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