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LHP Richard re-building himself through Project 2020

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clayton Richard wasn’t satisfied with the status quo.

The professional left-handed pitcher was not willing to settle.

So when the Lafayette, Ind., native became a free agent after the 2019 Major League Baseball season, he decided a transformation was in order after appearing in 275 MLB games (210 as a starter) since 2008.

The former Indiana Mr. Baseball (he was Indiana Mr. Football, too) sought a way to re-work his mechanics.

“My performance was not matching up with what I desire to be,” says Richard, who went 1-5 with a 5.96 earned run average in 10 starts with the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays and was released Sept. 12 (his 36th birthday). “I decided to make a tangible change to improve production.

“It’s going great. I’m really happy with it.”

A 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, Richard participated with Team USA in the World Baseball Softball Conference Premier 12 — an Olympic qualifier held Nov. 2-17 in Jalisco, Mexico.

He was not in a spring training camp when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live baseball.

The southpaw did travel to Driveline Baseball headquarters in Kent, Wash., to begin his transformation process. He labeled it Project 2020. His journey was explored by David Laurila for Fangraphs in April.

He established a plan of action and came back to Lafayette and started implementing it. He built a barn next to his house and goes out there every morning.

“I’m throwing into a net quite a bit, which isn’t the most fun,” says Richard. “But the net never lies. It shows you exactly where the ball went.

“A good catcher can manipulate pitches.”

The pitcher also wrote down his plan, painstakingly laying out the details.

“Before the baseball world came to a screeching halt, I was frequently asked ‘What are you doing now?’ by friends and family alike,” writes Richard in the introduction to the project. “Although the question was simple enough, I honestly didn’t feel comfortable enough to delve into exactly what I was doing with my time – mostly due to the fact that I didn’t think the majority of people really care where my spin axis was that week.

“Like most unsigned free agent pitchers in professional baseball, it is much easier to state, ‘just throwing every day and waiting for the right opportunity.’

“The reality is I have been up to a lot more than simply throwing a few baseballs everyday. I have used the last few months to make significant changes this off-season. The effectiveness of my pitching repertoire had changed for the worse over the past two seasons.

“Based on that, I could choose to continue down the same path, one with an aim to execute pitches at a higher rate but likely be relegated to a LHP bullpen role, or veer headfirst into changing how my pitches profiled to RHH in an effort to level out the platoon splits for longer outings.

“I honestly debated the choice many times over – my wife likely got sick of my asking her or talking to myself. Ultimately, I came up with a plan to revamp my arsenal to return in time as the starting pitcher, the role I have worked to become since first pitching in my backyard with my dad squatting behind the plate and my mother standing in the box.”

Clayton is the oldest of Barry and Cindy Richard’s three children ahead of daughters Casey (Davenport) and Taylor (Bumgarner). Barry is a retired Lafayette Police offer and has served as sheriff of Tippecanoe County and the executive director of Lyn Trece Boys & Girls Club of Tippecanoe County. Cindy has worked with troubled teenagers.

Most of Richard’s charitable work in baseball has been centered on at-risk youth. He and his wife have worked with the Lyn Trece BGC and and clubs in San Diego.

“We only get to play baseball for so long,” says Richard. “The impact off the field really lasts.”

Richard was the Padres’ nominee for the Heart & Hustle Award (given out annually the the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association to a current player who not only excels not he field, but also “best embodies the values, spirits and traditions of baseball”) and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award (given annually to a Major League Baseball player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement”).

“To be honored with those types of things is really humbling,” says Richard. “It shows what’s really important in life.”

A 2003 graduate of McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Clayton played football for Mavericks head coach Kevin O’Shea, basketball for Rick Peckinpaugh and baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

What sticks with Richard about Burton?

“His discipline and organization of team activities,” says Richard. “Those two things he did at such a high level.

“He taught so many young men the value of being on time and working hard. We were always busy. There was never time to stand around. There was always something you could be doing.”

Richard related to that. He grew up in a household that stressed discipline.

“It was an attribute that was preached and followed,” says Richard. “We’d make sure we’re on time, saying yes. It was those little details about how you carried yourself that made a big difference.

“Those are things we’re trying to teach our children now.”

Clayton and Ashley Richard have three kids — sons Cashton (7), Cannon (6) and daughter Kile (3).

Recently, the family has been going out to a local field.

“It’s our time to be together and play baseball,” says Richard.

While there might not be organized youth baseball this summer because of the pandemic, Richard expects there to be sports for them in the fall.

“Maybe flag football or soccer?,” says Richard. “We keep sports in their own season so they don’t get burned out. We don’t want them playing one sport all year.”

From his own experience and talking with elite athletes, Richard is a believer in participating in multiple sports for a well-rounded experience.

“There’s the competitive advantage of always being in-person,” says Richard. “There’s the social advantage of having teammates.”

Basketball teaches agility and conditioning. Football gives the opportunity to interact with others and be a leader.

The Richards have been doing eLearning with kids. But it’s something they did before the pandemic quarantine. Homeschooling was done because of inconsistent residence, a byproduct of pro baseball.

Richard says schooling kids at home has its advantages.

“It cuts all of the stagnate time and we get to spend more quality time with them,” says Richard. “The details you instill in their education is taken care of.”

Clayton Richard and Ashley Buckingham met at the University of Michigan, where he was a pro-style football quarterback and baseball pitcher and she was a middle blocker on the volleyball team. She prepped at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind.

When did baseball become Clayton’s primary sport?

“Sept. 12, 2004,” says Richard, who was then a redshirt freshman. “That was the day after Michigan was upset 28-20 against Notre Dame. Sophomore Chad Henne was kept at quarterback for that game and moving forward. “I saw writing on the wall. I knew my football career at Michigan was probably coming to an end.”

Soon after the Rose Bowl, Richard went to the baseball team. He appeared in 21 games and went 0-1 with five saves and a 2.43 ERA. He was selected in the eighth round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox and signed by Anderson, Ind.-based scout Mike Shirley.

Richard made his big league debut with the White Sox in 2008 at 24. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2009. He elected free agency after the 2013 season.

He underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in February 2014 and pitched in the minors with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations that year.

Richard was traded to the Chicago Cubs and returned to a big league mound in 2015. He returned to the Padres in August 2016 and remained with them until he designated for assignment in December 2018. That same month Richard was traded to the Blue Jays.

For his career, he is 69-84 with a 4.51 ERA and 824 strikeouts in 1,284 2/3 innings.

Richard has been described as a contact pitcher.

“You never set out to have guys hit the ball,” says Richard. “Weak contact on contact on the ground is a really good thing.

“Guys who typically have a lower spin rate tend to sink the ball. That creates more early contact and more early outs with balls on the ground.”

As he began “Project 2020” in earnest, Richard met with Driveline founder/owner Kyle Boddy and started working with manager of online training Dean Jackson.

More from 2020 Project:

“I need to use my past as a compass to my future. I am too evolved in my career to think what I have done doesn’t matter while looking to improve.

“My Past: I learned how to throw a football first.

“Why that’s important: If I desire to make some fundamental changes to my delivery, I need to be willing to change in complete, as the foundation of my throwing process was built around throwing a football.

“I had to make arm, body, and mechanical compensations mid-career due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. (TOS: the compression of the brachia plexus that is the highway of nerves, arteries and/or veins that controls and supplies to the arm. In myself it manifested as drastic pain in the anterior shoulder).

“Why that’s important: I need to be aware of why I started to do ‘strange’ things throwing a baseball and understand that it’ll be difficult to kick those old habits.

“I made additional compensations in 2018 to get past knee issues.

“Why that’s important: For very much the same reason as the TOS. My body had compensated to cover up inefficiencies, and I had to retrain myself to get back to my old self.

“The combination of these three athletic factors left me with a delivery that was nonathletic and not overly effective, so I tried to throw the old delivery out the window.

“Getting rid of that old delivery has been much like getting water out of a tire. You can see it. You don’t want it there. Yet, you are forced to keep flipping over that tire again and again because only a small portion comes out with every flip.

“The easier part for me was self-evaluating thru identifying pitches and zones that needed improvement from my past. The info was sadly pretty clear to me that not much of my arsenal was effective vs RHH other than my slider. The worst part of the self evaluation was that the slider was largely ineffective last season also due to a whole host of reasons.

“What I also found was that my sinker at the bottom of the zone – my bread and butter that generated ground balls — had turned from a viable option to one that was generating less and less favorable results.

“My change-up as well had blended into a pitch that too closely mirrored the not so great metrics of my sinker. My analytics study showed my ability to cut and spin the ball was also compromised, due to the lower arm slot and release angle that had been an effective and physically necessary approach a couple of seasons prior.

“A few years ago after another brief self evaluation, I moved to the other side of the rubber, spent the offseason trying to manipulate the change up, and reintroduce a cut fastball into my mix.

“To my naked eye, these worked great and I was oozing with confidence. The ball flight suggested they were good, catch partners loved them, and bullpen catchers were on board. Everything was smooth and positive until a RHH got into the box and took swings at the pitches.

“Going into this offseason, I set the goal of raising my arm angle to create a better four seam fastball vs RHH. This adjustment would change my approach angle, movement profile, and velocity. The new angle would also allow me to differentiate my off-speed from the FB more effectively.

“I felt like I had a good idea of what I wanted to accomplish but didn’t want to lose out on the opportunity to consult specialists in this area of pitching.

“Last year, I worked with a longtime pitching coach that requests to be anonymous. This year I had started to follow Driveline (DL) through social media and been reading up on their research. I decided to reach out to Kyle Boddy. He quickly responded and gave me all the information I needed. I made the trip to Washington to check out Driveline.

“Their information surprised me a bit but offered a roadmap of the last few months: my lower body was not creating much force, and my delivery was not syncing up efficiently enough to create optimized velocity into the ball.”

Richard offered a summary of his Driveline Report:

“Key Notes: Arm action is overall clean and efficient, elbow is a bit low at ball release. However, this is not currently having a negative effect on the rest of the arm action.

“The trunk opening early into foot plant is most likely pulling the arm out of efficient positions too early in the throw.

“Trunk opens early into foot plant. Hip/shoulder separation and timing are inefficient with room to improve.”

Biomechanics details: “Richard’s upper body kinematic positions are within normal to above average ranges for the most part. He does a great job creating above average scap retraction into foot plant (47 degs). Low shoulder abduction at ball release (79 degs). Besides that, no other glaring inefficiencies noted.

“He does a good job staying stacked with good forward (-10 degs) and lateral (4 degs) trunk tilt early into foot plant. However, there are some other inefficiencies noted. Richard’s trunk is opening early into foot plant (21 degs). This is limiting Richard’s ability to create hip/shoulder separation (18 degs) and timing from peak pelvis to peak torso angular velocity (0.0111 secs). This is most likely a product of inefficient trunk/pelvis positions at foot plant making it hard to create separation and sequence efficiently. Hip/shoulder separation drills should be emphasized to work on this by holding counter-rotation and staying stacked with the trunk while the pelvis opens into foot plant.

“Below average kinematic velocities noted; COG velocity (2 m/s); torso angular velocity (980 degs/sec).

“Joint kinetics within normal ranges.”

Richard has taken that data and gone to work.

“With those notes, I had all the information I needed to start down my path of change,” writes Richard of his plan. “Here is a sample formula for a delivery that I will refer to a few times moving forward: Just as 10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10=100, Mindset+Focus+Breath+Feet+Legs+Hips+Torso+Arms+Hand+Sights=Delivery or an Executed Pitch.

“This is an oversimplification pitch delivery to try to illustrate my point. Every pitcher will have a unique equation that reaches their own version of 100.

“When a pitcher changes one small thing in his delivery, he will no longer be at his desired 100.

“Example: I moved my throwing foot to be more flush with the rubber (had to exaggerate to feel as if my toes were pointing at the plate to get there).

Changing that ‘10’ in my foot to an ‘8’ left my solution at ‘98’. Then, I had to go step by step through the rest of my delivery to see what else needed adjusted to get back to 100. In this case, it was just my sights.

“The foot adjustment happened quickly, and my sights adjusted without much issue. Some fixes come relatively easily, but other changes require many frustrating training sessions to find out what was changed and what correlated adjustment needs made.

“Here are a few of the most frustrating parts I encounter when setting out to make a significant change:

“Seeing what is wrong and not feeling it.

“Feeling an adjustment made and not seeing it.

“Expectations not lining up with reality.

“Physical restrictions limiting a faster progression (in my case, blisters).

“I have also figured out you have to go through the frustrating parts to make progress. If you are not getting sore in new places, experiencing blisters, throwing balls off the backstop, then you’re likely not making much of a change at all.

“Making a fundamental change takes hundreds, even thousands of reps, and the outcome revealed is often incremental. My mind and body have worked together so long and over so many reps, it takes a while to break up the chemistry they have going.

“I started working from home while staying in contact with Dean Jackson of DL. We decided to start working from the ground up. Working on my lower half was a very frustrating process.

“Before the past couple of years, I had never put any thought into what my lower body was doing when I was pitching.

“The first part of my lower half adjustment was easy enough: moving my throwing foot flush with the rubber.

“I originally moved my heel off of the rubber to even out my delivery equation when I moved from the other side of the rubber to face RHH two years ago.

“I was having trouble with my command and made a quick fix to change the way by body angled to the plate vs changing something else.

“In getting my heel closer to the rubber, it improved my ability to get into my left hip. What felt good was often wrong and what felt foreign was generally right where I needed to be.

“I spent months trying to get more out of my legs to no avail. I was going back and forth with Dean, almost daily, toiling over changes that could make the positive impact we so desired. He did a remarkable job promptly responding and sending video examples when necessary.

“My mind was totally on my legs, but that is exactly where I was going wrong: I was putting too much emphasis on them. If I think back to when things were going well before the knee issues, there was no thought put into what my lower half was doing.

“Thinking about how it moves, I’m essentially locking it up. I stole a cue from Trevor Cahill, who sent me a video of him getting his foot down before an obstacle (keeping his glove foot on the throwing side of the midline to the plate). “That is what clicked with me after countless attempts to get my lower half moving ‘right’. What I had been doing was putting so much focus into my leg movement that the process of the lower half going down the slope was taking too long for my foot get down. It was just the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish.

“The next step was how my torso was moving in space at a couple of different points through my delivery.

“Closing off my upper half relative to my hips; Hip/Shoulder separation. The elite throwers do this very well. Over time, my natural ability to do this had been compromised by the many adjustments made to command the ball.

“One of the first attempts was to try to ‘glove tap’ at leg lift. Rob Hill suggested it, and this helped a little, but I didn’t feel that it made as drastic of a change as I desired.

“One day, I remembered back to learning to pitch for the first time in the back yard with my father. I originally misunderstood what he meant when he was telling me ‘all the way back’.

“We would play out imaginary at-bats and call ‘balls’ and ‘strikes.’ If I were to fall behind, he would exclaim, ‘Come on Clayton. All the way back!

“Six-year-old me understood this as reaching my glove and ball all the way back towards second base as far as I could before I delivered the pitch. I didn’t understand ‘all the way back’ as a saying to get back into the count until embarrassingly late in my baseball days.

“So, I used the input from Rob and my father to start getting a little more counter rotation with my upper half by driving my hands back at leg lift.

“Getting on top of the ball: One of the biggest obstacles to get the ball to act how I want it to is to get more ‘on top’ of it. My spin axis has gotten pretty low since my return from TOS.

“My spin axis was measured around 9:45. This leads to a terrific amount of arm side run, but in the past couple years it was not enough to keep the RHH at bay. I needed to find a healthy way to raise my hand and effectively raise my spin axis. “One thing I have heard from many pitching coaches and baseball minds more advanced than mine, is that you don’t mess with a player’s arm angle.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t always listen to this wisdom, and I battled to change mine at times earlier in my career, which led to some arm issues. That left me with the challenge to get my hand more vertical without raising my arm relative to my body.

“Enter Torso Tilt: I elected to use my torso to ‘lean’ glove side in an effort to raise ‘arm angle’ and get my spin axis to a more desirable slot. This worked initially, but then proved to be very inconsistent in terms of spin axis.

“The ball was coming out of the same slot consistently, but the axis was very inconsistent.

“I couldn’t figure this out for a long time. I was throwing with RHP Parker Dunshee and took note of his arm slot that is relatively low compared to his 1:00 spin axis.

“We talked it over, and I tried changing the positioning of my thumb on the baseball. Boom. Spin axis at or above 10:30 nearly every pitch following adjustment.

“My thumb was on the side of the ball and I moved it under or essentially polar opposite of my power fingers.

“After my four-seam fastball was starting to profile how I envisioned it, it was time to start commanding that pitch and doing so at higher intensity levels.

“One thing that I have found when implementing changes into a delivery is that I can perform them fairly easily in drill work or super low intensity situations. The real challenge lies in creating my new outcome as soon as a higher level of intensity is introduced and there is more focus on the outcome of the pitch.

“The moment in which I envision a hitter in the box or try to execute a pitch, my mind/body has a tendency to revert back to the form in which it performed that action in the past.”

“Outside of family, there is nothing in my life that has had as much of an impact on my actions and mindset as baseball. I had a high school football coach that would routinely acknowledge ‘pain is a good teacher’.

“There is not much more painful than giving up a home run to give up the lead or lose an MLB game. Those game experiences of pitches that I was beat on are burnt into my mind and body. If I try to tell my body to throw that pitch, my mind will override a poor decision to stay away from that uber painful experience it was once put in.

“It also provides a level of comfort with the delivery that has worked, for the most part, over the course of my career.

“Unfortunately, that delivery that I revert back to is not one I want moving forward while facing RHH. So, I have to make a habit out of making the uncomfortable, comfortable.

“This is where slow-motion video and pitch measuring tools such as Rapsodo really provide an advantage.

“It is impossible to find big league level talent to take swings off you every time you take the mound to work things out.

“The combination of Rapsodo and film have been introduced to somewhat fill that void.

“Nothing can fully replace the feedback of a big-league hitter, but the metrics and video provided from these sources has been a big step forward in seeing the necessary changes, and if I was making the changes the way I had envisioned.

“Now, instead of ‘feeling’ like that was a good pitch, I can look up and check to see if the numbers backed it up. Whenever I think of mental cues and how our mind perceives our body to be moving,

“I recall a conversation with former MLB veteran and fellow Hoosier, Joe Thatcher. I faced him his senior year of high school, and he threw ‘normal’.

“He developed into a Big Leaguer as a guy that dropped down and was very difficult on LHH. I asked him, “When did you start throwing like this?” when we were teammates in SD. He replied, ‘I feel like I’m throwing the same as everyone else, completely normal.’

“It goes to show, no matter how good we are or how far we have come, very rarely is the vision of our mind’s eye 20/20.

“All too often, early in the process, what felt like a great pitch only felt great because it was closer to how I used to throw.

“I wanted to feel weird and make the weird feeling my new normal. This process takes thousands of throws. It can take thousands of throws at each level of intensity.

“Playing catch — Flatground, Side Work, Live BP, Simulated Game, MiLB Game, MLB Game. As I have worked at each level, I have found that there are certain obstacles that pop up because of my body/mind recalling how it used to perform.

“Back to the process – Command: At this point, many of the variables in my delivery equation have been manipulated.

“The only thing remaining is throwing until my new sights line up with where the ball is actually going, without regressing towards what I’m comfortable with.

“This remains easier said than done. Thousands of throws, even a few off the glove were made in this process.

“I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many intelligent baseball minds over the course of my career. In these times of introspection, I will find myself recalling the cues Darren Balsley used to help me improve my sinker, or how Jim Benedict helped get my velo back after the TOS. Whether it was sights under the glove or the concept of throwing it easy and pulling down, I still draw from those interactions and now I have the 4S FB that I desire.

“Unfortunately, I do not throw 101 mph and have the luxury of living off of one pitch. I am forced to incorporate my off speed to compete at the highest level.

“Every time I use a different grip, some part of my delivery is driven back in time due to the muscle memory of that grip. Some grips take weeks to figure out what was not adding up, like my slider (turns out I was failing to drive my hands back at the top of my leg lift like I was with my FB).

“Other grips took just a few throws to iron out the kinks, like my CH. The new hand placement has allowed for the reintroduction of my cutter and curveball, which was kind of like learning new pitches all over again due to the lack of action those pitches have seen over the past few years.”

“I still have some work to do in getting the release points of my off-speed to mirror more closely that of my FB.

“However, they have gradually gotten closer over the last couple of weeks, and I just need to flip that tire a few more times.  A couple more flips and the water will likely be out of it – just like I will be back to my ‘new, old self.’”

There is uncertainty about when the Major League Baseball season is going to begin — if at all — and if there will be Minor League Baseball in 2020.

Richard’s agent, John Courtright of ISE Baseball in Chicago, is monitoring the situation.

“The opportunities may be few and far between,” says Richard. “I’m going to be ready to compete.”

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Clayton Richard’s old heel position.

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Clayton Richard’s new heel position.

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Clayton Richard’s old hand position.

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Clayton Richard’s new hand position.

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Clayton Richard delivers the baseball for the San Diego Padres in 2009. (Sean M. Haffey/San Diego Union-Tribune Photo)

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Clayton Richard has pitched in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres (two different stints), Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays. (MLB Photo)

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Clayton Richard pitched the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019. The former McCutcheon High School and University of Michigan player made his Major League Baseball debut in 2008. (MLB Photo)

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Clayton Richard, of Lafayette, Ind., has been pitching in Major League Baseball since 2008. At 36, he is re-working his delivery to increase his production. (MLB Photo)

 

Lasher brought in to help with Oakland City transition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Oakland City (Ind.) University is making a transition from NCAA Division I to NAIA and the Mighty Oaks baseball program has also changed its leadership.

Andy Lasher, who played at Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville and coached at Olney, the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville and for the Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., has been hired as OCU head coach.

T-Ray Fletcher, who was Oakland City head coach for 26 seasons, is still the school’s athletic director.

Since taking the job a few weeks ago, Lasher been concentrating on building up his roster.

“I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting though there are no games to watch,” says Lasher, referring to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which has live baseball shut down at the moment. “There’s been a lot of calls and text messages.”

Lasher, who is tapping into his network of contacts, says he would like to have 35 players in the fall and 40 to 45 in the future so the Mighty Oaks can add a junior varsity program.

In moving from NCAA D-II to NAIA, Oakland City also goes from an independent to a member of the River States Conference, a circuit that also features baseball-playing schools Indiana University Kokomo and Indiana University Southeast.

That takes care of half the schedule. Lasher has the opportunity to fill in the rest of the games, choosing ones that are feasible and keeps players from missing too many classes.

It’s Lasher’s intent to schedule some contests in the fall.

Lasher’s assistants are Jacob Bedwell and Austen Bullington. Washington (Ind.) High School graduate Bedwell was on the OCU team last year. Castle grad Bullington played at Wabash Valley College and the University of Tennessee-Martin.

Lasher was hired by Southern Indiana  last summer and spent much of his time assisting Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Achuleta with hitters and position players.

“I also kept track of academic progress and a lot of little things that don’t happen on the baseball field,” says Lasher. “That’s a much bigger percentage of the job than people realize.

“At the college level, it’s a lot more than the bats and balls. It’s a full-time job for a reason.

“(Archuleta) is one of my favorite people. He’s alot of fun to be around and a really good baseball mind. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Lasher performed many of the same duties during the 2019 season as an assistant on Jason Anderson’s coaching staff at Eastern Illinois University.

He was an assistant to Dennis Conley at Olney Central from the 2014 season until the fall of 2018.

“It was a really good experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” says Lasher, who helped the Blue Knights win 173 games in five seasons.

An outfielder, Lasher played two seasons at Olney (2010 and 2011) for Conley and two at Evansville (2012 and 2013) for Wes Carroll.

Going to Castle, Lasher had heard all about alums Wes and brother Jamey Carroll (who played in the big leagues).

“(Wes Carroll) was a real good player’s coach,” says Lasher. “We had some good teams.”

The Purple Aces won 56 games in Lasher’s two seasons at UE. He played with five players — left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland (Colorado Rockies), lefty-swinging outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski (New York Mets), righty-batting Eric Stamets (Rockies), righty pitcher Kyle Lloyd (San Diego Padres) and lefty hurler Phillip Diehl (Rockies) — who eventually made it to the majors.

For five summers, Lasher was with the Bombers — 2014 as an assistant coach and 2015-18 as manager.

He got to guide many talented players, including New Mexico State University’s Daniel Johnson in 2015, USI’s Logan Brown in 2016 and NMSU’s Nick Gonzales in 2018.

Lefty-hitting outfielder Johnson is now on the Cleveland Indians’ 40-man roster.

Brown is a catcher in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Lasher calls shortstop Gonzales, who was the 2019 NCAA Division I batting champion, the best player he’s ever coached and expects him to be taken about the top picks in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The atmosphere created by Dubois County ownership and fans at League Stadium made Lasher’s time with the Bombers very enjoyable.

“It’s a great place to watch a game,” says Lasher. “It’s a shame they’re not getting to do it this summer (due to COVID-19 causing cancelation of the Ohio Valley League season).”

Lasher graduated in 2009 from Castle, where he played for Curt Welch.

“He was very intense,” says Lasher of Welch, who has also been an assistant wrestling coach for the Knights. “We were probably in better shape physically as any team in the country.”

There was plenty of running and ab workouts.

“It was worth it,” says Welch. “No doubt about it. It got guys ready for the college stuff. You have to be mentally tough and physically in shape in college or you just aren’t going to make it.”

Besides head baseball coach, Lasher is also in charge of maintaining Oakland City athletic fields and is gameday coordinator for any on-campus sporting events. The Mighty Oaks sponsor teams in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer and tennis for men and women and softball and volleyball for women.

Lasher and girlfriend, former Orleans (Ind.) High School, Olney Central and Brescia University basketball player Shelbi Samsil, recently moved to the north side of Indianapolis to be closer to Oakland City.

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Andy Lasher is the new head baseball coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University. He is a graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., and played at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville. He has coached at Olney, Eastern Illinois University, the University of Southern Indiana and with the summer collegiate Dubois County Bombers. (Oakland City University Photo)

 

Grove appreciates how Churubusco values baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Grove retired as head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2015.

But that hasn’t stopped him from being a regular around “Turtle Town” diamonds.

Grove has helped out with the high school program, now led by 2011 graduate Jordan Turner, and has crossed Churubusco Community Park to watch youth league games.

“Baseball’s important in Churubusco,” says Grove. “It really is.

Grove, a graduate of Bluffton (Ind.) High School and Ball State University (1977), started coaching baseball at Churubusco in 1980 as an assistant to Jerry Lange (who was head football coach at the school 1985-91) and took over the Eagles in 1985. He went on to earn 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. Churubusco won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (reigning four times in the NECC tournament) on his watch and two Allen County Athletic Conference titles.

Grove produced 25 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state selections and six players selected for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Devin Peters (2015), Bryan Brudi (2008), Brad Vaught (2007), Brad Dell (2003), Todd Fleetwood (1997) and Travis Rehrer (1995). Grove was an assistant to North head coach Erik Hisner during the 2015 series.

Peters went on to play for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national champions at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (2017) and participate in the NCAA Division II World Series with Ashland (Ohio) University (2019).

Right-handed pitcher Fred Ransom Jones, a 2004 Churubusco graduate, was selected in the 33rd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees out of the University of Evansville.

Grove’s 1995 squad lost 7-1 to eventual single-class state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci, in the championship game of the Concordia Semistate. Bill Sharpe was the plate umpire in the title games of the Warsaw Sectional, Plymouth Regional, Concordia Semistate and State Finals in ’95.

The ’Busco battery of right-hander Rehrer and catcher Shawn Targgart wound up playing for Richard “Itchy” Jones at the University of Illinois.

Right-hander Brent Gaff represented Churubusco in the majors. He was chosen in the sixth round of the 1977 MLB Draft by the New York Mets and spent parts of 1982-84 with the big club.

“A small town kid from Churubusco can make it to the bigs,” says Grove. “This town is proud of the product they turn out on the baseball field.”

Whether or not an Eagles’ season included any postseason accolades, Grove got a kick out of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“I enjoyed the whole preseason part and working out in the gym,” says Grove. “I moved kids around so we could be the most competitive we could be.”

After games, Grove went home and studied charts to see how to pitch to returning players for the next opponent.

“That was a lot of fun,” says Grove.

He also appreciated the rapport with his players and the camaraderie with his assistant coaches.

“I’ve got to see (players) grow up and become fathers,” says Grove. “You’re only going to be as good as your assistants.”

Business teacher Terry McManama was hired at Churubusco at the same time as Industrial Technology teacher Grove and coached volleyball and softball before he was lured to the baseball staff, where he served for more than two decades.

Math teacher Monte Gerig, who was Eagles head coach from 1973-77, and Chemistry teacher Jim Folland (a former Fort Wayne Elmhurst head baseball coach) were also Grove assistants. When Trent Gerig (Class of 1996), was a player, his father was lured back to coaching baseball.

Coaches in the Churubusco athletic department knew that they needed to share athletes in order for their teams to be competitive so multi-sport athletes were the norm.

“Everybody worked together,” says Grove. “We kept our kids active. We were there for the kids.

“The more sports they play, the more it makes them a rounded athlete. They tend to stay away from injuries because they don’t use the same muscles over and over again until something gives.”

Grove, McManama and Gerig can often be seen together on the golf course.

To stay close to football, Grove and McManama walk the sidelines and keep statistics for Churubusco football, which is now led by Paul Sade.

A former defensive coordinator, Grove was an Eagles assistant from 1979-99. He coached football at Lake State Edison briefly before coming to Whitley County.

Grove is still active with the IHSBCA, helping with registration at the State Clinic each January and assisting with the Class 2A poll. He was a district representative for many years and has served on the North/South All-Stars Series committee and was co-chair of the Baseball Strikes Out Cancer project with former executive director Bill Jones. The campaign raised more than $25,000 for the American Cancer Society.

“The most satisfying committee I ever worked on with the IHSBCA,” says Grove.

He is grateful for the impact of mentors like Hall of Famers Jones (who coached at DeKalb), Masucci, Don Sherman (Huntington North), Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop) and Bill Nixon (Plymouth).

“I was skinny young coach,” says Grove. “I really looked up to those guys. The smartest thing I’ve ever done is that I kept my mouth shut and learned from them.”

At Bluffton, Grove was an outfielder and right-hander pitcher. Fred Murray was the Tigers head coach.

As a thank you to Murray, some member of the Class of 72, including Mike Pettibone, Bruce Hirschy and Jeff Penrod, initiated a reunion a couple of summers ago. Playing on old Wilson Field, Bluffton won its own sectional in 1972.

“Bluffton was a great place to grow up,” says Grove. “there was something going on for kids all the time.”

A summer recreation program provided chances to learn about baseball, swimming, tennis and more.

Denise Milholland, who went to another Wells County high school — Norwell — was introduced to Grove by Jim Watson and they later wed. Eric Milholland, brother of Denise, played in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Mark and Denise Grove have two married daughters and two grandsons — Jennifer, who works for Child Protective Services, and Derek Hupfer with Payton (9) and Brittany, an occupational therapy assistant, and Brennon Moughler with Evan (11).

Jennifer played volleyball, a little basketball and softball at Churubusco then softball at Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.). Brittany played volleyball, a little basketball and tennis for the Eagles. The Hupfers reside in Bluffton and the Moughlers near Butler, Ind.

One of Grove’s hobbies is collecting antique tools and tool boxes and fixing them up. One Christmas, he gave a tool box to each grandson and then let them and their fathers take turns picking out tools.

In January 2020, Grove received a call from Steve Warden on behalf of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Grove was selected for induction into the NEIA Hall of Fame with the banquet moved from the spring to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Classic Cafe Catering & Event Center, 4832 Hillegas Road, Fort Wayne, because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

“That was a happy day at the Grove house,” says Grove, who was on the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot in 2020. “It validates the kind of program we had here at Churubusco.

“We had a lot of support from the administration and community. You don’t win without that.”

The NEIBA will also induct Northrop head coach Matt Brumbaugh and World Baseball Academy Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel and present awards to Tom Knox and Tom Clements. Tickets are $25 each. Mail payment and the number of attendees to NEIBA, P.O. Box 12733, Fort Wayne, IN 46864.

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Mark Grove was head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School from 1985-2015 and earned 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. He is to be inducted into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame Oct. 18.

 

Chesterton, Goshen College graduate Hoover to be voice of Gary SouthShore RailCats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Laura Hoover thought her summer would again have her calling baseball play-by-play in Connecticut like she did in 2019 with the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

But not so fast.

Hoover, a 2019 Goshen (Ind.) College graduate, was approached by the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in February about her interest in club’s vacant broadcaster job.

Having grown up 20 minutes from U.S. Steel Yard in Chesterton, Ind., and a follower of the team, sure she was interested.

Hoover met with general manager Brian Flenner and field manager Greg Tagert and accepted an offer to be broadcaster and media coordinator.

She officially begins her duties April 1. The RailCats open the May 19 at the Sioux Falls Canaries with the home opener May 22 against the Milwaukee Milkmen. Games will air on Michigan City’s WEFM-FM 95.9.

When word got out of Hoover’s hiring, other AA broadcasters reached out.

“I always want to learn,” says Hoover, 23. “I can learn from other broadcasters. I will happily absorb all that information.”

Using the John Chelsenik-ran Sportscasters Talent Agency of America, the RailCats will find an intern to work with Hoover, helping with on-air duties at home and likely selected road games.

“I am extremely young to be in this position,” says Hoover. “I want to learn from them as much as they are going to be learning through me about a broadcast. It will be a 50/50 kind of deal.

“I’m still learning and I will never stop learning.”

Why baseball broadcasting?

“I just love the sport,” says Hoover, who is already doing preparation for the upcoming season, researching players and other personnel, statistics, history and more and figuring out what she wants to put into the team’s media guide and daily media packets.

“The thing that I’m trying to add more to my broadcast is talking more to players and coaches,” says Hoover. “I want to open that line of communication and use that in the broadcast.”

Growing up in an active family with parents Terry (Andrean High School graduate) and Chris (Hammond Gavit High School graduate) and older brother Jordan (Chesterton High School graduate), Laura participated in basketball, cross country, karate, soccer, track and field and volleyball and came to decide that her best sport was swimming. She attended St. Patrick Catholic School in Chesterton before entering public school as a middle schooler.

She swam four seasons for Chesterton coach Kevin Kinel while working at the school’s student-run radio station — WSDO-FM 88.3 — under the supervision of teacher Matthew Waters. She juggled her swim workouts with her studies and her radio duties, which included studio shifts and play-by-play for football, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and softball.

“I never played baseball and softball,” says Hoover, a 2015 Chesterton graduate. “I’m a student of the game. (Regional Radio Sports Network president/founder) Paul Condry keeps reminding of that.”

Early time spent in the baseball press box was definitely a learning experience for Hoover.

“I did not know how to keep a book,” says Hoover. “I learned that very quickly.”

A drawback of calling baseball for the Chesterton Trojans is that her broadcast partner would sometimes not show up.

That was not a problem in college, where she also took the mic for soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball.

“People showed up to help me broadcast and it just kind of took off,” says Hoover. “I learned how to do it and enjoyed doing it.

“It turned out being one of the sports I love to broadcast the most. I decided to make a life out of it.”

Hoover saw broadcasting as a way to cope with her natural timid nature.

“I was always a really shy kid,” says Hoover. “Speaking behind a mic, you’re never physically face-to-face.

Then came the chance to broadcast.

“I might might as well go do it,” says Hoover. “I tried it out and loved it.

“I decided to pursue a degree in it.”

Hoover chose Goshen for its award-winning communication department, featuring assistant professor Jason Samuel and associate professor Kyle Hufford.

GC has produced many professional sports broadcasters, including Benjamin Kelly (now with the Northwest Naturals in the Kansas City Royals organization and the SEC Network) and Dalton Shetler (who works for the Spartan Sports Network on Michigan State University games).

She worked all four years at WGCS 91.1 FM aka The Globe, serving as student station manager as a senior, and helped re-boot GCTV.

As student station manager, Hoover did many behind-the-scenes things and kept the station and its personnel organized. She was there many late nights and random times day and night.

“I had to make sure I had my time available for everybody else,” says Hoover. “People leaned on me more.”

Her job with the RailCats will mean road trips to nine states (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas, Wisconsin) and one Canadian province (Manitoba).

“I’m not too worried about travel,” says Hoover. “I’m no stranger to 18-20 hour trips. The Globe goes (by train) to New York every year (for the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s Multimedia Conference).

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Laura Hoover, a graduate of Chesterton (Ind.) High School (2015) and Goshen (Ind.) College (2019), has been hired as broadcaster and media coordinator for the Gary SouthShore RailCats. She spent the 2019 season calling games for the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

 

Meyer now leading Guerin Catholic on diamond

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Guerin Catholic High School head baseball coach Tony Meyer comes from a family of coaches.

His father, Ed Meyer, led the football and baseball program at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for nearly four decades. The DePauw graduate’s baseball teams won 522 games. Ed and wife MaryAnn (who taught at Cloverdale High Schoolfor 30 years) both died in 2015.

“At my age, I look back at all the things that he taught me that I didn’t realize he was teaching me,” says Tony Meyer. “It was the way he dealt with players and parents. He could take a player and make him feel like a million bucks or take him down. He never had to raise his voice.”

The elder Meyer also stressed the importance of education.

“He was a very calming influence in the dugout, on the field and in recruiting,” says Tony Meyer. “If I could be half of what he was as a coach, I’d be pretty good.”

Brother Pat Meyer was a good baseball player, he went into sales and now lives in the Chicago suburbs. Sister Anne was a strong all-around athlete and is now in banking in Florida.

Two other brothers — Mike Meyer and Pete Meyer — went into coaching.

Mike Meyer is in his second stint as head football coach at Greencastle High School. He has also been the defensive coordinator at Northview High School in Brazil and served as a football assistant at Ohio Northern University and Case Western University and football head coach at Hiram College.

Pete Meyer was head baseball coach and athletic director at Florida Southern College before moving back to Greencastle.

Tony’s wife, Denise Meyer, is an assistant volleyball coach at Greencastle High School and coaches the Crossroads Of America Volleyball Club‘s 14-1’s out of Terre Haute. She is a product of the Muncie Burris High School volleyball program. All three of Tony and Denise’s three daughters play volleyball — Marian University sophomore Maggie Meyer (part of the 2019 NAIA national championship team), Indiana State University freshman Abigail Meyer and Greencastle junior Lilly Meyer.

Tony Meyer graduated from Greencastle in 1988 and Wabash College in 1993. He played baseball for the Little Giants and head coach Scott Boone for four seasons (1989-92) and football for head coach Greg Carlson for two (1990 and 1991).

After graduation, Meyer went to Hanover College to coach football and baseball. He was on the baseball staff of American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor.

Meyer remembers Naylor for his persistence in finding players.

“He put me on the road to recruit,” says Meyer. “He showed me what to look for.”

Meyer spent 1994 conducting USA Baseball camps in Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma and was head scout for the U.S. team for the Pan-American Games.

He then went to DePauw and coached on the diamond with his father.

Terry Gobert, the long-time Jasper High School head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is a Greencastle graduate and was a graduate assistant to Ed Meyer in 1984 and 1985 along with basketball coach Mike Steele. He was a teammate of Mike Meyer and coached Pete and Pat in Babe Ruth baseball.

After his stint with the Tigers, Meyer coached various teams, including the Waukegan (Ill.) Waves and a summer collegiate team in Indianapolis.

When Meyer began a family, he went into sales but still volunteered in Babe Ruth and youth league baseball and gave lessons.

Then a unique opportunity happened at Cloverdale. The Clovers had an opening for a head football coach and head baseball coach and athletic director J.J. Wade hired Meyer to take both posts which he held in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He had volunteered with the baseball program during the 2014 season.

“It was a learning experience,” says Meyer of his time at Cloverdale, where he got guidance from former Clovers head football coach Mike Parks. “He showed me how he deals with kids, their lives and education.”

Many of his players went on to college.

“That’s my biggest reward,” says Meyer.

He coached 13U then 14U travel teams for Bill Sampen’s Indiana Expos and then a 15U squad for Chris Estep’s Indiana Mustangs.

When IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rich Andriole resigned as head coach at Guerin Catholic, Meyer was encouraged to apply. He was hired by Ryan Davis, the Golden Eagles athletic director and a former assistant to Andriole at Indianapolis Cathedral High School.

“It’s been great so far,” says Meyer, who has been getting about 25 players at IHSAA Limited Contact sessions and expects up to 36 when the 2020 season rolls around. “This is one of the top baseball jobs in the state. There’s a whole lot to offer up there.

“I’ve got some good players. I think we’re going to be very competitive for 3A. Hopefully we can continue the upward trend Rich (Andriole) started two years ago.”

Meyer has named Jalen Cushenberry and John Magers, Eric Wott and Kevin Paulin as Guerin assistants and has two openings yet to fill.

What about the daily drive between Greencastle and Noblesville?

“It’s only a 53-minute commute,” says Meyer. “In sales, I drove to Carmel every day for five years.”

Guerin Catholic (enrollment around 725) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Bishop Chatard, Brebeuf Jesuit, Covenant Christian, Heritage Christian and Roncalli).

The Golden Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Guerin has not yet won a sectional crown.

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Tony Meyer is the head baseball coach at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, Ind. The 2020 season will be his first in charge of the Golden Eagles.

Indianapolis native Vittorio leading Wilmington Quakers with passion, energy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Vittorio is 53 and has been a college baseball coach for three decades.

It was as a teenager on the south side of Indianapolis that he decided that would be his path in life.

Vittorio grew up the youngest of three children at 2925 Anniston Drive, directly across the street from Southport Little League.

“We woke up to the sound of the crowd on Saturdays and Sundays,” says Vittorio. “That’s where the whole love of it came.”

At 15, Tony made the senior league all-stars coached by Jeff Mercer Sr. It was after his first practice with Mercer — then a player at Marian College in Indianapolis and later the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr.  — putting the all-stars through drills and game situations that Vittorio came home and exclaimed that coaching was for him.

“It was that one practice alone,” says Vittorio, who is heading into his second season as head coach at NCAA Division III Wilmington (Ohio) College, which is 35 miles southeast of Dayton.

Vittorio played for Richard Dwenger at Southport High School (Class of 1984) and Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College (Class of 1988).

“We we became close friends through the years,” says Vittorio of mentor Naylor. “I was honored and humbled to do his eulogy at his funeral.”

While playing for Naylor’s Panthers (then an NAIA program), Vittorio pursued a double major in business administration and physical education.

Vittorio spent the 1990 season as a volunteer/graduate assistant at Indiana University under Bob Morgan.

“I always thank Coach Morgan for teaching me how to practice properly,” says Vittorio. “His practice organization was second to no one in the country.”

At 23, Vittorio became a head coach at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and went on to become known as a builder of programs.

“We do not complain about what you don’t have,” says Vittorio. “We just grind it out.”

Vittorio led Lincoln Trail — a junior college — for four seasons. After winning 20 games the first season (1991), the Statesmen won 39, 40 and 45 contests. The year before Vittorio came to town the team won just two games.

That was followed by two years as an assistant to Keith Madison at the University of Kentucky.

“He is as good of a person as I’ve ever met in my life,” says Vittorio of Madison, an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and National Baseball Director for SCORE International. “Coach Madison has this thing figured out — spiritually, mentally.”

Vittorio spent three seasons (1997-99) at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, when the Mastodons were NCAA Division II. His teams won 80 games after IPFW had gone 9-37 the year before he arrived in the Summit City.

Counting Lance Hershberger as one of his dearest friends, Vittorio looks back fondly on the Fort Wayne diamond rivalry they had when he was at IPFW and Hershberger (now at Ivy Tech Northeast) led Indiana Tech.

“He’s a beautiful person,” says Vittorio of Hershberger.

Vittorio began an 18-year run at the University of Dayton in 2000. The program was 22-34 the year before his arrival and went on to 10 seasons of at least 25 victories and seven of at least 30 with the 2009 club winning 38.

His NCAA Division I Flyers won 463 games altogether. the 2012 team participated in the NCAA College Station Regional.

Two pitchers who played for Vittorio at UD are now in the big leagues — right-hander Craig Stammen and left-hander Jerry Blevins.

Three of Vittorio’s former players at Dayton are now coaching at the D-I level. C.J. Gilman is now the top assistant at the Air Force Academy. Jimmy Roesinger, an Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate, is also on the Air Force staff. Jared Broughton, who went to Indianapolis Lutheran High School, is now an assistant at Clemson University.

Several other former Vittorio players and coaches are coaching are various levels.

After his days at Dayton, Vittorio helped coach his son (Nic Vittorio) in the summer with Dayton Thunderbirds, but was not really looking for another college job when Wilmington, a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference, came calling.

His first Quakers team went 8-29 in 2019 and he’s working toward steady improvement.

“I feel revised and amped up again to build a program at this level,” says Vittorio. “There’s a locker room word — culture. We’re looking to change the culture.

“That means implementing your own program of everyday core values — hard work, loyalty, hustle, sportsmanship and the biggest one — passion and energy on a daily basis. I’m a true believer you can’t go to where you want to go without passion and energy.”

Coming from the Division I world, Vittorio has learned to make adjustments in his approach.

Instead of 30 contact dates in the fall, D-III schools get 16. There are 40 regular-season games in the spring instead of 56. D-III does not offer athletic scholarships, but aid is based on academics and need.

“To me, that’s a lot of time lost,” says Vittorio. “But baseball is more pure (at the D-III level). You don’t have to hold the players’ hands on everything they do as you sometimes have to do in D-I.

“Players have a chance to develop leadership skills. They have to form captain/open field practices (when the coaching staff is away).”

Vittorio says the No. 1 job for he and his Wilmington assistants — Danny Thomas and former Richmond High School and Earlham College player Patrick Morrow — is recruiting.

“You can’t win without good players,” says Vittorio, who counts the Midwest as his recruiting base. “It’s more strenuous at this level. You have knock on 100 doors — instead of 50 doors — to get 10 guys.”

Vittorio spends a lot of his time raising money for the baseball program and as director of athletic development, the rest of Wilmington’s athletic department (which includes 18 varsity sports for men and women).

As a coach, He is also working to inspire his players in the classroom, the community and on the baseball field. He is emphasizing player development and building a quality college baseball atmosphere.

“We’re all obsessed with winning and losing,” says Vittorio. “But this whole thing is about making young men the best they can be.”

Vittorio comes back to Indianapolis often. Just last Saturday, he was at Southport Athletic Booster Club Reverse Raffle. He counts Indiana University head men’s basketball coach Archie Miller as a friend from Miller’s six seasons as head coach. Vittorio grew up as a fan of Bob Knight’s IU teams and Notre Dame football.

“That’s the Indiana Italian Catholic in me,” says Vittorio. “I love the state of Indiana. I’m a Hoosier.”

Wilmington visits Franklin College and Vittorio’s friend Lance Marshall at 3 p.m. on March 11.

Tony and Heather Vittorio have two children. Taylor Vittorio (21) is a former volleyball player at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. Nic Vittorio is a senior baseball player at Kettering-Fairmont High School in Kettering, Ohio.

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Tony Vittorio, an Indianapolis native, is now the head baseball coach at Wilmington (Ohio) College. Prior to lead the Quakers, he was head coach at the University of Dayton, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and Lincoln Trail Community College. (Wilmington College Photo)

 

Two generations of Stanskis lead Fort Wayne Bishop Luers baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Only four men have held the title of head baseball coach at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

One family represents bookends.

Entering his third season in charge of the Knights in 2020, Jeff Stanski is part of a legacy that started with his father, Ron Stanski, and also includes Larry Gerardo and Gary Rogers.

Ron Stanski played at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and got the baseball program at Fort Wayne Central Catholic running smoothly and won a sectional title in 1970.

When CC closed and Luers opened, the elder Stanski was there to get the program started in 1973. He went on to serve as a baseball and football coach at Harding High School in Fort Wayne and was athletic director at Luers before retirement.

Rogers followed Ron Stanski, led the Knights for 32 years and is now head coach at Leo (Ind.) High School.

“They were into fundamentals, playing the right way and working hard,” says Jeff Stanski of his head coach predecessors.

Now in his mid-70s, Ron Stanski is part of son Jeff’s coaching staff.

“He is a great resource to fall back on,” says Jeff Stanski, who played baseball for Luers and graduated in 1992, got a degree from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. in 1996, and is now teachers U.S. History, Economics and Leadership at his high school alma mater.

Jeff Stanski is also offensive coordinator for a Luers football program which features Kyle Lindsay as head coach. Previous football coaching stops include assistant gigs at Luers, Tri-State University (now Trine University) and Fort Wane Snider High School.

Stanski has five baseball assistants.

“I have a great staff around me,” says Stanski.

Besides his father and “right-hand man” Tim Birkmeier, there’s former professional pitcher Pedro Hernandez, Luers graduate and former Michigan State player Larry Young as well as Ray Pickard and Miles Martinez.

Luers plays its home games on the turf at the World Baseball Academy.

“They treat us great out there,” says Stanski. “And I know how much time most coaches have to spend keeping the grounds up.

“I know coaches that every Sunday mow their baseball field. It’s a big time commitment.”

Luers (enrollment around 520) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side and Fort Wayne Wayne as baseball-playing schools).

The Knights are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Dwenger, Concordia, Garrett, Leo and New Haven. Luers has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2012. Luers reigned as 2008 Class 2A state champions.

Kevin Kiemaier, who roams center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, is a Luers graduate. Some current players go to alum and former big league pitcher Mike Roesler.

Recent Luers graduates that moved on to college baseball include Evan Creager (Goshen College), Mikhail McCowin (University of Saint Francis) and Tyler Prince (University of Saint Francis). From the Class of 2019, Grant Lashure went to Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Karsten Ball became a redshirt freshman at Purdue Fort Wayne and valedictorian and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-star Josh Dippold joined the club team at the University of Notre Dame.

While they have not made any college commitments, Stanski says seniors Nick Birkmeier and Carter Pickard and junior Lukas North have drawn interest.

Luers is fed by several Catholic grade schools. Stanski says that while the school is diverse, many did come from one of those feeder schools.

Jeff and Sara Stanski have three children. Freshman Charlie Stanski is a Luers freshman who plays football and baseball. Daughter Sophie Stanski is an eighth grader who plays volleyball and basketball. First grader Sam Stanski plays baseball.

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Jeff Stanski is the head baseball coach at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Bishop Luers Photo)

 

Southpaw Hougeson experiencing pro baseball with Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Hougeson is always looking for a challenge.

The Indianapolis native grew up playing multiple sports, trying to become proficient in each of them.

He competed in soccer, football, tennis, bowling and volleyball and wound up being the best at baseball and that’s what took him to various collegiate levels and now has the left-hander pitching as a professional.

Hougeson (pronounced Ho-geh-sin) is in the starting rotation for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats of the independent American Association. He is scheduled to take the ball today (Aug. 1) when Gary plays host to Winnipeg.

The youngest of Richard and Cara Hougeson’s three sons behind Japheth and Caleb, Seth attended Calvary Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran schools, where his mother was a teacher, before going to high school at Indianapolis Lutheran.

Seth could walk a few blocks from Calvary to participate at the Edgewood youth league on the south side. He later played travel ball for the Adam Robertson-coached Indy Bats.

“That’s where I learned and developed at an early age,” says Hougeson of the Bats. “(Robertson) brought out my competitive side. He was a very awesome coach.

“I owe a lot to him. We still stay in-touch.”

Hougeson says competitiveness is his No. 1 strength as an athlete.

“I never give up,” says Hougeson. “I’m always trying to complete that task in front of me.

“I’m hard-working and always doing the little things right. In college, I always prided myself on PFPs (Pitchers Fielding Practice drills).

“It was about fielding my position as a pitcher and being athletic enough to get off and field that bunt and throw it to first.”

Like a fifth infielder?

“Absolutely,” says Hougeson, who turned 22 on April 25.

Indianapolis Lutheran won four sectional titles with Honor Roll Student-Athlete Hougeson on the team and head coach Dick Alter leading the Saints.

“He expected a lot,” says Hougeson of Alter. “He wanted to push you until he got what he was looking for — the best out of your every single day.

“At first, I was a little standoffish. I didn’t know how to respond to it. But, as a I grew up and I matured, it’s just kind of clicked with me. He’s not against me. He’s for me and wants the very best for me.”

Hougeson came to appreciate Alter’s years of experience and it helped groom him for college and beyond.

“I’m always looking for the most competitive baseball and trying to better myself,” says Hougeson. “I continue to get better with the higher level of competition because it continues to push me to get to that next level.”

Concordia University Wisconsin is an NCAA Division III program. In his freshmen season (2016), Hougeson earned honorable mention on the all-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference and was on the NACC all-freshman year, going 3-3 in nine mound appearances (eight starts) with a 3.35 earned run average. In 40 1/3 innings, he struck out 38 and walked nine.

Next came Dyersburg (Tenn.) State Community College. In his one season with the Eagles (2017), Hougeson was named National Junior College (NJCAA) National Pitcher of the Year after going 14-1 with a 1.49 ERA. The southpaw struck out 107 and allowed just 74 hits and 35 walks in 92 1/3 innings.

Hougeson landed at NCAA Division II Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., for his final two college seasons.

As a junior in 2018, Hougeson went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in 12 games (eight starts) for a DSU team that went 42-11 and played in the NCAA Division II South Regional. In 35 1/3 innings, he fanned 39 and walked 22. As a senior in 2019, he made 14 appearances (10 starts) and went 9-0 with three complete games (one shutout) and a 2.44 ERA. In 59 innings, he whiffed 55 and walked 14. The Statesmen went 42-14 and played in the D-II South Super Regional.

Mike Kinnison retired as Delta State head coach at the end of the season and will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020.

“He’s one of those old-school, hard-nosed coaches,” says Hougeson of Kinnison. “He’s not going to stop until he gets the best out of you.”

Hougeson began his 2019 summer with the Palm Springs Power in the Southern California Collegiate Baseball League.

“I went out there with no expectations,” says Hougeson. “I was just going to play the best baseball I could possibly do. If I was going to get signed by a team, I was going to be very, very grateful for that.

“If nothing happened out of the summer, I was just going to hang it up and say I gave it all I had.”

He is 15 credit hours plus an internship short of his sports management degree and plans to finish with online classes. He sees himself using his many baseball connections to get job in front office job in baseball which could lead to becoming a general manager.

Or he could follow a long family tradition and go into military service.

“I’d love to join the Air Force and become a fireman,” says Hougeson, noting that his father is currently active in the Air Force and serving overseas. Both brothers (including Caleb Hougeson, who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as an Indianapolis Lutheran third baseman) are in the Army. A grandfather and uncle served in the Marines and a cousin is currently with that service branch. An aunt is in the Air Force.

But sports management or military service are in the future. Hougeson’s present is focused on baseball.

The southpaw pitched in three Palm Springs games and signed with Gary on June 30. That same day, he made his pro debut, tossing four shutout innings while giving up two hits with one strikeout and one walk in a no-decision start against the Kansas City T-Bones.

Altogether, Hougeson has appeared in six RailCats games (five starts) and and is 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. In 23 innings, he has racked up nine K’s and issued nine free passes.

A 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, Hougeson possesses a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, “circle” change-up and curve ball. He usually has an over-the-top release, but sometimes drops down a little and gets arm-side run with his fastball.

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Seth Hougeson, an Indianapolis Lutheran High School graduate who played college baseball at Concord University Wisconsin, Dyersburg State Community College and Delta State University, is now with the independent professional Gary (Ind.) South Shore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Former Heritage, Indiana lefty Saalfrank now pitching in Diamondbacks system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Saalfrank has the physical tools to pitch a baseball at high levels.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-hander was a standout at Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., where he graduated in 2016 then for three seasons at Indiana University (he was a weekend starter in 2019) and now in his first professional season in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

After making 15 appearances (12 as a starter) and going 8-1 with a 2.84 earned run average, 98 strikeouts and 26 walks in 73 innings for IU this spring, Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year Saalfrank was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

So far, the southpaw has pitched three of one-inning stints — one for the rookie-level Arizona League Diamondbacks and two for the short-season Class-A Northwest League’s Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA, three strikeouts and one walk. Since he pitched so many innings in the spring, the D-backs are limited his load this summer.

As of now, the next steps up the ladder for the Diamondbacks are at Low-A Kane County (Ill.), Advanced-A Visalia (Calif.), Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) and Triple-A Reno (Nev.).

Delivering from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Saalfrank uses a two-seam fastball, curveball and change-up in games. His fastball has been between 89 and 93 mph. His curve is 83 to 84 and usually has more of a vertical plane. His change-up his been especially sharp this summer. In the bullpen, he has been tinkering with a four-seam fastball and working on a slider.

It’s not just his left arm that has gotten Saalfrank to this point.

“A lot of stuff can go wrong in the game and it doesn’t bother me often,” says Saalfrank. “There’s such a large mental aspect to the game.

“Sometimes you don’t have the greatest physical talent. Playing college ball helps you deal with different situations. You’re good enough. You tell yourself that and deal with the situation that’s thrown at you.”

Saalfrank’s training at Indiana was focused on getting ready for pro ball and now he’s here.

With academic and college time restrictions out of the way, he can put his time into baseball.

“I don’t sleep in too late,” says Saalfrank. “I wake up at 8:30 or 9 everyday.”

That gives him time to relax, grab a meal and head to the stadium, where he will spend up to eight hours for a Hillsboro home game. Stretching begins about three hours before first pitch. On many days, there is weightlifting before or after the game.

“The time commitment is the difference,” says Saalfrank. “It’s fun. I’m getting paid to do what I wanted to do for a living.

“I’m lucky enough to do it.”

Saalfrank was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Hoagland, Ind. Father Doug Saalfrank is a supervisor at B.F. Goodrich. Mother Heidi Saalfrank is a sales representative for Heritage Food Services. Older sister Abby Saalfrank was also an NCAA Division I athlete, playing volleyball at Eastern Illinois University.

Heidi Saalfrank’s brother and sister — Jason Richman (baseball) and Tiffany (Richman) Bennett (volleyball) — both played at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and influenced Andrew and Abby.

“We were always spending time with them and playing sports in the back yard,” says Andrew.

His organized baseball days began in the youth leagues in Hoagland and New Haven. He played for a number of travel teams, including the Indiana Outlaws at the end of his high school days.

Saalfrank took pitching instruction from Rich Dunno for about eight years.

“He played a big part,” says Saalfrank of Dunno, the Fort Wayne-based inventor of the King of the Hill ground force trainer.

At Heritage, Saalfrank was an all-stater as a junior and senior and a four-time all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection. His career mark was 26-7 with a 1.67 ERA and school-record 429 strikeouts and 218 1/3 innings. He was 10-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings in 2015 and followed that up with a 2.15 ERA and 87 K’s in 45 2/3 innings in 2016.

Dean Lehrman was Patriots head coach. Saalfrank credits Lehrman for his emphasis on the mental and emotional aspects of baseball.

“Respect the game,” says Saalfrank. “Respect your teammates. Play for the school name on your chest.”

Saalfrank was recruited to IU by Chris Lemonis (now at Mississippi State University) and worked with Lemonis and pitching coach Kyle Bunn (now at Middle Tennessee State University) for his first two collegiate seasons.

“(Bunn) pushes you,” says Saalfrank. “He expects a lot out of every player. He gets the most out of you. He uses tough love sometimes.”

In Saalfrank’s junior year, Jeff Mercer became the head coach and Justin Parker the pitching coach for the Hoosiers.

“It was a really smooth transition for everybody,” says Saalfrank. “They have a pro style to development.

“It was on me to figure out what I like best and establish a routine to transition into pro ball.

“I learned about handling adversity and finding the positives out of failure.”

The minor league regular season goes through Labor Day then comes the playoffs. Saalfrank plans to return to Indiana in the fall to train and finish his sports management degree. He is just nine credits shy.

Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank pitches for Indiana University.

Andrew Saalfrank is a product of Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Indiana and worked for years with pitching instructor Rich Dunno.

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Andrew Saalfrank, a former Heritage Junior/Senior High school and Indiana University left-hander, is now pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

 

Good sees growth for Rochester Zebras baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cory Good is working to grow baseball in the town where he learned the game.

A 2007 graduate of Rochester (Ind.) High School, Good is entering his fifth season as the Zebras head coach in 2019.

He expects to have more than two dozen players — varsity and junior varsity — wear the Old Gold and Black this spring. Numbers vary with the size of the freshmen class. Last year, there were more frosh than usual. This year, the number has dipped a little. Next year, it looks to pick up again.

Good counts Tony Stesiak, Dave Baillieul and Fred McGlothin as assistant coaches and is looking for more helpers.

Brady Perez, a shortstop, third baseman and pitcher, is back for his senior year after hitting .479 as a junior. He is committed to Trine University. Senior catcher/third baseman Zaine Young is considering college baseball offers.

Recent graduates who went on to the collegiate diamond are right-handed pitcher Andrew Feldman at Taylor University with catcher Tanner Hampton and left-hander Carter Hooks both at Manchester University.

The Zebras play home games at Bob Copeland Field. After receiving a new home bullpen last year, the on-campus facility is getting a new press box and a batting cage down the first base line this season.

“I’d like to see new fencing or netting behind home plate,” says Good of his wish list.

“Small ball” is a brand that Good embraces.

“We want to do the things that it takes to put the pressure on,” says Good. “By being aggressive, we will make (opposing defense) make the play.”

Rochester (enrollment around 500) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

TRC teams tangle with each other one time to determine the champion. Games are Monday or Wednesday with Friday as the rain date.

Non-conference foes for the Zebras include Bremen, Carroll (Flora), Caston, Culver Academies, Delphi, John Glenn, LaVille, Lewis Cass, Logansport, Oregon-Davis, Pioneer, Plymouth and Winamac. The Twin Lake Invitational is May 18.

“We play a pretty decent schedule,” says Good.

The Zebras are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Oak Hill, Wabash and Whitko. Rochester has won 11 sectional championships — the last in 2014.

Good spent the 2014 season as an assistant to Brian Hooker, his coach at RHS and one of his mentors.

“He impacted a lot of people,” says Good of former educator and multi-sport coach Hooker, who passed away Jan. 3, 2019 at 59. “He was able to connect with people.”

As sales manager for The Winning Edge, a sporting goods company owned Brad Good (his father), Cory had a working relationship with Hooker and sold equipment to him before and after joining his staff.

As Rochester assistant, Good came to appreciate all the behind-the-scenes things a head coach has to do for his program.

“It’s all the moving parts,” says Good. “There’s paperwork, grades, physicals, fundraising, transportation and gear.”

Hooker outfitted Rochester in many uniforms over the years. Good plans to have a basic home and road ensemble and possibly an alternate.

Good says he is also glad to see a junior high club program that will send players on to the high school.

In 2018, there was a combined seventh/eighth grade team.

“If numbers come, we’ll go with multiple teams,” says Good of a program that plays games in the spring and on weekdays. “Kids can walk the halls and talk about the game that night.

“It brings more excitement to the sport.”

Good says he expects that the Running Rivers Conference will someday adopt baseball and softball as school-affiliated sports. Rochester Middle School (Grades 6-8) belongs to the RRC.

Good studies sports management at Indiana University. He is the oldest of Brad and Kathy Good’s three children. His mother is a teacher. Casey Good is an Indiana University graduate and store manager at The Winning Edge. He was a football and track athlete at Rochester.

Maggie Good graduated from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis, where she played softball. Libby Good is a senior at Purdue University. She played volleyball and softball at Rochester.

Cory and Shelby Good were married in July 2018 and are expecting their first child in August.

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The Rochester Zebras celebrate a 2014 sectional baseball championship. The champions are (from left): First row — seniors Levi Brown, Tanner Hampton, Cyrus Holland, Carter Screeton, Brandt Eytcheson and Kyle Katschke; Second row — coaches Tony Stesiak, Brian Hooker and Cory Good.

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Cory and Shelby Good were married in July 2018. Cory Good is head baseball coach at Rochester (Ind.) High School and sales manager at The Winning Edge.