By STEVE KRAH
Blake Allen took little time getting the culture established in his first year as head baseball coach at DePauw University.
After returning to the Greencastle campus and taking the position in August 2016, the former DU player and assistant coach did plenty of talent evaluation while tasking his captains and seniors with establishing the program’s core values.
Three cue words are used daily by the 2017 Tigers: Grit, Resiliency, Selflessness.
“We play the game the right way,” says Allen is describing the Grit. “We play hard. We get down the line. We run on and off the field. We feel it’s worth the price of admission for a family to come watch us play. A dad’s going to be able to sit in the stands with his son and say ‘that’s how you do it.’
“Resiliency is the ability to come back. We’ve done that a lot this year. We did it twice against (North Coast Athletic Conference foe) Denison.
“Selflessness is always doing something for someone else, whether it’s a teammate, a parent, a friend, a teacher, a professor. We’re not going to wait for someone to take the garbage out of our dugout. We’re going to do it ourselves. We’re not going to make another human being do that stuff.”
Having been a baseball and football player for two seasons at DePauw for two years before transferring and later serving on the Tigers staff, Allen knows that the idea at the NCAA Division III-affiliated institution is to strike a balance in campus life. DePauw offers the opportunity to be pushed in academics and athletics while also experiencing fraternities and other organizations.
With the high academic standards of the schools, grades and test scores are very important in the recruiting process.
“We are able to find plenty of good players that are really good academic kids,” says Allen.
By NCAA D-III rules, the team has four weeks of practice in the fall (16 days total) and 15 more weeks with a 40-game schedule in the spring.
There is a limited amount of contact between Allen, assistant coaches Jordan Niespodziany and Matt Pustay to interact between fall and spring.
Allen, who has also had assistant coaching stints at NCAA Division I Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky and D-III Franklin College, would like to see a change to D-III contact rules.
“Not having a chance to see your guys every single day (like D-I coaches can), it’s been a tough transition,” says Allen. “You can’t be with them everyday talking about the swing or pitching mechanics.”
It also limits time to make personal connections. And that’s very important to Allen, who watched Vandy head coach Tim Corbin emphasize developing the person first.
“The relationships and how you communicate with your players is huge,” says Allen. “It’s teaching them more than just the game of baseball. As you become a parent, as you get older, you realize those are the most important things.”
Allen wants his Tigers to hustle at DU’s Walker Field and other diamonds, but also be respectful, look people in the eye and carry on a conversation.
“If you teach them how to be a good person and mold that, they’re going to be good players,” says Allen. “They’re going to do what you ask.
“It all comes full circle. Those are the same things that my dad taught me when I was a good player in Little League.
Sometimes you get lost in the X’s and O’s and mechanics of the game a little too much and you lose focus on the most important things. At the end of the day, it’s energy, attitude and effort. And it always will be.”
For the most part, NCAC games are played in Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders.
“I don’t like it,” says Allen. “You never have a chance to replicate it during the fall or early spring. You don’t have a winner coming out of a (four-game) series, which I don’t like.
“Because of the pitching depth, those Game 4 scores are rough (DePauw beat Wittenberg 16-4 and lost 14-12 to Denison).”
With at least 36 innings of baseball in 48 hours, it’s the survival of the fittest and the time the Tigers spent at the track and in the weight room during the fall and winter come into play in the spring.
“I’ve never looked at baseball as being a grind,” says Allen. “But with four 9-inning games, it’s a mental and physical grind.
“That’s why rest and giving these guys a break is crucial.”
After a recent grueling series and with a tall academic load starting at his players, Allen allowed his players to take a deep breath and re-charge.
“I never thought in a million years I’d give a team three days off in a row,” says Allen. “But they needed it. They appreciate that. I just want them to be fresh coming down the stretch.”
Besides DePauw, the NCAC includes Allegheny (Leadville, Pa.), Denison (Granville, Ohio), DePauw (Greencastle), Hiram (Hiram, Ohio), Kenyon (Gambier, Ohio), Oberlin (Oberlin, Ohio), Ohio Wesleyan (Delaware, Ohio), Wabash (Crawfordsville), Wittenberg (Springfield, Ohio) and Wooster (Wooster, Ohio). Plans call for the league to switch to a single round robin of doubleheaders between all teams. The top two teams from each division converge in mid-May in Chillicothe, Ohio, for the NCAC tournament.
Blake Allen, a former player and assistant coach at DePauw University, is in his first season as Tigers head baseball coach.
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