Looking from the outside in, Stetson University's 2017 Baseball home opener against Southern Illinois was not particularly unique to the 99 that had taken place before it. Entering the 100th season of Hatters baseball, the day was accompanied by a predictably mild Deland forecast along with the sound of a fresh home crowd, anticipating the possibilities and the unpredictable successes and failures of the approaching season.
Everything seemed in order and business as usual, yet an experienced ticket holder would say there was one unequivocal and almost blatant oddity, that an average spectator might have been unable to recognize. For the first time since 1979 someone other than Pete Dunn was managing the helm of the Hatters club.
Just two months removed from relinquishing his position as Stetson's Head Coach, Dunn moved into the role as the program's Head Coach Emeritus to focus his efforts on fund-raising and furthering the culture of an organization that he helped bring into the national spotlight.
An American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (2014) with 1,312 wins and 38 seasons under his belt, Coach Dunn has become synonymous with Stetson Baseball over the past three-odd decades, helping bring an already accomplished program to six ASUN Regular Season titles, nine ASUN Postseason Championships and 17 appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
"He is somebody that people think about when they think about college baseball and success in college baseball." says Stetson Athletic Director Jeff Altier. "They think about Pete Dunn."
Altier first met Dunn in 1979, connecting with the Hatters' skipper as a player, eventually going on to coach under him, and now working alongside him at the administrative level. The current Athletic Director lettered for Dunn in the 1981 and 1982 seasons, while serving as team captain in Dunn's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Dunn also granted Altier his first coaching position in college baseball, as the former Stetson backstop served as a graduate assistant from 1985-86, ultimately filling a full-time assistant position in 1987.
When asked about the long-standing relationship he still holds with Dunn, Altier commended his former college coach and the pivotal piece he has been in his own success. "Pete was a mentor for me as a student-athlete, and as a coach, and then he became a colleague with me as I moved into an administrative position."
"As a student-athlete and playing for Pete, you learned that you needed to be disciplined and you need to be intentional to your approach into everything that you did that you had to compete at all times." Altier commented. "I think that the intensity of competition is one of those things that he taught all of us. We learned how to compete at the highest level all the time. Not just sometimes, but all the time."
Hailed as a voracious competitor by his peers and former players, Dunn embraces the reputation that he's accrued over his time at the Stetson helm.
"I am demanding and I am a big believer," Dunn explained. "I'm a big believer in holding young people accountable. Some of the my players come back and say 'Hey, I really look back now and I can really appreciate what you're doing, because I'm raising kids now and I understand what it was all about, what you were about at that time'. I can look back fondly on that, because that's what I want them to think, that I was tough on them at times but I was fair."
His tough but fair mentality helped Dunn post over 1,000 wins more than any other coach in Stetson history, including mentor Jim Ward at Stetson, who was in control of the club when Dunn played catcher for the Hatters in the 1969 and 1970 seasons.
Transferring to Stetson after two years at Brevard Community College, the Florida native lettered both of his years in DeLand before taking his position as a student assistant at the university in the 1971 and 1972 campaigns.
Dunn returned to his alma mater following three seasons coached at local Apopka High School and two spent as a graduate assistant for a Ron Polk-led Georgia Southern team that attended the College World Series in 1973.
Dunn attributes some of his success to the great mentors he's had over the years, including the influence he took away from Ward. "[Ward] had built a very successful program. When he took over in 1969 the program was really down in the dumps and he resurrected it immediately and brought success immediately to it."
When most fans hear about a coaching change at the Division I level, it usually comes in lieu of a streak of poor seasons, but Dunn was fortunate enough to start his head coaching career in a winning situation, and one that he had already become familiar with.
"Sometimes people say 'Well I want to bring my own players in', but I learned from Coach Ward so those were my type of players. I didn't change my philosophy when I took over."
Dunn used that advantageous start to not only kick off an impressive career but to create an atmosphere and culture that became symbiotic with the philosophies he, and Coach Ward, had developed.
"There's such a good foundation here from Coach Dunn, on just the competitiveness, the tradition of the program, and the professionalism of the program," says first-year Head Coach Steve Trimper, who took the reigns upon Dunn's retirement earlier this year. "Coach Dunn ran a Division I program, and he ran it like a top one in the country."
After spending almost 50 years in DeLand, Dunn has not only become the face of Stetson Baseball, but an integral figurehead in the image of the city itself. Just a decade ago, Dunn was elected into the Central Florida Sports Hall of Fame with his godson, and Atlanta Braves legend Chipper Jones, in the 2007 inductee class.
"Probably a lot of people who read about it, they knew who Chipper Jones was. They probably didn't know who this guy Pete Dunn was, so I was lucky." jokes Dunn. "It was gratifying, but being in their with Chipper and having that opportunity made it even more special."
With 84 of the players he coached at Stetson moving onto the pro level, Dunn proclaimed in a previous interview that he would have liked for his godson to have been number 85, but it was not meant to be as the future Baseball Hall of Famer signed with the Braves straight out of high school.
Few college coaches get to tutor and influence such an extensive archive of successful ball players, the likes of which include current MLB right-handers Jacob deGrom and Corey Kluber, and even fewer become so integral to a program's success that they have a field or stadium named after them. Pete Dunn however, is of a rare variety of sports figures that has become so important to a community that their city of work has entitled an entire day in their recognition.
Residents of DeLand celebrated Pete Dunn Day on February 9th of 2007 in commemoration of the long-standing skipper's 1,000th win.
"That's just what DeLand is about," he says, praising a city that has become a second home to a man originally born in West Palm Beach. "That's why I stayed here for so long and stay here now that I'm retired. It's just a great community and they can rally around the university, not just baseball, but the university. It's a great place to work and bring up a family."
Despite the successful career he has built, Dunn commends that he had never planned on coaching during his playing career, and held onto the dream that so many young ball players envision coming up through the high school and college levels.
"Well, I thought I was going to be in the big leagues, that's what every kid thinks." It wasn't until a few years of playing in the rookie ball that coach recognized what his next calling in life would be, and the best way for him to continue in the sport that had brought him so much joy over his lifetime. "It got to the point where I knew that I was not good enough to make it to the big leagues, that's where I decided 'you love this game and if you can't play it, the next natural progression is to coach it."
Six ASUN Regular Season conference titles and six ASUN Coach of the Year honors later, validate the decision Dunn made some 40-odd years ago, and confirm his ability to continue influencing both players and the Stetson program alike outside of a head coaching role.
"To keep him involved with our program is absolutely critical, and we could not move forward without that." says Altier. "It's been a great step to have him side by side as he comes to Coach Emeritus status in this year as we transfer to Coach Trimper. And he's still an active member of our community and an active member of our Stetson community as well."
In addition to his use as a recruiting tool, Dunn continues to be source of wisdom and advice for Trimper. "Coach Dunn has been in my office everyday, if not every other day with some sound advice and great advice." "He picks me up sometimes, and he's also a bridge to a lot of the people that surround the program. Whether that's donors, alum, some of the former players, those are all such an important part."
Coach Pete Dunn is one of just 25 coaches in NCAA history to reach 1,300 wins in their career, and one of only seven to reach that number while spending their entire career at a single institution. While his role at Stetson has changed, his position as a representative and ambassador of the university has not diminished, as he continues to promote the Stetson Baseball program.
While Dunn admits that there are aspects of his previous position he could both take and leave, it's the relationships he's built with his players and the university that have brought him the greatest level of satisfaction over the years.
"There's as much influence on the players to me, or to the coach, as vice versa." he explains. "But it's those relationships that you build, and seeing them come back with families and everything else. It's gratifying."
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