Tag Archives: College baseball

Crossroads Baseball Series helps talent connect with next level programs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connecting baseball players who wish to play at the next level with coaches seeking talent is something that the Crossroads Baseball Series has been doing for more than a decade.

Started in 2008 by former Indiana University and professional infielder Eric Blakeley as an outgrowth of his Diamond Kings training business in northwest Indiana, CBS has grown to include showcases, tournaments and fall leagues in numerous states.

Blakeley ran Diamond Kings — former Griffith (Ind.) High School and Tulane University standout and current Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Kody Hoese was one of his early pupils — for about a decade. 

Crossroads Baseball Series began as a way for “Region” area players to have exposure events without traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago. 

The first CBS event held at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard include future big league pitcher Sean Manaea. Blakeley notes that 85 of the 87 players involved went on to play college baseball.

At Crossroads Baseball Series showcases, players work out in front of college coaches and play in prospect games against top recommended players.

There are 17 tournaments on the 2021 calendar with events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Many of these are for 14U to 18U players.

“We’re on the verge of growing our tournament space,” says Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series. “There’s a high demand for quality tournaments that don’t cost $2,000. We try to stay around $1,000 price point.”

Blakeley says college coaches can get on an RSVP list and attend events and receive information from them.

Rosters are collected and each player fills out an information form. Coaches have full access to this for free.

CBS provides social media coverage for recruiters and players’ families to share.

“We pride ourselves on educating the families,” says Blakeley. “We can get your names out there.

“The players have to do their research and count the schools that match (their choices).”

What Crossroads Baseball Series does, according to Blakeley, makes it easier for players to communicate with college coaches and do their research.

Blakeley emphasizes that college coaches will know if a player has done his homework on his program. 

It is even more important now that the competition for roster spots has become even more fierce with many players staying in college baseball longer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the smaller MLB Draft.

“It’s become a lot more competitive to get into these schools — academically and athletically,” says Blakeley.

The words of former Indiana University and current Arizona State University head coach Tracy Smith ring true with Blakeley.

“If you want to play college baseball, there’s a place for you,” says Blakeley. “You just need to do your research and go to camps.”

Travis Keesling, former head coach at Pendleton Heights High School, is Vice President of Baseball Operations for CBS after starting out as a coach selecting players for a showcase.

“Travis has a very good baseball background,” says Blakeley. “He knows the game very well.”

Keesling deals with finding on-field personnel, RSVPing college coaches and the overall vision of the company. He and Blakeley talk on a daily basis.

Nelson Gord, a former minor league opponent to Blakeley who resides in Illinois and is Director of Baseball for NCSA (Next College Student Athlete), is also Director of Recruiting Education for Crossroads Baseball Series.

“He’ll come to events and speak to parents about the recruiting process,” says Blakeley of Gord.

NCSA had purchased a platform called Coach Packet and CBS now has its own app that incorporates video, social media and results to the same player profile. College coaches are given access to this information.

The Crossroads Baseball Series staff also features field coordinators include Rob Fay, Craig Cotter and Austin Green.

Blakeley was a four-sport athlete at Greenville (Ohio) Senior High School.

“I was fortunate to have good coaches for high school and summer ball,” says Blakeley. “I got hit by pitch and broke my arm and did not play junior year of high school.”

The righty-swinging infielder wound up at Indiana through a relationship his coach had with Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan.

“He taught you some things about life,” says Blakeley. “There’s nothing easy about getting through a practice with Bob Morgan.

“He taught you accountability and taking care of yourself.”

As much as the process has changed over the year, one things has remained constant.

“It was word-of-mouth then and it’s still that way today,” says Blakeley. Coaches want to hear from coaches who they consider trustworthy and whose opinion they respect. “What has changed is technology. There is accessibility and instant updates now.”

Another change is the age of those being seriously pursued by recruiters.

“Recruiting has gotten a lot earlier,” says Blakeley. “When we started Crossroads in 2008, every single of the players had not made their college choice yet and were juniors going into their senior year. Ten years later, eighth graders were (verbally) committing going into their freshmen year.”

A shortstop for much of his four seasons at IU (1999-02), Blakeley was selected in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a second baseman.

After his first pro season, Blakeley had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He was in Class-A ball in 2003 and 2004 and made it up to Triple-A in 2005.

Released by the Mariners in 2005, Blakeley played for the independent Joliet (Ill.)JackHammers and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. 

“I wasn’t trying to go back into affiliated ball,” says Blakeley. “I had my business and had gotten married (to Lake Central High School graduate Laura).”

Gary won the Northern League title in 2007 and were runners-up in 2008.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert invited him back for 2009, but Blakeley decided to focus on his business and having a family. 

Eric and Laura Blakeley now resides in Fishers, Ind., with daughters Isabella (10) and Gianna (8). Eric coaches both girls on the Fishers Cats.

“Sports can teach kids for the future — about adversity and how to overcome it,” says Blakeley. “Don’t think what might happen bad. Think what might happen good. 

“Failure is going to help you where you want to be. They just don’t understand that yet.”

Eric Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series

From baseball-fueled friendship of Furman, Brunke, Marovich comes The Yipps Podcast

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball brought them together as boys.

It’s keeping a trio from northwest Indiana connected as young men even though they are scattered across the country.

Creators of the brand new The Yipps Podcast Aaron Furman, Matt Brunke and Brett Marovich were in grade school when they began playing Saint John Youth Baseball together.

Brunke and Marovich grew up as next-door neighbors and have known each other since before they went to elementary school.

Furman and Brunke played baseball through high school. Marovich played until about 16.

Furman played third base for coach Doug Nelson at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake and Brunke second base for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High in Merrillville and graduated in 2014. Brunke helped the 59ers to a IHSAA Class 3A state championship dogpile as a senior.

A year younger than the other two, Marovich did not play baseball at Lake Central High School in St. John, but enjoyed lively conversations with Furman and Brunke about sports.

Like it had for years, this would often go on for hours.

Furman and Brunke were roommates during their freshmen year at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

All earned their bachelor’s degrees.

Furman stayed at USI, got even more immersed in baseball, including positions with the Screaming Eagles team, and earned a Sport Management degree. In February, he started with Sports Info Solutions as a Major League Baseball video scout based in Coplay, Pa., near Allentown.

Brunke transferred to Purdue University Northwest (which has campuses in Hammond and Westville, Ind.) and earned a Business degree before moving to Phoenix where he is a Hertz branch manager.

Marovich picked up a diploma for Mechanical Engineering Technology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and is now employed as a quality/mechanical engineer by Regal Beloit Corp., in Valparaiso, Ind.

During all those spirited boyhood conversations at one another’s houses, a parent would sometimes say they should their own show.

Now they do.

This week marked the debut of The Yipps Podcast (@theyippspod on Twitter), a weekly baseball conversation featuring Furman in Pennsylvania, Brunke in Arizona, Marovich in Indiana and a guest from their location.

An introductory episode dropped May 24, followed by an interview with Nick Podkul May 27. Brunke was a teammate of both Podkul brothers — Frank Jr. and Nick — at Andrean. Nick played at Notre Dame and is now in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

The plan is to feature players and coaches in professional and college baseball and show their “normal side” and put out one episode a week — usually on Wednesday nights.

“Our goal is to get their story and take the professional athlete out of them to show that they’re just normal guys who love baseball,” says Furman.

The Nick Podkul episode tells about how he lost his father while in high school and used that to motivate him.

“It’s the stories you never hear,” says Furman.

Brunke says the idea is to give the listener a deeper connection with the guest.

“They still have a life off the field,” says Brunke. “We want to be the avenue to personalize these guys for fans.

“We want to make (the podcast) a platform for all levels of baseball to share stories about normal people rather than have them seen just as athletes.”

Marovich explains his role in the project, which came to fruition over the past few weeks.

“Baseball is the first sport that we played,” says Marovich. “We’ve always had a passion for it. Why not try to explore this avenue of the Podcast space?

“I have friends who wanted to start this journey and I compelled to help them start it.”

Marovich has no previous audio editing/mixing skills.

“But I’m a quick learner,” says Marovich. “I’m a quick learner.

“If it’s something I’m passionate about, I can grind on it heavily.”

Marovich dove into YouTube videos and is teaching himself about it through trial and error.

Right now, podcasts are recorded by taking the audio from a Zoom conference call. He expects to find a method for a higher sound quality in the future.

In baseball, the “yips” usually manifest themselves in the sudden inability to throw the ball accurately. Three famous examples — Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch, Rick Ankiel.

So podcast rookies Furman, Brunke and Marovich chose The Yipps as their handle.

“We’re probably going to have mistakes, especially in the beginning,” says Marovich, the executive producer. “You have to learn. It’s all part of the experience.

“The best is yet to come.”

Furman got started with USI baseball when he learned that he needed 20 internship hours for one of his Sports Management classes. He approached assistant coach Jeremy Kuester and wound up being team manager for his first two years of college.

“At that time I really wanted to get into coaching,” says Furman.

Then came a conversation between Furman and Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Archuleta just before Christmas break in the fall of 2016.

There were thoughts of purchasing some video scouting equipment for the program.

“I had two weeks to learn the system and then we’re off to Tampa to play our first series,” says Furman. “That’s where my career changed for baseball.”

Furman’s last two seasons at USI were dedicated to working with video, analytics and scouting as it related to player development.

“It was not so much about spin rates and launch angles,” says Furman.

Instead, he was gathering information about the hot and cold zones for opponents and Southern Indiana hitters as well as spray charts and defensive shift reports.

Since then, the baseball world has become more analytics-driven.

“We were the first Division II team in the country to implement one of these systems,” says Furman of USI. “It’s become a big recruiting tool for players.”

Before and after graduation, Furman worked at the Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School, soaking up knowledge from the former big league catcher and current USI volunteer assistant.

“Kevin taught me a lot about the mechanical side of baseball,” says Furman, who learned how to recognize things like hand grip and weight shift. “In 2018, I was helping college hitters at a higher level.”

Furman then worked with the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network, which had many MLB organizations as clients. He worked from a list of players near Evansville and evaluated many NCAA Division I and II as well as some high school players.

“It was a really cool experience,” says Furman.

There were several interviews in the baseball industry before the chance came to join Sports Information Solutions.

“I knew this was a great opportunity to take and I didn’t want to pass it up,” says Furman.

During COVID-19 quarantine time, he has been working on small projects.

When spring training was happening, he was at home or in the office watching feeds of games and charting every pitch, running times, ball off bat speed, velocity, defensive shifts, catcher positions and more.

“It takes awhile to get used to,” says Furman. “It’s basically the same thing I did at USI, but probably with 10 times more data.”

As an SIS video scout, Furman can rewind and zoom to get different camera angles. He usually employs three screens per game.

“Once you get into the groove of things, it’s really fun,” says Furman. “Once the season starts I’ll be doing the same thing.”

Scouts work either the morning or night shift. In the mornings, they go over games that have already been charted and make sure the data is inputted and correct. At night, it’s usually about live games.

With this experience, Furman is not the same kind of baseball fan he was growing up, though he still roots for his Chicago White Sox.

“My viewpoint on baseball is completely different,” says Furman. “I can sit and watch a game and I know what pitch they’re going to throw before they throw it based on things like swing patterns.

“I look at baseball differently than I ever thought I would.”

Brunke counts himself fortunate to have been part of Andrean baseball, led by the Hall of Famer.

“(Pishkur) knows how to get the most out of you as a player,” says Brunke. “There was a sense of pride in wearing (Andrean) across your chest. There was competition within the program. Practice was not easy.

“If you’re going to play in the program, you’re going to have to play your tail off and really buy in or it’s not going to work. It was a super-advanced program.”

Brunke recalls tracking things like launch angle and pitch locations and using them to the 59ers’ advantage.

Next up on The Yipps Podcast (available on Spotify): Atlanta Braves prospect Logan Brown.

The Yipps Podcast is presented by (from left): Aaron Furman, Matt Brunke and Brett Marovich. The trio played baseball together as boys in northwest Indiana and now they talk about it. The podcast was launched May 24, 2020.

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)