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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Providing instruction and tools for players to get better and helping them get to the next level.

Chris Estep has been doing that for more than two decades. He founded RoundTripper Sports Academy in 1993 in Hamilton County, Ind. In 2001, RoundTripper and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization has been housed in a 40,000-square feet facility in Westfield.

Estep, an Indianapolis native, was an All-American at the University of Kentucky and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He began has career as an instructor and coach after retiring from minor league baseball in 1992.

When he’s not traveling with a team, Estep is at RoundTripper giving up to 12 lessons a day or conducting classes with players with ties to many different organizations.

“When I’m here, it’s contact teaching,” says Estep. “On the road, it’s constantly marketing the players and working to try to get them signed.”

Estep is proud to see long list of RoundTripper and Indiana Mustangs alumni going on to higher levels of baseball and giving back to the game as coaches, scouts, instructors and tournament directors.

Among those are current or former big leaguers Micah Johnson, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Drew Storen, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn and Cory Wade.

Former Mustang and RoundTripper employee Blake Hibler is now program director/event manager for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield.

“This is a place they grew up and it’s pretty awesome,” says Estep. “You’ve got guys out their teaching and coaching the game the right way.”

The Mustangs field 17 baseball and four softball travel teams in 2018.

Much of Estep’s focus right now revolves around the 17U baseball team. Former pro player and current scout Mike Farrell manages the team, Chase Estep is an assistant coach and Chris Estep does his part to help athletes through the college recruiting process.

“Our biggest thing is making sure we’re getting all the kids signed,” says the elder Estep. “We’ve had up to 20 colleges in every game we played in. They’re evaluating these guys.

“The process moves very quickly when they identify the kid they want. We have kids who are not committed that have interest from 15 to 20 schools. They still have choices.”

Estep, 51, notes that verbal commitments can be made at any time, but players can’t sign a letter of intent until they begin their senior year.

He sees the current trend of early commits and shakes his head.

“Slow down a little bit,” says Estep. “Nobody knows what this kid is going to be in eighth grade or their freshman year. Nobody has any idea.

“You may think he has this trajectory. But he may be what he is in that freshman year. Conversely, you may have a pipsqueak that grows to become this unbelievable dude.”

Estep says it’s too early to knowing what a player at 12, 13 or 14 will be at 16, 17 or 18.

“If anybody can tell you what they’re going to be, they’re lying to you,” says Estep. “You don’t know that until he turns 16.

“You may have a fully-developed kid at 13 and 14. All he’s going to do is get hairier. He’s a big, strong kid. But all he’s got is what he’s got.

“Now it’s going to be up to his work ethic.”

That player may not be getting any bigger, so they need to continue developing their skills, learning how to hit for power and to all fields, getting in the weight room to increase their strength and doing what they can to enhance their speed by a tick or two.

“If the skill sets are good, it all comes down to work ethic,” says Estep. “Every kid that comes (to RoundTripper) for a reason. They want to play at the next level — whatever that level may be. The thing they’ll get from us is how hard they need to work.

“You don’t have to take 25,000 lessons. You take a lesson and you have your marching orders of what I need to work on that week.”

Players are asked to answers a series of questions.

How many swings are you going to take?

How many throws are you going to make?

How balls are you going to block?

How many ground balls are you going to take?

How many fly balls?

Are you going to work on your angles?

“The game is just not hitting or defense, it’s all of those things,” says Estep, who has built a reputation in the baseball world and relationships with college coaches and pro scouts.

“When you’ve been in the business for 25 years, they start to trust that you might know what you’re doing,” says Estep. “So they listen to what you might have to say and what your evaluation is.

“As long as your honest about what the kid can do and how he projects, they’ll watch them play and say ‘you’re dead on.’

“You cannot be used car salesman.”

Shooting straight with players and parents also helps the process.

“When you get to this level, parents have to pretty good idea of what their kids are,” says Estep.

Estep says it all comes down to the 16U and 17U summers.

“That’s where (college recruiters) are putting their real (player) boards together,” says Estep. “They call the 16U year ‘The Arms Race.’ Everybody’s looking at arms. They’re seeing position players. They all want to gobble up catchers, shortstops and center fielders.

“They’re the ones making the big bucks so they should know what they’re doing.”

Many times, college coaching jobs are dependent upon winning and claiming championships.

But priorities can change prior to a player signing on the dotted line.

“(Players) can get a commitment, but come November they can get a phone call (from the college) saying, ‘listen, we went in another direction,’” says Estep. “Now the kids out there flopping in the wind.”

Estep and his staff also emphasize the importance of good grades.

“They must understand what the ACT and SAT can provide for you,” says Estep. “The academic money is a big deal.”

Only 11.7 baseball scholarships are offered yearly at the NCAA Division I level. It’s 9 at NCAA D-II, 0 at NCAA D-III and 12 for the NAIA. For the National Junior College Athletic Association, it’s 24 for Division I and II and 0 for D-III.

In the past week, Estep talked with one school and learned that an 1150 SAT will bring a player $20,000. The Mustangs have a half dozen players who have the baseball skills and SAT scores high enough to get interest from Ivy League schools.

Learning to stay cool when the heat is on is another important lesson taught by Estep.

“Baseball is a massive game of failure,” says Estep. “You have to control your emotions. We tell kids, ‘anger is not your friend.’”

In other words: The sport can’t be played in a blind rage.

“We see them turning corners and getting a little better every year,” says Estep. “It’s fun to watch.

“Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong in playing with fire. There’s a very thin line between playing with fire and playing with anger. Anger sets you up for failure. Playing with fire allows you to succeed.”

Estep has watched Indiana baseball enjoy growth in recent years. He submits the 2018 IHSAA State Finals as one piece of evidence of the high level.  Fishers edged Indianapolis Cathedral 4-3 in Class 4A. Andrean bested Silver Creek 6-1 in 3A. Boone Grove shaded Southridge 5-4 in 2A. Daleville defeated University 4-2 in nine innings in 1A.

“It was phenomenal,” says Estep, who completed his 10th season as University head coach in 2018. Guys played great. Everyone is extremely well-prepared.

“I was so impressed with how the Indianapolis Indians and IHSAA ran things (at Victory Field).”

Then there’s the explosion of travel baseball and player development.

“At facilities like ours, you’re seeing them preparing themselves and honing skill sets,” says Estep. “They’re trying to reach their fullest potential.”

The game has also grown with the help of talent identifiers like Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report.

“(PBR Indiana owner/director) Phil Wade is doing a phenomenal job,” says Estep.

The 17th annual RoundTripper Showcase is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 26. Coaches from 50 or more college programs are expected to attend.

INDIANAMUSTANGS

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RoundTripper Sports Academy and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization were both founded by Chris Estep in Hamilton County, Ind.

 

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Boone Grove’s Antone takes lessons from Andrean’s Pishkur, adds his own twist

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone has learned plenty of baseball from Dave Pishkur.

The first-year head coach and the veteran will both have their teams in the IHSAA State Finals Saturday, June 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Antone takes his Boone Grove Wolves into the Class 2A title game against Southridge. It will be the day’s second contest (Game 1 pits Daleville against University for the 1A crown at 11 a.m.).

Pishkur, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 900 career wins and five state championships to his credit, leads his 2018 Andrean 59ers into the the 3A final against Silver Creek in the nightcap.

The two have already chatted on the phone.

“It’ll be nice for us to communicate during the week,” says Pishkur.

“I talked to him (Sunday) night and asked him what to expect,” says Antone. “I’m sure we’ll talk more as the week goes on.

“One thing I’ve learned from (Pishkur) is to be a life-long learner. I also like doing my own research.”

A 2009 Chesterton High School graduate, Antone played his first two high school seasons for Pishkur at Andrean and his last two for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell at Chesterton.

Antone was an assistant coach for Campbell’s Trojans in 2015 and Pishkur’s 59ers in 2016 and 2017. He was also a teacher at Andrean those two years.

Pishkur has his program in the state championship game for the seventh time by improving at the most-important time of the season.

“They weren’t a very good team at the two-thirds mark,” says Pishkur, whose club won the Kankakee Valley Sectional, Griffith Regional and Kokomo Semistate. “They bought into what I asked them to do. They’ve gotten better.

“We’ll see what we do on the big stage.”

Boone Grove will be making its first state championship game appearance.

But finishing the year at Victory Field comes does not come as a shock to Antone and his team.

“That was a our goal from Day 1 when we set our team goals last fall,” says Antone. “We’ve done everything we possibly could to get there. We’re not totally surprised by it.”

A team-first mentality and modern training techniques have helped BG have a strong regular season then take Hebron Sectional, Whiting Regional and Plymouth Semistate titles.

“Our guys have bought into the concept of ‘the team, the team, the team,’” says Antone. “They work at being good teammates.”

The Wolves put in off-season work in the weight room and at Saint Anthony Sports Medicine Institute in Crown Point, where trainer Kevin Devine took them through agility, endurance, flexibility, speed and strength workouts.

Antone also introduced the HitTrax Baseball hitting simulator at Boone Grove. He says they are the second high school in Indiana to get one (Andrean is the other).

The technology allows for measurement of exit velocity, launch angle and studying the swing.

The Wolves also started doing Driveline Baseball throwing and hitting programs. The throwing program is individualized for ages and positions and there are an in-season and off-season routines.

The hitting program involves a series of different-sized bats for overload/underload training.

“(These tools) allow us to measure everything and that’s huge,” says Antone. “If it’s important, we measure it. We want to see what progress is being made.

“We’ve been working hard and competing.”

Antone models his program on some of the things Pishkur does at Andrean, including practice plans, and also adds his own twist.

The Wolves and 59ers both employ the number system for signs.

Pishkur has been using it at least as far back as a his first state championship team in 2005. The coach has a list of numbered plays and players wear a wristband with the same information.

“It might say HR for hit-and-run or S1 for a sacrifice down the first base line,” says Pishkur, who picked up the sign system at a clinic from the Texas A&M staff. “There must be 30 things we can do. We are able to expand our offense.

“I couldn’t remember all the signs the other way.”

Some of the numbers mean nothing. Some of the plays may lie dormant until just the right moment.

“If we need them, they’re there for us,” says Pishkur.

Antone favors the system because it makes thing simpler for himself and his players and is more efficient.

“Besides, I like doing things a little differently than everybody else,” says Antone.

Certified as a physical education and health teacher, Antone was hired to coach at Boone Grove with no openings in that area. Instead, he taught in the alternative school in 2017-18.

“It was a challenge,” says Antone. “But I grew a lot as an educator and as a person, too.”

Another link between Andrean and Boone Grove is a family one.

Joe Plesac Sr., brother of former big league pitcher Dan Plesac, is Pishkur’s pitching coach at Andrean and his brother-in-law.

Joey Plesac Jr., Joe’s son and Dave’s nephew, is Antone’s pitching coach at BG.

Joey Plesac played at Andrean and then DePauw University.

“I’m really glad to have him on staff,” says Antone of Plesac. “He’s done a good job calling the games for us this year.”

Andrean beat Jay County for the Kokomo Semistate crown by frequently using a familiar postseason strategy — the bunt.

“I couldn’t manage in the major leagues because they don’t allow that,” says Pishkur. “But in high school, it’s a pretty good weapon. And at the college level, it’s a pretty good weapon.

“It’s a weapon for us and we have to take advantage of it.”

Gordie Gillespie, who won more than 2,400 games in four sports including baseball, was a big proponent of the bunt.

“He said, in the tournament, the team that executes the bunt and defends the bunt is going to win,” Pishkur says of Gillespie, who died in 2015 in Joliet, Ill. “We’ve taken that to heart and we’ve done a really good job in the tournament with that.”

IHSAA STATE FINALS

At Victory Field, Indianapolis

Friday, June 15

Class 4A: Fishers (28-7) vs. Indianapolis Cathedral (23-8-1), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 16

Class 1A: Daleville (21-9) vs. University (28-6), 11 a.m.

Class 2A: Boone Grove (21-5) vs. Southridge (25-6), 2 p.m.

Class 3A: Andrean (30-6) vs. Silver Creek (26-3), 5 p.m.

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In his first year as a head coach, Pat Antone has Boone Grove High School in the IHSAA Class 2A State Finals. The 2009 Chesterton graduate was on the Andrean staff in 2016 and 2017. The 59ers will be going for a 3A state crown Saturday, June 9 in Indianapolis.