Tag Archives: Travel Baseball

Alum VanWienen wants best for Kankakee Valley baseball

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

Jordon VanWienen has spent his life in the DeMotte/Wheatland, Ind., community and now he’s head baseball coach at his alma mater — Kankakee Valley High School.
The 2006 KVHS graduate was officially moved up from Kougars assistant coach in July. He had served four years as junior varsity head coach — one on the staff of Doug Greenlee and three under Ryan Armstrong then three years as a varsity assistant to Doug Nelson.
“Seeing the KV program excel is true to my heart,” says VanWienen, who was a catcher for Greenlee as a Kougar player.
“He’s got a lot of heart and passion — not only for the game but for his players,” says VanWienen of Greenlee. “He’s about more than just winning baseball games.
“He had our backs.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period concluded Oct. 16 and VanWienen had about 20 to 25 athletes not in fall sports participating in the twice-weekly sessions.
“We got outside every week that we went with good solid practices,” says VanWienen. “We would work on defense one day and offense another day.
“We had a good turnout. The numbers were high, which is a good sign for the program. There are a lot of good work ethics. We’re headed in the right direction.”
Kankakee Valley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Lowell and Munster).
In 2021, the Kougars were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Academies, Glenn, Hanover Central, Knox and River Forest. Kankakee Valley has won four sectional titles — the last in 1999.
Outfielder Nolan McKim (Class of 2020) is on the reserve baseball roster at Indiana Tech. VanWienen says a pair of current Kougars – left-handed pitcher Max Schultz and infielder-outfielder Luke Andree — have college potential and there are others that could play at the next level.
VanWienen’s assistants are Jim Pint, Scott Holmes and Jeremy Rohzon. Hitting coach Pint has been a volunteer at KV for 22 years. Pitching coach Holmes and JV head coach/varsity assistant Rohzon are both Kankakee Valley graduates.
KV has two baseball fields on its Wheatfield campus. A JV/freshmen diamond was used for the first time in 2021.
A strong feeder system is a priority for VanWienen.
“My goal is to have a large involvement with local Little Leagues,” says VanWienen, who sits in the DeMotte Little League board.
A travel ball program of DeMotte/Wheatfield players — the NWI Warriors — was established in August. There are currently 9U and 12U baseball teams.
“The program is designed to get boys playing in April in tournaments and they can play in Little League as well,” says VanWienen. “I intend to start middle school season after high school season.”
VanWienen wants to narrow the gap between Little League and high school where some players lose interest or get involved with other things.
After KV, VanWienen to Franklin (Ind.) College for a few years. He was with the Lance Marshall-coached Grizzlies in fall ball and was involved in athletic training. He now works in the grains department at Iroquois Bio-Energy Company, LLC in Rensselaer, Ind.
Besides coaching Little League and at KV, VanWienen led Outcast Thunder 15U, 16U and 17U travel teams from 2017-19.
Jordon and wife Julie (a 2008 Kankakee Valley graduate) have been married for 12 years. They have two children — son Ayden (10) and daughter Hayley (9). Ayden VanWienen is active in soccer, basketball, baseball and 4-H. Hayley VanWienen participates in soccer, gymnastics and 4-H. The VanWienens have a San Pierre, Ind., address.

The VanWienens (counterclockwise from upper right): Jordon, Julie, Hayley and Ayden.

Wickliff, baseball-playing Beech Grove Hornets ‘turn the page’

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

Beech Grove (Ind.) High School baseball adopted a mantra as the Hornets took to the diamond in 2021 under head coach Jacob Wickliff: Turn the page.
“Physically and philosophically one will never reach the end of the book unless you turn the page,” says Wickliff of the fresh-start approach in a program he was hired to lead in the summer of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“The clear message to everyone is that we’re starting over,” says Wickliff. “That’s been big with parents. Our upperclassmen and key underclassmen have bought in.”
Wickliff has been made excitement and standards a high priority at Beech Grove, which is just inside the I-465 corridor southwest of Indianapolis.
“Kids weren’t excited to play here and that’s been our big push,” says Wickliff, who says there is a buzz around the Hornets who play at new all-turf on-campus facility — Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
The diamond, which debuted in 2021, is part of a district referendum that put turf on the football field and added the baseball and softball fields and other school-related projects.
Baseball games and practices used to be at Sarah T. Bolton Park in Beech Grove.
Since the new baseball field is landlocked, it is 297 feet down the left field line and there’s 10-foot high fence from the pole to left-center.
Planes that fly by can’t miss the place since there’s a huge black, orange and white Hornet logo in center field.
The field also brings in plenty of rental fees that Wickliff turns right back into the baseball program to cover the cost of spirit packs and more.
Wickliff, who teaches at Beech Grove Middle School, wants the excitement to reach down to the community’s younger players from Beech Grove Little League which leads to the junior high program then the high school.
A tradition has been started of inviting junior high players to have a practice and play a game on the turf at the end of the season. Beech Grove Middle School play its home games at South Grove Intermediate.
“It goes back to excitement,” says Wickliff of getting those youngsters charged up about baseball.
Beech Grove (enrollment around 1,000) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central).
Last spring, the ICC adopted a two-game series format. There are home-and-home conference games each Tuesday and Wednesday.
In 2021, the Hornets were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Herron, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, George Washington and Indianapolis Shortridge. Beech Grove has won six sectional crowns — the last in 2014.
With a smaller student-athlete pool and so many multi-sport athletes, Beech Grove did not participate in the recent fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period.
But many returnees play travel ball and fall ball in addition to a fall sport.
“Guys doing it year-round deserve a little bit of a break,” says Wickliff. “Winter time is where we have to make the most growth and development.”
Two seniors finished the season at Beech Grove in 2021. One of those — Garrett Esposito — is now on the baseball team at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill.
Wickliff says hopes to have several college baseball-worthy players in the Class of 2023 by the time they’re entering their senior year.
Beech Grove assistant coaches include Garry Hampton, Austin Jones and Ryan Kendall with the varsity and Christian Brown (head coach) and Justin Duhamell (assistant) with the junior varsity.
Wickliff is a 2012 graduate of Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played baseball for John Rockey and football for Michael Karpinski.
“I’m still in-touch with him to this day,” says Wickliff of Karpinski. “He’s one of my pivotal role models.”
Head JV baseball coach Devin Phillips was someone Wickliff looked up to going through school and had a big impact on him.
“He started process of me becoming a coach,” says Wickliff of Phillips. “It’s the way he was able to relate with the players and build those relationships.”
After earning a Physical Education degree with a Coaching minor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, he completed a Masters in Coaching Education and Athlete Development from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
While in college, Wickliff coached baseball with Rockey at Franklin Central and also was a middle school then freshmen football coach in an FC program led by Burt Austin followed by Grant Lewis.
Wickliff has been involved with three travel baseball organizations — the Indiana Astros, Midwest Astros and currently, Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).
After years of coaching 15U to 17U teams, he is now helms the 18U Signature team and serves as Director of Baseball Operations for high school age groups and is a lead evaluator on the Coaching Evaluation Team.
Jake Banwart, who counted Wickliff as an assistant at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis before the latter took his current Beech Grove job, is BAM president.
Jacob and wife Bridget Wickliff were married Nov. 2, 2019. They reside in Perry Township.

Jacob Wickliff.
The Beech Grove (Ind.) High School Hornets with head coach Jacob Wickliff.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Coach Jacob Barnwart.

‘Small ball’ is winning baseball to Jennings County’s Sigler

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

B.J. Sigler has a long association with baseball, coaching for many years at the youth level and serving as president/executive director for Ohio Valley Sports Productions — a travel tournament organization that runs events from mid-March to late October — and as Kentucky USSSA Baseball State Director.
He started coaching for the Indiana Bulls in 2015 and is now with an 11U group.
Add to all that head baseball coach at Jennings County High School in North Vernon, Ind. He was hired to lead the Panthers in July and 2022 will be his first season.
Sigler played for Ben Hornung at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind. (Class of 1994) and one season for Rick Parr at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Ind., before serving four years in the U.S. Air Force, graduating from the University of Houston and returning to Indiana in 2005.
He calls himself “pretty old school” when it comes to his diamond approach.
“It comes down to pitching and defense and we’ll be playing a little bit of ‘small ball.’’’ says Sigler. “That goes against the grain a little bit in this day and age, but it’s still winning baseball.”
Sigler, who lives in North Vernon, inherits a program that did not graduate a player in 2021. Among the returnees is Indiana University commit Jacob Vogel, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound right-handed pitcher in the Class of 2022 who is a three-sport athlete at Jennings County (tennis, basketball and baseball).
Another senior, Carson McNulty, is committed to Indiana Tech while a couple of others have not yet declared their college choice.
There were 26 players in the Jennings County program in 2021, but there could be well north of that number in 2022 and enough freshmen to play a C-team schedule.
“We’ll evaluate that in the spring,” says Sigler, did get to have high schoolers and middle schoolers in workouts during the recent IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Aug. 30-Oct. 16).
The Panthers have a home field with a turf infield and natural grass outfield.
“I absolutely love it,” says Sigler. “We may be able to come outside during the next Limited Contact Period and get some work in. It also helps with rain (in the spring).”
The junior high program is being jump-started in 2021-22. Other feeders include Panther Baseball Club teams and a local recreation league. High school players are part of several different travel organizations around Indiana.
Jennings County (enrollment around 1,200) is a member of the Hoosier Hills Conference (with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, New Albany and Seymour).
Each HCC team meets once during the regular season. The champion of the seven-team circuit is determined during a tournament near the end of the season.
In 2021, the Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, New Albany and Seymour. Jennings County has won 11 sectional titles — the last in 2006.

Sigler’s Jennings County assistants are Jason Maddox and Tyler Vogel with the varsity and Pete Manowitz and Doug Mills with the junior varsity.
Madison Consolidated High School graduate Jason Maddox is the son of Columbus North alum Parker Maddox (now at Iowa Western Community College).
Tyler Vogel is a 2017 JC graduate who played two years at Marian University and is the older brother of Jacob Vogel.
Manowitz prepped at Columbus East and Mills at Jennings County.
Besides Tyler Vogel, recent JC grads who went on to college baseball include Caleb Eder (Indiana Wesleyan University) and Bret Sawyer (Franklin College).
B.J., who has also served eight years as an assistant football coach, is married to 1995 Jennings County graduate, current Panthers head girls basketball and former Indiana University women’s basketball player Kristi (Green) Sigler. She was part of the 2020 Indiana basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Silver Anniversary Team.
The Siglers have two baseball-playing sons — sophomore Cole (16) and fifth grader Brycen (11). Players is the Class of 2024 were 6 when B.J. began coaching them.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Larry Sigler (Induction Class of 1993) is B.J.’s uncle.

B.J. Sigler.

Alum Salazar takes over Wawasee baseball program

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

Knowing that he wanted to apply for a head coach position at his alma mater, Joe Salazar changed his day job.
A few months ago, Salazar became project manager at Grand Design RV in Middlebury, Ind., — a position which requires less hours than his previous place of employment — and was hired to run the baseball program at Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind., where he graduated in 1994.
Salazar, who is in the process of bringing in assistants and plans to get in a few workouts during the current IHSAA Limited Contact Period which ends Oct. 16 while also serving as third-year eighth grade head football coach at Wawasee, has outlined some areas of emphasis.
“We’re looking to improve in a lot of areas — our record, (Northern Lakes Conference) finish and make a good run at sectional,” says Salazar, who takes over the Warriors from Wawasee alum Brent Doty, who resigned to concentrate on his athletic director duties. “We want to get back to the basics and put the ball in play.
“I looked at the stats and a lot of guys left runners on base or did not get down sacrifices.”
Wawasee (enrollment around 950) is a member of the Northern Lakes Conference (with Concord, Goshen, Mishawaka, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw).
In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley and West Noble. Wawasee has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2021 on their own field. The Warriors’ previous sectional championship came in 1997.
The 2021 team went 18-13 overall and 8-6 in the NLC and featured seven seniors. Among those was Kameron Salazar, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series selection now on the baseball team at Marian University in Indianapolis and a roommate of A.J. Bordenet (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tim Bordenet of Lafayette Central Catholic).
Joe’s younger son — Kaleb — is a sophomore. When Kaleb’s classmates were 8 and 9, Joe established the Wawasee Elite travel team that played in 10U events. Joe Salazar was also an assistant coach for Northern Indiana Elite during Kameron’s 12U summer.
Other Wawasee returnees include the Brooks brothers — senior Grant and sophomore Ty. Their new coach be Wawasee’s top two pitchers in 2022.
Grant Brooks, a Butler University commit, hit .415 (39-of-94) with five home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 37 runs batted in and 31 runs in 27 games in 2021. As a pitcher, he appeared in eight games and went 6-1 with a 1.38 earned run average, 48 strikeouts and 14 walks in 40 2/3 innings.
Ty Brooks pitched in nine games and posted a 4-2 mound mark with a 1.70 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 33 innings.
Senior Lucas Ringler, who hit .289 (26-of-90) five triples, three doubles, 16 RBIs and 29 runs in 27 games in ’21, and junior Colt Dolsen, who batted .338 (22-of-65) with 12 RBIs in 24 games, are also expected back.
The junior varsity team wrapped last spring by winning a tournament and several of those players move up to varsity.
“They’re hard workers,” says Salazar of his young squad. “We can have a pretty decent team.”
Four 2020 Wawasee graduates — Logan Adkins (University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.), Levi Brown (Anderson, Ind., University), Antonio Garcia-Sanchez (Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) and Carter Woody (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) — were on college baseball posters in 2021.
Salazar, who has been involved in community sports for many years, hopes to establish a feeder system of travel teams.
“That’s what successful programs are doing,” says Salazar. “They’re playing together (and learning how its done at the high school).”
Joe Salazar participated four years each of baseball and football and two each of basketball and wrestling at Wawasee. His head coaches were Neal Frantz, Randy Aalbregtse and John Blunk on the diamond, Troy Akers and Gene Mitz on the gridiron, Gary Goshert on the court and Scott DeHart on the mat.
At Goshen (Ind.) College, Salazar played three seasons for Maple Leafs head coach DeVon Hoffman and one for Todd Bacon (who is Kameron’s head coach at Marian), switching from shortstop to third base as a freshman.
DeVon was a stickler for details. He wanted to make sure we did things correctly all the time. The little things matter.
Bacon was very young then. He kept the same things going.
Salazar earned a Business degree from Goshen in 1998.
Joe, who is married to Yvonne Salazar, also has two older stepchildren — Riley Weber and Ashley Weber.

Joe Salazar

Mortrud’s Midwest Recruiting, LLC approaching 1-year anniversary

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

First-hand familiarity with the subject and the desire to offer something of value to baseball players and their families led Aaron Mortrud to launch Midwest Recruiting, LLC in October 2020.
Mortrud, a 1990 graduate of Bethany Christian School in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), where his head coach was Dan Bodiker, played one season each for head coach Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
Oldest son Nick Mortrud went through the recruiting process while playing at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind.
Midwest Recruiting, LLC helps market players to prospective colleges in an efficient, affordable way.
Mortrud describes it as “Autotrader for Athletes.”
“Recruiting is a sales process,” says Mortrud, whose day job is National Sales Manager for Starcraft Inc., and works of the office near his Shipshewana, Ind., home. “College coaches are buyers of a product — the student-athlete. How do you connect the buyer with the product?”
Using his relationships with recruiters, Mortrud works for his clients to join the two parties.
Once he got the ball rolling last fall, things took off like crazy.
“I just picked up a kid from Australia who wants to play college baseball in the U.S.,” says Mortrud.
So far three players have found a college baseball home — Kaleb Fritz (Lafayette Jeff Class of 2021) at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Noah Perkins (East Noble Class of 2022) at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and Carson Smith (Knightstown Class of 2022) at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. Others are close to signing.
Full Midwest Recruiting, LLC services cost $95.
“What I’m trying to do is give as much honest and real information to families at the best cost,” says Mortrud. “Parents deserve to be told the truth about all facets of the game.
A profile with a players’ vital data goes on a website that recruiters can go to for their specific needs. For example: One coach might be seeking a left-handed pitcher who throws in the high 80’s and has such-and-such a standard test score.
Mortrud sees himself as an unbiased third party who has invested into quality measuring equipment that provides reliable numbers.
“The only thing worse than no information is bad information,” says Mortrud. “I don’t want to waste a (college) program’s or a kid’s time. Let’s be honest from the beginning.
“I have to maintain my credibility.”
Players can also be seen at Midwest Recruiting, LLC-hosted recruiting events. The next ones are a Fall Showcase Oct. 2 and Scout Series Oct. 3 at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. The first is a pro-style workout and assessment. The second includes spots for teams and individuals.
A Scout Series event is scheduled for June 25-26, 2022 at Huntington U.
Mortrud has experience as a baseball parent and travel ball coach. He is now with the Midwest Pack (run by Westview head coach Jason Rahn) and was with the Eastside Irish before moving from central Ohio back to Indiana six years ago.
“College baseball is a job,” says Mortrud of the long days and year-round commitment it takes at that level. “(Players and families) need to know what college baseball is.
“This may not be for you. How bad do you really want to play baseball?”
Ultimately, the decision is not for the parents but the student-athlete.
“That kid’s got to decide what he wants to do,” says Mortrud.
Nick Mortrud (Westview Class of 2021) — Aaron’s oldest son — made decision to not play college baseball.
“I know what its like to come through the recruiting process as a parent with a kid who does not want to go on after you’ve spent all that time and money,” says Aaron Mortrud.
Matty Mortrud (Westview Class of 2023) has more high school and travel ball to play before he might go to college.
Midwest Recruiting, LLC is on Facebook and Twitter. In the past week, Mortrud shared on Twitter what it takes to make it at the NAIA and NCAA Division III levels. Those numbers appear below.

Aaron Mortrud

Wichman raises interest, expectations for Scottsburg Warriors

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

Brian Wichman has helped Scottsburg (Ind.) High School to many baseball successes since taking over the Warriors program.
When he came on board prior to the 2018 season, Scottsburg had not had not posted a record above .500 since 2004 and high school players were not involved in travel ball in the summer.
“We had to get back to the basics and get people interested in ball,” says Wichman. “I’ve tried to really push kids toward travel ball.”
Wichman’s Warriors went 15-13 in 2018, regressed to 9-19 in 2019 with a young squad (there were only two seniors and one junior), missed the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic then sported 19-10 mark in 2021 bolstered by the senior and sophomore classes.
There were 22 players to take on varsity and junior varsity schedules.
Scottsburg (enrollment around 770) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek).
In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek (the 2021 host). Scottsburg has won six sectional crowns — the last in 1996.
Scottsburg plays on Warrior Field, an on-campus facility that was laser-graded four years ago and has Bermuda grass.
“It looks really good, especially when we get to May,” says Wichman.
Feeder systems include Scott County Youth League (T-ball through 12U) and a middle school team of seventh and eighth graders that play schools in the MSC and Hoosier Hills Conference.
Wichman, who teaches engineering and welding classes and is involved in Project Lead The Way at Scottsburg, has extensive coaching experiences at the high school and travel ball levels.
His first season was as a Columbus (Ind.) East High School assistant in 1995 while he was doing his student teaching. Wichman graduated from Ball State University with an Industrial Technology degree. He played baseball for one season (1991) at Indiana University Southeast before transferring to BSU.
Wichman served as an assistant at North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind., in 1996 and 1997 and helped at Columbus (Ind.) North High School in 2007.
From 2004-14, he ran the Indiana Blazers travel organization and coached for the Indiana Prospects in 2015 and 2016.
Brian and wife Cathy have four sons and all played for the Blazers and other travel teams, including the Indiana Prospects, Cincinnati Flames
Evansville Razorbacks and Indiana Bulls, as well as at Columbus East.
Left-handed pitcher Brian “B.T.” Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2013) was at Murray State University, Gulf Coast Community College and the University of Indianapolis. Peyton Gray, a 2014 Columbus East graduate now in the Kansas City Royals organization, was a high school and GCCC teammate.
Defensive back/catcher Christian Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2014) went to Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., for football and baseball then transferred to play baseball at the University of West Georgia (Carrollton, Ga.).
Defensive back Noah Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2016) played football at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.
Infielder Jonah Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2019) was on the baseball team at Butler University in Indianapolis in 2020 and 2021 and has transferred to St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.).
The past two summers, Brian Wichman has been an assistant in the College Summer League at Grand Park — in 2020 with head coach Joe Thatcher’s Park Rangers and in 2021 with head coach Kevin Christman’s Moon Shots.
A 1990 graduate of Seymour (Ind.) High School, Wichman played one varsity season for Owls coach Bob Bowman.

Brian Wichman (Eyes Of The Heart Photography)
The Wichman family (from left): Noah. B.T., Cathy, Brian, Christian and Jonah.
The Wichmans (from left): First row — Cathy and Brian; Second row — Noah, B.T., Jonah and Christian.
Cathy and Brian Wichman.
Brian and Cathy Wichman.
Cathy, B.T. and Brian Wichman.
Brian, Jonah and Cathy Wichman.

‘Community’ vibe big part of Franklin-based Powerhouse Athletics

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

A unique blend of active youths, men and women go to a space in Franklin, Ind., to get better at their chosen activity or to enjoy the company of friends.
Located since 2017 inside the 400 Complex in Franklin, Ind., Powerhouse Athletics is available to college ballplayers who need to get in some cuts or a lift at 2 a.m. or to boys and girls learning in clinics or private lessons.
Established in 2013 by Chad Fowler, Powerhouse Athletics’ training space — batting cages, bullpens, defensive areas and a fully-stocked weight room — is in the process of expanding from 20,000 to 33,000 square feet.
The place located a mile north of Franklin College and less than two miles west of I-65 is equipped with HitTrax, RapsodoBlast sensors, Diamond Kinetics, iPitch, Hack Attack and many other developmental tools.
“We also train athletic movement for football, basketball and adults,” says Fowler. “We’ve got a little bit of everything in here.
“Our weight room is going from 8 in the morning until 10 at night. Our doors are open basically 100 percent of the time.”
During the COVID-19 quarantine of 2020, some college players moved in.
“We checked on them and brought them food,” says Fowler. “They were also doing school work.”
As of this writing, 512 baseball and softball players train at Powerhouse Athletics. That number includes two 2020-21 Gatorade Player of the Year honorees — Max Clark (Franklin Community High School Class of 2023) in baseball and Keagan Rothrock (Roncalli High School Class of 2023) in softball.
There are around 240 contracted players who compete for Team Powerhouse in travel baseball or softball. Each year that’s between 20 and 22 teams. Players come from as far north as Kokomo and as far south as Louisville.
“It’s really a community program, but our community is more the state of Indiana than just Franklin,” says Franklin.
There are six school districts in Johnson County — Franklin Community (Franklin Community High School), Center Grove Community (Center Grove High School), Clark-Pleasant Community (Whiteland Community High School), Edinburgh Community (Edinburgh High School), Greenwood Community (Greenwood Community High School) and Ninevah-Hensley-Jackson United (Indian Creek High School).
Through mutual agreement, these students can train at Powerhouse free of charge if they work around lessons.
“They help clean and with clinics and do a lot of mentoring with our youth,” says Fowler, who was born and raised in Franklin and graduated from Franklin Community in 1995. “And they’re not spending money to work on their craft.”
Two physical therapists help athletes. Several teachers donate their time to help students with their studies.
“We have grade checks here,” says Fowler. “We can help parents reinforce better behavior. We preach good character and good grades.
“We want to get them on the right path.”
Fowler insists on meeting every parents and athlete and knows them all by name.
“(College) coaches call me because I know the kid on a personal level,” says Fowler. “I know his character and his work ethic.
“They’re all my kids. There’s going to be some tough conversations. I’m going to love you death.”
Powerhouse athletes are held accountable for their actions.
Fowler keeps a white trapper folder with apology letters written to people that athletes might have wronged and gives them copies when the the athlete graduates high school.
Besides owner Chad Fowler and softball pitching instructor Keagan Rothrock, trainers include Laura Rothrock (softball pitching), Mike Copeland (Max Strength and Performance), Sammy Wilkerson (Max Strength and Performance), Tony Maclennan (catching), Patrick Antone (baseball and softball hitting), Haley Wilkerson (softball hitting), Erin Lee (softball hitting), Corin Dammier (softball catching), Emma Bailey (softball pitching), Jake Sprinkle (baseball pitching), Grant Druckemiller (assistant facility manager and hitting), Cody Fowler (facility manager and hitting) and Dalton Carter (lead pitching instructor and arm health).
Full-time employees are Chad Fowler, Cody Fowler, Carter, Druckemiller and office manager Rachel Fowler.
Chad and Rachel Fowler have three sons — Cody (25), Blake (22) and Jace (18). Cody Fowler played baseball at Franklin Community High school and attended Indiana State University. Reptile-loving Blake Fowler — he has a room for them at Powerhouse — has completed Ivy Tech and is looking into further educational options. Jace Fowler (Franklin Community Class of 2022) is committed to play baseball at Indiana State.
Jace is part of a group that was with Chad Fowler from age 7 to 17 — aka “The Kids That Built The House.” The others are Xavier Brown, Max Clark, Logen Devenport, Drew Doty and Nolan Netter.
Clark has been coming to Powerhouse since he was 5. Cooper Trinkle has been part of the crew since 7.
Brothers Cooper and Grant Trinkle regularly come to Powerhouse Athletics to help with youth clinics etc.
While many athletes have gone from Powerhouse Athletics to college teams and others have made that commitment, Fowler takes no credit for that and he does not place one achievement about another.
“That’s that kids and parents’ success,” says Fowler. “I’m just excited for the kid who gets into trade school as one who gets into Indiana State or Vanderbilt.
“We literally try to invest in every kid. It’s not just a baseball and softball building. It’s a good place. Everybody is one team. It’s what I require.”
Fowler witnesses a facility full of grinders and see that spirit around this cold-weather state.
“Indiana is a hotbed for baseball and softball talent,” says Fowler. “It’s incredible.
“Our Indiana athletes can compete with anybody out there. They do great work.”

College players train at Powerhouse Athletics.
Older players help younger ones at Powerhouse Athletics,
Xavier Brown at Powerhouse Athletics.
Max Clark at Powerhouse Athletics.
Logen Devenport at Powerhouse Athletics.
Drew Doty at Powerhouse Athletics.
Jace Fowler at Powerhouse Athletics.
Nolan Netter at Powerhouse Athletics.

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.

Michiana Scrappers, Indiana Twins join Canes Baseball family

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

A nationally-recognized travel baseball showcase brand has expanded in Indiana.
Canes Baseball has brought the Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Twins into the family and those organizations have rebranded to Canes Great Lakes and Canes Indiana.
Together with Canes Midwest, there are now three Canes Baseball entities in the Hoosier State.
Canes Midwest president Jay Hundley approached the Scrappers and Twins as Canes was looking to raise its profile in Indiana. Hundley’s Indiana Outlaws, which he founded in 2012, joined Canes a few years ago.
With President and CEO and 17U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.
Canes Great Lakes has a training facility — The Scrap Yard — 4027 N. Home Street in Mishawaka. Canes Indiana works out in three buildings at 6727 S.R. 67 North in Martinsville (next to the Centerbrook Drive-In movie theater).
“It’s good we have this opportunity,” says Brian Blondell, president/director of player operations for the Scrappers and now Canes Great Lakes. “It gives us room for growth and the backing Canes has regionally and nationally.
“This makes the most sense for our kids. Nothing changes day-to-day. We just now have more leverage with Canes National and Canes Midwest.
The School of Hard Knocks Scrappers started in 2004 with one 15U/16U team and grew from there and became the Michiana Scrappers, drawing players from Michigan as well as Indiana. More than 130 players went on to play college baseball.
“It was hard with what you’ve put into it, the branding, colors (orange and black) and all the time and commitment” says Blondell of saying goodbye to the Scrappers identity for baseball. The organization has also been involved in softball, basketball and hockey.
In 2021, the Scrappers were represented by 19 baseball and four softball teams.
Recent tryouts for Canes Great Lakes brought out 203 players. Blondell says his part of the system could field up to 22 teams in 2022. That includes three at the 15U level.
Scott Haase, vice president and pitching coordinator for the Indiana Twins and now Canes Indiana, expects there will be around 14 teams wearing the familiar gold and black Canes colors for Canes Indiana in 2022.
Jason Clymore, the father of boy-girl twins born in 2009 who founded the Indiana Twins in 2012, was approached by Hundley about his organization becoming part of Canes Baseball.
Haase says the Canes were impressed with the Twins’ track record.
“Jason has been in the travel ball world for over 20 years developing athletes and are organization has continued to develop athletes each and every year so they wanted us to be the representative for Canes Indiana,” says Haase.
Twins players came from around the state and Haase says he expects that to continue with Canes Indiana.
“The difference now is those athletes that weren’t too sure about making that travel and now willing to make that travel,” says Haase. “It’s a national brand and that’s a big deal to our organization. There’s been immediate buy-in from everybody. We’ve been known across the state, but to be known nationally is a jump we’re more than ready for.”
For more information about Canes Great Lakes, contact at canesgreatlakes@gmail.com.
To know more about Canes Indiana, contact canesindiana@gmail.com.

Canes Baseball
Canes Great Lanes
Michiana Scrappers
Brian Blondell
Indiana Twins
Jason Clymor
Scott Haase
Canes Indiana
Jay Hundley of Canes Midwest (gray)

Podkul’s path takes him to Yinzer Baseball Confederacy

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

Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America.
The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year.
Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
“We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.”
Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc.
“When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that.
“It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.”
After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18).
“He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family.
“On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.”
A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average).
In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional.
“We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.”
With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework.
“At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes.
“Everything is challenging.”
In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016.
Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League.
“It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.”
One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m.
After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019.
In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli.
Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies.
The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547).
The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time.
“It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase.
“You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.”
Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.

Frank Podkul with Andrean High School.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks.
Frank Podkul with the Road Warrior Black Sox of the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy.