Monday, Aug 20, 2018
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David Briggs

Better late than never, former Clay star Berger to throw out first pitch at Indians game

  • Stephen-Barger-1

    Stephen Berger, a 1994 Oregon Clay grad who will throw out the first pitch at Wednesday's Indians game.

  • Stephen-Barger

    Stephen Berger, a 1994 Oregon Clay grad who will throw out the first pitch at Wednesday's Indians game.

  • Columnist-Mug-David-Briggs-1-25

In any case, it would have made for a fun local headline.

Clay High student wins speed toss contest, to throw first pitch at Indians game.

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With mom and dad in attendance, Stephen Berger will do the honors before Wednesday’s 1:10 p.m. game against the Brewers.

See, cool story.

There is just one little twist.

The fire-throwing kid is now 41.

“And I still plan on bringing it,” he told me with a laugh the other day.

Yes, better late than never — 24 years after he let fly a 92-mph fastball in a carnival-style contest under the Jacobs Field bleachers during a rain-delayed Indians game — Berger is set to collect his prize.

Confused? No worries. So were the Indians when Berger sent their PR staff a letter this year explaining the ceremonial restitution he was perhaps due.

As it happened, the Indians staged a fan speed-toss competition during the 1994 season, the first in their downtown ballpark, now known as Progressive Field. The winning prize? Throwing the first pitch before a game later that year.

One contestant was Berger, a born-and-bred Cleveland sports fan who attended the May 31 game against the Angels with his dad, Wes. He happened upon the arms competition when the skies opened.

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Stephen Berger, a 1994 Oregon Clay grad who will throw out the first pitch at Wednesday's Indians game.

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We should note Berger wasn’t your ordinary Joe out to impress his ordinary bros. He was a bullet-armed star senior outfielder for Clay, where he holds the single-season school record for singles and steals. Weeks later, he would be drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 62nd round of the MLB amateur draft.

His first pitch, the radar gun flashed 92 — 20 mph faster than the clubhouse leader — wowing the crowd crammed onto the concourse. Berger received a certificate and was told to expect a call.

“The attendant said there’s no way anybody is going to beat that,” Berger remembered.

Nobody did.

The only thing that could stop Berger was the strike, which went into effect Aug. 12, robbing fans of the season’s final months and one Oregon teen of his golden ticket.

Berger was bummed, but let it go and moved on. He went off on a baseball scholarship to Ohio University, where injuries cut short a career he dreamed would take him to the big leagues, then got a job — he now helps lead a national IT company — and started a family. He lives in Avon with his wife, Tara, and two baseball-loving sons, ages 6 and 8.

It was only during a recent move the past came to him. Berger uncovered the old contest certificate, and with a nudge from Tara, sent it to the Indians, who knew a good story when they saw one.

Berger can’t wait. If his big-league moment will come under different circumstances than he imagined, he nonetheless appreciates the chance to share it with his family — and show his boys dad still has it.

“Arm’s still in good shape,” Berger confirmed. 

His glory days might have passed him by, but the speedball remains.

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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