By STEVE KRAH
Matt Bair has been head baseball coach at his alma mater — Anderson (Ind.) University — for four seasons.
Save 2020 in which the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the campaign to nine games, the Ravens have averaged 23 victories and qualified for the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) postseason each time with Bair in control.
Anderson produced the HCAC Pitcher of the Year (John Becker) in 2018 and HCAC Player of the Year (Joe Moran) in 2019.
The ’21 Ravens went 23-19 overall, 20-17 in the conference and 14-7 on Don Brandon Field.
Those are accomplishments, but it’s not what Bair (who earned his bachelor’s degree in Education at AU in 2001 and his Master’s degree in Athletic Administration from at Ball State University in 2005) hangs his hat on.
“More than anything you just want to instill a great culture and great chemistry into these guys and give them a unified vision that we can get behind as a program,” says Bair, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “We try to give them some missions that they can focus on every single day. As much as anything, I just try to show them how much I love them beyond the field of play. I feel like we’ve been able to do that successfully within the program.
“At the same time we’ve been able to bring in some really talented recruits.”
Anderson opens the 2022 season Feb. 12 at Sewanee (Tenn.). Games are slated against Otterbein, Wittenberg and Concordia Chicago Feb. 25-26 at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. The first home game is to be March 5 against St. Norbert.
All the while the words of former Ravens coach — Dr. Don Brandon — echoes.
“The best is yet to come,” says Bair of the Hall of Famer’s motto. “We’ve got guys who believe the best is on the horizon. But they love where they are. They know they’re surrounded by people that love them and who think about them more than just baseball players.
“They’re in a great place where they can grow personally, professionally and as a player.”
There are 41 players on the current published roster and all but one has a hometown in Indiana. The backgrounds are varied and so is the knowledge.
“We want to bring guys into our program that don’t necessarily think just like we think,” says Bair. “We like to be challenged. We’re looking for recruits who fit the core skill sets of what we think can be a championship-caliber player.
“More importantly, they have the character that we’re looking for in an Anderson University baseball player. We want guys with really high competitive motors but, ultimately, they care as much about their teammates, the game and the love of the process that they’re going through as they do themselves.”
The Ravens are part of NCAA Division III.
“D-III is kind of a unique model,” says Bair. “We get them for a certain period of time in the fall. Then you don’t totally set them free, but you’re not having daily interactions with them. They’ll send you a text or a phone call, but you’re not coaching them for awhile.
That’s where self-motivators and some leaders come in, guiding the team until they get back together with coaches in January.
To help AU players prepare for this phase, they are in classroom sessions and learning about this mentality.
“When they do have some time that’s on their own they’re not lost and still feel that the time can be well-spent,” says Bair. “I think it’s important that the onus falls on them because that is life.
“When they leave Anderson University there’s not going to be a person standing there telling them why, where and how. They’re going to have to be able to go out and self-create and self-motivate, punch through the red tape at times to get what it is that they want.”
The goal is for the student-athlete to receive a degree in four years. It is a balancing act with time for classes and studying as well as games and practices.
“We work and collaborate academically and athletically,” says Bair. “I know they relationships I have with those professors and how hard they work to allow our guys flexibility in their day and in their schedule so that they don’t feel torn between the two.”
For the most part, classes are complete by 3 p.m., making way for team practice. But sometimes small groups for pitchers or hitters will meet in blocks during the day to get in work.
“We set it up that way to be done with practice in plenty of time for them to get on with their evening and — you know — enjoy campus life and be able to study, take care of their diet and nutrition, and get the rest they need.”