I’ve lived in Fishers and Hamilton County since 1989, and only recently has high school baseball stood out in a big, big way.

Right now, our county baseball is as good as it gets. Maybe even the best in Central Indiana!

It all started with Noblesville’s state title in 2014, followed by Fishers HS winning in 2018 and Hamilton Southeastern and University stating their cases in 2019….and, guess what, two of the state’s biggest high schools don’t even offer 7th/8th baseball in the City of Fishers.

By the way, Noblesville does have a middle school baseball program, which Noblesville High School head varsity coach Justin Keever is thrilled about.

And first-year HSE coach Jeremy Sassanella would be all in for middle school baseball if it was offered . . . and if he could be involved in the selection of coaches.

Sure, we have middle school football and basketball in Fishers  . . .

But again, no baseball at the middle school level at the Fishers and HSE junior highs.

It’s not for a lack of fields!

So why, then?

“Fishers seems to be more into Rec Leagues,’’ one parent told me recently while watching a 13U travel baseball game at the impressive Riverside baseball site in Fishers.’’

From another parent: “In every Junior High I’m aware of (7th and 8th grade), especially in Class 4A, there are middle school teams including CYO schools — with the exception of Fishers schools.

 “Personally, I know of kids who would love to play 7th/8th grade baseball if it were available. I’ve talked with parents and kids in our neighbor . . . and they’d love to see a middle school program in Fishers.

“Travel baseball is one thing, and it’s been successful, but I think there is something to be said for playing for your school like all other sports. Simply put, a really COOL thing for overall school spirit.’’

From yet another reader: “Less than 1/3rd of the HS rosters from Fishers/HSE come from their own feeder programs . . . 2/3rds come from other travel organizations. All of Hamilton County would be better off without MS baseball unless it’s an extension of community rec programs.’’

Is it times to consider some changes?

Many coaches and even more parents would support middle school baseball, I’m sure. Maybe a lively discussion is the best place to start.

So consider this a starting point.

Yes, cost factor could be a problem. That was brought up in recent discussions. But, hey, three of Hamilton County’s Class 4A schools — Noblesville, Carmel and Westfield — seem to be able to make it work.

Some coaches worry about kids pitching too much in middle school, and then moving on to travel baseball in late spring and summer. Matthew Cherry of the Fishers Tigers is one of those.

“I would agree that pitching in middle school and then pitching on traveling teams could be detrimental to young arms,’’ he said.

Makes sense that pitching and arm care could be an issue, yet no one seems to be complaining about the 50-plus travel games these kinds play yearly.

I received a few responses on twitter when I sent out a short promo last week about my article. I asked that I wonder if the Fishers schools might have won State sooner had they had a stronger feeder system via middle school programs?

One gentleman replied:

“Again Mark; I’d respectfully disagree as someone who has coached & managed the players who come out of those programs with arm usage issues. The proof is in the pudding as they say: Fishers & HSE have no MS baseball & are back-to-back State champs!’’

Thanks for your input.

You be the judge, but maybe this Hoosier Crossroads Conference graphic could be useful:

 

Most HCC wins since 2007:

 

            1. Noblesville (Middle School Program)

            2. Zionsville (Middle School Program)

            3. Westfield (Middle School Program)

            4. Brownsburg (Middle School Program)

            5. Fishers (NO Middle School Program)

            6. HSE (NO Middle School Program)

            7. Avon (NO Middle School Program

 

Here’s some thoughts shared from Hamilton County’s three Class 4A state championship coaches (alphabetically):

 

Matthew Cherry, Fishers HS

“I will say that I am not in favor of adding junior high baseball teams. I actually inquired about this about 10 years ago and was told that it costs too much money from the district for such teams. That was frustrating at the time, but I have since discussed the idea with several coaching colleagues who have junior high school baseball programs in their feeder system. 

“They (left unnamed) have shared many negatives to having such a program and most would choose not to have a junior high program if they could. They have almost all said they would prefer a system like we currently have here in Fishers.

 In the current Travel Baseball World…which is the setup we have…the players are able to train and play with their Travel team all winter, spring, and summer. The communities that have junior high baseball run into issues with players trying to play junior high baseball during the week in the spring and still competing with their travel teams on the weekends.This causes pitching concerns, overuse of arms concerns, burnout, fatigue, frustrations between junior high coaches and the travel ball coaches, etc. 

“Some junior high programs require their players to not play Travel until after their Junior High season, which then forces the junior high player to choose one over the other. The players in those situations that choose Junior High Baseball in the spring are then left off of Travel Teams that typically start playing games in early April and do not want to hold a roster spot.

 “Personally, I like our current setup where we have 3 Express Teams (combined with both Tigers and Royals) with approximately 12 players on each team…plus numerous players playing in the Rec League System. To me, this is helping develop as many players as possible in preparation for their Freshmen Year tryout.’’ 

Justin Keever, Noblesville

“We love our Middle School program.  One of the main things I love about it is that our future players continue to learn about playing for each other and for Noblesville in an education- based baseball team. This is different than they are used to, as everything they have played through 6th grade was club-based.

“We are fortunate in Noblesville to have a very strong community based-club system thru 6th grade (and some special examples thru 14 years old), and they learn to play for their city. But playing for a school-based team is another level they have yet to experience. 

“Practicing every day you aren't playing is a different experience b/c usually club teams are only practicing once a week before their weekend tournament or not practicing at all b/c they have scheduled a mid-week game instead. 

Getting them acquainted to that schedule before they get to high school is important, because the high school schedule takes that to another level altogether, and includes an intense off-season calendar.

“Learning to play for your school and being a part of something bigger than yourself is a huge. Many of these kids have aspirations to play for NHS and then collegiately...and both of those experiences are education-based. The baseball schedule is unique from any other sport and experiencing that and going to class is an important learning experience.

“I wish the seasons were longer for them and they were able to play more games.  I also would desire a second coaching stipend for each team. However we are very fortunate at Noblesville to have 2 nice middle school diamonds, a school corporation who sees an important value in a middle school program and a community that loves and supports their high school baseball program.’’ 

Jeremy Sassanella, HSE:

“I guess there’s a cost factor involved that could be a problem for one thing.

Still, I can tell you that I’d be all in for middle school baseball if we had such an opportunity.

If I could be part of that, and have a say in hiring our coaches, that would be great. I would make sure coaches buy in to what we’re doing at HSE.

“I believe you seek great people as coaches and good teammates first, and then great baseball second….and that leads to a winning culture. And that winning culture is what we have at HSE.

“A feeder system starting in middle school would be ideal. I want to make sure kids are prepared at a younger age before they get to HSE.

“One of the problems I’ve seen as a head coach is that kids start playing baseball — sometimes as many as 60 games each year at such a young age — And that’s a lot. Really a lot.

“I don’t know how much middle school would interfere with travel ball. I just know they (the kids) would get more practice time than they do in travel ball. There’s so much more to the game than just showing up, warming up and emptying the equipment bag. Kids need to learn the game the right way.

“The drills we run would help the kids if we offered middle school baseball.

Travel ball is lots of baseball and exposure.

“It’s a showcase.

“Travel kids get ratings, and mom and dad write checks, more baseball for young people now than ever. Spending a lot of money and we’re not better for it. Kids need to focus on fundamentals and execution.

“The biggest thing….and I’m not anti-travel ball….is it’s not going away. There’s really some good travel teams out there in many cases. But coaching is not always that good.

“We are amazed that some kids with D1 skills need to taught more fundamentals; they need to get more practice time than game time to be better prepared. And that starts at a young age. A feeder system where everyone is on the same page is important, starting at a younger age.’’

A THOUGHT: Now that this obviously has stirred things up a bit, certainly opening the door to potentially more conversation, how’s this for a potential future idea: an article on ranking the baseball fields in Hamilton County in terms of playing surface, atmosphere, food, parking, and the like? Likely more lively conversation would follow, I’m guessing.

*—Mark Morrow, a Hall of Fame Indiana sportswriter, has resided in Hamilton County since 1989. You can follow him in The Times, and on Twitter at mmediamarko12. He can be reached at mediamarko5@gmail.com or by calling 317 460-8018.