In his last appearance of the summer, he pumped in a pitch at 100 mph.
Klein was the EIU Panthers’ Friday starter in 2020 and went 1-2 in four appearances with a 3.33 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24 1/3 innings before the season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While university facilities were off limits, Klein and two of his three roommates stayed in Charleston, Ill., and got ready for the MLB Draft, which was shaved from 40 to five rounds this year.
Klein played catch in parking lots and open fields, threw PlyoCare Balls against park fences and used kettle bells, benches and dumb bells in the living room.
Kansas City took Klein with the 135th overall pick.
“I talked to every team,” says Klein, 20. “I could tell some were more interested than others.
“The Royals were definitely the team that communicated with me the most.”
The pitcher, who has added muscle and now packs 230 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, saves time and fuel by staying with an aunt and uncle in Fishers.
“The Royals sent a weight lifting, throwing and running schedule,” says Klein. “I blend that with what Greg’s doing.”
Klein first worked out at PRP Baseball last summer and also went there in the winter.
Klein’s natural arm slot has been close to over the top.
From there, he launches a four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball (it moves from 12-to-6 on the clock face), “gyro” slider (it has more downward and less lateral movement than some sliders) and a “circle” change-up.
In three seasons at EIU, Klein’s walks-per-nine innings went from 9.6 in 2018 to 9.9 in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.
Why the control improvement?
“A lot of repetition and smoothing out the action,” says Klein. “I’ve been able to get a feel for what I was doing and a more efficient movement pattern with my upper and lower halves.
“Throwing more innings helped, too. I didn’t throw a whole lot in high school.”
Playing for head coach Richard Hurt, Klein was primarily a catcher until his senior year. In the second practice of his final prep season, he broke the thumb on his pitching hand and went to the outfield.
“(Anderson) was very helpful coming from pro ball,” says Klein of the former University of Illinois right-hander who pitched in the big leagues with the New York Yankees and New York Mets. “He knew what it took mentally and physically and took me from a thrower to a pitcher.”
Former catcher Godinez brought energy and also helped Klein learn about pitch sequences.
Brown was given full reign of the Panthers staff by Anderson this spring.
Klein struggled his freshmen year, starting three of 14 games and going 1-1 with a 6.62 ERA. He was used in various bullpen roles as a sophomore and went 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA.
He was the closer and Pitcher of the Year with the Lakeshore Chinooks in the summer of 2019 when he hit 100 on the gun and was told he would be a starter when he got back to EIU in the fall.
For his college career, Klein was 2-2 and struck out 62 in 42 1/3 innings.
Born in Maryville, Tenn., Will moved to Bloomington at 3. Both his parents — Bill and Brittany — are Indiana University graduates.
Will played youth baseball at Winslow and with the Unionville Arrows and then with local all-star teams before high school. During those summers, he was with the Mooresville Mafia, which changed its name the next season to Powerhouse Baseball.
At 17U, Troy Drosche was his head coach with the Indiana Bulls. At 18U, he played for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays.
The summer between his freshman and sophomore years at EIU, Klein was with the Prospect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans.
“I grew up loving science,” says Will, who has had both parents teach the subject. Bill Klein has taught at Jackson Creek Middle School with Brittany Klein is a Fairview Elementary. Both schools are in Bloomington.
Will is the oldest of their three children. The 6-4 Sam Klein (18) is a freshman baseball player at Ball State University. Molly (13) is an eighth grader who plays volleyball, basketball and softball.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
T-Ray Fletcher, who was Oakland City head coach for 26 seasons, is still the school’s athletic director.
Since taking the job a few weeks ago, Lasher been concentrating on building up his roster.
“I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting though there are no games to watch,” says Lasher, referring to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which has live baseball shut down at the moment. “There’s been a lot of calls and text messages.”
Lasher, who is tapping into his network of contacts, says he would like to have 35 players in the fall and 40 to 45 in the future so the Mighty Oaks can add a junior varsity program.
That takes care of half the schedule. Lasher has the opportunity to fill in the rest of the games, choosing ones that are feasible and keeps players from missing too many classes.
It’s Lasher’s intent to schedule some contests in the fall.
Lasher’s assistants are Jacob Bedwell and Austen Bullington. Washington (Ind.) High School graduate Bedwell was on the OCU team last year. Castle grad Bullington played at Wabash Valley College and the University of Tennessee-Martin.
Lasher was hired by Southern Indianalast summer and spent much of his time assisting Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Achuleta with hitters and position players.
“I also kept track of academic progress and a lot of little things that don’t happen on the baseball field,” says Lasher. “That’s a much bigger percentage of the job than people realize.
“At the college level, it’s a lot more than the bats and balls. It’s a full-time job for a reason.
“(Archuleta) is one of my favorite people. He’s alot of fun to be around and a really good baseball mind. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
He was an assistant to Dennis Conley at Olney Central from the 2014 season until the fall of 2018.
“It was a really good experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” says Lasher, who helped the Blue Knights win 173 games in five seasons.
An outfielder, Lasher played two seasons at Olney (2010 and 2011) for Conley and two at Evansville (2012 and 2013) for Wes Carroll.
Going to Castle, Lasher had heard all about alums Wes and brother Jamey Carroll (who played in the big leagues).
“(Wes Carroll) was a real good player’s coach,” says Lasher. “We had some good teams.”
The Purple Aces won 56 games in Lasher’s two seasons at UE. He played with five players — left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland (Colorado Rockies), lefty-swinging outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski (New York Mets), righty-batting Eric Stamets (Rockies), righty pitcher Kyle Lloyd (San Diego Padres) and lefty hurler Phillip Diehl (Rockies) — who eventually made it to the majors.
For five summers, Lasher was with the Bombers — 2014 as an assistant coach and 2015-18 as manager.
Lefty-hitting outfielder Johnson is now on the Cleveland Indians’ 40-man roster.
Brown is a catcher in the Atlanta Braves organization.
Lasher calls shortstop Gonzales, who was the 2019 NCAA Division I batting champion, the best player he’s ever coached and expects him to be taken about the top picks in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
The atmosphere created by Dubois County ownership and fans at League Stadium made Lasher’s time with the Bombers very enjoyable.
“It’s a great place to watch a game,” says Lasher. “It’s a shame they’re not getting to do it this summer (due to COVID-19 causing cancelation of the Ohio Valley League season).”
Lasher graduated in 2009 from Castle, where he played for Curt Welch.
“He was very intense,” says Lasher of Welch, who has also been an assistant wrestling coach for the Knights. “We were probably in better shape physically as any team in the country.”
There was plenty of running and ab workouts.
“It was worth it,” says Welch. “No doubt about it. It got guys ready for the college stuff. You have to be mentally tough and physically in shape in college or you just aren’t going to make it.”
Besides head baseball coach, Lasher is also in charge of maintaining Oakland City athletic fields and is gameday coordinator for any on-campus sporting events. The Mighty Oaks sponsor teams in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer and tennis for men and women and softball and volleyball for women.
Lasher and girlfriend, former Orleans (Ind.) High School, Olney Central and Brescia University basketball player Shelbi Samsil, recently moved to the north side of Indianapolis to be closer to Oakland City.
Andy Lasher is the new head baseball coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University. He is a graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., and played at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville. He has coached at Olney, Eastern Illinois University, the University of Southern Indiana and with the summer collegiate Dubois County Bombers. (Oakland City University Photo)
The apple didn’t fall too far from the baseball tree.
“I’ve always known I wanted to coach,” says Blake Beemer, a Ball State University assistant and second-generation college baseball coach.
Blake’s father, Gregg Beemer, was on the staffs at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He is now the recruiting director for the Dayton Classics travel baseball organization.
“He loves baseball and passed it down to me,” says Blake. “I think when I was 11 I decided that college would be ideal for me. I’m fortunate to be living the dream.”
Beemer, 28, was born in Dayton, played for Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chuck Harlow at Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio, and played four seasons at Ball State (2010-13) for head coaches Greg Beals, Alex Marconi and Rich Maloney. He was a team captain in his final three seasons with the Cardinals. For his career, he hit .286 with 108 runs scored and 94 driven in.
He has learned that to make an impact, it takes an investment.
“The biggest thing we do as college coaches is that we have to care,” says Beemer. “You have to try to create relationships and get to know your guys and what they’re going through off the field as well as on it.”
It just doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.
“As you create that trust, that understanding, that love, I think that’s when you can start to open up and coach guys a little bit harder or find what makes guys tick,” says Beemer. “When they know you really care that’s when it really can be special.”
In addition to Harlow in high school, Beemer says Beals, Marconi and Maloney all made their mark on him in different ways.
“(Beals) was a very tough, demanding coach,” says Beemer. “But he was quick to make sure you knew he was on your side. (Marconi) was more laid-back, a guy you could really talk to. You didn’t feel intimidated by him.
“(Maloney) has that professionalism, caring and love. When you have that, you can really do a lot of things. He brought that back (to Ball State) when he came in 2013.
“We weren’t talented the year before. He told us he loved us and we were going to be good. The power of belief got us there (the Cards went from 14-36 in 2012 to 31-24 in 2013).”
Beemer says Maloney is “ultra-competitive.”
“He’s still fiery,” says Beemer. “He’s competitive. He wants to win. He challenges myself to bring energy everyday and he challenges our guys.
“It’s fun when we have that coming down from the top. It gets the best out of everybody in the group.”
“With social media today, you can find players all the time,” says Beemer. “Our recruiting time from an NCAA standpoint is March 1 to Nov. 1. That’s the time period we can be out on the road everyday and go watch players.
“When November comes, we dial it back and can only recruit at camps on our campus.”
It becomes a projectable exercise. The BSU staff has to consider who might be taken in Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft from their roster or their commits from high school and whether or not they are likely to sign with professional teams. They might need to fill a need at the junior college level.
“It’s a balancing act,” says Beemer of juggling the current team with the future of the program. “Recruiting has sped up so much. We’re recruiting (high school) sophomores and juniors pretty regularly now.
“We pride ourselves in being a mid-major team that finds under-the-radar-type guys that may develop a little bit later.”
Beemer notes that 2019 first-rounder Drey Jameson was an undersized right-hander when he came to Ball State out of Greenfield-Central High School and that current junior right-hander Kyle Nicolas has steadily developed since arriving in Muncie from Ohio.
“Typically, we don’t get that blue chip recruit who’s a freshman stud in high school. We get the guy who’s getting better as a junior and senior. Hopefully we aren’t missing and don’t have to over-recruit.
“We want good players wherever they’re at,” says Beemer. “There’s a lot of really good baseball in Indiana. Grand Park (in Westfield, Ind.) is a great complex to recruit (for recruiting). We can go 45 minutes and see just about everything.”
Beemer says as Maloney and Ball State builds the brand, they can go get players from California and other places.
Former Ball State University baseball player Blake Beemer is now an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator for the Cardinals. (Ball State University Photo)
DeDario inherits a program that graduated several seniors in 2019.
“It’s a pretty fresh start,” says DeDario. “We’ve got two returning seniors and two juniors. The rest are freshmen and sophomores.
“We’re building from the bottom up. It’s all about fundamentals, playing the game the right way and having fun while we do it. I’m recruiting the heck out of the hallways. I’m probably going to end up with maybe six seniors now because of that.”
Demario led the Wildcats through IHSAA Limited Contract practice in the fall and winter workouts are now in progress. The turnout has been high.
“I’m expecting 40 kids for tryouts,” says Demario. “I want to keep 30.
“The kids are excited. I’m excited.”
Weather permitting, Riley will play a full schedule, which features nine road games to open the season.
Wildcats assistant Larry Vaznonis was a baseball and basketball standout at Hammond Gavit High School and Purdue University Calumet and is a member of the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame. He reached out to Purdue Northwest and arranged for Riley to practice and play on the turf at Dowling Park.
NIC teams play one another once and games are scheduled on Mondays, Wednesdays and sometimes Fridays. The Wildcats’ first conference game is slated for April 13 on the new turf at Penn’s Jordan Automotive Group Field.
Riley is part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth and South Bend Adams. The Wildcats have won two sectional titles — 1975 and 1991.
While retired teacher Vaznonis comes in as varsity first base coach, Mishawaka Police Department detective Mike Armey returns from the 2019 Riley season and will be varsity pitch coach.
Former Benedictine University and Eastern Illinois University pitcher and Notre Dame video crew worker Kyle Arnett is the head JV coach.
Mishawaka Police officer Jacob Craft is a JV assistant.
Former Riley all-conference softball player and current Harrison Elementary teacher Courtney (Armey) Mitchell is the Wildcats’ academic advisor.
DeDario and Arnett are developing a plan for pitchers with arm care in mind.
“We want to limit the number of throws put on each kids’ arm even at practice,” says DeDario. “When a kid pitches on a Monday, I don’t necessarily want him starting at shortstop on Wednesday after going through an entire infield practice on Tuesday.
“We want to be very diligent on how we’re using each kid. You have to be smart about it.”
Riley plans to return to using the diamond at Jackson Middle School for JV games and practices. The varsity will continue to call Bob Rush Field home.
DeDario is a 1999 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka. He played baseball freshmen and sophomore year. His freshmen year was the last as head coach for Lou Lanzalotto.
Football was the sport DeDario played throughout high school with Reggie Glon as head coach.
DeDario played some club baseball at Loyola University in Chicago. He earned an associate degree at Holy Cross College and received a bachelor’s degree in education from Indiana University South Bend.
He was on the football staffs of Frank Amato and, most recently, Jay Johnson at Washington, Joe Szajko at Clay and Amato at Adams.
For many years, DeDario has taken to the air waves as a sports broadcaster. He currently helps with color commentary and occasional talk show duty at WSBT AM 960. He is also a Notre Dame football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated.
Vince and Kristen DeDario were married in 2004 and have five children — seventh grader Dylan (12), fourth grade twins Ella (10) and Lily (10), second grader Chloe (7) and pre-schooler Liam (4).
The Bulldogs had gone winless when he took over the program and got to the point where they competed for the championship in 2017 and 2018 and won it in 2019
Jefferson played against South Bend schools and against Inter-City Catholic League and Catholic Youth Organization members. Besides public schools, the varsity played against ICCL squads and the junior varsity against CYO competition.
Many games were played at Riley.
“We built the program up so much that I had to have cuts the past two years,” says DeDario. “We had 40 kids coming out for the team.”
Some of those players will be part of DeDario’s Riley program.
Vince DeDario is the new head baseball coach for 2020 at South Bend (Ind.) Riley High School, where he also teaches physical education and health. (Steve Krah Photo)
So far, the southpaw has pitched three of one-inning stints — one for the rookie-level Arizona League Diamondbacks and two for the short-season Class-A Northwest League’s Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA, three strikeouts and one walk. Since he pitched so many innings in the spring, the D-backs are limited his load this summer.
As of now, the next steps up the ladder for the Diamondbacks are at Low-A Kane County (Ill.), Advanced-A Visalia (Calif.), Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) and Triple-A Reno (Nev.).
Delivering from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Saalfrank uses a two-seam fastball, curveball and change-up in games. His fastball has been between 89 and 93 mph. His curve is 83 to 84 and usually has more of a vertical plane. His change-up his been especially sharp this summer. In the bullpen, he has been tinkering with a four-seam fastball and working on a slider.
It’s not just his left arm that has gotten Saalfrank to this point.
“A lot of stuff can go wrong in the game and it doesn’t bother me often,” says Saalfrank. “There’s such a large mental aspect to the game.
“Sometimes you don’t have the greatest physical talent. Playing college ball helps you deal with different situations. You’re good enough. You tell yourself that and deal with the situation that’s thrown at you.”
Saalfrank’s training at Indiana was focused on getting ready for pro ball and now he’s here.
With academic and college time restrictions out of the way, he can put his time into baseball.
“I don’t sleep in too late,” says Saalfrank. “I wake up at 8:30 or 9 everyday.”
That gives him time to relax, grab a meal and head to the stadium, where he will spend up to eight hours for a Hillsboro home game. Stretching begins about three hours before first pitch. On many days, there is weightlifting before or after the game.
“The time commitment is the difference,” says Saalfrank. “It’s fun. I’m getting paid to do what I wanted to do for a living.
“I’m lucky enough to do it.”
Saalfrank was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Hoagland, Ind. Father Doug Saalfrank is a supervisor at B.F. Goodrich. Mother Heidi Saalfrank is a sales representative for Heritage Food Services. Older sister Abby Saalfrank was also an NCAA Division I athlete, playing volleyball at Eastern Illinois University.
Heidi Saalfrank’s brother and sister — Jason Richman (baseball) and Tiffany (Richman) Bennett (volleyball) — both played at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and influenced Andrew and Abby.
“We were always spending time with them and playing sports in the back yard,” says Andrew.
His organized baseball days began in the youth leagues in Hoagland and New Haven. He played for a number of travel teams, including the Indiana Outlaws at the end of his high school days.
Saalfrank took pitching instruction from Rich Dunno for about eight years.
“He played a big part,” says Saalfrank of Dunno, the Fort Wayne-based inventor of the King of the Hill ground force trainer.
At Heritage, Saalfrank was an all-stater as a junior and senior and a four-time all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection. His career mark was 26-7 with a 1.67 ERA and school-record 429 strikeouts and 218 1/3 innings. He was 10-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings in 2015 and followed that up with a 2.15 ERA and 87 K’s in 45 2/3 innings in 2016.
Dean Lehrman was Patriots head coach. Saalfrank credits Lehrman for his emphasis on the mental and emotional aspects of baseball.
“Respect the game,” says Saalfrank. “Respect your teammates. Play for the school name on your chest.”
Saalfrank was recruited to IU by Chris Lemonis (now at Mississippi State University) and worked with Lemonis and pitching coach Kyle Bunn (now at Middle Tennessee State University) for his first two collegiate seasons.
“(Bunn) pushes you,” says Saalfrank. “He expects a lot out of every player. He gets the most out of you. He uses tough love sometimes.”
“It was a really smooth transition for everybody,” says Saalfrank. “They have a pro style to development.
“It was on me to figure out what I like best and establish a routine to transition into pro ball.
“I learned about handling adversity and finding the positives out of failure.”
The minor league regular season goes through Labor Day then comes the playoffs. Saalfrank plans to return to Indiana in the fall to train and finish his sports management degree. He is just nine credits shy.
Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank pitches for Indiana University.
Andrew Saalfrank is a product of Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Indiana and worked for years with pitching instructor Rich Dunno.
Andrew Saalfrank, a former Heritage Junior/Senior High school and Indiana University left-hander, is now pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)
Caleb has picked up pointers from his father. But it hasn’t been too much.
When Caleb was getting started in the game, Bill was coaching his two older sons. Isaac and Sam played for the West Side Crusaders.
“I was just around,” says Caleb Sampen. “(My father) didn’t force any mechanics on me. He let me be an athlete.
“It wasn’t like I had a pitching lesson with him everyday.”
The elder Sampen decided when his older boys were reaching their teens that he would stop serving as a coach for their teams and he never coached any of Caleb’s squads.
“It was best for them to learn to play for other people,” says Bill Sampen, “I thought that was part of the process. I think that’s the best route for kids.
“I got to step back and just be a dad and enjoy watching them play.
“I just played coach when they asked me questions.”
In November, Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities will reach the ninth year in Brownsburg (5,200 square feet) and mark one year in Plainfield (7,500 square feet).
The Indiana Expos travel organization are in their second season and have seven teams in 2018. None of them have fathers coaching their own sons.
Bill Sampen says that policy for Expos coaches achieves a couple things.
“It allows us to be completely honest and give honest and objective feedback,” says Bill Sampen. “And they just get to watch their kid play.
“I know I enjoy the value of just sitting back and being a dad. The truth is they’re not going to play very long. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stress so much.”
Bill Sampen coaches the 16U National team, David Brewers the 16U American, Derek Hankins the 15U National, Nick Spence the 15U American, Isaac Sampen the 14U National, Leo Tobasco the 14U American, Tony Meyer the 13U National.
Calling the teams the Expos was not Bill’s call.
“My family decision informed that was what the name was,” says Bill Sampen. “You can see I have no clout.”
At Brownburg High, where Caleb graduated in 2015, his head coach was Eric Mattingly.
“He always talked about doing the little things right and an attention to detail,” says Caleb Sampen, who played shortstop when not pitching for the Bulldogs. “You take care of every little piece so you’re well-prepared.”
At Wright State, Sampen had Greg Lovelady as his head coach and Justin Parker his pitching coach his freshman year before both went to the University of Central Florida.
“(Parker) always talks about lower half and using your legs,” says Caleb Sampen.
(Sogard) didn’t try to change me a whole lot on the mound,” says Caleb Sampen. “He was pretty individualized, which I liked a lot.”
Recently, Mercer became head coach at Indiana University and Sogard was promoted to head coach at Wright State.
Sampen also got the chance this past year to learned from Diamyn Hall, NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach.
“We worked on routines and being ready to go,” says Sampen of Hall. “He gets you in that mindset and having self awareness.”
In Caleb Sampen, Bill sees a cerebral kid.
“He’s got an idea,” says Bill Sampen. “I can’t take any credit for any successes he’s had.”
The father does see some similarities to himself.
Bill Sampen developed his abilities while playing baseball and basketball at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.
“I see the way he moves and his athleticism,” says Bill Sampen of Caleb. “He has a long, loose arm and does things naturally.”
In two seasons at Wright State (2016 and 2018), Caleb went 14-4 in 26 games (21 as a starter) with a 2.92 earned run average, 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He missed the 2017 season after having surgery on the ulnar nerve in his elbow.
On a pitch count because of the college workload in the spring of 2018, Caleb Sampen, 21, began his pro career with two relief appearances and a short starting stint. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.
Caleb says he goes to the bump each time with an aggressiveness mindset.
“You’ve got to go out and attack with your strengths,” says Caleb Sampen, who uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, 12-to-6 curveball and cutter.
What about the change-up?
“It’s own own little mix I’ve perfected over the years,” says Caleb Sampen. “I use an off-set two-seam grip and throw it with my ring finger and middle finger. I keep my index finger off the ball as much as possible.”
Amy Sampen, a former Brownsburg teacher, is now an virtual educator and is the “boss” as co-owner of the Hack Shack, according to Bill.
Isaac Sampen (24) and Sam Sampen (23) both played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Sam graduated highs school a semester early and joined his older brother.
Isaac Sampen went on to play at Eastern Illinois University and Sam Sampen at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Besides coaching and helping with the coordination of the Expos, Isaac now helps in many ways at the Shack. Sam has an outside job and also helps out at the training facilities.
In his time around the game, Bill Sampen has seen an increase in research and scientific data related to throwing a baseball.
“It’s validated some things that should have been done all along,” says Bill Sampen. “It can be very valuable in preventing injury.
“It seems that injuries are still there in spite of new data and new science.”
The likely reason?
“It’s the intensity of weight training,” says Bill Sampen. “Velocity is based on arm speed and not body strength.
“There are big, physical guys that can’t throw hard.”
And yet 5-foot-11, 180-pounder Billy Wagner regularly hit 100 mph and won 47 games and saved 422 in the bigs.
Caleb Sampen, a 2015 Brownsburg High School graduate and former Wright State University pitcher, makes a delivery for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Ogden Raptors Photo)
“We have to be clean-shaven, but we can have a mustache,” says the 24-year-old McCormick of a Chicago White Sox minor league facial-hair policy. “I thought I’d add a little flair to to it.
“I’ve had the mullet — off and on — since high school.”
His father and high school head coach — Marcus McCormick — puts it this way: “Mike’s always been a little different. We say he has personality of a left-handed pitcher in a right-handed pitcher’s body.”
Michael McCormick made 11 appearances (all in relief) and went 2-5 with a 3.35 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and 26 walks at Parkland in 2015.
He pitched in 30 games (22 as a starter) the next two seasons at Eastern Illinois, combining for a 3-12 record, 7.01 ERA, 87 strikeouts and 81 walks in 120 1/3 innings.
In 2018, McCormick is with the Short Season Class-A Pioneer League’s Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers. Through July 5, he had appeared in five games (all as a late-inning reliever) and was 3-0 with a 4.00 ERA, eight strikeouts and one walk in nine innings.
McCormick employs a cut fastball (that runs glove-side) at 90 to 94 mph, a slurve (combination slider and curveball) that is clocked around 78 mph and a “circle” change-up that generally ranges between 83 to 85 mph.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has long been driven to go as far as his work ethic will take him.
“Mike’s No. 1 quality is his willingness to work and his perseverance,” says Marcus McCormick. “He’s gone through a lot of situations and scenarios that have made him a tougher individual. When he identifies a goal, he’s got tunnel focus on that goal.
In high school, Michael McCormick gave up basketball his junior year to concentrate on pitching and took his fastball from 85 to 90 mph.
“Mike’s never been No. 1 on anybody’s radar,” says Marcus McCormick. “Everything he’s accomplished has absolutely been through hard work and people he surrounded himself with — all the way back to when he was 12.”
“They’ve really shaped who is as a pitcher and a person today,” says Marcus McCormick.
Two summers ago, Michael went to Seattle to train at the Driveline Baseball facility. He got a bike at a pawn shop and rode three miles each way to the workouts.
Combining Driveline with White Sox programs has been beneficial to the pitcher who got his start at Eagledale Little League and played travel ball for the Indy Outlaws and Indiana Pony Express before graduating from Speedway in 2012 and later Eastern Illinois in 2017.
“It’s helped me out a lot as far as preparation, performance and arm health,” says Michael McCormick. “The bounce-back between outings is shorter. It helps with consistency as well. A big part of it to is having a routine that I’m able to repeat.”
As a pro — in a league where getting back from a road trip at 2 a.m. is not uncommon — McCormick has learned about discipline.
“You have to make sure you do the right stuff away from the field with eating and sleeping,” says Michael McCormick. “That’s just as important as the things on the field.”
Michael credits his father helping change the culture for Speedway Sparkplugs baseball. When Marcus took over in 2008, the program had not won a sectional since 2004. Since then, Speedway has reigned at that level in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
“It was a big disappointment not performing the way we wanted to,” says Michael McCormick of losing to Covenant Christian in the 2A Cascade Sectional championship game. “Then we bounced back senior year and closed the deal.”
Michael’s mother is Kelley McCormick. Younger brother Nicholas McCormick (22) is going into his senior baseball season at Arizona Christian University. He was an Eastern Illinois teammate to Michael for two seasons before transferring to the Phoenix-based school.
Back in Indianapolis, Michael has a fiancee and 2-year-old daughter — Teigan Flaws and Kolby Rae. Flaws, a Glenview, Ill., was a volleyball player at the University of Indianapolis.
Michael McCormick, a Speedway (Ind.) High School graduate, is now a pitcher with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system. (Great Lakes Voyagers Photo)
The McCormick brothers — Nick (left) and Marcus (right) — share a moment in Arizona. Nicholas is heading into his senior year at Arizona Christian University. Michael is in his second year as a pitcher in the Chicago White Sox system.
Marcus McCormick (left) and oldest son Michael McCormick spend time together in Arizona. Michael is a pitcher in the Chicago White Sox organization.
Michael McCormick (center) is surrounded by parents Marcus and Kelley McCormick. Michael is a pitcher with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox organization. Marcus is the head baseball coach at Speedway (Ind.) High School.
Chris Ulrey has a knack for teaching the game that he loves.
As a professional hitting instructor, the former college player and Major League Baseball draftee works with more than 150 baseball and softball athletes a week at The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind. It was formerly the home of Dream Big Baseball.
Those athletes come from as far away as Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan and all over the state of Indiana.
Ulrey has been involved in youth travel sports as a coach, mentor and instructor since 2010.
At the same time, Ulrey was coaching summer travel teams.
The Yard Sports Complex is the fifth he’s had since 2010 and the only one he runs since moving away from his last facility in Beech Grove.
With the academy based at the Greenfield complex, Ulrey is able to serve his hitting students and oversee the whole operation.
Ulrey tries to manage his schedule so he can interact with as many of the academy’s teams as possible and to watch them play.
“I want to show support,” Ulrey, 30. “But not only that, I love the game of baseball. Every week — seven days a week — I’m either training, coaching or watching our teams practice at the complex or in games on the weekends.
“It’s my life.”
Ulrey is also an associate scout for the Texas Rangers and works under area scout Michael Medici.
The organization continues to grow and have success on and off the field, however; Ulrey doesn’t take all the credit.
“It’s been a blessing,” says Ulrey. “I’ve had a lot of help along with the way. None of this would be possible without great coaches, directors, instructors, players and the support of the parents.”
Christian Montgomery, a Lawrence Central High School graduate and a former New York Mets minor leaguer, works with pitchers.
Nick Ulrey, brother of Chris and assistant coach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, travels to Greenfield to instruct catchers.
Ulrey leaves tournament scheduling up to his coaches.
The youngest teams tend to stay in Indiana. As they reach 10U or 11U, they may take out-of-state trips.
At 12U or 13U, the teams tend to travel a little more. The 13U Majors team, coached by Chris Emberton, goes all over the country to compete in elite tournaments.
Emberton has been with Ulrey since the beginning and has continued to progress and compete at a high level every year.
“It’s nice to get out of Indiana every once in a while and play some different teams,” says Ulrey.
The Midwest Astros’ 15U through 17U Showcase teams, including the Tom Ancelet-coached 17U squad, play in tournaments attended by college coaches at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and other locations around Indiana as well as top-level events in places like Nashville, Louisville, Michigan, Georgia and Florida.
“It’s fun watching your older age groups play because you see guys who have developed already,” says Ulrey. “It’s not so much the coaching. It’s like managing with the older teams. They know how to play. You expect them to go out there and do their job and make plays.
“You get to sit back and watch some really good baseball. These are guys you’ll be seeing at the next level.”
As a coach and instructor, Ulrey gets to work with a wide range of ages.
“We try to teach the basics at 8,” says Ulrey. “They take in as much as they can. Off-speed pitches, mental approach and hitter and pitcher counts, a lot of that stuff is for the older age group kids.
“You try to make it fun for an 8-year-old while still trying to teach them the basics. You’re not trying to teach the older guys — high school, college, professional level — how to stand and how to hold the bat. When they feel there’s something wrong with their swing, you put your opinions in an make adjustments.”
Ulrey wants to relate to everyone on a personal level.
“What a lot of people lack in this profession is the relationship you build with the hitter and the parents,” says Ulrey. “For a kid to trust in what you’re teaching and what you’re saying, they’ve got to believe in you. They’ve got to want be there.”
So as work goes into making the complex ready to host tournaments, Ulrey and the rest of his staff will stay with the plan that has helped the academy grow.
“I feel like we’re doing all the right things right now,” says Ulrey. “Our teams are competing well. Our coaches are doing a good job.
“We’ll keep bringing in quality coaches and players and putting in the work.”
Chris Ulrey is founder and president of Midwest Astros Academy, which operates out of The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind.