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Wiffle® Ball serious fun in Indiana leagues

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Whether they lob the pitches or try to whiz them past the hitter, Wiffle® Ball in Indiana’s four National Wiffle®-affiliated leagues is serious fun for the adults involved.

The Old Republic Wiffle® Ball League (ORWBL) is a lob league with no strike zone while they can pour the gas in Circle City Wiffle® Ball (CCW), Griffleball League (GBL) and Leroy Wiffle® Association (LWA).

ORWBL, named to honor an historic house in New Carlisle, is based in the north central part of the state with Griffleball and Leroy in northwest Indiana and Circle City in Indianapolis.

OLD REPUBLIC

Former New Prairie High School baseball players Koby Keck and Jared Emmons founded the ORWBL in 2007. 

What is now a 14-team loop sprung from the 2005 New Carlisle Hometown Days.

“I just happened to show up at a meeting,” says Keck, a member of the National Wiffle® Hall of Fame and manager of the New Carlisle Newts

Festival organizers were planning a slow pitch softball. The idea was suggested to have a Wiffle® Ball tournament instead.

It was such a hit, that Keck and his friends decided to play all summer.

Keck’s backyard is home to Migley Field — a salute to Chicago’s Wrigley Field and the home of the Newts.

Migley Field was started with some scrap fencing in 2006 and elements have been added over the years, including Wrigley-like scoreboard and marquee.

Before each home game, they play recordings of retired Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy and the voice of radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes welcomes everyone. Regular-season home games start at 1:20 p.m. as do the Hometown Cup semifinals.

The Hometown Cup draws 70 to 80 teams most years. Twenty fields are used during Saturday pool play — some at the Little League park and some at New Prairie High School.

The Top 48 return Sunday for single-elimination play with the semifinals and championship on Migley Field. Dimensions roughly emulate those in Chicago. It’s 95 feet down the left field line, 98 in the power alleys, 100 to center and 93 down the right field line.

This year, all-time home run leader Scott Soos of the Newts belted his 400th circuit clout. The league has been keeping stats since about 2010.

While Hometown Days is canceled for 2020, the Hometown Cup aka The Wiffle® Ball Championship will go on July 24-26. The home run derby is July 24, pool play July 25 and the Top 48 in single-elimination plus the semifinals and finals July 26. The last two rounds are at Migley Field.

Past finals have drawn hundreds of spectators. BroadcastSport.net is again planning to stream the semifinals and finals on the internet.

The ORWBL has two divisions: American League —Bourissa Hills Wildcards, County Line Kings, Flat Rock Cyclones, Maple City Magic, Hudson Lake Heat, Mishawaka Meatspins and Twin Branch Billy Goats; National League — Elkhart Brothers From Another Mother (BFAM), Granger Panthers, Great Lakes Godfathers, Lynn Street Leprechauns, New Carlisle Newts, Rolling Prairie Emery’s Army and Union Mills Goon Squad.

ORWBL is one of the few Wiffle® Ball leagues around that has home fields for all its teams — Palace of Bourissa Hills (301 St. Meridian St., New Carlisle) for the Wildcards, The Garage (7564 E. 400 N., Rolling Prairie) for the Kings, The Barnyard (9352 S 150 W., Union Mills) for the Cyclones, Magic Park (Kesling Park, A Street, LaPorte) for the Magic, various locations for the Heat, The Spin Factory (3810 Lincolnway East, Mishawaka) for the Meatspins, The Goat House (53105 Ironwood Rd., South Bend) for the Billy Goats, Manor Field (2332 Kenilworth Dr., Elkhart) for BFAM, Cam Snead Field (51972 Gentian Lane, Mishawaka) for the Panthers, The Hideout (410 French St., Niles, Mich.) for the Godfathers, Rocko’s Park (29481 Lynn St., New Carlisle) for the Leprechauns,  Migley Field (500 S. Bray St., New Carlisle) for the Newts, The Land Down Under (110 S. Harris St., New Carlisle) for Emery’s Army and Helmet Head Field (10109 S. 600 W., Union Mills) for the Goon Squad.

Week 4 (June 3) players of the week were Eric Wodrich (Meatspinners) in the American League and Nate Hansen (Leprechauns) in the National League. Wodrich went 15-of-22 (.682 average) with six homers, 12 RBIs and 11 runs. Hansen was 10-of-17 (.588) with eight homers, eight RBIs at the plate and went 2-1 in 19 innings pitched with a 7.68 earned run average.

The ORWBL plays tripleheaders on Sundays for a 24-game regular season. Playoffs run through August. Games are six innings and last 45 minutes to an hour each. The league plays with a pitcher, catcher and three fielders. 

The pitching rubber is between 30 and 40 feet from home plate. There will be no called strikes, balls or walks. Batters can strike out swinging. Foul tips caught by the catcher with two strikes will also be a strikeout. The pitcher’s hand rule applies for outs. There is no bunting allowed in slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.

It’s always been pitch-to-hit league. Every pitch has to have some sort of arc.

“It was built as a fun league — giving the batter a pitch to hit,” says Magic manager and ORWBL commissioner Alex Friedman. “You get action all the time. Balls are being batted into the field of play. Defense has to be played.

“People enjoy watching our style.”

Maple City is the defending three-time league champion. Friedman took over ORWBL commish duties from Keck.

Friedman says one of the reasons the league uses three outfielders is that Bourissa Hills — home of the former league champion Pterodactyls — is so wide and there’s so much outfield ground to cover.

Covering the world of ORBWL is the Don’t Get Wifflenated podcast. WiffleTalk.com follows all things slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.

There’s even a ORWBL Hall of Fame.

CIRCLE CITY

The Dirtyard (1117 W. Epler Ave., Indianapolis) is known as one of the top Wiffle® Ball fields in the country.

Circle City will be hosting the National Wiffle® World Series there Sept. 18-20 (it moved from Morenci, Mich.).

The league typically plays Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. There is a one-day round robin tournament to get all eight teams to the field at one time and promote league camaraderie. That recent Sunday event went from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are lights at The Dirtyard.

In 2020, Circle City boasts the 8 Balls, Hackers, Moonshots, Noodlers, Outlaws, Pork Pistols, Short Shorts and Yakkers with a 21-game regular season (each team plays one another three times) to end around Aug. 1. The season opened June 1. 

To be a National Wiffle® member league, a website, statistics and video presence must be kept. 

“It’s to prove you are a competitive Wiffle® Ball league,” says Circle City president/commissioner and Short Shorts player Brendan Dudas, oversees The Dirtyard in his parent’s backyard. “You have to be 18 to play for liability reasons.”

Most teams have there own Twitter accounts. Games are often streamed live. Podcasts keep Wiffle® wackos informed.

Dudas and has friends were middle schoolers fooling around in the back yard with a ball and bat in 2009. Four years later, Circle City Wiffle® Ball became a reality.

“It’s been slowly evolving ever since,” says Dudas, who played baseball at Perry Meridian High School and the University of Indianapolis and coached at Center Grove with former Perry coach John Carpenter. 

“All the guys in the league are either former athletes,” says Dudas. “They like the competitive nature of sports in general.

“It’s low impact, a controlled environment and we still fulfill the competitive drive we all have. We enjoy being around each other and having fun.”

Circle City plays six-inning games. It’s 3-on-3 (pitcher and two fielders). There can be on a roster and all of them can bat. It’s 45 feet between bases, 47 1/2 feet between the rubber and the strike board. 

“You have to have (quality) pitchers in fast pitch (Wiffle® Ball) or it becomes a walk fest,” says Dudas. “In the national tournament, it’s all about pitching. The recipe to win tournament is throw a shutout, make one big play and hit a home run. Scores are often 1-0 and 2-1.”

The Dirt Yard dimensions are 89 feet down the left field line, 97 to left-center, 95 to right-center, 102 to center and 85 down the right field line.

Dudas has observed that most leagues have fields between 75 to 100 down the lines and 85 to 110 to center.

“You get further than than and it gets hard to poke the ball out,” says Dudas.

When the 8 Balls joined the league in 2017, they brought snazzy uniforms with them and the league soon followed suit and now sublimated jerseys are a Circle City requirement.

“We encourage guys to run wild with it,” says Dudas, who cites Keck and the ORWBL as the inspiration for creating his league.

GRIFFLEBALL

Jeremy Ratajczyk is the GBL commissioner and manages the Blue Tacomas.

“It’s fun to do something competitive one you get out of high school” says Ratajczyk. “It satisfies everybody’s competitive desires in the summer. 

“We had enough friends that wanted to do it consistently. We’ve embraced it as a weekend getaway where we get to see our friends.”

Traditionally a Sunday league, Griffleball went to four weekend tournaments (pool play Saturday and single-elimination Sunday) for the 2020 slate. Remaining dates are June 27-28, July 18-19, Aug. 1-2.

New players can pick the team of their choice. There is also a league waiver wire.

Every squad picks out new flashy uniforms each season.

“We usually sit down in January and February and brainstorm,” says Ratajczyk of Griffleball planning. “This year was the exception with coronavirus.”

While childhood 1-on-1 games between Ryan Galiher and Kyle Lidster can be cited as the genesis of Griffleball, the league’s modern origins date to 2010 when it played on a public basketball court and set up fencing around the grass — ask the Griffle Grounds in Highland.

The 2017 all-star game was played at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith and the league moved its games there for 2018 and 2019. 

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, a new field — The Warehouse, 5000 W. 45th Ave., Gary — was selected for 2020 action. Opening Day was June 6.

A four-team circuit this summer includes the Blue Tacomas, Jager Bombers, Noble Narwhals and Pinchy Crabs.

The first eight years of Griffleball, teams were kept intact year after year. The last two years, things were shaken up and there was a re-drafting of players.

Even with the moves, Griffleball has stuck with the same field dimensions — 60 feet down the foul lines, 85 to the gaps and 80 to center.

Griffleball games are five innings and last around an hour. There are four players per team though there is only a pitcher and two fielders at a time. Everyone in the lineup hits.

There is no catcher in fast-pitch Wiffle® Ball, but a strike board (which is 20 inches wide, 32 inches tall and 12 inches off the ground). 

There are two outs per inning, five balls for a walk or two hit batsmen in the same at-bat.

Ratajczyk, who has played in all four National Wiffle® (formerly National Wiffle Ball League Association) leagues in Indiana, says fast pitch Wiffle Ball is all about the batter vs. pitcher duel and the scores of games often rely on the elements.

“If the wind is blowing, there will be no runs,” ays Ratajczyk. “If the wind is blowing out, there will be a ton of runs.”

The GBL has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snap Chat.

LEROY

LWA plays all its games at a six-field compound in an incorporated community near Crown Point on land owned by commissioner/president and Leroy Riot owner/manager Tim Wiltjer. The address is 4504 E. 145th Ave., Crown Point.

In 2020, the league includes 12 teams — Backdoor Sliders, Barn Stormers, Bushleague Badgers, Fabulous Flamingos, Lake County Liners, Leroy Riot, Marvelous Maniacs, Mighty Melon Heads, Noble Narwhals, Porter County Porkers, Squints Sluggers and Walking Tacos.

The Sluggers are the defending champions.

Ty Bothwell (a redshirt pitcher for Indiana University baseball in 2020) and Bo Hofstra (a junior pitcher at Purdue University) are on the Badgers.

There are seven players on each roster with four players competing in games. There are three players on defense — one pitcher and two fielders. The fourth player keeps stats or takes a break.

All four players have to pitch one inning, giving everyone a chance to bat, field and pitch. Regular-season games are five innings with two games a night. A team’s best pitcher goes two innings with one apiece for the other three.

Post-season games are six innings. Forty-eight players compete each Wednesday.

“It breaks up the week,” says Wiltjer of the preferred gameday.

A unique feature of LWA is that only the manager can stay with a team year after year while the rest of the rosters are shuffled.

“We start fresh,” says Wiltjer. “We don’t have a Golden State Warriors thing going on.

“As commissioner, I want to see our guys get along and get together. Teams from so many different cities with so many friend groups.”

The LWA is numbers-driven.

“I’m obsessed with stats,” says Wiltjer.

To keep things competitive, Wiltjer has devised a “salary cap” based on the batting and pitching numbers put up by players. All awards are stat-based. The highest salary is the MVP. Ironman awards go to those with the most at-bats or most innings pitched.

While the first official LWA season was 2014, Wiffle Ball was part of a Lawn Olympics on the property before that.

Leroy plays a hybrid style of Wiffle® Ball. Throwing fast pitch, pitchers can run up a count of up to five balls. After that, he moves closer to the batter and lobs it.

Once a 10-ball count is reached, the batter can elect to take a single or he can elect to keep hitting. At 15 balls, it becomes an automatic double, 20 an automative triple and 25 an automatic home run.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Wiltjer. “It gets runs all the time.”

Teams rotate among the six fields. Two fields are symmetrical with dimensions being 85 feet down the lines and 95 to center. 

The four other wider fields give a flavor for Major League Baseball parks, including Boston’s Fenway Park (short porch in right and deeper in right center), Houston’s Minute Maid Park (deeper center, shallow left and right), Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

It’s 45 feet between bases with 48 feet between pitching rubber and strike board.

Batting lineup pitching lineup are the same and must be submitted 24 hours before the game. 

The LWA normally begins the first or second week of May. There’s an 11-week regular season (22 games per team).

The 12th team does not make the playoffs. Teams seeded 7-10 go into a single-elimination “death bracket” with the winner earning the No. 8 in the Final Eight. Teams then play two-game series plus a one-inning sudden death game to break ties (if necessary). There can be extra innings.

Pitchers switch every inning during the playoffs. 

“All four Indiana (National Wiffle®) leagues are very, very unique,” says Wiltjer. “That’s what makes it awesome.”

Going Corn is the podcast of the Leroy Wiffle® Association.

WIFFY WINNERS

Indiana players are well-represented on the rolls of the Wiffy Awards presented by National Wiffle®.

Migley Field (ORWBL) was the National Field of the Year in 2019.

The New Carlisle Newts (ORWBL) had the Team Jersey of the Year in 2019.

Friedman (ORWBL) was National Commissioner of the Year in 2018 and National Manager of the Year in 2017.

Nick Arndt (ORWBL) belted his way to National Home Run Champ and Jay Ryans (ORWBL) tossed his way to National Closer of the Year — both in 2012.

Garrett Curless (ORWBL) powered to National Home Run Champ in 2011. 

The Dirtyard (CCW) was chosen as National Field of the Year in 2018.

Mid City Moonshots (CCW) sported the Team Logo of the Year in 2019

Caleb Jonkman (LWA) was selected as National Player of the Year in 2017 and 2019 and thumped his way to National Home Run King in 2019. He also is regular in all four Indiana National Wiffle® leagues.

Matt Dykstra (LWA) was National Closer of the Year in 2016.

National Wiffle®
Old Republic Wiffle® Ball League
Circle City Wiffle® Ball
Griffleball League
Leroy Wiffle® Association
The Land Down Under (ORWBL)
The Hideout (ORWBL)
The Garage (ORWBL)
The Barnyard (ORWBL)
Magic Park (ORWBL)
Cam Snead Field (ORWBL)
Koby Keck swings the bat for the New Carlisle Newts at Migley Field in New Carlisle, Ind. Keck and Jared Emmons are co-founders of the Old Republic Wiffle® Baseball League.
An Old Republic Wiffle® Ball League championship ring earned by the Maple City Magic of LaPorte, Ind.
Aerial view of the Leroy Wiffle® compound near Crown Point, Ind.
Diagram of The Dirtyard, home of Circle City Wiffle®.
Lake County Liners (LWA)
Walking Tacos (LWA)
Pork Pistols (CCW)
Mighty Melon Heads (LWA)
Hacker (CCW)
8 Balls (CCW)
Short Shorts (CCW)
Fabulous Flamingos (LWA)
Hudson Lake Heat (ORWBL)
Granger Panthers (ORWBL)
Great Lakes Godfathers (ORWBL)
Emery’s Army (ORWBL)
The Wiffle® Ball Championship aka Hometown Cup is July 24-26 in New Carlisle, Ind.
The Wrigley Field-like scoreboard at Migley Field in New Carlisle, Ind., home of the Old Republic Wiffle® Ball League’s New Carlisle Newts.
Tributes at Migley Field in New Carlisle, Ind.
Barnstomers (LWA)
Yakkers (CCW)
Twin Branch Billy Goats (ORWBL)
Squints Sluggers (LWA)
Pork County Porkers (LWA)
Outlaws (CCW)
Noodlers (CCW)
Noble Narwhals (GBL/NWA)
Moonshots (CCW)
Mishawaka Meatspins (ORWBL)
Blue Tacomas (GBL)
Marvelous Maniacs (LWA)
Lynn Street Leprechauns (ORWBL)
Leroy Riot (LWA)
Jager Bombers (GBL)
Union Mills Goon Squad (ORWBL)
Elkhart BFAM (ORWBL)
County Line Kings (LWA)
Bushleague Badgers (LWA)
Pinchy Crabs (GBL)
New Carlisle Newts (ORWBL)
Sawyer Mitchell (Noodlers) bats in Circle City Wiffle® Ball.
Mike Speek Jr. (8 Balls) pitches in Circle City Wiffle® Ball.
Mike Speek Jr. (8 Balls) pitches in Circle City Wiffle® Ball.
Mike Speek Sr. (8 Balls) plays Circle City Wiffle® Ball.
The Dirtyard (CCW)
Night view of The Dirtyard (CCW)
Cam Snead Field (ORWBL)
Griffleballers on the opening weekend of the 2020 season.
Manor Field (ORWBL)
Jared Jonkman (left) and Caleb Jonkman of the Maple City Magic hold the Old Republic Wiffle® Ball League hardware.
Wiffle® Ball is serious fun in Indiana. There are four National Wiffle®-affiliated circuits – Old Republic Wiffle® Ball League, Circle City Wiffle® Ball, Griffleball League and Leroy Wiffle® Association.

Prep baseball coaches try to lift seniors’ spirits

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY JIM PETERS

For http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t … don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some of us are told at 18, some of us are told at 40, but we’re all told.” — Moneyball

One of the famous quotes from the movie about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane has hit home for many high school seniors whose playing days weren’t ended by the standard baseball career markers — graduation, injury, a roster cut or retirement — but by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know how big it was for me,” South Bend Clay coach Joel Reinebold said of his last prep game. “I was playing for my dad (Jim Reinebold). I stood out in the outfield and cried that it was over.”

The moment is etched in time for Reinebold, who went on to play at Mississippi College. In retrospect, he hurts for the seniors who are not getting any such closure this spring.

“It’s a tough way to end your career,” he said. “I can’t imagine.”

Reinebold and other coaches across Indiana are doing a variety of things to try to ease the disappointment of the lost 2020 season for their final-year players.

One of Reinebold’s endeavors is having individual signs made for his seniors and placing them on the infield with their jerseys under the lights of the diamond, which is named after his father.

“Just give them a little salute, hey, we’re sorry you don’t get to play, but thank you for everything you’ve done for three years,” he said.

Clay expected to have nine seniors this spring, four of whom are first-year players. Catcher-outfielder Mark Williams and outfielder-pitcher Jackson Jones would have been in their fourth year on varsity and Hunter Aker in his third. Other veterans were Miguel Penaloza and Tyler Williams. Aker, a first baseman-shortstop-pitcher, will go on to play at Manchester University, while Bethel University is looking at Jones, an outfielder-pitcher.

“Some are going on to college, some are done and it’s time to figure out something else to do, and some may realize with time that they’re not ready to get out,” Reinebold said.

The team last met on the final day of February for a conditioning session. After an initial two-week shutdown, there was hope for a return March 15. When it was bumped back again, teams held on to the prospect of an abbreviated season until that glimmer was snuffed out with the state’s shutdown for the rest of the school year.

“We can’t even meet,” said Reinebold, who is doing all correspondence via text. “We can’t do anything as a group. We can’t make them work out. I was trying to think of the last time we were together. It seems like forever.”

***

Hope springs eternal in March, when everybody is 0-0 with aspirations for greatness. With a whopping 11 seniors, Jimtown had high expectations for the season, led by shortstop Dustin Whitman, a four-year starter, three-year catcher Sammy Schwartz and outfielder-pitcher Brandon Coble.

“Most coaches are saying that now, but we really had our eyes set on moving the program forward,” Jimmies coach Cory Stoner said. “They’ve worked hard. They practice on their own. We don’t have to tell them what to do. It’s a tribute to them for taking charge. It’s a really close group that gets along. They’ve spent a lot of time together growing up.”

The day after the season was officially cancelled, assistant coach Jim Fredwell approached Stoner with the suggestion of turning on the stadium lights, piggybacking on a idea that has been done across the country as a symbolic tip of the cap to seniors.

“We both have little kids, so it seemed like a fun thing,” Stoner said. “A couple people stopped by (Booster Field). My college coach (Seth Zartman) lives down the road and he came down. It was pretty cool to see.”

Given the opportunity, Stoner hopes to do something more extensive this summer, kicking around the idea of a mock senior night with a cookout or, should the social distancing restrictions be eased back by then, possibly an intra-squad scrimmage.

“We’ve got a great group of seniors and we want to honor them in the right way,” Stoner said. “It’s just hard right now to plan much of anything.”

Stoner recently organized a virtual team meeting during which he let each of the seniors talk and their words warmed his heart.

“Clay Campbell was talking about how devastating this is, but we have to look at the big picture, that there are people who are hurting far worse,” Stoner said. “We try to preach selfless leadership, putting others first, and he’s one who really gets it. It was cool to hear.”

***

Goshen‘s five-player senior class will always hold a special place for RedHawks coach J.J. DuBois, now even more so due to the circumstances.

“I coached them on JV before varsity,” DuBois said. “This was my first group that I’ve had since they were freshmen. It’s a great group of kids, the perfect program guys. Goshen baseball doesn’t have a great history of success. We haven’t won a sectional since 2008. This was our best shot to sneak up on people like Northridge and Penn. We didn’t have a ton of varsity experience, but we have good talent. It was the perfect team for this year.”

DuBois is going to great lengths to honor his seniors in light of them missing out on the chance to fulfill their on-field aspirations. Among them, pitcher-shortstop Skylar Reyes, last season’s MVP, will play at Manchester, and Tommy Cartagena Garcia, who came to the school from Puerto Rico as a sophomore, is also looking at a couple schools.

“Losing their season, they’re so disappointed they don’t get to wear the RedHawks jersey one more time,” he said. “You want to give them things to remember, not just the wins and losses, but something special, fun things like dinner with the guys.”

It started with 20-minute Zoom interviews with each player in which they answered a variety of questions, both related and not related to baseball. Preview clips were posted on the Goshen baseball Twitter account with the full segments available on YouTube.

“They got to tell some cool stories that got them laughing,” DuBois said. “It was a good time.”

Borrowing an idea from basketball coach Michael Wohlford, who had posters done for his players, DuBois is in the process of having replica jerseys put in frames for each seniors. His hope is to hold a ceremony where they can gather the seniors and their parents to recognize them.

“Who knows with the timing,” he said. “We certainly have the room (to spread out) on a baseball field.”

***

NorthWood coach A.J. Risedorph has five players in his senior class — third-year regulars Jaden Miller and Cooper Davis, Josh Stratford, Jack Wysong and Kyler Germann all of whom have been in the program since they were freshmen. Among them, only Miller (Danville Area Community College) is signed to play at the collegiate level, though Wysong is headed to DePauw University for tennis.

“We graduated a pretty good class, so I was more excited about the competition, the young guys who were going to step up,” Risedorph said. “That’s what sports is all about. They put in all the time and have been ready from day one. It’s very unfortunate. A lot of guys are struggling. We want to make sure they’re all right.”

With that in mind, Risedorph has a few projects in the works, starting off with social media posts. After doing some online searching, he’s looking into having personalized bats and replica jerseys done as senior gifts.

“My wife (Jenna) was talking about driving around to the homes and dropping them off,” he said.

The school’s baseball field doesn’t have lights, but Risedorph is thinking about getting the site game ready with bases, batter’s boxes and base lines, then painting the players’ numbers on the grass with the stencils used for football.

“Maybe we can do a drone shot,” he said. “We’d like to get them back out again. It kind of all depends on how long we’re shut down, as we get more information from the state.”

The missed season isn’t impactful on the seniors alone. Risedorph shared the story of junior Sergio Lira Ayala, who came to the school from Puerto Rico during his freshman year.

“He lives and breathes baseball, it’s all he cares about,” Risedorph said. “It’s his escape, with everything he’s dealt with. He just wants to be able to compete. I tell the juniors, you’re the seniors now. The standard of expectations is on their shoulders now.”

***

There’s no protocol, no manual, no reference for coaches on how to tell their seniors they don’t get to play their final season.

“There are guys who like to play and guys who love to play,” Fairfield coach Darin Kauffman said. “I have three of them it was really tough for. I felt awful for calling and leaving a message that we were done for the season. How do you do that? As coaches, it stinks, we want to play, too, but next year, we’ll be at it again. For the seniors, they don’t know if they’ll ever be on a field again and play.”

Of his seniors, just one, Felipe Arevalo, has a possibility of playing in college.

“He’d be really good for a JUCO for two years and go (to a four-year school) from there,” Kauffman said. “He called me right after (the season was cancelled). He was crying. He just loves the game. It was devastating to him. I felt bad. We were talking to colleges and they were planning on seeing him. Now they won’t be able to set up something.”

Kauffman has taken to doing social media posts with pictures of his seniors with write-ups that are going up one a day on the team page, as well as on the athletic department account, which is doing the same for the other spring sports.

“I’d like to have a thing, if we’re allowed to do it, on a nice day, in July even, where we could all meet at the field and recognize all the seniors for everything they’ve done, say some final words,” he said. “They worked hard in the winter. The guys were all for it.”

Fairfield didn’t bring back a great deal of experience after graduating 11 seniors last year, so it will now be in the same boat next season.

“I’m hoping the underclassmen can play at least a couple games,” Kauffman said. “If not, it’ll be almost two years. I don’t know what we’ll do. We won’t have a lot of seniors and it’ll be like really having two freshman classes. We have some young kids who wanted to travel.”

Kauffman has been staying busy with free online clinics and webinars.

“I sent out some things I want them to do, to try to keep their arms in shape,” he said. “Some kids have a back yard big enough to at least go out and do something, but everybody has a different dilemma. We’re all in the same boat on this.”

Follow Jim Peters on Twitter — @JP8185

BOOSTERFIELDLIGHTS

The lights on Booster Field were illuminated to honor Jimtown High School’s Class of 2020, which did not get to play at senior season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams all over Indiana are finding ways to say thanks to the seniors. (Jimtown Baseball Photo)

 

Hutchinson serves UIndy pitchers, Pastime Tournaments participants

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Landon Hutchinson is developing pitchers in a scientific way at the University of Indianapolis.

Heading into his third season as pitching coach at the NCAA Division II school in 2020, Hutchinson uses the latest training methods while staying focused on the ultimate objective.

“It’s very tech-driven,” says Hutchinson, who was learning more about his craft at the Jan. 2-5 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to try to get guys out.”

To get his pitchers ready to do that, Hutchinson pays close attention to health.

“Arm care is definitely the No. 1 point of emphasis,” says Hutchinson. “Workload is managed. We’re not throwing too much. We’re not throwing too little.

“We make sure we’re recovering and moving the right way. We’re making sure we’re getting proper sleep, nutrition, all those things.”

Motus sensors are used to monitor throwing. It’s a seven-day workload that maps out to a 28-day workload.

“If you keep that on pace it helps ramp things up in a safe manner,” says Hutchinson. “We use the Florida Baseball Ranch style of training as far as the cycle goes.”

The Greyhounds have heavy day followed by a recovery day, connection day (a time to work on movement patterns) and max intent day.

“If you keep repeating it, you don’t have to think about it out on the mound,” says Hutchinson. “The last thing I want them thinking about is that. Their job is to get guys out.”

Flexibility are the mobility of the Thoracic spine (T-spine) are also deemed important.

With the help of Chad Odaffer, an instructor in UIndy’s Kinesiology, Health & Sport Sciences department, full-body assessments are performed.

If deficiencies are found those can be addressed by head strength and conditioning coach Steve Barrick.

To improve core strength, pitchers do plenty of yoga. There’s also chaos training and HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts to get the heart rate up.

“We want to make sure we’re athletic,” says Hutchinson. “Pitchers are athletes.”

Hutchinson notes that ABCA members are harping on how far golf is ahead of baseball in terms of movement patterns.

“The amount of video that we take on our guys is insane,” says Hutchinson. “I don’t know if I have one video of me pitching when I was in college.”

As a right-handed pitcher, Hutchinson graduated from Liberty Union High School in Baltimore, Ohio, then played four seasons (2012-15) at the University of Rio Grande (Ohio).

After his playing career, Hutchinson served the 2016 and 2017 seasons for the Red Storm as a graduate assistant. He received a bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies in 2016 and a master’s in Coaching Leadership in 2017 and joined the UIndy staff in the fall of 2017. Indianapolis went 31-23 in 2018 and 30-20 in 2019.

Since each pitcher on his staff is unique in his approach, cues won’t be the same for each one.

“Sometimes it’s best to tell them to change their aiming point or use their legs more because they have nothing to do with their mechanics,” says Hutchinson. “If you’re glove side is flying open, you might be told to stay tight.

“Little things like that can help guys stay in line and stay true.”

D-II baseball teams are allowed 45 days of practice in the fall. After that comes individual work. That’s when the process of developing velocity and pitch design begins.

During pitch, Hutchinson will create video overlays of all the pitches in a hurler’s repertoire.

“We want to make sure all those are tunneled and we’re going from the exact same arm slot,” says Hutchinson. “We want them to mimic each other. Around the 40-foot mark is our goal for when they start to separate. That’s when the spin actually takes effect.

“I’d rather have later movement than earlier (giving the hitter little time to react).”

Each pitcher is given an individualized plan that begins when they arrive on campus in the fall. Hutchinson asks them the last time they threw live

“I tell them to be honest,” says Hutchinson. “There’s no point in lying because you’re just going to hurt yourself.”

Once they get to winter break after final exams, UIndy pitchers are given six- to eight-week plan they can follow when they are away from the coaches.

Players are due back on campus Jan. 13.

“That’s when we start hitting things pretty hard,” says Hutchinson. “We open up Feb. 15 (against Hillsdale in Johnson City, Tenn.).”

The Hounds will also play several games inside their dome.

“We’ve got plenty of arms,” says Hutchinson. “Guys are getting full ground balls and full fly balls since it’s seven stories high.

“Hitters are seeing live (pitching) and it’s  white background. If you can hit the ball in there, you can probably hit the ball almost anywhere.

“With our pitchers we do a good job making sure their intensity and pitch count is where it needs to be.”

Hutchinson says UIndy head coach Al Ready wants pitchers to be able to throw seven innings or up to 100 pitches within their first outing.

“If we can get them to that point we know we’re going to have a chance to win,” says Hutchinson. “If they can go seven innings, we have a bullpen that can seal the game for them.”

When Hutchinson arrived on campus, there were 15 pitchers. The following year that moved to around 27. This year, there are 30.

“To be a fully-funded program, there must be at least 45 man on the roster,” says Hutchinson. “Why not bring in arms?”

Besides his role at UIndy, Hutchinson is also national scouting coordinator and regional director for Pastime Tournaments, which runs travel baseball events all over the country.

He is in charge of staffing all events. Last summer, the organization employed around 250 250 independent contract workers.

Hutchinson makes certain baseballs and merchandise go to the right places.

On tournament weekends, president Tom Davidson, vice president and national director Brent Miller and Hutchinson divide up the 25 or more tournaments and oversee them with the help of site directors.

Hutchinson also acts as a point of contact between players, parents and college coaches and educates the recruited on the process. He lets them know that the colleges will want to know things like age, grade-point average and SAT score. Players should get their own email address to be used in corresponding with colleges.

“I want to recruit the athlete,” says Hutchinson. “I don’t want to recruit the parents.”

It also helps to have a presence on social media, where videos and other important information on a recruit can be placed.

To help college programs, Hutchinson can let coaches know which teams and players will be playing in which region so they can take a look at that uncommitted left-hander they seek.

When filling tournament fields, Davidson likes to pool like competition to keep them challenging for all involved.

Pastime’s social media presence has swelled in recent years. The organization has more than 8,500 followers on Twitter and more than 1,000 in Instagram.

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Landon Hutchinson is baseball pitching coach at the University of Indianapolis and national scouting coordinator and regional director for Pastime Tournaments. (UIndy Photo)

Jasper (Ind.) Reds making a stamp on baseball since 1893

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a big deal in Jasper, Ind.

The Dubois County seat is home to the Jasper High School Wildcats — five-time IHSAA state champions, four-time state runners-up and 16-time state finalists.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame is housed at Vincennes University-Jasper.

But long before these happenings, the Jasper Reds were on the diamond scene.

Established as the Jasper Acmes in 1893 and soon changed to the Red Jackets (then Reds) to match the colors of early uniforms, the Reds have been a baseball presence in Jasper ever since. The only interruptions were in 1918, 1922 and 1964-66.

In the early days, players would share in the team’s profits — if there were any — so the team was referred to as semi-pro. That label stuck even after the pay stopped.

There’s no age limit for players. For years, most were in their 20’s and 30’s. This year, there were two 30-somethings among mostly college-age athletes.

The 2019 Reds went 13-0 during the regular season then lost twice at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. Some of the top players this summer were pitcher Bo Daves, second baseman Austin Simmers and shortstop Josh Weidenbenner.

It was the Reds’ seventh NBC World Series appearance with 1993, 1994, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 being the other years.

The 2018 Reds went to Louisville to play in the Bluegrass World Series, an event that features former major leaguers.

After Jasper High is done for the season, the Reds play home games at Alvin C. Ruxer Field (formerly Recreation Field).

“They are good to us,” says business manager Bob Alles, noting that Jasper High head coach Terry Gobert mowed the grass on a Sunday so it would be ready for the Reds. “We get (cooling) fans in the dugouts. They bend over backward to help us.

“So many people are good to us. People in Jasper want to keep this team going. We go from one year to the next.”

Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Ruxer once pitched for the Reds and was a big baseball backer. He set up trust funds for the team that helped to defray season costs.

Dating back to 1903, the Reds have also played at South Side Park, Jasper Academy and Gutzweiler Park.

Bob Alles has been with the Reds for 47 years. The 1971 Jasper graduate (he played for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Noblitt) who had one at-bat for the University of Evansville and became a coach (he was an assistant to Hall of Famer Ray Howard) and teacher as well as Reds manager from 1974-93 and 1996.

“I’ve poured my life into this thing,” says Bob Alles. “It takes in inordinate amount of time to get liability insurance, uniforms and equipment.

“It’s very, very time-consuming.”

A retired school teacher, Bob Alles recruits players and raises funds, trying to keep costs down for his athletes, especially the collegians with student loans.

“The easiest thing to get is the players,” says Bob Alles. “The other things are far more difficult.”

Like finding opponents. There are none in close proximity to Jasper.

“When teams come here it’s a free game for them (except gas money),” says Bob Alles. “We have a little money for umpires and a field.

“What I want from (opponents) is two games. We’ll play anybody. It’s very hard to get teams. That’s why we try to play a doubleheader.”

The weather was unkind to the Reds this season with seven rainouts.

“We try to play at least 20 games,” says Bob Alles. “We used to play 30 and 40. We can’t find that many any more.”

Bill Alles, brother of Bob, has served as Reds manager since 1999. Another brother, Tom Alles, is team historian. He wrote a 10-part series in 1993 as the team hit the 100-year mark.

Charlie “Kitty” Girard pitched for the Reds and a little with the 1910 Philadelphia Phillies.

Roman “Romie” Pfeffer was a star for the Reds in the ‘30s and ‘40s and was in the first class of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. Romie and his two brothers — Revard aka “Riff” and Urban aka “Nigg” — were on the Jasper team that played in the Midwest Tournament at Terre Haute, where National/Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was commissioner.

Bob Alles played three summers (1970-72) for Jasper American Legion Post 147 — two for “Nigg” Pfeffer (good friend of Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Gil Hodges, who may have suited up for the Reds for one game in 1941) and one for Noblitt.

Van Lingle Mungo pitched a few games for Jasper during a diamond career that included time with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.

Three Reds are in the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame — Bob Alles, Ruxer and Tim Barrett (who pitched in the big leagues with the 1988 Montreal Expos).

Bob, Bill and Tom’s father — Jerome “Chick” Alles — played for the Reds from 1950-63 and was a three-term mayor, concluding with 1991. All four men are in the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame along with several others with ties to Jasper.

Brenda Alles, Chick’s wife and the boys’ mother, has also provided support throughout the years.

“We just asked guys to play hard,” says Bob Alles. “If they hustle, I can live with losses. It’s an experience. We like a challenge. We love baseball.

“My brother (Bill) and I don’t get paid to do this. We give money to do this. I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had all these years. It’s all about relationships in life. How did you treat people?

“We try to treat them good.”

Since the centennial in 1993, the Jasper Reds have held a reunion. The next one is slated for April 25, 2020. Follow the Reds on Twitter at @JasperReds, Instagram at jasperredsbaseball and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jasper.reds.52.

 

 

 

JASPERREDSUNIFORMSThe Jasper (Ind.) Reds have been on the baseball scene since 1893 and have worn many styles of uniforms. Here are a few. (Jasper Reds Photo)

TOMALLESBILLALLESBOBALLESJASPERREDSThe Alles family has long represented the Jasper (Ind.) Reds baseball team. Here is Tom (left), Bill and Bob. (Jasper Reds Photo)

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Anderson native Earley builds trust with elite hitters at Arizona State

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael Earley works with some of the best college batsmen in the country.

The Anderson, Ind., native is the hitting coach at Arizona State University, where former Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith fields a potent Sun Devils lineup featuring junior outfielder Hunter Bishop (.391 average, 17 home runs, 43 runs batted in), sophomore infielder Spencer Torkelson (.378-11-42), sophomore outfielder Trevor Hauver (.355-9-33), sophomore infielder Alika Williams (.352-3-34), Carter Aldrete (.290-4-32), junior catcher Lyle Lin (.287-4-35) and more.

In Earley’s first season with ASU hitters in 2018, Torkelson slugged a nation-leading 25 homers (the first frosh ever to lead the country in circuit clouts). Aldrete and Lin both raised their averages from the previous season by 20 points and were named to the all-Pac-12 team.

With Earley’s help on offense and defense, outfielder Gage Canning (.369-9-45) had a strong junior season and was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and signed with the Washington Nationals.

Earley, who turned 31 on March 15, helps players get into a productive rhythm.

“We create a routine and stick to that routine when things are going good or when things are going bad,” says Earley. “I know how important that is and to not get caught up in failure or success.

“With the elite guys, I become a psychologist and a mental coach more than a physical coach. I want to keep them even-keeled at all times.”

It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.

“Every guy’s different,” says Earley. “They can be similar hitters, but have opposite personalities.

“You need to connect with them so you know what makes them tick or go.”

Earley (@earleybaseball on Twitter and earleyhitcoach on Instagram) does this by making himself available.

“It’s about putting in the time and always being available for them,” says Earley. “Your work shows them you care. You never turn them down.

“We’ve built a culture of guys hitting all the time. They do it on their own and between classes. Guys are just working. We’ve got some guys who are obsessed with their craft.”

Spending so much time with his players builds a sense of trust.

“If they trust you, that’s the key to having a good relationship as hitting coach and hitter and having success,” says Earley.

After the 2018-19 Christmas break, Sun Devil hitters moved into the $5 million Malone complex, a place where they put in cage work before hitting outdoors.

“It’s the nicest batting facility I’ve ever seen,” says Earley.

Hitters will see pitches off a velocity and breaking ball machines.

“We usually do it every other day,” says Earley. “On a comfortable day, we’ll do regular BP and front toss. On a discomfort day, we’ll take gameday, high-heart rate swings.”

During preseason, Smith raised the competition level by sending his top four hitters against his top two pitchers for three or four innings of intense scrimmage.

ASU has built a culture of competition. It calms down a little during the season. But in the fall and preseason, Earley says it’s tough to beat.

“We have alpha-type athletes competing over and over again,” says Earley. “We have a smaller roster and we’re getting creative and writing things down and it just came to him.

“We had a lot of stressful innings for our pitchers and high-intensity at-bats for our hitters. It was huge for us coming into the year.”

Arizona State, which plays its home games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, got out of the gate in 2019 at 21-0 and are currently 27-7 overall and 10-5 in the Pac-12.

“We’re big on opposing scouting,” says Earley. “Our guys are really prepared. They’ve seen (opposing pitchers) before on video.

“Some of the analytics things we keep in-house. It does pay a big part in what we do every day.”

Earley is a 2006 graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School, where he played for head coach Terry Turner. After one season at the University of Cincinnati for head coach Brian Cleary, he went to Indiana to play for Smith.

“I love Coach Turner,” says Earley. “He was mentor figure. He was the first coach that believed in me and helped push me.

“I’m a huge Daleville fan now.”

Turner has coached Daleville (Ind.) High School to IHSAA Class 1A state titles in 2016 and 2018.

Earley calls former Cincinnati coaches Cleary and assistant Brad Meador “great people.” He was just looking for a different experience and a chance to play at IU.

“He never let you let down,” says Earley of playing for Smith. “You always had to compete. He always expected the best out of you. It helped me get to the next level and be the best player you could be.

“It helped me translate into a better player and a better coach.”

In one season with the Bearcats (2007) and three with the Hoosiers (2008-10), righty swinger Smith hit .327 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI’s. In 2010, he was a third-team all-Big Ten selection after hitting .352-13-40 with 15 stolen bases. Mostly an outfielder, he played at least one inning at every position on the field except pitcher.

He was drafted in the 29th round by the Chicago White Sox, signed by scout Mike Shirley and ascending to Triple-A Charlotte in 2013. He played professional baseball through 2015, the last year with the independent Southern Illinois Miners. He was an associate scout with the New York Mets in 2016.

Nolan Earley, a freshman center fielder and lead-off hitter at Anderson when big brother Michael was a senior shortstop and No. 3 hitter (Nolan was the starting QB and Michael a wideout in football). Nolan later played at the University of South Alabama and in the White Sox organization and with the Southern Illinois Miners.

Michael and Lisa Earley were married in 2015. The couple have three children — Marshall (5), Mia (3) and Maddie (1). They were living in Anderson before getting the call to Arizona.

Her husband says Lisa was not hesitant to make the move.

“She was with me in the minor leagues,” says Michael Earley. “She’s a baseball wife. This is her lifestyle.”

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Michael Earley, a graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School who played at Indiana University and in professional baseball, is in his second season as hitting and outfielder coach at Arizona State University. Former IU head coach Tracy Smith is head coach of the Sun Devils. (Arizona State University Photo)

Schlueter imparting knowledge with Baseball Directive

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sharing his knowledge, Ed Schlueter is looking to raise the quality of baseball played in his corner of the world.

That corner is located in Jasper County in northwest Indiana — about 20 miles south of Valparaiso and 75 miles southeast of Chicago.

Operating out of a rented 40-by-50 space in a pole barn near Wheatfield with one batting cage and enough room to throw the ball 60 feet, 6 inches, the former college player is passing along his knowledge.

Schlueter, a 2011 graduate of Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., was a teacher and head baseball coach at Rensselaer Central High School for three seasons (2012-14) then decided to become a commercial and residential painter.

Missing the game he loves, Schlueter started Baseball Directive and began providing private lessons. In the last calendar year, he has worked with about 50 individuals on hitting, pitching and catching.

“I want to spread more baseball to the people around me,” says Schlueter, who was a right-hander pitcher at Saint Joe and before that at Harlem High School near Rockford, Ill., before that. “I want to give direction.”

Schlueter’s lessons are directed to parents and players to “get them headed in the right direction.”

Besides the mechanics of baseball, Schlueter also imparts wisdom about the mental side of the game.

“It’s doing things the right way and being accountable,” says Schlueter. “They have to do more on their own. I give them homework (something to work on before the next lesson) and they spend 5 or 10 minutes a day on it.

“They have to buy into and trust what they’re doing in order to put the work in. A lot of them don’t realize the amount of training that goes into getting to the next level. It’s a mix of talent and hard work. It can’t all just be natural talent.”

It’s important with the younger players to get that work ethic started early.

“By the time they get to middle school or high school, it is instilled,” says Schlueter, who helps players in the Clinton Prairie, Rensselaer Central, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, North Newton school districts and more. A couple of his travel ball clients are the Outcast Thunder (Lowell) and North Central Cyclones (Francesville).

As a one-man operation, Schlueter can focus on each of his pupils.

“I like the whole one-on-one personal connection I can have with players and their parents,” says Schlueter. “They feel like they’re getting 100 percent of the attention all of the time.

“We’re not be rushed to get through everything. I’m providing that customer service.”

He also gets a chance to have quality time with his son. Ed and Meagan Schlueter’s boy — Lucas — is a 5-year-old ballplayer.

For Schlueter, it’s the people that make it worth being in baseball.

At Rensselaer Central, he inherited a good team that won 16 games before bowing to Andrean in the first round of the IHSAA Class 3A Kankakee Valley Sectional in 2012 then struggled the next two seasons.

“The best part of it was developing relationships with my players,” says Schlueter. “It was more about that bond.”

He still shares meals with his former Bombers and regularly communicates with them through phone calls and texts.

Schlueter was part of a tight-knit group at Saint Joe fostered by head coach Rick O’Dette.

“It was a family atmosphere,” says Schlueter. “I’m starting to see other programs envelope that.

“Kids are investing their time and money into college baseball. Ending up with a lifelong family is a huge pay-off.”

Schlueter speaks highly of O’Dette and still maintains contact with the man who has moved on to Saint Leo University in Florida after Saint Joe closed its doors at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

“He’s a great guy and a motivator,” says Schlueter of Coach O. “He pushes you to get the best out of you all the time. He was good at helping guys understand what the game is about. He was always at explaining this is why we do this and why we do that.”

While Schlueter was at SJC, he also encountered assistants Matt Kennedy (now a Saint Leo assistant), Josh Rabe (now head coach at Quincy University) and Jeremy Sheetinger (now American Baseball Coaches Association coaches liaison).

Schlueter’s head coach in high school was Doug Livingston, who has since retired with the most wins in Harlem program history.

Livingston got his players to take ownership and work hard.

With a core of players who grew up on diamonds together, Harlem won back-to-back Illinois High School Association regional titles (equivalent to the sectional in Indiana) in Schlueter’s junior and senior seasons (2005 and 2006).

In 2005, the Huskies became only the second team to go unbeaten in the Northern Illinois Conference (then known as the NIC-9). Schlueter went 7-0 with an 0.91 earned run average in 2005 and 10-2 with one save and a 1.20 ERA in 2006.

“We learned to play as a team,” says Schlueter. “It was not all about one individual. We had depth and learned to rely on one another.”

Baseball Directive is on social media — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

EDSCHLUETER2

Ed Schlueter (right) operates Baseball Directive out of a rented space near Wheatfield in northwest Indiana.

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Ed Schlueter, a graduate of Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and the former Rensselaer Central High School head baseball coach, is the founder of Baseball Directive. Baseball near Wheatfield, Ind., he provides instruction and information to area players and their parents.

 

Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the pitch count rule (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)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

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Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Vaughan at home behind the mic on either side of the globe

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dan Vaughan doesn’t swing a bat or throw a baseball for a living.

But he is just invested in what his team does as the players.

Vaughan talks about the end of his first season as the play-by-play voice of the independent American Association’s Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones as if he were between the lines.

“It came down to the last inning of the last game to see if we were going to make the playoffs,” says Vaughan. “I was thinking there would be postseason baseball Wednesday and then DONE! I was a stunned mess. We had been going and blowing everyday.”

Vaughan admits to being a homer — in two hemispheres. When he’s not calling baseball in the U.S., he is Down Under with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League.

Vaughan, who worked for the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before going to Kansas City, was asked by a youngster in the business about the approach to take with his broadcasts through the Play by Play Announcers, Sideline Reporters, Color Analysts, Studio Hosts page on Facebook.

Vaughan summed up his response.

“There’s no governing body,” says the Texas native. “It’s all preference. There’s no right or wrong answer to the question. You’re on the bus with people for 100 days a year. You get to know people. You can’t help but care.

“It’s human nature to me. I try to be fair (and will let the audience know if a player makes a mistake). But I want them to do well.”

Vaughan was in pre-season mode in Gary — working on play biographies, sending out contracts, updating the website and travel planning — when the KC opportunity presented itself.

T-Bones vice president/general manager Chris Browne, whom Vaughan knew during their time together with the Double-A Jacksonville (Fla.) Suns in the mid-1990’s, invited the broadcaster to join his operation.

“We prayed about it,” says Vaughan, who is married to Dallas area school teacher GayMarie, someone he has known since junior high. “We wanted a clear answer.

“Things happen for a reason — Faith, Hope and Love.”

GayMarie was a regular visitor to her husband in Gary and Dan was close to family in the Elkhart/Goshen area. Being in KC put him closer to his home in Texas.

“They were good to me (in Gary),” says Vaughan. “They gave me a chance (after an 11-year hiatus from broadcasting baseball).”

So he took the job. On the first homestand, GayMarie drove the seven hours to surprise the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations at the park.

Besides calling live action, Vaughan posts game stories and videos on social media and helps promote the team — whether in the U.S. or Australia.

He was sure to let local media know when comedian Bill Murray came to KC to film some promo spots or when the crew from “Brockmire”— the IFC series starring Hank Azaria — was there to do the same.

He got the word out when Kansas City Chiefs first-round pick out of Texas Tech University — Patrick Mahomes — made a T-Bones game his first public appearance in the area.

“You have to be creative,” says Vaughan, who notes that the AA was home to Pete Rose Jr. (Wichita Wingnuts manager), Billy Martin Jr. (Texas AirHogs manager) and Joe Jackson (KC outfielder and great great grand nephew of the Deadball era star Shoeless Joe Jackson) in 2017.

George Tsamis is now manager of the AA’s Saint Paul Saints. In 1994, he plunked Michael Jordan “ between the 4 and the 5” and Vaughan was there in Birmingham to call it as part of the Jacksonville broadcast. Terry Francona was MJ’s manager during the Basketball Hall of Famer’s baseball interlude.

A baseball character both with Saint Paul and the Melbourne Aces in Australia is pitcher Mark Hamburger.

When Matt Sergey started as a right-hander on a Thursday and relieved as a left-hander on Saturday for KC, Vaughan was sure to accommodate the media who wanted to know more.

“I’ve got to get reasons for them to come out here,” says Vaughan.

He plans to start a KC blog in October and will also launch a podcast.

Down Under, Vaughan does less writing and more videos for YouTube etc. It’s all about being interactive.

“People love the videos,” says Vaughan. “The ball club has become the source (of information). That’s a responsibility that wasn’t there when I first started (in broadcasting after graduating from Texas Tech).”

“We want to get Facebook likes and Twitter clicks.”

Kansas City (Mo.) is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Buck O’Neil (who died in 2006) was a regular at T-Bones games in the early years of the franchise) and is remembered on the wall at CommunityAmerica Ballpark to this day.

Through baseball, Vaughan has been able to talk about the game with Hall of Famer and Royals vice president of baseball operations George Brett and his son Jackson — on both sides of the Pacific.

Browne, a Royals bat boy back in the 1980’s, has former second baseman Frank White as a first base coach with the T-Bones.

Vaughan notes that independent baseball is flourishing because of the on-field talent and family entertainment and the second chance it offers for ballplayers. Many teams pick up players through word of mouth or former associations.

“That’s there best recruiting tool,” says Vaughan.

In a few weeks, Vaughan will head into his fifth season based in Western Australia, where he co-hosts “Talking Baseball Australia,”  the only live baseball radio show aired on the continent.

Thanks to Vaughan, broadcast partner Paul Morgan and others, the Heat achieved their goal of broadcasting every game — home and away — during the 2016-17 season.

“It was a real commitment,” says Vaughan. “Being online helps. Baseball is still a fringe sport in Australia. Cricket and Australian rules football get more radio and TV coverage during (their) summer.”

Like baseball, cricket is a bat and ball sport. But the rules differ greatly and some matches can go on for days.

Vaughan notes that the Twenty-20 cricket — a short form — is gaining an audience and even has the elements of minor league baseball with promotions and sing-alongs.

“(Cricket) is trying to appeal to a younger crowd,” says Vaughan.

Australian baseball has sent some of its finest players into Major League Baseball.

Liam Hendriks (Oakland Athletics), Peter Moylan (Kansas City Royals) and Warwick Saupold (Detroit Tigers) have all pitched in the big leagues in 2017.

ABL rules call for six domestic players to be on the field at any given time.

“The spirt of the rule is to grow the game,” says Vaughan.

An MLB showcase is one way for Australian players to get a chance to play in North America and international tournaments — like the U-18 World Cup (held in 2017 in Thunder Bay, Ont.) and U-23 World Cup (held in ’17 in Monterrey, Mexico, with Australia placing second to Japan) are others.

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Dan Vaughan, a Texas native and former play-by-play man for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, calls baseball action for the Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones in the U.S. and Perth Heat in Australia.