By STEVE KRAH
Matt Pustay has witnessed plenty of winning since he returned to his college alma mater to coach baseball.
The 2009 graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., joined the Tigers for the 2011 season and has been with the program as an assistant ever since.
In Pustay’s 10 seasons heading into 2021, DePauw is 201-176 and has been as high as No. 11 in the NCAA Division III national rankings (2012).
The North Coast Athletic Conference member Tigers went 4-4 before COVID-19 put an end to the 2020 season.
As of this writing, the DePauw staff features fifth-year head coach Blake Allen (who is in charge of pitchers and catcher) and Pustay (who is responsible for infielders, outfielders and hitters plus recruiting).
Pustay asks his infielders in particular to be aggressive.
“I want them making mistakes on their toes rather than making mistakes on their heels,” says Pustay. “I don’t want them to get in bad position and let ball play them.
“A rule we’ve tried to instill the last two years is for infielders try to say four words between each pitch (encouragement to the pitch or something strategic). It’s so they’re engaged and not waiting for something to happen.”
Outfielders are expected to make the play that’s “smart, controlled and correct.”
“Their aggression is a little more controlled,” says Pustay. “They have to be 90 percent sure to throw to the lead base. Otherwise, cut your losses and get the ball to second base (to keep the double play in order).”
Hitting is based on keeping things simple and playing to the athlete’s strengths.
“You win with who you are a a hitter,” says Pustay. “There’s a million different ways to win a ballgame. We’d like nothing better than putting a bunch of crooked numbers on the board, but there’s noting wrong with winning with a hundred paper cuts.
“We make sure we know ourselves as hitters. We are allowing guys the freedom to swing away if they feel that’s their game and really helps us.
“We want to make a good swing and hit the ball hard. We try to compete like heck on every pitch.”
In keeping the approach simple, the shorter the pre-swing thought the better.
“If you’re speaking to yourself in full sentences, you have to get out of the box,” says Pustay. “We want to use one or two words.”
As a two-man crew, Pustay and Allen conducted fall practice in September and October.
As a social distancing measure and so each student could have a solo dormitory room, only freshmen and sophomores were on-campus while juniors and seniors took online classes. Ballplayers worked out on their own or in small groups away from DePauw.
“It was sort of a blessing and curse all at the same time,” says Pustay. “For the freshmen, it was a great fall. They had a lot of great individual time — one-on-one development with the coaches.
“We had 12 position players on-campus. It was a nice crash course for freshmen for sure.”
Having the others off-campus was not ideal, but coaches and players made it work with plenty of Zoom meetings and phone calls. Pustay and Allen regularly checked in with their student-athletes.
“What I missed most this fall was the daily interaction with players walking by my office on the way to class or the weight room,” says Pustay. “As (DePauw head men’s basketball coach Bill Fenlon says), it’s a relationship business.
“You have to care for these guys on and off the field. You find out what’s important to them. It’s a mentorship.”
Pustay has been with Allen for the past four seasons after spending six with Jake Martin at the head of the Tigers program.
“The thing I really appreciate about Blake is that character counts with him,” says Pustay. “You win with the right people.
“Personally, not only has he given me a lot of responsibility but he also commands results. We’ve got to keep working. We can’t have time where we’re patting ourselves on the back for too long.”
As a father of three, Allen has also passed along lessons about balancing family life and baseball. Matt and Laura Pustay live in Indianapolis with daughter Ellie (3) and son Joey (1).
“It’s important to take time for your family during a pretty demanding coaching schedule,” says Pustay.
These are the kinds of values put forth by American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Roberts when Pustay served on his Cotuit Kettleers staff in the Cap Cod League in the summer of 2014.
“It was a graduate course — essentially — in baseball,” says Pustay. “I could talk for days about Mike Roberts. He taught myself and the other assistants about how to treat people. He really taught us how to make everybody around the park feel like they were a part of it. That whole community lived for the Kettleers.
“It was a very family-friendly experience.”
Pustay got to know the names of a lot of dogs and kids.
“Mike Roberts taught me how to be a better person and trust myself,” says Pustay. “He’s a class act.”
Through Allen’s Vanderbilt University connections, Pustay has worked four fall camps at the NCAA D-I powerhouse (2015-19). Tim Corbin is the Commodores head coach.
A native of Granville, Ohio, Pustay graduated from Granville High School in 2005 and earned three baseball letters at DePauw (2007, 2008 and 2009) as a catcher while playing for head coach Matt Walker (who is now head football coach at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls).
The “Palm-Up Award” is given to the most selfless Tigers teammate and Pustay earned it three times.
For two summers during his college career, Pustay played for the Newark (Ohio) Mavericks.
Pustay helped former high school teammate Sean Rainey with the Granville American Legion Post 398 team in the summer of 2009 then became an assistant at NCAA D-III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and was with the Ryan Grice-coached Crusaders for 2010 spring season.
“Coach Grice gave me a pretty long leash,” says Pustay. “He handed the catching position over to me. It was the best thing to happen to me as a young coach, being given that much responsibility.”
Grice did not nit-pick, he just asked that Pustay keep him posted about what he was doing.
Martin, who was a DePauw assistant when Pustay played for the Tigers, had put in a good word for him at Capital.
When Martin became DePauw’s head coach, he brought Pustay back to Greencastle. The two have remained close even after Martin went down the road to become head coach at Wabash College.