More than five decades ago, Robert Mount toed the rubber at Evans Diamond, and, were it not for a blown out knee, may have made it into the farm system for the San Francisco Giants. It's a story he's told his grandson -- Addison Berger. His stories of his time pitching for California captivated Berger, as he literally wrapped himself in his blue and gold Cal bedsheets. Little did he know that, one day, he'd have a chance to step on that same mound. On Saturday, three months after receiving his scholarship offer, the 2019 righty out of Kentfield (Calif.) Marin Catholic decided to pull the trigger and commit, picking the Bears over Oregon, St. Mary's, Nevada and San Jose State.
"Since I was a little kid, I've always dreamed of going to Cal. My grandpa played baseball at Cal, and that was something that was really special to me," Berger told BearTerritory moments after announcing his commitment. "It was between Cal and Oregon. My mom was like, 'I got you Cal sheets when you were little,' and I have Cal pictures up all over my room. Some of my good friends' parents played sports at Cal, and their kids were going to Cal. I've always wanted to go there."
Berger holds a 3.7 grade point average, and a Dean's List nod, to boot. He's also been named a Perfect Game USA Underclassman All-American Honorable Mention two years in a row.
"I've always loved the campus. I've known a lot of kids who went there and loved it. I just felt an immediate connection ... He loved playing Cal baseball, and he loves the school. There were so many things that led me to commit. I think it was probably the best for myself, my family, my friends. They're really happy."
Pitching coach Thomas Eager had seen Berger pitch for the Zoots -- one of the premier travel ball teams in Northern California -- but needed to see him one more time before offering. So, on March 1, the Bears' recruiting coordinator took a seat at the Wildcats' diamond, and watched as Berger made his first varsity start against vaunted Petaluma (Calif.) Casa Grande. After allowing one run in the top of the first, Berger threw 3.0 shutout innings. He allowed just 2 hits and a walk and struck out 3, settling for the no-decision. That was all Eager needed to see. Soon after, Berger visited Berkeley, and pulled down a scholarship.
Berger estimates he's been to at least 12 games over the years at Evans Diamond, along with "a bunch" of football and basketball games. This season, he watched family friend Andrew Vaughn batter his way through the Pac-12, earning Freshman of the Year honors.
"My mom grew up with his dad (Toby) in Santa Rosa, so I know his family pretty well," Berger said. "He's a lot older than I am, so I've never pitched against him, but we had family over, and we'd be watching the Cal game. My uncle is best friends with his dad, and still talks to him, so we'd gather around, and we just loved watching him. Everything he hits is just a rocket. It's really exciting for the program to have him at least two more years, if not more, if he doesn't get drafted after three. He's really incredible, and he's even a great pitcher, too. He didn't pitch too much this year, but he throws hard, and he's got good stuff. Coach Eager said he never got enough bullpens in, because he was always hitting or fielding. He said next year, he'll play a bigger role, pitching. He's something else."
Berger throws a four-seam fastball from 82-85 mph, a two-seam fastball with arm-side run, a slider, and a 72 mph 12-6 curve.
"[The two-seamer] is one of my more effective pitches," Berger said. "It jams righties, and if you throw it to lefties, it kind of tails away. it's an effective pitch for me. I can throw it anywhere in the count. It goes slower than the four-seam, but it has more movement, but relatively the same speed from the four-seam to the two-seam. They both have some arm-side run to them that makes it a harder pitch to hit"
The main event, though, is Berger's change up.
"It drops and goes down and runs," Berger said. "I hold it like a two-seam, but I choke it a little bit so I get a little speed off of it, and it goes down and away. I get a bunch of grounders on it. It's not too much of a strikeout pitch yet, but it's really good for getting less-than-three-pitch at-bats, letting them hit it to the third baseman and rolling over for the out."
Berger is the fourth member of the Bears' 2019 class, joining Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista pitcher Josh White, Napa (Calif.) Vintage righty Eli Wood and San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian outfielder Coleman Brigman.
Cal finished 25-29 this season, with a 15-15 mark in Pac-12 play, one conference win better than a 2016 squad that saw seven players taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Pac-12 Player of the Year Brett Cumberland. This year's draft is scheduled for June 12, with junior third baseman Denis Karas, junior lefty Matt Ladrech and junior infielder Preston GrandPre eligible to be taken. Karas co-led the Pac-12 in home runs (12), but hit .242, and will likely return, as he developed a better opposite-field approach towards the end of the season. Further developing that would make him a much more attractive pro prospect. Karas was one of two upperclassman starters, the other being GrandPre.
GrandPre missed the first 30 games with a broken hand, but hit .325 in 24 games (21 starts) with a .425 slugging percentage and a .400 on-base percentage. His best bet would be to return for a senior year and play a full, healthy season. Soft-tossing lefty Ladrech is also likely to return, meaning the Bears will almost certainly return their entire starting lineup and their entire starting rotation (including freshman righty Jared Horn), along with closer Erik Martinez (5-4, 3.11 ERA, 6 saves) and two-way star Tanner Dodson, who hit .299 with 3 home runs, 14 doubles, 26 RBIs and a .457 slugging percentage, while allowing just 3 earned runs in his last 13.1 innings of work on the mound.