While the political squabbling concerning Kokomo Municipal Stadium wages on, the Kokomo Jackrabbits brass is busy behind the scenes making sure the squad’s inaugural season is a success on their end.
The thought of playing in a brand new stadium in the team’s Prospect League home opener on May 30 is highly appealing to coach Greg Van Horn and the 19 players the Jackrabbits have signed thus far.
“Whenever you can get top-notch facilities, you’re going to have a better chance bringing in top-notch players,” Van Horn said. “I know we’re confident the stadium is going to get built. Everything I’ve heard from the ownership standpoint is that everything is going to work out. You obviously hope everything is going to work out.”
The path to coaching
The 26-year-old Van Horn grew up in Cranford, New Jersey, about 10 miles northwest of Staten Island, where he starred on the diamond for the Cougars.
He began his college career at Princeton University, but transferred after his sophomore season to College of Wooster.
After his first season at Wooster, Van Horn played for the Chillicothe Paints of the Prospect League. Paints owner Chris Hanners also owned the Rockford River Hawks of the Frontier League, and following his collegiate career, Van Horn played for the River Hawks – which changed their name to the Aviators – for three seasons.
After his third season with the Aviators, Van Horn knew his playing career was coming to a close. He was hired as an assistant coach at Princeton, and his networking with Hanners landed him an interview with Mike Zimmerman at MKE Sports for the Jackrabbits head coaching position.
“I love being around the game,” Van Horn said. “My passion is in the game of baseball, that’s for sure. I’m just really excited to be in charge of high quality baseball. It’s one thing to be an assistant coach, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of being the head guy.”
Van Horn found out he got the Jackrabbits job in late October. Right away, he started sending out emails and making phones calls to as many coaches as he could to try to secure players. Most Prospect League teams start securing players as early as September, so he felt about a month behind schedule.
So far, Van Horn and his staff have been able to lock down 19 players, leaving them about two-thirds of the way to a full roster of 28.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far of locking down pretty quality players,” Van Horn said, adding the team is still in need of pitching.
“The most nerve wracking thing is just knowing you can’t get everybody,” he continued. “It’s hard. There are so many leagues and so many different good teams and organizations that, especially with a new team like in Kokomo, nobody necessarily knows about them. You have to work hard in getting the word out that there’s this new team in the Prospect League out there.”
The Prospect League
The Prospect League is a college-age, wooden-bat league that plays from late May until early August.
Along with his time with Chillicothe, Van Horn also played in the Coastal Plains and New England leagues during his playing career. He ranked the Cape League as the top collegiate summer league in the eastern half of the United States, then followed with the New England League, Coastal Plains League and Northwoods League.
“I would say in the Prospect League, the competition is exactly the same,” Van Horn surmised. “The only difference is, in the Prospect League, you’re getting the majority of the players from the Midwest because that’s where the league is based. The only reason people on the East Coast might not have heard of the Prospect League is because it’s only six or seven years old. The only difference is the word isn’t out as much about the Prospect League as it is about these other high-caliber leagues.”
Zimmerman asked Van Horn during the job interview what he considered his coaching style to be. Van Horn found the question difficult to answer because he wasn’t exactly sure the type of players he would be coaching and strategizing against. He said his coaching style is to make the best choices in the moment based on what’s in front of him.
“When I think we need to lay down a bunt, we’re going to lay down a bunt,” Van Horn said. “If I think my players can hit, I’m going to give them the opportunity to drive in some runs and really let the players play. You have to find a balance, but see what you’re presented with before you make a decision.”
The players Van Horn and his staff have chosen thus far are from all over the country, ranging from California to Florida to New Jersey to Minnesota. While they’re staying in Kokomo, the players will live with host families.
Van Horn says the host family part was one of the most positive aspects of his summer baseball experience as a player, and he still keeps in touch with the vast majority of the people he came in contact with during those summers.
“It’s one of the most unexpected, positive things that comes out of summer ball, just because you don’t really know what you’re getting into,” Van Horn said. “But, you form such a close relationship with your host family that they really do become part of your family.
“From the host family side, I think they love it,” he added. “You’re bringing in really good kids is really what you’re doing. Especially for families with kids, I think it’s one of the best decisions you can make, to be a host family.”
The Jackrabbits are still looking for host families in the Kokomo area for this summer, and hope to have a host family coordinator in place in the next couple weeks.
In the interim, those interested in being a host family this summer are encouraged to contact MKE Sports senior vice president of operations Dan Kuenzi at 414-908-6334.
Ticket sales for the season have also begun. Ticket packages may be viewed and purchased via the club's website at kokomojackrabbits.com.