Category Archives: Youth

Warren sharing stories for decade with Top Coach Podcast

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Every coach has a story.”
It’s a line that comes early on the Top Coach Podcast hosted by Jack Warren.
“If we’re able to listen to what people are saying, everybody’s got something to say,” says Warren, who published his first episode in 2013 (with then-Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith) and No. 421 Jan. 30, 2023 (with State University of New York-Oswego’s Scott Landers). “I love to hear people’s stories.”
Mostly baseball interviews though he has featured other sports (including a talk with Jeffersonville, Ind., High School coach Danny Struck), the podcast features conversations with coaches at all levels. The focus is not X’s and O’s, but the relatable stories they tell.
“The absolute best way to learn — bar none — is a good story,” says Warren. “If I can get someone to tell a memorable story I’ve done my job.
“Who’s got something to say to other coaches to instruct, encourage and edify them? Bottom line: If someone’s got a compelling story, I want to tell it and I want to hear it.”
Discussions are not about bunt defense or gripping the curve, but things like organization, management, communication as well as career and staff development.
Over the years, Warren began consulting and career coaching.
“I’ve picked the brains of 1,000-plus coaches,” says Warren, who advises youth coaches to beware of money issues.
“If you go into college coaching right now you better hope you don’t have a lot of debt so it’s not something you’ve got to worry about,” says Warren. “You’ll be working 60-70 hours a week with the baseball team.”
Warren coached at the high school and youth levels in Indiana, Illinois (including Normal’s Calvary Christian Academy) — and briefly — California and worked for three decades for State Farm Insurance. The job gave him the flexibility to coach.
A Tennessee native and 1976 graduate of Gary (Ind.) Wirt High School (he was a Troopers classmate and teammate of future big league slugger Ron Kittle and began coaching at Gary’s Miller Little League as a junior) Warren was one of the early podcasters.
In the mid-2000’s, he and friend Tom Jackson started a baseball podcast in central Illinois.
Warren landed back there while working for State Farm Insurance. He attended Illinois State University in Normal for two years, got married and later graduated from Middle Tennessee State University.
“Bloomington-Normal is a baseball hotbed,” says Warren. “Within three miles of each other you’ve got Heartland Community College which is one of the top junior college baseball programs in the country, Illinois State University which has done very well and Illinois Wesleyan which won the (NCAA) D-III national title.”
At the time, the head coaches were Nate Metzger at Heartland, Mark Kingston at ISU and Dennis Martel at Illinois Wesleyan.
In a 30-mile radius there were about 70 high school graduates playing on college diamonds.
“We decided to take advantage of that and we started a podcast dedicated to local baseball,” says Warren of the show which aired weekly from a local restaurant from March to September or October.
In 2013 while living in Towanda, Ill., Warren got the idea to try to take it national. He contacted Kingston and some other coaches in his inner circle. He learned about third-rail topics to avoid and began to send invitations to potential guests.
“I still thank Tracy Smith for being willing to step out there on faith and do the podcast with me,” says Warren.
His fourth episode in 2013 was with then-Purdue University head coach Doug Schreiber. He followed up with Schreiber in 2014 at Purdue and 2021 at Purdue Fort Wayne.
The first several minutes of the first interview was mostly about Ken Schreiber, who won over 1,000 games and seven state titles as head coach at LaPorte (Ind.) High School.
“Growing up in northwest Indiana there was LaPorte and everybody else who wanted to be LaPorte,” says Warren.
The podcast pioneer has filled guest map from coast-to-coast. Other podcast chats with ties to Indiana include Notre Dame’s Mik Aoki (2015), Saint Joseph’s College’s Rick O’Dette (2015), Indiana’s Chris Lemonis (2016), Noblesville High School’s Justin Keever (2017) and Butler University’s Blake Beemer (2022). He’s shined the Assistant Coach Spotlight on Munster (Ind.) High School graduate and Trinity Christian College’s Adam Enright (2017), IU-Kokomo’s Jason Leone (2018) and Culver (Ind.) Academies’ J.D. Uebler (2022).
At first, Warren went after the biggest names he could find and it was “easy pickings.” He was able to land folks like Florida State’s Mike Martin, Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, Louisville’s Dan McDonnell, Texas Christian University’s Jim Schlossnagle and even American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ron Polk and former Kentucky head coach and SCORE International/Inside Pitch Magazine publisher Keith Madison.
“In other sports those kinds of guys are impossible to get,” says Warren. “(Baseball coaches) love to give back. Baseball coaches are some of the most giving people there are.
“One of the reasons I think both baseball and softball coaches are this way is because you have to do everything yourself. You don’t see high school golf coaches mowing the grass or track coaches lining the track. You don’t see football coaches (lining the field).
“Baseball coaches have to do it all.”
So while not all show guests are the most well-known, they all have a story to tell.
“Top Coach is not just about the biggest names in coaching,” says Warren. “It just means you add something to the sport.”
Warren retired from State Farm, worked briefly in North Carolina and landed with wife, Pam, in Fernandina Beach, Fla. That’s where Corn Belt Sports and its media arm — Top Coach — now calls home.
He records his podcasts and is able to make TC Tour stops around the Sunshine State.
Metzger, who now pitching coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, encouraged Warren to attend his first ABCA Convention.
He’s now at regular at the ABCA, where he spends three days in early January going from one person to the next absorbing their stories.

Jack Warren.

Britton explains importance of body language in baseball

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Phil Britton was attending the Culture & Leadership Hot Stove at the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Nashville when Jerry Weinstein began talking about body language.
As the ABCA Hall of Famer spoke, a slide went up which read: Body Language Is The #1 Form Of Communication. “What You Do Speaks So Loudly I Can’t Hear What You Say.” Immediate Attention Away From The Group.”
“When you’re trying to be competitive and put together a good ball club it starts with your values and what you’re trying to achieve,” says Britton, who played college and professional baseball, runs a training business in southern Illinois and southern Indiana and coaches travel ball. “It’s a lot easier to achieve those things when you don’t have to coach body language.
“Don’t get me wrong. The game’s hard and everybody gets down. But if you’re recruiting Player A and Player B and they’re both really talented and have the same skill set but one has body language that communicates that they can handle defeat and the other one has the shrugged shoulders, eye rolls and the stuff that really projects bad energy you’re going to select the player that doesn’t have that.
“If you’ve got those guys on your team it’s going to be a long year. It comes down to what kind of player am I — the one who pouts or the one who says ‘I’m going to get the next one.’”
Britton graduated from 2003 graduate of East Richland High School in Olney, Ill. (now consolidated into Richland County High School), where he played for Andy Julian of Newburgh, Ind., spent two seasons under National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Famer Dennis Conley at Olney Central College and turned down an offer from the University of Kentucky to go pro. The catcher was in the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles organizations and with the independent league Fargo (N.D.)-Moorhead (Minn.) Red Hawks and Evansville (Ind.) Otters. He has been on the Otters coaching staff of manager Andy McCauley since 2012.
As his playing career was winding down, he started Britton’s Bullpen in Olney and has expanded to Indiana locations in Boonville and Fort Branch.
“I’m always watching body language,” says Britton. “I try to see what my body language is. If somebody strikes out in a big spot, how am I handling myself? Am I moping in the dugout or the third base coach’s box?”
As a manager, Britton wants to project a confident, stoic approach.
“I’m not sure how many kids understand (body language),” says Britton. “Everybody’s got body language. Your body speaks way bigger than your words. You can tell when somebody’s up. You can tell when somebody’s down.
“It’s difficult for a team to continually progress if you’ve got guys with bad body language. It’s a sign that they don’t want to be there. Why would you want somebody that doesn’t want to be there?”
Britton says players can’t project poor body language and be ready for the next play.
“If you’re putting yourself in position to make a play and you don’t make the play that’s not a bad inning that’s just not making a play. There’s a humungous difference.
“I can handle guys not making plays. That will never bother me. Not being in position will.”
Southern Smoke Baseball will field 8U, 11U and 13U teams out of Fort Branch and 12U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U out of Olney in 2023. Britton facilitates off-season workouts for Illinois teams, pops in with the younger teams and is a manager for the older squads.
He has an understanding with his players.
“Don’t mistake my intensity for getting after you,” says Britton. “The only time I’ll (do that) is if you’ve got it coming. By that I mean you’re a poor sport and showing up your teammates.
“I’m not going chew somebody’s tail just because they didn’t make a play.”
Britton expects his players to learn the game.
“We play half the season without base coaches and we do that to force kids to run with their heads up and make their own decisions,” says Britton. “There are some parents that are rubbed the wrong way. They want their kids to be coached every single play and they’re not learning anything. They’d be learning less with us controlling them.
“When you’ve got a kid crossing the road you want them to just put their head down and tell them it’s OK. Eventually they have to cross the road on their own with no one telling them.”
Britton, 38, was raised “old school” and spent a lot of time helping his grandfather. When he set his grandson for a tool, he didn’t ask where it was he just found it.
“You figured it out,” says Britton. “That’s how I grew up.”
It was this approach that Britton took into high school baseball.
“Coach Julian challenged me,” says Britton. “I was that player who needed someone to get up into my personal space and challenge me and Andy did a real good job of that.
“I wanted to be the best player everywhere I went.”
Jim Baker, who was from nearby Sumner, Ill., and pitched at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., and in Triple-A in the Toronto Blue Jays system, was an encouragement to Britton.
“I respected him because he was where I wanted to be,” says Britton. “He said to me, ‘you’ve got some tools. Keep working your tail off.’”
Growing up poor and rural, Britton did not have brand new equipment. He got the old gear left over when the youth league was cleaning out the closet.
When he was a high school freshman, he and a friend entered a radio contest. The 95th caller won Bruce Springsteen tickets. Britton won the contest, sold the seats to a teacher who was a fan of “The Boss” and took the money to buy his first set of new catcher’s gear.
In his two seasons at Olney Central, Britton hit .426 with 15 home runs and a nation-leading 89 runs batted in and .430 with 10 homers and earned NJCAA All-American honors while playing for veteran coach Conley.
“People who know baseball understand just how valuable the guy is,” says Britton of Conley, who has led the Blue Knights for more than 40 years. “I can’t thank Coach Conley enough for holding me accountable.”
Britton came to campus not recruited by other places and 160 pounds, won the starting catching job and caught all games in the spring, including doubleheaders on Saturdays and bullpens between games.
“You’ll find out what you’re made of in a heart beat. That’s why Coach Conley’s the best. He is going to challenge you.”
He was going to be a Conley assistant when he turned his attention to building his own business, which now has Josh Wetzel and (former Castle High School player) Conner Porter leading things at Boonville and (former Indianapolis North Central High School and Indiana University catcher and current Otters hitting coach) Bobby Segal and Matt Racinowski at Fort Branch. Britton’s Bullpen also trains softball players.
“The end goal has been to help as many players as we can,” says Britton.
McCauley was in his first season as Otters manager when Britton came in at the all-star break in 2011. Bill Bussing has been the team’s owner since 2001.
“There’s nobody better than Mr. Bussing when it comes to independent baseball,” says Britton. “He cares about his people.
“That guy is there to help anybody he can help. He’s there to set a good example. We have got an extremely short leash in Evansville. We’ve got to bring in high-character dudes. If we swing and miss, you move on down the road.
“The guy at the top sets the standard. That’s true anywhere you go. Mr. Bussing is our standard.”
Britton credits the ABCA — the largest organization dedicated to baseball coaches in the world — to saving his coaching career.
“Getting a change to hear Patrick Murphy, Augie Garrido, Ken Ravizza and Matt Deggs — you talk about some very humbling individuals,” says Britton. “There is so much to learn than what I know.”
Britton’s Bullpen is on Facebook and Instagram and has a YouTube channel.

Body language is important in baseball as American Baseball Coaches Association Convention attendee Phil Britton will attest.
Phil Britton bumps fists with Southern Smoke Baseball travel players.
Phil Britton. (Evansville Otters Photo)

LaPlaca champion for sports vision training

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dr. Joe LaPlaca — founder of Ares Elite Sports Vision and Ares Sports Vision Academy — has long had a goal.
Graduated from Illinois College of Optometry in 2009, LaPlaca started his sports vision optometry practice in 2018.
“I noticed there’s a gap in the market for vision and how it relates to every sport,” says LaPlaca. “In optometry schools and athletics we’re missing it.
“There’s a big opportunity there and something I always wanted to do.
“Eighty percent of how we experience the world is through our eyes. How do we make this better?”
A lifelong athlete, LaPlaca has been involved in soccer, baseball, hockey, wrestling, tennis, football and martial arts and more.
“Sports has always been a passion of mine and understanding the nuances of the games and understanding how vision relates to all those sports,” says LaPlaca. “I take this very seriously. It’s primarily for research. I know what impact this can have on an athlete.
“This could be the thing that gets a kid a college scholarship or not. This is the thing that could take a Triple-A baseball player up to the major leagues.
“If we can clean things up and I can get them bought-in and processing — and I know I can — it’s huge for a lot of people.”
“I want to make the biggest impact I can on the sports world.”
LaPlaca’s practice is located inside Mojo Up Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind.
LaPlaca sees vision and cognitive training working together.
“How do we take all the information we’re getting from the vision side and how does our brain make decisions?,” says LaPlaca. “How does it orient in space?”
LaPlaca says athletes encounter visual discrimination.
In baseball, batters must learn to recognize pitches based on factors like rotation, release point and speed.
“The ones that excel at that are the ones who are able to make the decision once they’ve seen the actual pitch and process that information,” says LaPlaca. “It’s called choice reaction time. Do I swing or do I not swing? If we can break it down to simple steps of ‘do I go’ or ‘do I not go’ that’s what — hitters especially — are concerned the most about.
“That’s the holy grail that everybody is chasing right now. How to I train at that piece and how do I know I’m getting better at that thing?”
In LaPlaca’s practice, he makes it a point to track all the analytics.
“Through training we can equivocally say you’re getting faster in your choice reaction time,” says LaPlaca. “It should improve your batting average, your strikeout percentage (and more). Those are the things coaches are (seeking).”
LaPlaca says it is progressions that he puts athletes through that makes the difference.
“A lot of people train with their tablet or their phone,” says LaPlaca. “We do a lot more free space. We’re connecting the visual stimuli to an action for your right hand or your left hand or a closed fist or an open fist. There’s eye-hand coordination drills.
“All these things are custom for that specific athlete based on specific areas of weakness.”
Currently, the youngest Ares client is 9 and the oldest is 64.
“There’s no age limit to it,” says LaPlaca. “13 is probably the best. They’ll start going through puberty. They’ll have growth spurts. We can stay on top of how their eyes and brains connect to their body (as they grow).
“On the other side they come out and are a lot stronger than kids who weren’t doing vision training.”
LaPlaca doesn’t see an end point for this training and that those wishing to be a NCAA Division I athlete or professional will continue this training for a long time.
Currently, LaPlaca is working with the baseball programs at Purdue University and the University of Maryland and has worked with Butler University in the past. He has also visited with a Major League Baseball organization.
LaPlaca estimates that few of the collegians or pros he works with had heard of vision training and more than a third had never had an eye exam.
“That seems to be the more glaring thing,” says LaPlaca. “They think that just a vision screening is good enough. When in the world are they just standing and looking at one specific spot?
“They’re using their visual and neurocognitive systems way more frequently than they even understand.”
Typically, athletes are evaluated and ranked against their teammates and against other athletes of similar caliber.
LaPlaca can identify those with serious visual issues and refer them to a local vision therapist.
Ares Elite Sports Vision is on Facebook and Instagram.
LaPlaca has been a frequent podcast guest.
Here are links to some of those episodes:

Dr. Joe LaPlaca.
Dr. Joe LaPlaca.

The Miracle League of Westfield to call Roundtripper Academy home

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Roundtripper Academy in Westfield, Ind., is celebrating three decades in the baseball and softball training business in 2023 by launching an effort to help youths and young adults with mental or physical challenges to enjoy the diamond as participants.
The Miracle League of Westfield powered by Roundtripper plans to bring all-inclusive baseball and softball fields by converting space on its grounds.
Miracle League teams play on a custom-designed, rubberized turf field that accommodates wheelchairs and other assertive devices while helping to prevent injuries.
A group of parents whose children have trained at the facility approached Roundtripper Academy owners Chris and Sue Estep with a request.
“They have special needs kids that love baseball and are always there cheering on their brothers and sisters,” says Sue Estep. “We decided to make this happen. There’s a definite need in Hamilton County. We did the research and it’s definitely something we can do.
“Baseball is what we do 14 hours a day, seven days a week, 365. Why not provide those opportunities to have a league (that’s inclusive to all athletes)?
“We have so many amazing families that have come to us over the years and participated in teams and activities at our academy that it provides an opportunity for volunteers. That is a big part of these leagues to facilitate the games.”
The Hoffmans are one such family that will benefit from The Miracle League of Westfield and the stewardship of the Esteps and Roundtripper.
Adam (who trained with Chris Estep and earned a baseball letter at Butler University in 1997) and Jenna Hoffman’s son Lincoln Hoffman (14) plays for the Roundtripped-based Indiana Mustangs and is an eighth grader at Westfield Middle School.
His sister Londyn Hoffman (7) was born with an undiagnosed medical condition. A gene change has caused developmental delay. A “Riley Kid” (Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis), Londyn just beat cancer for the second time.
Baseball runs deep in the family.
“We’ve always got backyard baseball going in the summer,” says Jenna Hoffman.
Adam and Jenna were both raised in Minnesota and moved to Westfield 13 years ago. Her father — Michael Cummins — played in the Minnesota Twins system.
“She has used a walker or assistive device to get around her whole life,” says Jenna. “It is her happy place watching her brother play baseball.
“She lights up. She loves to hold the bat. She loves when big brother helps her run the bases and cheers her on. But that’s as close as she’s gotten to any organized sport.”
Hoffman says there is a need for volunteers at games, including a public address announcer and “dugout moms.”
“Every player will have a buddy that we refer to as Angels In the Outfield,” says Jenna. “They are there to make sure that child that is participating in The Miracle League has the best day of their life while they’re on the field.
“Every player who gets up to bat hits a home run. We need energetic voices on gameday.”
There are other Miracle League operations in central Indiana, but this would be the first one serving Hamilton County.
“Our current goal to get the seed money to get the league started is to raise $700,000,” says Sue Estep. “Our ultimate goal is to continue to provide funding for this league so no child will have to pay to play in the league.
“We’ll be able to maintain and do things long-term.”
There are currently three fields at Roundtripper Academy (which opened its doors in 1993) — youth baseball/softball, middle school baseball and high school baseball. A local engineer is working on the site plan to fit in The Miracle League of Westfield field — which are smaller in size — as part of a multi-use area.
“We’re going to turf our smallest field,” says Chris Estep, who notes that the surface will be short nap in the field to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers etc., with longer turf in the outfield.
Miracle League fields tend to have fences 115 to 125 feet from home plate with bases 50 feet part and the mound 33 feet from the plate.
He was on-board right away when approached about getting involved with Miracle League.
“It is one of the coolest projects that we will ever be a part of,” says Chris Estep. “There’s nothing like helping kids. You get to see them smiling, playing and interacting.
“I think it’s going to be something really, really awesome. I’m excited to get started on it. All the way around it is a feel-good project.”
Chris Estep is also head baseball coach at University High School in Carmel, Ind.
Sue Estep notes that the Miracle League of Westfield will also serve young adults that have aged out of school systems.
“(We can) keep them engaged in the community, have social interaction and opportunities to make connections,” says Sue Estep.
“We’re at the beginnings of this and we’ll take the league as far as it needs to go,” says Estep. “If we raise the funds and there is a need for additional, we will.”
The goal is to get the league up and running in the summer of 2023 — even if its a condensed version.
The Miracle League of Westfield will follow rules set up by The Miracle League (national organization).
Rally For A Cause is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 6 at Roundtripper Academy, 16708 Southpark Dr., Westfield. There will be inflatables, food trucks, face painting, a balloon artist at music by Tommy Baldwin from 3 to 6 p.m. (free admission, donations welcome).
An adult party follows. The Country Summer Band plays from 7 to 9:30 p.m., with headlinder Jai Baker 3 from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. There will be food and drink trucks (cost is $50 per person). Roundtripper’s Foundation — The Youth Sports Development Group — is hosting the event.
To purchase tickets, please visit www.roundtripper.com.
To learn more about The Miracle League of Westfield, visit www.miracleleagueofwestfield.com. There is an interest page for those who may have a child or young adult that wishes to participate.

IUSB’s Buysse notes change in catching philosophy

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Buysse is passionate about catching.
He was a catcher at John Glenn High School (Walkerton, Ind.) and Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.).
For years, he has offered catching instruction at levels from youth to collegiate.
Buysse, who is entering his sixth year as head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend in 2023, gave catching pointers at the December 2022 meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Coaches Club at Four Winds Field.
Addressing an audience with both travel and college coaches, Buysse noted that catcher and pitcher are the two positions that can’t be pushed on young kids.
“Kids have to really want to catch,” said Buysse. “You have to have that mentality that I’m going to strap that gear on and get behind the plate.”
Catchers have to be decisive, vocal leaders.
“I want my catchers to be the loudest guys on the field,” says Buysse. “Even if they’re wrong, they have to run things. I’d rather see them make a call forcefully and it be the wrong call (than say nothing or make a hesitant call).”
Buysse, who brought juniors Kaleb Farnham (Hamilton High School Class of 2020) and Anthony Pohl (Pewamo-Westphalia, Mich., Class of 2019) for drill demonstrations, spent much of his time on receiving.
“Catchers who receive well help a (pitching) staff and a team,” said Buysse. “They make the game flow.
“Chasing the ball to the backstop really kills the pace of the game.”
Buysse said the way he teaches receiving now is much different than seven years ago when he began offering instruction at 1st Source Bank Performance Center, where Mark Haley is general manager and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation.
“The the way I was taught was what I call ‘drive the wheel system,’” said Buysse. “You caught the inside pitch here, top pitch here, outside pitch here and I worked around the wheel.
“The philosophy of catching has really changed. We work down to up and back to the middle.”
At IUSB — a member of the NAIA and Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference — the hardest throwers might touch 89 mph making the pitch at the bottom of the strike zone very important.
“A low pitch is a big deal for us,” said Buysse. “We want that more than we want any other pitch.
“With nobody on and no count we want them to be as low as they can get so the umpire can see over them. We want to stay below the baseball as much as possible.”
Buysse wants his catcher to be stable and comfortable.
“Playing with stances and getting comfortable is where we start with all of our (catchers),” said Buysse.
Catchers might prefer a two-feet stance, right leg down or left leg down. They might put the opposite leg way out to the side aka “kickstand” in order to get low.
Buysse said using the left leg down stance often helps younger players who can concentrate on what their arm and glove is doing and not on being able to hold their position.
“They don’t have the physical strength to stick (the inside pitch to a right-handed hitter) well,” said Buysse. “On two feet their (left) knee gets in the way the most.
“Don’t be afraid to put (young catchers) on a knee. It takes away from that fear that (they’re) going to fall over.”
While receiving, the idea is working everyone back to the middle of the plate and not chasing or dragging pitches out of the strike zone.
“As they get older the pitch they chase out of the zone the most is a breaking ball,” said Buysse.
The coach emphasized a habit catchers should develop.
“Too many kids keep their head (stationary) and use their eyes to follow the baseball,” said Buysse. “Let their head move. I’ve heard coaches talk about I don’t like my catcher’s head to move because he distracts the umpire.
“He’s not looking at your head. He’s looking where the ball’s at.”
Tracking the ball with the eyes really comes into play with the high pitch.
“My natural instinct when the ball goes above my head is to duck my head and stick my hand up,” said Buysse. “I lose that ball at about 50 feet. In the last 10 feet I’m hoping my glove’s in the way.
“The head has to go up with (the ball). That’s something you’ve to work on. At our level, any ball in the air has to be caught. That’s our rule.”
Buysse talked about blocking pitches.
“The glove has got to go first,” said Buysse. “Where the glove goes the butt follows.
“Once glove is down we’re working forward. We want to block off our belly button as much as we can.”
He encourages young catches to block straight down on pitches inside their two feet and get a body in front of anything outside.
One blocking drill that is used at IUSB is the “sit and get hit.”
The concept calls for having the chest up and absorbing the pitch with the body.
This gets catchers to stop flinching, which makes them stuff and allows balls to ricochet to different places.
“They track that ball until it hits him,” said Buysse. “I don’t want them to just sit there waiting to get hit.”
IUSB monitors development for all players with the use of video that is shared on a Google Drive. Catchers are captured on a tablet (a phone can also be used) during drills and bullpen sessions and can see what they’re doing right and wrong.
What about about stealing pitches (turning balls into strikes)?
“Don’t try to steal every pitch as a strike,” said Buysse. “Keep balls (as) balls.
“Umpires catch on. If you try to steal every ball that’s thrown by the third inning they’re not going to give you anything close because they think you’re trying to steal it.”
IUSB is scheduled to open the 2023 season Feb. 3 against Rio Grande and Lindsey Wilson in Johnson City, Tenn. The Titans’ first home game at Rex Weade Stadium in Granger is slated for March 14 vs. Judson.

Doug Buysse. (Indiana University South Bend Photo)

Led by Gaff, Mathison, Moss, Risedorph, Summit City Baseball Academy coming in December

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sharing their knowledge to the next wave of players, four current or recent collegians from northeast Indiana will lead the Summit City Baseball Academy.
The developmental camp featuring instruction by Tanner Gaff, Carter Mathison, Treyvin Moss and Brayden Risedorph and organized by Jayce Riegling is slated for Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 27-28 for Grades 5-6 and 7-8 and Thursday and Friday, Dec. 29-30 for high schoolers at Summit City Sluggers, 5730 Bluffton Road, Fort Wayne.
A Summit City Baseball Academy pitching session is scheduled each day from noon to 2:30 p.m. with hitting from 3:30 to 6 p.m. (all Eastern Time). Cost is $100 for one session or $150 for two. Spots are limited. Entry deadline is Dec. 14.
Gaff, a 2016 Whitko High School graduate who pitched at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, began his professional career this summer in the Minnesota Twins organization. The right-hander was with the Florida Complex League Twins followed the instructional league. As a youngster, he played for the Sluggers.
“We’re trying to help them get to that next level whether that’s improving their mechanics or velocity or teaching them the fundamentals of the game,” says Gaff. “We want to give back to the 260 community though its open to everyone around.”
While he is likely to keep it basic with the younger pitchers, Gaff foresees being able to get into more details with high schoolers.
“Pitching is kinetic chain-oriented, which is how the whole body works,” says Gaff. “It’s working from the ground up. It’s using their body efficiently. A lot of pitching has to do with the lower half. The upper half tags along at the end of a throw. That’s simple way of explaining it. The arm is pulled through.
“There is no such thing as perfect mechanics. There are elite compensators that know how to get into certain positions better than others or use other parts of their body to make up for what they lack.”

Mathison, a 2021 Homestead High School graduate and former Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Player of the Year, is a sophomore outfielder at Indiana University coming off a summer with the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats.
“I know I’ll be working with hitters,” says Mathison. “With the high schoolers I’m thinking about teaching them a lot about the mental game, the mental side of hitting as well as some drills. With the junior high kids, it will be what they need to be thinking about when they’re at-bat and what position they need to be in to be a successful hitter.”
Mathison says confidence is the key to hitting for him. He goes the plate thinking he’s going to find his pitch and hit it hard.
Moss, a Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School alum (Class of 2018), is a redshirt senior outfielder at Northern Kentucky University.
“We want to spread the knowledge that we gained over the years,” says Moss. “We’re in a position now that these kids would love to be in our shoes. We want to inspire and work with this younger generation.
Moss, whose father Randy is the director of player development for the Summit City Sluggers, anticipates some points of emphasis at the camp.
“For the high school kids it will be more about the mental game,” says Moss. “Any collegiate-level player will tell you how big the mental side of the game is.
“With the younger (players), it’s the basic mechanics that can help them along the way.”
Risedorph, an East Noble High School alum (Class of 2022) and IHSBCA North/South Series participant, is a freshman right-handed pitcher at Indiana University. He played for the Sluggers during his prep sophomore summer.
“If you have a way of giving back to the community, it’s pretty important to do something,” says Risedorph. “I’ve been exposed to some great baseball people and great talent. It would be a waste not to spread the love and spread the knowledge.
“I thought this would be fun to do and give back a little bit. It’ll be some mechanical stuff and the mental aspects of the game like learning how to compete and have fun. I’ll share some pitching drills that have helped me throughout my career.”
Riegling, a 2020 graduate Lakeland High School, where he was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and baseball), is a student at Indiana University with a goal of becoming a sports agent. Among his projects is the JKR Podcast.
Mark Delagarza founded the Summit City Sluggers in 1996 and has coached college baseball.
“Jayce wants to utilize their skills and knowledge and transfer it to the kids who sign up for the camp,” says Delagarza. “It says a lot about these guys that they’re willing to do it.
“These guys appreciate what was giving to them in the day. I think it’s awesome that they want to share and help the young kids get better like someone did for them.”
For more information, contact Riegling at (260) 585-4388 or Jayce.SCLA@gmail.com.

Tanner Gaff.

Carter Mathison.

Treyvin Moss.

Brayden Risedorph.
Jayce Riegling.

Hisner gets to see baseball from umpires’ view and more

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Randy Hisner has viewed baseball from four angles — player, coach, umpire and reporter.
A 1976 graduate of Heritage Junior/High School in Monroeville, Ind., Hisner played for the Patriots and was a freshman when current Heritage head coach Dean Lehrman was a senior. They were later men’s league baseball teammates.
Hisner, 64, spent the first four years of his career as an English teacher at Monroe Central Junior/High School in Parker City, Ind., then taught at Bellmont High School and Bellmont Middle School 1984-2018.
He has been the Braves head boys cross country coach for 37 years and led the Bellmont baseball program for two seasons — winning 19 games in both 2009 and 2010. While at Monroe Central, he was a baseball assistant for three years and head coach for one.
Hisner started umpiring in the summer around 2008. After his prep coaching stint, he got his high school license. He has called games from youth league to college and 30-and-over leagues.
Many of his college games are in the NAIA-affiliated River States Conference, which has baseball-playing members in Indiana (Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University Southeast and Oakland City University), Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Semi-retired, Hisner plans to coach middle school track in the spring — cutting back his umpiring schedule during that season — and will continue to take sports assignments for the Decatur Daily Democrat.
Randy and wife Cheryl, who is part-time Title I elementary teacher, have four sons who all graduated from Bellmont — Erik (Class of 2001), Ryan (2002), Shane (2007) and Gavin (2009). All umpired as a summer job in high school.
Erik Hisner is athletic director and head baseball coach at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind. He coached at Whitko for a decade and was the North head coach Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 2017.
Ryan Hisner and Gavin Hisner are both teachers in Adams Central Community Schools in Monroe, Ind. — Ryan Title I at the middle school and Gavin English at the high school. Gavin also does some umpiring.
Shane Hisner used to teach English overseas and now does so online.
Harley Parnell Hisner, Randy’s father and a graduate of Hoagland (Ind.) High School, pitched in the Boston Red Sox system. In his only big league appearance, he started the final game of 1951 season against the New York Yankees. Two of the three strikeouts for Hisner came in that Sept. 30 contest came against rookie Mickey Mantle. He also yielded Joe DiMaggio’s last major league hit.
When Randy Hisner stepped away from coaching baseball, he saw umpiring as a way to stay connected to the game.
“As umpires, we get paid to know the rules,” says Hisner. “A lot of coaches think they do.
“I re-read the high school and college rule books every year. You really have to be on top of that.”
Umpires must also be ready when they see a situation that rarely comes up.
For instance, the time Randy was working a college game together a few years ago. As the base umpire, he was positioned in front of the shortstop with a runner at second base.
The next thing Hisner knew the runner, third baseman and batted ball all converged near the third base bag.
The runner was attempting to steal and made his slide into the third baseman at the same time the ball arrived. The ball dribbled away.
“In all the years I’d played and coached I’d never seen anything like that,” says Hisner. “I called interference on the runner. The runner did not give the fielder a chance to field the ball.
“If the fielder had fielded the ball and then the guy had hit him and knocked it loose that would’ve been different.”
In a travel tournament a few summers back, Randy and Gavin were working the game and the hitter sent a long drive to left-center field.
The center fielder made a great back-hand running catch, took four or five steps and ran into the fence and dropped the ball over the barrier.
“We called a home run,” says Hisner. “We had a long discussion with the defensive coach.
“The rule is that the momentum of the play has to stop and has release has to be voluntary and intentional.”
Hisner says there’s sure to be an argument when it comes down to hit-by-pitch and calling it differs between high school and college.
“In high school games, as an umpire you almost have to be a mind reader,” says Hisner. “The way the rule book reads the hitter can’t permit the ball to let the ball hit him. In high school, it’s a really tough call.
“They made a change to the college rule a couple of years ago. If the ball is in the batter’s box, he can freeze (and be struck by the pitch and take his base). He can’t move into it and try to get hit. You don’t have to read anybody’s mind.”
Since three-man is usually not employed during regular-season games he works, Hisner is accustomed to two-man mechanics.
“I’ve done well over 1,000 games of two-man so I just react,” says Hisner. “I went to a college three-man camp one time. But until you’re used to it, it’s really uncomfortable.”
Preferring to watch Erik’s teams, Randy does not apply for the IHSAA tournament series.
One two-man mechanic that many non-umpires may not consider is the plate arbiter covering second base.
With no runners on base and the base umpire positioned near first base and the right field line, a hitter hits the ball to right field. It might be over the fielder’s head, call for a diving catch and come down near the foul line.
If the batter/runner continues to second base, the base umpire won’t be in-position to make the call. That’s the plate umpire’s duty. With all his protective equipment and steel-toed shoes, he must get to second base before then batter/runner. His path takes him to the right side of the mound to avoid tripping on the rubber.
“That had never ever crossed my radar until I had started umpiring,” says Hisner of the plate ump going to second base. “As soon as its hit, I’m taking my mask off and heading out that way anyway.
“Ideally, you get within 30 feet to make the call. You also have to be ready if (the batter/runner) heads back to first base. That’s a play I hope I have in the first inning if I have the plate.
“I want the coaches and players to see that I’m working hard. This guy is not just collecting a check. He’s hustling like we are. He might not be getting every call right but it’s not for lack of effort.”

Randy Hisner.
The Hisners on a Disney vacation.

Boys of Summer Baseball League underway for 2021

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A youth circuit with ties to various northern Indiana school communities has began its 2021 diamond season.

Boys of Summer Baseball League fields teams for 10U and 12U all-star recreation and junior high school squads. Teams play by modified IHSAA rules. 

The BSBL also sanctions a 54/80 junior high state tournament. Younger squads also participate in the Town & Country Baseball state tournament in July.

The following school districts are represented in 2021: Bethany Christian (junior high), Bremen (10U, 12U, junior high), Concord (12U, junior high), Fairfield (10U, 12U, 2 junior high teams), Goshen (junior high), Jimtown (J-Shock junior high), Northridge (10U), NorthWood (12U, junior high), Plymouth (2 10U teams, 2 12U teams), Rochester (12U), Tippecanoe Valley (10U, 12U) and Westview (12U). The latter team is coached by former big league pitcher Eric Stults.

Going into the Week of May 24, Fairfield (6-1) leads the 10U division, Plymouth Red (10-1) the 12U group and Fairfield White (5-1) the junior high league.

The BSBL was started by Tracy Farmwald then ran by Zach Benko. Kent Kauffman took over just before the 2020 season.

As commissioner, Kauffman has organized the loop and set up a website for the non-profit organization.

“It makes it easier for parents to see what’s going on,” says Kauffman. “(BSBL) is more of a developmental league. They get used to playing together and used to a system.”

Cost to enter the league is $225 per team. Host teams are responsible for baseballs and paying for umpires.

“We’re providing an economical option for good baseball,” says Kauffman. “We get some kids that have never played and they fall in love with baseball.”

Since the league has teams as part apart as LaGrange County and Rochester, Kauffman tries to accommodate distance when making out the schedule.

In the past, Wawasee and Whitko have fielded BSBL teams.

“My goal is that we are able to expand,” says Kauffman. “We will go to divisions if necessary.”

The BSBL was able to complete a 2020 schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting after July 4.

“We worked together to make sure it was safe for players and fans,” says Kauffman.

With high school head coaches Darin Kauffman (Fairfield), Jim Kraft (Bethany Christian), A.J. Risedorph (NorthWood) and J.J. DuBois (Goshen) leading the way, a junior high division was added.

“There was nothing for that age group between sixth grade and high school,” says Kauffman. “The coaches wanted to keep the boys together playing as a team and to have more oversight.”

Game locations include Sunnyside Park in Bremen, Concord Little League in Goshen, Hoover Field in New Paris, Cook Station Park in Millersburg, Jimtown Park in Elkhart, Middlebury Little League, Stauffer Park in Nappanee, Ed Hess Park in Plymouth, City Park in Rochester, Mentone Little League, Akron Little League and NISCO Field in Topeka.

The end-of-season junior high tournament is slated for June 22-25 with the 12U tourney June 24-26 and 10U event June 25-26.

The BASE Indy poised for a comeback with Jackie Robinson Day activities

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The BASE Indianapolis — an initiative to help interurban youths — is looking to bounce back from tough times.

Like many not-for-profits it was dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But through the incredible resilience of our volunteers and supporters, we are poised to make a definitive comeback – starting this week,” says Rob Barber, President and CEO of The BASE Indianapolis. “If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the needs in our community are real and the opportunity gaps continue to grow. Because of that reality, we do what we coach our kids to do: we pick ourselves up and continue to fight for what we believe.

“We believe in providing meaningful opportunities for educational achievement, career exploration, health and wellness education, and life skills development that allow our young people to reach their fullest potential. We believe the game of baseball can be a catalyst for teaching, learning, and developing the underlying foundational characteristics that drive success.”

Each April 15, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson on the historic anniversary of breaking the modern color barrier in professional baseball. 

From April 15-20, 2021, Indiana high school baseball and softball teams will introduce The BASE Indianapolis to a larger audience and rally support for its mission to transform the lives of urban youth.

The BASE Indianapolis was launched in April 2019 and the organization hosted the first Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic in the summer of that year.

To learn more about The BASE Indianapolis, visit thebaseindy.org.

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

AJZAPPCARD

A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.