Nick Burdi has been one of the hot storylines in college baseball for over a year now, starting when he hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior at the University of Louisville topped the century mark several times in a game last season, but it wasn't just about his speed. Burdi became not only one of the fastest throwing relievers in the nation but one of the best pitchers – and top juniors – in the country as well.
The hard-throwing right-hander had 16 saves for the Cardinals last season and was on four preseason All-American teams heading into this season. He's expected to be a top pick in the June MLB Amateur Draft.
"It's all pretty surreal," Burdi said. "A lot of it is God-given ability, but he has also blessed me with such opportunities. I'm just out here trying to win games for my team, have fun with the guys and get back to Omaha.
"But it's all been pretty cool how it's worked out."
Burdi had a 0.76 ERA last season with 62 strikeouts in 35.2 innings. He allowed only 25 hits and allowed opponents to hit just .192 against him. He's ranked as the No. 12 player overall – and No. 7 among pitchers – by Baseball American in the College Top 100 prospects listing and was a first-team preseason All-Amercian.
"It's been fun watching him develop as a superstar," Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell said. "He is one of the hardest working kids we've ever seen. We're excited to see what he can do this season. He's worked hard and he knows what we expect of him. I think we'll see something pretty special."
Burdi helped the Cardinals to 51 wins and the College World Series appearance last season, getting a ton of attention for his hard-throwing ways. But while some analysts focused on the 100 MPH fastballs, Burdi isn't worried about it.
"I don't worry about what people say," Burdi said. "At the end of the day, it's about this team and ultimately winning a national championship. I always feel like if you do your job, then you get praised or whatever.
"But for me, it's just all about the team and not just about me."
A native of Downers Grove, Ill., Burdi said he started throwing 93-94 MPH when he was a sophomore in high school and saw it go up a little the next two years. He said it was always a goal to hit 100.
"It just kept going up and up," he said. "That velocity, it was something I worked for because I knew there are not many guys out there with that kind of velocity."
Burdi is a former high school football quarterback and said he "had a tough decision" to quit playing football after his junior year of high school.
"I decided this is what I wanted to do," Burdi said with a smile. "I'm glad it's worked out like it has, I think it was a pretty good decision."
Burdi was close to 100 the spring of his freshman season a few times and final hit the century mark the summer before last at the Cape Cod League for the first time.
"My coach (at the Cape) after the game came up and ask if I knew how hard I was throwing," Burdi said. "I was usually hitting 97-98, so I thought that is what it was and he said 100-101.
"I stepped back and it put a little smile on my face. I guess it's good that all of that hard work has paid off for me."
The hard work goes back to high school.
As a senior at Downers Grove South, Burdi 7-1 with one save, a 1.21 ERA and 70 strikeouts. He was a 24th round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins and competed at the 18U USA Trials. He opted to come to college, noting he wasn't really close to signing a pro contract because "of all the things I would have missed out on."
As a freshman at U of L, McDonnell said Burdi "over did it a bit" and ended up with a foot injury and several other nagging injuries. He finished 1-2 in 13 appearances with a 5.56 ERA and saw opponents bat .301 against him.
"The game was tough on him as a freshman," McDonnell said. "But you could just tell from the moment he stepped on campus, he wanted to be great."
And every since that season, he's been pretty great.
U of L pitching coach Roger Williams said the staff had to watch Burdi close early in his career because was such a hard-working player.
"Nick was the guy the first two years that we worried would over do it," Williams said. "Would he do too much on the conditioning side? Now, he understands what his capabilities are and what he has to do to stay ready without doing too much.
"But he has always placed great emphasis on taking care of himself and his arm. It's a common term but for him the sky really is the limit."
Burdi said he "feels stronger" this season and heading into the season felt "really great" even with all of the pressure of being one of the top pitchers in the country.
"It will be interesting for people to see what I can do better," he said with a smile. "I'm just ready for the season and ready to help try to take this team back to Omaha. I take it all for what it is (the accolades) because for me it's the team.
"If I do whatever but the team doesn't win then it doesn't mean as much to me. My ultimate goal is for us to be able to dog pile in Omaha."
And for Burdi, that would mean more than hitting the century mark.