Nearly three decades later, the baseball lifer has carved out quite an impressive niche as a Minor League manager in the Los Angeles Dodgers' system.
The 47-year-old recorded his 600th managerial win Saturday as his playoff-hungry Great Lakes Loons rolled to a 10-2 rout of the West Michigan Whitecaps behind the strong pitching of Jon Michael Redding and a near-cycle by center fielder Nick Buss.
Bustabad, who made it as far as Triple-A during his nine-year playing career, improved to 600-495 in his 13th season as a manager, the last eight of which have been with the Dodgers.
After Saturday's victory, he received a standing ovation from the crowd of 5,006 at the Dow Diamond and a shaving cream pie to the face from shortstop Dee Gordon, the son of big league reliever Tom Gordon.
"It feels great," said Bustabad. "I have to thank all the players that I've managed and all their hard work and dedication. They play hard every game. Without them, I couldn't do it."
While he took time to talk about his achievement, Bustabad admitted he is much more concerned with the Loons' pursuit of a spot in the Midwest League postseason.
Great Lakes (23-19), which has won three in a row and boasts a 15-3 home record in the second half, is 2 1/2 games in front of Dayton and South Bend for one of two remaining playoff spots in the Eastern Division.
"I'm very happy with the players and the way they're responding and playing every night," Bustabad said. "We've got 28 games left now, so we want to finish strong and be one of those two teams to make the playoffs. It will be the first time [Great Lakes] made it."
Redding (13-3) is certainly doing his part to continue to the postseason drive.
The Dodgers' fifth-round pick in the 2008 Draft became the league's first 13-game winner after limiting the Whitecaps to two runs on nine hits and two walks with two strikeouts over six innings.
Buss spearheaded a 13-hit attack, falling a triple shy of the cycle, driving in four runs and scoring three times as Great Lakes used a five-run sixth to break open a one-run game.
"You always want to make the playoffs," Bustabad said. "That's your goal, to try to make the playoffs and win the championship."
Though he's managed four of his Dodgers affiliates to championship series, including three in the Gulf Coast League in 2001, 2006 and 2007, Bustabad has always been denied his ultimate goal.
"We lost a [decisive] Game 3 in the GCL against the Red Sox and Yankees, but those are memories I'll always have, even though we came up just short," he said.
Bustabad had similar luck as a player, making Los Angeles' 40-man roster on two separate occasions without ever seeing action in the Majors. He finally made the big leagues as a coach for a couple of weeks on the staff of then-Dodgers manager Grady Little in 2007.
"My goal is still to make it to the big leagues [as a coach or manager]," Bustabad said. "I got the call two years ago to be on the Dodgers' coaching staff and it was a great experience for me, being there for the first time and seeing how the big leagues work.
"Sixty to 70 percent of those kids in the big leagues right now, I've managed or coached in their career."
John Torenli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.