Tag Archives: Todd Armstrong

Rutgers-bound Besser keeps on buzzing the ball past batters

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

Grant Besser’s habit of dodging bats with his pitches got him noticed during his prep days and it continues at the collegiate level.
At South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., the left-hander and four-time first-team all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection whiffed 451 in 241 innings with a 1.27 earned run average. He also hit .397 with eight home runs and 58 runs batted in.
As a senior, Besser fanned 130 in 54 frame and posted a 0.77 ERA and hit .426 with two homers and 17 RBIs for the Brad Buckingham-coached Starfires. He began working out that winter in Fort Wayne with Pittsburgh Pirates strength trainer Dru Scott.
When not pitching, lefty Besser was the unorthodox choice for South Adams at shortstop his last three seasons.
“I knew it looked silly, but I had been playing shortstop all my life,” says Besser. “I can throw from any arm angle. I had a great time doing it.
“Besides I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it for long. I knew pitching is what I wanted to do.”
Besser played in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Madison. He was honored as the 2019 Northeast Indiana Baseball Association/Dick Crumback Player of the Year.
The 2021 recipient of the award — Carter Mathison (Homestead/Indiana University) is Besser’s teammate this summer with New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats. Mathison was also the 2021 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Player of the Year.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Besser shined on the mound at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers.
In 36 appearances (10 starts), he went 6-4 with eight saves and a 2.66 earned run average as the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Buccaneers posted marks of 16-11 in 2020 (COVID-19 shortened), 44-16 in 2021 and 42-15 in 2022. He amassed 125 strikeouts and 42 walks in 94 2/3 innings.
Besser played no summer ball in 2020 and dealt with an injury at the beginning of the 2021. He came back and hurled five innings in the state tournament and did not allow a baserunner.
“I really saw a spike in all of my numbers for the good (in 2022),” says Besser. “I blew every category away from the previous years.”
He was in 20 games in 2022 and went 3-2 with six saves, a 1.28 ERA, 61 K’s and 16 walks in 42 1/3 innings.
Ben Bizier is head coach at Florida SouthWestern State. Derrick Conatser is Bucs pitching coach.
“I like that toughness to he brings to the table,” says Besser of Bizier.
In his exit interview with Bizier Besser was told that 18 Major League Baseball organizations have been following him as they prepare for the 2022 First-Year Player Draft (July 17-19 in Los Angeles).
“He said there’s a really good chance it happens this year,” says Besser, who turns 22 in September. “Out of high school I had zero (college) offers. Coach Buckingham offered me to Florida JUCO’s. I earned a scholarship at FSW in the spring.
“Money has never been the big thing for me. It’s opportunity and getting my foot in the door.”
This is Besser’s second straight summer at Keene and he has had several meaningful chats with Swamp Bats president and general manager Kevin Watterson.
So far, Besser has made four appearances (one start) and is 1-0 with an 0.87 ERA. In 10 1/3 innings, the southpaw has 10 strikeouts and one walk. The NECBL regular season ends July 30.
Throughout his college experience, Besser has been used in multiple pitching roles, including starter, long reliever and a closer.
“It doesn’t matter to me as long as we get a win,” says Besser. “I’m very versatile.”
Besser has excelled with an ability to keep his head when things get tense.
“It’s mental toughness. I preach it,” says Besser. “I can spot when somebody doesn’t have that mental toughness.
“I’m ready for the situation. I’m consistent with all that I do. I work quick and throw strikes. Preparation and a steady mindset is key.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Besser uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.
“My four-seamer has natural run and a high spin rate,” says Besser. “Up in the zone is where I get the most out of it.
“This summer it’s been sitting 89 to 91 mph (it hit 92 at Florida SouthWestern State).”
Besser’s two-seamer moves in to left-handed hitters and away from righties.
His “circle” change-up break to his arm side and is usually clocked around 83 mph.
“My curveball is more of a slurve,” says Besser of the pitch that’s often delivered at around 78 mph. “I mix and match. Sometimes it’s 12-to-6 and sometimes I sweep it. It depends on the situation.”
Grant is the oldest of Mike and Katina Besser’s two sons. Adam Besser, a right-handed pitcher for Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, turns 20 in August.
Mike Besser is a salesman for Moser Motor Sales. Katina Besser is chief financial officer at Swiss Village Retirement Community.
The family moved from Geneva and Berne when Grant was in the fifth grade. Beginning at 9U, he played travel ball for the Muncie Longhorns and Indiana Bandits and then Summit City Sluggers founder Mark DeLaGarza reached out to him and he spent two summers with the 17U Sluggers, playing for head coaches Todd Armstrong and Brent Alwine.
“My parents’ sacrifices let me do that,” says Grant. “The Sluggers gave me a lot of knowledge on baseball.”

With two years of eligibility remaining, has committed to NCAA Division I Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He signed with the Scarlet Knights over the winter.
Why Rutgers?
“What really attracting me was coming home to the Big Ten,” says Besser, who was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Geneva and Berne. “It’s up-and-coming program and pretty hard-nosed.”
With Steve Owens as head coach and Brendan Monaghan guiding pitchers, the Scarlet Knights posted an overall mark of 44-17 and Big Ten record of 17-7 in 2022. Rutgers played Michigan in the conference tournament championship game.
After earning an Associate of Arts degree in Business Management at Florida SouthWestern State, Besser is considering a Labor and Relations major at Rutgers.

Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)

Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)
Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)
Head coach Ben Bizier (left) and Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)

City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
Grant Besser (Keene Swamp Bats Photo)

Urban, Fort Wayne Concordia Cadets preparing for 2022

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

Unseasonably-mild weather in December means that the first winter baseball workouts at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School this week were outdoors on the Zollner Stadium football turf.
During the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period, Concordia head coach Matt Urban led twice-weekly workouts on Jack Massucci Field, which has been renovated and re-leveled. There were 14 regulars.
“We promote multi-sport athletes,” says Urban, who led the program during the 2013 season and since the 2017 slate. “We had 11 football players and four or five in soccer.
“We’ve got 38 trying out now.”
While several players were lost to graduation in 2021, the Cadets are expected to return three seniors and plenty of quality in other classes.
“Last year we had the grittiest bunch of kids,” says Urban, who saw some into the work force with 2021 graduates Tyler Grossman (University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne) Cooper Harris (Siena Heights University in Michigan) going to play college football. “I’ve got a lot of good (returning) talent.”
Urban expects to have around three dozen players populating varsity and junior varsity rosters.
Other alum moving on to college include Trevyn Moss (Class of 2018) to Northern Kentucky University for baseball, Jaden Parnin (Class of 2020) to Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne for baseball and Jeren Kindig (Class of 2020) to Saint Francis for football.
Concordia (enrollment around 630) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side and Fort Wayne Wayne).
SAC teams play home-and-series on Tuesdays and Thursdays against conference opponents with an Saturday occasional doubleheader.
In 2021, the Cadets were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Garrett, Leo and New Haven. Concordia has won eight sectional crowns — the last in 2018.
Coming out of spring break, the Cadets face what Urban calls a “defining week of baseball” April 11-16 — Monday vs. Heritage, Tuesday vs. Dwenger, Wednesday vs. DeKalb, Thursday vs. Dwenger, Friday vs. Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian and Saturday in a doubleheader vs. South Side.
Urban’s coaching staff includes pitching coach Randy Jackemeyer, hitting coach Alex McKinistry and Nolan Brooks at the varsity level with former Concordia players Christian Dick, Drew Bordner and Matt Miller working with the JV.
Urban, who instructs classes in Geometry, Algebra II and Pre-Calculus at Concordia Lutheran, once taught and coached at Columbia City. He was a baseball assistant to Todd Armstrong prior to his first stint with the Concordia Cadets.
A 1993 graduate of tiny South Central High School in Farina, Ill., Urban played fall baseball, basketball and spring baseball for the same head coach — Gary Shirley.
“He’s one of the best coaches I ever had,” says Urban of Shirley, who was also an English teacher. “He taught me a lot about the game and was like a father figure.
“He coached our summer stuff. I was around him 345 days a year.”
Conference baseball games were played in the fall with about 52 contests during the school year. In 2021, South Central won an Illinois state title for Class 1A.
After a year of study at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill. Urban went to what is now Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., and was a three-year baseball starter for former Chicago Cubs assistant athletic trainer Mike Palmer.
Upon graduation with an education degree in 1998, Urban went right into teaching and coaching middle school basketball in Chicago before moving to the Columbia City/Fort Wayne area.
Matt is married to Hallie and has six children — Tyson Urban (19), Hayley Urban (18), Landon Urban (16), Will Sappenfield (8), Stella Urban (2) and Selma Urban (1).
Tyson Urban is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech. Hayley Urban plays softball at Ball State University.

Matt and Hallie Urban.
Matt Urban (Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School Photo)

Hershberger pouring baseball passion into new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Twice in a lifetime.

Lance Hershberger is starting another college baseball program in his native Fort Wayne.

Hershberger, who turns 62 Friday, June 9, built the Indiana Tech program from the ground up (1991-2003) and took the Warriors to multiple NAIA College World Series trips.

Now, Hershberger is heading up the new squad at Ivy Tech Northeast — the third community college baseball program in Indiana, following Vincennes University and Ancilla College. It also brings the number of Indiana college programs at all levels to 36.

Hershberger and his assistants — Connor Wilkins, Dru Sebastian, Todd Armstrong and and Mark DeLaGarza — are currently on the recruiting trail for the Ivy Tech Northeast Titans, which will field a team in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II in 2017-18. Teams are allowed to play 56 spring games with more contests in the fall.

Hershberger would like to carry about a 25 players the first year. That’s a minimum of four outfielders, three middle infielders, four corner infielders, three of four catchers and as many pitchers as he can get.

“If we get 100 kids in here for visits, we’ll meet our 25,” says Hershberger. “The excitement level’s there.”

As an NJCAA D-II school, Ivy Tech Northeast is eligible to provide athletic scholarships limited to tuition, books, fees, and course required supplies. The school is researching the possibility of joining a conference in the region.

Hershberger, who was inducted last weekend into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame and coaches the Summit City Sluggers 16U travel team which includes son Grant (daughter Maddie just graduated from Homestead High School), is educating folks about community college baseball.

“I think there’s really a place for a JUCO here in northern Indiana,” says Hershberger. “In Indiana there’s a big void of knowledge about junior college. A lot of players think it’s a step down (from NCAA Divisions I, II and II and NAIA).

“You go south and you go west and they understand what they’re about.”

Hershberger, a Wawasee Prepatory School and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne graduate (he also attended the University of Saint Francis) who has also coached high school ball at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Whitko and with the Wildcat Baseball League, lists some of the main reasons a player chooses a junior college:

1. His grades weren’t good enough to go to a four-year school.

2. Maybe he was drafted and didn’t get the round or the money he wanted and doesn’t want to wait until after his junior year to get drafted again.

3. He’s not big enough yet or needs to work on his skills.

The top two objectives when Hershberger was flying high at Indiana Tech were compete for the national championships (during Hershberger’s tenure, the Warriors won 407 games and were NAIA World Series runner-up in 1998 and a fifth-place finisher in 2003 as well as a World Series participant in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 ) and send players on to the professional ranks.

While winning is important, development and getting a player ready for the next level will be the top priorities at Ivy Tech Northeast.

“Every program I run or am coaching for is going to compete we want to win,” says Hershbeger. “But we’re going to get kids ready.”

Hershberger (Kansas City Kansas), Wilkins (Jackson of Michigan) and Sebastian (Owens of Ohio) all played community college baseball. Hershberger is excited that Ivy Tech Northeast chancellor Jerrilee Mosier once worked at Allen Community College in Iola, Kan., which is in the same conference at KCK.

“She gets it,” says Hershberger of Mosier. “She knows what it takes.

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right or I’m not in. You can be a great coach at the college level, but if you don’t have the resources to get players it doesn’t matter.”

State Representative Bob Morris has also helped make baseball at Ivy Tech Northeast a reality.

Hershberger notes all the ties to northeast Indiana with the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College team that won the 2017 NJCAA Division II World Series.

Assistant coach Bryce Shafer (Northfield High School) played for the Sluggers, Valparaiso University and in the Chicago Cubs organization. KCC’s 2017 roster included Logan Gallaway (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Noah Hoeffel (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Devin Peters (Churubusco), Pancho Luevano (West Noble), Waylon Richardson (West Noble) and Brennan Kelly (Southwood) plus Indiana products Benjamin Clevenger (Carmel) and Caleb Matthews (RoncallIi).

“We hope to keep some of (the local talent) home,” says Hershberger, “We would eventually like to recruit nationally, but I don’t think we can every forget that we are a community college.”

The NCAA D-I College World Series is slated for June 17-27/28. Hershberger promises that the eight teams in Omaha will have rosters with plenty of players from junior colleges.

Hershberger signed on at Indiana Tech in late July, meaning that it was too late in the recruiting cycle to bring in much talent and the first squad went 0-23.

“I think it better positioned starting out than Indiana Tech was,” says Hershberger. “People find that hard to believe because they look at the stadium down there (at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Anthony Road) which I designed. They see the end product.”

All that happened over time. When Indiana Tech was national runners-up in 1998, the Warrior Field had one set of bleachers behind a chain link backstop (most fans sat on the berm), wooden bleachers and the “press box” was a card table with scoreboard controller.

“There’s going to be bumps,” says Hershberger of the Ivy Tech Northeast program. “There’s going to be naysayers. Indiana Tech was the same way.

“(Baseball) put vibrancy into that school. We’re hoping to do it again.”

As he does with all his other baseball ventures, Hershberger is bringing passion and “ridiculous attention to detail.”

He has already been checking on the facilities at Ivy Tech Northeast’s North and South campuses, picked out “old school” green and white uniform designs, met with planners on a baseball stadium (the Titans are likely to play home games at Shoaff Park until a field can be constructed on the north campus behind the Innovation Center on Stellhorn Road), talked with local patrons about funding and on and on.

“I’m really busy,” says Hershberger. “I’m really tired. But it’s a good tired. I’m really fulfilling what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m involved in all kinds of baseball stuff in Fort Wayne.

“It’s what I do. I’m a baseball coach, a baseball guy.”

Besides getting Ivy Tech baseball up and running, he’s also the executive director of Community Impact Zone, a non-profit organization that is partnering with groups like Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana and the Euell Wilson Center bring the game to intercity kids at Fort Wayne’s Strike Zone Training Center, 4141 N. Clinton.

Ivy Tech will also do its indoor workouts at the facility.

“It’s a been a dream of mine for a long time, this urban initiative,” says Hershberger. “I don’t want to walk away from it right when I’m finally getting it going. I don’t want kids to limit their options or their horizons. I want them to look at baseball as a viable option for college and beyond.

Many area high schools have already volunteered to the Community Impact Zone instructors.

Hershberger is working with urban leaders to get young adults from the community to observe his coaches so they can take knowledge back to their neighborhoods and maybe rejuvenate local youth leagues.

“I love teaching the game,” says Hershberger.

He does that for players from college age on down to kindergartners.

Baseball. It’s what he does.

LANCEHERSHBERGER1

Lance Hershberger has been involved in many baseball ventures in his hometown of Fort Wayne in his 62 years. The latest include the new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program along with Community Impact Zone. (Steve Krah Photo)

Getting players ready for next level what it’s all about for DeLaGarza, Summit City Sluggers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Mark DeLaGarza sees it, there are two paths for travel baseball organizations.

Some like the game but are not that intense about it. To DeLaGarza, that describes 80 percent of Indiana teams.

The rest are serious about competition and learning.

“I’m in that 20 percent,” says DeLaGarza, who founded the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. “We try to do things right and develop players.”

Among the many alumni to play in college or beyond are major leaguers Kevin Kiermaier and Jarrod Parker.

DeLaGarza, who runs the Sluggers with Greg VanMeter and Steve Devine, says there are three reasons that players are in summer baseball — they want to get to the next level; they wish to get better; or they play because their parents say they must get a job if they don’t.

“I can deal with two out of the three,” says DeLaGarza.

At 57, DeLaGarza has been involved with baseball as a player or coach since age 10. He moved from Janesville, Wis., to Fort Wayne to follow his career at General Motors. He was with GM for 33 years.

Besides the Sluggers, he has been a high school head coach at Southern Wells and an assistant at Norwell (where sons Nick and Andy played) and Columbia City as well as an assistant at Manchester University. He has also led the Twins Scout teams in fall baseball and has served as an associate scout for the Minnesota Twins (he still counts supervisor Bill Milos as a good friend in the game) and New York Mets.

The Sluggers started with one team and moved from 12U to 18U as Andy DeLaGarza and his teammates got older. When Andy went on to college baseball (at Coastal Carolina), Mark was approached about keeping it going and Summit City hit the re-set button at 15U.

Eventually, younger squads were added to a growing group and the emphasis continued to be getting players ready for college ball.

“Five or six years ago, I realized that kids stay committed to the same (travel ball) program,” says DeLaGarza. “If you don’t get them when they’re young, you might not get them at all.”

Today, the Sluggers field seven squads (12U, 13U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and College). Younger teams are just beginning their season of 45 to 60 games with older squads joining in for about 40 contests as the high school and college seasons are concluding.

Why so many games?

“It’s a necessary thing,” says DeLaGarza. “Kids don’t know how to play unless they play. They need to play to learn the game. You don’t hear people say you’re doing too many math or spelling problems.

“In Indiana, we can’t play too much.”

With games at Huntington University, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan, Manchester and Saint Francis, college squads play in the Indiana Summer Collegiate League (other squads for 2017 are to be the Kekiongas, Panthers and Flippin’ Frogs). The league offers no housing and is made up mostly of area athletes. Cost is $500 per player.

Fees can be defrayed for other players with optional monthly fundraisers.

Summit City winds up the season in late July and holds tryouts for the next season in August at Homier Park in Huntington (site of the Sluggers’ Standing Up To Cancer Tournament for ages U9 to U14 June 9-11).

“If we wait until September or October, other organizations take the players,” says DeLaGarza. “We’ll play games every weekend in September.”

For older teams, many of those games are against collegiate squads.

“It challenges them and gives them the chance to see how good college players are,” says DeLaGarza. “We’re trying to educate them. But we spend most of time educating parents. I tell those going on spring break to get off the beach and go see a college baseball game (to see what it’s all about).”

During the fall and winter, the Sluggers train at a facility in Huntington.

DeLaGarza coaches the 15U team. Other current Summit City head coaches are Mark Fisher (12U), Brent Alwine (13U), Matt Stidam (14U), Lance Hershberger (16U), Todd Armstrong (17U) and Lea Selvey (College).

Finding the ones DeLaGarza wants is not always easy. He has found that many high school coaches are tired at the end of their seasons and don’t wish to coach in the summer and fall.

“It’s trying,” says DeLaGarza. “I don’t like dads coaching. I like skilled coaches with knowledge.”

If DeLaGarza had his way, summer baseball needs more direction. One place to start is to have divisions so that top level teams would not be grouped with lower ones at tournaments.

“We’re under the same umbrella and it’s all watered down,” says DeLaGarza. “These dad teams should be in house ball. I don’t mean to sound arrogant.

“We beat someone 22-1 and it does no one any good. That doesn’t help develop a player. The only way to fix it is to have major tournament directors filter the teams they bring in.”

DeLaGarza would like to see more league play where there is time for pregame and postgame routines.

He wishes Indiana would return to more games where younger teams don’t play on high school/college-sized fields before the players are ready, which to him means 15U. That usually means the mound is at 54 feet from the plate and the bases 80 feet apart (as opposed to 60 feet, 6 inches and 90 feet).

Since pitchers have a tough time throwing strikes at the longer distance, games tend to be very slow.

DeLaGarza notes that son Andy did not throw a breaking ball until his junior year at Norwell and advises young pitchers to do the same, getting hitters out with location and by changing speeds.

“Fill the strike zone with fastballs on both sides of the plate and see what happens,” says DeLaGarza.

SUMMITCITYSLUGGERSNEWLOGO

MARKDELAGARZA

Mark DeLaGarza (shown when coaching for Manchester University) started the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. The Fort Wayne-based organization plans to field seven teams in 2017.