By STEVE KRAH
As a way of promoting baseball and helping the community, two senior ballplayers at Lakeland Junior/Senior High School in LaGrange, Ind., came up with an idea.
Jayce Riegling and Braden Yoder decided to organize a home run derby and invited other players from the Northeast Corner Conference to participate.
Sixteen hitters representing nine of the conference’s 12 schools — Angola (where Roger Roddy is head coach), Central Noble (Tyler Graybeal), Fairfield (Darin Kauffman), Fremont (Justin Bock), Garrett (Jason Richards), Lakeland (Michael Isaacs), Prairie Heights (T.J. Guthrie), West Noble (Doug Brown), and Westview (Jason Rahn) — are slated to slug it out, beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3 on the Lakeland diamond.
There will be four rounds with batters seeing how many homers they can hit in three minutes.
All proceeds from the event, which has 48 corporate sponsors, will be going to Hello Gorgeous!, a non-profit organization that provides complimentary, professional makeovers and cosmetic education to all women battling all cancers. Organizers says that more than $5,000 has already been raised.
Tickets will be on sale the day of the event for $3. T-shirts will also be sold. To keep spectators fed, the MADD Chef Creationz food truck will be there, too.
Why an NECC Home Run Derby?
“Everyone loves home runs,” says Riegling. “I want to be an agent. I was talking to some (sports) agents. They told me to come up with baseball projects.”
After batting around a few ideas, they settled on bringing in players with the pitcher of their choice for a home run derby.
“It helps the community better,” says Riesling. “It gets us closer.”
Yoder, who is considering a career in engineering, sees his role in the project as the proof reader and aesthetic editor.
“I try to make everything look nice,” says Yoder. “I’m more behind the scenes. I keep things straight.
“This is going to be a fun event. I’m excited. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. So far it’s turned out perfectly.”
Yoder says permission forms need to be finalized, but they will welcome participation by younger kids to shag balls.
The event was originally scheduled for May 2020, but the IHSAA informed the organizers that players could not participate in-season so the date was changed.
If the weather does not cooperate Sunday, back-up dates are Nov. 9 and 10. Updates will be placed on the project’s Twitter page — @NECC_HRD.
Most of the participants came to a media day sponsored by Shipshewana Trading Place.
Here’s what the many of the hitters had to say:
Felipe Arevalo (Fairfield): “This is a very nice project … We all love baseball. This will be my first home run derby. It’s going to be fun … (Coach Kauffman) talks about hitting the ball hard.”
Brayden Bontrager (Lakeland): “I just love the game. Baseball is a fun sport to play. I always like to hit home runs … Home runs are the best part of the game. It rallies the team … (Coach Isaacs) is more of a contact guy, get guys on-base … The ball travels here in left field. There’s a cornfield out there.”
Nathan Burr (Central Noble): “I’ve never heard about anything else like this in high school. I thought it would be fun to be part of the first one … This is a great cause — cancer awareness. I’m real excited.”
Tyler Curtis (Prairie Heights): “I like hitting dingers. I like the competition … Last year I had one (homer) on varsity … Rotational hitting (which I learned at Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich.) is a big thing. A big shoutout to Mike Marks and Robert Riley … Stamina is a big thing we don’t focus on (in a home run contest). You have to control your breathing.”
Camden “Bodhi” Hall (Prairie Heights): “(Bodhi) comes from a movie called Point Break with Patrick Swayze. My dad just wanted to name me that. He still calls me Bodhi … Tyler Curtis and I wanted to represent our school and show them what we’ve got as sophomores … Tyler and I were in a home run derby together while with the Hitter’s Edge. He was first and I second one year … (Hitter’s Edge coach Mike Marks) is great. You go up there, you’ll learn something.”
Camden Harris (Garrett): “I had four (home runs) last spring (behind senior Kobe Lucarelli’s six) … This will be my third (home run contest). I was in seventh grade and we were in Kentucky for nationals (in travel ball) and I got second place. As a freshman or sophomore, I was down in Florida and got first place.”
Connor Kreis (Fremont): “I heard about a slogan like ‘Swinging for Cancer’ or something like that. I figured it was going for a good cause. It’s just cool to get out here and see these other athletes that I’ve played against since I was a freshman.”
Owen Miller (Fairfield): “I hit two home runs last year. One was a grand slam (at Lakeland) … You have to have a good pitcher (Owen’s father, Tim Miller, will pitch to him) and you need to be confident.”
Nick Mortrud (Westview): “I thought it would be fun to do something to bring the schools together … In a way, this helps the school kind of showcase what they’ve got … We’re bringing the community here, too … I was in a home run contest in travel ball at around 10 (in Columbus, Ohio) at ended up winning it … I’m going to be thinking don’t take too many wasted swings. After each swing kind of analyze what you’re doing. Focus on what you’re body’s doing as you take the swing.”
Hunter Saggars (West Noble): “(Jayce) and I go way back. We used to play ball together … I’ve never seen anything like this before so I figured it would be cool to be a part of the first one … I’m not going into this thing thinking I’m going to win it. We’ve got some big boys. I just want to be a part of it … (2019 West Noble graduate) Jorge Villanueva will be throwing to me.”
Takota Sharick (Westview): “My Grandma has cancer so this is really important to me … I’m not necessarily a power hitter, but if I focus on it I can be alright … We use Blast Motion and (Coach Rahn) tells us when we’ve had good launch angle and bat speed.”
Gage Smith (Garrett): “We’ve got three (derby competitors) looking pretty sharp, honestly … I would honestly consider myself a power hitter (with four homers for the Railroaders last spring) … A Garrett cop (Kylan LaMotte) will be throwing to us.”
Evan Snyder (Churubusco): “I was in a home run derby a long time ago in Cooperstown. I hit one … It’s a good thing they’re doing this for, the charity.”
Tristan Taylor (Garrett): “We’re all a tight-knit group (at Garrett). All three of us are chatting and having a competition amongst ourselves. It’ll be fun … It’s a really good opportunity to support this charity. It’s a really good organization … Everything about this is great.”
NECC HR DERBY
Sunday, Nov. 3, 3:30 p.m.
Nick Mortrud (Westview jr.) vs. Brayden Bontrager (Lakeland jr.)
Gage Smith (Garrett jr.) vs. Dylan Eggl (Central Noble jr.)
Camden Harris (Garrett sr.) vs. Camden “Bodhi” Hall (Prairie Heights so.)
Owen Miller (Fairfield so.) vs. Connor Kreis (Fremont sr.)
Tyler Curtis (Prairie Heights so.) vs. Evan Snyder (Churubusco jr.)
Nathan Burr (Central Noble sr.) vs. Kolton Taylor (Lakeland sr.)
Tristan Taylor (Garrett sr.) vs. Felipe Arevalo (Fairfield sr.)
Hunter Saggars (West Noble sr.) vs. Takota Sharick (Westview jr.)
The NECC Home Run Derby brackets for 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)
The Northeast Corner Conference Home Run Derby with proceeds to benefit Hello Gorgeous! is slated for Sunday, Nov. 3 at Lakeland Junior/Senior High School in LaGrange, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)