Baseball has been a part of Tom Gandolph’s life since Day 1.
The third of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and wife Ann’s four children (following Dave Jr. and Dan and before Jennifer), Tom played at what is now known as Center Grove Youth Baseball in Greenwood and later played for his father at Center Grove High School, graduating in 1995, and then at NCAA Division II Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., graduating in 1999.
He was on a 15-year-old team that went to the World Series in Kissimmee, Fla., and played varsity ball in the junior and senior years of high school and college.
Gandolph was a shortstop and pitcher at Center Grove, but was used only as a moundsman in varsity games by SJC head coach Mike Moyzis.
There was also a 13-year run in what was once called the Indianapolis Amateur Baseball League before Gandolph put baseball on the back burner.
A woodworking hobby became Smokey’s Wood Shop — a one-man operation run out of Gandolph’s garage in Bargersville, Ind., which is near Greenwood in Johnson County.
He made some wooden American flags and they were well-received.
Suddenly, the 43-year-old full-time firefighter had a side gig — and a fun one at that.
With son Tanner (who is 6) starting to play in the CGYB, Tom was drawn back to baseball and decided to branch out and added Gandolph Bats as a division of Smokey’s in the latter part of 2020.
“I saw bat-making wood lathe videos,” says Gandolph, who promotes his businesses on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “I’ve been turning a lot of bats since October. Gandolph bats has been keeping me busy.
“I’ve gotten good feedback from friends and travel ball players. They say they’ve got really good pop and weight distribution.”
Counting display, game and fungo bats, Gandolph has produced about 75 so far and currently has orders for the next 15.
Just last week, Gandolph made plans to upgrade to an auto-lathe so he can increase his volume.
Right now, he might be able to turn seven bats from the time he gets off work and the time he picks up 6-year-old Tanner from school.
Gandolph Bats are made of Maple — a hardwood that is just a little more expensive that Ash. He is also interested in making clubs from Birch.
Now back in the baseball world, Gandolph is learning about the many travel ball teams and training facilities around central Indiana.
Good friend Jason Taulman, a SJC teammate, runs the Indy Sharks. When Saint Joseph’s shuttered after the 2017, Gil Hodges Field went to seed. Gandolph, Taulman and other friends of the Pumas, worked to rehabilitate the field and travel ball games have been played there.
Rick O’Dette, who played at SJC and was later head coach, is also a 1999 graduate of the school.
Stevens took over the Patriots just a few months before the 2019 campaign, got through a year without games because of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020) and expects up to 20 players in 2021 at a private school of about 85 students.
“I’m trying to make this program relevant again,” says Stevens. “Baseball has been an afterthought for awhile.”
Bethesda Christian’s junior high baseball coach for a few seasons, Stevens was asked to head up the varsity in January 2019.
“We had to circle the wagons and get some practices going,” says Stevens. “We had no equipment and no set routine for the varsity schedule.
“We started building it basically from scratch.”
The school has replaced its rickety press box and Stevens would like to get a new backstop.
The Patriots began workouts for 2020-21 in October and just finished the latest IHSAA Limited Contact Period for bat-and-ball activities. Players are now using a speed and agility routine devised by strength and conditioning expert Zach Dechant and a throwing strength training course put together by Jason Taulman, a former college coach who runs the Indy Sharks travel organization.
“I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made in the speed on my baseball team,” says Stevens of Dechant’s system. “It really works.
“I use (the throwing program) with the entire team. We use med balls and J-bands and do core work.”
With Bethesda’s basketball teams getting first priority on gym time in February, a handful of baseball players were at the school a 6 a.m. Friday workout.
Stevens’ assistant coach is Bethesda Christian graduate Josh Stroud.
Besides the junior high team, Stevens would like to establish a feeder system at the elementary level.
“I want to get them younger if I can,” says Stevens. “You have to build a program from the bottom up.”
“Before that Southmont played Crawfordsville and North Montgomery (school system players) and that was it,” says Stevens, who helped the league branch out to find a variety of competition around Indianapolis.
Tom and wife Christy’s daughter, Madi, transferred to Bethesda when she was a ninth grader. She’s now an elementary education major at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
When their sister changed schools, brothers Garrett and Wyatt — who began playing T-ball at Southmont — decided to also make the switch.
Garrett Stevens is now a Bethesda senior. Bethesda is preparing to put stage “Beauty and The Beast” in March and Garrett is to play The Beast.
The Patriots’ top pitcher touches 90 mph on the radar gun, Garrett will be a teammate of freshman Wyatt.
Garrett is committed to play baseball at Anderson (Ind.) University.
“(Ravens head) Coach (Matt) Bair knows baseball, but he’s a good mentor and cares about the boys,” says Stevens. “I’m more interested in these boys become good young men and that they become all-stars at leaders in their communities and their families.”
Bethesda Christian graduate Brayden Sayre is on the baseball roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
Stevens is a licensed electrician, but has not worked in that field for about five years. He had a home improvement company in Crawfordsville. For the past three years, he’s been an apprentice to his wife in Winding Creek Ranch, a Crawfordsville-based dog breeding business specializing in Goldendoodles and Labradoodles.
Stevens has coached travel ball, but he’s partial to the community leagues for younger players.
“Travel ball has no place for any kid below the junior high level and that’s pushing it,” says Stevens. “Let’s play ball locally.”
Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.
A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.
“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.
Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.
“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”
Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.
“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.
“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”
Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.
“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”
Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.
The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments.
Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.
“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.
“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”
While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.
Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.
“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.
Bullpen is a very large operation.
“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.
Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.
“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”
With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ.
Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.
“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.
“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”
But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.
“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?
“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”
An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.
The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.
“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”
As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.
While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.
The fall included more contests than ever.
“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.
“We had a great fall.”
Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February.
“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker.
Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.
Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.
“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”
A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches.
There’s a running debate in baseball coaching about the Old School vs. the New School.
The Old School represents the long-used methods.
The New School includes emerging technology and its application to the game.
“We’re always learning,” says Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, who has decades of experience as a professional hitting instructor — most recently working in affiliated baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers organization 2018 and 2019. “Technology is very important. That’s where we are today.
“We are not Old School or New School, We’re In School. If we don’t continue to be In School, we’re going to hurt these kids. Period.”
As Bell teaches lessons and clinics across the country as well as in Noblesville, Ind., at Jason Taulman’s Indy Sharks training facility and will soon in Lafayette at Jeff Isom’s new On Deck Training building, he looks to share he’s learned and shares it with his pupils.
“There’s all this information,” says Bell. “I’m not saying its detrimental. It’s confusing. (Technology) can be a great thing.”
Bell, 56, is adaptinhg to the new tools so he can understand and get players to understand.
“I’ve learned it my way instead of some guy telling me how I must learn it,” says Bell, who has worked with Blast Motion sensors and looks forward to using Rapsodo motion detection.
“Humans see in 2D,” says Bell. “Technology sees in 4D. It’s another set of eyes. It can be a great thing.
“You will see great strides in that kid’s progression if it’s utilized the right way.
“You can’t quantify the movement from the left to the right hemisphere You have to combine (technology) with what he’s thinking, how he’s thinking and why he’s thinking. I understand the importance of it all coming together. I really do.”
Knowing that each player is different, Bell does not expect everyone to have the same movement patterns and to reach them you’ve got to get to know them.
“The individual needs to be an individual,” says Bell. “We want them to be short and direct to the ball. We don’t worry about things we don’t control. We control the (strike) zone and get a good pitch to hit. It sounds like a cliche, but you’re only as good as the pitch you hit.
“We try to keep it as simple as possible. Pitching is too good. They throw so hard.”
Bell wants to relate to his hitters on a personal basis.
“I want to establish a relationship with that player,” says Bell. “That’s the key. This guy’s there for him whenever he needs them.”
Bell is a 1981 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School. His head baseball coach was Mark Strader, who had been a Bronchos standout for and assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul “Spider” Fields.
“(Strader) was one of the best baseball players to come out of Tippecanoe County,” says Bell.
Concepts he associates with Strader are intensity, tenacity, competitiveness, work ethic and doing the little things right.
“He did a lot of things for me,” says Bell, who credits Harmon for getting his a place on Team USA in the 1982 World’s Fair Games in Knoxville, Tenn., and a place in college baseball. “He is a phenomenal man.”
Bell played two seasons at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., where his head coach was Rich Alday and Jim Fleming directed Aztecs hitters.
“(Fleming) was one of the best hitting teachers in the country,” says Bell, who would meet up with him again years later.
From Pima, Bell played two seasons at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) for head coach Byron Wiehe. Jamie Hamilton was an assistant coach for the Mavericks.
Bell signed as a minor league free agent with the California Angels and played three seasons in the Halos’ system 1986-88, primarily as a righty-swinging catcher with Palm Springs or Quad Cities.
Sometime after his playing career ended, Bell moved back to Lafayette. Isom asked him if he wanted to get back into baseball.
“Absolutely not” was Bell’s reply. But Isom asked again later and got Bell to be his hitting coach with the Joliet Jackhammers in the independent Northern League.
Bell went to be hitting coach in the Northern League with the Andy McCauley-managed Schaumburg Flyers in the independent Frontier League with the Jason Verdugo-managed Evansville Otters.
Then comes a call from John Mallee, then hitting coordinator for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins that leads to another call from then vice president of the Marlins Jim Fleming — the same man who was Bell’s hitting coach back in college.
“I actually hung up,” says Bell. “I didn’t think it was Coach Flem.”
Mallee called Bell back and set him straight and Bell was hired by the Marlins and was hitting coach for Greensboro Grasshoppers (2009), Jupiter Hammerheads (2010) and Gulf Coast League Marlins (2011-14).
He was out of organized baseball for a few years and still offering instruction including at Kiwanis International baseball camps for troubled teens in Alaska at the invitation of David Hall.
By this time Mallee was with the Phillies. He called to say that the Brewers were in dire need of a hitting coach. There was one week left in spring training.
But Bell took the gig and spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, N.C. Coincidently, the Mudcats vice president/general manager is Lafayette native Joe Kremer. Bell and Kremer had never met until Bell arrived with the club.
The past five years, Bell has been traveling up from Florida to share his knowledge with Taulman and the Indy Sharks.
“I love everything he does for all those kids,” says Bell. “They’ve progressed extremely.”
Bell has been spending more time in Indiana to be closer to daughter Bobbi, a junior at Purdue University. Bell also has four sons — Brandon and Keaton in Colorado, Zion in California and Kai in North Dakota.
Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, was a hitting coach in the Florida/Miami Marlins system for six years.
Bobby Bell, a 1981 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, has been instructing baseball hitters for decades. In 2018 and 2019, he was a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He works regularly with the Indy Sharks travel organization.
Jason Taulman is a busy man — especially at this time of the year.
For the past eight years, he has run a baseball training facility that some call the “The Facility” or the “Shark Tank” in Noblesville, Ind.
From January to March as players are gearing up for their seasons, Taulman teaches up to 60 lessons (30-minute sessions) per week. From April to September, that number is 20 to 40 with October to December being 20 to 30.
A former college player and coach, Taulman started the Indy Sharks travel baseball program in the fall of 2014 to develop players and to educate them and their parents on the recruiting and scholarship process and more.
“We focus on training and the five tools of a baseball player,” says Taulman. “When the time is ready we’ll showcase you.
“Players don’t have measurable good enough to be recruited (in the early ages).”
In 2020, the Sharks will field seven teams — 12U, 14U, 15 (two teams), 16U and 17U (two teams). The majority of the players on one 17U team were on the original 12U squad.
Taulman says 12U to 14U teams tend to play 40 to 45 games per season while 15U to 17U get in 30 if they have a good summer and advance deep in their tournament.
In teaching pitchers, Taulman’s approach is straight-forward.
“We want to see mechanics that will keep the arm healthy,” says Taulman. “We want them to throw strikes and pitch. That’s lost in today’s technology and social media craze.
“Everybody wants to throw hard. If we’re not doing it safely and are able to locate, velocity does us no good.
“We teach them how to train and get stronger.”
Lafayette, Ind., native Bobby Bell, who was the hitting coach with Carolina in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2019, runs hitting clinics while Taulman runs arm strength/bat speed clinics at the “Shark Tank.”
Taulman began his prep days at Lafayette Jefferson High School. He tranfered to West Lafayette and graduated in 1991.
He played for two head coaches with the Red Devils — Pat Murtaugh and Fred Campbell. Murtaugh was an associate or “bird dog” professional scout and went on to be a full-time scout. He is now employed by the New York Yankees.
“With Coach Murtaugh, I became intrigued about the professional game and what it takes to be at a higher level,” says Taulman. “That was motivation for me.”
Taulman got to know former Purdue University head coach (1978-91)/Seattle Mariners scout Dave Alexander when he mowed his grass.
“He came across as kind of gruff,” says Taulman of Alexander, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “But he has a good heart.”
Former Purdue and McCutcheon and current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Doug Schreiber coached Taulman with the Lafayette Red Sox summer collegiate team.
Right-handed pitcher Taulman played four years for head coach Mike Moyzis and earned an Elementary Education degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. The NCAA Division II Pumas were Great Lakes Valley Conference champions in Taulman’s senior season of 1995.
“(Moyzis) was an outstanding coach,” says Taulman. “He was very big on mental toughness and how to compete.
Moyzis recruited Chicagoland and had many players with swagger.
“He taught you how to carry yourself with confidence,” says Taulman. “Moyzis was off the charts with that stuff.
“For me, it made a world of difference once I began to carry myself that way.”
Moyzis is now vice president of special events for Game Day USA and runs tournaments all over the country. He has brought in Taulman to serve as a coach for select events.
Joe Fletcher was the Saint Joseph’s pitching coach when Taulman was there.
“Fletch had just a huge impact on me,” says Taulman. “That’s when I learned how to pitch. It’s the first time we really learned how to work at the game.
“(Moyzis and Fletcher) were excellent teachers and trainers. They were ahead of their time.”
After graduating from Saint Joseph’s, Taulman played four seasons with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League with Lafayette winning league titles in 1995 and 1996.
In the fall of 1996, the Indiana Baseball Academy opened in Brownsburg and Taulman was a part of that training facility that was co-owned by big league pitcher Jeff Fassero.
Taulman served a short stint with the independent Northern League’s Sioux Falls Canaries in 1999. Former Purdue head coach Steve Green (1992-98) was Sioux Falls’ bench coach.
To start out his coaching career, Taulman served with the independent Frontier League’s Ohio Valley Redcoats and the Lafayette Leopards.
He later was pitching coach for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University when Pat Neshek hurled for the Bulldogs.
In the summer of 2017 and again last year and again last summer, Taulman and others ran travel tournaments with the Indy Sharks at Gil Hodges Field.
Saying he missed raking a field, Farley helped last spring in getting the field ready.
After the Indiana Baseball Association, Taulman helped start the Tippecanoe Baseball Academy in Lafayette with partners Bell, Jake Burton and Matt Kennedy.
IHSBCA Hall of Famer Burton was then the McCutcheon High School head coach and is now at Twin Lakes. Kennedy has been an assistant to O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Leo and is now on the Butler coaching staff.
After Taulman was pitching coach at Butler, he assumed the same duties at Ball State University, where he earned his master’s degree in Coaching Specialization.
He was on head coach Greg Beals’ staff for one season. Jason and Kelly Taulman have four sons — Clark (21), Nick (19), Jack (17) and Brock (14).
When Jason was at Ball State, 2-year-old Nick was diagnosed with Autism.
“We decided that someone needs to be home full-time to manage this,” says Taulman, who by this time had moved his family to Hamilton County. Nick Taulman is a 2019 Fishers High School graduate who participated in the IHSAA Unified Track and Field State Finals.
Jason Taulman, a West Lafayette (Ind.) High School graduate, teaches private baseball lessons and runs the Indy Sharks travel organization out of Noblesville, Ind. He is a former pitcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and was the pitching coach at Butler University and Ball State University. (Steve Krah Photo)