About 4,000 teams are expected to play in Bullpen Tournaments events across the spring, summer and fall seasons at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., and other diamonds. His part of that will keep Chris Gorman hopping. As Bullpen’s Director of High School Tournaments, he handles registration, scheduling and operations and also helps with staffing of interns and hourly workers and assists with youth tournaments when needed. Most of the 15U to 18U tourneys held in June and July and coordinated by Gorman are staged at Grand Park and Championship Park in Kokomo. Other local, high-quality off-site fields like Kokomo Municipal Stadium are also used. The majority of teams are from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan, but there are those from outside. Gorman counts Director of Operations Cam Eveland and Vice President of Operations Michael Tucker as his direct supervisors. Born in Fort Wayne and raised in Auburn in Indiana, Gorman is a graduate of DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind. (2015) — where he played basketball — and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. (2019) — where he was Sport Administration major and Marketing minor. Gorman has also served Bullpen Tournaments as an hourly Quad Manager, making sure games ran smoothly and on schedule. “This role helped me understand the operations and the standard that was needed to be met for all our events,” says Gorman. From there he was promoted to Assistant Director of Operations at Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo., a Prep Baseball Report facility just outside of Kansas City. The job allowed him to implement to apply the same standards set by Bullpen at Grand Park. “This role required me to have my hands in many different areas of our business and helped me understand the entire company as a whole rather than just from an operations standpoint,” says Gorman. Why did he choose this as a profession? “I knew I always wanted to have some sort of career in the sports world,” says Gorman. “I was always curious about how things worked behind the scenes, so when I started out as an hourly worker for Bullpen, I was able to get hands on experience of the behind-the-scenes work involved in running high quality events. “I learned to love the jobs I was asked to do so pursuing a sport operations role was something that interested me very strongly.” Gorman’s resume also includes Security Assistant for the Chicago Cubs, Tournament Director for PBR, Tournament Site Director for World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne and Ticket Sales Representative for the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
An American shined in Canada and got the chance to play in Mexico. That’s the story of Tasker Strobel’s 2022 as a professional baseball pitcher. Strobel, a graduate of Avon (Ind.) High School (2013) and Saint Joseph’s College (2017), spent the spring and summer with the independent/MLB Partner League American Association’s Winnipeg Goldeyes. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound left-hander performances for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats against Winnipeg in 2021 made Goldeyes manager/pitching coach Rick Forney want Strobel in 2022. The 27-year-old southpaw was given a chance to compete for the closer role, landed it and made 53 appearances (all in relief) and went 2-3 with 21 saves (second in the AA to the 23 for Fargo-Moorhead’s Alex DuBord) and a 3.41 earned run average. Strobel racked up 58 strikeouts with 21 walks in 55 1/3 innings. “(Forney) was good for my career,” says Strobel. “If you were doing well he let you ride and do your own thing.” The longtime baseball man maintains connections South of the Border and had former Winnipeg slugger Kyle Martin play for Mayos de Navojoa of the Mexican Pacific League (Liga Mexicana del Pacífico or LMP in Spanish) in 2021-22. Navojoa — managed by Homar Rojas — reached out saying they needed a closer for 2022-23. Strobel and his agent deemed it a good fit and he signed to compete in the 10-team league that has a 68-game regular season runs from October to December and is followed by a playoff series in January to determine the league champion and a berth in the Caribbean Series. The way it was explained to Strobel, the winter league is essentially all-star teams from the 18-team Mexican League (which runs from April to August) with a few imports mixed in among native Mexicans. Mayos teammates include three players from the 2022 American Association season — infielder Grant Kay (Chicago Dogs), pitcher Max Kuhns (Sioux City Explorer) and outfielder Zach Nehrir (Cleburne Railroaders). Through Mexican Pacific League games of Nov. 1, Strobel had finished seven games and was 0-0 with four saves, 4.26 ERA, four strikeouts and one walk in 6 1/3 innings. What makes a closer in Strobel’s eyes? “You’ve got to be a little crazy and have that mindset of getting everyone out,” says Strobel. (The other team is) not going to score a run on you. “You have to lock it in. You can’t miss a spot with any pitch, especially the American Association.” Throwing from a low three-quarter arm slot, Strobel employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and change-up. His four-seamer sits at 90 to 91 mph and has been up to 94. His curve has more of a sweeping action that his slider, which is tighter and faster. “I have two sliders that vary depending on counts and batters,” says Strobel. “I throw a class ‘circle’ change.” While in Mexico, Strobel is working to learn the basics of Spanish. “I took German in high school,” says Strobel, who is expanding his vocabulary with online lessons. He also uses Google Translate extensively. Tasker was born in Overland Park, Kan., and moved to Indiana at 4. The oldest of Chris and Janelle Strobel’s two sons (2017 Avon graduate Spencer Strobel is a super senior lefty pitcher at Indiana Tech) grew up in Avon and went from rec ball to travel ball as soon as he could with the Hendricks County Hurricanes. In high school, Tasker played with the Indiana Bulls and Jeff Mercer Sr. Strobel’s varsity coach at Avon High was Troy Drosche. The Orioles pitching coach then was Bob McPike and Strobel also took lessons from former big leaguer Bill Sampen. These days, Strobel helps Drosche with his high school and Indiana Bulls teams when he is able. His two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. (2014 and 2015) are what Strobel calls “one of the greatest experiences of my life.” Kevin Bowers was — and still is the Statemen’s head coach. Max Hudson coached pitchers in 2014 and Kyle Medley led them in 2015. “It was literally baseball and school,” says Strobel. “It was about being a JUCO Bandit and I loved it.” That diamond chapter was followed up by two campaigns with head coach/pitching coach Rick O’Dette at NCAA Division II Saint Joe. “I love that guy,” says Strobel of Coach O. “He led me into how I think about pitching now. “We would sometimes butt heads, but we were a good pairing.” Strobel was a SJC senior in 2017 — the year the school closed and the Pumas program went with it. That spring, Strobel made 14 appearances (13 starts) and was 7-3 with three complete games, a 3.17 ERA and 68 strikeouts and 30 walks in 88 innings. As a junior, he hurled in 12 games (nine starts) and went went 4-4 with a 4.53 ERA with 57 strikeouts and 13 walks in 57 2/3 innings. Business degrees were earned from both Lincoln Trail and Saint Joseph’s. The lefty began his professional career in 2017 with seven appearances for the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers. Strobel had Tommy John surgery on his elbow at the end of 2017 and did not play in 2018. As soon as he was cleared, he began training at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., and still goes there in the off-season to work with Greg Vogt and Anthony Gomez and to coach other pitchers. Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development — both at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. — also employed Strobel during his time away from playing the game. With the independent Utica, Mich.-based United Shore Professional Baseball League’s 2020 Westside Woolly Mammoths, the lefty played in 10 games (nine in relief) with no decisions, a 3.97 ERA, 18 strikeouts and four walks in 11 1/3 innings. Strobel pitched parts of 2019 and 2021 with the Greg Tagert-managed RailCats, getting into 34 games and going 3-5, a 3.84 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 21 walks in 70 1/3 innings. Strobel, who is contracted to return to Winnipeg in 2023, wasn’t the only Indiana native in the 2022 Goldeyes bullpen. Right-hander Zac Ryan, an Andrean High School graduate and former Georgia Tech pitcher drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2017 and released in 2021, made 32 appearances (all in relief) for Winnipeg in 2022. He was 2-1 with a 3.72 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 16 walks in 29 innings.
Mark Walther helps run a business dedicated to the improvement of those who move and compete, particularly those in baseball, softball, football and golf. He is the Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development, which is at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind. “I wear a lot of hats here,” says Walther, a former collegiate and professional pitcher. “There isn’t much that I don’t do here.” Walther, 33, started as a lead instructor and taught velocity programs for pitchers and position players and gave pitching lessons. As Director of Operations, he is charged with everything from scheduling cages and turf time to making sure machines are in order to the cleanliness of the facility. He makes sure financials and daily reporting lines up with what’s coming into Pro X. After coaching at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis, Walther worked briefly for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park and still helps with that company while also serving as the commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which had its third season in 2022. The CSL came about out of players needing a place to compete and train (at Pro X) with many leagues being shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of athletes had spring seasons that were cut short or didn’t start at all. “We had a lot of time on our hands,” says Walther. “Both of our businesses were shut down about the time (Indiana) opened up (from the lockdown) is when we were able to open up the league.” Walther says he was one of six people who created the CSL and other people were brought in to make it a reality. “To start up a league like that you want high-profile players,” says Walther. “It’s tough to get high-profile players if they’ve never heard of your league before. “Right way we wanted to be able to compete with the Northwoods, the Prospect and the Coastal Plain. I don’t know if anybody’s ever going to compete with the Cape, but we wanted to be up there.” Walther says getting the amount of players and talent that the CSL did (in 2020) is the whole reason it still exists. “We just want to make sure that the product we’re putting out there is good for college players as a whole,” says Walther. “It’s good for their development in games and while they’re training (at Pro X) and getting better. “We want to meet every ask of a college coach. If they have a redshirt and they need them ready for sophomore year when they return to school then we can get them 30, 40, 50 innings. If they want them to throw 20 innings and two innings a week in relief, we’ll follow that, too. “That’s really what’s set the College Summer League apart.” Over the past two years, Walther’s commissioner responsibilities have included finding and getting commitments from coaches, recruiting and placing players and taking care of everything from payments to jersey sizes to host families. He coordinates gameday operations and hires sports information interns for the eight-team league. Those positions are posted in November and December with interviews coming in January and February. Walther grew up on a farm on the west side of Kankakee, Ill., and is a 2007 graduate of Herscher (Ill.) High School, where his head coach was Eric Regez. His junior year, Walther was the last one to make cuts for the Tigers varsity and helped his team as a right-handed reliever. As a senior, he was a starter. “I played the underdog throughout my entire college career,” says Walther, who worked hard to grow his knowledge base while improving his athletic skill set. “I was a P.O. (Pitcher Only) before P.O. was even a thing. I think I had seven career varsity at-bats. “I just kept working at it.” Mark is the son of Eugene and Beth Walther and is about six years younger than brother Todd Walther. Eugene Walther died of brain cancer when Mark was 18. “Going into college that pushed me forward,” says Walther. “It always gave me something to work for: Trying to make him proud.” Walther showed up at walk-on tryouts at Parkland. “I wasn’t a preferred walk-on or anything,” says Walther. “I found a way to earn a spot.” The Cobras coaching staff changed Walther’s arm slot from overhand to sidearm/submarine. “That gave me a whole new life in college baseball,” says Walther, who was frequently used as a freshman and was on scholarship as a sophomore. The latter team won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national championship. After two years at Parkland playing for Mitch Rosenthal and Matt Kennedy, Walther transferred to NCAA Division II University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. He came out of the bullpen for Tracy Archuleta’s Screaming Eagles (which won an NCAA Division II national crown in 2010). “I tried to just extend the game and get us to the next guy,” says Walther. “My job was to get us out of jams. There’s not better feeling in the world than coming into the game with the bases loaded and one out and you’re trying to get a ground ball. I lived for those moments. “Being out there when the adrenaline’s pumping, I’ve yet to find anything to match it.” After pitching at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., Todd Walther wound up on the baseball operations side with the Texas Rangers. Mark used the connection to his advantage. “I was able to bounce ideas off of him when thing weren’t going my way in bullpens or games,” says Walther. He got to see video of major league pitchers like Cody Bradford, Darren O’Day and Pat Neshek and could study their mechanics, grips and release points. Walther was on a path to become a Physical Education teacher and high school coach when a curriculum change at USI that would have taken him longer to get his degree caused him to change his major to Sport Management. “I started learning more about facility management and running a sports business,” says Walther, who took classes on sports marketing and sports law — things that help him in his position at Pro X. But Walther did pursue coaching out of college. He was an assistant at Parkland for a year and helped Kennedy with outfielders, operations and recruiting. He started what turned out to be a four-year stint at the UIndy as a volunteer learning from Greyhounds pitching coach Jordan Tiegs and serving for head coaches Gary Vaught and Al Ready. When Tiegs left for Indiana State University, Walther took became pitching coach and recruiting coordinator. Tiegs is now Drector of Pitching Research and Development for the Rangers — Todd Walther’s former job “I loved college baseball,” says Mark Walther. “I loved coaching it. “I really loved the recruiting aspect of college. (Players) need to come to us because we’re going to do a better job of developing them as a player. “I’m very appreciate of Coach Vaught and Coach Ready for everything they did for me.” Walther then went into tech recruiting for three months and decided he wanted to get back into baseball. Pro X has just launched into the travel world with its Phoenix softball teams. While travel baseball organizations, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and Indiana Prospects, partner with Pro X, there is currently no plans to field travel baseball teams under the Pro X banner. “Travel baseball really wasn’t a thing when I grew up,” says Walther. “I played community baseball until I was 16 years old. Shortly after that it began to grow a little more.” His first experience came when the Indiana Bulls and others brought teams to play fall exhibition games his first year at Parkland. Walther notes that he was lucky enough to be on a winning team from age 10 on. But that was not the case in his early community baseball days. “I got put on a terrible team,” says Walther. “I had to find a way to try to help the team win and to help players develop themselves and rely on our coaches to do the same. “Depending on where your talent is you can be put on an elite team and rarely ever have to deal with failure, losing or any kind of adversity and learn to overcome that. “Being on winning teams is also a positive because you learn what it takes to win. Whether you’re on the field or not you can find ways to help the team win.” Walther says travel ball is all about finding the right fit for you as a player. “You want to go where you have a chance to play or have a chance to compete for playing time,” says Walther. “You should never shy away from competing and trying to beat someone out to earn playing time. “In the game of baseball you’re going to have guys on the bench no matter what. It’s what type of bench guys you have. Do you have guys who are going to work and push themselves and the people that are technically in front of them? Or are they going to just roll over and complain until they move on or join another team?” Players should make sure the team will be doing what they want to do. Will it be mostly local tournaments are really hitting the road? Is the coaching staff going to help develop them as a player? Among the things coming up at Pro X are “Hard 90” classes with about 30 minutes each of hitting, defense and speed and agility. In September, the pitching academy and elite training academy for offense and defense cranks up. Pro X — with its staff of instructors including Jay Lehr, trainers and medical professionals and former big leaguer Joe Thatcher as president — is also an off-season place to train for professionals, including major leaguers Tucker Barnhart, Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon and minor leaguers Parker Dunshee and Collin Ledbetter. Rodon came to Pro X while doing rehab from Tommy John surgery. “He learned a lot about the body and how it moves and how to become efficient on the mound and use his lower half to try to stay as healthy as possible,” says Walther. “We just do whatever we can to service them whether that’s completely help them with their program or stay out of their way and let them use the weight room.”
Adam Spencer has learned that if you want to make a leader you let someone take the lead. If you went them to be a valuable part of the group you show them how. Spencer, the head baseball coach at Sheridan (Ind.) High School since 2017, defines his role. “I’m a developer of men,” says Spencer, who is also a sixth grade math teacher and activities director at Sheridan Middle School (he earned an Elementary Education degree from Ball State University in 1998 and about a decade later at Masters in Education from Indiana Wesleyan University). “Everybody wants to win. I want to help make good fathers, good husbands, good friends. “We talk about being an all-conference teammate. These are things we don’t have stats on.” Through the years of coaching youth sports, Spencer has gotten to the point where players are asked to take charge in certain areas. “Early on I never gave anybody leadership roles,” says Spencer. “Our guys run our drills (supervised by coaches). We put our upperclassmen in leadership roles.” The baseball team is also involved in community service. “We try to help others if we can,” says Spencer, whose players have raked leaves, pulled weeds and even helped the Sheridan Historical Society move across Main Street (S.R. 38). Spencer is a 1993 Sheridan graduate. He did not play baseball or basketball in high school though he as a big fan of the sport. His father passed away when Adam was in elementary school and he worked during the winter and spring. He did play football at Sheridan for Hall of Famer Larry “Bud” Wright and was on an IHSAA state championship team in 1992. His love of baseball led Spencer to the Indianapolis Umpire Association and he officiated games for 17 years. As his children got older (Adam and wife of 21 years, Lindsay, have four sons), he got involved in coaching at the middle school level. At Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Spencer was on the football staffs of Lance Scheib and Kent Wright. Years later, Matt Britt gave him the chance to coach middle school baseball at Sheridan. Some of those players were on the 2019 Blackhawks team that went 14-6 and lost to eventual Carroll (Flora) Regional champion Rossville in the Class 1A Sheridan Sectional championship. Spencer was pitching coach for Larry Lipker for a season before taking over as head coach. Sheridan (enrollment around 330) is a member of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Carroll of Flora, Clinton Central, Clinton Prairie, Delphi, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Taylor and Tri-Central). In 2022, HHC teams will play one another on Tuesdays and Thursdays with some Saturday doubleheaders. In 2013, there will be 11 conference games included a seeded end-of-season tournament. In 2021, the Blackhawks were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Clinton Central, Frontier (the 2021 host), Rossville, South Newton and Tri-County. Sheridan has won its lone sectional title in 2004. Sheridan plays its home games on Kent Harris Field (named after a former Blackhawks baseball coach). In the fall, Blake Marschand-owned Marschand’s Athletic Field Service laser-graded the diamond and there was no Limited Contact Period activity. Spencer says there might have been five athletes involved that don’t play football or another fall sport at Sheridan. Spencer also coaches middle school football. Through a partnership formed between Spencer and Michael Tucker, Sheridan hosts some Bullpen Tournaments games and has access to the turf diamonds at Grand Park in nearby Westfield, Ind. Spencer’s assistant baseball coaches are Sheridan alum Adam Durr and Ryan Conley, whom he met from IUA. Sam Crail (Class of 2017) played at Indiana University and then went to Saint Leo (Fla.) University. Zach Mannies (Class of 2018) played at Ancilla College and then West Liberty (W.Va.) University. Cameron Hovey (Class of 2021) is on the baseball and football teams at Manchester University. Spencer sees college baseball potential in current seniors Gavin Reners and Silas DeVaney if they should pursue that path. “(Reners and DeVaney) will be the leaders of our team (in 2022),” says Spencer. Caine Spencer played for his father at the end of his middle school and high school baseball days and is now a 21-year-old junior at Ball State. Adam and Lindsay’s other three boys — sophomore Camden (16), eighth grader Chance (14) and fifth grader Crew (11) – are also baseball players. Feeders for Sheridan High School baseball are a Sheridan Babe Ruth League team of seventh and eighth graders that play in the late spring and into the summer plus young players in Sheridan Community Recreation Inc. (SCRI). A middle school baseball camp introduces players to the ways and the language used at Sheridan High School. “I’m invested in the program at every level,” says Spencer.
Arsenal Indiana is expanding for the 2021-22 travel baseball season. The affiliate of Arsenal USA Baseball is to go with 12U, 13U, 14U and 15U squads in its third season. “Within two or three years I want to have teams from 12U through 17U,” says Arsenal Indiana director Jeff Cleckner. “I want to have one team at each age group and be very competitive. “I don’t want to water down the brand with seven 15U teams.” Cleckner, a graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School (1989) and Purdue University living in Fishers, Ind., says the focus is on skill development at the younger levels and that the older ones grow their mental approach to the game as they prepare for college baseball. But first the current campaign where Arsenal is fielding a 17U team with Cleckner as head coach and Arsenal Indiana director and a 14U squad guided by Steve Smitherman. In 2020, 16U and 13U teams took the field for the organization. Playing six weekends of seven — starting with the first one in June — the 17U team has competed or will take part in events sponsored by Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and Bullpen Tournaments. The team placed second during the holiday weekend at the PBR Indiana State Games at Championship Park in Kokomo. The 17U’s were 22-9-1 through 30 games. The season wraps with the Perfect Game 17U BCS National Championship July 21-26 at Major League Baseball spring training fields in Fort Myers, Fla. All the other tournaments have been staged at Grand Park in Westfield. “It’s nice with Grand Park,” says Cleckner of the large complex in central Indiana. “Everyone comes to us.” High schools represented on the 17U roster include Avon, Fishers, Harrison (West Lafayette), Heritage Christian, Huntington North, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis North Central, Noblesville, Penn, Plainfield, South Adams, Wapahani, Wawasee, Westfield and Zionsville in Indiana and Edwardsburg in Michigan. Since the older teams can play as many as seven games in five days, there are often a number of pitcher-only players (aka P.O.’s). “It’s nice to have P.O.’s,” says Cleckner. “We can supplement as needed with position players. “We’re mindful of arm care and arm health.” The 14U Arsenal Indiana team began in early April and will play until mid-July and could easily get in 60 games in 3 1/2 months. The 14U team plays in same types of tournaments that the 17U teams plays at Grand Park in Westfield. Arsenal Indiana tryouts are planned for late July or early August, likely at Grand Park. A fall season of four or five weekends features a trip to the Perfect Game WWBA 2022/2023 National Championship Oct. 7-11 in Jupiter, Fla., for the upperclassmen. “The goal of the fall season is getting a little more work going into the winter,” says Cleckner. “You have new kids who’ve joined your team and you’re creating some chemistry and camaraderie.” The fall also provides more college looks for older players. Arsenal Indiana trains in the off-season at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville. What is now Arsenal USA Baseball was began in 1995 by Joe Barth Jr. and son Bob Barth as the Tri-State Arsenal with players from southern New Jersey, Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania. Besides USA National in New Jersey, there are affiliate locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. Many professionals and college players have come through the Arsenal program.
As Sam Fulton grew up around Cicero, Ind., the big orange pebbly ball kept coming up. Fulton preferred the little white one with the red stitches. “I’ve had people on me about basketball my whole life,” says Fulton. “But I’ve always just loved baseball more. I’d rather do what I love.” As a sophomore at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Fulton stood 6-foot-6. By his senior year (2019), he was 6-9 and the 20-year-old right-handed pitcher is now 6-10 and in his second season with the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. — about 20 minutes from Cicero. While Fulton, who is playing for the CSL’s Adam Cornwell-coached Park Rangers in 2021 and struck out 10 in a start Monday, June 14, throws a four-seam fastball that clocks in between 86 and 88 mph and occasionally hits 90 and mixes it with a slider and a change-up — both with depth and side-to-side action when they’re on. Fulton throws from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot. “(Having long arms and legs has) been an advantage at times on the mound and it’s been a disadvantage,” says Fulton. “Overall, I think I move fairly well for someone my size.” His length can cause issues for the batter in viewing the baseball. “I’m sure the ball is getting released a little closer to the plate,” says Fulton. “There are places where they don’t have a good batters’ eye it’s coming out of the clouds sometimes (which works in my favor).” But he does not cite these things when describing his best quality on the diamond. It’s his willingness to compete. “I just go out there and find ways to get the job done,” says Fulton. “There are a lot of things you can focus on but as long as you’re getting outs you’re doing your job.” Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park has given Fulton the opportunity for a summer job. He’s also been working out at Pro X Athlete Development and training with pitching coach Jay Lehr. They’ve been working together since last summer after COVID-19 curtailed the 2020 spring season. Fulton was at the University of Tennessee but did not play for the Volunteers though he did make the First-Year Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll. “It’s good to get back home to Indiana in the summer,” says Fulton, who posted a 2.00 earned run average and struck 36 and walked five in 27 innings for the Nighthawks during the CSL’s inaugural season of 2020. “It’s a good, competitive league “I enjoy being able to come out here and have fun and be around the guys every week. Hopefully this summer I’ll get some good looks from different colleges.” Fulton spent the spring of 2021 with National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Chattanooga (Tenn.) State Community College. In 10 appearances (six starts), he went 6-2 with one compete game and a 2.62 ERA. In 44 2/3 innings, the big righty fanned 37 and walked 14. Fulton, who turns 21 on Aug. 7, intends to transfer for 2021-22 and has set about getting his general studies requirements in order to go back to a four-year school. “I’m hoping wherever I end up next I can study ministry,” says Fulton. Sam, the son of John and Christy Fulton and younger brother of Jake Fulton (who is is on pace to graduate from Purdue University after the fall semester) played on a local travel team with mostly Cicero kids at 8 or 9. At 12, he played for the Indiana Nitro. At 14 through the end of his high school days, he was with the Indiana Bulls. His head coaches were Michael Tucker, Ryan Berryman and Troy Drosche. Fulton won three baseball letters at Hamilton Heights, playing the first two years in a program led by Matt Wallace and the last two by J.R. Moffatt. He was also on the Huskies football team.
Sam Fulton of the 2021 College Summer League Grand Park’s Park Rangers. The 6-foot-10 pitcher is a graduate of Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.
A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.
“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.
Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.
“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”
Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.
“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.
“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”
Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.
“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”
Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.
The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments.
Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.
“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.
“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”
While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.
Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.
“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.
Bullpen is a very large operation.
“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.
Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.
“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”
With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ.
Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.
“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.
“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”
But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.
“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?
“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”
An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.
The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.
“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”
As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.
While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.
The fall included more contests than ever.
“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.
“We had a great fall.”
Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February.
“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker.
Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.
Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.
“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”
A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches.
A week later, the Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate lashed a two-run double to aid in the A-Team’s 6-4 triumph against the Snapping Turtles.
How does the righty-swinging third baseman assess his strengths?
“Physically, I can do it all on the field — play defense, run and hit for power,” says Barr. “The average is coming along.
“I have athleticism. I was a middle infielder until last year. I have pretty good range (at third base).”
Barr, a 5-foot-11, 191-pounder, has listened to Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer and former assistant Casey Dykes (now a minor league hitting coach in the New York Yankees organization) regarding hitting and done his best to apply it.
“I kist want the ball to spin true,” says Barr. “I don’t want to flare or hook the ball. I look to put myself in a good position to be able to do that.
“If I can spin the ball, I can adjust and do other things.”
Mercer has been on the job since the summer of 2018 and Barr has benefitted.
“He has a lot of information to offer,” says Barr of his head coach. “We are like-minded. We are not afraid to work hard.
“We’re pretty competitive.”
In three seasons at Indiana, Barr played in 97 games (84 starts) and hit .258 (76-of-295) with 19 home runs, 64 runs batted in, 62 runs scored and a .389 on-base percentage.
He decided not to sign and came back to the Hoosiers.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season, Barr started all 15 games at third base and was the regular No. 3 batter in the IU lineup. He hit .246 (14-of-57) with two homers, nine RBIs, 12 runs and a .366 OBP in 15 games.
The last game for a 9-6 team was March 11 against Cincinnati in Bloomington.
Barr stayed in shape and kept his baseball skills sharp while also keeping up with his studies during the quarantine. The Finance major and 2020 Academic All-Big Ten Conference honoree is now around 20 credits shy of his degree.
He is looking forward to in-person classes, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.
“Online classes — I’m not a huge fan of it,” says Barr. “It’s hard to learn business stuff and work through problems online.
“It’s hard to pay attention. I’d prefer to be in class in-person.”
He was honorable mention all-state in 2015 and 2017 and all-Hoosier Heritage Conference 2015-17. Perfect Game rated him as the No. 2 shortstop and No. 14 overall player in Indiana. For his prep career, he hit .333 with nine homers, 45 RBIs and 51 stolen bases.
Barr was a middle infielder and also pitched as a freshman, sophomore and senior.
“I was probably a better pitcher in high school than a hitter,” says Barr. “I had no real thoughts of pitching in college. Most pitchers aren’t 5-10 now.”
Cole was also a safety and wide receiver for the Yorktown Tigers as a freshmen, junior and senior.
Joe and Cherie Barr have four sons — Cole (22), Alex (20), Reid (17) and Drew (15).
Joe Barr is a plant manager at Magna Powertrain. Cherie Barr is a nurse at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. Alex Barr is heading into his junior year as a Wabash College wrestler. Reid Barr will be a Yorktown High School senior and wrestler Drew Barr a YHS sophomore in the fall.
On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.
“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.
“It was awesome.”
The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.
“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”
At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.
A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.
“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”
It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.
“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.
Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load.
He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.
“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.
Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach.
That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.
“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you.
“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”
Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.
Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.
“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.
“It bites and it bites hard.”
Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.
“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.
“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”
Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.
Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.
When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.
“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.
“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”
Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.
“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.
“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game.
“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”
Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.
He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.
During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.
Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.
It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.
“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”
Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.
Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.
“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.
“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”
HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.
So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.
That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.
In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.
He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.
During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs.
“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”
Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.
“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.
When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.
“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”
Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.
“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”
The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).
“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.
“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”
Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.
“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.
“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”
Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.
Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.