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Evansville Razorbacks promote accountability, communication, commitment

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 18U Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have been a force in the travel baseball world with four Pastime Tournaments national championships and a National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series runner-up finish.

The 2017 team went 40-0.

Established in 2002 by Jeremy Johnson, the Razorbacks have had 336 players sign on with college baseball programs and numerous players have been in pro ball.

“This program sets guys up not only in baseball, but their whole life,” says Johnson. “It’s a fraternity. You’re going to be a Razorback the rest of your life.

“It’s bigger than anybody, including me.”

Johnson is a 1993 Mater Dei graduate. He grew up spending Saturday mornings helping his father groom youth diamonds around Evansville. C.J. Johnson is a 2017 inductee into the Greater Evansville Sports Hall of Fame as a baseball administrator.

At 14, Jeremy severely hurt his right arm and learned how throw serviceably with his left. In high school, he was a successful cross country and track runner.

Johnson networks with college coaches and does his best to educate players and parents on the recruiting process and deciding on the best fit for them.

“My job is to help you find out your ‘why,’’ says Johnson. “What is driving you? If you don’t know that, you can get lost. You need to have a really good grasp on that. If you don’t and everything starts to go south, you’ll start panicking.”

And it doesn’t have to be NCAA Division I or bust. Some are best-suited by going the D-II, D-III, NAIA or junior college route.

“I’m completely over the fact that Division I is the best case scenario (for every player),” says Johnson. “You should pick a school where, if you didn’t play baseball any more, you wouldn’t want to transfer.

“It’s very, very personal thing for each kid. Look at schools that fit you personally. Start putting together legitimate ideas on what you know you want instead of what you think you want.

“High school is very status-orientedYou’re not doing it for your teammates. There’s a 50-50 shot you’ll meet your wife there.

“It’s way more than baseball.”

Johnson says he has watched the transfer portal blow up in recent years in part because of so many early commits (freshmen and sophomore are making verbal commitments these days) and players and parents not doing their due diligence on what they want and what a program has to offer.

“They may be good enough to be a tweener with D-I,” says Johnson. “But they could play more at D-II or go to D-III and be an All-American.

“We don’t want them to have regrets or at least minimize them.”

While he has been involved in most of the 336 college signings, Johnson doesn’t take credit. It’s the players with the talent.

“I’m not the reason any of my kid plays in college,” says Johnson. “I’m just a guy who goes to bat for them. My job is to market them. I’m an avenue.

“The kids are the ones that deserve everything. I didn’t throw a ball, catch a ball or hit it. I’m not the reason for the season.”

A junior college advocate, Johnson says those players tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. Six starters on the Razorbacks’ 2018  team went on to JC ball. The 2017 club was made up mostly of D-I commits.

“It saves money and keeps their options open,” says Johnson. “It makes you grind a little bit. You find out if you really love baseball if you go junior college.”

Johnson says the Razorbacks are well-represented in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley).

Johnson says parents don’t always receive personal feedback when they take their sons to showcases. They get the numbers, but not an idea of what that coaching staff thinks of the player and how they would fit in their program.

Players can go to showcase after showcase and the money spent can add up to the cost of a scholarship.

“Tell me what you’re interested in doing and let me market you,” says Johnson. He will do his best to have college coaches look at the player and let them know what they think.

“College recruiting always in flux,” says Johnson. “(Recruiters) don’t want to tell you yes or no. There’s a lot of maybes. That’s a frustrating thing. I tell parents to build an idea of where their kid really fits.”

In showcases or with private lessons, many times players are told over and over again how good they are.

“Some are honest about good things and bad things,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. You need it.”

Johnson sees his role with the Razorbacks as driven by relationships.

“I get to know the kids,” says Johnson. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with them.”

While many players come from southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky, there is no real limit and have come from several states away.

“I’m not afraid to ask anybody,” says Johnson. “We have the ability to house a few kids.”

Many players spend two seasons with the Razorbacks, which Johnson says averages 17 to 20 college commits per year. In any given year, a third to half of the squad goes into the summer uncommitted.

Among the 2019 high school graduates from Indiana schools on the ’19 summer team were Evansville North shortststop/second baseman Alex Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Austin shortstop/right-handed pitcher/third baseman Drew Buhr (Saint Louis University), Castle left-handed pitcher Blake Ciuffetelli (USI), Castle first baseman Brodey Heaton (Belmont University), Evansville Memorial right-handed pitcher Isaac Housman (USI) and Tecumseh outfielder Steven Molinet (USI).

There’s also shortstop/second baseman Alex Adams (Purdue University), catcher Garret Gray (Butler University), right-handed pitcher Trey Nordmann (Howard College in Texas) and left-handed pitcher/outfielder/first baseman Mark Shallenberger (University of Evansville).

Former Ben Davis High School catcher Zyon Avery (Ohio University), Decatur Central right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and right-hander Garret Simpson (Eastern Kentucky University) are among the recent Razorbacks now playing college baseball.

Razorback alums left-hander Dean Kiekhefer (Oakland Athletics), right-hander Derek Self (Washington Nationals) and outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Boston Red Sox) played at Triple-A in 2019. All three played at the University of Louisville. Kiekhefer appeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 and with Oakland in 2018.

There’s also former Backs Easton McGee and Stewart Ijames.

Right-hander McGee played for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2019.

Outfielder Ijames, a former U of L player and in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, was with the independent Kansas City T-Bones in 2019.

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes Lincoln High School graduate who recently went into the Indiana State University and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after a major league career, played for the Evansville Black Sox (1993-2001), which were picked up by the Razorbacks in 2002.

Johnson was an outfielder for the Jim Wittman-coached Black Sox in 1993-94. In a Black Sox alumni game, Johnson’s last pitch resulted in a Barmes home run.

“I hadn’t pitched in two years,” says Johnson. “Didn’t matter. Would happened on my best day.”

Former U of L catcher Jeff Arnold was signed by scout Kevin Christman and played in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-hander Morgan Coombs went to West Vigo High School and Ball State University then played independent ball.

Outfielder Sean Godfrey played at New Albany High School and Ball State before time in the Atlanta Braves system and indy ball.

First baseman Jon Hedges played at Indiana State.

Third baseman Kevin Hoef went to the University of Iowa and played indy ball.

Catcher Jeremy Lucas played at West Vigo and Indiana State before time in the Cleveland Indians system.

Black Sox right-hander Stephen Obenchain played at Evansville Memorial and the University of Evansville before stints in the Athletics system and independent ball.

First baseman Derek Peterson, who hails from New Jersey, went on to Temple University and played in Baltimore Orioles organization.

Black Sox right-hander Andy Rohleder played at Forest Park High School and the University of Evansville before tenures with the Florida Marlins organization and indy ball.

Right-hander P.J. Thomas, a Jeffersonville High School graduate who played at USI, was twice-drafted by the Red Sox and played indy ball.

Catcher Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) played in the Red Sox organization.

Former Black Sox, Heritage Hills High School and University of Dayton catcher Mark Wahl was in the Orioles system.

While the Razorbacks run a full program with off-season training, Johnson says he is a realist and he knows that players have commitments to their hometown teams and work with their own hitting and pitching instructors. He doesn’t ask them to drive several hours to Evansville to hit them grounders.

“I’m not that full of myself,” says Johnson. “I have the utmost respect for high school programs.

“I love travel ball. But a large amount of travel ball is B.S. It’s such a money-driven situation. Travel ball — as a whole — is expensive for families with travel, hotels and all of that. We try to keep that cost down as low as we possibly can.”

When the 18U Razorbacks do travel, the team stays together in the same hotel.

Many of the players are getting close to going away to college. They get to experience curfews, team meetings and learn personal accountability. It’s an early look at their freshmen year and that first taste of freedom. They are responsible for their own laundry.

“The team runs the team,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot to be learned off the field until they go to college.”

Parents are encouraged treat the weekend like a getaway. All they have to do is attend the games and watch their sons play.

The organization expanded this off-season to 10 teams — 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, two 12U squads, 13U, 14U, 16U and 18U. 8U to 14U is high school prep. 15U to 18U is college prep.

According to Johnson, whose 18U assistant coaches are Bob Davis, Ryan Dills and Buddy Hales, the emphasis is on teaching player accountability at an early age, communication with parents, speed and strength conditioning and commitment to helping the person, then the player.”

Top 18U events in 2020 include June 12-14 in Midland, Ohio, June 18-21 in Louisville, Ky., June 26-28 in Midland, Ohio, June 30-July 1 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, July 5-9 at Perfect Game World Series (invitation only) in Hoover, Ala., and July 15-19 at the 18U Nationals in Indianapolis.

Jeremy and Christi Johnson married in 2013. There are three children — Seth (18), Ava (14) and Conner (13). Conner Johnson, now an eighth grader, was born in 2007, the same year the Razorbacks were NABF World Series runners-up.

“Spending summers with him with me is what ties it all together,” says Jeremy Johnson of time spent with Conner and Backs baseball.

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The Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have placed 336 players in college baseball since 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks)

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Jeremy Johnson (center) is the founder of the Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks travel baseball organization. The Razorbacks’ first season was in 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks Photo)

 

Brownlee jumping into challenge of new role with ABCA

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Brownlee has always enjoyed a challenge.

As a baseball player, he appreciated being pushed.

The new assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association played for hard-nosed coaches. There was Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, Ind., then his father and brother, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee, at the University of Evansville.

“They were not the easiest people in the world to play for,” says Ryan Brownlee, 45. “But they would keep you accountable.

“I’m in a way better position because of the way I was handled in youth sports.”

Memorial lost in the first round of the 1992 IHSAA State Finals to finish 29-1 and sent many players on to college baseball. That was Ryan Brownlee’s junior year.

“I owe (Merkel) a lot,” says Brownlee. “Over the summer, I read a book on the mental aspects of baseball and that changed my playing career.

“I looked at myself in the mirror. Coach Merkel didn’t need to change. I was the one who needed to change.”

In 1993, Memorial went 36-2 and reigned as state champions (Tim Brownlee was part of a state championship team as a Memorial senior in 1989) with team leaders John Ambrose and John Sartore trading duties on the mound and at third base.

“Quentin was very organized (using the same signs at each level from freshmen to varsity),” says Brownlee. “He doesn’t get the credit, but he was very forward-thinking.

“We were doing breathing techniques back then. He saw it as a way to change mentally.”

In 2017, Brownlee wrote a blog post entitled, “Just Breath.”

Playing for Jim and Tim, Ryan was motivated to be a four-year starter for the Purple Aces and twice earned all-conference honors and was an ABCA All-Region selection.

“You just never got a break,” says Brownlee. “I needed someone to push me.

“There’s always things you needed to improve on. I didn’t need to get complacent.”

Brownlee moved to Evansville in 1979 when his dad went from a teacher and coach at Princeton (Ill.) High School and manager for five summers of the Galesburg Pioneers of the old Central Illinois Collegiate League to head coach at UE. Young Ryan got to see the Evansville Triplets, managed by Jim Leyland, and spend lots of time at one of the country’s historic ballparks.

“I fell in love with the game at Bosse Field,” says Brownlee, who played there as Memorial Tiger, Evansville Purple Ace and then for one summer (1997) as a professional with the Greg Taggert-managed Evansville Otters.

“The first half we were terrible,” says Brownlee. “Our bus broke down in Johnstown (Pa.) and we bonded as a team.”

The Otters got hot in the second half and ended up losing in the independent Frontier League finals to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles.

Brownlee’s resume includes 22 seasons as college baseball coach — seven as head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) plus assistant gigs of nine at the University of Iowa (2004-12), four at James Madison University (2000-03) and two at the University of Evansville (1998-99).

Brownlee worked on the staffs of Jack Dahm at Iowa, Spanky McFarland at James Madison and his father at Evansville.

The UE staff included Tim Brownlee (now owner/president of Diamond Sports Promotions), Jeff Leystra (a student assistant who played with Ryan Brownlee on the Otters) and Ryan Barrett (who played with Ryan from age 9 through college).

After 18 years in the Pocket City, Ryan moved nine hours to Harrisonburg, Va., to join McFarland at James Madison.

“(McFarland) was at complete opposite end of the spectrum (from Quentin Merkel, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee),” says Ryan Brownlee. “He had a low pulse and was very laid-back with a dry sense of humor. You could be yourself.

“Spanky is one of the best pitching minds in the world (he’s coached future big league pitchers Kevin Brown, Dan Meyer, Ryan Reid and Brian Schmack, the current Valparaiso University head coach, among others during his career).”

Brownlee also learned much from James Madison assistant Chuck Bartlett. He had batted No. 4 in a Mississippi State University lineup surrounded by Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro and is now a New York Yankees scout.

Being in a new area also challenged Brownlee to get out of his comfort zone. While at JMU, he earned his masters degree in athletic administration. The Dukes were good enough during Brownlee’s time there (averaging 36 wins per game) that he got his foot in the door at Iowa.

Brownlee helped Dahm stabilize a program that had fallen on hard times. He saw Dahm’s personality somewhere between his father’s and McFarland’s.

“He’s just a really good person,” says Brownlee of Dahm, who later hired Jim Brownlee as Hawkeyes pitching coach after the elder Brownlee was head coach at Illinois State University. “We had to do some heavy lifting in nine years to get that thing built up. I wouldn’t be in the position I am now if not for him.”

In 2012, Brownlee addressed the ABCA Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on the “10 Rules of Recovery.”

It was a time management planner that he continued while at Western Illinois and plans to share his values on personal development during speaking engagements with the ABCA.

“If you can manage yourself away from your working environment that carries into your working environment,” says Brownlee. “Hopefully, that makes you productive. The most successful people can handle a lot more. They can balance things. They don’t seem as rushed.

“I guarantee those people are taking some times for themselves, too. It can’t be all work and it can’t be all free time. You have to have that mix.”

While leading the Western Illinois Leathernecks program presented its challenges because of facilities and school size, Brownlee thoroughly enjoyed his time there because of the people he met.

“For me it was about the relationships with the guys,” says Brownlee, who slept in his office his first year at WIU. “That needed to be our niche. That was an enjoyable experience for me. The coaches were great and the kids were great.

“The opportunity with the ABCA was going to be great.”

Brownlee arrived in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday (Oct. 23) and his first full day at the office was Thursday (Oct. 24).

“It’s similar to coaching,” says Brownlee of his ABCA role. “You wear a lot of different hats.”

This fall, he helped host ABCA Barnstormers Regional Coaches Clinics across the country (he took 10 and Jim Richardson took 10). He also lines up the youth speakers and helps with the hot stoves at the national convention (which is Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville). He assists the ABCA’s youth and travel baseball committees and is a liaison for NCAA Division II. After the New Year, he will be part of the ABCA podcast.

“My dad was an ABCA member. I’ve been an ABCA member for 22 years. This is an opportunity. It’s a great company. It’s been around since 1945. The ABCA has always been there to help coaches. Hopefully, that helps players.”

Ryan has been married to Henderson, Ky., native Aimee for 17 years. The Brownlees have two children — Jackson (16) and Norah (14). Ryan says the plans plan is to have the rest of the family move to North Carolina at the end of the school year.

NORARYANBROWNLEERyan Brownlee (right) shares a moment with daughter Norah. Ryan Brownlee, who played high school, college and pro baseball in Evansville, Ind., and was a college coach for 22 (the last seven at Western Illinois University) has become an assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association.

 

Spiceland, Sycamores form special bond

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dan Spiceland started out as the man that got Indiana State University’s baseball team to and from its games.

But he soon became much more and in a decade of transporting the Sycamores the man they call “Dan-O” has made many meaningful relationships while having a lot of fun.

“He’s the grandpa of this team,” says Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs of Spiceland. “He’s just a great person with a great outlook on life. That’s why it’s great to have him around.

“He picks these guys up on the bad days and it’s really nice to see. Every team should have a grandfather in the dugout. He talks to these guys about life and a lot of things around this game. He’s invaluable to our club.”

At 52, Spiceland retired after 35 years from Ford Motor Company, where he was in plan engineering and a millwright by trade. He went to Ford a week after graduating from Taylor (Mich.) High School and received further education at Henry Ford Community College (where he also played baseball) and Northwood University with the help of his employer.

“Ford was very good to me and my family,” says Spiceland. “I really never thought I would work again.”

Spiceland and wife, Liz, live near Poland, Ind., and worship at the North Meridian Street Church of Christ in Brazil, Ind. The couple moved from Indianapolis and became a regular with the congregation in 2003.

Dan is one of the elders at North Meridian and was told by one of the members and Terre Haute-based Turner Motor Coaches driver, Robert Hostetler, that the company was in need of drivers.

“Robert was always putting a bug in my ear,” says Spiceland of Hostetler. “I told him out of friendship with you I’ll go down and take a look at it.”

Spiceland had never driven a bus in his life, but showed an aptitude for its right away and was hired.

He began by taking some tour groups on shorter trips.

In 2010, the ISU baseball team was getting ready to go on its first excursion of the season from Terre Haute to Shreveport, La.

The law allows motor coach drivers to be behind the wheel for 10 hours a day and then shut down for eight. This sometimes necessitates a relay system with one driver taking over for the other at a given point along the route.

Two days before the trip, the driver that was going to take the team from Sikeston, Mo., to Shreveport for four days asked to trade places with Spiceland, who was going to drive the first leg from Terre Haute and hand off the team in Missouri.

“I drove them down to Shreveport and we had a great series,” says Spiceland. “We won all the games there against Texas Southern.”

On the way back to the relay point, then-Sycamores head coach Rick Heller made it known how much he appreciated Spiceland. The coach told the driver he wanted him to be the team’s full-time transporter, always taking them on the long end of trips if a relay was involved.

Heller contacted Turner and Spiceland took on the ISU baseball team as part of his driving duties, which now also includes the Indiana State women’s soccer team in the fall and tours of all kinds.

“I’m a people person,” says Spiceland. “I like to meet people. I like to reach out to them any way that I can.

“I’ve made a lot of friends driving this motor coach. I can’t say enough about how much fun it is.”

Getting to drive for and developing a bond with the baseball team came as a a twist of fate when the other driver wanted to swap.

Spiceland drove for Heller for four years. When Heller left to become head coach at the University of Iowa, Hannahs took over the reins of the Sycamores.

“Mitch and myself, we have a great relationship,” says Spiceland. “About four years ago, Mitch took me aside and said, ‘I want to talk to you. You have such a great rapport with the team. You would be much more valuable to me to be in the dugout than to be up in the stands cheering.’”

Donning a uniform and cap, Spiceland spends games in the ISU dugout.

“That makes me feel like a kid again,” says Spiceland. “I’m in the dugout and like a spark plug.”

If a player has a bad at-bat or shaky inning on the mound, Spiceland will approach them and offer words of encouragement.

“I go over to him and it’s authentic — it’s not fake — but I’ll stroke their ego,” says Spiceland. “I try to build up their self-esteem.

“I think of them as my sons.”

Dan and Liz have two biological sons — Dan (43) in Huntsville, Ala., and Frank (40) in Findlay, Ohio, and six grandchildren.

“I’ve been through this before when my sons were this age,” says Spiceland. “There’s peer pressure. These guys have challenges in their lives.

“It’s a relationship that pulls at my heart strings. In four years, I was able to have a small smidgeon in their lives.

“More than a driver, I try to mentor these guys.”

With the baseball team alone, Spiceland averages about 7,000 miles a year.

Dan-O and the team spend a great deal of time together between the bus, baseball stadiums, hotels and restaurants. Many times, players invite him to breakfast to discuss some matters.

“I always accommodate them,” says Spiceland. “We talk about a lot of things. They can bounce things off of me. They know it’s not going to go any farther.

“We really love each other. We can communicate with each other. We just bond with each other.”

When the schedule allows, Spiceland finds a church on the road and players have been known to come along.

“it’s an opportunity for me to share my faith with people,” says Spiceland. “That’s an important thing.”

Earlier this season, Spiceland took the team to the University of Michigan, an experienced he thoroughly enjoyed with his Wolverine State roots.

Indiana State (34-11) is coming off a three-game Missouri Valley Conference series against Illinois State in Normal, Ill. Dan-O and Liz celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary Saturday, May 4, and the Sycamores won Saturday and Sunday to takes 2-of-3 from the Redbirds.

The next trip is this Friday through Sunday at Dallas Baptist. Since it will be Finals Week, players can’t leave campus until Thursday. The plan calls for the team to fly down that night with Spiceland leaving Wednesday and meeting the team in Texas.

After a home series May 16-18, Indiana State goes back to Normal for the MVC Tournament, which is slated for May 21-25.

NCAA Regionals are May 31-June 3 at campus sites with Super Regionals June 7-10 at campus sites and the College World Series June 15-29 in Omaha, Neb.

Whenever the last trip of the season comes for Spiceland and the Sycamores, he will stand at the front of the bus and tell them the same thing he tells each team.

“Guys, this is the last ride,” says Spiceland. “We will never ever be together again as this group of men.”

As the senior disembark in Terre Haute, the seniors have real tears in their eyes and they give Spiceland a hug.

“They say, Dan-O, we may never see you again,” says Spiceland. “But you’ve been like a dad or like a grandpa to us and we’ll never forget that.”

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Indiana State University baseball head coach says of team bus driver and mentor, Dan Spiceland: “Every team should have a grandfather in the dugout.” (Indiana State University Photo)

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Dan Spiceland aka “Dan-O” has been a bus driver and mentor for the Indiana State University baseball team since 2010. He is employed by Terre Haute-based Turner Motor Coaches. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

West Terre Haute ‘good guy’ Lucas continues to learn the pro baseball life

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Lucas wants to move up to the big leagues just like any other Triple-A baseball player.

Lucas is not like every minor leaguer in the way he involves himself with the community.

The West Terre Haute, Ind., native is known to spend hours signing autographs or visiting children in the hospital. He has done it as he’s moved up the chain in the Cleveland Indians organization and he does it as a catcher/first baseman for the International League’s Columbus Clippers.

“It’s always good for me to get a perspective and worry less about my problems,” says Lucas, who plans to get even more involved in the community as he and wife Kelsey (the couple was married in Terre Haute in December 2016 and former Indiana State University teammates were part of the wedding party) spend the off-season in Columbus.

On the field, Lucas is soaking up as much knowledge as he can while making the most of his chances as a bench player. Through games of July 20, the sixth-year professional has appeared in 16 games during the 2017 season. He appeared in four games for Columbus after 95 with Double-A Akron in 2016.

“There’s a lot to learn,” says Lucas, 26. “There’s lot of veteran guys here. I see how other guys go about their business.”

Lucas began learning the business in 2012. After earning ISU’s first Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award in the spring of ’12, he was taken by the Indians in 12th round of that summer’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his first pro stop in the New York-Penn League at Mahoning Valley.

A catcher much of his baseball life, Lucas has learned to play other places on the diamond.

“Once you start moving up in levels, versatility is a big thing,” says Lucas. “When I get my opportunities, I need to take advantage of them.

“I just try to go about my work the same everyday. I catch bullpens, take BP, do whatever I can keep up with the speed of the day, which can be difficult when you’re not playing everyday.”

Even used on the mound five times this season, Lucas is 1-0 as a pitcher.

Lucas was a West Terre Haute Little League all-star prior to high school, played with various travel baseball teams including the Indiana Bulls and one summer for Terre Haute American Legion Post 346.

The 2009 West Vigo High School graduate played his prep baseball for Steve DeGroote, a 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee.

“He taught me a lot of things about the game and lot of things about life,” Lucas says of DeGroote. “He was one of the most inspirational guys I’ve had in my career along with my dad (Mike Lucas).

“It was an honor that I got to play for (Coach DeGroote). I owe a lot of what I am now.

You knew what he wanted out of his players. He treated us like men even though some of us might not have been yet.

“He taught us how to play the game right. He was all about being a good person.”

Lucas fondly recalls his final high school season and how DeGroote pushed the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish with Lucas being named L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner.

“Every year he would tell us the same thing: This is the best team I’ve ever had on paper,” says Lucas. “My senior year — the best year we’ve ever had in West Vigo history — he never once said it. He was harder on us that year than any of my four years. He was hard on us. But he knew we had a special team and he wasn’t going to take it easy on us. He wasn’t going to let us get big heads.”

Lucas remembers the 2009 team showing up at the school each morning at 6:30 and working to get better even after the regular season was underway.

Mike Lucas, an accountant and lawyer in Terre Haute, has also taught work ethic to his ball-playing son.

“Nothing’s going to be given to you. You have to go out and take it,” says Jeremy of his father’s advice. “I wouldn’t be where I am today with all my dad’s done for me.

“He’s always been there for me.”

Lucas played three years of college baseball at ISU in Terre Haute. Then-Sycamores head coach Rick Heller (now head coach at the University of Iowa) taught his standout receiver about being a good teammate.

It is a lesson he practices in pro baseball, where things are very competitive at the upper levels with players fighting for playing time and the right to move up.

Lucas says it took him some time to adjust to the team dynamic in the minors.

“What I’ve learned is if you’re making your teammates better and you’re making yourself better, that’s the best of both worlds,” says Lucas. “I’ve been on teams that don’t have a lot of guys that do that and I been on teams that do

“It’s a lot more enjoyable when all the guys have the same mindset.”

The nature of Triple-A baseball is plenty of roster moves caused by injuries, trades and on-field performance. That’s given Lucas a chance to meet new faces and to begin pulling with that player.

“When guys move up or down, they just fit right in,” says Lucas. “It’s about being a good teammate and being a good guy.”

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Jeremy Lucas, a 2009 West Vigo High School graduate, began his professional baseball career in 2012 and his now at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland Indians organization. (Columbus Clippers Photo)