June 24, 2013

CBI Live: UCLA 3, Mississippi State 1

Game 1 Notes


CWS Championship Series Game 1

Berg's Transformation

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


OMAHA, 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 2013.


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 mound.


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 team.


“I 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 hurt.”


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 spectacular.


(photos by Don Liebig/ASUCLA)