BY STEVE KRAH
Gunnar Pullins sees his future as an event coordinator.
Graduated May 7 from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., with a Marketing degree, Pullins has job possibilities all around.
“I’m open to going anywhere in the country,” says Pullins, 22.
But right now the young man who has planned cornhole tournaments for festivals around northwest Indiana is getting ready for a baseball event.
A senior first baseman for the ONU baseball team, Pullins and his teammates recently won the program’s third straight Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament title (not counting the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season) and earned a berth in the NAIA Opening Round.
“We want to be as far from home as possible,” says Pullins.
On Thursday, Pullins got his wish as the Tigers learned that they will play at the site hosted by Westmont in Santa Barbara, Calif., for the right to compete in the 2022 NAIA World Series May 27-June 3 in Lewiston, Idaho.
In the Opening Round, Westmont is the No. 1 seed, Indiana University Southeast No. 2, Olivet Nazarene No. 3 and Antelope Valley (Calif.) No 4. The event is May 16-19.
Pullins, a righty swinger, is hitting .358 (53-of-148) with three home runs, three triples, six doubles, 35 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. In 51 games, he sports a .955 OPS (.455 on-base percentage plus .500 slugging average) and has 11-of-14 in stolen base attempts.
This is his first season at first base and even though he has another year of eligibility it’s his last as a collegiate player.
“My shoulder can only take so much more,” says Pullins. “I tore my shoulder senior year of high school.
“I went went from throwing hard to throwing very soft.”
He was a shortstop at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School, where he graduated in 2018. He played a lot of third base at Olivet Nazarene until he came to a decision with Tigers head coach Jeff Mullikin to move to the other corner to save his arm.
A teammate had done the same in 2021 and did very well.
From 2019-21, Pullins got into 80 games for ONU and hit .258 (25-of-97) with no homers, one triple, three doubles, 24 RBIs and 45 runs. He had a .652 OPS (.342/.309) and was 15-of-22 in the stolen base department.
In a game of adjustments, Pullins has learned to make his share. Not only changing positions. But he has learned to adjust at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.
Olivet Nazarene has not faced a pitcher with velocity approaching 90 mph in awhile and is sure to see it in the Opening Round.
“It’s about getting the foot down and the hands through the (strike) zone at a certain time,” says Pullins, who is preparing with batting practice against live arms and machines. “We do a 40/90 with one of our BP throwers 40 feet away and he’s chucking it and trying to find barrels.”
Velocity is one thing and then there is adjustment when the ball breaks.
“There are people who throw the ball straight and there are people who have movement,” says Pullins. “It’s easier to get a barrel on it and hit it hard somewhere when it’s straight.”
Born and raised in Valparaiso, Pullins played travel ball with the Lake of the Four Seasons Warriors from Crown Point/Boone Grove area then the Cougars who became the Indiana Breakers around Chesterton then the Outsiders Baseball Club with Dave Griffin (the Purdue Northwest head coach).
A varsity player for three of his four years at Valparaiso, Pullins recalls the beginning of practice with Vikings head coach Todd Evans.
“He called us gentlemen everyday,” says Pullins of Evans. “It was a respectful way to start off our days.”
Pullins played basketball as a Valpo freshman and tennis as a junior. Once he committed to Olivet Nazarene, he spent much of his time honing his baseball skills.
“They gave me the best opportunity to get the education I wanted,” says Pullins. “And an opportunity to play right away as a freshman.”
That first season, Pullins got a few starts and plenty of pinch-hit opportunities.
“I could not get into a rhythm the COVID year,” says Pullins. “As a junior, I struggled confidence-wise.”
Over the summer, he played slow pitch men’s softball.
“I was putting a barrel on the ball,” says Pullins. “Something switched (in baseball). It was a click.”
It hasn’t been all baseball and academics for Pullins, He’s been dating the same girl for most of his time in college.
“I’ve met a lot of people and played intramural (sports) prior to senior year,” says Pullins. “They have a lot of events here — like every other week.”
At the beginning of the year, there’s “Ollies Follies” — games and events with classes competing against each other.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Pullins.
Gunnar is the son of Bub Pullins and Samantha Cardwell. He has two sisters. Alex is older. Lyric is younger.