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Carlton, Shelbyville Golden Bears embracing technology, sabermetrics

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shelbyville (Ind.) High School baseball has made a commitment to technology.

Through the generosity of parents, donors and the SHS athletic department, the Golden Bears have provided head coach Royce Carlton, his staff and team with several modern tools.

Among those are a 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system, Rapsodo Hitting 2.0, Rapsodo Pitching 2.0, Driveline EDGE, Driveline TRAQ and velocity sensors for the weight room. On the wish list is a Sony slow-motion camera.

But all the gadgets are no good if the data they provide can’t be understood by coaches and players or used is effective ways.

With that in mind, Carlton recruited smart students to be part of the Shelbyville Sabermetrics department. So far there’s juniors Christian DeRolf and Austin Perry and senior Eric Santiago.

“We wanted to squeeze as much baseball out of our players as we possibly could,” says Carlton, a graduate of Morristown Junior/High School (2010) and the University of Indianapolis (2014) who is entering his third season at Shelbyville in 2020. “I saw a couple of college Twitter accounts where they had an analytics team or sabermetrics department.

“I’ve never heard of this done at the high school level so let’s give it a shot.”

The sabermetrics team, which was formed in September, is comprised of students near the top of their class.

“They’re real interested in the game of baseball,” says Carlton. “They may not have the ability to play but they still love the sport. This gives them a chance to help out and be part of the team. They’re just as important as my players as far as I’m concerned.”

DeRolf expresses his excitement about mining the data for information that can help his schoolmates.

“There’s such an opportunity to quantify absolutely everything,” says DeRolf, who sees himself going to college for information systems/computer science and continuing to apply his knowledge to baseball. “It’s not easy to change somebody’s behavior and see that there might be somebody better than what they’re doing.

“But there’s nothing wrong with being able to tweak things. Once they see how this helps, they tend to trust you. The trust is the hardest part to build.”

Santiago was invited to join the sabermetrics team by DeRolf. Before he goes to college to pursue a finance degree, Santiago will crunch the numbers to help the baseball team.

As the Golden Bears work out this winter, they will all be figuring out the best practices.

“It’s a learning process,” says Santiago. “Nobody’s an expert. Everybody is going to learn together.

“We’ll focus on basics and fix small things so we can go onto bigger things.”

Driveline EDGE helps with pitch design. Driveline TRAQ allows for individualized practice plans for each player (who will bring iPads to practice during the off-season to focus on their specific needs). Sensors on bar bells check to see that players are strong and moving in an explosive way.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” says Carlton. “One reason we got the 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system is slow-motion video can lie. You have clothes on. It hides things. To really be able to see the kinematic sequence for the right order of each body part firing, we had to get the sensors. I didn’t want to teach my guys something I saw on video that might actually be wrong.”

Prior to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (which began Dec. 9), Carlton tested the system by taking cuts himself.

“My video looked good, but when I went to the sensors my chest was actually firing before my pelvis,” says Carlton. “So I worked on changing that, where my pelvis would fire before my chest. I added 5 mph on to my bat speed just within a 20-minute session.”

Carlton, who is also the head strength and conditioning coach at Shelbyville, says there is a dynamic in athletics of “feel vs. real” and technology can help with that.

“Now, we can match the real with the feel instead of just guessing,” says Carlton. “A lot of it has been guessing up to this point.

“We can really bridge that gap.”

There’s also a learning curve for coaches.

“Technology’s just blowing up in baseball. Coaches don’t understand how to interpret. They get all these numbers. But what good do the numbers do unless you actually know how to transfer it to high school kids’ minds?

“That can be a chore.”

Carlton says the Golden Bears will be filming every single hitting, pitching and fielding rep through the iPads for analyzation.

“It’s going to be kind of weird having every single player with technology,” says Carlton “It kind of hurts me inside. I’ve still got a little bit of old school in me.

“But the game’s changing.”

Carlton has visited Indiana University to see how the Hoosiers use technology to help their players and recently completed his Driveline pitch design certification. He equates that experience to drinking out of a fire hose.

The program consolidates a great deal of information and involves physics, spin, horizontal and vertical break and much more.

Shelbyville’s plans call for using a pitching report which includes a pitcher’s strengths. Those with high spin rates will generally pitch higher in the strike zone than those with lower spin rates.

“We’re going to get super in-depth,” says Carlton.

Last spring, Shelbyville employed Major League Baseball-style defensive shifts.

“Most of the people on my coaching staff thought I was crazy,” says Carlton. “Most of the teams we played thought I was crazy. But it 100 percent worked for us. Most high school hitters kind of struggle to hit the outside pitches and we’d groove them pitch inside and they’d pull it right into our shift.

“I don’t have any flame throwers. No one who throws over 85 (mph). We had to be really crafty, do the shifts and pitch locations really worked.

“Some didn’t like it, but you’ve got to win.”

Maverick Alexander, one of Carlton’s assistant coaches, does a lot of digging in places like GameChanger and uses historical data against an opponent to put together spray charts to be employed in shifting game plans.

“He puts together a probability packet for us that we go off from batter to batter,” says Carlton, who also counts Mike Jackson, Chase McColley, Jacob Shively and Nate Stonebraker among his assistants. “I think we only got burnt twice all season by shifting and we probably shifted at least 50 percent of the time.

“(My assistants) are all smart. They see what the pro level is doing. We’re at the high school level, but there are still applications we can take. The pros wouldn’t do it if it didn’t win games for them. It’s a money game up there.”

Alexander’s day job is making maps for the State of Indiana. He uses his skills with Excel, Word and data analysis gathered in 2018 and 2019 to produce reports on Shelbyville opponents.

“We hope to be here a long time. It can be a long-term plan,” says Alexander. “If we see a player as a freshman, by the time they are juniors or seniors we’ll be able to see those trends more clearly.”

If possible, players go over Alexander’s pamphlet in practice the day before a game to learn about opponent tendencies and then can go to it during the contest.

“It’s definitely important for pitchers and catchers  to know game plan for each inning,” says Alexander.

Carlton has enjoyed watching the way the athletes have taken to the approach.

“It’s neat,” says Carlton. “The players buy into it. They make it their own.”

Shelbyville (enrollment 1,167) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights and Yorktown).

Beginning in 2020, conference foes will face each other one time on Friday nights. Previously, they had met for Friday doubleheaders.

The Golden Bears are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus East, Columbus North and East Central. Shelbyville has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2005.

In 2018, the Bears featured pitcher/outfielder Damon Lux (now at Duke University) and first baseman Lucas Steineker and went 13-12 and then 9-17 with a very young varsity team in 2019.

“This year, we’re looking pretty solid,” says Carlton. “We’ve got our pitching and our offense straightened out.

“We do a lot of the (Driveline) command ball stuff — the oversized and undersized balls and weighted balls.”

Since Carlton arrived (he was formerly head baseball coach at Morristown and Attica), two teams — varsity and junior varsity — have been representing the school with 26 to 28 total players.

Blending the new with the old, Carlton also has plans to honor Shelbyville’s baseball past this spring when his team takes the field in throwback jerseys and limited edition hats from a time when the school’s mascot was the Camels.

“I’m trying to find some neat things to do during the spring to get some people out to enjoy the game and teach the guys a little about the history of baseball,” says Carlton, who has consulted with former Shelbyville head coach and history buff Scott Hughes, old school yearbooks and the local historical society. “Back when the game was super-pure.”

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Royce Carlton is entering his third season as head baseball coach at Shelbyville (Ind.) High School in 2020.

 

Anderson native Shirley fitting puzzle pieces together as White Sox amateur scouting director

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Taking his ability to evaluate baseball talent and manage people, Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley is embracing the complexities of his new job as amateur scouting director for the Chicago White Sox.

Shirley, 49, took over his current role in late August. He was named assistant scouting director for the White Sox in November 2018. He began serving the organization as a cross checker in 2010.

As a cross checker, Shirley managed five or six area scouts.

“I was very active with a certain set of people, helping guide their schedule and my own schedule,” says Shirley. “As assistant scouting director, I was helping the director fulfill the entire (Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft) process.”

That meant helping to coordinate the entire amateur department while also acting as a national scout.

As director, Shirley is in charge of everything for the amateur scouting department.

“There’s so much more that goes into being a baseball scout than looking at players,” says Shirley. “There’s management of people, (molding) philosophy, understanding budgets and personnel and keeping everybody on track.”

Shirley notes that more attention is paid to the draft than ever before and there are so many pieces to the puzzle.

“I love the fact that scouting is so difficult some days to put all these pieces in order,” says Shirley. “That’s the most interesting part of the challenge that comes with it.”

With the training now available, players are now reaching the elite level at younger ages.

“Prospects now have currency and value as your organization changes and grows,” says Shirley. “The restructuring at the major league level has changed.

“The rebuild has changed the dynamic of what prospects mean. If your club is in a rebuild and it’s you know it’s not competitive let’s say in 2019, your processes become completely different.”

Clubs take into consideration drafting players that will give them the most currency in the market place.

“There are times now you’re drafting players you know — based on your cycle of talent from top to bottom — may be used as trade chips to get you to the next major league star,” says Shirley. “That’s really changed. There was a time 20 years ago when every team felt like they had a chance to win and every team was running for the title.

“We’re all trying to be competitive, but we also understand where are cycles of talent are (at any given time).”

With the 2020 season and June draft looming, where are the White Sox led by executive vice president Ken Williams and senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn?

“We’re hugely in a position to be successful for the next five to eight years,” says Shirley. “It’s pretty well-documented we’ve in a rebuild process the last four years. It’s been trying times for everybody, especially for our fans, to stomach the tough days and the losses. I think we’re on the back of that now.

“Everybody is so excited about where we’re headed and what we’re capable of doing in the near future. Our young talent is significant. Our minor leagues is strong.”

Shirley is always taking in information from members of the White Sox amateur scouting department.

“The listening skill has to be sharp everyday,” says Shirley. “You have to be able to comprehend what these guys are doing and listen.

“There’s constant communication.”

During the season, area scouts are filing daily reports and messages are flying back and forth via calls, texts and emails.

A recent three-day recent organizational meeting at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., brought together all the scouting department and part of the player development staff.

“It was designed to get everybody in one room,” says Shirley. “We talked about philosophy, planning and where are evaluations are for the 2020 draft class.

“We listened to player development speak about players we’ve drafted in the past, where those players are at and shared information.”

It’s all about getting better and evaluating performance as scouts and player development folks.

“We did a good job here. We missed here,” says Shirley. “There’s constant evaluation of those two departments. We try to work together to make sure our decisions are tighter. Where are we missing? Where are we strong?

“You’re looking at it with full transparency. You’re not tricking yourself.”

Shirley has began conducting conference calls with his 17 area scouts.

“It’s a little deeper conversation than just what they submitted on the follow list,” says Shirley of a catalog of every player in a scout’s area that is likely to be drafted in 2020. “We want to listen to their voice.”

Scouts have been meeting with high school and college players and will continue to do so. These interactions help the White Sox put the make-up piece together in their draft evaluation.

Shirley says the club wants to know if a player is smart of lackadaisical, engaged or disengaged in the conversation or is a grinder.

“How do they go about their business?,” says Shirley. “What’s their family dynamic like? What’s their mom and dad like? Who influences them the most?”

Those pieces start to be put together via these conference calls.

“We’re always willing to take a risk on players who have elite talent,” says Shirley. “But if you don’t have elite talent and you have bad make-up, obviously there’s a red flag we try to stay away from.”

Scouts have been working on the 2020 draft for two years already. They were on the road again three days after the conclusion of the 2019 draft.

Most of the players who wind up in college, we’ve seen when they are in high school,” says Shirley. “The depth at which we follow these players is significant. The elite players we spend a lot of time on.”

There’s many ways to track players, including seeing them play in-person, video services, TrackMan and Rapsodo data and more.

“There’s so much more to the process than what your eyes tell you any more,” says Shirley. “We have multiple angles and multiple opinions.

“The sharing part among your departments becomes so tremendous. Everybody is in the boat rowing together trying to get to the destination.”

Born in Anderson, Shirley played at Pendleton Heights High School for Bill Stoudt, who was selected to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006.

Stoudt-coached teams won 654 games with 14 sectional titles and three regional championship and 10 conference championships in 32 years as a head coach through 2012. He sent a number of players into college and professional baseball.

“He was tremendous,” says Shirley of Stoudt. “He built a program of high-end talent.

“He expected you to show up and held you accountable. He pushed you to be you best. He was demanding and his demand forced you to raise your expectations for yourself.”

Shirley graduated from Pendleton Heights in 1988 and played his freshmen collegiate season (1989) at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Mich. As a “draft and follow” player, Jonathan Michael Shirley was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 45th round of the 1989 MLB Draft, played his sophomore season at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill., then played in the Indians system from 1990-94.

Having an elite arm in right field, Shirley was reluctantly converted to a pitcher. He hurt his arm, underwent Tommy John surgery and was released. He concluded his pro career with the independent Anderson Lawmen in 1995 (Mid-America League) and 1996 (Heartland League) while also completing his degree at Indiana University.

Mike and Kimberly Shirley have been married 22 years and have three baseball-playing sons.

Jaxon Shirley is at Lubbock (Texas) Christian University after starting his college career at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and transferring to Oklahoma University. He was drafted by the White Sox in the 34th round out of Lapel (Ind.) High School in 2016 as a 6-foot-4, 190-pound second baseman. He is now a 6-5, 220-pound left fielder.

Caden Shirley is a freshman at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Colton Shelton is a Lapel senior.

Various ailments, including stress fractures, caused Caden and Colton to miss long stretches of development as high school players.

“Being a baseball man like I am and watching my own children suffer, it’s been one of the biggest challenges as a father,” says Shirley. “You see how hard they’ve worked through their lifetime and you see them lose almost two years of their careers and it’s very difficult.”

For years, Shirley has operated a training facility in Anderson called “The Barn.”

“There’s so many young, talented players in there that have bright futures,” says Shirley. “That’s why I’ll always stay connected.

“You want to give them the guidance and give your expertise.”

Players from youth through major league come to the facility to train.

Jeremy Hazelbaker, who has played in the big leagues, took swings at “The Barn” during Thanksgiving week.

Minor leaguer Nick Schnell (selected in the first round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018) got in the cage before heading off to Florida.

Zack Thompson (a first-rounder for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019) and Drey Jameson (a first-rounder for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019) have trained at “The Barn” since they were youngsters.

So has Cole Barr, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School product who slugged 17 home runs at Indiana University in 2019.

“It’s been a really productive situation,” says Shirley. “There are guys in there who are going to be the next Nick Schnell or next Cole Barr.

“It’s a special place. We don’t ever try to be famous. We’re not on Twitter. If you’re a baseball guy, the proof’s in the pudding. Are you making players or not? Are you helping players get to their goals?”

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Mike Shirley, a native of Anderson, Ind., is the amateur scouting director for the Chicago White Sox. He is a 1988 graduate of Pendleton Heights High School. (Chicago White Sox Photo)

 

Pearson wishes for competitive spirit, constant improvement from New Castle Trojans

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Pearson has a vision for what he wants for his program as he prepares his New Castle (Ind.) High School baseball team for its first season with him as head coach in 2020.

Pearson, who has been a high school assistant at Noblesville (2011), Carmel (2012-16) and Indianapolis Cathedral (2017-19), takes over the Trojans with the idea of helping his student-athletes achieve their goals.

“Hopefully, I will be able to help those who want to play at the next level get there,” says Pearson, who takes over at a school that has sent Drew Barber (Indiana University Kokomo), Jared Heard (Indiana University Kokomo), Nick Jones (Anderson University), Jordan May (Anderson University), Taylor Matthews (DePauw University) and Nathan Hacker (Franklin College) on to collegiate baseball in recent years. “The biggest way I think we do that is to establish a competitive culture.

“It has been awhile since New Castle has won a baseball sectional title (2014) and my guys are hungry! So far, they have been doing a great job of listening to instructions, and pushing each other to get better.

“They all have had the mindset that we have talked to them about since Day 1 and that is to get at least 1 percent better every day in whatever it is that they do — whether that is within the game of baseball or improving on being a better teammate.”

The IHSAA Limited Contact Period for fall (Sept. 2-Oct. 19) saw the Trojans get together to get better.

“At a smaller school like New Castle (about 940 students compared to 1,100 at Cathedral), a lot of our student-athletes play a fall sport,” says Pearson. “So our numbers are not as high as what I am used too, but with those that did come out they were able to learn a lot.

“Those that were able to be at fall workouts know what to expect from a practice standpoint under the new staff, on a baseball diamond. So, I envision them to be the leaders once we get back out there in the spring, being able to help teach what to do and when to do things when we transition from one drill to the next.”

What will the Trojans do until the next Limited Contact Period (which begins Dec. 9)?

“I like to give the players some time away and give them some time to rest,” says Pearson. “So all of November they will have off. Once we hit December, we will start getting into the weight room and working on conditioning.

“Then when we get back from winter break, we will continue in the weight room but start to add baseball back in the mix, getting our guys arms ready to go for the season, get in the cage, work on fundamental glove work, and position communication.”

New Castle’s coaching staff features varsity assistants Zak Kellogg, Tyler Smith and Matt Chernoff, junior varsity head coach Frank McMahon and JV assistant A.J. York. Kellogg will work with catchers and hitter, Smith with corner infielders and hitter, Chernoff with outfielders and baserunners and McMahon will be assistant pitching coach to Pearson.

Pearson was the pitching coach at Cathedral with Ed Freje as head coach. The Irish went 29-0 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2017.

Pearson played for Eric Lentz at Carmel, graduating in 2006.

“One of the big things I got from Coach Lentz was how he as a coach would allow us players to just be us,” says Pearson. “He allowed us to just play the game and didn’t over coach us in any aspect.

“He knew that our group had been playing together for a very long time and I think he appreciated the cohesiveness that we had together.”

An arm injury in his senior season ended Pearson’s playing career. He graduated from Purdue University in 2011 with a degree in Physical Education.

Pearson served with Justin Keever at Noblesville then Dan Roman and Jay Lehr while on the Carmel coaching staff.

“Obviously, coaching under Ed Frieje, Dan Roman and Justin Keever has been huge for me,” says Pearson. “All three of them have won a state titles as head coaches.

“I have taken a lot from all three of them, both about the game of baseball and building positive relationships with players and families.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for guys like Jay Lehr. Jay was my pitching instructor as a kid and once I started coaching myself he took me under his wing and continued to teaching me new things about pitching.

“I’m also very lucky to have another coach in my family with my cousin Dave Scott. The year we won the state championship at Cathedral, Dave was also able to lead Cardinal Ritter to a state championship win.

“Him and I have a pretty close relationship, so he has taught me quite a bit about what it takes to be a head coach.

Pearson spends his summer coaching with Ryan Bunnell (head coach at Westfield High School) with the Indiana Bulls.

“He has been a lot of help in the short time period that we have known each other,” says Pearson of Bunnell. “Chris Truby (Philadelphia Phillies infield coordinator) has also been a mentor of mine. Having spent several winters in the batting cages with him teaching kids, I’ve been pretty lucky to pick up a lot of knowledge from him.

“I could probably go on and on, but I have definitely been blessed to have played for great coaches — in high school and through summer ball, and to have coached under some of the best coaches around.”

That being said, Brad’s biggest mentor is his father — Ron Pearson.

“My dad was the one who introduced me to the game that I love,” says Brad, who is Ron and Karen Pearson’s only child. “He was my first coach and the best coach a son could ask for!”

New Castle is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mount Vernon of Fortville, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).

The Trojans are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County and Yorktown. New Castle has won 13 sectional titles.

Pearson plans to be in close contact with his New Castle feeder programs.

“I am a sounding board for the Little League and Babe Ruth,” says Pearson. “They have had a lot of success in their own right and I want them to continue to have that success and build upon it.

“Anything they need from me I will be there to give my advice/opinion. I have told them that this isn’t MY program, it is OUR program. Yes, I may be the leader at the top, but we are all in this together!”

Pearson is hoping to get a lot of things done at the Trojans home diamond — Sunnyside Field.

“To be honest I have quite a wish list, but as we all know everything takes money and we are working to raise that money to help make Sunnyside Field, not only better for tomorrow but better for our future Trojans ways down the road,” says Pearson.

A P.E. and Health teacher at New Castle Middle School, Pearson is a bachelor.

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Cousins Brad Pearson (left) and Dave Scott were part of IHSAA state baseball champions in 2017 — Pearson as pitching coach at Indianapolis Cathedral and Scott as head coach at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter.

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Brad Pearson, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Purdue University, is now the head baseball coach at New Castle (Ind.) High School.

BRADPEARSON1After assistant stints at Indianapolis Cathedral, Carmel and Noblesville, Brad Pearson is now the head baseball coach at New Castle (Ind.) High School. The 2006 Carmel graduate also coaches in the summer with the Indiana Bulls.

 

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

PORTLANDROCKETS

IHSBCA Futures Showcase at Madison

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As a way of getting college exposure for uncommitted underclassmen, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association conducts a showcase in conjunction with its annual North/South All-Star Series for selected seniors (dinner and all-star practices Friday, two games Saturday and one game Sunday, June 21-23).

This year, the IHSBCA has heeded the request of college colleges and added games to the mix.

The Futures Showcase plus games is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19 at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School’s Gary O’Neal Field (moved from Hanover College because of wet grounds), beginning with registration at 7:45 to 8:30 a.m.

IHSBCA FUTURES SHOWCASE

(Uncommitted Underclassmen)

Gary O’Neal Field, Madison Consolidated H.S.

Wednesday, June 19

7:45-8:30 a.m: Players Registration

8:30-8:45: Futures Games Introduction and Format

8:45-9:00: Stretch for the 60-yard run.

9:00-9:30: 60 yard run for time.

9:30-9:45: Catchers throw to 2B; OF warm up in right field.

9:45-10:05: OF throw to bases and home; IF warm up in left field.

10:05-10:30: IF showcase.

10:30-10:40: Set up for Batting Practice (Red team hitting in cage).

10:40-11:30: Red hit on field; White in the cage; Blue / Grey shag.

White hit on field; Blue in cage; Grey/Red shag.

Blue hit on field; Grey in cage; Red/White shag.

Grey hit on field; Red / White/Blue shag.

11:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m.: Game 1 – Red vs. White; Blue/Grey teams will eat lunch and tour the Hanover College campus.

1:45-3:30: Game 2 – Blue vs. Grey; Red/ White teams will eat lunch and tour the Hanover College campus.

Invitees

No. Name School Pos.

Red Roster

(1) Kyle Dykins (Plainfield) C

(2) Kallen Kelsheimer (Wabash) C

(3) Carson Barrett (Lafayette Central Catholic) 1B/P

(4) Jackson Wood (South Putnam) 1B/P

(5) Webster Walls (Clarksville) MIF/P

(6) A.J. Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic) MIF

(7) Doug Loden (Lake Central) MIF/P

(8) Brendon Demoret (South Putnam) 3B/P

(9) Gabe Farnsley (Danville) 3B

(10) Grant Collins (LaPorte) OF

(11) Jaylen Nolan (Ben Davis) OF

(12) Jared Comia (Hanover Central) OF

(13) Jose Guzman (Ben Davis) P

(17) Joey Humphrey (Lewis Cass) OF

White Roster

(24) Brayden Wilson (Seymour) C

(25) Parker Grykesvich (Brownsburg) C

(26) Isaac Evaniew (Indianapolis North Central) 1B/P

(27) Nick Smith (Boonville) 1B/P

(28) Keenan Taylor (Guerin Catholic) MIF

(29) Carter Bailey (Indianapolis North Central) MIF

(30) Conner Vanlannon (South Vermillion) MIF/P

(31) Keagan Trout (Evansville North) 3B

(32) Whitt Callahan (Bedford North Lawrence) 3B

(33) Ty Rumsey (Evansville North) OF

(34) Garrett Causey (Evansville Central) OF

(35) Eli Burkhardt (Evansville Bosse) OF

(36) Anthony Steinhardt (Lawrence Central) OF/P

(37) Jacob Zimmerman (Terre Haute South Vigo) P

(38) Harrison Walker (Oak Hill) P

Blue Roster

(48) Kaid Muth (Fishers) C

(49) Ben Richards (Pendleton Heights) C

(50) Trey Johnson (Hauser) 1B/P

(51) Kyle Cortner (Indianapolis Cathedral) 1B/P

(52) Nick Lukac (Fishers) MIF

(53) Evan Fauqher (Yorktown) MIF

(54) Matt Benton (Hobart) MIF/P

(55) Evan Fritz (Delphi) 3B/P

(56) Mason LaGrange (Borden) 3B

(57) Bronson Quinzer (Mt. Vernon-Posey) OF

(58) Gabe Wright (Brebeuf Jesuit) OF

(59) Tommy Dolen (Plymouth) OF/P

(60) Kamden Earley (Pendleton Heights) OF

(62) Ethan Bates (Frankton) P

Grey Roster

(73) Harrison Pittsford (Edgewood) C

(74) Jack Taulman (Lawrence North) C

(75) Zach Forner (Madison Consolidated) 1B

(76) Drew Fifer (Charlestown) 1B/P

(77) Evan Goforth (Floyd Central) MIF/P

(78) Easton Good (Lewis Cass) MIF

(79) Mason Welsh (Madison Consolidated) MIF/P

(80) Alex Stirn (North Decatur) 3B

(81) Andrew Snider (Charlestown) 3B/P

(82) Jayden Brown (Seymour) OF/P

(83) Carson Scott (Crawfordsville) OF

(84) Isaac Casbella (Lanesville) OF

(87) Daly Skees (Floyd Central) P

(92) Brennan Morehead (Alexandria) P

IHSBCALOGO

Drosche, ‘coachable’ Avon Orioles enjoying the game

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Troy Drosche has been coaching baseball for 17 seasons at Avon (Ind.) High School — the last 11 as head coach.

The Orioles are one victory away from competing in the IHSAA State Finals for the first time. Avon (20-13-1) plays Columbus East (24-4) Saturday, June 8 in the Class 4A south semistate game, which follows the 1 p.m. 3A game (Silver Creek vs. Edgewood) at Mooresville High School.

Drosche and his O’s have gotten to this point by getting his players to “be coachable.”

“We do our best as coaches to create an environment where players enjoy coming to the field everyday,” says Drosche. “It all starts from there — enjoy the GAME.”

Avon (enrollment around 3,200) is a member of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Brownsburg, Fishers, Franklin Central, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield, and Zionsville).

The Orioles are part of a sectional grouping with Brownsburg, Mooresville, Northview, Plainfield, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo. With 2019’s titles, Avon has won five sectionals and two regionals (the previous one in 1994).

“We’ve got this thing rolling pretty good, winning three of last four sectionals,” says Drosche.

Avon reigned at the Terre Haute North Vigo Sectional and Decatur Central Regional.

“In the postseason, pitching and defense has carried us,” says Drosche. “We have done enough offensively and executed at the right times to score enough to survive and advance.

“We like to play situational baseball. Bunting/moving runners/setting ourselves up to get a big hit. We try to get the best matchups and execute our game plan.”

In the sectional semifinals against Northview with the game scoreless and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Avon won in walk-off fashion by scoring a run from third base with a bunt single.

“Our players have bought into their roles and believe that the coaches are going to put them in the best position to win,” says Drosche. “This mindset didn’t come overnight though — it took a lot of time over the years.  

“This group has a unique mix of grit and toughness. Honestly, they just come and play ball — trying not to make things too big or too small.”

Senior right-hander Austin Baugh (Kentucky Wesleyan College commit) and junior left-hander Kyren Power have been the Orioles’ go-to pitchers during the IHSAA tournament. They combined for a two-hit shutout in the sectional championship against Mooresville.

“We didn’t over-work them during the year, so they have been pretty fresh for the postseason and have been outstanding,” says Drosche.

Junior left-handed middle reliever Jake Hoffman and senior lefty closer Lucas Carrillo have shined out of the bullpen during the regular season and postseason. Hoffman has five wins in relief. Carrillo has three victories and seven saves. Both have earned run averages under 2.50.

Junior center fielder Cam Melvin has been Avon’s best hitter with four home runs, three triples, 14 doubles and an average that’s been around .400 most of the season. Baugh, junior second baseman Mason Miller, senior designated hitter Mark Gemmer and junior first baseman Tyce Ferrell have all hit around .300.

Sophomore third baseman Henry Hesson slugged two home runs and Power one during the regional. Senior right fielder Parker Sutton is committed to Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill.

Drosche, a 1992 graduate of Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Ky., and 1996 graduate of Marian College (now Marian University in Indianapolis), is assisted by Ryan East, Nick Spence, Tasker Strobel, Ryan McPike, Bob McPike and Matt Kinney.

East has been with Drosche for 10 years. Spence is the pitching coach. Strobel and Ryan McPike played for Drosche at Avon. Kinney runs the C-team. This year, Avon had 49 players on its varsity, junior varsity and C-teams.

Recent Avon graduates who played college baseball include Spencer Strobel at Purdue Fort Wayne, Noah Navarro at Ball State and Kahi’au Quartero at Marian.

Former Orioles pitchers Jared Miller and Chandler Sanburn competed in the minors in 2018.

Drosche calls Avon’s on-campus home field “one of the best in the state.”

“Matt Dudley is our field maintenance manager and he is flat-out the best in the state,” says Drosche. “And the field is getting better and better since his arrival two years ago.”

The Avon Baseball Club serves is a feeder system for the high school. It is up to 16 teams. The travel program is under the Avon Junior Athletic Association umbrella.

“The high school staff has been heavily involved with the program for a number of years now,” says Drosche.

The Indiana Bulls travel organization has had Drosche as a summer coach.

After coming to central Indiana from Kentucky, Drosche was a four-year starter at shortstop at Marian and helped the Knights win two conference championships. He was an All-American honorable mention and the team’s and conference’s MVP as a senior and was inducted into M-Club Wall of Fame in 2008.

Prior to Avon, he was an assistant at Marian and Ben Davis High School.

Drosche was an assistant at Avon for Clark Reeves for six years before taking over the program. He considers his father Glenn Drosche, Marian coaches Kurt Guldner and Bret Shambaugh, Reeves and fellow business teacher and former Reeves assistant Ralph Hartnagel as mentors.

“(Reeves) was one of the most knowledgeable baseball guys I’ve ever been around,” says Drosche. “He definitely had a certain way of coaching. He held kids to a high standard and expected nothing less from them.

“(Guldner) was a great leader that allowed his teams to play. Sometimes less is more. He allowed us to be baseball players and enjoy the game. That’s something we’re definitely doing this year (at Avon).

“(Hartnagel) is extremely knowledgable. He has great innovative ideas about drills and practices.”

Drosche, who holds a masters degree from the University of Indianapolis, teaches Careers and is a DECA advisor at AHS. He and Hartnagel run the O-Zone school store.

Troy and Jenn Drosche have three children — Olivia (11), Trevor (9) and Kendra (7). All three play travel basketball. Olivia also plays travel softball, Trevor travel baseball and Kendra travel soccer.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 8

North

At Plymouth
Class 1A

Rossville (25-7) vs. Washington Township (22-6), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT

Class 4A
Hamilton Southeastern (21-8) vs. Mishawaka (25-6), following

At Kokomo (Municipal Stadium)
Class 3A

Yorktown (18-14) vs. Andrean (34-1), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 2A

Alexandria Monroe (27-6) vs. Whiting (15-11), following

South

At Mooresville
Class 3A

Silver Creek (23-6) vs. Edgewood (23-3), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 4A

Columbus East (24-4) vs. Avon (20-13-1), following

At Jasper (Ruxer Field)
Class 1A

Tecumseh (21-7) vs. University (20-10-1), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 2A

Southridge (16-8) vs. South Vermillion (24-5), following

AVONORIOLES

DROSCHEFAMILY

The Drosche family (clockwise from upper right) — Troy, Trevor, Kendra, Olivia and Jenn — celebrate a regional baseball championship for Avon (Ind.) High School. Troy Drosche is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Orioles. Avon plays Silver Creek in the IHSAA Class 4A Mooresville Semistate on Saturday, June 8.

 

Senior Dungan catalyst for Indiana State baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clay Dungan has been a constant for the Indiana State University baseball team the past four seasons.

Heading into the Sycamores’ Friday-Saturday-Sunday Missouri Valley Conference series at Dallas Baptist, the senior has played in 200 career games, including 191 as a starter.

Playing shortstop and batting lead-off in 2019, Dungan is hitting .295, seven home runs, eight doubles, two triples, 27 runs batted in, 40 runs scored, .402 on-base percentage and is 6-of-6 in stolen base attempts.

“He’s just kind of been our catalyst,” says ISU head coach Mitch Hannahs. “He’s kind of the straw that stirs the drink for us.

“He’s just a very level-headed, consistent player that’s been good for us for four years. When he’s swinging it well and playing well, our club follows.”

Hannahs and hitting coach Brian Smiley have been working with the lefty-swinging Dungan about taking the ball to the opposite field, but they have also witnessed pull-side power from the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder.

“For the most part, he’s looking for a pitch he can drive early in the count and driving to move the baseball,” says Hannahs.

What does the 22-year old see as his part for the Trees?

“My role on this team is to be a leader,” says Dungan, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. “I’m a guy who’s been here for a long time. I set the table for everybody at the beginning of the order and play good defense out there for my pitchers.”

Dungan has continued working in the field. The 2018 season was the first time in college he played shortstop, making the move over from second base.

At the plate, Dungan was usually in the third or fourth slot in the batting order before being asked to replace departing players at the top.

Dungan appreciates Hannahs’ approach to leading Indiana State (34-11, 11-4).

“He’s straight forward,” says Dungan of Hannahs. “He expects a lot out of you and pushes you.

“That’s what I like in a coach.”

Last summer, Dungan played 41 games and hit .354 with two homers, 10 doubles, two triples and 34 RBIs for the Savannah (Ga.) Bananas of the summer collegiate Coastal Plain League.

Dungan played at Yorktown for head coach Mike Larrabee.

“He was just a great guy and a great role model to play for,” says Dungan of Larrabee. “He always preached playing the game the right way and that stuck with me.”

As a Yorktown Tiger, Dungan earned four letters in baseball and two in football. He batted .488 with two bikers, nine doubles. five triples and 38 RBIs and was an all-state honoree and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Series as a senior in 2015. He was named series MVP.

Dungan, who turns 23 on June 2, is majoring in physical education. The son of Tony and Carolyn Dungan needs to do his student teaching next year to finish his ISU degree.

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Senior Clay Dungan is the starting shortstop for the Indiana State University baseball team. The Sycamores are 34-11 overall and 11-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference. (Indiana State University Photo)

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As the lead-off hitter, lefty-swinging senior Clay Dungan is a catalyst for the Indiana State University baseball team in 2019. (Indiana State University Photo)