Tag Archives: Victory Field

Namisnak reflects on Elkhart Central championship of ’13, today’s game

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was one special season and Mike Namisnak was a part of it.

Elkhart Central went 32-1 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state baseball championship in 2013.

“Not many people in this area can say they had the chance to go to the State Finals much less win State,” says Namisnak, who is now 26. 

The Blue Blazers reigned at the Elkhart Sectional, LaPorte Regional and South Bend Semistate before topping Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the right to dogpile at at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Namisnak was a designated hitter in the title game and one of nine seniors in the ECHS lineup.

Tanner Tully led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run — one of three Blazer hits off Ashe Russell — then pitched a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.

There was also left fielder Kaleb DeFreese, shortstop Cory Malcom, first baseman Riley Futterknecht, center fielder Matt Eppers, second baseman Casey Ianigro, third baseman Austin McArt and catcher Kyle Smith. Devin Prater and Nick Ponce were also seniors on that team.

Junior right fielder Jesse Zepeda was the lone non-senior in the starting combo (he went on to play at Bethel College and start the Indiana Black Caps travel organization). Junior Mike Wain was a pinch runner.

Look at the game program and you’ll see Central wearing baby blue uniforms. During the tournament run, they broke out “camouflage” tops and that’s what they wore in taking the title.

Tully pitched at Ohio State University and is now in the Cleveland Indians system.

DeFreese went on to play at Indiana Wesleyan University and become an athletic trainer.

Malcom pitched at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and became a regional sales manager.

Futterknecht pitched at DePauw University and became a regional sales manager.

Eppers, who was the 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2013, played at Ball State University and became a national sales and product manager.

Ianigro became an office with the Elkhart Police Department.

McArt went on to become a regional sales manager at Forest River. Malcom, Futterknecht, Eppers and McArt all landed at Forest River Inc.

Smith became a television news editor.

Namisnak played one year at Concordia University Ann Arbor, two at Goshen College and then ended his baseball career because of elbow surgeries (the third baseman hurt his arm while diving for a ball in the summer).

He earned his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Southern Indiana and recently became a purchasing agent at Heartland RV.

Namisnak grew up in Elkhart and played at Osolo Little League and in the Elkhart Babe Ruth system as well as travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers. Prater was a Babe Ruth and Scrappers teammate.

These days, Namisnak teaches baseball lessons in his spare time and plays slow pitch softball.

“I break it down with basic fundamental stuff,” says Namisnak of his lessons approach. “It got me into college. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Mike gives credit to older brother Andy (Elkhart Central Class of 2007) for first teaching him the game.

“From the time I could walk we were playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard,” says Namisnak. “I’d got to his games and we’d work on stuff together. He taught me how to understand the game.”

Andy Namisnak went on to play club baseball at Indiana University.

Steve Stutsman was the Elkhart Central coach that guided the champion Blazers in 2013.

“Coach Stuts was a laid-back coach to me,” says Namisnak. “He had his moments where he’d get fired up and get on us. 

“He knew he had a talented team. He gave us the right direction.”

Namisnak came along at a time where he played varsity baseball on the old and new fields at Elkhart Central. 

He liked having a clubhouse in the back of the dugout at the new field. But he appreciated the older diamond along Goshen Avenue.

“It’s an old classic field, which I enjoyed,” says Namisnak.

He recalls that when the Elkhart River overflowed its banks and water was lapping against the back of the dugout, the field was still playable.

Namisnak still follows Major League Baseball and is a long-time Chicago Cubs fan.

“It’s nice seeing they have a decent team this year,” says Namisnak. “This shorter season was something of a needed thing (during the COVID-19 pandemic).”

Namisnak has come to embrace the designated hitter in both leagues.

“It’s always fun to see a pitched hit a home run,” says Namisnak. “But the universal DH rule should be kept after this COVID stuff. 

“It just makes more sense to me.”

Count Namisnak a fan of expanded playoffs with a compacted schedule.

“More postseason baseball — I’m not going to complain about that,” says Namisnak. “There are no fans at the games so I don’t mind the no days off. Otherwise, you want that home field advantage.

“It plays like high school or Little League ball, not with 50,000 people screaming.”

CGI fans in the stands on TV is too much for Namisnak. But he’s on-board with the cardboard cut-outs. Some teams have taken to giving the fan the the ball if it strikes the cut-out.

Then there’s the extra-inning rule where a runner is placed at second base to start an inning.

“That reminds me of slow pitch softball,” says Namisnak. “It’s not a huge fan of that rule for MLB games.

“It’s just a weird season to sit down and watch baseball.”

It’s a different baseball world from 2013. Was that really only seven years ago?

Mike Namisnak plays slow pitch softball these days. He was a senior on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state baseball champions at Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School.

Pro X allows players to develop at Grand Park

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bringing instructors, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning experts under one roof, Pro X Athlete Development serves clients in Westfield, Ind.

Pro X (short for “Professional Experience”) celebrated its grand opening at it Grand Park facility in April 2019 after getting started in a temporary downtown location in 2017.

“We want to provide an all-inclusive training experience for our athletes,” says Joe Thatcher, former major league pitcher, co-founder and president at Pro X. “We provide sports performance so athletes can get bigger, stronger and faster. We have rehabilitation with Dr. Jamey Gordon. We have sports-specific instruction (for baseball, softball, golf and football).”

Thatcher, a Kokomo, Ind., native who worked with Gordon (who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as partner and Director of Athletic Development at Pro X) during his baseball playing career, wanted to replicate what he experienced in the majors.

“Everyday I walked into the clubhouse the coaching staff, training staff and strength staff knew what I was doing,” says Thatcher, who last pitched for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2016.

Pro X staffers, which include instructors Jay Lehr, Bryan Chestnut, Jaylen Quarles, Alex Graman, Jordan Estes and Zeth Tanner, share notes on athletes. One might have a hip mobility that does not allow a player to do what an instructor is asking of them.

“We take any physical limitations barrier and it leads to better success in baseball training,” says Thatcher. “One of the stigmas is that we’re an indoor baseball facility. We are about true athlete development.”

Using the latest innovations in the field, Pro X develops a plan for each athlete while working to keep them healthy.

“We make sure you’re moving the way you’re supposed to while getting bigger, faster and stronger so your body can handle more force,” says Thatcher. “You have to decelerate or you’re going to get hurt.

“That only happens if you’re training the right set of muscles to do that.”

During the winter, Pro X has 10 to 15 professional players working out at the elite facility which features 60,000 square feet in total with over 35,000 square feet of open turf space, 22 batting cages (11 full), 3,000 square-foot weight room, golf simulators and much more.

“The sports rehabilitation/training area is the heart and soul of who and what we are,” says Thatcher of the place where athlete assessments and private-pay rehab sessions are performed. There’s a full strength staff.

Catcher Tucker Barnhart and right-hander pitcher Drew Storen, who both went to Brownsburg (Ind.) High School, have trained at Pro X as has Chicago White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon and Kansas City Royals right-hander Jesse Hahn

Rodon, who resides in Veedersburg, Ind., did his Tommy John surgery recovery at Pro X.

This past week, former Southport High School and current Arizona Diamondbacks minor league left-hander Avery Short was pitching live to hitters on the Pro X turf.

“It’s fun to work with high-end athletes,” says Thatcher. “But our focus is capturing the young kids and starting them early.

“We want level the playing field for kids in the Midwest who don’t get to play all year-round. We’re exposing them to the training and all the innovations that’s out there.”

With a Diamond Sports Membership at Pro X, clients can have unlimited access to cages and turf. 

A Sports Performance Membership allows holders to attend all classes, including Weight Room 101 Transition. It starts with athletes around 7 and goes all the way up. 

A Diamond Plus Membership combines Diamond Sports and Sports Performance.

Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments partnered to sponsor the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in 2020.

“We saw an opportunity,” says Thatcher of a circuit that gave a place for several players displaced by the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down summer leagues. “We threw it together in about a month. It took a lot of work to get it up and running and a lot of flexibility with state regulations and COVID-19.”

About 100 players took advantage of a play-and-train option which allowed them to play in games — usually on Mondays and Tuesdays at Grand Park with occasional games at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis or Kokomo Municipal Stadium on other days — and train at Pro X Wednesday through Friday.

“(The CSL) is centrally-located which can be an advantage for us,” says Thatcher. “We’ve had a lot of really good feedback from college coaches who had kids in our league.

“We’re already starting to work on next year.”

The league has also featured players who graduated from high school in 2020.

“They’ve got to see what (college baseball is) going to be like,” says Thatcher. “They get on the field with the same field of guys you’re going to be competing against.”

The No. 5-seeded Turf Monsters bested the No. 2 Snapping Turtles 5-4 in the inaugural CSL championship game contested Friday, July 31 at Victory Field.

Julian Greenwell (two), Ethan Vecrumba, Jake Plastiak and Kollyn All drove in runs for the Turf Monsters (10-7-5).

Tyeler Hawkins scored a run on a wild pitch. Sam Crail, Brodey Heaton and Brendan Hord plated a run apiece for the Snapping Turtles (11-7-4).

Reese Sharp, who did not give up a hit until the sixth inning, was the winning pitcher. Cameron Pferrer earned a two-out save. Arian Coffey absorbed the loss.

Joe Thatcher is the co-founder and president of Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. The Kokomo, Ind., native pitched in the majors. His last pro team was the 2016 Iowa Cubs. (Chicago Cubs Photo)
The 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park was won by the Turf Monsters with a 5-4 win Friday, July against the Snapping Turtles at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis. (College Summer League at Grand Park Image)
Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., offers a “Professional Experience” for all members, including Diamond Sports (baseball and softball). The facility is located at Grand Park. (Pro X Athlete Development Image)

Indiana’s Barr showing off skills in Grand Park league

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attendees at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis July 16 and 23 got a chance to see Cole Barr’s baseball attributes on display.

Playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game, Indiana University’s Barr smacked a three-run triple to help the Red beat the Blue 4-2.

A week later, the Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate lashed a two-run double to aid in the A-Team’s 6-4 triumph against the Snapping Turtles.

How does the righty-swinging third baseman assess his strengths?

“Physically, I can do it all on the field — play defense, run and hit for power,” says Barr. “The average is coming along.

“I have athleticism. I was a middle infielder until last year. I have pretty good range (at third base).”

Barr, a 5-foot-11, 191-pounder, has listened to Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer and former assistant Casey Dykes (now a minor league hitting coach in the New York Yankees organization) regarding hitting and done his best to apply it.

“I kist want the ball to spin true,” says Barr. “I don’t want to flare or hook the ball. I look to put myself in a good position to be able to do that. 

“If I can spin the ball, I can adjust and do other things.”

Mercer has been on the job since the summer of 2018 and Barr has benefitted.

“He has a lot of information to offer,” says Barr of his head coach. “We are like-minded. We are not afraid to work hard.

“We’re pretty competitive.”

In three seasons at Indiana, Barr played in 97 games (84 starts) and hit .258 (76-of-295) with 19 home runs, 64 runs batted in, 62 runs scored and a .389 on-base percentage.

Barr broke out in 2019, hitting .255 (55-of-216) with 17 homers, 51 RBIs, 46 runs, .388 OBP and was selected in the 37th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

He decided not to sign and came back to the Hoosiers.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season, Barr started all 15 games at third base and was the regular No. 3 batter in the IU lineup. He hit .246 (14-of-57) with two homers, nine RBIs, 12 runs and a .366 OBP in 15 games.

The last game for a 9-6 team was March 11 against Cincinnati in Bloomington.

Barr stayed in shape and kept his baseball skills sharp while also keeping up with his studies during the quarantine. The Finance major and 2020 Academic All-Big Ten Conference honoree is now around 20 credits shy of his degree.

He is looking forward to in-person classes, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.

“Online classes — I’m not a huge fan of it,” says Barr. “It’s hard to learn business stuff and work through problems online.

“It’s hard to pay attention. I’d prefer to be in class in-person.”

Barr played for the Northwoods League’s Lakeshore Chinooks in Mequon, Wis., in the summer of 2019. The team was led by Travis Akre.

“He was a player’s kind of manager,” says Barr of Akre. “He let you do your own thing and kept you on the right track.”

Barr intended to head back to the Chinooks in 2020 when that team canceled its schedule. He was without a summer spot until May and then the Grand Park league was formed through a partnership between Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development.

“I like playing with a lot of my friends,” says Barr, who has now counted shortstop Cooper Trinkle as a teammate in travel ball, at Indiana and in summer collegiate ball.

Kevin Christman is the A-Team head coach.

“I love being around Kev,” says Barr. “It doesn’t matter where he is, he is trying to win.

“I’ve been able to pick his brain a little bit. He’s been around the game for a long time.”

Barr was born in Muncie, Ind., and grew up in nearby Yorktown. 

He played rec league baseball and started travel ball at age 9. He was coached by Shane Summers and Justin Wittenberg with the Indiana Longhorns and Magic City Orioles.

From 12U to 17U, Barr wore the uniform of the Indiana Prospects with Shane Cox and J.P. Hessier as his head coaches. His 18U summer was spent the Mke Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays.

“He was a good dude,” says Barr of Hitt. “He let us have fun.”

Playing the first three years for Mike Larrabee and the last for P.J. Fauquher, Barr was a four-year varsity player at Yorktown High. 

“He’s a pretty smart guy about the game,” says Barr of Larrabee. “He steered me in the direction I needed to go. The same thing with P.J.”

Barr was chosen for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 2017

He was honorable mention all-state in 2015 and 2017 and all-Hoosier Heritage Conference 2015-17. Perfect Game rated him as the No. 2 shortstop and No. 14 overall player in Indiana. For his prep career, he hit .333 with nine homers, 45 RBIs and 51 stolen bases.

Barr was a middle infielder and also pitched as a freshman, sophomore and senior.

“I was probably a better pitcher in high school than a hitter,” says Barr. “I had no real thoughts of pitching in college. Most pitchers aren’t 5-10 now.”

Cole was also a safety and wide receiver for the Yorktown Tigers as a freshmen, junior and senior.

Joe and Cherie Barr have four sons — Cole (22), Alex (20), Reid (17) and Drew (15).

Joe Barr is a plant manager at Magna Powertrain. Cherie Barr is a nurse at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. Alex Barr is heading into his junior year as a Wabash College wrestler. Reid Barr will be a Yorktown High School senior and wrestler Drew Barr a YHS sophomore in the fall. 

Indiana University’s Cole Barr smacks a three-run triple at Victory Field in Indianapolis July 16. (Talking Hoosier Baseball Video)
Indiana University’s Cole Barr raps a two-run double at Victory Field in Indianapolis July 23. (Talking Hoosier Baseball Video)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Third baseman Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. He broke out in 2019, hitting .255 (55-of-216) with 17 homers, 51 RBIs, 46 runs, .388 OBP and was selected in the 37th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners, but did not sign.. (Indiana University Photo)

Cole Barr, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate with three baseball seasons logged at Indiana University, is playing with the A-Team in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park. (Indiana University Photo)

Lefty Wynja getting ready for South Florida Bulls

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hayden Wynja hasn’t had far to go to prepare for his next diamond destination.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher who graduated from Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis in 2017 has been getting ready to join the mound staff at the University of South Florida by taking part in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.

“It was awesome.”

The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.

“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”

At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.

A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.

“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”

It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.

“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.

Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load. 

He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.

“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.

Wynja helped Heritage Christian to IHSAA Class 2A sectional titles in 2015 at Park Tudor, 2016 at Heritage Christian and 2017 at Triton Central. He began pitching as a junior and impressed enough to be selected in the 30th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, but did not sign.

“It didn’t make sense,” says Wynja. “I needed more confidence.

“When I get into pro ball, I want to stay there. I want to make baseball a career. It’s about when I’m ready.

“Hopefully my name is called next year (in the MLB Draft) and I can get started in pro ball.”

Thanks to the pandemic, the southpaw still has three years of NCAA eligibility (one added in 2020).

South Florida’s head coach is Billy Mohl. Karsten Whitson is the Bulls’ pitching coach.

Wynja went to Purdue University in the fall of 2017 as a Selling and Sales Management major. He broke his back and was redshirted for the 2018 season.

The lanky lefty helped the Vic Evans-coached Owensboro (Ky.) RiverDawgs to an Ohio Valley League championship that summer. Aaron Biddle was the pitching coach.

Pitching for Purdue in 2019, Wynja got into eight games (all in relief) and went 0-0 with 12 strikeouts and nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

Mark Wasikowski was then the Boilermakers head coach. Wynja worked closely with then-pitching coach Elliott Cribby.

“I loved Cribby,” says Wynja. “He’s one of the best pitching coaches I’ve ever had. You could talk to him. He was relatable.

“He pushed us really hard, but he was always there. You knew he had your back. That’s important in coaching.”

In the summer of 2019, Wynja wore the jersey of the Washington-based D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. He relieved in five of eight appearances, going 1-2 with 28 strikeouts and 21 walks in 21 innings.

Michael Barbera is the Grays’ founder, president and chairman.

Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach. 

That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.

“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you. 

“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”

Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.

Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.

“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.

“It bites and it bites hard.”

Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.

“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.

“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”

Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.

Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.

When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.

“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.

“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”

Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.

“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.

“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game. 

“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”

Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.

He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.

During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.

Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.

It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.

“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”

Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.

Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.

“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.

“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”

HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.

After winning the Speedway Sectional, the Eagles reigned at the Greenfield-Central Regional before being stopped by eventual state runner-up Crawford County in the Richmond Semistate.

Hayden Wynja pitches for the D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in 2019. He pitched for Lincoln Trail College in 2020 and is bound for the University of South Florida. He is a graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. He played at Purdue University in 2018. He was the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star for the A-Team. (D.C. Grays Photo)
Hayden Wynja, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher, spent his 2020 baseball season at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. He is a 2017 graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. After a redshirt season, he played at Purdue University in 2019. He has three years of NCAA eligibility remaining as he transfers to the University of South Florida. (Lincoln Trail College Photo)

Purdue’s Nisle getting chance to hone skills in College Summer League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Nisle has been to Victory Field.

So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.

That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.

Through a partnership of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., CSL sprouted as a developmental opportunity.

“Having a place to play is very nice,” says Nisle of the 12-team CSL. “It’s great competition.

“You’re seeing great (pitching) arms.

“I’m getting good at-bats and playing time.”

Nisle plays for the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. 

Purdue outfielder Jack Firestone has also been chosen for the CSL All-Star Game.

A 2017 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., Nisle has played three seasons at Purdue.

In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.

He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.

During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs. 

“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”

Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.

“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.

When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.

“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”

Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.

“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”

The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).

“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.

“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”

Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.

“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.

“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”

Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.

Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.

For his 16U and 17U summers, Ben played for the Ryan Bunnell-coached Indiana Bulls

The summer leading into his freshman year at Purdue, Nisle did not play baseball. He went to campus early to take summer courses and work out.

Gerry Nisle (who works at Pepsi) and wife Michele (who is employed by Franciscan Alliance) have three children — Alex (24), Ben (21) and Mia (14). 

Gerry played football at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Michele was a gymnast at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Alex started his college baseball career at SJC. When the school was closed, he finished at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill. He was named to the all-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team in 2019. Mia plays soccer and basketball.

Ben Nisle, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at Purdue University. He has been chosen for the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game Thursday, July 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Purdue University Photo)

Former two-way standout Whisler still passing along diamond wisdom

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wes Whisler was still playing when he began passing along his baseball knowledge.

During breaks from off-season training as a professional, Whisler provided lessons in the same town where he became Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville (Ind.) High School in 2001 before coming a two-way player at UCLA and pitcher in the Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins systems.

“I had extra down time,” says Whisler, now 37 and the owner of Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone, 15475 Endeavor Drive, Noblesville (he founded his business in 2014, buying The Strike Zone and re-branding it). “What can i do to keep my mind sharp and give back to the younger generation? 

“At the end of my playing career, I was able to make a smooth transition to coaching and instructing, something I loved to do.”

There are three regular baseball instructors at the academy — Whisler, Travis Reboulet and Brent Miller (also with Pastime Tournaments). 

Jim Reboulet, who helps Travis coach the Indiana Nitro 18U Gold team, has conducted infield schools. 

Academy softball instructors are Kevin Schmidt, Kristen Boros and Alexandria Heygood. Schmidt coaches for the Indiana Dream travel program. Boros and Heygood played softball at Butler University.

After two years as general manager, Whisler is also in his second full year of running USAthletic Baseball Club, a travel organization he took over from long-time friend Rob Barber when the latter began focusing on The BASE Indy urban youth inititative.

USAthletic Baseball Club currently has four teams — 15U, two in 16U and 18U. 

Whisler says he looks to added other levels in the future, but is building with purpose.

With the recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, USAthletic players just got back together after about 10 weeks apart.

“Everybody is on a shortened time frame and under the gun,” says Whisler, who will see teams open their seasons June 14. “We’ve got to be ready to go. We pretty much jump into games.”

Whisler is always trying to provide another learning tool for his players and encouraging them to be students of the game.

Problem is the pandemic shut down live baseball in mid-March and Major League Baseball still has not started in 2020 season.

“If you’re going to play, one of the best ways is by watching,” says Whisler. “Wait, there’s no games on (TV).”

Plans call for USAthletic to play in games at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Victory Field in Indianapolis plus road trips to Louisville and St. Louis.

Whisler has about 125 private instruction clients at his academy — many are two-way players.

A lefty hitter and thrower, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Whisler was a first baseman/designated hitter as well as a pitcher through his college career and first two pro seasons.

“That’s all I knew my entire life,” says Whisler. “I said let’s see how it plays out. Essentially, they were getting two players for one.”

In three seasons at UCLA (2002-04), Whisler hit .304 with 34 home runs and 129 RBIs and also went 11-14 with a 5.00 earned run average, 172 strikeouts and 105 walks in 259 1/3 innings on the mound.

Selected in the second round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox, Whisler got to swing the bat some when not pitching and went to Chicago in the off-season to work with hitting instructors.

“The decision came down after two seasons that we’re going to make you a left-handed pitcher,” says Whisler. “That’s the way we want it. 

“At the time, the system was loaded with first baseman. (As a pitcher) I could be on the upswing and move up quicker.”

Whisler made three relief appearances with the big-team White Sox in 2009 with Ozzie Guillen as manager and Don Cooper as pitching coach and remained in pro baseball through 2013. He retired having been in Triple-A in six of 10 minor league seasons.

Whisler got his organized baseball start at Skiles Test Little League in Indy’s Lawrence Township. His seventh grade year, his family, including father Mike, mother Kristie and older brother Brandy, moved to Noblesville. 

Wes played for the Indiana Bulls from age 13-18. That last summer before college he also suited up with the Ohio’s Midland Redskins.

At Noblesville High, Whisler’s head coaches were Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dennis Kas for baseball and Dave McCollough for basketball.

“They were very in-line together with their coaching styles,” says Whisler. “They were both hard-nose and expected a lot of you. It was a work ethic they instilled.

“I may not have agreed with everything, but I can look back and say it made me a better player and a better person.”

Ohio native Gary Adams was head coach at UCLA when Whisler was with the Bruins.

“Skip was extremely genuine and a heart-felt guy,” says Whisler. “He was on the shorter side, but when he got fired up he was a pistol.”

Adams retired in 2004 after 30 seasons at UCLA. At 65, he ran five miles a day.

“He always expected and gave us his all,” says Whisler of Adams. “He got you back on track when you needed it.”

Gary Adcock was UCLA’s pitching coach for Whisler’s first two seasons.

“In high school, I was a hard thrower,” says Whisler. “He helped me learn what it was to pitch at that level.

“Facing top hitters night in and night out, it’s easy to get lost if you don’t know what you’re doing

he helped me under that process.”

In 2004, former big league pitcher Tim Leary was the Bruins pitching coach and helped Whisler get ready to make the leap into pro ball.

Vince Beringhele was UCLA’s hitting coach for all three of Whisler’s seasons. He had worked with a long list of distinguished alums, including Chase Utley, Troy Glaus, Eric Karros, Dave Roberts and Eric Valent.

One day, Beringhele called in Glaus to take batting practice with Whisler. Once he got over being starstruck, he got to pick the brain of a big league power hitter.

The summer after his first two collegiate seasons, Whisler went to the Cape Cod Baseball League to play for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. Future big leaguer Chris Carter was on the team in both 2002 and 2003. Future MLB players Michael Bourn, former Indianapolis Cathedral High School catcher Jake Fox and Jamie Vermilyea played for Y-D in 2002 and Trevor Crowe, Philip Humber, Nick Hundley, Rob Johnson, John Mayberry Jr., John Meloan, Garrett Mock and Curtis Thigpen in 2004.

Whisler looks back fondly on his summers on the Cape. 

“There was camaraderie on that team,” says Whisler. “We were very good.”

Whisler encountered a number of managers (Marc Bombard, Chris Chambliss, Chris Cron, Ken Dominguez, Nick Leyva, Joe McEwing, Max Oliveras, Rafael Santana, Joel Skinner and Julio Vinas) and pitching coaches (Britt Burns, Richard Dotson, J.R. Perdew, Sean Snedeker and Bobby Thigpen) in the White Sox minor league chain.

“They were all instrumental in helping me get to the big leagues,” says Whisler. “They are gave me a piece in helping me become a complete pitcher.”

Whisler credits Perdew for getting his mechanics back on track after a bout with shoulder tendonitis and Dotson cleaned things up even more.

Wes and Warsaw, Ind., native Kara have four children — 5-year-old triplet girls Gwynn, Molly and Vivyan and 3-year-old boy Guy.

The Whisler family (from left): Front row — Guy, Molly, Gwynn and Vivyan; Back row — Wes and Kara. Wes Whisler is the owner of Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike in Noblesville, Ind., and runs USAthletic travel teams. He was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville High School and played at UCLA and in the Chicago White Sox system, making the majors in 2009.

Kara and Wes Whisler are the parents of Gwynn, Molly, Vivyan and Guy. Wes owns Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone in Noblesville, Ind. He was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville Noblesville, Ind., and runs USAthletic travel teams. He was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville High School and played at UCLA and in the Chicago White Sox system, making the majors in 2009.
Wes Whisler, a graduate of Noblesville (Ind.) High School who played at UCLA, made it to the majors with the Chicago White Sox in 2009. In 2014 he established Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone in Noblesville. He also runs the USAthletic travel baseball organization.

Indiana graduate Cohen voice of the Iowa Cubs

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Alex Cohen went to college, he was surrounded by Chicago Cubs fans.

Growing up a baseball-loving kid in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Cohen pulled for that city’s team and he let his friends at Indiana University know about it.

“I was an obnoxious Phillies fan,” says Cohen.

His first memories of the game surrounded the 1993 National League champions featuring Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra and Curt Schilling.

The first foul ball he ever gathered and first autograph he ever got was from Mickey Morandini, who had played at IU.

Some non-Phillies that got Cohen’s attention were Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez.

Cohen played at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pa. When not on the diamond himself, he was rooting for Phils stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels.

It was also at Upper Dublin that Cohen and friends formed a sports broadcasting club.

Josh Getzoff went on to become pre- and post-game host and play-by-play announcer for the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stephen Watson would go on to be a sports anchor for WISN News in Milwaukee.

Flash forward more than a decade after his high school days and Cohen is the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, Chicago’s affiliate in the  Triple-A Pacific Coast League. The 2020 season is to be his third in Des Moines.

“This is Cubs country,” says Cohen. “Being the voice of a Chicago Cubs affiliate, it comes with a lot of responsibility.

“There’s just so many Cubs fans who come out in full force. You can tell that the Cubs fans are just a little bit different.”

And not just at Principal Park in Iowa.

Cohen recalls a game during a steamy 2018 day in Fresno, Calif.

“I’m getting to the ballpark a little bit late and I see a line out the door with Cubs fans,” says Cohen. “It was essentially a Chicago Cubs home game.”

That’s when he really began to recognize the national appeal of the Cubs.

Cohen was a Journalism major with a Sports Marketing & Management minor at Indiana, a school that was talked up by a friend who went there. The deal was sealed after a visit to Bloomington.

His freshmen year, Cohen wrote about tennis for the Indiana Daily Student.

He worked four years at the student radio station — WIUX.

There was an internship with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Philadelphia’s Triple-A International League affiliate in Allentown, Pa. He soaked up knowledge from the broadcast team of Matt Robbins and Jon Schaeffer.

Cohen was with the Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, Ill.) of the independent Frontier League in 2011 and mentored by Adam Young.

The first job in affiliated baseball came for Cohen with the Milwaukee Brewers organization and the Double-A Southern League’s Huntsville (Ala.) Stars in 2012 and 2013.

Former major leaguer Darnell Coles was a first-time professional manager in Huntsville. Cohen and Coles experienced highs and lows together.

“He’s probably the best guy I’ve ever met in professional baseball,” says Cohen of Coles.

One high moment came when Coles summoned Cohen to the locker room before a game in Jackson, Tenn.

Coles had acted mad on the phone, so Cohen thought he was in trouble.

Instead, Coles introduced Cohen to former Seattle Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. The broadcaster — the one who had imitated a right-handed version of Junior during backyard wiffleball games — and the ballplayer talked for an hour.

Cohen also came to respect and gleaned adjectives and pace of play-by-play voices in the Southern League at the time — Birmingham’s Curt Bloom, Montgomery’s Joe Davis, Pensacola’s Tommy Thrall and Tennessee’s Mick Gillespie.

Bloom’s “approach to the life of working in baseball and embracing the grind” is what Cohen appreciates about the veteran broadcaster.

Davis is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Thrall the Cincinnati Reds.

Cohen says baseball play-by-play requires proper pace and tempo.

“Basketball and football are melodically so quick,” says Cohen. “You’re just following the action.

“Baseball is more of an art form. In a three-hour game, maybe 30 to 40 percent is action.

“You’re filling in all the background between pitches.”

Cohen was not behind the mike in 2014, but was learning as a media relations and broadcast assistant for the Oakland Athletics. He was exposed daily to the on-air styles of Vince Cotroneo and Ken Korach.

The 2015 season saw Cohen back in the booth with the Idaho Falls Chukars, a Kansas City Royals farms club in the short-season Pioneer League.

In 2016 and 2017, Cohen was in the Low Class-A Midwest League as play-by-play man for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods, a member of the Tampa Bay Rays system.

Working in Bowling Green, Cohen learned to see the game from a unique perspective.

“It’s a really different angle when you’re calling from (the) third base (press box),” says Cohen. “Your depth perception is a little off on balls hit to the outfield (You learn to watch the umpire or look at the monitor).

“It’s fun with your strike zone because you can tell pitches up and down a little bit better. In and out is a little more difficult.”

The radio booth at Tacoma of the PCL is also on the third base side.

Cohen encountered communicators like Chris Vosters in Great Lakes, Ball State University graduate Tom Nichols in Dayton and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in Lansing.

“The world’s most-interesting broadcaster,” says Cohen of Goldberg-Strassler. “He’s focused on finding that small detail.”

Along the way, Cohen’s baseball fandom has become tied to his employer.

“As a broadcaster in Minor League Baseball you are a fan of the organization you work for and the affiliate they are with,” says Cohen. “You see these guys work so hard to get to the big leagues.

“You root for them to do well and by proxy you root for the big league team to do well.”

While he tends to work solo on the road, Cohen has a color commentator for home games. Deene Ehlis has been a I-Cubs broadcaster in some capacity for three decades and can tap into that treasure trove of memories.

Ehlis, who for years was paired with Randy Wehofer (who is now Iowa’s assistant general manager), does play-by-play in the middle innings and Cohen moves over to color.

Cohen and Ehlis have developed a rhythm over more than 150 games together.

“It’s more a conversation with baseball intertwined,” says Cohen. “That’s our main job is to paint the picture for the fans.”

Legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas will always have a warm spot in Cohen’s heart.

His current favorite is the Cubs’ Pat Hughes. With Chicago playing so many day games and Iowa so many night contests, Cohen gets to listen to Hughes while prepping for his game.

“The reason Pat is so good on radio is balance,” says Cohen. “Pat paints the picture. It makes sure the fan doesn’t get distracted from the game, but they also get background information.

“He’s just so even-keeled. There’s no bad games. He goes 2-for-4 or 3-for-4 every game as a broadcaster.”

In the PCL, Cohen is in the company of mike men like Nashville’s Jeff Hem, Las Vegas’ Russ Langer, Reno’s Ryan Radtke, Salt Lake’s Steve Klauke, Memphis’ Steve Selby and Oklahoma City’s Alex Freedman.

“They are tremendous guys,” says Cohen.

All have learned about the grind in a 16-team league that is so geographically spread out that it leads to lots to commercial air travel.

“From a travel standpoint, there’s no other minor league league like the PCL,” says Cohen, who notes that getting to airports in the wee hours, arriving in the next city at mid-day and then being ready for a night game is common.

“I’ve been through a lot,” says Cohen. “I’ve lived in a lot of different time zones. I’ve gone paycheck-to-paycheck up until Iowa job.

‘It’s both rewarding and time-consuming. We spend a lot of time away from your family and friends. This is the industry we chose. I don’t view it as paying your dues.”

During the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that has live baseball on hold, Cohen stays sharp by contributing to Iowa Cubs social media and calling simulated games for MLB The Show.

“It scratches that itch,” says Cohen, who was supposed to go out to spring training in Arizona March 20 (pandemic hit March 13). “I definitely have fun with that.”

He’s also been doing media interviews and online chat sessions such as the one he did with the Society for American Baseball Research’s Chicago chapter on Sunday, April 26 as part of the #StayHomeWithSABR initiative.

Asked about his home run call, Cohen told the virtual gathering about his rule.

“My rule when I got into broadcasting was I don’t want to have a home run call until I make it to the big leagues,” says Cohen. “If I make it to the big leagues then I’ll have my own home run call.”

Cohen, who has also called baseball games for the Australian Baseball League as well as in Taiwan, Japan and Colombia and the World Baseball Softball Confederation, has visited or worked at three Indiana ballparks — Victory Field in Indianapolis, Parkview Field in Fort Wayne and Four Winds Field in South Bend.

“I love it,” says Cohen of Victory Field, the home of the Indianapolis Indians and a place about 45 minutes from the IU campus. “I love urban ballparks.”

For this reason, he counts parks in Nashville, Charlotte, Baltimore, Denver and — of course — Chicago among his favorites.

“I really like Wrigley Field because even though it’s not in ‘The Loop’ or anything, you can still see what Wrigleyville has to offer,” says Cohen. “(The Fort Wayne TinCaps‘ Parkview Field is) probably one of my top five parks I’ve ever been to in Minor League Baseball. They just did it right. They have enough berm area. They have enough suite level. It’s so open. You have a panoramic view of the city.”

Cohen says he was unimpressed on his first visit to South Bend in 2011 then he came back after owner Andrew Berlin made many upgrades to the place.

“That ballpark has taken on a life of its own,” says Cohen of the South Bend Cubs‘ stadium. “It’s Wrigleyville Jr. It’s so cool.”

Combining the park, fans, proximity to Notre Dame and downtown amenities, Cohen says, “I’m not sure if there’s any better full scene in the Midwest League.”

Cohen was there the day Eloy Jimenez socked a home run against Bowling Green’s Diego Castillo (who is now with the Rays).

“It was a cold winter night in April,” says Cohen. “It was a 96 mph fastball running up and in.

“I’m not sure that ball has landed yet.”

Count Cohen a fan of Howard Kellman, who has been calling Indianapolis Indians games for more than four decades.

“Howard’s one of those classic voices,” says Cohen. “He’s so steady. You just know that he knows what he’s talking about. You know he’s done his research.

“In terms of pacing and verbiage and pausing, I really do try to emulate Howard.”

As a young broadcaster, Cohen does use advanced stats into his call. But he doesn’t force them.

“I’m not just reading them off a sheet for no reason,” says Cohen. “If Donnie Dewees is batting at the top of the order, you want to talk about his OBP (On-Base Percentage), OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).

“That’s important to a 1- or a 2-hole hitter or someone who needs to get on-base. I don’t want to randomly read out sabermetrics.”

Any advice for anyone thinking of baseball broadcasting as a profession?

“With the contraction of Minor League Baseball, it’s tough,” says Cohen. “You don’t know how many gigs are going to be available at any given time.”

To hone their craft, Cohen prescribes repetition.

“Try to broadcast college or high school games,” says Cohen. “If you can’t, take tape recorder to a professional game.

“Email every single major league media relations director and director of broadcasting and say, ‘Hey, I have my own equipment. I want to get into broadcasting. Can I take one of your empty booths at a random game in May?’”

That gives the aspiring play-by-play man the chance to record a demo that can be sent to other broadcasters and directors for critiques.

“That’s how I got my experience early on,” says Cohen, who says he is open to the idea of being shadowed and then providing access to an open booth at Principal Park.

“You go through that process over and over and over again until you see jobs you want to apply for,” says Cohen.

JOEBIDENALEXCOHENAlex Cohen (right), the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, gets a visit in the booth on July 4, 2019 from Joe Biden. Cohen is a Philadelphia area native and graduate of Indiana University. (Iowa Cubs Photo)

Indiana State Hall of Famer Grapenthin enjoys baseball from the business side

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Midwest weather didn’t always allow for ideal training conditions.

But that didn’t stop Indiana State University coach Bob Warn from fielding competitive baseball teams back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Dick Grapenthin knows because he was there.

Grapenthin has been a sporting goods executive for the better part of the past 30 years. But as a right-handed pitcher from Iowa, he began his college experience at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College then toed the rubber for the ISU Sycamores in 1979 (leading the Missouri Valley Conference champions and NCAA regional qualifiers with 45 strikeouts) and 1980 (pacing the squad with nine wins, 53 strikeouts and 76 innings).

Grapenthin then went into pro ball and made it to the majors with the Montreal Expos.

“Bob had a lot of success bringing in blue collar grinders,” says Grapenthin of Hall of Famer Warn. “We had a really, really nice team and great work habits.”

To get time in the physical education center in the winter, the team often practiced from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. then players went to their 8 a.m. classes.

Warn was very organized.

“We’d use every part of an indoor facility for some type of drills,” says Grapenthin. “We always had something going on.”

Grapenthin, who was inducted into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame as an individual in 2016 after being honored for his involvement with the 1986 College World Series team in 2002, remembers ISU traveling to Florida to play the vaunted Miami Hurricanes.

“We didn’t have the talent those guys had, but we were very well-schooled in fundamentals,” says Grapenthin. “You had to do that. You couldn’t play as much (in the north) because it was cold out.”

On nicer days, the team would practice on the turf at Memorial Stadium (football).

Mitch Hannahs was on the 1986 ISU team and is now head coach. Grapenthin saw the team play last season at Vanderbilt, the team that went on to the win the College World Series. While the Commodores had the lights-out pitching arms, he saw more skill from the Sycamores.

“Mitch has done such a great job,” says Grapenthin.

After his playing days at ISU concluded in 1980, Grapenthin signed with the Expos as a minor league free agent. He came back to Terre Haute in the fall and winter to work out with and coach the Sycamores.

He made his Major League Baseball debut in 1983. He split the 1984 and 1985 seasons between Montreal and the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, managed by Buck Rodgers and then Felipe Alou.

“A lot of those guys are still there,” says Grapenthin, noting that former president and chairman Max Schumacher remains involved with the club and radio voice Howard Kellman is still calling games for the Tribe — only its now downtown at Victory Field and not on 16th Street at Bush Stadium.

Grapenthin’s playing career concluded in 1989 and he spent two seasons as pitching coach to Bill Wilhelm at Clemson University.

Much of his focus with his pitchers was on mechanics.

“I focused a lot on trying to try to get kids in a position to make repeatable actions and be consistent,” says Grapenthin. “I taught from the feet up.”

Grapenthin learned much about baseball from Warn and Wilhelm. He also found out about how tough it can be to coach.

“That is a very hard lifestyle,” says Grapenthin. “Coaches make an unbelievable amount of sacrifices to be really good.

“I wanted more of a controlled family life.”

Dick and Cindy Grapenthin live in Alpharetta, Ga., north of Atlanta, and have three children — two daughters and a son. Alex is a Clemson graduate. Kristi is an Auburn University graduate. Trevor Grapenthin is a economics major and baseball player at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Cindy Grapenthin holds a doctorate in psychology from Indiana State and has a individual and family psychology practice as well as being an assistant professor of psychology at Brenau University in Gainesville, Ga.

Dick Grapenthin earned his Master of Business Administration degree from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in 1993.

He worked for Easton for seven years then Mizuno for seven. In 2015, he started his own sports management and consulting business — BoneChip Enterprises — and consulted for Louisville Slugger for three threes then spent another nine with Mizuno.

He started PBPro (PlayersBrandPro) two years ago. The company makes custom game gloves and infield trainers ranging from $120 to $300. Infield guru and top instructor Ron Washington teaches with the PBPro WashDonutTrainer and 9.5-inch PBPro WashTrainer.

Grapenthin appears at MLB Winter Meetings clubhouse show, American Baseball Coaches Association trade show, state coaches clinics, spring training and at grass roots events around the Atlanta area.

“I love working with people who are passionate about the game,” says Grapenthin. “It’s a lot of fun.

“I’ve done that basically my whole life. It’s like you’re not going to work.”

Why gloves?

“I wanted to do something unique,” says Grapenthin. “There’s not a lot of people focused on baseball/softball training gloves at a high end.”

He says one of the strengths of company is its knowledge of production and factories.

“I knew people in that industry and I just kind of like baseball gloves,” says Grapenthin. “I enjoy making nice stuff.”

Grapenthin does not consider himself to be a designer, but he does bring ideas to craftsmen and they make the adjustments in patterns and gloves. He relays feedback from players an coaches.

“There are always ways we can make gloves better,” says Grapenthin.

The PBPro website offers a custom feature that allows the buyer to build their own glove.

With 18 different thread colors and many webs and leathers, the options go on and on and on.

For Grapenthin, the game of baseball has to be fun.

And fun is what he’s having after all these years.

DICKGRAPENTHIN

Dick Grapenthin, an Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Famer, pitched for the Montreal Expos 1983-85. He has long been a sporting goods executive and is the founder of BoneChip Enterprises and PBPro.

 

Harmon has Bishop Chatard Trojans paying attention to detail

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attention to detail.

Mike Harmon has taught his players at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis to pay attention to those during his 20 seasons as head baseball coach for the Trojans.

“Those 3-2 games come down to overthrows or not taking the extra base,” says Harmon. “I’m also a big advocate of multi-sport athletes.”

Chatard has won 13 state titles in football and one in boys basketball. The Trojans have also claimed 11 sectionals, seven regionals, one semistate and one state finalist finish (1973) with five sectionals and two regionals on Harmon’s watch as coach.

During the IHSAA fall Limited Contact Period, Harmon led nine or 10 athletes not involved in a fall sport (many Chatard baseball players are in football or tennis) in player development.

The Trojans will be work in the weight room until the next LCP (Dec. 9-Feb. 8).

Chatard was the first Indiana high school to have artificial baseball turf on-campus. Dave Alexander Field is heading into its eighth spring as a turf field.

“With turf, we will stay outside as long as we can,” says Harmon.

Chatard (enrollment around 720) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Brebeuf Jesuit, Covenant Christian, Guerin Catholic, Heritage Christian and Roncalli).

CCC teams play home-and-home series for five straight weeks — usually on Tuesdays and Wednesday. Last year, a seeded postseason tournament was added.

Chatard last won the Indianapolis city tournament in 2011 and lost in the semifinals in 2019. The 14-team event is also seeded. In 2020, the city and county championships are slated for May 14 at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The Trojans are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Beech Grove, Herron, Indianapolis Manual and Indianapolis Shortridge. Chatard’s most-recent sectional crown came in 2007.

A Catholic school, Chatard is part of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis North Deanery along with Cathedral High School, Christ the King School, Immaculate Heart of Mary School. St. Joan of Arc School, St. Lawrence School, St. Matthew School, St. Pius School, St. Simon the Apostle School and St. Thomas Aquinas School. Harmon says more than a third of Chatard students come from ND feeder schools.

A college preparatory school, almost all Chatard students further their education past high school.

Several recent graduates have go on to college baseball, including Quenton Wellington (Franklin College), Matthew Annee (Wabash College), Henry Wannemuehler (Wabash College), Nick Casey (DePauw University), Lewis Dilts (Manchester University), Mitchell Ayers (Indiana Wesleyan University) and Drew Murray (Hanover College).

Current Chatard senior Patrick Mastrian has committed to the University of Michigan. Others are expected to go on to college diamonds.

Harmon considers helping place players who want to play college baseball a big part of his job.

“I coached in grad school at Butler for three years so I feel like I know (what colleges are looking for),” says Harmon. “We talk to our players as early as sophomore year.”’

A meeting is set up with parents and all involved are encouraged to do their homework on prospective schools.

Harmon says he will tell it like it is when it comes to dealing with college recruiters.

“I try to be honest with them,” says Harmon. “I tell them come out and watch them play.

“You don’t want to feed them a line of bull and it comes and haunts and you.”

Harmon’s coaching staff includes Joe Milharcic and Ken Menser with the varsity, Brian Harrison with the junior varsity and Coley Gaynor and Dave Whittemore with the freshmen. Cathedral graduate Milharcic is a Chatard teacher and has been with the program for 16 years. Chatard alum Whittemore also teaches at the school. Menser played at Butler, Gaynor at Ritter High School and Harrison is a Ben Davis High School graduate.

A 1984 Chatard graduate, Harmon is a former football head coach and baseball assistant at Brebeuf Jesuit in Indianapolis. He was on the football staff at Chatard for a decade and still helps the team on game nights. He is also in his 15th year as an assistant athletic director.

Harmon played baseball at Chatard for Tony Primavera, who was good at making coaching points.

“He really taught the game — things that didn’t show up in the box score like lead-off walks and two-out hits,” says Harmon. “He really talked the game with us.

“I appreciated him more after I played for him when I did play for him.”

Harmon played three seasons for Larry Gallo (now executive associate athletic director at the University of North Carolina) and one for Pat Murphy (now the bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers) at the University of Notre Dame. Both had pitching backgrounds, but different approaches.

“(Gallo) was very family-oriented,” says Harmon. “He was always asking how things are going outside of baseball. He was a people person.”

“(Murphy) was hard-line and was about baseball 24/7.”

Now a veteran coach himself, Harmon enjoys talking the game and knocking around ideas with guys like Rich Andriole, Phil Webster, John Wirtz, Dave Gandolph and John Zangrilli. The first four are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Mike is married to Roncalli graduate Karen Harmon. The Harmons have three children. Emma Harmon (20) is an Indiana University sophomore. Elaina Harmon (16) is a Roncalli junior. Andrew Harmon is in sixth grade. He is a ballboy for Chatard in football and batboy in baseball.

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Mike Harmon has been the head baseball coach at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis for 20 seasons. (Bishop Chatard Photo)

 

IHSBCA sends arm care, other IHSAA by-law proposals on to athletic administrators

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association (IHSBCA) members have been surveyed on five proposals that have been passed on to the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (IIAAA), which will then send them on to be considered to the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) at its November executive committee meeting.

The first two proposals involve arm care, the third lengthening the season, the fourth adding summer baseball activity days and the fifth designating a person to track pitch counts during the state tournament series.

The IHSBCA’s proposed change to by-law 15-2.4 states: “During the School Year Out-of-Season, a student who participates in the Team Sport of baseball may throw a baseball as a part of a conditioning program (beginning M – WK26).”

“We definitely see throwing as part of conditioning,” says IHSBCA executive director Brian Abbott. “It’s hard to simulate throwing in baseball without a baseball.

“Our membership supports our proposals.”

According to the IHSBCA, which has been working with IHSAA assistant commissioner for baseball Robert Faulkens (who says he will have to see the IHSBCA findings before he comments publicly on the proposals), the rationale for the proposal is that “throwing a baseball generally involves a 15 to 20-minute session with a baseball so it is not a huge time commitment. The flexibility of the conditioning program is needed due to the fact a player needs to throw on multiple days.”

The IHSBCA has been a strong advocate for an arm care program since the pitch count limitations (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) were put in place.

In appealing to its members, the IHSBCA says “preferably, this arm care proposal can be started immediately in preparation for the upcoming 2020 season. Track runners train their legs as a part of conditioning, the arm has to be conditioned in a similar fashion. In order to train the arm, just as the legs, a plan of progression and consistency is imperative for overall health of these muscle groups.

“As it currently reads, Indiana high school baseball players are allowed to throw a baseball two times per week preceding the beginning of the season. At which time these players are now allowed, and almost have to be in order to be ready for the season, to throw six times per week. The progression of going from two days to six days without a proper build up in between is not a healthy progression for an arm.

“This stage of arm care will NOT include bullpens. We are looking to train and prepare the arm

as a track runner trains and prepares their legs.

“Bullpens and competitive bullpens will only take place during the participation portion of the Limited Contact sessions currently allowed by the IHSAA.

“By allowing arm care to be a part of conditioning there are no additional times, dates, etc. … to supervise. The only supervision for school administration is during the Limited Contact sessions.”

For by-law 15-2.5, this is the changed being proposed by the IHSBCA: “Beginning on M – WK33 and continuing to M – WK37 (official practice starting date), the Team Sport of baseball will be allowed 1 additional day per week (2-hour max.) for the specific purpose of throwing bullpens … bullpens are defined as a pitcher, catcher, and the use of a pitching mound (s). No other baseball activities will be performed during this additional 1 day/week time period.”

Abbott notes that schools with a large number of pitchers will have difficulty in getting in all the pitches and have any time left over for other training.

“Some schools have 60 to 70 kids trying out,” says Abbott. “It takes a lot of their time.  That’s all you get done for two hours.

“We next extra time. Proposal No. 2 adds another dimension with more opportunities for pre-season bullpens.

“In my mind, (the arm care proposals) are needed, but we’re only one piece of the puzzle.”

In getting pitchers ready for the season, coaches generally like to work up to at least 60 pitches by opening day and this tends to start with about 15 pitches on Week 1, 30 on Week 2 and so on.

Abbott says while the IHSAA will consider proposals in November, action is not expected until it meets in May after the IHSBCA is allowed to formally present its proposals, meaning changes would go into effect in 2020-21.

Though the IHSBCA would like to speed up that timetable for arm care.

“Pitch count was put in immediately because it was agreed upon by all parties,” says Abbott. “We would love arm care to go in place after Christmas, but we have no control over that.”

The IHSBCA requests that the length of the baseball season be extended by one week.

Abbott says that in the fall of 2018, Goshen High School athletic director and IIAAA Proposals chairman Larry Kissinger asked the IHSBCA and Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association (which covers softball) to consider options for length of season and games played.

Kissinger shared that 77 percent of coaches did not want a reduction in games. The IHSBCA has been working with the IIAAA on options. One way to continue to play 28 games of 26 games plus a tournament was by adding another week to the season.

Abbott notes that the softball season is 11 weeks and baseball is shorter. Spring breaks — in some districts two weeks long and some systems imposing mandatory time off — are cutting the compacted season. This does not happen with football in the fall or basketball in the winter.

In discussions with Randy Lewandowski, president and general manager of the Indianapolis Indians, Abbott learned that the minor league team prefers having the tournament off Father’s Day weekend as those are lucrative dates for the club at Victory Field.

The proposed timetable (with length of each season to the start of sectional play:

Current Season Length:

Football (1A-4A): 11 weeks plus 4 days.

Football (5A-6A): 12 weeks plus 4 days.

Boys Basketball: 16 weeks plus 1 day.

Softball: 11 weeks.

Baseball: 10 weeks plus 1 or 2 days (depending on sectional start date).

Proposed Season Length:

Baseball: 11 weeks (sectional tournament starts on Memorial Day and concludes the following Saturday; the 4-week tourney finishes the weekend after Father’s Day).

In 2021, Memorial Day is May 31, Father’s Day June 20 so that would make June 25-26 the dates for the State Finals.

In 2022, Memorial Day is May 30, Father’s Day June 19 and the proposed State Finals dates June 24-25.

For 2023, those dates are May 29, June 18 and June 23-24.

For 2024, they are May 27, June 16 and June 21-22.

IHSBCA’s fourth proposal states: “A School, and players from the School’s baseball program, may participate in Baseball Activities under the following standards:

“a. Schools may sponsor up to Ten (10) Baseball Activity Days (a day when a School’s baseball coaching staff coaches Two (2) or more players from the School’s baseball team engaged in Baseball Activities) during the Summer.

“b. A School’s Baseball Activity Days may include up to Four (4) Baseball Competition Days (a day when a School’s baseball coaching staff takes Two (2) or more players from a School’s baseball team to either Practice with or compete against One (1) or more players from another School or program).

“c. Prior to the first day of Summer, a School’s baseball coaching staff must designate to the School’s athletic director or the principal the specific Baseball Activity Days and the Baseball Competition Days in which the baseball program plans to participate.”

The IHSBCA’s rationale: “The IHSAA is asking all coaches associations to submit guidelines for summer participation.

“In most cases, travel baseball and non-school leagues dominate the summer environment for our sport; however, in the cases where the high school coach(es) is/are still running an in-house summer program these guidelines will serve as a basis for participation.”

In its fifth proposal, the IHSBCA makes this request: “that each tournament host site (sectional through State Finals) have a person designed to track the pitch count for both teams in each scheduled contest.

“This position will keep written or digital records and communicate with the coaches and umpires each inning to confirm pitch counts for both teams.

“This position will also mandate (through the No. 1 umpire/crew chief) the removal of a pitcher once their pitch count limit has been exhausted.

“The head coach will certify the availability of each pitcher prior to the start of each tournament level; records will be kept throughout the tournament to track pitch counts; ensure proper rest is observed; and, at no time, allow an ineligible pitcher to enter the game or remain in the game.

“These records will be available to member school head coaches, athletic directors, principals, and IHSAA personnel upon request.”

Note: Indiana’s American Legion state tournament has had a person assigned to pitch counts for years. The total is posted in the press box window at the end of each inning.

The IHSAA pitch count rule has meant that teams have had to develop more pitchers and share the load.

Steve Stutsman, veteran head coach at Elkhart Central High School, says the Top 10 pitchers in school history have more than 100 innings per season and the leaders 85 was the norm for the leaders a decade ago.

“Weather is also a consideration,” says Stutsman. “It’s long been a rule at Central that pitchers have to wear long sleeves until it’s 70 degrees.”

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Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association (IHSBCA) members have been surveyed on five proposals that have been passed on to the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (IIAAA), which will then send them on to be considered to the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) at its November executive committee meeting. (Steve Krah Photo)