Archive for Baseball

KOKOMO JACKRABBITS NAME GARY McCLURE AS NEW MANAGER, ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES RETURN TO MUNICIPAL STADIUM

Kokomo Jackrabbits 1

UPDATED: This story has been updated to state the league will not play an actual All-Star Game but rather Kokomo will host all-star festivities.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – For the third time in three seasons, the Kokomo Jackrabbits are hiring a new field manager – but this time for a good reason. After the first manager was fired after 30 games, Matt Howard took over for the next year-and-a-half and led the squad to the Prospect League playoffs. Now, Howard is the inaugural Indiana University Kokomo head coach and the Rabbits are ready for a new era – and this time, they are looking to a seasoned bench veteran.

On Feb. 13, the Jackrabbits ownership group announced several changes for the 2017 season while introducing former Austin Peay State University head coach Gary McClure as the Jackrabbits new skipper. The group also announced that with its expansion from the Milwaukee area to other locales – including Kokomo and Lafayette – they have changed its name from MKE Sports and Entertainment to ROC Ventures.

“We’ve enjoyed a tremendous relationship with the people of Kokomo ever since bringing the Kokomo Jackrabbits to town,” said Mike Zimmerman, owner of ROC Ventures. “It all began with citizens choosing the name of the team. When you create things that bring people together, it creates community and further opportunities for all. We’ve based all of our activity here on that basic formula – return on community.”

MKE was a direct reference to Milwaukee and the airport code for the cities General Mitchell International Airport (much like IND for Indianapolis). With the MKE Sports and Entertainment becoming more regionally known, it was time for the change to better identity its purpose. Zimmerman’s ROC Ventures is named to remind everyone of the thread unifying all of ROC’s projects: Create value by creating and strengthening community opportunities.

“It’s become more and more clear to us that developing and helping create a real ‘deep economy’ locally is the key to lasting success for the entire surrounding region,” Zimmerman said. “That’s the principle behind ‘return on community,’ and that’s our commitment.”

The first big announcement of ROC Ventures was the naming of McClure as the leader of the Jackrabbits. The longtime NCAA Division I head coach at Austin Peay (Clarksville, Tennessee) is the winningest coach in Ohio Valley Conference history. While leading the Governors from 1988-2015 (28 seasons), McClure compiled a record of 847-750, with a 363-276 record in conference play.

“I’d like to thank Mike Zimmerman for this amazing opportunity,” said McClure. “I look forward to not only shaping our young players into professionals but also becoming an integral part of the community with my wife Amy.”

McClure is already a member of the Austin Peay Athletics Hall of Fame and 38 of his players were selected into the Major League Baseball Draft. His squads won a conference record five OVC regular season titles and five OVT tourney titles. He coached 49 first-team All-OVC players, nine conference Pitchers of the Year and three conference Players of the Year. Last season, he coached the Battle Creek Bombers in the Northwoods League

McClure and his wife, Amy, have been married for nearly three decades and have one son, Alex, a scout for the Chicago Cubs, who played in the Royals and Marlins minor league systems.

“This guy’s baseball IQ and coaching talent is off the charts,” said Dan Kuenzi, president of ROC Ventures Sports and Performance. “We’re getting a pro who operates at an extremely high level, and the players are going to appreciate the excellence he brings to his job.”

All-star festivities and more in Kokomo

After rain washed out most of the 2016 Prospect League All-Star Game in Kokomo, the Jackrabbits announced a reformatted event would return to the City of Firsts on July 17. While the league moves away from an actual game, all-star festivities will include a Home Run Derby and a professional scout workout for league players at Municipal Stadium.

“This is an event that brings deserved attention to the Kokomo community, as well as a nice economic boost,” said Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight. “We’re proud to once again have been selected as host.”

Last year, the Home Run Derby was a major success with baseballs being sent off the scoreboard, into the Wildcat Creek and across Apperson Way. Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate with the All-Star Game as rain stopped action on the turf before a complete game could be declared. Howard was the skipper for the West Division and 10 Jackrabbits have dressed for the All-Star Game in two seasons, including 2015 ASG Most Valuable Player Mark Zimmerman.

In a move that should make fans happy, Kuenzi said ticket prices would remain unchanged for the 2017 Jackrabbits campaign and several special events are planned, much like in the first two seasons.

For more on this story, see the Feb. 14 edition of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana

WESTERN’S BRAYDEN DeWEESE IS FIRST OFFICIAL MEMBER OF THE IU KOKOMO BASEBALL PROGRAM

Brayden DeWeese Signs

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

RUSSIAVILLE – It is extremely difficult to be the first in a sport that dates back to 1744, but two weeks ago at Western High School, Panther senior Brayden DeWeese earned a first in the game of baseball. In front of family, friends and coaches, DeWeese became the first player to officially sign to play baseball on the inaugural Indiana University Kokomo squad that will debut in the 2017-2018 school year.

“I am very excited to be going to IUK,” said DeWeese. “I am blessed with this opportunity and I love the coaches and the city of Kokomo. It is a real honor to be the first recruit to sign.”

New IU Kokomo head coach Matt Howard said it was important to get the first signee and he is thrilled it was a local product who will stay in Howard County to play.

“It is nice to get Brayden under our belt and start local,” said Howard. “It was a big thing for us to get a local kid who can compete and play at a high level, and Brayden is one of those guys. We are really excited to have him – not just on the field but off the field as he is a good student as well.”

DeWeese said he was drawn to the intensity of new IU Kokomo head coach Matt Howard, who previously was the manager for the Kokomo Jackrabbits.

“He likes to win and I like to win,” said DeWeese, who is undecided on his course of study. “He has great qualities. And they have a great facility in Kokomo Municipal Stadium.”

DeWeese was the starting first baseman on the Panthers 2016 squad that advanced to the state championship game. During last season’s state finals run, the 6-foot-0 lefty hit .281 with six doubles, 23 runs scored and 16 RBI’s.

“I give a lot of effort and hustle, and that is what I will bring to IUK,” he said. “I am a good hitter and love the game.”

“He has a great feel for the game,” said Howard. “He is a headsey baseball player and his maturation into the college game will be quicker than most because of his awareness of the game; you can’t have enough of those guys.”

Former Western Athletic Director Ryan Berryman is taking over the Panthers baseball program. A graduate of WHS, he led Northwestern 2005 Class 2A state championship game.

“It is a great opportunity for Brayden. He had some interest from other schools, and we have been working through that process,” said Berryman. “He is excited to play at the next level, and IUK is a great chance to play in a great stadium. What Matt and (assistant coach Joe Thatcher) are trying to do will make IUK a powerhouse in the years to come.”

DeWeese will be part of an incoming Cougar squad that will be far from a Hoosier-only program. Interest in the IUK baseball program came from players from multiple states, and Howard already has commitments from players who are from Wisconsin, Indiana and Canada. Berryman is excited to have a local college team for Howard County recruits to consider, and he thinks the program has a huge upside.

“Some of these guys that are talented, small college level players, will have an opportunity to stay,” said Berryman. “IUK is a great education, very affordable, a great stadium, a great coaching staff and it is a great baseball community – it only makes sense for IUK to start a baseball program.”

“These guys are not going to want to lose because they are not used to it. We are moving quickly and working hard,” said Howard, who has a goal of signing 35 players. “All of the credit goes to IUK because of everything we have to sell – the IU degree, the facility, the administration. We have so much to work with which is why I wanted the job.”

Make that 34 as Brayden DeWeese secures his place in history as the first signee to the Cougars baseball program.

YOUTH BASEBALL EQUIPMENT SWAP ADDED TO KOKOMO CITY-WIDE REGISTRATION DAY

Youth Baseball Signup Flyer

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Much has been said about the long and glorious history of baseball in the City of Firsts. But for years, youth baseball has been on the decline when it comes to the number of players suiting up and hitting the diamond. There are many theories on why baseball numbers are falling, but one local man has a thought and is doing something about it.

“Baseball can be expensive to play when you factor in gloves and cleats and bats and pants,” said Kevin Sprinkle. “And most local leagues charge around $70 to play – that can add up.”

Sprinkle said he had an idea on a way to help alleviate the expense of baseball – develop an equipment swap program. He came up with the idea while volunteering in a local school.

“I do a lot of mentoring at Bon Air School and some of those kids have played baseball at Northside Youth Baseball League,” he said. “I have seen a lot of kids who don’t have the correct gear or the right fitting gear. I have noticed declining enrollment in youth baseball and I know part of the reason is the cost.”

He talked to several experts in the local baseball community and realized that there is equipment sitting in garages and basements that are in great shape and could be reused. He said that a pair of cleats might be worn one year, then the player outgrows them and the cleats sit at home unused when another young player could get a year of use out of them. Sprinkle said the same thing could be done with bats and pants as players get older and need new sizes.

“My kids are older and I had baseball gear left in my garage,” said Sprinkle. “If we have old stuff, why don’t we try and use it. I called Travis Taflinger at Bridges Outreach – he has kids playing at UCT – and we talked about it and decided a swap would work well. Think about it, someone could drop off a size eight cleats and get a size 10 – this way, it is not charity but rather people helping others out.”

Sprinkle said this was a recent idea and he knows they are behind the eight ball. But he envisions this becoming an annual tradition and is gearing for the swap to surround the annual City-Wide Youth Baseball Sign-Ups that take place each January.

“The idea is to be at the sign-ups since everyone has to come out – and this is before the actual tryouts when the kids will need the gear,” said Sprinkle. “I have seen kids show up with bad gear or no gear at tryouts and practice. Travis Taflinger and (Post 6 manager) Don Andrews and I will be at sign-ups and we can help manage the swap. We can also try and help repair gloves if they need some new lace or leather or size kids into shoes.”

Taflinger said the first weekend of the baseball equipment swap was a success with several youth players participating. The second session of the Annual City-Wide Youth Baseball Registration will take place on Feb. 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Maple Crest Middle School new gym (enter through door 5). This registration is for the four youth baseball leagues located in the city of Kokomo – Eastside, Northside, UCT and Southside and registration costs vary per league. Registration is open to any player between the ages of 4-12 and a copy of a birth certificate is required.

While it is a swap, Sprinkle stressed that, “You don’t have to bring something to get something.” Organizers will assist players who are in need.

For those who simply want to drop off new or used equipment in advance, two drop-off locations are available: the Kokomo Herald office at 207 N. Buckeye St. and the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library main downtown branch.

For more information on the baseball gear swap, text Sprinkle at (765) 860-4942.

For more information on baseball registration, please contact the local league presidents: Ken Carter at Eastside, (765) 432-7990; Robbie Pattengale at Northside, (765) 210-7586; Kevin Stout at Southside, (765) 398-6176; and Andy Keating at UCT, (765) 434-4542.