Legendary Logansport baseball coach Jim Turner celebrated his 89th birthday on Monday.
He said all in all it felt good to turn 89.
“I’ve been telling everybody I feel so good I feel guilty,” he said. “My wife and I look at each other every now and then and say, ‘How did we get here?’”
Of course Turner has never had a birthday quite like his 89th. It’s a time of self-quarantine and social distancing due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
“We grew up during the Depression and World War II,” he said. “It was bad, but it was a lot different.”
With his birthday being on March 30, fittingly it is usually about the time for the start of Logansport baseball. In fact the Berries were supposed to start the season this upcoming Saturday at LaPorte.
Logansport and LaPorte have long been known as being two of the best baseball towns in the state, along with Jasper, especially considering they’re not in large population centers. Logansport — with its four state titles — and LaPorte — with its eight — are still the most successful Class 4A programs in the history of the IHSAA baseball tournament.
Turner went 582-188 in 27 seasons at the helm for the Berries. He retired from coaching at the age of 60 after winning his fourth state championship in 1991.
His resume also included winning 22 sectional titles (including 19 in a row), 11 regional titles and nine North Central Conference titles.
In addition to the state championship seasons in 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1991, Turner’s Berries made the Final Four in 1989 and 1990 as well. The 1991 team finished ranked No. 11 in the USA Today national prep baseball poll.
Turner remains a big Logan baseball fan. He’s a regular at Berry home games at the field named after him at the LHS complex. He also still goes to a lot of youth baseball games in the summer to watch the future Berry players.
He said not going to Berries games this spring will be difficult for him as it’s something that he always looks forward to.
“It is, especially when you think about the kids not only in baseball, but in track and tennis, whatever sport they’re in, they’re going to miss a whole year of athletics. Unless a miracle happens and they can participate in maybe half of it or so. But it doesn’t look likely,” he said.
For the first time in 58 years, there won’t be a Turner in the Berries’ dugout this season after Turner’s son, who’s also named Jim Turner, retired last year after coaching the Berries for 28 years, 22 of which were as the head coach.
But the Berries stayed in-house of sorts as they hired Dan Frye as the new head coach. Frye’s debut has to wait until the pandemic clears.
Frye is a 1988 LHS grad who went on to play at Indiana State and in the Minor Leagues.
“Dan was a good player and I think he’ll do a good job,” Turner said. “He certainly was one of the better players when he played for me when I was coaching. So yeah, I think Dan is a good choice.”
Turner recalled some stories from Frye’s playing days. The Berries had strong teams leading up to their three straight trips to the State Finals.
“In 1988, we only lost two games that year. We were something like 29-2 maybe,” Turner recalled. “We only lost two games, both of them were to Kokomo. Dan did most of the pitching. He was a good pitcher. But we won the conference that year because of him.
“We were playing in Lafayette, both Lafayette and Logansport were undefeated. Dan was facing their No. 1 pitcher, Dan of course was our No. 1 pitcher. We were down 1-0 or 2-1 in the top of the seventh inning, Dan Frye was up to bat. There were two outs and he had two strikes and we had a runner on. Dan was 0-2 and I’m standing in the third base coach’s box knowing that Dan was strictly a pull hitter. He couldn’t have hit a ball to the opposite field if his life depended on it. I’m thinking it’s their No. 1 pitcher, he’s got Dan Frye down 0-2, he’s going to give him something away, either a breaking ball or a fastball out of the strike zone away.
“He didn’t do that. He came inside with a fastball to Dan and that ball is going over the left-field fence and that won the ballgame for us and it won the conference all because of Dan Frye. We owe him one conference championship.”
Turner coached the Berries when the NCC was still at the height of its powers in all sports.
“There were no weak teams in the conference those days. They were all strong,” he said.
Logansport is still one of the smaller towns and one of the smaller schools in the conference. The Berries have to go up against the larger Lafayette schools and Kokomo in the NCC West now.
But the Berries finally broke their 17-year sectional drought in Class 4A last year with come-from-behind victories over Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon at Loeb Stadium.
“I’ve never seen ballgames like that, coming from behind like that. That was thrilling,” Turner said.
Teams like Kokomo, the Lafayette schools, Zionsville and Brownsburg being in the sectional field have been part of the change since class sports were enacted in 1998.
“The tournament got a lot tougher after I retired. It went to a class system. When that happened, the sectional was like going to the semistate because you had to face those tough teams over the in Lafayette area right away. We were able to progress through,” Turner said.
That’s not to take away from any of the accomplishments of Turner’s teams. His squads were often ranked in the Top 10 in the state and they gave themselves plenty of chances to win state titles and were able to bring home four of them.
There were of course some that got away, like the 1988 season. Or in the 1996 season when Butch Jones’s squad, led by future Major Leaguer Aaron Heilman, just weren’t at their sharpest in a 5-3 loss to Merrillville at state. Or in 2002, when Turner’s son Jim’s best squad lost to Munster 9-4 at state.
“I thought with Joe Ness and [Derreck] Parkevich and [Eric] Lambert and those guys, I thought they could have won that if Joe hadn’t hurt his arm. He wasn’t able to pitch at all,” Turner said.
Turner’s 1973 team could have made the ’70s decade even better for the Berries as he said that team featured two of the best players he ever coached.
“My best player was Mike Dimmel. He signed with the Dodgers right out of high school, got a little bonus,” Turner said. “We had another kid by the name of Bob Simons who was a catcher. He could have signed with the Giants, he was drafted by the Giants. He was offered a bonus but he got a college scholarship worth more than the bonus. He chose to go to college, unfortunately he blew out both knees in college his sophomore year. That ended his baseball career.”
Twin Lakes defeated Logansport in tournament play in 1973.
“Twin Lakes, we had beaten them earlier I think it was 4-0. Then we played them in the tournament and it was one of those games everything we hit was right at somebody,” Turner said. “They hit end of the bat, bat handle balls that just fell in. And there was just nothing we could do about it. There was no strategy involved in any way. It was just a contrast in where the ball went after it left the bat. We didn’t have any luck at all and they had a lot of luck. That’s what baseball is all about.”
Turner is originally from Danville, Illinois. He graduated from high school there in 1949.
He was a standout pitcher himself. He helped his high school team reach the State Finals his junior year and his senior year he went 10-1 with the only loss being 4-3 in nine innings to the eventual state runner-up.
He went on to pitch for one year at Illinois State and went 2-0 in five games pitched as a freshman.
“Then the Korean War broke out and I enlisted in the Air Force,” he said. “The Korean War broke out and it was either get drafted or join and I preferred to go into the Air Force. We had a recruiter in town who recruited about 20 of us at the same time, and of course all my buddies went in so I enlisted with them.
“So I was gone for four years and in those four years I was able to play either fastpitch softball or baseball three of those summers. I was fortunate in that respect.
“I was pitching for Forbes Air Force Base in the state semi-pro tournament in Kansas. I injured my shoulder and that was the end of my pitching.”
He moved to Logansport in 1958.
“I was lucky to get the opportunity to come over here, really,” he said. “I came over in Y work. I finished my student-teaching over at Illinois State mid-semester and I was looking for a job. I was working part-time over at the Bloomington, Illinois Y. They called him the youth work secretary in Bloomington who got the opportunity to take the Logansport job and he asked me if I wanted to come over here with him to be the physical director, so I took the opportunity to get a job in mid-semester, didn’t start until June, but took the job in the middle of the semester and came over here and been here ever since.”
He was hired as the varsity baseball coach in 1964.
“The reason I went to college in the first place is because I wanted to coach,” he said. “Those days you had to have a college degree and be a teacher in order to coach at the high school level. I put in my application to teach and fortunately Carl Zimmerman, the superintendent of schools, hired me and I’ve been coaching ever since. The first five years I was here I coached freshman basketball and the varsity baseball job opened up. In fact I coached two years of the junior varsity, then the varsity job opened up in ’64 and that’s when I started with the varsity.”
After all these years Logansport is still producing All-Stars and doing well against bigger schools in all sports. Tucker Platt became the Berries’ 23rd All-Star in baseball last year.
Turner is looking for the tradition to continue, if and when play is resumed this year.
“There’s a nucleus of about five or six pretty good players coming back this year and I was really looking forward to this team because I think they’re going to be pretty good,” he said. “Unfortunately this season is going to elude them I’m afraid.”
The IHSAA started its baseball tournament in 1967, but Turner said Logansport was a baseball power long before then.
“Logansport has always been a baseball community, long before I came to town they were a baseball community,” he said. “Rex Hunter who was the coach before I coached the varsity had some good teams. So we’ve always had good players.
“Of course Butch Jones and Rich [Wild] and I always told everybody that it was all coaching that won all those games.
“No, we’ve always been a baseball community and we had some wonderful kids, just tremendous players.”