Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.
“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.
“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”
As far as the baseball part of the equation?
“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”
Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.
The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.
The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).
Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.
Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.
Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.
A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.
In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.
“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”
Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.
“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.
“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”
A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.
Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon.
As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.
“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”
Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.
He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.
Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.
Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.
Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago).
“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.
Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.
A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.
Founded in 1991 with play beginning in 1992, the Bulls brought together the state’s elite for top-flight competition and exposure to college coaches and professional scouts and that continues to this day.
Craig Moore coached Blackford High School in Hartford City, Ind., to IHSAA state runner-up finishes in 1977 and 1978.
The East Gary (Ind.) High School graduate also coached Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI) to success while it transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division I and was a Brownsburg (Ind.) High School assistant.
Moore was brought to the Bulls for the second season.
“Craig is the best talent evaluator I’ve ever seen,” says Dave Taylor, one of the Bulls founders and first coaches. “He had an amazing, uncanny ability to size up talent quickly.
“He’s one of the greatest recruiters I’ve ever seen and had tremendous enthusiasm. I’d run through a wall for that guy. (Players had) great loyalty for him. He was very demanding. But he loved his guys and they loved him.”
Taylor played baseball at Southmont High School and captained the Wabash College team in 1983 then went to law school and began coaching Babe Ruth baseball at the state championship level.
He soon learned something.
“Indiana was not a baseball state,” says Taylor. “It was very provincial and very hometown-based — even American Legion was geographically-limited.
“The baseball world tended to be dominated by towns with size and tradition. There was not a lot of great baseball beyond that. There was nowhere for a great player to go.”
Ohio and Kentucky had elite travel baseball since the 1960’s, but not Indiana.
“We were behind,” says Taylor. “There was no high level of competition in Indiana for the elite.”
Taylor notes that the 1992 Major League Baseball Player Draft had just one selection from Indiana — Jay County High School graduate Shane White in the 24th round by the Chicago Cubs — while Ohio had more than 100 with over half that number out of the Cincinnati area alone.
When a national tournament rolled around, Taylor coached the Indiana representative. Open tryouts were held and there were players from all over the state, though most came from central Indiana.
Indiana lost in the medal round in Tallahassee, Fla., getting beat by eventual champion California but beating Georgia and Texas along the way.
“It was a great experience,” says Taylor, who learned that the players on the Sacramento-based California team had been playing 180 games a year since age 8. “Practicing for two weeks was not how you made better baseball players.
“We would take the top five (players in the state) and fill in with like players.”
As the Indiana Bulls took shape, Taylor gathered men like John Thiel, Bob Lowrie, Bob Stephens and Tony Miller for their business and baseball expertise and also landed Jeff Mercer Sr., Mike Mundy, Dave Mundy and Craig Moore on the coaching staff.
A real estate appraiser for his day job, Moore spent hours away from his profession seeking the right fit for his players.
“He had a really good feel where a guy would have success,” says Taylor. “He would help find the right situation for that kid.
“He was all about the kids. He was tireless man at helping kids get their college scholarships.”
Many times, every senior in the Bulls program was placed by the winter of their final prep year.
Taylor marvels at how Moore was able to make quick fixes during games and set his guys on the right path.
“He didn’t mince words,” says Taylor. “He was very direct. He knew you didn’t motivate everybody the same way.”
As a result of Moore’s drive, the Bulls as a whole moved forward.
“He forced us to get better at everything as an organization,” says Taylor. “He wasn’t going to sit around and wait.
“He was just an amazing guy. He just gave and gave and gave.”
Taylor remembers Lance Moore as his father’s right hand man.
“Lance was a really bright guy — almost a baseball genius,” says Taylor. “He was a gentle giant (at 6-foot-3 and 225). Lance always had a smile. He had no enemies.”
Lance Moore played at Brownsburg, where he graduated in 1988 — brothers Jered Moore (1989) and Quinn Moore (1996) followed.
“He was a good baseball man,” says Quinn Moore of Johnson. “He just wanted to help kids. He never took a dime for it. He always gave back his coaching stipend.
“He he did it the right way. He demanded respect and that we played the game the right way.”
Johnson helped build the current Brownsburg diamond and took pride in its upkeep.
“He built a winning culture in Brownsburg,” says Quinn. “Wayne probably doesn’t get enough credit for building Brownsburg into a baseball power.”
Jered Moore played college baseball at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
“Dad had the desire to help kids reach their dreams and goals,” says Jered, who is now head coach at Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School and will leads the Bulls 12U White squad in 2021. “Back then did not have all the scouting services you have now. He was constantly on the phone. His long distance bill was high.
“He knew the and how to judge talent. Coaches really respected his decisions.”
Jered notes that the first players from Indiana to sign at Stanford University, including future major league infielder Eric Bruntlett, did so based on Craig Moore’s reputation.
Rolen, Zapp, Closser, Whisler, Lind, Richard, Lynn, Meyer, Barnhart and O’Conner have all been honored as Indiana Mr. Baseball.
Grand Park, a complex in Westfield, Ind., with 26 total baseball fields, is home to the Indiana Bulls. The 2021 season is to feature 30 Bulls teams 8U to 17U.
In the 1980’s, it was not unusual for a high school-aged team to play 15 to 20 games in the summer. Now they play around 50.
“This gives them a ton of time on the mound,” says Jered Moore. “They’re just better ballplayers with all that experience. The more games you play the better you become.
“When dad was coaching the Bulls we would host a tournament at IU, Butler, Ball State or Purdue two times a year. At other times, we were traveling. We spent 20 or 21 days in June and July in a hotel.
“Grand Park gives us a chance to give kids more exposure with all the kids in one location.”
Quinn Moore began at the University of South Alabama and finished at Indiana University. He is now in his second year as Indiana Bulls president.
“My dad took the Bulls to another level,” says Quinn. “A Carmel-based organization grew into the statewide Indiana Bulls.”
While his teams earned their share of victories and titles, that was not the bottom line with Craig Moore.
“It was never about winning over exposure,” says Quinn. “A college coach was there to see if the kid could hit the ball in the gap (even if the situation called for a bunt).”
Based on his experience as a college coach, Craig Moore set pitching rotations so college recruiters would know when and where to see Bulls arms.
“He knew what was best for kids at recruitable ages,” says Quinn, who will lead the Bulls 12U Black team in 2021. “The (Bulls) email chain started with him and my brother and I took it from there.”
Quinn says his father tended to carry a larger roster — 18 to 20 players with 10 of those also being pitchers. Now it’s more like 16 with plenty of two-way players. Of course, there are more teams.
When Craig Moore was coaching, he might have three or four pitchers who touched 90 mph. These days, the majority of hurlers on 17U rosters touch 90-plus.
Cerebral palsy likely kept Lance Moore from playing past high school.
“It was important for Lance to be involved with the Bulls and at a high level of baseball,” says Taylor.
When Jered Moore began coaching for the Bulls in 1999, he invited brother Lance to be an assistant.
“It was awesome,” says Jered. “We were best friends.
“He was very quiet, but he knew the game.”
Jered Moore considers himself fortunate to be a in baseball-crazy Zionsville, where 103 players came to a high school call out meeting. During the fall Limited Contact Period, players not in fall sports participated in practices on Mondays and scrimmages on Wednesdays.
“Indiana high school baseball is in a really good place as far as talent and the number of players that are playing,” says Jered, who is also a real estate appraiser.
The sport had long been a family affair and in the summer of 2003 all four Moores — Craig, Lance, Jered and Quinn — coached a 17U team together.
“That’s my favorite year of coaching,” says Jered Moore.
At that time, future big league pitchers Lynn, Lindblom and Hunter toed the rubber for the Bulls.
Before Dan Held left the Bulls to become an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at IU, it was he and Quinn Moore that controlled social media and a hashtag was created: #BullsFam.
Quinn, who is also a regional sales manager for BSN Sports, enjoys seeing former players now coaching in the organization and having their sons play for the Bulls. Among those is Josh Loggins, Eric Riggs and Rolen (who played on the first Bulls team in 1992).
“The Bulls are family to me,” says Quinn. “It was family to my dad and to my brothers.”
Scott French played for Craig Moore’s Bulls and is now the organization’s director of baseball operations.
“Craig was awesome,” says French, who was a standout catcher at Shakamak High School and Ball State University, coached at BSU and helps with Mike Shirley in teaching lessons at The Barn in Anderson, Ind. “He made it a really good experience.
“Craig could coach in any era in my opinion. He knew when to push buttons and when not to push buttons.
“He was very honest, which is all you could ask of a coach. He was very credible. He didn’t sell players (to coaches and scouts), he just put them in front of people. We have the connections, structure and process (with the Bulls). He was part of starting that process.
“Quinn and Jered have put in a lot of time to help people get somewhere. It’s a passion for them and they got it from their dad.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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”.
“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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
Once the season ends, there are optional fall workouts. There is no training activity in November and December.
Held left his post as a St. Louis Cardinals coach after the 2006 season to direct the Bulls, which are based in the Indianapolis area but draws players from all corners of the state.
With all his connections in the baseball world, Held is the face of the organization.
When he first came aboard with the Bulls, Held conducted player clinics. But with players spread out across Indiana it was difficult to reach all of them.
Held then decided to focus on educating the coaches to relay the message to the players.
He wants a non-threatening atmosphere and screamers and yellers are not welcome.
All coaches are hired by Held. He is looking for those with strong baseball backgrounds. That is more important than them having a standout player for a son.
“We need to have a coach who runs a quality program,” says Held. “We’d love to have all non-dad coaches. But with time restraints, we can’t always do that. (Coaching) does entail a lot of work.”
Head coaches get a stipend to off-set expenses which they share with their assistants. Player fees are waived for sons playing on a team coached by their father.
Last November, a mandatory coaches retreat was taken to Camp Emma Lou near Bloomington. It is the site of Rolen’s E5 Foundation camps for children and families dealing with illness, loss or other special needs.
“It was a big undertaking, but it was just worth it,” says Held. “It really paid off.
“Part of my job is make sure we’re doing things properly and evaluating the coaches. I give my coaches a big leash. Micro-managing them is a mistake.”
There is manual to help coaches conduct a productive practices.
“I don’t want them having home run derbies and just hitting ground balls,” says Held. “Practice is the most important thing. Players need to get something out of it.
“I monitor my coaches. I don’t want them to go rogue.”
Practices tend to be held once a week in the winter and twice a week in the spring for 8U to 14U teams. Games are mostly played on weekends.
Besides team practices in locales around the Indianapolis area, there are some organizational practices on the calendar. That’s one of the various ways the director stays connected with all the teams. Taking a cue from professional baseball, he has each coaching staff report to him after each weekend. If there was an incident or a significant injury, Held will know about it.
If a parent has a concern, Held says they need to go through the proper channels of communication. He prefers that the matter be addressed first with that player’s coach. Then comes a board member assigned to the team and then comes the director.
“I try to keep a close watch on the pulse of our teams,” says Held. “If there are issues, we try to be visible.
“It’s hard to control 300 sets of parents. You may give a message, but they hear what they want to hear. Our parents have been fantastic with going through the proper chain of command.”
The Bulls — an Indiana not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization has a board of directors filled with business professionals and a set of by-laws. There are currently 23 board members.
Some are established as high school feeder programs. Others are there to go after national championships. Yet others are there to develop talent.
The Bulls were formed to develop and gain exposure for ballplayers in the state.
“Indiana was Alaska in terms of developing college baseball players,” says Taylor.
It’s key to have business people of the board — bankers, lawyers, insurance agents etc. There expertise will help in securing facilities, making deals, establishing policies, setting budgets and managing social media. Other important things to consider are revenue, player fees, sponsors and fundraising.
Taylor says board members are expected to raise money and/or cut a check of their own. They should be “invested” in the organization.
The Bulls have had a sustaining corporate partnership with cap company Lids.
While keeping tabs on all the teams, Held will also coach 16U Black and join Rolen in coaching 10U Grey and their sons — Boston Held and Finn Rolen.
“We’re excited about that,” says Held. “We get our kids to play together and enjoy the game of baseball.”
“Hustle,” says Lemonis, who is going into his fourth season as head baseball of Indiana University baseball in 2018. “You’ve got to be willing to hustle. You have to have an eye for it. You also have to have a plan. What pieces are you trying to put together? (A player might be the) right fit for one school and not for the other.”
Lemonis, who is 101-72-2 with two NCAA regional appearance (2015, 2017) while leading the Hoosiers, likes to find as much in-state talent as he can and still remain competitive. “The state of Indiana has great high school players. It is a big base for us. We will reach out at times and fiend pieces.”
The Hoosiers — regularly top 25-ranked program — find most players within a five-hour drive from the Bloomington campus.
“But we don’t rule out anybody,” says Lemonis, who has been spending his share of time on the road, visiting recruits and working camps. “We like to be a physical team and an athletic team.”
Lemonis asks that athletes and their parents research to see what fits their needs.
As drawing cards for the Hoosiers, there is an IU degree plus the ever-growing profile of Big Ten Conference baseball. The 2017 season saw five B1G schools make the 64-team NCAA D-I tournament — conference tournament champion and automatic bid winner Iowa plus at-large invitees Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska.
Conference baseball continues to get recognition and revenue through the Big Ten Network.
“We try to keep our kids in this part of the country — Midwest staying at Midwest schools,” says Lemonis. “When I first came to Midwest, all the good players went south. There is now a commitment to baseball in our league.”
As evidence, all of the 13 baseball-playing B1G schools have stadiums that were either built new or renovated in the last few years, many with artificial turf.
At Louisville, he worked closely with head coach Dan McDonnell and made three trips to the College World Series (2007, 2013, 2014). They were college roommates, teammates and athletic Hall of Famers at The Citadel — the military college in Charleston, S.C.
“He’s a great leader of men and a great coach,” says Lemonis of McDonnell, who spoke at the 2017 IHSBCA State Coaches Clinic in Indianapolis. “He is very big on the motivation side — not only with the players but the staff. He’s always trying to push the program forward and put it in a better place. He’s one of the best in the business — if not the best.”
Phone calls between Lemonis and McDonnell are exchanged a couple of times a week.
“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Lemonis.
As a left-handed-swinging infielder at The Citadel, Lemonis had two head coaches — American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chal Port and Fred Jordan — before playing minor league baseball (1995-2004) with Triple-A stops in the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles organizations.
“(Port) was a tough old school coach,” says Lemonis. “He was big on fundamentals and playing the game the right way. He put together kids who became a close-knit group.”
Lemonis served 12 seasons on Jordan’s coaching staff.
“I got most of my development from him,” says Lemonis. “He was big into physicality and the speed of the game. We didn’t start (weight) lifting until Coach Jordan got there.”
When Lemonis was playing, most coaches thought baseball players should stay away from weights in order to remain flexible.
Now, strength and conditioning is a major part of the game. With fall baseball concluded, IU players are spending four days a week in the weight room, becoming bigger, stronger and faster.
Since many Hoosiers play spring, summer and fall, they are now giving their arms a rest. Throwing programs will resume in December and hitting will amp up. After Christmas break, the team will be in “spring training” mode as it prepares to open the 2018 schedule with four in South Carolina — Feb. 16 (Oklahoma), Feb. 17 (Kansas State) and Feb. 18 (South Alabama) in Myrtle Beach and Feb. 19 (Coastal Carolina) in Conway.
The home opener is slated for March 7 (Cincinnati).
Lemonis graduated from Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A move-in, he played his junior year for Jody Rush and senior season for Rick Hardwick, who had come from The Citadel.
As a product of his playing and coaching stops, Lemonis believes in “playing the right way.”
That is reflected in IU being among the top fielding percentage teams in the B1G and the way the Hoosiers train, show up early, hustle and demonstrate positive body language.
“It’s doing a hard 90 down the baseline,” says Lemonis. “It’s respecting the game.”