UConn baseball’s starting third baseman Zach Bushling, wears rose-colored glasses when he walks up to the practice field every day. And to the airport. And to the team hotel. Literally, bright pink shades that his teammates love, but his head coach just doesn’t see the style.
“He knows how hideous they are, and it’s kind of become a joke,” head coach Jim Penders said.
But other members of the team disagree, and the trend of wearing Joe Burrow-esque glasses have spread— shortstop Bryan Padilla and left-handed reliever Brendan O’Donnell have both gone out and purchased themselves a pair.
The irony is, according to Penders, Bushling doesn’t need them. Through rose-colored glasses is just how he sees the world.
“He’s never had a bad day and we feed off of that energy. He’s so loose and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win the game or do whatever he can for the team,” Penders said.
Bushling’s willingness to perform every role under the sun for UConn baseball has definitely been useful for the Huskies this year. He’s filled in wherever the team has needed him in the lineup: The senior started out the season alternating between batting leadoff and the two spot, then on April 5, transitioned to batting fifth with a few games at cleanup.
During a stretch from April 5 against CCSU to April 20 against Boston College, a span of 11 games, Bushling hit 17-for-37, raising his batting average from .282 to .322, with five doubles, three home runs and 18 RBIs, driving in runs like a natural five-hole slugger.
Recently, Bushling moved to ninth in the lineup to take advantage of his ability to get on base ahead of the potent top of the lineup and he’s taken it in stride.
“I’m there and then you have [David Smith] right there, it’s kind of like two leadoff hitters. I think it’s actually a good combo and that’s why I’m not upset about it at all,” Bushling said. “It’s perfect, I get on base, and they get me in.”
Bushling’s approach at the plate doesn’t change no matter where in the lineup he’s featured. Opposing pitchers approach him in much the same way whether he’s hitting leadoff, so Bushling’s approach won’t change much either.
“I go in there thinking the same thing every time, try to get the fastball and get my hands inside and stay through the ball,” Bushling said.
The approach has been working for him throughout the season, batting .271 with 64 hits, 16 doubles and 46 RBI, including a clutch postseason knock in a winner’s bracket game against No. 15 Maryland in the College Park Regional, a two-run home run that gave the Huskies some breathing room against the hosts.
Bushling originally transferred to UConn from Sierra College in California, following in former utility man Michael Woodworth’s footsteps in playing both for Sierra and the Huskies, although the two did not meet until coming to Storrs.
Like Woodworth, who saw time at second base and the outfield, Bushling is a utility man, able to play second base, shortstop and third base. He even says he can play the outfield, but has appeared strictly in the infield for the Huskies.
After coming to UConn, Bushling and his teammates clicked right away, but during his first year of eligibility, the season was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was kind of devastating to me because I came from [junior college] and I was excited, I finally got my [Division I] opportunity then COVID shut it down,” Bushling said.
But Bushling’s fortunes at UConn started to change in 2021, starting every game at shortstop and collecting 48 hits and 26 RBI, tied for second on the team with 45 runs scored. The 2021 team fell just short in the South Bend Regional, but this year’s team just has a different bit of chemistry to it, according to Bushling, and a lot of it is down to the infectious attitude of the man they call “Bush.”
“He’s a great player to have in our lineup, but he’s even a better person to have in our clubhouse and in our lives,” Penders said. “I promised him that if we get to Omaha, I’d have to wear the rose-colored glasses.”
“[Penders] knows, he knows,” Bushling said. “We’re going to Omaha and he’s wearing them the whole ride.”