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Walther lends his experience to Pro X Athlete Development, College Summer League

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

Mark Walther helps run a business dedicated to the improvement of those who move and compete, particularly those in baseball, softball, football and golf.
He is the Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development, which is at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind.
“I wear a lot of hats here,” says Walther, a former collegiate and professional pitcher. “There isn’t much that I don’t do here.”
Walther, 33, started as a lead instructor and taught velocity programs for pitchers and position players and gave pitching lessons.
As Director of Operations, he is charged with everything from scheduling cages and turf time to making sure machines are in order to the cleanliness of the facility.
He makes sure financials and daily reporting lines up with what’s coming into Pro X.
After coaching at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis, Walther worked briefly for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park and still helps with that company while also serving as the commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which had its third season in 2022.
The CSL came about out of players needing a place to compete and train (at Pro X) with many leagues being shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of athletes had spring seasons that were cut short or didn’t start at all.
“We had a lot of time on our hands,” says Walther. “Both of our businesses were shut down about the time (Indiana) opened up (from the lockdown) is when we were able to open up the league.”
Walther says he was one of six people who created the CSL and other people were brought in to make it a reality.
“To start up a league like that you want high-profile players,” says Walther. “It’s tough to get high-profile players if they’ve never heard of your league before.
“Right way we wanted to be able to compete with the Northwoods, the Prospect and the Coastal Plain. I don’t know if anybody’s ever going to compete with the Cape, but we wanted to be up there.”
Walther says getting the amount of players and talent that the CSL did (in 2020) is the whole reason it still exists.
“We just want to make sure that the product we’re putting out there is good for college players as a whole,” says Walther. “It’s good for their development in games and while they’re training (at Pro X) and getting better.
“We want to meet every ask of a college coach. If they have a redshirt and they need them ready for sophomore year when they return to school then we can get them 30, 40, 50 innings. If they want them to throw 20 innings and two innings a week in relief, we’ll follow that, too.
“That’s really what’s set the College Summer League apart.”
Over the past two years, Walther’s commissioner responsibilities have included finding and getting commitments from coaches, recruiting and placing players and taking care of everything from payments to jersey sizes to host families. He coordinates gameday operations and hires sports information interns for the eight-team league.
Those positions are posted in November and December with interviews coming in January and February.
Walther grew up on a farm on the west side of Kankakee, Ill., and is a 2007 graduate of Herscher (Ill.) High School, where his head coach was Eric Regez.
His junior year, Walther was the last one to make cuts for the Tigers varsity and helped his team as a right-handed reliever. As a senior, he was a starter.
“I played the underdog throughout my entire college career,” says Walther, who worked hard to grow his knowledge base while improving his athletic skill set.
“I was a P.O. (Pitcher Only) before P.O. was even a thing. I think I had seven career varsity at-bats.
“I just kept working at it.”
Mark is the son of Eugene and Beth Walther and is about six years younger than brother Todd Walther.
Eugene Walther died of brain cancer when Mark was 18.
“Going into college that pushed me forward,” says Walther. “It always gave me something to work for: Trying to make him proud.”
Walther showed up at walk-on tryouts at Parkland.
“I wasn’t a preferred walk-on or anything,” says Walther. “I found a way to earn a spot.”
The Cobras coaching staff changed Walther’s arm slot from overhand to sidearm/submarine.
“That gave me a whole new life in college baseball,” says Walther, who was frequently used as a freshman and was on scholarship as a sophomore. The latter team won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national championship.
After two years at Parkland playing for Mitch Rosenthal and Matt Kennedy, Walther transferred to NCAA Division II University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. He came out of the bullpen for Tracy Archuleta’s Screaming Eagles (which won an NCAA Division II national crown in 2010).
“I tried to just extend the game and get us to the next guy,” says Walther. “My job was to get us out of jams. There’s not better feeling in the world than coming into the game with the bases loaded and one out and you’re trying to get a ground ball. I lived for those moments.
“Being out there when the adrenaline’s pumping, I’ve yet to find anything to match it.”
After pitching at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., Todd Walther wound up on the baseball operations side with the Texas Rangers.
Mark used the connection to his advantage.
“I was able to bounce ideas off of him when thing weren’t going my way in bullpens or games,” says Walther.
He got to see video of major league pitchers like Cody Bradford, Darren O’Day and Pat Neshek and could study their mechanics, grips and release points.
Walther was on a path to become a Physical Education teacher and high school coach when a curriculum change at USI that would have taken him longer to get his degree caused him to change his major to Sport Management.
“I started learning more about facility management and running a sports business,” says Walther, who took classes on sports marketing and sports law — things that help him in his position at Pro X.
But Walther did pursue coaching out of college.
He was an assistant at Parkland for a year and helped Kennedy with outfielders, operations and recruiting.
He started what turned out to be a four-year stint at the UIndy as a volunteer learning from Greyhounds pitching coach Jordan Tiegs and serving for head coaches Gary Vaught and Al Ready.
When Tiegs left for Indiana State University, Walther took became pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.
Tiegs is now Drector of Pitching Research and Development for the Rangers — Todd Walther’s former job
“I loved college baseball,” says Mark Walther. “I loved coaching it.
“I really loved the recruiting aspect of college. (Players) need to come to us because we’re going to do a better job of developing them as a player.
“I’m very appreciate of Coach Vaught and Coach Ready for everything they did for me.”
Walther then went into tech recruiting for three months and decided he wanted to get back into baseball.
Pro X has just launched into the travel world with its Phoenix softball teams.
While travel baseball organizations, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and Indiana Prospects, partner with Pro X, there is currently no plans to field travel baseball teams under the Pro X banner.
“Travel baseball really wasn’t a thing when I grew up,” says Walther. “I played community baseball until I was 16 years old. Shortly after that it began to grow a little more.”
His first experience came when the Indiana Bulls and others brought teams to play fall exhibition games his first year at Parkland.
Walther notes that he was lucky enough to be on a winning team from age 10 on. But that was not the case in his early community baseball days.
“I got put on a terrible team,” says Walther. “I had to find a way to try to help the team win and to help players develop themselves and rely on our coaches to do the same.
“Depending on where your talent is you can be put on an elite team and rarely ever have to deal with failure, losing or any kind of adversity and learn to overcome that.
“Being on winning teams is also a positive because you learn what it takes to win. Whether you’re on the field or not you can find ways to help the team win.”
Walther says travel ball is all about finding the right fit for you as a player.
“You want to go where you have a chance to play or have a chance to compete for playing time,” says Walther. “You should never shy away from competing and trying to beat someone out to earn playing time.
“In the game of baseball you’re going to have guys on the bench no matter what. It’s what type of bench guys you have. Do you have guys who are going to work and push themselves and the people that are technically in front of them? Or are they going to just roll over and complain until they move on or join another team?”
Players should make sure the team will be doing what they want to do. Will it be mostly local tournaments are really hitting the road? Is the coaching staff going to help develop them as a player?
Among the things coming up at Pro X are “Hard 90” classes with about 30 minutes each of hitting, defense and speed and agility.
In September, the pitching academy and elite training academy for offense and defense cranks up.
Pro X — with its staff of instructors including Jay Lehr, trainers and medical professionals and former big leaguer Joe Thatcher as president — is also an off-season place to train for professionals, including major leaguers Tucker Barnhart, Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon and minor leaguers Parker Dunshee and Collin Ledbetter.
Rodon came to Pro X while doing rehab from Tommy John surgery.
“He learned a lot about the body and how it moves and how to become efficient on the mound and use his lower half to try to stay as healthy as possible,” says Walther. “We just do whatever we can to service them whether that’s completely help them with their program or stay out of their way and let them use the weight room.”

Mark Walther, Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development and commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, both in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

Spence brings his brand of energy to Tri-West Hendricks baseball

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

Nick Spence wants to bring pep to the steps of ballplayers in yet another part of Hendricks County, Ind.
Spence, who played and coached at nearby Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and coached at neighboring Avon (Ind.) High School, was hired as head baseball coach at Tri-West High School in Lizton, Ind., in August 2021 and set about spreading his enthusiasm from the youth level on up.
“I want my kids to be excited to be a part of Tri-West baseball,” says Spence. “It’s easier to get kids to play when they’re excited to come to the ballpark.
“I’ve gotten nothing but positive vibes from the community.”
The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period was mostly about getting to know athletes and showing them what he plans to implement.
“I’m pretty fiery and I’m energetic,” says Spence. “We want competition to come through with whatever we’re doing. Baseball is an individual game played by a team.
“Baseball is a sport of failure and you have to learn from failure. Don’t let it come to your next AB or on the mound with you.”
A big believer in situational baseball, Spence prefers to devote his practices to either offense or defense.
“I’m not a big station guy,” says Spence, who looks forward to the first official IHSAA practice date of March 14.
Spence’s coaching staff includes Bryan Engelbrecht and Adam Montgomery with the varsity, Gordie Lucas and James Miller with the JV and Mike Gongwer as youth coordinator. Engelbrecht is a longtime Tri-West coach. Montgomery and Gongwer were with Spence at Avon.
He wants establish his system and spread the excitement at the youngest levels.
“In the past, we’ve had a really good community-based program at Tri-West,” says Spence, who remarried on Dec. 20, 2021 and lives with wife Allison in Pittsboro, Ind. (Nick has three children from a previous marriage all attending Brownsburg schools — junior Madyson (who turns 17 next week), eighth grader Easton (14) and fifth grader Maya (10). “I’ve been working with youth directors, trying to get that back.”
Younger players will be involved with Tri-West Little League and Bruin Heat. Spence says he can see that morphing into the Tri-West Baseball Club by 2023.
That’s when Tri-West High is scheduled to debut a four-field baseball/softball complex.
“They’re starting to push dirt,” says Spence of the project that will bring varsity and junior varsity grass fields with stadium seating, netting and more. In addition, coaches offices and a hitting tunnel will be located on the north end of the football field. “It’ll beautiful.”
Spence played for Wayne Johnson and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg High, graduating in 2001, and served as JV coach in 2006 and 2007 then helped current Bulldogs head coach Dan Roman as pitching coach in 2021.
Spence counts 2009 Brownsburg graduate Tucker Barnhart as his best friend and was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding. Tucker is now a catcher with the Detroit Tigers.
An Indiana Bulls assistant to Troy Drosche during the travel ball season, Spence was the pitching coach on Drosche’s Avon High staff for five years while the Orioles won sectional titles in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and a regional crown in 2019. Spence has also coached with the Bill Sampen-led Indiana Expos travel organization.
Spence’s college playing career included one season on the field each pitching for Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College, Tim Bunton at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and Joe Decker at Indiana University Southeast.
He went to spring training with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters then began focusing on helping others.
“I always wanted to coach,” says Spence. “I always wanted to be involved.”
Spence has also been an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Mike Silva (now head coach at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.) at Clarendon (Texas) College, where Adrian Dinkel (now head coach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.) was an assistant. He landed there after meeting Silva at a tournament in Stillwater, Okla., while working for Tom Davidson and Blake Hibler at Pastime Tournaments.
Indiana Tech head coach Kip McWilliams had Spence on his staff for one season.
Tri-West (enrollment around 630) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community (coached by Pat O’Neil), Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Western Boone).
In 2021, the Bruins were part of the IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Greencastle and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. Tri-West has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2018.
Recent Tri-West baseball players Riley Bennett (Trine University) and Kai Ross (DePauw University football) have moved on to college sports.

Nick Spence addresses young players in the Tri-West baseball system.
New Tri-West High School head baseball coach Nick Spence wants excitement to spread throughout the community.
Nick Spence lets Tri-West youth players know how he plans to run the program as new high school head coach.
Nick Spence, a 2001 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, has twice served as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
In five seasons at the Avon (Ind.) High School baseball coaching staff, Nick Spence helped the Orioles win three sectionals and one regional.
Avon (Ind.) High School’s 2019 regional baseball champions, featuring pitching coach Nick Spence.
Allison and Nick Spence.
Nick Spence (Class of 2001) with fellow Brownsburg (Ind.) High School alum Tucker Barnhart (Class of 2009) and son Easton Spence. Nick Spence was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding.
Allison, Piper and Nick Spence.
Allison and Nick Spence at their Dec. 20, 2021 wedding with Nick’s children Madyson, Easton and Maya.
Nick and Allison Spence at their Dec. 20, 2021 wedding with Nick’s children (from left): Easton, Maya and Madyson.
Allison and Nick Spence with his children (from left): Maya, Easton and Madyson.

Moore baseball legacy lives on with Indiana Bulls

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Craig Moore had an exceptional eye for baseball aptitude. Through his considerable networking, he was able to get opportunities for players to display their diamond skills at the next level.

Lance Moore, Craig and Carol Moore’s oldest son, had such a love for the game and the ability to convey what he knew to young athletes.

The baseball world lost Craig Moore Oct. 23, 2003 at 34, and Craig Moore Feb. 16, 2004 at 56.

Their legacy lives on through the Indiana Bulls, a travel baseball organization. Scholarships are presented annually in the names of Craig Moore and Lance Moore.

Founded in 1991 with play beginning in 1992, the Bulls brought together the state’s elite for top-flight competition and exposure to college coaches and professional scouts and that continues to this day.

Craig Moore coached Blackford High School in Hartford City, Ind., to IHSAA state runner-up finishes in 1977 and 1978.

The East Gary (Ind.) High School graduate also coached Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI) to success while it transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division I and was a Brownsburg (Ind.) High School assistant.

Moore was brought to the Bulls for the second season. 

“Craig is the best talent evaluator I’ve ever seen,” says Dave Taylor, one of the Bulls founders and first coaches. “He had an amazing, uncanny ability to size up talent quickly.

“He’s one of the greatest recruiters I’ve ever seen and had tremendous enthusiasm. I’d run through a wall for that guy. (Players had) great loyalty for him. He was very demanding. But he loved his guys and they loved him.”

Taylor played baseball at Southmont High School and captained the Wabash College team in 1983 then went to law school and began coaching Babe Ruth baseball at the state championship level. 

He soon learned something.

“Indiana was not a baseball state,” says Taylor. “It was very provincial and very hometown-based — even American Legion was geographically-limited.

“The baseball world tended to be dominated by towns with size and tradition. There was not a lot of great baseball beyond that. There was nowhere for a great player to go.”

Ohio and Kentucky had elite travel baseball since the 1960’s, but not Indiana.

“We were behind,” says Taylor. “There was no high level of competition in Indiana for the elite.”

Taylor notes that the 1992 Major League Baseball Player Draft had just one selection from Indiana — Jay County High School graduate Shane White in the 24th round by the Chicago Cubs — while Ohio had more than 100 with over half that number out of the Cincinnati area alone.

When a national tournament rolled around, Taylor coached the Indiana representative. Open tryouts were held and there were players from all over the state, though most came from central Indiana.

Indiana lost in the medal round in Tallahassee, Fla., getting beat by eventual champion California but beating Georgia and Texas along the way.

“It was a great experience,” says Taylor, who learned that the players on the Sacramento-based California team had been playing 180 games a year since age 8. “Practicing for two weeks was not how you made better baseball players.

“We would take the top five (players in the state) and fill in with like players.”

As the Indiana Bulls took shape, Taylor gathered men like John Thiel, Bob Lowrie, Bob Stephens and Tony Miller for their business and baseball expertise and also landed Jeff Mercer Sr., Mike Mundy, Dave Mundy and Craig Moore on the coaching staff.

A real estate appraiser for his day job, Moore spent hours away from his profession seeking the right fit for his players.

“He had a really good feel where a guy would have success,” says Taylor. “He would help find the right situation for that kid.

“He was all about the kids. He was tireless man at helping kids get their college scholarships.”

Many times, every senior in the Bulls program was placed by the winter of their final prep year.

Taylor marvels at how Moore was able to make quick fixes during games and set his guys on the right path.

“He didn’t mince words,” says Taylor. “He was very direct. He knew you didn’t motivate everybody the same way.”

As a result of Moore’s drive, the Bulls as a whole moved forward. 

“He forced us to get better at everything as an organization,” says Taylor. “He wasn’t going to sit around and wait.

“He was just an amazing guy. He just gave and gave and gave.”

Taylor remembers Lance Moore as his father’s right hand man.

“Lance was a really bright guy — almost a baseball genius,” says Taylor. “He was a gentle giant (at 6-foot-3 and 225). Lance always had a smile. He had no enemies.”

Lance Moore played at Brownsburg, where he graduated in 1988 — brothers Jered Moore (1989) and Quinn Moore (1996) followed. 

All three Moore boys played for Wayne Johnson.

“He was a good baseball man,” says Quinn Moore of Johnson. “He just wanted to help kids. He never took a dime for it. He always gave back his coaching stipend.

“He he did it the right way. He demanded respect and that we played the game the right way.”

Johnson helped build the current Brownsburg diamond and took pride in its upkeep.

“He built a winning culture in Brownsburg,” says Quinn. “Wayne probably doesn’t get enough credit for building Brownsburg into a baseball power.”

Jered Moore played college baseball at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

“Dad had the desire to help kids reach their dreams and goals,” says Jered, who is now head coach at Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School and will leads the Bulls 12U White squad in 2021. “Back then did not have all the scouting services you have now. He was constantly on the phone. His long distance bill was high.

“He knew the and how to judge talent. Coaches really respected his decisions.”

Jered notes that the first players from Indiana to sign at Stanford University, including future major league infielder Eric Bruntlett, did so based on Craig Moore’s reputation.

The Bulls have dozens of players recruited to college baseball teams each year and more than 170 have been selected in the MLB Draft with a dozen first-rounders (starting with the most-recent selections) — Drey Jameson, Kody Hoese, Zack Thompson, Nick Schnell, Alex Meyer, Justin O’Conner, Drew Storen, Aaron Heilman (twice), Andy Brown, A.J. Zapp, Lance Lynn and Tommy Hunter.

Bruntlett, Heilman, Meyer, Storen, Lynn, Hunter, Scott Rolen, Josh Lindblom, Todd Dunwoody, Clint Barmes, J.D. Closser, Neal Musser, Rob Bowen, Mitch Stetter, Joe Thatcher, Heath Phillips, Jake Fox, Wes Whisler, Adam Lind, Clayton Richard, Nevin Ashley, Micah Johnson, Cameron Perkins and Tucker Barnhart are Bulls alums that made it to the majors.

Rolen, Zapp, Closser, Whisler, Lind, Richard, Lynn, Meyer, Barnhart and O’Conner have all been honored as Indiana Mr. Baseball.

Grand Park, a complex in Westfield, Ind., with 26 total baseball fields, is home to the Indiana Bulls. The 2021 season is to feature 30 Bulls teams 8U to 17U.

In the 1980’s, it was not unusual for a high school-aged team to play 15 to 20 games in the summer. Now they play around 50.

“This gives them a ton of time on the mound,” says Jered Moore. “They’re just better ballplayers with all that experience. The more games you play the better you become.

“When dad was coaching the Bulls we would host a tournament at IU, Butler, Ball State or Purdue two times a year. At other times, we were traveling. We spent 20 or 21 days in June and July in a hotel. 

“Grand Park gives us a chance to give kids more exposure with all the kids in one location.”

Quinn Moore began at the University of South Alabama and finished at Indiana University. He is now in his second year as Indiana Bulls president.

“My dad took the Bulls to another level,” says Quinn. “A Carmel-based organization grew into the statewide Indiana Bulls.”

While his teams earned their share of victories and titles, that was not the bottom line with Craig Moore.

“It was never about winning over exposure,” says Quinn. “A college coach was there to see if the kid could hit the ball in the gap (even if the situation called for a bunt).”

Based on his experience as a college coach, Craig Moore set pitching rotations so college recruiters would know when and where to see Bulls arms.

“He knew what was best for kids at recruitable ages,” says Quinn, who will lead the Bulls 12U Black team in 2021. “The (Bulls) email chain started with him and my brother and I took it from there.”

Quinn says his father tended to carry a larger roster — 18 to 20 players with 10 of those also being pitchers. Now it’s more like 16 with plenty of two-way players. Of course, there are more teams.

When Craig Moore was coaching, he might have three or four pitchers who touched 90 mph. These days, the majority of hurlers on 17U rosters touch 90-plus.

Cerebral palsy likely kept Lance Moore from playing past high school.

“It was important for Lance to be involved with the Bulls and at a high level of baseball,” says Taylor.

When Jered Moore began coaching for the Bulls in 1999, he invited brother Lance to be an assistant.

“It was awesome,” says Jered. “We were best friends.

“He was very quiet, but he knew the game.”

Jered Moore considers himself fortunate to be a in baseball-crazy Zionsville, where 103 players came to a high school call out meeting. During the fall Limited Contact Period, players not in fall sports participated in practices on Mondays and scrimmages on Wednesdays.

“Indiana high school baseball is in a really good place as far as talent and the number of players that are playing,” says Jered, who is also a real estate appraiser.

The sport had long been a family affair and in the summer of 2003 all four Moores — Craig, Lance, Jered and Quinn — coached a 17U team together. 

“That’s my favorite year of coaching,” says Jered Moore.

At that time, future big league pitchers Lynn, Lindblom and Hunter toed the rubber for the Bulls.

Before Dan Held left the Bulls to become an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at IU, it was he and Quinn Moore that controlled social media and a hashtag was created: #BullsFam.

Quinn, who is also a regional sales manager for BSN Sports, enjoys seeing former players now coaching in the organization and having their sons play for the Bulls. Among those is Josh Loggins, Eric Riggs and Rolen (who played on the first Bulls team in 1992).

“The Bulls are family to me,” says Quinn. “It was family to my dad and to my brothers.”

Scott French played for Craig Moore’s Bulls and is now the organization’s director of baseball operations. 

“Craig was awesome,” says French, who was a standout catcher at Shakamak High School and Ball State University, coached at BSU and helps with Mike Shirley in teaching lessons at The Barn in Anderson, Ind. “He made it a really good experience.

“Craig could coach in any era in my opinion. He knew when to push buttons and when not to push buttons.

“He was very honest, which is all you could ask of a coach. He was very credible. He didn’t sell players (to coaches and scouts), he just put them in front of people. We have the connections, structure and process (with the Bulls). He was part of starting that process.

“Quinn and Jered have put in a lot of time to help people get somewhere. It’s a passion for them and they got it from their dad.”

Craig Moore made an impact as a coach with the Indiana Bulls travel organization. He also coached to Blackford High School to two state runner-up finishes, led the program at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and was an assistant at Brownsburg High School.
Lance Moore, a 1988 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate and the oldest son of Craig and Carol Moore, helped coach the Indiana Bulls travel organization in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. In 2003, four Moores — Craig, Lance, Jered and Quinn — were on the same Bulls coaching staff.
In 2003, Craig Moore (front row) and sons Jered, Lance and Quinn were on the same Indiana Bulls coaching staff. Lance Moore died in 2003 and Craig in 2004. Jered and Quinn are still very involved with the travel organization. Quinn Moore is currently president.

Pro X allows players to develop at Grand Park

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bringing instructors, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning experts under one roof, Pro X Athlete Development serves clients in Westfield, Ind.

Pro X (short for “Professional Experience”) celebrated its grand opening at it Grand Park facility in April 2019 after getting started in a temporary downtown location in 2017.

“We want to provide an all-inclusive training experience for our athletes,” says Joe Thatcher, former major league pitcher, co-founder and president at Pro X. “We provide sports performance so athletes can get bigger, stronger and faster. We have rehabilitation with Dr. Jamey Gordon. We have sports-specific instruction (for baseball, softball, golf and football).”

Thatcher, a Kokomo, Ind., native who worked with Gordon (who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as partner and Director of Athletic Development at Pro X) during his baseball playing career, wanted to replicate what he experienced in the majors.

“Everyday I walked into the clubhouse the coaching staff, training staff and strength staff knew what I was doing,” says Thatcher, who last pitched for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2016.

Pro X staffers, which include instructors Jay Lehr, Bryan Chestnut, Jaylen Quarles, Alex Graman, Jordan Estes and Zeth Tanner, share notes on athletes. One might have a hip mobility that does not allow a player to do what an instructor is asking of them.

“We take any physical limitations barrier and it leads to better success in baseball training,” says Thatcher. “One of the stigmas is that we’re an indoor baseball facility. We are about true athlete development.”

Using the latest innovations in the field, Pro X develops a plan for each athlete while working to keep them healthy.

“We make sure you’re moving the way you’re supposed to while getting bigger, faster and stronger so your body can handle more force,” says Thatcher. “You have to decelerate or you’re going to get hurt.

“That only happens if you’re training the right set of muscles to do that.”

During the winter, Pro X has 10 to 15 professional players working out at the elite facility which features 60,000 square feet in total with over 35,000 square feet of open turf space, 22 batting cages (11 full), 3,000 square-foot weight room, golf simulators and much more.

“The sports rehabilitation/training area is the heart and soul of who and what we are,” says Thatcher of the place where athlete assessments and private-pay rehab sessions are performed. There’s a full strength staff.

Catcher Tucker Barnhart and right-hander pitcher Drew Storen, who both went to Brownsburg (Ind.) High School, have trained at Pro X as has Chicago White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon and Kansas City Royals right-hander Jesse Hahn

Rodon, who resides in Veedersburg, Ind., did his Tommy John surgery recovery at Pro X.

This past week, former Southport High School and current Arizona Diamondbacks minor league left-hander Avery Short was pitching live to hitters on the Pro X turf.

“It’s fun to work with high-end athletes,” says Thatcher. “But our focus is capturing the young kids and starting them early.

“We want level the playing field for kids in the Midwest who don’t get to play all year-round. We’re exposing them to the training and all the innovations that’s out there.”

With a Diamond Sports Membership at Pro X, clients can have unlimited access to cages and turf. 

A Sports Performance Membership allows holders to attend all classes, including Weight Room 101 Transition. It starts with athletes around 7 and goes all the way up. 

A Diamond Plus Membership combines Diamond Sports and Sports Performance.

Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments partnered to sponsor the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in 2020.

“We saw an opportunity,” says Thatcher of a circuit that gave a place for several players displaced by the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down summer leagues. “We threw it together in about a month. It took a lot of work to get it up and running and a lot of flexibility with state regulations and COVID-19.”

About 100 players took advantage of a play-and-train option which allowed them to play in games — usually on Mondays and Tuesdays at Grand Park with occasional games at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis or Kokomo Municipal Stadium on other days — and train at Pro X Wednesday through Friday.

“(The CSL) is centrally-located which can be an advantage for us,” says Thatcher. “We’ve had a lot of really good feedback from college coaches who had kids in our league.

“We’re already starting to work on next year.”

The league has also featured players who graduated from high school in 2020.

“They’ve got to see what (college baseball is) going to be like,” says Thatcher. “They get on the field with the same field of guys you’re going to be competing against.”

The No. 5-seeded Turf Monsters bested the No. 2 Snapping Turtles 5-4 in the inaugural CSL championship game contested Friday, July 31 at Victory Field.

Julian Greenwell (two), Ethan Vecrumba, Jake Plastiak and Kollyn All drove in runs for the Turf Monsters (10-7-5).

Tyeler Hawkins scored a run on a wild pitch. Sam Crail, Brodey Heaton and Brendan Hord plated a run apiece for the Snapping Turtles (11-7-4).

Reese Sharp, who did not give up a hit until the sixth inning, was the winning pitcher. Cameron Pferrer earned a two-out save. Arian Coffey absorbed the loss.

Joe Thatcher is the co-founder and president of Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. The Kokomo, Ind., native pitched in the majors. His last pro team was the 2016 Iowa Cubs. (Chicago Cubs Photo)
The 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park was won by the Turf Monsters with a 5-4 win Friday, July against the Snapping Turtles at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis. (College Summer League at Grand Park Image)
Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., offers a “Professional Experience” for all members, including Diamond Sports (baseball and softball). The facility is located at Grand Park. (Pro X Athlete Development Image)

Daniel brings 1980 baseball season back with lively “Phinally!”

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J. Daniel was just shy of 13 when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series for the first time in 1980.

Even though he was in southwestern Ohio, he followed the Phils from “Mike Schmidt to Ramon Aviles.”

Growing up when he did, Daniel appreciates baseball and pop culture in the 1980’s.

He is a big fan of Dan Epstein — author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s — and his style.

So much so that the Brownsburg, Ind., resident decided to write a book about baseball and more in the decade he knows so well.

“I’m a total stat geek,” says Daniel, who recalls devouring the box scores in the Cincinnati Enquirer during his youth. “Everything’s interesting to me.”

With so much material, it became books — plural.

Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t (McFarland & Company) was published in 2019.

It was 1980 that gave us ….

The primetime TV drama “Dallas” and the cliffhanger summer question of “Who Shot J.R.?”

Movie-goers saw comedy in the “The Blue Brothers” and “Airplane!” and horror in “The Shining” and “Friday The 13th.”

In one scene from “The Shining,” Shelley Duvall wields a Carl Yastrzemski model Louisville Slugger.

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was cast as the co-pilot in “Airplane!” If not for filming during the baseball season, it might have been Pete Rose.

A former weatherman — David Letterman — also read for a part but did not land one.

Roberto Duran topped “Sugar Ray” Leonard in a 15-round bout in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

Free agent Nolan Ryan became the first baseball player to sign for $1 million a season, signing with the Houston Astros.

Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was about to make his clients a lot of money.

The average minimum salary at the time was $20,000.

In the spring of ’80, they went on a mini-strike that wiped out 92 spring training games.

Elias Sports Bureau introduces Game-Winning RBI as a statistic in the spring. The first one credited in a game went to the Cincinnati Reds’ George Foster in the first inning of a 9-0 Opening Day romp against Phil Niekro and the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta would get off to a 1-9 start and owner Ted Turner (who launched CNN in 1980) benched Gary Matthews and sent Bob Horner to the minors.

It was also on Opening Day, that “Kiteman” hang-glided his way onto the field at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium.

Ken Landreaux of the Minnesota Twins enjoyed a 31-game hit streak — the longest in the American League since Dom DiMaggio’s 34 in 1949. A few seasons’s prior to Landreaux’s feat, Aqua Velva gave $1,000 per game to the hitter with the streak. But that changed in 1980. Things were worked out for Landreaux to give the money to charity.

San Diego Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith wasn’t looking for charity, but extra income. He took out a newspaper ad. He had many offers, including one from Joan Kroc, wife of Padres owner Ray Kroc, to assist her gardner. He eventually got supplemental pay from a company on Los Angeles.

There were many bench-clearing brawls and knockdown pitches in 1980.

Fergie Jenkins of the Texas Rangers joined Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Gaylord Perry as pitchers with 100 wins in both leagues.

Freddie Patek of the California Angels hit five home runs on the season and 41 for his career, but he popped three in one game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Left-hander Jerry Reuss did not begin the season in the starting rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but tossed a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants.

On his way to a 25-7 record and the AL Cy Young Award, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Steve Stone started the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium and worked three inning in just 24 pitches.

The game also featured the debut of the massive Diamond Vision video boards.

Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench passed Yogi Berra for the all-time lead in home runs by a catcher.

Houston fireballer J.R. Richard suffered a stroke.

The Chicago Cubs fired manager Preston Gomez and replaced him with Joey Amalfitano.

“Super Joe” Charbonneau became an icon for the Cleveland Indians.

A white-hot George Brett was hitting .401 on Aug. 17 and finished with a .390 average. The Kansas City Royals third baseman’s back side was likely warm during the end of the season and the postseason. He finally had to have surgery for hemorrhoids prior to Game 3 of the World Series.

Maverick owners Charlie Finley (Oakland Athletics) and Bill Veeck (Chicago White Sox) announced the sale of their teams.

The White Sox did the unusual when they used the left-handed Mike Squires as a catcher.

Montreal Expos right-hander Bill Gullickson set a rookie-record with 18 strikeouts against the Cubs.

Oakland’s Rick Langford tossed 28 complete games, including a modern-record 23 straight. The Athletics staff completed 94 starts.

Three of the four division races were not settled until the season’s final week. Kansas City rapped the AL West up early. The Philadelphia Phillies edged out Montreal in the NL East. Houston topped the Dodgers in the NL West. The Yankees bested Baltimore in the AL East.

Games 2-5 in the National League Championship Series went extra innings before the Phillies prevailed over the Astros.

New Jersey’s Army staff sergeant Craig Burns took a three-day pass and flew from Germany to see his Phils play the Royals in the first game of the World Series. With Schmidt and Tug McGraw among the heroes, Philly won its first title.

Daniel is shopping his next volume about the 1982 season. The working title is Suds Series: The Brewers, the Cardinals and the year the ’80s became the ‘80s. He is grateful to author and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis journalism professor Chris Lamb for his help and encouragement.

That era is also kept alive on social media by Daniel with his website (80sbaseball.com), Facebook (Facebook.com/80sbaseball) and Twitter (@80sbaseball) pages.

Daniel, a graduate of Talawanda High School in Oxford, Ohio, and Ohio University, is now employed in communication for IUPUI parking services. More than 20 years of his working life was spent in sports television, including four years as the producer/director of “Rays Magazine” on Fox Sports Florida.

J. and wife Sue were engaged at Clearwater’s Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, a place where he spent two seasons at official scorer for the Clearwater Phillies. The couple has two seasons — Brady (19) and Michael (16). Brady played travel baseball with the Indiana Outlaws and Indiana Hurricanes. Michael played at Brownsburg Little League.

Daniel is an assistant coach this summer for the 17U Indiana Expos with Kevin Barnhart (father of Cincinnati catcher Tucker Barnhart) as head coach and Tim Hampton as another assistant.

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J. Daniel, a Brownsburg, Ind., resident, has written Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t and has other books planned about the 1980s.

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Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t by J. Daniel chronicles not only what happened on the diamond pop culture. The author resides in Brownsburg, Ind. (McFarland & Sons Image)

 

IHSBCA Hall of Fame to welcome Williams, McClain, O’Neil, Schellinger, Rolen

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A very small town in the northwest quadrant of Indiana has produced to big league baseball players.

Within months of one another in 1887, Fred “Cy” Williams and Otis “Doc” Crandall were born in Wadena, Ind.

According to Cappy Gagnon’s Society for American Baseball Research BioProject profile of Williams, Wadena had but 75 people in 1890. Wikipedia says the 2009 population was 20.

Wadena in Benton County can now claim Williams as a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. He is part of the induction class of 2019. The veterans committee selected Williams and Ronald J. McClain with Pat O’Neil going in as a coach, Bob Schellinger as contributor and Scott Rolen as a player.

Williams played the first half of his career during the Deadball Era and still put up power numbers.

Donning the uniforms of the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies from 1912-30, the lefty slugger hit .292 with 251 home runs, 1,005 runs batted in, 1,024 runs scored, 115 stolen bases. He led the National League in home runs four times, on-base percentage twice (not that they talked about that back then) and slugging percentage one time.

Williams died in 1974.

O’Neil, a graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School in 1975 and Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1980, is now head coach at Danville (Ind.) Community High School.

His career coaching mark of 364-124 includes a state championship (2005) and two state runners-up finishes (2003 and 2004) at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School. His Bulldogs also won five Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles, three sectionals, three regionals and three semistates.

O’Neil has coached 12 first-team all-staters, nine all-stars, two Mr. Baseballs (Lance Lynn and Tucker Barnhart) and sent more than 50 players to college baseball.

Pat’s brother, Chip O’Neil, is already in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. Both played for legendary coach Ken Schreiber.

Schellinger, a graduate of South Bend St. Joseph’s High School and Illinois Benedictine College, coached with Schreiber at LaPorte. He served stints as head coach and assistant at South Central (Union Mills) High School.

He has been a licensed IHSAA umpire for 46 years with 17 sectional assignments, 11 regionals, five semistates, four State Finals and three IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

A four-time IHSBCA Umpire of the Year, Schlleinger was honored at IHSAA Official of the Year in baseball at the 2017 State Finals.

Rolen, who is now the director of player development at Indiana University, is a 1993 Jasper (Ind.) High School graduate. There, he was Mr. Baseball and a runner-up for Mr. Basketball.

A two-time first-team all-stater and IHSBCA All-Star, Rolen went on to play in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1997 and wound up hitting .281 with 316 homers, 1,287 RBIs and 1,211 runs scored in 17 seasons. He also won eight Gold Gloves as a third baseman.

Hall of Famers will be honored during the IHSBCA awards banquet during the annual state clinic Jan. 17-19 at Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

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Scott Rolen, a Jasper (Ind.) High School graduate, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

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Bob Schellinger, a South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph’s High School graduate, coach for 26 years and umpire for 46, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

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Pat O’Neil, a LaPorte (Ind.) High School graduate who guided Brownsburg to a state title and two runner-up finishes, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

 

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Cy Williams, born in tiny Wadena, Ind., is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Free agent pitcher Storen exploring his baseball options for 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Storen can trace his love of pitching to front-yard wiffle ball games.

It was there in the Geist section of Indianapolis that the son of Mark and Pam and younger brother of Lindsay discovered he could make the ball do what he wanted.

“At a young age, I was just trying to spin the wiffle ball,” says Storen, now 31 with 470 mound appearances in Major League Baseball behind him. “It kind of worked out well. I learned to spin the ball.”

Once little Drew identified himself as a pitcher, his father took him to get help with his mechanics. The right-hander began working with pitching instructor Jay Lehr at 7.

“Jay taught me how to throw an effective breaking ball without the stress on my arm,” says Storen. “I was a really small kid. I respected the process. I didn’t force it at any point.”

With maturity came size and added velocity.

But it did take time and effort.

“If you’re at my level or a little league level, you need to respect the process,” says Storen. “My dad’s advice was to do one thing everyday to get better. You chip away at it. It does not happen overnight. You’ve got to put the work in.

“It takes a lot of mental strength, but that’s what makes it great.”

Drew came up through Skiles Test Baseball and at 11, his family moved to Brownsburg, Ind. That’s where his father grew up and went to high school and that’s where his son shined at Brownsburg Little League. Drew did his part for a state championship team in 2000. That came between Brownsburg’s appearances in the Little League World Series in 1999 and 2001.

Storen enjoyed a decorated career at Brownsburg High School. He won 30 games with a 1.55 earned run average and 319 strikeouts. He was 9-0 as a sophomore in helping the Bulldogs win an 2005 IHSAA Class 4A state championship. Drew played first base while future major leaguer Lance Lynn was the winning pitcher in the title game.

In Storen’s last two seasons at Brownsburg, future big league Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart was his catcher.

Recognition came with Storen’s pitching abilities. He was honorable mention all-state in 2005 and first-team all-state in 2006 and 2007. He was a three-time first-team on the all-Hoosier Crossroads and Indianapolis Star Metro West teams.

In 2007, he was the Star’s West High School Player of the Year and an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Summers from age 13 to 18 were spent traveling with the Indiana Bulls.

Storen was selected in the 34th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees but did not sign.

Instead, he took his pitching talents westward and played two seasons at Stanford University (2008 and 2009). He ascended the mound 59 times (all in relief) and went 12-4 with 15 saves and a 3.64 ERA. He struck out 116 and walked 23 in 98 1/3 innings.

As a draft-eligible sophomore, Storen was picked in the first round (10th overall) in 2009 by the Washington Nationals.

He made his big league debut in 2010 with Washington and appeared in 54 games with the Nationals that season.

In eight big league seasons with the Washington Nationals (2010-15), Toronto Blue Jays (2016), Seattle Mariners (2016) and Cincinnati Reds (2017), Storen is 29-18 with 99 saves and a 3.45 earned run average. He has 417 strikeouts and 132 walks in 438 innings (all in relief).

Storen performed a rare feat on April 18, 2017 in the ninth inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles. With Tucker catching, he pitched an immaculate inning. That’s three strikeouts on nine pitches. The victims were Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy and Hyun Soo Kim.

“As a bullpen guy, that’s our perfect game,” says Storen.

On Sept. 26, 2017, Storen underwent Tommy John surgery. Reds medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek operated to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in the pitcher’s right elbow. He missed the entire 2018 season.

Recovered from the procedure, free agent Storen has been throwing off a mound — usually to Tucker — for about a month. They often meet at the new Finch Creek Fieldhouse in nearby Noblesville.

“I feel really good,” says Storen. “It’s more than a year out. I’ve given myself plenty of time to respect the process. I was lucky enough to play as long as I did without a major break health-wise. I wanted to make sure I came back better than I was.”

Most of his career, Storen threw from a high three-quarter arm slot to deliver a slider, change-up, four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball.

“I’m able to throw any pitch in any count,” says Storen. “That’s what matters to me.

“That’s why I love pitching. I just play wiffle ball. That’s all.”

With the Reds, Storen did drop down and delivered the ball from multiple angles.

He took feedback from bullpen sessions with Barnhart into the game.

“I still throw to him now,” says Storen of Barnhart. “That’s been great.

“He shoots me straight and know what he’s talking about.”

When Brownsburg Little League moved from Arbuckle Acres in the heart of town to the outskirts, Storen and Barnhart donated a portion of their salaries to the cause and the Reds Community Fund also helped the cause.

“It’s nice to give back in that regard,” says Storen. “Brownsburg is near and dear to my heart. My dad grew up there. I take pride in that. I want to give kids an opportunity to enjoy the game as much as I have.”

A self-described perfectionist, Storen acts as his own pitching coach.

“I’d like to think I know what I need to work on,” says Storen. “I know what I’m not good at.

“I need to make the most of whatever situation I’m in.

“I know I’m not going to be the guy I was back in the day. I know I’m going to be better in a different way.”

While getting his arm back in shape, Storen is also exploring his employment options for 2019.

“With where I’m at, it’s finding your best situation,” says Storen. “I’ll showcase for certain teams and go from there.

“It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. My agent (Brodie Van Wagenen) became the GM of the Mets.”

Storen has been dealing with others in the CAA agency.

“Brodie can’t do both (be an agent and a GM). It’s a really great opportunity for him. He knows the game really well. I can’t knock it.”

Storen is the rare pitcher that was used exclusively in the bullpen in college, drafted as a reliever and has been used in late-inning situations in the majors.

In those high-leverage moments, he knows things can go very well or very bad.

“You’re only as good as the day before,” says Storen. “If I go through a whole year and I didn’t have an interview and not on (ESPN) SportsCenter, I had a very good year

“I would prefer not to be noticed. But I enjoy that challenge. I like perfection

“You have to respect the guy in the box, but not be scared by him and trust what you have. That’s the best scouting report you have.”

Besides a professional ballplayer, Storen is a husband and father. Carmel, Ind., residents Drew and Brittani will celebrate four years of marriage this month. The couple has a 2-year-old son, Jace.

Brittani Storen, who is from Brownsburg and a Purdue University graduate, is a pharmacist. That’s the same profession has Drew’s sister, Lindsay, in Asheville, N.C.

Drew’s father, who goes professionally by Mark Patrick, is a sports broadcaster. Pam Storen is a graphic designer.

While at Stanford, Drew studied product design and has put his knowledge of baseball and mechanical engineering into scheming up the look and performance of own custom cleats.

“I’d like to go back and finish my degree,” says Storen. “I can only be so good at baseball for so long.”

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Drew Storen, a 2007 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2010. The Carmel, Ind., resident is now a free agent. (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

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Drew Storen pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017. He had an immaculate inning — three strikeouts on nine pitches — in an April game against the Baltimore Orioles. He had Tommy John surgery in September 2017 and missed the 2018 season. He is now a free agent. (Getty Images)

With Barber as president/CEO, The BASE Indianapolis offers diamond, educational opportunities to urban youth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.

The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.

These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.

A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”

Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.

“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. (The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.

“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”

With support from many, programming is free to these young people.

“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”

Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.

“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”

Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.

Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”

Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.

“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”

Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.

He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.

A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.

Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.

Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.

Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.

(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.

“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”

Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.

Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.

Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.

Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.

To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.

In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.

Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.

Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.

“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.

“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”

“But it’s about family.”

For more information, contact Barber at rbarber@thebaseindy.org or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.

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Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)

Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

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With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

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Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)

O’Neil brings discipline, enthusiasm to Danville Warriors baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Backed by an administration and community that makes baseball a priority, second-year head coach Pat O’Neil and his Danville Community High School Warriors are aiming high.

“I want to bring a sense of confidence to the players and the program,” says O’Neil. “They can be as good as they want to be by putting in the correct amount of time, doing things the right way and doing things together.

“I’m taking the same approach I did at Brownsburg. A state championship is your goal. It’s not given to you. You’ve got to put in the effort and go the extra mile. I’m really pleased with the direction the (Danville) program is going.”

Including five seasons at the helm for Fountain Central High School, 10 for Brownburg High School and one for Danville Community, O’Neil’s career record is 348-112.

Armed with discipline, enthusiasm and organization learned as a player and later assistant for high school baseball coaching icon Ken Schreiber while serving on his LaPorte staff for IHSAA state championships in 1987 and 1990, O’Neil led Brownsburg on the diamond from 2001-10. The Bulldogs earned a state crown in 2005 after a state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004.

“The main goal is to get the blue (championship) ring at the end of the season,” says O’Neil, a 1975 LaPorte graduate and younger brother of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip O’Neil. “I’ve got three blue rings and I know how good the blue feels.”

O’Neil coached future major leaguers at Brownsburg — pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen and catcher Tucker Barnhart — and still communicates regularly with all three. In the three years after leaving the Bulldogs program, O’Neil took time off from coaching and saw many of their games.

When Lebanon High School head coach Rick Cosgray was looking for a pitching coach, he invited O’Neil to join the Tigers staff. In the first of his three seasons (2014-16), Lebanon won its first sectional since 2000.

Danville, which won the most-recent of its eight sectional titles in 2015, went 15-11 in 2017 and lost a 1-0 pitchers’ duel to eventual champion Indian Creek in the semifinals of the Class 3A Danville Sectional.

“It just came down to us not making a couple plays in the seventh inning,” says O’Neil, who saw the game’s lone run score on an 0-2 passed ball with two outs in the top of the seventh. Danville had runners at second and third when the game ended.

O’Neil’s varsity assistants are Danville graduates Jake Marckel and John Fuson with Chris Marckel (father of Jake) leading the junior varsity. O’Neil says he expects to have around 36 players in the program in the spring.

The 2018 Warriors will sport a roster full of seniors who are three- and four-year starters.

“They want to send a message that Danville baseball is program to be reckoned with and they want to lead the charge,” says O’Neil, who counts catcher Tarron Lawson, first baseman Ethan Shafer, right-handed pitcher Jackson Wynn, center fielder Dylan Snider, right-hander Tristan Morrell and right-hander/third baseman Isaac McGregor in the Class of 2018.

Lawson, Shafer and Wynn are Danville’s tri-captains. Lawson has committed to Eastern Illinois University while there has been college interest in some of the other Warriors.

O’Neil looks to get contributions from a junior class which includes shortstop/second baseman Blake Mills, utility man Mark Broderick, catcher Shane Bradley and right-hander Max Schumacher.

The importance of the unit is stressed by O’Neil.

“It’s all about team and there’s a role for everybody,” says O’Neil. “We encourage them about doing the best they can.”

The veteran coach notes that it doesn’t really matter where a batter appears on the lineup card.

“In the game, there’s only one legit lead-off hitter in the game (and that’s in the first inning),” says O’Neil. “When it’s your turn to produce, go up and produce. I want everybody to think they’re the No. 3 hitter.”

O’Neil cites the example of Austin Nickol at Brownsburg. He batted No. 5 and went into the 2004 State Finals hitting .281 with eight runs batted in then batted in the No. 9 hole and hit  .407 with 22 RBI going into the 2005 championship game. The Bulldogs wound up 35-0 and Nickol received a scholarship to Butler University.

Danville belongs to the Sagamore Conference (along with Crawfordsville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone). The conference observes a schedule with home-and-home games in the same week for a total of 14 league games.

“The Sagamore is going to be strong this year,” says O’Neil. “It’s the most competitive top to bottom in the five years I’ve been around it.”

Danville has never won the Sagamore in baseball since joining in 2000. The Warriors were Mid-State Conference champions in 1946, 1951 and 1967 and West Central Conference champions in 1988, 1989, 1994 and 1998.

The Warriors’ 2018 non-conference slate includes Beech Grove, Cascade, Covenant Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Monrovia, Northview, Owen Valley, Plainfield, Speedway plus the Hendricks County Tournament (Avon, Brownsburg, Cascade, Plainfield and Tri-West Hendricks are in that).

Hendricks County Tournament titles came Danville’s way in 1989, 1991 and 1994.

Danville will again host the sectional. But the tournament field and the playing surface will have a new look. Because of success factor or shuffling, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter (2A state runner-up in 2017), Brebeuf and Tri-West Hendricks have moved in to join Danville, Greencastle and Indianapolis Northwest.

With support of superintendent Dr. Tracey Shafer, principal Dr. P.J. Hamann, athletic director Jon Regashus (who was an O’Neil assistant at Brownsburg) and others, there have been several athletic upgrades on campus. On the way for the baseball field are many new items — a turf infield, drainage and sprinkling system for the outfield, fencing and bleaches. The dugouts and press box are to be renovated with a locker room added upstairs in the press box building.

The community’s youngest players play recreation and travel baseball. Danville Community Middle School’s seventh/eighth grade team is to play about 20 games in the spring.

“We want them to play as much as they can and get as much experience as possible,” says O’Neil.

Before O’Neil went to Brownsburg (he has been a health teacher at the school since 2000-01), he was a Midwest scout for the Tampa Bay Rays. At Fountain Central, he was also head football coach for five seasons (1990-94).

In seven seasons at LaPorte with Schreiber, he became very close with the Hall of Famer and learned much about developing pitchers.

“You don’t start in March,” says O’Neil. “You have to build up strength so they can throw 110 pitches and feel strong.”

By state tournament time, O’Neil wants to have a well-establish No. 1 and No. 2 starter but depth is also important.

“We want to develop another four or five guys who can come in and throw strikes and feel confident,” says O’Neil, who saw four Danville pitchers — Weston, Shafer, Morrell, and MacGregor — go down with non-baseball injuries in the last month of the 2017 regular season and had younger players step in to pick up the slack.

Before coaching at LaPorte, Pat spent two season on brother Chip’s staff at South Bend St. Joseph.

The younger O’Neil played two seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan College after two at Vincennes University. He earned an undergraduate degree from KWC in 1980 and a master’s degree from Indiana University South Bend in 1990.

Married nearly eight years to Carol, Pat has two daughters. Oldest daughter Maureen and husband Matt Hoard have two boys — Clark (8) and A.J. (5). Youngest Katie and spouse Brandon Jewell have pets. Stepson Michael is a recent Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology graduate. Stepdaughter Jennifer is a nursing student at the University of Indianapolis.

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PATO'NEIL

Pat O’Neil enters his second season as head  baseball coach at Danville Community High School in 2018. He coached five seasons at Fountain Central and 10 at Brownsburg, earning state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004 and a state championship in 2005.