Tag Archives: Travis Keesling

Baseball, friendship has Leyva assisting Bair at Anderson U.

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Carlos Leyva’s baseball connection to Matt Bair goes back more than two decades.

Leyva and Bair were Babe Ruth teammates in Anderson, Ind., at 13, 14 and 15. Rudy Mannie was the head coach. Leyva was mostly an outfielder and Bair a middle infielder.

In high school ball, Leyva represented the Phil Nikirk-coached Madison Heights Pirates while Bair was nearby with Terry Turner’s Anderson Indians. Both players graduated in 1995.

Leyva, Bair and Mannie were reunited when Bair became the head coach at Anderson Highland High School with Leyva and Mannie as assistants.

“It was cool to see that come full circle,” says Leyva of he and Bair getting to coach with a boyhood mentor in Mannie. “He was a big influence in both our lives.”

Madison Heights and Highland have since been consolidated into Anderson High.

After serving four seasons (2004-07) as a Scots junior varsity coach on the staff of Highland head coach Jason Stecher (current to Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School and son of long-time Highland head coach Bob Stecher, who retired with more than 500 victories), Leyva was a varsity assistant for three years with Bair (2008-10).

So it was a natural when Bair took over as head baseball coach at Anderson University that he’d reach out to his friend.

“We really hit it off (at Highland) then he asked me to come with him to AU,” says Leyva. “We were getting the band back together.”

The 2020 Anderson season – though it was shortened to nine games because of the COVID-19 pandemic — was the third on Leyva with the Ravens.

His duties include working with outfielders, base running and assisting Bair with hitters. He also coaches first base when AU is at the plate.

Leyva has keys for his outfielders.

“The most important thing we can do is re-direct the ball back to the infield,” says Leyva. “We can shut down the other team’s offense.

“We focus on three goals at all times — keep the double play in order, limit the offense to one base at a time and with balls in the ground we’re 100 percent (no errors).”

The stolen base is a major part of Ravens baseball.

“We got progressively better as we implemented our system,” says Leyva. “We take pride in our base running.

“In a game where the defense has the ball we can take some control back on offense. We’re constantly studying what the game is giving us to see where we can find an advantage.”

Anderson, a member of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, swiped 105 bases in 45 games in 2018. Once Leyva and Bair had their system in place, the team lost to one of the more prolific teams in NCAA Division III, pilfering 109 in 37 games in 2019 and heisting 42 in nine contests in 2020.

“As a rule of thumb, the entire team has the green light,” says Leyva. “We live on those opportunities we’re creating.”

Bair runs the overall hitting system, including small group work in practice. Leyva spends time on the offensive side the outfielders.

“Our staff at AU is affluent in the game of baseball,” says Leyva of a group that also features Brandon Schnepp, John Becker, Jeff Freeman, Zach Barnes and Nate McKeon. “We dip our toes into each other’s pools at times.

“We have a rather large staff for a college team. That’s a testament to Bair and local guys who love the game and know what’s going on. Opinions and input is always welcome.”

Prior to joining the Ravens, Leyva spent seven seasons as an an assistant at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School (2011-17) under two Arabians head coaches — two years with Bill Stoudt and five with Travis Keesling. The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh.

“That was awesome, spending time in the dugout with a Hall of Famer,” says Leyva of his experience with Indiana High school Baseball Coaches Association enshrinee Stoudt.

Leyva says Keesling’s ability to leverage the abilities of his coaching staff is one of his strengths.

“He had a football mentality with position coaches,” says Leyva. “He let the infield guy be the infield guy (and so on). He took over that managerial role of figuring out how to best put those pieces together.

“You see staffs being put together that way all over the country. He was early to that concept.”

Leyva fondly looks back on his days playing at Madison Heights for Nikirk (who is now secondary school principal at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis).

“He was really big on personal responsibility and accountability and was really fair,” says Leyva. “He gave the guys opportunities.

“Those are qualities I’ve carried forward in my coaching career.”

Leyva has also coached travel baseball. He was co-founder and a head coach of the Indiana Magic in 2011-12 and was an assistant to Ryan Bunnell with Indiana Bulls 16U in 2013, Mike Farrell with the Indiana Outlaws (an organization started by Jay Hundley which is now part of Evoshield Canes Midwest) in 2014 and Mike Hitt with the Indiana Blue Jays 2015-17.

The Magic was comprised of players from Madison and surrounding counties and won 60 games in two summers.

Besides leading a Bulls team, Bunnell is also head coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School.

Farrell, who played at Indiana State University, is a veteran instructor and a scouting supervisor for the Kansas City Royals.

“That may have been as much fun as I’ve had in baseball.” says Leyva of his time coaching the Blue Jays. “We were a single (18U) team. The roster was all guys committed to playing college baseball at a high level and there were no egos.

“We just had a blast playing really good baseball. We were like 60-5 in three years.”

Thomas Hall, Leyva’s nephew, was on each of those travel teams. The Pendleton Heights graduate was selected for the 2015 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Terre Haute and played at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill.

After graduating from Madison Heights, Leyva attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for two years then transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington. He majored in Computer Information Systems and is a 2000 graduate of IU’s Kelley School of Business and has worked since 2008 for IBM as a System Storage Enterprise Client Technical Specialist.

Carlos and Julie Leyva have three children — fourth grader Mia (10), second grader Izzy (8) and kindergartener Cruz (7). Julie is on the front lines of the pandemic as a nurse practitioner.

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Carlos Leyva has been an assistant baseball coach at Anderson (Ind.) University since the 2018 season. (Anderson University Photo)

 

Former Pendleton Heights catcher Etchison scouting for Cleveland Indians

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Etchison used to play baseball for a coach who was invested in his players as people as ballplayers.

Now Etchison evaluates diamond talent with an eye for more than the obvious skills.

Etchison was a catcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, graduating in 2007.

“He is one of he best human beings of all-time,” says Etchison of Stoudt. “He was close with his players and his players were close with each other. Everyone who played for him just loves him.

“He was so much more than a baseball coach. He was invested in you. He genuinely cares about people.”

Etchison, 31, makes it a point to look Stoudt up whether it’s in Indiana or Florida.

In his third year as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians, Etchison greatly values character.

“The Indians very progressive in how they go about scouting,” says Etchison. “We collect information and get to know a player. Every player has strengths and weaknesses.

“We emphasize make-up as an organization. The make-up is just so huge.”

Etchison, who played at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and the University of Maryland after his Pendleton Heights days (which included back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference championships in 2006 and 2007 and a senior season in which he hit .392 with five homer runs, seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and a spot on the 2007 IHSBCA North/South All-Star team; former Arabians head coach Travis Keesling assisted Stoudt; The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh), wants to know a player’s level of perseverance and his ability to overcome challenges and perform under pressure.

His job is to identify someone who will impact the game at the big league level.

As an area scout living in Dexter, Mich., Etchison is responsible for a territory which includes Indiana and Michigan plus Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, northern Kentucky, South Dakota, western Ohio and Wisconsin.

He goes to games and tournaments in the spring and summer and scout days in the fall featuring players from these territories or — especially in this time of no live baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic — analyzes video to do player assessments and projections.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Synergy (Sports Technology) video,” says Etchison. “We can see mechanical things on tape — things that weren’t possible 10 years ago — and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

That’s one piece of the scouting puzzle.

“We’ll never not value going to the ballpark,” says Etchison. “There are a lot of things you can’t see on tape.”

Among those are pregame routines and what the player does during warm-ups or batting practice and how he interacts with his coaches and teammates. Body language won’t always show up on a video that is cut up by pitch and swing.

It is said that there are five tools in baseball (hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, throwing and fielding).

“Old school scouting relies so heavily on tools,” says Etchison. “In the majors, a lot of players have one or two.

“The hit tool, that’s the one that matters (for non-pitchers).”

Etchison hears people say that an outfielder can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm.

But can he effectively swing the bat? Those defensive tools might show up once or twice a week.

“The bat shows up four times every game,” says Etchison. “All (big league) outfielders are offensive positions.”

Etchison, who also played travel baseball with the Indiana Bulls prior to college, redshirted his first season at Ball State (2008) and apparel in 20 games for Greg Beals-coached Mid-American Conference West Division champions in 2009.

Knowing that he would see limited playing time in his third year, Etchison made the choice to transfer to Chipola and joined the that program just weeks before the start of the 2010 season.

“The first time I really took a chance on myself was going down there,” says Etchison. “It was a sink-or-swim situation.”

He could either make it or go back to Indiana and leave his baseball career behind.

Playing for Jeff Johnson on a team loaded with future pro players, Etchison became part of the Chipola Indians brotherhood.

“It’s one of the top junior college programs in the country,” says Etchison. “(Johnson) had a very similar impact on his players as Coach Stoudt. He was a big personality, a great baseball coach and a great mentor.

“(Chipola) opened doors for me.”

Johnson had a relationship with then-Maryland head coach Erik Bakich and it helped Etchison land with the Terrapins as part of Bakich’s first recruiting class. He played in 28 games (25 as a starter) in 2011 and 31 (20 as a starter) in 2012. He threw out 14-of-25 runners attempting to steal during his senior season which opened with a dislocated finger that caused him to miss two weeks. He had already suffered a broken hand and a torn meniscus while at the Big Ten school.

Etchison was a Maryland team captain as a senior, helping the Terps win 32 games.

Meanwhile, Bakich encouraged Etchison to consider coaching when his playing days were over. He graduated from Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in December 2012.

“He thought I’d be good at it,” says Etchison. “I had a few real world job opportunities in the finance industry. My parents (Jeff and Shelly Etchison) encouraged me to get into (coaching). They’ve always wanted me to go out and take chances.”

When Bakich became head coach at the University of Michigan he brought Etchison on in the volunteer role, one he stayed in for five seasons (2013-17) plus part of the fall before going into scouting.

“I fell in love with coaching,” says Etchison. “I really loved being around baseball everyday.”

There was continuity in the Wolverines program and chances to earn money by working camps.

“I was in a great spot,” says Etchison, who briefly got the chance to go on the road and recruit when Sean Kenny left Michigan for the University of Georgia. “Financially, I was able to survive.”

He also got to spend time around a mentor in Bakich.

“He is one of my closest friends,” says Etchison, who got married last summer with Bakich performing the wedding ceremony.

Aaron became the stepfather to two boys — Reid (now 10 and in the fourth grade) and Grant (now 7 and in the first grade). Emily Etchison, who is from Saline, Mich., is due to bring a baby girl into the family at the end of July.

Etchison explains why he became a scout for the Cleveland Indians.

“The organization was extremely impressive,” says Etchison. “It was a great opportunity for growth.”

Another significant person in Etchison’s baseball life is fellow Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley, who is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the Chicago White Sox.

Growing up, Etchison was a regular at Shirley’s training facility.

“Like so many players who grew up in the area and are proud to be ‘Barn Guys,’ I would be remiss if I did not give credit to him for being a baseball mentor and friend for over 20 years,” says Etchison.

AARONETCHISON

Aaron Etchison, a Pendleton (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball at Ball State University, Chipola College and the University of Maryland and coached at the University of Michigan, is an area scout for the Cleveland Indians.

 

Hardesty brings passion to diamond for Knightstown Panthers

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Daren Hardesty played for a passionate coach in high school and looks to bring some of that intensity in his role as head baseball coach at Knightstown (Ind.) High School.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt led the program at Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Ind., when Hardesty was there.

“He’s just a student of the game,” says Hardesty of the now-retired Stoudt. “He’s always reading and learning and passes that stuff on to former players who are coaching now.

“He just never stops. He loves the game of baseball.

“He’s a competitor to the extreme. I loved playing for Coach Stoudt. He got so fired up. Doing things the right way was so important. His passion and drive was infectious. I hope my players get that from me from time to time.”

The 2019 season will be Hardesty’s sixth as Knightstown’s head coach. An impact player expected back from a 15-11 team is senior right-hander/shortstop Jose Olivo. The athletic Olivo is currently the starting quarterback on the Panthers football squad and Hardesty says he will likely be the school’s No. 1 pitcher in the spring.

Knightstown (enrollment around 380) is an IHSAA Class 2A school which has been in a sectional pairing with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina, Irvington Preparatory and Triton Central.

Despite being a smaller school, the Panthers have been able to develop some quality pitching depth with Hardesty in-charge and he looks to beef up the non-conference schedule with bigger schools when possible.

“We’re blessed to have three of four quality starters,” says Hardesty. “We have good enough pitching to keep us competitive.

“We stress, stress long toss, arm bands and arm strengthening.”

The Panthers are members of the Tri-Eastern Conference (along with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester). Union County, Hagerstown and Knightstown placed 1-2-3 in the TEC in 2018.

“It’s competitive,” says Hardesty of the conference. “Everybody’s good.”

The Panthers have sent players on the college baseball in recent years, including Drake Peggs at Eastern Michigan University.

“He was our shortstop  and difference maker,” says Hardesty of Peggs. “He has great hand-eye coordination.”

Hardesty graduated from Pendleton Heights in 2013 and played four seasons at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., where he earned his diploma in 2007 and his head baseball coach was Mark DeMichael (now IWU’s athletic director).

“He was short-staffed for a college staff,” says Hardesty of DeMichael. “He did an excellent job of organizing practices.

“He is a Godly man who valued his relationship with his players and exhibited a good, Christ-like demeanor.

“Indiana Wesleyan athletics are getting better and better and it doesn’t surprise me a bit with Mark in charge.”

Hardesty joined the Wildcats as a corner infielder and pitcher and became a set-up man on a pitching staff led by future major leaguer Brandon Beachy, who was one year behind Hardesty.

“I had to really learn how to pitch to be effective,” says Hardesty, who ate up many relief innings. “That’s why I love to be a pitching coach. Learning a good change-up was huge for me.”

Hardesty began his coaching career at Greenfield-Central High School. He served five years as pitching coach to Pendleton Heights graduate Travis Keesling then spent one season with head coach Keesling at PH before landing at Knightstown.

He has really come to appreciate what it means to be a coach and educator at that size school.

Hardesty teaches math at KHS.

“We have small class sizes and the kids all work hard,” says Hardesty. “I’ve fallen into a really good situation here.”

His baseball coaching staff includes Knightstown graduate and former Hanover College catcher Nolan Hall plus teachers Nic Murray (a former Eminence assistant) and Darren Kessler.

In 2018, the Panthers played all their home games on a new on-campus field which Hardesty had the chance to help design.

“It’s awesome,” says Hardesty of a facility which includes a net and brick backstop, open-concept dugouts and fan-friendly berms around the field. “They don’t have to look through chain link fences.

“It’s got some unique features like Pendleton Heights and Wapahani. It’s not a cookie-cutter field.”

The former varsity field is located about about two miles from campus at what is now Knightstown Intermediate School.

Hardesty says the new field should have lights installed by next fall with the hopes Knightstown, which moved into its newer high school building on U.S. 40 in 2004, will be able to become an IHSAA postseason tournament host.

Since Hardesty took over the program, the Panthers have won three of their six all-time sectionals (2014, 2015 and 2016) and two of three regional crowns (2015 and 2016).

Daren and Morgan Hardesty celebrated four years of marriage this year. The couple have two children — son Bridger (2) and daughter Elliott (6 months).

DARENHARDESTY

Daren Hardesty, a graduate of Pendleton Heights High School and Indiana Wesleyan University, is heading into his sixth season as head baseball coach at Knightstown (Ind.) High School in 2019. (Knightstown Photo)

 

Coaches encouraged to nominate seniors for IHSBCA All-Star Series in South Bend

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plans are coming together for the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series Friday through Sunday, July 20-22 in South Bend.

The July 20 IHSBCA Junior Showcase and July 21-22 All-Star Series games will be played at Four Winds Field, home of the Class-A South Bend Cubs.

The All-Star banquet is slated for July 20 at the Century Center in Downtown South Bend. Former Elkhart Central High School, Bethel College and Milwaukee Brewers minor league pitcher Greg Kloosterman has agreed to be the keynote speaker.

Selection of the squads, which will include senior players from all four classes (25 from the South and 25 from the North), is scheduled the morning of the IHSAA State Finals on Saturday, June 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

North and South committees will review the names sent in from the 16 district meetings held on June 3.

Each head coach, who is an IHSBCA member, will receive notification from the district representative informing him of the time and place of the meeting.

District reps are Bob Glover (Hobart) in A, Mark Schellinger (New Prairie) in B, Jim Treadway (Elkhart Central assistant) in C, Pat McMahon (Fort Wayne Canterbury) in D, Andy McClain (Norwell) in E, Travis Keesling (Pendleton Heights) in F, Jay Malott (South Dearborn) in G, Brad King (New Castle) in H, Ryan Wolfe (Plymouth) in I, Kyle Neal (Attica) in J, Matt Cherry (Fishers) in K, Jeff McKeon (Decatur Central assistant) in L, Kyle Kraemer (Terre Haute South Vigo) in M, Jeremy Richey (Seymour) in N, Brian Kirchoff (Northeast Dubois) in O and Mike Goedde (Evansville Central) in P.

A member MUST be present at the meeting to have a senior player nominated for consideration for the 2018 All-Star squads.

Each school is allowed to nominate up to three senior players for All-Star consideration.

Ricky Romans (Charlestown) will chair the South selection committee. Other members are Goedde, Dick Alter (Indianapolis Lutheran), Steve Bray (Northeastern), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Zach Payne (Lanesville), Jeremy Sassanella (Brebeuf Jesuit), Tim Terry (South Vermillion) and Justin Tucker (Batesville).

Kevin Hannon (Knox) will chair the North selection committee and be assisted by Wolfe, Ryan Berryman (Western), Chuck Brimbury (Peru), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Brian Jennings (Griffith), Justin Keever (Noblesville), Dave Neuenschwander (Adams Central) and Bob Shinkan (Munster).

Brian Abbott is executive director of the IHSBCA.

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The 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series is July 20-22 in South Bend.

 

Campbell, Lapel Bulldogs meeting baseball challenges head-on

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball teams at Lapel High School are faced with unique challenges.

At 470 students, the school is slightly smaller than its corporation partner, Frankton, and one of the smaller ones in the Madison Country area.

Yet, the 2018 schedule for IHSAA Class 2A Lapel features 4A schools like Anderson and Lawrence North and perennial 3A powers like Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Western plus plenty of talented 2A and 1A programs.

“There are definitely challenges,” says Matt Campbell, who enters his second season as Lapel’s head baseball coach in 2018. “It’s not in the size or the athletes that come out of it. Location is a very interesting factor. There are not a lot a lot of schools in close proximity of the same size. We end up playing a lot bigger schools.

“It’s fun to go up against them and have success on different levels every night. I just want to play good baseball schools and play them well.”

In 2017, Lapel hosted a sectional with Frankton, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. The Bulldogs won sectionals in 1976, 1983, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2013 and 2015. Lapel’s lone regional title came in 2006.

Lapel is also an independent, having left the Indiana Crossroads Conference in 2014-15.

Where the disadvantage comes in is with scheduling. Lapel is often the first team to get dropped when conference teams need to make up games.

“In high school sports, there’s nothing better than having rivalries,” says Campbell. “It’s always better to be playing for something. That’s the same way it is with all sports at Lapel.

“Frankton is our rival (in Frankton-Lapel Community Schools). We may not circle it on the calendar, but everybody knows when that game is going to be played.”

The whole community is mourning the loss of Frankton baseball and basketball assistant Chris Hatzell, who died Dec. 26 at age 44.

“He was a great guy,” says Campbell of Hatzell, the Eagles’ first base coach. “He will be missed.”

Campbell enters his second season as Lapel head baseball coach in 2018. He is the eighth man to lead the program in 11 years. The Class of 2017 had four different coaches in four years.

The baseball field at Lapel went in with the new school building a decade ago, but improvement or maintenance projects have slowed with the coaching turnover. Campbell did participate in a recent irrigation upgrade.

Among those moving on were Brad Lantz, Dustin Glant and Matt Bair.

Lantz, a Lapel graduate, went on to become head coach at Guerin Catholic High School and is now an assistant at Noblesville.

Glant became head coach at Anderson University and is now entering his sixth season as an assistant at Ball State University.

Bair is entering his first season as head coach at Anderson U.

Campbell came to Lapel after serving as an assistant at Pendleton Heights — first to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt and then current Arabians head coach Travis Keesling.

“He is the epitome of baseball,” says Campbell of Stoudt. “I talk to him weekly if not more. I can’t get enough of him. There’s a reason he was so successful. He just loves being around the game. When I got this job, I think he was as excited about the game as I was. I gave him one more connection to the game.”

Stoudt was a regular spectator in 2017 at Lapel games.

Campbell played at Hamilton Southeastern High School, graduating in 2001 — the last season as Royals head coach for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Seitz.

“He has a ton of wisdom to give,” says Campbell of Seitz. “One of those things was — don’t stray, keep to the path. He saw the end in sight that we — as 17- and 18-year-olds — didn’t see.

“That’s something that’s stuck with me for a long time. Especially at this time of year. The season seems so far off. Pitchers and catchers meet at 6 a.m. After school, we finally get access to the gym (after winter sports teams). There’s the time in the weight room. But to us coaches, it seems like it’s just around the corner.

“It’s the dawning of a New Year.”

Campbell has also been coaching with the Indiana Bulls organization since 2006. He began as an assistant to Larry Fowler and took over the 18U squad in 2009 and a few years later joined the board of directors.

Fowler is now an assistant to Campbell at Lapel. His other assistants for 2018 include Ryan Scott, Jim Cook, Cameron Mendel, Hunter Cook, Sam Wides and Cade Luker. Scott, Mendel and Luker are all Lapel graduate. Jim Cook coached at Pendleton Heights and his son, Hunter Cook, played there.

Lapel is currently represented in college baseball by Brady Cherry (Ohio State University) and Jaxon Shirley (Weatherford College in Texas).

Left-hander Devon Frank (Lapel Class of 2018) has verbally committed to Anderson U. Other Bulldogs are considering college options.

Campbell graduated from Indiana University (where he did not play baseball), taught 10 years in Pendleton schools and is now teaching seventh grade at Lapel Middle School. Matt and Christene Campbell have two children — Easton (4) and Teaghan (3 months).

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Matt Campbell, a Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate, is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Lapel High School in Madison County in 2018. (Brian Gill Photo)

 

Keesling expects discipline, encourages expression at Pendleton Heights

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Travis Keesling is keeping up baseball traditions at Pendleton Heights High School while also creating a culture all his own.

A 1995 Pendleton Heights graduate, Keesling played four years for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt and became the Arabians head baseball coach after Stoudt retired at the end of the 2012 season with 654 wins, 14 sectional titles, three regional crowns and 10 conference championships in 32 seasons.

“Coach Stoudt is still around,” says Keesling. “He’s always ready to lend an ear if I call him. He is my mentor in coaching and one of the guys I respect more than anybody else.

“He does a phenomenal job of letting me grow as a coach.”

Like has been the case at Pendleton for the last four decades, Keesling does not let his players have facial hair and hair cuts must be short. He insists on discipline.

The Arabians are not flashy and come to the diamond with a “lunch pail” mentality. They’re there to work.

But he also lets his student-athletes express themselves.

“We allow players to be themselves and have their personality as long as they are respectful of the game,” says Keesling. “We want them to have a voice.

“Nowadays kids want to be heard. We have had more success as my coaching career has gone on by letting players have a little more freedom.”

Keesling played one season at Southeastern Illinois College and continued his schooling at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

He was an assistant to Stoudt at Pendleton 2003-06 and also coached travel baseball in the summer. His coaching resume also includes involvement with the Indiana Crossroads Showcase Series, Crossroads Championship Series, U.S. Baseball Academy camps and managing Anderson American Legion Post 127.

Keesling was head softball coach for one season at Wes-Del and five as head baseball coach at Greenfield-Central before returning to his alma mater.

The 2017 Arabians won the Hoosier Heritage Conference (which also includes Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon, New Castle, New Palestine, Shelbyville and Yorktown) for the first time under Keesling, playing mostly Friday conference doubleheaders, and reigned as Madison County champions for the fourth time in five seasons.

Pendleton typically has 45 to 50 players in the program with a varsity, junior varsity and freshmen team. The JV plays conference doubleheaders on Saturdays.

The ’17 coaching staff also includes Carlos Leyva (outfielders, baserunning and third base coach), Brad Schnepp (pitching coach), Jeff Freeman (infielders and first base coach) and Jim Kayajan (bench and hitting coach) at the varsity level, Matt Vosburgh and Mike Taylor with the JV and Brandon Schnepp with the freshmen.

Keesling and the Arabians will try to take a third straight sectional trophy when the IHSAA postseason begins Wednesday, May 24 at the Class 4A Pendleton Heights Sectional.

Pendleton Junior Baseball League has recreation teams from 8U through 14U. In Keesling’s first year, he started the PJBL-affiliated Indiana Arabians travel organization, which has teams 8U through 16U, to teach the game the Pendleton Heights way.

“We create an environment of how we’re going to play at the high school,” says Keesling of the approach with younger players. “I want my son to be a better player in July than he was in April. It’s all about development.”

With the arrival of the IHSAA tournament, a focus will be the new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days). Keesling said the standards used this season don’t go far enough in protecting arms.

“I think it’s too lax,” says Keesling, an IHSBCA district representative. “Ours at Pendleton Heights is stricter to the IHSAA. When a kid gets to 100 pitches, sweat starts dripping down my face. (Many players) have a career beyond us (in college). It’s not a win-at-all-costs.”

TRAVISKEESLING

Travis Keesling, a 1995 Pendelton Heights High School graduate, is in his fifth season as Arabians head baseball coach.