No Second Guessing Dude’s No-Hitter : San Diego State’s Erb Makes Strong Pitch for Winning Baseball Games His Way
With Mike Erb it has to be rock-’n-roll music. It cannot be Bach ‘n Beethoven. Or Willie Nelson, for that matter.
Erb, a pitcher for San Diego State, will march to any drummer--as long as the music is right.
One of his idiosyncrasies--and he has a few--is that he has to listen to rock ‘n roll before a start. It does not always work to his satisfaction, however.
On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Erb was riding in the back of a van driven by assistant coach Dave Legg. Legg likes country-and-western music, so that’s what was playing on the radio. Erb, not excited by Legg’s taste in music, fell asleep.
He awakened shortly before game time and didn’t pitch too well that day.
“It’s because Legg had that country music playing on the way up here,” he said. “I can’t get myself fired up when I have to put up with that.”
Erb, a sophomore from Madison High School, is a free spirit, even when the music isn’t playing. And he also wins. Erb is 9-3 with a 2.99 earned-run average going into the Western Athletic Conference playoffs starting today.
One day this week, someone went so far as to suggest to Gary Kondratek, the Aztecs’ pitching coach, that he might have a flake on his pitching staff. Kondratek didn’t have to ask which one.
“Oh, you mean Erbel?” he said. “There’s always a lot of flakes on baseball teams, but he’s one of the biggest. Sometimes, it seems like he doesn’t have a care in the world.”
Erb isn’t really too concerned with his laid-back image. He’s a self-proclaimed Southern California surfer-type kind of guy. He says “Hey, dude,” a lot, rides a skateboard to baseball practice and wears Bermuda shorts every day of the week.
The image doesn’t always sit well with his coaches, though. On a recent trip to Hawaii, SDSU Coach Jim Dietz informed his players that they would have to wear long pants on the plane ride over.
“Can you believe that?” said Erb. “Here it is 90 degrees outside and I had to have long pants on. But, since it was a rule, I had to follow it. Most of the time, I don’t really care what people think. I just wear what I want to wear.”
Appearances aside, Erb has been the Aztecs’ most consistent starter this season. His no-hitter April 22 against Utah helped the Aztecs clinch the WAC Western Division title by beating Hawaii, 7-1, Saturday night. He was named to the WAC’s All-Western Division first team Wednesday.
“He’s a very head-strong kid, but that’s a lot of what makes him successful,” Kondratek said. “He’s matured a lot in his two years here. He’s learned that there’s more than one way to skin a cat and that Mike Erb’s way isn’t always the best way to go about it.”
There was a time, however, when Erb’s way was the only way.
Bob Roeder, his coach at Madison High School, remembers.
“Sometimes, the best way to coach him was to let him make a mistake and then let him approach you about it,” Roeder said. “He knew what he wanted to do and that’s how he pitched.”
Said Dietz: “He has really matured in his two years here and hopefully he’ll keep gaining maturity. He’s recognized that he has to work on some other things before he can become a complete pitcher.”
One might be a changeup. BYU, a fastball-hitting team, waited for Erb’s fastball and knocked him out of the game by the fifth inning two weeks ago at Smith Field.
“We’ve been working on a changeup with him, and he could have used it that day,” Kondratek said. “It’s not that he’s not willing to learn it, it’s just that he hasn’t gotten it down yet.”
Erb came back in his next outing Saturday against Hawaii. He allowed only three hits over the final eight innings.
“The scouts told me that he was throwing harder in the eighth and ninth innings than he was during the middle of the game,” Kondratek said. “That’s what’s impressive about him. When he gets close and he can smell the win, he goes after it. He’s a real gamer.”
Erb completed seven games this season, five more than any other SDSU pitcher. He pitched a team-high 96 innings and struck out a conference-leading 92.
And his no-hitter couldn’t have come at a better time for the Aztecs, then 4-8. SDSU went on to win the Western Division championship.
“Pitching a no-hitter in college was above and beyond my greatest expectations,” Erb said. “I never thought I would do it at this level.
“I don’t know if I was able to pick the team up. But I do know that there wasn’t one guy on this team who didn’t come up to me after the game and congratulate me. Maybe, it brought us a little closer together.”
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