Archive for Kokomo Jackrabbits

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

PLAYOFF BOUND: KOKOMO JACKRABBITS EARN PLAYOFF BERTH AND BATTLE OF 26 CLASSIC TROPHY WITH DOMINATING WIN OVER LAFAYETTE

Prospect League

KOKOMO, Ind. – Field manager Matt Howard was nearly at a loss for words Saturday night.

But for good reason.

At the conclusion of a memorable evening at Kokomo Municipal Stadium that closed the 2016 Prospect League regular season, everything that had to happen for the second-year franchise to be in a celebratory mood as fireworks went off in front of a sellout crowd of 4,000 raucous fans did. The Gold and Brown (16-14 PL second half – 31-29 overall) roared past their league rivals, the Lafayette Aviators 14-1, Butler turned away Champion City’s second half chase for the postseason with a sweep of the Kings at Kelly Automotive Park in Pennsylvania to allow the Jackrabbits to reach the postseason, and the Battle of 26 Classic trophy went to Kokomo with a 5-3 record this season against their guests.

“I’m so proud of our guys,” Howard noted. “They’ve battled all season and tonight was no different. I’m just so thankful for the chance that MKE Sports afforded me to be able to coach here. I’m really excited for not only our guys but also the community and the fact that we could bring them a playoff bid.”

Offense and more offense for the home side dictated the evening. Outfielder Griffin Harms of Wayne State University drilled four hits in five-at bats; fellow outfielder Cole Nieto of Baldwin-Wallace University blasted three extra base hits and drove in three runs; and the final piece of the outfield lineup, Ryan Hutchinson of Illinois State University, turned in three hits, scored three times and drove in two to lead the output. The explosion started with a five-run second and didn’t stop until a single tally crossed in the fifth, six more poured in during the sixth and two more were added in the seventh.

Kokomo’s five-run effort in the second was more than enough for starting pitcher Ryan Lee. The University of Missouri player went eight strong innings with eight strikeouts in route to the win.

“This was just an amazing atmosphere tonight,” Lee said. “That energy the crowd had throughout added in with the opportunity we had in front of us really got me ready to pitch. My fast ball worked from the get go … it was just a pleasure to be able to be a part of it.”

The Jackrabbits open a best-of-three divisional series against first and second half Eastern champion West Virginia Sunday, August 7. Game time is 7:05 p.m. at KMS.

Lafayette 010 000 000 – 1 4 2
Kokomo 050 016 20x – 14  12  1

WP – Lee
LP – Naiser
Attendance: 4,000
Coca-Cola Player of the Game: Cole Nieto

Story courtesy of Mark Adkins/Kokomo Jackrabbits

THE DEAN’S LIST: GRADING THE KOKOMO JACKRABBITS FIRST HALF OF SEASON TWO

Kokomo Jackrabbits 1

THE DEAN’S LIST WITH DEAN HOCKNEY

It seems hard to believe, but the Kokomo Jackrabbits are now over halfway through the team’s second season in Municipal Stadium. There have been many highs and a few lows, but for the most part, the first half of season two of Prospect League baseball in the City of Firsts has been a hit. Here is a quick letter grade snapshot of the good and bad of the first half of the season.

Kokomo Municipal Stadium (B): Well, the stadium is still not complete, and until then, I cannot give a high score. But, fans love it, as evidenced by the stadium being voted the Best Summer Collegiate Ballpark in America for the second consecutive year.

There are still areas that are incomplete, like the lack of batting cages and a concession stand window that is 20-feet off the ground. But several areas were completed in time for the 2016 Jackrabbits season, like the second concession stand, walkways and clubhouses (although it is strange that there is no field-level door for the players). The new $250,000 video board is outstanding and will only get better as it is programmed with information.

Players (A-): What can be said about the players? How about five Prospect League all-stars for the second consecutive season! And two of those will be starting – Griffin Harms in the outfield and Ryan Hutchinson at third base. The squad came close to locking up a first-half playoff berth, and as of right now, they are in first place in the East Division for the second half. Could a playoff game come to Municipal Stadium next month?

The players are also accessible to fans – especially the young ones. Before each game, Jackrabbit players are on the concourse greeting fans, and after the game they are on the field signing autographs and meeting the community. And from what I can tell, the players and coaches truly enjoy meeting their fans – even after tough losses.

Concessions (B): The lines are now all but gone (last year, they lasted up to 30 minutes) and the food is very good at the Brew City Grill. The hot dogs are the best around, and from what I can tell, the beer and Coca-Cola are flowing at a steady pace. I am still looking forward to the arrival of DiMaggio’s Pizza, though.

Entertainment (B+): From fireworks to giveaways to on-field fun, the entertainment at a Kokomo Jackrabbits game is very good. Jax the Jackrabbit is one of the best mascots around and is great with kids, and the Get Outrageous Crew – led by Jessica Green from Z92.5 – keeps fans engaged between innings. With multiple bobblehead giveaways and interestingly themed home stands (I am stoked for Star Wars and WWE), there is something for everyone at a game.

Mother Nature (A): Thank you Mother Nature – we have not had a rain out and the temperatures have been pretty good through the first 20 home games of 2016.

Organization and coaching (B+): Last year, everyone was talking about the on-field antics of the field manager. But this year, Matt Howard has been a leader on the field – not just in coaching but with the way he carries himself. He has the team winning and there is little to no negative publicity this season. The Jackrabbits did a great job in promoting Howard – and a playoff berth will surely up his grade after the season.

Overall (B): Taking everything into consideration, I will give the first half of the season a B. What the stadium lacks in construction completion the team overcomes with exciting play on the field. While lines may be long at the ticket window (up to 45 minutes long before the last home game), once fans are seated they are quickly entertained by either game play or other activities. From all of the conversations I have had with fans, it is well worth paying a visit to a Jackrabbits game for an entertaining evening of the National Pastime.

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

Dean Hockney is the publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana, sports editor of the Kokomo Herald and the public address announcer for IU Kokomo and the Kokomo Jackrabbits. You can follow him on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and game reports.