Tag Archives: Wabash Valley College

Indiana products making mark in bigs, minors

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

Left-handed pitcher Zack Thompson, who was a star at Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and the University of Kentucky, made his Major League Baseball debut when he earned a four-inning save for the St. Louis Cardinals June 3 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Thompson, 24, has made 10 starts for the Triple-A Memphis (Tenn.) Redbirds in 2022 and is 2-2 with a 4.67 earned run average.
Zach McKinstry (Fort Wayne North Side/Central Michigan) has split his time between the minors and the big-league Los Angeles Dodgers and the lefty-swinging infielder is currently on the active roster with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. He made his big league debut in 2020.
McKinstry, 27, is hitting .335 with three home runs and 20 runs batted in over 164 MiLB at-bats and is 1-for-5 with LA — the hit being a June 3 two-run home run off New York Mets right-hander Chris Bassitt.
Right-hander Ryan Pepiot (Westfield/Butler) had made his MLB debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 11. He is back with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.
Pepiot, 24, is 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA in nine appearances for OKC and 0-0 with a 3.18 ERA in three games (11 1/3 innings) in the big leagues.
Many other players are also on active rosters in the minors.
Right-hander Luke Albright (Fishers/Kent State) is with the High-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Albright, 22, is 3-2 with a 3.64 ERA in 10 starts.
Third baseman Cole Barr (Yorktown/Indiana University) plays for the High-A Everett (Wash.) AquaSox (Seattle Mariners).
Barr, 24, is hitting .172 with three homers and 17 RBIs.
Right-hander Gabe Bierman (Jeffersonville/Indiana) toes the rubber for the Low-A Jupiter (Fla.) Hammerheads (Miami Marlins).
Bierman, 22, is 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts).
Right-hander Garrett Burhenn (Lawrence North/Ohio State) takes the bump for the Low-A Lakeland (Fla.) Flying Tigers (Detroit Tigers).
Burhenn, 22, is 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts.
Lefty-swinging outfielder Zach Britton (Batesville/Louisville) is with the High-A Vancouver (B.C.) Canadians (Toronto Blue Jays).
Britton, 23, is hitting .206 with four homers and 11 RBIs.
Right-hander Zack Brown (Seymour/Kentucky) is one step from the majors with the Triple-A Nashville (Tenn.) Sounds (Milwaukee Brewers).
Brown, 27, is 1-0 with two saves and a 3.54 ERA in 17 relief appearances.
Outfielder Drew Campbell (Jeffersonville/Louisville) swings from the left side for the High-A Rome Braves (Atlanta Braves).
Campbell, 24, is hitting .266 with one homer and 22 RBIs.
Left-hander Jacob Cantleberry (Center Grove/Missouri/San Jacinto) is with the High-A Great Lakes Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers) in Midland, Mich.
Cantleberry, 24, is 2-1 with one save and a 6.10 ERA in 13 games out of the bullpen.

Right-hander Adysin Coffey (Delta/Wabash Valley) is on the Development List as a reliever with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox).

Coffey, 23, is 2-2 with two saves a 7.30 ERA in 13 games.
Lefty-swinging outfielder Craig Dedelow (Munster/Indiana) takes his cuts for the Double-A Birmingham (Ala.) Barons (Chicago White Sox).
Dedelow, 27, is hitting .226 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs.
Lefty-swinging second baseman Clay Dungan (Yorktown/Indiana State) is with Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers (Kansas City Royals).
Dungan, 26, is hitting .204 with three homers and 18 RBIs.
Outfielder Elijah Dunham (Evansville Reitz/Indiana) bats lefty for the Double-A Somerset Patriots (New York Yankees) in Bridgewater, N.J.
Dunham, 24, is hitting .346 with seven homers and 27 RBIs.
Right-hander Parker Dunshee (Zionsville/Wake Forest) is spinning pitches for the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators (Oakland Athletics).
Dunshee, 27, is 1-5 with a 7.24 ERA in 12 games (10 starts).

Righty-swinging outfielder Matt Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern/Indiana) is with Double-A Altoona (Pa.) Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates).

Gorski, 24, is hitting .290 with 19 homers and 46 RBIs.
Left-hander Timmy Herrin (Terre Haute South Vigo/Indiana) takes the mound for the Triple-A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers (Cleveland Guardians).
Herrin, 25, is 0-2 with one save and a 4.00 ERA in 17 relief appearances.
Right-hander Bryan Hoeing (Batesville/Louisville) challenges hitters for the Triple-A Jacksonville (Fla.) Jumbo Shrimp (Miami Marlins).
Hoeing, 25, is 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts.
Lefty-swinging outfielder Jacob Hurtubise (Zionsville/Army) is with the Double-A Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts (Cincinnati Reds).
Hurtubise, 24, is hitting .299 with no homers and five RBIs. He has spent some time on the IL.
Right-hander Drey Jameson (Greenfield-Central/Ball State) fires it for the Triple-A Reno (Nev.) Aces (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Jameson, 24, is 3-5 with a 5.80 ERA in 12 games (11 starts).
Catcher Hayden Jones (Carroll/Mississippi State/Illinois State) is also a lefty swinger and plays for the Low-A Daytona (Fla.) Tortugas (Cincinnati Reds).
Jones, 22, is hitting .210 with one homer and eight RBIs.
Righty-swinging catcher Scott Kapers (Mount Carmel, Ill./Valparaiso) is with the High-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads (Texas Rangers).
Kapers, 25, is hitting .257 with five homers and 16 RBIs.
Lefty-swinging first baseman Niko Kavadas (Penn/Notre Dame) competes for the Low-A Salem (Va.) Red Sox (Boston Red Sox).
Kavadas, 23, is hitting .253 with seven homers and 31 RBIs.
Right-hander Chayce McDermott (Pendleton Heights/Ball State) journeys around the circuit with the High-A Asheville (N.C.) Tourists (Houston Astros).
McDermott, 23, is 5-1 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 games (six starts).
First baseman Jacson McGowan (Brownsburg/Purdue) plies his trade with the Double-A Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays).
McGowan, 24, is hitting .276 with one homer and two RBIs. He has been on the IL in 2022.
Right-hander Zach Messinger (Castle/Virginia) hurls for the Low-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons (New York Yankees).
Messinger, 22, is 0-4 with two saves and a 4.85 ERA in 18 games (15 in relief).
Right-hander Evan Miller (LaPorte/Purdue Fort Wayne) works mostly out of the bullpen for the Triple-A El Paso (Texas) Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres).
Miller, 27, is 1-2 with two saves and a 6.59 ERA in 21 games (19 in relief).
Lefty-swinging shortstop Colson Montgomery (Southridge) is with the Low-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox).
Montgomery, 20, is hitting .295 with four homers and 23 RBIs.
Righty-swinging infielder Nick Podkul (Andrean/Notre Dame) was with the Buffalo (N.Y.) Bisons (Toronto Blue Jays).
Podkul, 25, is hitting .178 with two homers and nine RBIs.
Left-hander Triston Polley (Brownsburg/Indiana State) has been a reliever for the High-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads (Texas Rangers).
Polley, 25, is 6-2 with one save and a 5.67 ERA in 16 games (all out of the bullpen).
Outfielder Grant Richardson (Fishers/Indiana) bats lefty for the Low-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons (New York Yankees).
Richardson, 22, is hitting .207 with two homers and 16 RBIs.
Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank (Heritage/Indiana) is a reliever for the High-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Saalfrank, 24, is 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA in 17 bullpen games.
Andy Samuelson (LaPorte/Wabash Valley) pitched for the Rookie-level Braves (Atlanta Braves) until retiring June 11.
Samuelson, 23, pitched 1/3 of an inning in 2022.
Right-hander Caleb Sampen (Brownsburg/Wright State) pours it in for the Double-A Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays).
Sampen, 25, is 1-12 with a 5.02 ERA in nine appearances (five starts). He has been on the IL in 2022.
Right-hander Reid Schaller (Lebanon/Vanderbilt) is part of the bullpen for the Double-A Harrisburg (Pa.) Senators (Washington Nationals).
Schaller, 25, is 2-0 with one save and a 2.89 ERA in 14 bullpen contests.
Lefty-swinging outfielder Nick Schnell (Roncalli) is back on the field after a long injury-list stint. He plays for the Low-A Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs (Tampa Bay Rays).
Schnell, 22, was activated May 31 and is hitting .333 with no homers and six RBIs. The “Diamonds in the Rough” podcast features Schnell and Cole Wilcox.
Left-hander Garrett Schoenle (Fort Wayne Northrop/Cincinnati) mostly comes out of the bullpen for the High-A Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash (Chicago White Sox).
Schoenle, 23, is 3-1 with one save and a 1.39 ERA in 14 games (13 in relief).
Left-hander Avery Short (Southport) has been starting for the High-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Short, 21, is 0-4 with a 4.58 ERA in nine starts.
Left-hander Tommy Sommer (Carmel/Indiana) is a starter for the Low-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox).
Sommer, 23, is 2-4 with a 3.13 ERA in 11 starts.
Right-hander Skylar Szynski (Penn) was drafted in 2016 and has missed much time because of injury. He is Low-A Stockton (Calif.) Ports (Oakland Athletics).
Szynski, 24, is 1-1 with a 12.66 ERA in 15 bullpen games.
Right-hander Nolan Watson (Lawrence North) is mostly a reliever for the Double-A San Antonio Missions (San Diego Padres).
Watson, 25, is 1-2 with a 7.76 ERA in 14 appearances (12 in relief).
Among those on the 7-day injury list are right-hander Sam Bachman (Hamilton Southeastern/Miami of Ohio) with the Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas (Los Angeles Angels) in Madison, Ala., righty-swinging third baseman Kody Hoese (Griffith/Tulane) with the Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers (Los Angeles Dodgers), right-hander Michael McAvene (Roncalli/Louisville) with the High-A South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs) and righty-swinging third baseman Riley Tirotta (Mishawaka Marian/Dayton) with the High-A Vancouver (B.C.) Canadians (Toronto Blue Jays).
Bachman, 22, is 0-0 with a 1.98 ERA in four starts.
Hoese, 24, is hitting .284 with three homers and 21 RBIs.
McAvene, 24, is 0-0 with a 40.50 ERA in one relief appearance.
Tirotta, 23, is hitting .209 with three homers and 20 RBIs.
Right-hander Tanner Andrews (Tippecanoe Valley/Purdue) with the Triple-A Sacramento (Calif.) River Cats (San Francisco Giants), right-hander Pauly Milto (Roncalli/Indiana) with the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash (Chicago White Sox) and righty-swinging third baseman Hunter Owen (Evansville Mater Dei/Indiana State) with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh Pirates) are on the 60-day IL.
Andrews, 26, is 0-0 with an 11.12 ERA in four relief games.
Milto, 25, is 0-0 with a 3.07 ERA in nine games (eight in relief).
Owen, 28, is hitting .256 with no homers and five RBIs. He made his MLB debut in 2021.

Zack Thompson (MLB Photo)

Frankton graduate Weins embraces role as Purdue reliever

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

Since Landon Weins has arrived on the Purdue University campus no one has pitched more innings out of the bullpen than the 6-foot-2 right-hander.
Going into the the April 14-16 series at Penn State (the April 12 game against Purdue has been postponed), Weins (rhymes with Wines) has taken the bump for the Boilermakers 28 times totaling 54 innings. This spring, the senior is 3-2 with a 2.48 earned run average, 27 strikeouts and nine walks for a squad that is 21-7.
The 2018 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School embraces the relief role because he see it as the best way he can contribute to the team.
“A lot of times I’m coming in behind a guy like Jackson Smeltz who is pretty dominant and he can get us ahead as well,” says Weins, who pitched for head coach Rob Fournier at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 2019 and 2020. “I really enjoy (coming out of the bullpen). It gives me time to see the hitters and what they prefer and what they’re struggling with that day.”
Between in-game observation, video and scouting reports, Purdue pitchers have a pretty good idea of what to expect from an opposing offense.
Weins uses a three-pitch mix — fastball, slider and change-up.
“I made a really big adjustment in the off-season and my slider has become probably my best pitch this year,” says Weins. “Mine has like a gyro spin. It’ll come in straight and then go down and away from a right-handed hitter.
“It’s like a curveball, but it’s flat and usually harder.”
The slider can be thrown in any count.
“I feel pretty comfortable with all three of my pitches,” says Weins. “Anytime I’m out there I want to compete as hard as I can.”
Weins has been used in long relief with stints of 5 1/3 innings against Ohio State, 4 1/3 against South Dakota State and 4 against Bellarmine. Five other appearances have been for 2 to 2 2/3 frames.
Playing for Boilers head coach Greg Goff and pitching coach Chris Marx, words of advice have carried with Weins and kept him steady.
“They say remain the same,” says Weins. “Out on the mound, obviously there’s going to be days where you don’t have your best stuff. You’re going to be hit a little. You always keep your composure. If you’re going to carry around a swagger when you’re doing good, you always carry around that swagger when you’re not doing as good.
“It’s such a quick game that can humble you very fast. But just because you have one bad day doesn’t mean it needs to lead to more.”
There’s a rule after an outing — good or bad — that keeps players moving forward and not looking back.
“We says flush it at midnight,” says Weins.
The son of Scott and Angela Weins watched older brother Logan Weins (a 2014 Frankton graduate who pitched mostly in relief at Western Kentucky University 2015-17) on the diamond before him.
“He’s probably one of my biggest impacts in his game,” says Landon of Logan. “Growing up he was always someone I could look up to. He just did things the right way. He’s definitely been my No. 1 supporter. He pushed me the hardest and gave me the hardest criticism that I needed to hear.
(My parents) have always been a huge support system for me in no matter what I do or choose.”
Landon played in the Frankton Town & Country Baseball before moving into travel ball at 10. He was with the Indiana Bandits followed by Indiana Magic and Indiana Nitro. He spent his 17U summer with the Indiana Bulls.
Brad Douglas was — and still is — the head baseball coach at Frankton.
“He’s a great guy and always been one to have my back if I ever needed anything,” says Weins of Douglas. “I loved playing for him.
“He had a fire to him that I definitely didn’t like, especially when he was getting on me.
“I appreciated him a lot more when I got into college than I did in high school because I was able to look back and see he wanted what was best for me and our team. He just pushed us to be our best.”
As a Selling and Sales Management major at Purdue, Weins needs at least one more semester to get his bachelor’s degree.
He chose that field of study in part because it fits his personality.
“I definitely enjoy being a social person and talking,” says Weins. “I’ve met a lot of different people throughout the game of baseball. I’ve made many connections.”

Since 2021, Frankton (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School graduate Landon Weins has pitched a team-high 54 relief innings as part of the Purdue University staff. (Purdue University Photo)

Martinsville’s Peterson puts stock in education, unity, fun

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

Tutterow Field is the varsity baseball diamond at Martinsville (Ind.) High School. It is named for late Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Tutterow, who led the Artesians for 39 years through 2008.
Second-year Martinsville head coach Adam Peterson says getting to play there has to be earned.
“In order to be on the that field you’ve got to take care of business in the classroom,” says Peterson, who is also assistant principal at John R. Wooden Middle School in Martinsville. “That’s our first emphasis before we even get to the baseball part.”
MHS students are on a trimester schedule.
“It’s also about being good citizens and teammates and taking care of each other. Even if you’re not the best player on the team, you still have something to give.”
Peterson also wants his student-athletes to improve each day and have fun while they’re doing it.
“Winning is fun,” says Peterson. “But it’s the idea of being around their friends and relishing those experiences. The season is a grind with practices and games. We want to mix it up, keep the kids on their toes and keep it fresh.”
Peterson, who was a middle infielder in high school then played almost all the positions in college, encourages his players to be be versatile.
“It gives you more of an opportunity to be in the lineup everyday,” says Peterson.
In 2021, Martinsville had just over 30 players in the program at the end of the season for varsity and junior varsity games.
At a preliminary meeting this fall, 46 showed up to show their baseball interest.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period ended Oct. 16. Twice a week, 10 to 13 athletes met twice a week for baseball activities (many others were in fall sports). Baseball players continue to lift weights twice a week with Martinsville head strength & conditioning coach Ethan Breach.
Tutterow Field is behind a new fieldhouse. The grand opening for the facility which his plenty of rubberized floor space and batting cages was Oct. 8.
Assistant coaches for 2022 are expected to be Martinsville alums Steve Bunton, Layne Bayird and Gary Brittain.
The Artesians had one senior in 2021 — Braxton Wilson. The right-handed pitcher signed at Purdue Fort Wayne.
Right-hander Brandon Dodson (Class of 2020) landed at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill.
Verbal commitments to the University of Evansville have been made by catcher/shortstop Andrew Payton (Class of 2022) and left-hander/outfielder Kevin Reed (Class of 2023).
Last spring, Martinsville had junior high baseball. Seventh and eighth grade teams not affiliated with the school played against conference teams. In 2022, the school system hopes to sponsor the program.
Peterson joined Martinsville schools in 2016-17 and was a baseball assistant to Jeff Scott for two seasons (2017-18). The Artesians won a sectional title in 2017.
Martinsville (enrollment around 1,300) is a member of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Mooresville, Perry Meridian, Plainfield and Whiteland Community).
In 2021, the Artesians were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Mooresville and Whiteland Community. Martinsville has won 15 sectional titles — the last in 2019.
Before Martinsville, Peterson spent a year as assistant principal at Indiana Math & Science Academy, a charter school in Indianapolis.
Prior to that, Peterson was at Rio Rancho (N.M.) High School for nine years, where he was head assistant for four seasons then a volunteer while he and wife Donna started their family. Rio Rancho head coach Ron Murphy is the all-time wins leader in New Mexico high school baseball history. The Murphy-coached Rams won Class 5A state titles in 2007 and 2009 and he is in the New Mexico Baseball Coaches Association and New Mexico Sports halls of fame.
“He’s a fun guy,” says Peterson of Murphy, who built the Rio Rancho program from scratch. “He’s originally from Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s got some good stories.”
Before New Mexico, Peterson taught on an Indian reservation in Hayes Lodge Pole, Mont.
That’s where he met his future wife. When the New Jersey native applied to the University of New Mexico for her doctorate in History, that’s where the couple landed. The Petersons ended up in Indiana when Donna Peterson went to work at Indiana University and she is now teaching Ivy Tech History courses at Martinsville High.
Before Montana, Adam taught and coached in the Superior, Wis./Duluth, Minn., area.
Peterson graduated from Superior High School in 1999. He played four years of baseball – three varsity — for Spartans head coach Steve Fregin.
At the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Peterson was a four-year starter for Yellowjackets head coach Jim Stukel.
Adam and Donna’s three children are daughter Emma (12), Caleb (almost 10) and daughter Blair (5).

Martinsville (Ind.) High School’s 2017 sectional baseball champions.
Adam Peterson.
Adam Peterson.
Donna, Emma, Blair, Caleb and Adam Peterson.
Rio Rancho High School’s 2007 New Mexico Class 5A state baseball champions.
Rio Rancho’s Micah Martinez and Adam Peterson in 2009.
Ron Murphy and Adam Peterson in 2018.

Learnard’s transition from player to coach brings him back to Purdue

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

Purdue University’s special 2018 baseball season was heading toward a conclusion when senior closer Ross Learnard began thinking about his future.
The Boilermakers were on their way to a 38-21 record that included 17-6 mark in the Big Ten Conference — second to Minnesota — and an NCAA Regional berth.
Learnard was finishing up his Agricultural Economics degree.
“After each game late down the stretch I’d be in the shower and thinking my last out is going to come here soon,” says Learnard, a 6-foot-2 left-hander went 2-2 with 15 saves, a 3.37 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 34 2/3 innings in 2018. “I just can’t see myself getting a 9-to-5 inside job.
“I decided at that point that I wanted to coach and began to pursue my options.”
Purdue pitching coach Steve Holm went to Illinois State University to become head coach and brought Learnard on as a graduate assistant (he earned a Master of Business Administration degree at ISU) and director of operations in the fall of 2018.
From there Learnard went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where he had pitched in 2015 and 2016, and served as a recruiting coordinator and taught many parts of the game in helping Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Greg Goff, who was a Purdue volunteer assistant in 2018 and has been head coach since Mark Wasikowski left for the University of Oregon after the 2019 campaign, recently hired Learnard to handle Pitching Analytics & Team Operations.
High on Learnard’s list of duties is collaborating and communicating with pitching coach Chris Marx as it relates to player development.
“He sets the expectation and culture with the pitching staff and its my job to supplement that and to make it better.”
To do that means making sense of available numbers.
“The game is going towards being data-driven, especially with this generation we’re coaching now,” says Learnard. “(Players are) always on their phones.
“This era of baseball and player that we have is the most read up on the scientific aspect of how you pitcher, where it be biomechanics or ball-flight metrics (like horizontal and vertical break and Revolutions Per Minute aka RPMs).
“It’s insane what analytics can really tell you. ERA, hits allowed and WHIP (walks and hit per innings pitched) can only give you a small portion of the context. You have to pull back the layers and see where you’re getting your swings and misses, where you’re getting your weak contact,
“It’s just untapped potential.”
There are also students on campus who understand data analysis that give feedback to the baseball program.
Just three years removed from being a player, Learnard sees a difference.
“At least in my circle, it was not as data-driven,” says Learnard. “I try to be a lifelong learner as a coach. You can never be satisfied. It’s adapt or die.
I’m trying to read as much as I can about the new-school metrics, analytics and data.
“It’s very important to be well-versed in all things numbers and all the different modalities to train pitchers.”
Purdue uses a Rapsodo machine to read ball-flight metrics and determine things like spin axis, spin direction and spin efficiency.
“You can see the way the ball is moving in space,” says Learnard. “We also use a high-speed camera to see how guys are releasing the ball.
“We can give them mental cues to shape the pitch that we’re going for.”
Learnard, who turns 26 on Oct. 5, went to Catlin (Ill.) High School near Danville and graduated in 2014. A co-op with Jamaica High School (Sidell, Ill.) was called Salt Fork for sports.
The lefty made 21 mound appearances (12 in relief) and went 10-3 with 2.72 ERA, 105 strikeouts and 25 walks in 76 1/3 innings for Parkland in 2015 and 2016.
At Purdue in 2017 and 2018, Learnard got into 56 games (all in relief) and was 8-2 with 19 saves, a 1.78 ERA, 70 stakeouts and 18 walks in 81 innings.
As a senior, he was named a Collegiate Baseball Third Team All-American, Third Team all-Big Ten and was on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Watch List. He was Big Ten Pitcher of the Week in April and Perfect Game National Pitcher of the Week in May. He was also Academic all-Big Ten.
Purdue’s 45-day window for 2021 fall workouts began Sept. 9 and plans call for it to wrap Oct. 23. Fall ball scrimmages are open to the public Sept. 29, Oct. 1, Oct. 3, Oct. 5, Oct. 8, Oct. 15 and Oct. 28. The Boilers host two 1 p.m. exhibition games with junior colleges — Oct. 9 against Wabash Valley College (Mount Carmel, Ill.) and Oct. 16 against John A. Logan College (Carterville, Ill.). The Black and Gold World Series is slated for Oct. 21-23.
“Right now we’re in full team mode,” says Learnard. “We’re setting the expectations of what we want in the spring. We’re helping these (newcomers) perform at a high level and bring them up to the returner speed.
“We’re always trying to individualize (development). It’s not cookie cutter.”

Ross Learnard (Purdue University Photo)

Thoughts of American Legion baseball keep Cruz going during COVID-19 battle

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

Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts.
The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it.
One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.”
There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy.
“It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered.
Baseball also played a big part.
“Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.”
Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans.
“You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.”
While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance.
Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field.
Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer —  is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020.
For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline.
“He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.”
As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill.
Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay.
“Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.”
Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U).
“It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.”
Being around teams has given Neveah something more.
“I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah.
Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11.
This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season.
“Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz.
Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner.
If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players.
“I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.”
Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers.
Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms.
American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players.
Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021.
Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on.
Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father.
Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year).
Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year.
The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.

Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr. (Steve Krah Photo)
Tony Cruz Jr. and daughter Neveah.
Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr.
A regional title was won by South Bend American Legion Post 151 in 2018.
Tony Cruz Jr. battles COVID-19 in 2020. He was hospitalized 25 days in May, including nine in Intensive Care.
Tony Cruz Jr. had to go on high-flow oxygen during his battle with COVID-19 in 2020.
Out of the hospital after his COVID-19 battle, Tony Cruz came “home” to Jim Reinebold Field, home of South Bend Clay High School and South Bend American Legion Post 151 baseball.
Jim Treadway (left) and Tony Cruz Jr. bond over American Legion, high school baseball.

D-Bat Elkhart offers place to get better for baseball, softball players

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a place to get better at baseball and softball in Elkhart, Ind.

Opened in June 2020 and located in an eastside industrial park at 4411 Wyland Drive, the 22,000-square foot facility at D-Bat Elkhart has been attracting families, individuals and teams to train.

Owners are Shelbi and Jason Baugh and Eric Miller. Shelby and Eric are siblings. 

Kaitlyn Frost became general manager in February and is in charge of daily operations. Most days she is at the front desk.

A 2008 graduate of Lakeland High School in LaGrange, Ind., Frost played three seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne before serving as an assistant coach at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been a coach and director of softball for the Michiana Lady Scrappers travel organization.

The training space, which includes batting cages and areas for pitchers and full teams, has been named Francis and Nancy Taylor Fieldhouse to honor Shelbi and Eric’s grandparents.

The Baughs experienced D-Bat locations when they lived in California.

D-Bat baseball and softball academies began in Dallas in 1998 and now has around 120 franchises in the U.S. and China with about 20 more in the works. D-Bat Elkhart franchise is the company’s old one in Indiana so far.

Frost says owners have been discussing the possibility to installing a playing field — or at least a training area — next to the D-Bat Elkhart building, which also includes a room for birthday parties and other celebrations.

D-Bat Elkhart purchased the naming rights to the new turfed baseball and softball fields at Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind.

Current D-Bat Elkhart instructors are Donnie Weatherholt, Jesse Zepeda, Judah Zickafoose for baseball and Heather Erlacher for softball. 

Weatherholt was an all-state player at Concord High School in Elkhart and has coached extensively at the Little League, Babe Ruth and travel levels.

Zepeda was a standout at Elkhart Central High School (he was a junior starter on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state champions) and Bethel College (now Bethel University). He is on the Bethel coaching staff and is the founder of the Indiana Black Caps travel organization.

Zickafoose played at Westview High, Arizona Western College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University. 

Erlacher played at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and Franklin (Ind). College. She has served as pitching coach at Elkhart Central and with the Elkhart Blaze travel team.

Frost says she is looking for more instructors.

“The biggest perk for our instructors is that we make the schedules and deal with the clients,” says Frost. “They don’t have to chase the money.”

Sam Troyer, who played baseball at Northridge and at the University of Evansville, has been working part-time and training at D-Bat Elkhart before resuming his professional career with the independent Pioneer League’s Missoula (Mont.) PaddleHeads. That team also features South Bend Clay graduate and former San Francisco Giants minor leaguer Aaron Bond.

Current hours for D-Bat Elkhart is noon to 9 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Frost says the facility may open at 10 a.m. weekdays when school lets out for the summer.

“What sets us apart is that we don’t require memberships (though there are nearly 300 current members),” says Frost. “We have non-member pricing. 

“Memberships are good if you can come often.”

Memberships are month to month and can be suspended and resumed.

A $38-per-month Gold package includes 15 daily batting cage tokens (about 225 pitches) with discounts on camps, clinics and the pro shop for one person.

A $58-per-month Platinum membership includes unlimited daily swings and covers the whole family. There are bigger discounts for camps and clinics etc.

Non-members may purchase 15 tokens for $25.

Free 30-minute cage rental is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

As a company policy, D-Bat does not sponsors teams in youth or adult leagues or for travel ball. 

“We’re open to all travel, high school, college and Little League (teams and players),” says Frost. Fast pitch and slow pitch softball players also train at D-Bat Elkhart.

Frost has been spreading the word about D-Bat Elkhart on social media and has reached out to nearby Riverview Park, where softball and youth baseball teams hold events.

To reach D-Bat Elkhart, call 574-500-DBAT (3228) or email info@dbatelkhart.com.

’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)

Franklin Central’s Schoettle promotes pride, accountability

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There are a few things that Greg Schoettle holds dear as head baseball coach at Franklin Central High School on the southeast side of Indianapolis.

Schoettle values the relationships he builds with his student-athletes. He expects them to take pride in being a Franklin Central Flash while being accountable for everything they do — on and off the diamond.

“It’s wanting to be part of the program and doing what is expected to be successful at this level,” says Schoettle, who joined the Flashes staff in 2010 and has been in charge since 2019. “We play in the toughest baseball conference in the state.

“It’s eye-opening for our kids.”

Franklin Central (enrollment around 3,000) is a member of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville). 

The HCC has accounted for four state championships — Brownsburg in 2005, Noblesville in 2014, Fishers in 2018 and Hamilton Southeastern in 2019. Franklin Central was state runner-up in 1992. Other runner-up finishes include 2003 and 2004 for Brownsburg, 1998 and 2009 for Westfield and 2016 for Zionsville.

Since 2010, the conference has combined to win 17 sectionals, seven regionals and four semistates.

Conference teams play each other in a two-game home-and-home series in the same week.

The Flashes are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with New Palestine, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport and Warren Central. Franklin Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2018 — the season the Flashes joined the HCC.

Schoettle is a 1985 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Wirtz

At Franklin Central, Schoettle was an assistant to head coach John Rockey and was on the same staff with John McCormick.

Schoettle credits Wirtz, Rockey and McCormick for teaching him valuable lessons.

From Wirtz, he learned the importance of fundamentals. From Rockey, he gained a grasp on everyday coaching situations.

McCormick, an Indianapolis Cathedral graduate who had also coaches at Bishop Chatard, Lawrence Central and Noblesville, died of brain cancer in 2016 at 44. He left an impression on many with his knack of making you think you were the most important person on the planet.

“Everybody that knew John loved John,” says Schoettle. “I only knew him for three years, but I felt like I lost a brother.”

Schoettle earned a business degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI) and worked several jobs before deciding to go into education. This is his 16th year of teaching for the FCHS math instructor. 

Prior to coaching baseball at Franklin Central, Schoettle coached football with Mike Harmon at Brebeuf Jesuit and guided son Jackson’s in travel baseball team.

It was just a few days before tryouts in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down — and then wiped out — the season.

“It was heartbreaking,” says Schoettle. “We had 12 seniors on our roster last year.

“But everybody was in the same boat (losing the season.

“We’re excited to see who’s going to step up (in 2021). It’s up for grabs. The kids know that.”

Right now, Schoettle has 50 to 60 kids coming to off-season conditioning. They are working on flexibility, endurance and speed.

“We want to get in the best shape we can right now,” says Schoettle. “The beauty of it is I have great assistant coaches.”

At 30, Devin Anderson is the oldest of 53-year-old Schoettle’s helpers and is a varsity assistant. He is an Evansville Harrison High School graduate.

Ben Kennedy is the junior varsity head coach. He is assisted by Tom Rockey (son of John Rockey). Brett Massengale is the freshmen coach. Kennedy, Rockey and Massengale are all Franklin Central graduates.

The Flashes tend to have about 45 players in the program for their three teams.

There are two baseball fields on-campus that are adjacent to one another. The varsity diamond has lights.

“It’s nice having fields next to each other,” says Schoettle. “We can have four-team tournaments or the varsity and JV can play at the same time.”

While Schoettle would like to have turf on the baseball field, his players have been able to practice occasionally on the football turf on the other end of campus.

The high school program at Franklin Central is fed by Franklin Township Little League and Franklin Central Junior High. The latter fields seventh and eighth grade teams.

Senior Sam Mettert has committed to play baseball at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill.

Recent Franklin Central graduates on college rosters include Austin Carr (Grace), Cade Fitzpatrick (Ball State), Jarod Gillespie (Indiana University Kokomo) and Austin Snider (Manchester). Matt Hall and Corey Jeanor came on the FC committed to Ashland (Ohio) University. Kameron Leach committed to the University of Indianapolis then developed arm issues and was then unable to play.

Greg and is married to Roncalli graduate Liz. The couple have two children — Jackson (22) and Lucy (14). Jackson Schoettle pitched one year at Roncalli and ran cross country for four years. Lucy Schoettle is a Franklin Central freshmen and a dancer.

Greg Schoettle is head baseball coach and a math teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis.

Butler volunteer Montgomery places premium on relationship building

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bailey Montgomery was well on his way to an engineering degree when he decided that the call to stay in baseball was just too strong.

Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School graduate, was heading into his last season as a player at Western Illinois University in the spring of 2019 when he decided to change his major to General Studies with a Mathematics minor, which allowed him to graduate and pursue a coaching path.

“It’s what I was passionate about,” says Montgomery. “I couldn’t leave the field.”

At 24, Montgomery has been a volunteer coach at Butler University in Indianapolis since August 2020 after serving as hitting coach for the summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2019 and hitting/outfield coach and recruiting director at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 2019-20.

Montgomery places an emphasis on developing relationships with players.

It’s really something I’ve been trying to hang my hat on,” says Montgomery. “I know how important it is at my age that I build trust with the guys. I want the guys to know I truly care about their development and their individual plan.

“Understanding that individual person is so huge.”

The Butler staff is headed by veteran Dave Schrage with full-time assistants Matt Kennedy (hitting coach and recruiting coordinator) and Ben Norton (pitching coach).

Montgomery enjoys listening to Schrage’s stories and soaking up his diamond wisdom.

“It’s something different everyday,” says Montgomery. “Coach Schrage and Coach Kennedy have given me so much freedom. They’ve allowed me to grow as a young coach.”

Montgomery has some keys as a hitting coaching.

“It’s about making everything repeatable and letting them know what we expect from each guy to make our offense as complete as we can make it,” says Montgomery. “We keep it simple and get them to be confident in what they need to do.”

Kennedy and Montgomery have Butler hitters keeping journals that allow the coaches to follow the process and learning methods for each player.

“There’s not one way to skin a cat,” says Montgomery. “It’s understanding where they’re at.

“Being able to manage people is ultimately going to define how successful they are.”

Butler wrapped up two months of fall practice — which included individualized work and intrasquad scrimmages — in October. 

“We had a tremendous fall,” says Montgomery. “We maximized the time with our guys.”

All students left campus after Thanksgiving and are not expected back until late January.

To keep the Bulldogs on track, there have been Zoom calls.

The 2021 season is due to begin Feb. 19. The Big East Conference will go to four-game weekend series. As of now, Butler will be allowed to keep the non-conference games now on the its schedule.

During the Christmas break, Montgomery has stayed in Indianapolis and conducted lessons for players middle school age and younger (the NCAA is not currently allowing camps or lessons with high schoolers).

“I’m getting as many hours in the (batting cage) as I can,” says Montgomery.

Born in Evansville, Ind., Montgomery grew up in Vincennes. He played on Cal Ripken League teams coached by father Ross Montgomery until age 12. When Bailey played travel ball for the Indiana Redbirds at 13U and 14U, Jay Wolfe was the head coach and Ross Montgomery helped.

Montgomery’s 15U, 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Nitro, coached by Eric Dill and Kris Dill. 

At 18U, Montgomery got a taste of college baseball atmosphere with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks.

At Lincoln, Montgomery for a coaching staff led by Brandon Pfoff with Tim Hutchison, Chris Clements and Andy Pinkstaff as assistants.

“We were competitive on a daily basis,” says Montgomery of the Vincennes Lincoln Alices. “It got me ready for the competitive environment at Wabash Valley.

“Coach Hutchison (who is now head coach at Vincennes Lincoln) was and is a great mentor for me as well. We have daily conversations. We’re always throwing ideas off each other. He has a growth mindset.”

Montgomery hit .352 (31-of-88) at WVC for Warriors head coach Rob Fournier in 2016 and 2017 (a season that finished with a third-place finish at the National Junior College World Series) before coming back to coach.

“Coach Fournier is one of the best recruiting guys I’ve ever seen,” says Montgomery. “He’s helped me with the evaluation piece, conversations with recruits and things to look for.

“I’ve learned the value of relationships (with contacts and recruits). I’m thankful for those conversations.”

Through his experiences, Montgomery counts himself as a big advocate for junior college baseball.

“It’s continuing to grow,” says Montgomery. “It’s an awesome environment if you’re a guy looking to grow and develop.”

Montgomery, a righty-swinging first baseman, played played two seasons at Western Illinois (2018 and 2019), appearing in 88 games (77 starts) and hitting .296 with two home runs, 43 runs batted in and a .991 fielding percentage with 317 putouts and just three errors.

Ryan Brownlee (now assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association) was the Leathernecks head coach.

“Coach Brownlee is just passionate about what he does,” says Montgomery. “Handling relationships is what he does really well. He gets his players to buy in.”

While he was still playing, Montgomery was able to serve something of a behind-the-scenes look at being a coach from Brownlee with access to scouting reports and some recruiting communciation.

During his collegiate playing career, Montgomery spent summers with the Hannibal (Mo.) Cavemen (2016), Irish Hills (Mich.) Leprechauns (2017) and Quincy (Ill.) Gems (2018). He was going to return to the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators as manager in 2020, but the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ross and Robin Montgomery have three children — Brittany, Bailey and Jade. Jade Montgomery is a softball pitcher/first baseman at Eastern Illinois University.

Bailey Montgomery is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Butler University Photo)
Bailey Montgomery, a 2015 Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School, is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. He also played and coached at Wabash Valley College and played and graduated from Western Illinois University. He was a hitting coach for the 2019 summer collegiate Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Butler University Photo)

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)