Tag Archives: University of Saint Francis (Ind.)

Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

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Hershberger pouring baseball passion into new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Twice in a lifetime.

Lance Hershberger is starting another college baseball program in his native Fort Wayne.

Hershberger, who turns 62 Friday, June 9, built the Indiana Tech program from the ground up (1991-2003) and took the Warriors to multiple NAIA College World Series trips.

Now, Hershberger is heading up the new squad at Ivy Tech Northeast — the third community college baseball program in Indiana, following Vincennes University and Ancilla College. It also brings the number of Indiana college programs at all levels to 36.

Hershberger and his assistants — Connor Wilkins, Dru Sebastian, Todd Armstrong and and Mark Delagarza — are currently on the recruiting trail for the Ivy Tech Northeast Titans, which will field a team in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II in 2017-18. Teams are allowed to play 56 spring games with more contests in the fall.

Hershberger would like to carry about a 25 players the first year. That’s a minimum of four outfielders, three middle infielders, four corner infielders, three of four catchers and as many pitchers as he can get.

“If we get 100 kids in here for visits, we’ll meet our 25,” says Hershberger. “The excitement level’s there.”

As an NJCAA D-II school, Ivy Tech Northeast is eligible to provide athletic scholarships limited to tuition, books, fees, and course required supplies. The school is researching the possibility of joining a conference in the region.

Hershberger, who was inducted last weekend into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame and coaches the Summit City Sluggers 16U travel team which includes son Grant (daughter Maddie just graduated from Homestead High School), is educating folks about community college baseball.

“I think there’s really a place for a JUCO here in northern Indiana,” says Hershberger. “In Indiana there’s a big void of knowledge about junior college. A lot of players think it’s a step down (from NCAA Divisions I, II and II and NAIA).

“You go south and you go west and they understand what they’re about.”

Hershberger, a Wawasee Prepatory School and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne graduate (he also attended the University of Saint Francis) who has also coached high school ball at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Whitko and with the Wildcat Baseball League, lists some of the main reasons a player chooses a junior college:

1. His grades weren’t good enough to go to a four-year school.

2. Maybe he was drafted and didn’t get the round or the money he wanted and doesn’t want to wait until after his junior year to get drafted again.

3. He’s not big enough yet or needs to work on his skills.

The top two objectives when Hershberger was flying high at Indiana Tech were compete for the national championships (during Hershberger’s tenure, the Warriors won 407 games and were NAIA World Series runner-up in 1998 and a fifth-place finisher in 2003 as well as a World Series participant in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 ) and send players on to the professional ranks.

While winning is important, development and getting a player ready for the next level will be the top priorities at Ivy Tech Northeast.

“Every program I run or am coaching for is going to compete we want to win,” says Hershbeger. “But we’re going to get kids ready.”

Hershberger (Kansas City Kansas), Wilkins (Jackson of Michigan) and Sebastian (Owens of Ohio) all played community college baseball. Hershberger is excited that Ivy Tech Northeast chancellor Jerrilee Mosier once worked at Allen Community College in Iola, Kan., which is in the same conference at KCK.

“She gets it,” says Hershberger of Mosier. “She knows what it takes.

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right or I’m not in. You can be a great coach at the college level, but if you don’t have the resources to get players it doesn’t matter.”

State Representative Bob Morris has also helped make baseball at Ivy Tech Northeast a reality.

Hershberger notes all the ties to northeast Indiana with the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College team that won the 2017 NJCAA Division II World Series.

Assistant coach Bryce Shafer (Northfield High School) played for the Sluggers, Valparaiso University and in the Chicago Cubs organization. KCC’s 2017 roster included Logan Gallaway (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Noah Hoeffel (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Devin Peters (Churubusco), Pancho Luevano (West Noble), Waylon Richardson (West Noble) and Brennan Kelly (Southwood) plus Indiana products Benjamin Clevenger (Carmel) and Caleb Matthews (RoncallIi).

“We hope to keep some of (the local talent) home,” says Hershberger, “We would eventually like to recruit nationally, but I don’t think we can every forget that we are a community college.”

The NCAA D-I College World Series is slated for June 17-27/28. Hershberger promises that the eight teams in Omaha will have rosters with plenty of players from junior colleges.

Hershberger signed on at Indiana Tech in late July, meaning that it was too late in the recruiting cycle to bring in much talent and the first squad went 0-23.

“I think it better positioned starting out than Indiana Tech was,” says Hershberger. “People find that hard to believe because they look at the stadium down there (at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Anthony Road) which I designed. They see the end product.”

All that happened over time. When Indiana Tech was national runners-up in 1998, the Warrior Field had one set of bleachers behind a chain link backstop (most fans sat on the berm), wooden bleachers and the “press box” was a card table with scoreboard controller.

“There’s going to be bumps,” says Hershberger of the Ivy Tech Northeast program. “There’s going to be naysayers. Indiana Tech was the same way.

“(Baseball) put vibrancy into that school. We’re hoping to do it again.”

As he does with all his other baseball ventures, Hershberger is bringing passion and “ridiculous attention to detail.”

He has already been checking on the facilities at Ivy Tech Northeast’s North and South campuses, picked out “old school” green and white uniform designs, met with planners on a baseball stadium (the Titans are likely to play home games at Shoaff Park until a field can be constructed on the north campus behind the Innovation Center on Stellhorn Road), talked with local patrons about funding and on and on.

“I’m really busy,” says Hershberger. “I’m really tired. But it’s a good tired. I’m really fulfilling what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m involved in all kinds of baseball stuff in Fort Wayne.

“It’s what I do. I’m a baseball coach, a baseball guy.”

Besides getting Ivy Tech baseball up and running, he’s also the executive director of Community Impact Zone, a non-profit organization that is partnering with groups like Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana and the Euell Wilson Center bring the game to intercity kids at Fort Wayne’s Strike Zone Training Center, 4141 N. Clinton.

Ivy Tech will also do its indoor workouts at the facility.

“It’s a been a dream of mine for a long time, this urban initiative,” says Hershberger. “I don’t want to walk away from it right when I’m finally getting it going. I don’t want kids to limit their options or their horizons. I want them to look at baseball as a viable option for college and beyond.

Many area high schools have already volunteered to the Community Impact Zone instructors.

Hershberger is working with urban leaders to get young adults from the community to observe his coaches so they can take knowledge back to their neighborhoods and maybe rejuvenate local youth leagues.

“I love teaching the game,” says Hershberger.

He does that for players from college age on down to kindergartners.

Baseball. It’s what he does.

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Lance Hershberger has been involved in many baseball ventures in his hometown of Fort Wayne in his 62 years. The latest include the new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program along with Community Impact Zone. (Steve Krah Photo)