Tag Archives: World Series

At all his coaching stops, Ratcliffe emphasizes hard work, character

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Ratcliffe helped change the mindset in his return to the Trine University baseball coaching staff.

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.

“It was a huge gut punch,” says Ratcliffe. “We had eight seniors (Tony Bottone, Caleb Deiter, Jacob Douglass, Chase Hall, Shawn Ligocki, Nick Ricci, Thomas Rivet and Jake Roddy) that took to this year’s culture. No longer was 18 wins a good year.”

Trine was chosen to finish seventh in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason poll, but seemed to be a on a path that would put them in the MIAA’s top four and a playoff berth.

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.

The 17U Thunder is a showcase team for college exposure and plays in events put on by Pastime Tournaments, Crossroads Baseball Series and at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

Ratcliffe was head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School for two stints totaling 13 seasons (2000-06 and 2014-19).

He served as an assistant to DeKalb High head coach Chris Rhodes 2007-11 and was on the staff of Keith Potter at Fort Wayne’s Homestead High School 1997-99.

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.

Summers from 2002-14 for Ratcliffe meant coaching and evaluating young players for USA Baseball through Tournament of Stars and National Team Identification Series programs. Working in Joplin, Mo., and later Cary, N.C., he got to be around rising diamond stars as teenagers, including Mike Moustakas, Freddie Freeman, Mike Trout, Trevor Bauer, the Upton boys (Justin and B.J.) and Jarrod Parker.

“(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. 

Clinkscales was associate then senior associate athletic director at North Carolina State and is now AD at Indiana State University.

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.

“I was a kid who needed to play,” says Ratcliffe, who was released and allowed to sign at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where Matt Kinzer was the Mastodons head coach.

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).

Brett Ratcliffe returned to Trine University in Angola, Ind., for his second stint as assistant baseball coach. He has also been a head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School and an assistant at DeKalb High School in Watlerloo, Ind., and Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. He has helped coach and evaluate players for USA Baseball. This summer, he is the 17U head coach for the DeKalb County Thunder travel program.

From Bedford to Lexington, Elkins enjoys long broadcast career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Elkins grew up in Bedford, Ind., with a love for baseball and broadcasting.

He played Little League, Babe Ruth and high school ball in the Lawrence County town, usually roaming center field.

“The center fielder is trusted to go get the ball and catch it,” says Elkins, who graduated from Bedford High School (now part of Bedford North Lawrence) in 1970 but not before playing his last two seasons as a Stonecutter for future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Orval Huffman. “It was a fun position to play.”

Appearing often in the World Series or the on the TV Game of the Week, New York Yankees slugging center fielder Mickey Mantle became Elkins’ favorite player.

“I don’t think I had Mickey’s power,” says Elkins.

While his family took the Louisville Courier Journal and tuned into Louisville TV and radio stations, it was the radio that was Elkins’ connection to baseball.

Prior to that season, WBIW in Bedford became part of the St. Louis Cardinals radio network, meaning Elkins could listen to the on-air stylings of Harry Caray.

Growing up a Cardinals fan, 9-year-old Elkins attended his first big league game in 1961 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

He had heard Caray describe on the radio and now he got to see the gigantic scoreboard in left and the pavilion that extended from the right-field foul line to the center field bleachers with his own eyes. He also saw Curt Flood in center field, which was his place throughout the 1960’s.

Elkins was also a fan of Redbirds mainstays Bill White and Lou Brock.

“I liked the way (White) played first base,” says Elkins of the 2020 Cardinals Hall of Famer. “He was left-handed and hit a lot of home runs onto the (Sportsman’s Park) pavilion roof.

“You got used to hearing Lou Brock’s name in the lead-off spot.”

Elkins counts himself fortunate that he had the chance to watch diamond dynamos like Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. He was in the park the day Clemente’s line drive broke Bob Gibson’s leg (July 15, 1967).

Over the years, Elkins watched the Cardinals play in three different home ballparks — Sportsman’s Park, Busch Stadium I and Busch Stadium II and got to see the colorful word pictures by Caray and the more understated stylings of Jack Buck come alive.

Long before he became the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League — a job he did for nine seasons (2009-17), Elkins developed an interest in broadcasting.

When it came time to attend college, he went to the University of Kentucky and earned a telecommunications degree in 1974. With the exception of one year away, he has lived and worked around Lexington ever since.

His first job out of college was at WMIK in Middlesboro, Ky., where he did a little bit of everything. He was a disc jockey and a play-by-play man for high school football, basketball and baseball.

Elkins then became a TV sports reporter for WLEX, an NBC affiliate in Lexington. He had played his share of pick-up hoops back in Bedford and now got cover UK’s 1978 national championship men’s basketball team.

“They were expected to win from preseason on,” says Elkins of a group coached by Joe B. Hall and featuring Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, James Lee and Mike Phillips. “There was some pressure.”

The Fran Curci-coached Kentucky football squad went 10-1 in 1977. Defensive end Art Still was a first-round National Football League draft selection and played in the NFL from 1978-89. Still is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

The father of two adult sons (Adam in Lexington and Tim in Cincinnati) and a grandfather of one with another on the way, Elkins still enjoys UK football — from tailgating to game time.

Elkins spent a year as a TV news reporter at WJTV, a CBS station in Jackson, Miss., before returning to work in public relations at UK and then Transylvania University — also in Lexington.

After that, he was employed as a writer/editor/coordinator of a variety of marketing communications and public relations projects for WYNCOM, Inc., a marketing and seminar company associated with leading business speakers and authors.

Elkins then returned to UK as Director of Communications for the College of Engineering.

In November 2008, he was hired by the Legends as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations.

“It was as big jump at that age,” says Elkins. “But I never regretted it. I never wished that I was somewhere else.

“It was always a pleasure to do the game.”

Like those broadcasters he’s admired, Elkins was sure to let fans know about distinctive traits at the ballpark or if the wind was blowing in or out. He let you the colors of the uniforms and were fans might be congregating.

“Anything you can do to help the fan experience what you’re seeing,” says Elkins. “It’s an important part of the broadcast.”

Elkins called 140 games a year — home at Whitaker Bank Ballpark  (originally known as Applebee’s Park) and away — for the first six years with the Legends and then just home games the last three. He was solo in the booth on the road and occasionally had a color commentator at home. For some TV games, that role was filled by former big league pitcher Jeff Parrett, an Indianapolis native who played at UK.

At the time, the Sally League featured teams in Lakewood, N.J. and Savannah, Ga. — both bus rides of nine or more hours from Lexington.

Elkins recalls one steamy night in Savannah when the bus broke down.

“The air condition was off and it got really hot,” says Elkins.

Players stepped outside and brought mosquitos and fire ants back into the bus with them. The team arrived back in Lexington around noon.

“There were long overnight rides, but you get used to it,” says Elkins. “That’s part of the minor league lifestyle.

“One of the challenges in baseball is to play at top level every day. If you don’t take care of yourself in April and May, it’s going to be pretty tough in July and August. Seeing every game you get to see guys come along and battle through slumps.”

In his second season behind the mike for Lexington, Elkins got to call the exploits of Legends  22-year-old J.D. Martinez and 20-year-old Jose Altuve, both on a path toward the majors.

Before being called up to Double-A, Martinez hit .362 with 15 home runs and 64 runs batted in 88 games. Prior to a promotion to High-A, Altuve hit .308 with 11 homers, 45 RBIs with 39 stolen bases in 94 games.

Elkins was there to call Bryce Harper’s first professional home run, socked for the visiting Hagerstown Suns in 2011.

“It was a line drive over the wall in left-center field,” says Elkins. “Even as an 18-year-old, he was getting a lot of attention.”

Elkins also saw Anthony Rizzo and Mookie Betts on their way up. Rizzo played for Boston Red Sox affiliate Greenville in 2008-09 when he was 18 and 19. Betts was 20 and with the same franchise in 2013.

Stephen Strasburg had already debuted in the majors with the Washington Nationals when he made a rehabilitation appearance for Hagerstown.

Elkins never had what he would call a signature phrase or home run call.

“If you’re doing games every night you settle into your pattern,” says Elkins. “I hope I’m remembered for accurate or entertaining descriptions.”

For years, he has put his descriptive powers to use as a free lance sports broadcaster and recently finished his 14th season as a TV studio host for men’s basketball on UK Sports Network and he sometimes substitutes as play-by-play man for Wildcats baseball.

That’s where he gets to make word pictures at Kentucky Proud Park.

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Keith Elkins, a native of Bedford, Ind., was the baseball play-by-play voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends 2009-2017. His broadcast career stretches from the early 1970’s to the present. (Lexington Legends Photo)

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A long-time baseball fan, Bedord, Ind., native Keith Elkins got the chance to be the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League 2009-17. (Lexington Legends Photo)

 

Teachers Scott, Curtis make history come alive for students through baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Educators who value history and baseball have combined the two and stirred excitement about both subjects in their students.

Matt Scott is teaching a baseball history course this spring at Clinton Prairie Junior/Senior High School in Frankfort, Ind. He got the inspiration for the class a few years ago while attending a social studies technology conference in Lafayette. There he learned Shawn Curtis was teaching baseball history at North White Midde/High School in Monon, Ind.

Curtis has led a similar course at Connersville (Ind.) High School and now incorporates the diamond game into his social studies classes at Carmel (Ind.) High School.

“We go over time period and see how baseball is interwoven,” says Scott. “Some students may have a general knowledge, but don’t know history.

“We see what baseball has brought to the history of the United States.”

Using the Ken Burns’ “Baseball” series — now streaming free online by PBS during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has schools doing eLearning rather than in-person classes — Scott leads a semester-long project-based elective course.

Right now, his students are on “Inning 4 — A National Heirloom (1920-1930).”

Using MySimpleShow, pupils will create short videos about one of the World Series during the period when the “U.S. was coming out of World War I and getting back on its feet.”

Many have asked for 1927 with “Murderer’s Row” lineup that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and hot dogs started to be a staple at the ballpark.

“It will be interesting to see how different kids perceive (the Series),” says Scott. “Kids know Babe Ruth, but don’t know Christy Mathewson or Honus Wagner.

“It brings me joy to put a name with a face and how that person is important.”

Some of Scott’s students have used Book Creator to craft a flip book that comes from their research. Other tools include Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Publisher. Students have produced newscasts, podcasts and more.

Skype video conferencing allows for guest speakers. The Athletic senior writer C. Trent Rosecrans told about his baseball experiences, including those in Japan.

“It’s a big party over there,” says Scott of the atmosphere at a baseball game in the Land of the Rising Sun. “The way it is during the playoffs here is an average game in Japan.”

Attendees of Scott’s baseball history class have studied the contributions of people of color from Native Americans to Cubans to Latinos to the Negro Leagues.

Indianapolis native Oscar Charleston was one of the stars of the Negro Leagues, which celebrates its 100th year in 2020. Rube Foster helped establish the Negro National League in 1920 in Kansas City and that city is now the sight of the Negro League Baseball Museum.

The study goes from the Civil War to the civil rights movement.

“Some people don’t understand how far back it goes,” says Scott.

Zoom has been the way Scott — and so many other teachers including Curtis — have simultaneously communicated with students.

In Scott’s class, students have learned about common misconception that Civil War hero Abner Doubleday was the inventor of baseball.

Alexander Cartwright, who came up with the scorecard and help formalize a set of rules, is considered something of a modern-day inventor.

“But there’s no one person who should get the ‘Father of Baseball’ label,” says Scott.

A few years ago, Scott and his class took a field trip to see the Indianapolis Indians where they gained more knowledge about the heritage of that franchise plus baseball in Indiana’s capitol.

Scott is also head baseball coach at Clinton Prairie. With in-person classes ending because of COVID-19, the Indiana High School Athletic Association also put an end to spring sports.

“I’m bummed,” says Scott. “Not being able to play this year kind of breaks my heart.”

With three seniors and nine juniors back from a 2019 team that went 2019, the Gophers were looking to “do some damage” in 2020.

Curtis grew up in Wyoming, but rooted for the New York Yankees since his grandfather — Edwin Curtis — had been offered a chance to play in their system as well as that of the St. Louis Cardinals back in the 1930’s. When the expansion Colorado Rockies came along, Robert Curtis — Shawn’s father — purchased season tickets.

“I’m a huge baseball fan,” says Curtis. “(Baseball) is really the history of America.

“Baseball is the constant theme of things. I will find ways to tie baseball in.”

Curtis, who also used the Ken Burns documentary to frame some of his teaching, says that as cities grew, people needed recreation and baseball parks offered an escape.

“We see how baseball plays into World War II,” says Curtis. “We see how baseball plays into the Spanish Flu (1918 Pandemic).”

Over the years, Curtis has taken students to Anderson, Ind., to meet Carl Erskine, a Brooklyn Dodgers teammate of Jackie Robinson and a baseball ambassador.

Skype or in-person class guests have included civil rights leader John Lewis, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy and Harrison High School graduate and former minor leaguer Josh Loggins and many more.

“(Speakers) really bring history alive,” says Curtis. “Hearing from the people who made news in more impactful than a book.”

As a way of making history come alive for his students, Curtis launched The 1988 Project.

While teaching about that year, he contacted former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who was more than willing to talk electronically with his class.

“We planned for 40 minutes and he went on for probably two hours,” says Curtis. “The kids had a blast.”

The teacher’s aim was for his students to become historians and use 1988 as the focal point.

“We would take a year in the life of America and just pull it apart,” says Curtis. “It was transitional year between the old world and the new world.

“There were so many human interest. Tom Hanks made ‘Big.’ ‘Batman’ was filmed that year. There were magazine covers talking about the Internet coming.”

Students would critique movies and got to chat with online guests like pop star Debbie Gibson, actor Lou Diamond Phillips, The Cosby Show kid Malcom-Jamal Warner, Saturday Night Live cast member Joe Piscopo and “Miracle on Ice” hockey hero Mike Eruzione.

Of course, 1988 is also known for Kirk Gibson hobbling to the plate at Dodger Stadium and homering off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the World Series.

Independent of his teaching, Curtis has been working with the Negro League Baseball Museum — where Bob Kendrick is the president — and highlighting the history of black baseball in Indianapolis.

The best ballplayer of all-time?

“It’s definitely (Negro Leaguer) Josh Gibson,” says Curtis, who notes that old Bush Stadium in Indianapolis was site of a Negro League World Series game featuring Baseball Hall of Famer Gibson and the Homestead Grays in 1943.

Joe Posnanski, who wrote “The Soul of Baseball: A Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America,” is another former guest in a Curtis-taught class. Former Negro Leaguer player and Kansas City Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil was a central figure on the Ken Burns “Baseball” series.

This summer, the Curtis family is planning a visit to Fenway Park in Boston.

The Curtis family has also spent vacations going to historic baseball sites, including League Park in Cleveland, the former site of the Polo Grounds in New York and the boyhood home of Mickey Mantle in Oklahoma (Mantle is the favorite player of Robert Curtis) and many graves.

Curtis has produced short videos through 1945 for the World Series, Negro League World Series and All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1903 World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1945 World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1943 Negro League World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

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Carl Erskine came to visit the baseball history class taught by Shawn Curtis when Curtis was at North White High School in Monon, Ind.

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Author Joe Posnanski talks via Skype to a class taught by history teacher Shawn Curtis. Posnanski has written on many topics, including baseball.

CURTISGIBSONHistory teacher Shawn Curtis poses with the statue of his favorite player, Josh Gibson, at the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

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The Curtis family enjoys spending time at the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

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Among historical baseball sites visited by the Curtis family is League Park in Cleveland, Ohio.

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History teacher Shawn Curtis was able to get on the field at historic League Park in Cleveland, Ohio, during a family trip.

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Buck O’Neil is buried in Kansas City, Mo. The former Negro League player and manager’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Billy Martin is buried in Hawthorne, N.Y. The big league player and manager’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Babe Ruth is buried in Hawthorne, N.Y. The baseball legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Lou Gehrig is buried in Valhalla, N.Y. The baseball legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Mel Ott is buried in New Orleans. The Hall of Famer’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Mickey Mantle is buried in Dallas, Texas. The Hall of Famer’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Josh Gibson is buried in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Negro League legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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The Clinton Prairie High School baseball history class of Matt Scott visits via Skype with baseball writer C. Trent Rosecrans. Scott is also head baseball coach at the school.

 

Daniel brings 1980 baseball season back with lively “Phinally!”

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J. Daniel was just shy of 13 when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series for the first time in 1980.

Even though he was in southwestern Ohio, he followed the Phils from “Mike Schmidt to Ramon Aviles.”

Growing up when he did, Daniel appreciates baseball and pop culture in the 1980’s.

He is a big fan of Dan Epstein — author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s — and his style.

So much so that the Brownsburg, Ind., resident decided to write a book about baseball and more in the decade he knows so well.

“I’m a total stat geek,” says Daniel, who recalls devouring the box scores in the Cincinnati Enquirer during his youth. “Everything’s interesting to me.”

With so much material, it became books — plural.

Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t (McFarland & Company) was published in 2019.

It was 1980 that gave us ….

The primetime TV drama “Dallas” and the cliffhanger summer question of “Who Shot J.R.?”

Movie-goers saw comedy in the “The Blue Brothers” and “Airplane!” and horror in “The Shining” and “Friday The 13th.”

In one scene from “The Shining,” Shelley Duvall wields a Carl Yastrzemski model Louisville Slugger.

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was cast as the co-pilot in “Airplane!” If not for filming during the baseball season, it might have been Pete Rose.

A former weatherman — David Letterman — also read for a part but did not land one.

Roberto Duran topped “Sugar Ray” Leonard in a 15-round bout in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

Free agent Nolan Ryan became the first baseball player to sign for $1 million a season, signing with the Houston Astros.

Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was about to make his clients a lot of money.

The average minimum salary at the time was $20,000.

In the spring of ’80, they went on a mini-strike that wiped out 92 spring training games.

Elias Sports Bureau introduces Game-Winning RBI as a statistic in the spring. The first one credited in a game went to the Cincinnati Reds’ George Foster in the first inning of a 9-0 Opening Day romp against Phil Niekro and the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta would get off to a 1-9 start and owner Ted Turner (who launched CNN in 1980) benched Gary Matthews and sent Bob Horner to the minors.

It was also on Opening Day, that “Kiteman” hang-glided his way onto the field at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium.

Ken Landreaux of the Minnesota Twins enjoyed a 31-game hit streak — the longest in the American League since Dom DiMaggio’s 34 in 1949. A few seasons’s prior to Landreaux’s feat, Aqua Velva gave $1,000 per game to the hitter with the streak. But that changed in 1980. Things were worked out for Landreaux to give the money to charity.

San Diego Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith wasn’t looking for charity, but extra income. He took out a newspaper ad. He had many offers, including one from Joan Kroc, wife of Padres owner Ray Kroc, to assist her gardner. He eventually got supplemental pay from a company on Los Angeles.

There were many bench-clearing brawls and knockdown pitches in 1980.

Fergie Jenkins of the Texas Rangers joined Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Gaylord Perry as pitchers with 100 wins in both leagues.

Freddie Patek of the California Angels hit five home runs on the season and 41 for his career, but he popped three in one game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Left-hander Jerry Reuss did not begin the season in the starting rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but tossed a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants.

On his way to a 25-7 record and the AL Cy Young Award, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Steve Stone started the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium and worked three inning in just 24 pitches.

The game also featured the debut of the massive Diamond Vision video boards.

Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench passed Yogi Berra for the all-time lead in home runs by a catcher.

Houston fireballer J.R. Richard suffered a stroke.

The Chicago Cubs fired manager Preston Gomez and replaced him with Joey Amalfitano.

“Super Joe” Charbonneau became an icon for the Cleveland Indians.

A white-hot George Brett was hitting .401 on Aug. 17 and finished with a .390 average. The Kansas City Royals third baseman’s back side was likely warm during the end of the season and the postseason. He finally had to have surgery for hemorrhoids prior to Game 3 of the World Series.

Maverick owners Charlie Finley (Oakland Athletics) and Bill Veeck (Chicago White Sox) announced the sale of their teams.

The White Sox did the unusual when they used the left-handed Mike Squires as a catcher.

Montreal Expos right-hander Bill Gullickson set a rookie-record with 18 strikeouts against the Cubs.

Oakland’s Rick Langford tossed 28 complete games, including a modern-record 23 straight. The Athletics staff completed 94 starts.

Three of the four division races were not settled until the season’s final week. Kansas City rapped the AL West up early. The Philadelphia Phillies edged out Montreal in the NL East. Houston topped the Dodgers in the NL West. The Yankees bested Baltimore in the AL East.

Games 2-5 in the National League Championship Series went extra innings before the Phillies prevailed over the Astros.

New Jersey’s Army staff sergeant Craig Burns took a three-day pass and flew from Germany to see his Phils play the Royals in the first game of the World Series. With Schmidt and Tug McGraw among the heroes, Philly won its first title.

Daniel is shopping his next volume about the 1982 season. The working title is Suds Series: The Brewers, the Cardinals and the year the ’80s became the ‘80s. He is grateful to author and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis journalism professor Chris Lamb for his help and encouragement.

That era is also kept alive on social media by Daniel with his website (80sbaseball.com), Facebook (Facebook.com/80sbaseball) and Twitter (@80sbaseball) pages.

Daniel, a graduate of Talawanda High School in Oxford, Ohio, and Ohio University, is now employed in communication for IUPUI parking services. More than 20 years of his working life was spent in sports television, including four years as the producer/director of “Rays Magazine” on Fox Sports Florida.

J. and wife Sue were engaged at Clearwater’s Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, a place where he spent two seasons at official scorer for the Clearwater Phillies. The couple has two seasons — Brady (19) and Michael (16). Brady played travel baseball with the Indiana Outlaws and Indiana Hurricanes. Michael played at Brownsburg Little League.

Daniel is an assistant coach this summer for the 17U Indiana Expos with Kevin Barnhart (father of Cincinnati catcher Tucker Barnhart) as head coach and Tim Hampton as another assistant.

JDANIEL

J. Daniel, a Brownsburg, Ind., resident, has written Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t and has other books planned about the 1980s.

PHINALLY!IMAGE

Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t by J. Daniel chronicles not only what happened on the diamond pop culture. The author resides in Brownsburg, Ind. (McFarland & Sons Image)

 

Building a winning culture a priority for Ambrose, Heritage Christian Eagles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In more than two decades guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Ambrose has learned that the X’s and O’s are important.

But in the last decade of so, Ambrose has begun to place his emphasis on building and maintaining a winning culture. He wants opponents to notice the way his Eagles go about warming up, how they hustle on and off the field and how they treat each other.

“That’s a big part of my coaching now,” says Ambrose. “I want to have a culture that is strong and healthy.”

The 2019 season will mark Ambrose’s 23rd at Heritage Christian School on the northeast side Indianapolis. He spent his first two seasons as junior varsity coach. Before that, the Cleveland, Ohio, native spent three seasons at Heritage Christian in Milwaukee.

Ambrose’s Indy-based program has won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) while always being competitive in the Circle City Conference (which along includes 3A Brebeuf Jesuit, 2A Covenant Christian, 3A Guerin Catholic, 3A Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and 4A Roncalli).

Heritage Christian (a pre-kindergarten through senior school with a current enrollment about 460 in the top four grades) has appeared in the last three city championship games against Indianapolis Cathedral, winning once.

Ambrose, who also teaches social studies at the high school level, has used different key words over the years and currently centers his team philosophy around the acronym E-A-G-L-E-S.

E — Each other.

A — Attitude.

G — God first.

L — Little things are Big things.

E — Effort.

S — Service to others.

The idea is to be both competitive between the while lines while still embracing and displaying Christian values.

“If you don’t care about winning, it’s easy,” says Ambrose. “But can i hold onto to my Christian character traits in the midst of an intense competitive situation?”

Ambrose had this in twins David and Ryan Ledbetter, who helped Heritage Christian to a football state title in the fall of 2008 and baseball state championships in the spring of 2009 and 2010.

First acquainted with the Lebetter boys as junior high youth group members at church, Ambrose later got to coach them when they transferred from Hamilton Southeastern to Heritage Christian after their sophomore year.

The Eagles go on a Dominican Republic mission trip every other year and the Ledbetters went that first year and bonded with their new teammates.

“We were a good team without them,” says Ambrose. “We were a great team with them.

“They were the icing on the cake.”

Both twins went to Cedarville (Ohio) University — Ambrose’s alma mater — and then pitched in the Texas Rangers organization. Ryan pitched through 2016, David through 2018.

“They were high energy, which can drive a coach crazy,” says Ambrose of the Ledbetter twins. “But I’d much rather pull back on a thoroughbred than kick a mule.

“They added that winning edge. Their teammates loved them.”

Team building is also done through a World Series party (scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26) and a leadership retreat for juniors and seniors and other events.

Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Ambrose sees a young team with plenty of freshmen and sophomores in the mix. The Eagles will field two high school teams — varsity and junior varsity.

With Rob Barber going to part-time status, he is looking for another top varsity assistant to pair with Nick Hibner, who is also head JV coach. Gary Vaughan is a JV assistant. Bryan Baker heads up the middle school program (Grades 7-8) with help from Jonathan Baker and Travis Willman.

Ambrose does have a veteran returning in Cooper Williams. The senior right-hander has already verbally committed to Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In order to get him used to being a college closer, Ambrose is thinking of using Williams in short starting stints of about 35 to 50 pitches, where he can use all his arsenal in the first inning if he so chooses.

Circle City Conference games are played at Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series. CCC coaches have been talking about adding an end-of-season conference tournament.

With the help of director of athletics Michelle York, Ambrose builds a non-conference schedule that includes as many sectional opponents as possible (HC is grouped with Eastern Hancock, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central) plus neighboring rival Park Tudor as well as Faith Christian, Liberty Christian and Traders Point Christian.

Dan Ambrose graduated from Parma (Ohio) Senior High School in 1989, where he played for varsity coach Conrad Pokorski and JV coach Tim Tomc (who later took over the Redmen varsity).

Ambrose credits Tomc for teaching him the importance of an organized, focused practice.

“Baseball wasn’t just taking BP while people stood in the outfield,” says Ambrose. “(Tomc) was very structured.”

A full-squad Heritage Christian practice usually features multiple stations with players doing something different at each one.

“Every minute, every kid is doing something,” says Ambrose. “(Baseball coaches) gained a lot from football coaches. With so many kids in football, you have to be organized.”

During the fall, Ambrose had about eight or 10 players two hours two days a week to get in individual skill work while others were occupied with a fall sport. The same will be true in the winter, when the IHSAA practice window re-opens the first week of December.

“I encourage guys to play another sport,” says Ambrose.

Heritage Christian plays its game on-campus. A few years ago, a clubhouse was built near the baseball field and the net backstop — higher than the previous fence — was added last year.

“We lose a lot of foul balls in the neighborhood,” says Ambrose, who raises money for the upgrades through donations, the sale of hats and the Heritage Christian Youth Baseball League.

Started about a dozen years ago, the league for pre-K through fourth grade meets twice a week in the summer on the HC softball field. It is coach-pitch and score is not kept.

“My main goal is to allow kids to get a taste of baseball and realize how fun it can be,” says Ambrose. “If I’ve them them well and they keep playing, I hope they’ll come back to me in the seventh grade.”

Most seasons, the majority of Heritage Christian’s high school players take part in summer travel baseball.

“There’s a big difference when a kid plays the game all summer long,” says Ambrose. “His instincts are better.”

Dan and Amy Ambrose (a Brownsburg, Ind., native who went to Bethesda Christian) have three baseball-playing sons.

Jadon Ambrose is a freshman at Cedarville. Seth Ambrose is a 6-foot-6 sophomore first baseman. Will Ambrose is in the sixth grade.

Coaching for USAthletic (a travel organization started by Barber), Ambrose began coaching Jadon in the summers when he was in junior high and plans to do the same with Will’s 12U team next summer.

Ambrose’s rule of thumb with travel ball is one out-of-town tournament per season.

Heritage Christian graduate Joey Butz is also joined the college baseball world with Huntington (Ind.) University.

DANAMBROSE

Dan Ambrose is the head baseball coach at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. His Eagles have won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) during his tenure. (Heritage Christian School Photo)

 

Hootons bring ’special vibe’ to Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A husband-and-wife team with decades in baseball has been making an impact on a team and a city since making it their home in the spring and summer for the past six seasons.

Burt Hooton has been the pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps, a Low Class-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres since 2013.

In 2018, he is one a Fort Wayne coaching staff led by manager Anthony Contreras and also featuring hitting coach Jonathan Mathews and fielding coach Jhonny Carvajal.

Like she’s done throughout most of their marriage, wife Ginger Hooton has been there in-person to lend support to her husband and — through her personality — uplift those around her.

And not just because of her mouth-watering desserts like chocolate chip cookies, caramel brownies and Tres Leches cake.

“She’s a people person,” says Burt, who met Ginger in late 1970 when they both attended the University of Texas at Austin, got engaged in September 1972 and married Dec. 30, 1972. “She loves people. She likes pleasing people. She’s extremely friendly.”

TinCaps president Mike Nutter seconds that sentiment.

“She is such a motivator,” says Nutter of Ginger Hooton. “I’ve never heard a negative thing come out of her mouth.

“She has a unique perspective and outlook.”

The Hootons live right next to Parkview Field in the CityScape Flats. When Nutter and his crew were keeping their eye on the radar and dealing with rain delays Thursday, Aug. 16, Ginger sent him an encouraging text from her balcony.

She wanted him to know she had seen a rainbow over the field and wanted to see how he was doing.

“This is my 27th season in Minor League Baseball,” says Nutter. “Along the way, there are a handful of special people that come into your life.

“Ginger and Burt are certainly in that group. It’s a really special connection they have made. They want to work and make an impact in those young kids’ lives. They just have this special vibe.”

Both native Texans, Burt was a broadcast journalism major from the coastal city of Corpus Christi and art major Ginger hailed from the small farming community of Wharton.

The two met through a campus service organization — the Texas Cowboys. Their first date was at the group’s formal dance.

“I never knew he played baseball,” says Ginger. “I wasn’t a big baseball fan.”

She found it odd that so many people were shaking his hand. She learned years later that he had just thrown a no-hitter for the Longhorns.

Burt Hooton began his professional baseball career in 1971.

A standout at UT, the right-handed pitcher was selected in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft (second overall pick) by the Chicago Cubs and went on to pitch until 1985, winning 151 games and racking up over 2,600 innings.

On April 16, 1972, Burt tossed a no-hitter for the Cubs in his fourth MLB game and went on to be an all-star and the National League Championship Series MVP for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (who went on to win the World Series). He was known to possess a wicked knuckle curveball.

Even with all his accomplishments, Nutter marvels that Burt Hooton has no ego.

“He has a great gift of working with these young men,” says Nutter. “Anthony Contreras calls it a ‘feel’ for what will work for them.”

After taking the time to complete his college degree (he promised his mother he would finish it after leaving Texas at the end of his junior year), Burt launched into a coaching career in 1988 and has been a pitching coach at every level of organized professional baseball plus three collegiate seasons with the Texas Longhorns. He was the pitching coach for the big-league Houston Astros 2000-04.

Along the way, Ginger has been making friends in the stands and around the towns where Burt played or coached. When he was coaching in Round Rock, Houston and Oklahoma City, there were enough wives around for Ginger to lead a Bible study.

With younger players (the oldest players on the current Fort Wayne roster is 24 and there are nine teenagers), there is no opportunity with player wives.

“I just really prayed about it and God told me to feed my sheep so I just feed them,” says Ginger. “It’s mostly sweets.”

Pre- and post-game meals are provided by clubhouse manager Sam “Swirley” Lewis.

And it’s not just the players and and coaching staff that have sampled Ginger’s baked goods. Most everyone who works at Parkview Field — front office personnel, ushers, parking lot attendants — has gotten a taste.

The downtown stadium doubles as a public space when a game is not in progress. Many people walk around the perimeter of the field for exercise. Ginger walks there and greets those she encounters along the way.

When Burt and Ginger’s children — Gene and Layne — were very young, they would come to spring training with their parents and be tutored by their mother. As they grew older, they would visit spring training during spring break and then come to whatever baseball city their father called home.

“She always saw to it that she and the kids were wherever I was,” says Burt. “Now, it’s easy. We don’t have any kids (at home). I certainly don’t want to leave her home by herself (in San Antonio).

“I want her here. She wants to be here. We both enjoy it. It’s almost like a five-month vacation.”

This season has seen a steady stream of visits from family and friends. Sometimes when Burt is away, Ginger will go to help daughter Layne with her San Antonio-based store.

“I’ve been entertaining a lot,” says Ginger. “This season has flown by.

“I don’t know what I do, but I stay busy.”

Before moving into CityScape Flats, the Hootons lived next to Parkview Field at The Harrison. For the first few years in Fort Wayne, they resided in places across the city — far enough away that Ginger would sit in the one car they brought from Texas to pick up Burt after games.

Now, he can just walk home.

“I can get stuff done at home,” says Ginger.

The Hootons have gotten to know Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, checking out sites, museums and restaurants.

“Fort Wayne is a great town,” says Burt, the keynote speaker at the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association banquet in May. “The people we have met here have been great.”

Ginger and Burt also drive together on some of the TinCaps’ closer road trips.

“We enjoy traveling around together and being together,” says Burt. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The (Midwest) League is small enough that we can hop in the car and go places like Lansing, Grand Rapids, Dayton, South Bend and Midland, Mich.

“We’re having fun together.”

At 68, Burt takes his coaching career one season at a time.

“As long as I’m still healthy and enjoy it, somebody wants me and she’s OK with it,” says Burt. “When they ask me, I say I’ll ask Ginger and see what she says, She usually says whatever you want to do is fine with me.

“When she says ‘no’ that’ll probably be the end of it.”

Ginger sees the satisfaction her husband gets by helping to launch the pro careers of young pitchers.

“I think his greatest joy is getting to move these young kids up,” says Ginger. “It’s like our own children getting to make it.”

The past few weeks, the Hootons have been watching the Padres on TV and seeing players who once played in Fort Wayne.

“It’s so fun to get to see them experience that,” says Ginger.

And this husband and wife are experiencing so much together.


BURTGINGERHOOTON

Burt (left) and Ginger Hooton share a moment outside Parkview Field, where Burt is in his sixth season as pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. The couple was married Dec. 30, 1972. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Time away from baseball coaching changes Adams Central’s Neuenschwander

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Neuenschwander pushed the pause button on his high school baseball coaching career.

While away from the diamond, he gained a different perspective and came back refreshed with a changed outlook.

Neuenschwander, who has also a football assistant for 22 years, led the Adams Central Flying Jets baseball program from 1991-98 then took 1999 through 2002 off. During that time, he read a book by Tony Dungy — “Quiet Strength.”

“It was very positive for me and my coaching,” says Neuenschwander, who altered his style when he returned to the dugout at the school in Monroe, Ind., in 2003. “I’ve learned to enjoy it more and more. I don’t take the winning and losing as personal as I used to. I used to be a screamer and yeller. But there’s other ways of doing this. I have more of a relationship with my players. It doesn’t mean I can’t push them when they’e not putting out.”

Neuenschwander, who has been teaching for 27 years, has come to really appreciate the relationships with current players and those that have graduated and gone on to make their way in the world as husbands and fathers.

“We can fellowship,” says Neuenschwander. “I know that each player is different. Each player’s home life is different. Their expectations are different.”

If they are on the team long enough, youth athletes are also bound to change during their careers.

Take the case of Dalton Combs (Class of 2013), who is now an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization after a standout career at Huntington University.

“(Combs) was part of one of most successful senior classes here,” says Neuenschander of a 2013 AC club that won 26 games and lost to Northfield in the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate. “He started as freshman. He matured physically, mentally and athletically in four years.”

Five of AC’s eight sectional titles have come on Neuenschwander’s watch — the latest in 2016.

The coach has also come to embrace that no two teams are the same.

“The beauty of coaching high school baseball, each year is a new puzzle and it’s my job to put that puzzle together,” says Neuenschwander. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Neuenschwander is grateful that he got to play baseball for two Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers — Dean Stahly at South Adams High School and Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University). Dave graduated high school in 1983 and college in 1987.

“He was there a long time,” says Neuenschwander of former Starfires coach Stahly. “He loved the game of baseball. He taught me how to throw a curveball and still use his old-fashioned drills when I want to teach the curve.”

Neuenschwander was a junior on the 1982 South Adams team that lost to Roncalli in the semifinals of the single-class State Finals. Mike Dull was on that ’82 team and went on to play at the University of South Alabama where he was a roommate of Luis Gonzalez, the man who drove in the winning run in the 2001 World Series.

Many lessons were learned in four seasons the Frame-led Foresters.

“He taught us about discipline,” says Neuenschwander. “Becoming a teacher in general, I was given the fundamentals. There was also integrity. Mike’s a man of faith and his integrity was well taught to us.

“He’s a good friend.”

Tom Roy, founder Unlimited Potential Inc., and is now an assistant coach and chaplain at Grace College was a Frame assistant when Neuenschwander’s time at Huntington.

Neuenschwander has sent Combs and others to play for Frame and currently has a couple players on college rosters — Conner Lengerich at Spring Arbor University and Andrew Hammond at Indiana Tech.

“At a small school (enrollment under 400), we have to be really proactive in letting schools know if our kids are interested,” says Neuenschwander. “I see it as a major part of my job. It’s something I want to do. If a student-athlete wants to go to college, I will assist in any way I can. I will show them how to get on-line and do things.”

AC players attend showcases in order to be seen by college coaches. Younger players in the area play travel baseball for the Bluffton Bandits while others have gone to the Summit City Sluggers and Berne Bears among others.

The three-sport athlete is alive and well at Adams Central.

“We encourage them to do everything,” says Neuenschwander. “One of the biggest challenge high school baseball players have is that they’ve been on the go all year and the seniors getting ready to graduate and ready for school to end. Some kids need to get jobs to pay for college so we have to be flexible with practices during the state tournament.”

Being married to an educator has also helped Neuenschwander. Wife Christy teaches third grade at Salamonie School in Huntington County.

“She is definitely a coach’s wife,” says Dave. “She’s very supportive in what I do. She is very level-headed. We weigh out issues and work through them.”

The couple have a married daughter (Whitney teaches at Speedway) and son in eighth grade (Nick).

The Jets are members of the Allen County Athletic Conference (along with Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

“It’s pretty competitive,” says Neuenschwander of the ACAC. “Schools are fairly close to each other. We know the players and coaches very well.”

Neuenschwander was a teammate of current Jay County head baseball coach Lea Selvey back in the early 1980’s with the Portland Rockets.

Winter workouts are starting with about 10 players participating and the others in a winter sport. Neuenschwander’s assistants are Josh Foster (varsity) and Joel Reinhard (junior varsity). Fall open fields were run by Reinhard with Neuenschwander coaching football. Other volunteers are expected to help the Jets on the diamond in the spring.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It didn’t bother me at all,” says Neuenschwander. “It really makes the game a little more strategic in a sense.”

He and his assistants had to really plan when they would use a pitcher and for how long.

“You need to develop more pitchers — not just throwers,” says Neuenschwander. “At the JV level, it’s really positive. There are more opportunities for players to play.”

JV limits are tighter than varsity and there has been discussions about making it the same as varsity.

We’re still here to protect you because you are a child,” says Neuenschwander. “Some summer coaches may not protect them as much as they should so they put it in the hands of the educators. It became the coach’s responsibility to document (pitcher use). I become liable if he didn’t have the proper rest.”

Dave is the youngest of six children born to Delmar and Dessi Neuenschwander. His father was a butcher. Berne Locker Meats has been in the family for about 70 years.

Brothers Don and Doug also played at Huntington. Doug went on to pitch at Triple-A in the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates systems. The three girls are Dana, Danita Jo and Dian. Doug and Dana are both in the Huntington University Athletics Hall of Fame.

ADAMSCENTRALJETS

DAVENEUENSCHWANDER

Dave Neuenschwander is the long-time baseball coach at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind.

 

Return to college swing helps Mets catcher Plawecki

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Six seasons into his professional baseball career, Kevin Plawecki went back to his college days and it helped him finish strong at the plate in 2017.

For the year, the former Purdue University catcher hit .328 in 64 games at Triple-A Las Vegas and .260 in 37 games (.348 in his last 10 appearances) with the big-league New York Mets.

Plawecki wore a Boilermakers uniform for three seasons (2010-12) and credits assistant coach Jeff Duncan (now head coach at Kent State University) for guiding his offensive game.

“(Duncan) got my swing where it needed to be in college,” says Plawecki, a right-hander. “He’s one of the best hitting coaches I’ve ever worked with. “He’s very relatable and very good at explaining what he believes in. He had been hitting to the middle of the field and the right side. He had me staying under my legs (with a wide stance). I drifted quite a bit in college and got away with it (even in the minors) because my hands worked so well.

“In the majors, I got exposed. Over the years, my stance got narrow and my hands were moving a lot.”

So with the help of Mets hitting coach Kevin Long (who moved on after the 2017 season), Plawecki studied films of his Purdue at-bats.

He again spread out his stance and his swing became shorter and more compact.

“It really allowed me to use my whole body, especially my legs,” says Plawecki, who turns 27 Feb. 26. “I had been getting more and more upright and it was causing more movement in my head, legs and hands. I was trying to be too perfect.”

It’s that swing he polished at Purdue that helped the 2009 Westfield High School graduate have a super 2012 campaign. That spring, he hit .359 with 47 runs batted in was second team All-America by Baseball America, Perfect Game USA and College Baseball Insider, finished as a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher, semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy and became the Boilers’ first Big Ten Conference Player of the Year. He was also chosen as Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten tournament and Purdue’s Male Athlete of the Year.

Plawecki struck out 29 times in 638 career at-bats with the Boilers.

The Mets made Plawecki a compensation pick in the first round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He was the third-highest Purdue player selected in program history. Only right-handed pitcher and Brebeuf Jesuit graduate Sherard Clinkscales (31st in 1992) and outfielder and Anderson Madison Heights graduate Jermaine Allensworth (34th in 1993) were picked earlier.

Plawecki was also Purdue’s highest draftee since 6-foot-6 right-hander and Mishawaka High School graduate Chadd Blasko was picked 36th overall in 2002.

The catcher made his MLB debut on April 21, 2015. He split time between the Mets and Triple-A in 2015, 2016 and 2017, playing a total of 158 games in the big leagues. He was on the Mets postseason roster for the National League Division Series, National League Championship Series and World Series, but did not see any game action.

In 2011 at Purdue, Plawecki hit .341 and drove in 39. He started 55 games — 45 at catcher, six at designated hitter and four at first base. The first-team all-Big Ten selection was a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist. That summer, played for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod League

His first collegiate season (2010), Plawecki led the the Boilers in batting average (.343) and established a Purdue freshman record for RBIs (53). He played 54 games and started 52 times, primarily at catcher. He was named a Freshman All-American by both Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. His summer team was the Richmond (Ind.) RiverRats of the Prospect League.

Doug Schreiber was head coach at Purdue during Plawecki’s stay in West Lafayette.

“He was a hard-nosed guy,” says Plawecki of Schreiber (now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “He didn’t take a whole lot of crap from anybody. People respected him. He was always at the morning workouts with us. That goes a long way. He may not have been lifting, but he was up there grinding with us. He fought for us. He had our backs. That’s why we were so successful at Purdue.”

Plawecki grew up a Bolier fan. Several family members, including father Jeff (who was a member of the golf team), mother Lynne and brother Aaron, are Purdue graduates. Aaron is scheduled to complete graduate school at Northwestern University in December.

During Kevin’s freshmen year at Purdue, he met soccer player Tayler Francel and they married in 2015. The Plaweckis are spending their off-season in Arizona, where they are closer to her family in San Diego. He lifts weights four days a week and plans to begin throwing and hitting again in early January before heading to spring training with the Mets in Florida.

Plawecki, who was born in Hinsdale, Ill., and moved to central Indiana about the time he was beginning school, played travel baseball for the Westfield Indians in his early years then the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Dirt Bags before heading to Purdue.

He played many positions growing up, but settled in at catcher as a Westfield sophomore and got pointers from former Purdue backstop Mike Hansen, who is now on the Shamrocks coaching staff led by Ryan Bunnell.

“He helped me with drill work and set the foundation,” says Plawecki, who was part of Westfield’s IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up team in 2009. He was a two-time all-Indy North, all-Hoosiers Crossroads Conference and all-Hamilton County selection and earned four varsity letters in baseball at Westfield and was a team captain as a junior and senior. “I got bored everywhere else. I was not being very good anywhere else and a pretty good catcher. I like the involvement and challenge it brings.”

He gives many propers to his high school head coach.

“Burnell taught me ab out accountability,” says Plawecki. “I was just a young kid at the time, trying to find my way and stay out of trouble. That’s where my work ethic started. It started with those early-morning workouts. We were working hard and letting the results take care of themselves. I learned a lot from him — on and off the field.”

Now, Plawecki not only shares the field but catches some of the best pitchers in baseball. There’s Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo in the starting mix.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Plawecki of receiving the collection of aces. “It makes my job a lot easier. It also brings high expectations. Last year, we couldn’t stay healthy.”

Why all the injuries?

“It’s pretty crazy,” says Plawecki. I’ve never seen anything like it. If we could pin-point it as players or as trainers, we would have done it. Good thing is it’s just one year. We’ll learn from last year and be ready to go.”

Travis d’Arnaud, who played 112 games and hit .244 for the Mets in 2017, is ahead of Plawecki for the top spot on the The off-season MLB.com depth chart.

Can Plawecki win the starting job?

“I just try to go out and play and have fun,” says Plawecki. “I want to take advantage of the opportunity that given day. Leave that decision up to (the Mets).”

Mickey Calloway, who was pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians in 2017, is now the Mets manager. He has been quoted as saying he is considering letting starters go through the order twice before going to the bullpen. Some say this approach could tax the bullpen.

“He’s in-tune with pitching and what it takes to stay healthy,” says Plawecki. “If he thinks that’s the route to stay healthy then that’s what we’ll do. I don’t know if there is a perfect pitch count or innings limit. Everyone’s body is different.

“The success he had in Cleveland with those pitchers speaks volumes.”

Sabermetrics and analytics have become a big part of baseball. Data is used to decide where teams are going to position their defense against certain hitters.

“We don’t look at (the analytics) as much,” says Plawecki. “We’ve got a lot on our plates learning the weaknesses of the other players.”

Plawecki says the coaches are the ones who move the defenders. As a catcher, he calls the signals in stealing situations. Bunt coverages are called by the third baseman.

KEVINPLAWECKIMETS

Kevin Plawecki, a 2009 Westfield High School graduate and former Purdue University standout, is a catcher with the New York Mets. (New York Mets Photo)

 

Schmack giving back to baseball at Valpo U.

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Schmack enjoyed a long career as a baseball player.

He excelled at Rolling Meadows (Ill.) High School and Northern Illinois University. A right-hander pitcher, he persevered for years in the minors and made 11 appearances for the 2003 Detroit Tigers (1-0, 3.46 earned run average).

When his playing days were over, he wanted to give back to the game. He is doing that in his 11th season of coaching at NCAA Division I Valparaiso University (the first seven as pitching coach and the past four as head coach).

Of all the baseball experiences Schmack has enjoyed in his 43 years, he cherishes most his college days and he feels most comfortable in that setting.

“I love this age group,” says Schmack. “For the most point, guys want to be here. Sometimes in high school, they play because they’re the best athlete or because their parents make them or because it’s a small school.

“They’re impressionable and many are away from home for the first time. We get to teach life lessons … (College baseball is) a huge commitment and it’s not for everybody.”

Schmack has made effort, conviction and unity the foundation of the Crusaders program.

“For us, it starts with hard work,” says Schmack, who regularly has VU players doing early-morning running. “Hard work. That’s how you succeed at life in general. We also have confidence, which leads to success.

“We want to outsmart, outwork and outplay (opponents).”

NCAA rules limit the hours players can practice or compete, depending on the time of the school year. But Schmack wants maximum effort when they are doing baseball activities.

There are 32 players on the 2017 roster and Schmack wants them all working together.

“We do a lot of team things here,” says Schmack. “Being good teammates is one of the first things we stress.”

Among other things, being a good teammate means checking the negativity at the locker room door.

As a reminder, there’s a sign in the clubhouse next to Emory G. Bauer Field: No Energy Vampires Allowed.

“Ultimately, we want guys to be positive,” says Schmack. “We want to be positive toward them. With sports, there’s failure involved.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds. A kid has three balls roll through his legs and it’s hard to be positive about that. We try to say ‘keep your head up.’ We’re all fragile and we all make mistakes.”

Schmack knows negativity can spread quickly throughout a team.

“I’ve been on many, many teams in my life,” says Schmack. “You have to eradicate it. You have to get rid of it, even if it’s a good player. You have to have guys who are positive.”

With such a large roster, not every player is going to be a regular. Bench players must remain upbeat and ready.

“They have to be good teammates because they can take a team down,” says Schmack. “We’ve had situations where we have a walk-on pitching or batting in the biggest game of the year. The guys that prepare themselves for a possible situation are the ones that are going to do well.”

Schmack notes that readiness got Mike Montgomery his first career save while helping the Chicago Cubs win Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

“He probably never thought that would happen,” says Schmack.  “But he stayed ready and the opportunity came because of the situation. That’s  a great example that you always have to be ready.”

When recruiting athletes to the private school in northwest Indiana, the staff looks wherever there’s talent and there are many Californians on the current roster.

Recent successes (Valpo won Horizon League titles in 2012 and 2013 and won a school-record 25 games in 2014) have attracted more local players.

But no matter where they come from, Schmack said the recruiting process is about the VU staff and high school and summer coaches shooting straight with one another.

“We’ll ask is he a competitor? Is he a hard worker?,” says Schmack. “You get, ‘He’s the first one there and the last one to leave.’

“I don’t really know you. Are you just trying to help that kid out or is he really one of those kids? Every coach wants their players to go on to play college baseball. But sometimes maybe they aren’t as honest as they should be.

“Maybe he’s the last one there and the first one to leave. Is he going to say that about the kid? He doesn’t want to bury him.”

Schmack, whose assistants include Ben Wolgamot, Nic Mishler, Kory Winter and Ryan Fritze, wants to get players that are a good fit and it’s hard for someone who has never seen Valpo play and does not know the makeup of the roster to know that.

The same dynamic is in place when pro scouts come to Schmack to ask about his players.

“If I tell them he’s throwing 95 mph and he’s a great kid and they come out to watch him and he’s throwing 87 and has bad body language, they’re not going to come around anymore because we’re overselling them,” says Schmack. “It’s just about being honest with people and forming relationships and knowing who you can trust.”

What about body language?

“It shows a lot about a kid if he doesn’t get rattled very easily,” says Schmack. “He understands baseball is a game of failure. How does he handle it? Does he throw his palms up?

“I’m a big ‘palms up’ guy. It shows blame to me. I always talk about being on an even keel. Baseball is a very humbling sport. You play a lot of games. You can hit three home runs one game and strike out four times the next game. If you’re always the guy who’s happy when you’re doing well and you’re throwing things when you’re bad, guys don’t like to hang around you.

“I want to walk up to a game and not know if the kid is throwing a shutout or he’s given up 10 runs. I won’t be able to tell by his body language.”

Schmack learned not to make a situation bigger while playing for Joe “Spanky” McFarland at NIU, mechanics, reading swing and what to throw in certain situations from first pro pitching coach, Sean Snedeker, and countless little nuggets from all the other coaches and managers to cross his path.

He’s also learned that players must learn to coach themselves.

“We go one-on-one with a player and see what makes him tick,” says Schmack. “Each guy has his own tweak. One guy might lunge. Another might stay back too much. Whatever it is, I have to be able to identify (the issue) and pass it on. Hopefully, he’ll eventually be able to identify it on his own.

“At some point you have to be your own coach and make the adjustment. It’s a game of adjustments. If you can’t make them, you’re out of it. If you can, you have a chance.”

BRIANSCHMACK

Brian Schmack is in his fourth season as head baseball coach at Valparaiso University after seven seasons as the Crusaders pitching coach.

HSE, Henson looking to play the best to prepare for the postseason

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Take a look at the 2017 Hamilton Southeastern High School baseball schedule.

With 18 games in the always ultra-competitive Hoosier Crossroads Conference (three-game series vs. Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville), non-conference games against perennial powers like Brebeuf, Carmel and Roncalli and out-of-state encounters against Louisville (Ky.) Ballard, Louisville (Ky.) Trinity and Metamora Township (Ill.), there are no breathers for the Royals.

And that’s the way fifth-year head coach Scott Henson and the HSE diamond community want it. A stacked regular season can only help come postseason.

“(Our players) truly believe they’re more prepared for the sectional than any other team in the state,” says Henson. “You have to be prepared or else you’re going to be taking an early exit.”

As is Henson’s habit, he is taking his Fishers-based team for an early-season test when the Royals play April 6-8 in the Super Prep Series in the Louisville area (HSE was there two years ago and was rained out at Cincinnati Moeller in 2016 when both teams were atop their respective state polls).

Ballard features All-American outfielder/right-hander pitcher Jordon Adell who may be drafted this spring before ever stepping on the field for the University of Louisville. HSE junior left-hander Carter Lohman has committed to U of L.

“This gives us a measuring stick early in the season,” says Henson. “We also get to stay in a hotel and have some team bonding.”

Henson says he wishes the IHSAA would back off its travel rules which limit teams from going more than 300 miles from the border or playing any teams outside that radius.

“We’ve talked to the Louisville organizers,” says Henson. “We can’t play certain teams.”

This spring will mark the third season of a conference format that more closely reflects a college-like schedule and many HSE players do have aspirations of playing college baseball.

“That three-game series is pushing us to the next level,” says Henson, noting that the HCC has been represented in the Class 4A IHSAA State Finals two of the last three seasons (Noblesville winning in 2014 and Zionsville finishing as runner-up in 2016). “We think we’re the best baseball conference in the state.”

While they want to beat each other between the lines, the coaches in the HCC are also friendly and are known to get together for gatherings or seek each other out at clinics.

Henson says the three-game series forces teams to develop pitching (there were 17 NCAA Division I pitchers in the conference in 2016) and really think about strategy.

“You’re getting a better sense who is the best overall team,” says Henson. “That’s the nature of baseball. You’ve got to do it more than just one night. That’s why the World Series is seven games. They want to see who the best team is over time.”

Entering his 15th season as a high school baseball coach, Henson spent two seasons as head JV coach at HSE before taking over the top spot. Before that, he was the hitting coach for four years at Northern Nash High School in Rocky Mount, N.C., after leaving coaching and going into the business world.

Henson was an assistant for four seasons (1995-98) at his alma mater, Pendleton Heights, where he worked for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt.

“Coach Stoudt had a pretty big influence on my life,” says Henson, who played baseball and football for the man at Pendleton and graduated in 1991 before going on to play college baseball at the University of Indianapolis and IUPUI and one season of pro ball with the independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters. “It seems he was always in my ear.”

Henson just went through cuts at HSE and usually gets a call every year from Stoudt telling him how this time of the year is both the greatest and the worst.

“I’ve got to tell these kids they don’t get to come and play ball anymore,” says Henson. “It’s tough sometimes.”

At a school of 3,200 students, Henson had 97 try out for 50 spots his first season. Since then, he’s had to cut 25 to 30 players each spring.

“I start preparing the guys for this back in October or November,” says Henson. “I tell them, I’d like to keep all of you. You have a passion for the game.’”

The reality is there are only so many spots.

Henson has seen some players cut once or twice and come back and make the squad.

Through it all, there’s a lesson.

“You are going to go through life with things that are tough,” says Henson. “If you get knocked down, you’ve got to get back up and make the best of situations. You rely on your teammates and buddies to put you in a good spot.”

The emphasis at HSE is daily improvement. A coaching staff that includes Kory Seitz, Ken Seitz, Curry Harden, Jeff Mendenhall, Tyler Underwood, Seth Story, Jake Straub, Seth Paladin and Matt Nash reinforces that mantra with varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

“We want to get better everyday,” says Henson. “Work to be your best when you need to be your best.”

The Royals have won 14 sectionals and all of them are represented on the current staff. In their tenures as HSE head coach, IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Seitz claimed nine sectionals, Harden took three and Henson has two (2013, 2015).

Henson has a few other ideas about how to make Indiana high school baseball better.

“I’d love to see us have access to the kids a little more,” says Henson. “Right now, there are periods when we can only work with two kids at a time per coach. There’s a reason travel baseball is becoming more and more important. (Those coaches) have unlimited access.

“I understand the idea behind the rule, but it’s antiquated. We’re missing opportunities.

Henson says the experience could be a little bit better.

“Seeding the tournament would go a long ways,” says Henson. “And we get too caught up in making things geographically feasible.”

If getting the best competition means traveling a few hours, so be it. That’s what it was like in North Carolina, where they do not have an all-comers postseason like Indiana and play a best-of-three championship series.

It’s all about making baseball better.

SCOTTHENSON

Scott Henson is entering his fifth season as head baseball coach at Hamilton Southeastern High School in 2017.