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Brogan, Midwest Irish take the diamond for 13th season

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When the Midwest Irish took the diamond for 2020 travel season it began Shane Brogan’s 25th year as a baseball coach.

“I was just as passionate in 1995 as I am now,” says Brogan, a Hammond (Ind.) High School graduate who coached the Hammond Seminoles starting in ’95. 

Brogan talked about his organization while waiting for his team’s next game in the Pastimes Tournaments event Tuesday, June 16 at Four Winds Field in South Bend.

Brogan started the program 13 years ago in Chicago as South Side Irish Baseball. He ran a baseball academy in Bridgeview, Ill., and fielded three teams.

When Shane’s son, Stone Brogan, was deciding on which high school he would attend, he picked Andrean in Merrillville, Ind., and the move was made from Chicago to northwest Indiana. The Brogans landed in Schererville and the travel team became the Midwest Irish.

Shane began coaching at Andrean and has been a 59ers assistant for nine years.

The 2020 Midwest Irish have four teams — 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U. Brogan is head coach of the 18U team. Rosters are predominantly made up of northwest Indiana players, but there are some from Illinois.

“We get a variety of college level players,” says Brogan. “We have a lot of everything.”

Stone Brogan played at NCAA Division III Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.

“I watched Division III baseball for a long, long time,” says Brogan. “There’s great players everywhere.

“There’s a stigma attached to all of these divisions. That’s not the case. There’s tremendous baseball at all levels.”

Nearly half of the current Midwest Irish 18U squad has been with the Irish for at least three seasons. There are 17 players — all from the Class of 2020. 

Lake Central’s Brock Begesha (University of Dayton), Marian Catholic’s Adam Huekels (Niagra University) and Mount Carmel’s Nick Miketinic (Butler University) are committed to NCAA Division I schools for baseball.

Portage’s Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis) and Mount Carmel’s Ethan Imlach (Purdue Northwest) are going to D-II programs, Andrean’s Jacob Mullen (Wabash College) and Sam Nagy (Benedictine University), Boone Grove’s Austin Lamar (Manchester University), Chesterton’s Zach McKenna (Anderson University) and Marian Catholic’s Dominick Angellotti (University of Chicago) to D-III schools and Lake Central’s Doug Loden (Joliet Community College), Andrean’s Mason Sannito (Waubonsee Community College), Chesterton’s Max Weller (Wabash Valley College), Taft’s Ernie Day (Iowa Western Community College) and Illiana Christian’s Tavares Van Kuiken (College of DuPage) to junior college baseball.

Boone Grove’s Elijah Covington is currently uncommitted.

“There’s a place for kids who say. ‘I’m going to put in my time. I’m going work hard and I’m going to get good grades.’ If they do that, there’s somewhere to play in baseball. Then however it works out is how it works out.

“At the end of the day, we know that baseball only goes so long for some guys. It’s about a school and a fit and getting that degree. Are program has a lot of that which excites me.”

The 18U Midwest Irish expect to participate in seven tournaments this summer. Following the Pastime event with games at Four Winds Field, Ancilla College, Bethel Unicersity and U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, the organization is heading to Michigan beginning Thursday, June 18. After that comes a tournament with games at minor league parks in Crestwood, Ill., and Rosemont, Ill. The squad is to compete in the Pastimes 18U National Championship (The Irish were runners-up in 2018) at Butler in Indianapolis and at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

“We don’t do the excessive traveling,” says Brogan. “We don’t go to Georgia. We don’t go to Florida.

“I’m a big fan of Pastime. They are getting better and better with how they run their tournaments. They’re putting out more information. They’re shooting more video stuff. I’m really impress with the direction Pastime’s going. President Tom Davidson does a great job.”

With the cancellation of high school ball to COVID-19, the Midwest Irish have practiced more than they have in the past. Fields are northwest Indiana are used. Illiana Christian in Dyer, Ind., has been a home field, but is currently off limits along with all other high school facilities.

“It’s a strange, strange summer,” says Brogan. “I’m just so happy to see kids on the baseball field. Just being able to practice about three weeks ago put a smile on my face.”

Northwest Indiana Sports Performance, owned by strength and conditioning coach and Andrean assistant Jordan Smolar, is the indoor training facility for the Midwest Irish.

Brandon Murray, who played for the Irish and at Hobart (Ind.) High School and the University of South Carolina, is a Northwest Indiana Sports Performance pitching instructor.

Frank Podkul leads hitters at the facility.

Brogan says the Midwest Irish season might be lengthened by a week or two.

“We might go a little bit farther,” says Brogan. “We’ll just see how it goes health-wise. All my guys on my 18U team will be going off to college. Some may leave early so my roster might be a little thinner.

“We’ll see we’re at.”

Other Irish coaches include Damen Castillo at 18U, Luke Adams at 17U, Mike Huttel at 16U and Frank Podkul, Nick Podkul and Chase Dawson at 15U. Charlie Patrick is another assistant.

Castillo plays at Benedictine. Adams is a Crown Point High School graduate now playing at Bethel University. Huttel is an Andrean assistant. 

Both Podkul brothers played at Andrean. Frank went on to Franklin College and played independent pro ball. Nick went to Notre Dame and is now in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. 

Dawson played at Andrean and Valparaiso University. Former Irish player Patrick went to Crown Point and is on the roster at DePauw University.

The Midwest Irish travel baseball organization is in its 13th season in 2020. It started out at the South Side Irish in Chicago.
The Midwest Irish travel baseball organization was established by Shane Brogan 13 years ago. There are four teams in 2020 —  15U, 16U, 17U and 18U.

Baseball coach and instructor Christiansen developing leaders at Culver Military Academy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Teaching baseball and other skills in a college preparatory school is what Kurt Christiansen does in his roles as head baseball coach and humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy.

Christiansen has been at the school since the fall of 2008 and has led the Eagles baseball program since 2009 in all but one season, when he was finishing graduate school.

A 1997 graduate of Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Christiansen played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and was a top-notch football receiver.

His diamond teammates included two players selected in the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — A.J. Zapp (in the first round to the Atlanta Braves) and Nick Jamison (in the 31st round to the Detroit Tigers).

After earning his undergraduate degree at Indiana University, where he did not play sports, Christiansen did some student teaching in Australia. He then was a teacher and coached baseball and football for two years at Carmel (Ind.) High School.

Pamela Christiansen, Kurt’s wife went to law school at Valparaiso University, and got a job in South Bend, bringing the family to northern Indiana. Kurt was a teacher and coached baseball and football at NorthWood High School for four years before pursuing the opportunity to teach at CMA.

Christiansen describes the humanities as a combination of Language Arts and Social Studies in a traditional school.

“It’s pretty wonderful,” says Christiansen. “The kids are learning to read and write and think in a pretty interdisciplinary setting.”

Culver Military Academy offers what its website calls “a leadership approach that develops young men into leaders of character who are poised for global success in any career path.”

There is also a Culver Girls Academy. Together with CMA for boys, they form what is known as the Culver Academies.

Students come from far and wide.

While seven players had hometowns in Indiana, Culver’s 2018 roster featured athletes from Alaska, California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington as well as Korea.

Hayden Schott, an outfielder from Newport Beach, Calif., participated in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.

Schott plans to attend Cypress (Calif.) College. The junior college has a tradition of sending players on to NCAA Division I and professional baseball. Among those are former closer extraordinaire Trevor Hoffman (who will be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this weekend) and former big league third baseman Brandon Laird.

In recent years, CMA graduates Connor Bartelman (University of Chicago), Kyle Bartelman (Columbia University in New York), Shane Comiskey (Grinnell College in Iowa), Zach Moffett (Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.) and Perley Provost (Denison University in Granville, Ohio) have gone on to play college baseball.

Culver Academies has a college advising office, which helps students make connections at the university level.

“Ideally, a Culver kid is using baseball to help them find the best academic fit for them,” says Christiansen. “Baseball is part of what got them to the school. The end benefit is a world-class education.”

Christiansen knows that college coaches have often seen players through video, scouting or camps and they are calling him to fish out the story.

“One of the big benefits about being at Culver is that I know my players,” says Christiansen. “I see them on and off the field quite a bit. I have a pretty good sense of who they are.”

Christiansen says Culver Academies students are attractive to colleges not only because they are strong academically, but they’ve also learned to develop independence.

“They’re at a boarding school far from home and they’re figuring out how to take care of themselves,” says Christiansen. “All of that’s done before these colleges get them and that’s a real big bonus.”

It’s not a cookie-cutter approach taken by Christiansen and his fellow instructors.

“Like any school, kids are kids,” says Christiansen. “Each kid is a little bit different. So you’ve got to find ways to connect with them and teach them. But it helps that we’ve got kids who are committed to the mission of the school.

“How do I leverage baseball to deliver on that mission? That’s a question that the staff constantly asks of ourselves — not just to put kids in a position to compete and win baseball games and develop as athletes but develop dispositions and mindsets that will serve them in life.”

With no feeder program, Christiansen often does not know who he will have on his baseball team until school starts in the fall, though he does sometimes find out who has a baseball background during the admissions process.

“In almost 100 percent of the cases I’ve never seen them throw or hit,” says Christiansen. “I have to work pretty hard to recruit our own campus because there’s so many interesting and wonderful opportunities. Kids grow up playing Little League and they get to Culver and decide they want to try crew or lacrosse.

“I have to identify the baseball players and make sure they still want to come out and be part of the program.”

The school’s mission includes a wellness component and students not in a sport must do something to get exercise.

“Not all of our kids are premier athletes,” says Christiansen. “Hockey and lacrosse programs are elite. They’re really, really good — some of the best in the country.”

Baseball, which plays on Wilkins Field, is restricted by school policy from playing more than a couple of games during the school week with other contests on Saturdays. This means CMA schedules around 20 to 23 games or less than the 28 regular-season contests allowed by the IHSAA.

The Eagles went 10-9 and played in the IHSAA Class 3A Mishawaka Marian Sectional (along with Jimtown, John Glenn, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington) in 2018.

“We want to make sure our kids have plenty of time to study and they’re not out until 9 or 10 o’clock at night four or five nights in a row,” says Christiansen.

Being an independent, CMA often gets bumped when other schools must make up conference games.

Christiansen’s coaching staff includes three other senior humanities instructors — J.D. Uebler with the varsity and John Rogers and Andy Strati leading the junior varsity.

Kurt and Pamela Christiansen have three children — Jack (11), Sarah (10) and Joey (5).

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Culver (Ind.) Military Academy head baseball coach Kurt Christiansen with Hayden Schott at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.

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Kurt Christiansen is the head baseball coach and a humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy. He played high school baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph at Center Grove. (Steve Krah Photo)