameday routines were based on the individual needs of each player. Some recovered faster than others.
“We would hold each other accountable,” says Ledbetter, who made 21 mound appearances (20 in relief) with a 2-4 mark, three saves, 2.78 ERA, 23 K’s and 22 walks in 27 2/3 innings.
While Ledbetter has received an invitation to return to the USPBL in 2022, the league does have a two-year cap.
“Their goal is to push guys out of their as quickly as they can,” says Ledbetter. “They want everybody to be signed my an affiliated team.
“They saw a lot of growth in me as a player. They want the best for everyone. They’ve encouraged me to look at my other options.”
Taking a break to re-set physically and mentally, Ledbetter does not plan to begin throwing again for three or four weeks.
Meanwhile he will pursue a part-time job and may give private lessons.
He will also take the time to enjoy family. Paul Ledbetter is in the insurance business. Deb Ledbetter is a former flight attendant. Lauren Ledbetter (21) is a radiology technician. Carson Ledbetter (19) is attending trade school to become an electrician.
Collin is not related to twins Ryan and David Ledbetter, but he has formed a relationship with the former pitchers at Heritage Christian High School, Cedarville (Ohio) University and the Texas Rangers organization.
Ryan Ledbetter works for a company that has done business with Paul Ledbetter’s firm. Over time, Collin got to know both Ryan and David.
“We hit it off,” says Collin. “We’ve kept in-touch ever since.”

Collin Ledbetter (USPBL Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)

Woeste sets table for IU Southeast’s first NAIA World Series team

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clay Woeste just played in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, where he made the all-tournament team as Indiana University Southeast’s starting second baseman and lead-off hitter.
The NAIA Ball Podcast selected righty swinger Woeste (.374, 8 home runs, 21 runs batted in, 89 runs scored, 38 stolen bases and a 1.053 OPS) as second-team All-America and Grenadiers head coach Ben Reel as National Coach of the Year.
While finishing fifth in its first World Series appearance, IUS went 50-16 overall and 26-1 in the River States Conference.
At 22, Woeste (pronounced Wee-Stee) can look back on many baseball memories.
“It was surreal,” says Woeste of playing in Lewiston. “That’s the best way to describe it.
“That’s all we ever talked about and we were finally there.”
But once the games began, it was all-business for the Grenadiers.
“We would do what you’ve been doing all year,” says Woeste. “Our guys were so special to be around.
“No matter what was thrown our way we found a way to get through it.”
During the season, shortstop Daunte DeCelllo went out with an injury and Woeste moved to that side of the infield. DeCello came back at the end of year then RSC Player of the Year Matt Monahan got hurt and missed the postseason.
Yet IUS just kept going.
“No matter what was thrown our way we found a way to get through it,” says Woeste.
Reel, who just completed his 13th campaign at the school in New Albany, has built a national power with limited resources.
“He has the ability to recruit amazing guys and he does with only one scholarship,” says Woeste. “It’s amazing.
“We work really hard in the fall and when we go out in the spring he just lets us play. We reap what we sow.”
Woeste considers his athletic quality to be the work ethic and durability that has helped him stay on the field day in and day out.
“I keep my body healthy,” says Woeste, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder.
That body has stolen 89 bases in 97 attempts from 2018-21.
“My sophomore year I came into my own stealing bases (swiping 34-of-34),” say Woeste. “Coach Reel saw that and started leading off all the time and I was pretty much given the green light.”
Woeste was supposed to play in the Coastal Plain League in the summer of 2020 but when the COVID-19 pandemic caused that loop to shutdown he took on with the Thoroughbreds in the Louisville Collegiate League, which played most its games at Trinity High School.
This summer, Woeste is with the CPL’s Holly Springs (N.C.) Salamanders, coached by Kevin Soine.
With a double major (Professional Selling and Marketing) and a minor (Communication) already completed, he plans to return to IU Southeast for his pandemic-related extra year of baseball eligibility.
The diamond has been a big part of his life all these years. But that was not his first sport.
Clay had his hand on the throttle before he really had his hand on a bat. At 5, he was racing 50 cc machines in motocross.
His parents — Matt and Karen Woeste — moved from northern Kentucky to Aurora, Ind., so fourth grader Clay could ride on a track owned by the family of Ezra Hastings (who is now a professional motocross racer).
Since there was no motocross in the winter, Clay played basketball in the winter. His hoops coach — Bill Rose — persuaded him to play in what is now called Aurora Youth Baseball.
“I never really turned back after that,” says Woeste, who raced until 11 and placed in the top three twice and won at the Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., then turned more and more attention to the diamond.
When he reached middle school, Woeste played for the Cincinnati Tribe travel organization.
During his high school years, he was with Reds RBI team coached by Roosevelt Barnes, father of Tribe teammate R.J. Barnes.
“We got close and I went with him,” says Clay of R.J. Roosevelt Barnes is now also the head baseball coach at LaSalle High School in Green Township, Ohio.
Woeste played briefly during his senior summer for the Midland RedHawks and then that fall with the Midland Redskins.
After attending South Dearborn schools for grades 4-8 and transferred to Lawrenceburg (Ind.) High School as a freshman and played four baseball seasons for Tigers head coach Nick Tremain.
“He was a great coach with us,” says Woeste. “My freshmen year he was more hands-on and harder. He developed us so that by the time we were seniors we just went out and played
“That’s why we were so good our senior year.”
In 2017, Lawrenceburg (31-2) won the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference and IHSAA Class 3A South Dearborn Sectional then topped Boonville 7-5 in the semifinals of the North Harrison Regional before bowing 4-2 to eventual state champion Jasper in the final.

Clay Woeste (IU Southeast Photo)
Clay Woeste hits for Indiana University Southeast during the 2021 NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. (IU Southeast Photo)

Tall right-hander Fulton finds ways to get outs

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Sam Fulton grew up around Cicero, Ind., the big orange pebbly ball kept coming up. Fulton preferred the little white one with the red stitches.
“I’ve had people on me about basketball my whole life,” says Fulton. “But I’ve always just loved baseball more. I’d rather do what I love.”
As a sophomore at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Fulton stood 6-foot-6. By his senior year (2019), he was 6-9 and the 20-year-old right-handed pitcher is now 6-10 and in his second season with the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. — about 20 minutes from Cicero.
While Fulton, who is playing for the CSL’s Adam Cornwell-coached Park Rangers in 2021 and struck out 10 in a start Monday, June 14, throws a four-seam fastball that clocks in between 86 and 88 mph and occasionally hits 90 and mixes it with a slider and a change-up — both with depth and side-to-side action when they’re on.
Fulton throws from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot.
“(Having long arms and legs has) been an advantage at times on the mound and it’s been a disadvantage,” says Fulton. “Overall, I think I move fairly well for someone my size.”
His length can cause issues for the batter in viewing the baseball.
“I’m sure the ball is getting released a little closer to the plate,” says Fulton. “There are places where they don’t have a good batters’ eye it’s coming out of the clouds sometimes (which works in my favor).”
But he does not cite these things when describing his best quality on the diamond.
It’s his willingness to compete.
“I just go out there and find ways to get the job done,” says Fulton. “There are a lot of things you can focus on but as long as you’re getting outs you’re doing your job.”
Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park has given Fulton the opportunity for a summer job. He’s also been working out at Pro X Athlete Development and training with pitching coach Jay Lehr. They’ve been working together since last summer after COVID-19 curtailed the 2020 spring season. Fulton was at the University of Tennessee but did not play for the Volunteers though he did make the First-Year Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll.
“It’s good to get back home to Indiana in the summer,” says Fulton, who posted a 2.00 earned run average and struck 36 and walked five in 27 innings for the Nighthawks during the CSL’s inaugural season of 2020. “It’s a good, competitive league
“I enjoy being able to come out here and have fun and be around the guys every week. Hopefully this summer I’ll get some good looks from different colleges.”
Fulton spent the spring of 2021 with National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Chattanooga (Tenn.) State Community College. In 10 appearances (six starts), he went 6-2 with one compete game and a 2.62 ERA. In 44 2/3 innings, the big righty fanned 37 and walked 14.
Fulton, who turns 21 on Aug. 7, intends to transfer for 2021-22 and has set about getting his general studies requirements in order to go back to a four-year school.
“I’m hoping wherever I end up next I can study ministry,” says Fulton.
Sam, the son of John and Christy Fulton and younger brother of Jake Fulton (who is is on pace to graduate from Purdue University after the fall semester) played on a local travel team with mostly Cicero kids at 8 or 9. At 12, he played for the Indiana Nitro. At 14 through the end of his high school days, he was with the Indiana Bulls. His head coaches were Michael Tucker, Ryan Berryman and Troy Drosche.
Fulton won three baseball letters at Hamilton Heights, playing the first two years in a program led by Matt Wallace and the last two by J.R. Moffatt. He was also on the Huskies football team.

Sam Fulton of the 2021 College Summer League Grand Park’s Park Rangers. The 6-foot-10 pitcher is a graduate of Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)