May 24, 2017 03:09PM
By Shane Monaghan
The most nervous person on the field during David Gerber’s pitching debut for Creighton baseball in 2014 might have been his older brother, then senior outfielder Mike Gerber.
The Bluejays were down 6-2 late in a March game against Arkansas State. David was just a freshman, and the elder Gerber anxiously hoped his brother could start his college career off right.
David hit the first batter he faced, but Mike snagged two fly outs to end the inning, leaving the Bluejays unscathed. It was a brief debut, but a moment neither brother will forget.
“Not a lot of brothers have the opportunity to say that they got to be on the same field at the Division I level,” the pitcher says of his first time on the mound in a college game.
It was also the beginning of David’s career as one of the best relief pitchers in Creighton history. Now a senior, the side-winding closer has played an important leadership role on the 2017 Bluejays squad. He was named to the National College Baseball Writers Association 2017 Stopper of the Year Preseason Watch List amid expectations that he would finish his career as the all-time saves leader for Creighton.
A strong family bond brought David to Omaha, and a rare adaptability has set him up to succeed in the high-pressure closer role.
“His record speaks for itself,” says Creighton head coach Ed Servais of David. “He has taken advantage of every opportunity.”
The Gerber brothers’ father introduced them to baseball. “We saw his love for the game and adopted that,” David says. “It became the culture of our family.”
A 2 1/2-year age gap and mutual appreciation for baseball helped make the young Gerber boys inseparable. They maintained an allegiance to their favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, even after moving from Springfield, Missouri, to the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois.
Tragedy struck the family when David was 14 years old. Their father, Michael (the elder brother's namesake), died of kidney cancer. The loss tested the family, forging a tighter bond between the brothers and their mother, Karen.
“He doesn’t have Dad to call, so I try to be there for him in [rough] times,” Mike says, explaining his role as big brother.
The fraternal relationship was an important reason why David followed Mike to Creighton, where the older Gerber was already well on his way to being drafted by the Detroit Tigers organization.
“It was a family decision, along with the fact that I was comfortable with the coaching staff,” David says. “Mike and I were [going to be] in the same city, and our mom could take a trip up to see us.”
David didn’t see much action beyond his debut at Arkansas State during freshman year. Performance-wise, he was not ready. During that time, he focused on developing a rigorous mental and physical routine that served as the bedrock of his current success. At the beginning of his sophomore year, he also changed his pitching delivery from the traditional over-the-top style to the more irregular side-arm submarine delivery.
“His velocity was probably around 84-85 [mph], and there are not a lot of guys that throw like that from the traditional arm slot,” coach Servais says, explaining the pitching style switch. “He is an unbelievably coachable player. Credit goes to him for being open-minded.”
The switch paid off. Following injuries to other players and multiple successful outings, including one at Kansas State, the Creighton coaches decided David was the best man to have at the back end of their bullpen.
“When I came in, it was a goal of mine to be a closer as a senior,” David says. “I don’t think coach ever expected me to be in that role as early as it happened. It is a tough situation. You are either the hero or the villain. There is no greater adrenaline rush than going out to close a game, and I can’t replicate how the mind works in that scenario, and how you go off into a different world, and your body takes over.”
After racking up 20 saves during his sophomore and junior seasons, he retained the closer job to finish out his Creighton career.
At the start of his senior season, David suddenly found himself in a role familiar to his older brother’s final year (in 2014). Both seasons featured overwhelmingly young rosters. Like Mike, David also had to play an essential leadership role. The 2017 squad had 16 freshmen, including those who red-shirted.
“He has done a good job one-on-one trying to pull guys aside and talk them through some things that he experienced as a freshman,” Servais says.
Despite being separated, with Mike chasing major league dreams in spring training as David began his final year at Creighton, the younger brother hopes to follow again in Mike’s footsteps.
The brothers who enjoyed a rare chance to share the collegiate field together still root for each other and cherish their friendship.
“We talk on the phone all the time,” Mike says. “He is always there if I need anything, and I can tell him anything. I would be a totally different person if he wasn’t around.”
Visit gocreighton.com for more information.
This article published in the May/June edition of Omaha Magazine.