Sebastian Kuhns is growing as a baseball catcher and the northeast Indiana native is doing it in northeast Texas. The 2020 graduate of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne is a “COVID” freshman at Paris (Texas) Junior College, which is about 100 miles from Dallas. Through the Dragons’ first 17 games of 2022, Kuhns was hitting .400 (10-of-25) with five doubles and nine runs batted in over eight games while splitting playing time with freshman Zach Munton. Kuhns, who missed his senior season at Carroll because of the pandemic, Kuhns split his time in the summer of 2020 between the Chad Hines-coached Indiana Prospects travel team (he played for the Prospects in 2019, too) and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He ended up with the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. Kuhns was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for the 2021 season and hit .268 (11-of-41) with one home run and 13 RBIs in 18 games. He did not play in the summer of 2021, but trained at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind. He did overall and throwing with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and Justin Hancock, hitting with Quentin Brown and Noah Niswonger and strength workouts with Michael Hammerstand, Christian Sullivan and Bram Wood. Kuhns is considering another summer of training at PRP Baseball while possibly playing in the CSL. When Kuhns made it known that he would be transferring from Lincoln Trail, a couple of schools reached out. Among them was Paris, which had three catchers moving on. “I shot Coach (Clay) Cox a message,” says Kuhns. “He responded and now I’m here. I really enjoyed my phone call with him. I could tell everything he said was genuine. “I can’t not say enough about Coach Cox. He’s one of the top motivational coaches I’ve had. He knows what to say to get us fired up. He made it clear what the expectations are. Last year (Paris) had like 3.8 team GPA. They do things right here.” Kuhns signed at Paris — a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 14 member — in mid-June. He he arrived Paris in the fall he was given No. 47. Any significance to to those digits? “Not really. Most of our class had already signed,” says Kuhns. “Maybe my arm’s like an AK-47?” Kuhns is on pace to earn an Associate Degree in Business Management while he hones his skills behind the plate. “There’s so many games within the game that I love,” says Kuhns, who moved from first base to catcher around age 12. “I take pride in picking up mannerisms of all my pitchers. It’s different for every guy.” Kuhns appreciates the engagement of the position. “You’re part of every pitch,” says Kuhns. “My arm is one of the tools that helped me getting into college. I was good at blocking, but my receiving wasn’t great. “(Receiving) is one of the biggest adjustments for me moving from high school to college, where there is a smaller strike zone. You try to steal strikes for your pitcher and keeps strikes as strikes. I’m working on that art. The strike zone in Texas is even smaller.” Kuhns talks about the junior college baseball life. “People throw around JUCO like an adjective,” says Kuhns. “Guys really embrace that. We’re just some gritty guys working hard. That’s one aspect I really like. It really is good baseball. Down here (in Texas) it really is no joke.” Kuhns played at Carroll for head coach Dave Ginder, who stressed all the situational things like first-and-third and bunt coverages. “I didn’t fully appreciate everything he did until I got into college,” says Kuhns. “He knows the game really well and he’s really good at passing it on to his players.” “I see similarities with Coach Cox and Coach Ginder. (Cox) let’s us do our thing. He’s not going to fix it if it ain’t broke.” As a Chargers sophomore, Kuhns was a third-stringer on a catching corps led by Hayden Jones (who is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization). “I can’t say enough about Hayden and what he helped me with in high school,” says Kuhns. “He helped me grow up and mature and with baseball in general. “He comes from a great family. I worked with his dad for a long time.” Kuhns went to Ken Jones (now assistant at Purdue Fort Wayne) at World Baseball Academy for catching and hitting lessons. The player was also at Wallen Baseball Softball and with the Fort Wayne Cubs/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks. Born in Auburn, Ind., Kuhns grew up in the Fort Wayne/Huntertown area. His parents are Brian Kuhns (stepmother Sherri Foster) and Kimberly Kuhns. His siblings are Josh Kuhns, Olivia Kuhns, Kesley Foster, Eric Foster, Chris Kiger, Cassandra Kiger and Kyle Kiger.
Northeast Indiana is moving toward a large sports facility and baseball will be part of the mix. Auburn Sports Group is bringing Auburn Sports Park — a $42 million 170-acre multi-sport complex plus 90 more acres for retail (restaurants, gas stations, hotels) — to land adjacent once owned by RM Auctions/RM Sotheby’s on the east side of I-69 .1 of a mile off Exit 11A. Auburn Sports Park will be located about 30 miles south of the Indiana-Michigan line on I-69; about 20 miles to the heart of Fort Wayne, Ind.; about 60 miles west of Napoleon, Ohio; about 50 miles northeast of Warsaw, Ind.; about 120 miles southwest of Lansing, Mich.; about 100 miles southeast of Kalamazoo, Mich.; about 130 miles northeast of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind Auburn Sports Group’s leadership team features co-owner Joe Fisher, president/co-order Rod Sinn, vice president/director of basketball Grant Sinn and director of operations/director of outdoor fields Cole Walker. Brett Ratcliffe, assistant baseball coach at Trine University in Angola, Ind., and former head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School, is the director of baseball/softball. Auburn Sports Park is to have eight turf fields suitable for high school/college baseball and softball. “A multi-sport complete in northeast Indiana is something that’s needed,” says Ratcliffe of the place which has already had commitments to bring events to serve athletes from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and beyond. “This is another venue they can go to.” Existing buildings will be used and there will be construction and renovation to bring indoor basketball and volleyball courts and a multi-purpose field for football, soccer and lacrosse. One building will house seven batting cages. In addition, a 2-mile walking trail around the campus is planned as well as a splash pad. “We want to make sure it’s a great experience for kids and a good memory for people who come here,” says Ratcliffe, who expects some of the facility to be ready for events by late summer. Auburn Sports Park will be home to Prospect Select and Crossroads Baseball Series and the site of national championships. Eric Blakeley, who played baseball at Indiana University and in the Seattle Mariners organization, is Crossroads Baseball Series CEO. Jeremy Plexico, former pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Ball State University, is Prospect Select president. Travis Keesling, who played and coached at Pendleton Heights High School, is Crossroads Baseball Series executive vice president. Ratcliffe says entities like the DeKalb County Visitors Bureau have been supportive and other partnerships have been discussed with the World Baseball Academy, Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League and Empowered Sports Club —all based in Fort Wayne — plus the YMCA of DeKalb County in Auburn and Team Pineapple Volleyball Club/Ball Sports Academy of Angola. With its location, Ratcliffe says Auburn Sports Park will be a great place for teams from NCAA D-I, D-II and D-III to NAIA and National Junior College Athletic Association schools to recruit.
McCowin likes that USF has a relatively small campus and student body (about 2,300 students), compared to larger schools that he explored.
“It’s close-knit here,” says McCowin. “Everybody has a familiarity with everybody. I’m more comfortable with smaller campus and interaction between teachers and students.”
With plenty of sweat and toil, players and coaches have gotten Cougar Field back into shape so home games can be staged on-campus rather than at the ASH Centre/World Baseball Academy.
“It looks amazing,” says McCowin of the diamond located on the west side of town. “We have high reverence and respect for our field.
“It’s sweet when fans can come straight from their dorms to the field and we can closely connect to the Saint Francis community. That plays a huge role in how we play.”
It’s common for USF teams to show up to cheer on other Cougar athletes (the school has 18 varsity sports).
An added bonus of the small campus is that the baseball team spends up to seven hours a day with each other, forming strong bonds.
“We get foster that relationship everyday,” says McCowin.
When he was recruiting McCowin through a contact at Athletes With Purpose (AWP) in Fort Wayne, Dustin Butcher (who was a Saint Francis assistant and became head coach following the 2018 season when Greg Roberts retired) emphasized culture at the NAIA member institution.
“He said it will definitely challenge my character and make me a better person,” says McCowin. “We keep ourselves accountable. We pick our brothers up.
“If they need it, we get them help. We lean on each other.”
McCowin says the team GPA has increased considerably in the last few seasons.
“We take care of our bodies,” says McCowin. “We take care of our schoolwork.”
If there are opportunities — like a job opening or the chance to play for a summer team — the Cougars pass that information along.
There are several local players on the Saint Francis roster and this has allowed families to get involved with coordinating postgame meals — one broke out the grill as the Cougars celectrateb recent victory — and cheering on the players.
As a student of exercise and psychology, McCowin knows the physical and mental side as a ballplayer.
“I live what I’ve learned everyday,” says McCowin. “I’m always seeking ways to be better at my craft and persevering through hard times.
“I’m making sure my body’s right and healthy.”
Early this season, McCowin tweaked his back and was out of the lineup.
“It was an inflammation of the SI joint at the hip,” says McCowin. “I got back though (physical therapy) and with the trainer.
“I used every resource to get myself healthy.”
After being discharged, he still goes to the training room — as do many of his teammates — for maintenance.
McCowin follows several physical therapists on social media, including MoveU on Instagram, and seeks out mentors to learn such as AWP co-founder and Sports Performance Chief Performance Officer Bryan Bourcier.
He also has Butcher, who teaches a Sports Psychology class.
Heading into a home series Friday and Saturday, April 16-17 with Mount Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis is riding a six-game win streak and is 27-13 overall and 17-7 in the Crossroads League.
McCowin is hitting .328 (21-of-64) with four home runs, one triple, three doubles, 22 runs batted in, 14 runs scored and 4-of-5 in stolen bases in 26 games. His OPS is 1.004 (.410 on-base percentage plus .594 slugging average).
The righty swinger belted two homers in an April 6 win against visiting Indiana University South Bend.
For his career, McCowin is hitting .267 with nine homers, six triples, 22 doubles, 75 RBIs. 77 runs and is 20-of-25 in stolen bases in 133 games. His OPS is .824 (.384 on-base percentage plus .440 slugging).
McCowin was born in Marietta, Ga., then moved to Atlanta. He came to Fort Wayne while in grade school when the family came to take care of his ailing grandfather.
At Luers, he was led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary Rogers.
“He definitely taught me resilience,” says McCowin of Rogers. “He brought out a lot of my competitive energy. I was always fighting against myself to be better being a sponge and asking questions.”
There was also plenty of repetition.
McCowin, 21 (he turns 22 on May 20), lives with his mother Kimberly, father Michael and sister Alexis (19). Older siblings Makesha, Sudedra and Michael are out-of-state — Sudedra in Ohio and the others in Texas.
Ratcliffe had helped Thunder head coach Greg Perschke during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and assisted in school-record 25-win seasons then went back to the high school ranks before coming back on board in Angola, Ind., for 2020.
Trine, an NCAA Division III school with a 40-game regular-season limit, averaged 17 wins per year from 2014-19 with high-water marks of 19 in 2017 and 2018.
That was not considered good enough.
So the Thunder went to work in the fall.
“We have our limits when we can and can’t be with them,” says Ratcliffe referring to NCAA D-III contact rules. “But there are expectations from Coach Perschke. His passion for the kids is electric. It just gets everybody.
“There’s an off-season weight program. Kids work around their academics to get a workout in.”
The message is clear: If you want the team to get better, this is what has to happen. Here’s how you do it. Do you want to be a part of that?
At a school full of engineering students and others with rigorous majors, the find a way to get the job done.
“We give them a lot of instruction during our weeks,” says Ratcliffe. “They take this and work hard in the off-season.”
Brought in to help with catchers, infielders and hitters and be a bench coach during games, Ratcliffe says there’s a difference between high school and college that has do with more than age.
“Kids at the college level want to be there instead of doing something in high school,” says Ratcliffe. “Development is extremely different. In high school, you’re developing their skills. In college, you’re fine-tuning their skills.”
Through conversations and short videos, Perschke (Trine head coach since 2002 and the Thunder’s pitching coach) and assistants Ratcliffe and Nick Pfafman provided instruction for a month and then the team’s veterans led a few more weeks of workouts heading into the winter.
“We developed a mindset of how to react and respond to things,” says Ratcliffe. “It’s one of the things I was brought in for.”
When the team came back from Christmas break it had less than a month before its first games.
Trine went 1-2 Feb. 22-23 in Kentucky then 8-0 March 1-6 in Florida.
Then — suddenly — the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Thunder gathered for an impromptu team photo after a practice and said their goodbyes.
This summer, Ratcliffe is head coach for the 17U DeKalb County Thunder travel team. His assistant is Cody Krumlauf, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Earlham College who has been a player and coach for the Quakers.
The program was started a few years ago when the players were at the 15U level. The Thunder now also fields 15U and 13U teams.
To be eligible to play for the Thunder, players must play in community baseball organizations in Auburn, Butler, Garrett or St. Joe.
While with the Spartans, Ratcliffe got to work with future big league catcher Rob Bowen.
“I remember he was a starter working on being a switch hitter,” says Ratcliffe. “If he hit 50 balls off the tee right-handed, he had to hit 50 left-handed. Balance had to be there if h was serious about being a switch hitter.”
Ratcliffe recalls that Bowen hit homers from both sides of the plate early in his minor league days and went on to play in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.
Caleb Kimmel, who went on to play at Valparaiso University and is now CEO of the World Baseball Academy, was also at Homestead when Ratcliffe was on staff.
“(Moustakas) had the same kind of energy as a 17-year-old that he did (with the Kansas City Royals) in the World Series.
“That guy has not changed one bit. He’s such a team player.”
Freeman became of Ratcliffe’s favorites.
“His character in the dugout was unbelievable,” says Ratcliffe of the future Atlanta Braves first baseman. “He was very coachable. Freddie wanted to get better.
“I’ve told my players this is what you need to be like. It’s not all about baseball. Character is very crucial.”
Trout and Bauer are superstars now. But they didn’t make the national team back then. They didn’t sulk. They put in the work to get better.
The Uptons also failed, but learned from those around them and rebounded. Justin’s path to The Show included 113 games with the 2006 Mark Haley-managed South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks during his 18-year-old season.
While they were nearly two decades apart, Ratcliffe (Class of 1990) and Parker (2007) were both graduates of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind.
Ratcliffe had coached against right-handed pitcher Parker in high school and saw him help Norwell to an IHSAA 3A state championship in 2007.
When it came time for Parker to take the mound that summer Joplin, Ratcliffe offered a little advice: “Go be yourself.”
Parker went on to work out with the Top 40 players in Atlanta and was selected in the first round (No.9 overall) of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in the bigs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. David Price and Moustakas went 1-2 in the ’07 draft.
Ratcliffe’s head coach at Norwell was Stan Reed.
“He had compassion for the players,” says Ratcliffe. “He really cared about us. It showed whether we won or lost.”
A catcher, Ratcliffe went to Purdue University and was redshirted his first season and played sparingly for Boilermakers coach Dave Alexander in his second, though he did get to catch Sherard Clinkscales, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft, later scouted for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Kansas City and coached at Notre Dame before going into athletic administration.
When Alexander left Purdue to become a scout and pitching coach Steve Green was promoted to head coach, he had a chat with Ratcliffe. It was apparent he was not going to get to play much for the Boilers.
What did Ratcliffe learn from Norwell grad Kinzer during the 1993 and 1994 seasons?
“It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level,” says Ratcliffe. “If you want to get there you’ve got to put some time in.
“Talent doesn’t get you to the next level. It takes things like working hard and having good character.”
By the time Tom Muth took over at IPFW in 1995, Ratcliffe knew he wanted to be a coach so he took the opportunity to play multiple positions and learn their nuances. Since the Dons were in need of a second baseman, Ratcliffe moved there and still took time to catch bullpens.
Ratcliffe played independent professional ball as a middle infielder for the Frontier League’s Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in their inaugural season of 1995. Larry Nowlin was the manger and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate part owner.
One of his teammates was future major league switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter Morgan Burkhart. When he came to Fort Wayne as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, Ratcliffe made sure he found a good fishing hole.
After finishing his degree at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ratcliffe became a teacher.
Besides coaching baseball, he instructs special education classes at Garrett Middle School. His wife of 19 years — Stacy — is a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Ober Elementary in Garrett. The couple have two sons — GHS senior-to-be Blake (17) and GMS eighth grader-to-be Easton (13).
“It was a pretty good timing situation,” says Jones, who was asked to join the staff of new Mastodons head coach Doug Schreiber in the same town where he teaches lessons. “He was looking for some guys and I wanted to get back into it.”
“Coach Decker treated you with a lot of respect and communicated very well,” says Jones. “He told you what he expected and you needed to do it. I still have a lot of his attitudes that I use today.”
“(Maloney) helped me get my start. He was really good on the infield. On the recruiting side, he was good as projecting what kids were going to be. He looked at their body type and athleticism. Mid-majors have to project some kids and then they develop over two or three years and become that top-level kid.”
Twice an academic All-American at WMU, where he earned a degree in aviation operations, he gained a master’s in sports administration at BSU in 1998.
The relationship at Purdue Fort Wayne brings together sons of baseball pioneers. Bill Jones and Ken Schreiber helped form the Indiana High School Baseball Association in 1971. The elder Jones was the organization’s executive director for many years. Schreiber won 1,010 games, seven state titles and was elected to 13 halls of fame. Jones passed away in 2015 and Schreiber in 2017.
“I think I’ve got my old dad in there,” says Jones of his coaching approach. “Every once in awhile you have to light a fire under a guy. You can’t be one-dimensional. You have to know your kid and know what works for them. You coach accordingly.
“When my dad coached you could be a little more tough, demanding and vocal. It was a different generation. You have to roll with the times a little bit and see how kids respond. It’s a different society. You have to understand how the kids tick.”
At PFW, Ken Jones has been working with hitters, catchers and outfielders.
“My strongest abilities lie with hitters,” says Jones, who came to find out that he shares a similar philosophy on that subject with Doug Schreiber. “We want low line drives. We want hitters to keep the barrel on the ball through the zone as long as possible.
“We want guys to focus gap to gap.”
Jones says his hitters sometimes ask questions about things like exit velocity and launch angle, but he has the Mastodons focusing on what happens once they strike the ball.
“We can still see what needs to be done without having all the bells and whistles,” says Jones, noting that PFW pitchers do some work with Rapsodo motion detection data. “In our first 15 games (before the 2020 season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic), it was refreshing to see we had some decent results without all the technology focus.”
As a player for his father at DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind., and for Decker at Western Michigan, Jones was a two-time all-Mid-American Conference catcher and was selected in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and played briefly in the San Diego Padres system.
His emphasis with Purdue Fort Wayne catchers has been on receiving, blocking and throwing.
“I’m learning through my son and other catching guys,” says Jones, whose son Hayden Jones, a lefty-swinging backstop who played at Carroll High School of Fort Wayne and sat out 2020 after transferring from Mississippi State University to Illinois State University. “I’m trying to gain some new knowledge.
“You never want to be satisfied with where you’re at and educate yourself on better ways to get things done. You soak in some information and put those things in your tool box. We do that as coaches and players. You figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”
McNeil is the pitching coach and organizes much of the recruiting. The coronavirus shutdown has made that process a little different.
“It’s phone calls,” says Jones. “We wan’t have kids on-campus. We are able to walk through campus with FaceTime.”
In some cases, a player might commit before ever coming to Fort Wayne.
Some summer collegiate baseball leagues have canceled their seasons and others are playing the waiting game.
“Guys will be scrambling (for places to play),” says Jones. “It will be a very fluid situation the whole summer for the college guys.”
Ken Jones is an assistant baseball coach at Purdue Fort Wayne. He is also senior lead instructor at the World Baseball Academy in the same Indiana city. He was an assistant at Western Michigan (1999-2004) and Ball State University (1997 and 1998). (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
But that hasn’t stopped him from being a regular around “Turtle Town” diamonds.
Grove has helped out with the high school program, now led by 2011 graduate Jordan Turner, and has crossed Churubusco Community Park to watch youth league games.
“Baseball’s important in Churubusco,” says Grove. “It really is.
Grove, a graduate of Bluffton (Ind.) High School and Ball State University (1977), started coaching baseball at Churubusco in 1980 as an assistant to Jerry Lange (who was head football coach at the school 1985-91) and took over the Eagles in 1985. He went on to earn 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. Churubusco won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (reigning four times in the NECC tournament) on his watch and two Allen County Athletic Conference titles.
Grove produced 25 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state selections and six players selected for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Devin Peters (2015), Bryan Brudi (2008), Brad Vaught (2007), Brad Dell (2003), Todd Fleetwood (1997) and Travis Rehrer (1995). Grove was an assistant to North head coach Erik Hisner during the 2015 series.
Peters went on to play for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national champions at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (2017) and participate in the NCAA Division II World Series with Ashland (Ohio) University (2019).
Right-handed pitcher Fred Ransom Jones, a 2004 Churubusco graduate, was selected in the 33rd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees out of the University of Evansville.
Grove’s 1995 squad lost 7-1 to eventual single-class state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci, in the championship game of the Concordia Semistate. Bill Sharpe was the plate umpire in the title games of the Warsaw Sectional, Plymouth Regional, Concordia Semistate and State Finals in ’95.
The ’Busco battery of right-hander Rehrer and catcher Shawn Targgart wound up playing for Richard “Itchy” Jones at the University of Illinois.
Right-hander Brent Gaff represented Churubusco in the majors. He was chosen in the sixth round of the 1977 MLB Draft by the New York Mets and spent parts of 1982-84 with the big club.
“A small town kid from Churubusco can make it to the bigs,” says Grove. “This town is proud of the product they turn out on the baseball field.”
Whether or not an Eagles’ season included any postseason accolades, Grove got a kick out of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.
“I enjoyed the whole preseason part and working out in the gym,” says Grove. “I moved kids around so we could be the most competitive we could be.”
After games, Grove went home and studied charts to see how to pitch to returning players for the next opponent.
“That was a lot of fun,” says Grove.
He also appreciated the rapport with his players and the camaraderie with his assistant coaches.
“I’ve got to see (players) grow up and become fathers,” says Grove. “You’re only going to be as good as your assistants.”
Business teacher Terry McManama was hired at Churubusco at the same time as Industrial Technology teacher Grove and coached volleyball and softball before he was lured to the baseball staff, where he served for more than two decades.
Math teacher Monte Gerig, who was Eagles head coach from 1973-77, and Chemistry teacher Jim Folland (a former Fort Wayne Elmhurst head baseball coach) were also Grove assistants. When Trent Gerig (Class of 1996), was a player, his father was lured back to coaching baseball.
Coaches in the Churubusco athletic department knew that they needed to share athletes in order for their teams to be competitive so multi-sport athletes were the norm.
“Everybody worked together,” says Grove. “We kept our kids active. We were there for the kids.
“The more sports they play, the more it makes them a rounded athlete. They tend to stay away from injuries because they don’t use the same muscles over and over again until something gives.”
Grove, McManama and Gerig can often be seen together on the golf course.
To stay close to football, Grove and McManama walk the sidelines and keep statistics for Churubusco football, which is now led by Paul Sade.
A former defensive coordinator, Grove was an Eagles assistant from 1979-99. He coached football at Lake State Edison briefly before coming to Whitley County.
Grove is still active with the IHSBCA, helping with registration at the State Clinic each January and assisting with the Class 2A poll. He was a district representative for many years and has served on the North/South All-Stars Series committee and was co-chair of the Baseball Strikes Out Cancer project with former executive director Bill Jones. The campaign raised more than $25,000 for the American Cancer Society.
“The most satisfying committee I ever worked on with the IHSBCA,” says Grove.
He is grateful for the impact of mentors like Hall of Famers Jones (who coached at DeKalb), Masucci, Don Sherman (Huntington North), Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop) and Bill Nixon (Plymouth).
“I was skinny young coach,” says Grove. “I really looked up to those guys. The smartest thing I’ve ever done is that I kept my mouth shut and learned from them.”
At Bluffton, Grove was an outfielder and right-hander pitcher. Fred Murray was the Tigers head coach.
As a thank you to Murray, some member of the Class of 72, including Mike Pettibone, Bruce Hirschy and Jeff Penrod, initiated a reunion a couple of summers ago. Playing on old Wilson Field, Bluffton won its own sectional in 1972.
“Bluffton was a great place to grow up,” says Grove. “there was something going on for kids all the time.”
A summer recreation program provided chances to learn about baseball, swimming, tennis and more.
Denise Milholland, who went to another Wells County high school — Norwell — was introduced to Grove by Jim Watson and they later wed. Eric Milholland, brother of Denise, played in the Chicago White Sox organization.
Mark and Denise Grove have two married daughters and two grandsons — Jennifer, who works for Child Protective Services, and Derek Hupfer with Payton (9) and Brittany, an occupational therapy assistant, and Brennon Moughler with Evan (11).
Jennifer played volleyball, a little basketball and softball at Churubusco then softball at Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.). Brittany played volleyball, a little basketball and tennis for the Eagles. The Hupfers reside in Bluffton and the Moughlers near Butler, Ind.
One of Grove’s hobbies is collecting antique tools and tool boxes and fixing them up. One Christmas, he gave a tool box to each grandson and then let them and their fathers take turns picking out tools.
In January 2020, Grove received a call from Steve Warden on behalf of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Grove was selected for induction into the NEIA Hall of Fame with the banquet moved from the spring to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Classic Cafe Catering & Event Center, 4832 Hillegas Road, Fort Wayne, because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
“We had a lot of support from the administration and community. You don’t win without that.”
The NEIBA will also induct Northrop head coach Matt Brumbaugh and World Baseball Academy Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel and present awards to Tom Knox and Tom Clements. Tickets are $25 each. Mail payment and the number of attendees to NEIBA, P.O. Box 12733, Fort Wayne, IN 46864.
Mark Grove was head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School from 1985-2015 and earned 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. He is to be inducted into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame Oct. 18.
Entering his third season in charge of the Knights in 2020, Jeff Stanski is part of a legacy that started with his father, Ron Stanski, and also includes Gary Rogers and Larry Gerardot.
Ron Stanski played at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and got the baseball program at Fort Wayne Central Catholic running smoothly and won a sectional title in 1970.
When CC closed and Luers opened, the elder Stanski was there to get the program started in 1973. He went on to serve as a baseball and football coach at Harding High School in Fort Wayne and was athletic director at Luers before retirement.
Rogers followed Ron Stanski, led the Knights for 32 years and is now head coach at Leo (Ind.) High School.
“They were into fundamentals, playing the right way and working hard,” says Jeff Stanski of his head coach predecessors.
Now in his mid-70s, Ron Stanski is part of son Jeff’s coaching staff.
“He is a great resource to fall back on,” says Jeff Stanski, who played baseball for Luers and graduated in 1992, got a degree from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. in 1996, and is now teachers U.S. History, Economics and Leadership at his high school alma mater.
Jeff Stanski is also offensive coordinator for a Luers football program which features Kyle Lindsay as head coach. Previous football coaching stops include assistant gigs at Luers, Tri-State University (now Trine University) and Fort Wane Snider High School.
Stanski has five baseball assistants.
“I have a great staff around me,” says Stanski.
Besides his father and “right-hand man” Tim Birkmeier, there’s former professional pitcher Pedro Hernandez, Luers graduate and former Michigan State player Larry Young as well as Ray Pickard and Miles Martinez.
The Knights are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Dwenger, Concordia, Garrett, Leo and New Haven. Luers has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2012. Luers reigned as 2008 Class 2A state champions.
Kevin Kiemaier, who roams center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, is a Luers graduate. Some current players go to alum and former big league pitcher Mike Roesler.
While they have not made any college commitments, Stanski says seniors Nick Birkmeier and Carter Pickard and junior Lukas North have drawn interest.
Luers is fed by several Catholic grade schools. Stanski says that while the school is diverse, many did come from one of those feeder schools.
Jeff and Sara Stanski have three children. Freshman Charlie Stanski is a Luers freshman who plays football and baseball. Daughter Sophie Stanski is an eighth grader who plays volleyball and basketball. First grader Sam Stanski plays baseball.
Jeff Stanski is the head baseball coach at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Bishop Luers Photo)
“As a Class A school, we focus on individuals striving to be consistent and the best they can be,” says Kinnison, who has led the Braves since the 2009 season and knows he has some players who see high school as the end of their baseball careers and others who want more. “We push some to where they want to go.”
Baseball is a team sport, but Kinnison sees it as an opportunity to “play against yourself.”
Individuals find what they can do and how they fit into the puzzle and push themselves — even when no one is watching.
“The game should be easy,” says Kinnison. “Practice should be hard. It’s human nature to only do as much as someone would push you to do.
“We want the best version of you on the ball field. Give me 100 percent of what you have today.
“You’re responsible for what you do. At the end of the day, results are bases on the work you put in.”
Kinnison encourages his players to study the game and the opponent.
“Figure out a weakness and exploit it,” says Kinnison. “If you’re fast, steal bases.
“I don’t think kids think the game as much as they could. They just play.”
College-bound players, especially, will be served by understanding the game.”
“We give as much information as we have as a staff,” says Kinnison, who is assisted by Matt Harmon (the Harmon brothers — Mark, Matt and Jake — were involved in bringing state titles to Blackhawk in 2002, 2005 and 2006), Brice Urschel, Nick Braun and Ryan Davis. Harmon and Braun are BCS teachers. Urschel played for Kinnison then at Huntington (Ind.) University.
Some things become instinctual.
“We don’t use signs very much,” says Kinnison. “We take what they’re giving us.”
Kinnison, who was assistant director of construction for a retail investment company in Cincinnati and came back to Fort Wayne on the weekends, was encouraged to apply for the Blackhawk Christian job by Kinzer.
Blackhawk Christian (enrollment around 240 for high school in the K-12 system) is an independent.
Athletic director Joel Cotton makes up the schedule with some input from the coach.
“I didn’t want a bunch of 1A schools on it,” says Kinnison. “I would rather take our lumps (and get better against tougher competition).
“It’s about taking pride in performing. The team that is able to relax and play their normal game can beat you.”
Since Kinnison has been in charge, there has only been a varsity team with about 18 to 20 players per season. For 2020, he expects to have two seniors, two juniors and seven or eight sophomores.
As a way of supporting the school, all players help with a program established in 2011 by BCS Foundation, Inc., called reNEW Upscale Resale.
The Braves part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Blackhawk has won 14 sectional titles — the last in 2017.
Blackhawk Christian played only a handful of games on-campus in 2019 because of wet conditions. The rest of their home dates were contested on the turf at the ASH Centre, home of the World Baseball Academy.
Kevin and Annette Kinnison have three daughters — Taylor, Kenzie and Karlee. Taylor is 22. Eighth grader Kenzie and sixth grader Karlee have attended Blackhawk since they were in kindergarten. Kevin is co-owner of Blue Apple Construction.
Kevin Kinnison has been the head baseball coach at Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne, Ind., since the 2009 season. He played at Fort Wayne Snider High School, Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University). (Steve Krah Photo)
With even more of an emphasis on strength and conditioning, the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization is moving into its next phase.
Evan Jurjevic, a former Chargers player who has been on the staff since 2015, has taken over as owner and director of operations and will still be an instructor and strength coach.
The Chargers will be based solely in Fort Wayne. To begin with, there will only be 14U, 15U, 16U and 17U travel teams.
“I want to make sure we have a quality product so we will decrease the amount of teams initially,” says Jurjevic. “We want to continue to develop players both on and off the field.”
Joel Mishler, George Hofsommer and Ben Bailey founded the Chargers in 2008 and teams were based in Goshen and Fort Wayne. He will serve as a mentor during the transition.
“What he’s done with developing baseball players at all ages is something I wanted to keep going,” says Jurjevic of Mishler. “I want to prepare them for life.
“Baseball has taught me a lot more about life lessons than the game itself — things like commitment, teamwork and communication.”
Mishler, who has coached baseball for more than three decades, calls Jurjevic “a superstar person, physical therapist and baseball guy.”
Tryouts for the 2019-20 season were held for Aug. 1 and another session is scheduled Aug. 12 at World Baseball Academy, 1701 Freeman St., Fort Wayne.
Starting in November, there will be more than 120 hours of off-season training time at The Summit, 1025 Rudisill Blvd., Fort Wayne.
There will be a weight room, pull-down batting cage, PlyoCare ball and J-Band walls and plenty of space for skill, strength and agility development.
Like before, training with the Chargers is not limited to the organization’s own athletes.
“We want players to come train with us, even if they don’t play with our team, to give them the best opportunity to excel at the game,” says Jurjevic. “We want them to get bigger, stronger and faster.”
Contact Jurjevic or the Chargers by email at email@example.com or Twitter at @Strength_IC.
Evan Jurjevic has added owner and operator to his titles of instructor and strength trainer for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization. The Chargers are now solely-headquartered in Fort Wayne.
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.”
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 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.
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.