CALL HIM A TWO-TIMER: JUAN PABLO MONTOYA WINS THE 99TH RUNNING OF THE INDIANAPOLIS 500

Juan Pablo Montoya crosses the Yard of Bricks to win the 99th Indianapolis 500. (Photo by William Gibson)

Juan Pablo Montoya crosses the Yard of Bricks to win the 99th Indianapolis 500. (Photo by William Gibson)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. With a 15 year break that included stops in Formula One and NASCAR, Juan Pablo Montoya returned to the winners circle that first made him famous – the Indianapolis 500. Montoya earned his second victory at the Yard of Bricks despite an incident on lap seven and a bad pit stop that put him in 30th position on lap 41.

“I don’t know what to say; this is too much!” said Montoya, who won the Indy 500 during his rookie season in 2000. “This is what racing in IndyCar is all about, awesome racing all the way down to the wire.”

After the poor start, Montoya used the final 159 laps to roar through the field and battle fellow Team Penske teammate Will Power and Chip Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball to the checkered flag. Leading just nine laps total, Montoya regained the lead on lap 197 and edged Power across the bricks by a 0.1046 of a second – the fourth closest finish in the 99 year history of the Indy 500.

“That was fun racing,” said the 19th two-time Indy 500 winner. “Probably the best racing. Between Will and Dixon, we have a lot of respect for each other. We understand the risk and we understand when they got you. So it makes it fun.”

“I just had too much push when he got by,” said Power. “I had to lift on that last lap. He was definitely better when he got behind me. That’s why he got the run. Anywhere else I’d be happy with second. But here…”

The Colombian almost lost his shot early in the race. The race fell under a caution flag on lap one thanks to a crash between Takuma Sato and Sage Karam.

“I don’t know what Sato’s doing,” said Karam. “Kind of a bonehead move. He sees me and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay side by side and the first lap he’s trying to make it three wide. I just don’t get it. I mean, just a very stupid move on his part. It ruins a lot of people’s races.”

During the yellow, Simona de Silvestro ran into Montoya, forcing the eventual winner to pit for new rear wheel guards. On lap 41, he slid through his pit, forcing his crew to push him into place.

“That was an easy race. But this was a lot of work today,” said Montoya. “I mean, with Simona in back of me; that’s what happens when you qualify bad. You find yourself with the wrong crowd.

The win also gave Roger Penske a record-extending 16th Indy 500 win as an owner.

“Our guys stayed in there, and Montoya coming from all the way back,” said Penske. “I’ll tell you, you give that guy the bit and put it in his mouth, as you know, he doesn’t give up. “I’m just so thrilled for everyone who works for us, all the people who support us and all these race fans – what a great day.”

Despite winning the Indy 500 as a rookie 15 years ago, this was only Montoya’s third 500 – he finished fifth last year. During the years in between he drove at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the road course in Formula One and on the oval in the NASCAR Brickyard 400. With Sunday’s victory, he set a record for most years between Indy 500 wins; Gordon Johncock previously held the mark with nine years between wins in 1973 and 1982.

The 200-lap race saw six caution periods for 47 laps, including five incidents involving a total of 11 cars. Sebastian Saavedra, driver of the No. 17 AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, sustained a contusion to his right foot when his car was hit in the side by Stefano Coletti in the No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet. Saavedra must be evaluated before being cleared to race again.

2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan crashed on his own on Lap 152, but walked away and lauded the safety of the cars.

“It (crashing) is a very unfortunate thing to happen to me,” Kanaan said. “But if I had to prove that we don’t flip cars anymore, here it is for the critics. (I’m) heartbroken but OK.”

Dale Coyne Racing crewman Daniel Jang, part of the No. 18 Tristan Vautier crew, was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital with a right ankle injury when clipped by teammate James Davison’s car after it collided with the third Coyne car, driven by Pippa Mann, while exiting its pit.

The 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 29, 2016.

GAME TIME: KOKOMO JACKRABBITS MANAGER GREG VAN HORN READY TO LEAD TEAM ONTO THE FIELD

Jackrabbits manager Greg Van Horn (left) talks to Taylor HS baseball coach Brent Owens as Jackrabbits business manager Jenna Plummer looks on. (Photo by Slayter Young)

Jackrabbits manager Greg Van Horn (left) talks to Taylor HS baseball coach Brent Owens as Jackrabbits business manager Jenna Plummer looks on. (Photo by Slayter Young)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – For some, Sept. 2, 2014 seems like an eternity ago. It was on that date that Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight announced that minor league baseball would return to the city for the first time in 54 years. Nine short months later, the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the wood bat collegiate Prospects League is set to take to the synthetic turf of Kokomo Municipal Stadium for the venue’s – and team’s – inaugural season.

“I believe Kokomo will be one of the premier franchises in all of summer college ball,” said Prospect League founder and Chillicothe Paints owner Chris Hanners on the day of the announcement. “The city is a perfect spot for a franchise and we see it as the showcase for our league going forward.”

With the stadium nearly complete and players in town, Greg Van Horn – the first manager of the Jackrabbits – said he is excited to be in Kokomo. The Princeton University assistant baseball coach is no stranger to the Prospects League – he was a coach and player in past seasons. The skipper said he is thrilled to finally get the Jackrabbits program off the ground after months of behind-the-scenes work.

“This is so cool,” said the Cranford, N.J. native. “We as a team are going to have a lot of fun this year. And the fans will have just as much fun watching these guys; some of them may end up in the Major League someday.”

Van Horn’s route to Kokomo came via two years at Princeton in The Ivy League and the College of Wooster – a top liberal arts college. Thus, he may be one of the smartest men in the league.

“I played in the Prospect League for the Chillicothe Paints and we won the league title in 2010,” said Van Horn. “Dr. Hanners owned Chillicothe and that is how all of this came full circle. I also played for Dr. Hanners Frontier League team in Rockford for three years after I wasn’t drafted. Dr. Hanners is as loyal as they get, and he said he would help me get into coaching when my playing career ended. So I called him last year and he made me an assistant coach for the Paints, where we lost in game three of the finals. He then called and told me about the Jackrabbits – and here I am.”

Despite a prestigious education, the baseball junkie is down to earth and all smiles when talking about the game he loves – especially when he talks about the new stadium and starting a team from scratch.

“This is a great experience for me because you get an appreciation of the whole process,” said Van Horn. “It is unbelievable how much goes into starting an organization like this. All of those man hours – you have to appreciate the guys putting down the concrete and the turf and the plumbing and the electric; I mean, wow.”

Putting together the Jackrabbits

Van Horn said the Kokomo squad got off to a slow start in forming a roster due to the timing of the September announcement. Most teams begin looking for players when school starts, so the Jackrabbits were two months behind the curve.

“Most coaches start placing their teams in September and I got the job in late October,” he said. “So we had to start from scratch when most teams were already filled up. So our challenge was to find quality players when most were already on teams. You don’t want to just take anybody to fill the roster; you have to be patient. I think we have done a great job and we are just now putting the final touches on our last guy. It is a long process.”

Since Van Horn has not had a chance to see a lot of the players in action, he did not want to comment on them individually. Several players play NCAA Division I baseball at schools like Rutgers and Northwestern (Big Ten Conference), Valparaiso (Horizon League), Kent State and Western Michigan (Mid-American Conference), Saint Joseph’s (Atlantic 10 Conference), Cincinnati (American Athletic Conference) and Indiana State (Missouri Valley Conference).

The squad will have a local component as well. Western graduate and Morehead State freshman Evan Warden will be an infielder while Eastern grad and Earlham College junior Bryce Rainey will be on the pitching staff. Warden will not arrive back in Kokomo until after playing in the NCAA Tournament after the Eagles won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

“I have actually already met Bryce and he seems like a good kid,” said Van Horn. “We put him in a uniform for a photo shoot already. We are excited; I think they will both be able to compete right away.”

Van Horn admits the players will have a quick transition from college baseball to a summer league – especially having to switch from metal bats to the Marucci Sports wood variety.

“You kind of throw them right into the fire, right off the bat,” said Van Horn with a laugh. “The kids get to town on Monday (May 25) and the first game is Wednesday (May 27 in Terre Haute). We will have two light practices and try to get to know each other. For them it can be tough. The wood bats are an adjustment, but it is summer ball – a time to have fun and just play ball.”

The Prospect League

The rookie head coach said fans should come to Prospect League games ready to have fun and watch excellent baseball. With a classic crack of a wood bat, the game is more traditional and follows the lines of the Major League.

“The league is on par with the best summer leagues out there,” said Van Horn. “You treat summer college leagues like pro ball. You want to prepare the players the best you can for pro ball and give them every opportunity to get better.”

Van Horn said he would match the quality of the Prospect League players to any other collegiate summer program in America.

“The competition is amazing with the (NCAA Division I) guys, and the D2 and D3 guys are some of the best in the country,” he said. “So it is as highly of a competitive league as there is out there. Last year, there were probably 20 or 30 guys who got drafted who played in the Prospect League. It is not called ‘Prospect’ for no reason.”

The Jackrabbits organization say they formed a team that should be competitive, despite being a first-year franchise.

“We are coming in with the expectation we are going to compete with everyone else in the league,” said Van Horn. “We put together a team to win. We are trying to create a team where the kids want to come back the following summer.”

The Kokomo Jackrabbits open its home portion of the season on Saturday, May 30 at 7:05 p.m. The Danville Dans will play the Jackrabbits in a two-game series in downtown Kokomo. For ticket information, visit www.kokomojackrabbits.com.

PLAY BALL: WITH DAYS LEFT, CONTRACTOR’S SAY STADIUM WILL BE READY FOR MAY 30 JACKRABBITS DEBUT

Employees of Sprinturf install the first roll of synthetic turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium. Photo by Dean Hockney.

Employees of Sprinturf install the first roll of synthetic turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium. Photo by Dean Hockney.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Eleven days. In 11 short days, the Kokomo Jackrabbits baseball team is scheduled to play its inaugural home opener, and in the process play the first game at Kokomo Municipal Stadium. For nearly a year, eyes have been focused on the construction project in downtown with most wondering, “will it be ready in time?”

On May 18, experts from Sprinturf said the field will be ready. Standing on the stadium surface, Randy Hammond, a Kokomo resident and central regional sales manager for Sprinturf, watched as his crews crawled around on hands and knees installing new green synthetic turf. The turf arrived in Kokomo via a semi in 15-foot wide, 150-foot long rolls. Once the turf is in place, a mixture of 60 percent crumb rubber and 40 percent sand will be added as infill. Looking up at onlookers, Hammond said the turf would be complete by Sunday, May 24.

Among those onlookers were Chuck and Barbara Coghlin from Colorado Springs, Colo. They were in town to get their son, Charlie, settled with a foster family. He is a Jackrabbits infielder who just finished his junior season at NCAA Division I St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Charlie hit .308 and played first base for the Hawks. Barbara said she was excited to see the progress of the new stadium, and after a quick trip back to Colorado, would be back in Kokomo for opening night.

Crews from Custer Electric Sports Lighting were also hard at work installing the field lights. J&J Electric had several trucks at the stadium as crews worked to finish the press box and suite level of the stadium. Also, contractors continued to install red stadium seats and green padding on the outfield walls, and the black Daktronics scoreboard is now on site and ready for installation.

The bottom line: According to one contractor on site, the stadium will not be 100 percent done; there will be landscaping and other construction projects ongoing after the scheduled May 30 opening day. But, baseball WILL be played on May 30. The field will be done, lights will be on, the scoreboard illuminated and the seats installed. As they say in the baseball world, “Play ball!”