A large swath of Josh Foster’s life — nearly 20 years — has been attached to baseball at Adams Central Middle/High School in Monroe, Ind. The new Jets head coach was a student manager for three years of middle school. He played for AC for four years under four different head coaches — Dave Neuenschwander, Mark Conrad, Jody Wendle and Herb Bergman. “It was a blessing,” says Foster. “I gained knowledge from all four.” After college, he came back and served junior varsity coach and then varsity assistant. Neuenschwander approached him to let him know 2022 — Nick Neuenschwander’s senior year — would be his last year leading the baseball program. “We were in-sync,” says Foster of himself and Dave Neunschwander, who also imparted lessons to him on the football field. “My senior year, (head coach Rick) Minnich needed to motivate me a little bit. He sent me to Coach Newy who said we need to to step it up. He was not rude, but was not going to sugar-coat it. We’ve had that friendship. “It’s been great having a mentor like that.” Adams Central lost in the baseball sectional in Foster’s junior year (2000) then finished as IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up in his senior season (2001). Foster was one of 19 seniors on the Jets 2000 Class 1A state football championship team and one of nine 12th graders on the baseball and basketball teams (AC advanced to the regional). Foster played three seasons at the Doug Coate-coached University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. “I was transitioning into a closer, but I was ready to get married,” says Foster, who made high school sweetheart and 2002 Adams Central graduate Julie his wife and the couple went about building a family that now includes five children — seventh grader Jencee, fifth grader Jaxsen, fourth grader Jordyn and kingergarteners Judsen and Jarren. Josh has been involved with coach his sons’ youth and travel teams. Kevin Foster, Josh’s father, took him to Pony League practices at 3 and has helped his son as a coach. Adams Central (enrollment around 375) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). The Jets were part of an IHSAA Class 2A baseball sectional grouping in 2022 with Bluffton, Churubusco, Eastside, South Adams and Woodlan. Adams Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2016. The Jets last won the ACAC in 1976. For the first time in years Adams Central is taking part in IHSAA Limited Contact Period fall practices (two hours two times a week). Led by Foster and junior varsity coach Lance Busse (Class of 2016), these sessions have been attended by up to 12 players — many of them sixth graders. Foster has been putting together AC’s first middle school baseball program. It will likely be a club team with seventh and eighth grade squads playing game against Indiana and Ohio teams during the spring. Two dozen middle school players came out to a recent meeting and more are expected. Foster is seeking volunteers to coach the boys. This supplements the feeder program that is the Monroe Youth League. Besides Busse, Foster expects Jalen Hammond (Class of 2019) to be on the coaching staff. A project on Adams Central’s field calls for leveling the infield and there has been talk of installing a warning track. Knowing the players as he does, Foster is optimistic about the Jets’ potential. “I am expecting a lot out of the guys, says Foster. “We lost nine (to graduation) last year. “If come out ready to work and do things that right way we can be successful.” Class of 2022’s Blake Heyerly at (Vincennes, Ind., University) and Jaren Hildebrand (Spring Arbor University), Class of 2021’s Justin Bultemeier (Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne) and Class of 2019’s Parker Bates (Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne) are recent Adams Central graduates that moved on to college baseball. “Coach Neuenschwander did a nice job of getting guys seen and plan to continue that,” says Foster. Dalton Combs (Class of 2013) was a 2022 Frontier League All-Star in Washington, Pa. Foster took some of his young players to see Combs in the game. Kyle Baker (Class of 2014) is on the Saint Francis coaching staff. Foster is also Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent, based in Monroe.
Dustin Murray was hired this summer as the new head baseball coach at Mt. Vernon (Ind.) High School. His focus for the Wildcats this fall and winter is adding muscle and being in-shape. “The biggest thing that I’m going to bring is off-season expectations in the weight room,” says Murray, who is a certified strength and conditioning coach and a first-year Physical Education and Health teacher at Mt. Vernon Junior High School. “This is the part of the year where we’re going to get stronger. “We want to have accountability when it comes to athletic development.” Lifting at 6:15 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays have been drawing 25 athletes per session. “What we’re doing is baseball-specific,” says Murray. “But it’s helpful for all sports.” Murray has been facility director for 13 years at Athletic Republic Evansville, a sports performance training center. A few years ago, Murray did some volunteer work for Mt. Vernon head coach Paul Quinzer and takes over after Quinzer retired following the 2022 season after leading the program since 2002. Mt. Vernon (enrollment around 625) is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (with Boonville, Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, Princeton, Southridge, South Spencer, Tecumseh, Tell City and Washington). The Wildcats were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Boonville, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial and Heritage Hills. Mt. Vernon has won 17 sectional titles — the last in 2015. Murray’s coaching staff includes Luke Harris and Derek Foncannon. Another assistant may be added. A exciting addition at Mt. Vernon is an indoor training facility near the football field. There will be batting cages that will benefit both baseball and softball. Construction on the building began a few weeks ago and could be available in late spring or early summer of 2023. Murray says there has also been discussion of adding a turf infield on the Athletic Park diamond. Mt. Vernon Cub Baseball offers playing time for eight graders and seventh graders in the spring. Murray was an assistant to Steve Ricketts at Evansville Mater Dei in 2019 and 2020. In 2018, he coached for Norris City-Omaha-Enfield in Illinois. He lives in Carmi, Ill., with wife Brittany, daughter Taytem (7) and son Jagger (1). Prior to his Norris City-Omaha-Enfield stint, he was involved strength and conditioning at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville from 2010-18 after coaching baseball 2006-10. He landed with the Screaming Eagles when following Tracy Archuleta. A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Murray graduated from Bishop James Mahoney High School in 2000. He attended Prairie Baseball Academy while going to Lethbridge Community College. After two years, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside where Archeluta was the coach. An “international” rule allowed him to play five years of college baseball, including three at UWP. He also helped coach the Rangers after his playing days. “I’ve never seen him have an ‘off’ day,” says Murray of Archuleta, who has won three NCAA Division II national titles at USI and is leading the Screaming Eagles into NCAA Division I status. “Every time he stepped on the field in was with intent. “He is always looking to better his program. He’s always high energy and ready to go in everything he does.” As the part of honored teams, Murray is in athletic halls of fame at both the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (2016) and the University of Southern Indiana (2020).
Justin Huff has a new role in his second year on the Purdue Fort Wayne baseball coaching staff. His family came to Fort Wayne when wife Jenna Huff — who hails from Tecumseh, Mich. — was hired as news director at WANE-TV (Ch. 15) and he reached out to Mastodons coach Doug Schreiber. A director of player development position was created for Huff for 2020-21 with the idea that something else might open up in the future. In that job, he was restricted from actual coaching so he kept charts, gave analytics insights and helped in the dugout during games. In 2021-22, Huff is in the volunteer coach post with all its responsibilities. “Coach Schreiber has empowered me to do a lot of the practice scheduling,” says Huff. “I would make sure transitions were efficient.” On a staff that also features Brent McNeil and Ken Jones, Huff also helps with hitters and infielders, leads outfielders and is expected to coach first base when PFW — a member of the NCAA Division I Horizon League — opens its 2022 season Feb. 18 at Georgia State. “The challenge is we’re not on the field,” says Huff, noting that the Mastodons last practiced outdoors in November. At the beginning of the fall, the team took advantage of warmer temperatures and put in 20 hours per week of team practice. “(Hitters) got 50 to 60 (at-bats) and (pitchers) 20 to 22 innings,” says Huff. “You got to figure out exactly what you have. This year we’ve got 19 new guys so we saw how they fit with the returnees. “There were intrasquad games in the weekends and got the players accustomed to our system and our routines.” Then came a four hours-a-week phase where coaches could break down player’s mechanics and make adjustments if necessary. “It’s not like going 0-of-4 in scrimmage,” says Huff. “There’s no failure. “They’re getting their bodies ready to go and getting their timing down.” Hitters were going to face live pitching for the first time Thursday (Jan. 20) with 20 hours-a-week workouts starting back up Jan. 28. Huff came to Indiana from Gordon State College in Barnesville, Ga., where he was interim head coach during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season. With just one assistant, he was charged with all positions except infielders. A shortstop as a player, Huff is a 2003 graduate of Westover High School in Albany, Ga. Huff also played five years of American Legion ball for Albany Post 30 and manager Larry Cook. Albany went to the Legion World Series in 2001 — the year Brooklawn (N.J.) Post 72 beat Lewiston (Idaho) Post 13 for the title in Yakima, Wash. “He was a very strategic guy and super-competitive,” says Huff of Cook. “He never stopped coaching me. He challenged me and made me better.” Huff made collegiate stops of two years at Darton College in Albany (now merged with Albany State University) and one each at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., and Valdosta (Ga.) State University. His head coaches were Glenn Eames (with assistant Jamie Corr) at Darton, American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary Gilmore (with assistant Kevin Schnall) at Coastal Carolina and National College Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Thomas at Valdosta State. Huff credits Eames for showing him how to care for fields and Corr for his organization, practice plan and how to run a program. At Darton, Huff played against Young Harris (Ga.) College featuring his cousin Charlie Blackmon. After playing for the Mountain Lions in 2005 and 2006, lefty-swinging outfielder Blackmon was selected in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech and made his MLB debut for the Colorado Rockies in 2011. Gilmore led the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to the 2016 College World Series title. “(Gilmore and Schnall) are two of the best coaches in the country,” says Huff. “I sat and watched how they were planning out the game and their style of offense that really helped me down the road.” An offensive-minded coach, Huff prefers aggressiveness and small ball tactics. When Huff was on the team at Coastal Carolina, he was a teammate of Andy DeLaGarza, a product of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind. His father — Mark DeLaGarza — runs the Summit City Sluggers travel organization in Fort Wayne. From Thomas, Huff says he learned how to care about players and build relationships. Former big leaguer Phil Plantier was Huff’s manager with the independent South Coast League’s Macon (Ga.) Music in 2007 and witnessed the differences between the pro and college style. “I worked with him on hitting stuff,” says Huff. “I wanted to pick his brain as much as I could.” When he was done as a player, Huff went into the banking industry while completing his undergraduate and Masters of Business Administration degrees. He helped coach at Deerfield-Windsor Academy in Albany and with Leesburg American Legion Post 182 before spending five years at Darton with head coach Scot Hemmings. The Cavaliers won their first Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association title in 2015. “He had ways to motivate players and was very organized,” says Huff of Hemmings. “The development of players was incredible there.” When Jenna took a job at station in Macon, Justin helped coach the varsity and was middle school head coach at Tattnall Square Academy. The Trojans won the 2016 Georgia High School Athletic Association Class A state championship. Travis McClanahan was head coach when Huff joined the staff at Gordon State. The Highlanders went 50-9 and lost to Walters State in the National Junior College Athletic Association East-Central District in 2019. Justin and Jenna Huff have been married for 10 years and have four daughters — Devon (8), Canon (6), Fallon (4) and Lennon (2).
When Dustin Butcher took over as head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., following the 2018 season, the former Cougar player and assistant coach (2008-17) had high hopes. “Committed to make history” was the motto. USF went 13-40 in his first season in charge (2019). The was followed by 10-11 in a campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic (2020). Then came the 2021 season and a mark of 34-22 overall (a school record for single-season victories) and a 23-13 ledger in the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League. “We’ve opened some eyes about Saint Francis baseball,” says Butcher, who an attendee at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “We’ve increased our talent pool a lot (from the best player on down). We’ve taken off and narrowed the gap. “There’s competition across the board. I believe competition is vital.” Butcher likes it when his No. 1 and No. 2 player at any given position are challenging each other at practice. “Every rep matters,” says Butcher. “A guy doesn’t go get to a ball and the guy competing against you got that ball. You’re not in the weight room as much as you should be. The guy that’s beating you is in the weight room consistently. “It’s fun to watch these guys compete their rear end off. We are going to put the guy out there that performs and we back up what we say.” Butcher has also watched his players achieve as students. “We had a GPA of 3.4 (as a team) this past semester and it’s consistently gone up,” says Butcher, who earned a psychology degree from USF and Masters in Psychology from Ball State University. “What’s crazy is that when you get smart kids you throw things at them a little bit different and can challenge them a little more about the game.” Butcher has not only seen the talent pool gap shrink, but another facet has improved. “We’ve increased our athleticism tenfold,” says Butcher. “Athletes just find ways. They move their body in different ways.” Many Cougars were multi-sport athletes in high school. “When they come to us and they’re just focusing on baseball and lifting like a baseball player their talent ceiling gets pushed higher and higher because it’s like they’re only focusing on one thing,” says Butcher. “I think that’s helped. I really do.” In 2021, Butcher had Connor Lawhead and Kristian Gayday as assistant coaches and Dylan Farwell (a scout school graduate) as a student assistant who helps with strength and conditioning. Lawhead has since gone Whitman College in Walla, Walla, Wash., and Tanner Gaff has taken his place on the staff. “Coach Lawhead helped out tremendously with the culture as had KG,” says Butcher. “I trust them coaching my son (Nolan) and that’s the highest compliment you can pay any coach.” Gaff has made the transition from a Saint Francis pitcher in 2021 to leading USF pitchers. “I love the energy he has,” says Butcher. “He has done as well as I’ve ever seen to going from a player relationship with his buddies to now being their coach and there is no gray area. “He is Coach Gaff. He does a great job of relating with the guys, but also having a plan like Coach Lawhead had.” Other former Cougar players helping out including Kyle Baker with catcher, Brady Harris with infielders and Noah Freimuth with outfielders. Butcher also credits the impact of assistant athletic trainer Lindsey Foust. “She does a really good job in terms of flexibility, movement patterns and being effiicent,” says Foust. “It’s about keeping them healthy and getting them back on the field (after an injury) as soon as possible.” Saint Francis — with 17 freshmen — is scheduled to open the 2022 season Feb. 4 at Bethel (Tenn.). The first game at Cougar Field is slated for March 4 against Crossroads League rival Huntington.
Kelcey Mucker grew up in the southern part of Indiana and excelled at multiple sports. Born in Washington, Ind., and moving to Lawrenceburg, Ind., around 18 months, Mucker would go on to shine at Lawrenceburg High School. The 1993 graduate played in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Boys Basketball Series as well as the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and the Indiana Football Coaches Association North/South All-Star Game. At the time, he was told he was the first to ever pull off that three-sport feat. One of his teammates in the Indiana-Kentucky and IHSBCA North-South games was Jasper’s Scott Rolen. Both were named to the 2018 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary Team. Mucker, who swang the bat from the left side and threw the baseball and the football with his right arm, was headed to Indiana University on a football scholarship with plans to also represent the Hoosiers in basketball and baseball when his path turned to professional baseball. Selected in the first round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins, all-state outfielder Mucker did not sign right away and had time for those summertime all-star appearances. One day before he was to begin classes at IU — Aug. 9, 1993 — the 6-foot-4 athlete signed with the Twins. “The offer was good and I weighed my options,” says Mucker, the Lawrenceburg High School Athletics Hall of Famer. “I feel like I could’ve played baseball a lot longer than the other sports.” Basketball was his favorite and he excelled at football. He did not put the time into baseball he did the other two. “It was something I could do,” says Mucker, who went on to play 597 pro games, including 109 with the 1995 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards. Mucker played in the Twins system 1993-99 — seeing time at Double-A the last two years. He hooked on with the Cleveland Indians organization as a minor league free agent in 2000 and was released in April. The Oakland Athletics hired him as a scout and assigned him to a Deep South territory. He first moved to Metairie, La., outside New Orleans. He was in Baton Rouge, Fla., for 14 years and three years ago moved 20 miles east to Denham Springs, La., where he lives with wife Lisa. Mucker, who is beginning his 22nd year with the Athletics, is responsible for knowing the baseball talent in Louisiana, Mississippi and southeast Texas (Houston area). At this time of the year, Mucker is spending much of his time getting ready for the spring season. He meets with potential signees through in-home visits or (since the COVID-19 pandemic) sometimes over Zoom calls. “Getting into homes was pretty big for us as area scouts — that face-to-face contact,” says Mucker. “That’s still challenging going into 2022. “I like talking to parents and kids at the ballpark. It’s not so impersonal.” Mucker’s job is tied to being organized. “It’s knowing my area and what’s going on on a daily basis — not only for me but my supervisors and everybody above me so they can get that second look,” says Mucker. “We all can evaluate a player. What ballparks are we going to get in?” Emails let him know when there are changes in games and he’s always on top of the forecast. “I feel like I’m a weatherman,” says Mucker. “Rain is not good for a baseball game.” But — generally speaking — the weather is good and baseball can be played 12 months a year in Mucker’s area. In the winter months, that is often a workout or showcase. “Kids are always working out — sometimes a little bit too much,” says Mucker. “From the draft (now in July during the MLB All-Star break) until start of the season, we’re getting ready for 2022. “I try to see everybody we can prior to next spring so we have an idea.” Unlike Indiana when the snow might still be flying in April, high school baseball in Mucker’s territory tends to start the third week of February. Mucker also keeps tabs on players’ social media accounts. “They might Tweet something they shouldn’t and be a bigger risk,” says Mucker. “For us as scouts that’s part of the equation.” Not all MLB organizations bring their scouts together during the draft. With the exception of 2020 with travel restrictions, Mucker and his colleagues go to Oakland during that time. Mucker is vice president of the Southeastern Scouts Association — a group made up of scouts living in the Deep South and representing all 30 MLB teams. “We meet once a year and talk about initiaves and giving back to the game within our region,” says Mucker, who has also been part of the Buck O’Neil Professional Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association. Mucker notes that there is some uncertainty about what will transpire in baseball until the current lockout is resolved. Scouting has always been competitive, but now that the draft has been cut down to 20 rounds (it was 40 in 2019 and five in 2020) it is even more important to know as much information as possible about players and also what other organizations think about him. How much do the Reds like that player? Can we wait until the third round or take them in the second? “It’s another way — on a bigger scale — to be organized within your territory,” says Mucker. Though he’s lived away from Indiana more than two decades, Kelcey Adair Mucker still has family ties there. His father — retired Indiana State Police trooper of 30 years — Hubert Mucker Jr., is just outside Lawrenceburg. Brother Stacy Mucker and son Kelcey Aaron Mucker live in Lawrenceburg with many other family members in Washington or Indianapolis.
Jeremy Frank has taken his love for baseball and numbers and carved out quite a niche in the diamond community. Six years after creating @MLBRandomStats on Twitter, he has nearly 78,000 followers. “It’s really cool that there are that many people out there interested in random baseball stats like me,” says Frank, a 20-year-old Data Science major at Purdue University. His @Diamond_Digest Twitter account — launched in 2017 — has more than 7,800 followers. Frank, a 2019 graduate of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., who hails from Buffalo Grove, Ill., has joined with fellow stat hunter Jim Passon Jr., of Tacoma, Wash., (runs a similar Twitter account — @PassonJim) to publish “Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought To Look For From 1876-1919 (Vol. 1)” in May 2019 and “Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought To Look For From 1920-1969 (Vol. 2)” in May 2020. A third volume covering 1970 to the present is in the works, “It’s a look at baseball’s history through random stats of each time,” says Frank. “We go year-by-year and find the most fun facts. “We don’t use super-advanced statistics. We might mention the first player with 30 home runs and fewer than 30 strikeouts. We’ll talk about WAR (Wins About Replacement) once in awhile.” A guest on several podcasts and featured on several websites and more, Frank is especially proud of being invited on ESPN during a Korea Baseball Organization broadcast during the 2020 U.S. baseball shutdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was on at 4 a.m. with play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti and commentator Jessica Mendoza. “It was really cool for me,” says Frank. “I’m still just in college.” As a data intern in the summer of 2021, Frank gained experience with Sports Reference, LLC. “I was able to work on a bunch of projects,” says Frank, who now works part-time on the company’s marketing team. “I Tweet during games,” says Frank. “It’s the same as on my personal account.” Just this week, Frank let his followers know the best batting average in at-bats that don’t end in a strikeout. Chicago Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom (.428) was second on that list. The oldest child of Cubs fan Missy Frank and White Sox fan Nolan Frank counts himself as a Cubs rooter. “The first few years I was a huge baseball fan was 2015 and 2016 — the best Cubs team in over 100 years,” says Jeremy Frank, whose sister Allison is a Stevenson senior in 2021-22. “I also go to a lot of White Sox games. I was at Mark Buehrle’s perfect game (on July 23, 2009). That’s the first game I kept score at.” Where did Frank’s affinity for athletics and numbers begin? “Growing up I’ve always been a big sports fan,” says Frank. “My favorite subject was math.” Frank devoured the stats on baseball cards and watched the movie “Moneyball” for the first time when he was about 10. “I saw that teams hire people who use statistics,” says Frank. “My goal since then has been to work in sports.” While Frank has not yet read the Michael Lewis book that led to the film, he does have a take on the movie. “It’s kind of outdated now, but the (Oakland) A’s got a big edge because they could compete with big market teams (by utilizing analytics). Now the Yankees still spend and have a team of analytics people.” But a team can’t thrive on number-crunching alone. “You have to have good players to win games,” says Frank. As president of the Purdue Sports Analytics Club, Frank has seen the group got about 30 during his freshmen year to between 200 and 300 this year. The club meets at 7:30 p.m. each Wednesday and recently had ESPN MLB Insider Jeff Passan and Sports Reference, LLC founder and president Sean Forman as Zoom guest speakers. “We have competitions, trivia nights and analytics projects,” says Frank. He sees Data Science as “wide-ranging degree that gives you a lot of skills.” This semester, Frank is taking four classes (12 credit hours) — Economics (Game Theory), Computer Science (Machine Learning), Communication and Environmental Science. Because of COVID-19 protocols, Frank has not been able to get too involved with Purdue sports teams though he did Tweet some stats for the Boilermakers baseball team in 2020. Frank is seeking a different kind of internship for the summer of 2022. “I want to get a taste for all the things you can do in sports analytics,” says Frank (Purdue Class of 2023). What about after graduation? “Working in front office would be cool,” says Frank. “I’m not sure yet.” Frank also finds time in his schedule for fantasy sports. He runs baseball and football teams. “You can use analytics to make money if you find the right things, but that’s not my end goal,” says Frank. “Fantasy baseball is a good way to make me sure I was watching other games (besides the Cubs).” Then he can tell his Twitter followers things like how Juan Soto is 26-of-51 with 18 walks, 5 strikeouts, 4 doubles, 1 triple and 3 home runs with a .510/.634.804 slash line in his last 15 games. “There are so many ways you can enjoy baseball,” says Frank. “That’s the beauty of it.” Using numbers is the way Frank does it.
Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America. The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan). Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year. Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. “We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.” Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc. “When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that. “It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.” After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18). “He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family. “On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.” A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average). In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional. “We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.” With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework. “At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes. “Everything is challenging.” In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016. Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League. “It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.” One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m. After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019. In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli. Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies. The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547). The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time. “It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase. “You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.” Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.
2021 IHSBCA ALL-STATE TEAM Class 4A Pitchers: Grant Stratton (Jasper), Nate Dohm (Zionsville). C: Hunter Dobbins (Mount Vernon of Fortville). 1B: Kaleb Kolpien (Homestead). 2B: Joel Walton (Mount Vernon of Fortville). 3B: Connor Foley (Jasper). SS: Tucker Biven (New Albany). OF: Carter Mathison (Homestead), Max Clark (Franklin), Tommy O’Connor (Mooresville). Honorable Mention: Evan Waggoner (Bedford North Lawrence); Austin Bode (Columbus North); Jaden Deel (Hobart); Andrew Wallace (Jasper); Jackson Micheels (Carmel); Breenen Weigert (Homestead); Jack Braun (Fishers); Tyler Walkup (Lawrence North); Quentin Markle (Westfield); Joe Huffman (Avon); Nick Mitchell (Carmel); Brad White (Andrean); Blake Herrmann (Castle); Camden Jordan (Cathedral); Sam Gladd (Columbia City); Eli Hopf (Jasper); Brody Chrisman (Zionsville); J.D. Rogers (Carmel); Keaton Mahan (Westfield); Gage Standifer (Westfield); Kyler McIntosh (Columbus North); Chris Gallagher (Cathedral); Carter Doorn (Lake Central); Grant Comstock (Valparaiso); Tate Warner (Fishers); Carter Gilbert (Northridge).
Shakamak Junior-Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind., has established a tradition of excellence on the baseball diamond. As the Lakers go into the one-game IHSAA Class 1A Mooresville Semistate against first-time regional winner Borden (22-6-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 12, they can count all-time totals of 26 sectionals, 13 regionals, seven semistates and two state titles (2008 and 2014). The Shakamak-Borden winner moves on to the State Finals to play Washington Township (25-7) or Cowan (15-13) either Monday or Tuesday, June 21 or 22 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. In 2021, Shakamak beat White River Valley 14-0, Clay City 10-0 and Bloomfield 4-1 to win the White River Valley Sectional and Southwestern (Shelbyville) 10-1 and Oldenburg Academy 13-0 to reign at the Morristown Regional. The Lakers were 2-4 in the six games before sectional. “We got hot at the right time,” says Jeremy Yeryar (pronounced YIRE), Shakamak’s first-year head coach. “The kids got hot at the right time. The way we approach it we’re 5-0. “The postseason. That’s when it really matters. “The pitching’s been really good and solid. The defense and the bats have really come alive lately. We switched up things in practice and kept us in game mode. “We’re playing for those seven seniors. Everybody who’s been at this school would like to put that uniform on one more time. I don’t want to let go of the seniors just yet.” The Class of 2021 is represented by Ethan Burdette, Logan Burris, Trevor Ellingsworth, Brevon Fulford, Bryce Jenkins, Clayton “Buddy” Stone and Peyton Yeryar (cousin to Jeremy). There have been plenty of success, but Yeryar is not taking credit for those. “It’s my motto: Players win; Coaches lose,” says Yeryar. “If we lose, that’s on me. If we win, that’s on the kids.” Yeryar, a 1993 Shakamak graduate who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip Sweet. “The program that I played under him is a lot of the program I’m running,” says Yeryar. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. “We teach more than a game. We teach life lessons along the way. Baseball is not fair at times and neither is life. You can come up short at times. Baseball is a game of failure. “We hold our athletes to a high standard. You should lead at school or anywhere out in the public.” Yeryar, who was a Lakers assistant for Sweet and his successor Todd Gambill, asks his players to give their all each time out. “They know what’s at stake,” says Yeryar. “We lost a whole year last year (to the COVID-19 pandemic) and it can happen again. “So if this was the last time I got to play this game was I satisfied with the way I did it?” Shakamak graduates Dylan Collins (Class of 2015), Jake Walters (Class of ’15), Brent Yeryar (Class of ’95), Brett Yeryar (Class of ’14), Braxton Yeryar (Class of ’15) and Tanner Yeryar (Class of ’17) and Bloomfield alum Jason Pegg (mid-1990’s) are also part of the 2021 coaching staff. Brent and Brett are Jeremy’s cousins. Braxton and Tanner are the youngest sons of Jeremy and wife Stacy (a Shakamak cafeteria worker). The oldest son — Braden Cox (Class of ’13) — also played baseball for the Lakers. Collins played at Vincennes University and Purdue Northwest. Brett and Tanner Yeryar played at VU. Another former Laker player — Braden Scott (Class of ’16) — pitched out of the bullpen the past few seasons for Indiana University. While not committed, Burdette and Peyton Yeryar have drawn interest from college program. Shakamak (enrollment around 200) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Central of Farmersburg, North Daviess and White River Valley). The Lakers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eminence, North Central and White River Valley (the 2021 host). Besides conference and postseason opponents, Shakamak has played Bloomington North, Jasper, Martinsville, Owen Valley, Riverton Parke, Sullivan, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo, Washington and West Vigo. “We play a very brutal schedule,” says Yeryar. “We always have.” The Lakers play just one game each against SWIAC teams to free them up to play a strong non-conference slate. It gets them ready for the postseason and is beneficial to their opponents. “Shakamak travels well,” says Yeryar, who also does utilities for the City of Jasonville. “Coaches always keep us on the schedule. They say, ‘you make a game out of everything.’ “We take a lot of pride in that.” The Lakers plays home games on-campus. The field got plenty of attention from coaches and players the past year. “The kids do the field work with me,” says Yeryar. “If you work on the field you’ll respect it and take pride in it.” Shakamak Youth League (T-ball to age 12), the Shakamak Lakers travel team and a junior high program (grades 6-8) all go into feeding high school baseball.
Braden Cox (left), Stacy, Jeremy, Tanner and Braxton Yeryar.
Shakamak baseball seniors for 2021 (from left): Logan Burris, Trevor Ellingsworth, Brevon Fulford, Buddy Stone, head coach Jeremy Yeryar, Peyton Yeryar, Bryce Jenkins and Ethan Burdette.
That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.
“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”
One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.
“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”
Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.
“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”
Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.
Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.
Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.
Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.
“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.
The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.
Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.
Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.
Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.
“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”
Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes.
Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.
“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.
“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”
The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights.
“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”
That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.
“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.
“They’re not selfish.”
Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.
Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.
“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.
“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”
Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.
Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.
Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.
“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players.
“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.
“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”
Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.
Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.
“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”
Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.
“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”
Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.
“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”
Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.
Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.