Tag Archives: Bullpen Tournaments

Indiana Black Caps enter travel baseball world

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a new travel baseball organization in northern Indiana.

The Indiana Black Caps was officially established July 7, 2019 and expects to field 11U, 12U and 13U teams for the 2020 season.

Jesse Zepeda, who played for coach Steve Stutsman on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state champions at Elkhart Central High School then for coach Seth Zartman at Bethel College (now Bethel University), has been with the Indiana Chargers travel organization and wants to bring that kind of focus on development and investment in players.

“We wanted something similar and thus the Black Caps came into motion,” says Zepeda. “We share the same values as the Chargers did and will continue to do so.

“My philosophy is simple: I hope to build a program that is known for tradition and will help develop the kids in to the best version of themselves on and off the field.”

Zepeda considers Chargers founder Joel Mishler and former Chargers assistant coach Wes Bogan among his mentors.

“I’ve only known Joel for about a year and half,” says Zepeda of Mishler. “The man has a great baseball mind and he has taught me a lot about the game in a short period of time of knowing him — things I wish I knew when I was a player.

“I helped him run Charger practices, camps, showcases and tryouts the past year.

“I look to him for advice and tips for coaching. He almost always will have a response to it.”

Zepeda credits Bogan for showing him how to manage the game.

“I learned a lot from him and still continuing to learn,” says Zepeda of Bogan. He has been a big contributor in my young coaching career.”

“I learned so much from the coaches I’ve had throughout the years. One thing that specifically comes to mind was, ‘Don’t think, just have fun’ that one coach told the team.

“This stuck through the hardships and struggles throughout my career.”

Zepeda and Bogan will lead the Black Caps along with Derek Coy and Brant Mast.

The organization plans to do off-season training at Elkhart Sports Center will play and practice around the Elkhart/Goshen area.

Zepeda says the Black Caps will likely play in USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association), Game Day USA, BPA (Baseball Players Association) and Bullpen tournaments around Indiana. There will be approximately eight tournaments from mid-April to mid-July with built-in development weekends.

“In those weekends, we will solely-focus on the players’ development and play one game or a doubleheader against a team,” says Zepeda. “This gives us time to really focus on what we need to improve on.”

Why the Black Caps?

“Coming up with a name was probably one of the hardest parts for us. We kicked around many different names over the course of a couple weeks and the Black Caps just resonated with us,” says Zepeda. “We wanted to try and come up with something unique and that people would remember.”

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Jesse Zepeda, a graduate of Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College, has helped start a new travel baseball organization — the Indiana Black Caps. (Bethel College Photo)

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Vet coach Goodmiller now leading Norwell Knights baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaching baseball at the levels he has for decades has been rewarding for Dave Goodmiller.

“I like high school and college so much because you see kids who get physically stronger and mature,” says Goodmiller. “It’s a time of growth — physically, mentally and skill-wise.”

“I really like developing the kids. That’s why I’ve enjoyed my time as an assistant coach. I like seeing kids get better.”

He used former big league pitcher Jarrod Parker as an example.

“He was probably 140 pounds as a freshman,” says Goodmiller of Parker, who graduated from Norwell in 2007. “By the time he was a senior, he was 180 pounds and a really good athlete.”

Goodmiller enters his first season as head coach at Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind., after 11 seasons as a Knights assistant — five on the staff of Kelby Weybright (now Norwell athletic director) then six helping Andy McClain (now head coach at Lawrence Central).

Retired after 35 years of teaching (he last taught sixth grade at Riverview Middle School in Huntington), Goodmiller now works part-time as a maintenance man at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne and has been conducting limited contact practices two times a week for two hours after school at Norwell.

“I’ve changed things a little bit,” says Goodmiller of putting in his own system. “The kids have been very receptive.

“I give the kids a daily plan and they know what to expect at various times.”

Goodmiller likes the opportunity to have more access to players, noting that about 10 to 12 attended fall sessions and there were 23 at Wednesday’s workout.

“That’s been beneficial as a new head coach,” says Goodmiller. “The kids have worked very hard.”

Goodmiller’s Norwell staff features former Norwell and Butler University pitcher Jamie Feldheiser on the varsity with Neil Stinson leading the junior varsity. A search is on for another JV coach.

The Knights program has enjoyed plenty of success, winning 16 sectionals, six regionals, three semistates and three state titles (2003, 2007, 2013). The are currently part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Bellmont, Jay County, Heritage, Marion and Mississinewa.

Norwell (enrollment around 815) is a member of the Northeast Eight Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo and New Haven). Each team plays each other once to determine the conference champion.

The Knights have produced several college and professional players. Josh VanMeter, a 2013 graduate, was recently invited to major league spring training camp with the Cincinnati Reds.

The Dave and Cheryl (a retired teacher and guidance counselor who worked at Huntington North as well as Crestview and Riverview middle schools), Rhett Goodmiller graduated from Norwell in 2008 and played at Central Michigan University and Taylor University. He coached at Ball State University and other places and now works for Grand Park, Bullpen Tournaments and Prep Baseball Report Indiana.

The summer of 2008 saw son Rhett as a player and father Dave as a coach in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Garrison Brege, a current Norwell senior, has signed with the Indiana University-Kokomo.

Why the Norwell success?

“It comes from the parents and community,” says Goodmiller. “They’re very supportive. We have good kids who are competitive. They work hard and are coachable.

“There are good feeder programs and kids are involved in a a lot of sports. They get along and work together. I feel like I’ve developed a lot of friends with the players and parents along the way.”

Prior to Norwell, Goodmiller was an assistant to Kyle Gould at Taylor University.

“He is innovative,” says Goodmiller of Gould. “He also brought in local coaches with a wealth of knowledge like Rick Atkinson (an IHSBCA Hall of Famer) and Larry Winterholter. “He lives the values of Taylor University. He has built good relationships with his players. He challenges them.

“He’s very detailed with scouting reports and knowing the opponents. He has ready for each series. He had a good grasp on the entire roster. He is well-rounded in all phases of the game.”

Before Taylor, Goodmiller aided former college teammate and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Mike Frame at Huntington University.

“He’s just a tireless worker and recruiter,” says Goodmiller of Frame. “He’s a loyal friend. I enjoyed working with him.

“He was very fair and dedicated to his program and the school. He’s a good Christian man.”

Goodmiller spent a decade as an assistant at Huntington North High School — the first five as junior varsity coach and the last five as varsity assistant and all on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Sherman.

“He had enthusiasm for the game and the kids,” says Goodmiller of Sherman. “Those first five years, we practiced separately once we got outside. “I was learning on the fly as a new coach. It was good for my individual experience.”

“I went to college to be an elementary teacher,” says Goodmiller. “I had not given any thought to being a baseball coach.”

He loved the game. He played a decade or more in Fort Wayne’s Stan Musial League after college.

After he was asked to give coaching a try, the son of two educators (the late Leon Goodmiller was a high school math teacher, coach and athletic director who started at Lancaster High School and finished at Huntington North while the late Marvel Goodmiller taught kindergarten and first grade at Northwest Elementary in Huntington) was hooked.

For several summers in the 1990’s, Goodmiller coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Colin Lister and the Dox in the Fort Wayne-based Connie Mack League. He had played for Lister’s Fort Wayne Komets while in high school at Huntington North.

Goodmiller graduated from Huntington North in 1977 and Huntington College (now Huntington University) in 1981.

His coach with the Huntington North Vikings was Roger Howe.

“I really enjoy him,” says Goodmiller of Howe. “He was demanding but fair to everybody. He taught the game well.”

Goodmiller pitched 38 consecutive scoreless innings during the 1977 season and was an IHSBCA All-Star.

As a Huntington Forester, he was guided by Jim Wilson.

“He was very organized and a good people person,” says Goodmiller of Wilson. “He really built a solid program.”

Wilson took teams to the NAIA district playoffs and had three players sign to play professional baseball — Doug Neuenschwander, Mark Parker and Terry Zorger.

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Dave Goodmiller is the head baseball coach at Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind. The 2019 season is his first in the post after 11 seasons as a Knights assistant. He has coached at Huntington North High School, Huntington University, Taylor University and with Dox of Fort Wayne’s Connie Mack League.

Zartman coaches, cares for Bethel College Pilots

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Zartman has shared slices of life with hundreds of players in two decades as a college baseball coach.

There have been moments shared in dugouts, on bus rides and at team meals and community service projects.

The man who has led the program at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., since the 2004 season has always viewed these young men as more than athletes.

They are people, too.

“I want to love those guys the very best that I can while they’re here,” says Zartman. “When they leave, that love doesn’t change. You’re very appreciative of who they are as people.”

Zartman, a 1998 Bethel graduate, tries to see what makes each one tick and does his best to lead them on and off the diamond.

“Your players are more than just a roster number,” says Zartman. “They’re more important than that.

“It’s the relationship you build with those guys and getting to know them for who they are not only on the field but off. Who are they within their families? What do they like to do?.

“To have a genuine care for who they are as a person allows you to understand how you can deal with them on the field as well and make them the best baseball player you can.”

It’s a lesson he learned while playing at Bethel for head coach Sam Riggleman. 

Zartman, who wrapped his career as the Pilots’ all-time leader in home runs (37), runs batted in (181), doubles (61) and slugging percentage (.625) and was inducted into the Bethel College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006, saw Riggleman’s example of how to “treat and love your players.”

Riggleman displayed an attention to detail and a way of pushing the right button to get the most out of his players.

“When you’re a player for Sam you understand real quickly the importance of details and the small things,” says Zartman, who is going into his 16th season as Bethel head coach in 2018-19. “Coach was very well-organized. You never question whatever plan he had for what we were doing every single day.

“It had to do with your focus and what attitude you were going to show up with everyday. Those are things I’ve tried to carry on in my coaching career.”

Prior to returning to his alma mater, Zartman started the program at Mid-Continent College in Mayfield, Ky. The school (which has since closed) was changing to a liberal arts institution and adding athletics.

Zartman tried to get a graduate assistant coaching position after graduating from Bethel and when he found none, he went into the business world for a year.

Zartman is now in his 20th season as a head coach without ever having been an assistant.

“It’s very unusual,” says Zartman. “Guys ask all the time about how to get going in this realm. I can tell them that my story’s not the one that you look at.

“I was very fortunate to get that opportunity freshly out of school.”

Most head coaches went through the grind, starting out as a graduate assistant and/or volunteer coach before serving multiple seasons as a full-time assistant.

One year removed from being a player, Zartman took a call from Riggleman and found out about Mid-Continent.

“In my interview I found out they had already interviewed 20-plus coaches that had experience at the college level and every single one of them turned down,” says Zartman, recalling the summer of 1999. “Then here comes this young kid one year out of college. But — Praise God! — I got the call and they offered me the job.

“I started the program from Ground Zero.”

In the four seasons that Zartman was there, Mid-Continent built a baseball field from scratch and finally reached double digits in wins in his last season.

“It was a tough road, but a road I wouldn’t trade for anything,” says Zartman. “When you’re thrown into the fire like that, you learn a lot and quickly.

“You’re young and green and you just go with instinct. You and learn the best way you know how.”

Between learning on the job, spending time on the phone with Riggleman and being led by the Mid-Continent administration, Zartman began to navigate life as a college head coach.

Recruiting has changed for Zartman during his time in charge at BC, where the current tuition is about $28,500.

“Just in my 16 years here at Bethel, we’ve had four different scholarship systems,” says Zartman. “We go from a standard to a certain pot of money to a period of time with no (athletic) scholarships to today when we’re in a discount rate system.”

Zartman says the biggest switch in recent years is that players are making their college decisions a lot sooner. Rare are the days that they commit in the summer and then come to campus in the fall.

“It’s helped us build our recruiting lists earlier,” says Zartman. “We’re in the period right now where a lot of Class of ’19 kids are making their decisions.

“They want to have a stress-free senior year.”

While trying to build a roster that the Bethel administration wants to be between 28 and 35 athletes, the Pilots coaching staff (Zartman, Kiel Boynton and Dick Siler) get out to high school games at the end of the college season and then really focus on summer travel tournaments — particularly Pastime Tournaments at the University of Notre Dame and Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Bethel coaches also see players via video and identify potential recruits through Prep Baseball Report.

“A lot of kids are now promoting themselves,” says Zartman. “With the videos, we can get a quick glimpse to see what they’re like.”

The current roster includes players with hometowns in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, California, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Venezuela.

“We’re starting to branch out and get guys from a broader spectrum,” says Zartman. “Some of these guys have never seen snow before. They end up adapting and they really enjoy their experience.”

Bethel is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The NAIA allows its baseball teams to play 55 games during the school year. The Pilots are to play six games that count toward their record this fall with Saturday noon doubleheaders Sept. 22 (vs. Trinity International University), Sept. 29 (at University of Michigan-Dearborn) and Oct. 6 (vs. UM-Dearborn).

“I love the NAIA from the standpoint that we can spend time with our players,” says Zartman, who was a four-time NAIA All-American as a player. “We can do things off the field with them.”

On the baseball side, teams are allowed 24 weeks of activity during the school year, counting backwards from the last regular-season game. For Bethel this year that means six weeks in the fall and the rest in the spring.

Bethel belongs to the Crossroads League (along with Goshen College, Grace College, Huntington University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Marian University, Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, Spring Arbor University and Taylor University). The CL tries to play as many conference games on weekends as possible.

With schedules aligning, Bethel and Grace are slated play their series in Vero Beach, Fla., in March 2019.

A member of the American Baseball Coaches Association, Zartman plans to attend the ABCA Convention Jan. 3-6 in Dallas.

“I definitely love the camaraderie,” says Zartman. “There is so much perspective to gain from other coaches.

“The clinic speakers are next to none. We also get to have our voices heard (in NAIA meetings).”

Zartman is a 1994 graduate of Caston High School in Fulton, Ind., where he played for head coach Dick Farrer (who is now at Pioneer High School in Royal Center, Ind.).

In his freshman season, Zartman, Farrer came to him and his teammates asking about their diamond dreams. For Seth, it was to be a starting catcher and that goal was attained.

“He enabled us to go for it,” says Zartman of Farrer. “He allowed us to get into those positions and really show what we could do.

“I remember Coach Farrer saying as long you’re giving me your best then I have nothing to complain about. He really, really enhanced the positives.”

Zartman began playing summer youth baseball in Fulton and then switched to Rochester, Ind., to be closer to father Marty’s job. Marty coached back then and later helped Seth at Bethel.

Seth played in Rochester through Babe Ruth before entering high school. In the summers, he played for Walton American Legion Post 418. His coaches were Mike Platt and Larry “Bud” Jones, the latter being the head coach at Logansport High School.

“Coach Jones was a very attention-to-detail guy. He was big on the fundamentals of the game.

“I was very fortunate in all my levels to play for coaches that emphasized how important the fundamentals of baseball are and working those all the time are what makes you the player you’re going to be.

“It’s not just showing up everyday because you have the talent to overpower somebody.”

Zartman knows that a lot of people say that’s the old school way of baseball.

“I’m a firm believer that the old school is the new school,” says Zartman. “You have to do those things.

“That repetition in practice — doing things over and over — implants in you those things that become second nature when you go play a game.”

In addition to his coaching duties, Zartman is the head groundskeeper for outdoor athletic facilities at Bethel. He is assisted by head women’s soccer coach Jamie Lindvall and head cross country/assistant track and field coach Ryan Sommers.

Zartman was diagnosed in January 2012 with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). It is a thickening of the heart muscle (myocardium). The condition can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. HCM may also affect the heart’s electrical system.

“I had a good check-up in May,” says Zartman. “I go to Boston in October for my yearly check-up with my main HCM doctor.

“I feel very blessed. God’s been really good in protection and provision.”

Marty and Joyce Zartman, who are also Caston High graduates, have four boys. Seth is one year older than Sean, five years older than Luke and 15 years older than Ethan. Between the three, they have six children. Seth coached Ethan Zartman at Bethel.

Seth and Anitra Zartman, who met at Bethel as student-athletes, have been married for 18 years. The couple has four kids — Senica (14), Ty (14), Lyric (7) and Evik (5).

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Seth Zartman, a 1998 Bethel College graduate and BC Athletic Hall of Famer, is in his 16th year as head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players are asked to answers a series of questions.

How many swings are you going to take?

How many throws are you going to make?

How balls are you going to block?

How many ground balls are you going to take?

How many fly balls?

Are you going to work on your angles?

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

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

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

“You cannot be used car salesman.”

Shooting straight with players and parents also helps the process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ROUNDTRIPPERSPORTSACADEMY

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

 

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology helps keep track of all Bullpen tournaments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is success gauged in the travel baseball world?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there are the trouble makers and malcontents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BULLPENTOURNAMENTS

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

 

Indiana Bulls have grown baseball in state nearly three decades

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We are not chasing trophies,” says Held.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is manual to help coaches conduct a productive practices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taylor says the mission must be clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INDIANABULLSLARGELOGO

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

 

Bunnell has Westfield playing with character, commitment

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Bunnell might change the words of his mantra from time to time to stay fresh.

But the head baseball coach at Westfield High School in Hamilton County, Indiana, continues to run a program based on character, commitment, hard work and extra effort.

“Everyone has influence,” says Bunnell. “How they use that influence is up to them.”

Bunnell has been in charge of the Shamrocks since the 2003 season, meaning 2017-18 is his 16th as coach and 15th as a WHS teacher.

The Rocks have won well over 200 games to go with three sectional (2008, 2009, 2011), one regional (2009), one semistate (2009) and one state runner-up finish (2009) plus four Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles (2009, 2010, 2013, 2015) on Bunnell’s watch.

Kevin Plawecki, who is now a catcher with the New York Mets, was a senior and batted No. 3 for Westfield in the 2009 IHSAA Class 4A State Finals then played at Purdue University before beginning his professional baseball career. Plawecki still stays in contact with Bunnell.

A 1991 graduate of Northwestern High School in Kokomo, where he played for coach Kent LeBeau, Bunnell put in one season at Huntington College (now Huntington University) for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame and finished his college studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Bunnell likes his Shamrocks to “stay in the present” and “control the controllable.”

Knowing when the make the right play and quality at-bats are valued highly by Westfield baseball. QAB points can come from hard-hit balls, walks, hit-by-pitch, stolen bases, dirt-ball reads and other things.

The Rocks look to “win the freebie war” — meaning they give up fewer walks, errors, etc., and seeks have more big innings (defined by three runs or more) than the opponents. They have crunched the numbers at Westfield and know the win percentage is high when the Rocks have more big innings than their foes.

It’s a philosophy Bunnell picked up at a clinic from former Mississippi State University coach John Cohen and it’s kind of thing that happened frequently in successful Westfield seasons like 2009.

Bunnell says the program usually sees up to 70 kids try out for about 50 spots on three teams — varsity and two junior varsity squads (Green and White). Having two JV units allows for flexibility and playing time. For instance, the Rocks had five catchers in the freshmen class in 2017 and just one among the sophomores.

Westfield’s 2018 coaching staff is to include John Oestreich (pitching coach), Mike Hansen (third base/catchers coach), Bill Lindsey (hitting/corner infielders coach), Kevin Entwistle (JV Green/outfielders coach) and Evan Kosmoski (JV White/pitching coach).

All JV home games are played at Grand Park with some varsity games being moved there if wet weather means the Rocks can’t play on-campus. With this relationship, Bullpen Tournaments is allowed to use the Westfield varsity field for some of its summer tournaments.

Feeding the program are recreation and 12U to 15U travel teams (Westfield Rocks) from Westfield Youth Sports, Inc., plus middle school squads that play at Shamrock Springs Elementary.

“Baseball is strong here for sure,” says Bunnell.

A portion of Bunnell’s summers is spent with wife Michell and four children (Kaylie, A.J., Cooper and Beau) and coaching with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

“They have been very good to me,” says Bunnell. “We don’t practice a whole lot in the summer. The crispness of the game gets away. We need that repetition in practice.”

The coach approves of the pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“These are young kids and they are still developing and kids are throwing harder than ever,” says Bunnell, who had tended to use his starters once a week during the regular season with a non-conference game on Tuesday and conference contests on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The past few seasons the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (which has featured Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Zionsville and will add Franklin Central in 2018-19) has employed a three-game series for baseball and Bunnell has been a fan of the format.

“You get a true conference champion,” says Bunnell. “I’ll be sad to see it go (if it goes away with the growth of the conference or reduction in the number of games allowed by the IHSAA).”

Currently, the association allows 28 games plus a tournament prior to the state tournament series.

If he had his way, the season would actually expand, state tournament stages would be seeded and championships would be determined by a series or at least through double-elimination.

“It would create excitement and it would be great to see it showcased that way,” says Bunnell. “We have to stop with the one-size-fits-all approach. Each sport has its uniqueness.”

With the HCC format, the Friday game under the lights has often drawn big crowds and taken on the atmosphere of prep football.

Of course more games would necessitate more time to get postseason games in and there are already issues now where sectional games have to be played from Wednesday through Monday and still adhere to pitch count rules.

Bunnell said this narrow window, the draw and variables like weather and graduation ceremonies can put teams on one side of the bracket at a serious disadvantage.

How would seeding work?

Bunnell notes that it is done in Ohio and rankings such as those produced by MaxPreps could be used.

“There are a lot of options,” says Bunnell.

To concentrate on mental toughness, Westfield athletes take part annually in Shamrock Advantage Week. In brief after-school sessions, speakers cover various topics like mindfulness, trust building and becoming an elite competitor. Bunnell has been one of those SAW presenters.

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Ryan Bunnell is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach at Westfield High School in 2017-18.

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