Tag Archives: Upland

Move to Oakland City U. proves productive for Pinckert

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Pinckert was productive in his first baseball season at Oakland (Ind.) City University in 2022.
Playing mostly left field with a few of his 46 games at right field and second base, Pinckert hit .269 (42-of-156) with six home runs, one triple, 10 doubles, 38 runs batted in and 43 runs scored plus eight stolen bases with the 31-23 Mighty Oaks. He amassed 14 assists (mostly from the outfield).
After three seasons at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio (2019-21), the 2018 graduate of Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., transferred to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., for the fall of 2021 and wound up at NAIA member Oakland City for spring semester. He plans to return in the fall while changing his primary position.
OCU head coach Andy Lasher wants to put him back in the infield in 2023 so Pinckert has been playing there this summer with the Ohio Valley League’s Muhlenburg (Ky.) County Stallions — recently at third base for a Mark Silva-managed team. He went to the outfield in the spring of 2022 since the Mighty Oaks had three fifth-year seniors in the infield.
Sam, who turns 22 on June 20, is the only child of Dennis and Mona Pinckert of Santa Claus, Ind. Dennis Pinckert works for a cabinet manufacturer. Mona Pinckert is heading into an accounting job with a trucking company. It’s about 40 miles from Santa Claus Oakland City, making it easier for them to attend Sam’s games.
Besides his parents, Sam Pinckert considers two men named Andy — Heritage Hills coach Andy Fischer and Oakland City coach Andy Lasher — as mentors.
“Coach Fischer is probably the most personable head coach I’ve ever had,” says Pinckert. “He had personality and a relationship with the players. As a teacher, he would have them in class and see them throughout the day.
“(Lasher) keeps me level-headed big time. He slows me down and works me through everything.”
His college coach also keeps tabs on Pinckert the person, calling him once or twice a week to check up on him.
“I can talk with him about anything,” says Pinckert of Lasher.
Speed and strength are two qualities that have served Sam well on the diamond.
“I’m just a compact athlete,” says the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Pinckert. “I just use my strength in certain ways. I have power though I’m a smaller guy.”
Another plus for Pinckert is the mental side.
“I just know the game very well,” says Pinckert, who is pursuing a Sport Management degree with a minor in Coaching.
Righty-swinging Pinckert describes his approach to hitting.
“I’m looking for a ball on the outer half and I’m trying to take it out to in,” says Pinckert. “I want to take the ball to right or right-center.”
Pinckert was born in Evansville and grew up in Santa Claus.
“Travel ball is really what got me going in baseball and got me a step ahead,” says Pinckert, who has donned the jerseys of the Spikes, Ironmen, Kentuckiana Elite, Avon Hurricanes and Outlaws. Kentuckiana Elite featured many future college players, including Castle High School graduate Brodey Heaton at Belmont University and Paducah Tilghman High School alum Jackson Fristoe at Mississippi State University.
Pinckert’s last travel ball stop was with the A.J. Curtis-coached Outlaws.
He was with the Avon Hurricanes the summer after high school graduation and Rockport American Legion Post 254 in the summer of 2019. He broke his hand during the regional final against Floyds Knobs Post 44 and and still went on a designated hitter wearing a cast on his right hand.
In high school, Pinckert was on the cross country and swim teams and played four years of varsity baseball — three for Greg Gogel and one for Fischer.
“He was a very competitive guy,” says Pinckert of Gogel. “We always kind of piggybacked off of that.
“He knew what he was talking about.”
Pincer was mostly a pitcher for the Patriots as a sophomore and junior and was a utility player as a senior, earning the Cy Young Award for pitching and also playing third base and second base.
Through National Scouting Report (NSR), Pinckert went to a camp and was offered a roster spot by then-Muskies assistant and recruiting coordinator Mike Mulvey at NCAA Division III Muskingum. He started every game at shortstop for head coach Gregg Thompson as a freshman in 2019, hitting .282 (33-of-117). A torn labrum and the COVID-19 pandemic limited him to five games in 2020. Still recovering from injury, he saw action in just 12 contests in 2021.
Pinckert took batting practice and did not play for a team in the summer of 2020. In 2021, he was with the OVL’s Vic Evans-managed Owensboro (Ky.) RiverDawgs.

Sam Pinckert (Oakland City University Photo)
Sam Pinckert (Muhlenburg County Stallions Photo)
Sam Pinckert (S&S Photos)
Sam Pinckert (S&S Photos)

NAIA RBI leader Bass, Taylor University heading into postseason play

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

T.J. Bass came out of the gate producing at the plate in 2022.
The righty swinger in his fourth baseball season at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., knocked in two run in the Trojans’ campaign-opening win against Kansas Wesleyan in Mesa, Ariz.
Heading into the Crossroads League tournament which begins May 7 at Taylor (note the change because of rain), Bass leads all of NAIA in runs batted in with 84.
Besides that, he’s hitting .382 (71-of-186) with 19 home runs, 14 doubles, 51 runs scored and a 1.254 OPS (.491 on-base percentage plus .763 slugging average).
“I need to start by giving credit to the guys batting before me,” says Bass of his big RBI total. “It seems like I come up with two or three guys on every time.”
Bass, who looks to be aggressive and barrel the ball up on the first good pitch he sees per at-bat, has been used by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould primarily in the No. 3 spot in the batting order with a few games in the 2-hole. He’s often found senior Nick Rusche (.337 with 63 hits) and freshman Kaleb Kolpein (.403 with 77 hits) — and for awhile — sophomore Camden Knepp (.282 with 44 hits)— reaching base before him. Rusche prepped at New Palestine (Ind.) High School, Kolpein at Homestead (Fort Wayne) and Knepp at Northridge (Middelbury).
“The back half the lineup has also been pretty good,” says Bass, a 2018 graduate of Greenwood (Ind,) Community.
Of his 19 homers, Bass has clouted three grand slams (vs. Reinhardt in Waleska, Ga., vs. Olivet Nazarene in Athens, Tenn., and vs. Indiana Wesleyan in Upland), four three-run bombs, seven two-run dingers and five solo shots. The enjoyed two-homer games against Reinhardt and Mount Vernon Nazarene.
Bass belted 14 circuit clouts in Crossroads League regular-season play.
Taylor (36-16) is the No. 2 seed in the eight-team Crossroads League tournament. Regular-season champion Mount Vernon Nazarene is No. 1.
The turf at Winterholter Field will also be the site of an NAIA Opening Round May 16-19.
“It’s incredible,” says Bass of playing at the facility located in the heart of the TU campus that was resurfaced after the 2021 season. “Coach Gould takes huge pride in how the field looks and it’s awesome to see so many fans come out.”
Bass has started in all 52 of the Trojans’ games in 2022, mostly in center field or right field. But he’s also been used as a catcher and first baseman. During his college career, he’s played everywhere but the middle infield and on the mound.
“It’s wherever the team needs me most based on who’s healthy if we need an offensive day or a defensive day,” says Bass. “Coach Gould does a good job of looking at Synergy in scouting teams.”
Taylor players watch videos of opposing hitters and pitchers to study their strengths weaknesses.
At 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, Bass has gotten physically stronger and faster since arriving on-campus thanks to off-season programs led by assistant coach Justin Barber as well as Gould.
When Bass arrived at Taylor in 2018-19, Josh Lane and Wyatt Whitman were seniors.
“They they were both huge role models taking a freshman and hour and a half from home under their wings,” says Bass. “They took the strain off.”
Bass was asked how they could help and if they could pray for him.
When Whitman moved on and acted jersey No. 11, Bass took it.
It was also during his first year at Taylor that Bass was undecided on a major. He landed on Elementary Education.
A camp counselor at a community recreation center since his junior year of high school and the son of high school teacher (Andy Bass) and pre-kindergarten teacher (Jenni Bass) with other educators on both sides of the family, T.J. sees that as a natural career path.
“I’ve been around teaching my whole life,” says Bass. “I really love to be able to work with kids and I like getting to know them and finding their interests.
“It didn’t feel like I would do as well with secondary (students). God was calling me to work with elementary.”
Andy Bass teaches Algebra II and Geometry at Greenwood Community, where he has been head baseball coach since 1998. Jenni Bass ran her own daycare for more than a decade and now works at Waverly Elementary School in the Mooresville corporation.
Timothy James Bass, 22, is the oldest of Andy and Jenni’s four kids. Sam Bass is two years younger than T.J. and living and working in Fort Wayne. Mary Bass is a Greenwood Community freshman. Claire Bass is a sixth grader in the Mooresville system.
T.J. was born and raised in Greenwood and played Little League baseball there. Around fifth grade, he played with the traveling Johnson County Jaguars. The summers following his freshman and sophomore years were spent with the Indiana Bulls. The next summer he played for the Indiana Nitro then was with Demand Command right before and right after his freshman year at Taylor.
Bass did not play during the COVID-19 summer of 2020. In 2021, he split his time between the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
With an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, Bass plans to come back for a fifth season at Taylor in 2023. He expects to do his student teaching this fall.

T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)
T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)

T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)
T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)

Stull joins seasoned group with top-ranked Southeastern U.

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

At 23 and in his fifth season, Eston Stull is a college baseball veteran.
The right-handed pitcher finds himself surrounded by many other seasoned players as part of a Southeastern University team ranked No. 1 in NAIA.
“The best part of this team is humble confidence,” says Stull of the Lakeland, Fla.-based Fire. “You look in the dugout and they’re not nervous. Even if we’re down, they have the confidence that somebody is going to pick them up.
“It’s a team that almost coaches itself. Having that veteran presence has helped this team a lot.”
Stull, a 2017 graduate of Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, played four seasons at Indiana University-Kokomo (2018-21) while earning degrees in Finance and Management.
In 51 mound appearances (27 starts), Stull went 13-4 with a 4.57 earned run average. He amassed 187 strikeouts and 89 walks in 159 2/3 innings.
Matt Howard left the IUK program as head coach and Stull — who was granted an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic — began exploring his options.
“I reached out on Twitter,” says Stull. Those Tweets drew the attention of SEU assistant coach/recruiting director Mike Mendoza and Stull corresponded with him and head coach Adrian Dinkel while pitching in the summer of 2021 for the Northwoods League’s Kokomo Jackrabbits.
Stull decided to join a program that went 51-9 and competed in the 2021 NAIA World Series. Excluding the 2020 COVID season, Southeastern has posted four straight 50-win campaigns and is closing in on a fifth in 2022. Going into The Sun Conference tournament May 5-8 in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Fire is 47-3.
The NAIA Opening Round is slated for May 16-19. Taylor University in Upland, Ind., is one the 10 sites and the SEU could be assigned there which is about 40 miles northeast of Pendleton.
In 14 games (13 in relief), graduate student Stull is 0-0 with 0 saves and a 2.11 ERA. The righty has 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 21 1/3 innings.
Graduate assistant Connor Dailey, who was a reliever 2015-18 at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C., is Southeastern’s pitching coach.
“He’s somewhat our age and easy to talk to,” says Stull of Dailey. “He trusts all of us and let’s us stick to our own routine.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Stull has made the adjustment from starter to relief pitcher.
“I think I fit better in the bullpen for this team,” says Stull, who mixes a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up from a high three-quarter arm angle.
His four-seamer sits 92 to 93 mph and recently reach 97. His curve has a 12-to-6 action. He throws what he calls a “gyro” slider.
“It goes down like a reverse change-up,” says Stull. “I look at the Rapsodo (motion capture system) and try to keep the spin efficiency below 12 and the RPM’s up (he averages 2800 with the pitch).
Stull began throwing his change-up more last summer.
“I have a good shape for it,” says Stull. “It’s just finding the time to get comfortable throwing it in-game.”
Away from the diamond, Stull is working toward a Master of Business Administration and expects to take summer classes and finish as soon as possible. His coaches are looking to place him with a team.
“I want to see how far baseball will take me,” says Stull. “I don’t want to have any regrets.”
Born in Pendelton to Todd and Misty Stull, Eston grew up around the area and played what is now known as Pendleton Junior Baseball/Softball and then in travel ball, including time with the Indiana Nitro.
At Pendleton Heights, his head coach was Travis Keesling.
“I struggled my junior year and did not pitch much,” says Stull. “Coach Keesling sat me down and said you need to figure it out.”
Stull began training with Greg Vogt — first at VIP and then PRP Baseball (in Noblesville, Ind.).
“I had a great senior year,” says Stull.
He still stays in-touch with Vogt.
“I’ve reached out to him a couple of times with tips,” says Stull of the former Carmel (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University hurler who has moved his family to Florida and added rehab pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays system to his PRP Baseball duties.
All three of Todd and Misty’s sons are in college. Eston’s younger brother Walker Stull pitches at Anderson U., and has trained with his at PRP Baseball. The youngest — Harrison Stull — is a student at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Their parents have moved to Jacksonville, Fla.

Eston Stull (Southeastern University Photo)
Eston Stull (Southeastern University Photo)

At 24, Taylor U. grad Waddups coaching pitchers for Mount Vernon Nazarene

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tucker Waddups got his first taste of coaching right out of high school. A half decade later, it’s his career.
Waddups, who is now pitching coach at Mount Vernon (Ohio) Nazarene University at the age of 24, graduated from Pioneer Junior/Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind., in 2016 and began giving pitching lessons to youngsters around Cass County.
“I really started to fall in love with it,” says Waddups of sharing his baseball knowledge. “I got work with guys one-on-one, see what made guys tick and do trial-and-error things. I’d what worked and didn’t work.”
A native of Logansport, Ind., Waddups grew up near Cicott Lake, played youth baseball at Rea Park next to Pioneer Elementary from age 4 to 12 followed by Babe Ruth League Baseball in Rochester, Ind., at 13U, the Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws from 14U to 16U, the Ken Niles-coached Indiana Mustangs at 17U and the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays at 18U. He was with the Mike Farrell-coached Brewers Fall Scout Team at 16U and Kevin Christman-coach Giants Fall Scout Team at 17U. He went to Farrell for pitching lessons from age 12 until the end of the high school career.
A right-handed pitcher-only in travel ball and college, Waddups was also a shortstop and first baseman at Pioneer while playing four years for Panthers head coach Rick Farrer.
“We still stay in-touch,” says Waddups of Farrer. “He’s a great man.”
Wads was a four-team all-Loganland, all-Hoosier North Athletic Conference and team captain at Pioneer, where he set career records for earned run average, strikeouts, wins, home runs and runs batted in. As a senior, he was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-State, an IHSBCA North All-Star and Loganland and HNAC Player of the Year.
With a few exceptions, father Murl Waddups coached Tucker on most of his teams growing up. He got to have his father on his staff with the Nitro.
Waddups spent the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017 with the Anderson (Ind.) University baseball team. Dustin Glant (now pitching coach at Indiana University) was Ravens head coach until the end of the fall semester then Drew Brantley (now head coach at Indiana University Kokomo) took over.
A transfer to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., gave Waddups the opportunity to play for head coach Kyle Gould and pitching coach Justin Barber. With an extra COVID-19 season, he suited up for the Trojans for four seasons (2018-21).
“It was definitely a good experience playing for Coach Gould,” says Waddups. “He knows the game well. He’s won a lot of baseball games.
With Gould and Barber, it’s all about player development and getting guys better every year. They did a really good job of taking care of us and making sure we had everything we needed to be successful. It was four of the best years of my life.”
Waddups majored in Sport Management and minored in Coaching at Taylor.
In the summer of 2019, Joel Mishler gave Waddups the chance to coach at 13U team for the Indiana Chargers travel organization founded and directed by Mishler.
“I absolutely loved it,” says Waddups. “It was a blast.”
One of Waddups’ Chargers players was Kai Aoki, son of then-Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki (now head coach at Morehead State University).
“I got to know Mik real well,” says Waddups. “I still talk with him.”
Chad Newhard had been a Taylor assistant and was affiliated with the Indiana Nitro and that relationship led to Waddups coaching at 15U Nitro team in the summer of 2020.
After wrapping his playing career in the spring of 2021, Waddups served as pitching coach for the college wood bat Northwoods League’s Hayden Carter-managed Kokomo Jackrabbits. Waddups pitched for Kokomo in 2017 and 2018 when Gary McClure was Jackrabbits manager.
“He knows how to win really well,” says Waddups of McClure. “He won a lot of games at Austin Peay (University).”
Waddups is slated to head back to the Northwoods League in the summer of 2022 as the pitching coach for the Travese City (Mich.) Pit Spitters. He got to know Traverse City manager Josh Rebandt through frequent meetings between Kokomo and the Spitters in 2021.
The coaching position at Mount Vernon Nazarene came about when Cougars head coach Keith Veale let friend and fellow Crossroads League head coach Gould know about a need for an assistant to guide pitchers and help with recruiting.
Veale and Waddups spoke during the Crossroads League tournament and Waddups saw an MVNU practice before the NAIA Opening Round and decided to take the job.
“I work every single day with pitchers and do their programming,” says Waddups, who also recruits and runs camps. “It’s definitely something I want to do the rest of my life.”
Home Designs by Waddups (formerly Waddups Improvements) is Murl’s business.
Kim Waddups runs a daycare out of her home.
“She taught me a lot about life,” says Tucker. “We’ve gotten really, really close since I went to college.”
Trey Waddups (Pioneer Class of 2018) is Tucker’s younger brother. He played baseball and basketball in high school and is the Panthers’ all-time scoring leader in basketball. He played one season of baseball and is in his third in basketball at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.

Tucker Waddups (Kokomo Jackrabbits Photo)
Tucker Waddups (Kokomo Jackrabbits Photo)

Kinzer enjoys baseball bonds as player, scout, agent, coach

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Kinzer has an eye for baseball talent.
The former Norwell High School (Ossian, Ind.) and Purdue University athlete who played in the majors and the National Football League was living in Fort Wayne, Ind., when he became an amateur scout in 1995 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Kinzer was responsible for assessing amateur players in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Ontario and Quebec.
After five years with Tampa Bay, Kinzer spent a decade as a baseball agent for Reynolds Sports Management, whose owner and CEO is Larry Reynolds (older brother of big league second baseman Harold Reynolds).
“I was his recruiting coordinator for the whole country,” says Kinzer. “We hoped these amateurs are going to make the big leagues and get paid.”
Among others, Kinzer got the Upton brothers — B.J. and Justin — to commit to the company.
LaTroy Hawkins, a Gary, Ind., native who pitched in 1,042 games over 21 MLB seasons, was also a Kinzer client and later went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
At the 2010 Winter Meetings, Dan Jennings (who had been with the Devil Rays) hired Kinzer as a pro scout for the Miami Marlins.
Kinzer went to minor league games and an occasional major league contest to evaluate players and file reports for potential trade opportunities.
The first year he scouted the entire Midwest League out of Fort Wayne. During his five years with the Marlins, he also did international scouting in the Dominican Republic.
While Kinzer was still with the Marlins, the Atlanta Braves called for permission to interview him to scout on the major league side and take on special assignments. He talked with general manager John Coppolella and accepted the deal.
“That gave me a seat at the big table,” says Kinzer, who worked with top executives including president John Hart and senior advisor John Schuerholz in giving opinions and developing a preferential list of who could be traded and who was hands-off in the Braves minor league system. “It took us a couple of years to turn that club around.”
Kinzer also did advanced scouting to check out possible playoff opponents for Atlanta. He had the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League and Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League.
Because of COVID-19 and budgetary reasons, the Braves dismissed the entire major league scouting staff toward the end of the 2020 season.
Leading up to the Tokyo Olympics (which were postponed from 2020 to 2021), Kinzer selected by his peers to sit on the committee that chose Team USA. They started with a big pool and narrowed it down to the final roster.
“It was hard assignment because you could only get guys not on a 40-man roster or had get permission from a club for them to play,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to be part of the decision-making for our country.”
When Kinzer joined the process, Joe Girardi was Team USA manager. When Girardi became Philadelphia Phillies manager the job was passed to Scott Brosius and it wound up with Mike Scioscia.
“I got to listen to Joe Girardi on how he likes to design a team and I said to myself, ‘this is pretty cool,’” says Kinzer. “It was a very humbling experience. You put all those years into working the game of baseball and someone has recognized your ability to evaluate.”
More recently, Kinzer has lent his appraisal skills as a consultant for Program 15 — a part of New Balance Future Stars baseball tournaments. He lives in Lakeland, Fla., and writes player reports on weekends.
Kinzer is also a special events coordinator and fundraising director for Major League Fishing — a circuit that features the world’s top bass anglers.
He is helping prepare for a charity fishing event featuring current and former major leaguers Nov. 19-21 in Guntersville, Ala.
“I’ve spent three decades in the game professionally building trust with current and former guys and their second love is fishing,” says Kinzer. “I grew up on a pond and I liked fishing.”
Participants have baseball and angling in common.
“There’s a connection there,” says Kinzer. “They have a tight fraternity. They’re good old boys.”
Kinzer played youth baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Colin Lister and graduated from Norwell in 1981.
As a sophomore, it was discovered how well he did in booting a football and he led Indiana high schoolers in punting as a junior and senior. He went to Purdue on a full ride in football and also played baseball.
He was selected in the second round of the 1984 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cardinals and made his MLB debut in 1989 at age 25 and went on to pitch nine games for the 1989 Cardinals and 1990 Detroit Tigers. He punted seven times in his one NFL game with the Detroit Lions with a long of 42 yards in Week 5 of 1987 against the Green Bay Packers.
Kinzer, 58, has three sons who all played baseball and graduated from Homestead High School in Fort Wayne.
Taylor Kinzer (33) was drafted twice as a right-handed pitcher — once at the end of his high school career in 2006 in the 34th round by the Washington Nationals and then out of Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) in the 24th round in 2009 by the Los Angeles Angels and competed three seasons in the minors.
Derek Kinzer (31) was an outfielder for IHSAA Class 4A state runner Homestead in 2008, graduated in 2009 and also played at Taylor.
Jordan Kinzer (29) played junior college baseball and now serves in the U.S. Navy.
Matt Kinzer, a Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer, was head baseball coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in 1993 and 1994 and a volunteer assistant coach at Taylor 2011-14 and got to work with Trojans head coach Kyle Gould and assistant and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson.
‘Kyle is one of the best non-Division I coaches around,” says Kinzer. “It was an honor to share a bench with Coach A.
“The game itself creates a fraternity and a bond that lasts forever.”

Matt Kinzer.

Wapahani, Ball State graduate Wilburn takes over Delta baseball program

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The way Devin Wilburn sees it, life is about timing.
Just when he and his wife were looking to move closer to home and family for the arrival of their first child, a job opportunity opened up.
Teacher Devin and nurse Maddie Wilburn were living in Florida when the chance to come to come back to the Muncie, Ind., area came as daughter Tatum was on the way.
Tatum is now 2 months old and Devin (who turned 30 on Sept. 18) is the head baseball coach and a physical education teacher at Delta High School.
Delta (enrollment around 800) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).
In 2021, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Delta has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2016.
The Wilburns reside in Selma, about 10 minutes from both sets of grandparents and in the same town where they graduated from Wapahani High School.
Devin went 24-9 and struck out 309 batters while while walking 79 in 203 1/3 innings while playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley and graduating in 2010.
“A lot of stuff fell in place,” says Devin Wilburn, who comes to the Eagles after spending the 2021 season as an assistant to head coach Kyle Gould at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., after one spring season (2020) as head coach at Countryside High School in Clearwater Fla.
Wilburn, who holds a Sport Administration degree (2014) and Masters in Sport Administration (2016) from Ball State University, was an assistant to head coach Rich Maloney at BSU in Muncie in 2019 after spending the fall of 2018 on Matt Bair’s staff at Anderson (Ind.) University. He was the pitching coach at Taylor 2015-18.
A left-handed pitcher, Wilburn played three seasons for head coaches Alex Marconi (2011 and 2012) and Maloney (2015).
At 20, Wilburn had a colon procedure and spent the better part of two years recuperating then returned to the diamond with the Cardinals.
“It was a cool ending to my career,” says Wilburn. “I working out with my best friend, Jon Keesling (who played at Wapahani then Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion).
“My ball was moving pretty good. Maybe I’ll give (a comeback) a shot.”
Wilburn made the team and in 27 mound appearances (26 in relief) went 4-2 for a 33-25 squad that played in the Mid-American Conference championship game in 2015.
“That last year I got to play changed my life in so many ways,” says Wilburn. It was through Ball State volunteer assistant Rhett Goodmiller that he was connected with Taylor.
The summer before joining the Trojans, Wilburn was the head coach of the Indiana Prospects 17U national travel team. The talented club featured future Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft first-round pick J.J. Bleday plus two others now in the minors — Gianluca Dalatri and Sean Mooney — with the help of father Bryan Wilburn.
Wilburn has formed his coaching philosophy through the men he played for and coached with — Dudley, Maloney and Gould — and more.
“Along the way you make it yours,” says Wilburn. “You learn from coaching conventions and podcasts and put your own spin on it.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some really good baseball teams and coaches.
“Coach Dudley and I have a real good relationship. He just does things the right way. He was my first mentor. I learned so much from him.
“He had such a high expectation for us. He let us shine with what we were good at.”
Devin, the only child of Bryan and Missie Wilburn, moved from Muncie to Selma in the fourth grade and his first teacher was Jason Dudley, Brian’s son and a longtime Wapahani baseball assistant.
“I was part of those good traditions that shape your life in so many ways,” says Wilburn, who counted three former Wapahani teammates in the wedding party when he married Maddie a little over three years ago. “I’m so grateful to go through that program.
“I look back fondly on my high school days.”
A youth baseball coach for several decades, Russell Wilburn had a field named in his honor in Muncie’s Chambers Park when Devin was a young boy.
Bryan Wilburn and brother Dan both played baseball at Muncie Central High School and Bryan went on to the diamond life at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and Dan to Valparaiso University.
After being recruited by Greg Beals, playing for Marconi and then Maloney, the latter hired him as an assistant.
“I wore many hats,” says Wilburn. “I got to work with catchers and some with outfielders. My end goal was to find a head coaching job at small college or high school.
“I wanted to be a well-rounded coach.”
Wilburn is appreciative of Blake Beemer, who was a Cardinals teammate and then a coaching colleague.
“I’m grateful for his mentorship,” says Wilburn of Beemer. “I also coached with Dustin Glant. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever heard talk about pitching.”
Gould gave Wilburn his first crack at college coaching.
“He is probably the best mentor in my life,” says Wilburn. “I’ve learned so much from him from the baseball and the life perspective
“He opened my eyes in so many different ways. I could not be more grateful for the time I spent over there learning from him. (Taylor) is a wonderful place.”
It was at Taylor that Wilburn also got to be on staff with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson and Justin Barber.
“Coach A forgot more about baseball than what I knew,” says Wilburn. “Justin and I had a good relationship when we recruited his players when he was with the Indiana Chargers.”
At Delta, Wilburn has hired former Ball State teammate Scott Baker as his pitching coach with other assistant hires pending school board approval.
The Eagles play on Veteran’s Field.
“We’ve got a couple of projects,” says Wilburn, whose been assessing Delta’s baseball needs since taking the job. “We’ve got a nice facility and a real supportive booster club.”
Feeders for Wilburn’s program include Delta Little League in Royerton and East Central Indiana junior high league run by Jason Dudley.
Current senior left-hander Nick Crabtree has committed to Taylor.
And Wilburn continues his love affair with the game.
Says the coach, “Baseball is what keeps me sane in life and forget the daily stress.”

Devin Wilburn (Delta High School Image)
The Wilburns (from left): Maddie, Tatum and Devin.
Devin and Maddie Wilburn with daughter Tatum.
Devin Wilburn (red pullover) with Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney (2), assistant Blake Beemer (24) and the Cardinals in 2019.
Devin Wilburn (right) coaches at Taylor University.
Devin Wilburn and the Taylor University baseball team celebrate a victory.
Devin Wilburn (second from left) with mentor and Taylor University head baseball coach Kyle Gould.

Taylor U. assistant Atkinson has seen so much baseball around Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Having Rick Atkinson around has given the baseball program at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., “second eyes” for the better part of the last two decades.

“I’m the Don Zimmer of the outfit,” says Atkinson, who has seen plenty on a diamond in his 73 years and has lent his insights to the Trojans for 18 years — the past 16 on a coaching staff headed by Kyle Gould

Bone cancer has not allowed the former Taylor player and longtime Gas City, Ind., resident to travel with the team on its 2021 trips to Arizona and Tennessee.

“I was looking forward to going,” says Atkinson, who tracks the 7-3 Trojans on the internet.

While COVID-19 precautions have also kept him away recently, Atkinson has shared plenty of diamond wisdom over the years.

“On the road, Kyle and I would be together and talk about baseball, the team and what-not,” says Atkinson. “We would not always agree. But when we left our room we were on the same page.”

Atkinson’s health no longer allows him, but he used to coach first base for the Trojans.

“I can’t move too quick,” says Atkinson. The cancer has eaten away his second vertebrae. “It’s good medicine to go over there when I don’t feel good.”

It had once been Atkinson’s responsibility to mow and water the grass and paint the lines at Winterholter Field. 

“All of the sudden we can’t do that,” says Atkinson.

With the advent of artificial turf, those staples of baseball coaching are no longer necessary.

Rick and Sondra Atkinson have three children who all live nearby — Molly and Abby in Gas City and Adam in Muncie. There are eight grandchildren.

“They love to come over to Taylor and hit in the barn or get in the new press box,” says Atkinson. 

A three-time Hall of Famer — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Grant County (Ind.) as an individual and Taylor University as part of a team — Atkinson was a standout third baseman for Jack King-coached Taylor teams from 1966-68 and played one season at Greenville (Ill.) College before playing in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Playing for NAIA Coach of the Year Bob Smith at Greenville in 1969, righty-swinging corner infielder Atkinson hit 12 home runs in 22 games and lead NAIA in homers per game (.55). He was also third in runs batted in per contest (1.55) while hitting .428. Greenville lost in the regional that year and Taylor went on to the NAIA World Series. Smith was also president of the International Baseball Federation that helped get the sport in the Olympics.

As a fast-pitch player, Atkinson helped the Plymouth Club Bombers to three Amateur Softball Association state titles and two runner-up finishes.

Atkinson was in secondary education for 38 years (physical education and health) — eight at Eastbrook High In Marion, Ind., and 30 at Mississinewa High in Gas City. 

At Eastbrook, he was on the football staff with Terry Hoeppner (who went on to be head coach at Miami University in Ohio and Indiana University) at Eastbrook. 

Before returning in 2005, Atkinson served Mississinewa for 24 years as the athletic director and 20 years as the Indians’ baseball coach. He was the North head coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1990.

It was while dining at Cracker Barrel that Atkinson ran into Larry Winterholter who asked him to join his coaching staff at Taylor.

“Will you come back and help me?” Atkinson says of Winterholter’s question. “I’ve been there ever since.”

Gould was a freshman during Atkinson’s first season as as Trojans coach.

“We developed a good relationship,” says Atkinson. “A lot of people think I’m Kyle’s dad.”

Many relationships were formed through baseball over the decades. Atkinson got to know Dick Siler when they were both high school coaches.

“They had the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen,” says Atkinson of the bright red and yellow donned by Siler’s Elkhart Memorial High School teams, which included all-star pitcher Matt Ruess in 1990.

The friendship continued when they both began college coaching at Crossroads League schools — Atkinson at Taylor and Siler at Bethel.

Atkinson invited Siler to stay with him whenever he was in the area. IHSBCA Hall of Famer Siler died in 2020.

A 1965 graduate of Mississinewa, Atkinson earned 11 varsity letters playing baseball and basketball for coach Junior Mannis and football for coach Charlie Fisher. Nine of those teams won conference championships.

One of his fondest memories is playing five games in three different places in the same day.

“When I was 15 we had a high school doubleheader,” says Atkinson. “My mom took me to Kokomo for an American Legion doubleheader (featuring Jonesboro Post 95) then to Indianapolis for semipro tournament (with the Twin City Bankers). 

“We won all five games that day.”

A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers and Portland Rockets is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

Atkinson played against one of former major league pitcher and Anderson, Ind., native Carl Erskine’s sons.

Erskine doesn’t address Atkinson by name. It’s “Hey, Gas City!”

He was 14 when Atkinson started playing for the Bankers. His father, John, was the team’s manager. 

John Atkinson helped build a diamond that is still used today.

There were days when young Rick sold Cokes while sitting on the back part of a station wagon.

At 15, the Bankers placed third in the state tournament and all-stater Atkinson hit .454.

Atkinson recalls when amateur baseball went from wood to metal bats.

“I didn’t like it,” says Atkinson. “I collect fungos. None of them are aluminum.

“I do not remember breaking a bat. I’m sure I did.”

He does remember mending some clubs.

To keep wood bats in circulation, Atkinson used to use small black brad nails to hold them together.

For a few years, Atkinson was in charge of Taylor hitters.

He’d study the players’ swing to see what suited him best. It was easy to identify the best ones.

“A blind man can come into this barn and tell who the good hitters are just by the sound,” says Atkinson. “It’s a different sound.”

Leading a Taylor-based team in a collegiate wood bat league, Atkinson counted future big league center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as one of his players.

Atkinson encouraged the Fort Wayne Bishop Luers graduate to cash in on his speed.

“I know Coach, bunt the ball,” says Atkinson of Kiermaier’s echoing what the coach often told him. “They don’t teach the bunt anymore.”

The coach also lent his know-how with the independent professional Dubois County Dragons in Huntingburg, Ind., and the Anderson (Ind.) Lawmen. The latter team was managed by Texas Rangers bird dog scout Jay Welker and featured Brian Cruz who also played for Atkinson at Mississinewa.

For a few years, Atkinson was a camp director for Little League Central Region Headquarters in Indianapolis.

“I really loved it,” says Atkinson. “Kids from all over the country would come in.”

Campers and counselors affectionately referred to Atkinson as “Papa Bear.”

Rick Atkinson, a longtime assistant baseball coach at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., is the member of the Indiana High School Baseball Association, Grant County (Ind.) and Taylor University halls of fame. (Taylor University Photo)

Indiana Wesleyan’s Holtzleiter sees building rapport with players as coaching key

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaches are in the people business.

To develop the athletes in their charge to the fullest, they must know what makes them tick.

Kris Holtzleiter, the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Indiana Wesleyan University baseball program, discovered this before he was still a player at the NAIA school in Marion and he has applied it at his coaching stops.

He grew up in Upland, Ind., and attended Eastbrook High School outside Marion, graduating in 2002. Brian Abbott was the Panthers head coach and lefty-throwing Holtzleiter was a center fielder and pitcher.

“He was a great mentor,” says Holtzleiter of Abbott, who has long been pitching coach at Huntington University and the executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. “He understand how to communicate with people and build relationships.

“Relationships are the fundamental piece to coaching baseball. It’s the whole purpose behind it.”

Holtzleiter played four seasons and graduated from Indiana Wesleyan. The first few years, Mike Burchette served as pitching coach after that Wildcats head coach Mark DeMichael used student assistants.

“He did not have a ton of resources at the time,” says Holtzleiter of DeMichael, who is now the school’s athletic director. “He was basically running the entire program by himself.

“Looking back, I am incredibly impressed. You have to be really organized to run a two-hour practice and do everything by yourself.”

Holtzleiter’s first two years in coaching were 2010 and 2011 at Eastbrook. The first year he was a varsity assistant and the second head junior varsity coach.

He was an IWU assistant to head coach Chad Newhard from August 2011 to December 2012 and was then hired as head coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School near Wabash, Ind. He led the Knights for four seasons (2013-16).

The year before he arrived, Southwood went 1-26 and it had been many years since the Knights had won as many as 10 games in a season.

“There was not many expectations,” says Holtzleiter. “I began finding out what their goals were — individually and as a team.

“The biggest thing I learned (at Southwood) was about communicating and building relationships with the kids. If you do that, they’ll respond well to you.”

Holtzleiter guided the 2014 squad to the program’s first sectional championship in 11 years. The 2015 and 2016 clubs won back-to-back Three Rivers Conference titles. Several players went on to college baseball.

From there, Holtzleiter went back to Indiana Wesleyan to join a coaching staff led by Rich Benjamin.

He found another coach with the same foundation.

“He desires relationships,” says Holtzleiter of Benjamin. “He’s a good communicator. He wants to communicate openly and be honest with his guys.

“He’s also open about his faith.”

Through a common friend, Benjamin invited former National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to lead a team devotional via video conference. Because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that shortened the 2020 season to 19 games (the Wildcats went 10-9), coaches and players were communicating while practicing social distancing leading up to spring term finals last week.

The coaching staff, which also includes Brice Davis and Eric George, is now focused on recruiting at a time when players who lost most of this past season have been granted an extra year of eligibility.

“We try to find guys from multiple avenues that fit our program,” says Holtzleiter. “We look for guys who want to take a stride in their faith, are strong academically and can really play.

“This is an uncertain time for players, especially for (the classes of) 2020 and 2021).”

IWU’s staff will look at area high school players as well as transfers and those from the junior college ranks. This season, the Wildcats roster sported two players from Puerto Rico.

As pitching coach, Holtzleiter uses a mix of old school and new school.

Rapsodo is used to capture video to help pitchers with their delivery, sequencing, command and pitch design.

“We also work with feel to see why their pitches have certain movement and make adjustments,” says Holtzleiter, who has seen the Wildcats win 96 games since 2017. “It’s important for guys to pitch to their skill set and develop their strengths.

“Too many guys want to attack the opponents’ weaknesses instead of developing their strengths.”

Kris and Jessica Holtzleiter have two children — son Jackson (9) and daughter Madison (6).

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Kris Holtzleiter, an Indiana Wesleyan University graduate, is pitching coach/recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats baseball program. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

 

Clark does not let physical limitations stop him from baseball dreams

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not Dave Clark’s first pandemic.

COVID-19 Coronavirus is impacting the world in 2020.

Clark was born in 1952 and 10 months later he contracted polio, which stunted his growth.

“At that time there was no vaccine,” says Clark. “People were running scared. Parks were closed. Kids were not able to play with each other.

“Someday, hopefully, they’ll have a vaccine for Coronavirus.”

While Clark has had a lifetime of leg braces and crutches, he has not let his situation stop him.

In fact, he figured out how to thrive in spite of it.

Clark grew up in Corning, N.Y., and went on to be a player, coach, scout, and owner in professional baseball.

He played for the Indianapolis Clowns (1975-76) managed by Bill Heward, author of the book, “Some Are Called Clowns: A Season with the Last of the Great Barnstorming Baseball Teams.”

After seeing Clark play at Comiskey Park, Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck showed interest in signing the pitcher.

Clark was the final owner of the franchise (1983-88) that traces its origins back to the Negro Leagues. He followed in the footsteps of Clowns owners Syd Pollock, Ed Hamman and George Long. Hamman sold the team to Long of Muscatine, Iowa, in 1972. Long sold the team to Clark and Sal Tombasco of Corning in 1983.

Clark still owns the rights to the Clowns and receives royalty checks for merchandise from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Knuckle-baller Clark was an all-star pitcher in the Swedish Elite Baseball League, where he later managed, taking a team from worst to first, and winning three major league titles.

While Clark never threw faster than 79 mph, he was a thinker on the mound and rarely walked batters.

Clark has been affiliated with Team USA and the Atlanta Olympics, the Atlanta Braves, and has partnered with the Fort Myers (Fla.) Mighty Mussels (Minnesota Twins Class-A team), Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings (Twins Triple-A), Binghamton Rumble Ponies (New York Mets Double-A), Nashville (Tenn.) Sounds (Milwaukee Brewers Triple-A) and Elmira (N.Y.) Jackals (ECHL hockey). Clark has been a hockey goalie and also a play-by-play man.

He has been a professional scout for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Florida/Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox.

Clark’s awards are numerous. He received the National Giant Steps Award for his coaching, and was honored at the White House by President Bill Clinton. He won the National Heroes of Sports Award in 1999 and the Bo Jackson Courage Award in 2011.

Clark was featured as the keynote speaker at The Family Cafe Conference, and a TedX Conference and has spoken before the U.S. Sports Conference, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Corning Inc., Siemens Energy, and many more.

Besides being a motivational speaker, Clark runs camps for kids with perceived physical and mental limitations. He has been business partners with Doug Cornfield Sr., for a decade.

Clark and Cornfield met two decades ago at Dunn Field in Elmira, N.Y., where Clark was a coach for the Elmira Pioneers.

After a game carrying son Gideon who was born without arms, Cornfield called out to Clark. It wasn’t long before the two met for breakfast.

“I was amazed that I’d never heard of Dave’s story at the time,” says Cornfield, who played basketball and ran track at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., as a freshman before transferring to the University of Georgia. “I peppered Dave with questions.”

But these inquiries weren’t like the ones he’d heard so many times before.

“He talked about his son,” says Clark. “He was speaking as a parent who was concerned about raising a son with no arms.

“He asked what my parents did to let me accomplish what I did. The simple answer: They didn’t hold me back. They didn’t stop me from trying anything I wanted to try.”

Clark says Cornfield helped him to understand how important it is to share his story.

“We need some kind of good news in a world that glamorizes bad news,” says Clark, who now lives in Cape Coral, Fla.

Best Burn Enterprises is the for-profit side of the business and the Dave Clark Foundation the non-profit “which serves to inspire people from all walks of life to overcome personal challenges and perceived limitations in order to lead satisfying and productive lives.”

Clark and Cornfield appeared during the week of Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Scheduled Disability, Dream & Do (D3Day) Baseball Camp stops in 2020 includes partnerships with the Fort Myers (Fla.) Mighty Mussels, Lake Erie Crushers (Avon, Ohio), Hartford (Conn.) Yard Goats, Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, Binghamton (N.Y.) Rumble Ponies and Hudson Valley Renegades (Fishkill, N.Y.) plus an appearance in Clark’s hometown of Corning, N.Y. Ambassador athlete Dave Stevens, who has no legs, is also a part of the camps.

The events draw around 100 campers per site. It doesn’t cost them or their caregivers a dime. Through fundraising, the cost of the camp, caps, T-shirts, game tickets, and meals for 250-300 are covered.

Clark is always looking for fundraising opportunities and places to speak.

D3Day Baseball Camp was named Minor League Baseball’s 2012 Promotion of the Year runner-up.

A message that Clark shares during the camps is letting kids try anything they want to do.

“If they get a bruised elbow or bruised knew, it’s OK,” says Clark. “You can’t find your potential if you’re not trying something.

“Failure is not trying to do it at all.”

The Indianapolis Clowns traveled all over the country, including stops in Indiana, including Gary, Lebanon, Noblesville, and Jasper.

Clark and Bob Alles of the Jasper Reds have maintained a friendship for more than two decades.

“We had quite a rivalry with the Jasper Reds,” says Clark. “Bob treated us right.”

It was in Jasper that the seed was planted for helping those with physical and mental limitations. Near Ruxer Field there was a residential facility for these folks called Providence Home.

Clark took the Clowns to visit and invited some over to the field for some informal instruction.

When Clark conducts camps with minor league teams, he insists that all the players and coaches participate.

Former Elmira Star-Gazette writer Roger Neumann authored a book about Clark published in 2011 — “Diamond In The Rough: The Dave Clark Story.”

In the forward of the book, Mike Veeck writes “Dave Clark’s story is an astonishing blend of fact and fact. It only reads like fiction.”

Cornfield has penned a children’s book based on a tale from Clark’s childhood entitled “A Pound of Kindness.”

“It’s a true story that happened to me in first grade,” says Clark. “It’s the first time I ever experienced bullying. It’s always been in human society.

“Parents, brothers, neighborhood kids treated me like anybody else. When I got to grade school, I felt that pressure.”

One day, Clark’s teacher announced that the class would be going on a fire station field trip that required a walk of five or six blocks.

With two full-length leg braces and crutches, Clark knew he was sure to slow the class down and he would be a prime target for bullies.

On the day of the field trip, Clark told his mother he was ill and didn’t want to go to school.

“Mom was a fair but tough lady,” says Clark “She knew I wasn’t sick.”

So he went to school but made sure to be in the back of the line.

“Maybe they wouldn’t see I was dragging along,” says Clark.

That’s when classmate Ernie Pound came forward and offered Clark a ride in his red Radio Flyer wagon.

“‘I brought this for you to ride in. Jump in!,’” says Clark of Pound’s words that day. “What was going to be a lousy day turned out to be a great day.

“It’s a story of inclusion. It’s a story of kindness.”

Clark goes into schools and shares that story. Sales of the book — Cornfield is also working on other titles about those with physical or mental limitations based on true stories — help fund the camps.

Cornfield surprised Clark by bringing in Pound to a book signing in 2008 — many decades after that kind day. Cornfield says Clark is too emotional to watch the video of that moment.

There are hopes of making a movie about Clark’s life.

“It’s the greatest mostly unknown sports story,” says Cornfield.

That’s the story of Dave Clark. He’s the one who didn’t let polio stop him from achieving his goals.

“A Pound of Kindness” can be purchased at d3day.com with free shipping using the code: d3day.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the eBook can be downloaded for free using the code: stay home.

For more information, contact Cornfield at doug@daveclarkbaseball.com or 607-329-0010.

DOUGCORNFIELDDAVECLARK

Doug Cornfield (left) and Dave Clark have been business partners for a decade.

DAVECLARKDOUGCORNFIELDDAVESTEVENSDave Clark (left), Doug Cornfield and Dave Stevens make appearances all over the country on behalf of those with perceived physical and mental limitations.

DAVECLARK5Dave Clark, who contracted polio at 10 months, got early attention for his abilities as a baseball player.

DAVECLARKHOHOCKEYDave Clark has even taken to the ice as a hockey goalie.

DAVECLARK4Dave Clark was affiliated with Team USA Baseball during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

DAVECLARK3Dave Clark, using crutches and braces, was a player and owner for the Indianapolis Clowns.

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Dave Clark waits his turn at the plate as member of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns.

BILLCLINTONDAVECLARKPresident Bill Clinton (left) presents Dave Clark with the National Giant Steps Award.

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Dave Clark, who contracted polio at 10 months, was a professional baseball player, coach, scout, and owner. He now tours the country as a motivational speaker.

 

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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