‘It’s fun having that target on your back’: Matt Ashbaugh faces down batters, lofty expectations

| Senior Sports Editor

Matt Ashbaugh is a senior pitcher from Houston, Texas. After being named to the all-University Athletic Association second team last year, Ashbaugh enters the season as the Bears’ ace. I sat down with Ashbaugh to talk about his future, living up to high expectations and what he does when he is not on the mound.

Courtesy of Chris Mitchell

Senior southpaw Matt Ashbaugh propels himself off the rubber as he prepares to whip the ball toward an opposing batter.

Student Life: What do you want to do with [your majors in] Finance and Marketing?

Matt Ashbaugh: I have a job next year in Dallas. I’m working for the FDIC as a financial institutions specialist.

SL: What’s the FDIC?

MA: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. They insure every deposit, up to $250,000, in banks. We really work with risk management to basically ensure that the banks are following all these protocols, but we also do compliance things. So we ensure that their lending practices are just and not discriminatory, that they’re following all the regulations, things like that. And we set those regulations.

SL: That’s really cool.

MA: It’s good. I feel like I’m doing a public service. I wanted to do something meaningful and I like the banking sector a lot. I think it’s a good start. Not sure if that’s gonna be my full career for the rest of my life, but I think it’ll be a good foundation.

SL: Did you start off at Wash. U. in the business school?

MA: Yeah. I was originally pre-med, actually. Pre-med Finance. I wanted to be an ophthalmologist, and I wanted to have a business background so I’d be able to run my own practice. Then I shadowed a doctor and I realized I didn’t want to do that. So I took a different turn. And it was an easy transition, considering I was already in the business school. It wasn’t too difficult.

SL: That’s really neat. You also mentioned that your job is in Dallas?

MA: Correct.

SL: You’re from Houston?

MA: Yeah.

SL: Gotcha. So I imagine that before you played baseball you were a baseball fan?

MA: Yes.

SL: Who’s your team?

MA: [The Houston] Astros.

SL: How’s that going right now?

MA: It’s not the best time to be an Astros fan. I still stick with my team. What they did, I’m not condoning. I don’t think it was right. But I’m still a big fan. Still a lot of Houston pride. We stick behind our teams. They didn’t cheat the last two years—despite what people say—and they were pretty still pretty good. Last year, they were one game away from the World Series. We’ll see how this year goes.

SL: Somebody was pushing me to really grill you on this. But I think you’re taking this way better than I would.

MA: I’m not happy about it. I don’t think it’s right at all. I do think that sign stealing is more prevalent than people think in baseball. The Astros just got caught for it. It doesn’t make it any less wrong to do it, so I don’t condone their actions. It’s disappointing as a fan. But at the end of the day, that feeling that I had when they won the World Series? You can’t take that away. And I’ll never forget that moment.

SL: Moving more specifically into your baseball career: Last year, you were part of the pitching staff that allowed the lowest earned run average in all of Division III. This year, the team is still looking like they’re going to be a pretty good pitching staff, but you’ve lost (now-graduated pitcher) John Howard. How are y’all planning on getting better and replacing his production?

MA: John Howard obviously was an excellent pitcher: National Pitcher of the Year last year. He was a role model for all of us. He threw a lot of innings last year, 100 innings, so that’s going to be tough to replace. But if anyone can replace that, I think it’s this staff, for sure. We’re extremely deep. There were guys last year who didn’t throw many innings that this year, are going to step into big roles and they’re very, very good pitchers. The outside people don’t know that, but as a member of the team, you do know that. We got young guys. [Sophomore] Austin Sachen, [sophomore] Matt Bauer coming in, and they’re going to be really really good on the mound. We got [junior] Tim Tague and [junior] Rees Viersen, who they threw a lot less (last year) than their freshman year. This year they’re gonna have good seasons. [Junior] Jared Fong, of course, coming back. [Sophomore] Matt Lopes. You got [junior] Mitchell Black, [junior Ryan] Loutos, me. It’s a really, really, really deep staff.

SL: For you personally, coming off a pretty solid year, how do you get even better?

MA: I think it’s just continuing to focus on little things like timing, continuing to hone pitches. Stepping into a role as a senior where you have guys looking up to you, it’s about doing the little things in practice beyond just pitching, like holding runners, doing all the training exercises correctly, taking every rep purposely and having a goal in mind. That’s what I’m hoping to do this year compared to last year. I want to go deeper into games. That’s one of my bigger goals this year.

SL: What’s the key to going deeper into games? Is it focusing on conditioning?

MA: It’s not so much the number of pitches that you throw. It’s more about efficiency within the game. You want to throw less pitches to batters. Throw more strikes, get outs faster, keep your pitches per inning lower. It’s not so much like, “I want to go out there and throw 120 pitches this game through eight innings.” It’s throwing 90 to 100 through eight innings vs. throwing 90 to 100 through five innings. Just that difference right there, that’s what I’m going for. So trying to get contact early in the count, staying ahead of hitters, throw a lot of strikes.

SL: Gotcha. What would you say is your best pitch?

MA: Change-up, probably. The slider is an interesting one for me, because I didn’t have it until college. I never threw one. And I think it’s gotten better over the years. I’ve used it more and more over the years. So I’d still say the change up, but the slider is a close second.

SL: Gotcha. To circle back a bit to talk about like the team as a whole, last year you started the season unranked. This year, you started at No. 8. Do you think there’s more of a target on the team’s back?

MA: Oh, yeah, for sure. When you have that ranking, obviously, there’s high expectations. Every team wants to give you their best and is going to give you the best because they want that notoriety that they beat the No. 8 team in the country. The poll came out this morning, and now we’re No. 4. So that target is going to keep getting bigger and bigger as the season goes on. It’s fun having that target on your back though, because you can’t really ever be off your game because everyone’s always bringing their A game.

SL: Gotcha. In a couple weeks you’re playing a three-game series against Coe College, the team that eliminated you from the playoffs last year. Is there any significance to playing that team?

MA: That Coe series is going to be fun, for sure. We were one pitch away from winning that regional, and they hit a home run to center field. I’ve only seen one other ball head over that fence in center field, and it was in practice my freshman year. So I haven’t seen a ball hit that far in at Kelly Field in a long time. But the guy connected, gotta give him credit. But we’ve had that series circled since we found out that we’re playing them because we want revenge. People are already talking about it, and it’s a couple weeks away. We’re focused on the series this weekend against Illinois Tech. But I think we’re all looking forward to that Coe series.

SL: When you’re not striking people out, what do you do for fun?

MA (without hesitation): I’m a huge Stanford sports fan. I watch a lot of sports in general, NBA, MLB, NFL. I probably prefer college sports actually over professional, especially football and basketball. Stanford is my team, I’ve followed them pretty religiously. The reason is that [former Indianapolis Colts quarterback] Andrew Luck is from Houston. I knew about him [when Luck was in] high school and I followed his career when he went to Stanford. That was 2009 or 2010. When he had a lot of success, Stanford was also very good those years and that got me on the bandwagon. Now I’ve gotten sucked into the recruiting aspect and the forums online. Now I’m just too far in to stop. I also coach youth basketball through the Campus Y program Coaches for Kids. That’s just kind of something fun that I do during the fall. I’m also involved in LIVE Sport, if you’ve heard of that.

SL: I have not.

MA: It’s a group on campus that focuses on limiting or stopping interpersonal violence and spreading interpersonal violence education. I’m specifically part of the Sport division, which focuses on the athletic community.

SL: What kinds of things do LIVE Sport plan?

MA: We have facilitations for teams. Our big event this year is the [U.S. Olympic gymnast] Aly Raisman talk on April 1 in the Field House. We’re doing a lot of work for it. We have an event the week before where we’re having a movie screening and facilitation and discussion after that.

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