Tag Archives: Virginia

Podkul’s path takes him to Yinzer Baseball Confederacy

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

Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America.
The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year.
Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
“We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.”
Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc.
“When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that.
“It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.”
After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18).
“He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family.
“On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.”
A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average).
In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional.
“We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.”
With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework.
“At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes.
“Everything is challenging.”
In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016.
Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League.
“It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.”
One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m.
After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019.
In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli.
Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies.
The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547).
The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time.
“It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase.
“You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.”
Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.

Frank Podkul with Andrean High School.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks.
Frank Podkul with the Road Warrior Black Sox of the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy.

Arsenal making its mark on Indiana travel baseball

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

Arsenal Indiana is expanding for the 2021-22 travel baseball season.
The affiliate of Arsenal USA Baseball is to go with 12U, 13U, 14U and 15U squads in its third season.
“Within two or three years I want to have teams from 12U through 17U,” says Arsenal Indiana director Jeff Cleckner. “I want to have one team at each age group and be very competitive.
“I don’t want to water down the brand with seven 15U teams.”
Cleckner, a graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School (1989) and Purdue University living in Fishers, Ind., says the focus is on skill development at the younger levels and that the older ones grow their mental approach to the game as they prepare for college baseball.
But first the current campaign where Arsenal is fielding a 17U team with Cleckner as head coach and Arsenal Indiana director and a 14U squad guided by Steve Smitherman. In 2020, 16U and 13U teams took the field for the organization.
Playing six weekends of seven — starting with the first one in June — the 17U team has competed or will take part in events sponsored by Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and Bullpen Tournaments.
The team placed second during the holiday weekend at the PBR Indiana State Games at Championship Park in Kokomo. The 17U’s were 22-9-1 through 30 games.
The season wraps with the Perfect Game 17U BCS National Championship July 21-26 at Major League Baseball spring training fields in Fort Myers, Fla. All the other tournaments have been staged at Grand Park in Westfield.
“It’s nice with Grand Park,” says Cleckner of the large complex in central Indiana. “Everyone comes to us.”
High schools represented on the 17U roster include Avon, Fishers, Harrison (West Lafayette), Heritage Christian, Huntington North, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis North Central, Noblesville, Penn, Plainfield, South Adams, Wapahani, Wawasee, Westfield and Zionsville in Indiana and Edwardsburg in Michigan.
Since the older teams can play as many as seven games in five days, there are often a number of pitcher-only players (aka P.O.’s).
“It’s nice to have P.O.’s,” says Cleckner. “We can supplement as needed with position players.
“We’re mindful of arm care and arm health.”
The 14U Arsenal Indiana team began in early April and will play until mid-July and could easily get in 60 games in 3 1/2 months. The 14U team plays in same types of tournaments that the 17U teams plays at Grand Park in Westfield.
Arsenal Indiana tryouts are planned for late July or early August, likely at Grand Park.
A fall season of four or five weekends features a trip to the Perfect Game WWBA 2022/2023 National Championship Oct. 7-11 in Jupiter, Fla., for the upperclassmen.
“The goal of the fall season is getting a little more work going into the winter,” says Cleckner. “You have new kids who’ve joined your team and you’re creating some chemistry and camaraderie.”
The fall also provides more college looks for older players.
Arsenal Indiana trains in the off-season at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville.
What is now Arsenal USA Baseball was began in 1995 by Joe Barth Jr. and son Bob Barth as the Tri-State Arsenal with players from southern New Jersey, Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania. Besides USA National in New Jersey, there are affiliate locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Many professionals and college players have come through the Arsenal program.

Arsenal Indiana’s Grant Brooks, a Butler University commit.
Arsenal Indiana’s Trey Dorton.
Arsenal Indiana first baseman Riley Behrmann.
Arsenal Indiana’s Joe Huffman.
Arsenal Indiana’s Jake Gothrup.
Arsenal Indiana’s Evan Jensen scores a run.
Arsenal Indiana’s Connor Ostrander, a Western Michigan University commit.
Arsenal Indiana’s Braden Gendron.
Arsenal Indiana catcher A.J. Dull.
Arsenal Indiana’s 17U with tournament hardware earned in 2021.
Coach/director Jeff Cleckner addresses his Arsenal Indiana 17U team at a tournament at Kokomo’s Championship Park. (Steve Krah Photo)

IU Southeast dodges elimination at NAIA World Series; Notre Dame, Indiana State get NCAA bids

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast was a winner in its first-ever NAIA Baseball World Series game. 

The Grenadiers beat Concordia (Neb.) 4-2 Friday, May 28 in Lewiston, Idaho.

The next day IUS fell 11-5 to Central Methodist (Mo.) and played in an elimination game Monday, May 31 against Keiser (Fla.). 

IU Southeast (50-15) was a 9-7 winner in that one. The Grenadiers  face Faulkner (Ala.) today (June 1).

The NAIA Word Series continue until June 4.

Notre Dame and Indiana State are the teams from the state making the NCAA Division I tournament (the draw for the Road to Omaha was announced Monday).

After beating Virginia Tech 8-0 and losing to Virginia 14-1 at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., the Irish will host the South Bend Regional. It will be the first time postseason baseball has been at ND since 2004.

Each regional field features four teams, playing in a double-elimination format. All 16 regionals are scheduled to be conducted from Friday, June 4 to Monday, June 7 (if necessary).

Notre Dame (30-11) plays Central Michigan (40-16) at 1 p.m., followed by Connecticut (33-17) against Michigan (27-17) at 7. Irish head coach Link Jarrett was named the ACC Coach of the Year.

Indiana State went 3-2 at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Carbondale, Ill. — beating Illinois State 5-2 and Southern Illinois 11-8, losing to Dallas Baptist 10-1, beating Southern Illinois 9-7 then losing to Dallas Baptist 12-8 (in 11 innings).

The Sycamores are in the Nashville Regional. Georgia Tech (29-23) plays Indiana State (30-19) at 1 p.m. Friday while Vanderbilt (40-15) takes on Presbyerian (22-21) at 7.

Indiana State earned its 11th NCAA postseason appearance in program history and the third under head coach Mitch Hannahs.

Ball State (38-18) swept a four-game Mid-American Conference home series with Miami (Ohio). The Cardinals did not hear their name called Monday.

Nor did Indiana (26-18). The Hoosiers went 1-2 in a Big Ten Conference series at Maryland.

Purdue (16-26) wrapped the season with one win against Penn State and a doubleheader split against Minnesota in a Big Ten pod weekend.

The 2021 season also closed at the MVC tournament for Valparaiso (16-35) and Evansville (28-27). Valpo went 2-2 and UE 1-1 in Carbondale.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through May 23

NCAA Division I

Ball State 38-18 (25-11 MAC) 

Notre Dame 30-11 (25-10 ACC) 

Evansville 28-27 (11-16 MVC) 

Indiana State 27-17 (14-10 MVC) 

Indiana 26-18 (26-18 Big Ten)

Purdue 14-25 (14-25 Big Ten) 

Butler 14-23 (8-13 Big East) 

Valparaiso 16-35 (9-19 MVC) 

Purdue Fort Wayne 11-35 (8-28 HL) 

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis 27-21 (19-13 GLVC) 

Southern Indiana 24-20 (18-14 GLVC) 

Purdue Northwest 11-22 (5-19 GLIAC) 

NCAA Division III

Franklin 25-14 (23-12 HCAC) 

Earlham 25-20 (21-18 HCAC) 

Rose-Hulman 23-14 (23-12 HCAC)

Anderson 23-19 (20-17 HCAC) 

Hanover 20-20 (20-18 HCAC) 

Manchester 19-22 (19-20 HCAC) 

Wabash 18-15 (9-6 NCAC) 

DePauw 15-21 (8-8 NCAC) 

Trine 6-28 (6-17 MIAA) 

NAIA

Indiana University Southeast 50-15 (26-1 RSC) 

Indiana Wesleyan 44-14 (28-4 CL) 

Taylor 37-20 (24-12 CL) 

Indiana Tech 35-27 (16-6 WHAC) 

Saint Francis 34-22 (23-13 CL) 

Huntington 33-16 (23-13 CL) 

Indiana University-Kokomo 28-20 (16-10 RSC) 

Marian 25-29 (17-19 CL) 

Indiana University South Bend 24-24 (19-11 CCAC) 

Oakland City 17-27 (10-17 RSC) 

Bethel 15-39 (12-24 CL) 

Grace 12-31 (9-23 CL) 

Calumet of Saint Joseph 7-29 (7-20 CCAC) 

Goshen 3-34 (2-26 CL) 

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northeast 31-25 

Vincennes 24-31 (11-21 MWAC) 

Ancilla 6-29 (2-18 MCCAA) 

Conferences

NCAA Division I

Big Ten

Atlantic Coast (ACC)

Big East 

Horizon (HL)

Mid-American (MAC)

Missouri Valley (MVC)

NCAA Division II

Great Lakes Valley (GLVC)

Great Lakes Intercollegiate (GLIAC)

NCAA Division III

Heartland Collegiate (HCAC)

Michigan Intercollegiate (MIAA)

NAIA

Crossroads League (CL)

Chicagoland Collegiate (CCAC)

Wolverine Hoosier (WHAC)

River States Conference (RSC)

Junior College 

Mid-West Athletic (MWAC)

Michigan Community College (MCCAA)

Marker looking to make mark with Seton Catholic Cardinals

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Marker made a mark on the record books as a college pitcher.

Decades later, he is looking to have an impact as first-year head baseball coach at tiny Seton Catholic School in Richmond, Ind.

The Cardinals are in the IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional at Don McBride Stadium this week. Among the 14 on Seton Catholic’s roster is senior right-handed pitcher/second baseman/third baseman and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District H Player of the Year Luke Leverton (a Miami of Ohio commit). 

“Last year we didn’t get to play,” says Marker. “We’re very young this year.”

Louie Falcone, a Seton Catholic graduate, was a freshman on the baseball team at Hanover (Ind.) College this spring.

Seton Catholic (enrollment around 90) wrapped the 2021 regular season with a 7-6 win against Union County. Patriots head coach Jordan Ashbrook, a former Richmond assistant, helped get the game moved to Day Air Ballpark — home of the High-A Central League’s Dayton (Ohio) Dragons.

The Cardinals are a member of the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Central Christian Academy, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Park Tudor and University). Each baseball-playing league team sees each other one time.

The Seton Catholic Sectional also includes Blue River Valley, Cambridge City Lincoln, Randolph Southern, Tri and Union City. The Cardinals have won three sectional titles — the last in 2014.

Seton Catholic, which has three buildings in downtown Richmond (elementary, middle school and high school), has added a middle school baseball program of grades 6-8 in 2021.

“There’s work to be done to grow the program,” says Marker.

Marker, who teaches K-5 physical education at Test Intermediate School and is in his 23rd years in Richmond Community Schools, was a baseball assistant to Shawn Turner for four seasons (2016-19) at Richmond High after 10 seasons as assistant to Red Devils softball coach Kyle Ingram. His assistants at Seton Catholic are Ingram, Robert Cornell and Brice Brown. 

A few summers back, Marker coached for the Midwest Astros travel baseball organization.

A graduate of Randolph Southern Junior/Senior High School in Lynn, Ind., where father Larry was a longtime athletic director, Marker played for the Rebels and for the John Lebo-managed Richmond Post 65 state runner-up team.

Marker walked on at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). 

From 1984-88, Marker went and went 27-10 in 63 mound appearances for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon.

“He never recruited me,” says Marker. “But he redshirted me and taught me how to pitch.”

Marker also spent two summers with the Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals in the Valley League learning from Gary Gilmore, who went on to coach Coastal Carolina University to the College World Series title in 2016.

“I’ve had some pretty good coaches who took me under my wing,” says Marker.

It was in March 1986 while Marker was away playing baseball that his hometown was rocked by a tornado.

“That was before cellphones,” says Marker. “For three days, I did not get ahold of mom and dad.”

When he got back to Lynn, his parents were fine.

After college, Marker had a few professional tryouts and hurt his arm. He played for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets and in fast pitch softball with K&G Sporting Goods (Seymour) and New Construction (Shelbyville).

Marker also teaches summer school P.E., umpires church league softball and likes to run haunted houses.

Dave Marker

Penn grad Yoder assigned to D-III World Series as umpire

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Yoder played for a state championship football team and was part of a competitive baseball program in high school. 

He was on a conference title-winning football team in college.

He served in the U.S. Army and is still attached as a civilian worker. 

Yoder knows about being part of a team. 

He also knows that there are more than two teams on the field or court for each game. 

There are the opponents and there are the game officials.

“Umpiring equates to playing sports and the military,” says Yoder. “On the field, you’re a team.”

Yoder, a 1985 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who lives in Powhatan, Va., and works at Fort Lee, has earned the right to umpire at the 2021 NCAA Division III World Series June 4-9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 

CWS games will be played at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium — home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels of the High-A Central League (formerly known as the Midwest League).

Yoder has umpired NCAA Division I and Division III colleges along the East Coast from Pennsylvania to North Carolina for 16 years. He works Old Dominion Athletic ConferenceMid-Atlantic Conference, Colonial Athletic Association and Atlantic 10 Conference games and has worked out-of-league Atlantic Coast Conference contests. 

In 2016, Yoder was a D-III regional alternate. He made it onto the field in the postseason in 2017 and 2018 and was a regional and super regional crew chief in 2019 — the year that D-III adopted the D-I postseason model of regional, super regional and College World Series.

Yoder had noticed that super regional crew chiefs tend to be assigned to the D-III CWS the next year. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 regular season early and took away the postseason.

This past week it was confirmed that Yoder is part of the D-III College World Series crew.

The son of Mishawaka residents Keith (who was on the Penn-Harris-Madison school board) and Virginia Yoder (who was a teacher) and brother of Granger’s Kevin Yoder, Mark was a youngster traveling with his father to basketball referee gigs when he got his first taste for athletic officiating.

At Penn, Mark Yoder was a tight end for Indiana Football Hall of Fame coach Chris Geesman and a junior on the Kingmen’s first state champion in 1983.

A football assistant and head football coach at Penn was Chuck Wegner, also an Indiana Football Hall of Famer.

“I love Geez,” says Yoder. “As a kid you don’t realize what you learn from your coaches. They just instilled such a mentality of teamwork and counting on each other.

“(Geesman) was hard, but he was always fair. I got to play because I worked hard or didn’t get to play because I didn’t work hard.”

Yoder remembers Wegner’s policy with game officials.

“He would never let us mouth off to an umpire,” says Yoder. “That was a huge no-no. He would never tolerate that. 

“Occasionally he would chirp about a pitch. But I don’t ever remember Chuck getting silly with officials.”

Current Penn head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos coached Yoder as a junior varsity player and then led the Kingsmen for much of his senior season while Wegner was away on medical leave.

Through it all, Yoder was able to apply criticism as an athlete and get better.

“It’s no different in umpiring,” says Yoder.

After graduating from Penn in 1985, Yoder played two football seasons at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., for RHIT Hall of Famer Scott Duncan

The Fightin’ Engineers won what is now the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in 1986. 

When an injury ended his gridiron playing career, Yoder transferred to Indiana State University in Terre Haute and earned his degree.

On an ROTC scholarship and commissioned to the Army, Yoder was an intramural basketball official for $10 a game at Rose-Hulman and also worked other sports at Rose and ISU.

Yoder took a hiatus from officiating while focusing on his military career. The last few years of active duty, he found himself in Germany and served Department of Defense high school baseball, basketball and volleyball.

When he arrived back in the U.S. and the Richmond, Va., area Yoder aligned with the Old Dominion Umpires Association — a group that trains and supports baseball officials. 

He contacted ODUA commissioner Greg Walls and was invited to work a fall scrimmage at the University of Richmond in the fall of 2008.

“I had no umpire gear (it was still on a boat coming from Germany,” says Yoder. “I showed up in shorts and a collared shirt.

“They were running three-man. I had never worked in the three-man system. We never did that in Europe.”

Yoder was made the third base umpire.

“I was a fish out of water,” says Yoder, who soon learned three-man mechanics with the help of a veteran umpire.

He also got to polish his two-man techniques at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va.

Yoder spent the winter of 2008-09 honing his skills and worked his first high school game in the spring at the Class 3A varsity level (the highest in Viriginia at the time).

He figured he has earned his way.

“If you have the skills, ability and game management you’re going to work,” says Yoder. “It’s not the good old boys club.

“You can’t hide a good umpire and you can’t hide a bad umpire. I had enough potential to keep an eye on.”

Walls was not only high school commissioner for the ODUA but supervisor of umpires for the D-III ODAC. 

In 2009 and 2010, Walls gave Yoder high school and American Legion ball assignments with umpires who did college baseball. At the same time, the Indiana native attended two-man camps as well as a three-man camp ran by Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Umpires.

Yoder worked junior college games in 2011 and 2012 and his first D-III game in 2013. By 2015 he was doing almost a full conference season. After that came some D-I assignments.

Yoder has four children all living in northern Indiana — Andrew (Southwest), Sarah (New Paris), Zac South Bend) and Matthew (Elkhart). Matthew Yoder just enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Umpires at the 2019 NCAA Division III Super Regional baseball tournament staged at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.: Greg Kiewitt (Baltimore), Jerry Buresh (Quinton, Va.), Dan Miller (Sebring, Fla.) and Mark Yoder (Powhatan, Va.). Yoder is a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute and a U.S. Army veteran and current civilian worker
Mark Yoder, a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute and a U.S. Army veteran, has been assigned as a baseball umpire at the 2021 NCAA Division III College World Series June 4-9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

’20 Chesterton grad Weller winds up at Arizona Western College

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Max Weller did not get to have a senior baseball season at Chesterton (Ind.) High School.

Now he’s enjoying a unique diamond and educational experience in the sunny Southwest. 

Batting in the No. 3 hole, the righty-swinging freshman center fielder is hitting .412 (21-of-51) with two home runs, two triples, six doubles, 23 runs batted in, 21 runs scored, 12 walks, six times hit by pitch and three stolen bases for Arizona Western College in Yuma. 

The Madators (14-4) are members of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference and National Junior College Athletic Association Division I.

Max (19) is the youngest of Matt and Jennifer Weller’s three sons. Trent (23) and Sam (20) both played soccer at Chesterton.

Max decided a day or two after Christmas 2020 to transfer from Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. — where he spent the fall — to Arizona Western College (a school that also recruited him in high school). He packed up all he had at his Illinois apartment in his truck and went with his parents on a 26-hour drive.

“It was a journey out here,” says Weller. “But all for the good.

“I loved it out here. We get to practice outside reps every single day.”

Using a machine, AWC outfielders field pop-ups and work on their communication.

Most teams on the Matadors’ schedule use wood bats.

“The metal bat games would drag out too long,” says Weller. “The (wood bat) barrel is definitely smaller and does not have as much pop. But there are many truer hits and it’s so much more satisfying.”

Good wood is what 6-foot, 180-pound Weller got on the ball in the first game of a home doubleheader March 9 against Chandler-Gilbert Community College and smacked a homer over the right field fence at Walt Kamman Field. His other college bomb came in a Feb. 18 win against Northeastern in which he plated seven runs.

Weller’s lone four-bagger in high school came as a sophomore in a junior varsity win at LaPorte.

Weller played on the CHS freshmen team in 2017, moved up to JV in 2018 and was on the varsity in 2019, sharing time in right field with Tyler Nelson and at designated hitter.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell leads the Chesterton Trojans.

“He taught me the foundations of the game and how to move runners from first to second,” says Weller of Campbell. “I came to understand the concept that everybody has a role. 

“You’ve got to trust the system.”

For a time in high school, Weller was called “Sunshine.” Then wearing long locks, he resembled Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from the movie, “Remember The Titans.”

COVID-19 took away spring sports in Indiana in 2020. But Weller found a summer baseball home.

Many circuits canceled their seasons, but the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., sprang up and Weller was one of a few who had not yet played past high school to participate. 

“I loved it,” says Weller, who was assigned to the CSL’s A-Team. “There was a lot of good talent.”

Cole Barr, Cooper Trinkle, Daylan Nanny and Hayden Wynja were among his A-Team mates.

Weller’s weekly routine was to travel from northwest Indiana to his grandparents’ lake house in Monticello, Ind., on Sunday night and then drove back and forth for Monday and Tuesday games at Grand Park.

Weller’s says he has connections for the Grand Park or Valley League in Virginia this summer, but could land elsewhere.

“It’s about finding an opening,” says Weller.

Having chosen to attend Wabash Valley, Weller joined the Warriors in the fall of 2020. Because of the pandemic there were no outside games, but lots of intrasquad action against players bound for NCAA Division I or — in some cases — those that had already played at that level.

“I saw all these great pitches,” says Weller. “I learned how to play with a (ball-strike) count. 

“We were practicing everyday for every single week. I was managing that load as student-athlete. All those reps were beneficial.”

Wabash Valley, currently ranked No. 1 in NJCAA D-I, has been led for a quarter century by Rob Fournier.

“He had a lot of knowledge on the game,” says Weller of Fournier. “He was a really personable guy, but he worked you really hard during practice.”

At Arizona Western, Drew Keehn is the head coach. Weller works closely with assistant Zeke Mitchem.

Keehn played at Central Arizona College and in the Colorado Rockies organization.

Mitchem, who played at Brown Mackie College and Tri-State University (now Trine University in Angola, Ind.) has coached at Georgia College, Henderson State University, Drexel University and Marshall University as well as in Germany, Australia and Costa Rica.

Being at AWC has also afforded Weller the opportunity to learn about many cultures and bond with young men from all over the globe.

Arizona Western College is home to international students from over 30 countries.

Besides Indiana’s Weller, there are two Matadors with hometowns in Arizona plus one each from California, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah plus seven from Dominican Republic, three from Netherlands, two from Australia, two from Saskatchewan, two from Venezuela and one each from Czech Republic and Mexico.

Weller’s roommate is Nevada’s D.J. Contreras. They share a dormitory suite with two Dominicans.

“Everyone is open-minded here,” says Weller. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of so far.”

Contreras is from Las Vegas. Weller smacked three doubles for the Matadors in a Feb. 19 trip to Vegas to play a doubleheader with the College of Southern Nevada — the same school where slugger Bryce Harper played prior to pro ball.

Associate athletic director Tim Slack calls the action — home and away — on the Arizona Western College Athletics Facebook page.

Weller is working toward an Associate Degree in Science at the two-year school. This term he is taking Calculus, Chemistry and Astronomy (online).

He takes most of his meals in the campus cafeteria. 

“I load up on lunch and get the calories up,” says Weller. “You’re definitely going to burn them in practice.”

After playing in a local league, Weller started playing travel ball at 10U with he Chesterton Slammers. Uncle Brian Eaton was his head coach for three summers. The team then changed its name to the Indiana Strikers. Weller played his 14U summer with the Indiana Breakers.

Rob Kucharski was Weller’s head coach at 15U and 16U with the Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training team. That squad had many northwestern Indiana players.

At 17U, Weller played for the 18U Midwest Rangers. The Jeff Bohlen-coached team based out of Chicago Heights, Ill., featured South Central (Union Mills)’s Carson Husmann and Kyle Schmack.

That fall, Weller was with the Cangelosi Sparks with Andrew Massey as head coach and Lucas Fritsch as an assistant.

Weller split the summer of 2020 between the Grand Park league and the Midwest Irish 18U team coached by Shane Brogran.

Among Weller’s other travel teammates has been Frank Podkul, who played at Andrean High School and Franklin College.

Max Weller, a 2020 Chesterton (Ind.) High School graduate, is a freshman center fielder on the Arizona Western College baseball team in Yuma, Ariz. (Arizona Western College Photo)

Ball State leads nation in RPI, Strength of Schedule

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Making memories against formidable foes.

That’s one thing Ball State University head baseball coach Rich Maloney considers when putting together the Cardinals schedule.

When the opportunity came to open the season at perennial powerhouse Arizona, Maloney jumped at it.

Kent State had planned to visit the Wildcats, but was not allowed to travel.

Maloney asked Ball State director of athletics Beth Goetz about taking the place of their Mid-American Conference partners.

“We’ve got a veteran team,” says Maloney of his sales pitch to Goetz. “They didn’t get to go last year (because of a pandemic-shortened 2020 season). They’re hungry. We wanted to be able to go somewhere and play.

“I try to schedule really good opponents and get the kids to have the opportunity for experiences that they can remember and go to places they’ll never forget.”

A couple of items sweetened the deal. Arizona offered a guarantee in case the series could not be played because of COVID-19.

Also, one of Maloney’s former players at Michigan — Derek Kerr — is an Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at American Airlines and that just happens to be the carrier the Cards chose to take to Tucson.

“It was totally incidental,” says Maloney. “I called and asked Derek if there was any way he could help Coach out and get an extension in case we got hit with COVID and couldn’t make the trip to Arizona. He promised and that’s what gave Beth Goetz the green light to say it’s OK to schedule the flight.

“Our guys have done a nice job of staying in their bubble the best they can and we’ve been able to make these trips.”

With senior right-handed pitcher John Baker playing a major role, Ball State split four games Feb. 19-22 at Arizona, went 2-1 Feb. 26-27 against Bradley in Normal, Ill., and 2-1 March 5-7 at Kentucky for a 6-4 start to 2021 season.

Baker has made four appearances (three in relief) and is 1-0 with a 1.45 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .127 against him.

“He should have gone to pro ball a long time ago,” says Maloney of Baker. “He has amazing moxie. 

“He’s so underrated. He has the ‘It’ factor.”

Senior left-hander Lukas Jaksich (2-0), junior right-hander Chayce McDermott (1-0), junior Tyler Ruetschle (1-1) and sophomore right-hander Andre Oreselli (1-0) have accounted for the other mound victories.

In Sunday’s 4-3 win at UK, the Cards’ starting batting order featured junior second baseman Noah Navarro, freshman designated hitter Decker Scheffler, senior right fielder Ross Messina, junior first baseman Trenton Quartermaine, senior catcher Chase Sebby, junior left fielder Nick Powell, sophomore third baseman Ryan Peltier, sophomore shortstop Justin Conant and senior center fielder Aaron Simpson.

Those nine represent 521 games (with 465 starts) in their Ball State careers. 

Sebby, the 2019 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, has started 122 of his 130 games while Messina and Simpson have started all 83 times they’ve been in the lineup.

“We’ve got a great bunch,” says Maloney. “It’s a fun team to coach. They’re highly-competitive and they’re experienced.

“They’ve done some pretty incredible things in the first couple of weekends. I’m certainly happy for them. They’ve created some great memories. But we’ve got a long way to go. We can get a lot better than we are.”

Maloney says he is encouraged by the “grit” of his team, which has several players back — right-handed fireballers Drey Jameson and Kyle Nicolas being the notable exceptions — from that went 38-19 overall and 20-5 in the MAC while Central Michigan was having stronger year at 47-14 and 22-5.

“In any other year we would have been a (conference) champion,” says Maloney. 

WarrenNolan.com has Ball State No. 1 in both RPI and Strength of Schedule among NCAA Division I programs. Indiana State is No. 9 and No. 10, Notre Dame No. 20 and No. 35.

Maloney says high-profile wins can only help the Cards.

“Over the years we’ve been good enough to be in the NCAA tournament but because (the MAC) has been a one-team bid we just haven’t been able to get over the top in tournament play.

“The RPI — the power of the league — has held us back.”

When Maloney was head coach at Michigan, the Big Ten had bids for the conference champion and an at-large bid — something not enjoyed by the MAC.

“I talk about it a lot with the other coaches. There’s going when we can get two teams in. I don’t know if this is the year or not. Our conference is winning some games out of conference.

“The Mid-American Conference is at the highest level its been in a long, long time.”

For example: Kent State beat No. 2-ranked Mississippi State Saturday, March 6.

“The difference between David and Goliath isn’t really that big,” say Maloney.

Next up for Ball State is a three-game series March 12-14 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

The Cardinals is scheduled to open the home portion of their season with a four-game set March 19-21 against MAC foe Western Michigan.

Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Larry Owens was playing baseball for Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School in the mid-1980’s, he had no sense of his future in the game.

Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.

“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”

Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.

“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”

Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.

“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).

Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992. 

The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).

Entering the college coaching ranks, Owens was as assistant to Warriors head coach Scott Rendel at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1994 and 1995. 

In the fall of 1995, Owens was a volunteer at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) with Keith Guttin as Bears head coach and Paul Evans as pitching coach.

When Mike Snyder left the University of Louisville as pitching coach, Owens got the job and served with Cardinals head coach Lelo Prado in 1996 and 1997.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons saw Owens as pitching coach for Governors head coach Gary McClure at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

That was follow by a four-year stint (2001-04) as Tigers head coach Dave Anderson’s pitching coach at the University of Memphis.

In the summer of 2005, Owens got his first taste of pro coaching. He was pitching coach for the independent Golden League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs with manager Terry Kennedy, who had played in the majors with Anderson. It was also the last season as a player for a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson.

“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”

Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.

“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.

“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”

Owens was an area scout with the Boston Red Sox in 2006.

The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.

Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.

“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”

One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics. 

When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.

“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”

Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).

Owens, who was featured on the Dec. 7, 2020 Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV and hosted by Jeremy Sheetinger, is leading Bellarmine’s move to D-I baseball. He cut his term as American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA D-II chair short when his program made the switch.

The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.

“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.

“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.

Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.

“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.

After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).

“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.

“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”

Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.

“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”

At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.

That ended up being Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., where Lebanon, Ind., native Joe Roberts was the Pirates head coach.

“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”

Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out. 

“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”

Owens was selected in the 27th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by he Atlanta Braves and played that summer for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves, but he knew his future was in coaching.

So after taking 1991 off, he launched into what has been a baseball coaching odyssey.

Larry Owens talks to Ryan Wheat (Louisville Legends Video).
Larry Owens, a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The 2021 season is to be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I. (Bellarmine University Photo)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

New Castle’s Besecker take non-traditional course to D-I’s VMI

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not your typical story of college baseball recruitment and commitment.

Nic Besecker, a senior at New Castle (Ind.) High School, played travel baseball just a few times — his 12U summer with a team called the Revolution and as a fill-in at 16 with 17U Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).

A self-described “rec league” player most of his diamond life, Besecker has in the New Castle Babe Ruth League and toed the rubber of the all-star team in last summer’s Indiana state tournament in Crown Point. That team was coached by Bret Mann, who had also coached New Castle’s entry in the 2012 Little League World Series.

Besecker, a right-handed pitcher, had his velocity clocked just three times during his prep days. He maxed out at 78 mph at an Earlham College camp as a freshman.

He got into the weight room and took a few lessons from pitching coach Jay Lehr and his velo went up.

“He’s been a big part of it,” says Besecker of Lehr, who is based in central Indiana. “We haven’t gotten to him enough. I’ve had only five true lessons with him, but he taught me something every time. He me how to use my lower half and get into my legs.”

Following his junior year at New Castle, he attended a Prep Baseball Report showcase and went as high as 85. In the early part of 2020, he was at another PBR event and got up to 89.

Besecker isn’t the biggest kid on the field either. Rosters list him at 5-11 and 155 pounds. He says he might be closer to 5-9 and 150.

He gets the most out of what he got. That’s why Besecker has been enamored with major league pitcher Tim Lincecum and what he did with his small frame.

“He’s been my idol since I’ve been little,” says Besecker. “What made me fall in love with him is that when he was good, he was the best pitcher in the world. He was so different from everyone else.”

Besecker has prided himself in exceeding expectations.

“Who’s this little squirt?” says Besecker imitating batters facing him for the first time. Then comes the first delivery.

Usually pretty swift.

But it’s not just about the heat.

“I’ve always prided myself in being a pitcher,” says Besecker. “I always knew how to locate.

“I wasn’t just a hurler.”

Besecker’s passion impresses first-year New Castle head coach Brad Pearson, who didn’t get to see the pitcher perform in a senior season that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nic is one of those kids who seems to be all about baseball,” says Pearson. “He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He just loves the sport.”

Pearson also appreciates Besecker’s mound approach.

“He’s not worried about lightning up the radar gun,” says Pearson. “He just wants to get outs.

“That’s pretty refreshing for a high school kid.”

Besecker signed his National Letter of Intent with NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute on May 11.

Funny thing is when Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra and pitching coach Sam Roberts welcome their new recruit to the Lexington, Va., campus it will represent a few firsts.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it will be the first time for Besecker and his coaches will seeing each other in-person when the player makes his first appearance in Virginia.

“I had options,” says ays Besecker, who will step into a program that has sent right-handers Zak Kent, Josh Winder and Matt Eagle into pro baseball in recent seasons. “Coach Hadra and Coach Roberts has something special going on over there.”

Besecker says he does not owe four years of military service after he graduates from VMI.

“I’m going there to play baseball and etch out some kind of career in baseball,” says Besecker. “That’s been my dream.”

Like all first-year VMI students, Besecker will start on the “Rat Line.” He is hopefully that this basic training program that usually lasts from August through January will help him pack on 20 to 30 pounds.

“I would not get that anywhere else,” says Besecker. “I’ve always been a guy to accept that kind of challenge.”

The majority of new cadets begin around Aug. 15, but they have had summer conditioning programs in the past. If those are available and his coaches want him to attend, Besecker might leave for VMI early.

It’s not yet certain when or if New Castle will have a graduation ceremony.

VMI is a member of the Southern Conference. The Keydets went to Virginia and North Carolina before the 2020 season was halted and was to play home-and-home series with Virginia Tech.

The SoCon tournament was to be staged at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. The park has its own “Green Monster.” The Greenville Drive are Low Class-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox.

Besecker played junior varsity baseball as a New Castle freshman and enjoyed his best varsity campaign as a Trojans sophomore.

“I played against guys who were able to hit the ball regardless of velocity,” says Besecker. “You have to be creative (with breaking pitches).”

In two varsity seasons, Besecker went 8-6 with a 2.96 earned run average. He struck out 80 in 71 innings.

The oldest of Kevin and Lauren Besecker’s two sons, Nic was born in Centerville, Ohio and was raised in Greenville, Ohio.

“I’ve been in a small town my whole life,” says Besecker.

When he was 9, his father brought the family to New Castle. That’s where he was a mechanic/crew chief for the racing Armstrong family, including Dakoda and Caleb, and Nic could get into the Focus program for gifted kids.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” says Nic of the move. “It was a perfect storm.”

He went to be inducted into the National Honor Society and participate in speech and debate while posting a 3.6 grade-point average (on a 4.0) scale at New Castle High.

Nic has logged around 200 service hours at New Castle Babe Ruth’s Denny Bolden Field and has been an assistant coach for teams featuring his little brother Drake (the 13-year-old left-hander is already as tall as big brother and finishing seventh grade).

Lauren Besecker holds a sports marketing degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and has what Nic calls a “love/hate relationship” with the Cincinnati Reds. She is waiting management to make the moves to again make the team make a consistent contender.

Before focusing on baseball his senior year, Besecker played football from fourth grade through junior year. The former quarterback was encouraged by Jaymen Nicholson, who coached in fifth and sixth grade and was part of the highs school staff.

“He’s always believed in me,” says Besecker. “Guys like him and Bret Mann have told me, ‘If you want to do it, you can do it.’ They bought in

“That’s catapulted me as far as I’ve gotten so far.”

BRETMANNNICBESECKERBRADPEARSON

New Castle (Ind.) High School senior Nic Besecker (center) celebrates his signing to play NCAA Division I baseball at Virginia Military Institute. He is flanked by Babe Ruth coach Bret Mann (left) and high school head coach Brad Pearson. (New Castle High School Photo)