Bruso’s senior season a "work" of art; STHS grad will make final home start Saturday
When UC Davis baseball historians look back on Greg Bruso’s 2002 season, they may be hard-pressed to find a better one by a pitcher.
For a ballplayer who grew up pitching in the small windows of opportunity that high-altitude communities permit, it’s almost as if Bruso is throwing snowballs to hitters instead of fastballs and changeups.
The 1998 South Tahoe has been that hard to hit.
Since being touched up for seven runs in his season opener and dropping his first three decisions, Bruso has won nine straight games. His 1.88 earned run average is the second lowest in the 11-team California Collegiate Athletic Association and 12th best in the nation. He’s completed his past nine starts, including three shutouts.
“He’s been totally keeping batters off balance,” said Davis manager Phil Swimley, who is two victories shy of 900 wins in his 36-year UC Davis coaching career. “It’s been a combination of a pretty fast fastball, a sharp-breaking cutter and a really good changeup.”
He’ll go for win No. 10 on Saturday in his final home game for the Aggies. Bruso is scheduled to pitch the second game of a noon doubleheader against UC San Diego.
“I’m just gonna try to treat it like any other game and try not to worry about the hype. I’ll just try to go out there and pitch my game,” Bruso said.
Swimley says there’s no secret to Bruso’s success.
“He’s the hardest worker we’ve had here,” said Swimley, who, incidentally, will be retiring after this season. “It’s unbelievable how dedicated he is. In all the conditioning stuff, he’s clearly ahead of everybody, especially in running; he runs them into the ground.”
Teammates downplay being beaten by the man privileged to breathe Tahoe air.
“I keep telling them it’s not the air, it’s working hard,” Bruso said.
The probing question entering Bruso’s senior season wasn’t: Would he be drafted? It was more like: What would he do once his baseball career ended in May? In span of a few months, Bruso’s chances of being taken by a major league team have swung as sharply as one of his breaking pitches.
“I’ll be surprised if he’s not taken,” Swimley said. “When 93 (mph) came up, I think that created a lot of interest. Scouts are there almost every game.”
Swimley is referring to the outing two weeks ago when Bruso made the radar gun reach a number that seemed out of his ballpark: 93 mph with a high fastball.
“Up until this year he’s been throwing in the high 80s,” Swimley said.
Swimley believes that Bruso is getting stronger late in the season because he rested the 6-foot-2 right-hander in the fall — unlike his previous three seasons.
“His arm had been a little tender, but he’s always pitched,” Swimley said. “Both of their summer coaches used them a lot and when he and (Luke Steidlmayer) came back, we just rested them in the fall. In past years they went with their normal stuff during the fall.”
During his jaw-dropping nine-game winning streak, Bruso has a .90 earned run average. Over his last 40 innings, Bruso has only allowed two earned runs and issued six free passes.
“I knew I had this potential based on how I pitched the past two summers, but I never had it at UC Davis,” Bruso said. “It was already there, but I guess I had to find it.”
Late development in sports is nothing new to the Bruso family. Greg’s older brother, Brian, was cut from his middle school basketball team and didn’t start for STHS until he was a junior. However, in his senior year Brian shared co-Northern Nevada League player of the year with Jerod Haase and went on to a successful college career in San Diego and an all-star season during his one year of pro ball in South Korea.
“My dad and especially my brother (have shaped my work ethic),” Greg said. “I’ve seen all the things Brian’s gone through and all the goals he’s accomplished and my father has done so much with his business and his family … it’s hard not to see that.
“I want to be the best pitcher I can and the best way to do that is work hard and get time in the gym and things will pay off.”
Paul Bruso, Greg’s father, loves to watch his son manage his time on the mound.
“Greg pitches really smart. He knows what his best skills are and uses them,” Paul said. “With Greg, a lot of it is due to the work he’s done.”
Greg’s high school career never prompted NCAA Division I recruiters to buy a winter coat and gloves and head for the Sierra, but he made it tough on the Reno schools whenever he was on the mound. Only UC Davis and Sacramento City College expressed interest.
Since walking on the Davis campus, Bruso has been one of few pitchers who started for Swimley as a true freshman. With pinpoint control, which has seen him only walk 14 in 76-plus innings, it’s easy to understand why Bruso is one of Swimley’s favorites.
“He’s had a good run here,” Swimley said. “I’ll remember his consistency and his concentration. He just doesn’t make mistakes. In a six-game span he’s only walked three guys total.”
As Greg spectacular season winds down, Paul has made certain that his time-consuming South Shore restaurant business doesn’t impede him from supporting his son.
In fact, Paul recently watched both of his sons compete within a 20-hour period. On April 20, he saw Brian’s Olympic Club team rout a tournament opponent 101-70 at the University of San Francisco. A day later, he traveled to Davis to watch Greg shut out California State Los Angeles 5-0.
“It’s not going to last too much longer, so I better enjoy it,” Paul said.
His support will reach a fever pitch on Saturday when his son pitches in the biggest game of his life. Davis needs at least two wins in the four-game set with the Tritons this weekend to secure a spot in the four-team conference playoffs next week at Chico State.
“The exciting part is we started out so slow and we’ve been able to turn it around,” Swimley said. “A lot of teams would have folded the tent with the start we’ve had. And that’s a tribute to Greg because he’s one of our team leaders, and he wouldn’t let people quit on the team.”
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