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