Tag Archives: Instruction

Michiana Scrappers, Indiana Twins join Canes Baseball family

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

A nationally-recognized travel baseball showcase brand has expanded in Indiana.
Canes Baseball has brought the Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Twins into the family and those organizations have rebranded to Canes Great Lakes and Canes Indiana.
Together with Canes Midwest, there are now three Canes Baseball entities in the Hoosier State.
Canes Midwest president Jay Hundley approached the Scrappers and Twins as Canes was looking to raise its profile in Indiana. Hundley’s Indiana Outlaws, which he founded in 2012, joined Canes a few years ago.
With President and CEO and 17U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.
Canes Great Lakes has a training facility — The Scrap Yard — 4027 N. Home Street in Mishawaka. Canes Indiana works out in three buildings at 6727 S.R. 67 North in Martinsville (next to the Centerbrook Drive-In movie theater).
“It’s good we have this opportunity,” says Brian Blondell, president/director of player operations for the Scrappers and now Canes Great Lakes. “It gives us room for growth and the backing Canes has regionally and nationally.
“This makes the most sense for our kids. Nothing changes day-to-day. We just now have more leverage with Canes National and Canes Midwest.
The School of Hard Knocks Scrappers started in 2004 with one 15U/16U team and grew from there and became the Michiana Scrappers, drawing players from Michigan as well as Indiana. More than 130 players went on to play college baseball.
“It was hard with what you’ve put into it, the branding, colors (orange and black) and all the time and commitment” says Blondell of saying goodbye to the Scrappers identity for baseball. The organization has also been involved in softball, basketball and hockey.
In 2021, the Scrappers were represented by 19 baseball and four softball teams.
Recent tryouts for Canes Great Lakes brought out 203 players. Blondell says his part of the system could field up to 22 teams in 2022. That includes three at the 15U level.
Scott Haase, vice president and pitching coordinator for the Indiana Twins and now Canes Indiana, expects there will be around 14 teams wearing the familiar gold and black Canes colors for Canes Indiana in 2022.
Jason Clymore, the father of boy-girl twins born in 2009 who founded the Indiana Twins in 2012, was approached by Hundley about his organization becoming part of Canes Baseball.
Haase says the Canes were impressed with the Twins’ track record.
“Jason has been in the travel ball world for over 20 years developing athletes and are organization has continued to develop athletes each and every year so they wanted us to be the representative for Canes Indiana,” says Haase.
Twins players came from around the state and Haase says he expects that to continue with Canes Indiana.
“The difference now is those athletes that weren’t too sure about making that travel and now willing to make that travel,” says Haase. “It’s a national brand and that’s a big deal to our organization. There’s been immediate buy-in from everybody. We’ve been known across the state, but to be known nationally is a jump we’re more than ready for.”
For more information about Canes Great Lakes, contact at canesgreatlakes@gmail.com.
To know more about Canes Indiana, contact canesindiana@gmail.com.

Canes Baseball
Canes Great Lanes
Michiana Scrappers
Brian Blondell
Indiana Twins
Jason Clymor
Scott Haase
Canes Indiana
Jay Hundley of Canes Midwest (gray)

D-Bat Elkhart offers place to get better for baseball, softball players

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a place to get better at baseball and softball in Elkhart, Ind.

Opened in June 2020 and located in an eastside industrial park at 4411 Wyland Drive, the 22,000-square foot facility at D-Bat Elkhart has been attracting families, individuals and teams to train.

Owners are Shelbi and Jason Baugh and Eric Miller. Shelby and Eric are siblings. 

Kaitlyn Frost became general manager in February and is in charge of daily operations. Most days she is at the front desk.

A 2008 graduate of Lakeland High School in LaGrange, Ind., Frost played three seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne before serving as an assistant coach at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been a coach and director of softball for the Michiana Lady Scrappers travel organization.

The training space, which includes batting cages and areas for pitchers and full teams, has been named Francis and Nancy Taylor Fieldhouse to honor Shelbi and Eric’s grandparents.

The Baughs experienced D-Bat locations when they lived in California.

D-Bat baseball and softball academies began in Dallas in 1998 and now has around 120 franchises in the U.S. and China with about 20 more in the works. D-Bat Elkhart franchise is the company’s old one in Indiana so far.

Frost says owners have been discussing the possibility to installing a playing field — or at least a training area — next to the D-Bat Elkhart building, which also includes a room for birthday parties and other celebrations.

D-Bat Elkhart purchased the naming rights to the new turfed baseball and softball fields at Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind.

Current D-Bat Elkhart instructors are Donnie Weatherholt, Jesse Zepeda, Judah Zickafoose for baseball and Heather Erlacher for softball. 

Weatherholt was an all-state player at Concord High School in Elkhart and has coached extensively at the Little League, Babe Ruth and travel levels.

Zepeda was a standout at Elkhart Central High School (he was a junior starter on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state champions) and Bethel College (now Bethel University). He is on the Bethel coaching staff and is the founder of the Indiana Black Caps travel organization.

Zickafoose played at Westview High, Arizona Western College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University. 

Erlacher played at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and Franklin (Ind). College. She has served as pitching coach at Elkhart Central and with the Elkhart Blaze travel team.

Frost says she is looking for more instructors.

“The biggest perk for our instructors is that we make the schedules and deal with the clients,” says Frost. “They don’t have to chase the money.”

Sam Troyer, who played baseball at Northridge and at the University of Evansville, has been working part-time and training at D-Bat Elkhart before resuming his professional career with the independent Pioneer League’s Missoula (Mont.) PaddleHeads. That team also features South Bend Clay graduate and former San Francisco Giants minor leaguer Aaron Bond.

Current hours for D-Bat Elkhart is noon to 9 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Frost says the facility may open at 10 a.m. weekdays when school lets out for the summer.

“What sets us apart is that we don’t require memberships (though there are nearly 300 current members),” says Frost. “We have non-member pricing. 

“Memberships are good if you can come often.”

Memberships are month to month and can be suspended and resumed.

A $38-per-month Gold package includes 15 daily batting cage tokens (about 225 pitches) with discounts on camps, clinics and the pro shop for one person.

A $58-per-month Platinum membership includes unlimited daily swings and covers the whole family. There are bigger discounts for camps and clinics etc.

Non-members may purchase 15 tokens for $25.

Free 30-minute cage rental is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

As a company policy, D-Bat does not sponsors teams in youth or adult leagues or for travel ball. 

“We’re open to all travel, high school, college and Little League (teams and players),” says Frost. Fast pitch and slow pitch softball players also train at D-Bat Elkhart.

Frost has been spreading the word about D-Bat Elkhart on social media and has reached out to nearby Riverview Park, where softball and youth baseball teams hold events.

To reach D-Bat Elkhart, call 574-500-DBAT (3228) or email info@dbatelkhart.com.

Notre Dame assistant Wingo very familiar with winning

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

University of Notre Dame volunteer assistant Scott Wingo has experienced plenty of winning as a baseball player and coach.

Wingo graduated in 2007 from Mauldin High School, a program in Greenville, S.C., that produced a AAAA state champion in 2004 and saw Wingo earn AAAA All-State and South Carolina/North Carolina All-Star Select honors in 2007.

In four seasons at the University of South Carolina, the Gamecocks went a combined 189-76 with an NCAA regional appearance in 2008 and College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011, going a combined 11-1 in Omaha, Neb., with Ray Tanner as head coach. 

Coach Tanner and I had a special relationship,” says Wingo, 31. “He was going to do everything in his power to get you to believe in our system. We’re here to win. He didn’t like to lose.

“Losing wasn’t OK.”

Lefty swinger Wingo played in 254 games for South Carolina and hit .264 (189-of-717) with 24 home runs, six triples, 24 doubles, 96 runs batted in, 159 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.

As a freshman in 2008, second baseman Wingo was in a starting infield with first baseman Justin Smoak, shortstop Reese Havens and third baseman James Darnell.

“Those were big, strong guys,” says Wingo, who was 5-foot-9 and about 145 pounds as a college frosh. “I knew I needed to work really hard in the weight room.

“Coach (Tanner) always kept you accountable,” says Wingo, who was 5-10 and 175 as a senior. “He always would keep me on track. He knew he could be tough on me. 

“He knew I could take it.”

Wingo scored the title-winning run in 2010 against UCLA on an 11th-inning single from Whit Merrifield and was named CWS Outstanding Player in 2011 (the Gamecocks beat Florida for the championship).

“When I think about 2011, I can’t help but think about 2010,” says Wingo, who suffered a squad injury and went undrafted after his junior season. “I didn’t have that great of a tournament.

“My senior year is where I took off. I wanted to end my (college) career on a bang. I was locked in.

“We were ready for that (2011) tournament. We believed we were going to win it. 

“We were the defending champions. You’re going to have to knock us out to take this from us.”

Tanner insisted his Gamecocks do things the right way.

“If you don’t have good grades, you’re not going to play,” says Wingo. “We had high-character guys like Jackie Bradley Jr., and Whit Merrifield. When your best players are good people it resonates with the entire team.

“We had a bunch of guys that would battle you. They were tough outs and played really good defense. On the mound, they were lights out. We typically never beat ourselves.”

Selected in the 11th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wingo played 261 games in the Dodgers system 2011-14.

He was with the short-season Ogden (Utah) Raptors when they went 41-35 and lost in the Pioneer League finals in 2011.

In 2012 and 2013, Wingo played for the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, a franchise that combined for 133 wins and lost in the first round of the 2013 California League playoffs.

Among Wingo’s teammates in the Dodgers chain were future big leaguers Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Corey Seager, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, A.J. Ellis, Scott Van Slyke and Jerry Hairston.

Beginning his coaching career as a student assistant at South Carolina in 2015, Wingo saw the Gamecocks go 32-25.

In his two seasons on the North Greenville (S.C.) University staff (2016 and 2017), the Crusaders went a combined 73-31. 

The NGU staff was led by head coach Landon Powell, who was the catcher for Dallas Braden’s perfect game with the Oakland Athletics in 2010. Assistants included former South Carolina and big league pitcher Jon Coutlangus and former College of Charleston player Tyler Jackson.

Wingo had earned a Retail Management degree at South Carolina and picked up a masters in Education at North Greenville

Wingo was an assistant for the Coastal Plain League’s Wilmington (N.C.) Sharks in the summer of 2015 and was the collegiate team’s manager in 2016 and 2017. Those three years, the Sharks went 92-70, including 6-6 in the playoffs.

Alec Bohm, who was a rookie with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020, played for the team in 2016 and won the home run derby at the CPL All-Star Game with Wingo pitching to him. Wingo says he hopes to do that same if Bohm ever gets invited to the MLB home run derby.

With Wingo assisted at Jacksonville (Fla.) University in 2018, the Dolphins went 40-21 under head coach Chris Hayes

“He knows a lot about the game and is very passionate,” says Wingo of Hayes. “He connected with his players and knew how to push the right buttons. 

“He really helps me.”

At Jacksonville is where Wingo learned how to tend to an infield.

With the blazing Florida sun baking the playing surface, it was not unusual to have to keep the hose going.

“Sometimes had to water that field three or four times a day,” says Wingo. “You’ve got to soak it.”

At Jacksonville, Rich Wallace was the recruiting coordinator and he moved to Notre Dame to take the same position.

Wingo was with the Irish in 2020 when they went 11-2 in a COVID-19-shortened season. It was the first spring under the Golden Dome for head coach Link Jarrett.

“It’s been awesome to work under Link,” says Wingo. “He’s got a great feel for the game and players.

“It’s a great opportunity to come coach at Notre Dame.”

Wing helps with infielders and hitters as well as outfielders.

“(With outfielders), the first step has got to be your best step,” says Wingo. “You go get the ball when it’s in the air. We call them ‘bird dogs.’ 

“There is no fear.”

Notre Dame concluded fall practice two weeks ago. Student-athletes are not due back on-campus until January.

Before they left, players went through exit interviews with the coaching staff to go over grades, how the fall went and areas where they can improve. Hitters talked about their swing and their approach.

They were given conditioning and performance drills to keep them right during the extended break.

“How we prepare for these next two months in vital,” says Wingo. “We’re excited about the spring.”

Wingo has been teaching lessons at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field, a facility in downtown South Bend where Mark Haley is the director.

There are camps most Saturday mornings with instruction in fielding, hitting and throwing.

“We’re breaking down the mechanics,” says Wingo. “Doing things the right way at this early age is vital. When strength and power comes in when they develop into great baseball players.

“We’re building brick by brick. Hopefully every week they get a little better. When they see progress their eyes light up and that smile, you can’t get it off their face. 

“It’s pretty cool.”

Wingo is also leading practices twice a week for 14U South Bend Cubs travel team he will coach in the summer of 2021.

Scott is the son of Bill and Nancy Wingo. Bill Wingo is a member of the Clemson University Athletic Hall of Fame. He lettered in baseball and football for four years. He started on College World Series teams in 1976 and 1977, making just three errors at second base in ’77. He played briefly in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Scott Wingo is the 2011 College World Series Outstanding Player. (The Big Spur Video)
Scott Wingo is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame. The 2020 season was his first. He played four seasons at the University of South Carolina, winning College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

Former MLB pitcher McClellan giving back to baseball through Demand Command

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach McClellan began his professional baseball career at age 21.

Through hills and valleys, the right-handed pitcher persisted and persevered until he finally stood on a major league mound at 28 and its those kind of lessons he passes along to the next generation with his baseball/softball business — Demand Command.

McClellan, who stands 6-foot-5, earned three letters at Indiana University (1998, 1999 and 2000). He pitched in 41 games, starting 22 with five complete games and one save. In 159 1/3 innings, he posted 111 strikeouts and a 4.58 earned run average while playing for Hoosiers head coach  Bob Morgan — a man he credits as much for what he did in stressing education as what he did between the white lines.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2000 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals, McClellan logged 192 appearances (87 starts) and 606 1/3 innings and played at Spokane, Wash., Burlington, Iowa, Wilmington, Del., Tulsa, Okla., and Colorado Springs, Colo., finally made his MLB debut in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies.

McClellan relieved in 12 games with Colorado that season, going 1-0 with 13 strikeouts in 14 innings. The Rockies went to the World Series in 2007.

He got to be around diamond leaders like Indiana native LaTroy Hawkins as well as Todd Helton.

His playing career concluded in 2010 with the independent Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats.

His managers included Tom Poquette, Joe Szekely, Jeff Garber in the Royals minor league system, Tom Runnells, Marv Foley, Fred Ocasio and Stu Cole in the Rockies minor league chain with Clint Hurdle at the MLB level with the Rockies and Greg Tagert with the RailCats.

Long before that McClellan started giving back. He started the Zach McClellan School of Pitching in Bloomington, Ind., in 2002. 

Zach and future wife Sarah met at IU. She is from nearby Ellettsville, Ind., and a graduate of Edgewood High School. 

During his pro off-seasons, Zach was a student teacher during the day and gave lessons at night during his off-season.

With the growth of the business, McClellan began looking for a new name and a suggestion came from one of his pupils who noted how he was constantly telling them, “Don’t just accept control, demand command.”

McClellan says the difference between control and command is that with control you can throw to a general area and command is being able to execute your pitches to the catcher.

The two main aspects of pitching as McClellan sees them are how hard you throw and can you locate it. In other words: Velocity and command.

“I try to marry those two things,” says McClellan, who notes that location becomes very important when it comes to getting good hitters out.

Believing that training should be fun and challenging, McClellan began getting his young pitchers to play H-O-R-S-E baseball style.

While in the basketball version, a player has to replicate a made shot or take a letter, McClellan’s baseball variation requires one pitcher to execute a pitch — say a fastball to the outside corner — and have the next one up replicate that or take a letter.

The first Demand Command T-shirts McClellan ever had made asked: “Can you play H-O-R-S-E on the mound?”

“It was an inside joke between the instructed kids, myself and their parents,” says McClellan. “People would ask the question about what it meant.

“We were doing something kind of unique and kids were actually executing pitches. What I’ve noticed through the years is that if they have to call the pitch, it’s even better. Now they’re not just throwing a ball in the generally vicinity.”

McClellan never wants training to be drudgery for his players.

“If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it becomes more of a job,” says McClellan. “It’s not a job, it’s an opportunity. It’s fun. If you’re going to come to me it’s not going to feel like work.

“You have to make sure that the kids are enjoying what they’re doing, but learning at the same time.”

Since he began offering instruction, McClellan has preferred small-group lessons of three of four players.

“I say make sure kids aren’t just doing solo private lessons,” says McClellan. “A lot of parents want their kids to work one-on-one with a coach, but when they go on a field they have eight other teammates.

“At the end of the day there’s nobody behind the mound holding your hand and telling you how to correct yourself in a game. You have to have a feel on the adjustments you’re making.”

Every now and then, McClellan likes to match 17-year-old prospect with an 8-year-old learning how to pitch.

“The 17-year-old learns how to teach,” says McClellan. “The more you learn how to teach the better you get at your craft. 

“(The teen is) learning how other people receive the information which makes them more receptive of the information.”

Now that he has been at it this long, another McClellan goal is coming to fruition.

“I’ve always wanted to create a community of baseball players that became future leaders,” says McClellan. “Kids that played for me or took lessons from me are now coming back to be coaches for me.”

Demand Command now trains baseball and softball players in southern Indiana (through partnerships with Owen Valley Sports Complex in Spencer and Maximum Velocity Performance in Columbus) and in Zach’s native Toledo, Ohio, where brother Matt McClellan is the Demand Command Toledo owner.

Matt McClellan played at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., and pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays organization (Toronto selected the right-hander in the seventh round of the 1997 MLB Draft) and for the independent Newark (N.J.) Bears and Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones.

Between Indiana and Ohio, Demand Command typically fields around 40 travel squads ages 7U to 18U through Pastime Tournaments and USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association).

The DC website states the mission: “Demand Command was built on the principles that baseball and softball are teaching mechanisms for more than just the games. 

Baseball and Softball have many life lessons within the games. Some examples are leadership, hard work, determination, discipline, working together with many types of people, dealing with success and failure and good character. 

“The goal is to teach people the value of Demand Command life principles through baseball and softball. Demand Command stands for much more than commanding pitches or at bats. Demand Command is a way of life.”

Numerous DC alums have gone on to college and pro baseball. Among them is Dylan Stutsman, who pitched at the University of Indianapolis and then pitched for the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers.

Former Texas Rangers draft pick Renton Poole is now a senior pitcher at Indiana University Kokomo.

Zach and Sarah McClellan live in Columbus and have three athletic daughters — Mia (14), Miley (12) and Emery (10).

The McClellan brothers — Jeff (46), Matt (44) and Zach (42 on Nov. 25) — are the offspring of former college athletes. 

Father Dave a basketball player at the University of Michigan and Mother Diane a track and field athlete at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

Jeff played baseball at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.

Zach’s nephew, Sebastian McClellan, is a freshman basketball guard at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Mich. Niece Mallory McClellan recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Fordham University in New York.

Demand Command is a baseball/softball training and travel organization founded by Zach McClellan.
Zach McClellan, a native of Toledo, Ohio, who pitched at Indiana University 1998-2000, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies. He began giving pitching lessons in 2002. (Colorado Rockies Photo)
Former Colorado Rockies pitcher and Demand Command founder Zach McClellan signs autographs for youth baseball players.
Zach McClellan runs the Indiana portion of Demand Command baseball and softball out of facilities in Spencer and Columbus in southern Indiana. He played at Indiana University and pitched in the big leagues. (Demand Command Photo)

French plays to strength as Indiana Bulls director of baseball operations

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott French looks back through the decades and sees all the support his father and mother provided he and sister Jessi when they were growing up near southern Indiana town of Jasonville.

“My parents never said no to anything I wanted to do in athletics,” says French, the director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization since June 2019. “My dad (Steve) was a coal miner and my mom (Pat) a dental assistant. Sports were a priority.

“My dad gave me the opportunity to get better every day.”

Steve French built a batting cage in the back yard of the French home near Shakamak State Park.

“I took a lot of swings in my life,” says Scott. “We didn’t have lessons back then. In that era, we watched more baseball (for French, it was lefty swingers like Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs). Kids get more instruction and more games now.

“I didn’t play more games until I got older.”

French did put his batting cage hacks to use at Shakamak Little League and later Shakamak Junior/Senior High School, where he hit .568 as a junior in 1997 and a state-leading .586 as a senior and was MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All Star Series in 1998.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chip Sweet was the head coach when French played for the Lakers.

“He was a very good example to all of us,” says French of Sweet. “He was very consistent. You knew what you were getting every single day. He threw very good batting practice and he threw it every day.”

Shakamak players also saw plenty of fly balls and grounders in practice. French roamed center field.

Jessi French (now Stanton and a math teacher and dean of students at Linton-Stockton High School) also took advantage of the family cage and paced Indiana in runs batted in during one of her final high school softball seasons.

Scott French was introduced to travel baseball by coach Gary Sylvester and the Indiana Hawks, which were based on the south side of Indianapolis.

When French was 17, Sylvester took he and a few others to the Bulls, where Craig Moore was head coach. The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who died in 2004.

“Craig Moore was awesome,” says French, who helped the Bulls win the National Amateur Baseball Federation High School Division World Series in 1997. “I owe a lot to Gary. I owe a lot of Craig.”

In his Bulls position, French answers to a board of directors with 11U Black head coach Quinn Moore as president, Josh Loggins as vice president, Brent Mewhinney as treasurer and Todd Mewhinney as secretary. Quinn Moore and Jared Moore, head coaches of 11U Black and 11U White teams, respectively, are sons of Craig Moore.

French played for Rich Maloney at Ball State University (1999-2002). The .321 career hitter with a school-record 139 walks played mainly in center or left but was used some in relief and at first base and helped the Cardinals to regular-season Mid-American Conference titles in 1999 and 2001.

He was a volunteer assistant at BSU (2003-07) for head coach Greg Beals and a full-time assistant (2013-18) to Maloney. He holds a degree in Heath and Physical Education/Fitness from Ball State.

At the end of his playing career, French felt the pull of player development.

“I think it’s a strength of mine,” says French. “I’ve got to play to my strength.”

Through Ball State teammate Justin Wechsler, French met instructor/scout Mike Shirley and at 23 went to work for Shirley at his Anderson-based training facility.

While working with Shirley, who is now director of amateur scouting for the Chicago White Sox, French got the chance to instruct players from elementary to college.

“It prepared me for what I’m doing now,” says French. “I was well-rounded.

“I like seeing kids that work hard grow and become something. An average athlete can doing something in baseball through hard work and experience.”

French says the Bulls teach the same concepts and talk about movement patterns with the youngest and oldest players. Once it clicks, they can really take off.

“You can effect a 9-, 10-, 11-year old kid,” says French. “They just have more room to grow.

“We always tell parents, you have to be patient with it. It takes a lot more work than people think it does.”

It ties in with the make-up and dedication of the player and his family.

“That’s life,” says French. “Baseball’s a frustrating game. It gets harder as you get older.

“It takes a certain mentality to play for a long time.”

With the current live baseball shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, French says the Bulls are waiting to see what will be allowed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb as the state begins to gradually re-open.

“We’re waiting for Grand Park (in Westfield) to find out how they can use their space,” says French. “We’re still a lot of figuring out as far as schedules are concerned.

Bullpen Tournaments works hard. They’re planning to have some baseball.”

It may mean playing deeper into August than is typical for the summer season. The current calendar show the Midwest Prospect League from June 16-21 at Grand Park.

In addition to being director of operations, French coaches 15U Black — one of the Bulls 28 teams for 2020.

French says high school teams typically play seven tournaments, taking one weekend a month off.

It’s not uncommon for some younger teams to play in a dozen events spaced out from April to July.

Bulls tryouts are scheduled for Aug. 1-2.

French says there’s a strong possibility that date will get moved to late August.

Bulls head coaches — screened for baseball knowledge, coaching experience and commitment to developing players — are selected by French and approved by the board of directors. Head coaches choose assistant coaches and players.

All coaches, both head coaches and assistants, are required to submit a background check and take online child protection training. The Bulls use ChekCoach to ensure our coaches are informed of their responsibilities to protect all players.

A resident of Noblesville, Ind., French has a 11-year-old daughter and sixth grader-to-be (Lanie) living in Decatur, Ind.

French talked with Sean Laird and Adam Heisler for the LT Brings The Heat podcast episode that dropped May 14.

SCOTTFRENCHBALLSTATE

Scott French is a graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where he played baseball and spent two stints as an assistant coach. He is now director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization. (Ball State University Photo)

 

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

RBILOGOSMALL copy

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.