Tag Archives: Indiana Mustangs

Scout, instructor Farrell appreciates life lessons learned through baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Farrell identifies baseball talent for a living.

As an area scout for the Kansas City Royals, the Indianapolis resident estimates that he logs 60,000 or more miles a year seeing the best players available from his territory — Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and western Pennsylvania.

His goal is to see a game each day from the start of the college season in mid-February to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in early June.

To give Royals senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Dayton Moore a thorough evaluation of players, Farrell measures more than on-field tools.

“I want to paint a picture of who the guy is if you never laid your eyes on him,” says Farrell, who has been a part of professional baseball since 1991. “I have conversations with moms and dads and his high school coach, summer coach, friends and girlfriend. I gather as much information as possible.”

If the young man participates in another sport, that becomes part of Farrell’s player portrait.

He looks to see how the player interacts with his teammates and how he handles failure.

“Who is he the next at-bat or next pitch?,” says Farrell. “I’m evaluating as many pieces of a person as I can.”

Farrell appreciates working for an organization that wants top-shelf players and also cares about the whole person.

“Working for the Royals is super interesting,” says Farrell. “Dayton Moore wants players who will be good husbands, good fathers, good sons and good men.”

Farrell appreciates the life lessons he has learned from his baseball mentors and applies them in his scouting and as a instructor/coach. He teaches pitching to all ages at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., and works closely with the Indiana Mustangs 16U and 17U teams, which are run by Chris Estep.

He says sports can teach so many lessons — things like being a good teammate, competing for the guy next to you, discipline, effort, preparation and competition.

“I hope I’m giving them a baseball foundation with the ability to have applicable life skills,” says Farrell. “Some of it has to be about your transparency. You need to be humble enough to say to a player, ‘I wasn’t very good at that at your age’ or ‘that was my mistake.’

“It’s a combination of a bunch of stuff. You hope people value it.”

That’s why he’s happy to support Rob Barber with The BASE Indianapolis, a not-for-profit group that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

“Hopefully, we’re offering guys a chance to get into college and further expectations for themselves,” says Farrell.

Born in Logansport, Ind., Farrell got his organized baseball start on the youth diamonds there and played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr., and the Berries of Logansport High School.

“Coach Turner was the best single coach that I had,” says Farrell, a 1987 Logansport graduate. “What I learned him was fairness. You get exactly what you earn in this life. Nothing was ever given.”

A sense of entitlement was not even an issue.

Turner was not a yeller and screamer, but he got his point across.

“He was one of most laid back people I’ve ever met and that fit my personality,” says Farrell.

A road game at West Lafayette and the bus ride home sticks in Farrell’s memory banks. The Berries won, but did not play well or act the way Turner expected.

“We clowned around too much,” says Farrell. “All he said to us: ‘you guys thoroughly embarrassed me with the way you played.’”

Not another word was spoken the rest of the trip.

Logansport was a perennial state powerhouse back in the 1980’s. The Berries won 10 sectionals, four regionals, one semistates and state runner-up finish (1989) during the decade.

The best player in Farrell’s eyes was John Nies.

“He was the best high school shortstop everywhere we went,” says Farrell, who would go from Logansport to Indiana State University along with twins Danny and Dennis Frye.

At ISU, Farrell formed a lasting friendship with teammate Mitch Hannahs (now head coach of the Sycamores) and learned “core life principles” from head coach Bob Warn.

“They were enjoyable lessons and very valuable in making me who I am today,” says Farrell of things emphasized by IHSBCA and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn.

One of those was preparation.

“When you step onto a campus, you better be ready to work your tail off,” says Farrell. “I also learned about believing in who I am.”

A left-handed pitcher who also played first base, center field and other positions, Farrell was a Collegiate Baseball Newspaper All-America selection in 1991. That year, he signed as a minor league free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers. The southpaw pitched six seasons in the Brewers organization (1991-96), reaching Triple-A 1993-96. He was the system’s Pitcher of the Year in 1993. He also also played in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Taiwan.

He became a Brewers scout in 1998 and was with that position until joining the Royals in 2014.

Farrell, 49, has three children — Roni (25), Brianna (22) and Isaiah (13). Father Larry lives in the Logansport area. Mother Mary is in Arkansas. He also has two sisters, one half sister and one half brother.

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Mike Farrell (right), a Kansas City Royals area scout and baseball instructor/coach living in Indianapolis, poses with daughters Brianna (left) and Roni.

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Mike Farrell (left, a Kansas City Royals area scout and baseball/instructor living in Indianapolis, spends time with oldest daughter Roni.

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Mike Farrell is an area scout with the Kansas City Royals and an instructor/coach at Roundtripper Sports Academy and with the Indiana Mustangs. He is a Logansport, Ind., native who played at Indiana State University and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

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Confidence carries Plainfield, Butler grad Mitchell into pro baseball with Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Applying advice provided by two of his college coaches, Connor Mitchell earned the right to play professional baseball in 2018.

Mitchell, a left-handed pitcher, finished up a four-year diamond career at Butler University in Indianapolis in 2018.

Dave Schrage has been the Bulldogs head coach and Ben Norton the pitching coach since the 2017 season.

Mitchell credits both men for helping him as a collegian and in getting selected in the 27th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The biggest thing I took away from Coach Schrage is that everything matters — on the field and off the field,” says Mitchell. “All the little things play a role in whether you have success. If you’re doing every thing right way in the classroom and the weight room, all of it makes a difference.”

Norton helped implant a confident mindset.

“He told me to go after hitters and never be hesitant,” says Mitchell of Norton. “Pick a pitch you have conviction with and just throw it.”

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Mitchell delivered four-team and two-seam fastballs that typically traveled at 88 to 92 mph. He also used an adapted “circle” change-up, slider and cut fastball.

In his final Butler campaign, Mitchell made 14 mound appearances (all stars) and went 3-4 with a 4.85 ERA. In 68 2/3 innings, he racked up 80 strikeouts with 19 walks.

For his college career, the southpaw pitched in 41 games (32 starts) with a 8-10 record and 4.74 earned run average. In 160 innings, Mitchell struck out 149 and walked 66. He was a medical redshirt his sophomore year when he had to have an ulnar nerve transposition procedure.

“I had some discomfort when I threw and tingling in my fingers,” says Mitchell. “There have been no issues since then.”

After being drafted in June, the 6-foot-4, 180-pounder worked in 17 games (all in relief) for the rookie-level Ogden (Utah) Raptors. In 29 2/3 innings, the lefty went 4-0 with a 6.67 earned run average, 20 strikeouts and six walks.

Dodgers minor league stops after Ogden 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.

Mitchell enjoyed his first pro season.

“I liked how efficient and focused everything was,” says Mitchell. “It streamlined. Everybody knew what they needed to do.”

After a week back home in Plainfield, Ind., Mitchell went to Arizona in mid-September and is to spend a month at Camelback Ranch in Glendale for the Dodgers instructional league.

“We’ve been doing a variety of things from pitch design to defense work,” says Mitchell. “It’s been good so far.

“(The Dodgers) give us a lot of freedom, but the expectation for all of us is very high. It feels like a family.”

Support from his actual family comes from father, mother and younger brother — Brooks, Laura and Jackson. His parents own a small drywall sales business in Plainfield. His brother is a freshman baseball player at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind.

Connor Mitchell is a 2014 Plainfield High School graduate. fanned a combined 90 batters in 55 innings during his sophomore and junior seasons for the Quakers, who were then coached by Jeff McKeon.

In the spring of his senior year, Mitchell competed in the Perfect Game Iowa Spring League, where he was named to the Top Prospect Team. He traveled from Indiana to meet his team on days he was scheduled to pitch.

“That league was awesome,” says Mitchell. “There’s a ton of good players in Iowa and the surrounding states.”

Born in Indianapolis, Mitchell spent his early years in Reelsville, Ind., in Putnam County. After moving to central Indiana, he played travel baseball for the Avon Attack, USAthletic and two stints with the Indiana Mustangs, where he formed a friendship with future Butler teammate Garrett Christman.

Mitchell and Christman were roommates throughout college and both graduated in May with degrees in Human Movement and Health Science.

He’s a great player,” says Mitchell of Christman, who was both a shortstop and pitcher at Butler and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants this year. “He does it all.

“He really came on as a pitcher. He eats innings and gets a lot of ground balls. I’m excited to see what he does professionally.”

Mitchell and Christman played for former pro outfielder Chris Estep with the Mustangs.

“He was a big influence on me growing up, developing as me as a player and a person,” says Mitchell of Estep. “He taught me how to handle failure. He’s also fun to be around.”

Brother Jackson also played for the Mustangs.

The Mitchell boys were born four years apart — Connor (23) on Sept. 11 and Jackson (19) on Sept. 10.

Connor was 6 and Jackson 2 on the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“When it happened, I could tell something bad had happened,” says Connor. “It’s definitely a somber day, knowing what that day means to our country.”

Over the years, the brothers and their family have celebrated their birthdays together.

“We enjoy the day and enjoy being together,” says Connor, who plans to enjoy his time back in Indiana this winter by working out and maybe giving back to younger players through private lessons.

Then it’s back to Arizona for spring training to resume his pro baseball career.

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Connor Mitchell made his professional baseball debut in 2018 with the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. He is a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High and Butler University in Indianapolis.

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Garrett Christman (left) and Connor Mitchell both graduated from Butler University in Indianapolis in the spring of 2018. They were travel ball teammates for the Indiana Mustangs then baseball teammates and roommates at Butler. Noblesville High School graduate Christman is now in the San Francisco Giants organization and Mitchell the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

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Butler University baseball teammates Josh Walker (left) and Connor Mitchell were both pitchers for the Bulldogs.

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, stares in for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, lets go for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, winds up for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, delivers a pitch in 2018 for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

Noblesville, Butler grad Christman gets first taste as pro player in Giants system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of a talent evaluator, Garrett Christman has grown up around professional baseball.

“I saw how players interact with each other — on and off the field — and what it takes to be a professional,” says the oldest son of San Francisco Giants area scout and former minor league catcher Kevin Christman. “The work ethic was instilled in me and I knew the athlete I need to be to play baseball at a high level.”

The 22-year-old got his first taste as a pro player this summer.

Christman played for seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis (2015-18) and signed with the Giants as a free agent in late June after graduating in May.

A shortstop and right-handed pitcher at Butler, the Giants used him as a pitcher-only at the rookie-ball level.

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot with a four-seam fastball, sinking fastball, curveball/slider mix and “circle” change-up in his arsenal, Christman made 12 mound appearances (all in relief) for the Arizona League Giants Black squad. He went 1-5 with a 5.68 earned run average. In 12 2/3 innings, he struck out eight and walked two.

“It’s one step up from college,” says Christman in comparing his first pro ball experience to Butler, where he was a second team all-Big East Conference selection in 2018. “Hitters are more aggressive. It’s more individualized. Each player is there competing for a job. It’s our career ultimately.

“But the game is still the same. It’s still three outs per inning.”

Swinging from the left side, he hit .310 with one home run, seven doubles, two triples and 48 runs batted in for the spring — the first Butler Bulldog to record 40 or more RBIs since 2015.

For his college career, Christman hit .276 with two homers, 24 doubles, two triples and 93 RBIs

In his last two years at Butler, he went to the mound 24 times (20 as a starter) and went 7-8 with a 3.09 ERA. In 127 1/3 innings, he struck out 102 and walked 35.

Following his first three seasons at Butler, he honed his skills in summer ball with the New England Collegiate League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats in 2015 and 2016 and Northwoods League‘s LaCrosse (Wis.) Loggers in 2017.

Dave Schrage has been the Bulldogs head coach the past two seasons.

Christman says Schrage had he and his teammates “acting like a winner.”

“He really instilled having a winning culture and having confidence in ourselves and with each other to get the job done,” says Christman, who helped Butler go 34-20 and qualify for the program’s first Big East Tournament berth. “It was good to set that precedent. Hopefully, teams in the future can follow it.”

Christman was selected by the Giants in the 37th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

After talking it over with his family, he opted to go to Butler to improve his game and pursue a degree in Human Movement and Health Science.

“Coming out of high school, I was not ready to go play pro ball right away,” says Christman.

In college, he became physically stronger and faster. But that’s not all.

“One big thing is that I learned to fail,” says Christman. “Through middle school and high school, I never really dealt with failure. I had always played on teams that had success.”

Noblesville High School won the IHSAA Class 4A state championship in Christman’s senior season of 2014.

“I improved by mental game (in college),” says Christman. “I learned to bounce back from a bad game and to adjust. It made me a better baseball player in general.”

Christman played four seasons at Noblesville for head baseball coach Justin Keever and credits him for setting the standard.

“He was very determined in making sure we were doing the little things on the field,” says Christman of Keever. “By doing the little things, you’ll be rewarded.”

Keever also emphasized being a good teammate.

“You hold each other accountable, but don’t jeopardize your friendship or relationship with each other,” says Christman. “That went to building a winning culture with our team and one that’s a Noblesville currently.”

Christman decided to pursue the major he did because it combines elements of kinesiology, exercise science, sports administration and even coaching.

Working out Wednesday, Sept. 19 at Noblesville, Millers Strength & Conditioning coordinator Brian Clarke invited him to address current NHS baseball players.

“I talked how important it is to stay healthy and use the weight room to their advantage,” says Christman, who also answered players’ questions. “Coach Clarke and I have a good relationship. He is the best in the business. He adds to that winning culture for many of the sports at Noblesville.”

Garrett and younger brother Connor Christman played travel baseball together as well as at Noblesville and Butler.

“It was awesome,” says Garrett of Connor, who was a sophomore third baseman/catcher at Butler in 2018. “We practice and train together.”

Both Christman boys were born in California — Garrett in San Jose and Connor in West Hills. The family — Kevin, wife Linda and their sons — moved to western New York and were closer to their sons’ grandparents while Kevin was a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The travel team in New York was the Lewiston-Porter Lancers. The Christmans moved to the Midwest around the time Garrett was 11 and the boys played and their father was a leader in the Indiana Mustangs Baseball travel organization.

Garrett Christman also played with the famed Midland (Ohio) Redskins.

Just weeks removed from the Arizona League season, Garrett is spending much of his time relaxing and spending time with family and friends. He plans to spend the next few months lifting and running and doing yoga and flexibility exercises. In late December or early January, he will begin throwing and start ramping up for spring training.

Salem-Keizer (Short Season Class-A), Augusta (Low-A), San Jose (High-A), Richmond (Double-A) and Sacramento (Triple-A) are the next steps up the Giants minor league ladder.

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Garrett Christman, a graduate of Noblesville (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, is a pitcher in the San Francisco Giants organization.

 

Former Lebanon righty Schaller debuts in college, pro baseball in same season with Vandy, Nationals system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Reid Schaller returned to competitive pitching in 2018.

Following Tommy John surgery July 19, 2016 — the date is tattooed near the scar — the right-hander did not pick up a baseball until January 2017 and then participated in fall activities at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

The injury caused the 2016 Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate to miss his freshman college season and summer ball in 2017.

The 6-foot-3 hurler finally got a chance to pitch in a game for the Commodores Feb. 20, 2018. He went on to appear in 21 games over 28 2/3 innings.

Schaller was 1-1 with one save, a 3.77 earned run average, 39 strikeouts and nine walks in helping Vanderbilt go 35-27 with the season ending in the NCAA Super Regional against Mississippi State.

The 21-year-old credits Vandy pitching coach Scott Brown for helping him come back.

“(Brown) cleaned up my arm action,” says Schaller. “And he taught me how to be a pitcher rather than a thrower.”

After his surgery, Schaller still threw from a three-quarter arm slot, but he shortened up his delivery.

“My arm was really long in high school,” says Schaller. “Now, it’s really short — more like a catcher arm action.”

Schaller is grateful to his Vandy coaches, including head coach Tim Corbin.

“The entire coaching staff is very intelligent and helped me with my prospects,” says Schaller. “They did a lot for me.

“Just being around (Corbin) matured me as a person. He’s  full of knowledge and that kind of rubbed off on me.”

Selected in the third round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals, Schaller headed to Florida to pitch for the Gulf Coast League Nationals.

In the GCL, he made five mound appearances (all starts) and was 0-1 with a 1.54 ERA. In 11 2/3 innings, he struck out 16 and walked three and was moved to the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays of the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League.

The next stops on the Nationals minor league ladder are Hagerstown (Low-A), Potomac (High-A), Harrisburg (Double-A) and Syracuse (Triple-A).

Schaller has been in four games for Auburn (all starts) covering 16 2/3 innings. He is 1-1 with a 4.86 ERA, nine strikeouts and four walks.

He goes to the bump for Doubledays manager Jerad Head and pitching coach Franklin Bravo with a large pitch repertoire. He throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball as well as a slider, change-up and cutter. He added the cutter to the four-seamer and slider during the NCAA Clemson Regional. Once he got to Auburn, he began working on the two-seamer — a pitch he used in high school.

At Lebanon, Schaller played four seasons for Tigers head coach Rick Cosgray and was a three-time honorable mention all-state selection and three-time all-Sagamore Athletic Conference performer. He captained the team as a junior and senior. In his sophomore year (2014), Lebanon won SAC and IHSAA Class 3A North Montgomery Sectional  championships.

As a freshman, Cosgray had Schaller splitting his time between the varsity and junior varsity teams, going down to get some more at-bats.

“(Cosgray) made me think — this is the time I can get better and bring it to the varsity team,” says Schaller. “Everything happens for a reason.

“You see how it develops through time.”

In 2013, Schaller was a teammate of future Los Angeles Angels minor league pitcher Travis Herrin.

When not pitching, Schaller was an outfielder early in his prep career and then settled at first base. He also played one season a little football for the Lebanon Tigers.

The determination that helped him back from injury has helped propel Schaller throughout his athletic career.

“I’m committed to the goals I’ve set and I’m hard-working,” says Schaller. “I’m determined to succeed on the mound.

“I have the ability to bounce back from a bad outing and be ready for my next bullpen. It’s all about being consistent.”

Born in Indianapolis, Schaller grew up near Thorntown and played Little League baseball at Dover and Thorntown.

When Reid moved with his family — father Matt, mother Heather and older brother Mason — to Lebanon when he was in the fourth grade, he played in the Lebanon Little League and then got into travel baseball, donning the colors of the Indiana Mustangs, Indiana Prospects, Evoshield Canes Midwest, Cincinnati Reds Scout Team and Midland (Ohio) Redskins before heading to Vanderbilt.

Schaller is four semesters from completing his American Studies degree and says he plans to go back at some point to complete it.

Today, Matt Schaller sells insurance, Heather Schaller is a realtor and Mason Schaller is in business. He played baseball at Lebanon and graduated from Indiana University.

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Reid Schaller, a Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate who played at Vanderbilt University, is now with the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays in the Washington Nationals system. (Auburn Doubledays Photo)

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Reid Schaller bears down for the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays in the Washington Nationals system. He is a 2016 Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate who pitched one season (2018) for Vanderbilt University. (Rick Nelson Photo)

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Former Lebanon (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University pitcher Reid Schaller lets one go for the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays. (Rick Nelson Photo)

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Reid Schaller, 21, is in his first professional baseball season in the Washington Nationals system. (Rick Nelson Photo)

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Reid Schaller, a Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate, makes a pitch for the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays in the Washington Nationals system. Making his way back from Tommy John surgery, the right-hander made his college debut at Vanderbilt University and in professional baseball both in 2018. (Rick Nelson Photo)

 

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players are asked to answers a series of questions.

How many swings are you going to take?

How many throws are you going to make?

How balls are you going to block?

How many ground balls are you going to take?

How many fly balls?

Are you going to work on your angles?

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

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

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

“You cannot be used car salesman.”

Shooting straight with players and parents also helps the process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INDIANAMUSTANGS

ROUNDTRIPPERSPORTSACADEMY

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

 

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

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology helps keep track of all Bullpen tournaments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is success gauged in the travel baseball world?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there are the trouble makers and malcontents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BULLPENTOURNAMENTS

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

 

Aggressive style has Estep, University Trailblazers baseball in 1A semistate

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Estep, his coaching staff and players have built a culture of confidence for the University High School baseball.

“The kids have bought into what we’re trying to do as a program,” says Estep, the head coach that has his Trailblazers (27-6) meetings Tecumseh (20-9) in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate at 1 p.m. EST Saturday, June 9. “When we run out on to the field we can play with anybody.”

What is the root that confidence?

“It’s how we’ve structured practices,” says Estep. “We make practices run faster.”

In practices — and games — University pushes the limits on offensive and defense.

“We want to be very, very aggressive,” says Estep. “The last thing we want to see is a kid afraid to make a mistake. The more aggressive you are, the more chance you’ll have to make aggressive plays.

“You can not expect a kid to make a great play if they don’t practice making great plays.”

University, a private school of just under 300 students located in Carmel which played in its first IHSAA tournament in 2007, won the University Sectional and the Morristown Regional to find itself one win short of going to Victory Field in Indianapolis for the 1A state championship game.

Estep, who is supported by assistants Reid Andrews, Michael Thompson and Steve Nerney and athletic director John Walls, points to the regional to show how his players are prepared deal with misfortune on the diamond.

The Trailblazers were up 2-0 in the semifinals against Indianapolis Lutheran only to find themselves down 4-3 in the next inning. They came back with a 9-4 victory.

The championship game was tied 0-0 going into the seventh inning. Estep saw a pinch-hitter foul off pitches to get to a full count and University went on to score three runs in the top of the frame and then hold Hauser for a 3-0 win and the regional crown.

“If you can’t handle adversity, you can’t be a champion,” says Estep. “We put them into as many adverse situations as we can and ask them to go out and make a play.

“You never know when it’s going to be your time and you better be ready to answer the bell.”

The aim is to play as close to flawless as possible and make up for any mistakes that do happen.

“There’s really no such thing as a perfect game,” says Estep. “But if we try, we will give ourselves the opportunity to win.”

There are 18 players in the program in 2018.

University is a member of the Pioneer Conference (along with baseball-playing schools Anderson Preparatory Academy, Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge, Liberty Christian in Anderson, Muncie Burris and Seton Catholic in Richmond). The Traliblazers went 7-0 this spring to win the conference title.

Top University pitchers include senior right-hander Cade Carlson (committed to Northwood University in Midland, Mich.), junior right-hander Brock Moore and senior right-hander Garrett Hill (Purdue Fort Wayne commit). When not pitching, the three rotate between first base and third base.

Hill, junior shortstop Dawson Estep (the coach’s son), Moore, freshman left fielder and senior center fielder Ryan Williams (committed to Morehouse College in Atlanta) are among the Trailblazers’ leading hitters.

Coach Estep calls No. 9 hitter Williams “a major catalyst” with “speed to burn.”

Estep watched junior catcher Kolton Stevens fight through hot conditions to shine in the regional.

“He caught best two games I’ve ever seen a kid catch,” says Estep. “I can’t tell you how balls he blocked.

“Nobody ever notices that position until there is a mistake.

“He was absolutely phenomenal.”

It’s phenomenal plays or games that earns players the right to wear the “U chain”.

Borrowed from the University of Miami football “turnover chain,” Andrews brought the motivating bling to University baseball in 2017.

“Miami’s ‘The U’ and we’re the ‘The U,’” says Estep. “It’s been (Andrews’) baby. He hangs the ‘U chain’ on the fence before games. He awards it to a kid and pictures are taken. Kids are excited for whoever gets the ‘U chain.’”

Also for the second year, the “U” took a southern trip at the beginning of the season. The Traliblazers played in Tennessee.

The squad got away and spent quality time together at the ballpark and the breakfast table.

“It’s really important for team camaraderie,” says Estep. “We went and played four games then released them to spring break. When they came back, we got back to work.”

Estep, 51, has been working as a baseball instructor for decades. His Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield is coming up in 25 years.

“It found me out more than I found it,” says Estep.

He grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and played wiffleball, basketball and football and, of course, baseball. Organized ball came at Christian Park, where he played for John Gannon.

“He was the greatest youth coach in the history of Little League,” says Estep of Gannon, who is expected to be at Saturday’s semistate. “He’s a legend. “He made sure we all stayed out of trouble. He was an unbelievable mentor to kids.”

A 1985 Carmel High School graduate (he played his first two prep seasons at Indianapolis Cathedral before his family moved), Estep was an outfielder at the University of Kentucky for two seasons and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played at the Double-A level in 1991 and 1992.

While he was still a professional player, he was approached by a parent about giving lessons to one of their sons. They were impressed enough to bring another son to him. Before you knew it, Estep had a long list of students and less and less time to work out himself.

“Even though I didn’t hit very well, I understood the processes for hitting and defense,” says Estep, who now sees to the needs of many baseball and softball players. “The girls are quicker learners and they’ll do whatever they tell them. The boys will fight you on it.”

Roundtripper alums include Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Micah Johnson, Drew Storen and Chris Ulrey.

Extra-busy giving lessons and running the Indiana Mustangs travel organization, Estep put up a fight when he was approached repeated by a former University administrator a decade ago.

“He would not leave me alone,” says Estep. “He said, ‘If you don’t do it, these kids can’t play.’ That got me. I called my wife and begged for forgiveness that I took on another job.

When we first started I couldn’t have weekend games because of the workload. The school made it work. Now we play every weekend. The program’s worth it. I’m willing to pay a little extra price — my family is, too, though my wife doesn’t like me very well.”

Besides Dawson, Chris and Sue Estep have an older son (Chandler, who plays football at Elon University in North Carolina) and a younger daughter (Jasmine, a talented athlete who is headed into the ninth grade).

For Estep to be close to his business, University began playing its home games at Roundtripper and still does.

His first team was overmatched. The first game was a 32-0 loss.

“They were the the kids that always got chosen last,” says Estep. “But that team set the standard. This is where we built from. This present team has an attitude that they’re going to fight you to the bitter end.

“I love them for that.”

Estep does not love the IHSAA decision to suspend Indianapolis Scecina junior right-hander Mac Ayres (who is also in the Mustangs organization) for the 2A Jasper Semistate. Ayres went over the IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) in the Park Tudor Regional and the violation was self-reported by Scecina coach Dave Gandolph.

“It was a clerical/addition error,” says Estep. “(Scecina coaches) thought they were taking a kid out on 119 pitches for two games.

“There was no malice there. Now the kid is going to be penalized.”

If Estep had his way, pitch counts would be tracked in an official book in the press box and not with the home team. The scorekeeper would let the teams and umpires know how many pitches a player had going into the next game. When they got to 110, the coaches would be alerted.

“It should be a drop-dead (when the limit is reached),” says Estep. “You stop and make a pitching change.”

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

REIDANDREWSCHRISESTEP

University High School head coach Chris Estep wears the “U chain” and assistant Reid Andrews holds the cake celebrating Estep’s 100th career win with the Trailblazers.

UNIVERSITYHSBASEBALL

University High School won the IHSAA Class 1A University Sectional and Morristown Regional and will play Saturday, June 9 in the Plainfield Sectional. Chris Estep is the head coach of the Trailblazers.