David Berg's baseball career was in danger of dead-ending.
He had just completed his junior season at La Puente, Calif., Bishop Amat High School, where he had pitched a total of nine innings over five appearances. He hadn't pitched since an early-season implosion turned a two-run lead into a blowout loss.
“I knew if I wanted to play baseball after high school,” Berg said, “something had to change.”
So Berg did what any enterprising young man would do — he reinvented himself. He took a suggestion from his coach that he change his arm angle and poured himself into the task of refining a side-arm delivery.
He came back the next year to go 7-1 with a 1.05 ERA to help his school win a state championship. That caught the eye of recruiters from Nevada and UC Irvine. Then UCLA entered the picture, offering the 6-foot, 190-pound Berg a chance to walk on.
“That was too good to pass up,” Berg said. “UCLA was my dream school.”
And that's when Berg's tale really starts getting interesting.
The guy who couldn't find the mound two seasons earlier pitched in 50 games as a freshman, establishing school and Pac-12 records for appearances. Berg pitched 74 innings last season to help the Bruins get to the College World Series. He won five games, saved one, posted a 1.46 ERA and limited opposing hitters to a .165 batting average.
Those are “I-told-you-so” numbers, the kind some players would use to taunt all those recruiters that once wouldn't give a first look, let alone a second one.
“I never took it personally when people were telling me that I couldn't play at the next level,” Berg said. “I know we have a lot of big-time arms on our staff. I'm more of the sideshow.
“After last year, I was just happy I did what I did to prove Coach Savage and Coach Bruce right. They were the ones willing to give me a chance.”
UCLA coach John Savage and pitching coach T.J. Bruce are starting to look like a couple of geniuses after Berg's encore season.
Shifted from the set-up man to the closer, Berg responded this season by setting the school record with 21 saves and becoming just the third Bruin to be named conference pitcher of the year.
He also won seven games, and his 0.88 ERA is tied for the national lead. Opponents are hitting just .194 against Berg, who has appeared in 46 of UCLA's 61 games.
The Bruins' 62nd comes Sunday night against Louisiana State in what figures to be the marquee matchup of the opening round of the CWS.
“I'm really excited to be headed back to Omaha,” Berg said. “You hear guys always talking about how they want to go to Omaha, but when you haven't been there before, I don't know if you really cherish the experience.