OMAHA, Neb. — David Berg has pitched in three of every four UCLA baseball games over two seasons, set a school record for saves and was the Pac-12 pitcher of the year.
For all that, he’s still a walk-on. He said Saturday he’s been promised a scholarship for next year, when he’s a junior.
Of course, Berg is grateful to be playing Division I baseball at all after going largely unrecruited through high school. UCLA’s coaching staff didn’t offer him a chance to make the team until a month after his senior year of high school in 2011.
“Just a great college baseball story,” Bruins coach John Savage said. “It gives, I think, a feel for any young guy out there that feels like he’s not wanted. It was just a credit to him that he took advantage of the opportunity and he became what he is today.”
Berg will go into UCLA’s College World Series opener against LSU on Sunday night with a 7-0 record and a Bruins-record 21 saves, tied for second in the nation. He has an 0.88 ERA, tied for first nationally.
The two-time all-conference pick added to his collection of awards Saturday when he was selected the Stopper of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. As a freshman, he was used as a setup man, which, Savage said, probably will be his role if he pitches professionally.
Berg said he didn’t take it personally when people told him he couldn’t pitch at a big baseball school.
“I was just happy I did what I did to prove coach Savage and coach (T.J.) Bruce right,” he said. “They were the ones willing to give me a chance.”
Savage described Berg as an average high school pitcher who didn’t appear destined to land at a major baseball school until his coaches at Bishop Amat High helped him develop his distinct sidearm delivery.
Berg led Bishop Amat to the sectional championship at Dodger Stadium, where he was spotted by UCLA pitching coach T.J. Bruce. UC Irvine and Nevada also showed interest, but Berg jumped at Savage’s invitation to walk on with the understanding there would be no scholarship money available for two years.
“I visited with him for about 45 minutes, and I could tell he was going to be good,” Savage said. “I didn’t know he was going to be this good.”
DUGOUT MISPRINT — Fans at TD Ameritrade Park couldn’t help but notice the boo-boo on top of the third-base dugout Saturday. The College World Series logo was misspelled, with the first word appearing as “Colllege.” The word was spelled correctly on the first-base dugout.
NCAA media coordinator J.D. Hamilton said Sport Graphics of Indianapolis produced the signs that are printed on adhesive strips that are stretched across the tops of the dugouts. Hamilton said a proof of the sign was correct and approved by CWS organizers weeks ago. Hamilton said he didn’t know how the wrong version saw the light of day.
Hamilton said the third-base dugout sign will be fixed before Sunday’s games.
The embarrassing mistake, however, was trending on Twitter on Saturday night.
IT’S JUST A GAME — North Carolina State, making its first CWS appearance since 1968, has seemed right at home since arriving.
A bunch of players went on a bike ride through downtown, and a few others participated with members of a Colorado youth baseball team in an impromptu, hour-long whiffle ball game on the north lawn of the Hilton hotel.
Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent joked that he took in a few innings and learned something about one of his players, who he didn’t name.
“I discovered one of my hitters is a better left-handed hitter than he is a right-handed hitter, because he was hitting left-handed whiffle ball,” Avent said. “So we may make a change now Sunday for that game.”
NO PRESSURE, COACH — If LSU hadn’t made it to the CWS, its seniors would have been part of the first incoming freshman class since 1982 to not play in Omaha. That was the basis for a Louisiana reporter’s question to coach Paul Mainieri, who was asked if he felt relief to “finally” get to the CWS.
Remember, LSU has been to the CWS 16 times and has won six national titles, most recently in 2009.
“Finally... finally got here?” Mainieri said. “It’s been a whole three years. Hey, that’s what you sign up for at LSU. Nobody pulled the wool over my eyes when I took this job at LSU. I knew what I was getting into, and that is the standard. If you’re afraid, don’t go to LSU.
“We won the championship in ‘09, and I think the first question in the postgame press conference was, ‘Can you repeat next year?’ So that is what you’re used to around there.”
SHORT HOPS — Mississippi State leadoff man Adam Frazier started the CWS with his school record-tying 103rd hit of the season, a double over shallow-playing left fielder Michael Conforto, and broke the record with an infield single in the fifth. ... Former major-league pitcher Mike Caldwell was among five members of the 1968 NC State team that attended the Wolfpack’s practice Saturday. The others were Alex Cheek, Dave Boyer, Dennis Punch and Francis Combs. ... The sellout crowd of 24,473 for the Mississippi State-Oregon State game was the largest ever for a CWS opener.