Category Archives: Travel

With a little help from dad, Sampen pitching in Dodgers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Caleb Sampen, a right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, is a second-generation professional baseball pitcher.

His father — Bill Sampen — toed the rubber for pay for 10 seasons and appeared in 182 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels.

Selected in the 20th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate Caleb Sampen had been in three pro games though July 10 — all with the Short Season Class-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors.

Caleb has picked up pointers from his father. But it hasn’t been too much.

When Caleb was getting started in the game, Bill was coaching his two older sons. Isaac and Sam played for the West Side Crusaders.

“I was just around,” says Caleb Sampen. “(My father) didn’t force any mechanics on me. He let me be an athlete.

“It wasn’t like I had a pitching lesson with him everyday.”

The elder Sampen decided when his older boys were reaching their teens that he would stop serving as a coach for their teams and he never coached any of Caleb’s squads.

“It was best for them to learn to play for other people,” says Bill Sampen, “I thought that was part of the process. I think that’s the best route for kids.

“I got to step back and just be a dad and enjoy watching them play.

“I just played coach when they asked me questions.”

In November, Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities will reach the ninth year in Brownsburg (5,200 square feet) and mark one year in Plainfield (7,500 square feet).

The Indiana Expos travel organization are in their second season and have seven teams in 2018. None of them have fathers coaching their own sons.

Bill Sampen says that policy for Expos coaches achieves a couple things.

“It allows us to be completely honest and give honest and objective feedback,” says Bill Sampen. “And they just get to watch their kid play.

“I know I enjoy the value of just sitting back and being a dad. The truth is they’re not going to play very long. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stress so much.”

Bill Sampen coaches the 16U National team, David Brewers the 16U American, Derek Hankins the 15U National, Nick Spence the 15U American, Isaac Sampen the 14U National, Leo Tobasco the 14U American, Tony Meyer the 13U National.

Calling the teams the Expos was not Bill’s call.

“My family decision informed that was what the name was,” says Bill Sampen. “You can see I have no clout.”

Bill coached the Bethesda Christian School baseball team for about a decade before starting his training business.

“It’s a very pure level of coaching I have now,” says Bill Sampen, “I appreciate that.”

During the school year, he has students from 4 p.m. on. But he is involved seven days a week most of the year as either an instructor or travel ball coach.

His 16U team has been in Georgia, competing against some of the best from all over the continent.

“Our upper age groups do more extensive travel,” says Bill Sampen. “We’re helping them get exposure. They get to see kids committed (to colleges) all over the place.

“It’s good for our players to see the skill level and talent that’s out there. We want to play people that the only way we can beat them is if we out-execute them.

“Do things right day in and day out. If you have a plan and do the routine things, you’re going to be in baseball games, no matter who you’re playing.”

Knowing that some players will not go on to college, they are getting to have experiences they may not have without travel baseball.

“We want to hope them grow and develop — not just as baseball players but as people,” says Bill Sampen. “It’s the life skills that carry past baseball.

“If you’re trying to win trophies, I think you’ve got the wrong purpose.”

Caleb Sampen grew up in Brownsburg and played at Brownsburg Little League until seventh grade when he started his travel ball experiences. He donned the uniforms of the Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Bulls and Indiana Blue Jays.

At Brownburg High, where Caleb graduated in 2015, his head coach was Eric Mattingly.

“He always talked about doing the little things right and an attention to detail,” says Caleb Sampen, who played shortstop when not pitching for the Bulldogs. “You take care of every little piece so you’re well-prepared.”

At Wright State, Sampen had Greg Lovelady as his head coach and Justin Parker his pitching coach his freshman year before both went to the University of Central Florida.

“(Parker) always talks about lower half and using your legs,” says Caleb Sampen.

The next two years, Jeff Mercer was head coach and Alex Sogard led the pitching staff.

(Sogard) didn’t try to change me a whole lot on the mound,” says Caleb Sampen. “He was pretty individualized, which I liked a lot.”

Recently, Mercer became head coach at Indiana University and Sogard was promoted to head coach at Wright State.

Sampen also got the chance this past year to learned from Diamyn Hall, NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach.

“We worked on routines and being ready to go,” says Sampen of Hall. “He gets you in that mindset and having self awareness.”

In Caleb Sampen, Bill sees a cerebral kid.

“He’s got an idea,” says Bill Sampen. “I can’t take any credit for any successes he’s had.”

The father does see some similarities to himself.

Bill Sampen developed his abilities while playing baseball and basketball at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.

“I see the way he moves and his athleticism,” says Bill Sampen of Caleb. “He has a long, loose arm and does things naturally.”

In two seasons at Wright State (2016 and 2018), Caleb went 14-4 in 26 games (21 as a starter) with a 2.92 earned run average, 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He missed the 2017 season after having surgery on the ulnar nerve in his elbow.

On a pitch count because of the college workload in the spring of 2018, Caleb Sampen, 21, began his pro career with two relief appearances and a short starting stint. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.

Jeremy Rodriguez is the Ogden manager. Dean Stiles is the pitching coach.

The next stops on the Dodgers minor league trail are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Caleb says he goes to the bump each time with an aggressiveness mindset.

“You’ve got to go out and attack with your strengths,” says Caleb Sampen, who uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, 12-to-6 curveball and cutter.

What about the change-up?

“It’s own own little mix I’ve perfected over the years,” says Caleb Sampen. “I use an off-set two-seam grip and throw it with my ring finger and middle finger. I keep my index finger off the ball as much as possible.”

Amy Sampen, a former Brownsburg teacher, is now an virtual educator and is the “boss” as co-owner of the Hack Shack, according to Bill.

Isaac Sampen (24) and Sam Sampen (23) both played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Sam graduated highs school a semester early and joined his older brother.

Isaac Sampen went on to play at Eastern Illinois University and Sam Sampen at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Besides coaching and helping with the coordination of the Expos, Isaac now helps in many ways at the Shack. Sam has an outside job and also helps out at the training facilities.

In his time around the game, Bill Sampen has seen an increase in research and scientific data related to throwing a baseball.

“It’s validated some things that should have been done all along,” says Bill Sampen. “It can be very valuable in preventing injury.

“It seems that injuries are still there in spite of new data and new science.”

The likely reason?

“It’s the intensity of weight training,” says Bill Sampen. “Velocity is based on arm speed and not body strength.

“There are big, physical guys that can’t throw hard.”

And yet 5-foot-11, 180-pounder Billy Wagner regularly hit 100 mph and won 47 games and saved 422 in the bigs.

CALEBSAMPENOGDEN

Caleb Sampen, a 2015 Brownsburg High School graduate and former Wright State University pitcher, makes a delivery for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

 

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RoundTripper, Indiana Mustangs founder Estep emphasizes work ethic, grades, playing with fire not anger

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Providing instruction and tools for players to get better and helping them get to the next level.

Chris Estep has been doing that for more than two decades. He founded RoundTripper Sports Academy in 1993 in Hamilton County, Ind. In 2001, RoundTripper and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization has been housed in a 40,000-square feet facility in Westfield.

Estep, an Indianapolis native, was an All-American at the University of Kentucky and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He began has career as an instructor and coach after retiring from minor league baseball in 1992.

When he’s not traveling with a team, Estep is at RoundTripper giving up to 12 lessons a day or conducting classes with players with ties to many different organizations.

“When I’m here, it’s contact teaching,” says Estep. “On the road, it’s constantly marketing the players and working to try to get them signed.”

Estep is proud to see long list of RoundTripper and Indiana Mustangs alumni going on to higher levels of baseball and giving back to the game as coaches, scouts, instructors and tournament directors.

Among those are current or former big leaguers Micah Johnson, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Drew Storen, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn and Cory Wade.

Former Mustang and RoundTripper employee Blake Hibler is now program director/event manager for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield.

“This is a place they grew up and it’s pretty awesome,” says Estep. “You’ve got guys out their teaching and coaching the game the right way.”

The Mustangs field 17 baseball and four softball travel teams in 2018.

Much of Estep’s focus right now revolves around the 17U baseball team. Former pro player and current scout Mike Farrell manages the team, Chase Estep is an assistant coach and Chris Estep does his part to help athletes through the college recruiting process.

“Our biggest thing is making sure we’re getting all the kids signed,” says the elder Estep. “We’ve had up to 20 colleges in every game we played in. They’re evaluating these guys.

“The process moves very quickly when they identify the kid they want. We have kids who are not committed that have interest from 15 to 20 schools. They still have choices.”

Estep, 51, notes that verbal commitments can be made at any time, but players can’t sign a letter of intent until they begin their senior year.

He sees the current trend of early commits and shakes his head.

“Slow down a little bit,” says Estep. “Nobody knows what this kid is going to be in eighth grade or their freshman year. Nobody has any idea.

“You may think he has this trajectory. But he may be what he is in that freshman year. Conversely, you may have a pipsqueak that grows to become this unbelievable dude.”

Estep says it’s too early to knowing what a player at 12, 13 or 14 will be at 16, 17 or 18.

“If anybody can tell you what they’re going to be, they’re lying to you,” says Estep. “You don’t know that until he turns 16.

“You may have a fully-developed kid at 13 and 14. All he’s going to do is get hairier. He’s a big, strong kid. But all he’s got is what he’s got.

“Now it’s going to be up to his work ethic.”

That player may not be getting any bigger, so they need to continue developing their skills, learning how to hit for power and to all fields, getting in the weight room to increase their strength and doing what they can to enhance their speed by a tick or two.

“If the skill sets are good, it all comes down to work ethic,” says Estep. “Every kid that comes (to RoundTripper) for a reason. They want to play at the next level — whatever that level may be. The thing they’ll get from us is how hard they need to work.

“You don’t have to take 25,000 lessons. You take a lesson and you have your marching orders of what I need to work on that week.”

Players are asked to answers a series of questions.

How many swings are you going to take?

How many throws are you going to make?

How balls are you going to block?

How many ground balls are you going to take?

How many fly balls?

Are you going to work on your angles?

“The game is just not hitting or defense, it’s all of those things,” says Estep, who has built a reputation in the baseball world and relationships with college coaches and pro scouts.

“When you’ve been in the business for 25 years, they start to trust that you might know what you’re doing,” says Estep. “So they listen to what you might have to say and what your evaluation is.

“As long as your honest about what the kid can do and how he projects, they’ll watch them play and say ‘you’re dead on.’

“You cannot be used car salesman.”

Shooting straight with players and parents also helps the process.

“When you get to this level, parents have to pretty good idea of what their kids are,” says Estep.

Estep says it all comes down to the 16U and 17U summers.

“That’s where (college recruiters) are putting their real (player) boards together,” says Estep. “They call the 16U year ‘The Arms Race.’ Everybody’s looking at arms. They’re seeing position players. They all want to gobble up catchers, shortstops and center fielders.

“They’re the ones making the big bucks so they should know what they’re doing.”

Many times, college coaching jobs are dependent upon winning and claiming championships.

But priorities can change prior to a player signing on the dotted line.

“(Players) can get a commitment, but come November they can get a phone call (from the college) saying, ‘listen, we went in another direction,’” says Estep. “Now the kids out there flopping in the wind.”

Estep and his staff also emphasize the importance of good grades.

“They must understand what the ACT and SAT can provide for you,” says Estep. “The academic money is a big deal.”

Only 11.7 baseball scholarships are offered yearly at the NCAA Division I level. It’s 9 at NCAA D-II, 0 at NCAA D-III and 12 for the NAIA. For the National Junior College Athletic Association, it’s 24 for Division I and II and 0 for D-III.

In the past week, Estep talked with one school and learned that an 1150 SAT will bring a player $20,000. The Mustangs have a half dozen players who have the baseball skills and SAT scores high enough to get interest from Ivy League schools.

Learning to stay cool when the heat is on is another important lesson taught by Estep.

“Baseball is a massive game of failure,” says Estep. “You have to control your emotions. We tell kids, ‘anger is not your friend.’”

In other words: The sport can’t be played in a blind rage.

“We see them turning corners and getting a little better every year,” says Estep. “It’s fun to watch.

“Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong in playing with fire. There’s a very thin line between playing with fire and playing with anger. Anger sets you up for failure. Playing with fire allows you to succeed.”

Estep has watched Indiana baseball enjoy growth in recent years. He submits the 2018 IHSAA State Finals as one piece of evidence of the high level.  Fishers edged Indianapolis Cathedral 4-3 in Class 4A. Andrean bested Silver Creek 6-1 in 3A. Boone Grove shaded Southridge 5-4 in 2A. Daleville defeated University 4-2 in nine innings in 1A.

“It was phenomenal,” says Estep, who completed his 10th season as University head coach in 2018. Guys played great. Everyone is extremely well-prepared.

“I was so impressed with how the Indianapolis Indians and IHSAA ran things (at Victory Field).”

Then there’s the explosion of travel baseball and player development.

“At facilities like ours, you’re seeing them preparing themselves and honing skill sets,” says Estep. “They’re trying to reach their fullest potential.”

The game has also grown with the help of talent identifiers like Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report.

“(PBR Indiana owner/director) Phil Wade is doing a phenomenal job,” says Estep.

The 17th annual RoundTripper Showcase is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 26. Coaches from 50 or more college programs are expected to attend.

INDIANAMUSTANGS

ROUNDTRIPPERSPORTSACADEMY

RoundTripper Sports Academy and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization were both founded by Chris Estep in Hamilton County, Ind.

 

State’s baseball talent exposure has multiplied; Just ask Hibler of Bullpen Tournaments, PBR Indiana

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time when college baseball recruiters and pro scouts did not hold the Hoosier State in high regard.

“Indiana has always been talented as a state,” says Blake Hibler. “But from an exposure standout, it was always overlooked.

“Indiana was some place you drove through. People are now stopping. They realize what kind of talent there is.”

Hibler, founder of Prep Baseball Report Indiana who is now kept busy as program director/event manager for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., has watched the state raise its profile with the help of travel baseball and strong college programs.

“(Big leaguers like) Adam Lind, Scott Rolen and Lance Lynn kind of paved the way for Indiana baseball to become big,” says Hibler. “The explosion came when Purdue was a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA tournament (in 2012) and (Indiana University) went to Omaha (for the College World Series in 2013).”

At the lower levels, the University of Southern Indiana went NCAA Division II World Series in 2007 and won it all in 2010 and 2014. The University of Indianapolis went to the D-II World Series in 2000 and 2012. Manchester appeared in the D-III World Series in 2004 and 2013.

“This allowed Indiana to become more exposed,” says Hibler. “When we started PBR, college coaches contacted us asking ‘where is that sleeper?’ We don’t have sleepers anymore.

“Colleges are very aware of every player in our state.”

In his role at Grand Park, Hibler oversees 16 straight weekends of travel baseball events in the spring and summer and another six in the fall.

There’s something baseball-related going on — games, tournaments, showcases — at the facility with 26 diamonds from the end of January through October.

There are 12 full-size fields — four with full synthetic turf fields and eight with synthetic infields and grass outfields. Hibler considers eight of those high school or college fields.

Bullpen Tournaments, which counts 90 percent of its business as baseball with some softball, leases the facility from Grand Park. The land is owned by the City of Westfield.

As the sole operator, Bullpen’s 100 employees take care of everything from restrooms to common area mowing to field maintenance to practice scheduling and more.

From the beginning of June to the end of July, there are 230 to 280 teams at Grand Park every weekend. Of those, 115 are high school-age squads.

There are often more than one tournament going on — maybe U9 through U12 games on one side of the complex and high schoolers on the other.

In June and July, Bullpen hosts American Baseball Championships for Youth Baseball, U13, U14, U15, U16, U17 and U18.

An elite event is the PBR Future Games. The eighth annual tournament is slated for Aug. 1-4 with 24 teams and players from more than 40 states.

In 2017, all five collegiate power conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) were represented with more than 80 percent of schools in those leagues in attendance.

“This year won’t be any different,” says Hibler of the 16U event. “It’s the best uncommitted sophomores in the country.

“It’s kind of a culmination of their season and kickoff to their junior year. The recruiting calendar falls in perfect. Sept. 1 is when college coaches can begin calling and have direct  conversations with these recruits.”

The first Future Games was held in 2011 with four teams.

Nolan Watson was MVP in 2015, the year he was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Lawrence North High School.

Technology helps keep track of all Bullpen tournaments.

There is a phone app for that. It can be uploaded from the Google Play Store.

Hibler is the “tech guy” for both Bullpen Tournaments and PBR-Indiana and does a podcast with PBR owner/director Phil Wade. Many of those focus on events at Grand Park or the top high school players and teams in the state.

With all its facilities, there is a large economic impact that comes with the complex.

“The most common question we get is: How do you pay for Grand Park?,” says Hibler. “Ultimately, the mayor (Andy Cook) took a risk. He decided to make youth sports his industry.”

The City of Westfield owns the land and owns and operates the Grand Park Events Center, which will house the Indianapolis Colts Training Camp this year, and the soccer facility.

Hotels and restaurants are on the way. There are also private facilities springing up like Pro X Athlete Development and Pacers Athletic Center.

A graduate of Lawrence Central High School who played for the Indiana Mustangs and Danville Area Community College, Hibler has worked for RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield and Pastime Tournaments as well as an associate MLB scout.

Hibler joined the PBR family in November 2010. At the time, he was in his second stint as the pitching coach for Lawrence Central, where he saw two pitchers get drafted in 2011 — Christian Montgomery (11th round, Mets) and Jared Ruxer (29th round, Indians). He was originally the pitching coach from 2004-2005 before returning for 2007-2011.

He has seen how competitive recruiting is, but it is usually not cut throat.

“Baseball is little more loyal with the verbal commitment than other sports,” says Hibler. “College coaches are buddies. They don’t necessarily go after other kids as aggressively as basketball and football.

“I would be naive to say it doesn’t happen (in baseball).”

A premium is placed on players who play in the middle of the diamond.

“Pitching is the easiest thing to project,” says Hibler. “If you’re 92 (mph) now, you’re going be 92 or better we you reach college. There’s a lot more to dream on with your catchers, shortstops and centerfielders.

“Typically, you’re looking for in that younger age group is athleticism and physicality. You get the combination of athleticism and physicality, those are the kids who typically commit early.”

Hibler notes that outside of the state’s top 10 or so players, most commit in their junior or even senior years.

How is success gauged in the travel baseball world?

“For 14-and-under, success is still defined by wins and losses,” says Hibler. “15-and-up is defined by scholarships and exposure.

“Lost in all of this is competitiveness. In the Future Games, Indiana always plays Illinois on Friday night. That’s still the most-attended game because there’s a rivalry there.”

Hibler says players appreciate playing against equal competition. With so many travel teams out there, mismatches happen.

“The better players relax or shut down during games,” says Hibler. “They don’t play hard during the summer sometimes unless they are in front of college coaches or playing a really good team.”

The ABC tournaments were designed with two tiers — the first to determine which division teams belong in and the second to crown Gold, Silver and Bronze division champions.

“That way it creates competitive baseball,” says Hibler.

Hibler notes that when the Indiana Bulls were started in the early 1990s to give the state’s best the chance to play top competition and receive exposure, they were the only organization out there. There are now many options and the talent is more evenly divided.

There are those who think that team chemistry is easier to build with a high school program than travel baseball, where players are coming from many different directions.

“Travel baseball is figuring that out and trying to combat it,” says Hibler. “They’re starting to put the development piece back into it a little bit.”

There is a misconception on the part of some players (and their parents) about travel ball and high school ball. They are putting more emphasis on travel.

“Some of these kids believe that travel baseball is more important to their future than high school is,” says Hibler. “A lot of college coaches still call the high school coach first after that initial talk with the travel coach.

“High school simulates a little bit of what college life could be — academics, girls, scouting reports, being a student and an athlete.

“A high school coach has to deal with the player and his girl friend got in a fight during seventh period and this kid has to be on the field in 15 minutes to play a game. The summer ball coach doesn’t have to deal with that as much.”

Then there are the trouble makers and malcontents.

“If you’re a bad kid and live in a community, everyone in that community knows you’re a bad kid,” says Hibler. “You can hide that in travel ball and travel sports in general.”

Hibler has seen players go out of there way to make high school coaches mad for no reason.

“They think it works like travel baseball,” says Hibler. “They can do whatever they want and pack up and leave. Some administrations allow that. But there’s a lot of good programs that don’t.”

Outside of loyalty, there is nothing binding that keeps a player with a travel organization. For various reasons, many players have jumped from team to team. Some players have skipped high school and played only travel baseball.

“Kids get handled with such care during the summer because the penalty is you lose them,” says Hibler. “Coaches don’t know if you handle them like they’re supposed to be handled — with discipline and holding them accountable.

“Some (coaches) take that approach. For others, it’s the Wild, Wild West. Do what you want.”

Hibler says players need both travel and high school and they need to respect the differences.

Travel players show up, play and leave. They pitch from pristine mounds. Maintenance at million-dollar fields is handled by someone else.

High schoolers must take on more responsibility. At many schools, they have to pick up trash in the dugout, sweep and rake to make the fields ready for play.

A few years ago, the coach of a team of 8-year-olds asked to change fields because one was too bumpy.

Hibler’s response: “You don’t live in the real world. We practiced in parking lots.”

BULLPENTOURNAMENTS

Bullpen Tournaments runs baseball and softball events out of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

 

Twins right-hander Gibson keeps on dodging bats at a high rate

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mixing a power slider, curve and fastball, Minnesota Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson pitched seven shutout innings Tuesday, May 29 in Kansas City.

The 6-foot-6 native of Greenfield, Ind., recorded a no-decision while lowering his 2018 season earned run average to 3.57.

According to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, Gibson went to a three-ball count on just three of 27 batters faced with getting a first-pitch strike on 16 of them on his way to eight strikeouts and one walk. He surrendered five hits (three singles).

The former University of Missouri hurler was making his 16th career start against the KC Royals.

He has been one of the best swing-and-miss men in baseball. Some call it the “whiff” factor.

One source says he has Major League Baseball’s No. 1 slider and No. 3 curve.

Harold Gibson, Kyle’s father, made the trek from Greenfield to Kauffman Stadium see his son pitch.

That’s not far from where Harold took a brand-new Indiana Bandits 10U select team back in the mid-90’s.

“Kansas City is kind of where it started,” says Harold Gibson. “We started our first team when Kyle was 8 and his cousin (Austin Gibson) was 7. Little did we know what were were getting into.”

The Bandits went to a tournament at the Mid-America Sports Complex in Shawnee, Kan., essentially a suburb of KC.

Even though they lost every game by the 10-run rule, Harold and Sharon Gibson and the other adults were impressed with how they were treated and the passion for the game and knew they would come back.

They were also were sure they had made the right decision in breaking away from the local youth league.

“What an experience,” says Harold. “Our kids loved it.”

Not that the bold move was easy.

Little League had strict boundaries back then. Select teams were not allowed to use their their players, facilities and or play against any of their teams.

At that time, Gibson and company knew of no select teams in Indiana younger than age 13.

“We were taking a chance,” says Harold, who took the knowledge he learned from former Greenfield-Central High School coach Terry Fox (now athletic director at Indianapolis Cathedral) while serving on his coaching staff in the late ’80s and early ’90s and applied it to younger players, including his son and nephew. “God has a huge hand in all of this, but I also give a lot of credit to Terry. I learned so much about coaching from him. I can’t thank him enough.”

That first year, the Bandits played almost 50 games. The next year, they got into the Southwest Ohio League — the third-biggest select circuit in the country. The Indiana boys traveled to Cincinnati and league teams came to Greenfield.

Along the way, the Bandits went about building a training facility and held mandatory workouts up to five nights a week.

Practice was the priority and not playing games.

“It’s not the kids’ fault, but they’re just not learning,” says Harold. “Kids need to learn to pitch and catch. They need to learn the mental part of the game.

“We (must) have coaches that know how to teach it. Playing it the right way is the most fun for everyone.”

By the time Harold stepped away from the organization a decade ago, there were around 18 teams.

Fast forward to the present day, where Kyle Gibson is 30 and has 138 games of big league experience — all as a starter.

Harold has seen his son continue to hone his craft and gain confidence against major league batters.

“It’s all that maturation process, learning what it takes to set up hitters,” says Harold. “It’s making adjustments in games.

“They’ve told him all along to trust his stuff. I don’t think you know the full meaning of that until you throw it up there and guys miss it.

“Last year, he figured out that his fastball is good enough to get guys out. A player has to figure out if his stuff will play (in the majors).”

Kyle Gibson figured out that if he could command his fastball, it would make his breaking pitches more effective.

The big righty was throwing almost every pitch down in the zone. But has started enjoying success using the upper part and having his slider stay in the zone longer.

“Last year, Kyle had one of the best rates of swinging at balls out of the zone,” says Harold. “Consequently, hitters were going up there and just taking.”

Having Lance Lynn (who is slated to start Saturday, June 2) as a rotation mate has also helped.

The former Brownsburg High School standout throws about four different fastballs with differing speeds.

“Throwing a 93 mph fastball all the time, that’s the wrong thing to do,” says Harold.

After coaching Greenfield-Central’s junior varsity and helping establish off-season pitching workouts and in-season practice planning, Harold decided to step away at the end of the 2018 season.

Harold tries to attend Kyle’s starts when it’s within a drive of 10 or so hours (his son’s next turn is Sunday against Cleveland in Minneapolis and there’s a chance to see Kyle’s wife Elizabeth and daughter Hayden).

But with work and also having grandchildren in Louisville (Kyle’s older sister Holly lives there), it’s not always possible for Harold or his wife to be there in-person.

KYLEANDHAROLDGIBSON

Kyle Gibson (left) and father Harold Gibson meet up in Baltimore early in the 2018 season. Kyle is a pitcher in Minnesota’s staring rotation. Harold traveled from his home in Greenfield, Ind.

Ulrey’s diamond passion is a big HIT

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Ulrey has a knack for teaching the game that he loves.

As a professional hitting instructor, the former college player and Major League Baseball draftee works with more than 150 baseball and softball athletes a week at The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind. It was formerly the home of Dream Big Baseball.

Those athletes come from as far away as Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan and all over the state of Indiana.

Ulrey has been involved in youth travel sports as a coach, mentor and instructor since 2010.

In 2015, the New Palestine High School graduate founded the Midwest Astros Academy. In 2018, the academy fields 31 baseball and softball travel teams in age divisions 8U to 17U with players from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

Ulrey handles the day-to-day baseball operations, facility operations, college consulting, instruction and Ben Taylor handles the softball operations and scheduling.

“I am thankful to have a guy like Ben within our academy,” says Ulrey. “Ben puts a lot of time and work into the operations of the Midwest Astros.”

As a player, Ulrey helped New Palestine to a 2004 IHSAA Class 3A state championship. In his senior year (2006), the left-handed swinging and throwing outfielder was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 33rd round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Because of an injury Ulrey made the choice not to sign and went to college.

He played two years at NJCAA Division I Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and one each at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University and the NCAA Division II University of Indianapolis.

His head coaches were Mitch Hannahs at Lincoln Trail, Jim Schmitz at EIU and Gary Vaught at the U of I.

When Ulrey concluded his college playing career in 2010, he took his first coaching job at Beech Grove High School and opened up his first indoor training facility.

At BG, he helped lead the Hornets to their first winning season since 2004 and first sectional title since 2005 when they went 13-9-2 in 2012.

From there, he served assistant coaching stints at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College for head coach Todd Post and Marian University in Indianapolis for head coach Todd Bacon.

At the same time, Ulrey was coaching summer travel teams.

The Yard Sports Complex is the fifth he’s had since 2010 and the only one he runs since moving away from his last facility in Beech Grove.

With the academy based at the Greenfield complex, Ulrey is able to serve his hitting students and oversee the whole operation.

Ulrey tries to manage his schedule so he can interact with as many of the academy’s teams as possible and to watch them play.

“I want to show support,” Ulrey, 30. “But not only that, I love the game of baseball. Every week — seven days a week — I’m either training, coaching or watching our teams practice at the complex or in games on the weekends.

“It’s my life.”

Ulrey is also an associate scout for the Texas Rangers and works under area scout Michael Medici.

The organization continues to grow and have success on and off the field, however; Ulrey doesn’t take all the credit.

“It’s been a blessing,” says Ulrey. “I’ve had a lot of help along with the way. None of this would be possible without great coaches, directors, instructors, players and the support of the parents.”

Christian Montgomery, a Lawrence Central High School graduate and a former New York Mets minor leaguer, works with pitchers.

Nick Ulrey, brother of Chris and assistant coach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, travels to Greenfield to instruct catchers.

Ulrey leaves tournament scheduling up to his coaches.

The youngest teams tend to stay in Indiana. As they reach 10U or 11U, they may take out-of-state trips.

At 12U or 13U, the teams tend to travel a little more. The 13U Majors team, coached by Chris Emberton, goes all over the country to compete in elite tournaments.

Emberton has been with Ulrey since the beginning and has continued to progress and compete at a high level every year.

“It’s nice to get out of Indiana every once in a while and play some different teams,” says Ulrey.

The Midwest Astros’ 15U through 17U Showcase teams, including the Tom Ancelet-coached 17U squad, play in tournaments attended by college coaches at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and other locations around Indiana as well as top-level events in places like Nashville, Louisville, Michigan, Georgia and Florida.

“It’s fun watching your older age groups play because you see guys who have developed already,” says Ulrey. “It’s not so much the coaching. It’s like managing with the older teams. They know how to play. You expect them to go out there and do their job and make plays.

“You get to sit back and watch some really good baseball. These are guys you’ll be seeing at the next level.”

As a coach and instructor, Ulrey gets to work with a wide range of ages.

“We try to teach the basics at 8,” says Ulrey. “They take in as much as they can. Off-speed pitches, mental approach and hitter and pitcher counts, a lot of that stuff is for the older age group kids.

“You try to make it fun for an 8-year-old while still trying to teach them the basics. You’re not trying to teach the older guys — high school, college, professional level — how to stand and how to hold the bat. When they feel there’s something wrong with their swing, you put your opinions in an make adjustments.”

Ulrey wants to relate to everyone on a personal level.

“What a lot of people lack in this profession is the relationship you build with the hitter and the parents,” says Ulrey. “For a kid to trust in what you’re teaching and what you’re saying, they’ve got to believe in you. They’ve got to want be there.”

So as work goes into making the complex ready to host tournaments, Ulrey and the rest of his staff will stay with the plan that has helped the academy grow.

“I feel like we’re doing all the right things right now,” says Ulrey. “Our teams are competing well. Our coaches are doing a good job.

“We’ll keep bringing in quality coaches and players and putting in the work.”

CHRISULREY

Chris Ulrey is founder and president of Midwest Astros Academy, which operates out of The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind.

 

Indiana Bulls have grown baseball in state nearly three decades

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991.

Taking players exclusively from Indiana was how co-founder Dave Taylor wanted it and that’s the way it has remained all these years.

The Bulls have sent countless players on to college baseball and dozens have been drafted by Major League Baseball.

Two players on the first Bulls team — Todd Dunwoody (Harrison High School in West Lafayette) and Scott Rolen (Jasper) — made it to the big leagues.

Rolen is on the latest National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

Recent Bulls alums to don MLB uniforms include Nevin Ashley (North Knox), Tucker Barnhart (Brownsburg), Tommy Hunter (Indianapolis Cathedral), Micah Johnson (Park Tudor), Adam Lind (Anderson Highland), Josh Lindblom (Harrison of West Lafayette), Lance Lynn (Brownsburg), Alex Meyer (Greensburg), Cameron Perkins (Southport), Clayton Richard (McCutcheon) and Drew Storen (Brownsburg).

“We have pride in that border with Indiana players,” says Bulls executive director Dan Held. “It’s impressive to see all the players that come out of here.”

In 2018, the Bulls have 26 teams from 8U through 18U.

With Held running the show, all will be present at noon Sunday, Jan. 28 at Westfield High School for the annual parent/player organizational meeting.

Barnhart will be the guest speaker and players will receive uniforms and equipment in anticipation of the upcoming season.

The campaign opens first for 8U to 14U. Those squads are expected to play 50 to 60 games apiece during their four-month season.

At this age, the Bulls try not to travel more than three weekends in a row.

“We are not chasing trophies,” says Held.

High school-aged teams — U15 to U18 — get started after the prep season concludes and have eight weekends worth of tournaments and will likely play 30 to 40 games each.

High school baseball is a priority at this age the the Bulls strive to develop relationships with prep coaches (and have several on the coaching staff).

“High school coaches are a fantastic resource,” says Held. “They are with those players for years.

“We are just an additional set of ears and eyes for those coaches.”

The 8U to 14U teams play many games in and around Indiana, but have been known to go to Cooperstown, N.Y., and Omaha, Neb.

Held puts all the schedules together for high school-level teams with an eye on exposure to college scouts.

Some of those showcases include the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn., and World Wood Bat Championships in Cartersville, Ga., as well as the Youth Amateur Baseball Championships and Midwest Prospect League run by Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield with its 26 synthetic surface diamonds.

At the end of the season, coaches fill out an evaluation form for each player — noting strengths and weaknesses — and presents it to the player or their parents and Held also gets a copy.

Annually, the Bulls offer three memorial scholarships — in honor of Daniel Mercer, Craig Moore and Lance Moore.

Once the season ends, there are optional fall workouts. There is no training activity in November and December.

Held left his post as a St. Louis Cardinals coach after the 2006 season to direct the Bulls, which are based in the Indianapolis area but draws players from all corners of the state.

With all his connections in the baseball world, Held is the face of the organization.

When he first came aboard with the Bulls, Held conducted player clinics. But with players spread out across Indiana it was difficult to reach all of them.

Held then decided to focus on educating the coaches to relay the message to the players.

He wants a non-threatening atmosphere and screamers and yellers are not welcome.

All coaches are hired by Held. He is looking for those with strong baseball backgrounds. That is more important than them having a standout player for a son.

“We need to have a coach who runs a quality program,” says Held. “We’d love to have all non-dad coaches. But with time restraints, we can’t always do that. (Coaching) does entail a lot of work.”

Head coaches get a stipend to off-set expenses which they share with their assistants. Player fees are waived for sons playing on a team coached by their father.

Last November, a mandatory coaches retreat was taken to Camp Emma Lou near Bloomington. It is the site of Rolen’s E5 Foundation camps for children and families dealing with illness, loss or other special needs.

“It was a big undertaking, but it was just worth it,” says Held. “It really paid off.

“Part of my job is make sure we’re doing things properly and evaluating the coaches. I give my coaches a big leash. Micro-managing them is a mistake.”

There is manual to help coaches conduct a productive practices.

“I don’t want them having home run derbies and just hitting ground balls,” says Held. “Practice is the most important thing. Players need to get something out of it.

“I monitor my coaches. I don’t want them to go rogue.”

Practices tend to be held once a week in the winter and twice a week in the spring for 8U to 14U teams. Games are mostly played on weekends.

Besides team practices in locales around the Indianapolis area, there are some organizational practices on the calendar. That’s one of the various ways the director stays connected with all the teams. Taking a cue from professional baseball, he has each coaching staff report to him after each weekend. If there was an incident or a significant injury, Held will know about it.

If a parent has a concern, Held says they need to go through the proper channels of communication. He prefers that the matter be addressed first with that player’s coach. Then comes a board member assigned to the team and then comes the director.

“I try to keep a close watch on the pulse of our teams,” says Held. “If there are issues, we try to be visible.

“It’s hard to control 300 sets of parents. You may give a message, but they hear what they want to hear. Our parents have been fantastic with going through the proper chain of command.”

The Bulls — an Indiana not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization has a board of directors filled with business professionals and a set of by-laws. There are currently 23 board members.

In a presentation at the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis, Taylor told those assembled about how to put together and sustain a successful travel organization like the Bulls.

Taylor says the mission must be clear.

Some are established as high school feeder programs. Others are there to go after national championships. Yet others are there to develop talent.

The Bulls were formed to develop and gain exposure for ballplayers in the state.

“Indiana was Alaska in terms of developing college baseball players,” says Taylor.

It’s key to have business people of the board — bankers, lawyers, insurance agents etc. There expertise will help in securing facilities, making deals, establishing policies, setting budgets and managing social media. Other important things to consider are revenue, player fees, sponsors and fundraising.

Taylor says board members are expected to raise money and/or cut a check of their own. They should be “invested” in the organization.

The Bulls have had a sustaining corporate partnership with cap company Lids.

While keeping tabs on all the teams, Held will also coach 16U Black and join Rolen in coaching 10U Grey and their sons — Boston Held and Finn Rolen.

“We’re excited about that,” says Held. “We get our kids to play together and enjoy the game of baseball.”

Held and Rolen were both selected in the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies — third baseman Rolen in the second round and catcher Held in the 42nd round. They were minor league teammates.

Rolen played 17 seasons in the big leagues. Held was a pro player for nine years and a coach for five.

INDIANABULLSLARGELOGO

Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991. (Indiana Bulls Image)

 

Indiana Prospects provide development, college opportunities

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing players and getting them to the next level — college or professional.

That is the mission of the Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization.

Mission accomplished.

President and director of operations Shane Stout says the Prospects have placed more than 400 players in colleges the past seven or eight years.

Dillon Peters, son of Prospects founder Mark Peters, played at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and the University of Texas before before a 10th-round selection in the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Miami Marlins. The left-handed pitcher made his MLB debut for Miami Sept. 1, 2017.

The past year, IP enjoyed a success rate of 50 college commits in one age group of 52 athletes.

“In my opinion that’s what it’s about,” says Stout. “We teach them, keep them healthy and get them into a good institution where they get a good degree.

“We take more pride in being able to network and out-work our competition.

“Look at our track record.”

Stout is looking to put his teams in the best tournaments — win or lose.

“We’re out there to get exposure in front of the college coaches,” says Stout. “I’m not going to go around and hunt trophies.

“If I wanted to go 52-1 in a year, I could.”

The Prospects 17U-Woolwine squad won the 2017 Marucci World Series in Baton Rouge, La.

Also last summer, the Prospects sent a 16U team against the Orlando Scorpions with a player firing 95 mph heat.

“We’re not hiding or ducking from anybody,” says Stout, who coached IP’s first Perfect Game USA national tournament champions at the 15U BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla., in 2010. “You throw your best against our best.

“We try not to water things down. We don’t consider our teams A, B and C. Baseball is baseball. Anybody can beat anybody.”

Going to the top-flight tournaments and inviting many colleges to attend scout days, the Prospects are looking to find a fit for everyone.

“We try not to let players slip through the cracks,” says Stout. “Baseball is one of the few sports you can play at any given level. There’s nothing wrong with Division II, Division III, NAIA or junior college.

“If you’re good enough, you’ll still have a chance to get drafted.”

Stout is constantly on the phone, making connections. Before tournaments, he sends out contact sheets for players who are eligible for communication. He includes the game schedule, pitching rotation, academic and high school coach’s contact information.

“I reach out to the colleges,” says Stout. “I try not to leave any rock unturned. That’s why I have the credibility with the college coaches I do.

“It’s who you know.”

Schedules and travel details are knocked out during the winter with the help of IP coaches. Younger teams start in the spring and play as many as 60 games with high schoolers playing around 40 contests and about five to seven tournaments in the summer. They shut down before school starts again in the fall.

Stout does not want to overload the younger players and encourages the older ones to pursue other sports.

“We give kids an opportunity to have something of a summer and it’s not just baseball, baseball, baseball,” says Stout. “For pitchers, fall is the time for them to take a break (and rest their arms). (Playing football, basketball etc.) creates a more well-rounded athlete to mix it up and do other things

“College coaches watch my players play in high school basketball games. They see that quick twitch (muscle) and how they handle themselves on the court.”

Travel baseball goes places that high school teams do not and plays at a time — the summer — when colleges can devote more time to recruiting.

But Stout sees the relationship between travel ball and high school as very important.

“We embrace the high school coaches and try to keep them involved as much as possible,” says Stout, who counts prep coaches on the IP coaching staff. “It’s a process that involves high school baseball, travel baseball and the young man’s work ethic.

“Sometimes there’s a disconnect with how it gets done.”

IP, which typically fields about two dozen teams from U9 to U18 and trains at Fishers Sports Academy, draws the majority of its players from Indiana but they do come from other places.

New Jersey’s Joe Dudek and Joe Gatto played for the Prospects and then the University of North Carolina on the way to minor league baseball — Dudek with the Kansas City Royals and Gatto with the Los Angeles Angels.

Other Jersey product and IP alums Austin Bodrato and Luca Dalatri went to North Carolina and the University of Florida, respectively. Florida’s J.J. Bleday went to Vanderbilt University.

“They come play for us every weekend,” says Stout. “They’re not a hired gun or anything. If you’re going four hours, it doesn’t matter which direction. Everybody knows which tournament they need to be in.”

Why would you play for the Indiana Prospects living in New Jersey?

“You treat people the right way,” says Stout.

Doing things the right way is important to the IP Way.

“You put on an Indiana Prospects uniforms we’re going to shake the umpire’s hand and we’re going to respect the game,” says Stout.

The number of players on each 15U to 18U roster varies depending on the number of pitcher-onlys.

“In larger tournaments, you may play eight games in five days,” says Stout. “We want to bring a kid to college as healthy as he can be. I always try to error on the side of caution.”

New Albany’s Josh Rogers, Bloomington South’s Jake Kelzer, New Castle’s Trey Ball and Andrean’s Zac Ryan are also among Prospects alums who pitched in the minors in 2017.

INDIANAPROSPECTS

The Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization has placed more than 400 players in college programs in the last seven or eight years. The group is founded by Mark Peters, son of Miami Marlins pitcher Dillon Peters. Shane Stout is president and director of operations. (Indiana Prospects Photo)