June 24, 2013
UCLA 3, Mississippi State 1
Game 1 Notes
Championship Series Game 1
By Sean Ryan
Neb. – One hundred appearances in two college baseball
seasons. Twenty-four saves in 2013, a single-season Division I
NCAA record. One win away from the first national championship
in school history.
This is David Berg (left) today, college
baseball’s best closer and one of the game’s best pitchers in
The David Berg of yesterday was a high school kid
who simply wasn’t good enough. That’s right, not good enough.
Berg’s story, thanks to an amazing first two
years at UCLA in which he has appeared in an NCAA-record 50
games in back-to-back seasons, is
well-documented but nonetheless incredible.
Unable to consistently get outs in high school,
Berg’s pitching coach, Chris Beck, suggested the part-time
shortstop try throwing sidearm on the mound during his junior
year at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, Calif.
A star was born, even though the star had to wait
until the end of his senior season to gain a walk-on opportunity
from the Bruins.
“It was erratic, it was raw,” Berg said of the
first time he threw sidearm. “I didn’t really have any real feel
for it down there.”
Emulating Derek Jeter, Berg could naturally throw
sidearm while playing short. Beck suggested the switch on the
In an age when high school players – and their
parents – have invested lots of time, money and energy in
year-round coaching, showcases and travel baseball in addition
to their regular baseball seasons, Berg didn’t hesitate in
taking the plunge.
“I wanted to play baseball for a long time,” Berg
said. “It looked like my career would come to a very average
end. A Senior Day that he gets to pitch because he’s on the
wanted to play baseball at the next level. At that point, I knew
I wasn’t good enough, so I needed to do something. It couldn’t
The first time Berg pitched sidearm against his
teammates, he faced future fourth-round pick Rio Ruiz, future
29th round pick Wallace Gonzalez and future San Diego State
catcher Seby Zavala.
“I faced three very good hitters, and I got all
three of them out,” Berg said. “And over the top, I had been
struggling so much I didn’t feel like I could get the ninth
hitter out – of any team.
“I was like, wow, I love this, if this is going
to work this well against these guys without any practice, then
hey, I’ll do this for sure.”
Berg worked at it to the tune of getting a look
from UCLA to making an incredible impact on the Bruins as a
freshman. And he’s only gotten better, going 7-0 with 24 saves
and a 0.94 ERA as a sophomore. He’s struck out 77 and walked 11
in surrendering a .200 average in 77 innings.
“I just kind of use every appearance that I’ve
had as an experience,” Berg said. “If you don’t learn something
from every time you go out there, you’re wasting it. You really
have to use every experience and appearance to get better. I go
out there, and I’m competing in the moment, but afterwards I can
kind of look at how I did and look what works and what didn’t. I
really just try to replicate what works and work on stuff I need
to get better.”
Getting better. It’s a scary thought considering
how good Berg has become. But it’s all he’s known the past few
years as not good enough has turned out to be nothing short of
(photos by Don Liebig/ASUCLA)