Greatest Closer Was Once An Afterthought 0

UCLA Closer David BergBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

OMAHA, Neb. — UCLA closer David Berg is able to juggle four balls at a time and six with a partner.

It only seems fitting since he is the greatest closer in college baseball history and seems to juggle anything batters have waiting for him.

No closer in college baseball history has put up the staggering numbers that Berg has in his first two years with the Bruins.

As his sophomore year recently concluded with UCLA’s first national baseball championship, Berg has now appeared in 101 games in two years (50 as a freshman and NCAA record-tying 51 this season) as he saved an NCAA record 24 games in 2013.

In 101 appearances, he only has two blown saves. And both times, he came back to post a win.

The Louisville Slugger first team All-American also posted a 7-0 record this season in 78 innings with a 0.92 ERA (second best in the nation) and struck out 78 batters with only 11 walks.

As hard as it is to believe, three seasons ago at Bishop Amat High School (La Puente, Calif.), his pitching career was on the rocks.

During his junior year, he only was allowed to pitch 9 1/3 innings as he was learning to throw as a sidewinder from his normal ¾ arm slot. He had a 6.00 ERA with 4 walks and 3 hit batters as he gave up 8 earned runs. 

“David came in as an outfielder/pitcher as a freshman and was a good athlete,” said Bishop Amat Head Coach Andy Nieto.

“Entering the fall of his junior year, he was having some difficulty pitching on the varsity level. It just wasn’t happening. I talked to my pitching coach Chris Beck and told him that we had to ‘Muckey’ him.

“There is a well known coach in Southern California by the name of Scott Muckey at Crespi High School who annually turns one of his pitchers into a sidearmer to give opponent hitters a different look.

“Both Chris and I felt David would be a good candidate to try this. There was no guarantee it would work.

“So we talked to David about it, and he took it from there as he worked extremely hard to learn this new delivery. And he wasn’t allowed to throw over the top any more.

“From that point on, he was only allowed to throw as a sidearmer.”

Nieto acknowledged that Berg had a tough junior year as he worked on his new arm angle.

“In fact, it took about a year for him to figure out how to throw from this arm slot with a completely new release point.”

During Berg’s junior year, he appeared to be a nervous wreck when he did pitch as he walked halfway to the plate to retrieve balls from his catcher and constantly paced around the mound.

Nieto and pitching coach Chris Beck had to remind Berg to stay on the pitching circle.

“He was definitely a pacer at that time. But now he has grown up physically and mentally and has a chance to pitch in the Big Leagues in a certain role.

“He has shown he can pitch to both right and left handed hitters which is rare for a sidearmer.

“We could see the potential he had, but David just needed some work at the change.

“We knew he was a diamond in the rough. The movement he had with the new arm angle was terrific, and the deception was superb.

“We felt if he tackled this new arm slot with the commitment he had in the classroom, he would make it work. And boy has he ever.”

Amazing Senior Year
His senior year at Bishop Amat was sensational with a 7-1 record, 1.05 ERA and 4 saves as he led the Lancers to the CIF championship with a 29-4 overall record.

He had 21 appearances in 33 games that season and threw 46 2/3 innings. It was a transformation for the ages.

“During his senior year at Bishop Amat, he was our salvation,” said Nieto.

“He pitched in every big game we had. I will never forget his outing against Torrance High School in the CIF semi-final game. We were down 4-0 after two innings, and he came in and no-hit Torrance for the next five innings as we rallied to win, 5-4. We then won the CIF title at Dodger Stadium in the final.”

Berg’s pitches darted under and over bats as hitters had trouble even making contact.

With renewed confidence, he was now a mentally tough pitcher who could conquer anything.

The breakout game of his senior season was at the National Classic when Bishop Amat took on St. Francis High School (Mountain View, Calif.) which was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time.

The game didn’t start well for Bishop Amat as starting pitcher Daniel Zamora was chased from the game after 2 1/3 innings.

Berg came in to face this remarkable ball club and struck out 10 of the final 14 batters over 4 2/3 innings of relief work. Nobody could hit him as a re-tooled sidearmer.

Strangely, no college offered him an athletic scholarship despite his superb senior season.

His only offer was an academic grant from NCAA Division III Cal. Lutheran. Late in May, UCLA Recruiting Coordinator T.J. Bruce felt the Bruins should take a chance on him, and Bruin Head Coach John Savage agreed. U.C. Irvine and Nevada-Reno also started showing interest.

More On David Berg: The full story of David Berg is in the July 12, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. He explains that he hasn’t been on any scholarship his first two years at UCLA despite throwing in 101 games and why he might not next season as well. He delves into how he made the adjustment to throwing sidearm, what type of pitches he has and the challenge of being a closer. Head Coach John Savage discusses why Berg is so special is as well as UCLA baseball team sports psychologist Ken Ravizza. To obtain this issue, CLICK HERE.