Catching up with Jason Berken

ARLINGTON, Tex. - CUTigers.com recently caught up with former Tiger ace Jason Berken, who is now with the Baltimore Orioles.

Most Clemson baseball fans will recall the majority of Jason Berken's time in Tigertown was spent as a starter. And after a 9-3 season with a 3.22 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 2006, the Baltimore Orioles liked enough of what they saw to select the Wisconsin native in the sixth round of the June amateur draft.

Berken made his pro debut that summer with Aberdeen of the short season New York Penn League. He climbed the ladder in the Baltimore system, finally reaching the big leagues last year. However in 24 starts, Berken was just 6-12, leading manager Dave Trembley to suggest a move to the bullpen for 2010.

So far this season, he's off to a fast start, recording a 1.40 ERA and one hold in just over 19 innings of work through 10 appearances. It's clearly a new role for this ex-Tiger but he looks to be adapting to it fairly well.

Recently CUTigers.com had a chance to catch with the former Clemson ace to get his thoughts on his pro career thus far:

Jason first off, how do you look back on your time at Clemson?
Berken: It was awesome, where I'm at now had a lot to do with my time there. I was fortunate enough to have really good coaching. I'm still in good contact with Coach Leggett and Sully at Florida. Every year, on the way to spring training, I stop at both places and spend some time with the team. My time there was great. I got a chance to go to the World Series in '06 after having my Tommy John surgery. I always tell everybody that having the surgery was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because I got to spend an extra year there. I had a chance to get my degree and to go to a World Series. So, the four years that I had there were awesome.

What's the biggest lesson you took from playing for Coach Leggett?
Berken: You learn so much more than just baseball stuff being there. You grow up fast and become a man pretty quickly there. Coach Leggett does a great job of helping you turn into a man. There are so many life lessons I learned besides baseball from him. We had a good friendship. I feel like our relationship was awesome outside of the game as well. Coach Sullivan, I talk to him on a regular basis, a couple times a week, still. I owe a lot to him too. He helped me a lot as far as the mental end of the game. The first day I was there, I threw one pitch and he was already changing stuff. It made a big difference on me as a person and a player.


"The fans that we had at Clemson were awesome. Pretty much every game was sold out. We had unbelievable fan support. The team chemistry we had at Clemson was also great. I have a lot of lifelong friends that I still keep in contact with." (Roy Philpott)
Talk about what you miss most about being a Tiger.
Berken: The fans that we had at Clemson were awesome. Pretty much every game was sold out. We had unbelievable fan support. The team chemistry we had at Clemson was also great. I have a lot of lifelong friends that I still keep in contact with. Just the overall atmosphere and the overall experience at Clemson, the community was probably what I'll remember the most.

How do you feel about being in the bullpen this year?
Berken: I said from the get go I wanted to do whatever I could to help this team and be part of it. If that meant going to the pen, I was more than happy to do that. The other thing was I had a lot of help from the other guys in the pen. Mark Hendrickson helped me as far as getting into a routine. That was the biggest thing, getting into a routine day in and day out and trying to figure out what would work for me and then sticking with my routine.

What kinds of things did fellow reliever Mark Hendrickson help you with?
Berken: I think the biggest thing is the mental end of it. As a starter, you have your routine and your five-day plan is set in stone pretty much every five days. As a reliever, your starts aren't as consistent and you don't know when you're going to pitch. It can be a challenge at times to stay mentally focused because of the inconsistency of when you pitch. He's helped me a lot as far as staying mentally sharp and just trying to get into a routine that's consistent. But I think the biggest thing that he's helped me with is the mental end of it. That's the toughest part of this game with so many games. Last night was the first time I had pitched in eight days. I just had to find a way to stay sharp in those eight days and be ready to be called on at all times. That's one thing he taught me-never assume you're not going in, never assume you might not get called to pitch in a situation where you might not usually pitch. He has been a huge asset to me as have been the other guys. So far, it's been a pretty good transition. I'm just trying to stay as consistent as possible.

Do you like being a starter and knowing exactly when you'll pitch or being a reliever and knowing you can pitch on any given day?
Berken: It's nice as a starter having that plan and it's easy to get settled in over the course of the year. On the same hand, for me it's kind of been nice coming to the park every year and thinking I have a chance to pitch. Mentally, it just keeps you sharp all the time. Every time you go out there, you could have the chance to pitch. It's just a matter of when it's going to happen. I've enjoyed both. I love starting and I've enjoyed being in the pen. As of right now, it's just nice coming to the park and thinking today could be the day that I pitch.

Is returning to a starting role in the future a possibility?
Berken: I really have no idea. One of the things I've learned in all my years of pro ball is that you can only control the things you can control. I just try to focus on those things. Whether my role is as a starter or reliever, I'm more than willing to help any way I can. My main focus is on going out there to pitch in whatever role it might be. That's all I really tend to focus on because when you start worrying about those things that are out of your control, it really takes away from what you're trying to do. It's not really a focus of mine or something I really think about.


"One of the things I've learned in all my years of pro ball is that you can only control the things you can control. I just try to focus on those things. Whether my role is as a starter or reliever, I'm more than willing to help any way I can." (Getty Images)
What's it like to play at such a facility as Camden Yards?
Berken: Yeah, it's a great ballpark. It's one of the prettiest parks you'll play at with the warehouse. It's a great home park, it really is. I think it was one of the first parks of its kind when they first came out. Over the years, you don't have that dated feel whatsoever. It's a great area in a great city. The park itself is phenomenal for sure.

Where do you like pitching on the road?
Berken: Last year, I pitched in Chicago a couple of times and that was nice. I love the city of Chicago and it was a good opportunity for me to pitch in front of a lot of my family. I'm from Green Bay, Wisconsin so it's only about a two-hour drive down to Chicago. I was fortunate to pitch there a couple of times and be able to do it in front of my family and friends. That was a really cool place to pitch. I pitched at Minnesota this trip and it was the same situation where I had a lot of family and friends. Anytime you get a chance to pitch in front of your family, it's a pretty cool experience because the majority of my family is in Wisconsin still and they don't have a ton of opportunities to come out to Baltimore. When you're able to do stuff with your family like that, it's pretty special.

Have you gotten to pitch in Milwaukee yet?
Berken: No, we have not. I think we played them maybe in '08 but I wasn't up yet so I haven't had a chance to play in Milwaukee. Maybe, I try not to think too far ahead about that stuff but it would be a really cool experience if I ever got a chance to pitch in Milwaukee because I know I'd have a lot of support there. My family has been a big part of my life and a big part of my career. The support system I have back home is phenomenal. Without their support and their being behind me I wouldn't be where I'm at now.

In the off-season, the O's added veteran starter Kevin Millwood. How much have you been able to learn from a guy with his track record?
Berken: Kevin has been awesome. He's got a lot of time in the big leagues. He's more than willing to share that knowledge. If I ever have any questions or want to pick his brain, he's more than willing to help. He's been a huge asset for me and I know all the other guys will say the same thing. Just having a veteran presence like him on the staff has for sure helped all of us. The guy has done it all. He's had a ton of success at the major league level and it's for a reason. Any information I can get from him I try to get from him. It's cool that he's so open and willing to help. He's helped me out a lot so far for sure.

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