By STEVE KRAH
Travis Keesling is keeping up baseball traditions at Pendleton Heights High School while also creating a culture all his own.
A 1995 Pendleton Heights graduate, Keesling played four years for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt and became the Arabians head baseball coach after Stoudt retired at the end of the 2012 season with 654 wins, 14 sectional titles, three regional crowns and 10 conference championships in 32 seasons.
“Coach Stoudt is still around,” says Keesling. “He’s always ready to lend an ear if I call him. He is my mentor in coaching and one of the guys I respect more than anybody else.
“He does a phenomenal job of letting me grow as a coach.”
Like has been the case at Pendleton for the last four decades, Keesling does not let his players have facial hair and hair cuts must be short. He insists on discipline.
The Arabians are not flashy and come to the diamond with a “lunch pail” mentality. They’re there to work.
But he also lets his student-athletes express themselves.
“We allow players to be themselves and have their personality as long as they are respectful of the game,” says Keesling. “We want them to have a voice.
“Nowadays kids want to be heard. We have had more success as my coaching career has gone on by letting players have a little more freedom.”
Keesling played one season at Southeastern Illinois College and continued his schooling at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
He was an assistant to Stoudt at Pendleton 2003-06 and also coached travel baseball in the summer. His coaching resume also includes involvement with the Indiana Crossroads Showcase Series, Crossroads Championship Series, U.S. Baseball Academy camps and managing Anderson American Legion Post 127.
Keesling was head softball coach for one season at Wes-Del and five as head baseball coach at Greenfield-Central before returning to his alma mater.
The 2017 Arabians won the Hoosier Heritage Conference (which also includes Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon, New Castle, New Palestine, Shelbyville and Yorktown) for the first time under Keesling, playing mostly Friday conference doubleheaders, and reigned as Madison County champions for the fourth time in five seasons.
Pendleton typically has 45 to 50 players in the program with a varsity, junior varsity and freshmen team. The JV plays conference doubleheaders on Saturdays.
The ’17 coaching staff also includes Carlos Leyva (outfielders, baserunning and third base coach), Brad Schnepp (pitching coach), Jeff Freeman (infielders and first base coach) and Jim Kayajan (bench and hitting coach) at the varsity level, Matt Vosburgh and Mike Taylor with the JV and Brandon Schnepp with the freshmen.
Keesling and the Arabians will try to take a third straight sectional trophy when the IHSAA postseason begins Wednesday, May 24 at the Class 4A Pendleton Heights Sectional.
Pendleton Junior Baseball League has recreation teams from 8U through 14U. In Keesling’s first year, he started the PJBL-affiliated Indiana Arabians travel organization, which has teams 8U through 16U, to teach the game the Pendleton Heights way.
“We create an environment of how we’re going to play at the high school,” says Keesling of the approach with younger players. “I want my son to be a better player in July than he was in April. It’s all about development.”
With the arrival of the IHSAA tournament, a focus will be the new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days). Keesling said the standards used this season don’t go far enough in protecting arms.
“I think it’s too lax,” says Keesling, an IHSBCA district representative. “Ours at Pendleton Heights is stricter to the IHSAA. When a kid gets to 100 pitches, sweat starts dripping down my face. (Many players) have a career beyond us (in college). It’s not a win-at-all-costs.”
Travis Keesling, a 1995 Pendelton Heights High School graduate, is in his fifth season as Arabians head baseball coach.