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Abrell values life lessons while leading Plainfield Quakers baseball program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a coach and educator, Shane Abrell looks for teachable moments.

Abrell and his coaching staff got the opportunity to teach their players about dealing with failure and about momentum during Abrell’s first season in charge of the Plainfield (Ind.) High School baseball program.

“Life lessons are really important in coaching,” says Abrell. “If we’re not teaching them about life, we’re failing them.”

Facing a formidable schedule, the 2018 Quakers got off to a 2-9 start then went on an 8-3 run on the way to 12-16-1. Right-hander Sam Tackett (an Indiana University Kokomo commit for 2019-20) hooked up in a pitchers’ duel with Braydon Tucker (now at Indiana University) as Plainfield bowed to Northview 1-0 in nine innings in the first round of the IHSAA Class 4A Avon Sectional.

“Now they know they can play with those teams,” says Abrell. “It gives us a lot of mental toughness as time goes on.”

Abrell and his assistants spent much time talking about the team.

“We have some really great conversations,” says Abrell, who welcomes back varsity assistants Josh Morris, Noah Lane and Jaylen Cushenberry, junior varsity coach Brian Holsclaw and freshmen coach Mike Harper for 2019. “We demand a lot of time and effort. But hese guys don’t skip a beat. They make my job easy.”

The coaches were honest with their athletes and admitted when they made mistakes in 2018.

The lines of communication are kept open through that sincerity.

“Baseball is so mentally tough on people,” says Abrell. It’s not for everybody.

“Kids are more willing to come to us when they’re struggling. We’re seeing more players are consoling each other.”

Abrell, who teaches computer science at PHS, was a Plainfield assistant to Jeff McKeon (now head coach at South Putnam High School) for one season before taking over the program.

Prior coming to Hendricks County, Abrell was an assistant to Kyle Kraemer at Terre Haute South Vigo High School from 2001-14 and helped coach youth teams around Terre Haute including the Junior Sycamores and with the John Hayes-managed Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 program.

Abrell played for Kraemer at South Vigo, graduating in 1998.

“Kyle is probably one of the most organized people I’ve come across in coaching,” says Abrell of Kraemer. “He is very meticulous. There was very little down time in practice. You were always moving.”

South Vigo has enjoyed continuity on the coaching staff with assistants like Brian Pickens, T.C. Clary, Todd Miles and Chad Chrisman serving for decades.

“(Kraemer’s) been a great mentor and friend to me,” says Abrell, who will take his Plainfield team to the 2019 Braves Bash at South Vigo. The event also features Munster and New Haven.

Plainfield (enrollment around 1,700) is part of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Perry Meridian and Whiteland).

The MSC plays home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to crown its champion.

The Quakers are part of the IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Avon, Brownsburg, Mooresville, Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo. Plainfield has won eight sectional titles — the last in 1997.

While in Terre Haute, Abrell had the opportunity to coach A.J. Reed and become close T.J. Collett and his family while coaching his brother Doug with the Post 346 junior squad and then as North Vigo athletic director.

Both A.J. and T.J. were Indiana Mr. Baseball honorees — Reed at South Vigo in 2011 and Collett at North Vigo in 2016.   

A walk-on at Indiana State University, Abrell’s coach with the Sycamores was Mitch Hannahs.

Abrell graduated from ISU in 2003 with a B.S. degree in Management Information Systems/Computer Science and worked various jobs, including web designer for Clabber Girl and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Reserve Deputy for the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

“That was an eye opener,” says Abrell of the issues he saw some students dealing with that have nothing to do with a baseball drill or home work assignment.

He makes a point of getting his players to give back by volunteering in the community at a food pantry or with Riley’s Children’s Hospital.

Gratitude is another life lesson Abrell teaches.

“We talk to the kids about thanking their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents for all the time and money they spend,” Abrell.

He was a football, basketball and baseball coach at South Vigo. North Vigo, coached by Shawn Turner and Fay Spetter and featuring Collett, were 4A state runners-up in 2014 and 2015 with Abrell as AD.

Along the way, he attended Western Kentucky University (Master of Education & Kinesiology) and Indiana Wesleyan University (Education Administration).

Baseball has long been a big deal in the Abrell family.

Shane’s grandfather, the late John Abrell, was a long-time Connie Mack baseball coach and sponsor in Terre Haute.

Rick Abrell, Shane’s father, coached youth baseball at Prairie Creek, Prairieton and Riley and was president of Terre Haute Babe Ruth. He now tends to the baseball fields at both South Vigo and West Vigo.

The Abrells are close with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Bob Warn and Steve DeGroote. Warn was head coach at Indiana State from 1975-2006. DeGroote assisted Warn at ISU and then led the West Vigo program.

Abrell says he took something from all the baseball men in his life.

“To be a good coach, you have to accept you’re not going to create something new in baseball,” says Abrell. “You take what you learn and you mold them all together.”

A love of tending the field was ingrained in Abrell. Kraemer had his team spend 30 minutes after each practice and game wielding shovels and rakes and Abrell does the same with his Quakers.

And there’s lots of time spent mowing and edging in the summer and fall.

“For every two hours practicing, probably another two hours working on the field,” says Abrell. “It’s therapy for me.

“We’re blessed at Plainfield. We have a beautiful complex and support from the administration.”

Principal Melvin Siefert and Assistant Principal of Athletics Torrey Rodkey are both former coaches.

The Quakers feeder system includes Plainfield Pee Wee Association, Plainfield Optimist Baseball League and Plainfield Teenage Baseball League (a Babe Ruth League) as well as a locally-based travel organization — the Plainfield Havoc.

“We’re trying to keep travel ball in the community,” says Abrell. “When they play together their whole life is when you have some of the better teams.”

When Abrell took over the program, he contacted Plainfield graduate Jeremy Kehrt. The right-handed pitcher was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 47th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in independent ball in 2017.

“He stops by a lot,” says Abrell of Kehrt. “He works with our pitchers. When he shows up, their eyes get huge.”

Connor Mitchell, a left-hander who pitched in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 2018, also visits to work on arm maintenance. His younger brother, Jackson Mitchell, was the Plainfield’s shortstop in 2018 and is now at Earlham College.

“It means a lot to have alumni reaching out,” says Abrell.

Current Plainfield outfielder/first baseman Jacob Sims is drawing interest from college programs.

A wedding is planned for Shane Abrell and Shannon Bormann in the fall of 2019. Shannon is a nurse anesthetist at IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette.

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T.C. Clary (left), Shannon Bormann, A.J. Reed and Shane Abrell meet at the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. Clary was a baseball teammate and coached with Abrell at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. Bormann is engaged to Abrell. Reed played at South Vigo and was a Pacific Coast League all-star. Abrell is now head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School.

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Shane Abrell is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School. He is also a computer science teacher at PHS.

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Bass has guided Greenwood Woodmen baseball since 1998 season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like many high school head coaches, Greenwood (Ind.) Community’s Andy Bass absorbed much of his baseball knowledge from his college coach.

Bass was an honorable mention all-conference catcher at Franklin (Ind.) College in 1994. Jim Handley was the Grizzlies head coach.

Handley had pitched at Auburn University and in the Chicago White Sox system in the mid-1970s.

“A lot of coaching stuff I use came from (Handley),” says Bass, who heads into his 22nd season in charge of the Greenwood Woodmen in 2019. “He taught me drills I still use. He was big on fundamentals and using the bunt and hit-and-run to generate offense. We weren’t a big power team (at Franklin).

“Year in and year out, we’re more of a small-ball team (at Greenwood). We have to execute the bunt, hit-and-run and steal.”

Handley’s pitching know-how and Bass working with pitchers helped him understand the importance of locating pitches and changing eye levels and speeds.

Bass, a 1991 graduate of Triton Central High School, where he played for one season for Kent Tresslar, two for Bruce Stone and one for Tim Smith, coached at Waldron (Ind.) High School in Shelby County his first year out of college. His first season as Greenwood head coach was 1998.

The Woodmen went 8-19 in 2018. They were led offensively by seniors T.J. Bass (.375), Brody Tisdale (.326) and Jordan Martin (.284).

Catcher/outfielder T.J. Bass, the coach’s son, is now at Taylor University. Right-handed pitcher/shortstop Tisdale went to Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill.  Catcher Jordan Leverett moved on to Anderson University.

Other recent Greenwood graduates going to college baseball include catcher Damon Maynard (Olney Central College in Illinois and an Illinois State University commit), second baseman Jarrett Caster (Franklin College), right-hander Jacob Cutter (Greenville in College in Illinois) and right-hander Reid Werner (University of Indianapolis).

During the Bass era, the Woodmen have produced outfielders Andrew Dimino (Virginia Commonwealth University) and Alex Krupa (MVP in the 2014 Junior College World Series while at Iowa Western Community College and then a player at Indiana University).

Bass sees it as a part of his duties to help a player if they have college baseball aspirations.

“If that’s what they want to do, we do everything we can to help them out,” says Bass. “We talk to coaches and send emails.”

Many times these days, the connection is made through the player’s summer team. But Bass knows he knows the athlete as a student and as part of a family.

“We have a relationship with the player a little better than the travel coach in some of those areas,” says Bass, who has also coached travel ball with the Indiana Astros.

Among those expected back for 2019 at Greenwood are three junior pitchers — Oliver Rau (2-6, 1 save in a team-high 13 appearances), Cameron Crick (2-1 in 10 appearances) and Ben Sobieray (0-5 in 10 appearances).

Bass has kept as many as 45 and as few as 36 players for three teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen.

“It depends on where the talent falls and where our needs are,” says Bass, whose teams used two on-campus fields. The higher team plays on the varsity diamond when two are in action at the same time.

A year ago, the varsity field was enclosed for the first time. In the off-season, agricultural lime was added to the warning track and the visitor’s bullpen was re-built. In recent seasons, the dugout railing was extended.

Greenwood is in a Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland) and the lone MSC team without a lighted home field.

Conference games are played as home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with Thursday as the rain date.

With this format, Bass says teams are forced develop more pitching depth if they wish to compete.

“You must have two good starting pitchers and at least two good relievers and score runs everyday,” says Bass.

The Woodmen are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Central, Franklin Community, Martinsville and Whiteland.

Greenwood has won eight sectional titles — the last in 1984.

Bass will be assisted in 2019 Mario Buscemi, Ben Sutton and Christian Cruze. Connor Morris works with both the JV and varsity. Sutton leads the freshmen and Cruze is a volunteer with the freshmen.

Greenwood Little League is considered a feeder system for the high school, but many are playing travel ball at a younger age.

“When I was in school, we played summer ball for our high school against other high schools,” says Bass. “Travel ball wasn’t a big thing back then.”

Bass notes that Phil Webster had his Decatur Central team playing in travel ball tournaments in the summer of 2007 then won an IHSAA state title with that group in 2008.

Andy, a math teacher and assistant athletic director, is married to Jenni. The couple has four children — sons T.J. and Sam (a junior second baseman at Greenwood) and daughters (sixth grader Mary and third grader Claire).

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Andy Bass is heading into his 22nd season as head baseball coach at Greenwood (Ind.) High School in 2019.

 

Hartnagel living a legacy, enjoying baseball friendships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A young man with a head for business continues in what has been part of the family biz for generations.

Michael Hartnagel graduated with a marketing degree from Butler University in 2017 and began work on his Masters of Business Administration.

Like his grandfather, Ralph Hartnagel Jr., and father, Ralph Hartnagel III, as well as uncles, aunts and cousins, Michael has continued to pursue athletics.

Also a tennis player while at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School, Michael Hartnagel’s latest athletic endeavors have centered around baseball.

After a season at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., he played three campaigns for Butler University in Indianapolis (2016-18) and has extended that fun since early July to the professional ranks with the Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers of the independent Frontier League.

While working on his MBA, Hartnagel played in 51 games and hit .293 with one home run, 16 doubles, 26 runs batted in and 10 stolen bases for Butler in 2018.

For his three-year Bulldogs career, Hartnagel played in 156 games and hit .314 with three homers, 46 doubles, 70 RBIs and 15 stolen bases with five-hit games in 2016 against St. John’s and 2017 against Furman.

Through his first 22 games with Schaumburg, the righty-swinging shortstop was hitting . 264 with no homers, five doubles and five runs batted in.

“I’m living on that legacy of my grandfather and my dad,” says Michael, 23. “They pass that baseball tradition down in the Hartnagel family.”

The youngest of Ralph III and Chris Hartnagel’s three children (after Brett and Justin), Michael played is last two collegiate baseball seasons for head coach Dave Schrage.

“He changed the culture,” says Hartnagel of Schrage. “He helped me be level-headed and have a better approach on the field.

“The coaching staff at Butler helped tremendously with my game. There were a lot of small improvements I needed to make, both offensively and defensively. “

Hartnagel credits Schrage for helping him on both the mental and physical sides. With his offensive, he was able to gain some gap-to-gap power.

When Michael was at Brownsburg Little League (he played there from T-ball through age 12), his father coached and stressed fundamentals. The same approach was followed by for Butler assistant Brian Meyer in working with his infielders.

“We worked on some hand-eye coordination and footwork drills,” says Hartnagel. “That’s a huge part of defense — your hands, your eyes and your feet. If those three things can sync and coordinate, you can do a lot of great things out there.”

Last spring, Butler fielded at a .school-record 970 clip with 59 errors in 1,974 chances with 114 double plays.

Hartnagel was born in Indianapolis and raised in Brownsburg. He played travel baseball his first two high school summers for a team started and coached by his father — the Brownsburg Crusaders. Three Hartnagel brothers — Ralph, Gary and Jeff — played baseball at Ball State University. Ralph also played tennis at Concord High School and has coached the sport.

Michael Hartnagel was going to play for the Indiana Bulls in his junior summer, but a torn left labrum kept him off the diamond.

At Brownsburg High School, where Michael graduated in 2013, he played for head coach Eric Mattingly and recalls the lessons he taught him.

“He told us to enjoy it and have a lot of fun with our friends,” says Hartnagel. “We were to stay level-headed and consistent — not too many highs and not too many lows.

“He wanted to make us the best player he could — on and off the field.”

Besides playing for the family legacy, Hartnagel has relished the relationships he’s made in the game.

“What I enjoy most about baseball is the friendships I’ve made over the years,” says Hartnagel.

Friends made during Little League and high school are cherished as are those from high school and now pro ball.

“It’s a blessing that my road in baseball has led me to play at this level,” says Hartnagel. “In the Frontier League, a lot of these stadiums are really, really good and so is the competition. (Young fans) look up to you.

“Everyone’s friendly. We’ve been having a really good time.”

Since Schaumburg is about three hours from Brownsburg, Hartnagel has been able to have his family or girlfriend, University of Indianapolis student Maddison Hall, visit or go home on an day off. Justin Hartnagel is a salesman at CDW in nearby Chicago.

Brett Hartnagel is an engineer at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis.

Ralph Hartnagel III is a business teacher at Avon High School and exchanges daily texts or calls of encouragement with Michael.

Chris Hartnagel teaches second grade at Stephen Decatur Elementary in Indianapolis.

Michael Hartnagel says he wants to extend his baseball experience, but does have an eye on the future.

“I would love to ride this out as long as a I can,” says Hartnagel. “Then I’ll find my next passion. I could see myself sales or maybe I’ll get my real estate license.”

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Michael Hartnagel (right) celebrates the scoring of a Schaumburg Boomers run.

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Michael Hartnagel (center) of the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers shares a moment with parents Ralph and Chris Hartnagel. Michael played at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School, DePauw University in Greencastle and Butler University in Indianapolis before professional baseball.

 

Ben Davis alum Bear wants his Giants to respect the game of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

David Bear was on the mound when Ben Davis High School won its state baseball championship and he’s now leading the Giants program as head coach.

Bear, a 1981 Ben Davis graduate, pitched seven innings in a semifinal victory against Richmond and three innings of relief in a championship game triumph against Fort Wayne Northrop to wrap up a stellar prep career with a state crown.

Ralph David Bear Jr. left high school with a career 0.61 earned run average with five no-hitters and two perfect games, including three no-no’s and one perfecto as a senior.

“Coach Cox would let me throw 10 innings every three days no matter what,” says Bear, referring to Giants coach Ken Cox, who would be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1988 and finished his career with 440 victories. Besides the state title, his team earned seven sectionals, four regionals, two semistates and a state runner-up finish (1980). “I loved doing it.”

Bear cherishes his time with Cox.

“He was a man I dearly loved and one of the most respected coaches I know in the state of Indiana,” says Bear.

A couple weeks after regularly taking the ball for Cox’s Giants, the right-hander was on his way to Johnson City, Tenn., to begin his professional baseball career.

Bear was selected in the 27th round of the 1981 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and played five minor league seasons — starting with rookie-level Johnson City (Tenn.) in 1981 and finishing with High Class-A Miami (Fla.) in 1985.

He appeared in 168 games (20 as a starter) and went 25-21 with a 3.68 earned run average, 193 strikeouts and 145 walks in 363 innings.

His manager at Johnson City was Johnny Lewis, who later became the hitting coach in St. Louis.

“He was a very revered man,” says Bear of Lewis, a former outfielder with Cardinals and New York Mets. “I like the way he ran his team.”

Bear was also appreciative of the way Cardinals minor league pitching instructor Bob Milliken explained the craft. Milliken, who had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a bullpen coach and pitching coach in St. Louis.

The 2018 prep season marked Bear’s 12th on the Ben Davis coaching staff and his third as head coach.

Playing in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Central), the Giants went 9-19. MIC teams play each other twice in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with makeup dates on Thursdays and Fridays.

“That is a very tough conference for baseball,” says Bear. “It’s a grinder.

“You better come to play every night. If not, you’ll get your socked knocked off.”

Bear bases his program on concepts like honesty, work, respect and hustle.

“If you’re honest with the kids, you get more out of them,” says Bear, 56. “You also have to believe in them.

“I tell the boys, if you work hard and play the game the right way, good things happen for you. You have to respect it and hustle.”

Reinforcing that message is Bear’s assistant coaches — Kyle Cox and Terrence Davis with the varsity, Kent Spillman with the junior varsity and Robert Jackson with the freshmen. Cox (no relation to Ken Cox) was an IHSBCA North/South All-Star for Ben Davis in 2005.

With nearly 4,400 students, Ben Davis is one of the biggest high schools in Indiana. The graduating class of 2018 alone was over 1,000.

Bear notes that 55 to 60 players come out for baseball and he keeps 14 for the varsity, 14 or 15 for the JV and 15 to 17 for the freshmen. The latter squad tends to be bigger to “give kids a chance to develop.”

At the varsity level, Bear talks to his players about always being ready even if they’re not in the starting lineup.

“You never know when you’re going to get that call,” says Bear. “When you get it, make the best of it.”

Four seniors from 2018 have made commitments to play college baseball. Catcher Zyon Avery is headed to Ohio University. He participated in the IHSBCA North/South Series July 20-22 in South Bend. He is the first Giants all-star since Deaun Williams in 2006.

Going to Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne are shortstop/pitcher Tyler Duncan, outfielder/pitcher Garison Poteet and pitcher/second baseman Ian Schilling.

Former Ben Davis players going into their sophomore years as collegians are Logan Butrum at Wabash College and Isaiah Davis at Vincennes University.

Besides Ben Davis, Bear also coaches summer travel ball. This year, he is with the Evoshield Canes Midwest 15U team (The Indiana Outlaws merged with the Canes a few years ago). The current 15U squad has played in tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield and also in Ohio, North Carolina and, last week, the World Wood Bat Association 2012 Grads or 15U National Championship at Perfect Game Park at LakePoint in Cartersville, Ga.

Bear notes that Perfect Game USA has imposed a pitch count rule with a limit of 95 in a day. Since 2017, the IHSAA has also had a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“I like the way they do it now,” says Bear. “Kids do a lot of throwing these days.”

Away from baseball, Bear fills up game rooms around Indianapolis in his job with Jay Orner and Sons Billiard Co.

David is the son of the late Ralph David Bear Sr. and Beverly Kay Bear and has three younger siblings — Richard, Rock and Stacey.

Bear’s girlfriend is Gretchen Atkins. He has a son (Coy), daughter (Cassie) and grandson (Bane, 3). Gretchen’s daughter is Stephanie Atkins. The Bear house also has a dog named Bear. The petite pooch is a Yorkshire/Australian Terrier mix.

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David Bear, a 1981 Ben Davis High School graduate, is now the head baseball coach of the Indianapolis-based Giants. (Ben Davis Photo)

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Former Ben Davis High School baseball player C.J. Vaughn (left) meets with Giants head baseball coach David Bear. A 1981 BDHS graduate, Bear came back to his alma mater as an assistant coach and has led the program the past three seasons.

 

With a little help from dad, Sampen pitching in Dodgers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Caleb Sampen, a right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, is a second-generation professional baseball pitcher.

His father — Bill Sampen — toed the rubber for pay for 10 seasons and appeared in 182 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels.

Selected in the 20th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate Caleb Sampen had been in three pro games though July 10 — all with the Short Season Class-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors.

Caleb has picked up pointers from his father. But it hasn’t been too much.

When Caleb was getting started in the game, Bill was coaching his two older sons. Isaac and Sam played for the West Side Crusaders.

“I was just around,” says Caleb Sampen. “(My father) didn’t force any mechanics on me. He let me be an athlete.

“It wasn’t like I had a pitching lesson with him everyday.”

The elder Sampen decided when his older boys were reaching their teens that he would stop serving as a coach for their teams and he never coached any of Caleb’s squads.

“It was best for them to learn to play for other people,” says Bill Sampen, “I thought that was part of the process. I think that’s the best route for kids.

“I got to step back and just be a dad and enjoy watching them play.

“I just played coach when they asked me questions.”

In November, Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities will reach the ninth year in Brownsburg (5,200 square feet) and mark one year in Plainfield (7,500 square feet).

The Indiana Expos travel organization are in their second season and have seven teams in 2018. None of them have fathers coaching their own sons.

Bill Sampen says that policy for Expos coaches achieves a couple things.

“It allows us to be completely honest and give honest and objective feedback,” says Bill Sampen. “And they just get to watch their kid play.

“I know I enjoy the value of just sitting back and being a dad. The truth is they’re not going to play very long. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stress so much.”

Bill Sampen coaches the 16U National team, David Brewers the 16U American, Derek Hankins the 15U National, Nick Spence the 15U American, Isaac Sampen the 14U National, Leo Tobasco the 14U American, Tony Meyer the 13U National.

Calling the teams the Expos was not Bill’s call.

“My family decision informed that was what the name was,” says Bill Sampen. “You can see I have no clout.”

Bill coached the Bethesda Christian School baseball team for about a decade before starting his training business.

“It’s a very pure level of coaching I have now,” says Bill Sampen, “I appreciate that.”

During the school year, he has students from 4 p.m. on. But he is involved seven days a week most of the year as either an instructor or travel ball coach.

His 16U team has been in Georgia, competing against some of the best from all over the continent.

“Our upper age groups do more extensive travel,” says Bill Sampen. “We’re helping them get exposure. They get to see kids committed (to colleges) all over the place.

“It’s good for our players to see the skill level and talent that’s out there. We want to play people that the only way we can beat them is if we out-execute them.

“Do things right day in and day out. If you have a plan and do the routine things, you’re going to be in baseball games, no matter who you’re playing.”

Knowing that some players will not go on to college, they are getting to have experiences they may not have without travel baseball.

“We want to hope them grow and develop — not just as baseball players but as people,” says Bill Sampen. “It’s the life skills that carry past baseball.

“If you’re trying to win trophies, I think you’ve got the wrong purpose.”

Caleb Sampen grew up in Brownsburg and played at Brownsburg Little League until seventh grade when he started his travel ball experiences. He donned the uniforms of the Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Bulls and Indiana Blue Jays.

At Brownburg High, where Caleb graduated in 2015, his head coach was Eric Mattingly.

“He always talked about doing the little things right and an attention to detail,” says Caleb Sampen, who played shortstop when not pitching for the Bulldogs. “You take care of every little piece so you’re well-prepared.”

At Wright State, Sampen had Greg Lovelady as his head coach and Justin Parker his pitching coach his freshman year before both went to the University of Central Florida.

“(Parker) always talks about lower half and using your legs,” says Caleb Sampen.

The next two years, Jeff Mercer was head coach and Alex Sogard led the pitching staff.

(Sogard) didn’t try to change me a whole lot on the mound,” says Caleb Sampen. “He was pretty individualized, which I liked a lot.”

Recently, Mercer became head coach at Indiana University and Sogard was promoted to head coach at Wright State.

Sampen also got the chance this past year to learned from Diamyn Hall, NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach.

“We worked on routines and being ready to go,” says Sampen of Hall. “He gets you in that mindset and having self awareness.”

In Caleb Sampen, Bill sees a cerebral kid.

“He’s got an idea,” says Bill Sampen. “I can’t take any credit for any successes he’s had.”

The father does see some similarities to himself.

Bill Sampen developed his abilities while playing baseball and basketball at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.

“I see the way he moves and his athleticism,” says Bill Sampen of Caleb. “He has a long, loose arm and does things naturally.”

In two seasons at Wright State (2016 and 2018), Caleb went 14-4 in 26 games (21 as a starter) with a 2.92 earned run average, 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He missed the 2017 season after having surgery on the ulnar nerve in his elbow.

On a pitch count because of the college workload in the spring of 2018, Caleb Sampen, 21, began his pro career with two relief appearances and a short starting stint. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.

Jeremy Rodriguez is the Ogden manager. Dean Stiles is the pitching coach.

The next stops on the Dodgers minor league trail are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Caleb says he goes to the bump each time with an aggressiveness mindset.

“You’ve got to go out and attack with your strengths,” says Caleb Sampen, who uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, 12-to-6 curveball and cutter.

What about the change-up?

“It’s own own little mix I’ve perfected over the years,” says Caleb Sampen. “I use an off-set two-seam grip and throw it with my ring finger and middle finger. I keep my index finger off the ball as much as possible.”

Amy Sampen, a former Brownsburg teacher, is now an virtual educator and is the “boss” as co-owner of the Hack Shack, according to Bill.

Isaac Sampen (24) and Sam Sampen (23) both played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Sam graduated highs school a semester early and joined his older brother.

Isaac Sampen went on to play at Eastern Illinois University and Sam Sampen at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Besides coaching and helping with the coordination of the Expos, Isaac now helps in many ways at the Shack. Sam has an outside job and also helps out at the training facilities.

In his time around the game, Bill Sampen has seen an increase in research and scientific data related to throwing a baseball.

“It’s validated some things that should have been done all along,” says Bill Sampen. “It can be very valuable in preventing injury.

“It seems that injuries are still there in spite of new data and new science.”

The likely reason?

“It’s the intensity of weight training,” says Bill Sampen. “Velocity is based on arm speed and not body strength.

“There are big, physical guys that can’t throw hard.”

And yet 5-foot-11, 180-pounder Billy Wagner regularly hit 100 mph and won 47 games and saved 422 in the bigs.

CALEBSAMPENOGDEN

Caleb Sampen, a 2015 Brownsburg High School graduate and former Wright State University pitcher, makes a delivery for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

 

State’s baseball talent exposure has multiplied; Just ask Hibler of Bullpen Tournaments, PBR Indiana

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time when college baseball recruiters and pro scouts did not hold the Hoosier State in high regard.

“Indiana has always been talented as a state,” says Blake Hibler. “But from an exposure standout, it was always overlooked.

“Indiana was some place you drove through. People are now stopping. They realize what kind of talent there is.”

Hibler, founder of Prep Baseball Report Indiana who is now kept busy as program director/event manager for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., has watched the state raise its profile with the help of travel baseball and strong college programs.

“(Big leaguers like) Adam Lind, Scott Rolen and Lance Lynn kind of paved the way for Indiana baseball to become big,” says Hibler. “The explosion came when Purdue was a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA tournament (in 2012) and (Indiana University) went to Omaha (for the College World Series in 2013).”

At the lower levels, the University of Southern Indiana went NCAA Division II World Series in 2007 and won it all in 2010 and 2014. The University of Indianapolis went to the D-II World Series in 2000 and 2012. Manchester appeared in the D-III World Series in 2004 and 2013.

“This allowed Indiana to become more exposed,” says Hibler. “When we started PBR, college coaches contacted us asking ‘where is that sleeper?’ We don’t have sleepers anymore.

“Colleges are very aware of every player in our state.”

In his role at Grand Park, Hibler oversees 16 straight weekends of travel baseball events in the spring and summer and another six in the fall.

There’s something baseball-related going on — games, tournaments, showcases — at the facility with 26 diamonds from the end of January through October.

There are 12 full-size fields — four with full synthetic turf fields and eight with synthetic infields and grass outfields. Hibler considers eight of those high school or college fields.

Bullpen Tournaments, which counts 90 percent of its business as baseball with some softball, leases the facility from Grand Park. The land is owned by the City of Westfield.

As the sole operator, Bullpen’s 100 employees take care of everything from restrooms to common area mowing to field maintenance to practice scheduling and more.

From the beginning of June to the end of July, there are 230 to 280 teams at Grand Park every weekend. Of those, 115 are high school-age squads.

There are often more than one tournament going on — maybe U9 through U12 games on one side of the complex and high schoolers on the other.

In June and July, Bullpen hosts American Baseball Championships for Youth Baseball, U13, U14, U15, U16, U17 and U18.

An elite event is the PBR Future Games. The eighth annual tournament is slated for Aug. 1-4 with 24 teams and players from more than 40 states.

In 2017, all five collegiate power conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) were represented with more than 80 percent of schools in those leagues in attendance.

“This year won’t be any different,” says Hibler of the 16U event. “It’s the best uncommitted sophomores in the country.

“It’s kind of a culmination of their season and kickoff to their junior year. The recruiting calendar falls in perfect. Sept. 1 is when college coaches can begin calling and have direct  conversations with these recruits.”

The first Future Games was held in 2011 with four teams.

Nolan Watson was MVP in 2015, the year he was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Lawrence North High School.

Technology helps keep track of all Bullpen tournaments.

There is a phone app for that. It can be uploaded from the Google Play Store.

Hibler is the “tech guy” for both Bullpen Tournaments and PBR-Indiana and does a podcast with PBR owner/director Phil Wade. Many of those focus on events at Grand Park or the top high school players and teams in the state.

With all its facilities, there is a large economic impact that comes with the complex.

“The most common question we get is: How do you pay for Grand Park?,” says Hibler. “Ultimately, the mayor (Andy Cook) took a risk. He decided to make youth sports his industry.”

The City of Westfield owns the land and owns and operates the Grand Park Events Center, which will house the Indianapolis Colts Training Camp this year, and the soccer facility.

Hotels and restaurants are on the way. There are also private facilities springing up like Pro X Athlete Development and Pacers Athletic Center.

A graduate of Lawrence Central High School who played for the Indiana Mustangs and Danville Area Community College, Hibler has worked for RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield and Pastime Tournaments as well as an associate MLB scout.

Hibler joined the PBR family in November 2010. At the time, he was in his second stint as the pitching coach for Lawrence Central, where he saw two pitchers get drafted in 2011 — Christian Montgomery (11th round, Mets) and Jared Ruxer (29th round, Indians). He was originally the pitching coach from 2004-2005 before returning for 2007-2011.

He has seen how competitive recruiting is, but it is usually not cut throat.

“Baseball is little more loyal with the verbal commitment than other sports,” says Hibler. “College coaches are buddies. They don’t necessarily go after other kids as aggressively as basketball and football.

“I would be naive to say it doesn’t happen (in baseball).”

A premium is placed on players who play in the middle of the diamond.

“Pitching is the easiest thing to project,” says Hibler. “If you’re 92 (mph) now, you’re going be 92 or better we you reach college. There’s a lot more to dream on with your catchers, shortstops and centerfielders.

“Typically, you’re looking for in that younger age group is athleticism and physicality. You get the combination of athleticism and physicality, those are the kids who typically commit early.”

Hibler notes that outside of the state’s top 10 or so players, most commit in their junior or even senior years.

How is success gauged in the travel baseball world?

“For 14-and-under, success is still defined by wins and losses,” says Hibler. “15-and-up is defined by scholarships and exposure.

“Lost in all of this is competitiveness. In the Future Games, Indiana always plays Illinois on Friday night. That’s still the most-attended game because there’s a rivalry there.”

Hibler says players appreciate playing against equal competition. With so many travel teams out there, mismatches happen.

“The better players relax or shut down during games,” says Hibler. “They don’t play hard during the summer sometimes unless they are in front of college coaches or playing a really good team.”

The ABC tournaments were designed with two tiers — the first to determine which division teams belong in and the second to crown Gold, Silver and Bronze division champions.

“That way it creates competitive baseball,” says Hibler.

Hibler notes that when the Indiana Bulls were started in the early 1990s to give the state’s best the chance to play top competition and receive exposure, they were the only organization out there. There are now many options and the talent is more evenly divided.

There are those who think that team chemistry is easier to build with a high school program than travel baseball, where players are coming from many different directions.

“Travel baseball is figuring that out and trying to combat it,” says Hibler. “They’re starting to put the development piece back into it a little bit.”

There is a misconception on the part of some players (and their parents) about travel ball and high school ball. They are putting more emphasis on travel.

“Some of these kids believe that travel baseball is more important to their future than high school is,” says Hibler. “A lot of college coaches still call the high school coach first after that initial talk with the travel coach.

“High school simulates a little bit of what college life could be — academics, girls, scouting reports, being a student and an athlete.

“A high school coach has to deal with the player and his girl friend got in a fight during seventh period and this kid has to be on the field in 15 minutes to play a game. The summer ball coach doesn’t have to deal with that as much.”

Then there are the trouble makers and malcontents.

“If you’re a bad kid and live in a community, everyone in that community knows you’re a bad kid,” says Hibler. “You can hide that in travel ball and travel sports in general.”

Hibler has seen players go out of there way to make high school coaches mad for no reason.

“They think it works like travel baseball,” says Hibler. “They can do whatever they want and pack up and leave. Some administrations allow that. But there’s a lot of good programs that don’t.”

Outside of loyalty, there is nothing binding that keeps a player with a travel organization. For various reasons, many players have jumped from team to team. Some players have skipped high school and played only travel baseball.

“Kids get handled with such care during the summer because the penalty is you lose them,” says Hibler. “Coaches don’t know if you handle them like they’re supposed to be handled — with discipline and holding them accountable.

“Some (coaches) take that approach. For others, it’s the Wild, Wild West. Do what you want.”

Hibler says players need both travel and high school and they need to respect the differences.

Travel players show up, play and leave. They pitch from pristine mounds. Maintenance at million-dollar fields is handled by someone else.

High schoolers must take on more responsibility. At many schools, they have to pick up trash in the dugout, sweep and rake to make the fields ready for play.

A few years ago, the coach of a team of 8-year-olds asked to change fields because one was too bumpy.

Hibler’s response: “You don’t live in the real world. We practiced in parking lots.”

BULLPENTOURNAMENTS

Bullpen Tournaments runs baseball and softball events out of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

 

Mattingly’s Southridge Raiders ‘grind’ way into 2A semistate

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grit.

That’s what the Southridge High School baseball team brings to the diamond under first-year Raiders head coach Gene Mattingly.

“Our kids grind. We’re not flashy,” says Mattingly. “I don’t have a lot of college recruiters or pro scouts attending our games.

“We just have a bunch of guys who play really, really hard and hate to lose.”

Besides that, it’s all about the team.

Mattingly also describes his players as “unselfish.”

“They don’t play for themselves,” says Mattingly. “That’s a testament to their character, their parents and the type of community they’re growing up in.”

That approach has Southridge (24-6) in the IHSAA Class 2A Jasper Semistate against Indianapolis Scecina on Saturday, June 9. A win there sends the Raiders to the 2A state championship game at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

“Our goal is to never take a pitch off, whether that’s offense or defense,” says Mattingly, a part-time assistant in the program for about a dozen years before taking over the reigns from Dave Schank in 2018. “Our mantra is to win every pitch. We grind out at-bats. We grind on the mound when we don’t have our best stuff.

“We don’t let up.”

Southridge, located in the Dubois County city of Huntingburg, Ind., is 5-4 in one-run games.

The Raiders went 7-1 to win the outright Pocket Athletic Conference title. The lone loss in the nine-member circuit was a 2-1 decision against Gibson Southern. Other PAC members are Forest Park, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City.

Southridge’s top pitchers are juniors Logan Seger and Kade Allen and freshmen Camden Gasser and Ethan Bell.

When not pitching, Seger is usually the designated hitter. Allen plays some first base. Gasser is the third baseman.

Leading hitters include outfielder Tucker Schank, catcher Chase Taylor, shortstop Colson Montgomery and Gasser.

Of the 11 players who started at some point during the Southridge Sectional or Austin Regional, eight are three-sport athletes and one other is a two-sporter.

“We encourage multi-sport athletes,” says Mattingly. “We get in the weight room and get bigger, stronger faster.

“We can play good baseball, but we’re not necessarily baseball players. We buy into a system. We work on becoming really good athletes in the summer time. We don’t have a lot of flash, but we like to compete.”

Mattingly’s assistant coaches are Brian Craig (head assistant), Mark Peters, Joe Keusch (pitching coach), Andy McKeough and Casey Lindeman at the varsity level with Jace Merkel and Jason Barnett working with the junior varsity. Mattingly and McKeough were teammates at the University of Mobile (Ala.). Lindeman also coordinates the middle school baseball program.

Through cooperation between the city, parks department and Southwest Dubois County School Corporation, the Raiders play and practice at League Stadium — famous for its scenes in the movie “A League of Their Own.”

“It’s just a neat, neat place,” says Mattingly. “And it’s a fair field. It plays deep and long. It’s a nice doubles park.

“Our kids enjoy it.”

Southridge is plenty familiar with Jasper’s Ruxer Field, too. The Jasper Wildcats are annual opponents so the Raiders go there every other regular season it’s only about nine miles to the north.

Mattingly is a 1988 graduate of Vancleave (Miss.) High School.

His baseball coach at Mobile was Mike Jacobs, the man who built the Rams program from scratch.

Jacobs’ discipline, attention to detail and grinder approach rubbed off on Mattingly and he used it while coaching Little League and travel teams in Mississippi and in the Huntingburg area. He coached the Dubois County Crush and later the Dirtbags.

Payton Mattingly, Gene’s son, also played for the Indiana Bulls and Ironmen Baseball Club. The 21-year-old just finished at Olney (Ill.) Central College and will be a junior at Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky.

Gene and Traci Mattingly (a 1989 Southridge graduate and a health teacher at the school) also have a daughter — Southridge freshman-to-be Ella Mattingly (14). Older daughter Lexi Mattingly passed away April 20, 2017.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

GENEMATTINGLYJAYCEHARTER

Southridge High School head baseball coach Gene Mattingly (left) talks with Jayce Harter. The Raiders are in the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Jasper Semistate.

SOUTHRIDGEBASEBALL18

Southridge High School celebrates a sectional championship in the Raiders’ first season under head coach Gene Mattingly. Southridge also won a regional crown and advanced to the IHSAA Class 2A Jasper Semistate on Saturday, June 9.