Tag Archives: Bluejays

The Closer

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The most nervous person on the field during David Gerber’s pitching debut for Creighton baseball in 2014 might have been his older brother, then senior outfielder Mike Gerber.

The Bluejays were down 6-2 late in a March game against Arkansas State. David was just a freshman, and the elder Gerber anxiously hoped his brother could start his college career off right.

David hit the first batter he faced, but Mike snagged two fly outs to end the inning, leaving the Bluejays unscathed. It was a brief debut, but a moment neither brother will forget.

“Not a lot of brothers have the opportunity to say that they got to be on the same field at the Division I level,” the pitcher says of his first time on the mound in a college game.

It was also the beginning of David’s career as one of the best relief pitchers in Creighton history. Now a senior, the side-winding closer has played an important leadership role on the 2017 Bluejays squad. He was named to the National College Baseball Writers Association 2017 Stopper of the Year Preseason Watch List amid expectations that he would finish his career as the all-time saves leader for Creighton.

A strong family bond brought David to Omaha, and a rare adaptability has set him up to succeed in the high-pressure closer role.

“His record speaks for itself,” says Creighton head coach Ed Servais of David. “He has taken advantage of every opportunity.”

The Gerber brothers’ father introduced them to baseball. “We saw his love for the game and adopted that,” David says. “It became the culture of our family.”

A 2 1/2-year age gap and mutual appreciation for baseball helped make the young Gerber boys inseparable. They maintained an allegiance to their favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, even after moving from Springfield, Missouri, to the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois.

Tragedy struck the family when David was 14 years old. Their father, Michael (the elder brother’s namesake), died of kidney cancer. The loss tested the family, forging a tighter bond between the brothers and their mother, Karen.

“He doesn’t have Dad to call, so I try to be there for him in [rough] times,” Mike says, explaining his role as big brother.

The fraternal relationship was an important reason why David followed Mike to Creighton, where the older Gerber was already well on his way to being drafted by the Detroit Tigers organization.

“It was a family decision, along with the fact that I was comfortable with the coaching staff,” David says. “Mike and I were [going to be] in the same city, and our mom could take a trip up to see us.”

David didn’t see much action beyond his debut at Arkansas State during freshman year. Performance-wise, he was not ready. During that time, he focused on developing a rigorous mental and physical routine that served as the bedrock of his current success. At the beginning of his sophomore year, he also changed his pitching delivery from the traditional over-the-top style to the more irregular side-arm submarine delivery. 

“His velocity was probably around 84-85 [mph], and there are not a lot of guys that throw like that from the traditional arm slot,” coach Servais says, explaining the pitching style switch. “He is an unbelievably coachable player. Credit goes to him for being open-minded.”

The switch paid off. Following injuries to other players and multiple successful outings, including one at Kansas State, the Creighton coaches decided David was the best man to have at the back end of their bullpen.

“When I came in, it was a goal of mine to be a closer as a senior,” David says. “I don’t think coach ever expected me to be in that role as early as it happened. It is a tough situation. You are either the hero or the villain. There is no greater adrenaline rush than going out to close a game, and I can’t replicate how the mind works in that scenario, and how you go off into a different world, and your body takes over.”

After racking up 20 saves during his sophomore and junior seasons, he retained the closer job to finish out his Creighton career.

At the start of his senior season, David suddenly found himself in a role familiar to his older brother’s final year (in 2014). Both seasons featured overwhelmingly young rosters. Like Mike, David also had to play an essential leadership role. The 2017 squad had 16 freshmen, including those who red-shirted.

“He has done a good job one-on-one trying to pull guys aside and talk them through some things that he experienced as a freshman,” Servais says.

Despite being separated, with Mike chasing major league dreams in spring training as David began his final year at Creighton, the younger brother hopes to follow again in Mike’s footsteps.

The brothers who enjoyed a rare chance to share the collegiate field together still root for each other and cherish their friendship. 

“We talk on the phone all the time,” Mike says. “He is always there if I need anything, and I can tell him anything. I would be a totally different person if he wasn’t around.” 

Visit gocreighton.com for more information.

This article published in the May/June edition of Omaha Magazine.

Lights Out

October 15, 2015 by

Twilight has come for the Omaha Civic Auditorium. The main ring is empty of events, its website taken over by some sort of erotic online service out of Asia. The city put the building up for sale last year, seeking someone who would both demolish the cement-and-glass entertainment venue and develop something new in its place. The once massive structure, seating as many as 10,960 people, has become overshadowed by CenturyLink Center, which can seat close to 19,000. The arena once known for sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll may soon become home to the suits and ties of corporate America.

The auditorium should not pass without comment. This was, after all, where Elvis Presley performed one of his most disastrous late-period concerts. It’s where a vice-presidential debate between Democrat Lloyd Bentsen and Republican Dan Quayle entered the history books.

The auditorium opened its doors in December 1954, built by the city at a cost of $6,500,000, according to an Omaha World-Herald ad for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the first act to appear in the auditorium’s smaller music hall. The New Year’s Day edition of the World-Herald was filled with ads from local businesses congratulating the city on its new auditorium. Peter Kiewit Sons’ ad stated “Omaha can be justifiably proud,” saying the auditorium will “stand as a symbol of a forward-looking leadership of our city.”

According to newspaper records, the first major event in the civic auditorium was a “boxing blitz,” the Golden Gloves Omaha City Tournament in January 1955 and the Midwest Championship in February, which promised “entertainment—with plenty of socks appeal!” The auditorium would often welcome sporting events, including Bluejays men’s basketball, Creighton women’s basketball and volleyball, the UNO hockey team, and the current Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team, known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings between 1972 and 1985.

The arena served as the longtime stomping grounds for Omaha wrestling, with a record 10,310 people filling the stadium to see the taping of WWF Superstars of Wrestling on April 26, 1989. This event featured such legends of wrestling as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Randy Savage.

The popular music venue held concerts by the Rolling Stones, who appeared in July 1966, and Bob Dylan, who appeared in 1978. Virtually every band known to draw a large audience appeared at the civic, including REM, Van Halen, KISS, and, more recently, Beck, and the Foo Fighters.

The building also contained an exhibit hall and events venue that served as one of the epicenters of Omaha arts and culture—if that is what one calls the Guinness Book of World Records 1983 bean-eating contest. Better examples include coin shows, cat shows, and antique sales.

If something happened in Omaha, and it had any sort of following, there was a good chance it wound up at the civic auditorium. That building houses 60 years of memories, which people will hold on to long after the deconstruction is finished.

Notable Civic Auditorium gigs

April 19, 1963: Yetta Wallenda, a member of the famous Wallenda family of circus aerialists, performed a daring feat that involved “skirting on the borderline of eternity.” She climbed to the top of a 45-foot fiberglass pole and stood on her head. Losing her balance, she tumbled all the way to the ground. Doctors pronounced her dead by the time she reached the hospital.

March 4, 1968: Civil rights protestors confronted segregationist governor George Wallace. Upon arrival, they suffered violence from counter-protestors, then the police, resulting in the shooting of one protestor, a high-school student. The aftermath nearly incited a riot quelled by community leaders, including future state senator Ernie Chambers.

March 25, 1972: Council Bluffs heavyweight boxer Ron Stander lands a title match against world champion Joe Frazier. The resulting mayhem was brutal, with a ringside doctor stopping the fight after the fourth round, when Stander required 32 stitches.

June 19, 1977: Elvis Presley plays his second-to-last touring show. The suffering King of Rock and Roll notoriously forgot the lyrics to songs he performed for years, and died a few months later. The legendarily terrible performance was filmed for the television special Elvis in Concert, shown posthumously. Bootlegs of it circulate to this day.

November 8, 1988: Vice presidential hopefuls Dan Quayle (Republican) and Lloyd Bentsen (Democrat) faced off in a heated debate. Irritated by Quayle comparing himself to John F. Kennedy, Bentsen snapped: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

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Ethan Wragge

October 26, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ethan Wragge was a driving force behind the Creighton University Bluejays’ success as they stormed the Big East during their inaugural season in the vaunted conference where hoops is king. Now the recent graduate is storming the halls of big finance through his second internship with Burlington Capital Group.

The 6’7” center is 27th on the school’s all-time scoring list. His career 1,155 points is a figure that is apparently just shy of the number of times Burlington Capital co-workers have challenged him to a (friendly?) game of horse. His mark of 334 career three-pointers is second only to the legendary Kyle Korver’s 371.

Wragge isn’t just an overachiever when wearing the get-up he’s pictured in on these pages. The same tenacity was demonstrated in the classroom when the Academic All-American earned triple majors in finance, marketing, and entrepreneurship.

“Burlington Capital is such a great internship,” Wragge says, “because we do so many things here; real estate, international business, private equity markets, and more. The people here are competitive, just like I was competitive for the last 18 years of my life on a basketball court. They know how to win. They’re entrepreneurs who know what it takes to win in highly competitive markets.”

But Wragge isn’t done with basketball just quite yet. He’s currently rehabbing from post-season knee surgery as he eyes offers to turn pro in Europe.

Regardless of whether he ends up in shorts or pinstripes, Wragge says he will always have fond recollections of Omaha. His favorite on-court memory? “Easy,” he replies. “I will never forget Villanova. And we did it on their court,” he says of the game that was the first win in the program’s history over a top five team (the Wildcats were ranked No. 4 at the time).

“Omaha really drew me in,” he continues. “There’s a reason why I spent only a total of 60 days back home [in Eden Prairie, Minn.] during the five years I was here. What the team means to this community—the way they take you in and make you family—is the same as what this community means to me. And I’m also really going to miss the food here. Cheeseburgers at Dinker’s. California Tacos. Don’t get me started!”

Wragge was affectionately known as “The Beard” on the parquet floor of the CenturyLink Center Omaha. So does he now have a new nickname, one that is perhaps more fitting for the world of corporate America?

“Not really,” came his reply.

Okay, so how “not really” is that? Does he have a new moniker or not?

“Well,” he begins with the slightest hint—all but imperceptible—of downcast eyes and an “Aw shucks” shuffling of the feet. “Some of the guys here…well, some of the guys just call me “Spreadsheet Monkey.”

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Winning Psychology

June 19, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A burst of electricity raced through the Omaha crowd. The score was tied, 60-60, with the clock nearly exhausted. Only 2.5 seconds remained. Then, Doug McDermott sank a three-pointer. Fifteen thousand blue-and-white bodies leapt to their feet.

Creighton won the mid-season conference match against St. John’s by a single basket. McDermott not only sank the winning three-pointer, he also scored a season-high 39 points.

Dr. Jack Stark was taking mental notes from the sidelines. As usual, Stark was standing amongst the team. He is the official sports psychologist for the Bluejays, a volunteer position that he has held for seven years.

Stark previously worked with Cornhusker football (1989-2004), with Omaha Mavericks hockey, and a host of other collegiate and professional programs. For the past 14 years, he’s been in the pits of NASCAR. He currently works intensely with six drivers: Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (winner of the Daytona 500 this year).

Altogether, Stark has been part of 20 national championships. He earned three championship rings with the Huskers, where he was instrumental in launching a player feedback council.

Players need someone to consult when crisis strikes off the field, he says, someone who isn’t the coach.

Stark continues working with former Huskers coach Frank Solich at Ohio University and recently began helping the Wyoming football team and Omaha Lancers hockey team. His accolades, mementos and signed posters adorn his home office in West Omaha. The former clinical psychologist (originally from Hastings, Neb.) refers to his collegiate and high school sports consulting as a “hobby.” NASCAR and business consulting provides his income.

Despite Stark’s privileged position to watch some of the world’s most memorable sporting events, he says that the Creighton Bluejays’ narrow win over St. John’s remains a particularly insightful moment for anyone wishing to understand one of sports history’s most special relationships—the relationship between one of college basketball’s all-time greats with his coach/father.

“Doug McDermott absolutely loves to play for his father. You can tell,” Stark says, recalling the frigid night in late January when coach Greg McDermott turned to his son with a simple compliment: “Doug, it was a great game, great effort.”

The younger McDermott was beaming in response, not because he had single-handedly carried the team. Rather, he was simply happy to help his father.

“I’ve been blessed to have worked with Heisman winners, players of the year, All-Americans, Olympic gold medalists, all of them,” Stark says, “but none of them are as good as Doug McDermott.”

Kelsey Saddoris and Kayleigh Begley

April 29, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Marriage proposals from secret admirers. Out-of-the-blue invitations to high school proms in distant states. Being dubbed “America’s Sweethearts.” Such are the lives of two of the city’s newest instant celebrities.

Being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated has the power to do that, you know.

Creighton University dance team members Kelsey Saddoris (left on previous page) and Kayleigh Begley were pictured flanking Bluejay senior Doug McDermott on the cover of the March 17 issue of the magazine. Saddoris is a pre-med junior from Ankeny, Iowa. Begley, a pre-law freshman, is the homegrown product of Millard North High School.

“This has all been like a dream,” says Begley. “This is my first year of college, and that has been a crazy enough experience in itself. But to be a part of the Creighton program in such an exciting year…and then Sports Illustrated…and now you guys. It’s just been a magical year.”

“The change to the Big East,” adds Saddoris, “has been huge for us. New logo. New mascot. New league. It’s been amazing fun. The response—not just to the magazine cover but to everything about Creighton’s success—has been just unbelievable.”

McDermott, the All-Everything “Dougie McBuckets,” led the nation in scoring with 26.7 points per game. He has since earned college basketball’s most prestigious honors in being named both the John R. Wooden Award Player of the Year and The Associated Press Player of the Year. His third first-team appearance on the AP’s All-America team makes him the first player to rack up a trio of such honors since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale did so in the 1980s. McDermott’s 3,150 career points places him a lofty No. 5 on college hoops’ all-time scoring list.

Savvy sports fans know that the Sports Illustrated cover was homage to its 1977 ancestor that featured Larry Bird striking the same pose with Indiana State cheerleaders. Both covers carried the same headline of “College Basketball’s Secret Weapon.”

The magazine hit newsstands during spring break and Omaha Magazine’s photo shoot took place the very day that classes resumed.

“Pretty weird out there today, but in a good way,” Begley says while mugging for the camera. “Campus was totally on fire today!”

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Creighton vs. Villanova Win at Home

February 18, 2014 by
Photography by Joe Mixan Photography