By STEVE KRAH
Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991.
Taking players exclusively from Indiana was how co-founder Dave Taylor wanted it and that’s the way it has remained all these years.
The Bulls have sent countless players on to college baseball and dozens have been drafted by Major League Baseball.
Two players on the first Bulls team — Todd Dunwoody (Harrison High School in West Lafayette) and Scott Rolen (Jasper) — made it to the big leagues.
Rolen is on the latest National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.
Recent Bulls alums to don MLB uniforms include Nevin Ashley (North Knox), Tucker Barnhart (Brownsburg), Tommy Hunter (Indianapolis Cathedral), Micah Johnson (Park Tudor), Adam Lind (Anderson Highland), Josh Lindblom (Harrison of West Lafayette), Lance Lynn (Brownsburg), Alex Meyer (Greensburg), Cameron Perkins (Southport), Clayton Richard (McCutcheon) and Drew Storen (Brownsburg).
“We have pride in that border with Indiana players,” says Bulls executive director Dan Held. “It’s impressive to see all the players that come out of here.”
In 2018, the Bulls have 26 teams from 8U through 18U.
With Held running the show, all will be present at noon Sunday, Jan. 28 at Westfield High School for the annual parent/player organizational meeting.
Barnhart will be the guest speaker and players will receive uniforms and equipment in anticipation of the upcoming season.
The campaign opens first for 8U to 14U. Those squads are expected to play 50 to 60 games apiece during their four-month season.
At this age, the Bulls try not to travel more than three weekends in a row.
“We are not chasing trophies,” says Held.
High school-aged teams — U15 to U18 — get started after the prep season concludes and have eight weekends worth of tournaments and will likely play 30 to 40 games each.
High school baseball is a priority at this age the the Bulls strive to develop relationships with prep coaches (and have several on the coaching staff).
“High school coaches are a fantastic resource,” says Held. “They are with those players for years.
“We are just an additional set of ears and eyes for those coaches.”
The 8U to 14U teams play many games in and around Indiana, but have been known to go to Cooperstown, N.Y., and Omaha, Neb.
Held puts all the schedules together for high school-level teams with an eye on exposure to college scouts.
Some of those showcases include the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn., and World Wood Bat Championships in Cartersville, Ga., as well as the Youth Amateur Baseball Championships and Midwest Prospect League run by Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield with its 26 synthetic surface diamonds.
At the end of the season, coaches fill out an evaluation form for each player — noting strengths and weaknesses — and presents it to the player or their parents and Held also gets a copy.
Annually, the Bulls offer three memorial scholarships — in honor of Daniel Mercer, Craig Moore and Lance Moore.
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.
In a presentation at the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis, Taylor told those assembled about how to put together and sustain a successful travel organization like the Bulls.
Taylor says the mission must be clear.
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.”
Held and Rolen were both selected in the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies — third baseman Rolen in the second round and catcher Held in the 42nd round. They were minor league teammates.
Rolen played 17 seasons in the big leagues. Held was a pro player for nine years and a coach for five.
Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991. (Indiana Bulls Image)