By STEVE KRAH
Mitch Hannahs has been involved in sports for most of his 50 years and he’s learned from wise men.
The former Ohio schoolboy and All-American second baseman for Indiana State University who became an ISU Athletics Hall of Famer is now heading into his fifth season as the school’s head baseball coach.
At Skyvue High School (since consolidated with Woodsfield into Monroe Central in southeastern Ohio), he witnessed the patient of Huffman as he ran basketball and baseball teams. Huffman is in the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“A lot of young guys are impatient,” says Hannahs. “(Huffman) had a very calming hand. That really helped me.”
Hannahs says patience “gives you the rope and the time to develop a young player.”
Positive results are not always going to be instant and both coach and player need to realize that.
Hannahs not only played for American Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn, helping ISU to 172 victories and three NCAA Tournament appearances 1986-89, he came back to Terre Haute to be a Sycamores assistant.
“There’s old school. He’s double old school if there’s such a thing,” says Hannahs of Warn, who guided Hannahs and company to the 1986 College World Series. “His camps were tremendously tough. He taught us to be tough between the lines then carry ourselves like a young man should off the field. It’s something that’s carried with me for a lot of years now.”
It’s a transfer that not every athlete can master but Hannahs wants ballplayers who can be hard on the field and soft off it.
“An edge is required,” says Hannahs. “We have to have it and develop it.
“You have to be tough and resilient as you possibly can between the lines. You have to become very comfortable being uncomfortable. That comes with playing athletics at the very highest level. Then you walk out the gate and become the humble contributor to society.”
Another thing that Huffman did with his players was challenge them. He was famous for his overloads in basketball practice, sending five men against seven or eight.
“He was always creating ways to challenge us,” says Hannahs of Huffman. “I was telling my guys the other day about winning a court in the summer. If you didn’t win, you didn’t play. My guys had no clue what I was talking about.”
That being said, Hannahs news himself as a mix of the old and new.
“I like to think that I apply a lot of older tactics into a more modern approach,” says Hannahs. “It’s good to connect and have a rapport with your players.”
Hannahs has produced winning teams and players that have gone on to professional baseball.
In his four seasons to date, the Sycamores have won 127 games, made an NCAA Tournament and had three top-3 finishes in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Hannahs is the sixth coach in program history to record 100 or more wins. ISU rewarded him with a contract extension through 2020.
Following a 29-26 season (12-9 in The Valley which also includes Bradley, Dallas Baptist, Drake, Evansville, Illinois State, Loyola, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Valparaiso), four Sycamores were selected in the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — right-handed pitcher Will Kincanon by the Chicago White Sox (ninth round), second baseman Tyler Friis by the Cleveland Indians (21st round), right-hander and Franklin Community High School product Jeremy McKinney by the Washington Nationals (31st round) and righty submariner and former Terre Haute South Vigo standout Damon Olds by the Kansas City Royals (33rd round).
Keeping the talent coming to the ISU campus requires recruiting the right players.
“We want to get the best players we can find,” says Hannahs. “If we can pull them out of your back yard, that’s great.”
But don’t expect Indiana State to get commitments from players who are barely out of junior high — which is a big trend in major college baseball these days.
“When that early commitment stuff began to maintain some integrity, we said we can’t jump in quite so early,” says Hannahs.
The coach notes that North American players can’t be signed until late in their high school careers and yet high-profile college programs are getting verbal commitments from 15-year-olds.
“It’s an arms race so to say,” says Hannahs. “They are getting their (recruiting) classes organized earlier.”
Why is this happening?
“Because they can,” says Hannahs. There is no rule against it. Players can’t sign that early, but they can say they are going to School X at anytime.
“It creates a storm,” says Hannahs.
Plus, signing is one thing and actually making an impact is another.
“No one has researched number of kids who stay and contribute at these schools,” says Hannahs.
The coach notes that the very best players are easy for anyone to identify and project. It’s in the second and third tiers that the waters become murky.
ISU has gotten more involved in recruiting junior college players and has no less than 13 former JUCO athletes on the 2018 online roster.
“It allows us to watch them another year after high school before we make that decision,” says Hannahs.
The world of travel baseball closely relates to recruiting.
“Travel baseball has been very good in terms of exposing young players to potential recruiters,” says Hannahs. “It’s led to early signing and committing for a lot of kids.
“Those two coupled together have negatively impacted high school baseball. Some kids — after they commit — shut down on their high school team. That’s not to knock travel. It’s accomplished what people set our for it to do. I wish we didn’t have the negative impact on the other side.”
The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A player can be loyal to his high school program and participate and thrive in travel baseball.
“We all have priorities whether we put it on a list or not,” says Hannahs. “Travel ball has been placed higher than high school in the minds of many.”
Hannahs says he wants players who are concerned more about helping the team win than their own accomplishments.
“It can be a tough adjustment period for guys who spend their younger years trying to be seen,” says Hannahs. “If you try to produce for your team and are motivated to help them win, colleges are going to beat your door down.”
Mitch Hannahs, who played at Indiana State University 1986-89 and is in the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame, is entering his fifth season as Sycamores head baseball coach in 2018. (Indiana State University Photo)