It’s not the most pleasant of words. In fact, its definition states just the opposite: “an unpleasant person.” Certainly not something you’d want to win an award for — that is, unless you play baseball at Ball State.
According to Ball State Baseball’s Twitter account, the Dirtbag Award, voted on by the players, can be described as the “most prestigious award for leadership, toughness, teamwork and being an overall stud Cardinal.”
“It’s really one of the highest honors in our program,” head coach Rich Maloney said.
Redshirt junior catcher Chase Sebby received that honor for the 2018 season.
After redshirting at St. John’s University and playing one year at Cypress College, Sebby said he was looking for anyone who would give him a chance to play. He enrolled at UCLA with intentions to walk on or catch bullpens if he didn’t make the team.
Ball State was searching for a catcher to compete for the starting job. Scott Pickler, Sebby’s coach at Cypress, told Maloney that Sebby would be a good option for a backup. Sebby, who grew up in Huntington Beach, California, having never been to Indiana before, came to Ball State on scholarship.
“When Chase first came, he showed up in his Converse sneakers — kid from Cali,” redshirt senior Griffin Hulecki said. “You could tell he was a little passive when he came in, just trying to figure out how things worked.”
Once he got used to the new environment, Maloney said Sebby started showcasing what he could do.
“[Pickler] actually undersold Sebby,” Maloney said. “What we got in Sebby was a gritty, confident, competitive young man.”
Sebby took over duties behind the plate, starting 46 of the Cardinals’ 58 games. He led the Cardinals with a .441 on-base percentage and at one point had a streak of 35 consecutive games where he reached base safely.
“I just wanted to win, like really bad,” Sebby said. “Everything I did was just so we could win … I felt like if I put in the extra work, then that would make my team better.”
Maloney said the extra work was crucial for Sebby because he was a “grinder.” He wasn’t the most talented player. Instead, he had to work to be successful.
“Quite honestly, he played himself into the position,” Maloney said. “What happened was, he took the bull by the horns when he had the opportunity … He seized his opportunity. He seized the moment. He definitely exceeded expectations.”
To go along with a .293 batting average, Sebby threw out 28 attempted base stealers, the most in the Mid-American Conference. Hulecki said he recognized Sebby’s potential from day one.
“Sebby came in and just turned some heads, and he was the man from the get-go,” Hulecki said. “Not only could he hit, but he showed that he was insane behind the plate. When you have a guy like that, not only does it make your pitchers better, but it makes the whole team better.”
Sebby has taken it upon himself to adopt more of a leadership role, which Maloney said will be important given the team’s current makeup. Coming into the 2019 season, the Cardinals are without four starting position players from a year ago. They also have plenty of new faces. Of the 34 players on the roster, 15 are in their first year at Ball State — 11 freshmen and four transfers.
“I know what it takes to win,” Sebby said. “Close to half the team are new guys who weren’t there at MAC last year when we lost and had to see all the seniors crying having not won a ring … I know what I can do, and I know I can help the team. I know my teammates believe in me, so that just makes me want to compete even harder.”
Sebby’s hard work and leadership have earned the respect of his teammates. Hulecki said Sebby is the hardest working player on the team and embodies the true meaning of a dirtbag ballplayer.
“Whatever he says, on the field or off the field, it means something. He doesn’t just talk to talk,” Hulecki said. “He has control of the whole pitching staff and the entire defense. When he talks, you listen. If he says, ‘Jump,’ you say, ‘How high?’”