Instead of playing in JUCO, former GJ player Berk is rubbing baseballs with mud

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Six-year-old Seth Clements, right, dips his hand into a bucket of mud to smear onto the baseball in his other hand as Carter Hines, also 6, waits his turn during the annual mud rub at Suplizio Field. The event prepares the baseballs that will be used during the Junior College World Series beginning Saturday.

Aaron Berk rubs some mud Wednesday onto one of the baseballs to be used in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series. Berk, a Grand Junction graduate, was a freshman catcher for Salt Lake (Utah) Community College, which came up one game short of advancing to JUCO.

Aaron Berk planned on being part of this year’s Alpine Bank Junior College World Series one way or another.

The Grand Junction High School graduate preferred to be playing in the tournament this week, but is happy to be back on the grounds crew.

“It’s a different feeling,” Berk said of coming close to playing in the World Series, but working instead. “All year, Deej (coach David Nelson) told me we’ve got to get these guys motivated to get to the Series with me being here growing up with it.

“We were nine innings away from getting here.”

Berk was rubbing mud on the game balls with other grounds crew workers and ball shaggers Wednesday at Suplizio Field.

The freshman is a catcher on the No. 6 Salt Lake (Utah) Community College baseball team that was within six outs of defeating Central Arizona College and qualifying for the JUCO World Series. The No. 1 Vaqueros, though, persevered to win the Western District.

“We came out flat the first six innings of the first game,” Berk said. “We just needed an extra inning. Getting ready for the second game we realized this is it. We had the momentum. It was one of those games, it went back and forth.”

Berk grew up watching the JUCO World Series and has been a ball shagger and on the grounds crew.

Prior to the Western District tournament, Berk called Walt Bergman, JUCO’s director of tournament play, and asked if he could be on the grounds crew this year if the Bruins didn’t win the district.

“It’s bittersweet being back here knowing we got so close,” Berk said. “Growing up seeing everything that goes on here, it would be nice to have my teammates here with me. I wish this was something we all could’ve had. Now that we’ve been to (districts), we know what’s expected out of us.

“A lot of the guys are friends with players on CSN (College of Southern Nevada). After they were eliminated, they texted some of us after we won the region and told us to go win it, you’ll be treated like kings. Being around it, the town embraces it.”

This is Berk’s second year on the grounds crew after two years of chasing foul balls.

“The time put into this tournament and having a relationship with Walt (Bergman) and Jamie (Hamilton), knowing what goes on, I would show this tournament so much respect,” he said.

“Playing with these balls is like playing in the major leagues.”


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