Tag Archives: Indiana Astros

Wickliff, baseball-playing Beech Grove Hornets ‘turn the page’

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Beech Grove (Ind.) High School baseball adopted a mantra as the Hornets took to the diamond in 2021 under head coach Jacob Wickliff: Turn the page.
“Physically and philosophically one will never reach the end of the book unless you turn the page,” says Wickliff of the fresh-start approach in a program he was hired to lead in the summer of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“The clear message to everyone is that we’re starting over,” says Wickliff. “That’s been big with parents. Our upperclassmen and key underclassmen have bought in.”
Wickliff has been made excitement and standards a high priority at Beech Grove, which is just inside the I-465 corridor southwest of Indianapolis.
“Kids weren’t excited to play here and that’s been our big push,” says Wickliff, who says there is a buzz around the Hornets who play at new all-turf on-campus facility — Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
The diamond, which debuted in 2021, is part of a district referendum that put turf on the football field and added the baseball and softball fields and other school-related projects.
Baseball games and practices used to be at Sarah T. Bolton Park in Beech Grove.
Since the new baseball field is landlocked, it is 297 feet down the left field line and there’s 10-foot high fence from the pole to left-center.
Planes that fly by can’t miss the place since there’s a huge black, orange and white Hornet logo in center field.
The field also brings in plenty of rental fees that Wickliff turns right back into the baseball program to cover the cost of spirit packs and more.
Wickliff, who teaches at Beech Grove Middle School, wants the excitement to reach down to the community’s younger players from Beech Grove Little League which leads to the junior high program then the high school.
A tradition has been started of inviting junior high players to have a practice and play a game on the turf at the end of the season. Beech Grove Middle School play its home games at South Grove Intermediate.
“It goes back to excitement,” says Wickliff of getting those youngsters charged up about baseball.
Beech Grove (enrollment around 1,000) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central).
Last spring, the ICC adopted a two-game series format. There are home-and-home conference games each Tuesday and Wednesday.
In 2021, the Hornets were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Herron, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, George Washington and Indianapolis Shortridge. Beech Grove has won six sectional crowns — the last in 2014.
With a smaller student-athlete pool and so many multi-sport athletes, Beech Grove did not participate in the recent fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period.
But many returnees play travel ball and fall ball in addition to a fall sport.
“Guys doing it year-round deserve a little bit of a break,” says Wickliff. “Winter time is where we have to make the most growth and development.”
Two seniors finished the season at Beech Grove in 2021. One of those — Garrett Esposito — is now on the baseball team at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill.
Wickliff says hopes to have several college baseball-worthy players in the Class of 2023 by the time they’re entering their senior year.
Beech Grove assistant coaches include Garry Hampton, Austin Jones and Ryan Kendall with the varsity and Christian Brown (head coach) and Justin Duhamell (assistant) with the junior varsity.
Wickliff is a 2012 graduate of Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played baseball for John Rockey and football for Michael Karpinski.
“I’m still in-touch with him to this day,” says Wickliff of Karpinski. “He’s one of my pivotal role models.”
Head JV baseball coach Devin Phillips was someone Wickliff looked up to going through school and had a big impact on him.
“He started process of me becoming a coach,” says Wickliff of Phillips. “It’s the way he was able to relate with the players and build those relationships.”
After earning a Physical Education degree with a Coaching minor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, he completed a Masters in Coaching Education and Athlete Development from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
While in college, Wickliff coached baseball with Rockey at Franklin Central and also was a middle school then freshmen football coach in an FC program led by Burt Austin followed by Grant Lewis.
Wickliff has been involved with three travel baseball organizations — the Indiana Astros, Midwest Astros and currently, Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).
After years of coaching 15U to 17U teams, he is now helms the 18U Signature team and serves as Director of Baseball Operations for high school age groups and is a lead evaluator on the Coaching Evaluation Team.
Jake Banwart, who counted Wickliff as an assistant at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis before the latter took his current Beech Grove job, is BAM president.
Jacob and wife Bridget Wickliff were married Nov. 2, 2019. They reside in Perry Township.

Jacob Wickliff.
The Beech Grove (Ind.) High School Hornets with head coach Jacob Wickliff.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Coach Jacob Barnwart.

Affinity for baseball, woodworking leads to Gandolph Bats

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball has been a part of Tom Gandolph’s life since Day 1.

The third of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and wife Ann’s four children (following Dave Jr. and Dan and before Jennifer), Tom played at what is now known as Center Grove Youth Baseball in Greenwood and later played for his father at Center Grove High School, graduating in 1995, and then at NCAA Division II Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., graduating in 1999.

He was on a 15-year-old team that went to the World Series in Kissimmee, Fla., and played varsity ball in the junior and senior years of high school and college. 

Gandolph was a shortstop and pitcher at Center Grove, but was used only as a moundsman in varsity games by SJC head coach Mike Moyzis.

There was also a 13-year run in what was once called the Indianapolis Amateur Baseball League before Gandolph put baseball on the back burner.

A woodworking hobby became Smokey’s Wood Shop — a one-man operation run out of Gandolph’s garage in Bargersville, Ind., which is near Greenwood in Johnson County.

He made some wooden American flags and they were well-received.

Suddenly, the 43-year-old full-time firefighter had a side gig — and a fun one at that.

With son Tanner (who is 6) starting to play in the CGYB, Tom was drawn back to baseball and decided to branch out and added Gandolph Bats as a division of Smokey’s in the latter part of 2020.

“I saw bat-making wood lathe videos,” says Gandolph, who promotes his businesses on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “I’ve been turning a lot of bats since October. Gandolph bats has been keeping me busy.

“I’ve gotten good feedback from friends and travel ball players. They say they’ve got really good pop and weight distribution.”

Counting display, game and fungo bats, Gandolph has produced about 75 so far and currently has orders for the next 15.

Just last week, Gandolph made plans to upgrade to an auto-lathe so he can increase his volume. 

Right now, he might be able to turn seven bats from the time he gets off work and the time he picks up 6-year-old Tanner from school.

Gandolph Bats are made of Maple — a hardwood that is just a little more expensive that Ash. He is also interested in making clubs from Birch.

Now back in the baseball world, Gandolph is learning about the many travel ball teams and training facilities around central Indiana. 

Good friend Jason Taulman, a SJC teammate, runs the Indy Sharks. When Saint Joseph’s shuttered after the 2017, Gil Hodges Field went to seed. Gandolph, Taulman and other friends of the Pumas, worked to rehabilitate the field and travel ball games have been played there.

Rick O’Dette, who played at SJC and was later head coach, is also a 1999 graduate of the school.

A.J. Zapp, who played with Gandolph at Center Grove and in pro ball, has been a coach for the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Besides Tanner, Tom and wife Rachael Gandolph also have a daughter — Mia (20 months).

A custom bat turned by Tom Gandolph of Gandolph Bats, a division of Smokey’s Wood Shop in Bargersville, Ind.
Baseball friends from Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. — Jason Taulman (left) and Tom Gandolph. In 2020, Gandolph started Gandolph Bats as a division of his Smokey’s Wood Shop business.
Rachael and Tom Gandolph take in a baseball game. Tom played baseball at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and many years in the Indianapolis Amateur Baseball League. In 2020, he started Gandolph Bats as a division of Smokey’s Wood Shop in Bargersville, Ind.
Tom Gandolph runs Smokey’s Wood Shop and Gandolph Bats out of shop in Bargersville, Ind.

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

AJZAPPCARD

A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.