Photo: Perfect Game
Tournaments : : Story
Bullish on the Hoosier State
Friday, December 09, 2011
Before 24-year-old Indianapolis native Drew Storen was a two-time first team All-Pac-10 closer at Stanford; before he was made a first round draft pick by the Washington Nationals; and well before he blossomed into an all-star caliber closer for the Nationals this past season, he was an Indiana Bull.
Storen, a right-hander, pitched for the Indiana Bulls at the 2006 Perfect Game WWBA 17u National Championship, just three years before he was made the 10th overall pick by the Nationals in the 2009 amateur draft. The time he spent pitching for the Carmel, Ind.,-based Bulls made a lasting impression.
“When you play for the Indiana Bulls, college coaches and scouts already respect you more because of their history and success,” Storen told Indiana Prep Baseball Report in an undated testimonial that appears on the Indiana Bulls’ official website. “I give a lot of credit to the Bulls for helping me get the opportunity to play at Stanford, as (Stanford coaches) saw me play with the Bulls three or four times.”
Now officially known as the Lids Indiana Bulls – Lids is an online retailer of baseball hats, apparel and equipment that acts as the Bulls’ official sponsor – the tradition-rich organization will begin its 20th year of operation in 2012.
Hundreds of Bulls alumni have gone on to play collegiately at some level and more than 80 former Bulls are expected to be on college rosters in the spring. The Bulls’ official website (indianabullsbaseball.org) lists 28 former players who were playing professionally at the end of the 2011 season, including 11 who were on big-league rosters.
Recent Indiana Bulls and Perfect Game alumni who were first round selections in the MLB First-Year Player Draft include Tommy Hunter (2007, Rangers), Lance Lynn (2008, Cardinals), Storen (2009, Nationals), Justin O’Conner (2010, Rays) and Alex Meyer (2011, Nationals). Hunter (Orioles), Lynn (Cardinals) and Storen (Nationals) are already in the major leagues.
Dan Held started in his position as the Indiana Bulls’ executive director in the fall of 2006. Dave Taylor and Bob Lowrie got the Indiana Bulls organization started in 1992, and Evansville, Ind., native, 1997 NL Rookie of the Year and seven-time MLB All-Star Scott Rolen was a member of its first team.
Rolen and Held were roommates on two different levels in the Philadelphia Phillies organization during Held’s nine-year minor league career, and the two remain close.
“We’ve had a great number of guys go to professional baseball and a good percentage of them go to college,” Held said of the Bulls organization. “We take great pride in that, and we try to stay in contact with the guys throughout the years.”
The Lids Indiana Bulls hold a player-parent meeting every winter when all the players in the organization and their parents gather with the people running the program. With at least 15 teams in the 8 to 18 age divisions, the number of participants has grown to over 200.
“What we like to do is bring a past player in to talk to our kids,” Held said. “This year we’re trying to get some of our major league guys to come and speak to the kids, and we’re trying to bring our entire first-year team back so these kids can see that 20 years ago these guys were in their shoes. They might not be baseball players – they might be doctors or lawyers or what-not, but they’re successful people.”
What really sets the Bulls program apart is its commitment to Indiana. The organization includes only in-state players on its team rosters, with the exception of the team it takes to the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship. Maintaining that loyalty and going whole-hog Hoosier presents some challenges.
“Not being able to go outside of Indiana (to recruit players) is a bit of a challenge because we’re competing against teams that are drawing from different states and have a wider region to draw from,” Held said. “The fact that we’ve been so competitive for so many years says a lot about the Bulls, the coaches and what-not.”
It is the Bulls’ tradition-rich history that attracts the top Indiana – and in many cases, national – prospects to the organization. It’s not a difficult sell.
“We talk about the quality of our coaching staff and the fact that we’re going to get them into the best tournaments and the best platforms to showcase their talent so they can succeed and get a college scholarship, hopefully, or a professional contract,” Held said.
“We just try to get the best kids – our bylaws are set where we cannot get anybody outside of Indiana at this point. We try to sell that too, and say, ‘Hey, we’re promoting Indiana kids.’ We’re not trying to go out and get a Florida kid to come up here to Indiana to play.”
Held said the whole premise on which the Bulls program was built was based on the belief Indiana players weren’t getting scouted enough. “When it started, Dave felt like he needed to get them on the national scene a lot more,” Held said. “That was the whole reason the Bulls were brought about.”
The Lids Indiana Bulls sent six teams to five Perfect Game WWBA tournaments this summer and fall, including two to the WWBA 2012 Grads or 17u National Championship. Their youngest entry enjoyed the most success, winning its first six games before losing in the second round of the playoffs at the WWBA 2014 Grads or 15u National Championship.
The two teams at the WWBA 17u Nationals finished a combined 4-5-1, the entry at the WWBA 2013 Grads or 16u National Championship went 2-2-1 and a top group of 2013s and 2014s finished 3-2 at the WWBA Underclass World Championship. The group that went to Jupiter, Fla., for the WWBA World Championship in late October finished 1-3.
Eight prospects that had played on one of the other four WWBA tournament teams were part of that revamped WWBA World Championship squad. The group included 2013 middle-infielder Westin Edrington from Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., the nation’s No. 161-ranked prospect (No. 5 Indiana, No. 9 middle-infield) in his class.
Edrington, who is yet to commit to a college, played in the WWBA 16u National Championship and was the only Bulls player to participate in both the WWBA Underclass World and WWBA World championships.
“Having moved from Colorado a little over a year ago, I have been extremely blessed ending up at an organization like the Bulls,” Edrington told Indiana Prep Baseball Report this summer. “Bulls coaches Dan Held, Quinn Moore, Jered Moore and Tony Cookerly have all played vital roles in my development as a player, as well as an individual.
“The Bulls are a top-rate organization and have been extremely instrumental in my recruiting process,” he continued. “I cannot thank them enough for everything they have done for me so far. There is not a better organization in Indiana to be a part of.”
Third baseman/outfielder Adam Bolen of Russiaville; MIF/RHP Colin Hawk of Beech Grove; RHP Taylor Lehnert of Schererville; 1B/OF Ryan Levenhagen of Indianapolis and SS/RHP/3B/OF Isaac Sampen from Brownsville – all 2012s – were on both the WWBA 17u National and WWBA World rosters. Samuel Sampen, a 2013 SS/C from Brownsburg, was on the Bulls’ WWBA 16u National roster and RHP Johan Patten of Ossian was on the WWBA 15u National squad.
Hawk (Cincinnati), Lehnert (Central Michigan), Levenhagen (Army) and Isaac Sampen (Purdue) are all NCAA Division I recruits.
Seven other roster spots on the WWBA 17u team were filled by prospects already committed to D-I school: RHP Brian Ghiselli from West Lafayette (Miami of Ohio); MIF/3B Troy Kuhn from Zionsville (Ohio State); RHP/OF Nick McCarty of Noblesviille (Notre Dame); LHP Jimmy McNamara of Munster (Central Michigan); RHP Jake Post of Valparaiso (Ohio State); INF Drew Small from Zionsville (Butler) and C/MIF/OF Cody Strong from Lafayette (Purdue).
“It was a challenging year for us because we added our 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12-year-olds this year,” Held said of the season just completed. “That was a challenge for us, but we did well at the lower ages and we’re going to build from there. Our hope is that it helps us as those kids get older.”
The Lids Indiana Bulls organization is in the middle of huge undertaking: It is involved in building a complex with 26 baseball fields ranging in size from high school dimensions down to little league dimensions and there will also be an indoor facility, all at a location near Westfield, just north of Indianapolis.
“Our player development is just going to explode and it’s going to help our organization even more,” Held said. “People have been working a long time to get this put together, so I take my hat off to the guys that have been around here awhile.”
As 20 years of operation flows seamlessly into 25, 30 and beyond, the Lids Indiana Bulls legacy will only continue to develop. The list of first round draft picks that call themselves former Bulls will grow, as will Bulls alumni who make it all the way to the major leagues. There will probably be more doctors and lawyers, as well.
“I think we’re going to continue to grow,” Held said. “If there are opportunities for kids to play and get instruction and get into a facility to improve their skills, then I think absolutely there are places to grow there. I don’t think we’re set yet and I don’t think we’re going to really understand what’s going to happen when the facility is up and it allows us to really utilize it.”
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