Tag Archives: Tracy Smith

Neal drawn to competitive community surrounding Carmel Greyhounds

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

Ty Neal is the new head baseball coach at Carmel (Ind.) High School.
While transitioning his wife and three children from southwestern Ohio to central Indiana, Neal embraces the expectations that come with leading the Greyhounds and performing in a community that demands excellence.
“This is the only high school job in the country I would have moved my family for,” says Neal, a former Indiana University assistant and University of Cincinnati head coach who is married to Christine and has sons Silas (14) and Beckett (12) and daughter Paisley (9). “I owe it to myself and my family to surround us with high-level people.
“I’m excited because it’s going to bring out the best in all of us.”
Both Neal boys were born in Bloomington.
“I’ve built so many relationships in Indiana,” says Ty Neal. “This is a great opportunity for my family to get back to the great state of Indiana.”
The competitive environment and lofty standards at his new school district suit Neal.
“The reason people are so critical of Carmel they expect so much out of everyone,” says Neal, who was hired in July. “As a coach that’s all positive.
“I want be held under a microscope and perform at a high level every single day of my life.”
After serving as the Director of Pitching at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., November 2018 to October 2019, Neal led the baseball program at Loveland High School (enrollment around 525) in the Greater Cincinnati area in 2020 and 2021. The Tigers did not play any games in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carmel (enrollment around 5,225) is currently an athletic independent.
The Greyhounds were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville. Those schools have combined for nine State Finals appearances — two each for Carmel (1997, 2000), Fishers (2018, 2021) and Westfield (1998, 2009) and one apiece for Hamilton Southeastern (2019), Noblesville (2014) and Zionsville (2016) with state titles in 2014, 2018 and 2019.
Carmel has earned 13 sectional championships — the last in 2016.
Neal intends to bring consistency as he builds the culture of his Greyhounds program.
“That starts at the top,” says Neal. “These are 14- to 18-year-old young men that have so many moving parts in their lives.
“I want to be consistent in my demeanor, expectations and standards for them. We show up everyday and there’s no surprises. We’re not going to get in mid-season and change the way we do things. We’re not going to panic.
“There’s a comfort level that comes with consistency where — hopefully — you can bring out the best in everyone.”
Neal, who has targeted potential assistant coaches, conducted a recent player-parent meeting to shake everyone’s hand and is planning to start IHSAA Limited Contact Period workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning Sept. 13.
Carmel plays its home games on Hartman Field.
“I think it’s awesome,” says Neal. “It’s a brand new turf field with lights that I can turn on and off with an app on my phone.”
To serve a community that features the Carmel Dads Club, Carmel Pups travel baseball and teams at Carmel Clay Schools’ three middle schools — Carmel, Clay and Creekside — Neal plans a five-week middle school camp.
“I want to build relationships with the middle school coaches,” says Neal. “We’ll have similar concepts so we’re not starting from scratch freshman year.”
The Greyhounds routinely send players on to college baseball. Three alums — Ryan Campbell, Conrad Gregor and Tommy Sommer — are current or recent pros.
Born in West Elkton, Ohio (Dayton area), former left-handed pitcher Neal is a 1995 graduate of Preble Shawnee Junior/Senior High School in Camden, Ohio.
He earned four letters at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) 1996-99 and was team captain in 1999 and secured a Sport Management degree. Tracy Smith was his head coach.
Neal served as Smith’s pitching coach at Miami in 2000 and 2005 and was an assistant to Dan Callahan for three seasons (2001-03) at Southern Illinois University while getting a Masters of Sport and Fitness Administration/Management. He was pitching coach for the Cape Cod Baseball League‘s Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the summer of 2002.
There was one season as an assistant at Cincinnati (2004) and four as head coach (2014-17).
When Smith became head coach at Indiana, he brought Neal along and he was top assistant and recruiting coordinator for eight seasons (2006-13). He was also pitching coach for six of those campaigns and infield/third base coach for two. The Hoosiers went to the College World Series in 2013.
“He gave me an opportunity to help the team,” says Neal of the coach-player relationship with Smith (who is now head coach at the University of Michigan). “I had to grow up a lot under him.
“I learned from him to be agile and open to new things and learning. You change things when you need to.”
Neal was Smith’s Quality Control Analyst at Arizona State University in 2018.
While in Ohio, he created Serving Baseball Passion as a platform to share his knowledge with younger players.
In addition to coaching, Neal teaches Special Education at Carmel High School.

Beckett (left), Ty and Silas Neal.

Silas (left), Paisley, Christine and Beckett Neal.

Former pro pitcher Wechsler hunts for gems as White Sox area scout

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

Justin Wechsler grew up playing baseball in Madison County, Ind.
Born in Anderson in 1980 and briefly residing in Texas, he landed in Pendleton and was educated there through high school at Pendleton Heights (Class of 1998.
As a right-handed pitcher, he excelled at Ball State University (1999-2001) in nearby Muncie and then had professional baseball adventures in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and in independent ball.
When his playing career was over in 2006 — the year he turned 26 — Wechsler became a car salesman.
But that wasn’t for him.
“I needed to get back into baseball somehow, some way,” says Wechsler, who spent a short time as a Ball State volunteer assistant before becoming an area scout for the Chicago White Sox.
Most days from February through the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which was July 17-19 in 2022) see McCordsville, Ind., resident Wechsler on the road evaluating talent in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
After a short break, he goes into summer and fall coverage. He is currently in San Diego for the 2022 Area Code Games.
Wechsler uses a mix of analytics and the eye test when grading players.
“You have to know them both,” says Wechsler. “These metrics just give you another piece of information to dissect a guy. The more information the better.
“I dug in on that stuff when it came out so I could talk intelligently about it. That’s what we do. That’s our job.”
As an area scout, Wechsler does not have the authority to sign players.
“I put numbers on them,” says Wechsler. “At a certain point a cross-checker or a national guy will come in.
“You build the base so you’ve got a target in the spring.”
He wants to find players who can hit, run and throw, but there’s more to it than that.
“It’s not so much the physical tools, it’s how they’re wired,” says Wechsler. “Do they have the right make-up? Professional baseball is hard. It’s a grind. It’s long. It’s just tough. The tools are the easy part.
“Mental toughness is a portion of it. What kind of teammate are they? Are they self-motivated? Do they love the game or just like the game? Are they coachable?”
It’s often creating a portfolio that has a beginning, middle and end.
“You start to build a profile and see how they mature,” says Wechsler. “Can they handle failure? It’s a very humbling experience.
“It helps that I played and was in a clubhouse. I know that life’s like.”
Wechsler played at Pendleton Heights for Bill Stoudt, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2013, the Arabians’ diamond became known as Bill Stoudt Field.
“He was awesome,” says Wechsler of Stoudt, who saw the pitcher chosen for the 1998 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. “I had breakfast with Stoudty about a week ago.”
Wechsler has been known to stay at Stoudt’s Florida condo for a week at a time while attending spring training.
Wechsler met Anderson native Mike Shirley (who also played for Stoudt at Pendleton Heights) as a high schooler.
“He was one of those guys I met at a younger age when I needed guidance and advice,” says Wechsler. “I know I got lucky.”
Shirley is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the White Sox and operates The Barn training facility in Anderson.
Wechsler has been one of the pitching instructors at the facility and witnessed a long list of talent walk through the door.
“(Wapahani High School alum and St. Louis Cardinals left-hander) Zack Thompson grew up in our building,” says Wechsler.
John Miles was Wechsler’s manager with Anderson George H. Hockett American Legion Post 127.
“We were good,” says Wechsler of that Legion ball team.
At Ball State, the 6-foot, 255-pound righty learned from Cardinals head coach Rich Maloney. Over the years, he has watched him recruit players that went high in the MLB Draft (65 players have been selected 72 times with six first-rounders).
“He likes long athletic bodies,” says Wechsler of Maloney. “I probably didn’t fit his mold.”
Projectability is another key.
“You have to do that at that level,” says Wechsler.
The scout takes some credit for telling Maloney about right-hander Drey Jameson (Greenfield-Central Class of 2017), who came out of high school as a 6-foot, 145-pounder and pitched two seasons at Ball State (2018 and 2019) before being chosen in the first round in 2019 by the Diamondbacks.
“Drey is one of the most competitive human beings I’ve ever met,” says Wechsler. “He has a chip on his shoulder.
“He’s wired different than most guys.”
In 2022, 6-foot southpaw Tyler Schweitzer (Hamilton Southeastern) was drafted in the fifth round out of Ball State by the White Sox.
“He was light-tossing lefty who dove in the weight room and brought up his velocity,” says Wechsler of Schweitzer.
Draft selections who were Wechsler teammates at Ball State include outfielder Larry Bigbie (a Hobart High School graduate who played the majors and Japan), catcher Jon Kessick, right-handers Travis Minix and Christopher Cabaj and left-hander Jason Hickman in 1999, Hickman, lefty Adam Sheefel and infielders Shayne Ridley and Jeremy Ridley in 2000, catcher Doug Boone and right-hander Jason Paul in 2001 and righty Bryan Bullington (a Madison Consolidated alum and the No. 1 overall pick) and lefty Luke Hagerty, righty Paul Henry and Boone in 2002.
Bigbie, Bullington and Shayne Ridley are in the Ball State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Wechsler took the bump 53 times for the BSU Cardinals (40 starts) and went 23-13 with a 4.69 earned run average, 219 strikeouts and 92 walks in 232 1/3 innings.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, Wechsler pitched for the rookie-level Missoula (Mont.) Osprey (2001), Low Class-A South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks (2002), High Class-A Lancaster (Calif.) JetHawks (2003 and 2004) and Double-A Tennessee Smokies (2005). He was with the Atlantic League’s Somerset Patriots (Bridgewater, N.J.) in 2006.
His managers were Chip Hale (Missoula), Dick Schofield (South Bend), Mike Aldrete and Wally Backman (Lancaster), Tony Perezchica (Tennessee) and Sparky Lyle (Somerset).
Through Backman, Wechsler came to know Mark Haley (who managed in South Bend 2005-14 and is now 1st Source Performance Center general manager and South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director).
South Bend resident and White Sox bullpen coach Curt Hasler and South Bend Clay High School coach and former Coveleski Stadium groundskeeper Joel Reinebold is counted among Wechsler’s many friends in baseball.
Another Pendleton Heights alum and Ball State player — Aaron Etchison — is now a scout for the Cleveland Guardians.
Brock Huntzinger, who was drafted out of Pendleton Heights in 2007, was named last week by new head coach Tracy Smith as pitching coach at the University of Michigan.
Wechsler started 56 of 161 pro appearances and went 25-29 with a 4.32 ERA, 352 K’s and 169 base on balls in 426 2/3 innings.
Justin met Niles, Mich., native Ryan Davis when he was playing for South Bend and she was an intern with the team. The couple now have three daughters — high schooler Grace and middle school twins Madalyn and Makenzie.
Catcher Scott French, who played at Ball State from 2000-02 and has been an instructor at The Barn and an Indiana Bulls coach/director, was best man at Justin and Ryan’s wedding.

Justin Wechsler

Former switch hitter Allbry switches gears, reflects on diamond experiences

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

Baseball took Allbry Major all over America.
The Indianapolis native played in many places as a travel baller and then had college baseball adventures at three schools and with numerous summer collegiate teams.
His playing career over, the 23-year-old reflects on his experiences as he finishes Week 1 on his first full-time job.
What did he get out of baseball?
“It taught me how to compete,” says Major. “That was something very important to me. Anything can be competition.
“There’s also the relationships I made with people. It’s really a small world once you get to summer ball.”
Major is now a manager trainee at a Enterprise Rent-A-Car store near San Francisco. He settled there with girlfriend and former Arizona State University softball player Mailey McLemore. Both finished their degrees this spring — Major in General Studies with a focus in Applied Sciences at Louisiana State University Shreveport and McLemore in Sports Business at ASU.
Born in Indianapolis as the only child of Kendrick and Marcy Major (a trackster who competed for Indiana State University and a multi-sport prep athlete), Allbry was in Pike Township until attending North Central High School, where he graduated in 2017.
In 2016, he named all-Marion County and helped the Phil McIntyre-coached Panthers to the county championship. He was academic all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference his last three years.
Major made the basketball squad as a senior. He had classes with members of the team and would participate in pick-up games so he decided to go out for head coach Doug Mitchell’s squad. Mitchell went into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022.
People always assumed that at 6-foot-6 he was a basketball player.
“That’s everybody’s first guess,” says Major. But his first love was for the diamond.
His baseball journey got rolling around age 7 at Westlane-Delaware Little League. There were travel ball stops with the Pony Express, Smithville Gators, Indiana Bandits, Indiana Outlaws, New Level Baseball Tornadoes (Illinois) and then — during his junior high and high school years — the Cincinnati Spikes, including his 17U summer.
“I didn’t like (being an only child),” says Major. “I always wanted siblings. I wasn’t a big fan of the spotlight.”
Major enjoyed getting to know so many coaches and teammates. He also learned from travel ball trips that sometimes had four players to a room that there were stages to the summer in the early years.
“I started out the season super excited to play again with my travel team,” says Major. “In the middle of the year, they got on my nerves. The last week or two I was irritated and mad at them. I grew out out that once I got to college. Everybody was more independent. You handle your business and get out.”
The summer before going to Xavier University in Cincinnati, the 6-6, 215-pound switch-hitting outfielder was with the Elmira (N.Y.) Pioneers of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
Major played at Xavier in 2018 and 2019, but not during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
He was named Big East Conference Freshman of the Year in 2018 after hitting .291 (46-of-158) with two home runs, nine doubles, 21 runs batted in and 16 runs scored in 47 games (46 starts). As 16 games as a pitcher (eight starts), the right-hander went 3-5 with one save, a 4.96 earned run average, 54 strikeouts and 24 walks in 61 2/3 innings. He had just a handful of pitching outings after that.
In 2019, Major played in 51 games (all starts) and hit .281 (57-of-203) with seven homers, 15 doubles, 34 RBIs and 32 runs.
The Musketeers head coach was Billy O’Conner.
Major was at Arizona State University in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021.
With the Tracy Smith-coached Sun Devils, he was in 27 games and hit .196 with two homers and 10 RBIs.
“I trying to go D-I again (after Arizona State), but there was the road block of being academically eligible,” says Major, noting how credits transferred from one school to the next.
A Finance major when he started at Xavier, he switched to Communications because it was easier with his full load of baseball activities. He was going to continue down that path at ASU, but not all credits transferred and he went with General Studies/Applied Sciences (including Business, Communications and Sociology).
Along the way, Major discovered his learning style to be hands-on (aka Kinesthetic). On the VARK scale there is Visual, Auditory, Reading and writing and Kinesthetic.
“I identify more with that,” says Major. “The better coaches made me understand why I was doing what I was doing. Once I understood I just kind of bought in more.
“Not everybody’s the same.”
Joining close friend Zyon Avery (Ben Davis Class of 2018) at LSUS gave Major the opportunity to play in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, in 2022. The Brad Neffendorf-coached Pilots went 53-8 in their second straight World Series season with two losses coming in Idaho.
In 51 games with LSUS, Major hit .333 (49-of-147) with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and 38 runs.
Major encountered many wood bat summer league situations in college. He played briefly for both the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Brewster Whitecaps and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Valley Blue Sox (Holyoke, Mass.) in the summer of 2018.
He went back to the Cape in 2019 with the Cotuit Kettleers (his head coach was American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Roberts). He had no summer team in 2020.
In 2021, Major suited up for the Prospect League’s Chris Willsey-managed Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators.
In 99 collegiate summer league games, he hit .302 with six homers and 49 RBIs.
Major was hoping to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but knew time was not on his side.
“After Arizona State, that was my last real chance because of my age,” says Major. “I know how big of a factor that plays in the draft.”
He had a chance to play independent pro ball, but decided to go with Mailey (daughter of former all-pro defensive back and San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl XIX-champion Dana McLemore and a former softball standout at Carlmont High School in Belmont, Calif.) and begin working.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a job because I’ve been playing summer ball,” says Major. “I’m trying to adjust to that.
“It’s the most expensive part of the country.”
Major doesn’t see himself leaving baseball behind entirely. Coaching might be his next avenue.
“I’m still going to be involved as much as a I can,” says Major. “I’ll have to see what my schedule is like now that I’m working.”

Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (Arizona State University Photo)

Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (Arizona State University Photo)

Allbry Major (Xavier University Photo)

Veteran baseball coach Smith assisting travel ball space with Diamond Allegiance

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

Tracy Smith became a head coach in NCAA Division I baseball at 30.
For the next quarter century, the Indiana native taught the game and developed relationships with players, families and others.
Smith grew up in Kentland — a small town of less than 2,000 folks in Newton County — learning fundamentals from Donald “Tater” Blankenship and then playing baseball and basketball for Denny Stitz at South Newton High School.
Other mentors include (college baseball coach) Jon Pavlisko, (minor league manager and coach) Brad Mills and Bill Harford, (Miami University Middleton basketball coach) Jim Sliger and (father-in-law and former MUM athletic director) Lynn Darbyshire.
Tracy and wife Jaime have three sons — Casey (as in Casey At The Bat), Ty (as in Ty Cobb) and Jack (as in Jackie Robinson) — and are grandparents.
Smith, who played at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and in the Chicago Cubs system, led programs at Miami Middletown, Miami and Indiana University — taking to the Hoosiers to the College World Series and receiving National Coach of the Year honors in 2013 — before becoming head coach at Arizona State University. Not including the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign, he took the Sun Devils to four NCAA regional appearances in six seasons. His ASU teams won 201 games.
In June 2021, Smith was let go at Arizona State. He saw it as an opportunity to focus his energy on a venture called Diamond Allegiance — an organization dedicated to reimagining travel baseball. He had been serving on its board for a couple of years.
“I looked at it as my way of giving back to help the game of baseball bigger and more impactful than maybe the 35 guys in the locker room that I’ve coached over my entire career,” says Smith of his reason for diving in full-time with Diamond Allegiance. “I’ve been working hard and pulling in some of my friends.
“You’ve got this army of former professional players and big league players that want to give back to the game as well.”
Smith, 56, is CEO for Diamond Allegiance and works with an Executive and Advisory Board committee that features current collegiate coaches Erik Bakich (University of Michigan) and Kevin O’Sullivan (University of Florida) and former Oregon State University coach Pat Casey. Matt Gerber is head of player business and development. Two-time softball gold medalist and ESPN analyst Michele Smith is also board member.
The OSU Beavers won three CWS titles on Casey’s watch (2006, 2007 and 2018) while O’Sullivan’s Gators reigned in 2017.
According to its website, Diamond Allegiance “helps members run better businesses, augments their player development capabilities, provides more career opportunities for coaches, reduces the cost for families/players, and increases participation of underrepresented communities. We generate this impact through a powerful mix of partnerships, services, technology, and philanthropy.”
Partners include Canes Baseball, the Indiana Bulls and many more.
Says Smith, who grew up playing Babe Ruth ball and for Remington (Ind.) American Legion Post 280: “As a coach you’re always on the receiving end of kids coming up through the travel ball system. I don’t want to say the system was broken because it’s not. People in the travel ball business do an unbelievable job. The industry itself has become more of a showcase/exposure industry and not as much development.
“We want to focus on the development piece.”
Diamond Allegiance, which was officially launched at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, offers a 12-month development system with text designed by Bakich that is currently not on the market.
At Chicago came the first chance for feedback from the baseball industry. High school coaches without access to travel baseball in their areas approached asking if they can tap into Diamond Allegiance resources.
“They will have access to a version of what we’re doing,” says Smith.
A predictive mechanism powered by CURVE, which creates a score taking into account brain, ball and body data that tells how high a player might go is another Diamond Allegiance perk.
Partners receive the ability to reach college conferences and coaches, push content to their coaches and team while building brand and culture. There is also access to top baseball industry leaders and the best tech providers.
Sandy Ogg, a CEO developer for Fortune 500 companies who Smith met through former Indiana University senior associate athletic director and current Diamond Sports Foundation CEO Tim Fitzpatrick, is part of Diamond Allegiance.
Members get marketing and branding services and assistance with their businesses.
“Owners can run better businesses and be more efficient in those practices,” says Smith. “They can make money that they’ll reinvest into creating and providing opportunities for kids who can’t afford to play.
“I’m very passionate and have always been very passionate about creating opportunities for kids who can’t be a part of it. When you look at our rosters over time we’ve tried to have a diverse roster. We really made a conscious effort to beat the bushes to find kids to play.”
The idea is to provide value and assistance in making important decisions.
“I see the amount of money families spend on getting their kid a college scholarship,” says Smith. “On a $5,000 college scholarship they’re spending $20,000 a year.
“We want to provide direction. It’s OK to spend that money, but let’s spend it wisely.”
Diamond Sports Foundation allows families an opportunity to apply for help to offset or — in some cases — totally fund the travel ball experience.
Diamond Allegiance will share knowledge to help guide parents and players through this recruiting process
“There’s this myth out there that if you don’t play Power Five baseball (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) that in some way, share or form you have failed. I’ve always hated that,” says Smith. “Anytime I would talk to groups, families and kids I would say every one of you can play beyond high school. There’s a place for you to do that. You just have to find the right fit.
“One of the things we’re going to be doing with Diamond Allegiance is giving families and kids true direction so that they can reach their aspiration.”
Knowing that others have attempted to do the same thing, Smith addresses question about the Diamond Allegiance difference.
“We’ve got a really, really good group of people that are passionate about making this game better,” says Smith, who has been talking with up to 10 travel programs a week. “You have people that are motivated to do right and do well by the game.
“It will not fail.”
To learn more, visit diamondallegiance.com. To apply for a partnership, email hello@diamondallegiance.com.

A video on the Diamond Allegiance organization.
Tracy Smith, former head baseball coach at Miami University Hamilton, Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), Indiana University and Arizona State University, is now CEO for Diamond Alliance, a group which assists in the travel ball world. (Arizona State University Photo)

Anderson grad Earley now guiding hitters at Texas A&M

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

Michael Earley has a knack for developing elite hitters.
Spencer Torkelson was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State University. His hitting coach was 2006 Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate Earley.
“Texas A&M hired a rising star in the coaching ranks with the addition of Mike Earley,” said former ASU coach Tracy Smith (who led the Indiana University program before his time with the Sun Devils) on the Aggies baseball website. “He is the best I’ve seen in my career at developing hitters. However, Coach Earley’s ability to build rapport by balancing toughness and genuine care for the players is what really makes him special. The Aggies are getting a good one.”
Earley, 33, played one season for Brian Cleary at the University of Cincinnati, three for Smith at Indiana and spent five in the Chicago White Sox system and one in independent ball. He coached in the Pac-12 Conference at Arizona State for five seasons — the last four as hitting coach — and was hired in mid-June of 2021 to mold hitters for Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference.
“I could’ve stayed at Arizona State, but I wanted to explore and see what else was out there,” says Earley, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “I talked to a few schools and ended up at Texas A&M. I could not be happier. It’s been a really, really fun time and a great experience.
“Head coach Jim Schlossnagle was a big draw for me. I think he’s the sharpest guy in the game and he’s someone I want to learn from and work for.”
Earley hit the recruiting trail right after joining the Aggies staff. Recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain directed hitters his way.
“He’s really, really good at finding talent and how to communicate,” says Earley of Cain. “I try to help him as much as I can.”
Coming to College Station and the Brazos Valley with his own ideas on hitting, Earley has also incorporated offensive ideas from Schlossnagle.
“It’s evolving every year,” says Earley. “I don’t think I’ve ever been quite the same every year though its the same base and foundation.
“I mean it’s (NCAA) Division I baseball. The SEC is a step up from the Pac-12, but there’s a lot of good teams and players in the Pac-12 as well. It’s not going to be anything too much different. It’s really a lot of hard work.”
Earley enjoyed his time with Torkelson, a right-hitting third baseman in the Detroit Tigers organization.
“He’s by far the best hitter I’ve work with to date,” says Earley. “If I ever work with one that again it will be like hitting the baseball lottery.
“He’s a generational talent for me. What separates him is not only is he just really, really good, he’s more competitive than anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant type. I’m gonna beat you and you’re not gonna beat me.”
The year before Torkelson went was the top pick in the draft, lefty-hitting outfielder Hunter Bishop was taken out of ASU with the 10th overall pick by the San Francisco Giants.
Arizona State has elite baseball facilities and so does Texas A&M, which plays in Blue Bell Park. Renovations are on the way for a stadium built in 2012.
“The SEC has become an arms race,” says Earley, who says new seating is coming along with a fresh hitting facility and weight room. “This place is already really, really nice.
“I don’t know how we’re going to upgrade it but we are and it’s going to be bigger and better. And then — I’m sure — in another 15 years we’ll probably do it all over again.”
Besides Schlossnagle, associate head coach Nate Yeskie, Cain and Earley as coaches, there’s a support that with a director of baseball operations (Jason Hutchins), director of player and program development (Chuck Box), sports performance coach (Jerry McMillan) and director of video and analytics (Will Fox).
Earley says analytics are very helpful when used the right way.
“You don’t want paralysis by analysis,” says Earley. “You find what works for you. There’s definitely a benefit in the game for analytics, but there’s an old word called competing and that can’t get lost.”
Nolan Earley, Michael’s brother, is a 2009 Anderson High graduate who played three years at the University of Southern Alabama and in the White Sox organization and independent ball (He played 96 games for the Frontier League Southern Illinois Miners in 2021). He is in Arizona running the Phoenix Hit Dogs.
“It’s a development-first travel program,” says Michael Early of the organization started in 2020. “Everyone says they are, but they’re actually not. They’re just trying to win and get the trophies. We’re actually trying the develop and I think it’s a success.”

Texas A&M assistant baseball coach Michael Earley at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Former Indiana University player McConnell leading baseball program at Barr-Reeve

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

A former Indiana University baseball player is sharing his experience and knowledge as head coach at Barr-Reeve Middle/High School in the tiny Daviess County town of Montgomery.
Trevor McConnell, who graduated from Bloomington (Ind.) High School South in 2005 and earned his IU degree in December 2008, enjoyed his first on-field season with Barr-Reeve in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic took away 2020. He was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Joe Rademacher during the 2019 season.
Before Barr-Reeve, McConnell spent five seasons as an assistant to Bloomington South head coach Phil Kluesner (2014-18) and five as head coach and athletic director at Eastern Greene (2009-13).
A center fielder in high school, McConnell played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Grier Werner at Bloomington South and was recruited to play at IU by Bob Morgan.
“(Werner) was an old-school guy,” says McConnell. “He had that football mentality. He wanted physical and mental toughness from his teams and pushed us to take on that mentality because baseball is a game of failure.”
By the time McConnell joined the Hoosiers, Tracy Smith was head coach. He saw action in 65 games from 2006-08 and counted future big leaguer Josh Phegley as a teammate. Michael Earley went on to be a college coach (he’s now at Texas A&M).
“I learned a ton from Coach Smith in my time around the IU program,” says McConnell, who picked up pointers in practice planning, strategy and all facets of running a baseball team. “(Werner and Smith) are responsible for molding my coaching mindset more than anybody.”
McConnell sustained a career-ending arm injury and served as a volunteer assistant to Smith in the fall of 2008.
By then, McConnell saw his path as a teacher and coach and took the job the Eastern Greene positions at 23.
McConnell played summer ball for Kluesner with the Bloomington Wizards and accepted an invitation to coach with him.
“He welcomed me with open arms,” says McConnell of Kluesner. “He’s one of my best friends.”
At Barr-Reeve, McConnell teaches junior high school education and has a coaching staff that features pitching coach Rademacher, varsity assistant/infield coach Nathan Lester and head junior varsity coach Joe Cummings. All three have been head coaches at the high school level — Rademacher in two stints at Barr-Reeve, Lester at Barr-Reeve and Cummings at Pike Central.
There’s also JV assistant Ryan Graber, who played for Rademacher and Lester, former Vincennes Lincoln and University of Southern Indiana national championship player Craig Heinz, Beau Sluder, Trevor Yoder and Kraig Knepp. Chris Winkler runs Barr-Reeve’s junior high baseball program (Grades 7 and 8).
“I appreciate having experienced guys with me in the dugout,” says McConnell, who works with Vikings hitters and outfielders. “I have no ego. Joe Rademacher has been a good mentor for me. He’s been super gracious.
“He told me has still has a fire for the game and would like to be around if you want me.”
The Vikings play on Joe Rademacher Field. An old agriculture building was recently converted into a hitting/training facility for Barr-Reeve baseball and softball.
“We have four full-length (batting) cages,” says McConnell. “We are spoiled.”
A T-ball league is hosted by Barr-Reeve. Coach Pitch leagues start at Chuck Harmon Little League in nearby Washington, Ind.
The Viking Baseball Club sponsors teams of local students from second grade through 12U.
“They play together as a group with ‘Barr Reeve’ across their chest,” says McConnell, who attends and runs some VBC practices in the winter to show players the way he does it at the high school. A three-week fall camp for Grades 2-6 ran by McConnell and his assistants and players just concluded.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. Starting after Labor Day, McConnell has been leading close to 20 baseball players two days a week. Those practices are on Mondays and Wednesdays and many also participate in basketball activities with Josh Thompson on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Thompson guided Barr-Reeve to an IHSAA Class 1A state championship in 2020-21 and a state runner-up finished in 2018-19.
“I like the fact we can instruct and be more hands-on with our players,” says McConnell of the current off-season set-up. “There’s less quantity but the quality is a lot better.
“We can coach them up.”
Barr-Reeve (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Blue Chip Conference (with Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial). In recent years, Washington Catholic has not fielded a baseball team.
In 2001, the Vikings were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Loogootee, North Daviess (host site), Shoals and Vincennes Rivet. Barr-Reeve has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019 — Rademacher’s last season as head coach. A senior on that ’19 team — Gage Wilson — went on to Vincennes (Ind.) University for baseball.
The youngest child of former college football coach Bob McConnell and wife Barbara, Trevor was born in Amherst, Mass., when his father was on the staff at the University of Massachusetts.
About the time Trevor went into kindergarten, his family (including older brother Ryan) had moved to Nashville with Bob McConnell joining the football staff at Vanderbilt University.
From 1995-2001, the McConnells were in Baton Rouge, La., and Bob was coaching at Lousiana State University.
Trevor McConnell’s freshmen baseball season was spent as a varsity role player at Parkview Baptist High School, where Eagles head coach and Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee M.L. Woodruff was on the way to one of his 11 state championships. His 27-season record was 603-163-2.
“I learned a lot of fundamentals,” says McConnell of Woodruff. “He was super-organized and super-efficient.”
The McConnells wound up in Bloomington when Bob was hired by Hoosiers head football coach Gerry DiNardo, who also coached at Vandy and LSU.
After years of the gypsy lifestyle of a college football coach, Bob McConnell went into financial services and retired last fall. Barbara McConnell is a Muncie, Ind., native. Ryan McConnell (38) resides in Baton Rouge.
Trevor (35) and wife Jessica both went to Bloomington South and began dating at IU. They have been married since 2009. The couple have two children — second grader Nolan (who turns 8 in October) and kindergartener Lauren (5).

The McConnells (from left): Jessica, Trevor, Nolan and Lauren.
The McConnells (clockwise from upper left): Trevor, Jessica, Nolan and Lauren.
Trevor (left) and Ryan McConnell.
Trevor McConnell (30).
Trevor McConnell directs traffic.
Trevor McConnell swings the fungo.

Indiana Nitro grows from one team into successful travel ball organization

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

Indiana Nitro — a travel baseball organization launched in the central part of the state — has had 164 college commits and five Major League Baseball draft selections since 2014.
Among Nitro alums who went on to pro baseball are Zach Britton (Toronto Blue Jays system), Matt Gorski (Pittsburgh Pirates), Niko Kavadas (Boston Red Sox), Devin Mann (Los Angeles Dodgers), Tommy Sommer (Chicago White Sox) and Zack Thompson (St. Louis Cardinals).
The Nitro fielded more than 20 teams — spring, summer and fall — at the 8U to 17U levels in recent seasons. The group has earned many victories and championships and competed in multiple states.
It all began with a single 11U team that took to the diamond in 2010.
Tim Burns, whose sons Brendan and Brock were playing travel ball, was exploring diamond opportunities for his boys when he was approached by some fathers about coaching a team.
With the idea of being able to control development and practice schedules, the elder Burns agreed and led that first Nitro squad, featuring Brock.
Most of the players were from Hamilton County — one of the exceptions being Batesville’s Britton. Brock Burns is now on the football team at Ball State University as an outside linebacker while Brendan Burns was a right-handed pitcher for BSU baseball; Tim Burns is a graduate of Ball State where his major was Telecommunications.
Both Burns brothers are Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates — Brendan in 2014 and Brock in 2017.
Most games in 2010 were played in central Indiana and the team went 50-5 with five tournament titles. Eleven of the 12 players on that first team went on to play at the collegiate level.
Tammy Burns, Tim’s wife, told him that he did not have the time to head a travel organization. Yet momentum kept on building.
“Kids wanted to play,” says Burns.
Parents and players gathered and voted on a team name — Burns presented around 300 choices found on Google — and team colors. The Nitro wound up donning Athletic Gold and Cardinal Red and uses explosive terms like Bombs and Gas on social media.
In 2011, the Nitro had four teams. The number went to seven in 2012 then 11 in 2013. It jumped to 20 in 2014 (the first year the organization had a high school age team).
“The snowball got big,” says Burns. “It took on a life of its own.”
The mantra of the Nitro is “Advancing players to the next level.” That came to mean grooming them to play high school baseball and then — for those who wished to do so — college baseball.
“It’s a very complex recruiting process that we came up with over the years,” says Burns, a 1982 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., who grew up on the diamonds of Goodland, Ind., and counted Tracy Smith (who went on to coach at Miami University-Middletown, Miami University, Indiana University and Arizona State University) as a teammate. “You dive deep into it and build relationships with college coaches and recruiters.
“Learning how to help these kids get recruited was important to our board (of directors) and and organization.”
Nitro staffers work the phones on behalf of their players and are constantly seeking talent and getting ready for the next thing.
“It’s a year-round job,” says Burns, who is employed in sales for Bally Sports Indiana (the Indiana Pacers TV Network). “There’s so much behind the scenes in the off-season. It keeps the board and volunteers busy.”
Randy Poiry has been on the board since the beginning. Two sons — catcher Rutger Poiry (Lincoln Trail College and Eastern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher Carter Poiry (Murray State University and Quinnipiac University) — played for the Nitro.
Directors are Chris Poland (daily operations and high school age teams) and Dan Rodgers (ages 8-14). Jared Poland, son of Chris, is at the University of Louisville. Nathan Rodgers (Carmel High School Class of 2024) played for his father on the Nitro 14U Gold team in 2021.
Burns, who coached the Nitro 16U Gold team to a 26-9-1 mark in 2021 and will move up to coach the 17U Gold squad in 2022, gets players from near and far.
“We don’t care where they come from,” says Burns. “We want good kids from good families who want to put in the work.”
Nitro players train at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus in Westfield, Ind. A membership is included with fees.
Burns counts four nephews — South Newton graduates Jarrett Hammel and Jay Hammel and Benton Central High school alums Payton Hall and Conner Hall — among former Nitro players. Former Saint Joseph’s College and Valparaiso right-hander Jarrett Hammel is now head baseball coach at Benton Central. Jay Hammel is a righty pitcher at Quincy (Ill.) University. Payton Hall is an outfielder at Oakland City (Ind.) University after transferring from the University of Southern Indiana. Former middle infielder Connor Hall is an Aviation Management student at Indiana State University.

Bloomington’s Cornwell building coaching resume

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

Only a few years removed from playing himself, Adam Cornwell sees what makes today’s young baseball players tick in the era of metrics and analytics.
“It’s a different era of baseball,” says Cornwell, a former pitcher at Bloomington High School North, the University of Indianapolis, University of Pittsburgh and independent professional ball and the head coach of the 2021 Park Rangers in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “They want to show off their athletic ability a little more as well as their velocity, strength and all this stuff.
“Metrics are a big numbers and they’re being used. Every single pitch is measured.”
When not guiding the Park Rangers, Cornwell can often be found at Grand Park learning how to use technology like TrackMan. He is also seeking his next full-time gig.
He just finished a two-year stint on the coaching staff at the University of Dayton, where he had access to Rapsodo, Synergy and more. Jayson King is the Flyers head coach. Cornwell assisted pitching coach Travis Ferrick. Dayton won 11 straight Atlantic-10 Conference games leading into the conference tournament where the Flyers were beaten by Virginia Commonwealth in the championship game.
Cornwell spent the 2019 season at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. It Paul Panik’s first season as a head coach and his Gaels staff was among the youngest in NCAA Division I with Panik (29), head assistant Andrew Pezzuto (26), volunteer J.T. Genovese (23) and pitching coach Cornwell (24).
“Learning with those guys was awesome,” says Cornwell, now 26. “I had freedom and it made me grow faster. I was thrown into the fire early.
“I’m super-thankful for the opportunity I was given over there.”
Before beginning his coaching career, right-hander Cornwell pitched briefly with the Frontier League’s 2018 Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums. Manager Dan Rohn and pitching coach Greg Cadaret were former big leaguers.
Cornwell was signed by Traverse City after playing for the Grizzly in the California Winter League in Palm Springs. There he got to work with Dom Johnson and work out with Joe Musgrove (who pitched the first no-hitter in San Diego Padres history April 9, 2021).
“Dom is probably the best pitching coach in the country,” says Cornwell. “He’s just a stud.
“I got to work out with (Musgrave) a lot. I got to learn how pro guys go about their day and their business. Dom showed me how I needed to change my ways of working out. He is the guy that made me the player I was.”
Cornwell was connected to Johnson through Tracy Smith, whom Cornwell knew from Smith’s time as head coach at Indiana University in Bloomington.
“He is the reason I wanted to get into coaching,” says Cornwell of the former Arizona State University head coach. “I see the way he was day in and day out and how his kids looked up to him. He’s their hero. There’s no better family than that family.”
Smith’s children are among Cornwell’s best friends. Jack Smith was going to be in his Oct. 24 wedding in Bloomington (Cornwell is engaged to Renee Rhoades of St. Charles, Ill.) but he is expected to be the starting quarterback at Central Washington University after transferring from Arizona State.
Cornwell played three seasons for College Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Vaught and pitching coach Mark Walther at UIndy and graduated in 3 1/2 years. He joined the Pitt Panthers featuring head coach Joe Jordano and pitching coach Jerry Oakes just before the start of the 2017 season.
“I credit my coaching path to Coach Vaught,” says Cornwell. “He got me to the University of Pittsburgh. That’s where I made connections to start coaching.”
Cornwell, who holds Sport Management from Indianapolis and master’s degree in Athletic Coaching from Ball State University, appreciates his relationship with Walther.
“He’s a great dude and a hard worker,” says Cornwell. “As a pitching coach he allowed me to be me.”
Walther, the director of operations at Pro X Athlete Development, now runs the College Summer League at Grand Park and Cornwell reached out to him and landed his position with the Park Rangers and has former UIndy pitcher John Hendry and former Center Grove High School pitcher and current Trojans freshmen coach Zach Anderson as assistants.
Born and raised in Bloomington, Cornwell played in Danny Smith Park Baseball Leagues in Unionville, Ind., beginning at age 4.
The Smithville (Ind.) Sluggers were an early travel team. In high school, he was with the Southern Indiana Redbirds among others. That team featured three players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Seymour High School graduate Zack Brown (fifth round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016), Columbus North alum Daniel Ayers (25th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013) and Greenwood Community graduate Alex Krupa (35th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2015).
In one tournament at East Cobb in Atlanta, Cornwell’s team picked up Nick Senzel as a shortstop and Cornwell pitched the only no-hitter of his career. Senzel is now an outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds.
A 2013 Bloomington North graduate, Cornwell play for Richard Hurt.
“He’s a worker and he does everything right,” says Cornwell of Hurt. “He’s on top of everything. He’s super-prepared. Every practice is down to the T.
“He demands respect and in return he gives a ton of respect to his players and the freed to be what they want to be. That’s the way these kids are taking to coaching and he understands that.”
Adam is the son of Kara (John) Jacobs and George (Michelle) Cornwell and has seven siblings — Andrew, Matt, Allison, Jake, Sabrina, Ayden and Addisyn.

Adam Cornwell with mother Kara Jacobs.
Adam Cornwell (left) with father George Cornwell.
Adam Cornwell (center) coaching at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.
Adam Cornwell pitching in the California Winter League.
Adam Cornwell pitching for the independent Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums.

Crossroads Baseball Series helps talent connect with next level programs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connecting baseball players who wish to play at the next level with coaches seeking talent is something that the Crossroads Baseball Series has been doing for more than a decade.

Started in 2008 by former Indiana University and professional infielder Eric Blakeley as an outgrowth of his Diamond Kings training business in northwest Indiana, CBS has grown to include showcases, tournaments and fall leagues in numerous states.

Blakeley ran Diamond Kings — former Griffith (Ind.) High School and Tulane University standout and current Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Kody Hoese was one of his early pupils — for about a decade. 

Crossroads Baseball Series began as a way for “Region” area players to have exposure events without traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago. 

The first CBS event held at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard include future big league pitcher Sean Manaea. Blakeley notes that 85 of the 87 players involved went on to play college baseball.

At Crossroads Baseball Series showcases, players work out in front of college coaches and play in prospect games against top recommended players.

There are 17 tournaments on the 2021 calendar with events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Many of these are for 14U to 18U players.

“We’re on the verge of growing our tournament space,” says Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series. “There’s a high demand for quality tournaments that don’t cost $2,000. We try to stay around $1,000 price point.”

Blakeley says college coaches can get on an RSVP list and attend events and receive information from them.

Rosters are collected and each player fills out an information form. Coaches have full access to this for free.

CBS provides social media coverage for recruiters and players’ families to share.

“We pride ourselves on educating the families,” says Blakeley. “We can get your names out there.

“The players have to do their research and count the schools that match (their choices).”

What Crossroads Baseball Series does, according to Blakeley, makes it easier for players to communicate with college coaches and do their research.

Blakeley emphasizes that college coaches will know if a player has done his homework on his program. 

It is even more important now that the competition for roster spots has become even more fierce with many players staying in college baseball longer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the smaller MLB Draft.

“It’s become a lot more competitive to get into these schools — academically and athletically,” says Blakeley.

The words of former Indiana University and current Arizona State University head coach Tracy Smith ring true with Blakeley.

“If you want to play college baseball, there’s a place for you,” says Blakeley. “You just need to do your research and go to camps.”

Travis Keesling, former head coach at Pendleton Heights High School, is Vice President of Baseball Operations for CBS after starting out as a coach selecting players for a showcase.

“Travis has a very good baseball background,” says Blakeley. “He knows the game very well.”

Keesling deals with finding on-field personnel, RSVPing college coaches and the overall vision of the company. He and Blakeley talk on a daily basis.

Nelson Gord, a former minor league opponent to Blakeley who resides in Illinois and is Director of Baseball for NCSA (Next College Student Athlete), is also Director of Recruiting Education for Crossroads Baseball Series.

“He’ll come to events and speak to parents about the recruiting process,” says Blakeley of Gord.

NCSA had purchased a platform called Coach Packet and CBS now has its own app that incorporates video, social media and results to the same player profile. College coaches are given access to this information.

The Crossroads Baseball Series staff also features field coordinators include Rob Fay, Craig Cotter and Austin Green.

Blakeley was a four-sport athlete at Greenville (Ohio) Senior High School.

“I was fortunate to have good coaches for high school and summer ball,” says Blakeley. “I got hit by pitch and broke my arm and did not play junior year of high school.”

The righty-swinging infielder wound up at Indiana through a relationship his coach had with Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan.

“He taught you some things about life,” says Blakeley. “There’s nothing easy about getting through a practice with Bob Morgan.

“He taught you accountability and taking care of yourself.”

As much as the process has changed over the year, one things has remained constant.

“It was word-of-mouth then and it’s still that way today,” says Blakeley. Coaches want to hear from coaches who they consider trustworthy and whose opinion they respect. “What has changed is technology. There is accessibility and instant updates now.”

Another change is the age of those being seriously pursued by recruiters.

“Recruiting has gotten a lot earlier,” says Blakeley. “When we started Crossroads in 2008, every single of the players had not made their college choice yet and were juniors going into their senior year. Ten years later, eighth graders were (verbally) committing going into their freshmen year.”

A shortstop for much of his four seasons at IU (1999-02), Blakeley was selected in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a second baseman.

After his first pro season, Blakeley had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He was in Class-A ball in 2003 and 2004 and made it up to Triple-A in 2005.

Released by the Mariners in 2005, Blakeley played for the independent Joliet (Ill.)JackHammers and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. 

“I wasn’t trying to go back into affiliated ball,” says Blakeley. “I had my business and had gotten married (to Lake Central High School graduate Laura).”

Gary won the Northern League title in 2007 and were runners-up in 2008.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert invited him back for 2009, but Blakeley decided to focus on his business and having a family. 

Eric and Laura Blakeley now resides in Fishers, Ind., with daughters Isabella (10) and Gianna (8). Eric coaches both girls on the Fishers Cats.

“Sports can teach kids for the future — about adversity and how to overcome it,” says Blakeley. “Don’t think what might happen bad. Think what might happen good. 

“Failure is going to help you where you want to be. They just don’t understand that yet.”

Eric Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series

Former Vincennes, Indiana U. hurler Martin teaching at Pitching Performance Lab

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fortified with knowledge that he gained playing in Indiana and lessons learned since a Kentucky native is passing along baseball wisdom in the Commonwealth as owner/pitching coordinator at Pitching Performance Lab.

Opened in October 2019 by Chad Martin, the Lexington business has trained more than 300 players and currently works with about 200. PPL shares space and partners with Watts Performance Systems, owned by Drew Watts.

According to the WPS website: “The collaborative approach to baseball training offered by Watts Performance Systems and the Pitching Performance Lab is like nothing else available in central Kentucky. Throwing athletes who train at our facility receive training guidance that addresses their specific needs both from a skill standpoint and a movement/strength standpoint.”

Says Martin, “We’re integrating strength and skill together to make sure every athlete’s individual needs are met.”

Martin, who pitched at Vincennes University and Indiana University, says clients are taught to develop a routine and go through soft tissue and mobility work and an arm care plan.

The plan is not rigid. It is adaptable so adjustments can be made depending on the player’s needs.

One size does not fit all.

“We talk to our athletes and see what are goals are,” says Martin. “We don’t emphasize velocity alone.”

Martin and his instructors utilize motion-capture technology such as TrackMan and Rapsodo, which gives feedback on vertical and horizontal break, release angle and height, spin rate and efficiency and tilt and helps in the process of creating a separation in various pitches. 

While those these things are helpful, the idea is not to get too caught up in technical jargon.

“It’s a lot of information even for me,” says Martin. “It can be something as simple as a grip adjustment or a visual cue.

“We always go simple first. Our goal is not to overcomplicate pitching. We try to stay away from really big words because it doesn’t really matter.”

Of all the players trained by PPL, 25 to 30 have been strictly position players who don’t pitch. There have been many two-way players and pitcher-onlys.

With non-pitchers, the goal is to make them a better overall thrower with their arm speed and path.

Martin is a board member and coach with Commonwealth Baseball Club travel organization and is to coach the 17U Xpress team this summer with trips planned to Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. CBC teams begin at 13U with some designated Xpress and others Grays. Depending on the level, some teams will compete in events at Prep Baseball Report events at LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga.

Travel ball is about college exposure. There are opportunities at many levels.

“We are definitely not D-I or bust,” says Martin. “We look for programs where we feel comfortable sending kids.”

Martin, 30, grew up in Lexington, where he graduated from Dunbar High School in 2008. He was recruited to Vincennes by Ted Thompson (now head coach at Tecumseh, Ind., High School) and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Trailblazers head coach Chris Barney and pitching coaches Scott Steinbrecher and Jeremy Yoder. 

After two seasons at the junior college, 6-foot-7 right-hander Martin took the mound at IU for head coach Tracy Smith and pitching coach Ty Neal in 2011 and 2012. 

“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for (my coaches),” says Martin. “I’m tickled to death to be able to coach and do it as my job.”

Martin made 36 mound appearances for the Hoosiers (17 starts) and went 4-8 with a 4.08 earned run average. He struck out 81 batters in 139 innings. 

Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Martin relieved in 14 games with the Arizona Cubs in 2012 and played a few games with the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom in 2013.

Martin remembers Barney’s approach.

“He was always real supportive and real,” says Martin. “He didn’t lie about how he thought we were performing. That was a good thing.

“I thought I was really good and I wasn’t. I decided to work harder.”

Martin thrived in the junior college culture.

“We had some long days in the fall,” says Martin. “Juco is synonymous for doubleheaders all the time.

“It’s a good opportunity to get reps.”

As younger coaches, Steinbrecher (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and Yoder (who had been a graduate assistant at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) introduced new wave concepts.

Smith (who is now head coach at Arizona State University) was a straight shooter like Barney.

“He had a real good ability to be able to kick you in the butt and pat you on the back,” says Martin. “He was able to give players the right source of motivation. He got into my rear end a bunch of times. Having expectations is something I needed — some guard rails to keep me in-check and focused.

“I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Martin appreciated Neal’s way of explaining pitching concepts.

“We’d talk about what location worked better for setting up certain pitches,” says Martin. “It was more about getting outs and not so much mechanics.”

In pro ball, Martin had to adjust from starter to reliever.

“I’d long toss like I did as a starter then sit for seven innings,” says Martin. “I got hurt my first outing.”

In the minors, Martin saw the importance of routines and taking care of the body. 

But the biggest takeaway was the anxiety component. Players can care too much about what people think and implode.

“It can be extremely stressful,” says Martin. “You can be around some of the best players on Planet Earth and wonder if you belong. 

“It helped from a mental standpoint.”

He passes that know-how along to his PPL and travel ball players.

“We put a big emphasis on the mental side,” says Martin. “We want them to be prepared for what they’re going to encounter during a game. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.

“There are coping strategies when things go wrong so there are not as many peaks and valleys.”

Martin says younger players tend to be very emotional and there’s no shame in getting upset or embarrassed.

“You’ve just got to learn to process it and let it go,” says Martin. “It seems to help.

“Some players are better at it than others.”

When Indiana was recruiting Martin they wanted to see how he would handle hard times.

Neal (who is now coaching at Loveland High School in Ohio) attended four or five games where Martin pitched well and sent short messages afterward.

When Martin had it rough in a fall outing the conversation got a little more intense.

“They wanted to see how I would handle adversity,” says Martin. “It’s damage control.

“Things are going to go bad at some point.”

Chad Martin, a Lexington, Ky., native who pitched at Vincennes (Ind.) University, Indiana University and in the Chicago Cubs system, is the owner and pitching coordinator for Pitching Performance Lab in Lexington. He also coaches with the Commonwealth Baseball Club. (Indiana University Photo)