Tag Archives: West Virginia Miners

Hanover College infielder Christie blooms into a powerful hitter

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

Alex Christie describes himself as “kind of a late bloomer.”
Now a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder coming off a super baseball season at NCAA Division III Hanover (Ind.) College where he tied the single-season home run record with 11 in 38 games, Christie says it took him some time to coordinate his skill with his frame.
Christie was a capable player as he grew up in Greenwood, Ind., but he matured later than some of his peers.
As a Center Grove High School freshman, Christie was no more than 5-10. By junior year, he was up to 6-3 and then took another growth spurt.
“I really was just like a baby my freshmen and sophomore years, but I had a lot of talent,” says Christie. “It took the weight room a lot more serious my junior year.”
“(Center Grove strength and conditioning) Coach (Marty) Mills set me up for success with structure doing things with the right form,” says Christie. “(Trojans junior varsity coach Jordan Reeser) helped me a lot with my infield stuff. Coach Carp (John T. Carpenter) always kept me in-check with my swing.”
Christie has had many reps with the bat.
“When I was younger I was an average hitter,” says Christie. “My junior year of high school I didn’t play because I wasn’t very good at hitting. I started really grinding and swinging everyday.”
The winter of his senior year (2019-20), Christie and a group of classmates — Drew Dillon, Bryce Eblin (now at the University of Alabama), Anthony Smith, Adam Taylor and Jimmy Wolff among them — were regulars at Extra Innings Indy South.
Working with Center Grove head coach Keith Hatfield, Christie had gotten up to 88 mph as a pitcher.
Then the 2020 high school season was taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would’ve loved to see what I could have done my senior year of high school if I had the chance to play,” says Christie.
He did get to play that summer with the Nighthawks of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
“I made all-star game and I hit really well,” says Christie. “I like to swing it.
“That’s normally what gets me into the lineup.”
As a Hanover freshman in 2021, righty-swinger Christie started in all 40 games and paced the Panthers in batting average at .340 (50-of-147) and runs batted in with 45. He also rapped six home runs and nine doubles and scored 33 times with .988 OPS (.464 on-base percentage plus .524 slugging average) while earning second team all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference honors at shortstop. He tied a school record with seven RBIs in a game against Defiance.
Unable to land a spot with a summer team in 2021, Christie worked for FedEx but also found time to work on his craft.
He came back in 2022 and hit .316 (49-of-155) with 11 homers, 11 doubles, 39 RBIs and 44 runs. Using gap-to-gap power, he posted a 1.035 OPS (.422/.613) and was selected as second team all-HCAC at first base.
Hanover head coach Grant Bellak had Christie batting No. 2 in the order.
“He wanted me to get as many at-bats as possible,” says Christie of Bellak. “I bring a lot of runs in. I hit better with guys on-base. I lock in a little bit more.
“I’m in the driver’s seat.”
Christie was named HCAC Hitter of the Week in March. During a six-game stretch on Hanover’s trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., he cracked five home runs among his 11 hits and drove in 12 runs.
What makes tying the homer record at Hanover special to Christie is that both his parents — Turk and Staycee — are alums and that the standard was established by Jeff Knecht in 1985 when the team played more games as an NAIA member.
The last game of the 2022 season Christie hit a ball that had the distance for his 12th homer, but went foul.
“Something to look forward to next year,” says Christie.
Hanover’s career homer mark is held by Greg Willman, who slugged 25 from 1982-85.
Christie verbally committed to Hanover in December of his junior year.
“Coach Bellak made me feel wanted there,” says Christie. “I wasn’t expecting to play my freshmen year.
“I started every single game, which is a huge blessing.”
Christie got good grades in high school and received an academic scholarship at Hanover, where he is a Chemistry major.
This summer, Christie is the starting shortstop for the Prospect League’s West Virginia Miners (Beckley, W.Va.).
In his first 20 games, he was hitting .353 (24-of-68) with one homer, eight doubles, 16 RBIs, 15 runs and a 1.013 OPS (.439/.574).
“I’ve really been enjoying this,” says Christie, who counts Hanover teammate and right-handed pitcher Charlie Joyce (Perry Meridian High School graduate) among his four Miners roommates. “(Miners manager) Tim Epling) loves helping. He’s got a lot to offer.
“He’s given me some advice for my swing.”
On the Miners’ off day July 6, they were to attend the New York Yankees at Pittsburgh Pirates game (Aaron Judge had one of six home runs for New York).
Christie has been swinging bats crafted by Center Grove graduate Tom Gandolph in his Bargersville, Ind., shop. Tom is the son of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph, who coached Turk Christie at CG.
The first couple turned for Christie were 34 inches and 31 ounces. More recently, he’s been wielding a patriotic 34 1/4/32 club.
“I’ve been hitting really well with it,” says Christie.
Born in Indianapolis, Christie lived near Valle Vista Golf Club then moved into the Center Grove district for his whole pre-college run.
Alex played rec ball at Honey Creek until about 8 then played travel ball for the Indiana Arrows (Turk Christie was one of the coaches) and Extra Innings Indy South-based Indiana Vipers.
As he grew older and more serious about the game, Christie got more help in his development.
“I learned so much from the Indiana Twins organization,” says Christie, who played his 17U season for Jeff Stout, received instruction from Jason Clymore and assistance in gaining weight, strength and mobility from Scott Haase.
The Indiana Twins recently joined the Canes family.
Alex, 20, has an 18-year-old brother — Asa Christie — who graduated from Center Grove in 2022 and is bound for Indiana University-Kokomo as a right-handed pitcher/third baseman.
Jarrod “Turk” Christie is an auto leasing officer for Indiana Members Credit Union. Staycee Christie works for Door Services of Indiana.

Alex Christie (Hanover College Photo)
Alex Christie (right) at first base (Hanover College Photo)

Alex Christie (25) (Hanover College Photo)
With the West Virginia Miners this summer, Alex Christie is swinging clubs made in Indiana by Gandolph Bats.
West Virginia Miners teammates Alex Christie (left) and Zach Doss (Phil Andraychak Photo)

Driven Mills takes advice from many baseball mentors

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

What drives Patrick Mills as a baseball player?
“My passion for the game is definitely No. 1,” says Mills, a 22-year-old outfielder/first baseman for Indiana University-Kokomo. “Every day I get up out of bed the one thing I want to do is go play some baseball.
“That’s the reason I keep playing. I enjoy the game. Everything else will follow. I will do everything I can to get better and keep playing it. It comes down to passion and discipline.”
Mills, a 2018 graduate of Western High School in Russiaville, Ind., spent two years at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the past two years at IUK. He plans to use his extra year of COVID-19 eligibility with the Cougars in 2022-23 while completing his Computer Science degree.
A lefty thrower and batter, Mills hit .374 (65-of-174) in 2022 while helping IUK go 26-22 overall and 16-7 in the NAIA River States Conference. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder belted 15 home runs, four triples and 16 doubles while driving in 44 runs and scoring 51 — all team-leading totals. His on-base percentage was .453.
“I make sure I stay balanced in my body and my mind,” says Mills of his approach at the plate. “I learn what the pitcher is throwing and try to hit the ball hard.
“When you hit the ball hard good things happen.”
Mills has had many mentors besides father Eric.
“It’s not just one person in particular,” says Mills. “It’s a collective of everybody I’ve met in the game.
“It’s little bit of advice here and there. I’ve put it together like a puzzle.”
Jeremy Honaker coached Cougar outfielders and hitters in 2022.
Mills credits him with helping him with the mental side of the game and bringing out his full potential during games.
“There were little snippets for me to think about during (batting practice),” says Mills. “They were more mental notes than actual physical cues.”
A lot was achieved during the fall and winter.
“All that work built up,” says Mills. “By the time the season came around it was second nature.”
Mills has head coaches at IUK with different styles. Matt Howard was intense and Drew Brantley is more laid-back.
“(Howard) lent a level of excitement and discipline,” says Mills of the man who is now a Kokomo police officer. “He wanted us to compete to the best of our abilities every single day. He wanted to make his players as tough as possible and he definitely did.
“(Brantley) has created an environment where we’re not afraid to fail. If we can control what we need to control, the results will follow. Follow the process and try to get better everyday. That philosophy — in my opinion — worked very well. Next spring it will be even better.”
Mills was born in Kokomo and got his formal baseball start at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League.
He played travel ball with the Westfield-based Stonecutters then went with the Indiana Eagles for his 14U to 17U summers.
“(Eagles coach) Jamie Roudebush gave us a platform to work on our skills and get better everyday during those years,” says Mills.
At Western, Mills played two years each for Quentin Brown then Ryan Berryman.
“(Brown) was all about passion when playing the game. He once jokingly said to me, ‘you care about this game too much. If you keep your passion like that you’ll go wherever you want to go.”
Mills and the Western Panthers were 2016 IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
“Playing for (Berryman) was a different experience from Brown,” says Mills. “He brought the intensity level, but also the technicalities of baseball. He challenged me to become better fundamentally. It was the mechanics and more than just the mental side.”
Mike Shirley, who at the time was a Chicago White Sox area scout and is now that organization’s director of amateur scouting, ran a fall league for high schoolers in Pendleton, Ind., in which Mills participated.
“He gave us a lot of information and where we need to improve,” says Mills of Shirley. “He was challenging us mentally and physically. It was a great experience.”
Mills played for Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6 the summers before and after his first year of college.
“He was always supported me since I played for him,” says Mills of Andrews. “He was very similar to how Drew Brantley goes about his business. He’s calm and collected.
“Back then I was very intense and wild and wanted to do everything with one swing. He taught me how to handle my emotions. It went over my head then but I eventually learned from his teachings.”
At Olney Central, Mills played for veteran coach Dennis Conley.
“He definitely pushed his players to the limit and got the most out of them,” said Mills of Conley, who has been in charge of the Blue Knights program for 42 years and has a record of 1,530-773. “Junior college tests your love of the game. Do you really love the game or kind of like it?”
Mills was with the Portland (Ind.) Rockets during the COVID summer of 2020. One of his teammates was former Yorktown High School, Lincoln Trail College, Wright State University and independent pro player Zach Tanner.
“He took me under his wing and taught me about the mental game,” says Mills of Tanner.
Last summer he played for the Prospect League’s West Virginia Miners and manager Tim Epling.
The summer of 2022 sees Mills with the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. The team is managed by Caleb Long.
In 28 games with Battle Creek, Mills is hitting .360 (41-of-114) with two homers, 27 RBIs and 21 runs.
Eric and Sundai Mills have three children — Jaymee (Mills) Birky (28), Hayley Mills (24) and Patrick.
Jaymee is married and living in Madison, Wis. (where Battle Creek recently played the Madison Mallards), and competition in swimming, softball and track at Western. She also was part of a state championship marching band. Hayley nows teaches elementary school in Raleigh, N.C. She was in volleyball, basketball, swimming and softball during her school days.

Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (15) (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)

Keeran to manage Lafayette Aviators at new Loeb Stadium in ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Corn is not involved. But there’s a kind of a reverse “Field of Dreams” thing going on in Lafayette, Ind.

“If You Build It, He Will Come” — in this case — refers to Michael Keeran.

A new Loeb Stadium is being built for the Lafayette Aviators baseball team. After discussions with owner Bill Davidson, Iowa native Keeran has been named as field manager for 2021.

Keeran, a 2012 graduate of Clear Lake (Iowa) High School and the holder of two degrees from Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa (a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Masters in Organizational Leadership with a Sport Management emphasis), welcomes the chance to bring his wife closer to family while also moving up in the baseball world.

“My wife is from Centralia, Ill.,” says Keeran. “I’ve coached near by hometown the past couple summers. (With the Aviators,) I get to coach in a very good league and I get two birds with one stone.”

Michael and Kaitlin Keeran are expecting their first child in December. Centralia is 220 miles from Lafayette and Kaitlin will be able to spend time there and also visit her husband.

“I always wanted to go to a bigger league. It’ll be a brand new stadium and a very good franchise. I thought it would be a good fit.”

The Prospect League is a 14-team college wooden bat summer circuit with teams in Indiana (Lafayette Aviators and Terre Haute Rex), Illinois (Alton River Dragons, Danville Dans, DuPage Pistol Shrimp, Normal CornBelters, Quincy Gems and Springfield Sliders), Ohio (Champion City Kings and Chillicothe Paints), Missouri (Cape Catfish and O’Fallon Hoots), Pennsylvania (Johnstown Mill Rats) and West Virginia (West Virginia Miners).

While 2021 Aviators assistant coaches have been consulted, the official word of their hiring is yet to come.

Keeran managed Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2018 and 2019 — the Albert Lea (Minn.) Lakers followed by the Bancroft (Iowa) Bandits.

After one season as an assistant at Valley City (N.D.) State University (NAIA), Keeran became head coach at Bismarck (N.D.) State College (National Junior College Athletic Association Division II) for the 2020 season. The Mystics had played two games and were in Arizona to play 10 or 11 more when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to be halted.

“We were on a bus for 60 or 70 hours,” says Keeran. “It was awful.

“It’s tough to tell a bunch of young men that their season is over and it has nothing to do with wins or losses.”

While they could have taken an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Keeran encouraged his second-year players from 2020 to take their associate degrees and go to a four-year school.

“It’s not ethically right to hold on to those sophomores,” says Keeran. “I didn’t see the point. You’ve got your degree, now move on.

“We have a very new group (in 2020-21) and we’re very talented.”

With players taking a hybrid class schedule (some in-person and some online), Bismarck State played  few games this fall against four-year schools.

“We treated it like a test for what it’s going to be like in the spring with temperature checks and protocols,” says Keeran.

As a outfielder and pitcher, Keeran played four seasons at Waldorf while also beginning his coaching career. 

Since high school baseball in Iowa is a summer sport, Keeran was able to play college ball and be on the Clear Lake coaching staff for four seasons (2013-16) and helped the Lions win three state titles (2013 in 3A, 2015 in 2A and 2016 in 2A).

“It was pretty cool to be coach at a young age and be mentored,” says Keeran. “Baseball should be played in the summer when it’s warm. That’s why I like coaching in the summer.

“It feels so authentic.”

Keeran says a typical high school gameday would involve batting practice and field preparation around 1 p.m. and the players would come back for a 5:30 p.m. junior varsity game, followed by the varsity.

“It gives kids a chance to work morning jobs in the summer and they don’t have to worry about the stress of class,” says Keeran. “It gives athletes a chance to do other sports. One of my best friends was a four-sport athlete (football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer).”

While the pandemic wiped out high school baseball last spring in Indiana, there was season in Iowa. Four 2020 state champions were crowned Aug. 1 in Des Moines. 

In 2021, the Iowa High School Athletic Association has set the first practice date for May 3 with first of 40 allowed contest dates May 24 and state tournament concluding July 31. Showcase leagues ran by Prep Baseball Report and Perfect Game are typically conducted in the spring.

The 2020 baseball season was the first for head coach Michael Keeran at Bismarck (N.D.) State College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II school. In the summer of 2021, he is to manage the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Bismarck State College Photo)
Michael Keeran, a graduate of Clear Lake High School and Waldorf University in Iowa and the head coach at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, has been named field manager for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League in 2021. (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

Terre Haute’s Wampler learning patience with Rex

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tyler Wampler has learned plenty in his two seasons as the head coach of the summer collegiate wood bat baseball Prospect League’s Terre Haute Rex.

At the top of the list is patience.

“I’m pretty young so I’m just out of playing,” says Wampler, 25. “I realize I can’t go out there (on the field). I can’t control anything. I need to patient with the players and understand that mistakes are going to happen and just be the same guy everyday.”

Wampler, who played for Rick Heller and Mitch Hannahs at Indiana State University 2011-14 and in the Los Angeles Dodgers system 2014-15 then spent the spring of 2016 as a volunteer assistant coach at ISU, was given full authority by general manager Bruce Rosselli put together the entire 2017 Rex roster.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 players. Last year, Wampler used around 40 players in 2016 and expects to do the same this summer.

“There’s a lot of turnover,” says Wampler. “It’s not like you’re just releasing guys. It’s usually for injuries or innings limits (on pitchers).”

As is the case all around the baseball world, pitching is a priority in Terre Haute.

“I’m a firm believer that pitching and defense wins champions,” says Wampler. “We want to start off getting the best arms we can and get as many as we can. You will have to shut guys down midway through the season because their arms are getting tired or they reach a certain amount of innings. You have to be real careful with them.”

Scott Lawson is pitching coach for the Rex. Lawson is a 1997 Terre Haute North Vigo High School who played at John A. Logan Community College, the University of Georgia and in independent professional baseball before coaching at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and at Terre Haute North.

Wampler is coaching in his hometown again this summer and giving baseball lessons at The Hitting Zone in the off-season. He is a 2010 graduate of West Vigo High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve DeGroote.

Wampler helped the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish as a junior in 2009. He started at shortstop and went 2-of-3 in the title game.

Playing for DeGroote, Heller and Hannahs, Wampler experienced three different coaching styles.

“They all worked so I can use all three and mold it into my own way,” says Wampler.

The Prospect League is a 10-team circuit in 2017 with Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Lafayette (Ind.), Quincy (Ill.), Springfield (Ill.) in the West Division and Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.) and West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

Going into play Aug. 1 and with six regular-season contests remaining, Terre Haute was 29-25 and three games behind West-leading Lafayette. The two-tier playoffs are scheduled to begin Aug. 6.

“This league is headed in the right direction and has a lot of good things going,” says Wampler. “It’s a way for these guys to play 60 games (in the summer after 50 or more games in the spring). It’s close to a minor league schedule. They’re getting great experience. They have to come out and perform every night. They’re expected to play well because they have guys behind them that can take their spot.”

Wampler played three summers in collegiate wood bat leagues — two in the Northwoods League (Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers in Minnestoa and the Eau Claire Express in Wisconsin) and one for the Rex (named for the Clabber Girl brand of coffee).

While some players come from across the country and stay with host families, Wampler notes the uniqueness of the Terre Haute franchise, which plays on ISU’s Bob Warn Field.

“We try to get a lot of local guys,” says Wampler. “We think Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley is a hotbed for baseball.

“We do have guys come from all over, including Florida and the Dominican Republic (outfielder Jalbert Melo was a recent PL Player of the Week). They stay with host families. Our host families are great. We turn people away each year, there are so many families that want to host. That’s a good problem to have.

“I remember when I was a player. Host families are like family to you and they care about what you’re doing. They stay in-touch years later.”

TERREHAUTEREX

Lafayette’s McNeil has Aviators in thick of pennant chase

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With players coming and going and roles constantly changing during the 2017 summer collegiate wood bat baseball season, Brent McNeil has kept the Lafayette Aviators in the Prospect League playoff hunt.

McNeil, a 2007 Lafayette Jefferson High School graduate and the only head coach the Aviators have had in their two seasons of existence, took his squad into play July 29 and with eight regular-season contests remaining, West-leading Lafayette was 30-22 and two games ahead of Terre Haute.

The Prospect League, which debuted in 2009, includes two divisions in 2017 — Lafayette, Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Quincy (Ill.) and Springfield (Ill.) in the West with Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.), West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

The 60-game season, wood bats and strong competition gives players a taste for professional baseball. Some thrive and others see that the grind is too much for them.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 (the current Aviators roster features players with hometowns in 13 states and Puerto Rico). Mostly because of injuries, there has been plenty of movement for the Aviators throughout the summer.

“You really have to watch out for warning signs of injuries, take care of them and make sure (pitchers) are not throwing too many pitches in one inning,” says McNeil, who played Eastern Illinois University and recently recently hired as the pitching coach at Quincy (Ill.) University after past two spring seasons on the coaching staff at the University of North Florida and director of baseball operations at Indiana State University prior to that.

There is no disabled list in the PL. Players are either on the roster or they are released. It’s up to the teams to find replacements.

“I can’t count how many times the roster has changed since I started putting it together in the fall,” says McNeil, who enlisted the help of second-year assistant Ryan Dineen in building the Aviators. “Having college contacts is huge. Some players have reached out, but I’ve mostly relied on his own contacts. There are coaches I’ve known over the years and trust.”

The old saying in baseball is you can never have too much pitching and that really rings true in summer collegiate baseball, where injuries and innings limits keep mound staffs continually morphing.

“(Working with) pitchers is tough,” says McNeil. “The top 1, 2 and 3 (starters on college teams) are either shut down for the summer or go to Cape Cod or the Northwoods (leagues). I believe we began the summer with about nine starters (and now have seven).

“We’re still trying to establish roles at this point in the season. At any moment, you could lose that guy. You have to find more guys and figure out where they fit in.”

Caleb Sleeman fit the bill July 23 when the Michigan State University right-hander threw the franchise’s first no-hitter in a 12-0 win against Kokomo.

With so many talented players and so much playing time, McNeil makes it a point to do something constructive with his bench players on a daily basis — maybe extra time in the batting cage.

College baseball players try to put on muscle in the weight room during the summer.

“It’s real hard when you’re playing six days a week,” says McNeil.

Loeb Stadium next to the Columbian Park Zoo is the Aviators’ home field. McNeil played his high school baseball there and was with the Lafayette Lightning in the Colt World Series after coming up through the Pony Baseball Leagues at Lafayette’s Armstrong Park. He was a Prospect League player for the former Slippery Rock (Pa.) franchise.

Dineen, who serves as hitting, infield and third base coach for Lafayette, played at Andrean High School for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur then at Eastern Illinois University for Jim Schmitz. He played two seasons as an infielder in the Houston Astros system and has served on the coaching staff at McKendree University.

Parker Osborne replaced Dan Peterson as an Aviators assistant during the season.

Osborne, a former Southern Illinois University outfielder, has been an assistant at Western Illinois University.

Peterson pitched at Indiana State and went to Iowa to pursue a junior college coaching opportunity.

The Aviators are operated through MKE Sports & Entertainment, the same group that runs the rival Kokomo Jackrabbits.

LAFAYETTEAVIATORS