Tag Archives: Western Illinois University

Brownlee makes diamond impact at Evansville, Illinois State, more

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

Jim Brownlee built a long, successful baseball coaching career on the principles of fundamentals and discipline.
Now 76, retired and living with wife of 51 years — Candy — in Gulf Breeze in the Florida Panhandle (the couple moved there in April 2021), Brownlee can look back on a run that includes 23 seasons as head coach at the University of Evansville (1980-2002), seven seasons at Illinois State University (2003-09) and one season as University of Iowa pitching coach (2013). He was also a longtime basketball official.
“I learned the game of baseball from my college baseball coach Duffy Bass,” says Brownlee of the former Illinois State University head coach and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He was about as good at fundamentals of anybody I’ve been around — whether it was catching, hitting, bunting or pitching. I kind of patterned myself after him.”
A 1963 graduate of Antioch (Ill.) Community High School, Brownlee played for Bass at Illinois State from 1967-70 and was a teammate of future major league pitcher Buzz Capra. The 1969 Collegiate Division National champions went 33-5 and ran the table in the postseason.
“I learned the running game at a very young age,” says Brownlee. “We were very aggressive at Evansville. One year we had 202 stolen bases.
“I had lesser talent at Evansville. We didn’t have the full amount of scholarships. We had guys we thought would get better and they did. We had guys never drafted out of high school that were drafted out of college.
“I think college baseball has always been that way. (Development’s) at an all-time high. But we’re still behind the 8-ball with scholarships and dates. It used to be we had 120 games between fall and spring (at the NCAA D-I level and now it’s 56 games in the spring with 11.7 scholarships for a roster of 35).
“College baseball keeps growing. It’s become a money-maker.”
That money is bound to go even higher if the season was moved into the warmer months.
Says Brownlee, “40 years ago I proposed we play in the summer.”
Brownlee was “hard-nosed” as a coach.
“Discipline is important to me as a retired Marine,” says Brownlee.
After his playing days ended and having served a stint with the U.S. Marines, Brownlee became an assistant baseball coach at Illinois State (1975-76) and was as head coach for the Galesburg Pioneers in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (which later merged with the Prospect League), where he encountered Bloomington Bobcats pitcher Tim Stoddard. The 6-foot-7 right-hander from East Chicago, Ind., was on his way to an MLB career and is now an assistant coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.
Before UE, Brownlee coached at Princeton (Ill.) High School (1976-79).
As Evansville coach, Brownlee won 701 games with four 40-win seasons and seven conference coach of the year honors.
Among his players were future big leaguers Sal Fasano, Andy Benes and Jamey Carroll and Purple Aces head coach Wes Carroll. Benes and the Carroll brothers are Pocket City natives.
The Purple Aces have retired Brownlee’s No. 6 and Benes’ No. 30.
Brownlee has been inducted into the Illinois State University Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the Redbirds’ ’69 national champions, the University of Evansville Athletics Hall of Fame, the Lake County (Ill.) High Schools Sports Hall of Fame, the Bloomington-Normal Officials Association Wayne Meece Hall of Fame and is slated to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame in Evansville in May.
A founding member of the Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League, that group will honor Brownlee with its Legends Award Jan. 15.
Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League supports amateur athletics around the Evansville area. It started as an effort to save Bosse Field, which was established in 1915 and for years was the home to high school baseball and football, American Legion baseball and the Triple-A Evansville Triplets before affiliated pro ball left town.
The stadium, which now houses the independent pro Evansville Otters and was host to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2021, looked to be condemned and torn down back in the ‘80s.
That’s when Brownlee — who had his UE teams playing home games there at the time — got together with former minor league relief pitcher and manager “Singin’ Ed” Nottle and Evansville Central High School coach Paul Gries and brought in folks like Indiana, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer and Rex Mundi High School graduate Bob Griese, former MLB all-star and Evansville Memorial alum Don Mattingly and former big league pitcher and Evansville Central High grad Benes to help raise funds.
Since then, not only has Bosse Field been saved but local high school and college fields have been upgraded.
“It’s about facilities and making it better and showing it’s an important sport,” says Brownlee.
UE now plays on turf at German American Bank at Charles H. Braun Stadium.
“It was a labor of love for all of us,” says Brownlee. “I’m really proud of what we’ve built with the baseball community there.”
Brownlee had both his sons — Tim and Ryan — as UE players and then coached with both of them.
Tim Brownlee was also on the Illinois State staff and employed his father for a decade with his Normal, Ill.-based baseball tournament company — Diamond Sports Promotions. Between Evansville and ISU, Tim assisted his father for 17 seasons.
Ryan Brownlee was an assistant at Evansville (1998-99), James Madison University (2000-03) and Iowa (2004-12) and head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) and is now Assistant Executive Director and weekly podcast host for the Greensboro, N.C.- based ABCA. The ABCA Convention is Jan. 6-9 in Chicago. He plans to appear at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 14-16 in Indianapolis. Jamey Carroll is to go into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame Jan. 15.

Jim Brownlee (University of Evansville Photo)

Whitehead promotes lifelong lessons with Park Tudor Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s about baseball and beyond for Courtney Whitehead as head coach at Park Tudor School on the north side of Indianapolis.

Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.

“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.

“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”

As far as the baseball part of the equation?

“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”

Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.

“Guys have to be ready for their turn in the rotation,” says Whitehead, whose Panthers compete in the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). 

The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).

Among the other teams on the PT schedule are Brebeuf Jesuit, Bishop Chatard, Crawfordsville, Knightstown, Lapel, Scecina, South Putnam, Waldron and Wapahani.

Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.

Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.

Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.

A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.

In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.

“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”

Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.

“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.

“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”

A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.

Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon

Purdue University presented Whitehead with a Secondary Education degree in 2000. He earned a masters in Athletic Administration from Western Kentucky University in 2013. Whitehead is also in charge of awards for the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.

“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”

Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.

He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.

Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.

Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago). 

“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.

Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.

A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.

Courtney Whitehead is head baseball coach and athletic director at Park Tudor 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)

Schreiber looks for Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons to be in ‘overachieve mode’

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Purdue Fort Wayne head baseball Doug Schreiber has been defining the culture for his Mastodons.

With the help of PFW assistants Brent McNeil, Ken Jones and Gordon Cardenas, attitude will be at the forefront.

“We’re going to have to be in overachieve mode somewhat,” says Schreiber, who was hired at PFW in July 2019. “We’re going to be looking at players to play a little bit above their skill level.

“To be able to overachieve, you have to have the intangibles. You have to have the proper attitude and outlook. We’re recruiting attitude and that’s going to be a big focus.

“We want to make sure guys understand that having a positive attitude, a maturity level and a passion to play is the foundation of the program with respect, work ethic and trust being some of the cornerstones of what we’re trying to build.”

Schreiber says he makes few guarantees to his players. He doesn’t promise them he’ll add 10 mph to their fastball, get them drafted or even give them a starting position.

“One of the things I think I can guarantee is that if you don’t have the right attitude and the right mindset, you definitely aren’t going to overachieve and play above your skill set,” says Schreiber. “You are probably going to play below your skill set.”

A head coach for 20 seasons in West Lafayette, Ind., — 18 at Purdue University (1999-2016) and two at McCutcheon High School (20018-19), Schreiber knows that Purdue Fort Wayne may not be the biggest school with the very best facilities.

But the Mastodons are NCAA Division I and expect to be competitive at that level while playing home games at Mastodon Field and training in the strength & fitness area inside the Hilliard Gates Sports Center.

How does Schreiber and company recognize the intangibles during the recruiting process?

Stuff on the mound, bat speed and range in the field are fairly evident. It’s not as obvious with other attributes.

“It’s tough.” says Schreiber. “You do have to spend a little more time. In some of the recruiting opportunities, you just get a quick look.”

Because of NCAAA rules, coaches don’t get spend as an inordinate amount of time with the prospective student-athlete. That’s where they rely on the players’ coaches (high school, travel, junior college).

Schreiber said the vetting process also includes the answers that come from casual conversation.

The Mastodons staff has learned how to read body language. It’s something they pick up on when watching a recruit when they or their teammates are struggling and it’s something they can see in players on the roster.

“We can’t see what’s inside their head, their heart or their gut,” says Schreiber. “The best way you have at least a clue on what’s going on in there is their body language.

“It definitely is a red flag when you see some disrespect and those types of things.”

It’s important because there are only so many roster spots available (up to 35 with 11.7 scholarships at the D-I level) and coaches have to get it right.

“Within their baseball life, we’re going to have compassion for them as individuals with anything that’s going on in their life,” says Schreiber. “But we just don’t have time for them to feel sorry for themselves.

“It’s a tough enough game that if they start to feel sorry for themselves, that’s the beginning of a negative attitude. They’re going to start making excuses, blaming other people or not taking responsibility. We have to have student-athletes that are mature enough and coachable enough to be able to handle adversity and persevere through those types of things.”

Schreiber says human beings have negative thoughts. What are done with those are the key.

“Do you act out on them?,” says Schreiber. “Do you voice your negative opinion? There’s all kinds of things that can get you in trouble.

“We have to teach them how to channel those negative thoughts into some positive action and positive thoughts.”

Schreiber also puts stock in mental development. With that in mind, he will have his players in classroom settings taking part in open discussions on life skills.

Topics will include “a winning mentality vs. a whining mentality” plus leadership, team unity and much more.

Prior to taking over at Purdue, Schreiber served as an assistant at Ball State University (1991-92), Butler University (1993), the University of Notre Dame (1994) and Arizona State University (1995-98).

That’s why he values his experience at McCutcheon. When he went into coaching, he thought he would be at the high school level — something his father — 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber excelled at for 39 years at LaPorte (Ind.) High School.

“I had the opportunity to keep staying at Division I,” says Schreiber. “It  just kept working out.

“To (coach) at McCutcheon, where (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) Jake Burton had built the program up to such a high caliber was a great experience.”

Working with high school student-athletes, Schreiber learned about patience.

“I feel like I became a better coach by coaching younger players,” says Schreiber. “Those are the players we’re going to be recruiting now.

“Getting in-tune with how they communicate amongst each other and with coaches, parents and everything was an important piece of it, too.”

After his coaching tenure at Purdue, Schreiber went into an academic job at the school then got his real estate license, but never got into that field too heavily with his coaching position at McCutcheon.

I knew I wanted to continue to coach,” says McCutcheon. “I looked into few opportunities, but when this one (at Purdue Fort Wayne) came forward it was something I was very, very interested in and was very fortunate I got the opportunity to do it.”

“Staying in Indiana was important to my wife (McCutcheon guidance counselor Sarah) and I. We had visited and done some things in Fort Wayne. I’ve recruited over here.

“Fort Wayne is a great city. It’s got a lot of everything, but it still has the small Midwest town feel.”

The Schreiber have purchased a home in Fort Wayne, meaning the coach does not have the long commute he had when he first was hired.

“Other than that, it’s been smooth and thoroughly enjoyable,” says Schreiber of the transition. “Everything has been quality. I’ve got great support from our athletic director.”

Mastodons AD Kelley Hartley Hutton was head women’s volleyball coach for 15 seasons and 13 years as Senior Woman Administrator PFW. She was a four-year player at the University of Toledo.

“She understands the coach’s perspective,” says Schreiber. “We’re into having the best student-athlete experience possible. She gets it from both ends (coach and athlete).”

Staying in the state also allows Schreiber to keep his well-established network of high school and travel ball coaches. There’s also the junior colleges in the region.

This fall, recruiting has included plenty of looks at junior college players, who tend to be more mature physically and mentally.

“That’s not to say we’re not interested in high talent high school players as well,” says Schreiber. “We’re going to try to stay very strong in Indiana — players that have gone on to junior college and those from high schools.”

Ideally, most players will be on-campus for four or five years, giving time to mature and grow into leadership roles.

“There’s a always a little bit of a learning curve,” says Schreiber. “Ultimately, our base is going to be four-year players with a good mix of junior college players.”

Purdue Fort Wayne also participates in the Midwest Student Exchange Program, where students from several surrounding states get a break on out-of-state tuition. That allows Schreiber and company to take a little wider look while keeping Indiana as the recruiting base.

PFW is currently a member of the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). The Mastodons are joining the Horizon League in 2020-21. The league currently features Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, University of Illinois-Chicago, Wright State and Youngstown State.

Schreiber says geography is one factor for the switch.

“Student-athletes are missing a lot of class because of the distance,” says Schreiber. “We do create things with scheduling in the spring that allows them to minimize missed classes.”

That includes moving classes away from late in the day Thursday or altogether Friday and taking more online classes. On the road, there is quiet time for study on the bus and in the hotel. With some long road trips ending on Monday morning, a premium is placed on time and priority management.

“It’s going to benefit them from an academic standpoint,” says Schreiber of the move to the Horizon.

With Schreiber’s hiring, the Slicer quotient doubled for the Mastodons. Doug is a 1982 LaPorte High School graduate. Mastodons senior first baseman Travis Upp, son of current LaPorte head coach Scott Upp, got his diploma at LPHS in 2016.

DOUGSCHREIBERPFWMASTODONS1920

Doug Schreiber is the head baseball coach at Purdue University Fort Wayne (Ind.) (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Hanover’s Bellak simplifies hitting approach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is not an easy thing to do well.

Grant Bellak, who enters his second season as head baseball coach at NCAA Division III Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019-20, has his Panthers (15-19 during the 2019 season) following a simplified offensive approach that he first began to develop as an assistant at D-III Franklin (Ind.) College.

In 2018, the Grizzlies were national leaders in batting average, OPS (on-base plus slugging), runs per game, home runs and walks.

Bellak presented “Simplifying the Approach for High Output Offenses” during an American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University in Indianapolis.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“The coaching community has been really, really good to me,” says Bellak, who gave shout-outs to Ryan Brownlee (ABCA Assistant Executive Director of Coaching Outreach and former Western Illinois University head coach), Bill Kurich (Webster University head coach), Adam Smith (Benedictine University head coach) and Lance Marshall (Franklin College head coach).

The Barnstormers appearance was Bellak’s first time as a presenter at an ABCA clinic.

“We look at the approach to hitting as all-encompassing,” says Bellak.

He quoted ABCA Hall of Famer Jerry Weinstein’s 2014 statement that a big league pitcher only hits what he defines as his spot 24 percent of the time.

“For us as hitters, we need to be prepared to hit a lot of ‘mistake’ pitches,” says Bellak. “That’s what you’re going to get.

“To be a high level offense, we need to simplify our approach. At the same time — as (hitting and mental skills guru) Steve Springer says — you won’t hit anything if you’re trying to hit everything.”

Bellak has developed four absolutes for his hitters.

“No. 1, you have to be the best athletic version of yourself,” says Bellak. “It can be two completely different things from our shortstop to our first baseman.

“Secondly, your front foot has to leave the ground at some point.”

Bellak can only think of a few big leaguers — Ian Kinsler and Albert Pujols are two examples — who have had a lot of success keeping their foot on the ground the entire time.

“We teach front foot down on-time,” says Bellak of his third absolute. “We want to work on sequencing from the back side of our body.”

No. 4 involves the player knowing their identity and how they fit into team goals. Hanover’s offensive team goal is an .840 OPS (ideally around .420 on-base average and .420 slugging percentage).

“Our lead-off hitter will try to get to that .840 in a significantly different way than our No. 4 hitter,” says Bellak. “By identifying what category you fit into, you will have a defined set of measurable goals to strive for.

“Being honest with yourself and your abilities will allow you to achieve your goals and help this offense win games.”

Bellak puts offensive players into four categories — Sparks, Hybrid, Hybrid-Plus and Power.

Sparks have a high on-base average, lower slugging percentage and a high number of stolen bases. They generally strike out only once per 15 at-bats and produce less than two home runs, six or more doubles and 10 to 15 stolen bases.

Hybrid players provide a high on-base average and good slugging percentage. They strike out once per 10 at-bats with two or more homers, eight or more doubles and less than six stolen bases.

Hybrid-Plus entails high marks in on-base and slugging averages and the ability to steal bases consistently with one strikeout per 10 at-bats with four or more homers, 12 or more doubles and eight or more stolen bases.

Power hitters are above average in on-base average and excellent in slugging. They will not steal bases often (four or less) and have one strikeout per eight at-bats with five or more homers, 12 or more doubles.

Bellak and his coaching staff are very careful with verbal cues.

“Kids today are very literal,” says Bellak. “You see it all the time. You say, ‘get your front foot down early.’ Then he sits and he can’t sequence properly.

For instance, Hanover coaches will never say “Use your hands” but instead say “Get Turned.”

Instead of “Go oppo,” it’s “Use the backside.”

It’s not “Let it get deep,” but “Use the fat part of the field.”

Rather than “Get on top,” they say “Release the barrel out front.”

Instead of “Use your hands,” it’s “Get turned.”

Following the advice of mental performance expert Brian Cain, words that end with “not” or “‘nt” are not to be used as cues because those negatives stick in the player’s brains.

“We try to change those to ‘you can,’ ‘you will’ vs. ‘won’t,’ ‘don’t,’ ‘can’t.’”

Bellak wants his hitters to “hunt” pitches (aggressive) rather than thinking in terms of a passive word like “wait.”

Hitters ask themselves questions like “Where have I had success?,” “Where do function best?” or “Where am I hitting the ball the hardest and why would I come away from that?”

As a visual tool, Bellak has his players place a large ball (around the size of a basketball) and put it over the plate where they feel they will be most-successful at the plate.

“It’s a pitch they are looking for and they can touch it, see it and feel it,” says Bellak. “We tell them during BP that they’re not going to let any pitches touch their glass ball.”

There is freedom to move the ball around to suit the hitters’ strengths. Power hitters typically want pitches that are “middle-in.”

“Expect them to take more pitches in BP because they’ll say, ‘Coach, that was a little bit off my glass ball,” says Bellak. “But, all of a sudden, they become more refined in their approach and we create height, depth and location.

“It really focuses their approach. It’s simple. It doesn’t take long to explain. You’re getting them free to what they want to do at the plate as hitters.

“With the influx of data, most hitters these days are pretty honest with themselves. I know which pitch I’m going to hammer.”

GRANTBELLAK

Grant Bellak is the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)

 

Nearly five decades in, Chesterton’s Campbell still enjoys the challenge

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jack Campbell is in his 48th season as head baseball coach at Chesterton High School.

He keeps coming back at the Porter County, Ind., because he enjoys what each season might bring.

“It’s a challenge every year,” says Campbell, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 700 career victories, 19 sectional titles and three regional crowns to his credit since the 1971 season.

In 2018, Campbell faced the challenge of having five returning senior pitchers all likely to play college baseball and getting enough innings for each of them.

“It’s been a good problem,” says Campbell, who takes his 18-8 Trojans into the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 2, after they bested Merrillville 17-0, Hobart 11-0 and Valparaiso 7-0 to win the 2018 Chesterton Sectional. “You like to win a lot of ball games. But when it comes down to it, if your kids can advance and get part of their education paid for that becomes really important.”

Those five arms bring a combined 31 feet, 5 inches to the hill.

Right-handers Austin Peterson (6-foot-6) and Grant Brunt (5-11) have committed to play at Purdue University while left-hander Brayden Cortwright (6-7) is headed to Western Illinois University and right-hander Chris Torres (6-4) to Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill. According to Campbell, lefty Stephen Gilbertsen (5-10) is considering a walk-on role at the University of Illinois.

Peterson, who has just one loss in his prep career, is the ace of the staff. He plays first base when he’s not pitching.

Campbell is not a fan of the IHSAA pitch count rules adopted in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“There was nothing wrong with 10 innings every three days,” says Campbell. “I’ve been doing this for 48 years and I haven’t had any problems with arms. I was a pitcher.

“It’s not the pitches he throws as a pitcher, it’s what he does next.”

Going into the field after pitching and being asked to throw from deep in the hole at shortstop or from the outfield takes a toll on the arm.

Campbell says there’s bound to overuse by playing and working at baseball 12 months a year and using the same muscles.

“We only played 23 of the 28 games we could have played this spring,” says Campbell. “(Travel teams) are playing 50 and 60 games in the summer time.”

The pitch count rule came into play in the 2017 Chesterton Sectional championship game against Andrean.

The Trojans were leading the 59ers 3-1 when Peterson hit the 120-mark for the day (he pitched in the semifinals against Crown Point and relieved in the finals). With Peterson off the mound, Andrean rallied and won 4-3.

Chesterton plays Duneland Athletic Conference rival Lake Central at 10:30 a.m. CST Saturday. The Trojans and Indians split two games during the regular season.

“Both teams are playing pretty well. It should be a good ball game,” says Campbell, whose team is hitting around .350 in 2018.

The top offensive producers have been junior Chris VanEekeren, senior Tommy Benson (eight home runs and 29 runs batted in), Peterson (24 RBI) and senior Logan Lawson.

The second semifinal at the LaPorte Regional pits Northern Indiana Conference and backyard rivals Mishawaka and Penn. The championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. CST.

Besides Chesterton and champion Lake Central, the DAC includes Crown Point, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso. The past few seasons, teams have played home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Before that, conference games were played Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week and Tuesday and Thursday the next in a double round robin. That format allowed an ace pitcher to be used more often.

Campbell kids if the current conditions were applied when Ken Schreiber was racking up 1,010 victories and seven state titles at LaPorte, he might not have as much hardware.

Looking back to 1976, John Vail and Arden Smith regularly started conference games and used their 10-inning limited on two-game tournament days. One would start and the other would relieve in the morning and then they’d do it again in the championship game.

“Schreib, he was the best tournament coach I’ve ever seen,” says Campbell of the 13-time Hall of Famer who passed away in 2017. “He was the master.”

There’s another reason Campbell does not like the current restrictions.

“Limiting things — pitching-wise — hurts statistics when you nominate for all-state or all-stars,” says Campbell. “In some places, they have more opportunities to pitch. The pitch count rule, it’s just wrong.

“There was nothing wrong with the way the rules were to begin with. Look at football. With concussions, how can you let a kid carry the ball 35 times? In basketball, you should limit the number of 3’s because you’re hurting the shooter’s arm. How many spikes do you get in volleyball?”

Campbell has enjoyed loyalty from his athletes over the years. Just the other day, he received a text that reminisced about the Trojans’ 1988 regional champions.

His 2018 coaching staff includes five former players — Justin Jenks (varsity assistant), Spencer Sutton (varsity volunteer), Chad Dzierba (junior varsity volunteer), John Houseman (freshmen coach) and Toby Gentry (freshmen volunteer). Volunteer Scott Jenks is also on the varsity staff while Rich Myers leads the JV.

Campbell graduated from Lake Station Edison High School in 1962. He went to Indiana University on a basketball scholarship. In the days before freshmen could play on the varsity in college, he won one letter in basketball and three in baseball.

He played for two Hall of Famers — Branch McCracken on the hardwood and Ernie Andres on the diamond — and led the Big Ten Conference in hitting (.361) as an all-conference first baseman during his senior season of 1966.

Campbell began his career as an educator at Valparaiso, working his way up from junior high to high school coaching positions.

After 3 1/2 years in Valpo, he started teaching physical education at Baily Elementary in Chesterton. This is his 48th year in that role.

For the past 30 winters, he has also been Chesterton’s head girls basketball coach and amassed 369 victories, three sectional championships and one regional title. His Trojans went 20-3 in 2017-18 and shared Indiana Basketball Coaches Association District 1 Coach of the Year honors.

Jack and Carol Campbell have four daughters — Carrie, Jill, Jackie and Cat. All four played basketball at Chesterton for their father. Jill went on to play basketball and softball at Valparaiso University, Jackie basketball at Colorado State University and Cat basketball at Indiana Wesleyan University. Carrie (3), Jill (2), Jackie (4) and Cat (3) have given their parents a dozen grandchildren.

JACKCAMPBELL

Jack Campbell has been the head baseball coach at Chesterton (Ind.) High School since the 1971 season.

Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

NORTHRIDGERAIDERS.jpg

ANDREWBRABENDER

Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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