Nick Derba: A Doctor Behind the Plate?

Before heading to Columbia to play winter ball, St. Louis Cardinals minor league catcher Nick Derba took time to talk with our Dustin Mattison.

Catcher Nick Derba was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 30th round of the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Manhattan College.  It was not the first time the Cardinals went to the Jaspers for a draft pick.  In 2004, the Cardinals chose right-handed pitcher Mike Parisi from the Roman Catholic liberal arts college.

 

After his junior season, the backstop helped lead Manhattan to its first ever MAAC Championship and to the NCAA Regional Final after posting upsets of Nebraska and San Francisco. 

 

A chemistry/biology double major who possibly has medical school in his future, Derba was a member of the Pen & Sword Society as well as Manhattan College's Honor Society. He was named a nominee for Manhattan's Joseph J. Gunn Alumni Medal and the Lowe's Senior CLASS award.  

 

While playing three summers in the prestigious Cape Cod League, Derba served as a counselor at the Chatham A's Baseball Camp for local youths. 

 

Known more for his glove work than his bat, on draft day 2007, Derba was coming off a college season in which he hit .281/.440/.563 with 11 home runs.  The Cardinals assigned the New York native upstate to Batavia where he hit .267/.413/.433 in the New York-Penn League.  Showing solid receiving skills, he was promoted to the Midwest League to join the Quad Cities.

 

In 49 games for the Swing, he hit .268/.391/.372 in 49 games for a team that made the playoffs.  According to Baseball America, Derba was the top catcher in the Minors throwing out base runners as he erased 53% of would-be base stealers, 21 points better than the NY-Penn League average.

 

Before the 2008 season, Derba was invited to big league spring training camp to learn his craft from special instructor, Mike Matheny, alongside veterans such as Yadier Molina and Jason LaRue. 

 

This season has to be classified as a disappointment for Derba.  Playing for Palm Beach in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, the 22-year-old hit .166/.290/.238 in 66 games.

 

I was able to catch up with Derba before he heads to Columbia to play winter baseball. 

 


Dustin Mattison: I understand that you will be playing winter ball in Columbia. How did this come about and what do you know about baseball in that country?

 

Nick Derba: I was informed by our catching rover, Dann Bilardello, that he was coaching a team in Columbia so I asked him about it. He had to make sure it was okay and now I'm heading down there. I really wanted to play some ball this winter because I really need the reps. It is a great opportunity for me. Besides, how many times will I get to go to Columbia? I really don't know all too much about Columbia or what the baseball is like, but it's still baseball down there. All that I can do is play as hard as I can. From what I understand, they draw pretty good crowds, which is always fun.

DM: Tell me about your first big league spring training.

 

ND: Big league spring training was great. I had and have the opportunity to work with some of the best defensive catchers. You can't really go wrong with learning from Yadier Molina, Mike Matheny, Jason LaRue and Mark Johnson.

DM: Was it comforting to know that a former Jasper, Mike Parisi, was there with you?

 

ND: I was definitely more comfortable with Mike around. He's a very good friend of mine but after the first few days I saw him mainly during bullpens and PFP's.

DM: Tell me about draft day 2007. Were there other teams in contact with you besides the Cardinals? What did you know about the Cardinal organization before they drafted you?

 

ND: Draft day was pretty exciting. Even though I spoke to other teams, I wasn't expecting to get drafted. I left the computer on all day and three picks before I was called, my computer shut off. When I got the phone call I nearly hit the roof. Any baseball fan knows that Cardinals organization is always at the top and has been throughout the history of baseball. At the time I didn't care who drafted me but now I definitely appreciate whom I belong to. 


DM: You played three summers on the Cape. How did that type of high level competition help you make the transition to professional baseball?

 

ND: The three summers in the Cape League were all with the Chatham A's under John Schiffner. The Cape prepared me to deal with the grind of baseball and truly sharpen my defensive skills. I caught so much good pitching up there that I had to learn quickly on the fly. It's pretty funny how many guys I played with or against in the Cape are on my team now or in the Minors or Majors.

DM: How helpful was it that you were already familiar with hitting with wood?

 

ND: Frankly, I really wasn't able to handle the wood in College until my senior year but that time really showed me some things about hitting.

DM: You were named to the Academic All-MAAC team while majoring in biology so it is obvious that academics are quite important to you. What would you being doing with your education if you were not playing baseball?

 

ND: Originally after I graduated, I planned on furthering my education to Medical School, or graduate school to receive my PhD. My parents are both teachers and they instilled in my brother, who's a CPA, and I that education was more important than anything, which I still believe whole-heartedly. I was just lucky enough to play baseball.

DM:  Your father, Victor, is a retired teacher who has his own fan club page on Facebook. What are your feelings on this and more importantly, how does he feel about this?

 

ND: My father is retired from the Public School System but still teaches at St. Agnes High School in College Point, which is near where my mother teaches at my old grammar school, St. Fidelis School. I think that it's awesome that he has a fan club. It's called the Mr. Derba Fan Club. I didn't start it up though; a student started it up because he is probably the best teacher ever.

DM: What do you like to do when you are not playing baseball?

 

ND: Besides playing ball, I like to fish no matter the season. Golf is great in the off-season, Guitar Hero and Mario Kart DS are always great time-fillers. I read with the morning cup of beans.

 

I appreciate Nick taking the time to do this piece.  I wish him the best of luck in his future with the Cardinals.  Remember, keep up on Nick and all the Cardinals farmhands playing winter ball here at The Birdhouse. 

 

 

Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at dustin@whiteyball.com.

 

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