Scott Oberg , frankly, was anxious to get his first appearance as a professional for the Grand Junction Rockies out of the way.
And the Tewksbury High grad was not too happy after allowing a two-run homer by Jin-Ho Chin , in his one-inning stint closing out a 10-6 win over the Idaho Falls Chukars on June 23.
Not after wrapping up a stellar three-year career at the University of Connecticut with a historic junior season, becoming the first Husky pitcher in 36 seasons to register an earned run average under 1.00.
“I’ve been feeling excited, nervous, and anxious,” said Oberg, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound righthander who was assigned to Colorado’s rookie league affiliate in the Pioneer League after being selected in the 15th round (468th overall selection) of the Major League Baseball draft last month.
“My first appearance, I was really anxious to get it over with and wasn’t as happy as I would have liked. But I came out a lot more comfortable the second time and I was really happy with my performance.”
He followed his first appearance with three straight scoreless stints, including a perfect frame July 4th against the Orem Owlz that left him with a tidy 2.25 ERA.
It was just the continuation of what was a terrific bounceback season at UConn for Oberg, who after sitting out the 2011 season for Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, went 5-0, registered nine saves, and registered an 0 .99 ERA, earning selection to the American Baseball Coaches Association All-Northeast Regional second team.
“I knew when I hurt my elbow that I needed to get it [surgery], and I worried I might not come back for another season,” he said. “The most important thing was just doing what I had to do to try to help the team.”
Oberg, who relies mostly on his two-seam fastball for its tailing action, works to get ground balls and let his defense do the work.
He never started a game at UConn, but is open to any role with Colorado.
“It doesn’t make a difference to me,” he said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help. If they want me to do relief I’ll do it, or if they want me to start I’ll try that too.”
His initial observation of pro ball: “It’s much better competition, and the game is played at a faster pace,” he said. “We’re playing with kids who were the best players on their college teams.”
At a time in which the region has been devastated by wildfires, the Rockies, fortunately, have not been affected (most of the destruction has been on the other side of the state). However, the team did witness a lightning strike spark a fire.
This season, Oberg is just trying to get his feet wet in pro ball.
UConn coach Jim Penders says Oberg is one of the best competitors that he has ever seen.
“One of the toughest players, physically and mentally, I’ve ever coached,” said Penders, who guided the Huskies to a 31-27-1 record this season.
“We had a joke in the clubhouse; we’d call him the 45-year-old veteran,” said Penders.
“He’s overcome so many obstacles. Everything he did, he earned.”
Oberg, who hopes the off-season includes an opportunity to pitch in the instructional league in Arizona, also deals with rheumatoid arthritis; at one point as a sophomore, he had trouble getting out of bed and moving around without the assistance of a cane.
“Not much needs to change,” said Grand Junction pitching coach Ryan Kibler , who said that Oberg’s fastball was clocked at 95 m.p.h. Wednesday night. “He’s got a great mentality. He’s lights out, coming into games in the later innings.
“I’d like to see him in relief, coming late into games where he’s continued to do well. But he definitely has what it takes to be a starter, with three-plus pitches.”
If there’s any little improvement that needs to be made, it’s “getting more consistent with getting ahead of hitters,” Kibler said.
After closing out a homestand against Ogden Sunday night, the Rockies hit the road for Missoula and Billings.
Born in Texas, Oberg idolized Hall of Famer pitcher Nolan Ryan as a youngster, even after his family moved to Massachusetts. At the Future Stars baseball training facility in Dracut, he worked with Marc Deschenes , a former major league prospect.
Most importantly, though, Oberg credits his parents, Theresa and Royd , as the biggest influences in his life, proudly noting their support in pursuing his dream.
Medford’s Ben Waldrip , a 6-6, 245-pound lefthanded hitting first baseman drafted by the Rockies in the 10th round of the First-Year Player draft out of Jacksonville State, was also assigned to Grand Junction. In his first 11 games and 47 at-bats, he was hitting .255 with three homers and 10 RBIs.
On Tuesday night, he went 4 for 4 with a pair of home runs and 4 RBIs, and in the July 4th game, he had two more hits, including another homer, and knocked in three runs.
Billerica soaring in AL
With a 10-1 start this summer, Billerica’s American Legion Post 268 team (20 points) sits atop the Zone 5B standings, opening up an eight-point lead on Wakefield (6-4, 12 points). Walker O’Connor has compiled a 0.00 ERA in 22 innings of work, fanning 27 while limiting batters to a .140 average. Catcher Patrick Bradanese and pitcher Soren Hanson (0.90 ERA) have also played well.
Billerica plays Zone 5A leader Sudbury (9-2) at 7 p.m. Sunday on the Weston High field to determine the Zone 5 representative to the state regional qualifier.
Jonathan Rich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.