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IHSBCA All-Star catcher Jones of Carroll Chargers a product of his baseball upbringing

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hayden Jones has already been in Starkville, Miss., for a couple weeks, getting acclimated to classes and baseball at Mississippi State University.

The lefty-swinging catcher and 2018 Fort Wayne Carroll High School graduate will take a break this weekend when he participates in the 44th annual Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series at Four Winds Field in downtown South Bend.

Hayden, a 6-foot, 200-pounder, will be on the North squad and representing not only the Carroll Chargers but one of the state’s famous baseball families.

One of the founding members of the IHSBCA was Hayden’s grandfather, Bill Jones. A former head coach at DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind., and Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, Ind., the elder Jones served for decades as the association’s secretary-treasurer and then acted as executive director.

Bill Jones coached DeKalb to an IHSAA state championship in 1980 and was added to the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 1982. His teams won 751 games. Jones died in 2015.

One of Bill and Mildred Jones’ sons — Ken Jones — was a catcher at DeKalb, where he graduated in 1990. He redshirted his freshman year at Western Michigan University, where he played four seasons and was an all-conference performer and academic All-American. He was selected in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and played that summer in the minors. Ken was an assistant coach at Ball State University and Western Michigan and is now the senior lead instructor at the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

Ken and Jennifer Jones’ only child is Hayden.

Did his grandpa and father have an impact on his baseball career?

“Big time,” says Hayden. “Dad and Grandpa pushed me to the best of my ability. They taught me about being a leader on the field and hustling all the time. Even if it’s a grounder to second base, you 100 percent down he first base line. They expected that out of me or my cousins.”

Cousin Chris Menzie played at Huntington University. Cousin Tyler Jones is heading into his junior year at the University of Dayton.

Hayden learned something else he considers valuable.

“When a coach stops yelling at you is the time he gives up on you,” says Hayden. “Players nowadays are coddled. They don’t want people to push them like back in the old days.

“When a coach yells at me it’s getting me better.”

During his early arrival at college, he has already been getting pushed.

“They’re on your tail constantly,” says Hayden. “That gets you better in the long run.”

Hayden verbally committed to Mississippi State two summers ago and stuck with that decision through several head coaching changes. When he picked the Bulldogs from among 17 NCAA Division I programs that showed serious interest, John Cohen was the head coach. Since then, the Diamond Dawgs have been led by Andy Cannizaro, Gary Henderson and now former Indiana University coach Chris Lemonis.

Hayden’s father had told him that there is always the potential for coaching changes in college baseball.

“I committed to a good program and a good school,” says Hayden, who is one of 10 Mississippi State recruits to enroll in summer school and plans to major in turf management. “I wasn’t going to de-commit. They made a commitment to me with a scholarship.”

While he played in the Prep Baseball Report Future Games, Hayden did not appear in too many showcase events. With all his dad’s relationships in college baseball, Hayden and Ken picked three apiece and the young catcher went to their camps and had follow-up visits. Most of those made scholarship offers.

“That’s the way we feel it should be done,” says Hayden.

He was about 6 when his father gave Hayden an old set of catching gear, but he spent quite a bit of time as a pitcher and third baseman before getting more reps behind the plate at 12. Ken coached Hayden with the Flippin’ Frogs travel team from age 9 to 17.

“He was always around older guys and seeing a faster pace of play,” says Ken. “He has been getting a little bit of extra instruction along the way.”

Last summer, the Flippin’ Frogs played in the Indiana Summer Collegiate League.

Hayden has taken advantage of his dad’s baseball know-how.

“He’s really pushed me, but it was fun for me,” says Hayden. “I got to see and learn from my dad.”

Hayden, who grew up around Huntertown, Ind., and turned 18 in April, says it’s the family joke that he’s out to prove he’s a better catcher than his father was.

With a “pop” time of 1.72 seconds and a throw clocked at 89 mph, Hayden’s arm turns heads.

“I can keep runners close on the bases,” says Hayden, who’s also adept at receiving pitches, blocking balls in the dirt and handling pitchers.

Hayden considers him as gap hitter who can hit to both the opposite field and pull-side. Ken says his son chose to hit lefty because he watched most of Western Michigan’s lineup hit from that side as a small boy.

“He decided that’s how you’re supposed to do it,” says Ken.

“I can get the ball in play where it needs to be in certain situations,” says Hayden, who hit .545 with 10 home runs and 30 runs batted in as a Class 4A first-team all-stater for a Carroll team coached by Dave Ginder.

“He’s an awesome man,” says Hayden of Ginder. “He pushes you just like my grandpa would. He will make you a better person and a better ballplayer.”

Even after the season and graduation, Hayden and Ginder stay connected through FaceTime. A math teacher, Ginder has been able to help Jones with his Mississippi State homework. “He’s there to support you know matter what.”

Ginder coached Carroll to back-to-back state IHSAA Class 4A titles in 2010 and 2011.

That’s when Hayden was playing with the Frogs while at least two years younger than most of his teammates.

“That team was about development and learning,” says Hayden. “We were not trophy chasers.”

The core of the squad that went all the way through with Hayden ended up in college baseball — Nick Chao (Wabash College), Alec Craig (Danville Area Community College), Parker Noll (Wabash College), Skyler Noll (Indiana Tech) and Thomas Parker (Anderson University).

“The Frogs were like brothers,” says Hayden. “Thomas Parker always helped me like an older brother. If I’d get lazy in the (batting) cage, he’d always make sure I was working as hard as I could.”

Hayden sees advantages and disadvantages to being an only child.

“I’m the focus of our family,” says Hayden. “Mom and dad have always been there to support me on and off the field. Mom went from office job to working from home so she could drive me to practice.

“The disadvantage is I can’t blame anybody else if I get in trouble.”

IHSBCA NORTH/SOUTH ALL-STAR SERIES

(At South Bend)

Friday, July 20

Junior Showcase (Four Winds Field), 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

North practice (Four Winds Field), 1:15 to 3 p.m.

South practice (Four Winds Field), 3 to 4:45 p.m.

Banquet (Great Room at Century Center), 7 p.m. Keynote speaker is Greg Kloosterman (former Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College standout who pitched in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and now runs the Game Changers travel organization in Canonsburg, Pa.). Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for 10-and-under.

Saturday, July 21

(Four Winds Field)

Pregame with South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and posthumous tributes to IHSBCA founders and Hall of Famers Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber, 11:35 a.m.

First pitch for doubleheader, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.

Sunday, July 22

First pitch for single wood-bat game, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.

Note: This year marks the fourth time the series has come to South Bend. It was staged at Clay Park in 1976, Coveleski Stadium (now known at Four Winds Field) in 1989 and Notre Dame in 2008 … The North leads the all-time series 65-61, dating back to 1975.

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Hayden Jones, a 2018 Fort Wayne Carroll High School graduate, is an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and North/South Series All-Star. The catcher is going to Mississippi State University.

 

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Risedorph has NorthWood Panthers playing baseball with accountability, confidence, toughness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If it seems like NorthWood High School baseball players are jacked up all the time, there’s a reason for that.

First-year Panthers head coach A.J. Risedorph asked his players at the Elkhart County school and that’s the way they want to attack the 2018 season.

Several players, including seniors Payton Bear and Brant Mast (a Spring Arbor University signee) and juniors Matt Dutkowski and Alec Holcomb, return from a 2017 squad went 26-2 overall and 14-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference and won IHSAA Class 3A NorthWood Sectional and Bellmont Regional titles with Jay Sheets at the helm.

“We want to be high energy the entire game,” says Risedorph, a former NorthWood assistant baseball coach who returns as the leader of the program after a season away from the diamond. “We celebrate everything — regardless of outcome.”

A batter might see six pitches then fly out to center field.

But it’s a “quality at-bat.”

“We put a positive spin on something they would normally look at as failure,” says Risedorph. “Positive reinforcement is huge.”

In the Panthers’ first two games of the campaign (a 13-0 win against Westview and 9-8 triumph against Mishawaka), Risedorph has noticed Dutkowski coming up to his teammates and lending encouragement and that’s the kind of culture the NorthWood social studies teacher and student council sponsor is trying to build.

Risedorph wants his club to react well to adversity, something the Panthers did when down 8-7 in the seventh inning against Mishawaka.

“We don’t win that game is our guys panic,” says Risedorph. “I’m real happy with the group that we have. They are level-headed. They have ice in their veins.”

A graduate of East Noble High School (2006) and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne (2011), former right-handed pitcher, shortstop and third baseman Risedorph has drawn some of his coaching philosophies and methods from his high school and college coaches and one current mentor.

“I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of leaders,” says Risedorph.

Kevin Irons was his head baseball coach at East Noble as the Knights competed in the old Northeast Hoosier Conference (along with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell).

Billy Gernon and then Bobby Pierce led the way at IPFW. Mastodons pitching coach Grant Birely also played a big role.

Irons brought Risedorph up to the varsity midway through his freshmen season and taught him plenty about the game.

Risedorph recalls the intensity of a Gernon-led practice.

“He really set a standard for that,” says Risedorph. “He made sure guys were going to buy into the program.”

Pierce took over the Mastodons after Gernon left to become head coach at Western Michigan University. Risedorph constantly picked the brains of Pierce and Birely while playing and also while serving as a first base coach during rehabilitation. Injury took away Risedorph’s 2007 and 2010 seasons.

“(Pierce) runs a very pro-style program,” says Risedorph. “He wants you to be you. He wanted players to represent themselves the right way. He didn’t want you to be something you weren’t and he was very big on the mental side.

“(Pierce and Birely) were able to get the best out of us.”

There were no radical changes in batting stances or arm slots. Players were allowed to work within their own approach.

Risedorph lets his players be themselves within a framework.

“They need structure,” says Risedorph. “They do better when they have it.”

Since 2012-13, Risedorph has been a varsity assistant NorthWood head boys basketball coach Aaron Wolfe and the Panthers have gone 123-25 with four sectional crowns during that span.

“He showed me that you can have meaningful professional relationships with student-athletes,” says Risedorph of Wolfe.

Attending his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January, Risedorph picked up some pointers about practice structure from Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki and outfield play from Indiana University Kokomo head coach Matt Howard.

Risedorph, who counts Matt Cox and Kevin Roberts as varsity assistants and Greg Estepp and Aaron Arnold as junior varsity coaches guiding a group of 32 players, has his practices broken down into individualized instruction, group skills and team skills.

While “Embrace the Pace” means one thing to the Nappanee Chamber of Commerce, it’s another kind of progression for the Panthers.

“There’s no down time,” says Risedorph. “There has to be a pace to our practice.

“We try to put ourselves in stressful situations. It’s so hard to simulate that stuff in practice. It comes from our pace.

“Yet we want to be calm when we do it. You cannot perform when you’re not loose.”

Risedorph says Birely used to say, “Know your numbers” — as in the stress scale.

“Sometimes you need to step back, breathe and slow your heart rate,” says Risedorph. “(The mentality is) Next Pitch. You don’t let the momentum get the best of you — good or bad.”

NorthWood players are also expected to embrace the concepts of being accountable, confident and tough.

Accountability means doing the right thing, at the right time, all the time.

Confidence entails the beliefs and behaviors that result from a passion to make oneself better.

Toughness is part of being ready, relentless and responsive.

The 2017 sectional title marked the 11th in NorthWood history and sixth since 2011. The regional championship was the program’s first since 1983.

In 2018, the Panthers are in a 3A sectional group with Angola, Fairfield, Lakeland, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

Besides NorthWood, the NLC features Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee.

Many NorthWood players are part of travel baseball organizations, including the Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Chargers.

Estepp coaches the NorthWood 14U team in the summer.

“We are not short of quality coaches in this area,” says Risedorph. “It’s nice they care about the kids’ future.

“We’re very fortunate so many of these kids are putting in work.”

Risedorph says he is looking to get more involved with Nappanee Youth Baseball League and Wakarusa Baseball/Softball League.

Before landing at NorthWood, a part of Wa-Nee Community Schools and where former Bremen baseball coach Norm Sellers is athletic director, Risedorph taught for one year at East Noble Middle School and was a baseball assistant to Irons. Risedorph did his student teaching at Fort Wayne Snider High School.

A.J. and Jenna Risedorph have two daughters — Quinlynn (4) and Reagan (1). A.J. is the son of Randy and Iolet Risedorph and has three brothers — Ryan, Eric and Brayden.

NorthWood graduate Blake Cleveland is now playing baseball at Central Michigan University.

AJRISEDORPH

A.J. Risedorph is in his first season as NorthWood High School head baseball coach. The East Noble High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne graduate is back with the program after a year away. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Pierce puts long-term plan in place for D-I Fort Wayne Mastodons

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Going from a squad full of veterans and experiencing NCAA Division I baseball success in 2016, the Mastodons of Fort Wayne had much less college experience and suffered growing pains in 2017.

With a new focus, Fort Wayne is looking to get things turned around in 2018 under the guidance of 10th-year head coach Bobby Pierce.

“We wore it last year,” says Pierce, who saw the Mastodons go 9-43 after losing 14 impact players — senior shortstop Greg Kaiser, senior outfielder Brandon Soat and and drafted sophomore pitcher Evan Miller among them — from a 33-26 campaign in ’16 that included a second straight trip to the Summit League tournament finals. “(Junior college) guys made the (2016) team as good as it could be. Freshmen (in 2017) need to learned how to play here and do damage on the Division I level.

“But we like to think over the next three or four years, that was worth it. Strategically, it’s the right move to get where we want to get. We have to think more long-term. Up until this time, we were using a steady mix of high school and junior college guys and it was holding us back a little bit.”

Fort Wayne just wrapped annual fall workouts with the Blue-Black intrasquad series with teams captained by sophomore infielder Travis Upp and junior pitcher Damian Helm on one side and junior infielder Brandon Yoho and senior pitcher Brandon Phelps on the other.

“We got after it somewhere in the middle of September,” says Pierce. “We’ve been grinding it out until this (past) weekend.”

Pierce, assistants Grant Birely and Connor Lawhead and the Dons will continue work in preparation for the 2018 campaign.

As he goes forward, Pierce has the longest tenure as head coach in program history. Previous coach Billy Gernon (now at Western Michigan University) was also in charge for nine seasons.

Pierce, who turned 39 on Oct. 17, came to Fort Wayne with lessons learned as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

A Las Vegas native, Pierce played for Rodger Fairless at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nev. Fairless coached 12 state championship teams at three Nevada schools. He helped develop Greg Maddux before going to Green Valley and turning that school into a diamond powerhouse. With the Gators, he produced a state champion in the program’s third season. Two Green Valley players — Chad Hermansen and Dave Krynzel — went on to the big leagues.

Pierce, a middle infielder, played at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Central Arizona College and New Mexico State University.

Clint Myers was Pierce’s head coach at Central Arizona. National Fastpitch Coaches’ Association Hall of Famer Myers won more than 1,000 games as a baseball and softball coach with a number of national titles to his credit.

At New Mexico State, Pierce played for National College Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Ward and his son, Rocky Ward.

“I’m very fortunate to come from a very good pedigree of coaches,” says Pierce. “(Fairless) was super disciplinarian and fundamental coach and that was a great start for me. I got indoctrinated in it during my high school career. (Myers) taught me a team management perspective.”

Through structured live play drills in practice, Pierce is able to grow a player’s intelligence in playing the game — something he gained from Myers.

Pierce considers Gary Ward one of the best offensive-minded coaches of all-time and styles his Fort Wayne offense based in the Hall of Famer’s philosophy.

After he was done playing (he developed a labrum injury at New Mexico State), Pierce had planned to become an accountant in Albuquerque.

But fate intervened — hiring was curtailed after Sept. 11, 2001 and he was asked to go back to college for more schooling.

Pierce instead pursued coaching, first serving as an assistant at Central Arizona then the University of Arkansas-Little Rock (where he pulled his first tarp) before becoming head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver for two seasons before becoming head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne for the 2009 season.

“The early years were hard. I was cutting my teeth,” says Pierce. “But you have to cut your teeth and learn your craft somehow.”

Pierce explains why he has stayed longer in the position than anyone else.

“It speaks to the people I work with and the community,” says Pierce. “The city of Fort Wayne is great. My family (Bobby and Lizette Pierce have two children — Bobby Jr., and Daycee) has grown roots and really love it here.

“I’ve been very fortunate to coach some student-athletes and been around great people. I love this job and I love baseball.”

Fort Wayne pulls many players from northern Indiana and the Indianapolis area, but is able to draw from outside of the state with the school’s policy of out-of-state students paying 150 percent of what in-staters pay.

“Before, we couldn’t afford out-of-state players,” says Pierce. “Their dollar goes further now. Indiana residents are still cheaper on our books. We target Indiana kids. We still like home cooking. We try to turn rocks up here.”

NCAA Division I allows 11.7 scholarships for baseball. Pierce says that of the 35 players on the roster, 27 of them can be on scholarship and those are broken up based on a number of factors, including performance and need.

“There is no such thing as a full-ride,” says Pierce.

Like most programs, most money goes to pitchers and then to the interior of the defense (catcher, shortstop, center field).

“We think we can do a good job of developing hitters,” says Pierce. “We spend the majority of our money in pitching.”

Balance must also be considered.

“Like pro baseball, if you overspend in one area, you are going to be light in another area,” says Pierce. “It becomes a numbers game.”

Pierce is proud to say that the Mastodons have performed well in the classroom with three straight years of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale) as a team grade-point average. All players are encouraged to graduate in four years and take 15 hours in both the fall and spring semesters.

To help them meet their scholarly goals, schedules are made to limit the amount of missed class time. There is an academic advisor, study halls and the resources of the Mastodon Academic Performance Center.

“I’ve proctored exams,” says Pierce. “Professors on our campus are willing to work with us. We’ve got it figured out.”

Being in the Summit League with Denver, North Dakota, North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota, South Dakota State and Western Illinois, there is plenty of travel.

But it’s not like the first few years of NCAA Division I status as an independent. That’s when Fort Wayne was on the road for all but a handful of its 56 regular-season games away from Mastodon Field. Having no conference ties meant a berth in the NCAA tournament was virtually impossible.

One former Don player is seeing the world while still playing the game. Caleb Fenimore, a senior catcher on the 2014 team, was recently named the top hitter in the North in the German Professional League. The Rushville Consolidated High School graduate has played in Germany in the summer and Australia in the winter.

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Bobby Pierce is entering his 10th season at head coach of Fort Wayne Mastodons baseball in 2018. The NCAA Division I program is a member of the Summit League. (Fort Wayne Mastodons Photo)

 

 

Confidence is everything for Nadolny and his John Glenn Falcons

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Continual improvement.

That’s the goal of veteran baseball coach John Nadolny as he prepares players for his 17th season at John Glenn High School in St. Joseph County and 25th head-coaching campaign overall.

“‘Get better everyday.’ That’s what I say to these guys,” says Nadolny. “If you had a bad day today, tomorrow’s got to be better for you. Let’s find something positive in what you do everyday.

“This is such a mental game and confidence in high school is everything. You fail. You learn. You go on and get better.”

The coach knows that an average high school team with some confidence is going to be a superior team without confidence much of the time.

Nadolny wants his squad to improve as its progresses through fall ball to winter workouts to preseason indoor training to the first time they step outside in the spring. Then there’s the in-season adjustments.

“We get better at the year goes on every year,” says Nadolny. “We share a lot of kids athletically (at an IHSAA Class 3A school with an enrollment around 600). We don’t have a lot of travel baseball players. We’ve elevated some kids to a pretty good level.”

While Nadolny — aka “Nud” — will raise his voice when he deems it necessary, he is not the yeller and screamer he was as a younger coach — a result of mellowing with age and with the athletes he’s now coaching.

“Kids are a little bit more sensitive nowadays — to a point,” says Nadolny, a 1981 South Bend Riley graduate. “Not everybody is the same. I understand kids and I read kids now better than I ever did.

“We’ve had our success.”

In 24 years as a head coach (at both Riley and Glenn), Nadolny is 480-223. He has sent 36 players on to college baseball and had Josh Glenn (1995 by the Philadelphia Phillies) and Andy Groves (2003 by the Kansas City Royals and 2007 by the Colorado Rockies) taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Four of Nadolny’s players have been chosen for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Glenn (1995) and Brian Stultz (1996) at Riley, Groves (2003) and Justin Gierlowski (2014; he did not play) at Glenn. Stultz was MVP of the series in Jasper.

Two of his former Glenn catchers —  the ones that he trusted to call all the pitches — are now college coaches. Doug Buysse is head coach at Indiana University South Bend and Adam Piortowicz is an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Western Michigan University.

Nadolny has racked up eight sectional titles (1991 at Riley and 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2016 and 2017 at Glenn). Besides the sectional crown in the first year as head coach, Nadolny took three straight Wildcat clubs to the sectional championship game.

Nadolny’s Falcons reigned at the Kankakee Valley Sectional in 2016 and 2017 and have all 23 pitching wins back for 2018.

There have been four regional championships (1991 at Riley and 2003, 2005 and 2006 at Glenn) one Final Four appearance (2003 at Glenn). The Falcons lost to eventual state runner-up Western in the regional semifinals in 2016 and eventual state champion South Bend St. Joseph in the regional finals in 2017.

“Those were awesome weekends when you had to win two in a day and there was no class system. No one remembers those anymore,” says Nadolny. “You might win three games in the sectional then two at regional, two at semistate and two at state. Those days are long gone. You had to have two really good pitchers.”

There’s also the eight conference titles (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011 in the Northern State Conference and 2017 in the Northern Indiana Conference South Division — all at Glenn).

The 13-team NIC includes Glenn, Bremen, Jimtown, Mishawka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend Riley in the South Division and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in the North Division. Nadolny says seeing strong pitching day in and day out in the conference has helped the Falcons at state tournament time.

The long-time coach does not take all the credit for the winning.

“I’ve been good because I’ve had good assistants,” says Nadolny, who has Joe Gambill as a varsity assistant. Gambill has been with Nadolny for all but one of his seasons at Glenn. Leland Travis (third season) and Brad Laskowski (second season) lead the junior varsity Falcons. Denny Stull was Nadolny’s assistant in all nine of his years in charge at Riley.

Nadolny sees himself as the product of the people who taught him the game over the years. Some of the ways, he loved and adopted. Others, he did not and did not make a part of his program.

“As I decided I was going to be a coach and a teacher, I kind of picked and pecked from everybody,” says Nadolny. “Everybody did things differently and tried to get the same result.

“I’ve was fortunate enough to play and coach against (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association) Hall of Fame coaches like Ric Tomaszewski (South Bend Washington), Len Buczkowski (South Bend Adams) and Jim Reinebold (South Bend Clay). They were all successful. Why wouldn’t I follow some of the things they’ve done? I took my personality and the way I feel about stuff and it all blended together.”

After playing for Jackson Middle School in ninth grade, Nadolny was a three-year varsity player for Ralph “Peanuts” Pieniazkiewicz at South Bend Riley High School and then played four seasons for Dick Patterson at Bethel College in Mishawaka.

“I learned a lot from Ralph. I learned discipline,” says Nadolny. “He was like a second father to me. I played for him and coached with him (1987-90) and took the Riley job when he left.

Nadolny grew to appreciate Pieniazkiewicz as the years unfolded.

“I got to understand him a little more about where he was coming from as I got older — like you do with anybody else,” says Nadolny. “As your life goes on you learn to see things through other people’s eyes and you step in their shoes a little bit.

“It’s the process of learning and living and coaching. As a player, you think you know everything.”

Nadolny drew some lessons about relationships from observing Patterson.

“He knew how to treat people,” said Nadolny. “One thing about him is that he let us play. We were pretty good.”

As a senior in 1986, pitcher/first baseman Nadolny played for a Bethel team that won the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Pilots had to win three games on the last day of the double-elimination tournament, which meant Nadolny missed graduation exercises.

“That was probably the happiest day of my life,” says Nadolny. “Anytime you’re on the field with a chance to play is a good day.

“There were a lot of good ballplayers at Bethel.”

The Pilots had a roster filled with South Bend area talent.

Steve Hosinski (LaVille High School graduate) Kevin McNamara (Mishawaka Marian) were NCCAA All-Americans. BC’s all-Mid-Central Conference selections included Hosinski, McNamara, Scott Holland (Plymouth), Rick Romeo (Adams) and Joey Underwood (Jimtown).

Hosinski won a then-school record 13 games while striking out 103 batters in 99 1/3 innings in 1986. Romeo set a then-BC mark with 58 walks.

Nadolny established standards at the time with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in. His slugging percentage was .736 in 1986 and .623 for his college career. When he was a freshman, Scott Anderson (Penn) hit .469 — which still stands as the top single-season mark in Pilots history.

John first learned the game on the lots around his South Bend neighborhood and at South Bend Southside Little League, where his father Stanley became a fixture. Stanley and Betty Nadolny had five children — Cathy, Jackie, Steve, Rick and John. Steve is a member of the Manchester University Athletic Hall of Fame.

John learned from his big brothers and while playing for South Bend American Legion Post 357 and later in the Michiana adult league with the St. Joe AC’s.

After college, the youngest of the Nadolny offspring went into teaching in South Bend and became a Riley baseball assistant. He was with the Wildcats until 1999 then did some scouting before landing the coaching job at Glenn. He has also been a special education teacher at the school in Walkterton.

This fall, Nadolny has conducted optional open fields a couple times a week while planning a trivia night fundraiser. When fall ball wraps, work will begin in earnest on upgrades to the home and visiting dugouts.

At Glenn, it’s all about continual improvement.

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John Nadolny is heading into his 25th season as a high school head baseball coach in 2018. It will be his 17th at John Glenn in Walkerton, Ind. He started his career at his alma mater — South Bend Riley. He has 480 career victories. (Gregory Ladewski Photo)

 

 

Creating opportunities, building character among goals of Michiana Scrappers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With its focus on competition, instruction and development, the Michiana Scrappers travel organization is in its 14th season in 2017.

Began in 2004 with one 15/16 squad — the School of Hard Knocks Scrappers — the Michiana Scrappers now have 17 baseball teams in age groups 9U through 17U (the organization is also involved in softball, basketball and hockey).

There are 260 baseball players and 38 softball players currently playing in tournaments around the Midwest — put on by Baseball Player’s Association, Pastime, United States Speciality Sports Association, Bullpen and others — and training out of The Scrap Yard in Elkhart.

Teams practice twice a week January to April and one to two times a week during the season, which concludes in late July or early August. Tryouts for 2018 are slated for July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6.

Players 9U to 14U are often invited back for the next season. All players 15U and above are asked to try out.

Scrappers founder Brian Blondell reports a low turnover rate of 8 percent.

“Most kids in our organization are not leaving,” says Blondell. “We’re usually filling 1-2 spot max per team.”

Once players try out, coaching staffs will have a chance to offer their sales pitch to the families of players they want. Trying to find the best fit is a priority.

About the time the Scrappers came along, summer high school programs were decreasing and travel ball was growing so then-South Bend St. Joseph assistant Blondell found a place for Indians head coach John Gumpf to send his players in the summer.

“We learned a lot,” says Blondell, who is also director of player operation and a 14U head coach in 2017. In 2005, the organization had swelled seven teams and with interest the growth continued.

Softball was added to the mix in 2014.

While Blondell and his coaches, including Greg Fozo and Buddy Tupper with the current 14U squad, are just as competitive as anyone and the Scrappers have won their share of tournaments, win-at-all-costs is not the driving force.

“Nobody is gaining anything by winning a trophy,” says Blondell. “We’re trying to be as competitive as we possibly can be. The era we’re in — with a lot of parents — everything is driven by awards, placement and trophies.

“We focus on development. If we develop correctly, we’re going to win a lot of championships.”

With a few exceptions, Scrappers players come from the counties surrounding South Bend and Elkhart.

While players are working to make themselves better and — for the older players — get college exposure for themselves, the Scrappers emphasize that baseball is a team game.

“It’s not an individual sport,” says Blondell, the pitching coach at Elkhart Memorial High School (Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost and assistant Bruce Baer are Scrappers head coaches) and former head coach at Indiana University South Bend, Holy Cross College and South Bend Riley High School. “We’re about growing and developing a team environment.”

The implied daily question to players: How are you helping our team get better?

After all, high school and college coaches want good teammates and not selfish players.

Distinguished Scrapper alums include Evan Miller (LaPorte H.S.; IPFW; San Diego Padres system), Chad Whitmer (Penn H.S.; Southern Illinois U.; New York Yankees system), Nathan Thomas (Mishawaka Marian H.S.; Northern Illinois U.), Brock Logan (Northrdge H.S.; IPFW), Blake Cleveland (NorthWood H.S.; Central Michigan U.), Shannon Baker (Northridge H.S.; IPFW), Brett Carlson (South Bend Riley H.S.; Austin Peay U.; Purdue U.) and Pat Borlik (South Bend Washington H.S.; Western Michigan U.).

Just like Sam Riggleman — his coach at Bethel College — said to Blondell, Scrappers are expected to “check their ego at the door.”

“We do everything as a team,” says Blondell, whose son Bryce Blondell plays on his squad. “I also want it to feel like family. We allow them to be kids and really enjoy it.”

Mike Logan, head coach of a 16U team in 2017, is in his 11th season with the Scrappers.

The former Northridge High School head coach sees his job as getting college exposure, building up their baseball skills and teaching them life lessons.

Logan tells players and their parents about college opportunities and stresses the academic side of the equation.

“A lot of times schools might not have much athletic money to give,” says Logan. But there is bound to be funds for good students.

Logan points players toward showcases and sends out weekly emails to college coaches giving them the Scrappers schedules, roster, contact numbers and more.

With players coming from so many different backgrounds, Logan and his assistants — Brian Bishop and Chad Sherwood — stay with the fundamentals and build on their foundation of skills.

Most importantly to Logan is developing “young men of character.”

“This game can teach you about failure,” says Logan. “You get to learn to handle adversity at a young aage. When they become adults, it’s for real.”

Logan, which coached older son Brock with the Scrappers and now is with younger son Nick, sees a group of players that it is talented enough to be successful on the diamond and is also tight off the field.

One group text message and the boys are off the movies together.

It’s this kind of philosophy which drew the former Indiana Dirt Devils from the Fremont area to join the organization in 2017 as the 13U Black Scrappers.

“The kids in that organization are amazing,” says 13U pitching coach Geoff Gilbert. “They support each other. (Younger players) know who the better older kids in our organization are they talk about them all the time. They look up to them.

“I brag on my team all the time and they are pretty good, but our kids are even better young men than they are baseball players.”

The Dirt Devils won two BPA World Series titles, finished second in another and high in yet another before hooking up with Blondell and company.

“The Scrappers have a great reputation,” says Gilbert, who counts son and left-hander Carter Gilbert among his pitchers. “They have big-name recognition. We were a little tiny team in a little tiny pond and couldn’t get kids to try out with us. We’ll be drawing from a much bigger talent pool.”

As a single-team organization, the Dirt Devils dictated everything. With the Scrappers, where Blondell handles all the administrative matters, Gilbert, head coach Brian Jordan and assistant Michael Hogan retain control over their roster and some say in their schedule while also benefitting from the bulk buying power of a larger organization which is sponsored by DeMarini and Wilson.

“With everything they had to offer in the winter, it was a great opportunity,” says Gilbert, who works a few nights a week at the Scrap Yard and has daughter Ava Gilbert playing for the 10U Lady Scrappers team. “We decided to make the switch.”

With players spread out, 13U Black practices one day a week in Ashley (near Fremont and Kendallville) and once at either Pierre Moran or Riverview parks in Elkhart or Newton Park in Lakeville. The older teams practice at Elkhart Memorial, Elkhart Central or South Bend Washington high schools. Scrappers softball practices are conducted at Penn High School.

While players 15U and above tend to play after the high school season is over, the younger teams like 13U Black play 10 to 12 tournaments in the spring and summer.

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MICHIANASCRAPPERS13UBLACK17

The Michiana Scrappers 13U Black players and families celebrate the Fourth of July. in 2017 (Michiana Scrappers Photo)

 

Relationships the most memorable thing for Ball State’s Eppers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Eppers can point to some memorable moments during his college diamond days.

The Ball State University senior baseball player is coming off a “career weekend” in which he went 10-of-13 at the plate with his third career home run plus a double, stolen base, sacrifice, four runs scored and three runs batted in.

The Cardinals stopped a nine-game losing skid with a three-game sweep at Western Michigan. BSU outscored the Broncos 46-17. Eppers went 5-for-5 in Game 2 of the series — the first five-hit game of his career.

“We had been pressing a little bit,” says Eppers, speaking for the team as a whole. “We started relaxing and having fun.”

On Tuesday, April 11, Eppers stayed hot with three more hits in an 11-2 win against visiting Valparaiso. In his last four games, he is 13-of-17, raising his average to a team-pacing .311.

Earlier in the 2017 season, Eppers was named Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week.

The 6-foot-4 outfielder strung together hits in eight consecutive plate appearances in his junior season of 2016, spanning two games against Dayton and one against Purdue.

The 2013 Elkhart Central High School graduate (he played center field and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the ’13 Class 4A state title) also counts a victory against powerhouse Louisiana State in 2016 as a highlight.

As a sophomore in 2015, Eppers scored three runs against Akron and helped the Cardinals to the MAC tournament championship game.

But as outstanding as those achievements are, it’s the relationships that Eppers has made in his four BSU seasons that he cherishes most.

“I came on to this team not knowing anybody,” says Eppers. “My roommate, Sean Kennedy, had a monster weekend himself (at Western Michigan). He hit a grand slam and another home run and had a whole bunch of hits (Kennedy was 7-of-9 with nine RBI in three games). He and I are best friends. I’m going to be the best man in his wedding.

“The relationships that I’ve built, that’s what’s made college baseball worth it. Through the highs and the lows, the guys you’re around and that sense of brotherhood is heightened to a new level in college.”

Eppers roomed with right-handed pitcher B.J. Butler as a freshman and later shared a place with Kennedy and Alex Call (selected in the third round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox  after earning MAC Player of the Year honors in 2016) before Call moved on.

“(Sean) has been very versatile. He’s played every infield position this year. He’s kind of the anchor of our defense. Anywhere we need him, he’s there. With his bat, too. In the middle of the lineup, he’s been a heavy hitter … It was a good weekend for him and I in our apartment.”

Besides Eppers, Kennedy and Butler, the other BSU seniors are right-hander David Current, third baseman Alex Maloney (son of Ball State head coach Rich Maloney), first baseman Caleb Stayton and left-handers Evan Korson (a transfer from Northern Kentucky) and Kevin Marnon (a transfer from Akron).

Rich Maloney has enjoyed watching Eppers perform for the Cards.

“He’s very athletic,” says Maloney. “He covers a lot of ground in center field. He has really good speed. He competes really, really well.

“With the other guys we’ve been able to surround him with in his class, he’s been a really nice piece of the puzzle.

“He’s been a joy to coach.”

The past three seasons, that recruiting class has aided in an overall MAC title, two West division crowns and a tournament runner-up finish while averaging 34 wins.

“They’ve all gotten a taste of winning and enjoyed it and they certainly want to pass it on,” says Maloney. “They are leaders and they’re all going to end up graduating. It’s all good and Matt is certainly a big part of it.”

How does Eppers prefer to do his leading?

“Day-to-day, I just try to lead by example,” says Eppers, who has played in 188 career games with 147 starts. “I’m not really one of the hoorah guys.

“I don’t speak just to speak. When I have to be a vocal leader, I pick my times. I feel like that’s not only benefitted me here but my whole life. When you can do that it makes your word go a little bit farther.”

Maloney coached Ball State 1996-2002 then at Michigan 2003-12 before returning to BSU for the 2013 season. A staple as he took over a program that had not been winning was “Gotta Believe” rally cry (#GottaBelieve).

“The first thing in building a program is you’ve got to get everybody to believe,” says Maloney, whose 2017 assistants are Scott French, Dustin Glant and Ray Skjold. “They’ve got to believe in the coaches. They’ve got to believe in the vision. They’ve got to believe in the system. They’ve got to believe in themselves. They’ve got to believe in their teammates. If you get that going then you have a chance to be successful.”

Facing the toughest schedule of Maloney’s BSU coaching career (win vs. Maryland, four losses to both Oregon State and Kent State and defeats to defending national champion Coastal Carolina plus setbacks against Louisville and West Virgina), Ball State got off to an 11-9 start in 2017 then hit a slide once the MAC part of the slate began.

“We came close in several or them, but couldn’t get over the top,” says Maloney. “(Against Western Michigan), we were able to break through.

Eppers has bought in to Maloney’s belief system.

“You gotta believe that you can get the job done,” says Eppers. “That’s something he’s instilled in all of us.”

“The whole reason I came to Ball State was the vision that he sold. To his credit, he did it. He promised us a new field, improved schedules and improved skills and we got it.

“No matter who we’re playing, you can see it in his eyes. He truly believes Ball State is going to win … Coach has taught us not to ever take a back seat to anybody.”

Since Eppers’ sophomore year, Ball Diamond has been covered with artificial turf. This is a growing trend in the northern U.S., where the maintenance is lower and teams are able to play more games even in cold and wet weather.

Another major difference been grass and turf is the speed of the game.

“On turf, everything is a lot faster,” says Eppers. “A single may turn into a double; a double may turn into a triple. Especially at our field, it plays very fast … It’s probably given me a few more triples, too, so I appreciate it.”

Of 33 starts for a 15-18 squad, Eppers has been in center field for 29 games and right field for four.

“Center has always been my favorite position, where I feel most comfortable,” says Eppers. “You’re the shortstop of the outfield in a way. You’re supposed to be the best all-around defensive player in the outfield. Something I’ve always taken pride in is tracking down balls and trying to make catches other people can’t make.”

Eppers, who hits from the right side, was in the No. 8 slot in the batting order during his recent hot weekend in Kalamazoo, but has appeared in every hole but Nos. 3 and 4 this spring and has led off eight times.

“Everyday I have to check, but it’s not that big of a deal,” says Eppers. “I know my job is to get on base. I’m not a guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs. I do have a few extra base hits. That’s where I hit the gaps and I’m able to run.”

While he’s taken hundreds of fly balls in the outfield to improve his defense and bulked up to 202 pounds with work in the weight room, Eppers has also adjusted his approach at the plate. He has become more knowledgeable about situational hitting and what pitches he can connect with the best.

“Early in my career I was very vulnerable to the slider and pitcher-advantage counts,” says Eppers. “Now, I’m a tougher out. When the slider is in the dirt, I’m able to lay off that pitch.

“This year I’ve really worked at hitting pitches in the (strike) zone I know I can barrel up. I’m not chasing as many pitches.”

Eppers, 22, is scheduled to graduate in May with a “high stakes” degree in entrepreneurial management.

“It’s basically a pass-fail major,” says Eppers, who was on the MAC all-academic team in 2016 and carried 3.555 grade-point average in the fall. “For a year, you write a business plan, fine tune it and then Wednesday (April 12) we present it in a room with a panel of judges. If they like what you have to say, they pass you. If they don’t, they fail you. If you fail, you have to opportunity to come back next year and re-try or take a couple some classes and (graduate with a different major).

“It puts some stress on you.”

Eppers and his business partner will present a plan on a not-for-profit gym and counseling service for veterans, military members and first responders in the Indianapolis area.

While he is exploring his post-graduation options, Eppers says he is leaning toward staying on the diamond.

“I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can,” says Eppers. “When I’m not allowed to play anymore I’ll have to re-evaluate my professional life.

“For right now I’m just focused on playing baseball and having fun. I’m trying to play every game like it’s my last.”

MATTEPPERSRUNS

Matt Eppers contributes speed to the Ball State University baseball team. The Elkhart Central High School graduate is in his senior season. (Ball State Photo)

MATTEPPERS

Matt Eppers has played in 188 baseball games as a Ball State Cardinal through Tuesday, April 11. (Ball State Photo)

Gernon building successful baseball culture at Western Michigan

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Billy Gernon is reaping the rewards of his labor as a college baseball coach while also giving back to a game he embraced as boy.

Gernon saw his sixth Western Michigan University squad go 22-34 and win the school’s first-ever Mid-American Conference tournament championship in 2016 while the Broncos earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 1989.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” says Gernon. “I’m trying to capture that momentum and bottle it.”

Left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin was chosen as WMU’s first MAC tournament MVP and was then selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, getting an invitation to big league spring training in 2017.

Akin was the Broncos’ highest draft pick since Harry Shaughnessy in 1970. Shortstop Connor Smith was named 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year.

As if to prove that old adage about the importance of pitching and defense, Western was among the nation’s leaders in fielding percentage at .978 — the all-time best mark at a school that started playing baseball in 1911.

“The strengths for me as a coach speaks to where I come from,” says Gernon. “Competition for big bats is heavy. Competition for defense is not as high.”

Gernon’s first season in Kalamazoo was 2011 after two at Michigan State University and nine as head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Gernon grew up near the baseball fields near Mt. Tabor Road in New Albany, Ind.

“The game became surrogate father,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time.

“I came from a broken home at a very early age. I had an unexplainable love for the game. I was gifted at pitching. Being good at it probably made me like it more.”

Now 50, Gernon still fondly looks back to his 13-year-old summer at playing Babe Ruth League baseball in New Albany, Ind., for a trio of enthusiastic coaches — Louis Jensen Jr., Buzz Benson and John Shine.

“They were young guys and they were a lot of fun,” says Gernon. “I remember looking forward to going to practice.”

Jensen is now director of high school eduction for New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.

After graduating from New Albany High School in 1985, Gernon took his pitching talents to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He was the MVP for the IUS and that gave him a chance to play for IU Bloomington as a senior in 1990. Head coach Bob Morgan asked him to join the Hoosiers and he was excited about his opportunity.

Then tragedy struck.

“My brother died it the day I got there,” says Gernon. A car wreck took David Gernon’s life in 1989. “I was a very vulnerable person.”

Morgan’s passion pushed Gernon to succeed on the diamond.

“At Big Ten level, you need to win,” says Gernon. “You need to perform.”

With Morgan’s insistence on hard work, no excuses and accountability, Gernon flourished and became IU’s closer.

“He catapulted me to another level,” says Gernon.

Somewhere along the line, his focus went away from becoming a radio announcer and a chance to coach came along.

“I just decided to go for it,” says Gernon.

There were bumps along the way. At IPFW, Gernon took over a program that made a transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I during his tenure. For seven of his nine seasons in Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were not in a conference and had just five in-state scholarships with no paid assistant coaches. The teams averaged 11 home games and 40 road games per season.

Yet, Gernon still scheduled the best competition he could find even if his record (157-275-3 in those nine campaigns) suffered for it.

“The biggest teacher for me, personally, has been failure,” says Gernon.

Time, maturity and sincerity plus having a son of his own (Jacob David is 16 and a sophomore at Portage Central High School) have also taught him to be a better coach.

“I always try to keep my brother’s spirit alive in me,” says Gernon. “It’s important to me that my players know I love them. I need to do a better job of not only making sure I was saying it, but doing it.”

His Broncos have responded to that passion.

“Players want to perform for me,” says Gernon, who is 136-193 at WMU. “When they don’t, they’re so bothered. They don’t need anything from me but to address the wound.

“Failure is an event, not a person. The game is riddled with failure and great players learn how to deal with it.”

More than ever, Gernon is concerned with building the culture.

“Cultures are more important than anything,” says Gernon. “Great cultures win over talent. It’s my job as a leader to have guys know what the culture is and become great messengers of the team’s philosophy and culture.”

Gernon expects players to spread the word in the locker room: This is how we do things and this is what’s expected.

“Great culture is why Western won the first MAC tournament in school history and went to the NCAA tournament,” says Gernon. “We have great leaders.”

And through it all, he’s giving back.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time. I’m trying to do everything I can to serve it in the form of gratitude. I talk to current players more about their legacy, how they want to be remembered and the mark they want to leave on other players.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach.”

It’s just that important.

billgernonwmu

Western Michigan University head baseball coach Billy Gernon played at New Albany High School, Indiana University Southeast and IU Bloomington and coached at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before heading north. (Western Michigan University Photo)