Tag Archives: Indiana Expos

Sampen ‘all in’ with Indiana Expos, Indiana Angels, Samp’s Hack Shack

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

Development as ballplayers and beyond the diamond.
That’s the aim for the Indiana Expos and Indiana Angels travel organization and Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities in Brownsburg and Plainfield.
Isaac Sampen, 29, is co-owner of the Expos and Angels travel baseball organizations with his father — former big league pitcher Bill Sampen (Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels) — and Samp’s Hack Shack director of operations.
“We try to push the needle in the positive direction,” says Isaac. “We’ve had success and we’re going to keep doing it.”
Doing things the right way as Sampen defines it includes getting players to approach the game with respect.
“We’re doing everything we can to help players reach their maximum potential and be part of a family,” says Sampen. “They do not just share a logo.
“We’re all in on our players. What matters most that our players develop and get better. That’s the end-all, be-all for us. If our guys are getting better we’ll win games.”
It starts with teaching baseball skills. But players are also challenged to excel in life. That may be the classroom, weight room or community.
“We want to help them be good people,” says Sampen. “When kids know you legitimately care about them you can get more out of them on the field.”
The Indiana Expos played their first games in 2016 with 15U being the oldest age division. The Sampens saw a need to have an organization led by coaches who did not have sons in the program.
After meeting people who wanted the option to coach their sons with training and guidance from knowledgeable baseball people, the Indiana Angels debuted in 2022-23.
The 2022-23 Expos have 14 teams 13U to 17U. The Angels have 17 squads 8U to 15U. The age divisions tend to vary year by year.
Between travel teams and the training facilities, there are more than 60 coaches/instructors.
Sampen’s 13U Expos played around 50 games over a dozen weekends April through July in 2022 and is expected to do the same at the 14U level in 2023.
As he sees it, the biggest difference between high school players and the younger ones is communication.
“At 14, they’ve had less time on Earth,” says Sampen. “Maybe it’s more elementary. They don’t have the same experience (as older players).
“But I don’t like cookie-cutting things. I teach and challenge on a per-player basis.”
Sampen is not loud with his communication.
“I’m not a screamer or yeller — none of our guys are,” says Sampen. “I don’t think it’s effective. Sometimes it causes chaos.”.
While 14-year-olds tend to be less mature, some are more advanced and similar to those a few years older.
Expos/Angels players are expected to earn their role on the team and equal playing time is not the rule.
They are given the freedom to fail.
“We don’t want them to be robotic,” says Sampen. “We don’t want guys to feel stress to play.
“We let them fail and then teach. We want them to win.”
Sampen says most players — especially on the Expos side — have college baseball aspirations at minimum. The organization’s first three graduating classes (2020-22) saw 73 move on to college ball.
Over the years, players have developed on the field but they’ve also done things like sending notes to people having a tough time.
“It’s about thinking outside themselves,” says Sampen. “You’re getting outside your bubble.”
In paying it forward, athletes have helped with camps during and after their time playing for the organization.
“(Younger) kids look up to those guys,” says Sampen, who is now attached to a 14U Expos team. “They think it’s cool
for us, it’s good to witness that.
“(Older players) are thankful for the opportunities they’ve had.”
Sampen, who has also been involved with Avon Baseball Club, is a 2012 graduate of Brownsburg High School.
He led Indiana in home runs and was a Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A All-State first-teamer as a senior outfielder.
He committed to play at West Virginia University then decided for Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where he was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American and national leader in slugging percentage.
Sampen transferred to Eastern Illinois University (Charleston, Ill.) as a two-way player. Injuries ended his playing career.
He shares his college experiences youngers players and he keeps it real.
“I let them know about mistakes that I made,” says Sampen. “I warn guys. College baseball seems like its always roses. It’s not. It’s hard. I want to prepare them for the grind it is.”
Sampen notes that parents are no longer there to lend daily support.
In a game of failure, players must learn to cope — often on their own.
There is new-found freedom at college, but also the choice of getting in trouble or keeping their nose clean.
Isaac’s wife — Stacy Sampen — is a personal trainer and nutritionist based in Brownsburg.
The couple has no children of their own.
“But there’s about 400 of them on our 31 teams,” says Sampen.
Isaac’s top baseball mentors are Bill Sampen and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil (his Brownsburg coach as a freshman and sophomore).
“I’ve learned a ton from my dad,” says Isaac, the oldest of Bill and Amy Sampen’s three sons ahead of Sam and Caleb (a pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays system). “I’m blessed to have grown up with a guy who played at the highest level.
“(Coach O’Neil) has been around the game for a long time and been around so many good players.”
The original Samp’s Hack Shack opened in November 2009 at 17 North Adams St., Brownsburg. The Plainfield facility is at 1915 Gladden Road.
Baseball and softball training is offered year-round for individuals and teams (even those outside the Expos and Angels).

Isaac Sampen. (Indiana Expos Photo)

Fleet-footed Mitchell shines in spring, summer

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

Speed has always been a part of Nick Mitchell’s baseball attributes.
“I’ve been one of the fastest one every team I’ve ever been on,” says Mitchell, a lefty swinger from Carmel, Ind.
On Wednesday, Aug. 3, Mitchell showed those wheels as he beat out a grounder to second base in the bottom of the first inning for his 78th hit of the 2022 season to set the franchise record for the collegiate wood bat Northwoods League’s Fon du Lac (Wis.) Dock Spiders. He surpassed Chandler Simpson.
In 55 games through Thursday, Aug. 4, Mitchell is hitting .368 (81-of-220) with three home runs, seven triples, 12 doubles, 47 runs batted in, 66 runs, a .991 OPS (.464 on-base percentage plus .527 slugging average) and 15 stolen bases in 16 attempts.
He also played in the Northwoods League All-Star Game July 19 in Wisconsin Rapids as a center fielder.
Mitchell landed with the Dock Spiders when his college coaches talked with Fon du Lac manager Zach Charbonneau. He signed a first-half contract then got extended.
“I’ve had a pretty awesome summer,” says Mitchell.
In 46 games (45 starts) at Western Illinois University in the spring, Mitchell hit .342 (63-of-184), one homer, two triples, five doubles, 26 RBIs, 28 runs, a .792 OPS (.384/.408) and 30 steals in 34 attempts.
The 18-year-old produced 19 multi-hit games for the Leathernecks, including five with three or more and led the Summit League and his team in stolen bases. He was named second team all-Summit League as an outfielder.
Mitchell, a 5-foot-10, 175-pounder, also paced Western Illinois in average and triples, tied for first place in runs scored and and was one off the RBI lead.
A 2021 graduate of Carmel High School, where his senior year was his only varsity campaign (the 2020 season was taken away because of the COVID-19 pandemic), Mitchell has been a lead-off hitter for Fon du Lac as he was at Western Illinois.
“It’s an important spot,” says Mitchell of No. 1 in the batting order. “I have to see pitches, get on base, let teammates know what I see and be a high-average guy.
“There’s a lot that goes into it.”
Mitchell, who turns 19 on Sept. 3, grew up playing mostly shortstop, second base and third base. He’s turned into full-time outfielder.
“The transition is really good,” says Mitchell. “I’m a better fit in the outfield because of my speed. Besides I knew I would get more opportunities to play in college in the outfield.”
Andy Pascoe, a former University of Evansville player and Butler University assistant coach, was the WIU head coach in Mitchell’s first season.
“I will always be grateful he gave me my only offer to play Division I baseball out of high school,” says Mitchell of Pascoe. “I had just a few offers out of high school. It’s good place to develop and get playing time early.
“It’s a good fit.”
Stealing bases for Mitchell is a matter of reading the man on the mound and the man behind the plate.
“You see how fast the pitcher is working to home,” says Mitchell. “Does he have a big leg kick? Most catchers at this level can catch and throw pretty well.”
Mitchell, who tends to slide head-first on a close play and use a pop-up slide when he knows he has the bag, sees other runners with the new sliding glove — which sort of resembles an oven mitt.
“I’ve never had one of those,” says Mitchell. “It’s not a priority to me. I’m cool with out it.”
Social media and studying major league hitters gets the credit for building his swing.
“I don’t train with anyone,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell grew up in Carmel and played travel ball for Indiana Primetime and later the Indiana Expos — 16U in 2020 with head coach Derek Hankins and 17U in 2021 with Isaac Sampen. Former big league pitcher Bill Sampen is the founder of the organization.
A junior varsity player his first two years at Carmel, Mitchell enjoyed his time being coached by former Greyhounds head coach Matt Buczkowski.
“I learned from him how to compete and step up as competition gets better,” says Mitchell of Buczkowski. “He gave me a good opportunity to get better.”
While he has not yet declared his college major, Mitchell says he is leaning toward Exercise Science or Business.
Bob and Teresa Mitchell have two sons — Jackson (20) and Nick.
Bob Mitchell works for MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator) and Teresa Mitchell for Indiana University Health.
Jackson Mitchell (Carmel Class of 2020) was a high school wrestler. He started college at Penn State University and transferred to Purdue University.

Nick Mitchell (Western Illinois University Photo)
Nick Mitchell (Western Illinois University Photo)
Nick Mitchell (Western Illinois University Photo)
Nick Mitchell (Fon du Lac Dock Spiders Photo)

Nick Mitchell (Fon du Lac Dock Spiders Photo)
Nick Mitchell (Ellie Bruss/Fon du Lac Dock Spiders Photo)

Nick Mitchell (Ellie Bruss/Fon du Lac Dock Spiders Photo)

Spence brings his brand of energy to Tri-West Hendricks baseball

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

Nick Spence wants to bring pep to the steps of ballplayers in yet another part of Hendricks County, Ind.
Spence, who played and coached at nearby Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and coached at neighboring Avon (Ind.) High School, was hired as head baseball coach at Tri-West High School in Lizton, Ind., in August 2021 and set about spreading his enthusiasm from the youth level on up.
“I want my kids to be excited to be a part of Tri-West baseball,” says Spence. “It’s easier to get kids to play when they’re excited to come to the ballpark.
“I’ve gotten nothing but positive vibes from the community.”
The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period was mostly about getting to know athletes and showing them what he plans to implement.
“I’m pretty fiery and I’m energetic,” says Spence. “We want competition to come through with whatever we’re doing. Baseball is an individual game played by a team.
“Baseball is a sport of failure and you have to learn from failure. Don’t let it come to your next AB or on the mound with you.”
A big believer in situational baseball, Spence prefers to devote his practices to either offense or defense.
“I’m not a big station guy,” says Spence, who looks forward to the first official IHSAA practice date of March 14.
Spence’s coaching staff includes Bryan Engelbrecht and Adam Montgomery with the varsity, Gordie Lucas and James Miller with the JV and Mike Gongwer as youth coordinator. Engelbrecht is a longtime Tri-West coach. Montgomery and Gongwer were with Spence at Avon.
He wants establish his system and spread the excitement at the youngest levels.
“In the past, we’ve had a really good community-based program at Tri-West,” says Spence, who remarried on Dec. 20, 2021 and lives with wife Allison in Pittsboro, Ind. (Nick has three children from a previous marriage all attending Brownsburg schools — junior Madyson (who turns 17 next week), eighth grader Easton (14) and fifth grader Maya (10). “I’ve been working with youth directors, trying to get that back.”
Younger players will be involved with Tri-West Little League and Bruin Heat. Spence says he can see that morphing into the Tri-West Baseball Club by 2023.
That’s when Tri-West High is scheduled to debut a four-field baseball/softball complex.
“They’re starting to push dirt,” says Spence of the project that will bring varsity and junior varsity grass fields with stadium seating, netting and more. In addition, coaches offices and a hitting tunnel will be located on the north end of the football field. “It’ll beautiful.”
Spence played for Wayne Johnson and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg High, graduating in 2001, and served as JV coach in 2006 and 2007 then helped current Bulldogs head coach Dan Roman as pitching coach in 2021.
Spence counts 2009 Brownsburg graduate Tucker Barnhart as his best friend and was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding. Tucker is now a catcher with the Detroit Tigers.
An Indiana Bulls assistant to Troy Drosche during the travel ball season, Spence was the pitching coach on Drosche’s Avon High staff for five years while the Orioles won sectional titles in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and a regional crown in 2019. Spence has also coached with the Bill Sampen-led Indiana Expos travel organization.
Spence’s college playing career included one season on the field each pitching for Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College, Tim Bunton at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and Joe Decker at Indiana University Southeast.
He went to spring training with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters then began focusing on helping others.
“I always wanted to coach,” says Spence. “I always wanted to be involved.”
Spence has also been an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Mike Silva (now head coach at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.) at Clarendon (Texas) College, where Adrian Dinkel (now head coach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.) was an assistant. He landed there after meeting Silva at a tournament in Stillwater, Okla., while working for Tom Davidson and Blake Hibler at Pastime Tournaments.
Indiana Tech head coach Kip McWilliams had Spence on his staff for one season.
Tri-West (enrollment around 630) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community (coached by Pat O’Neil), Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Western Boone).
In 2021, the Bruins were part of the IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Greencastle and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. Tri-West has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2018.
Recent Tri-West baseball players Riley Bennett (Trine University) and Kai Ross (DePauw University football) have moved on to college sports.

Nick Spence addresses young players in the Tri-West baseball system.
New Tri-West High School head baseball coach Nick Spence wants excitement to spread throughout the community.
Nick Spence lets Tri-West youth players know how he plans to run the program as new high school head coach.
Nick Spence, a 2001 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, has twice served as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
In five seasons at the Avon (Ind.) High School baseball coaching staff, Nick Spence helped the Orioles win three sectionals and one regional.
Avon (Ind.) High School’s 2019 regional baseball champions, featuring pitching coach Nick Spence.
Allison and Nick Spence.
Nick Spence (Class of 2001) with fellow Brownsburg (Ind.) High School alum Tucker Barnhart (Class of 2009) and son Easton Spence. Nick Spence was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding.
Allison, Piper and Nick Spence.
Allison and Nick Spence at their Dec. 20, 2021 wedding with Nick’s children Madyson, Easton and Maya.
Nick and Allison Spence at their Dec. 20, 2021 wedding with Nick’s children (from left): Easton, Maya and Madyson.
Allison and Nick Spence with his children (from left): Maya, Easton and Madyson.

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Meyer now leading Guerin Catholic on diamond

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Guerin Catholic High School head baseball coach Tony Meyer comes from a family of coaches.

His father, Ed Meyer, led the football and baseball program at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for nearly four decades. The DePauw graduate’s baseball teams won 522 games. Ed and wife MaryAnn (who taught at Cloverdale High Schoolfor 30 years) both died in 2015.

“At my age, I look back at all the things that he taught me that I didn’t realize he was teaching me,” says Tony Meyer. “It was the way he dealt with players and parents. He could take a player and make him feel like a million bucks or take him down. He never had to raise his voice.”

The elder Meyer also stressed the importance of education.

“He was a very calming influence in the dugout, on the field and in recruiting,” says Tony Meyer. “If I could be half of what he was as a coach, I’d be pretty good.”

Brother Pat Meyer was a good baseball player, he went into sales and now lives in the Chicago suburbs. Sister Anne was a strong all-around athlete and is now in banking in Florida.

Two other brothers — Mike Meyer and Pete Meyer — went into coaching.

Mike Meyer is in his second stint as head football coach at Greencastle High School. He has also been the defensive coordinator at Northview High School in Brazil and served as a football assistant at Ohio Northern University and Case Western University and football head coach at Hiram College.

Pete Meyer was head baseball coach and athletic director at Florida Southern College before moving back to Greencastle.

Tony’s wife, Denise Meyer, is an assistant volleyball coach at Greencastle High School and coaches the Crossroads Of America Volleyball Club‘s 14-1’s out of Terre Haute. She is a product of the Muncie Burris High School volleyball program. All three of Tony and Denise’s three daughters play volleyball — Marian University sophomore Maggie Meyer (part of the 2019 NAIA national championship team), Indiana State University freshman Abigail Meyer and Greencastle junior Lilly Meyer.

Tony Meyer graduated from Greencastle in 1988 and Wabash College in 1993. He played baseball for the Little Giants and head coach Scott Boone for four seasons (1989-92) and football for head coach Greg Carlson for two (1990 and 1991).

After graduation, Meyer went to Hanover College to coach football and baseball. He was on the baseball staff of American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor.

Meyer remembers Naylor for his persistence in finding players.

“He put me on the road to recruit,” says Meyer. “He showed me what to look for.”

Meyer spent 1994 conducting USA Baseball camps in Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma and was head scout for the U.S. team for the Pan-American Games.

He then went to DePauw and coached on the diamond with his father.

Terry Gobert, the long-time Jasper High School head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is a Greencastle graduate and was a graduate assistant to Ed Meyer in 1984 and 1985 along with basketball coach Mike Steele. He was a teammate of Mike Meyer and coached Pete and Pat in Babe Ruth baseball.

After his stint with the Tigers, Meyer coached various teams, including the Waukegan (Ill.) Waves and a summer collegiate team in Indianapolis.

When Meyer began a family, he went into sales but still volunteered in Babe Ruth and youth league baseball and gave lessons.

Then a unique opportunity happened at Cloverdale. The Clovers had an opening for a head football coach and head baseball coach and athletic director J.J. Wade hired Meyer to take both posts which he held in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He had volunteered with the baseball program during the 2014 season.

“It was a learning experience,” says Meyer of his time at Cloverdale, where he got guidance from former Clovers head football coach Mike Parks. “He showed me how he deals with kids, their lives and education.”

Many of his players went on to college.

“That’s my biggest reward,” says Meyer.

He coached 13U then 14U travel teams for Bill Sampen’s Indiana Expos and then a 15U squad for Chris Estep’s Indiana Mustangs.

When IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rich Andriole resigned as head coach at Guerin Catholic, Meyer was encouraged to apply. He was hired by Ryan Davis, the Golden Eagles athletic director and a former assistant to Andriole at Indianapolis Cathedral High School.

“It’s been great so far,” says Meyer, who has been getting about 25 players at IHSAA Limited Contact sessions and expects up to 36 when the 2020 season rolls around. “This is one of the top baseball jobs in the state. There’s a whole lot to offer up there.

“I’ve got some good players. I think we’re going to be very competitive for 3A. Hopefully we can continue the upward trend Rich (Andriole) started two years ago.”

Meyer has named Jalen Cushenberry and John Magers, Eric Wott and Kevin Paulin as Guerin assistants and has two openings yet to fill.

What about the daily drive between Greencastle and Noblesville?

“It’s only a 53-minute commute,” says Meyer. “In sales, I drove to Carmel every day for five years.”

Guerin Catholic (enrollment around 725) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Bishop Chatard, Brebeuf Jesuit, Covenant Christian, Heritage Christian and Roncalli).

The Golden Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Guerin has not yet won a sectional crown.

TONYMEYERGUERINCATHOLIC

Tony Meyer is the head baseball coach at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, Ind. The 2020 season will be his first in charge of the Golden Eagles.

Daniel brings 1980 baseball season back with lively “Phinally!”

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J. Daniel was just shy of 13 when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series for the first time in 1980.

Even though he was in southwestern Ohio, he followed the Phils from “Mike Schmidt to Ramon Aviles.”

Growing up when he did, Daniel appreciates baseball and pop culture in the 1980’s.

He is a big fan of Dan Epstein — author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s — and his style.

So much so that the Brownsburg, Ind., resident decided to write a book about baseball and more in the decade he knows so well.

“I’m a total stat geek,” says Daniel, who recalls devouring the box scores in the Cincinnati Enquirer during his youth. “Everything’s interesting to me.”

With so much material, it became books — plural.

Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t (McFarland & Company) was published in 2019.

It was 1980 that gave us ….

The primetime TV drama “Dallas” and the cliffhanger summer question of “Who Shot J.R.?”

Movie-goers saw comedy in the “The Blue Brothers” and “Airplane!” and horror in “The Shining” and “Friday The 13th.”

In one scene from “The Shining,” Shelley Duvall wields a Carl Yastrzemski model Louisville Slugger.

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was cast as the co-pilot in “Airplane!” If not for filming during the baseball season, it might have been Pete Rose.

A former weatherman — David Letterman — also read for a part but did not land one.

Roberto Duran topped “Sugar Ray” Leonard in a 15-round bout in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

Free agent Nolan Ryan became the first baseball player to sign for $1 million a season, signing with the Houston Astros.

Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was about to make his clients a lot of money.

The average minimum salary at the time was $20,000.

In the spring of ’80, they went on a mini-strike that wiped out 92 spring training games.

Elias Sports Bureau introduces Game-Winning RBI as a statistic in the spring. The first one credited in a game went to the Cincinnati Reds’ George Foster in the first inning of a 9-0 Opening Day romp against Phil Niekro and the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta would get off to a 1-9 start and owner Ted Turner (who launched CNN in 1980) benched Gary Matthews and sent Bob Horner to the minors.

It was also on Opening Day, that “Kiteman” hang-glided his way onto the field at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium.

Ken Landreaux of the Minnesota Twins enjoyed a 31-game hit streak — the longest in the American League since Dom DiMaggio’s 34 in 1949. A few seasons’s prior to Landreaux’s feat, Aqua Velva gave $1,000 per game to the hitter with the streak. But that changed in 1980. Things were worked out for Landreaux to give the money to charity.

San Diego Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith wasn’t looking for charity, but extra income. He took out a newspaper ad. He had many offers, including one from Joan Kroc, wife of Padres owner Ray Kroc, to assist her gardner. He eventually got supplemental pay from a company on Los Angeles.

There were many bench-clearing brawls and knockdown pitches in 1980.

Fergie Jenkins of the Texas Rangers joined Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Gaylord Perry as pitchers with 100 wins in both leagues.

Freddie Patek of the California Angels hit five home runs on the season and 41 for his career, but he popped three in one game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Left-hander Jerry Reuss did not begin the season in the starting rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but tossed a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants.

On his way to a 25-7 record and the AL Cy Young Award, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Steve Stone started the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium and worked three inning in just 24 pitches.

The game also featured the debut of the massive Diamond Vision video boards.

Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench passed Yogi Berra for the all-time lead in home runs by a catcher.

Houston fireballer J.R. Richard suffered a stroke.

The Chicago Cubs fired manager Preston Gomez and replaced him with Joey Amalfitano.

“Super Joe” Charbonneau became an icon for the Cleveland Indians.

A white-hot George Brett was hitting .401 on Aug. 17 and finished with a .390 average. The Kansas City Royals third baseman’s back side was likely warm during the end of the season and the postseason. He finally had to have surgery for hemorrhoids prior to Game 3 of the World Series.

Maverick owners Charlie Finley (Oakland Athletics) and Bill Veeck (Chicago White Sox) announced the sale of their teams.

The White Sox did the unusual when they used the left-handed Mike Squires as a catcher.

Montreal Expos right-hander Bill Gullickson set a rookie-record with 18 strikeouts against the Cubs.

Oakland’s Rick Langford tossed 28 complete games, including a modern-record 23 straight. The Athletics staff completed 94 starts.

Three of the four division races were not settled until the season’s final week. Kansas City rapped the AL West up early. The Philadelphia Phillies edged out Montreal in the NL East. Houston topped the Dodgers in the NL West. The Yankees bested Baltimore in the AL East.

Games 2-5 in the National League Championship Series went extra innings before the Phillies prevailed over the Astros.

New Jersey’s Army staff sergeant Craig Burns took a three-day pass and flew from Germany to see his Phils play the Royals in the first game of the World Series. With Schmidt and Tug McGraw among the heroes, Philly won its first title.

Daniel is shopping his next volume about the 1982 season. The working title is Suds Series: The Brewers, the Cardinals and the year the ’80s became the ‘80s. He is grateful to author and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis journalism professor Chris Lamb for his help and encouragement.

That era is also kept alive on social media by Daniel with his website (80sbaseball.com), Facebook (Facebook.com/80sbaseball) and Twitter (@80sbaseball) pages.

Daniel, a graduate of Talawanda High School in Oxford, Ohio, and Ohio University, is now employed in communication for IUPUI parking services. More than 20 years of his working life was spent in sports television, including four years as the producer/director of “Rays Magazine” on Fox Sports Florida.

J. and wife Sue were engaged at Clearwater’s Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, a place where he spent two seasons at official scorer for the Clearwater Phillies. The couple has two seasons — Brady (19) and Michael (16). Brady played travel baseball with the Indiana Outlaws and Indiana Hurricanes. Michael played at Brownsburg Little League.

Daniel is an assistant coach this summer for the 17U Indiana Expos with Kevin Barnhart (father of Cincinnati catcher Tucker Barnhart) as head coach and Tim Hampton as another assistant.

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J. Daniel, a Brownsburg, Ind., resident, has written Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t and has other books planned about the 1980s.

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Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t by J. Daniel chronicles not only what happened on the diamond pop culture. The author resides in Brownsburg, Ind. (McFarland & Sons Image)

 

With a little help from dad, Sampen pitching in Dodgers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Caleb Sampen, a right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, is a second-generation professional baseball pitcher.

His father — Bill Sampen — toed the rubber for pay for 10 seasons and appeared in 182 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels.

Selected in the 20th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate Caleb Sampen had been in three pro games though July 10 — all with the Short Season Class-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors.

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.”

Bill coached the Bethesda Christian School baseball team for about a decade before starting his training business.

“It’s a very pure level of coaching I have now,” says Bill Sampen, “I appreciate that.”

During the school year, he has students from 4 p.m. on. But he is involved seven days a week most of the year as either an instructor or travel ball coach.

His 16U team has been in Georgia, competing against some of the best from all over the continent.

“Our upper age groups do more extensive travel,” says Bill Sampen. “We’re helping them get exposure. They get to see kids committed (to colleges) all over the place.

“It’s good for our players to see the skill level and talent that’s out there. We want to play people that the only way we can beat them is if we out-execute them.

“Do things right day in and day out. If you have a plan and do the routine things, you’re going to be in baseball games, no matter who you’re playing.”

Knowing that some players will not go on to college, they are getting to have experiences they may not have without travel baseball.

“We want to hope them grow and develop — not just as baseball players but as people,” says Bill Sampen. “It’s the life skills that carry past baseball.

“If you’re trying to win trophies, I think you’ve got the wrong purpose.”

Caleb Sampen grew up in Brownsburg and played at Brownsburg Little League until seventh grade when he started his travel ball experiences. He donned the uniforms of the Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Bulls and Indiana Blue Jays.

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.

The next two years, Jeff Mercer was head coach and Alex Sogard led the pitching staff.

(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.

Jeremy Rodriguez is the Ogden manager. Dean Stiles is the pitching coach.

The next stops on the Dodgers minor league trail are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

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.

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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)

 

Oppy finds right combination for slugging Tri-West Hendricks Bruins

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Moving players around during the 2018 season, sixth-year Tri-West Hendricks High School baseball coach Ryan Oppy found the combination that has helped the Bruins win 20 games and a second straight IHSAA Class 3A sectional title.

“We’ve been plugging guys in and out trying to find the right comfort level,” says Oppy. “They’ve handled some change well.”

By beating Brebeuf Jesuit 6-3 Monday, May 28 for the IHSAA Class 3A Danville Sectional title — the seventh in program history —  Tri-West earned the right to play Saturday, June 2 at the Crawfordsville Regional.

North Montgomery plays West Vigo in the morning game followed by Indian Creek against Tri-West. Because Indian Creek’s graduation is Saturday morning, the first game is set for 11 a.m., followed the second around 2:30 p.m. The championship is slated for 7.

Tri-West, based in Lizton, Ind., will be aiming at its first regional crown.

The power-hitting Bruins were averaging more than 10 runs per game heading into the postseason.

“We get on base and score a lot,” says Oppy.

Tri-West is currently among the top home run producers in Indiana with 24 (11 belonging to catcher Derek Wagner). According to MaxPreps, only Center Grove (34), Monrovia (34) and Pike (27) have more.

Wagner (Indiana University Southeast), center fielder Carter Cooper (Wright State University-Lake Campus) and shortstop Lucas Goodin (Indiana Wesleyan) are all seniors who have made college baseball commitments.

The veteran-laden Bruins have six other seniors — right-handed pitcher/first baseman/right fielder Mason Cox, second baseman Tanner Freije, third baseman Levi Jackson, left fielder/left-hander Jarrett Roseboom, right fielder Ryan Vershave and first baseman/right-hander Zach Waters. Cox is the ace of the pitching staff.

“We’ve had a lot of experience the last couple years has helped our program,” says Oppy.

Also in the mound mix are junior left-hander Jacob Hayden and sophomore righty Dawson Wolfe.

Junior Blake Bear sees most of the time in right field. Sophomore Quinten Cooper also plays in the outfield.

Tri-West belongs to the Sagamore Conference (along with Crawfordsville, Danville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Western Boone).

Teams play home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tri-West and Frankfort both went 10-4 to tie for the Sagamore championship.

The 20-6 Bruins split with Crawfordsville, Danville, Frankfort and North Montgomery and suffered non-conference losses to Avon and Cascade.

There were 33 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity teams.

Oppy’s assistant coaches are Bryan Engelbrecht, Dellos Schabel, Scott Arthur and Gordie Lucas.

Tri-West plays its home games on-campus. This spring, a fundraising campaign brought the Bruins a new mobile batting cage.

Various travel ball organizations, including Indiana Hurricanes, Indiana Braves, Indiana Expos and Indiana Nitro serve as a kind of feeder system for Tri-West. Slugger Wagner has played with the Cincinnati Spikes.

Oppy graduated in 2004 from Danville Community High School, where he played for and gained knowledge from veteran Warriors head coach Rick Foster that helps him to this day.

“It was the way he communicated with his players and how he handled different aspects of running a baseball program,” says Oppy of Foster. “As for the on the field stuff, he knew a lot. I would ask the question of why we would do this instead of that.

“I also saw the way he treated people.”

Head coach Tim Bunton taught Oppy more about the game during his two seasons at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College. He finished his elementary education degree at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.

While Bunton was very personable, he was also very demanding of his athletes.

“He would push people,” says Oppy. “He expected more out of you than you would out of yourself.

“You hold yourself and other people accountable.”

Bunton was also a stickler for time management.

“If practice time was 3:30, the rule is you had to be there 15 minutes before that,” says Oppy. “If you weren’t, you were in trouble.”

Oppy teaches fourth grade at Pittsboro Elementary. The current junior class were fourth graders when he started.

Ryan and Nicole Oppy have two daughters — Lydia (4) and Margaret (1).

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Tri-West Hendricks made it two IHSAA Class 3A sectional baseball titles in a row in 2018 under Bruins head coach Ryan Oppy. Tri-West plays in the Crawfordsville Regional Saturday, June 2.

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The Tri-West Bruins hoist the trophy at the 2018 IHSAA Class 3A Danville Sectional baseball tournament.

 

Family life brings Neal closer to home with Attica Ramblers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball has taken Kyle Neal away from his home and it’s brought him back.

Neal is in his first season as head baseball coach at Attica Junior/Senior High School in Fountain County. He also teaches physical education and strength training.

The Neal family — Kyle, Christie, Carson (7) and Krew (9 months) — live in Veedersburg. That’s about 10 miles from the school.

When Royce Carlton left for Shelbyville, leaving an opening at Attica for a coach and teacher, Neal decided to apply for be closer to his wife and sons

The past four years, Neal has been making a commute of more than a hour each way to teach and to be head baseball coach — first at North Newton Junior/Senior High School in Morocco and then Frontier Junior/Senior High School in Chalmers.

Neal coached North Newton to 20- and 18-win seasons in his two seasons leading the program (2014 and 2015). The Spartans were put out of the IHSAA sectional both years by Lafayette Central Catholic.

In two seasons of guiding the Frontier Falcons, Neal saw the team win 15 and eight games.

As the Attica Ramblers get ready for the Class 1A Rockville Sectional, they look back on a 7-14 regular season. Attica and Rockville are paired in the first game of the sectional Wednesday, May 23. Other teams in the field are Covington, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke and Turkey Run.

Attica is in the Wabash River Conference (along with Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke, Seeger, South Vermillion and Turkey Run).

Neal grew up in Ladoga in Mongomery County. His earliest baseball experiences came at Ladoga Little League.

Between his eighth grade and freshmen year, he played for the traveling Montgomery County All-Stars and also for the Southmont High School summer team.

Neal learned fundamentals from Mounties coach Jerry Long and logged a few innings on the mound as a freshman, gleaning much from a senior catcher.

In 1998, Neal was part of a Southmont team that lost to eventual 2A state runner-up Evansville Mater Dei in the semifinals of the Richmond Semistate.

His last two high school years, Neal attended Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg. At the time, the school was not affiliated with the IHSAA.

But Neal picked up plenty of know-how from coach Bill Sampen, a former major league pitcher.

“He was a huge part of my growth in baseball,” says Neal of Sampen, who runs the Indiana Expos travel organization and Samp’s Hack Shack training facility. “He was real big on thinking the game of baseball. He’s just a smart guy.

“We still talk today and share ideas.”

In the summer between his freshmen and sophomore years, Neal played more for Southmont plus the Indiana Vipers and Crawfordsville American Legion Post 72.

The next summer, he switched to the Indiana Bulldogs and also played for the other two squads.

Leading into his junior year at Bethesda Christian, he again played for the Bulldogs.

He attended many camps before his senior year and wound up with a baseball scholarship to NCAA Division I Southeast Missouri State University. He was primarily a reserve second baseman in his one season in Cape Girardeau.

Mark Hogan was the Redhawks head coach. Neal credits SEMO assistant Scott Southard for teaching him the finer points of infield play.

“The coaches there were real supportive of a freshman in Division I baseball, where the speed of the game excelerates tenfold,” says Neal. “I learned to play at a higher pace and saw different kinds of pitching.”

Neal spent his last year college playing seasons at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, with Mark DeMichael as head coach.

“I learned perseverance and more on the spiritual side of things,” says Neal. “I learned how to handle myself on the field. It was a great experience.”

After his playing days, Neal spent a year gaining knowledge about the coaching profession as an IWU graduate assistant.

He then went into the work world for about seven or eight years, all the while teaching private lessons to stay involved in baseball.

Along the way, he got his teaching degree from Indiana Wesleyan, served three seasons as a Southmont assistant and then took his first head coaching gig at North Newton.

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Kyle Neal, the head baseball coach at Attica Junior/Senior High School, shares a moment with sons Krew (9 months) and Carson (7).

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The Neal family: Kyle and Christy with sons Carson (7) and Krew (9 months). Kyle Neal is in his first season as head baseball coach, physical eduction and strength training teacher at Attica Junior/Senior High School in Fountain County, Ind.